Descriptive Route Names

After several weeks of atypically cool weather, things are warming up around here, and I expect the club’s scheduled rides will have more participants. We have several club rides. There’s the regular Sunday ride at 8:15 a.m. For the A riders, it is not a no-drop ride, and riders are expected to average 16-18 mph over 50-60 miles. There’s also a Saturday no-drop ride, but it’s still relatively fast. Some of the retireds or work-from-home types do a Friday morning “Zoo” ride, which takes them out to the Austin Zoo and then back via some hilly roads. The main hill ride is Wednesday morning.

But in recent weeks, we’ve seen a lot of riders modifying start times, routes, speeds, etc. It was finally enough to prompt one member to post to our Yahoo board that ride names need to be changed.

“We need some ride names that will more accurately reflect what we can expect,” he wrote. He had a few suggestions:

The Janet Hangover ride, that starts an hour later than scheduled because the ride leader partied a little too hard the night before.

Jack’s I-Forgot-to-Download-the-Route-and-I’ll-Sort-Of-Improvise-As-We-Go-Along Ride, which often results in turns onto roads under construction, or roads that used to be paved, but are now gravel, or roads that dead end. Riders can expect to ride 10 miles farther than they anticipated.

Martin’s Last-Minute-Hill-Ride-Alternate, that takes place without notice, when Martin tackles the main hill ride and finds it’s too tough for him. His version is much shorter and involves a lot less climbing.

I suggested the Ray-Sunday-B-Ride-But-Because-He’s-So-Slow-Lately-It-Oughta-Be-a-C-Ride-That-Takes-Place-Every-Sunday-Except-When-He-Doesn’t-Show-Up-Which-Has-Been-A-Lot-Lately.

Then there’s Greg’s Saturday-No-Drop-That-Turns-Into-a-Not-No-Drop-Ride-Because-He-Thinks-We-Should-All-Ride-Faster Ride. The name speaks for itself.

On a regular Sunday, the post-ride coffee klatsch yields several other descriptive ride names.

But for some reason, the club’s information page still lists rides by their standard names.

Do the riders you travel with have their own descriptive names for their routes?


Pull It Down

On our Sunday club ride, we were joined by our friend Jerry, whose bad crash and broken leg I detailed in a post earlier this year.

Although Jerry has done some riding on the tandem he shares with his wife, this was his first ride on the roads with the club since his crash. Jerry has always been one of the more cautious riders I know, which is funny, because he’s also one of the faster riders in the club. But to ease back in, he decided to ride with the B’s today. He had decked himself out in a new kit, all in hi-visibility green — including his new helmet. He would be hard to miss.

Our ride was more like an A- group. A lot of folks decided the planned A ride wasn’t to their liking. Jordan came up with a good route, so some of us scrapped our plans in order to go with him. We had some strong riders, several who just wanted to take it easy after a grueling ride Saturday.

The ride got off to an inauspicious start. Just miles in, Maggie called out that she was abandoning. She had gotten a new crankset Saturday, and it wasn’t working out well. A clicking sound that started almost immediately got worse and worse. She decided to head home, and run her bike back to the bike shop for an adjustment.

After a quick run out to the zoo area, which features a nice, fast, twisty downhill, we had to turn around and head back up the hill. The group stayed together, which helped to negotiate the traffic, that was heavier than normal this morning.

Kenny was the next one to go. He had done one of the tough rides the day before, so he peeled off to head home after about 12 miles. Six of us were left to head east, and take a leisurely ride through a nice neighborhood on its ring road — a wide, smooth thorofare with almost no traffic.

It was after we left that spot, and were headed back to the start, that we regrouped at a stop light. Laura turned around to make sure we were all there, and noticed Jerry at the back.

Not Jerry.

Not Jerry.

“What’s with your helmet, Jerry?” she asked.

We all turned around to look.

Jerry’s lime green new helmet was sitting funny, way back on his head. He wears an orange cycling cap under his helmet, but his forehead was now mostly unprotected.

“Pull it down, Jerry!” exclaimed Laura. “You look like an amateur!”

I’ve never had a problem with wearing my helmet too far back on my head. I’ve caught my wife doing it, and gently had her pull it down. If your forehead isn’t covered, an important part of your head isn’t getting the protection it needs.

Kids seem to have the biggest problem with this. Maybe it’s because their helmets are too big off the shelf anyway. Maybe they think it’s more comfortable to wear the helmet back.

Be sure to do your kids — and your riding companions — a favor if you see this problem. Just tell them to pull it down.

Herding Cats

Our club president was out of town this weekend, mixing business and pleasure (he brought his bike on a business trip so he could sneak in some rides in the San Francisco area).

That left a big hole in our club organization. You see, he’s the guy who plans the routes for our club rides on Sundays. He urged someone — anyone — to come up with a plan for rides while he was gone.

