Hey! It’s Bike Month!

May 1st…a big day for bikers everywhere. According to the League of American Bicyclists, whose bash this is, we can celebrate the reasons we ride.

Let’s see…riding to work or school…nah, I live 30 miles from work, which happens to be at a school. Saving money or time…hm, I’ll be hitting the bike store in the next day or two to get some much-needed accessories. Hardly a money-saving visit. Preserving health or the environment…well, biking has been good for my health. My blood pressure is down, my resting heart rate too, my legs are awesome, if I do say so myself.

But my health has never been the main reason I ride. I ride for the fun of it. And you know what? I don’t need a special month for that. I ride year around, so Bike Month is every month for me.

Are you planning anything special for Bike Month?

Sketchy Shorts

I was doing some laps on the nearby Veloway recently, when I ran into the president of our neighborhood cycling club. We rode together for a bit, and then he said, “You know, when I got my white bike shorts, everybody was quick to tell me how bad they looked. I’m going to do you the same favor. You need new shorts.”

But my shorts aren’t white. Turns out, that’s not what concerned him.

The shorts I was wearing that day are a black pair of Pearl Izumis that I’ve had for probably four years or so. They’re pretty good shorts. What he was pointing out (that I already knew) was some discoloration on one of the legs. It shows up as a whiteish blotch, and resembles salt stains more than anything else. The discoloration doesn’t affect the performance of the shorts, which are still in fine condition, even after all these years and miles.

It might be a bit tough to see the stain-like marks, but they're there.

It might be a bit tough to see the stain-like marks, but they’re there. I find that moving around, changing your viewing angle, will help see them.

But it does make the shorts look ugly. I know that. That’s why I ride them only on my neighborhood rides, when I intend to ride by myself. Meeting him this day was a fluke.

Frankly, I have wondered what causes that? My wife has a pair of PI shorts, and it’s really bad on hers.

The problem is a lot more obvious on my wife's shorts, because it's a lot worse. (Click to embiggen.)

The problem is a lot more obvious on my wife’s shorts, because it’s a lot worse. I think I’ll be getting her a new pair soon. (Click to embiggen.)

I have a hunch that it goes back to when we were new bikers. When we washed the shorts, we would also toss them in the dryer to dry. Of course, we had the dryer on the lowest setting. Later, when we read that bike shorts should be air dried, we started doing that, and they haven’t been in the dryer since.

By the way, the problem seems to be confined to Pearl Izumi products. I also own shorts by Sugoi, Nashbar, and Castelli, and none of them have had this problem. The Nashbar shorts have been around even longer than the PIs, and are still the same shiny black color they were when they arrived in the mail years ago.

Can any wiser, more experienced riders suggest what causes this problem?

Dem Bones — Saris Bones, That Is

Guest poster Don Blount reviews a popular bike rack.

BlountOnBikingI recently traded in a 1988 Toyota Camry for a 2010 Mini Cooper.

The Camry had seen better days as it had more than 239,000 miles on it.

When I am asked why I selected this new car I respond one of two ways: 1) It is my mid-life crisis car or 2) It fits my bike rack. Bike_On_Car2  Click images to embiggen.

And in truth when I looked at the vehicle I took along a tape measure to check whether the width of the bumper would accommodate my Saris Bones 2 trunk mount bike rack.

I purchased this bike rack three years ago, after I joined a bike club. A number of the club rides began in the foothills, a good 40-minute drive from my home.

Quite frankly, I tired of taking both wheels off of my bike and then loading both the frame and the bike into the car.

I did not want to deal with a trunk hitch nor did I want to spend a ton of money on a rack. And when I began looking for a bike rack I discovered the Saris. Saris2-2

It was the look that initially caught my attention. I liked the arc shape of the injected molded, arms and how the bike is carried away from the car where it won’t scratch the paint. It also holds the bikes on two different levels so they do not bump into each other, damaging their finish.       Bike_Away_From_Car2

Although it is categorized as a trunk-mounted bike rack, the rack actually rests on the vehicle’s bumper. Bumper2

It took me some effort to set the rack up the first few times but I eventually was able to get it ready to go in about 10-15 minutes.

