A Look Back at 2012

My wife and I decided a ride today was a must. She wanted the exercise, since she hadn’t been out for several days. I wanted to get in one last ride this year, since the forecast for the 31st calls for rain, and the combination of chilly and wet doesn’t appeal to me. So off we went.

It was only 40 degrees (4C) when we left home. That’s about the coldest temperature I care to ride in. What’s that old line — “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes” — when it gets chilly around here, we don’t have much in the way of really warm cycling gear.

So we bundled up as best we could, and did some laps at the Veloway. It was nice to run into our friends, Rick and Penny, who were also cramming in one last ride. Rick figured 30 miles would bring him up to the same mileage he rode last year. After 15 miles today, I just wanted to go home and sit in front of the fire, but decided to do one more lap with the two of them, while Pat said she’d had enough, and headed for home alone.

I’m glad I got out today, even though I’m still cold as I write this. The ride gave me a chance to mull over the past year — what I accomplished, and where I came up short. On last year’s last post, I indicated some things I’d try to do this year, although I was careful not to consider them full-blown goals.

First, riding longer. I had mostly short rides in 2011, with just a few over 40 miles. I decided to correct that this year, and go for more long rides. One way to do that: train for centuries. I wanted to do at least two centuries this year. I did one, and concluded that rides of that length are no longer appealing to me.

Likewise, randonneuring. I thought about trying a brevet this year, but since I won’t be doing centuries, I certainly won’t be doing rides even longer than that.

I wanted to try out some new routes, since my riding had gotten predictable. I’m afraid it’s still predictable.

I also wanted to do more organized rides, simply because I like the atmosphere, and it’s one way to treat oneself to new routes. Didn’t happen. I did three organized rides this year.

Then there’s the weight thing. Luckily, I didn’t pledge to lose more weight this year, although I intended to see if I could maybe get it down a little (waffling enough?). I did finish this year at my lowest weight since I started riding. However, since I’m on of those guys who gains weight during winter, I’m still heavier than I am in mid-summer. Lots of room for improvement there.

One area where I did show marked improvement over previous years — total miles ridden. I finished the year with 4,519 miles — almost 500 more than my previous best. I probably won’t ride on the 31st, because of the afore-mentioned rain, so that’s my final total for the year. It’s also 2,000 miles more than my first full year of “serious” riding, back in 2008.

What does the coming year hold? I have no idea. If more miles come, they come — I won’t try to improve on this year. I’m going to try once again to ride more and different routes, just to add some spice to cycling. I’ll have to give some thought to organized rides — which ones to shoot for, what distances to ride. But I’m going to keep riding for the sheer enjoyment of it. See you on the road.

My Favorite Posts of 2012

I got a kick out of looking back at 2012 on this blog, and learning what you found to be the most interesting posts of the year. As I’ve noted in the past, sometimes what my readers find to be interesting, and what I find to be interesting are two different things.

So I’m going to build on the last post, by taking a little time to spotlight my favorite posts on Bike Noob in 2012. These aren’t ranked according to page views, as the ones in the last post were — instead, they’re just some writings that I thought characterized the kind of bike rider I am, and what my cycling interests are.

And yes, my account of the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred was right up there among my favorites — but since it was one of your favorites, too, I won’t go into that again.

But one thing I learned from riding the Hotter ‘n Hell — I’m not one for the long distances. Just a couple days later, I threw cold water on my century accomplishment by writing, I’m Through With Centuries. Apparently, a lot of you share that sentiment.

But a lot of you think the long distances are worth shooting for. In that case, taking a cue from the randonneurs might be something to consider. So You’re Interested in Randonneuring? got a lot of traffic, and even though I’m not planning on riding any brevets, the information available on rando sites is applicable to most any kind of cycling.

Although I’m no randonneur, the occasional longer ride still appeals to me, and I decided to celebrate my birthday by Riding My Age. Being joined in the effort by a Bike Noob reader made the day that much more enjoyable.

The nerve I touched when writing about “Car Back” — noted in the last post — prompted me to follow up by trying to make sense out of that piece of legalese in most transportation codes: Riding as far to the right as “practicable.” As Far Right As Practicable stirred up some discussion about just how far right we should be. Always good to remind ourselves of the rule.

