Thursday, November 26, 2009

What a Wonderful World

Church signs are the haikus of the western world. They boil down the essence of the message to as many words as will fit on the sign and the letters that you have in the box ("Who the hell took all the L's -- you can't make HELL without L's!").

My two favorite church signs this year? Last week, I saw this one:
Come inside to talk to Jesus. Text message him now if you can't wait.
But my favorite, and one that actually struck a chord with me, is this one:
Grumbly hateful, or humbly grateful.
Sometimes I am grumbly hateful. I don't know many people that aren't from time to time, but now is when we are supposed to think of how really good we have it, and how much worse things could potentially suck, and be humbly grateful. This is not easy, however, for those of us for whom being humble -- due to our obvious superiority -- is difficult.

Nonetheless, one of the benefits of being a superhero with a far-above-average intelligence is that I can imagine what it would be like to not be so superior. Thanks to those ruminations, I was able to put together a list of what I'm grateful for:
  1. RandoGirl and the RandoDaughter. They are still the two people with whom I most usually like to hang out. They keep me sane ... or close enough to it.
  2. My other cycling friends. They make it much more fun -- and sometimes harder -- to be on a bike. But when they make it difficult, it's for my own good.
  3. The rest of my family, who have managed to maintain reasonably good health this year.
  4. Being lucky enough to ride (more or less) away from all of my crashes this year without permanent debilitating injury.
  5. Being lucky enough to have won both of the races I entered this year, mostly thanks to being on teams with great riders.
  6. Being lucky enough to be born into a good family in what I still consider the greatest country in the world, so that I have had a chance to make the most of my abilities and the freedom to present my ridiculous opinions in this blog.
  7. My loyal flock (is three or more a flock?) of readers. I would probably write this blog regardless of whether anyone read it or not, but I get a huge kick out of people commenting on it and telling me later how much they enjoyed it. Or hated it, as the case may be.
  8. Finally, roads like Spanntown Road, which I headed down to for a quick 40+ miles Thanksgiving morning.

It was chilly and windy, and this time of year I don't need to worry about burning off the mashed potatoes like this.

But I had the wind at my back all down this little five-mile lane, and there were absolutely no cars. Who could be grumbly hateful with that?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

14 Days Later: The Crash Update

Tuesday afternoon it had been exactly two weeks since I crashed my fixie commuter on Edmondson Pike. Lots of folks ... well, a few folks ... have asked how everything is healing. Generally, I'd say "pretty well."

Here's the leg now:

Not bad, considering what it looked like two weeks ago:

Most of the credit for this leg looking so incredibly good goes to my mom, who also has very shapely calves. As to the skin on the leg, most of the credit there has to go to Lynn Greer at Gran Fondo (a.k.a., "the Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe"). When I went by the shop the day after the wreck, Lynn gave me a Road Rash Repair Kit, which has colloidal bandages. I put two of these on the big scraped area that evening, and kept them on for about 10 days. When I then peeled them off, the skin was kind of flakey and dry, but was otherwise all healed up.

I also put a smaller colloidal bandage on the knee. This was a deeper cut, but it's almost good now. I keep a band-aid on it just because jeans otherwise kind of scrape along it when I walk or sit down.

There was more road rash on my hip, but I have no pictures of that for the obvious reason that a photo of this much of the huge expanse of RandoBoy's fabled Quantum Quadriceps would make my female readers swoon. I put a large Nexcare tegaderm bandage on this area, and a tegaderm on the lighter road rash on my forearm. These did not stick as well as the colloidal bandages, particularly in the shower, so that I had to replace them about every other day; but they nonetheless worked fairly well.

RandoBoy Recommendation: If you crash and have road rash then you should dash ... ah, never mind. Just go to Gran Fondo and get a Road Rash Repair Kit. You can find smaller colloidal bandages at your local pharmacy, but these are not nearly as good. For lighter road rash, or if you can't find the colloidal bandages, get some tegaderms.

I also put a colloidal bandage on my mallelous:

Here's what this foot looked like after the crash:

While neither of these are exactly beautiful, for this I must blame my father. He, too, had ugly feet.

On the upside, the thing is healing, it doesn't hurt, and I learned something important: The little bone that sticks out on the side of your ankle is your mallelous. I hope to avoid future crashes on it, however, as I have a hard time remembering whether to put the double "L" and where.

Finally, the hand:

I show this because I think that the scars on the pinkie and ring finger could present an opportunity. Since they will look like capital Os, I could get tattoos on just the right-most knuckles -- the "bird" finger and the "trigger" finger -- to make the following:

Get your own knuckles at the knuckle tattoo gun.

Of course, I won't get the exclamation points on the right hand, but you get the idea.

