August 31, 2009

Reviews on tap

Coming soon:

Randonneur: Review of the Blackburn Flea front and rear LED light set. (what replaced it, and what I want to find - or make.)

Commuter: The year-end Review of the Axiom Typhoon panniers.

August 30, 2009

Finding myself in the darkness

I rather like this fall preview, but I don't know my Farmers Almanac well enough to know if this is the harbinger of a really cold winter, or just an odd cycle.
Precursor or not, this mild snap in August has really been going on since July. I suppose it's weird bringing a jacket along to an August Dark Side Ride, but I almost needed it on the last leg home. I'm definitely not used to anything below 70°F, but I can't really remember the last time I felt 'hot' this summer when riding home from work. Still, I felt downright cold at times as I pedaled south from town, and upon reaching the turn-around in Belton I almost caught myself in a shiver. The caffeine I ingested there was more to fire up the furnace than it was to keep me awake. Same for the hot-ish pace during the first leg of the ride from Spring Hill High: sure, the excitement of the group and the hills got me pumped up, but it was almost neccessary to keep the pace up to stay warm. I was not proving to be the best 'ride leader' in that regard, but I think everyone was in good spirits, and I got a lot of help from the group.

I have to reiterate here: there is something magical about a night ride. Its turning into my favorite thing to do. The stars come out, the moon plays in the clouds, and the traffic dies. The sounds of trains, dogs, and the hum of chains and conversation and tires against the silence of nightfall. Love it. The mystical fog and the cold valleys made this ride especially neat.

On the return, Crowbar and I took caboose-duty, helping out someone that was along for the ride and chopping up his longest ride EVER to date. The man is "DB", until another nickname sticks, and his passion as a newbie is inspiring. The subject matter flowed from tires to passing cars to fatigue to commuting method, and all the while we pedaled along and watched the sights pass by. It was pretty cool, and it reminded me of things long-since taken for granted. While it was hard to let the fast-pack go on ahead, it was also the first time in a while where I didn't have a single care about the clock. For a few miles I'd pedal along in solitude, then I'd drop back and join the conversation for a while, then find myself falling back into my own pace again.... Slow up, u-turn, rejoin. For a few brief moments here and there, I felt like I was at the end of a long brevet.

Reminds me that I haven't ridden a proper rando-ride in a while, and how the MS Ride is just around the corner: a perfect springboard to a 200k permanent. A friend's comments recently put in perspective my accomplishments. Brevets aren't for everyone. Neither are rules. It was nice on Friday to not have to worry about signatures and time stamps... but I've grown to revel in the rules and the goals that come with randonneuring, more specifically what those rules and requirements have done for me. Surely I'd still enjoy cycling just as much if none of it ever 'counted', if there were no medals or time windows... but a big part of me does hope it all counts for something. Maybe I need it to? In the last twelve years I have reshaped myself and gained a strength I never would have imagined possible back in the day. For who I've become, I think I need those rules... that chase... that occasional 24-hour race. I don't think its for anyone else... not trying to best anyon
e or prove anything ... I think part of me just needs to have some sort of official validation. Perhaps part of me always will.

What's interesting is that in the past six months I have really allowed myself to enjoy stuff that doesn't fit on the official rando chart. I've had a blast, and part of it is found partially in being comfortable in my own skin finally. Maybe I still don't know who I am, precisely, but being a randonneur definitely helped get me closer to an answer. Of that, I am proud - and its made the rest of my life easier to live, easier to enjoy.

I've tried to limit my references to cycling lately, in certain circles, because I don't want to become a predictable, crashing bore, but I supposed it is the niche I fit into. Its better to wait for someone to ask, like during the ride. As I listened to the questions of DB while I rode along, I felt like I'd passed on something to a new rider who is just beginning his journey... A journey that I started only a decade or so prior. I dunno, maybe I think too much: but it did get me thinking about what things were like when I'd just got started. Cycling has become such a big part of my life, I really - seriously - have no clue what I used to do to pass the time ten years ago.

I must have been really bored. It really gets into you, this whole 'car-free' thing. Life does not become easier, but I think I almost prefer this. Even at the late hour, even with the offers of rides, the chill in the air. I really just preferred to be on the bike. Not to prove anything or best anyone. I just feel right. Its slowly becoming "who I am".

August 21, 2009

Cyclists busted for running stop sign.

Yeah, I guess I might as well weigh in on this one.

There is something to be said for the permeable membrane of society with regards to certain subject matter. For example, you ask someone on the street about Paris-Brest-Paris, they'll likely think you're talking about a gentlemen's club. Ask that same random person about Lance Armstrong, and they'll probably at least know who he is. So, when the desperately non-cycling substitute security guard at the front desk of my office this morning asked me if I was one of the 17 cyclists that got a ticket for running a light, I figured the pervasiveness of this story had about maxed-out.

