06 May 2011

525,600 Minutes

(Note: I know that I declared this blog dead, but this seemed a more fitting final entry.)

It’s a real song! Really. It’s from some Broadway musical, I think. Don’t mock me, Perry the Platypus.

525,600 is the number of minutes that make up a year. And, that’s the number of minutes since I last rode a bike: 8:20 AM on 4 May 2010. Prior to that, about 15 short rides gets me back to 21 October 2009. (Yes, I keep records like that.)

I asked some time ago of anyone willing to listen on Twitter (@kevintcom) and Facebook just how long one could go without straddling a bike and still consider one’s self a cyclist. I was hoping for insight, but found that no one really cares about that kind of introspection. So, I’ll have to come up with my own answers.

First, I realize that I’ve extended the useful life of all of my cycling apparel and gear by one full year. I’ll pull out some jerseys and socks that have barely been work when next I find myself riding. That’s a good thing, right? The tires that I bought for 2010 still have the manufacturing nubs on them.

However, that doesn’t answer the question. It simply delays the discussion.

I’ve forgotten most of what I had learned about bike commuting. I know that I will need to take some stuff to work to clean up after a ride, and plan outfits for the days that I will commute, but the effort of planning that has returned to a level of difficulty similar to when I first tried to commute. I need to take a lock, too, I think. Hmm…

Again, doesn’t really answer the question, but I think that I’m getting closer.

You know, a few years ago when I was able to really drop some kilos off my body I had a good off-season fitness program in which I would get up daily for a dose of NordicTrack aerobic fat burning. I’ve not gotten to that this year. I have done the occasional few minutes on the AbSlide (yes, I do own one) and some squats to pretend that I’m exercising. However, it’s easier to just use the morning to catch up on all of my other projects and pretend that I still have months to get myself in shape. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have “legs” right now. I’m also pretty sure that my lungs and heart will balk at my first sustained effort. Oh, and don’t get me started about how my butt will feel after the first mile. You don’t want to know, and neither do I.

So, am I still a cyclist? Still avoiding the question.

In 2006, after riding thousands of miles, I was told that I wasn’t in shape to “race” the LOTOJA Classic. That same year I also was told by someone who completed it previously that after that year, she didn’t ride much for the next year. I definitely cut back in 2007, but I kept riding. Was this finally my rebound year from the efforts five years ago? What about if I still think about cycling? Does that count as “being” a cyclist? What about if I’ve done maintenance on the bikes this year? Does that count?

Maybe I’m not a cyclist. Wow, that’s a change. Is that right? Am I a cyclist as long as other people consider me to be that? If I’m not a cyclist, then what am I now?

I still haven’t answered the question, have I?

Wait, I’m averaging just under one ride per month for the past 18 months. As long as I don’t clarify that those all happened between 7 April and 4 May, I might be able to confuse people enough that they don’t (and therefore I don’t have to) ask the question. Oops, I just blew that chance. So, I’ve essentially ridden one of the past 18 months. Am I still a cyclist?

Bob “Bobke” Roll told me once (yes, I did talk to him personally) that he had not ridden a bike for a month. He’s still a cyclist. Of course, I’ve not started one Tour de France, or provided commentary on a single bike race, or had a fabled career like he has had. And, it’s been a year, not a month.

How do I define myself?

I still listen to cycling podcasts. Does that make me a vicarious cyclist? I’ll be auctioning off bicycle tune-up services for a charity auction coming up. Does that mean that I’m a bike mechanic now?

Maybe it’s time to let myself be defined into another group. I could be a waterskier. I could resign all ambition and simply define myself as a dad. There’s just not as much press to follow on that front, or as many competitions to revel in vicariously. And don’t ask your kids to valid feedback. They’ll either rate you the best of all time, or the worst ever. There’s not much in between.

So, after those 525,600 minutes am I still a cyclist? And, even more, does it matter?

17 May 2010

Closing Time

It's time to close this blog down. Over the years that it has been up, it has not met the expectations I had of it.

Signing off.

