Bike-Work Balance

We finally had a taste of fall here over the weekend. It only lasted a day and a half, but the hint of the new season got me taking stock of some recent developments around here.

I’ve really cut back on my riding. The start of the new school year does that to me every year, but this time around it’s tougher. You see, in addition to being an instructor, this semester I’m also a student. I’m enrolled in a class for faculty that teaches us how to prepare a class for delivery online.

Now, you’d think for a blogger that wouldn’t be too difficult. But this class is far more rigorous than I expected. That’s good — it means we won’t take it lightly. And it’s really opened my eyes to some of the issues that must be confronted when moving a class online. But the work I’m doing on the class on my own time is eating into other areas of my life. Like biking.

Friday has always been a dependable biking day, and I can usually get some miles in then. Even if I have a bunch of meetings, which happens once a month, I can get home in time to take an hour ride. Not this time.

Friday is online class day. I’m expected to be working face-to-face with my instructors, adding to the materials I’ve already created. It’s been a month since I’ve ridden on Friday.

Tuesday evenings, I can often get home early to sneak in a ride of 12-15 miles. Not this time around. I’m at my desk, working on online materials.

Then there’s the work around the house that must be taken care of — nothing unique to me. I know we all have our household tasks to perform.

The problem for me is time management. Right now, I’m managing my time to make sure my online class work gets done. I’m not making a priority of any of the other stuff.

The upside of it is, I’m fresh on the bike. I took a two-hour ride Sunday, and racked up a couple of Strava personal records. I know that’s because my legs haven’t been put to work during the week. It felt good.

The downside is, if I continue to ride less, my fitness will suffer.

Well, it’s just a series of trade-offs. I’ll get to the end of this class in late November, and it ought to allow me additional time starting in January to ride. And blog. And rake leaves, and hang a new storm door, and fix the loose shingles on the roof, and… and…

In the meantime, if my blogging gets spotty, you’ll know why.

The Octogenarian Record-Holder

My virtual friend Steve Martin, he of “There and Back Again” fame, linked earlier today to a feel-good story: a British cyclist who broke the one-hour cycling record in the 80-84 year-old category. Sidney Schuman is 84.

He covered 28.388 kilometers (17.64 miles) in one hour.

Sidney Schuman, one-hour record holder.

Sidney Schuman, one-hour record holder.

“This is not much of a record,” he said, “But that’s not the point.”

The point is that maybe 21 years from now, his record might be broken by a guy who now spends some time blogging about biking.

The Wife and the Mountain Bike

I came home from work today to find my mountain bike standing on the garage floor. This is unusual, because it normally hangs from hooks in the garage ceiling.

“Did you go for a mountain bike ride today?” I asked my wife.

“I did!” she replied.

Her own bike was over at our local bike mechanic, getting an overhaul.

“And did you take it down by yourself?” I asked. “That isn’t easy.”

“No,” she said, “it’s not.”

“How was your ride?” I asked. “Say, compared to last week, when you took it out.”

“You know, it was a lot tougher,” she said. “Those gears just didn’t want to shift.”

I’ve been meaning to run the mountain bike in to my mechanic for awhile now. It won’t shift into the lower gears on the rear, and it won’t shift from the middle ring to the small ring up front. But while she thought her trouble today was about the shifters, I suspected it was something else.

“When you took it out last week, I pumped up the tires beforehand,” I said. “I knew you would ride only on streets, so I gave you 60 pounds pressure. But I didn’t know you were riding today, and when I took the bike out Friday, I deflated the tires so I could ride the singletrack. They’ve only got about 35 pounds in them, maybe less.”

“Ah, that explains it,” she said. “When was was coming back up the hill by the supermarket, it felt like I was being pulled backward.”

I got an email from the mechanic today that her bike was ready, and after supper, I went over to pick it up. In the meantime, I dropped off the mountain bike. The next time she rides it, it’ll shift smoothly.

Although now that she has her own bike back, I’ll bet she won’t ride the mountain bike anytime soon.

Some Changes Close By

Rain visited overnight, and continued to threaten this morning, so instead of a planned trip out to Dripping Springs, we decided to just do a neighborhood ride with the club.

Besides Maggie and Brian, two regular B riders, I was joined by Kenny and Steve, two of our better A riders. Kenny is recovering from rotator cuff surgery, and said he wanted to ride easy to recover from a 54-mile ride the previous day. (“I can’t stand up on my bike yet,” he complained. “Can you imagine riding 54 miles without standing up?”) Steve had also ridden long on Saturday, and he was content with a lazy ride. (Steve, a several-times state champion in both road and time trial in his age group, is known for taking frequent recovery-pace rides. Don’t be fooled. He can drop you just like that. He just doesn’t want to. Mostly.)

