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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.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"The wind is my friend, the wind makes me stronger"

The Texas Cyclist's mantra was very much in my mind yesterday.  I had decided it was time for the Prodigal Mule to return to the Paddock but I could have picked a better day!

When I left home (after 7am, stylishly late for a Mules ride) it was breezy and cool but the car showed 50 degrees, so I didn't take any cold weather gear.  I arrived at Zube to see all the Northwest Cycling Club riders wrapped up like Nanook of the North.  The Mules in attendance (Paddy, Adam and Ian) were likewise warmly dressed, making me feel a little foolish, as I was wearing the same gear that I wore in August.  But I was pretty confident that I wouldn't be cold for long, despite the strengthening wind, and I turned out to be right.

We rolled out with the Club 16-18 mph group, a large number of riders today.  After a mile or two Paddy was getting restless and wanted to pull ahead, but Ian told him to hold on because they would accelerate later on.  I was pretty comfortable in the middle of the pack, but couldn't hang on when they picked up the pace (as predicted by Ian).  I got spat out the back of the pack, but Ian was hanging back anyway, helping a novice rider, and the four Mules grouped up.  Just before the gas station the group got blown apart by Ian's pace on a few climbs, but other than that we held together.

A quick break, then off again into the teeth of a strong wind.  Ian wisely suggested that we start with the main pack for support, and so we did, but once again I got dropped.  I felt strong enough into the wind but couldn't make the pace to stay in the line.  This was when the Texas mantra began rolling through my head, and actually helped me keep a good cadence.

With about 10 miles to run I was caught by another group that included Paddy.  He pulled me into the line and I managed a mile or two before once again dropping out, but we were nearly in by that time anyway.  But I made it back OK, head bloody but unbowed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday biker

Black Friday morning was beautiful - sunny and cool, just a little humid - so I set out to try and burn some of the several thousand calories I'd consumed the day before.

As I passed Bicycle World there was a small group heading out. I caught them at the light and they told me they were riding to Katy, a 48 mile trip, and wanted to be back by 10.00am. I also spotted a couple of pretty serious riders in the group. I wasn't up (or ready) for a long ride at high speed but hung with them down Memorial and Route 6 to the Dam.

George Bush park was predictably quiet (bikers like bargains too), so quiet that there were still deer around. The park is teeming with deer and hogs but the normal traffic level scares them into hiding. Not this morning, I had two smallish deer, one either side of the path. This always makes me nervous because they sometimes decide to cross over to get together, and there is a real risk of a deer strike, which any biker will lose. These two kept their cool though and I made it past.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, although I saw a push me-pull you recumbent tandem on the way back. A couple ride one of these regularly out of Zube and it's always entertaining to ride up to them.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Back in the saddle again

I've decided it's time to rejoin the Mules after a lengthy summer break, and this weekend seemed like a good opportunity to do so. The gang was riding the Red, White and Bike charity ride, which starts in our usual stamping ground near Hockley. The start time was pretty civilized - 8.00am - which also helped my decision.

I duly rolled into the car park and spotted the Mules Barn - Paddy's large awning erected next to his Mules trailer. I'd only seen pictures of it but it's very impressive in the flesh. Paddy was of course there and noted that I was not in uniform (I was wearing my new Sierra Nevada shirt, the Mules shirt is in the wash). I met a new Mule, Shawn, and later had a long chat with him. Nice guy.

I unloaded my bike and pumped up my tires, only for the rear to blow out quite spectacularly. The rubber around the valve had rotted and it came away in my hand! I did a quick tube change and then bought a replacement from the Bike Barn guys who were on duty at the start.

Off we went, north on Roberts, past Zube and then quickly onto roads I hadn't seen before. The Mules set a hottish pace but I was able to hang in there, drafting behind Adam. I was also chatting (mostly listening!) with Shawn, who has recently done some spectacular rides on Maui, and spent three weeks in Europe, too, riding the route of Paris-Roubaix!

I was just starting to feel the pace a bit when we reached the 40/60 split and I turned off. Hardly anyone else was on the 40 route, I had to keep my wits about me and watch for signs - normally you just follow the bike in front. I was ready for the rest stop that duly appeared, and there was Sean (of the dog) chatting with the staff. We joked around for a bit and then he left, with me promising to catch him (as if!).

Back on the road and we turned south, into a pretty tough head wind, with some short, sharp climbs to get over too. I was starting to tire and get sore in the usual spots, but then I got to Roberts road, where I could smell the barn, as they say. Sadly the route took us in the long way round, presumably to build up the miles.

Finally I was back at the start, where I joined Sean in the Barn for a beer and a chat. I had stuff to do at home and couldn't wait for the 60 mile group to finish.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Stay away from Crack(s)

It's been almost 2 months since my last post, and basically the same amount of time since my last training ride. I went on a field trip to Utah at the end of September and came back with a cough/cold, that as usual turned into a sinus infection, and I was out for the count.

I'm still not 100% but I'm getting there. I rode into work 4 days last week and decided I was ready to start weekend rides too. David was up for a ride so we planned a run for Saturday morning. Unfortunately his knee was playing up and so I found myself riding alone down Memorial at 7.30 on a beautiful, if chilly morning.

As I got closer to BWH I decided to ride with them if they hadn't started already, and sure enough the riders were just gathering so I joined the gang. Kevin showed up on his new-ish Cervelo, and his sister was there too. Jamie proposed the short ride to Katy Mills and that was fine by me.

We rolled out and I found myself at the front of the pack. I felt fairly comfortable and hung in there, but once we made the first turn along the Dam I decided to let someone else do the work.

Out on Kingsland I discovered just how much I'd forgotten during my absence. We stooped for a red light at Fry, and when we got the green I couldn't get my left foot clipped in. I was looking down at my pedal and didn't see a large crack in the pavement, and my front wheel fell in. Normally when this happens you go down, but somehow I managed to keep the rubber in the road. I didn't flat either and was feeling pretty lucky, until I used the front brake. The crack had scraped my rim pretty badly, making the brakes noisy. Kevin saw this as a golden opportunity to buy a set of carbon wheels, only $899 on!

We carried on, with me trying not to use the front brake. There were two strong riders who broke away but I kept up with the rest of the pack pretty well. After the turn we found out just how strong a tailwind we'd had on the way out! We formed into two lines and rode back together, which was fun.

Back at BWH I had one of the mechanics look at my wheel and he told me it was fine, and to smooth down the scratches with steel wool. So no new carbon wheels for me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Feeling the burn

I'm hiding from the Mules, and not feeling up to the Truth Squad either, but I want to keep riding, so when David suggested a gentle run through Terry Hershey and George Bush I was all for it.

We met at 645 and set out along Memorial, as it was still too dark for the Park. The only problem was riding past the donut and kolache shops with all the wonderful smells wafting out.

We had a pretty good run out to the Constable Station, sharing the pulling duties well. We made the turn into George Bush park, the site of several wildfires last week. The northern part looked pretty green (it's a reservoir after all) but when we got to the Shooting Range we could see where the fire had been burning - the grass was blackened and there was a strong smell of smoke. The trees looked fine, though.

On through the next section to Fry, where we took a break before turning around. Halfway back we passed Kevin and Min Kae, and then Severin from the bike shop, who replaced Manny as the leader of the beginner's group. Presumably there was no Truth Squad ride today. I told David that he was ready to ride with the Truth Squad if he wanted.

An uneventful ride back along Memorial and home to pray for rain (prayers later answered!).

Saturday, July 23, 2011


We had two newbie riders with the Truth Squad today, Brian and Rosalina. We found out fairly early on that they are refugees from a higher level of cycling - Brian set a hot pace and Rosalina sat on his wheel. I hung with them on the way out to Katy Mills but regretted it later.

