Felt Like Old Times

Judy, one of our club’s A riders, has been bothered by knee pains lately, so when she posted that she would like to do a slower-paced ride instead of the usual A riders’ sufferfest, I was interested.

She wanted to go at about a 14-15 mph pace, out to the gas station in Kyle, about 23 miles to the south. The main A ride had left at 7:30, and when we showed up for the 8:15 ride, we found about seven others who wanted to take the ride.

It started out briskly, with a run down the four-lane divided Slaughter Lane. At this hour, traffic was light. We turned onto Brodie, and I saw that instead of the 14-15 mph average Judy had advertised, we were cruising at 20+.

One of the newer riders packed it in at that point, deciding that he wouldn’t be able to keep up. Judy razzed the guy who had been setting the pace about going too fast. He said he wasn’t aware of the posted speed, and slowed down.

He dropped back, and I stayed on his wheel. I could feel myself being pulled along by his draft, and was glad not to be using too much effort so early in the ride.

The pace stayed steady. We cruised through Buda and out to Ranch Road 1626. I was a bit worried about my rear tire. It has a gouge in its tread, and I’ve bought a replacement, but after a day of yard work the previous day, I hadn’t bothered to mount it on the bike yet. I crossed my fingers that it would hold up through the ride.

As we approached Kyle, I took stock of my situation. I felt great. I was keeping up with the bunch (the remaining four in the group were all A riders) and I wasn’t working too hard to do it.

At the Kyle convenience store, I came across a weird combination I've never seen before. Hangover remedy?

At the Kyle convenience store, I came across a weird combination I’ve never seen before. Hangover remedy? (Click to enlarge.)

At the convenience store where we turned around, I treated myself to a PayDay bar, and noticed how short these folks make their rest stops, compared to us B’s. We’ll sit around for at least 15 minutes and maybe longer. Today, we were back on the road in 10.

Although the route is essentially an out and back, we do make a few variations. One of them is a run on Cement Plant Road. Its real name is ranch Road 2770, but since it passes a cement plant…

The nice thing about this three-mile stretch is that it’s a little bit downhill. I always look forward to it, because I can turn on the jets for awhile. But today, I was losing contact with the group. I had to pedal hard to close the gap, just in time to reach a section where we could cruise at 28 mph.

Cement Plant Road. It ain't scenic, but it's fast.

Cement Plant Road. It ain’t scenic, but it’s fast. (Google StreetView)

About a mile out of Buda, we were in a quick pace line, but I at the rear was moving faster than the group. I pulled out into the traffic lane, and stomped on it. The bike responded, no doubt helped by the light tailwind. I passed all four of them, and stayed in the lead until we reached the first intersection in town.

There some mutters of “sandbagger” under a few breaths, although most of them congratulated me on the move.

“You realize I’ll be toast for the rest of the ride,” I said.

I was a bit tired, but still managed to keep up the rest of the way back. Judy, her husband Joe, and I were the only ones left when we reached Starbucks. We grabbed an outdoor table in a shady spot, since the temperature had climbed. It wasn’t long before the A ride came in, and a little table for four was surrounded by 10 or 12 cyclists, sharing wisecracks about each other’s performance on the day’s ride, going off on tangents about any number of topics, and generally just enjoying the day.

When I joined the club six years ago, this is the way rides were. Lately, I’ve ridden apart from most of them, sticking with a few B-level riders, riding slower, not going back for the post-ride coffee klatch. My connection to the club was becoming weaker. Today, I reminded myself of the improvement that comes with riding with people who are faster. In fact, my Strava stats for the day included 14 personal segment records. It felt good to be back on track.

Star-Spangled Pfssst!

“Want to ride on the Fourth?” asked Maggie.

“Sure,” I said. “Road or mountain?”

“Hmm, your choice.”

“I feel like a trail ride,” I replied. We agreed to meet at 8:30 at Starbucks.

I’ve mentioned the choice of mountain biking trails around here. Instead of going to the Slaughter Creek Preserve Trail, to the west, we opted to ride the singletrack through the Circle C Ranch metro park. We could cover some ground that way, and Maggie hadn’t seen some of those areas before.

