I’ve been working on this blog post all Summer and the last Spring also. I’ve got a lot of thoughts on biking but haven’t been able to gather them to my satisfaction in this post, and at this point (Fall of 2014) I just need to wrap up this entry and post it.
And it’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post that wasn’t a review on something. While I love doing reviews, and they net me lots of blog traffic – I want to get back to writing my thoughts and experiences on various things once in a while.
So this ‘Miscellaneous Unnamed Bike Post’ is going to be a little about anything biking that I want to talk about.
When I was young I did a lot of biking, my daily average during good weather was twenty-six miles a day, every single day. Which doesn’t seem like much but I was a kid and it was every day, and it was with a massive antique worn-out single speed bike and later with a worn-out three-speed bike loaded with crap – so I guess that counts as something. Later, when I got a car I didn’t do as much but tried to bike once in a while.
It’s only in later years that I have taken my short, occasional and slow rides up to another level, corresponding to the increase in my fitness.
Unlike running, weight-training, and all the other things I do – I’ve tried to keep my biking on a different level; sometimes I bike for speed, cadence, distance, or to fit it into a certain schedule or time-period.
But for the majority of my biking I hold it to another standard. It is a way to de-stress, relax, and enjoy the time in a busy day with lots to do. So I get on my bike, start my GPS watch, and then ride for tens or twentys of miles without looking at the watch one time. No checking speed, time, the clock, distance, or monitoring my cadence.
At this point I’ve trained my body pretty well and all of the above falls into place by itself. So I can just ride, for the fun of it, without thinking about anything stressful or worrying about anything. I don’t do that with anything else; running, rowing, elliptical, lifting weights, etc.
I just ride until I feel like turning around, and having lived in this area for so long I rarely need to consult the GPS on my phone either so there’s rarely a distraction. But I do stop when I feel like it, either to look at something or take a pic or just pause to enjoy a sip of water without doing it while riding.
I just ride.
How many things in my life (or your’s?) can I say that about?
This Summer I did something I had always wanted to do, but never seriously thought that I would – compete in a bike road race.
It wasn’t a big bike race by any stretch, for sure, but it was fun and exciting for the most part and I enjoyed it and accomplished another goal. I probably won’t do another but it was a fun thing to do once in my life.
The week before I spent a stressful time worrying about a possible new business coming in close to us and bringing the subsequent increase in traffic and annoyances (we have no neighbors close-by, we value our privacy and rural-ness a lot), as well as worrying the weeks before about organizing and getting ready for a family picnic, and the extra stress of worrying about the weather raining for my first bike race, or my chain breaking or a tire going flat or someone hitting me or something (I know, I do it to myself and just worry too much) – it turned out to be a nice day, 70 degrees, a fairly flat course and a nice time.
And I came in third place! Which surprised the hell out of me, even in such a small race.
the morning of the race we got up early, probably earlier than we needed to but better early than late, and you never know when there is going to be a delay.
And of course there was; just as we were getting up the doorbell started ringing, continuously. I had to get enough clothes on to be presentable but eventually I did get to the door, the doorbell ringing continuously the entire time.
It was one of the neighboring Amish kids who asked me to make a call to someone in Ohio who in turn would pass on a death notice message to one of the other relatives of the Amish family. It’s a time-pressing event for them as they have to arrange rides, bus trips, etc to get to a funeral. And I’m not sure but they probably don’t do any embalming so the funeral is likely quite quick.
So anyway, I got that taken care of quickly and we got ready, I for my first bike race and Jenny for the 10K run. This race was to help research to cure Neurofibromatosis, which covers a set of distinct genetic disorders that cause tumors to grow along various types of nerves and cause other damage. It’s a terrible disease and the race was for a good cause in fighting it, and we both had run it two years before, and Jenny ran it last year.
The night before I had checked my bike over, making sure the tires were at the proper pressure, lubing the chain a bit and wiping off the excess lube, and loading it into my wife’s Ford Edge along with my regular bike bag, which I had taken off the bike to save weight. I also stashed some more road tools and maintenance-related accessories in the car, like a C02 compressed air pump and extra cylinders, and a spare tube.
The short trip to Kitto’s Marina outside of Dexter was uneventful and we got there quite early, as we expected, and we waited around a bit after picking up our goodie bag with our t-shirts, water bottles, a few other things, and our numbers and timing chips. As race time approached I got my bike out and took a quick warm up ride. Everything checked out, I felt really good, despite not getting as much rest as I should have the week before, and I was ready to go.
