It must be the wheel

A couple of weeks ago, after I groused about my warped tire, my friend David suggested I come over and borrow one of his spare wheels. He recently bought them for his five-year-old Fuji, but then he decided to upgrade and got a new Giant Defy. So the Fuji and its almost-new wheels were not being used.

After the Bike Fest, I rode over to his house, and we swapped my front wheel for his. One of the first things he noticed was the feel of my old wheel. “Feel that?” he said. “When you spin it between your fingers, you can feel the grinding in there. This hub needs work.”

We tried the same test with his wheel, and it spun freely. It’s a Forte Titan — the Performance house brand, and appears to be the least expensive road wheel they offer. To top it off, it carried a new Continental Ultra Race tire with a Kevlar belt and a red tread. When mixed with the black and blue paint of my bike, it’s a striking look.

RedwheelThe Forte Titan stands out because of its black spokes, which are flat, and the red tire — which may not be to everyone’s taste.

I haven’t been riding as much lately as I did during the summer, so the new wheel has only been on two Sunday club rides. It seemed okay, although with a 23 mm tire, instead of the previous 25, it felt a tad twitchier. I figured I’d keep it until I had a chance to get my old wheel over to our club bike mechanic, and get his advice about the hub.

Then tonight came the last time trial of the season. I wanted to ride, since no official time was posted for the last TT. My previous best time was 24:10 and 20-something mph. I wanted to beat that tonight, and get my time under 24 minutes.

The ride seemed easy. In fact, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to beat my old time. I was well within my comfort zone for most of the ride. Over the last two miles, I pushed harder than I had during the first six.

Holy cow! My unofficial time was 23:02! I knocked a minute and eight seconds off my previous best. Speed was just a smidge over 21 mph. How was that possible? I’ve been riding less, I don’t “train” for rides like this, and honestly, I felt as though I’d left something out on the course. Sure, I rode hard. But I think I could have ridden harder.

Mrs. Noob nailed it: “No way you improved that much in three weeks,” she said. “It must be that new wheel.”

Yeah, that’s it.

Fitting in

Jeff Hemmel is back again, telling of his recent attempt to ride with the big boys. Meanwhile, I’m still taking responses to the question, “What saddle do you ride?” Drop me an email. I’ll have a report sometime this week.

HemmelsRide2Lately I’ve been feeling a lot like that little dude Hermey, from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. You know, the elf who wants to be a dentist, and wonders why he just “doesn’t fit in.”

That’s become me on the bike.

Once upon a time, I fit in pretty well with my good friends who were casual cyclists. We rode together occasionally, enjoying our time on our bikes. Pretty soon, however, it was clear that I was getting more serious about the relationship, while they were content playing the field. To put it in Hermey-speak, I had designs on being a dentist…while they were happy just toiling away at the North Pole.

So, at least in my cycling life, I began to fit in with a smaller group of friends. I ride with one or two of them once or twice a week, and churn out the rest of my miles solo. Occasionally I’ve even started joining a few group rides. Still, sometimes I can’t help dreaming big.

A few weekends ago, I decided to see how I fit in with a faster crowd. I knew where my ride would intersect theirs, so when they came by right on schedule, I latched on as the caboose, trying to stay politely out of the way and feel them out. I tried to ingratiate myself with a few comments during the tamer part of the ride, but no one seemed overly friendly. So, I passed the time checking them out.

They all had shaved legs; I was hairy. They all had cool jerseys from clubs and events and races; I was sporting a blank Pearl Izumi that, in its “screaming yellow” color way, also practically screamed, “watch out for the noob!” (In my defense, my ride started at dawn, in Florida. Considering the motor-vehicle reputation of our, shall I politely say aging population, you’d want to be seen too!) Eventually the pace quickened and I held my ground, even bridging the gap back to them when we briefly got mixed up with a slower ride. Hey Hermey, maybe we can fit in after all!

Then came the bridge, a towering structure over a waterway pass. Determined to not get gapped again, all I wanted to do was move myself a little further up in the pack. What happened, however, was that I found myself stuck in the lane of traffic when all of them compressed into the bike lane. I’ve got decent legs climbing, so I just did what came naturally and rode until I found an opening. It came at almost the peak of the bridge…and after I had passed all but three of the riders.

