The Month-Ender

Dashed home from work this evening to get in an hour on the bike. After chilly weather over the weekend, it got up to 79 — which means one MUST pedal a bit. The Veloway was loaded with bikers, who all seemed to have the same idea I did: This can’t last much longer, so let’s make the most of it while we can. 

A familiar rider passed me. Our club president, Joe, often does Veloway laps if he wants to work on speed. Tonite it was two minutes all out, followed by two minutes easy. Joe is doing a two-man team time trial this weekend, and he was prepping for it.

“How many laps will you do?” I asked. 

“Until I can’t last the full two minutes anymore,” he said.

He stood up on the pedals and took off. What the heck, I thought. I’ll stick with him.

Yeah, that lasted for about a minute. He disappeared around a bend, and I slowed down to a medium-fast cruise.

I had orders from headquarters to get back for dinner anyway, so I left the Veloway and headed home. The final tally: 15.3 miles at an average speed of16.9. Not bad, considering I wasn’t moving fast on the way over there.

This would also be my last ride of October, and my total for the month was about what I thought it would be: 189 miles. That’s the lowest monthly total I’ve had all year. But that’s okay. I’ll ride more in November. Time to mount the headlight on the bike.

Pulling the Train

Out on my Saturday morning neighborhood ride, I headed over to the Veloway to add some extra miles before heading home. The Hill Country Inline Skating Club was out in force, with a big event for them. There were more inline skaters than cyclists on the Veloway this day.

I started my first lap, and saw a lone skater ahead of me. He appeared to be going at about my speed, so I decided to try to catch him. A small rise slowed him down, and I went past, but soon heard the telltale “swish, swish, swish” of his skate’s wheels right behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and his face was about three feet from mine! Talk about drafting!

I smiled at him, he smiled back, and I set down to business. I had pulled skaters before, and it’s lots of fun. Amazing how fast they can go. We finished the first lap, and he stuck with me for another.

“Hope you don’t mind if I draft,” he said.

“No, but are you in an organized event? Is it allowed?” I answered.

“Just friendly competition,” he said. “Drafting is allowed.”

“Let’s go then,” I said.

Three inline skaters were in a paceline ahead of us, their legs in sync with each other. I got us behind them, then pulled out to go past. They all laughed, and pointed at their buddy behind me. But the next thing you know, the “swish, swish, swish” was louder, more intense. I glanced back, and they had all fallen in behind. Now I had four skaters in tow, and I felt some pressure, because these guys were fast.

They looked like elite racing cyclists — all muscle and sinew, wearing the same kind of lycra kit and helmets we do. The middle guy of the three was rather stocky, compared to the others, but every bit as fast.

I pushed hard into a brisk north wind, around a couple of hairpin turns, and signaled that I was moving left, around a couple pedaling leisurely on their hybrid bikes. Then came the short, steep hill that is the landmark for the back half of the Veloway. I downshifted, and turned into the hill, as I saw the leader of the skaters pull even with me on my left.

Damn! I missed a shift, and three of them went by me. The original drafter had apparently fallen off the back. At the top of the hill, I pedaled hard, determined to get back in front and resume the draft. They had a different idea. As I drew even in the left lane, instead of glomming onto my wheel for a free ride, they started racing me!

Now we were on the back straightaway, with a nice tailwind. I couldn’t relax. The wind helped them as much — maybe more — as it helped me. I got ahead at a sweeping right turn, and they lined up behind me again. Up a rise, around a bend to the right, then left, then right — and then into a testy uphill segment. I downshifted, and the three went by me again — this time, to stay. I watched as they drew further ahead, not able to make up any lost ground on them.

They made the last turn toward the start-finish line. I peeled off across the parking lot, since my two laps were done. I could hear the announcer on his bullhorn call their finishing times — 1:39-something. Yipes! That meant they probably did a 10-lap race — 33 miles — and still had enough oomph at the end to clock 22 mph speeds on the flats.

It reminded me of the time a skater passed me on the Veloway about a year ago, and I pushed hard just to stay with him — I couldn’t pass him, no matter how hard I tried. At the end of the lap, he congratulated me for keeping up. Huh? It turned out he was some kind of inline champion.

