What Does “Car Back” Mean to You?

It happens every time more than one cyclist is riding on the roads. Sooner or later, one will raise the call, “Car back!” It’s an important warning, because whenever we cyclists tangle with two tons of metal, we’re going to lose — so it’s a good idea to minimize any possibility of car-bike contact.

However, I’ve been concerned lately by some behavior I’m seeing on the roads.

If cars aren’t around, cyclists tend to ride side-by-side and have rolling conversations. This social aspect of cycling is one of the things that attracts people to the pastime. We’re not just out riding — we’re spending some quality time with our friends.

Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News

Nothing wrong with riding side-by-side. The law says it’s fine, too: Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. (Texas Transportation Code, 551.103c)

However, in that same paragraph, the law states: Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Here’s why we (or at least I) yell, “Car back!”

Now, what’s supposed to happen when that call is raised? I like to see cyclists out in the middle of the lane ease into single file. A person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway (551.103a). Riding in single file accomplishes two things: It lets the overtaking vehicle pass, which will free up the lane more quickly so cyclists can resume their chats; and it creates goodwill between cyclists and cars.

Here’s what I see sometimes: The rider on the inside of the lane (closest to the center line) moves closer to the line of cyclists along the edge of the roadway, without getting into the single file. The overtaking car swings wide to pass. In the most egregious cases, the rider doesn’t even attempt to make way for the car.

We can’t be doing that, folks. Things are tough enough out there between drivers and bikers without adding to the animosity. And yes, drivers can be prats sometimes (often?). That doesn’t justify antagonistic behavior.

So the next time one of your co-riders cuts loose with a bellowing, “Car back!,” do what you’re supposed to do. Stop the chatter, ease into single file, wait for the car to pass, then resume the conversation. You’ll finish your ride with a lower stress level.

Snippets From a B Ride

The emails flew fast and furious last evening. Our usual time to leave for the Sunday club ride is 8:15 a.m., but the forecast called for temps in the 30s at that time. I had planned to go, but wimped out when I saw the prognostication. Looks like a lot of others did, too — including some A riders. We had 13 in all for the B ride this morning at 9.

One of the problems we have in Texas is that the weather is rarely that cold when we ride, so most of us don’t have the kinds of warm cycling clothes our Northern brethren have. I was feeling a bit out of place in my red long-sleeve jersey (over a short-sleeved club jersey) and screaming green vest, because our club kit is white, blue, and yellow. Most riders had at least a club jersey on the outside. Then Jerry D. pulled into the lot.

“I’m glad I called you to coordinate clothing,” I called to him.

Bike Noob (left), Jerry D.

“Why, we’re the Gay Blades today, aren’t we?” he retorted.

Lots of chatter before the ride about clothing. Many wore glove liners, multiple layers, booties, ear muffs. Then there was Brian, our club Canadian. He showed up in a windbreaker over a short-sleeved jersey, and shorts. “It’s nice to ride without 10 feet of snow on the ground,” he said. The temperature when we rolled out was 38 degrees (3C).

One of the reasons I enjoy the B rides is that ride leader Jordan insists on keeping them “pleasurefests,” as opposed to what he calls the “sufferfests” of the A rides. But some A riders joined our little group this morning. David V., a Cat 3 racer and the club bike mechanic, said he’d done a hard hills workout the previous day, and wanted a recovery ride. There was New York John, and Marianne, who rarely rides with the club. She brought Tom, a friend of her husband’s, who was fixed up with a less-than-perfect bike. It wouldn’t shift out of the big ring. That didn’t seem to bother Tom, who is visiting from Boulder. Pippa, another A rider, was there to keep Judy company. Judy would normally ride with the As, but has been recovering from two broken bones in her wrist, suffered during a fall (don’t brace!).

About three miles into the ride is our first challenge: Davis Hill. It’s an ordinary hill, that can be tough for newer riders. The problem is, there’s a stoplight just before you make the turn for the hill, and hill begins immediately. “The difference between As and Bs on Davis Hill,” said my friend Rick, “is that the Bs shift down and try to spin up the hill, and the As get out of their saddles and attack the hill.”

I attacked today, but I was huffing and puffing, and sitting down again by the time I got to the top — when to my left, Tom glided by. In the big ring. Not a care in the world. Okay, I won’t worry about him today, I said to myself.

We crossed Interstate 35, and were headed for the country, when David V. and New York John caught and passed us. We had taken a major road to the I-35 junction, one that had a short stoplight. David and John had taken a side street, but their stoplight was a long one. “I don’t know why you Bs complain about As going too fast,” said David, “when you leave us behind.”

Out in the country, I found myself next to Laura, who’s become a regular on the B rides. She was ecstatic over her recent bike fit. “I feel so much more power than I used to,” she said. Her husband Mike, one of our A riders, had taken her to a prominent local racer who fits bikes at a local bike shop. “He put some things on my shoes that keep the angle natural,” Laura explained. “The fit took about two hours. When Mike asked him if I already had nearly a good fit, he said I wasn’t even close. I can really feel the difference.”

At the turnaround in Creedmoor, Jordan asked me to explain the return route to everyone. We were riding a “lollipop” route, with the same out and return, but a nice loop in the middle. “When we get to the 90-degree right turn on the way we came,” I said, “look for the fork onto Thaxton Road. Take that.”

Back on the road, I was near the rear to keep tabs on one of our slower riders. Sure enough, when we got to Thaxton Road, Judy and Laura blasted by without turning. Several of us raised a shout to get them to turn around. I kidded Judy about missing the turn even after the route had been explained at the rest stop. She was unapologetic.

“When people start telling me directions, it’s like the teacher in the ‘Peanuts’ strip,” she said. “All I hear is Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah.”

