Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's the Little Things...

So it was another fairly successful day. I set a couple new personal bests; I finally rode the whole North Branch Trail which, in turn, set my new furthest distance record. And I did the whole ride at a new best average speed (for a "long distance" ride). Still slow compared to the old pro's, but better for me none-the-less.

It was so foggy and damp when I got onto the path today that within a couple of miles water was dripping from the brake handles on the bike and off the visor of my helmet. I was soaked! The bike ended up completely loaded with silt and leaves, as did the fronts of my legs. My fingers were pretty cold at the start of the ride and my toes began to get a bit cold too, but before long the sun began to burn through and all was good. It was a glorious morning for a ride.

To all the other riders out this morning who asked if I was OK when I did another one of my famous clippless tumbles while trying to cross Harp road, thank you for asking. And thank you for not laughing until I was out of site.

I was running a new seat and shorter handle bar stem today and the combination felt darn good. At the end of the ride, the sit bones in my butt were sore, but my other nether regions felt just fine. I'm satisfied with that. I can work on toughening up my sit bones, but there just wasn't much I was going to be able to do to help the ol' twig and berries. The new seat is an S1 from Neuvation Cycling and seems to be a pretty nice piece for the money and so far it is certainly more comfortable than the Fuji seat that came on the bike. Natural leather seat, Kevlar sides, Carbon-nylon bottom and Titanium rails for 59 bucks is hard to beat. So far, after one good ride, I give this seat a thumbs up. We'll see if my sit bones begin to feel better with some more time on the saddle.

One point of interest. After only about 10 miles today, my left hip started screaming at me on any sort of incline. I noticed that if I stopped pedaling with that foot down and lifted myself off the seat just slightly, the pain immediately went away and left me feeling oh-so-wonderful. It occured to me that this new seat was slightly shorter (from the rails to the top of the seat) than the previous seat. So I stopped and raised the seat post about 1 cm and the hip pain completely went away. Once again proving that fine tuning of a bike is key to making the long rides easier, and it is important to carry some tools.
  • 37.01 miles
  • 2'33"
  • 14.6 mph avg.
  • 24.3 mph max.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And Home Again, Home Again, Jiggidy-Jig

The ride home went much better as far as the quality of roads I found, and the traffic situation worked out pretty well too. However, let me just say that I am absolutely and completely whipped. Beat like a dog. Folded like a lawn chair. Crushed.

Must be because the bike paths are generally in such wooded areas that the wind doesn't play such a factor. The wind coming home today, although not incredibly strong, was straight into my face and it just completely killed me. It was just brutal at some points. It felt as if the bike was going to come to a complete stop and I was just going to tip over right there in the street and pass from this earth. My legs are completely non-functional tonight. Getting up the stairs to come to bed was a task. I'll bet they are going to hurt tomorrow. I've got a long way to go to be a distance rider to be sure.

On a better note, I picked up a 90mm handlebar stem on Ebay last week and it arrived today. And I've got another seat on the way - one with the taint hole to relieve a little bit of pressure from the twig and berries, if you know what I mean. So, the bike tweaking continues. I'm going to be revisiting the overall fit of the bike in the coming days, now that I'm learning a bit more about how the bike should fit aside from what feels right.

Oh and here's a pisser. I am still battling regarding the bike racks that I purchased a couple weeks ago and decided that I wasn't 100% satisfied with. Apparently there is no difference between returning an item and exchanging an item as far as their customer service department is concerned, meaning that they want me to pay a 20% restocking fee in addition to paying for shipping back the racks that I do not want as well as for sending me back the racks that I do. So, I am officially going on record as saying that the Swagman bike rack company sucks. Please disseminate this information to your friends, relatives, and loved ones. I am still looking into what options I have available to make their lives a bit more difficult, but I am sending the bike racks back to them in the next couple of days regardless.

Total for the day (both trips):
  • 29.37 miles
  • 2' 02"
  • 14.0 mph avg.
  • 23.6 mph max.

