Thursday, April 29, 2010

Easy Targets

Apparently, truckers are at war with bicyclists.

The truckers are ticked off with us because Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood likes us, and because the number two guy in the Department of Transportation, John Porcari, prefers freight be moved by water or rail before trucks.

I'll pause here a minute while you read all of those above links. Hmm-de-hmm-de-doo. Okay, done? Great. Now you are just as informed and confused as I am.

First, I have to admit that I haven't really seen a whole heck of a lot of evidence that truckers are angry with me. Maybe they're scowling at me as they drive by, but they give me a heck of a lot more room than almost any Hummer -- even though a Hummer is wider than many semis. I can count on one hand the number of trucks that have blasted their horn at me as they passed, and I certainly haven't had any play chicken with me lately. (This is good, because they will win. I'll say it loud and proud right now to any trucker that wants to play chicken with me: Cluck-cluck.)

So, assuming that there have been more baleful glances cast down upon me from passing Peterbilts, and I have been spending too much time watching the road and other vehicles to notice, I gotta ask: Why?

The head of the government agency whose department is critical to your livelihood says, basically, that we need to start working harder to make roads safe for bicycles. Then, one of the guys that reports to that guy says that we need favor shipping stuff by rail and/or water first, and then use trucks for the final leg of the delivery.

And truckers think that this is a conspiracy? Maybe they think that, ultimately, the DOT plans to equip everyone with cargo bikes so that we can haul our own goods, leaving the trucks to rust by the side of the road.

Much as I like this vision, we all know that it is not practical. We've seen pictures of people bringing home their new refrigerator using their xtracycle, but that only works in Portland, Oregon. Here on Earth, I'm not going to drive the RandoDaughter back from college next week on the back of a tandem, pulling a trailer with all of her clothes, her computer, her mini-fridge, and so forth.

To put this plainly: We all need trucks. Even those of us who ride bicycles need trucks. We will continue to need trucks to bring groceries to Publix even when we all go green and have those new grocery panniers from Arkel. If there were no trucks, we would have to bike all the way to the factory in Canada just to pick up those new Arkel panniers. I've biked in Canada -- it's cold there.

So, truckers obviously have nothing to fear from cyclists taking their jobs, and really shouldn't be angry with Ray LaHood (we love you, Ray ... no matter what the truckers may feel about you) or John Porcari (we don't know you, John, but you seem okay ... just not as great as Ray). Ray wants the roads to be safer for bicycles. John is just stating the obvious in that moving freight by water and rail uses less fuel and has less environmental impact than moving freight by truck, and that shippers should use water and rail for long-haul. Hell, if I was a trucker I would be all over that, because it means than I only have to drive 500 miles rather an 3,000.

So, truckers, assuming that you are pissed off at bicycles, I again gotta ask: Why?

The obvious answers are:
  1. Bicyclists are easy targets. Unfortunately, this is true literally as well as figuratively. We look dorky. A lot of us are skinny, and those of us that aren't skinny look silly in spandex. (Actually, even the skinny ones look a little silly in spandex.) We have helmets, and big bags on our bikes, and flashing blinky lights, and jerseys that say dumb things.
  2. You are being suckers. The guys that run the trucking companies and the unions know that they can't fight the DOT -- mostly because in this instance the DOT is right. They also know that they can't fight their real business competition here, since that's the railroads and the shipping lines. They work with those guys -- in a lot of cases, they are those guys -- and they make lots of money from them, so they have to play nice.
I would like to think that we've all had enough of being confused by spinmeisters into fighting the wrong enemy, but I could be wrong. This is just another case of the smart coward in the schoolyard diverting the bully into picking on the more dorky, even littler kid.

It's even easier when that kid is wearing spandex.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Keeping the Air Inside

As I mentioned in my last post, I had some trouble this past weekend keeping air where I wanted it to be -- namely, inside my tire. I've had a few issues along these lines lately, which got me to thinking about ways to avoid flats, ways to fix them, and ways to fix them that keep them fixed.

There are probably thousands of  great tips for changing tires and fixing flats, just as there are thousands of horror stories for flats. I once spent over an hour at a rest stop near Columbia, TN, going through five tubes changing a flat. David Bauer's flats fiasco at Paris-Brest-Paris in 2007 are almost the stuff of legend. I invite everyone to post their "favorite" flat tip or horror story below, primarily because misery loves company.

An Ounce of Prevention

First, be prepared. Before you go for a ride, make sure that your tires are inflated properly.

How much is "proper," you ask? That depends. You want enough pressure that hitting a pothole will not deform the tire and tube to a degree that the rim will hit, because this is how you get a pinch flat. However, you don't want so much pressure that you blow the tire off the rim, or that you even make your ride horribly uncomfortable and immediately sell your bike on eBay ... although, this would keep you from having any more flats.

Play with your tire pressure until you find the right balance. Then, be willing to adjust it when the weather changes and you are wearing and/or carrying more/less, or when you go on a tour and pack 45 pounds in your panniers, or after a huge Christmas dinner at Aunt Myrtle's. That 95 psi sweet spot may need to go over 100 when you're fully loaded.

Second, use the right tires. I love Continental Ultra Gatorskins -- particularly 700x25Cs. They are wonderfully puncture-resistant, have a great tread, the sidewall is very strong, and they don't weigh so much that you feel like you're riding through sand. I can only fit up to 25Cs on my Lynskey, or I would be tempted to run something wider.

Max Watzz does not use Gatorskins. Why? Because he's never so far from home that a serious cut in his tire will give him trouble. He has RandoGirl on speed-dial, and since he's cuter than I am, she will even go fetch him.

Third, bring the right stuff. For a 200K or less, bring at least one spare tube, a patch kit, a C02 inflator, two cartridges, and a tire lever or two. Put these in half of a tube sock, and stuff it all in the under-the-seat bag. The half-sock will keep things tidy and organized, gives you something to wipe your hands on afterwards, and can help you diagnose the issue.

What about a boot, you ask? If you're just doing a 200K, you can usually make your own boot from stuff along the side of the road, a dollar bill, or a gel wrapper, so you may not need to bother.

