Thursday, January 29, 2015

I'm not slow; I'm not fast. I'm half fast. (Unknown)

I was really curious if being clipped in would make me faster. It does. With no extra effort, I'm about 2-3 mph faster.

I'm still easing into being clipped in. I've learned in the past that increasing speed or distance too fast leads to unpleasant consequences. My preferred cadence is around 85-95 RPM. For the sake of discussion, let's call it 90 RPM. Our average ride is around 4 hours (240 minutes). Which means on an average ride, I do 21,600 pedal strokes.

That means I make my wonky ankles turn the pedals 21,600 times.

The first long ride I took clipped in I was having so much fun I didn't notice my wonky ankles...until I got home! Then I found myself looking really pitiful since I was limping on both feet. Lesson learned. After that I got sensible. We dropped the distance and didn't push the speed. Then we slowly increased things.

In a week or so we'll rejoin our Saturday 20+ ride group. Things are looking good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Perhaps you need to look back before you can move ahead. (Alan Brennert)

We put our bikes in the car's bike rack, threw our gear in the backseat, and drove north two hours to Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee was part of our life before Miami. It was just an hour's drive by car east of our old home, a place to go and spend time on rainy days, a fine place to ride our bikes in nice weather.

We hadn't been to the area since we moved to Miami. We've ridden around Lake Okeechobee several times. We'd do the lake loop as part of a multi-day bike tour from our last home. Sometimes we hauled the bikes the hour's drive to Okeechobee for day trips. But Al and I were urbanites now, used to the conveniences and attitudes of a big city. A return to Lake Okeechobee seemed like a good plan. How resilient were we these days?

Our first day we checked out the area. The lake is circled by an earthen dike topped by the L.O.S.T. (the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail). At the bottom of the dike is a wide navigable canal that can be crossed at 5-10 mile intervals where bridges to water control structures and such are found. The shore of the canal opposite the dike is lined with RV parks, old and dilapidated double wides (alone and in mobile home parks), and a wide variety of cabins, homes, and small businesses. Typical of rural areas, more expensive homes and ramshackle trailer parks mingled with casual ease.

We purposely stayed in a budget motel near the lake. It was clean and had a kitchenette. But its furnishings and color scheme were circa 1980, and it looked vintage Florida despite a very recent remodel of the bathroom, kitchenette, and sitting area. The motel's parking lot was filled with cars pulling boat trailers topped with bass boats, a variety of large motorcycles (mainly Harleys), and a few trucks of construction workers. We strolled through the local Bealls Outlet and the Walmart. Consignment and thrift stores were abundant. And gun and outdoor gear stores. We chatted with some locals as well as some snowbird geezers and geezerettes.

The next day we rode our bikes down the highway a few miles to a trail access at the junction of highways 441 and 78. We spent the morning riding the trail and exploring. The LOST is still one of the prettiest rides in Florida. We spotted 23 alligators, most motoring along in the waters of the canal and near the shore of the lake. There was a group of white pelicans begging at a fish cleaning table on the canal. We had to slow once because several buzzards were sunning themselves, wings spread wide, in the middle of the trail. Bugs were minimal. (Though insect repellent helps make stopping to enjoy the view more enjoyable.)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues its dike maintenance and rehabilitation work. The segment of the trail between Okeechobee and Port Mayaca is open and good riding. Spoiler: At Taylor Creek trail riders are detoured to the highway. Unfortunately the return access point just after the bridge over Taylor Creek has been closed with a high gate by new owners, forcing riders to continue on the highway  to the next access point. Worse, the distance from the return to the trail to the end of this construction-free trail segment is only 17 miles. The Corps work has closed large areas of the trail beyond that point and on the southern side of the lake. Since the loop of the lake is about 110 miles, a large portion of the LOST is tied up in construction. Bottom line: Until the Corps finishes a good deal more of it's work, most of the ride around Lake Okeechobee will need to be on the highways. (At least for road bikes.)  The highways have a paved shoulder, but many people, particularly people uncomfortable with riding close to trucks and other wide vehicles, will not be happy doing some of the highway segments.

We learned a lot on this trip. We discovered we still didn't mind "roughing it" in an older rural budget motel. We learned we still enjoyed the quirkiness of rural Florida. (The locals are pure country, but that's not a bad thing when they're friendly about it.)

Now we can move on and plan some bike travel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It really is better to be lucky than to be good. (Jeff Lindsay)

This past weekend we went to Cape Coral with a friend for the Tour de Cape. We were all just doing a metric. The Tour de Cape is a pleasant ride. Low traffic roads, a surprisingly large number of rest stops, good police support, and excellent road marking.

We weren't trying to set any personal best speed records. We set out at a pace that worked for all of us and planned to just enjoy the ride. Shortly after the start, Al struck up a conversation with a guy who was riding near us and invited him to join our little paceline. There was a bit of a headwind. It was good to have another person in the rotation.

A third of the ride in, our friend called out a mechanical. Her rear tire was flat. We'd all just cleared off the road and started taking off the wheel when a van marked "Hollywood Bicycles" pulled up behind us. A guy hopped out removed the wheel and disappeared with it into the back of the van. Moments later he reappeared, popped the repaired wheel back on the bike, waved, and drove off. "How lucky is that?" we said to one another as we continued our ride.

Two thirds of the ride in, our friend called another mechanical. It was her back wheel again. It was flat. Seconds later a woman pulled up on her bike. "Need help? I'm a bike mechanic, by the way." We couldn't believe our friend's luck. Once again her tire was fixed in record time. She gets a flat twice on one ride, and both times a bike mechanic is there to help within a minute!

