rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
On Monday evening, as I was getting ready for the train ride to Arizona, I looked at the top item on my packing list, which said something about knitting and books. I often knit while I travel, because I can't read on airplanes or in cars, but I don't have a particular project lined up, so it would be a project to come up with a project. [Meanwhile, the quilting projects are still stalled out on the task of finding a scrap of velour for making a homemade quilter's pounce. That, and quilting projects don't travel too easily anyway.] I could have dug behind the row of boxes into the yarn box for supplies to work on crocheting myself a bike seat cover, or could have toted along the little ziploc baggie of supplies for crocheting cat toys, but I just couldn't.

Things have been so hectic over the last couple of months that it was a serious relief just to sit on the train and look out the window and let my thoughts wander in circles.

Does the emphasis on being surrounded by friends and family over the holidays come from our loved ones who are extroverts? For me, it has been a great pleasure to instead have had a simple and quiet Christmas morning with [ profile] scrottie, exchanging a few treasured gifts, and then just have the time and space to do a bit of random cooking without having to be constantly strategizing about how to get things done in a time-efficient manner so as to get to the next item on the to-do list. There's also so much social stimulation in California that I crave more alone time.

Observations from the train trip and beyond:

-There are a lot of areas of north-central California where there's a tremendous amount of trash strewn everywhere. There are also a lot of places with all sorts of hobo camps and living arrangements. I guess maybe people don't see quite the same thing from the freeways, but it's shocking to witness from the train. I've seen things that look a bit like those trash piles in various other places on occasion, but never at that density.

-There are orchards in the Central Valley where the fences along the ditches are lined with what look like pomegranate bushes that are full of rotting pomegranates. The scale of the orchards was overwhelming to me. Lately, I've been trying to pay close attention to things that happen at the margin of fields (as in the hedgerows over the summer). In the Central Valley almost all the margins are bare, scraped dirt - including the margins at the edges of vineyards. Not a lot of places for small animals to hide.

-My Amtrak itinerary put me on an evening connector bus from Bakersfield, CA, to the Los Angeles Union Station. Train passengers are generally civilized bus passengers. The Los Angeles traffic wasn't especially terrible, but I am still grateful that I didn't have to drive in it, and was relieved when we finally got to Union Station. The scenery along freeways is really quite different from the scenery along train tracks. More neon signs, gas stations, and billboards.

Los Angeles Union Station

After the bus arrived, there was even enough time for me to walk over to nearby Olvera Street and get some cheese enchiladas at a little restaurant right before closing time. There are some nice cultural spots tucked into the massive concrete black hole that is Los Angeles.

-The train platform in Maricopa, AZ is so short that our train had to make three separate stops to let all of the passengers on and off. It's the closest station to Phoenix, 30 miles away, with zero public transit connections to the city. That's still better than the situation in College Station, where the closest train station was 75 miles away. But not much better.

-[ profile] scrottie and I spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon on food-gathering errands, which meant an opportunity for me to try out the new bike lanes on McClintock. Biking around Tempe made me both happy and sad. For one thing, I am still achingly sad for the loss of my ceramics instructor, Bridget, who passed away from cancer several months back, and I can't help thinking of her while traipsing around because of all the memories this place holds. I also can't help being sad about how this city was built entirely around a car-centric lifestyle. We stopped in at a Fry's grocery (Baseline and McClintock), and I believe Christmas Eve might be one of the few days that every single parking space in the lot gets used. There were no spare shopping carts to be found anywhere, and the store was a bustling madhouse full of Keurig products. After Fry's, we forded across the parking lot, street, and Target's parking lot for another errand, and while S was inside shopping dealing with the hordes I just sat and watched the ebb and flow of people coming and going, and tried and failed to imagine what it would be like if the whole parking lot was replaced with housing. There are a lot of beautiful things about living in Arizona, but there are also a lot of heartbreaking things. On the other hand, the new bike lane on McClintock is GLORIOUS. It is so much easier to reach so many great places on McClintock now.

Really, it is so easy to ride a bike in Tempe. The pavement is smooth, the weather is lovely, and things are pretty flat. But it is so hard to ride a bike in Tempe, where traffic speeds are too high, where things are so spread out and buried in strip malls, and where on every ride there's at least one close call with a person driving a car.

New commute

Dec. 2nd, 2015 10:32 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
The new commute is almost night-and-day different from the Lincoln commute, except with respect to the fact that both routes are technically primarily on bike paths. I say "technically" because the bike path here has a million stop signs along it, whereas the path in Lincoln had exactly none. So while it makes for a reasonably nice commute, it doesn't promote quite the same Zen-like state that facilitates writing bike commute haikus.

This morning, riding along, I noticed that there was a woman up ahead of me who seemed to be going at a fairly similar pace. Eventually, I realized that it was [ profile] sytharin, so I caught up and we rode along together for a stretch. So that was fun.

I need to make some modifications to the Berkeley end of the route still. As a whole, the route goes: down a hill, along a bike path, then up a hill, with a couple of turns and traffic lights towards the Berkeley end of the route. As RAC has observed, while there's a lot of bike infrastructure here, most of what counts as infrastructure is stuff that has simply been slapped on top of the existing infrastructure, because there isn't a whole lot of space to put in things that are specifically for bikes without engaging in some extensive, expensive overhauls. Such overhauls tend to turn into politically intractable turf wars. I suspect that the bike path exists because it runs under the BART on land the government already owns. One of the roads that heads up the hill towards campus, Virginia Street, is labeled as a Bike Boulevard, which means there are giant bike symbols painted on the road, and purple signs that inform you that you are on a bike boulevard. There are also a handful of wayfinding signs, which are good to see, and strategic permeable membrane barricades to discourage motorists but allow cyclists to use the low-traffic road.