Yup, suddenly I was at the front, and with what seemed like a grand tour-sized peleton breathing down my neck. Long story short, I held my own, plunging down the bridge before settling into a fast paceline. I even took my turn as the engine of that train, doing my best to fit in with their obviously well-practiced rotation. Elated to be hanging with the cool kids? On the contrary. I started to ask myself if I’d feel comfortable having some stranger thrust himself into the midst of my group, traveling at those speeds and within such close proximity. After about a mile, I also began to question my legs. I was hanging with them at the moment, but what shape would I be in after five more miles? I had already done a decent ride before I hooked on, and now about 10 more miles with the group. Would they slow, or pick it up even further? Could I hang, or be embarrassed when I had to drop out?

Was I ready for this?

I took one more rotation through, then began to drift back. After about another mile, I let them go.

This elf, however, has now tasted life as a dentist. And while I don’t think it’s the profession for me all the time (maybe I’m content as, like, the cycling equivalent of the hygienist or something), I’d like to know I could play doctor on occasion. I’d like to, what else, fit in.

Anyone else out there caught in cycling limbo? Send a comment. I’ll read it…just as soon I finish watching Hermey pull the Abominable’s teeth.

What saddle do you ride?


Here’s a post on a subjective topic: saddles. We’ve discussed them in the past, and it always seems to be a topic of interest. This time around, I want to know what kind of saddle you’re riding, and what you think of it.

This idea was suggested by our regular guest poster, Jeff Hemmel, who reviewed the Bontrager Inform a couple of months ago — and has now fallen out of love with it. Likewise, a saddle I once liked, the Specialized Alias, now sits on a shelf in my garage, and the one that replaced it — the San Marco Selle Ponza — is okay, but not super.

So we’re curious. Have you found a dandy saddle that you can ride comfortably for long distances? Would you recommend other riders try out a saddle like the one you have?

Here’s my request: Send me an email with the make and model of saddle you ride. Tell me a little about its strong points, and/or its weak points. In other words, provide a mini-review of your saddle. If you want to send along a picture, that would be wonderful. I’ll compile the submissions, and feature the results in a future post.

Computer pop-off

This past Sunday morning, our club ride was making the transition from city streets to rural roads. The road got rougher as the scenery improved. It’s a road we ride often, so we didn’t think much about it — we just pumped away, and soon reached a Walgreens drug store in a small town where we always stop to regroup.

One rider who was with us for only the second time wasn’t there when we counted heads, so we waited. Eventually, he pulled up to the parking lot. We didn’t think he’d be that far behind, because he seemed to be a strong rider up to this point, but then he explained what had happened.

“My Garmin popped off,” he said. “Back where you make that curve across from the multi-colored condos.” He had stopped to look for it, to no avail. We agreed to go back that way, and help him try to find it.

On the return leg of our ride, he showed us where he thought he’d lost the unit. We dismounted, and walked along the road, trying to find a dark gray rectangular object amidst asphalt, weeds, and roadside trash.

“What are we looking for?” asked one rider.

“It’s a Garmin 205.”

“Oh, that looks something like this,” said another rider, pointing to the computer on his handlebars. The 205 is one of Garmin’s more basic units, measuring speed, distance, time, calories burned, and altitude, and the rider can transfer the data to his home computer. Still, it’s not cheap. Nashbar has them on sale now for $170. He said he bought his off Craigslist for $100.

We combed the roadside for about 10 minutes, but had no luck. Riders from other clubs, also coming back on that road, stopped to join the search. We still came up empty. The hapless rider told us to forget it. We commiserated with him over his rotten luck. He said it was okay, and he’d figure out what to do about it.

Later, at the post-ride gabfest, stories started surfacing about other lost Garmins. Three others indicated they’d heard of the same thing happening, and the blame fell to a chintzy handlebar mount. I suppose we’ll have to take the stories at their face value, since there’s no way to check them out, but it seems odd.

Why would a costly cycle computer be attached to a bike by a mount that doesn’t secure it? Have any of you had experiences with Garmins — or other brands of computer for that matter — popping off in mid-ride?

Help a fellow Noob reader out

This comment just showed up on a post from April of 2008. Since I don’t think most of you spend a lot of time reading my archives, I thought I’d move it up here. If you can help out, leave a comment.

I just bought a used Ascent Delta 9 from a co-worker for $10.  I’m trying to find an owner’s manual online, but not having any luck. Anyone know where I can find one?


