Monthly Archives: June 2008

How long does it take to get totally wet?

My teammate Tris estimates 3.2 seconds. After yesterday, that seems about right to me.

We cyclists like to think we can control the weather: bring the fender if you want to keep the rain away. Definitely don’t wash your bike the day before. I always feel satisfied when I’ve ‘cheated’ the rain and get a dry ride in before the skies open up, or watch the radar and figure how to ride around the isolated patches of rain we often have.

But sometimes the weather wins. Yesterday I knew it was questionable, but I figured I had at least 30 -45 minutes. I would stay close to home so if it started to rain I would just ride back before it really started to come down. Just 3 miles down the road, it started to sprinkle. I turned back, and was in the neighborhood, only a few minutes from home, when it started to come down in sheets.

In 3.2 seconds I was completely soaked — soggy shoes, soggy bike, wet cell phone in my pocket. I rode down the street swearing as loud as I could. I rode past some landscapers who were laughing at me. Yeah, really funny. So I had to flip them off. (Now I will probably find my mailbox smashed next week)



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In a rush to nowhere

How high will gasoline need to before there is a fundamental change in driving habits? My teammate Tris and I have talked about this several times, and as I recall our guess was $6/gallon.

I’ve noticed some small change already: I now see 5-10 bikes parked outside at work, where last year there were maybe one or two. I know I’ve passed on going to some races this year because of fuel cost.

I’ve also become obsessed with watching the fuel efficiency display in my VW Passat. You can see the ‘instantaneous’ MPG, as well as trip MPG calculation.

What’s interesting about this — and this really shouldn’t be a surprise — is how much you can affect the MPG by how you drive. Let’s take the drive between home and work. If I drive the way most people do — in a hurry, 10 miles over the speed limit, accelerating quickly and braking hard, I get about 28 miles per gallon. Not bad, actually.

But If I drive more consciously, I can get 32-33 MPG. All I need to do is not accelerate so quickly, ease off the gas going downhill then not accelerate so much going up hill, slow down or coast when I know a red light is coming, and just generally drive a bit slower. This all adds maybe 1 or 2 minutes onto a 15-18 minute commute.

I’m pretty sure I can get the MPG higher. Except the other drivers would be even more annoyed than they seem to be now.

Yesterday on the way home a guy flipped me off as I turned onto my street, because I wasn’t going fast enough (maybe 2 miles under the limit) up a small hill on SR 87. Drivers ride my bumper if I’m not going at least 7 miles over the limit, or pass as I approach a light, even though they will have to stop anyway.

Why is it that people feel they shouldn’t ever be delayed or inconvenienced in any way? You can see how we’ve contributed to the current oil situation, and how it will continue. We can’t bear to give up our habit of driving anywhere, anytime, and as fast as possible.

This is an aspect of the same mentality that creates hassles between drivers and cyclists. A bike on the road is an inconvenience — something that slows the manic rush to somewhere. But where are we going?

Gas at $6 a gallon? I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.


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Cow town

During my college days at Denison I had to endure the jokes about Ohio from the prep school kids from “back east”. Columbus in particular, being nearby, had a reputation as a “cow town”. Never mind that those of us from Cleveland called it that too.

Driving to Columbus for the state time trial championship last weekend, one might think that Columbus is more vibrant than Cleveland. They have a pro soccer team (how European!). The skyline compares to Cleveland’s. Parks seemed to be everywhere. The Short North area is very cool.

But then we made our way to the La Quinta hotel in Reynoldsburg, an eastern suburb.

Pulling into the hotel, we had to swerve to dodge a fierce corn hole game going on in the parking lot outside our room. Add more points to the cow town score. Add more points for the tattooed girl smoking outside the lobby entrance, and then more upon hearing later that a corn hole tiebreaker would be needed. OK, that is probably all a bit unfair.

Criticism of Reynoldsburg however would not be unfair. It’s a perfect illustration of dreadful suburban sprawl. Picture 5 lane roads lined with chain restaurants, traffic lights, strip malls, big-box stores … and traffic. Some of the older malls (probably circa 1980s) appear to have been deserted for newer ones. On a whim I typed “Reynoldsburg Ohio sprawl” into Google and wasn’t surprised by the pages of hits.

Driving back to the hotel after dinner and a movie (“Get Smart” — it was not) I spotted a Speedway with gas for $3.84. It took waiting through 2 traffic lights and 2 more stop signs to make a simple left turn to get to the gas station. Any savings were probably eaten by waiting. And we wonder why the rate of fuel consumption continues to increase.