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Off to Work I Go...

My charming and delightful bride has to leave work early in order to pick up my beautiful daughter from school and taker her to dance class on Mondays, meaning that I do not have to pick her up from school. Seems like the perfect day to ride the bike into work, no?

So that is exactly what I did this morning. In fact, I'm sitting at my desk right at this very moment, stealing company time to tell you about it.

My first impression is that it is easier to do 30+ miles on a bike path than it is to do 15 miles on public streets in morning traffic. But everything went well. Nobody tried to kill me or threw things at me or called me names, so I guess I did my part as a cyclist well, and everyone else did their part as drivers well too. Thanks to all the drivers out there this morning between the north side of Chicago and Mt. Prospect who didn't kill me, or call me names or pelt me with empty (or full) coffee cups. I appreciate it.

Second, most streets around here suck for road bikes. If I keep this up, I may need to invest in a commuter bike... My charming and delightful bride will love to hear this news.

I mounted the GPS on the bike again this morning, in case I needed to find some alternate routes and I noticed that the speed indicated on the GPS was identical to the speed indicated on my bike computer, to the tenth of a mph. So at least I know that my bike computer is accurate.
  • 15.18 miles
  • 1' 02"
  • 14.8 mph avg.
  • 21.7 mph max.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dump Trucks, Gravel, Pot Holes and Humps

Well, I'm pulling a couple more night shifts at work, so today was going to be a great day for a nice long ride.  After talking with some friends, and doing some more reading at various places on the Web, like, I decided that the rides I've been making are getting long enough that I should start bringing more water and some sort of fuel.  I set up the bike last night with a handlebar bag to put some snacks in and swapped the water bottle cages between the Fuji and the Schwinn, as the Schwinn has a bigger cage that will allow me to use my 24 oz. bottle rather than my 16 oz.  And I had picked up a couple of Odwalla bars the other day specifically for this day.

This morning I had the brilliant idea to break the Sweet and Salty Peanut Odwalla bars up into pieces and put them in a baggy, then keep that baggy in the handlebar bag on the bike.  I also tossed a couple FRS chews in as well, thinking that when I got thirsty for something a bit sweeter and tangier than water, I could have one of these chews and then just chase it with a drink of water, rather than going so far as to carry two bottles at this point.  I loaded up the Fuji and headed out.

My plan today was to take a shot at running the North Branch trail completely.  I had more
water, and snacks to keep me going.  I wasn't going to pay much mind to my pace, but instead just try to zone out and keep on riding.  Today was going to be a big day.  Someone had run the trail yesterday and said that, except for one spot, the water had receded and the trail was dry, so I figured that I was good to go.

About 6 or 8 miles into the trail, I came onto some signage saying that the path was closed for construction.  I didn't know if the trail truly was under construction, or if during the floods, they had just used this sign to block the path.  So I made the decision to go around the signs and keep going.  It wasn't too much longer that I actually came upon the construction equipment.  At this point I probably could have gotten around all the workers and equipment on the trail, but that just seemed a bit rude and like some sort of poor cyclist form.  So I said good morning to the guys working on the trail, thanked them and headed back toward home. 

But on my way back, I decided that, rather than just come home and call it a day, I'd explore the neighborhoods awhile.  And that is when I found something just a bit irritating.  On this side of town, the main streets are pretty chaotic for riding a bike.  Bigger streets like Montrose, Lawrence, Nagle, Harlem, etc. are two lanes with cars parked along the sides, so there really is no good shoulder to ride on.  Where there is a shoulder, it is often full of cracks and pot holes.  But if you get off the main roads and onto the nice, smooth, quiet side streets, the city has filled every one of them with speed "humps."  So, no matter where you try to ride it is rough going.

Ehem... excuse me, Mr. bicycle-friendly Mayor Daley?  I'm not impressed.  If nothing else, why not just put a break in the middle of the humps, like they do in the alleys to allow rain water to drain?  Then a cyclist could just cruise through the middle of the humps.  You can't put them on the sides of the humps, because all too often there are cars parked in the way.  These streets don't see so much traffic that a cyclist can't ride in the middle of the street here and there.

