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.
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.
I’m absolutely beat from spending a day in airports and airplanes but I have to share with you, dear reader, what a wonderful time I had in Colorado this past week.
I flew on Frontier Airlines again because if you do the research, they have the most bike-friendly policies of any airline. I can’t recommend them enough. Be vigilant however – some of the smaller/newer airports may not be fully informed and try to charge you oversize AND overweight (Frontier only charges overweight for bikes). I tweeted @FrontierCare a gentle request to remind the staff of said airport about their policy and they tweeted back that they called the staff immediately. I can independently confirm this because I was at a very small (tiny) airport and the only one checking a bike … and the gate agent called me out on it when I was boarding.
You can bet they will remember the bike policy the next time someone checks a bike for a flight through their airport.
Friends, I can’t tell you how well Pedal treated not only me but my family. My bike has not felt this fluid and effortless since she was brand new. They adjusted my fit, answered my questions about my cleats getting stuck last weekend (and loosening my pedals), and made sure I was happy. Then we talked about a rental for my sister, who is a runner and planned to join me for a day on the bike. They treated her with respect and honesty and she did not feel like she was being talked down to when she said she didn’t know the first thing about bikes and needed flat pedals. They tweaked the fit until she felt amazing on the bike. I highly recommend Pedal if you are in the Belleview/Santa Fe area – they are just off the trail and top-notch.
The morning of Elephant Rock my sister and I were shepherded to the start by my most excellent parents. This is no small feat because we had to get up at 4:30am to get to the start and on the road by 6am. I of course felt incredibly nervous and anxious – and this manifests as nausea. Fortunately I warned my sister a few days before to not take it personally if I didn’t talk to her much.
I also failed to check the weather report outside of high temp for the day. Our 6am start brought us 48*F, sunshine, and 20 mph winds. So our shorts, jersey, and light sleeves were significantly subpar.
and the WIND! Oh my goodness – we could barely push above 10-13mph and we were spinning like crazy. Crosswinds – headwinds – everything but a tailwind. We would spin up a hill and not even have the benefit of a descent because we’d have to pedal through the headwind going downhill. This gave a whole new meaning to “windswept plains.”
We stopped at the 15mi rest stop – me for real food (since I hadn’t eaten anything yet for fear of losing it), my sister for a way to close the hole in the front seam of her bike shorts (she got a safety-pin). A gentleman commented that “you don’t have views like this in Philadelphia” referring to the amazing view of Pikes Peak in the background. I swear I said a inflection-neutral “nope” but my sister will tell you I growled at him and was generally hostile. All I remember is nibbling on a banana and sour green grapes and pacing around, trying not to puke. And the wind again.
The 25 mi mark is the route divergence for the full century and the metric century. Given the wind, I suggested to my sister that we pull over and rethink our desire to do the full century route. We were barely averaging 10mph at this point and the winds were showing no sign of letting up. By this point the banana has kicked in and I feel normal again – but my sister is sagging because the wind is literally sucking our energy (and she’s not a cyclist) and her butt was hurting.
Clearly we were not the only ones who decided to pull over and think – there was a quarter of a mile worth of cyclists debating the routes. We learned later that most people opted to curtail their miles because of the wind.
And really, when you are out to have fun – there’s no point in slogging through 20mph winds that are gusting to 30mph. It’s just not fun.
So we aborted our quest for the full century after much deliberation and headed west to the next rest stop at mile 33. Several big inclines lead to delicious descents that became tricky in the gusty wind. These are the times I curse my carbon fiber bike and it’s light weight – I hate spending more energy staying upright on the downhill than I did on the uphill.
We did however get to ride on an aptly named Roller Coaster Road – a swooping set of several rollers that ended up being a highlight of the route.
After a quick pee-and-refill-water-bottles break in Palmer Lake, we set out for the best part of the ride – ten pure miles of downhill protected by pine forest. So there was no wind. And we could pick up the pace. And by “pick up the pace” I mean I shouted “gidd’up,” threw my rig into the big ring, and watched my cyclometer ratchet up to over 40mph.
Yeah, that happened. And it was worth every moment.
