Monday, October 20, 2014

The Homestead-Miami Speedway Freedom Ride 2014

One of the best annual event rides in South Florida is put on by the Everglades Bicycle Club in October just south of Miami. This year's ride, the Speedway Freedom Ride 2014, was going to benefit the Achilles International's Freedom Team of Wounded Warriors.

We lined up in the pre-dawn light. Then they opened the gates to the tunnel that led to the track. We slowly rode through the tunnel, turned on to the inner track, and pedaled down to the starting line on the main track. At the front were the ranks of hand cyclists in their low-slung hand-cranked recumbent bikes surrounded by their support riders. Minutes later we started our lap of the banked NASCAR track. It looked huge! At the banked turns some riders stayed low. Others rode the turns at the top. It seemed very scary up there on our two skinny road bike tires! But the view and experience were worth it.

Al pedaled past me as I was busy taking photographs. It wasn't until I was finishing the lap of the track that I missed him. "No problem," I thought. We were supposed to be riding in a large EBC pace line. He probably was already pedaling down the road with them. I rode along, slipping between groups on the road looking for him and our friends. Nada. Just as I was ready to stop and pull out my phone, I spotted Al. Together again, we joined the stream of riders. The large EBC pace line was long gone down the route. Not a problem. Soon we spotted friends from our weekend EBC rides and put together a tidy little double pace line.

No matter whether you were doing the metric (62 mile) or century (100 mile) ride, the routes were the same for the first 50 miles. So we had a wonderful ride with our EBC friends down to Key Largo and back to Homestead. The weather was perfect. The wind was just a breeze. The scenery was lovely. It was the type of uninterrupted riding that lets you lose yourself in the fun of the ride. Our pace line moved smoothly past other riders. "Join our group! Hop on the back!" we called as we passed them. Some did. Our group grew. Riding in the pace line made the miles easy. Everybody took their turn pulling at the front of the pace line. We had lots of energy as we crossed Card Sound Bridge. The view from the top of the sparkling waters and coastline was delightful.

Too soon we were at the rest stop where the routes for the metric and century rides spit. Everyone else in our group was doing the metric. We chatted and said goodbye. Then it was pedals up, and Al and I headed down the road by ourselves for the century ride.

We hadn't planned to be riding by ourselves. But we'd dawdled too long munching, talking, and generally having a good time with friends. The people we had planned to ride with were already down the road. The route was well marked. We were used to being a pace line of two.

Along the way we stopped and talked to some friends, slowed to ride with another rider with a problem, and had a fine time being bicycle tourists more than usual. We'd stopped for a photograph at Everglades National Park when we suddenly realized how late it was. (Oops.)

As we headed back from Everglades, I saw a SAG vehicle trailing us. It turned out we were the last riders on the route! "OK," Al said. "Somebody has to be last." We always said we were slow pokes. No one will argue with us now!

The last rest stop was closing down as we pulled in. They were a great group, and we had some laughs as we refilled our water bottles. We waved good-bye and pedaled away. Trailed now by two guardian SAG vehicles all the way to the Speedway. We thanked them and pedaled into the Speedway to join our friends.

No money can buy a memory like this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. (Laurence J. Peter)

Disclaimer Statement: This post has nothing to do with doubt, danger, screaming, or shouting. But it is about going in circles. (And I just happen to love the quote.)

At last Saturday's Everglades Bicycle Club 20+ inaugural group ride, the ride leaders introduced the rotating pace line. We used it Saturday and again at an informal group ride (with many of the same people) on Sunday. Up to now, I've learned single pace line (quack, quack, ducks in a row) and double pace line (two by two, handlebar to handlebar, but still quack, quack, ducks in a row). In the rotating pace line formation two lines of riders rotate in an oval like a bicycle chain. One line is moving faster, the other line is moving slower. So there isn't any two by two, handlebar to handlebar action going on. Like a link in a bicycle chain, a rider moves forward in the faster line, reaches the front, passes the lead rider in the slower line, and slides over to become the new first rider in the slower column (soft pedaling to slow to the speed of the slower column). As other riders move from the faster to the slower line, he eventually becomes the last rider in the slower line. He then moves over into the last position of the faster column, and increases pedaling pressure to match the speed of the faster column, and moves forward again in the faster column. Easy peasy. Lots of fun.

May I just say, "Whoo-hoo!" The rotating pace is a game-changer for puny-wimp riders like me.

I love the cycling jargon about engine size. ("He is such a strong rider. He has a big diesel engine.") My engine is your basic wind up rubber band affair. My riding is based on tenacity rather than strength. I get destroyed when I have to be at the front of a faster pace line for more than a brief stay. (We're talking seconds here, not minutes, guys.) The rotating pace lets me move with the group without burning out by the end of a long ride. And I don't have to hide in the back of the group, which is, frankly, a bit of a bummer. Also, I quickly learned something very important. Because I have not spent a lot of time at the front pulling, I have never learned to keep my speed very, very constant. It was harder than I thought.

