Monday, July 25, 2016

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory. (Albert Schweitzer)

We ride our bicycles a lot. We have a car, but these days we put more miles on our bicycles than our car.

Some is fitness cycling with friends. Some is travel. Mostly we do everyday, ordinary cycling. Cycling for cycling's sake. On our carbon fiber road bikes. On our ancient slow-but-sweet titanium mountain bikes. Fast or slow, long rides or short rides, we ride because of something difficult to express in words. Seeing places from the seat of a bicycle shapes our view of the world.

Cycling lets us observe up close the transformation of our city's landscape. The speed of change in Miami is stunning. Neighborhoods that were recently residential or low clusters of small storefronts are being replaced by mid and high rise commercial and residential buildings.

Some of the new buildings are architectural gems and delight the eye. Some are prosaic, so ordinary your eye sees them only as mundane shapes among their more interesting neighbors. Some are giant pillars of sparkling glass, others towers of concrete, still others columns of fanciful colors. Some are detailed by squares and rectangles, others by sinuous curves.

Each ride brings a new discovery. Change is rapid. Like insecure middle-aged humans, older buildings get face-lifts to keep them looking younger. 

Cycling keeps us interested in what the future will bring.
The new high rise city on one side of the street; the older low rise city on the other side.
The city rising above a pocket park on the Miami River.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Suburbs To The Sea Ride

We popped the bikes into our car's bike carrier and headed off for a Saturday ride with the West Side Sunset Bandits.

WSSB had posted its weekend ride schedule. We did a little happy dance when we saw it. A new route! And an early start, too, which in South Florida in the summer is a very good thing.

The new route was from West Kendall Lakes Park in the west Miami suburbs to Key Biscayne out in Biscayne Bay. An east west route, close to 50 miles. Suburbs to the Sea.

We arrived at the start point. After some pre-ride chatting and a picture or two, we clipped in, formed into a nice double paceline, and pedaled toward the glowing clouds in the eastern pre-dawn sky.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. The route was a nice one. Urban, but with long stretches without the stop-and-start of many urban routes. We moved along at a nice pace. Soon we were wheeling along streets of the close-in Miami suburbs.

We swung north as we rolled through the Grove. It was past dawn now and sunlight sparkled off the windows of high rise buildings. Traffic was blissfully light. We were heading for the William Powell Bridge and the Rickenbacker Causeway. That would take us across Biscayne Bay to the islands of Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.

Part-way up the bridge...and the top still seems far, far away.
Crossing the William Powell Bridge is fun. For flat land cyclists, the bridge seems like a fair-size mountain with the top of the bridge way high and far away. The group took the bridge well. Like any climb, those who love climbing looked happy as they charged over the bridge. Most of us, though, found our rhythm and rode up and over, pleased that we were keeping up with the pack. Then the best part: a fun descent down the bridge! Once everyone was over the bridge and on the Rickenbacker, we reformed and enjoyed the beautiful causeway ride out to the islands.
Out on the Rickenbacker (Photo by Alex Pruna)
Our destination on Key Biscayne was the Oasis Cafe, a favorite rest stop for cyclists visiting the Key. Living in Brickell, Al and I go there regularly, but this was the first time we were there with all our friends from WSSB.
At the Oasis Cafe (Photo by Alex Pruna)
West over the William Powell Bridge.
Break over, we rolled out for our ride back to West Kendall Lakes Park. We wheeled down the causeway. This time turning onto Virginia Key for a loop of that little island. Then back to the causeway and over the bridge to the mainland. We regrouped at the bottom of the bridge.

Heading back.
We pedaled on through the Grove. Our route gave us lots of canopy from the sun as we rolled down residential streets on our way west. It was a sweet urban route that kept the group on low-traffic roads but with few turns and a minimum of stops.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Now we were heading west. There was more traffic, but the road was a good one for bicycles. And we had a tailwind. We were having a great time. There were long stretches of road where we could get into a good rhythm and enjoy the flow of the ride. Delightful.

Then we were pedaling the last miles to West Kendall Lakes Park. I looked at the time, pleasantly surprised that we had been to Key Biscayne and back, and it was just mid-morning. We were all smiling. What a great ride!

A good east-west cycling route through Miami is hard to come by. This one is outstanding.

Can't wait to do it again!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Self-delusion is pulling in your stomach when you step on the scales. (Paul Sweeney)

It is July. We are watching the Tour de France and remembering that in just a few months we'll be riding again in hilly places.

Bummer. I probably need to get ready for that kind of fun.

A couple of years ago we got power meters on our bikes. I used to think power meters were just for younger, talented, competitive types. Luckily, someone explained to me how a wimpy older rider could get her money's worth from using one. And he was really, really right. I love my power meter!

When I first started using a power meter, I was seriously humbled by the power numbers I could crank out. We are talking seriously tiny power numbers. Humiliatingly tiny power numbers. I spent a bunch of time figuring out how far I could push those numbers up without a melt-down. It was wonderful and useful. I learned how to track my average power numbers for rides. I also learned that because I was a fairly small rider, I didn't need big numbers. It was all about the power-to-weight ratio (PWR).

This year I was determined to use the power meter to get better at chasing Al up and down the hills. The thing I needed to do was to improve my power-to-weight ratio. I did intervals. And more intervals. And more intervals. And my average power output slowly got a bit better. (I loathe training, but I will admit it does help.) But my numbers were still humiliatingly tiny

This month I realized that getting stronger was just part of what I needed to work on. There is another way to make the PWR thingy better. Lose some weight. I'll admit that I've gained a few pounds in the past year. Less than 10 pounds, but I'm just 5'2". A few pounds is a big deal when you are just 5'2".

