Driving to Rides

When I joined my cycling club way back in 2008, one of the things that attracted me to it was that it was based right in the neighborhood. For our Sunday morning rides, I hop on the bike at home and ride exactly one mile to a Starbucks where we gather before setting out. If I’m not riding with the club, I have a repertoire of six different rides from my front door, so I’m never riding over the same ground on successive rides.

But every once in awhile, I get the hankering to ride somewhere new and different. So I’ll throw the bike in the back of the SUV and hit the highway. It’s usually worth it. Two weeks ago, I drove 30 miles to ride with a small group on country roads that I don’t get to experience often — precisely because they’re 30 miles away. The ride was great, even if I did tackle that iffy downhill I wrote about two posts ago.

I also like to do rides with the Austin Cycling Association, and they start from a variety of places. Some are even farther than 30 miles from the house. So I’m driving to those rides, too. Any organized rides I do involve driving to the start.

  Unloading the vehicles before an organized ride.

Usually, it’s worth it. Every now and then I wind up with a clinker, like the one last weekend where I drove 30 miles again — in the other direction — but wound up on a ride that traveled busy suburban streets. A lot of folks seemed to like it, but if I’m going to drive to a ride, I want to wind up out in the country.

Sometimes, I read about bikers who bike to their rides — and that can involve an extra 25 miles. One way. So when the ride is over, they’ve still got another 25 miles to go home. That’s certainly in the spirit of biking. It’s using the bike as an alternate form of transportation, and mixes the utility and the sporting uses of biking. Most of my fellow club members ride farther than I do to get to Starbucks. Some come five miles or more.

So while I will happily drive to a ride, sometimes I feel a little conflicted by doing so. We’re using fossil fuels in pursuit of a recreational activity that makes use of human power. Somehow it doesn’t seem right. Or logical. Or something.

But I enjoy the different cycling locales I visit. I know my enjoyment of cycling has been heightened by discovering a new route that I might return to every so often. I think I can say with certainty that I will continue to burn gas to get to the start of some rides.

How about you? Thoughts?

Keep It Safe — But Keep It Fun

Wow, that post on cycling more cautiously sure got a lot of attention! In case you missed it, my friend David reminded us in the comments that accidents can happen even to the safest of bikers, because we have no control over what a car driver might or might not do.

“You never want to make yourself small on the bike,” David wrote.  “Ride like you are supposed to be there and make the traffic deal with you.”

We’re each responsible for our own safety. For those who are pulling in their biking horns a bit, that’s fine — but there’s no reason to give up on the sport we love altogether. By riding “like you are supposed to be there” you’re practicing some of the safe biking techniques suggested by the League of American Bicyclists.

The League’s website features a five-point plan for riding safely. To paraphrase, those points are:

1. Follow the rules of the road.

Use the rightmost lane and obey all stoplights and stop signs.

2. Be visible

Ride where drivers can see you — wear bright clothing.

3. Be predictable

Ride in a straight line — make eye contact with drivers.

4. Anticipate conflicts

That’s another way to say “Ride defensively.”

5. Wear a helmet

Duh.

Practicing the above guidelines will make you a safer biker, and might raise your confidence level when riding in traffic. I recommend the League’s “Ride Better” page, which features all sorts of good ideas about safe riding.

But in all our discussions about staying safe on the roads, don’t forget why you’re biking in the first place. I just got back from dinner with Bike Noob reader Ramon H., who is spending a few days here in Austin. As you might guess, our dinner talk was about fun rides we’ve had, challenging rides we’ve had, bikes we’d like to have, mileage goals — all things biking. Not once in our conversation did we talk about the dangers of biking. While you’re being careful out there, don’t forget that riding is just plain fun.

Getting Cautious

The comment by Blackpearl in the last post triggered some resonant thoughts in my mind. He’s concerned that road riding is losing its attraction for him, because it’s just becoming too dangerous. I’m not there yet, but I do think I’m getting more cautious out on the road than I used to be.