We blew through a light just as it was changing halfway along, and together with the fierce pace, the group got blown to pieces. The three of us hit the Walgreens for the turn-around well ahead of the rest. When everyone was in the chat naturally turned to the Tour de France, and the likelihood that Cadel Evans would make up enough time on the TT to take the Maillot Jaune onto the Champs Elysee. I wondered if Schleck would violate protocol and attack on the last stage, particularly if he was only a few seconds behind. Kevin though that if he did so and won he'd get an asterisk after his name.

Back on the road and Brian and Rosalina streak ahead again. I hang with them for a while but have to drop back. We regroup in the Park but once again they are too strong, especially when we turn South and hit a block head wind. Fortunately they don't know the route and have to wait for the mere mortals.

A gentle run back along Memorial to the shop, and then Min Kae and I cruise home (like last week). I get back and turn on Versus, to see that Cadel has indeed blown out Andy on the TT. Well done mate.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Talk of the Devil

Fans of this blog (and you know who you are) will recall that I was fantasizing about the new bike from Cervelo, the S5, last week. Well, yesterday morning, Jamie rolled up for the Truth Squad riding - a new S5! The shop has a demo model and she got to take it out. If anything it's more gorgeous in person...

While I was waiting at a light on the way to the start, another rider pulled up beside me and said hi. She was planning to ride with Jamie too and we got chatting. Her ride to the start was a lot longer than mine - a good 10 miles.

The usual crowd gathered for the ride. No sign of Dennis The Waterford Wonder, but Keith showed up on a very nice Cervelo time-trial bike. He and I were stalwarts on Manny's ride last year but I don't think he's been on a Truth Squad run yet. Jamie (on the S5!) opted for the run out to Katy Mills Mall, a shortish route.

We headed out, with the usual suspects setting the pace. I was happy enough to hang back, feeling pretty comfortable. With a few miles to run to the turnaround Jamie opened up on the new bike, so I jumped on her back wheel. It has to be said that drafting behind a semi-pro female cyclist on Cervelo's most aerodynamic road bike is not a particularly rewarding experience - she wasn't blocking much wind.

A good break at the Walgreen's (Keith took the opportunity to ride the S5 around the parking lot!) and we headed for home. The wind was favorable for once and we cracked ahead. A bit further long I caught the speedsters at a light. I velcroed myself onto a rear wheel and was able to stay with them right to the end.

A warmish run through the park (no velcro on this stretch!) and then it was back down Memorial to the shop. My new friend was planning to ride home along Memorial but with the traffic building up she gladly accepted my offer to guide her through the subdivisions to Gessner. She's an impressive young woman - Houston born and bred and a graduate of Rice University, now working as an IT consultant. She has a nice bike too.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bike Porn

Watching the Tour de France gets me all aquiver - not just the thrills and spills and the bollocks that issues every time Cavendish opens his mouth, but the adverts too. The big bike manufacturers buy time to show off their latest creations in loving detail and Cervelo are right in there. This proud beauty is the S5, currently running at $3,800. Susan calls it "Bike Porn" because there is something quite salacious about the way the camera runs down the frame, lingering in soft focus on certain particularly fine curves.

This was on my mind today during the outing with the Truth Squad, in part because Kevin was test-riding a fabulous-looking S3, and loving every minute. Jamie opted for a Bear Creek - Cullen Park - George Bush Park loop, quite a short one really, but I was glad to get it over early.

The ride was pretty uneventful. My pump decided to slip from its mounting halfway up Eldridge, which put me at the back of the peloton, but we regrouped. Quite a hair-raising run through Cullen, with some of the riders setting a hot pace despite the narrow, winding path through the trees.

On to Fry and then to the western end of George Bush Park, all very familiar territory. Just as we started in the park we were passed by a kid on a time trial bike. This of course is not permissible and we formed a pace-line to run him down. Again this was really too fast for the road.

Back at the Dam and we regrouped, swapping tall tales of cycling derring-do and general misbehaviour, as you do (at least when there aren't any women around). We cruised down Memorial and back to the shop, hoping to watch the end of the Tour stage - but sadly they don't have TV in there any more. Apparently their service provider found out that they were supplying a business, not a residence, and upped their rates to untenable levels.

I got back home in time for the Podiums and the post-race analysis. Oh well, should be able to catch more of tomorrow's stage.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nice and easy does it

A very gentle ride this morning with David, my neighbour and co-worker. He wants to do the MS150 and has bought a pretty nice bike, a full-carbon Felt. We meet at 6.30 outside his house and head off to Terry Hershey.

David wanted to ride for about 2 hours so I suggested we start out going west and see where we are after one hour. Very little traffic of any kind on the trail as we start, more runners as we progress though.

I set a gentle , 14-16 mph pace, partly because of traffic but also because I'm not sure how fast he can go. We clear the park after 30 minutes and decide to carry on to the Cop Shop. With less traffic around we can open it up and I settle in at about 18mph. I told him to draft, ride as close as he can, and he hangs in pretty well.

At the Cop Shop he's blowing a bit but gets his breath back and we chat about work for a few minutes, then turn back. He holds on to my wheel very well and even takes the lead for a bit. At the turn south I suggest we pick up the pace. I crank it up fairly quickly to a full sprint and drop him. We regroup at the Dam, where he tells me that he couldn't hold on above 20 mph.

An uneventful run back home through the Park, now getting very busy. We ride down our street with him telling me about his son - and he forgets to unclip and very nearly goes down. I'm back in the house by 8.30am, feeling pretty good - a much better start to the Weekend than the Truth Squad, but not much physical benefit.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Il fait chaud

Out with the Truth Squad yesterday morning. I missed last weekend's ride (we were out of town) and it hasn't got any cooler. Jamie had to sub for Manny (who is nutritionist for one of the Ride Across America teams) so we went out on our own. I asked for a short'n'sweet ride but the others wanted a longer run and opted for Old Katy/Kingsland, 39 miles and change.

On the way out it was pretty clear who felt strong and who didn't. Two riders in particular set the pace and would do so all the way round. I struck up conversation with one of them, Scott, while we were hauling ass through Cullen Park. He's a Texan, but married a french girl, speaks pretty good french (can't beat a sleeping dictionary...) and has a daughter who tells everyone she's french even though she's never left the country.

Out of the park and onto Park Row for the 9-mile drag to Old Katy. We initially start at a very gentle pace, but before too long we're back at 20 mph or so. I'm definitely feeling the pace and drop back with the Autobus. We regroup at the Shell station and get to practice our french a bit, amidst lots of laughter and folk wisdom (Scott's Dad told him, if you meet a girl and can see her boobs from behind, marry her). I manage to forget to eat my gel and regret it later.

Back on the road and it's hotter than Satan's armpit already. We cross the freeway (very steep bridge that brings out the sprinter in everyone) dead into a strong wind off the Gulf, than turn east for the run home. It's a cross-wind now and I try to ride en echelon for a while. Scott and the other hot shot leave us quickly but we catch them at the many traffic lights on this route.

Finally back at the Cop Shop and I congratulate the two speedsters on their promotion to the ILC (translation - bugger off and let the rest of us cruise along in peace). We head out along Wind Alley, but I'm fading fast (too hot, too fast, too much vino last night). The last section is straight into the wind and I struggle. We pick up Memorial for the run back to the shop and I get dropped pretty quickly, although we hook up again at the lights at Eldridge.

