Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Roadside Repair That Actually Worked!

   Okay, actually it was a trailside repair, but you get the point.  I've rarely had any luck with those "emergency repairs" you read about in various cycling magazines, so you can imagine my amazement when I was able to successfully pull this one off.  I've tried tying a tube in a knot to bypass a gash - it doesn't work and makes the tire all lumpy.  I've tried stuffing the tire with grass - it doesn't work either (haha funny joke guys, you really got me on that one.)  However, this time I was pleasantly surprised when not only did the "helpful tip" actually work, but it also salvaged an entire day's worth of riding. 

   I had just pulled into the parking lot of the Wolf Mountain Trail at Pedernales Falls State Park, and as I getting my bike gear together I noticed that the front shifter cable seemed to be binding up.  I tried shifting to a lower gear but the cable refused to move, so I slipped a plastic tire tool in between the cable and the seat tube, applied a little bit of pressure and snap!  The cable broke.  I couldn't believe it.  I had just driven 45 minutes for nothing.  As I stood there feeling like a complete idiot one of those magazine articles came to mind.  I manually pulled the derailleur to the middle chain ring position and wrapped what was left of the cable around one of my bottle cage bolts, tightened it down and viola!  The bolt held the cable firmly in place, thus keeping the derailleur in the right position, and I was able to spend the afternoon riding instead of driving back to Austin.

   A lot of these roadside repairs are pretty hokey, but you'll never know which ones work (and which ones don't) unless you try them.  Of course, you really don't want to be in a position where you have to try them in the first place, but it's nice to know there are alternatives - just in case.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An Unexpected Package Arrived in the Mail

This was in the mailbox when I got home on Thursday.. Beer and bikes, my two favorite past times.  I love getting random stuff in the mail!

When I was a preschooler I got a large box in the mail from my grandparents, probably for my birthday or something, that was completely unexpected - it just sort of arrived one day.  Mom helped me open it (ok, most likely she opened it for me) and inside was a crane.  You know, the kind they use to unload ships and build buildings with.  As I recall it was made of yellow plastic girders that snapped together and had a battery operated boom arm that would turn and raise/lower some kind of hook or bucket thingy.  Not too sure how long it survived, but I do remember that by the time we (meaning mom) got the thing assembled it was time for my nap - talk about sheer torture.. I'm pretty sure I snuck out of my room and played with it anyway.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Gnomes Along the Veloway

   It all started with the rabbit. Some time just before Easter a white ceramic bunny rabbit appeared along side the Veloway. I guess it was a symbol of Spring, or just perhaps some left over garden art. Either way, I found it somewhat amusing since the little bunny seemed to get moved around to different locations around the track. Then came the gnomes. First there was the one with the red hat and, like the bunny, he too seems to travel all around the three mile loop that is the Veloway. At some point, although I'm not sure just when, he was then joined by his little white-haired friend (pictured). I've kept an eye out for more additions to the collection, however, the most recent (as far as I can tell) has been a cement turtle - to complement the hare.

   I'm amazed that in the several months these little creatures have been traversing around the bike path that no one has stolen or vandalized them, with the exception of the bunny - someone broke his/her tail off and it has since been replaced with either a rock, or a potato, I'm not sure which. I also imagine that the average biker/skater probably has no idea of their existence and so they've been safe simply due to obscurity.

   I like the fact that someone (or someones) takes the time to reposition them on an ongoing basis. It cracks me up to be pedaling along, deep in thought, and suddenly realize there's a gnome standing about five feet from the track looking at me as if to say "Shh! Keep it a secret."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is Helmet Use on the Decline?

   I've been noticing what seems to be a decline in helmet use by recreational cyclist. Although my observations are purely anecdotal, it really appears to me that more and more casual riders are foregoing the old brain bucket. The alarming part is that I'm seeing more kids riding without helmets than I remember seeing in the past. I'm really not sure why this is so, and it could be purely because now that I've noticed it, I'm paying more attention to it (kinda like the *white van parked at the corner.)

