cycling

Mueller-Lexington-Mueller 200K

I’ve been vaguely interested in randonneuring for a long time—after I completed my first Austin-Houston ride, I met a guy who was into it, who suggested I ought to check it out. More recently, I started lurking on the local randonneuring group’s mailing list. After my failed attempt at the TABR, I decided I needed more experience at long distances, so I finally joined RUSA. The first ride organized by the local group after that happened to be on the 100th anniversary of the first brevet organized by the sport’s governing body, Audax Club Parisien. That seemed like an auspicious beginning.

Most (all?) of the local brevets start and finish at a convenience store that’s barely a mile from my home, which is convenient for me. Yesterday’s ride had 16 people sign up, which I understand to be a good showing.

I had laid out my stuff the night before, aired up my tires, etc, so I’d have a minimum of things to do in the morning. Got up at 5:00, ate breakfast, got suited and booted, and was out the door by 5:20.

We were all at the start with time to spare. Jeff, the ride organizer, gave some preliminary instructions. It seemed as if everyone else knew each other—I was clearly the only first-timer, and there were quite a few PBP veterans. Jeff pointed out a couple of guys to me and told me they’re fast—that he knows I’m fast, but I shouldn’t feel like I need to hang with them. I told him I was planning on riding my own ride.

We were rolling on time 6:00 AM. We agreed to ride together for the first 20 or so miles, at which point we’d stop at a picturesquely decrepit old store for a group photo, and then ride at our own pace.

This and the neutralized start at TABR are the only times I’ve ridden in a group in many years; this was the first time I’ve ridden in the dark in a bunch perhaps ever. Our route out of town was mostly new to me—occasionally we were on streets that I’d ridden before, but for the most part we weren’t. The dark, the new streets, and the riding in a pack all made the first hour or so a new experience.

After the photo op in Cele, we got back onto the road in small clots of a few riders each. I was in the first group back on the road, and after just a mile or two, I wanted to get moving. Partly this was to warm up. Partly this was to make good time before the day got hot. Partly because I’m out of the habit of riding in a group and was ready to ride on my own. And partly this was because, although brevets are not races, I do know the riders pay attention to times, and as the new guy, I wanted to lay down a marker. So I shot off the front.

At this point, I was mostly on roads that I’ve ridden before. I hunkered down on my aerobars and jammed. Despite having had a cold for the past few days, I felt good.

At mile 40, one of the two guys Jeff had pointed out to me as being fast rolled past me like I was going backwards. We said “hey” to each other and he was gone. I forgot his name. Very tall, very thin, weird setup with bars set super-high using what I think is a Bike Friday stem. In any case, I didn’t see him again.

Made it to Taylor and kept going. The route after that was mostly roads that are new to me. I had my bone-conduction headset on, reading me directions and playing DJ sets that I’ve downloaded to my phone.

The country between Taylor and Lexington is pretty flat, agricultural, not a lot of trees, and a lot of the fields had been harvested recently, so were bare dirt. I was mostly just in the zone, focused on my riding.

Made it to Lexington, where the ride turns around, at about 9:30. I think there’s a restaurant in Lexington where I could have gotten solid food, but I didn’t look for one and the only one I knew of—Subway—was closed at that hour. Stopped for a big Snickers bar and a bottle of Gatorade (I’d eaten a couple of Clif bars up to that point). As I was rolling out of the parking lot, another one of the brevet riders—on a heavy-looking Soma with flared gravel bars—rolled in. We said “hey” and I kept on going.

There’s a spot just outside Lexington where the road is under construction and narrowed down to one lane; instead of flaggers, there are stoplights controlling traffic. When I rolled through this on the return leg, I saw most of the other riders were waiting to get through on the other side. And a bit further on down from them, I saw the one guy participating on a recumbent trike.

Made it back to Taylor, thought about stopping for tacos, didn’t. Kept going. Had an energy bar when I got just past town, in the shadow of a privately operated prison.

When I got back to that old store in Cele, I saw there was a couple of cyclists there hanging out. Initially I thought they might be part of our group, and was puzzled that they would have gotten past me. It turns out they weren’t, and we had a nice chat. It seems that the Cele store is only open weekends, and has good barbecue. Which was tempting, but I still had 20 miles to go and didn’t indulge. My legs had been threatening to cramp up a little before this, and stopping for a bit seemed to hit the reset switch on that, but I didn’t want to linger for too long.

Most of the remainder of the ride was on the new-to-me roads we had rolled out on, but now I could see them and place them in context. They avoided some unpleasant roads that I’ve ridden on many times just out of habit—I’ll need to add them to my repertoire. I made it back to the starting point without incident, and then back home.

Early in the ride, I thought that I might be able to hold my average moving speed at 18 mph for the ride. I have the RwGPS app report my stats every 15 minutes, and I had a few 15-minute periods where I was rolling at 19.9 mph, which is great, and was keeping my average at 18 mph for pretty much the first half, but it slipped slightly on the return, and over the last 10 miles, it slipped considerably. My rolling average wound up being 17.7 mph—I’m still quite content with that, and this was by far the fastest 200K that I have the receipts for. I didn’t eat enough (4 Clif bars, 1 Snickers bar) and maybe didn’t hydrate enough during the ride. Writing this the next day, after a big post-ride snack, a big dinner, and solid night’s sleep, I’m still a bit tired.

The weather wound up being perfect. A little on the cool side to start. The day did warm up, but wasn’t brutally hot. The wind was that rarest of things, still for the outbound leg and a slight tailwind on the return.

Bike gear capsule reviews

I bought a lot of bike stuff preparatory to riding the TABR. Here are my comments on some of it.

Parts

Redshift Shockstop seatpost

  • I’ve got mine set fairly firm. I rarely notice any bobbing except on smooth roads when I’m really grinding at low RPM.
  • Can’t compensate for big hits, but does take the edge off a lot of bad pavement. I notice the difference most on textured pavement, which it really smooths out.
  • As much as my ass hurt in the race (a lot), I cannot imagine how much more it would have hurt without a suspension seatpost.
  • Cane Creek makes an elastomer-based suspension seatpost that I’d be interested in comparing with this.

Redshift Shockstop stem

The effect this has is more subtle than the seatpost. It’s a little weird watching the handlebars move up and down relative to the bike, but it doesn’t seem to affect handling.

Just Riding Along Mahi Mahi wheels

Good price, seem reasonably fast, good customization options (they offer dyno hubs, which was key for me). These are the only wheels I’ve ever had with deep-section carbon rims, so I don’t have any basis for comparison. Didn’t give me any trouble.

Dyno hubs are expensive, but they make a lot of sense for an event like the TABR.

Speedplay Zero pedals

I used Bebop pedals for a very long time. I still would, if they were still in production. These are the nearest equivalents. I’m not thrilled with how fussy they are to set up and maintain, or the fact that they use a unique drilling pattern, but they do give numerous degrees of adjustment and wide ranges of adjustability. In short, I am able to ride comfortably in them, which is what’s important.

The first day of TABR 2021 had very foul weather, which is kryptonite for Speedplays. My right cleat became extremely difficult to disengage. By the time I scratched, the left bearings had almost completely seized up. Both cleats became difficult to engage. Speedplay recommended re-greasing every 2000 miles under ideal conditions—which did not prevail—and I didn’t bring a grease gun. A lot of riders bring spare cleats on the TABR, but the problem with Speedplays is the cleats are left/right-specific, so you need to bring two spares to cover your bases. I brought none.

