Bee in My Bonnet

Or my helmet, actually. I took an after work ride this afternoon, and while I was on the road, something hit the big vent in the middle of my helmet. I could feel it jiggling around inside.

I put up with it a little while, but it drove me nuts. I felt around inside the vents with my fingers, but couldn’t find anything. Since I am allergic to bee stings, I decided to pull over and get the critter.

The incident reminded me of a ride with my friend David.  He was a few bike lengths behind me, when he called out that a bee had flown into his helmet. He kept feeling around in the vents, but couldn’t find anything. In a little bit, though, he had some discomfort, and asked me to stop. He pulled off his helmet and a bee flew out. He had been stung. Luckily, he didn’t swell up badly.

I know this has happened to others, as well.  Have you ever had a bee fly into your helmet?

In my case, it turned out not to be a bee at all. Instead, it was a small round black bug of some kind. No stinger, no venom. When I took off my helmet, it was crawling around along the inside styrofoam surface. I shooed him away and continued the ride, but now that the warmer weather is here, I think I can expect I’ll be tussling with bees and other bugs in the helmet more often. And I won’t be taking any chances. If one gets into my helmet again, I’ll stop immediately and get it out.

The Bontrager Inform Saddle — Revisited

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel updates his review of the Bontrager Inform saddle — and likes it.

Regular readers may recall that last year I posted a review of the Bontrager InForm RL saddle, a relatively new design that had been getting a lot of attention due not only to Bontrager’s “size-to-fit” concept, but also designer’s choice to forego a cutout in favor of what they considered proper weight distribution to combat numbness.

Though I was never a gushing fan of the saddle, I was pretty happy with it overall…at least for several months. Then, for reasons that eluded me, I started to get that dreaded numbness. No, it never lasted after I got off the bike thankfully, but it got to be a real pain — literally and figuratively — during nearly every ride. By summer, I was finding it really annoying, and wondering if the seat’s foam had somehow broken down.

I asked Trek about it and they asked the obvious questions: had I changed my position, etc. Each time I analyzed the situation I couldn’t think of a single thing I had changed. Not my position, not my brand of shorts, nothing. I started to just think the saddle wasn’t that hot after all, and began researching alternatives.

A funny thing, however, happened over the winter. Here in Florida, it was one of the coldest in history, and as a result I did a lot of riding bundled up in far more clothing than I normally would. And somewhere in the midst of those cold, windy rides, I began to notice something. The numbness was subsiding. Ultimately, it went away for the most part. And that relative comfort has continued into the spring.

Like an on-again, off-again relationship, my saddle and I are once again an item.

Why the change of heart? At first I had no idea. But after analyzing things for a while, I think I found the answer. And I think part of it is the result of all that cold-weather riding in tights.

No, it wasn’t more padding, or a different chamois placement, or anything like that. I continue to wear my regular shorts, pulling on chamois-less Pearl Izumi tights over them. Those tights, however, are made of a more slippery material than my shorts. As a result, I found myself sliding around a little more in my seat. And what I discovered was that I was ultimately settling into a position a little further back of where I had been riding as of late — a position that spread more of my weight on my sit bones at a wider portion of the seat.

Why, or how, had I moved forward? I have no idea. But without any big conscious effort, I was now moving back a fraction more…and finding that riding could once again be a pleasurable experience.

Yes, I occasionally force myself to scoot my butt back just a little on the seat, but for the most part my body has now just adapted to this new position.

Long story short? I once again think the InForm saddle is worth my money, and I’m in no rush to replace it. I also have a fresh appreciation for that advice you so often hear about saddles — they need to support your weight on your sit bones, those two bony parts you feel when you sit on a flat, hard surface, and not on the perineum, that area of soft tissues between your legs that house all those nerves and arteries that you need for other, more important things.

I still think people should try different saddles to see which fit them best, and yes, I think a professional bike fitting is a great idea for any serious cyclist. But if you’re just not happy with your saddle, you might want to move around on it a little bit before you go shopping for a new one.

