What’s the most common newbie mistake?

I was at the Veloway the other morning. Lots of casual bikers use the Veloway, because they don’t have to contend with traffic. As I was taking a breather on a hot, hot morning, I noticed a woman get her two sons on their bikes and moving, then she set about getting her bike ready for the ride.

She made a mistake I’ve seen quite a bit by new riders. I won’t say what it was, because I’d like to indulge in a reader participation post here.

What is the most common mistake you see new bikers make?

Do not comment on this post. Please email me your nomination. Once I’ve collected enough to qualify for the top 5, or maybe even the top 10, I’ll do a follow-up with the results.

What to eat during a ride?

This might be the week that the B ride at our club hit its tipping point. We had eight riders out for the Sunday ride, double what we’ve been getting lately. We kept the ride deliberately short because of our ridiculously hot temperatures. It wound up at 30 miles round trip at about a 15 mph average. Nothing earth shattering, but the consensus was that this was the right ride to do on a day like today.

We stopped in downtown (I use the word loosely) Buda, Texas, a block short of where we usually make our turnaround. That’s at a stoplight at the town’s main intersection. But today, the shade of a big live oak tree attracted us, and we pulled under its branches to get a tad cooler (temp in low 90sF).

Besides gulping various concoctions of water and electrolytes, most of us pulled out some kind of food to fuel us for the return trip. Most of us, because I had forgotten to stick a bar in my pocket when I left the house this morning. I looked around at the other riders to see what they chose.

Clif bars seemed to be the number one choice, with several unwrapping one of those. One person preferred Clif Shot Bloks to the bars. There was a Power Bar, and one rider had a small chocolate and coconut bar that was passed out at the start of the ride a week or two ago. I forget what they’re called, but I remember that they weren’t bad.

A 10-year-old boy riding with us wanted to go one more block to a donut shop, but his mother nixed the idea. “No donut if you’re going to turn around and ride another hour,” she said. He was not pleased. He reached into his pocket and took out some Shot Bloks, and chewed three of them at once.

On the way back, we made another stop after a stretch of twisty, hilly road. This was conveniently at a convenience store. The store could be more convenient, however, because a sign over the sink says the water is not potable. Dandy water stop, with no drinkable water. I grabbed a bottle of G2, and looked in vain for some kind of nutrition bar to sustain me until we got back home. Nothing but candy bars. Finally, I asked the clerk, who pointed at an end display. One box of Nature Valley granola bars. Honey-oat. No other choice. I bought one, and scarfed it down.

I could probably have gotten by without it, since I had my usual large pre-ride breakfast this morning, but I like to eat something to keep going during a ride. My bar of choice is a Lara Bar, much like a Clif Bar, but my wife and I prefer their taste. On organized rides, I’ll always go for the half bananas at the rest stops, and if they have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut in quarters, I’ll have one of those, too.

But I don’t carry PB&Js with me on regular rides. Bananas, either, although I’ve seen them sticking out of other riders’ jersey pockets. What do you like for mid-ride food? How often do you eat during a ride?

Are you a century fanatic?

This heat wave won’t last forever. I’m looking ahead to more reasonable weather, with lots of long rides. In fact, I’m toying with the idea of riding another century.

It seems that many cyclists set riding a century (100 miles) as a long-term goal. They put in the hours and the miles training for it, then it comes. They manage to get through it, and have a rush of exhilaration that comes from reaching their goal.

When I finished my century, I had the “been there, done that” feeling. It wasn’t something I expected to do anytime soon again. I trained for the MS 150, which if it went off as scheduled, would have involved a 99.6-mile first day. As you know, that was rained out, and we only did the second day, about 77 miles. It took me longer to ride the 77 miles because of the huge field and a longish lunch stop than it did to finish the century.

So I haven’t been piling on the miles since then. My long rides are in the 30-35 mile range, and that’s just fine with me. That’s still over two hours in the saddle. Besides, my mileage is picking up, and so is my strength. I can ride faster for longer distances than I could two months ago. So what the heck — should I plan on doing another century?

Luckily, because summers are so hot in Texas, we’re in a lull in organized rides. I’ll have time to boost my mileage to do the hundred miles, and I  have several choices. There’s the Waco Wild West in September, the Outlaw Trail 100 in October, and the holy grail of Texas centuries, the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in August. That’s up in Wichita Falls. It’s a Texas happening, with over 11,000 riders, and several days of bike-related activities. Problem is, the hotel rooms are all booked. I’d have to find some other accommodation.

So I haven’t decided for sure yet. I haven’t even decided if I am going to ride 100 miles again.

But there are lots of riders out there who are crazy about centuries. They do one, and can’t wait to ride another. Some set a target of a century a month. A couple in my club are heading west to do a double century (200 miles) this weekend.

What camp are you in? Do you like riding centuries, and try to ride in a lot of them? Is it something you would like to try once, just to say you’ve done it? Or are you among those who think riding that far is crazy, and there’s no point to it?

