Thursday, November 28, 2013

It's only weird if it doesn't work. (Bud Light commercial)

We gave up traditional Thanksgiving feasts in the 90's. It was the year we were so bored with roast turkey that we poached the bird instead. Poaching let us go directly to luscious turkey sandwiches. It made for a wonderful, relaxed meal, since the accompanying dishes and desserts could all be made well ahead of time, too. The lesson learned was that our holiday dinner was actually better when we messed around with the traditional menu, despite accusations of cheating from friends who worked their tails off making large traditional feasts.

After that we decided to stick with our weird Thanksgiving menus. The only rule: no roast turkey. We usually have at least one traditional item. This year's menu: pizza, salad, pumpkin pie, and two flavors of ice cream.

A good bike ride was what we wanted to start the day. As luck would have it, when we checked the Everglades Bicycle Club Facebook page, a leaderless group ride out to Key Biscayne was being organized. Thursday morning was going to be quite chilly, at least by Miami standards, but a fair number of riders were going. We rolled our bikes out to the elevator early, off to meet a fellow rider at 6:05 on Brickell Avenue. We'd ride together down to the ride's start at the golf course on Granada. We were happy there was someone to lead us to the ride's start. Nothing says traditional holiday fun like a bickering couple on bicycles wandering about in the pre-dawn darkness, arguing about which street to turn on.

A small group gathered on Brickell then wheeled down the route that led eventually to Coral Way and later the golf course on Granada. There the larger group was just starting east. We pedaled briskly through still sleeping neighborhoods, then popped through downtown Coconut Grove, past Dinner Key, and down the road still farther, till we were at Alice Wainwright Park. Then it was a swing on to the Rickenbacker, over the William Powell bridge, down past Virginia Key, over Bear Cut Bridge, and on to Key Biscayne. We circled into the Oasis, parked, and ordered our caffeine and snacks.
At the old Miami zoo in Crandon Park

Smartphone cameras were busy.
After the break part of the group headed back and part opted for the holiday tour of Key Biscayne mansions, Crandon Park, and the old Miami zoo. A meandering pedal around Crandon took us back to the highway to cross Bear Cut again and on to a loop of Virginia Key. Then it was back over William Powell and home for us. A great ride for a brisk Miami Thanksgiving morning

In the end, Thanksgiving isn't about the traditional holiday dinner. It's a day to have a good time with people you enjoy, be that family, friends, interesting acquaintances, or even friendly strangers. Nothing is weird if it works to make you thankful for having a pretty nice life.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Happy Hanukkah.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Aviation Spice Ride

Once a month, the Everglades Bicycle Club has a ride that gives people the chance to be a tourist in their own city. It's called a Spice Ride. A ride which is meant to be a change of pace, something different from the usual Saturday club ride. This month the ride's theme was aviation.

We pedaled south to Miami City Hall to join the start of the ride. The very early morning sun revealed a large group of about 60 riders gathered. There would be three parts to the ride. Bob Williams, EBC Treasurer and a long time resident of Miami Springs, was our first tour guide. He explained to the assembled group that Miami City Hall was in fact the tour's first point of interest. The building we now call Miami City Hall was once the Pan American Seaplane terminal.

We sorted ourselves into riding speed groups, and we headed out for Miami Springs. On the way, we stopped to see a cluster of buildings on one edge of what is now Miami International Airport. Now just a fraction of MIA, it was once the whole airport, built by Pan American originally.

Glenn H. Curtiss
Miami Springs, along with neighboring Hialeah and Opa Locka, were founded by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. While most people recognize the Wright Brothers, many are unfamiliar with Mr. Curtiss who was a contemporary of the Wright Brothers. Like the Wrights, he started in bicycles. However, unlike the Wrights, he was a prolific inventor and highly successful aviation entrepreneur. A native of New York state, he retired to Miami Springs. He set the land speed motorcycle record in Ormand Beach in 1907 (136 mph) on a V-8 motorcycle of his design. He is called the father of Naval aviation. While working with the navy in San Diego, he was introduced to pueblo mission style architecture. He imported the style for the theme of Miami Springs (originally called Country Club Estates). We meandered through the tree filled town of Miami Springs, visiting several examples of homes and buildings of this style.

The second part of the Aviation Spice Ride was a tour of the Curtiss Mansion. (see Miami Springs web page) The mansion is on the historic register and beautifully restored. Curtiss Mansion curators took us on a tour of the building. (Fun fact: Curtiss was an energetic man and didn't have the patience needed for a standard game of golf. Enter the concept of archery golf. Take arrows, light their tips, and shoot them down the fairways instead. Sweet.) We also had a pleasant breakfast catered by Johnny's Restaurant of Miami Springs.

MIA Air Traffic Control Tower
The third part of the ride was limited to just 36 riders. The other riders wheeled back to Miami City Hall, and the lucky 36 rode to Miami International Airport for a tour of the Air Traffic Control Tower. EBC members James Marinitti and Francesca Franco, air traffic controllers, gave the group a tour of the radar room and tower as well as providing a overview session and a question and answer period. It was an amazing place. We watched the controllers working in the radar room, listened in on the conversations back and forth with the planes, and perhaps grasped just a bit of the enormous job these people do every day. The view from the tower was equally impressive. Giant aircraft looked like toy planes from the tower, moving about with choreographed precision. It's a truly fascinating place.

