SCU Quad County Recap

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.

looks are deceiving - the entry to the ICU
looks are deceiving – the entry to the ICU
this is moments before we embark on a journey that only goes up.
this is moments before we embark on a journey that only goes up (I’m in the middle)

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.

one of the many picturesque farms we passed
one of the many picturesque farms we passed

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.

short break to check the cue sheet because we had NO IDEA where we were
short break to check the cue sheet because we had NO IDEA where we were

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.

must. eat.
must. eat.

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!

Check out the stats here: http://app.strava.com/activities/53663135

Safety First

There’s a lot of information out on the internet on how to bike commute (or just ride) safely – things like Avoid the Door Zone, Be Visible and Predictable, and Get Used To Being Honked At. It’s all true and great information. But if I may, I’d like to share another piece of safety advice that is often overlooked: your emergency pack. Sure you probably toss a spare tube, some tire levers, and either CO2 or a hand pump in your saddle bag or rack pack … but I’m not talking about gear.

Every ride, you need to have the following on you so that Go-d forbid something were to happen you can get help quickly.

  • Government-issued photo ID or driver’s license
  • Medical insurance card
  • Cash. $20 will cover a number of situations.
  • Emergency contact info, be it on paper or tagged as ICE in your smartphone.
  • The code for your smartphone if you use password protect.

Also, if you are riding solo – tell someone you know and trust where you are going and when you plan to return. Bike safe, friends!

* * * * *

I’m on Week Two of bike commuting twice a week and it’s going amazing. I had one day where I failed to have an afternoon snack before I rode home from work and even though our time didn’t increase, I felt horribly sluggish and full of effort. Lady Rainicorn doesn’t have climbing gears so steep hills are a challenge – but worth it. I can feel my quads getting stronger. I’ve also noticed that technique counts – when I mash my pedals, I tire quickly but when I focus on round pedalstrokes, the hill doesn’t seem so hard.

I’ve also been exploring multi-modal commuting – commuting using a combination of cycling and public transportation. On the days I am not able to bike all the way to work, I’ve been riding to the train station and locking up there. It’s actually quite nice to zip down the street in the morning and then be home at the end of the day in under 5 minutes.

 

part of my bike commute. in the city.
part of my bike commute. in the city.

 

Yesterday I rode to work and back with my commuter friend. On the way home we detoured up through Forbidden Drive. It was a lovely jaunt through the Wissahickon Valley Park at a lower speed, admiring the old stone bridges and beautiful surroundings. The 1.2 mile uphill slog from the creek back up to Mount Airy was better than I expected. It’s great because you come out of the creek basin and suddenly you are almost home. Refreshing and relaxing!

Keep on truckin’ friends – see you on the road!

 

Oh hey there …

Oh hey. It’s been a while hasn’t it. Gosh. Sorry about that. Been busy with life and such, being elected to the board for Philly Bike Club. I’m really thrilled to be able to give back to the club that has been so instrumental in keeping me on the road, making new friends, and learning as much as I can about cycling.

 

sometimes I let my bikes stay inside
sometimes I let my bikes stay inside

The bikes are back home. This makes me incredibly happy.

The weather has been difficult to say the least. We didn’t get much snow since the Nor’easter pretty much stayed to the Nor’east. But it’s been colder than I care to venture lately (sub-32*F).

 

But venture I did this past weekend – I wanted to ride my new bike (Lady Rainicorn – you may recall her as the sexy ’88 Peugeot you see in the image above) and the weather outlets were predicting upper-thirties/low-forties and sun. My Always Up For A Bike Ride commuter buddy agreed to join me on an inaugural ride to meet up with some friends for brunch downtown. I warned him we were not going to be breaking any speed records.

