Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's moving day...

Time, as they say, changes everything. And the last year has sharpened my focus considerably. Until now, I spent my blog time writing about cycling in general, especially the cycling which interested me, and how it affected me.

I've decided that I need to fine tune my thinking and my riding. I've opened a new blog site:

Click on the title and you'll be magically transported via the internet to the site. At the top right is a subscribe button. If you want these posts to appear in your email inbox by that same magic, just click and add your email address.

While I'll still be posting the blog site address on my Facebook page for those who haven't yet "unfriended" me, the main way you'll see my musings is if you subscribe. These last couple of years, not wanting to be completely anonymous, I have shamelessly promoted myself at every opportunity. It's time for that to change.

I realize that I'm not the sharpest crayon in the box, and sometimes I write without much to say. Rather than force-feed that on to my friends, I'll give them the opportunity to choose.

Click subscribe to receive a more or less weekly posting on brevet-style riding. Riding which for me is "Cycling With Henri".

Bonne Route

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Metric Century Populaire for Halloween

With a view to building up the ridership of our region, as well as to introduce new riders to the particular ways of our sport, we are holding a 100 kilometer populaire today in Creal Springs, Illinois. We've shown our creative side by naming it...wait for it..."The Creal Springs Metric Century". (I made that name up myself!)

With the temperature hovering in the low 30's, I'm happy to be wearing the fleece vest provided by RUSA to the winner of the "best beard among Southern Illinois RBA's" contest.

Three of the riders have read the website and are parked at the Creal Springs City Park for the event.

Two of the riders are not in that category. But they brought bikes, so all's well that ends well.

They are (from L to R) Rusty, Elgen, Mike Mc., Rob, Mike D., Chad. Not pictured is of course me. I rode the worker's ride about a week ago. Today I'll just be herding.

At the first control in Thompsonville, the riders gather near the table to pick up water, bananas and the hot chocolate so thoughtfully provided by a RUSA local official.

Everyone is in a hurry to get their card signed, refill bottles and go. Time is ticking away. While Mike D. finishes his hot chocolate, Chad takes a few extra minutes to memorize a cue sheet.

Mike McKee is the newest RUSA member in our region. Having recently received his membership packet, and the really cool sticker that RUSA gives out, he proudly announces his loyalty by "wearing his colors" on the track bike he uses for randonneuring.

Rob, Chad and Elgen are enjoying a morning out on their bikes. Rob, having recently fractured his hand in a crash, is keeping the pace high, despite the pain and swelling.

Mike D. is conserving his energy - he has a 13 mile training run to complete later. Mike recently finished his first IronMan race in Louisville KY.

Mike Mc. and Rusty are riding sweep through this portion. Everyone here knows that lead, pack fill or sweep - just being on your bike on an Autumn day is excellent.

Chad and Elgen ride along the Tunnel Hill Bike Trail near Stonefort, Illinois.

Choosing to ride alone for this stretch, Rob cuts a handsome picture against the backdrop of the bicycle trail.

Elgen likes to keep the pace high, and has decided to finish quickly today. You have to keep fresh legs under you to keep up with him. Only last weekend, he finished a century event in Southernmost Illinois (extremely hilly territory) in a little over 5 hours.

Still smiling, Elgen comes down the last stretch. He is glad that he didn't let the early morning temperatures cheat him out of a great fall ride.

Chad and Rusty are not far behind, either.

Big Mike Mc. and Rob roll in safely and laughing about something.

All the riders are back safely, and spend a little time chatting before they load up and head home. Rusty really rocks a hydration bag, and his other bike sports a new set of fenders. I gravitate towards any rider who wears a hydration bag big enough it has a waist strap and who will put fenders on a road bike. Allez! Rusty!

All in all, the day was a success. Except for Mike Mc., none of these riders had ever seen a brevet card, or been exposed to the unique traditions which most of us take for granted. It was the consensus that the ride was fun, and most asked when the next one would be. January 1.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fishin' at the Tour de Shawnee

I took my bicycle and a fist full of my new business cards to Olive Branch, Illinois yesterday for the annual Tour de Shawnee. This is an exceptionally well done ride. It is not a charity ride so the money you pay goes into the event. And they spend it on you.

The routes are well marked and the longer routes begin with a hill climb that will make you wish your triple had a dinner plate-sized cog on the rear. Most participants dismount at some point and walk. This is especially annoying when they are doing it RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! Then unless you have somewhere to go - you, too, are dismounting and trying to get off of the road quickly so that you don't get run over. Trust me on this one. Then, you'll have to restart from a dead stop with your bike in a nearly vertical position. I loved it, of course!

I arrived early so that I could "make the rounds" and hand out business cards and speak to riders who had fenders or bags bigger than a wallet on their bike. I decided to skip all the riders who had tri bikes with disc wheels - low potential for randonneurs, I figured.

