Category Archives: Cycling

General cycling category

A New Year, A New Bike and hopefully some more words…

Ok, so it’s been a really long while since I last posted, I guess that’s what happens when life happens.  Fortunately for me, I always have cycling to keep me sane.  This time last year, my goal was to eclipse 5K miles on my road bike.  At the time  I’d been thinking about yet another career reset, but wasn’t all that serious.  A variety of events conspired to accelerate these plans and off I went.  Since then, my plans have changed more than once and will probably change again.  All of this has seriously impacted my ability to get out and ride, especially lately.  Between travel and inclement weather when I was home, I managed to get out about every 10 days in the last few months of 2011.  I was tired, I was grumpy and honestly, I really didn’t feel like riding.   I now know that I get really grumpy when I don’t ride enough, however, I had a hard time motivating myself to get out there again.

Trek Marlin 29er

Enter a Trek Marlin 29er.   I’d been thinking about trying out a 29er ever since John at Lake Travis Cyclery told me I just had to try one because it’s more fun than you should be allowed to have on a bike.  With its over-sized wheels you can pretty much roll over anything.  I used to ride my mountain bike off road quite a bit, but honestly, I never felt all that comfortable because balance was always awkward on an over-sized frame and 26″ wheels.  The 29er totally changes this.  It’s like riding a Schwinn Cruiser, except it has gears and better off-road manners.

This year I volunteered for Bikes for Kids and while waiting around at Mellow Johnny’s, a couple of 29ers caught my eye: the Trek Wahoo and Trek Marlin.  The frames were pretty much identical, but Marlin had better components.  Having replaced and rebuilt the components  several times over on my 16+ year old mountain bike, I’ve learned to appreciate the value of decent quality components.  It’s no fun when you’re off-road and you’re having trouble finding the right gear while climbing an incline or negotiating a bunch of loose rocks.  Being a big guy, I tend to be a little hard on the components anyway.  The Marlin had SRAM X4 rear derailleur, Shimano Altus front derailleur and SRAM shifters.  The rear cassette has plenty of range which is important for a bike as heavy as this.  This bike isn’t the lightest bike, but this isn’t as much of a problem on a 29er  as you might think, especially when you’re riding trails.  Momentum seems to carry this bike quite a ways up the next hill before you even have to pedal.  The larger wheels allow you to coast downhill at higher speeds with more stability than a regular mountain bike.  All this translates into a blast on some pretty technical trails.  Stumps, no problem.  Loose rocks, again no problem.  The 29er is pretty much the Honey Badger of off-road bikes.

Shimano PD-M324

But the fun doesn’t stop when the trail ends.  This bike is very versatile.   Having commuted on my mountain bike quite a bit, this bike takes commuting to a whole new level.   It’s locking front shocks, frame geometry, quick adjustable seat post and handlebars give it surprisingly good around-town manners.  I opted for Shimano PD-M324 pedals that allow me to ride it both with or without bike shoes.  After riding off-road a couple of times, I really appreciate these pedals because I don’t have to clip in to restart on technical sections, something that was always a bit of a challenge with the Shimano 540s I had on my other mountain bike.  The bottom line is that if I just want to go, it’s not a production because I can just grab the bike and go.

My family will tell you I’m a difficult person to buy gifts for.  I make matters worse because I hate shopping so much that when I actually get out shopping,  I buy things just to get it over with.   This year, my wife and I helped out with the final preparations for the Bikes for Kids giveaway at Mellow Johnny’s so I showed her the bike I had been looking at (hint, hint).  Surprise, surprise, that’s what I got for Christmas.  I still had my 16+ year old mountain bike that I used to use for commuting to work and off-road riding, but when I tried to get it ready to ride the last time, I discovered I would need to rebuild the shifters yet again.  I finally gave up.  I sent a message to my friend Tim to see if the Yellow Bike Project took bike donations.  He said absolutely and told me they’d even provide me with the IRS form for a charitable contribution.  When I dropped off my bike, the coordinator was thrilled even after I told him what work would need to be done on the bike.  It was in pretty good shape with solid components so I’m sure they’ll find a good home for it.  If you have an old bike you don’t know what to do with, why not donate it to the Yellow Bike Project.  They’ll make sure it ends up on the road somewhere with someone who could use it.

As for my new 29er, it’s given me the motivation to get out and ride more often.  Tomorrow I’m riding with a group from the Austin Mountain Biker’s Meetup Group.  Just the start I needed for the new year.