Then it was time to go. We said our goodbyes, and the group headed out for a brisk ride through the city. A sprinkle or two fell, but the rain bypassed us.

I've been told that Everglades Bicycle Club Vice President and Ride Coordinator Mary Beth Garcia is the genius behind the Spice Rides. Kudos is due her for creating these rides. Miami is one of the most interesting cities on the East Coast. The Spice Rides let us use our bikes to do a little touring of this marvelous place we call home.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The 2013 Horrible Hundred

The Horrible Hundred is a day long romp through the best hills of Florida's Lake Wales Ridge. This is our fifth Horrible Hundred. It is pure unadulterated fun.

We woke early, dressed, and headed downstairs for the hotel breakfast. The breakfast area was filled with people in lycra. I was in a great mood because yesterday two lucky things happened. First, they actually had an extra small t-shirt for me at the Horrible Hundred early registration. (This flat out never happens.) Second, the hotel bumped us up to a wildly spacious suite. This much luck on one bike trip is simply unheard of. We rolled the bikes out to the car and headed to Waterfront Park. Like always, parking was a zoo. We were about 2/3 of a mile from the ride's start. We parked next to two young guys from Baltimore who kept saying (to themselves and us), "This sure doesn't look like Florida. It's all hilly." Poor things. Raised by wolves, I suspect, as they'd obviously never been brought down to Disney.

We were off to do the 70-mile route. The Horrible 70. For the first time there was no mass start. This was wonderful since mass starts are suicidal. The century people were told to head out first. We went out with the last of the century people. (OK, so we're not real good at following rules.) That let us get to the first big climb of the day a bit before the big horde of 70-mile folks. We climbed the hill, stopped to take a picture, and watched the 70-mile crowd begin cresting the climb. The first climb always calms them down enough to make them enjoyable to ride with.

All the climbs live up to their press. You start off with a 13 percent climb. After that there are some steep climbs and a lot of long not too steep climbs. Great sag stops. Nice riders to exchange a few words with. Finally there is Sugarloaf, a long steep climb that kicks the butts of a lot of riders. But, wait, there is more. The route of the Horrible Hundred is designed like a good horror film. Just when you think you are safe, you turn a corner just a couple miles from the end...and you face a short, ugly 16 percent climb, then a series of climbs and descents that refocus your reality, that is, your fantasies of riding like Quintana or Froome melt and turn into copious amounts of sweat.

But then, it's the end of the ride. Time for some food, a shower, and a nap.

But most of the riders, like us, are already starting to plan for 2014. It's the same every year for every rider: Yeah, this year was OK. Next year will be better...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car. (Will Rogers)

We have flat pedals on our sleek carbon fiber road bikes. Yeah, you read that right. Flat pedals. I say this up front so those of you who ride similar bikes have a little time to just get over it. (For those of you who aren't immersed in the arcane rituals and protocols of cycling, road bikes normally have pedals that "clip" onto your bike shoes. Just to be confusing, they're called "clipless" pedals. Their purpose is to make pedaling more efficient.)

This past week one of Al's pedals developed an embarrassing, irritating, evil squeak. The usual fixes were ineffective. We decided to send it to pedal heaven. We headed to the bike shop for new pedals.

The guy at the bike shop eyed our flat pedals with thinly veiled distaste. I give him high marks for keeping his face composed as he asked us what we were interested in as replacements. We explained that we wanted new flat pedals, as light as possible, and they had to be grippy. He spent some time pawing through inventory. Finally he produced a comical pair. Lightweight, yes. With a HUGE platform surface which he seriously proclaimed would work just dandy for us. We pointed out (as politely as possible) that they would be extremely slippery when wet since they had no studs or grip edges.

Rather than watch him muddle about, we suggested a pair we had seen on a previous visit to the store. They'd been sitting on a shelf next to another item we'd looked at. We hadn't pulled them out, but they looked good. Lots of studs for grip. Compact size for a flat pedal. He unlocked the case and hauled them out for us to check. Perfect.

We used to use clipless pedals. They were great. Unfortunately, I have wonky foot/ankle joints. You've heard people talk about joints "giving way" or "locking up"? When you have a wonky joint, this really does happen. I had some heart-stopping adrenaline-enhanced moments brought about by needing to make emergency stops in traffic while clipped in.

I finally decided my odds of dying peacefully in my sleep would be greatly enhanced if I gave up clipless pedals. Flat pedals are harder to ride with, but there's a lot less adrenaline fueled screaming.

Besides, these new pedals are damn sexy...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces. (Will Rogers)

We spend weekdays working to become decent flat-lander bike riders.

We remember our first rides in Florida a gazillion years ago. We drove a long way to enjoy riding our road bikes in a place that wasn't all climbs and descents. It was so much fun, but after 30 or 40 miles our hamstrings whimpered and cried for us to rest, rest, rest. (And we weren't riding that fast either.)

