Monday, September 30, 2013

Bike Wisdom, Cont'd.

One more piece of velosophy occurred to me today, after that long list I posted last week. Like the others, this one is counter-intuitive and was only learned after time and tide washed away my preconceptions:

The weight of a bike has ZERO direct effect on the enjoyment of riding that bike.

You read that one right; zero.

My "road bike" today is something I would have scoffed at a few years ago, when I proudly called myself a "roadie," with all the sniffy connotations of that word. It's made from steel, the heaviest frame material around. It's got 28 mm tires. ("What!? That's extra rotational weight!" Yup.) As of this weekend, I've placed an oversized canvas saddlebag under the seat, and hooked up, relatively permanently, a lovely little handlebar bag to keep important items handy (more to come on both bags). Extra weight, extra weight, AND aerodynamic loss. Wow. What a Fred!

I may be a Fred and I may not be. But I went on a very hilly 64 mile ride yesterday with a friend (the longest of the season so far) and, whereas my friend often outdistances me on the hills, I was the sprightly one this time. With the extra weight and baggy-ness.

Why? Because I'm in shape.

And why is that?

Because I freakin' LOVE my bike and its setup. It works for everything I like to do on a bike, from fast and short road rides to long, mixed-surface rambles in the insanely hilly country.

So I've been spending more time on it.

So I'm more fit. With or without extra weight on the bike.

Your body's systems adapt to whatever load they are under. Take advantage of this fact and get the bike you'd feel most comfortable on, is most beautiful to you, carries what you need, and goes where you would really like to go, but haven't yet.

Who cares if you're first up the hill? The point is, you'll be freakin' happy!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Some Bike Wisdom

I realized with a start tonight that I've been back in the saddle -- the bike saddle, that is -- for six years now.

I spent two passionate years as a teen cyclotouring through early '80s America and tearing up the Central Park bike path. Then, college and adulthood distracted me and I let my royal purple Austro-Daimler SE with gold Fiamme rims gather dust in a variety of apartments.

In my mid-40s, turning stale at retail desks and grad school library tables, I finally heard the tiny, receding echo of the beauty of those high school days. I climbed back on a road bike and haven't gotten off since.

For the first few years, those glory days kept tugging at the back of my mind. Somewhere in my unconscious, I was trying to return to form, to be as strong and knowledgeable a rider as I once was. At some indefinable point, I crossed that line and kept going.

In the last couple weeks, I've found myself in my garage fixing three different bikes -- one of my mine, a bike belonging to a friend's son, and my son's 20-incher. All of them needed non-trivial repairs, yet I blew through the work while chatting with folks, listening to music, enjoying the fall sunshine.

Then last weekend, I was out for a taper ride before the challenging metric century I have planned for this Sunday. My season has gone well, I've avoided sickness and injury for the second year in a row, and the resulting cumulative fitness meant that my legs were carrying me faster than I could get used to. It was like riding in someone else's body -- a frequent feeling at the end of a healthy season. As I flew down a dirt road descent on my skinnyish-tired road bike, I felt confidence flow through me like a river. On impulse, I death-gripped the rear brake lever, threw my weight onto my outside pedal, and short-skidded for just a second before momentum jerked me back into my straight-arrow, rocket-sled descent. Hey! I did something new! Felt so good, I did it again. And again. And again.

I'm there. I'm the rider I've been wanting to be. And the feeling is delectable.