For longer rides, bring more stuff. If I'm going over 200K, I put my Arkel Tail Rider on the rear rack. In there, I keep two more spare tubes (in their own socks, thank you very much), rubber gloves, a "real" patch kit (with glue and everything -- as opposed to the instant patches in the under-the-seat bag), and a boot. I also carry the frame pump on longer rides, since this keeps me from worrying about running out of C02 cartridges.

After last weekend, I'm adding a spare folding Gatorskin and rim tape. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

A Pound of Cure

So now you're prepared. This doesn't mean that you won't get the flat, of course. Even Gatorskins are only puncture-resistant ... not puncture-proof.

When you flat, here's how you fix the tire in such a way that (hopefully) it will stay fixed.

  1. If the flat is on the rear wheel, shift into your highest gear.
  2. Hang the bike by it's saddle on something, lay it on it's side (drive side up), or let a friend hold it. Do not turn your bike upside down. It can scrape up your brake hoods, get dirt in your shifters, and does not look "pro."
  3. Open the brakes, flip open the quick-release, and remove the wheel.
  4. Let the rest of the air out of the tire.
  5. Hook the "scoopy" side (not the hook side on Park or the slotted side on Pedro's) of the tire lever under the bead, grab the tire right next to this with your free hand, and then push the tire tool away from you so that it continues to run under the bead. On Mavic Open Pro rims and Gatorskins, this will unseat the bead from the rim as you go along. On other tires and rims, it may not. Sorry about that.
  6. Leave the other bead of the tire on the rim for now, and pull the tube out. I like to start at the tube stem, but it's up to you.
  7. Find the hole in the tube. If this is a huge gaping hole, thank your lucky stars that you didn't crash (if you did crash ... well, again, sorry). If it's not a big hole, you may have to pump some air into the tube and listen for the "hssssss." Sometimes you can work the tube around and feel the air on your cheek, and sometimes just the act of working the tube around in your hand will put a finger over the "hsssss" and turn it into a whistle.
  8. Is it one hole or two? If there are two holes next to one another -- so that it looks as if a snake bit your tire -- it was probably a pinch flat. These are caused by not having enough air in the tire for the road surface, or just hitting a pothole or rock or something really hard. Of course, it could have actually been a snake that bit your tire. A friend of mine in Florida had one try this -- the snake missed and did not fare well in the spokes.
  9. If it's one hole, figure out where the hole in the tube corresponds to the tire (if you're wondering how to know, I will give you a tip below). There should be a piece of glass, wire, rock, abalone shell, or something in the tire there. If not, it may have fallen out already. This happens, but will leave you feeling uneasy for at least 15 miles.
  10. If the hole seems like it would be more on the rim side than the tire side, pull the tire the rest of the way off the rim and check the rim.
  11. If you haven't found the problem in the tire and/or rim, you will have to feel for it instead. This is another time when that half tube sock comes in handy. Running that around in the inside of the tire and rim can keep you from getting cut by the wire, glass, etc. Even better, it will also often snag on the offending puncture-producer when you can't feel it, putting a thread "flag" on your problem.
  12. If you can remove the sharp thing, do so. If you can't, put something over it to protect the tube. This may be a boot, a cut-up old inner tube, a gel wrapper, a piece of a plastic bottle ... whatever will protect the tube without creating another hole.
  13. If you pulled the tire off the rim, put one bead back on. While doing this, ensure that the label of the tire (where it says Continental Ultra-Gatorskin 700x25C, for example) is centered above the hole in the rim where your inner tube inflation stem goes. Why? Because doing this lets you know how the tire was aligned with the tube the next time you have to find the piece of glass that flatted you. Also, it just looks more "pro."
  14. Put some air in the new tube (enough to give it a semblance of shape).
  15. Hold the wheel horizontal, with the "free" (e.g., loose) bead of the tire up.
  16. Put the tube stem in the rim hole, and slowly work the tube around so that it is now lying in the tire. Isn't that much easier when you hold the wheel horizontally?
  17. Starting anywhere (I like to begin close to the stem), use your thumbs to push the free bead of the tire in to be captured by the rim. Either work both hands outward from a single location, or keep a captured portion in place with one hand while you work around with the other. It's like tucking in a fitted sheet on a bed -- once you get half of it in, the rest will come.
  18. The last bit of the tire is usually more difficult. Use both thumbs if you can, or grab the wheel with your whole hand and use the bottom of your palms to push the last of the bead, rolling it over with your wrist as if you were kneading dough. As a last resort, you can use the tire lever, but I've had this ruin all my work by puncturing the tube and/or pinching it under the tire bead.
  19. Inflate the tire halfway, and then check to ensure that you got the bead seated under the rim all the way around the tire, on both sides. If not, you'll see a bulge. If you inflate it fully like this, the bulge can blow the tube. If it doesn't, it still makes for an uncomfortable ride. If there's a bulge, deflate the tube a bit and get the bead under the rim.
  20. With the tire properly seated, finish inflating the tube to the proper pressure, put the tire back on, close the brakes, close the quick release, make sure everything is spinning right, put all of your tools and stuff back where it's supposed to be, and ride on.
One last tip: Put the old tube in that half sock and put it back in the bag. Something may come up later where you need it, such as cutting it up for a boot, patching it when you run out of spares, or using it as a tourniquet after a badger bites you. If nothing does, you can patch it when you get home, or at least dispose of it properly.

Patched tubes are the best things to carry on long rides, because as part of the patching process you will check to make sure that it holds air. We've all pulled tubes out of the box only to find that there was something wrong with them. Once a tube is patched, it is actually better than new.

Some other good references:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hours of Leisure Punctuated by a Period of Panic

As the day came grayly on, the handsome man shifted his bicycle into a higher gear and stood up, leaving his teammates behind as he cruised up yet another short hill. His lean calves glistened in the steamy morning, coated with road grime from the last hours of rain, and his bulging quadriceps rippled from the strain. After 220 hard miles of cycling, could any man find the strength for this one last effort?