Raleigh Red Sox fan

The Bike Fest

This morning I decided to forego my usual Saturday morning ride to volunteer for the Kiker Bike Fest. This is the second year in a row that my club, the Circle C Ranch Cycling Club, sponsored the bike fest at Kiker Elementary School in southwest Austin. It’s a chance for kids to learn cycling skills and have some fun in the bargain.

Last year, the bike fest attracted about 300 kids from the area, and we expected that many or more this year. Stations are set up to fit kids with new helmets, do quick bike repairs, learn the correct way to start and stop, ride a tight figure 8, ride in traffic with correct hand signals, and even ride a mountain bike trail behind the school.

JoeJoe, who leads our Sunday morning A group rides, fits a girl with a new helmet donated by the Texas Medical Association.

Stay inside the lines!

Stay inside the lines!

Pat and I handled the Straight Line – Scanning station. The kids had to ride a straight line between two chalk lines 18 inches apart. Then, we brought them back again to practice looking over their shoulders. Once they got halfway down the lines, I yelled “Look!” and they were supposed to look back, make eye contact with me, and continue. Because most of them were quite young, I did not point one way or another, as is usually done in this exercise, and they did not have to say which way I pointed. For many of them, staying upright on the slight downhill track was challenge enough.

It’s been awhile since we had kids at home, and both Pat and I were disconcerted to see how some parents hover over their children. One mother grabbed her little girl’s handlebars, and pulled her down the lines — nearly tipping her over several times.

But mostly, people seemed to enjoy the event. Parents liked how well organized the whole affair was, and many indicated they would be back again next year.

DebDebra gets a young rider rolling on the traffic safety course.

One highlight of the morning was a group ride on the nearby Veloway, led by former Tour de France racer (Motorola, Cofidis, U.S. Postal, Telekom) Kevin Livingston. This was assuredly not a hammerfest, as kids on BMX bikes jockeyed for position with their sometimes-wobbly parents and fully kitted-out weekend warriors.

KevinKevin Livingston waits for the group ride to begin.

RideHold your line!

“Just to show you how committed I am to this,” said my friend David, “I’m missing ESPN Game Day — and it’s here in town.” Texas is playing Texas Tech today, so I guess that is a good barometer of club participation. Besides, the game isn’t until this evening. Cycling education AND football — now there’s how to spend a Saturday.

Warped tires — what?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a warped rear tire that may have been responsible for my broken front derailleur. At least, the tire — because of its bent shape — rubbed against the derailleur.

The derailleur was fixed, and the tire replaced. But now, here’s what the front tire looks like: Warp

Remember, the other warped tire was on the rear. This is on the front. The warp is more obvious when it’s next to the brake.

I haven’t noticed any ill effects from riding on this thing. Last Sunday, it went on a 30-mile ride with no issues. It turns out that this was the tire I did the time trial on two weeks ago, too.

I suppose I should replace it, but there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to it.

So I’m trying to figure out what caused it.

The wheel appears to be true — it’s the tire itself that’s bent.

Some folks have suggested that it’s the way I mounted the tire on the wheel — but this tire has been on the wheel for quite awhile now, since February. The warp didn’t become obvious until quite recently.

Because of all the 100°+F (38°C) days we’ve had this summer, the garage where I keep the bike has been a broiler. I’m guessing late afternoon temperatures inside the closed-up garage were in the 120°F (48°C) range. I wonder if that had anything to do with it? The badly warped rear tire had been hanging from two hooks in the garage most of the summer, until I got it down to replace a tire that had a screw puncture it. I assume the hooks in the heat could have softened the rubber enough to warp it.

Maybe it’s the brand. These are Hutchinson Top Speed Pro Tech Kevlar (whew!) tires. The Hutchinsons are the only tires that have warped. Specialized, Vittoria, and Continentals have been fine.

So what do you think? Have you ever experienced this kind of thing? Should I replace the tire right away, even though it isn’t causing me any problems?

Oh, and before the snarky comments come in — I took the picture after our club ride last Sunday, and washed the bike later that evening.

The Road Less Traveled


Sometimes it’s good to get away. A lot of times, that’s exactly what cycling provides, an escape, be it from work, stress, boredom, whatever. Every so often, however, I think we need an escape from our own everyday ride. That’s why this summer, just before leaving for vacation, I put a roof rack on the car and took my bike along for the trip.

