My Passion Project is complete!

After considering it for years, and waiting 4 months since I ordered it, my hand built steel bicycle has come home!

Wilier1

My Wilier Superleggera. The copper color is called “ramato” and it is a classic color made famous by professional racers on the Wilier Triestina team.

It started with a hand built, lugged frame made from Columbus SL tubing by Wilier in Italy.  The Superleggera. I’ve added custom wheels, with Velocity Quill rims and Campagnolo hubs. The gearing is Campagnolo Potenza to go with the Italian motif. It has a 52/36 crankset and an 11-32 11 speed cassette. I went with a quill stem, Campagnolo record headset, threaded bottom bracket and a Selle San Marco Regal saddle.

Pictures don’t really do this bike justice. the copper color could be described as “liquid” and with polished surfaces, this bike is everything I had hoped for. Despite the inadequacy of the photos, I’m including some to show details.

Fork_Crown

The fork crown, with the Wilier “W” Stamped on it.

Bottom_Bracket

The bottom bracket lug, with a stamped Wilier logo.

Derailleur

Gearing is Campagnolo Potenza.  The silver color is a nice change from the carbon black of common modern group sets.

Saddle

My saddle is a Selle San Marco Regal.  The copper rivets seemed to fit the motif! Note: The saddle bag isn’t white – it’s reflecting the flash!

Everything on the bike looks like a throwback to another age; the steel tubes look tiny compared to modern shaped carbon and aluminum tubing. The lugged construction is something that has long given way to smooth joining techniques or monocoque frame designs. This bike wouldn’t look out of place in a line of steel bikes made in the 60’s or 70’s.  Though you’d quickly find a few differences.  Steel tubing has gotten better – the bike weighs less than my imagination made steel out to be. Downtube shifters have given way to modern gear shifting on the levers. The gearing is modern 11 speed with a cassette ranging from 11-32 teeth cogs.  This bike may look vintage in some ways, but it is better defined as “retro”, where the look is vintage but there are modern components that are more convenient.

On the Road

My first ride on the Wilier was interesting. I was worried about the weight of the bike, but it didn’t matter to me after I got going. On the road, the bike seems to float; it’s a comfortable ride. It handles beautifully.  While riding, another cyclist we passed commented on it. It is truly a work of art. I’ve heard the term “Steel is Real”, but I didn’t really understand it until now.  This is a bike to enjoy. I plan to ride it as my primary bike, with my old bike as a backup.  This isn’t just a work of art, this is my everyday ride. This passion project will be an inspiration to me for years to come.  I’m still getting accustomed to the Campagnolo shifting, but that will become second nature after a few more rides.

My passion project has become a reality, and it’s all I could have hoped for!

 

 

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The Wait is Ending

When I finally committed to buying a new bike, I had a lot of options. I’m not a particularly difficult body type to fit to a bicycle.  Since I don’t have any fit issues, I had the widest range of options imaginable. I am past the point where I might race or take advantage of higher speeds.  My joy in riding is found in different areas of the cycling experience.

Buying a bike from a manufacturer like Specialized or Trek or Giant would have worked fine without a wait. I would have had to choose a bike among a great number of brands and models.  While all are good choices in their own right, all are mass produced and therefore they are not truly unique. Each would come in a choice of one or two colors; and some are more customizable than others, but customization always comes at extra cost, and while the best technology can be purchased this way, the best technology won’t make me better. So rather than take the most common option, I looked elsewhere.

Getting a truly custom bike would be the ultimate in personalization.  That specialization always comes at a high price. One of those prices would be time.  Waiting a year for a full custom bike is often worth it, but with my fit metrics, I knew that while it might fit like a glove, such a bike is a wonderful thing that would be worth the cost, but would it be worth the wait? It was a difficult choice, but in the end, I chose a third option.

Buying a frame and choosing my own parts specification seemed to fit my desire for a unique, handmade bike that wasn’t common while giving me a good fit and the experience I wanted.  I’ve already described my decision in this forum, but After waiting four months, I finally have a delivery date!

The frame has arrived in the United States from Italy.  It will be shipped to the shop, where all the parts I’ve chosen will be added to it.  Since my friend Travis will be building it, I’ll see photos of the process, including building my wheels and building up the bike with all the parts that have been waiting for it. It will be used (with my enthusiastic consent) to market his skills and his customer service.

