Category Archives: cycling

The last best ride of the season

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Listen, 67 degrees and brilliantly sunny don’t often happen on November 9 (especially when we were close to that on the 8th), so despite the pulled hamstring and general tiredness from yesterday’s yardwork extravaganza, hell yes I was getting out on the bike today. 50K on Saturday and 50K again today, some of the nicest rides I’ve had all season. The promise of sun and warm is hard to believe in November, and the blustery wind was oddly warm, so I found myself ridiculously overdressed for the task, shedding legwarmers and sleeves inside of 10K as the sun just beat down on me. It was glorious. I’m loopy on endorphins and I ain’t mad at nobody. A few final random ride thoughts from what may be the last best ride of the season (though trust me, I will make a few more miserable slogs, too):

  • Drivers – I know that slowing down as you pass me is a mark of weakness, and I’m grateful for any little bit of breathing room you allow me, but don’t endanger us both by swinging entirely into the opposite lane. You can be too courteous.
  • I’ve been afraid to say this, but I haven’t had a flat in months. These new tires seem much less susceptible to glass.
  • Things I used to think were hills simply aren’t. So I’ve made some improvement over the past couple of years.
  • Over 8176 km (more than 5000 miles) on my Specialized Roubaix in three seasons. Never as much as I’d like, but not shoddy. Rides were fewer and shorter this summer, partly from the awful weather and some other commitments.
  • My poor Nike shoes have done all of those 8000K, and probably another 8000 on top of that. I go through a pair of pedals every season (lots of stop/start on the urban rides really wears out the left pedal and cleat), but these shoes seem to be indestructible.
  • Since the rabies hit it seems like roadkill raccoons are not only rare but runty, but man I saw a big one today. Still, the roadkill of the year was definitely possum, and plenty of it.
  • Once the leaves are off the trees, there’s hardly a place for a natural break, as Phil and Paul call it. Even the cemeteries feel a little too exposed at this time of year.
  • Millions of insects were born on this sunny day in November. Long-term, probably not the best plan, but insects really play the numbers game well.
  • Sometimes I see an abandoned styrofoam cooler along the side of the road, just the normal detritus of summer, and wonder if maybe it’s somebody’s kidney that didn’t get to the operating room in time.

Freshies on the bike path!

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If the celebration of Henry Hudson’s third voyage, the one in which his discovery of the Northwest Passage led to his bottoming out somewhere very close to what I call home a mere four hundred years later – if this celebration led to nothing else beyond some fun days out enjoying the beauty of the river we named after him for folks who otherwise wouldn’t give him or the river a second thought, at the very least it led to this:


After years of announcing new pavement but never actually laying it down, the city suddenly, just before last weekend’s festivities, laid down a long, hot stretch of fresh, smooth, shiny asphalt north of the Corning Preserve boat launch and going as far as the eye can see. Well, considerably farther, for that matter, doing what I thought was impossible and hooking up to the other relatively recently improved section, providing a stupidly smooth passage – the very kind of stupidly smooth passage Hudson was denied – all the way to Watervliet.

This changes my life.

In summer, I avoid bike paths like the plague, because I’m one of the fastest things on them, and everything else is just an obstacle to my pleasure – other bikes, bladers, oblivious runners, walkers treading 3 and 4 abreast, lost in the iPod zone (it used to be the Walkman zone, but I’m hip and with it), absolutely unable to comprehend my calls of “On your left!” or, worse, confused about what to do about them. Add to that the deplorable state the path had been in for the past, say, 10 years – there was a stretch where all you could do was ride the center hump of what had once been pavement and hope you didn’t fall off the edge of it – and it was easier, faster and a smoother ride to come back down through the streets of Watervliet, Menands and north Albany. So imagine.

But now, as dance starts up again and I find myself with time on my hands and a need to be downtown at certain hours of the day, the biggest enemy of my pleasure, the beat-up bike path, is suddenly shiny and new as a puppy’s nose. This makes me so very happy.