My take on cyclists getting tickets? Good. About time. Bring it on.

Of the reports I've read, my favorite quote comes from a lawyer that attended the ride exonerating himself because he came to a self-proclaimed "near-stop". If you'd near-stopped in a car, the same thing probably would have happened. Proof that a law degree only makes you one thing: a college graduate.

This kind of thing irks me to no end, and I really don't even want to waste the energy debating it. It happened, they got tickets, and I hope to all-that's-holy that area police continue to hand out tickets to cyclists that break the law. PERIOD. This is why I will continue to shun and avoid nearly every t-shirt and semi-organized group ride in the area, because the last time I attended one I got yelled at and shunned BECAUSE I stopped at a stop sign. I announced I was stopping, signaled - something the cyclists behind me had probably never seen before, come to think of it - and I believe the phrase was something to the effect that I almost made someone rear-end me because I was stopping, and I should "stop being such a blankity-blank Boy Scout." I responded by smartly out-climbing him on my single speed, and heading home. That was in 2003. The only groups I feel comfortable riding with are in Grandview on Saturday mornings, randonneurs, and my small circle of like-minded friends.

To you offenders: I don't get it. There is no reason for it. There is absolutely nothing about your ride or your group that temporarily lifts the rules of the road. You are not transporting intelligence documents by bicycle to the President of the United States. You are not on your way to fight a fire. None of you will ever impress me with an average speed on a group ride unless you can do it while still obeying all the traffic laws. If you want to improve your average speed, learn how to brake faster, track-stand, and sprint back up to speed. If a cop doesn't see your spokes stop moving from across an intersection, you didn't stop. If you can't stomach that, then learn how to ride faster (because, trust me... you're not fast.) and save it for the crits on a closed course for your "bragging rights". The only thing close to in-between is the Tour De Shawnee on the 30th of this month, and I personally kinda hope the cops protest and refuse to control the intersections for you. In the meantime, I get the pleasure of fending off the drivers continually hacked off by the cyclists doing it incorrectly. Now that it's made the TV news, radio, and newspaper, I get to fend off people that weren't even there to witness the bad behavior. Doing it right or not, I'm still a "dang biker" when drivers come up behind me during the morning commute. Thanks, again.

This is why there will always be an "us and them" division among cyclists.
And "them" are never going to read these blogs.
But, if YOU, loyal reader whose valuable time I greatly appreciate and never take for granted - if YOU see someone cycling poorly, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE... speak up. If we are going to live in a community of us-and-them cyclists, the only way to pull someone over to the "other" side is to talk to them.

The Blue Moose, in the meantime, reserves the right to refuse service to anyone - just like any other legitimate business - and in this down economy, I wonder if they can afford the bad press? Heck, who am I kidding? There is no "down economy" in "Perfect Village"(sic). Still, I wonder how long we'll continue to see spandex-clad lawyers bellied up to the bar there? I wonder how long angry motorists will wait before stopping in for a drink one of these Thursday nights? Maybe they'll strike up a conversation.

Okay, I'm finished.

August 15, 2009

70 days and counting

(revised and edited, to correct errors created by blogging from a mobile device at midnight)

This "70th day" kinda caught up to me, because I haven't really been counting. Back in June my mother-in-law's car broke down. Since it was summer-time, and I was already planning on riding to work by bicycle, I offered up my car as a loaner until she could find something else. The rest, as they say, is history - if only in my own little personal circle. I must qualify that while I am proud of this mini-landmark in my bicycle commuting, it pales in comparison to what a lot of my commuter-heroes have logged. I know of more than a few that celebrated their 1,000th car-free day recently, so this is merely a stepping stone for me, not so much a proclaimation. It may not even be the longest personal streak I've logged, come to think of it... but it is certainly the longest streak I've logged since relocating to Olathe in 2004. Moving here form Overland Park doubled my commute distance overnight, and I never really got a good streak going - even when I still had the gas-guzzling Buick in the driveway - a worthy excuse NOT to drive, at a whopping 6 MPG city. I'd ride three days in a row, often, and then I'd find something that put me back in the car. (Read: excuse) This time, with the car completely removed from the equation, there has been no alternative, no option. It has been ride, or walk. My mother-in-law's car breaking down has been one of the best enhancements to my cycling and training since I got my first set of clipless pedals!

