Author Archives: kitefencer

Snapshots

I’m writing this in early November. It’s gotten colder, and my rides have become shorter and are limited by the shorter days. The last time I wrote here was months ago – and through a combination of being active and having had a lack of motivation to write, it’s been far too long since I’ve written an update.  This update will be a series of short updates, snapshots of the last few months of activity.

Comfort – The Indian Head 100

This year’s Indian Head 100 was like an old, familiar friend. Every Labor Day I ride it with friends, and I have never been disappointed in the experience. In fact, this year we made a new friend of a fellow who wanted to ride with us – a fellow from Virginia named Jim who seemed to fit in well with our riders. As always, Indian Head provided all the usual joys, and the day was fabulous. The sandwiches at the first rest stop remain the best rest stop food ever, the course was rolling and challenging in places, and as ever, the post ride brews tasted that much better for the effort.  I think as I get older and slower, I may ride fewer events, but this is a century that I want to keep riding as long as I’m able. When you find an event that gives you the kind of comfort and enjoyment that define the reasons you ride, you stay with it. I felt good and even though it was hot, I climbed well. I was satisfied with everything about that ride. It was another experience that I’d like to bottle and save to experience again.

Struggles – Amish Tour and Backroads Century

Much as I enjoy cycling, there will always be difficult rides, and two on my calendar this year certainly qualified! If anything, I can say that when I struggle it’s my own fault. I’ve had plenty of experience, I’ve completed over 100 century rides since I started riding them, and by now I should know what kind of things to do and not to do.

Amish Tour is a ride I hadn’t done in years, mostly because it happens on the same weekend as the Maine Lighthouse Ride, which I’ve done for the past few years. This year I stayed in the area, so I decided to ride it again with my friend Ron. This year, just before we headed out, Ron got an eye infection. So he had some issues with driving – and I not only drove, but I had to pull him along for 100 miles because he wasn’t seeing well. It was a decent weekend, but stressful for both of us. I think next time something of that sort happens, the best move would be to cancel!

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In front of the Delaware State House with Ron before the Amish Tour.

Backroads was a different kind of trouble.  I bonked. Blew up. Hit the wall. It was a hot day, and I had been drinking the night before. This is something I should have avoided. I’m not an alcoholic or a hard drinker by habit, but I had too many pints, which were good in the moment, but less so in the long run. So I suffered needlessly. I cramped – HARD.  That isn’t what I wanted from any ride, and certainly I wanted more from that ride. I knew better. I also knew it wasn’t my last event of the year, so I hoped to end the season on a happier note.

 

Redemption – The Seagull Century

I have often written about the Seagull. There have been years when it represented my only actual vacation time for the year. This year I hadn’t gone to Maine, or anywhere else outside the area for that matter.  That’s something I shouldn’t do, but this year it made having a good Seagull weekend a little more important to me. As it happens, the weather was cool and bright – perfect conditions. I enjoyed the entire weekend. Many of the people I commonly ride with weren’t there, but I rode with John, Tony and Jim, who we met at Indian Head.  I was prepared. My ride was strong and fast, the perfect way to end the year. There is so much to a big event like the Seagull that can’t be explained in a blog post, but I have always felt the positives of this event and the good memories made it worth riding. As my last event of the year, it felt like I redeemed myself for the mistakes I made at the Backroads Century.

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Tony, Jim, Myself and John on Assateague Island at the Seagull Century.

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With Tony in the beer garden at the Seagull Century after the ride.

Reward – Riding for the soul as the season changes

After I’m done with events for the year, while I’m still riding strong and the weather is still good and the leaves are turning, I ride for the soul. These are often the best rides of the year. I go where I most enjoy riding, and instead of riding hard, I ride at a pace that lets me enjoy the scenery.  This “soul riding” is all about the time, the company and the pure enjoyment a bicycle gives you.  I satisfy my soul riding in the Agricultural Reserve in Montgomery County Maryland.  I managed to ride up Sugarloaf Mountain for the first time this year, and took the time to enjoy the landscape and this enjoyable way of moving through it.

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With Eric atop Sugarloaf – enjoying the scenery and riding for the soul. 

