Drinking Enough

One of my continuing problems on the bike is drinking enough liquids to keep me fueled during the ride. In early July, I complained about running out of gas out in the country. The problem, I figured, was a lack of high mileage rides. A few days later, a biking friend of mine suggested something else.

“It sounded to me like you weren’t drinking enough,” he said.

My wife nodded in agreement. But then, she’s always after me to do a better job of staying hydrated and fed on longer rides. I thought about what had happened that day, and concluded that my friend was probably right.

I used to have dual water bottle cages attached to my seat. But I got rid of them last year, because I didn’t like the way they scrunched my seat bag. That left me with one bottle cage on my down tube. I usually carry a 16-oz. bottle, and always felt it was enough. But that’s on rides close to home, where I can always get a refill.

On that early July ride, we had no facilities for refills. No one’s house, no convenience stores, not even a spigot on private property we could sneak water from. I was babying my 16 ounces over a 41-mile ride. That won’t do it.

So, I decided to reform. On a solo ride two weeks later, I decided I would use prompts to remind me to take a drink. Instead of setting my trip computer to distance, I kept it set to elapsed time. Every 10 minutes, I tried to take a drink. Those 10 minutes became a ballpark figure I could work around — sometimes I drank after only eight, more often I drank after around 12. I planned on stopping at a convenience store at the 22-mile point in this 38-mile ride. I bought a bottle of Gatorade G2 there, and downed half of it while resting. I added ice to the water bottle and mixed the rest of the Gatorade with the water. A Clif bar went down nicely during the rest stop, too. I finished the ride relatively fresh.

Emboldened by my new system, I was ready to apply it to a longer ride yesterday (Saturday). The ride was going to be 44 miles. It was a route I had never ridden, but there would be support. The ride leader indicated that a convenience store was about 20 miles into the ride, but we would have to go off course a little bit to reach it.

This time, I didn’t go by time to determine when to drink — I went by miles. I determined to drink every three miles. It worked, too, mostly. I never missed by more than a mile. I had gotten out the seat-mounted water bottle cage at put it on the previous day. I half-filled two 16-oz. bottles the night before and put them in the freezer. That morning, I topped them off with water, so my water supply was relatively cold.

My bike with the seat-mounted water bottle cages. (Pic is from the first time I carried them, over a year ago.)

At the convenience store, I bought my usual bottle of Gatorade G2, and I could stash it in the down tube cage, since that wasn’t taken up by water bottles this time. At a rest stop at a picturesque country church, I trashed the empty G2 bottle and topped off my water. I had been munching on a Luna Bar for a while, and that helped, too. Even though the ride turned out to be 48 miles instead of 44, and finished with a series of challenging hills, I felt good at the end.

Then came today. I was leading a B ride with the club. It was a 30-mile round trip on a route featuring rolling hills. Again, two iced water bottles. Again, I tried to drink every three miles. But today was different. Because of the hills, I had trouble finding a good spot to drink. Flying down hill, I wanted to keep both hands on the bars. Going uphill, I needed both hands to help me pull up the slope. At the 15-mile turnaround, I realized I had drunk only twice. I downed the rest of my first water bottle.

At a convenience store two-thirds of the way through the ride, I got some ice and filled the one bottle I’d drunk from. The break helped, and I drank a lot from the other bottle. I was pleased to note that I finished strong.

“Eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty.” We’ve all heard that jillions of times. But it bears repeating.  I have a pretty good idea of just hat I have to do to stay adequately fueled. From here on out, it’s just a matter of making sure I do it.

Being Visible

I’ve been riding along some pretty busy roads lately. Most of the time, they have shoulders. Sometimes, they don’t. And shoulders and bike lanes usually end at intersections. So being seen is something I’m always aware of.

It seems whenever I hear of a collision between a car and a bike, the driver often says something like, “I didn’t see you!” Now, that’s generally because the driver was not looking for a cyclist. They were looking for motorized traffic, so didn’t expect to see cyclists.

So I decided early on that I would try to wear clothing that is visible.