But I digress.

I rode for quite a while, sticking to side streets where I could, battling traffic and pot holes when I had to.  Man, nothing will motivate you to get the pedals cranking then riding down Cumberland Avenue with cars whizzing by at 50 mph.  Then I rode into Mt. Olive cemetery for a bit, which is certainly a nice quiet place to ride.  Except that I couldn't find a way out and basically just circled the joint until I ended up back where I came in.  Looks like they are dealing with a few issues from the heavy rains too.  I think some of the dearly departed got their first bath in a long time...  I saw this cool old "graveyard Jeep" and decided I needed a photo:

It is a bit hard to see, but the Jeep has cool boom on it for moving dead people stuff around. When I went by it was holding a large cement slab in front of the Jeep.  It looked like the cover they put over a grave once the coffin is lowered in.  Creepy.

Oh, back to the Odwalla bars.  Did you know that if you break them up into pieces, put them into a baggy on the handlebars of a road bike and then take them out for ride, they will jiggle themselves back into a solid mass again?  That's right!  They are self healing!!  Bad idea on my part.  Next time I'll just leave them in their wrappers, but open them up so that I can grab them out of the bag, take a bit and drop them back in.

So, all in all, this was not the bike run I was hoping to make today, but anytime on the bike is a good time.  My lungs and legs ache in that good way.  Oh, and I broke the 200 mile mark on the Fuji today.  And to think; when I bought the bike my goal was to put 100 miles on it before the end of season.

Consumer alert:  Remember those Swagman bike racks I purchased and wasn't complete crazy about?  (I wrote about them here.)  I've decided to exchange them for fork mount units, however the fine person at is not being very customer friendly.  Apparently their 100% Satisfaction guarantee means that you have to pay shipping in both directions plus a 20% restocking fee.  We are debating the issue via e-mail currently.  Stay tuned.
  • 23.91 miles
  • 1'47"
  • 13.1 mph avg.
  • 23.9 mph max.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Break From Our Regular Program

Since Chicago was inundated with upwards of 8 inches of rain a couple days ago which resulted in my bike path being more suitable for fishing than biking, and just due to the day to day business of working and being a Dad, I haven't been on the bike in a couple of days. I'm pulling some night shifts again at the end of this week, so that will give the chance for at least one good long ride, provided my primary bike path is not still under the north branch of the Chicago River by then.

So, allow me to take a moment to help spread some information that I feel needs spreading:

Thanks for you time! We now take you back to your regularly scheduled senseless dribble.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The 40 Year Old Arc Virgin!

Oh my gosh, I have never seen so much rain...
I knew it was going to be rainy, but I also knew it was going to be warm.  I thought I might take the Schwinn out for a spin today, even if I did get rained on a little bit.  But WOW!  It started raining yesterday afternoon and for the most part it has not stopped yet.  No storms.  No wind.  No thunder and lightning.  Just to most persistent, steady downpour of rain I have seen in  recent memory.  Instead of biking in the rain, I have spent the entire day finding every tiny drip of water in my basement, because they have all become steady streams.  Nothing too terribly bad, thankfully, but also nothing I can fix right away either.  Looks like we're goint to need some chimney work at a minimum.

Needless to say, the bikes are idle.  This stinks.

Could be worse.  We could be in Texas.  We're sending good thoughts their way today.

By "we're" I mean, me and my family.  Not me and the bikes, BTW.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Short But Swe...Hey, is that an Elk!!?

I mentioned earlier today that I was going to go check out a new bike path. And I did. I changed into my riding gear, filled my water bottle and bolted out the door from work a little early today. I headed over to the Busse Woods trail system in the Ned Brown Forest Preserve out in the west suburbs. It is the closest bike trail I have found from where I work at a mere 7 miles away.