   Another reason could be that it's summer and therefore more casual riders are out and about biking to the park/pool/store - the type of rider who probably has never owned a helmet. The saddest part is that these are the very riders who do not have the experience or expertise in cycling and are more likely to be involved in an incident.

   Of the "not so casual" riders I see sans helmet it could be due, in part, to emulating the image of the "bike messenger", a more recent fad. Oddly enough it's only been in the past couple of years that professional road racers have begun wearing helmets full time. I was watching a Tour de France documentary and was shocked to see so many riders without helmets ("crash helmets" as Phil Liggett called them), or wearing them on the downhill sections only. I'm glad to see that is no longer the case since so many youngsters (and "not so" youngsters) will emulate the pros. It's like Jonathan Vaughters supposedly said - "Next time your in your car going 50 mph, strip down to your underwear and jump out the window.....that's what a bike wreck feels like."

   All in all, I'm curious if any of y'all have noticed any changes in the public's use and/or perception of helmets...

*Once you start paying attention to vehicles parked on the street you'll almost always see a white van parked at the corner of a street. It's because your brain ignores the many times there isn't a van, but alerts you every time there is one.

Photo Credit

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

You Forgot What?

   I know we've all done it. At some point you get to the trail head or meeting spot and suddenly realize something is missing.

   The other day I saw a guy pull up to the Veloway, get out of his truck, look in the back, scratch his head, get back into his truck and leave. A couple of his friends rode up and were having a good laugh while waiting on him to come back. It seems he had forgotten his bike.

   I don't know if I've forgotten my bike, but I know I'm guilty of leaving the occasional glove, backpack or sun glasses behind. Fortunately it doesn't happen very often since I leave all my bike stuff in my truck. My most recent transgression was leaving my Camelbak at the office so I simply rode without it. As long as the water fountain at the Veloway is working it's not too much of problem. I've also ridden sans gloves and that felt really strange. I've noticed quite a few roadies don't wear gloves, but it's pretty much part of the uniform for mountain bikers.

   Obviously riding without a bike (or a front wheel, which I imagine gets left behind the most) is impossible, but what about a helmet...

   I've only done so once, and it wasn't because it was missing. Instead, I just thought it looked stupid. The people who introduced me to mountain biking insisted on certain decorum from those with whom they rode, and helmets were mandatory. However, since I was riding solo this particular morning I decided that a dew rag was much more fashionable than that big old bulky block of styrofoam strapped to my head. Not sure if it was Karma or what, but (true story) I did not get more than 500 feet down the greenbelt before I hit a rock and flipped right over the handlebars. I limped my way back up Spyglass to the apartment and got that big old bulky helmet out of the closet.

   Secondary to a helmet for me is eye protection. I will not ride without a helmet and I will certainly think twice about riding without eye protection. I've had some close calls with "pokey branches" jutting out along side the trail and one good jab could certainly ruin your day and perhaps the rest of your life.

   If you showed up to a ride and suddenly realized you didn't have your helmet, would you ride anyway? What is on your list of "go, no go" items necessary for a ride?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Progression of a "Cyclist"

   It's inevitable. You buy an entry-level bike for a couple hundred dollars and just start riding the thing, not really worrying about or paying attention to the details. Then, over a period of months and years, you slowly start to change. You notice everyone around you and what they are wearing, and how they are riding. Suddenly, your entry-level bike is no longer cutting it, and so it begins.

   I've seen this guy at the Veloway (that I mentally refer to as "Chief") go through that change. At first he showed up riding an old clunker of what we used to call a "ten speed" or "English racer". I make this distinction to differentiate between that 1978-Sears-&-Roebuck-bike-rusting-in-the-corner-of-your-garage, and from what I'd call a real "road bike". So, Chief would show up dressed in blue jeans, backwards ball cap and t-shirt on his ten speed and chug out some laps around the Veloway. Eventually the blue jeans gave way to some baggy shorts. Next, the backwards ball cap was replaced by a helmet. The t-shirt turned into an "athletic shirt", not exactly a bike jersey. Yet. And, lo and behold, the last time I saw him I could have sworn he was on a new bike. A real road bike, complete with clipless pedals and shoes. I'm just waiting for the day he shows up in spandex. I'm taking bets that it'll be less than a month. We'll see...