I'm very glad to get off the bike and sit down in the A/C comfort of the shop. I look briefly at a new wheelset (way too rich for my blood) then head home for a nap. If I'm going to keep riding with these guys I'll need to take it all a bit more seriously.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Racers both real and pretend

Second Saturday morning ride with the Truth Squad and some familiar faces appear. Dennis rocks up in a very smart Texas bike jersey and new shades. Jamie shows up looking tired - she had been racing at the Alkek Velodrome the night before - and she opts for a shorter route, an out-and-back to Katy Mills Mall. We roll out, thankfully ahead of the ILC this time, although one rider sets a pretty hot pace down Memorial. I've been out with him before - he goes off like a rocket but fades fast, and today was no exception. Another familiar face is a man who used to take twin 12 year old boys with him on Manny's ride. He's upgraded to the Truth Squad but is riding with just one of the boys today, and when he takes off at the front of the paceline, his son jumps on his rear wheel and I follow suit. Not a lot of point drafting behind a leggy, skinny kid though.

We stop at the Constable Station (aka "The Cop Shop") to stretch and regroup and head out along Kingsland. This route is straight and flat but the first half has a lot of traffic lights and we manage to hit most of them red. One rider I remember from last week is setting a hot pace and the group fragments. With a few miles to run to the turn I get spat out the back but I don't really mind. When this happens with the Mules they stop and wait for you, which is embarrassing to say the least.

At the Walgreens where we turn around I chat a bit with Dennis - he's in insurance and is dealing with a claim relating to water in crude from some Eagle Ford production. We're standing in the sun and it's getting very warm, so I'm glad when we set out again. The usual suspects roar ahead and I hang with them for a while, before dropping back to join Dennis, where the conversation turns to Colombia. His wife is Colombian and wants to go home.

When we get back the section with all the lights Dennis and I rejoin the front-runners. Jamie and the others appear too. According to Jamie, if you ride at 28 mph you'll hit nothing but greens - but none of us (except perhaps her) are capable of such speeds for a long time.

We finish out the ride at a little before 10am and I'm home soon after. That's why I left the Mules - shorter rides and home earlier.

After lunch I drove into the City to watch the final stages of the Houston Grand Criterium meet. Eric, who rode with us last weekend, was competing (he's a category 4 racer - respect!) but I missed his event. When I arrived, the Ladies Elite race was finishing. A few minutes later the Men's Elite/Pro began and I watched a few laps. This shot is the peloton after rounding the turn on Bagby. Quite exciting to see the riders go by so fast, so near, but Eric had warned me that it wouldn't be very interesting and he was right. A breakaway group of three formed quite quickly and their team-mates sat on the front of the peloton to prevent any attempts to catch them. Fun to watch anyway, but too hot to hang around and I left before the end.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Saturday was my first ride with the Bicycle World and Fitness group since last Fall. It was nice to be able to ride to the start, rather than drive for 30 minutes, and we started earlier too, at 7.00am (more or less) instead of 7.30 with the Mules.

BW&F has three different rides on Saturday morning, each led by a different employee. Manny's group rides 27 miles on Terry Hershey at a fairly easy pace, Jamie's group (aka The Truth Squad) goes about the same distance but faster, and the hard core ride with Ryan (The International Liars' Club or ILC), 50-60 miles at a pretty hot pace. Before departing to rejoin the Mules I had been a regular with The Truth Squad. I only recognized one rider, Denis the Mad Irishman, but it was good to catch up with him.

Jamie's group has adopted a different route since my last outing with them, and this morning the ILC was going the same way, at least as far as Katy. We rode as a big group for a while but the pace set by the ILC was too hot for Denis and me (and a couple of others) and we soon fell behind. We regrouped at Bear creek and restarted but split up quite quickly again. I was pretty comfortable with Denis, Jamie and the others.

Coming out of the park I got a flat in my front tire and we all stopped while I changed it out. Denis helped and we got the tube replaced pretty fast. I used a CO2 bottle to inflate the new tube but didn't get it all the way up to pressure. We set out anyway and crossed into Cullen.

One of the other riders took the lead through the park and set a fast pace. I was able to keep up with him but really wasn't happy about going that quickly. The trail is not suitable for high speed cycling - there are lots of turns and usually plenty of foot traffic too. We made it through OK though and turned on Saums road. While waiting at a light I noticed that we hadn't got my tire properly seated on the rim and it was bulging slightly near the valve stem. Fixing it would require deflating the tire, seating it properly and reinflating, so I decided to wait and see how I got on with it.

On Saums the pace crept up and we took it in turns to pull. We hit 23 mph on one section but decided that was too hot and backed off a bit. By then the group had fragmented (this happens very easily when there are traffic lights on a route), with me and three others in the lead, and Denis, Jamie and the rest behind.

We pulled into the Shell station for a pre-arranged break and found three ILC riders, including Ryan the leader and Eric, a mechanic from the shop. Eric was riding a full-on fixie - cleats and no brakes! Jamie and the others soon appeared and we took a good break. I let the air out of my tire, seated it properly on the rim and tried to reinflate with a CO2 bottle scrounged from Jamie, but I couldn't get it to work. She took pity on me, and used her own CO2 adapter, the kind apparently known to the pros as a "crack pipe" (as illustrated above).

Back on the road with the ILC trio in the vanguard, setting a strong pace. I was able to keep up but I was feeling it. Coming up to the Highway 99 underpass, Eric gave an object lesson in stopping a fixie - he locked up the back wheel and skidded about 20 yards, weaving the wheel left and right all the way. He must get through a lot of tires.

We got back to the Dam and started a fast paceline. I held on but eventually got spat out the back. We regrouped at Route 6 and when Eric appeared he had a flat back tire. Without a fixie wrench (to get the wheel off) he couldn't do a repair, but he seemed happy to ride on the rim and made it all the way back to the store without apparently damaging the tire or rim.

A quick chat and cool-off in the store and I rode home. I felt pretty rough, pretty much the same as I feel after a Mules run, but I need to do better with my hydration, and having the ILC set the pace for half the ride didn't help. We'll see how the Summer proceeds.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The fat cyclist has sung

Every year, on or around Memorial Day, I work out that it's got too hot and The Mules have got too strong for me, and I gracefully retire my jersey for the summer. Yesterday's Zube ride showed me that the time has come again, only 2 days early.

I rocked up to Zube just after 7.00am, to find the car park already filling up with Northwest Cycle Club riders. Richard pulled into the spot next to me, and Kevin appeared shortly later. This made an unlikely threesome - me, my boss's former boss and my boss's current boss! As usual, Jorge wanted to ride, but again as usual, he stayed out too late on Friday and didn't make it.

We rolled out and were fairly quickly passed by several NWCC groups, mostly going at a pretty good lick. When this happened last week, Paddy immediately jumped on the back and we ended up with a record time to the Exxon. Fortunately (for me, anyway) Paddy is in Trinidad, and in his absence we decided to hang back and keep our own pace.

A fresh breeze from the south pushed us along on the out-run but I was still working and sweating pretty hard. After the break we had a tough cross-wind all the way back. We worked together well, riding en echelon just like the pros, although Kevin objected to the shower of sweat I gave him whenever he was down-wind of me.

Back at Zube and I feel pretty lousy, tired and dehydrated. I decide there and then that my next weekend ride will be with Jamie's Truth Squad at Bicycle World and Fitness - 27 miles, 7.00am start and about a ten minute ride from my house.

Train hard and ride safely this summer, Mules -

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Three Amigos (and friends)

Once again, Saturday morning found me heading off to Zube at the crack of dawn. For once there was something on the radio for entertainment. The Houston NPR station, KUHF, just bought out the Rice University license and equipment and have moved their classical programming to their frequency, so now we have 24/7 NPR news on FM 88.7. They are still amusingly amateurish though - they managed an accidental mash-up of "The Splendid Table" and "All in the Game", so for a moment I thought that vine-dried tomatoes in Puglia was one of the main causes of violence in Ivy League Football in the early 20th century.

I got to Zube quite quickly and found Paddy in his usual parking spot. He was pleased to see me, as most of the other regulars had either opted to ride on Sunday of bailed out at the last minute. I was expecting Jorge to roll up but he texted me that he had got to bed very late and wasn't going to make it. Just then Kevin appeared, and I reminded them both of the last time the three of us were out together - the aborted Cheeseburger run. Hopefully we would do better this time around.