Shortly after that people started lining up. There were a lot of varied bikers, from a young man with a very expensive bike who looked like a real pro (it turned out he’s an uber-athlete and pretty well-known as a local triathloner), to a 61-year-old gentleman who Jenny knew from her work and who also looked like a very, very serious bicyclist. The young guy looked like he was probably going to win the whole thing, hands down. There were also a range of bikers from others with nice bikes and expensive biking gear to a young girl on her little mountain bike.
I lined up about in the middle, thinking that was where I would be riding. I was wrong.
Once the race started I immediately had to pass everyone but the young guy with the expensive bike and the 61-year-old with the serious biking gear. They were gone, not to be seen again.
Shortly after that I too was gone from the sight of those behind me. In fact I kept checking my helmet mirror to see if anyone was going to start increasing their speed to catch up, but it never happened.
I ended up pushing my helmet mirror up out of the way. I didn’t see anyone else for the entire race except for the people along the side of the road with water and directions, and the organizer of the race doing a run in the other direction to check on things.
I enjoyed the race idea, but I was quite alone for 99.9% of the whole race and I didn’t have anyone to race against, so that was a bit of a downer. Yet it was a great ride, I did my best short distance time ever, and it was a fairly level course with some of it along the water. A little rough pavement near the end but still perfectly ride-able with the road bike. I passed the finish line to a some cheers.
After waiting around for a minute, I put my bike away and some other bicyclists started trickling in.
I got third place in the race and was quite happy that I had run my first and probably last bike race. And unfortunately the woman running the charity benefit race is not doing it again after thirteen years of organizing this event.
You might ask why I don’t want to do another one? I enjoyed it, and it accomplished one of my goals; but as I wrote at the beginning of this blog – I enjoy biking with no time constraints or speed that I have to maintain nor other limits, and I like to stop and take pics, enjoy the scenery. Don’t get me wrong, there are many times when I do a sprint and I usually try to keep a good cadence, but not a crazy fast speed. I bike for exercise and relaxation and fun, and racing is fun but not relaxing.
A couple of semi-pro or professional photographers were there at the race and got a bunch of excellent photos of Jenny (she came in first for women), and I.
I like having a few different types of bikes, not only as backup but also so that I can pick the one that fits what I’m doing. The mountain bike for rough territory, the road bike for long distance and fast riding, and my kinda in-between hybrid/road bike for city riding or light gravel, and also as a backup road bike.
Since I’ve taken this picture I’ve made a change to a couple of my bikes – I removed the add-on drop bars on the hybrid/road bike and replaced them with short upswept bar ends – works better for my purposes than the add-on bar ends did on this particular bike. I replaced the terrible stock seat on the mountain bike with a nicer seat, and I replaced the broken seat bag on my road bike with a nicer one, and added aerobars to it.
I have wanted my wife Jennifer (of the From Phat to Phabulous blog) to start biking with me, it’s been many years since she’s ridden anything outside of a recumbent indoor exercise bike. She likes the indoor recumbent bike so when I saw this pic on Bike Snob NYC’s blog I thought maybe we could get one.
After all, I could ride upright on the back and she could ride recumbent-wise on the front.
But she didn’t seem to think that was such a great idea.
But later we did add yet another bike to the family, as my wife finally decided to get a bike. The bike is made by K2 and is a hybrid with 700 c tires (leaning toward road-bikish except for the handlebars and wider tires) and so far is working well for her. And as a runner and athlete she’s been able to transition nicely to biking, doing a twenty-mile ride on her first trip with me and forty miles on a later trip.
Some people have tons of bikes, and some probably DO have literally ‘tons’. I’m not sure if I want THAT many lying around but I’ve found it nice to have a few different types and I maybe would like one more (a hybrid to supplement my aging heavy-duty mountain bike).
I like having interchangeable accessories for the bikes too; like seat bags, long distance traveling bags, etc and perhaps most importantly a nice ergonomic seat like the Planet Bike 5020 Men’s ARS Standard Anatomic Relief Saddle with Gel. I can switch it easily to various bikes by just quick-releasing the seat post. Sure, I could buy another identical seat but I don’t need to as it’s pretty easy to swap out, frankly it’s adapted itself to my rear just fine, thank you. Though maybe once it starts getting a little older I’ll look into another. It has developed a bit of a squeak in the fabric though, which I am working on fixing.
