Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Encouragement, part two

This is a follow-up to the post titled Encouragement; if you haven't read that post, some of what follows may lack context. So you may want to read Encouragement first. But if you really don't want to read that post, it said in a nutshell "Doctor tells out-of-shape Doug to exercise - Doug gets bike."

As it turned out, cycling is the sport for me. I took to it like a duck to quacking. My wife was very surprised. She said "I thought riding the bike was something you'd do grudgingly every weekend. I didn't expect you to actually like it."

Honestly, I surprised myself.  Within three or four months of getting on a bike, I was doing things I had been afraid to do. I was riding through traffic like I had a right to be there. My attitude about people improved, largely because of the polite drivers I was meeting. I even went on a group ride, though I'm about as anti-social as anyone you'd ever meet. I graduated from being an annoyance at my LBS to being a frequent and tolerated guest.

Then...well, at this point you might expect me to say "disaster struck". The fact is that I made a stupid mistake. I was approaching a stoplight in a very high gear when the light turned yellow, and I stopped quickly without downshifting. When the light turned green, I pushed down with my right leg as hard as I normally would and felt something in my hip go "ping." Though it didn't bother me at the time, within a few hours I started feeling as though someone had kicked me very hard in a sensitive area. I talked to the doctor about it (yes, at my age, you talk to the doctor about almost everything.) The upshot of it was that I should stay off the bike until I felt comfortable getting back on. This stretched to a little more than two months.

When I did get back on the bike, I stuck to higher gears. The theory was that it's better to spin a little than to hurt yourself with exertion. (No, I don't mean taking a spinning class...)

Also definitely not the kind of "spinning" I'm talking about.
I got back into it slowly. I started wearing padded shorts for rides over five miles. I made sure to downshift when coming to a halt; and if I couldn't, I made sure not to exert myself to the point of injury when starting to pedal again.

Everything since then is a blur. I've started training (yes, genuinely training, not "training") for the forty-five mile charity ride I'll be doing at the end of April. I've started taking climbs that I don't have to take, simply because I know that I'll need to able to do it in the future. And I've started planning parts of my bike rides; well, if "bring a snack and enough water to stay hydrated" can be called a plan. 

It is difficult for me to believe, but I now have goals. The hard part is admitting that I have goals; I've always thought of myself as very unambitious. A slacker. But now I'm consumed with the idea of doing some medium-distance bike traveling. With camping wild. With making my first cup of coffee in the morning over a simple camping stove.
My alternative camping stove for coffee. I'm sure there's a racktop adapter for this.

I have no doubt that I'll get there. A year ago, I thought it would be impossible for me to ride thirty-five miles on a bike; and now I know that it's not only possible, but likely. Six months ago, it was impossible for me to climb certain hills; and now I see it's only a matter of practice and persistence. As little as a month ago I was fearful of stepping too far outside my comfort zone; and now I'm planning what Alistair Humphreys calls a "microadventure."

This leads me to my first point. It's a simple variant on "If I can do it, anyone can do it." I've come to love being outdoors where formerly I was reluctant to get up off of the couch. Though I enjoy chatting with people quite a bit, I've come to enjoy a little solitude now and again. I now look forward to exercise rather than fearing it.

In the beginning of a previous post called Encouragement, I said I was writing a letter of thanks to all the people who had given me encouragement. And that that letter ended with "So thanks. Thanks a lot. Thanks for ruining my life with your support and encouragement."

And this leads me to my second point.

A year or so ago, I had no expectations beyond living a quiet sedentary life. But now I've seen what's possible. Now I'm looking further than I have before. And now I can't be satisfied with a quiet sedentary life. In fact, I am very dissatisfied with life as it is because now I have greater expectations of myself.
Please, sir, may I have another? I'm fueling up for a fifty mile ride.
And because I'm sometimes given to using hyperbole in a humorous way, I say that my life has been ruined because these greater expectations have given rise to a greater dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction that I would not have had if it had not been for the support and encouragement of those around me.
This guy has an excuse for being slothful. I don't.

I also realize that I can't attain my goals quickly. I'm ok with that. Rushing into anything is usually counterproductive. If it takes me six months to do my first campout, that's all right. If it takes me another year or so to do the two hundred mile tour I want to do, well, fine. The important thing to me now is to keep moving in the direction of more activity rather than less.
There are many things that can halt this forward activity. Injury. Illness. And the unexpected. But these things are temporary. After they're over, forward motion can begin again.

Sunday, February 26, 2017


I almost didn't post this. It's kind of personal, and might put people off. But then I thought, well, I've got at most four readers, and if this puts a few off...so here you go. Part one of how biking changed things for me. The good, the bad, the ugly. I think this is my imaginary TED talk.

It's official. I've been bicycling for a year now. Even the time I spent off the bike due to bicycle-related injury -- even that time -- I count as cycling. That's largely because I still think of it as well within the parameters of "learning to ride the bike."

