Skid lids

I recently bought a new helmet, because I wanted to get away from the discount store helmet I had. I simply didn’t like its looks. I wanted something more contemporary, more “cyclist,” less “family-man-on-a-hybrid-cruising-the-park’s-bike-trails-with-the-kids.” It was pretty dorky.

The Giro Indicator.

The Giro Indicator.

I got the Giro Indicator helmet. You could call this a discount helmet, too, except that it’s not sold in discount stores. This one is the inexpensive choice in bike stores, next to the $100+ race-style helmets. I paid about $32 plus tax for it, at a local Performance bike shop.

Giro is actually a subsidiary of Bell, so it’s not surprising that they offer what is essentially the same model. The Indicator is the same helmet as the Bell Solar, with one difference: the Giro comes with a snap-on visor.

I don’t like the look of snap-on visors. Especially black ones, on a white helmet, which is what I got. The first thing I did was snap off the visor. Now it looks exactly like Mrs. Noob’s Bell Solar.

The Bell Solar.

The Bell Solar.

Except for one thing: Three small holes appear along the bottom edge of the helmet, where the visor used to be.

Oh, well. I suppose 99 out of 100 bikers who see it won’t even notice.

I got it in white, because I think it’s important that the helmet is visible. It’s a safety thing with me, and I’m willing to pass up the multiple color combinations available on most helmets these days. In fact, plain white seems to be hard to find on a lot of models.

I wanted lots of vents, which this helmet has. It’s definitely cooler than the helmet it replaced, which was kinda stingy with vents.

But as it turns out, I might have traded safety for looks.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute researches helmet safety issues and reviews helmets. I was surprised by one of their conclusions. They maintain that the safest bike helmets are ones that are “smooth, hard, round and slick.” The Institute says aero tails on helmets are bad for safety, because they can be jammed to the side during a crash, and leave part of the head unprotected.

My old discount store helmet was smooth, hard, round, and slick. It didn’t have anywhere near the aero tail most helmets today have. But it was pretty dorky.

So, I guess as a class, bicyclists have decided looks are the top priority when getting helmets. I have. Have you?

Bike maintenance

I spent a very satisfying hour this afternoon putting a new piece of equipment on my bike.  It’s a new cyclocomputer, wireless, with cadence and lots of other data that I didn’t have on the last computer.  I’ll post on it after I’ve ridden with it a few times.  (I installed it after today’s ride.  Yes, after yesterday’s colonic calamity, everything calmed down, and I was able to get in a nice 30-miler.)

After removing the old unit, I could see just how much grit and grime had gotten on my bike under the thing, with all its zip ties.  I did the first really thorough hand cleaning of the bike that I’ve done in a long time, making sure to get into all the little nooks and crannies that are easily missed in a casual wipe down.

I’ve gotta confess, I’m not the most diligent guy in the world when it comes to maintaining my bike.  I’m better than I used to be, when I’d leave it go for weeks on end without even the most routine attention, but I think I could be a lot more conscientious about it than I am.  It gets a quick wipe down once a week, when I also do a cursory check of the tires for cuts or debris.  I clean the chain about every two weeks.  I do the ABC Quick Check before every ride, so at least I’m certain that the bike will roll for me.  But I think I need a more regular maintenance system.

A friend of mine goes over his bike carefully every week, checking for seat height and level, bolts, cables, spokes, handlebars, lights.  Except for the seat, which I do monthly, I don’t do any of the other stuff.

So, what do you recommend?  Should I be doing a lot more than I’m doing? and what about more involved maintenance chores?  

For example, last week, I took my bike in to the LBS, to have them install a new cassette.  The young woman behind the service counter was surprised when I said I was leaving the bike overnight — that I had an appointment to get the work done the next day.

“It only takes five minutes to replace a cassette,” she said.  “If you can stick around that long, I’ll do it now.”

I watched as she took off the rear wheel, laid it on a workbench, and deftly removed the cassette.  The new one dropped easily into place.  Her labor added only five dollars to the total cost, but I thought that was something I could learn to do.  Heck, there are online tutorials about that kind of thing, and more.

I’d really be interested in hearing your thoughts about bike maintenance.  What do you think should be done regularly?  What kind of a routine do you follow?  And what should we rely on the LBS to do?

