Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ready for anything, maybe

Late last month I signed up for the High Point Ride, an excursion that summits Mount Greylock and then returns to the starting point on the second day.  The participants may ride 100, 140, 200, or 300 miles over two days.  I initially thought that I would do either the 100 or 140 mile version.  I started to think that the 100 mile might be best for my current level of fitness until one of the ride leaders suggested that I try the 140 mile version.  After a month of training, I agree with that assessment.

Before I started my training month, I had about 730 miles under my belt.  That was better than this time last year, my first year back after a few lean years following the birth of my children, but less than comparable to pre-children cycling though not dramatically so.  I had the chance to train hard, by the standards of people with young children, for the last month.  I rode about 530 miles, including a number of 50-65 mile rides.  I have climbed over 15,000 feet during the month.  I did a couple of short loops out to Lincoln that manage to roll over 1,400 feet of hills and did a couple sessions on our local climbing hill (1 mile, 320 foot climb with a 1 mile descent done 5 times = 1,600 feet of climbing).  My last long ride, done on a Ride Studio Cafe training ride, was a 60 miler with 3000 feet of climbing done at 16.7 MPH.  It helped to do it with a group but I can say that I wasn't drafting for a majority of the ride.  My last short ride was a reasonably flat 23 miler done at 16.6 MPH (and done before 6AM and before breakfast - I don't know about you but I do better once I am fully awake and that's not possible so early).  At this point I've put in 1250 miles this year.

I did the local training hill this morning and feel great.  I pick up my bike from the cafe (it really is a cafe as well as a bike shop) tomorrow.  I will take that bike for a short ride Thursday AM and maybe commute on Friday and then call it quits for training.  I want a light day followed by a mostly rest day before the two days of hills.

Generally my endurance is where I want it to be for a ride like this and my hill climbing ability is in a decent place.  I've been doing my usual suite of post riding/running exercise - pull ups, sit ups, stomach crunches, and weights - to increase my core and upper body strength.  I would have liked to have done more running, especially on hills, to increase my capacity to stand on climbs when necessary but I've been standing on climbs just for exercise and fun.

Will this training be enough?  I don't know but I'd like to think so.  I have spent a lot of time climbing hills in western Massachusetts (and Vermont and New Hampshire) and my general rule has been that I will enjoy a 50-60 mile ride in the hills if I have 1000 miles under my belt.  And my bike is getting a new low gear so that I have the same gearing as what I used on the 2009 100K  D2R2, according to the still available Sheldon Brown's Gear Calculator, so I should be able to deal with the steep hills, as I did on the D2R2. The daily distance is about the limit I have done this year so I may be maxing out here but I have the next week off (preschool vacation week) so I will have time to rest, or at least not have to get to work.  Maybe the ride will be a hard couple of days that I will enjoy or maybe it will push me to the limit and I will have to wait for the van for a lift to the summit of Mount Greylock.  I have been pushing myself hard and feel great while working hard and after the rides so I think I am as ready as I can be at this time of the year.  And I'm hoping for good weather to test all of this out.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Almost the last of the training

I went on a Ride Studio Cafe ride on Saturday.  Richard Fries gave something of a pep talk with instruction and the 50 or so riders went out in 3 or 4 teams.  My group was led by David Chui.  We rode to Harvard on a very similar route to what I did last week and cranked - in my view, others may disagree - and I finished the 60 mile at 16.7 MPH, my personal best for the year and something I wanted to achieve before the High Point ride.  I'm now about ready for the ride.  Now all we need is good weather.

Total mileage for June: 495, for 2013: 1230.

Ted Wojcik Commuter

There are a lot of people who commute on the Beacon/Hampshire bicycle route.  I am told that it is the busiest cycling road in Boston and I believe it.  On one morning commute earlier this year I found myself in a well behaved posse of up to 40 riders.  I never seem to ride on that route alone and inbound it in not uncommon for me to see 10+ people waiting for the Cambridge Street light.  As anyone interested in bicycles might do, I check out the bicycles as I pass or get passed by on the road.  On Friday I saw an interesting one - I first determined this by the bright rear light that looked like it was powered by a dynamo.  And it was.  I asked the rider if I could take a picture of it and he suggested that we stop at the next street, which he was turning on.

The bike turned out to be a Ted Wojcik commuter.  Teds are rare although I do have a friend who owns one and I recently saw a 29er used as a commuter and the owner of the 29er said his wife has a matching Ted.  Still, you don't see many of these on the road.