It's to the point now, also, where there have been legitimate challenges and potential excuses. Real tests of my commuter fortitude, and tests of my family's patience. The wife has been great, my biggest supporter. We've both caught ourselves over the last couple months taking for granted the fact that we've always had two cars. The thoughts are automatic. Appointments, schedule overlaps: there has been enough time invested in this car-free streak to see how these issues play out, and we've both been caught, saying things like "oh, well, I'll pick up such and such and just meet you over don't have a car!" It always brings pause, but in a good way. For me its just been interesting, each day a challenge: not being able to say "oh, I'm tired", or "oh, it's raining," or "ugh, it's too windy," and slink into the car. The real test was seeing if life would still 'work' with a wife and two kids and school and activities, and then suddenly removing one of the conveniences.

A recent example, the wife heading to an all-day school conference last week meant she would need to drive, like she would anyways... but I'd be home without a car, with two kids on summer break wanting to go to the pool, which is several miles away. Use of resources, figuring out what makes the most sense, and thinking about the smartest way to approach things have become the norm, which is, honestly, refreshing. The old 'norm' would've involved a car taking one person to one location, where-in that car would occupy a parking space for eight hours. My car, utilized or not, would be conveniently at my disposal in the driveway. It gets slightly more complicated and less convenient when that 2nd car is removed, because the next option would be to drive her to work, drop her off, and then drive back whatever, then drive back and pick her up later. Sure, only one car is involved, but we would have made the trip twice. So, one less car...twice the gas. Option three, a friend of hers also attending the conference picks her up and drops her off afterwards, a friend that lives enroute. The problem took less time to sort out than it probably took you to read this. But it's that pause that so many people don't take. "We need another car." Sticking to a one-car situation like this simply requires people to think a few steps beyond convenience. So far, there hasn't been a situation come up in over two months that was just 'impossible' because I didn't also have a car.

I have to remember that a one-car family is not neccessarily a unique situation, either. Only a generation ago, having more than one car meant you were quite wealthy. It is also often about geography: someone living in an urban area reading this might be asking themselves what the big deal is. There are areas where going car-free is no issue at all - places like New York or Chicago, with good transit in place, lots of density, options and integrated living designed in - real, integrated communities.

Here in suburban Johnson county, Kansas, however, you have the perfect storm of a young group of cities designed around the assumption that everyone would be driving everywhere, or cities whose design philosophy was changed due to the planning of the cities around them. Toss in the proximity to a state line with differing ideals that, to date, have never been able to agree upon or fortify a real transit plan. On one side you have a real need for alternatives, and on the other an apathy driven by wealth and "me" culture, rapid development, sprawl, and a modified American Dream that includes cars as status symbols. The KC-area is very car-centric, and despite it's initial design there have been changes that have put cars on the map for good here. Over the decades, the Strang Line (for example) has long-since had its rails buried underneath asphalt and dashed white lines. Interstate highways have cut across streets that used to make sense, used to go straight through. Even Union Station was thought to be a waste of space, on the list of buildings to be razed just a few years ago. Now, it's essentially a museum: but it should have always been a transit hub, as the original builders envisioned. Light rail continues to be voted down, no-one looking farther than five years down the road. Gas prices go up, the buses fill up... but gas prices drop, and everyone gets back into their cars. Meanwhile, for those that NEED the bus, the rates increase again for 2010. This is a fickle town for transit.

That very desire of the majority to hold on to car-culture, despite higher gas prices, despite environmental buzz-talk, keeps real change from happening. The people that truly need alternatives NOW are the ones that suffer. For me to pull off this streak of consecutive car-free days, I've been lucky enough to have my health, my bike, the right trails and roads in precisely the right places, and tolerable weather. For someone that does not have a background of cycling in traffic, does not have a good route to and from work, its as-if the odds are stacked up against them to try and make bicycle commuting work. Impossible? No. But this town doesn't make it easy. We've got a lot of people on the bubble, a lot of people that stuggle to keep and maintain just one car, people that are not cyclists that have been put onto bikes to make it to work, onto unsafe and unfit streets... and they're held there by city planners that drive comfortably to work each day in luxury sedans. Sure, I'm generalizing, and there is a track record of progress gaining momentum with help from MoBikeFed and others... but, my ultimate point here is that EVERYONE should have it as easy as I've had it. Everyone that wants or needs to should be able to hop onto a bike-lane or trail that actually leads them close to their job. It should be as automatic to city development as assuming that everyone will follow the school, work, two-car family, taxes and death formula. With those daunting tasks ahead of all of us involved with advocacy, and fall and winter looming, I continue my car-free streak for the forseeable future. Even when my mom-in-law figures out her automotive solution, I honestly don't think I want the car back.

My next major purchase is a cheap mountain bike to get me through winter's challenges.

Stay tuned!

