Friends, I don’t like to toot my own horn too much but I’ve had some good press lately that I felt I should share:
I went for a ride with my friend Ken and our new friend Rachel from Missouri last weekend. It wasn’t particularly long and while we stopped for a healthy snack, we probably could have done with out the stop. It was ridiculously fun though and I admired Rachel’s awesome Yakkay helmet and her super-cute haircut.
Rachel was going to the National Bike Summit the next day. She reported back that my awesome friend Katie, who was presenting on her Women Bike PHL movement, mentioned me by name as part of the Girl Scouts on Wheels program. So humbled to be mentioned at a national summit about cycling. Katie rode her bike from NYC to DC to attend the summit. She’s amazing.
Then one of my favorite cycling apparel companies, Road Holland, put a photo I sent them in their Year End blog post. They make great wool-blend cycling jerseys and I love them for spring and fall rides.
Today my friends at 30 Days of Biking featured me on their Facebook page. I don’t even know why but I am tremendously thrilled to be chosen for a random shout-out. And hey – if you haven’t taken the pledge yet, why not now? Pledge to ride your bike every day in April – any distance, any speed, any weather, every day. Share those experiences online in a joyful cyclist community!
Today I was out for a 30-miler with Ken that featured snow-clogged trails, a wonderful sit-down snack at Outbound Station, and then me suggesting we tackle some hills on the way home. Because you know, not riding regularly is really conducive to attacking big hills. We biked up this monster on Hagys Mill Road in Philadelphia – it’s a little over a quarter-mile and averages 12%. There is one pitch in particular where I was genuinely concerned I might fall off my bike and why the hell would I ever want to be clipped into my bike? I think that section is around 17-20%.
Anyway, it was all hills and busy roads home from there. Beautiful day to ride. We haven’t had many of these lately this winter so you have to grab the days you can.
Yesterday was unseasonably warm (50* F) and brilliantly sunny so Ken and I decided to go have lunch in New Hope at what appeared to be a sandwich shop we walk by every time we go have lunch across the river in Lambertville. The sign outside the door advertised “really really good hoagies” – and who am I to turn up my nose at a really really good hoagie?
Temps were at freezing when we left but quickly climbed and we found ourselves shedding a layer only 8 miles in. As we chatted about the new route we were taking, I noticed Ken was riding his commuter bike. It’s a Giant OCR2 from a few years ago that he’s outfitted with a rack and fenders. Today the rack sported a trunk bag, which was incredibly handy for stashing tools, extra layers, and nutrition.
This is unarguably his favorite bike. He takes it everywhere – daily commuting, week-long cycling vacations, weekend outings around with friends. The tires are wide enough for almost any terrain you throw at it (except maybe technical off-road trails). The triple crankset makes every hill as easy as possible. It’s light and nimble but stable. Given he rides almost 12,000 miles a year, it’s easy to see why. This is as close to a do-it-all bike as one can get. He’s got three bikes and this is the one I see most.
I have five bikes and while I love each one for the individual purpose they serve, none of them are even close to a do-it-all workhorse.
Old Faithful – Specialized Crossroads Sport mountain-hybrid. Great for towpaths and unpaved trails with the family. Aluminum. Very Heavy.
Free Spirit – Schwinn Free Spirit Greenbriar vintage 10-speed. Great for local errands, looking dapper and rides less than 5 miles. Steel. Very Heavy.
Lady Rainicorn – Peugeot Versailles 12-speed. Great city bike with an old-school vibe. Currently my commuter. Steel. Frame is slightly too big and not enough gears to “flatten the hills.” And there are plenty of hills on the way home from work.
Michaelangelo – Felt Nine Sport hardtail mountain bike. Great for mountain biking. Have not found a downside yet. Heavy but doesn’t ride heavy.
Electric Dream Machine – Felt ZW5 carbon recreational racer. Great for events and going relatively fast. Fits like a dream, rides like a dream. Lightweight. Not good for everyday riding.
