Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

February 5, 2017

The Cost of Admission

Cycling is a terrific pastime.  The spirit of adventure and freedom which surround the bicycle have inspired generations of innovation and advancement for the bicycle itself and for items surrounding it.  The impact the bicycle has inspired is practically immeasurable and has created jobs, driven industry, and created a myriad of products.  While at its core the bicycle remains a simple thing, as things go, the immediate complexities created by modern cycling landscape can be intimidating and - for some - a source of frustration and even exclusion for those who choose, or don't have the means to afford, some of the technological advancements which have come to signify a perceived cost of admission for cycling, certainly racing, and sometimes randonneuring.

Now, this won't become an exhaustive dissertation on the why and how of the state of the bicycle market these days, but instead only a cautionary reminder that our pastime shouldn't become yet-another marketing sink-hole.  

Over the years I have had the privilege of being shamed by many a strong rider riding equipment "far less appropriate for the day" compared to whatever I'd been riding that day.  I remember being perched atop my Ultegra-equipped Bianchi race machine and desperately sucking the wheel of a guy who had ridden the Longview Lake weekend hammerfest on what appeared to be an early mountain bike with knobby tires and a giant grocery store milk crate zip-tied to his rear rack - and, ultimately, I was dropped.  

I remember a terrific 217km brevet with Ax0n, who'd ridden the entire distance on a mountain bike with slick tires, a rear rack and full panniers loaded with PB'n'J sandwiches and extraneous techy gear ... just 'cause, well why not? - and despite my additional time riding longer distances and my purposeful randonneuring steed, he and I finished at the same time - both with big smiles.  

I've caught myself suffering on long days while riding my "perfect" and well-maintained road bike and later finding out that one of my riding partners had ridden the entire distance on a partially-seized and horribly loose bottom bracket...finishing an hour ahead of me.  

I've relished the cozy cocoon of a new wool jersey alongside folks riding the same 200k wearing a basic button-up short-sleeved work shirt and camping pants, astride a 40-year-old road bike obtained at a garage sale for $25.00.  

I've ridden with guys who'd become horribly lost despite having cue sheets right under their noses, and with people who never seem to miss a turn while having "never gotten around to" installing even the most-basic of cyclometers.  

Even today, some of the best riders I have the joy of sharing time and pavement (or gravel) with are riding a wide myriad of bikes, bags, clothing, and gear.  No matter what, no matter what I've chosen to buy, sell, borrow, or modify over the years - I tend to experience cycling the same way:  I finish when I finish, I'm as comfortable as my mind allows me to be, and the bicycle is always, somehow, the right bicycle.  Sure, that story may vary depending on when you ask me, but overall - from 100,000 ft. above myself - these are true statements.  Only in retrospect, perhaps.  

In this moreso-than-perhaps-ever "first world" in which we American randonneurs live and ride, I feel it's important to remember these simple truths.  There are so many gadgets and innovations and specialty items available it often becomes easy to fall into a trap (of which I, too, am often ensnared as well) that the reason the last ride ended so poorly is because you chose saddle A instead of saddle D, or that your tires aren't hand-glued by Italian artisans, or that you had no earthly idea what your wattage-to-body weight ratio was when you rode your last training loop.  While I begrudge no-one for their choices, nor their reasoning, nor their gear, I must say that when working to grow our pastime we must each take pause when advising those new to the scene.  I have seen too many shy away from taking part because of a misguided notion that "they don't have the right wheels", and I have equally seen folks never return to riding because they don't have the "right bag"...despite their particular bag having been perfect for the day and conditions.  We have to caution ourselves from saying too quickly a phrase containing some version of "if you don't get one of X, then you're going to Z," or "you NEED this."  While most will agree, consider, and possibly also buy - we NEED to be cognizant of that rider on the $25 garage sale road bike from the 80's that "can", and indeed "will" wipe the road with all of us.  If she doesn't feel like she can't join us because her handlebars aren't adorned with the latest tech triumph, or her tires aren't mounted on carbon rims, that she somehow isn't worthy of the group ... then we all lose.

Certainly in these pages I have had no good part in this: I've touted this or that, or expounding the virtues of a tire I like, or a frame material, or a particular fabric - so, no, I'm not infallible here --- only now when I read of decline in RUSA's numbers to I reflect on the many, many mistakes I've let slip past my lips to eager riders over the years.  
While this guise of cycling exclusivity (either real or imagined) may never go away, I certainly need to stop perpetuating it.

It would be foolish of me to try and posit why each of us ride what we ride, use what we use, go where we go and for as long or as short as we choose to; I only know these answers for myself - and even then, those answers change with the season and sometimes my mood.

