Monday, September 29, 2008

Randoboy in the News

Although I sound like an elitist smart-a$$, Randoboy's alter-ego, the mild-mannered Robert Hendry, is on the cover of the Williamson AM Sunday section of the Nashville Tennessean:

Just in case you're wondering, I do not recall saying that "I felt a sense of glee" about watching them change the price at the gas station. It sounds like the kind of thing that I might say, but having said it and seeing it in print, I regret saying it because it makes me sound like a dork. Normal people don't say "glee." It's one of those words that you would not want to say in a bar full of ex-Marine biker construction workers, particularly if you were wearing spandex. Although in many southern states the spandex alone is enough to make it justifiable homicide.

The article also makes it sound like I'm a man on a mission -- a rolling billboard pushing the "bike there" lifestyle. Although I do tend to proselytize (hence this blog), it's really secondary to the fact that I like riding my bike. I could probably use my commute time to send the cycling message in more effective ways, but that would not be as much fun.

And Randoboy is all about the fun.

Finally, a couple of other points about the picture:
  1. Yes, that is a Baggins bar bag on the front.
  2. Yes, I'm wearing sandals.
  3. Although I'm wearing a Gran Fondo Fixies jersey, the Salsa Casseroll that I'm riding is actually a singlespeed right now. It's just still too hot in the afternoon to go fixed.

So Randoboy commutes as a Retrogrouch.

I love those bar bags. I don't use them on the Bianchi, of course, because that's my light fast bike, but for everything else it's very handy. You can put food in there, the camera, cell phone, wallet, brevet cards -- basically anything small that you might want to be able to get to fast. The laptop is in the backpack (you can see the straps). And there's a big bag on the rack for other stuff, like a frame pump and tools and change of clothing, or groceries if I need to pick up something on the way home.

As to the sandals, I wear those unless it's freezing outside. Again, for the Bianchi I have some nice light stiff Shimano shoes for my Speedplay Zero pedals, but for everything else it's Shimano A520 pedals, and I wear shoes (or sandals) that I can walk around in.

I wore those sandals yesterday riding Six Gaps in Dahlonega, GA, with the Randowife. I was on the Masi, complete with the big Nigel Smythe seat bag on the back stuffed full of spare tubes, my jacket, and my wife's wind vest and arm warmers, and a bar bag on the front full of gels and drink mix and whatnot. A guy rode by and couldn't believe I was doing that ride -- which now has over 11,000 feet of climbing -- with sandals and all that stuff on the bike, so I explained that the Randowife and I were taking our time and just enjoying it. Maybe I would have been faster on a light bike with stiff-sole shoes, but then it wouldn't have been as much fun.

By the way, this was the Randowife's first Six Gaps, and she did great. She's been training for it during the last six months, and I was very proud of her.

Finally, why do I ride singlespeed (or fixed in the winter) to and from work? Because I have two really steep hills and they hurt more when you can't downshift.

And Randoboy is all about the pain.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Abandoned Bicycles of New York

I stumbled across a really cool blog this morning:

The pictures capture a feeling of lost potential, but maybe that's a cyclist's perspective. Most of the bikes are beaters -- what a friend of mine in Tampa used to call "DUI Bikes" -- but they deserved better.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Six Things I Hate About Bike Lanes

So, I know that there are a lot of cyclists out there that love bicycle lanes and that they may disagree with me on this. If you are amongst this group, please feel free to comment. Keep in mind, of course, that if you do so in a rude manner, I may delete your post. I may also delete your post if your argument shows me to be the simple-minded short-sighted knave that I am.

Just kidding.


Reason One: They Make Us Separate And, Thus, Unequal

By riding in a bike lane, I put myself in a separate class from other vehicles on the street. I won't say that it is even marginally close to having separate water fountains marked "Colored" and "Racist Nazi," as were common in the South 50 years ago, because that would minimalize a grave injustice. Having drivers pass me too close and blow their horns in my ear is one thing, but I haven't yet heard of any cyclist lynchings.

It's more like having to sit at the "children's" table at a wedding when you're 49 years old, just because you didn't bring a date. In the nuptials of life, cars get the smoked salmon and twice-baked potato, while you get a hot dog and tater tots.

