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Credit

Although this blog was originally created by Andy Brickell and continues to be updated by him, the design and layout of the page is credited to his daughter, Mary-Claire Brickell. She's pretty awesome.

Friday, December 31, 2010

La-Z-Boy

I've been on vacation for about a week and haven't touched a bike since my last ride to work. My commuter bike is sitting outside the back door with a flat and a forlorn expression. In my defense, the weather has been unpredictable but mostly unpleasant, I was busy with Christmas preparations, and tomorrow is our annual New Year's Day Open house, so opportunities have been limited. The Mules have been quiet, too, but Kevin wants to ride out of Zube before we both go back to work, so maybe we'll go Sunday.

Santa stopped off at the bike shop this year and brought me a very spiffy rain jacket because I've been extra good. I also received a very nice flashing light that attaches to my spokes so I should be quite a sight when next I ride in the rain after dark.

We'll be having a flat-fixing master class pretty soon. MC's bike at college got a flat and she doesn't know how to repair it, so we're going to have a hands-on session with her old bike. Unfortunately it's the back wheel, so she has to wrangle the chain as well as get the tire off and back on again. I anticipate a video Skype session with her when she gets back to Roanoke.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

You've gotta have friends -

I've decided to return to the Mule Paddock, but wasn't sure if anyone would be riding today, as the BHP Holiday Party is tonight. I texted Paddy to see but had no reply by 6.00am this morning, so I opted to go with the Bicycle World group instead. Imagine my surprise when I read a Facebook update from him talking about a tough ride with Gregor et al...

I did enjoy the ride today, though, mainly because I met three or four new riders who turned out to be very interesting. The first was Ian, a 23-year old whippersnapper who works for Oceaneering and actually built some of the kit on one of the deepwater rigs we use. His father, who's from Glasgow, was working in Aberdeen about the same time as me (ie, early 80's) but moved his family to Houston when Ian was a kid. He's a very strong rider but took pity on me when we were at the head of the paceline.

My next new friend was Kevin, a pretty remarkable 50-year old who is just moving in to Houston from Phoenix. He and a fellow 50-year old recently won a 24 hour mountain bike race, completing 21 laps of a 10-mile circuit in the allotted time period. He has three boys - the oldest just finished a 5 year hitch in the Navy and is now studying computer programming, the middle son is the top gunner on a Humvee in Northern Iraq (!) and the youngest is still in school. Plenty more Kevin stories -

Another newbie I got chatting with is a trainer at the MAC. He recounted the tale of being in a paceline at 30 mph recently, when the rider in front hit the brakes. My buddy went down and the next guy in the line rode right over the top of him! He broke the frame on his gorgeous Felt bike and had to get a new one.

So it was fun to meet some new people, and it was a good ride too (although the wind coming down the home stretch in front of the Dam was brutal). Maybe I need to reconsider...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Spinning in the snow


Two weeks ago Susan and I drove north to spend Thanksgiving with her extended family. Our two kids also came in (MC flew in from Virginia, James got the train from Indiana) and we had a lot of fun. Since the hotel we were using has a small gym, I brought indoor biking gear, planning to burn off some pecan pie on a static bike. When Susan's sister Nancy heard this, she suggested a spin class at the local exercise studio and actually had coupons for two free sessions.

Susan's home town, Morris IL, is the epitome of small town America. It's the county seat of Grundy County, and boasts a population of 10,200 and a powerhouse high-school football team. When I first visited in the early 80's there was still a downtown drugstore, cinema and grocery store. Now of course everything has moved out to the outskirts of town, handy for I-80 and US 47, and the stores on Liberty (aka "The Gut") sell knick-knacks and crap that indulgent grandmothers buy for their grand babies. Actually it's not as bad as some of the small towns I've seen in Texas - there are also cafes, a wine merchant, a book shop and of course the exercise studio, which brings me back to the subject of this posting, a spin session on a very chilly morning.

It was a balmy 29 deg F as I walked briskly across the road from my parking spot just outside the Gun Reloading store (seriously). I got a warm welcome from the owner/instructor Lynette, who pointed me to the one rest-room to change into my exercise gear. Her gym doesn't offer quite the same amenities as Lifetime Fitness back in Memorial, but the bikes were all new, she had two different models, and they all had a computer that picked up my heart-rate monitor.

I chose a bike that looked identical to the ones I normally use, set it up with the same settings and off we went. At first it was just me but pretty soon a good group had assembled, all women, all regulars who were on first-name terms. Lynette got us going at a cracking pace and in general pushed us harder than Zoe, her counterpart in Houston. The other riders clearly had no problem with the level of effort required, however, and kept up the banter. The two women on either side of me appeared to have a calorie-burning competition going on!

I managed the full 45 minutes but was very glad to get off the bike at the end. I tried to pay for my session (of course I'd left Nancy's coupons at her parent's house) but Lynette insisted that the first ride was always free, even when I pointed out that I had no idea when my next ride would be. Normally I'd cool down and shower after a spin class but that was not an option, so I changed out of my wet gear and dashed to my car, feeling virtuous and ready for some serious gluttony. I love Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Getting to know you

A chilly start to today's Truth Squad ride - 40 degrees at 7.00 am - but I decided to risk the ridicule of my fellow riders by showing up in my regular, Houston-in-the-Summer outfit, on the principle that it would be warmer later and I didn't want to over-heat. I was fully kitted-out in new, birthday present attire, with my bib shorts (first time ever in bibs!) and socks.

Last week we'd agreed to try a different, slightly longer route, hopefully missing out a few of the traffic lights that make the normal runs tedious. This involved a run north on Eldridge, then a left turn onto Clay, all the way to Katy and back on the regular Old Katy route. We duly set out, missing Denis, Keith and Mike, but with the addition of Susan and Bruce. The run north on Dairy-Ashford generated a few complaints (this is worse than Memorial, etc). We turned on to Eldridge and climbed the largest hill in West Houston (a short but steepish ramp over the Addicks dam). I was in the lead and looked back to see that the group was pretty fragmented already.

It was pretty damn cold but I was OK, at least while riding in the sun. The shaded sections were a different story...

We made the turn on Clay, but unfortunately not only were there traffic lights, there was also a lot of traffic. I wanted to keep the pace high but the group couldn't keep together, and we had to settle for about 17 mph. And then Jolynne flatted. We pulled in to a gas station and Bruce took over. Turns out he was a mechanic for a Pro-Cycling team for 45 years! He stripped out the old tube and had the new one in place in a flash. Sadly, though, the tube turned out to be bad - it didn't hold any inflation - and he had to put another in, leaving Jolynne without a spare. By now it was 8.30 and Jamie couldn't go any further (she has to be back by 10.00 am to work in the shop). With no spare tube, Jolynne didn't want to go any further either and Bruce needed to get back too. I wanted to keep going and so did Susan, so the group split up with Susan and I heading west on Clay and the others heading back south to pick up the trail.

So there we were, Susan and I, cruising along together. She was struggling to make the pace but toughed it out. She was also very chatty and I learned quite a lot about her over the course of the next hour or two. Clay continued to be busy and Susan wanted to ride side-by-side. Single-file would have been better, and several motorists let us know in the time-honored fashion.

A bit further on and the road got much quieter and became more of a country road, similar to many back country routes out by Hempstead. We saw two magnificent hawks on telegraph poles. One I'm sure was a red-tailed hawk, the other was even bigger. The saddle of a bike really is the best place to go bird-watching.

We kept rolling west, with a decent tail-wind. Susan was struggling a bit and I was wondering when we'd reach the turn - Avenue D in Old Katy. Eventually I decided we had either missed the turn or the directions were wrong, and we turned south at the next opportunity. Susan had the temerity to suggest that we ask for directions at a house! I had to explain that males, and male bikers in particular, did not do that.

The road T-d out and we turned left, heading back east. This turned out to be a good call, as we pretty soon got back into Old Katy and saw Avenue D, which did not in fact go through to Clay. Anyway, no problem, we were back on the map. We turned south, found the Shell station and had a quick break, then headed back on Franz.

We were running into the wind, but it wasn't too bad for me. Unfortunately Susan was about played out and the wind hit her hard. I tried to encourage her to draft behind me but she didn't really get it, so it was quite a trek back to the Park. Once in the Park she got her second wind and we made it back OK.