My destination alone provided enough of a diversion. My normal routes at home in Florida are flat, flatter, and flattest. There’s also usually a lot of traffic to deal with at various points of the journey. Contrast that with these scenes from the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate NY. The roads were quiet, the hills occasionally quite steep, and a lot of times the peloton consists of some pretty slow-moving guys with black spots. See, there’s a hillside full of them now:


My favorite part, however, was that I often had no idea what was around the next bend. Sure I had explored this area on mountain bike before, but with my road bike my range became so much farther, and the sights so much more unexpected. One day I pedaled down a nearly deserted road, crested a hill, and discovered this:


On the journey home, we stopped in Alexandria, VA, right across the Potomac from our nation’s capital. Though my riding gear was buried deep inside our Thule cartop carrier and the next day’s schedule called for some on-foot exploration of the monuments and Smithsonian, the friend we were visiting urged me to get up early and check out the Mt. Vernon Trail. It was worth it. Winding directly alongside the river (as well as, for a few surreal moments, the runways of Reagan National), it afforded amazing views of the city. Stuff like this…


And if you cross the bridge, this…


Sure, I could see these sights in typical tourist fashion. On my bike, however, it all seemed so much cooler. I not only had the freedom to go where I wanted to go, but I often had no idea where the path would lead. And I loved every minute of it.

I’m home now, back in Florida, and back on the familiar, flat roads and paved trails I’ve ridden time and time again. The break from the norm, however, made me appreciate even more just how great cycling is. And made me even more curious about what’s around all those corners just beyond my normal cycling backyard.

That’s why the bike rack is staying on the car this fall. Because some weekend, when the routine is getting a little too routine, I’m going to see what’s out there…even if I have to drive a few miles first to find it.

Riding in the rain

I carefully checked the weather forecast Saturday night, because it looked like we would be rained on again on Sunday morning. After a record hot summer, Central Texas has been drenched in rain over the last four days. And if it was raining Sunday, I wouldn’t be riding.

I sent out an e-mail blast to the club to advise them of that fact, and that if people did show up in the rain, I wouldn’t be there to lead the ride.

The forecast said 60 percent chance of rain. When I got up Sunday morning, the first thing I did was turn on the weather radar channel on TV. The area for a 60-mile radius was clear. I rode.

In fact, it was a terrific ride. My B group and the A group rode together for the first 10 miles. On one stretch of road through an upscale residential area, I almost hit 40 mph — and then a mile later, had to climb a killer hill.

I’ve never gotten up this hill without walking part way before, but I did today. While I rested with the others in the parking lot at the top, I felt exhilarated (between gasps for breath). If I had wimped out because of the rain, I would have missed that feeling.

On the last leg of our ride, a light mist fell, and on my short trip home from out post-ride gathering, a few raindrops pelted me.

Now that we’re coming into what passes for fall in Texas, there will be more rain to contend with. I don’t like riding in the rain. If it’s raining before I start my ride, I’ll scratch my ride plans and find something else to do.

But if it starts raining while I’m out riding, that’s a different story. I’ll just keep going. I might cut the ride short, if I’m in a position to do so, but that doesn’t happen often. So I just keep slogging along. The thing I dislike most about it is rain spotting my sunglasses. Vision can be seriously reduced when the glasses are awash with water.

How about you? Do you regularly ride in the rain? Any tips on handling it? Will you begin a ride in the rain, or do you wait, hoping it will clear up?

Time — how do you find it?

College classes have started for another semester. I’m not a student, I’m a professor, and now that we’re back in full swing, I face the same kind of challenges many riders face — how do you find the time to ride?

Contrary to popular belief, most college professors put in at least 40 hours a week. Right now, I’m averaging a little over that because of meetings that run past 5 p.m. one or two evenings.

But evenings are the obvious time for me to squeeze in a weekday ride. Tuesdays are a given, since I can get home an hour earlier than usual. Friday evenings would be a good time for a short ride. I typically do 25-30 miles on Saturday morning, so I don’t want to be tired for that, and then Sunday morning is the club ride.

So if all the stars align correctly, I can get in four rides a week. That won’t happen this week, but it’s my goal. Besides, I have other interests besides biking. I try to play golf on a semi-regular basis, but have been out on the course only eight times this year.  There’s yard work to do. My wife and I are empty nesters, so I don’t worry about attending to kids. Still, it seems there’s never enough time.

To get better, you have to ride more. How do you handle it? Have you arrived at some kind of regular schedule that lets you get enough rides in? I’d like to hear some ideas from readers about carving out time to ride.