Mountain Bike Noob

Now, don’t freak out. I still consider myself mainly a road biker. But sometimes, it’s good to change things up.

Saturday morning, I decided it was a good change-up day. The night before, I had pulled the skinny tires off the mountain bike, and replaced them with the knobbies. Good thing I did, too — the old skinny tires, which I had taken from a cast off bike a neighbor had left at the curb several years ago — showed a major problem. As I ran my thumb along the sidewall, the rubber cracked and flaked away.

I think this tire has passed its expiration date. (Click to enlarge.)

I think this tire has passed its expiration date. (Click pictures to enlarge.)

How those tires got through my maiden mountain bike ride two weeks ago, banging over rocky trails, without blowing out, is beyond me.

With the new old tires in place, I though I’d head over to the Slaughter Creek Trail.  It’s perhaps two miles from my house. The trail was built several years ago on old ranch land that is now managed by the water quality district. When it was built, the only access was by driving to a poorly-marked entrance. Now, however, a track has been worn along two main roads that leads right to the entrance. I rode over there, pleased at the way the wider tires ate up the uneven path.

Slaughter Creek Trail is open to hikers, bikers, and horses, and I saw all of these. Cyclists take a clockwise route, while horses go the opposite way. That way, they meet on the trail, instead of cyclists catching horses from behind, and possibly spooking them.

An experienced-looking biker at the trail head pointed me in the right direction, and I set out. Most reviews of the trail describe it as a nice beginner track. For this mountain biking noob, it was a challenge. The roots weren’t a problem, but the rock gardens were. They were often coupled with sharp uphills, and I found my first real trouble spot. I need to replace the shifters on my bike. They’re Shimano eight-speed shifters, but will only go into gears 5-8. If I really need a lower gear to power up a steep section, I can’t get it, and I have to get off and push.

Luckily, there aren’t too many of those on this trail. Lots of rocky sections though. I suppose I should have been prepared for that, especially after my ride two weeks ago.

A typical spot on the trail.

A typical spot on the trail.

One of the nice features of the trail is a series of markers that explain the topography or the history of the area. One pointed out the encroachment of the urban environment on wilderness.

Rooftops of suburban-style homes peek over the line of trees at the end of the trail land. A piece of single track can be seen at left.

Rooftops of suburban-style homes peek over the line of trees at the end of the trail land. A piece of single track can be seen at left.

The trail is only about five miles long, but at the careful pace I chose, gingerly negotiating my way over obstacles, it took almost an hour to get around it. The few other bikers I saw along the way gave me something to shoot for, as they zoomed over the rough ground with little effort.

A biker bursts out of the woods at the end of his lap.

A biker bursts out of the woods at the end of his lap.

But I couldn’t stop at that short distance. I headed out for the road I took to reach the trail, figuring I’d retrace part of the route I rode two weeks ago through a metropolitan park close to my house. I didn’t do the entire distance as before, but doubled the mileage of the first trail.

The metropolitan park trail crosses Slaughter Creek with a short, steep, descent. It'll be awhile before I can ride it.

The metropolitan park trail crosses Slaughter Creek with a short, steep, descent. It’ll be awhile before I can ride it.

I have not equipped the mountain bike with its own computer, and probably won’t. Friday, my wife and I went shopping for new cellphones, and got a good deal, we thought. The iPhone I got is my first real smartphone. All my old phone could do was send and receive calls and messages, and take bad pictures. One of the first things I did with the new phone was download the Strava app, mainly to track how far my rides were on the trails. Yes, I have disparaged Strava several times before on this blog, but I must admit, it’s pretty cool. I don’t plan to share my rides, but I will be a regular Strava user from here on out.




Windy Day on the Bike

stock-footage-texas-flag-blowing-in-the-windAfter some beautiful weather earlier this week, a nasty front moved in. The forecast called for a “Wind Advisory,” with winds between 20-30 mph, gusting to 40. That’s some pretty heavy-duty stuff. A lot of folks I see online in our club Yahoo group posted that they were skipping a ride, because of the wind conditions.

But, a few daunting souls decided to give it a go. I shook my head, and gave it a pass.

That is, I did until my wife chimed in, “I want a bike ride today.”

To say I was surprised would be an understatement. She hates riding in the wind. But work-related stress was taking its toll, and getting outside, even for a short ride, would be good for her. I told her I would join her, but wanted to wait until it warmed up just a bit.