I asked Al about it since he pulls for me all the time, and I know that he can hold a very precise speed. "What's the secret to keeping my speed where I want it?" I asked him. He told me to start by paying more attention to my bike computer read out. "When you soft pedal you put almost no pressure on the pedals." But the rest of what he talked about made me realize it was more art than science. OK. It was something I could work on.

Like learning to dance, the rotating pace line requires practice. I'm obviously a newbie, but here's what I picked up so far:

  • Make sure you know what speed the fast line is supposed to go and how fast the slow (recovery) line is supposed to go. Make sure you ride at that speed. Watch your bike computer. If the ride leader says the line speeds are 20 and 18, keep it at 20 and 18. 
  • When you get to the front of the fast line, don't continue pedaling fast line speed when you pull over into the lead of the slower line. Glance at your bike computer speed. Soft pedal right away. Only a couple of pedal strokes at fast lane pressure will put a gap between you and the second guy in the slower line. Then he will have to surge to close the gap.
  • When you are in the slower line, focus on keeping a very steady speed. If you are all staying at the same slower speed, you don't really "drift back". That's just an illusion because the faster line is passing you.
  • When you get to the back position of the slower line, move into the faster line and immediately increase your pedaling pressure to move your speed up to the faster line speed. 

With the rotating pace line the whole group has to ride at the same level. This was really shown during our two weekend group rides. On Saturday the group was made up of riders in the same speed group, and the rotating pace line worked fairly well. (And got better as we went along.) Speed changes at intersections, traffic circles, and traffic lights caused some difficulty. We also had to learn that, unlike the other pace line formations we've used, we couldn't just willy-nilly hop out and sprint when we felt the spirit descend on us. It caused chaos and confusion. On Sunday, however, the group's composition was more diverse. We had riders from several speed groups. This meant that speeds that were fine for the stronger riders were exhausting for the weaker riders, particularly since we had a headwind issue going as well. It can work if the whole group understands that the weaker riders will have to work harder, and the stronger riders will have to hold back.

Is it better than the double pace line? Heck, yes.

A round of applause please, for the rotating pace line and the EBC 20+ ride group and ride leaders who introduced it!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen. (Louis L'Amour)

We have a new ride group at the Saturday Everglades Bicycle Club rides. Where before there was only an 18+ mph group, there now is an 18-20 and a 20+. (In addition to the 14-16 and the 16-18 groups, of course.) Al and I talked it over and decided we would ride with the 20+ group and see how it worked out.

The new 20+ ride was a winner. The ride leaders introduced the group to the rotating pace line. It's a two column formation where one column moves a couple miles per hour faster than the other. It let's the group move fast, minimizes the time any one rider is at the front pulling, and gives you time to recover while you are riding in the slower column. You could watch the learning curve of the group as we improved over the miles. A fun, fun ride. We are going to really enjoy the 20+ group!

At the end of the ride we headed to Kennedy Park for a frozen lemonade. We were celebrating. Today our mileage for 2014 rolled past 10,000 miles. We enjoyed our treat and mused about this year's rides.

Actually, our goal hasn't been the mileage. We're not even really interested in goals. We are process people. We develop weekly routines to get what we want. We make the routines a habit, and the rest falls into place. We ride a lot of miles because we want to continue riding together. I need to have the endurance and strength to keep up with Al. He needs to be strong enough to pull me on very long or windy rides. We ride four days a week (usually 2 days with groups and 2 days by ourselves) and take three days off the bikes. Al leads and sets the pace. I chase him down the road and try not to let him get away. (So far, so good.)

We are bicycle tourists at heart. Statistics are nice, but rides are really about the things we see and the people we meet and ride with. We talked about all the people we've met who ride bicycles. We mused about all the new places around Miami that we'd discovered on rides this year. Restaurants, cafes, and bakeries. Places for coffee and espresso. Places for smoothies and milkshakes. Interesting architecture. Public art. Murals, both well known and ones secreted away in underpasses and back alleys. Pocket parks. Tourist hangouts. Quiet bike paths. Interesting neighborhoods. Secret gardens. Strange yard art. Dunes covered in sea oats. Mansions. Dilapidated cottages.

Feeling content and pleased with ourselves, we pedaled home. We rode the elevator up to our floor and pushed our bikes down the hall and into our little studio unit. Our cat Lola was curled in her cat bed. She half opened her eyes as we rolled the bikes past. "Home so soon?" she seemed to ask.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

To err is human, but when the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you're overdoing it. (Josh Jenkins)

My new bike has a power meter. Yeah, a power meter. On my bike. I have already heard all the quips, and I agree. The watts I put out would barely make an LED bulb flicker. But I love the thing, and it is the best gadget ever.

I have only been riding with the power meter for a month or so, but it is more useful to me than all the other numbers I've gotten from bike computers over the years. In just a short time, it showed me (in numbers I could understand) when I was making my favorite mistake of pushing too much, for too long, too often. I figured out the range of watts that let me ride hour after hour. It's easy to punch up the watts beyond that range, but there's a cost for it. At last I have a way to budget the amount of energy I'm using while riding. I can splurge as long as I have a way of being an energy miser later in the ride. If I never get more out of having a power meter than this, it will be worth every dollar it cost.

