Sunday, October 24, 2010

A how to guide to "bonking"

Yesterday evening I was perusing the net and checked out the Narragansett Wheelmen site.  The Narragansett Wheelmen are a bike club out of Rhode Island that have been around for quite some time.  I believe it may be the oldest bike club in the country.  Every Sunday they put together a  group ride somewhere in Southern NE.  These are typical group rides - the fast folk go out first (18 or more avg speed) then the mid-range riders, and then the beginners.  So far I have ridden with them three times - here's my account of all of em' - and of course the one I did just today that resulted in my first bonkage.

My first ride with the club was last year around November.  It was a crazy warm day with temps nearing 70º.  Truth be told at the end, I wasn't all that smitten with the group riding concept.  Firstly, the ride I chose was out of Taunton, MA - as in "flat".  There was a shorter ride and a 50 miler.  I took off with the fast dudes and hung out near the front taking pulls from time to time. Riding in close proximity to a bunch of bikers you have never met is an exercise in everything biking isn't: It's not relaxing, and you don't enjoy the scenery - (unless it happens to be fit and jogging alongside the road).  The ride took a little over 2 hours.  Fairly quick, but that's to be expected when there is like maybe 200' of climbing.   So at the end, due to drafting and little climbing I just didn't feel very spent or enchanted.

Being a glutton for punishment - I opted to try again this year.  The chosen ride went right by our neighborhood - so I figured I'd ride solo to the start point in Central Falls (yah I know, not the kind of town you want to bring anything of value into) and finish up back at home.  This ride was for a benefit supporting some Columbian team or something like that.  I arrived about 20 minutes before the start and paced around to keep the juices flowing.  It was a fairly hot day - so the event coordinators graciously offered everyone additional water delivered in an ice filled plastic garbage can.  That was a pretty nice touch I must say.  We took off at the scheduled time escorted by the police.  Riding through downtown Central Falls was a bit surreal..  There was a lot of Columbian patriotism taking place - everywhere we went people were cheering (or jeering?) - giving the start a kind of parade atmosphere.  We finally got out of town, and I was feeling pretty darn good.  So good in fact that I laid on the hammer hard at the first big hill, laying waste to dozens of very well appointed riders. These aren't races but I just can't help myself - thankfully neither can some other guys.  There was one fellow, obviously Columbian (had the team jersey) and two others able to hang.  From there - our group of four tore it up.  This was more like it!  I am a pretty decent hill climber, so I'd pull the group up the hills and when the terrain flattened the big diesels would take over - with me barely clinging on in their wake.  The Columbian guy was entirely unconcerned with things like stop signs or traffic signals - as in, he wouldn't slow down at all for them.  The first complete blow-through was crossing Rte 146.  He weaved across the four lane highway dodging cars moving over 50mph. Umm.. OK pal, if that's your thing... I opted to wait out the light and not give motorists any further reason to run over cyclists.     Even with two water bottles and the extra water from the start I ran out with about 15 miles to go (this ride was around 50 miles as well) as it was hot, hot, hot! Near our house I bid farewell to the guys and turned off.  This was more like it: Hills, and fast.  Total ride mileage 56.9, time - about 2.5 hours - elevation gain:  about 3,700'

So today's ride..  Again it was pretty close to home.  I have kind of made it a point now not to drive to these things.  The ride was a 63 miler that starts at Ponagansett HS and heads out to the hills in CT and back.  I rode over to the high school (about 9 miles and got there with about 5 minutes to spare. 