I’m still looking for that elusive Perfect Bike. Partly I blame myself for going from an upright comfort hybrid to a carbon fiber racer – I didn’t have an entry or mid-level aluminum road bike that was used for everything from weekend jaunts to bike commuting. I’m always looking at what everyone else is riding and asking questions – what do you love about your bike? what do you dislike? Would a cross bike be better? or a flat-bar commuter? What about touring bikes?
I mentioned to my mom that I’d like to try bike touring next year and she wants to join me on one. I’m beyond excited – but feel I don’t have that elusive workhorse of a bike that would be able to handle light touring (thinking inn to inn, not necessarily camping). I think about upgrading the components on Lady Rainicorn – but there’s no getting around the frame being ever-so-slightly too big and really, do I want to spend significantly more in upgrading that I did on the bike? Besides – I love the old school vibe a solid steel bike with downtube shifters imparts as you breeze by. I love Electric Dream Machine but that’s not a bike to take touring. I already have rear panniers and am on the lookout for a trunk bag. I don’t think I’m ready for front panniers or a handlebar bag just yet … I’d like to get my feet wet first before I decide to load up on gear.
So I’m back in the mindset for a touring-type bike – something that fits me like a glove that I want to take everywhere. “Lightweight” but able to carry a decent amount of gear. Enough gears to haul myself and whatever stuff I have up hills relatively comfortably. Maybe even disc brakes. It doesn’t need to be new – I am happy to buy pre-loved. Most of my bikes are pre-loved!
Suggestions – Comments – fire away below.
(In case you are wondering, the ride itself was fantastic – somewhere on the Powerline Trail we met up with Fred and Larry, two brothers we know, and ended up riding with them for a bit. Larry is a big touring cyclist so I picked his brain for several miles. Parted ways and determined this new route adds 6 miles to the trip but is less hilly that our usual route to New Hope. Lunch at the Really Really Good Hoagies place was … meh. Took the direct (and very hilly) route home. Took my thermal jacket out of Ken’s trunk bag and stuffed it into my Showers Pass back jersey pocket, which is bigger than you think. It looked ridiculous, I’m sure. Cresting the last hill before my house, I noticed I was at 69 miles and decided to ride around the neighborhood a bit until I hit an even 70 miles for the day. Overall just a really awesome day on the bike!)
See you on the road.
(PS – This weekend’s ride put me at 16 & Goal. *hooray!*)
Good morning, dear reader! It has been so long since we last connected – like everyone else, my life has been full of the things that make our lives rich. Busy is an understatement for many of us and I am not immune to over-scheduling and finding no time for blogging.
In the past couple weeks I have gone out with my friends on Most-Of-The-Day rides – the ones where you head out on your bike to brunch around 9 and don’t get back until around 4. The goal is to hit 50-60 miles per trip for two selfish reasons: we are all very close to our cycling mile goals for the year and to keep our base miles up for spring. It’s getting more difficult to be motivated as autumn takes a final bow and winter starts to creep in.
One of the problems I had last winter was what I refer to fondly as Fish Stick Toes. I was using my summer cycling shoes with toe covers and thick wool socks. For temps 40* – 60*F, this setup is perfect – no issues. But should the temps dip below 40*, even “real feel” temps, within 10 miles my toes were frozen – every time. There is no greater dread than knowing it’s going to be painful to rewarm them so that hot shower you are dreaming about will ultimately be a lukewarm shower that will not be nearly as satisfying. Or that you are riding on frozen fish sticks. I tried everything – stuffing my shoes with plastic bags, doubling up my wool socks. Summer shoes are simply too well ventilated for winter riding.
Yes, I realize this is a DUH. But I was really stubborn about making my existing gear work instead of spending more money on specialty items. Especially winter shoes/boots – at $200+, I don’t know if I ride enough in low temps to make it worth the expenditure. But as we all know, there isn’t any bad weather – just poor gear choices.
