Category Archives: Cycling

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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

A comparison of Bicycle Gearing

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Heat is On

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

North Beach

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

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

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

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







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Training

It’s the first day of Spring, 2018.  A cold rain and sleet are falling. Later tonight, it will snow. It doesn’t feel like spring yet. Every chance I get, I get out on the roads and ride. I have an event in May that’s a goal, and at this point I’m desperate to get outdoors again. The weather has not made it easy.

Of course, every time the weather is good enough to ride, I ride. With the start of daylight savings time, my opportunities have expanded. I get an hour after work to ride before the dark and cold catch up to me, and now that I have that hour, I don’t want to waste it. I suffered through a ride last evening. I knew that the weather was going to turn wet and ugly. You take your chances when you get them.

Spring is not my favorite season, but it’s a hopeful time. When Spring comes there are very few excuses that will work for not getting out to exercise. There are simply too many problems that must be overcome. You’re out of shape.  You can drop some weight. You have a goal to meet and the clock is ticking. These factors play against a litany of painful conditions: it’s still cold out there. It’s windy too, as if the temperature wasn’t cold enough. There is no such thing as comfort in cool or cold weather cycling gear. It restricts you in many ways while it grants you the warmth you need. I know a few people who won’t leave the gym until mid-April at the earliest. They are not cyclists. Now, I admit that runners also share in this manic desire to get outdoors; but unlike road cyclists they move at a more sensible rate of speed for cold weather. At high speed, there is no easy way to keep the cold out. Modern cycling jackets and gear are excellent at doing that, but the subtle difference between warm enough and too warm is a very elusive thing to manage. This is why I want to see Spring progress as quickly as possible. I can’t wait to shed layers.

Last weekend I got a day worth putting miles in for. It was bright on Sunday, and the temperatures climbed up into the 50s, which feels warm at this time of year. Warm enough to trade tights for leg warmers? Yes. If I guess wrong, I’ll suffer – but I’ll suffer anyway. I might as well take a chance. I’m wearing layers to remove in case I overheat. I wanted to ride for 40 miles.  Not a lot, but right now it feels like a lot.  With a minimal training base, this is a reasonable goal. I’m shooting for a lot of smaller efforts to work myself into shape. Riding for an hour after work at least 3 or 4 times a week will do me more good than long rides on the weekend with little in between. As the weather improves, I’ll stretch the distance, and of course I’ll build rest into the schedule too. I don’t want to burn out or lose motivation. Rest days and sleep, particularly when you’re training in the Spring, are vital.  It’s better to keep your focus and avoid breaking down when you’re in the process of building a training base.

When I leave home, the best rides head west.  The trouble is that west is the direction in which you find the climbs. I’m not in climbing trim. I climb fairly well for a big guy, and I don’t avoid climbing because I can’t get better at it through avoidance. I have 22 gears, and many are good for climbing with, so I might as well use them. I try to be realistic about what I can do. I was ready to get my training started, so I headed west into the hills last Sunday.  Sadly, the wind was working against me.  I spent the first half of the ride climbing up hill after hill into a steady wind. It made me feel more out of shape than I thought I was. Worse than that, I’d chosen the warmest part of the day to ride in, so I encountered other riders on the road. They looked like a very happy bunch. There they were, passing in the opposite direction with a friendly wave. I gave a friendly wave back. I understood their desire to be there. I only wished I looked as happy as they did.  I didn’t feel happy. I was grinding along with the feeling that I’d been too comfortable this winter. Now I was paying for it. I was suffering, and I deserved it.

A little over halfway through my ride, I took a brief rest stop.  I had an empty water bottle, so I was drinking enough. My clothing was doing an admirable job of holding in my sweat, making temperature control a challenge, particularly now that I’d stopped. I was cold, a little sore, and my only real consolation had been the scenery. I was ready to hold on to any positives I could find. I was feeling defeated by the hills and the wind, and I was ready to cut the ride short. I took 10 minutes to recover a little.

Then I turned for home. Suddenly I understood why all those other riders looked happier than I was. The wind was with them. They were riding downhill for the most part. Now I was, too. My speed picked up. I started using different muscle groups. I still had climbs, but I had more downhill to work with, and the wind was helping me on the level stretches. This is why you ride a bike – sometimes you get to feel like you’re flying, even when you have a hard day.  I abandoned all thought of cutting my ride short. I met my goal.