Mentoring

At one time or another, we have all been inspired to learn something new, or go beyond what is comfortable and add a new experience to our lives. Often this inspiration comes from others and their experiences.  When that happens, having a mentor to guide you can be the difference between a positive experience that adds to your life, or a negative or indifferent experience that can lead us to a bad or frustrating experience, or even lead us to drop the idea altogether.  Recently, I had a chance to see that process from the side of the mentor. It added to my own experience in a positive way.

Inspiration

I’m an early riser. However, I’m seldom the first to get to the office. I have a co-worker who is usually there when I arrive, and I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to him in the mornings.  Ken was inspired by my stories of cycling. He had a bike of his own, but his riding was not like mine. My stories started to resonate with him. He was inspired to get a road bike and see what all those experiences I  talk about felt like.  When you see that inspiration, you have to support it. Fanning that spark into a flame is the start of a process that can be a positive not only for others, but yourself.

Setting Goals

Part of mentoring includes goals. It’s one thing to talk about something, but achievement requires real goals. I knew of a ride not far from Ken’s home that would be the perfect launching pad for a road cyclist.  The Covered Bridges Classic. I said if he wanted to ride it, I’d ride with him.  He signed up, so I did too.

Advice

A mentor should be a fountain of information. That keeps the spark of inspiration alive, and it keeps the learner from wandering down blind alleys or focusing on the wrong things.  I’ve been riding events for close to 15 years.  We talked a lot about equipment – what to take with you, what you didn’t need, What to wear, training tips. All the questions have to be answered. The benefit of experience brings the goal closer.

Participation

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At the ride start. 

The final part of seeing inspiration turn into something real is a willingness to be a direct example. While we were riding different distances, we rode together for the first 12 miles.

Ken

At the first Covered Bridge

After getting a good start, Ken finished on his own.  Despite difficult conditions, he finished strong. He isn’t a beginner any more, he’s a real roadie. He has a lot of cycling events in his future – maybe even a century. I felt like I was part of that – I got him started, and he finished. Now he knows what these cycling events are about. Being a mentor is really about spreading your passion and enthusiasm. It’s about sharing a little of yourself. I love the value of positivity. This was a positive experience. If you’re reading this, and you get the chance to invest in your passions and inspire others, I hope you’ll take it – you won’t be disappointed.

The Art of the Cafe Stop

We cyclists tend to be serious people. We like speed. We like distance. We talk about suffering in offhand ways, such as “I was really in pain on that last climb”.  We love bicycle tech. There are a lot of ways we show our love of cycling. Not all of us are serious to the same degree; there are quite a few subcultures among cyclists, but on the whole cyclists tend to take themselves seriously.  Having said that, sometimes you just need to stop.  Stopping can be an art form.

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When you can enjoy the artistry of a foam bunny in your Latte, you’re in the right place!

Most cycling rest stops have a purpose.  At events, you can refill bottles, grab a snack, maybe even get your bike looked at by a tech on site, but it’s just a scripted rest in a larger event. Some club rides take rest stops at particular places – as a way to pick up more drinks and snacks and recharge.  The point of such stops is to get back on the plan and keep moving before you get too cool, or too hot, or your body starts to think you’re done before you really are. Normally, a rest stop lasts about 10 minutes or so. Often less.

Then there is another kind of stop, the kind that doesn’t have a time limit or a purpose. Sometimes it isn’t even planned.  Even if it is, what you want from it is time to slow down and talk, or fuel up with style.  That is the Cafe Stop.  A Cafe Stop can’t be rushed. It has to include some genuine joy in itself. It’s about taking time OFF the bike. As I write this it’s an extremely hot day in July.  In order to get a ride in with any hope of comfort, some friends and I decided to take a short ride and leave early in the morning. The point was to warm up, have a fun ride, and be done before the heat got oppressive.  We did, but near the end, we decided on an impromptu Cafe Stop. It was just the right thing to do.

A Cafe Stop has to be the right thing to do in the moment. Whether it’s planned, or you decide on one at the spur of the moment, time has to wrap around it.  At a Cafe Stop, relaxation rules apply. No rush. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the company. Enjoy your surroundings. Soak it all in.  The ultimate Cafe Stop might have you locking your bike and taking a meal, or a long coffee or tea break, or just sitting around a table with friends having a laugh off the bike in the right surroundings. The magic is in the moment, and the moment doesn’t involve movement, but a meaningful pause.