The rack has a 70-pound limit – 35 pounds per bike. I found that it holds my bike securely and the anti-sway bar prevents it from swinging while the car is in motion.

The rack’s rubberized feet and coated hooks are gentle enough to not mar the car’s paint.

I added to the rack a Yakima trunk mount security strap. The strap has some sort of cable in it for reinforcement. One end of the strap loops around the bike rack while the other end goes in the trunk.

The space between at the top of the hatch of the new vehicle was too narrow to secure the rack’s original hook; I had to replace those with hatch hugger straps. These go inside of the hatch instead of hook onto the edge of the hatch. Hatch_Huggers2-2

Folds_For_Storage2The Saris Bones 2 retails for about $140 but it can be purchased on sale for about $125, maybe even less at a good bargain. I paid $117 for mine and $17 for the strap in 2010. Prices have not moved a whole lot since then. The company also says the rack carries a lifetime warranty. It also folds for easy storage.

Tire Talk

I’m enjoying riding on a new purchase. I finally had to give in and buy a new rear tire. And in doing so, I decided to change my tire arrangement.

For a long time, I’ve been running a Continental Gatorskin 25mm on the rear, and a Vredestein Fortezza SE 23 mm on the front. The reason for this mismatched pair is my basic cheapness. That, and the fact that the Vredestein refused to wear out. It was only after I hit some bad debris that left a noticeable gouge in the front tire that I decided it was finally time to retire it.

That Vredestein — well, I’ve talked about them before. I really liked its unexpected ability to resist flats. That wasn’t one of its selling points when I bought it, but it turned out to be the best thing the tire had going for it. Problem was, it took fairly high air pressure. I ran 120 lbs. in the front tire, and the sidewall said it could take pressure up to 160 psi. But even at 120, the tire rode harshly on the  chip seal roads we have around here. It was not pleasant.

So I decided to replace the Vredestein with another Gatorskin. I run those at 100 PSI, and the ride is better cushioned that way. As you’re already aware, I’m a comfort-seeking rider. Cushioning is important to me.

Now, in keeping with my tight-fistedness when it comes to buying most anything, I shopped around for the best price I could find on a Gatorskin. It’s a fairly pricey tire, but a place I’d bought them before at a good price came through again. Pro Bike Kit of England was carrying Gatorskins at $32, and free shipping to the United States. That’s even less than I paid for Gatorskins at Pro Bike Kit a few years ago, ,when I was pleased at the low price they offered then.

One difference I’m really liking with the 25s on both front and rear is better handling. The wider front just seems to be more stable to me, and I’m attacking curves with more verve than I have done in some time. Maybe it’s just the newness effect — similar to the feeling you get when you finally wash your car. We all know a clear car performs better, right? Hey, I’ve experienced that first hand.

I’ll be watching the Gatorskins to see how well they hold up. While I like their flat resistance, they have tended to wear out sooner than other tires. Will they be able to match the Vredesteins for long life? The front tire that I finally replaced last week was first mounted on my bike in August of 2011. When I retired it, it had 6,748 miles on it. I doubt the Gatorskins will last that long, but you never know.

Riding On Residential Streets

My friend Rick has been in the cycling doldrums lately. “I’m getting bored with our usual routes,” he said. “I had to struggle to get out and ride yesterday.”

But he broke up the boredom by picking an entirely new route — one he made up as he rode — and one that was unique for sticking to residential streets in our neighborhood.

“I rode more than 14 miles before I even crossed Escarpment,” he said. Escarpment Blvd. is the main north-south road through our subdivision, Circle C Ranch. Circle C covers a good chunk of Southwest Austin, and the developers continue to find ways to throw up more houses, even though we’re supposed to be under tight building restrictions because of a delicate water supply underneath.