Cresting the hill, his matinĂ©e-idol features set in a frighteningly determined stare, he shifted into his highest gear and began pedaling furiously on the descent, rooster-tails of rain sluicing in his wake as he continued to attack the Chattanooga streets. A fever-wracked demon, he hit the bottom and kept churning the pedals, his powerful gluteals pumping perfect circles as the bicycle strained toward the finish. He could feel the rear wheel getting soft again from the slow leak, and knew that he had scant minutes before it would fail.

Would he get to the end in time?

But, I'm Getting Ahead of Myself

Tennessee had a fleche this past weekend, with three teams converging from points around the globe -- albeit a very small globe -- arriving in Chattanooga by Sunday morning. Two teams came from Nashville, and one came from Georgia.

When Jeff Sammons, the Tennessee Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) announced this in the fall, I immediately thought about re-forming my old Heart of the South team: Jeff Bauer, Vida Greer, and Alan Gosart. We all got along very well then, and have similar cycling abilities. When I asked each of them, they were all up for it, and we again made a great team. We decided on a fun name ...

I had t-shirts made up with this on them

We started from Vida and Lynn's house, following a huge breakfast of pancakes. I rolled up a couple of extra pancakes with some peanut butter and put them in a zip-lock baggie -- this ride was all about the food.

The wind was fairly stiff out of the south-southwest as he worked our way down, stopping briefly at Henpeck Market to get a receipt (and a cookie) before turning towards Bethesda. From there, our course shifted slightly east, helping us along for most of the rest of the day. We cruised up over Pulltight Hill, through Allisona, on to Eagleville, and from there to our first stop at Bell Buckle, 71 miles in.

At Henpeck, I pulled out my camera to get a picture of the baked goods, only to discover that I had left the memory card for this camera at home. Otherwise, you'd get to see some pictures. Fortunately, I am an excellent writer, so you can easily visualize things from my flowery prose. Just squint a little harder.

From Bell Buckle, we took a new series of roads up through Noah, picking up the winter 200K route on into McMinnville. My original plan had us hitting the Hardee's control here about dinner time, but we were over an hour early and instead opted for a quick malted and a break. We were now about halfway -- 110 miles in -- but all felt pretty good. We hung out for about half an hour, talking with the folks coming in for an early dinner/late lunch/just a snack. Everyone was interested in what we were doing, as usual, evincing equal parts admiration and doubt regarding our sanity. They were all very nice about it, though, and wished us a good trip.

Leaving McMinnville, we wound our way through a bit of traffic to Hwy 127, and from there to Hwy 30. Soon, we were climbing Baker Mountain Road -- which we had renamed Baxter Mountain Road (you get a little loopy out there) -- fighting the headwind again as we got up to the chilly plateau.

Our water bottles were all pretty empty by then, so we stopped at the store before Fall Creek Falls State Park, bought some water, and took another short break. One of my teammates is a couple of week's away from that teammates 50th birthday, so we would sing "Happy Birthday to You" every 50 miles. As we entered the park, dusk was coming on as we sang "Happy Birthday" for the third time that day.

Our next control was A&H Market, just past the park. We use this market as a control on the Green Acres permanent, and twice on the old Tennessee 600K course, so they are used to us. We paused just long enough to get our brevet cards signed, put on night-riding gear, and top off our bottles.

Rolling out, it seemed as if we woke up every dog in middle Tennessee. A few of them came out after us, and since we were now rolling through a very dark night over a really rough road, they had no trouble catching us. We yelled at a number of them, squirted one or two, and I began cursing them all. After 150 miles, ending your ride by bouncing over a pit bull is not what you want.

Soon, we were doing the steep winding descent into Pikeville -- a great way to test your brakes and get a good upper-body workout (isometric tension -- Charles Atlas would approve). We regrouped at the bottom, and then headed over to dinner at McDonald's. This may have been the only restaurant ... well, "business that sells food" is probably a more appropriate appellation ... in the area, which would explain why it was teeming with teens. For some reason, most of them seemed spattered with gray mud. This, and the preponderance of killer monster trucks parked outside, lead us to believe that there must have been some kind of "bogging" event in the area ... or they just like to play in the mud around there.

Is this really a good use of petroleum?

After two Angus steak burgers and a large fries, my tank was topped up again. We all tried to nap a bit, but the hub-bub of the adolescent mating ritual made that all but impossible. About 9:30 pm, we rolled out into the dark night.

It was a long climb up out of the valley on Hwy 30, and the wind had picked up considerably. Sometimes it was behind us, and sometimes it was in our face, but mostly it was blowing the last remaining bits of pollen around in a sinus-stiffling maelstrom. Jeff had been suffering more than most of us from the high pollen count that day, and this onslaught of yellow powder made the next few miles really hard on him.

Fortunately, it was less than 30 miles to the Dayton control, and traffic was fairly light, particularly for the long descent back down off this plateau. We were at the Huddle House control before midnight, where we again got the kind of looks that you just have to ride a brevet through the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere to really appreciate.

Despite her obvious questions regarding our intelligence, the waitress soon had us big cups of hot chocolate as she took our order. There were some other patrons for whom this seemed to be their standard late-evening hangout (I kept expecting a fat guy to walk in and have everybody yell out, "Norm!"), and they all had questions about what we were doing, why, and what our route was. Most seemed to agree that we had chosen good roads, although they suggested some alternatives that would be shorter and/or less hilly.

Generally, in a place like a Huddle House, you can get all kinds of information from the locals regarding how to go somewhere, what you can see on the way (not much at 2 am), and what used to be over that ways. Everyone was friendly and helpful, and seemed like the kind of folks that, when they passed you on the road later that night, would give you the full lane and wave at you. They're what my momma always called, "Good country folks."

We again tried to nap -- with a little more success than we'd had in the Pikeville McDonald's -- but the restaurant was closing at 2 am (we had now crossed into the Eastern time zone) and we soon had to roll out. It had started to rain, and as we crossed Hwy 27 and started up the very steep Providence Road we had to carefully balance between standing -- which would un-weight your rear wheel so that it slipped on the slick pavement -- or staying seated in such a way as to keep your front wheel from lifting up.

Oh, what fun.