Anyway, the hand is probably the thing that still bothers me the most, which you would expect since I had to get a stitch in the bird knuckle. Still it is healing pretty well, as you can see here:

This obviously looks better than it did:

Unfortunately, we were unable to catch the alien as it went scampering across the room. It has already grown to adulthood and has been spotted all over the country during the past weeks, wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting nation.

"I taught Contador how to fingerbang!"

In bookstores now, where no one can hear you scream. Well, they can, but then security comes and makes you go outside.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Ride Report from Hell

A lot of randonneurs, when they first start, do ride reports on every brevet. Some are realistic, like My Sexy Randonneuring Lifestyle -- a great write-up on the 2006 Cascade 1200K. I remember reading a strange stream-of-consciousness report from the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris that really captured the essence of the event, which was plagued with rain and wind.

Some ride reports are more like advertising for the next time the event is held. They will wax on about how beautiful the scenery is, while never mentioning the fact that the average temperature was 100 degrees, the wind was always in your face at 40 mph, the mosquitoes were like something out of a Hitchcock movie, and the tractor trailers with which you were sharing every road had bike-shaped decals on their noses to indicate their "ace" status.

Most ride reports, however, love these details. Last week, I made a movie to illustrate:

Of course, my inspiration for this was the following:

Kind of makes it easier to understand why the London-Edinburgh-London 1400K is so tough.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Winding Down with Friends

I've been hitting the road a lot on my bicycle the past few weeks (literally, one time too many), and sensed the beginnings of burn-out. My friend, Vida Greer, has been feeling a little burn-out coming on for her, too, and Jeff Bauer ... well, okay, Jeff never gets burned out. I think Jeff could probably spend the rest of his life on a bicycle seat and be happy. But Jeff has had some pressing business matters come up, and so he was amenable to the idea of a shorter Saturday ride this past weekend.

It was colder than last weekend -- when the temperatures had risen into the 70's both days -- so we opted for a later start from Vida's house. This allowed me to get in an extra 40+ miles by biking over there and back.

I went through "downtown" Brentwood, stopping at Bruegger's Bagels (which used to be partly owned by cycling legend and French rock star Greg LeMond). Unfortunately, the shop had been commandeered by cheerleaders from a local high school, apparently on their way to one of those cheerleading competitions. I went over to Starbuck's, instead, and made do with a scone.

There's a nice ridge west of Brentwood. Coming over Manley Road, I was reminded of another reason that I like to climb: The view.

By the time we rolled out from Vida's, it was warm enough to take off my jacket and glove liners. Vida also shucked a layer, and then slipped it into my bag. RandoGirl does this all the time, too, but it's just the downside of having a big trunk -- all the girls want to put their junk in it.

We headed south on Old Natchez to Del Rio Pike and Boyd Mill Pike, circling in towards Leiper's Fork. Since it was a leisurely ride, I was able to stop and get pictures of the longhorn steers on Bear Creek Road.

While we were stopped, the horses across the road came over to check us out. They still had their horse snugglies on.

Blue for boys and pink for girls.

Skirting the edge of Leiper's Fork, we stopped at Robinson's Market for fuel, and then headed further south down Robinson Road. Here, we got a good look at the construction on Hwy 840 that is tearing things up.

We all loved the fact that the little house in the hollow is still there. It will be really weird and cool if it's still there when they open the road ... kind of like the heart of this area thumbing its nose at progress.

Since this was a "short" ride, we only went as far as Mobley's Cut before starting to circle our way back. We went over to Davis Hollow, then left on Peach Hollow and down to Garrison Road. The buffalo cooperated by standing close to the fence.

Then we got back on Leiper's Creek Road. There's a farm on your right coming north on this road, just before you get to Pinewood Road, that I think is just about the prettiest farm in the world. You come over the hill, and the field on your right opens up to reveal it whole.

Pictures never do this farm justice. You have to drive out and see it. Better yet, bike there!

We zipped through "downtown" Leiper's Fork without stopping, taking Southall to McMillan, then left on Boxley Valley after the first of the two steep hills. We call those hills "the Dolly Partons," so I guess Boxley Valley has us veering down Dolly's cleavage towards a place where we ain't got no business.

Back on Boyd Mill Pike, some baby donkeys had heard that we were taking pictures.

I had a package of Powerbar Gel Blasts in my jersey pocket, which I had noticed earlier in the ride had somehow sprung a leak. They were suspect for humans, but the horses in this field loved them. Vida also gave up most of her last granola bar, and we made some friends.