Now that Wahoo has redesigned them (after I bought mine), they claim that re-greasing is no longer needed. Not sure how effective the new seals are. And they don’t need a 3-hole/4-hole adapter plate or special 4-hole shoes anymore, which is nice.

But my take-away is that if you can ride comfortably in SPDs, those are better for an event like the TABR. Shimano’s pedals are solid, the cleats are robust and spares are easy to carry, and riding in walkable shoes is an advantage.

Bags

I had a total of ~27 liters of storage capacity between four bags on my bike. My logic in packing was to make sure that stuff I would need frequently would be easy to get at, and stuff I might need could be shoved away in a less accessible place.

I think years of going to burn events has produced in me a tendency to over-prepare. I think of this in terms of percentages—do you want to be prepared for 90% of situations you might encounter? 95%? 99%? Each step up the preparation scale requires more stuff, sometimes a lot more. So I was carrying spare spokes and a fiberfix spoke for field-expedient repairs. I was carrying a spare derailleur hanger, a bit of extra chain and a master link, a spare derailleur cable, and random nuts and bolts just in case. I was carrying enough clothes to deal with freezing weather.

The Tailfin had by far the most volume, and if there’s a problem with it, it’s not with its workmanship or design, it’s a philosophical problem: it has 20 liters of capacity, which is a lot for a bikepacking race, so it doesn’t force you to edit your gear list as severely as you might otherwise. That said, there’s very little of what I packed that I would have left behind even with the benefit of hindsight, and one or two things that I probably should have brought that I didn’t.

Tailfin Aeropack X

  • Beautiful construction, meticulously considered design.
  • Rock solid. Doesn’t noticeably affect handling except for the sail effect in strong crosswinds. It really feels like a part of the bike.
  • Unless you’ve got a lot of seatpost showing, get the “extended seatpost connector” so that the bag can open clear of your saddle.
  • When transferring the seatpost clamp to the extended connector, be careful with the screw post that mounts it, as it is easy to round out the hex-key opening. Ideally this would have a torx head or a steel screw post.
  • The rubber bushings that fit in the “fast release” mounts are not retained well. I’ve now seen that Tailfin recommends gluing them in place with some CA glue. Even with that, the smart thing is to keep the mounts shut at all times, whether on or off the bike.
  • In addition to its main opening on top, it has a zipped side opening and a small zipped stash pocked on the other side. I’m not sure either of these do much good.
  • Really expensive.

I kept my minimal sleep setup, extra clothes (in stuff sacks), and spare parts in this bag. It doesn’t sound like much, but the bag was pretty full.

Apidura Racing Frame Bag (4 L)

I got this at the last minute when I decided that my Tailfin bag was going to be overstuffed.

It has a main compartment accessed from the right, and a flat stash pocket on the left. I kept my printed cheatsheets on the left (never actually used them–I also had the cheatsheets on my phone as an e-book); on the right I had my first-aid supplies, toiletries, second pair of gloves, and probably a few other things.

The only criticisms I can make against it are that when my legs were covered with road grit on Day 1 and they would sometimes rub against the bag, my skin got really torn up. Also, this bag and the top-tube bag especially are hard on the frame’s paint job. I should have had a layer of helicopter tape on the frame at the contact points.

Apidura Racing Long Top Tube Bag

My intention was to keep stuff that I knew I would need frequently in this bag. In practice, it wasn’t quite big enough for all that. It has a divider across the middle, and two-way zipper, so you have a little bit of compartmentalization with it. It has a shielded pass-through in the front, and that’s where my USB converter and power bank lived. I also kept my pump, chain lube, Dynaplug, and multi-tool in here.

On the advice of a fitter, I got my frame one size larger than I normally would, to get the added stack height. Between that and this bag, I could barely clear the top tube when standing over the bike. This wasn’t a big problem, but it wasn’t ideal.

When I was running a cable from the USB converter (in the bag) to my phone (out of the bag), a little rainwater did intrude because the zipper wasn’t fully zipped, but I can’t criticize the bag for that.

Kaibab Customs custom-made bag

This was a small bag that slung under the aerobars and mostly carried snacks; my satellite tracker was also held in place by the velcro straps that attached the bag to the aerobars, which gave it good exposure to the satellites it communicates with.

In hindsight, it would have been better to have this bag made with a cable pass-through in the back so that my USB converter and power bank could live inside it–the disposition of my gear would have been a little tidier that way.

Camelbak Classic

I know Camelbaks are not popular among roadies, but during the pandemic, I wanted to be able to carry a lot of water so I wouldn’t need to stop, and they excel at that. I found that I prefer using a Camelbak in some ways. This has a tiny pocket on the back. I was riding tubeless tires, and used this to carry a couple of just-in-case innertubes, tire levers, and patches.

Drawbacks:

  • I haven’t found a good way to secure the end of the hose. I wind up tucking it under the shoulder strap. Camelbak makes a magnetic retainer that hooks onto the shoulder strap, but the way it hooks on is so insecure that it’s not usable.
  • The mesh surface facing my back tears up my jerseys.
  • A lot of people complain about getting a sweaty back with a Camelbak. No argument there. I think this is a bigger problem in cold weather than hot, though. I can deal with the heat. But in cold weather the ability to evaporate sweat is an important aspect of your ability to stay warm and comfortable; with a hydration pack on, I find that the part of my back directly under the pack is sweaty and well-insulated, so it stays warm; there’s a ring on my back around the pack that is sweaty but not insulated, and this gets clammy or downright cold, regardless of how I’m dressed. In practice, this did not wind up being a showstopper, but it did contribute a little bit to discomfort, especially on long descents in cold weather.

Electronics

kLite Ultra-low drag road kit

This consists of a headlight, USB converter, and pre-assembled wiring harness with a switch, designed to work specifically with the SON Delux hub (which is what my front wheel has). Everything worked without giving me any trouble. The connectors and wires are all very robust, and although I would have been willing to solder up my own wiring harness, I’m pretty sure the prefabricated one is better than anything I would produce, which is reassuring.

The illumination was more than adequate for my needs. I didn’t do a huge amount of night riding in TABR 2021, and didn’t do any high-speed descents. The light head has three emitters, the third of which only comes on at higher speeds (about 18 mph, I think). It would be cool if this third one was targeted farther ahead than the other two; cooler still if the light used shaped reflectors like a B&M light to more effectively target the light on the road. It does include a standlight, and I was impressed at how long that runs for—I saw a little bit of residual light even an hour after stopping.

The USB converter does what it needs to do, and is always on. kLite 3D prints a bunch of its ancillary parts, including the housing for the USB converter, so it is chunkier and heavier than it needs to be, but overall, this doesn’t make a big difference. I do wish kLite outsourced production of those ancillary parts to someone who could fabricate them from aluminum.

The switch controls whether all the dyno output is sent to the USB converter, or is sent preferentially to the headlight, with any excess power going to the converter. Below about 6 mph, it seems, neither one receives power. This could be a problem for mountain climbs at night.