The rider turned out to be Josh Zisson of Bike Safe Boston.  Josh is an attorney who specializes in bicycle accidents and uses his website to educate people about both safe cycling and how to approach the aftermath of a bicycle accident to preserve the cyclist's rights.  I've heard about his cards, which has an illustrated "bill of rights" (don't door me, give me three feet of clearance, etc) and an accident report to record the pertinent information for preserving your rights.  I now have one to carry and, as Josh said, I hope I never have to use it.

The bike is Josh's city/night bike - it is painted in reflective paint.  I couldn't get the sense of this in daylight but I trust these pictures.

The first thing you notice about the safe bicycle is the size.  Josh is tall and probably too tall to get a comfortable fit on a production bicycle.  There are a lot of reasons to get a custom bicycle and Josh probably has the best one.

The bike has what looks like a Portland Design Works Takeout Basket.  I didn't confirm this with Josh but I've seen one of these on a bike in Northampton recently and it looks enough like it to convince me - and I'm making the assumption that it was painted in the reflective paint rather than the stock color from PDW.  (update: yes, Josh confirms it is a PDW, csutom painted.)

The front light is a Supernova.  He said he had a Busch & Muller, which is what I have (one with daytime running lights, which I use for commuting) but he upgraded, in part because of how his rear light is wired (in DC, rather than AC as most lights are).  I think he made a good choice in keeping the rear light, it is quite prominent in the daytime and should be much better than the largely point source rear lights otherwise available.

 Josh has the Tubus Fly Rack in stainless steel - I'd love one of these for my IF.

The brakes are drum and it has an internal gear hub (IGH) for commuting in all conditions and ease of maintenance. Josh said that Shimano doesn't sell a dynamo hub with a drum brake, so his front hub, a Sturmey Archer, doesn't match the Shimano rear.  I recall the hub on this ANT I saw last year and I believe it was a Shimano but I can't be sure.  The one picture might be good enough to tell someone, but not me.

It was fun meeting Josh and checking out his bike.  He bills it as the safest transportation bike on the road and it very well could be.  He has a great lighting system and reflective paint - I'm curious to see how bright the paint is relative to the light, which should be quite bright on its own.  I like the concept of an IGH and would try one on my next commuter.  I'm not quite sold on drum brakes but if I were less of a fair weather commuter I might be following Josh's lead.  Overall, it was quite a bike.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


For some people, flats are a common occurrence.  It could be because of the tires they use, the roads they ride on, and how inflated they keep their tires.  I must be lucky, or unlucky, depending on what you think of these numbers.  I have had 7 flats in the last 32,000 miles until today. Now that would be 8 flats in the last 32,024 miles, or about one flat for every 4,000 miles I rode.   The funny thing about today's flat was that we were discussing old tires and tubes over lunch because a colleague has tires and tubes of unknown vintage and has inflation problems, i.e., a problem keeping one of the tires fully inflated.  I thought to myself that I should replace my tubes and buy new spares for my road bike before a big ride I have coming up.  I didn't think much of my commuter, which has decent tires and new tubes and a new spare.

Given that, it was surprising when I walked over to my bike in the bike locker and noticed that my rear tire was flat.  I removed the tube and checked for sharp objects inside and outside of the tire and found nothing. More alarming, I pumped up the tire and couldn't find the leak.  I decided to replace the tube in case of a slow leak, and then pulled out my spare.  The very new spare's lock ring was stuck on it - the threads were messed up, most likely in the manufacturing process. I couldn't get it off and if it was on, then I couldn't get the tube on the rim.  I had a second spare ... for my wife's mixte, which uses Schrader values.  By then a colleague came out for his bicycle and he couldn't budge the lock ring either.  So I carried my panniers, which were mercifully light, except for the U lock and cables, and my bike, which is not mercifully light, to the nearest bike shop, only a quarter of a mile away.  They checked the tube and with not much force, tore the valve off.  They checked the spare tube, unjammed the lock ring on it and used that spare.  The tire has held air since then.  I very lucky that I was that close to someone with tools to remove the lock ring.

On the ride home, the spring on the Avid Shorty 4 rear brake jumped of the pin that holds it in place so my bike was suddenly very sluggish.  I pulled the cable on the brake and rode to town, without a rear brake, for a toddler concert and dinner with my family and then on to my car near the preschool, where I parked it for the day.  I have since checked the tire, fixed the spring on the rear brake, re-centered the brake (I so love this process on these otherwise good brakes), and restocked two new tubes in my saddle bag.

