Sunday, April 28, 2013

Group ride vs solo ride

I was inspired to ride the New England Randonneurs Spring Populaire.  The ride was scheduled for last Saturday but with the rather difficult circumstances of Friday, April 19th, the event was postponed for a week.  I did end up riding that Saturday afternoon.  I wanted to get out to Harvard to check out Pamela Blalock's route recommendations. But I couldn't get out of the house until 2PM and I had only 3 hours before dinner so Harvard was out of the question so I did this shorter route.

I still had a hankering to go to Harvard and while the Populaire would get me there, I had to get myself to the Populaire.  I had planned on riding it until late on Friday, after I printed out the sign-away-all-of-your-rights sheet.  I had my water in bottles on the bike, clothes laid out, bars in my helmet with gloves, tires up to pressure.  But I just wasn't sure.  The main difficulty is the drive to the start.  This adds a half hour to the trip on each end, which is significant when you have kids around and a sympathetic partner who you would like to remain sympathetic.  The smaller, second issue was money.  I had $15 in cash and my wife had none and the fee was $15.  I would have to stop at an ATM to get money for emergency snacks on the road and spend even more time getting to the ride.  More fundamental was the ride.  I generally have fun on these kinds of rides but sometimes, if the pace is too quick or to slow, I find that I burn through energy a wee bit faster than I would if I were riding alone.  I find my pace to be perfect, whatever it happens to be.  And life has been hectic recently.  Even commuting time, by bike and even by car, is a calm time that I have learned to value.  And here was a chance to be on my own for 5 or more hours.  So I decided to go off on my own and skip the Populaire.  The only person who knew that I was going couldn't ride with me anyway so it wasn't as if I would be missed.  My friend did say that I'd meet fun people on the ride but what I really needed was relatively quiet time.  A smaller group, two or three or so, would have been fine but I couldn't manage to arrange that at the late hour I made my decision.  Another small issue was temperature.  I was riding my IF, which doesn't have any way of carrying clothes once I no longer needed them.  Leaving a bit later meant that I could dress somewhat light for the conditions than I started in and somewhat warm for the latter part of the ride.  That ended up working out well for me.

So off on my own it would be.  I was a slacker in the morning, getting the boys fed and dressed and playing some.  I didn't get out of the house until after 9:30.  I took the standard route out to Concord, then followed well known (to me) roads out to Nagog Hill Road in Acton.  Following Pamela's route, I took Nagog to Harwood to Harvard Road to Littleton Road to Harvard.

The leaves are just popping out on the apple trees in the orchard on Nagog Hill Road:

I've seen this farm quite a few times in years past:

I remembered the ride up to Harvard on Harvard Road, which turns to Littleton Road in Harvard, from a decade ago.  My wife made me stop near the Route 2 bridge, demanding food.  I think we rode 30 miles before our first break which, for most people is over the top.  Being older, I decided to eat a bar in that vicinity, to hold me over to the Harvard General Store.  The store was the halfway point of my ride.  I stopped in for water and a raspberry bar, which I ate overlooking the scenic cemetery:

I saw a group of riders leaving Harvard as I arrived and assumed they were Populiare riders.  I briefly chatted with one Populaire rider who had this nice Seven with a Dill Pickle seat bag:

I had not, up to this time, looked at a map.  I asked the Populaire rider about her route, which reminded me of Pamela's route, which I had not looked at since the previous Friday evening.  So far I rode on roads that I was already familiar with, if in distant memory, but it seemed to make sense with the week old memories of Pamela's map.  I found my way to Burroughs Road, which I use at least several times a year, and then found my way to West Acton.  I checked the map on my phone and decided to use School St to West Concord, which was very quiet for a Saturday afternoon.  Punting, I took 62 to Thoreau St in Concord and then took quiet and familiar roads back to Trapelo Road at the Cambridge Reservoir.

The ride was 65 miles which I did at 13.8 mph, which felt just fast enough for this early in the season and a ride this long.  The roads I borrowed from Pamela were great and it turned out just a refresher for me - the entire ride was on roads that I had been on the past at least a few times. It made for a nice ride and the first time I have been outside of 495 on a bike in a couple of years (excluding the times when I drive my bike outside of 128, which are legion).  I am tired today but I could easily do a 20 or so mile ride. (Edit: I got up early on Monday to ride 20 miles, starting at 5AM.)