The next 15 miles were a roller-coaster ride through the hills near the Tennessee River, and I'm pretty sure that we all wore out some brake pads there. The road was a little rough, littered with detritus, and the rain made for some slick spots and hidden holes. We plunged down into little valleys, brakes squealing, then pumped up the steep incline on the other side. By the time we reached Old Dayton Road -- a lovely, flat, calm two-lane that took us into Soddy-Daisy, we were ready for another break.

Pulling into the Huddle House, I noticed that my rear wheel felt spongy. The winter must have been very hard on the area roads, and we were bouncing off a barrage of heaved and cracked asphalt, so I assumed that the culprit was a pinch-flat. However, as Alan and I changed the tube in the light rain next to the restaurant, the small hole in the tube seemed to be on the rim side, and lacked the classic "snake-bite" pattern (two small holes right next to one another) that you get with a pinch-flat.

I checked the rim and tire as best I could, but couldn't find any thing that would have caused the puncture. Slightly uneasy, I inserted a new tube, pumped the tire up to full, and went inside to get some breakfast.

Vida had ridden over to the WalMart next door, where she managed to buy some dry clothes and borrow one of their industrial-sized space heaters to dry herself off ... mostly. She arrived soon after I finished the tire repair wearing a $3.00 jacket and a couple of $2.00 t-shirts, nice and toasty warm. We were all soon digging into our second breakfast of the morning (fourth breakfast of the ride), washing groceries down our necks with fresh steaming coffee like all-night truckers.

If there was a good side to the rain, it was that it had washed the pollen out of the air, and Jeff was no longer suffering. In Dayton, he had been forced to put wet paper towels over his eyes to take some of the swelling down. The hour of riding in the rain also cleared out everybody's sinuses.

Since this Huddle House was the "22-Hour Control," we could not leave before 5 am Central time (6 am there) -- or 22 hours after we had started our ride. We again lay down in booths to nap, and finally roused ourselves about 4:50 am, getting ready to sally forth once again.

My tire had not lost any air, so that whatever had caused the flat must have come out ... or so I thought. We headed out into a light drizzle, rolling down Old Dayton Road for another 10 miles before crossing into a series of side streets heading towards Hixson Pike.

Just before we reached the mall there, I noticed that the rear tire was again going flat. I pulled over and quickly pumped it up, thinking that whatever was causing the slow leak should let us get another 10 miles, and thus to the finish, before I was flat again.

No such luck. Less than two miles later, we pulled over again. This time, I felt around again to try to find the offending puncturer in the growing daylight, but couldn't find anything. I slapped in another spare tube, used Jeff's inflater to fill it (I only carry a frame pump), and we rolled on again. Another two miles, and it was flatting again, so I borrowed Jeff's inflater again and filled it.

Thus began a series of sprints to put mileage beneath our wheels -- particularly my mysteriously deflating rear one. Finally, with about 25 minutes before we ran out of time and less than two miles from the end, I borrowed a spare tube from Vida while Jeff cut up the flat one and inserted it in the tire as back-up rim tape. We popped in another C02 cartridge, inflated, and were climbing the penultimate hill to our destination. We had 15 minutes to finish, or we would be disqualified.

Furiously, we pedaled towards Frazier Avenue and the Walton Street Bridge. I was weaving across all the lanes in the early morning traffic trying to avoid any bump in the road, since I was pretty certain by now that the problem was a spoke that only poked through the rim tape when I hit one of the omnipresent ad hoc speed bumps littering the Chattanooga streets. We crossed the Tennessee River, turned right, and got to the Tennessee Aquarium at exactly 6:59 Central time. We had made it.

Jeff Sammons's team, which included Steve Phillips and Bill Glass, was there.

Jeff Sammons, Steve "Thumbs-Up" Phillips, and Bill Glass

Kevin Bullock had ridden with them from Sewannee, TN, and he took a picture of us standing around looking goofy and wet.

From left, Alan, Jeff Sammons, Steve, Bill, Vida, Me, and Jeff Bauer

The tire held out from here to our hotel, where we all got cleaned up and had yet another breakfast. RandoGirl drove down from Nashville and brought Vida, Jeff, Alan, and me back -- everybody but she and Jeff napped some more on I-24. I finally got to bed at 4 pm, and slept until midnight when I got up and cleaned my bike until 3 am. Although it was still holding up, I put fresh rim tape and a new tire on the wheel.

Then, finally, I deflated.

Monday, April 19, 2010

In the Fleche

Saturday morning, my old Heart of the South teammates and I will start our 2010 spring adventure: A fleche.

A fleche is a 24-hour point-to-point ride. Multiple teams converge on a single point, like arrows flying towards a single target. That's why it's called a fleche, which is a French word for "firing squad."

Just kidding, of course. The sharpshooting abilities of the French are second only to Imperial Stormtroopers and Enterprise Security Guards, so that if "fleche" meant "firing squad" then the four teams participating would likely end up in Des Moines, Philadelphia, Tuscaloosa, and Paducah. We're going to Chattanooga ... I think.

Fleche really means arrow, but what arrow takes 24 hours to hit it's target? I guess that would be an arrow that has to go 360 KM (224 miles) and cannot stop at any one location for more than two hours. Arrows usually stop when they stick into something, and only start up again when someone reloads them and "plucks yew" (heh-heh).

There are other rules, like we have to be at one of our checkpoints (called a "control") exactly 22 hours before we do the last 25 KM (about 15 miles) or more. Another rule is that we all have to ride penny farthings backwards, wearing Victorian wigs, hula skirts, and Crocs (with SPD cleats, of course).

Regardless (or irregardless, if you are French), we are going to have fun. Here is my plan for the day:

7 am: Meet at Vida and Lynn Greer's house. Eat pancakes. Make sure we have our stuff ready. Give our bags to RandoGirl, who will be driving down to Chattanooga Sunday morning to pick us up. Goof off.

8 am: Roll out.

9 am: About this time, we'll be passing Henpeck Grocery. Stop for a muffin or two.

11 am: Should be near Eagleville about now. Stop at the grocery store for a chocolate milk.

