Gettin’ tough

Weather has been weird around Central Texas lately. While much of the rest of the country is dealing with late winter snow, it’s been extremely dry around here, and extremely windy. I got out for a ride yesterday after work, and it was 88F! The heat gave me a headache before the 15 mile ride was over.

Quite a change from last weekend, when I went out for a group ride with some folks who are training for the Hill Country Ride for AIDS. It was cool, but not bad, and the forecast called for a cold front later in the day. Plenty of time to get in a ride before the bad weather hit. I got to the bike shop starting point in plenty of time, but it seemed that the weather was worsening by the minute. Near the appointed start time, the cold front hit — hours earlier than forecast — and brought rain.

bss

Dismal prospects.

I was about ready to call it quits before the ride started. But the rain eased up, and the wind picked up. We decided to go ahead.

The group got less than two miles from the bike shop. The north wind was howling. The leaders stopped under a bridge for a confab.

groupThe leaders confer. Would we bail on the ride, or toughen up and go on?

We decided to go on. The wind was tough. But once we put a couple of miles behind us, we were warmed up, and suddenly, the weather wasn’t an issue anymore. It was a good ride through the city, with some decent hills to climb.

So I was looking forward to this morning’s ride. It would be with a different group — a Bike MS training ride — and would start just a mile from my house. But after the high temps of Friday — actually setting a record of 91F (32.7C) — the forecast resembled last week’s. But colder. And windier. But it was a route I wanted to ride, and I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to learn more about our upcoming Houston-to-Austin extravaganza.

This time, the forecast was right. Again, it was very tempting to forget the whole thing when I saw the conditions. But I rode over to the starting point, and riders starting dribbling in, many sharing tales of fighting the wind during their rides to the start.

However, the ride leader told us all we would abandon the planned route. The strong wind would simply make it too dangerous, because of the exposed roads we’d be riding. Instead, we would ride through the neighborhood, which iteself offers some decent hills.

The route, though on familiar streets, was one I hadn’t ridden before. Amazing how streets that seem flat in a car become a challenge on the bike. Once again, after a couple of miles, we were warmed up. The route turned onto my old standby, Mopac. On the eastbound leg, I hit a wind-assisted 35.2 mph, without much effort on my part. But turning north, the wind hit us in the face again.

Several times, I nearly lost control fighting the strong gusts (Oh, by the way, your helpful tips from a couple of weeks ago really came in handy today). I was in the small chainring, on a large cog, much of the way. Going downhill at 8, 7, even 6 mph and fighting to stay upright isn’t a lot of fun.

But we got through it without a mishap. I rode a shorter route today than I’d planned, but it felt like double the distance. If nothing else, I’ve learned over the past two weekends that skipping rides because of perceived tough conditions isn’t necessary. We’ve already got our ride planned for tomorrow. The forecast? Cold and windy. Again.

Bike computers

garminOne of the rituals of biking I go through every time I come back from a ride is to unclip my cyclocomputer from its handlebar mount, and later enter all the data from that ride into an Excel spreadsheet I keep. I like to look at the data at intervals, to see if I’m actually making progress. Am I riding longer, farther, at a higher average speed?

I posted about my computer last year, after I put it on the bike. It’s a Cateye Strada Cadence, and I think it’s terrific. I’ve been most impressed by the accuracy of its mileage. It is a hard-wired computer, though, and the wires sometimes get in the way, especially when I’m mounting the bike on the car’s bike rack. I have a hunch that if I get a different computer at some point, it will be a wireless.

My previous computer was an Ascent Delta V. It was wireless, so was convenient. I liked the fact that I could “scan” the data, that is, it would display distance, average speed, top speed, elapsed time for a few seconds each, then advance to the next one. The Cateye doesn’t do that. No big deal.

I supposed the next step would be to move up to a GPS computer, like a Garmin 705. The bike routes I’ve seen displayed with Garmin data are pretty nifty. The expense of a GPS unit, however, is something the Noob household is not in a position to bear at the moment. So it’ll have to wait. Years, maybe.

