Wednesday, July 31, 2013

August. Oh God, It's Here.

Over the last couple years, this blog has gone from me mostly talking to myself, to having people that occasionally read it! Hello all of you and welcome.

From what I can gather, many of you are from rather northern climes for whom summer is an idyllic break from snow, rain, and other weather that would inspire one to stay indoors. That ain't how it works here. In Texas, summer is the long, baking heat that forges our entire personality. To give you an idea, I was in northern Europe in early May and was baffled that pants and closed toe shoes were still a thing that was happening. By May around here we've been in shorts and sandals for a month or two. So that out of the way, it's time for Annie's Annual Summertime reminders!

It might seem late-coming to you, now that we're through June and July, but a lifelong Texan will tell you that summer doesn't really wear you down til about the second week of August. That's when we have the record setting temps and the weather gets the dryest. In the face of all that, there's some precautions literally everyone should be taking. Excuse the profuse caps lock - I feel very passionately about some of this.


Let me say that again. SUNSCREEN. Apply it to your skin. I don't care what race you are, that you "don't burn," or if you have a "base tan." The sun is a harsh motherfucker that will age you like the paint on an old shed if you do not protect yourself from the rays of the Evil Daystar. My preference is SPF 30 or 50 - I am one of those people that has a base tan, and don't burn - I'm hispanic. The bonus to using sunscreen aside from anti-aging is you will genuinely feel better after the ride if your skin (your biggest organ) isn't coping with all that damage.


Man cannot live on beer alone. Believe me, I've tried. The accepted rate for hydration - you should be getting through about 1-2 bottles of water per hour you spend in intense sun and heat. Not that you can't go have beers with your friends and all that, but remember that alcohol is dehydrating and will give you heat stroke if you don't keep an eye on it. It's happened to me - in fact I'm fairly prone to heatstroke when the temps go above 102, and I've been living here my whole life. And once you hit the point of heatstroke, there's no going back to feeling normal that day. Pack it in.


I feel a bit less passionately about this one, hence the lack of caps lock. But it's still important! Sweating gets rid of all kinds of salts and minerals your body needs to function properly, so replacing those is a good thing. It keeps you from passing out. Your options are pretty much beverages or pills - I like the tablets because after years of tolerating them, I dislike the taste of sports drinks. But, if you like em, they work very well so do what works best for you.

Stay out of the sun if possible

This seems painfully obvious, yet I feel the need to say it. Shade, good. A 20 mile ride with no shade can be a torture fest. If there's none available, sunglasses, long sleeves, and a hat will help you make some of your own. I've heard excellent things about sun sleeves, which look like arm warmers, but transfer heat away from you and reflect light.

So folks, just remember to be safe in the sun, keep an eye on your hydration and if you feel funny, maybe have a Gatorade. Relax in the shade and wear a hat and you'll be alright. And may god help all of us down here in the land of heat and sun - may wildfire season be short and the lake levels be high.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Commuter Fail

This morning at 4:45 AM my alarm went off with it's usual message, "Get your ass out of bed and ride your bike!" Did I do that? No I did not. I turned that bitch off and went back to sleep. Then woke back up at 5:30 and drove to work. Meh.

My schedule is changing at work soon, finally and thankfully. I'll be arriving at work at an incredible 7 AM, which is fairly perfect for cycling to work - early enough to miss most of the traffic and the heat, late enough I don't mind the wakeup time. Because that 4:30 in the morning shit is for the birds.

That said, it's okay to fail. As someone who has, yknow, a blog about cycling you'd think I'd be considerably more dedicated to my cause. But I'm also a human being and when your alarm goes off in the dark of night and you're looking at an optional 40 minute commute in the morning, then 40 minutes home in blasting 100 degree heat, it's really hard to talk yourself out of bed when you know for a fact you can get an extra half hour of sleep if you just drive. There's also basically nothing open so if you don't have breakfast already made, that's also not happening. So I fail, and I'm really pretty okay with admitting it.

You don't have to be superman, you can screw up. Just adjust, and come back and try again.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New Goals: Bike camping

Cleverly named by the folks at Rivendell, there's such a thing as the S24O, a sub-24 hour bike camping trip where you pretty much take off one afternoon, camp overnight, then bike home the next morning. Extending that, there are mini-tours, more appropriately named "Bike Camping." I think as soon as the weather cools off, I'm giving it a try.

When I originally got the Surly, it was with dreams in the back of my head of taking off life and going on a long tour. However, the realities of student loan payments and so on dictates that I need to remain gainfully employed and unfortunately that does mean I have to stay in one place for the most part. But as I know well, there's always room in your schedule for a little adventure - ergo the S240.