Some people are natural Cafe Stop artists.  Some people don’t know much about them or don’t care for them, but there is a time for one. A moment when that pause makes perfect sense, or defines a perfect moment.  I love Cafe Stops, and I don’t do them as often as I could or should, but they can make an unremarkable ride unforgettable, or a good ride magical. They add a luster to the experience. Sometimes the key to enjoying exercise is to know when to enjoy a pause.  There are times when you have to appreciate the art of the Cafe Stop.

 

Sunflowers, Butterflies, and Summer Heat

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My focus in life has always been enjoying experiences. Cycling has always been rewarding for me for that experience and the feeling of freedom. I’ve never been disappointed by my experiences on a bicycle. My focus is not necessarily speed, because I’m not a racer, but there is something about riding among others that makes cycling special, and so I tend to ride with friends, and I ride a lot of events, just because that feeling of community is also a feeling I value.

This week I found myself thinking about the heat and getting in a good ride on the weekend. Since my local cycling club wasn’t offering a ride that felt right to me, I sent out an email to my friends saying that I would be riding through one of my favorite places, at a specific time, and they were welcome to join me.  The response was more than I could have hoped for. Seven of us set out on the ride. All of us had our ideas of what we wanted, but it was wonderful to have them all choose to join me. I had no actual plan for a route to take, just a general direction and a distance I wanted to go. One of the opportunities along the route was a field of sunflowers.  They put me in mind of so many cycling photographs from the Tour De France, with riders passing fields of sunflowers. Since the weather was mostly sunny and hot, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was just another experience to enjoy.

We weren’t pushing too hard on that ride. We stayed together and defied the heat and humidity.  We enjoyed the scenery, and I started to notice butterflies on or near the road. I have a story about butterflies and cycling that I enjoy telling. One of the events I’ve ridden is called “Storming of Thunder Ridge”, which is known for a climb up the Blue Ridge range in Virginia. The climb is 13 miles long, gentle at first, and becoming steeper near the top.  There is even a rest stop in the middle.  By the time you reach the top, you’ll know a lot about pain. I found myself near the top of that long climb, feeling the pain, while my world contracted into a tunnel with my focus on the road ahead. What I remember most was the butterflies. There were three kinds I remembered through the haze of pain as I climbed. One was mostly yellow, another mostly black and a third black and purple.  None of my friends who were there seemed to notice them. So the butterflies might have been a hallucination! This day, others noticed them. My butterflies were real, and they came in all the same colors that I remembered.

Despite the heat, we all had a fantastic time.  Some of us had a beer together and lunch afterward, yet another way that these experiences can be enjoyable.  We all got a ride in, rode the distance we wanted, and enjoyed the experience.

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Looking back on Spring

Today is the first day of summer. I started training outdoors in early March. My first century of the year was in early May.  Since then, riding has become less stressful. Because I’ve already ridden the Six Pillars Century in early May, I feel confident about my riding. The Century was a pressure test that I passed.

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Every year I get ready for an early century, then the rest of the spring brings me events like the SMECO 75 and the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride (I refer to it as Pax.).  SMECO is a strange distance, 75 miles is usually around the point in a century when I start to tire. I normally get a second wind before the end of a century, but that “in between” distance it feels like you finish just as it gets tough. Pax is a metric, and that is a perfect distance. Long enough to challenge, but it unlike a century, which asks you to push through a little pain and fatigue to finish, a metric can be comfortable the entire ride. Pax is a scenic and enjoyable ride with something for everyone. Most of my weekend rides have been between 50-60 miles. If I keep riding, I’ll be comfortable on all the Century Rides I’ve signed up for in the fall.

This spring has had a lot of wonderful moments.  Here are some of them that stand out:

A steep climb on the SMECO75 ride, literally just before the first rest stop.  It was a cool morning, and the sun was just lifting the mist. At the top of that climb, a memorable feature of that event, the light was shining down on the hilltop, while we rode the tree-lined climb in the shade. At the summit, a rest!

A recovery ride that included a ride across the Potomac River on White’s Ferry, with a meal stop in Leesburg, Virginia. Cruising downhill to the ferry, and feeling free on a cool spring day. I felt the speed and joy of cycling. A comfortable ride with friends and a day to remember.