On the other hand, Virginia Street crosses two busy streets that lack any sort of signal control, which can lead to the stressful situation of being stopped at the intersection with cars piling up behind me while I wait for four lanes of traffic to clear. Californians aren't especially patient with other drivers, but in many cases they have learned to be patient with cyclists because there are just so.damn.many of us. However, the problem is that many people start riding bicycles here without ever learning traffic skills, so the bicycle-motorist relationship gets to be ambiguous. Some riders just willfully blow through intersections, which makes me anxious, and I presume makes motorists anxious as well. On the third hand, there are a ton of stop signs up everywhere, and if I were to stop at each and every one of the stop signs along my commute, it would probably double the amount of time the commute takes. Stopping and starting is also energetically expensive. To handle that, I am just going to make an effort to be as courteous as possible, stopping when appropriate and thanking people who stop and wait for me.

But back to the subject of crossing the busy roads. On Monday, on the ride home, I watched a cyclist approach one of these crossings, hop off her bicycle, walk it across in the crosswalk, and then hop back on. Whereas the bicycle-motorist relationship is a tad awkward and ambiguous, the motorist-pedestrian relationship seems to be much more clear: motorists MUST stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. I absolutely agree with this aspect of the hierarchy: pedestrians should universally have the right-of-way.

I tried this cyclist's strategy on my way home from work yesterday, and it worked magically well. I am still uncertain about how I feel about using it, though. It sounds like I may be able to avoid using it by fine-tuning my route further. But boy is there a lot to figure out with riding my bike here.

Here's one last major thing I'm puzzling over. In congested areas where the cars pile up at traffic lights, cyclists appear to nonchalantly forge ahead and jump the car line by passing on the right. This often occurs in between a row of parked cars and a row of stopped, waiting cars. In Arizona, I made the tactical decision to not engage in this style of passing-on-the-right because it can easily lead to a "right hook" accident (driver turning right cuts off the cyclist, who smashes into the side of the car). However, in Boston way back in the college days, I used to routinely do this along Mass Ave while biking to and from the boathouse, without major incident. I suspect drivers here are accustomed to paranoid checking for sneaker bicycles, but I don't see it as especially fair to jump the queue. Despite my reservations, I suspect I will start right-side queue-jumping anyway just because if I don't I will probably just piss off other cyclists who don't want to wait in the back of the car line. The main reason this could turn into a problem is that I need to continue NOT doing this when I go and ride my bike elsewhere.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I'm mostly writing this post as a "note to self," but with the idea that it may be informative for others as well.

So, taking your bike with you on an airplane can quickly get expensive. The last time I attempted the Paris-Brest-Paris, I paid four bike fees, each about $80, because I took flights to and from Boston, and then to and from Amsterdam, on separate airlines. So, that was an additional $320 on top of my airplane ticket costs. Pricey.

What are some alternatives? One option would be to acquire a folding bike, such as a Brompton, or get a bike with couplers built into the frame - both methods make it possible to pack a bicycle into sufficiently small dimensions that one can avoid the oversize bicycle airline fees.

Another option would be to look for a rental bike, or to borrow a bike at your destination.

But if you're determined to get your bicycle to your destination, you may want to consider shipping it instead. I keep forgetting this, but the magical number for shipping a bicycle via FedEx is ~130 inches, length plus girth. You can double-check this by plugging different numbers into their shipping estimator. I imagine UPS has a similar number.

Now, what to use as your shipping container? Hard-sided plastic bike cases provide pretty good protection, although they can be expensive and quite heavy. I lucked out and got one on Craigslist a while back - you might have similar luck if you keep your eyes peeled.

But another common alternative is a cardboard bike box. When bicycles are shipped to bike shops, they're generally delivered in large, cardboard boxes, so the mechanics at the shop have to do minimal work to assemble them. If you contact your local bike shop sufficiently far in advance, you can often put in a request that they save you a cardboard bike box. Just make sure it is sufficiently small, because if you go over the magic dimensional number, your shipping costs will go up by ~$50.

Next, putting the bike in the box. This is not a trivial project. I'm not going to cover the positioning of different parts in excruciating detail, other than to note that you'll have to give yourself some time to fiddle around with positioning of things. What I'm going to focus on is this: what could go wrong? In general, the biggest thing that could go wrong is crushing forces on the sides of the box. Imagine a medium-size child jumping up and down on the side of your packed bike box, and you'll have the right mental image going. So, how do you keep that child from damaging your front fork, rear dropouts, and wheels?

We tested out a good trick for this a couple years back, which we've nicknamed "dynamite sticks." Cardboard is nifty stuff (unless it gets wet, but that's a whole nother story). It's fantastic at resisting crushing forces, but only in one direction. To harness this power, take a strip of cardboard, and roll it up. Bonus points if it's the same width as your bike box. But before you tape it closed, do one other thing - run a big piece of string through it.

Don't stop there - make 3 or 4 dynamite sticks.

Then, figure out the weakest points in your bike box - between a wheel, middle of the box, et cetera. Punch holes in the sides of the bike box, and run the string out of the holes - the string will help hold the dynamite stick in the correct orientation. Make the string long enough that you can run it up to the top of the box, and tie it together.

It won't win a beauty pageant, but it will ensure that your bike arrives, safe and sound.

Assuming that you aren't caught out in a rainstorm. But that's a story for another day.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Three awesome bicycling things have come to my attention recently:

First, from [ profile] trifold_flame, there's this:
"using her fists in a scientific fashion," HA!

Next, this thing is soooo West-Coast, but also looks like an awesomely fun family-bonding experience:

I need to learn where they got their tallbikes built, so I can commission one and ride it for the Seattle-to-Portland next summer (PSA: I'm going to do the STP next summer. Afterwords, I'm going bike touring. Because NOT bicycling in Washington this summer has been soul-crushing, and by that time next summer I will be wanting to gear up for another run at the Paris-Brest-Paris.).

Third, learning about bike trains in Los Angeles makes me happy.

Hobo Style

Jul. 17th, 2014 01:46 pm
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I forgot to mention three of the most hilarious moments of the brevet. The first was our return stop in Navasota, at a Shell station. The sun had just come up, so we were at maximal humidity, S's feet were wet, and J and I were feeling a bit knackered. The three of us all lay down on the pavement in front of the store, propped our feet up on a small picnic table there, and took some solid naps. I think that was J's first time napping in front of a convenience store on a brevet. Welcome to randonneuring, my friend.