It’s a lot of fun to be drafted by these guys — but less fun to be passed by them.

Patch Party

After my flat tire disappointments the last two weekends, I decided it was time to take action. So this evening, I spent some time at the kitchen table with a couple of patch kits and a pile of tire tubes.

I don’t mind patching tubes, it’s easy enough to do. And I don’t mind riding on them, either. I have in the past ridden on tubes with as many as four patches, and that held together fine. Some biking acquaintances tell me they’ve put on even more — one guy said he was happy riding on a tube with a dozen patches.

It turns out I’ve been slipping in my repair routines. I had several tubes in boxes — not their original boxes — stacked in a cabinet in the garage. I’d marked the condition of the tube on each box, so I was able to grab a new tube to replace the one that flatted on me Sunday. But I like to keep a stock of patched tubes handy. Several of the boxes indicated that their tubes needed patches. Wonder why I didn’t attend to that some time ago?

I carefully examined each tube by eyeball — then inflated them and took them over to the kitchen sink, which I had filled with water. One by one, I submerged the tubes to find the telltale trail of air bubbles that indicated a leak. Some of the leaks were so tiny, they were hard to see — even after the bubbles told me where to look. That’s what happened with the tube I used Sunday. I patched one puncture, but missed another one altogether.

I hope my efforts have paid off. I’ve got a new tube in the tire of my bike, and a freshly patched tube in the seat bag, ready for use in the future if I need it. And in that cabinet, three other patched tubes in their boxes — labeled “OK.” I hope they stay that way.

New Derailleur – Old Tire Trouble

Thanks to the generosity of Bike Noob reader Mel Hughes, I’ve got a new Shimano Ultegra rear derailleur on the bike. He shipped it out earlier this week, and my super local bike mechanic, David V., installed it Friday. I had a good Saturday morning ride with it, made better by an unplanned meetup with David D., or “my friend David” as Bike Noob readers know him.

One of the local hills I like to climb in the neighborhood has the colorful name, “Convict Hill.” Recently, I started timing my climb up it. (No, I won’t become a Stravaphile — I don’t use Strava. An old-fashioned stop watch works just fine.) Anyhow, the first time I put a watch on it, I clocked two minutes, 43 seconds. As I gradually improved, my target became 2:30, which I almost hit two weeks ago, with a 2:32. On Saturday, it was 2:27! It must be the new derailleur, right?

Because it’s a long cage derailleur, David V. warned that it might not shift as smoothly as I’ve been used to. “It’s really for a triple,” he said. And I did encounter some minor issues, like skipping between shifts. But a quarter turn of the adjustment barrel fixed that. I was looking forward to the Sunday morning club ride.

The club ride promised to be a small affair. Sunday was the day of the Livestrong Ride in Austin, and most of the club turned out for that — with several riders going for their first century. I posted on our Yahoo group that I’d be up for a ride to Creedmoor, if anyone was interested in joining me. Six others were — and they were all A riders. This was going to be interesting.

I stuck with them, courtesy of a few well-placed stoplights, for about 10 miles. At one point, we came across all the Livestrong riders as we tried to cross a city street that was part of the route. The traffic cop on the corner refused to let anyone cross the street, but he said we were welcome to turn onto the same route as Livestrong, then make a left turn at the first cross street. We did, and avoided getting caught up in the large peloton.

After our little group crossed Interstate 35 and headed for the country, the As took off. I was suddenly on my own, but had more to worry about than not keeping up with the group. My rear tire felt funny. Not funny ha-ha, but funny hmmmm. I turned into the driveway of a closed dance hall and checked my tire. It wasn’t quite flat, but well on its way.

This was a problem. When I flatted last week on a borrowed bike, I made sure to put a fresh new tube in its seatbag. But that left me with suspicious old tubes for my bag. I decided not to trust the replacement tube I brought, but instead, took out my patch kit and set to work.

Patching is an easy process, but takes more time than replacing the tube. I got ‘er done, and figured I’d save time by using a CO2 cartridge to fill the tire instead of my trusty frame pump. I’ve had bad luck through the years with cartridges. They invariably misfire. Or I misfire them. Sure enough, that happened here, too. I turned to the pump.

