Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tour de Rooster Tail

Saturday May 23, 2009

Generally I do not write up a review of local group rides. However, the second ride in a three part series of “Preparing for Burma” was an interesting ride. The route was from Mary E. Lee Park to Knickerbocker-Seven Sisters-Christoval, and return via 277 and Knickerbocker Rd. The ride is about 45 miles so it is a fair workout.

Scheduled time for take off was 9 AM. List of characters in this episode were Alex, Brian, Christine, David, Donna, Dorothy, Elaine, Mark, Marlon, Nancy, Quirt, Rick, Roy, and Velma. So the fourteen of us (so you don’t have to count) showed up and ready for take off. Ooops, Donna forgot her shoes. Been there done that. We chose to wait for her, so we shot the breeze in the meantime.

The forecast was great. Sixty-eight degrees at start time, increase of about two degrees per hour, wind 3-6 miles per hour (yes I am talking about San Angelo, Texas), and zero chance of rain until 3 P.M., and then there was a 30 percent chance of rain. But, we would be through before 3, so here we go.
Nancy's New Bike

We had some strong riders in the group, as a matter of fact, 12 strong riders. Number thirteen and fourteen were always in sight of the group, however. How do I know they were in sight of the group? Next topic please. But Alex hung back and had a nice chat with numbers 13 and 14.

Knickerbocker was our first rest stop. Sorry, no pictures as I was too busy swigging my drink down and sucking out the contents of my energy Shot. Elaine had to turn around at Knickerbocker so if I have any more references to #13&14, it will be #12&13. As I think about it, the next time 12&13 might be mentioned would be at the end of the ride. So hold that thought.

Rick and Velma thought about turning around because of a previous commitment in the afternoon. Although I was not in on their decision making, I think it was that THEY thought as fast as the first leg was, they would have time to finish the ride, attend the scheduled event, and have a pleasant, satisfying day. Sorry Rick and Velma.

The next leg of the journey was to cross the Seven Sisters. Now getting ahead of my story, I counted nine hills this time, not seven. Could it be that two distant siblings joined them or I started counting speed bumps as a hill? Anyway, the spread between the lead group and caboose was not as great as might be expected. Hey, notice I didn’t talk about #12-13. But, I can not tell you who the lead group was; about eight riders were waiting for me at the 277 intersection.

Decision time. Sometime in the morning, rain clouds had started accumulating and an occasional flash of lightning could be seen. Do we turn left and try to beat the rain? Or do we turn right and go to the convenience store just past Christoval? Now, if anyone has read over two of anything I have written, he knows that I was hiding when the higher IQs were passed out. So, I assured everyone that the forecast, in which I had total faith, said that it wasn’t going to rain until 3 P.M. So we turned right.

At the time, the rest stop was a real treat.

Dorothy had scheduled a sag from hubby from Christoval, so we were down to 12. So, change what I said, if I talk about # 12&13, make that # 11&12. Well, we 12 either may have tarried too long, or not long enough. Just as we decided it was time to go, there was a light sprinkle. Donna wondered if we shouldn’t sit it out and let the rain go past. Mr. Ten Watt Bulb said “No, it’s not supposed to rain”. Well, we crossed the highway to head back on 277, and you could see a wall of rain just ahead. Now, since I wasn’t in front, I could not turn the stampeding bikers around or have them change directions. So, shower time: fully clothed. Now a nice shower wouldn’t have been bad, but if you weren’t in the lead, the back tire of the person in front of you throws off water like a ski jet. Hence Rooster Tail if you have gone asleep and forgotten what the ride was titled.

While mulling over what to name the ride, I considered Tour de Wet Jersey. However, VERY quickly more than my jersey was wet. The next thing I noticed after the wet jersey was that my shoes and socks were filling with water. So Tour de Wet Feet. But then I noticed that the curve in my saddle was catching water and saturating my chamois--but I couldn’t get away with Tour de Wet Butt so I settled on the next best thing—Tour de Rooster Tail.

Just a side-bar. We go on so many “Tour de --------" that Christine thinks the Tour de phrase is over-used. So I over-ruled her and will still call it Tour de Rooster Tail. Just as I am getting over my left eye black eye (from a fall), if I say Tour de anything one more time I will have a right eye black eye (not from a fall).

So, back to my story, if there is one. After going through two or three more intermittent showers, the sky ahead was starting to clear. I realized my mistake. I had checked the forecast for San Angelo. I did not check the forecast for Christoval. Live and learn.