The second was at the end. The brevet started and ended at the usual spot, a La Quinta Inn in Brookshire. We send business in their direction whenever possible, but it was a bit tricky to do so this time around, because the brevet started at 6 pm and concluded (for us) at 12:40 pm the next day. They don't exactly do hourly rates or anything, so we had some extensive discussions about how to manage our disgusting sweatyness for the ride home. I ruled out jumping in their pool out of a concern that it would give the randonneurs a bad name with the motel staff. That left either hobo showers in the restrooms, or...finding a hose somewhere. As luck would have it, their hose wasn't especially well-hidden, so the three of us all got to rinse off the worst of the sweat and grime (while still bespandexed). I never knew it could feel so good to stick a hose down my bike shorts, ha! We made good use of a number of hoses and spigots on the ride, actually, to refill water bottles and rinse off a bit.

The third happened shortly thereafter. We were tired and hungry, so we stopped at a Tex-Mex joint on the route home for some lunch. The food tasted great, but we must have seemed a bit out of place to the other customers, especially with J still dressed in his bike jersey and S in his pajama bottoms. At one point, while S was up visiting the restroom, both J and I were so overcome with sleepiness that we sat in the booth and napped. When I opened my eyes, I observed the waitstaff re-seating some diners who had originally been seated at tables across from us. Who knows what they thought. But who cares.

Here are two other examples of people hobo-styling it with bicycles. So you know it's not just me.

First is a woman who has figured out an excellently streamlined system to do a hybrid bike-public transit commute, carrying just one backpack-pannier. I admire her freshening-up kit:

Second is a guy who rescued a bicycle from a dustbin and managed an ultra-cheap bike touring trip, for the sake of demonstrating that you really don't need fancy, expensive equipment to bike tour (though knowing a bit about how to repair bikes is important):

Hot 300

Jul. 15th, 2014 10:24 am
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
This past weekend, my father, sister [ profile] sytharin, and a number of my friends gathered in Seattle for dinner and then the 200-mile Seattle-to-Portland bike ride. Amusingly, in the midst of all of the R workshop madness, I got a phone call from R, which happens so rarely I immediately excused myself to answer it. R just wanted to know what kind of smoky cheese we had put into the ravioli the prior year. I didn't know the exact cheese, but remembered that it came from the Pike Place Market, and from the looks of things the gang all had a grand old time assembling and eating the ravioli. If you've never made ravioli before - it can be fairly labor-intensive. My mom's ravioli-making equipment includes pasta rollers on the KitchenAid mixer and a ravioli form for 12 rav's at a time. It was a big technological innovation when I introduced the concept of putting the filling into a frosting piping-style bag - much faster than spooning it in.

Regardless. While they were all off cavorting around the Pacific Northwest, we here in the Republic of Texasland engaged in some slightly different activities. In the morning, we participated in the final segment of the R workshop, learning the tip of the iceberg for open-source GIS, using QGIS. Then there was lunch at a so-so Texican joint, then some frantic packing, and then we were in the car, headed down to Brookshire for a 300k brevet.

This was a tough brevet for me, for three reasons. Reason 1, I haven't been riding as much over the past month and a half as I rode in the spring, so my fitness level was noticeably worse. Reason 2, it was hot and humid, weather that I struggle with. Reason 3, I did way too much running around in the days immediately prior to the brevet. As my previous post may have made clear, one of the things I enjoy most about long-distance bicycling adventures is the opportunity to work up a big appetite and then eat delicious things. It's hard to eat delicious things when you haven't had time to either prepare them or scope out options along the route.

The three of us ([ profile] scrottie, J, myself) also didn't really have a chance to discuss our plans for the ride in advance, which meant we started the brevet on partly empty stomachs at 6 pm and didn't have clear agreement on how to ensure a positive calorie balance throughout the ride. I'd only managed to grab sugary items (candied grapefruit peels, stale stroopwafels, two apples, two granola bars), and I believe S mostly had a huge container of dates (just not my favorite thing) and a bag of fruit.

Then we proceeded to miss a turn because we hadn't worked out the kinks in our navigational arrangements, and added 6 bonus miles onto the ride. Collectively, the calorie deficit, missed turn, and lack of clear strategy made me get all sharply drill-sergeant, which in turn made S deeply unhappy, and made for a less-than-ideal brevet.

What to do, under these circumstances? I don't have a great answer, but I do have at least one decision to decide: if I do not have adequate time to prepare for a brevet beforehand, I need to decide that I will not ride. It is not worth it if I turn into No Fun Rebecca and piss off S and make him conclude that he should not ride in brevets anymore. As mentioned previously, a good part of the fun lies in the eating - I'm quite happy if the eating consists of things I've cooked and brought along (see: burritos), so I need to make sure I've had a chance to prepare to eat.

I also don't know that I want to ride another summer brevet out here. We finished at 12:40 pm on Sunday, and much of my shrewishness was also tied to a desire to avoid riding during the heat of the day. I wound up with heat rash, a partial sunburn*, and a bit of chafing and mild saddle soreness, and of course my skin has broken out some more, too. S wound up with soaking-wet feet at one point. Somehow everything was easier on the last 600k at the beginning of May, even though that brevet was also warm. I think it was the cooler nighttime temperatures that made the biggest difference.

What can ya do. Sometimes, you have to chalk it up to experience, ask for forgiveness, try to learn something, and hope that things go differently in the future. Not every ride will be amazingsauce. I'm still really missing the ocean, mountains, and tall evergreen forest right now. It's hard to live only on memories. And so, onward.

*I'm still amazed that the sunscreen on my face and arms actually worked. I had to wipe down with a bandana and then immediately apply it, and even so, it only kinda-sorta greased on because my skin was instantly humid again.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
As I've been reading this book on long-distance cycling, I'll occasionally read passages that make me snort or chuckle, which causes [ profile] scrottie to ask what I've just read, and then a brief discussion ensues based on our personal experiences relative to whatever opinions are expressed in the book.