1 pm: Arrive at control (or "controlle" if you are French) in Bell Buckle. Go for ice cream.

3 pm: Should be on a series of "new" roads that I found that run from Bell Buckle/Wartrace to McMinnville. These are some really pretty, open country roads with nice gentle climbs and good surfaces. I'm really looking forward to showing them to my friends.

4 pm: Arrive in McMinnville. Our control is a Hardee's, but hopefully we can find someplace better to eat downtown.

6 pm: Should be getting to Old Baker Mountain Road. This is the only tough climb on the route, and we've all done it so many times that we know what to expect. Afterwards, we will go through Fall Creek Falls State Park, which is always pretty.

8 pm: We will probably be at the A&H Market now, 150 miles and 12 hours into the ride. I'm thinking a cheeseburger with fries, then put on night-riding gear and head on.

9 pm: Descend into Pikeville. This is a tricky descent, but since it will be dark we will just go very slowly.

10 pm: The only other long climb on this route is on Hwy 30 coming out of Pikeville. It's not steep -- just long.

11 pm: Descend into Dayton, and go to the Huddle House control. Hang out there for a couple of hours. Probably have some pancakes, and maybe a cup of coffee.

4 am: After a nice ride near Chickamauga Lake, arrive at the Huddle House control in Soddy-Daisy. This is the 22-hour control, so we can't leave before 6 am. Maybe I'll take a nap, and then have more pancakes and coffee.

7 am: As the sun rises, we should be entering the suburbs north of the river in Chattanooga. We will end up in the neat pseudo-Bohemian (which is French for "unemployed mimes") village along Fletcher, and cross  the Walnut Street bicycle/pedestrian bridge into downtown. Where we will arrive at the Tennessee Aquarium at ...

8 am: Get our cards signed, go to the hotel, shower, change clothes, load up our bikes, and go eat another breakfast.

At the end of all this, I should be very "fleshy." Maybe that's the right way to pronounce it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Crappy Commute

To the owner of the black SUV whose window I spat on this morning: You deserved it.

Maybe I was overreacting, but I don't think so. To be honest, you were kind of catching the flak (or phlegm) from a cascade of events over which you had no control.

First, there was the big grey Suburban that almost right-hooked me less than a mile from my house. To you, I say: Speeding up to 40 mph in a 25 mph zone just so you can make a right turn into a street about 30 yards ahead of me is not cool. Had I been going faster than 15 mph, I would have spat on your window, too. Of course, I might have bled on it, first.

The next 10 miles went great. I stopped by Panera, and they had my three-seed demi on the shelf. Then I went up Franklin Pike Circle early enough that the kids going to Overton High and Franklin Road Academy weren't out yet.

But as I'm turning from Farrell Parkway onto Stillwood, a white SUV decides to pass me -- in the middle of the turn, and with a car coming the other way. I guess he thought that I would just pull off the road and stop or something, and was rather nonplussed by the fact that he had to fall back to avoid hitting the other car. He then proceeded to roar around me onto Bramblewood, got to the top, and made the turn onto Trousdale before I finished climbing the hill. Had he been a little slower, I would have used up my spit on him.

Then, as I'm turning onto Trousdale I noticed that my rear tire was going flat.

Now, Trousdale's one of the busiest roads on my commute. I used to avoid this road by cutting through the CSX railroad yard, but stopped doing that when one of the workmen there informed me that I was persona non grati. Trousdale is four lanes at this point with a 35 mph speed limit, and it's very near the interstate, so cars during rush hour there do not behave well.

I pulled off the road, carried the bike a couple of feet to a tree in somebody's yard, and changed the tire. When I pulled off the old tube, I checked and found that it had developed a hole near the stem. Ah, well, these things happen when you pump your tires up two or three times a week. Of course, getting the tire off I barked a knuckle, so I bled all over the spare as I put it on. But, again, this is just one of the things that happen when you ride a bicycle.

About 15 minutes later, I got back on Trousdale. A couple of hundred yards down the road, however, the afore-mentioned black SUV went by about six inches away from my left elbow. There may have been a car next to him -- I couldn't tell -- but either way, it would not have slowed him down more than a few seconds to give me a little more room. As it was, his impatience did not make any difference, as he did not make the light for the left turn on to Harding anyway.

So, now I'm a little ticked. I cut between the two lanes of cars so I can pass next to the offending black SUV, hocked a big spit ball on his window as I went by, and then cut back over so I could go straight when the light turned. While waiting, I looked back pointedly to see if the driver had anything to say. He carefully avoided looking at me.

At this point, my commute was now officially "crappy." I don't like confrontation -- who does? -- and I had been forced to threaten, albeit mildly, another human being. I told myself that if my actions make him think twice about giving a bicyclist a little more space the next time he passes one, then it will be worth it. That helped ... some.

Of course, karma is a bitch, and I had given vent to my anger. Just before I got to work I noticed that my tire was going flat again. I'll have to change it before I ride home tonight, but hopefully that will be a better trip -- or at least a less confrontational one.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Picnic in the Trunk

A lot of folks have asked what randonneurs eat on long rides. Generally, I would say that, without exception successful randonneurs eat. They eat a lot.

Actually, some of them drink instead. Alex Meade from Kentucky is about as fast as anybody, and he does most of his rides on liquid fuels. He may use Perpetuem and Sustained Energy, as my friend Jeff Bauer did for much of RAAM, but I'm not sure what mix it is or how he does it. Alex is so fast that I've never been able to ride with him for very long.

In general, most of the fast guys fuel similar to the way that racers do -- probably because most of them used to race. They'll have gels in their back pockets that they consume on a regular basis, and either chase it with sports drink or with water to which they've added electrolytes, sugars, and/or protein.

On brevets, we stop at a lot of convenience store controls on the route and get our cards signed. The very fast folks will also buy a bottle of water and/or sports drink, which they mix up while standing in the check-out line and waiting for the clerk to write his initials and the time. These riders are usually back on their bike, pedaling furiously for the next control, in less than five minutes.

It makes me tired just to think about it.