Last spring I picked up a pair of Shimano Winter Cycling Shoes when they were on sale ($150). I decided to get 2 sizes larger than my summer shoes to be able to wear thick wool socks without constriction. The fit is good – I can easily layer my Woolie Boolies with a base layer sock without feeling constricted. And since it was late enough in the spring, I never got a chance to try them out.
A couple of weekends ago my friends and I decided to bike to brunch in New Jersey. It’s a 60 mile round trip and the temps were going to be mid-30s to mid-40s. Totes doable! Dressing for the 30s is not the same as dressing for the 40s so I tried a new layering plan that worked out well except for my toes. Frozen in the morning when it was in the 30s; totally fine in the afternoon when it was in the 40s.
Welcome to winter riding – where layers are king and somehow you don’t feel as strong or fast.
Definitely a layering win – my toes were only starting to feel cold when we rolled up to the restaurant after 22 miles and felt great the whole way home when the temps were “warmer”. Core stayed mostly cooler on the flats and descents, toasty on hills. Thermal tube pulled up over my mouth to keep my cheeks warm when needed. Overall a great ride for a hot lunch (with hot cocoa and whipped cream too).
What I didn’t anticipate is how heavy the winter shoes are. Every pedal stroke worked my legs differently than my lightweight summer shoes. While I most certainly hadn’t depleted my muscles on the 50 mile ride, my legs were tired. Hills were significantly more work. I felt incredibly slow and frustrated at my (perceived) inability to keep up with the guys. I felt wiped out by the end of the ride – but as soon as I stopped pedaling, my legs were clearly nowhere near obliterated. Even this morning, there is no stiffness or soreness. Clearly did not work as hard as I thought.
I suspect the heavier shoes working my muscles differently contributed to my feeling of less power, although I certainly liked not having fish sticks for toes. Definitely worth the trade-off – and I should adjust my expectations for my abilities on cold rides. I’m hoping I will adjust to the different feel of my winter shoes as the season goes on.
Since the first time I started bike commuting, I have desired to hold the Strava QOM on a particular three-successive-hills segment near my neighborhood. Not quite a mile, the road pitches steeply under the freeway, levels out with a small downhill while passing the cemetery, and then pitches up to a stop sign before a very short leveling and final slog to the top.
(The segment linked is a little over half a mile but skips the first 2/10ths of a mile from the stoplight – the full road is here)
Last winter my commuting friend and I were out on a fun ride and decided to try to QOM it. I was doing lots of Big Ring riding whenever I wanted to go fast – so I pushed as hard as I could, him leading the way pulling me up the hill. I achieved the QOM at a whopping 13.9 mph average. It felt awesome.
Anytime I tried to get that last tenth-of-a-mile-per-hour, I fell short. 13mph. 13.5mph. 11mph. Every time the segment would kick my butt. I’d stay in the highest gears I could until I couldn’t hang any longer.
Forward to this summer. After the supremely hilly Lake Nockamixon Century and a conversation about spinning versus mashing high gears, I decided to try spinning more seriously. The Little Ring Challenge, I deemed it. And I started staying in my small ring as much as possible for entire rides.
Spinning feels weird if you aren’t used to it. I had a fairly high cadence (75-80) naturally but most cycling publications will mention a “90-100 rpm” threshold for spinning. Spending time furiously pedaling can feel counter-intuitive at first. But then the body adapts and spinning feels natural. You’re able to hold higher speeds in smaller gears for longer. And hills (or distance) start to not wear out your legs so much. It’s a beautiful thing.
Anyway, I’ve been sticking to my Little Ring Challenge through the Scenic Schuylkill and City to Shore centuries. My overall speed improved and I wasn’t completely dead by the end of the ride. Maybe there’s something to all this.