And if you’re targeting a century, which one is it, when will it be, and how’s your training going?

Beating the heat

We had a bunch of errands to run this morning, then the grass needed cutting. I can stay home some weekdays, so today was a day to attend to those chores. By the time I was done and starting to think about taking the bike out, it was 98F (37C). The forecast called for a high of 102F. And there’s no relief in sight — tomorrow’s high is expected to be a record-breaking 103F, and we have forecasted highs in the 100s for the rest of the week.

Last summer, I had a heck of a time dealing with the heat. My performance sagged when the temperatures got past the mid-90s, and I found myself passing up scheduled rides on a regular basis. That in turn lowered my performance level.

This year, I was determined to handle the heat better. I poked around on the Interwebs (“It’s a series of tubes.” — Former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska) to see what the online sages say about it, and here’s what I’m doing this summer.

Step number one — drink more. And not just on rides. I’m drinking throughout the day. A big glass of water before going to bed, and I watch my cyclocomputer’s timer during rides so I remember to take some water every 10 minutes or so.

Two — I carry some kind of electrolyte drink. Currently, I’m using Nuun. One bottle is filled with plain water, one with water and a Nuun tablet. The Nuun isn’t as cloyingly sweet as a lot of sports drinks. In fact, the taste is light, and I can handle it better than other drinks when it warms up 10 minutes into the ride.

Three — Bananas. I eat one or two every day, partly because I’ve always liked them, partly because I know the potassium they contain is important during hot weather.

Four — Sunscreen. I forget to put on sunscreen before rides with some frequency, but now it’s become part of my pre-ride routine. I’ve heard that a generous coating of the stuff will lower skin temperature by as much as 20 percent, and help keep you cool. That hasn’t been my experience yet, but I know I’m better off with it than without it.

Five — Acclimate. Ride a little more in the hotter weather to get used to it. Not my favorite thing to do, but it’s probably necessary.

Six — Ride earlier. This is a no-brainer, and it’s something I’m working on. Instead of going out mid-morning, I’ll go out around 8 a.m. If this heatwave sticks around, that might change to 7 or earlier.

Seven — Take frequent breaks, in the shade. I typically stop every hour or  so, and I should do it more often in the kind of weather we’re having now. Even in extremely hot weather, sitting in the shade of a tree with a slight breeze blowing around you will rejuvenate you quickly.

I just checked the temperature again. It’s 99. I’m going for a ride.

Why bike computers suck

HemmelsRideGuest writer Jeff Hemmel checks in with another view on the average speed debate we’ve been kicking around here.

I love my bike computer. It keeps me informed, letting me know how fast, how far, and how long I’m riding. It even gives me the time and temp, although to be honest the latter function is far from accurate. But I have also come to realize one undisputable fact — bike computers suck.

That’s my conclusion. Now in a Quentin Tarantino-esque way of getting there, I’ll give you the supporting argument.

You see, like probably most of you who’ve made the transition into more serious cycling, I didn’t start with a computer. I just rode, guessing at how far I’d gone or how fast I got there, but never really obsessing about it. Eventually, however, curiosity got the better of me and I hooked up one of the little gizmos to my handlebars, a magnet to my wheel, and voila, suddenly I had knowledge.

And I loved it. Now, I knew exactly how far my typical route really was, just how fast I was going at any given moment, even my average speed over a two-hour ride. By the time I signed up for my first charity event, I had a good idea of what I could do, and thanks to that computer, I didn’t go crazy at the beginning, kept my pace up during the middle, and even found myself with some decent reserves at the end.

But as the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. What once were regular, enjoyable rides were suddenly taking on an air of seriousness. I started checking the computer readout like a man possessed, constantly pushing myself to better my last time, or at least equal it. God forbid I should fall, gasp, below my average. When I got my road bike, things only worsened. Now, I reasoned I had done that time on a clunky hybrid. Surely I had to beat it by a good margin on my new speedy road machine. To not would be like, well, a sign of the apocalypse or something.

On a ride the other day, it was like that little computer brain had taken on the personality of the Robot in Lost In Space. “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! If you do not increase the current pace you risk finishing with an average speed below, I repeat, below the critical threshold of 18.2 mph!”

It was then and there that I realized that in trying so hard to become a better bike rider, I was forgetting perhaps the most important thing — to enjoy the ride.

So I ripped that computer from my handlebars and threw it onto the side of the road. Just kidding. I did, however, do the next best thing. I clicked to a screen that didn’t give me any information that I could immediately process into a speed or time, things that were fast coming to signify a loss or failure. Yup, like Doctor Smith used to do to the robot on occasion, I pulled the plug. And free from the data, I just pedaled. I don’t know how fast. But I do know it was a fun ride. I wasn’t rushing to reach any imaginary checkpoint, or agonizing over whether I had slipped off my pace. Instead, I noticed that there was actually a decent breeze on what had seemed like a scorching day. I noticed the trees that lined the paved rail trail I was riding were gently swaying, and that, if I steered carefully, I could enjoy their shade.