The best laid plans

So today we were supposed to ride in the LBJ 100, out at the Lyndon Baines Johnson ranch about 60 miles west of Austin.  Pat planned to go 32 miles, and I would do the full 100K (62 miles).  I was really looking forward to it, because we’ve been out there before and took the National Park Service tour.  It’s in the Texas Hill Country, and is quite scenic, with quiet, hilly country roads.  For the ride, the former President’s daughter Luci opened up the ranch to the public.  The ride would start on the private air strip just north of the ranch house.

But yesterday, Pat had a bad fall dismounting from a horse after a riding lesson.  Nothing broken, but bad abrasions and bruises, and lots of soreness all over.  We even left last night’s performance of Hal Holbrook in “Mark Twain Tonight,” at intermission, because Pat was feeling so much discomfort.  By the time we got home, she had decided to skip the bike ride.

Before Hal Holbrook, we went out to dinner with friends at an Italian restaurant.  I figured it would be a nice opportunity to do some carbo-loading before the ride.  But I woke up this morning with major GI distress.  Mother Nature did not cooperate, and I decided the best thing to do was not try to tough it out, but skip the ride as well.

Too bad.  After good weather this week (and some much-needed rain), a cold front came through last night.  Temperature at ride time was only 40F, with a wicked wind gusting out of the north.  One of the guys in my club, who did do the ride, described conditions as “horrendous.”  That would have been good prep for me to ride in the MS 150 next month.  Last year’s ride was into a head wind all the way from Houston to Austin, and ride veterans say conditions were worse than they’d ever seen.  Fighting a cold wind would toughen me up for that kind of adversity.

Oh, well.  I’ll take it easy and eat some yogurt today, calm my insides, and hope I can ride tomorrow.  Maybe the weather will be difficult then, too.

Dealing with injury

Since I began biking almost two years ago, I’ve been lucky when it comes to injuries.  I haven’t had any to speak of.  Oh, I know I’ve griped about my numb toe too often.  (By the way, those new shoes of mine have indeed taken care of that problem.  On a two and a half hour ride last weekend, I had barely a twinge out of it.)  There was some soreness after my crash last fall, but nothing to keep me from riding.

That’s a nice departure from my running days, when I used to develop injuries fairly often.  If I could, I’d run through the pain.  Sometimes that was fine — sometimes, it aggravated the problem.

I bring this up, because I got a recent email from reader Don, in California.  He said:

Last week I injured my back and left hip, I believe it came from having my left foot too toed in while riding, which caused aggravation along the tendon that runs in that area. I took two days off, iced and did Tylenol. I’m fine. But that still leads to the question of how to handle biking injuries? 

We look on with amazement as Lance Armstrong has surgery for a collarbone fracture that was worse than first thought, then gets patched up with a five-inch steel plate and a dozen screws, and is expected to be on the trainer in a week, and back to racing in eight to twelve weeks.  But that’s Lance.

How about you?  What kind of injuries have you had to deal with, and what was recovery like?  What did you do to come back, and how long did it take?

How fast have you gone?

This evening after work, I hit the Veloway for my usual Tuesday night ride.  My friend David was waiting at the entrance, and we started a small ring ride, not particularly aiming for any speed.  We kept up a steady pedal cadence, passed a few bikers, and got passed by more.  It’s a ride I’ve built into my weekly schedule, and I look forward to it.

A Blackburn Delphi 2 from the Nashbar catalog.

A Blackburn Delphi 2 from the Nashbar catalog.

But the ease of the ride got me thinking: What about really trying to go fast?  I’ve found myself in situations on nice downhill grades where I try to wring every last tenth of a mile per hour out of my bike.

For me, anything over 30 mph is fast.  I know I’m on an interesting stretch of road when my speed tops 36.  But once I get to about 38, things get a bit problematic.

My Specialized Allez is a terrific bike, but it can be a little twitchy.  At high speeds, it feels a tad unstable, although that often has something to do with the condition of the road surface.  Oddly enough, getting down in the drops doesn’t seem to help.  I find myself trying to relax as much as possible, and let the bike take over.