No-one else appeared so we set off. The Northwest Cyclery Club has rides every Saturday so we soon found ourselves in a largish group, going pretty quickly in two pace lines. At about the fifteen mile mark I got spat out the back and Kevin and Paddy dropped back to join me (All for one and one for all - wait, that's the Three Musketeers). We carried on at our own, still pretty hot pace, with some wind assistance, and reached the gas station with an average speed of over 20 mph. A very light rain started to fall but it didn't last - more's the pity, it's terribly dry round these parts.

Back on the road and the first stretch along Business 290 is in the teeth of the wind. I get low and grind it out until the first turn, only to discover that I had dropped the other two - that never happens! The rest of the ride was more typical, with me struggling to stay with the other two. At one point the NWCC peloton passed us again. The two women in the tail of the pace line - one blonde, one brunette - were too much for Paddy to pass and he jumped on. About half a mile down the road he rejoined us, a little sheepishly.

Back at Zube by 10.00am, a scorching pace for us. Home to watch as much of the Tour de California as we could before the Rapture. Meanwhile, up in the Woodlands Susan's cousin Grady finished Ironman Texas, doing the 112 mile bike ride at a little under 18.5 mph. Way to go, G-Man -

Saturday, May 7, 2011

T-Bone dog

Jorge and I wanted to ride this weekend, but neither of us were really up for a strenuous Mule-style outing, or for that matter an early start. I proposed a gentle ride along the Bayou in Terry Hershey Park and a gentlemanly 8.30 am start, so that's what we did.

Jorge hasn't done a ride in Terry Hershey before and he enjoyed the scenery, if not the traffic, so we were glad to get to George Bush Park and open it up a bit. He's been in Bush Park before and likes it. He particularly enjoys the stretch of boardwalk which I frankly don't - I'm always worried that I won't be able to make an emergency stop on the wooden surface. Anyway we made it to Fry road in pretty good order.

After a break I suggested the Four Parks route, instead of doing an out-and-back. The only drawback is that there are several stretches where you have to ride in traffic, but having grown up in Colombia he's used to sharing the road with 18-wheelers. So we headed north on Fry towards Cullen Park.

Once in the Park we stopped for water and then hit the trail. I warned Jorge that we would have to take it slowly, as there were lots of blind turns and usually a fair amount of foot traffic. I should have listened to myself! Towards the end of the park I saw a man and woman walking with a dog (looked like a white bull terrier). I though the mutt was on a leash but it wasn't - the man tried to call it to heel but it swerved away at the last minute and I T-boned the damn thing. I was braking hard anyway but moving fast enough to go over the handlebars, landing in a heap in the dirt on the side of the trail. I got up and was immediately concerned for the dog, but that breed is basically a tube of muscle, and it had pottered off up the trail, completely unscathed. Its owner was much more concerned about me than his pet but I was fine apart from some scrapes. My bike was OK, too - the handlebars were out of alignment but easily straightened, the brake hoods and levers were scraped but nothing else.

Jorge and I remounted and set off again. As we went we heard a jogger chewing the dog owner out for running his pet without a leash - quite right too. The rest of the ride was uneventful, but overall it was a bit longer than we had planned, about 39 miles. We got back to my place and regaled Susan with the tale over cold beers.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Recovery ride

We're back in Houston after our mostly unexpected Easter trip to Illinois and I thought I'd see how my derriere would respond to a saddle after the MS150, so I saddled up the fixie and set off for Terry Hershey. My road bike somehow acquired a flat front tire between Austin and Houston and I haven't repaired it yet, but I fancied the fixie anyway.

I immediately ran head-first into half a gale of wind blowing off the Gulf. This was a cross-wind for most of the ride, but curtailed any thoughts I had of going all the way to the end of George Bush park. I settled for an out-and-back to Route 6 and mostly enjoyed it. My butt didn't really grumble, either.

I took some cycling gear with me to Illinois, planning to get Susan's old Schwinn Varsity out of the barn and see if I could find a longer route around Morris and environs. In the end, the weather was pretty bad for practically the whole trip, and we were a bit tied up anyway.

Morris has a bike shop, so I went in to see if there were any cycling groups in the area. They usually congregate around the bike shops, at least down here. The bike shop owner (something of an odd duck, it has to be said) gave me the newsletter for the Joliet Cycling Club. Joliet is some distance from Morris, but it turns out that they have regular rides starting from here. I made contact with the club president and he was much more friendly, inviting me to join several group rides. Unfortunately I didn't bring any rain gear and decided to give it a miss. However we may well find ourselves in the area again soon, so weather permitting I'll join them.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Prince of Rides

(Years ago, my then-girlfriend Susan and I tried to convince a group of drunks in a redneck bar in Springfield that I was actually Prince Andrew, the Queen's second son. We only half-succeeded but since then she has called me her prince. When she told her on-line friends about the MS150 they dubbed me "The Prince of Rides". They're a literary bunch)

This was my rider bib from the MS150. I didn't feel very unstoppable, particularly after 80 miles in the saddle on the first day.

David, my sort-of but not-really brother-in-law, came down from Austin for the MS150 again this year. I dropped him off at the start at 5.45 and went home to meet up with Jorge, my Colombian buddy and colleague, an MS150-debutant. We all met up again at BHP's official start in time for a team photo and a 6.30 departure.

It was a chilly morning - in the mid-40's, practically Arctic for us Texans - and both of us were shivering as we made our way north on Eldridge in the pre-dawn gloom. David and I are certainly an odd couple. Tall and thin, he looks like a cyclist, he's a randonneur and triathlete (his warm-up for the MS150 was a half-Iron Man event the previous weekend) and there's no serious doubt that he'll get to Austin. In contrast, I'm short and squat, looking more like a former Rugby front-row forward, and tend to get followed rather too closely by vultures, especially in the final stages of the ride. To balance things out a bit, he rides a defiantly low-tech Raleigh tourer that he got on Craig's List, which he has pimped-out by adding a rack and a trunk. I, on the other hand, am pushing a full-carbon Trek Madone rocket and rocking a pair of Lance Armstrong-inspired Oakley shades. I suspect we look like a kid and his dad out for a ride.

When the sun came up we had a beautiful morning, perfect for riding. The wind was out of the north, not favourable at all for us, but very light and not a factor at all. The chill (and our breakfast coffee) had a predictable effect, however and we were both ready to relieve what is called un besoin naturel when cycling in France (and when you stop it's un arret pipi). Somehow we missed the first rest stop and had to hang on until the second, which did not arrive a moment too soon.

I discovered a great joy of riding with a buddy - you don't have to lay your bike down at rest stops, you can lean the bikes together. A short break and we were back on the road. This stretch is quite familiar from the recent Cheeseburger run - would I hit the wall again at 70 miles? We passed the roadside diner that was so hospitable to me and I thought about stopping to thank the owners, but there were too many bikes around me.

A little further on, David and I caught up with a rider on a shiny chrome recumbent, complete with fairing. He was also a Club 300 rider and we chatted for a few miles. He's a contractor who got into riding when he had a job painting markers on a bike trail. He rode the trail with spray paint cans in his cupholders (recumbents are the bike equivalents of Escalades), got his job done and exercised at the same time.

We reached the Brazos river and the end of the Houston area flatlands. From now on we would be in rolling country all the way to Austin. The first few hills warmed my legs a bit but felt pretty good. With just a few miles to go to Bellville and the lunch stop, we were passed by an ambulance and the group came to a halt. Ride marshals came back and told us to relax, there was a wreck ahead that would take some time to clear. It was getting warm now and some of the pack dismounted and found shade. We began to move forward very slowly and someone joked about the MS150 walk to Austin. Eventually we got past the scene of the wreck and got rolling again. With 15,000 riders on the road, wrecks are inevitable, but fortunately this one was not serious enough for a helicopter evacuation.

