Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Moose Mitts Cometh.

The Moose Mitts showed up on Wednesday. Lucky for me the mail was running early, and my lunch hour ended up running late, which meant I was able to get the road mitts on the Bianchi and take them out for a test ride.

Getting them on the bike was easy. They included a sheet with pictures/instructions, so it wasn't like I had to do any guessing. As you can see from the pictures, these things are pretty big. Despite the semi-conical shape, I don't think they're increasing my aerodynamics or anything like that. Really though, all I ask of them is that they keep my hands warm.

It was a pretty great day for a test ride. Temps were somewhere near 28°, and the winds were between 10-15mph. On a day like that, my fingers would be pretty numb after a short time, regardless of whether I was wearing my OR Grippers with liners or the Endura lobster mittens I picked up on Chainlove over the summer. Especially on the downhill stretches.

With this in mind, I grabbed the Grippers and threw the liners in the pocket of the jacket, just in case the mitts weren't as awesome as they were supposed to be, or even if it was just too cold and windy to expect them to do all of the work.

The mitts themselves are pretty unobstrusive. They don't get in the way of normal hand postioning, whether on the hoods or in the drops. There's plenty of room to move around in there, which also explains why they look so massive. I feel like my bike looks like some sort of old Battlestar Galactica spacecraft (the old series, not the new one).

The first real test was a nice downhill stretch about a mile from my house. I usually get up to around 42mph on the way down, and with temps in the upper 20s, that would mean some pretty frigid hands. Not today. I didn't feel a thing on the way down the hill.

Or any other hills. Or on any flats. My hands stayed toasty warm. In fact, by the time I got home, they were sweating. I could have just worn the liners (which stayed in my pocket) and left the gloves at home. That's probably what I'll end up doing from now on.

To sum up, these were worth every penny. Super-warm; warmer than I could ever have imagined. Easy to move around in; switching hand positions didn't require any extra effort, and the mitts weren't a distraction. Did I mention that these things are super-warm?

Still have to try out the MTB version. I was supposed to get out this afternoon, but neither Brian or I could get it together to make it to Frick. Soon enough.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dancing with myself.

Sitting in a coffee shop, supposedly working on some freelance. All by myself with the laptop and headphones. It feels like I haven't done this in roughly ten years or so. Heather really wanted to come with me, and I'd have been happy to have her here, but she can't stay up as late as me, and I really needed to get out of the house.

Working from home is great, but after awhile I just need to get away. Especially if I still have to sit and do some work in the evening. If I'm going to keep staring at a computer screen, it's nice to at least switch up the surroundings a little bit.

Riding at lunch isn't the same thing as getting away from the house, either. That's getting away, but it's a different thing. That's getting away and clearing the head of work, but it's not like I'm thinking about how I'm away from the house while I'm riding. I'm thinking about riding. I wish I was riding right now, actually.

December hasn't been much of a month so far, in regards to riding the bike. I think I've been out maybe five times. In fifteen days! What's up with that? Sure, one of those days was the Punk Bike Enduro, but I'm really, seriously itching to get out on the roads and go for a really nice long ride.

It'd be nice if I could do that on Saturday, but Verizon's coming to install FIOS, and they're supposed to show up anywhere between 8:00 and 12:00, and they say installation can take up to four hours.

With our luck, they'll show up at 12:30, while I've been sitting around waiting all morning for them. And then the day will be shot. At least in terms of riding.

If the weather's nice on Sunday, Brian and I are supposed to head over to Frick in the afternoon. Really looking forward to that. The Combi is so sparkly clean right now, but I'd love to get back out on some trails that I know. And hope that Brian doesn't insist on going up Iron Grate. That is craziness. Seriously.

With any luck my moose mitts will show up in the next few days and I can try them out on Sunday. I'm really looking forward to having a good solution for cold hands, but I do worry a little bit about feeling claustrophobic, or that my hands are locked to the handlebars. Full review will be posted once they've been tested.

Okay. Back to work. I think this place is only open for another forty minutes or so.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Dirty Duo and the PBE

It was a pretty good weekend on the cycling front.

Saturday morning, I met Jon Conley down at the bike rental place on the jail trail. The idea was for us to head out and hit all of the Dirty Dozen hills, since neither of us were able to make it last weekend.

The weather yesterday was definitely not as favorable as it was the day of the actual event. We headed through town with cloudy skies, temps in the low 30s, and light snowfall. A far cry from mid-40s and sunny.

For whatever reason, there was tons of traffic heading through town. A taxi pulled out right in front of me on Smallman in the Strip District. My knee-jerk reaction to flip off the driver was foiled by the fact that I was wearing my lobster gloves.

When you only have three fingers on the entire glove, the whole middle finger thing loses some of its effect. Probably for the best. Flipping people off isn't very nice, even if they did see you coming and decided to pull out in front of you anyway.

The ride up Center was no problem, and Ravine wasn't too bad, either, but by the time we got to the top, the snow was coming down a little bit harder and the roads were getting pretty wet. I felt my rear wheel start to slip in a few places as I neared the top of Ravine.

Jon's feet were freezing, too. With those things in consideration, and taking into account that Berryhill would be cold, wet, and mossy, we decided to call it a day. We head back down Ravine and back into town. So much for completing the Dirty Dozen.

I probably wouldn't have made it through all thirteen hills anyway. Aside from the cold and wet, my left knee was giving me considerable grief by the time I made it home. Most likely because I has basically taken a week and a half off from riding while waiting for my finger to heal. I really should have at least been riding on the trainer in the basement.

Today, Robbie Sedgewick and I headed out for the Twentieth Annual Dirt Rag Punk Bike Enduro, held in Emmerling Park, over in Indianola. It's an eleven stage race/event, with most stages punctuated by beer breaks. Alas, I forgot to bring an extra vessel and was unable to partake.

The riding portions of the day were pretty good. Muddy. Extremely muddy. With huge puddles all over the place. Still, it was fun riding, and I'm sure the bikes enjoy getting caked with mud, even as the derailleurs became so clogged that they were simply no longer able to function (Robbie's single-speed didn't have that issue).

I'd never been to Emmerling before, but apparently lots of motocross racing happens on those trails, so there were some pretty deeply rutted sections that were fairly ridiculous to try to ride through.

There were a number of sections where I had to walk the bike through an area like that, try to get back on and clipped in (with pedals and cleats also enrobed in mud), pedal a few strokes and then run into another rutted section. Either that, or there'd be a big log in the way, and I'd have no momentum to even consider trying to ride over it.

A good time, though. I'm glad I went, and I'm glad that Robbie was able to go, since there weren't too many other people who were there that either of us knew. I'd have to say that I'd have rather done more riding that standing around at beer breaks, but that's a big part of the whole thing, so I'm not asking for any changes or anything like that. If I go next year, I'll have to remember a vessel.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dirty Doesn't


So today was the Dirty Dozen and... I didn't ride. I wanted to, and the weather was perfect, and I trained for the last few months and got to know all of the hills (some better than others, but I still covered them all). So I was all ready. But then I went and messed up the middle finger on my right hand.

This past Sunday night, I decided to swap cranksets on the Bianchi. I picked up an Ultegra compact on eBay for a pretty great price. Brian was going to help me with it, but I wanted to get it on there before the ride and the instructions looked pretty straightforward (mind you, I've not done much mechanic-ing on my bikes up to this point), so I picked up a bottom bracket tool at Pro Bikes and got to work.

The swap itself was ridiculously easy. As I mentioned, the directions were pretty clear, so everything went off without a hitch. And then I realized that I had left the pedals on the old crankset. Which meant I'd have to wrench them out of there without being able to use the bike for leverage.

That didn't work out so well. I was working the drive side pedal loose, and all of a sudden (and way more quickly than I was prepared to handle) it did, in fact, come loose. The whole crank set sort of spun around with the crank arm and one of the teeth on the big ring jammed itself into my middle finger, right at the first knuckle.

One good thing is that it didn't hurt at all. Either that or, I was so focused on getting out of the garage and back into the basement to start trying to get the grease out of the wound that the pain was the furthest thing from my mind. Who knows. I don't remember any pain, and that's all that matters, right?

After scrubbing it for awhile and not being sure if I was doing a great job, I called up to Heather to come down and lend a hand. She could tell I had some trouble from the trail of blood that led from the garage door to the stationary tub. I asked her to go get a pair of scissors so that we could cut off the little flap of skin on top of my finger and see how clean everything looked.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a little flap of skin. It was the rest of my finger. The tooth had dug in at a deep enough angle it was pretty much just a puncture wound. I can't imagine it was all that far from the bone.