Different colors show up differently. Below is a shot from the start of a group ride I attended about a year and a half ago. (It’s kinda nice to see evidence of cooler weather — I’m sure it will be back, eventually!)

Anyway, some colors jump right out. Hi-vis green, for one. On this overcast day, the screaming color makes the cyclists wearing it stand out from the crowd. Another good choice is bright yellow, also obvious in the picture.

Less of a standout — white and black. Again, the overcast sky has an effect. White might work on a day like this, but not as well when the sun is low in the sky. Blue is a popular color. It’s one of my personal favorites, and I have three jerseys that feature blue as a dominant or prominent color. But I don’t think blue is a great choice for visibility. Note the cyclist in blue top and black shorts in the right third of the picture. Not exactly a stand out.

Red and orange show up well. I was following a group several weekends ago, and all were wearing different shades of those. My wife was in her salmon pink and orange jersey, and was riding with a woman in a red flower print top. I could see them clearly well before I could determine who they were.

So I’m at a loss to figure out why black seems to be such a popular jersey color these days. Cyclists in black seem to me to blend in with their surroundings.

In addition to being less of a standout, it strikes me that black jerseys absorb too much heat. I own a jersey with black shoulders and a blue body. I wear it often, but during this hot sunny summer weather we’re having, it is not my first choice. I pick it when my other jerseys are in the wash. Both the Sky and Leopard-Trek teams in the Tour de France wore jerseys that were predominantly black. Ugh. I can’t imagine going more than 100 miles for days on end in the summer, in black.

A lot of cyclists prefer to go the understated way, though. They don’t like to dress in high visibility colors. Why? Often, it’s because they’re engaged in cycling for reasons other than sport. Commuters, for example, would like to wear their work clothes on their bikes. Touring cyclists might want to stop and visit attractions or shops on their routes, and darker clothing makes them less conspicuous in a crowd of non-bikers. Some might think the bright colored cycling jerseys themselves are dorky looking.

Other cyclists argue that color is not important — it’s how you cycle that matters. Make yourself prominent on the road. Take the lane when necessary. Make eye contact with drivers. Just because you’re wearing high-visibility clothing doesn’t mean drivers will see you.

See Me Wear jersey

As in most issues, there can be extremes. A line of cycling gear called See Me Wear is available that — well, see for yourself:

There’s even talk of requiring high-visibility colors when cycling. New Zealand is going through a debate along those lines right now. Proponents say anything that makes cyclists more visible is a good thing. Cycling advocates argue that making mandatory a type of clothing that some might see as “dorky” would discourage some people from riding — and could lull others into a false sense of security.

You wouldn’t find me wearing one of these warning chevron jerseys. But at the same time, I’m not going to take anything for granted. I’ll do what I can to ride safely, and to make myself known to drivers. But I’ll also do it in my red or yellow jerseys, and my hi-vis green jacket. And as I add to my cycling wardrobe, I’ll favor brighter, not duller, colors.

Watch That Sweat!

The oddest thing happened on my Sunday ride. I was about six or eight miles from the end, when suddenly, I couldn’t shift from the big ring down to the small ring.

This was problematical, because at the time, I was approaching the crest of a hill, and I needed the easier effort the small ring would give me to get over the top. I back pedaled — something I never do — and downshifted the rear cogset. That did the trick, and I was in the small ring again.

But the same thing happened throughout the rest of the ride, until for the last two miles, I kept the thing in the small chainring, even when I had an inviting downward grade.

The next afternoon, I took the bike over to our club mechanic’s house. (It’s nice to have a “club mechanic” — in this case, a member with over 20 year experience “making money off of fixing bikes” who at one time was wrench for a pro team.)

“So, won’t shift down to the small ring, huh?” he asked.

His next question startled me.

“Are you a heavy sweater?”

I did a double take.

“Yeah, I am,” I replied. “Does that have something to do with it?”

He got the bike up on the stand and checked it over.

“I’m already seeing some corrosion on the brakes,” he said. “And here on the front derailleur, too.”

