Monday, August 24, 2009

the first century


Not the date, the length of bicycle ride. I did my first one today and ended up going fairly well beyond an imperial century to nearly a metric double century. Feeling not very well-prepared for next weekend's Hotter Than Hell 100 ride in TX (I've had a cavalcade of out-of-town guests and a busy work schedule conspiring to keep me off of the bike), I spotted the posting for the Bike Psychos Century ride on the chainlink yesterday and quickly recruited my friend Zac to come along and do it with me.

I arose at 4:30 am this morning, not terribly well rested. I did go to bed at the pretty civil time of 10:45 PM but was pretty amped up about it and kind of had a tossing/turning/went-to-bed-too-early-to-sleep-well sort of a night. Probably got circa 4.5 hours of decent sleep maybe. I did have the presence of mind to pack and prepare about everything I'd need for the morning including pre-loading the coffee maker and prepping a nice eggy breakfast last night, so the getting up and being ready part was pretty easy.

We left Chicago at about 5:35 for Coal City, IL, a small town just southwest of Joliet. The pre-dawn light in Chicago was quite nice and I had a crazy vision driving east on Belmont upon seeing this TREMENDOUS bank of clouds over Lake Michigan. It literally looked like mountains and weirdly made Chicago look like a flattish street in California or Colorado. It was eerie, but quite beautiful. Once on the Kennedy, the whole lake was like a cloud mountain. Construction crews found a way to make traffic at 6am on a Sunday, namely but blocking the freeway down to one lane, but we were soon on our way out past the deep burbs.

We arrived at the Coal City Early Childhood Center and registered up in minutes, borrowed some sunscreen from a nice fellow rider parked next to us and were on our way. It was a beautiful route of mostly cornfields and some other crops, a lot of farmhouses and just some nice woodlands as well as quite a bit of the Illinois River. Almost completely car-free roads greeted us for quite some time in the morning and even throughout the day, cars were a very minimal sight. What a welcome change from Chicago where you are watching out for your life every few minutes throughout the day!

After taking our second ride-lengthening detour of the day through this old park that dead ended at an Army Corp of Engineers facility (there was an little unmarked dogleg in the road that we chose the wrong way on), we (perhaps foolishly) skipped the first rest stop at 25 miles and kept on plugging away. We started hitting the first few hills shortly after that. I was finally glad to have a compact double crank on my bike! Not that these were Pyrenean by any means (I don't even think they would change the route description from "flat" on a grand tour), but pros we ain't!

At one of the steeper hills a young-ish guy on a carbon Orbea fairly blasted by us and Zac decided he wanted to catch this guy, so we pounded away back on the flat up above and caught him, forming a little three man pace line for about 10-ish miles, eventually the three of us came upon another guy we had passed earlier in the day. This guy was on a new-ish carbon Lemond and was clearly a bit older from his grey crew cut and mustache. We were feeling the strain of our approximately 20-22mph pace by now, Lemond and Orbea were in front of us just chatting away, like they were riding to the farmer's market from brunch or something. We heard Orbea say he was from Colorado, so he must have literally been drowning in oxygen on this clear 60 to 70 degree day in sunny Illinois. Eventually, we found it wiser to simply get back to a more sane personal pace and dropped off the back of these two. About 5 miles later we came to a much needed 50 mile rest stop.

After eating some very "al dente" slightly seasoned dry pasta and some much nicer fresh fruit, we re-embarked just a little behind old Lemond. He was cruising along in his report 2005 jersey just riding his ride. We both decided he was our new hero with his easy cadence, looking like he could do a double century and mow the yard after. I told Zac I'd feel good if we simply kept him in sight for a while, but after warming back up, we somehow bridged up to him from a few hundred meters back. I jumped on his wheel and asked if he minded some hangers on. He told us it was fine and eventually we got to chatting after he remarked that he remembered a certain hill we rode up to. I asked him how many time he'd done this ride and he said "Oh, 5 or 6 times." After a bit more chatting with me mentioning how he seemed a bit older than us and we were really impressed with his riding, he told us he was SIXTY!!! Holy crap, this guy's calf muscles looked like a current pro tour rider! He said this was his 11th or 12th century ride of the year. I must say that I found that pretty inspiring as a newly minted 40 year old. The idea that I could ride 100 miles in a day for a couple more decades plus makes getting older seem pretty alright, especially the way this guy obviously could have simply notched it up and left us in the dust at any moment. I shamelessly sucked this guy's wheel for most of the next 20 miles and he just didn't think a thing about it. Didn't catch his name, but on the off chance that he's a crazed internet scourer, thank you kindly sir! That was a fun leg. We all made it to the 75 mile rest stop and there we parted ways as we took off a bit sooner than him.