Photo Credit: Asterix611

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My First Mountain Bike Race in 16 Years

   It had been 16 years since my last mountain bike race and while I always intended to attend some races in the years in between I just never managed to get around to it. Finally I decided to "just do it".  It was fitting that the race I chose to enter after all these years was also the very first mountain bike race I ever competed in.  Although I did not finish the race (DNF) I did complete one of the two 7+ mile laps before deciding that I was either going to get hurt, or totally trash my bike, neither of which was acceptable to me.

   I've uploaded some of the video I shot on race day above, however, the youtube video from the Pedal Mashers team is a very accurate depiction of the course - even if it is a couple of years old (see the "brutal" comment below.)

   Anyway... here are some of the things I've discovered.  I'm going to leave out all of the standard stuff you've probably read a million times by now (get sleep, eat right, hydrate, don't make any radical changes to your equipment on race day..) and just give you some of the things I've learned the hard way:

1. Preride the course.
   Riding down a trail you are not familiar with at race speed is not only just plain stupid, it is dangerous.  I've only ridden this trail once (16 years ago) and single-handedly the biggest mistake I made was not preriding.  Of course, had I prerode the trail I probably wouldn't have gone through with entering the race.  So, in a way, ignorance was bliss in this particular case.
   By preriding you can get a rough idea of what to expect and when.  It's also reassuring if you make mental notes of various landmarks and where they occur in conjunction with the overall length of the course.  That way you'll know the "big gnarly tree with rope swing" indicates the half way mark, etc.

2. Don't Stop!
   No matter what happens keep going, or else you'll get passed too quickly by too many people. If you have to get off your bike and push, then jump off and RUN with it.  Jump back once you've gotten enough momentum to keep going.  Perhaps the second biggest mistake I made was stopping.  I didn't quite make the top of one of the "roller-coaster" hills so I had to stop and push the bike over the crest.  The backside was rutted and full of jutting roots and without any kind of momentum I knew I wouldn't be able to just hop on the bike and roll it down the backside (without doing a full-fledged endo).
   So, as I'm pushing along, first one rider zips past me, then another, and another.  By the time I was able to get back in the saddle and start rolling again no less than 10 riders had slipped past me.  It was at this point that I realized that I was going to be lucky just to finish and that the majority of the guys in my heat were now way far ahead of me.  It was demoralizing.

3. Don't race alone.
   Bring a friend, or even a complete stranger if necessary.  Having someone else to hang out with and provide moral support and possibly even SAG duty (if you're not in the same class) will go a long way to keep you in the game and keep pre-race jitters in check.  
   If I were going to race this course again I'd have someone acting as a domestique to hand up water (which would mean I'd have to stop and swap out water bladders) and the designated spot.  Even though I was wearing a Camelback containing 70oz. of water, I still managed to run out by the end of the first lap. 
   I went to the Warda race by myself and felt as if I was the only one there who didn't know at least one other person.  Next time I'll force some unsuspecting sucker to go with me.
4. Bring extra water, food, beer & clothes.
   Not only will bringing your own supplies make you self sufficient, it'll make racing much less costly, as well as providing you with a little bargaining power should you need help with a repair or something.  
   Being able to change out of your wet, dirty bike kit will be much more comfortable in addition to making you appear a little more experienced that the rest of your fellow weekend warriors. 
   I personally brought a gallon of water, a small towel, an ice chest containing a six pack of beer, a couple of sandwiches, extra energy bars and some clean clothes.