“That’s really strange,” I said. “It was shifting fine, and then suddenly, I couldn’t get it to shift down.”

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he retorted. “You thought it was shifting just fine, but it probably wasn’t. You’d just gotten used to it.”

There might be something to that. I’ve had some balky shifts in recent weeks. But I thought that was my lack of shifting technique, not my sweat. I watched him as he took out a bottle of lube and went to work.

“Front derailleur, front brakes, bottom bracket, rear brakes, in that order,” he lectured. “That’s what’s most affected by sweating. The rear derailleur rarely, if ever.”

He squirted some lube on the brake pivots.

“Pay attention to the pivots,” he said.

He shot some lube into the brake grip pivots, then pulled loose the brake and shifter cables and applied a light coat of grease to them. Then he cranked the pedals and started shifting through the gears — snick, snick, snick. Now it was time for the moment of truth — he changed hands to shift the front derailleur.

Click, click, it went. He shifted between the large and small rings several times. Each time, the shift was smoother than the previous.

“I think that’s got it,” he said, wiping his hands on a clean rag.

“So the trick is to keep everything clean,” I observed.

“I recommend that everyone at the very least wipe down their bikes at the end of the ride.”

I paid him for his trouble (he charges a pittance, compared to the LBS), loaded the bike into the car, and headed home.

This morning when I got home from my ride, I found a clean towel and went over the bike.

Doing a Group Ride? Take Some Responsibility

We looked forward to another Mamma Jamma training ride today, but Pat woke up feeling poorly, so I was on my own. That actually gave me the opportunity to ride the 37-mile route, which is one that I like because it gets farther out in the country on roads where cars are scarce Sunday mornings.

The Mamma Jamma training ride organizers do a nice job of putting these things together. Each week, they come up with a different sponsor to provide sag for the ride. The sag is often needed, because on these kinds of charity rides (Mamma Jamma raises money for breast cancer research) a lot of beginners are trying their hands at longer distances for the first time. The organizers also try to post a map of the week’s route on the training ride website, so riders can download it and carry it with them.

I didn’t have a map, but I’d done the route several times before, and was quite familiar with it. We met at a school parking lot, signed the required waivers and contact info sheets, and got our instructions. Another ride sponsored by the Austin Cycling Association (ACA) was leaving at the same time from a different corner of the lot, so cyclists were in abundance.

Riders could pick 45, 37, 22 or 18-mile routes. I’m not crazy about the 45, because it goes onto two different spur roads that dead end and require riders to backtrack. The 37 is a more or less figure-8 shaped loop that gets us back to a convenience store at about 25 miles — just when it’s convenient.

Bill, the ride leader, briefed the group.

“If you’re taking the 45 or 37-mile routes, pass by the convenience store nine miles into the ride,” he told us. “We’ll come back to that later in the ride. If you’re in the 22 or 18-mile groups, that’s where we’ll turn around to head back.”

Bill was riding sweep for the 37-milers. Out in front was our ride leader Jenny, whom I had met before. We headed out, and it wasn’t long before several of us off the front distanced ourselves from the rest of the group.

We reached the convenience store at nine miles and kept going. By this time, we had caught up with some of the 45-milers, who had left a few minutes before us. Jenny waited at a corner for some riders to catch up, while I rode on and chatted with the sweep for the 45-milers.

“Hey,” she said, after a few miles. “Do you know where we turn? I think we passed our turnoff.”

“No, it’s up ahead,” I told her. “This road turns left. The 37-mile route turns right about a mile past that, and the 45s keep going.”

“Oh, good,” she said. But when she realized that I was in the 37-mile group, she got on her cell phone and called her ride leader to make sure.

By now we were getting indications that the ride had broken up. Two of the 37-milers had turned back, thinking they’d missed a turn. I was out of sight of Jenny and the people she was with, and rode alone for the next five miles or so.

As I pulled into the convenience store at 25 miles, there was Bill with a gaggle of riders. They had never gotten beyond the nine-mile point.

“The ACA ride stopped here,” Bill said. “These folks stopped with them, then got confused about where to go next.”

