Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday ride

Now isn’t that just craptastic! As I make the left turn into the parking lot, I see the group of riders just starting out. The last rider disappears behind a building just as I pull into a parking spot. I’m late. Again.

My bike is ready to go in the back of the van, but I still have to put on a few layers before heading out into the 20 something degree weather. I try to quickly pull on my neoprene booties and sweater, gloves and jacket. Leroy, the former NJ RBA, notices and walks over. He is not riding today, but he dropped by to see the group off. We talk as I get ready.

Leroy asks if I know about the route change in the first mile or so. I don’t but I tell him I’m sure I’ll figure it out. The route is Joe’s Great Adventure Permanent. I’ve ridden it once before and I know that I can ride it at a good clip. I figure that the group will ride the first few miles at a moderate pace and I may be able to catch up if I hurry.

In minutes I am on the course, my cue sheet in a baggie clipped to a brake cable, quickly turning the pedals on the fixie. According to my cue sheet, the first turn is 1 mile away (0.8 to the bridge then 02. and LEFT onto Township line Road). Did I mention that one of the rules of Randonneuring is that the official cue sheet is the one that is up to date as of the day of the ride? That cue sheet may NOT be the same as one you printed up days ago and placed in the baggie clipped to your brake cable. If I didn’t mention that, I should. It’s important.

The bridge is right where it’s supposed to be. However, Township Line Road is not.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On being a Randonneur

As sports go, Randonneuring is a tiny nook in the niche sport of cycling.

How tiny? Consider this:

The Pennsylvania Randonneurs and the New York/New Jersey Randos stage their rides in the heart of the population dense Mid-Atlantic states. New York City has about 8 million people, Long Island has almost 8 million people, approximately 6 million people live in Philadelphia and its surrounding Delaware Valley. Together, that's well over 22 million people - conservatively estimated. A reasonably well attended average brevet in this area draws 20 or so riders.

This has been my second year in the sport. Getting to know some of these "one in a million" folks has been an unexpected bonus.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stillwater 200k Retour

Sometimes the road is butter. Sometimes it's crispy fried bacon.

The PA Randonneurs' "Stillwater 200k Retour" began on the banks of the Delaware River in the town of Milford, New Jersey. Milford was once a town with a grist mill and a station on the Belvidere Delaware Railroad. Now long gone, the "Bel Del Railroad" ran a regular passenger line from Manunka Chunk to Trenton. Today, Milford is a town of small shops and restaurants that look like they cater to folks recreating on and near the river or living in the rolling exurbs that border the river. The buildings are neat, quaint and picturesque.

This "retour" would reverse the Stillwater route that the group rode in November. I did not ride that brevet. This would be my first time on this course.  After riding two flat 200k rides in the last two months and pushing hard to two personal best times, riding with the Pa Randonneurs would mean a return to hill country. The elevation profile (click link) showed that the two major climbs appear at the end of the route- just when I would likely be at my weakest. My big goal for the day was to  finish the ride without turning it into a sufferfest.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Flatbread 200K - the wind blows

November 12, 2011
Randonneuring is not a race.  
Friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring.

I tried to keep my growing desperation and disappointment out of my voice. 
"Joe, I really appreciate your riding with me and all the pulling you've done. But if you want to go ahead, I understand."  It was my attempt at a "leave me here, save yourself" offer.
We were approaching 100 miles in what would have been a personal best century time for me when a left turn put us back into a stiff unrelenting headwind for the umpteenth time.  This time, I couldn't hold the pace. I was bonking and cramping and the freaking WIND was IN. MY. FACE. AGAIN!! 
Over thirty miles left. Riding a fixie for the first time on a brevet didn't help. No gears to change and no coasting. Go or no go. Those were the choices. I steeled myself to suffer through the end of the ride alone. And the day had started so innocently . . .

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Philly Bike Expo 2011: A few items that caught my eye

The 2011 Philly Bike Expo subtitled its show as Artisans / Activists / Alternatives. Those three ideas were on full display during my Sunday visit. Custom builders, handmade accessories and local bike based activism filled the booths of the Philadelphia Armory. 
Here's a sample of some items that caught my attention (click pics for full size and links for more details):

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pinelands 200k Permanent- setting a personal best. October 23, 2011

I stand with my back to the shower nozzle. The hot stream of water thrums against the tightness in my right trapezius that feels like the precursor to a stiff neck. The knot doesn't go away. 