And then there was the inspirational. A team of disabled Spanish cyclists shooting for the Olympics were featured in a documentary called “The Unstoppables.” It’s easy for us to get caught up in building mileage, building speed, riding in bad weather, and all the challenges and difficulties associated with that. I put some clips from the doc in a post, and suggested the Next Time You’re Down About Biking, Watch This. Their efforts to fully fund the documentary continue.

As the year winds down, my biking appears to be doing the same. I thought I’d ride a lot during the Christmas break, but it’s been four days since I last got out. Maybe Friday…but I’m looking at the light drizzle we have now, and I want to make sure it’s all gone in the morning.

Most Popular Posts of 2012

Well, we’re approaching the end of 2012, and that leads to a lot of looking back at the big events of the year. For me, it was the birth of my first grandchild. During the four days we spent in Minnesota with him, I didn’t even miss biking.

But in the world of Bike Noob, we can look back, too. I thought it would be fun to check the analytics on the blog and figure out the most popular posts of the past year.

During the four and a half years I’ve been blogging, I’ve noticed that posts that are popular when first put up might fail to attract eyeballs as time goes by. Conversely, other posts might start slow and gradually get more views later on. That certainly seems to be the case here, with some posts whose popularity in the last 12 months has come as a surprise to me.

Here they are — the top 10 blog posts of 2012:

10. What Does “Car Back” Mean to You? Jan. 31. I’m bugged when cyclists don’t get into a single line when traffic is behind them.

9. Have You Ever Fitted Yourself? Feb. 26. Apparently, a lot of you have.

8. Four Years of Noobishness. Feb. 19. Includes links to five of the most popular posts of all time.

7. The Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred. Aug. 26. My cycling highlight of the year.

6. Stravalogisms. Jul. 26. The GPS-based ride mapper has spawned a lot of descriptions — some not so complimentary.

5. Testing Some More “Fitover” Sunglasses. April 12. A lot of you must be in the same boat as I am.

4. Moisture Wicking Base Layers. Jan. 24. Boy, you folks really must sweat a lot!

3. How Long Do Your Tires Last? May 31. I think 3,000 miles is good, but some of you beat that by a long shot.

2. How Much CO2? Feb. 9. 12 gram or 16 gram? And at what cost?

1. Steel vs. Aluminum. April 29. My impressions of 11 days of riding my friend David’s steel road bike.

Thanks, everyone, for making 2012 a great year for Bike Noob. I have more page views than ever before, and it’s gratifying to know that there’s still an audience for stuff I put up. Next, I’ll tell you what some of my favorite posts of the year were.

Where Are All the B Riders?

The forecast looked good for today, with temperatures in the 60s. Our club president picked a route that was mostly flat, but included some rolling hills about midway through, and wasn’t quite as long as the Sunday rides usually go. Still, I had a lot of Christmas preparations to handle at home, so I decided I would start with them, but then head off on my own to Creedmoor, a little crossroads southeast of Austin.

The reason I wasn’t going to do the full club ride was that I just get tired of being left behind on my own. These rides are not no-drop rides, and if you come along, you have to know that from the get-go. That’s fine, but if I’m going to wind up by myself, it might as well be on a route I know, rather than one like today, where I had only a rough idea of the directions.

So, Saturday night I jumped onto our club’s Yahoo group, and posted that I would be heading to Creedmoor, and invited any interested B-level riders to come along.

At the Starbucks Sunday morning, I sat at one of the outdoor tables and watched the riders roll in. Every one of them was an A-level rider.

“Are you going to ride with us today, Ray?” asked Pippa. Five years ago, I could ride with Pippa. But I’m still at the level I was at five years ago, and she has become one of the more aggressive A riders.

“Well, I’ll start with you,” I replied. “But I’m still going to head to Creedmoor.”

The difference between the planned route and Creedmoor was only about 10 miles, and if things had been different — such as, not a pre-holiday weekend when my wife expected me back at the house to handle my share of cleaning chores — I might have tried sticking with them. But I had a plan, and I was determined to follow through on it.