Before that sudden discovery this afternoon, I was going to write about my excitement to find that there were freshies in the cemetery (pavement, not bodies), an even more unlikely event and a very welcome surprise, but now they may as well not have bothered. It was only a few hundred feet, and I was happy to have it, but they could have gone on a bit further and made me even happier. Today, Albany bike path wins!

They always finish in Paris

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Another brilliant Tour de France, perhaps the best in years. Four countries (Monaco — as if that counts, Switzerland, Italy and of course La Belle France), the return of the team time trial (and its ability to blow contenders out of the race early on), and Mont Ventoux on the penultimate day. There was inter-squad squabbling that we don’t normally see played out in a grand tour (it’s fairly clear that Alberto Contador won’t be invited to race for new Team RadioShack); the return of That Guy Who Won 7 Tours, and who did very well to place 3rd (would have been second if not for Alberto pulling the Schlecks up the hill); and all the usual pain and suffering, little victories and little defeats that make it such a compelling sport. Even the final spring on the Champs Elysees was heart-stopping. It was a great Tour if you weren’t last year’s winner Carlos Sastre, or last year’s #2 Cadel Evans, or Tom Boonen. Some went home emptyhanded, brokenhearted, or brokenwristed (poor Levi!). The UK had its best race in years, and while the American teams did very well (Columbia shot Brit sprinter Mark Cavendish to the line 6 times, and Garmin placed Christian Vandevelde and Bradley Wiggins well in the overall), there were no American stage or jersey wins.

So now, with the very point of July gone by, we need to concentrate on the end of summer, such as it has been. My usual regret of missing the long evenings has been mitigated by the fact that it rains every night, so we ain’t missing anything. A couple of more trips to plan, perhaps another brave weekend of camping, and then before we know it school will be back in, ballet will be back on, and we’ll look back on this as the summer that never was.

Little known facts about the Tour de France

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One of the reasons I hardly post in July is that my free time is entirely taken up with watching the Tour de France. It’s not a sporting event, it’s a major life commitment. There are many names and teams and times to memorize. The guy leading the race is probably not going to win. The guys who are incredibly fast at the finish line get left behind, sometimes eliminated, in the mountains. It’s a whole thing, and you can’t just watch it casually.

But today’s a rest day, so I thought I’d share some things you probably didn’t know about the Tour de France:

  • There are more guys named Vladimir than you might think, but only one of them has the magnificent name of Vladimir Karpets. (For that matter, even at a total of one, there are more guys named Inigo than you might think).
  • Unlike ordinary bike riders, they don’t need to find a cemetery to pee.
  • Yes, they are going twice as fast as I can. No, that doesn’t bother me at all.
  • I have a hard time remembering the scale of Europe. But let’s put it this way: the opening time trial was 15 kilometers, and they couldn’t fit it all into Monaco.
  • Anytime you hear the name of Juan Antonio Flecha, you are required to say, in the voice of the The Count from Sesame Street, “Two! Two Antonio Flecha! Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
  • You will always hear that the Basque riders of Euskaltel-Euskadi feel “at home in the mountains.” Apparently “home” to a Basque is a place where you don’t win any stages.
  • People often say, “You’re not a racer – why do you need that fancy gadget?” Because I’m not a racer. I have no ability. I need all the help getting home I can get.
  • You hardly ever hear about roadkill during a race. When I’m out riding, I hardly notice anything else. I think this deserves more coverage.

Cycling riddle

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What’s the difference between a 30-speed bike and a 3-speed bike?

One broken cable.

