Category Archives: Cycling

Missing small joys

Another day, another pandemic (Covid-19) shutdown story.

Eagle Harbor

A happy scene from the 2016 Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride. From left to right: Eric, myself, Rita, Ron, John and Carol.  This is a picture full of small joys!

I have events that I ride every year.  I have many fond memories of them, and I have friends to experience them with, and over the years they’ve become familiar and friendly. They represent small joys. They are goals to train for, and fun things to look forward to.  They aren’t so important in the larger scheme of things, but small things do matter. Recently I discovered that the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride, (which I often refer to as Pax) has been cancelled. This follows the cancellation of the Six Pillars Century. These are two rides that seem to highlight every Spring for me.  They were not just a source of T-Shirts or a way to avoid boredom on a Saturday. They were waypoints in my year. It’s a wonderful thing to talk about and share memories of rides like these. Others ask about what I do, and these events are part of the tale to be told. These may not be the only events that will be cancelled, but for now, they are fresh in my memory.  At this writing, Six Pillars would have happened this weekend, and Pax in 7 weeks’ time. I can only hope that they are the only enjoyable events that will be cancelled. These cancellations, in addition to the cancellation of club rides, have left me feeling like I’m somehow behind where I should be. I have ridden fewer miles than I normally would. I’m riding well, and I’m not far behind other years in my fitness, but my motivation seems less. I will move on without them, but I wish I didn’t have to. So here are a few words about these two rides that won’t happen this year.

Six Pillars has been great for me. After a century early in the year, no other ride seems too difficult.  It is a flat ride that always seems to work out well. It remains the only century ride that I have ever ridden in 5 hours. (There will be no more attempts!) I have managed to enjoy riding Six Pillars every year because it motivates me. It stretches me out. When I finish it, I’m always exhausted, but once done I can celebrate with friends and look forward to a great year. Since this is always the first event on my calendar, it always comes with a sense of excitement. It will be missed this year.

The Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride is one of those rides that finds a way into your heart. It is a rolling Metric Century (this one is 64 miles) through the farmland of southern Maryland, and all of the rest stops are at the river side. This means you descend to the stops, and climb out again. The weather is normally comfortable, and the scenery is excellent. It’s run by the Oxon Hill Bicycle Club, and they do a wonderful job.  It’s always been a ride to revel in. I have celebrated after this ride with friends every time, and I wouldn’t want to miss it. Now I must.

In the long run, these event cancellations don’t mean much. I’m sure they will return. Like everyone else I am “sheltering in place”, yet like most of us, I’m healthy.  Thankfully I’m allowed to ride on my own. It feels wrong to be shut in like this when you’re perfectly healthy. Normally, you quarantine sick people, not healthy ones. I am lucky that my life disruptions are manageable. Still, the loss of small joys has been adding up. I can’t wait until the panic is over and small joys become accessible again.

Socially Distanced

Copper bike

A time will come when I ride and enjoy events again, but I am socially distanced, and my Wilier must be patient.

I’m in new territory.  Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve been cultivating good habits by cycling. For many that is a solitary pursuit, but for me it’s also a group activity. I have found good friends through it, and brought others into the sport, and told tales of cycling experiences that I’ll always remember.  As Spring begins I feel excited to get out and train, and cycling events are on the horizon, and everything feels new again. 2020 started strong, and I started my cycling year with high hopes.

Then the Coronavirus, Covid-19 happened. This is the first true pandemic of my lifetime. I don’t recall anything like it. Businesses are closed, people are practicing “social distancing” and there are no obvious gatherings. Thankfully I can work from home, and as of this writing I’m free of any symptoms and hope to stay that way. I’m just outside of the demographic that should be worried, but I’m also healthier than most men my age (58).  So I’m not concerned, but it has already had an effect. My first event of the year was “postponed”.  By postponed I think “cancelled” because the later in the year they hold it, the more it’s likely to conflict with other events. I ride a lot of them! So I don’t have a sense of urgency that I’ve had in years past. I still ride whenever it’s nice enough outside. I ride after work, and that comes by just wheeling my bike out my door and getting started, without a commute between office and bicycle.  There is more time to ride before sundown. I even ride hard when the mood takes me, but there isn’t any urgency about it.

There is less traffic to cope with, and I’ve begun to see more runners, riders and dog walkers out there. People are adjusting, and so am I. I have ridden with friends a few times, but not many at once. My cycling club is not holding group rides just now, and I don’t know when my first chance to ride among others at a cycling event will come. I’m slowly getting miles in. It doesn’t feel the same without group rides and the excitement of my first event coming up. Eventually there will be one, but I don’t know when, because more events may be cancelled before the pandemic eases. I miss that familiar structure that defines my spring season.

