The Unprepared Cyclist

What a day! Sunny, a nice breeze, and 84 degrees (29C). There was nothing to keep me off my bike, even at the expense of foregoing yard work, and putting off a chore I promised to do for my wife.

I wasn’t going to go too long — maybe 20-23 miles — something that would keep me out about an hour and half. I could tell I haven’t been riding as much as I should, but over the years, I’ve built a good base, so getting back into a rhythm wasn’t difficult.

A fellow from my cycling club caught up to me and passed me like I was standing still. But then I caught a group of unfamiliar riders, and went by them. I felt strong pushing up some small hills, and had fun reaching 35 mph going down a sweeping bend on an empty road in a new housing development.

About 13 miles in though, something wasn’t right. I had just gone through a 90-degree turn on a busy road, and was heading up another small hill, but my rear wheel felt unstable. Uh-oh — a flat!

I wasn’t comfortable changing it in the shoulder of a 65 mph highway, so I walked the bike about a quarter mile to a pulloff, and set about changing the tube. It turned out that the smallest possible shard of glass had punctured the tire and the tube. I picked it out of the tire, checked for any other debris inside the tread, yanked out the punctured tube, and got out a new one.

Some time ago, I stopped bringing my small pump on rides, deciding to stick with CO2 cartridges. I had some recently-purchased cartridges in my seat bag, but when I went to attach the inflator chuck to one, I made an unwelcome discovery. The cartridge was one of those unthreaded ones. I needed the threaded kind.

So there I was, at the side of the road, the bike upside down with the chain hanging forlornly, and doing the only thing I could think to do: Call my wife.

She was there in less than 10 minutes, and we headed home. I inflated the tube in a matter of minutes and got the tire back on the bike, but by then, it was too late. My cycling window for the day had closed.

I’ll be stopping by the bike store for a few new, threaded cartridges. And I think I’ll start carrying the mini-pump again. Sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to be a belt and suspenders kind of guy.

And you wonder why I still call this blog Bike Noob.

You — Yeah, You! — Can Get Paid To Ride Your Bike

They say that if you can do what you love while making a living at it, you’ve got the best of all possible worlds. Guest poster Jeff Hemmel might have stumbled onto that situation — he thinks.

HemmelsRide2I am so pro. If, that is, your definition of professional cyclist is someone who’s getting paid to ride his bike. Just this morning alone I made an easy $3. By month’s end I should have about $40 in the bank.

And if you use Strava, now you can be paid, too. The details were in an email that crossed my desk last week. Competitive Cyclist (, which is part of the better-known, is paying Strava users $1 an hour, up to $40 a month, just to ride their bikes. The money gets put in your Competitive Cyclist account, where you can then spend it on whatever gear or equipment you want. Your money expires at the end of the next month, meaning if you ride a decent amount you can have about $80 to spend every two months.

I thought there had to be a catch, but there’s really not. You have to set up an account on Competitive Cyclist or Backcountry, and then link that account to your Strava account. There really wasn’t much to the whole process. Your credits then show up automatically. I went out for my first ride, came home and updated Strava and, boom, next thing I knew money was waiting for me. Sure, Competitive Cyclist is getting some basic info about you. Apparently they also hope that users will review products, and they can eventually increase the validity of their reviews by showing how much the writer rides.

Think $40 isn’t that much to spend on cycling gear? Think about what you routinely buy. I go through Clif Shot Bloks pretty regularly, and love Skratch Labs drink mix, but both aren’t cheap. They’re cheap enough, however, that my newfound credits will pay for a month’s supply. Bankroll two months at the $40 max each month and you’re $80 into that new pair of bib shorts, jersey, or pedals.

I know, I know — it’s good to support your local bike shop. And I do, believe me, and still will. There’s just too many parts and services that I want to go to a local shop for, and this $40/month won’t change that. But I don’t know of many people who couldn’t use some more money to spend on those endless necessities, or long-lusted-after piece of new gear. And if every hour I ride my bike banks me $1, I can certainly find a good use for it.

