Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tighten It Up

For Christmas this year, RandoGirl bought me a new Lynskey Sportive which I am slowly turning into my new touring bike. The disk brakes give me lots of clearance for bigger tires, and it has enough braze-ons for me to mount fenders and racks on the front and back.

It's going to look great when I finish it ... or, rather, when Gran Fondo (a.k.a., The Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe) finishes it. They're going to install the stainless steel Honjo fenders, which everyone says is tricky.

And I'm not good at tricky.

While waiting for the fenders to come in, I went ahead and installed the racks that I had ordered from Velo Orange. They're stainless, too, and should be great for touring. I decided to put some old plastic fenders on at the same time, since it had been drizzly here and I wanted to make sure that everything would mount okay.

Then I went for a ride. Just to test it all out, of course.

It was lunch time, so I did a quick loop to a local place. After eating, while getting back on the bike I noticed that the front fender was now loose at the back, and realized that I had not tightened down the bolts that connected the stays to the fender. The bolts must have then worked their way off at some point in the past 10 miles. Cursing to myself, I tried to scan the road on my way home in hopes of finding the strange screws -- these aren't the kind of things that you can just pick up at the hardware store -- but to no avail.

Like I said: Not good at tricky ... and not so hot at what should be easy.

A week later, I re-secured the loose stays on the front fender by removing one of the stays from the rear fender and scavenging the screws. While I was at it, I tweaked the rear rack a bit, since I had decided that it might be possible to lower it a couple of inches. If you've never ridden a loaded bicycle, the lower that you can get the load the better it is -- within reason, of course. Lower loads are more stable, but if the load is too low then you'll scrape stuff on corners.

With the front fender now re-attached and the rear rack just a little lower, I decided to go for a ride. Just to test it all out, of course.

It was lunch time again, so I did a different loop to a different local place. After a tasty sandwich, I had just begun heading home when I heard a funny sound. It was coming from the rear rack.

Yep. I had loosened a couple of screws to lower the rack -- the big, rare, stainless steel screws and fitting that secured the sliding bar to the rack at its front -- and then not tightened them back up.

Fortunately, one of them was still connected. I tightened it up by hand, and circled back to try to find the lost one. Returning to the restaurant, I searched the ground and then slowly rode through town looking in the gutters.

No dice.

Stopping at a traffic light, I decided to make sure that the remaining screw was still snug, so that the rack would not fall off on my ride home. It had fallen off while I was looking for its brother.

The ride home was grey and cautious, with me regularly looking back to see if the rack was still there, scanning the road's far shoulder for anything shiny. No lost parts materialized, but at least the rack stayed on so that I'm only out a couple of screws and not a rack ... or a whole bike, if it had decided to come off in a spectacular fashion.

I'm going to chalk this up as an expensive lesson. From now on, if I loosen anything I need to make sure that it's tight again before the bike rolls out of the garage. It's actually a good rule of thumb to regularly go around and snug up any screws and bolts on a bike, since things tend to shake their way loose.

An even better rule of thumb, however, is this: Don't let RandoBoy work on a bike.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bikes of WalMart

Sometimes, my legs get restless ... even when the rest of me is not yet rested. As with most problems in life, there are basically three main ways to react to this kind of thing:

  • Whine about it
  • Fix it
  • Turn it into a positive
Sunday morning, I went with option number three. If my legs don't want to sleep, why should the rest of me?

When the weather is nice and this happens, I go out for an early morning bike ride. It was still very cold Sunday, however, so I instead got dressed and started doing some of the things that I should have done on Saturday, instead of riding the 200K in Murfreesboro. One of those things meant a trip to WalMart.

Now, I hate going to WalMart like some people hate going to the dentist (disclosure: my father was a dentist, and he hated being hated, so I do not allow myself to hate going to the dentist). But, if you have to go to WalMart, I recommend a 24-hour Super WalMart at 6 am on Sunday. The kind of crowd that you have to work your way around at WalMart late at night has passed out from their Saturday night bacchanalia,  and the kind of crowd that mills in the WalMart aisles early is still getting ready for church.

