Saturday, August 31, 2013

Strangers Have The Best Candy.

Ride start point for the Saturday EBC group ride.
This year's fall and winter bike touring events have taken over conversation at the Everglades Bicycle Club group rides. Everyone is making plans. Groups are getting together their "teams" for some events. Are you going to is the conversational gambit of the day.

I have a memory I pull up at times like these. Al and I were at a week-long event, doing a little socializing before tucking in for the night. It had been a particularly fabulous day. The weather gods had smiled. We'd ridden over 80 miles on a magnificent rural road which undulated gracefully over rolling hills, the rhythm occasionally interrupted by a picturesque small town or a scenic overlook of the surrounding area. As always, Al and I had ridden by ourselves rather than with a group, "Did you see that amazing Gothic church in the first village?" I asked one guy. "No," he said, "was it on our route?" "I took the best pictures at that overlook half-way through today's ride," I mentioned to one woman. "Oh, I wanted to stop there, too, but the group wasn't stopping for anything before lunch!" she replied happily. And so it went. It became apparent that for many people, touring on a bicycle was about miles, speed, bragging rights, food, and wine. All nice, of course, but not on my list of reasons for touring on a bicycle. (Except for the food. I'll grant you that wonderful food is at the top of my personal list.)

Today is Saturday. Our day for an Everglades Bicycle Club group ride. And it being almost the beginning of September, we talked non-stop about fall and winter bike events. But each time I entered one of the are you going to conversations, I took a deep breath and pulled up my memory of groups on tour. Then I opened myself to their excitement and savored the lure of riding an event with a group.

But when we go to events, I'll be riding just with Al, not with a group. I'd rather take my pictures, meander around looking at the architecture, and chat with people along the way.

I have a desperately rebellious sweet tooth. But I've learned through experience to stick to my own special candy no matter how good the other guy's candy may seem to be.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rainy Season Living

One thing about the rainy season. It's predictably unpredictable. It will rain. The only question is when. It may be raining at breakfast then a great sunny day an hour later. You can head out for a ride in the sunshine but be soaked when you make it home in a few hours.

Sometimes you can wait the rain out. We tried here. No luck, though. It just kept raining.
Sunday we were about halfway through our planned ride of Coral Gables, Coral Terrace, and Coral Way when Al suddenly suggested we head home. Storm clouds were gathering rapidly. Soon it started to rain steadily. At first we took shelter. When the rain showed no signs of slowing, we just started pedaling. It didn't take long for us to be totally and completely soaked. We rode past motorcycles parked on a sidewalk, their very unhappy riders sheltering as best they could nearby. They waved. We waved back. We passed cyclists coming back from the Rickenbacker. We were all dripping and splattered with sand, grit, and small leaves. (An argument for fenders, but most bikes here don't have them.) At home we dripped through the lobby and into the elevators. We wiped the bikes down in the hallway before rolling them into our unit.

Bright sunshine made fish watching delightful. (It rained an hour later...)
Monday morning looked delightful, and we decided to do loops on the Rickenbacker and Key Biscayne. We had our first banana break on a seawall at Cape Florida State Park. There were schools of colorful small fish to watch. After a couple of loops, we saw the clouds gathering. We turned for home, making a vain attempt to beat the rain. In a couple of miles, the rain caught us. A second soggy ride home.

On the bright side, our down the road speed has notched up another mile per
hour, making our new default (touring) speed three miles per hour faster than at the start of the summer. All the better to race down the road, trying to beat the rain.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

It ain't the heat; it's the humility. (Yogi Berra)

August in Miami has been a challenge. It's cooler than inland Florida. But the humidity is something that has to be experienced to be understood. Take away the breeze (nature's or a fan's) and the humidity thickens the air like flour thickens a sauce.

Since moving to Florida in 2000, our summer biking has been limited. It played second fiddle to water skiing. Now that we live in Miami, we bike five days a week and we took the strategy used by most of the bike people we know. Bike early.
The view from our front steps as we head out on a morning ride.
August biking begins in the dark. The highrises of downtown and Brickell are dotted with light. Dawn is a bare promise on the eastern horizon. Car and bus traffic is light. Pedestrians are few, but runners are plentiful. A few of the cyclists we meet are on road bikes. Most are commuters on mountain bikes, city bikes, and fixies. There are urban roosters and chickens that live in the shrubbery of the shopping areas and parks. The roosters are just beginning their morning cock-a-doodle-doos as we pedal past their leafy roosts.

Dawn at the EBC ride.
Miami's August heat and humidity tamps down your energy level. A constant conversational thread between Al and me is what will riding be like when it gets cooler? If we can do this now, will our riding be better when it's cooler? We did the Everglades Bicycle Club group ride on Saturday.
It's a sweaty ride, but it's not an unpleasant one. We're faster now.
After the EBC ride we ride around a bit to add some miles. But a metric? Not today. A sprint? Nah. The heat and humidity flat out makes us lazy.

