I was a ride volunteer

Since I started biking, I’ve ridden in about six organized rides. I’ve been impressed with the organization of each one, even though some are inevitably going to be better done than others. A lot of work goes into putting on a ride, and it wouldn’t get done without the help of volunteers.

I was really  wowed by the number of volunteers that helped put on the MS ride last month. To get 11,600 riders across miles and miles of Texas took some tremendous planning to begin with, and then when the ride’s first day was rained out, all the ride workers had to be coordinated and new plans made within hours. Not only did the job get done, it was done without a hitch.

So when the Real Ale Ride appeared on the calendar, I decided I wouldn’t ride it this year, I would work it. I filled out an online form during this past week, and signed up for two different roles.

Thursday afternoon, I joined four other folks for ride packet pickup. It was at the north store of Bicycle Sport Shop, which is a main ride sponsor. A worker for Red Licorice Events, who is doing all the logistical work on the ride, pulled up with a car loaded with boxes of t-shirts, ride packets, and other paraphernalia. We sorted it all out, and were handing out materials even before the 3 p.m. start time.

pickupTwo volunteers help a rider check in.

The crowd came in waves, sometimes with people lined up five deep, but at other times leaving us standing around talking. The work wasn’t difficult, but we had to pay attention. It’s pretty easy to miss a step like leaving a wrist band out of a packet, or forgetting to include the helmet number along with the jersey number. I was surprised at how many people registered for the ride at the store, rather than doing it earlier online. At 7 p.m. when the store closed, we got all the t-shirts boxed up and stacked at the back of the store for delivery to their other location the next day.

My alarm went off at 5 a.m. Saturday, so I could get breakfasted and dressed and on the road for Blanco, Texas, about 40 miles west of Austin. I would be working the starting line area, and since the start was moved up to 7:30 a.m. this year, an early start for me was mandatory.

VoltentI checked in at the volunteer tent, and asked about my duties. “I don’t really know,” said one of the workers. “Find Erin. She’ll tell you. She’s on a bike with a basket. You can’t miss her.”

I couldn’t find her, though, and with 7:30 getting closer, I was concerned about the start. I enlisted the help of another volunteer to move the staging signs into place. The 80-milers would start first, then 15 minutes later, the 65-milers, and the 50s, 30s and 15s would each start at 15-minute intervals.



Then Erin found me. I knew right away that I was not going to mind working for her today. Here was a Texas-style ride starter who would be the envy of any ride in the country, whether there’s a cowboy connection or not. Erin is the co-owner of Red Licorice Events, the company that runs the Real Ale Ride for Bicycle Sports Shop. Red Licorice runs a dozen triathlon and running events each year on their own, as well as the Real Ale Ride under contract. Although Erin was constantly bombarded with cell phone calls and walkie-talkie squawks, she kept her cool, dealt with each question quickly and efficiently, and always kept it fun. She chatted and flirted with riders in the front row, and greeted many by name. She put a bullhorn in my hand, and showed me how to use it. I had to tell the riders to ride slow from the start down the hill to the main highway, because the hill they were on had speed bumps. Then they had to be reminded to keep to the right once they hit the highway, and not ride in the center lane. If necessary, we would stop the riders in the starting area to let bike traffic spread out a bit on the main road.  Erin would blow the airhorn to start each wave.

The 80-mile riders were the first to go. Their 7:30 start was moved up from last year, when the ride had to contend with very hot temperatures. This morning, while it was in the high 70s and would get hotter, the clouds hung around, keeping things cool. A few raindrops even spattered us while we waited for the clock to tick down.

TinaIn appreciation for the city of Blanco’s support of the ride, Mayor Tina Gourley was designated to lead off the riders. She looked apprehensive on her cruiser in front of the 80-mile hammerheads, but later told me she got started without any trouble and made it to her house, where she parked her bike, grabbed her dog, and returned to the staging area.

The five different groups got off the starting line, with only one minor collision between bikes. No injuries. Then, we volunteers looked at each other, wondering what there would be to do. Erin asked me to find some hoses to run from the Real Ale brewery (did I mention that the ride starts and finishes at a microbrewery?) to some kiddie pools that had been set up under a huge live oak tree, and fill them up. Then, I took apart some leftover signs and packed them away in the Red Licorice trailer.

signsMost of my work after the ride started was mindless and menial, but necessary.