So, the messages started flying on our club’s Yahoo group, which is where we do all our communicating.

Shane:  “Pepe hates Fitzhugh and I hate riding in the city so it looks like we might end up doing some different rides. That’s all good too though, options make life interesting right? Leaving at the usual time for a 57mile round trip and probably somewhere in the region of 3800-4000 ft of elevation.”

That drew almost immediate reaction. Jim was concerned about a potentially dangerous stretch of road:

“The Slaughter to Nutty Brown stretch of 1826 suggested is 5 miles and probably the most dangerous section in most people’s opinion (no shoulder, steep rollers, and heavier traffic than Fitzhugh).”

Clark suggested we depart from our normal routine and drive to a starting point some 10 miles west of our neighborhood. He pointed out a variety of scenic, low-traffic roads we could choose from.

But the afore-mentioned Pepe didn’t want to drive to a ride. To his credit, he came up with two options, one of 49 miles, and a shorter one of 34 miles.

Jerry said he had to be somewhere about an hour’s drive from town by 1 p.m., so couldn’t do the 50 milers that had been suggested. He came up with a plan of his own — one that we’ve done before and is about 32 miles. It has some potentially hazardous stretches, and some challenging rollers.

Frank, Yasmin, and Maggie — who all are B riders (Frank’s really an A, but it hasn’t sunk in yet) — declared themselves in for Jerry’s route.

But Shane, who was first to come up with a route plan, was getting frustrated by all the different options:

“I have now used every damn course creator I know of so if this doesn’t work, just assume we are doing Fitzhugh Road with an added loop on the way back. No 1826, no 290 – so NO WHINING!!!! Only whining allowed is my whining as I suffer up the little hills on the ride on Sunday.”

And Janice decided to add her two cents’ worth:

“I feel left out of the clusterfreak of the Sunday ride ‘planning,’ so I too will propose a ride.  My ride will start sometime between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.  The location of the start will be announced 2 seconds before the start, and the route will be depicted on an encrypted map which will be distributed after the ride.  I can tell you that the ride will travel on the left lane of Interstate 35 for several miles (only because it is probably the only road more dangerous than 1826).   A preride breakfast of baked potatoes will be available Easter egg style – you will have to find the potatoes hidden around the ride start.  This is not the worst ride posted, so I would anticipate a big turnout.”

In the end, we had three groups for the Sunday ride. One did Shane’s long route, another group started out with them, but shortened the distance considerably, and I joined Maggie and Brian for a B ride on another route that had never even come up for discussion on the online group.

As it turned out, we had three excellent rides.

And Joe, the club president, who was watching all of this online from his California base, was so pleased with the way things turned out, he has relinquished ride planning and is leaving it all up to us.



Guest poster Don Blount has been musing about the names cyclists call each other.

BlountOnBikingIt seems that my bike club is full of nicknames.

They are so numerous that I cannot remember many, but here are a few:

You could start with Fearless Frank, FF for short. He rides down hill like a man without fear. His epitaph should be: He never touched his brakes.

Then there is Ex Trez, the former club treasurer. This guy is 70 years old but rides like he is 40 years younger.

CB or Cherry Boy, a retired farmer, whose family grew or grows cherries.

Leadbutt for obvious reasons, I think.

Lonerider, who often puts in megamiles on his own. He also disappears from club rides as he goes off to do his own thing.

Grasshoppa – I am not sure about this one.

The Good Dr. Carl, not to be confused with the Evil Dr. Carl.

The Anti-Gravity Girls, two strong women riders whose name says it all about their climbing abilities.

Rocket. I have been told that he was fairly fast back in the day. He claims that he still is, even at 206 pounds.

And Capt. Hawk, sometimes shortened to just Hawk. He is a former Navy and airlines pilot. He said he was given his nickname during his Naval days when while flying a mission looking for enemy ships that a crewmember remarked that he looked like a hawk looking for prey.

That nickname stuck. He said the only people who called him by his given name “David” were his wife, always a sign of trouble, and people who did not know him real well.

That’s the thing about these nicknames — everyone who has one, likes it.

One of the funniest conversations I have heard  while out on a group ride happened when we met someone who followed our Yahoo group conversation.

One rider proudly introduced himself: “I’m Cherry boy,” he said. “Hi, I’m Leadbutt,” said the other. I was just flummoxed.

And if you are wondering, I am occasionally referred to as “The Editor. That is after all, what I do in my day job, but that has not really stuck — nor am I hankering for a nickname that would stick.

Hawk said that to have a nickname, you have to do something really memorable or boneheaded. I usually manage to avoid both (knock on wood).

What about your club? Is it full of nicknames too?

