How Far We Goin’?

Every week, our club president posts possible routes for the Saturday and Sunday club rides. Generally, the routes are a mix. Sometimes, the distance is a bit longer, but the roads are comparatively flat. Other times, a lot of climbing is involved, but the routes are a bit shorter.

Among newer riders, or riders who are coming back after some time off the bike, distance always seems to be THE measure by which a riding decision is made. The magic length is about 45 miles. Anything beyond that, and people will either beg off, or come up with a shorter route of their own.

Here’s the curious thing: Routes are usually 40-60 miles. There really isn’t a lot of variation. At the beginning of spring, it’s relatively easy for people who haven’t ridden much to start out with shorter rides, between 30-35 miles, and quickly work up to the 45-mile range. From there, stretching to 50 and even 60 isn’t a big deal.

So why is it that when he posts a ride, it’s always followed on our club’s Yahoo group by inquiries about the length? It shouldn’t matter by now — just jump in, and if you’re left behind, you’ll have a cue sheet or a map, or a Garmin display to get you home safely.

Oh, what’s that? You didn’t bother to follow the link the club president left with the route information? He posts turn-by-turn directions as well as a Garmin map. There’s really no excuse not to make a small effort to become acquainted with the directions we’ll follow on ride day.

And yet, it appears that for some people, that small effort is too much trouble. It results in riders taking wrong turns during the ride. Sometimes, their mistakes are discovered, and someone is dispatched to chase them down and get them back on the right route. But since our Sunday rides are not no-drop rides (at least for the A riders), often no help is sent.

We’ve got a ride coming up Sunday that I’ve never ridden before. Well, to be correct, I haven’t ridden about a third of the route. So I’ll be sure to have the cue sheet with me.

It’s a good thing, because after the route was posted today, one of the first responses was: “Joe, I have just one word: howlongisit?”

I was pleased to see the response: “Nottoofar.”

Some Basic Tips For Noobs

I decided not to ride Sunday morning, because it was pouring rain when I woke up. Dumb move. Things were pretty well dried out by 9 a.m., and if I’d been a little more patient, I could have gone. As it was, I did a short ride with my wife, as I mentioned in the last post.

But I wanted to make up for the lost B ride, so I posted that I would go Monday morning, since it was a holiday. We would do the Same Fitzhugh route that the A’s did on Sunday. Three others came out to join me, including Yasmin and Frank, two new B riders who rode with us for the first time last week.

Both of them have recently bought new bikes, and they’re both strong riders who will only get stronger and faster as they keep riding. As we negotiated the rolling hills along Fitzhugh Road, Frank stayed with Buddy, who moved well out in front. Yasmin got ahead of me, and while I had some trouble sticking with her, we were closer together than Buddy and Frank were to us.

At the turnaround, about 16 miles out from the start, Yasmin complained that her saddle was bothering her. She’s a tall woman, and the bike frame she had appeared to be sized for a man. But the saddle was a narrow racing style. I could relate to her distress. I rode a narrow racing saddle for about a year, when I finally ditched it some something wider and more comfortable.

“When you take it back to the shop, ask them to fit you with a wider saddle,” I suggested. Because of women’s wider pelvises, they need wider saddles than men, anyway.

At another rest stop farther on, both Yasmin and Frank expressed concern about their hands. They were getting numb, and they were shaking them out periodically.

In Frank’s case, he was riding with his elbows locked. “One of the guys told me to ride with my elbows bent,” he said. “I’m trying to get used to that.” Bending the elbows takes weight off the hands. The saddle should have been positioned in such a way that the elbows naturally bend when the rider is in his standard riding position. When I had my bike fitting some years ago, the fitter said it’s more common that people have their saddle too far back rather than too far forward. For most people, he said, moving the saddle forward will provide that elbow bend and make for a more comfortable riding position.

Fitters often use KOPS, or Knee Over Pedal Spindle, as a way to determine saddle fore-aft position. But the other day I was re-reading Peter White’s excellent contrarian article about bike fitting, where he pooh-poohs that notion. It’s all about balance, he says, the kind of balance between power and comfort. The article inspired me to do some tweaking on my saddle position.

It turned out that Yasmin was pushing her hands against the brake hoods. While that seems like a normal position for a new rider, it can cause the hands to go numb quickly. I showed them how to position the hands so the pressure is on the outside heels of the hands, not the webbing between the thumb and forefinger. “It usually doesn’t take much of a shift in position to relieve the pressure,” I said.

