Some New B’s

As in newbies? Well, okay. Some people who had been lurking on our club’s Yahoo group turned out for a neighborhood ride last week, and I invited them to ride the roads as part of the B ride Sunday.

It was a good B ride turnout, augmented by some A riders who needed a recovery from grueling efforts the previous day. Yasmin and Frank joined us for the first time,Victoria for the second or third, and Penny came out for the first time in about a year.

I chose a route to Buda, about a 30-mile round trip.

Any concerns I had about the new riders’ ability were dashed when we reached Davis Hill, about three miles into the ride. I couldn’t catch the newcomers going up. Thank goodness for stoplights, so I could work my way to the front of the pack again.

The ride south was made difficult by the brisk headwind we faced, but it was far from the worst I’ve seen. Just a couple of miles north of Buda, here comes George from the A ride. He had won the sprint into the Walgreens store in Buda, and while the rest of the A’s continued south, George decided to ride the rest of the way with us.

The Walgreens, at 15 miles into the ride, is a traditional rest stop. We swapped stories about club members who had broken bones while riding, which I’m sure didn’t ease any concerns the New B’s had. But instead of turning around at that point, we decided to keep going, at least for a few more miles.

Victoria peeled off to head home for a family obligation, and the rest of us headed back to Buda. Here’s where we hit our first glitch.

Buddy was looking back to make sure everyone had made the turn onto Main Street, when his front wheel went into a curb. He did a nice shoulder roll and landed mostly on grass, but complained of a wrenched back. However, he decided to keep going all the way back and deal with the soreness when he got home.

Buddy (second from left) is  rolling again after his mishap.

Buddy (second from left) is rolling again after his mishap.

The group strung out on the way back, and we made several stops to regroup. Our highlight was when we reached Slaughter Lane. That’s a four-lane divided road with no shoulder. We opted to form a “bus” and occupy the right lane for the two miles back to Starbucks. It was a good move. For the first time ever, not one car honked at us while going past.

The get together at Starbucks is often as much fun as the ride itself. Janice, who is killer good with the A’s, couldn’t wait to see if she had regained Queen of the Mountain status for a Strava segment on the A ride. She had, and spent some time extolling the virtues of Strava to Yasmin, who appeared anxious to join the Strava herd.

Judy, George, Laura, and Penny unwind after the ride.

Judy, George, Laura, and Penny unwind after the ride.

Pippa (l.) learns from Janice that Pippa's Queen of the Mountain is no more.

Pippa (l.) learns from Janice (r.) that Pippa’s Queen of the Mountain is no more.

Mike, an emergency room physician, performed a field amputation of some excess chin strap on Penny’s helmet. “This will keep you from looking like a newbie,” he told her. She wasn’t convinced, and was concerned that she would have too little strap to work with when adjusting her helmet. The jury is still out on that one.

"No!" says Laura, Mike's wife. "You're cutting it too short!"

“No!” says Laura, Mike’s wife. “You’re cutting it too short!”

All in all, it was a good ride. We did 34 miles at a reasonable — and sometimes quick — pace. The new B’s held their own with the pack, and it looks like they’ll be back for more. Frank has already checked into buying some club kit.

Looking Around on a Ride

Sorry to be so long between posts, but it’s been a busy week around here. My wife’s mother passed away last weekend, so everything was put on hold as trips had to be made, arrangements finalized, and services held. We’re back to normal now.

I was ready for a good ride this morning, and the club president designated Fitzhugh Road as our route this week. That suited me fine. I like Fitzhugh, since it’s out in the country and features a lot of rollers. Usually, I’m on my own, dropped within the first 10 miles. I turn around at a road that will give me a 30-mile round trip. Today, I planned to go the entire route, for a 46-miler.

Maggie, whom I rode with last week, was on hand as well. She’s relatively new to the club, and had only ridden Fitzhugh once before, on her first ride with the club. That time, she tried valiantly to keep up with the A’s, but couldn’t do it. Today, with me in tow, she had a good chance to see the route.

The ride got off to a fast start. The A’s tend to hold back and warm up for about six miles or so, but today, they were gone in about three. “These things take on a life of their own,” said my friend Rick, who himself was “moseying” along on the ride after going hard the previous day. “Somebody goes off the front, and some others think they have to keep up with him, and next thing you know, it’s like a race.”

