Ear buds — do you use them?

earbud2Every organized ride has them — warnings that riders are not allowed to wear headphones during the ride.  The rationale can’t be faulted — if your ears are full of blaring music, you might not hear cars coming up behind you, and could get into an unsafe situation.

But there’s a different take on that issue.  My friend Jared claims that earbuds make you more aware of your surroundings.  They cut the wind noise, and actually make it easier to hear other vehicles.

I’ve had an iPod for a couple of years, but never listened to it on a ride.  I took to heart those warnings about safety.  But this evening, I decided to bring the iPod along and test Jared’s idea.

I mixed up my riding.  Some of it was on the shoulder of a four lane divided highway, where cars and trucks routinely go 65 mph or faster.  Then, I turned onto suburban neighborhood streets with very little traffic.  I took a few laps on the Veloway, where the only other traffic was bikers and rollerbladers.  Finally, I rode an arterial street through the neighborhood — one with heavy traffic during the evening rush hour, but with much lower speeds than the highway.

Earbuds cut the wind noise? The prevailing wind in Central Texas is from the southeast, as it was today. And when you’re pedaling into the wind, the earbuds do nothing to cut wind noise.  If anything, the airflow swirls around the earpieces and amplifies the wind noise.

But when you’re riding with the wind, or even across it, the earbuds do seem to have that magical effect.  The music certainly comes through more clearly.

Earbuds make it easier to hear approaching vehicles? Well, yes and no. I had no trouble hearing cars and trucks coming up behind me on the highway. What I couldn’t figure out was whether I was hearing them later than I would if I rode without the earbuds. On the Veloway, I did not hear other bikers come up to pass me until they were right next to me.

One other earbud effect I noticed: I didn’t feel as connected to my bike as I am on a typical ride. The earbuds blocked out the little noises that the bike makes — the noises that remind you to feather the front derailleur, or to take a look at the bottom bracket, because it might need cleaning and maybe lubing.

Does riding with only one earbud in make a difference? You bet. You can’t hear the music as well. And if it’s a song with distinctive stereo separation, that means you’re not getting the sensory experience of the song. Doesn’t matter if it’s quieter stuff like Diana Krall’s “Let’s Fall In Love” and Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” (Man, am I dating myself!) or raucous stuff like Little Richard’s “Lucille” or LouAnn Barton’s “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu.”  I’ve gotta have both earbuds in, or it’s not worth it for me. Oh, was I supposed to talk about whether the one bud makes it easier to hear traffic? I didn’t notice a difference.

As far as the safety concerns, In My Humble Opinion, they are overblown. I heard surrounding sounds quite well. The earbuds did not block out those noises.

Will I ride with earbuds again? Probably. But it’s not something I’ll do on a regular basis. I’ve never felt it necessary to add to the sensory enjoyment of biking when I can take in the sights and sounds all around me. For me, it’s the biking experience that counts.

A newbie’s first road bike (guest post)

Ramon H.

Ramon H.

Bike Noob reader Ramon H. recently decided to make the move from an old mountain bike to a new road bike. Ramon, who lives in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, has been emailing me back and forth about the new purchase, and after a slight delay to wait for the right color, he took delivery on a Trek 1.2. I asked Ramon to describe the experience of adapting to a road bike.

My wife bought a bicycle on ebay. I made as many adjustments as I could. Naturally, I had tried adjusting the brakes, but the true of the wheels was way off on both wheels. There was no amount of adjusting that could be done that could rectify the situation. I did not want to bother adjusting for the true, so off to the local bike shop we were.

Once we were there, I decided to try getting on a road bike and trying it for posture. I had been to the shop a couple of weeks ago and had asked them to try a 50cm frame, but that day they did not have any available. I already had done some preliminary research and had heard excellent things about the Trek 1.2, being especially an excellent entry level road bike. I asked them if they had any frames available and they had a 50cm, a 52cm and a 54cm. I actually got in the 50cm and they let me take it for a spin around the parking lot. It was a perfect match. I tried the 52cm, but it was not a good fit. After several adjustments and several measurements to get a better idea of my true fit, I decided (with the OK from the wife) that I would buy the bike.