We got it cleaned out as best we could and headed over to my parents' house to get my mom's opinion (she's a nurse). She said it looked like we had done a pretty good job of getting everything out of there, but I made a doctor's appointment the next morning (my mom sent me to school with a broken collarbone when I was in high school, so if she says everything's okay, I'm still a little wary) just in case.

The doctor was also pretty satisfied that everything looked okay, but she gave me a prescription for some antibiotics anyway, AND I got a tetanus shot. All that was left to do was wait and see how long it took to heal.

And wait.

(The Finger on Tuesday)

For awhile, I really thought it might be good enough to go today, but then I realized I'd need to have gloves on all day and bear down pretty hard on the bars while climbing the hills. I figured I'd just end up tearing the whole thing open and bleeding all day.

I was pretty okay with my decision all day today, but then we ran over to the EEFC to pick up a few things. While we were driving through Squirrel Hill, we came up on big groups of cyclists heading down Beechwood.

Heather rolled down her window and asked if they had just finished the DD (it was about 4:45). They confirmed, and that's when I started feeling really bad about not being able to ride. I wish I had been out there with them. Oh well. Next year.

I just hope that the finger's in good enough shape for the Punk Bike Enduro next Sunday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ten of Thirteen isn't too bad.

Chris Mayhew organized a little Dirty Dozen scouting ride for Sunday morning. This was a good thing because a) Saturday was kind of gross out and I didn't feel like heading down for the WPW training ride, b) having skipped said WPW ride, I really wanted to get out and get some hills under my belt, and 3) Chris's plans were to do the whole thing, and I wanted to see if I could even make it through from start to finish.

Here are a few details:

  • Eight of us started from the Oval at 10:00 AM
  • The weather was great. Clear and sunny all day, with temps somewhere in the mid-to-upper 40s.
  • Three of us (Chris, Robbie, and I) finished at the top of Flowers/Kilbourne/Tesla sometime around 1:30 or so.
  • The five that peeled off at varying points in time did so of their own volition, not because of mechanicals or anything like that.
  • In the time between, we climbed ten of the thirteen hills on the DD route.
  • We skipped Canton, Boustead, and Barry/Holt/Eleanor.

All in all, I'd say I felt pretty good. I was still on my bike when I got to the top of each hill. I wasn't flying, but I wasn't puking, either. I was slightly disappointed that we skipped out on Canton, just because I still haven't tried it yet, but I'll just have to make sure I get myself over there this coming weekend.

At some point I need to swap a 12-27 cassette from the Portland to the Bianchi. I've been doing fine with the 12-25, but those two teeth might make a little bit of a difference.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Murrysville Cyclocross 2009

Finally got my first cyclocross race under my belt. The weather was pretty much perfect. Almost a full day's worth of rain on Friday, with showers tapering off about fifteen minutes before the start of the race left the course sufficiently saturated and ready to be turned from grass to mud. Temps were hovering somewhere near 60.

Heather and her dad came along to watch, and we got there somewhere around 9:20. That gave me plenty of time to get a lap around the course to get a feel for how things would be. It wasn't too hard to imagine that things would be muddy.

Morningside Velo at the starting line. L-R Robbie Sedgewick, Alex Braunstein, Brian Janaszek, Me

I was fortunate to get a spot in the first row before the race started, and once they set us off, I was in fourth or fifth place and a gap was already forming between us and the rest of the pack. There were maybe two other people close behind me: some guy I didn't know, and Brian.

When we got to the first run-up, Brian passed me. Somewhere not too far after that, the other guy passed me, too. Before the end of the first lap, though, I had managed to pull back in front of Mr. Unknown. Brian was still in front of me, hanging pretty close to some other guy.

By the end of the second lap, the guy behind me was pretty far back, and the rest of the group was nowhere in sight. I wasn't too far from Brian and the guy he was battling, but I knew that I didn't have the legs to catch up with them.

Me, shortly before eating it on the last lap.

On the fourth and final lap, I guess I had built up enough distance between me and my closest trailer that when I wiped out on one of the switchbacks and dropped my chain, I was able to stop and get everything back to where it needed to be without any threat of being passed.

I ended up finishing 6th in a field of 26. That was way better than I would ever have expected. I might not make it out for another race this season (I screwed up and made other plans before realizing there was another race tomorrow), which really stinks, but it was lots of fun and great incentive to try and get to more races next season.

The Portland: post-race, pre-bath.

Up next: Dirty Dozen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

*Sigh*. Postponed.

Hmm. The start of my cyclocross racing career is still on hold. Pro Bikes didn't have a middle ring, but I didn't find out until I called on Friday to see if there was any news. It's on its way, but won't be in until next week.

If I had been smart, I'd have called Wednesday morning to see if they had one in stock and then started calling around to other bikes shops. Alas, I was not smart, so now I have to wait.

I'll probably get out on the MTB for a while tomorrow morning. The tentative plan is to meet Jon at Riverview Park and see what that's like. He's spoken highly of it, so I'm looking forward to riding in a new place.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I went to 'cross practice and all I got was this broken tooth.

For the first time in, what? Three? Four weeks? the Portland and I finally made it back to Frick for Tuesday night 'cross practice. Of course I didn't get there in time for the 6:00 clinic, but at least I was there before sprints started.

When the sprints did start, I realized that I probably should have actually eaten something before heading out. Maybe if I'd had more time. I was okay for the most part, but I could feel it each time on the way back to the starting line.

The race laps seemed to go a little bit better, and everything was going really well until we started this one little climbing section. I decided to take advantage of my granny gear, but I was probably already working too hard when I downshifted and the chain popped off of the rings.

No big deal there. I got off, reseated the chain, and kept going. The only problem was that it kept wanting to fall back onto the little ring. In fact, the only way I was able to keep the chain on the middle ring was to shift the front derailleur to the big ring trim position. Something wasn't quite right.

Since we finished at about 7:25 and I was over in Squirrel Hill anyway, I figured I might as well stop by Pro Bikes to see if anyone had time to look at it. I was fine with leaving it there, too, since I had driven to practice, but I thought maybe I could even learn a thing or two.

I got to the shop and there wasn't a whole lot going on, so Jake put the bike in a repair stand and started looking around. At first he thought that it might just be the cables that needed adjusting, but after trying that and messing with the limit screws, the chain still had no desire to hang around on the middle ring.

Jake took a closer look, and it was then that he realized that there was a tooth missing on the middle ring. Almost definitely from that ill-timed/advised shift I described a little earlier. Once the crank spun to where the tooth was missing, the chain dropped back down to the granny.

Now the Portland's sitting at Pro Bikes, hoping that there's a middle ring somewhere in their basement waiting for it. I hope so, too. I'd really like to have the bike back before the weekend so that I can go up to Grove City for the 'cross race on Sunday. I didn't make it this past Sunday, due to weather and overall tiredness.

After getting back to practice tonight, I really want to get on a course and find out how bad I suck. I just want to race. And finish. We'll see what happens. Assuming I get the bike back in time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

It was a year ago yesterday that I wrecked on the Eliza Furnace trail while riding home from work. I still can't believe that I was lucky enough that my friend Chris was riding with me that day.

I'm sure that some stranger would have called an ambulance for me, but who knows what would have happened to my bike. Even if someone else had called, it's still not completely clear that I would have let the EMS guys take me. Chris had to talk me into getting into the ambulance, because apparently I thought I could get back on the bike and ride home by myself.

One more time: thanks, Chris!

To celebrate the occasion, I hopped on the bike after work last night and rode down to Confluence (my former employer on the North Shore, not Confluence, PA). From there I went across the 31st St. Bridge, up through Polish Hill, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, and then back home.

Stayed on my bike the whole time. Felt pretty great, actually. It's good that I was able to put in more miles than the same day a year ago.

It was definitely a little odd being in and around downtown Pittsburgh with all of the G20 stuff going on. There weren't any protesters visible, but the whole city was pretty dead. No traffic on the way through town. Police and national guards on either side of any bridge. I was able to get where I wanted to go without any trouble though, so I was happy about that.

Not sure what the weekend will bring. I'm waffling as to whether or not I should register for the cyclocross race at Raccoon Creek on Sunday. Really, I probably should.

I'm a little nervous about racing 'cross for the first time, but the only way to get that first one out of the way is to go and do it. It'd probably be better to get this one under my belt before heading up to Grove City next Sunday.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Can you believe it's almost September already?

In an effort two have at least two posts per month, here's a second for August.

Let's see... since the last time, I've raced once. That was interesting. I was doing pretty well for most of the race, probably in the top five or six heading into the last couple laps (knowing full well that even with that positioning, sprinters would throw me into the mid-teens by the time I crossed the finish line).