We set off in a group down Slaughter Lane, a four-lane divided thoroughfare that I normally avoid. At 8:15 on a Sunday morning, we could take up the right lane, and a few cars used the left to pass us. Cut through the high school parking lot into a nice subdivision, then out to Brodie, a two-lane road that has a bike lane of varying width and utility. I found myself in the middle of the group, drafting one of the faster A riders. But the A ride was keeping a steady and moderate pace today. I wasn’t even breathing hard.

We got down to a ranch road where Austin starts to piddle out into semi-suburban helter-skelter neighborhoods. A long Union Pacific freight train gave us a few minutes’ rest, and when we started again, I had to really push it to maintain contact with the group. We turned onto Old San Antonio Road, and that’s where I lost it. The road is a steady but gentle incline — the kind I just hate. I’d rather do rollers, or short steep hills. Here, the A’s could crank away at their pedals and pull away from me. My thighs started to burn.

By the time we crossed I-35 into the rural area southeast of Austin, I was well off the back. I could still see them, about 200 yards ahead of me, but they had picked up the pace now, and I wasn’t making up any ground. But by now, I had resigned myself to the usual B position on these rides. When the peloton turned onto a narrow country road, I stuck with the ranch road I was on, with the decent shoulder, and in keeping with my original plan, rode the remaining five miles to Creedmoor.

Taking a few minutes’ break at the Creedmoor convenience store, I assessed my ride. I was averaging over 16 mph, which is pretty good for me. I wasn’t tired, or even stressed, by the effort. The trip home, on a completely different set of roads than the ones I had come out on, was uneventful. I finished with 35 miles under my wheels, and felt good enough to head right out after my shower to do battle with the hordes of shoppers at Costco.

We used to have an active group of a half-dozen to a dozen B-level riders in the club. It seems they’re not all that eager to come out anymore. Maybe it’s the holidays, maybe it’s the weather (60-68 degrees and overcast? Can’t be the weather), maybe it’s just that they have other things to do. But I sure would like some company on these rides.


Christmas Might Be Just In Time

I noticed a couple of things on my bike during yesterday’s ride. I need some minor upgrades. Not anything big, mind you, but when I get them they’ll improve my biking experience.

The Serfas tail light.

The Serfas tail light.

The first thing is that I need a new tail light. Two years ago, my wife got me a nice Serfas light. It was bright, had several different flash patterns, and she tells me it could be seen at quite some distance. I liked that it was made of a soft rubber, and fastened easily around my left seat stay.

The problem is that the soft rubber was so soft, it tore easily. Gradually, I found myself going to the next loosest setting after the little “ladder”-like connectors ripped off. Even at the loosest setting, the light stayed put, though, because its overall soft rubbery texture kept it stuck in place.

But one day that ended. I got home from a ride and noticed that the light was missing. It had obviously torn for the last time, and fallen off during the ride.

I had a cheap light in my bike box, the kind that clips into a seat bag’s reflective strap, and since the onset of autumn, with its shorter and more overcast days, have been using it regularly. It’s not great, but at least on a gloomy morning, drivers get a little extra warning that I’m in the area. Trouble is, I don’t want them getting a “little” warning — I want them to get smacked in the face by my presence.

Blackburn Mars tail light.

Blackburn Mars tail light.

So, I put a bug in Mrs. Noob’s — I mean Santa Claus’ — ear, and suggested she look for something along these lines. I know they’re so bright on strobe mode that they’re uncomfortable for other riders to follow, but if I’m on a club ride I’ll just set it to steady. When I’m out by myself though, which is most of the time, I want the added protection of a bright flash.

I also noticed some small gaps appearing in my bar tape. It had been on for some time, and in fact, I had rewrapped it probably three times since I got it. I made a mental note to get some replacement tape, because this stuff is at the end of its life. But when I pulled the bike into the garage after yesterday’s ride, the bar end plug was dangling from the bar, held in place by the tape, which was starting to unravel.

I made a temporary repair by shoving the plug back into the bar end, and wrapping the bottom quarter of the bar with electrical tape. So now Santa has a second item on the list — some new bar tape. Let’s see, I’ve been using blue for awhile now, and it’s the cheap Performance house brand stuff. That’s not a knock, by the way — I like this tape. It’s got a spongy feel to it that keeps my hands from getting pounded too much on the chip seal we ride on around here. But just for a change of pace, maybe there’s something else worth trying. Instead of house brand tape, something from Cinelli or Fizik.  Maybe it’s time to spiff it up with some blue & black marble pattern tape, if I can find any (That’s sooo 2005!).