Then came the payback – over 2 miles of 4% grade with less than 20 miles to go in the metric. My poor sister was experiencing what we all face in the early season, Sore Butt. She was also running out of gas so we rode side by side up Tomah Road. An older guy struck up a conversation with us part way up the hill and that took her mind off the grind (and her sore booty) for a bit.
By now it’s also almost 80*F. It feels amazing to be in the sun with very little wind. We zoom to the finish, taking a few breaks here and there for my sister to get off her saddle and stretch a bit. We cheer as we roll into the finish line, grab our post-ride lunch and nosh in the shade celebrating our victory. My parents had watched us on my Garmin LiveTrack and were already on their way to pick us up.
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!
I’ve managed to come down with a monster head cold – the kind that has a fever and aches and a head full of snot – so my new year’s eve will be low-key and probably end well before midnight. But before the festivities begin, enjoy this story about my first time spinning and riding in the snow:
I’ve ear-marked Saturdays in December for bike rides to get to 2,000 miles for the year. The reality is I sadly did not get out as much as I planned. Nonetheless, my intrepid commuter friend sent out an email Friday asking if anyone wanted to ride Saturday morning. A quick look at the weather report indicated a 90% chance of snow on Saturday – meaning all club rides would probably get cancelled. So I texted him about the weather. He countered with “come to spinning with me!”
I’d never been to a spinning class before and had all kinds of dumb questions. I previously avoided them because my primary focus is always Bike For Fun. Which is really a guise for I Don’t Want To Do Intervals. So of course I said “OK!”
The gym where we were taking the class is only a little over a mile from my house – so of course I just rode my Beast of Burden commuter bike over. The snow had just started to fall and it was lovely to glide down the street with snowflakes on my helmet. (It would be more ethereal to say in my hair but I had a barrier cap under my helmet and Cat Ears on my straps – decidedly un-ethereal and a little more Elvis)
The class itself was quite a workout – very different from going out and riding your bike or even watching a movie while spinning away on the trainer. Within ten minutes I was sweating like a pig – and the sweat just kept pouring. I had a headache and felt like I didn’t need to prove anything to myself so I took it easy on some of the “jumps” – going from a sitting to standing position rapidly – by staying seated and spinning as high a cadence as I could.
Couple things I learned:
1. You can’t coast. If you try, your bike will lurch and make a horrible clunking noise and the instructor will ask you if you are OK.
2. Spinning bikes have incredible momentum. According to the cyclometer, I went 26.9 miles in 68 minutes. I find that very hard to believe – although I suspect it’s similar to running on a treadmill. The machine keeps you moving at a steady pace.
3. I spin at a high cadence naturally. When the instructor wanted us at 90-100, I was at 110. When she wanted us at 115, I was at 123. Even when we were “climbing” she would ask us to be at 50-60 and I would end up somewhere in the 70s. If I were to do this again, I would finesse the gearing more and not listen to the gear she wants us to be in – because it was clearly too low. But as a newbie, it made sense to try to follow her direction.
4. Spinning is done in a small dark room (or at least this one was) and NO FANS. It would have been a world of difference to have a fan blowing on your occasionally to help relieve the heat of the room. I have one pointed at me at home when I am on the trainer – and it helps tremendously.
5. I would try this again. I suspect the class would have been significantly better if the instructor matched her cadence to multiples of the beat and better communicated what exactly we were supposed to do.
Post-class, we cleaned up and unlocked our bikes and rode over to the diner up the street for a bite. The snow was coming down harder now and in the mile it took to get to the diner our jackets and jeans were soaked. Commuter friend’s wife had already gotten us a table so coffee and assorted yummies were on their way. Wonderful breakfast with wonderful people!
As you may have guessed, the snow was coming down even harder now and an inch of snow had accumulated on our rides. We brushed them off and Commuter friend rode with me most of the way back to my house.