I'm going to have to ride more with this friend. She's definitely lucky.

Friday, January 16, 2015

It's like deja-vu, all over again. (Yogi Berra)

I spent a morning at the bike shop trying on every road shoe known to man. The final verdict: if I wanted road shoes I'd have to have them custom made. That settled, we took a look at my current bike sandals. They accept SPD cleats, a viable option. The guys at the bike shop settled on small SPD cleats with a dual-sided mountain SPD pedal. The final touch was to adjust the pedals so that clipping in and clipping out would be as easy as possible.

The next day we had mile after mile of ultra-slow riding while I practiced clipping in and clipping out. Al pedaled slowly behind me, keeping me at it when I got frustrated. I had been so ridiculously certain that it would all come back to me easily.

It didn't.

I hadn't done this maneuver in a dozen years. The bracing I'd devised for my ankles did make the motion to unclip reasonably pain free. The ankle also stayed reasonably stable. After over an hour of practice, we headed home. I was adequate. Not good. Adequate.

The next time out we headed for the Rickenbacker and Key Biscayne. I practiced pedaling unclipped through the stop and go area near Mary Brickell Village. Then it was over to the Rickenbacker. Up and over the William Powell Jr. Bridge, down the causeway to Virginia Key, over Bear Cut Bridge to Key Biscayne.

Oh me. Oh my.

I'd forgotten how much easier riding was when you are clipped in. The bridge was half as much work. It was easy to chase Al and to ride faster.

This is going to be fun.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The only thing to fear is fear itself...and spiders. (Robot Chicken)

Last week Al made a visit to the bike shop. A few hours later he took his road bike out for a short ride. For the first time in more than a dozen years, he clipped in.

It was inevitable that Al would return to using clipless pedals and cycling shoes. As I've said before, I've got wonky feet and ankles. I had to give up my clipless pedals and road shoes and settle for flat pedals. But, knowing Al would want clipless pedals, 6 months or so ago I began using the Goldilocks principal to find a way to brace my feet and ankles in a way that would accommodate clipless pedals. (This consists of buying, trying, and discarding a very large number of supports and wraps.) When that was worked out, all that was left was getting up my nerve to clip in.

I made a very short list of scary things to do. The last thing on the list was getting clipless pedals. Then I started down the list. This week I did the second to the last thing on the list. I painted our bathroom walls black. (Believe it or not, it looks great.)

Monday I go to the bike shop.

Monday, December 22, 2014

When you learn, teach. When you get, give. (Maya Angelou)

We belong to a bicycle club, the Everglades Bicycle Club. When we moved to Miami, Al and I loved riding our road bikes, but we had never ridden in a pace line. In fact, we had no idea what skills were needed. We joined EBC and started going to the Saturday EBC rides.

We discovered that people ride with EBC for a lot of different reasons. We all loved riding bicycles. The club was a place where we could meet other people who also liked to ride. The Saturday leader-led groups let people ride at their interest, skill, and fitness level. When you ride with an EBC leader-led group you know you won't be dropped and stranded. (If you are a beginner or someone still learning how to navigate the popular bike routes or to fix minor mechanical problems, that is a very big thing.)

EBC is special because there are good riders who are willing to volunteer to be ride leaders. These are strong riders. They could be spending their time riding with other strong riders. But they are willing to share their abilities and time with the EBC leader-led rides. They teach skills and techniques and help others improve. They keep us together, and safe, and looking like a disciplined peloton instead of a motley rag-tag pack.

And then there is ORANGE! (and now GREEN!) It was amazing how the jerseys changed our ride groups. When we ride together in our club jerseys, we are a team.

And we can't forget to mention the EBC Facebook page. It is special because of the photographs. Great photos of our rides and events that can be shared with our cycling and non-cycling friends. Photo memories that we can download and keep. It is also special because of the people who post about the rides we can join. And because of the people who take the time to post and comment. It keeps things witty, informative, and interesting.

EBC is special because of all the members who volunteer their time and energy making the club run. The leadership group, the event coordinators, and all the other things a club needs to do to be a club.

And we can't forget to mention the members who bring us together socially, for events big and small filled with fun and laughter.

Thank you all.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!
Crossing the Venetian Causeway on a Sunday Ride to Georgio's (Photo by Alex Pruna)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why is it, every time I go the mile, another mile comes up? (Anthony Liccione)

Last December, Al proposed a project. "Here's the deal," he said. "You ride with me one heck of a lot of miles. No whining. No belly aching. No quitting. Do it, and we get a new bikes."

I'm a sucker for bribes.

So we made changes. Over the months we changed our riding schedule to four mornings a week. We changed the length of our rides to metric centuries (62 miles). And we threw in a standard century (100 miles) every so often just to keep things interesting.

We bought new road bikes with a softer ride and electronic shifting. It made a big improvement for me. I have wonky hands, feet, wrists, and ankles. With my old bike I wore wrist and thumb supports under my bike gloves, but I still could not use a water bottle while riding without dropping it. With the new bike I don't need the wrist or thumb supports at all. And I have no problems using regular water bottles while riding. That is huge.

The project wasn't all a success. Distances longer than a century didn't work out. When we tried to push the miles farther, I had an unpleasant cascade of problems. We tried many approaches to it, but unless I could have a solid 12 hours off the bike between rides, the cascade of problems made riding impossible. So I had a brief pity party for the dream of randonneuring and moved on. We had lots of other things we could do instead.

This year we rode a lot. We put about three times as many miles on our bikes as on our car. I no longer have any fear of riding longer distances. I've learned I can do it, day after day after day.

Will Al have another project for next year? You can count on it. It's what he does.