Archive | January, 2009

15%

28 Jan

It was actually pleasant on the ride home… sunny skies, 47 degrees. Yesterday it was snowing. Convergence zone, whacky zone.

A friend sent a link describing a 15% drop in tire pressure, and how that’s the optimum tradeoff for comfort without giving up speed. I tried it today for the first time. And loved it. In the morning in particular when it’s still dark on the Burke Gilman, all those hidden roots and bumps play havoc on my hands (particularly my left hand lately), so lower pressure helped give a little ‘suspension’ effect without noticeably slowing my speed. Speaking of which, as I got onto the Burke in LFP I crossed just behind a chap who took off at a very steady clip and I tried to keep up. Kind of nice to have someone motivate. But I could only hold on for a few miles and dropped off toward the latter end of the Sandpoint stretch. This morning was fantastic. Crisp air, but not that needles-on-skin pain of sub freezing. Sunlight coming up nicely toward the end. The final hill of the morning was a grind. Someday I’m going to nail that Fred Hutch hill with an out-of-saddle grunt session. The ride home was even more pleasant. Only had to wear some of the layers from morning, and rode mostly with sunlight right up to the part where I get off the Burke.

Speaking of 15%, it’s interesting how very tiny changes can make a huge difference. I change the cleats in my shoes, for the Speedplay Frogs, so that they were more compliant with the Speedplay instructions, i.e. angling the cleat so the shoe can’t go too far inward. But I found that doing this actually forced me into the ‘end’ of the rotation and to be somewhat locked, and not that ‘icy floor’ feeling from before. I think this, together with a very stressful spinning class on Monday (stressful on the right knee that is) where I used toe clips that essentially force the foot into a fixed position, was not good for the old right knee. I think I may need to get a professional fitting. The hope being that maybe something in my setup isn’t right, rather than something inside my knee. The extent of my fitting for the Long Haul Trucker was “That looks about right” followed by “Surly’s are cool.” So maybe getting a real fitting would be fitting.

The fog’ll get ya…

21 Jan

Ran into the same couple this morning, this time they were slightly ahead of me. And stayed that way for probably five miles, averaging between 13 and 15 mph. Side by side, on the BGT, just spinning along like they owned the place.

I don’t mind fog, and I don’t mind freezing, but I sure don’t like freezing fog. Conditions were just nasty this morning. I could feel how red my legs were getting. So I guess I’m being grumpy but why the hell did they think it’s okay to ride side by side all that way? I guess I’m just as bad for being too passive to force the issue, but again, in freezing fog with slippery ground I didn’t want to take any chance. Anyway, I was eventually able to pass. I suppose this is the bike commuter equivalent of road rage. Bike lights should have a ‘bright’ feature, heh.

The rest of the ride was, you guessed it, cold. Damn cold. As I was leaving at the end of the day I ran into a crusty bikommuter named D. in my building’s locker room and he agreed that this morning was the coldest he’s ever had, around 30 degrees with, did I mention, fog.

The ride home was fun. A fixed gear passed me in Eastlake and then I passed him in order to beat a red light and then he passed me again. I need to up my engine! I’m eating well, going to spin class, doing core workouts, but I feel like I’m about half as slow as I was in say September. It’s frustrating. I tell myself not to stress too much as it’s January, and there was a natural (literally) dropoff in December, etc. Plus I have way more gear on than usual. At least today I was able to keep it up at around 17 mph on average. So a little progress. This post has been mostly whiny, but it will serve (hopefully) as a nice counterpoint to posts that will come in Spring. I can already taste it: sunlight on the way in, and on the way home. Shorts. Short-sleeves. No helmet light. Sweat. Actually drinking the whole water bottle. No fumbling around with two pairs of gloves. No condensation inside your outer jacket, AND inside your inner jacket. In short, I now realize why all the bikers I knew last year were so freeking giddy around May and rode every day. I’ll be there with them.

By the way, I love spin class. I love keeping the upper body still and just spinning away at high cadence. I also love out of saddle cranking. It’s really a lot of fun. The class I’ve been going to doesn’t even seem that hard, in that I’m hardly breaking a sweat, but I do feel improvements in things like balance and the high cadence spinning. Also the way the instructor leads us through the build and recover intervals, I love it. Not something I can manage on a rec ride on the weekend or on the commute. Hopefully this will help me grow some good legs so I can start to average over 20+ mph, for long stretches. My ultimate goal, again, is to become a long-distance cyclist, especially for randonneuring events and solo touring.

Monday morning

19 Jan

Yesterday, Sunday, was an odd day temperature wise, even for the PNW: at around 8am I was walking the dogs, in a full parka, scarf, big gloves etc, on frosty streets. There were blue skies and sun, but it was way too cold. Even the dogs were looking at me dubiously. Maybe I’ll wait till later before considering a ride. Then around noon things changed, incredibly so. Temps got close to 60. I could feel my blood singing, as I tried to explain to Surlylady, and just absolutely HAD to go for a ride. Once on my way I started shedding clothing to the point where I would have been happy in shorts and t-shirt.