Once I’d put the bike away, I felt a little sore. This wasn’t surprising. I had earned a little fatigue. I had two things that I needed to do. The first was get a good night’s rest. I hadn’t had a lot of chances to ride outdoors this year, and whenever you make that kind of change, your body needs to adjust. Sleep is how you do it. The second thing I needed to do was ride the following day. A recovery ride helps your muscles adapt to changing demands. It doesn’t have to be a hard effort, but it has to be long enough to get your muscles warmed up and your lungs working.  Bad weather stayed away long enough for me to get that done.

I’m bracing for more bad weather, but the effects don’t last too long in the spring. I will certainly suffer enough in the next six weeks to be ready for my first event of the year in May. Every spring I get at least a ride or two like the one I’ve described. They have hopeful beginnings, hard efforts, and self-doubt. They feel good when they’re done. I don’t think I can avoid the feeling. When the days start getting warm, these hard days will be forgotten. Just now, they are a yearly rite of passage. Outside my window the weather is miserable. Soon it will improve again. When it does, I’ll be back out on my bike. I’ll be suffering, until I build the fitness I want. There are no short cuts.

Taking advantage of a break in the winter weather

As I write this, it’s Sunday the 21st of January.  After some arctic cold that has made it hard to get outside this month, the weather finally changed. This week I could barely contain my excitement at having a weekend with riding conditions warm and dry enough to get outdoors.  I decided to ride in the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve near Poolesville, MD.  Then I sent out an invitation to a big group of riders to join me. Now not everyone could make it – some were traveling, some had transportation issues, some were dealing with injuries, and some had other plans, but 6 of us rode together Saturday morning. The temperatures reached into the 50s by the end of the ride, and we took advantage of the break in the weather to take a conditioning ride. The plan was to stay together, pick a direction, and ride without a set plan or a cue sheet.  We call it “cueless and clueless”.  That means we make adjustments to the ride as we go. The goal was 30-40 miles of riding to stretch out our legs.

I’ve ridden in the Ag Reserve many times, but I’ve spent less time there in winter than any other season. The muted colors, and the lines of sight past bare trees and across fields usually obscured from view were a welcome experience. The sense of distance was welcome, and birds that winter in the area were active at the edges of the fields. We chose a direction and changed our minds when it suited us, and we enjoyed the day as we got our miles in.  In the end, it was only a little over 37 miles, and that isn’t much by the standard of later in the year, but for January, it’s a good distance. What was great was our comraderie as we rode.  Since I wanted this to be a “no drop” ride, we stayed together for the most part, and the social part of the ride was terrific. We spent some time afterward talking and celebrating a fun and successful ride.


Taking a break at the Dickerson Store.  

Today I rode from home. I didn’t go quite as far as I did on Saturday, but I managed to work my legs a little more, and I needed to get another ride in to work the legs more.  Riding alone isn’t quite as fun as riding with friends, but in the end its important to get out and get your legs used to the work.  The only drawback to winter rides is dealing with road salt.  I found quite a bit of it on the down tube of my bike, among other places.  You have to take the time to clean the bike carefully in the winter. In my estimation, the state of Maryland dumps enough salt on the roadways in the winter to thoroughly poison the Chesapeake Bay every year with the salty road runoff. Then they spend the other 9 months of the year trying to keep the Bay clean.  It makes no sense to me, but with any luck, the state will cut back on its road salting habit. In the meantime I hope the weather will continue to be moderate enough to allow me to ride outside.  I prefer riding outside to an indoor workout every time!



Another year, another set of resolutions. It’s very cold outside on New Year’s Day, and despite this, I’ve already started thinking about resolutions. Yes, they involve cycling. That’s because it has a direct effect on my health. The older I get, the more I think that the time I spend on the road cycling with my friends is an investment in a long and healthy life.  As it is, I’m working out in the gym, but eventually the thaw will come, and I’ll be back on the roads, where I feel the most free.

Since life is a precious thing, I’m going to do what I can to improve the quality of my life. So my goal is to continue to ride and celebrate with my cycling friends.  I’d also like to ride at least half a dozen Century rides – and I’m already signed up for the first of them! I’m also going to see if I can find a ride that I haven’t done before to try out this year.

These are modest goals, but they’re achievable, and they’re things I believe in. They’re the kinds of resolutions that make sense to me, and they’re an integral part of the quality of life that I look for.  2018 will be another joyful year if I keep them.

How much does your bike weigh?


I get this question occasionally. In fact I was asked again recently. The people I ride with don’t ask about these things much, but sometimes new riders or people who know I cycle seriously will ask, and it’s an interesting topic of conversation. Among cyclists, it’s a loaded topic.

