Fixing Flats Faster

I’ve always considered myself to be pretty competent when it comes to fixing flats. I’ve had enough of them that, while they will be forever a pain in the patootie, they don’t ruin my ride like they might have done several years ago.

But my confidence in my flat fixing ability was challenged earlier this month, when I had a spate of them within a relatively short time. I had three flats in two weeks. It turns out that my rear tire had worn so badly, the cords showed through in two places.

What vexes me is this: I take too long to fix flat tires.

I think I go about it just as most other folks would. I shift into the smallest cog and the smallest chainring, then take off the wheel. My seatbag contains three tire levers, and I usually need only two to get the tire out of the rim. I’ll pull the tube out, keeping the other side of the tire inside the rim, then I feel around inside the tire to see if I can find any bits of glass or metal or whatever that might have caused the flat.

I take the replacement tube from the seatbag, and blow a little air into the valve to give the tube a little shape, then fit it inside the tire. Once I’ve got the tube inside, it’s time to grab the part of the tire that’s outside the rim and pop it back in. As always, I have a little trouble getting the last three inches of the tire over the rim, so sometimes I’ll use one of the tire levers to help with that (Yes, I know — could cause a puncture in the tube). Pump up the tire, put it back on the bike, clean up after myself, and I’m off.

I can do this in five minutes. Well, I have done it in five minutes maybe once. More often, it takes 15 minutes. But when I had the flats this past month, I noticed it took me a full half hour to get underway again.

What gives?

I can’t pinpoint the exact cause of my slowness. But two weekends ago I realized that tire changing was not being done as efficiently as in the past. Whatever the cause, I have to get quicker at the whole roadside repair routine, so I can get moving again quicker.

I suppose I could practice, and build my speed that way. Have you ever practiced fixing flats? (Okay, when I started biking seriously a few years ago, I really did practice it — but only once, and never since.) But really, I’d rather wait until faced with the real thing before I dirty my hands doing that chore.

So, readers — I’m asking for help. What kind of techniques do you use to fix a flat quickly and get out on the road where we wanted to be in the first place. What’s the best part of the routine to cut the amount of time I would spend getting the tire changed?

A Noob Goes To The Races

The Bike Noob has never contemplated racing, but guest poster Jeff Hemmel has — and he did more than contemplate. Jeff tells about his first race, during his vacation this summer in upstate New York.

So there I was, sandwiched between a breakaway pack of 12 riders, pedaling nearly as fast as I thought humanly possible, looking at the last 90-degree corner of what had been 30 of the fastest, most hardcore miles I had ever ridden. All around me faces were dead serious, jerseys were filled with sponsor logos…legs were shaved. And then there was me, a noob, riding my very first race, jersey a plain and unassuming blue…and no real game plan what to do next.

What the hell was I thinking?

To get to that answer you need to backtrack to late July, 2010. That was when I first came up with the idea of actually trying to contest a race while vacationing in Upstate NY. Long story short I chickened out, but vowed to try again in 2011. After all, this race was perfect…it started in a picturesque riverside town, it had some of the hills that I love (and hopefully most riders would hate), and was a fundraiser for a good cause.

Most important, no one knew me. If I choked, I could fade into the background, my pride shielded by my outsider’s anonymity.

I can’t really say why I did it. Most likely it’s because, like it or not, I’m somewhat of a competitive person. While two years ago I was simply content to hang with the Sunday morning group ride, lately I had been trying to actually contest the end-of-ride sprint. I have no aspirations of signing up for every race that comes along, but I wanted to test myself, if only this once.

Which is why, this July upon arriving in New York, I not only began to rack up my usual mileage in the hills, but frequently found myself visiting the race website…mapping out the route…even watching it fly by on Google Earth. And yes, a few days before the event, traveling about 90 minutes north to plop my bike on those roads and actually riding the course. That I made about 10 wrong turns and ended up turning a 30-miler into a nearly 50-mile reconnaissance isn’t the point. The point is I took it seriously and prepared. If you looked closely at my bike at the start, you would have even seen a little piece of masking tape on the stem, labeled with various mileage points and whether the race was turning left or right.

As I said, competitive…and yes, maybe just a little bit anal.