Back at the shop I gave Jamie some grief for misleading directions and then went to visit Bruce, who had set up a stand to advertise his company's products (bike degreaser and chain lube). He was showing riders how to clean their bikes in 10 minutes, pro-style, and did mine for me. Very impressive, and the bike is very clean, but it's a very messy process, not really suitable for a garage. Back home for lunch and a beer.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

All aboard for the Estrogen Express

Last weekend Bicycle World and Fitness added a third Saturday morning ride, an intermediate paced outing for those not strong enough for the International Liars' Club but too fast for Manny's ride. Jamie "Green Ears", who works as a sales associate at the shop, was leading and christened us "The Truth Squad", as we are like the ILC but with 10% more truthiness. The first ride included Jamie and Jeremy (who also works at BW&F), Denis and me, and we had a lot of fun on the short-ish run to Katy Mills Mall and back.

Yesterday we were joined by a few more riders, some of whom were refugees from the ILC and some poached from Manny. I persuaded Jolynne to come along and I think she had fun. At the first stop light I realised that there were more women than men in the group, whence "The Estrogen Express"'.

Unlike Manny's ride, we don't try to keep together as a group, and since the route includes numerous traffic lights, it's easy to get split up. That's exactly what happened fairly quickly and I found myself in a mini-peleton in front of the rest, with an English lady and a younger American woman, who turned out to be the strongest rider in the group by far.

We regrouped at the turn-around (Walgreens on Pin Oak road) but split off from the pack again, this time with Denis too. I pulled for a while but the pace was too hot and I had to drop back and draft. This gave me an opportunity to chat with the English lady, who rides with the ILC normally but tends to get dropped after 30-40 miles. She's still a pretty strong rider.

Back in the Park, we passed Manny's group, who were resting at the Cop Shop, and headed onto Wind Alley. The young American woman took off like a scalded cat and I let her go. She ran into traffic not far along though, and Denis, the English lady and I caught her, and latched on to her back wheel for the rest of the run.

I'll keep riding with The Truth Squad for now. If we get enough riders, Jamie will be able to go further than 30 miles (for now she has to be back by 10.00 am to open the shop), delaying my return to the Mules' Paddock and driving half an hour for a ride.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Peeling the Big Apple


Susan and I were in New York City at the end of September, meeting some friends from London. We took the Circle Line ferry around the island on a beautiful late afternoon/evening cruise (and saw Lady Liberty) and the next morning I got up bright and early to ride the Manhattan Greenway, a 32-mile trail that follows the waterfront and is mostly on dedicated hike/bike paths.

I had arranged to rent a bike at Pier 84 on the Hudson river, coincidentally right next to the Circle Line ferry terminal. Our hotel was at the other end of 42nd street and I planned to get breakfast and then hop on the Cross-town bus. I managed breakfast OK but waited twenty minutes for the bus, before deciding to start walking. Of course, as soon as I was too far from a stop to catch it, the bus rolled by. I ended up walking all the way, but it was a pleasant morning (if chilly!) and I arrived just as the shop was opening at 9.00am.

They gave me a pretty crappy comfort bike, but it looked sturdy enough. Sadly they had no helmets and advised me to pick one up at another of their locations. I headed south, to round the island counter-clockwise, just like the ferry. The path along this portion of the Hudson river was well laid out, with clearly marked bike and runner lanes, and dedicated traffic lights. I made the out-of-towner's mistake of stopping at one of the lights - the locals all whizzed through without a glance.

After a few miles I was diverted off the trail and onto the street, presumably due to construction. The roads were very quiet and it was easy to follow the diversion. I arrived in Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan, pretty quickly and found the bike rental place's other location, where they gave me a helmet. I headed on, feeling a lot safer.

The ferries to Liberty and Ellis islands leave from Battery Park and the lines were already very long. The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial is right by the ferries.







The trail was not very well marked through this section and I was pretty much just following the water front. After a while it got better and I began to enjoy the view. It was quite a thrill to ride under the storied Brooklyn Bridge, too.

There were a few other cyclists on this stretch along the East River and a fair number of walkers and runners. I passed Stuyvesant Cove, with its seating areas in little groves of trees, and saw a few people deeply engrossed in their reading, despite being well wrapped-up against the chill. Another man was going through a Tai-Chi routine, perhaps a little half-heartedly.

The trail moves away from the Water Front at about 30th Street and you're on the street for a few blocks. Another rider was with me as I turned west against the traffic and I asked him if he knew the way. He didn't, but lives on the West Side and enjoys little cycling adventures (less than 5 miles from his home! Come down to Texas some time, pardner). He told me that he rides year-round, which is impressive given the winters here. I turned north on 1st Avenue, which was fortunately still pretty quiet and has a bus lane.

I stopped at a light at 42nd street and was asked for directions by two young women. Luckily they wanted to go to Grand Central station, which was just a few blocks away. Further up 1st, I started looking for the path back to the Greenway but it was not very obvious (I found myself on the access road to the Midtown tunnel at one point!). As I needed to answer a call of nature, I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts to look at my map, get a coffee (surprisingly good, even for a coffee snob like me) and strain the spuds, if you know what I mean. The bike rental included a D-lock so I chained my steed to the railings and marched in, head held high in my Mules shirt and cycling cap.

Much refreshed and with a better (but actually misguided!) idea of where I was, I set out again. I couldn't find the access point that appeared to be quite near, but the next (at 79th street) was a bit more obvious - an overpass over the FDR - and I was back in business. The trail was wider and better laid-out along this section, but the wind was right in my face and had picked up quite a bit. The Willis Street bridge appeared, marking the entrance to the Harlem river.




The next stretch involved quite a long run through Harlem at street level, to the northern-most point of the ride. I left the Greenway at 120th street and quickly picked up a bike lane. The next few blocks were very pleasant, going past brownstone after sunlit brownstone, with the smell of Sunday lunch being prepared. I got to Frederick Douglass Boulevard and turned north. No more bike lane but the road is wide and there wasn't much traffic. Every few blocks there was a large, shiny SUV double-parked, with windows open and hip-hop music blasting. Towards the end of this stretch I heard some loud music and looked around for the SUV. Instead I saw a young man on what looked like a home-made trike with two enormous speakers. We rode side-by-side for a while, boom-boom-a-boom and some very salty language, until he saw a friend and pulled over.

I reached what I thought was the turn that would put me back on the Greenway, but it dead-ended at the base of the supports for a large bridge. A look at the map confirmed that I was in the right place, so I scouted around for the trail. There was a path leading into a housing project (The Polo Grounds Housing Association, built with a donation from baseball great Willie Mays) and I took it, in the hope that it would lead to the Greenway. It didn't, but I rode around the project for about 10 minutes looking for it. I eventually found myself back on Frederick Douglass heading south.

Another look at the map and I saw an alternate route, going round the south end of Jackie Robinson park. I decided to ride one block off Frederick Douglass, which was starting to get busy. No signs of a route through the park so at the south end I turned right and immediately hit a pretty sharp climb, which got my legs warmed up nicely. Half-way up I saw signs for the Greenway, quite a relief after wandering around Harlem aimlessly for what seemed like hours.

I was now in Hamilton Heights, which sits atop the ridge of volcanic rock that is the spine of Manhattan. A few blocks north and I picked up entrance onto the Harlem River Speedway, one of the highlights of the Greenway ride. I crossed the bridge that had blocked my way earlier and realised that if I had climbed the stairs by the side of the supports, I would have been back on track. Oh well, I was in good shape now, and enjoyed the run down to the river front. I couldn't resist a shot of this nice exposure of schist.


The Harlem River Speedway was delightful - a wide, smooth surface, great views all around, hardly anyone else in sight - but it was over all to soon, and I was dumped out on Dyckman Street in Inwood. A few blocks in this busy neighbourhood and then I picked up the Greenway for the run down the Hudson river, the final section of my ride.


I joined the trail right by The Cloisters Museum and Fort Tryon park. It runs parallel but separate from a busy highway. You run down hill for the first mile or so and there are breathtaking views of the Hudson River between the trees that line the trail. I caught a glimpse of the George Washington Bridge (sadly in the public eye at the time, due to the gay student at Rutgers who killed himself by jumping from it, after bullying by his room-mate). You really wouldn't know that you were in Manhattan up here - no houses to see, just river and trees.


Back on the flat and I detour to look at the Little Red Lighthouse, apparently the subject of a children's book, sitting under the GW bridge. No longer used, it once was an important navigational aid along the Hudson, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a must-see landmark on the Greenway and here it is.

The trail winds its way south, in and out of trees, playgrounds and sports fields. It was getting busier with every mile and pretty soon I was back at the bike rental shop, ready to get off the bike and eat something. I managed to get the cross-town bus pretty quickly and was soon back in the hotel.