Give your bike a clean bill of health

It’s springtime in Texas and that means there’s lots of organized rides to participate in.  I have some favorites and one of them is the Shiner GASP.  As I was thinking about the things I needed to prepare for this ride, I decided that I really needed to clean my bike, including the chain.  Last year I got a little lax on my chain cleaning.  It’s a good idea to periodically clean your chain with some degreaser or your components will wear out pre-maturely.  In reality, however, I was embarrassed by how dirty my bike was.  Regardless of what motivates you to do it, thoroughly cleaning your bike before a big ride is a good idea for a number of reasons.

First, it washes away the dirt buildup on your bike’s moving parts.  Your bike accumulates all kinds of dust, road grime, sweat, hydration fluids and who knows what else while you’re riding it.  While modern lubrication products are designed to clean while they lube, there’s only so much they can do.  Eventually, most lube products actually begin attracting more dirt and grime.  If you let this accumulate long enough, you’ll begin to notice your shifts become less crisp and your cables will not move as smoothly.  A citrus-based bio-degradable degreaser from your local bike shop is all you need to get all this off.  Be sure to rinse your bike off with a gentle water spray and let it dry completely before re-applying lube.  Make sure you clean every nook and cranny.  I was amazed how much grime had built up and I vowed to clean my bike more often instead of waiting until it looked too dirty.

Of course, while you’re cleaning your bike, you might as well perform an inspection.  This is actually a great time to do this.  Begin by checking your wheels to make sure they are true.  Before the Shiner GASP, I found several of my spokes had loosened on my rear wheel, while which I found when I was washing my spokes.  These were easy to fix on my truing stand.  If you don’t have a truing stand, try tightening your brakes to the point where there’s just a little bit of clearance and use that as your guide.  Be sure to back them off again and do a quick test spin to make sure the brakes are properly adjusted.  I also wash my tires at this point.  Before last week’s Hill Country Armadillo Classic I discovered that my rear tire was worn so badly that the threads were beginning to show.  I’m glad I picked this up before heading out for a 63 mile ride.  The last thing you want is a tire failure on an organized ride that you paid for.  This is also a good time to check your derailleurs.  I usually shift through all the gears on both the front and back before I re-apply lube.  Don’t forget to inspect your cables either.  It’s no fun to tackle a long hilly ride with a bike that shifts poorly.

It always seems like my bike rides better when it’s clean.  I’m sure it’s mostly psychological. I feel the same way when I wash my car.  Routine cleaning doesn’t have to take very long so you don’t have to worry about how much time it takes.  So, what are you waiting for?  Go ahead and give your bike a good cleaning and inspection, you’ll feel like you’re riding a new bike.

TxDOT’s collaboration with the cycling community

Last week, I attended an open house hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).  The purpose of the open house was to communicate cycling related projects to the Central Texas cycling community.  I shared my intent with my social network and a few responded that they would be interested to hear how it went.  Overall, I have to give TxDOT an ‘A’ for making an effort to communicate what projects they had on the board for the next three years and how they affected cyclists.  Each project was clearly identified on a map indicating what sections of our roadways were affected and in what year they expected to work on it.   I was even provided a detailed project list that explained what the project was and whether or not it could be accommodated to benefit cyclists.  Let me tell you, they have a lot on their plate and with looming budget shortfalls, things are not going to get any easier.

Despite that, I learned that a mandate had been issued that all projects should consider how to accommodate cyclists as long as it could be done at a reasonable cost.  In many instances, TxDOT is collaborating with counties on projects where the county is the project lead.  In these instances, they assist the counties with their expertise and provide some funds for the project.  The fact that they’re thinking about cyclists allows them to offer some leadership to benefit Central Texas cyclists that might otherwise be overlooked.  TxDOT also made sure they had plenty of staff on hand to answer any questions I had and encouraged me to provide my feedback.  The staff that was there included individuals from most of the county offices in Central Texas.  I imagine that they were there to learn what cyclists cared about and how roads could be improved to make them more cycle friendly.  Once again, I have to commend TxDOT for making the effort to learn how they can help me and my fellow riders.  I always feel fortunate to live where I do because it only takes me about 10 minutes to get to roads that are great for cycling.  Combined with the awesome weather we have most of the year, I get to enjoy riding quite a bit.

