My End of Year Cycling Events

This week I’m working to re-establish my routine.  It’s been a couple of weeks since I last had a full work week – my last two weekends included century rides that I had to travel to.  Usually those events require me to take a day off to travel. Between those vacation days and the Columbus Day federal holiday, I’ve been away from the office a lot. It all comes back, though. The memories of these events make work a little easier, too. It’s easier to be in a good mood after a century ride or two.

The nice part about cycling events is that they’re approachable. I don’t want to give the impression that they’re easy. Centuries are tough and must be taken seriously. You have to train for one. A century isn’t nearly as difficult to do as running a marathon is though. A century is a good challenge, but mere mortals can train well enough in 3-6 months to complete a century, and if you ride regularly in the warm months leading up to September and October when these events are usually held, you can enjoy a century ride every weekend for weeks on end without burning out. Recovery from a century ride doesn’t usually take more than a day or two. I’ve done back-to-back centuries several times (two in the same weekend, one on a Saturday, and the other on Sunday), and that is much more difficult if you want to challenge yourself, but it takes planning. I can be talked into doing back-to-back centuries again, but for now I don’t feel the need to challenge myself in that way. For 2018, I’m out of centuries.  I’ve passed the tests I’ve set for myself. Now is the time to ride for the soul, until the winter chases me indoors. With that in mind, I want to look back over the last two weekends and remember the experience.

Twin Lights

The Twin Lights century is held at the New Jersey shore. It doesn’t have much in the way of climbs, but most of the climbing it offers happens near the end of the ride.  It leaves from a park by a ferry terminal near Sandy Hook and heads south along the shore through communities that include mansions built as getaway homes for rich residents of New York City. Then it heads inland through parkland at the edge of an area called the pine barrens. It goes north into some low hills before dropping down to the start again. There is a climb at mile 99 that challenged a lot of riders. It’s a cruel place to put a climb, but it was part of the ride’s charm. Twin Lights is a scenic ride that was well marked and had good support.

I chose to ride Twin Lights with my nephew. He has gotten into racing criteriums over the last two years, and he wanted to ride an event with me.  Since he doesn’t live too far from the ride, it seemed ideal. The weather was excellent that day, and we were both excited to get started.  As we arrived, they started the ride – they didn’t have a “show and go” start. That meant I didn’t find a que sheet before we got started.  The good news was that we didn’t need a que sheet. The route was well marked with large magenta arrows affixed to utility poles, trees and road signs along the route. Even when there weren’t other riders to follow, I found the signs easy to find and I never felt worried that I was off course.

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Twin Lights – My nephew and I, less than 25 miles to the finish!

This ride showed me the difference between recreational riders like myself, and racers like my nephew. He’s a very strong rider, but he hadn’t been training too much in the weeks before Twin Lights, and that meant he felt fresh while not necessarily being at his best. Every event ride includes some strong riders who have goals related to how fast they’ll ride. Griff was excited at the start, and we fell in with some fast riders. He got in with them because he loves to compete and he’s fast.  I was there because I wanted to keep him in sight. That meant the first 35-40 miles went by at a pace that worried me. I won’t say I wasn’t enjoying myself. (I was.) I just didn’t think I could keep up that kind of pace for very long, and by the second rest stop I was worried that I’d burn out by the end of the ride. I explained my fears to my nephew and I think he understood. After all, I’m middle aged, to use a friendly euphemism. However, about 5 miles from the second rest stop, Griff started to cramp up.  Two things came into play here.  The first is that the average Criterium doesn’t go for more than an hour. His longest ride to date was 72 miles, and while his best efforts are very fast, riding for speed and riding for endurance are two very different things. The second thing was that by his own admission he hadn’t been on the bike much recently. Going out too fast was something that I expected. Starting to slow down was also something that I expected. I just expected that the one slowing down would be me. I went immediately into caring uncle mode. I wanted to make sure he got the rest and water and food needed to avoid the dreaded “bonk”, where your body shuts down on you. We continued at a more sensible century pace, and while the climbs were hard on him, Griff was tough as nails.

There is no such thing as an “easy” century. I found that Twin Lights presented its bill for having me flying along roads near the beach with a tailwind by making us climb more in the final third of the ride. Some of the faster riders were also riding shorter routes, and Twin Lights offered rides of 75, 50, 30 and even a 15 mile option in addition to the century. Griff and I stayed together.  At the 77 mile rest stop, they had pie. I like pie. It helped make Twin Lights memorable.  The climb at mile 99 found me passing a lot of other riders (I think the pie energized me), and in a burst of adrenaline, Griff found my wheel by the top. We cruised to the finish of his first century. It was a special thing. I was proud to ride with my nephew on his first century.