Coming out of the fourth turn on the second to last lap, I inexplicably moved ahead of the guy whose wheel I'd been following and captured the lap. That's all very nice if there are seven or eight laps to go, or if you have the legs to try to pull something like that. When you're on the second to last lap, and you don't have those kinds of legs, it's pretty stupid.

After having to work through the last of that lap on my own, I was pretty spent, and everyone started passing me. And I mean everyone. I didn't have enough energy to try to keep up, and the field was too tight to really be able to sneak back in. I think I ended up finishing 33rd or 34th of 35. I wasn't dead last, but I was pretty close.

Kind of a let down for my last race of the season, but a good learning experience, I suppose. Next season I'll be racing with Morningside Velo. I'm really looking forward to riding with a team and learning what all is involved with that. I hope I can pull my weight if the occasion to do so arises.

Now that race season is over, it's time for Cyclocross season to get started. I've never raced 'cross before, so I'm going to start going to the practices at Frick every Tuesday night. The Portland should be perfect as a 'cross bike. I'm looking forward to learning more and riding more.

I was able to get plenty of riding in this weekend. Friday night was the PORC beginner ride at Frick. Sans beginners, which meant we mostly stuck to singletrack stuff for the whole evening. I managed to wreck at least four times, mostly because I'd get to the top of something or another and then lose momentum and just sort of fall over.

Falling over isn't so bad, but when you're four feet up on top of a pile of logs, it's a long way down. No broken bones, and I didn't hit my head. No complaints, really. Pain makes you beautiful. Or something.

On Saturday, I ignored the gray skies and took the Bianchi out for a ride. I was near Phipps Conservatory, about seven miles from home when the clouds opened up. I got soaked pretty quickly. The rain let up as I go to Homestead, but it started pouring again with less than a mile to go.

That's the first time I've really been out in the rain this year, so again, no complaints. It's not such a bad thing every now and then. It also gave me a chance to notice one of the major differences between the Bianchi and the Portland: disc brakes vs. rim brakes. Huge difference when it's wet.

The reliability of the brakes on the Portland is constant through any conditions. Not so much with rim brakes on the Bianchi, I had to start braking sooner, and worry a little bit more that I would actually stop where I needed to. I wouldn't say that there was ever impending doom, but I will say that I'm glad I have the Portland for when I know that the conditions won't be sunny and dry.

I rode the Combi again in Frick this morning. I parked over near the bowling greens, since I had to drop a bunch of recyclables at Construction Junction before riding.

The first order of business was to face my arch-nemesis, the stupid descent on the bowling green trail that goes down to the Homewood trail. I've wrecked on that descent on more than one occasion. My right thumb is still giving me trouble from the last time I tried it, back on July 15th.

Knowing that speed is my friend and braking is only going to kill me, I approached the descent and made it almost the whole way down before I realized I had jigged right when I should have stayed left. I braked, and although this wreck wasn't as bad as the last one, I came down hard on my right thigh.

I was able to keep riding for another hour and a half (with only one or two other minor incidents), but I can tell that my thigh will probably screaming at me tomorrow morning. It's bad enough just getting up from a seated position now.

The weather looks great for this week. I hope my leg doesn't force me to rest for any of it.

Non-bike news? Nothing too crazy. Work's been unbelievably busy for the last month or so. Heather started back at school last week. She is also unbelievably busy, and will probably be until June, when school lets out again for the summer.

The kittens are doing well. Almost four months old. Very cute, and not terribly bad. It's great having them around the house now that Heather is back in school. I'd be really lonely without them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tuesday Night at the Oval (wherein we average 26mph over the 30 race laps)

First race last night with the Via Nirone 7. I'm pretty sure we had a full field (although it didn't look like hardly anyone was going to be there even half-way through the women's/junior's race).

The big question on everyone's mind, of course, is "Alan! Now that you have an actual road bike, did you win?"

The answer to that question, which should come as no surprise, is "No."

I did finish in 15th, two spots up from the last time I raced. Was it because I was riding on a bike that weighs a few pounds less than the Portland (I haven't taken the time to do an actual comparison to see what the actual weight difference is)? Maybe there were other people who were tired last night, or maybe there were more new people. Who knows.

Regardless, in terms of my own individual performance, I was really happy with the result. I went in not feeling all that great, and I left my water bottle at home while I was getting the car packed and ready to go (and the vending machine at the Oval was broken).

I think I led one lap, and I was pretty close to the front of the group (maybe 5th or 6th) for a decent chunk of the latter part of the race. On the last lap, as usual, everyone started sprinting and I got passed by what seemed to be a ton of people (although apparently it was really only eight or nine, not including the people who were ahead of me already). That's still an area where I need to improve.

No big deal, though.

So yeah, I decided to buy a road bike. I thought I'd be getting an '09 Specialized Allez Elite Compact, but Pro Bikes was all out of my size (or at least, they were out of 52cms, which I thought was my size, based on the Portland being a 52cm) and wouldn't be able to get any more in stock. Same for the Cannondale CAAD9s.

I figured I'd just wait for the 2010 CAAD9s to come in, based on Jake's recommendation. Heather and I stopped in on Sunday because I wanted to make sure that we had the sizing all figured out in the event that I'd have to special order one.

As I said, the Portland is a 52cm, but when I bought it, we decided on the 52 because I was having it converted to a flat bar bike (which was later converted back to drop bars). If I had to order a new road bike, I didn't want it to be too big.

They brought up a Cannondale Six in a 52cm and it was pretty apparent that it was too big. Then they brought out the 50cm Bianchi and told me to go take a ride around the block.

The difference between the Bianchi and the Portland was pretty immediate. It felt so much lighter and quicker. That's not to take anything away from the Portland. It's a fantastic bike and it's never let me down.

The Bianchi felt great, though. Compared to either the Specialzed or the CAAD9 that I was considering, the Bianchi had a better set of components, a better wheelset, and unlike the CAAD9s, it has carbon seatstays.

I think the only thing that the 2010 CAAD9s might have on the Bianchi is the BB30 bottom bracket, but for the maximum amount of power that I'll ever be able to generate, I'm sure that I'll be able to live without it.

Now I have three bikes. I should probably really try to stick with those three for a good long time now. I think I can realistically say I should be able to do that:

  • Bianchi Via Nirone 7 for racing, training, and everyday riding in good weather.
  • Trek Portland for cyclocross, longer rides (centuries and things of that nature), ridiculous hills (dirty dozen), riding in crappy weather (thank you, full fenders), and hauling some things around (thank you, rear rack).
  • Commençal Combi S for off-road/mountain biking. Honestly, I've considered using the Combi for the dirty dozen. It would seem like a 22t granny would be great for some of those hills, but on the other hand, I'd probably flip backward actually trying to get up the hills. It's something to consider, I guess.

I think that covers most situations where I'd need a bike. I don't see myself doing time trials or triathlons. Yet.

To be honest, I can't say that I won't take the Bianchi out for longer rides, becuase I haven't had a chance to take it for any ride longer than 15 miles or so, so I don't know how it'll feel to ride it for hours at a time.

I think the reason I'd favor the Portland in those cases is just that it's so much easier to load it up with lots of stuff that I might need if I'm getting farther away from home and/or civilization.

One thing I can definitely see myself doing is replacing the saddle on the Bianchi. I have a Bontrager Inform on my Portland, and I'm really happy with it. The Bianchi came with a Selle San Marco Ponza, and even after a few shorter rides, I feel like I can tell the difference. It might just be best to make the switch now and try to hawk the Ponza on eBay.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tuesday Night at the Oval (to steal subject lines from other people)

I had a good night at the Oval on Tuesday. 17th out of 32 riders. I'm pretty sure that's my best finish so far, and at no time did I feel like I was going to get dropped or lose sight of the main group.

I was a little nervous about heading down. I hadn't raced since June 24th and I was really worried that any sort of experience I had gained from the first few times racing would be long gone. I'm glad that wasn't the case.

One of the things that seemed to keep happening over the course of the race was that I would move to the outside to move up a little bit, get behind someone else, and then they would basically just stop pedaling.

At that point, I'd be stuck behind them and everyone on the inside (who I had just been trying to pass) would creep up past me. I was starting to think that there was a conspiracy afoot to keep me from advancing toward the front of the pack.

With maybe eight laps to go, I did find myself at the front of the group (not including the two or three other guys who were way further ahead of anyone else) for close to a lap, and as I expected, when we pushed through the fourth turn, and I started to get a little fatigued, almost everyone passed me by.