My race day plan was simple — to spot the guys who looked like they were the most serious, and not let them get out of my sight. I figured I’d either burn out and limp to the finish at the back of the pack, or maybe, just maybe, surprise everyone (including myself) and hang on to the finish.

Well, this looks daunting.

At the start, the latter option didn’t look too promising. A well-organized team jumped away from the 100-plus rider field only a mile into the race, and I fought to stay with them, watching my speedo settle in about 26 mph. Their intent seemed to be to drop as many people as possible right off the bat, and I was almost certain I would be next. Somehow I stayed close, even joining their paceline so I could say I did my share of the work and at least earn their respect before my flameout. Miraculously, however, that moment never came. As I survived mile after mile my confidence grew and I knew I could hang with them till the finish, especially as their speed settled down slightly. As to any pipe dreams of actually dropping the pack on a climb and soloing to victory a la Andy Schleck, however, I knew I didn’t have a chance. This group was strong, and even if I found myself with an advantage on a climb, I knew they’d reel me in with ease once things flattened out.

I'm in there somewhere.

So, I I fought my impetuous instincts, rode smart, and just tried to fit in…a guy with hairy legs in a generic jersey in the midst of a bunch of logoed-up team members looking clean and mean. With about three miles to go, a three-man breakaway leapt ahead, but somehow we reeled them in about a mile from the finish. Still together at mile 29, all that remained was a bunch sprint — a scenario I had really hoped to avoid given my utter lack of racing skills. Heading into that 90-degree lefthand turn about 100 yards from the finish, I took the inside line, only to be cut off by the rest who kept up their speed and swept through the corner. I hit my brakes, lost momentum, and watched as that team led their leader out to the finish. It was actually pretty impressive.

And I still managed to finish first in my age group.

The best news for me? I did okay. I triumphed over the nerves of 2010, finished upright (the primary goal of any first-time racer a friend reminded me before the race), and was greeted at the finish line by my daughters and wife…three people in town who did recognize me.

Finish line greeting.

That’s a victory in any noob’s book.

Sync’ing Odometers

I’m on my third cyclocomputer since I started riding. It’s a Cateye V2c, and is the best of them all, because it’s wireless and has cadence as well as the usual assortment of current, average and maximum speed readings. It gives me everything I want to know about a ride (Okay, being able to see the percent grades of my favorite local climbs would be nice too) without involving the steep cost of a GPS unit.

However, I do have a minor gripe: accuracy. I’ve noticed that with each computer I’ve owned, I get different distances for the same route.

My benchmark ride is a trip from my house to the Austin Veloway, three laps of the track, and back home. It’s my 15-mile ride. To be precise, it’s 14.9 miles — 2.8 from my house to the Veloway, three laps at  3.1 miles per lap, or 9.3 miles, and 2.8 miles home. But my computer clocks it at 14.7.

Now, you adjust your computer according to the outside circumference of your tire. A 23 mm tire should have a circumference of 2096 mm, and the instruction book that comes with the computer suggests setting it to that number. But tires flex, and since my computer’s sensors are on the rear wheel, which carries the most weight, I thought I would measure by hand.

I positioned the bike on the garage floor so the rear wheel’s valve was perpendicular to the ground. A black Sharpie made a hash mark on the floor. Then I got on the bike and pushed off with my feet for one rotation of the tire. Used the Sharpie to mark the floor again. When I measured the distance between the two marks, and converted from inches to centimeters, then reduced, I got — 2096.

What I thought was odd was that on my previous tires, which were 25 mm, my hand measurements also came out to 2096. So my computer readings were consistent.

Earlier computers clocked different numbers, though. A Cateye Strada measured 15.1 miles for that benchmark Veloway distance.

I’ve alluded to my finickiness when it comes to record keeping. I had to come up with a way to get accurate readings from the computer. The obvious way is compare it to a known distance.

Several years ago, I zeroed the computer at the entrance to the Veloway. As I mentioned, it’s 3.1 miles around. But a circuit of the track clocked exactly three miles on the Cateye. So if I was a tenth of a mile short for three miles, that meant that I could simply add a tenth for every three miles ridden. If the computer showed I rode 18 miles, I could add six-tenths to that distance for an accurate reading.

