Vignettes From a Ride

Our Sunday morning club ride promised to be routine. The A’s were going some distance southeast of Austin, while Maggie and I decided to do a B ride to the south. The forecast was promising: in the 60s (18C), partly sunny, and zero chance of rain.

My glasses were covered in mist as I pedaled over to the ride start, and it was chilly enough that I wondered if I had underdressed. After faffing around and finally starting three minutes behind schedule, we made a long line along the road as we struck out from our Starbucks.

But at our first left turn, we left one behind. Jerry had taken off his windbreaker and stuffed it in his pocket, and lagged behind us at the start. We all made the left turn before the green arrow turned red — all except Jerry. “Hey, slow up!” shouted one of the A riders. “Jerry got stuck at the light!”

In true club fashion, we continued on without missing a pedal stroke. A little over two miles later, I looked back over my shoulder, and could see Jerry gaining on the group. Once he caught up, the A’s took off, and Maggie and I eased off on our speed.

The mist was coming and going, and wasn’t much of a bother, but the sky was so overcast, I wondered if I shouldn’t take off my sunglasses — they were making things darker. No big deal, though, and we cruised through Buda and out to Cole Springs Road.

It’s Maggie’s favorite road, because it’s rural and tree lined. It’s not my favorite, because it’s quite rough. But it’s an enjoyable ride. As we rounded a bend, I saw a hound dog catch sight of us, and decide we would be fun to ride with. He was on a lawn that was elevated about four feet above our road, and kept stable by a stone retaining wall. The dog ran parallel to us, then loped along on top of the wall. I wondered what he would do when he got to the end of the property. He jumped down off the wall onto the road, and came toward us.

When he was even with me, I held up my hand and shouted, “Stay!” He pulled up immediately, and sat down in the middle of the road. A well-trained dog. We should always be so lucky in our dog encounters.

flycatcherWe spotted a couple of scissor-tailed flycatchers perched on a telephone line. Their long, split tails are pretty neat.

At the turnaround in Kyle, we caught up with three of the club riders, who had decided not to take the longer route the main club ride was on. But after chatting a few minutes, they set off on the return trip. We had some housekeeping to take care of, so we stuck around for a few more minutes.

Heading back north, we were into the wind. Not a strong wind, but enough to keep our speeds down. It was easy to fall into a medium-intensity pedaling rhythm, and even though we weren’t going to set any speed records, we had a nice, steady ride home.

Once we got to Slaughter Lane, we had to make our usual decision. Do we take the lane on a fast, four-lane divided suburban arterial, or do we ride the sidewalk? We opted for the sidewalk. Traffic was heavier than we’d seen on recent Sunday mornings, and the prospect of dodging impatient motorists didn’t appeal to us.

But about a mile up the road, a problem appeared. “Mud!” I yelled to Maggie. The previous day’s rains had washed mud across the sidewalk. My front wheel hit it, and almost stopped dead. I powered through, and hoped Maggie would make it. She did, just barely. We hit another patch of mud a little farther up, and our tires threw chunks of the moist earth on our legs, torsos and faces for the rest of the ride.

Sitting around an outdoor table at Starbucks, we waved off mosquitoes. With our recent rains, they’re out in force. “You know, when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, we had mosquitoes, but they only came out at night,” observed Judy. Texas mosquitoes are diurnal as well as nocturnal.

“Say, Joe, there’s a cool car,” I said, as I pointed at a sleek black Porsche coming through the lot. Joe is a fan of fast cars, and we watched the coupe as it passed by the exit from the drive thru, and parked along the curb. The driver got out and walked into the Starbucks.

“That’s not a parking spot,” said Laura. “He’s going to block other cars.”

He did. Cars had trouble turning from the drive thru exit past his car into the lot.

“What an entitled, arrogant, SOB,” said Maggie. “There’s a parking spot right over there. I should go into the store and ask him if I can move his car to it.”

A routine, fun, ride. I did 42 miles at a 15 mph average — good for me. Maybe next week, the forecast will be right, and we can be accurately prepared for what we run into.

Do You Shave Your Legs Yet?

You should. At least, if you’re a racer guy type of rider.

Even since I began road cycling, I’ve been reading of the debate over leg shaving. To me, the arguments in favor never seemed compelling enough. Band-Aids will come off easier after a crash. It’s more aerodynamic (Yeah, right). It’s easier to slide tights or leg warmers over them when it’s chilly outside.

Then, I learned that some friends were shaving their legs. Heck, even one of our fine guest posters gave in to the craze. Bosh, says I.

But another friend pointed me to a video posted by the folks over at Specialized bikes. They actually conducted experiments in a wind tunnel to see if leg shaving had any benefits. The quick answer: You betcha.

Riders who shaved their legs saved an average of 70 seconds over 40 kilometers. Being able to finish more than a minute ahead of your competition just might make shaving worth it. Take a look at the video.

But for me, racing never was a consideration. And whether I finish my Sunday ride a minute or so faster doesn’t matter in the least. What does is whether I had fun, whether I shared some good times with friends, and whether I got some much-needed exercise. I will continue to view leg shaving as a silly affectation of our sport.

But if you decide to go that route, I will no longer ridicule you.


A Different Kind of Clipless Fall

Had a great Sunday ride in fall temperatures. I enjoy riding in arm warmers, and the cooler weather might have been a factor in my improved performance on hills. I had a PR on one hill that has bedeviled me for years.