Even so, I was able to hang on and work my way back toward the middle of the group, which is about where I stayed for the rest of the race. I'd rate last night's race a pretty solid "pass". I never felt winded, never felt like I was going to die.

Of course, with all of this racing, I've started to wonder whether or not I should seriously consider getting an actual road bike. The Portland is a great bike, and as far as I can tell I'm not breaking any rules by racing with disc brakes (if these were UCI events, that'd be a different story), but I wonder if I'd get a tougher time with that if I ever moved up to the B races (not that there's any threat of me doing that any time soon).

I've been looking at the Felt F-75 and the Specialized Allez Elite Compact. They're essentially the same bike, as far as the build and all of that, and given that I really like the guys at Pro Bikes, I'd be more likely to get the Allez.

At the same time, it's not like I'm going to start winning races just because my bike is three or four pounds lighter. What I should probably do is just go take one for a test-ride to see if I can even feel any sort of major difference, and then go from there.

If I were to do something ridiculous like buy a new bike, where does that leave the Portland? Well, if that does happen, I'll most likely put the rack back on the Portland so that it can serve as the long-distance/utility bike.

The Portland will also be a great cyclocross bike, and cyclocross season starts in the fall. I would imagine that the Portland would also be better for the Dirty Dozen, with the granny gear and all. So it's not like I'd stop riding/using it. We'd just have to make more room in the garage somehow.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hi. How are you?

I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever ride my bike again. I haven't been out since Monday morning before work. I wanted to race on Tuesday night, but it was just way too busy at work again. That's three weeks in a row that I haven't been down to the Oval. If I ever do make it back there, it's going to be like starting over again.

Since I couldn't get to the Oval on Tuesday, I figured I might as well at least take the bike in for some maintenance. Shifting had been getting really sloppy/slow. Pittsburgh winters can do that to you.

So yeah, we left the house on Tuesday at 7:35 or 7:40 and made it to Pro Bikes at the very last minute. After the last minute, actually. They had turned off the automatic door, but waved me inside (I had to push the door open from the side. It took me a little while to figure that out).

I got the Portland all signed up for new cables and housing to go along with a regular tune-up. It's still there now. I really hope they call tomorrow and say that it's ready for pick-up. If they do, I really hope that I can get there before they close at 6:00. I might have to send Heather to go pick it up for me.

Wow. It's been like a month since I've bother/had time to sit down and write anything. That's terrible. Let's see... since June 17th, I've not done anything too terribly exciting in terms of riding.

Actually, the week after that last post, I went to the Oval for Tuesday's C race and did (by my own low standards) pretty well. I finished 21st of 35 (full field again, as I'm sure it's been over the last few weeks, too) and didn't really have any trouble keeping up with the group.

There were times there when I was with a group of five or six guys near the front, but then we'd go around a turn and everyone I had just passed would be in front of me again. Still, I was able to hang in there, and probably could have done better than 21st if I'd been thinking about what I was doing for the entire final lap instead of just after the fourth turn.

After that fourth turn, I crushed it as much as I could. I might have even been up out of my saddle for a little bit there. On the whole, pretty satisfying. If I can actually get myself back down there for a few weeks in a row, I might actually be able to move up a little bit further and see my name on the results sheet.

Like the Pirates finishing a season above .500, that'd be a pretty major victory. I think I have a better chance of doing that than the Pirates do of having a winning season.

Beyond that, nothing too crazy. Did the beginner ride with PORC again last Friday at Frick. I didn't really wreck and didn't hardly hurt myself at all. The bike came out unscathed. Another small victory! The nice thing about that beginner ride is that it's not really all that beginner. The ride leaders go all over the place and do all sorts of different stuff.

For example, I'm still pretty terrified of really steep downhills. I can't get my head around them. I can't convince myself that it makes sense for me to even think about doing some of them. We did a couple on Friday. The first one went really well. I just stuck my ass out, laid off of the brakes and did it.

We came up on another one not too much later, and I wasn't ready for it. I saw it and went tharn. Just stopped. And walked my bike down the hill. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Two days later, I rode through Frick on my Portland, on the general purpose trails. Although I wasn't really surprised, I was still amazed at the difference in feeling between a fully rigid road/cross bike with 28mm tires inflated to 120psi and a full-suspension mountain bike with 2.1" tires running at 32psi. Crazy!

I really need to get out again soon. Even if I'm able to get the Portland back tomorrow, I won't be able to ride tomorrow evening. We're helping my parents move some furniture around in their house while they have the living room and dining room floors refinished.

Also, my grandma's in the hospital right now after having a bad stroke yesterday, so we'll be spending some time with her over the weekend. She can't talk right now, and you can see how frustrating it is for her. We were there last night and I know she was trying to tell us stuff that we weren't able to understand from the limited gesturing she was able to do. I hope she's able to get some more functionality back.

Sunday we have a family reunion out at my uncle's place in New Kensington. I think that Heather thinks I'm joking, but I plan on riding out there. She can drive the Fit and we can throw the bike in the back of the car for the ride home. Yes, I'll take a shower and get changed out of my nasty bike clothes once I get there.

I really need to string together some days and days in a row in the saddle. I feel like it hasn't happened at all yet this year. I'm going to have to make it happen.

One other small piece of news/upheaval: we adopted three kittens. We'll have had them three weeks this coming Saturday, and I think they're probably about nine weeks old.

Our neighbor's mom's friend's son found them while driving home on a farm road the same night that Eve died. We heard about them two weeks after they had been caring for them. They weren't able to keep them because they were getting a new puppy, so we went to meet the people and the kitties.

At first we thought we might only get one of the three, but we told them that if any of the other potential parents backed out, we'd take any or all of them.

After the kitties passed their feline leukemia/HIV screenings, they called us to let us know that they really wanted to keep all three of them together and asked if we were still interested in taking all of them. Umm. Of course!

After three weeks, I think the kitties are really happy living with us, and I know they love being together. They play together, eat together, and sleep together. They've already had to go through a lot.

We've had to treat them for coccidia and giardia, and Mona, the smallest of the three (and the only girl) had a really tough weekend. We had to take her in to get fluids on Saturday and Monday. She seems to be doing much better now, and I hope they're all out of the woods as far as early potential perils go.

Maybe instead of just talking about bikes all the time, I'll start talking about bikes and kitties.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Got Beat Up.

Two nights in a row.

Monday night Heather and I went over to Frick Park. She to read, I to ride. I'm pretty sure she didn't have any trouble with her reading, but I had a pretty nice wreck on the Bowling Green (if that's the right name for it) trail. Basically, it starts near the Bowling Green in Point Breeze and runs down to the bottom of the Homewood Trail.

The descent down to the Homewood Trail is the part that gets me every time. It's really steep (at least to me) and even though I know that I'd be a lot better off to just keep moving and lay off of the brakes, I can't convince my body to actually DO that.

What happens is that I'm on this really steep angle, braking way more than I should be, and of course my back end decides that it really wants to be going a lot faster than my front end. In order to accomplish this, back end goes up over me. Needless to say, physics and gravity and all sorts of other things of science don't look too fondly on that, and the bike and I end up on the ground in a heap.

Looking at the bruises, it appears that I landed on my left forearm, right thumb, chest, both knees, and somehow my right ankle. But not my head. We can all be thankful for that.

Looking at my bike, it seems to have landed pretty heavily on the rear derailleur. After I picked myself up, brushed off all of the dirt, and climbed back on the bike (oh, and no, I didn't try to go down the hill at that point. I just decided to go a different way), it was immediately apparent that the shifting was all kinds of wrong. The chain was jumping all over the place in the back, especially under load. I looked back at the chain, and the cage was definitely not running even to the rear cogs. Great stuff. At least it was still rideable, and I was able to make my way back to where Heather was camped out without too much trouble.

I took the bike to Pro Bikes at lunch today. They confirmed that, yes, I did, in fact, bend the derailleur. Or the hanger. They're not sure which. They'll check it out and let me know. They know me by name there. First and last. It's a little scary. I probably spend too much time (and money) there.

That was Monday night.

Last night (being Tuesday night) was another night at the Oval for the Cat C race. Heather came with me again so that she could watch. Before the race, there was a little class about treating yourself in the event of a wreck. Foreshadowing?

I didn't feel especially awesome before the race. I probably should have eaten more before we left. I had a Clif bar and some goo before the race, but that was about it since 3:00, I think. I joked to Heather that I would be finishing 35th of 35.

Everything started out fine. I got a little nervous when they said we'd be doing 35 laps this week, instead of the 32 that I was used to, but really, what's another mile and a half among friends.

I was doing pretty well for the first few laps. I noticed pretty early that I was far back in the field, so I shifted to the right and started moving up. I was probably somewhere in the top fifteen by the 10th lap or so.