On the bright side, the peak average daily temperature was a week or so ago. While we still have weeks more of sticky weather, the end is in sight. Groups are beginning to put out publicity for the big early fall rides. Remember, this is Florida. Our biking season pretty much starts in September/October.  
Sunflowers at an outdoor eatery.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Red Rabbits and Handcuffs

Early Sunday morning is the best day to explore urban neighborhoods. Traffic is low to nonexistent.

We set out right after an early breakfast. Today we headed down the M-Path, wove briefly through the Roads, then wandered the backstreets of Little Havana and Coral Gables. In the course of only a couple miles we wove through working class neighborhoods, gentrifying neighborhoods, and streets lined with the homes of the comfortably affluent. We cruised the Miracle Mile, checking out the stores and restaurants. We pedaled past art galleries we would drop into another day. We even spotted giant red rabbit sculptures in front of one gallery.

We have a homeless man who moves about the area with his bicycle. Sometimes we spot him reading a newspaper or doing the crossword puzzle in the shade of a pocket park.We often spot him early in the morning at his favorite stealth campsite under the ramp of a pedestrian crosswalk near our home. He has a trike bike with 26" tires which is carefully packed with the cunning of an experienced bicycle camper. Today he had added something new. A very unusual bicycle lock: a set of handcuffs. I wanted so very much to photograph his newest anti-theft device. But a photograph is still an invasion of privacy. And privacy is something the homeless have too little of as is.

Still, I am going to have a good deal of fun creating story lines about how the homeless bicycle guy got the handcuffs.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and the world laughs harder.

Between rides this week we took the bikes into the bike shop for tune ups, took my bike back to the bike shop to fix a squeak down by the bottom bracket, scouted out a new route out of the city to the north, and watched so-bad-they're-good horror movies. Friday, normally a rest day for us, found us doing an easy little ride, 30 miles or so, just to enjoy a perfect summer morning. We followed it Saturday with an Everglades Bicycle Club group ride, a ride that was totally excellent. Our ride leader was Sue, a relentlessly cheerful woman who makes the Energizer bunny look like a slacker. (She is currently my role model. If I can ever ride half as well as her I'll die happy.)

We've gotten better over the summer months. Our default speed (the speed we can comfortably ride for hours on end, AKA our touring speed) has increased a solid 2 mph. We want to up it another 2 mph by this time next year. Club rides have helped us in two ways. First, we're learning a bunch of new skills and getting the opportunity to ride with people who are younger, fitter, and faster than us. That keeps us on our toes and pushes us to work closer to our fitness limits. Second, it lets us see other people's mistakes and learn from them. For instance, on today's ride I watched a couple of strong riders competing with each other in several sprints. The first couple of times they were fine, but they overdid the competition. By the halfway point of the ride, they both looked like candidates for overheating or cramping. They were too way too macho to admit it, but you could see it in their riding style on the second half of the ride.

Spending time with the triathlete and road bike community has been fascinating. They thrive on competition and suffering. I understand the suffering. It's the price you have to pay to push at your limits in just about any physical activity. Competition, on the other hand, is something I've never understood. A lifetime ago when I was much, much younger, I participated in competitive events because instructors thought it was a good thing that developed character. I am sorry to say that when I won, I had to fake being excited. And when I lost, I had to fake being disappointed. I just didn't see the point in the whole endeavour.

You set your goals, you do your best, and you enjoy the trip. It'll pretty much get you anywhere you want to go.
The Cape Florida lighthouse on a perfect summer morning.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

90% of the game is half mental. (Yogi Berra)

It's official. We have finished the last Miami Mansion project for 2013. I practically wept with joy as I shepherded the last workmen out our front door. Free at last, free at last.

It was worth all the hassle. Al and I have two passions: cycling and films. This last project was for the film stuff. We wanted a big flat screen TV with a really good home theater system. It pretty much takes up one wall of our main living area. It is much like having our own movie theater. Three or four days a week we watch a film in the early afternoon. Most days we watch another movie in the evening. (TV? Well, that's what DVRs are for. We can watch that stuff whenever.)

But now that all the initial make-the-place-ours projects are done, all our mornings are bike time.

Sunrise over a marina in Coconut Grove.
This week as always, we went to the Saturday bike club group ride. It was seriously weird. There were about 40 people in our group. The route seemed confused. The big group kept caterpillaring. A gap would open, expand, and expand farther. Sometimes the riders would sprint and catch up. Sometimes the group would just split. When the group caterpillared and split yet one more time near the end of the ride, Al and I bailed out. We just headed west toward one of our regular bike routes. At a stoplight along the way we pulled up behind two guys on road bikes. It turned out to be one of the ride leaders and a newbie who had been dropped. Rather than admit we had bailed, we just let the ride leader pilot fish us back to City Hall. He was just so happy rescuing two riders adrift without Garmins or smart phones. I didn't have the heart to do anything but smile and say "Thank you." (We've crossed whole states without Garmins. Finding our way home? I think we could have managed that...)