In other words, you might want to put a little work into your current relationship…before it leads to a pricey divorce.

ABC Quick Check – Do It!

ABC Quick Check is a simple way to check out your bike before a ride. A is for Air. Are your tires pumped up to the proper pressure? B is for Brakes. Are they adjusted correctly? Do they stop your bike? C is for Cranks and Chains. Any looseness in the cranks when you pull on them? Is the chain moving smoothly over the sprockets? Quick is for the Quick Release levers on your wheels. Are they tightened properly? Check is for a checkout of the bike before riding. Hop on, pedal a little bit. Does everything seem OK?

Preston Tyree, the education director for the League of American Bicyclists, does a demo of the ABC Quick Check.

The League of American Bicyclists, among other groups, promotes ABC Quick Check for all riders before they begin their rides. If done properly, it takes only a minute, and it’s a good way to make sure everything is shipshape. I do it. Mostly. But lately I’ve been slipping. And on Saturday’s ride, that slippage could have caused a big problem.

Earlier in the afternoon, I put my bike on the bike stand to wash it. I took off both wheels to do a thorough scrub job, then put the wheels back on while the bike was still on the stand.

They went on okay, but the front didn’t seem as secure as it usually does. After a day of yard work and other honey do’s, I couldn’t wait to get out on a ride, so I set the bike aside and jumped into my bike clothes.

This was going to be an easy ride, but I still wanted to sneak in a little hard work. I went out to the Mopac route. On the return leg, I started thinking about that front wheel. I should really pull over to check it. But here comes an intersection I have to pay attention to. Got through that okay. I should really pull over to check it. But here comes the best downhill part of the route. I’ll stay on the hoods, instead of the drops this time. Above 30, against the wind — pretty good. Here comes the sweeping bend to the north. I’ll get into the traffic lane a bit to avoid the gouges in the asphalt on the shoulder. I should really pull over to check it. Man, going 21 up hill — doing great, but I should really pull over to check it. Maybe up at the end, when I turn into the Veloway…

I did pull into the Veloway, and stopped by the water fountain and covered benches at the start. Had a good swig of water. Okay, let’s check that front wheel. I loosened the quick release a bit — and the dropouts clicked into place over the axle.

I had just ridden more than 10 miles with a front wheel that wasn’t completely locked in place in the dropouts. If I had stayed on the shoulder through the big turn, and hit one of those gouges in the pavement, it could have had severe consequences.

This morning, I loaded the bike onto the car to drive to the start point of my ride. In the parking lot, while the rest of group were chatting and joking, I was doing a very careful ABC Quick Check. Make it a habit.

Hybrids

Lately, doing organized rides as training for the MS 150, or just to ride with a group on a different route, or in the MS 150 itself, I’ve been noticing lots of people riding hybrid bikes. My mindset has mostly been that hybrids are great for tooling around the neighborhood, riding easy bike trails, and are for older folks who want a more upright riding position than they can get on a road bike.

A hybrid bike waiting to be ridden in a 29-mile group ride.

I guess I’m surprised when I see them at these events, because I don’t see hybrids riding the roads a lot in my area. Except for my wife. She’ll tackle our regular Mopac route on her 1992 Trek 700, and she’ll turn out for group rides as well. She’ll take the shorter route option, but she’ll put miles under her.

Mrs. Noob crests a hill on a summer morning ride.

At the MS 150, lots of riders rode hybrids. I assume these are people who were riding for a cause, and were willing to suffer a little in order to do their part to fight MS.

I’m also betting a lot of them are getting to be pretty good riders on their hybrids. One thing I noticed on the MS 150 was that I kept passing them. That means they got out in front of me somehow — whether it was by getting a jump at the start, or taking less time at rest stops (probably). And I’m not too proud to say that some hybrids passed me on the road during that ride. Not that many. Always ridden by athletic young women loaded with energy.

The hybrid for them might be their first bike, or their reintroduction to riding after years off. And getting good on a hybrid means they might take the next step, and buy a road bike. But I’ll bet most of them keep their hybrids, too.

Are You a Cyclist or a Biker?