Finally we turned onto route 584 which becomes Knickerbocker Road, and people turned up the RPMs again, and “we” spread out again, at least # 11&12 did. Just as the last person passed #12, HE had a flat. Have you ever seen your group of cyclists ride off into the sunset and drop behind the horizon while you stand there looking at a flat tire?

I will spare anyone the details of fixing the flat. Suffice to say, it had been so long between flats that I almost forgot everything about removing/replacing the back tire.
It has been said that if you give a monkey a typewriter, given enough time, the monkey will produce a novel. Well, given enough time and I can fix a flat.

Remind me not to become #12 anymore. No one noticed my absence until they arrived at the destination. And then Christine just thought I was at my usual bringing up the rear pace. So, just as I finished fixing the flat and started my ride, Christine rescued me again (ref Beginners Page # 8 when I had to be rescued). She gave me the option of finishing the ride (stout fellow) or sagging. As we pulled into the beach parking lot, most of the group was still there. I HAD to show everyone my flat tube, otherwise everyone would think that I am as slow as I am.

Now let me finish this by an attempt at saving face. I wound up with a 16.4 MPH average, even though I was the last in. And so not to lose face, I will not ask any of the others what their average was.

P.S. The San Angelo forecast turned out to be wrong, it rained like heck at 1:30 PM.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beginners Page # 8 Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

Tuesday May 12, 2009

The Marines have an unofficial motto: “improvise, adapt, overcome.” Depending upon which Marine you ask you will get an answer as to where that motto comes from. Ask an officer and you probably will get “We are given an objective, but not instructions on how to achieve it; we must improvise, adapt, and overcome depending upon our situation.” Ask a corporal and you will get “We are given outdated, worn out equipment, weapons, and tools, no support, but must achieve our objective. We must improvise, adapt, overcome.”

Ask a biker whose saddle bolt just broke, 17 miles out from the truck, how he is going to get back without pushing the bike. You will get “I don’t know; improvise, adapt, overcome?” I was faced with the situation and things looked bleak. Christine and I were riding the Seven Sisters route and were 17 miles from the starting point. I was going along on a straight stretch of highway when I heard a pop and my saddle and I fell to the top tube. I stopped as carefully as I could so as not to further damage the bike and certainly not damage me. When it became clear that my saddle indeed came loose from the seat post, we back tracked to see if we could find the pieces to put the saddle back on. We found some of the parts and then Christine found my bolt, and it was sheared in two. So much for repairs.

Christine went back to get the truck. It had taken us a little over an hour to get to our location so I was faced with sitting by the side of the road for over another hour or Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. Drum roll please. I strapped the saddle onto the cross bar or top tube with the saddle bag straps. I tried it out, and except for my legs looking (and feeling) as if I were riding a tricycle, it worked.
Don't Try This at Home, Leave it to Professionals

The experience reversed or modified some of my assumed biking wisdom. I had once complained that there was no comfortable saddle. However, faced between sitting on the top tube or a saddle strapped to it, you wouldn’t believe how comfortable that saddle felt. Once I had joked about the drop bars being for small people. Well, sitting on the top tube you are sitting so low you ARE a small person. The drop bars were quite comfortable as your handle bars. Moving the hands to the normal positions was very unstable and it made me look as if I were riding a tricycle. In another place I recommended sitting as long as possible while climbing a hill. However, if you are improvising, adapting, and overcoming, you stand all the way up the hill. First, your knees start screaming just pedaling in that cramped low position. Second, I couldn’t pedal hard enough in that position to get up a hill. If I ever advocated standing going up a hill to rest your knees, people would think I was crazy or a rank amateur who had never ridden over two miles around the neighborhood. All experts recommend standing as a last resort because it takes a lot out of the legs. To pedal standing going up a hill to rest your knees is contrary to biking techniques, so is pedaling with your knees under your chin. Another adaption to my inelegant situation was that I discovered you can unclip while standing and pedaling. Just unclip the upstroke foot while most of your weight is on the downstroke foot. It is awkward to turn your heel out while the knee is bent in the upstroke but with practice, and desperation, it can be accomplished.
Alley Demonstration

All’s well that ends well. Despite the whining and griping about the crazy cramped legs with screaming knees, I was within two miles of the starting point when my sag came over the hill to the rescue. Christine's coming back to get me was greatly appreciated but her laughing at my appearance was not a case of laughing WITH a person. I was being laughed AT, but my chest is puffed out for—drum roll—improvising, adapting, and overcoming. I had an objective to get back to the truck, but not the instructions on how to accomplish it. I had mal-functioning equipment without support or parts to fix it, but overcame the adversity even if it did look like a frankenbike.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beginners Page # 7 How to Climb a Hill Without Rolling Backwards

I have two fears when faced with steep hills: rolling backwards or going so slowly that I just stall out and fall over. Thank goodness I have only partially experienced the two. Both occurred on our first Fort Davis Cyclefest, a 75.5 mile ride through the Davis Mountains.