A Feeling Like No Other

It’s been a long and frustrating hiatus from biking. My bronchitis just wouldn’t go away. The fact that I approached like a typical guy didn’t help any — a typical guy would do nothing but take some throat lozenges and hope for the best. That’s what I did. And although my wife was after me to see the doctor, the Mayo Clinic’s website says you don’t need to see a doc until you’ve had the bronchitis for three weeks. If it hasn’t cleared itself up by then, maybe an intervention is called for.

I took solace in the fact that I coughed a little less each day. Aside from the coughing, I felt normal. But the lack of cycling exercise contributed to an overall sluggish feeling that I couldn’t wait to shed. Finally, I could do it.

Friday dawned with heavy local rain. I figured my plans for a ride later that afternoon would have to be put on hold yet again. I gave a presentation at the university on our new system for creating online classes, then kept an appointment with a new faculty member whom I met through a mutual friend. By the time we took our leave of each other, the rain had long since stopped, and things were almost dried out already.

At home, I walked around outside a bit, and noted with satisfaction that the sun was breaking through the remaining cloud cover, and starting to warm things up. It took just a few minutes to change into my biking clothes, pump up the tires, and venture onto the neighborhood streets.

For my first ride back after a four-week layoff, I decided to head over to the Veloway and do a few laps. The road to the Veloway, which also leads to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, was solidly lined with cars for its entire length — about a half mile — on both sides. It’s spring, and this year, Texas is having the finest explosion of wildflowers I’ve seen since arriving here 15 years ago.

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush set off a MAMIL along a back stretch of the Veloway.

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush set off a MAMIL along a back stretch of the Veloway.

I did three laps around the Veloway, then headed home. Modest mileage — 15.2 miles — for a ride of almost exactly one hour. I rode steadily, only pushing it in a few spots, and not for very long there, so my Strava feed showed no trophies for any of my segments — as if I cared. The layoff hasn’t adversely affected my riding. That is, I never felt as though I was working hard. Well, I was pretty huffed by the time I got to the top of the HEB hill less than a mile from home. But I can be pretty huffed on that thing even when I’m in condition. That pesky little four-tenths of a mile, gentle but steady climb does test the rider.

So what? I’m back. It was great to be in the saddle again, great to be out on the familiar roads. Riding a bike is a feeling like no other, and I’ve missed it.

Looks like we’ll have rain for the rest of weekend. I might miss it some more.

Breathing In, Breathing Out

After battling bronchitis for three weeks, a tentative ride on the bike was very welcome. I didn’t go very far or very long — I just wanted to see if I was ready to come back. I think I am.

This picture is six years old, but I still look like this when I ride, with my mouth open.

This picture is six years old, but I still look like this when I ride, with my mouth open.

It didn’t take long into my ride before I became aware of something I don’t think about during my “normal” rides: breathing. My lungs have been so congested these past few weeks that I haven’t been able to take in a deep breath without bursting into a coughing fit. But this time, I could.

My throat was still a bit raw, however, so I started experimenting with my breathing technique. Normally, I breathe through my mouth, both inhaling and exhaling. But the air passing down my throat this time stung its sensitive lining, so I breathed through my nose. I can’t take in as much air that way, and going up even easy hills forced me to revert to my mouth breathing.

Then, I thought maybe I could breath in through my nose and exhale through my mouth. That seemed to work pretty well, until I realized that it was so unnatural to me, I had to concentrate on nearly every breath.

So, as I make my comeback to biking, what’s your take on breathing? Is there a right way for cyclists to do it? Or should I just baby my throat a bit until I can breathe in and out of my mouth as usual?

Does how you breathe matter?

Door Zone Warning

Last week, when I went for a ride against my better judgment and wound up aggravating my bronchitis, I was cruising through a new housing development that still has some construction going on. I saw one of the workers shoulder some tools and head toward the street, so I swerved a bit to my right to avoid him. Just then, the door of a pickup truck on my right opened. I had just a second to swerve back and thread the needle between the tool guy and the door.