Yet the season progresses. The trees are budding and the familiar green of spring unfolds. I notice the birds and animals as they become active. It reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book”. This is the “time of new talk” where the birds and animals practice their mating songs, and life in the jungle is renewed. Yet it feels different. I have a distinct feeling of change – a difference that may go beyond the conditions forced on me by social distancing. Perhaps this forced change from the familiar is telling me to expect more changes. My life is a good one, and I don’t fear changes, but I know that they must come. I must prepare for them. Despite the melancholy that comes with changes, I have to look ahead with hope. The bike will be there for me, and we will welcome these new times as we look forward to the return of familiar gatherings.

Motivation, Training, and Touchstones

As I write this it is late February.  The weather is starting to get a little better, and Daylight Savings Time is starting soon. After a long, dark and cold winter that left me working out indoors, I’m ready to get back on the roads.  At this time of year, motivation is easy. Everyone looks forward to the first warm days of spring. What they don’t think about is actually training.

I’m a recreational rider, not a racer. So why should I mention training? What do I have to train for? The answer to those questions is my motivation, and for years I’ve been building motivation into my calendar in the form of events. Most are fairly close to me, but I make a point of trying to get outside of my home region for at least one event a year. This year I will ride the Maine Lighthouse Ride in Portland Maine again, and before that event I will spend a few days riding in Nova Scotia, Canada. (It seems that most of my vacations involve exercise.) In any case, an event such as a century ride on your calendar will focus and motivate you like nothing else will. One thing to remember about events is that you’ll see all kinds of people with all kinds of bodies riding them. It’s an approachable goal for average people. Perfection isn’t the goal, improvement is!

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At the finish of one of my favorite events, the Seagull Century, with my friend John Summer. 

My first event of 2020 will be the Six Pillars Century in Cambridge Maryland in early May, but I ride events throughout the year from May to October. If you set a goal, you keep your incentive to ride. The advantage of events is that they can be found just about everywhere, and they usually include some shorter distance rides that you can use to prepare for a longer event later in the season.

I ride several Century (100 mile) rides a year, but I’m not quite typical. The typical recreational rider might ride a local charity or club event, but centuries are a big test for the average rider. If you’re ready to try a century, I think the best time to ride your first century is the autumn, in late September or early October. That way you can train for months in the warm weather and schedule some test events over the summer to see how your training is coming along. Also the weather is warm but shouldn’t be oppressive.

I neither have nor use a training plan. If you want a specific century training plan, they are easy to find on the internet. I prefer to use the Eddy Merckx “ride lots” method. I get my miles in for a couple of months before I ride my first century.  This has worked well for me because I ride longer rides on the weekends with my friends or my local cycling club. I also have a lot of experience. Since my first Century ride in 2006, I have ridden over 100 century rides. For many years I was riding 10 century rides per year. Lately I’ve come down to 6 or 7 century rides a year. Often I’ll ride a particular event every year.  I’ve found many events that I enjoy so much that I won’t miss them without a good reason. Important note: I do all this without being “slim”. You don’t have to be some kind of ideal body type to be fit. You just need to be motivated.

The Metric Century – 100 KM or 62 miles – is a great intermediate distance. Riding a Metric is a great way to test yourself before you attempt a full century. It can teach you the kind of pacing you need for a full century, and it also gets you accustomed to making rest stops, hydrating and eating enough to complete a century later in the year. You can’t ride 100 miles without eating something to keep your energy up. You need to stay hydrated. I have also noticed that people often get nervous about their upcoming “goal” event, but having a little practice and experience relieves some of that anxiety.

If you’re already a century rider, a metric is a great distance. It’s long enough to be a challenge but doesn’t drain you like a century can. Normally a century rider will have to push through a “wall” between 70 and 80 miles, and a metric puts you on the edge of that wall without having to push past it.

I couldn’t write about training without mentioning of one of my favorite things – a touchstone for me – the humble 40 mile training ride.  To me, 40 miles is the line that separates a satisfying training ride from a short ride.  39 miles is too short, but 40 miles is just about right. It’s an attitude, not something that can be measured objectively. It is a motivational waypoint.

To me, a good training ride can be hilly or flat, but the most important thing is that you ride at least 40. I recommend longer rides as well, as progress toward your goal, but that 40 mile ride stands as the difference between making progress and not doing quite enough. If you’re not riding quickly, or you’re on a hilly course, most riders can go 40 miles with 3 hours of saddle time or less. Most riders can also go 40 miles on back to back days without feeling exhausted. If you’re cramped for time it gives you a workout to be proud of and still manage other priorities in your life. It’s 2/5 of a century ride – it’s a few hours to clear your mind and enjoy the scenery. It’s real training! You can work up to riding 40 miles in a few weeks’ time. Once you can ride it comfortably, 40 mile rides will keep your conditioning up.

I go back to the 40-45 mile distance often when I’m busy, and throughout the year to maintain fitness. If you haven’t ridden 40 miles, you can work up to it, but that number is magical. It’s enough to get you ready for the metric distance if you can ride it comfortably. You can get an early start in summer and complete 40 miles before the day gets too hot. If your motivation is at a low ebb, a 40 mile ride will keep you on track or put you back on course to your goal.