Into Bellville for lunch and a chance to try out our bike-balancing skills again. Lunch was a sandwich (ham or PBJ!), your choice of a small serving of pasta or potatoes, an apple and a Bluebell ice-cream sandwich. David, who has an excellent appetite, accidentally violated protocol by taking both starches, and then felt guilty about possibly depriving a tired, hungry cyclist rolling in for lunch at 2pm, only to find no pasta was to be had.

Back on the road and lots of traffic through Bellville proper. There were lots of people in the town square cheering us on, a nice little boost. The route takes us past the Hill, formerly home of the best burgers in Austin county, then on to FM159 for a roller-coaster ride to Fayetteville and La Grange. Just before Fayetteville we climb the dreaded Rek Hill, which I always remember as being worse than it really is - today it's no tougher than any of the other climbs. The training must be paying off.

Riding through Fayetteville is one of the high spots of the whole tour. The entire town turns out to welcome the riders, and there's always a particularly lively bunch outside a tavern, who have probably been cheering and quaffing since 9am. Lots of people put bubble machines in their front yards, too.

Twenty miles to run to the overnight stop at La Grange and I'm starting to flag a bit. David of course looks a fresh as paint and is happy to stay with me, although I warn him that the pace may drop a little. We make the familiar turn before the last rest stop (and have a 200 yard down-wind run!) and decide to push on without stopping.

By now I'm running on will power and muscle memory. My right foot is very painful and my backside is demanding relief, so I try to find a position on the saddle that helps both, leading to a peculiar cross-wise perch. The legs are still strong, though, so I can ride out of the saddle and at least try to get some blood flowing back into my gluteus maximus. At some point along here we are passed by two kids on fixies!

Finally we make the turn onto Route 71 and we have a two mile downwind run to the finish. As we get closer there are cars and trucks lining the road and lots of people cheering us on. We cross the finish line, where someone on a PA is welcoming riders by name, presumably by quickly looking up their number. He doesn't spot me but manages to get David and announces "Here comes David Baxter, pedaling hard" (David corrects this to "hardly pedaling"!)

We ride clear of the usual congestion around the finish and dismount. Jorge is right behind us! We shake hands and congratulate each other. He had wanted to ride with us but we got separated at the start.

Once again, the BHP team tent is in the overflow area, but rather than the dreaded Camp Walmart from 2010, we're in Camp St.Marks in the grounds of a medical centre about a mile back down route 71. There is a shuttle but it's a short ride and Jorge and I decide we have a little bit left in our legs (and butts in my case). David has to pick up his bag so he rides the bus.

We find the team tent and roll up to a warm welcome from Ben and the other volunteers. They give us cold towels and show us where to park the bikes (much better bike racks this year). I find my bag and drop it on one of the cots, then get a good ribbing from the Mules, who have clearly been in for some time. They're enjoying beers and a riotous game of Jenga, while Taylor (who couldn't ride due to illness) is busy mixing up frozen Mimosas in her camp blender.

I'm feeling some of the symptoms that I experienced during the Cheeseburger run, so I decide to take a nap before showering. I don't really sleep but I feel a lot better after 20 minutes. This year we have our own shower and toilet trucks, pure luxury after last year when I waited in line for ages for a shower. The toilet truck has flush loos and air conditioning, much better than the porta-potties we've been using all day.

Back in the tent, I lie down for a bit more rest. Gunilla has the cot next to mine and encourages me to eat something, even though I'm not really hungry, so I make a sandwich and take a Stella from the Mules' beer cooler and sit and chat for a bit.

Dinner is Pappa's mexican from Austin, really good fajitas. David and I sit with Kevin, Tom and some of the other riders and talk about the day we've just finished and the one ahead of us. The Sunday route has a few options - there's an express route straight up 77 to Bastrop, the challenge route through Buescher and Bastrop state parks, and the bypass route that is a combination of the two. The Park (as we always call it) certainly is a challenge - 12 miles of very hilly terrain, with nerve-wracking descents and lung-bursting climbs. Just getting there involves a few hills and the fearsome descent out of Smithville, where elite riders probably top 50 mph. Most of us want to ride the Park this year.

After dinner, a beer or two and a chat I'm more than ready for bed. I find my ear plugs and a spare pair for Jorge and wriggle into my sleeping bag. I don't usually sleep well on the Saturday night, a combination of an uncomfortable bed, lots of noise in the background and nerves about the Sunday ride, but I slept pretty well, waking at about 4.30 (the lights go on at 5.00am!).

Paddy had asked the Mules to wear their jerseys today and I had brought mine. I was also
wearing my bib shorts (with the Livestrong logo
down the leg!) so I was feeling like a pro. BHP had provided a "Continental" breakfast of cold cereal and various processed foods, but there was a hot breakfast with coffee to be had on the other side of the campground, so Gunilla and I set off in the dark in search of pancakes, lit only by a full moon.

After breakfast I broke down my bed and packed my gear, then helped about 10 other riders with their beds. I pumped up my tires, found Jorge and David and we rode to the start.

This is where we saw the real benefit of the overflow campsite. Riders at the main site are not allowed on the road until sunrise at 7am, and people begin lining up at 5am, so you have a long wait at the start. This morning they let us off at 6.30am and we didn't have to wait at all. Off we rode in the gloom on another chilly morning.

A few miles along and we passed an MS150 icon - a piper, in full gear, standing by the road, playing his heart out. He was on "Amazing Grace" as we passed - David would have preferred something more upbeat. The three of us kept together well through the hilly terrain, stopping once before Smithville and the Park. Pretty quickly we made a familiar turn and a short climb before the big hill. I normally let the bike go, at least for the first few hundred yards, but there were too many other riders around and I had to check my speed. Jorge went flying past me but I caught him on the run out, and David reappeared too. Jorge's top speed on the descent was 40mph, David had 38mph and I was probably somewhere in between.

The next rest stop is at the start of the Park and we agreed to take a break. When you wear bib shorts and need a pee, there's no real option other than taking off your jersey and slipping off the should straps. This also requires unloading the gel packets, sunscreen, valuables etc out of your jersey pockets or there's a good chance they will end up in the septic. No that easy in a confined space. I'm still not convinced of the virtues of bibs but other riders swear by them (not David though).

Jorge bumped into another BHP rider, Matt, who had trained with us a couple of times. He wanted to join us so our little peloton became four. It was clear that we would all ride the Park at different paces so we decided to regroup at a prominent point near the end of the Park section. This shot was taken while I was still on pace with David. I was working hard but he had time to sit up and smile for the camera! I'm sure he dropped me soon after.

The Park was as tough as ever, but the roads seem to have deteriorated a bit since my ride in 2009 (I shamefully skipped the Park last year). On one particularly tough section I heard another rider encouraging himself by yelling "Come on, Mule, get up there Mule!". As I went past him I called out "Granny ring" - his reply was to the effect that he was already there and the next gear was "foot ring". Hope he made it.

There's a second rest stop in the Park, and I normally stop there, feeling I've earned a break, but I decided to push on so that I didn't keep the others waiting. A few more climbs and a long, long sweeping descent and I was out. I saw David waiting by the exit and pulled over. A few minutes later we saw Matt, and after a few more, Jorge appeared. He had struggled but made it through without having to dismount.

We merged into the stream of riders on the lunch express route, rode the long descent into Bastrop, crossed the Colorado and turned in to the High School for a 9.30am lunch. We were early enough that there was no line for the sandwiches, but we couldn't find a place to sit and ended up on the kerb. Here's Jorge and I, looking pretty relieved to be on the last leg of the tour.