Volunteering has its perks, of course. This ride featured all sorts of free stuff for riders: beer from the brewery, a barbeque lunch, bottled iced tea, massages… the list goes on. Once our work was done and we waited for the bulk of the riders to come in, we got to get our food and drink, too.

But most of the rest of the morning was spent in the Volunteer tent, chatting with the other folks. I was surprised to learn that many of the volunteers were not bikers. Working these events is just a fun thing for them to do. Others had a motivation similar to mine. “I have volunteer guilt,” said John, who I worked with on Thursday. “I’ve ridden in a lot of these, and it’s time to give back.”

For the rest of the day, we had to answer a continual stream of questions as riders returned from the course. It didn’t bother me if I didn’t have the answer, because it gave me an excuse to find Erin and ask her.

My favorite question came just before I was to leave for the day:

“Say, can you help me? I want to get a white ride t-shirt. I just can’t wear this burnt orange one.”

I looked at his cap with its maroon Texas A & M logo. “Aggie, huh? I think they’re all gone, but try the merchandise tent over there.”

My shift was done at 1 p.m. The area in front of the brewery was crowded with riders, and the lines for beer and barbeque were quite long. I hunted down Erin to tell her I was leaving, and got a hug and an invitation to come back next year.

I’ll be back. Maybe not on this ride, because I want to ride it next year, but probably on others. As I think we all realize, these rides wouldn’t happen without the work of the volunteers. If you ride, you might consider “paying it forward” and helping out sometime.

The Selle San Marco Ponza

After my MS ride last month, I was sore. I wondered whether my bottom problems we the result of my saddle. I ride the Specialized Alias saddle — 143 mm size — and I’ve read and heard a lot of nice things about it. Last year, I even wrote about the comfort of the saddle. But since then, I’ve become less enamored of it.

My friend David invited me to try one of his spare saddles, just to see if it would make any difference, so I went by his house to pick it up. It’s a Selle San Marco Ponza, and comes as factory equipment on several mid-range bikes. Reviews I’ve seen online are all over the map; some reviewers love it, some hate it. I’ll bet that’s true of the majority of saddles, which tend to be the most personal pieces of equipment on a bike.

I was anxious to try anything new, so I put it on the bike and have ridden it a number of times.


The Ponza.

It’s not apparent in the picture, but the first thing you notice about the Ponza is its width. It’s a racing-style saddle, and quite a bit narrower than the Alias. I’d been leery of trying a narrow saddle, so I began this test with some trepidation.


The Alias.

The other obvious difference is the lack of a cutout on the Ponza. That bothered me, too. I couldn’t imagine being comfortable, especially after more than about 20 miles, on a saddle that offered no relief to the softy bits.

But the experience was a revelation. The narrow saddle felt much better under me. It’s much easier to slide into and out of when you’re up out of the saddle during a hill climb. My important stuff didn’t get squashed the way I feared. On our 34-mile jaunt last Sunday, I completely forgot about the saddle — which I guess is a pretty good endorsement.

The saddle isn’t perfect. For one thing, it has an almost complete lack of padding compared to the Alias. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the saddle is supposed to handle only part of the job of supporting a rider. The pedals and handlebars have to absorb their share of the load, too. And once I got used to coasting with the pedals in a horizontal position, and standing to pedal on even slight hills, any discomfort went away.

Still, I think my search for the perfect saddle is by no means at an end. I’d like to try something like the Ponza with a cutout, or at least a depression down the middle. I’ve got one in mind, and I’ll be mounting that on the bike in the next week. Look for another saddle progress report in the near future.

The Time Trialist

Well, I went and did it. I entered the bi-weekly time trial run on the Mopac loop I so often ride. This is part of my effort to inject a little more fun into my cycling. Several members of my club, and other friends, have been urging me to do it, and although I’m not that much for riding fast for long distances, I figured it was time.  If nothing else, I would get a realistic picture of where I stand vis-a-vis other riders.

Check in is at the Veloway, just two-and-a-half miles from my house, so I rode over. At the first stoplight on the way, one of the club members pulled up next to me. Steve T. loves these things, and tries not to miss any of them. As we rode together, I asked him the secret of this event.

“The secret is not to blow up,” he said. “Go out at 80 percent for the first half. When you make the turn, then you can really push.”