Some of the fast folks will grab something quick at the store. If it's not hot out, many like to drink a small bottle of chocolate milk. I often do this and buy a candy bar to eat on the road. I also top off my bottles, either with water or sports drink ... although later in the ride I may put in a soft drink or lemonade.

Alan Gosart and Bill Glass both like to carry sandwiches with them -- usually peanut butter and jelly or honey. For the 400K last weekend, I started with a whole grain bagel in my back pocket, into which I had spread peanut butter (actually Peanut Butter and Company's Mighty Maple ... yummy) and a banana. From a nutritional standpoint, this is a pretty good option: Sugars (both simple and complex, for immediate but long-lasting energy), protein, fat, potassium, fiber ... and good taste.

On cold mornings, I love to start a ride from my house with a breakfast of pancakes. If you make extras, you can put honey or peanut butter or Nutella on them, roll them up, and wrap them in tin foil. It's easy to fit two or three of these in your back pocket, so that later in the morning you can pull one out, unwrap the top like a burrito, and eat some tasty fuel. Since it's in your back pocket, it's nice and warm, and the foil keeps it un-messy. It's like having a picnic lunch in your trunk.

All of these are great food choices for "short" stuff -- 200K and 300K rides. But if a ride goes longer than 12 hours, you generally have to change things up a bit. This is where the ubiquitous Subway comes in handy. A turkey and swiss sandwich with lots of lettuce and stuff is just the ticket for me after eight hours of Gatorade G2 and pocket food. It's also nice to get off the bike, stand in line for a few minutes, and then sit down and scarf the sandwich before moving on.

I'm pretty lucky in that I can generally ride on after eating most foods. This past weekend, when Jeff Sammons and I stopped for lunch in South Pittsburg, I had a big cheeseburger and french fries. When we stopped for dinner, we split a 15" pizza with sausage, pepperoni, and onions. Did I feel bloated when we then cycled on? Not a bit.

Of course, this changes if it's hot outside. I try to avoid heavy foods when the temperature is over 90 F -- at least, when cycling. In this kind of weather, I also try to drink a Diet Coke at most controls. For some reason, this cuts the sugary taste that Gatorade leaves in my mouth, and the carbonation helps avoid stomach problems. It also just tastes good, and always cools me down.

Anyway, these are just a few options. As always, put some Tums, Rolaids, and Zantac in your bag just in case. They're small, they can help fight cramps, and you never know what's gonna help when that corn dog from the convenience store starts barking again.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Longest 25 Miles ... Ever!

About 5:20 pm, right after I climbed back over Lookout Mountain, I realized that I only had 100 miles left in the Tennessee Spring 400K, and over 15 hours to do it in. "Plenty of time," I thought.

Those words would haunt me, as would the beautiful blue eyes of the woman that killed me.

But, maybe I should start at the beginning ...

It was a Saturday, and I was getting up way too early. My name's RandoBoy, and I'm a private detective in the city that never sleeps. Well, okay, I'm actually just another idiot randonneur that was riding a 400K out of Manchester, TN -- a city that actually does sleep, although there are still people driving down 41A at 3 am.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, again.

Chris Quirey (left) and George Hiscox Reflecting Light

Eight of us rolled out of the parking lot of the sumptuous Manchester Ramada Inn (I stayed across the street at the Comfort Suites, and considered myself rather sage in that regard). We set a quick pace over the relatively flat terrain, but these were probably some of the best ultracyclists in the area (well, except for me), and we all worked well together.

I meant to just get a picture of my lovely shoulder. Manly.

We first went up to McMinnville, which is the "Nursery Capital of the World." Zipping down the quiet early morning roads, we passed nursery after nursery -- man's attempt to not only impose a form of order on the universe, but (in the classic American way) make a buck at it in the process. My favorite nursery was "Dry Shave Mountain Nursery." There's gotta be a good story behind that.

Soon, we were starting the first climb of the day, up to the ridge at Beersheba Springs, TN. It was here that I first noticed that, with my Light and Motion Stella on top of my helmet, I was casting the shadow of Marvin the Martian.

"Ooh. You make me so angry!"

The climb managed to warm us all up enough to shed the first of many layers of clothing at the control. I drank a chocolate milk, topped off a bottle, and was ready to go.

David Nixon and Wendy Gardiner in Beersheba Springs

I was mostly hanging with Middle Tennessee RBA Jeff Sammons, who has been riding very strongly this year. He is heading out west in June to do the Cascade 1200K, and should do well.

Jeff on another interminable climb. He had all kinds of stuff in those bags.

The group separated leaving Beersheba Springs, but soon came back together as we rode along the ridge. We then descended back to the valley for a few miles, before climbing back onto the same ridge on the way to the Summerfield, TN control. As we started up this climb, I was riding with Steve Phillips, and Max Watzz took over for a bit. He burned a few matches (I never know what he means when he says this ... I don't even carry matches in my brevet bag) but took the KOM points at the top of that climb. Then, as Max loves to do, he disappeared, leaving me with two legs that were now just big lactic acid bags.

Everybody else was very quick getting in and out of Summerfield, but Jeff and I were now ready for a kindler gentler ride. We still set a good pace on the long road down to the South Pittsburg, TN, control, so that when we stopped for lunch before 1 pm we had ridden finished the first 100 miles of the ride.

Jeff had the catfish plate. I had a cheeseburger and a piece of cake. Nom nom.

From South Pittsburgh we soon crossed into Alabama (Jeff took the two-man state line sprint), and then began to climb Sand Mountain. At this point, we were on the 3-State 3-Mountain course, a very popular ride put on by the Chattanooga Bike Club. Whether this climb over Sand Mountain is tougher than the shorter but steeper infamous Burkhalter Gap climb on that 3S3M is a matter of frequent debate.

View towards South Pittsburgh (notice the bridge?) from near top of Sand Mountain

Once over Sand Mountain, we descended into Trenton, GA, stopping at a convenience store to get some fuel. I was pretty sleepy by now, and actually fell asleep for a minute while sitting on the sidewalk outside. I knew that soon I would need caffeine.

