Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

December 28, 2005

Spring? Is that you?

This last week has been something of a wonder, and looking back I realize that I usually write about this kind of thing once a season, but it's still magical. Deep in the midst of December, and better yet on the first day of winter, we have been enjoying near-record high-temps here in the heart of America. It's been GREAT riding weather, and the rural roads that are usually quiet from November to March have been bustling with activity lately.

On an extended afternoon's ride home last week, I passed by or near at least a half-dozen cyclists, on the bike trail, on the roads, all with huge grins on their faces. Those that truly take an off-season, these days are a rare opportunity to scratch that spring-time itch.

Monday last week was a company holiday, and I took advantage of it by treating it like a Sunday. I rose early, but then realized that I didn't have a headlight mounted on the good bike, so I brewed a cup of coffee and instead sat on the back deck, facing east and waiting for the first hint of sunrise. It was brisk, but not terribly cold, and there was almost no wind. The near-record temps managed to squeeze out a little fog, which hung heavy in all the low spots in the backyard, in the field across the way, too. Eerie calm, occasionally interrupted by a passing bird. There were no cars, no morning rush-hour humming in the background from the highway a few miles north. Peace and serenity, and a good cup of strong coffee.

The first hint of orangish light began to flood the eastern sky, so I took the last of my coffee in a gulp, and retired to the man-room to suit up. Still chilly, but not nearly as bad as 3 weeks ago, I grinned at the fact that I could finally leave some of the heavier items on the shelf this morning, instead of pretending to dress for an arctic expedition. A few minutes later, I was straddling the bike, listening to the garage door close behind me. Time to ride!

After the initial shock of being able to coast sank in, I was at home on the geared bike and steadily accellerating thru the gears to a cozy warm-up speed. The sheer silence and lack of cars was simply WEIRD -- not even the pre-dawn hours of a normal Sunday ride were as quiet as a holiday-weekend morning ride. The world slept in, there was no church rush, no busses, no runners, not even the neighborhood dogs were barking -- just me, the fresh orangish-blue of a new day's sky, a few birds, and a mystical frost/fog coating the grassy fields around me.
My freewheel sounded downright LOUD against the stark silence, and I found myself keeping the pedals rotating even on the downhills, just to preserve the quiet. The only sounds left were from my tires which droned out a quiet hum, and occasional crunch of sand or rock, as I pedaled along thru the thick morning air. These are the moments that will stick out in my head, years from now, as I remember the "good times".

I made my way south, then west, and eventually ended up in Spring Hill at a familiar cycling stop - the Casey's. Even in my cycling garb, I felt at ease among the regular clientelle of farmers and those that don't take days-off. Normally, a quick dismissive glance would be fired at me -- the one that doesn't belong in this picture -- , but today I get "mornin'" and smiles instead, and even a "good day for a ride" from someone that otherwise looked like bicycles would be the last thing on his mind; the prospect of working the morning's chores in relative comfort for a December day has everyone in a rare mood. I buy some coffee, engage in a little conversation, and make my way back outside to continue my journey. Even though things only stand to improve, I'm only out for a short morning jaunt -- so I finish my coffee, pop a fig bar, and ride back north - exploring a few new gravel side roads on the way.

The new sun has melted all the frost on the grass, and the fields look different now as I roll northward, aided by a slight tailwind that popped up since dawn. I stop and take a few pictures of some random intersections for the "remember when" file, and remove a layer -- it's getting downright WARM out here! I sprint the last few miles home, testing myself and the good bike, checking shifts, etc., and arrive home quickly --- the birds have awakened and are singing, right in tune with my heart -- a heart that is happy that I took this short opportunity to dance with Spring, a few months early.

Sleeping-in is over-rated...

December 20, 2005

The long haul

I tell ya, EVERY ride this time of year feels harder, seems longer than that same ride in the summer. Regardless of bike, terrain, even rain - winter rides seem LONG and epic in nature, even when arguably they are not really "epic". After all, since I really don't observe an "off-season" like most reasonable people would, I still taper back a LOT -- so any ride that exceeds the normal commute seems like a century.

Taking advantage of the wife not having to work, and therefore me not having to be home in record time, I decided it was time for a break from traffic, and also the bike trail - which was snowed in anyways. Granted, while that can be a little epic in itself, the bike trail is getting a little tired; further, as I alluded to in previous posts, the road construction that is surrounding all access to the bike trail is making it difficult to get to ANYWAYS. Might as well cross it off for the winter and find a new route home. Even if it's longer.

Well, I at least satisfied THAT requirement -- for a commute, this was a lot longer than usual, and traffic was indeed not AS bad, but dangit there are a lot of freaking school zones in suburbia. I don't mind school zones all that much -- except that it means I have to conceal the piece a little more carefully (gun-free zones, ya know) ((uhhh, kidding.)) .. but it's at least a rare opportunity for me to break the speed limit and mow down the occasional school crossing guard (also kidding - geez. What kinda creep do you think I am?)) Where was I?

Oh yeah. School zones. A lot of them --- I may have neglected to mention that nearly 100% of the time I'm riding home from work, the school zones are in force, and loaded with mini-vans, SUVs and other suburban tanks, all dodging kids, busses, and other suburban tanks, trying to get home, while talking on the phone, etc. This makes for interesting riding. I'd wager this brand of cycling would rival the mean streets of NYC during rush-hour, or any gnarly section of double-track you can dish out. I have more close-calls in these school-zones than at ANYWHERE else along my ride home. I wish the wife didn't have to work at ALL, so I could just leave work later in the afternoon. I won't even bore you with the details.
Let's just say that eye-contact with drivers does very little if the person on the other end doesn't have their occular nerves touching their brain. Yeesh.

It's cold out - there CAN'T be any cyclists about! (meep-meep!)

On I go, eventually reaching "sanctuary" on the south end of the 10-mile long strip of school zones, on Metcalf - south of 159th. Nice shoulder, and sporadic, evenly-spaced highway-velocity traffic. I can deal with this. I trek southward to 179th Street, and then turn west -- smack into a nasty headwind! Yikes! Oh, so THIS is what was blowing leaves and stuff at me from the side all this time. Duh. This'll be FUN, because I only have 8 miles west to ride! (only?)
Multiply that by ten, and that's what this section felt like! And I had forgotten, or was asleep or something: but since when is 179th Street all UPhill from US-69 to like Pflumm?? HAH!
Getting in my cardio won't be a problem today, apparently!

I finally turned north 8-miles later, onto my 2-mile stretch of gravel road, which I didn't mind at ALL because the headwind was OVER. Toes? Are you still down there? Toes? Hello?!
Even though it wasn't terribly cold --- like 34ºF -- the headwind really does strip away that thin thermal barrier -- my extremities were really not liking me.

A nice, hot shower awaits at home.... just keep pedalling....

2-hours later, a hot shower, and some fresh wool socks, and it's allll better.
Chalk another one up for winter, and another semi-epic commute home, which can be safely filed in the "I've had worse" section of my memory, for easy reference this coming spring on the first few brevet rides.
Surely, I'll have a few moments when I'll wish I wasn't on the bike --- and this ride will remind me that I probably shouldn't complain.

That is, of course, assuming the 200K isn't like this, too!
I'll stay home.

December 14, 2005

gridlock kills!

The myriad of WEIRD, long-term road construction in this area lately is really hacking me off. They closed a good portion of the bike trail that safely gets me under two major highways, safe from teh steady stream of soccer-moms and tax attorneys driving like mad in the "Corporate Weeds" area of my fair city. The construction associated with this mess won't be wrapped up until the end of 2008! Grrrrrr..... That's angerin' me a mite.

So, every afternoon I put myself at risk on the mean streets of Johnson County, trying desperately to get home on the major streets -- another debaucle: none of the side streets cross over the highways, many simply dead-ending right before it. There simply is no "back-way".

Who designed this place??

Compounding the issue, the recent snow event has rendered the streets a litter-box of salt, sand, glass shards, and gritty leftover snow-pack - virtually eliminating the small section of the road I formerly called my own all summer. After a couple close-passes yesterday, I'm not really spooked so much as wondering when my luck will run out. EARLY in the mornings it's never a problem -- simply a matter of very few cars on the road. Quadruple that number in the afternoon, and we've got issues. It's not that I'm not visible -- with bright orange messenger bag on my bag, repleat with reflective accents, flashing LED taillight - even in daylight - it's not like they can't see me -- it's those idiots that follow each other too closely -- when the first car in that line sees me, they give me room --- the moron immediately behind him has no idea what's going on because he's been transfixed on the back-end of the car in front of him. So, I get the brush-by. Let's assume for a moment that the low sun angle, the reflections off the wet roads from said low-sun, tire spray, etc., don't play a factor. Let's not forget about those a little light on the automotive maintenance, where washer fluid might inpair vision a little.



Friggin' idiots. GAWD.


Time to get out the maps.


You know, 5-years ago, I wouldn't have cared, but lately these things bother me. I have kids and a wife to think about --- at what point does adult responsibility take the place of pride and commitment to cycling? Is winter commuting WORTH IT?