It sounded like good advice, and I planned to follow it. We got to the Veloway, and I waited in a short line to check in.

checkinSome riders rented timing chips for $5, others had purchased theirs for $35 earlier in the season. I was one of the renters.

chipAffix the chip to the strap, strap it on your ankle, and you’re good to go.

I took one three-mile lap around the Veloway to warm up. Don’t know why I bothered; it was 91 degrees and very sunny. Riders could head for the course any time after 6 p.m. As I waited in the shade for the magic hour to roll around, my friend David rode up. He wasn’t 100 percent sure he would do it tonight, but when he saw me, he figured what the heck. He signed in, and as it was now just after 6, we headed out to the course together.

startThe start. Just ride across the mat by the cones. It beeps. You’re off.

I’ve always enjoyed going to the Veloway on time trial nights, just to look at the bikes. Some of these guys take this thing very seriously.

rider1In deep thought while waiting to make the turn onto the course.

rider2Criminey! It’s 91 degrees!

DavidAh, normalcy! Recreational riders were out in force, too. My friend David.

David and I started together, because he’s done this before, and wanted to show me the way. But trouble hit right at the start. When he zeroed his computer, the wire disconnected. He was riding blind, and was most bummed that he couldn’t track his cadence.

I pulled ahead of David, and led him into the sweeping right turn that heads us west. Soon, we hit the first big uphill, to Escarpment Blvd. I shifted to the small chainring and kept up my pedaling cadence. When I glanced over my shoulder at the top of the hill, David had fallen off my pace.

Farther on, the road ends in a T intersection at Ranch Road 1826. Before the turn, riders must cross to the left shoulder of the road. There’s a stop sign at the intersection, and at this hour, homebound commuters are lined up waiting to make a left turn as well. When I got to the turn, a pickup truck at the stop sign started to pull away. He saw me in his side mirror, and hugged the curb as he turned, almost cutting me off. I was able to slow enough not to run into his back fender, but I had only enough wits to shout an unprintable word at him. If he’d pulled this stunt while I was on a normal ride, I would have filed an assault with a deadly weapon complaint with the sheriff’s department. But tonight, I was more interested in the ride. I made my turn and kept going.

Heading back east, it’s downhill much of the way, and even the two uphills aren’t bad. But it was into a moderate wind from the southeast. I got up to 33 mph into the wind on the longest downhill, then turned north for the last couple of miles.

By this time, I was really feeling it, and I had a couple more hills to negotiate. But now, the wind was at my back. Trouble was, I had drunk too much water before the start, and a side stitch had been bothering me for most of the ride. I put it out of my mind, and pushed up the last hill to the finish.

noobAt the finish, a tired but happy Noob.

David always set a target of 25 minutes for the 8.12 mile course. Since we’re pretty evenly matched, I figured that would be my benchmark, too. So I was pleased when the results were posted — I did it in 24 minutes, 34.8 seconds. Average speed: 19.5 mph — about 2 mph faster than I typically ride this course. That placed me 67th out of 75 riders. David came in a minute 19 later. We sat around and talked while we recovered from the effort, but we’ve got a long way to go to compete with the big boys.

Okay, so now I know where I stand. I did a lot better than I expected going in, and that’s a confidence builder. I won’t be doing these things again though, until they wind down in September — then I’ll run another one to see if I show any improvement over the summer. The guys who’d been after me to ride this were right: it’s fun.

An early thousand and a good ride

Funny how what used to be major biking milestones now pass almost unnoticed.  I completely missed it, but back on May 13th, I hit 1,000 miles for the year.  Last year, I didn’t hit that magic mark until June 13th. Now I’m wondering what kind of mileage I’ll wind up with for the year. My total last year was 2,677. I should hit 3,000 with no trouble this year — but I won’t be making a conscious effort to do it. I’ll just enjoy my rides.

Like the ride we did today out in the Hill Country. A friend suggested we ride from Dripping Springs this morning, so he, Mrs. Noob and I, and three other friends drove the 12 miles out there and rendezvoused at 8:15 to hit the road. 

Mrs. Noob — uh, Pat — and her friend Susie decided not to try to keep up with the rest of us, or to go as far. I’ve mentioned Pat’s bike before. Here it is:

PatsBikeShe catches a lot of flak about having a kickstand, but she does ride clipless. The tires are 32mm, and she had the bike shop add a higher stem to give her a quite upright position when riding.