We wrapped up the ride and went our separate ways. I hope the tips about saddle width, bending the elbows, and hand position will help Frank and Yasmin enjoy their riding. I fully expect it will have negative consequences for me — it’ll just make them stronger riders, and I’ll be left behind again.

Sore Butt

It was pouring rain when I woke up at 6 a.m. to get ready for the Sunday club ride. I figured I’d let it play out, and then decide if I would try to ride.

Our club president posted an advisory that the ride would start an hour later, to let the roads dry out — but it looked to me that things would still be wet, so I bagged a ride.

However, around 9 a.m., things were starting to dry out, and my wife insisted we go out for a ride. She’s been busy with her business this week, and has gotten out only once. Even with wet pavement, I thought a neighborhood ride would be fine.

We rode out four and a half miles to a turnaround on a favorite ride of Pat’s, when I suggested we add some distance. She was feeling great, glad to be on the bike, so we set off. We took some detours through area streets we don’t normally ride, bombed down a nice hill, and did a lap of the Veloway. By the time we got home, we had one 15.5 miles.

That’s just getting warmed up for me, but it was farther than she had ridden all year, I think. I took off to add some more miles, since Sunday is my normal long mileage day anyway, but some residual showers forced me to turn around earlier than I’d planned, and I got back to the house with only 25 miles on the bike computer.

Later, as we watched some TV, she said her butt was sore. “I can really tell I was on the bike longer today,” she said.

That’s good, though. Pat has a tendency to do short rides, and not stretch out her distances. Now that summer is here, we can ride farther, and maybe even get her ready for some more challenges, like some organized rides in the area.

In this case, a sore butt is just an indication of a training effect.

Home Made Electrolyte Drink

Summer is here. Lately, when I stick my head outdoors in the early morning, the temperature hadn’t dropped below 70 overnight. That can make for some uncomfortable riding. There’s plenty of material online about drinking enough during a ride, and eating, too. Today I want to share a trick I learned last year from another online source.

I just wish I knew who it was whose idea I’m stealing. No doubt one of the many blogs I read. I came across this tip right after I had run out of an electrolyte replenisher that I’d been using regularly, and it seemed like it might work. Here it is:

Fill a water bottle almost to the top with cold water, then add a pinch of salt. There should be enough salt that you can taste it in the water, but not so much that the salty flavor overwhelms you. To cut the taste of the salt, spritz in a generous shot of lemon juice. I use the plastic squeeze bottle juice, but there’s no reason you can’t use fresh whole lemons.

Voila! Instant electrolyte replenisher! Oh, sure — it doesn’t have all the mineral salts you find in “real” electrolyte drinks. But sodium and chlorine seem to take care of most of my needs. And for a guy who doesn’t ride farther than 50 miles at a crack, this concoction works fine.

Try it on your next longish ride, and see what you think.

The Well-Equipped (Colorado) Cyclist

C_catalog_13Had a chance today to spend some time with one of my favorite items of cycling literature — the Colorado Cyclist catalog. I’d been missing it — after getting it regularly for a couple of years, it stopped coming. I’m not sure why it started up again, but I’m glad it did. It gives me the opportunity to see just what kind of gear I, who considers himself one of the top B-level riders in the country, should be sporting on club rides (or any other ride, for that matter).

For those of you not in the know, Colorado Cyclist is an online (and brick and mortar) cycling shop based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its large (80-page), full-color catalog is full of gear to drool over — both hardware such as bikes and components, and soft goods, such as clothing. Here’s what the well-dressed cyclist is wearing this year.

Oakley sunglasses. The XL Black Plaid are particularly cool. They come with a G30 lens for bright days, and a VR50 lens for low light. A steal at $279.00.

Sidi Wire Carbon shoes. They have a new closure system “utilizing low-friction line material that doesn’t bind.” In white or yellow (which is really screaming hi-visibility green). $499.99.

The Kask Vertigo helmet. This can be adjusted for fit by using either a dial or a finger push system. I guess you pay extra for two systems. This goes for $299.99.

I’ve always liked the European flair of Assos cycling gear. This year, their SS Mille jersey has two types of breathable fabric, and the three traditional pockets across the back are placed in an “innovative” manner — but they don’t have a picture of them so we can see the innovation. This, and several other Assos jersey models, goes for $199.99. But their “intermediate” long-sleeved S7 jersey will set you back $369.99.

To further deck yourself out like the pro cyclist you could be, pair the jersey with a pair of Assos tk.607_S5 Bib Knickers. $339.99.