I'm not sure what happened after that. I can point to a few things as probable causes, though: As I was going through the third and fourth turns on one of the ensuing laps, I drifted pretty far to the top of the track and totally lost the wheel in front of me. Right as I realized I was going to be in trouble if I didn't get my butt back on someone else's butt real soon, I heard a wreck to my left.

I don't know if that spooked me or what, but I didn't end up getting back on anyone's wheel, and I saw the whole field starting to move along without me. Amazingly, there was one other guy who was having some sort of similar (but probably entirely unrelated) problems. I pulled up behind him, and we trudge along for a number of laps (I don't know how many) before the group finally lapped us. During this time, it became pretty evident how windy it was coming up the last stretch toward the finish line.

Once the group came back around, get on someone's wheel and stay there. With that taken care of, the last eleven laps were pretty easy going. I still can't believe what a difference it makes to have someone in front of you doing the job of cutting through the wind.

The one really great thing about being 34th of 35 (the guy who wrecked was down for at least a lap or two before he was able to get back into the race) is that I missed the wreck right at the finish. I can't personally verify this, but from what I heard, it sounded like the winner decided to slow down as soon as he crossed the line and celebrate his victory. Of course, someone else ran into him, and I think someone else ran into that guy. Celebrating because you won a C race? Come on. Get a grip.

Regardless of my result, I'm glad I finished the race. For a while there, I thought about just pulling off and giving up. Those laps where it was just me and the other guy were rough, but at the very least it was good exercise.

A few things to take away:

  • Don't try to move too far ahead. When you follow the guys who are moving up on the right, chances are they're going to be faster than you. If you can't keep up when they break, you'd better have a good plan to get back in with the rest of the field.
  • Pay better attention on the turns. I still don't know how I drifted so far up the track on the fourth turn, but it killed me. I was out on my own, and there was no way to get back in. I was screwed.
  • Always pay attention at the end of the race. If someone is going to slow down so they can shoot some "V"s at their friends, you'd better be ready for it.

Better luck next Tuesday, maybe.

Monday, June 15, 2009

We love you, Eve.

Last Wednesday, June 10th, our little kitty cat, Eve, died. We had taken her to the vet in the morning to have her teeth cleaned. They called us around 2:00 in the afternoon to let us know that they were going to have to pull her top left fang. That really wasn't very surprising to us, because in the past few months it had started to get a little lower, to the point where she had a bit of a snaggletooth.

We waited for them to call back to let us know that they were all finished and we could come and pick her up. The whole day in the house was pretty lonely without her. The vet called at 4:30 and asked to speak to Heather. I told her that I was Eve's other parent and she could let me know whatever. She got a little bit quiet, and then she told me that Eve had died.

Eve's physical that morning had gone fine. She had no problems with the anesthesia. The extraction of the tooth went really well, as did sewing everything back up. The tooth was really infected. The vet told us she came up out of the anesthesia without any trouble, but when they went to remove her catheter she got really fussy and kicky. When they did get the catheter out, Eve passed out and then she was gone.

They tried doing CPR for twenty minutes and tried to get another line in to give her emergency fluids, but she had no blood pressure and it was almost impossible to get into a vein. They tried, but they just weren't able to help her.

The vet told me that she thought that Eve might have had a surge of adrenaline that was just too much for her little heart to handle. She had never had this happen to her before, and she was really upset on the phone. She asked if we wanted to come get Eve to take her home. I said yes and asked if she'd still be there when we got there. She said she would wait for us to get there before she went anywhere else.

Heather and I drove to the vet, each of us a mess. We thought Eve was just getting her teeth cleaned. We knew that tooth was going to have to go, but lots of cats get their teeth pulled. It wasn't like this was some new experimental treatment. And she was only eight! And (to the best of our knowledge) really healthy! Like I said, we were both really upset.

When we got there, one of the vet techs led us to an exam room. Heather and I sat and waited. After a few minutes, our vet came in carrying Eve. Eve was just laying there, not moving. She handed her to me, and I looked at our little kitty and just started crying. It was so awful to see her like that. Not moving, not doing anything. Just there. I was cradling her, and if she had been alive, she'd have never let me hold her like that (she loved to be held, but not like that). It was terrible.

The vet talked to us again and tried to explain everything that had happened. She was crying as she told us how sorry she was. I know that she was genuinely upset and that they did everything they could. I have no bad feelings toward her or the practice.

We took Eve back home and buried her in our backyard. We wrapped her up with a towel and gave her her two favorite mice, two crinkly foil balls, and some primroses. Laying her in the ground was really hard. We both gave her little kisses and pet her one last time.

These past few days have been tough. The first time we came home from being away from the house, she didn't come to meet us at the door between the garage and the basement. When I sit at my desk to work, she doesn't come up behind me, reach up, and scratch the back of my chair. That was her way of letting me know that it was time to give her a little attention, which I was always happy to do.

She doesn't come up behind me, but every little randomly occurring noise from the house makes me think she's on her way in to see me. Heather is just as upset as I am. We both just can't believe that she's gone and she'll never be back.

Eve was the best little kitty cat. She owned our house and let us live there. That's how it was from the moment we brought her into the house and let her out of her carrier. She was comfortable from day one and she seemed happy to let us take care of her.

Over the five years that we had her, Eve amazed us in so many ways. She was always there to greet us when we got home. When we were upset about something, she would come around and let us pet her (I think she regarded this as a win-win situation).

Eve slept on our bed with us every night. She would curl up next to me and just rest against my side. It was one of my favorite things. Although she wasn't always as cuddly with Heather, Eve took care of her when I went to Florida for two weeks for work. During that time, Heather said Eve would lay with her anytime she was on the couch and slept next to her every night when she went to sleep.

Eve was the Best Little Kitty Cat. We will love her and miss her always.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lucky 13

Tonight was my first race at the Washington Boulevard Cycling Oval. I registered for the Class C race in an effort to see where I might fall amongst other people. Thanks to Brian for pointing me in the right direction.

I didn't do as badly as I thought I might have. I finished 13th in a field of 18, and I think I stuck with the group pretty well throughout the race.

I did get some help from one of the marshals. At one point I lost the guy in front of me and I was having trouble getting back up, so someone planted a hand on my back and helped push me back into the group. If not for that, I probably would have been completely out of reach of the rest of the field.

There are at least two things I need to improve:

  • I need to be a lot better at holding my line through the turns. I'm pretty sure I made a lot of the other riders fairly nervous (actually, probably pissed off) on at least a few occasions, and the marshals told me a few times to do a better job. At one point someone told me to relax my elbows a little bit, and I think that helped.

  • I should probably downshift as we approach the slope at the end of the lap, and then shift back up once we get to the top. It wasn't so much that I was really having trouble staying with people going up the slope, but I might be able to make it a little easier on myself if I don't have to hammer so hard to do so.

There are other things, I'm sure, but those are probably the big ones. As time goes on, I can think about moving up and stuff like that.

At one point I grabbed the wheel of someone who was moving up. It turns out he was moving to the front of the pack (I think he ended up finishing first or second). I was able to stay with him for close to a lap, but then he was gone and I was in the middle of nowhere trying to keep the momentum on my own. It didn't take long for the rest of the group to catch me and spit back toward the end.

Apart from that, I felt pretty good. Definitely good enough to want to go back next week and do it again. I need to go back down to the oval on my own, or better yet, with someone else, to practice the turns with a rider on my right. I don't want to cause undue anxiety, or worse yet, a wreck.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The weather outside...

It's supposed to be 35° in the morning. On May 18th. WTF?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Them's the brakes.

I had a good ride this morning. I'd have ridden at lunch, but I had to mow the lawn since it was supposed to rain this evening. Not wanting to disappoint me, it did rain this evening. It's been raining a lot. Really.

I was going to ride last night after I finished up with work. I got all dressed, headed downstairs, and went to check my tire pressure. Front tire was fine; topped it off. Rear tire was... really low.

I didn't feel like going through the hassle of taking off the tire, checking tube and tire and then reinflating, so I figured I'd just throw on the other wheelset. This was a good decision. As I was dropping the front wheel into place, the rotor clipped one of the brake pads and... the pad came right off of the piece that holds it in place and fell on the floor.

I couldn't believe it. I took the wheel back out and tapped the brake pad on the opposite side. Fell right off. Apparently, they were pretty well shot. I feel extremely fortunate that they decided to wait until just then to crap out, as having that happen while I was riding would probably have been fairly unpleasant.

I checked the rear brakes, but they still look to have plenty of life. Makes sense, as I do most of my braking with the front brake.