I did ask them if they carried another color since this one was white and red and they said they did not know. I also bought a frame pump, cage holders, tire liners, and a seat bag which they kindly installed before I took it home. Unfortunately, as soon as I got home, I went online to the Trek site and noticed that Trek sells the same model in blue (blue is my favorite color). So we called the shop back to see if we could bring it back to) get the blue one instead. The guy we dealt with said to bring it back on Monday (he needed to get the OK from his manager and he was gone already). He said that he should be able to make the exchange and that they should be able to special order the blue one.

I picked up my road bike on Friday from the LBS pretty late in the day, so I did not get to ride that day. I decided that I would go to a dedicated bike trail for the bike’s “maiden voyage” about half hour from where I live. Once on the trail, I became accustomed to the shifting, the posture and the dropped handlebars. I also did not wanted to bother with traffic and road debris. I was able to put in a relaxed 10 miles and was able to get the bike up to a max speed of 22.6 mph. I noticed an increase of 3-6 mph over my regular speed. I also noticed that I was a lot less tired than when using the mountain bike.

This morning, I decided to head out for a 15-miler on bike lanes around town. I caught a lot of headwind, but even with that decided to do an additional 5 miles; I ended up with about 22 miles altogether. During one of the segments of the ride, I caught some tailwind. I decided to get down on the dropped handlebars and took off like a scalded dog: 25.4mph max speed (yea baby). It was exhilarating and scary at the same time. I also noticed that the bike became much less stable and that BOTH hands (no fiddling with the odometer or waving at other cyclists) are required once you drop on the handlebars as you are holding on for dear life :lol:.

The only down side to the 20+ mile ride were: lots of road debris, I actually got off the bike at least 3 times to toss nails off the bike lanes; and the stock saddle did a number on my derriere. It was not that bad, but I did have to get off the saddle (and bike) every couple of miles after the 10+ mile mark. I was a little bit sore after the ride, but I can see that it would get quite annoying to have to get off the bike when doing a group ride.

I did further research on the whole wearing chamois or padded shorts and I just cannot get used to the idea of wearing it. I actually gag thinking about wearing wet chamois after a long ride *gag*. So after checking some entries under your blog and many other cycling sites, I will bite the bullet and order a Brooks B17 standard saddle. I am encouraged by the many posts talking that chamois/padding is optional once the saddle is broken-in. I will also take advantage of the stores’ (Wallingford Bikes) 6-month return policy in case I run into issues with it. I need to get on the breaking-in period rather quick since I will be signing up for a local 25-mile bike tour a month from now. I will let you know how the Brooks saddle behaves.

It’s my guess that a lot of Bike Noob readers have had similar experiences as Ramon. When to switch from mountain bikes to something else? Should I go all the way to a road bike, or get some kind of hybrid? What about those crazy bike clothes? And those clipless pedals? Welcome to the road, Ramon. You might be interested to note that Bicycling Magazine names the Trek 1.2 as one of the best bikes under $1,000.

Pumps vs. CO2 — something new

First of all, thanks for checking in over the past few days, even though I had no new posts. I was out of town — in Las Vegas for three days. At an academic convention. Now, there’s an anomaly. Picture professors presenting arcane academic research to other professors, and you get the idea. Now picture it with all the lights and sounds and commotion of Las Vegas. Weird.

Anyhow, I’m back. Haven’t been on the bike since Tuesday. Didn’t do my usual Sunday morning ride. The neglected yard has caught up with me, and I put in lots of time trimming back untamed bushes, cleaning gutters, and patching browned-out sod.  Maybe someday soon I’ll have another post about my riding

But I do have something today. People continue to have a lot of interest in the CO2 vs. pump issue. You know my preference — I’ve landed in the pump camp. The folks who like the cartridges cite convenience. It’s fast, the tire can be inflated in about one second, and you’re on the road again. But CO2 is only a temporary measure. It’s a good idea to deflate the tire and pump it up with good ol’ air as soon as possible. Why? Because CO2 is soluble in the butyl rubber used in tire tubes, and the tube will lose pressure quickly. Lennard Zinn explained the technical reasons why in a Velonews q & a.