All the time that I've been learning to ride, I've had people around me giving me encouragement. Telling me that I can learn to ride well, and learn to ride long distances well. That I can build the stamina and strength that I need to do difficult climbs. That there is very little that I want to do that I won't be able to do.

I started to write a letter of thanks to those people, and oddly, it ended with "So thanks. Thanks a lot. Thanks for ruining my life with your support and encouragement."

I should explain. If the negativity of this post so far hasn't "harshed your mellow" then please, read on. Some of this gets personal. If you're uncomfortable with that type of thing...I know I often am...then perhaps you won't want to read any further.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


On February 24th, my Kona and I will have been together for one year.

What do you get a bike on the first year anniversary? I'm thinking a new saddle.

Or maybe another bike to keep the Kona company...hmmmm.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cycling and roaming (whining and moaning)

I'm not cycling and roaming. It's raining, and I'm in the middle of my second cold of the year.  I'm actually in the whining and moaning phase.

And of course, when I'm in this state I spend quite a lot of time contemplating bicycles. And researching bicycles. And thinking about rides that I've taken.

It's truly a joy researching bicycles on the internet. There are so many experts out there willing to share their vast wealth of knowledge that it's overwhelming.

Consider the expert judgement of the commenter who said "Sloping top tubes on bikes are an abomination. No serious cyclist will ride one of these bikes."
See? The horror of the sloping top tube. (Photo from Rodriguez Bicycles.)
Where did sloping top tubes come from, anyway? Mountain bikes? Everyone knows that mountain bikers are just kids who shouldn't be taken seriously.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

one way or another

I've been test-riding a lot of bikes. A lot. One of my favorites has been the Surly Straggler. A mechanic at my LBS says the Straggler just "feels like it wants to go." I understand what he means. I've ridden the Straggler six times now, and I like it more every time.

There's something that mystifies me, though; the rear wheel dropouts on the Straggler.  It's not just that the dropout on one side has a screw pointing backwards and the one on the other side has a screw pointing forwards. No, my quandary is more fundamental: why are there horizontal dropouts at all?

I understand that horizontal dropouts are what you need on a single-speed or a fixie. But the default build on a Straggler is geared. Hey, if Surly can make a 650B Straggler, why can't they make one with vertical dropouts like me and all my old friends ride?

Errgh. I like the Straggler, but I'm not crazy about the rear dropouts. Knowing my general level of mechanical aptitude, I can picture myself missing several meals while I try to figure out the rear dropouts the first time I get a flat.

Well, if I decide I can't deal with the Straggler, there's always the Cross Check with its "semi-horizontal" dropouts. But as much as I like Surly bikes, I am just not crazy about horizontal dropouts. I couldn't tell you why, but they seem like a remnant of a bygone age. It seems to me horizontal dropouts would make it difficult to get the rear wheel straight. Am I missing something?

Picture by Surly.

What do you think? What do you know?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Chaos Training

I went on .a bike ride Sunday. To call it training is probably incorrect. Most people who actually train have a plan of some sort. So I came up with the theory of Chaos Training, loosely based on Chaos Theory. A butterfly flaps its wings in Malaysia, I go for a bike ride in California. I think, though, that Chaos Theory actually has some sort of scientific basis, whereas most things I do aren't constrained by either science or common sense.

My Sunday Chaos Training:

  • Take Mystery Dog for a walk to limber up my legs. Actually, let Mystery Dog pull me around the block.
  • Meet a friend. 
  • Ride bikes for twenty miles.
  • Stop at a local Farmer's Market to eat at the best taco stand ever.
  • Ride the additional six miles back to my house.
The parts above almost could have been planned, if I weren't allergic to any sort of planning beyond "let's meet here, and go there." My riding partner called my style of riding "spontaneous, but cautious enough." Here's where the real chaos comes in:
  • On the way home, I realize that there might be something wrong with my front wheel. Possibly I put the quick releases back on in too much of a hurry.
  • I also realize that I can't stop at the LBS to have someone look at my front wheel, because I need to get the pasta sauce I bought at the Farmer's market into the refrigerator.
  • Go home. Put food in fridge.
  • Ice my back, remove ice, get back on the bike, go to the LBS where the mechanic tells me that the front wheel was in slightly crooked, and don't do that again.
  • Come uncomfortably close to buying the latest object of my obsession.
  • Go home without bankrupting myself by making an unwise purchase.
In all the chaos, though, I did get to ride a Surly Straggler. I've done about six test rides on the Straggler and like it more each time. This time I rode it home (about two miles from the LBS), and started to put it in the dining room where my bike normally lives. My wife caught on immediately that it was not my normal bike, and was fairly blasé even when she thought I'd bought it.

