Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bikes, beer, astronomy, and classical music

Beer and bikes seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, Bonnie and Clyde, well you get the idea. Anyway, it's rather fitting that since I resurrected one of my long lost hobbies, amateur astronomy, and combined it with bicycling, that there would be a series of beers with an astronomical theme to come along. Bell's Brewery has just released their Venus beer. Venus, the second beer in the series, (Mars  was the first), is out on the shelves now. If you poke around you might still be able to score some Mars, but I doubt it, as it was a fairly limited release beer. Bell's created the series to commemorate composer Gustav Holst's symphony The Planets. The beers are being released in the same order as the movements in the symphony. I picked up a six pack of the Venus and it's very good. It's blond ale brewed with honey, cardamom, apricot juice, and vanilla. It's a nice tangy kinda beer that harkens back to the warmer days of summer as the nights are getting colder now. Sort of a last hurrah for the season. Anyway, I suggest if you're a beer drinker you go pick up some Bell's Venus, pop in your CD of Holst's The Planets and enjoy a couple. Even better if you can enjoy a couple out on your back deck with a telescope and some stars. Dark skies!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The recumbent grin and how I feel about century rides these days

The "Recumbent Grin."
A few months back, I jumped ship from world of the traditional bicycle into the weird and arcane world of recumbent bicycles. That grin you see on my face is what is known to aficionados of these wacky bikes as the "Recumbent Grin." It's a reaction that occurs when one realizes this weird "un-bike" they have just learned to ride instills the most joyous reaction one has probably had on two wheels since first learning to ride. Even though I've been riding my 'bent (recumbent owner slang), now for the last four and a half months, and over 2000 miles, I still get this little grin on my face every now and then.

The photo above was taken by my friend Bryan during our annual trek on the Evanston Cycling Club's North Shore Century. The ride goes from Dawes Park in Evanston, Illinois, a literal stones throw away from the shore of Lake Michigan, and winds north to Kenosha, Wisconsin and back. As Bryan snapped this photo we were cruising along the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan heading south. The wind was finally at our backs and we were reveling in the warm sunshine and cool weather, the first hints of autumn in the air. Our conversation was animated as we talked about enjoying just rolling on bikes through great scenery, and more mundane topics like cooking for our spouses.

Bryan mugs a selfie. Lake Michigan peeps through the grass in the background.

That was a Recumbent Grin born not only from the joy of a riding a bike that didn't cause me any aches or pains as previous traditional bikes had, but also a grin from the sheer joy of rolling through the country on two wheels with a good friend. I elected to ride the North Shore Century, even though I'd continued to experience some discomfort in my left hip, one of the reasons I'd been driven to try a recumbent. The story of my aches and pains and how I defected to the world of 'bents is for another time. I went into the ride not knowing whether I'd be able to complete the full 100 miles. I think I was mentally prepared for the possibility of a necessary abandonment part way through if I began to experience discomfort. Amazingly, I felt good. In fact I felt great. I battled the wind for 50 miles on the way to Kenosha along with Bryan. The lower profile of the 'bent must have conveyed at least a 15-20% aerodynamic advantage. I think I did well to maintain a 15 mile per hour average while riding a roughly 47 pound bike and at the same time keeping up with someone more than 15 years my junior riding a sub-20-pound cyclocross bike. 

In the past, on a traditional bike I'd have pedaled with my head down, cursing the wind and staring at the surface of the road in front of me, or even at my front wheel. Instead, I was sitting on this "contraption" of a bike able to look around me as comfortably as if I was behind the wheel of a car. In fact much better than being behind the wheel of a car because I could enjoy the sights and sounds and smells of being out in the country versus seeing it all whizzing by at 60 miles per hour. I was seeing some sights on this ride that I'd never really noticed before. I certainly wasn't riding any slower than I'd ridden the North Shore Century in the past. Averaging 15 miles per hour for the entire 107 miles of the ride was on par or better than my averages from years past riding traditional bikes. Our overall average was probably tempered by headwinds during the first 50 miles that we characterized at times as being hors catégorie.