Back on Del Rio, I said goodbye and started for home. After crossing the ridge and getting back to Brentwood, I was starving (this is what happens when you don't get your bagel in the morning and your gel blast later), so I stopped at McAlister's and had a big sandwich before riding the rest of the way home.

It's nice to have friends like Jeff and Vida that I can do this sort of ride with -- cyclists of similar abilities with whom I can enjoy good conversation as we roll through beautiful country. Sometimes, we ride with too much focus on training and technique and huge miles -- spending so much time within ourselves that we forget to interact with the world around us, and the great people that live there.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Kind of Like Kevlar

What if Peter Parker had never gone on the field trip where he was bitten by the radioactive spider? What if Bruce Banner had pulled a hamstring the night before testing his gamma ray bomb, so that he couldn't run out and get caught in the blast while saving Rick Jones? What if Steve Rogers had not been 4-F at the start of World War II, so that he didn't become the test subject for the super-soldier serum that turned him into Captain America?

And what if Assos had never started selling their gear online? In that case, RandoBoy might not have ever been.

To make a long story short ... well, that's not my nature. Anybody will tell you that, if anything, I tend to make a short story long. Usually much longer than it really deserves. Long enough to bore most people to tears. Like this paragraph.

So, I'll just tell the damned story the way I was going to anyhow. It takes the space that it takes ... that space being the space of your typical blog entry.

In 2006, Assos still sold clothing only through retailers. Gran Fondo (e.g., the Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe) in Nashville carried it, and I would regularly peruse it longingly on the racks there. It was so beautiful, and I knew it would keep me all snugly warm. But it was also expensive (and still is), so it was kind of like the Pinarello Dogma that they built up for Frankie Andrieu, which they had in the shop this week. Like a Dogma, Assos gear was something that I could lust after and would love to buy -- but, as Wayne and Garth would say, "I'm not worthy."

Then along came the radioactive spider ...

When Assos started selling their gear through some online merchants, Gran Fondo decided to stop carrying it. Lynn and Vida Greer -- two of the owners of the shop, and good friends of mine -- then did something very nice: They put aside one of the sets of Assos outerwear in my size, and sold it to me at a ridiculously low price.

When I got it, Lynn warned me, "Don't wear it when it's over 40 degrees." This is kind of like "Don't feed the Gremlins after midnight," in that it is not obvious, but very sound advice. Since I always follow Lynn's advice, the new outfit hung in the RandoCloset -- well, back then, it was just my bedroom closet -- for over a month. Then, it got cold enough one morning that I could wear it for a little 50-mile spin.

I'll never forget the first time I stepped into these bibs. They were snug in all the right places, squeezing my legs just enough to make the blood flow, but not enough to stop it. They kind of ... energized me. I recall hearing this humming sound, kind of like a Ghostbuster firing up an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back. I'm pretty sure it's solar power, though, because they have all these tiny mirrors sown in (as you can kind of tell from the picture). At night, when a car's lights hit them, they flash and strobe and do everything to tell the car that I am there short of hijacking the OnStar system and directing the driver to give me at least three feet when passing.

And then I put on the jacket. Snuggly soft. Lots of pockets on the back, and they're easy to get into even with thick gloves on. Good soft elastic on the cuffs that keep the warm air in, but don't keep the blood from going to your hands. A different elastic on the waist with some kind of stickiness that keeps the jacket right where it should be. Comfortable collar with a snap. More little mirrors to make sure that drivers get the message broadcast by the bibs. Snuggly.

When RandoGirl (who back then wasn't even the RandoWife, but just "my wife") saw me, she said, "Wow. You look like one of the X-Men."

I immediately ran to check myself out in the mirror. Not because I doubted her, of course, but I really wanted to see if I looked like one of the X-Men. And I did look like one of the X-Men ... at least more like one of the X-Men than any of these folks. Even though this outfit was black and blue with mirrors in it, instead of mostly yellow with black and blue, and didn't have a big belt buckle with an "X" on it, I looked pretty superhero-esque.

By the way, a tip to all of the women out there: If you want to make your husband happy, you can do a lot worse than telling him, "Wow. You look like one of the X-Men." This is true even if you aren't married to a nerd (like me).

Anyway, after admiring myself in the mirror for an hour or two (it would have been longer, but remember Lynn's advice about not wearing this gear when the temperature is above 40?), I went for my ride. Maybe it was because I was dressed like a superhero, but I felt like I also rode like a superhero ... or at least how a superhero would ride a bicycle if he/she couldn't fly. I was energized. I was sleek. Best of all, I was snuggly warm. I would have even been snuggly wuggly warm, but I can't imagine any of the X-Men saying "snuggly wuggly." Wolverine would kill you before you could get past "snuggly wug-"

When I got back, my wife said these immortal words:

"How was the ride, RandoBoy?"