The Seagull Century

My first century ride was the Seagull Century in 2006. I remember it well. Even though century rides have become almost routine for me, that first century means something.  I ride the Seagull every year.  It’s normally my last event of the year, and it’s always memorable. I like the day before, going to the campus for packet pick-up and shopping at the vendors in the gym. I like going to dinner with friends the night before. I like hanging out in their beer garden after the ride, and of course, I like the century. It’s one of the biggest cycling events in the country. This year over 5000 riders were there. In the past, there have been as many as 8000 riders. That means you have a lot of other riders to watch out for, but it also makes the ride interesting for the sheer volume of riders spinning along with you.

We had a small group this year. John, Carol, Tom and I. Tom R wasn’t going to ride the entire century, but he grew up on Maryland’s eastern shore, so the Seagull is his home event. He hadn’t done much riding this year, but he wanted to get out on the course and enjoy it.

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The Seagull Century – At the first rest stop.

As always, the crowd was difficult to navigate at the start, and the difference in speed and approach between fast riders, slow riders and beginners made it important to pay attention and ride smart. It was damp this year. The air was heavy, and in places it was a heavy drizzle, but by the time we reached the water stop at 40 miles, the rain was done with us. There were a lot of flat tires.  Carol had two flats on the ride. There was a bad crash that John had seen; I rode past it because there were plenty of people there to help. John pulled out to join me. For a while on the first half of the ride I was with John, but for much of the ride I was on my own.

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Seagull Century – John and I at Assateague Island rest stop. 

I rode consistently, and my average speed kept going up throughout the ride. At the end, there was pie and ice cream as a reward, and as always there was the beer garden, where you can reconnect with your friends, drink a well-deserved brew, and watch other riders come in while you discuss the experience.

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Seagull Century – Post ride pie!

By the time I was done the weather had improved, and all the smiles on all the riders felt like another reward for a great ride and another great season.

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Seagull Century – After the ride, relaxing in the Beer Garden.

Now it’s time to ride for the soul. It’s the time of year when you start your rides a little later, and don’t go quite as far. It’s cooler, but your fitness is still good. The season is changing and there isn’t any pressure of upcoming events to plan for and train for. This is the time of the year when the scenery matters the most to you. The company you keep as you ride sustains you. It isn’t a matter of pushing yourself. It’s a matter of letting the simple joy of cycling carry you along. This “soul riding” is the way I remind myself that riding my bike has been a lifelong source of joy and peace. It is a reward at the end of a season of cycling that sustains me over the winter until I can comfortably get back on the roads and renew my love of cycling once again.

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The Joys of Autumn

My favorite season just may be autumn.  Autumn is the time of year that is perfect for getting outside. The start of September is the unofficial beginning, though Autumn officially begins 3 weeks into September, and as I write this, my calendar says Autumn is now official. I thought I’d list a few of the things that I look forward to as the season changes.

Cycling. This is “Century Season” for me, when event rides are commonly held. Autumn is when the combination of riding conditions and rider conditioning are the best. Riders like myself have spent the spring getting themselves into condition, and summer training in the heat. Summer rides tend to start early to keep you out of the heat. When the weather cools and the sun gets up later in the morning, the rides start a little later, and feel much more relaxed.  It’s still comfortable to ride without extra layers of clothing into November here. It feels great to ride in comfort.  After I ride my events, I’m still in good condition to ride. I can find my favorite local rides, include friends, and ride “for the soul”. Soul riding is important to me. I can enjoy the scenery more; I can take in the sights and smells of autumn, and share it in comfort with good friends.  If I want to go fast, it’s entirely on the spur of the moment. What I want is the pure enjoyment of cycling.  I remember Autumn rides more often than rides in any other season.

Beer.  I’ve been known to seek out a good brew and share with friends. (I do not drink alone. That is important.  Drinking to drink is not enjoyable to me.) Post ride beer has become a kind of tradition among my friends and I. Autumn seasonal brews are my favorites. he flavors come to the fore. The hoppy IPAs of summer give way to toasted malts, with richer and darker seasonal varieties.  In autumn, the brews tend to get more malty and dark and complex. They include ales and porters that agree with my palate. Even the trend to “pumpkin” ales isn’t a bad thing; if you find a good one, they can be a good change of pace. However, the “Octoberfest” traditions create the kinds of beer I look forward to.  Brew pubs are flush with dark and creamy varieties that don’t have a hoppy sting.  There are new beers to try and enjoy and pass around. Autumn and beer are a great combination.

Produce. Fall harvest produce is wonderful. Combined with the cool temperatures that make spending time in the kitchen less of a concern, autumn seasonal produce creates a new burst of flavors and colors and enjoyable mealtimes.

Whether cycling or walking or driving, autumn is the most interesting time of year. Regardless of where you are and what you’re doing, there is always something to see. While winter must eventually arrive and chase away this brief, colorful and enjoyable season, I treasure autumn days.