A few days of fiddling with an out-of-whack rear derailleur, adjusting and readjusting and just not being able to figure out why I couldn’t get it to stay in smooth alignment – though it’s a 10-speed cassette, and therefore finicky, I’m not new at this – and I finally found out what was really wrong. After a few days of flats to get my legs back in the groove, I decided that Thursday was the day to climb Taborton Road up to Dutch Church, a good hard 11km climb followed by a rocketing descent, and I thought I had the gears back in shape to take it. But as I headed out to Sand Lake things were getting balky in back again and taking the time to fiddling with the cable adjustments wasn’t getting me anywhere. Just before I was to start the climb, I went off on a flat side road to make one last stab at getting the gears right. Got off, fiddled, spun the crank, ticked the lever – and nothing. Nothing. The lever is now not changing anything, no matter how many times I tap it. Reach up to look under the hood, touch the cable, and it falls out of the lever. I’m now completely disconnected, stuck on an 11-tooth sprocket, and thankful for the triple in front that will hopefully help me to limp partway home. (Second call to the sag wagon in two weeks, which is annoying, after NO calls in a couple of years.) The hills of Rensselaer County are somewhat unforgiving to those stuck in the final gear, even with a granny ring up front, so I was grateful when I saw the Big Blue Truck come up the road.

No debating with myself this time, I ran it right down to Steiners and decided to have them true the rims while they were at it (after 6600km or so, I probably should have had them change the cassette and chain, too, but you know how it goes). Hoping to get it back today and finally get these legs back where they should be, up to Dutch Church.

The cycle.

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Much of the summer, I look at my little box of unused cold-weather riding gear – tights, leg warmers, arm warmers, shoe covers, helmet cover, long-sleeve jerseys and a couple of very expensive jackets – and lament the amount of money I’ve spent on such a short part of the riding season. Then I have to remind myself that without that fancy gear, I wouldn’t get out at all in November, or December, or January, or February, or March. And when I’m out there riding on a cold (but sunny enough to keep the frost off) day, I never regret being warm and getting that cold weather ride in. In fact I’ve had a couple of gorgeous rides already this season, despite the fact that when we wake up it’s still below freezing. Hoping to get a couple more in this weekend as the temperature flirts with 50. If the sun’s out to warm me and the wind is low, I can hack it.

Starting the season just a couple of pounds up from where I left off last fall, which was ridiculously thin. I was about 155, thinner than any time since high school, and my clothes were just falling off. I don’t worry much about my weight, but I can tell you there’s a real difference between what I can do on the bike at 155 and what I can do at 170, which is the top of my acceptable weight range. Between training and weight, by the end of last fall I was flying up hills that had eaten me up in the spring.

Of course, that’s part of the cycle of cycling. I don’t know how people do it in the warmer climes, but here the seasonality is part of the beauty. You’ve got to bundle up and take a rested, unfit body out onto messy, flat-inducing roads for the first few hundred K of the season, trying to stay warm and rebuild some strength. (And you’ve got to endure a month or more of rain that keeps you from getting where you want to in your training.) But then you hit that summertime groove where your body keeps getting better, the rides are nearly always great (even when there are hailstorms), and all is right with the world. You find some new challenges and beat them. Then as you start to get bored with it all, it starts to wind down, you get in a few late-season rides where you can feel the heat leaving the earth and telling you to get inside for a while. Nothing wrong with that.

Gimme a Tour, any Tour

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Okay, so it’s not one of the Grand Tours, but the Tour of California (excuse me, the Amgen Tour of California) is pretty darned exciting. For starters, it’s brought the finest field of pro riders ever assembled in North America, mixing it up nicely with some highly skilled domestic teams. Second, it’s set in some of the most scenic country we’ve got on roads I’d give my eyeteeth to have closed for riding (because the PCH is pretty much a deathtrap for cyclists otherwise). Third, there’s what’s-his-name’s comeback, which is welcomed for all the attention it brings to the sport, I suppose, but it still leaves us cycling fans having to explain to those not in the know why Lance isn’t going to win, or try to win, the Tour of California. (And why are bike team dynamics so incomprehensible to fans of other pro sports? Is the idea that the team’s success is what matters completely lost in American pro sports?).

Fourth – it’s bike racing. It’s just the best – a muscle-powered chess game on wheels. One-day classics are fun, but any multi-stage tour is simply the symphony of the sport, the culmination of all its disciplines into a magnificent panorama of human endeavor. Which means, of course, nights spent nailed to the couch watching these guys suffer through cold, heat, and climbing, and beating myself up a little for not doing the same. (On the other hand, it is actively snowing outside, and I’m not getting even a domestique’s pay for getting out there.)