I recommend adding an event to the calendar now, while the motivation to get out and exercise is strong. Look up local events, and put your motivation on your calendar!

 

“Steel is Real” and other opinions about Bicycle frame materials

I ride a steel road bike, and I love it. I love the mix of classic looks and modern components on it. I love the way the bike feels on the road. To me, there is no doubt that steel is real. I’m not a purist or a traditionalist or even a snob about my bikes. Yet like every other rider, I have opinions. My steel Wilier is much different than my carbon fiber Orbea or my aluminum Cannondale. My other bikes are every bit as real as my Wilier. A rational argument can be made that how a bike feels has more to do with things like frame angles or tire pressure than any mystical property of the frame material.

That argument is valid.  Steel has many great qualities, but it is generally a heavier material than carbon and aluminum. In cycling, weight matters. Lighter is better as a rule, and if you’re a racer, or an engineer, or even most club riders, steel isn’t likely to be your first choice. At this point, the racer’s choice is Carbon Fiber. Carbon is the “go-to” material for bikes, so much so that often riders overlook the strengths of other materials.

Wilier1

Steel is Real. This bike is my pride and joy.

Yet, steel IS real. It is undeniable. the material is the classic definition of “elastic” in that it will return to it’s shape readily if it flexes – and it is very good at soaking up vibration from the road. It can be custom built to anyone; a builder can mix different grades of steel tubes to create a masterpiece of fit and function that any rider can appreciate at any speed. My fit metrics are fairly generic, but I appreciate the feel of that steel bike. My bike is made of Columbus SL tubing using lugged construction, hand crafted by a master frame builder in Italy. It is a classic bicycle with modern drive components. The joy of riding it and the joy of looking at it are pleasures that never fade. What makes it so perfect for me is that my riding is for the soul, not the stopwatch.  It delights a part of me that cold and analytical engineering cannot see.

Aluminum frames have a reputation for being a harsh ride. That might have been true when they were introduced, but no longer. Riding my CAAD 12 has been a revelation. That bike is far from harsh, and at this writing Cannondale has updated to the CAAD 13, which takes Aluminum frame building to another level, if the marketing is to be believed. My CAAD 12 is a smooth and accurate and connected ride. If the CAAD 13 is improved, the result must be outstanding, and they would certainly end any suggestion that Aluminum bikes are harsh riding!

FS_03

“Real” aluminum. Performance and excellence that many overlook. I suspect that the next generation of Cannondale aluminum masterpieces could be even more “real”.

Carbon frames are anything an engineer can dream of. There is an almost infinite variety of carbon frames with different layups providing different “feel” on the roads, and any rider can be forgiven for thinking that riding a bike made of this miraculous material is the very best they can do.  At the high end, just about any carbon bike is a well designed blend of form and function that has been tuned to do specific things very well, such as time trials or climbing mountains.  I can’t fault anyone for wanting that.

Orbea_compact

Carbon Fiber – the look and the feel of the modern road bike. Real in it’s own way, and even though I’ve moved away from the material, carbon’s properties make it ideal for a bike frame, and it’s appeal is universal.

I started riding a road bike seriously in 2005 when I joined my local bike club and used the bike as therapy as I worked through some problems and made some changes. In those years I’ve had many bikes. I started with an Aluminum Felt – it was light to me, and it expanded my cycling horizons. Then a Carbon Orbea Onix – a bike that was quick and responsive – the frame angles made it almost too twitchy, and yet it taught me things about bike handling that I still use. I went back to Aluminum with my CAAD 12 – a bike that easily outperformed the carbon options I had that were usually more expensive and were often just as heavy, and the CAAD 12 had a precision and ride that I  have to rave about. It is an exceptional bike.  Then I got my passion project, the steel Wilier, and it was both a nod to the steel racers of my childhood years and classic good looks while giving me a beautiful ride that no other bike has equalled. It is a bike to love. It is “real” in every way that matters.

For me, “Steel is real”.  That doesn’t mean that other materials aren’t, and many other kinds are best for other riders. I’ve fallen for the look and the feel and the tradition of it. “Real” for me may not be real to you, but once you’re turning the cranks, “Real” is the cycling experience, regardless of the frame you’re on.

Sprinting in Place

Indoor training is one of my least favorite things to do.

Yet I do it.

I think of warm days outdoors, or just about anything that will distract me from the monotony of sprinting in place.

It’s a great thing to do to keep you moving though, and it makes a big difference in the spring when you’re ready to ride outside again. I haven’t gone with a high tech trainer yet, and I haven’t tried training tools like Zwift, but even though I don’t always enjoy it, sprinting in place is worth doing as you wait for longer and warmer days in spring.

So I spin away, dreaming of better days to come.

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My Orbea on the trainer

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

Ride_Start

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.