The highest speed I’ve ever hit is 39 mph.  I’ve done it twice.  The first time was on an organized ride, and I can’t remember where I clocked that number.  It just registered as the top speed on my cyclocomputer, and I discovered it when I checked it at the end of the ride.  The second time was on a Sunday morning club ride.  We were on a rolling hills section through a nice residential neighborhood.  The street was wide and smooth, and gave us a view far ahead in the distance.  I saw no traffic ahead, and cranked the bike as fast as I could.  I saw the 39 come and go, and thought it was pretty cool.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the fastest I ever go.  For me to attack the speed barrier, I think I’ll need a more stable bike.  My old steel Raleigh was a joy to ride on a quick downhill — it was rock solid.  But I never did get that bike up above 35.  

I’m also at the point where speed is not an important goal.  Hey, I’m no spring chicken anymore, and we tend to get a little more cautious — er, prudent — in our old age.  A blowout last spring on a high speed downhill will do that to a guy.

I’ll continue to enjoy the sensation of speed.  But breaking the 40 mph bar is not on my radar.  How about you?  Do you make a conscious effort to go as fast as you can on descents?  What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone?  What did it feel like?  Is there an even higher speed somewhere inside you?

What’s for breakfast?

Two weeks ago, we were on a group ride on a rolling hills route.  As usual, the A group riders left me far behind.  Although I felt fine, I turned back early, with another rider who couldn’t keep up either.  His friend tried to stay with the lead pack, but showed up at our Starbucks finish line about 10 minutes behind us.

“I just had nothing left,” he said.  “I could barely make it up that final hill.  I could hardly move my legs to pedal.”

That sounded like a classic bonk to me, and I asked him what he had had for breakfast.

360 calories -- From The Diet Blog

360 calories -- From The Diet Blog.

“An energy bar,” he said.  “How about you?”

“A bowl of Cheerios with raisins and bananas, two frozen multi-grain blueberry waffles, a glass of orange juice and half a cup of coffee,” I replied.

“Man, I wish I’d done that,” he said.

The breakfast topic came up again on this morning’s ride.  My friend David asked me what I’d eaten this morning.  It was essentially the same thing as last time, but substituting toast with jam for the waffles.

“I had two scrambled eggs, bacon and toast,” he said.  “Usually I like oatmeal dribbled with honey.”

Well, I’ve never been an oatmeal guy.  But I learned the hard way last year that you need to fuel up before a bike ride.

325 calories -- From The Diet Blog

325 calories -- From The Diet Blog

The obvious thing is to bulk up on carbohydrates.  My cereal and banana work there.  Lance Armstrong’s training coach, Chris Carmichael, said in USA Today during Lance’s last Tour de France win that his breakfast is a big one: Two bowls of whole grain cereal topped with skim milk and fresh fruit, a three- or four-egg omelet and some pasta, rice or potatoes.

“And don’t forget the two cups of Peet’s Coffee,” Carmichael said.

That might be why I was never in danger of bonking last fall during my century ride.  I stopped at a McDonald’s on the way there, and had two sausage-and-egg burritos, a hash brown potato patty (yeah, I know — greasy — not a good thing) and coffee.  It was filling, and got me off to a good start.

I’ve read that you need about 400 calories for breakfast on ride day.  The breakfasts David and I had this morning should meet that target.  My only problem is, I’d like some variety in what I eat.

What kind of eating strategy do you follow for breakfast?  And what do you eat?  Let’s try to get lots of different suggestions.

The small ring ride

Whenever you look up training information for bike riders, the training schedules always work in easy days with harder effort days.  Because of my spotty riding schedule, I don’t find the need for many “easy” days, since I’m usually taking a day or two off between rides anyway.  But this week, I’ve been on the bike a lot, and the other day, I thought an “easy” day would be just the ticket.

I headed for the Veloway, which is where I ride at least twice a week.  My typical ride there involves attacking some spots, especially the slight grades at two or three places on the course.  But this time, I decided not to attack.  In fact, I decided to do something I’ve done only a time or two before: to ride the entire day in the small chain ring.

But I wasn’t going to be lazy about it.  Although I was in the easy ring, I kept up a quick pedaling cadence — about 90 rpm.  My speed was still decent, but I was determined not to concentrate on speed.

Instead, I concentrated on form, pedaling in a circle, and maintaining my cadence.  In all, I did four laps of the Veloway.  Coupled with the ride to and from, it was an 18-mile day.

And it was also a day I’ll be repeating often in the future.  I never felt like I was slacking.  Although several riders passed me, I passed several other riders.  My average speed at the end of the ride came out to 15.5 miles per hour.  Not bad, and not far off from my average when I pound the Veloway in the big ring. 