First ride

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I’m not sure if it was the first ride of an early season or just a fluke, but temps pushing 40, a high, warm sun and a bit of burning desire got me out onto the not-too-messy spring roads yesterday. Having kept some form over the winter, I had just enough in me to decide to go too far, 33k, for such an early ride, but it felt so good. Last season ended earlier than usual with some weather and sickness that took me off the bike in early November, and not being able to ski this year has made me ache for some intense exercise. So yesterday as the sun warmed things up and most of the ice had cleared from the shoulders, I decided to double-bag in all that expensive winter bike clothing that I have and get on out there. Can’t say I hammered it but I had a nice spin out to Schodack, around Clarks Chapel Road and back, with minimal splashing in the melt, not too much crap on the shoulders, and no flats, so I was happy. A winter spent on the rollers has me balancing on a knife’s edge on that bike, a reminder that I should be using it more during the season, ’cause one thing you have to be on rollers is upright. My normal first ride is around St. Patrick’s, and we’ve still got plenty of winter to come around here, but if the sun cooperates maybe this will be my earliest start ever.

End of the Season

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Couldn't move if the house were on fireSo this is how the season ends — not with a bang, but with a whimper. Not with a spate of bad weather, but with a week that was warm and pleasant but demanded I finish some aggressive yardwork I had embarked on (take that, dogwoods!), and then another week that would have been fine except for how incredibly sick I was, and then a weekend of Nutcracker craziness, and now cold and rain and malaise. Normally I like to get at least a symbolic ride in on Thanksgiving week, after which I’m willing to admit that I’m not likely to do anything serious on the road before St. Patrick’s Day – though there will always be those delicious thaws that demand at least a quick 20K. But it didn’t look like that was going to come together this week, and today it was so overwhelmingly wet that I didn’t even want to ride the garage, so I brought the rollers into the downstairs hall and rode the hallway for a quick 45 minutes.

Rollers are not a trainer, on which you bolt your bike and start some pedaling and watch some TV. Rollers demand balance, strength and a commitment to continuous pedaling, because there is no freewheeling on rollers. It’s not like being on the road, because you have to keep constantly pedaling in order to keep from falling over, but it does deliver a nice workout and helps to make your pedal stroke smooth as glass. Every bit of bad form shows up on the rollers, and the slightest twitch changes how your bike is balanced, so riding the rollers is a great way to learn to keep that upper body quiet, keep the legs in a smooth rhythm, and keep that line. But it’s still not the same as riding the road, so even with a couple of podcasts loaded up and ready to go, it’s hard to keep committed to pushing those pedals forward. But that’s what winter means around here, and unless I want to lose the absolutely spectacular form I enjoyed all summer long, the kind of form that laughed in the face of Taborton Road, that thought nothing of hot 50-milers to Galway, then I’d better get on those damn rollers and keep some legs over the winter months. Besides, St. Patrick’s Day is not that far away.

Autumn ride

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There’s little sweeter than a perfect autumn day like today for a nice 60K ride — just warm enough to stay comfortable in shorts (with an expected amount of sleeve-up, sleeve-down sort of stuff), sunny and beautiful. Many of the leaves are down, and the color is kinda all over the place. There’s more roadkill than I’ve seen all summer, which seems odd, but maybe the possums and porcupines are depressed about the bear market. (There was also a dead squirrel in our yard the other day, spread-eagle, not a mark on him save the little x’s over his eyes.) My new Crank Brothers Quattro pedals are excellent – easy to clip in, big stable base for power transfer, and especially efficient on the climbs. I couldn’t go the way I had wanted because of some last minute roadwork – it’s the time of year when everybody’s rushing to finish things before the asphalt plants close – so I went off to the north and was just as happy running the fresh pavement on Snake Hill Road. Very nice.

Wish you’d been there instead of slaving the beautiful day away? Then click, just click: