Charity Training Rides

Now that summer has arrived, many of us will be gearing up for big charity rides. These fundraising rides often give cyclists the chance to train before the event in an organized group. They offer newer riders the prospect of building up their mileage in a safe environment.

We were first exposed to these training rides several years ago, when my wife decided to sign up for the Hill Country Ride for AIDS (HCRA). She’d never ridden in an organized ride before, and was worried that she might not be up to the challenge of 50 miles. But the HCRA starts offering training rides in about February for the late April event.  After building up her endurance on several training rides, Pat finished the 50 miles, and that’s what got us into biking.

Now, we often tag along on these training rides, whether we’re planning to enter the main event or not. The reason? Well, they’re very much like a regular organized ride. Although there aren’t any rest stops, there is often sag support. The typical HCRA training ride has two or three pickup trucks patrolling the route, and one or two motorcyclists who can respond quickly to any trouble, or help out with directions. Before the ride begins, everyone enters the numbers of the sag drivers into their cell phones, to call them if a rider has problems.  In addition, ride leaders are sprinkled throughout the group to shepherd along slower cyclists, or make sure everyone else stays on course. These folks are usually experienced riders, and may even be able to assist with minor repair work.

HCRA cyclists are briefed before a training ride. Ride leaders wear hi-vis green helmet covers.

Earlier this year, we joined an HCRA training ride in Georgetown, Texas, about 30 miles north of Austin. I did the 45-mile route, and Pat did 29 miles. Because Pat is often the slowest rider, she usually finds herself riding with the “sweep,” the ride leader whose job it is to be the last rider on the course. But this time, she got out ahead of some slower riders and left them behind. As I and two others from the 45-mile ride reached a small town with about 12 miles to go, we caught up to the “sweep.” He was with two newbie riders, pedaling along slowly on their discount store hybrids. They were doing the 29-mile route, and it would be a long time before they got back to the starting point.

Starting another HCRA training ride. Rides like these help new cyclists learn to ride in a group.

These rides start easy, and get more challenging closer to the main event date. The first ride might be less than 20 miles. Then, there will be multiple route choices — or at least two different distances. More hills get thrown in a few weeks before the event.

Saturday, we both went out to a training ride for the Mamma Jamma Ride for Breast Cancer Research, which won’t happen until October. This one was a little different from the HCRA rides. It piggybacks onto a regular Austin Cycling Association ride. Usually, the ACA gives you a route map and cue sheet, and once you’re on the road, you’re on your own. But the Mamma Jamma folks supplied ride leaders, too. Pat and I were both part of the 28-mile group, but after a few miles we split into a 15 mph contingent and a slower group that was targeting 12 mph.  Pat was bringing up the rear of the 12 mph group, but a sweep stayed with her. Then, her rear hub broke, and she called me to come back to get her. I told the sweep to catch up to everyone else, and that I would take care of Pat.

If you’re gearing up for your first big charity ride, and are concerned about being able to cover the mileage, check to see if they offer any training rides. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll get faster and stronger, and you’ll meet some folks who might become future biking buddies. You can’t go wrong.

Ever Thought About Riding for 24 Hours?

A 24-hour bike ride. It’s been done before, but for most of us, it’s way beyond the realm of possibility.

Tommy Foster

But one Bike Noob reader, Tommy Foster of Marietta, Georgia, plans to do just that.  In an effort to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation and to fight cancer, Tommy is going to circle the track at Marietta High School  for 24 hours straight. The ride will be on June 19-20.

In August, Tommy will ride the Livestrong Philly ride, and he’s set an ambitious fundraising goal of $10,000. The 24-hour ride is part of his effort to reach that mark.

I asked Tommy about the planning and organization that goes into riding 24 hours. “There are references to 24 hour rides on-line,” he said. “I know it can be done. From what I can see, someone that can ride several times a week for three hours can accomplish the 24 hours.”

Tommy himself hasn’t been riding all that long. After a fling with biking during college, he knocked off riding for 25 years, and only took it up again 13 months ago. Now at age 47, he’s turning in lots of miles each week.

“Right now my normal week is: Tuesday, 48 miles, Thursday, 48 miles, Saturday, 40 miles (hills and rollers, with intensity). Recovery ride any other day I feel like it for 35-40 miles, easy spin. I have completed three centuries already this year.”

But the 24-hour will be different, because it will be on a quarter-mile high school track. “The high school track is Olympic quality Mondo – very high tech composite material and it took a near act of Congress to get permission to ride on it,” Tommy said.

He’ll take a 5-10 minute break every one and a half hours. “I think everyone expects me to take a break when needed for bio, refueling, fresh riding gear, etc.,” he said. “I will use Hammer gels, balance bars, and G2 Gatorade (low-sugar) for fuel and hydration.”

He thinks the boredom of riding a closed track over and over will be his biggest challenge. “I’ll switch direction after every break,” he said. “That way I will have two very boring 12-hour versions of scenery. When insanity sinks in I might even change lanes for each lap! Riding at night will be different too. The track will be fully lit.”

For equipment, he’ll use the same bike he rides every day. It’s a 2009 Trek Madone 5.2 with 23mm tires inflated to 115 pounds. “Logic would suggest that a hybrid or mountain bike would be better for 24 hours but I have promised to use a bike with no treads and minimal tire to track contact,” Tommy explained. “That means a skinny, smooth tire. Also, I have read that the greatest mistake 24-hour riders make is changing bike or setup. They strongly suggest riding whatever you have been riding and are comfortable with and not changing the setup.”

Tommy is not forgetting that the whole point of the ride is not to call attention to himself, but to the fight against cancer. “Livestrong does not have the visibility and high profile in Georgia as it does in other parts of the country,” he said. “I would like to change that. The more time I spend talking about Livestrong the deeper my conviction to not only continue but intensify my efforts on behalf of all of us that have to fight cancer.”

If you’re interested in supporting Tommy in his 24-hour effort and his fundraising for Livestrong Philly, you can donate here:

The Pad Makes a Difference

A short while ago, we were discussing the pros and cons of different saddles.

But I’d like to offer a different take on the comfort issue.

What about your shorts?

Different shorts have different styles of chamois pads. And in my experience, these pads perform differently on different saddles. Here’s an example.

On my Selle San Marco Ponza saddle, I could wear only my good Pearl Izumi shorts with a “Race 3D” chamois. It’s a large pad, with different thicknesses in different sections. It proved to be the most comfortable for the longest time on that saddle.

I also have a pair of Sugoi shorts with an even larger pad than the PIs.  But surprisingly, that didn’t work as well on the Ponza. I got uncomfortable a lot faster than I did with the PIs. I also have a couple of pairs of older Nashbar shorts with minimal thin padding, and found that they were to be avoided altogether.

The Pearl Izumi pad, left, and the Nashbar pad, right.

Now that I have my new WTB saddle with a squishier feel, I find it reacts differently to different shorts. The Sugois are now terrific. My favorite pair of PIs are still OK, but not as good as they were with the Ponza, and no longer as good as the Sugois. My PI bibs, which I had always considered to be an inferior pad to the shorts, even though it’s the same model pad, are now excellent.

The other morning, I rode in those old, cheap Nashbar shorts.  I’ve avoided these ever since getting the Ponza saddle. But now they’re just fine. I rode about 15 miles in a little less than an hour, and didn’t notice my bottom the entire time.

That’s not to say I’m endorsing cheap shorts with a simple thin pad over the high-priced ones.  There’s still a problem with the shorts.  The material is thin, it bunches, and doesn’t hold everything in place as well as the more expensive shorts. Still, I have to say with my new saddle, the thin pad works.

It’s kind of like getting two new pairs of shorts, since I hadn’t worn them for at least a year. The cheapies can be used for hour-long rides. I had what I call a one-hour saddle — these can be one-hour shorts.

Is Cycling Dangerous?

Our friend Don Blount got some bad news last week: In addition to a broken wrist from a fall during his first century ride, it turned out that his arm was broken, too.

Don had surgery on the arm Friday, and says it went well, but he’ll be off the bike for six to eight weeks while he heals.

That gives him time to do some thinking. He’s been thinking about his second major crash in the last nine months, and breaking the same wrist in those crashes. On top of that, many of us rode in the Ride of Silence last week, which commemorates riders who died in bicycle crashes.

So Don poses the question: Is cycling dangerous?

Don says some of his non-biking friends are telling him to give up cycling, because it’s “too dangerous.”

A couple of studies done in the 1990s found about 500,000 visits to the emergency room each year in the U.S. as the result of bicycle crashes. Just a small fraction required a hospital stay.  Over half the accidents involved motor vehicles, and road surface and mechanical problems with the bicycle are also common causes of accidents.

That reminded me of a club ride I was on a couple of months ago. We were nearing the end, but had to ride for a short distance on a two-lane highway with no shoulders. The road is hilly and curvy, and we mostly avoid it. When we turned off it to cut across a parking lot to another road, one of the riders remarked how glad she was to have survived another ride.

“Well,” I said, “it seems to me that every time we get on our bikes we’re taking a risk. It could be the car that doesn’t see you, or the car that does, and wants to ‘teach you a lesson.’ Or you could hit some bad road surface and lose your balance, or any number of things. But usually we don’t. We’re smart enough to know the risks and we watch out for problems.”

I guess that’s how I’d answer Don’s question, too. Cycling can be risky, but it’s not inherently dangerous.

Don concurs. “I never thought of riding a bike as dangerous,” he emailed me, “probably because it’s something I learned to do as a child. And if I felt it was dangerous, I doubt I would have taught my children to ride.”

He says his injury occurred because he became overly concerned with one risk factor – cars – and lost sight of another – a railroad track at an intersection bad for riding.

But he also notes that other adults get hurt in sports like skiing, soccer, or basketball, and don’t think twice about getting back to them.

And after his convalescence, he says, “I intend to get back on my bike as soon as I can. After all, I received my new helmet just a few days ago.”

Breaking Out the Mountain Bike

The other morning, my road bike was out of commission. I had taken off its handlebars in anticipation of replacing them with a different pair. As the previous post mentioned, that didn’t happen. And when Pat suggested we get out for a short morning ride, I thought I’d have to decline. Then I remembered the mountain bike.

Why would I forget I have a mountain bike? Because this is the way it spends its time.

It’s not exactly at top of mind. But I did remember it, and realized it would be an excellent way to ride with Pat, and stick close to her. Usually when we ride together, I’ll get way ahead, and stop and wait for her.

So we rode. The fat knobby tires and the squishy front suspension really slowed me down from my usual speed. Several times, Pat pulled ahead of me and stayed there for awhile. Because she had to take a work-related call, we couldn’t ride long. But we did 40 minutes on a favorite neighborhood route, and I got a nice reintroduction to the bike. It has some possibilities.

The first thing that came to mind was that I have to get serious about using it for an errand bike. I’ve run errands on it from time to time, like going out to our community mailbox to pick up our mail. But the supermarket is only a mile from the house, and I should be taking the bike. It’ll just be for the small, occasional items we always seem to need, like milk, bread and cookies.

The second thing to come to mind was modifying the bike. Those knobby tires suck on pavement. I’m going to have to get some narrower, slick tires. Then a rear rack of some kind — and maybe a milk crate to mount on top of the rack to carry larger bags of groceries.

The third thing was — this bike needs help. It will be a great opportunity  for me to develop my repair skills without messing with the road bike.  The mountain bike won’t shift out of the middle ring, and only has use of five cogs there. So over the next few weeks, as the spirit moves me, I’ll be getting some derailleur adjustment time in.

And back when Pat gave me the bike as a birthday present, I never bothered to get a fitting. Time to fiddle with the seat height and fore-and-aft position.

Hey, this ought to be fun. It’s almost just like getting a new bike.

Wrapping Bars – Fun and Frustrating

This afternoon, I put my bike on the workstand and remounted the handlebar. Why the bar was off in the first place is a whole other topic, and I’ll probably post on it next week, when that saga comes to an end — I hope.

Anyhoo, I got the bar positioned the way I want it, then got the brake levers back on.  I even rode the bike around the block to make sure the levers were just where I was most comfortable with them.