Reason Two: They're Stupid

Most bike lanes are little more than a road shoulder with some extra paint and an occasional sign. They may paint a diamond or "Bike Lane" or the vague icon of a bicycle riding across the lane (And how confusing is that? If I'm illiterate to the point that I don't understand the diamond of the words "Bike Lane," isn't it possible that I'm going to think that I should be going sideways down this lane?! I'm just saying.).

Meanwhile, the "car lane" has two or more lanes, with even more lanes for right and left turns. How am I supposed to turn left from my bike lane in this world? Well, I have to go across two of the "car" lanes and into "their" left-turn lane. And the cars don't like it, because I have now left the cyclist ghetto that they deigned carve out of their precious roadway for me, and encroached on "their" space. They know that I will perform that cardinal sin of cyclists: I will slow them down.

Reason Three: They're Full of Crap

There is a bike lane on Davidson Street in downtown Nashville, but no cyclist will ride in this lane because of the broken glass, nails, retread chunks, and other detritus of the four-wheeled world. We have street-sweeping vehicles - do they not think the bike lane is worthy of their ministrations? Or is this all some kind of plot, where they actually shove the refuse of the road into the bike lane because they don't like cyclists, or at least don't like having this other lane that they have to clean.

And it's not just a Nashville thing - the bike lane on Morris Bridge Road in Tampa was just as bad. When I rode that regularly, I got so used to avoiding the same piece of metal strapping that, when it was finally removed, it took me two weeks to stop jinking right at that spot in the road. One summer, a dead wild pig lay in the northbound lane for two weeks until something finally dragged the last of it into the bushes. The state put up an historical marker for it.

Reason Four: They Aren't Enforced

When was the last time you saw a car ticketed for parking in a bike lane? Probably just about the time you saw a driver ticketed for not obeying the "three-feet law" now on the books in Tennessee and a few other states. Cars park and drive in the bike lanes with impunity in most states. They act like they own the road ... probably because they do.

Reason Five: They Are Also Sidewalks

Look, I run, too. It's great cross-training. And, yes, I know that there aren't a lot of sidewalks some places, or parks with decent paths, and you don't want to run on the road. But it's a bike lane - not a running lane - and I'm just trying to get to and from the office/store/friend's house/whatever. If you want more places to run, you can go fight with your local government to put in sidewalks. But I've been fighting for 10 years to get the few bike lanes that we have, and the least you can do is move over and let me have some of it.

Reason Six: They Are Designed in a Vacuum

Trousdale, near Crieve Hall, is on my daily commute. There's a bike lane there. It starts about half a mile from where Trousdale "begins" on Broadwell Drive, and ends after about one mile.

Could you get on this bike lane and go somewhere? Well, if you lived in any of the houses on this stretch of road, yes ... although if you stayed on the bike lane you could only go to another house on this little piece of Trousdale. If you were going to Crieve Hall Elementary from one of these houses, it would almost get you there. It ends only half a mile from the school, but I guess it's better than nothing. Of course, I've never seen any of the neighborhood kids biking to this school, but it could happen.

The point is this: If you go to the trouble of putting in a bike lane, put the bike lane on a road that needs it - not a fairly quiet residential street like Trousdale just north of Broadwell - and make it connect to something worthwhile. At least take it all the way to Crieve Hall Elementary, so the kids can have this foolish perception that their government actually wants them to ride their bikes to school.

A bike lane should go to a bus stop - preferably one serviced by a bus that has a bike rack on the front. Or it should go to a train station or office building or shopping center or a park. But creating a bike lane that starts in the middle of nowhere and ends in the middle of nowhere does nobody any good.

So, How Do We Fix This?

Everything except the first reason could be fixed by getting everybody on board regarding what bike lanes are supposed to do. Designing them right, taking care of them, and enforcing them as bike lanes would go a long way. Maybe, then, people in cars would see bike lanes as options for alternative modes of travel ... like car pool lanes. Aren't we all supposed to be puttering along, stuck in traffic, and look over at the folks zipping by in the car pool lane and think: "Maybe I should ride in to work with Mick and Shirley, and then we could take the car pool lane." Maybe people will see us biking to work and think: "Hey, I could do that!"

