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TNIL: Very, Very Fantastic, Fun and Fast Edition

I’d been looking forward to a Tuesday like this all summer long. Three came close, but last night was perfect. If the wind was more than 2-mph I’d be shocked. There were a few clouds in the sky, but gloriously sunny otherwise… and the temp, at 81 (27 C), couldn’t have been better.

And I forgot my helmet at home. Doh! I always check that I have my helmet, shoes and sunglasses before I leave the driveway but I was, erm, distracted by my wife with a really good kiss and simply wasn’t thinking right as I headed out.

I realized what I’d done about four miles from the church. I called my wife, who tossed the helmet in her car and headed my way… I turned my car around and met her halfway. I rolled into the parking lot a few minutes late for the warm-up but I’d called Chucker and let him know I’d be late. Five were waiting when I got there.

I quickly got ready and we rolled out.

We started slow but built up speed as we went… from 16-mph till we were cruising at 22. The warm-up went quick and Chucker spit off for a couple of extra miles while Dale and I headed back to get ready for the start.

As has been the perplexing norm, and this was surprising on the single best Tuesday night of the year, we didn’t have a big enough group to scrape separate A Elite and A groups so we rolled out together. Unlike previous editions, I noticed right away that we had one of ours paired up with almost every elite rider. That had a cooling affect on the pace. The only problem I ran into was being stuck behind Jared… he’s shorter and astonishingly fit so for a 6′ tall cyclist who hasn’t missed a meal in quite a while, it’s like trying to draft behind fettuccini. I’d get to three bikes back and start heading toward the red line. By the time I got up front I was already spent. This went on for a few cycles but I saw an opportunity… Craig pulled out of the line and Jared went over to talk to him just short of a stop sign. I took the opportunity to jump up a place and get behind James. At 6’1, and a fella who likes to ride upright, it was like drafting behind a battleship by comparison. I stopped hitting the red line till I was up front and the whole outlook of the ride changed immediately. Dave was on a vintage Assenmacher that he’d sent to California to be painted by a nationally renowned painter and I was amazed that he lasted as long as he did with the main group on a bike with down tube shifters.

We were pushing a 24-mph average (38 kmh) as we approached the hills, sixteen miles into the ride. Chuck wanted to pull out of the main group rather than have the elite guys crank it up (which they always do, and had said before we left that they would again) and drop us. Three others went with us – Dave had peeled off, I found out after reviewing Strava afterward. We were sitting on a 23.5-mph average when we split off.

As we headed back the way we came, Chuck suggested taking it easy – around 20-mph – up a climb we normally hit at about 22. This is followed by a quick downhill section into town we normally do around 30, but kept a lid at 27 to preserve a little for the final push home. Through town and heading north our average had fallen to 23.1. I wanted to best a 23 at the finish. I wanted it bad.

A photo from a different day…

With eight miles to go I shouted up to Chuck to try to keep it above 23… and everyone responded well. We pounded out those last eight miles and took that average up to 23.2 as we crossed the City Limits line (I had a 23.1 on my Garmin but Chuck had a 23.2, so we’re going with that).

I reset my computer and shifted to the baby ring… spent. It was all smiles and fist bumps as we headed back to the parking lot, the sun getting low on the best Tuesday weather we’d had all year.

That was my fastest Tuesday night of the year, too. I was beaming all night from that ride. It was perfect all the way around. The elite guys had a blast (a couple of comments on Strava and a couple of texts back and forth informed me of their thoughts), we A guys had a fantastic ride – Todd put it best in a text; it’s all about the brotherhood when we’re out there. He was right.

I slept like a baby last night.

The A-100K Pre-ride Is In The Books; Good Times and Bike Salad… Er Somethin’

That’s right, folks. It’s that time of year again! We’re into August and with the 1st falling on a Sunday, that means we’re only two weeks out from the Assenmacher 100 (more on that later). Every year, for those who can’t ride on the day of the ride, for volunteers and people who will be out of town, and to check that the roads are properly marked and we didn’t have any new construction projects pop up that have to be routed around, we take to the streets to ride the 100k and 100-mile routes.