What’s your preference? Is there a minimum set of functions each cyclocomputer should have? Or do we even need to care about the data they accumulate? And how much are you willing to spend to get that data?

When does your riding become training?

I’ve hemmed and hawed about training a time or three, and long-time readers know I’m not a gung-ho training fan, like some of my friends. I started biking because I like it, it’s fun, and it offers some nice side benefits like improved fitness. I’ve kinda gotten into the biking culture, too.

But now that my Bike MS ride is less than two months away, I realize that I’m really behind where I ought to be to get ready for two loooong days in the saddle back to back. It’s time to get down to business.

Two weekends ago, I was able to bike Friday, Saturday and Sunday, for a total of 50 miles.  Last weekend, I rode on Saturday and Sunday, for a total of 39 miles, but under tougher conditions and in hillier terrain.  Since it looks like the demands of work will prevent me from getting out to ride during the week, I am planning to cave in and hit the stationary bike at the club at least two mornings a week.  I’ll be using some upcoming organized rides in the area for my longer mileage rides over the next month and a half, along with any training rides my new team might happen to come up with.

In other words, I’m starting to train.  It’ll be training with a definite goal in mind.  I’ll have to ride 100 miles the first day, and 85 miles the second day for the Bike MS.  Primarily, I’ll be working to increase my endurance, rather than my speed.  I figure that with more time in the saddle, speed will come.  However, I’ll still make use of tried and true training techniques, like intervals.  These can be worked into most any bike ride I take.

I guess there comes a point for most of us where we target something beyond just a regular, nice bike ride, and try to do something more.  One of this blog’s loyal readers asked me, “When does your riding become training?”

It just did.

We need a pre-ride checklist!

My wife has ridden in the Hill Country Ride for AIDS the last two years, and has started training for the ride again this year. Today, some friends were planning to ride some hills near Dripping Springs, about 15 miles west of here. Since it’s our favorite area ride, we said we’d come along.

But the day dawned sunny and cold. Cold in Central Texas in February is in the mid-30sF. Our friend Scott, who was organizing the ride, called to suggest we hold off until 10 a.m., when the temperature was supposed to get a bit higher. We were all for that.

I dressed and started loading up the bikes around 9, but we were still on the fence about a ride. Then our friend Susie called. She said she would be on the ride this morning, and wanted to know if we would be, too. We haven’t seen Susie for months, and since this was a good way to catch up, we said yes! and bustled around the house and garage, getting everything ready.

The bikes were on the car. The shoes and helmets were in the back. Our water bottles were filled. I even remembered to bring the floor pump. We hopped in and drove off.

About five miles from home, Pat said she would call Scott, and let him know when we would arrive at the starting point. She looked around, then started rummaging around the car. “I can’t find my phone!” she said, with some urgency.

stormThe phone was a brand new Blackberry Storm we’d just bought on Friday. Pat tried retracing her steps.

“I had it in my hand in the kitchen,” she said. “I think I must have put it down on the counter when I went to get my protein shake [her usual pre-ride meal].”

Since we always ride with cell phones, I pulled over to the side of the road for a more thorough inspection. We looked between the seats, under the seats, in the back, on the roof. But if it had been left on the roof, it could be in the road anywhere between here and back home. I called her number with my cell. Couldn’t hear any ring. We hopped back in the car and I did a U-turn.

Back at home, it wasn’t in the kitchen. Pat was now sure she’d left it on the roof of the car, and was walking back up the street, searching in vain. I did another check of the interior of the car, continually calling her number with my cell.

Finally, I heard the notes of “Fur Elise” coming faintly from somewhere inside the car. It took two more calls, but I finally found it wedged between her seat and the transmission hump. A very relieved Mrs. Noob got back in the car, and we headed for Dripping Springs again.

