It Took Me Long Enough

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I’ve been a member of Randonneurs USA a couple of times in my cycling life.  Many years ago I joined out of sheer curiosity with no real intent to do anything about it. I let my membership expire. I joined again at the beginning of last season with the intent (hope) of doing a 200k brevet. I’m not particularly speedy and I think the longest ride I’ve ever done is about 110 miles- a century with some wrong turns-so this was a bit of a stretch goal. I even had the brevets picked out. But I didn’t really train and as each event approached I would promise myself to get in shape for the next. Procrastination: the story of my non-work life. I did exactly zero rides related to RUSA last year.

To be honest with myself, my interest was primarily generated by reading about other people completing brevets. Living vicariously via magazines and the internet. This spring came and went and I didn’t register for any rides; once again, it was because I hadn’t been training by doing longer rides.

Last week I was reading about people getting ready for Paris-Brest-Paris and I decided to get off my ass and find a Permanent to ride and actually ride it. A Permanent is a route maintained by a RUSA member that can be ridden at any time. Sort of a personal Brevet. A Permanent has all the sport of a traditional RUSA event (time deadline, controls, route to follow) but can be done anytime the route owner and rider agree on. I found a number of routes within reasonable driving distance on the RUSA website, and settled on the Otisville Populaire (108k) route pictured above. It’s an out and back route from New Paltz to Otisville, NY.

A couple of email exchanges later and I was set to ride the route, which I did earlier today. I’m really fond of the New Paltz region so the whole event was a treat. The views weren’t bad either.

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It was hot but luckily a lot of the route was shaded. I had to remind myself to keep pushing forward because the route has opening and closing times and I had to reach certain controls within certain time limits. This was a bit difficult because I’d broken my Garmin trying to do a battery replacement two nights earlier. As such, I had no idea how fast I was going. I haven’t ridden with just a cue sheet in quite a long time. Luckily my Garmin mount serves well as a cue sheet holder.

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I arrived at the second control with time to spare, which made me feel good about the experience. The patrons of the mini mart control looked at me as if I had dropped out of the sky from Mars. The cash register clock was off by nearly 15 minutes ( the receipt from making a purchase is proof you reached the control on time), but the clerk didn’t understand what I wanted when I asked her to sign my brevet card. I was much quicker on the return trip, which was a good thing because I was getting a case of “hot foot” from pedaling non stop out of fear of arriving late at the controls.

It took me long enough, but I finally completed my first RUSA event. It was a lot of fun. I don’t know if I’m ready for 200k; probably but not in the baking sun of August.

Some lessons learned on this first outing:

  1. Prevent hot foot by unclipping and walking around occasionally. My route had almost no reason to unclip unit the last 15 miles when I had to stop at a traffic light. It felt so good! I should have pulled over earlier.
  2. I really dislike having stuff in my jersey pockets. I carry a lot of food and drink mix powder for any ride longer than about 40 miles. Having all that plus a wallet and phone in the pockets is not comfortable for me. The food items in my pockets turned to mush from my body heat. I was on my “fast” bike which is not equipped with rack or bag. I was glad to have a lighter (than 39 lb) bike but would have liked some more carrying capacity.
  3. Thicker tires rule. Especially when heading out on roads you don’t know. I appreciated having 32c tires and not having to worry about potholes and seams in the road.
  4. As soon as you’re finished riding, start eating and drinking to replace what you lost during the ride.
  5. Those industrial farm sprinklers you see watering giant fields…..they put out a lot of water. I had to ride through one in the last mile because it was aimed improperly and spraying the road. It was like riding through a hurricane.
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Snowy Winter

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It has been a snowy winter here in New York, with a couple of moderate sized storms dumping the white stuff on us within a couple of weeks. Not as bad as Boston, for sure, but it has put a damper on cycling. I haven’t commuted in several weeks and I’ve been feeling my fitness slipping away lately. The roads are a mess. Between the snow banks occupying the right lane and the endless potholes and craters, it just hasn’t made sense to venture out on the bike for more than a few miles.

I hate sitting around, though I do a lot of it. My kids are old enough now that I feel comfortable letting them run around in the woods, so a few weeks ago I bought them snow shoes and we’ve been getting out for hikes in the afternoon. I’ve had snow shoes for many years and enjoy winter hiking more than summer hiking. Fewer bugs to contend with. It’s been fun watching the kids find their “snow shoe legs,” learning how to not trip over themselves and navigates slopes.