Below, in no particular order, is a scant sampling of personal wisdom I've gleaned along the way--mostly the hard way. All maxims, aphorisms, adages, axioms, and epigrams are strictly intended for my own reference. If they help you, I'd truly be glad to know about it. If they don't, please don't argue with me. This wisdom was born of the sweat of my brow and the stink of my chamois. You want different wisdom, go find someone whose chamois smells more like yours.
  • Always pee just before you walk out the door for roll out.
  • Let the ride become what it needs to be. Making plans is good, and being flexible is good.
  • Learn to listen to your body; it knows infinitely more than your head.
  • Learning to listen to your body takes a long time. It took me years, and I'm still learning.
  • The foods that work on the bike have nothing to do with what I eat the rest of the time, and that's fine.
  • Caffeine works, and it's legal. Yippee!
  • Happiness is not about the bike. It's about the ride and the rider.
  • A dude I know who rides 30,000 miles a year (yes, you read that right) told me that the longer you ride a bike, the better it fits you. I used to buy or trade for a new bike about every 18 months, but now, I'm beginning to agree.
  • He also said, "The way to get better at riding your bike is to ride your bike." He rides solo centures on a racing bike with 25 mm tires over gravel and trails that would scare off most cyclocross riders.
  • Any dirt road is usually better than any paved road.
  • You don't need a fancy bike to ride dirt roads, or even trails.
  • Pavement is good, too.
  • The fewer cars, the better. The more trees, the better. The higher you ride, the better. The farther the view, the better.
  • More distance is not necessarily better. Adventure can be found three miles from your door. Get on your bike and go find it, before work, after work, between chores. Do it.
  • Average speed isn't just meaningless, it's a pernicious, non-existent lie, perpetrated by bike tech companies and insecure wannabe racers. Throw away your bike computer. (I have no idea where mine is, haven't used it in two years. I manually record my rides on, an excellent way of finding out distance and altitude, the only stats I sometimes care about.)
  • If you're not having fun on your bike, you need to seek professional help. I'm a therapist, and I'm not joking -- you need help. Bikes are fun.
  • Bike blogs are addictive but dangerous. Beware of comparing your fun with anyone else's.
  • A real maxim now: "Fitness follows fun." If you're having real fun, you're going to want to have more. That means more and more riding, which means you get stronger, more skilled, and have yet more fun. That's called a positive feedback loop.
When I think about it, the hardest and longest lesson of all has been weaning myself off of the racing mindset. I'm not fast, never will be, and competition brings out the worst in me. And still, some vestigial part of my brain clings to the pissing contest involved in beating somebody up a hill. When I win, I feel good for a few days, then go back to worrying about the next time I ride with him or her.

Now, the rides that have made me so happy that I swore heaven could not be any better were those in which competition played absolutely no part. The exhilaration of the effort, the thrill of the descents, and the supernal beauty of the surroundings were my all and everything. Strong riders who can vibe with that are rare as hen's teeth, and I do all I can to cultivate friendships with those few. 

The rest of the time, I ride alone. 

Like my (unwitting) mentor, Paul Fournel, I've found that biking is life in so many ways. Today, I say thanks to God and humankind for creating the best machine on earth. It's ecologically friendly, it's beautiful to look at, it's easy to fix, it's affordable transport, it's healthy, and -- most of all -- it's more fun than a roomful of ice cream.

Whatever you ride, however you ride, for the love of everything real, PLEASE: Ride for your own reasons, ride to your own standards, and if you don't know what they are for all the screaming out there about what's important to others, just keep riding and keep thinking, and it will come to you, slowly, in increments. 

Wisdom on the bike is gained just the same way as wisdom off of it.

#     #     # 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cycling Amherst Road and Pelham, MA

I come today to sing the praises of Amherst Road, a byway somewhat neglected by cyclists, perhaps because of its miles-long, steep climb, or the thickness of traffic. The truth of the matter is that, once you get a couple miles up, the traffic slims out, the road grows smoother, and the long, steady grades reward you with timeless New England beauty and history.

I also use this road to tune up my climbing legs, if I've been away from the grades for too long. Fuel up before you go, because the "up" is constant.

To get there, ride through Amherst Center on Main Street, cross South East at the light, and you're going due east on West Pelham -- which quickly turns to Amherst Road once you cross the town line.