Obviously, I wasn't going to be doing any riding. I called REI to see if they had the brake pads in stock (I'd have gone to Pro Bikes, but they close at 6:00 on Mondays). They confirmed that they had plenty, so after Heather and I had dinner (tomato-garlic chickpea pancakes with salsa spread and some corn), I headed over to the Southside Works.

I picked up the brake pads, some degreaser, shot bloks, and Camelbak drink tab things. Lots of stuff on sale right now. I forgot to look for water bottle cages that won't rub paint/metal onto my bottles and make my fingers all silvery every time I take a drink. There was something else I forgot, but already it's slipped my mind. Again.

Installing the new brake pads was a piece of cake. Take out the old ones, snap in the new ones. Adjust them so that they're close, but not too close, to the rotors. Verify that when you apply the brake the wheel does, in fact, stop. That's about it.

No problems with the brakes this morning. I have to remember to check the rear tire on the other wheelset to see if that tire has deflated again. I don't want to forget about it until I want to use that wheelset again. But that's probably what will happen.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thank you, Frick Park, for reminding me that I suck.

Frick Park kicked my ass today. Repeatedly. Chris and I went out, since it's the last time we'll get to ride before he packs up and heads to CA. I had to pick up the Combi S from Pro Bikes yesterday (it needs a warranty-covered fork repair, and it's getting a new XTR front derailleur that I bought cheap on Chainlove) so that I'd have it for today.

We headed from his place over to Frick sometime around 11:00. Starting from Frick Museum side of the park, we made our way down the trail that starts near the bowling green. There's this ridiculously steep (to me, in my mtb infancy, at least) section that I finally made it down today, with only one minor slip that led to a little cut on my elbow.

We made our way up to the Iron Grate trail, and that's where the fun started. I took the lead, for some strange reason, and I don't know how or why, but at one point I just left my bike. Dragged that elbow, my shoulder, and my right leg through some dirt. The elbow was the only thing to suffer any (further) damage.

"That blood on your shorts, is that...?"

"Oh, that's just my elbow. No big deal."

We looked around, but couldn't really figure out what it was that caused me to spill. We may never know.

I climbed back on the bike and we started down the trail again. I want to say the rest of that trail went without incident, although I certainly moved a little more slowly. Actually, Chris ripped his Camelbak on a low-hanging tree branch. I'm short enough, and I guess my bike also low enough that it wasn't an issue for me.

I had another nice fall at one point (with no addition maiming), and so I decided that maybe my tire pressure was a little too high (somewhere around 50psi on a tire rated for 35 - 80). I let some air out and we started again. Shortly thereafter I wiped out. Again. On the left side this time (my previous falls had been on the right side, so at the very least, this made the dirt look more even and balanced).

I still have no idea what my problem was, but once we got down to one of the MUPs, I decided that I'd had my ass kicked enough for one day, and we headed back to his place.

It was great to get out on the trails again. The weather was gorgeous, sun was out, riding was nice when I was upright and pedaling, but really, what happened today? I just don't know.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thrift Drug 200k

Yesterday was the Thrift Drug 200k, Western PA's first brevet. Not coincidentally, it was also my first randonneuring event. I was made aware of it by my friend Dan, and once it was determined that my knees were no longer giving me any trouble, I decided to give it a shot.

The morning started a bit ominously. I was supposed to be at Jim Logan (the brevet organizer)'s house at about 6:30. He lives over in Shaler. I live in Munhall. There's something like 17 miles between those two places, and I didn't leave the house until almost 6:20.

I made good time getting to the Millvale exit off of 28, but then managed to get a bit lost. Backtracking and retracing cost me some time, and I finally ended up getting to Jim's house at about 6:55. That gave me loads of time to unpack the car, sign in, get ready, etc... I had really hoped to use his bathroom before we left, but alas, there was no longer time for that.

At this point, I could give you a blow-by-blow of the 129.93 miles that made up my ride (I got a little lost near the end, which accounts for the extra four miles). Doing that would take a long time. Probably almost as long as the 11:40 it took me to complete the ride (9:00:39 seconds of ride time with 2:40 for stops, breaks, etc...). Instead, I'll hit some highlights (and/or lowlights).

The ride started off great. We left from Jim's and made our way into town, through town, and across the Smithfield St. Bridge. From there we headed up Sycamore St. to the top of Mt. Washington. I was pleased to be the first person to make it to the top. Considering how long it took me to finish the whole ride, I now realize that everyone else was just conserving energy for the next 118 miles.

I was able to stay with Dan and Dale (another rider; he was riding this crazy Softride bike) for maybe the first 45 miles or so. After that, they pulled ahead and I just couldn't close the gap. Oh well.

Made it to WV without issue. The two or three miles through Ohio were uneventful. The next fifteen along the Ohio River were really great. Nice and flat, without tons of traffic. I even had a chance to see the nuclear power plant in Shippingport, PA. I didn't even know there was a nuclear power plant in Shippingport. Prior to yesterday, I had never even heard of Shippingport. Turns out the Shippingport plant was the first nuclear power plant in the United States, but it's been decommissioned since 1982.

Miles 75 - 100 were fairly miserable. I turned away from the river and made my way through Rochester, PA. Rochester, as far as I can tell, is one big uphill climb. If I never see Rochester again, I'll be perfectly happy. My granny gear has never seen as much action as it did in Rochester. In fact, after I finally made it through Rochester, I was pretty much broken.

Most hills after that resulted in me dropping down to the granny and the lowest gear in the back. I was just plain broken. Demoralized. I think miles 75-85 took more than an hour. I'd climb at about 6.5mph, slope back down a little bit, and then climb twice as high as the last hill. It was painful.

As if the steady uphill climbs weren't enough the wind was steady and constant, and at no time was it ever at my back. The wind was no friend of mine.

After I finally reached the last controle at mile 100, things were pretty good. There was a three or four mile stretch on Three Degree Road that was exactly what I needed - mostly flat with just a slight bit of rolling up or down. For those few miles I was actually able to stay at about 20mph. It was perfect.

Nothing too terrible after that. As I mentioned earlier, I got a little bit lost in North Park, which gave me a few extra miles that I didn't really want or need. I read my cue sheet and saw that I needed to make the left onto Hemlock. The cue sheet also informed me that I would be crossing Wildwood. Something happened with my eyes at Wildwood, because I got to that intersection, and I swear the sign said Hemlock. I turned left there instead.

Once I realized I wasn't where I needed to be, I checked the GPS on my phone, in hopes that it'd be easy to meet up with where I was supposed to be. No such luck. I turned around and headed back to where I screwed up in the first place. I checked the sign at the intersection. It said Wildwood.

I finally pulled back in to Jim's driveway at 6:40. I certainly didn't crash in a heap as soon as I stepped off of my bike or anything like that, but I was glad to be done. Jim asked if I'd consider doing a longer event, like a 300k, and I told him I'd have to think about it. I'd have to get myself into better shape.

Honestly, I don't know if I could be convinced to ever ride that route again. That's not to say I didn't have a good day, or that I didn't feel good about getting through 125 miles (with no knee pain!) under my own power. It's the longest single-day ride I've ever completed. I'm proud of that. I just don't know that I could ever face Rochester again.

Things to take away from the Thrift Drug 200k:

  • I might need a new saddle. I bought my current saddle after last year's MS-150, and it's been 1000x better than the stock saddle that came with my Portland, but for a lot of yesterday, I felt like I wasn't centered on the saddle, and that I was falling off of the right side. This led to all sorts of nasty chafing on the inner thigh of my left leg. So maybe I need a wider saddle.

  • No knee pain, but my left shoulder was a mess all day. I'm not sure if this more to do with my new stem (110mm, -6°) vs. my old stem (100mm, +10°), or if my shoulder was already somewhat out of sorts from my hockey class on Thursday. I'll need to monitor that.

  • My bike rack weighs a ton. I had taken it off a month or so ago, since I didn't really have much need for it (I work from home now, so I don't really have a commute where I have to take clothes to and from work). I put it back on yesterday, and just the rack (let's not even get started on the pannier full of food, tubes, etc...) made a huge difference in the weight of the back-end of the bike. Needless to say, that was removed as soon as I got home.

I guess that's all for now. I'm taking the day off from riding today.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Since We Last Spoke

I'm not sure why I ever bother checking the weather the night before I'm planning to ride in the morning. I guess I at least want to know if it's supposed to rain before I bother waking up two hours earlier than I normally would. If I'm going to go by that logic, then I shouldn't even bother looking at the temperature. I checked Thursday night before I went to sleep, and it said 40° by 6:00AM. Great! 3/4 length tights! No shell!