The Maine Lighthouse Ride

Every year since 2015, I’ve made it a point to get out of the Washington DC area to ride a century and get away from my normal routine. I found the Lighthouse ride by chance in 2015, and convinced my friend Ron to join me on an adventure trip to Portland Maine for the ride.  What we found has been an enjoyable event that we have shared with friends. This year, we brought in our friend John from Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse, South Portland Maine.

Since we first discovered the ride, we’ve explored Portland and Casco Bay. The trip to Portland allows me to do things like visit the LL Bean Campus in Freeport.

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Beside the enormous boot at the L.L. Bean Campus in Freeport, Maine.

As a result of going on this ride I’ve had the chance to shop at the home of L.L. Bean and I’ve gotten some very good items there. This year, we stopped in at the Portland Head lighthouse, and toured the museum.

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Standing beside an enormous Fresnel Lens at Portland Head Lighthouse. 

I’ve always enjoyed touring Portland.  It’s a small city with a lot going for it.  Every year that I’ve ridden the Lighthouse ride, I’ve enjoyed the weather and the change of scenery that this opportunity presents us.

As always, the focus of the trip is the ride.  It starts on the Campus of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, within sight of the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. In all, if the weather is good, on the 100 mile tour you’ll see 9 lighthouses.

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John, Ron and I at the start of the Lighthouse Ride. 

The day was hazy and cool, but there was no rain in the forecast, and we were ready to start riding at 7AM.  The early portion of the ride is on a narrow multi-use path leading south away from the campus. The organizers try to get riders going in small groups to prevent congestion on the path, but riders should prepare to deal with slower traffic, and the start of the ride is often slow going, so it pays to be patient. Despite being at the front when the organizers started us, we found ourselves behind a group of “Team in Training” charity riders. These riders raise money for Leukemia research, and they set a goal to ride an event like the Lighthouse Ride as a goal to ride and raise money.  While I’m told they have training rides and some instruction, if your event includes charity riders it’s best to watch out for them. There is an art to cycling and how to ride in events with large numbers of riders (In this case, 2000 participants), and charity riders don’t know it.  They became a rolling roadblock at a surprisingly slow speed, less than 10 miles per hour.  Since we were on a narrow course, a lot of riders were stacked up behind them. They weren’t aware of what they were doing. They were staying together, which simply made it impossible to get around them.  Ron got us next to them at a controlled crossing, and we got ahead of them when we got the chance to cross.  It was a great move on our part. We were  still going fairly slowly, at approximately 15 mph, which was still safe but much less of a problem for other riders.  In fact, when the ride got to the open roads and sent us out toward the Scarborough marshes, the rolling roadblock behind us meant that when we looked back, there were no other riders visible – at least a quarter of a mile gap between us and the team in training riders. That gap put us well ahead of most of the riders for much of the day.  The frustration of the riders stacked up behind them must have been very high. I’ll say this for charity riders – they’re doing a wonderful thing. However, the people who train and lead these riders need to teach them how to ride at events. It isn’t just a matter of turning the cranks. It’s being aware of other riders and traffic and conditions that would make these charity riders both safer and more considerate of their fellow event riders.  If you’re a charity rider, be aware not only of the road conditions, but other riders.  Ride safely and don’t block the road. This is all too common at events where Team in Training riders are present. Learn group ride rules. If you’re riding among charity riders – make them aware of you and what you’re doing, but expect the unexpected.  I have seen them stop suddenly, ride 4 across the road, and even turn their bikes perpendicular to oncoming riders near rest stops – essentially blocking the road.  They are NOT taught that these things are dangerous.  We moved on to the Scarborough marshes with very few riders around us.

The Scarborough Marshes are a feature of this ride that you have to cover twice. The ride  crosses a causeway of compacted sand and gravel that isn’t difficult to manage on road bike tires if you ride carefully at a slower pace. It’s also good to be sure your tires are in good condition before the ride. Some riders will get flats on the crossing, and volunteers are available at the end of the crossing to assist riders who need help. Pay attention to the water level of the marshes as you cross.  Since the marshes are tidal,  when you come back over them, they’ll probably look much different the second time though. After the marshes, you’ll ride to the first stop at Old Orchard Beach, about 17 miles into the ride.

The ride continues to Kennebunkport by inland roads. While autumn hasn’t really started, you’ll see early flashes of fall color.  The second rest stop is outside Kennebunkport at the Kennebunkport Bicycle Company. The building is a work of art in the medium of shingles! The town itself is the southernmost point on the ride, even though it isn’t quite the halfway point. On the way north, the course follows the coastline, meandering through inlets and coastal features.  Ron stopped in Kennebunkport to get aa souvenir shirt for his wife (It seems to be a habit…).  He made it a quick stop though, and we moved along smoothly on our way north.

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Myself, Ron and John at the second rest stop. The features in the upper floor of the building are made by the artistic use of different sized shingles. 