The answer in real terms is about 18-19 pounds.  That’s light enough for me. Most people think the bike is very light, particularly when they pick it up. Bike weight is important because you have to overcome the forces that work on you as you pedal.  The classic example is riding up hills.  All other things being equal, the less weight you have to take up that hill, the easier it will be. It has an affect on other aspects of riding as well. So being large means that I have to apply more force to move myself and the bike. Physics can be cruel.

Racers want the lightest possible equipment, but I don’t race. Light weight comes at a price.  The lightest bikes are the most expensive to produce, they are also more fragile because of that weight saving, so a rider as big as I am can ride a superbike, but I  would put some serious strain on it, and unlike top end riders who race on a superbike, I’m far less aerodynamic. Think of it like using an expensive Ferrari supercar to pull a trailer.  You might have the horsepower to do it, but it wasn’t what the car was designed for. So even if I had the money to ride a superbike, I’m hardly the guy to take advantage of the performance gains it may offer.  Having said that, it FEELS nice to ride an expensive bike.  You can’t deny it. So as far as I’m concerned, I think people should ride the nicest bike they can afford.  You’ll want to ride it, and that’s important.

I ride a high quality aluminum framed bike (pictured above). Carbon fiber frames are more expensive, exotic and lighter as a rule, but high end aluminum and low end carbon overlap in price, and even in weight, and high end aluminum is less expensive to produce, so for the same price you can get better components (drivetrain, shifters, brakes) than you can on a carbon frame of similar weight.

My wheels are actually custom – built for strength.  I have no illusions about the utility of low weight components for my riding style.  I rely on power.  Power is torque and strain on my bike.  Material strength is more important to me than weight at this point.

Bike weight doesn’t mean much to me, and my next bike is likely to be heavier than the bikes I currently ride, since I’d like to ride a custom steel bike. Steel is denser than aluminum, so steel frames tend to be heavier, but I’m sure the advantages of a bike built to suit me and my riding style will be worth a little extra bike weight.


Big Cycling Events

My first century ride was at the Seagull Century in 2006.  I’ve ridden every Seagull since then, with the exception of 2015 when the event was cancelled due to a hurricane coming up the coast. The Seagull is one of the largest century rides in the US.  There are larger rides, such as the “Hotter than Hell Hundred” in Texas, but the average century ride will have less than 3000 participants, and the Seagull typically draws more than 7000, particularly if the weather is good. It’s a flat ride, and while that presents it’s own challenges, the lack of hills makes it popular to a lot of riders. Big events draw a wide range of people and they create some unusual riding conditions.  You’ll often see both the best and worst of cycling on display at events like the Seagull, and this year was no exception. Big events can be dangerous environments. I have friends that don’t like riding the Seagull.  It’s flat, which means you’re constantly pedaling, not coasting, and it puts stress on your contact points with the bicycle – hands, feet and seat. But it’s also a fun event with a lot of activities and despite the crowds, it can be a great time.


From left to right: Amy, Carmen, Stephanie, Carol, Myself, John S, John K and Ron at the Assateague Island rest stop during the 2017 Seagull Century.

I have the good fortune to ride with good friends.  We all know the risks we face, and how to minimize them. We communicate well, we ride within the conditions, and we know our limits. This doesn’t come by accident. We have experience that has been hard won and passed among us through stories, lessons and advice over many years. We’re aware of what to do, what not to do, and what to avoid. This year we had a first timer with us. Amy had never ridden a century, but before she started she already had more information about what to expect than most new century riders and many experienced riders.  Even so, she had questions afterward, and they were good questions. Between the experience and the information, I think she has passed the “beginner” phase, because she has the information she needs and the experience to know how and where to apply it.  In this post I’m going to try and relate a few things about the art of cycling, and I should state for the record that my knowledge is not comprehensive, though it is extensive. We’re all still learning.  I’m going to talk a lot about my ride at the Seagull this year, but much of what I’ll relate will apply to large events. They’re unique in many ways. Some of those unique elements are good, and others less so.