Maybe I should think about selling that gigantic steel contraption I call a car, and get something that actually scores gas-mileage in the double digits. There's a thought. Save the bike for the warmer, "safer" months. ...if there really is such a thing as a 'safer' month for bike riding in this conundrum we call suburbia.

(are you done yet, dude?) I suppose I'm done ranting. CERTAINLY there is a safer, lower-profile route homeward. Cycling is a relatively safe activity -- but it's not entirely up to ME.
Again, time to get out the maps --- I'd rather add a few miles and fare better, than continue to deal with this mess.

Special thanks to all the city engineers that decided to work on all the roads, all at the same time! Whoooo! Big, fat, gold stars for your collective lapels.

December 2, 2005

Silent Running

"The order is...engage the silent drive!"

Ahhh, yes... this is the time of year when it's good to be fixed. As the mercury drops, activity on my route homeward drops with it. A large portion of my commute home is on the local bike trail, which runs alongside Indian Creek through the remainder of the woods that weren't clear-cut for suburbia. As if gets closer and closer to winter, the attire on the trail changes dramatically -- once scantily-clad runner are now wrapped up like jogging burritos, their faces clouded by wisps of their own condensed breath. A short time, and several degrees later, the runners are gone, as are the dog-walkers and the casual cyclists. The only ones left are the hard-core, which I suppose on some level includes me.

Being 'hard-core' is not something to consider one-self, so I don't. That's a moniker that is left for others to describe upon you -- in my own mind, I'm not hard-core at all: mainly because of the above, and mostly because I know people that truly ARE hard-core, and I fall WELL short. But, in a small sense, I suppose as far as the bike trail crowd goes, I am the hardest by elimination. Today, as sleet and snow fall and wicked westerly winds blow at upwards of 20 MPH, I am alone. There are no tracks on the trail save for the ones my own tires leave behind me. Today was cold. Cold and hard.

Anyone that has stood outside in the cold during a snow shower knows of the magical sound-absorbative properties of snow in the air. Traffic noise from major streets that normally echo across miles is suddenly absent. Only the loudest sounds come through, like a nearby freight engine wailing at a railroad crossing, but that's it. Today was the first of those days this season, and even as the snow was only light the effect was profound. The bike trail, though isolated at times, is really not that far off the main drag, so you're always aware of the intense susburban traffic-stream that the trail offers protection from. Today, it was as if the cars were not even there. The only sounds making it over my own breath came from the tires flying through crushed leaves and the occasional fallen twig -- farther off the trail, squirrels and rabbits could be heard frantically forraging for the months ahead. Proving it's worth as the quietest form of forward propulsion the fixed drivetrain rotated silently underneath me and, combined with the sound-killing snowfall, allowed me to glide past the wildlife virtually silent. Past the Atlantic patrols, past their sonar-nets..... uhhh....yeah.

The first solid evidence of my silent-running was near the last trailhead in Overland Park, where I completely freaked out a rabbit that was grazing near the path's edge -- and when you scare a rabbit, they jump straight up into the air. High. Which this one did, and I'm not 100% sure but he might have jumped higher than my head. He let out a little squeak when he hit the ground, and took off in a line perfectly perpendicular to mine. I scared a bunny. I smiled. This nature thing was kinda cool.

That was, until I scored a kill.

A few miles later, after getting used to the fact that nature was practically oblivious to my prescence, I began to revel in it a bit. Instead of making the usual "ticking" sounds with my tongue to scare squirrels out of my path, I simply took pleasure in observing how close I could get to them before they noticed me. Not dangerously close, mind you, but just rolling along the path and not making a sound, seeing if they'd notice. Always on the lookout, squirrels are not easy to sneak up on, so most were off and running up a tree before I was within a meter. Save for one.

Looking quite occupied while digging something out from under a fallen branch, this little squirrel didn't hear me until I was REALLY close -- and because he only SAW me, and didn't HEAR me, I don't think he knew precisely where I was - and there wasn't much time for his brain to figure out which of his two highly-seperated eyes was correct. He darted left instead of right - directly under my front tire. Remembering what a friend once told me about this exact set of events, I fully expected to come halting to a stop, flying over the bars headlong into the path ahead. I don't know if it was a last minute subconscious bunny-hop attempt, or pure luck, but the front tire simply rolled - seemingly with very little pressure - directly over the squirrels mid-section. The back tire never hit him, because he was already off and up a tree on the other side of the trail! CERTAINLY he was not injury free, because I defintely hit him -- but there was nothing I could do if I had caused damage, because he was gone! I'm not sure, but he probably didn't even have time to launch counter-measures. I didn't ride back to check, anyways, but if the tables had been turned, I would have launched them all over the road.

I made my apologies to the pagan god of the forest, and rolled on.
Fixed gear - always silent, sometimes deadly.

Needless to say, the nature-watch was over, so anything producing body-heat within a 5-meter radius was getting a brake-lever click, a vocal 'tick', or a bell ring. Luckily, I was nearly to the southern end of Red Route One, so it was my turn to live in fear of quick Karma. I ventured onto the streets of suburbia for the final few miles homeward, wondering if I would get struck down by a quiet Hybrid car out for a cyclist-watch. "I was just seeing how close I could get before he noticed I was beside him, officer."

What a weird day. Uneventful as far as repayment goes, I made it home intact.
I'm seriously thinking about some small bells on the handlebars - heaven forbid there ends up being a migration of brown bears to the bike trail.
Talk about quick Karma: try sneaking up on a bear. He,he.

"I would have very much liked to've seen Montana..."

November 29, 2005

Wool: Wear it's at.

I forgot to mention, also, that Sunday's ride was the first ride of any length that I performed with wool on my back. This was a good test run to see if the cost of a wool cycling jersey could indeed be justified, and (unfortunately for my wallet) it certainly can be. Although not the BEST test case, this decidedly NOT cycling specific wool top started life as a casual piece of winter men's-wear. One fine laundry day, my washer decided to halp alter its fate by snagging the collar on the aggitator -- thus, upon removal from the washer, a light bulb came on in my head...
After a quick trip to the utility drawer to retrieve a scissors, I cut free the rest of the collar and hung it up to dry. Something that I normally would have worn to the office in the fall was destined for the cycling closet. 100% Merino wool no less - which just happens to be what more cycling-specific wool items are made from. Sunday, with the drizzle and gloomy skies, and lower-50ºF temps, it was a perfect time to test it out -- while not really suited for commuting, because of the extra heat created by the messenger bag, wool is great by itself, or with a thin shell over it. Today, I donned the wool 'jersey' with a windvest over it, just to block some of the drizzle away from my torso. The formula was perfect -- as the upper surface of the wool got moist from the rainy conditions, I stayed warm -- almost TOO warm, which makes me think wool would probably be good for a 40ºF rain, too. I never had to think about getting out the rain jacket for further protection, because the wool was doing its job nicely. A synthetic long-sleeve jersey, as I've experienced in the past, would have eventually saturated, and would have lost warmth quickly -- donning a rain jacket while wearing that kind of jersey is important, and I usually have to wear it even in marginal conditions like Sunday. After arriving at the Casey's, I considered for 1/2 a second to put the rain jacket on, as the rain increased in intensity, but then decided this was a perfect time to see how well wool REALLY does when it is WET. Try as mother nature might have, I never felt 'wet' -- just warm, even as water was visibly changing the color of the wool as it got wetter, I never felt that wetness migrate to my skin -- so, as they say, wool does indeed insulate as it gets wet -- the trick is never taking your heat away from it: if it rains and you take the wool layer off, for whatever reason, you'll be leaving it off as it will cool off an no longer offer warmth -- and you'll take too long to heat back up enough to get that feeling back again. On the return trip, riding with the wind, the rain - though more intense - didn't play as much of a factor, so I actually dried out a little bit -- the temperature control was nearly, dare I say, perfect -- and this is a medium-density, casual-wear, not-meant-for-cycling wool top! I can only imagine how well a true cycling piece would perform -- and now, unfortunately again for my wallet, I will HAVE to find out. As versatile as they are, however, I imagine I'll only need one good one -- and considering how pricey synthetic jerseys are ANYWAYS, wool is really not that much more, and likely far more flexible temperature-wise.
Certainly, come brevet-time, I have a feeling I'll have far LESS in my saddlebag with regards to extra layers and such. Now, I can talk the wife into replacing that wool top for the holidays -- but instead of buying it at the casual men's department, it will be from a well respected online cycling firm. Hmmmm.... My thanks in advance to the sheep.