Despite getting lost twice, I enjoyed the ride and would do it again in a New York minute, as they say.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Isn't it Fall yet?


Not around here it isn't, although the mornings are cooler (but still humid). Out with Manny's group this morning for the usual Saturday thrash around Terry Hershey/George Bush parks. A surprisingly small group today - only eight, very odd given that at the height of summer we regularly had 20+ riders. Some of the stalwarts were missing, too.

The ride was fun, relatively low-key (no Keith or Denis to make me sweat!) and uneventful. There was a young rider on an 80's Bianchi in gorgeous condition. I asked him if he was younger than his bike and it turns out that they are the same age! He kept up with the pace well but flatted on the way back.

One advantage of the cooler weather is that it's easier to stay hydrated, which in turn means I don't finish the ride feeling like death warmed up. My time with Manny's group is limited - I'll soon have to rejoin the Mules and start thinking about the MS150 - but it's been a blast riding with them. Here's a shot of one of the larger groups.

Monday, August 30, 2010

another new bike???


well, yes, but this one was for Mary-Claire. I just took her back to school (Hollins University in Virginia) and we decided to get her a bike to give her a bit more mobility around campus.

I had hoped to get her something from an independent bike shop, on the principles that the quality would be better and the service more knowledgeable, and in the desire to stick it to the (Corporate) Man. Sadly (unlike the Bayou City) none of the Roanoke LBS' were open on Sunday, the only day we had to shop. Come on Guys, if you're going to survive in the teeth of competition from the Big Box stores you're going to have to get up on Sunday mornings.

I was starting to think we would have to hit Wally-World, but then we spotted a branch of Dick's Sporting goods near our hotel. A quick check on the Tubes showed that they carried decent-looking bikes, so off we went. I'd never heard of this chain before, even though there is apparently one in Houston. It turned out to be a slightly down-market version of Sport Authority/Academy, but they had a few bikes that tickled MC's fancy. She rode this little beauty (Diamondback Vital) around the store and liked it, although the seat/handlebar set-up felt a bit odd. Our sales guy/mechanic raised the saddle and it all fell into place for her. We added a kick-stand (despite grumblings from me!), bottle rack and a combination lock, then added a helmet (in a matching shade of blue, natch), a pump and a water bottle and she was good to go.

I discussed maintenance options with the Dick's guy. I don't expect her to maintain the bike (I don't maintain mine, other than cleaning and lube, after all) but I thought she should be able to do basic stuff, like repair a flat. He convinced me to throw down $50 on a 3-year maintenance plan, which will allow her to bring the bike back for basic repairs and adjustments at no charge. I don't normally like these deals and never buy them, but this one made sense. Of course, she'll need to get the bike back to the store but she will probably be able to sweet-talk a friend with a car into giving her a lift.

Happy riding, MC!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pick on someone your own speed

For Manny's ride today we were joined by a refugee from the International Liars Club, the other group that rides out of Bicycle World. One big difference, though - they average well above 20 mph and usually go a lot further than our 30 miles. The ILC (as they call themselves) were doing a century ride (ie, 100 miles) and started at 6.15am. They obviously forgot to tell everyone because one of their guys showed up at 7.00am and had to ride with the weenies instead.

The Liar (didn't catch his name) set a hot pace through the Park but the rest of the Gang held back, as it's really not safe, with all the foot traffic. We regrouped at the Dam but he soon had a commanding lead once more. I had three other riders with me and tried to organize them into a pace-line, with everyone taking their turn at the front, but they didn't really get it.

After the break at the Cop Shop I found myself drafting behind the Liar and another pretty fast rider who was also new to the group. I hung with them but the pace was too much and I soon dropped back to join my buddies. This was the pattern for the rest of the ride but the time with the speedsters was taking its toll on my stamina. On the final stretch they dropped me about a mile out and I struggled in on an empty tank. It was also ferociously hot and I was getting dehydrated, which didn't help.

Back at Bicycle World, I sat inside and enjoyed the AC for a while, not something I do normally. Eventually I dragged myself home and promptly fell asleep on the sofa, feeling pretty crap. Susan made me a wonderful cheese omelet for lunch and I started to feel a bit better. Next time one of these Major Leaguers shows up to ride with the Triple-A group, I'm going to let them have their fun on their own, and hang back where I belong.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Old dogs, old tricks

We've recently been watching re-runs of the BBC TV Show "New Tricks". It's a Brit version of "Cold Case", in which detectives try to solve old cases when new evidence emerges. The twist is that the investigating team is composed of retired detectives, hence Old Dogs and New Tricks. The insider joke for us older Brits is that all three of the retirees are familiar TV faces from the 70's and 80's, including James Bolam ("Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?") and Denis Waterman ("The Sweeney", "Minder").

What's all this got to do with cycling, you may ask. Well, yesterday morning's group for the regular Bicycle World no-drop ride included dogs both old (me and a few others) and young (two high-school kids) in an unusually large peloton of 23 riders, and tricks both old and new were on display.

We got off to a pretty slow start, mainly due to the very large number of runners in the park. Registration for the 2011 Houston marathon is about to open and it seems that everyone wants to start their training early. Once clear of the park we got going at a better pace, with me heading the charge as usual. Two other riders kept with me, Keith (who owns and runs a restaurant in Copperfield) and a 17-year old High School student whose name I didn't catch. The pace clearly wasn't that hot because the group re-formed pretty quickly and we set out again through George Bush park.

I took the lead once more and we formed a pretty good pace-line at about 19-20 mph, which held together pretty much all the way to Fry road. On the final stretch Kevin took a great lead-out from me (entirely unintentional I have to say) and blew past, with the High Schooler hot on his trail. I let them go, feeling the need for a blow after pulling all the way.

Once again the group reassembled pretty quickly. Manny (the ride leader) gave a brief lecture on riding style and pedaling efficiency, then organised a group photo. We rolled out a few minutes later and once more I was up front pulling hard. Halfway up Barker-Clodine I decided to let someone else do the work for a while and gave the universal sign for the pace-line to pass me (tap the thigh, swing to the left). Unfortunately the number 2 rider didn't speak the universal language and stayed locked on to my back wheel, so I slowed down and gave an extravagant "after you, Claude" gesture, at which point he got it and blew past. Right behind him was a young woman in a Toyota jersey and I slotted in behind her.

A little further on I got my wind back and took up the lead, increasing the pace a notch as I went. This turned out to be too much for the other two and I dropped them pretty fast. When I eased back, though, I was quickly caught by Keith and the high-school kid and we cruised in to the Cop Shop together, with the rest of the pace-line pretty close behind.

A short break to regroup and then off for the final leg (usually called "Wind Alley"). A pace-line formed pretty quickly, with me at second wheel, when Toyota Girl blew past at a flat-out sprint. I jumped on her wheel and hung on grimly as she set a fierce pace. She eased back after about 5 minutes and was surprised when I blew past her. She came back strongly and passed me again but couldn't sustain the pace and I dropped her for good with about a mile to run.

Back in the Park and the pace drops to a spin and grin. Keith and I chat as we go, and I tell him about the Mules, and my plan to return to the fold when the weather cools off. At the final regrouping point Toyota Girl joins us and I tell her that I thought the gas pedal on the Toyota must have got stuck down when she sprinted past the line. She didn't seem to find that funny, perhaps not enjoying getting a lesson in riding from Grandpa. The high-school kid and Keith got the joke, though.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

too hot to handle

I'm still hiding from the rampaging Mules, going out every Saturday morning with the Bicycle World no-drop group. Yesterday I took the fixie and did the full 30+ miles for the first time (my previous outing was cut short by flooding). Each week there's a group that rides a bit faster than the rest, and there were two of the speedsters at the start, so I knew I'd get a workout.

It was definitely a stretch for me but I kept the pace up all the way out. At one point a rider in the group who I hadn't seen before told me he'd never seen anyone go so fast on a fixie! He needs to get out more, I can hit 20, maybe a little more, but that's about it.

After the break at the turn, I held back and let the fast group start first. I pushed pretty hard all the way back to the Constable Station (where we regroup for the last time) and arrived a few minutes behind, blowing hard and feeling pretty much done for the day. But I had one last surge in my legs - we set out in a pace line and with about a mile to go I kicked and roared past, giving the leader a cowboy yell as I went. Denis had latched on to my wheel and once I cleared the line, he popped a cog and left me for dead. That must be how the pro sprinters feel when Cavendish drops them like a bad habit in the last 200m of a race.