In Blackpearl’s case, it was a near miss at some distance from home that upset him. He started wondering about what could have happened if the incident had been more serious. I guess a lot of us have that kind of reaction. I know that after my first major fall it took me about a year before I rode with my previous verve. On the club ride last week, the group turned off on a side street, then waited a long time for a stoplight to change before we could turn onto a major arterial. I mentioned to the ride leader that if we had gone on a few blocks more to a busier street, the wait at the light would have been much shorter.

“Yeah, but that’s where I had my crash,” he said.

A pickup truck’s mirror had clipped his helmet when turning too close, and he went down. His injuries were severe enough for an ambulance trip to the emergency room.

“I’d prefer not to ride there again,” he added.

I haven’t crashed in almost two years (knock wood), and I do like to bomb downhills with the kind of élan I had when I was a new biker. But in some situations I find myself backing off because of sudden timidity, too. Just a week ago I was way out in the country and faced a long downhill. The speed climbed to 37 mph. Problem was, the road was really torn up. The surface was uneven, with wide cracks parallel to my direction of travel, and spots of gravel or small potholes. Oncoming traffic kept me from getting out in the middle of the road where the surface was a little bit smoother. It was an exhilarating hill, but I was glad to put it behind me.

Another route I like out in a different area has a nice straight downhill that I always look forward to, but the last two times I’ve ridden it I found myself braking once I get to 34 mph. It also has an uneven surface, and I’m a lot less comfortable on it than I would expect, considering that I have never seen a car on that road.

One popular route north of the city features long rolling hills. It’s easy to get into the high 30s going down, but the crosswind that usually affects this route bothers the heck out of me. On a group ride two months ago, I watched the person I was chatting with zoom ahead of me on the downhill, while I feathered the brakes to guard against the (imagined) feeling I had that the wind would blow me off the road and over a steeper drop at the side.

I mentioned to my friend David that I’ve gotten more cautious in certain situations.

“That’s not caution, that’s wisdom,” he said. David is 61 and has been biking for over 20 years. But he said even he is backing off when faced with some stretches he doesn’t care for. At the same time, he recently took me a different way to get to the Veloway than usual. We rode in the left lane of a 45 mph highway (where the traffic is often moving well over 50) for about a half mile before being able to make our left turn. For him, it was a normal ride. Myself, I don’t care if I never go that way again — too nerve-wracking.

On today’s group ride, I was heading back on a four-lane divided road with no shoulder. I rode “as far to the right as practicable.” Usually, cars will take the left lane to pass, but not today. They whizzed by pretty close — well closer than the three feet we cyclists like to see. It would have been easy to get off onto a residential side street, but this was new biking territory for me, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to navigate side streets out to the next turn. I held my ground. Most cyclists who confess to timidity say it’s because of situations like this one, where the cars come too close. The only advice I can give is to ride with at least one other person. The bigger the group, the more cars will have to give way. They won’t like it, but they’ll do it.

Ultimately, the decision about when to ride aggressively and when to back off lies with the individual cyclist. As the instructor in my Road I course said three years ago, “If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it.” There are things I won’t do.

There’s Hope For Us All

For the last few days, I’ve been kinda down about cycling. Some minor equipment malfunctions, some nagging aches, and less time in the saddle because of the requirements of the job have combined to push cycling out of the foreground of my consciousness. But then I come across an article that convinces me to get out there and ride — and keep riding.

You’ve heard of Senior Olympics. It turns out those games have cycling events. It never occurred to me that that might be a possibility. All you have to do for inspiration is scan the results columns or find some pictures.

Link Lindquist

For example, I discovered Link Lindquist when I came across the results for the USA Cycling Road National Championships held early this month in Bend, Oregon. Link took third in the Individual Time Trial, over an 18-kilometer course. But he didn’t stop there. He was also the oldest competitor in the criterium portion of the championships, where he also placed third. Link is 84.

That’s pretty impressive. But he still has some catching up to do. Dave Ward of Massachusetts was still competing — and winning his age class — at the age of 91. Here he is (right) at that age in the 2007 Senior Olympics.

What? You’re not up for racing now, you say, and you’re certainly not going to be up for it when you’re in your 90s. I can relate. That’s pretty much my attitude right now. I like to go for longish relaxed rides, where I’m not worried about putting the miles behind me. If I can explore new areas while doing so, so much the better.