In contrast, the time trial the next day was held in a little town called Groveport, 15 minutes away, that had a real main street, quiet roads and a large community recreation center with baseball fields and a nice pool. No corn hole that I could see, though the race course did in fact pass by a number of farms and required dodging a dead skunk.

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Why Frankenmuth?

It’s Friday night, and I’m sitting in a budget motel room in Frankenmuth, Michigan, watching The Karate Kid, which won out over the Weather Channel. The race the next morning starts early, and I need to get to sleep. Unfortunately The Karate Kid is one of those movies that I can’t turn off.

I’m also overcome the feeling of, “what am I doing here?”

Why am I watching a cheesy movie on a Friday night, 260 miles from home in a cheap motel room? Why did I drive all this way by myself to ride my bike? This uneasy sensation happens often when I travel to a race alone. When there’s no one else to interact with, your own neurotic thoughts take over.

Frankenmuth is a curiosity: a kitschy faux-Bavarian town clearly oriented towards tourists, with fudge shops, sausage shops and toy stores. When I check into the hotel the receptionist comes out of the back room wearing a “dirndl” (it’s been said that Americans think all of Germany is like Bavaria). I ask her if many people here speak German. She says not too many, but there is now an effort to offer it in the local schools.

The next morning I wake up disoriented then go through the usual nervousness of the pre-race routine: eat, go to the bathroom, worry about how many layers to wear, pin numbers, go to the bathroom, pump tires, look at the clock, go to the bathroom. It’s going to be a beautiful sunny day. It would have been so much easier to just go for a nice, long ride at home.

But here I am.

Once on the starting line, I’m surrounded by the 60 or so other guys all ready to let out their nervousness. I look around and feel intimidated at the sight of several pro riders. We start out with a whir of wheels, chains, gears shifting. That sound is indescribable. Flying down the country roads at 30 mph, pulled along by the field of racers, is something you can’t experience riding at home by yourself. This is why I drive 260 miles to race.

It’s a windy day, and after about 20 miles the crosswinds are starting to make things difficult. I follow an attack, end up making the winning breakaway, and finish a solid 3rd place. The trip, the hassle, the nervousness, all seems worth it.

After the race, as I’m talking with a couple of other riders I realize that one of them, a young guy, has a German accent. I talk to him in German and find out he is from Berlin, and that his team in Germany disbanded. He sent out resumes and was picked up by a small US pro team (Rite Aid). Someone in Frankenmuth speaks German after all.


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Play it as it lies

You don’t normally make a connection between golf and bike racing. You can actually drink beer and smoke cigars while playing golf. I’ve never seen that while cycling (well, I’ve heard about those crazy mountain bikers).

But last weekend the combination of bike racing and the U.S. Open tournament got me thinking …

Saturday evening I flipped on the TV and found the 3rd round of the U.S. Open still going on. Tiger Woods’ ball was in some deep rough – you couldn’t even see it. He proceeded to chip it out of the rough and right into the hole.

One of the main principles in golf is that you “play it as it lies”. Your ball may end up behind a tree, or buried in deep grass. Wherever the ball lies, that’s where you have to play it. So you must constantly adjust your game and make the best of whatever the situation. You may have made a perfect shot only to find it in someone’s old divot.

Move forward to the next day and to a different sport: the Rick Gorzynski Memorial Time Trial at Presque Isle State Park. I was using this as preparation for the state championships the following week, and was aiming to break 26:00 for the 12.5 mile course.

Halfway through the race, I knew I was having a good ride and was on track to break 26:00.

Then at mile 8, a course marshal let a truck pull out onto the course, blocking the entire road. As I came around a bend, I saw the truck. I yelled but he didn’t move. My only option was to go off the road to the left, though some gravel, then back on the road again. I heard the marshal meekly say “sorry” as I went by.

My rhythm was completely broken, and my good ride was now going bad. Oddly, I flashed on Tiger Woods holing out his shot from the rough. The best thing I could do was to deal with the situation and resist the temptation to turn around and ask the marshal, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???”

It took a mile to get up to speed again. From there I tried to go as hard as I could without completely blowing up. I missed breaking 26:00 by 3 seconds, but still managed 2nd overall.

Another principle in golf is that you report your scores accurately. When playing in a tournament, signing an incorrect scorecard gets you disqualified (even if the mistake was unintentional). But anyone who’s played surely knows that people often don’t count a stroke, or take a “Mulligan”.

So the biggest props of the day go to Glen Snyder of the UPMC team. I did a cool-down lap with him after the race, and he told me his time was 26:33. When the results went up, they showed him at 25:33 — an awesome time. He knew this was wrong, and he reported it to the officials. Sure enough, they had his starting time a minute later than it was. I think many riders would have just let that result stand, saying they “felt really good” that day.

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