On the way into the store Sunday, I saw this out front:

It kind of flummoxed me. Was this the mode of transportation taken to work that evening by one of the night staff? If so, where are the lights? Why didn't he/she lock it to the nearby light pole? Was it an attempt to return an unwanted present? The bike looked fairly new, but I think even WalMart wants you to bring the merchandise back inside the store.

Assuming that somebody had ridden it to the store, even if the rider couldn't afford lights or a lock, do you really just want to try the minimalist security approach of removing the front wheel? That rarely works, even if you go the extra mile of pulling the quick-release.

Anywhere other than the Cool Springs WalMart just after dawn on a Sunday morning, I like to think that this bike would be stolen. But maybe I'm delusional, thinking that anybody would want a bike enough to go to the effort of actually throwing it into their trunk and driving away.

Or maybe I'm just assuming a level of athleticism that you don't usually find at WalMart.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Max Watzz Bar Evacuation Route

Sometimes I wonder which I like better: Designing a route, or riding it.

It's one of the reasons that I like to sometimes ramble around on my bike. Days when I'm out by myself on the bike, with no looming deadlines, I'll often just turn down a road to see where it goes. This even happens with roads that say "Closed" or "Dead End" -- I've got to see for myself if that road goes somewhere interesting, or connects up to something that would let me get to something interesting.

So when a few of us decided to do an ACP fleche this year -- the one being run by the Alabama Randonneurs to Chattanooga -- I had some choices to make. Between the five of us on the team -- Jeff Bauer, Bill Glass, Alan Gosart, Jeff Sammons and myself -- we had designed four routes for previous fleches that went from the Nashville area to Chattanooga. Any of those would work just fine ... but which one should we use?

So I reviewed them and decided that a hybrid was in order, combining the last 100 miles of a route that Jeff Bauer had created 10 years ago, and the route that I designed in 2010. Jeff's route was the almost legendary "Watts Bar Evacuation Route," which got its name from the fact that much of it follows the roads that people are supposed to use if the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant goes "China Syndrome." Mine was the Max Watzz's Fleche for Fantasy route, which got it's name because I thought it was funny.

When you combine them, of course, you get the Max Watzz Bar Evacuation Route.

After joining the routes in Pikeville, there were still some questions. Since it had been 10 years since we had been on some of the roads on Jeff's route, somebody needed to go out and take a look at them. Also, somebody needed to see what stores were still around, and if they would be open in the wee hours of the morning.

Bill Glass offered to come with me to do this, but ran into a conflict. I had the day open, and it was supposed to rain in the afternoon, so I did the scouting by myself yesterday.

The first 50 miles of the route are roads that I had either driven or done on a bike in the past couple of months, so I took the highway to get more directly to the roads that I had not seen in a while. A couple of miles down the first of those roads, I saw a "Bridge Out" sign. A few miles further, I found this:

I hate when my pessimism is proven prudent.

It was still early enough that the workers had not shown up, so I took a look around. The work is almost done, so we should be able to get through here on bikes. The alternative is busier or longer or both, so I think we will give it a shot. Maybe they'll even be finished by the end of March.

Further down, I came across "Dan Henry arrows" from somebody's route.

When designing a route, this is the cycling equivalent of animal scat on a game trail. You know that something has been this way before, and they felt safe enough to leave their mark.

The rest of the roads from my old Max Watzz route were still good. I decided to make some changes around McMinnville, and driving around there a little bit allowed me to find a better way out of town. Eventually, we will get on Hwy 30 heading towards Spencer, TN, and then head up Baker Mountain Road.

Hello, old friend.

At this point, we will be about half-way into the route, and this is the first real climb. I consider that a gentle start, and a good opportunity to get a bunch of miles done before night falls.