As always, I learned quite a few things that evening.  Aside from considering the safety of cyclists on upcoming projects, I learned that there are some services available to help insure the safety of cyclists on all existing roads maintained by TxDOT.  We’ve had very little rain and some pretty cold weather over the winter.  As a result, there are quite a few roads I ride on regularly that were damaged over the winter.  I’ve noticed quite a few large cracks and new potholes along some of my regular routes.  Surprises like these can have disastrous consequences for the unsuspecting cyclist.  I had my own encounter with one of these that almost did me in last fall.  Fortunately, TxDOT has a solution to this issue.  They offer both an online site to report a pothole as well as a telephone number (see image above).  This really works.  I’m not sure who reported the pothole I hit, but it was fixed within a week.  Central Texas has a wide variety of soil conditions that make it a real challenge for road builders.  Fortunately, TxDOT has some pretty smart people working for them who understand these issues and, for the most part, do a pretty good job keeping them in good shape.  I’ve ridden in other states and I have to say, we’re very fortunate here in Central Texas.  So, if you have concerns or want to share your thoughts, let them know, they’re listening.

Ready or not for the LBJ 100

Life’s been a bit hectic for me lately as I’m trying to launch a couple of ideas, so my blog has suffered, although not as much as I did yesterday.  Last year I decided to try the LBJ 100 Tour on a whim.  I’d driven by the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall Texas a number of times on my way to Fredricksburg.  Each time I told myself I’d be back some day to take a tour of the ranch.  LBJ’s legacy is hard to escape when you’re living in Central Texas.  Each Spring, the Bluebonnets and other wildflowers are a constant reminder of Lady Bird Johnson’s impact along the Texas highways.  It’s a spectacular bouquet of colors that you have to see to believe.  We don’t really have Fall colors where I live, but we do have wildflowers in Spring.

So, I figured why not combine one of my favorite things to do (cycling) with one of my other favorite interests (history).  It’s also one of the first century rides available and a challenging one at that.  Last year, I really struggled on the back stretch between Sandy and the Ranch.  I’d skipped the rest stop at Sandy because they were out of water and I still had one bottle left.  It was only 13 miles to the next rest stop so I figured how bad could it be.  I was wrong.  It was uphill most of the way from what has to be the lowest part of the ride to the highest part of the ride.  Leading up to that section you were pretty much coasting downhill for quite a ways.  Then there was the wind.  I struggled to stretch my water those 13 miles and started cramping as I rolled into the last rest stop where some kind woman recommended some Pickle Juice.  It tasted awful, but worked like a charm.  Within a minute or two my cramps were gone…magic stuff.  I now bring some along on every century ride.

This year, I’m in much better shape so I figured I was better prepared and it would be an easier ride.  I prepared my things the night before and even cleaned my bike, so I was ready…or was I?  The morning started off rather uneventful with a stop at my local Starbucks and a nice easy drive to Stonewall, where I arrived about an hour before the ride.  I started to get ready to ride and realized I didn’t have my helmet.  I’d put it right by my front door so I wouldn’t forget it.  Unfortunately, all my other stuff was elsewhere so I walked right by it on my way out the door.  Riding without a helmet is not something I like to do and it’s suicide on a ride with over 1000 other riders.  This year’s ride must have had over 1500 riders, many of whom are not very experienced riding in large groups closely bunched together.

Thanks goodness for Bike World San Antonio

So I was off to find a helmet.  Lucky for me my friends at Bike World San Antonio arrived with just one helmet.  It wasn’t exactly my size, but it fit enough to protect my head.  A guy I’d parked next to also forgot his helmet.  He’d thought about not riding until his wife located one for him to wear.  When I got back to my car, he was already there resting.  He got up to walk around a bit and I noticed his face, shoulder and knees were pretty banged up.  He accidentally clipped a wheel of another rider and landed face first in the road.  One of my other friends actually saw it happen.  He lost two of is front teeth.  It reminded me of my own wreck a few months ago.  My face still feels numb from that accident, but all my teeth are still me.  Good thing he was wearing a helmet.