After a good break we saddled up for the last 32 miles of the ride. I'm glad we arrived when we did - by the time we left the lines for lunch and the porta-potties were very long.

The final section is pretty boring, mostly flat until the Austin city limits. I'm starting to get tired and sore in the same places as yesterday. We agree to stop just once before the finish and I'm very glad to take a break and remove my shoes for a few minutes (even though I find a few burrs!). There's a Goya coconut juice stand and Jorge and I slug back a couple of cans. I still don't like the slimy lumps at the bottom.

Matt is on the right and Jorge on the left in this shot - David was probably in front of us. Somewhere on this stretch we passed the shiny recumbent rider from yesterday - he yelled "Charge!" as we rolled. At last we pass the Austin city limits sign. The right-hand lane has been coned off for us but this doesn't leave a lot of room, especially on descents, and we need to stay alert. The approach into the city centre has a number of climbs and descents so we can't relax. David is beside me and identifies a number of local beauty spots, including the football stadium. We turn onto MLK Boulevard with the finish line in sight. David pulls ahead and rides close to the barrier, high-fiving with the crowd. We group up and cross the line more or less together.

We all shake hands and then ride over to the BHP tent. The Mules have been in for a while of course and are eating lunch. Jorge spots some Colombian friends and stops for a chat. David and I get lunch (very good chicken kebabs and asparagus - the food has been excellent this year), then he heads back to his car and the short drive home. I get in the long line for the showers, standing behind a rider with road rash all up the left side of his body. Apparently he was carved up by another rider on the way into Bastrop and went down hard. Hope the shower wasn't too painful, amigo. Back to the tent, where Jorge is still deep in conversation (and still eating kebabs!). He's getting a ride back to Houston with a friend, so I walk over to the bus depot and catch a bus back to town, where Susan picks me up. We have a celebratory dinner on the patio and an early bedtime.

(The following weekend, David went on a 375 mile randonee event that he completed in 38 1/2 hours. Hopefully he slept in the weekend after.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

With a (lot) of help from my Friends (and Spouse)

Paddy wanted to ride the 100-mile Bellville Cheeseburger Classic from my house last weekend. I wasn't sure I was ready for the distance, but having done it before I thought it would be ok, especially if we had a good group of Mules to hide behind.

Saturday morning rolled around and the only riders were Paddy, Kevin and me. This should have set off alarm bells as Kevin is very strong right now and Paddy has been building up his mileage consistently, but as the host I couldn't very well bail out at the last minute.

We set off before dawn on a cool but oddly humid morning. I led the guys out of my neighbourhood and onto Eldridge, where we joined the MS-150 route, and we settled into a paceline. The wind was mostly behind us and we made good time, each taking two miles at the front. We decided to ride 30 miles before stopping and that took us conveniently to the diner at the intersection of FM529 and 362. This was where we stopped the last time, but the place was under new management since then and had been spiffed up quite a bit. It was still a good ol' taco truck, but a covered deck had been built around the service hatch, and there were tables and chairs, so it felt quite posh for a roadside joint in the middle of flippin' nowhere. We picked up water and gatorade and headed on.

The wind had got stronger was out of the south-east. The next few miles were dead down-wind and we flew. The road turned west and we had a powerful cross-wind but we were still doing OK. We reached the Brazos, which marks the start of Austin County and the end of the flatlands. The stretch into Bellville has a lot of rollers and a few good climbs. Paddy was suffering a bit, Kevin was as strong as an ox and I was somewhere in between.

Bellville is getting very familiar! We rolled through the Downtown area and on to the Hill restaurant, formerly the home of the best burger in the County (or so it said on their marquee). That honour appears to have gone somewhere else as they were no longer claiming it. Paddy and I had the eponymous sandwich but Kevin opted for breakfast wraps and pronounced them excellent.

Back on the road, and the first few miles back to the Brazos basically did for me. The climbs and the wind together completely sapped my energy, and I couldn't find a comfortable position on my handlebars, which further drained my reserves. We stopped on the bridge for an all-too-short break (no smiles or photos this time) but I was now almost completely dead in the water and had to stop every few miles. Kevin ushered me into place in his wind shadow (a strong cross wind was not helping) but my bike control was weak and I didn't want to get too close. At one stop, when I was lying in the roadside ditch, a motorist stopped to check that we were OK. What a nice surprise - a random act of kindness out in the wilds of Texas. At that break I decided enough was enough, and called Susan for a SAG pick-up (only 30 miles from home).

I was tempted to stay where I was, but Paddy and Kevin cajoled me back into the saddle and then dragged me back to the roadside diner (only one lie-down in the ditch on the way), where I flaked out on the floor, under the eyes of the very kind and concerned proprietors. Paddy and Kevin still had 35 miles to run, with the wind blowing hard and traffic getting heavier, so they set off. Susan showed up (despite me giving her the wrong directions in my addled road-side condition) and we headed home.

Lessons learned: don't try to jump directly from 45 miles to 110 miles, and you can find kind-hearted, hospitable people in unlikely places.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Take the high ground and hold it

Off to Sealy on a beautiful Spring morning to ride one of my favourite routes, the 47 mile loop via Bernardo and Cat Spring. I couldn't interest any of the Mules and Jorge had to bail on me at the last minute, so I was a lone wolf.

Susan's cousin Grady was in town from Dallas, checking out the course for the Iron Man triathlon in the Woodlands he's entering in April (2 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, full marathon...), and he gave me a few packets of Gu chews to try, as an alternative to gel packs. Well, if it's good enough for an Iron Man...

It's been quite a while since I rode out there and a few things have changed. Getting out of town is a little tricky but I had the sense to check the map on-line the night before. The route follows FM2187 for a while but then cuts off onto very quiet country roads. The first stretch had been resurfaced and was blissfully smooth in comparison with previous years. I noted the Confederate flag fluttering above a barn on the way. Come on chaps, the Civil War was a long time ago.

On previous rides out here I've seen some spectacular birds, including a scissor-tailed flycatcher and what I swear was a roadrunner. The bird watching wasn't as good this time, but I also didn't get chased by any dogs, which had been an issue in the past.

This ride has a sting in its tail - a short section with a succession of descents and ascents, one of which usually has me gasping. This time was no exception, but I made it through OK. The ride finishes with a 7-mile run down Route 36, a fairly busy road with a wide (but rough!) shoulder, which is the least enjoyable part of the loop. Well, it was worse than usual this time - the State had decided to turn 36 into a four-lane divided highway, and the construction workers had pretty much done away with the shoulder for a good 5 miles of the section. This put me uncomfortably close to the high-speed traffic. Fortunately, most of the drivers were considerate. But I won't be riding this route again for a while, sadly.

(And I finally managed a blog post about a bike ride that didn't mention the wind. Oh bugger)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Zube with a twist

I invited Jorge, my buddy and colleague, to ride with the Mules last weekend and he offered to pick me up as it was more-or-less on his way. Jorge drives a Mazda 3 hatchback but can't put a bike-rack on it, so he told me he was going to borrow a friend's car - which turned out to be a shiny, almost new Mercedes 230. A friend bought the car and was then transferred out, so Jorge is trying to sell it for him and of course, he needs to drive it every now and then. He had also just bought a gorgeous Specialized bike that looked rather splendid on the back of the Merc. Off we went and in due course pulled up at Zube, where a sizable group of Mules were treated to the sight of a late-model Mercedes with two high-end bikes and two petrophysicists on board. The crowd included both our former and current bosses' boss who may well have concluded that their staff was over-paid.