The weather was very nice for a long day in the saddle. We’d had rain the night before but everything was dry and the temperature cool for the start – almost arm-warmer weather. Mike met me at my house and we rolled to pick up Chucker and head to the start for some bonus miles. The pace was relaxed and we talked the whole way. About a mile left and a big cargo van passed us, Jarred was in the passenger seat of Craig’s van… and Jesse was going to meet us there… and we were picking up Todd and Greg on the road. That meant at least five A Elite riders – and a sixth pulled into the lot just before we were about to leave. The Elite guys are a funny bunch. They play nice with we normal A riders, right up until someone attacks or half-wheels one of them. From that point on, you almost just have to let them go because the group ride becomes a competition to drop everyone else, instantly.

That didn’t happen yesterday, though.

We rolled out of the parking lot at a decent pace and it slowly ratcheted up until we had a gap between the upper-tier riders and we normal folk. They dialed it back, though, and I helped to bring the two groups back together. After that, we established a bit of a max pace and the ride smoothed out.

The roads are in fantastic shape this year and even though the pace was a little hot into the headwind, the ride was social and fun. We had to battle quite a bit of headwind, especially of the crossing variety with wind’s steady at 8 to 10-mph. The Elite guys would take miles at a time up front while we normal folk stuck to a mile or less so we didn’t burn ourselves out.

With the slow roll over, we’d worked our average all the way up to 19.5 by the time we were getting to the home stretch. Two of the Elite guys dropped to head home and the other four took off with one of ours because they were getting a little long as well. That left six of us to fend for ourselves for the last, say twelve miles.

With the exception of the Lennon City Limits sign, we kept the pace steady and moderate. We didn’t add to that 19.5 but we didn’t lose any, either. Without the slow roll, my wife’s Garmin showed a 19.9 average. Not bad for a Sunday ride.

I always wonder how much fun the Elite guys have riding with us but the texts and comments on Strava put any worries to rest. Chuck, Mike and I rolled home… easy, but not too easy. I pulled into the driveway with 76 miles and change. I wanted three things: A shower, lunch, and a nap. In that order. And that’s exactly what I got.

The Best Outcome For a Tragic Death; Friends Come Together

We said goodbye to our friend, son, uncle, brother, cycling buddy and top-notch mechanic yesterday in one of the most fitting homecomings I’d ever seen. Sean was even a friend and cycling buddy of the pastor who led the proceeding. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place and half of everyone who rides on Tuesday night was there. The bike shop closed, with “Closed Saturday for our friend, Sean” on the billboard. All of the long-time employees were there.

And we sent our friend home.

The funeral procession to the cemetery was massive – it took several minutes for everyone to park… best, when the owner of the funeral home announced the end of the service after some final words… nobody left. Not one person went to their car to leave. We stood around, out in the sunshine talking about Sean and the good times we’d had together. We hugged his parents, brothers and nephews. We talked about things to come and rides we’d take in his memory. And we tried to figure out how in God’s name we’d keep our bikes quiet and on the road without Sean.

We planned out this morning’s ride, too, and it looks like we’ve got great weather and a big crowd planning on showing up.

A friend said, it’s these sudden deaths that are hard to deal with, that hurt the most. When we can see it coming, we’ve got time to get ready, to prepare ourselves for it. He was right, but we’ll grow stronger and closer as a group because of it. I can see the gears already turning.

I spent the rest of my day doing normal Saturday chores. I tended to the grass while my wife and daughters watched over one of our cycling buddy’s kids while they went out to lunch – a rare date day for them after the funeral (they have four kids between one & six years-old). Then my wife and I went out to dinner as our daughters scattered with the wind. We talked about things to come with our kids – the hope and landmines ahead. In a classic struggle between good and evil, sadly our daughters have our genes. They’re exceedingly smart, and if they even look at drugs or alcohol, they’re cooked.

While there’s no doubt life is precarious, I wonder if that’s partly what makes living the good life so fantastic. Do you think, maybe?

Enough with the questions. It’s time to ride, baby. Today it is good to be me.