About a month ago, I got it in my head that I could be out running instead of cycling. As a life-long non-runner, this is probably a stupid idea. I took a run last week in 0 degree night air and quickly realized that running is a lot tougher on the knees, hips and cardiovascular system than cycling. I ran about a mile (0.9 loop around my neighborhood), and did not die or break anything. I’ve subsequently learned that I’m doing it wrong by just opening the door and jogging; that I should be speed walking or doing some other activity to ease into running. Anyhow, after that first night run I realized I’d rather not run on the road. It’s boring and there are cars trying to run you over, just like cycling!

So my interest turned back to hiking with my eye on trying some trail running. Last weekend I tried jogging a bit in my snow shoes and found it a bit cumbersome. I tripped a few times and snow shoes are overkill when the path is already trampled down. Then I learned about Microspikes.

The Kahtoola Microspikes pictured above are like crampons for running or trail hiking when full-on crampons or snow shoes are not necessary. They consist of a rubber-ish (it might be silicone) band that wraps around the base of the shoe, with a set of chains and spikes underneath to provide traction. The spikes are pretty aggressive. I don’t think you’d want to use these on paved surfaces.

I hiked with them yesterday and they are terrific. Went on in twenty seconds and I didn’t know they were there except for the extra traction they provided. On a packed-down trail, they were much nicer than hiking in snow shoes because they allowed me to wear light trail shoes, and did not require the slightly wider stance needed when walking in snow shoes. And I didn’t get tripped by my kids when they inevitably step on the backs of my snow shoes!

I ran a few yards in them and can see their appeal to trail runners: good traction in a lightweight package. And the best part, when it was time to get in the car and go home, they came off in two seconds.

If you hike or run in the snow and ice, these are highly recommended particularly if your trip takes you onto a trail. For road running there are other solutions with less aggressive spikes.

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Not A Good Way to End the Year

Damaged rim

You are looking at a macro shot of the rear wheel from my Co-Motion Americano. It’s hard to believe that a little flat spot like that can make the bike shake like a withdrawing alcoholic.

The damage occurred yesterday, as I attempted to log some miles on the Rapha #Festive500. I was running errands and had just dropped a roll of film off at the camera store and decided to add a few miles to my journey. No more than two minutes into my “bonus miles” I hit a crevasse in the roadway. It was very well disguised. I didn’t see it until it was too late. I had just enough time to unweight the saddle and pop the front wheel up. Unfortunately, the rear wheel took the brunt of the impact.

I guess I should write “fortunately” because if I had hit it with the front wheel, I may have wrecked on a busy street.

Within two pedal strokes, I realized something was amiss. The rear end was pulsating at a regular frequency with each wheel rotation. I pulled over and checked the tire. No sign of the tube bulging out or anything like that, so I decided to wrap up the ride and head home.

This morning I took the bike apart to inspect it, expecting to find a crack in the frame or something else really expensive but, alas, it was just a flat spot on the rim. The picture doesn’t really do it justice. Luckily I have a spare rear wheel but the wheel in the picture was half of my “”light” wheels that I built up a couple of years ago. I’m sad. The wheel was not inexpensive but, more importantly, I haven’t broken a wheel in decades. Literally decades! I hope this isn’t a harbinger of things to come in 2015.

I’ll end with a rant. Long Island has some of the highest property taxes in the US, yet our roads are remarkably crappy. This happened two blocks from the “capitol” of Nassau County and the roads are terrible with pot holes, large seams and all sorts of debris along the shoulders. And it hasn’t even snowed here yet! If you’re wondering how that can be, it’s because they never repaired the roads from last winter. I really wonder where my taxes go to when I look at the roads and parks and see how dilapidated they are. End of rant.

If only it were the front wheel. The I’d have an excuse for a dynamo hub.

Happy New Year.

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Coffeeneuring 2014: It’s a Wrap

In my last post, I summarized my first two Coffeeneuring rides for 2014. My life, since the second ride, has been uncharacteristically busy due to a certain virus that causes hemorrhagic fever. You’ve probably read about it in the paper. I’ve been working long hours helping to train and prepare people in case it ever finds its way out to suburbia. As a result, my cycling time has been very limited; almost no commuting and most weekends have been spent doing chores.

Nevertheless, I completed the Challenge this afternoon with my last ride, son in tow, to a local book shop. It required a lot of effort to get out the door because the weather here is absolutely dreary and cold. In fact, most weekends in the last month have been less than ideal for long rides. What follows is a summary of my final five rides. You’ll notice that I’ve taken to practicing #coffeeoutside and I brought a kid with me on most rides. Having a riding companion is delightful.