At this point, the ride was starting to seem a bit long. My previous longest ride was the 81.5 miles to Milwaukee, so we'd hit that by this rest stop. We still managed to plug along at a decent rate, maybe circa 17.5 average, but we hit 100 before the last 87.5 mile rest stop. We finished up the last couple of miles with a nice woman on a really fancy Guru carbon bike with a PowerTap hub, aero bars, the whole nine yards. She had dropped her husband a few miles earlier after we passed them all and she gave us a much needed steady pace into this rest stop. She turned out to be a social studies teacher at Decatur High School, where Zac went to school for a year. They chatted about who was retired and who was still there. Always a small world. It was pretty hard to leave this final oasis. I ate a PB&J and more fruit. Hydration and eating went pretty well over the day. I was always remembering the mantra "eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty," and it did not let me down. My knees were feeling pretty weird by this point, not really in pain, but just a feeling of unfamiliar worn-outness. (Later that evening, they would feel genuinely achy, but I think I'll survive.) We just rather grimly pushed on through the last 13.5 miles. Still kept a nice pace up. It was at this point that we went through a pretty great wind farm area. I'd never been so close to these goliath turbines. We were practically riding right underneath them. I find them quite beautiful in their minimalist splendor. They must be about 15 stories tall, just silently cranking away in the sky. This was also one of the most hilly sections (damn you, route planners!). I never thought I'd be so happy to see a street called "Carbon Hill Rd" as we made our last turn and rode the final mile or so back to the start. We pulled up right at 114 miles and just rode straight to the car and plopped down in the hatchback for about 10 minutes of panting and staring before we packed up to head back to Chicago.

We fueled up on some McDonald's (?!?!..groan) french fries and a chocolate shake on the way out of town. This was they first time I've given McD's any of my money in as long as I can remember, but there wasn't much to choose from in Coal City on a Sunday afternoon. It was necessary to split the drive between us some we did not pass out and kill ourselves, but we made it back in one piece and now I feel like I sort of know what I'm in for in Wichita Falls next week.

Here are our final stats:
Miles ridden: 114
Total time (including stops): 7 hours 8 minutes
Average speed including stops: 16.05 mph
Actual riding time: 6 hours 26 minutes
Average riding speed (excluding stops): 17.74 mph!
Max speed: 38.6 mph (there were some pretty good downhills!)

Sadly, I did not take a single picture. For some strange reason, I left my phone in the car. Much good scenery was missed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bike shop owners/employees

They are easy to take shots at, with often seriously asshole-ish, superior, condescending attitudes flying around every which way you turn. However, they are also often pretty underpaid and perhaps underappreciated skilled workers* (at least many of them). This best of craigslist post sheds a little light on some of the sorts of people and questions they perhaps have to deal with.

* A good friend of mine has been having nightmares with the shop in Houston he purchased his bike from. It was supposed to have free service for however long, but these dillweeds started making him feel like an idiot from about the second time he brought it in, bent his derailleur hanger when he brought it in for a tuneup before a big ride and then did their best to tell him he bent it, slammed the Park Tool maintenance book down on the counter in front of him on another trip in to get the wheel trued, and so on. He subsequently went to another shop to see about getting his wheels to stop having constantly loosening spokes and going out of true and they told him his rear wheel had been trued too many times and probably wouldn't last much longer. This is a Mavic CXP22 and a Shimano hub purchased new with perhaps 1500 miles we're talking about here. How hard is it to not screw that up!? This is why I generally opt to learn how to do it myself, no offense to bike mechanics as a class, it's just such a crapshoot. I'm also a raging autodidact, so if it's feasible, I'd just as soon do it myself. However, I have learned many good tricks/procedures and been bailed out once or twice by a skilled mechanic, so I will give mad props to many of them.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

viral vid / other things

I'm usually the last person to see these things, if that's so, I apologize for posting it, but there must be other virally challenged people like myself. This thing is pretty, pretty funny.