Yeah right. I woke up Friday morning at 6:10, looked at the temperature, and it said it was 29°. Full tights! Balaclava! Shell! Shoe covers! I don't like being cold. Oh, and there was a fog advisory.

Let me tell you something about fog. Fog and glasses. Fog, glasses, and cycling. Those three things? Man, they just don't work out so well. When I got outside and saw the fog, I should have turned right back around and gone inside.

Less than a mile from my place, I could barely see, thanks to the fine layer of mist on my glasses. I almost missed one of my turns. After another mile or so, I stopped to wipe off my glasses. That only helped for about a mile, but that was long enough to get me to the Southside trail, where i worry less about cars and more about rabbits and squirrels with suicidal tendencies.

Needless to say, I could hardly see any squirrels or rabbits. All I can say with any certainty is that I didn't hit any. Or if I did, they were really, really small. By the time I crossed over the Hot Metal Bridge and made my way to the Greenfield end of the jail trail, I was blind again.

The rest of the ride was more of the same. Ride for awhile. Stop when it was absolutely necessary to be able to see what was going on around me. Wipe off. Start again. I was really glad that the Wendy's on Brown's Hill was open for breakfast because I was able to stop in there and grab some napkins, which worked a lot better than my (now sweaty) mid layer by that point.

By the time lunch came around, temps had risen a bit, and I was able to go out with the 3/4 tights and fewer upper layers. Lighter gloves, too. It was really nice. Was it sunny? I can't remember. That was three days ago.

I added another 30 miles on Saturday. I wanted to get some riding in, but I had to take Heather to the airport at noon, so I woke up at 6:30, got out of the house around 7:15 and rolled back in by 9:30. I was pretty happy with that. It was a gorgeous day. If I hadn't had to play chauffeur, I probably would have stayed out another few hours. But there will be other nice weekends, right?

Yesterday was my second trip to Frick with the Commençal and much like the first time, it was plenty muddy. Which meant I fell quite a bit. There was one section where I could tell it was only a matter of time before my wheels went right out from under me. Not wanting to disappoint me, they did just that. On the way down, I managed to smack my left knee pretty good off of my handlebar. A day later, it's starting to bruise up nicely.

I took today off, but I'm getting up early tomorrow. High 20s be damned. Every time I get all bundled up this late in the cold season, I keep hoping it'll be my last ride with all of that crap. I really hope that tomorrow is my last ride with all of that crap. And I hope that by lunch it really does make its way up to 55° or so. If only it could just stay there.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Come in Number 51, Your Time Is Up

I graduated! I went to physical therapy tonight and my therapist asked me how I was feeling. I told him how I rode 42 miles on Saturday, another 30 on Sunday, and how I've been riding every day without pain. He was all like "How about tonight is your last night?"

And I was all like "Yeah, that sounds cool."

He basically told me to keep an eye on things, keep doing stretches, try doing some of the other exercises I've been doing there (I have ankle weights and exercise balls, so I can replicate a lot of the stuff at home) and keep moving.

I have to call the doctor tomorrow to see if he wants me to bother coming in for my follow-up the second week of April. Seriously, the last three weeks or so have been really great. I think a lot of it has been the physical therapy, and I've also been able to get out a lot more and actually ride.

I have a really nice 11.5-mile loop that I can do at lunch that has lots of good hills and some nice flat stretches, too. My time on that has been getting increasingly better.

When I can't do that for some reason, I set up the trainer and get on that for 30 minutes or so. It's hard to go much longer than that on the trainer because a) it's a really tough workout and b) it's a lot more boring than being outside. I need to make a little book/magazine stand so I can at least do something besides stare at my basement walls.

Today I had to get up really early to help Heather with some stuff, so I headed out for a ride at 6:40. I rode 17.5 miles in an hour. Great timing, considering the course, and again, no pain.

I had time to get out at lunch, although not as much as I would have liked. I did an abbreviated lunch loop of about 8.5 miles. Still, I'm pretty happy with 26 for the day.

After seeing what I was able to do today, I'm going to try to start doing the early thing more often. I know I could stretch that out to 20 miles and still get back home in time to start work. Add the 11.5 at lunch, and I'm at 30+ miles a day. I'd be pretty happy to be able to do that on a regular basis. Just to be outside and moving is the greatest thing.

So yeah, I really hope things are pretty close to being back to normal. With the weather finally starting to get nice again, most of my free time is spent thinking about when I can ride again.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March is off to a good start.

I know it's not really Spring yet. I keep trying to tell myself that we're not there yet. Remind myself that there's still a better chance for snowy days than days in the 70s. But the past few days have been trying to throw all of that realism by the wayside.

Sure it was 30° when I went for my lunch ride on Wednesday. But it was 55° on Thursday. And Friday it was 62° by the time I went out at lunch. It was supposed to have rained Friday night and keep going through Saturday morning, but when I woke up at 8:30, the sun was out and the radar map looked clear of rain. And it was already 65°. At 8:30! Heather had no plans on getting out of bed that early, so I got ready, got on the bike, and headed out.

The ride was great. I went 31.5 miles in a little over an hour and forty-five minutes. The best part was that my knee didn't give me any trouble the whole time. The last thirteen or fourteen miles were a lot more uphill than downhill, but still no problems. I'm going to take that as a sign that maybe the tendonitis is starting to get better.

I'll stick with physical therapy for the next four or five weeks, until I have my second follow-up with the sports medicine doctor. I'm hoping that by the time I go back to see him I can say that fifty and sixty mile rides aren't giving me any trouble and that everything is great again. I hope that's the case.

I'd really love to go for another nice long ride today, just to see how things feel on back-to-back days, but it's raining, and it looks like it's supposed to keep raining for the rest of the day. At the very least I'll spend some time on the trainer, although that's a lot less exciting than being outside with everything flying past.

The mountain bike got its inaugural mud-bath last Sunday. My friend Chris and I went over to Frick and the trails were muddy as all get out, thanks to snowmelt and ground thaw. It took me awhile to get used to the fact that the bike was made to be able to handle trails and roots and mud and all that junk.

I also had a hard time looking down some of the descents and coming to grips with the idea that I was supposed to sit on the bike and ride down those things. But it was really fun, really muddy, and I need to try to get out there again soon. Oh, and I didn't kill myself either.

Maybe next time the trails will have soaked up/distributed some of the moisture and my car won't be as insanely dirty on the inside when I throw the bike back in there.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More nice weather, please.

Finally got out yesterday. Between not being here for the first two weeks of February, getting over some nasty illness I caught during my second week down there, and crappy weather back up here in Pittsburgh, I just hadn't had a chance to make it outside.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I went out for about twenty minutes during my lunch break on Friday. That was just so I could give the new Commençal Combi S a little test ride. Don't worry. I managed to wreck AND hit my head. Nothing bad, though. No concussions. I dented the helmet a little, but I think it's okay. The bike is great, though.

I'd been wanting to get a mountain bike for awhile, and they had the Combi S up on Chainlove for $770. Way cheaper than the Specialized and Kona bikes I was looking at, and not much less bike, either. I couldn't pass it up. It showed up during my first week in FL, and I took it over to Pro Bikes when I got back so they could put it together for me.

But yeah, anyway, I finally got out on the Portland for awhile yesterday. About 26 miles actually, and by the time I got home, the left knee was giving me as much trouble as usual. I hope that some of that has to do with missing out on PT for two weeks while I was down in FL. I went twice over the past week, but apparently that didn't make too much of a difference. I have a followup with the sports med doc this week. I'll be interested to hear what he thinks. He'll probably tell me to just keep going to therapy and keep riding when I can. I hope the weather allows for it.

Apart from the knee, it was a great ride. It was so nice just to be outside on the bike again. The weather being all nice and sunny really helped. I'm so ready for spring.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some things.

I was going to ride at lunch today, but there's too much going on. I'll be finishing up with my current employer on Friday, and starting a new gig on Monday. Working from home! Should be pretty interesting. For the last few days here, though, I have all kinds of stuff to tie up and try to pass on to other folks who will be filling in. Of course the guy I'm supposed to be training is out sick today.

Apart from that... I started physical therapy for the knee on Monday. I go again tonight. The exercises that I'm doing so far aren't bad. Nothing crazy. I just hope it works. I have a follow-up with the doctor in six weeks, and I'm hoping that by then the PT will have started doing what it's supposed to do, which is strengthening the muscles around my tendon so that I can get back to riding the way I used to.

Speaking of riding, aside from not riding at lunch today, I haven't been able to get out a ton. I did ride on Sunday, and that was pretty fun. Road conditions in Highland Park were pretty bad. Even with the studded tires I was fishtailing like crazy. It was good physical and mental exercise, as I had to make sure I was focused the whole time I was riding so that I didn't just spill.