July Fourth Solo Ride

Someone in the club posted a ride for the Fourth of July, with one big difference: He wanted to start it at 7:30 a.m. instead of our usual 8:15. Since the mornings around here have been delightful lately, a lot of folks chimed in that they would be there.

His route was pretty ambitious, and he let it be known that the pace would be fast. I proposed an alternate route for the B’s, and said I would be there ready to go at 7:30.

The best laid plans…

It was 7:30 when I pulled out of my driveway. The Starbucks where we start our rides is less than 5 minutes from my house, so I wasn’t too concerned. I don’t recall a time when the club has begun its rides exactly on time.

But as I pulled into the parking lot, there was not a cyclist to be seen. Some folks at an outdoor table told me the group had left about 3 or 4 minutes earlier. “They went out on Slaughter,” the man said.

That made sense. It’s the quickest way to get to the start of the route they’d planned, and this early on a holiday morning, there wouldn’t be much traffic. I turned out onto the road and pedaled briskly.

If I could just catch a glimpse of them in the distance, I was pretty sure I would catch up to them at some point. A couple of B riders should be with the group, and we could branch off to an easier ride of our own.

In another couple of miles, I saw three cyclists ahead. Hm. They probably weren’t part of the club ride, I thought. But when the road curved left, I could see a large peloton ahead of the three. A ha! That must be them after all. I redoubled my efforts.

But I caught a red light, and lost ground to them. Still, after two more miles, I could see them in the distance once again. By now, I had gone about 10 miles, and realized I had yet to drink from my water bottle — a bad habit I get into if I’m distracted by other cares, like catching a group that was probably riding faster than me.

Now, the route approached Buda, which is usually a stop and regroup spot for us. I wasn’t sure if they planned to stop this early in the ride, but my hopes were high. Sure enough, when I turned into the Walgreens at the edge of town, there they were — a large bunch of cyclists.

Problem was, they weren’t from my club. This route is a popular one with Austin bikers, and it was clear that another group was taking this same way. I didn’t stop, but pedaled past them and struck out on the road again.

South of Buda, a good two-lane road passes a cement plant. It’s just uphill enough to be annoying, and it’s not a fast stretch for me. But today, I pedaled hard.

It didn’t do any good. I soon heard the familiar, “On your left,” and moved over slightly to be passed.

“Me too,” said another voice. “And me,” warbled a third. “We’re not done yet,” said yet another. That whole bunch I had left at the Walgreens passed me, with the most embarrassing one being a guy on a fixie. Fixies are cool. Unless they pass me.

Kyle was another six miles ahead. A convenience store stop there is almost obligatory for Austin cyclists, and I figured I’d catch my club at that point. A few riders from that Walgreens group straggled enough that I jumped into their little train, and we cruised into the convenience store stop.

Nope. This strage group was the only one around. I refilled my water bottle and had a couple of fig bars. My bike computer said I’d come 20-some miles at a 16.9 mph pace.

That both cheered me and concerned me. I don’t ride that fast. It felt good to have done that pace for 90 minutes, but I worried about having enough gas in the tank for the return trip. Only one way to find out.

The group ride left before me, so when I hit the road again, I was by myself. I rode steadily, not trying to push it on sections where I know I can go fast. The return trip was uneventful, until I cut through the local high school’s parking lot and prepared to turn onto Slaughter. “That looks like Ray,” said a female voice. It was Victoria, a fairly new member of our club, with her husband, Mark. I rode back to Starbucks with them.

“We got dropped just outside of Buda,” Victoria said, when we were back at Starbucks. “They were on a mission, and were determined to go fast and far. I was the only B on the ride, and just couldn’t keep up.” Victoria is more like a B+ rider — maybe even an A-. Anyway, she’s faster than me when she wants to be.

I looked at Mark. “Nice of you to stay back with Victoria,” I said.

“Happy wife, happy life,” he replied.

I said my goodbyes and headed home. The bike computer showed that although I had slowed some on the return leg, I was still averaging over 16 mph for 41 miles. Compared to the 14.7 or so I typically register on B rides, that was hot stuff. I put the bike away, pleased at how the day had gone.

Maybe missing the ride start wasn’t so bad, after all.



How Far We Goin’?

Every week, our club president posts possible routes for the Saturday and Sunday club rides. Generally, the routes are a mix. Sometimes, the distance is a bit longer, but the roads are comparatively flat. Other times, a lot of climbing is involved, but the routes are a bit shorter.

Among newer riders, or riders who are coming back after some time off the bike, distance always seems to be THE measure by which a riding decision is made. The magic length is about 45 miles. Anything beyond that, and people will either beg off, or come up with a shorter route of their own.