The big shift

Even though winter doesn't officially start until mid-December, it's defintely testing the proverbial waters around here. After a week of near-record temps, the bottom kinda dropped out Sunday afternoon, with REALLY weird Kansas fall weather in the form of a late season tornado outbreak and severe thunderstorm event, complete with hail and high-winds. Crazy for November! I think I got the last official semi-warm ride in Sunday morning, before the major stuff blew thru. Not feeling much like riding, or waking up early, I just mounted up the fixxer and rode to nearby Spring Hill and back, but reprised a small section of the Hillsdale Gravel Road Ride, making this glorified coffee-run a near-70% gravel event! Even though the speeds are a little lower, and the going a little tougher, I REALLY enjoy this new-found off-season activity. I'm seeing scenery that I've never seen before, simply because in the past I was riding on tires that wouldn't have done too well on gravel and silt. 191st and Renner got added to the list of "never been here before", as well as a few more of Spring Hill's back-streets that wind through the old "down-town" area. Really cool. I was having so much fun, the constant drizzle/mist and 20+MPH headwinds didn't really bother me that much. Also checked off the list was the fact that the fixxer does really well on sketchy pavement and gravel -- making me almost regret having not taken it on the Hillsdale ride a few weeks back -- but there will be other times. After a bit, I stopped off at the Casey's on Webster Rd., had a coffee and a couple fig newtons, and was back on the bike - now with a wicked tailwind! Still taking my time, but the return trip did go faster, and I checked a few new sections of gravel off the "to-do" list in the process. Very cool, and with the dark skies, the drizzle, the 32c tires and the Carradice bag all in attendance, it seemed very comfortable and appropriate - as opposed to "weird" and "different", which is how I viewed the gravel-road riding thing a month ago. Granted, I'm not going to spend ALL my time on gravel now, but it's certainly not off-limits anymore -- and it may well solve finding that elusive back-route to the Cidermill for next weekend.
Assuming winter lets me get it in: more, heavier snow scheduled for arrival next Sunday... the big shift is coming. Ride while you still can!!!

November 22, 2005

What's "BOB", anyways?

For those that lean along the same lines that I do, you might enjoy the "BOB"list. Available to join at www.bikelist.org , the BOB-list is a busy list, with several dozen emails coming across daily on everything from fixed-gears, to restorals, saddle-bag discussions, lugged steel conversations, old-school equipment, and the like -- all geared towards the original intent of the list: BOB stands for Bridgestone Owners Bunch, and was originally started by and for fans of Bridgestone's very fine late-70's, early 80's lightweight road bikes -- if you've ever seen one, you know what I mean. Everything steel, everything lugged, nicely appointed, strong, built to be the last bike you'd ever buy. Unfortunately, many of the bikes we see today are NOT, with a few exceptions like Rivendell, specifically, employees of which often post to this very list. Rivendell's founder, after all, use to work for Bridgestone. A recent post asked "What's a "BOB" bike to you?", since the list has really grown beyond only Bridgestone bikes -- it's a great resource, if you dance this way, even if you have stuff in your stable that is not really "BOB", there is always something to learn. This was my recent submission, and attempt to answer that very question:

What's "BOB-ish" to me?
I've always regarded this list as the "brain-trust" of the sensible cycling community, and I am a member mainly in spirit and desire. I went through the miss-guided phase of "lighter-is-better", carbon everything, minimalist seatbag, bars-too-low, racer-wanna-be, marketing-slave, etc., ad nauseum. After a time, and after realizing it was far cheaper to lose 50 lbs. than it was to try and afford the latest 100 gram "whatever", I had a slow awakening. None of the expensive lightweight stuff lasted very long, nor was it comfortable over the distances I was exploring (my first brevet series, years back) -- over time, the lightweight stuff made it to the swap meet, and in its collective place arrived things with substance (i.e. Nitto stems, bars, posts, 32-spoke "traditional" wheels, and steel framesets).
The closest thing I had to a 'real' BOB-worthy bike was my Trek 720, circa 1982 -- lugged 531, gorgeous fork, plenty of clearance, rack and fender mounts, Campag dropouts -- beautiful, but in the end, too small, so after a few thousand miles it had to eventually go to a shorter owner, in lieu of a frame that fit me. In it's place, the only thing I have currently that's BOB-ish is my Bianchi Reparto Corse, and only because it's lugged Columbus steel -- the clearances are really too tight for it to be useful for anything other than fast, short rides -- won't take fenders (and that's with 23c tires!), and if a spoke breaks, yikes. In spirit, it represents the old-world craftsmanship I always found attractive, and it's VERY strong, and rides like a dream. Sweet enough to feel good on a 400K last year, despite the racer geometry! I just wish it had more room for real tires and fenders, and it might well be the only bike I'd need. I also have an early Surly Steamroller, which is BOB-ish in spirit, but sadly not lugged - a terrific ride, lots of tire clearance and fender room - but oddly, no rack or fender mounts to take advantage of. Finally, my bad-weather beater which is an early Specialized TIGged cro-mo Mtn.Bike -- which really has nearly the same geometry as my old Trek did, not the sloping single-track wonders of today's standard. That beauty has full fenders, big tires, handlebar bag and rack - a joy to ride in the rain with it's beefy canti-brakes and Kool Stop pads.
Someday, careful financial planning will yield a Rivendell, Heron, Kogswell, Hetchins or Thorn, perhaps even a Richard Sachs, for more purposeful brevet riding, which is really where my passions lie -- long distance. That, and Phil BB and hubs, to boot. My ideal and most "BOB-ish" bike would essentially be a combination of everything I own right now: The light, strong lugged frame of the Bianchi, with the fender and rack-mounts from the Specialized, and the big tire clearance & horizontal fork-ends of the Surly for my favorite drivetrain set-up -- single-speed/fixed. Maybe some extra provisions like canti-bosses, low, fork-braze-ons so I can fashion the Lumotec to the fork without a clamp, things like that.
Since very few of us "younger" BOBs will be fortunate enough to acquire a Bridgestone RB-1 in pristine condition, with NOS Campag Super-Record, Leppers saddle, Nitto racks and full complement of Gilles Berthoud bags while we're busy raising kids, we'll have to wait, and continue on as BOBs in spirit. I know what I like, I know what's good and what's not
-- but I can't afford all I would like that would truly make me a BOB in the eyes of some. Here's hoping! What's a BOB-ish bike, then? To me, it's steel - ALWAYS, lugged if possible - clearance for REAL tires, 28c at LEAST - provisions for good racks, without resorting to weird clamps and zip-ties, 1" THREADED steerers --- there is nothing as pretty as the clean lines of a fine quill stem diving into a fine, polished headset.
Single-speed and fixed is my preference, but gears are welcome - so long as it's not ALL Shimano. Sugino, TA and Stronglight still make wonderful stuff that is strong, easy on the eyes, and timeless. If you've got something similar to that in the stable, you're on the right track. Even my beater bike has Sugino cranks. Dare I say it, BOB-ism is very close to Rivendell-ism.... Keeping the strong, good-value, well-built, useful vibe alive.
That's what makes a bike "BOBish" to me.


If you think this way, you might like the BOB-list... enjoy, and be ready for a LOT of emails!

REVIEW: Descente Wombat gloves

Fingers are often the hardest things to keep warm while riding in wintry weather, and as a result I have amassed more pairs of gloves than any other piece of winter gear in my clothing arsenal. I have a pair, quite literally, for almost every 5-degree step from 50 degrees and down. Finding something that is durable, and versitile enough for a wide-range of temps has been difficult, and in this transitional time of year, I often have more than one pair of gloves in the bag - one for the morning, and one for the ride home in the evening. If it rains, I have glove shells to improve water-proofness -- those same glove shells are good for adding a few degrees to an otherwise thin glove, for finger layering. It's complicated, and each year I forget which gloves do what for me! This year, however, I tihnk I may have found a worthy replacement for a few pair.

The Descente "Wombat" glove, at $44.00, is not cheap, but compared to many cycling specific gloves of this type, it's on par with most price-points. First impressions are that it's well-made, well-stitched, and had a lot of thought put into it, likely from real riders. It's a combination of many materials, including what's widely referred to as "Windshear" or "Windtex" fabric, which is a high-polymer weave of material that blocks nearly 90% of outside air from circulating within the fabric. This material makes up the back of the palm, and the cuff, and extends to the fingers, but is layered underneath some insulating material.

All the fingers are articulated at the first knuckle for flexibility without stressing the fabric, which has become a problem in some of my older gloves without that addition. The fingers are reinforced and boxed for a good tactile feel, and look to last longer than glove fingers that are simply pinch-stitched. The thumbs are also articulated, and lined with an absorbent material for snot-collection - this material seems to be insulated from the rest of the thumb box, so as that material gets saturated on a long ride, your thumbs stays dry and warm - a big plus, since it's off by itself and can't garner warmth from the other fingers.

Getting the gloves on and off is a breeze, as Descente went with a flared, open gauntlet-style cuff, with no velcro, no elastic, no binding. This aids in wrist circulation, provides a little venting to prevent overheating and sweaty hands, and makes getting them on over bulky jacket sleeves easy. The connection to the rest of the glove is well stitched, so pulling them on likely won't rip out this critical seam, as I've seen other gloves do over time. Grip is exceptional, which would also make this a great wet-weather glove. The palm, middle and fore-finger are lined with a knobby silicone grip surface, which helps with braking, and general non-slip behavior on the handlebars. When wet, it's doubtful this glove would cause any grip issues. Although the box fingers don't allow enough dexterity to pass the 'dime' test, the grippy fingers did help it pass the 'quarter' test, when it comes to loose change. Anything smaller, you might have to remove them first.