Reason #1 That I Ride A Bike; I Can Work Out Anything In 20 Miles (More, Much, Or Less)

That’s right, my friends. Numero uno. Not 1,621 or some made-up number… The Big Kahuna.

I’ve alluded to a major problem over the last couple of days but wasn’t ready to write about it. A friend of our local cycling community, a friend of mine and many around here, and the top shop mechanic most responsible for keeping the high-end bikes quiet and on the road passed away Saturday night after crashing his car through a roundabout in the wee hours of the morning after a volleyball match/tournament a couple of nights earlier. The hard thing to cope with is his parents. I am much tighter with his dad than I was with him and I’ve got quite a few friends who read my blog so… it can be messy writing about something like this. His dad is an A Elite rider and we’ve turned quite a few weekend miles together and the thought of his loss is crushing.

Our friend was in his early 40s and about a mile from home at the time of his crash. Sometimes it’s gone, that fast, and it just sucks.

And so there I was last night. Chuck is in Utah testing a new truck, so I was on my own. It was unbelievably hot, sunny and with only a mild breeze from the west, it was going to be gnarly. Extra-gnarly after my hundred the day before. With Tuesday Night looming, I knew exactly what I needed; a nice, easy ride to get my legs stretched out for tomorrow. I chose the Trek, hoping I’d be able to work out a shifting issue from the other day.

I rolled out on my usual route and simply took it easy, enjoying the 90 degree (30 C) heat and sunshine (I really do like it – I’m weird that way). I’d developed a mysterious shifting issue on the Trek that I desperately wanted to figure out (it’s been driving me a little crazy – big ring is fine, shifts in all gears, everything is great – little ring, any more than 300 watts and I drop the chain… and that can hurt when you’re laying down some decent wattage on the way up a hill).

For the first eight miles, it was just me, my bike, the road and the sun… and my thoughts. Into the breeze and up a short little hill, I decided to shift into the small ring and get out of the saddle. Nothing – perfectly normal. Still in the breeze, I switched my thinking back to my friend. I tried to wrap my head around the crash and I just couldn’t. That’s when I started thinking about how grateful I am to be a part of our rabble of cyclists. That produced the proper line of thinking; “Just enjoy it while you’ve got it, Jim. This only ever ends in a casket. Slide into it in a cloud of dust, exclaiming, “Wow! What a ride!” That’s the goal.

And that’s precisely when I made peace with it.

After the headwind, I turned into a subdivision and shifted to the little ring to climb a dinky hill. Bam, dropped the chain immediately. I replaced the chain and continued on… and about a quarter-mile later I noticed the chain skip on the cassette. Just a faint click and a resetting of the chain. I shifted up and down the cassette – no noise, hit every gear, so I pedaled on. The one truth in mechanical sleuthing was ever thus; if you can’t figure it out or locate the issue, keep going. It will get worse.

I relaxed into my ride and switched to the big ring. Sure enough, every 30 seconds, if I shifted my weight just right, the chain would reset. I pulled over to the side of the road, in the grass, and flipped my bike upside down and pedaled… click, click, click. Upside down I could see the chain jump.

Two full turns on the barrel adjuster before the click faded into a beautiful whir… another turn and it was clicking again. I backed it off of that last turn, then fine-tuned it. On the road again and down into the small ring, a slight adjustment to the front cable tensioner, and butter. Out of the saddle, full power, it’s all good. How the barrel adjuster moved that much on the trip down south after I had it perfectly dialed in for months, I could rack my brain for hours trying to figure it out.

I could have done the Homer Simpson, “Doh” and slapped my forehead, but I was just glad to get it figured out easily and simply. I went for three years having to have the tension dialed in within a 16th of a turn for the derailleur to hit all of the gears 90% of the time… with a new derailleur, chain and cassette the shifting works so well I’ve got three turns of play on the rear derailleur and it’ll still shift right – I can only look as that as a win. The rest, I’ll work out in the wash.

And that brought me back, full circle to the driveway. I pulled in with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart. 19.75 miles and I went from being torn up over my friend’s passing and the pain his parents are going through, to being grateful for the time and friends I’ve got. I love being on the right side of the grass – and that’s as it should be.