Ride 3, on October 18, was my standard Piccolo Route that I take with my kids. We roll out of the house, make a loop up a quiet road and head to their schoolyard* so they can play. If you’re going to cycle with kids, you have to make it fun for them too. While my son was playing, I brewed up some tea.

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As luck would have it, the schoolyard has the perfect work surface for a mobile kitchen. If you are going to make coffee or tea outside, you need a smooth surface to cook on. This park has this unique concrete bench and table arrangement that made it very suitable for #coffeeoutside, or tea outside as the case may be. 5.9 miles of riding.

* I’m not including the name of the location here because it is a school and I doubt they want people making it a regular coffeeneuring stop!

Ride 4, on October 25, was a solo ride to one of the local public beaches. Harbor Links / Town of North Hempstead Beach overlooks Roslyn Harbor on the North Shore of Nassau County. You wouldn’t know it’s here unless you live in the area. It’s secluded and, depending on what direction you approach it from, involves one of the steepest climbs in the county. I did the steep climbing part in both directions in an attempt to maintain some semblance of fitness.

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The beach was absolutely deserted, which is the way I like it. I’m sure there’s some regulation prohibiting the use of a canister stove, so I didn’t want any witnesses. Tea again, as it is easier to travel with than coffee because I like milk with my coffee but take my tea straight with a spot of honey. So British of me.

I brought a small tripod and camera to take a selfie next to the kitchen but the camera was too heavy for the tiny tripod. Lesson learned: test out your rig before heading out. 2.4 miles total, but remember there was a big hill both ways (insert Bill Cosby joke).

Ride 5, on October 28, was a mountain bike ride in Stillwell Woods. Located in Syosset, Stillwell is a favorite spot for hikers, bikers and equestrians. I go there when I’ve had enough of competing with cars or I realize my Moots isn’t getting enough attention.

The air was very crisp but somehow being in the woods doesn’t seem so bad when it’s cold out. It would’ve been a rough day out on the road bike, that’s for sure. I rode 5.5 miles, stopping often to get fall foliage pictures. It seems wherever I ride my mountain bike, I’m bound to come across an abandoned automobile. This one is nowhere near the trail head, which makes me wonder how it got here.

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After the trail ride, I rode another 1.4 miles to the local Starbucks for a latte. Sitting with my drink, I wondered why there aren’t more non-Starbucks coffee shops in my part of Long Island.

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Yes, I know October 28 was a Tuesday, not a weekend. I’m going to claim a homeland security/emergency preparedness exemption. I worked over the preceding weekend preparing an emergency response team for the aforementioned virus. Tuesday was my day off that week. It also explains why I went into the woods.

Ride 6 was yesterday, November 15. I barely did any riding since the trip on the Moots because of work. I’ve been heading out the door at 5:30 am and coming home at 7:30pm. Eat dinner. Go to sleep. Repeat the next day.

Yesterday was windy, chilly but sunny. My daughter asked first, so she got the coveted spot on the Piccolo for a short 3 mile spin around town. We rode to the local ball field, fired up the camp stove and had tea and hot cocoa. Although the field has countless “no bicycles” and “no picnicking” signs, the caretaker greeted us with a giant smile on his face; he loves it when I roll through with a kid on the Piccolo.

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In completing this year’s Challenge, I’ve found that I much prefer making my own coffee on the little stove pictured above. It’s an MSR Isobutane canister stove. Sitting atop the stove is a small kettle of water. The stove can boil water in about 3 minutes. The entire rig is relatively light, though it does take up space in a pannier, and the whole thing can probably be put together for $50. I’ve had it for several years, so I don’t know current pricing. I can tell you, however, that it’s a lot of fun making your own beverages, using your own beans rather than paying a premium at a shop.

Ride 7 was today and, quite frankly, I was just going through the motions to finish the Challenge. It’s grey and cold and dreary here. No reason to be outside other than to complete something started seven weeks ago.

My son and I took a quick 2.4 mile spin down the main street to the Dolphin Bookstore Cafe overlooking Manhasset Bay. The bookstore is famous in these parts because it caters to children and has been family owned for decades. They added a cafe about a year or so ago, and they serve Stumptown Coffee. It has seating for about 10 people, so I don’t know if it’s a place I’d stop on a club ride but it is certainly suitable if you are by yourself or with one other person.

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My son and I shared a hot cocoa watching a half-dozen kids complete arts & crafts projects at the table. Then we hammered home to get out of the wind, Coffeeneuring Challenge 2014 complete.