She tried calling Scott, to tell him we’d be late. But she’s still having trouble with the fancy new 3G phone. She couldn’t read the icons on its screen. Then, she had problems reading the list of contact numbers she’d stored.

“I left my reading glasses in the house,” she said.

“We’re not going back again,” I replied.

Eventually, she left messages for both Scott and Susie, telling of our predicament. But it turned out Susie was running late, too. When we got to the parking lot, there she was, just getting her bike off the car rack. “Scott left ten minutes ago,” she said.

The three of us set off. The temperature had climbed to the upper 40s, and there was no wind. We had a very nice ride, but when it was over, we made a resolution.

We’re going to come up with a checklist to make sure we don’t leave anything behind.

Is this something you’ve ever tried? If so, what items are on it? And where do you keep the checklist so you don’t forget it?

Cleat position

Some things, I just can’t stop experimenting with. Like ways to make my feet feel fine after a long bike ride. Yes, this is sort of another post about my ongoing numb toe problem — but I think I’ve come to grips with that.

This time, I want to tell you about something I’ve tried with the cleats on my biking shoes. When I first complained about numb toes last summer, I got a suggestion to move the cleats back about one-quarter inch. I did, but didn’t see much difference, and with those older shoes, it didn’t help my numb toe any.

When I got the new bike shoes for Christmas, the bike shop installed the cleats, and put them right over the ball of the foot. That was okay, but the toes pointed just a little bit to the inside, and I could feel strain on my knees when I rode.

My feet naturally splay out a bit when I walk, and something I read somewhere (I gotta do a better job of citing my sources — in my real life I do academic research, after all) said your cleats should place your feet in a way that matches your walking gait. So I fiddled with the cleats a bit, and now my toes point ever so slightly outward. But then I remembered something else I read somewhere else (this would never get through peer review) that said just go ahead and move the cleats all the way back. So I did.

shoe1If you look closely, you’ll see the little ruler markings right behind the cleat. The photo was shot from slightly behind the cleat; if you looked straight down at it, you wouldn’t be able to see the marks at all.

I’ve been on several rides since doing this, and I can hardly tell the difference. Some riders seem to think you get more power to accelerate and climb with the cleats this way. Maybe — I can’t vouch for that. I can vouch for there being no negative effects from the cleats back this far.

And there are some who say that even all the way back in the slots isn’t back far enough. Endurance cycling coach Joe Friel takes what I might would call a radical view. In a post on his blog from two years ago, he said you should mount the cleats as far back toward the heel as you can. He’s mounted cleats below the arch of his foot, and thinks you’re likely to get even more power if you mount them back farther still.

That’s not me. I was uneasy doing the cleats back in the slots thing, and even though it seems to have worked out fine for me, I’m not going to drill holes in the soles of my shoes and play around with cleat placement. I’m still unsophisticated when it comes to training — I just ride — and for now, my cleat position suits me just fine.

Happy Birthday to Bike Noob!

babybirthdayNever thought this would happen — but the Bike Noob blog is one year old today. I started the blog on a whim. Since I teach in a mass communication program, I figured I’d better have some hands-on experience with new media. The blog is one of several things I’ve tried.

I called the blog Bike Noob because at the time I started it, I had been engaged in “serious” road cycling for less than six months. I realized I was constantly learning new things, and often feeling like a doofus because a lot of those things are common knowledge among experienced bikers. I figured other bikers must be in the same boat, and through the blog, we could share common experiences.

I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the results of this modest venture. I average over 700 page views a week, and recently it’s been higher than that. Hardly major blog status, but at least I feel that I’m not blogging to an empty room. To those of you who have commented on my posts, you’re the folks who have kept this blog going. I love hearing from you, and I get a kick out of having become virtual friends with more than a few of you.