He told them the bad news.

“This has just become a 22-mile ride,” he said. He was greeted by groans and complaints.

He reiterated to them his instructions not to stop at the store on the way out, but wait until the return leg. Instead, like sheep, they had followed the ACA riders into the store. It turned out that none of them had the route map.

We had other problems, too. A county crew ripped up a section of road, and we had to dismount and carry our bikes across a trench.

Pat and I (and our friends, Cynthia and Liz, who I also saw today) like these rides, because they’re well organized and supported. They’re easy rides, but still challenge less experienced riders. But that doesn’t mean the rider has no responsibilities. When as much support material is offered as on these rides, take advantage of them. Download the map (there’s a cue sheet on the other side). Look it over the night before the ride, to get familiar with the route. Often, if a map isn’t available online, you can get copies at the start. Check your bike the night before, so you have no last-minute adjustments to make. Arrive at the start early — leaving time enough to get your things together, take a nature break, and get the ride instructions. Carry a few bucks so you can buy something at the convenience store. If you’re going to use their facilities, and top off with water, it’s only right.

These training rides have been going on all summer. The Mamma Jamma ride is in October, so we still have plenty more opportunities. I hope that cyclists will wise up before then. And bear these simple tips in mind for any other organized ride you’re part of.

Summer Bike Reading

I’m an avid reader, and I try to vary my reading enough that I’m not a single-subject guy. History and mysteries are favorites. But every once and a while, I have to indulge my biking side and tackle a book written by (but not necessarily for) cyclists.

So when I was offered the opportunity to read “It’s All About the Bike” by Robert Penn (New York: Bloomsbury, $20), I jumped at it.

It’s a very simple premise: The writer, a resident of Wales, has been an avid biker for most of his life. He pedaled around the world when in his twenties. But now, he’s after his dream bike — the one bike that will last him the rest of his life. And to get it, he’s having components manufactured by the best at their crafts — wherever they might be.

For Penn, the bike of his life will be a racing-style bike, but he’ll ride it for everything — commuting, long distance rides on the weekends, even longer trips to cycling’s storied routes. He won’t settle for humdrum materials like carbon fiber. His frame must be custom built. He picks a lightweight steel frame hand built by Rourke in England. He travels to the United States for a headset from Chris King and wheels from Steve Gravenites (“Gravy”), then to Italy for a drive train from Campagnolo (Record). Back to England to see his Brooks B-17 saddle made at the Brooks plant, much the same as they’ve been made since 1896.

But something happens as Penn travels the globe to build his bike: He delves into the history of cycling and the components that make the bike what it is today. The reader is introduced to Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbronn, the inventor of the “Draisine.” That was the first machine that looked something like the bike of today, even if the rider had to push it over the ground with his feet. And James Starley, who came up with the idea for tangent-spoked wheels, the kind we still ride on today. We learn how Tullio Campagnolo invented the derailleur. And at the end of it all, the reader understands just how much goes into the creation of a bicycle, and where it all came from, and how it all evolved.

For that reason, non-bikers might enjoy the book, too. Penn is a journalist who writes for a variety of different publications, and his writing is erudite but accessible. The book is relatively short — 186 pages — and most people will get through it in just a couple of nights. It got me thinking about what my ultimate bike might look like. I was left with one minor disappointment though. There’s no picture of the finished bike. Readers will have to conjure that up on their own.

Vredestein Fortezza SE Update

Back at the beginning of the year, I put a new set of tires on my bike — Vredestein Fortezza SEs. I wrote about the change from the Continental Gatorskins I had been riding, and promised an update once I had some miles on them. So here goes.

The update isn’t pegged to any specific mileage number or ride number, but rather, to my first flat on these tires. One of the things that has impressed me about the Vredesteins has been their puncture resistance. I’ve noticed that even with seven months’ use behind them, the tires have just a few miniscule cracks in the tread. Compared to some tires I’ve run in the past, these fill me with confidence, and I don’t even think about the possibility of a flat when I’m on a ride anymore.