Well, there are a number of bicycle touring companies that offer tours for seniors. In the case of bikers, that means anyone over 50 years old. The tours are well supported, and in many cases offer posh accommodations. But plenty of people opt to head out on their own.

Bike clubs are certainly an option. I’m in a club with several 60-plus riders, and we all generally do pretty well. We’re not going to keep with with the A group — uh, come to think of it, several of those 60-plus riders are in the A group!

Tom Goodwin

In fact, you might find your club’s ride leader is in the senior-senior category. The Sacramento (Calif.) Wheelmen’s Tuesday and Thursday morning rides are led by Tom Goodwin. He’s 83. According to his fellow riders, he can still kick butt on younger riders in the hills.

I might not kick butt when I’m 83. I might not even go on group rides anymore. But you can bet I’ll still be riding a bike when I’m that age.

Heck, I think I just came out of my funk. I’ve gotta get out there this weekend and attack some hills. And ride far. And just ride.

My Computer’s Kaput

It was a good ride Sunday morning. Temperatures have finally started to moderate around here, and it was even a little cool when we set off. I was B ride leader for a trip to Creedmoor, a town southeast of Austin. We’d be doing a round trip of about 35 miles.

Only two other riders opted to take the route I wanted to take on the way back. The others decided to take a shorter route home. I liked my route, because a stretch of road has been repaved — with asphalt instead of chip seal — and on one section you crest a hill and swoop down out of the country into a suburban-style subdivision. Fun. I watched the speed on the cyclocomputer climb until it hit 32 mph near the bottom of the hill.

Back on the chip seal again through the houses. I shot through a stoplighted intersection just before the light turned red, but realized that my riding partners hadn’t made the light, so I slowed to wait for them to catch up. As I did so, I heard a ping. Something — I thought it might have been a twig — hit a spoke on my rear wheel. I thought nothing of it, but just seconds later, another, louder ping! and then a clack, and something fell into the street.

“What was that?” I shouted back at the other two riders, who were now getting closer.

I looked down, thinking maybe the water bottle cage had come loose, or the hose on my mini-pump had unfastened as was flopping about. Nope.

Barbara, following farther back than my other companion, stopped in the middle of the street.

“I can’t tell what it is,” she said, as she bent to pick something up. “It says Cateye.”

I was walking back toward her now, and I froze. “Cateye?” I went back to the bike, lifted it off the ground. Sure enough, the speed and cadence sensor unit wasn’t there anymore. It was in Barbara’s hand.

I had no idea what caused it to pop off. I put the unit in one of my jersey pockets, and figured I’d be able to rig some kind of fix when I got home. After all, it was probably just the zip ties that attached it to the chainstay that failed.

But when I had a chance to look it over closely, I saw it wasn’t a zip tie problem at all. The unit broke at one of the points where it attaches to the chainstay mount. I don’t see how I can fix it. I suppose I could find use #254 for duct tape…nah.

Here’s the unit when it was new.

You can see the broken part in the lower right of the picture.

There is some good news in all of this. I remembered this morning that I still have the unit it replaced — a Cateye Strada Cadence. It’s a pretty good computer. It’s wired, rather than wireless, so I’m less keen on it than I have been on the wireless Cateye V2C, but I’ll be able to get it back on the bike this week and be able to keep score on my upcoming rides.

But I’d still like to know what caused such a clean break in the mount.

Saddle Update – Use #253 For Duct Tape

Back in May, I reported the one-year results of my experience with my WTB Speed V saddle. While I thought the saddle offered more or less the comfort I was looking for, I was dismayed that the vinyl covering the seat was starting to separate.

Here we are four months later. Lately, I’ve noticed some discomfort on weekend rides. I’ve been getting saddle sores more often. I figured the saddle was the culprit, but also figured that I could hold out for awhile before taking any drastic action.

