Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Biking to the Gym - idiosyncracy, or integration?

In what seems to become a series on the exceedingly boring things I do with my bike in my every day, several times a week I bike to the gym, a notion that is a bit at odds.  You bike to stay in shape, the gym is also for staying in shape, so why exercise to your exercise?

Unfortunately for myself, I am framed out so that I'd have been a total hottie in the Renaissance, but less so now - I've never been smaller than a size 10, even when I was riding 150 miles a week on my road bike and doing kettlebell exercises twice a week.  Some would say this is an issue of diet, but a lot of it is also genetics.  To make things a bit more difficult, there's an extreme genetic tendency on one side of my family towards adult-onset diabetes, and I also have a lifelong issue with my right knee and ankle.  All this adds up to REQUIRING exercise to stay healthy - I can't get away with it.  Despite my cycling, I'd noticed the number on the scale staying in a place a bit higher than I liked, so for my birthday, I got myself a membership at my local YMCA and set myself up a workout.

One weird thing is I absolutely hate changing clothes in a locker room - something about my Catholic upbringing forbids even slightly public nudity, even in a place built for changing clothes.  I tend to work out in a tshirt in shorts and avoid carrying a gym bag, so in the winter, it was a real challenge to motivate myself out the door.  Another issue is my workout shoes - I, as opposed to everyone else on the planet, work out in shoes that are honestly pretty terrible for cycling, the Vibram FiveFingers KomodoSport, which are basically gloves for my feet with a thin, textured sole designed to mimic the mechanics of walking barefoot.  They're great for my knees, terrible with my pedals.  The wind also cuts through them like, well, cold wind through thin material.  Or a hot knife through butter, whatever your preferred metaphor.  What it basically comes down to is that the clothing I work out in is TERRIBLE for cycling in the winter, and I always change before I leave the house, so the warm weather is a blessing for my motivation.

So where this lands me is a weird disconnect between cycling and working out - bike rides "don't count" unless they're over a certain distance, I change clothes to work out, but refuse to for cycling.  I think it might be that cycling has reached such a default point in my world that it no longer constitutes that little bit extra, so I keep having to find it somewhere else.  Am I alone on this?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ride to Work for Fun

Wednesday at my job we had a bit of a mixer after work, with food, drinks, door prizes, and a photographer.  Being that it was about 10 minutes away, I hopped on my trusty steed and headed to a work function.  It's worth noting that while the weather is warming rapidly, it's still cool at night and worth bringing a jacket.

When I rolled up, they actually had bike racks available!  I may have been the only one using it, but it got used, darn it.  One thing that often baffles my coworkers is that I ride a bike quite frequently, but almost never "look like it".  I'm not sweaty, or covered in reflective clothing (bike lights is another story), and while my hair is always kind of a hot mess, I'd be lying if I blamed that on my cycling.

Here I am at my work function, after a couple beers and my own typical luck while trying to win a door prize (that is to say, I went home empty handed).  To modify the slogan of my former employers, there's almost never a bad time to ride.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Where's the Scenery?

Something I've been confounded by since my move to Austin is my difficulty finding beautiful rides that aren't terrifying passes of car-death.  As I am nominally a bike blogger, I also read bike blogs and it strikes me how many pictures there always seem to be of beautiful bike paths, fire roads, or small, two lane rural roads with no cars on them.  Maybe it's a bit of a timing choice on the part of the photographers of New England and the Pacific Northwest, but I'd really love to know where I can find places like that here in Austin.

When I initially started riding bikes, I lived in the Silicon Valley/Peninsula area of the San Fransisco Bay Area, which as scenery goes, is quite hard to beat.  From there I went home to the Dallas area, but my family is actually from the very edge of the Metroplex, and a 5 minute ride in the right direction surrounded me with rolling green fields of grazing cattle, open vistas of prairies and lakes, for as many miles as I cared to ride.

Yet since I've moved to Austin, I seem to have altogether stopped distance riding and I think part of it may be the roads considered to be "Good cycling" around here strike me as 6 lane speedways of noise and scary intersections of death.  The biggest example that comes to mine is Capitol of Texas Highway (also known as Loop 360), one of the most popular road cycling roads in the area.  This loop goes through the hills on the western edge of Austin and is nothing but soaring vistas, bridges over the Colorado River sparkling in the sunlight, edged cliffs, and steep hills.  Also, cars.  Lots of them.  Going in excess of 70 mph, depending on how closely they adhere to the speed limit.  At various points you're expected to cross freeway-style exits.  Then there's Parmer road, which leads northwest out of town.  6 lanes, 60 mph speed limit.  One thing that also strikes me about these roads is the proliferation of the "improved shoulder".  These roads don't have bike lanes, they have a lane-wide shoulder that is amazing to ride.....provided someone isn't currently parked there, or using it as a turn lane.

The kind of roads I want to spend my time on are two-lane country roads that take me through the countryside, with relatively little traffic.  Dirt fire-roads that lead me to a river and paths free of cars following babbling brooks (okay, Shoal Creek Trail totally accomplishes this).