It took some effort, but I got the tire pumped up to an acceptable pressure, and set off again. I was headed for the convenience store in Creedmoor, where I could assess my situation. Only one dog chased me on the road to Creedmoor, but it was a particularly nasty Chihuahua (ever notice how aggressive those little guys are?) and I was glad to get by him. At the store, I took a large gulp from my water bottle, then felt the tire. It was soft.

Okay, pump it up again and set out on a return trip, rather than the loop I had planned. I had a nice tailwind behind me, and made good time to I-35 again, when I stopped at another convenience store. Sure enough, the tire had gone soft.

I threw in the towel. I could have pumped it again, then stopped to pump again in another five miles, and hope I would get home. Or, I could risk the dicey replacement tube. Or — and this is what I did — I could call my domestique to sag for me.

It’s good to be on the bike again. I like my new derailleur. But why I’m having this run of flats baffles me. I’ll let it sit for a couple of days, and then try again.

Heavy Riding Months, Light Riding Months

Been off the bike again this week. That’s the second week in a row. I had been doing so well this year, racking up miles like crazy, on track for a personal mileage record for the year.

Then October hit.

It should be one of my higher mileage months. The weather, while still warm around here, is moderating. I already set a personal best on a nearby hill, simply because it was cool enough when I rode it to keep from heavy sweating and overheating on the way up. October is a time when you can pull out all the stops, because the temperatures are once again in the reasonable zone.

I’ve ridden 50 miles in October. Yup, that’s it — 50.

Wha’ happened?

Well, I had this mechanical, if you remember. My derailleur hanger broke, and took out my derailleur with it. Then, after I borrowed a friend’s bike, it flatted and I didn’t want to risk another flat farther from home. Then, it rained on the only weeknight of the week that I can ride after work.

And an odd thing happened — I don’t feel that I have to be on the bike more often. It occurred to me earlier today that this impromptu hiatus from riding is a good thing. It’s giving my body a rest. It’s easy to push yourself too hard and tire yourself out. I certainly won’t be doing that this month. And another thing — since I’m not riding as much, I’m not thinking about riding as much. I don’t call up the collection of biking blogs I read every day to find out who’s posted something new. I’m concentrating on some additional things at work that I hadn’t been involved with and that are adding some interest to the day in, day out of my job.

I am looking forward to the weekend. I do want to get on the bike again, but I won’t feel it’s necessary to rack up a bunch of miles to make up for lost ground.

But come November…

Got a Tube? And Tools?

People sometimes ask me why I still call this blog “Bike Noob,” when I’ve been riding for more than five years and have a decent amount of miles under my pedals. I tell them I’m still learning new things. But sometimes, it turns out that I’m ignoring old things.

Take what happened Sunday. I had a flat. For most of us, that’s not a big deal. We pull over, open our seat bags, and pull out our spare tube and tire levers, maybe a CO2 cartridge and inflator, and fix the flat.

But I was riding a borrowed bike — a bike that came without a seatbag. Do I take the seat bag off my out-of-commission bike and put it on the loaner? I do not. I left it on my own bike when I left it with the bike mechanic.

But I’ve got another seat bag in the garage. It’s small, but there’s room for all the basic items. Did I dig it out of my bike stuff drawer and put another tube in it, along with tire levers and the CO2 stuff? I did not.

My spare bag on the left. My usual bag, right.

The embarrassing thing is, old age must be playing a role here. After I got the loaner from my friend, I made a mental note to get the spare bag out, fill it, and mount it on his bike. But I forgot. And when I set out for the club ride, I didn’t even notice that I hadn’t done that simple chore.

Now, I know you don’t necessarily need a seat bag to put your stuff in. Several riders I know use a wallet-like gizmo that holds what they need and fits in a jersey pocket. But however you handle it, you’ve got to be prepared to deal with the expected kinds of mishaps that can easily happen out on the road.

Another noob mistake that won’t happen again. Until it does.

Back on the Bike — Sort Of

I thought I was out of the woods. After my derailleur hanger blew up last weekend, our club mechanic took a quick look at it and told me to order a new one from I did. They sent it out midweek, and the other day, I installed it on the bike.