I got through that all right, but lots of cyclists get nailed by the opening door. So I was glad to see some new striping go down on streets in my area, with a feature I hadn’t seen before.

I’ve already written about the new double lanes they’re putting in. The right lane next to the curb is for parked cars. Then there’s a bike lane to the left of the parking lane, then the lane for cars. It recognizes that people have been parking their cars in the bike lanes, and tries to make room for both.

The additional feature is a diagonal line that cuts into the bike lane every ten yards or so. It appears to designate the door zone — that area that a car door will cover when it’s opened.

The door zone stripes aren't obvious, but bike riders should be able to spot them easily.

The door zone stripes aren’t obvious, but bike riders should be able to spot them easily.

I don’t know how accurate it is, but it’s a nice reference point. And the new bike lanes are wide enough that there’s plenty of room for a bike to stay outside the door zone while staying inside the bike lane. I hope the city continues to add these kinds of features as other streets are re-striped.


Apparently, I pushed it real good. Too much, too soon. I rode four days in a row, which was great, but after a hilly 26-miler Monday, I returned home with that same hacking cough I complained about in an earlier post.

“I thought the exercise would drive it out of me,” I said to my wife.

“No. That just made it worse,” she said. “You’re staying off the bike until you get rid of this.”

I obeyed.

Which killed me, because although some rain was in the forecast this week, it never really materialized. We’ve had three glorious days in a row, and I was stuck indoors, doing actual work on the computer.

I’m fine, except for the cough. It’s not frequent, but when it comes, it’s loud and deep. I have even been banished to the guest bedroom because my coughing woke my wife the other night, and she had trouble getting back to sleep.

So, like a rider with an injury, I’m impatiently biding my time. It’s supposed to rain heavily here over the weekend, so those rides wouldn’t happen, anyway. I can only console myself knowing that this thing will go away, as it has done in the past, and all will be rolling again. It just can’t happen soon enough.

Let the Training Begin!

Finally, I’m back in the swing of things. It’s Spring Break, and I have a week off! I got on the bike Friday, and have ridden each day since then.

It’s important that I do so, because I’ve committed to a bike ride at the end of the month that will involve some challenging hills. It’s not a race or anything — just a semi-organized ride over some roads in Northwest Austin that I’ve never ridden, but have always wanted to.

But my lackadaisical attitude this winter has set me back, fitness-wise. If I’m going to ride hills — and on a ride whose mileage is not a challenge — I need to start training for hills.

Today, I did. I headed out through my immediate neighborhood and worked my way over to Convict Hill, a place I’ve written about before. I used to climb Convict Hill regularly, in both directions. But I haven’t been there in weeks, and I hadn’t ridden it in weeks before the last time I rode it. I knew I’d be pushing myself.

Sure enough, I was. I’m still not quite over the hacking cough that’s been bothering me for the last week, but I’m almost over it. It’s not badd enough to keep me off the bike, anyway. But when I hit that hill, I could tell I hadn’t been there for awhile.

Where I could climb it in the big ring before, I struggled in the small ring today. But I rode all the hills on the route, even if slowly, and reminded myself of where I need to be in a couple of weeks, fitness-wise. If we hadn’t had to be at an event in the afternoon, I’d have ridden longer.

When I pulled up to the garage and hopped off the bike, I was anxious to see just where I stood, according to Strava. How did I do today compared to previous rides on that route?

I’ll never know. I had one of those pesky Strava fails. It registered exactly zero miles on the ride. (Before I could delete it from my account, one of my wise guy friends gave me kudos.) I retraced the route on Map My Ride, and it came out to 17.4 miles. Problem is, I have no idea how long it took. I didn’t check my watch when I started, and I didn’t bother to bring the cheap bike computer along on the ride, because Strava is always there.

That’s okay. I intend to ride every day this week, so I’ll have a chance to cover the route again soon. In the meantime, it’s fun to have something to shoot for.