Right ...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oh, Titanium Temptress ...

The conversation began simply enough, as do most conversations that eventually lead to world-shattering moral dilemmas. Lynn said:

"Mark Lynskey was here last week."

Lynn is Lynn Greer, one of the owners of my Local Bike Shop, Gran Fondo. These are the people who feed my sick need for bicycles - the pushers for the more healthy but expensive form of crack cocaine to which I am hopelessly addicted. When I break it, they fix it. When I need new stuff, they get it for me. When I think that I can ride, they go out with me on a Sunday morning and show me the folly of pushing the pace on a hill.

(Actually, Lynn and Vida Greer are good friends of mine who often refuse to sell me crap that I don't need. They do this with lots of people, mostly because they are good folks who want everyone to love bicycles they way they do, which is a noble effort. But back to the story ...)

"Oh," I replied. "Those Lynskeys are nice."

In case you didn't know, the Lynskey family used to make Litespeed bikes in Chattanooga, but sold the company a few years ago. They are back, making high-end titanium bicycles. My friend, Bill Glass, had a Litespeed that he loved. As only a randonneur can, he eventually broke it (yes, you can break even titanium).

"They've got this new Helix technology that might make a great distance bike," Lynn said. "Vida's going to get one. Titanium, of course."

I must have flinched then, because I immediately had two thoughts: 1) My Salsa Casseroll isn't even a year old, and 2) I really want a new randonneuring bike.

Why do I want a new rando bike? Well, the components on the Masi are from my old Cannondale, and are pretty banged up. And the Masi frame is a little banged up, having picked up a big dent in the top tube either in route to or from Canada, or maybe in Canada. Sleep deprivation makes you forget things. And it's aluminum.

If you've never ridden aluminum, you probably don't know this, but it doesn't soak up much from the road. It's very light and all that, but it ain't plush.

Also, there is almost no way you can mount racks on the Masi, since the seat stays and front fork are carbon fiber and there are no braze-ons. I decided in Canada that the next bike would have a rack that didn't rock when I did. Plus, you need a rack if you're going to do loaded touring with panniers, which I'd like to do this year.

And me like titanium. It hard. Never rusts. Feels so solid with every stroke. Mmmm, titanium.

Lynn was still talking: "They're offering us this huge discount."

You had me at titanium ...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Not Pollutiful

With Hurricane Ike thrashing Houston and the gulf coast, gasoline has gotten scarce in the southeastern United States. The principles of supply and demand have kicked in, so that gas stations are charging over $4 and $5 a gallon, and limiting sales to 10 gallons or less.

I think this is why cars were giving me more crap than usual on my commute in today.

First there was the Lexus on Walnut Hills who zipped around me just before the stop sign at Holt. Never mind the fact that I was able to pull out right behind him - he seemed to think that some dumb bicycle would slow him down.

Next was the Range Rover on Trousdale as we entered the 15-mph school zone at the intersection with Hogan. I'm doing 17 mph (so technically I'm speeding) and I'm almost on the bumper of the car in front of me, but he feels the need to try to pass me. I slid to the left a bit and made him get back in line.

Maybe it's the nature of the drivers of these vehicles. Both probably cost 50 times what my Salsa Casseroll did, so the drivers of these cars probably take the same point of view that many affluent people have, and feel that they are entitled to the road. Goodness knows, they pay more for their car tags and tax on their automobile than what I do for the tags and tax on my bicycle (i.e., zero). Add to that the amount they are now paying to feed these plush palanquins, and it is no wonder that they might get irritated that this little man on his little bicycle, which doesn't even have to pay for gas!, might slow them down on their way to work.

My Old Fantasy

I used to fantasize about a world running completely out of oil, but that would be apocalyptic. We need trucks to be able to get food to stores and cement to building sites and all of the other things that the world needs to get moved so that business can go on. We need fuel for emergency vehicles and trains and buses, and we need oil for all of the things that we make out of it, like milk cartons and bicycle tires.