After a tentative start, we found our legs. I glanced off a boulder and fell, but didn’t get hurt, and we made good time through the rough, mostly narrow, trail.

When the trail ended and we hit the streets of a residential area, we bumped into a little neighborhood 4th of July parade.

Kids with bikes decorated in red, white and blue made up most of the parade. We stumbled upon it just as it was breaking up. (Click all pix to enlarge.)

Kids with bikes decorated in red, white and blue made up most of the parade. We stumbled upon it just as it was breaking up. (Click all pix to enlarge.)

Some Chevys from the1950s also took part in the parade.

Some Chevys from the1950s also took part in the parade.

We decided to keep heading east, to a subdivision called Bauerle Ranch. When it was built a few years ago, the developers left in a network of trails. Neither of us had ever ridden there, and we wanted to see what they looked like.

Pretty much the same as the trails we had just ridden — that is, typical for this part of Texas. As I led the way through the unfamiliar territory, I was focused on the track ahead. Maggie called out to stop me.

“I want to take a look at this tree!” she called.

I doubled back, and was not disappointed. It was the biggest live oak I’ve ever seen. A nice bench had been installed along the trail next to the tree, and we decided to take a break there.

The twisted, gnarled live oak dwarfed Maggie.

The twisted, gnarled live oak dwarfed Maggie.

One of the tree's trunks sagged to the ground, where it embedded itself. Impressive.

One of the tree’s trunks sagged to the ground, where it embedded itself. Impressive.

A mountain biker of a certain age came by while we admired the tree. He bikes these trails a lot, and gave us an idea of where we might go from this point on. After a chat of several minutes, he moved on.

“That’s what I like about mountain bikers,” Maggie said.

“What?” I asked. “That they’re sociable?”

“Yeah. Road bikers don’t talk to you much. Mountain bikers will talk to other mountain bikers with no hesitation.”

Selfie time! In high spirits, before Maggie's flat.

Selfie time! In high spirits, before Maggie’s flat.

We continued on, and found the lollipop loop the guy had mentioned, and were soon heading back the way we had come.

“Aaaagh! Ray! A flat!” she yelled.

Her front tire had hit something, and was as flat as it could get. I thought we were getting close to the trail head, but wasn’t sure just how far it was. The roof of a nearby house seemed to indicate it was pretty close. Maggie thought she could use a CO2 cartridge to fill the flat temporarily, and hope it would get us back on the streets. In the meantime, I called my wife and asked her to come get us.

The CO2 worked for about 10 seconds. We took turns carrying her bike out of the overgrown parkland. I was right — the beginning of the trail was not far. We walked a few blocks on suburban streets, when my wife pulled up and we could load the bikes on the rack and head home.

Why didn’t we just fix the flat on the trail? Maggie’s bike, a new Trek 29er, has disc brakes. It needs an Allen wrench to get the front wheel off. She had all the gear she needed to fix a flat — but no Allen wrench. Lesson learned — by both of us.

The Case of the Missing Strava Data

UnknownOn that ride over the weekend where I ran out of gas, I also had another setback. When I got home and took out my iPhone to upload my Strava data — there was none.

This is not the first time it’s happened. The Strava app zeroes out, and I can’t recover the data it recorded during the ride. I didn’t mind that much the first time it happened. But it’s happened to me at least three times in the last three months, and it’s bugging me.

I use the free version of the Strava app for the iPhone.

When we do our club rides, I start Strava when I leave my house. it’s a mile to the Starbucks where we start our rides, and I have about 15 minutes to sit around and chat with other riders before we leave. It occurred to me that while sitting in a chair, I might have leaned against the chair back, and that could have pressed a button on the app.

Well, maybe that happened once (I can’t say it did), but since then, I’ve been making sure I don’t sit in a chair.

But I do take a long break in the ride. As I said, 15 minutes before the club ride. During the ride, I often stop for another 10-15 minutes to rest, refill water bottles, and shoot the breeze. That pause doesn’t seem to affect Strava, because it’s recorded data on those rides more often than not.

