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


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?

Try a Triathlon

Regular readers might remember that the Bike Noob is a former runner — uh, jogger really. After I’d been biking for awhile, it occurred to me that combining running and biking could be an interesting and maybe even fun activity. I thought a triathlon might be just the ticket. There was only one problem: I swim like a brick. But I’ll bet most of you don’t, and if the idea of a triathlon intrigues you, you might find these tips for training useful. They come to us from guest poster Carol Montrose.

Whether you’ve competed in triathlons before, simply run races, or you have yet to enter the athletic world, you may be interested in the three-in-one sport combo offered by the triathlon, which requires participants to run, bike, and swim in the course of one race.  However, you can’t just jump right in; you need to prepare.  So here are a few tips to help you get started.

1.     Consider your goals.  You may want to consider your reasons for entering a triathlon, from weight loss to self-esteem to meeting new people.  Each goal will come with attendant motivations, but some might not be strong enough to see you through the difficult and demanding process, so try to be honest with yourself about your level of desire to train and complete a race.  From there, think about your goals for the race (there are a variety of distances to choose from).

2.     Sign up for a race.  Nothing will motivate you more than a looming date that requires you to be able to perform.  So if you’re finding it hard to get your butt in gear, pay for an impending race as a way to kick-start your training.

3.     Formulate a schedule.  You need to give yourself time to train for your upcoming race, which means if it’s set to occur in the next couple of weeks, you should probably drop out and wait for the next one.  You’ll probably want a minimum of 2-3 months to train, possibly more if you’re starting from scratch, so set up a comprehensive schedule that allows for time for training each day for several weeks.

4.     Train for running.  The shortest triathlon is a sprint-distance race.  The running portion is 5K, which equates to slightly more than three miles.  It is said that if your training brings you within two-thirds of your goal distance, you should be able to finish the race.  This means that you must manage a minimum of two miles at a stretch during training in order to complete the race.  However, you’ll be better off hitting the target distance before you ever have to test yourself.

5.     Train for cycling.  The sprint-distance cycling requirement is 20K (about 12 ½ miles).  Depending on the course, this could be entirely level terrain or it may feature hills.  Just in case, you should probably train for a hilly course.

6.     Train for swimming.  The swimming section of the sprint-distance race is generally 500-750 meters (about a quarter to a half mile).  If you’re training in a pool, this is equivalent to about 16 laps (down and back), depending on the size of your pool.  But remember that the race will take place in open water, so be sure to train outdoors towards the end.

7.     Get insured.  In addition to health insurance, you may want to consider other forms of protection in case of an accident during your training or a race.  Although there is no specific form of insurance for cyclists, cheap bike insurance can be had through one of your other policies.  Your car insurance may cover your medical bills in case of an accident while riding your bike, while your Personal Liability coverage (part of homeowner’s or renter’s insurance) can cover unintentional accidents that you cause.  Both can be useful when training for and competing in a triathlon.

Carol Montrose is a writer for BikeInsurance.net. In her spare time she enjoys reading and she is currently writing a book on the joys of freelancing.

Big Ol’ Club Ride

The word went out early in the week: Our club sponsor, the Bicycle Sports Shop, would be involved in today’s club ride. They would have a mechanic on hand at the beginning of the ride, and make water, Nuun, and energy bars available. Afterward, they’d furnish a light breakfast. The member who posted the ride urged a big turnout of both A and B riders.

And he got it. I counted 38 riders at the start. Our typical Sunday ride draws 15-20. We jammed the parking lot of the Starbucks where we traditionally start our rides, much to the consternation of casual coffee drinkers who tried to negotiate their way to an open space.

We do tend to clutter the parking lot.

A Bicycle Sports Shop mechanic fixes a flat before the ride.

Pre-ride chit chat.

Penny, Judy, and Barbara. Judy is the A rider.

Although I often lead the B rides, I opted not to today, since both As and Bs would be traveling the same route. The Bs would just turn around sooner on the familiar out-and-back. So there was no designated B ride leader. That probably led to problems later.

One problem that set in involved my cyclocomputer. I cleaned the bike yesterday, but didn’t realign the speed sensor with its magnet, so I got no reading for the first two miles of the ride. When I stopped to fix things, most of the peloton had passed me by.