My wait has nearly ended. As I waited, I had no idea how long it would take to see the finished product. Now I know. I write this on a Sunday, and the bike will be delivered to the shop on Tuesday, and delivered to me on Thursday.  Watch this space to read more about the final steps of my passion project!

I’m far too serious about this.

It’s a cold Sunday morning in late January.  I’ve worked out indoors, and I’ve been relaxing and reading about cycling on the internet while my laundry spins away. I always find it fun to read product reviews and articles and watch videos about cycling, particularly the breathless sort where the latest and greatest things are aways exciting.

I don’t doubt for a moment that they’re exciting.  They are. We love spending our hard earned money on new products.  I’m not immune to such things. After all, my new bike frame will come in and be built up within a month or so if the estimates of my frame’s arrival are accurate. I have purchased a few things, such as a computer for the new bike and a seat pack and tools and tubes to put in that pack.  I’m just as big a consumer as anyone else is.

Having said that…  These “trends” are largely useless to someone like me.  There.  The hard truth is coming out.  I’m an aging man who is reaching the point where he can’t buy speed.

I am not blessed with unlimited means. The best I can hope for by buying the best road cycling tech is not to be slowed down by age and physics as quickly as I already am. I already spend a lot on things for my bike(s). No question. I’m also single and have very few expenses.  All cyclists spend a fair amount on cycling. Sometimes I think the more you have, the more you spend.  I do this because I get health benefits, it’s a social thing, and everybody needs a hobby to take up their free time.  Though days like this tell me why I shouldn’t take it all too seriously.

One of the things I’ve been reading about is aerodynamic bicycles.  They’re fabulous.  Until recently, aerodynamic shapes came with a weight penalty.  That is changing, and “Aero” bikes are now becoming much lighter.  Road bikes are constantly evolving, and with carbon fiber technology, the top tech is going full aero.

I know that my body isn’t aero.  Not a bit.  I was not built to do this efficiently.  I’m more likely to be mistaken for a large marine mammal than a racing cyclist.  That means I should be much less concerned about cycling aerodynamics than I should be that somewhere, out there, is a harpoon with my name on it.  I’m not all that excited about aerodynamics. I just can’t help reading about it.

I have purchased a GPS bike computer which is waiting for the new bike.  I’ve never owned one before. I’ve always gone with simple computers that include a display and a pickup that reads how often a magnet affixed to a spoke goes past it.  That tech isn’t really accurate, nor does it offer a lot of features or data. What that tech offers is simplicity.  I admire simple.

One of the selling points of my new GPS head unit is that it is “aerodynamic”.  That has been tested independently.  It’s true. It’s also so marginal that most people couldn’t possibly tell the difference.  I chose it because I read reviews.  It seems to have addressed the concerns that bedevil the industry giant in GPS bike computers. It is supposed to be easier to set up and use.  Reviewers are more positive about the one I chose than they are about it’s competition.  That was what decided me. Simplicity. Not the fact that on a 40 mile ride I might save a watt of energy over the competitor.  I could stand to burn a few more calories per ride anyway.

I’ve also seen the new trend toward “gravel” or “adventure” bikes.  They look like a lot of fun. I think that if you want to ride off road and go anywhere, you should probably have a mountain bike.  I wish I had a mountain bike sometimes, just as a change of pace. If you ride on the roads like I do, you should own a road bike.  They’re a lot of fun, and they’re efficient, and if you have the funds available, you can buy a technical marvel of a road bike (probably a very aerodynamic machine) that will cost you more than an inexpensive new car.

Now, if you want to ride on unpaved roads into the back country, you can get a gravel bike.

It’s hard to find any agreement on what a “gravel” bike really is. Some are more like mountain bikes, others are more like road bikes. Some people might confuse the gravel concept with a cyclocross bike. One thing that isn’t in dispute is that they aren’t as good on the road as a road bike, and they’re not as good off-road as a mountain bike. Another thing that you can’t dispute is that they’re cool.  If you have a lot of gravel roads nearby, and you ride on them enough to justify spending the money, a gravel bike could be perfect.  I probably won’t buy one though.  If I spend too much time riding one on the road, I’m the kind of guy who will wonder why I’m not riding a road bike.  If I spend too much time riding one off road, I’m the kind of guy who will wonder why I’m not riding a mountain bike.

There is no such thing as a bike that does everything well. On the other hand, there is no such thing as owning “too many bikes”.  So I’m torn on the gravel bike concept.  I’d own one if I had the money and I didn’t mind it sitting around unused most of the time.
Because: bike!