I was pleased that many of the riders to whom I spoke mentioned seeing our fliers in their bike stores. I had mailed hundreds of fliers to the 8 stores within about 125 mile radius. I included a letter to the owner/manager introducing me and randonneuring; pointing out that riders who are committed to a sport, rather than just "recreational riders" will tend to spend more money in a local bike store. I'm hoping to encourage their cooperation in our growth.

Despite the ease with which I seem to approach and speak to complete strangers, I was fairly uncomfortable doing so. It required a lot of psychic energy on my part, and I was glad when the ride actually started. I'd much rather use my energy to pedal a bicycle. That use of energy leaves me pumped up and not as drained as the energy which I have to use for "sales presentations".

At the rest stops, I also took the opportunity to continue to "fish". Here, at this small church, I spoke to a young couple riding bikes with fenders. The female was happy to find out that we are bringing randonneuring to Southern Illinois. She said that it had been one of her cycling goals, but with small children, traveling to and from events was difficult. Her husband agreed. Nearby, another rider, listening in asked if I had a card for him, too. Of course I did!

Over all, the day was well spent. I rode the 62 mile route with Mike McKee and his friend Rusty. Mike was on "Ridey" his fixed gear bike, which was sporting a 42 X 16 gear today. This was an incredibly hilly ride, so you can imagine how much leg strength it required to push that gear up the hills, and how much leg speed it took to spin it back down. (For those who don't know, you can't stop pedaling on a fixed gear - unless you want to test your helmet out as you fly over the handlebars.)

On the flats into the wind, Mike pulled us at 20 mph, and we picked up riders along the way like a magnet picks up iron filings. I will also add that after the event, Mike rode his fixie back to Marion, about another 62 miles, and over just as hilly terrain. Did I mention that Mike is the newest RUSA member in Southern Illlinois? I'm going to have to pick up my training a bit, I think.

This Saturday is a RUSA metric century (Brevet Populaire) that I hope will start to reel in some of those "fish" I've been angling for. I'll let you know...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Finally - Fall!

Red and gold leaves cover the wooded hillsides in Southern Illinois. Morning temperatures are low enough to require arm-warmers or even a coat. The prevailing wind has shifted to the North-West on most days. Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas is almost here. Fall! Fall! Fall!

All good things, to be sure, but the reason to love Fall best is DEAD YARDS. Yes, dead grass. All of the grass in my yard is slowly but surely turning brown. Yea! This next month I will complete the final ride in a bid to obtain the much-coveted RUSA R-12 award. For 12 consecutive months I've ridden at least one ride of 200 kilometers or better. And what, you may ask, was the most difficult part? Keeping the grass mowed.

My grass has to be mowed at least twice a week, or it just plain runs wild. And if you've followed me on facebook, you've seen pictures of my mower - a reel mower. It doesn't have a motor. You just push, and the blades rotate forward cutting the grass. Unless it's more than 2 inches tall. Then it just bends it over a little. And you have to back up and try again, and again, and again.

Have you ever watched a woman vacuuming the house? Ever notice how many times she'll go over a thread to get the vacuum to pick it up? Have you wondered why she doesn't just bend down and manually pick up the thread - put in in her pocket - and throw it away later?

Well, I have, on occasion, after multiple passes at a long spot of grass, just bent down and pulled the grass up. Anyone watching probably wonders why I own a lawn mower, since I seem to be hand-pulling the yard most of the time. Well, the short answer is: I don't pull all of it up, the mower does do some of the work. The longer answer is: I'd look pretty stupid walking back and forth in my yard pulling up the grass.

I've had kids watching me mow and ask me if they could try my mower out. It seems that they have never seen a lawn mower without a motor. I always say no. No need to try out my homeowners insurance. I just keep plugging away.

It has been stressful to keep the yard mowed twice a week while doing enough training to successfully ride long distance AND complete a 200 kilometer ride every month without fail. Now that Fall is here, I can focus on just riding my bicycle. (Cue the Queen: "bicycle, bicycle, I want to ride my bicycle..."

(Until the leaves cover my yard and have to be raked, and until the snow needs shoveled, and until the water heater craps out just before bedtime and has to be replaced on a day off after two days of cold showers and until...well you get the point.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Setting the Default Switch

My day begins at 3:00 in the morning. And today, by 4:30 I was wishing for a do-over. I was delivering my first load of gasoline at a station in Murphysboro, Illinois when a late-model, Red Ford Focus pulled up near my truck. The driver got out and walked toward me holding out two pairs of shoes.

"Hey Buddy! Will you buy these from me? Twenty dollars."

Startled, I responded that I didn't need them; I said no thanks.

"They're Sketchers! I need gas money." He blurted out.