So far, so good. It’s a simple job of screwing the new hanger in place. If you order the correct model, there’s no problem.

But when I tried to mount the derailleur to the hanger — problem.

What neither I nor the bike mechanic noticed was the extent of damage to the derailleur itself. I was less shocked to see the broken arm than I was to see that a large chunk of the jockey wheel was gone. I’m not sure if that happened when the hanger broke, or if it had been wearing away stealthily for a long time.

I hauled the bike back to the mechanic, and asked him to find a replacement and give me a call when everything was shipshape. He figured he could find one locally, and that it would cost about $100. Ouch.

But one of the benefits of being a semi-famous biking blogger surfaced the very next morning, when one of my readers emailed me to tell me he had a spare derailleur in his parts box. (I gotta get a parts box going myself.) Not only that, but he was generous enough to offer it to me gratis. I jumped at the offer. Maybe, by this time next week, I’ll be back on my own velocipede.

In the meantime, I still had to get some riding in. Saturday morning, my wife wanted to do her long ride of the week, and I took the mountain bike down from the hooks in the garage, pumped up the tires, and joined her. It’s not in the greatest shape, but it goes all right, if I can ever get used to the way the front suspension dives when I put on the brakes. I feel like I’m going to launch myself over the bars sometimes when I stop quickly.

That’s okay. On the return leg of our ride, I found myself behind two young lovelies at the stoplight just before HEB Hill. Now, this isn’t a steep hill, but it’s long enough to be a tester. I recalled being passed by mountain bikes going up the hill, and felt cocky enough to think that I might be the mountain bike doing the passing this time.

The light turned green. The young women pushed off slower than I expected, given the fact that they were a lot slimmer than I, and were on some decent road bikes — a Scott and a Bianchi. I stayed on their wheels up the hill, past the entrance to the supermarket parking lot, when I saw that I probably could pass them. But I didn’t. You’ve gotta know you’re racing to be in a race, right? They were chatting with each other while pedaling easily up the grade. I could feel myself starting to push hard just to stay with them. At the top of the hill, I crossed over to the left turn lane, and while doing so, drew even with them. They glanced my way, then kept on at their steady pace. No reason for them to care about another old fart on a bike, right?

It’s good that I have the mountain bike as a backup if I need it, but I prefer my road bike. That afternoon, I visited my friends Rick and Penny to once again borrow Rick’s titanium Airborne — the same one I had used several months ago. “The rear tire has a lot of miles on it,” Rick said. “You’ll want to keep an eye on it.” No big deal, and I was glad to have the option to ride a decent bike.

It rained Sunday morning, canceling our regular 8 a.m. club ride. But the skies cleared rapidly, and in another hour, the club president was posting a 10 a.m. start for those who didn’t mind riding on wet streets. I was among the first to show up.

The sun was shining brightly, but the streets weren’t drying as fast as they might have if the humidity hadn’t remained so high. We planned to head south to Buda, then across Interstate 35 into a rural area before heading back — perhaps 50 miles or so. As we pulled onto the bike lane along the major thoroughfare that runs past the coffee shop where we start our rides, I could see that the usual grit and gunk was heavy on the road surface after the rain. I made sure to keep the bike’s wheels pointed away from the trouble as we turned east.

But it was bound to happen. Pffffstt! I heard. “Flat!” I shouted, as I braked to a stop. The peloton zoomed ahead, but one rider, Rob, stopped along with me.

I was grateful that he did. Not because I can’t fix a flat — it’s one of the few bike maintenance tasks I can handle competently — but because my seatbag with the spare tube and the tire levers, along with my pump, was still on my own bike, which is ensconced in the bike mechanic’s garage. Rob gave me his spare tube, and the use of the mini-pump he carries. By the time things were back to normal, he was well behind the group.

“I’ll pedal like crazy and see if I can catch them,” he said. “If I can’t, well, I’ll have a nice ride of my own.”

He took off. I turned back the way I had come. It was just prudent to head home, rather than risk another flat. Anyway, I got a new personal best out of it — at about five miles, it’s the shortest club ride I’ve ever ridden.