Given historical averages, I should have 4,000 miles before my next flat.  But it's actually been 7,000 miles since my last flat.  And the commuter has pretty sturdy tires, Panaracer T Serv Protec 700x32 commuters, which have been bomb proof and apparently still are.  I had two flats on my road bike in its first year, on 700x23 Michelin Krylion tires.  Both were side blowouts from glass that had me limping home with dollar bills holding in the bulge from the torn sidewall. I later had another flat on this same kind of tire.  I have since switched to a 700x25 version of the same tire and have about 1600 miles on them, flat free.  They have held up well.  In any case, I'll carry two spares on the road bike as well and hope for another 7,000 miles before my next flat.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fathers Day Ride

I'm still trying to get in shape for the High Point Ride and rode over a hundred miles this weekend, including a nice, long, and hilly ride to Harvard.  I started the weekend out with a 38 mile ride, a slightly altered version of my basic Concord, Carlisle loop, finishing by 7:30 AM.  I managed to do the ride before breakfast and without any food en route.  That wasn't planned - I carried a couple of bars but didn't get any sense of bonking and wasn't hungry although I was hungry after the ride.  On Sunday I rode an improved version of the Harvard ride I did a couple of times earlier this year.  I did the Saturday ride at 15.8 MPH and the Sunday ride at 15.6 MPH (the Sunday ride was 26 miles longer and hillier) and I felt great after both rides.  I also spent all of Saturday afternoon on and off bikes with my family.  We went to a local festival for lunch and then stopped: at Spy Pond to watch the swans and play in the playground, in the center of town for ice cream, at the playground on the bike path for more play, and finally at a Mexican restaurant for dinner.  Everyone was happy, including my wife, who pedaled solo while I carried both boys, one in the trailer and one in the bike seat on the rack.  It wasn't all that hard except for the elevation gain, which was a challenge - my passengers and trailer and bike seat and luggage weighed about 100 pounds, which is far more than I would ever tour with.

The major improvement to the Harvard route was using Oak Hill Road out of Littleton, rather than Harvard Road.  Oak Hill Road is prettier, if noisy from Route 2 traffic until you cross Route 2, and the ascent is far more challenging (though not all that hard) and you get a great winding descent into Harvard - except the last few hundred feet is uphill.  Art from Keep It Tight suggested I try this route and it was well worth it.

One of the fun parts of riding on Sunday was using my new Garmin Edge 200, which my boys gave me for Fathers Day.  I charged it and then added the route (called a Course in Garmin land) I intended to take before starting out.  I initially used it as a bike computer, a purpose which it served well.  I chose to have the unit automatically sense when I started or stopped and it beeped when it sensed either and it did a good job with this.  With the large screen I could see distance, speed, time, and average speed easily.  In Littleton, I added the course.  As I started moving, the very rough map (consisting of my location and the lines of the roads I intended to follow) was automatically zoomed in to where I was and I could see my position relative to the curves in the road ahead of me.  It didn't show intersections but if the road curved left at an intersection and the line I was following turned right, then I would know that I should turn.  If I didn't turn then the unit would chirp a couple of times to alert me.  It would sound the same beep as it used for starts and stops when I got back on the course.  I had my Cateye wireless computer along for the ride and the readings from the GPS matched that of the wireless generally.  One issue, that is true for GPS generally, is that heavy foliage degrades the GPS signal, making them less accurate.  I noticed that in such conditions the GPS would give me a slower speed than the Cateye and then when I got out of the trees the GPS would catch up with a sudden 2-5 mile per hour increase in my speed.  I think it is accurate enough for me but I'll hold onto my wireless computers for the days when solar activity degrades the GPS sigmal.

Garmin introduced this basic version of its GPS/bike computer not that long ago.  The more advanced versions deal with cadence and heart rate monitors and the most advanced version includes maps.  I have other devices that can do maps much better than the small screen GPS units  for when I might actually need them and I am a fan of paper maps as well (I use Rubel maps in Massachusetts).  I'm happy with the unit I have and think that for me the most expensive units would be much more than I need.  As someone who works with spatial data and GPS units for a living, I'd prefer seeing latitude and longitude or UTM or State Plane coordinates but that's hardly a requirement for a cycling computer.  And I can always get coordinates from my Android phone, whether or not service is available.

I look forward to testing the Garmin on my Surly, which has a wired computer.  I went back to my old wired computer on the Surly when I noticed that the generator hub and light interfered with the wireless computer and, with the wires from the lighting system, the head tube is a busy spot on my bike.  I'm expecting that the GPS is not affected by my lighting system and, if so, I'll be using the Garmin on the Surly as well.