I think of a gravel bike as the cycling equivalent of night vision goggles.  Sure, you probably have no reason whatever to own expensive night vision tech that you likely won’t use very much. Most people would just buy a flashlight instead. You want night vision goggles for the “cool” factor!

A gravel bike might get you to go out and look for “gravel” rides and off road adventures that don’t demand a mountain bike. It’s a solution in search of a problem, though.  At least where I live that’s true.  If I find myself in a place where riding a gravel bike makes more sense, I’d probably rent one for a day just for the experience. If I ever move to a place that could be described as a gravel bike nirvana, I’d probably buy one within a week.

After having said all this, what I need to do is shut down the laptop and find something else to do.  I’m getting far too serious about all this. Spring can’t come fast enough.  When spring comes, I’ll be outside on a bike rather than inside on the computer.

Bicycle Cleaning, Maintenance, Road Repairs, and what to carry with you.

Yesterday, I did a little bike cleaning.  It’s something I do regularly. There are a lot of good reasons to do this.  First, it’s nice to ride a clean machine. Second, a good cleaning is also an opportunity to inspect your bike.  I have found problems that could have stranded me on the road somewhere while cleaning my bike.  I have found tire damage, chain damage, and other problems while cleaning my bike.  I clean my bike regularly by habit.

I recently went out on a windy winter day to ride with friends, and while the conditions weren’t the best, the one thing that didn’t concern me was the condition of my bike. Perhaps as a result of good maintenance habits, or more likely because of a good amount of luck, I seldom have problems out on the road. I consistently ride between 2500 and 3500 miles a year. There are a lot of problems that can occur that you have no control over. The most obvious is a tire puncture, but good luck on the bike is enhanced by good habits when you’re off the bike.

My cleaning habit means I probably spend a little more money than the average rider on things like cleaners, degreasers, and chain lubricant. I will not pretend that my habits are the most effective or even the recommended way to maintain your bicycle. For example, I clean and lube my chain a little more often than most people do.  However, I do wipe off the excess lubricant and make sure that grit isn’t building up that might wear my gears out too fast.  In fact, they wear anyway, but keeping up simple maintenance is a good habit.  I actually enjoy cleaning my bike. It’s part of my ride.

The other thing I insist on is a yearly overhaul. I get a full maintenance check. I have the wheels checked, the headset checked, the bottom bracket checked, and I get the chain replaced yearly. Yes, chains wear out. It’s also a fact that replacing your chain is less expensive than replacing worn gears. Worn chains wear down your gears more quickly. If I’m told a part is worn, I replace it. I can spend a lot on maintenance, but when the bike is working great, it becomes a part of you.  When it isn’t, or it’s doing something wrong, or making a noise that bothers you, it gets you worried. It takes away from the experience of riding. Pro tip: The best time to take your bike in for yearly maintenance is between December and April.  That is when your local bike shop is the least busy.  I have more than one bike, so I can just switch bikes and keep riding if I have a bike in the shop, but there are good reasons to do overhauls when it’s cold out.  It keeps your local shop busy when most people aren’t thinking about their bikes, and that’s a good thing!

Nobody can escape road repairs.  If you ride enough, you will puncture a tire.  Sometimes things will need to be tightened.  Sometimes a friend will need help. Having said that, road riders are minimalists. We want to carry as little as possible.  Yesterday, I had a look in my saddle bag again, and here’s what I carry: Two tubes, in the correct size for my wheels.  Because road debris doesn’t care that you had a puncture five miles ago, and riding with friends sometimes means sharing tubes. There are latex and butyl tubes, and while latex are lighter, I go for good quality butyl tubes. The weight isn’t much, but they’re a little tougher. I also carry an adhesive patch kit that I replace every couple of years, because it’s the last, forlorn hope of getting home when bad luck is persistent.  I carry tire levers, the smallest multi-tool that I can get away with, and a couple of disposable wipes that are good for cleaning hands and other surfaces after roadside repairs.  I also have a small, retractable cable lock for cafe stops.  This is not effective protection. It is actually the least that I can do to protect my bike. The determined or professional thief will cut the cable and make off with the bike in a flash, but it deters crimes of opportunity.

Saddlebag_contents

This is what I carry in my saddle bag, though I probably don’t need the second tube as long as I have the patch kit. The second tube is protection from worry.