Ordinarily, the routes that we use go into Fall Creek Falls State Park from here, but we're going to take a different way to Pikeville this time. Again, I'd never seen those roads in person, so I drove them to make sure that they were good. They turned out great, with less steep up-and-down than Fall Creek Falls has, and an incredible view of the Sequatchie Valley as we begin a swooping descent that will even have Bill Glass using his brakes. At the bottom is a nice, flat, quiet road that we can take to Pikeville, where we will stop for dinner. I put together a list of the available restaurants there, in case RandoGirl and Bill's wife (who are driving us back on Sunday morning) want to meet us there.

Pikeville is where we will pick up the Watts Bar route. We'll go north for about 10 miles, then over the ridge using Loew's Mountain Gap Road.

On the old route sheet, Jeff Bauer had written "Welcome to Hell." As I started up the road, I thought that was a little strong. The first mile was paved and fairly level. Then came some climbing, and after a half-mile of that the pavement ended.

Okay, so it's a climb and not paved ... but not too bad. The surface was hard-packed, so it should feel about the same as many of the paved asphalt roads that we regularly ride.

Of course, if got worse.

There are parts of this road where it just drops right down on one side into a ravine. The road has one lane ... barely ... is steep, and has loose gravel. It will not be easy to ride a bicycle up that in the middle of the night.

Yeah ... it will be great!

Fortunately, it's not very long. That's one good thing about stupid steep hills -- unless you're headed to the moon, it can't go on for more than a few miles. Once on the top, the pavement comes back and it rolls along for a bit. Then we get on Shut-In Gap Road which is paved -- although not very well -- all the way to another brake-burning descent down to Spring City.

You get the feeling on these roads that they don't get a lot of outsiders here, and may even keep the roads only marginally usable just to keep it that way.

Spring City is where we pick up the "real" Watts Bar Evacuation Route. There's a 24-hour gas station, and the roads are mostly gently rolling all the way down to Dayton. I scoped out the stores down that way, identifying some good options for the penultimate control, then went down to where we will get on the riverfront bike path for the last couple of miles to the Tennessee Aquarium.

Dam. It'll be fun.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Let Me See You Shake Your Tail Feathers

I'm a lucky guy.

Of course, you're not supposed to say that kind of thing. You're supposedly tempting fate. Just when you admit that things are going well, everything is supposed to turn to crap.

But that seems like a lousy way to go through life ... denying everything good out of fear that it might go away. So, I'm going to just say it again, out loud:

I'm a lucky guy.

And ... what do you know? I'm still here.

Most of the good stuff in my life now is obvious. I've got a beautiful, loving wife who's the perfect life partner in every way ... and I'm not just saying that because tomorrow is Valentine's Day. We've got a gorgeous daughter who is bright, kind, and growing into an incredible woman. All of us right now are healthy and pretty stable financially, with either good jobs or the skills necessary for gainful, rewarding employment.

And then there's my current work situation, where I have the flexibility to go out and grab a quick two-hour ride on a chilly morning like Tuesday, knowing that upcoming commitments will make it the only outing that I get for the next few days.

But that's better than nothing, which is what a lot of my friends will get to ride this week. And that's lucky.

I went up Parker's Branch onto the ridge, then turned left onto Hargrove Road. A school bus turned onto the road just behind me, and kids out by the road cheered me on for the next few miles with cries of "faster, faster" as I fought to stay ahead of the bus. It had to stop to pick up kids -- I didn't -- so it was an easy race to win.

Then it was down Pinewood Road and up onto the Natchez Trace for a bit -- just extra miles with a couple of hills to get in enough of a workout. Going over the first long hill, I saw turkeys off to the left.

The males were strutting, with their tail feathers in full fan behind them. Supposedly, they do this in March and April to woo prospective mates, but I've never before seen them do this in February. I take it as a sign that spring is coming early.


I was running out of time and getting hungry, so I headed back into Leiper's Fork to Puckett's Grocery. As it was a weekday, things were pretty slow there and I was able to get a cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee. The past couple of times that I had been there it was later in the morning, and they were all out of cinnamon rolls.

Again: Lucky.