I gave Steve a rough idea of the route I had in mind, just in case he and Kenny did put some distance between us. The pace proved even easier than I had expected, as we spent a lot of our time in the saddle just chatting about various and sundry. At one point, Steve suggested we turn onto State Highway 45, an extension of our old favorite, Mopac. I used to ride this road a lot, but I’ve been avoiding it lately. A resurfacing several years ago made it rough in spots, and the traffic has picked up in both speed and numbers.

But when we made the turn onto 45, I was greeted with a newly-resurfaced highway. This time, it was smooth asphalt, not rough chip seal. And best news of all, the shoulder had been widened and extended to cover some spots where it used to disappear just before major intersections. We had a quick, smooth run to the turnaround.

Maggie wanted to take a”bio break” at the convenience store at the turnaround. The convenience store was built a year or so ago, but I had never used it. I didn’t need to now, either, but as we stood around waiting for Maggie, the urge hit me. Inside, the convenience store was bright and roomy, well stocked, and with spotless bathrooms. Whoa! That’s something I hadn’t expected.

Back on the return trip down highway 45, we decided to turn into one of several housing developments that have sprung up in this desirable part of Austin. I had been there before, but again, it was two or three years ago. The main road into the development used to limit your forward progress.

What the road into the Meridien neighborhood used to look like. This day, we kept going on nice blacktop. (From Google Street View. Click to enlarge.)

What the road into the Meridien neighborhood used to look like. This day, we kept going on nice blacktop. (From Google Street View. Click to enlarge.)

But today, we were able to keep riding, past the point where houses had been put in, onto another new asphalted road that made a big loop through forest. It will be built up soon, but for now, it was like our private race track. It didn’t occur to me to take any pictures on the ride, because our route seemed so commonplace. I wish now I had.

Through one of the built-up parts of Meridien. The other two developments we visited along Rt. 45 look much the same.

Through one of the built-up parts of Meridien. The other two developments we visited along Rt. 45 look much the same.

Two more developments attracted our attention as we continued east on 45, and we checked both of them out. Steve, in an effort to tack miles onto this easy ride, took almost every side street. We admired the new houses going in, while at the same time complaining that this is an environmentally sensitive area, because this is where our groundwater is recharged during rainfall. We’re worried that too much building will adversely affect our water supply.

Back on the highway, 45 turned north and became Mopac. This route leads to the Veloway, and we had talked about taking a lap or two there, but Maggie said she was close to 30 miles and was feeling tired after a hilly ride the previous day (Am I the only one whose Saturday ride wasn’t a tough one?). She said she’d had enough, and wanted to head back to Starbucks. Steve said he was fine with that. Kenny decided to head home.

Ever notice how refreshed you feel after a nice recovery ride? Our chitchat session around an outdoor table at Starbucks was lively and fun. And I realized that I could now return Mopac/45 to my route repertoire. It pays to do the occasional routine ride close to home — provided you’re ready to turn onto some previously untraveled roads.

But Sometimes, You Can Handle it Yourself

Huh? The headline refers to a post earlier this week, when I gave up on a repair and decided to take my bike to our club mechanic. Sure enough, he did the repair in his driveway in about five minutes. Total cost: $5 for his labor, $3 for a new brake cable. A bargain, I thought.

But guest poster Don Blount is more adventurous than I. He chimes in with his own view on doing your own work.

BlountOnBikingThe latest Bikenoob post got my attention. I changed the shifters and brakes on my bike a few weeks weeks ago. I had Shimano 105 shifters that earlier this summer a mechanic had pointed out were in need of replacement. This was not an imminent need but something that could wait until winter. And then I came across a sale at Probikekit, the Internet retailer, for Shimano 105 shifters with internal cable routing.The cost was about $160, or about 55 percent off regular price. I consulted with a bike mechanic who confirmed it was a good deal and urged me to buy them.

And I did. I also bought some bar tape.

Well, I had the shifters for about a week. The mechanic said to bring the parts and the bike by his shop and he could install. The only problem was his shop was closed on Sunday and Monday and I literally had no time to get my bike there during the week.

So I decided to take the job on myself.

I measured where the old shifters rested on the handlebars and removed one.

I started the install of its replacement and hit the same roadblock as you on how to remove one of the existing cables. I could not find this step anywhere in the instructions. So I scoured the Internet. It took me a bit but I eventually found instructions on how to remove that blasted cable — a small screw removes a panel and then after that panel is removed the old cable comes out and the new cable can be routed in.

Of course that would not be the only roadblock I encountered.

I discovered the front brake was moving oddly. It was loose. That more than likely explained a grabbing action and squealing I was getting from it. The decision to replace it was easy as it broke in my hand as I removed a fastener. Fortunately, I had an old brake set on hand and used one of those until I could get a replacement.

I have had this new set up of shifters and brakes for a few weeks now. They work fine, although when I get a chance I would like to take it to a bike shop to have my work checked.

A moral to this story would be to review the directions beforehand, decide if you can actually do the job. In my case, I had removed shifters and installed brakes. But I had never changed cables.

Also, take your time as you work and keep in mind that the Internet can be a font of information full of videos and instructions on a number of jobs.