Coming soon.... CommuterDude, the Movie.... For a long time I've wanted to chronicle a week's worth of commutes and edit it down into a tolerable mini-documentary on what its like behind the scenes. What happens when I leave my desk in the afternoon and walk off with my panniers in-hand? Well, I'm putting a storyboard together, and you'll get little tastes here and there, coming soon.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

August 4, 2009

Thirteen months

Thirteen months...when I write it down, it doesn't seem like much time. In fact, its a blink. I can't tell you, though, how good it is to have a cycling goal again. Truth is, I'd kinda announced this goal a few months back, but I don't think I was serious about it until today. September 2010, the Tejas 500. My old nemesis... well, sorta. There are worse enemies to have, but I have dreamt of a finish at this event. The stomach-wrenching pain of handing my rider number over to the volunteers....twice. Two times attempted... Never made it farther than halfway. 2007 was still a huge success, but I have unfinished business south of Dallas.

Ort announced his intent today, also, and his return to the bike, which I have to say is extremely exciting. I can't lie: while our friendship is stronger than the bike, it was always weird not 'talking shop' this last year. Further, while he has always extended the offer to crew, it would have been up to me to get started on training and planning. Hard to be objective now, as I write this, but before this morning Tejas was the last thing on my mind. Now that the spark of friendly competition is back in play, I'm super motivated to give this monster race another run.

Things are coming into place. After two years of damage control, things are beginning to turn in the home camp that will, if budgeted and planned appropriately, come together nicely. The Warbird (aka the Trek 450) had been built up, and then stripped down again due to financial circumstances - and now it almost seems possible to have a proper road-race gruppo installed on her again in time for this event. Even if that doesn't pan out, the Kogs will do nicely in race trim again. Race wheels, perhaps, would be nice. Honestly, though, equipment concerns are not the limitation here. It's been me. Since January, however, I'm finding my stride again. The weight is almost all off, and the climbing is getting better each day. The 400km ride into Iowa back in May, upon further reviews, was a stronger personal ride than I'd originally thought: not a speed record for the distance, but specifically the best I'd performed *after* 200kms into a headwind, solo: the hammerfest from Leon back to Bethany to catch the next group on the road proves to me that there is a foundation in place for speed-at-distance again. I'm beginning to see smaller benchmarks bested, certain personal climbing times are getting closer and closer to falling. The old "gosh I wish it was 2003 again" dialogue is gone. There are some more tests to take: Metcalf, from 159th to 199th. The Tour De Shawnee doesn't have a 47 mile loop this year, sadly, so I may never know if I'd have Fancher's number this time out, but the opportunity of a closed course hilly time trial is appealing. Johnson drive time trials loom in my memory...from Pflumm to the ballfields....dude, the old tests are running in my head. This time, however, carefully balanced with good, steady state rides. The commute streak will continue, to eliminate excuses and reasons to hang up the bike because things have gotten 'tough'. Mental toughness. Late night permanents to build after-dark speed, focus, and to learn how to keep the sleep deprivation boogie-man at bay. Then, use the tough Bob Burns series of brevets to ramp up, with personal-best attempts at the 300, 400 and 600km level, straight through in spring 2010. Finally, keep that edge all next summer: heat training, hard short rides, and late night permanents - keep family impact at an absolute minimum with late night rides, commutes with a plan behind them, and self-inflicted distances up to 400k if possible on loops: to build the mental game even further and become immune to seeing the same terrain over and over. I've got my recon, my man on the inside: Get course recon from Ort, and build a 26 mile course that mimics it. I know the Tejas course first-hand, but its all new starting this year. The old loop I know by memory from 2006 and 2007 is gone, which is good and bad. The good: no demons, no worries about counting how many times I've passed the lime plant. This time, a clean slate. The bad: the unknown. The increase in climbing per lap. I can only use these as opportunities. No stressing about what I can't possibly know. Just hone the edge, and bring it. More upper body work, for strength to support better performance and endurance. Better nutrition, something that is already giving benefits. Using the goal to improve my quality of life. I love this part, literally giddy at the keyboard, talking it out, envisioning the successes unfurling.... I was super excited today, sending off at least four emails talking about this. I've got that spring in my step again... A goal.... Ahhhh.... A goal..... life, all around, is good.

It's only 13-months away... It's perfect.

August 3, 2009

Focus on MS - I need your help!

This year is my tenth year riding in the annual National Multiple Sclerosis Society MS-Ride, and I respectfully ask for your support in raising pledges for this worthy cause!

*ANY* amount helps! I appreciate your support!

Click HERE to navigate to my MS-Ride donation page.

(Cash, check, or secure online credit card transactions are acceptable, and all donations are tax deductible)