When the ride was over, I felt refreshed, rather than tired.  I tackled some minor chores around the house, and didn’t fall asleep in front of the TV that night.

Easy days are often portrayed as “recovery” days, a break from the hard effort rides.  But I look at rides like this one as more than simply recovery — especially since I had not ridden the previous day.  It added to my base mileage and improved my form.  Both of these are factors that will help me improve my overall cycling efforts.  Try a ride in just the small ring — I think you’ll like the results.

My sick bike

One of the requirements of the MS 150 is that bikes be inspected at an MS 150-approved bike shop.  Luckily for me, the shop where I bought my bike and have it serviced is one of those.  I called, and asked to make an appointment to bring the bike in.  They said I wouldn’t need an appointment for that, so I put the bike in the car, and drove over.  

I was waited on by the only mechanic in there who didn’t have arms, neck, and other places decorated with tattoos.  (I’ve come to believe that tattoos are part of a bike mechanic’s uniform.)  He put it on the stand, and started going through the inspection, spinning the pedals, shifting through the gears.  Then he picked up one of those gizmos you use to measure chains.

“Uh oh,” he said.  “This chain is worn.  In fact, I’d call it ‘beyond worn.’”  Was it shifting OK?  Yes, I told him.  “Ugh.  That’s bad,” he grunted.  Huh?  “It means the cassette has worn along with the chain,” he said.

How many miles are on the bike?  About 3,000, I said.  “You really need to replace the chain every 1200-1500 miles,” he said.*

He went into a back room, and came out with a new chain.  “This is a Shimano 105 chain for nine speeds,” he said, “so it’ll match your drive train.”  He put on the new chain, adjusted the cable tension, and told me to do a parking lot test with it.  “Really mash down on the pedals when you shift gears,” he said.  “But be careful.  The chain might pop off.”  

I took it into the parking lot for a quick spin.  The chain didn’t pop off, but shifting was clunky.  Back in the shop, he made more adjustments.  I took it to the lot for another spin.  This time it was better, but still clunky.

“Yep, you need a new cassette,” he said.  I was surprised to see that his computer search of their inventory turned up no 12-28 nine speed Shimano 105 cassettes.  I thought it was a model in wide use.  “The 10-speeds are taking over,” he said.

He found another, a SRAM, that he said would work fine, and put it on order.  In the meantime, I can ride the bike, he said, but he again warned me about the possibility of throwing the chain.

When I first saw that the MS 150 required bike inspections (they put a little sticker on your stem to show that you’ve had it), I thought it was just another pain in the butt.  After today’s experience, I’m glad I went.  The new chain and cassette together, and the labor to install them, will come in well under $100, and I’ll have peace of mind that on a 180-mile bike ride, at least I won’t be worried about that.

*There is apparently much debate about that.  The late Sheldon Brown’s thorough discussion of chain wear doesn’t mention how often it needs to be replaced.

Smoked by a smart gal

I took advantage of the first day of Spring Break and the first really nice weather day in Austin in some time, to get in some real bike mileage this morning.  I went out to Mopac, planning to do a few loops.  Since I have the week off, I plan to be riding every day (well, almost — golf tomorrow) and beef up my mileage and endurance.

On my second loop of the eight-mile route, I saw a biker pull out onto the road about a half-mile ahead of me.  Aha, I thought — here’s a chance to see if I have what it takes to catch him.  I picked up the pace a little.

It was going to reach a high in the mid-80s(F) today, but at the time of the ride, it was still in the 50s.  I was nicely warmed up, but didn’t plan to push too hard to catch the rabbit — just a bit more than my usual pace.  When I rounded the turn at Route 1826 for the return leg, the other biker was out of sight.  But I soon saw him emerge from a swale in the road.  It looked like my chances of catching him were pretty good.

Several hills mark this stretch of the route.  Not big hills, but enough to make you work.  The other biker was not pumping very hard, but keeping a steady, even pace.  I was closing the gap.

Toward the end of the eastbound leg, there’s a nice downhill that lets me exceed speeds of 30 mph.  Not so today, with a southeast wind blowing in my face.  I got up only to 30, but was still gaining.  I expected to catch him on the level ground at the bottom of the hill.

It was then that I realized — the other biker was female!  (That’s fine — one of the strongest riders in my bike club, who regularly leaves most of the guys behind, is a female.)  And since she was obviously younger than me, she was probably stronger than me, if she’d had any kind of experience on a bike.  Heck, I was pleased to be able to catch anybody.