If you agree with the concept that a person who gets energy from people is an extrovert then I am one.  But yesterday was a great day and I hardly chatted with anyone along the way.  For a sometimes outgoing guy, I sure appreciated being on my own.  I think I would have enjoyed the Populaire but I certainly enjoyed the solo ride.

The ride.

I rode the IF:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sunday morning ride to Lincoln

Getting out of the house will always be tough and rides may sometime be shorter than I'd like but at least I am getting on the house.  Yesterday I did this route out to Lincoln, but doing the ride from Arlington center.  I chose the hilly Concord Ave route out of Belmont and started on the route at the end of Concord Avenue in Lexington.

The ride was very nice and while it was cold and the sky was spitting rain for most of the ride, the sun came out for the last leg from Lexington to Arlington.  The nicest section was the short jog just past the Cambridge Reservoir over Old Country Road, Old Conant Road, and Conant Road to Weston Road on the way to Lincoln center.  There is a short trail/fire road that gets you onto Old Conant Road, which looks like this:

A number of larger houses are at the Conant Ride end of Old Conant.  There are wetlands on this end and the road isn't much more than a wide, paved trail through the woods.  Conant is minimally developed and still a nice road for cycling.  I stopped to check the radar on Weston Road, worrying that the drops of rain were becoming more significant but they soon ended.

Stop for a radar check (fenders were not necessary on this ride):

I like the ride from Lincoln to Walden Pond over Sandy Pond and Baker Bridge Roads.  It is largely flat with a couple of rollers.  There was farm activity on the Rte 126 end of Baker Bridge:

I followed the standard route past Hanscom and the Cambridge Reservoir into Lexington.  A Ride Studio Cafe ride started to overtake me on Mill Street.  I intended to grab a cup of coffee at there so I cranked to get in before the bulk of the RSC riders.  I did and even managed to snag indoor bike parking.  Small victories.  After a quick expresso and a brief hello to Elton from Harris Cyclery, I caught a brief period of bright sunshine for my ride back home.  The ride was about 28 miles.

This was my second road ride on my IF this year.  I have otherwise been riding on my Surly, mostly because I don't want to expose my IF to salt and because I have been riding at night for at least half the miles I rode this year and the Surly has the dynamo hub.  I do intend to use the lighting on the IF if I do any overnight rides, like a fleche (or here).

The ride of the IF continues to amaze me, especially after spending over 300 miles on the Surly (starting very late last year).  But I did noticed inconsistent shifting after cleaning the chain rings and replacing the chain on Friday evening.  Rob V. from RSC adjusted my derailleurs and concluded that the shifter is starting to age.  This happened in the past and I will be bringing the bike into RSC for a rebuild or replacement, depending on what Jeff, their mechanic, can do.  The shifting is good enough for now and I will do the NER populaire next weekend regardless.

Let's see, still less than 300 miles for the year.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Trail riding on my commuter

On Saturday I rode in the Ride Studio Cafe's Diverged ride (not sure how long this page will last).  The ride was a crazy linking of any and all dirt roads and trails that one could conceivably ride on within 6 or so miles of their shop.  The ride was initially advertised as taking 3-4.5 hours for the 45 mile ride and that is the numbers I had in my head as I rode over with my friend Bobby.  The day turned out to be quite cold.  I went for a short walk with my older son shortly before riding there and it left me chilled, influencing me to alter my layering.  I originally intended to wear tights plus two polypro layers below my cycling jersey with a fleece vest and a mid weight Patagucci cycling jacket over that.  I changed the top two layers to a Patagucci R2  fleece with a full zipper softshell on top.  I abandoned the fleece at RSC before the ride and didn't regret that decision.

I was freezing on the way to Bobby's house and I was already late.  He was ready to roll when I pulled up and we took the back way to RSC.  I had trouble keeping up with him even though it was his first ride of the year.  And I was still cold despite the physical effort.  We made it to RSC to find that a lot of other people did as well.  There was 80 signed up, according to an email that Bobby received and the shop was crowded with perhaps a lot more than 80 people.  There was also good bread and biscuits with lots of honey (the ride being sponsored by Honey bikes to show off their all season rando and big tire all road bikes) and I enjoyed some along with a cappuccino with honey - which I enjoyed more than I thought I might - and pre-ride water.  I saw Pamela  Blalock's brand new all road (picked up that morning), which was fabulous and much lighter than my Surly.  I also briefly met Lovely Bike as she took photos of Bobby's new Tomii, which is also a fabulous bike, and saw her nicely set up Rawland.  The Tomii is getting lots of press and it deserves it - the frame is exquisite and the build clean and spare.

