The title should be “Sunny and Windy.”
My family spent the past week in Arizona visiting other family members. I knew from previous visits that the roads in the area are in pristine condition; devoid of the potholes and rough surfaces we have in the east because of the harsh winters. I also knew that every time I visit Arizona I regret not having a bike. This trip was different.
In January, when I was told of the compulsory family visit, I began plotting ways to have a bike during the trip. I didn’t want to lose any fitness I gained by riding through the winter and wanted a bike as a means to escape and find a couple hours of quiet time. My initial plan was to buy a travel case and take Southwest Airlines, known to have a liberal policy regarding bike transport. That plan fell to pieces when we could not get a direct flight from NY to AZ on Southwest. When you travel with kids, you avoid intermediate stops and layovers. We found our non-stop flight on US Airways, which has the exact opposite policy of Southwest; they wanted $250 to move the bike. The expense of bringing a bike quickly became unreasonable: $250 for the airline plus $250 for the bike case seemed a bit much for three or four days of short rides. I fly once, maybe twice, a year on vacation and, as such, the bring-my-own bike plan didn’t seem economical.
By sheer luck, the author of a blog I follow mentioned taking a trip to Arizona and renting a bike. A few emails later I locked in a rental with Arizona Outback Adventures. The rental of a fine Specialized Roubaix was considerably less than the cost of shipping my own bike would have been. I sent the rental manager the diagram from my latest bike fitting and he had the dimensions pretty much dialed-in when I arrived on Monday to pick up the bike. If you ever need a rental in Arizona, use Arizona Outback Adventures; you won’t be disappointed.
I brought all my other riding gear with me on the plane. I had this notion that I’d pick up the bike in Scottsdale and ride it to my in-law’s house 30 miles away. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. Monday was the windiest day in years in “the valley” with wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour blowing all manner of dust and sand into the air. It was quite disruptive and caused a spike in news media coverage regarding how to clean your pool.
The winds subsided enough to ride Tuesday morning. John, who referred me to Arizona Outback, suggested that I let some air out of the tires because the rental company was accustomed to pumping them up to max pressure. Using my tire gauge, the 25mm front tire measured 120psi so I let some air out. In a rush to get going, I gave the rear Presta valve a quick pinch to let some air out without bothering to take a measurement. And off I went.
I had preloaded my Garmin with a couple of routes from RidewithGPS. I selected the shorter route for the first ride. After some initial frustration finding the starting point of the route (the creator apparently rode around the block a few times before setting off on his/her journey), I was on my way out to Surprise. On the third turn, the rear wheel got around on me, but I assumed it was because the bike was a bit twitchier than I’m used to or that I hit a patch of oil on the pavement. Fourth and fifth turns produced the same result. I dismounted and pinched the rear tire. 50% inflated! Perhaps I let too much air out.
As I was feverishly working the mini-pump, a nice gentleman adorned in Adventure Cycling logo rolled up and offered his assistance. We had a nice chat. It always amazes me how the bicycle brings people together. After inspecting the tire for signs of puncture, I remounted and got underway. The remainder of the ride was windy, probably 20 mph gusts at times, but pleasant. My route was a simple out and back with a short section of dirt traversing an open field. I wimped out and walked over the roughest section, not wanting to have to fuss with the rear tire in the event I missed something during my earlier inspection. The out-and-back route took me through Surprise and back into Sun City West. Many of the roads had dedicated bike lanes and the motorists were more or less respectful of my space. Nonetheless, my first journey on a bike in AZ left me with the same feeling that driving does: everything looks the same. The road names and community names change, but the architecture and landscape are constant.
One Wednesday evening, I rode out to Surprise Stadium Sports Complex to check out the ball field and community recreation space. The route covered much the same territory as my previous day’s ride, but with a stop at the beautiful baseball and recreation complex. The folks here take their recreation seriously. I rushed back to dinner as the sun was beginning to set.
I used another RidewithGPS route for my final ride Thursday evening. Although I chose the RwGPS routes randomly from a handful of options in the vicinity of Sun City West, they both used the same roads in and around Surprise. What a surprise! I understand it now; you’re either on a major thoroughfare, a smaller main road or in a maze of cul-de-sacs in retirement enclaves. On many roads, you encounter golf cart crossings every 600 feet it seems. The options for nice, direct and safe routes are few. Thursday’s route was a 23 miler winding through the center of Surprise with a return on a ridiculously busy major thoroughfare.
A couple of things stand out about this trip. First, it was nice to ride in shorts and short sleeves after a long winter. The roads in AZ are pristine compared to NY. The roads in the valley are flat, presenting no reason to get out of the saddle except to sprint through a busy intersection. And finally, everything looks the same whether you’re in a car or on a bike. Having the bike was major value-add to the trip. It allowed me to get some exercise, explore on my own and get out of the house for a couple of hours each day.
Thank you to Arizona Outback Adventures for renting me a reliable machine for the week. It was my first ride on a carbon bike and I can see the attraction some people have for carbon. The bike was responsive and light as hell compared to my CoMotion though, truth be told, I would have preferred to ride my own bike for the week.