After those heroics I was pretty much done for the day, but Denis (bless his cotton cycling socks) hung back at the bridge and paced me in. We made it back to Bicycle World in time to watch the Tour time trial - a foregone conclusion of course, but I think that history will treat Contador badly after his display of poor sportsmanship in the Pyrenees. Off home for lunch and a nap before heading to The Woodlands to see Robert Plant.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fixin' to ride

Down here they have a very useful construction - "fixin'". It's shorthand for getting ready to do something, so if you're getting your junk together to go shopping (let's say), you're fixin' to go. I always wonder how you would say that you're preparing to fix something, but it never seems to occur. Anyway, this Independence Day morning I decided to pull up my big girl pants and take the fixie out for a longer run than the neighbourhood spins I've done so far - so I was fixin' to ride my fixie.

I opted to ride the route that the Saturday Morning group follows, mainly because there are no hills at all - I didn't fancy climbing in only one, fairly tough gear. So off I went, muttering "fixie, fixie" under my breath to remind myself that I wasn't on board a standard bike.

It was a fairly uneventful ride all the way out, although I had to force myself to keep pedaling a couple of times when my legs wanted to coast through some tight spots and turns. The Park trail ends at the Addicks Dam, and the Corps of Engineers was letting a lot of water out into Buffalo Bayou following all the rain we've had from Hurricane Alex - quite a sight. In fact the tunnel under Route 6 looked like it had been almost completely submerged at some point, with debris high on the structure.

Over the bridge and on to the Dam access road, where I stretched my legs a bit. I was told that riding a fixie is a great work-out, and they weren't lying, but I got a good cadence going and felt more comfortable. There was another rider on a standard bike ahead, so I tried to catch him and got pretty close before having to slow down for the gate by the Constable Station.

The next leg goes through the reservoir that's held back by the dam. It's normally dry but I had an inkling that today would be different, and sure enough, the trail was flooded out about 1/2 mile down. Time to turn around and crank her up again. The wind seemed to have picked up a bit and I found myself wishing I had a few gears to play with.

Back in the Park and then home before it got too hot. I managed 28 miles on the fixie and didn't fall off once. It's definitely a different way to ride and I think it's fun, but I'm not sure. Anyway it's certainly great exercise and promotes good pedaling, so I'll keep at it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

If it ain't fixed, it's broke


Every other bike we saw in Seattle was a fixie, and many of them didn't have brakes, quite amazing given the hilly terrain. I went into a bike shop and they had a whole rack of fixies, all singing a siren song to me.

So once back in Houston I took my lovely Italian roadster to my LBS and asked them to convert it from 12 gears to one (and no freewheel, thanks). They called me a few days later with bad news - they didn't want to do it because the bike wouldn't be safe (rear dropouts pointing forward and too much space between the chain stays). However, they would be happy to sell me a very nice Bianchi model for $700.

Enter Ebay, and a bike retailer offering a new Dawes fixie for $220 (MRP: $700). This seemed too good to be true, so I did a little research and found out about BikesDirect, a manufacturer of low-spec bikes sold exclusively on-line. The cheap fixie was undoubtedly one of their offerings. On-line opinion of the quality of BD products varied dramatically. Some people were very dismissive, others had better experiences. Since the failed Italian conversion would have cost me about $200, I didn't have much to lose and decided to take a chance on SportyMama (the Ebay e-tailer).

The bike arrived very promptly and I opted to assemble it myself (no gears, so no serious adjustments needed). It has been christened "The Gold Standard" for obvious reasons and I've taken it out for a few casual spins around the neighbourhood. Riding a fixie is definitely different! No more coasting through corners, or after standing on the pedals - the bike tells you quite firmly that this is not allowed. A bit more practice and I'll take it on one of the Saturday morning runs (see previous post), although I won't be leading the group.

Sadly, the acquisition of another bike means I have to dispose of the Italian job. I put it on Craig's List and got a lot of responses - perhaps the price was too low. Anyway, we'll see how serious they are.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Slowing the pace

Back home after two weeks on vacation, mostly out of town, and my buttocks didn't see a saddle for the whole time we were away. There was a nice trail in Victoria (The Galloping Goose!) but the weather wasn't very conducive to leisure riding.

I wanted to get back into the swing of riding and exercising, so I hit the gym yesterday (30 minutes stationary bike, 15 minutes rowing machine) and planned a ride today. The Mules were going out from Zube, but I'm sure they are all in very good shape right now (training for the Hotter-than-Hell) and I didn't fancy the punishment of trailing after them for 40 miles in the summer heat. Looking around the web, I saw that my local bike shop, Bicycle World and Fitness, does an easy-paced, no-drop ride every Saturday morning - just the ticket for a rider trying to get it back together. Also, it's barely 10 minutes ride from the house, so no need to load up the car.

So at 7.00am today I pulled up outside the shop and joined a smallish group (maybe 20), mostly older people, nobody looking like a very serious rider. We headed out for Terry Hershey at a fairly sedate pace, and kept it there all the way through to Route 6. Just as I began to wonder if I had set my sights too low, one or two riders broke from the pack and took off at a better pace. I jumped on and pretty soon there were just two of us, going pretty quick.

The ride leader wanted us to regroup at the Constable's station, and my buddy and I got there well ahead of the pack. We chatted for a while - he's a lot younger than me and training for a couple of triathlons later in the year. We regrouped and headed out - once again, the two of us broke clear pretty quickly. I took the lead halfway down Barker-Clodine and tried to keep the pace up for the other guy - but I made it too hot, and dropped him (totally unintentionally!). I eased off and he got back on. It turned out that he didn't really know how to draft, so was having to work too hard when he should have been taking it easy.

On into George Bush Park, riding together this time. We reached Fry road and waited for the pack, chatting some more. The group gathered and our leader, Manny from the bike shop, gave us an impromptu lecture on nutrition. Turns out he's the official nutritionist for a Pro team, Team Type-1, who are riding the RAAM (Race Across America, Anaheim CA to Annapolis MD) this month, so he has chops for sure. He passed on some very interesting info, mostly in complete contradiction to my own limited ideas about cycling nutrition. I may have to change up a few things.

Back on the road and once again Kenzie and I take the lead. Another stop at the Constable's station, then a pretty hot sprint back to Route 6 where I drop my new buddy again. Once in Terry Hershey we regroup and take it easy - too much foot and bike traffic to race anyway. Then it's back to the bike store for a chat with the mechanics about converting my old 12-speed into a fixed-gear bike. It's a short but sweaty ride home from there.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons was the first book in a series of children's novels written in the 30's by Arthur Ransome, about the adventures of a group of kids learning to sail in the Lake District. I was reminded of the stories and their setting while standing by Beaver Lake, in Victoria BC where we were just recently on holiday. It's very picturesque - the lake is beautiful, there are trees all around, lots of Canada geese (as James says, in Canada they are just called "geese") and mallards - and on the day we visited, there were rowing boats (coxless fours no less) out training, mostly apparently crewed by women. As there were also a number of swallows doing aerobatics just above the water, you can see why Ransome's tales came to mind. Wikipedia just reminded me that one of the crew of the Swallow was called "Titty", a source of amusement for generations of kids, and changed to "Kitty" for the movie version.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jason the Camaronaut


This week's featured rider is - Jason Flockton! This diminutive Antipodean powerhouse is probably the best sprinter in the group (sorry Mike, he left you for dead today), and is also known for taking on more than his fair share of time at the head of the peloton.

Jason and Mike showed up for today's weekly thrash around Hempstead, bad news for me as they're both very strong at present. After all the rain yesterday it was pretty foggy this morning and it stayed that way for most of the ride, making it very sticky and uncomfortable. Mike and Jason set a cracking pace but let me sit at second wheel for most of the way. There was a head wind all the way out (huh? How can it be foggy and windy at the same time?), but despite Mike's gloomy prognostications, it didn't switch direction on us at the gas station and we had a tail wind all the way in.

Back at Zube we took a close look at Jason's new car, a bright yellow Camaro. Its miniscule trunk
makes it the perfect choice for a travelling cyclist (sarcasm/jealousy alert here). The kids at school think it looks like a bumble bee - I leave you to form your own opinion.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hogan's a Hero


Mike Hogan, that is, 50-something Category 5 road racer and one of our senior safety people. He's also the only other person to show up at Zube this morning, despite Paddy emailing me that he would definitely be there. Mike's act of heroism today was to drag me round the 40 mile circuit under difficult wind conditions and not roll his eyes too much when he had to wait at the top of all the climbs.