I started the ride with one of my ride buddies who is a much better climber than me.  We ride pretty evenly even though I tend to lag behind on hills.  I do manage to catch up on the downhill sections and sometimes pull him along on windy flat sections.  I experienced chain suck on one of the first longer hills and had to get off the bike to get my chain back on (time to adjust the front derailleur).   By then he was gone.  We’d started out at a pretty good pace and I hadn’t been on my bike in 2 weeks so my heart rate was higher than I wanted.  I rode on and off with a group of people.  The long uphill stretch was still pretty tough and I struggled to maintain a decent pace.  This time I did stop at the Sandy rest stop as well as the one they added a little more than half way between it and the last rest stop, mainly to fill my water bottle.  I skipped the last stop and powered in from there.  I picked up a group of riders that passed me on the uphill stretch as I got my second wind and cruised in at a little over 20 Mph.  Overall, I averaged 17 Mph, which was much better than last year’s 15 Mph, but it didn’t feel that way.  It was still fun and the scenery is spectacular.  It’s a very well supported ride and it’s just cool to ride around on the LBJ Ranch with all its reminders about arguably one of the most tumultuous times in American history.  This is one of those must-do rides.  If you do it, consider an overnight in Fredricksburg, it’s only 20 minutes away.  Don’t forget to stop at the Becker Vineyards and try some of their excellent wine.

Stats for the LBJ 100 Tour.

Avoiding saddle sores

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but never quite got around to it.  I’ve not been out on the bike as much in the last couple of weeks and the the area I’ll notice this the most is where you sit on your saddle.  There are really 3 things that significantly influence your ride comfort when you’re sitting in the saddle:

  1. chamois in your cycling shorts or bibs
  2. your saddle geometry
  3. your seat post

I recently wrote a review about some cycling shorts I received for Christmas.  After some time in the saddle,  I have to say I like the Performance Elite bib shorts the best, especially in colder weather.  The Hincapie shorts are pretty nice too, but they’re much lighter weight and I’m sure I’ll appreciate them more when the temperatures go above 90 here in Texas.

Your saddle is also pretty important when it comes to ride comfort.  Contrary to what seems intuitive, it’s not really about the amount of padding in the saddle.  In order to understand why you get sore on a ride, you’ll need to think about the contact points when you’re seated on the saddle.  While there’s a significant amount of weight on the top of the saddle, there’s also a fair amount of force exerted on the side of your saddle as you pedal and it’s this movement that usually causes the soreness.  If you’re riding a road bike like I do most of the time, your saddle’s up pretty high and this makes a difference too because you’re not going to want a wide, cushy saddle.  A wider saddle will put added pressure on the insides of your legs where they meet your pelvis.  Not everyone’s the same so a saddle that works for me in terms of width might not work for you.  Also, mens and women’s saddles are very different.  So how do you know what saddle will work best for you?  The best thing to do is take your bike down to your local bike shop and try a few of them.  Most bike shops have an exchange policy so if you discover your new saddle gives sores after 50 miles on longer rides, you can swap it out for another one that works best for you.  Make sure you check the flexibility of the saddle on the sides where it meets the insides of your legs near your pelvis.

Last, but not least, your seat post will have a significant influence on your ride comfort.  Last year, I upgraded my ride to a 2008 Trek Madone 5 series and I immediately noticed a huge difference in ride comfort over longer distances.  I’d been riding a Lemond Buenos Aires bike for many years and really liked the smooth ride the Reynolds 853 steel frame afforded me over longer distances.  Apparently, my raves about my new ride prompted my friend Jeff to go out and get a Madone as well and we rode together on the Wurst Ride.  While I was riding behind him I noticed something quite remarkable.  His entire seat post flexed from side-to-side while he was pedaling, and not just a little.  I asked him if mine did the same thing and he said he noticed the same thing on my bike.  I’ve not seen other bikes exhibit this degree of flexibility.  Of course, one look at the Madone’s seat post and you’ll see it’s totally different from most other bikes.  The seat post actually goes over the bike frame instead of sliding into it.  I don’t understand all the physics involved, but my observations indicate it has a big impact on my overall ride comfort.  Different bike manufacturers use different techniques to smooth out your rides and it’s important to understand what their doing before you drop some serious coin on a bike.  If you’re in the market for a new bike, do some research and ask lots of questions.  A good bike shop will know about these features and be able to explain them to you.

I managed to rack up about 4K miles on my new bike in a little over 6 months of riding.  That’s almost double what I did the previous year on my old bike.  I’ve got a Selle Italia Trans Am Flite saddle on my Lemond and the Bontrager Affinity saddle that came with my Madone.  Both are very comfortable over long distances.  Saddles have changed dramatically over the last couple of years, so if your saddle is more than 2 or 3 years old, it’s worth checking out what’s available now.