There weren’t as many racers using dynamo-powered lights as I expected. I noticed a few racers with doubled-up battery lights. I did have a Lezyne battery light as a backup myself. It throws enough light and has decent runtime, but the big drawback with it is its charging time. Looking at the nearest current model, it supposedly offers about 4 hours runtime and 4.5 hours charge time (if using a 2-amp USB source). Four hours of runtime is probably OK for a midpack rider. 4.5 hours charge time would also be OK for a midpack rider who’s staying in hotels, but this is faster than I’m actually seeing charging my own light. I think that charging time is the real limiting factor ultra riders will run into with battery lights.

Aftershokz Aeropex bone-conduction headset

I refuse to close off my ears when I’m on the bike. I know some ear buds, like AirPods Pro, can feed through ambient sound, which might be a reasonable option, but I decided to go with these.

The audio experience with these is almost exactly like having a small speaker hovering near each ear. They can drown out quiet sounds, but other than that, you hear everything around you; they can also be drowned out by loud sounds, such as wind noise. The physical experience is almost nonexistent—I barely notice I have them on. If I turn up the volume loud enough, I can feel a little vibration at my temples. They’re more comfortable to wear for extended periods than my earbuds. Sound quality isn’t bad, but won’t win any awards.

It seems that every wearable Bluetooth audio-playback device has its own set of control gestures, which is annoying. The gestures this uses aren’t bad, but if you use more than one system (I do), it is hard to keep track.

There were a few other riders in TABR 2021 using these, and overall, I think they’re a great benefit if you’re using the spoken turn-by-turn directions in the Ride with GPS app (I was). I didn’t spend a lot of time listening to music, but it was nice to have the option. I did miss a couple of turns when I had the headset turned off or there was a lot of ambient noise, but I resolved those mistakes quickly. On balance, I’m pretty sure they helped me stay on track better than I would have without them.

iPhone

Finding a good mount has been a challenge. I have used a couple of third-party Garmin handlebar mounts and slapped an adhesive Garmin “knuckle” on the back of an iPhone case. The problem I had, repeatedly, is that the tabs in the Garmin insert in the mount—the part that retains the knuckle—would get shredded on bumpy roads. This may be chintzy plastic, or it may simply be that the iPhone exerts too much torque on the insert. Interestingly, the knuckle never showed any signs of wear. I’m currently using a Quadlock mount, which works well. To be precise, I’m using part of a Quadlock mount intended for motorcycles, and bolting that on to an aerobar bridge that I found on Ali Express. That bridge came with useless P-clamps (although the bridge itself is quite sturdy), and I had some custom clamps fabricated to fit on the aerobars.

Battery life is sometimes cited as a concern when using a smartphone instead of a proper bike computer. I do agree that battery life will be shorter, but it’s not as bad as one might think. For one thing, I keep the screen off most of the time and rely on audible updates—Ride with GPS reads me cues (when I’m following a planned route), and also have it read my stats at regular intervals. On a recent ride where I was out for 7 hours, I had 50% left in the tank when I got home, and this was also playing back a mix of streaming and locally stored music over my aforementioned Aftershokz headset for more than half the ride. I do a couple of things to extend the battery life: turn off wifi and put the phone in low-power mode (which clocks down the processor, but is almost unnoticeable). On the TABR—or anytime you’re riding out of cellular coverage—it makes sense to put the phone in airplane mode. This requires you to have stored the route on the phone, rather than relying on the cloud version of it (RwGPS defaults to the latter).

Using a dyno/USB converter or external power bank, it is in theory possible to keep the phone topped off all the time—except when it’s raining. Modern iPhones are water-resistant, but part of that water resistance depends on detecting water in the Lightning port and disabling it. I found during heavy rain that it would not charge, although once it had a chance to dry out, it would. This could get to be a problem in a multi-day event if the rain persists and you have minimal rest periods when you can charge it off-bike, but that’s true for any battery-powered gadget.

Clothes

Castelli Nano Flex Pro Race Bib Short

  • Brilliant. Super comfortable. They basically disappear.
  • I was concerned that the lack of leg grippers would let the hems ride up, but that hasn’t been a problem.
  • Hem seems to be cut lower in front than in back, which is a little weird.

Galibier Tempest jacket

Rain jacket that also provided some additional warmth and windproofing. Packs down to fit in a back pocket: in addition to wearing this in the rain, I would put this on before a long descent following a long climb.

There are other rain jackets that are lighter and fancier, but they’re also much more expensive. This was a good deal.

Jerseys

I’ve given up on short-sleeved jerseys. Riding in Texas, you might think you’d want as little coverage as possible, but I’ve found that a lightweight long-sleeved jersey isn’t really hotter and gives me some sun protection. Such jerseys aren’t exactly common–I’ve found several companies making them, and have tried three.

Stolen Goat Topper Bodyline Jersey

Fits well. I like the raw-cut sleeve edges. Would be nice if it had grippers in the hem, but it seems to sit about right on me even without them. Has a side-zipped security pocket that I don’t really use, but seems like a nice idea. This would be my go-to jersey.

Pactimo Ascent Aero jersey

I’ve got a slightly outdated version of this that I got on closeout. I like the fit. Not thrilled about the abbreviated collar. Don’t like the pockets, which have very high openings that are hard to get into.

Gloves

Gore-tex C3 Infinium gloves

These did a good job of keeping my hands warm on pretty chilly days, even on long descents, when the windchill would have been severe. They’re very close fitting all around, which for the most part is good, but they’re very difficult to take off when wet. Generally comfortable to wear and offered good dexterity for things like typing on my phone, although adding a conductive pad to the middle finger would have been nice.

They have minimal padding, and what padding there is may not be optimally placed. I wound up with very slight nerve pain in the “valley” of the palm (which I have learned is called the thenar) from riding on the ramps. Not surprising after riding 550 miles in 3½ days—not sure if I can blame that on the gloves.

Also, one of the gloves started coming unstitched along one seam after less than 1000 miles of use, though as luck would have it, this was on the day that I scratched. If the durability were better, these gloves would be ideal.

I got these in high-vis yellow, and they are shockingly bright.

Specialized Grail

No complaints. They just work. Minimal padding seems to do its job. When new, there were tiny elastic bands along the outsides of the wrists that quickly fell off, but I haven’t noticed any change in fit or comfort as a result.

Northwave Extreme GT 2 shoes

  • Very nice construction.
  • Use Northwave’s Boa-like closures, which are slightly less convenient than real Boas (getting out of the shoe is a two-handed process). The dials got hard to loosen after Day 1 of TABR 2021, during which they got liberally spattered with rain and road grit.
  • The openings dig in a little bit around the inside of my ankles. So far this has been no worse than slightly annoying. Put pads in that seem to help a bit.
  • I would get hotfoot on training rides after about 70 miles in these. They do come with a pretty good footbed with a metatarsal bump; I’ve tried aftermarket footbeds, which maybe help a little, but what really helps is moving my cleats rearward. I also found during the TABR that simply leaving the closures looser, perhaps coupled with the fact that I wasn’t riding as hard, eliminated hotfoot.

TABR training notes

I mentally committed to riding TABR 2021 at the end of January 2020, and started training in earnest in March. I didn’t know what I was doing at first—I was still figuring out structured training, but by June, I had the rudiments of a training plan. I’ve been refining and tinkering with it since then.

