Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Wurst Ride in Texas

It is time for a much-belated ride report from yours truly! The Wurst Ride is a tour of the Hill Country from South Austin to New Braunfels, which was held on Saturday November 5 this year. I decided to participate in this 60 mile hilliest on Thursday, November 3. Needless to say, training had not happened. Or preparation of any type - I didn't even know which bike to ride!

My preparation pretty much consisted of deciding to do the ride while drunk, going to a party the night before, then showing up that morning with the Surly and figured "Eh, screw it, if I SAG out I SAG out, I do this shit for fun." A friend of mine from the TNSR was the service director for the ride and when I spoke to him, he told me that you could register at the ride and everything would be cool.

At 5:30 am that Saturday I arose to find… ride (my sister) had ended up not coming home the night before. I shrugged it off, put on the kit I'd laid out the night before, made my smoothie, loaded up my bike and my bag and set off. I met up with the Sparkles-es and we headed to the start of the ride together. I walked up to the registration booth where I was…..promptly denied. I had a check in my hand, ready to hand over, and they actually refused the money. By the registration lady's own admission they couldn't keep me from riding the course, but wouldn't support me.

Not one to be held down, I hauled ass back to the Sparkleses, and Justin threw his stuff in my bag, tagged it with his number, and registered it as his bag. Task 1, complete. I had brought my own Clif Bars, two bottles for water, and had my usual complete repair kit with me, so as far as fast-fixes went I wasn't too worried. So I lined up at the start with everyone else, and off we went into a cool, windy morning….straight up hill.

If I hadn't been breathing so hard, I'd have probably tried to take some pictures, but my lungs and legs were taking priority at that moment because the first ten miles were all rollers. At five miles in - bam! I have a mechanical, in the form of the skirt guard coming loose and almost getting caught in my wheel. I spent some minutes on the side of the road, basically forcing the attachment points off, threw them in my rack-trunk, and got on hell-bent on catching up with all the cyclists who had passed me as I worked on my home-grown pain in the ass.

I wheeled up to the first rest stop, grabbed some water, peeled off my leg warmers and borrowed a pair of pliers to pull off the remainder of attachment points that had come loose mid-downhill, then set off as fast as possible (my competitive nature knows no bounds).

The second ten miles flattened out considerably, but what had previously been an annoying wind was becoming problematic. The GPS on my phone read my average speed as around 7 miles an hour - around half of my normal cruising speed in similar terrain. At around mile 15 another element came to bear - I hadn't used the bathroom at the first rest stop. I was surrounded by nothing but flat, open fields with not a tree in sight, so at the first large unmoved……shrub thing, I hid my bike in some tall grass, hiked out a bit into a field, and answered the call of nature (skills learned hunting and camping for the win!). In short order I was back on the road, but the wind picked up…..and never stopped picking up. I wound through neighborhoods filled with loose dogs, open fields, over cracks and through hill and dale and always, the wind was blowing and gusting.

At around 28.9 miles (by the GPS), I had a moment. I had been on the bike for 3.5 hours, going half my normal speed - every foot was a fight. I hadn't had the best of mornings. And I was going downhill, and when I stopped pedaling, came to a complete stop because of the headwind. I broke.

Well, actually, what I said was, "You know what, fuck this, I'm not having one bit of fun. I do this for fun. So if I'm not having fun, it's defeating the point." So I stopped. I waited. A SAG car appeared, and dragged me to the next rest point, an embarrassingly close distance away.

As I sat on the side of the road, I gradually felt my sense of humor return, as I remembered I have nothing to prove to anyone. So I asked a fellow rider to take a photo illustrating my state of mind at that moment.

So began phase two of my day: awaiting someone to take me to New Braunfels. We waited. We waited some more and came to find out that the winds had been gusting to about 30 mph from the south. The result of this wind was an extremely high number of people dropping out of the ride, and so an extremely busy SAG car team was having trouble getting everyone to the finish.

I sat by the side of the road for a total of about three hours (during which my phone died - turns out GPS is hard on the battery) when who should appear driving my SAG wagon but my friend from the TNSR. I cracked a beer in the back of the van on the way to the finish line. Once I got there, I found my friends, collected my bag, and my friend gave me his wristband, thus entitling me to beer and sausages. Then my friends, who had finished the ride, opted to take the bus home rather than go to Wurst Fest, gave me their admissions tickets. In short, despite the fact the registration lady refused to let me register, I reaped every single benefit of a fully supported Wurst Ride. She probably should have just taken my $70.

Thus fortified with beer and sausage, I swung back onto my bike and rode to Landa Park, where Wurst Fest is held. My total for the day - 31 miles. I drank the beer. I ate the Wurst. And best of all, I rode my bike.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Austin & Separated Bike Lanes

As a vehicular cyclist, one of the biggest complaints drivers often utter is that cyclists on the road are many things - dangerous, slow, inconvenient, reckless, in the way, or otherwise Not Welcome. While the classic (in America) striped bike lane through a residential area certainly adds to mobility and infrastructure, these routes usually wind through neighborhoods and have few to no businesses along them. The idea here is that you cycle down these designated cycling routes, then emerge into main areas to access businesses - at least, that's how I use them.

However, as we all know, I am in love with the northern European model of bicycle infrastructure - the separated bike lanes that follow main roads. Here in Austin, we have a few designated bike lanes that are separated from the driving infrastructure, but are still part of the road. The primary two are along 4th street in Downtown, and the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, a paved two-way bike boulevard along Cesar Chavez Blvd. To all drivers who describe cyclists in the terms above - when the correct infrastructure is present, you are hard pressed to find the average cyclist in the road. Why would we? There's a safe, dedicated spot that goes to the same place, from which I can access the same businesses and amenities, all without feeling the brush of death on the back of your neck.

There's nothing breathing down my neck!

I'm becoming convinced most American vehicular cyclists have the equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome - we've been held hostage and abused by traffic for so long, we don't know how to react when all that emphasis on bike handling skills, timing, and hyperawareness of our environment suddenly goes away. A separated bike lane feels so free, so friendly.

However, it's important that when we install infrastructure like this, it's done intelligently. To put it mildly, the roads of Austin are not made for the traffic volume they're currently experiencing. And I have no idea where to put all these people - our cities in America are only so dense, so the distances we must travel are (as much as I hate to admit it) far enough that sometimes your only choice is to drive. But when they put in infrastructure for bikes somewhere anyone would want to go, it gets used. My favorite example of this is the train. The two most southerly stations along the Cap Metro Rail are both in heavily trafficked areas by bikes. The largest number of bikes I've ever seen in my train car was 23 - also known as "a hazardous number in case of an emergency".

Among my favorite separated accomodations are pedestrian bridges. My most beloved here in town is Pfluger bridge, which crosses Town Lake just east of Lamar Blvd. Everything about it cries out livability, and I am including it both for it's practicality and beauty.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The only Skirtguard in Texas

Today I finally finished a project I started almost 2 months ago - I set out to create a set of skirtguards forbthe Surly.

For the currently confused, a skirtguard is a really, really practical accessory. They're basically panels that cover the upper part of your rear wheel, thus keeping flappy clothing safe and you looking ever so fly.

Behold what I have created!