The chosen bike: Salsa Vaya.  The Vaya is an "adventure" bike - at least that's the marketing angle.  It has a steel frame and relaxed geometry with a tallish head tube. It is fitted with braze-ons everywhere to fit just about every accessory made.  It also has disc-brake mounts.  Yes, I know - blasphemy on a road type bike. Fact is - they work really good - especially in wet or snowy conditions, which is where I intend to use the it.  There is plenty of clearance for juicy tires and fenders.  My initial intention with this ride was to just have a nice and easy tour of the countryside on a very comfortable bike.  Apparently I am still too immature to partake in this kind of riding.  When the coordinator announced that it was time for the fast guys to go - I joined them.  It  really seemed like the only thing to do:  While all of the fast guys were on fast bikes (the Vaya is about 29 lbs all up vs. their under 20lb machines) I knew if I rode with the mid-range folks I'd end up getting bored.  The ride took off and again, at some of the first hills I was able to quickly establish myself in the hierarchy.  I hung in for about 40 miles and then it hit:  Bonkage.  I just ran out of juice.  It was so sudden and debilitating that I started negotiating with another rider "I give you a nice PB & J sandwich after the ride if you give me one of your gels".  You see, I had brought only one water bottle and the  PB&J sandwich.  Like an idiot, I threw the sandwich in the pannier bag (another indication that I had a leisurely ride in mind from the start) but being kind of competitive, I wanted no part of stopping.  Without any hesitation, this kind fellow offered up one of his gels.  I thanked him profusely, and while I started squeezing it out and forcing it down I watched the group of five just kind of drift away.  There was nothing I could do.  To make matters worse, temps were in the low forties from the start, and supposed to move up to the mid-fifties.  That never happened.  The peak temperature for the day was 47º.  I was wearing shorts, a light long sleeved polypro shirt, shell vest and gloves.  I started getting real cold around mile 50 or so.  I finally pulled over to down the sandwich and kept on keeping on.  When the route got into Putnam, I was unable to resist pulling into Dunkin Donuts for a coffee.  The course continued on and started following some local roads I ride from time to time.  That was comforting, as I knew just how far I had to go, or so I thought.   I turned off the established route and headed towards home - feeling good that I was going to be OK.  Roughly 3 miles from home, I found the road was closed (#$% !!) . A bridge was completely out and there was no way I could hike the bike across.  I ended up having to turn back around which meant at least 10 additional miles.  Thoughts of calling for a ride started to come to mind.  But I just can't do that!  I think I'd rather curl up and die -  further indication that I have a ways to go with immaturity.  (I mean, I have a family for cripes sake!!)  After 5.5 hours of riding here are the numbers - the very sad numbers:

Miles:  88
Elevation gain: 6,150 feet
Food eaten the day before: A bowl of cereal, two eggs, two slices of Pizza and three glasses of wine
Food eaten the morning before:  A bowl of cereal

The simple lesson:  Next time eat some damn food a few days in advance, bring more food / beverages and take the damn fast bike!!  Unless you intend to ride in a leisurely fashion.  Right. 

Well, I should go now.  My right hamstring starting to cramp up.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Racing - the first season..

So  - February passes, then March!, next thing you know - here comes April!  I'm busy as ever at my desk, checking out stuff of interest on the net and find "EFTA" - That's "Eastern Fat Tire Association".   (Just so you know, they won't hack on you if you run skinny-tires). I had been thinking about racing mountain bikes since..  Ohh, round maybe 1988? ish?  Never had the nerve though.  See, I don't like failure.  I mean how harmful can putting off something you've really wanted to do for over 20 years be?  Here was my "sign":  We had just moved to Glocester, RI in Aug of 08'  - Guess where the first race of the EFTA series takes place?  Yup!! I am going to be the local favorite!!  Not to mention I am too old to give a damn if I lose (maybe).

 I present the idea of racing to my wife - who has listened to me blather on bout' my  mad mountain bike skillz endlessly through the years.   You see, while I might have been fat - all through the years I'd get out here and there and lay waste to co-workers and random people I'd meet on the trails (cept' for the Subaru guy in Douglas State Forest - where are you now dude!?).  Her immediate reaction:  "you need to get your ass kicked".  Nice honey, real nice.  There you have it. - Simple enough goal:  get my ass kicked. 

First race of 09'  -  THE GLOCESTER GRIND

The day was kind of drizzly and cool.  Temps were right around 50º (alt 167) F.  Kind of miserable in some ways, but also kind of refreshing.  If any of you  first timers feel intimidated by lots of men in flashy spandex - come see me and I'll warm you right up with a nice hug.  Really though, seeing all of these rad dudes gave me a severe case of the Queen Alexandria Birdwings.

Having read up on racing and stuff I knew a pre-ride was a good idea.  Off I went- tra, la, la.. how nostalgic.  My first ever pre-ride!  I start riding around the course which starts in a smallish field - it then ducks into a little pine forest and then,  then..  Holy Crap! A mud-hole infested with rocks (this is the best overall description of the Gloceseter Grind FYI).  Being a technical hero in my mind, I figure I can clean it. "It" in turn dirty's and bruises me.  *fall number one* Thankfully no-one sees this, so I continue on pre-riding.  As I keep riding, I continue to chance upon more of these rock gardens - and continue to think I can find the best line right from the get-go.  Not so.  *fall number two, three and four* It now occurs to me that this course is just as, if not tougher than the tough stuff I ride in Douglas State Forest - even worse - I really don't have the time to figure out all the best lines.  Not good. 