20 April 2010


I was fast this morning. I mean, noticeably faster than any time this year fast. For me. My morning commute was a full ½ km/h quicker than my next best effort of the last few years; and at least one km/h quicker than my next five quickest rides. How quick was I? Prepare to be underwhelmed. I averaged 35.1 km/h from my home to the office. Are you impressed? I’m guessing that the answer is a resounding, “No!” I’m guessing this because either you don’t understand the metric system and think that I’m just making up numbers here that have no meaning, or if you do know the metric system you have heard the speeds that professionals ride and realize that this is pretty weak. I thank you for your honesty if you fall into one of these camps. If there’s anyone left out there who thinks that this may be impressive still (and at 21.8 MPH it is for me), then thank you for your kindness.

Every year I look for the first commute to average over 32 km/h, which is about 20 MPH. It came early this year. It even came on a route that has never held a high-speed record before. I know the route I take when I’m pushing for a high speed. I drop down the steep hill on Winchester, and then follow 700 West. This gives me a quick jolt of speed, spiking around 64 km/h, as a starting point, and not too much residual climbing to lower that average. But there are some other things that play into a good speed: wind and lights.

Wind, or more specifically a strong tailwind, is the biggest contributor to a high speed for me. If I can get somewhere over 20 km/h and then feel the wind vanish, I know it’s a good wind day. And today was. I was feeling still air near 30 km/h. That means that I didn’t have to overcome wind resistance until I was moving pretty quickly. That also means that I have a quicker base to get from intersection to intersection.

That quicker base speed translates into catching more lights green, which translates to keeping my speed high. So, putting these two things together, I had a magical ride this morning. I rolled through most intersections on green without having to slow down.

Halfway through the day I’m still excited about that great start. It’s amazing how a fairly lithe thing can keep you going for a while. I don’t expect to match this effort for several months or even longer, but I can bask in the glory of it now, until I ride home into the headwind and have the slowest ride of the past few years. But that will be another post for another day.

Oh yeah, "Tailwind" is indeed the name of a song. Not one that I own, but a title used by several artists for several songs.

19 April 2010

Hill Groove

I haven’t ridden out to Camp Williams in years. Let me just start with that. Somewhere around 17 km into a ride on Saturday, in the midst of a downhill coast, I suggested to Phillip that we should make the right turn at Redwood and climb up to the Camp. Let me clarify something here: neither Phillip nor I are climbers in any sense of the word.

To this point in the ride we’d taken on the relatively mild 1% - 3% grades that the valley floor offers. I was feeling pretty good. I’d managed to keep up with Phillip so far.

A little recent background on Phillip. He’s been riding his trainer this winter. He’s dropped 40 pounds in the past year. He’s taken to this biking thing seriously since I introduced him to it years ago. And, Phillip is the kind of guy you want to ride with. He’s willing to talk, takes solid turns pulling, and just helps you to feel good while you’re with him.

So, we rolled past the Maverik at Redwood – if you’re a cyclist in Salt Lake, you know the one I’m talking about – and turned South. I love the recently widened road. Instead of rumble strips and vanishing shoulders, there is a painted bike lane and smooth pavement! It’s beautiful. In fact it was almost beautiful enough to cause me to forget that I was now climbing at 5% - 6% gradients instead of the smooth valley. Almost. However, I know a solid climb when I feel one.  (Did I mention that I’m no angel of the mountains?) And I felt that climb. I made some comment about how I wondered what I had gotten myself into, but mostly we rode quietly, just keeping the pedals turning.

Somewhere up this climb I started testing new ways to turn the pedals over. Last year I had focused on lifting the pedals rather than pushing them down. That wasn’t working for me on this climb. However, I discovered that by pushing the pedals forward across the top of the stroke, I was able to utilize different muscles and find a new rhythm that worked for me on that climb.

Then, I spotted another cyclist at the base of the final grade. He was far in the distance, but when the world drops a rabbit in front of me, it’s hard for me to not think about chasing it down. However, my desire to chase and my ability to chase were not the same. Having him out there kept me going, but couldn’t give me wings. As a side note, I didn’t have any Red Bull, so I couldn’t test if their ads are true or not.

Then, about 6 km after we turned the corner onto Redwood, we reached the top. Now, just for the record, the light is not at the summit, nor is the county line. You have to go a few hundred meters past each of those to reach the summit. At this point we congratulated ourselves on a solid climb, told ourselves how good we were, discounted the efforts of cyclists who rode past us, then turned around for the descent. I’ve decided that this self aggrandizing is a critical part of cycling. Were it not for these sessions, none of us would have any idea just how good we were.