Our house is on a curved residential street, and is mostly shielded from strong winds. If we really want to get a feel for it, we have to look at the tops of the trees a couple of blocks over to see how much they’re blowing.

“I have a hunch that we’ll really feel it when we get off this block,” she said. I nodded agreement.

We weren’t disappointed. The wind did smack us, but for the first part of our ride, it smacked us in the back. We zoomed down a small hill to the first stoplight, topping 28 mph without even pedaling.

It wasn’t until we made a right turn another mile up the road that the wind hit us with force — from the side. I hate crosswinds, but this one seemed mostly manageable.

We were only going on a short route this day — about a nine-mile round trip. Usually, when we ride it together, I continue on when she finishes. I wasn’t going to do that this time.

Sure enough, when we made the turnaround halfway out, we got smacked by the wind again. This time, it was quartering head-on. All of a sudden, our ride turned into hard work. The worst part came during one of my favorite stretches. It’s a gentle downhill for about a half-mile. This time, instead of hitting 27 mph as I usually do, I had to shift into the small chain ring and struggle against the strong north wind.

I finally got to the stoplight, and waited for Pat. As I look across the intersection, there were four members of my club, returning from their morning hill ride. We waved at each other, and I wondered how tough it must have been for them on the hills.

“How many times did you nearly get blown off your bike?” I asked Pat, when she caught up to me.

“Oh, twice,” she said.

“Three times for me,” I responded.

Back home, we were glad to get the bikes in the shelter of the garage. But the ride had been worth it.

“Oh, that feels better!” said Pat.

It might have been a tough ride, but as one of the guys on the hill ride said, rides under these conditions just make all the other days easier.

Expensive Organized Rides

As I sat indoors on an unseasonably cool, gloomy day today, it occurred to me that an organized ride is coming up that I was thinking about doing this year. I got out the laptop and jumped onto the ride’s website.

Oh, no! The ride was Saturday — and today is Sunday! That’s what I get for “thinking” about doing a ride, but not adding it to any kind of a schedule, and holding off on registration until I’m “sure” I want to ride it. I just — forgot.

I wonder, though, if that forgetting was any kind of a clue that maybe I really didn’t want to do the ride in the first place. I’ve written before about my ambivalent feelings toward organized rides — how they’re a way to get an expensive t-shirt. Then I changed my mind, and rode a few in the ensuing months. I enjoy the camaraderie of riding in a large group, but without the hassle of being in a pace line. Mostly, when I do organized rides, I keep to myself or stick with only one or two friends.

Waiting for the start of an organized ride early in the morning.

Waiting for the start of an organized ride early in the morning.

There’s another ride coming up in May that I haven’t done for several years, and would enjoy doing again. But when I looked at their registration page, the $60 entry fee put me off. It seems that what used to be $25 rides — $30 if registering on ride day — have now ballooned into costly ventures. I don’t know about you, but I think $40 is about as much as I care to pay if I’m going to join a t-shirt ride. I know it’s expensive to put them on, to provide the expected food and maybe drink at the end. I’ve volunteered as staff on a couple of rides, and I think I have an appreciation for the effort it takes to put one of these together. But I have to draw the line somewhere.

I’ll be passing up that ride in May, although I might do another one within a week or two of it. This time, I’ll make up my mind early, and be sure to get my registration taken care of — before the price goes up.


A Change Of Pace

Riding the same old routes that start from my part of Austin can get boring, and that’s the way I’ve been feeling lately. I decided to check the schedule for Austin Cycling Association rides, and found one that fit the bill.

I didn’t want a hammerhead ride, and I didn’t want to go 60 miles. The ACA is pretty good about rating the effort required for its rides, and has more classifications than my neighborhood club. One of the rides scheduled for Sunday was a “hosted” ride, meaning a person organizes the ride and serves as its leader. These are no-drop rides, and it’s up to the host to make sure no one is left behind.

The route started in Pflugerville (the P is silent), a suburb squeezed between Austin and its northern neighbor, Round Rock. It was billed as a C-level ride, which in ACA parlance means an average speed of 13-15 mph. Yes, I can ride faster than that, but I wanted to see how close to the advertised speed the ride really went. The other thing that attracted me to this ride was its 10 a.m. start. Pflugerville is about 40 minutes from my house, so the prospect of getting up early to get somewhere for an 8 a.m. start is not appealing .