The best, and probably premier feature of the "Wombat" glove is the convertible mitt. If the temperature drops, it begins to rain, or you turn into a stiff, cold headwind, simply reach into the integrated pocket on the back of each glove, and pull out the barrier mitt, which simply slips over the tops of your fingers, and seals them off from wind & moisture. If conditions improve, simply slip the mitt back off, and tuck it away. While this makes the back of the glove a little bulky, that bulk actually improves insulation while the mitt is stowed, so it doesn't feel like a hinderance at all. While this is not the first glove of this type to come along, it's certainly an improvement on previous designs, and I get the impression this will end up being my go-to glove this season.

So far, the coldest I've ridden this glove was 35ºF, which is a good test as many of my other 'winter' glove start to get chilly at this point. Riding with it below freezing will defintely tell me for sure if this glove will hold it's own when it gets REALLY cold -- but if it doesn't, that's okay. For a glove that really isn't terribly bulky, it insulates very well, and still offers enough dexterity to operate STI levers, if you happen to run them, helped largely by the aforementioned grippy palm and fingers. All in all, a very good buy, and very versatile. Will update when the temp really drops, but I'm thinking that anything below 20ºF might warrant a thicker glove, perhaps a lobster-claw style. In a world of gloves for the 'casual' off-season rider (read: 40º to 50º), the Wombat stands out as a real glove for 40º and colder, perhaps down to 20ºF or so. Time will tell, but I'm impressed!

I'm giving it 4 out of 5 lock-rings, as it gives very solid initial impressions, and gives little to balk at -- but it's still not a do-everything glove, so I can't give it a full five. Some might have issue with the bulk of the mitt when it's stowed, but that's small trade-off for the extra protection it adds. For anything above 50º, it might be too much glove, and still not sure how cold it will go -- but as my own glove collection attests, very few gloves can do it all -- and this glove has a much wider temperature range than anything else I own, which is notable.


UPDATE: I'm tempted after a few weeks of use to upgrade the rating on this glove to a solid 5-for-5: as the coldest temperatures of the season approach, this glove continues to impress, but I have found it's "unassisted bottom-end" -- which is about 20ºF -- very impressive, especially considering many winter gloves can only boast a 5-10 degree window of use. These Wombats have proven a range of nearly 4-times that, being not-too-warm in the mid-40's, and with glove liners being comfy for up to an hour at 11ºF! I have no doubts they might go lower, depending on the liners used (Hind Thermastat, in this case), but even un-assisted they are good for a good 20-degree spread. Very impressed -- buy slightly larger than needed, to use liners effectively, and you have a glove that will practically do it all.

November 21, 2005

Take 30 and call me in the morning.

After several days off the bike due to illness, it was awesome to be back in the saddle.
This time last year I got my obligatory once-per-year full-on nasty cold "thing", which usually coincides with the coming of the first sub-freezing temps, and subsequent "wait! I'm not done!" from summer, when temps soar to near-record levels for a week, then it gets cold and wet. Ding! Illness. "There's somethin' goin' around...", ya know. Another Kansas winter starts to take hold, but not before it knocks over half the population first!

Anyways, after some serious NyQuil trials, I was feeling mildly better - so it was time for a nice ride, and Sunday was IT. Had to be - it was the date of the first CCCR ride! I mounted up the fixxer, and rode off to the local high school to see if anyone would show up, and lo, it was Lee! Hadn't ridden with Lee since the coffee ride back in August, I think, so it was good to hook up again. While we waited for 8-bells to sound, we talked, compared headlights, talked about the weather, the usual - while I occasionally took a pause to hack something onto the pavement. Nice. Classy.

No-one else showed up --- BAH! Common, people!!! --- so we departed, and started to head northward on the wet-from-last-night's-rain pavement. Woodland Rd. was in great shape, a little muddy in places from construction, but otherwise pretty darn good. It's a great road, not too hilly, but generally up-hill until about 93rd St, where it pitches downhill at 8% for about a mile or so! A real thrill-ride on a coaster, but a little dicey on the fix. Still, pretty cool, and one of the best vistas in the county at the top, just before it drops off. After levelling off, we paralleled a freight train for a while, and eventually ended up at 83rd St., where we turned uphill to Monticello - but not before a quick pee-break. We hooked up with Badger, and proceeded north again, into the relentless and chilly headwind. Ugh. 38º if warm enough, as long as the wind isn't blowing too hard.

After a little bit, we arrived at the decision point for the short/long route, and hearing no objections, we went straight onto the long route. Ok, it's only 31 miles - but it's a longish ride for this time of year out here. Unfortunately, nobody wanted to take the short route, so I was commited to the hills that lay ahead. Ugh.... I was starting to wonder if I'd made the wrong bike choice! On a geared, coasting bike, with all the long downhills, this would have been a BLAST! Granted, I was still having a great time on the fix - but I yearned for a deep aero-tuck and a fast descent --- but on the flip-side of that coin was the fact my legs were never cold, and I was always ready to climb. We tee'd up with Holiday Drive (actually 47th St.), and began our trek east-bound, finally out of the clutches of the headwind, but headed towards some serious climbing. We got lucky near the railroad tracks, as the crossing gates started dropping RIGHT as we passed over the tracks, a freighter approaching from the west! We enjoyed paralleling along with it as it chugged up the grade towards the railyards ahead.

Soon, we stopped near Holiday Drive and Quivira Lane, to doff a few layers for the climbing, fuel up on Newtons, and hydrate a bit. The next 2-5 miles would be a challenge! We began climbing, slowly and steadily, and the grade increased -- the fix was doing fine, as was I, but I knew the worst was coming. Lee threw a chain during a shift, but was quickly back on the saddle, and Chris was smiling along as usual - no problems after having ridden in Colorado this summer!

After that first long grinder, the fast downhills began, leading up to the first of three monster rollers. Legs flying in a coastless downhill dive, I transistioned nicely, and stood up to check the first biggun off the list --- success! Ouch... The second big downhill, legs flying, and then the 2nd steep-one, which was the steepest of the three ---- Standing, cranking, pulling against the bars -- UGH!!!! It was a close one, but I managed it --- what a grunt-fest, and the biggest pain is the stop-sign at the top of it at 55th St.! After a sorta-trackstand, and no cross-traffic, I went on, up the rest of the grade, and then the third and final big downhill bomber down to the base of the third and final steep roller of northern Pflumm. DANG!! Made it! The trafficlight at Johnson Drive came up, a brief stop, and then the very last of the steep climbing was done! Whew!!!!
Made it, and on the fixxer no-less! Even though it was reluctant, I was no glad we chose the long route, because it means the brevet series on fixed-gear is now a very real possibility!

We continued south on Pflumm, over it's (by comparison) shallower rollers, to 83rd St., turned thru residential, and made our way to Santa Fe Trail Drive, to bisect Lenexa and mosey southward towards Olathe and the coffee stop.... yummy! Another couple of train encounters, too -- a really good day for railroad watching! Santa Fe turned into Kansas City Road, and make a perfect leg cool-down for the last part of a pretty hilly ride. We bid Badger farewell at College, hit the coffee stop and I enjoyed a nice, hot cuppa somethin' gooooooood. Sweet.
Back to the parking lot, bid farewell to Lee, and rode home to wrap up a nice 42-mile (for me) Sunday climbing ride! An excellent time, as usual, and the fix proved a worthy weapon for the counties steepest offerings... but next time I might bring the gears and enjoy a deep aero-tuck, or two. Maybe.... no matter what I ride these days, the fix seems to make it something special, and I really enjoy that feeling. But, it might be time to dust off the "good bike" one of these days. Ya'll that couldn't make it, ya missed a great ride! Get with us next time - you won't regret it!

The best part, the few days I took off the bike paid off -- not only was I well rested for this climbing-fest, but I managed to hack the rest of the lung-butter all over the pavement, and felt 100% better after arriving back at the house again. That's one of the best parts about cold-weather riding -- it tends to clean things out, if you wait until it's under control -- last year, riding too soon simply drove the junk deeper into my lungs -- this year, I waited until it slowed down a little, and THEN the riding helped finish it off. Excellent! So, Dr. Dude is up in the house now: you get something upper-respiratory, slap it across the face with some NyQuil for a few nights, take time off the bike, then take 30-miles of climbing, and call me in the morning.

That'll be a $10.00, co-pay, please. :)

November 15, 2005

Who said it ever HAD to be paved?


Well, I tell ya -- two years ago, I NEVER woulda thought that riding "off-road" would be fun. Ok, this was not REALLY "off-road" (which is why I keep putting it in quotes), but for the roadie that I really am, it was certainly not normal!