A layer of road grime and dried sweat swirl down the drain. Soap lather stings tiny abrasions brought on by hours in the saddle. They will need Bag Balm. 

Despite having spent the day drinking fluids on a 15 minute schedule, my eyes and lips feel parched, foreign, dry from within. The shower brings no relief.

After 129.3 miles of pedaling, simply standing takes effort

These minor discomforts will soon fade, leaving only a personal best time for a 200k -  just under an hour faster than on any prior 200k course.

(click on pictures for full size image)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Coffee fix

Riding a fixed gear bike is to cycling as 
taking black and white pictures is to photography.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

N + 1 - Fixing what ain't broke.

According to Rule #12 -  "The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned.  This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hawk Mountain 200K brevet -

September 17, 2011

The first hours of the brevet felt timeless - nether morning nor afternoon, neither hot nor cold - a space between moments. Under a covering of mottled gray clouds, we rode through shadowless terrain. The flora, plump from recent torrential rains, could barely contain their color. Yellows, oranges and greens brightly popped against the muted background. This was Summer's last Saturday, but I felt the touch of Fall. Cool air drew excess heat away from laboring muscles, leaving just enough warmth, like a thin flowing shield, to ward off the chill. With the threat of overheating gone, this would be a good day to climb mountains and this brevet would provide just the course.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hawk's Nest 200k - Through Promised Land.

76 miles into the ride, I got my mojo back. Finally. On a category 5 climb deep in the Poconos, it emerged to lift me just above the discomfort and effort of riding brevets. No longer did that aspect dominate my thoughts. It took a while to get there, but I got there. Now I could just ride. 50 miles to go.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hawk Mountain 200K

July 24, 2011

My ride of the Hawk Mountain 200k permanent began just after dawn in the small town of Ephrata. Located in the midst of east Pennsylvania farmland, Ephrata was once the home of the Mystic Order of the Solitary, a mid-18th century semi-monastic religious order that incorporated ascetism and creative expression into its practices. That history seemed to make this a fitting place to begin a 128-mile solo Sunday bike ride through the mountains on a mid-summer day that came at the end of a record setting heat wave.

Monday, July 18, 2011

night into day

Glide into the night
until the wind pulls tears from your eyes.
Dewy mist floats in on sinking waves
sneaking into the spaces and slips
those forgotten last thoughts like
a jacket left unzipped
to cool night air.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Great Adventure Populaire

July 16, 2011

My heart rate monitor flashes numbers well above 90% of my max and the numbers are rising. This is a short course, 70 miles, with no real climbing, but our riding pace relentlessly hovers around and above 20 mph. There are hours yet left to ride and I am a clydesdale trying to run with a racehorse. Through open mouth, my belly bellows air in and out of my lungs as my thighs burn in circles to climb the next roller. I take another pull of water from my Camelbak and work at keeping the pace.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to keep a cool head in hot times

In case you missed it, the NY Times published this article on how keeping your neck cool (click for link) can improve athletic  performance in the heat and humidity, although it may come with a risk (but what worthwhile pursuit doesn't?). 

Friday, June 17, 2011

A memorial

Sabina Rose O'Donnell loved to ride her bicycle. When she was 8 or 9 and she and her mother would ride together on a trail close to their home. We were their neighbors and friends. We later moved away and they moved away. Nevertheless, we kept in touch, in the distant way that parents who are busy raising children keep in touch when they do not live in the immediate area - a way full of good intentions, occasional phone calls but scarce opportunities for actual time together, trusting tomorrow to provide a time for a reunion.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hightstown, NJ 600k - Ride your own ride

The NJ 600k ride started on Friday at 10:00 p.m., after a three-day heat wave. With temperatures approaching 100 humid degrees, the heat wave lasted long enough for the heat to seep into the pavement, which would radiate it back to night sky.
This would be my first attempt at this distance. On the drive to the start, I felt like I was about to take a pass/fail final exam in Randonneuring 101. My first two-day event. The 10:00 p.m. start guaranteed back-to-back night rides sandwiching a full day in the saddle. It guaranteed sleep deprivation. How much would be up to me. Could I ride 376.2 miles in less than 40 hours? Could I ride straight through? Should I try? How much sleep do I need to do this? What would it take to ride that far?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

NJ Hightstown 400k - Flat is fast but it ain't easy

Let me start by stating the obvious: 400 kilometers is a long ass distance to pedal a bicycle. It's about the distance from New York City to Washington, D.C. People won't even drive that kind of distance unless they have a good reason. 400 kilometers would make a good distance for a bike tour vacation over several to five days. However, to pedal a bike that far in one ride, straight through, and end up right back where you started seems fundamentally irrational - an act not derived from reason but fueled by an implacable desire for the extra ordinary - irrational like art, obsession and passion. Fully embracing the obvious and the irrational, I rode the NJ Randonneurs 400k on Saturday May 28.