Off we went in an impressive group of ten, forming two pace-lines. The ride went well but Jorge was finding the pace a bit hot. At the gas station Paddy and some others opted for a longer route. I decided to stay with the 45 mile group, which included Jorge. Off we rolled on the scenic back route via Wyatt Chapel road, with Jorge struggling again. He wasn't tired but couldn't get a full extension of his legs without cramping up. We made the turn on the road running down to Waller but hit a red light at the intersection with I-10. Richard was trying to avoid unclipping until the last minute, hoping the light would change - but it didn't, and he went down in an embarrassed heap while we all cheered.

We stopped at the Shell station to let Jorge stretch out a bit and that seemed to help. The last ten miles went by easily enough. With about three to go, Jason and the gang took off, leaving Sean and I to shepherd Jorge in. Back at Zube we loaded up and headed home. Jorge and I sat in my back yard and enjoyed a beer and a debrief.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Forty-Three mile Fixie Frenzy

This weekend's outing was the "Ride to the Rescue", an organised ride in Manvel that benefits an animal rescue organization. Manvel is in Brazoria County, south of Houston on the Coastal Plain, and it's flat, flat, flat, so I decided to take my fixie on its first big boy ride.

The ride options were 30, 43 and 60 miles. 60 seemed a bit much on the fixie so I rode the 43. There had been a light freeze on Saturday night, but the forecast called for mid-50's temperatures so I didn't take any real cold weather gear, other than my anorak/bike jacket and my arm warmers. Sitting in the car before the start with the thermometer showing 33 degrees, I felt that perhaps a little more gear would have been in order!

As I was getting ready to join the start line, I saw a Mules jersey go by. It was Kevin S. on his sexy new Willier bike, finally in from Italy. He was impressed to see my fixie and bare legs! Chris H. showed up soon after, also without tights, also wishing she'd brought them.

We set off and I kept pace with Kevin, who is very strong at present. He tried to keep the pace down to 17-18mph for my benefit but didn't manage very well. We picked up two other riders and made a four bike pace line for a while. After about ten miles I dropped back, not able to keep the pace, and then stopped at the first break point to strip off the anorak and arm warmers.

Back on the road, the routes split and I picked up the 43. The wind was starting to pick up too, and one long pull into the breeze had me digging deep. The wind is hard on a heavy bike with no gears. Thankfully we turned right onto a more sheltered country road and I could sit up and relax a bit.

That was the pattern for the rest of the ride - occasional pulls into the wind, occasional downwind stretches, mostly working with a cross wind. I hit every break point, instead of every other one, which is my normal pattern - I felt I was getting enough exercise on the fixie to justify the extra breathers.

Pretty soon we were back in Manvel and then at the finish. I could smell food coming into the parking lot and sure enough there was a group of volunteers grilling hot dogs. I sucked down a chilli dog (hey, I needed the carbs and protein) and ran into Gunilla, another BHP rider, looking pretty comfortable after the 43 mile route. She'd hardly noticed the wind, though - must be in better shape than me. Back to the car and home to a gorgeous afternoon.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fayetteville Fun

Keen followers of this blog (you know who you are!) will recall a post titled "Frozen in Fayetteville" from about the same time last year. When I rode the 2010 Club 300 Fayetteville ride with David it was 33 degrees at the start and 34 degrees at the end. The weather looked a lot better last Sunday when Kevin C. and I rode the same event - clear skies, cool at first but warming, but they never tell you about the wind when you hear the weather forecast on the radio. Sure enough there was a blustery wind from the North/Northwest to make life a little more interesting on this quite hilly ride.

The organizers laid out two loop routes - a 17 miler which everyone started on, and an optional 28 mile slog for the masochists - and let's face it, every cyclist has a little masochist in them somewhere.

The first few miles of the 17 mile loop had either a cross-wind or for short sections a glorious tail-wind and we were flying along in fine style, screaming down the descents and practically coasting on the climbs. Then we turned into the wind and it was a different story. This year's route took us up the dreaded Rek Hill - a longish, steepish climb into Fayetteville that you hit on the MS150 at about the 80-mile point. There are guaranteed to be riders pushing their bikes on Rek Hill on the big day. No walkers today, but an already tough climb was not eased by riding into a concrete head wind. Kevin normally out-climbs me with ease, but he was feeling the effects of a recent trip to Malaysia, and dropped back. I got as low as I could and ground it out, reaching the crest well ahead of him and a few others we had picked up.

Pretty quickly I found myself back at the start in Fayetteville and began to wonder if I had missed a turn somewhere. I stopped to strain spuds and then rolled over to Kevin's car, where he was waiting for me, having got in about 30 seconds behind me. We both took the opportunity to strip off some gear (my base layer was dripping wet!), hydrate and rest a little before heading out on the 28 mile loop.

We couldn't quite work out the route from the map we had, but got some guidance from another rider and set out with some misgivings. We saw lots of riders going in the opposite direction, which made us even more concerned that we had gone wrong (we wondered if they were from a different group!) but then saw a route marker and relaxed a bit. Kevin decided that we had indeed missed a turn on the 17 mile loop. I'd probably gone right by a marker, with my head down into the wind, and he had followed me.

Conditions were getting tougher and tougher, and we were both getting tired. We arrived at the break point and stopped for water and a much-needed breather. I asked another rider to take a pic and here it is. We look pretty happy, don't we?

On the road again, and yet more vicious climbs, culminating in a real killer that just about did for us. Normally you get a bit of a descent before a climb, and you try and build momentum to help you up the other side. We approached this one on the flat, into the wind, struggling just to keep going. Ominously, there was a ride marshal and a SAG wagon parked at the bottom of the hill, looking like vultures waiting for some road kill. As we climbed in a group with some other riders I yelled out "Granny ring!" (a cycling term explained in a previous post) and grunted my way to the crest with only one gear left. At the top I took it easy for a while, trying to get my heart-rate and breathing under control, and waiting for Kevin - but he didn't appear. I wondered if he had got in front of me but that didn't seem possible, so I turned round and rode back to see where he was. Soon enough the SAG wagon rolled up with Kevin on board. He had missed a gear, causing both legs to cramp up, hadn't been able to get his shoes unclipped and had fallen over on the side of the road. SAGging seemed like a good idea, although he was a little embarrassed.

I declined the offer of a lift and turned around to resume the ride. The climb had just about done me in though, and I opted to take a short-cut that lopped about 6 miles off the route. Pretty soon I was back in Fayetteville, feeling about as bad as I ever have after a ride. Kevin and I loaded up his jeep and headed out. We stopped at Hruska's for a sausage wrap, a bad idea as it turned out. Back home I promptly retired to my bed for a two hour power nap, and woke feeling much better. I'm glad I don't have to do that again.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Liar dice

For once, the weather was near perfect for yesterday morning's ride from Zube - clear skies (at least at first), mid-50's temperature and almost no wind (well, it is Texas). A surprisingly low turn-out of Mules was matched by a very large group from the Northwest Cyclery Cycling Club, who have organised rides from Zube every Saturday morning.

I arrived first, but Ian turned up shortly afterwards. For a while it seemed that no-one else was coming, and we talked about riding with the Club. They go off in speed groups - 20+mph, 18-20mph, 16-18mph and 14-16mph - but all ride the same route, which is our standard Mules ride. I thought we would go out with the 18-20 group, as we normally average 18-19mph on our rides, but Ian, who has been out with the Club many times, prefers the 16-18mph group. Apparently both groups are full of Liars, riders who lie about their ability in order to beat the rest of the group, so the 16-18 group actually goes at about 20mph.

With about ten minutes to go before the Club started, Gregor arrived, followed by Alex and Oz. Alex had to change out a wheel, so the rest of us joined the 16-18 group, which was quite large - probably 20 bikes - and formed a double pace-line.

It was a bit of an adjustment to get used to drafting in such a big group. Their practice of hammering through the corners took me by surprise at first, too - the Mules usually take corners slowly and regroup before accelerating. The lead riders on both lines peeled off regularly and I soon found myself pulling the outside line, probably a mistake as it drained a lot of energy, but etiquette (and my pride!) demanded that I do my share of the work.