We gathered together with a mission -- just to have a nice bike ride, without the normal hassles of traffic, maybe a little more scenery, and something a little different -- and we got it all! With fat-tires, racks, a couple full-on mountain bikes, and some hybrid-mutts, we rolled out into the southern part of the county, and travelled over some very nice gravel roads - which we came to find were not really all that bad after all! Stuff that normal roadies would just flat cross OFF the map turned out to be a little challenging at first, but after a few miles we started to get the feel for it. Simple shock-absorbsion methods came second-nature, like just sanding on the pedals a bit, relaxing the shoulders, etc. Pretty soon, all the anxiety wore away to reveal what we had set out for: fun.

I won't go into too many details here, because if you are reading this and are in the KC area, you need to come experience it first-hand. I'll be adding ride details to the webpage before long, since this is defintely one we'll ride again, probably next Spring. Assuming your gear is up to it, the next time you see a sign that reads "pavement ends", just keep on going! I don't think it makes you weird, I don't think it makes you extreme -- you aren't going to sacrifice your "roadie" status. After all -- it's still a road, right? Roll on!

Dare I say it, this ride ranks up in the top-five for 2005. The Summer Breeze was in there, the MS-150 was great, and a few others I wrote about, too --- but this one was something special.
Can't wait to do it again! YOU should be there. Really!

November 11, 2005

No pain, no gain....sure.


Welp, proving my shiftiness often outweighs my ablility to learn from mistakes, the Brooks saddle that since last week was resting in it's box on the workbench has somehow found its way back onto the bike. Weird, huh? It's as if it was whispering to me all this time... "try me again!"

This time, however, I borrowed the seatpost from the Bianchi -- yeah, yeah... the Bianchi is "done", but I have a method here: First, the seatpost on the Bianchi is darn sexy... but that's not the real reason to use it. The real advantage is the adjustability of it. Compared to the seatpost that was on the Fixxer, this post doesn't have the inter-meshing teeth, which are nice to prevent movement, but not nice if you want to fine-tune saddle angle. So, now, I'm able to get the Brooks tuned to my personal "sweet-spot". The nicer finish is strictly a bonus. But what about a seatpost for the Bianchi? That brings us to point B) which is, if the Brooks realy DOES turn out to be the end-all, I can swap the seat back and forth simply by moving the seatpost between bikes. Since the Surly and the Bianchi have the exact same seat-tube angle, the saddle angle will be exact on either bike, and depending on which one I want to ride, I get all the advantages of the saddle that I've worked so hard to break in. This substantiates itself as point C), which solves the previous problem of "what if the Brooks is REALLY great, then I'd have to get one for each bike, right?" -- Well, not anymore. As long as the seat-tube angle, stem length, and seat-post diameter are the same between bike, just move the post, making sure saddle-height is consistant, and roll on. The only odd-man out here is the beater bike, but that bike is for weather so nasty I wouldn't want a Brooks on it in the first place.

So, once again, persistance might indeed be paying off here.... instead of a knee-jerk reaction that Brooks is terrible, I will give it another try. I have the Flite saddle on it's old seatpost, ready for re-install if it doesn't work out at all. But, to be fair, I *DO* need to give it time to break in, soften a little, and there is a ton of time to make changes before the '06 brevet season.

So far, things are looking up --- after fine-tuning the saddle angle, this morning's ride to work did not yield the same "problems" I was having LAST week - and that's a VERY GOOD SIGN. Only the next hundred miles will tell me for sure - but I have a new feeling that patience will indeed be a virtue here.

November 9, 2005

Fire! fire! FI-IIIRE!!!

Every once in a while, I come across something else to add to the ever-growing list of reasons that bicycles are infinitely BETTER than automobiles.

Today, on the way home, weaving through a pack of soccer-mom's and stay-at-homes picking up their kids from elementary school -- and consequently showing off the track-stand skills at a cross-walk -- I ventured towards the intersection of 139th and Brougham here in gorgeous suburbia, to witness an early-90's Ford F-150 in full flame. Yep, hood agape, rubber and gasoline-fueled flames lapping at the underside of the hood. DANG! Realizing little was needed on my part, as everyone AT the intersection, including the crossing guard, was on their cell-phone to the fire department (which I could hear approaching a few blocks away), I decided that it would be better if I was out of the picture.

I continued east and north on my way home, smiling to myself. Another reason added: no matter what happens, I can pretty much rest assured that my bike probably won't burst into flames.

That's a big plus.

November 4, 2005

If it isn't broken...

Once again, I find myself re-learning a valuable lesson: if it isn't broken, don't try to fix it.
This time, however, I can't tell if it's only my tolerance for discomfort that is at fault here, or lack of patience, or what. The new saddle I've chosen is far less comfortable than I built it up in my head to be, and it has me wondering if I had things right the first time or not. I'm starting to think that I might HAVE had things right. Ugh.
Maybe I'll give it more time, but after micro-adjustments and lots of break-in mileage, I'm still having some 'pressure' that is creating 'problems' -- and those are 'problems' that I can't live with. DID EVERYONE have this issue with these saddles?
Maybe it's just me --- after all, no matter HOW good something is, it can't possibly satisfy everyone. It's a shame, too, because it's SO FREAKING GOOD LOOKING on the bike!!! However, I can't suffer for asthetics. The verdict is still out.

On another note, I have had a really good week of riding, and life in general -
Something that started as a wild idea has turned into perhaps the most successful ride-planning campaign in CommuterDude history! And, confirming the terrific feelings I'm getting, I recently got in the mail the most recent edition of American Randonneur in the mail, and there is an article about someone in New Hampshire (or Vermont?) that put on a Dirt Road Randonee' this summer, and the results were FANtastic! I think I have found exactly what I need to set myself and my little band of rebels apart from the rest of the cycling world in this area.
We'll see how it goes, but I previewed the route last night, and I only saw TWO CARS in over 50 miles, and that was during "rush hour" --- this is gonna ROCK. Literally.

Combine that with a series of commutes with a 20+ MPH south wind that blew me to work in record time, three days in a row this week, and the most magnificent fall colors so far this season, and this is a guy that can stop smiling.

Which is good, considering I can barely sit down without wincing.

November 1, 2005

Cidermill II -- and the early week in review

Sunday was a fantastic ride! Okay, it's already apparent what time of year is my favorite: I think more than anything, I thrive on a feeling of having accomplished something extraordinary: while most riders have hung it up for the year, waiting for that next 70º weekend forecast to come out, Krishna, Akil and I met up at 7:00AM in the stinging rain and blustery, 20 MPH south winds of a 50º morning for a 50-mile ride. Call me crazy - call me insane -- but THAT, my friends, is love. Don't get me wrong; I really enjoy the 80º, sunny days with tailwinds and pacelines just like everyone else -- but it's almost, dare I say it, too easy! The rainy, 50º mornings??? NOBODY likes that crap! After polishing off a ride like that, I truly feel alive, like I accomplished something or beat some kind of 'odds'.

We took off from the parking lot, into the gale and rain, jackets flapping like angry flags. Making matters more intense, the entire first leg of the ride was INTO the 20 MPH wind -- it eventually took us three hours to reach our turn-around, and less than half that for the return. On the way, however, we were rewarded -- as the sun rose higher, the clouds began to part, and the rain slowed -- eventually, the skies were alive with birds and a piercing blue hue - the sun broke through, and the harsh wind slowed slightly into a warming breeze. Trees were alive with color against the ocean of sky, and the road seemed to ease up a little under our tires. Before long, we were at the Cidermill, sipping on hot apple goodness, and taking in a few donuts.

PURE HEAVEN. Nothing else tastes quite as sweet as good food earned in sweat and toil.

I packed a half-dozen more donuts into the saddlebag for the wife and kids, and poured the rest of the warm cider into my waterbottle, and we three were ready for our return. The sun was getting higher, the roads nearly dry, and the breeze was relentless - still from the south - perfect!

After a little harrowing cross-wind action on K-68, we were back on the safer secondary roads -- which reminds me that not all good riding HAS to be paved. A spark that was originally captured by Ort and I back in early July has me wondering if there is a better, if not harder, way to get to the Cidermill -- this highway stuff is for brevets. Anyways, making excellent time, we flew north with the stiff tailwind, and with good food in our guts and smiles on our faces, we shed layers and spun away the last few miles at a very relaxed effort.

It was perfection -- nature's reward for tenacity in the form of a postcard perfect cycling day. Next time you stand at the precipice of your garage staring out into the gloom, remember: it's probably going to be worth it. It was cold, wet, harsh, and arduous for the first 1/3rd of the ride, but the reward, and riding along as the very skies transformed above us, was magical.

Man -- fall cycling is the BEST, and I'll probably remember this ride for a long, long time...

October 25, 2005

I've crossed over

Well, it's official -- I've crossed over: I ordered my first Brooks saddle today.

Hopefully the UPS man will arrive in good stead and with relative haste, and I will see firsthand what the fuss is all about. I get the solid impression that I will not be disappointed.
No matter who I've talked to; large riders, small riders, mountain or road, racers or tourers -- everyone I've talked to that runs a Brooks says the same thing: It's the best saddle I've ever owned.