It's not that the book is making recommendations that are not sound - after all, the authors have extensive experience with randonneuring and things like the Race Across America. It's just that the Extreme Picnicking Manifesto doesn't always quite match up with the recommendations.

So, S said we should write our own book, and then came up with the title Eat, Poop, Ride. You know, like how some people come up with good band names all the time. The Extreme Picnicking Manifesto would have something in it somewhere about how, if you're going on one of these so-called "training rides," you should really pick a neighboring town and an excellent eatery, and then ride your bike to the eatery, eat something delicious, and ride home again. Both good stomach training and good bicycling preparation. It would also encourage the eating of real, delicious foods like burritos over the eating of packaged convenience items, in large part because it's easier to work in a healthy quantity of fiber when eating real foods.

I think these discussions are the reason why I got the Take the Poo to the Loo song stuck in my head while riding the overnight 300k brevet this weekend.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Monday morning, as I prepared to rush out the door for a morning meeting, I discovered that the Jolly Roger had a flat front tire, so I parked it and took Froinlavin instead. I spent some time Monday evening and again yesterday fossicking with the tube and finally found a pinhole. Hopefully the only one. After I located the pinhole, I went back to the tire to see if I could determine the cause, and found that the tire was full of tiny lacerations, all filled with sand and rocks. Time for a new front tire.

I also did some saddle-swapping this morning because a package from Nashbar finally showed up. A new Selle Royal went on Froinlavin. It's wider than I had expected, probably because of how annoyingly frustrating it is to shop for saddles online - every place I checked listed different dimensions for the two models of Respiro saddles ("Athletic" vs. "Moderate") and it took a while for me to determine that while the "Athletic" is unisex, the "Moderate" isn't. Well, saddle-shopping can get frustrating, period, even when you can go to a shop and examine things in person. I just got lucky that this particularly fairly inexpensive model that's full of gel cushion seems to work well with my posterior.

Then I moved the second-newest Selle Royal over to the Jolly Roger, which was a slight project because I bashed the tops of the seat bolts while trying to get the seatpost unstuck. I really need to get that seatpost off the bike. Penetrating oil, hammering, and boiling water haven't done anything. I think it's going to be time for a blow torch and pipe wrench pretty soon.

I'm still contemplating options for the Jolly Roger basket replacement, and the Novara pannier replacement/fix. I could upgrade the Novara thing with a better piece of backing, if I knew where to get one, and an Arkel Cam-Lock hook kit. Or, you know, spend about twice as much for something that might last a lot longer, and avoid having to fiddle with the project.

Along those lines, it might make the most sense to just bite the bullet and get a handlebar bag that's functional for randonneuring AND everyday use on the Jolly Roger.

These two items are things that require a decent amount of research. More than anything, I just want items that will be functional and last forever, like the Overland panniers and the cooler-pannier, so I can spend more time smugly riding and less time shopping.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I was reading this post the other day about mapping urban heat islands in Raleigh, and it reminded me of something - a heat map like this would be incredibly useful in many cities for helping people identify the best bicycling and walking routes in the summertime. Maybe it would also be useful for getting people think some more about reshaping their local environment by adding more shade plants. Phoenix used to have trees lining all of its canal systems, but for some reason people decided at some point that the trees were using up too much water, so they were cut down. Now the canals are wide open and exposed. There are still two benefits to riding alongside them - the canal paths are car-free, and evaporation out of the canals still makes them marginally cooler than other places one could ride. But still - for the most part, the canals are all still just sitting there, waiting to be turned back into the life-veins of the city. Many of the key canal crossings are still terrifying chasms where one has to wait for a break in traffic before shooting across 5 or 6 vehicle lanes to get to the next section of canal.

Even out here, the shade factor could affect my route decisions.

Ever seen a geared unicycle? I wonder if it has aero bars.

I want to remember this video as a training tool for people new to group riding, although it's missing something pretty important (women cyclists, ahem).
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
You'll be unsurprised to learn we had another nonstop weekend. [ profile] scrottie got back into town Thursday evening, so some of the busyness has gotten compounded, but in good ways, overall.

Saturday, J and I drove down to Houston for some Bicycle Fitment with a guy named Tad Hughes. After the 600k brevet, it became very clear that J needed to take action on that front, and I've made enough changes to Froinlavin that I wanted to re-confirm a few things about my cleat and saddle situations. So we booked ourselves for two, back-to-back two-hour appointments.

While I didn't require nearly as many extensive changes as J, it was still a worthwhile experience. Towards the beginning, T chatted about his position in the overall industry, which is a tricky one, because he sits somewhere between what bike shops do and what healthcare providers do. He said he won't touch the biomechanics of running fit for that reason. Also because in a whole lot of cases, runners with various issues have those various issues because either their shoes are worn out and they need new ones, or because they have selected their shoes based on their appearance and not on their function.

So, bike fits. This is an aspect of the bicycling industry where there is room for improvement, but also for better education and perspective on the side of how bicyclists approach the activity. This is basically the second fit I've gotten - the first one happened over the course of obtaining Froinlavin, at R&E Cycles, the shop where I got 'er. In a lot of respects, I think it's better to have a fit done at a place that specializes just on the fit, because many bike shops wind up having a conflict of interest between their goal of selling you something and positioning you to ride optimally. R&E was actually good in that department, largely because of their overall goal of selling you a bike shop, not a bunch of stuff.

Anyway - T had both a good, informative evaluation process, and a good process for making and refining adjustments. My favorite part of the evaluation process was his butt sensor, which sits on top of the bike saddle and measures pressure points. From that, I learned that my saddle is actually on the narrow side of what would be ideal for me, even though it's a fairly wide saddle. That might make you go, "Well, no duh, it's a unisex saddle and men have more narrow pelvises than women," to which I would counter, "Well, sure, except most women's saddles are too short for me." Regardless, I felt vindicated in my saddle choice overall, because my weight distribution was even and good.

The larger adjustment for me was for my feet. I got Froinlavin with platform pedals, but have been riding with Shimano SPD's and some Pearl Izumi shoes. I'm about to replace the SPD's with Speedplay Frogs, but my foot troubles made me wonder if I needed to make some changes to my shoes. T set me up with some insoles and cleat shims, and I can tell that they have changed my foot positions considerably. It remains to be seen whether that change will be beneficial over the long miles of a brevet, but I'm optimistic.