The trip north from Kennebunkport is a feast for the eyes. The coast of Maine is a beautiful place. The ride takes you past amazing water views, lighthouses, mansions, and harbors. The roadsides near the water grow shrub roses – a variety of Rugosa for the botanists among you – and the bushes are full of blooms and clusters of rose hips.  Between boats, beaches, parks, and all the coastline features in addition to the lighthouses, this is among the more scenic rides you could try.  The trip north crosses the marshes again and sends you east toward Cape Elizabeth. We started to encounter riders who had chosen to ride the metric century (with a later start time) in the last 20 miles of our century.  The final miles of any century are always difficult. We were drawn by the beer garden at the finish, and some rolling terrain lay between us and the finish. We were passing riders steadily. During my turn to pull our line, I passed a rider who would sprint past us on the downhill, only to have us pass him on the following climb. It was getting tiresome until we had a longer climb where we left him well behind us. I seldom look forward to tougher climbs, but this was an exception!

Two miles from the finish, at Fort Williams Park, is the jewel of the ride – Portland Head Lighthouse. We had visited on the day before for a tour, but it’s always a welcome sight.

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Standing in front of Portland Head Lighthouse, the final lighthouse on the tour. 

The final two miles back from Portland Head Lighthouse to the start are always enjoyable in anticipation of the treats at the finish.  One of the sponsors is Shipyard Brewing, which provides a variety of ales to celebrate a successful ride.  We took advantage of their hospitality.  It’s a wonderful way to cap off a great ride!  That evening I got a lobster dinner – an appropriate finish to another successful ride and another fun vacation.

A comparison of Bicycle Gearing

Road cyclists have a lot of choices to make with our equipment. In general, our choices can be as individual as we are. I have more than one road bike. This works well when one is in the shop; I always have a bike to ride. Three days ago, I took my bikes into the shop. The one I normally ride needed service, and the other needed some fit upgrades. The  bike I usually ride stayed at the shop, and the backup bike has gearing better suited to climbing, so I had a great opportunity to see how different gearing feels.

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My Orbea Onix. This bike has a compact double chainring, and a relatively tall cassette on the back. That makes it a good bike to use when I have to ride up difficult climbs.

My primary bike is a Cannondale CAAD 12, with Mid Compact (52 tooth outer and 36 tooth inner) Chainrings, and the gearing in back is an 11-28 cassette with 11 cogs. My backup bike is an Orbea Onix, with a Compact (50 tooth outer and 34 tooth inner) in front and 12-30 10 speed cassette in back. I had the fit metrics on the Orbea matched to the CAAD 12. It gave me a chance to feel what it’s like to ride a familiar course on a bike that was set up for climbing.

I tried a ride that had climbs that would require me to use the small chainring. I had weather to stay ahead of, so I set out heading uphill from home on familiar roads at a strong pace.

The first difference that I noticed was my pedaling cadence had to change. I had to spin faster to hold the same speed I normally do. That isn’t necessarily a problem. Every rider has their own preferred cadence. Some will prefer turning the cranks at a higher cadence, some slower.  I do most of my riding in the big chainring, and while the difference between 52 teeth and 50 teeth isn’t much, you can clearly feel the difference. I compensated for this by shifting down to smaller gears on the cassette in back.

The next difference I felt was acceleration. I’m a big rider, and I apply a lot of power in my riding style. The difference in acceleration out of a corner or up a short grade is noticeable between a 52 tooth chainring and a 50 tooth chainring.  The top end speed on the 50 is clearly less.  Cruising at speed with a 52 tooth chainring feels different to me; I prefer it.

On some climbs where I usually shift down to the small ring on the primary bike, I rode in the 50 tooth chainring on the backup bike.  Since the rear cassette is also taller (the biggest gear at the back is 30 as opposed to 28) the difference was enough to make the climbs feel different. It’s hard to explain how those small changes make you feel; but on one particular climb, I was cross chained on the 50-30 combination for perhaps 300 yards on a hill where I might have used my small ring on my primary bike, and I felt that the compact chainring had the advantage on that section.

There was one climb in particular that I was looking forward to.  It’s a relatively long climb with steep sections, and I can climb it just fine in the tallest gear combination on my primary bike (36-28). I knew that having the lower gear ratio of 34-30 would make that climb easier. When I climbed it in the 34-30 combination, it didn’t wear on my legs as much, and I was moving more slowly. The cadence I kept was comfortable and the climb felt easier.

To me, gearing differences speak to riding style. Most of the riding that I do isn’t on steep climbs. I’m strong enough to ride rolling terrain and even some hard climbs with a Mid compact (52-36) in front and an 11-28 cassette in back. Having the compact (50-34) chainrings and taller cassette options in back is useful for managing long or challenging climbs.  It will certainly give you some peace of mind if you’re not a confident climber. When I know that I’ll be on long or challenging climbs, that tall gearing feels good.  For the bulk of my riding, my primary bike’s gear setup is an excellent combination. Some riders worry more about the steep climbs than the majority of their riding.  For them, compact gearing is probably a better choice.

