Archive for the ‘Bicycling’ Category

The Last Hour

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

The graying darkness slowly descends around me and I’m reminded that this won’t last much longer.  September is here.  And on last night’s ride, toggling the screen on the bike computer while I gasped for breath there at the end, the time was one minute past sundown.

No, I won’t be able to do this much longer.  Soon only the weekends will be left.

But I push that thought away.  The more important thing is that now, a half-dozen miles into tonight’s ride, that ache from the early miles that I always hate is gone.  Replaced by the deeper and more intense – but somehow less bothersome – burn of muscles that are warmed to their task.

Mom’s surgery is tomorrow, a worrisome nettle.  Ginny and I will be heading down to Charlottesville early in the morning to be there for that.  I hate hospitals, the place where people go when things have gone awry.  The locus of too much pain and suffering.

But they are also where people go to get fixed and get better.  And since I’m optimistic by nature, that’s what I hold to.

Miles on, and Lancaster looms.  The upper part that’s hard.  I usually run it in both directions.  First coming off of Northampton, the pull up the long gradient followed by the sharp, fast downhill.  Then, a few miles later, going the opposite way, heading up that once-was-a-downhill, now a painful incline.

I freewheel as much as I can as I approach it, resting my legs.  Then I’m around the corner and there, clicking quickly into my lowest gear in the rear, middle chain ring up front.  Within a handful of yards my cadence drops under 70, and that’s where I lift from the saddle.  Up over the front wheel, hands on the hoods, pushing the pedals in measured, powerful strokes.  Striving towards the top, trying not to drop into the small chain ring, the granny gear.

I measure it by the manhole covers.  The first one halfway up, the one rising six inches above the tortured, misshapen pavement – where if you’re not watching you’ll run smack into it with a bone-jarring crunch.

The second one just a handful of strokes shy of the crest. You always figure if you can get to that one you’ll be able to make it all the way.  But by the time I reach it I’m nearly spent, my heart hammering and my breath coming in ragged gasps, my lactate threshold long since having been left behind.  The pain in my legs has morphed into a faltering numbness.

It’s times like this that you wonder why in the world you do this.

But then you’re over the top and there comes the long, glorious downhill.  The speed builds in a rapid crescendo and the cooling breeze washes over you like the sponge of an angel.  And in half a minute your legs have recovered.

There are few things as wondrous as a long, freewheeling downhill.

One more quick loop around, an easy, lazy mile, and then I’m done.  Out back to the road, glancing quickly left to see if there are any cars coming, then accelerating hard into the downhill shrouded in the darkness.  And then out of the trees, up the hill, and back into the last light of the day.

Long Odds

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

It seemed timely when the flyer came in the mail last week.  The Fauquier Free Clinic will be holding its 12th annual bicycle tour fundraiser in September.  The flyer described how there are several different rides one can choose from – all-paved distances of 12, 35, or 60 miles; or “mixed terrain” routes of either 20 or 30 miles.  It struck me that this might be an opportunity for me to further explore this bicycling thing, given my recent time and interest in it.

I don’t have a mountain bike or hybrid, so I immediately ruled out the gravel road stuff.  And of the paved rides, the 12 miler is simply a pleasant little ride for “recreational” cyclists – too short and too easy.  The 60-miler, on the other hand, is too long and too serious.  No way I’d be able to do that in a month.  Right there in the middle, though, is that 35-miler.  That might just work.

Or not.

Today I downloaded the route into my motorcycle GPS, climbed onto the Harley, and went to take a look.  I took my time, deliberately envisioning what the route would be like on a bicycle.  Imagining how pedaling it would feel.

It’s a beautiful route, I’ll give it that.  Mostly secluded, with rustic views all over the place.

Only thing, I don’t think I’d be looking at the scenery very much.

It’s not the distance.  Thirty five miles is pretty doable for most anyone with a modicum of fitness, after all.  No, the killer on this ride is the hills.  Lots and lots of them.  Enough that they morph that 35-mile distance into something probably closer to a 70-100 mile effort, were it a flat course.

To put that in perspective, cyclists often point to a “century” – a hundred mile ride – the same way that runners target a marathon.  Neither is something that one does lightly or without a great deal of training.

With a little more than a month until the ride, that would give me 8 weeks of training on my bicycle – starting from a base of zero.

Not very promising…

Rough Ride 35 Miler

Rough Ride 35 Miler

Here’s the link to the ride:

Going Clipless

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Among road bicyclists, probably the first clue that someone might be halfway serious about the sport isn’t the colorful jersey they’re probably wearing.  No, it’s when you look down at their pedals and instead of seeing that big flat platform where your feet go that we all remember from when we were kids – you see instead a small chunk of metal which seems impossibly small to serve the purposes of pedaling a bicycle.

You’re looking at a “clipless” pedal.

I won’t pretend I’m anything approaching serious.  I still suck in all the ways that “roadies” might ever measure themselves.  But what started out simply as a way to get a little exercise… has morphed into something else entirely.  What that is, what it will end up being, I can’t say.  But I’m going with the flow.  And the flow told me to do this.

There are a handful of different kinds of clipless bicycle pedals.  After doing a week’s worth of research, I chose Speedplay Light Actions.