The nice thing about getting bike stuff for Christmas is that around here, I can put it on the bike and take a ride with it on Christmas Day. It’s something to look forward to.


Still Not Comfortable In a Paceline

pacelineMy friend B.J. commented on the last post that he thinks a paceline is just an accident waiting to happen. Over the past five years, since I started what I call “serious biking,” I’ve ridden in lots of them. Other times, I’ve simply glommed onto someone’s wheel for a pull. But I’ve got something in common with B.J.–after all these years of riding, I’m still not comfortable while drafting.

Most of the time, I find myself in a sort of paceline on our Sunday morning club rides. That’s because of the sheer number of riders out there. We’ll get anywhere from 15-30, and when we leave in a group, it’s quite a peloton. It’s not the classic double paceline, where the leaders pull off in different directions and then fall back to the rear. We’re a lot more disorganized than that.

The great thing about riding in a group like that is the drafting effect. You find yourself moving along at a good clip, but with very little effort. The peloton pulls you along.

However, I find this kind of riding to be both exhilarating and tiring at the same time. I’m grateful for the added speed, but I expend so much mental effort in the process that I’m worn out afterward.

I’m still not fast enough to hang with the paceline that occasionally forms on our “A” rides. I clearly remember one Sunday, when the “Bs” left early for some reason, but on our way back, met the “As” going in the opposite direction. They had one of the best-defined pacelines I’ve ever seen. They gobbled up the pavement. It was very impressive.

When I find myself drafting someone, or a group, my antennae go up immediately. I gauge my distance to the wheel in front, and work at maintaining a distance of no closer than a foot. I’m frankly more comfortable with about a three-foot gap to the guy in front of me. Then, I look past him to the rider ahead of him. If there are any complications, I figure that’s where they’ll happen. I suppose the thing that bugs me most about riding close is that I can’t see obstacles in the road ahead, and so am dependent upon other riders to point them out. Still, if I’m right on someone’s tail, I might have to react in an instant.

“Don’t draft unless you know the person you’re drafting, and are familiar with his riding style,” goes the advice about riding in pacelines. Good advice, I suppose. Problem is, I’m not familiar with anybody’s riding style — even club members I’ve been riding with for years. That’s because I might ride behind that person only once in a while. But how are you going to get better at it unless you practice? So that means you’re going to ride behind people you’re not familiar with — and hope for the best.

One of the cooler things to happen this past year was when the club headed south on its Sunday ride. We were on Old San Antonio Road — a two-lane blacktop with no shoulder. It’s a good cycling road that leads into the small town of Buda, and is very popular with all sorts of club rides. As usual, the A riders outdistanced me and the two other B riders who came along that day. We were on our own, until another club ride caught up to us. They were a little slower than our club A’s, but the momentum of their group pulled them past us. I hung on to the last rider in their group, who turned out to be their ride leader. He started offering impromptu coaching to me and one of the other B’s.

“Pull ahead of me, and get behind that guy,” he said, pointing to a rider several positions forward. I did, and that put me in the left row of the paceline. The leader hung back with my friend, who was having lots of trouble adjusting to the group. He patiently talked my friend into speeding up, finding a comfortable distance, and maintaining speed.

Meanwhile, I concentrated on keeping even with the rider next to me, while looking ahead for trouble. We flew into Buda, and at the corner Walgreens that marks the end of Old SA Road, they peeled off in a different direction than we were heading. I felt good — felt like I had really accomplished sticking with the paceline for a change.

But that, in my experience, is the exception. Most pacelines aren’t that organized, and the ones that are are too fast for me. I guess I’ll continue to look for opportunities to draft, but I know that most of the time, I’ll be feeling uneasy while I’m doing it.

Cycling Etiquette

The president of the cycling club I belong to usually takes the lead in organizing club rides. He traditionally starts the Sunday morning ride, which is our “main” ride of the week. He’s got years of riding experience under his pedals, and is happy to share his ideas about cycling with anyone.