If you’re new to road cycling and you’re buying your first real road bicycle, I’d say go for the compact gearing.  Those tall gears won’t make a big difference to you on the flat terrain you’ll ride most of the time, but they’re useful when you’re tired or find yourself on a hard climb. You will become accustomed to the setup you choose. I don’t recommend triple chainrings, because they can be tricky to adjust and keep in alignment. It’s a rare rider who actually NEEDS a triple.  I had a triple on my first road bike I bought years ago, and the smallest chainring was almost never needed. Unless you live in the mountains, a compact double is an excellent choice.

If you have some riding experience, ride often with others, and know your style, you may find that a Mid Compact gearing setup is a great fit for the way you ride.  Very often, gearing is a matter of confidence.  I found that making a comparison of the two gearing setups was very useful.  I think that when I get my primary bike back, I’ll still use the backup bike occasionally and keep in touch with the differences. Since the fit for both bikes is now identical, I’ll keep the backup bike prepared for rides that include tougher climbs when a mechanical advantage on the climbs is a good idea!

 

 

The Dragonfly Fighter Kite

I enjoy building and flying fighter kites. They’ve been a source of great joy for me over the years. The Dragonfly Fighter is my first fighter kite design.  In fact, I used one to win my very first official fighter kite match. This is a small fighter kite; it has a 16 inch spine length and an 18 inch wingspan. It flies well in winds between 4 and 10 miles per hour. It isn’t the fastest of fighters, but it’s simple to construct, tracks well, and is very controllable. If you’re flying a line touch competition, speed is great, but control is better. The trailing edge is curved, which reduces sail flutter. I built this example out of mylar, with a carbon rod for the bow and a bamboo spine. You can get the materials you’ll need from kite shops, as well as hardware stores, hobby stores, or on-line from kite retailers.

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The Dragonfly Fighter Kite

I designed the Dragonfly to have the bow glued into the sail. I use a .05 graphite rod for the bow, and I shape my own bamboo spines.  I make a half pattern out of poster board, as shown below. A line drawn between the wingtips will cross the spine 1″ above the spine center. The bow will cross the spine 2.5″ below the nose of the kite.

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Pattern, tools, contact cement, sail material and bamboo I shaped for the spine. 

I have a curved ruler to make the trailing edge.  You can build it with a straight edge, but part of the character of this kite is seeing how that curve looks in the air. The curve at the leading edge is created by using a bow to mark where the curved area will be, and allowing extra material to fold over the bow. This creates a “shoulder” area where the leading edge from the nose of the kite meets the spot where the bow enters it. This spot needs to be reinforced with tape.  I put a 1/4″ wide strip of tape along the leading edge on the back of the sail between the shoulder and nose area, and I use a piece of tape to fold over the nose, a piece at the end of the spine, tape over the shoulders and the spot on the spine where the sail will be pierced for the bridle lines. Clear packing tape works well when you build the kite out of mylar like I did in this example. Stronger material may need stronger reinforcement. When I build this kite, the contact cement holds well, and I don’t feel the need to reinforce the wingtips! (If you want to, adding a little tape to the wingtips won’t affect the flight of the kite.)

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The half pattern ensures sail symmetry. 

Fold the sail material in half, smooth it out and tape it to your work surface. I use a sheet of tempered glass on my drafting table to build my kites on.  Cut carefully around the template, using rulers as needed to make a smooth edge.  When using mylar or paper, if you nick the edge of the sail , it creates a weak spot that can tear from the edge toward the center of the kite when it’s out in the wind, so be careful and steady and use a sharp blade.

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The sail, once cut out, is symmetrical and the material will be surprisingly strong. 

Once the sail is cut, I spray some water on the glass, and use an old business card to smooth the sail down on my glass work surface, then dry off the excess. In the example above, the front side of the mylar is red, and the back is silver. You have to build it red side down.  The first thing to go on the sail is a 5.5″ by 1/4″ piece of clear packing tape which goes from the shoulder point carefully along the leading edge toward the nose on each side.  The ends by the nose will be trapped by the nose reinforcements, and the other ends are covered by a reinforcement over the shoulders.  This tape stiffens and strengthens the leading edge and reduces flutter.

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The sail smoothed down on the work surface, with the leading edge reinforced with tape, and the bow installed.