So, rather than we run completely out of fuel and end up living with Mad Max in Thunderdome ("Two go in ... one comes out!"), my fantasy changed to a gasoline tax on fuel for passenger vehicles - say, two dollars per gallon. This would still allow business to go on and firetrucks to save homes and stuff, but would make it sufficiently unpleasant for people to drive their cars. Maybe then they would be willing to use alternative forms of transportation. They don't all have to ride bicycles, but people could walk more or take the bus or just be smarter about the trips that they take. And we could take the $2 per gallon and spend it on more mass transit, bike lanes, and research on alternative fuel sources.

But, after this morning, I'm thinking that's not going to do it either. The Lexus and Range Rover that tried to edge me off the road get lousy gas mileage, but they were still out there. A gas tax might force more low- and middle-income folks out of their cars, but rich Americans are not going to give up their big cars. They worked hard for them - or their parents did - and these are big symbols of their status. Being able to afford the gasoline for them is probably just another way to show the world how much better off they are. Instead of beeping, their horns should go, "Nya-nyah-na-nyay-nyah."

Act Locally, Think Globally

But might does not make right, and I'm not getting out of their way. Probably, someday, one of these huge mothers is not going to back down when I assert my rights to the road, and I'm going to end up dead or hurt. But I consider it un-American - in the worst sense of the word - to cede any right out of fear. That sounds like the kind of thing that would look good on my headstone, although I hope nobody has to carve it for a few decades.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Hardest Ride in America

This past Saturday I did the hardest ride in America.

Now, this is probably going to garner a few arguments because "hard" is subjective. There are days when you go out and do three sets of intervals and find a new max heart rate, and that might be the hardest ride. And there are 1200Ks and 1400Ks and RAAM, where you have to factor in sleep deprivation, and those are really hard. And, although I don't mountain bike, there are things like the Leadville 100 and that one where you ride the whole continental divide from Alaska down to Land's End, and I would imagine that those are hard.

So, I'll add some qualifiers: This past Saturday I rode the hardest ACP 200K route in America.

What? You're still going to argue with me?! You say that the 200K in Magma in late July is harder because of the melting asphalt? Or that the 200K in Bluetoe in February is harder because of all the black ice that is only occasionally relieved by the 15-foot snowdrifts?

Pah, I say. Phooey. Heat and cold are just temperatures. Climbing is the true battle, for there you fight the essence of Earth, which any physicist will tell you is just mass. And where there is mass there is gravity, and where there is gravity and hills there is pain. So again I say: Pah!


Okay, I'll stop saying Pah! It’s not funny after the fourth time, anyhow.

The hardest ACP 200K route in America – and the hardest one-day ride that I’ve ever done – is the North GA Fall 200K, also known as Ten Gaps.

If you’ve biked much in the American Southeast, you’ve probably heard of Six Gaps. It’s a century that the Dahlonega Chamber of Commerce runs the last weekend of September, crossing six gaps of the Appalachian Trail. It has over 10,600 feet of climbing.

That’s a pretty tough ride. By contrast, Triple Bypass in Colorado has 120 miles and just over 10,000 feet of climbing.

The North GA Fall 200K, however, is 127.8 miles and has anywhere from 16,000 to 23,000 feet of climbing, depending upon whether you believe the results of your Polar HRM or GPS (which usually report between 16,000-17,000 feet) or the Topo map (which insists 23,000). I usually go with the Polar/GPS results, since Topo maps still tell me that I don’t live on a road. It looks like a road to me, but it just ain't on the map. Go figure.

So, Ten Gaps is worse than Triple Bypass, but what about Death Ride? Oh, sorry, they don’t call it Death Ride any more, since somebody actually died on it. It’s now formally called the Tour of the California Alps, to be politically correct.

I did Death Ride last summer, so I can compare these two. Death Ride is 129 miles with over 16,000 feet of climbing. Sounds pretty close to Ten Gaps, right?

Wrong! And the reason is … and this is the kind of thing that could start a war, but I’m going to say it … the reason is because Death Ride is west of the Mississippi and Ten Gaps is east, and the world east of the Mississippi is generally steeper that it is west of the Missippi.