Here’s the curious thing: Routes are usually 40-60 miles. There really isn’t a lot of variation. At the beginning of spring, it’s relatively easy for people who haven’t ridden much to start out with shorter rides, between 30-35 miles, and quickly work up to the 45-mile range. From there, stretching to 50 and even 60 isn’t a big deal.

So why is it that when he posts a ride, it’s always followed on our club’s Yahoo group by inquiries about the length? It shouldn’t matter by now — just jump in, and if you’re left behind, you’ll have a cue sheet or a map, or a Garmin display to get you home safely.

Oh, what’s that? You didn’t bother to follow the link the club president left with the route information? He posts turn-by-turn directions as well as a Garmin map. There’s really no excuse not to make a small effort to become acquainted with the directions we’ll follow on ride day.

And yet, it appears that for some people, that small effort is too much trouble. It results in riders taking wrong turns during the ride. Sometimes, their mistakes are discovered, and someone is dispatched to chase them down and get them back on the right route. But since our Sunday rides are not no-drop rides (at least for the A riders), often no help is sent.

We’ve got a ride coming up Sunday that I’ve never ridden before. Well, to be correct, I haven’t ridden about a third of the route. So I’ll be sure to have the cue sheet with me.

It’s a good thing, because after the route was posted today, one of the first responses was: “Joe, I have just one word: howlongisit?”

I was pleased to see the response: “Nottoofar.”

The Decline of the Group Ride?

This week, I got the monthly email newsletter from the Austin Cycling Association, a group I belong to. One item in the missive caught my eye: it said participation in the ACA’s “classic” rides has fallen off considerably. These are group rides the organization (It doesn’t call itself a “club,” so I won’t, either) hosts every Saturday and Sunday. The locations rotate among a couple dozen different spots, and riders can choose from several different distances for each ride.

“Ten or 12 years ago,” said the newsletter, “a typical ACA suburban or country ride would draw 50 or perhaps 70 riders; nowadays, they draw only a dozen or so.” The newsletter expressed bafflement as to why this would be the case.

The ACA is the largest cycling organization in the Austin area, with about 1200 or more members. The rides have always been one of the group’s attractions, so the news that participation was down that much was unexpected.

However, I must admit that although I’ve been a dues-paying member for several years, I myself haven’t taken part in that many rides. When I have, it’s often been because they’re merged with a ride some other group is putting on, such as a training ride for an upcoming charity event. For a couple of years, I’ve resolved to get out on ACA rides more often, because they go to places I rarely ride, and the change of scene would be welcome. But those different places are often 30 or even 40 miles from where I live. In my part of the city, the group doesn’t offer many rides.

Riders mill around before the start of one of our club rides.

Riders mill around before the start of one of our neighborhood club rides.

Those it does put on around my area are routes that I ride a lot — usually with my neighborhood cycling club, so I always go with my club rather than the ACA. And maybe that’s the reason for the decline in ridership. In the five years I’ve been riding, I’ve noticed lots of groups spring up that offer group rides. My neighborhood club is one example. We also have group rides on Saturday and Sunday, and lately, our Saturday rides have grown.

Then there’s the Austin Cycling Meetup group. Meetups are informal gatherings coordinated via a Meetup website — they exist for a wide variety of avocations. The cycling meetup sprang up about five years ago. I’m listed as a Meetup member, but I don’t ride with them anymore, for the same reason as above.

Several bike shops put on their own weekend or weekday evening rides. I’ve been on a few of those. And there are a number of other clubs in the area that all stage their own rides.

I can’t speak for any of the other groups, but my neighborhood club rides attract anywhere from a dozen to three dozen riders on Sunday mornings. That’s dependent on the weather, of course. In fact, I’d say our rides have grown over the last year or so by a little bit. Our Saturday ride had the reputation of being a “fast” ride, but some members will informally post that they’ll be heading out at about the same time, perhaps on a different route, at a different pace, and some of those rides draw decent numbers.

A bright spot in the Austin Cycling Association is the growth of so-called “hosted” rides. These differ from the “classic” rides in that a trained ride leader organizes the ride, they’re rated for speed and climbing, and they’re “no drop” rides. When you go to a classic ride, a ride “starter” furnishes you with a map and cue sheet, says a few words about the route and riding etiquette, and then the riders set off. They separate quickly, and it’s easy to find yourself on your own. I suppose that could be daunting for new riders, but anyone with some experience should be comfortable by themselves, especially with a map to help them out.

So, I don’t quite know what to make of this. Maybe it’s just that people prefer riding in smaller groups. Maybe it’s the early start time — most classic rides start at 8 a.m., which is another reason I’m not likely to drive 30 miles to get there. The ACA seems befuddled by the trend.

What’s your experience in your area? Have you noticed a falloff in group ride numbers? Or are yours flourishing? Are they large rides, or small? Do the routes vary, or are they repeated week to week? Let know in the comments.