Guest poster Don Blount’s inquiring mind wants to know.

Are you a cyclist or a biker?

I often use the two terms interchangeably to describe someone who rides road bikes.

Dictionary.com, the online reference site, provides these definitions of the two terms:

Biker noun: a person who rides a bicycle, motorcycle, or motorbike, esp. in competition or as a hobby.

Cyclist - noun: a person who rides or travels by bicycle, motorcycle, etc.

Any difference there would be minute.

However, a member of my bike club makes this distinction:

“I must confess that I cringe when I read about us being ‘bikers’ and going ‘biking’. I’m not a biker, I’m a cyclist. Bikers wear leather and drive motorcycles and look tough and drink beer. Cyclists wear lycra and cool pro team jerseys and drive Honda Elements that have less power than one of those motorcycles.

And I don’t go ‘biking’ either. I go cycling, like I did today; 50 miles and 3800 ft on a beautiful spring day.”

Perhaps the confusion comes from ‘mountain biking’, which means to ride a mountain bike. This is a sport I am unfamiliar with, but which I believe is distantly related to cycling even if I find the bikes repulsive looking compared with svelte road machines.”

By his definition, I would be a cyclist.

How do you see yourself? Are you a cyclist or a biker?

Snapshots from the MS 150

Sunday’s post on the MS 150 didn’t do justice to all the little occurrences that happen during such a big event. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that I saw:

By far, the coolest celebration of the ride was in the small town of Fayetteville (pop. 291). It seemed everyone turned out to cheer on the riders. Lots of loud music blaring from big speakers, and a bubble machine on almost every corner! Lots of places didn’t notice we were there, but Fayetteville really came through.

Spectators cheer and ring cowbells in front of the Red & White store (built 1835) in Fayetteville. Photo courtesy Mike Boudreaux.

Ramon H.

Saturday night in La Grange, I was walking through the fairgrounds looking at all the tents and people when I saw someone I thought I recognized. I took a chance. “Excuse me, is your name Ramon?” I asked.

He looked at me. “Yes,” he said.

“Ramon H____?”

His eyes widened and he did a double take. “I know you!” he exclaimed.

We laughed and shook hands. Ramon is a regular reader and sometimes commenter on Bike Noob. I remembered running his picture with a guest post he did a year ago. Funny how these things just happen.

——

After sleeping poorly Friday night, I was concerned I wouldn’t have much energy for a 100-mile ride Saturday. I needn’t have worried. From the time we left Houston until crossing the line in La Grange, I had plenty of go power. Even late in the ride, I turned on the gas a time or two to pick up the pace. Same thing happened last year. And after only a couple hours’ sleep Saturday night, I did it again on Sunday. Adrenaline? Conditioning? (Not conditioning.)

——

My cot in the team tent Saturday night was next to a woman named Laurie. We met near the finish line Sunday and exchanged pleasantries about the ride. Talk turned to all the snoring in our tent the night before.

“We had a meeting to decide what to do about it,” she said.

“A meeting?” I replied. “It must have been during the little time I was asleep.”

“It was me, and ___, and a couple others. We couldn’t take it anymore.”

“What did you decide to do?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she answered.

——

As I refilled my water bottles at one rest stop, I thanked a volunteer for being there. He thanked me instead. “You’re doing the hard work,” he said. I don’t think I agree with that.

——

Sunday, climbing up yet another long hill, I called out the usual warning to a slow biker: “On your left.”                                                                                                                          He puffed hard, mashed his pedals, and shot me a sideways glance.  “On your left?” he gasped. “Going UPHILL???”

The MS 150 — What a Terrific Weekend!

The weather gods must have been smiling. Despite ominous forecasts for heavy rain, the wetness was only temporary, and I now have a full two-day BP MS 150 under my belt.

I woke up in Houston early Saturday morning, feeling the effects of too little sleep. I always get wound up in anticipation of a big event, and this was no exception. But my riding partner Bob joined me for breakfast, then in organizing our gear, getting our luggage dropped off at the luggage truck, and collecting our bikes.