There’s some wisdom associated with clipless pedals.  The most prominent being… you’re going to fall down a time or two while you’re getting used to them.  Your feet are essentially locked into place on the pedals – not unlike a ski boot to a ski – and you disconnect them by rotating your heel out.  Sounds simple.  And it is.  But it’s not quite as quick or as easy as simply lifting your foot off of a conventional pedal and sometimes you end up coming to a stop with your feet still glued to the bike.

That’s when you get to absorb some of that wisdom.

It didn’t take me long.  Having installed my shiny new pedals on my bike and having attached the cleats to my new cycling shoes, I figured I’d just spin around the upper loop on my gravel driveway a few times.  That’s when I discovered that the unclipping procedure was not as intuitively obvious as I first assumed it must be.  Splat.  Down into the gravel hard enough to knock my chain off.

Slightly banged up, but undeterred, I took off on my evening training ride last night.  I had some initial difficulty leading out on the slight uphill incline in my yard – clipping into the first pedal is done from a standstill, of course; but then you have to clip the other one in after you’ve gotten moving.  My unclipped foot slipped off the pedal and I banged my perineum on the bike’s top tube.  Hurt like hell.

But once I was past that little drama, it all got better.  I spent an hour down in Warrenton Lakes getting a few miles in and practicing clipping and unclipping.

I’ll get this.

Speedplay Pedal

Speedplay Pedal

Road Cycling Shoes w/cleats

Road Cycling Shoes w/cleats


Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

My legs ache. Like I knew they would.

On Sunday I repeated Saturday’s early morning bicycle ride – the loop on Blackwell with the killer hill. Except I did it in the early afternoon, after the morning rain had cleared and the sun had come back out and the roads had dried.

And then last night I added half again to the mileage I’ve been riding in recent days. You normally wouldn’t do that, but with the embarrassingly small base from which I’m beginning I knew it would be okay.

Except that it would hurt.

The start of a bicycle ride is just like a run – it sucks for the first couple of miles while your muscles slowly warm up. Your body has a reluctant torpor to it, a dull feeling of not wanting to do this. And your legs pointedly remind you that they’re still tired from yesterday. But then it slowly gets better as the sheen of sweat builds across your body. Sometimes a lot better.

My rides during this getting-started phase have been marked by a press to incrementally increase distance and pace. My heart rate has averaged within 10-15 beats of my heart’s maximum. That’s too high.

So I dialed it back just a bit, riding with just a hint of deliberateness.

The epiphany came late in the ride, when I was into a distance I’ve not seen before this year. When I should have been getting more and more tired. When my speed should have been slowly declining. When I should have been riding in lower and lower gears, sapped by fatigue.

Instead, I got stronger.

It’s the first time I’ve ever felt that on a bicycle. When the burn in your legs and the heaving of your lungs after a hard climb give way, not to growing fatigue, but to renewed strength. You coast for a few seconds. Then you click into an easier gear and just spin easy for a little bit. It only takes moments. Then your legs recover. You click back up into a higher gear, rolling steady now, pressing to keep your speed up. And then on the next rise you lift up out of the saddle and are surprised by how great it all feels. How strong you feel.

There’s a miracle in there somewhere.

Today, my legs ache. It’ll be a rest day.

2 Wheels… But Not on a Motorcycle

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

A mile into the ride I break out of the canopy of trees and into the early-morning sun.  The mist rises from the field to my right and the flat angle of the sun lights it from the side, imparting to it a look of faint mystery.  The air seems unusually clear for the first day of August.  But then it is very early, not yet even 7.  Not yet time for the sun to bake the humidity into a hard haze.  Maybe it’s because I’m not wearing sunglasses, but looking at the awakening world with naked eyes.

Slightly chilled when I began the first coasting descent just a few hundred feet from my driveway, where my ride began, I’m feeling better now as my muscles warm to the task.  This is the first long uphill grade and as the road rises in front of me I shift down into the lower gears.  The burning in my legs grows, but it’s not too bad.  Nothing like the awful pain that the hill on Blackwell will throw at me in five miles.  I laugh at myself and pull my mind away from that torment to come and simply savor the surprise of how pretty everything is.  I’ve done it on a motorcycle, of course.  Loved the early morning quiet and solitude and newness of everything.  But this is the first time I’ve ever taken a bicycle out so early.

I was a runner once.  That ended when I began working where I do now – the long commute and the necessarily long days.  But I remember it.

One of the things I remember was that training days begat more training days; while missed training days led to more missed training days.

Put a string of evening runs together, in other words, and you’ll have no trouble convincing yourself to get out there tomorrow when you get home from work.  But let a few days slip by without one… and the excuses become seductive.

Same thing on a bike.

I’ve fiddle farted around with road bicycles for years.  It’s a sport I’ve always enjoyed, they being a cousin to the motorcycles which have long colored my life.  But I’ve never really given them a serious shake.  I’ve always just done a little ride here, a little ride there.  I never once put a string of training days together.

Until now.  In the past eight days I’ve ridden my bicycle six times, slowly increasing my speed and distance.

I’m having a good time.  We’ll see where it goes…

After the Ride

After the Ride