July 28, 2012

A Hard Day's Ride

The more I thought about joining today's hilly ride, the less sense it made. Get up early, load the bike into the car, drive to the starting point ... and then bike back toward home? A posse of renegades formed instead, with a plan to link up with the rest of the riders en route.

It was a day for ice cream (the hard stuff). And that, of course, calls for a hard ride.

The main group would be climbing the easier [cough, cough] side of Hicks, followed by a trek up Mt. Umunhum. To meet them, why not take the most direct route? In other words, the steeper side of Hicks. Then, descend the "easier" side and climb it with the group. On the face of it, this is a ridiculous plan. Climb both sides of Hicks on the same ride? I had no intention of following that with a spin up Mt. Umunhum.

Deer have no regard for right of way; as we approached, two scampered up the steep hillside while a third stared us down before turning tail and trotting up the road ahead of us. There was a kindred spirit, averse to a steep climb!

When I reached the top of Hicks for the second time, I felt ... fine?! Evidently the key to enjoying the "easy" side of Hicks is to suffer the steeper side first.

Mt. Umunhum beckoned. Three hard hills, three scoops?

The end of the public road is well-marked with No Trespassing signs. Today, we would find our own welcoming committee—one sour-looking guy glaring at us from the cab of his pick-up truck, parked in the DMZ between the signs and the colloquial "white line of death." What a sad way to pass the time on a beautiful summer day. What will he do in a few years when the public gets access to the summit?

Befitting the road surface on the upper portion of Mt. Umunhum, I celebrated with a double scoop of Rocky Road, topped with Cookies 'n Cream.

Up on Umunhum, one of the renegades had turned to me for confirmation of the distance we had traveled. When she heard my reply, her jaw dropped. Since our route included a few descents, we had just climbed some 3,660 feet in less than 15 miles.

July 21, 2012

Hot Fun in the Summertime

After the peanut gallery weighed in, our ride leader may have regretted that he had shared his route plan a few days in advance. I felt torn: Should I stay with the group on the official route, or occasionally deviate onto roads that I know are more cycling-friendly?

My conscience was salved once I dropped off the back of the group. My ride buddy and I warned the leaders that we are oh-so-slow, do not wait for us. We will watch out for each other. Along the way, we will chat, leapfrog one another, and pause for photos and bio breaks. We will have a civilized ride on a hot summer day.

We were pleasantly surprised to meet up with some of our group at the lunch stop (the turnaround point). Even more so, because most of them had opted for the faster, no-hills version of the route. (Of course, we did not choose that option.)

Outside the local market, we found a "bake sale." Befitting the tony town of Woodside, some enterprising young equestrians were raising funds to attend an upcoming competition. In France. On weekends, much to the dismay of the local residents, the place is overrun with cyclists—the girls were onto us! I made a donation and enjoyed a cupcake.

My plan for getting us back to the starting point was a bit hazy. Despite my uncertainty about the last couple of miles, I managed to home in on my ride buddy's car without leaning on a technological crutch (Google Maps).

But, wait—what about the bike? The bike with the broken cable?

Fixed, finally. New, improved shifters deliver responsive, crisp gear changes. I swung by the bike shop for a minor tweak and was happy to find my mechanic on duty. When he asked how many miles I had put on it, he was pleased to hear "70."

For the day, 73 miles and 2,955 feet of climbing.

July 20, 2012

Commute Train

All aboard! The South Bay, No-Rider-Left-Behind Local was scheduled to pull out of the Depot at 7 a.m. Two more stops and our train topped out at eight riders.

For this Friday tradition, I have habitually demurred in the interest of keeping my legs fresh for Saturday rides. After completing difficult back-to-back rides on two weekends this summer, that excuse was rendered null and void. Then there is the matter of a regular 9 a.m. meeting (for which there was a reprieve this week). We arrived by 8:30 a.m.; so much for that excuse.

The camaraderie makes for a fast trip to the office—conversation makes the time pass quickly, and staying with the group motivates me to keep the pace high.

The return trip was a bigger question. Could I ride home with enough margin to walk into town, where (at long last) my road bicycle was waiting for me, before the shop closed?

Answer: A resounding Yes! Evidently I can push myself harder at the end of the day. Less lollygagging, more determination. It helps to have a goal.

July 14, 2012

Madone on Loan

Another weekend without cycling? Inconceivable.

A mechanic who understands? Priceless.

And so it was that I found myself on a Trek Madone 5.2 demo for a day. The bike seemed to have been waiting for me to ride it: all that was needed was to install my pedals and shift the saddle back.

I had planned to join an ambitious ride over the Santa Cruz Mountains, but was apprehensive about the final steep climb of the day. The gearing on the Madone's compact crankset was not as low as the triple on my own bike. Plan B: Ride the first two climbs with the group; if that goes well, tack on some additional miles and hills without dropping down to sea level.

I was impressed with the Madone as soon as I loaded it into my car. There was no denying that it weighed substantially less than my own (carbon fiber) bike: 19.2 pounds, including my heavy saddle bag.

After a few nagging twinges on the first climb, my body settled into the fit and feel of the new machine. The geometry was a bit cramped for me—fine for a day, but not the right size for the long term.

The first hill climb was effortless. The bike is fast! By the time I completed the second climb (and descent), I was comfortable with the bike. My ride partner called it a day after our third climb; I was ready for a fourth.

Halfway through, I reached a confusing intersection. A road to the right was marked Not A Through Road. Clearly, that is not part of my route. Why was it so tantalizing?
Don't take me home to the shop yet!
They will just hang me back up in the rafters.
It was the Madone.
We're having such a great time!
I was built for this.
We turned. We descended to the "enda da road" and climbed back up, startling some quail and passing the largest redwood tree I have found outside of a public park.