Here are my general observations from this year’s Challenge:

  1. It’s nice to be part of something global. I’ve been watching the “coffeeneuring” and “coffeeoutside” hashtags on Instagram and it’s phenomenal how many people are participating. I wish I lived in LA (or at least could visit) because Area45 has quite the gathering every week
  2. I wish it wasn’t limited to weekends. I’m a Monday through Friday work kinda guy and many times the weekends are occupied by the honey-do list.
  3. There are no coffee shops in my area! I don’t count SB or DD. I’m talking about nice places like everyone on Instagram is visiting!
  4. Making your coffee or tea on a small stove RULES!!! It sounds burdensome but it definitely is not. The only logistical challenge is carrying the gear, and that can be overcome with a single pannier, small knapsack or large handlebar/rando bag
  5. Riding with a partner makes the Challenge more enjoyable, especially when it’s your kid

That’s a wrap for 2014. Thank you, MG, for inspiring and motivating us.

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Coffeeneuring 2014

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Time to get out on the bike in search of coffee. If you haven’t heard of Coffeeneuring, you may be living under a rock. Here are the rules for 2014.

I began the challenge last weekend, with a ride on October 5th with my daughter aboard the Burley Piccolo. We rode a mellow 5 miles around town, stopping at one of the local Dunkin Donuts for a cup of tea.

Coffee cup

Sammy

My daughter whoops and hollers as if she is on an amusement park ride. And she asks a lot of questions, such as “Do you ride this fast with my brother?” Yes, I do!

The riding is typical suburban, with semi-busy roads and a mix of commercial and residential neighborhoods. I use the Piccolo as a means to acclimate them to riding in the street among cars. The beverage was actually the low point of the ride, a wholly mediocre cup of dishwater with a tea bag in it. Oh well, it’s the company that matters.

My second outing was this morning, October 12. I don’t have a lot of choices within an easy ride of my home. There are about 16 Starbucks and DD within 5 miles; however, there is only so much of their product I can consume in one week, let alone during a bike ride. There are some really good coffee shops in Brooklyn, but that’s a 50 mile round trip and a bit out of  range for a quick trip. As such, I drew some inspiration from Instagram.

The hashtag #coffeeoutside links to hundreds of pictures of people taking their home brewing equipment outside to the beach, park and mountains. Coffee tastes better when you make it yourself outdoors. So I loaded up my camp stove, kettle, Aeropress and a few grams of Stumptown coffee and headed off for a quick ride.

Ride to the local beach to make coffee outside.

Ride to the local beach to make coffee outside.

Ride to the local beach to make coffee outside.

In three miles, I was at the local beach park, found a scenic view and unpacked my kit. I had to be discrete because I’m not sure the park allows cooking with a gas stove. Within three minutes, I had scalding hot water and I was ready to brew.

The coffee really did taste better having been made outside, and I saved myself some money and a trip the the same-old coffee shop. I think I’ll try to complete the rest of the challenge this way.

I have a couple of things to work through with my kit:

1. It makes a lot of noise, clanging around in my pannier

2. I have to figure out a way to carry milk without it either spilling or getting too warm.

Three miles later and I was back home and showered up for the afternoon. If you haven’t tried making coffee outside, do so. It’s easy and inexpensive if you have a camp stove or other portable heating device.

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Return of the Longish Ride

Port Jeff ride with HBC

It has been awhile since I’ve been on a long ride, one over 50 miles or so. My summer weekends have been busy with various domestic responsibilities, thereby limiting my ability to get out with my cycling club on a regular basis. Today we completed a 65 mile jaunt out to Port Jefferson, accompanied by members from a neighboring club.

Port Jeff ride with HBC2 Port Jeff ride with HBC3

The weather, riding and scenery were sublime. It was unusually warm for the end of September, which posed something of a contradiction as we rode past farms setting up for fall festivals and fairs. It’s hard to get into fall fair mode when it’s 82 degrees out.

I haven’t done many long rides this season, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself. One reason is that I’ve been keeping a polite distance from my club as it struggles to figure out what a B- ride looks like. Politics, just like in any society: some people want to ride faster, while others cannot keep up. There’s an 800 lb elephant in the room that no one will address. Today, for example, we started out with 25 people but quickly became splintered into two and three sub-groups. By the time lunch was over, no one was waiting for each other. Not exactly pleasant.

The other reason for not completing any long events is that I didn’t register for any. Last year I rode at least 5 organized events, most of them at least metric centuries. This year, however, I put the events on my calendar but did not register. Laziness, lack of time, distraction. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t follow through.  I also had planned to do one RUSA event and a S24O (overnight camping trip) but didn’t follow through.