We were doing anything but racing. Although Rick might have been moseying, it was all I could do to keep him in sight. Maggie, too, got well out in front. The endless rollers kicked my butt, which bothered me after riding well last weekend on another route that had a lot of rollers. But these were more frequent, and some were tough.

Finally, it was just Maggie and me. We decided to throttle back a bit and enjoy the ride. After all, we still had to get to the turnaround point, and then make our way back home — another 23 miles.

Once we cross Ranch Road 12, the landscape becomes more rural. I had heard of a ranch with wildebeest along the road, but had never seen them on previous trips along here. But Maggie, who was leading me by a bit, called out, “Wildebeest!” and there they were — a nice herd of maybe a dozen or so, off to the left, milling around in some trees. After passing the exotic game ranch last week, this was another wildlife treat.

We had almost reached the turnaround, when she called out again. “Look at the turkey!”

A wild turkey was poking at some dried grass, several paces back from the road. We were almost at the turnaround, and knew we would see him again on the way back.

The nice thing was, the group was still at the turnaround when we got there. We had a chance to grab some water, and shared a sandwich. But the last ones to the rest stop get the shortest rest, and in minutes, we were headed back the way we had come.

Some of the A riders at the turnaround.

Some of the A riders at the turnaround.

Maggie and Bike Noob. I really am not that grumpy on rides, but I had just dropped part of my sandwich. The road we took is in the background.

Maggie and Bike Noob. I really am not that grumpy on rides, but I had just dropped part of my sandwich. The road we took is in the background.

Sure enough, the turkey was still pecking away when we passed by again. And once again, we were quickly dropped by the A’s. But just as in the previous week, some of them were sidetracked by a flat tire, that turned into two flats as one of the guys who stopped to give aid was also punctured.

We regrouped at a convenience store to shed layers, now that the sun was warming things. That was good, because we all got to start in a group again, and the first 200 yards after the convenience store is in the center lane of a four-lane highway, so that we can make a left turn onto another semi-rural road.

It took no time for the A’s to leave us behind. We both laughed, and Maggie allowed that going slower was good, because that way, I could show her the tricky twisting route back through an unfamiliar neighborhood. We finally pulled into our regular Starbucks starting point, 46 miles and 2600 feet of climbing under our belts.

The only seats left at the outdoor tables were with several of the really fast A’s, who invited us to join them.

“Did you see the turkey?” asked Maggie. “Turkey? Uh uh,” said one. “It was pretty neat, right along the road,” she said.

“Did you see the wildebeest?” I asked. They shook their heads again.

“You see, the problem with being fast riders is that you’re focused on the road straight ahead, and you miss all the cool stuff,” I said.

“We saw a roadrunner,” said one of the guys. But we can see roadrunners on any trip around the Veloway right here in town. Wildebeest and wild turkeys, not so much.

So being a B-level rider does have its advantages. I’m already looking forward to next week’s ride to see what we will see that the others, in their single-minded pursuit of speed, will miss.

The B’s Beat the A’s

Well, not in the realm of speed. But the Sunday morning club ride turned out to be a real morale booster for at least two of us B riders.

We were going to head out on a route I’d been wanting to do for some time, but for some reason never got around to it. I had ridden it last about three years ago, and recalled that it approached 50 miles. It also features a few hills.

Twenty-four riders set off at 8:15 on an overcast day, with temperatures hovering in the low to mid 60s (18C). As usual, we quickly separated into a fast group, a less fast group, and the B riders. Four of us made up the B contingent today: me and Maggie, who has been riding with the club for a couple of months, and two newcomers, Mark and Victoria. Actually, Mark qualified as an A rider, but he was content to stay back with Victoria.

By the time we reached the rural part of the route, we couldn’t even see any riders ahead of us anymore. I directed Mark to turn right onto a road that leads around the back side of a country club, hoping that was the way the A’s went — not that I thought we’d ever see them again.

But in a few minutes, we came upon several riders alongside the road. Janice, who is usually near the front of the pack, had hit what she called a “crevasse” in the asphalt — a big crack that swallowed her rear wheel. The tire was badly damaged, and she was lo0king for someone with a boot. I carry a piece of a ride number to serve that purpose. It’s made of a Tyvek-like material, and it’s no problem to cut a ride number in thirds, and stuff them into the seat bag.