Getting a bike fit done can seem kind of expensive - Tad charges $250 for each two-hour appointment, and he said that he gets a lot of customers who walk in expecting him to be a miracle worker for that price. So he said that in a lot of cases, most of his job consists of trying to get athletes to understand how reality works - he can get a person into a more optimal position on the bike, but he can't guarantee him or her instant returns on speed. If anything, it can take time to adjust to changes in position, so initial gains will be minimal or nonexistent. Longer-term gains, however, will be in the right direction - the direction of avoiding repetitive use injuries and developing good biomechanical power on the bicycle. I also think my mom might have an interesting time talking to him (that reminds me, mom, next time I'm in town, I'd be happy to have you do a gait analysis on me).

Fortunately, both J and I have pretty good perspective on that subject, so T didn't have to convince us on that front - he just had to evaluate us and talk to us about the adjustments we needed (J even more so than myself).

My friends in Arizona encouraged me for a long, long time to go in for a bike fit, but I never did while I was there. I think I understood their reasons for encouragement at the time, but I was under so many different pressures on so many different fronts (including financial pressures) that it was just never high enough on the list of priorities. At this point, though, going in for the fit was a validating experience. I'm still doing things with the goal of preparing myself for another good run at Paris-Brest-Paris, and I feel like I've been making a lot of positive strides in that direction over the past couple of years.

It's challenging, though - I've also started reading a book on training for long-distance cycling, and there's a part of me that's still resistant to the notion of training for bike rides because I always also want to train for rowing, and the two activities are compatible, but only up to a point. I'm mostly hoping the book will give me better perspective to work from, overall. If the book could just make the Texas summers more bearable, that would be a huge start. We've got an overnight brevet coming up in the middle of July, but other than that I don't feel particularly motivated to go out for long bike rides when it's this humid and hot.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
What criteria do you use when selecting bike gear? For me, it mostly has to do with comfort and durability. Weight isn't an issue. *evil laugh* (I'm never trying to go that fast) Most of the ad copy written about bicycling gear is targeted towards some other mystical demographic (male roadie or le femme cruiser), so it has taken me a while to settle on the things that work well for me. In the past year or two, I've started trying to keep a more comprehensive list of things so that when stuff wears out, it's less fiddly to replace stuff.

I just coughed up a chunk of money for three simple items: A set of Speedplay Frog Stainless pedals + cleats, another Selle Royal Respiro so I can swap out the disintegrating one on the Jolly Roger*, and a new u-lock. I can get the cylinder on the current OnGuard to turn 99% of the way...but something's wrong with it and it won't open, even after applications of graphite and three-in-one. At least it failed at a point when the bike wasn't locked up! I've been using Shimano SPD's for clipless pedals up until now, but the Speedplays come highly recommended from multiple randonneuring parties, so now that the Shimano pedals are biting the dust it's time to try something new. J and I are going in for bike fittings next Saturday, so I'd like to get fitted with the Speedplays.

Some day, when I have infinite amounts of money, I'll buy a whole new set of bike bags from Swift Industries. However, in the meantime, my Overland panniers are still going strong (16 years and counting). By contrast, as previously mentioned, the Novara-pannier is almost completely trashed, and some sort of backpack-containing device is in order. Either that or I have to start hoofing home, hoofing back to work, and THEN going on post-work bike rides. I've been daydreaming about attaching some Arkel hooks to the front of my Borealis backpack somehow, or maybe building some equivalent of [ profile] scrottie's frame pack (something like this, but that hooks on a bike like a pannier). But at that point, I might as well just track down a more durable solution to the Novara pannier setup anyway, as that would have more versatility.

Oh, with the infinite money, I would also upgrade the Jolly Roger to a Schmidt SON generator hub with Edelux headlight and Busch and rear Muller Toplight Line Brake Plus. Peter White Cycles is THE source for this stuff in the US. In the meantime, I'm most pleased with the Fenix LD20 flashlight fit into a TwoFish Lock Block. I'm less pleased with that fickle Cygolite I photographed and wrote about not too long ago (on the left in the photo; the Fenix is next to it). The PlanetBike SuperFlash still deserves a shout-out as a nice combination of cheap and flashy for a taillight.

The Jolly Roger's basket is getting to be seriously worn out. I got the original one from Velo-Orange, but they sold that one when the owner met the guy making them and bought a bunch on a whim. I *think* I still have the contact information for the Amish guy in Wisconsin who made it and the replacement, but I'm not positive. If I go that route again, I'm going to ask for a couple of feature modifications: hinges on the front of the basket, buckle on the left side close to the handlebars so I can open/close the basket while riding. I've also long pondered ways of incorporating a u-lock holder into the deal, and I would need to think about ways to cut down on long-term basket rattle. It was less of a problem in the Phoenix area, where the pavement was generally in fantastic shape.

Bike projects. They never end.

*I had moved my "current" one onto Froinlavin and swapped on the saddle that had been on Froinlavin, but due to the stuck seatpost on the Jolly Roger I had to dig out an older, dying Selle Royale and put it back on the JR. Froinlavin's old seat was too short. I'll put the brand-new one on Froinlavin and return the previous one to the JR. Why would I bother putting a brand-new seat on the JR when it sits out in the sun and rain
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
A view of Saturday's backyard bike shop:

Backyard Bike Shop

Looks pretty good, right, because you can't see the humidity. Of course, you can't see the missing link I dropped, either.

'twas a busy night last night, too. I went on two social bike rides - the usual Monday Night Social Ride, then a Brews Cruise put on by a local brewery. The Brews Cruise had about 3 times as many riders as the Social Ride, heh.


Traffic light

Not the best of photos, but that's what you get when I'm taking photos with the PowerShot A620 whilst riding. It was good to build some connections and hang out. The last stop of the brews cruise was at one of the local bike shops, where we hung around and drank beer and looked at bikes. Sounds terrible, eh? After a bit, my friends T and J appeared, since they'd just wrapped up with Monday Night Kids' Mountain Biking. At the end, riding home along College, T and J decided to detour back into Hensel Park for some nighttime mountain bike riding. That's the park where I've been helping out with trail-building on occasion.