We met at Lake Pflugerville Park, a convenient starting point because of its parking lot and facilities (even if they are in a deplorable state of uncleanliness). Nine riders showed up, including our host Amy, who briefly described the first few roads and turns of the route, passed out route maps, and headed out at 10 a.m.

Gathering before the start at unscenic Lake Pflugerville.

Gathering before the start at unscenic Lake Pflugerville. (Click pix to enlarge.)

We strung out quickly, with a couple of riders well out in front, and some riders lagging far behind. Because this was a no-drop ride, we would be stopping to regroup from time to time. As it turned out, those two guys off the front were new in town — one from Philadelphia and one from Baltimore — and had no idea where they were going, so they stopped and waited at every crossroads we came to.

One place I was looking forward to stopping was New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church (“The Most Photographed Church in Texas”). This area of eastern Williamson County has a large population of people of Swedish descent. The church’s extra-tall steeple is a prominent landmark for miles around across this flat farmland. I just think it’s a neat old building.

New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church.

New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church.

As we stopped there for a short rest break (less than eight miles into the ride), one of the riders turned out to be having trouble. He was by far the last one to the church, and told Amy that he was afraid he wasn’t ready for this kind of ride (less than eight miles into the ride!). It did have some longish inclines that didn’t seem to end, and that could sap someone’s strength. Apparently, he was getting back into riding after a long layoff.

The only other woman on the ride said since she had ridden a long distance Saturday, she wouldn’t mind going back to Lake Pflugerville with the tired rider. Amy made sure we all knew what would happen next. “Okay, we’re going this way and turning left at the T intersection a mile down,” she said. “And you two are turning around here and going back.”

“As they say on Downton Abbey, ‘Well, that’s settled, then,’” said the other woman. We wished them luck and rode on.

Amy (second from rt.) checks the route map while the guys wait for her instructions.

Amy (second from rt.) checks the route map while the guys wait for her instructions.

A brisk wind from the southeast blew at about 15 mph. That was great during a several mile stretch where we headed north. As soon as we turned east, though, our ride became a slog. We reached the small rural town of Coupland, where we pulled into a convenience store for a break. This would be our turnaround point, and it looked like our trip would total about 30 miles when we were finished.

I wondered whether the town’s name is pronounced COOP-land, as the spelling suggests, or COPE-land. A local man hauling garbage out to a dumpster set us straight. “COPE-land,” he said. Another mystery solved.

A nice, but lonely, farmhouse off in the distance. This part of Texas produces a lot of cotton. Typical of the landscape we rode through.

A nice, but lonely, farmhouse off in the distance. This part of Texas produces a lot of cotton. This scene is typical of the landscape we rode through.

The day had started out with a heavy overcast, which never lifted. Now, it even felt a tad chillier than when we’d started. We spread out quite a bit on the uneventful trip back to Lake Pflugerville, and my bike computer read 30.7 miles when I reached the parking lot. I had been hoping for something closer to 35 or 40 miles, but given the slog against the wind, this seemed just about right.

The guys wait for Amy, who had stopped to take a phone call. That's a water supply facility in the background.

The guys wait for Amy, who had stopped to take a phone call. That’s a water supply facility in the background.

Will I do this ride again? Probably. I’d prefer to go longer, and I hope for fewer rest stops than we took today. But the gently rolling farmland of Williamson County is a real change of pace from what I’m used to — and that alone is a reason to come back out here.

Gravel Grinders

One of my club’s more enthusiastic race-oriented members posted a link to a nearby gravel grinder race. “This looks like fun!” she said. The 100km and 50 Km races would be run on mostly gravel roads near the hamlet of Castell, Texas, near where I had an enjoyable ride about a year and a half ago.

A gravel grinder ride.

A gravel grinder ride.

Problem was, the race was limited to only 100 entrants for both the 100 and 50. And both are now full. But it got me thinking — wouldn’t a ride over mostly gravel roads be fun, if you had the right equipment?

And what would be the right equipment? It turns out, gravel grinders have a devoted following. Even though I’d never heard of one, I soon found plenty of references on the internets. And the right equipment turns out to be pretty simple.

It’s not necessarily a mountain bike, although they would do fine in this kind of venue. Some companies make bikes for the express intention of riding or racing on gravel. They’re essentially cross bikes. Wider tires, with aggressive treads, disc brakes. The frame can be aluminum, or steel, but probably not carbon fiber.