I’m a fairly independent girl but I was glad for the company for no other reason than it was probably not the smartest idea to be out on a bike on the roads. We were on our hybrids with wider tires but the roads were slick and cars were sliding all over the place around us. One guy sped up to turn in front of us and skidding through the whole turn. We managed to pedal up one of the three hills to my house, turned the corner and there was a line of cars stopped for other cars that had slid all over the road. I only lost traction a couple of times but didn’t crash or fall.
We went our separate ways – he back to his house and me dismounting and walking the last two hills (and one downhill which would have been a suicide mission to attempt on my bike) home.
I can’t dismiss that it felt very awesome to be out riding in the snow. It wasn’t terribly brilliant nor would I recommend it as a routine thing to do without proper gear (i.e., fat fat fat tires with excellent traction) … but it was very very very fun.
This weekend I was dropped for the first time on a group ride.
Blame my overly-cautious sandbagging (not on purpose), but I’m usually one of the stronger riders on a given ride. I feel most comfortable riding sweep only because I like to keep the group in front of me so I know where to go. I’m about fifty-fifty on hills – sometimes I gear down low enough to stay behind the person in front of me, other times I attack. Depends on my mood that day or how slow I need to go to stay at the back of the group. The goal being to not be the person everyone groans about because they picked a ride too far outside their abilities.
Bouyed by my successful first time of bike commuting on Heavy Bike, I got up super early on Sunday to ride to the start of a training ride for the team I’m riding with for the Bike MS: City to Shore event in late September. It’s only 15 miles and riding on Electric Dream Machine, it only took an hour to get to the ride start. Simulating the ride profile, the training ride was on the Schuylkil Trail from Center City to Valley Forge and back – a false flat with a few hills in Manayunk.
The training ride split into two groups – Fast (15+ mph) and Slower (12-15mph). I decided to stick with the Slower group – more people to chat with and didn’t want to obliterate myself before heading to brunch with some girl friends. Ultimately I’m glad I did – definitely ended up on the higher end of the average spectrum without killing myself.
About 5mi from Valley Forge, we saw the Fast group coming back and decided to take a communal break. Most of the Slower group planned to continue on, one of the Fast group decided to ride to VF again with his wife, and two of us from Slower group decided to head back (we were running about 20min behind schedule). So I’m now in a group of four: Three fast guys and me.
Even though I was maintaining a rolling speed of 19-21mph, which is fast for me, I was slowing getting dropped. I watched the three guys become much smaller on the trail ahead. In this moment, you have a choice: give chase or solider on where your abilities are. I chose the latter. I wasn’t upset or angry or even frustrated – this is the reality of life. Someone will always be better and faster than you. It’s OK.
My bike commuter friend happened to also be out riding (different route). He rode up behind me and we chatted for a few minutes before he turned around to continue his ride. It boosted my flagging spirit.
At some point the guys realized I wasn’t with them and stopped at an underpass. One rode back to find me and I wasn’t TOO far behind so he encouraged me to just keep going. As I rode by the resting guys, I yelled “Drop me like a bad habit, eh?” with a big smile and the chase was on! They finally caught up to me and we rode together as a group. After a short rest break, we hit the trail again. We were doing fine until the same Super Fast guy took his turn at the front. The guy behind me said “Time to pick up the tempo” and once again, I was left behind.
I didn’t mind, really. It’s my own issue if I can’t keep up, not theirs! And on this ride, we were on the path – there really wasn’t a way for me to get lost. It was just this one guy – his turn at the front meant rolling 21+ and I’m just not there yet even in the Big Ring. To his credit, when he came off the front this time he noticed I wasn’t in the pack, slowed a bit, and let me draft him for a few miles while the other two Fast Guys rolled slightly ahead of us.
The rest of the ride was good – I was able to keep up with the group as we rolled back into the city … until the Super Fast Guy caught someone’s tail and zoomed off. I tried to chase this time, but after 50mi of riding near the top of my abilities my legs were gstarting to feel hosed. The two other guys were behind me and eventually caught up and the three of us rolled back to the start together. Great ride.
Post-ride Brunch was fantastic. My legs were definitely less enthused on hills going home, which is all uphill. Ended up riding 72mi and averaging 14.7mph over just shy of 2000′ of elevation gain. Pretty respectable.