So the other day I decided to meet my commuter friend downtown for a road ride before we headed back to our neighborhoods. I spun up the familiar Three Hills, thinking they felt great but I probably wasn’t going to best my previous best. We met up, stayed on the west side of the river (and the steep hills that come up from the riverbed) before heading homeward. A little over 40 miles with a little over 3000′ of gain. Sure – just a Saturday Spin.
Turns out I did best my previous PR … I’m now the QOM at 15.1 mph average up those hills.
Spinning works my friends. Give it a go sometime.
* * * * *
The last few weekends I’ve been going out with my friend on mountain bike rides. We’re heading to gentler trails near her neighborhood and I’m having entirely too much fun. Having to choose Mountain or Road is so tough. I’m loving the quiet of the woods and the varied terrain – some of the singletrack is smooth and/or flat but others are rocky, rooty, or slick with gravel, leaves or mud (but the creek crossing). I’m loving my 29er. There’s a blog post in my brain about off-road cycling that will probably get written soon.
Friends, if you are ever in the Philadelphia area the second weekend in September, I highly encourage you to sign up for Philly Bike Club’s Scenic Schuylkill Century. This year was my second year riding and I hope to keep going as long as I have friends to help the miles pass.
The Scenic Schuylkill is an incredibly well-supported ride that showcases the beauty of the area just outside Philly. Starting at the iconic Boathouse Row and winding north into the hills of Manayunk to Cedar Grove then on to Evansburg State Park. The view of Philly from Potshop Rd is unmatched – the city so far away it’s ethereal. From Evansburg you can choose to head back to the city (and complete a metric) or head northwest to Schwenksville. Do not be discouraged by the 6,000+ feet of elevation gain – there are very few monster hills. The hills are really after the second rest stop in Evansburg State Park and are more rolling-hills than Super-Steep-Why-Am-I-Doing-This.
Which, if you like sudden steep and long climbs, go ride the Suburban Cyclists Unlimited’s Quad County with ICU Option and Lake Nockamixon Century, both of which will punish your legs and lungs (and lower back). Or move to Colorado. I’m sure my Colorado friends are laughing at me right now …
Another rest stop at Camp Hope then more climbing before you see more downhills than uphills. Do not be fooled though – there are still some hills on the way back into the city. But nothing compares to bombing down Main Street in Manayunk on the way back to pizza and liquid refreshment.
Improved my time this year as well – 102 miles in 7:40 last year; 103 miles in 7:20 this year. And yes, I made it back to the start in time to get a few plain slices and two full-sugar sodas. No, I didn’t feel bad about that.
Three weeks and not enough riding later, I set off on another century, the annual Bike MS: City to Shore ride from Cherry Hill, NJ to Ocean City, NJ. This is most people’s Big Ride of the year and they train all summer for it. As a year-round cyclist who tries to keep her base miles around 50, this is probably the easiest century in the area. It’s mostly flat – only about 1900′ of elevation gain and probably only because of the two bridges at the end of the ride to get over the harbour to the Shore. It is incredibly well-supported – the century alone has about seven opportunities to take a break.
My neighbor and bike commuting friend and I carpooled to the start again. This time instead of sitting in off-ramp traffic, we opted to go one more exit further and parked within minutes. Unfortunately this also meant not getting to the festivities at the main start but we were only a quarter of a mile up the (not very well maintained) road. We hit the road around 6:15am – before the sun came up. Totally didn’t think it though so I borrowed my friend’s long-sleeve lightweight shirt to stay warm until we got past the first rest stop.
I also opted for my new lightweight thermal three-quarter tights from Twin Six. Picked them up at an incredible deal during a sale and they are supremely comfortable. Perfect for the chilly autumnal mornings when you need a little more now that won’t overheat you later.
We ended up skipping the second rest stop option (“Lunch Stop Ahead!” “wait – it’s only 8:30am … too early!”) and also the century loop rest stop, averaging about 25 miles between rest stops. We took only 15 minutes at each stop – enough time to use the port-o-let, refill water, shove some food in our faces and hit the road again.