But that argument against CO2 may not stand for much longer. One company now makes cartridges with a proprietary gas that last much longer in a tire than CO2. picture-3It’s called Stayfill, and the manufacturer claims it will last for over a year in a bike tire. Now, Bike Noob is not in a habit of endorsing products, and this is not an endorsement. I’ve never used the stuff, so I have no idea if it works or not. I’m sticking to my pump. If you’re one of the cartridge types, this might bear checking out. It seems to be more expensive than CO2 — but for some people, it might be worth it.

Could my saddle be too firm?

I got out this evening for an 18-mile ride on the Veloway, which was about all I could handle after the MS over the weekend.  It was a good ride, just what I needed to ease back into the biking routine after the MS ride left me with a sore taint.

I’ve got a new pair of Sugoi shorts with the largest chamois pad I’ve seen.  It didn’t seem to matter.  I was struck by the fact that my bottom started complaining after about the same distance when I did the century ride last fall. It’s the soft tissue that gets sore — the perineum.

I’ve written before about my Specialized Alias saddle, and how much I like it.  But I gotta say, after about 50 miles, my bottom starts to hurt.

specializedaliasThe Specialized Alias saddle.

So — it may be time to start rethinking the saddle.  The Alias is firm, like a racing saddle.  It could be that I need to go to something with a little more padding so that when I do longer rides, I come through them without any soreness. The problem is, how much (or how little) padding do I need?

I like to window shop as much as anyone.  I’ve been attracted to the WTB line of saddles.  Wilderness Trail Bikes seems to be primarily a mountain biking line, but they do have saddles for road biking.  Most are reasonably priced, too.  They carry a little more padding than I’ve presently got. Could be worth dropping a few bucks on one to test it out.  Most retailers will take back the saddle after a reasonable try-out period.

The other thing that occurs to me is that I might need a real bike fitting.  I’ve done some tweaking of my saddle position since I got the bike, so it’s not in the same place it was when they fitted me at the time of purchase.  However, their fitting was rather cursory, and I wasn’t impressed with the process.

A shop in Austin is known for its fitting services, and the price is right, too.  Any thoughts about new saddles vs. a professional bike fitting?  Which way should I go?

MS 150 Day Two: Success!

(For an account of Day One, see the previous post.)

Jared and I got up at 3:45 a.m. to dress, pack, and head for breakfast. The buses would load at the ride headquarters hotel, and head for LaGrange at 5:30. We were disappointed to find that they weren’t the airline-like tour buses of Friday, but garden variety school buses. Still, they did get the job done, and got us to LaGrange on time.

And lo and behold, everything came together they way it was supposed to. Our bikes were easy to find. We organized our kit, and put our luggage on the truck for the trip to Austin. We had just enough time to top off the air in the tires and take our places in the crowd for the mass start.

cthseThe courthouse square in LaGrange was a picturesque place for the ride to start.

I was interested to see whether the ride would suffer a large defection from riders who were disappointed in the first day’s cancellation. It soon became evident that if there were dropouts, they didn’t make an appreciable impact.

lagThis is just the crowd on my side of the courthouse. Riders extended out of sight to the left, and behind the courthouse on the other side of the square.

Ride organizers cap the MS150 at 13,000 riders. More than that is too hard to handle. This year’s ride filled up within six hours. It’s the largest MS 150 ride in the nation. I’m not much for making crowd estimates, but it looked to this untrained eye that most of those who signed up made it to the event.

Plans to have the top fundraising teams from the previous year lead off the ride were scratched, because of scrambling to re-plan the ride. Instead, groups of about 25 were started in waves. The morning was sunny, temperature in the mid-60sF, and everyone seemed excited to finally get the ride going.

Riders had a choice of two routes to the lunch break in Bastrop, about 45 miles away. They could take the “Lunch Express” route, which had them ride the shoulder of Texas 71, a four-lane divided highway, or they could take the “Challenge” route, which rode less-traveled farm-to-market roads, and wound through two state parks. The parks featured some tough hills. I took the Challenge route.

pipesA bagpiper serenaded riders just miles into the day’s journey.