It has been somewhat bemusing to see what kinds of posts draw the most interest. Right now, it’s the debate over using C02 cartridges or a pump, followed closely by a post called “Numb toe home remedy.” The home remedy was where I slashed the side of my shoe to ease pressure on my toe. Didn’t work. Stop reading that post. It won’t help you.

Now that the Amgen Tour of California is in full swing, a lot of folks are revisiting “Those bike team names” from last July, during the Tour de France. I might have to update that; some new teams are riding the Tour this year, and some unfamiliar US domestic teams are in the Tour of California.

The biggest, and most gratifying surprise this blog has brought me is the number of readers I have from outside the United States. The UK and Australia check in every day with more than a dozen visits each. I can always count on seeing visitors from India and South Africa every morning. Lately, Bike Noob has been getting views from someone in Roubaix, France. Now there’s a biking city!

I’ve also had visitors from countries that are off our biking radar. Places like Bhutan, Myanmar, and Samoa have turned up in my SiteMeter stats. In all, there have been page views from 97 different countries. The most recent was Uganda, just last week. Thank you all for looking.

So, now that I’ve been around for a year, should I still call this blog Bike Noob? By most measures, I’m not a noob anymore. But every so often (see last post) I still manage to noobify myself. And I still think the focus of this blog should be on newer bikers. What do you think? As always, your comments are welcomed and valued.

#$%^&!@* pinch flats!

Got up and out earlier than usual yesterday morning. My wife is on the local Advertising Federation cycling team that rides in the Hill Country Tour for AIDS, and they have regular training rides leading up to the Tour. It was in the 40s, overcast, and breezy, and Mrs. Noob decided she wasn’t riding. But I was.

I assumed it would be just a few Ad Fed folks, but when I got to the elementary school where the ride starts, I found it was a full-blown training ride organized by the Tour. At least 50 people turned out. There were even three SAG vehicles.

This was an easy ride, because it’s still early in the season. A number of riders were even more noobie than the Bike Noob. Lots of hybrids, even a few cruisers, and some riders in mid-weight jackets and blue jeans. The route was the Mopac loop I take all the time. One loop is eight miles, and riders had the option of doing as many as three.

The ride organizers explained the route and procedures. They passed out cell phone numbers of all the SAG vehicles. They went through all the common hand signals. Then it was time to leave.

I was among the first half dozen riders out of the parking lot. The wind actually wasn’t as bad as it was for the last couple of weekends, and I had dressed right, even wearing full-fingered gloves, so I was all warmed up by the time I got to the end of the first lap.

Going around the second time, I picked up a little speed over the first lap. A couple guys passed me on a downhill, but I passed them back going uphill. As I approached the intersection with a major road, I checked behind me to see if it was safe to cross over to the left shoulder and prepare for my left turn. It was. Still looking back, I started my turn to cross to the left. When I looked back to where I was heading, I saw it — then I hit it.

“It” was something squarish. There was no way I could avoid it. My rear tire went flat immediately. I stopped on the left shoulder, assessed the damage, then walked the bike back across the road to change the tire next to the right shoulder.

Once I got the tire off, I did the usual inspection to try to find whatever caused the flat. But I could find nothing. Remember, these were the new Kevlar-belted tires I bought just last week. I was displeased. I checked the tube, but a cursory examination there turned up nothing, either. Unfortunately, when I ride, I wear prescription sunglasses that have only my distance prescription, and not my bifocals. So I can’t see anything close unless I hold it inches from my eyes.

I pulled the spare tube from my seatbag, and had just about got it and the tire back on the wheel when one of the SAG vehicles pulled up. He held the wheel while I pumped up the tire. We put it back on the bike, and I packed up my seatbag.

When I turned back to the bike to resume the ride…the tire was almost flat again! The spare tube must have had a leak! Defeated, I put the bike up on his carrier, and he drove me home.

Back in my garage, I grabbed the first tube that had flatted, and took a closer look at it. There it was: the “snake bite” — two small punctures side-by-side. Whatever I had rolled over caused a pinch flat.