The cool gear channel

You won’t find it on the array of channels offered by your local cable company. If you’re a regular reader or follow me on twitter/facebook you know I spend a fair amount of time on my bike, much of it riding solo.  It’s not that I’m anti-social or don’t like riding with others, it just works out that way.  It’s hard to find a group of riding buddies that ride at exactly the same pace as you do and have exactly the same training needs or goals.  Even when I ride with a group, we often ride at apart for a portion of the ride.  The larger the group, the more likely it is that I’ll find someone who rides at my pace, or reasonably close to it.  That’s one of the reasons I like organized rides.   Other reasons include seeing friends I don’t get to ride with very often, meeting new friends and getting the opportunity to check out the gear other cyclists use.  The last reason is pretty important because there are many options for cyclists and limited local channels where you can find gear.  This isn’t a knock on the local bike shop (I’m a huge fan), it’s simply a matter of economics.  The shops can really only afford to stock items that most people will buy, which limits the number of specialty items they can carry.

The internet has created the channel for these specialty items.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine how a product will work on your bike by just looking at a picture.  Sure, Youtube videos have enhanced the ability of the makers of specialty items to demonstrate their wares, but there’s never a substitute for being able to see the product up close or, better yet, see  it being used on the road by a cyclist.  That’s where a large organized ride provides vendors and riders to experience these specialty products first hand.  There’s lots of time to check stuff out as you’re riding in a group for miles and miles and miles.  Sure, the scenery is nice, but after a while, your mind wanders and that’s when I use this time to see what gear others are using.  Here’s a couple of things I saw on the Austin Cycle Camp / Bicycle Sportshop Resolution Ride a few days ago.

Tim and I at the start of the Resolution Ride

It should no secret that I like unique and somewhat outlandish jerseys, after all, many of my cycling friends find me wearing a jersey that looks like something from the movie Close Encounters of the 3rd kind.  But that’s exactly the point. Unless you’re part of a team, why wear the same jersey or kit everyone else has? It’s important to me that my jersey is easily visible and that it stands out.  I ran into my twitter friend Tim and he was sporting his Test Dummy jersey.  I love this jersey.  I can also relate to the sense of humor that resulted in him getting this jersey.  We both recently experienced crashes that required a visit to the emergency room.  However, this jersey is probably more appropriate for my youngest son, who’s got preprinted forms at the local ER.

Velovie Vitesse SE

On the ride I spent a fair amount of time riding behind a bike I’d never seen before.  While many bikes look alike to most folks, I’ve come to appreciate their subtle differences and this one caught my eye.  It was a Velovie Vitesse and I’d never seen one of these before.  I asked the rider about their bike and she described it as a Cervelo competitor.  I’ve always thought Cervelo bikes were cool, but some of that probably had  to do with the fact that their designer’s name, Gerard Vroomen, just makes them sound fast.  Anyway, I checked out Velovie and found out that they only sell their bikes online.  In fact, they have a rather interesting program where you can purchase a previously owned Velovie at a discounted price to make it more reasonable to try one of their bikes.  These bikes are all less than 2 years old and are often bikes that other Velovie owners have traded in for different Velovie models.  I like this concept because it’s a smart business decision.  It allows the company to build up brand loyalty and differentiate themselves.  It works because the rider I spoke with was very passionate about how much she liked her ride.  Although it sounds French, Velovie is a US company based in Arizona.

The Italian Road Bike Mirror

On the way back from Andice, I rode with a group of riders for a few miles until they dropped me.  I like to ride fast, but this group kicked it into another gear about 5 miles in and I decided I wasn’t willing to hurt myself to hang with them. It’s always a bit unnerving to ride in a tight bunch at speed when we’re 3 or 4 abreast.  One thing I’d noticed on the way out was that the group tended to decelerate rapidly at the base of every climb.  If you’re not paying attention, this can be a disaster because invariably, someone will clip a wheel and all of a sudden it’s mass carnage.  Sure enough, this happened just after we passed FM 3405 on our way back.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. Shortly thereafter I passed a rider who had one of these mirrors that was apparently part of his handlebars.  I slowed to ask him about it and he told me it was The Italian Road Bike Mirror.  What’s cool about this mirror is that its barely larger than your bar end and doesn’t get in the way.  Yet it provides you critical visibility to what’s in your blind spot on that side of the bike.  This is crucial when there’s a crash in the group you’re riding with because you won’t have time to turn around to see if you have room to go left or right.  That’s why you often see a bunch of riders go down in a race after one of them falls.  The results are never pretty.  I really like this product and will probably get one.  I thought I’d wait until I need some new bar tape because you have to wrap your bar tape around the mirror to fasten it to your handlebars.  Very cool!