I took Wilkins Branch up onto the ridge, and then came down Parker's Branch again to get back home. It was still chilly but sunny, and the winds were light. I barely had time for a shower before heading in to work, but I'd gotten my ride in, had a tasty breakfast, and saw something that gave me hope of warmer days just around the corner.

Lucky me.


Did I just hear thunder?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Another Frosty Dickel

It had been a few years since I had ridden the George Dickel permanent. In years past, it was always the "go to" permanent during the winter, when you wanted something fairly flat and fast with minimum controls ... a "Get 'er done" kind of ride. A Saturday in early February with fairly tolerable weather is perfect for that kind of thing.

Four of us -- Jeff Sammons, Alan Gosart, Barry Meade, and I -- left Brentwood, TN, just after 6:30 am. It was just below freezing and we had an "almost-following" light breeze as we headed down to the first control in College Grove. Jeff said he was having "a slow day," so after a quick snack, Alan, Barry, and I headed on towards Bell Buckle, leaving Jeff to ride by himself.

Yeah, I know -- never leave a man behind. Well, we ain't Navy SEALs.

We kept the Bell Buckle stop brief, too, but stayed a little longer at the turnaround control. This was the George Dickel Distillery, in Normandy, TN, and we all needed to shuck a few layers after the fast metric down. It was not yet 11 am when we got there, so we were on track to finish in nine hours.

We saw Jeff as we were starting back, and offered to wait for him. But he seemed to be enjoying his solo ride (which wrapped up his sixth R-12 award), so we went on. I was now freezing, thanks to riding in wet clothes with less of a wind-break over them, so hammered the 15 miles back to Bell Buckle in an attempt to generate heat. There, I grabbed a hot cheeseburger and french fries, while we sat inside the cafe and tried to dry out and warm up.

The burger was great, but getting back on the road was hard. It wasn't that I was tired, but more that I was freezing again. Of course, my teeth were chattering just sitting there, so the only fix was to get back out there and begin hammering again. We made really good time on the next leg -- probably due to the tailwind we now had -- and moved quickly through the College Grove control. Unfortunately, we left the store just as a train came along.

Barry realized by then that he might make it home in time to watch the Kentucky game, so he sent a text to his wife.

Alan and I just waited. Looking at this photo now, I see that Alan did not have his Camelback on (see the picture above). Five miles later, he realized this and had to go back, leaving Barry and I to finish up.

We didn't quite make it in nine hours, but hadn't really expected to after stopping for a hot meal. It was nice to get in a February 200K, and once again proved the importance of being able to move quickly in and out of controls. In some ways, it's harder since you never get a break. But, if you pace your effort properly, you can avoid those freezing times when you try to get the inner furnace going again.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Yesterday, I commuted in to work by bike again. This time, however, it was for real.

You see, when I went in a couple of weeks ago I was able to work from home earlier that day, so that it was almost 9 am before I got to the busier roads. This time, I left the house just before 7 am, trying to get in to the office in time to get a bunch of work done and still get home before dark.

It made a difference.

This was no surprise -- it's called "rush hour" for a reason, after all -- but what was surprising was how many cars kept creeping into my bike lane. You would think that they wouldn't need any of my five feet of asphalt, but it seems that Cadillac Esplanades become unstable over 50 mph and have difficulty holding their line.

I tried to take a picture of one of these vehicles dipping a wheel into my should-be calmer waters, but it's difficult to do that while riding a bike ... particularly when you're trying to stay on the right edge of what was a rather thin strip to begin with. Here's the best that I could get, when a big truck pulling a trailer weaved past on Hillsboro Road:

Hmmm ... maybe I had the camera pointed the wrong way.

On the 10-mile stretch up and back in the bike lane on Hillsboro Road, I yelled the same phrase at cars so often that I shortened it to an acronym: GOOMBL. It stands for, "Get Out Of My Bike Lane."

And I decided that part of the problem is that it really is MY bike lane.

There weren't any other bikes out when I left for work, of course. It was cold and early, and although there are lots of cyclists in Franklin, most of them are not that kind of cyclist. I quickly got over to Hillsboro Road to the bike lane, mostly because the rising sun and early traffic made it the safest place for me to ride.

