Category Archives: Front Page

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.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_0849

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.

IMG_0850

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.

IMG_0859

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.

IMG_0861

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.

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.

IMG_0829

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.

IMG_0815

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.

IMG_0819

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.

IMG_0822

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.

IMG_0826

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.

IMG_0835

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.