Total miles for the year: 1112, miles in June: 375

Monday, June 10, 2013

Getting ready for a big hills and some miles, too

I'm getting ready for the Ride Studio Cafe High Point Ride.  The ride peaks on the summit of Mount Greylock, which I will reach after a 2700 foot climb.  We will sleep at the summit and have what promises to be a great dinner.  There are several ride options, with the ride starting from as far away as Lexington and as close as the Connecticut Valley (that's a guess, the starting points haven't been announced yet).  Even without knowing the exact starting points, my experience riding west of the Connecticut River tells me that this ride will be very hilly followed by a very substantial climb.  And I'll ride one of the two shorter rides, probably the shortest.  I am not capable of the Lexington ride and I'm pretty certain I couldn't get in shape for the 100 mile version.

That said, I'm no stranger to ascending hills on a bicycle.  I've tried Hurricane Mountain Road (in North Conway) after riding Bear Notch Road (and did another 20 miles to meet friends and then swim at Echo Lake State Park). I have toured (solo, self-supported) in Colorado, riding over several 10,000 plus feet passes.  And I have generally tried hill climbing in several places (and wrote some advice on speeds on descents of these hills).  One thing that sticks with me is that ascending hills can be hard and hills can be relentless, or worse if you aren't in shape or don't know what to expect.  I recall ascending Monarch Pass in Colorado on a solo tour.  I was told by locals that, despite what my map said, there was a campground on the west side of the pass.  That wasn't true.  I mashed my pedals up to the summit, arriving after sunset, looking for suitable places to pitch a tent near the road.  Not surprisingly, there wasn't any place to put a tent until the campground on the other side.  I succeeded in riding to the summit of the pass but it wasn't easy and it took reserves of energy I wasn't sure I had.  Using reserves of energy was true when climbing to Hurricane Ridge and Obstruction Point in the Olympics and any number of other high points I toured over.

It's similar when riding without gear, especially when your gearing isn't the best for the situation.  I opted for a compact crank on my Independent Fabrication along with a 12/25 rear chain rings.  That works pretty well for me, much better than the 39/52 cranks with 11/23 rear chain rings I used on my Lemond Alpe d'Huez.  In spite of the latter gearing, I made it up a lot of steep hills in western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Mount Cadillac in Acadia National Park, and the first 30 miles of the High Road to Taos out of the Santuaria de Chimayo on my Lemond.  Given that I would have the IF well into my fifties and even my sixties, I thought I would appreciate the compact crank eventually.  I did appreciate it on the Hurricane Mountain Road ride, which I did four months after I started riding my IF.  I will make some adjustment to the IF for the High Point ride but am not yet sure what it will be.

Given that little bit of history, I am taking the High Point ride seriously.  The distance is likely to be unremarkable for me by the day of the ride - my average ride length on my IF is close to 50 miles and I have done several rides longer than that and have several more planned.  But the High Point ride will consist of  a hilly ride to the base of Mount Greylock and then the 2700 foot ascent to the summit.  That's a hard ride and I'll have to (or get to) do the reverse the next day.  At least the second day is likely to end with a downhill run rather than a very steep ascent.

I'm pretty familiar with cycling in western Massachusetts and could put together a decent ride from the valley to Greylock myself.  But the shop has at least one person there who I would trust more than me to make a great ride in western Massachusetts, even if she might not understand what some of us would call gratuitous climbs.

So, I have been training, starting on June 1.  I already had about 735 miles under my belt this year.  I rode about 260 miles since then:

50 miles with 2100 feet of climbing
56 miles with 2500 feet of climbing
22 miles with 1300 feet of climbing
66 miles with 2900 feet of climbing
50 miles with 2200 feet of climbing

Plus one commute to work and one errand on the hottest day of the year.  The mileage is getting there but I need to add in more hill climbing.  I'm considering heading out to western Massachusetts to ride in the hills at least once before the high point ride.   And I will continue to ride as much as I can until then and will slip in 4-6 sets of 5 ascents of the local training climb.  I did the 5 ascents (about 1600 feet of climbing) a couple of times before the 2009 D2R2 and I was fine on that ride (100k, 8000 feet of climbing, much of the climbing on dirt roads).  Whether this is enough to enjoy the Greylock ascent won't be known for 3 weeks.

Early morning start, in Concord before 6:30AM:

Sherman Bridge, Sherman Bridge Road, Wayland (Sudbury is to the left, Wayland to the right) - I was here on June 1st and 2nd (note the lights on the bike, necessary for the early starts):

Nagog Hill Farm, Acton, MA at 7AM:

Snapping turtle, after crossing Lincoln Road, just west of Sherman Bridge, Sudbury. The shell was about 14-16 inches long.  So why didn't the turtle cross the road under the bridge?

Mileage for the year: 994.