Three weeks ago, I rode the PA Randonneurs climb filled 400K. The New Jersey 400k promised flatness and speed. Turns out flat and fast has its challenges too . . .

Monday, May 2, 2011

Blue Mountain 400k - One Spring Day

click to view

In the days before the ride, I  kept checking three weather sites to make sure, but each site showed the same forecast - a full cartoon sun, complete with happy spoke rays - clear dry skies, a high near 70 degrees and a low near 50. A beautiful Spring day, almost perfect weather to ride a bike all day and all night. No excuse there. Had the forecast called for anything less, I just might have bailed before I started. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Images from an unfinished fleche

The fleche invitation came by email and with a warning that proved prophetic:

 "... the weather typically sucks. I've ridden in both snow and rain. The one year I skipped, it was beautiful but this year, because I'm riding, it's pretty much guaranteed to be crap again."

The mystery of the self-balancing bicycle.

A video on the discovery that the self balancing of a bicycle does not depend on trail or gyroscopic torque.

click for link

I always thought there was some magic involved. . .

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Next up - 2011 PA Randonneurs 300k

Randonneuring, like many endurance sports, shares the quality of having events that sound like the result of a late night drinking session during which a bunch of athletes came up with a difficult challenge with arbitrary rules and then came up with a grandiose title to confer upon those who completed the challenge according to the arbitrary rules.  I imagine that those who came up with the Randonneuring events, being French, drank wine, probably a nice local red, accompanied by a well prepared meal.

In the spirit of this tradition, the Audax Club Parisien (click for glossary link), which approves Randonneuring events for the world, has two international awards: the Super Randonneur and the Randonneur 5000.

To earn the Super Randonneur award, a rider must complete, in one season, rides of 200k (125 miles), 300k (186 miles), 400k (250 miles), and 600k (375 miles) and ride them within specified time limits. I didn't get the "Super" award last year, so that sounds like a good goal for this season.  

In the process of completing my R12, I rode a 200K that will count toward the award. One down, three to go. For my 300K, I rode with the Pa Randonneurs.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Exceeding limits

Brevets tend to have their way of making people humble - Laurent Chambard

This is not a ride report. In May 2010, I rode my second Randonneuring event - a 300 km brevet. If you really want to know about the course and terrain, you will have to read another account. If you are looking for direction as to how to prepare, or what to expect, I have nothing to offer, other than my mistakes. I cannot give you an objective report, even though I vividly remember the details of that day in my heart and in my mind's eye. This is more like a confession, or perhaps, an admission of loss and of hubris, even in the appearance of success. 

It's taken me a while to tell the story of that day, and the events that followed, because I am still reluctant to discuss, even in a semi-anonymous blog, the burden it placed on me for every event after. Telling this story means sharing the reality of what it meant to push beyond my limits. But this year would not have been the same without that ride so, perhaps, the story needs telling. Because if this blog is meant to be an account of my experiences, then this ride is an essential part of the accounting. But be warned - I may delete this post any day. Denial is a seductive temptress. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Night lights part 2

For the last year, I used Planet Bike Blaze lights for night riding. Two one-watt lights mounted mid fork and one two-watt light mounted on the handlebar. Together, the three lights made an adequate amount of light to ride by, but the set up was far from ideal.  The lights could illuminate reflective signs at a reasonable distance but lacked the ability to light the road far enough ahead to allow for fast riding. The circular beams made a small patch of rideable light to follow at a slow to moderate pace but, on long unlit stretches, they also created a feeling of riding through a tunnel. All in all, they are good lights for urban riding and commuting, but noticeably underpowered for distance riding and descending. I wanted to upgrade before the season began.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My R12 ride: reflecting, considering, remembering.