I use a bow setter to get the right curve to my bows. All a bow setter is is a length of line with an end cap at one end, another end cap on the line, and a moveable knot in the middle between the caps.  The ends of the bow go into the caps, and the knot is moved until the bend in the bow is the desired shape.  I like to make sure that the bow bends in a “natural” spot, since round graphite rods aren’t always as round as they could be, and they will prefer to flex more easily in a particular way. You can see the bow setter’s moveable knot in the picture above, but the end caps are trapped under weights.  Contact cement is applied to the area of the bow that contacts the sail, and the sail itself where the bow is installed.  I use wedge shaped makeup sponges to carefully apply contact cement. I have some extra material at the edge of the pattern to fold over and cement down at the wingtip.  Using several careful cuts, I gently slice the extra sail above the bow and fold it smoothly over the bow.  10-12 of these cuts on each side will do. When the contact cement sets, the bow won’t move.  As that is drying, I cut the spine to length and install it carefully under the bow.  For the spine, I only apply contact cement to the spine itself.  Once the spine is in, I weight it down and wait for the cement to dry.

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The finished sail with the bow and spine cemented in, from the front side.

When the cement dries, I remove the sail from the bench.  I remove the bow setter, clip off the excess rod from the end, and trim the extra tab material at the wingtips. Next, I measure 1″ along the bow from the center of the spine, and put down a loose leaf page reinforcement beneath the bow. I use this as a guide as I melt through the front of the sail with a soldering iron to make clean and even holes for the yoke line of the three point bridle.  When doing this, it’s important not to touch the bow with the tip of your hot soldering iron! When this is done, I put a piece of packing tape over the bow between these holes, and tie the bow down to the spine with a short piece of bridle line, and trim the excess, either fusing it or using super glue on it to make sure the knot is secure.  Doing this prevents the bow from moving back an forth and slapping against the spine during flight when you release line, and I think it makes the kite smoother, quicker and more predictable in flight.

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The back of the finished sail. You can just make out the clear tape reinforcements.

The final steps are to place tape reinforcements at the kite’s nose, tail, shoulders, and the point where the lower bridle point will be in your spine.  At the shoulder, where the bow enters the leading edge, I put half of a 1/2″ by 1″ piece if packing tape under that area, then fold it over the shoulder and bow and smooth it down on the back side. At the nose, I take a 1″ by 2″ piece of tape, put the nose down over it so that the tape is smooth on the front of the sail, and the nose rests halfway onto the 1″ width of the tape, with one of the long edges under the kite. From the top of the spine, cut the tape outward from either edge of the spine in a wedge shape. Fold that over the top of the spine, and fold the remaining tape over the leading edge and the spine. Both sides should cover the spine. Smooth it down carefully as you do it.  The tape is difficult to see in the picture above, but the reinforcement is there, and it makes the kite much more durable.

I use a three point bridle, with the yoke like tied to the bow 1″ on either side of the spine. The yoke line is attached to the bow at these places, and stands 3″ from the face of the kite at it’s center. I use gel formula super glue to secure the yoke line to the bow. The third bridle point is on the spine,  4.5″ above the bottom end of the spine. Tie a loop at one end of the other bridle line, and use a prussik knot (wound twice so it will lock down) to connect the lower bridle leg to the yoke line.  The other end will be run through the marked ends of the sail at the spine where you put down your tape reinforcement, and tied down. A loop of bridle line can be attached to the long bridle leg using the same knot used to connect the long bridle leg to the yoke line. Then the kite is ready to tune and fly.

The Dragonfly has always been fun for me to build and fly. I can build a mylar kite like the one shown here in 3 to 4 hours.  That means I can build one in the morning and fly it the same afternoon.  They’re durable enough to give you hours of enjoyment.  They can be built of more durable materials using the same methods, and they scale up well if you want a larger kite –  for a .06 bow, the wingspan can be 20″ and though I’ve never scaled one up that large, a Dragonfly with a 24″ wingspan could use a .07 or possibly a .08 graphite rod for a bow.  If you split bamboo for the spine, make sure the spine is strong enough to match your bow.  I like the feel of the kite at this small size though. On a light line, it flies beautifully.

I hope you enjoy the Dragonfly fighter!

 

 

The Heat is On

The end of May is a time of transition. The cold air that had been clinging to the Mid Atlantic region has finally been forced to leave, hordes of people are starting to make their annual migration to the beaches, and cyclists are stowing warm jackets, tights, arm and leg warmers and shoe covers until winter comes back.  Heat and humidity is already making an appearance. I’ve already ridden my first century ride this year, The Six Pillars Century in early May.  My body is accustomed to pedaling, but now it has to get accustomed to heat. A recent ride to North Beach on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay was a challenge in hot, humid weather that I had not adapted to.

North Beach

At North Beach, in the heat of the day. My “Certified Beer Tester” jersey gets a lot of positive comments from other riders. 