There HAS to be something to that, so I've finally bitten.

After practically 27,000 miles logged on my trusty Selle Italia Flite Trans Am, it's time for a new one anyways, as I think I've finally destroyed the minimal padding that was once there, and the thin leather cover is beginning to show signs of wearing through. Since Selle Italia tends to run with the trends, it's a model that I can no longer get. Considering the way I've evolved as a cyclist, and how constant Brooks has been since their inception, it's safe to say that this is not only the right choice, but something I can easily replace in another 5-10 years when (or IF) I wear it out. The Brooks B17 going away would be like taking the turkey out of Thanksgiving. It just isn't going to happen.

So, with held breath, I wait, patiently for my new arrival, along with a tin of Obenaufs and a bonnet for the rain. Yes, this saddle will require a little more care and feeding than I'm used to, but the payoff is huge. The only serious complains logged with the B17, referencing a popular website, come from a lady that was experiencing mild discomfort about 350 miles into a long brevet. I can live with that, considering my Selle often gives me problems much sooner than that. Like the cell phone and the microwave, I have a feeling that once I have a few miles on the Brooks, the extra care involved will not bother me at all. I won't be able to ride without one.

That only means I'll end up getting a Brooks for each of my bikes. Ugh. The wife will LOVE that justification! I have a feeling, however, that will take care of itself -- the good, multi-geared bike will probably maintain it's fairly new Flite saddle - decidedly racy. The nasty-weather bike will maintain it's nasty saddle, so I don't have to worry about it when it turns really foul outside. But, for the fix, I've been converted -- I've crossed over -- buying a Brooks is a rite of passage, of sorts, a return to cycling as it should be. Comfort and enjoyment first, weight second. The fact that this new saddle weighs nearly double the one it replaces doesn't bother me at all.

I'll be submitting my resume to Rivendell later this week.

As the evil emperor once said, I think in Return of the Jedi, "now your transformation is complete."

Of course, I think he was talking about something else. Whatever.

October 22, 2005

Down with the big "D"

Well, I have to be honest -- as important as family *IS*, this trip to Texas is a little bittersweet: I was SUPPOSED to be riding in the Tejas 500, if all things had gone to plan this year. There is always next year, I suppose, but hey - I can moan a little. Even though plans were initially cancelled for financial reasons, we somehow managed to muster up the cash to drive down here after all, but stopped short of Cleburne and ended up in the northern suburbs of the big "D", Dallas. Ugh. My favorite town.

You all know how I feel about overcrowding, suburban sprawl, SUVs, seas of pavement choked with traffic, and complete lack of shoulders, ridable side-roads, and any semblance of cycling culture, right? If you've read ANY of the stuff I've posted, you know: this is my hell.

It's not neccessarily Dallas in particular, but Dallas makes for a pretty good representation. Yep. Sure as my hair is missing, I guess I'm a small town guy - and as much as I complain about it, I suppose Overland Park and Olathe, KS, are still "small" towns - but dang. I'm glad I left the bike at home. I think that * I* have it bad having to ride a few miles south to get to the 'good roads'? I get the solid impression that, here, you'd have to drive to ANY ride no matter what the start location. How do these people DO IT? I never caught up with anyone to ask, unfortunately, and not once, on any road I happened to be on, did I see a cyclist, casual or otherwise (save for one, that I'll mention later). I don't think the whole 'ride to work' thing would fly down here.

This is the kind of thing that only strong advocacy and good planning can prevent. Kansas City, although decades away from being this BAD, is certainly on the fast track to "Dallas-ness", and that's not good. With GKCBF and MoBikeFed on the case, however, there is still hope for us. Dallas, however, might well be a case-study for the proverbial "lost-cause"; The interstate collector roads, the maze of highways, the flawed road designs, apparent lack of trails, apparent lack of bike lanes, and apparent lack of apprisal of most of the drivers makes this one nasty city from a bicyclist's perspective. Dallas readers, if any, and Texas hard-cases will probably have a problem with this assumption. Too bad. Your city is a nightmare, man. It's pretty clear that it's too late to do anything about it, too. That's sad.

If I hear anyone in the KC area complain that Mission Rd is too narrow, I'm dropping you off in Coppell, TX. Good luck with that. I'll give you odds that you won't be pulling your bike out from under a Hummer within the first day.

Ok, ok, ok -- it's all relative; it's all acclimation. A few rides down here, and yeah - I'd probably get it. But, would I be happy, knowing there was something better? Doubt it. My bike handling skills and traffic-tolerance would be honed to a fine edge by the time I was done, though. That's for sure. Even the skill-level of the downtown bike messenger would be taxed out here in the sprawl -- these drivers don't live by the same set of rules the downtown driver does. Can you actually scitch off of a bus that's doing 45MPH and weaving in and out of traffic? Ok, I know people that would try, but geez. Texas suburbia SUCKS.

I either need to move downtown, or move out into the central rural counties to feel safe. Down with suburbia!
Boo!!! Hiss!!! The only three things I can think of good to come outta Texas: My dad, Shiner beer, and Pantera.

The best and most ironic part of this trip to Dallas: The ONLY TIME I saw a bicyclist on the road (and only real life is better than fiction): The intersecion of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Malcolm X. Avenue, just outside of Fair Park. Seriously. The two roads that Chris Rock warned us all about, and there's a cyclist. I don't know how that guy sits on his saddle with a pair that big.

So, back in vacation-land amid the EIGHT children, the TV re-runs, the guest bedroom, and the bad Italian food, I find solice and a silver-lining:

I don't live here.

I get to ride to work every day with relative ease, on clear roads with wide lanes and shoulders. If traffic gets too nasty, I have access to a bike trail that actually goes somewhere. And, shockingly enough, most KC drivers are lucid enough to actually afford me a little bit of room. While most people go on vacation to find out what they've been missing in life, I managed to find out some pretty good things about 'back home' on this trip.

We'll see how long after I get back that I start complaining about Johnson County again.

October 19, 2005

out, like plaid pants

I'm on hiatus for a few days -- but I'll update next week. I know, I know -- but I figured you were hanging on the edge of your seats waiting for an update...figured I'd let you off the hook. So... WHY ARE YOU READING THIS SLOP? GO RIDE!

I'll be back next week...

October 17, 2005

Cidermill, HO!!!

This weekend marked the annual Cidermill ride, and it was a terrific showing -- nearly 50 people rode out southbound for adventure. Fortunately for those enamoured with the fringe counter-culture, there were only two single-cogs present, one being me. The other was a fab-looking Bridgestone RB1 (I think), refinished, fitted 48x16 free, and rolling with moustache bars -- very cool ride, and comfy-looking. It was refreshing to see SOMEONE else on a single-cog whatever - it gets lonely in the fringe sometimes, ya know.

Still, present was new-found friend and fan-o-the-site Bo, plus Badgerland who rode in from the great north territory, and Krishna, and 47 other wrapped up riders braving the (sorta) chilly fall air, with visions of hot cider dancing in their heads. Awesome good times.

At 8-bells, we rolled out into the traffic stream, and headed out for a social spin - for once things didn't instantly degrade into a fever-pitched smattering of pacelines and mayhem. With the fresh sunrise in our faces, it was nice just to be riding along, chatting it up, and discovering the route together, instead of alone.
About 4 miles in, I managed to pick up a nasty bit of glass, but thankfully it didn't start a leak - roll on! I got lucky that time, but it reminded me how finicky these thin race tires can be. This is fast becoming NOT the time of year to run them anymore. Might have to hang them up for spring before long.

After my glass incident, I was back in the pack and enjoying the morning's sights. Long shadows, birds in flight, endless fields just south of town - awesome. Bo and Badger were talking it up, comparing heartrate numbers, and others of us were talking about the leaves and their colors revealing, negotiating the ever increasing SE headwind as we went. Before long, we were strecthing out a little, as always happens. Eventually we ended up in Spring Hill, and figured out exactly where the pavement on Woodland Rd ends (oops!) - a little backtrack gets us the unexpected treat of a jaunt thru downtown Spring Hill, and a few of its neighborhoods -- it was like a snapshot of yester-year, honestly. Very cool archetecture, the typical old-school downtown district with its wide way, and the pot-holes that time forgot.

We got back on the main drag, eventually, and then ended up on the southside of town and the designated breakfast stop, which was not ready for us. This is what blogs are for: Curly Brown's in south Spring Hill, KS. -- DON'T GO THERE. We got the king-size shaft, and they don't deserve the business. Barely worth going into here, so I'll spare you. Trust me: I don't black-ball much, but when I do it's for keeps. This restaurant makes the dark list of doom.