It was a beautiful morning when we started, cool and not at all humid, but with a stiffish breeze coming out of the north-west. Since the route heads mostly north and west until we get to the gas station and turn around, we spent a lot of time fighting a screaming head or cross wind. We joked that with our luck the wind would have shifted into our face again by the time we headed back. I think we tempted fate -

Mike kept up a pretty good pace but I was able to keep with him, although I spent a lot of time drafting. While riding side-to-side we had a good chat about the industry (and the Deepwater Horizon disaster) road-racing and our Missing-in-Action riding buddies (which included Gregor, who was supposed to show but didn't, and left his phone off to boot).

Back at Zube I took a shot of Mike and his sexy time-trial bike that he brought today (instead of his highly-sexy Pinarello). Here he is, your hero and mine -

Monday, April 19, 2010

Houston-Austin: "A weekend in Hell"





OK, it wasn't as bad as that! The real "Sunday in Hell" is the Paris-Roubaix pro race that's run every Easter over cobbled roads in Northern France. This year's MS-150 was a struggle for me, mainly because I couldn't get enough training, due to sickness and bad weather. Next year will be better!

A lot of logistics to wrangle this time. Susan's sister's partner's twin brother David, who lives in Austin, rode the bus down on Friday and spent the night with us. I drove him to the start (to drop his bag and pick up his bike), then drove back home where I'd arranged to meet up with Christina and Taylor. We saddled up and rode to the BHP start, where we hooked up with the rest of the team, including David - all by 7.00am.

We have our own team start partly for a bit of pre-ride bonding, but mostly to avoid the chaos at the official start (10,000+ riders all trying to get off at the same time!). Sadly, this year the official start had been moved and our route took as right to it - so we had to wait anyway. Oh well, it was a good opportunity for more bonding, and got us ready for the endless lines that would face us over the next two days.

Off we went on a clear, cool morning with a fair tail wind and storms in the forecast. I'd forgotten just how flat it is around the city - we didn't climb anything close to a hill until about forty miles out, practically at the lunch stop. The rain held off and it was pretty comfortable riding all the way. Unfortunately my lack of training was starting to make itself known, via a certain discomfort in the hinterlands, so to speak. This was to continue all day and into Sunday. Experienced riders tell you that miles make smiles, and they don't mean that your legs get stronger.

The tail wind kept going, but by mile 65 or so I was running out of steam. Everything hurt (feet/backside/back/neck/shoulders) and the climbs were really taking a toll. I knew that I had one big climb outside Fayetteville to face - the dreaded Rek Hill - and wasn't sure there was enough in the tank to get me over it. Turns out there was, but only just. Fayetteville was a big boost, as ever - the whole town turns out to cheer on the riders.

With twenty miles to go I was running on empty, living for the sight of a rest stop. Finally we made the last turn, and the Fayette County fairgrounds appeared. In the past this would be the end of the first day, but this year BHP's tent is in the overflow camping area in the Walmart parking lot, ingeniously dubbed "Camp Walmart", and it's three miles further. I'm really struggling now, but I dig deep and find enough to get me in.

I limp into the tent (right foot is killing me!) and receive a warm welcome from the Mules, who of course have been in for hours and are already several beers to the good. I find a Shiner beer in one of the coolers and slump into a chair next to Gregor, feeling about as bad as I ever have while riding. The lack of winter and spring training certainly took a toll. Somewhat refresshed IO struggle to my feet and go looking for my gear. I find my bag on a cot quite close to an exit - just what I wanted, perfect for the midnight loo visit - grab my sponge bag, towel and change of clothing and head off to the shower trucks.

My 2009 pledges ($11,000) put me in the top 300 fund-raiser club (Club 300) and entitled me to a few perks. The one I planned to make the most of was a dedicated shower truck, allowing me to skip the long wait at the other trucks. Sadly this wasn't offered at Camp Walmart, so I had two options - take the shuttle bus to the Fairgrounds and use the Club 300 truck there, or take the bus to La Grange High School and use their athletics facilities. The first bus I saw was heading to the High School, so I followed fate and jumped on. This turned out to be a poor choice, as the wait at the High School was pretty bad too. At least they supplied towels, which meant I didn't have to try and get mine dry before Sunday afternoon in Austin.

A short wait for a bus and I was back in Camp Walmart. I went over to the massage area and got in line. I don't really enjoy massages but it seemed like a good idea and Susan loves them. I chatted briefly with another rider while we watched a masseuse turn someone into a pretzel, then I was up. 20 minutes of agony followed - does this really help? Back with the Mules and time for the usual post-ride banter while we waited for the food to be ready. Fajitas, beans and rice and another Shiner to the good and I was feeling a lot better. At this point in the proceedings we're all starting to run out of steam and wondering how soon we can go to bed. But first, my duties as a host - David is in line for food so I join him for a chat. He had a great day in the saddle, riding with the Mules until the lunch break, when he left them still eating.

And so to bed, where I find I'm surrounded by Janis from work and her two adult children. I ask them if anyone snores and they both point to their Mum, who grins sheepishly. Fortunately I brought my ear-plugs. Into my sleeping bag and a quick call to Susan, yawning the whole time, before settling down.

I never sleep really well on the Saturday night - it's not very comfortable, I ache in every joint and I'm usually a bit wound up about the Sunday ride - but I get a few hours before movement in the camp wakes me up at about 4.30 am. The lights are still out so I try to be discrete as I gather up my riding gear and head over to the changing cube. Today I'm repping Club 300, with my brand-new top fundraiser jersey and socks. The lights come on (5.00am!) and I can start packing up and breaking down my cot, with help from Janis' son, who is in the USAF and spent three months in Iraq sleeping on one.

I dig out my bike maintenance bag and go looking for my steed, which had been left outside in the weather with all the others. It rained a bit overnight, so I dried her off, then cleaned the chain and applied lube. Richard comes by and I offer him the use of my rag and chain oil. He's suitably impressed by my preparedness and grateful for the chance to dress up his ride a bit.

Time for breakfast, and there's already quite a line for pancakes and breakfast tacos. It starts to rain so I pull on my rain jacket. Then it starts to rain really hard, and we cluster under the awning by the cooks. I snag a plateful of pancakes, a big gob of butter and a pint or two of maple syrup - wonderful. There's even half-way decent coffee from the nearby Exxon station. The rain stops, we load the truck and then line up for the start.

I could go to the front of the line (another Club 300 perk) but I hang back, chatting with Richard and Leslie. The hot topic, as ever on the Sunday, is which route to take to Bastrop. The traditional route through Buescher and Bastrop State parks is much more challenging than the express route, which is basically a straight shot up Highway 71. So far I've gone through the Parks every year and found it challenging and exhilarating, but it's much harder too, and after yesterday's slog I'm not really up for it. The heavy rain (now stopped) supplies a built-in excuse - the Park roads are likely to be wet and possibly dangerous.

So it's the lunch express route for me, out there in the traffic on 71 with several thousands of my closest friends. It's fast but tedious. I skip the first rest stop and run into Kevin and Tom at the second. We chat and Kevin points out that the lunch stop is about ten miles away. there's no way I'll be ready for food by then. Back on the road, Kevin and I keep pace for a while but he eventually hangs back a bit to allow Tom to catch him. Pretty soon we reach the junction where the two routes merge. I catch a rider just out of the park and ask him how it was - "Perfect" was the laconic response.

We descend into Bastrop, a very familiar route, crossing over the Colorado before turning into the high school. I'm really not ready for lunch and feeling pretty strong, so I blow past the stop. There's a decent head-wind and it starts to kick in pretty soon. The road is surprisingly quiet, given the size of the field. I'm passed by Gregor and some others in a paceline - if they're so fast, why were they behind me, anyway? Country roads, climbs and descents, and various species of road kill all roll past. I break at the next rest stop and eat a bit more than normal, to make up for missing lunch. I'm in Webberville, with about 30 miles to run. Normally I'd stop only once more, but I'm tiring and aching again, and hit both of the remaining break points.

I finally pass the Austin city limits sign (woo-hoo!) and now the right hand lane is coned off for us. The last ten miles includes four good climbs but I'm feeling no pain by now. Along one stretch I'm passed by a paceline lead by Jason, with Paddy and Phil in tow amongst others. I tag on to the line until the next climb, when I blow past (Jason is holding the pace down to keep the group together). Taylor calls out "Go Andy!" as I pass.