“I just kept turning onto side streets, going up and turning around on cul-de-sacs, and I really built up the miles,” Rick added.

Rick’s news was something I could relate to. While I’ver never done a complete ride solely on residential streets, I recall being pleasantly surprised that I could rack up a 27-mile ride and never get more than four miles from my house. Since then, I work in a ride that includes many residential streets at least once a week.

A residential street I often ride. Cars parked on each side can be a problem if there's traffic -- which there often is not.

A residential street I often ride. Cars parked on each side can be a problem if there’s traffic — which there often is not.

Circle C Ranch might have advantages for this kind of riding that older subdivisions, suburbs, and cities might lack. For one thing, it’s fairly new. My house was built in 1994, and is among the older ones around here. So, it’s a somewhat upscale place, with home prices between $200,000 – $500,000, and mostly in the lower half of that range. Like many areas of that ilk, it was designed more for cars than for people, with wide, curving streets, few sidewalks, and few pedestrian amenities.

My wife negotiates a curve a few blocks from our house on a rainy day.

My wife negotiates a curve a few blocks from our house on a rainy day.

But those wide, curving streets are great for riding. While I wouldn’t want to spend as much time on the truly residential streets as Rick, mainly because of parked cars and drivers who don’t expect to see bikes there, I do have a few areas I visit all the time. The arterials are often four-lane divided roads with bike lanes and relatively low speed limits for cars. Those are great.

A typical arterial street that moves traffic through Circle C Ranch. Note the generous bike lane.

A typical arterial street that moves traffic through Circle C Ranch. Note the generous bike lane.

I like to start one of my rides by heading into an adjacent subdivision with a few decent hills. It winds out to a busy Farm to Market road, where I turn around, and zoom through some other streets. Then, I catch one of the arterials and ride two and a half miles to a different subdivision, where I can follow a twisty route that would confuse many of my friends, and ride out to another arterial. This one takes me north a couple of miles into yet another subdivision that appeals to me because the houses are very different looking than most of the cookie-cutter ones around me. I’ll wind around there a bit, catch another main street south and head out to Rick’s part of town, on the far southwest side of Circle C. A nice wide street gets me to the same Farm to Market road I hit early in the ride, and once again, I turn around. This time, I take a nice wide connecting street through another upscale neighborhood to a fun downhill that bends to the left. I can easily hit 34-35 mph on that hill, but at the bottom, I have to be careful of cars crossing. They’re not expecting a bike to travel faster than the speed limit through there. The end of the ride finds me heading back to Escarpment, climbing the hill past the HEB supermarket, and winding my way back home. It’s a nice 20-miler, and I can do it whenever I’m bored with my regular Friday evening ride, which uses some of these same streets, but adds two or three laps around the Veloway.

I can add an almost unlimited list of variations to this basic ride that keeps it interesting, because it puts me on streets I don’t often ride. Distances vary from nine miles to 27 miles. It’s not the kind of country riding I prefer, but it’s a nice chance of pace.

Do you have a route through mostly residential areas?

Endorphins

My wife was coming off a particularly difficult week, both personally and professionally, and was glad to go for a Saturday morning ride. We pulled on our cycling shoes and helmets, and got the bikes out on the driveway in front of our house.

“Oooh!” she squealed. “I feel better already, and I haven’t even turned a pedal yet.”

She’s like that. Whenever she needs to be rejuvenated, she goes for a ride. It doesn’t even have to be a long one. One of her favorite routes is an 8.9-mile out-and-back in the neighborhood which she finishes in about 40-45 minutes. Whenever I do it, I feel unsatisfied. She, on the other hand, has “filled the brain with oxygen” and she’s ready to tackle work again. (She owns her own business and works from the house.)

But then, Pat has always been more in touch with her body than I have. Just a little exercise in the fresh air, and her endorphins start firing. I don’t have anywhere near that kind of reaction to a ride. For me, it’s exercise and recreation. For her, it’s exercise and that feel-good feeling.