I blame myself on two counts: I didn’t see the thing that caused the flat (it turned out to be a a small rock, about three inches across by two inches thick — it was still in the road when I rode by it this afternoon), and I probably didn’t have enough pressure in my tire. If you saw last week’s post about the new tires, you know I planned to experiment with pressures to find what was right. I had already ridden at 100 pounds, and for this ride, I was down around 95 — maybe a tad less.

The late Sheldon Brown, my main source of information for all things bike, says tire manufacturers are conservative when they put recommended pressures on the sidewall. Brown says if the tire bears a 100-pound load, a 25 mm tire can be pumped up to 110 pounds. Since I weigh about 210, that’s about 105 pounds per tire. Hutchinson recommends a tire pressure of 101 pounds max.

This afternoon, I pumped the tires up to 100 pounds again, then went for a ride. No problems. I may still fiddle with pressures, but they’ll be firmer, not softer. And I guess if I find the energy this week, I’ll be patching two old tubes.

Leaving cell phones behind

Whenever I prepare to head out on a ride, I grab a plastic sandwich bag, wrap my cell phone up in it, and stick it in my middle back pocket. Normally, I’m not much of a cell phone user. I never use up all my monthly minutes. But I consider it to be a piece of “must” equipment on a ride.

Even so, I manage to forget the thing once in awhile. It’s not a problem if I don’t discover that it’s missing until after the ride, but if I reach back to check the pocket during the ride and it’s not there, it puts a damper on the entire time on the bike. If possible, I’m likely to cut the ride short in a situation like that, simply because I find that being without a cell phone is unsettling.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a ride with Mrs. Noob. A typical ride with her goes something like this: I ride 15-16 mph, she rides 10-11 mph, and I stop to wait for her every two miles or so. On this occasion, I was at a stoplight just a mile into the ride. Another rider pulled up next to me. Mrs. Noob was lagging behind, hoping the light would turn green before she got to the intersection. She hates to unclip, because that means she has to clip in again. And she really hates that.

When the light changed, the other rider shot across the road. I stood on the pedals and kept pace. He shifted into a harder gear, and started a long gentle climb. I stayed on his wheel, then passed him just before the next stoplight. We rode together and chatted for another mile, and then I told him I was at the usual “wait” spot, and wished him a good ride.

When Mrs. Noob caught up to me, she was in high dudgeon. “You can’t just take off like that,” she said. “I forgot my cell phone, and I have no way to tell you if I get into trouble.”

“Sorry,” I replied. “When I’m around another rider like that, I have to see what he’s got.”

“Oh, swell. Act like a little boy, and leave me high and dry.”

Hm. Didn’t know you’d forgotten your phone until just now. And I did wait in front of the school, just like I always do. But in her mind, I was clearly at fault. Suitably chastened, I started off slowly with her again. We decided to take a Mopac loop. It starts with a short downhill, where I usually reach 28-30 mph. This time I kept it down to about 20. After a mile, I heard her call, “Speed up! I’m not dead, y’know.”

For the rest of the ride, we stayed close enough together that we could have talked via tin cans and string. If we had them.

Then there was the time I crashed. If ever a cell phone could come in handy, it would be at a time like that. I rode a sore 15 miles after the crash, but finally decided to pack it in. I reached for my cell phone to call Pat — for Mrs. Noob really does have a name — and it came out of my pocket in three pieces. Turned out that I’d landed right on it. Luckily, I wasn’t the only rider in the group who felt unequipped without a cell phone, so I borrowed one from one of the other guys, and she was there in 25 minutes, to give me the ride home.

My cell phone is parked on the counter between the kitchen and living room. If I ever need it, I know it will be there. The plastic bag is in a drawer just below it. With that kind of organization, I’ll never be without the phone on a ride again. Until I am.