I was already walking away and repeated my no thanks. He drove off and I immediately began feeling bad. I had said no rather quickly. And once I responded negatively, circumstance and pride combined to keep me from looking further into the matter. I had $19 in my wallet. What if it was legitimate and I'd missed an opportunity to help someone?

My "default switch" is set to NO when I'm approached by a panhandler. It's easier that way. There is no way to check out their story, and I'm usually on the way to somewhere - and need to get there soon.

I remember a similar incident nearly a year ago. A late model Cadillac with 6 middle-aged African Americans - both male and female - stopped at a gas station where I was delivering gas. The driver approached me and asked for gas money; he said they were on the way to Chicago for a funeral and had no money.

"Sure! Just what do you take me for?" The voice in my head said.

I just said no. My default switch decided for me. I suggested that, since it was a Sunday morning, they might try calling a church. Church people would fall all over themselves on a Sunday to help someone. To my surprise, he did just that. I listened as he called two churches and was turned down by both. Before he could call the third one, I hurried over, conscience-stricken, and told him to fill his tank. I went inside and paid for it. I can still remember the look on the cashier's face when I told her I was paying for their gas. Her default switch was set just like mine.

"WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH CYCLING?" You're asking by now (if you haven't already deleted this post).

In every area of life we have a default switch. In long-distance cycling, you have two positions:
QUIT IF YOU NEED TO and DO NOT QUIT. Rule number 1: A rider's choice to quit or DNF an event is entirely his/her own to make. No one else can or should help, and certainly no one has the right to criticize.

Last June, I and others, began a 600 kilometer (375 miles) event that some didn't finish. The heat and the humidity were both in the high nineties that weekend. When one rider in particular packed it in, I can't say that I was surprised. Not because he wasn't a strong rider, he has ridden much longer rides; he is much stronger than I am. But in a conversation a couple of weeks before the event, he had said that he wasn't even sure he would start. He said that he didn't need a full series finish, he had finished plenty of other series. He default switch was set to "QUIT IF YOU NEED TO".

I, on the other hand, had never finished a full series, I wanted to apply for RBA in a year or two and therefore needed the experience and "street cred", and that event was my June event for the R-12 award. I had to finish. My default switch was set to "DO NOT QUIT".

It works the same with any other area of life. Want to quit smoking? Set the default switch to "NO THANK YOU, I DON'T SMOKE". Want to be faithful to your wife when you're out of town? Set the default switch to "NO THANK YOU, I'M HAPPILY MARRIED TO A WONDERFUL WOMAN". Want to lose some weight? Set the default switch to "NO THANK YOU, I'M GOING TO RIDE THE ENDLESS MOUNTAINS 1240 KILOMETER RIDE NEXT YEAR. I DON'T NEED ANY EXTRA WEIGHT ON THE BIKE". See how it works? It's not foolproof, but it can help.

Here's how my day ended. While delivering gas to a station in Christopher, Illinois, I was approached by a scruffy man with no arms. (They had obviously been amputated just below the elbow.)

"Hey Buddy. Can you do me a favor?" He asked as he walked up.

I was ready, this time.

"I might." I replied. "First you tell me what happened to your arms."

He told me that he'd lost his arms to bone cancer. And some of his feet as well. He also had lung cancer from smoking and liver disease from drinking. Then he asked me for a couple of dollars. The surprising thing was that he told me the money was for beer and cigarettes!

"Isn't that the very thing you say is killing you?" I asked.

"Yeah." He replied. "But what difference does it make now?"

I gave him four dollars towards his beer and cigarettes. I was tempted to follow him into the store just to make sure that he didn't spend it on bread and milk. But I decided not to.

A default switch has the power to control your decisions when you have to make one quickly. The setting that you choose is important. I'm not sure what setting I'll use in the future for panhandlers. I get tired of feeling bad. Maybe I'll modify my switch so that I have a third option - "maybe". But in my cycling, I'll try to keep my default switch set to "DO NOT QUIT - EVER" or something similar. This might just be anecdotal, but I've not met anyone who felt bad because they didn't quit.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Does 1 centimeter matter, anyway?

Australia's Steve Hooker clears 5.96 (19-6 1/2) after clinching the gold medal, beating the Olympic record by 1 centimeter (a half inch) during the pole vault event at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 22, 2008. Hooker cleared 5.90 (19-4 1/4) on his third attempt in the final, immediately after world indoors champion Yevgeniy Lukyanenko of Russia had failed at his last attempt on the same height and took silver at 5.85 (19-2 1/4). Ukraine's Denys Yurchenko took the silver. (UPI Photo/Stephen Shaver)

Does 1 centimeter matter, anyway? I suppose it depends on who you ask. Apparently it mattered to Steve Hooker. But what about on my bicycle? What about the height of my handlebars?