Now that you look the part, be sure to saddle up the appropriate mount. I see that Colorado Cyclist is selling Focus bikes now. The Izalco pro 1.0 goes for $4,800.00 — not bad, by premium bike standards. And what do I find on the back cover? A Focus Cayo 1.0 for a mere $1,699.00. Okay, it’s the 2012 model, but still…

I do like the way the catalog displays shorts. They have large color pictures of the chamois pads for all their shorts, and you can get a sense of how the padding might work for you. It’s something I wish all sellers would do for this crucial piece of equipment.

But really, for the kind of riding I do, and my level of ability, this catalog is simply a compendium of high-end stuff I either can’t afford, don’t need, or am unworthy of. But it’s fun to go through it — kind of like my wife poring over the jewels in the Ross-Simons catalog. Those aren’t going to see the inside of this house either — but it’s fun to dream.

Some New B’s

As in newbies? Well, okay. Some people who had been lurking on our club’s Yahoo group turned out for a neighborhood ride last week, and I invited them to ride the roads as part of the B ride Sunday.

It was a good B ride turnout, augmented by some A riders who needed a recovery from grueling efforts the previous day. Yasmin and Frank joined us for the first time,Victoria for the second or third, and Penny came out for the first time in about a year.

I chose a route to Buda, about a 30-mile round trip.

Any concerns I had about the new riders’ ability were dashed when we reached Davis Hill, about three miles into the ride. I couldn’t catch the newcomers going up. Thank goodness for stoplights, so I could work my way to the front of the pack again.

The ride south was made difficult by the brisk headwind we faced, but it was far from the worst I’ve seen. Just a couple of miles north of Buda, here comes George from the A ride. He had won the sprint into the Walgreens store in Buda, and while the rest of the A’s continued south, George decided to ride the rest of the way with us.

The Walgreens, at 15 miles into the ride, is a traditional rest stop. We swapped stories about club members who had broken bones while riding, which I’m sure didn’t ease any concerns the New B’s had. But instead of turning around at that point, we decided to keep going, at least for a few more miles.

Victoria peeled off to head home for a family obligation, and the rest of us headed back to Buda. Here’s where we hit our first glitch.

Buddy was looking back to make sure everyone had made the turn onto Main Street, when his front wheel went into a curb. He did a nice shoulder roll and landed mostly on grass, but complained of a wrenched back. However, he decided to keep going all the way back and deal with the soreness when he got home.

Buddy (second from left) is  rolling again after his mishap.

Buddy (second from left) is rolling again after his mishap.

The group strung out on the way back, and we made several stops to regroup. Our highlight was when we reached Slaughter Lane. That’s a four-lane divided road with no shoulder. We opted to form a “bus” and occupy the right lane for the two miles back to Starbucks. It was a good move. For the first time ever, not one car honked at us while going past.

The get together at Starbucks is often as much fun as the ride itself. Janice, who is killer good with the A’s, couldn’t wait to see if she had regained Queen of the Mountain status for a Strava segment on the A ride. She had, and spent some time extolling the virtues of Strava to Yasmin, who appeared anxious to join the Strava herd.

Judy, George, Laura, and Penny unwind after the ride.

Judy, George, Laura, and Penny unwind after the ride.

Pippa (l.) learns from Janice that Pippa's Queen of the Mountain is no more.

Pippa (l.) learns from Janice (r.) that Pippa’s Queen of the Mountain is no more.

Mike, an emergency room physician, performed a field amputation of some excess chin strap on Penny’s helmet. “This will keep you from looking like a newbie,” he told her. She wasn’t convinced, and was concerned that she would have too little strap to work with when adjusting her helmet. The jury is still out on that one.

"No!" says Laura, Mike's wife. "You're cutting it too short!"

“No!” says Laura, Mike’s wife. “You’re cutting it too short!”

All in all, it was a good ride. We did 34 miles at a reasonable — and sometimes quick — pace. The new B’s held their own with the pack, and it looks like they’ll be back for more. Frank has already checked into buying some club kit.

Mid-Week Stutters

I was looking forward to my time off from school, so I could finally start building up some decent mileage and get myself in shape for the rest of the summer’s riding. But the best laid plans, as they say…

I spent most of Tuesday in Houston on business with my wife. Got back too late to ride.

Then, rain popped up this morning. After my last fall, I must admit, I’ve wimped out. I will no longer ride in the rain.

So, my big ride plans have stumbled somewhat. In the meantime, I can find some amusement in the plans of other members of my club.