Since no post is complete without a picture, here's one of a Surly Straggler. Mmmmm, minty green color...

This picture owned by Surly.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Progress. Decline. Incline. Climb.

On a group ride yesterday, we did a long gradual climb on the Bay Bridge. There was a lovely headwind that tested me just a bit. Did I just say "lovely" and "headwind" in the same sentence? I hate headwinds; they make me feel as if I'm twice as wide and twice as heavy as I want to be.
This is the way I went yesterday, though I didn't take this picture. I was too busy getting to the end of the climb.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

training day

Today is the first training for the April charity event I'm riding in. But after yesterday's rain ride, I'm actually pretty tired. I'm starting this post in the morning prior to the ride. I'll finish it when I come back.


The checklist that the training organizer put together:

  • Have breakfast. Hmmm...not really hungry due to last night's giant Ethiopian feast. I'll have a slice of toast, though.
  • Make sure my water bottles filled up and on the bike. Check.
  • And a bunch of other things that I will do, but I won't enumerate them here, because lists are pretty boring, right? And after yesterday, the thing I care most about is having the correct spare tube. Well, that and having a PB&J for a snack.
And my personal checklist:
  • Walk Mystery Dog. That's not her real name, but we've had her for five years and I'm still not quite sure how she ended up here.
  • Ice my back, because.
I'm going out on the beginners ride because...well, because I am a beginner. I've been cycling less than a year; that's a beginner, right? The entire ride from my house and back is slightly longer than twenty miles, so I don't foresee any problems. Of course, I didn't foresee yesterday's tire rip/tube shred either, so who knows?

Here I would insert a post-ride selfie, but I have to face it; I'm not at my best in the morning. I'm actually not at my best in the evening, either. I'm sure there are a few moments during the day when I am at my best; I just haven't figured out when they are.


The training part of this ride was about fifteen miles. Adding on the four miles from my house and the four miles back, I rode a total of...um...fifteen plus four plus four miles today. I'm sure you know math...you tell me.

The above is an indication of how tired and out of shape I am. The training part was pretty easy except for a few very short hills that I had to work at.  My front tire remained intact, for which I'm grateful. My rear tire didn't. At least I only had to replace the tube, though.

I'm going to take a moment here to recommend a piece of equipment: the Topeak Road Morph pump. I've had one for a while, but today was the first time I used it. It allowed us to get on the road much faster than any of the other pumps present on this ride would have.

Now I'm going to go replace the Pinhead locks in my wheels with the original quick releases. I can be smart enough about locking up my bike that I don't need the extra security; or at least I've been smart enough so far.  After two flats in two days, I'm a little less enamored with the Pinheads.

Oh, the ride! The people were great, but that's not a surprise. It was a bike ride, after all.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Rain roulette

Lately the rain and illness have been working hand-in-hand to keep me and several other cyclists I know off the road. Today is the first day where it might rain lightly enough for me to go out. I still don't have rain gear (my LBS is moving slowly on getting it), but I don't care. I should be able to remain dry enough. I think. And in any case, I'm waterproof.

So I decided to play rain roulette; you know, where you go out betting that it won't rain too hard. And I lost.

Two things you can't tell from this photo: A) it's raining pretty hard, and B) I'm soaked and taking shelter in a shopping mall.

I waited out the rain. Or at least I waited until it sort of let up. And then I headed down the bike path to a freeway overpass. I got cold. I got wet. But I didn't get stuck in traffic.

However, I did get this.

This is exactly what it looks like. Except that my camera makes the colors brighter, so it's kind of cheerful looking.

Decided I wasn't going to change the tube in the rain and got it to the bike store. Turns out the tire was ripped and any tube I put in would've been flat pretty quickly anyway. (I also found out later that I didn't have the right tube with me.) So my laziness/aversion to working in the rain wasn't exactly wrong. I did have to buy a new tire, which I wasn't crazy about. But I did take out one of their Surly Stragglers for a test ride, which was fun enough to counter the "no fun" of getting a flat in the rain.

Big thanks to my support crew (um...wife) who was willing to pick me up so that I wouldn't have to walk five miles in the rain.

Tomorrow I go on the first organized training ride for April's charity event.  If it rains, the ride will be cancelled and a workout on some stationary bikes will be substituted for the training. I usually don't go to these things. There's something about gyms I just don't like. Also, stationary bikes. You pedal and pedal and end up in the same place.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


I often have days where I feel just a little less than special on the bike. In fact, I feel utterly...less than average. I'm not even hitting my average speed of nine MPH. I'm just dragging. I feel like my goals are almost unreachable. Almost? No, just plain unreachable.

And then I read something like this:

Who am I? Nobody important, nobody special, nobody especially talented or athletic. I would never have known that I could cycle at all, much less cycle around the world, had I not gotten on a bike and tried.
Juliana Buhring, from This Road I Ride

That's inspiration.