Maybe that’s what contributed to my incident Sunday. I was leading a B ride with the club, and just a mile and a half from the start, I rolled over something. I think it was a twisted piece of metal, about six inches long. I was riding directly into the morning sun at the time, and didn’t see the thing until it was too late.

So I pulled over, and the group had to wait for the leader as I replaced the tube. The metal left a deep cut in the tread, but it’s less than a quarter-inch long. I had a chance to run my fingers around the tire to make sure there were no other problem areas, and I noted that the rest of it was still fairly cut-free.

After 2,015 miles on these tires, the verdict is in: I like them. I was a little concerned at the beginning, because they seemed to be a bargain brand for Performance Bike, where I bought them. Vredestein makes a Fortezza model, and the SE is supposed to be slightly heavier than that one. (SE stands for Special Edition, and I presume it is made specifically for Performance.) Vredestein is made in the Netherlands, and since that’s where my ancestors came from, that’s another (flimsy) reason I was attracted to them.

I took a look at the Vredestein website to see if the claims they make for the tire hold up.

Very low rolling resistance. True. I typically pump these up to 120 psi. The sidewall says they’ll take pressures from 115-160 psi — much more than the 100 pounds I was used to running in my old tires. The harder pressure does make the tires roll easier.

Outstanding ride quality. True. These things can transmit the feel of bad road surfaces up to the hands, but they also have a cushiony feel over bumps — evan at that high pressure. I hadn’t expected that soft sensation with these, and it was a pleasant surprise.

Protection layer. True. I know there’s a flat in every tire, and I found the flat in this one. But for routine riding around city, suburban, and rural roads, these have been the most trouble-free tires I’ve owned. And if I could have seen past the glare Sunday morning, they would still be flat free.

Vredestein says the Fortezza is a dry-weather tire. I have not had much occasion to ride it in the wet, especially with the extraordinary drought Texas is experiencing this year. The tires come only in 23mm widths, and I would have preferred the option to put on 25s, but because of the nice ride, it’s not that big a deal.

Vredestein makes a model called the Fortezza Tricomp which they claim is a four-season tire with good traction in both wet and dry conditions. When it’s time to replace these, I might look around for the Tricomps, although the difference in price might just be enough to send me back for another pair of SEs.

Stinky Bike Clothes? Here’s a Solution

With the heat wave wracking much of our country now, my bike rides end with my bike clothes dripping. I’m a sweaty guy anyway, but lately it’s been ridonkulous. Not only is the sweat a problem, but the stink from the sweaty clothes permeates the rest of the stuff in our hamper.

Usually, my wife and I will pile our dirties on top of the washing machine after a ride. It’s not uncommon to do three different loads of just cycling gear during the week. At least that keeps them away from the rest of our stuff.

Still, they reek. I finally decided to find out what can be done to mitigate the odiferous offensiveness. The answer: Hydrogen Peroxide.

This common household product is credited with a variety of different uses, some that have credence, others that lack it. However, as a bleach and an antiseptic, it does have properties that would seem to make it a good odor fighter. We bought a couple of bottles

Long story short — it works. My wife adds a third of a cup of H2O2 to our bike clothes wash load. After the first two weeks of this, she made this observation:

“The bike clothes smell a lot better. I wish we’d started using that hydrogen peroxide a lot earlier.”

It does work well. My two most-worn jerseys don’t carry that “permafunk” anymore. However, I noticed that my oldest jersey — a four-year old cheapie from Nashbar — still had a slight aroma when I put it on the other day for a short neighborhood ride. It could be the jersey’s age, or maybe the fiber content. Anyway, it still needs some corrective action.

One caution: hydrogen peroxide is a bleach. Most websites I’ve seen that talk about the benefits of HP suggest using it on whites in the wash to make them come out whiter, without resorting to chlorine-based bleach.

But with biking clothes, we haven’t had a problem. The jersey colors are still vibrant, with no trace of fading.

It looks like we’re in for a long, hot summer. I just bought another big bottle of hydrogen peroxide when I made our grocery store run today.