Recruiting New Riders

For some time, several of us in the club have been conducting “B”-level rides. That is, we’re not as fast as most of the folks who show up for the Sunday club ride, and it’s no fun being left behind.

Trouble is, we have a very small B group. Most often, the only ones to show up for the B ride are my pal Maggie and me. So Maggie got an idea: Why not schedule a “beginner” ride for people who we know are reading the club emails on our Yahoo group, but who for whatever reason don’t come out to rid with us?

She did one a month ago, and got my wife and one other person to join her. We haven’t seen or heard from the other person since. But not one to be deterred, Maggie posted another “beginner” ride for this weekend.

Lo and behold, she got a bite! A woman messaged back that she and her husband would come out.

We were concerned that Sunday’s chilly morning temperatures would scare them off, but at 8 a.m., two new faces rode into the parking lot at Starbucks. Diane and Mike are older riders, closer in age to me than Maggie, and they ride a lot — hardly what you would call “beginners.” But they had the impression that our club’s average speed is in the 16-18 mph range, and they’re not fast.

We assured them that we’re not fast, either. We asked about their riding habits, and it turns out they ride a lot of the routes we do on our club rides. Maggie’s thoughts of doing a simple neighborhood ride were dumped for something more interesting.

“How are you on hills?” I asked.

“Okay,” they said.

I suggested doing the Zoo Ride. It’s hilly, but the hills aren’t killers, and it’s a little shorter than most of our routes, so if the hills do tire a rider out, the suffering is not prolonged.

We started off. The pace was leisurely as we wound our way through the twisty Granada Hills subdivision, and stayed leisurely when we got to Circle Drive, where the club ride usually picks up speed. The sweeping downhill to the dead end near the zoo was fun, but then we had to climb out of it.

Deer can often be seen in the large yards during the early morning.

Deer can often be seen in the large yards during the early morning.

Mike rides a Novara Randonee touring bike with a triple chainring. “It can climb walls,” he said.

Diane’s bike is a Specialized, similar to my own. It has a compact double. While Mike spun at more than one pedal turn for every rotation of the wheel, Diane gamely pushed her way up the hill. We made it to the top, and stopped to rest.

“That’s the end of the hill,” I told Diane. “Until the next one.”

We take a two-lane road for about a mile and half that is most notable for the amount of traffic on a quiet Sunday morning. Cars and trucks have to slow to our speed before they can pass, because the small hills and gentle curves of the road can hide oncoming vehicles. When we got through it, I assured them that we had just completed the diciest part of the ride. They were relieved.

But then came the biggest hill of the ride. It’s on Southwest Parkway, and for years was my nemesis. I can ride it well now, and I swung around Maggie to attack the hill. (Got a Strava PR on it!) Then I waited at the top for the others to catch up.

“From here, we have a choice,” said Maggie. “We can continue on to Travis Country and ride some more hills, or we can turn at William Cannon Road and head back.”

They were all for heading back.

That meant the day’s ride was about five miles shorter than it would have been, but was still a great way to spend a cool fall morning. We stopped back at Starbuck’s for coffees and conversation.

Mike, Maggie, and Diane (and a blur from my hand -- I'm a lousy photographer) as we unwind after the ride.

Mike, Maggie, and Diane (and a blur from my hand — I’m a lousy photographer) as we unwind after the ride.

We told them to watch the club’s message board for posts about future B rides, since they would fit in just fine. They’re busy next weekend, but with any luck, our Sunday B rides will be more than just Maggie and me.

Isn’t It Interesting…

Only two other B riders showed up for our club ride Sunday, and we decided to head to Creedmoor. This staple of our Sunday routes had been forgotten lately; in fact, I hadn’t ridden it since June. The others were looking forward to the ride, too.

After not riding a route for awhile, some changes are bound to crop up. Most of the ones we ran into had to do with road construction. Our main way east out of our neighborhood narrows to a two-lane, unstriped, country-style road for a short stretch. Then, at a T-intersection, we turn left, and then pick up that road again at the first right.

The city is eliminating that zigzag. It’s adding a curve to the road, and the new route will meet the old at that first right. But it’s not ready yet, and while they’re working on it, the two lanes are quite narrow. I debated getting up onto a new sidewalk that has been put in along the road, but at 8:30 in the morning, there’s not a lot of traffic here. We got to the T-intersection without a problem.

A similar diversion is going in about a mile farther east, as the city straightens out another zigzag route. This time, the road was blocked by large barricades, but there was just enough room for a bike to get through. We were feeling good that bikes could get through where cars couldn’t.

Creedmoor is about 16 miles from our starting point. After a pleasant trip, we wheeled in for a breather at the convenience store stop we always use.

“Isn’t it interesting,” asked Maggie, “how easy that ride is now? Remember when we used to do this ride?”

I remembered. There were times I’d get to the store and want to stay for an hour, just to unwind. This time, a ten-minute stay seemed a little long, and we got back on the bikes for the return leg.

The ride is easier now, for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve been losing a little weight. Not much, mind you, but enough that I can tell. It feels good to have to fasten my belt to the last notch on some of my pants. The other is that I’m stronger. I credit mountain biking for that. It’s beefed up my legs. Hills are never going to be my strong suit, but by powering my way up short, steep climbs on the MTB, the longer, less steep climbs on the road bike aren’t the struggle they used to be.

Now, all I have to do is attend to some bike maintenance again. Isn’t it interesting that a chain can start skipping some cogs after a two-hour plus ride, when it was shifting smoothly at the start? I see a new chain and cassette on the horizon.

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.