Rolling Hills Before the Mountains

Before hitting the mountains, I was going up a steep hill very slowly. I have a bad habit of lowering my head and plowing up a hill. Well, Christine had beaten me up the hill, was stopped, and was taking pictures of the scenery. I had my head down and plowed into her, well, bumped anyway since I was going so slowly. I applied my brakes and just fell over. Skinned my ankle, was bleeding, was humiliated, and angry for not looking where I was going. Now to make it worse, if it could get worse, near the top of the hill I had passed two bikers who were walking their bikes up the hill. As I was still on the ground assessing my bleeding, the first guy walked by and asked Christine “Did you get a picture of that”? Cheeky guy. But to serve them right, since they walked up a hill before we ever got to the mountains, they sagged before we hit Bear Mountain and we never saw them again. So, tip #1, when grunting and straining to get up a hill, look up every once in a while to see where you are going and what is ahead of you. If I had followed that advice, I would have one less scar.

Rolling backwards. Now that is scary. When we were grinding away trying to get up Bear Mountain, we would watch the odometers, and when we would go less than 4 miles an hour, we would stop and rest. On one such stop, I didn’t fully recover. As I would pedal off with one foot, I wouldn’t get my other foot on the other pedal fast enough to keep me going. The bike would stop, roll back a little before I could get my unclipped foot down to the ground to stop me. Very disconcerting to say the least. So if you have to rest while going up a hill, do so. At least rest long enough so that your breathing becomes normal.

Long hills such as this one can wear you down. Our philosophy is that it is better to stop and rest than try to be a hero and not make it up a hill.

Another non-scientific tidbit. When going up a very steep hill stay seated. It is extremely difficult to unclip while standing. Use all of your leg muscles. Most of us old timers were just able to push down on a pedal. With clipless pedals, while pushing down, PULL UP with the other leg. Push/pull will double your power. And if you still slow down to a dangerous speed, with each down stroke, consider whether you should unclip to prepare to stop. If you haven’t learned yet, the moment the bike stops is not the time to start thinking about unclipping. You will find yourself still thinking about unclipping while lying on the ground.

And one more non-scientific tidbit. Work on balance. I have found that if you keep moving forward, you can get down to 2.9 miles per hour and still stay upright. I did this at Stonewall.

The start of the infamous "Wall" on Willow Loop, Stonewall, where I hit 2.9 mph.

Non-scientific tidbit #3. Let me contradict myself if anyone thinks that I advocate never standing while climbing a hill. Sometimes standing is the only way I can get to the top of some hills. But what I said about its being very hard to unclip while standing is correct. So, don’t go into a hill in the big chain ring on the smallest cog and plan to make it up the hill. You will stall out--at least I will because I don’t have the strength to pedal up a steep incline in the big chain ring. It is very scary to be standing on the pedal, pulling up on the handle bars as hard as I can, and the pedal will not go down. (That is when you plop back into the seat, unclip the lower pedal, step to the ground to stop/balance—all at the speed of Superman—or guess what). So, here is what I do. Know your capabilities. I look at the hill to try to determine if it is going to be a middle chain ring or a small chain ring. Go into the hill with as much speed as you can muster with as large a gear ratio as you can, but just as the pedaling gets hard, shift to a lower gear. Shift gears BEFORE you really have to. About two cogs out from the easiest, shift into the next smaller chain ring. When you are in the smallest gear that is comfortable and you still have some hill left, click up about two cogs since you will have more power (theoretically) and stand BEFORE it is really necessary to get up the hill. I emphasized “before necessary” twice. I have the problem that if I wait until I have to shift, many times I pop my chain off and have to stop to put it back on the ring. I even bent a chain ring once when I waited too long to shift. If you wait until you HAVE to stand up or stop, you have waited too long and you probably will stop—just not as you would have desired.

I know the above paragraph is too long and therefore hard to follow. What was said was: shift down before you have to in order to keep pedaling faster and not let your speed go down to a dangerous level. If you are going to stand, do so before you have to. By waiting too long gravity, speed, and everything else will be against you.