I think if I owned a local bike shop, I’d give riders an opportunity to suggest products they liked on a ride that I sponsored.  What a great opportunity to find out what my prospective customers would buy.

Have you found an cool gear on any of your rides that you’d like to share?  Let me know.

P.S.  Thanks Ray for that great picture you snapped of Tim & I.

Review: Bib Shorts and Gloves

I got some sorely needed cycling gear for Christmas this year, literally.  I’d torn my favorite Pearl Izumi Elite Bib Shorts in my crash. Fortunately, my clever wife was able to repair them.  There’s two clothing items you never want to skimp on: shoes and shorts.  Riding is never any fun when your  feet or butt are sore.  With shorts, it’s all about the chamois and let me tell you, chamois has come a long way.  The chamois in the Pearl Izumi Elite Bib Shorts is top notch and you find this out on rides longer than 25 miles.  I have some other bib shorts and the chamois isn’t nearly as good a quality and I only wear them on shorter rides, otherwise my butt gets sore and we can’t have that.

I got one pair of the Performance Elite Bib Short.  I really like these shorts on long rides because they have pretty good core support and the chamois is first rate.  They also provide a fair amount of compression for my legs which helps me ride longer at a higher average heart rate without cramping.  I was surprised how much of a difference these shorts made on a recent 60 mile ride.

The other pair of shorts I got were the Hincapie Performer Bib Short.  I had made a suggestion for these because I’d seen that they had gotten good reviews.  They were a bit thinner in terms of material and the chamois didn’t seem as thickly padded as the other shorts I got, so I was a bit skeptical at first.  However, that skepticism quickly faded when I rode the Dam Loop in Austin.  It was a nice day for a ride with temps in the low 70s.  These shorts are very comfortable and I like the fact that they are light weight.  This will be important when I ride in the Texas heat.  The chamois is very well designed and provides just the right amount of padding in all the key areas.  They don’t provide as much compression as my Performance Elite shorts.

The other item I got was a pair of Spenco Classic gloves.  These are old school crocheted gloves that are very comfortable.  I was pretty bummed when I destroyed my Pearl Izumi crocheted gloves in my crash.  I’d had them for almost 10 years and they never got stiff or wore out.  The Spenco Classic gloves have the same suede-like palms as the Pearl Izumis, except with more padding.  They appear to be very well made.

Last, but least, I got my all-time favorite jersey: the Primal Illegal Alien jersey.  I have no idea how my wife managed to find this gem since Primal stopped making them years ago.  My last one suffered greatly in my crash and at the hands of the paramedics who worked on me afterwards.  There was no repairing that damage. This jersey had special meaning for me since it was a birthday gift from my wife and boys many years ago.  It’s a very recognizable jersey and I’ve only ever seen it worn by one other person.   Primal’s made some of the most distinctive jerseys over the years.  I wish they would bring some of their older designs back because they are pretty unique.

We’ll see how the gloves and shorts hold up over time.  All three were very reasonable and a  good alternative to the higher-priced standard set by Pearl Izumi.  So perhaps you can save some money without sacrificing performance.

What a year it’s been

2010 was very rewarding from a cycling perspective and not so much from a health perspective.  I started cycling again back in April of 2009 to lose weight, lower my blood pressure and get in better shape.  That first year, I managed to lose 30 lbs and ride a little over 2,500 miles.  This year, I managed a little over 5,000 miles and lost another 25 lbs (it would have been 5 lbs more if the Christmas cookies hadn’t intervened).  I managed 4 rides of 100 miles or more, 3 of them on back-to-back-to-back weekends, along with quite a few rides over 50 miles.  My blood pressure is in much better shape and I’m happy about the fact that I avoided the medication route with my lifestyle changes.  On the negative side, I had to have surgery to repair an umbilical hernia and had a pretty bad crash whose effects still linger both physically and mentally.  My face still feels like I’ve just returned from the dentist after Novocaine and I’m still a little spooked on my descents.  Overall, I’m just thankful to be still riding because both of my medical emergencies came very close to ending that for me.