A sign of how much I've given up sport cycling is I'm still in the process of selling my road bike, as I haven't put a mile on it in over 6 months.  The Surly does everything I could want my bike to do, and the day I find it impossible to take a touring bike on a long ride is probably the day I should sell it.  I just need somewhere to ride it that FEELS like a "tour."

So tell me - where's my scenic country bike ride?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Le bourru et la moustache

For those of you in the audience who abhor applications like Google Translate, that title is supposed to French for "The Surly and the Moustache". In my recent boredom with the configuration of the Surly, I recently acquired a set of Soma Moustache bars, some Thick and Zesty bar tape, and a mind to swap my drops for something a little more swept back.

I had originally planned to have either a bike mechanic friend or a shop install the handlebars, but cheapness, impatience, and self-reliance got the best of me, so I moved the bike into the kitchen and because the process of unraveling the leather bar tape I've dragged through rain and sun, dust and concrete, rides and falls. It looked like long strips of abused bacon.

I busted out my handy-dandy guide to bike maintenance, my toolbox, and the internets and set to work learning how to remove my shifters and brake hoods. It turns out you can literally do everything to remove my shifters, brake hoods, and handlebars with two or three Allen wrenches and a screwdriver. I pulled my shifters out of the handlebars, my hoods off the bars, and unscrewed the faceplate of my stem. My bike was headless!

Not to be deterred now, I busted out my shiny new handlebars, made sure they were even, and re-attached the faceplate of the stem so my bike wouldn't look quite so House on Haunted Hill. I very carefully re-attached the brake hoods, aligned them where I thought looked right, and tightened them down. Next came the shifters, one of which is aligned a tad crooked, but not so much it interferes with usage.

I test rode the new setup in downtown Austin before wrapping the bars, and once satisfied, ended up wrapping my handlebars standing next to the service counter of Mellow Johnny's bike shop - many thanks to their techs for loaning me a roll of electrical tape! My squishy new (bright red!) handlebar tape in place, my gentleman companion and I set off for the South by Southwest music festival (though that is another post entirely).

I think the new look is quite rakish and lends the TARDIS the air of the Red Baron - dashing, gentlemanly, and certainly evoking flight. The ride quality is distinctly different - for one thing, my hands seem to default WAY closer towards me than they ever did on the drop bars. This has the side effect of making me more upright, which has vastly improved my ability to change lanes in traffic - it's so much easier to look over my shoulder!

I feel like the mustache bars may be a bit of a concession on my part in some ways - when I purchased the Long Haul Trucker, it was with images of long tours in my mind, sweeping through mountain passes and only seeing new people as long as it took to pass through town. The reality has been much less grandiose - it's a bike I use to get around and do some heavy-duty commuting on. I've rarely ridden distances greater than 30 miles at a time in the last year and the bike's setup is slowly altering to reflect it's job as my city/everything bike. That in mind, I absolutely love these handlebars. I have a Long Haul Review of the Long Haul Trucker coming up after almost two years of doing everything BUT long-haul tour with this bike, and I'll include further comments on the handlebars after I've had a bit more time to become friends.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Annual Blooming of the Spring Cyclist

Welcome to Austin, TX, where spring comes in February, the winters are mild, and people act like temperatures below 50 F are signs of the oncoming apocalypse.  Our weather through February has been beautifully spring-like - hovering in the 50s and 60s, alternately sunny and rainy.  With the warming temperatures, I've noticed (as I do every year) that suddenly the bike lanes are filled with people and life.  And just like every year, I'm more than a bit conflicted about this!

Part of me rejoices that there are more people cycling, and part of me is rather jealous of what the territorial part of me thinks of as "My Park" and "My Route".  This becomes nowhere more apparent to me than at the Thursday Night Social Ride.  During the summer when I first began joining the ride, it was often as large as 300 people riding at a nice, relaxed social pace.  As the weather cooled, the ride got smaller, and smaller - at the smallest, on a night where it was 40 degrees and raining there were no more than two dozen of us pedaling through the dark.  The beer at our final stops always stretched beautifully far.

But, now that spring is upon us, the ride has swelled back to over 200 people and part of me is cranky about that!  Every time I have to ride around someone pushing their bike up a hill in the middle of the pack, having trouble starting in a crowd, not signaling, holding a line, every time someone sneaks up on me from my blind spot without announcing themselves, I get annoyed.  Yet the other part of my mind remembers when I first started doing rides and getting used to the riding habits of others and tries to convince myself to relax, lest I become the cycling equivalent of a driver getting road rage.

That being said, there's a certain charm to the annual end of hibernation - for one thing, there are some COOL bikes out on the road again!

There are also some really novel ways of securing them.

I guess despite all my internal annoyance with fair-weather cyclists, the joy of cycling isn't something I can box into categories - fair weather, foul weather, newbie, and veteran, bikes are pretty forgiving of however we'd like to use them. I could probably learn something from that.