5. Don't expect to win (yet).
   Even though you may enter as a Category 3 (beginner/novice) rider, don't be fooled by the name.  There are going to be lots of riders who are way more talented than yourself.  Just remind yourself that you are there to do "recon" the first couple of times you race and just try and hang on.
   Of course that doesn't mean that the spirit of competition won't naturally take over either.  At my first race (Warda, 1994) I started out DFL (dead frigging last) and after I passed the rider in front of me it became addictive.  Our field started out with 105 riders and I still managed to roll across the finish line in 62nd place after starting at the very end.
   Also, don't let the guys up front (the ones covered in tattoos, talking smack) intimidate you.  Either they will be so far off the front you'll never see them again (unless they lap you), or they are going to go so hard, so quickly they are going to blow up in the first couple of miles.  As you ride along you will be surprised how many riders you see who have run completely out of gas.

Some of the other things I observed are:

  • I had forgotten how absolutely brutal mountain bike racing can be.
  • The quality of racers has gotten much better, very few riders actually fell into the "beginner" category, as it used to be known.  There definitely needs to be Category 4 (or even Cat 5) class in mountain biking.  As a side note: when looking up the stats from 1994, I realized that that race was only one lap (approx 8 miles) as opposed to two laps this time.  Now suddenly I don't feel like such a total loser for bailing out after the first lap.
  • Road riding has greatly improved my stamina and aerobic ability - I rode 40+ miles the day before the race and felt great on Sunday.
  • Road riding has greatly reduced my technical handling ability.
  • The GT is not conducive the racing.  The bike is set up with a very tight cockpit and low rise bar stem. It's very nimble in the tight twisty wooded sections, but as soon a the trail points downward it gets really sketchy.  I cannot race on this bike.  I need a more relaxed, up right geometry in order to feel more secure at that speed.  A 29'er would be more appropriate for racing (where brute force far outweighs finesse.)
  • There needs to be more "lead time" between heats in the various classes. At the Warda race there were multiple age brackets catching up with (and thus running into) each other.  Not only is getting passed by a twelve year old embarrassing, but it's not much fun for the kid who has to weed her way through all of the old, fat, slow guys in her way.
Hopefully I have provided some degree of insight into the world of mountain bike racing, and maybe, just maybe, we'll see each other out on the course some day.  I'd love to hear what experiences you've had with competition (in whatever discipline that may be.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

My SxSW Picks for 2010

SxSW is in town with this week kicking off the film festival and next week being the music conference & showcases. I probably won't be attending much (if any) of it, but it's still fun to peruse the listings and compile a "wish list". If I were going in order to hear music that I already know and like (and I could magically teleport around town) then my line up would look something like this:

Nneka * 5p * Austin Convention Center
Fireants * 7:30p * Momo's
Marshall Ford Swing Band * 9:30p * Momo's
Ozomatli * 11p * Galaxy Room
Charanga Cakewalk * 10p * Ghost Room
Motorhead * 10:30p * Austin Music Hall
Raul Malo * 12:30am * Continental Club

I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness * 1am * Red 7
Riverboat Gamblers * 1am * Red 7

Bodeans * 6:45p * Auditorium Shores
Cheap Trick * 8p * Auditorium Shores
Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears * 8p * Austin Music Hall
David Garza * 9pm * Kenny Dorham's
Jimmie Dale Gilmore * 9pm * Beauty Bar
Grupo Fantasma * 12am * Copa
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart * 1am * Mohawk

French Horn Rebellion * 10:40p * The Phoenix  (I've never heard this band but would totally go see them based purely on their name alone)

However, that's not what SxSW is about. It's about taking chances, blindly stumbling across "the next big thing", and just plain getting lucky. Years ago the music festival was much more approachable and the ability to wander from venue to venue was much greater, although most people (then and now) end up "camping out" at a particular venue instead. This is especially true if any kind of "big name" act is playing.

This coming week I expect to start hearing more & more of the "lesser known" bands on the various radio stations as they start ramping up the promotional push. Perhaps the biggest byproduct of SxSW are all of the "unofficial" shows that glom onto the hype. Look for every bar, restaurant, gas station and bus stop to be "showcasing" some form of music in the coming week.

Any favorites coming into town that you'd squeeze into a club to go see?

Photo credit:

Sunday, January 31, 2010

$12 later, I can sleep better..