I'm pretty sure there was a thunderclap then. Maybe it was a gamma bomb exploding nearby.

Anyway, I bring this up because I got to put on the Assos gear this morning for the first time since last winter. It was 36 degrees when I left the house, and it hit 40 about the time I got to work. I was snuggly-wuggly warm.

Today was the first day that I've biked to work since my accident last week. It felt super.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Long and Boring Non-Road

It's usually about this time of year that the "Bicycling Press" begins telling you how to make the best use of your indoor trainer or rollers. Everyone has these "killer workouts" that only take an hour or so of quality time with your bicycle hooked up to or riding on top of some whirring gizmo, three times a week, and you will be super-fast and super-strong come the super-Spring.

The best part is that you won't have to go outside in the cold, rain, or wind. Instead, you can stay warm and snug in your living room.

Really? That's a good thing?

First, I disagree with the basic premise that this kind of training is sufficient for the type of riding that I do. I am an endurance cyclist. which means that I ride stupid long distance. Now, an hour of hard intervals and tempo work on a trainer may help me build more muscle in my legs and give me a little more spring on a county-line sprint, but if I count on that kind of saddle time to prepare me for a 200K in late February I will be sorely -- and I do mean sorely -- disappointed.

When I first got interested in ultra-cycling, Bill Glass (who knows more about randonneuring than just about anyone) told me that the key to training was to start doing at least one day of century length of greater mileage, every week, beginning in January. I laughed. I really thought that he was kidding. You don't do centuries in January, for crying out loud! You build up to that distance so that you can maybe do one in mid-April, when the weather gets nice.

Nope, Bill said, January. Otherwise, you won't have the miles in your legs for the April 400Ks, and the May 600Ks.

I didn't follow that advice that year. In April, I survived the 400K ... but it was close. In May, I DNF'd on the 600K after 250 miles.

Now, one option is the "indoor century," where you spend at least five hours on the trainer. There may be times this winter -- like when the roads are frozen all weekend -- when I am forced to do this. It will require one fan, 10 towels, three good movies, two ounces of Lantiseptic, and most of my sanity. Since our trainer is kind of noisy (imagine an annoying whirring buzz at D# below middle C -- basically, the sound that a huge dentist's drill would make if it was boring out a cavity in Godzilla's mouth, and Godzilla's novocain was wearing off -- that permeates the entire house), it will probably also require that RandoGirl be out for the day.

Which brings me to the other problem with indoor training: It's not outdoors.

Sure, the air can be so cold that it hurts your lungs. Yes, the wind can beat you to death. Of course, the spray can form ice on your shoes and turn your toes into little cold lumps of pain. Meanwhile, salt seeps into your bottom bracket and chews up the last vestiges of grease, then proceeds to grind the ball bearings into dodecahedrons of decay.

But you're moving out there. You're going around corners -- even if you do slip on icy patches and find that yellow lines can be really slick. But you learn just how slick they are, and how fast you can go over that patch without having the bike slide out from under you, or how to recover when it starts to slide, or how to crash in ways that do minimal damage to you and your bike.

You climb long hills, and the cold air hurts as you suck it down, but the burn in your legs spreads outward to thaw -- however briefly -- the little frozen parts of your wool-encased body. Then you tuck in to zip down the far side, probably going a little more cautiously in the curves but still exercising that part of your brain that picks out the right line on a 40+ mph descent.

You learn how to ride in slush and stay drier. You try different mixtures of clothing layers, figuring out how to keep just warm enough without overheating, and how to avoid carrying five pounds of dead-weight clothing that you never use. You experiment with wheels, tires, tubes, fenders, bags, lights, pedals, shoes, drive trains, and lubricants, so you know what's going to work for you if something goes wrong or the weather turns weird on a 1200K that summer.

On the trainer, you work your legs. On the bike -- on the road -- you work legs, back, shoulders, hips ... everything that you're going to need during the season. Most importantly, unlike the mind-numbing trainer, you work your brain.

Now, to be fair, trainer workouts are better than nothing, and they're great for doing the kind of prescribed workouts that will make you fast. If I can't get out to the track on Tuesday nights for tempos or intervals, I will probably lug the Bianchi upstairs and do that kind of workout there. There are also a few of us here that regularly get together Thursday nights in Bill Glass's barn for a "spin-in movie." You have to bring your own trainer/rollers, and somebody brings a different DVD every week, so it's basically a social work-out. It beats sitting solo on the vomitron.