About 15 miles in, the pace accelerated sharply (as predicted by Ian) and I got spat out of the back of the line. Fortunately there were 4 or 5 other riders in the same position and we formed a secondary pace-line. In Pro cycling this is called a "gruppetto" in Italian, or "autobus" in French - a group of riders from all the teams, usually sprinters and domestiques, who ride together through the mountains to avoid disqualification.

We got to the gas station without too much effort and I thanked the others before joining Ian et al., who had been in for a while. Ian's bike computer showed an average speed (for him and the speedsters!) of about 20 mph - so they were proven Liars. Alex and Oz were there too, having taken a shortcut. We restarted together under cloudy skies and with the wind blowing much harder from the south. Once again I got dropped, but this time I had to ride about 10 miles more or less on my own, before jumping onto the rear wheel of two riders who came through from behind. I stuck with them all the way back, taking a couple of turns at the front.

Back in Zube we exchanged war stories (Oz rode in a relay team in a race all the way from the West Coast to the East a few years back) and talked high-end bikes for a while before I took my leave. Next weekend will see me in Fayetteville on Sunday for an MS-150 ride, so no Zube for once.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Frozen assets

Another crack of dawn trip to Zube Park, this time under clear skies but with the temperature somewhere between 33 and 28 degrees F, depending on whose car thermometer you believe. A crew of speedsters gathered - Jason, Kevin, Gregor and Ian from Chevron -making me the only tortoise in a field of hares. No American Mules today - the wimps, what's a little frost between friends?

Kevin was looking a bit battered after "kissing the road" last Wednesday. Apparently he was riding back to his car after a few laps of the Fruit Loop in Memorial Park and got his front wheel stuck in a crack in the pavement. With the skinny tires we all use, this is a certain spill and he went down pretty hard, hence the scabs on his face and eyelid, bruises on his thigh and a possibly fractured rib. His bike didn't suffer too badly (he straightened the handlebars and rode back to his car!) but fortunately he wasn't on his new Wilier, which probably would have been much the worse for wear.

I wore all my cold weather gear, including arm warmers, balaclava, overshoes and expensive, Gore-Tex mountain runner's jacket. The latter garment was the cause of much derision the last time I wore it and today was the same. It's not really suitable for cycling but it's the best option I have right now.

There was no wind to speak of when we started, but it picked up later on. The speedsters kept the pace down to about 17-18mph, but I still struggled to stay with them. Jason, bless his Kiwi heart, dropped back a couple of times to pull me back into the group. With about three miles to go to the Exxon station where we break, we saw a lone rider in front and decided to reel him in. Gregor was in the lead and kicked the pace up pretty hard. I was actually able to keep with the group, a very exhilarating experience while it lasted.

At the gas station I decided to strip off as much as I could, including the jacket, which left me wearing only a cycling jersey on top. Ian commented that I would probably do better without the jacket and he was right. I need a more aerodynamic piece of outerwear.

We returned to Zube via Business 290 with a strong cross-wind from the south. I felt pretty strong and not too cold, despite the lack of clothing. The pack dropped me on the climbs but were good enough to wait at the crest. We all shared the lead and worked together well. On the home stretch Gregor and Ian decided that they'd had enough team-work and dropped me easily, but no harm, no foul.

Back home to a delicious bread, cheese and wine lunch courtesy of the Houston Dairymaids, followed by our annual marmalade-making extravaganza. Yum -

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mule train

Off to Zube on a soggy Saturday morning. It was drizzling when I left home and started raining for real when I got to 290. Fortunately it had dried up by the time I reached Zube, and actually stayed dry all the way round.

I spotted Jason's bumble bee Camaro in the parking lot. He hasn't been on his bike since October, but I suspected (correctly!) that he hadn't lost much. Lee and Kevin soon appeared, and then Tyson (haven't seen him since the MS-150), and off we went. Kevin has a sexy new bike on order ( that hasn't been delivered yet, but he's dangerous enough as it is on his old Cannondale.

It was Tyson's first outing with the Mules and he wondered how long we'd be out. Turned out he had a kick-boxing training session back in town at 11.00. What it is to be young and full of urine and acetic acid.

As ever it was windy, but for once it was out of the East, so we set off at a good clip, knowing we'd pay the price on the way back. I was wearing my new rain jacket to ward off the cold, and in the expectation of rain. Pretty soon I had a mini-Rain Forest going on.

The group fragmented on the way out but regrouped at the Exxon. I took the bold decision of removing my jacket, exposing my sweat-sodden Mules shirt to the elements. The others looked doubtful (it was still pretty cool) but I couldn't keep going with the jacket on. We headed back along Business 290 into the teeth of the wind and tried to get organised into a pace-line. Once we managed to corral Kevin (he kept accelerating when he took point, instead of keeping a constant pace) it went quite well and we shared the lead pretty efficiently all the way back. Go Mule Train!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blowin' in the Wind

True professionals, these Podium Girls kept smiling bravely as the wind turned them into parodies of Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch". I had to deal with a lot of wind on my last few rides, too, but did it with much less grace I'm afraid.

The Monday after New Year's Day saw Kevin C. and me riding out at Zube, Kevin's maiden voyage in that neck of the woods. I took MC to IAH that morning so we rode after lunch, a rare event for me. Kevin was constantly on the lookout for traffic but I assured him that the country roads around Zube were pretty quiet. That's true on a weekend morning, not quite so accurate on a Monday afternoon, but most of the drivers were very considerate. We had a tail wind all the way out and a cross-wind all the way back, but managed to work together quite well. I was pretty much beat at the end of the run.

I managed three commuting rides in the week, and it was my Friday off, so I decided to take the fixie out for a spin in Terry Hershey. The weather appeared to be picture-perfect, temperature in the mid-60's under clear skies, and Susan and I had lunch in the garden (in January! This time of year is why we live here). Unfortunately once out of my sheltered back yard and on the open road I realized that there was a good stiff breeze blowing. The fixie is no fun going into the wind - it's heavy and you can't change gear. The wind was out of the west and the route goes due west so I struggled until the turn. The run back was a lot easier but the damage was done and I was a very tired puppy when I got home.

This morning saw me getting up early and heading to Zube for a Mules run. Once again the weather appeared perfect - clear skies, temps in the high 40's, heading for the 60's later - but of course the wind was blowing pretty sharply from the North. For once I'd brought enough gear - tights, arm warmers, jacket - and felt pretty good as we set out. Quite a good turn-out, even though Paddy is away in Vietnam - Kevin S, Gregor, Kenny, Lee (a new mule), Dani (a new face for me but she has a Mules shirt) and a young geo from the office, Mitch. The latter was not well prepared - he was riding with toe-clips, no gloves and a big pack on his back - and couldn't keep up with the usual 18-20 mph pace. We fought the wind on the way out and the group split up, with Kenny and Gregor disappearing into the distance in front, and Mitch falling off behind. Once we turned around life got much easier, and we were dieseling along in high gear without breaking a sweat. It couldn't last, of course, and after the usual break at the Exxon we had a much tougher time. The first mile or so was directly into the wind and I really struggled. At the turn onto Business 290 we quickly got fragmented again - Kenny, Gregor and Lee legged it out at the front, Dani and Mitch were dropping back so Kevin turned round to help them, leaving me on my own. It was a tough pull back with a gusty cross-wind and I was very glad to get back to my car. The fast group had been in for a while and were exchanging war stories (as you do). Dani eventually rolled up, then Kevin and Mitch - apparently they had stopped in Waller for donuts and coffee. We agreed that in future the speedsters would stop and pick up donuts and hand them to the rest of the group as we passed by, just like a feed zone in a pro ride. I'm looking forward to the next one.

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