Every ride is a learning opportunity:

1. Toe clips SUCK. There is a reason we attach our feet to pedals on the soles of our feet instead of shoving our shoes into a tiny metal cage that mocks you as you attempt to pedal from a stand-still.

there is no love in my heart for these pedals
there is no love in my heart for these pedals

2. Toe covers do not cut it below 40*F. Not even with sock liners and my thickest, warmest wool socks. Riding with fish sticks for toes is also the worst.

not good for spinning efficiency
not good for spinning efficiency

3. I needed one more layer in the morning, one fewer in the afternoon. It was 23*F when we left; 39*F when I got home.

it felt something like this
it felt something like this

4. Winter cycling gloves are BOMB DIGGITY.

something like that, yeah
something like that, yeah

5. The new bike will be excellent for the commute. I will get stronger because she’s not a compact – just a double – but she’s stable and nimble. Zippy.  My lowest gear is nowhere close to my lowest gear on my Felt. But the hills mostly flew under me – only the steep(-er/-est) of hills got painful.

 

So of course my Wish List of cycling crap got longer: insulated cycling jacket, winter cycling shoes, getting a second pair of thermal tights. And new pedals. Even if I just get some platforms for the time being – anything is better than the current weighted toe-clip pedals I have now.

 

When I picked up my bikes I also bought a new seat – a Specialized Ruby Expert. The local shop has a 90 day return-for-store-credit policy so I need to get out on my Felt a few times to give it a go. Hopefully the weather will co-operate – currently this weekend looks terrible for outdoor cycling (snow and sub-freezing temperatures).

 

So more to come, dear reader. Looking forward to warmer weather, longer sunshine, and commuting by bike again in the near future.

 

See you on the road!

 

The Road Less Traveled

… or, there are too many others out on the damn trail.

Today I attended my first mountain biking skills clinic, run by our excellent friends at Cadence Cycles in the Manayunk section of the city. I was pretty nervous – being from Colorado means everyone thinks I mountain bike/ski/snowboard/trail run/uber-outdoor-athlete stuff … but the reality is, I took all that open space and facilities for granted. I only started riding my bike for fun (not just transportation) in May of 2011. So yeah – I have never mountain biked before. And I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself and fall – either in general or off the side of the trail.

Falling is fine – just not in front of 30 other people.

So my commuter friend and I rode in the 10 miles to the bike shop. We arrived a little early because we needed our clipless pedals transferred to the demo bikes and seats adjusted. I was able to demo the Fuji Belle, a full suspension bike. Not sure why I had a full when others had hardtails, but it was nice!  Note to self: try not to wreck the $2000 bike. There were many others who signed up – some cyclocross racers, some road racers, some newbies like me, and everything in between. Fortunately my skills were in the middle of the newbie range.

We rode about a half-mile or so to get to the trails, using this time to get used to the thumb shifters. Didn’t take long to get the hang of it but once we were out on the trails, I kept to the lower end of the gearing. Made it so much easier to get up the hills.

The first hour was spent just going up and down a hill with lots of roots, rocks, and turns. It was sharper but really honed in on the skills you need to successfully get up the tiny steep portions of a climb, over small obstacles, and getting back downhill.

The second hour was a short trail ride – this is why people love mountain biking! Being in the woods, pedaling and feeling like you are floating over the debris, finding your line and the thrill of successful execution. The leafy single track was just fun. I am not even sure I can adequately describe how exhilarating it is to crank up a steep, rocky incline – unsure you will make it over the top – and then trust your bike as you rip down the other side, rocks and roots and debris be damned.

Skills taught to more experienced riders included log-overs, stairs, and getting enough momentum on a short, steep downhill to get up the next hill. Maybe another time when I feel more confident and ready to take my off-road riding to the next level. Today was about trying it out.

Instead of riding out for lunch with my commuter friend to discuss our new-found skills, my husband picked me up and whisked us to our daughter’s swim lessons. Tomorrow we will get a lunch ride in.

All in all – excellent experience. I don’t have plans to go buy a mountain bike right this minute or anything – but I would like to include it in my goals next year. To get off the road a little more and into the woods. To feel more confident on the trails. To have MORE FUN on my bike.

Singletrack in the Wissahickon Valley
That is *not* me on the awesome single track in the Wissahickon Valley

See you on the road!

 

Daydream Believer

Sometimes I’m in my office at the high-rise monolith where I work, clickity-clacking away on my keyboard, and I stop to gaze out the window to think “Man, I would so much rather be out on my bike today.”

How luxurious to wake at a reasonable hour, fuel up on coffee and mini-wheats, throw on my gear and hit the road. Maybe a lunch break at the tiny bakery several townships (and 40 miles) over.