The Bastrop area is known as the “Lost Pines” of Texas, because it’s the site of the farthest west stand of pines in the state. The trip through the state parks was scenic and shaded much of the time. My bike was performing well, and I was surprised to see how many breakdowns were happening along the route.

parkThis is a flat section of the parks. I chose not to stop on the hills to take pictures.

Texas is flat in the Houston area, so Houston riders don’t get much chance to train on hills. The hills in the state parks were mostly steep, but short. Riders had to deal with the incline-challenged suddenly coming to a dead stop in the middle of a climb, and bailing out to walk the rest of the way. Shouts of, “Move out of the road,” became common. Since I include hills in about half my rides, I found these to be challenging, but doable.

Once we left the parks, the terrain morphed to long, gentle hills. We got a break in Bastrop, where the rest stop was also a lunch stop.

lunchRiders were treated to turkey or veggie sandwiches from Subway, potato chips, a small apple, and a bottle of energy drink.

To feed thousands of riders is no small feat, and the efficiency of the volunteers during my lunch stop amazed me. Here was also where one of the odd happenings of the day took place. I wound up seated across from four women from the Dow Chemical team. I put my helmet with my number, 1520, on the table, and found that one of the women’s helmets carried number 1521. Out of 13,000 riders, we thought that was a fun coincidence.

We’d been dealing with a moderate northwest headwind for the whole trip, but out of Bastrop, the route turned more to the north, and the wind became tougher. As we slogged along, a rider pulled up beside me.

“Are you the blogger?” he asked.

Stunned, I could only reply, “What?”

“Are you the blogger known as the Bike Noob?” he asked.

His name was Randy, and he’s a regular reader. How did he find me?

“All day long, I’ve been looking for a blue Specialized with torn bar tape,” he said. “When I saw your bike, I knew it had to be you.”

I had wrapped black electrical tape over the ruined part, but he figured it was a bar tape bandage. We rode together for awhile and had an enjoyable chat. After the next rest stop, I didn’t see him again.

Usually, on organized rides of 1,000 to 1,500 riders, the crowd thins out after the first rest stop, and you often see only a handful of others on the road with you. Not so with the MS 150. All day long, a line of cyclists stretched as far as the eye could see, both ahead of you and behind you. Often, they took the entire right lane, holding up motor traffic that stumbled onto the same road.

lineThe police were out in force, and did a nice job of controlling traffic. It appeared that they had decided to give cyclists priority this day. As the ride entered Austin, riders became even more bunched up because of heavier traffic and the requirement to actually stop for some red lights.

As we approached the finish, the crowd lining the streets exploded. They yelled and cheered, used noisemakers and drums, and competed with the loudspeakers that boomed rock music at the highest volume I’ve ever heard. Mrs. Noob found me within a few minutes in the milling throng, and we got everything together for the ride home.

noobRide’s end. Barely room to get a picture with so many people around.

A good ride, marred only by the loss of day one from Houston to LaGrange. That would have been roughly a full century. My cyclocomputer said I covered 74.8 miles today. The ride organizers pegged it at 77 miles. Average speed, only 13.2 mph. The headwind and slow riding in the crowd kept the speed down.

I did the ride for the challenge, and to support two people who are living with MS: my cousin Nancy, and our friend Mary in Minneapolis. I’ll always have the memory of the riders with jerseys that read, “I have MS, that’s why I ride,” and the spectators along the course who held up signs reading, “Thank you for saving my life.” It chokes me up just to think about them. If you haven’t done one of the many MS 150s around the country, I heartily recommend you give it a shot.

MS 150 Day One: Washout

We probably could have seen it coming.  It had rained lightly in Austin all day Friday, and when I went downtown to load my bike on the truck and myself on the bus, it was still raining.  


The check-in tent for MS 150 riders on a gloomy, drizzly afternoon.

When the bus pulled away for the ride to Houston, the skies opened up.  The farther east we got, the heavier the rain became.  Some areas along the ride route recorded 11 inches of rain.  I snapped a poor photo from the bus, but I think it shows the extent of the problem caused by the downpour.

fieldThat’s not a river or a lake — it’s farmland.  Shortly after I took the picture, some other riders on the bus started getting updates on their cell phones: the first day of the MS 150 was indeed cancelled.