I would have joined them, except I was still hauling all my luggage, hobo-style, including the increasingly fragile Novara-pannier, and I'm pretty certain even the super-mild trails would have brought it closer to total destruction. It's probably time to shop for a replacement again. Sigh.

Still. It feels like a lot of bicycling things are finally starting to come together here.


Jun. 14th, 2014 09:25 pm
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Saturdays can get intense sometimes. This morning, I leaped out of bed, did the dishes (too tired last night), ate breakfast, and headed over to the farmer's market. I bought a whole bunch of tomatoes this week, as tomato season has arrived en force. Also some more peaches. The peaches I bought last week were actually reasonably good, giving me hope for Texas peaches after all.

Then home, to mow the ditch and backyard. I was soaked through by the time that was over, so I changed clothes and went over to Brazos Natural Foods for groceries, and swung by the Farm Patch on the way home, for good measure. Then I mixed up a batch of lentil-pecan pate, and also tried making a tofu-dill-caper aioli. Both use up odd ingredients in my cupboard; the lentil-pecan pate calls for some umeboshi paste, which is amazingly flavorful stuff, but a little umeboshi goes a long ways and I have a substantial stash to work through. The tofu-dill-caper aioli used up half of a little jar of capers that's been lingering in the fridge for over a year by now. It was good enough that I may make another batch once this one runs out.

Then, time for bike maintenance. I've been thinking the Jolly Roger's rear wheel needed some truing, so it was time for some generalized cleaning and maintenance.

The thing is, anytime I need to budget time for bike maintenance, it should really be on an open-ended afternoon. Projects that seem like they should be straightforward aren't always straightforward, and this one took an ugly turn at the end. I was almost done, to the point where I was putting fresh lube on the chain, when I suddenly realized I hadn't threaded the chain properly through the rear derailleur. I took it apart again at the masterlink...and lost half of the masterlink in the weeds and grass on the back patio. Just as I realized it was time to pack things up for a Saturday evening picnic ride. So I hastily put things away and hopped on Froinlavin instead.

I hope I can find the masterlink tomorrow morning.

I'm also glad that I'm calling it a night after the picnic. 'Twas a full day, and the picnic was a wonderful ending, but man, I'm pooped, and I have a lot of things on the agenda for tomorrow, too.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
As [ profile] scrottie noted at one point on the ride, randonneurs/randonneusses are always working on the next equipment improvement.

My thoughts from the brevet:

.I'll be putting in a phone call to R&E Cycles to discuss the situation with Froinlavin's rear wheel (potentially a complex discussion) pretty soon. The wheel should still be covered under the two-year warranty, but I also just want to have a chat with them about my riding style and experiences. When a new wheel is built, typically it needs to be re-trued after a couple hundred miles. I'm pretty sure this point wasn't emphasized by the shop, so I want to ask them about that. Now, associated with that - I never did re-true it. I've just slightly tightened 1-2 spokes that appeared to have loosened excessively. I've also put it through some pretty tough paces - particularly, bike touring to and from Austin and a compost-hauling trip. So, we'll see what they say. I'd be fine with making some upgrades if that improves my odds of being able to ride without issues.

.Another upgrade on the horizon: pedals and cleats. I've been riding Shimano SPD's, but the current ones are showing their age. I've heard good things about Speedplay pedals, so I think I'll give those a try next. My knees were a bit creaky at the end of the ride, which is troublesome. That is probably due to a couple of factors, of course, including those 10 miles ridden with the broken spoke and wheel rubbing against the fender. Additional float in the pedals seems like a good idea, though, and I think GG is spot-on with his advice to spend some time doing something along the lines of rollerblading. If a person only rides a bicycle (and rows), only parts of the quads do work and get stronger, leading to imbalances and injury.

.I also need to do more about my bike gloves. I bought a set of Pearl Izumi ones from REI online, which meant I didn't get to try them on and see if the padding aligned well. They have wound up being okay, but after 381 miles on Texas sealcoat I have developed handlebar palsy in my right hand again. It's going away already, but I'd like to be able to cover that sort of distance without issue.

.I wound up developing salt sores on the bridge of my nose, this ride. That was due to a combination of sweat and extra weight on my sunglasses from the rearview mirror. While the glasses mirror has been serving me well, I now think it's time to switch over to a helmet-mounted one.

.Laniseptic. Good stuff. My butt is so very, very happy. Thank you, sheep, for sharing your lanolin with my skin.

.I was concerned about my helmet for this ride. It's on the heavy side, and not especially well-ventilated. However, I really only had minor neck soreness, and it didn't feel like the helmet contributed too strongly to overheating. I think it might have even been beneficial to have it as protection from direct sun exposure. I also still love love love the snap-detachable helmet liner. Here's the padding on my previous helmet, for comparison:

Helmet lamentation

Notice how it is all wrinkly and destroyed, and how it's a fiddly pain to try and remove it from the helmet because there are twenty little fragments (exaggeration) all held in place with velcro. I looked through a number of other helmet options while in REI in Seattle, and none of them came close to the Bern in terms of helmet padding quality. I guess most manufacturers are still too obsessed with keeping weight down or something. Maybe some day Bern will also develop a custom summer cooler-liner for their helmets. Otherwise I suppose I could make my own, if I can track down the correct snaps.

.Speaking of keeping cool, two other things were great on this ride in that respect. The first was the trick of filling a tube sock with ice and putting it on my neck. That provided a ton of relief. Plus, it gave me an excuse to wear an old favorite sock that is no longer good for putting on my feet anymore. The second was the point when S and I stopped at the low-water crossing to put our feet in the water. Sweet, sweet relief. Regulating foot temperature can do a lot towards regulating whole-body temperature. I tend to overheat easily, but I was sufficiently proactive on this ride that I avoided serious problems.