About 20 chilly miles later, I wended my way past the traffic near Green Hills and over to Lipscomb, and then up to Belmont University. At this point, I started to see other cyclists -- college students and urban dwellers for whom a two- or three-mile commute to class, work, or shopping was a daily thing. There were even more of them out when I started back home about 3 pm, when the temperatures had risen to the low 60's. We waved to each other and called out cherry "hellos" as I cut through neighborhoods back down to Green Hills and Hillsboro Road.

And then, I was alone. Just me and a bunch of cars. I felt like a first-grader who had mistakenly gotten onto a bus full of high schoolers, heading home to the tough side of town.

Another 10 tense miles and I was back in Franklin, turning on to quieter roads. I saw other cyclists there, apparently trying to get in an afternoon workout. A couple of them waved, but most were keeping a close eye on their bike computers to ensure that their wattage remained high enough. They were on Del Rio and Boyd Mill Pikes -- back roads that don't need a bike lane.

I understand, of course. My commute to work and back is over 50 miles, and most cyclists don't have the time to do that on any kind of regular basis. Most of them don't have the calluses on their taints for it, either ... although they would if they just did it.

But I would like a little more company for my misery, and a few more bikes might keep the cars out of my -- er, our -- lane.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Celebrating Diversity

We had our first real snowfall last night here in middle Tennessee -- less than an inch, but it stuck -- and it hit me this morning that I've been looking at winter during the past few weeks from the wrong side:

The inside.

And I don't mean that figuratively, either, as if I was somehow trapped inside winter and could only look out ... like Burt Lancaster feeding a baby bird in Alcatraz. I've been comparing winter here to south Florida, fixating on how nice and warm it was down there, which meant that I was missing some of the beauty that middle Tennessee gets during this time of year. It took a fine veil of virginal frozen precipitation to bring that home to me.

I got out early and took some pictures before stuff could melt, then hurried back in for hot coffee and work. By lunch, temperatures had snuck up to near freezing, and by 1 pm I was ready for a break. I quickly bundled up and got outside.

Bring out the gimp.

You can only imagine how happy I am that, when we moved to Florida and discovered you never needed anything more than a light jacket and knee warmers to ride, I did not give in to my anti-hoarding impulses and dispose of that Assos outfit, my balaclavas, the ski gloves, and the winter boots. With a long-sleeve jersey and long-sleeve wind-stopper base layer under that, plus the chemical warmers in the gloves and on the tops and bottoms of my socks, I was probably more comfortable riding in the above get-up than I had been sitting and working in my office all morning.

The more sun-deprived parts of the quieter roads still had snow and patchy ice, so I took it slow. I had recently put some old fenders on my new Lynskey, so with its wider tires it was the perfect choice for the day.

Much of the white stuff on the ground had melted by the time I got to downtown Franklin. Although last night's weather didn't seem to have damaged anything, there were still reminders of the fierce winds from early Wednesday morning. Amazingly, this tree had completely missed one of the stately mansions in town.

In spite of the cold, the Frothy Monkey was still doing a brisk late-lunch business. Rather than hassle with the hustle of the crowds, I just got a large hot latte and a scone to go. There were plenty of seats on the front porch, and the sun felt good.

I noodled about in Franklin a little more, than headed down West Main towards home. I was still feeling a little hungry, so I stopped at a bakery that has been catching my eye for the past month.

Buying a lemon bar, I stuck it in my back pocket for when I got home. Soon, I was cruising down Carter's Creek and Southall Road, before turning on to quieter Blazer Road.

One last icy patch there had me gritting my teeth as I willed the bicycle to float over it. Nothing happened, of course, but these things regularly bring back memories of my January crash two years ago.

And maybe that's part of the problem ... a "once frost-bitten, twice shy" kind of thing. But, as one of the greatest writers ever to suck every penny possible out of a brain-dead premise once wrote: Fear is the mind-killer.

And what a terrible thing it is to lose your mind.