But, where we can help swing the membership pendulum back in the correct direction, I know I will be tendering my opinions a bit more carefully, and stick to the important stuff:

Does your bike work?  
Is it safe and sound, structurally and mechanically?
Do you like it? 
Does it fit you well and not hurt you after X miles?
Can you carry what you'd like to? 
Will you be able to navigate to the turns with some accuracy and confidence?

That's all you need.  
Let's go ride!

December 23, 2016

Year-end and a new commuting challenge!

   It's only been two months since my token post about baggage, or whatever that was... so, I figured it was good time to wrap things up for 2016, and put a big fat bow on things.  Life has been busy, however, I've managed to get more miles than lat year... and the year before that, which honestly surprised me.  More indicative of business, perhaps creativity or focus, blog posts have been down.  For 2014 I ended up with sixty-five (65) posts in total, while 2015 closed out with forty-one (41).  While total posts has never really been a goal, there's no denying that I'm a numbers guy, by profession and practice as well as by nature; so, as I write this, only the seventeenth (17th) post of 2016, it's clear from where my attentions have shifted.  I've had plenty to write about, but, even if I consider the five ride reports I effectively lost when a computer issue deleted my backup of a massive post I've been working on in October, the resulting total would barely be half of what 2015 brought in terms of content.  

The fog, however, may be lifting.  Social media is a bit hollow and I rarely have less than 140 characters to say about anything, so, perhaps the "lost art" of the blog will return with some energy behind it for 2017.  I wouldn't count on it, yet; time remains precious, and I'm about to return to school in addition to the two jobs I've managed to hold.  I don't stop.  Neither should anyone.  Enough about that.  Well, hell... if nothing else, follow me on Instagram, eh?  A picture is worth 1,000 words, so maybe THAT's where the creative energy has been landing this year.  Blogging is dead, after all.  Meh.  'Evs. 

It's fun being weird... you should try it sometime.

One worthy challenge is looming, however,and it returns this blog to it's original design intent... commuting to work, and how to do it.  I've had it fairly easy in the sense that commuting to work has been almost a non-thought process with regards to what I have to work with at the office.  I've been enjoying a cubicle-based existence ... which, trust me, is ONLY good from a commuting perspective for a lot of folks... but, one tends to take the space they have for granted until it's taken away.  Yes:  ample drawer space, overhead bins, and a literal upright bookshelf/cabinet arrangement that has served me well for hanging up layers for drying after the morning ride.  All of that, thanks to an office modernization and minimalism project, is going bye-bye.  Now what?  

Honestly, our old cubicles were MASSIVE, and even in "horde-mode" I couldn't fill it.
I personally think it's cute that I only had ONE computer monitor at this point in my career.
How did I live?!?

I've already gone through the range of emotions and have landed on acceptance, because - honestly - it's not THAT big of a deal.  The alternatives could be a forced work-from-home policy, or yeah.. no job at all.  What am I REALLY complaining about, right?  Yeah, I'm not.

In the same cubicle as above, but out of frame to the left... A BOOKSHELF cabinet with drawers!?
Re-purposed shelf supports, some speaker wire, clothes pins and zip-ties = commuting ease!
. . .but, not any more, in just a few short months.
I'm not complaining... because, honestly, we haven't needed this amount of space for years now... it all makes good sense; but, it adds a layer of challenge considering I've taken this sort of accommodation for granted.

But, it does remind me a lot of when my primary job was at a much, much smaller desk space, with practically no drawer-space and no overheads or spare cubes to string clothes-lines across.  Heck, at the bike store - something I didn't really think about - there was almost NO available space to dry clothes, because there was no concept of "desk" anywhere!  People do this, every day... and since I've already decided that this is not going to prevent me from being a responsible citizen and active commuter, I, too, will find a way to adapt.  Documenting it, however, it the next step - and it will have the effect of revitalizing this blog a bit.  Things I haven't had to think about for over a decade will become new challenges to overcome, and - who knows - maybe it will help someone out there who isn't quite sure how to get started with commuting to work by bicycle to their office.  No matter how limited or cramped - this IS possible.  It's time for me, once the final office space is complete, to adapt once more and keep moving forward.

One solution, just NEVER change out of my riding clothes!
Problem solved!  Customer meetings are for chumps!

Drying clothes?
It's not like anyone ever gets wet
on a commute to work, right?

 So, stay tuned... as the "drama" unfolds, so will updated and new pics on how to adapt.  It's going to be interesting, and I already have some ideas that my new, close-by neighbors in the new work-space will SURELY love and adore.  Riiight... time to stock up on deodorant, and re-examine the "shower-only" office gym membership (speaking of things I shouldn't take for granted).  