A few people were straggling, I knew. We take a convoluted route to get out to the main road for this trip, cutting through Granada Hills, a hilly neighborhood with lots of turns. If you haven’t done this ride several times, it’s easy to get lost. My friend Penny pointed me out to several riders who were back with her. “See that guy in the club jersey?” she said. “He won’t leave you behind.”

I almost didn’t. I made a bad shift going up a hill and dropped my chain. When I stopped to get it back on, several more riders passed me. I guessed I was now at the end of the pack. Unbeknownst to me, Penny and three other women were still a bit behind, but they lost me in all the left and right turns I made through the neighborhood.

I got stuck at the stoplight at U.S. Highway 290, which we have to cross to continue on our route. Now I was alone, and catching the group was out of the question. But it’s also a familiar feeling to me on this ride, so I didn’t fret about it.

Soon I came up to a rider on the side of the road. It was Rick, Penny’s husband, talking to her on the phone. He waved me by, then caught up to me a few minutes later.

“Penny got lost in Granada Hills,” Rick said. “I told her to track the route on her GPS. She’ll be okay.”

Rick pulled away in an effort to catch the main pack. I plugged along, and a half hour later reached the turnaround point for the Bs. Several other riders were there, and two I had passed came up to round out the group. We had an uneventful ride back for seven miles, when we pulled into a convenience store. (I wish I had some pictures from the road, but I dropped my camera, and had to reassemble it once we got back.)

Three women who had started with the group were at the store. I think they were part of those who lost us early on, because they were joking about having to find their way back through Granada Hills again, and weren’t sure they could do it. Even though two wore club jerseys, I had never seen them before and did not know them.

“If you wait five more minutes,” I said, “I’ll show you the way. But let me rest a bit.”

“No, that’s okay,” said one of the women. “You’ll probably catch up to us anyway.” They headed out with some other riders.

I remained in the lot with Barbara, whom I had ridden with several times before. We talked about dogs and drank some cold water, then I said I planned to take it easy on the way back. I knew she wasn’t familiar with Granada Hills either, so I told her I’d stick with her to guide her through it.

It was a good thing I did. At several intersections, she wanted to turn the opposite way from the route. We finally got to Starbucks, where we joined the Bs who had set out from the turnaround before us. The three women weren’t there.

Barbara bought her coffee from Starbucks, rather than drink the outside stuff.

Bicycle Sports Shop made good on their breakfast plans. Bagels with different varieties of cream cheese covered one outside table, as well as a container of coffee. I’m not sure about bringing outside coffee to a Starbucks, but I was grateful for the food. By the time I finished my bagel, some of the A riders were drifting in. Soon, the three women showed up.

“We couldn’t find our way through Granada Hills,” one of them told me. “After we rode around in circles, we finally asked some residents how to get out. It turned out they were cyclists. They got in their pickup and guided us out.”

“I got lost in Granada Hills” became an oft-repeated refrain as more riders showed up. Although it’s a twisty route, I thought once people rode it two or three times they’d have it figured out. Nuh-uh.

Penny rolled in, too. She did find her way out of Granada Hills and rode over to the Veloway to get in some extra mileage. “My GPS kept sending me out to Highway 290,” she said. “It thinks I’m a car, and won’t show me the side streets to take.”

Despite the problems, everyone seemed happy with the turnout and the ride. It’s the biggest club ride in my memory, and I’ve been a member for more than three years. But if we go through Granada Hills again, I think I’ll have to ride sweep.

Biking Thru Buescher

Buescher State Park is a few miles down the road from Bastrop State Park, the one burned by our forest fires. Both parks are connected by a park road that carries more bikes than cars. Bike Noob reader Mike Watts sent along a video he took of he and some friends cycling through Buescher.

And since I have mentioned the Austin Veloway so often in posts on this blog, I thought I’d take Mike up on his additional offer of a video that features the bike track. In real time, it would take 10-11 minutes to get around the three-mile track, so this four minute clip shows just some highlights of an early morning ride.

If you’d like one of your videos featured on this blog, send me an email (see Contact) and point me to it. I’d like to spotlight some good biking scenes from time to time.