I should note two things here:
1. I was having stomach issues again leading up to this ride and sure enough there was about a 25-30 mile portion in the middle of the day where I struggled to keep it together. I felt really bad for my friend because I had to dial down my speed a bit because I was hardly eating and didn’t want to bonk from over-exertion/under-nutrition. And I wasn’t talking at all because I felt incredibly nauseous. I eventually got back on the level, picked up the speed, and finished strong.
2. I have decided to improve my spinning and stayed in the little ring all day. Averaging 17+ mph on significantly more miles than not was incredibly gratifying and my legs still felt relatively fresh at the end of the ride. I’m hoping this winter will continue to be fairly mild (let’s be honest, I miss big snows) so I can continue to work on increasing my cadence enough to switch to the big ring and spin the hell out of a bigger gear.
The weather was perfect for the ride. My favorite moment was between the two bridges when you are on a little two-lane road right up against the beach, the ocean waves crashing and rolling up the sand. SO PERFECT. I was so sad that I wasn’t going to be spending one last weekend Down The Shore.
But the reason I wasn’t staying down the Shore was because I had an appointment to get some new ink. I was supposed to get it last year but it didn’t work out. This year I made it happen.
My tattoo artist is the best in the biz and she was guest spotting at a shop on Long Island, a few hours from Philly. The piece is Cycles Perfecta by Alphonse Mucha (1902 bicycle company advertisement) that perfectly captures the essence of a girl and her bicycle. Four hours of line work with minimal breaks (like 10 min each hour). Next time I see her it will be to get this colored in.
In health news, I had an endoscopy this past week and they biopsied some tissue for testing. Hoping to know more next week – praying for a relatively easy fix. I’m tired of feeling terrible all the time. My diet is severely limited some days. I lost five pounds in a few weeks due to dwindling appetite. Funny how fasting the day of the procedure was NBD because not eating keeps me feeling relatively normal. Totally unsustainable, I know. That’s why I’m getting help.
This weekend is expected to be gorgeous but I’m going to take a quick break from my bike. Even though I really want to go mountain biking.
1. Tattoo needs to stay out of the sun. It’s going to be too warm for long-sleeves and it’s not ready to put sun sleeves on (elastic at the top).
2. Health. I need to take care of myself until I hear back from my GI doc. I can tell you 100% I did not eat enough on my City to Shore century – less than I did for the Scenic Schuylkill (and that wasn’t much). And I still need to get back into running – my 5k is in about a month. And it’s been that long since my last attempt at running.
So maybe not this weekend, but I’ll see you on the road or the trail soon.
Today I rode in the SCU Quad County Metric with my friends Ken and Coco. The Quad County promised quiet, scenic low-traffic roads; well-stocked rest stops; and a post-ride hot lunch. In addition to the usual 25, 45, and 65 mile options riders could add on what is affectionately referred to as the ICU – an additional 8 miles with 1,200′ of elevation gain.
Let’s start with last night – I bike commuted because the weather was Uh-Ma-Zing. I also posted a new PR on the mile+ road up from the river. I got home in enough time to get a shower and grab a string cheese before bolting for my daughter’s concert. After, we decided to go for fro-yo. Before I knew it, I was in bed without a solid meal to recover from the commute and prep for today’s 74mi ultra-hilly ride.
So yeah. When the alarm clock went off at 5:30am, I realized my mistake and knew I would be paying for it today. Starting with a tank dangerously close to “E” … AWESOME.
The weather forecast for today varied wildly all week leading up, so I was thrilled when it only called for clouds until afternoon, then thunderstorms. I forced myself to eat and have a little coffee before my friends arrived. We loaded up our bikes on my SUV and headed out with a heavy rain falling. No sooner did we turn north a few miles later than the skies dried up. Excellent!