Let me say that I based my decision to visit this bike path exclusively by its distance from work and from my beautiful daughter's school. I wanted to try out a new place that I could drive to from work, take a quick ride, and then go pick up the beautiful daughter. I didn't really read much about the trail. I looked at the map and noticed it had a lot of small lakes surrounding it, so I assumed it would be a fairly scenic ride. But that is really about as much thought as I gave it. So, this afternoon, as I cruised along this really, really pretty path, I wasn't really expecting to see anything paticularly out of the ordinary. But I rounded a turn, and quite suddenly, I got a whiff of the distinct scent of large animals. That's when I thought to myself, "Did I see something on that web page about Elk?"

And it was just about that time that I spotted one, and very nearly put the Fuji into the weeds.

Yes. There are elk in them there woods! In a huge fenced in area mind you, so it's not as if they can just meander out onto the path in front of you, but they will still catch you by surprise if you are the type of person who didn't really read all the information about the preserve, and aren't really expecting to see a 700 pound animal with a rack of antlers as wide as a soccer goal while out huffing and puffing on your fancy little bike near Schaumburg, Illinois.

Anyway, if you look at the map, you'll see a big red loop of a trail. That is the trail I road. I wasn't really sure how long one lap would take me, nor how long it would take for me to drive from the preserve to my beautiful daughter's school. So, to play it safe, I stuck with just one lap today. I tried to make it a good, quick one, but wasn't able to do as well as I would have liked. The lap was only 8 miles, and I only managed a 15 mph avg for the lap. I must remember to have something more substantial than a water bottle of FRS (Go Lance!) and a Payday bar as my only meal of the day, while on the way to go biking.

But - I was able to check out the bike path, which is just beautiful by the way, and I now know how to get there and how to get from there to the BD's school. Next time I can probably safely do two laps. I may head out there one day to check out the other paths and just spend some time taking in the scenery, but, in the meantime, it is at least a viable option for getting in a ride during the week after work. I don't see ever having enough time to many laps in order to put miles on the bike, but it may work out well as a place to go for a quick sprint.

And I got to try out the Swagman bike rack, both on the bumpy secondary streets of Chicago while driving to work this morning, and at highway speeds this afternoon while going to pick up the BD from school. It seems to be a fairly well built unit that is completely bolted together. There are no rivets to rust and break. But the bike can and does sway from side to side a bit while in the rack. I have a couple of ideas of how to minimize this and I'll be sure to report back should I find one that works. But, aside from that, the racks are still a bargain compared to the big name racks like Thule and Yakima. When I set out to put a rack on the Subaru, I priced out these racks first and was just completely shocked at the prices. I shopped for used racks for quite a few weeks, but even used, The name brand racks go for more than the Swagman pieces do new. I picked up 2 new Swagman racks for under $100 shipped and a set of new off brand cross bars to attach them to the Subaru from Ebay also for under $100. That will do just fine, thank you. Links to Swagman and the Ebay cross bars for car that have factory installed roof rails are in my links.

I forgot to bring the bike computer in with me tonight, but the numbers were weak. Still, I rode hard enough that make my lungs still feel nice and warm this evening, and my legs ache. And any time spent on the bike is quality time. Especially when you bail out of work early to go do it.

I'm thinking my next new route will be in the dirt and mud of the Des Plaines River trail. I can pick it up really easily from home, and I hear some parts of it have been kept fairly raw for the knobby tire crowd. Sounds like a fun way to build some leg muscle!
  • 7.89 miles
  • almost exactly 30 minutes
  • 15.0 mph avg.
  • 21.7 mph max.

Too Distracted to Get Any Work Done

I got the Swagman bike racks yesterday and installed them on the ol' Subaru. I'm blowing out of here early today to try a new bike path. What the hell - I have to be in early tomorrow anyway, and it is looking like rain for the weekend.