Flash forward to Monday morning. Dark. Cold. Very, very cold. Two pairs of gloves cold. So dark only cops, paper deliverers and the odd plumbing step van warming up. I got down to LFP and was joined at the stoplight by a nice couple on bikes. I felt distinctly that I was being rude but the truth was I was freezing. I was only wearing some Adidas shorts, with leg warmers pulled up halfway up my thigh, and I could feel my shanks getting frozed. Anyway, the light turned green and I was off, trying to spin out of the Monday lethargy (Mondargy). The Burke was almost spooky at first, ghostly pre-dawn light, thick frost almost like a blanket across the pavement so that for long stretches the only noise was the soft skiing sound of my tires through a quarter-inch of frost. In between the penumbras of street lights at intersections it was almost like a static, secret world, populated now and then with shadowy dog walkers and curt, frozen greetings from bikers going the other way. Then closer to Sandpoint, off in the distance on the other side of Lake Washington, as the light began to grow, sending pinkish infringements on the lake and highlighting the blurry puffs of ground-hugging clouds that softened the serrated Cascade line, I ran into a fine fog, a souper fog stretching to the U-District, the kind of substantial fog that condensates on all your clothing compensations. Getting closer to the U itself I ran into a blinky brigade of commuters gathered at a stoplight and the procession proceeded around campus–although I have to admit I stayed in back, seriously flagging at this point–and so I had some points of reference, if annoying blinking points of reference, to help guide me to the University bridge. There I used the downhill momentum to somehow find the energy to hammer the rest of the way into work, where I was only a few minutes late even with the shower. Thoughts on the shower situation at my work–so grateful they provide this, but all those men walking around in that tiny room, combing hair and spraying deodorant, reminds me a little too much of the McMahon dorm rooms that I passed so very recently at the U.

Another day, another 37 miles.

A winter’s day as a cyclotourist

17 Jan

The second thoughts started kicking in yesterday during work, with a quick flurry of emails along the lines of ‘are we really going all the way up to Stanwood’ etc. This happened about the same time that our friend said he’d not be going up there either, which sealed the deal. Surlylady suggested instead our happy little tour de lac washington. About 57 miles, with some nice climbing, so functionally close. It’s just we were able to go slow when we felt like it. Oddly enough, even though my legs were tired and my upper body/arms/neck/shoulders were sore (thank you personal trainer J. — you’re evil, but an awesome evil) from a bout at the gym on Friday, I felt like I had a very good engine going today. At the top of the worst hills I found myself hardly out of breath. The only truly vexing thing fitness wise today was my complete inability to sustain anything above 15 mph. Part of this was my decision to bring so much crap.

I have to back up. I received my new Brooks Imperial the other day, and this was going to be my first chance to try it out. I’m probably the only rider in the world dumb enough to try out a Brooks on a close-to-60 mile ride in 33 degree weather, or at least in the top 100. What puts me in the top 10, surely, was my decision to bring both panniers, inside one of which I brought along my OLD Brooks B17, ‘just in case’ the new one killed me or something. Plus we each wore like two jackets and another two tops to ward off the freezing downhill run that starts our rides out of our little hometown back towards Lake Washington. Once down out of the hills (and having picked the surburban hayseeds out of our hair presumably) all those layers came off and into my panniers. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever hauled so much weight before. And there we were, on our first long ride since October, on a new Brooks, again, in close-to-freezing weather. Sometimes I think my legs are bigger than my stomach, in other words.

However, lugging luggage woes aside, it was another amazing PNW day trip. One of the things that excites me so much about the quasi touring/long distance/randonneuring thing, as opposed to a ‘quick’ two hour training ride or such, is the full spectrum life and earth and day you get to experience, out in the air. The visceral vistas. Freezing fog in the morning, head- and tail-lights on, winter gloves without padding (carrying padded ones for later) barely doing the trick, balaclava below the chin collecting that weird morning liquidity, catching the Burke and seeing lots of team pelotons going the other way, two older fellows on bikes like Merlins and Calfees and Merckx cruising together, couples like Surlylady and I doing their own cyclotouring, tandem couples working out the winter kinks, going deceptively slow and then flying past you, getting passed by the red-clad Carter team going up a long hill causing you to be secretly glad you’re in relatively fine form–in fact, soliciting a ‘good morning’ from one of the Carter riders. Then slogging through mostly ugly and car-crazy Bellevue, up the Northup grind, along 520 and an endless procession of Microsoft buildings and then–ah so nice–onto the Lake Sammamish trail, to catch the recreational riders, walkers and skaters who seemed to have sprung from the woodwork in time for the glorious sun that began flooding the scene of the slightly swollen but not angry river, all capped with a sky showing that inimitable PNW winter blue. Seeing your breath at 8:00 am and again at 2:00 at the end of the ride. A winter’s day as a cyclotourist.

