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Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!
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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, 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