Too bad I hadn’t done that recently. I came up empty. Jerry (not the same Jerry who broke his leg in a fall a couple of weeks ago) did have one — a nifty little unit the size of a credit card he bought from Park Tool. Janice made do with it — “I really needed several today,” she said — and abandoned the ride to head home.

A mile or so up ahead, the A’s had all gathered to wait for Janice to catch up. When I told our ride leader that she would be turning around, we all headed out in a big group again. Then the fun really began.

Satterwhite Road is a rural road in Hays County that gets a lot of bike traffic on Sundays. It’s fun, because of its rolling hills. I was following Maggie at speed down one of the hills, when the road surface at the bottom just didn’t look right. It changed in an instant from semi-smooth old asphalt to torn up. It looked as though a giant scraper had been over it, ripping up the old asphalt and leaving only what was underneath — hard-packed dirt, gravel, and stones.

We all hit the brakes and rode gingerly through the mess. Two riders flatted along here. Whenever we hit a stretch of asphalt that hadn’t been torn up, we rejoiced — only to round a bend and get hit with another bad road surface. This lasted for several miles, when finally we could turn onto a new road.

I saw the A’s up ahead, waiting at an intersection. It looked like they were going to take a shortcut back home. But Maggie and I had discussed our ride options, and she wanted to go a little longer. We shot past the startled A’s and kept going. Our route added probably six miles to the one they chose.

After a rest stop at the convenience store in Creedmoor, we set out for home. Maggie had to pick up her son from a sleepover at noon, and we would be hard-pressed to get back by then. We both pushed it harder than usual, taking turns at the lead.

Our route passed the exotic game ranch behind the big landfill, and the animals were out in larger numbers than I had seen before. Lots of small deer and antelopes, but also ostriches and emus, a zebra, and a number of scimitar oryx — African antelope with long, curving horns. Magnificent!

Just before reaching the Starbucks where our ride began, Maggie and I peeled off in different directions, she to get her car and me to head the last mile home. This afternoon, the club president posted his summary of the ride. The A’s did 41 miles. The B’s — Maggie and yours truly — did 48! I believe this is a first. The B’s have never ridden farther on a club ride than the A’s. In the overall scheme of things, not much perhaps. But it was a little feather in the cap for Maggie and me.

It’s a Good Thing I Like to Ride Alone

It looked like this would be a great day for a ride. The temperature got into the 40s (4+C) relatively quickly, and I suited up to head over to the club ride. The evening before, I had posted on the club’s Yahoo group that I would be riding, and expected to follow the main group at a B ride pace. I hoped that would bring out some B riders to share the road with me.

But once again, I was the only B on the ride. Our club president, who usually picks the route for the day, sent an email that he was recovering from a tough ride yesterday and would spend the morning as a couch potato. It turned out that some of the other riders weren’t keen on the route he had picked, and decided to go another way — south instead of southeast. Okay by me. South would take us to Buda, and it would be easy to turn around whenever I felt the urge. The main group was planning a 54-miler. I figured I’d wind up with something over 30.

As we left the Starbucks where our rides begin, the road we took is a gentle downhill for a quarter mile. I found myself out in front of the entire group, because my bulky body gives me an advantage on downhills. Three miles later though, we turned onto Davis Hill — a hill that can test newer riders, although the A riders in the club like to attack it. As my friend Rick once observed, “The difference between A and B riders is that the A’s stand up and attack that hill, while the B’s sit and spin.” As I sat and spun, I had to admit that he was right on.

I watched as everyone passed me going up the hill. I deserved to be passed — they do a lot more hill work than I do, which is practically none. By the time the road leveled out some distance past the crest of the hill, the peloton was well ahead of me. I wasn’t too concerned, since I knew a stoplight would hold them up in another couple of miles. But when the light came into view, I could also see that it had changed — and the group was accelerating across the road. Of course, by the time I reached the light, they were already out of sight, and I wouldn’t see them again for the rest of the ride.

I made it to Buda, about 16 miles from the start, and pootled around the old part of town for a bit before deciding to head home. On the way back, I saw many more bikers than I had seen on the way out, but they were all headed where I had just been. Apparently, a lot of cyclists had decided to wait a bit until the temperatures warmed up some more.