So I continue on and catch up with some slinky dudes in really nice looking spandex.  They see me coming and for sure -it is plainly printed on my entire outfit "Novice idiot racer".  Being perfectly non-competitive gentlemen, they up the pace a little.  Being a non competitive gentleman myself, I in turn up my pace a little.  Lo & behold - they go a little faster! This trend continues and I am starting to feel it.  The speed increases to the point where one of the riders declares to the to other "umm, this is a little bit fast for a pre-ride".  Now, I'm totally smug-ified with me.  Hah!  These dudes are all fancy looking and I have induced a verbal truce!  Hah! hah! Ho! SH#%!! *fall number six* I am left for dead.  I decide maybe it's not so smart to continue at this pace before the race and ease my way back having completed the whole loop.  I get back to the car and things are bad - real bad.  All of the crashing has torqued the hell out of my back.  Having alot of experience, I know when a bad back session is coming - it's here, I'm there and I want no part of riding around that thing again.  Decision time. 

I spend about 15 minutes at the car deliberating the situation.  One part of me knows it is a bad idea to go through with this, the other part wants no part of limping home a failure (see paragraph one).  So I decide.  Luckily I have a little baby jar with various meds - and it has some Ibuprofen of some sort. I pop a couple of those, do a few stretches - and limp back across the road to the start area. It's on.

Because there aren't so many of us they group our age category (35 to 41) with the older guys (42 to 50).  I swing around to get in the lineup and...  *fall number seven*  Yep.  Not quite used to the clicky pedals - get stuck in one and fall over in front of the opposition.  The announcer on the bull horn makes the most of this (thanks so much Maz) and declares to all:  "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE HAVE OUR FIRST CRASH !!!"  I mutter something about clipless pedals to the guys near me and they chuckle very nicely.  Speaking of opposition, there is some serious hardware in the group - it makes me even more nervous.  Before I know it,  - Maz yells "GO!!"

I charge from the start - holding 2nd or 3rd  until... the first left hand corner in the lovely pine woods section.  I catch a wet root and the ground catches me soon after *crash number eight*.  Four or five guys blow past - and I get back on the bike and crank with everything I have.  I am so pissed at this point - that it takes only a few seconds to catch back up with the group.  We flounder through the mud and this time... this time, I am smart at the first rock garden.  I ride as much as I can safely and then quickly hop off to hike-a-bike the rest of the way.  Learning - idn't it grand?  After the first rock garden there is a stream crossing with a well-established cut on either side. Some guy on a $4000 bike hops off and proceeds to walk through right in front of me.  I yell to him: "coming through" and he yells back "your riding through that!?" - (all of this takes place within milliseconds).  With no time for nice, nice - I yell back "YES!!!!" He is clearly in the way and I choose the only alternative:  over the 2' vertical bank into the stream.  With massive exertion - I hop back up the other side (an equally impressive embankment).  Take that super nice bike guy! (the bike - not you)

The rest of the middle of the race is kind of a blur - except one really stellar crash.  There was section where you could either ride through a deep puddle with a bank and log on the other side or ride the alternate route - a very wet and slippery plank.  Having  already tested the board side ( maybe crash number four or five?) I opted to go for the mud puddle / log.  It became quickly apparent that this option wasn't any better than the board.  I caught the log at the worst possible moment with the front tire and the bike simply disappeared *crash number nine* sending me flying super-man style where I landed me a solid 10' beyond the log.    While us novice idiots where sloshing and crashing around - the real superheros were getting in their warmup run.  Just as this crash occured, one such superhero was behind me.  In the most valley-boy california accent he piped up - dooood!!! That was epic! RU like OK??  -I replied "Fine thank you!" - his reply, "Ok man, don't worry about me  - I'm not racing ha..ha.. ha.."  Towards the end of the race I noticed I was gaining on someone I recognized - it was one of the guys I started with.  This spurred me on a bit - and I put my all into finishing as strongly as possible.  Holy cows - I did it!  Finished the race - and I can still kind of walk!

End result:  1st place (in my age group) OK... - so there was like  only 3 or 4 guys in my age group - but this was something special for me.   Here I am, almost close enough in weight to race the clydesdale class (200 #  - A half gallon of pre-race water would have done it) and I manage a decent time (for a novice).  Maybe I'll have to check out the next race.  Further end result - my back seems to have benefitted from all the action.  I thought for sure I'd be laid up for a week.  Instead - some pain, but nothing debilitating.  Yay!

Go get my ass kicked - Hah!  Take that my lovely- your man is coming home a bona-fide MTB winner.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The first commuter bike

Motivated by the back pain - I fixed up a Specialized Expedition I had since my last biking obsession in 01' and equipped it with... drum roll please.... an electric motor. Now this alone might seriously put off many hardcore bike folk BUT I HAD MY REASONS!!