Today we took a long, easy ride into suburbia. We followed bike paths south into the 'burbs below Miami. We meandered through quiet little neighborhoods as we skipped through residential areas switching from one bike path to another. Mid morning we stopped at a bakery for coffee and a truly delicious scone. Then we turned around and headed back to the high rises of Brickell and downtown Miami. A nice long Sunday ride, all done at about 12 mph.

As we rolled our bikes into the elevator, we chanced into our newest neighbors. "Nice day for a bike ride," they commented. "Are there any good bike trails around here?"

"Oh, quite a few," we said. "You'd be surprised."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Let's Hear It for Nice Little Details

There are group rides other than the Saturday Everglades Bicycle Club rides. All you need to join them is to check Twitter or Facebook.

This week we told a group that we'd join up with them at the Rickenbacker's toll booth. We just wanted to see how it would work with our schedule. The ride started about ten miles south of the Rickenbacker. They got to the toll booth around 6:30 a.m., then headed out the Rickenbacker just to a coffee stop on Key Biscayne's main drag before heading back to the start point. We hopped into the stream of riders as they headed down to the Rickenbacker. There were about 20 people in the group, many of whom we knew. Our options were

  • To ride back to their start point, then ride any additional miles we felt like, and then ride home; or
  • Chat, then say our goodbyes after coffee and split off on our own. (Which is what we decided to do.)

Without needing to talk it through much Al and I agreed. One group ride a week is enough. It reminded us of ice cream. One big ice cream cone is wonderful. More than one? A little excessive.

That settled we headed off on our own. An hour later I smiled as we rolled into one of my favorite break spots, the Key Biscayne tennis courts. The water fountains here are why we stop. The spouts rotate so you can fill water bottles with ease. On a hot and humid Miami summer day, it is a little thing like this that makes the ride just a little bit nicer.
Regular Position
Rotated for Filling Water Bottles

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Sunday Parade by Bear Cut Bridge

Sunday is our day to ride the Rickenbacker. Sometimes we make it part of a longer ride. Sometimes we just meander about the keys the causeway connects to the mainland. Sunday on the Rickenbacker is a parade of bicycles. Mainly road bikes with a sprinkling of mountain bikes.

Close to Key Biscayne repairs are in progress on an important link: Bear Cut Bridge. And every single cyclist that rides the Rickenbacker seems to have strong opinions about the way bike and pedestrian traffic is being treated during the repairs.

Today we pedaled over Bear Cut Bridge in the low post dawn light. There on the Key Biscayne side of the bridge was something new: a long line of concrete traffic barriers. There was an awkward gate opening perhaps four feet wide. There were now two lanes of traffic over the bridge, one east bound and one west bound, and the concrete traffic barrier with it's opening onto the other side of the bridge. Not an opening amenable to peletons or fast moving cyclists. A bit further down the highway towards Key Biscayne, on the east bound side of the road, a group of sleepy-looking policemen stood around their police cruisers sipping coffee. An electric traffic sign above their head read "right lane for cars only." It was going to be an unhappy morning for a whole lot of group rides out on the Rickenbacker.

We did a few loops of Key Biscayne and the state park before heading back toward the mainland. The police were now in deep discussion with a score of cyclists at the electric sign. No one looked happy, but no one looked angry either.

As we passed over Bear Cut Bridge I signaled Al to stop. I wanted to take a picture. A storm hung just to our northeast, the sun was rising behind it, and a northbound boat was trying to outrun it. A bit of beauty amid the drama of this Sunday morning.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Quack, Quack, Quack (Learning the Paceline Thing)

 When we decided to do group rides with the Everglades Bicycle Club, learning to do paceline riding was the thing I most wanted out of the rides. Paceline riding is a big thing here. I used to make fun of it, but I like learning new things. It keeps life interesting.

The hardest thing for me about riding in a paceline is trusting the other guys. Trust isn't something I find easy. In this paceline thing, if my wheel touches the wheel of the guy in front of me, I'm roadkill. I have to trust that the guy in front of me will ride sanely and consistently. After a couple of months of group rides, I'm finally able to ride closer than a bike length behind another bike.

We arrived at the EBC ride start a little early. I rode around City Hall to the marina. Looking at the boats is how I calm myself before the rides.

Today Arpad and his trusty companion Juan were leading our EBC group ride. Arpad and Juan are good. They give good riding advice. They demand a lot. Arpad is upbeat and pleasant, but he is on you like a drill instructor if you aren't doing what you should. Our usually motley group wheeled down the roads of Coconut Grove and Pinecrest in a disciplined paceline today. It was, to use an overused word, awesome.

I find that doing the paceline thing puts me into a not unpleasant state of hyper awareness of my surroundings, of the riders around me, and of the tiniest details of my own riding. It's exhilarating and exhausting. Today I was working on maintaining a consistent cadence. Feathering my front brake while soft pedaling to make small adjustments in speed. Keeping a constant distance from the guy in front of me.

The group calls out road hazards. "Hole!" "Water!" "Runner up right!" "Car right!" "Debris!" "Dog!" But today we had a new one. "Peacock!" A stately peacock flitted across the road, very disgruntled by our passing.

At ride's end, we waved goodbye to the group and wheeled north to Brickell and home.