This steed, by Niner bikes, is the RLT 9 (Road Less Traveled). Aluminum frame, carbon fork, two build options. (Click all pics to enlarge.)

This steed, by Niner bikes, is the RLT 9 (Road Less Traveled). Aluminum frame, carbon fork, two build options. (Click all pics to enlarge.)

Other gravel grinder bikes are built up at home. They’re referred to as “gravel mutts,” and might start life in a number of different ways.

One build that seems to have its adherents is to start with a steel road bike, perhaps an old 10-speed, and fit it with wide tires and a redone drive train — maybe a triple chain ring and bar end shifters. Another would be to equip a mountain bike with drop bars. Or, for the budget-minded, take a hybrid and fit it with drops.

Here's an old 10-speed converted for gravel.

Here’s an old 10-speed converted for gravel.

I think this would be a lot of fun. I know I hate to ride my skinny tires on gravel — I don’t even like gritty shoulders on paved roads. And just because my friend was thinking of entering a race (she’s funny that way) doesn’t mean you must race on gravel. Just bombing around on a weekend day would admirably fill the bill.

Have you ever done any gravel riding? Do you have a special bike for the purpose?

Winter Cycling in Texas

My friend Rick had a great idea for a Sunday club ride.

“After two challenging days in the saddle, my aging legs are looking for a recovery spin at a long slow distance pace,” he posted. As a bonus, he suggested a starting time of 9 a.m. — much more civilized than the 8:15 a.m. start we traditionally have.

I and one other person posted that we would be there. When I got to our Starbucks starting place, however, a total of 10 riders had showed up. Two other club rides were going south at a fast pace, and to a very hilly route west of the city.

“I think posting that this would be at a conversational pace is what attracted people,” Rick said.

Everyone but me was an A rider, but because of the “conversational pace,” I didn’t expect any problems. Rick decided to keep the ride to neighborhood streets, and while some grumbled under their breaths that Sunday is a time to get out of the neighborhood, no one vocally complained.

Rick’s route took us on streets we all ride during the week, when we’re out for just an hour or so. It was fun to adopt the spirit of the ride, and chat with other riders as we worked our way up a nice bike-laned street to a turnaround point. Then we headed for a new housing development way at the south end of our area. The extension of our main drag goes on for another two miles or so, until we had to stop and do a U-turn when the road ran out.

Off to the Veloway for a quick lap. A few riders took that opportunity to put the hammer down, and disappeared. “It’s like you said in one of your previous blog posts,” Rick commented. “Riding easy is hard.”

Cyclists head toward the Veloway on a beautiful December morning.

Cyclists head toward the Veloway on a beautiful December morning. (Click all pictures to enlarge.)

The temperature, which had started at about 54 degrees (12C), was now warming up to the point that some of us had to stop to peel off layers. I was comfortable in a base layer under my cycling jersey, and arm warmers. Some had bundled up for much colder weather.

After shedding layers, we're ready to head out again. Rick is at right.

After shedding layers, we’re ready to head out again. Rick is at right.

We went up a hill that isn’t very steep, but its length makes it a challenge, then headed back toward Starbucks. We had already gone about 15 miles, and Rick was looking for a ride in the 30-mile range.

That meant we weren’t going to stop for coffee, but plunged on to the north, where my old friend Convict Hill awaits. I usually ride Convict Hill first if I’m going to include it on my route. Now, it presented more of a challenge, because my legs were starting to tire.

At the top of Convict Hill, we had the option to take a side street down the backside. Coming back up is tough. I skipped the first one, but when we came to a second side street with a good drop, I joined in.

The first riders approach the crest of the hill. Yeah, it's steep.

The first riders approach the crest of the hill. Yeah, it’s steep.

Rick couldn’t resist one more climb before we left Convict Hill. I do it all the time, but today it knocked me out. The rest of the group got well ahead of me as I struggled to keep the pedals turning.

The nice part about Convict Hill is coming down. We get to use a bike lane on a smooth asphalt road, and hit speeds of 32-33 mph. But at the bottom, I could only see one other cyclist make the turn to head back south. Everyone else was well out in front.

One of the best parts of our club ride is socializing at the end. While a few decided to keep going to add more miles, most of us stopped for warm beverages and conversation. I had expected to do around 40 miles today. I did 28. With the hills near the end of the ride, it felt like 40, or more. I’ll have to incorporate this route into my own repertoire of neighborhood rides. It’s a good one.