Thing one before I can do that is move my basket up to the front of my bike - I've been staring at a few front racks to get the job done and I think the Velo Orange front racks are going to be my best bet. Probably the "constructeur," as it seems to be the only reasonably strong tubular steel rack with approximately the right dimensions that will fit a 26" wheel bike. It also weighs a full two pounds less than the Surly Nice Rack (note: the Surly rack holds way, way more stuff). Why Tubus can't just make an accompanying platform-top front rack to go with the rear rack is beyond me, but all they have are the low-riders. So a front rack needs to be acquired. This will enable me to stick my doggy up front and carry my camping gear on the back of the bike.

Once the setup is complete from there I can pretty much just add the panniers and camping gear I already own and pedal off into the wild blue yonder. My next concern is destination - for an effective "enjoyable afternoon ride" it should probably be about 40-50 miles or less one-way. Yes, I'm a sissy. No, I don't care. So I'm looking at Pedernales Falls State Park - it's about 50 miles out and has swimming and hiking available, all I really need to make me happy.

This is something I've always wanted to try and I'm not going to get there being too nervous to give it a go. Now I've just gotta find a buddy to ride with!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Spin or Stand

It's something I've mentioned in passing quite a bit, but let's go ahead and openly say it. Depending on where you are in the city, Austin is fucking hilly. It's a region known as the "Texas hill country," if that gives you an idea. While many parts of the city are quite level, if you venture about at all, there's a good change of running into a gigantic hill, something very steep, lots of rollers, or just the gradual kind of upward grade that wears you down over the course of miles.

In my group of friends, some of the hills have acquired names like "Big Grumpy,""Duval you huge pain in the ass," and "Oh god, SoCo?" As opposed to many other areas, the roads in Austin do not wind around these hills, or switchback - you're going straight up whether you like it or not. A few recent examples:

Friday evening ride to the movies and back.

4th of July to my friends' house. What I forgot to do was switch on Strava for the ride home. So, if you will, imagine this exact profile in reverse.
This is one-way to work.
Now, these are not tremendously large elevation changes by the number of feet, but please do note that they carry on for multiple miles. So on these rides, you're going uphill for miles at a time which begs the question of climbing style. What I mean is, do you sit and spin at a high cadence, or drop into a gear so you can stand up and just crank the hill out. For me, I employ a hybrid style.

My ride home from everywhere involves a long, shallow gradient because I live at the top of a watershed - everything is downhill from my house. So for those long stretches, I like to find a comfortable gear, chill out, and cruise at a high cadence. But for shorter stretches, especially anything fairly steep, I tend to find a gear that doesn't collapse under my weight and use that leverage to gut it out over the top.

There's a major functional difference between these two styles of climbing for most riders. The sit-and-spin method is superior for riders that have a long way to go because it creates less overall fatigue. It's slower, but it keeps you heart rate fairly level and takes advantage of gearing options available on most derailleur geared bikes.

Standing and cranking it out is certainly faster but will burn your legs out a lot faster, so it's only really useful for short stretches where you just want to get the fuck over the hill. You're utilizing leverage and body-weight to turn the pedals over. That being said, I was recently walking up the hill on South Lamar and was passed by a girl standing on her bike, steadily cranking up the hill. Half an hour later I was in my car driving towards Ben White (the highway across the south end of town), and there she was at the top of the hill, still cranking away. So depending on who you are and how your ride, your mileage may vary.

Questions of technique like this often cross my mind as I'm riding around our super-varied terrain. Any thoughts on climbing style from the other residents of hilly cities - color me intrigued and wanting your input.

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Strike a Pose!

Having a dog that can go on bike rides is basically the best thing ever.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cycle Chic Envy

Sometimes I'm forced to face facts and one of those facts is that despite giving it a go, I'm generally not earth's most fashionable person. I live out of hiking sandals and workout clothes, which is completely fine with the dress code at my job. Roughly half my clothes are made of space-age technical fabrics, and generally speaking, that's how I like it. I wear makeup when I have a reason to, and my hair alternates between "hot mess resembling a lion's mane," "some form of braid," and "ponytail." I carry a backpack, not a purse. However, many of the blogs I read are largely dedicated to street style and as they call it, cycling for real people.

As someone who likes their stretchy fabrics, sometimes it's easy to feel very left out in the barrage of cyclists who seem to continually portray themselves in a fabulous dress with nary a hair out of place. We never see these people after 40 minutes cycling across the city in 100 degree heat, sweating through their clothes. But that's generally my reality when I'm on my bike - in an Austin summer it's nearly impossible to stay looking put together just standing around outside, let alone while moving.