One of my newest accessories is a handlebar mount with a standard camera mount on it. It might be nice to have a GoPro but I am not sure how much I would actually use it while biking, so I can put my Canon A570IS point and shoot on for quick on-the-road pics, if needed.
The camera auto-rotates the pics but any graphics program would do the same thing also, and it could also be mounted above the handlebar. At some point I may hack a USB shutter release onto the camera, with the help of the CHDK hack.
I do have a favorite bike, and it’s my newest one, my Motobecane Mirage Spirit.
And while it’s not a crazy-expensive, super top of the line bike – I love it, it works great for me, I’ve tweaked it to my preferences, and I’ve put well over a thousand miles on it so far with no problem. It’s a great bike.
One of the reasons I bought this bike was the extra set of brake handles on the upper part of the handlebars. It’s not a common thing to have those dual brake levers. But I wasn’t sure if I would be able to ride for long periods of time waaaaay down low on the hoods (the stationary body of a brake lever, the part that attaches to the handlebars) for any amount of time.
So I was pleasantly surprised that all of my other exercise, fitness, stretching, and Yoga has increased my flexibility enough to allow me to easily spend those extended amounts of time quite low, with just occasional rests. In fact, I rarely use the upper brake handles now, except maybe for low-speed riding like through a village.
And recently a friend (a crazy bike-hoarding friend – you know who you are!) sent me a set of aerobars, or tri-bars as they are called sometimes. You see these on triathlon bikes a lot but they actually got a start in long bike races across the country and the Tour De France back in the 80’s. I’ve always been curious about trying one but not enough to buy my own.
So far it’s a nice position for me to get into for a riding – again, if I didn’t have some flexibility I wouldn’t comfortably be able to be in this position but when I am it is quite nice, with weight distributed across my elbows, arms, and hands rather than just my hands. It works nicely. But they are not for everyone.
Over the years of biking (as well as for running and other sports too) I’ve found that having the right equipment as well as the right clothes has made my trips better, more enjoyable, easier and – depending on the time of years – cooler or warmer as needed.
I wasn’t always of that opinion, as I used to just jump on the bike and go. But I also wasn’t traveling anywhere near as far or as fast.
Some of the most important things I’ve learned about biking and making it more enjoyable, safer, and easier is A) getting a bike that fits my size B) adjusting the bike further to exactly fit my size and my preferences and my body’s needs C) having an anatomical seat and biking shorts for those long rides, or any ride really.
Once you have those you can work on everything else in time.
I also like my Garmin Forerunner 405CX GPS/HRM watch for biking. No, love it.
Previously I had a fairly moderate-priced Schwinn GPS/HRM watch. It worked okay, but once in a while it would screw up some of the distances, and it took a long time for a satellite lock, as well as had some other idiosyncrasies. I can’t tell you who actually made the watch, because Schwinn doesn’t even make bicycles any more (Pacific Cycles makes the Schwinn brand name). It worked for what I needed it for and I still keep it as a backup.
I have yet to test this but I read on one blog – DC Rainmaker’s blog I believe, though I can’t find the blog posting right at the moment – about how to set up Workouts in Garmin Connect to make the tone go off when your heart rate goes beyond a certain point. I’ve yet to try this even though I have it all set up and it’s as simple as pressing a few buttons, I guess 😉
An initial period where the battery/battery monitor needed to calibrate itself and a mismatch in distance where I needed to reset the watch were the only problems I had, temporary for both. After these few initial issues the Forerunner 405 has worked great for me (or in my case the 405CX – in other words mine came with a heart rate strap and I didn’t have to buy it separately, which makes it a CX).
The first thing I noticed is how fast the GPS satellite lock is established once the GPS is turned on, compared to my previous GPS watch as well as my hiking GPS.
The only thing you have to be aware of really, with this watch; is that it is not for heavy tree cover and for going through thick woods. It will lose signal and skip some distance. But it’s not a hiking GPS, it’s a sports GPS and it does well at this – running, biking, walking, hiking in open areas, etc.
The watch has plenty of features, and it’s ability to integrate and automatically transfer workouts (via a USB dongle) to Garmin Connect site is a giant bonus. Stand by your computer or set it down nearby and it automatically transfers your data.
The only downside to the watch is not the best battery life, but it’s plenty for most day-long activities before having to be recharged.