My first feelings about the Swagman racks are mixed. They are the "clamp" type of bike holders that do not require removing the front wheels of the bike. They are fairly well put together, but the bike is able to wobble around a bit in the rack. It's not like it is going to fall off the car or anything, but I wonder if I should have just gone with the cheaper fork type mounts. The Fuji is on the roof right now, and so far I have only driven to work with it. More later.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

No, I Didn't Blow Off the Whole Weekend.

Took another nice ride along our beautiful lake front with my pal, Jim. It was another perfect day. Instead of heading south from down town, we headed north. Past Navy Pier, past Oak Street Beach, etc. all the way up to Foster Ave, and then back again. There were a lot more people on the path in the direction, so I was glad that I took the Schwinn this time. Plus, I just completely had a blast on the bike. It is just a better bike for carving my way through the crowds of people, plus I got to do some jumping and climbing and general goofing off with it. Maybe some time I'll take the ol' beater BMX bike and really hurt myself!

Here's my piss-n-moan for the day:

"Any Chicago guys reading this (and seriously. I'm talking to the guys here)... The Lake Shore Drive path in the area that I'm speaking of is just not the place to play Tour de France. Too many people, too many tourists, too many kids to try to average 20 mph. There are plenty of places in the city to haul ass. That ain't one of them.

The Swagman bike racks should be here the day after tomorrow. I'll let you know how well those work out and then I'll start looking into some new places to ride.

No computer on the Schwinn, but looking over my maps, it looks like we did a good bit over 20 miles on Saturday. No speed records set, and working our way through the crowds at the Red Bull Flugtag certainly killed our average. Who cares. A nice day, and a great bike ride finished off with a couple of cold Goose Island 312's. You just can not beat that for a great day.

Jimbo, I left my shades at your house.

Friday, September 5, 2008

New Personal Best

I dropped my beautiful kid off at school this morning, drove back home, changed into the silly shorts and crazy shoes and hit the road. Reached a new personal best today by breaking the 30 mile mark! But man oh man, let me tell ya... The last bit of that ride had me talking to myself. The only thing that kept me going the last 8 miles or so was just to get that damn bike home so I could get off of it. I was pretty wiped out. My left hip was screaming at me, and on up into my lower back. And for the first time, my legs were pretty much gone. There was a pretty stiff breeze today and it is on the cool side, so that may have contributed to my suffering. I found it interesting how, as I rode along, every part of my body would suddenly be in pain and I would feel like I was just done. Finished. El finito. Then a couple minutes later it would all just go away, and I'd feel great. This pattern continued tody for much of the ride after 15 miles or so. I wonder what makes the body do that?

The trail was still quite damp from yesterdays rain, and there were a lot of leaves and sticks were down. This made for a fairly sloppy ride, and it shows on the Fuji. The heavy rain had washed quite a bit of gravel into the path in spots as well. I was half expecting to get a flat tire, but everything went fine. Now that I'm home and have rested a bit, the ride was great. But I don't think I would have said that 30 minutes ago.

The plan for tomorrow is to take the Schwinn over to my pals house for another ride along the lake, which I'm very much looking forward to. Bike racks for the Subaru should arrive today, or early next week. Then I hope to start exploring some of the other places to ride around the area.
  • 32.23 miles
  • 2'18"
  • 13.2 mph avg.
  • 25.3 mph max.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Rain, rain, go away...

Well, the grass was getting a bit yellow anyway.  I guess we needed this.  However, it has killed my plans for a good ride today.  I'm on the first of two evening stints at work, so hopefully tomorrow we will ride!  Today we change the oil in the Subaru and try to track down a nasty little creak on the passenger side front.  Not nearly as enjoyable, but at least it will be one less thing to take care of this weekend, which should open up some time for another ride.

Not much else going on with the bikes.  I've been considering a slightly shorter bar stem in order to move the bars slightly closer to me, and reading seat reviews.  I'm not ready to pull the trigger on either at this point.

Anyone else trying out Google's Chrome?  So far, I like it.

Damn I really wanted to ride today...