Recreational cyclists come in all shapes and sizes. They all have a mindset that allows them to enjoy hours at a time in the saddle. Each has a measure of endurance, grace, efficiency, speed and power. My body was built for work, not speed. I am large and heavy by the reckoning of the sport; my riding style is not based on grace and efficiency, but on power and pacing. I am not built for climbing hills, but I feel great pride every time I hear other riders say “you climb well for a big guy”. It takes me a couple of miles to warm up, particularly in cooler weather, but I can ride consistently, at least until fatigue starts to wear me down and my technique falters.  As a result, I’m often told that I’m a very good rider to draft behind. This makes sense. I may not have top end speed, but I have power, and my size creates a very useful wind shadow. If I had a dollar for every time I was told that I am good to draft behind, I would be a rich man. Of course, the drawback of size is that I’m susceptible to overheating.  I’ve learned that for me, hydration is vital to hot weather ride survival.

Every Memorial Day weekend, my local cycling club has a ride in Southern Maryland called “Train to Chesapeake”.  It goes to North Beach on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, south of Annapolis, with distances from 47 to 61 miles. We’ve had a wet spring, but until now the heat hasn’t been oppressive. On this ride, particularly in the early afternoon, the heat and humidity arrived with a vengeance. I knew that the heat was coming. Even in the relative cool of the early miles, I was drinking often.  The fist rest stop was 24 miles into the ride, and we got there just as I emptied my second water bottle. With temperatures building into the 90’s, and the humidity soaring, I was concerned about how I would feel by the time I finished the ride. Between various route alterations, I was going to ride more than the short route, but less than the long route.  This was partly by plan.  My friends had decided to do a little route modification to suit the hot conditions and various schedules. I didn’t really care about the distance. One of the issues with drinking on a long ride that makes summer riding difficult is water temperature.  Even insulated bottles can get warm. The warmer the liquid, the less likely it is that you will want to drink it.  If you know that you’ll ride in the heat, ice is your friend. Insulated bottles with ice in them are the best way to keep you hydrated. By early afternoon, with the heat and humidity wearing on me, I had to force myself to reach for a drink, because I didn’t have ice.  This particular ride is rolling, with a lot of short, punchy climbs.  I LOVE rolling rides. I can take advantage of my cycling strengths in rolling terrain. However, the highest place we rode to on that ride is the start/finish, so the final miles are full of short, punchy climbs, and when you’re hot, they can be pure torture. I had been riding well in the morning, and by the time we got to North Beach, I was still strong, but that is the lowest point in the ride, and in the hottest and most humid part of the day, we had to climb back to the ride start. With beer waiting at the end for incentive, I managed the climbs in the last few miles, though by that time I felt like I was melting in the heat and humidity.  All of us earned our post-ride refreshments!

When the heat is on, it’s always a good idea to stay aware of your hydration. Drink when you see others drink. Drink even if you’re not thirsty.  If you get thirsty and you’re moving, you’re already getting dehydrated. I also like to stop more often when the heat is on. Be reminded that rest stops that last too long will only make matters worse, and 10 minutes should be enough to refill your bottles, get a snack, and be prepared to start again.  Many riders want shorter stops than that! When fall arrives and the weather moderates a little, you can take longer stops, but in the heat, long stops don’t help.  If you bonk in the heat, the only thing to do is get out of the heat as soon as you can, and hydrate. That is the exception to the rule. One more rule for hot weather riding – never forget your SUNSCREEN!

 

 

 

 

Limits

Gearing


Gears.  Eventually, we all wish we had at least one more…

Spring is a time of both optimism and realism for the cyclist. The weather improves, and so does your conditioning if you ride enough, but every ride is a struggle with your limits. Last weekend, at the end of a cool, damp and disappointing month of March, I set out to test my limits and get a feel for how much I needed to work on before I could comfortably ride a flat century in May.

Part of what gets me on the roads is joy and anticipation. What also gets me on the road is worry and determination. Sensible riders train. Sensible riders plan. Sensible riders are aware of their limits. Every spring I set out to find mine. I’m not entirely sensible.

Some things are predictable when you break out of your winter patterns and get outside. Your first obstacle is not your legs, but your lungs. They’re a limit, because if you’re like me and your indoor workouts aren’t much more than basic muscle maintenance, pulling in big gasps of cold air is a shock to the system. You’re not used to it, but you can’t avoid it. Climbs end in gasping and puffing, and the only cure is to keep moving. I ride short rides after work to get my system warmed up and working, so the lungs have expanded their limits recently.

Your second obstacle is the one you expect. Your muscles are not ready. Climbs hurt, short distances feel long, and you wonder why the fitness you were trying to hold on to during indoor workouts managed to escape you. Part of this comes from being limited by your clothing. Tights, arm and leg warmers, base layers, jackets, heavy gloves, shoe covers, and any combination of heavy, constricting things you wear to keep the cold out limit you in a way you never expect. It makes an unexpected warm day when you can shed layers feel like a reward.

Your equipment feels like a limit when you’re not in form. Every spring I get a full mechanical check. New cables, chain and anything else I need. Sadly, doing so eliminates a very useful excuse for not riding well – the bike already had a tune up, so the limit is me. I just keep the cranks turning and push against those limits.