I got home in plenty of time to do a bit of yard work before the football games started in the afternoon. Another terrific Sunday morning ride — but decidedly lacking the social aspect we associate with club rides. I’ll keep trying to enlist some B’s to come out and join me, but I’ll also resign myself to riding solo until the warm spring mornings arrive.

Where Are All the B Riders?

The forecast looked good for today, with temperatures in the 60s. Our club president picked a route that was mostly flat, but included some rolling hills about midway through, and wasn’t quite as long as the Sunday rides usually go. Still, I had a lot of Christmas preparations to handle at home, so I decided I would start with them, but then head off on my own to Creedmoor, a little crossroads southeast of Austin.

The reason I wasn’t going to do the full club ride was that I just get tired of being left behind on my own. These rides are not no-drop rides, and if you come along, you have to know that from the get-go. That’s fine, but if I’m going to wind up by myself, it might as well be on a route I know, rather than one like today, where I had only a rough idea of the directions.

So, Saturday night I jumped onto our club’s Yahoo group, and posted that I would be heading to Creedmoor, and invited any interested B-level riders to come along.

At the Starbucks Sunday morning, I sat at one of the outdoor tables and watched the riders roll in. Every one of them was an A-level rider.

“Are you going to ride with us today, Ray?” asked Pippa. Five years ago, I could ride with Pippa. But I’m still at the level I was at five years ago, and she has become one of the more aggressive A riders.

“Well, I’ll start with you,” I replied. “But I’m still going to head to Creedmoor.”

The difference between the planned route and Creedmoor was only about 10 miles, and if things had been different — such as, not a pre-holiday weekend when my wife expected me back at the house to handle my share of cleaning chores — I might have tried sticking with them. But I had a plan, and I was determined to follow through on it.

We set off in a group down Slaughter Lane, a four-lane divided thoroughfare that I normally avoid. At 8:15 on a Sunday morning, we could take up the right lane, and a few cars used the left to pass us. Cut through the high school parking lot into a nice subdivision, then out to Brodie, a two-lane road that has a bike lane of varying width and utility. I found myself in the middle of the group, drafting one of the faster A riders. But the A ride was keeping a steady and moderate pace today. I wasn’t even breathing hard.

We got down to a ranch road where Austin starts to piddle out into semi-suburban helter-skelter neighborhoods. A long Union Pacific freight train gave us a few minutes’ rest, and when we started again, I had to really push it to maintain contact with the group. We turned onto Old San Antonio Road, and that’s where I lost it. The road is a steady but gentle incline — the kind I just hate. I’d rather do rollers, or short steep hills. Here, the A’s could crank away at their pedals and pull away from me. My thighs started to burn.

By the time we crossed I-35 into the rural area southeast of Austin, I was well off the back. I could still see them, about 200 yards ahead of me, but they had picked up the pace now, and I wasn’t making up any ground. But by now, I had resigned myself to the usual B position on these rides. When the peloton turned onto a narrow country road, I stuck with the ranch road I was on, with the decent shoulder, and in keeping with my original plan, rode the remaining five miles to Creedmoor.

Taking a few minutes’ break at the Creedmoor convenience store, I assessed my ride. I was averaging over 16 mph, which is pretty good for me. I wasn’t tired, or even stressed, by the effort. The trip home, on a completely different set of roads than the ones I had come out on, was uneventful. I finished with 35 miles under my wheels, and felt good enough to head right out after my shower to do battle with the hordes of shoppers at Costco.

We used to have an active group of a half-dozen to a dozen B-level riders in the club. It seems they’re not all that eager to come out anymore. Maybe it’s the holidays, maybe it’s the weather (60-68 degrees and overcast? Can’t be the weather), maybe it’s just that they have other things to do. But I sure would like some company on these rides.


What a B Ride Should Be

My friend David wanted to ride together this weekend. Then my friend Buddy wanted to know if I was leading a club B ride Sunday morning.

I saw a chance to kill two birds. I scheduled a B ride on the club Yahoo group, and agreed to lead it. Usually, that brings one or two people out who might not otherwise come. We had a total of seven — pretty good.