A while back I was talking to one of my neighbors and she mentioned that she had her water heater replaced. She said she'd been smelling "a damp, musty smell" in her hallway for a couple of days and then she noticed her carpet was wet. After a bit of investigating she discovered that her water heater had been leaking for some time until it finally soaked through to her carpet. This prompted me to go check on mine.
My water heater is pretty ghetto and I intend on replacing it with a tankless system once it finally goes out, or I save up enough money to do it voluntarily, whichever comes first. In the meantime I've gone to Home Depot and purchased a water alarm for around $12. It's a little box than runs on a 9 volt battery and has a wire with two sensors on it. If water completes the circuit the alarm will sound. You can actually test the circuit by touching it your skin (it doesn't shock.)
Now I can sleep just a little bit better at night.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Perfect Mexican Martini

I love watching Rick Bayless on PBS (Mexico, One Plate at a Time). His show always gets me in the mood for Mexican food, and of course, we can't have Mexican food without margaritas... So here is my recipe for the perfect Mexican Martini:

Pictured above (from left to right)
3/4 shot of good Tequila
1/4 shot of Grand Marnier
Juice of one small lime (fresh, approx 1/4 shot)
Splash of Margarita mix (approx 1/4 shot)
Teaspoon of Olive Juice

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice (and shake). Strain into a chilled martini glass with salted rim and add a couple of Jalapeno stuffed olives for garnish.
The perfect complement for shrimp tacos (tacos de camarones)*

*Shrimp tacos:

Flour tortillas
White Onion
Avocado (pureed)
Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice

Lightly coat shrimp with olive oil and seasoning (I personally prefer Tony Chachere's creole seasoning.) and place on grill along with slices of white onion.
Once cooked, coarsely chop shrimp, grilled onion and fresh cilantro while adding a squeeze of lime juice to mixture.
Spread a thin coating of the pureed avocado on a tortilla, add the shrimp mixture and roll up.
Cut tacos in half and stand up on plate to make it all "foo-foo" like. (I like to spread some tomatillo sauce around the plate for dipping and for color.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Will the New Year be "New"?

As I was typing up some comments on The Bike Noob's blog (I seem to be a better commenter than blogger) it got me to thinking about the New Year and what I want to see happen in the future. I won't make a whole lot of resolutions, but instead I'll make some "likes", as in things I'd like to do.

#1 Cross Training - I need to vary my exercise routine by more than simply cycling. Last year I went as far as filling out an application for gym membership, but never got around to actually turning it in. So even if I don't join a gym (I can only afford so many yearly/monthly subscriptions at one time) I will make an effort to pick up the hand weights currently nestled next to the fireplace more often. I might even start jogging again. One of my co-workers swims year round, he's found several local pools that are either free, or nearly free, and that are heated. I might try that as well.

#2 Entertainment - I will go to a movie, concert, opening and/or other event at least once a month. I've lived in Austin for twenty years and have never been to the art museum, though I've been to the natural history museum like ten times (love me some dinosaur bones..)

#3 Finances - I will (and recently have been) spending only cash - no debit/check card, no American Express card. This year I paid for Christmas in cash. No surprises later.

#4 Laundry - I will put clothes away and hang up shirts (in the closet!) each time. No more piles of clean clothes on the laundry room floor because I had to make room in the dryer for the next load.

#5 Beach - I will make it to the beach *before* late July or early August, even if I have to go by myself - and preferably somewhere in the Caribbean. I will take advantage of every 3 day weekend (Memorial Day, etc.) to go out of town. I will actually use the tent I bought several years ago (and set up once) and go camping.

I think the biggest reason so many of us "fail" at keeping our resolutions is a perception of failure: Resolve to lose weight? Lose some, but the end up gaining a couple of pounds? Then you must have failed and therefore no use even trying any further. The problem is that we try to apply linear logic (on/off, pass/fail, black/white, day/night) to a circular or cyclical world. The world is round, not flat and everything in our lives is a cycle (messy kitchen/clean kitchen). The tide may be high or low, but it's not "either/or" - it's a cycle in that it comes in and goes out and never actually stops.