Some of the group relax after the ride.

Some of the group relax after the ride.

Click on the map to go to the Map My Ride page for this route.

Click on the map to go to the Map My Ride page for this route.

The 15-mile ride

The other day, I was all geared up for a ride. It was a beautiful day in Central Texas, and the road was calling. But my wife had other ideas.

“We need to leave for the tile store at 10 a.m.,” she said. “So I think you should forget about a ride for today.”

“It’s only 8,” I responded. “Tell you what. I’ll go for a ride, but I won’t be gone for more than one hour.”

“See that you’re not,” she replied.

I knew I’d be back on time. I had the route fixed in my head. It’s a nice route through our neighborhood, which means it runs primarily on suburban arterials, which aren’t very busy once morning rush hour is over. I pumped up my tires and headed out.

The first mile runs me down to the Starbucks, where our club rides begin. After sitting through a traffic light and crossing the busy road, I’m on a gentle upslope for about a half mile. Then, it’s a right turn at the top of the hill.

Another mile and a half brings me to another right turn. This road is one that leads out of our subdivision. It’s relatively new, because the houses along this stretch have been built only in the last five years or so. It’s also nice and wide, with a generous bike lane. I have the option to branch off the road onto some residential loops, but passed them up this day.

A little over four miles into the ride, I reach the notorious 1826. It’s a road for bikers to avoid, because it’s twisty, hilly, and narrow, with no bike lane, and traffic that screams along at 65 mph. We often fantasize about what a great biking road it would be, if only we could count on no traffic.

Anyhow, I make a U-turn there, and double back a way. Then, I’m in a different part of the subdivision. With a prevailing wind from the southeast in these parts, I’m pushed along in the high 20′s for awhile. Then, a right turn, and I’m more or less against the wind again.

But now I have a nice downhill. It’s not a big one, but the road here is especially wide, with very little traffic. At the bottom of the hill, I’m often approaching 35 mph as I ease over to the center of the road and hope there will be no cross traffic (and if there is, that it will stop at the stop sign, and let me go by). Once, a couple of years ago, a car decided to pull out in front of me as I approached the intersection. I did my best emergency stop, kept the bike under control, and when the driver saw me bearing down on him, he slammed on his brakes. I got by unscathed.

Now, another jaunt through some routine residential streets. At an elementary school, I take a right turn. Within a half mile, I find myself at Austin’s Veloway. One lap around the three-mile track, and I can head home — another three miles.

I arrived in our driveway in plenty of time, and could shower and change well within the 10 a.m. deadline. The nice part about this ride is that it comes out to almost exactly 15 miles, so if my goal is to complete it in one hour, I have to push a bit in some spots. So in addition to being a nice one-hour ride, it’s also a good workout. I can work intervals or fartlek into the ride with no trouble at all.

Some days, I just don’t want to spend more than an hour in the saddle. When that happens, I know I’ve got just the ride.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Changing a Flat

I was delighted when my friend Debra invited everyone out to ride with her and Russ south of Dripping Springs. I haven’t been out there for some time. Debra is just about recovered from foot surgery, and is easing back into riding. So I responded that I would be there.

The usual B contingent bowed out, because of injuries or out-of-town commitments. I thought I would be the only one joining them on this morning’s ride.

So I was pleased see a group of people unloading bikes when I arrived at the park on the west side of Dripping Springs at 8:15 Sunday morning. Brian, one of the B’s, had just returned from out of the country, and George and Steve, two A riders, had showed up. So had Don, who is new to the club. An eighth, Ira, was running late, but said by phone that he would catch up to us.

He did, about nine or ten miles into the ride. Ira is really fast when he wants to be, although he maintains that distance riding is what he does best. It wasn’t long before he and the other A’s were well ahead of us.

But we had agreed to meet him at the crest of a hill with a great view, and even though he joined us before that point, everyone stopped when we got there. Debra was befuddled, and wondered why we weren’t going down the hill. But we all seemed content to rest and chat a bit.

Debra anticipates the big downhill we'll soon enjoy.

Debra anticipates the big downhill we’ll soon enjoy.

A curious sound made everyone pay attention. It sounded just like air escaping from a tire. We pinpointed it to Ira’s bike.

“Yep,” he said, pinching the rear tire. “It’s dead.”

The group watches Ira work at changing his flat.