But I will not depend on these to get ready for the spring brevets. The only thing that will do that is lots and lots of road time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three Days Off

So, you crash and leave a bunch of skin in the turn lane on Edmondson Pike. If you're a hardy randonneur, you then go right back out and ride a 1200K. Fortunately, I'm just a wimpy randonneur, so I took three days off the bike, then went out Saturday and rode a 200K permanent. I did the Jack Daniels Distillery route with Jeff Bauer and Peter Lee (on Jeff's tandem), Mike and Patty Willman (on their tandem), and Jeff Sammons (on his bike which is almost big enough to be a tandem, since Jeff is over eight feet tall ... or close to that).

The day started out fairly chilly, but warmed up nicely. There was enough wind to keep things interesting, but it wasn't too bad -- so long as you stayed in the draft of a tandem.

Peter took this picture. Obviously, he was in the draft of a tandem. It's funny how stoker pictures on a tandem often include portions of the captain's head. This one shows just how long Jeff Bauer's hair has gotten.

I had a scarey moment about 20 miles in on the ride when we went through the very tiny town of Verona. Some dogs came out of nowhere right in front of Mike and Patty, forcing Mike to hit the brakes and move left. I was on their wheel, and ended up clipping them. The quick release on their rear wheel hit the spokes of my front wheel.

Fortunately, none of us went down. I did get a bent spoke out of the deal, but was able to ride on after opening the front brake a bit. It was a frightening moment, though, particularly given my recent crash. It kept me from wheel-sucking as close as I normally do for the rest of the day.

If you've never ridden in this portion of middle Tennessee, I recommend it. It was incredibly beautiful, and the roads were nice and quiet. Some of them were a little bumpy, but that's usually the price you pay for low traffic.

There were a lot of tractors on the road Saturday. One of them was towing one of these things -- a thresher? All those whirly blade things really makes you move to the right side of the road when it's going by.

Although there's only between 5000 and 5500 feet of climbing on this route (depending upon whose device you're looking at), it ain't flat. Peter took this picture of your intrepid RandoBoy beating everyone up this long climb.

Peter then took a picture of the look of awe on his face, to capture his admiration for my magnificence.

The foliage was also extraordinary. I would probably say that we peaked in Nashville about a week or two ago, but the lack of rains and storms has allowed some of the leaves to hang around on the trees.

This was Patty's first brevet, by the way. She was great, moving through controls quickly, churning away on the pedals, and passing food and drink to Mike as he needed it. I've ridden with a lot of tandems where the going gets tough in the late miles, and it's hard to stay positive. Patty was not only positive, she was smiling and laughing and appeared to be having a great time. This is a randonneuse in the making.

I took the camera back from Peter later so that I could zip ahead and take pictures of everybody following me up the climbs. I wish that I had a better zoom so that you could see the looks of awe and admiration that they have for me and my incredible power.

Most of the route is on state road 129, which is just an incredible cycling road. Here's Mike and Patty getting to the top of the climb, where we turned briefly on to US-231.

As you approach Lynchburg, you can smell the sour mash. It was really strong here, where they are either storing it or making it in these buildings behind Peter and Jeff.

When you get to the distillery, you can take a tour. Since we were racing daylight, we only stopped long enough to get a free glass of lemonade.

It was really good lemonade.

We then went to Subway, where we could eat fresh. This is, frankly, one of the downsides of randonneuring, as opposed to touring. It's those extra 30-40 miles that you do each day that means that you can't go to one of the nicer restaurants in Lynchburg. Not that Subway isn't good and nutritious ... it's just that it would be nice to replace the calories with something a little better.

This was the last county line sprint that I took Saturday. I got three, while Jeff and Peter won seven. Those two, on a tandem, have so much power that even RandoBoy has no chance in a sprint over level ground.

Peter's doing his Leonardo DiCaprio imitation.

Peter was also modeling this jersey for some friends in China. He said that they are planning to do some kind of ride where they will do 700K in 24 hours. That will hurt.

At the top of the climb past Petersburg, I went up and shot some short video of everyone coming over. Here's Jeff Bauer and Peter.

Next was Jeff Sammons.

And then came Mike and Patty.

It took me miles to catch up with everybody after they tore down the descent. I almost got the feeling that they were paying me back for passing them on the climb and then filming them.

Here we are leaving the last information control. There are two of them on this route, and you have to write down information on the signs. I won't tell you more, as that would force Jeff Sammons to find another sign.

This is at the top of the last climb, about five miles from the penultimate control. We hurried in from here, and I was working too hard to take more pictures. Suffice to say they would have been blurry.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Stitch in Time

So, as I mentioned in the last blog, RandoGirl was taking me to the hospital. We went to St. Joseph's on West End, which has probably the nicest Emergency Room staff in the world. I mean, these folks really make Doug Ross and Nurse Hathaway seem like total shmucks.