That should have been plenty of time for me to get in shape for the TABR, but now I am 11 weeks away, and I feel like it wasn’t.

I can attribute part of this to some health issues (some related to my training, some not) that started cropping up in October and weren’t resolved until February. My fitness didn’t deteriorate during that time, but it didn’t improve either.

But part of it is simply being too complacent with my training plan. I could have pushed myself harder during the four months October—February. And I definitely could have started pushing myself harder immediately after that.

I saw a comment from a coach who has worked with at least a couple of successful TABR racers that one should get one’s cumulative training load up to 120 before the race. I don’t see a good way for me to do that right now.

There are a few concepts to understand here:

  • Every workout has a training stress score (TSS) calculated for it. This is a single number that represents both the intensity and duration of the workout. The formula for working it out is complicated.
  • Cumulative training load (CTL) is a recency-weighted average of the training stress scores for one’s workouts over the previous six weeks. This is also sometimes called “fitness.”
  • Acute training load (ATL) is a recency-weighted average of the training stress scores for one’s workouts over the previous week. This is also sometimes called “fatigue.”
  • Training stress balance (TSB) is CTL minus ATL. This is also sometimes called “form.” In order to be making progress, this needs to be a negative number, but if it is beyond -30, that indicates overtraining. This also lets one optimize one’s taper for a race: by easing off training immediately before a race, CTL goes down but TSB goes up. However, I’m not sure how applicable TSB is to a multi-day event like the TABR.

In any case, there’s no way for me to ramp up from where I’m at right now (CTL of 82 as of this writing) to a CTL of 120 without my TSB going deeply negative. In fact, there’s no way for me to ramp up my mileage to where I want it without spending some time in the TSB red zone.

My current training plan has me doing two 60(ish)-minute interval workouts, two 90-minute recovery rides, and a long weekend ride each week; I am using a mesocycle of three weeks, where I ramp up my long-ride distance by 10% for each cycle, and in the third week of each cycle, give myself an easy week with a relatively short weekend ride.

In order to build this plan, I’ve had to estimate the TSS for all my workouts. For the weekday workouts, this is a non-issue. I build the workout in Training Peaks and then I ride it on my stationary bike, so apart from the smart trainer having minor tracking issues, the result is nearly identical to the plan. There are no confounding factors like hills or weather. For the weekend road rides, I alternate hilly rides with flat rides; I worked out an average TSS/mile for both categories based on past rides, and use that when estimating the TSS of upcoming rides. I don’t have a power meter on my bike, so TSS for past rides is calculated based on heart rate (which I know is less accurate).

For my most recent weekend ride, this didn’t work. I had estimated a TSS of 355. Due to steep hills and strong headwinds, it turned out to be 465. It’s three days later and I barely feel recovered from it.

My current plan gets me up to a CTL of 105 before the event, and that is after a recent retooling to give me a more aggressive ramp rate. But now I’m wondering if even that is too aggressive. Especially since I’ll intentionally be hitting TSSs of 465 on some of my weekend rides as I ramp up, and I know how much that took out of me. I am worried that I’ll be both overtrained in terms of my health and undertrained for the event.

With my current training plan, I am cramming most of my TSS ramp-up into my weekend ride. In theory, I could change my training plan so that instead of comparatively light weekday rides and a very heavy weekend ride, I would ride at more consistent TSS levels throughout the week. This would avoid blowing myself out on one weekend ride, but would be harder to fit into weekdays, and in any case, I feel like I need to have the experience of long, uninterrupted hours in the saddle to prepare.

Take to the Sky


This is my new bike.

The setup

Frame
Kinesis RTD. This is a 55.5 cm frame, bigger than the 54 cm I would usually ride, which I chose at the suggestion of a fitter, who was concerned I wouldn’t be able to get enough stack on the smaller size. As I’ve got it set up now, I could probably lower the stem and still be comfortable.
Wheels
Just Riding Along “Mahi Mahi” rims (30 mm front/50 mm rear), SON Deluxe front hub, JRA house-brand rear hubs, Sapim X-ray bladed spokes. I felt like this would give me the best balance of aerodynamics and handling in crosswinds.
Group
mostly Dura Ace.
Cranks
Easton EA90. (Bottom bracket is also from Easton.) I got over my pride and decided to use 46/30 chainrings. For the amount of power that I can produce and my style of riding, I don’t need anything bigger (I sometimes see cyclists in bike forums asking about putting bigger chainrings on their bikes and I wonder “can you really push that gear?”). There aren’t a lot of road cranks that will take rings in those sizes (Shimano’s GRX have a wider chainline, which I could imagine causing shifting problems), which is why I went with Easton cranks. Although I don’t have a power meter on this bike now, Easton’s spindle-based power meter would be a relatively easy retrofit.
Cassette
Ultegra 11-30. Having small chainrings meant that I could put a relatively close-spaced cassette in back. This still gives a very low low gear, and a top gear that’s higher than the 52×13 that was typical when I started cycling. If I feel like I can pull it off, I’ll use an 11-28 instead.
Seatpost
Redshift; can toggle between a conventional position and a TT position on the fly. I got this used, along with a set of Redshift aero bars. After only one ride, I’m not convinced that it suits my purposes, but it is a well-made piece of equipment.
Saddle
Fabric Race Line Shallow, which seems to work for me.
Stem
Old stock from Zipp. Available cheaply; bought as a placeholder to confirm my positioning; I will probably replace it with a shock-absorbing stem from Redshift
Bars
Old stock from 3T, also available cheaply.
Pedals
Speedplays zeros. I would like to use SPDs, but they don’t offer a lot of float, and that has been causing me knee trouble lately, so at the last minute I made this change.
Tires
Continental GP5000 tubeless, 28 mm. I waffled on whether to go tubeless on this rig and ultimately decided that I would. I’d read horror stories about how hard road tubeless tires can be to mount and inflate, and about how tires that are the tiniest bit out of spec with the rims can blow off. In this case, I was able to mount the tires by hand with little trouble, and even inflate them with just my track pump, no air blaster required. Getting the valves set up took a little trial and error, and I misjudged the ideal length for the stems.
Chain
Wipperman Connex. Has a reputation for being especially durable, and the master link uses a clever design that does not require a tool to connect or disconnect.

Build notes

This is the first bike I assembled entirely myself. I had a shop face the brake mounts and bottom-bracket shell, and I bought prebuilt wheels, but the rest I did on my own.

The number of weird, specific bits and pieces I needed came as a surprise. I wound up getting a special socket driver for the bottom bracket and another one for the lockring that holds the chainrings to the cranks. I had bought the levers and brake calipers used, and had to buy barbed fittings and “olives” for the hoses (as it turns out, I should have bought new hoses as well). The rear caliper requires mounting bolts that are sized exactly to the frame, so I had to get those as well, and Shimano’s documentation on this is somewhat lacking, so that took a fair amount of research.

Apart from needing two new tools, getting the bottom bracket and cranks set up was a breeze. Although the preload adjuster didn’t stay locked in place.

Cutting the steerer tube was nerve-racking–do it wrong, and the fork is a total loss. Bleeding the brakes was especially nerve-racking. I’ve tried it before and gotten it wrong. I may still need to re-bleed the rear brake, because the bite-point seems a little late, but they both work.