I can figure out anything on a bicycle, in 20 miles or less. More (much), or less. Number one on the long list of why I love my bikes.

Taking Some Time Off the Bike – Needed Maybe, Not Wanted

We’re in the midst of the rainiest weather I’ve ever seen in my lifetime… and the roads we’ve got to choose from are far too dangerous to ride in the rain. I’ve ridden once in the last week and a couple days.

I miss my bike but have more than kept busy, though nothing Strava-worthy.

Today is a total washout but tomorrow looks quite promising. In the meantime, I remain thankful to be on the ride side of the grass, pumping air… and am looking forward to stretching my legs when the latest deluge is done – I’ve got a 100-miler coming up Sunday. Out of the frying pan, as they say.

How Strava Wrecks My Enjoyment of Cycling

I have a blog friend, Sheree, who likes to post photos she takes of flowers on her blog. She is, without question, a fair rider and has an inside look at pro racing. A cycling enthusiast, she is.

So I’ve been inspired to snap photos of flowers while out on rides when I have the chance. Too often, though, I can’t get the good shots because I can’t get to my phone in time.

Typically, you’d have me turn around and run through that stretch of road again to get that shot, right? But I can’t. To turn around would knock a half-mile-an-hour off my average on Strava… what if I had to do that twice in one ride?! What would my friends think if they saw a 16-1/2 mph average for an easy ride rather than a 17-1/2 average?!

This is a sickness of mine.

Now, I conveniently blamed this on Strava as click-bait, but other than to get people to the post, I won’t sink to blaming a flaw in me on an app. I would say to do so would show a greater flaw in me. Say, allowing what other people thought of me dictate how I choose to ride a bicycle in the first place?

But I do. I’d rather show a better average on Strava than circle back, to borrow and properly use a phrase, for a good photo for a post.

Now, to be fair, most often I find these photo ops while riding with a bunch of friends in a pace-line. It’s not like I can throw up an arm and have everyone turn back around so I can get a photo of a flower, but that rare solo ride…

Or when those flowers show up enough I actually have time to get my phone out whilst riding with friends…

Either way, this is an interesting line of thought. I’m thinking now that I’m 51 I oughta loosen up a little bit. Stop and smell the 🌹. Then take a picture or two just for the heck of it.

If you’re not working on something, you can sink to anything.

Just a thought.

The ONLY Style of Bike Rack Suitable for a Carbon Fiber Bike

I transported my Trek on a trunk-mounted rack twice. I didn’t know any better at the time, but that’s only an excuse. I’m lucky I didn’t crack, fracture, or otherwise break the top tube of the frame (the part of the bike that whole bike dangles from on a trunk mounted rack). And so began the lesson on what bike rack to use with which bike.

Any rack that uses the top tube as the support for holding the bike isn’t suitable for a carbon fiber frame, in my humble opinion. When it comes down to it, if you’re going to put your bike on the back of your vehicle, you’re going to want something that supports the bike from the wheels to protect the frame:

Our bike rack holds four bikes and relies on the strongest parts of the bike for support – this means no crushed carbon fiber at the end of your drive.

That’s really the issue here. With a carbon fiber frame, the material is made to be unbelievably strong in very specific ways and places. They’re also astonishingly weak in others. The simple truth is, a lot of bad can happen when you dangle a carbon fiber bike from the back of a vehicle.

Aluminum, steel (and I’m assuming titanium) are more forgiving with the style of rack you choose – you can get away with a hanging trunk rack, but now that I have a proper bike rack, I have to wonder if I’d ever go back to a trunk mount for the aluminum bikes I have… I don’t think so.

The trunk mounted racks are gangly, imprecise, and the amount of damage a bike can sustain on one is simply too great a risk. Especially when you’re dealing with bikes that cost thousands, just for the frame, to replace.

The Saris rack we’ve got is phenomenal, 1Up makes a rack that doesn’t even touch the frame, Yakima, Thule, Kuat… there are a half-dozen more. I’d rather put a hitch mount on a new car than risk my bikes.