There’s a good organized ride coming up Saturday — the Real Ale Ride. I’ve ridden it once, and volunteered for it once. It’s a great ride, but in my opinion, has gotten overpriced. However, a contingent from the club are heading out there.

One of the ladies, in particular, was making big plans. She wanted to do the 100-mile version, but learned that the longest route is 85 miles. Not to be stymied in reaching her mileage goal, she immediate upped it — to 150 miles.

Her plan is to ride the 85 miles. Then, she’ll start the course again — this time taking the 65-mile route. Or, maybe turn around at the finish, ride back for 32.5 miles, then turn around and ride to the finish again. What?

“150 miles on a road bike is not really that long,” she said. “I’ve done longer on a mountain bike.” She’s looking for others to join her in her quest.

So far, no takers.

The Only B

It was Mother’s Day, and I anticipated a small turnout for the Sunday club ride. But riders kept pulling into the parking lot in front of Starbucks. As we sat around the outdoor tables before the ride, there was a lot of good-natured banter. But once the women riders started to come in, New York John said it was time to stop.

“We sound like a buncha construction workers from the ’50s,” he said. He was right.

I was starting to get concerned. The women — Janice, Pippa, and Judy — are all pretty fast. All the guys were fast. When the club president said we should get going, it was apparent that I was the only B-level rider out today.

We always start out easy. I rode at the front with Joe, the president, and we talked about my rear wheel. Our club mechanic had it all day Saturday, and told me it was on its last legs.

“If you replace the rim, the hub is still shot,” he said. “If you replace the hub, the rim is in bad shape.” He said I should start shopping for a new rear wheel.

Joe offered to lend me a set of American Classics he has in his garage.

“It’s nothing imminent,” I said.

“That’s not the point,” he answered. “Use this time to try out some different wheels. You’ll find out what you don’t like, as well as what might work for you.”

I think I might take him up on that offer.

The riders separated at the first big hill, about three miles into the ride. By now, I was in my accustomed place — at the rear. But Joe’s wife, Judy, wasn’t much ahead of me. She had ridden a killer club ride yesterday, which saw lots of hills out in the country. After that 66-mile jaunt, she was spinning easily today. Joe, as he often does on these rides, held back to ride with her. I caught up, and we were the gang of three, as the peloton quickly disappeared ahead.

Jordan, a club member who lives closer to downtown, met us about 15 miles into the ride. He had tried to time his start to meet up with the main group. “But they were having a criterium!” he exclaimed. Joe and he talked about how the Sunday ride does tend to become a race among the faster A’s.

We rode along Shoal Creek Drive, which is a popular in-town biking route. It is a two-lane arterial through a nice residential part of the city, and has generous bike lanes in each direction. By this time, I wondered where we would meet the A’s on their return leg. I guessed that they would be at a convenience store where we make a rest stop on this route. But they weren’t there.

However, it was only another mile or so before we encountered them, blasting down Shoal Creek in our direction. We turned around to ride with them, and all pulled into that convenience store for a break.

Joe had proposed a departure from the usual return route, to tackle more hills on the west side of town. New York John had other ideas. He had also been on the previous day’s long ride, but he rode an extra 20 miles, because instead of driving to the ride start, he rode from Starbucks. That effort was catching up to him.

“I’m goin’ back the way we came,” he said. “And head home on Mopac (an expressway) instead of the long way.” I agreed.

I thought we had more takers, but it was just John, me, and one other guy. We hit some big hills just past downtown.

“My legs are like jelly!” John complained. He still managed to stay ahead of me. John is 65, but rides a carbon Specialized Roubaix, and is probably 60 pound lighter than yours truly. Over the last two miles, he steadily pulled farther ahead of me. By the time I got to Starbucks, his bike was already on his car’s rack.

It was a good ride for me, but if two tired A riders hadn’t hung back from their usual Sunday pace, I would have been completely on my own. I’ve got some time off work until the summer session begins, and I’ll be spending a lot more time on the bike than I have been. I’ll never become an A, but at least I can build up the stamina to stay closer to them.

Noob Mistake: Helmet on Backwards

It’s spring. In most parts of the country anyway. And that means organized rides are springing up all over. Lots of noobs turn out for their first organized rides ever, and they make their share of mistakes. Here’s one that I noticed a few years ago.

I was walking across a parking lot toward the ride start, when I passed a couple also headed in that direction. They were obvious first-timers. As I looked at the woman, something struck me as odd. She had the weirdest looking helmet I’ve ever seen.

Except on closer inspection, it wasn’t the helmet at all — that turned out to be a fairly common variety. It was the way she wore it. The black scalloped rear was facing forward.