Routing the cables and hoses was surprisingly fussy and involved a fair amount of trial and error. Although the result is OK, cosmetically it could be better. The frame routes the cables and rear-brake hose through the inside of the downtube, which was a slow and fussy task. I’m guessing that a Di2 setup would be considerably more fussy.

Using Shimano’s documentation to get the derailleurs set up was an exercise in frustration, and I really didn’t feel like I had it right until I took the bike around the block a few times and played with the barrel adjuster. I wound up ignoring Shimano’s documentation on bleeding brakes and went with Park Tools’ instead. As a Japanese translator and technical writer, I’m kind of disappointed with Shimano’s documentation–both the translation and the overall approach.

Ride notes

So far I’ve only gone on a couple of neighborhood shakedown rides and one real ride. I’m still getting my position dialed in.

On my one full-length ride I had the tires over-inflated and wound up letting some air out at the turnaround point; I could probably still let more air out. The frame is reputed to be especially smooth-riding, but I was feeling slightly beat up. I may change the seatpost for one with a little give (something my Felt VR30 has), or perhaps a suspended seatpost. I was buffeted by a stiff crosswind the whole way, which was a good test for those aero wheels (these the first aero wheels I’ve had). They definitely took a little extra wrangling, but not more than I expected. My average speed for the ride wound up being about 1 mph faster than I would have expected on the Felt I’ve mostly been riding lately.

Bad rides

Ride Time: 4:53:17
Stopped Time: 27:16
Distance: 75.08 miles
Average: 15.36 mph

I went for a ride yesterday that I can only describe as a bad ride. It was cold and rainy. When I rolled out, I thought I’d be warm enough. I wasn’t. My left knee starting bothering me after about 20 miles. I had planned on riding 85 miles, but got discouraged and turned around early, so I only put in 75.

But you don’t learn anything from a ride that goes perfectly. When things go wrong, you can learn a lot. So what did I learn?

Because my right leg was doing most of the work, I couldn’t ride as hard, so I couldn’t generate as much body heat as usual, so my kit—which might have been warm enough if I were riding harder—wasn’t warm enough. Normally my average heart rate on a ride like this would end up around 125 bpm, and be higher at the end than the beginning; on this ride it was around 123 bpm early in the ride, and by the time the ride ended, it was down to 119 bpm. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have been warm enough anyhow: I’ve worn exactly the same kit to commute to work in the same conditions, but my commute is only about 30 minutes each way, not a continuous five-hour slog. I’m not sure whether to chalk up the difference to riding faster on the commute, or just an ability to tough out the cold for a short period.

I suspect my knee was jacked up because of a combination of the cold tightening my muscles, and my pedals not giving me as much float as I’d like. My natural tendency is to ride in a very toes-out stance. I always used to ride on Bebop pedals, which had 20° free float. Conceptually, they’re a lot like Speedplay pedals, except they are more robust and the cleats fit regular 2-bolt drilling.

Bebop pedals were produced by what I think was a one-man company. Eventually he sold the works to a big Taiwanese company that continued manufacturing them for a few years, but ceased production in 2017. I’ve still got a set, but the cleats are worn out. I’ve got a watchlist set on eBay for these: in four months, I’ve seen two NOS sets listed; in both cases for ridiculous prices, and in both cases they’re snatched up immediately. If there were a Kickstarter to put them back into production, I’d subscribe.

Rather than switching to Speedplay pedals, I’ve been using SPDs. But SPDs only have 4–5° float, and I can’t position them to accommodate my weird stance on the bike. In the warm months, this hasn’t been a problem, but my past two chilly rides have been hard on my left knee, and I’m pretty sure this is why.

So what I’ve learned is that I’ve got to bite the bullet, get warmer cold-weather gear, and get pedals with more float.

Diving into structured training

I started getting interested in bikes when I was 13. My interest has waxed and waned over the years, but never really went away. I’ve thought of myself as a cyclist since I got my first pair of cleats at 17. I’ve always been interested in bikes as objects of technology and craftsmanship, and I’ve always enjoyed riding them. At various points I’ve gotten to be a pretty strong rider, but I’ve never been methodical about it—beyond following Eddy Merckx’s advice to ride lots, and perhaps alternating long days with short days, I’ve never been interested in structured training. Lately I have gotten interested, and like so many things, once you pry the lid open on a subject, you discover it goes much deeper than you ever imagined.

I’ve been trying to digest a lot of the concepts involved in structured training, but I haven’t found any one place that packages them up so far. There is a book (and a paper that preceded it) that, well, “wrote the book” on a lot of this, and I may eventually break down and get it. For now, this is my own cheatsheet. Some of this may be wrong. I’m not going to link back to citations for everything. Caveat lector.