That’s why I found it unusual when, halfway through that same Saturday morning ride, she wasn’t getting her endorphin rush.

“How you doin’?” I asked, when she caught up to me at the halfway point.

“Ugh,” she replied. “It’s not happening for me today. It’s just work.”

We had ridden up a .4-mile hill that isn’t very steep, but is always a challenge for her. After being off the bike for a week, she was really feeling the effort.

Later, at home, I asked her again whether the endorphins had ever kicked in.

“Not this time,” she said. “I just had too much going on in my head to relax and let it happen.”

Yeah, that makes sense. Outside pressures can make themselves felt, even when we’re engaged in some strenuous exercise. But those outside pressures stay out of my head. I do a pretty goo job of compartmentalizing, and when I’m on the bike, I’m on the bike. When Pat’s on the bike, her mind might still be at work, or dealing with extended family issues.

It’ll pass. Another weekend is fast approaching, and I expect she and I will hit the neighborhood streets and roads again — and this time, she’ll feel much better for it. Gotta fire up those pesky endorphins, ya know.

 

Looking Around on a Ride

Sorry to be so long between posts, but it’s been a busy week around here. My wife’s mother passed away last weekend, so everything was put on hold as trips had to be made, arrangements finalized, and services held. We’re back to normal now.

I was ready for a good ride this morning, and the club president designated Fitzhugh Road as our route this week. That suited me fine. I like Fitzhugh, since it’s out in the country and features a lot of rollers. Usually, I’m on my own, dropped within the first 10 miles. I turn around at a road that will give me a 30-mile round trip. Today, I planned to go the entire route, for a 46-miler.

Maggie, whom I rode with last week, was on hand as well. She’s relatively new to the club, and had only ridden Fitzhugh once before, on her first ride with the club. That time, she tried valiantly to keep up with the A’s, but couldn’t do it. Today, with me in tow, she had a good chance to see the route.

The ride got off to a fast start. The A’s tend to hold back and warm up for about six miles or so, but today, they were gone in about three. “These things take on a life of their own,” said my friend Rick, who himself was “moseying” along on the ride after going hard the previous day. “Somebody goes off the front, and some others think they have to keep up with him, and next thing you know, it’s like a race.”

We were doing anything but racing. Although Rick might have been moseying, it was all I could do to keep him in sight. Maggie, too, got well out in front. The endless rollers kicked my butt, which bothered me after riding well last weekend on another route that had a lot of rollers. But these were more frequent, and some were tough.

Finally, it was just Maggie and me. We decided to throttle back a bit and enjoy the ride. After all, we still had to get to the turnaround point, and then make our way back home — another 23 miles.

Once we cross Ranch Road 12, the landscape becomes more rural. I had heard of a ranch with wildebeest along the road, but had never seen them on previous trips along here. But Maggie, who was leading me by a bit, called out, “Wildebeest!” and there they were — a nice herd of maybe a dozen or so, off to the left, milling around in some trees. After passing the exotic game ranch last week, this was another wildlife treat.

We had almost reached the turnaround, when she called out again. “Look at the turkey!”

A wild turkey was poking at some dried grass, several paces back from the road. We were almost at the turnaround, and knew we would see him again on the way back.

The nice thing was, the group was still at the turnaround when we got there. We had a chance to grab some water, and shared a sandwich. But the last ones to the rest stop get the shortest rest, and in minutes, we were headed back the way we had come.

Some of the A riders at the turnaround.

Some of the A riders at the turnaround.

Maggie and Bike Noob. I really am not that grumpy on rides, but I had just dropped part of my sandwich. The road we took is in the background.

Maggie and Bike Noob. I really am not that grumpy on rides, but I had just dropped part of my sandwich. The road we took is in the background.

Sure enough, the turkey was still pecking away when we passed by again. And once again, we were quickly dropped by the A’s. But just as in the previous week, some of them were sidetracked by a flat tire, that turned into two flats as one of the guys who stopped to give aid was also punctured.