Highlights from the day:
* Mile 2: Steep hill! A portent of Things To Come.
* Mile 3: Flat! Ken found the insidious piece of amber glass. We’re a good flat-repair team.
* Mile 8: deciding Yes, we are heading into the ICU. Despite virtually EVERY OTHER CYCLIST around us opting out.
Doing things in a group, as a team, makes everything painful go by faster – many of the big hills averaged 7-9% grade. As does singing whatever song is in your head at a given moment. My favorite was when we busted out “Baby Got Back.”
Interesting note – the event photographer was in the ICU. I can’t wait to see what that picture looks like.
* Mile 28: first rest stop.
* great conversation about interesting stories from our lives. I can’t even remember all of them – but they made the miles fly.
* We passed by many farms and saw several white horses, each one looking at us. We took them to be a good omen for the ride.
* Mile 50: second rest stop and possibly the best smelling, cleanest port-o-potties I’ve ever used. Not being facetious.
This is where the skies decide to open up. A few miles of light rain gave way to torrential downpour. A few more miles and we are now in a full-on thunderstorm. We’ve abandoned our glasses and are wincing through the driving rain. Let’s be clear: riding in the rain at 16mph feels like sand being thrown on your body.
We slog on, laughing and making the best of our lot. We decide to skip the “bonus” ICU segment in favor of getting back to my car and dry clothes.
Somehow we determine we are three miles from the finish. This is a complete lie, as we are closer to 10 miles from the finish. ONWARD!
Three actual miles from the end, the sun comes out. We are soaked. We are happy. We are tired. We made it back to the finish as the volunteers were starting to close up shop.
Overall, I can’t even tell you how beautiful this ride was, how much fun I had, and how very legit the ICU is. After we fueled up with a hot lunch, we changed into warm, dry clothes to drive home (+1000 points for this idea).
If you are in the Pennsylvania area and have the opportunity to ride this event, I highly recommend it.
Now it’s time to move into recovery mode and get some sleep. See you on the road!
Today has been such a hodgepodge I can only hit the highlights in a plus/minus system:
+5 points: second consecutive day bike commuting – and I was on time today!
+5 points: the weather was phenomenal – like 60*F when I left at 6:28am!
-10 points: get call from school nurse in the afternoon. Daughter needs to be picked up.
-10 points: Flat back tire when I get my bike from the rack.
+5 points: I’m a pro at fixing flats. Like it only took 15 minutes. Woot!
-5 points: hands covered in grease, blood, and sweat by the end of this particular flat repair.
-5 points: three spoke have poked through the rim tape! Wondering how the hell shitty tires AND pokey spokes got past the LBS when I sent the bike in to be overhauled. Did they even LOOK at my bike?
+100 points: ingeniously deciding to use tube patches to temporarily seal the pokey spokes away from my new tube.
– 1,000 points: CO2 inflates cold, quickly, and if you slightly overinflate on a hot day – BOOM.
(yeah, I did hang my head there and felt slightly defeated – burned through my only spare tube!)
+100 points: commuter friend has a spare in my tube size! hooray!
+100 points: AND he has a hand pump with a pressure gauge!
And we’re off …
+100 points: detouring up Rex Avenue after viewing two hidden statues in the park
-200 points: 10% grade, no climbing gears, big rocks. Had to throw in the towel only a 1/10th of the way up the half-mile. Walked my bike a boss.
Feeling beat cycling home. Backpack feels heavy and legs feel shredded.
Take daughter to the local urgent care – sure enough, she broke her arm.
Finally getting dinner at 9:30pm. Hate to admit I’m taking the train tomorrow – today was just too much excitement.
As a parting image, here’s a snapshot from yesterday’s commute. I’m wearing my very favorite jersey (Twin Six Grand Prix) which just so happens to match my commuter bike. I couldn’t resist being all matchy-matchy. Jersey came first, just for the record. 😀