March 12, 2011 -

The 200 kilometer ride that would be my R12 began on Saturday morning. Each month, for the last 11 months in a row, starting with my first ever Brevet, I completed at least one timed ride at least 200 kilometers long. With the completion of this ride, I would earn the award for consistency that an R12 represents.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spin cycle: Changing Gears part 2

I have to learn some things the hard way - experientially - by working through problems over and over again until a solution slowly emerges and makes me want to just slap my forehead and wonder why it took me so long to figure it out. 

At the beginning of the month, after 11 months of randonneuring, it finally dawned on me that a different rear cassette might make a better gear combination for my ride.

Having made the change, and done so with a greater appreciation as to how cadence and gears could work together, I've done one 200k and had a couple of training rides. The difference has been significant - gear selection has become more precise while pacing and efficiency have improved. I am much more able to use my gears to maintain cadence and use both to control effort. Seems like customizing gears may be the best upgrade going, especially considering the relatively low cost and immediate benefit.

Surprise surprise - it turns out that I am not the first to figure this out. In fact, Ken Kifer wrote a very informative piece (with links) on this topic over 10 years ago.  As he points out, this topic is for the nerdiest of bike nerds, but just in case there are some of you out there who want to really want to dial in their ride, don't know this already, and don't need to learn things the hard way, the information is out there.

Note: This is a link to the current page for Bicycle Gearing for Wisconsin Hills  which is referenced in Kifer's sidebar. The calculator at the bottom is a nice tool for figuring out gear needs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

200K - Beyond Hope to New Hope

Saturday February 12, 2011

18 degrees. The cold air pounced on me, reached into my chest and squeezed a gasp of air from my lungs. 7:35 a.m. I had just stepped out of my car into the parking lot of the Belvidere Diner in New Jersey. I was the last to arrive. The February 200k brevet had started at 7:30. The other Randonneurs were already on the course.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Changing Gears

I've been thinking about pedaling cadence - the number of times per minute that the pedals turn when riding. We are all supposed to have a "best" cadence, an rpm range that we can work all day. You might speed it up a bit with training but at some point you find your groove and that's your groove, so you live with it and groove with it. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Venn of cycling

A bicycle lies at the hub of divergent interests. A Venn diagram of cyclists would have circles of engineers and English majors, philosophers and physicists, athletes and artists, the privileged and the poor, introverts and extroverts, dreamers and doers. All those circles would overlap around the idea and reality of the bicycle. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Recovery based training - a theory in development. Part one.

Reading books, articles, reports and studies on exercise physiology has been a regular pastime for a long time. Over the last twenty plus years, I have read more articles and reports on endurance training than I can count. I've read about training levels based on percentage of heart rate (max and reserve), percentage of threshold pace, percentage of race pace, colors, and perception of effort. The theories have tended to have a lot in common. Here are some of the shared assumptions. These are also ones I will rely on:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Small racks are nice too.

Bicycle rear mini-rack -  a Rando hack

This relentless cold weather and a touch of cabin fever motivate me to "fine-tune" my ride. Esmeralda, my Surly LHT, used to have a full size rear rack. It had way more carrying capacity than I needed for randonneuring, especially since I started using a Velo Orange Campagne handlebar bag, so I took it off.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PA Dutch 200K - January 1, 2011

Five hours after toasting the arrival of 2011, I began the final preparations for my first ride of the year. Pull on layers of riding clothes, eat two servings of  microwaved oatmeal, load the Surly onto the car rack, and double-check my mental list of things to bring.

The weather forecast predicted midday temps in the 50's, but at 5:00 am, the temperature hovered just above freezing. Relying on the forecast, and the warmth that riding hills would bring, I left my wool tights and sweater at home and trusted that the remaining layers would be enough to suit the day. 

The course was the PA Dutch 200k. This would be my first time on it. Pre-ride mapping  on an internet site identified seven “category 5” climbs (course map and elevation profile.) According to, a cat 5 climb is the easiest of the category worthy climbs, but there would be seven of them on the 128.9 mile course. 

It would also be my first time riding with the PA Randonneurs, a group whose  reputation for staging hilly rides preceded them. I don't love riding hills, but in the last 10 months of randonneuring, I've gotten better at it. And to get where I want to go in this sport, I may have to get even better. Today could be a good measure of my mid-winter condition.