I’ve always been a buyer of Garmin equipment, I have the Garmin Legend HCx hiking GPS as well as the Garmin Nuvi 855 driving GPS. Both work nicely and the Garmin Forerunner 405CX is an excellent addition to my GPS ‘family’, and I can even upload activities from the hiking GPS into Garmin Connect for logging hikes and walks and other things.
I’ve found that as my biking length and times have improved, I am covering the same roads over and over. I was sticking my last bike on my car carrier when I had a Chevy Lumina, but the carrier would not fit my Honda Accord Coupe with the spoiler so I was disassembling the handlebars and seat and things like that to fit it in the trunk. The Accord trunk is surprisingly large but not that large.
After I got my new road bike I did not want to be taking it apart and putting it back together and stuffing it into a trunk any longer.
So I traded my bike carrier, via a Craigslist posting, for a hitch-mount bike carrier. Unfortunately the carrier arms pinched the cable on my bike and it didn’t solve the problem of being able to carry the bike on my car, as the carrier was made for a two-inch hitch and would only fit on my wife’s Ford Edge.
So I sold that carrier on Craigslist for a good bit of coin, and decided to go ahead and have a hitch put on my Accord and buy a carrier that would fit it as well as the Ford Edge.
You can find my review of U-Haul’s hitch install service and the hitch they put on in this blog posting and you can read my review of the Swagman XC2 Bike Carrier in this posting.
The hitch and bike carrier are working out well, and I like being able to put the bike carrier on either vehicle even though the hitches are of a different size.
And the carrier fits two bikes just fine, though of course you have to be careful that pedals are in the right places and all. And always doubly secure your bike on any carrier you get, you never know when something will work lose and a couple bungee cords worth the extra time to put them on.
A while back I did my first continuous half-century (or fifty miles to you newbies ;). Not a big deal for a lot of serious bicyclists who do this all the time, or go twice as far, but it was a big deal to me, kinda. I had biked fifty miles a number of times before but the number of miles was always the result of multiple trips and never one long continuous ride.
It was a glorious day. The temps were nice, there was little wind, I was feeling in tip-top condition and when I finished I could have ridden even further. How much further I don’t know, but it was great to be able to feel like I had it in me if I had wanted to. And unlike some other exercise that I do, like running, there’s no feeling that I’m maybe done for the day afterwards, nor are there occasional tweaks or small pains in various places in my body; again, like sometimes when I run a fast time.
I passed a few other bicyclists that day, as I usually do – but one stood out because I saw him for a total of three times that day over the whole distance!
The first time was just six miles in – he was riding toward me, perched with his elbows on the handles as if he had aerobars on his bike – but as I got closer I could see that he was just using an unusual arm position. It was like he was riding with air aerobars, or miming them. A bit strange. We waved at each other as he rocketed by.
After many miles; including a quick stop for the lunch I had packed, a ride around the small village of Chaumont, a ride around a rich summer camp-inhabited point of landing sticking out into the St. Lawrence, I ended up finishing out my ride by going around Pillar Point – another great place for sightseeing while biking.
About a quarter of the way around the point I saw the bicyclist again. This time he wasn’t riding like hell any more, and was riding with his hands up on his hoods and going much slower. We waved and nodded at each other once again.
Later as I passed around the opposite side of the point I could see something in the distance; a bicyclist coming toward me. After a time he got closer and I could see that it was the same dude, but pedaling quite slow now, rocking a bit side-to-side, and quite high on his handlebars. He looked beat now, and about done for. He sheepishly and a bit tiredly waved at me and I waved back at him as we passed each other.
I felt a bit sorry for him, I wasn’t sure how far he had went, perhaps he had went twice as far as I had that day. But I still felt a little pride in myself as I looked down at my Garmin watch and saw that I was maintaining a good speed and cadence, nearly the same as when I had started out.
[pullquote]Training and cross-training pay off.[/pullquote] I have been really tweaking my training for my legs and lower body, and it has really made a difference in my biking and my running to some extent too, and measurements of my legs show a muscle size increase.
Anyway, it was a great day. As I stopped at the boat launch area in Dexter for a sip of water I reflected on how good of a day it was, almost perfect in fact (outside of an elderly gent backing into the road right in front of me earlier in my trip), and how good I felt and how good life can be, especially considering how much of this country is obese or at least overweight, and in bad health. I just saw a stat the other day saying that around fifty percent of the country is diabetic or pre-diabetic! That’s just amazingly terrible!