We hit the road with four other women we called “The Green Team,” since they all wore hi-visibility green vests. They stuck with us for the first seven miles, then we split off.

This is one of my favorite rides in the area. The country roads are in pretty good shape — a few rough patches — and on Sunday morning, traffic is light.

SDTHere’s what most of the ride looked like to me: Scott, Dee Dee, and Tom lead the way along lightly-traveled country roads.

Clouds blocked the sun for most of the ride, and the temperatures held in the mid-70sF. Quite humid, though, as the forecast called for a 70 percent chance of rain. We hoped we would wrap things up before it got wet.

CowWhat vehicles there were are used to bikers on these roads over the weekend. We’re careful to move to single file along the edge of the road when we detect a car or truck coming up behind us. The animals are equally blase about bikers. This cow has seen it all before, and we didn’t interest her in the least.

Remark from Scott: “Isn’t it funny how a little bit of skunk odor actually smells good?”

Two minutes later, he amended his thought: “Oh, that’s not a little bit anymore.”

We climbed moderate hills in easy gears, keeping up our momentum most of the time. Tom had some derailleur trouble, which made smooth shifting a challenge. He’s a strong rider, but because he had to concentrate so much on his gearing, he described his ride as “hard work.”

But for every uphill there’s a downhill, and we got down in the drops as the road swept us along. As a result, none of us were at all tired when we got back to our starting point. The stats: 34.3 miles at an average speed of 14.7 mph. Pat and Susie had ridden a little over 19 miles, and were already lunching at a nearby cafe when we pulled in.

A good ride, a meal with friends, and we pulled the car into the garage just as the skies opened up. Can’t get much better than that.

Today’s ride capped off a week where I rode every day but Saturday, for a total of 125 miles. I can’t remember the last time I rode that many miles in a week. With two more weeks to go until summer classes begin, it looks like I’ll be spending a lot of time in the saddle. Can’t wait.

The dreaded chainring tattoo

First of all, thank you to all who rightly threw my whining back in my face and told me to get out and ride some different routes to break out of my pity party. Today, I did. Temperature in the high 70sF, no wind to speak of, and bright sunshine — a glorious day for biking. I rode in an area southeast of the city where I’ve ridden on club rides, but this time I did it alone. I took some roads I haven’t been on before. It was a “lollipop” route: 10 miles out, then a 10-mile loop on some decent country roads, then back home on the same 10-mile route I took to get out there. It’s the longest I’ve ridden since the MS ride last month, and when it was over, I felt great.

One of the attractions on this particular route is an exotic game ranch. If you’re lucky, you can see lots of African wildlife from the road. This morning I saw some antelope with the twisty horns, deer that are different from the North American whitetails, and even a zebra. But I had only my cell phone with me, and the pictures are no good. Next time I’ll take a decent camera.

While I was stopped to look at the critters, I straddled my bike. Not the brightest thing to do, because in no time at all, it was there — the dreaded chainring tattoo.

I’ve heard lots of talk about chainring tattoos being the sign of the rookie biker.  What’s a chainring tattoo? It’s that nice greasy mark on your calf from touching the chainring of your bike — usually the large ring, when the chain is on the small one. Sometimes you’ll hear it referred to as the “amateur mark.” I’ve been riding almost two years, and I still get them. So what’s amateur about that?


My own “amateur mark.” A particularly good specimen, I think.

I figure if you’re on the bike, you’re bound to come away with a tattooed calf. Not much you can do about it, and furthermore, it’s not something I’m going to go to great efforts to prevent.

The biggest problem is, it’s tough to completely remove in the shower — even with a slightly abrasive skin cleanser. Oh well, it’ll fade away in a day or three.

Any thoughts about the “amateur mark” slander that accompanies these things?

Riding without goals

Got out this evening for a nice hour-plus ride with David. I’m trying to ride every day this week, now that I have some time on my hands, so this was a good one. Temperatures are relatively mild — have to enjoy them while they last — and we’re not supposed to have any rain for a week or so.