In other news, time to start back on the holiday season diet and get back on the bike.
I enjoyed a terrific 100km flyer with Steven W. a few weeks back, clocking an ALMOST personal-best (the only problem being the post-paid receipt nature of the last control); hey, considering how I've been my own worst enemy when it comes to riding pace, "training", staying on top of my fitness and diet, I'm LOVING the fact that I was able to knock out that pace!  Anyhow... not bragging, just trying to be the best version of myself I can.  More on that, and more ride reports to come in the new year. 

Until then, happy holidays to everyone!

I'll be back.... bet on it.  

October 29, 2016

What ever happened to those fancy bags?

Something about the crunch of fall leaves and the need to pack an extra layer or two for brisk fall mornings brings me back to cycling baggage.  Those fast summertime brevets with the tiny repair-kit seat bag and empty jersey pockets are slipping away... time to drag out the bags again.  

What, you've got bags, right?  

Where do I get these things? 
Aren't those a "retro" thing?

Oh, they're still around... and if the basic nylon stuff just isn't quite for you, and you value waterproofing and heavy canvas construction, there are still a lot of choices.  Yeah, remember to carefully engage your knuckle-dragger filter when reading this blog... you all know that, right?


Yes, Carradice and Gilles Berthoud are nice... very nice; but, they're made overseas and sometimes can be difficult to get a-hold of.  And price... yeah.  But, let's be honest - stuff of this calibre isn't cheap, and you should think twice if you see something that IS a little TOO good of a bargain.  This is the stuff of real leather, heavy fabric, solid, tough hardware, and usually hand-made construction... one at a time, often by a small group of people, if not one, single craftsperson at the sewing machine.  Keep that in mind when you see the prices.  Also keep in mind; with things like "lifetime guarantee" and "heirloom construction" on mention, these are bags that you purchase once.  After that, you just ride with them.  That's value.  

There are a LOT of choices out there, but the few I'm sharing here are made right here in the U.S.A., and one in particular I was lucky enough to actually meet the "Maker" on our local trails, when he spotted one of his own bags on my bike.  That was a neat experience; and after many months of hard use, the bag is still going strong, so I gotta pimp that.

Here' a few links to get you shopping.  Enjoy!

. . . and, the European stuff, still awesome when you can get it:
Gotta give Peter White some love here.
I've been a customer of his since 2002, and he's been around for a long while - one of the original importers of, and still one of the only places in the U.S. where you can get, Schmidt dynohubs and bags like these, among other things.  The site is old-school, and so is Peter.  Respect it.

Yeah, you don't have to have one of these bags.
But, I've been a baggage guy for a long time... almost the entire time I've been riding brevets.  They haven't slowed me down, and I haven't been appreciably faster without them compared to with them mounted.  Sometimes, you just need a way to carry your stuff, and the usual cycling bag fodder won't do.  That's me.  I'm "that guy".  If you're not, that's cool, too.  Do you.

commuterDude:  "That guy" since 2004.


October 2, 2016

The Summer Retrospective ... gone?

  The massive, 20,000-words-or-so post with the full summer retrospective and ride reports dating from June suffered an accidental deletion this morning, and after some rather frantic and unsuccessful clipboard recovery and cache scouring attempts, I simply don't have the energy to go through all of that again.  I suppose that's the risk associated with not editing this in Word or something with a good backup strategy, and instead using the built-in editor and trusting my flying fingers to not accidentally hit the wrong combination of keystrokes when doing something seemingly simply, like pasting in a new photo.  I'd been working on that post since late June - five and ten minutes at a time, which was the reality of my available keyboard time, and now it, like the summer of 2016, is all gone.  

It's possibly better this way, because with this the giant self-wielded death scythe of recursive analysis on this summer can, maybe, finally be tossed in the grass and I can walk away with a clear head.  I'm treating this as a stark "moving forward" maneuver, then.  The past is in the past, and that is that. 

So.... how y'all been?

Looking north into the humid haze of a blazing August afternoon of gravel riding.

August 18, 2016

On Commuting

My rhymes and structure 
and meter aren't great
but I know how I feel,
so, I'll lay it out straight.

The alarm sounds.  
It's dark, ....
...but the coffee is hot.  
The daily decision - to drive, or to not.

Zip up the bags, 
air the low tire
Out of the driveway
and into the fire

The side streets are quiet, 
the commuter's best friend
There's risk that remains, though, 
around every bend.