.Here are all the spare bike lights I carried with me, minus one PlanetBike SuperFlash (the best budget taillight out there, as far as I'm concerned - if you want an amazing but expensive light, get a DiNotte):
Bike light comparison
At one point, when I opened the trunk bag, I noticed that the Cygolite, on the far left, had turned itself on. Again. It does that all the time. I used to leave it installed on the Jolly Roger while the Jolly Roger sat outside for the entire workday, but there have been a few too many occasions where I've come out to the bike at the end of the day and found that the light had turned itself on. That's probably an issue of faulty circuitry, but still. Between that, and the fact that the button is apparently too easy to switch on when the light's in a bag, it's something of a last-ditch deadweight. The white light in the center has been a good helmet light for reading the cue sheet in the dark, but I'm annoyed that it's also easy to switch on accidentally when it's tucked away in a bag. I carry its corresponding taillight mostly because it contains the same watch battery, to serve as a spare. The sliding switch on the headlamp is better in that respect, and so is the placement of the flashlight switch, recessed on the butt (second from the left). The toggle switch on the taillight (lower right) is probably the worst, though. I don't even bother to keep batteries in it when it isn't in use.

Fortunately, I didn't need any of the pictured lights. The generator hub and lights were fantastic, once again. Also highly, highly recommended.

.Lastly, on food. The burritos were excellent, once again. I'm still curious to hear more about other peoples' tricks (like JL, who says he carries a roasted tofu sandwich or veggie dogs wrapped in tortillas). I would note again that the rice, black bean, and kale burritos tasted AMAZING towards the end of the ride, and this indicates to me that it's important to continue eating fruits and veggies while doing these long-distance hauls. It's a relief to eat a burrito after eating junk food at a convenience store stop. I think there are a lot of similarities between what one would want to eat while bike touring and what one should eat while randonneuring - which is to say, a continued emphasis on real foods with plenty of carbohydrates, but also a decent quantity of fiber. I have this mental image of my friend DM in Austin, popping raw brussels sprouts in her mouth, as an indicator of how powerful the vegetable hunger can get when one is out on the road for an extended period.


May. 6th, 2014 11:28 am
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Okay, here we go.

The whole, lengthy 600k story )
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Geez, time to lay off the voiceposts!

'twas a successful ride for myself and [ profile] scrottie. Poor J suffered the consequences of poor bike fit and had to stop after 160 miles. I feel for him; it sucks when bike fit is what holds you back, but as S pointed out, at least it's less expensive to learn that lesson now, versus the way I learned it.

I have many thoughts and anecdotes and photos to share, but I also have this thing called a job I need to work on, so the tidbits will trickle out over the next couple of days, methinks. Unless I get seized by the urge to write it all down and ignore everything else at my peril...

A big one

May. 2nd, 2014 05:01 pm
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
It's going to be an intense weekend. Finally time to tackle another 600k, legs, butt, and weather permitting.

Here's our route:
600k brevet route overview

Note that it's a counter-clockwise circle, then a smaller clockwise circle back to Brookshire on Day 1. Day 2 is an out-and back. All fairly familiar territory.

I'll be voice-posting from the road, assuming I can get it to work properly.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Yesterday, while cruising around campus and putting up flyers, I noticed that I was suddenly no longer able to shift from the middle to large chainring on the Jolly Roger. When I paused to inspect the situation more closely, I discovered that my front shifter cable was fraying and holding on by only a couple of threads. Time for some bike maintenance, stat.

But why stop at just replacing the cable? I tend to run around with a bike maintenance backlog, only repairing or replacing things when they've seriously died and gone home to Jesus. My shifters have been on this list for a long time. They still worked, but it would take a certain sort of leverage at just the right angle to get them to shift, and sometimes the trigger levers wouldn't return to the starting position on their own. I've also had to perform surgery on them more than once.

Well, no problem, I'd bought a set of replacement shifters, and fresh grips, too, so all that was needed was a swap-a-roonie.

Almost. The thing is, the original shifters were actually integrated brake levers and shifters. For some reason, Shimano thought this was a good idea - one less ring of metal taking up space on the handlebars. So, the brake cables would also need to be replaced. Still no big deal.

Except. When I opened the box of replacement shifters, I discovered they were just shifters. No brake levers.

An hour and a half and some hacksawing later, the original brake levers and new shifters were sufficiently workable, and the cockpit was reassembled shortly after that.

Cockpit update

Left brake carve job
Right brake carve job

I also finally replaced the rear brakepads. Suddenly, I have crisp shifting and excellent stopping power. It feels like a whole new bike! I'm also pretty much completely caught up on bike maintenance, at least for Froinlavin and the Jolly Roger. For once. Drivetrains could use scrubbing, as usual, and the Jolly Roger could probably use a new chain again. Seems like I just replaced that chain not too long ago. And Old Faithful still needs a number of fixes and updates. I probably won't get to those until I'm settled in whatever place I move to next.

I also have several hours of missed academic work that I need to make up.

I'm going to keep the old shifter guts, mostly for sentimental reasons. Ten-plus years is a pretty good lifespan for a set of trigger-shifters.
Old shifter guts

Also, next time I'm going to switch to friction (thumb) shifters.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I hardly sat down to internet this weekend. That's probably a good thing!

Saturday was filled with chores and projects. [ profile] scrottie went ahead and mowed the lawns and did laundry on Friday, bless him. That meant that, after grocery-shopping wrapped up, I had time to work on Operation Squirrel and Bird Exclusion.

I watched this YouTube video on making a conduit bender, and liked what I saw. So I set about tracing a half-circle on a big sheet of plywood, screwed in some deck screws, nailed in some nails, and bent some conduit. Unfortunately, my first semicircle was too large! Or maybe it's that my conduit was too short. I probably should have done more math before deciding on sizes. Fortunately, the screws and nails were fairly easy to pull out and reposition, and the rest of the project went smoothly up until it was time to drill some holes for the conduit in the wood. Then I discovered that a 5/8" drill bit was a hair too small, so 'twas back to the hardware store for an 11/16" bit, which worked fine.