1) I was fat(ter) - and this was easier to manage. I have tried to avoid the reality but the truth are what it are.
2) I couldn't show up to work all sweaty. Simple enough - working your tush off (that's inaccurate - your tush kind of gets firm but maintains its presence) can make one inappropriately smelly and corporate merica just doesn't allow that. More on this later..
3) This is super cool technology: I like neato mechanical things. A bicycle is a neato mechanical thing, my job involves neato mechanical things, my other interests are neato mechanical things - my wife is not a fembot- so I have achieved some balance.
4) Not only was the technology cool - it was capable. I purchased my BIONX PL-350 for a mere $.. Let's not talk about that. Let's talk about how far it could go - and the nifty features:

  • 4 assist and 4 regeneration modes. This is huge. When you feel strong, use mode I or don't use any assist at all. Heck - feeling REALLY strong? Use regenerate mode 4. Any of you hardcore beetches think an electric bike is for wussies? Try this out: Ride all day in regen mode 4. I rode home once in regen mode 4. That was the usual 13.2 miles with about 850' of climbing. Note I said "once". That was just to prove to myself it could be done.

  • It could go the distance: The round trip commute to work is about 26-28 miles depending on whether or not I can cut through a field due to snow. In the winter I get another couple of miles in. My first test run was on mode 2. It took place on the weekend and drained the battery about 3/4's worth. Mode 2 had plenty of power; enough to average about 19.7 mph

  • It works with you - not all by it's lonesome: This is another biggie. The genius behind the design is that riding is intuitive. There is a strain gauge that monitors how much you strain (got it?) and in turn it puts out a percentage of corresponding power depending on how much power you put out. It'd be like if me and my lady went out the tandem bike and worked in perfect harmony. Quite opposite the way I usually commandeer the tandem - here's one clue: Bendix 2 speed kickback shifting. Here is another: Maybe some shin guards would be a good idea? When I bought the thing the guy warned me ‘ “You’d better have good communication skills, if not it’ll test your relationship some”

  • It’s well integrated: Sure you can buy kits out there that will kind of get the job done for less money. It is doubtful they have as many useful settings or work as seamlessly. The cheap kits appeal to those who like the “Back to the Future” look. Lots of gaudy technology zip-tied and bolted with various adapters to a likely even cheaper and more gaudy bike. I think I just offended a few MIT boys - not one bit sorry bout that. Enjoy your leggings, armor and buxom wenches ya nerds.
    • It can be fitted on your existing bike. This really doesn't need a lot of explanation. I had a bike - they had a motor. The BIONX weighs less than just about every system out there. It has a whole bunch of other features that are properly documented here: I suggest considering the system while your significant other is either away or intoxicated. I know I was drunk when I bought mine.  

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Where to start?

    Maybe from the start.  Well not really from the real start - but from the start of an illustrious bike racing career spanning nearly two years so far.

    In February of 09' I started riding my bike to work.  The goal: combat the fat.  At nearly 210 lbs I had a bout of severe back problems and the logic was "you figger a truck wears out a lot faster when haulin' too much - so mebbe I should start haulin' less".   I had always wanted to bike commute for the usual logical reasons as well:
    • Fitness while getting you to your unfit desk job.  In total it "costs" me about 40 minutes per day to achieve approximately 1-1/2 hours of exercise.
    • Super (go ahead, you know you want to call it "Uber") efficient:  I have challenged my colleagues to offer up something more efficient in terms of energy transfer.  The best they have offered so far is "a toaster" - which I conceed, is very efficient in doing its thing.   I do like my toasted bagel after getting to work on the -"ahem" 2nd most efficient device. Golly!  that's a two-fer!! I simply appreciate efficiency - always have.  You could say I was country before country was cool, but it's not.
    • Gas money - No.  I am sorry folks, you're not saving alot of gas.  The bicycle can actually cost more if that is your only means of measure. A heck of alot more if you really start to enjoy it and the nicer equipment.  Stop reading now if your obsessed with petroleum - man I could take this a bit further - but you've likely heard similar things.  
    • If you can think beyond a single metric there are a whole bunch of other money saving reasons (this is a tiny list - while motivated to ride to work, I compensate with laziness elsewhere):  Less wear and tear / mileage on the car, less visits to your doctor because you're fat, less probability of divorce because your getting some (soothing endorphins yo'), less insurance because now you legitimately don't drive more than 5,000 miles per year - etc, etc. 
    • It's in my blood.  Fact is, I find "cycling" (this is the more appropriate term as you move up the cyclist hierarchy) to be one of the best things in life.  Man has nearly topped out with this particular invention.  Nothing else in the mechanical world works so effectively with the human being with such grace and fluidity.   It has minimal impact on earthly surroundings - (except for those road things - those were originally intended for bicycles according to internet folklore).  I think this may be a sneak attack we need to be aware of  stirred up by big oil.