I always carry a mini pump in my cycling jersey pocket, and of course, a cell phone. Other than an ID, money or a bank card, and whatever keys are necessary for house or car, that’s all I carry. I know people who carry less. I know a lot of people who carry much more. Whatever you’re comfortable with is the right amount.  Some riders carry everything they could possibly need, including multi-tools with spoke wrenches and chain tools. They are, by definition, heavy and complicated.  If you want to carry a spoke wrench, an individual spoke wrench is light and easy to fit in a saddle pack.  A Chain tool? If things get that bad, I carry a cell phone. I know that accidents happen. People crash. Damage is sometimes unavoidable. However, it seems to me that the heaviest thing that people carry with them is worry.  I try to carry only the minimum that covers the most likely emergencies.  It all has to fit in the saddle pack or my pockets.

Bike Fitting

Modern road bicycles have evolved over the years to be as efficient as possible.  Most of the innovation has come as a result of racing. Technology has steadily improved, and the biggest innovations over the last 30 years have been integrated shifters on the bars, and clipless pedals. I think that electronic gearing and carbon fiber frames are the other big changes. As a result of these changes, particularly clipless pedals, riders are connected to their bikes. Because of this, things like seat height, stem length, bar adjustments and cleat placement are vital to ensuring a comfortable, pain free ride.  The way to get these things right is a bike fit.

Before these innovations, bike fitting could be done using the TLAR (That Looks About Right) method.  If the frame didn’t leave you looking stretched out or cramped, and you had sufficient clearance of the top bar and your seat height didn’t cramp your pedaling or completely straighten your leg at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and your seat was in a good position and not pushed too far forward or back, a fit was accomplished. While this is still a starting place, bike fitting has advanced a great deal.

When I was growing up, if we wanted to be connected to the pedals, we used toe clips and straps. These limited foot movement, making your pedaling more efficient, but didn’t entirely prevent foot motion. Platform pedals allowed your feet to find their place even more easily, but they weren’t as efficient as having a good connection to your pedals.  Now, we are connected to the bike with a device like a ski binding, Placement of cleats is a science. If your cleats aren’t placed well, pedaling can become painful. A good fit avoids injury.

I had a fitting last week. It was intended to be sure I ordered the correct frame for my next bike.  I was on a an adjustable “fit bike” which can be configured to any frame size or geometry. The handlebars, shift levers, seat post and seat that I’m going to use were fitted to the fitting bike, as well as the pedals I use.  I wore my normal cycling shoes. The fitting went well, only a few adjustments were needed to make me feel comfortable.  When you know that a good fit will be a matter of very small adjustments when the bike is ready, it really raises your confidence.

Now I have to wait for the frame to arrive. This could take a while. If I can stand the anticipation, I’m certain that I’ll be happy with the bike.  If a good fit is easy to create, then I know that I’ll be comfortable on the new bike, and that is a  big part of the project.

A passion project

When I take an interest in something, I learn about it.  When I’m fascinated by a topic, I research. I become a student of history simply because there is always a story that goes deeper than what you can see. I also see art in everyday things. I appreciate aesthetics and craftsmanship, and I find beauty in many things. At this point in my life, I have started looking backward as well as forward. I often write about cycling; it’s a passion in my life that has defined my freedom as a child and my healthy lifestyle as an adult. Recently, as a result of my passion and my love of art and history and all that I enjoy about cycling, I have been consumed with a passion project. I’m having a new bicycle built.

The project began before I realized that it was forming.  It started on rainy weekends and quiet evenings when my free time led me to read a book about cycling, or watch a race on television, or search the internet for video and information on random cycling topics. It grew at event rides when talking to other riders. It was fed by childhood memories, by the excitement I shared with others. It found purchase in my mind when reading about restoring bikes, classic bikes, racing and training, and the care I take in cleaning and maintaining my bicycle. It took shape from of an understanding of how I ride, why I ride, and where I ride. What I wanted was a modern classic.

It would have to be a bike to ride every day.  A bike that I can feel comfortable on no matter where I ride. I don’t want something to put on a wall or hang from the ceiling to admire; I wanted to ride it when the road called me. I wanted it to be with me on adventures.

It would also have to be beautiful. It would have to speak to me. It would have to announce itself to others like me. It would have to blend art and history with passion and craftsmanship and joy.

What I wanted was a lugged steel frame. My first bike was steel. My first “racing” bike was steel, and even though I have never been a racer, steel bikes were raced by legends like Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Sean Kelly, Roger De Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser, Johan Museeuw and many others. Steel has history.