Anyhow, the waiting room was pretty crowded. One of the other folks waiting to be seen was ... and, please, imagine my surprise at this ... a fellow bicycle commuter that crashed! I mean, in a city like Nashville, where almost nobody goes anywhere unless it's by a car, it is extremely rare for me to see a fellow bicycle commuter. Can you even guess at how shocked I was to run into one (fortunately, not literally) at the emergency room who had also crashed.

His name was James. I am withholding his last name for HIPAA privacy reasons ... and not just because I was loopy with pain meds by then and cannot now remember it. He had a Standard Physics Altercation -- where two objects attempt to occupy the same space at the same time -- with a pedestrian. Physicists will tell you that only bosons or photons should try this. Bisons should not try this, particularly around cows, since that's how "beefalo" is made.

Anyway, James had lost consciousness when he crashed, and had a nasty cut on his cheekbone. They checked him out and cleared him, though, and I hope that he will not allow this incident to stop him from commuting via bicycle. Heal well, fellow traveler!

When they got me in the back and took the band-aid off my hand, this is what they saw:

(Okay, so my PhotoShop skills suck. A special nod here to John Shelso for giving me this sick idea.)

As soon as the alien popped out and scampered away, they put two stitches in the knuckle. They then very kindly dressed my road rash, took X-rays of my chest (I pulled something in my back when I hit the pavement ... I think), and sent me on my merry way.

For those interested in the bike, it will heal, too. I took it down to Gran Fondo (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe) yesterday to get the wheel trued. It was a little cattywonkus before, and it is now way cattywonkus. I'm also going to change out the fixed hub for a freewheel hub with a larger cog -- maybe 20T.

It's not that I don't like riding fixed ... it's just that I hate to crash, and I know that I would not have had this crash had I been coasting down that hill. Commuting on a single speed is hard enough, particularly given that my round-trip ride is almost 30 miles. I'll leave fixed-gear riding to the hipsters, who usually live just five miles from the Starbuck's where they work, and mostly use their fixies for elephant skids and polo. Or I'll leave it to nuts like Jeff Bauer, who has to ride fixed on 200Ks with us slow-pokes so he doesn't get bored.

Besides, I'll need the extra speed to get away from the Aliens.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When Fixed Breaks (and Brakes)

Tuesday afternoon, I'm riding home thinking that I was just hitting 100 miles of post fixed flopping, and had not yet attempted the suicide knee-wrench coast. This is common with people that don't ride fixed a lot -- you try to coast (which you can't do without a freewheel hub), and the bike explains why it doesn't want to do that. It explains this in a forceful manner, much like the debate style favored by B.A. Baracus, or the way Han Solo ended the discussion regarding the reactor leak in the detention area.

Now, normally I love speed bumps. These are what civil engineers call "traffic calming devices," because they calm the speed of vehicles by irritating the spit out of drivers. They can also calm the speed of a bicycle, if you don't want to go a little airborn. And a little airborn is not a good thing on a fixie ... particularly one loaded down with 25 pounds of computers and clothing.

Normally, I coast over speedbumps -- particularly the ones in Chenoweth that are really high. And right now you're thinking that I tried to coast over a speedbump there and did the suicide knee-wrench ... but you're wrong! I kept my wits about me and spun over all of the bumps. Including the one on which I went a little airborn.

But that did not make me crash ... at least, not at that time.

Instead, I landed and rode on, although the bike felt funny right after the landing. But it was fine for the next half mile, up to the stop sign on Edmondson Road, so I ignored it.

Now, this is a busy road. There is an ad hoc traffic calming device going on just north of where I hit this road -- they're widening it and/or repaving it and the speed limit is 20 mph there -- which keeps things nice and quiet lately. So, I came to the intersection and it was clear, so out I went.

But I had no sooner made the turn than I realized that a car was coming over the hill to the left. And, since I had to make a left turn at the bottom of the hill I was now on, I started spinning like crazy to keep my speed up, and I took the lane in preparation for my turn. I was easily doing over 30 mph when the chain came loose, fell between the cog and the spokes, and locked up my rear wheel.

Kids: Don't try this at home.

In the calm afterwards, you try to reconstruct what then happened. Logically, my legs could no longer turn the wheel, which makes for a lot of frantic energy in your body that suddenly has nowhere to go. As any student of physics will tell you, energy does not like to be thwarted in this manner. If if wants to go, it will go ... unless acted upon by an immovable object. Like pavement.

So, my whirring legs were quickly thwarted, and I tried to brake really quickly, and I would like to say that the bike then skidded forward straight and true, slowing down gently like a drag racer after deploying its chute. I really, really, really wish that I could say that.