Then came Saturday’s ride. It was another of those Mamma Jamma training rides I’ve reported about before. I was looking forward to it, because it uses roads about 30 miles from my house. Because of that, I don’t ride them. But I do enjoy riding in that area, because you get out in the country immediately, the roads are little traveled, and the drivers are polite — they wave at cyclists!

I was having a good ride. The people in this group ride a little slower than those in my club, so I could settle into a comfortable pace and be at or close to the front. We were doing the 41-mile route. At a rest stop at mile 20, I felt some soreness where my derriere contacts the saddle.

I took a look at it (the saddle — not my derriere). The tearing in the vinyl cover was quite a bit worse.

What the seat looked like after Saturday’s ride. The torn edges of the vinyl rub uncomfortably on the youknowwhat.

The second half of that ride was not as carefree as the first half. I found myself standing on the pedals often, just to relieve the soreness. I got to the finish in good enough shape — second in our group (It’s a ride, not a race!), and proceeded to enjoy the snacks and bottled water waiting for us there.

But it was clear to me that something had to be done. We had a club ride of similar length scheduled for today, and I knew that if I attempted to go on that without attending to the saddle I could be in for an unpleasant time.

Then I got it. Duct tape. I pulled out a roll, ripped off two pieces, and covered the ruined vinyl. Would it work? It looked awful.

It ain’t pretty, but it seems to do the trick.

But it did work. I got to the turnaround point on today’s ride and felt pretty good. The tape hadn’t separated, as I was afraid it might. It smoothly covered the uneven spots on the saddle. I finished strong — although I’m sure our more moderate fall temperatures had a lot to do with that.

A popular web site lists 252 different uses for duct tape. Today, I found use #253. It will tide me over until I can find a more permanent replacement for the saddle, but I now know it works well enough that I can take my time looking and find just the right replacement for me.

Those Fall Rides

Temperatures here in Texas are finally starting to moderate. Our overnight lows are positively fall-like, with overnight lows expected to plunge to 68°F (20°C) next week. And when the weather changes like that, we can look forward to some of the better organized rides of the year.

Okay, I’m being a little sarcastic here. But the good rides do start up again in the fall, and I realized too late that I haven’t been pointing toward any of them. For two of the last three years I’ve done the Outlaw Trail 100, which is on October 8 this year. I’m going to pass on it this time around. I just don’t have the mileage base that would allow me to finish 100 comfortably. I’m sure I could finish it uncomfortably — I just have no desire to. Another century I’ve thought about trying is the Waco Wild West in Waco. But that’s in late September — too soon for me.

Realistically, the time to start planning on those fall rides is in mid-summer. Last year wasn’t a problem because our weather was moderate by Texas standards. This summer has been the hottest on record, and while it’s been easy to get in some good hour-and-a-half to two-hour rides early in the morning, anything much longer than that gets you into the really hot temps of the day. I have no enthusiasm for that. So my mileage has suffered this year, my time in the saddle is down, and my overall cycling fitness ain’t what it used to be. There’s always next year.

However, there might still be some rides worth attempting. A couple in November offer possibilities. The Tour de Gruene (green) is a weekend-lomg event in New Braunfels, Texas. There’s a race, an individual and team time trial, and a recreational ride along the scenic Guadalupe River. Maybe the river will have water in it again by November. It’s a ride I haven’t done, but have been thinking about trying. Another is the Austin-to-New Braunfels “Wurstride.” It’s a good 60-miler, and was the scene of my first metric century four years ago. I haven’t been back since. It might be time.

So, getting started to prep for these rides at this late date means I have to build my mileage again. My “long” rides this summer have averaged 30-40 miles. Time to extend that distance. They say a 10 percent increase each week will do the trick — both in weekly mileage and in the length of the long ride.

And what the heck. I declared at the beginning of the year that organized rides no longer held much interest for me, and while it’s true that I’m not crazy about shelling out 50 bucks just to ride with sag and food stops, I can still do those same routes on my own — just making arrangements to be self sufficient. But I like the group ride. The atmosphere is fun, I get to see folks I don’t see on the bike that often, and I get to ride routes I don’t ride that often. I’ll probably do at least one or two of the better ones around here.

How about you? Do you have a favorite must-do fall ride? When and where?