On those times when it zeroes out the data, I have noticed that Strava is open to a different page when I take the phone out of my pocket. Instead of being on the “Record” mode, it is on Challenges, or something in the “More” section, which includes the Strava Shop, or the link to Premium. It’s when I click back to Record that I get zero.

I have no clue what’s causing it. Have you had any similar experiences with your Strava?

Just Didn’t Have It

Saturday, I had a good neighborhood ride after coming back from a week’s layoff. A trip to the local bike shop took care of my spoke problem, and the bike is rolling smoothly again. I even set a new PR on a Strava segment. In short, I was looking forward to our Sunday club ride.

I had put out a call on our club’s Yahoo board for B riders to come on out. We haven’t been getting any B’s lately — just me and Maggie — and we were looking for company. So I was pleased to see Brian when I got to Starbucks. Brian has been working in Mexico for the last six months — he does something managerial with oil rigs — so he hasn’t been able to ride with us. We did get a new B rider, Joe, who had ridden with us two weeks ago and realized that to keep up, he needed to get clipless pedals and shoes with cleats. But the rest of the group of eight were A riders, who didn’t want to get up early for the new 7:30 start time the A’s now use.

Eight riders — three of them named Joe.

I felt okay as we left Starbucks, but after only about three miles, I could tell this wouldn’t be my day. I felt blah. I couldn’t keep up with the group on the small hills through a nearby community. Maggie wasn’t doing well, either.

Tired_Cyclist.png“My son woke up at 3 a.m. with a nightmare,” she said. “I never did get back to sleep.”

In my case, I went to bed too late, and had trouble falling asleep. It appeared we both got less than five hours. On top of that, our house was out of both eggs and oatmeal, so my breakfast wasn’t as hearty as I’d like.

By the time we reached the turnoff for the zoo, only three of us were left — the others were out of sight. Jim stayed with us, because even though he’s an A rider, he hasn’t ridden with us much lately. He’d also never been on this route.

“I just don’t have it this morning,” said Maggie, as we struggled up the grade out of the valley near the zoo. But when we got to an intersection where we could have turned back, she insisted we keep going.

I got a second wind of sorts, and we made good time through the middle section of the ride. But then the hills came again. A longish one along a busy six-lane road is still showing the effects of a chip seal job that had been done some years ago. The road surface is pretty good, but bikes don’t tamp down the chip seal on shoulders very well. It was rough.

I knew I was in trouble when Maggie passed me and easily pulled away on the hill. She doesn’t do that often. I pedaled through the rolling section after the hill in one gear lower than usual, not able to catch Maggie. I wasn’t having much fun.

At a stoplight, both Maggie and Jim turned right and stopped. I caught up to them.

“Why did you turn here?” I asked. “Aren’t you going on to Travis Country?” (A nice residential area another mile or two ahead that is a regular part of this route.)

“Well…” Maggie started.

“Listen,” I said. “I just don’t have it today. I’m all for heading straight back now.”

A smile lit up her face. She hadn’t wanted to be the one to cut the ride short, but she was happy to go along when I did.

The last three miles home were into a stiff headwind. On a hill where I have clocked 35 mph in the past, I couldn’t nudge it above 27. Even then, we were in danger of being knocked off our bikes by sudden crosswinds. At the next light, Maggie said she wouldn’t go back to Starbucks with us, but would continue straight on to her house.

When I got home, my bike computer registered only 22 miles — well short of our typical Sunday ride distances. I was wiped out. After a shower, I couldn’t wait to flop in front of the TV and watch some World Cup action (Go Holland!). Didn’t I say something just last week about needing to do a better job of sleeping? Another resolution discarded. But I can’t keep turning in these sub-par performances. I resolve again to sleep better — we’ll see if this one holds any better than my other resolutions.


Tone Deaf

A few days ago, I posted about a ride I took that tired me out much quicker than it should have. I thought it was because I had had too little sleep the night before. Wrong-o.

The next morning, as I rolled the bike out of the garage to put it in my car for a trip to the bike shop, I noticed the rear wheel was binding a bit. At one point in its rotation, a definite drag could be felt. I examined the brake, and saw that the right side of the rear brake rubbed the wheel at that spot. Ah ha! With that drag on the wheel, it was no wonder I was tired trying to keep up.