Watt
The unit of measure for power. Training these days is structured around power and heart rate. In the past, cyclists would ride to time, or to distance, or to speed.
Kilojoule
The unit of measure for total work performed during a workout. Note that watts are a measure of instantaneous power, but kilojoules are a measure of work over time (same as watt-hours: there are 3600 joules in 1 watt-hour). Thanks to a statistical fluke, the work performed in kilojoules is treated as equal to the calories burned during a workout. So you burn 1000 kCal in a 1000 kJ workout.
Functional threshold power (FTP)
The maximum average effort a cyclist can put out for one hour, measured in watts. The gold standard for this is to ride an hour all-out. Most people don’t do this because it’s awful—instead, most people ride a 20-minute FTP test and deduct a certain percentage from that result—typically 5%, but if you’re not exceptionally fit, it should be 10% or 15%. Even riding 20 minutes on the road is difficult just for logistical reasons—you’d want 7 or more miles of level road with no stops, or a hill climb that’s a few miles long, again without stops—so I suspect most people do FTP tests on stationary bikes. FTP is a training tool: it’s used as a baseline for other workouts. All my interval patterns are based on percentages of FTP. It’s also good for bragging rights (unless your FTP is as low as mine, in which case you prefer not to talk about it). I’ve seen articles on how to maximize your FTP test results, but this seems wrong-headed if you’re using it as a training tool, since all the training you base on it will be off. The most celebrated record in cycling is the hour record, which is pretty much what it sounds like: how far you can go in an hour (on a track bike, in a velodrome). The current men’s record for this is about 55 km, and it’s estimated that riders are putting out about 440 watts at that level (which sounds less impressive when you realize it’s about 3/5 horsepower—less than a chainsaw engine puts out).
W/kg
Your power-to-weight ratio. Usually refers to Your FTP divided by your weight, but may be used to describe the power you can maintain over shorter periods. A small, strong rider will have a better power-to-weight ratio than a big rider who’s not so strong, but the big rider may have a higher absolute wattage output. These numbers can be important in different contexts: riding fast over level ground is mostly a matter of raw power because once you get past about 16 mph, almost all the drag you encounter is aerodynamic drag, and that increases with the square of your speed. But riding fast up a hill is more about W/kg, because you’re going slower in the first place (so aerodynamics are less important) and gravitational drag becomes a big part of the total resistance you encounter.
Critical power
The maximum power that can be maintained indefinitely, in watts. You can put out higher power, but only for a limited period of time, and there’s an asymptotic curve plotting the relationship between power output and duration, so you can put out very high power for a few seconds, fairly high power for a few minutes, and critical power for hours. Going beyond CP means relying to some extent on anaerobic capacity.
W’ (w prime)
The capacity for work above critical power, in kilojoules. You can put out effort in the W’ range for 10–15 minutes. The problem with going into the W’ range is that it costs a lot of energy, and once you’re done, you’re very depleted.
Normalized power
This is a weighted average power for a workout. Because all the time you spend above critical power tends to burn you out more quickly, a workout in which your effort fluctuates between high and low levels will be harder than a steady-state workout at the same average power. Normalized power reflects that.
Intensity
Normalized power divided by FTP.
Training Stress Score (TSS)
This is way of expressing a workout’s duration and intensity. Riding for one hour at FTP will have a TSS of 100. This is used to set weekly training goals, so for example you’ll aim for your all your workouts in a week to add up to a TSS of, say, 350.
Chronic training load (CTL)
Average TSS over 42 days.
Acute training load (ATL)
Average TSS over 7 days.
Training stress balance (TSB)
CTL minus ATL. I’ve also seen this referred to as “form.” The idea is that you want to be fresh for big events, so you taper off your training in the days beforehand. This metric is used to optimize your tapering.
Heartrate (HR)
Everyone has a maximum heartrate that’s estimated based on age, and heart-rate zones are all calculated based on your max HR. I’ve seen 220 minus age (for men) and 226 minus age (for women) as the most common way to compute this. Going by this, my max HR is 166 (as of this writing). I’ve also seen 208-(0.7 × age), which for me winds up being a few bpm higher (the results from these two equations match for men when they’re 40, for women when they’re 60). I’ve pushed myself to 165 bpm during workouts and held it steady there for a minute or two, so I’ll call these formulas close enough for me. Resting heart rate can improve dramatically with exercise. Four-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain was reputed to have a RHR of 26 bpm in his prime.
Zone
Can refer to heart-rate zones or power zones. Anyone who has used a fitbit with heart-rate monitoring has seen the yellow/orange/red zones. And it’s my understanding that the theory behind Orange Theory fitness boutiques is that they keep you in the orange zone. It turns out there are numerous different zone systems, with different numbers of zones and different breakpoints between them, and if you keep track of your data with more than one app/service, keeping their zones in alignment is a chore. Zones are another training tool, where you aim to keep your heart rate or power in a certain zone for a certain period of time during your workout.
Lactate threshold
A limit on sustained effort. Any effort beyond LT will basically be a sprint that can only be sustained for about 2½ minutes. This is really interesting to me. When I was younger, we thought of lactic acid as the waste product of exercise, and that lactic-acid accumulation occurred because your body was working too hard to clear it. Now we understand that lactate is part of the energy-transport system (also, we talk about lactate now, not lactic acid), and LT occurs because your body is producing it faster than it can process it. The body needs to deliver oxygen to the muscles in order to clear the lactate from them. We used to talk about the “anaerobic threshold,” that is, a level of intensity where you couldn’t get enough oxygen to your muscles to prevent lactic-acid accumulation, and to some extent, we still do, but nowadays we mostly talk about the lactate threshold to refer to the same idea. I get the impression this is because what we’re describing is the actual measured blood-lactate concentration. Apparently there are numerous ways to define LT, although the one I’ve seen used the most is where the lactate concentration is 4 mmol/l. This is also sometimes called LT2, to distinguish it from LT1, which is the point at which your body starts accummulating lactate faster than it can clear it (“onset of blood lactate accumulation” or OBLA). The effort in watts where LT1 and LT2 are reached can be measured, and obviously, the higher the wattage the better.
VO2max
The amount of oxygen you can breathe in per minute, in units of ml/min (sometimes expressed relative to body weight, ml/min/kg). The gold standard for testing this is to exercise to exhaustion while wearing a mask that measures the volume of air you breathe, but it can be approximated based on max and resting HR, or heart rate after specified exercises. There’s obviously a relationship between VO2max and LT, and LT is generally estimated to occur at 50–60% VO2max for untrained athletes, and 70–80% for highly trained athletes.
Intervals
A workout where you alternate periods of high intensity with low intensity.
HIIT
High-intensity interval training. A style of intervals where you ride close to VO2max with relatively long “on” intervals.
Sprint intervals
A style of intervals where you ride beyond VO2max with short “on” intervals.
Polarized training
An approach to training based on long periods at low intensity and short periods at very high intensity. The balance can be in the range 85/15 to 95/5. The idea is that you spend all your time in Zones 1/2 or 5, and none in Zones 3/4 (assuming you use a 5-zone system)—or that you simplify your zones to “easy/no-mans-land/hard.”
Threshold training
The opposite of polarized training: spend all your time in Zones 3/4. There seem to be different definitions for this (just as there are different definitions of zones), but the general idea seems to be steady-state training at 75–90% of FTP. Current scholarship seems to be that polarized training gets results faster, but threshold training has a lot of adherents.
Sweetspot training
Same as threshold training
Moderate intensity continuous training (MICT)
Same as threshold training
High-volume training
Long miles at low intensity. Also called “base mileage.” My understanding is that you’re supposed to have a lot of base mileage before you attempt higher-intensity training.
Cadence
Pedal speed, measured in rpm. Most experienced road cyclists aim to keep their cadence around 80–90 rpm. There’s evidence that lower cadences are more energy-efficient, but it’s easier to produce more power at higher cadences.
Bike computer
Also called a “head unit.” Bike computers used to just compute riding time, speed, and distance, and if you were really fancy, you got one with a barometric altimeter. Those still exist, but these days, fancier ones are tantamount to smartphones (many of them run the Android OS), and connect to a constellation of other devices.
Heartrate monitor (HRM)
There are two types: the traditional chest strap, which monitors the electrical activity in your chest muscles, and the newer optical type, often built into a watch or armband, which visually detects the changes in your veins as blood flows through (word of the day for this: photoplethysmograph). Chest straps are usually cheaper and have longer battery life. Some of the optical ones can also work as pulse oximeters.
Power meter
A meticulously calibrated strain gauge applied to a part of the bike’s drivetrain (pedals, crankarms, crank spider, rear hub) that transmits its readings to a bike computer. Although they’re coming down in price, power meters are still really expensive, and add at least $200 to the price of whatever part they’re attached to. Having a power meter on the bike has transformed competitive cycling, as racers know how much power they can put out for how long, and don’t make heroic-but-doomed breakaways.
Smart trainer
An old-fashioned stationary trainer would usually let you vary resistance manually, but did not calibrate this beyond “easy” to “hard.” A smart trainer uses computer control to apply resistance, and can measure power reliably. Smart trainers can use smartphones or bike computers as their controllers and front ends.
Golden Cheetah
Freeware analytic software. I first downloaded it about four years ago, and was so confused by what I was seeing that did not look at it again until last week. I still don’t understand half of what’s going on in there, but I’ve got a little bit of a handle on it.

Formulas for various concepts

Gears

SRAM just introduced a new version of their top-end road group, Red, with a different approach to gear ratios that they claim gives more range and tighter spacing. This smelled like marketing hokum to me.

Warning extreme nerdery follows.