I suggested to David that we make a run to Kyle — 23 miles south of town, for a 45-mile round trip. But when I saw the newcomers sitting around outside Starbucks before the ride, I left the decision up to them: Kyle, or a short out-and-back to Buda, for about 32 miles total; or we could split the difference for a 38-miler. The third choice won.

On the way out, another rider jumped onto our group.  Chris said he had been meaning to come out for a club ride for awhile but never got around to it.

At the end of a long gradual uphill, I heard a shout from one of the women in the group. Tara had dropped her chain. Her boyfriend Lucien came to the rescue and got her going again — but only a mile beyond, the group stopped while Buddy fiddled with his own dropped chain.

“Buddy is an optometrist,” I said while he worked. “So he always keeps a supply of surgical gloves handy.” Everyone chuckled, while Buddy got his chain adjusted, and we moved out again.

The pace was steady. Not too slow, not too fast. Steve, who was doing his first ride with us, found common ground with Buddy, since Steve used to teach the visually impaired in the Austin schools — and had even started a tandem bicycle club for them once. Newcomer Jan showed she was no newcomer to riding, because she had the knack of grabbing a wheel and motoring along smoothly behind a pacer.

When we got to Buda, we stopped at the Walgreens for a break. Depend on the fountains at the drug store to have cold water for bottle refills. I explained the next part of the route to the group, and we set out.

We rode through old downtown Buda, then turned onto Cole Springs Road, which leads through some forested areas and puts us in shade for awhile. The group stayed more or less together, which pleased me. But once we got to Farm Road 1626, we were in for another long gradual incline. Tara, the newest rider in the group, fell behind. Lucien stuck with her and we got to the turnaround.

“Here’s where it gets fun,” I said. “We’ll go downhill all the way back to Buda. We’ll go 30 mph through here.”

Lucien and Chris took me at my word, and shot off the front. I tried to catch them, with no luck. The riders strung out along the road, and we arrived back in Buda with large gaps between us. Lucien said he would wait for Tara while we went back to the Walgreens for a regroup.

Somehow, David had missed the part about regrouping at Walgreens, and didn’t see me as I tried to wave him down. He passed the store and headed off alone. We parked bikes in the shade and took advantage of the store’s air conditioning to replenish ourselves.

The route home varied from the route out. We turned onto Twin Creeks Road, which winds and dips and climbs for several miles. Tara was slowing by now, and I stayed back with her to coax her back to the group. Once we gathered again, we took a new route through a new subdivision — one that lets us stay off too-busy Brodie Lane and skip a dicey left turn.

Tara and Lucien turned off for a shortcut home. Chris turned in the opposite direction to go to his house. That left Jan, Steve, Buddy and me to reach the finish at Starbucks and sit around for some cold beverages. Steve thought the ride was a perfect distance, but Jan was ready for a few more miles. We all agreed the pace was just right — we averaged 14 mph for the 38 miles. A few A riders who had not done their entire route — 5100 feet of climbing — were there to greet us, and we compared notes.

The consensus was that it was a great ride. No one pushed beyond the abilities of the group, we got out in the country and rode some nice roads, and the terrain was varied enough to keep things interesting. These are the kinds of rides I like to do, and we’re going to be doing more soon.


Snippets From a B Ride

The emails flew fast and furious last evening. Our usual time to leave for the Sunday club ride is 8:15 a.m., but the forecast called for temps in the 30s at that time. I had planned to go, but wimped out when I saw the prognostication. Looks like a lot of others did, too — including some A riders. We had 13 in all for the B ride this morning at 9.

One of the problems we have in Texas is that the weather is rarely that cold when we ride, so most of us don’t have the kinds of warm cycling clothes our Northern brethren have. I was feeling a bit out of place in my red long-sleeve jersey (over a short-sleeved club jersey) and screaming green vest, because our club kit is white, blue, and yellow. Most riders had at least a club jersey on the outside. Then Jerry D. pulled into the lot.

“I’m glad I called you to coordinate clothing,” I called to him.

Bike Noob (left), Jerry D.

“Why, we’re the Gay Blades today, aren’t we?” he retorted.

Lots of chatter before the ride about clothing. Many wore glove liners, multiple layers, booties, ear muffs. Then there was Brian, our club Canadian. He showed up in a windbreaker over a short-sleeved jersey, and shorts. “It’s nice to ride without 10 feet of snow on the ground,” he said. The temperature when we rolled out was 38 degrees (3C).