Instead, things went (in the words of the immortal Swedish Chef), "Gersh gurndy morn-dee burn-dee, burn-dee, flip-flip-flip-flip-flip-flip-flip-flip-flip."

I totally suck at maintaining composure during an accident, such that I could minimize damage to me by hitting only soft parts ... or better yet, rolling along the road instead of grinding myself. But I am proud to say that I am really good at jumping up after accidents and making sure that cars don't run over me. One day, I may fail at this, in which case I hope somebody reads this blog at my funeral and everybody laughs and laughs and laughs. After that, drinks are on me!

Anyhoo, I jumped up like Clark Griswold and said, "I'm okay!" and grabbed the bike and moved it out of the road before the car could run over me. Which he obviously had no intention on doing, since he rolled down his window and pulled up next to me and said, "That's what you get for not riding on the sidewalk, Lance!"

Okay, not really. He actually asked if I was okay. I said, "Sure, the wheel just locked up. Golly." Or something stupid like that. Then a lady who had been going the other way and had seen the accident pulled up and she asked if I was okay, and I said about the same thing.

Again, thinking about it now, I bet it was really a spectacular crash. On YouTube, it would be "Fail."

But I have this thing about never letting cars know when I am miserable. That's why I will smile and wave at a car passing me when I'm in the pouring rain, or sit at a busy intersection in sub-freezing temperatures and sip my coffee and smile at the sky like some kind of idiot. I am trying to convince them that they should join me in riding like this.

And I'm sure that the drivers of the cars that watched my Wild World of Sports Agony of Defeat crash are now just freaking dying to get out there and ride.


So, anyhow, I got the bike over to the side and figured out what had happened. Then I checked myself over and made sure nothing was broken or separated or bleeding uncontrollably. It took me about five minutes to fix the wheel, and another 15 to ride the last three miles home, very slowly, and somewhat painfully. Moving air on road rash hurts.

I took pictures for you to enjoy. Here's the scrape on my knee and the road rash on my calf:

Here's the hole in my malleolus (the bone that sticks out on your ankle). This will match the scar that I installed on my left leg last March. I think it is very important to be symmetrical in your deformities.

Here's the hand. Oddly enough, this is the one that worried me, and made me go to the hospital. RandoGirl is taking me there now. I wish that I could show you this in the picture, but you can see bone in there.

Isn't that cool?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Better Than Biking

Since it finally stopped raining here in middle Tennessee, we've had some pretty nice weather. This past weekend, it got up into the 70s, with fairly light winds and breathtakingly blue skies. It was a great day to be out Saturday, and was reportedly an even nicer day outside Sunday.

But RandoGirl and I had better plans.

We drove over to Greeneville, TN, to watch the RandoDaughter attack Maurice, Belle, and then the Beast at Tusculum College, in their production of Beauty and the Beast.

It was an excellent play, drawing talent from the RandoDaughter's college, various other schools in eastern Tennessee, the community, and even kids from the local ballet academy. The college has an extraordinary facility, too, enabling everyone to really enjoy the show.

It took the RandoDaughter half an hour to wash that makeup off. Then she and her boyfriend, Charles, went to dinner with RandoGirl and me.

Driving almost 10 hours to watch my daughter in a play and eat cheap Mexican food with her? Yeah, that's easily worth it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spring Forward -- Fall Back and Flip Over

I love technology. I work in it every day, spend a lot of time reading about it, and get a big kick out of anybody taking a neat idea and building something cool with it. I use a GPS on a lot of rides, either to keep me on my route or just to look up a road on an online map and make sure it won't take me someplace nasty. I want the new electronic Dura-Ace on the tandem, and not just because shifting under load and cable stretch are such critical issues on the long bikes, but also because it would be cool to hit a button and hear a little "whirrr" sound as I shift. I have a PowerTap on my Bianchi, and use it to religiously follow my exercise prescription of X minutes at Y power, with a cadence of Z and a heart rate of ... well, you get the drift.

So, why is there no derailleur on my commuting bike?

Part of it is that this means fewer moving parts, obviously. I often ride to and from work in the rain, or at least on roads that have a lot of crap on them, so that my commuting bike is typically my dirtiest bike. This is why I have fenders on my commuter, but it's possible the amount of dirt is also because I have fenders on it. Frankly, fenders make it a little harder to rinse and scrub your frame.

Anyway, the commuting bike gets subjected to a lot of crap -- literally and figuratively. By not having derailleurs to get dinged up and put out of whack, much less shifter paddles and the cables that connect it all up, there's less bad stuff that can happen to it.

But that's not the main reason that I commute on a bike that doesn't shift. The main reason is because it's a little harder.