At the time that I am writing this it is just getting started and people are trickling in little by little.
Also, if you’re a mountain biker (or like hiking or running trails) there’s my NNY Trails page to peruse.
It’s funny about some people’s perceptions of bicycling, there seems to be a multitude of ideas and thoughts. But some of the worse attitudes are also some of the most dangerous, as those people who have those bad attitudes are also behind the wheel of a car or truck. Usually they’re the ones who treat us people on bikes as if we have no rights to the road; they don’t take their turn in traffic or at stop signs, they pull out or back out right in front of us (sometimes deliberately), etc. I’ve even had an elderly guy drive down the wrong side of the street and force me onto the sidewalk just so he could pull up on the wrong side of the street and back into his driveway easier – all the while staring me straight in the face.
But I can’t help but think of the times when a motorist went out of their way to be friendly, polite, follow the rules of the road when they could have just as easily not, or been extra supportive of biking.
There was the time when I was biking from a red light and really stepped on it, holding my own with traffic just for the sheer joy of it. I could hear a car behind me and to my left in the lane, and it was quite some time before it passed me. At that point a young dude hung out the window and yelled excitedly “you were going 30 miles per hour!” I smiled and waved at him and he stayed in that position for a few moments, looking almost incredulous even though that’s certainly no extraordinary speed for a bicyclist, then he popped back in and they drove off.
And the many times that people went out of their way to wave to me, even though I didn’t know them, also bicyclists I assume. The motorcyclists who give me the old-school hand-below-the-handlebar wave – as if we are all members of a two-wheeler club of some sort perhaps, or maybe just in support of us two wheelers having to stick together. The girl with the empty bike rack on her car who leaned out her window to yell “Hi, have a great ride.” while I was making a turn through at a light in the city. And the many people who stopped to let me pull off a side road or street onto a main highway, sometimes stopping traffic behind them – even though I don’t want people to be stopping traffic for me I appreciate the sentiment. People who won’t pass me on narrow streets or roads even though I’m hugging the edge of the road. More good things than I can list, though sometimes they don’t seem to outweigh the bad behaviors that others have toward us.
But here’s one, I see this bike and another just like it (sometimes together) occasionally around Watertown. I thought it was a vintage bike but after doing a little research I found that even places like Walmart sell this retro-style bike brand new and people get engine kits to put on them. I took this shot at Walmart in fact.
Not exactly the best advertisement for biking though. The engines seem to be smoky and loud, and there seems to be a legal grey area when it comes to motorized bicycles.
Once in a while I see an interesting bike, or a bike cart, but not a whole lot of interesting or unusual bikes.
We do have some local bike races, triathlons and duathlons, and such that draw a lot of people. And I see a fair number of people biking, many of them nearly every day, but I don’t think we are a heavily-biked area by any stretch.
Speaking of races though, I wish I had a picture of myself this one day this summer, as it would have been kinda interesting I think. My wife was running in a race at Cape Vincent, a 10K race to the Tibbetts Point lighthouse and back to the park in Cape Vincent (she came in first place for women). I decided to bike there from my house and meet her after the race but I miscalculated and got there BEFORE the race started (I’m getting a bit faster I guess).
Perhaps it was just my imagination, but I don’t believe that I have ever gotten so many dirty and sour looks as I did at this event – me wearing my biking clothes and pushing my bike through a large crowd of staunch runners about to race.
[pullquote]I felt like that proverbial guy who brings a gun to a knife fight…[/pullquote]
Can’t say that I was too surprised, but it does show the unneeded conflict between runners and bicyclists – something that is detrimental to both sports. After all, we’re all in this together and have to co-exist no matter what.
So it’s always good to see cross-training events, like triathlon events and their variations (like relay triathlons, etc), and how successful they are. An acquaintance asked for volunteers for photos so he could promote a series of triathlon and half-Ironman events (Incredoubleman) with some biking and running photos. So I and my wife went out to ride and run with them at Sacketts Harbor for a photo shoot, even though we weren’t going to be in the event itself. One of the photos, the one shown here, was used in the newspaper article. Kinda cool.
To end this blog post I have to share another link, because I just can’t post a bike-related blog post without mentioning and sharing the link to the eminently snarky, sarcastic, ironical (apparently that really is a real word, at least in some dictionaries – even though the spell checker in my Chrome balks at it) and always relevant and hilarious Bike Snob NYC’s blog. Note; not safe for work.