From there, Krishna, Badger and I decide it's best to find out coffee fix elsewhere, so we motor out, along with a large portion of the rest of the bunch, to Old KC Road and Hillsdale, KS, instead. I'd rather have gas-station coffee than anything that Spring Hill joint was serving up after that episode. We hit the BP station at 255th and served ourselves up some java, cheap, and pulled up some curb to while-away a few dozen minutes. Mmmmm, tasty. But not as tasty as the cider that awaited us only "five" miles away. YEah - shock, the dude makes a blunder estimating the mileage to the cidermill, which was actually like 10-12 more miles away. Nice job, dude. :) As Badger said, "just out for a nice Sunday ride, it doesn't matter" True, true.

A few hundred miles (kidding) later, we were at the 'mill -- mmmmm, boy. I ordered up two large cups of the sweetest nectar this side of Tillamook Creek (whatever) and swilled one down while I chatted again with the other single-cog rider, met up with Bob Burns (local RBA and rando-GOD-guy) and discussed all nature of craziness while the cider seeped into our tired legs. But, unfortunately, with a noon-deadline looming, and ten-till-eleven already showing on the wrist-watch, it was time to motor serious. I dumped the rest of the cider into my waterbottle, and Krishna, Badger and I mounted up for the return leg.

The ride back was pretty nice, as I managed to have a ton of reserve left thanks to the sub-mach lesure-pace outbound. It was time to use it all up now, if any hope of retracing the next 26 miles was to be done within the hour and ten I had left. Time to see what I was worth...but not before snapping the obligitory headshot from the highway:

Yeah, yeah.... in a bigger format, and without my obtrusive noggin in the way, this shot was pretty cool... the big valley of K-68 headed down towards the ridge that US-69 sits on in northern Miami County. And look at that... just enough shoulder to not get killed on! Wheoooo!!!!

I was pretty happy with myself, considering: I managed to catch Bob and 'friend' on the return leg, and they had left something like 15 minutes before I had, plus after short 2-mile detour on Renner Rd, which is gravel by the way, I was home only 10 minutes late -- not too shabby, dude. I guess a little summer fitness is left in the pipes... good thing I have all winter to forget about it! AHHH!! So, the tally: a single-speed, me on the fixxie, 48 "other" bikes, 1 botched breakfast stop, 1 gas-station coffee, 40 oz. of hot cider, and 48 miles of pavement, and 2 miles of gravel = a fall ride that will not soon be forgotten! Excellent stuff! You shoulda been there -- and if you WERE, you know what I mean! See you next year, Cidermill! (ok, maybe... that cider is so good, I might just have to reprise this thing next month... hmmmmm.......)

October 11, 2005

Tape yer bars.

Welp, that'd be me in a nutshell: Never satisfied. I'm a tweak. I like to change stuff, just for the sake of changing it. Bar tape is the only truly cheap, easy modification you can perform on a bike, and not be completely commited.

First off, black is right out. Everyone has black bar tape. Don't be scared of color.
Bright orange? Why not? Celeste Green on a purple bike? Boo-yah... do it up.
Just make sure you have everything on hand for the perfect bar-taping session.

I mean, if you're gonna do it, do it right. Get loose. Personally, for this particular session I invited my good friend Sam Adams over. Some tunes on the box, and I'm good to go. This time, a little Prodigy. Good stuff. Begin winding the tape, carefully maintaining tension all the way around the bar, navigate around the brake hoods, and finish clean and neat, about 2" from the stem. Finishing tape - done. Flip the bike around and do side #2. Gorgeous. And, for under $15.00 you have completely changed the look and feel of the bike. Hopefully for the better. Unfortunately, this time, the image I had in my head at the bike store is not quite right now that it's on the bike and in front of me. Figures... I'll ride it for a week and see if it sticks. I shoulda stuck with bright orange. Oh well. At least Sammy was good. Hang up the bike, and re-think your entire existance as a cyclist, you obsessive freak!

Good, positive self-talk always closes out a good wrenching session, you know.

He,he. Until tomorrow --- may your bars always be wrapped in something squishy.

October 10, 2005

U.B.U.

Well, this marked the beginning of a new week, and the end of weekend #2 off the bike. Ah, burnout prevention. Well, it DOES work -- I had almost zero guilt as I slept in for the second Sunday in a row, and simply enjoyed not doing much of anything. Well, ALMOST not much of anything -- between a birthday party and a lot of pre-winter house cleaning and yard work, I think I still ended up getting something of a workout, but it didn't involve the bike. Weird.

But, yeah - the anti-burnout thing is working, and it's essential to keeping the passion fresh; by the time next weekend gets here, I'll be more than ready to mount up and pound out 50 miles or more. Which really sounds nasty if taken out of context.

ANYways.... we are knee-deep in the fine days of early fall -- lows in the 40's, highs in the 60's, just like nature intended. Ahhhhhh...... bliss. Logistically complicated, from a clothing standpoint, but still blissful.

Ah, clothing issues - how to dress warm, and not look like a freak. You know -- I've tried it; I've tried to keep things simple by sticking to a standard, street-clothes type of bike-wear for commutes, but I guess I just know what things COULD be like. I have something to compare, and that makes it hard to keep things simple.

What am I talking about???

Talking about those ultra-cool messenger types that are able to log mileage in jeans and a t-shirt. Baggies, hoodies, Chuck Taylors. You know the type -- I admire their style, but no matter how I try I can't pull it off. I blame the 'roadie' culture -- I started out wearing what I was 'told' to wear, from marketing, TdF videos, and following the lead of every other road cyclist out there when I started attending group rides. Basic black lycra shorts, with pad. Jersey. Some sort of headband or doo-rag. Gloves. Whether or not that makes me a 'joiner', one thing is true: technical fabrics SPOIL you. When you know beyond a shadow that wearing a ridiculous, tight-fitting jersey with the corporate logos actually DOES keep you dry and cool when it's 95ºF outside, you will never ride wearing a t-shirt AGAIN. Trying to go back to that t-shirt, simply to satisfy some sense of belonging to a group that you clearly DON'T belong to cannot be done! NOR should you try -- you either start out that way, or you don't; and true legacy members of that group can smell you a mile away. "hey, didn't he used to be a roadie?"

I tried once, wearing a pair of camo baggies on a ride -- it was a short coffee ride, so it was the perfect distance. Not only did I end up with a saddle sore in a weird location, it ended up raining on that ride -- really hard rain. I was SOAKED and COLD. The Lycra that I was used to never made me feel that way -- wet, yes, but never cold, and I never got that feeling like I was losing my pants, either. I felt warmer before the rain started, and I felt a little less self-conscious when entering the coffee shop, but that's about the only things I got out of it. I'll probably never wear them again.

I'm very much function before fashion, which puts me in my on special group, I suppose. I ride a fix, but I don't dress like I ride a fix. I like to ride competitively, but I don't race. I carry a messenger bag, but I'm not a messenger. I have one bike with 9-speed STI which has a drivetrain you could eat lunch off of, and I have another bike with fenders and stickers which hasn't been cleaned since I built it up. Do I have a problem with any of this? Not really: not being able to be pigeon-holed is one of my defining characteristics, I suppose.

The point is, no matter how you end up as a cyclist, be your own cyclist. If you stray from yourself (like I did with those pants) you pay the price. If you wanna run a Brooks saddle on a bike with full Dura-Ace, go for it. If you want to wear baggies and ride your titanium Seven on a week-long tour that way, do it.

Smile about it.

They will stare, and mumble.

Let them. Ride like you do, and make no apologies.

October 7, 2005

Let the acclimation begin!

Well, fall is defintely here, and that ain't no lie. In fact, winter wants to get an early taste of things, apparently -- leaft the house this morning and headed north into a brutal and unforgiving headwind, and 39º showing on the mercury. Oh, how quickly the body forgets what 'cold' feels like! Eyes watering, nose running, and toes slipping into numbness, I'm back in black. Tights and thermal headcap, that is.

Couple mornings like this, and I can stop cursing the cold. There is this whole "I've done this before, and it was worse" mentality, but when it comes right down to it, the body takes time to adjust - same with hot weather, too.

So, too, come the questions from co-workers -- they haven't started quite yet, but the smokers out in front of the building today had looks on their faces that indicated a mix of confusion and commendation as I made my way to the bike rack. It's a good feeling.

COFFEE!
It's time to break out the French press, and start the time-honored routine of replacing the sports drink in my morning water bottle with hot, fresh coffee. Hmmmm, BOY... nothing tops off a brisk ride to work like a little internal warm-up, eh?

The weekend is coming, and I'm still in the midst of my two-week vacation from riding (on the weekends) -- next week, the annual Cidermill ride --- I can't WAIT.
Hot apple cider at the turnaround of a near-50-mile ride? Hoo-rah. Nothing quite like that!
Well, ok -- I have a FEW ideas what might be -- but that's just wrong.
And unsafe.
nevermind.

Link 'o the moment:
http://nordicgroup.us/bikecoff/

Show them my motto!!!

October 6, 2005

Splashes of color and mud

Another attempt by summer to hang on is thwarted by a strong cold front from Canadia (yes, I know I spelled it wrong.)

With the wicked north winds blowing, I left work yesterday - and it was colder in the afternoon than it had been that morning. Arm warmers at the ready, I notice that the trees are JUST beginning to change colors. This is what it's all about: that last breath of life... it's as if they've waited all summer long to blow out the remainder of their fuel in one, last, spectacular blast of color.