When you're commuting, you're usually going a little slower than you would on a training ride or a brevet. You are almost always by yourself, with nobody to push you (except for cars and the knowledge that you've got to make that 7:30 am conference call). In this setting -- on a slightly heavier bike with 20 pounds of laptop, clothing, and lunch in a pannier -- if you remove the option of down-shifting on a steep climb you can make things ... well, interesting.

Flipping Out

And, although my Salsa Casseroll does not have derailleurs, it does have another piece of technology: The Flip-Flop Hub. This marvel allows you to put a cog on each side of your rear wheel and sort of "shift gears" by flipping the wheel over.

In this way, you can put two different sized cogs on the back wheel of a fixed gear bike and have two gear options. This would allow you to have a bigger gear for climbing, and then a smaller gear for descending or on flatter roads. You can do the same thing with freewheel hubs on the back, to give you a big gear for single-speed climbing and a smaller one for more power.

Most flip-flop hubs, however, are set up like mine: A fixed gear on one side and a freewheel gear on the other, both of them the same size (18-teeth, in my case). This is probably because, although it's nice to think we might get to the top of the hill and stop for a few minutes to flip the wheel over for the descent, in truth most people just aren't going to take the time. Sure, they used to do this in the old days racing the Alps -- where you have 15-mile climbs -- but east of the Mississippi there are not many climbs over five miles, and most of the steep stuff is really short. You would wear yourself out getting on and off the bike and flipping your wheel this way and that.

I ride the single-speed side of my flip-flop hub n the summer. Coasting on downhills allows me to take a bit of a break, and keeps me from getting quite as sweaty on my ride in. But we moved the clocks back an hour this past Saturday, so I flipped the hub over to the dark side -- and let the fixed months begin.

Pluses and Minuses of Getting Fixed

Now, if you've ever ridden fixed then you will agree with me that it is just the teeniest bit easier climbing on a fixie than it is on a single-speed. The motion of the wheel kind of drags your foot over in the dead zone of the pedal stroke, which is what fixed-gear hipsters are talking about when they say that you are more "connected" to the road on a fixie. However, besides the part where you spin like crazy going down steep descents, riding fixed versus single-speed is really not that much different.

Until you bonehead out and try to coast. Then things get kind of jerked around, and you may wrench your knee or ankle a bit, or you may crash. But that wrench or crash or torn ligament is just the learning experience you need to keep you aware of the fact that you don't have a free-hub on the back any more.

So, why do it? Why suffer that frantic downhill churn and risk that aborted coasting mishap?

Well, the frantic downhill churn keeps you warmer on descents. Even if your heart doesn't beat faster, the pain of spinning a cadence of 150+ it will distract you from how cold the freezing temperature feels on your face -- particularly given the perceived 30-mph wind. And it really can help purify your pedal stroke, since you quickly notice any imperfections in your leg motion when you spin that 150+ cadence. If you've been pronating your right knee at 1 o'clock all summer, you will either stop it or soon regret it.

First Fixed Ride of Fall

So, I'm riding in Tuesday morning -- the first morning after the time/hub change -- and my neighborhood is still beautiful.

The sun is coming up, painting pink streaks on the bottoms of the cold gray clouds. The trees are holding on to just enough leaves to keep it wild.

Some of my neighbors' trees have lost enough leaves to make sufficient work to ruin their upcoming weekend.

It's times like this that I am glad that I don't have lovely oaks or maples in my front yard.

Another great thing about Daylight Savings Time is that it is light enough to ride at 5:45 am. The bike commuter can use this to his or her advantage, and use a normally crazy route like Holt Road. I haven't biked that way in months, so it was nice.

While I'm on the subject of Holt Road, I've got to rant a bit here. They're starting to pave Holt, and I really hope that they take this opportunity to widen it a bit. A shoulder would make it much nicer for cyclists -- and a bike lane there would shorten my commute by a mile and a half. As it is, you take your life in your hands there ... and the speed limit is 35! Cyclists should not be afraid to ride down a residential street where the posted limit is 35.

Rant over.

Anyway, taking Holt allowed me to then take Old Smyrna, which was freaking gorgeous this week.

The road has gotten more popular with cars lately, much to the chagrin of the rich people that live there, but it was early enough Tuesday that I was only passed by two cars. Next week, traffic at this time of the morning should be even lighter. More people will have changed their body clocks to DST, so they won't be waking up an hour before they have to and just going on in to the office, as they are now. This will be good, because I really have to get in to work before 7 am so that I can leave in time to get home before it's fully dark. Although I still ride with lights, I hate to give cars an excuse to run me over.

I don't know if we will have mornings that look like this next week, though.