My hotel roomie, Jared of Just Another Nerd…, got to Houston and checked into our hotel, which was about a mile from the main ride headquarters hotel.  The ride organizers said there would be an update at 10 that night, so we made it a point to be present for the announcement.

meetingMost of the crowd were good-natured about the circumstances of the cancellation.  Parts of Saturday’s route were under water, and the county fairgrounds in LaGrange, where we were to spend our first night, was a quagmire.  On top of that, so much rain had fallen that it had collapsed some of the team tents.  

The new plan was to shuttle Austin-based riders who had paid for transportation to Houston from Houston to LaGrange at 5:30 a.m. Sunday.  Our bikes, which went to Houston by truck, would be taken to LaGrange by those same trucks.  The ride would begin promptly at 8 a.m. Sunday.

When we woke up Saturday morning, the correctness of the decision to cancel the ride was obvious.  It was pouring.  I would have been content to get a cheap paperback from the hotel gift shop and curl up with it in the room all day.  But Jared had other ideas.  He rented a car, and we drove over to the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

museumThe Bike Noob with the Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Museum of Natural Science.

We spent hours there.  Every so often, one of us would look outside, where it seemed to be raining harder than ever.  We began to steel ourselves to the possibility that the second day of the ride would be cancelled, too.

But during supper Saturday night, we learned through text messages and the ride’s web site that Sunday was a go.  The food was dispensed with quickly, and we went back to the hotel to get packed and turn in early for an extremely early wakeup call the next morning.

Time for the MS 150

bpms150Tomorrow’s the day. I’ll take off work early, head home and pack up my bike and stuff. I’ll drive to downtown Austin, where I’ll rendezvous with a bus for Houston. The bike goes on a separate truck, which will take it to the starting line in Houston and secure it overnight. Then, I’ll meet up with my biking and blogging buddy Jared, and we’ll hop the bus for the three-to-four hour ride.

In Houston, there’ll be lots to do. We’ll check into our hotel. We’ll head over to the ride headquarters hotel and take in the bike expo. Our team is hosting a hospitality suite, and it will be our first chance to meet most of the other team members. And we’ll chow down on a spaghetti dinner.

Early to bed, because it’s up at 4 a.m. Saturday. We have to pack our bags and tote them over to the headquarters hotel, where they’ll be put in a team truck for delivery to our halfway stop in LaGrange, Texas. A shuttle bus will run us across I-10 to Tully Stadium, where the ride begins. With luck, we’ll be able to snarf down some breakfast tacos at Tully.

Our team was one of the top fund raising teams last year, so we get the fourth team starting spot. The start is at 6:45 a.m., so we’ll have to be on the bikes and ready to go at that time. It’ll be interesting to see just how the ride organizers herd everyone through the start and keep bikers from crashing into each other left and right.

We’re going to get wet. Depending on which forecast you read, the chance of rain is between 50-80 percent. I hate riding in the rain. But the rest of the day should be nice, with partly cloudy skies and a high in the mid-70sF.

I’m really looking forward to the ride, but I’m feeling some concern about it, too. I haven’t done nearly the prep miles I should have. But I do have that century under my belt, so I’m confident I know how to approach this endeavor. I’ll make it a point to draft more than I did in October, to make my ride a bit easier to handle. And when my bottom starts rebelling during the afternoon, I’ll know how to baby it to get it to the halfway point. First day’s ride is 99.6 miles, according to the ride map. I’ll pedal around the block to get that extra four-tenths of a mile.

I’m counting on being tired enough that night that sleep on a collapsible cot in a sleeping bag under a large group tent shouldn’t be an issue.

On Sunday, the hilly route into Bastrop awaits — I hope. Then it’s another 25 miles to Austin, where Mrs. Noob will be waiting — I hope. I’ll try to post a ride report Sunday evening. I’m pumped.

By the way, I am still soliciting donations to support my ride. It is to raise funds to fight multiple sclerosis, after all. If you’re interested, click here and follow the instructions. Or, you can wait to see if I finish the ride without having to sag in. If I do, you can donate then, if you like. The MS Society will take money for an additional month.