“Your helmet is on backward,” I said quietly, as I walked past them.

She stopped, pulled off her helmet, and stared at it.

“It is? On backward? How can you tell?” she asked.

“The smooth part goes in the front,” I replied. “It’s more aerodynamic that way.”

She looked at her husband. He looked back and shrugged. She turned the helmet around and put it back on, the right way.

She’s not the first I’ve seen making that mistake. Lots of people figure that since the helmet slopes down in the rear, and had lots of openings that must suck in air, that’s the front.

This is not the front.

This is not the front.

This is the front.

This is the front.

But as we all know from basic physics, the airfoil shape of an aircraft wing is rounded in front, and tapers toward the rear.

I can understand why a noob might be confused.

I can understand why a noob might be confused.

If you see a newbie looking extra dorky on a ride this spring, come to their rescue. Show them the proper way to wear a helmet.

Different Rides, Same Result

Because of the odd schedule we’re on at the university during final exam time, I didn’t get home in time for my usual Friday evening ride. So on Saturday, I decided to combine that ride with one I normally reserve for Saturday morning.

I headed for Convict Hill, a neighborhood nearby. As its name implies, there are some hills there and I try to do this every week. It builds leg strength, but it’s not all that tough. One of the nice parts about it is the end. I get to ride a bike lane down the hill, and it’s fun to exceed the posted speed limit for vehicles. In fact, I could sense someone beside me during the descent, and when I looked, it was a guy in a pickup truck, keeping pace with me but not trying to pass. I think he was trying to get a read on just how fast this crazy cyclist was going (33.7 mph).

After Convict Hill, I headed back to my neighborhood. The route stays in the bike lane of a nice wide residential arterial out to Farm to Market 1826. I turn around there, and wind my way through Circle C Ranch, on a route I’ve talked about before. Then it’s a run over to the nearby Veloway, where I did one lap and headed home. A nice way to spend two hours.

This morning, the club ride was doing one of their hills excursions. I’m still not in the ballpark with them when it comes to climbing, so I decided I’d ride on my own. “Oh,” said my wife, as she saw me drinking coffee at 8 a.m. “You’re not riding this morning?”

“I am,” I said. “In fact, I’m leaving right after I get dressed.”

The morning was bright and cool. The wind was light. I decided to do the “Zoo Route,” which a lot of the club members have taken to lately. I rode the first six miles on the same streets we take when we do Fitzhugh, but as soon as I crossed U.S. 290 I turned onto a different road. This one could be considered semi-rural, with houses on large lots hidden behind old stands of live oak. After looping through that area for awhile, I was back on Circle Drive, but soon turned onto Rawhide Trail for the next two miles to the Austin Zoo.

They’ve done a good job of screening the zoo from the road. Some of my friends tell me they’ve seen critters through the trees in the past, but none were in evidence today. At the end of the road is the old Paisano Ranch, formerly owned by renowned Texas author J. Frank Dobie. The road ends at the gate, and I turned around .

I had come just a tad over nine miles, so I was looking for more mileage. I knew that some riders will head back, but divert onto a road that intersects Texas 71, several miles west of our neighborhood. I got through the stoplight at that intersection along with a large furniture delivery truck that had no use for me, and eventually made it to Southwest Parkway.

I used to like riding on Southwest Parkway. The shoulder is wide, and the road is hilly. But a few years ago, the county chip sealed it, and for much of its length, it’s jouncy.

At the high point, where AMD has its new semiconductor plant, the parkway dips in a longish downhill where you can achieve a decently-high speed. Farther on is a neighborhood called Travis Country, and I turned onto the road that loops around the periphery. Lots of cyclists like to ride this area, and there were a number out this morning. I didn’t make contact with any of them however, and continued my solo ride.

After Travis Country, it was time to head home. I pulled into the driveway, stopped, and glanced at my bike computer.

27.7 miles. One hour, 59 minutes, 33 seconds. Avg. speed: 13.9 mph.

Remarkable.

Not because I broke any speed records or anything, but because the numbers were so similar to Saturday’s: 27.5 miles, one hour, 59 minutes, 5 seconds, 13.9 mph average speed.

Except for the first three blocks, I did not ride any of the same roads on Saturday and Sunday. Since I had never ridden the Zoo Ride before, I had no idea what to expect in distance or time. But they came out to almost the same distance and same riding time.

I’ll have to figure out a route next week on still different roads, and try to approximate the same distance and time again. I think I know where I can do it.