Last week, he posted on our club Yahoo group some points of cycling etiquette. He gave me permission to use them on the blog. “They may or may not work for you,” he wrote, “but at least you will know why I am doing what I am doing the next time we ride together.” Here they are:

•Passing other cyclists on either the right or left is OK as long as you can safely get by. Corollary: if there is no room to pass on either side then passing is not OK.

•You are responsible for your own behavior: as opposed to “I ran the red light because someone else on the ride did it too.” If your friends all jumped off a bridge would you do it too? (Sorry, I forgot who I was speaking to. Of course some of you would!)

•If you hit someone from behind it is primarily your fault.

•If someone hits you from behind it may still be just a bit of your own fault (esp. if you vary your well established line abruptly), but it is still primarily the person behind you who didn’t give enough room for your unexpected behavior who should bear responsibility for the crash.

•Calling our “On Your Left,” etc. will more often than not cause the person you are planning to pass to turn his or her head that way. As goes the head so goes the bike. If you do that nine times and get by safely and then once you come to grief, well then it is still mostly your own fault and memories of those other nine safe passages will fade before your road rash.

•Among riders who are very familiar with each other, a gentle touch on the passing side hip will alert the rider in front to the fact that you are coming by and it all should happen like clockwork. (Warning: Don’t touch strangers; they may not like it.)

•If you come upon a group of riders in single file you must make absolutely sure that:

A. You are welcome in that line,

B. You have the skill and ability to negotiate your turns in the line (ride along behind and to the side for at least one whole rotation of the line to be sure you aren’t getting in over your head), and

C. There is adequate room for you to slide in safely (that means a gap of ~1.5 bike lengths if you are all experienced riders: give more room if any of the affected parties are less experienced in pace line dynamics).

•Under no circumstances should you assume any of the above. Make darn sure it’s a fit before you throw your personal monkey wrench into their gears. If you cram into a line of riders unannounced or unwelcomed, or unsafely, you should expect to get an earful. Cyclists are not generally well known for self-editing.

•If you hear this complaint more than once you should assume you are guilty and fix your problem.

•Most Bikes don’t have brake lights to let riders behind know that you are going to suddenly slow down (If yours does, trust me, nobody knows what they are for).

•Good riders can pick up on the audio and visual cues when someone in front takes pressure off the pace but if you hit those brakes you will rapidly find very close company from the rear about whom you may have been, until just then, blissfully unaware.

•When you are planning to hit the brakes you should make that announcement orally and, if you can do so without increasing the risk, with a hand signal (hand raised, palm forward, like a cavalry captain for the entire peloton, or held palm facing out behind your saddle for just the rider immediately behind you).

•If you need to touch your brakes suddenly you should be well aware that the person behind you will find your deceleration problematic and you may want to consider first altering your own line (if you can do that safely without cutting off an overlapping wheel) to give all of you more room to breathe.

•When you are in a large group on a narrow winding road it makes sense to stay together to establish a substantial visual impact on passing motorists.

•However, if you find cars stacked up behind the group you will find it easier to wave them past if your group is not so large that it blocks visibility of the road ahead. Consider breaking into more, smaller groups to give cars a chance to get by safely.

•On this same topic, if the group is too large for a following car (or even cyclists at the back of the group) to see the front rider waving a left arm for a safe pass then the group may need to be broken into smaller segments.

•And if the riders in the middle are too far from the rear of the group to even know there is a car looking to pass, then your group might be too large.

•It’s not about rights or owning the road, it’s about not causing a problem situation in which you will be severely disadvantaged. Car>>Bike in terms of F=M*A. That’s higher math for “OUCH!” and “OH NO, MY COSTLY BIKE IS DESTROYED!”

He continues: “You probably have your own set of rules for keeping safe. Please share them. Making sure others around you know how you plan to behave in tight circumstances can only help those rules to do their intended job, i.e. keep you safe.

“If your personal rules differ from mine I’m happy to hear it. If your logic is convincing I’ll most likely steal your ideas and claim to have invented them myself.

“But, if your plan is to take unwarranted chances, exposing yourself and others around you to needless risk, then you should not expect willing company in that adventure except as it may involve others who could represent a hazard to themselves and you with their own Brownian Motion bike handling skills.”

Your thoughts, Bike Noob readers?