This jury rigged system actually worked. When I rode the MS150, the Cateye clocked the second day’s distance at 74 miles. Divide by three = 24.6 — so I could add 2.5 miles (round up the .46), and get 76.5 miles. The official route map showed the distance at 77. Getting closer.

It’s been awhile now, and I’ve been adding my tenths. But I decided last week to check the accuracy of my system again. This time a 3.1 mile lap registered 3.05 miles on the Cateye. Half a tenth off from the previous readings. That meant I could now add a tenth for every six miles ridden, instead of every three.

When I compared a couple of recent rides using this method to maps created on Ride With GPS, the new system came pretty close.

I think you’ve gotta be a certain type of personality to go through the machinations I do just to get what might or might not be an accurate measure of distance traveled. A twisted type. That’s me — accurately.

The Hills, Part II

Guest poster Don Blount continues his account of his struggle with the hills.

Part II

On a recent Saturday I joined a club ride, a roundtrip starting in Wallace, Calif. to Mokelumne Hill, Calif.

I thought this would be a route of about 40 miles with some 3,000 feet of climbing. I thought this would be a good test as I had completed rides of this length with just a little less vertical. In reality the ride was really 48 miles with 3,400 feet of climbing.

We started the day and I was fine. I rode from the middle to near the rear of the pack and stayed within my comfort range.

So far so good.

For a short time I had forgotten that hills are evil, and they hate me. I was actually enjoying myself!

We eventually came to a series of three long rollers. I made the first two but never recovered for the third. As Phil Liggett would say, I had cracked. And in short order, the group was long gone.

A rider riding sweep came upon me and asked if I was dizzy – I was walking or maybe even just standing at this point. She encouraged me to walk and would later tell me that I was weaving when she found me.

The sweeper continued on and disappeared over the hill. A bit later another rider came over the hill toward me. It was the cavalry. He and another rider paced me to the rest stop a few miles away.

I ate a Clif Bar, drank water and a Dr. Pepper and rested. I felt fine.

We left and I thought I would be in good shape on the return trip as the heavy climbing was behind me.

And I was fine most of the way, until we hit the last big climb of the day just after traveling over Pardee Dam, which  borders Calaveras and Amador counties in Northern California. Did I mention that the temperatures had risen and it had become quite toasty?

Now I had never before experienced leg cramps and after this day, I pray that I never do again.

The contractions in my quadriceps and hamstrings were so painful I thought the alien was going to burst through my skin. I unclipped and tried to stretch my legs. I massaged them. I pounded them. I stopped and walked. Yet the cramps came and went as they pleased.

I could not ride the inclines. I struggled to ride the flats. And I hoped my whimpering was inaudible. Any substantial stress on my legs brought on hellacious cramps.

Somehow I made it back to the starting point with the group. I purchased a 32-ounce Gatorade from a convenience store and drank it in what seemed like 30 seconds.

My legs cramped on my drive home and with less than ½ mile to my house, I pulled over because of the cramping.

Yet, I had survived the ride. In reflection people were right. Riding in the hills had brought variety to my workouts, made me a stronger rider and contributed to a weight loss. I would continue to ride them. That night I ordered an 11-28 cassette. I need to be prepared for my next time out.

Yes, I am going to continue riding in the hills, even if they hate me.

The Hills, Part I

In a two-part guest post, Don Blount expresses thoughts I’ll bet many of us share when it comes to climbing hills.

Part I

Beautiful scenery goes along with riding in the hills, including this view of Camanche Lake in Amador County, California.

I have always suspected that hills hate me. Maybe not when I am walking or driving a car, during those times they seem friendly enough. But the moment I approach a hill while riding a bike, it seems that hill’s goal becomes to not allow me to get up to the top of it. Sometimes it throws me down with a vengeance, causing me great pain and suffering.

Being a peaceful man, I usually take the path of least resistance and avoid hills. That’s easy enough where I live as I can ride for miles and not approach a grade of more than 4 percent.

For the most part, I am fine with this. I do not consider myself a climber. At 5-feet, 9-inches tall and 194 pounds, I am much more comfortable on the flats and inclines. If it is short enough for me to power up with my compact crankset and 12-25 cassette, then I am game to ride it.