Later, I rolled the bike into the bike shop. “I need a new chain,” I told one of the mechanics. “And this brake is binding a little.”

“Let me see that,” said the owner of the shop, as he came out from behind the service counter. He took the bike and put it up on a stand.

“Yep, you’ve got a broken spoke,” he said.

“What?” I exclaimed. I went back to the service area.

“Yeah, here, and here — and here’s a third one,” he said. “That caused the brake problem.”

I told him about the ride.

“Well, one spoke breaks, and that puts extra tension on the others, and they can fail, too,” he said.

I told him I’d pick the bike up later in the week.

“Want me to give the drive train a good cleaning, too?” he asked. “This bike has been…uh…well used.”

Thanks. I told him to go ahead, and stewed in my car the rest of the way home. Thinking back to the ride, I remembered one spot in particular. We had slowed to look at some birds along the road, when I heard an odd sound — like a ping — come from the rear wheel. I thought it was odd, and it was a sound I’d never heard before. But I didn’t think anything of it, and we resumed our ride.

Trouble was, at that point we were still about 15 miles from home. And we still had some rollers to ride, as well as two good-sized hills.

Despite my tiredness, I managed to keep up most of the way home, until the last mile when Maggie pulled well ahead of me. I must really be tired, I thought.

Stupid me. That ping I heard was the first spoke letting go. I didn’t do anything about it, because I wasn’t curious enough to check on where such an odd sound could come from in the bike. I wonder how many spokes had broken by the time we took our rest stop with eight miles to go. I wonder how long it would have taken for the whole wheel to collapse.

Oh, and I have to give my bike a good cleaning, too.

Steel is Real

Occasionally, I’ll see a bike, and just drool over it. Guest poster Don Blount, however, is a man of action. When he wants a new bike, he gets one. And in his case, it’s a custom frame. I’m drooling again.

BlountOnBikingI have been busy with work, family and things that usually take our time and attention. But I still made time to ride my bike. That is, my new bike.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

It is a custom, hand-built, steel frame Tallerico bike designed and built by Jon Tallerico of Lodi, California.

And I love it.

It is a wine color with some pearl. So depending on the lighting it can look burgundy, brown, purple and even black.

Here is what strikes me about the bike:

1) It looks small.

The bike has a sloping top tube that allows me to straddle the bike. The long head tube is sort of a Tallerico signature seen in a number of his bikes. Combined, it makes the bike look small to my eye.

2) The bike is beyond comfortable.

The effective top tube length of the new bike is 54 cm, which is the same as my old bike. But the new bike is built around me with what feels like a shorter cockpit area. So my arms can dangle comfortably without me feeling stretched out. The steel frame is stiff but dampening, providing a firm ride but one that is not too stiff. In short, it is comfortable.

And a comfortable bike makes it easy to spend time on the bike.

I have more than 110 hours on this bike since getting it in mid-February. That adds up to more than 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) and 46,000 feet (14,000 meters) of climbing. That includes a metric century, two centuries and a double metric. I can literally, and I have, sat on the bike all day without issue.

The bike is nimble, meaning it is fast, responsive and climbs well. The more I ride it, the more I understand what it can do and the more I enjoy riding it.

For those who like specs: most of the components were swapped from my previous bike, a Scattante CFR Comp. And most of those had I upgraded over the past few years.

Moved to the new bike were: Ritchey carbon bars, Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle, Shimano Ultegra brakes and compact crankset, Ritchey pedals, Shimano 105 shifters, Forte stem, Williams 30X wheels.

New are an FSA carbon seatpost, Bontrager carbon water bottle cages (impractical but a splurge), slightly used Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 front and rear derailleur (more on this in another post), Shimano Ultegra quick release skewers and of course, cables and wires.

The bike also has a carbon Enve front fork and Chris King headset.

Quite frankly, I had no interest in getting a new bike as it was not in my budget or my wish list at the time. A custom-built bike costs about $2,500-$3,000. But when Jon approached me with the idea of building me a bike, he presented an offer that I heartily accepted.