The ride was interesting for another reason, too. David is letting me try out one of his spare saddles. He saw that I was questioning whether to keep the saddle I’ve been riding on since I bought my bike, or if the discomfort in my nether region might ease if I planted myself on a different perch. It’s a narrower saddle than the one I’ve been using, and feels pretty good. But I won’t be in a position to report on it until I’ve taken at least one long ride on it. In addition, I just put it on the bike this afternoon and rode. It needs a little fore and aft positioning and more attention to leveling to get it just right.

While enjoyable, this evening’s ride had something in common with the other rides I’ve taken lately. A feeling of no purpose. I mean, I’m always glad to get out there, and I know it does me some good (I’m already coming back from the weekend’s food binge). But I’m not shooting for anything.

This is part of the anticlimax I’m feeling now that the MS 150 (or 77) is over with. During the weeks prior to that ride, I knew that my pedaling was accomplishing something. It was preparing me to handle two days of long riding. But two weekends ago, a conflict forced me to miss the Armadillo Classic which I enjoyed so much last year, and I’m not preparing for any other major rides. There’s the Real Ale ride in two weeks, but I’m not sure I’ll be riding in that one. Then the summer is dry until the Waco Wild West Century in September — and I’m not sure I want to drive 100 miles to ride 100 miles (or even 100 kilometers).

So I’ve just been riding. Ho hum. I hope the summer doldrums I ran into last year aren’t returning early.

Now, back to rebuilding

Just put my son and his girlfriend on the plane to head back to Minnesota. They were here for four days, which is why the posts have ground to a halt. We were pretty much going non-stop during that time, because the young lady had never been to Texas, and we wanted to show her a good time.

Luckily, I did get one bike ride in. Friday morning, everyone slept in, so I headed out for a tool around the Veloway and then did one Mopac loop for a grand total of 16-something miles. The Mopac loop is the site of a bi-weekly time trial, which some friends have been urging me to do. As I’ve said many times, I’m not a racer and am not really interested in it, but I’m thinking I might try the time trial once, just for the heck of it. So I tried to do Mopac at a time trial pace.

I do have a benchmark: my friend David is a regular at the TT, and his goal is to complete the eight-mile loop in 25 minutes. He hasn’t managed it yet. So I set out with that in mind.

Friday morning was warm, but not terrible. Then the sun came out and the heat built up quickly. A brisk southeast wind blew moist air in from the Gulf of Mexico. My southbound and eastbound legs ran smack into the wind, which kept me from hitting my best time — at least, that’s a convenient excuse if anyone asks.

So I finished at something over 26 minutes. Probably closer to 27. I didn’t get an accurate read, because I wasn’t certain of the TT finish point, so I guesstimated it. I guess if I do decide to enter the time trial, I’d better do a little more work, first.

Which brings me back to the notion of rebuilding, which I introduced in the headline. Because we were showing the kids around, lots of food was involved. And that means Tex-Mex and Texas barbecue. For this transplanted Yankee, Texas barbecue was different than what I was used to, but I developed a taste for it just like that.

saltlick_bbq2Family style at Austin’s famous Salt Lick Barbecue. This shot doesn’t even show the sausages and ribs! Because of odd blue laws, it’s also BYOB. And we did.

We had barbecue for dinner Saturday and brunch Sunday. We chowed down on juicy cheeseburgers and fries Friday while at the movies. And we washed it all down with copious quantities of beer.

Now, I’m betting some of you are wondering, “How the heck is this guy going to get in shape to ride a time trial?” Heck, I’m wondering how I’m going to get back in shape to ride, period. I sneaked a peek at the scale Sunday morning, and I’d picked up five pounds over the last three days. And that was before we went out to Sunday brunch. Which was the Gospel Brunch at Stubb’s BBQ in downtown Austin, so not only was there barbecue on the menu again, but some nice Tex-Mex, too, featuring migas — a mixture of scrambled eggs with tortilla chips, tomatoes, onions, cheese, lime and a little jalapeno — and music by the Aretha-esque Christianettes out of San Antonio.

I’ve been pleased that through biking and being a little careful about what I eat, I’ve dropped 12 pounds since February. This weekend put the brakes on that trend, though. However, the school year is over, and while I have plenty of work to do writing research articles and planning for my summer class, I’ll also have time to ride almost every day for the next three weeks. So my rebuilding will focus on two goals: re-lose all the weight I gained back and keep going, and see if I can actually get myself time trial-worthy.