But people keep uttering the benefits of riding hills. “Hills will make you stronger,” they say. “Hills will make you a better rider.” And they always end with the same words: “To become stronger in the hills, you have to ride in the hills.”

To get to real climbs with grades of 8 or 9 percent or more, I have to travel about 23 miles east to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California.

Rarely are those hills friendly and allow me to leave with my dignity. Most of the times they are hard and determined to show me that I am not welcomed there.

So wanting to test my fitness I joined a late May club ride of 40 miles with about 2,300 feet of climbing. I survived but barely. Most of the ride I had a good look at just about everyone’s back.

After that ride I decided to commit to becoming better in the hills. A few weeks later I returned alone and did a similar solo ride of about 40 miles with 2,300 feet of climbing. I completed it.

I became a student of climbing. I read what I could find I watched videos. I watched real climbers. I meditated on climbing and channeled those who had worn the polka dot jersey.

And I went out on the club ride that kicked my rear earlier. I was in better condition, I used what I had learned, and I completed the ride successfully. Progress I thought. Maybe the hills did not hate me after all? Maybe it was time for another test, a club ride?

I put it on my schedule but oh, how little did I know that deep down hills are evil.

Watch Bike Noob for the second part of Don’s saga of the hills.

Salute to Paris-Brest-Paris

Last month, it was the Tour de France. This weekend, another French ride I will probably never do kicks off in a suburb of Paris. It’s the Paris-Brest-Paris, the granddaddy of all the randonneur rides. If your idea of fun is to ride 1200 kilometers (745 miles) in 90 hours or less, from a suburb of Paris to the westernmost city in France and back, with 6,000 of your closest friends from all over the world, this is your event.

En route in the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris.

PBP is run only once every four years. The last time it was run, in 2007, I had just discovered road cycling, and had not heard of it. The number of entries goes up every year, although some of the larger countries must deal with quotas. This year, smaller countries that didn’t meet their quotas transferred their unused slots to those that exceeded their quotas. The ride’s organizers say no one was turned away. Riders have to qualify to ride PBP, by completing the randonneur series of a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k ride all in the same year.

Villaines La Juhel, the controle roughly halfway between Paris and Brest.

With 6,000 riders, the starts are staggered. Sunday evening, the first groups of 400 leave periodically, starting at about 4 p.m. Different riders use different tactics to complete the ride. Starting at 4 p.m. means you’ll have about four hours of daylight, then ride through the night. The ride will take approximately three nights and two days. Other riders wait until early Monday morning to start. They’ll probably be part of the 84-hour or 80-hour groups.

Grab some sleep wherever it's convenient.

How do organizers keep track of what group you start in? The same way as in any randonneuring event — brevet cards. Riders have to check in at controles along the way and have their cards stamped to prove they complete the route.

Brevet card. Note that in addition to the regular controles, riders must check in at several "secret" controles. This is to make sure no one tries to cut the ride short.

The accompanying pictures are from the 2007 event — which was rainy and chilly. More than a quarter of the riders did not finish. Usually, DNFs are about 15 percent of the field.

For me, three to four hours in the saddle is enough. I’m plenty happy to get off the bike and relax after that much time pedaling. But if you’re an endurance fiend, and want to do the endurance ride with the most cachet of them all — Paris-Brest-Paris is the one you’re aiming for. “Bonne route.”

Biking Videos

I watch a lot of videos pertaining to biking — not so much the pro cyclists, although I watch those too, even when it’s not Tour de France time. But I prefer to watch videos about everyday folks who like to do the same things you and I do: ride our bikes.

The first video was called to my attention to promote the Marfa 100, a ride out in the funky west Texas town of Marfa, which benefits the public radio station out there and the Livestrong Foundation.

The next video was created by our frequent guest poster Jeff Hemmel. Although Jeff lives in Florida, he spends part of every summer in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, enjoying the cooler weather and the hillier cycling terrain. Here’s a look at the countryside he frequently travels.

I’m open to showing others’ videos on this site — but they must be about biking, and I won’t take just any poorly-executed video that’s shot as an afterthought. So get out there with your camcorders, run the video through an editing program, and send me a link to it. Whether I continue this feature depends upon your reaction to it.