Tomorrow will probably be my last commute to work. I'm kind of sad about that. I'll definitely miss that aspect of the current job. That said, I still plan to get up and ride before I'm supposed to be online and working with the new place. That should actually be nicer because I won't have to load up a bag with all of my work clothes before I leave. Plus, if I do want to ride at lunch, it will be a lot easier.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The left knee, briefly.

So. I have tendinitis (informally also tendonitis). Gastrocnemius tendinitis, more specifically.

Physical therapy starts on Monday. I need to strengthen my leg muscles via PT. Just riding the bike won't be enough (as it's obviously not making the pain go away as I continue to ride).


The good news is that the doctor told me to keep riding my bike. I mean, I shouldn't go out and try any centuries or anything crazy like that (although I'm hoping to do a partial the weekend of the 24th), but he said that especially while I'm doing physical therapy, I should continue to ride as normal. Which means weather permitting.

I'm supposed to try to get to PT two or three times a week, and I see the doc again for a followup in six weeks. If the PT seems like something I can do on my own, maybe I'll do that, but I at least want to go for a week or two to get an idea as to what I should be doing to help get things back to the way they were.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Your mom would stick a fork right into daddy's shoulder.

Commuting (by bike) during the winter and commuting during the other three seasons are two entirely different things. In Pittsburgh, anyway. For now, let's just talk about the commute in to work.

Commuting during Spring, Summer, or Fall is like a little vacation before arriving to work. You get ready for work, you get on the bike, you head out. In most cases, you're wearing shorts, and some form of shirt on top that might be sleeveless, short-sleeved, or long-sleeved. If it's really chilly, maybe you have knee warmers and an extra layer on top. Gloves with fingers, definitely. Oh, and a helmet, of course.

You (and by you, I mean me) fly down the Southside Trail at about 20-21 mph, zip over the Hot Metal Bridge, and continue down the Eliza Furnace (aka Jail) Trail, also somewhere above or near 20 mph. The entire 11.5 mile ride, including all of the various holdups as you make your way through town, takes 33 or 34 minutes, so you average close to 20 mph for the whole thing (thanks to the first few miles where you're flying down West Run Rd and Forest Ave between 25-33 mph).

33 minutes is probably pretty close to the amount of time it would take to drive in to work. Sure, you have to take a shower once you get there, but you'd have had to spend extra time taking the shower before you left for work anyway. It all evens out, at least in terms of time spent getting to work.

Winter commuting is a little bit different. You get ready for work. This is more of an involved process involving:

  • tights
  • socks
  • shoes
  • neoprene shoe covers
  • wind pants
  • top base layer
  • top long sleeve shirt
  • top windproof shell
  • balaclava
  • glove liners
  • gloves
  • helmet (with liner)

Once that's all taken care of, you hop on the bike (equipped with studded tires for icy/snowy conditions) and hit the road. The studs are great for handling the Southside Trail, which apparently doesn't get touched by any city crews, but man, that snow and ice sure do slow you down. Instead of moving at 20 mph, it's more like 15-16 mph.

The switchbacks on the Hot Metal Bridge are sheets of ice, too. I'm not sure why they can't send someone over to salt that bridge. It's pretty heavily travelled by pedestrian as well as bike traffic. The Jail Trail is in much better shape for some reason, but the resistance from the tires (and some nice wind) still helps to keep speeds down. By the time you get to work, you're looking at 44:37 in riding time. Altogether, with traffic stops and other slowdowns, it takes close to 50 minutes.

It's still better than driving. Driving might get you there a little more quickly, but then you have to sit on the road with everyone else, and hope that they know how to deal with a few snowflakes. You have to worry about what sort of construction someone will have started this morning. You have to wait for the car to warm up long enough for the heat to come on. You don't worry about heat on the bike. You just make your own.

Friday, January 9, 2009

It'll store our brains in mason jars.

I almost wimped out on riding in to work this morning. It looked cold, and I was running a few minutes late, and part of me kept saying 'Oh come on. You can just drive in to work.'

That part of me might have won if I hadn't packed up all of my stuff last night. Which is one of the reasons why I do that in the first place. Since everything was ready to go, I threw on all of my layers and hit the road, albeit slightly later than I would have liked.

It was pretty cold out, but as is always the case, I warmed up in no time. Sure, the wind stings a little going down Forest Ave. Big deal. It's not like that hill lasts forever. Actually, it was pretty windy even on the flats.

That and the studded tires slowed me down some, but the studded tires also helped keep me upright as I rode down the snow-and-ice-covered Southside trail. Speed for stability is a pretty fair trade.


Man, it's tired out right now. I'm pretty much ready to fall asleep. I just hope I can wake up by the time 5:00 rolls around. Geez. That's still three hours away.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Biking and... hockey?

Well, I have an appointment on the 13th to have someone take a look at my left knee. I hope they can see something obvious and tell me what easy steps I need to perform in order to continue with pain-free, long-distance cycling.

Yesterday was mostly pain-free. I only did about 21 miles, and stayed away from any crazy hills. Except for Greenwood over in Morningside. I only rode up that street because I was pretty close to my friend's house, and that was the only way I knew to get there from where I was.

The commute to work this morning was good, too. I was surprised at how warm it was (upper 30's, maybe?). I probably could have done without the studded tires today, but I was thinking it would be colder, and I was a little worried about ice on the trails. There's still some potential for that this evening on the way home, I guess.

I bought a new battery for the wireless sensor of my bike computer. The whole thing had been acting up lately. It would work for awhile and then just stop recording. At the Icycle Bicycle, it kept track of 49 of my 56 miles. Yesterday it wouldn't register at all, and today it worked for the first .3 miles of my commute.

We'll see how it does on the way home. Of course, that will be with my light on full power because, as previously mentioned, having it on the flash mode also causes the computer to freak out. I really should just switch to the wired sensor. I'd have to worry about fewer batteries, and lights wouldn't interfere with anything.

First hockey class is tonight. It'll be great to get back out on the ice. We went to a public session at Schenley a few weeks ago, but that's not quite the same as being able to skate around with a stick and pucks. There were two goalies in the class last year. I hope we're as fortunate this year.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I resolve to have someone fix my knee.

Well, the year started off mostly good. I got myself out of bed at 6:30, left the house around 7:40, and met a few people at the end of the Eliza Furnace Trail for a pre-Icycle Bicycle ride. Five of us (led by Dan) rode about 30 miles through the South Hills, heading out Streets Run Rd, riding all sorts of places I'd never seen by bike (and maybe not even by car), and then back down Streets Run and down Carson to REI in the Southside.

As with any other ride in Pittsburgh, our route had lots of steady climbs, and by the time we got back to the Southside, my left knee was already starting to speak up. If I'd been smart, I'd have said hello and goodbye to all of the Icycle Bicycle people at REI, called Heather, and had her come and pick me up.

I'm not that smart, of course, and I decided my knee would be fine over the course of a nice easy ride around town. And really, it was a fairly non-demanding ride. We headed all the way up Carson, crossed the West End Bridge, went through the North Side a little bit, made our way down to River Avenue, and crossed the 31st St. Bridge.

At that point, I decided that I should probably just make my way home from there, and split off from the group. I went up Polish Hill (not the steepest parts) and made my way to Oakland, down to the Panther Hollow trail, and then back over to the Southside.

Actually, I'd probably have been just as well off sticking with the Icycle Bicycle group, because by the time I was crossing the Hot Metal Bridge to get over to the Southside, I could see people I'd been riding with crossing it in the opposite direction.

Anyway, by then my knee was pretty miserable, but still, I decided to just ride the rest of the way (seven miles or so) home. I was pretty close to 50 miles on the day, and didn't want to give up before I hit that mark. I made it all the way home (slowly), took off all of my gear, and got a nice hot shower. 56 miles in the bag on the first day of the year. Not a bad start.

The bad thing is that my knee is still pretty sore, much worse than it's been on the day after other long rides that I've done. The plan now is to set up an appointment with a sports medicine guy that some (marathon running) friends of mine at work use when they have leg trouble.

I'm inclined to believe that something on my left side is out of alignment, thanks to the September wreck. I've been trying to remember to do stretches before I ride, and I'll admit that I didn't really have time yesterday, so maybe that's part of it, but either way, I think it's about time that I get somebody to have a look at this. If I don't get this fixed, I won't even be able to do the MS-150 in June. That would suck.

Today looks like a nice day. It would have been a great day to ride around a little bit, but the knee is still too sore. Maybe tomorrow.