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Crossing the Potomac with Rita, Ron and Stephanie. 

Riding alone between the second and third rest stops at the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride. Seeing a red jersey far ahead in the distance, and catching that rider – and passing! Sitting with a circle of friends sharing laughs and a beer post-ride.

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Relaxing after the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride.  It’s one of my favorite events, and my cycling friends agree. 

Riding in the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, and watching two foxes cross the road just ahead of me. One stopped and watched me as I passed.  Some things you’ll see on a bicycle that you just won’t see from a car.

My summer will be busy too.  I have to keep pedaling to be ready for fall, the season when I ride most of my centuries. It’s been a good year so far, and it’s only going to get better!

Gearing Comparison: Campagnolo vs. Shimano

After a few weeks of riding on Campagnolo gearing with my new bike, I feel confident using it without thinking about what I have to do.  I use the Campagnolo Potenza groupset, and on my other bikes I use it’s Shimano counterpart, the Ultegra groupset.  At this point, I feel comfortable comparing them. For both, I use a double chainring setup in front and an 11 cog cassette at the rear wheel. The setup itself is similar, with the cogs on the Campagnolo bike being slightly taller. The Campagnolo cassette is 11 tooth on the smallest cog to 32 teeth on the largest cog. The Shimano bike I use most often has an 11-28 rear cassette, and both bikes use a 52 tooth big chainring and a 36 tooth small chainring.

The three major groupset suppliers to the road bike market are Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM. I have tried the SRAM mechanical shifting system, but it was not an extended trial. All I can say about SRAM is that I was not impressed. Without an extended trial, I can’t say any more about SRAM.  The other point I need to make is that I have only used mechanical gearing systems.  Electronic shifting is common on high end systems from all three companies, but while they are acknowledged to be excellent systems that are in most respects superior to mechanical gearing, at this time, electronic shifting is more expensive, and the cost of a top end electronic shifting system alone is enough to get an inexpensive bicycle with mechanical shifting components. Electronic shifting may eventually come down in price, but as I write this, mechanical shifting is affordable, and for the most part allows the same gearing options.

Shimano

Shimano has been dominating the market since they developed their Shimano Total Integration (STI) system. Integrating the braking and shifting on the same levers changed the market. [Special note: There are people who have decided to call a shifter a “brifter” because the brake is in the same place. Such people, who need to make up a name to remember that the shifting and braking are on the same lever, should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to work on your bicycle. It’s too great a risk.] The Shimano system includes an inner and outer lever. Moving the inside lever shifts the chain to a smaller cog or chainring. Moving the inside and outside levers together moves the chain to a bigger cog or chainring. My experience with the last two iterations of the Ultegra groupset has been positive. It provides a light, accurate shift.  Shimano levers are canted slightly outward and the levers have a short, positive throw. In all the time I’ve used Shimano levers, I can’t remember having had mechanical issues.

Campagnolo

Campagnolo has had a reputation for innovation for generations. Campagnolo gave cyclists the Quick Release wheel skewer, and the cable operated Parallelogram Rear Derailleur.  When Shimano patented STI, it was an industry game changer, and Campagnolo responded with a system of its own.  The Campagnolo system uses a single lever for each action.  The brake lever is fixed. The lever inside the brake lever shifts the chain to a bigger cog or chainring. A thumb lever on the inside of the brake hood shifts the chain to a smaller cog or chainring.  My experience with the Potenza group has shown me that the system is solid, accurate and every bit as quick as Shimano.

Differences

Shimano can be so smooth and quiet at times that you almost can’t be sure that you’ve made a shift.  Campagnolo drops into gear with a comforting “click”.  Both of these could be called an advantage. The biggest difference that I’ve noticed is the ergonomics of the hoods. The Campagnolo hoods are slimmer and curved slightly inward. To my hands, they feel better than the Shimano hoods.  Since this is such an individual thing, it seems to me that there isn’t a great deal of difference between them other than feel. This feels like I’m avoiding a choice, but I like them both.  The more I use Campagnolo, the better I like it.  Yet Shimano has proven that its technically brilliant.  I can’t find fault with either one, so sadly, it comes to preference. Much as I’d like to recommend one over the other, it comes to aesthetics and feel.

 

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!

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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.

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

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The bottom bracket lug, with a stamped Wilier logo.

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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!