The group watches Ira work at changing his flat.

Okay, we were going to be here awhile. There are worse places to take a break. Ira fiddled with the tire a bit, trying to find the cause of the leak. And why, when he was stopped for several minutes, would it suddenly start leaking?

He narrowed it down to a faulty tire valve, and began the process of replacing the tube.

Ira works on his flat.

Ira works on his flat.

Now, Ira is old school, and prefers to use a hand pump to inflate his tires, but he had neglected to bring one on today’s ride. Don offered him a mini-pump, and Ira started pumping up the tire, but the process was slow, and another rider suggested he use a CO2 inflator.

“Here, I’ve got the kind with threads,” said one.

“I’ve got this kind, unthreaded,” said another

Debra was getting impatient. “I’ve got this, I’ve got that, you got that? I got this!” she muttered.

Ira came up with one of those hand-held containers for a cartridge, but couldn’t figure out how to get it to trigger. He was concerned his cartridges would misfire, and wanted to get it right the first time.

He tried a little chuck that screws onto the cartridge, and fires by turning it slightly. “It works!”

“Hey, I got this one to work, too,” said George, who had been messing with the plastic unit with the trigger.

Didn’t matter, Ira was satisfied with the pressure in his tire, and he mounted it back on the bike.

"I know what you're doing," Steve says. "You're getting proof that I do slow rides, too."

“I know what you’re doing,” Steve says. “You’re getting proof that I do slow rides, too.”

The odd thing about this whole adventure was, every one of the riders out today has been at it for years, and every one can change a flat in about 10 minutes. And yet, we resembled the Keystone Cops getting this one tube replaced.

And that’s probably why our Sunday B rides are such low-key events. No pressure, no sense of urgency to complete the repair and get back on the road. We flew down the hill, through a ranch, and then decided to take the short route back to the start. It would mean only about 26 miles for us, although with the hills it felt like 40. Several of us capped off the ride with Mexican food for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

“What do you think?” asked Ira, sipping his iced tea. “Was that a typical B ride?”

“More like a B-minus, I think,” I replied. The A’s did 57 miles and had several flats on messy roads. Once again, their ride broke up as some riders shot off the front, and others were unsure about the route. We finished mostly together.

“I like riding out here,” said Steve, who has been the state champion in his age group for both the time trial and the road race. “I can look at the scenery and talk with my friends. Not every ride has to be a hammerfest.”

I agree.

Riding Backward

A good friend of mine has been missing from our club rides lately. When I ran into him recently, he said he had just become bored with riding the same old routes.

It’s true — because of our location on the southwest side of the city, we’re limited in our options for getting out and exploring different areas. Mostly, we head south or southeast. Going north toward downtown is problematic, because we’re blocked by freeways and a rugged creek valley. Going west — well, there just aren’t a lot of roads in that direction. So we wind up riding the same set of routes over and over.

That carries over into my solo rides, as well. There might be more variations possible over 20 miles compared to 40, if I’m willing to try different residential streets just to mix things up. But riding in a more restricted area becomes predictable pretty quickly.

But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found a way that breaks up the routine — at least for me. I ride backwards.

No, I haven’t mastered a circus rider’s trick of actually mounting the bike backwards and pedaling that way. I’ve broken up my routine by changing the direction in which I ride my usual routes. I reverse direction.

Take Sunday’s ride. It goes through a nice neighborhood that has its own ring road. I ride along a major arterial until I can enter the neighborhood at a stop lighted intersection. Then, I ride the ring road in a counterclockwise direction. It’s about four miles in all, much of it in a bike lane, but almost all of it on wide, smooth roads.

But I was with a group I don’t often ride with Sunday, and they entered the neighborhood via the back door, so to speak — a little two-lane street that feeds into the ring road. Then, we rode the ring in a clockwise direction. One thing that became clear riding this way is that the four miles is just enough downhill to make it quick and entertaining.

One of the guys in our group was surprised when I told him I ride in the opposite direction. His routine is to always ride it clockwise. He said he’d have to try it my way sometime.

Then, this morning I went out for a 20-or-so mile ride. I did a version of my Friday evening route — but I decided to ride the whole thing in the opposite direction. Instead of finishing up with a couple of laps on the Veloway, I started there. Then, I rode through a residential area to a decent hill that I usually come down. This time, I went up it. It’s not all that tough, and I was able to do some intervals on the hill.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like that big a deal to you. Maybe you already do this as a matter of course. Well, I’m often slow in catching on to these types of things. But if you’re in a riding rut, try reversing your routes. It might be just the thing to snap you out of it.