“On your left,” I called, as I closed on her.  She barely gave her bike a flick over to let me by.  I passed, still gaining speed, and gradually eased over into the center of the paved shoulder.  The road was approaching a sweeping left that would turn us north, and up another series of moderate hills.  I kept up the same pace I’d been riding, and attacked the first hill.

My legs must be getting stronger.  I actually gained speed going uphill, at least for a bit.  I felt good — what a great day to be out on a bike ride!  Then I heard a telltale click.

It was a bike changing gears, and it wasn’t mine.  I looked back, and there she was — inches behind my rear wheel!  She’d grabbed a draft right after I passed her.  That gave her a chance to recharge her batteries.

I saw her wheel pull up on my left side.  We crested a hill, and started down.  She pulled in behind me again.  At the base of the hill, I downshifted and applied more power.  Again the click just off my ear.  And then, that nice silver Merlin with the rider in the purple and white jersey slid by me.

I figured I’d use her tactic, and grab her wheel.  But I was losing ground climbing the hill, and she was pulling away.  By the time we reached the top, she was out of reach.

I’ve been smoked by old guys, smoked by young gals, smoked by mountain bikes, and now I was smoked by someone who really knew what she was doing.  Good for her, and good for me — I learned something today.  I learned that I’m not as young as I feel, and I learned that I still have a way to go conditioning-wise (as if I didn’t know that already).

I finished another loop of the Mopac route, then headed home.  Good average speed today — almost 16 mph.  It’s going to be nice for the rest of the week.  I hope I have several repeats of today’s ride.  But this time, I’ll grab the other rider’s wheel and save my strength for when it counts.

Those dicey right turn lanes

A fact of biking life is contending with right turn lanes that cross in front of your bike.  I cross such a lane frequently in my neighborhood.  It lets right-turning motorists bypass a stoplight, and merge quickly into cross-street traffic (which is usually heavy at this intersection).

Bikers are supposed to “take the lane”– that is, stay in their own lane, crossing over the right turn lane to continue onward. In theory, that works.  But when the right turn lane bypasses the stoplight, cars tend to hit it at higher speeds, and that can sometimes lead to a potentially dangerous confrontation between car and bike.

The other day, I approached such an intersection.  I could hear a car approaching from behind.  I pulled to the left edge of the bike lane, and kept going on to the stoplight, which had turned red.  Then I heard it.

The sound of a car engine, coming up behind me fast, on the left, but slowing.  He was obviously going to head into the right turn lane.  He pulled even with me.  It was a big SUV, a Ford Explorer.  He couldn’t let a lousy bicycle keep him from hitting his lane, but he was hesitant.  Should he punch it, and cut into the lane in front of me?  Or should he hit the brakes and wait until I’d passed across his front before he made his turn?  

Although he hesitated, I didn’t.  I kept ownership of the lane, and kept moving at a steady pace.  He realized he couldn’t cut me off (much as I’m sure he would have liked to).  He braked hard, and made his turn after I’d cleared the turn lane.

This afternoon, same intersection, same situation.  But this time the car was a BMW sedan, one of the bigger ones.  He gunned it as I eased over to the left edge of the bike lane, preparing to cross over the right turn lane.  No hesitation on his part. The black car shot ahead, crossed in front, and merged into the cross traffic from the right turn lane.

The League of American Bicyclists, whose Road I course I took last spring, says, If your lane turns into a right turn only lane, change lanes before the intersection.  But that’s if you’re riding in a traffic lane.  I was in a bike lane, a lane that ended when it turned into a right turn lane, then resumed before the stoplight.  So my course of action was to stay in my lane, which I did.  Again, the League: Avoid riding in lanes that position you on the right side of a right turn lane.  By hugging the left edge of the bike lane, I was ready to cross the right turn lane quickly and get out of the way of any turning vehicles.

It’s that move, getting out of the bike lane and crossing the right turn lane, that seems to cause drivers the most consternation.  Since they’re turning anyway, it seems to me the logical thing to do would be to slow, ease in behind me, and in the two to three seconds it takes me to get out of their way, they can finish their turn.  Biker’s logic, I suppose.  Once people get behind the wheel of their cars, another mindset kicks in.

Be careful out there.