It’s all a matter of Old vs. New. New mountains, such as the California Alps, are bigger. The tectonic plates that formed them are still slowly pushing them up and they haven’t eroded down yet to silt up the rivers and fill in the bays and gulfs. Old mountains, such as the Appalachians, have had their sides washed away by millennia of rain, so that they aren’t nearly as tall, but they are steep. And steep is harder to climb than long.

For example, Death Ride has Ebbets Pass, which climbs to 8, 730 feet. It’s the tallest of the passes on that ride, and probably the hardest climb (Carson seems harder, but that’s because it’s later and you often have a head wind). It has a couple of sections that are 15%.

Ten Gaps has Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia at 4,784 feet. (The new picture on the right shows the Masi looking up at the tower on top of Brasstown). The pros climb Brasstown at the end of the hardest stage on the Tour de Georgia. If you watched that, you may remember Phil and the boys talking about “The Wall.” That section is 25%. Have you ever climbed a road that is 25%?

Well, sure, you say, but it’s only 2.5 miles. Ebbett’s Pass is 10 miles long. Yes, I reply, but you can spin your way up Ebbett’s Pass with a compact crankset and 12-27 cassette. Unless you are Superman and have gears pilfered from a tandem and a mountain bike, there is no way that you can go all the way up Brasstown Bald without standing up and gutting at least part of it out.

But what about the elevation, you ask? The air is thinner 4,000 feet up, like on Death Ride.

Maybe for some folks, but I didn't really notice it much on Death Ride. And thinner air is less humid, which would have been nicer this past Saturday.

Okay, you say. Brasstown is pretty tough. But the Brasstown Bald Buster climbs it, and it’s a century with 14,000 feet of climbing.

Yeah, I reply, it is. And it also goes over Hogpen before hitting Brasstown Bald. But Ten Gaps goes over Hogpen before Brasstown, then it goes back over Hogpen on the way back to Dahlonega. And the way that it goes over Hogpen on the way to Brasstown is actually the tough way, with long stretches at 15%, as opposed to the longer but gentler route that the Brasstown Bald Buster and Six Gaps uses. And, of course, there’s that other 2,000 or more feet of climbing and 27.8 miles.

Geez, Randoboy, you now say, maybe you’re right. (This is why I love arguing with myself – I almost always win). So, how’d you do on the ride?

Well, I finished.

Yeah, but what was your time?

This is randonneuring. We don’t really think in terms of times. There's no winner or loser or ...

Yeah, yeah, but isn’t there, like, a cutoff for controls? Don’t you have to do a 200K in 13 hours and 30 minutes or it’s not official? Doesn’t somebody write down the time when you pull into the last control?

Well, yeah. Sure.

So, what was the time?

(This is why I hate arguing with myself. Self knows too much, and loves to embarrass me).

About 12 hours and 30 minutes, I mumble.


But, hey, that’s within the time limit. I was official. And it was a really hard ride. I was cramping up before I even started up Brasstown, so that I was having to walk even on some sections of Woody’s Gap on the way back. And you know how easy that gap is.

Gee. That sounds tough. What went wrong?

Well, I probably went out too hard at the start. And it was really humid, so that I probably got dehydrated. And I’m still 10 pounds over a good climbing weight. And I should probably go ahead and bite the bullet and get a triple crankset, because I could not spin in the compact crank. I definitely won’t do this ride again without a triple.

Wait a minute! Do this ride again? Weren’t you the one that promised yourself that if you ever got back to Dahlonega you would 1) never do this ride again, and 2) find David Bundrick, who designed this ride, and punch him in the mouth?

Hey, that was the pain talking. Now that I know what I did wrong, it will be better next time.

Next time! There’s no reasoning with you! You’re an idiot! I’m out of here.

Fine! Walk away! I don’t need you anyway!


P.S. to David Bundrick, my friend and crewmate on RAAM: I am not going to punch you in the mouth. Thanks for designing a truly challenging route.

P.P.S. to Andy Akard: Thanks for running this route. It was … fun?

P.P.P.S. to Alan Gosart and Kevin Warren: Thanks for sticking with me for far too much of this ride, and driving down and back with me. I’m almost looking forward to next year.