I approached the house after a little more than two hours on the bike, thinking about all the work I had to do for the rest of the day. I turned into the driveway, applied the brakes, unclipped my right foot, put it down, and turned the handlebars slightly to the right.

A picture perfect finish to the ride. But then I slightly raised my right foot at the same time I attempted to unclip from the left pedal. For some reason, the cleat wouldn’t come loose. But the shift in weight rocked the front wheel over to the left, and I felt that familiar old feeling — I was going down on my left side, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.

This time, I quickly got the bike off my body and sprang up, looking up and down the block to see if any of the neighbors had seen my embarrassing tumble. No one was outside. Dignity intact.

Clipless falls happen to every rider, I’m sure. I had mine early on, but I’ve also had some after riding for some time. But I’ver never had one when I was stopped with one foot already on the ground.

No pictures. I got the bike into the garage and closed the door behind me.

I Suck At Mountain Biking

Instead of the usual Sunday road ride, my friend Maggie and I decided to get out the mountain bikes this morning. She put an invitation to join us on our club’s message board, but we had no takers. When we showed up at the club ride start, some of the roadies greeted us with bemusement at our getup, but soon we left in different directions.

Our target was Bauerle Ranch, a subdivision surrounded by nice singletrack trails. (I’ve written about it before.) We had had a little bit of rain overnight, and the dew point was high, so once we got onto the trails close to home, we could see that today’s ride would be somewhat muddy.

The thin grass along the trail has exploded in growth with all the rain over the past couple of weeks, and being wet, it gave us leg baths as we pedaled along the skinny trail.

But the rain had had another effect, too: It put a lot more rocks across the trail. I don’t mind rock gardens the way I used to, but the ones today were loose, and I could feel my rear wheel skid out to the side when it glanced off them. Nothing serious, but I did find myself stop and walk over a couple of areas that I had ridden just weeks ago.


At Bauerle Ranch, the trail starts out as easy singletrack, but soon starts to dip with lots of rocks to navigate. I was leading the way, and came around a corner to see a large rock in the middle of the track. The front wheel slid a bit, and I realized I  would not be able to navigate around the rock — but I wasn’t about to hit it, either. Yeah, right. I hit the brake — the front brake — at the same time the front wheel hit the rock.

Bam! Endover! My right leg slammed into another rock along the trail, and I wound up on my bottom, legs across the trail and my bike on top of them. Already, I could see blood start to roll down the shinbone. I struggled to get the bike off me, as Maggie sympathized.

“What a sight you are right now!” she exclaimed. “I wish I had a GoPro for that one.”

“It felt like I was going over in slow motion,” I said.

“It looked like it, too,” she shot back.

After the crash, the sticky blood on the knee collected grass and other crud that I didn't find until the end of the ride.

After the crash, the sticky blood on the knee collected grass and other crud that I didn’t find until the end of the ride.

I got untangled, and we mounted back up and kept going. The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. Maggie got well ahead of me when I slowed to chat with another biker we encountered, and when I caught up to her, she was at the side of the Veloway, intently staring at the ground.

“Look at this cool spider!” she said. “It was in the middle of the Veloway, so I got it off to the side so it wouldn’t get run over.”

A bit hard to make out, because it's well-camoflaged against the pavement of the Veloway.

A bit hard to make out, because it’s well-camoflaged against the pavement of the Veloway.

It was cool, but neither of us had any idea what it was. (If you know, fill me in.) We left it, and headed home.

Back at Starbucks, we got to assess just how muddy we were from the day’s ride. Our bikes took the brunt of it, but we were well-spotted, too.

Muddy buddies.

Muddy buddies.

It was good to get back on the mountain bike again. But I still suck at it. I’ll keep flailing away, and hope to get better.

The Lost Weekend

The_Lost_Weekend_posterNo, this post is not about a Ray Milland film from the 1940s. I’ll be traveling this weekend to Oklahoma, where I will attend a conference. That means much of my time will be spent sitting in open, airy rooms where they pack in too many seats, listening to speakers who never learned how to make an effective presentation.

The downside of that (you mean, that was the upside?) is that I won’t be able to get in any biking.

With any luck, I’ll be back Sunday in time to take out the mountain bike for awhile. Its gears are all working properly now, but I haven’t ridden it since I got it back from the mechanic two weeks ago. We’ve had a lot of rain around here lately, and the trails have been muddy. They ought to be dry enough to ride now.

Don’t cha just hate it when the demands of everyday life trump the fun stuff?

The Spam is Outta Control

WordPress, the platform I use for this blog, has a pretty good spam catcher. I know it’s pretty good, because every morning when I check my dashboard it tells me it caught x number of spam comments.

But it’s having a tough time keeping up with the barrage of spam that’s been hitting me lately. Monday, it caught almost 200 spam comments. This morning, another 79.

The problem is, with that many comments barraging the blog, some spam is bound to get through. So after deleting the dozens of comments WordPress managed to catch, I have to go back and delete the ones that got through, one by one.

Most often, the readers of this blog won’t even be aware of the spam that got through the gates, because the spammers pick ancient posts to spam — from two or three years ago, or even older than that.

This morning, they got to a post from just last week. I cleared it off, but also deleted a legitimate comment by a reader who responded to the spam. I hope I didn’t offend him by doing so.

I don’t know of a way around the problem. I’ll keep deleting the junk that gets through, and remain grateful that WordPress is as good as it is at catching most of the malefactors.