We can see the UT tower now and the end is definitely in sight. We run down through the University, turn on to MLK and we can see the barriers and crowds. One last left hander and there's the state capitol, framed under the finish sign. I try to smile and look happy but really I'm just glad to be done.

At the team tent I get a warm welcome and a cold beer. I grab my bag and head off to the shower trucks. Five minutes later I'm luxuriating in a strong flow of hot water - feels wonderful. Back at the tent and there's a hot lunch - very good lasagne, with steamed vegetables and salad. Definitely the best finish line lunch we've ever been served. Kevin and Tom roll up and we exchange celebratory fist bumps. David cruises in, too, looking as though he'd just had a pleasant jaunt around his neighbourhood. He'd decided to go easy, but also went through the park, which he enjoyed.

Time to head out. I get one of the last seats on a bus and doze my way back to Houston, where Susan is waiting to pick me up from the Omni. I arrive home to a hero's welcome, some decent Pinot Noir and a fabulous roast pork dinner. I could get used to this -

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Perfect Storm

Off to Zube on Sunday morning for my last ride before the event. I parked up with no sign of any Mules and wondered if I'd be a lone wolf again. I walked up to the rest room and spotted Jason's car on the far side of the lot. Just then Paddy rolled up to join him, and I saddled up and rode over. Gregor drove in, followed by Mike and Kenny, and I realised with a sinking heart that I would be riding with four of the strongest Mules in the stable - a Perfect Storm.

We set out at a cracking pace and I was soon wondering how long I would be able to stay with the group. I glued myself to Jason's rear tire and hung on for dear life. After a few miles I was feeling reasonably comfortable - perhaps I could hang with this crowd after all. I opted out of the sprints, though.

As we got up to the site of Sean's dog encounter, I found myself at number 2 wheel behind Kenny. Sure enough, a dog appeared and started to give chase, but he was just a puppy and clearly only looking for a runaround. Kenny and I took off and left him behind at the property line. Paddy decided that this was the last straw, and he dismounted and yelled at the mutt. Its owner appeared and Paddy gave him the finger! Not a good idea out in the Boonies where there are more guns than people.

Paddy was flagging a bit, so Jason and I hung back with him while the other three legged it for the gas station. I was a little in front of the other two as we approached the turn. I was wool-gathering or bird-watching or something, because Jason came up behind me very quietly, then yelled "Right turn!' in a Dame Edna falsetto in my ear. I nearly dumped the bike in surprise -rotten Kiwi bugger.

At the Exxon we hook up with Adam and Heather and decide to ride back as a group. I was expecting to return on the back road, but we headed for Business 290 instead. A stiffish head-wind greeted us and we settled into a tight peloton. It's really a lot of fun riding in a close group like that, or at least it was until I blew my back tire (again?). We only had a few miles to run, so I waved the others on. Paddy, bless him, opted to stay with me. I changed out the tube and inflated with a CO2 cartridge, but didn't do a good job because it lost pressure pretty fast. I pumped it up and struggled on, but it was pretty soft when we turned on to Roberts, with half a mile to run. I made it back but I'll need to do a better job on my field tire changes on the way to Austin.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

90-mile long weekend

Heading into a four-day weekend (Easter and a 9/80 Friday), I wanted to claw back some saddle time, so I lined up two rides - Zube with the Mules on Good Friday, and the long Sealy ride on Easter Sunday.

The pre-ride banter this morning included a detailed discussion of how to handle the dogs that caused some problems on a previous run. Paddy's idea was to dismount and put the boot in. I wondered why we wouldn't just out-sprint them as always? Turns out that during the ride in question, Sean t-boned one of the mutts and went over the handlebars! I found out later that he's displaying classic signs of concussion, and has withdrawn from the big event.

We head out and pretty soon work out that Jason is in top form while Paddy and I are struggling. The ride is pretty uneventful as far as Field Store road, where I spot what looks like a dog running flat-out across an open field, heading directly for us. I'm about to sound the alarm when he breaks across the road without even looking at us and takes off on the other side. I'm pretty sure it was a coyote, and we wonder if he was chasing the Road-Runner. He was certainly going hell-for-leather.

On we go, with Jason pulling all the way. We get to the site of Sean's dog encounter and proceed with caution. The other two are happy to let me take the lead through this section, but there are no dogs in sight. A little while later I hear a yapping in the distance which gets louder. It turns out to be a lap rat of some sort, in the passenger seat of a pick-up with its head out of the window.

We make the turn and head home, with a head/cross-wind all the way. Jason is the hero of the hour again, happily punching us into the wind. Just past Prairie View A&M I get a flat in my rear tire and we pull over for repairs. I use a CO2 bottle to re-inflate (never used one before) and the tire feels over-inflated, but it gets me home.

Easter Sunday rolls around and I'm a lone wolf - Paddy opted for Zube. I was surprised to see wet pavements when I went out for the papers, and it was drizzling all the way out to Sealy. I saddled up and headed out, very grateful for a last-minute look at the map. There's a turn near Sealy that I've missed in the past and it's been a while.

It stayed misty and gloomy all the way round but never actually rained. The roads were very quiet and apparently every dog in the county had opted for a lie-in or was at the Holy Services, because I went unmolested. The road surface on a couple of sections seems to have deteriorated since my last visit and I spent a lot of time swerving around potholes. The wind was quite fresh and out of the South, so I was kiting along pretty happily until Cat Spring and the turn-around. Wildflowers galore provided colourful scenery just about everywhere.

After Cat Spring the routes is very hilly for about 8 miles, and the wind was not helping. I was in my lowest gear on a couple of the climbs but made it through OK. I was glad to make the turn onto route 36, even though I knew that the last seven miles would be uncomfortable due to wind and a crap road surface. Nothing to do but gut it out. Once in Sealy, the road improves dramatically and the relief was remarkable - like taking off tight shoes, as a friend puts it. Back at the car, I realize that the ride has taken quite a toll - I'm exhausted and feel like crap as I run through my post-ride stretches. That will be my last tough ride before the event, I think.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Personal Best* (Canine-Assisted)

I had big plans to catch up on training miles this weekend but life (and airline inefficiency) got in the way, so I had to settle for a fast forty along Terry Hershey at the crack of dawn on Saturday.

James was due to land at 11.15, so I started at 6.30, well before sunrise, and opted to ride down Memorial rather than risk the poorly-illuminated trail. Not much traffic at that hour, which was just as well because I had to swerve around pot-holes pretty frequently. I picked up the trail at the Dam and wound it up, feeling pretty good.

About three miles along I saw a pedestrian and was getting ready to call out to him before passing when he turned and saw me. He raised both arms and I found out why - his small, angry and very determined dog appeared out of nowhere, trailing its leash and barking furiously. Seriously? In the middle of the trail? Dog attacks are common enough out there in Deliverance country, but this was a bit much. Anyway, nothing to do but sprint and hopefully leave the mutt behind. It was definitely game and I had to really air it out, setting a Personal Best sprint time in the process (but as it was canine-assisted there's an asterisk in the record book).

I finally dropped mini-Cujo and settled back into a more suitable pace. I hope the dog-walker had the sense to get the beast back under control - there were plenty of other riders heading his way. The rest of the ride passed without incident. It was a perfect day, the trail was pretty quiet and I kept my pace up, trying to focus on form (spin those pedals, relax the shoulders, sit towards the back of the saddle, keep the feet flat), which was great - but it's flat and boring, and I'd planned a more interesting ride. Maybe next week.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Watch the birdie

Off to Zube for a lone wolf ride (Paddy and Jason are somewhere in the Far East, no idea what the other Mules are doing). One advantage of riding solo is you can start whenever you like, so I didn't set my alarm and consequently rolled out of bed at about 6.30.

On the drive out I tuned in to KPFT, our Pacifica station. I normally listen to KUHF, the NPR affiliate, in the mornings, but it's all religious music before 8.00 on Sunday, and that doesn't really set the tone. KPFT is entertainingly amateurish and this morning they had forgotten that the clocks went forward so they were an hour behind on their announcements.

Once at Zube I gear up and hit the road. I'm planning to ride the new Hempstead loop, which doesn't go past any gas stations, so I'm packing a power bar and an extra water bottle. I filled both bottles at the drinking fountain in Zube, but subsequently discover that the water has an unpleasant tang to it.