We watch the Florida riders with awe. They have no idea how hard it is to do what they do with such ease. To ride fast on basically flat roads requires stronger glutes, hamstrings, and hip stabilizer muscles than we have developed up to now. Without them being stronger, you push your knees way more than is sensible. This week we had big wind. We did loops on the Rickenbacker, working to get those muscles stronger. The weekend? That's for group rides. Days where we can see if our work is paying off.

Saturday morning we looked at the weather forecast and breathed a sigh of relief. It was going to be a windy ride, but not as bad as the ones during the week. We joined the Everglades Bicycle Club 18+ mph group ride. We were delighted to find that we could stay with the group. It will be weeks more of training before I can get out front and pull. But our confidence level increased: perhaps by the end of this bike season (next April-May) we'll be riding comfortably with this group.

McArthur Engineering Building
We had a treat on Saturday. At the ride start we learned that a fellow rider and Everglades Bicycle Club board member, Greg Neville, was going to do an architectural tour near the end of the ride for anyone interested in seeing Matheson Hammock Park and several buildings on the University of Miami campus. A group of riders joined him for the tour. We pedaled to Matheson Hammock Park. A bicycle path runs through the park, past several structures built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the Great Depression of the 30s. The first building we visited was a simple coral stone park shelter at the edge of a small lake. Next we went to see the nearby Red Fish Grill, a simple, elegant coral stone building facing a large salt water pond on an inlet with an truly amazing view of Biscayne Bay and Miami. From there we pedaled through open meadows past salt water mangroves to the site of the remains of a coral stone structure, now roofless and overgrown by vines and trees. Several riders told of playing in this area as children and later riding here with their own children. Lucky, these people who grew up here...

Our next stop was the campus of the University of Miami. We were there to see Miami Modern (MiMo). Our first stops were the music practice building and an adjacent structure. Built with inexpensive materials and minimalist design, but visually pleasant and quite functional. On to the Oscar E. Dooly Memorial Building. Then on to the delightful McArthur Engineering Building. Lovely buildings on a beautiful campus.

Sunday was a ride to Hollywood. It was just four of us (five for part of the ride back), but, as always, the ride to Hollywood is interesting and fun.

Another week in Miami. Working to ride faster, but the effort made pleasant by interesting biking companions.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pace Line Pastryneuring

Sticky buns! (Photo by Arpad Hevizi)
Coffeeneuring challenges are great fun to follow (Chasing Mailboxes, Coffeeneuring Challenge). But commuters aren't the only ones who bike for coffee and pastries. Group rides for pastry? Why not?

Saturday we pedaled down to Miami City Hall for the 18+ mph Everglades Bicycle Club group ride to Knaus Berry Farm, AKA the sticky buns place. The group rode briskly down to Black Point Marina for a short break, then headed west the final 8 miles to the fabled roadside stand. A long line snaked from the front doors through the parking lot. We parked our bikes and took our place in line. Strawberry milk shakes and sundaes were purchased and consumed while we queued in line to purchase trays of cinnamon buns and pecan rolls (both generically referred to as sticky buns). They were awesome, still warm from the oven and sticky with sugar glaze.

Al and I left the group shortly after leaving Knaus Berry Farms. We waved goodbye as the group approached Dixie Highway, and we headed north on the Busway parallel to the South Dade Trail, slipping onto the M-Path for the last few miles home. A pleasant 57 mile ride, about 5 miles shorter than it would have been had we stayed with the group.

Sunday we headed back to Miami City Hall for the 17-19 mph ride to Hollywood. The ride to Hollywood and Georgio's Bakery, home of fabulous stuffed croissants. Chocolate stuffed croissants are a big favorite, though many praise those stuffed with raspberry-cheese, almond, or spinach. It had been a fun ride to Georgio's, but there had been a serious headwind. A reason to have more than one croissant, to be sure! The ride back was a galloping affair, encouraged, no doubt, by the healthy tailwind. Midway through Miami Beach calm heads took control of the pace line, the group came together and proceeded home with panache. A great 50 mile pastryneuring run.

Pace line pastryneuring could catch on...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Goodbye October, Hello November

A short 32 mile ride was all we needed to hit and go over our mileage goal for the month. We used the last two rides of October to work out some kinks in the setup of out mountain bikes.

When I put our overnight rear rack bags on the bikes, I discovered some rather important spacers had been lost in the move to Miami. We went to the hardware store and got creative. Al's bike got new bar ends. I ordered a Trekker handlebar online for my bike and had our bike shop put it on. After just two rides with my new handlebar, I'm in love with it. Lots of hand positions and I can go from very upright to a low position (like being on the drops on my road bike).

I love these bikes. They started their lives as off-road hard tails. We added Thudbuster seat post suspension after a few years, making the ride nice and comfy. Switching among gears is smooth and quick. Our road bike brifters seem like sluggish dinosaurs in comparison. We'll be back on our road bikes on Saturday. The mountain bikes are sweet for touring but too slow for group rides.

October car use averaged one trip per week. Mostly we're using it to transport the bikes to bike events.