Well, the rest of the ride was largely a footnote to that climb. Phillip had some aerodynamics issues with his jacket that slowed him on the descent, then I got a flat about 10 km before the finish, but it was pretty quick and uneventful.

Alright, one quick note on the flat tire. Always make sure that you sweep the inside of the tire for any sharp objects that may have caused the flat. I’ve read this advice countless times, and usually follow it, but forgot to this time. I got lucky and didn’t have another flat. However, there was still a metal sliver poking through my tire when I checked after arriving home.

16 April 2010

Swing of Things

I’ve decided that these past weeks have been neither my most stellar riding nor writing. I think that there is a parallel here. Let me explain.

I’ve taken a few months off from both riding and writing. Without bike rides, there is very little to write about on a cycling blog, so the lack of writing seems to have an obvious cause. I blame the lack of riding mostly on cold weather. And, I’m a wimp about being cold. So, it was off the bike and into the heated truck for a few months.

Well, now that spring has finally arrived in northern Utah, I’m trying to get myself going again, but find myself rusty. I feel much like the cycling comic book entitled Old Guys Who Get Fat in the Off Season. I’ve been dormant, almost hibernating. That means, that despite some muscle memory kicking in to get me down the road, I’m back to where I was last Spring when the cycle played out then as well. That same rustiness has settled into my writing. Despite some terribly interesting events on my  recent commutes and ride with my daughter, my writing has been terrible.

I haven’t even talked about how I used ski gloves and a baklava to keep warm when I was riding in near freezing temperatures. Nor have I talked about the migration from the wind jacket over a thick, long-sleeved jersey to a vest and arm warmers now that the temperatures have risen closer to 50° F in the mornings. I’ve not talked about these things because I couldn’t find a clever way to work them in anywhere. I still couldn’t think of a clever method of incorporating them into a great story, so they just get listed like that.

I still need to gripe and rant about West Jordan and their inability to support anything that doesn’t have a baseball diamond as part of the discussion. I’ll hold that for another day.

So, I’m still looking for the great story about helping out the geocachers, or my daughter falling asleep in the trailer immediately after telling me to go home, or about having three people lined up for the Salt to Saint relay race in June. Well, I’m really not looking for those stories. Those stories have all happened already. I’m just looking for the inspiration to write them in a way that anyone else will want to read.

Basically what I’m saying is that my writing will improve again. Please be patient, and I’ll get there.

Don't Be Stupid

I really felt like yelling this time and again at drivers last night! “Don’t be stupid!” However, since they were all in their metal boxes, although some with a window cracked, they couldn’t have heard me even if I had yelled it.

Where to begin? Well, I knew that smoking was popular on the west side, but I didn’t know that it’s popularity had skyrocketed over the Winter. I swear there was a smoker at every intersection last night. And I got to breather all of their exhaust, both from the car and their mouth. The stupidity here should be self evident, but let me just clarify that smoking is not good for you, and it leads to distracted driving as bad as someone on a cell phone. I just couldn’t believe the increase in smoking and other mass stupidity that had come over the population along my commute route.

There was the guy in the moster SUV who decided it would be smart to turn around the cyclist. Let me clarify a bit further. Her decided that he would loop out into the left turn lane, then angle himself hard across the lane of traffic to be able to get a tun in before the light changed. In the end he did get onto the street a few seconds earlier than witing, but, wow, what a bone-headed way to get home so little quicker.

There were three people pulled over along my short commute. That’s moer than one driver per 5 km. I don’t know what they did, but there was, apparently, mass stupidity preceding my ride as well as duing it. Where, however, was the cop during that stupid turning-right-from-the-left-lane incident I just talked about. That would have been good. Oh, wait, the cop drove past about 20 cars after the guy turned. Dang, that could have been four citations.

Let me preface this one by saying that I am grateful that the vast majority of drivers are pretty smart on this next item, and whether they realize that Utah has a three-foot passing law or not, usually provide closte to that when they pass me. However, there’s always the idiot who wants to prove his sole right to use the road as a motorist and buzzes the cyclist. He pulled this one just before pull-over number three. Some little, silver wannabe-racer car had to rev his missing muffler as he zipped past the cyclist to prove his gas-guzzling superiority. Maybe if I hadn’t had the immediate impression that he was a moron I could have been impressed by the noise his car made, or how quickly he could accelerate. However, neither of those latter two thoughts made it pas the moron label at the time. Too bad for him.