The above are hints and experiences of a beginner. I have read articles by the experts about how to climb hills and their advice sounds so much more manly than mine. If you wish to find out more, two good articles on the topic can be found at:
or .

Have fun. Two things you can’t escape in Texas are hills and wind. Since they are ever present, all we can do is try to learn to deal with them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lake Colorado City Bike Tour

Lake Colorado City Bike Tour
Colorado City, Texas
May 2, 2009

If it ain’t one thing it’s another. But this time it wasn’t so much the wind. Loading the bikes at 6:30 am, it was a beautiful overcast 72 degrees. Wind was negligible. Scattered thunderstorms were forecast starting at noon but would not be a problem since we would finish the ride and be eating by the time a wandering thunderstorm might wander over Colorado City.

Colorado City is a mere 88 miles from San Angelo and was holding its 5th Annual Bike Ride. This was to be our third ride. We started attending their ride in 2007, and as a matter of fact, it had been our first organized bike tour. They served the best brisket BBQ and sausages that rival Coopers. So we have reserved the first weekend in May for Colorado City.

As we were about five miles out from Colorado City, a light sprinkle accumulated on our windshield. No problem, we believed the forecast, and this was a quirk.

We got to the Rail Head building and off-loaded our bikes in the drizzle as did everyone else.

Somehow the drizzle made the temperature drop to a chilly 56 with enough wind to chill you to the bones. As mentioned, it was really nice in San Angelo so Chris had unpacked our arm warmers and her leggings. I threw them back into the clothes bag with a, “We don’t have to wear them, just bring them.” First thing I did right in 2009. We used every warm piece of biking clothing we brought along.

Here I am purposefully trying to look miserable

Tour organizers are funny people. They advertise the show will go on rain or shine. This was the first time that we found out they meant it. So at 9 a.m. we peddled off into the sprinkle. My glasses quickly got wet so I followed the blurs in front of me until the first hill and the blurs disappeared. Thank goodness Chris was not far behind me to let me know we were still on the correct road. The Race Team there raced on ahead of us and left us mere mortals playing in the puddles.

This year Colorado City was to have four routes of 4 miles for kids; 9.5 for bigger kids; once around the lake for 24 miles for young adults; and twice around the lake for 43 miles for he-men and racers. We had planned for ages to do the 43 mile ride but the wimp in me came out with the rain, north wind, and temperature. My nose was freezing, my fingers were freezing, my legs were numb (Chris had the leg warmers-I just had the hair on my legs and that wasn’t protection enough), my toes were freezing, and my glasses had rain on them. So, we decided to do the 24 (actually 25.59 but who’s counting). Oh yes, the rain stopped after about 6 miles but my glasses were still splattered so everything is still accurate—my nose was freezing etc. is still valid. I forgot, and a wet jersey, shorts, socks, and shoes.

At about mile 12 there was a rest stop in the State Park, so I was able to clean my glasses. Hey, “everything is beautiful, in its own way.” I was able to see the Park, roads, the route directional markings painted on the highway, and there were wildflowers by the side of the road. And yes, we got to see bluebonnets. Now if it wasn’t for my nose, toes, fingers, and legs, it would be a great day for a ride.

And with all bike tours, sooner or later, you cross the finish line and its over. But wait, Colorado feeds you an outstanding lunch. As a matter of fact, they invite the towns’ people to lunch and the locals show up for the feed. That’s how good it is. If you ride the short route, you get back before the lunch is served so you can sit around and shoot the bull with other bikers and swap stories about other upcoming tours.

Now when we entered the Rail Head building, about three other bikers were already there having finished the ride before us. No way do you walk into the room with slumped shoulders, shivering, and letting your goose bumps show. So you swagger in grunting and snorting to let everyone know that it was a short easy ride. Because of the temperature drop, the tour personnel had turned on the heaters in the building. Well, when I swaggered past a heater and the warm air hit me, I lost all composure and plopped down in a chair right in front of the air. Chris, unmindful of any pretenses, went over to the other bikers table and started talking. I was going to wait until my jaws stopped clattering before I attempted a “Hi” that would have come out Hahahaeye .

The tour organizers, the Colorado City Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Colorado City State Park personnel, are really nice, friendly people. They and the volunteers go out of their way to assist the riders. And you really feel welcomed, not a polite welcome but a real one.

And finally the meal is served. It is serve yourself so you can pig out limited only by the amount you can pile on your plate without its running over the sides.

So ended another perfect ride. Christine drove home and I, in a warm cab, full stomach, tired from shivering, slept all the way home.