MG has a post up on her blog that I think is relevant to my predicament. Planning to do something is not the same as doing it and, often times, the thing that holds you back is failing to say aloud that you are going to do it. I put events on my calendar but never said aloud to my wife or riding partners “I’m doing the XYZ 200 on Such and Such Date.” That kept me from committing to the events—or at least it contributed to my inertia.

There’s still time to squeeze in a brevet or S24O before the season crawls to a halt. I just have to commit and execute.

But back to today’s ride. Although disorganized, we did trek a fair distance to a delightful port. And I got to listen to this band while hunting for food.

Port Jeff ride with HBC4

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All Sewn Up

New Wheels

It is often said that the quickest way to change the ride characteristics of a bike is to change wheels or tires. Last year I changed the wheels on my CoMotion American and immediately realized a weight savings and performance improvement. This year, I defied common sense and upgraded the wheels on my Seven to tubulars.

Tubular tires (or “sew-ups”) are fundamentally different from the clincher tires the vast majority of people ride. Clinchers rely on an inner tube underneath the tire to provide the pneumatic component that cushions the rider from the pavement. Clinchers are great and I won’t be getting rid of mine anytime soon, but they do come with two trade-offs. First of all, most clinchers tend not to be very supple. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part they ride “hard” or “harsh.” And that brings us to the second drawback. Clinchers can be prone to pinch flats at lower pressures, which means you can’t reduce the tire pressure too much to achieve suppleness without risking a flat. Lastly, if you suddenly lose pressure in a clincher, there’s an outside chance it could roll right off the rim, leaving the rider totally screwed.

For several years, I’ve heard (but mostly read) about the benefits of tubular tires. Unlike clinchers, the tubular tire consists of the tire casing sewn around the inner tube as a one piece unit. Hence the name “sew-ups.” The better tires are made by hand and are much more supple than clinchers. Indeed, they actually describe the tires by thread counts like fine sheets! Most people rave about the ride quality of tubulars, partly because you can run them at lower pressures without risking the dreaded pinch flat. Tubulars are glued onto the bike rim, so there’s no chance they will roll off during a flat or blowout. The one drawback of tubulars is that they are glued on, which means mounting and changing tires takes some attention to detail and is not a quick operation.

Over the winter I began mulling over the possibility of trying a set of tubulars. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on high-end wheels only to find out they did not live up to the hype. I devoted a lot of energy over-researching the matter and trying to find the cheapest way to try this old-fangled technology. In May I took the plunge and ordered a moderately priced wheel set and nice tires from Signature Cycles.

You don’t just pop tubular tires onto the rim and ride away. The tires have to be stretched a bit, the rim glued with contact cement, the tires glued and then everything has to dry a bit. Then more glue. Then you wrestle the tire onto the rim. It takes some experience to get it right. I didn’t want to learn on my own, so I arranged for a coaching session at the shop so I’d learn how to do it properly.

Learn to glue

3 wheels

It really isn’t that hard; people make a bigger fuss about it than it’s worth. In the course of two and a half hours, I learned how to stretch, glue and mount the tires. I let the adhesive dry 24 hours and I was off and riding the new wheels.

I knew by the second pedal stroke that there was something different about the bike. The ride quality was noticeably softer, smoother, squishier. The ride was certainly not as harsh as my clinchers. I’ve heard the ride described as “pneumatic” and I’d have to agree. You definitely sense you are riding on a pocket of air instead of a hard piece of rubber. I also noticed that when cornering, the tire conforms to the changes in road surface more than my clinchers, which tend to just bounce over things. I’m definitely happy with my decision to try sew-ups.

A wonderful mural found on a bike ride in Great Neck

I went with a set of FMB tires. They are handmade in France and, as you might expect from something handmade, they are not as cheap as clinchers. But the ride quality is certainly worth it in my opinion. I couldn’t see the point of taking the leap to tubulars and then mounting a set of $30 tires on the rims. I have about a month’s worth of leisure riding and commuting (yes, I commute on them!) on the wheels and have not had any issues whatsoever. Eventually, one of the tires will flat and I’ll be heartbroken about the expense–at least momentarily–but for now I’m really enjoying the new wheels and tires. They’ve certainly changed the character of the bike.

Will I ditch my clinchers?

No way! Clinchers serve a purpose, and for me that purpose would be long rides with limited support or rides on particularly crappy terrain. Since the tubular tire is a one-piece unit, you have to carry a spare tire with you, not just an inner tube. Most people carry one spare and if they double flat on a ride they call a cab. I don’t think I want to be in that position, particularly on a dirt road somewhere; therefore, I’d mount up the clinchers and carry a couple of spare tubes. I also don’t see myself commuting on the sew-ups in the winter; I’ll put the clinchers back on in late fall.

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