Bending 1/4

Bending 2/4

Bending 4/4

Take THAT, squirrels!
Hoops in place

Also, there is a small artichoke on one of the artichoke plants. I am pleased. These plants have it rough compared to ones in California. When the strawberries are past their peak, I'll elevate and transfer this hoop setup to the tomato plants. It will also disassemble fairly easily for storage and transport.


On Sunday, we went on a long bike ride down to Brenham, TX, to visit a local-foods store. Naturally, this bike ride involved shoving a large portobello veggie burger in my face. Naturally, that required that [ profile] scrottie photograph me.


Our friends J and K joined us, so we had a nice bike pile going. J and I both got to test-ride new trunk bags (cue lots of jokes about junk in trunks). Mine's a definite winner! J's new bag listed strongly to port, so he may have to do some reinforcement work.

Bike pile

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I'd asked in advance and had someone from the store say they'd be open, the store was closed for Easter. No cheese for us. Here is J, looking sad and angry about the lack of cheese. I doubt I'll manage to go back anytime soon (too big a time commitment), which is a real shame because the stuff inside looked cool.


Oh well. At least it was a beautiful day to ride with a bike posse. Here was my view for most of the ride:
Bike posse

The wildflowers are starting to look better, too (more Indian Blanket and Mexican Hat, fewer bluebonnets).
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Last week, J let me know that, with his current work situation, he thought it was unlikely he would be able to go to the 300k, so I'd be out a riding partner for it. I could totally sympathize, and was grateful that he let me know with enough advance notice to send a message to the Houston Randonneurs list and give them a heads-up on my situation (riding by my self, a general slowie).

But then, I was fortunate on yesterday's brevet to have the fine company of MW, an A&M graduate and veteran of no small number of rides. You never quite know how things will shake out on a brevet. Six of us signed on for the 300k, and a seventh rider signed on for the 200k instead (he said he had a date with his wife, which seems like good justification). At the starting line, amidst the chaos of a time trial, I chatted a bit with the other riders to get a feel for how things might shake out. One guy, B, said that while he didn't want to respond to my e-mail and volunteer to ride with me, he had a feeling that's how the ride would wind up going, which was comforting news to me.

Time trial lineup
Preparing at the starting line. The photo is blurry because it was too early in the morning, so the camera wasn't awake.

Three of the other riders were guys who I know are quite fast. There was an out-and-back section on the 400k, and just as J and I were preparing to head out, two riders came through on the "back" part, which meant they were about 4 hours ahead of us. The third fast rider hung out with the pack of riders on the 400k, but I've also seen him take off ahead when he has felt so inclined, and I also learned from MW that he once completed a four-hour century ride (do the math; that's an average of 25 mph for four hours).

So. As we pulled out of the La Quinta, six of us stuck together as a group; B fell off the back of the group quickly, but on the flat early stages, I felt like I could hang with the other five guys, so I did, up until we started hitting the hills about 6 or 7 miles outside of Belleville. At that point, I said "peace out" to the super-fast guys and fell back to take my time climbing. To my surprise, MW hung back with me! He pointed out that the other guys were riding with power output that he knew he couldn't sustain, but said that my pace seemed just fine.

We caught up with the fast four briefly at the Belleville control (who can resist the lure of Newman's bakery, eh?).

Newman's Bakery, Belleville

The fast four rolled out while MW and I ate a few bites of delicious things (raspberry thumbprint cookies, yum, and some breakfast burrito, too), so that was that.

The next segment of the ride took us from Belleville up through Chappell Hill, and then further north to Navasota, along a series of farm roads. There was a large Saturday farmer's/art market in downtown Belleville, which looked awesome (at a quick glance as we rolled past), and there were banners up in Chappell Hill about a bluebonnet festival happening the following weekend. It must be spring in Texas.

The stretch of roadway between Chappell Hill and Navasota is one of those areas where people drive out to photograph themselves and loved ones and babies and weddings and ponies* and chupacabras** among the spring wildflowers. That meant traffic and lots of parked cars along the side of the farm road, and big fields edged with people carrying cameras. Also, tons and tons of pollen in the air. Our eyes watered and our noses streamed. Altogether, the spectacle was a pleasant distraction.

There were bright-yellow fields full of some yellow flower, bright-blue fields full of bluebonnets, and bright orangey-red fields full of indian paintbrush. These guys aren't my favorite wildflowers (the paintbrush is all right), but the colors were still pleasing among the green grass and trees, and we were definitely riding through during Peak Wildflower. I'll still take a field of golden-orange California poppies in Arizona well before any of the Texas stuff.

Bluebonnet moment
Obligatory bluebonnet photo

The section from Navasota up to the corner store in Carlos featured even more wildflowers, of the sort I more strongly prefer; mixtures of all different kinds of things whose names I don't know, short and tall and pale blue and hot pink, interspersed with interesting rock formations and the occasional patch of prickly pear cactus. I might have to go back out there to re-ride that section, since it's reasonably close to home.

There isn't a whole lot to say about the return trip; this was an out-and-back ride, so the scenery was just as grand on the way back. MW continued to provide great company, swapping tons of stories of bicycling adventures and other travels. He also works for TxDOT, which means he has lots of useful insights into road infrastructure and how to go about getting things done around the state. With all of his help with pulling, we managed to finish the brevet at a reasonable hour, too, arriving back at the La Quinta at 10:20 pm, 15 hours and 20 minutes after the start. I think it also helped that we never stopped for much longer than 20-30 minutes at controls. My theory is that it's better to keep rolling, even at a slow pace, than to spend too much time sitting.

I went back to look at my finishing times from the 300k's in Arizona, though, and was reminded, once again, of the incredible toll that chipseal takes. I feel like yesterday's brevet was a strong and fast ride for me, and yet I finished both of the Arizona brevets even more quickly, in 15 hours or under. I just have to hope that all of the time I am spending on the Texas roads and hills will continue to help me be a confident randonneusse.

Gig 'em bluebonnets

*Yes, there was a PONY FARM along that section. Ponies for everyone!
**No, there weren't really any chupacabras. Oh, but we did spot a big, dead wild pig at one point, later on.


rebeccmeister: (Default)

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