Yeah, I know: it's a phyto-chemical process brought on by the slow decay of chlorophyll due to reduction in sunlight, which reveals carotenoids and anthocyanins that are present in the leaf. Fun-killer. It's still pretty freakin' cool looking.

It brought a smile to my face, as I mounted up and steered into the flow of the northerly breeze for my ride home. I decided to stay on the bike trail, take a break from traffic, and see how much things back in the brush were changing. The trail was nearly invisible due to the covering of smushed leaves and junk, and there were hints of bright red from recently fallen Dogwood leaves.

Then, to throw in a little contrast, each time the trail passes underneath an overpass, MUD -- lots of it from recent flooding of the creek. Still mucky and wet, I slide and shimmy thru, coating the inside of my fenders as I go. Love it. I swear, I shoulda been born Belgian.

Gimme fall colors, cold rain, a little slop, and I'm good to go.

October 5, 2005

We are wimps.

As hearty as I pretend to be as a cyclist, apparently I'm pretty wimpy as a person. Our A/C is broken at the house, and while normally in October it's not a very big deal, because it's gotten cooler outside, you have to remember: this is Kansas. There are no rules with regards to weather pattern.
It was 50-something last week: A/C worked fine THEN!
It was 89ºF yesterday - so the inside of the house felt AWESOME.
There is nothing quite like a vigourous ride home, followed by a nice hot shower -- afterwhich you can't dry off because you're still sweating. It's too hot to even sit down on the couch, so we're all standing in the middle of the room in front of a fan. Basically, the fan is only there to keep the 60% humidity moving over your body. It cools nothing. I promised I'd never complain about the heat again after the 2005 Tinbutt 12-Hour in Oklahoma, but it's kinda hard not to when those of lesser tolerance will not let you forget how hot it is.

"Daddy?"

"Yes, boy?"

"I'm hot."

"You should save that line for college, son."

"Can we go outside?"

...good idea... so, we all head to the backyard, where it's just as hot; but you don't complain as much - because you're outside where it's SUPPOSED to be hot. Better.

Our salvation comes in the next 12 hours in the form of a strong cold front from our friends in hockey-ville (eh.)

I can hear myself now, 50 years down the road when the ozone layer has officially gone away, and we all live in gigantic 80 SPF domes which will (of course) be air-conditioned;

"you know, back in aught-five we didn't even HAVE air-conditioned back yards... those were simpler times, where people were heartier...blah, blah, blah....,"
at about which time the kids will wheel me back down the hall to my "comfortable, shared community" dorm room for my afternoon tapioca snack. Later, I would scold my daughter for not 'holding her line' while wheeling me back to the lounge for 'Jeopardy'.

Hearty, huh. We have to face it -- when times get tough, we are wimps.
It's those that stop complaining long enough to get the job done that survive.

October 4, 2005

career change

I think I want to work for the NACP. Not the NAACP, but the NACP -- the North American Coffee Partnership. Purchase, NY 10577.
I can see my resume now...
Objective: to work in a fast-growing, technically-oriented field where I can practice excellent customer service and drink all the freakin' coffee I want.

Anyway, today marks one of the last great summer rides to work -- morning low of 73, and a blistering south wind at nearly 20 MPH sustained, and I was here a full ten minutes faster than normal. Like a smooth slap of Skin Bracer to the face, I'm awake and ready for Tuesday, punk.
I may not even NEED coffee this morning -- (that's a dumb thought) --

Blogs are supposed to be random, so here's random for you:

If you cook oatmeal long enough, you can eat it with your hands.
It's like a gigantic biscuit. I dunno about Quaker or anything, but this Bob's Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal hardens up almost like biscotti -- which is conveinent, because I just so happen to have a monster mug 'o java here for dipping.

Of course I find out later that, unlike biscotti, overcooked oatmeal tends to rehydrate pretty fast, so now I have a double-shot columbian oatmeal smoothie. No whip.

Enjoy the day, fellow riders. More non-sense later.

October 3, 2005

The Apple has it.

Last week, when I thought about starting this blog and then realized that I had zero time, I was in the middle of my usual late-summer lunchtime routine, which involves riding the fix over to the Whole Foods store and grabbing a few simple things. Friday's episode of lunch involved two veggie spring rolls and two apples. Normally not a while lot to write home about, the Whole Foods version of both of these were particularly spectacular; either I was really hungry, or they truly WERE excellent.

For those of you that are NOT really 'crunchy' people, you're missing out - as I was. This was only the second or third time that I'd purposely chosen fruit as part of my lunch. Let's see: I've been all over the board, with slim-fast style stuff, ramen noodles, and other random junk here and there, but never fruit. So, I had an apple - big deal? It seemed like it at the time, but it brought to mind all sorts of things, metaphoric and significant all at once. And, for the first time in a long time, the thoughts were recorded in my mind and I was inspired to write again.

These little red-delicious apples were from Colorado (my favorite state, probably, for a ton of reasons) and were organically grown. They didn't look like much on the rack -- not shiny, not large -- not like the usual grocery store fodder, that's for sure. Still, I grabbed a couple of the better looking ones and headed for the checkout. (a few of the better looking ones, you notice, as I like most others tend to judge apples by their skin, to my discredit) There are a dozen or so metaphors I can pull from here, with regards to how the shiny, mass-produced and waxed commercially-grown and engineered fruits look so appealing, but once you dive inside they leave a lot to be desired? I won't be so trite as to bore you with that dreck, however -- we all know it's true.

After riding back over to work, I grabbed a park bench close to the fake lake, sat down, and took out one of the apples. "Sad looking little bugger", I thought to myself, and took a bite. DANG! This was probably the BEST APPLE I'd ever eaten, seriously. It was crisp, and there was so much juice it was nearly obscene. Flavor was perfect, texture outstanding. Ok, ok,ok -- why such fuss over an apple? It reminded me of so many things, all of which came washing over me in an instant -- fall. The way it tasted, combined with the cool, upper-50º air, the slight nip to the breeze, the wind in the trees that day, the small waves on the lake -- this apple completed a perfect picture of fall in my head as I let each sumptuous bite linger in my mouth. Even the sound of the apple's skin breaking between my teeth and that first sucking sound as the juice squirts over your tongue and palette -- ugh, sheer heaven.

Don't tell ME I take taste for granted -- yeesh, this was overpowering, and it punctuated the fact that all around me, my favorite season was coming into it's own. There is something beautiful about fall, which is why it's my favorite, tied closely with early spring. The first bite of Canadian air, long sleeves coming back out, jeans, boots, fenders on the bike again, and the way the sky and trees seem to come alive -- the heat of summer is gone, and like an apple that's been baked just right, the long session of heating has left it darker; bronzed and full of flavor -- summer's oven has left behind a masterpiece of flavor, color, and sensation.

As I finished off the last of the apple, I smiled to myself and took perhaps the deepest breath I'd taken in weeks - relaxed. The park bench, the sky, the apple, the rustle of leaves not yet fallen -- I was at peace for one short moment, even during an otherwise busy workday.

I mounted my fix, and took a lap around the lake for good measure, and took my time heading back upstairs to my box. Sometimes all it takes is an apple to unplug a little bit. I highly recommend it. Yeah, it's only Monday back here in reality, but I went over there again on lunch and got a few more apples. If you find something that gives you that kind of feeling, you tend to hang onto it, ya know? Kind of like riding a bike.



Oh yeah -- updates on a few other things -- the MS-150 2005 writeup will likely be posted on the website with it's own page, similar to previous years, so stay tuned for that action -- part of the reason I started this blog was to have a place to more readily record thoughts, give quick updates, vent, rant, whatever comes to mind -- it will NOT neccessarily replace the actual commuterdude.com webpage -- at least not in the forseeable future. So, please check back there often -- it's still the main source, baby!

Ride on. [/<(-]

The cDude Archive Link List


In order to keep the right-hand frame of the main webpage shorter and cleaner, the large link-list of "c'Dude Rando Posts" has been modified to show only the 8-most-recent links. To keep an easy-to-navigate list of the Rando-tales in place, they've been copied into a separate post... this one!

The List below is a complete catalog of commuterDude.com posts on randonneuring, dating back to my first RUSA/ACP event in 2002, and listed in reverse order by date:

(hey, follow @RUSAdude on Twitter, too!

Enjoy!

2014.06 (203k) "MegaPost; Archie 200k"
2014.05 (220k) "Aliceville"
2014.05 (111k) "Afternoon Awesome"
2014.04 (400k) "Bike to Iowa?"
2014.03 (100k) "Old KC Road"
2014.03 (200k) "Perspectives"
2014.02 (200k) "Five Years Gone"
2014.01 (217k) "Going Though the Motions"
2013.12 (200k) "Into the Grey"
2013.11 (216k) "That's odd..."
2013.10 (225k) "Something's in the Water . . . "
2013.09 (210k) "Two Years Later"