While there have been no changes to our nutrition plan for rides or for eating at home during the past year, we have been eating out a lot. And I have been over-indulging my love of ice cream cones. Losing a few pounds would be an easy-peasy way to make that PWR look sweeter for the hills. All I really need to do is rein in the total number of ice cream cones consumed and be a bit more sensible when eating out.

It may not make me charge up the hills. But at least I'll be able to slowly crank my way up climbs with a little dignity. (Even as I watch Al happily charge ahead, leaving me in his dust.)

Lose a few pounds. Easy-peasy. I'll miss the ice cream cones, but I'll smile as I pedal up the hills at Mt. Dora and the Horrible Hundred.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company. (Mark Twain)

Naples' street art
It was the 4th of July weekend. Which, in Florida, means hot and humid. Floridians can generally deal with hot and humid. What made this weekend a bit different was the heat index. It was going to hover at 100 degrees.

We were off to the Gulf Coast with a friend for a Sunday cycling event called Wheels and Wings. It's an annual July ride in Punta Gorda. It's a well organized event with-marked, pleasant routes for both road cyclists and gravel grinders. You spend the morning pedaling, then end the ride with beer and wings at a local sports bar, with the Tour de France on all the bar's big screen TVs.

Ride to Naples
On Saturday we decided to ride down to Naples. A ride to Fifth Avenue in Old Naples would give us a 45-50 mile ride through a variety of lovely neighborhoods. There was little traffic. Bike lanes and sharrows were everywhere. We saw a good number of cyclists. We stopped for a rest and a chance to fill our water bottles at a coffee shop on Fifth Avenue before pedaling back. By the time we finished the ride, the temperature was barely 90 degrees but the heat index, as predicted, was almost 100 degrees.

Al and I checked weather for the Sunday event. It was going to be mostly sunny and a little hotter than Saturday. We decided that we needed to get creative. OK. So we had maps and cue sheet for all the road routes, and there was some overlap among them. The roads were marked well. We knew where the SAG stops were. So why not just create our own route from the ones put together by the Wheels and Wings folks? We could do an early "pre-start" loop, then return to for the regular "start" for a second loop. It sounded like a good plan. The three of us would use the same ride style as Saturday's ride: single-file paceline with 5-mile pulls, everybody sharing the pulling equally.

Punta Gorda bicycle path
Old Punta Gorda
So by 7:00 am we had parked our car, picked up our ride t-shirts, clipped in, and pedaled off. The short 15-mile family ride loop was the perfect length.

It turned out to be the highlight of the day for me, a quirky little spin down the type of route I hadn't ridden in a long time. On the plus side it made excellent use of Punta Gorda's bicycle paths. We pedaled along the water and through parks. The scenery was lovely. But paths of this kind aren't that long. The path linkages went across parking lots and even down the service alley of a retail strip. All safe, of course, but not the type of route you normally follow on a road bike at an event! It was, as they say, a hoot. In a few miles the route moved to a low traffic road with a bike lane. But even that segment of the route had a bit of weirdness peppered over it. The most conversation provoking were the speed bumps we encountered on just one side of some bridges over canals. They were placed right where the road tipped upward to cross the bridge. Why? Why? Why? We couldn't puzzle that one out. Except that maybe someone in the road department had a wicked sense of humor. Pedal, pedal, pedal. The rest of the short pre-start loop was uneventful.

It was getting very hot.

We made it back to the start. The horde of riders had left. We topped up our water bottles, clipped back in, and wheeled down the road.

Our second loop took us out into more rural areas. We rolled past cattle grazing in pastures. There were dozens of small ponds and lakes, sparkling in the morning sun. Yellow wildflowers were sprinkled along the roadsides. Stalks of purple pickerel weed poked up from ditches and along the edges of ponds. The route turned and looped into small communities where the roads were lined with trees, providing cooling shade. We passed riders standing in the shade, taking a break from pedaling in the heat. We passed pastures with horses and one with ostrich and goats.

Finally we pulled over. Exactly where were we and where was the SAG stop we needed so badly? We all agreed it should have been at the corner we had passed a half mile back. Another rider stopped, asking the same question. She was out of water. ("No problem," she said, "There's a grocery store not far down the road.") We pedaled on. Three miles down the road we came to the SAG, munched and filled bottles. Then we were off again. Pedal, pedal, pedal. It was really, really getting hot. We descended on the next SAG stop (strangely close to the previous SAG stop) glad to munch some snacks. It wasn't many miles more to go.

As we headed down the final miles to the finish of the ride, we noticed that the all the riders in front of us were ignoring the route markings that turned them from off the main avenue. We followed the markings...and discovered what the others knew. The marked route went through the historic district and brick roads. Undulating, bumpy brick roads. It was a lovely historic district, but on a day this hot, it was something we could have done without!

And then, sweat dripping off our noses, we pedaled to the end of the ride. Our bikes were packed for the ride home, and we settled down to our post-ride wings and beer. The sports bar hosting the post-ride event was filled to capacity with a sweaty lycra-clad clientele. Everyone was enjoying the air conditioning and watching Stuyven nearly manage to win stage 2 of the Tour de France with a strong solo ride (only to be caught by the peloton just 450 meters from the line).

It was a hot-as-hell day for a long bike ride, but the company was awesome.