Off we go, wearing my tights and arm warmers but no jacket. It's 52 degrees when I start and a beautiful morning. The ride is pretty uneventful - the roads are quiet, my legs feel ok, my chest is a little tight but not too bad - and since I'm not fighting to keep up with Paddy and Co. I can watch the scenery and look for birds.

It turns out there is a lot to look at. I see a red-winged blackbird within the first few miles, and a bit later I see a flock of large, yellow-breasted birds that I think are kingbirds. A small hawk swoops along a plowed field then perches on the fence as I go by. Later on a scissor-tailed flycatcher goes right over my head, a gorgeous sight.

The scenery is also prettier than I realised. Spring is in full flood now and everything is very green and lush. There's one stretch of road in particular that I had never paid attention to before, mainly because it was always shrouded in fog. Today it's very pretty, reminding me of Wiltshire (my childhood home) a little.

I stop to answer un besoin naturel and eat some of my power bar. A very small puppy appears out of a ruined barn. She's carrying her right front paw and looks very pathetic. I throw her some of the power bar and she loves it. Time to move on and of course the mutt follows me to the road. I tell her to go home and take off without looking back. Hopefully she belongs to the farmer and he's going to take her to the Vet tomorrow.

I'm soon at the junction with the road that runs into Hempstead. The new route takes a left here, missing out the Exxon. A short leg and then I turn off to the right on a small country road with a fair bit of topography. I'm feeling pretty good on the climbs, which aren't too strenuous to be honest. The route turns to go past Prairie View A&M and then we're back in the country. Somewhere along here a largish, reddish hawk is keeping pace with me on the right. He cuts over to the left and we ride along together a bit more. I don't get a good enough view of him to be able to identify him later but he made a good riding companion. Oddly enough, he doesn't scare off any of the numerous small birds flying around and roosting on the power lines.

I turn south, go under the freeway and soon pick up the boring route back to Zube. A tail wind helps and I make it back feeling pretty good. Maybe I'll make it to Austin after all.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Memory Lane

When I was fourteen, my father (an army officer) was posted from Fulwood Barracks outside Preston to Bulford Camp in Wiltshire, so off we went. Bulford Camp was one of the largest army bases in the country and my parents had been posted there before, but this was the first time for me and my numerous siblings. I remember that I wasn't very happy at all at Balshaw's Grammar School in Leyland, so I was probably very glad to move.

Unfortunately, the only option for a grammar school boy was Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury, 20 miles away. This meant a 40 minute bus ride every morning and afternoon, with a decent walk at each end, but I made friends very quickly at school (it helped to be taken under the wing of Phil Davies, another Bulford camp brat - Phil, where are you now, mate?). I must have got used to the bus trips, too, I hardly remember them at all now. I also started to show some academic prowess. I wonder now if I did so well at Bishop's because it was a single-sex school, unlike Balshaw's which was mixed. I also made friends on the Camp and wish I was still in touch with them.

When I was sixteen (1976) my Dad retired from the army and bought a house on the outskirts of Salisbury. This meant that I could walk or ride my bike to school very easily, but was a long way from my Bulford Camp friends. I had already taken to relatively long bike rides through the gorgeous countryside around Salisbury and thought I could manage a ride back to Bulford.

There were two routes - the main road, via The High Post Hotel, or the back road through the Woodford Valley, wonderful scenery but a bit longer. I think I tried both (I remember coming back on the main road with my dynamo-powered front light blazing on the descent from the High Post), but the Woodford run sticks in my memory. I would love to ride it again with Paddy's helmet camera, but here are some Google'd images to whet your appetite.


This is the Wheatsheaf pub in Lower Woodford (the biggest villages in the valley are Lower, Middle and Upper Woodford). Pretty good food and beer to be had here. There used to be a holiday cottage across the road that Susan and I rented a few times.






This is the River Avon (no, not that one - there are many Avons in the UK) at Middle Woodford. The river is right by the road here.
















This picture-postcard shot is Lake House, in the village of Lake. You can't see this view from the road, sadly. My main memory of this stretch of the ride is a sharp left turn at the bottom of a hill - brakes on all the way down. Lake House is now owned by Sting.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

(Spring) Breaking Away


Breaking Away is a coming-of-age movie about cycling. It includes a very young Dennis Quaid as part of an Indiana cycling team, the Cutters. It's shown every year at the LaGrange overnight stop on the MS150, but most riders (including me) are too tired to stay up and watch. It's a nice intro into this post about the Sun and Ski Sports Spring Breakaway ride, which was run this morning.

Nearly perfect weather (just a bit chilly) when I found Paddy at the start. We were pretty soon joined by Kenny, Jason, Mike, Dave and Gregor. It was quickly noted that Mike and Jason had shaved their legs, pro-style, so of course this was a golden opportunity for a bit of banter and a direct comparison of their shaving prowess.

On to the start and we run into Doug and Richard from work. The main group of Mules gets going but I'm stopped by a marshal and watch them disappear down the road. It's probably just as well, since I'm out of shape and still not 100% healthy. I eventually get going and ride with Richard and Doug for a while. The pace gets a bit hot for me though, so I don't try too hard to keep up on a corner and they quickly drop me.

These are very familiar roads all the way to Fulshear, from all the Bike Barn runs. The route to Simonton isn't quite so familiar but I've definitely been down here before. Pretty flat terrain and a modest tail wind make for comfortable riding. Once in Simonton the routes separate, 55 miles to the left, 37 to the right. I planned to ride the 37 but missed the turn. I quickly realized my mistake and for once had the sense to turn around and get back on my route. Not very long ago I would have just stuck with the 55 and probably hurt myself in the process.

Rolling north now with much less bike traffic. I spot a hawk on top of a telegraph pole and decide it was probably a bald eagle - if so, the first I've seen. Very impressive bird with a distinctive white head. We pass the Brookwood community, cross over I-10 and turn right for the run back along US90. I've been down here before, too - a boring, straight road with a fairly rough surface and nothing to block the wind. First, though, time for a rest stop.

I park my bike, fill up my water bottle and look for fruit - sadly only cookies were to be had. Back at the bike I decide to strip down a bit, so off comes the Mules cap and the jacket (called an anorak by my so-called friends at the start). I do my good deed for the day by showing another rider how to park your bike on a curb using the pedal. Back on the road for the slog down 90. The wind picks up and it's a bit of a grind. I'm actually feeling pretty good and keep my pace up well.

Into Katy and then it's a quick run back to the start. A lady wearing a Google shirt passes me without calling out, a flagrant breach of rider etiquette. I want to tell her to Google "manners while cycling" but chicken out. I get to the car, to find that the Mules are still on the course (they did the 55 miles), so I load up and head home. It's now a beautiful morning and I sit back and relax in the garden with the Times. Life is good.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fog on the Tyne


"Fog on the Tyne" was a hit for 70's English folk-rock band Lindisfarne. Its catchy little theme was running through my head for most of my Sunday morning outing with the Mules, no doubt because we spent most of the ride in thick fog. I started out from home on a very pretty, if chilly morning, but once I got onto 290 heading west the fog descended and made for some uncomfortable freeway driving.

We're doing 0730 starts at present and I arrived at Zube just after Paddy, who made it slightly before the bloke who unlocks the park gates. Once parked up we caught up a little, not having ridden together for some time. He went on one of the MS-150 recommended rides yesterday, so was looking for a gentle run today, which pleased me no end, as I was just coming back from two weeks out of the saddle. In due course Kenny, Mike and Gregor arrived, and after the usual banter we headed out. I'd managed to forget my jacket, but Paddy (bless his cotton socks) had brought a spare.

I was reasonably comfortable in the early going but told myself very firmly that this was a day for drafting, not pulling, and tried to ride within myself for once. The guys were taking it easy too, but even so I struggled on a few sections, mainly when there was a climb. The cardio-vascular fitness needed to attack the climbs is what you lose first, unfortunately.

About twenty miles in, with the fog as thick as ever, we stopped for "un besoin naturel" and I took the opportunity to irrigate a very large placard promoting some red-neck wing-nut Republican candidate for county dog-catcher (or something similar). It turned out that they had changed the route, so now we didn't stop at the Exxon. I was a little taken aback as I always appreciate the break and usually stock up on water and carbs. Anyway, "Onward thru the fog" as the Oat Willie bumper sticker says (apparently, means nothing to me).

The changed route took us along a very pretty country road which wound its way into Prairie View. It's a definite improvement over the old run back (a straight slog along Business 290) but also had a lot more topography. Once again I was flagging a bit on the climbs. By now the fog had lifted and we had a beautiful morning. Riding past some homes, a Jack Russell terrier (or some other breed of rat dog) decided to take a look at us, and walked right in front of me. I swerved and braked to avoid cutting it in half and very nearly dumped Paddy who was drafting off me. These damn dogs will get you one way or another.