There is limited room on the typical road to accommodate cyclists, traffic control can be a thorny problem at big events, and a big event draws everyone from the least experienced newcomer to the seasoned bike racer, and if you’re not aware that there is an art to the game, you won’t learn it at a big event.  The difference in styles between the riders in limited spaces expands the chances for accidents and makes being alert and careful much more important than many riders realize. Many riders, through no fault of their own, make elementary mistakes simply because they’re not used to riding events at all, much less events with so many other people to cope with.  There are places where you can expect to see problems at a big event.  Here are 4 of them:

  • The start
  • The early miles up to the first rest stop
  • Crowds around rest stops
  • The last quarter of the course

This is a common sense list, and it applies to any event, but at a big event like the Seagull Century, problem areas are multiplied by the sheer number of riders. The chance for trouble if you’re not careful is much greater than at smaller events. At the start, riders stand or mill around looking for friends. Some are eager to leave, others are lost, some are looking around for people or frantically calling or texting others to find them. Some are socializing. In short, it can be a maze of distracted people.  My team met before the start, and got going together. It takes some coordination, and we had to slowly make our way from the campus of Salisbury University where we parked to the place where we found open road ahead of us.  Rides are usually “show and go” and many people will leave early to avoid crowds, but some will socialize as they gather, and the chance to get split up or stopped is good. The lesson from experience is to go slow and have a plan.

The early miles of a big ride like the Seagull Century are always tense. Legs are fresh, riders are excited, and adrenaline flows. Some want to complete their ride in 5 hours, some just want to finish. Some ride side by side and talk with their friends, leaving much less room to pass them safely. Others find themselves charging ahead as though they’re racing, forgetting the way they trained and using more energy than they might otherwise. It’s a chaotic time. My friend Carol has a talent for finding open spaces between knots of riders at the start of the Seagull.  We trusted her to find us a clear path, and she rode at a strong pace. Riders begin to string out after a few miles, but there are still an abundance of them. Not everyone will let faster riders pass. Not everyone will pass safely. This year, the first segment of the ride was through a mist or very light rain. That created problems as well. By the first stop, the rain had ended, and the roads were starting to dry.

Rest stops are another trouble spot. They are choke points, with riders slowing and stopping, getting in each other’s way, forming queues for water, food, bathrooms and bike service if it’s available.  Most riders won’t skip a rest stop, and most will charge into the first rest stop while still feeling strong. The general chaos as riders stop and go is common to any rest stop, but the more people, the more chaos.  Getting what you need and starting again without cooling down too much is important. In our case, we had become separated by the first stop, but we managed to regroup, resupply and get out without any delay. When we got going again, there were still a lot of riders on the course with us, but the riders thinned out because of the rest stop congestion. It felt like we had more room to ride in. By this time the riders on shorter courses were also separated from the Century riders, and riders were settling into a pace. Managing rest stops is an art, but if you’re careful, you can make it through even the most congested rest stops without accidents.

In the final miles of a century, riders have usually become so tired that they lose focus. The final 25 miles of the course is another place where you have to pay attention. By this time your body has had to refuel and if you’re not eating and drinking enough as you go, the chances of you losing focus and crashing increase. I heard about a crash that required an ambulance in the final miles. It wasn’t a surprise to me. With a lot of tired riders close to each other, mistakes are easy to make. Thankfully, by the end, the road tends to be more open.

The Seagull gets it’s share of accidents because of the sheer number of riders.  These are usually avoidable. Entering the second rest stop, volunteers asked riders to dismount and cross the train tracks at that point because of large gaps there.  One rider apparently crashed trying to ride over it rather than dismounting. We saw a crash on the road between the second rest stop and Assateague island, with a rider going down after touching wheels with another. One of the riders with the rider who crashed turned his bicycle perpendicular to the direction of travel to look back at her, partially blocking the road. That wasn’t the way to help. Inexperienced riders often make mistakes when riding in the middle of groups, because they seldom train in groups. You have to be careful around them.  Finally, what you’ll find at big events are people who try to draft others without knowing the first thing about drafting or riding etiquette. The pros make drafting look easy. So too many clueless riders think it’s easy.  It isn’t. Neither are these events races. They shouldn’t be approached like one. A lot of riders end up trying to save some energy by wheel sucking – which means they cling like a leech, without saying a word, as if they have a right to be there, or they’re just doing you a favor by riding close behind you without saying a word. They form up lines without a clue as to how fast they’re going, and they sometimes burn out early in the ride – all because they think they know what they’re doing. They’re not interested in pulling you along – only saving energy by following. Do they introduce themselves and ask if it’s okay to ride along with you? No. They think they’re doing fine. The best thing to do is drop them. Ride them off your wheel. I like to show them all the courtesy they show me when they latch on to my wheel without communicating.  Which is essentially none, but you have to understand that most of them are just ignorant. They don’t even realize they’re being rude. Big events like the Seagull concentrate these lost souls.