Saturday’s ride was hard to dress for. It was 40 degrees when I set out, and closer to 60 degrees when I finished. I did okay – I was slightly cold on the way out, and slightly warm on the way back, but I didn’t suffer too much for the temperature.  The distance was 54 miles. Good for this time of year. The course was hilly, which was a challenge. I worried about it, which was normal.

My goals were to work my legs and to ride smart. The first goal was easy. Finishing the ride would work me enough. The second was the real challenge. In this case, riding smart is pushing my limits without crashing into those limits and breaking down or bonking.

Oddly, I felt better than I expected to feel. I lacked long rides, but I got more out of repeated shorter rides during the week than I expected. Since I was an unofficial ride leader (assisting my friend Ron, who helpfully volunteered me for the job) and since I know the route, I spent much of the ride at or near the front of the group. After one pleasant descent, I knew I was facing a long climb. At the base, I shifted into the small ring in front and set up a good cadence, knowing that I had at least 3 or 4 taller cogs on my cassette to use if necessary. I only hoped that I wouldn’t use them all. At the top, about a mile later, I hadn’t used my tallest gear and nobody had passed or dropped me. In fact, as we waited for stragglers, including ride leaders, I was complemented on keeping a steady pace. For a blissful moment, I was a climber. It let me forget for just a moment that “real” climbers are usually about 6 inches shorter than I am, and weigh between 50 and 70 pounds less than I do. I am the cycling equivalent of a gorilla. I rely on power to cope with the disadvantages of my size. Starting out in the small ring and working at a strong, steady cadence was smart riding.

Later in the ride we bypassed the Adams Morgan neighborhood in the District of Columbia to try a path made from a cut off section of road.  It was much steeper than anywhere else on that ride, and it was long enough to hurt. I started cranking up the hill slowly with everyone else. At some point we have all done what I did next. I engaged the right-hand shift lever only to be thwarted by the upper limit screw of my rear derailleur. I was out of mechanical help. I had hit a limit, and I had to suffer on my own. Suffering ensued, but I persevered. I think everyone suffered on that climb, but that is the nature of cycling and hills.

Now I’ll take a brief detour into the wonderful topic of gearing. My friend Carol, who doesn’t have a self-deluded bone in her body, insists that if you buy those gears, you should use them all. It helps you ride smart. My own point of view is that there are a lot of options, and whatever you choose to use should be based on both your wants and the style of riding you do. I also have some personal demons. I’ll get to them in a moment.  I have one bike with compact fifty tooth outer and 34 tooth inner (50-34) chainrings, but the bike I ride most has mid-range chainrings (52-36). I am not a racer, so I don’t want to handicap myself by using standard (53-39) chainrings, but I like to ride fast on occasion. The personal demons I mentioned absolutely refuse to allow me to ride on triple chainrings. I did ride them at one time, but the tallest gear ratios ended up being quite lonely and seldom used, and mechanically, a double setup makes more sense for me. That and the snobbery my personal demons insist upon make my gear choices a little smaller than they could be. My cassette is 11-speed, with cogs ranging from eleven to twenty-eight teeth (11-28).  I could probably use a taller gear or two, but when I got the bike, I didn’t have a taller cassette option. When I get another bike, I will probably buy a taller cassette, perhaps an 11-34, because like most people, I always want to have a taller gear to go to, but I’ll keep the 52-36 chainrings, because they feel right. I don’t spend a lot of time in my tallest cogs on the cassette and the small ring in front, but that choice is determined by every individual’s limits. Many of those limits are as much psychological as physical. I can push a 36-28 combination on the climbs that I ride. Short steep climbs are always hard. I like the challenge. Some climbs make me long for a 36-34, or even a 34-34 to keep my aging legs engaged. However, most of my riding is done in the big chainring and the middle of the cassette, and sacrificing gears in that spot to get easier climbing would also be an adjustment. Psychological limits will determine that choice. I may look for a taller cassette, such as an 11-30 an 11-32 before I get another bike, but I want that decision to be practical. I’m able to ride well with that 11-28 for now.

By the time I finished the ride, my legs were tired.  I expected that. After some well-deserved beer and some good conversation at ride’s end, I went home feeling tired, with my limits slightly expanded, and my mind eased somewhat. My recovery ride the following day was just as important as pushing my limits on Saturday. I had to keep the legs moving and expand those limits if I wanted to reach my goals. An easy ride after a hard day will get your legs used to the work they need to do. Recovery isn’t just rest, it is also being smart in your training.

Every rider has had what I’ve heard described as a “Martha Reeves moment”. Those moments are named after the classic Motown song by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, where you have nowhere to run to, and nowhere to hide. You just suffer a little and hope that you don’t crash hard into your limits. Martha Reeves speaks to me a lot when I’m riding. I can’t run, and I can’t hide. I can persevere though, and usually I do. The key is to know where my limits are. The goal is to expand them.