And don't get me started on the bicycles. Endless $1000+ imported fancy schmancy, custom built jazzy looking ladylike machines. A bike for every occasion, fully appointed for maximum style and comfort. I look at these bikes and feel the green monster smacking me upside the back of the head with an adorable purse.

Maybe I missed a lesson somewhere. How to do your makeup so it stays in place no matter what. Where to make room in my budget for fabulous clothes, trips to coffee shops, and shopping at charmingly quaint book shops. How to find a gorgeous dress that's simultaneously bike-rideable, comfortable, and magically looks perfect whether it's 100 degrees, or 65 and pouring rain. Where I can import a Danish city bike and also pay rent for the month.

But here's the thing - like everything else on the internet, people don't post themselves at their worst. No one shows off the day they looked awful. No one tells you they saved up for 6 months to afford that bike because it was important to them. So when I get this envy of these endlessly chic people it's important to take a step back and remember that an image doesn't come close to telling the whole truth of someone's life. It's equally important to remember that all the gorgeous frosting in the world doesn't necessarily make the cupcakes underneath it delicious, and that a delicious cupcake may not have been made by the world's finest decorator. Comparing your life in all it's reality to the highlights of someone else's without the lowlights that provide context is a recipe for envy. Now, just to remember that.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Have Hound, Will Travel

One of the things that can be....limiting about cycling around the U.S. is the ever-persistent attitude that bikes are largely for sporting purposes. Bikes designed for major cargo carrying purposes have only been appearing in the U.S. market in the last 10 years and our infrastructure has yet to catch up. So when it comes time to move things like kids, pets, and all their stuff, the options available can be limited.

Case in point - a while back I got a small dog, a now-16 lb Rat Terrier named Shiner.  I specifically wanted a smaller dog so he could accompany me on biking adventures.  But finding a suitable cargo solution has proved challenging.  Most of the options available, including the SleepyPod, dedicated dog baskets made by companies like Nantucket, and so on are really intended for pretty teeny dogs, not a small-but-stout little fellow like Shiner. The other usual choice is a trailer, however while I the Netherlands I had seen people simply throwing their dogs into large crates or baskets and didn't see a reason I couldn't reproduce that here.

Our glamorous volunteer.
So, this week, flush with a bit of extra spending money, I coughed up for a Lupine dog harness, and a good sized wicker basket from Linus Bikes. It all arrived in the mail this week, and excited, I've spent all afternoon getting basket attached to bike and dog into basket. I definitely will modify the setup as we go - for one thing, the generous size of my ass means Shiner is catching it right in the face when I hop on. He also catches no breeze in the back. So I'd really like to attach a front rack and move him up front. But for starters we're not bad, not bad indeed.

Here's our second attempt!  The first try, he jumped out of the basket and as he hung there, I could see the instant regret in his face. ".......Shit," he seemed to say. I put him back in the basket, told him to sit, and pedaled home. Our second try wasn't too bad, as you can see! All video-ing credit goes to the roommate. All in all, we're going to take short rides, right up until they become longer, and longer rides. We'll make adjustments as we go, but I cannot overstate my excitement at being able to take my little dog-bro for bike rides!  Hooray!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July, y'all!

This is in my top 3 holidays all year. Hang out with your friends, drink some cervezas, eat some meats. I partake in all of the above with great vigor. As we say in Texas, yeah buddy.

I was invited to a barbecue at my friends' house about 6 miles south of here and decided to bike it because why not. This was to be 12 miles, more than twice as far as I've been biking in a day recently. But it's a route I've done a thousand times and I arranged for any contingencies so with my safety net in place, everything was a go.

Now, I don't like to show up to a party empty handed, so I spent the morning tending to an oven full of homemade Spicy Dr Pepper Pulled Pork. I attached my basket to my bike and added my delicious meats, some sodas, and some sangria into the basket and breezily pedaled the 6 miles with my special delivery.

Meat and beverages make you welcome at any occasion.

A grand time was had by all - I was one of many people who brought food and soon we had a spread that covered the kitchen table. I feasted like a Viking god at Easter. After many, many trips back to the food and drinks, my friends were off (entertainingly enough) to attend the Thursday Night Social Ride. I have work tomorrow, and am not yet comfortable doing 30+ miles, so I pointed my wheels homeward, distinctly lighter in terms of cargo.

Feeling frisky!

As I headed home into the rapidly setting sun, I found myself wishing you could take a picture of the sensation of summer evening wind through your hair. But maybe that feeling is a bit universal.

All the businesses were closed for 'Murica Day.

I rode at a relaxed pace, which at my current fitness level was plenty. Before I knew it, I'd passed all my major landmarks and pulled up to my house. Time for a shower and some sleep. Good night!