At the finish line with John S. We earned our beer!

Despite the dangers, my friends rode well.  We were together for much of the ride, but Amy, Carol and Stephanie all had injuries to care for by the end and we split up and got to the finish in smaller groups. I finished as strong as I could with John, and we all gathered at the beer garden afterward. It was a fun ride, and a good experience with good friends. One thing I have to say for my friends is that we know how to celebrate!

Cycling along the Coast of Maine


Portland Head Lighthouse

For the third year running, I have gone to South Portland Maine in early September for the Maine Lighthouse Ride. This is a century ride that begins and ends at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, and over the course of 100 miles passes 9 lighthouses as it winds it’s way along the coast from Portland south to Kennebunkport and back again. This ride is the most scenic and enjoyable experience on my cycling calendar.

The ride is gently rolling, and while there are a few climbs that will make you work, the hills are either short ramps or gentle grades and all have corresponding restful descents. The sum total of climbing for this ride is approximately 2600 feet over the course of 100 miles. The average recreational rider can manage this ride with appropriate century training and preparation, and shorter options are available. The ride itself is well supported, with road markings and signs that are easy to follow.  Route maps are available for GPS computers as well. Riders can rent road bikes from bike shops in and around Portland if needed. That’s all the technical information any rider needs; what really sets this ride apart is the scenery and the experience.

The ride begins on the Campus of Southern Maine Community College in view of the Spring Point Ledge lighthouse at the entrance to Portland harbor. Riders go to the Portland Breakwater (Bug) Light, and move away from the waterfront in South Portland along the eastern trail. Riders are asked to start at particular times based on the distance they’re riding to help ease congestion at the start, and there will be some congestion as you ride out, but despite this the early miles will reward you with some fine scenery, and it’s worth the patience required as you go through South Portland.


At the rest stop in Kennebunkport

Be patient and careful until you find open road where you can safely increase your speed. The ride itself is run by the Eastern Trail Alliance, so it’s no surprise that this century is run on some of it’s trails.  Faster riders will want to get to the front of the pack at the start time, but it pays to be very careful, patient and keep your phone cameras available. Photographers should be very careful not to obstruct other riders when they stop for a photo, since some of the areas you’ll ride through are narrow, particularly in the early miles.

The route continues inland, heading toward the causeway over the Scarborough marshes. This is a two mile section of compacted sand and gravel pathway, and while that might not be easy for narrow road bike tires, (pro tip: make sure your tires are in good condition before you arrive) the surface poses little problem if you ride it at a slow speed (10-12mph). Volunteers will be nearby to help you if you need it. While crossing the marshes, take a moment to notice the water level. You’ll ride through twice, and chances are that tidal conditions in the marshes will have changed by the time you return to cross the causeway again.  After the marshes, the ride takes you to the first rest stop at Old Orchard Beach.


The beach from Fortune Rocks

The next leg sets out through Old Orchard Beach before heading west through the towns of Saco and Biddeford and into the countryside until you reach Kennebunkport. This marks the southernmost part of the ride. After a stop outside Kennebunkport, riders go through the town and head north along the rocky coast, meandering along around the inlets and marshes. At this point you’re rewarded with views of mansions, harbors, inlets and rocky shores. Shrub roses grow in the sandy soil by the roadsides, and those that aren’t in bloom display a riot of colorful rose hips. The route winds along the coast past Fortune Rocks, back through Old Orchard Beach and across the Scarborough marshes again. You’ll go to Cape Elizabeth, and through Fort Williams Park to Portland Head Light before you return to the start.


Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse

All along there will be places where you can view and photograph the lighthouses. You might miss one or two if the weather isn’t clear, but they’re out there, and the route passes them. Goat Island Light, Wood Island Light, Cape Elizabeth Light (East & West), Portland Head Lighthouse, and the Ram Island Ledge Light. The coastal scenery never disappoints.

The weather can vary widely. You can expect cool mornings, heat or rain. Southern Maine in early September is on the cusp of a colorful Autumn, and you’ll find the trees starting to turn color in places. Come prepared for differences in temperature between start and finish. You can expect good route markings, good support, and post ride food along with locally brewed craft beer. Portland provides many other distractions – you can browse the shops and restaurants along the Portland waterfront, take a boat ride through Casco Bay, or drive 20 minutes North to Freeport and the L.L. Bean Home Campus to shop the outlet stores. The salt air, the scenery and the fellowship among the riders and volunteers make this a memorable event. Enjoying the coast of Maine by bicycle is a unique and rewarding experience.