Update: My friend, the Unironedman asks, in the comments section, about roof mounts. While these are excellent systems, my carbon fiber frames wouldn’t do well against a garage. I refuse to risk it.

The simple truth is, if you want your carbon fiber bike in one piece when you get to your destination, you’ll want a rack that supports the wheels.

The technical proficiency of blowing a snot rocket whilst, and at the same time, riding a bike; it is an art.

I’d like to thank Sheree for the inspiration for this post.

Clearing your nose whilst cycling, without getting snot on you, or the people following behind, is an art every cyclist should master. It’s a necessity for the fast crew especially. And when cycling in muggy weather. And cold weather. And cool, dry weather. Well, pretty much everything except warm, dry weather. So Arizona for six months out of the year except when it’s hot enough to melt your tires and stuff.

Anyway, it’s an important skill because if you can’t, you’ll spend half an hour cleaning snot drippings off your top tube after a ride! Nobody wants to do that.

Before we get into the art of hurling said snot rocket, let’s get a couple of important items out of the way.

1. Wind direction matters. Don’t snot on the side into the wind or with the wind quartering in the direction you will be snotting.

2. If you’re snotting absolutely, positively cannot wait till you get to the back of the group, signal and pull off to the side so you don’t cover others in snot, thus tempting them to push you into a ditch.

3. With a tailwind, launch away. Either side.

4. With a headwind, either side works but there has to be some down to the projection of said snot rocket otherwise, it’ll get messy (shoulder or side of the face).

Now, what you’ve been waiting for, technique!

Those people who claim they can’t blow a snot rocket simply mess their snot rocket technique up. The trick is which finger to block which nostril with. If you’re snotting right, you block the right nostril with your right pointer finger. Snotting left, block the left nostril with the left pointer finger and blow. Do not try to reverse this or you’ll wear that snot rocket!

Now, you don’t sit upright to blow a snot rocket. Simply roll your head right or left so the blow nostril is a little below the block finger – and make sure to get your elbow up out of the way! And make sure to take the wind into account, as mentioned earlier.

If you typically wear your snot rockets, here’s what you’re doing wrong: you’re snotting into the wind, blocking the wrong nostril with the wrong finger of the opposite hand. And you’re sitting up, making the wearing of the dreaded snot rocket a certainty!

On blocking the wrong nostril with the wrong hand (blow right, block left or vice versa); what this does is cause a cavitation in the wind which blows snot up into your face and on your glasses. This is, as we say, no bueno. Or non buono in Italian. Or… erm… not good in Irish (or possibly aon mhaith, but let’s not get lost in the woods!)

The final piece to this puzzle is the blow. It should be quick and forceful. If you hold back with a weak blow, your snot ball won’t reach escape velocity before slowing down which will allow it to be affected by the wind and air movement. Trust the steps above and blow that snot out. Smite it to the ground!

You are now trained, grasshopper. Snot forth. Whilst happily pedaling.

TNIL: Running On Empty Edition

I joined a Strava challenge to cycle 400 km in the month of July. I got my badge last night.

It was hot when I left work. The thermostat showed 93 balmy, sunshiny degrees (34 C). With a 12% chance we’d see enough rain to wet the road, I readied and packed the Venge.

I was the only one to show up for the warm-up. Heh. Warm-up. It was ninety-freaking-three degrees! There was a gnarly anvil cloud the size of a mountain to the north and much farther south but it was sunny and fair other than that. I was optimistic. I didn’t push the warm-up, not even a little. 17-mph.

We had an surprisingly small group in the parking lot. A lot of people using the long weekend to a vacation. Only two A-Elite guys and a decent handful of us A peeps. On the bright side, Carla and Allen showed with their son – we hadn’t seen the whole crew in almost two years.

We rolled together at 6:01 with the big dogs up front. I expected them to get bored and drop us within a few miles. One tends to be impatient and the other, a National star athlete, has a reputation for only having one gear (and it’s very fast).

The surge to drop us never came. they just kept an easy pace, between 21 & 24 for their initial eight mile turn up front. After that, we cycled through the double pace-line as we normally would.