July Fourth Solo Ride

Someone in the club posted a ride for the Fourth of July, with one big difference: He wanted to start it at 7:30 a.m. instead of our usual 8:15. Since the mornings around here have been delightful lately, a lot of folks chimed in that they would be there.

His route was pretty ambitious, and he let it be known that the pace would be fast. I proposed an alternate route for the B’s, and said I would be there ready to go at 7:30.

The best laid plans…

It was 7:30 when I pulled out of my driveway. The Starbucks where we start our rides is less than 5 minutes from my house, so I wasn’t too concerned. I don’t recall a time when the club has begun its rides exactly on time.

But as I pulled into the parking lot, there was not a cyclist to be seen. Some folks at an outdoor table told me the group had left about 3 or 4 minutes earlier. “They went out on Slaughter,” the man said.

That made sense. It’s the quickest way to get to the start of the route they’d planned, and this early on a holiday morning, there wouldn’t be much traffic. I turned out onto the road and pedaled briskly.

If I could just catch a glimpse of them in the distance, I was pretty sure I would catch up to them at some point. A couple of B riders should be with the group, and we could branch off to an easier ride of our own.

In another couple of miles, I saw three cyclists ahead. Hm. They probably weren’t part of the club ride, I thought. But when the road curved left, I could see a large peloton ahead of the three. A ha! That must be them after all. I redoubled my efforts.

But I caught a red light, and lost ground to them. Still, after two more miles, I could see them in the distance once again. By now, I had gone about 10 miles, and realized I had yet to drink from my water bottle — a bad habit I get into if I’m distracted by other cares, like catching a group that was probably riding faster than me.

Now, the route approached Buda, which is usually a stop and regroup spot for us. I wasn’t sure if they planned to stop this early in the ride, but my hopes were high. Sure enough, when I turned into the Walgreens at the edge of town, there they were — a large bunch of cyclists.

Problem was, they weren’t from my club. This route is a popular one with Austin bikers, and it was clear that another group was taking this same way. I didn’t stop, but pedaled past them and struck out on the road again.

South of Buda, a good two-lane road passes a cement plant. It’s just uphill enough to be annoying, and it’s not a fast stretch for me. But today, I pedaled hard.

It didn’t do any good. I soon heard the familiar, “On your left,” and moved over slightly to be passed.

“Me too,” said another voice. “And me,” warbled a third. “We’re not done yet,” said yet another. That whole bunch I had left at the Walgreens passed me, with the most embarrassing one being a guy on a fixie. Fixies are cool. Unless they pass me.

Kyle was another six miles ahead. A convenience store stop there is almost obligatory for Austin cyclists, and I figured I’d catch my club at that point. A few riders from that Walgreens group straggled enough that I jumped into their little train, and we cruised into the convenience store stop.

Nope. This strage group was the only one around. I refilled my water bottle and had a couple of fig bars. My bike computer said I’d come 20-some miles at a 16.9 mph pace.

That both cheered me and concerned me. I don’t ride that fast. It felt good to have done that pace for 90 minutes, but I worried about having enough gas in the tank for the return trip. Only one way to find out.

The group ride left before me, so when I hit the road again, I was by myself. I rode steadily, not trying to push it on sections where I know I can go fast. The return trip was uneventful, until I cut through the local high school’s parking lot and prepared to turn onto Slaughter. “That looks like Ray,” said a female voice. It was Victoria, a fairly new member of our club, with her husband, Mark. I rode back to Starbucks with them.

“We got dropped just outside of Buda,” Victoria said, when we were back at Starbucks. “They were on a mission, and were determined to go fast and far. I was the only B on the ride, and just couldn’t keep up.” Victoria is more like a B+ rider — maybe even an A-. Anyway, she’s faster than me when she wants to be.

I looked at Mark. “Nice of you to stay back with Victoria,” I said.

“Happy wife, happy life,” he replied.

I said my goodbyes and headed home. The bike computer showed that although I had slowed some on the return leg, I was still averaging over 16 mph for 41 miles. Compared to the 14.7 or so I typically register on B rides, that was hot stuff. I put the bike away, pleased at how the day had gone.

Maybe missing the ride start wasn’t so bad, after all.