This year I also made some great new friends while riding my bike. In one way or another, every one of them has inspired me to improve some aspect of my cycling.  It’s been fun riding in groups and meeting new people.  I still ride a fair amount on my own which is OK because sometimes I need that time to decompress.  Finally, I managed to get my wife out riding and she actually enjoys it.  This is important to me because I spent a lot of time on my bike this year and she’s always been very supportive, but it is time where we are doing different things.  I don’t expect she’ll ride at my level anytime soon, but that’s OK too, I can adjust my riding to ride with her.  As she likes to say, “I’m his recovery ride.”  It’s been fun and that’s the way I want to keep it.

So, what’s next for 2011?

  • I need to lose another 20 lbs.  So far my weight loss has come primarily from cycling and eating a little more intelligently.  To lose another 20 lbs. I’ll need to start working on some other parts of my body.
  • I’m going to attempt a triathlon.  I’ve been swimming, running and cycling a good part of my life, why not combine all three.  I’d love to work my way up to a 1/2 Iron Man before I get too old and decrepit to do it.  I don’t think I could ever manage a full Iron Man because I have some lingering sports injuries that would prevent me from running a full marathon.
  • I’m going to attempt Tour das Hugel.  I thought about doing that this year, but health issues got in the way.  After riding with my friend Mike, I clearly need to up my game in the hills.  I made good progress this year, but I have a lot of work to do.
  • I’m going to try some new organized rides.  This year I missed out on the Ring of Fire ride.  With a name like that, how could you not want to do it?
  • I vow to actually attend Wurst Fest after doing the Wurst Ride.  After all, isn’t that the point of the ride, aside from raising money for the Bob Woodruff Foundation?

I’m not going to set any mileage targets because I already know I’ll be spending a lot of quality time with my bike.  What do you have in store for 2011?

Raising awareness and adjusting attitudes for better safety on the road

My friend Ray alerted me to a report that the State of New York is about to pass a law requiring prospective drivers to take a bike safety course before they can get their license.  It doesn’t just include bikes, but pedestrians, skateboarders and scooters as well.  This is a great idea because bikes, pedestrians, skateboarders and scooters are no match for a motor vehicle when there’s a collision.  They all lose and the consequences can be deadly.  Cyclists are often outraged whenever there’s an incident where a cyclist is struck by a motor vehicle, citing lack of enforcement of traffic laws when the accident involves a cyclist.  I suspect that drivers in general are cited less frequently when they operate their vehicles in a reckless manner and have an accident, but I don’t have any statistics to back this up, so let’s just chalk it off to being my opinion and nothing more.  This report does, however, remind me of a topic I’ve been meaning to post about for a few weeks now.

I recently completed a driver’s safety course in the State of Texas.  Like many of us, I feel pretty confident that I know the rules of road and consider myself to be a pretty safe driver.  I have to admit, I was surprised by the amount of content included in my recent course that was new to me.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find a chapter dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian safety.  According to the course, motorists must treat cyclists as if they were just like other cars on the road and that the cyclists had a right to be there and as such, had to obey the same traffic laws as the motorists.  It went on to say that motorists had to take special care when near cyclists because a collision would result in serious injury for the cyclist.  It also said motorists should leave safe passing room and avoid sharp turns that threaten the safety of the cyclist.

The overriding theme throughout this course was the fact that driving attitudes had a significant impact on how safely we operate our motor vehicles.  Anticipating potential problems often leads to avoiding these issues altogether.  I really liked this aspect of the course because it forced me to think about various driving situations and how I could alter the outcome by simply anticipating a problem and eliminating it by changing my attitude about the situation.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter who’s right and who’s wrong, if we all were a little more considerate to others while driving, many accidents could be avoided.  This includes focusing more of our attention to the task of driving, acting in a more predictable manner and leaving room for others to avoid trouble as well.  This doesn’t guarantee my safety, but I’m hoping it increases my odd of avoiding serious injury.  I’m sure I’ll still run into an uneducated motorist ever once in a while where, no matter how much consideration I’m offering, they will go out of their way to endanger me with their reckless actions.  There’s not much I can do about this, except encourage them to take one of these driver’s safety courses.

While I am encouraged by the approach the Texas Department of Public Safety has taken, I’d like to see them take it a step further by requiring all drivers to take a driver’s safety course every time they renew their license (about once every 10 years) as well as make this part of the standard curriculum for new drivers.  Traffic laws change over time and so do traffic conditions.  What harm would it do to raise awareness every few years by requiring a refresher safety course.  These days it’s pretty easy to do this online.  The cost could be rolled into the renewal fee.  I think it gives the Texas DPS an opportunity to raise awareness to safety issues and how best to address them.  I know I’m probably going out on a limb here, but if even one serious injury or death is avoided, why not?  What are your thoughts on the matter?