And keep a good bike mechanic on speed dial in case you get in over your head and need a professional to finish the job.


Neighborhood Trails

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1950s (Yes, I’m old). Back then, streets were laid out in a grid pattern, and blocks of houses went on and on. Of course, streets were for cars to get to and from the houses. Bikes were what kids rode to each other’s house, and to the baseball diamond, but rarely more than a couple of miles at a time. Even though we were well out of the big city, we were in an environment that was more urban than not.

Now, I’m in the suburbs again, even though my neighborhood is within the Austin city limits. But boy, is it a different feeling than the 1950s Chicago suburbs.

Less than a mile from my house is a large metropolitan park. It’s known for its large number of soccer fields, but it has playgrounds for kids and a disc golf course — and trails.

They’re multi-use trails, popular with hikers and people walking dogs. But mountain bikes have made them home.

The other day, I set off to ride some of these trails. I wanted to get some mountain bike miles in after several days of road riding.

After heading east in the metro park, I reached a small subdivision. I crossed it in a matter of minutes, and set out for another subdivision just a half mile away.

It’s called Bauerle Ranch. It was built in about 2005, so is relatively new — even around here. But for me, the neat thing about Bauerle Ranch is its trail network.

Bauerle Ranch from Google Maps. Most of the major trails are marked.

Bauerle Ranch from Google Maps. Most of the major trails are marked. (Click to enlarge.)

Riding the streets of the development, you'd never know a nifty trail network is close by.

Riding the streets of the development, you’d never know a nifty trail network is close by.

We enter Bauerle Ranch from the northwest corner, and immediately have a choice of two trails. Bird’s Nest goes off to the left, and skirts the north side of the development. Cactus Ridge goes off to the right, and takes the rider down the west side to the south end. They’re criss-crossed by other, shorter trails that give the biker lots of options to add mileage while not straying too far.

In some spots, the trails are a bit rough, laced with rock gardens of varying difficulty. In other spots, the singletrack widens to a nice two-abreast trail — not at all challenging to ride, but a nice respite from some twisty bits.

A slightly wider part of the trail. The rocks are no bother here.

A slightly wider part of the trail. The rocks are no bother here.

Trail running is popular. I made way for several runners during my ride.

Trail running is popular. I made way for several runners during my ride.

The west side of the park is in a creek valley, and the trails crossing to the east go up increasingly steep hills. The mountain biker has a challenge making it to the top, fighting a combination of a grade and the loose rocks that litter the trail.

The concrete culvert in the background takes the cyclist across the usually dry Elm Waterhole from Cactus Ridge Trail to Slaughter Creek Trail.

The concrete culvert in the background takes the cyclist across the usually dry Elm Waterhole from Coyote Run Trail to Slaughter Creek Trail.

It doesn’t take too long to make a circuit of Bauerle Ranch. I did it in a little over a half hour, including a rest stop at a convenient bench along the trail. But it’s a worthwhile destination for a mountain bike, and it provides relief from the increasingly congested and bike-unfriendly roads in our area. As more developments spring up in our growing city, here’s hoping the developers incorporate trail systems like this one.

Leave It To The Pros

Well, I finally got around to taking a look at my ruined brake hood. I had the replacement, I had new bar tape to install, and I had a free Sunday afternoon with no distractions.

What could go wrong?

Luckily, my wife was out of the house doing some errands and exercise classes. That meant I could roll the bike into my favorite bike repair center — the kitchen. (Shh! Don’t tell her!)

Cold glass of iced tea, repair stuff scattered on the kitchen table, I think I'm ready to tackle this.

Cold glass of iced tea, repair stuff scattered on the kitchen table, I think I’m ready to tackle this.

I quickly removed the old bar tape, and got the brake loosened. And it all went downhill from there.

When it comes to things mechanical, I think an encounter I had with my son sums it up best. About 20 years ago, I was sitting on the steps of my deck, unscrewing the housing of some kind of powered garden tool — I forget just what — when he came around the corner and saw me.

“Dad! What are you doing?” he cried.

I told him.

“Aw, Dad, you know how this is going to turn out. You’ll get it all apart, and you’ll get frustrated, and you won’t be able to get it back together, and it’ll be in worse shape than it was before you started.”

He had that figured out at a tender age. I, on the other hand, haven’t figured that out yet. And sure enough, the scenario of 20 years ago replayed itself, as I realized I would have to undo one of the brake cables from the brake assembly.

I didn’t figure that out until I had some tiny Phillips head screws lying on the kitchen table, and nowhere to go. I managed to get everything kind of back to where it was when I started.

Oh, crap.

Oh, crap.

Our club’s bike mechanic told me he’s cutting back his repair time, since he’s getting a new full-time job. But I’ll book something with him sometime this week. He’ll have fun looking over what I attempted, and how it turned out. And he’ll fix it in a fraction of the time it took me to wreck it.

Maybe I’ve finally learned my lesson: When it comes to bike mechanicals, leave it to the pros.