One of the reasons I enjoy the B rides is that ride leader Jordan insists on keeping them “pleasurefests,” as opposed to what he calls the “sufferfests” of the A rides. But some A riders joined our little group this morning. David V., a Cat 3 racer and the club bike mechanic, said he’d done a hard hills workout the previous day, and wanted a recovery ride. There was New York John, and Marianne, who rarely rides with the club. She brought Tom, a friend of her husband’s, who was fixed up with a less-than-perfect bike. It wouldn’t shift out of the big ring. That didn’t seem to bother Tom, who is visiting from Boulder. Pippa, another A rider, was there to keep Judy company. Judy would normally ride with the As, but has been recovering from two broken bones in her wrist, suffered during a fall (don’t brace!).

About three miles into the ride is our first challenge: Davis Hill. It’s an ordinary hill, that can be tough for newer riders. The problem is, there’s a stoplight just before you make the turn for the hill, and hill begins immediately. “The difference between As and Bs on Davis Hill,” said my friend Rick, “is that the Bs shift down and try to spin up the hill, and the As get out of their saddles and attack the hill.”

I attacked today, but I was huffing and puffing, and sitting down again by the time I got to the top — when to my left, Tom glided by. In the big ring. Not a care in the world. Okay, I won’t worry about him today, I said to myself.

We crossed Interstate 35, and were headed for the country, when David V. and New York John caught and passed us. We had taken a major road to the I-35 junction, one that had a short stoplight. David and John had taken a side street, but their stoplight was a long one. “I don’t know why you Bs complain about As going too fast,” said David, “when you leave us behind.”

Out in the country, I found myself next to Laura, who’s become a regular on the B rides. She was ecstatic over her recent bike fit. “I feel so much more power than I used to,” she said. Her husband Mike, one of our A riders, had taken her to a prominent local racer who fits bikes at a local bike shop. “He put some things on my shoes that keep the angle natural,” Laura explained. “The fit took about two hours. When Mike asked him if I already had nearly a good fit, he said I wasn’t even close. I can really feel the difference.”

At the turnaround in Creedmoor, Jordan asked me to explain the return route to everyone. We were riding a “lollipop” route, with the same out and return, but a nice loop in the middle. “When we get to the 90-degree right turn on the way we came,” I said, “look for the fork onto Thaxton Road. Take that.”

Back on the road, I was near the rear to keep tabs on one of our slower riders. Sure enough, when we got to Thaxton Road, Judy and Laura blasted by without turning. Several of us raised a shout to get them to turn around. I kidded Judy about missing the turn even after the route had been explained at the rest stop. She was unapologetic.

“When people start telling me directions, it’s like the teacher in the ‘Peanuts’ strip,” she said. “All I hear is Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah.”

I’m glad she didn’t miss it, because Thaxton Road was repaved last year, and it’s nice. The highlight for me is a turn at the top of a hill. We get to blast down into a subdivision on a smooth, wide two-lane with no traffic. I made sure everyone was behind me, and started down, pedaling hard in the big ring. At the bottom, I waited. And waited. I could see back to the top of the hill. Apparently they had decided to gather there to wait for slower riders. Eventually, I saw them coming down. When they finally caught up to me, I asked who had the highest speed down that hill. I had hit 34.8 mph. I figured at least a couple could go faster than that.

“I rode the brakes all the way down,” said one. “That was scary,” said another. “No way I was going to look at my computer going that fast,” said a third.

Two miles from the finish, we passed several of the fast group fixing a flat at the side of the road. We kept on to the finish. They caught up to us a few minutes later. Marianne had been the flat victim.

“A screw went right through the middle of my tire,” she said. “I got screwed, and I couldn’t even enjoy it.”

The outside tables at Starbucks were full. The A ride had come in after a trip out to the Formula 1 race track being built in Austin. The chatter was loud, full of laughs. Several passers-by stopped to ask about the club, its rides, average speed. We urged them to come out next week. It looks like the B rides will start at 9:15 for the next couple of months — everyone seems to like leaving then, instead of the earlier time. A good day in the saddle — the kind of day that makes me want to ride again.