I’m glad she didn’t miss it, because Thaxton Road was repaved last year, and it’s nice. The highlight for me is a turn at the top of a hill. We get to blast down into a subdivision on a smooth, wide two-lane with no traffic. I made sure everyone was behind me, and started down, pedaling hard in the big ring. At the bottom, I waited. And waited. I could see back to the top of the hill. Apparently they had decided to gather there to wait for slower riders. Eventually, I saw them coming down. When they finally caught up to me, I asked who had the highest speed down that hill. I had hit 34.8 mph. I figured at least a couple could go faster than that.

“I rode the brakes all the way down,” said one. “That was scary,” said another. “No way I was going to look at my computer going that fast,” said a third.

Two miles from the finish, we passed several of the fast group fixing a flat at the side of the road. We kept on to the finish. They caught up to us a few minutes later. Marianne had been the flat victim.

“A screw went right through the middle of my tire,” she said. “I got screwed, and I couldn’t even enjoy it.”

The outside tables at Starbucks were full. The A ride had come in after a trip out to the Formula 1 race track being built in Austin. The chatter was loud, full of laughs. Several passers-by stopped to ask about the club, its rides, average speed. We urged them to come out next week. It looks like the B rides will start at 9:15 for the next couple of months — everyone seems to like leaving then, instead of the earlier time. A good day in the saddle — the kind of day that makes me want to ride again.

Comedy of (Mechanical) Errors

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel finds that sometimes, rides just don’t go as they’re planned.

Just as in life, some days on the bike go smoothly…while others make you wish you had just stayed home. Proof? I offer a glimpse into today’s ride…or as I’m calling it, the comedy of mechanical errors.

7:45

Text friends (or at least the short list of friends who also work from home and thus can ride on a weekday morning), see who’s ready to ride. One’s out, one’s not responding. Begin mindless wandering on Internet.

9:00

Still no response, so come up with a solo plan. Just for grins, I’m going to tackle several Strava segments in the area and see if I can post some ridiculously fast times so everyone will think I’m a cool cyclist. Haven’t heard of Strava? It’s a GPS-based, mileage-tracking app with a social-media component…but let’s face it, it’s really just a way for people to compare themselves to others and convince themselves they’re cool cyclists.

9:15

Finally leave the house, heading toward the downtown route favored by the local cycling club. Approach the first segment I’m targeting, bordering a local country club. Pop a caffeinated energy gel into my mouth and get ready to hammer. Instead, realize I have a flat and curse the loss of precious, Strava-busting momentum. That makes two flats in about three days in the same tire…or two more than I’ve gotten in about the entire last year.

9:29

Remove the tire, lay my bike on the grass, and begin my inspection. Yes, I know that guy on YouTube does this process in 45 seconds, but I’m actually trying to find out what caused the flat…not just have it repeated another couple miles down the road. After two minutes of tentative feeling around inside the tire (does anybody really want to discover the cause with their bare fingers?) I find a tiny piece of glass. It’s buried, so I spend the next several minutes trying to dig it out.

9:35

Overcome the revulsion I have about putting something in my mouth that has been produced in a factory and attempt to blow a little bit of air into the tube to give it some shape. Nothing’s happening. Un-strap my Lezyne mini pump (hey, like a Boy Scout I’m prepared), then spend the next several minutes in frustration trying to unscrew the air hose which is housed within the pump body for storage. Curse myself for not greasing the threads.

9:38

Finally pump a little air into the tube, then start wrestling with the tire. After thousands of miles it’s decided to snap itself back into a kinked, twisting figure eight that my frazzled brain simply cannot decipher. Nice elderly lady stops by to offer assistance…obviously she’s never seen an experienced cyclist change a tire before.

9:40

Grab CO2 cartridge and let ‘er rip, anxious to get on with my ride. The tube begins to fill, then quickly the gizmo fails, adding a few greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and causing me to whine like a baby about my now-frozen hands. No spare cartridge, so go back to the mini pump.

9:50

One thousand, three-hundred-and-twelve pumps later and I’m exhausted. My tire is just on the firmer side of mushy. I’m obsessed with this Strava thing so I soldier on, ignoring the fact that I’ll soon be passing through a little rougher side of town with no spare, no patch kit, and no other tough-looking guys in badass Lycra. Okay, I do ponder for a moment who I can call should I have another problem…and wonder how long my puny self and expensive road bike will sit unnoticed while said person comes to pick me up.

9:52

Start to roll once again and realize my tire is mush. Stop, un-strap pump once again, and pump another thousand times (give or take). Tire pressure is now maybe an optimistic 70-psi.

10:00

Once again get underway, but aft water bottle is jumping wildly with every pedal stroke. Inspect and discover the cadence magnet on my crank arm is now inexplicably colliding with the remounted mini pump, which in turn is springing the bottle in question. Pedal in weird, half-arcs until I find a park bench…where I proceed to stare at the situation with all the knowledge and experience of a guy who just took 30 minutes to change a single flat tire.

10:10

Give serious consideration to the theory that a crank arm that can handle all the force generated by a Tour de France winner just bent under the weight of a 16-pound bike frame sitting on a well-manicured fairway. Un-strap pump, put it in my jersey pocket, give up on being king of the GPS-tracking-app mountain, and head home, completing a whopping 16 miles…in 1 hour and 37 minutes.

I did finally solve the mystery, or at least the part of it that didn’t involve my own incompetence. The pump bracket has mounting slots, rather than boltholes. Though the bolts seemed tight, the bracket had somehow slid to the left…just enough to derail my best-laid plans.

Hmm…maybe those Strava guys did it.