We regrouped at a convenience store to shed layers, now that the sun was warming things. That was good, because we all got to start in a group again, and the first 200 yards after the convenience store is in the center lane of a four-lane highway, so that we can make a left turn onto another semi-rural road.

It took no time for the A’s to leave us behind. We both laughed, and Maggie allowed that going slower was good, because that way, I could show her the tricky twisting route back through an unfamiliar neighborhood. We finally pulled into our regular Starbucks starting point, 46 miles and 2600 feet of climbing under our belts.

The only seats left at the outdoor tables were with several of the really fast A’s, who invited us to join them.

“Did you see the turkey?” asked Maggie. “Turkey? Uh uh,” said one. “It was pretty neat, right along the road,” she said.

“Did you see the wildebeest?” I asked. They shook their heads again.

“You see, the problem with being fast riders is that you’re focused on the road straight ahead, and you miss all the cool stuff,” I said.

“We saw a roadrunner,” said one of the guys. But we can see roadrunners on any trip around the Veloway right here in town. Wildebeest and wild turkeys, not so much.

So being a B-level rider does have its advantages. I’m already looking forward to next week’s ride to see what we will see that the others, in their single-minded pursuit of speed, will miss.

The B’s Beat the A’s

Well, not in the realm of speed. But the Sunday morning club ride turned out to be a real morale booster for at least two of us B riders.

We were going to head out on a route I’d been wanting to do for some time, but for some reason never got around to it. I had ridden it last about three years ago, and recalled that it approached 50 miles. It also features a few hills.

Twenty-four riders set off at 8:15 on an overcast day, with temperatures hovering in the low to mid 60s (18C). As usual, we quickly separated into a fast group, a less fast group, and the B riders. Four of us made up the B contingent today: me and Maggie, who has been riding with the club for a couple of months, and two newcomers, Mark and Victoria. Actually, Mark qualified as an A rider, but he was content to stay back with Victoria.

By the time we reached the rural part of the route, we couldn’t even see any riders ahead of us anymore. I directed Mark to turn right onto a road that leads around the back side of a country club, hoping that was the way the A’s went — not that I thought we’d ever see them again.

But in a few minutes, we came upon several riders alongside the road. Janice, who is usually near the front of the pack, had hit what she called a “crevasse” in the asphalt — a big crack that swallowed her rear wheel. The tire was badly damaged, and she was lo0king for someone with a boot. I carry a piece of a ride number to serve that purpose. It’s made of a Tyvek-like material, and it’s no problem to cut a ride number in thirds, and stuff them into the seat bag.

Too bad I hadn’t done that recently. I came up empty. Jerry (not the same Jerry who broke his leg in a fall a couple of weeks ago) did have one — a nifty little unit the size of a credit card he bought from Park Tool. Janice made do with it — “I really needed several today,” she said — and abandoned the ride to head home.

A mile or so up ahead, the A’s had all gathered to wait for Janice to catch up. When I told our ride leader that she would be turning around, we all headed out in a big group again. Then the fun really began.

Satterwhite Road is a rural road in Hays County that gets a lot of bike traffic on Sundays. It’s fun, because of its rolling hills. I was following Maggie at speed down one of the hills, when the road surface at the bottom just didn’t look right. It changed in an instant from semi-smooth old asphalt to torn up. It looked as though a giant scraper had been over it, ripping up the old asphalt and leaving only what was underneath — hard-packed dirt, gravel, and stones.

We all hit the brakes and rode gingerly through the mess. Two riders flatted along here. Whenever we hit a stretch of asphalt that hadn’t been torn up, we rejoiced — only to round a bend and get hit with another bad road surface. This lasted for several miles, when finally we could turn onto a new road.

I saw the A’s up ahead, waiting at an intersection. It looked like they were going to take a shortcut back home. But Maggie and I had discussed our ride options, and she wanted to go a little longer. We shot past the startled A’s and kept going. Our route added probably six miles to the one they chose.