And I am glad he did.

Rollers, Rollers, Rollers

That squeak turned out to be a worn chain. I’ll get a new one this week. In the meantime, I lubed it up and headed out to meet my biking buddy Maggie for a Sunday ride.

I didn’t want to go far because of the chain. She had done a longish ride the day before, and wasn’t up for a long one, either. We set off for Buda, about 15 miles away. When we ride there with the A’s, we often get there in record time. This week, we lazed our way along.

On the outskirts of the small town, we took a bio break at the Walgreen’s. That’s a favorite stopping point for both of us, because the water fountain by the bathrooms always runs cold.

“Where should we go from here?” Maggie asked. We have a routine route — head for the historic downtown area, then make a choice between turning toward Cole Springs Road or heading out on the road past the cement plant. Cole Springs is the more scenic, if rougher, road. The cement plant road is slightly uphill for three miles, and we prefer to take it on the way back, where we can rack up some real speed.

The bike was rolling well with its freshly-lubed chain. I suggested a route we hadn’t taken yet — one I hadn’t ridden in four or five years. We’d turn in the opposite direction, cross under Interstate 35, and pick up the country roads.

Almost as soon as we crossed east of the Interstate, we hit the rollers. This land might be called “Blackland Praire,” but it’s anything but flat. Rollers can be fun, though. Work a bit on your way up, then coast at anywhere from 20-25 mph on your way down. This went on for several miles.

A typical view as we approach more rollers on Turnersville Road.

A typical view as we approach more rollers on Turnersville Road.

A left turn sent us north, but still up and down hills. We saw a dog stick its head out from a driveway some distance ahead, and got ready to fend him off. But he apparently called his friends, and as we got closer, four other dogs dashed out onto the road, charging us and barking loudly.

Two of the dogs were little things, and a shouted, “Stay!” was enough to stop them in their tracks. The first dog we saw looked friendly enough, and hung back, but a brown and white pooch bared its teeth and made some threatening moves. Maggie pulled out her water bottle, ready to squirt. But her yells kept that one away, too — until I drew even with him. He let me get a little ahead, then came after me. I yelled, but that didn’t faze him. Finally, I built up enough speed, and we were far enough past his place, that he stopped.

We turned at a busy ranch road, that led past the local landfill. It’s a huge operation, and its claim to fame is an exotic game ranch around the back side. But this time, a beautiful large African antelope of some kind was right next to the road, behind a fence, of course. I would have stopped for a picture, but the animal was skittish. He backed away when Maggie drew close, and I figured if I stopped, he would run off. I kept going.

Turn again, past some back holes on a golf course, and up and down more rollers. Suddenly, I was having trouble catching Maggie, who was pulling away from me. I realized it wasn’t my bad chain — it was my bad fitness. The previous night, I went to bed an hour earlier than usual, since we were planning an early start this morning. But the dog barked to be let out at 3:45 a.m., and I never got back to sleep. Now, I was feeling it. The tiredness just washed over me.

We had a civil conversation with some guys in a Boss 302 Mustang while waiting at the light to cross I-35 again. They thought what we were doing was dangerous, because the intersection is always busy with heavy traffic. We explained that this was the only way for us to cross the highway, and we’d grit our teeth and get through it as best as we could. Of course, the unspoken subtext was that we weren’t supposed to be riding on the roads. As I say, at least the conversation was civil.

Two miles farther on, I called for a stop at a convenience store. We don’t usually take a break there, with only about eight miles to go before reaching home, but I needed to recharge. Some Shot Bloks, Fig Newtons, and ice water, and I was good to go.

Still had to climb the backside of Davis Hill. By this time, the food from the stop had kicked in, and I had little trouble. “I hate that hill,” Maggie said, and I agreed. I pedaled well all the way back, but later at home, was knocked flat by cramps in my thighs. I got to the kitchen, made myself a good lunch, then conked out on the bed for two hours.

Rollers are fun, and are a good conditioner. But next time, I’ll make sure I tackle them with a full night’s sleep under my belt.