Back in lovely Waller, and we picked up the familiar route back to Zube. Gregor told me to take second wheel for the run-in so that we could keep together, and I velcroed myself to Kenny's wheel as we rolled along at 19-20 mph. With only a few miles to go, Kenny began to ramp up the pace. I hung in there for a while but eventually dropped off the back and made my leisurely way back to the start. A bit more chat with the boys and then I headed back to pass the rest of Valentine's Day with my lovely and very understanding spouse.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pining

Unlike the Norwegian Blue parrot, I'm actually pining rather than passed-on - pining for the byways of south-east Texas, that is. Last weekend's chilly outing unfortunately aggravated a cold, and as usually happens with me, it turned into mild bronchitis. I coughed all the way into work on Monday and Tuesday morning but had to bail out by lunchtime, and didn't make it in for the rest of the week. And of course in a week when the rest of the country is gripped in a winter storm, the weather down here is perfect for riding. I'll take it easy for the next few days but aim for a solid ride at the weekend.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Frozen in Fayetteville


Off to Fayetteville this morning for the Club 300 ride (courthouse shown to the right). Pretty chilly when I set out from Houston, but the forecast said it would warm up to the 40s or even 50s during the ride. Fayetteville is about 90 minutes drive, so I assumed I'd see a gradual increase in temperature as I drove. But no - if anything, it got colder, and my car was showing 34 degrees as I parked in the town square.

I had invited David, Susan's sister-in-law's brother (got it?) to be my guest for the ride and we quickly hooked up. David lives outside Austin and is doing the MS150 with the BHP team. He was well prepared for the cold with a variety of fleecy garments and a balaclava. As we saddled up he mentioned that he's already completed two 200km rides this year. He's clearly much better prepared than me, not just in the cycling apparel department.

It was definitely a morning for all the gear. I'd been given a pair of knitted arm warmers as swag when I registered and wasted no time in getting them on. I had also brought along my rubber booties, purchased by Susan before the aborted first day of the 2009 ride (followers of this blog will no doubt remember the footwear in question). I'd never actually used them but how hard can it be, right? They slide over your shoes and zip up at the back, and there are holes in the bottom for your cleat and heel. I picked one up and noted the large letter "L" printed inside - clearly for the left foot, so on it went. The other was obviously the right, but it had an "L" on it too! Bugger, had I been given two lefts? And would it matter anyway? Confusion reigned for a second or two until I realized that the "L" actually meant "Large". Hoping no-one had seen this episode, I pulled the second bootie over my shoe and rolled off to the start.

Quite a small group for the ride this year. One hero was actually wearing cycling shorts without tights, prompting someone to ask him where in North Dakota he came from. There were two routes, both loops - one was 17 miles, the other 28. Everyone rode the 17 mile first and you could choose your poison after that. We set off, with David's bike computer showing 33 degrees. The route took us down some pretty crappy roads, with gravel flying off everyone's tires, but we eventually got onto asphalt and enjoyed some pretty good scenery, at least for Central Texas. A few climbs to deal with but I was doing OK, as was David who was clearly feeling very comfortable. After about ten miles we got separated when my chain jammed up and I had to stop for repairs. Back in Fayetteville, David was tucking into a barbecue sandwich as I arrived. I settled for a bag of cookies and a water bottle top-up and suggested we push ahead on the longer route.
I was starting to flag a bit, due primarily to lack of training, but tried to keep the pace up. A few of the climbs had me in my granny gear and fighting for breath, but I got to the top. We passed another group who were taking a pit stop, but it wasn't long before they caught us. David rode ahead with them for a while, but they turned back for a straggler (who was still ahead of me!) and David came back too. We rode the rest of the way together, the temperature having climbed to a balmy 34 degrees, and headed straight into the shed to get warm and sample some outstanding barbecue from Orsak's Cafe (highly recommended!)

With a belly-full of brisket and all the fixin's, I thanked David for his patience and set out for home. 11 weeks to go to the big ride -

Friday, January 22, 2010

beggars can't be choosers

Just finished sending out begging e-mails to all my friends. No, I haven't blown the family savings on a new bike, I'm kicking off my fund-raising for the MS150, and everyone has been incredibly generous in the past. If you're reading this and considering a donation, please think about all the people with MS in Texas that get help from the society, and dig deep. Here's my virtual begging bowl -
And here is my online donation page. Thanks!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Naughty or Nice in the Noughties

Here's the Brickell's 2010 New Year's Day quiz about the last decade. See how much you can remember!


Sports

Nice: who was the winning pitcher when the Astros beat the Cardinals 5-1 to win the 2005 National League Championship series?

1. Roger Clemens
2. Roy Oswalt
3. Chad Qualls
4. Andy Pettitte

Naughty: who was the losing pitcher in the last game of the White Sox four game sweep that followed?


1. Brad Lidge
2. Wandy Rodriguez
3. Ezequiel Astacio
4. Brandon Backe


Nice: what was the score when the Texans beat the Cowboys in their first regular season game in Reliant Stadium in September 2002?


1. 14-3
2. 10-0
3. 17-14
4. 19-10


Naughty: how many regular season games did they win that year ?


1. 4
2. 5
3. 3
4. 2

Entertainment

Naughty: match these one-hit wonders from the Noughties with their song


1. Inside your heaven
2. Bad day
3. Lollipop
4. Butterfly

1. Daniel Powter
2. Bo Bice
3. Static Major
4. Crazy Town


Nice: match these Oscar-winning movies with the year they won:


1. Chicago
2. No Country for Old Men
3. A Beautiful Mind
4. American Beauty

1. 2000
2. 2002
3. 2003
4. 2008


Politics

Nice: who put "about 18 million cracks" in the glass ceiling?

1. Michelle Bachman
2. Hillary Clinton
3. Sarah Palin
4. Nancy Pelosi

Naughty: who, according to Politifact.com, told the "Lie of the Year" in 2009?

1. Michelle Bachman
2. Hillary Clinton
3. Sarah Palin
4. Nancy Pelosi

Nice: which of these "statements" are genuine Bushisms?


1. "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on --shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."
2. "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."
3. “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas"
4. "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."

Naughty: which of the following are accepted modifiers of the term chad?

1. Hanging
2. Swinging
3. Dimpled
4. Tri-


Science and Technology


Naughty: How did a baguette break the LHC, the world's largest machine?

1. A bird dropped a piece of it into the power supply
2. An engineer chose the wrong place to eat his lunch
3. Re-starting the machine disturbed the earth around a forgotten French resistance food store, which then needed to be examined by archeologists

Nice: Around the time of that bread-related incident, interest resurfaced in a paper by theoretical physicists Holger Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya suggesting what?

1. Creating the hypothetical Higgs boson particle, the aim of the LHC, will both explain how all particles get mass and attract carbs
2. The sheer size of the LHC - which includes a 16.8 mile circuit - means even the very small statistical probability of fault becomes significant
3. All such machines will be sabotaged from the future

Naughty: what was hit at 5,600 mph during the LCROSS experiment?

1. the Sun
2. the Moon
3. North Korea
4. Antarctica


History


Nice: Three Somali pirates were shot dead in the rescue of US captain Richard Phillips, a use of force authorised by Barack Obama. This made him the first US president to kill pirates since who?

1. Washington
2. Van Buren
3. Madison
4. Theodore Roosevelt

Geography

Naughty: What became Greenland's official language in June when it took control of its own natural resources, judicial affairs and law enforcement from Denmark?


1. Danish
2. Greenlandic
3. Icelandic
4. Inuit


Nice: How else did Greenland mark home rule?


1. Announce a referendum on changing its name to something more realistic
2. Distributing two tonnes of whale meat among the people
3. Register a bid with the International Olympic Committee for Nuuk to host the 2020 Games

Bear Creek - Terry Hershey loop

Bear Creek - Terry Hershey loop

Daily commute to work

Daily commute to work
This isn't quite right but it's close. 9.5 miles, about 40 minutes.

Terry Hershey Park

Terry Hershey Park
10 miles of safe, paved cycling bliss - except for all the foot traffic

The Sealy ride

The Sealy ride
45 miles through very pretty Texas countryside. Looks benign but there's a very hilly section at mile 35.

The Katy ride

The Katy ride
It's on the Katy prairie - flat, flat, flat