Genteel colonial farm houses with stone fences line the road

Perfect pond and shady glades

At the top of the hill, Pelham Historical Society, with lawns for sitting and snacking

Right next door, the old Pelham Town Hall, built in Revolutionary times
Daniel Shays, who led a rebellion of overtaxed farmers against the government, lived in Pelham.

Perhaps Shay's likeness, now hidden in a barn. Note facial expression:
Don't tread on me!

The cemetery behind the Historical Society features featurless
gravestones, eroded by time and hilltop New England weather

A sylvan resting place for tired settlers

She lived to see the Revolution begin -- but not end

A very worthy road, easily combined with others for a nice fall ride. You can turn left on Route 202 (just past the Historical Society) and another quick left onto Shutesbury Road, a rolling delight. From the end of that, you can turn right for Shutesbury Center, or left to fly down the famous Shutesbury S-curves -- a delicious reward for all that climbing.

#     #     #

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chesterfield and Westhampton: Hills, hills, and more hills

If you live in the valley and you want to suffer through some steep climbing without going all the way out to the Berkshires for your woe, I found just the route for you today. My first time up in these two towns, and when I say, "up..."

Well, read on.

I crossed the Connecticut on the bike trail first thing, and rode up to Williamsburg the back (steeper) way, via Audubon and South Streets, always a good check on the thigh status. I wish I had refilled low supplies at the stores in Williamsburg, since there were no such pit-stops for many miles after.

I turned left off Route 9 onto Route 143 just after Williamsburg and began a steep six-mile climb into Chesterfield. Think of Wendell Road, the long, hard climb from Route 63 to Wendell center -- but harder and longer. On the way up today, a fellow cyclist went whizzing by me on the way down; I waved, and he replied, "Woohoo!!" That'll give you some idea of the climb.

Great lunch spot on 143

Good enough for a closer shot
After lunch, I pulled into Chesterfield and glanced around -- and that's all it took. It's a tiny little crossroads, though a few of the houses are so perfectly colonial, I half-expected to espy a mother in petticoats and a bonnet in the yard wringing out the breeches and flouncy undergarments. Right out of an 18th Century print, it was.

Left on South Street at the intersection there, and I was rewarded with a swooping descent -- briefly. Then the descent becomes crazy rollers leading down overall -- but involving lots of up, too. Seemed cruel at the time. "This place hates me and wants to hurt me," muttered I. However, the scenery was rustic New England all the way; great stuff through there.

I went with my gut and took a right on King's Highway (more evidence of Colonial times?). Steep, curvy, gravel downhills, pretty well graded, thank goodness. Fun and scary and fun.

Check out the mailbox. Figured no one'd believe me, so I took a picture.
A quick stop at the KOA General Store in Westhampton for a Diet Coke, and then a left on Route 66. (The reader will here notice my admirable restraint in not making lame references to the song by the same name.)  A new road to me; I'd been avoiding it because it's a highway and I expected over-development. However, most of the way back into Northampton, it was pleasantly rural, very smoothly paved, and with a very cushy shoulder. Recommended as a connector route for anyone passing through.

Take note of Outlook Farm on 66 in Westhampton, a surprisingly large farm stand/grocery store (think Atkins Farm-size) with plentiful food/drink options, and picnic tables and benches strewn about.

Nuthin' beats local produce for fuel
From "Hamp," as locals call it, I made my way back across the river and home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

I'd do the route again, for sure, but I think it would be more rewarding in reverse. 66 would make a nice early-morning warm-up climb, and 143 isn't especially scenic, so would be well-suited to a very long, screaming descent -- as my fellow cyclist testified today. "Woohoo!!" indeed.

All in all, 46 miles and 3,200' of climbing, certainly my most ambitious altitude for the year to date -- but there's a metric century coming up in two weeks which will beat that all to heck. 'S'why I was out beating on my legs today: prep.

Guess you'll just have to stay tuned for that one. Heh, heh.

#     #     #

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September Quatrain

September Quatrain

Cool in the dell
Hot on the hill
Hay in the breeze
It's summer still

#     #     #