Right after Trenton, we began our first climb over Lookout Mountain. This climb seemed interminable -- a perception that was not helped by the volume of vehicles zooming up past us. The road was in good shape, the grade was not too bad, and Trenton is right on I-59, so I guess we should have expected all of the cars. It was, nonetheless, less pleasant than it should have otherwise been.

On top of Lookout Mountain, just before the descent to the Cooper Heights, GA control, we started to see the other riders returning on this out-and-back leg.

Hey, slowpokes!

First we saw David.

Beat me on a climb, willya ...

Followed closely by Steve.

Did you see a guy up there wearing a jersey like mine?

Then Wendy.

Flashing a peace sign, or a two-barreled fingerbang. You decide.

And then George.

We also saw Jon Pasch just before we began descending, and Chris halfway down, but by then we were moving too fast for me to pull out the camera.

The Cooper Heights control was another convenience store, but it quickly became apparent that this was the store at which the local sheriff's deputies deposited the drunks when they let them out on Saturday night to go visit their momma's on Sunday, so Jeff and I ate some chips, topped off our bottles, and headed back from whence we had so recently descended. Once back on top, we were blessed with a tailwind as we quickly crossed the mountain and headed down and back into Trenton.

Jeff becomes reflective in preparation for the coming evening. Note the bag by his rear wheel -- there's a beer in there

The climb back up Sand Mountain was one of the ride's easiest, and we rode hard to try to get to Stevenson, AL before dark. We didn't quite make it, but we did get to do the long descent down to the Tennessee River with enough light out to enjoy it. Once in Stevenson, we cleared the control and went in search of pizza. Jeff didn't at first think that we could eat a 15" pie. He was wrong.

It was starting to get chilly, so we had put all of our clothes from that morning back on as we rolled out into the Alabama night. After interminable twists and turns, we finally started the last long climb of this route, heading back up the ridge on AL-33. This was probably the hardest of the climbs, but since it was dark I was able to settle in to a good rhythm and just keep spinning.

Finally at the top, the night was getting even colder as we continued on AL-33 to AL-79, where the pavement became a little better. At this point, the 200+ miles was beginning to have its impact on the portions of one's anatomy that are most impacted upon by a bicycle ridden for that distance, and as the road became TN-16 and we left the rough Alabama roads behind, my behind became almost happy.

This stretch was an interminable undulating 25 miles on top of the cold ridge, and you felt as if you were in the middle of nowhere. For a while, I marveled at how clear the sky was and how many stars were visible. Then, I tried to stand and stretch my hamstrings and calves on the short climbs, and tuck in and rest my neck and shoulders on the descents. Eventually, though, I just resorted to gutting it out, getting this part of the road done with, and counting down the miles to the next control.

Soon, we were doing the very steep, very fast descent into Winchester, TN, where Jeff and I stopped for a hot coffee before heading back out for the last, mostly flat 22 miles. The pavement was again rather sketchy -- and problem compounded in the dark by the fact that you can't really anticipate things -- and it was just as cold in the valley as it had been on the ridge. But the coffee woke me up, and we made good time, finally getting back to Manchester just before 3:30 am.

Okay, so there wasn't a beautiful blue-eyed woman on the ride -- that would be RandoGirl, who I called the next morning to let her know I made it. And she didn't kill me, either; right now, I think the ride did that.

Pain is just weakness leaving the body. All of my weakness must be out there on the road now.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My New Old Bike

You know how it is when you get a different haircut or a new suit (back in the days when we used to wear suits to work and certain parties), and you feel like a totally different person? There's probably not a guy out there who hasn't put on a tuxedo, looked in the mirror, and felt like James Bond. You either smirk and say "Vodka martini ... shaken, not stirred" or fingerbang the reflection with a Walther PPK.

Licensed to Climb

My Bianchi feels like that right now.

Well, okay, it's not really my Bianchi -- it's Max Watzz's Bianchi. There's not much "RandoBoy" left to this machine, other than the fact that the frame is made of titanium. Max would probably like carbon fiber, like a Pinarello Dogma, but he's got to settle for what he gets.

And, frankly, what he's getting here is pretty nice.

The only thing different about it is the wheels and the saddle. I'm also going to put different handlebars on it, so that I can put clip-on aerobars on for time-trials.

The wheels are Reynolds Strike carbon clinchers, which weigh 1705 grams per set. With the bike on the work stand, I put the wheels on and gave them a spin Wednesday. I think they're still going.

The saddle is also not a RandoBoy saddle -- for distance, I've found the love of my life in the Terry Liberator Race Ti. Max will be using the Fizik Antares. Of course, he probably won't be on it for more than 60-70 miles at a time, and for that short a distance it shouldn't matter.

So, how much does this bad boy weigh now? 19 pounds. Yeah, that's not exactly encroaching on the UCI limit or anything, but it's lighter than any bike I've ever ridden.

Does it make a difference? Well, Wednesday, after I put it all together, I took a quick spin through the neighborhood over to the "tough" hill. It's not long, but it's steep enough. My speed never fell below 17 mph.

Of course, on the descent down the other side the wind was brutal, and those deep-section wheels caught all of it. It probably didn't help that the bike was so light, either, but I was feeling the wind a lot more than I used to on that bike.

In that way, this thing is a lot like a tuxedo. It will be fun to put on and play at being fast, but when it comes to doing real work give me jeans and a t-shirt.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What a Weekend!

Some pictures from the ride I lead for my bike club in Leiper's Fork on Saturday, and from the club's Pancake Ride on Sunday.

Saturday, on top of Greenbriar Road. It was raining at 9 am, stopped by 10 am when we rolled out, and was incredible the rest of the day.

Steve and Joyce Grizzle on their tandem, and Jill Flowers on her bike, at the turn onto Vestal Hollow Road. I spent the rest of the day trying to hang onto the back of the train behind the tandem. Unfortunately, I rode my single-speed, so that any time I got gapped, I was gone. Since this was too much work for me to do and take pictures, there are no more pictures.

Regina Jensen handing out Easter chocolate before Sunday's Pancake Ride.