Oh the memories a bicycle makes…

I was driving around my wife’s home town of Antigo Wisconsin last night looking at the holiday lights and she said to me, “this brings back so many memories, I used to ride my bike up and down these streets.”  Just to put the scene in proper perspective, it’s been snowing here all week and this is on top of the infamous storm that dumped so much snow it collapsed the Metrodome in Minneapolis. So, having her remember riding a bike through these snow covered streets where the snow is piled up higher than me (I’m 6’7″) at every corner was quite remarkable.  But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I clearly remember the excitement of getting my very first bike for my 8th birthday, a Dunelt English Racer with a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed internal shift hub.  I used to ride that bike all over my town.  After a while, it lost its fenders and chain guard, but the core bike survived for many years and much abuse until one day it was stolen from my driveway because I had foolishly left it outside at night.  We lived in a pretty safe neighborhood, but I knew better because my parents had warned me that I shouldn’t leave it outside.  I was crushed.

That summer, I managed to get a summer job in Germany and bought a new bike with my very first paycheck.  This time I got a 5-speed.  I was very proud and rode that bike all over Germany.  I had made a good friend over the summers I’d spent visiting my grandparents in Germany and he suggested we take a few bike tours during the weekends.  Later that summer, we spent a few days sailing his Flying Dutchman from Bremen to Bremerhaven.  We camped in his boat quite a bit that summer.  Each time, I rode my bike to the yacht club where he stored his boat.  Cycling in Germany is very cool because there are actual bike paths on virtually every street and it, along with an awesome public transportation network, is the way many people get around.  Over the years, the number of cars have increased, but the infrastructure for cycling was established long ago as Germany rebuilt after WWII.

I grew up in a Levitt subdivision on Long Island, not to far from the Village Green that was immortalized in a Billy Joel song.  It was actually a pretty perfect place to get around on a bicycle.  Lots of residential streets with pedestrian crosswalks to get across a busy thoroughfare.  Later, they extended a bicycle path along Wantagh State Parkway parkway near my house that took you straight down to Jones Beach.  It was a little over 12 miles.  I’d loved the beach ever since my mom used to take me there several times a week during the summer.  The perfect day was going to the beach in the morning, then getting back in time to swim in our neighborhood pool and topping it all off with an ice cream sundae from Carvel, conveniently located across the street from the pool.  Of course, we often rode our bikes to the pool as well.  We’d all taken swimming lessons so we could enter the pool without being accompanied by an adult.

Both my kids have been riding since they were 4.  While they’re not into riding a road bike like their dad, they do love biking.  These days, their favorite bike is a freestyle BMX bike.  My youngest is pretty entrepreneurial and makes some money building up bikes for his friends and selling bike parts over the internet. He actually builds some pretty nice bikes, often custom fabricating parts using ordinary tools.  While I’m not always pleased with the resulting mess in the garage, I’ve supported him in this endeavor as much as I could.  During a recent career day, he presented his plan to become a bike designer.  I love the fact that he’s taking something he loves to do and wants to turn it into a lifestyle.  Good for him.  Secretly, I envy his choice.  Perhaps one day I can retire from what I’m doing and work on bikes all day like my friend Tim or put smiles on peoples faces like my friends John and Jamie.

The smile you see when a person gets their first bike is like no other.  I’m sure some of it has to do with the shininess of the bike itself, but I think there are other reasons as well.  One that comes to mind is the freedom that a bicycle represents.  All of a sudden, your boundaries expand by at least an order of magnitude and all sorts of new places are accessible to you.  While you may not venture too far at first, just knowing you can gives you a liberating feeling that’s not easily matched, even by your first car.  Bikes are somehow more relaxed and less restrictive than most other forms of transportation.  Perhaps thats part of the allure.  Whatever it is, a bicycle is sure to make you smile more times than you’ll ever remember.  So, go ahead, think back to some of your childhood memories and start counting the ones that involve a bike.  I think you’ll surprise yourself.

So, I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season.  And remember, there’s nothing like the smile a bike brings.  I’m smiling right now as I write this even though it’s way to cold and dangerous to go outside and ride.  Just thinking of all the riding I’ve done this past year and all the new friends I’ve made is enough to make me smile that way.