900 miles

At the end of July, I had a routine doctor’s visit. Got on the scale. Clocked in at 170 lb. I hadn’t weighed that much since 1991. So I got back on my bike.

I still remember when I was six years old and my father took the training wheels off my bike and convinced me to ride it. I was terrified. He ran alongside me as I rode around the block. (My little sister, in contrast, took her training wheels off by herself, leaned her bike against our father’s truck, climbed aboard, and rode off.)

After that I got the hang of it, and bikes became an important part of my life. I started going on long-distance rides when I was 13. I did a little bike touring in high school, and I competed in some triathlons and bike races starting right after I graduated high school.

I didn’t have a bike during the time I lived in Japan, and when I was living in Chicago for a couple of years after that, I had my road bike but didn’t use it much (thus the 170 lb).

After I moved back to Austin in 1992, I got back into riding, and it was a great time to be a road cyclist in Austin—there were a bunch of then-pointless and unused roads that were like a playground for cyclists—360, Southwest Parkway, Bee Cave, and so on. I hardened up and could motor all day. On one occasion, I rode the 165 miles to a friend’s place in Houston in 9 hours flat. Some months later, I did it again, 20 minutes faster.

In 2000, a lot of stuff in my life changed, and I found myself cycling less and less, but in 2010, I started riding regularly again as I prepared for my Southern Tier ride, which I completed in October that year.

But that wrecked me—my upper body was emaciated when I finished. I remember at the end of the ride struggling to lift my 30-lb bike over my head. I decided I needed some kind of a whole-body workout. I signed up for a bootcamp class, and stuck with it until it petered out several years later. I never found a replacement that interested me, so I was back to a relatively inactive lifestyle (thus the 170 lb).

As of today, I’ve logged 900 miles since that doctor’s visit. I’ve clawed back a fair amount of lost fitness, and lost the weight I wanted to lose. But I’ve got a long way to go before I’ve got the level of fitness I had when I was younger—if in fact it’s possible to attain that again. It would have been better all around if I had stayed more active.

Four years

Four years ago today, I was smack in the middle an adventure: a transcontinental bike ride.

When I finished that ride, my body was wasted: I had lost at least 15 pounds. You could see my ribs through my back. I decided it was time to find a more whole-body workout. I started doing a boot-camp workout with Gwen. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed it, exactly, but it was definitely good for me. After a few months, I had finally resolved some weak spots left over from my broken pelvis, and had built up core strength that I’d really never had before. I was pretty regular about it for the next 3½ years or so, going three times a week, occasionally taking a month off when life got crazy. Boot camp completely displaced cycling for me. I didn’t do any serious riding after I got home from my big ride, only commuting around town.

A couple of months ago, that boot camp class ceased to exist as such when the trainer started a gym; he offers something similar at the gym, but I realized I don’t want to go to a gym. I was also missing riding. Today I went out with a friend for my first ride in four years. My neck’s a little stiff, and I was tired earlier than I should be, but it was good to get out there.

I still need to do some kind of whole-body workout. But I need to keep riding my bike.

Bike-share systems and the poor

This morning there was a story on NPR about bike sharing, specifically how it doesn’t do a good job of serving the poor. There are basically three reasons for this:

  1. The bike stations are not located in areas most useful to poor people;
  2. You need a debit card or credit card to use the system;
  3. Bike-share programs are expensive.

The story got me thinking about all the ways it’s expensive to be poor, and they’re certainly illustrated in this example.

To get a debit card, you need a bank account. To get a bank account, you usually need to scrape together $100 for an opening balance. This is not a huge hurdle to overcome, but if you never have $100 left at the end of your pay period, it’s going to take planning, and if life throws you a curveball before you’ve got that $100 saved up, you’re back to square one.

I looked at the prices for bike-share programs. Chicago’s Divvy has two price structures: yearly memberships and day rates. $70/year or $7/day, plus usage: in both cases you get 30-minute trips for free, but if you’ve got a longer bike trip than that, you get dinged $1.50 or $2.00 per 30 minutes. Austin’s nascent bike-share system has a similar breakdown, but is slightly more expensive.

So if you’re poor, the annual plans are probably out just because of the upfront costs, even though on a per-day basis, they’re a much better deal. If anything, you’re on the daily plan (Austin also has a weekly plan), although again, this presupposes you’ve got a bank account.

What about getting your own bike? You can get a beater bike on Craigslist. There are bikes listed there right now in the $20–50 range, so if you’re poor, the break-even point for rent vs own comes quickly—within one pay period. If you could afford the daily bike rental, you could afford to buy a bike. If you’re going to use a bike for commuting to and from work, it would be a no-brainer. It would also be a no-brainer for someone with more discretionary income who wants to commute by bike.

So given that anybody with even marginal math skills could figure out that ownership beats rental for routine, day-to-day bike usage, what’s the use-case for rental? It’s for when you’re out of your routine. Non-routine uses are hard to predict—it seems redundant to point that out. That makes the best placement of bike stations problematic.

Another obvious use case is tourism, and from what I’ve seen in Chicago and San Antonio, the placement of bike stations clearly targets tourists.

I don’t think it would be a bad idea for bike-sharing systems to be more accessible to the poor, but as long as those systems are run by private companies trying to turn a profit, it’s going to be difficult to balance that equation. Organizations like the Yellow Bike Project can do more to improve bike mobility for the poor right now, by providing them with their own bikes, teaching them how to maintain bikes, and giving them access to shop space.

Thoughts on an iPhone app for bike touring

I’ve played around with a number of iPhone apps for cyclists. None of the ones I’ve looked at are really optimized for bike touring—instead, they’re mostly oriented towards fitness cycling, which has somewhat different goals.

An iPhone app for bike touring would need to overcome the problem of battery life and fulfill three main tasks. Battery life isn’t as big a problem as it is generally made out to be, but even in a best-case scenario, it would be difficult to get a solid 24 hours of use out on a single charge when using the iPhone as a bike computer for a big part of the day.

The not-Nueces not-Bike Boulevard

Dear City of Austin—

I think your heart actually is in the right place regarding bikes. You want to do right by bikes. But time and again, you’ve shown that when you apply bike facilities to existing infrastructure, the streetscape is such that the results are worse than no bike facilities at all. Beyond that, the fact that compromise apparently is valued not only as an end in itself, but as a higher goal than a good outcome (which is the nicest way I can say that you lack the courage of your convictions) means that good ideas get turned into bad ones. We saw this with Shoal Creek Boulevard, and now we’re seeing it with the Nueces Bike Boulevard.

The irony is that Nueces already feels like a de facto bike boulevard. It gets very little motor traffic and is a pleasant place to ride. When the project was first announced, I thought it was smart, a way to recognize and build on what already exists.

But the whole Shoal Creek Boulevard debacle taught us that the city prioritizes convenience for parked cars above bikes. I suppose the retreat from the original Nueces Bike Boulevard plan is slightly less appalling, in that it shows the city prioritizes convenience for moving cars above bikes. But it is still galling.

I don’t want to be that guy who complains without offering solutions. Here’s mine: Stop. Stop planning or announcing any bike facilities whatsoever. You just get our hopes up and then let us down.