It's called the Pancake Ride because we go to Puckett's Grocery in Leiper's Fork, where we are supposed to eat pancakes, and then retrace our route back. I rarely see any of the cyclists eat pancakes, since we're all too busy watching our weight. Regina had a hard time even getting people to finish the candy and cookies.

RandoGirl needed to ride at least 60 for the day, and the Pancake Ride route is only 25 miles. We added an extra 35+ miles by going down to Fly. At the base of Doug Thompson Road is a farm with these adorable miniature ponies. Everybody now: Aahhhhh.

Here we are hanging out on the front porch of Mr. Fly's store.

They were doing something called a Wagon Train in Leiper's Fork, and we passed this on Leiper's Creek Road just south of there.

Alice Forrester and RandoGirl, living the dream.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Nothing Miles

I got a wonderful present Friday: A surprise day off.

The head of my department sent out a message Thursday afternoon telling everybody who didn't have pressing business to take the day, but I had a couple of meetings so went ahead and biked in. The ride in that morning was great, and right after I got in each of my meetings cancelled. I was biking back home just after 9:30.

By then the day had gotten decently warm, and during the ride I concocted a plan: I would go home, grab some cans of paint, stuff them in a pannier, and go back out and mark a route that my bike club plans to use next weekend. I didn't even have to go in the house, and by 10:30 I was headed for the route.

On the way, Max Watzz popped into my head with a question: "How hard should we ride this today?" He was concerned that we would go out of his "recovery threshold" (whatever that means), since he had done "jumps" with my legs the night before.

"I don't know. I guess these are maybe Endurance Miles or Foundation Miles," I told Max. He grumbled something about "muscles only growing when you let them rest."

Then I started thinking about it, though, and I decided that I didn't feel like Endurance Miles or Foundation Miles or Recovery Miles. I decided right then that today's ride was Nothing Miles. There was no training goal for my time on a bicycle -- I was just enjoying a beautiful day in lovely countryside, spraying the road with paint to tell other cyclists which way to turn.

I quickly marked the 12-mile route, and then started off on the 32- and 50-mile routes. I stopped at Black Dog Store in Rudderville to fill my bottle and eat some pretzels, chatting with the folks who were coming and going. "Nice day to be out for a ride," they'd say. "The best," I replied.

Chuck Dunn illustrates the proper way to hang out in front of a store on a ride

There was a nasty headwind going down Arno Road, and then on to Bethesda, but it was more of a crosswind as I headed up Pulltight and on to Peytonsville. Going up towards College Grove it became a full-blown tailwind, and I effortlessly cruised at 30 mph. Stopping at the grocery store in College Grove, I refilled the bottle again and had a mini-chess pie with a Diet Sun Drop, sitting on the bench out front soaking up some sun.

Life don't get much better than that.

While I was sitting there, I started thinking about how nice it would be to win the PowerBall lottery that weekend. With $103 million, I decided that I would buy a huge RV and hire somebody to drive it for me. I would then go riding every day, carrying a couple of bottles and maybe a tube, and a cell phone. I would call the driver of my RV if anything came up, and he could bring it to me or fix whatever was broken, or maybe bust some heads if somebody passed me too closely on a back road.

"Carlton," I would say (I named him Carlton after Rhoda's doorman ... you'd have to be old enough to get the reference), "I need a cold bottle." Or, "Carlton, go on up the road about 10 miles and wait for me there with a Diet Coke and a Moon Pie."

Carlton and I -- and RandoGirl, too, if she wanted to come along -- would go where the weather was nice. We'd summer in Canada and winter in Florida. We would stay at nice hotels and eat good dinners. Carlton would take excellent care of my large stable of superb bicycles, and when I wanted company on a fast training ride or long climb, Carlton could ride with me. He would take long pulls into the wind for me, too.

Of course, I know I'm never going to win the lottery -- statistically speaking, you have better odds of contracting leprosy -- but a guy can dream. As I dreamed more about it, I decided the next best thing would be to find somebody else that had won the lottery and become their Carlton. That wouldn't be too bad, either.

Anyhow, I knew the road wouldn't mark itself, so I soon got back to work. With the tailwind, it only took another couple of hours, and by the time I finished marking everything and biking back home, I had ridden 95 miles for the day.

They were Nothing Miles, but they sure felt like Something Great.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

RandoBore Does Not Understand Me At All

Max Watzz here. I just wanted to clear up RandoBoob's obvious misconception regarding my glorious training regimen. I have customized and tweaked my every movement so as to maximize my potential for speed on the bicycle. I not only weigh my food, I measure it's volume and displacement. If I had easy access to a mass spectrometer, I would have my food broken down into sub-atomic molecules before I even consume it. That would leave my wonderful body free to devote time to building even more muscle, rather than wasting energy on such a pedestrian act as "digestion."

But, I digress -- although (unlike RandoBlob) it is understandable given the subject matter: Me.

RandoBlah was nattering on last week about how I never go anywhere ... as if going somewhere was important?! He showed you some of my recent Garmin downloads, but failed to include the part that truly illustrates the magnificence that constitutes me. To rectify this, I will show you my downloads from this past Tuesday night at the track:

And now I'll show you my download from Thursday night jumps in my neighborhood:

RandoBum entirely missed the point of my extraordinary workouts: That incredible power curve at the bottom. Just looking at it now makes me want to kiss my splendid legs ... ah, what the hell. Mmmm. Although they are salty, they are very kissable. And I of course am a great kisser.

You know, some might call me narcissistic, but is it narcissism if you are truly worthy of this level of self-love? I didn't think so, either.

Anyway, despite RandoButt's attempts to torpedo all of my good work by running off on a sailboat that doesn't even have a bicycle, eating too much, and then missing the Rutledge, TN, time-trial for some ridiculously long ride in Kentucky, my training is right on track. Thursday night's jumps went very well, and then I cooled down by riding around the neighborhood and over to Liberty Church Road for a fast climb. Mostly, though, I just wanted to let the lucky souls who live near me bask in the glory of my beautiful legs. Had they been properly shaved, I am certain that grown men who saw them would weep and women would lust for me more than they already do (were that but possible).

Hmmm ... I think I'm going to go shave before RandoBore takes over again.