I tried to ride to Milwaukee today again with my pal Zac, but I had some serious "mechanicals" as they like to say in the biz. Namely, 3 FLATS! What the!? Well, in the name of training for the HHH100 ride, I wanted to ride my fancy pants bike and the Michelin Race 2 tires that were on there were sort of coming apart, so I am in the midst of replacing them with some Vredesteins, but they were not here yet, so I put on the older Conti Gatorskins I had taken off of my Surly a couple weeks ago. Now, this was sort of dumb because I had gotten a couple of flats on those, which is why I replaced them, but I also thought I was sort of over reacting and maybe they weren't totally shot. Now I know that they are! Anyway, Zac was riding the same tires as I'm getting and he had no problems all day, so that makes me feel better! To be fair to the Gatorskins, I probably put 600+ pretty hard city miles on those without one flat and I had gotten them used on a bike to start with. They are good tires.

Fortunately, our support car (i.e. my wife, who was driving up to Milwaukee to visit her Grandma) came and picked us up in Racine (Thanks again iPhone, you overpriced albatross. Score one for you!) as she was just on her way past us anyway on the highway. We "abandoned" and just went and ate a big lunch. Still got 63 miles in and didn't get lost in Racine this time. We were doing a pretty smoking pace too, riding along at circa 20-ish mph on the gravel paths even. I was wheelsucking most of the time as I'm in the ballpark of old enough to be Zac's dad, but I was hanging in there alright! It's so rare that I have anyone to draft off of that I had to take advantage. We also got rained on for a good half hour, always a fun time. Gotta go give some TLC to my filthy bike now.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

critical mass and whatnot


I made it to last Friday's Critical Mass ride. What a hoot! Highlights include (and see pics below for all of these):

-Hippie dude in a crazy tent cart thing jamming electric guitar
-Very touching and brilliant marriage proposal
-Guy with a pretty jamming stereo playing Parliament/James Brown/disco hits as we rode down Michigan Ave.

The only lowlight was getting a flat and losing the ride on the outskirts of downtown. Doh!!

Afterwards, my wife and I went to eat at a delicious restaurant in the heart of the frat boy haven that is Damen and Division (how things have changed in a decade!) and while sitting on the sidewalk eating, we were passed by the ride! I was immediately jealous, but we just watched and enjoyed and took a few pics.

massing at Daley Plaza:

Aforementioned hippie dude:

Doing the swirl before takeoff:

Your humble servant:

Penny Farthing guy! Hooray!

The proposition:

Suitor on bended knee (she said yes!):

This guy had the stone cold jams, we stayed behind him as long as we could!

Still jamming on Division St:

Also last week, I went by the Soldier Field Cycling Series races on Wednesday for a little look-see. I watched the women race for about a half hour. I was surprised by A) how not very well attended it was and B) how fairly bootleg the whole affair seemed. I guess when you have a fairly fancy website, one thinks it'll be a big crowded event. Basically, there was a maybe 1/2 mile course made from traffic cones and some temporary fencing and people seem to ride around it for about an hour. Apparently that's a criterium. The women's combined field (women always get the shaft I guess) was only about 9 riders, but it looked pretty fun anyway. I was sorry to be out of town a couple of weeks back during the
Chicago Criterium. I guess that's an entirely different affair. Anyway, checking it out made me think I might just go down there and give it a shot. It can't be much different than hauling ass up to the Botanical Gardens which I have managed at a almost 20 mph pace including city traffic before. We'll see though, as I've had this nagging cough for over 2 weeks that I just got medicated for. It's not helping my preparation for the HHH100 ride in just over 3 weeks! Very annoying, but I have some meds now.

Finally, I've decided to make the Surly Pacer my sensible ride. I resisted anything that made a bike heavier for the last year, but realizing that always carrying a backpack or depending on the locks of others is not that practical. I'm going to try and morph it into a sem-touring bike. I was also further inspired by Jay Ryan's lovely Surly Long Haul Trucker I saw on our ride today (Thanks Jay and Nate, that was fun!). So, I have some decent fenders back on now, I had to mod the front one for toe overlap, it's perfect now. I also got some new Schwalbe Marathon tires as my Continental Gatorskins were pretty hacked up, turned out I had a nail head stuck in them on the Critical Mass ride. I also got a new rack today. More on this project as it progresses!