I noticed that I was out riding my bike, rather than sitting in a cubicle somewhere, or locked in traffic.

Yes, I ride for fitness, and yes, I ride because I think cycling is a pretty cool thing to do. But I love cycling because, above all other things, it’s fun. Obsessed with the computer, I was beginning to forget that fact.

No, I don’t plan to give it up. C’mon, I’m not that crazy. But every so often, when I feel my inner competitor becoming just a little too competitive, I click away from that screen. I pull the plug. And I do what I started out to do…

Enjoy my ride.

The Bike Noob’s own ride this morning ended with an average speed of … well, as you all said, it’s just not that important. What mattered today was riding a favorite route with some new folks I hope to ride with a lot in the future. Thanks for all your lively comments to the last post.


The weekend approaches, and with it, the promise of longer rides than I get in during the week. Some hills will be involved, especially on Sunday’s ride, and that will probably bring my average speed below my average. (?)

I’ve always considered myself a 15-mile-per-hour rider, which is why I ride with the B group on club outings. But I’m not really sure how much faster I’ll have to go to bring up my overall average.

Reader Don from California says he considers himself to be a slow rider, but since he usually rides alone, he has no one to measure against. “On an average ride I’m in the 17 mph range,” he says. See ya, Don. I’ll watch as you leave me behind. Don wonders if he would go faster if he rode with someone.

But then he asks the key question: “I also wonder if speed matters?”

Well, of course it does. Man, I track my ride stats like pitchers track their ERA. And I’m kinda concerned. It looks like I might not be a 15 mph rider after all, if you believe my Bike Journal stats for June:

SpeedYikes! I’m only a 14.79 mph rider. Yeah, I see where I pushed it a couple of times, but those were when I was deliberately pushing it.

I averaged 15.47 on my century ride last fall, and I know I’m a better rider now. I’m having trouble accounting for this apparent slowdown. Should I be worried? Or should I be like Don, and wonder if speed matters?

What’s your average speed? Do you even track it?

Magnificent Obsession

Jeff Hemmel

Jeff Hemmel

Bike Noob is pleased to introduce our readers to Jeff Hemmel. Jeff started biking on a hybrid, and like many of us, recently made the switch to a road bike. Also like many of us, he’s now wrapped up in our sport. Jeff is a magazine writer by trade, and I’m looking forward to more contributions from him in the future.

How I became a bike nerd…and the gear that made it possible.

Looking back, I’m not sure when I transitioned from a recreational rider to a more serious biking enthusiast. Perhaps it started after a problematic ACL reconstruction. Frustrated by my lack of progress in physical therapy, I got on my bike, a Giant Sedona DX hybrid. At first, a mere two-mile ride seemed like an accomplishment. But somewhere along the way that two-mile ride became five, that five-mile ride became 15, and suddenly, a few years later, I was cranking out 30 miles at a clip. At the first charity ride I attended, most of the recreational riders on similar bikes hung near the back of the pack. Me? I was pedaling a furious cadence in an attempt to keep up with the roadies, my surf shorts and t-shirts a stark contrast to their sleek, form-fitting kits.

In hindsight, I probably knew I was hooked long before that first organized ride. I found myself looking for excuses to wander into the local bike shops around town, going through the doors on the premise of buying one more spare tube, but ending up looking at (okay, maybe even fondling on occasion) the latest and greatest road bikes. I also noticed my Giant, and my gear, showing a subtle transformation. The upgrades are worth sharing, because they not only made the best out of my current investment, but they also served as a sort of litmus test on whether this was a passing phase, or the beginnings of a legitimate obsession.

A cycling friend suggested the first simple upgrade — trading in my sneakers for a pair of sneaker-style, mountain-bike shoes. I could still walk around in comfort, but on the bike, the shoes stiffer soles made the most out of each crank of the pedals. Once I had the shoes, it seemed only natural to step up to Upgrade #2 — clipless mountain-bike pedals. My shoes could accommodate the cleats, and I was ready to feel the added power and efficiency that would be the result of having my feet attached to the pedals. Yes, I fell over twice within the first two days, both times within full view of the commuting workforce. The worst bruising, however, was limited to my pride. I quickly got the hang of it, my riding improved, and suddenly those roadies seemed one step closer.

My final swap was to toss the knobbies aside for a pair of slick road tires. They looked ridiculously skinny at first, but for the first time I could see a tangible result on my speedo, an increase in speed that probably forever sealed the deal. My mileage increased, my legs grew stronger, and suddenly an ad for a Trek Madone seemed on par with a Playboy centerfold.

I never actually made the jump. My wife did it for me, placing a Trek 2.1 under the tree this past Christmas. On that bike I’ve completed my transformation, to the point where I now log over 500 miles a month, and get a little crazy if something upsets my ride routine. Somewhere along the way I even ditched the surf shorts and t-shirts for, yes, some skintight jerseys and cycling shorts.

Now, if I could just get up the nerve to shave those legs…