The morning dawned overcast and gloomy, but about 13,000 riders were on hand for the largest fundraising event in the United States. Teams started according to the amount of money their members raised. My team, Team St. David’s (a large health care concern in  Austin), started fourth.

Team St. David's lines up for the MS 150 start.

About a mile into the ride, the skies opened up and it started raining. But the rain wasn’t hard, and there was no wind to speak of to make it difficult to contend with. Within a half hour, the rain stopped. The skies stayed overcast, but it looked like we would stay dry.

The first day of the ride goes from Houston to La Grange, Texas, and covers 100 miles. Considering how far they had to travel, the bikers moved along at a good clip, with the occasional paceline speeding things up, provided you could hang on if you jumped on the back. With so many in the event, the roads are never clear of cyclists.

About 30 miles west of Houston.

A piece of cardboard helped a bit - but only for a little while.The morning’s rain did make things challenging at the rest stops. Porta potties were lined up in a grassy area away from the food and drink tents. But the rain turned the fields to mud, making it challenging for cyclists to keep their shoes in semi-usable shape. This one was particularly bad right after the morning rain, but throughout the weekend, rest stop crowds had to contend with mud that clogged cleats and made it difficult to get clipped back into the pedals.

With so many riders, rest stops are always crowded on the MS 150. The Saturday lunch stop in Bellville was especially so. Cyclists surrounded an old octagonal school building on the county fairgrounds, as well as the fairgrounds themselves, to take a break and eat sandwiches, fruit cups and other food.

The no longer used octagonal school house at the lunch stop.

As the day wore on, there seemed to be more and more crashes along the way. Some were serious. In two cases, we saw ambulance crews place injured cyclists on back boards. Mostly, they were riders who suffered road rash after hitting the asphalt. And within one mile of the finish line in La Grange, two crashes injured cyclists — including one of the back board cases.

It was good to finally reach La Grange. We covered 101.5 miles at an average speed of 16 mph. I felt good, but the picture Bob took soon after we crossed the finish line shows that the day took its toll.

I look pretty fried.

When 13,000 people converge on one spot, problems can arise. After a long, warm, sweaty day, riders wanted to get clean. Shower trucks were a popular spot. So popular that the lines were unbearably long. I waited almost an hour and a half to finally get under the spray.

Just part of the long lines for the shower trucks.

Most teams and their riders stay in large tents at the county fairgrounds. This is one of the reasons for joining a team. They provide the tent, the evening meal (barbecue), cots, and massages.

A look at our tent in early evening, before cots were moved to the center area.

But there were concerns at our tent. The forecast called for heavy rain overnight, which could easily result in flooding. We nixed a proposal to move to another tent in a less flood-prone area, and bet that we wouldn’t face any real problems. Instead, we put all the cots together at the center of the tent — got really cozy with our teammates — and at 10 p.m., lights went out.

It wasn’t quiet, though. Not only did several of the guys snore loudly and continuously, but whenever you changed position on the tightly-stretched cots, they emitted a sound like the popping of bubble wrap. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop vied with the snoring to make the night a restless one for me.

The rain came, but fell far short of the deluge that had been predicted. Of greater concern was a cloudburst that hit around 6 a.m., while we were in the breakfast pavillion. However, by the time the ride was to start at 7 a.m., that rain had stopped too.

Thousands of cyclists lined up at 7 a.m. for the start of Day 2.

Bob and I were in line at 6:45. We finally got out on the road at 8:15. Another long wait at the MS 150. But except for some dangerously rough chip seal on the Highway 71 shoulder for the first several miles, the Sunday ride went off without a hitch. We rolled across the finish line in downtown Austin at about 3 p.m. Our Day 2 stats: 66 miles at 14.7 mph.

Bob Gilbert and Ray Niekamp (Bike Noob) at the finish. (Bob is wearing the team's 2010 jersey - I have the 2008 version.)

It’ll take a couple of days for my butt to get back to normal, but other wise, it was a great ride for a great cause. I recommend you try an MS 150 ride sometime.