Then there’s the truck who is offered a small opening in a line of traffic and pulls out just far enough to claim that spot, but also just far enough to make going around him impossible either to the front of the back. While the cars may be backed up on their lane, there’s nothing ahead for nearly a kilometer in mine, except for this one joker parked across my lane. Fortunately he was able to inch forward enough for me to pass, so that I could make that light, rather than waiting another three. So far, I think I can forgive this one more than the others. But it was annoying to have to lose my momentum then crank back up to speed.

Okay, now this is a gripe I have whether I’m on a bike or in a car: Choose one lane and stick with it, people. Seriously, when one lane of traffic splits near an intersection to allow for different lanes for turning and straight traffic, choose one of them. Then act like you’re in that lane. There are at least two intersections where this is a constant problem. People either can’t decide which lane they want, so that all traffic has to wait for the slower lane to move before anyone can more; or they choose a lane, but then can’t commit to driving in it and sit there for a while. This is only a problem when I want to actually go through the intersection ahead of me. I guess I should blame this on men, since they are so frequently blamed for not being able to commit, but I think this is a gender neutral issue. Just commit.

After all of that, turning into my neighborhood was a blessed relief. I at least knew that I could predict the drivers from long experience, and I’ve found most of them to be pretty good, at least around their own homes and the neighbor’s kids.

I am more motivated than ever to get through the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, and What it Says about Us that I just got from the library. I’m sure that I’ll find something scathing about me, but I’m sure there’s plenty about these clod-pated drivers as well.

12 April 2010

Rite of Spring

[A Note: I think that by posting two entries on the same day, the listing of 100 things of interest about my riding and cycling history was missed by may people. That entry can be found under 500 Miles.]

Whilst the seasonal change seems to be stalled out in Salt Lake, I have decided to declare Spring as here. I have made this declaration for a few reasons that I would like to lay out here, namely biking to work, scheduled rides beginning, a good excuse to end snow skiing season, and water ski season beginning.

Let’s start with bike commuting. In a bold move of self-commitment and competition, I challenged our office’s new cyclist to a commuting challenge. From the time each of us first dared to commute by bike this year until the end of October we are keeping track of how many times each of us bike commutes. I don’t think I even included a prize for the winner. The very fact that it’s a competition of sorts should help to spur me on. I got off to an early deficit during March, so now have to work on catching up. It has to be Spring for me to start in, so I DECLARE SPRING HERE. For those wondering, I have cycled to work twice this year and hope to double that this week.

Then, there’s the fact that my Upcoming Rides calendar shows that I am supposed to be in shape to be getting out and riding. I’ve gotten a few invitations from teamgive to participate in Saturday rides with them. The annual rides are starting to roll out, including the Salt Lake Marathon Bike Tour this Saturday. I guess that I had better start riding so that I can do even a few of these this year. Therefore, I DECLARE THE ARRIVAL OF SPRING. Now, how many will I ride? I dunno. The rides that I have a real interest in I’ve listed, but there’s always the issues of active fathering with a 3-year-old and newborn that can hinder even the greatest of plans.

Back to the point at hand: Spring. I need a good reason to feel less badly about not snow skiing at all this season. (Okay, there, I’ve admitted it. I think that’s one of the steps on the road to recovery.) It’s a whole lot easier to hang up the skis if they haven’t even come down this season. Well, they’re now hung up because IT’S SPRING. I am, of course, ignoring the one-hundred inches of fresh snow that have fallen in the last ten days.

Then the fourth major reason: it’s time to start water skiing. I know this because my brother invited me to go this weekend. Somehow I have no problem accepting air temps in the low 60s and water temps in maybe the upper 40s as ski-able. Yes, it’s still dry suit weather, but I have a dry suit. The lake I prefer is still down from a draining over the Winter, so it’s off to Utah Lake. I can’t believe the number of obstacles against going out, but IT IS SPRING, so I think I’m doing it. If my head freezes off, or my toes become one with the ice, then I’ll regret it. But in order to make this a reality, I DEFINITIVELY DELCARE IT TO BE SPRING.