I hoped riding the century would resolve a few things for me. My longest ride of the year before this had only been 46 miles. I was hoped that completing the full 100 miles would show me I was putting the aches and pains of the early part of the year behind me. I also hoped the ride would finally clarify some things I'd been thinking about regarding long distance riding. In my amateur cycling career, 2013 will probably forever be known as The Year of the Centuries. I rode three centuries in 2013, more long distance riding than I'd ever done before. I completed my second century of the year and proudly proclaimed here that along with the North Shore Century completed the year before, I had come to love riding centuries. A little over a month later, I was riding my third century of the year, and by its finish, I was no longer so certain that I was so enamored of riding 100 miles in a day.

My one and only century this year was to be a deciding factor in whether I'd make long distance riding a regular pursuit in the future. As the day wound down, the final 20 miles or so were passing beneath my wheels and I had time to reflect. Bryan had ridden off ahead to get in his obligatory "balls-out sprint" as he put it. I found myself in a rhythm of pedal, coast, pedal, coast, pedal, coast. I was still taking in the scenery, but I was checking the odometer of my cycle computer a lot more. I'd press a button and see, "85 miles". A little while later, "88 miles," and I'd think, "Alright, 90 miles is just around the corner! Probably only another 40 minutes or so of riding." The final miles and minutes of the ride became the cycling equivalent of watching the clock at work count down towards quitting time.

I had finally realized upon the cusp of completing my fifth century ride, that 100 miles in a day was just a bit beyond what I wanted to do. There seems to be a rush to finish the ride within a certain time. Everything feels scheduled and regimented. There's little time to stop and take pictures, step into a little bar and grill and get some food, or stop and read historical markers. It seems like going beyond a certain distance becomes a pursuit more of the mileage and not so much the experience. The drive to get the miles subjugates the ability to stop and actually experience the landscape you're rolling through. I came to realize in those last few miles that for me, 80 miles is probably my limit for a day's riding. Just enough miles to feel as if you've accomplished something, but not so much that you don't have time to stop and savor the experience. From here on out. My longer rides will be only so long and they'll include a Recumbent Grin.

Hang loose, and enjoy yourselves!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Out with the new, in with the old - at least temporarily

So, my brief flirtation with Keen cycling shoes is over. My Arroyo Pedal sandals are getting sent back to Keen for a full refund tomorrow. The bungee lace would never stay tight, the sole around the clipless pocket was SO thick that clipping in and out was an issue, not to mention I couldn't run the clips all the way back as is often recommended for 'bent riders, and finally the top end of the tongue would move to the side resulting in giving me chafe spots on the side of my foot in that area.

I wanted to exchange them for the Commuter III sandals which have a better retention system around the ankle opening. However, Keen has sold all of their cycling shoes out and are not manufacturing any more. Apparently they're taking a hiatus from cycling footwear because they focus on the commuter/touring market and feel that neither is "quite there yet," which I think translates to, "We're not making enough money on cycling shoes."

So, my beat-to-hell Pearl Izumi All-Road shoes are coming out of retirement. They look a little worn, perhaps a little rough around the edges. They've served me well for over 10,000 miles but their days are numbered. The soles have worn so much that my cleats were protruding to the point where I was "click-clack-crunching" all the time and walking on tile floors like at the grocery store had become a roll of the dice as to whether I'd end up inadvertently doing the splits. Also, the material over the toes was becoming worn enough that very soon, my toes will be poking through the tops of the shoes.

Knowing that my P.I. All-Roads still need to retire gracefully, I'm going to REI tomorrow to try on a pair of Giro Rumble shoes to see if they fit. REI only has one pair of size 47, which I do wear in Pearl Izumi, but of course no company ever has shoes that match any other brand because there is no consistency in sizing. If they fit great. If not, I'll order then next size up or down and have them shipped to the store accordingly. I've been thinking about clipless pedals a lot lately and how I'd hoped to do away with them in favor of platform pedals.

I was sorely disappointed with the performance of my Garneau 0 Degree winter cycling boots this last year. They just didn't have what it takes to deal with Polar Vortex. It occurs to me, "you get what you pay for," so I'm going to save my pennies (it's gonna take a LOT), so I can buy some 45North Wolvhammer boots. I just can't seem to get the clipless monkey off my back.