Rob Vandermark gave a short description of the ride and encouraged us to pick the right group to go with, depending on hard we wanted to work.  I chose the 4th of 5 groups, the same as Bobby.  Rob also gave much different times for completing the ride - 5 or 6 hours for the slowest groups.  I missed the call  for our group and watched as everyone crossed Mass Ave and ran my bike across to join them, not quite ready to roll.  I managed to get on my bike on time and made the light along with the group.  

If you have read many of my prior posts, you know that I am not a group rider generally but I do consider myself a competent rider.  This ride caught me by surprise.  We were on narrow walkways and paths right away and the speeds and proximity that people passed me was breathtaking.  Like in the D2R2, I was wishing for a more stable ride and maybe more experience, or both, as riders sped past me or rode my rear wheel - or so it felt.  The ride continued on pavement and in the woods at what seemed a fairly fast pace and I constantly felt like someone was on my tail until I was at the end of our group.  My group started with 15 or so people and grew to the low 20s after we passed a group whose leader was working on a mechanical.  I often let these people know that it was fair to pass me since I knew I wouldn't be the fastest person on the ride.  Despite Rob V.'s calls to keep the rider behind you in sight that didn't always happen but for the first half of the ride there was always someone waiting at the least obvious turns and I never got lost.  And I missed the second half of the ride because I ran out of time.  The ride had some significantly steep but short climbs and I usually could power through these but I was getting increasingly tired.  The long paved stretches proved even more difficult to keep up.  I slowed for Bobby along the Mystic Lakes as he is coming off elbow surgery.  When we pulled up with the group they were ready to roll again while I was ready for a snack.  I took a couple of bites of a Kind bar and powered on as Bobby headed off to home, giving his elbow a break.

I barely kept up until the Arlington Reservoir when a group of fast riders left the ride for reasons that likely weren't related to fatigue.  I stayed with the remaining group through a snack at a convenience store on Mass Ave in Lexington and then followed the group towards Sunderland Park and eventually towards Wilson Farm, always trailing behind.  I lost the group right as we came to the edge of woods just east of the farm.  I saw two riders pull away and didn't see the group again.  I had planned on abandoning the ride at the next road crossing so there was no great loss though I had promised the group leader that I would let him know when I bailed.  I headed on the bike path to Lexington to grab my fleece.  While there, RSC's mechanic, Jeff, was kind and adjusted my headset, a Cane Creek S3, which was starting to feel loose on the ride.  I'm sorry I didn't get a Chris King for this bike.  After I left RSC, I headed to Arlington to vote for a better Mass Ave (which lost narrowly but was not binding) then rode home.  I was on the Diverged ride for about 22 miles and my odometer said I rode a total of 35 miles that day.

There were a lot of nice people on the ride, besides Bobby, including Steve and Amy, who are new to Boston, Steve J. from HUP who I know from trips to Prouts Neck, Brian from Royal H who I met at the Firefly party, and Brad from Geekhouse, who was riding his bRad, which is an amazing bicycle.  I'd love to have a bike like Brad's for a cross country tour and a lot of other riding.

The ride was fine on my commuter but would have appreciated better off road tires.  Suspension was hardly required for this ride but might have been nice for a novice like me.  There were times when descending steep pitches that I would have appreciated upright bars so I would not have leaned so far forward on descents while braking.  Otherwise the bike was fine.  The gearing worked for me with a 30/32 low combination.

The ride was tough by every measure.  From the rugged and often rocky trails, the infrequent but slippery exposed tree routes, the number of riders and their speed and close proximity, to the cold temperatures at the start and the intensely cold wind getting to the start, it all seemed challenging.  And given that I had less than 200 miles in for the year before the ride, plus about 10 hours spinning in my basement, I was hardly in the best shape.  It was, however, quite fun.  The staff at RSC, Rob, Patria, Jeff, and the very overworked barristas, where all in great humor despite the crowds and confusion.  The other riders were great company.  I was familiar with several of the trails and, with one exception, never rode them or thought of riding them.  So it was a success for me.