Keep watch, eyes up, 
stay sharp, don't blink
Is that a mailbox or a jogger?
Car passing, don't think.

Free of the roadways 
and onto the trail
Shift gears with a clunk
We begin to set sail

The surface is crappy, 
my joints are complaining
At least there's no mud... least it's not raining

Don't take it the wrong way
because I'm not complaining
I love it out here, quite simple
There's no need for explaining.

Frogs, crickets, squirrels, rabbits abound
An owl, a snake, and a rustling sound
The morning sun, the last of the fog.
Looks like the city finally moved that old log

Dog walkers, elders and Pokemon trainers
So many hurdles, the car's a no-brain'er
Turn the key, buckle-up, adjust a dial
Time gets compressed - one minute per mile!

"You live WHERE?", "It's too far", 
"I'd probably die after a block!"
The heat! Rain! Cold! 
Why is what I do such a shock?

The ease of the throttle, the cool, processed air
Trust me, I get it - why would anyone care?
Gas is "cheap", the planet's "fine".  
Mind your own business, and I'll mind mine.

We know you don't get it, 
we see your disdain
We don't want your approval, 
but we do want the lane.

I'm not the reason you're late
I'm not in your way
I'm not 6 meters wide
This will not take all day

I don't like who I am
when I'm behind the wheel
The stress, the anger
the tension is real.

You want me on my bike
Trust me, you do
It's one less car
One less tailgater for you

My children will thank you
Please stay off your phones
Your Facebook and texting
Versus my broken bones

Just give me my 3 feet,
My freedoms, my right
We both want the same thing:
Get home safe, every night

- Keith Gates; August 2016

July 25, 2016

Milepost 1445 - Short Posts from the Open Road

The trophy wall gleams with this, from Thursday's KCUC Belgian National Day Ride. Hard-earned: 115°F heat index, a blocked stomach and the beginnings of a summer cold that may finally be letting go at this writing. Thanks to Josh and David for a great day out, and cheers to P-4... 1/3rd of the way there, maybe we can start calling this a streak. Looking forward to R-4 on Wednesday, if I'm healthy.

From Instagram via IFTTT & Twitter (@RUSAdude)

July 18, 2016

Milepost 1445 - Short Posts from the Open Road

Footprints from DK, in downtown Madison, KS., June 4th, 2016.

From Instagram via IFTTT & Twitter (@RUSAdude)

Milepost 1445

239th and Pflumm, northern Miami Co., Kansas, looking north on a very hot afternoon's training run. Railroading and gravel riding meet.

From Instagram via IFTTT & Twitter (@RUSAdude)

July 4, 2016

Post 7-Eleven

The concurrent pursuit of R-12 and P-12 awards has been interesting, thus far, having wrapped up this third month of action.  I'd almost forgotten to do it, in fact - the old habit of only pursuing one long ride per month being the "norm" in some ways had me, again, suddenly seeing the 100km requirement as "opps, I haven't done this yet!"  So, in fine fashion I managed to sneak one in with a couple gents and captured some photos along the way.  Enjoy:

Paul in the early miles, leading the charge south.

Sometimes randonneuring requires creative thinking.
(Photo by Josh Stadler)

What do we do?  Refer to the socks, that's what we do.

Southbound on Old KC Road.

A lone rain shower, west of Paola, KS. as we make our way to the halfway control in Osawatomie,

Awesome perspective shot from Josh manages to get all three of us in the frame!
(Photo by Josh Stadler)

That lone rain shower becomes an attention-getter again, so I grab this shot while we enjoy a mid-ride snack at the "We-B-Smokin'" BBQ joint.  This little gem is right on the tarmac at the tiny municipal airfield between Paola and Osawatomie, and definitely worth the trip.  For under $3.00 you can get a mound of fries the size of your head, and they have cold beer.

This was a great ride with a couple great guys.  We did a blistering-fast control at Osawatomie and ended up on-pace to do a pretty darn fast 100km, overall - but, ultimately opted to stop for a nice, relaxed lunch at this great BBQ place at the Paola airport instead.  Worth it.  

The two weeks off the bike between vacation and transportation duties keeping me from riding to work had definitely taken a toll.  I felt disconnected, lethargic, and heavy... still do.  I have to do some serious work to get where I need to be ... that's not the "two weeks" talking, but many, many months of anti-calorie logging and laziness - basically.  There's so many goals and aspirations I have on my list suddenly, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed - so I need to buckle down.  While I did "behave" on vacation, I certainly didn't lose any weight - and certainly didn't hit the gym.  Enough self-loathing, already.  Time to DO WORK.

On that note ... why am I spending SO much time at the computer??

Gotta go...