Survey of iPhone bike-computer apps

I’ve written before about the iPhone’s potential and drawbacks as a bike computer. And there are a lot of bike-computer apps available for it right now. Let’s take a look at them.

I’ve gone on a bit of a kick lately and tried out four different ones. There are one or two others that I haven’t gotten around to yet. I hope to eventually, and will report on them in this space when I do.

Executive summary: Rubitrack for iPhone and Cyclemeter are clearly oriented towards performance cyclists; right now I’d give the nod to Cyclemeter. GPSies seems almost like a toy, but might be of use to hikers. Motion-X is for GPS otaku.

Moving forward and circling back

zenit-3

I recently resolved a nagging issue in my life that had been like an albatross around my neck for years.

Back in ’97, I visited the Netherlands, and became interested in recumbent trikes. I’ve always been drawn to the mechanically obscure, and if recumbent bikes are weird, recumbent trikes are way out there. As is my wont, I researched them obsessively when I got back home, and eventually homed in on a model that, even by the rarefied standards of recumbent trikes, was exotic. It was the AS Engineering Zenit. Made in Russia by former Illyushin Aircraft engineers, it had front-wheel drive, a box-section aluminum frame, hydraulic drum brakes, and other unusual features.

I ordered one. It took forever to arrive—the better part of a year. I may have been the last customer to have an order filled. I know that AS Engineering stiffed several customers. It didn’t come as a finished product, but it didn’t come as just a frame (the way many custom bikes do) either: because of its many custom parts, it was somewhere in between. I began putting it together with quality parts, but after a while, I got bogged down. I had routed the hydraulic lines poorly, and didn’t want to redo them. One of the lines also needed to be re-bled, which was a massive pain. The shifting was erratic, and I had trouble getting that dialed in.

So it sat in the shed. For a decade.

Every time I went into the shed, there it was, mocking me. Eventually Gwen gave me the ultimatum “ride it or get rid of it.” and I eventually decided to get with the program. I took it to Austin’s recumbent bike store, and had the proprietor deal with its various shortcomings. At the same time, I found a website for recumbents that included a classified section. Someone saw it listed and told a friend, who had been looking for a Zenit for years. I sold it.

Putting that trike behind me was an illuminating life-lesson. I had let a molehill grow to a mountain in my mind: I had become frustrated by some minor problems and intimidated by the prospect of fixing them. Ironically, in the ten or so years that had passed, those problems became much more difficult to solve (the hydraulic parts needed for the trike had become much harder to obtain, and there was a new leak somewhere).

But revisiting the trike reminded me of an idea I had for it when I first got it: to use it as the vehicle for a transcontinental bike ride. I had completely forgotten about that goal after the tumult of breaking my pelvis, getting divorced, and getting into firedancing in 1999–2000. But reminded of it, I realized that I still wanted to do it. I mentioned it to Gwen and she said “You’re not getting any younger!” So that’s going to be my big project in 2010.

Ironically, I still think that a recumbent trike is the right vehicle, but I have no regrets about having sold the Zenit, and would shy away from using it for this purpose if I hadn’t: a trike with critical parts that simply cannot be replaced if they break is a bad vehicle for a 3,000 mile journey. And at this point it would be bad mojo to ride a trike that symbolized my own inability to complete a project.

Dean Keaton restriping

Google Maps image of Dean Keaton at I-35

When I got home from the recent road trip, I discovered that Dean Keaton had been restriped, adding reverse-angle parking, bike lanes, zebra stripes, and a generally dizzying array of new road markings. On the day of David Byrne’s recent talk about bikes, I rode this newly restriped stretch of road and found it to be a disaster for bikes.

The image above shows how the street looked before restriping. To be fair, this is an inherently difficult situation to make bike-friendly, especially westbound: there is a pullout for a city bus, an offramp, an onramp, and two places where traffic is turning across the lane. Not visible here is the fact that this is all happening on a downhill, so both bikes and cars are likely to be moving relatively fast (this stretch is signed as 30 mph, but the limit is rarely observed). Also not visible is another intersecting offramp just to the west.

As shown here, the street has two lanes, with a third lane for merging offramp traffic. After restriping, there is one lane on the left, a no-man’s-land denoted by zebra stripes, and a bike lane on the right; there’s a second lane for merging offramp traffic.

The way the bike lanes have been striped makes them an absolute hazard. The bike lanes zig-zag across onramp and offramp traffic in a way that minimizes the crossing distance. This runs contrary to both my own intuition and effective cycling methods, where the cyclist holds a straight line across the onramp/offramp. Worse perhaps is the quality of the pavement: although the pavement in the main travel lanes is in good shape, pavement in the bike lane is very rough.

As a cyclist, I am skeptical of bike lanes in general. They seem to be designed to cater naïve riders, who don’t know how to conduct themselves in traffic, and more than that, to motorists, who don’t want to be forced to deal with bikes at all. Many motorists will interpret the existence of a bike lane as a requirement that bikes ride in it, even when it is impassable. And naïve riders will follow bike lanes, even when they’re laid out poorly. That said, there can be good bike lanes and bad bike lanes. This is a bad one. A motorist taking the onramp or offramp will come up fast on a cyclist staying inside the lane, who is swerving and cutting perpendicularly across the motorist’s path at the same time. The choppy road surface set aside for the cyclist clearly reflects our second-class status. And the plethora of dashed lines, zebra stripes, chevrons, etc, all serve to confound everybody.

That night, I went to David Byrne’s presentation. One of the speakers was the City of Austin Bicycle Coordinator, Annick Beaudet. She spoke proudly of some of the city’s new bike facilities. Including this one. I can understand a city bureaucrat taking pride in seeing a project to completion, but I have to wonder: has she actually ridden this stretch of road?

See also: How not to design a bike lane.

Ride more bikes

In the severe hailstorm that hit Austin back in May, our car took a beating—some of the dings were so sharp that the paint cracked at the point of impact. When I took it in to get a repair estimate, they told me they were going to have to replace the hood and roof. In short, major repairs.

We finally got around to taking the car in to get the repairs done, and as of today, have been without a car for three weeks. The experience has been instructive.

I’ve lived in Austin without a car before. That was as a renter, and it definitely involved compromises. It would be much more difficult to live here as a homeowner without a car.

I’ve only had to bum a ride once during these three weeks. And there are certainly a few car-based errands that we’ve deferred. But for the most part, we’ve managed pretty handily, and more importantly, it’s been a reminder that most of the short 1/2/3 mile errands we run can be accomplished just as well by bike.

It’s a little embarrassing that we got out of the habit of using our bikes for errands in the first place. We didn’t quit riding them entirely, but we didn’t ride them nearly as much as we might have. It’s hard to put a finger on why this is. Too lazy to ride? Perhaps in part. Another dumb reason might be our garage door. When we moved into this house, the garage (where we store the bikes) could only be locked or unlocked from inside. So to get the bike out I’d go into the garage, open the door, pull the bike off the wall, put it outside, come back in, lock the garage, go through the house, go out the front door, and lock that. This is not a huge inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but it adds just enough friction to the process that we’re more often inclined to say “fuck it” and take the car. We had the garage door fixed a few months back, so we don’t have that trivial hurdle to overcome. And now we’ve been booted out of our bad habits by circumstances. I’m optimistic we won’t fall back into them.