But the clouds had been building while we’d been enjoying the effort of our friends. We weren’t halfway around the 33-mile route when we hit the first wet pavement. It wasn’t bad at first, just annoyingly damp – enough to make you wash your bike after. It got worse.

I almost forgot! I’d been quite nervous all day about whether or not I’d be able to hang with the group. After three hard days in a row over the holiday weekend, a Tuesday Night was not what I needed. I did rather well, though. First, I was almost all the way in the back of the pace-line for that monster first pull from Jared and Dave. Second, I was rarely paired with someone who would take a long turn up front which meant I could stay, relatively speaking, fresh. I didn’t have to dig into the well until we got to the hills.

As we came out of the hills for the home stretch, we dropped the son, then Allen, then his wife (the Force is strong with that one!) before Clark and I started faltering. Dave, Jared and Clinton slowly pulled away on the newly drenched roads. We had a storm blow through that somehow missed us but had deposited enough rain the rooster tails were huge. At 23-mph we were riding into our own spray off the front tires. I caught Clark and we traded turns at the front till we hit the final mile. Clark was fading fast so I went around and slowly picked up the pace so he could hold on. I held it between 23 and 26 all the way to the line and gave it everything I had, expecting Clark to blow by me at any second. He never did and I crossed the line with a 21.7-mph average for the long course (33-miles) before sitting up, only to realize I’d dropped him a while back.

I sat up, completely out of gas and dripping wet, to let him catch back up. We took it easy all the way back to the parking lot. And I mean easy.

Special thanks to the girls who attend the church that lets us use the back lot to stage our rides who always show up with water, Gatorade and snacks on hot days. This week they brought watermelon with them. The eldest laughed at the uncontrollable grunt I let out on the first chew of a big piece. It was heavenly. After my watermelon and a Gatorade, I packed up and went home. I had to clean up my bike so nothing rusted, but I didn’t last long after that. I don’t even remember falling asleep, but it took me quickly. I slept straight through the night without a single toss or turn. I woke up in exactly the same spot I was in when I fell asleep.

Thankfully, we’ve got inescapable rain in the forecast for the afternoon so I’m taking the night off. My last day off was 433 miles ago – more than half of those (226) in the last four days and a hard ride, every one. I’m ready for a little rain-induced R&R.

And, incidentally, with this post I’ve completed a 60-day stretch with a post every day – and on my birthday, no less.

Quality Riding for June (and Some Decent Quantity)…

When I started the year out, I was looking at quite a shakeup at work and I really didn’t know how that would affect my cycling for the foreseeable future. I was anticipating being down on mileage by a considerable amount, say 20 to 30%. It wasn’t near that bad, though. I am down, but not as bad as I expected and there are two factors I didn’t count on: First, my eldest daughter’s graduation chewed up cycling time – I didn’t miss many rides, but several were shorter this month (well worth it). Second, the weather was exceptionally wet this month which meant five days off for the month. Normal is one day off, maybe two, for the whole month. I’ve been trying to take a bit more time off but not five days.

My total for the month of June was 924 miles or an average of 36 miles a day. Take away just three of those days off and I’m exactly where I should be if circumstances were normal (I consider an average of between 35 & 38 miles a day as “normal” – I am fully aware my normal is not normal). The average speed was decent, the climbing was decent, and my bikes are operating flawlessly (which is, obviously, fantastic).

Where this gets good is the quality – and not so much the speed, which has been good. I’ve absolutely been ecstatic about how much I’ve enjoyed cycling this year. I’ve had to ride in some pretty gnarly rain this year – a lot more than usual – but I’ve had an utter blast. And that’s what this is all about for me. Sure, it’s neat (for about three minutes) that I can put in 1,000 miles in a month. Sure, I absolutely dig my toys. Those are the incidentals, though. I’m into cycling for the friendships and the social aspect of the sport. That’s the quality part of this wildly successful cycling season.

July is starting off to be a bumper month as well. The weather pattern that had us wondering if we should build an arc has moved out a week early and we’re into fantastic weather over the weekend. It’s going to be a Venge kind of weekend (though I can’t help but think I should take the Trek at least one of the days – decisions, decisions).

Anyway, cycling is the best. And it’s Friday!