Steel also has comfort. Steel is renowned for a ride quality that is unlike any other material. I have a carbon fiber bike and an aluminum bike.  They are fit to me, and fit is a major component of comfort.  Most riders choose carbon or aluminum based on weight, with a secondary consideration of price.  Steel is heaver than carbon and aluminum are. Lighter is an advantage.  Carbon Frames are the flagship of any bike line because of weight and the ability to easily form it into lightweight, compliant and aerodynamic shapes.  It’s made in a mold with layers of carbon fabric and epoxy.  Aluminum is great for riders on a budget. It has the ability to be shaped, and is more comfortable now than the early aluminum bikes were.  Aluminum was once considered a very harsh ride. It isn’t any longer. Excellent bikes are built of these materials.  Then, there is steel.  Steel may be heavy, but it is also elastic; meaning it will return to its original shape when deformed slightly by stress.  It flexes. That is what leads to the forgiving ride quality of steel. It also lasts a very long time if maintained.

Steel is making a strong comeback in the cycling community.  A “vintage” cycling community has popped up. “L’ Eroica” or “heroic” cycling events, where old steel masterpieces are ridden, remind us of cycling’s classic roots. I find the Eroica events to be inspiring. They look like fun. However, I’m not going for “vintage”. “Vintage” suggests original.  What I’m going for is more accurately called “Retro” instead, where the look of vintage is blended with the advantages of modern features.

Custom frame builders are keeping steel relevant, too. A frame fit to your body will always be a good ride. If weight is the only factor, steel is at a disadvantage.  If you’re not racing, weight means less, but it can tell on a climb. A rider can get a steel bike to weigh the same as a carbon bike by carrying one water bottle instead of two.  Riders often forget that the difference in weight isn’t a lot. In any case, I don’t think of bike weight as an issue when I’m so large myself!

Apart from getting a custom built bike, there are two other ways to make a purchase.  What most people do is buy a bike offered by a manufacturer.  The manufacturer chooses the parts specification, the customer chooses a size, and the bike is fitted to them.  That is the way most bikes are purchased now. There is an almost infinite variety to choose from. As I mentioned above, you can have a custom bike built.  You choose the builder, get a custom frame built to your measurements and specification, and you choose parts like wheels and drivetrain, and what you get back is unique.  This is expensive, but often the results are extreme works of art.  The third way, the one I’ve chosen, is to get measured carefully for a frame size to order, then choose components and build the bike yourself or have a trusted bike technician do it for you.  This is also expensive, but it can take less time than custom, and the results are also artistic, since many of these steel frames are made by artisans, too.

My choice is a frame by an Italian brand named Wilier. The frame is a Wilier Superleggera. This is a brand that has been building bikes since 1906, and has been raced in the Pro peloton.  They’re known for their copper finishes, like the example below.

WS

The frame I’m ordering will look like this one, but the wheels and components will be different!

The components I’m choosing? Modern Campagnolo. I’m going to have a quill stem and custom wheels, and components and wheels will be silver.  The bike will be proudly Italian, and because so many Italian brands have remained true to their roots and offer steel frames, there are many excellent choices if you want to indulge in a similar passion project. To name a few:

Colnago Arabesque and Colnago Master: Two beautiful steel offerings from Colnago.  Both have a classic look and a racing heritage. The Master has iconic star shaped tubes and incredible paintwork; the Arabesque has artistic lugs and a similar classic look.

DeRosa Nuevo Classico: This bike deserves the name “New Classic”. It is a thing of beauty with traditional geometry and an excellent finish.

Bianchi Tipo Corsa: This is a frameset from Bianchi – a brand building bikes since 1885, and known for a special color – Celeste.  The Tipo Corsa comes in Celeste. For those who want a bike that pays homage to vintage cycling, Bianchi also makes the Eroica, a different blend of modern and vintage.

Masi Gran Criterium: Masi makes several models of the Gran Criterium from affordable entry level steel bikes to bikes that lean from vintage in style to modern.

There are other brands that offer steel road bikes and frames; too many to list here, but the options speak to the appeal of these steel retro bikes.  There is something to be said for the  latest bike tech.  Aerodynamics, advances in materials and technology have made some wonderful bicycles,  but there will always be room for classic design in the cycling community.  As this passion project proceeds, I’ll add more content.

 

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.

IMG_0841

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.