The smooth pedal strokes propelling me forward into the world, slicing through time and space.

Floating up hills … effortless.

Fresh air and sunshine. Or fresh air and overcast. Sometimes riding in the rain is delicious in its own right – surrendering yourself to just getting wet and muddy and relishing the moment.

Recounting the wildlife encountered: the herons and emus, deer families and foxes.

Laughter. Friendship. Fun.

It’s true that money can’t buy happiness … but it does buy a bicycle, which is pretty damn close.

this is my mom and her bike. proof my addiction to bicycles is hereditary.

See you on the road!

Just the Basics

Yesterday I participated in a skills clinic for novice female cyclists organized by my local female-centric cycling club – Sturdy Girls Cycling. I’ve ridden my (super-sexy) road bike for about a month now so it’s a perfect opportunity to break my bad habits before they take hold.

A wide range of women participated – some on hybrids and urban bikes, some preparing for a triathlon or two, some who just bought a bike and others who just wanted to know how to make their ride more efficient. I fit into the latter two categories – my bike is a pretty recent acquisition and I’m still learning how to use her optimally.

We started out the day with a short jaunt to an empty parking lot for basic drills. Like starting and stopping. Riding a straight line. Looking behind you without weaving your bike all over the place. Basic stuff that most of us don’t really think about but can have an impact on your success.

I learned that I did indeed need to switch the foot I un-clip upon stops (and managed to fall spectacularly in the early attempts to remember which foot to un-clip and which way to lean).

the ground is hard.

 

At least I got that out of the way early. And I like to think it broke the ice for the rest of the group – there were a few more falls. But most people don’t seem to have a problem with deciding when to un-clip as they roll to a stop. It’s just me over-thinking it.

Note to self: find your comfort zone anticipating the need to un-clip.

We then headed out for a short ride to learn hill climbing skills. The hills we were climbing were manageable and achievable – all good things when you are working on building confidence on your bike. We discussed gearing and how no one can tell you what gear will feel best except through time and practice – but that you will find a gear or a range of gears that will help you stay in motion.

Hills are your friend!

We also discussed Constant Motion – always keeping your legs moving. This builds your ability to keep going, even on super-tough climbs, because your body is accustomed to staying in motion. You can also work on not only using your muscles but also your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to keep from fatiguing your muscles too quickly.

The biggest take-away for me from the hills/gears section was just that – smooth, fluid motion the entire way up the hill. Not how fast or hard I could mash the hill – but how smoothly I could do it.

I spent the rest of the clinic at the back of the group as we practiced riding in lines of two and three. How to merge, not surge. How to find a bail-out point if you need it (and regroup at the top). Common group-riding lingo like” GAP” and “ON.” Why “UP” means getting into an easier gear and “DOWN” means getting into a harder gear.

Being in the back meant I needed to monitor my cadence to maintain a smooth, silky cadence. It was tough for me – I like to just GO already, to get up the hill as fast as possible, effort be damned! Plus, I hate riding behind someone as close as I really need to in a group ride. So worried someone will stop suddenly, causing me to either hit them or veer off and crash or fall down.

Not like I haven’t fallen down in front of a bunch of strangers a few times now or anything.

Quite frankly, riding in a group formation – listening to the hum of the wind in our spokes, hearing the clink of cartridge changes – is pretty sweet.

We ended the clinic with a brown-bag lunch and bike anatomy lesson. How to clean and lube your chain and cassette. Different hand positions on the handlebars (for those of us with road bikes). The importance of having a bike that fits you – frame first, everything else can be swapped or upgraded. Recommended timeline to buy new tires (2000-2500 miles). Taking the reflectors off your bike (dorky – I’m guilty as charged!) and replacing them with bike lights to stay visible.

One more quick group ride around the park and we all went our separate ways.  It also sounds like there may be a longer group ride scheduled for those of us at the clinic so we can get together again to practice our skills in a low-key ride.

I can’t stress how happy I am that I did this clinic – one of the goals was to feel more confident on your bike and I definitely feel better about my skills and how to handle myself in a group ride environment. I met a bunch of other awesome women who a new to think like me.

Now to go find my next group ride …