Bicycling does Austin

bicyclingmagAs I’ve mentioned previously, I have a  love-hate relationship with Bicycling Magazine.  Well, right now, I’m lovin’ it.  The March issue, pictured here, has a one-page feature on biking in Austin, Texas — my hometown.

One page can’t do justice to the variety of cycling in this area, but it does hit the high points.  The Veloway gets a mention, along with the twice-monthly time trial run on the Mopac loop that I frequently ride.  There’s a map of the Dam Loop, one of the classic Austin rides that takes the biker on an excursion through the Hill Country west of the city, and the 17-mile moolight ride that goes from midnight to 2 a.m.

This is all old news to many folks, because subscribers to Bicycling got their copies weeks ago.  But I buy mine from a magazine rack in a grocery store, if I happen to remember to swing by the magazine rack, so I get my copy quite a bit later than subscribers.  No big deal though — I’m just happy to see Austin get a nod from the people in Emmaus.

Switching to 25s

Challenging day for a ride. Temp 73F (nice!), but wind from the south at 16 mph, gusting to 36. It was even blowier than last week, when I cut the ride short because the gusty winds made the bike seem unstable.

But I rode today anyway, because I have new toys. Actually, they’re a lot more important than toys. I bought new tires. The ones on the bike were showing signs of wear. The Specialized Mondo Pro on the front was the original tire, so it’s been on almost a full year. I felt it was losing grip, and the surface was cut up. The Vittoria Rubino Pro on the rear was a nice tire, but had flattened in the center of the tread, and was due for a replacement.

So I put on a pair of new tires. They had to have puncture resistance, and I decided that they had to be 700C x 25mm, rather than 23s. Nashbar had a nice price on just the tire I was looking for, so the bike now has a pair of Hutchinson Top Speed Kevlar Protech tires.

Why 25s? I mentioned a couple of months ago that one of our club members had switched to them, and liked them. That planted the idea. After reading more about the difference between 25s and 23s, I concluded that they were worth trying.

I figured my best bet on a windy day like today was the Veloway. It’s a three-mile circuit, so it would be into the wind half the time, but thickets of cedar and live oak that line the track block the wind somewhat, part of the time.

The ride over there was a taste of things to come. A gentle downhill a mile into the trip often gives me my highest speed of the ride, but today going into the wind, I topped out at 16 mph.

One benefit of the 25s was immediately apparent. They were more stable in the wind. I was also putting the good advice I got last week about riding in the wind to good use, and that helped — but the tires were the biggest change I’d made, and I was pleased to see the difference.

Once I got on the Veloway, another difference was evident. Better grip. I could attack the turns on the course with more confidence than I’d had with the old tires. I did five laps and then headed home, for a total ride of 21 miles. The 25 mm tires do seem to offer a softer ride than the 23s.

One of the arguments people use against 25s is that they have greater rolling resistance than 23s. According to Al Ardizone in the Feb. 5, 2009 edition of Road Bike Rider, that’s not true. He says 25s actually have less rolling resistance, and suggests riders use their weight to determine which size tire to ride. I’m still over 200 lbs., so according to his formula, 25s are right for me.

He’s also a proponent of lower tire pressures, for greater comfort with no loss of speed. Al suggests 85-100 pounds pressure. I had been running 105 lbs. in my old tires, and have the new ones at 100 now — recommended pressure is 87-101 lbs. I’ll decrease the pressure a bit on upcoming rides to figure out what’s right for me.

Interestingly, these might be last year’s model, because Hutchinson’s web site doesn’t list a Top Speed model. Their current Equinox seems to have the same specs as my tire. A check of Road Bike Review shows mixed reaction to the Top Speeds — some say they performed well, other say they’d never buy another pair. Anecdotal evidence is interesting, but a sample of only five reviews is not enough to generalize from.

So I’m looking forward to riding with the new tires. I’ll be watching closely to see if they’re as puncture-resistant as billed, and if they deliver increased comfort with no loss of speed. But after only one ride, I think I can safely say that I won’t be going back to 23s.