After a rest stop at the convenience store in Creedmoor, we set out for home. Maggie had to pick up her son from a sleepover at noon, and we would be hard-pressed to get back by then. We both pushed it harder than usual, taking turns at the lead.

Our route passed the exotic game ranch behind the big landfill, and the animals were out in larger numbers than I had seen before. Lots of small deer and antelopes, but also ostriches and emus, a zebra, and a number of scimitar oryx — African antelope with long, curving horns. Magnificent!

Just before reaching the Starbucks where our ride began, Maggie and I peeled off in different directions, she to get her car and me to head the last mile home. This afternoon, the club president posted his summary of the ride. The A’s did 41 miles. The B’s — Maggie and yours truly — did 48! I believe this is a first. The B’s have never ridden farther on a club ride than the A’s. In the overall scheme of things, not much perhaps. But it was a little feather in the cap for Maggie and me.

Thirty Days Of Biking

599924_10151327645307919_1146135632_nI had a big day today. I got out and rode. It was my first ride in April, and it’s already April 5th. I’m not doing very well in the “30 Days of Biking” thing that’s being highlighted on other biking blogs.

The idea behind Thirty Days of Biking is to ride your bike every day this month. Anything counts: Commuting to work, running a quick errand to the store, or the mailbox, or doing a longer weekend ride.

“We advocate daily bicycling because we believe it enriches lives and preserves the Earth,” says the website, 30 days of biking.com.

I bike because it’s good exercise and because it’s fun. I don’t throw a leg over because I have some idea that I’ll prevent the polar icecaps from melting. And because I don’t fully buy into the idealistic environmentalistic notions of the 30 Days movement, I’ve ignored it for the past several years, and will continue to do so.

Heck, I already bike more than most of the general public. In fact, I already bike more than a lot of bikers. I’ll continue to bike after a lot of the 30 Days riders stop their regular two-wheeled trips.

But if the 30 Days idea inspires a casual rider to get out more often, I’m all for it. Bring on more riders. Grow the cycling community.

But don’t be alarmed if I miss a day here and there — or several times in a row.

Mileage

Our club president distributed a friendly email blast to club members the other day. He wanted to report how he’s doing, mileage-wise, for the first quarter of the year.

“March racked up 859.3 miles and 40,991′ of climbing,” he wrote. “2,381 miles ridden year to date: That is 57 road rides, 12 gym ‘rides’ and a few swims and some weight lifting. Some day soon the benefits of all that exercise should start to pay off!”

Yipes! I know I don’t have anywhere near that many miles. In fact, a quick check shows I’m right. I’ve done a whopping 847 miles in the first three months of 2013.

Well, Joe is a special case. He works from his house, so he gets in a lot of weekday rides. An easy ride for him is about 25 miles. His weekend rides usually go over 50 miles, on both Saturday and Sunday. Of course, he’s going to rack up lots of miles.

It’s fun to find out what kind of totals my friends are achieving, even if I know I have no chance to approaching them. I don’t consider my cycling a competitive event. In fact, I know Joe doesn’t, either. He puts a lot of miles on the board because he rides a lot, not because he’s trying to out-ride everyone else in the club. But still, I can’t help but feel that I have to try harder when I look at numbers like those.

Actually, I feel that my mileage is down, because it’s only well below last year’s mark at this time. And that was because we had a mild January in 2012 and I rode over 400 miles in a month where I’m usually lucky to do 200. When I look back to 2011, I see I had done only 704 miles in the first quarter. 2010 was even less, with 681, and in 2009, I hadn’t even reached the 600 mile mark by the end of March.

So, I guess I’m doing okay, even if it feels like I’m not up to snuff yet. I’ll keep turning the pedals, but I won’t make an extra effort to turn a 19-mile ride into 20 miles, and so forth. If anything, I’ll build on the mileage I’ve already put down and try to improve my hill work and overall speed. I’m pretty content with where my biking is right now, for a guy of 62.

Oh, there’s only one thing: Joe is 62 as well.