Cold comfort Burke Gilman

15 Jan

Rode both ways again today. Legs are shot. Won’t ride tomorrow to save them for a big ride on Saturday, 50 miles on Camano island. This morning I ran into a ‘prideful recumbenter’… the kind that goes slow but sees you in his mirror and speeds up when he sees you speeding up to pass and so what I thought would be a routine pass suddenly turned into a weird race where I had to crank it up to 22mph. Don’t worry, karma-uppence later.

Another nice morning. So cold that my balaclava’d chin and mouth were covered with that goopy snooty winter slime, you know?
Work note: I went to a sexual harassment class today for managers and as one woman walked in a little late the instructor, who knew her, welcomed her etc and then said ‘Oh I love the new haircut… sexy.’ The best part is that I think I was the only one the class that either heard it or at least heard the irony.
Okay, back to biking. Ride home the Brooks B-17 was starting to develop that squeek again (goes away with a little soy-based oil that you’re s’posed to use on chains) which pointed out that maybe my seat was a little high because when the cadence gets high I start rocking my hips back and forth. So that’s the next thing I’ll fiddle with.
Speaking of Brooks, I received my new Imperial today and can’t wait to try it out.
One other thought about the rides today–Surly lady has eloquently addressed what she calls an ‘air hankie.’ I would like to visit the topic myself. Previously, and imperviously, I had dissed the need to air honk because the weather was warmer and I wasn’t quite the mucus factory I am in January. It was a type of tantric self-preservation. But now I must join in the air honking. I was trying to think of a phrase on the ride home. Something to do with nose, and bazooka. Nosooka? Nooka? Or maybe cannon instead of bazooka. Or how about straight colloquial, something like Snotski?

Karm-uppance: Surly lady and I were passed by an Xtra-cyclist with her kid in back… passed not once, but twice. Awesome.

point, counterpoint

14 Jan

So call me a quitter, but after the eggbeaters gave me a concussion (you can also call me a hypochondriac) I tried out the Powergrips, those big dorky straps, and I think they’re swell. They keep my feet where they need to be, I can wear whatever shoes I want (one never knows when one might be biking to a gala in 3-inch heels, after all) and, most importantly, they give me an easy out. In biking, as in life, I like to know I have a sound exit strategy.

Wednesday. Yay.

14 Jan

After work today (somewhat stressful day… worrying about the state of our company) it felt good to ride home. Tuesday I went to my first spin class (not too bad really!) and didn’t bikommute. Monday however I rode both ways, morning and evening, for the first time. Morning on the BGT was nice; it was almost getting light by the time I got to my building, birds were singing, and there was a mudslide with a large tree down over the Burke. So many riders were heading north, I was quite surprised. And for awhile I called out ‘mudslide ahead’ until I realized they already heard it from no doubt tons of other folks ahead of me. Best of all- Monday morning was my first ride in clipless pedals. Speedplay Frogs. I’ve had sort of a mental block about going clipless ever since I watched Surly lady sail off confidently on a brand new pair of Crank Bros eggbeaters, confidently because her left foot was clipped in just fine so hey this isn’t that hard, but then not so confidently when she wound up not being able to get her right foot clipped in and then did the undignified slow-speed spiral right in front of me, tipping toward her left side and frantically trying to unclip in time. I heard the bang her skull made on the driveway concrete and it has echoed in the months since, echoes that sound like the wind whispering “you big chicken poop”… So I put up with flats ever since I started riding last summer. I put up with them in spite of being told by several folks that they couldn’t believe I still used them. I put up with them on the Kitsap Color Classic group ride where I felt like such a heel (flat heel? non-clipless heel?) in a big pack of bikers on the ferry and the only one without clipless. In addition to being a chicken I can also be stubborn, and a rationalist. Meaning: if flats make you work harder, working harder should mean more weight loss, faster, right? I don’t think stubborn needs explaining. Oh, and I’m also thrifty.

Well now that I’ve had three rides on the Frogs I’m feeling for myself all the virtues everyone else has been talking about– confidence in wet conditions that your foot won’t slip off, especially during standing sprints, better foot, knee and leg position overall (I tended to flop around a lot on the flats), and working a different set of muscles on the old tired legs, pulling as well as pushing. I had some SPDs on my Sarthe on the trainer and pretty much hated them. I think because I’m a newbie, perhaps, I looked for the easiest system, and wound up with the Frogs. And yeah, they’re easy. Almost too easy. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m clipped in, but then it’s also incredibly easy to do so, or even to pedal on the somewhat substantial pedal without being clipped in. I recommend them for newcomers. I got the Frogs to start with because they’ll fit in my MTB style Lake shoes, and that will help if I start randonneuring and walking around control points. I’m also looking forward to getting a set for my MTB… should help with the bunny hops. And now I’ve just paraphrased almost verbatim several of the Frog posts I found online, and have therefore added to the echo chamber.