Today I decided to lower my handlebars by 1 centimeter. One of the first things that I noticed on the Surly Long Haul Trucker was the height of the head tube. I haven't seen a head that tall since I poured a Lowenbrau that had been in the closet all summer. And when the bike store built it up for me, they placed the bars on the top of the steerer tube. I would have had to look under my elbows to see left or right! So I lowered it two centimeters, leaving only one spacer beneath it. The bars were even with the saddle. They should be lower. All my other bikes have the bars 1 to 2 inches below saddle height.

I rode a century last weekend with the bars in this rather high position and it seemed OK. My time wasn't great - 7 hours, but I wasn't unhappy, and I was comfortable. However, on Monday, I have to ride a 200 kilometer permanent with someone. And he finished his last century in about 4.5 hours. You're starting to understand why I wanted to lower my bars, aren't you.

After I lowered the handlebars, I went for a ride. Before I finished the first 30 miles, I had a kink in my back. It couldn't be from the bar height, I reasoned, all my handlebars are lower than this in relation to the saddle. Then I began to feel as if the heels of my hands were holding all of my weight. I figured it was all in my mind. One centimeter simply couldn't make that much difference. By the time I returned home, I had the feeling that I could no longer reach the bars. I know what you're thinking - I am certifiable. Well, I am, but that's not the point.

Now I had to decide whether to suffer with the handlebar misalignment I was imagining, or move them back and suffer the guilt of holding back a superior rider, or suffer the shame of being dropped by the side of the road like an ancient and useless rider. One centimeter!

Actually, 1 centimeter probably won't make a difference in my time. And according to my log book, I've ridden my bike over 250 times this year and only 20 of them were with someone. Looks to me like I need to please myself first. (I heard that! Someone up in the bleacher section just shouted, "If you were faster, maybe you wouldn't ride alone so much!" Maybe you're right.)

Anyway, I have to be true to myself. Right? I just heard today that the two biggest reasons for being "unfriended" on facebook were 1: too many boring posts (pictures of your cat, etc.) and 2: too many controversial opinion postings. After hearing that I checked my home page, I wouldn't be surprised to find I had no friends left!

You see, that's the whole point. Friends and family keep your hat close to hand so that if they need to they can give it to you quickly and ask you not to slam the door on your way out. Even your church keeps your membership letter printed and in an envelope so that they can mail it to you when you break an unwritten rule and include a letter telling you that "perhaps God has a different pasture for you to feed in". (Trust me, I know this one.) So if cycling friends were no less fickle, what difference does 1 centimeter make? What difference indeed.

I moved the bar back.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Isn't that box on the front inefficient?

"Isn't that box on the front inefficient?" Keith asked.
"Yeah, but so am I." I responded.

Now before you write me off as just a smart-ass, let me explain. I knew that what he meant was "isn't that box on the front aerodynamically inefficient?" And he is right - it is. If you can change the aerodynamics, you'll go faster. But that won't be easy. Because YOU are the biggest inefficiency on the bike.

Consider this, lowering your posture by using aero bars on your bike reduces your frontal area from 4.2 square feet (an average of riders in an upright touring position) to about 3.6 square feet. This will save you about 30 minutes up to an hour on a 200 kilometer ride. If that's important to you.

And that's where the 23mm width nylon tires meet the road. (In fact, my tires are nearly twice as wide. More inefficiency, I suppose.) If the question posed by my friend, who understands the need for speed - he's an IronMan - was in fact only about aerodynamic efficiency, then my answer stands. However, that box on the front is VERY efficient if you want a bag which is waterproof, and which can keep your nutrition, first aid, camera or phone, or any other goodies right in front of you where they are easily accessed without taking the time to stop. In that case, the bag is very efficient.

Rear pockets on jerseys are handy, but getting stuff out of them with full fingered gloves on is nearly impossible. And forget about using the rear pockets of a wool jersey! I purchased my first wool jersey this year and the first thing I noticed about it was the elasticity of the fabric when wet. As soon as I began to sweat, it began to sag. And with my rear pockets full, it sagged even more. In fact, the back of the neck of the jersey stretched so much, that it looked like I was wearing it backward! Good thing I have a very, very hairy back, or I'd have had the mother of all sunburns down the middle of my back. In fact, it stretched so far that when I was off of the bike, the contents of my rear pockets bumped into the backs of my knees when I walked, threatening to buckle my legs and knock me down unceremoniously on the gas station parking lots.

I don't need to be fast. I need to have stuff handy (and I need a wool jersey without rear pockets). If that 30 minutes that the bag costs me on a 200 kilometer ride ever starts placing me in jeopardy of DNFing most rides, then it will be time to pack it in, move to Rhode Island and focus on trying to beat Jennifer Wise at Cribbage. (I hear she's a Massachusetts record holder for most games won while manning a control on the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200 kilometer ride.) In the meantime, I'll just carry the essentials in the most efficient way I can, and get used to being given the "last rider" award at the RUSA events I enter.