Back in the garage, it was time to do one of my most favorite bike maintenance activities — wrapping new bar tape.

Freshly wrapped. Looks pretty good -- but wait. (Notice the leftover tape dangling from the shift cable?)

Why fun? Well, if you’ve never tried it, take a shot and see for yourself. With a little bit of care and patience, your bike can assume a whole new character in a matter of minutes. Or, you can do as I did, and use the same old black tape. I think it gives my bike a slightly understated look, and that’s fine with me.

There’s only one problem with wrapping tape: starting and stopping. Okay, two.

To start, you leave a bit of tape hanging down at the end of the handlebar. Then you have to make sure you pull the tape taut while wrapping it, or you’ll get gaps in the wrap — and we can’t have that.

Eventually, you get to the point where you want to stop, and here’s where one of my continuing bar wrapping problems crops up. I see all these pictures of nice bikes with one wrap of contrasting color tape to seal the wrap job. When you buy bar tape, you get a short length of the end tape — maybe it has the manufacturer’s logo on it, maybe not. But it’s all of three or four inches long, and only a half inch wide.

But the bar tape itself is wider than that. So one wrap of the contrasting tape won’t cover the whole end of the bar tape, and you get a square-edged corner sticking out from under. I don’t like the feel of that.

So I do it the Bike Noob way. I use black electrician’s tape to seal the job, and I cover the entire width of the bar tape, plus some.

At least it's a comfy place to rest my hand.

This is one of the reasons I prefer black bar tape. My electrician’s tape overdose is not so obvious to the casual observer.

Once I’ve overdone the electrician’s tape, it’s time to go back to the beginning. The length of tape left hanging from the bar end gets pushed into the bar, and kept in place with a bar end plug.  Sounds easy, but mine always comes out like this:

Lumpy on the left, lumpy on the right. Help!

No set of instructions on bar taping clearly explains how to cleanly get all the tape into the bar end and plug it without leaving unsightly lumps. Anybody got any pointers?  I’d love to hear ’em. In another week or so, I’ll be replacing the handlebar, so I’ll be going through the whole process all over again, and I’d sure like to get a clean looking end.

Rude Cyclists

I saw a tweet recently complaining about rude cyclists. Thinking it was another rant about bikes interfering with cars, I replied to the writer (twitterer? twit? This person is definitely not a twit) asking for clarification.

What I mean, she wrote back, are cyclists who are rude to other cyclists, not motorists. They pass without warning, don’t call out, “On your left,” and generally have an arrogant attitude toward others they meet on the road. That attitude could contribute to accidents.

I chewed on that for awhile, and tried to remember instances I’d run across where other cyclists were rude to me. But then I experienced first hand what I think she was talking about.

I was taking my weekly run around the Veloway, chatting with my friend David. The Veloway is wide enough for two lanes, with a white stripe painted down the center. Slow cyclists are supposed to stay in the right lane. In practice, things are less formal.

As we rode along, catching up (I hadn’t seen him in weeks), he was in the right lane, and I was in the left. We didn’t hear anyone, but suddenly, the call, “On your left,” came from right behind me.

Before I could react, a rider passed me on my left side. He was down in the drops, moving fast. I didn’t think much of it — the lanes are plenty wide enough for two bikes to pass without a problem. But suddenly, a second cyclist shot between us without warning.

He was obviously the riding partner of the first guy, and was going just as fast. I looked at David, and he looked back at me and raised his eyebrows.

“Good thing you didn’t move right when that first guy called ‘On your left,'” he said.

“I would have, but he was by me too fast,” I replied. “We could have had a pretty good crash there.”

The problem, as I saw it, was that the first rider indicated he was passing on the left, but his partner passed me on my right. Now, you never pass on the right. And this guy was more than a bike length behind his buddy, so why didn’t he grab his wheel and follow him around me on the left?

The whole thing left a sour taste in my mouth. I know I’m not the fastest guy out there, but I do get out of the way when faster riders come by. There was no reason for this cowboy behavior.

What kinds of rudeness from other cyclists have you experienced on the road?