After returning home, I rode my proud steed back to the shop—one hour before closing time. Fifty miles and 4800 feet of climbing to remember.

July 12, 2012

Bridging the Gap

My road bike, sadly, is still out of commission (awaiting parts). If I needed any additional motivation to bike to work, that was it. Bonus: it was a Spare the Air day. The cool morning air was refreshing; I was puzzled to see fellow riders sporting tights and jackets.

There would not be time to clean up before my first meeting at 9:00; ordinarily, I would not choose to bike in. To my advantage, my workplace is not ordinary. It is the sort of place where I can show up in my damp jersey and shorts, a bowl of fresh fruit in my left hand, a bowl of fresh yogurt and granola in my right hand, and have my VP open the conference room door for me.

The ride in was particularly smooth, my progress interrupted only twice by stoplights. Today was my first opportunity to introduce a new bike bridge to my route, one that grants direct access to the Stevens Creek Trail at its southernmost point.

First impression? We have a winner!

Riding the trail is always tricky, with the usual mix of pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, and suicidal squirrels. On the whole, though, it presented fewer challenges than my normal route. No stoplights. No right-hooking cars. No jockeying to stay out of the door zone. No waiting to cross the Caltrain or light rail tracks at grade. No need to merge across three lanes of traffic to slot into the left-turn lane at Central Expressway.

The trail was busier in the evening. To the mix, add oblivious dog-walkers and a woman on inline skates, with a jogging stroller, who planted herself smack in the middle of an uphill intersection.

Finally, this trail is is worth the trouble. What a difference a bridge makes.

July 10, 2012

Lesson Learned

Why is a good bicycle mechanic so hard to find?

After reading some good comments about the mechanic at a new independent shop, I headed there about a month ago. Shifting my rear dérailleur felt mushy, and the front dérailleur was over-shifting. I was ready to leave the bike with them, but they seemed eager to make some adjustments and send me on my way.

Had I ever replaced the cables? Yes, but I could not remember when. A good next question might have been "Have you put more than 3,000 (4,000? 5,000?) miles on the bike since then?"

With the bike clamped in their repair stand, the angle of the handlebar looked wrong to me. The mechanic had failed to notice that the stem's grip was not-quite-tight-enough, which had allowed the handlebar to rotate slightly, which affects the cable tension. Could that be the real problem?

They replaced the rear brake pads [it was time]. At home, I immediately saw that a pad dragged on one side of the rim. The mechanic had failed to notice that the wheel was slightly out of true.

Their dérailleur adjustments helped ... for a short time. The frayed cable finally snapped. With broken pieces embedded in the shifter, it will now be replaced; it is not designed to be disassembled.

The last time shifting felt mushy, a (better) mechanic at a different shop replaced the cables. Five years, and more than 10,000 miles ago.

Cables are cheap. Shifters are not. You have been warned.

July 4, 2012

Foiled on the Fourth

Bedecked in red, white, and blue, I headed for our club's traditional holiday pancake breakfast. Surveying the parking lot, you might expect that two dozen cyclists had turned out for this Fourth of July fest.

You would be wrong. Inside the courtyard, bicycles were stacked three and four deep. A small crowd sporting stars-and-stripes jerseys posed for a photo. Everyone pitched in to stack the tables and chairs before pedaling off the pancake poundage.

On the way to the first real climb of the day, there is one spot where I know to carry some speed to launch myself up the following short-but-steep bit. Halfway up, I start shifting. Rear dérailleur, down down down down. Front dérailleur, down. [Hmm, this still feels too hard.] Front dérailleur, down. [Shimano gave me gears and I will use them.] Why ... is ... it ... so ... hard ... to ... turn ... the ... pedals? [I am perilously close to stalling out and toppling over.] Almost there ... [Whew, just made it.]

Rear dérailleur, shift up. [Nothing happens.] Shift down. [Nothing happens.]

I muscled myself to the top of that hill with my gearing set at 30x12. My 52x21 would have been easier. [Not that I would try that. Ever.] My rear dérailleur cable had snapped; with no tension to hold it in place, the chain settled naturally on the smallest cog.

Game over. No more hills for me today. A mere 30 miles, 590 feet of climbing.

July 1, 2012

Sit-down Sunday

With yesterday's climbing behind me, sitting around on Sunday seemed like just the right thing. I could certainly enjoy watching some coverage of day two of Le Tour de France, for example.

The marine layer gave us a cool, gray-sky morning. Hmm, I do know a sure way to find the sun. And after all, the calendar had turned another page today. Can you guess where I am headed?

Why not complete the July ascent of Mt. Hamilton on the first day of the month!

Yes, I spent a good part of the day sitting (on a bicycle saddle, while spinning the pedals) around.

My cycling buddy graciously slowed her pace to match mine, allowing plenty of time for us to chat our way to the top. The marine layer evaporated above us, but lingered over some valleys to the north—the distinctive peak of Mt. Diablo rose above it.

The cooler temperature helped boost my climbing speed by 10%, getting me to the top some 18 minutes sooner than on my last trip. With no automotive obstacles, I can also answer the open question from my last visit to the mountain: What is my average speed on the tripartite descent, factoring out the two intermediate climbs? Survey says: 21.4 mph, 22.4 mph, 24.3 mph.

Over the weekend, I managed to climb more than 10,000 feet. More significantly, with this ride I have climbed more than 100,000 feet this year. You might think I am training for the Death Ride or something.

[Not this year.]