I'm certain I will still go wildly pedaling down the road in the excitement of the chase, only to red line, fade, and struggle to manage the rest of the ride.

On the other hand, sometimes that isn't a mistake. It is just something you have to do in the pursuit of fun.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit. (Arnold H. Glasow)

 We rolled the bikes to the elevator, down to our garage level, and over to the car. Then we drove south to the start of the Everglades Bicycle Club Tour de Redland. A morning of riding with friends in the open Redland agricultural district of Miami-Dade.

We had a great time. Musing about the ride as we drove home, my mind drifted to thoughts of border collies. (Stay with me here.) When you ride in a group, you have to have leaders. Someone has to make the calls. Different cycling groups call them different names, but Everglades Bicycle Club calls them "ride leaders."

Sunday I had the bad luck of getting caught up in a multi-bike crash. If you've ever been in one of these things, you know that it all happens so fast, you really only see what is right in front of you. In my case it was a friend that I was certain I was going to kill because I was definitely going to run over her. Seconds later, as I looked around from my position on the pavement, relief surged over me when I saw my friend stand up, dazed but not looking badly hurt. Friends helped me to my feet, righted my bike, and got me to the side of the road, kindly handing me items (cell phone, helmet mirror, etc.) that had scattered when I fell. A quick check assured me that I was OK with only minor scrapes. Only then did I have a chance to look around. To my amazement, the group had all been moved off the road and bike checks and people checks were rapidly being done. We were a big group. But the ride leaders were moving quickly around, creating order from chaos. No hysteria. No soap opera dramatics. Just quick (and may I say polite as well) action.

Well done, ride leaders.

Okay. So now you are wondering how this ties in with border collies. Well, first, I just happen to think border collies are great, great dogs. But, second, I've seen border collies in action. We often traveled in areas where these dogs earn their kibble by herding on ranches and farms. Once, somewhere in Arkansas as I recall, we took a shortcut on a ranch road between two rural highways. As we were enjoying the lovely route, we got an up-close and personal experience with one of these amazing dogs. As we passed an entrance to a ranch, a border collie darted out and cut us off. He never threatened us. He never made us think he might do us any real harm. But he firmly made his wants known. He was dead set on herding us to the ranch. Finally we just got off our bikes. We were laughing. The border collie, tail wagging, ears alert, and eyes firmly fixed on us, had won. We got away the only way we could, by slowly walking our bikes past the dog and down the road.

The ride leaders are a lot like that border collie. Good leaders, they're friendly but firm. They keep the group heading where they need to go, at a consistent speed. They set the rules for the group, and (again, friendly but firm) let you know if you are doing something you shouldn't. It's not an easy job. Depending on the day and the group of riders, we can be undisciplined and skittish, more interested in the next sprint area than the next intersection. But somehow the ride leaders manage and make us look fairly good out there as we wheel down the road.

Thanks, guys. Well done.

Monday, August 18, 2014

It's all fun and games 'till someone loses an eye, then it's just fun you can't see. (James Hetfield)

We have a long ride just three weeks ahead. I have managed to block it from my mind. (I'm very good at ignoring things.) We're doing fine on our bikes, and I know that things will work out. Or not.

Riding bicycles may be our obsession, but it just isn't the most important thing in life. What is? Well, sipping a great cup of coffee before dawn on the balcony. Laughing and playing. Getting mesmerized by a fabulous movie. Getting lost in a good book. Meeting interesting people. Keeping up with friends.

We've gotten better on the bikes this past year. We'll be better on the bikes next year and the year after that. How we actually do on any particular ride isn't something to worry about. We just keep giving ourselves goals that are a little harder or a little more difficult than what we know we can do. That's what makes life fun and interesting. Even if we fail, there's still the fun of doing what we can.

And if a ride is a total disaster, there's always something we'll see on the ride that makes us laugh.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer Heat and BBQ at the Beach

August is the hottest month. We weren't surprised when we woke up one morning with Summer Heat Laziness Syndrome. We've been riding a lot, and the rest of our life has been busy, too. It caught up with us during the beginning days of August. It was time to kick back and go with the lazy mood.

We knew this would happen. We even went so far as to bank miles when the weather was cooler so we'd feel OK about not riding as much in the heat. It was time to do other things for a while. The new Christopher Moore book, The Serpent of Venice, needed to be read. There were a couple new Scandinavian crime novels on the bookshelf, too. We'd enjoy a few days of laziness.

We wouldn't, however, miss our weekend rides with the Everglades Bicycle Club. Last year we missed the summer beach party. We didn't plan to miss it this year. So last Sunday we pedaled over William Powell Bridge and down the Rickenbacker Causeway, over Bear Cut Bridge to Key Biscayne and Crandon Park. There were rides for all the speed groups as well as a beginner and family ride. After the rides there was a BBQ picnic with all the trimmings. We talked with friends, munched, and met some new members. But the most fun was seeing the families of the people we rode with.

Then it was back home. Where we gave ourselves over to Summer Heat Laziness Syndrome.

Bring on the books and ice cream.