Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What women think

Like most good cyclists, certainly ones worth their shoe covers, I take to touting the health and environmental benefits of cycling to anyone who will listen. In particular, being a man who commutes (when appropriate) religiously by bike, I do my best to convince those who aren't yet annoyed with me that riding a bicycle to work is a noble and worthwhile endeavor. And, like most good women, certainly ones who try to keep men on bicycles around, the lady B. has gotten on board with the idea or will at least try to convince me that she's giving it her best shot. This, of course, just got me all enthused so I mapped out the "best" route to and from her job and convinced her to ride with the promise of an escort. In the rain. 11.5km. 45min either way. Traffic. And a steep stairstep climb known as Corbett St. Which, of course, seemed fine to me on my road bike. Without a daypack full of work clothes and rain gear.

What B. didn't know about our commute is that, like Mel Gibson in "What Women Want", I magically developed the powers to hear her thoughts in my head while she pedals her bike. You may call it reading body language or facial expressions but I really do hear the complete sentences, complete with tone of voice and and bad language. I recorded her thought monologue for the entire 45min. I present it to you here:

Look at these bike clothes.
Why do cyclists wear this stuff?
My shoes look pretty. I like white.
Oh I guess we are going now. It's cold out.
Are we there yet?
This is silly. But he looks so happy on his bike.
He should ride more, I like it when he is happy.
He should spend more time with me, I like it when he is happy.
That car is not a very pretty color.
I am hungry.
Are we there yet?
Do these pants make me look fat?
I like men in bike shorts.
Oh wait where did he go?
Oh good he is waiting for me at that light.
Maybe I had better ride quicker.
Why does he have to keep riding away? What is he doing?
Are we there yet?
Oh no this is the part where we have to go up that hill.
Which button do I push to go into my easy gear?
Nope, not that one.
OK that one.
Damnit why isn't he riding with me?
He looks so good in bike shorts.
I can't ride this hill.
This is ridiculous.
This is stupid.
I am hungry
OK now I am mad.
He should be riding with me.
Don't you dare push me I am going to make this on my own.
Go away.
Come back here.
I am going to walk now.
Say something sweet or else I will get mad.
Don't tell me I'm almost there I can damn well see for myself that I'm not.
I could have been sitting in a warm bus right now.
I think I am going anaerobic.
Does he do this every day?
This is a lot of bike riding. It's been like 20 minutes.
I bet he rides at least an hour a day. That seems like a lot.
Why did I have to date a cyclist?
These people are crazy.
I could have dated that Foosball player.
We could have spent evenings spinning plastic people around on sticks.
That sounds like fun.
It's freaking dark right now.
I can't even see his bike shorts.
I hope this light keeps working.
He had better appreciate me for commuting on my bike.
I am doing this for him.
He better cook dinner.
Oh good I made it to the top.
I wonder how many times I have to do this.
What did I sign myself up for?
Are we there yet?

Monday, October 25, 2010

PBR doesn't suck

Just to follow up on that last post - please note that PBR does NOT rank amongst the 50 worst beers in the world on ratebeer.com - but Michelob Ultra, Coors Light, Bud Light, and other American faves do. Take THAT, rednecks - not only did hipsters steal your trucker caps but now their cheap working class beer outranks yours. Watch out - they are coming for your camo next. What'll you do then?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yep, I'm poor.

Not ashamed of it, either. Cut off the UPC code, sent a copy of the receipt, filled out the rebate tag. In the mail. The $4 I get back in 6-8 weeks should buy me another sixer of PBR right around Christmas.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ssshhh, I'm riding.

One of the quickest and simplest ways to get into halfway decent riding from where I'm at in Portland is to head out Scholls Ferry Rd towards Sherwood and get into the country roads away from the main arteries of north-south traffic between Beaverton, Tigard, Wilsonville, etc etc. It's a bit ugly, as most of the riding here is, for the first 30-40minutes while getting out of town, there's big intersections and stoplights at maddeningly close intervals. Once you get out, though, there's an OK network of roads to pick your way around on, if you figure out what goes where and how to avoid riding down the worst of the busy roads.

Even when you end up out of town, though, you realize that the definition of a "quiet road" changes dramatically depending on what your baseline expectation is. Nothing exemplifies that more than the a routine event on any longish bike ride: a sudden need to urinate and a desire to find a quiet spot to do so where you are unlikely to see a car while you take care of business. Now, around Eugene that's pretty much anywhere. You just pull off, take care of it, and 9 times out of 10 there's no car in sight when you start and none go by when you finish. Not so around here.

Last week I rode out and tried a few different loops before ending up going out to Sherwood and finding my way though the tiny downtown looking for a promising pavement upon which I could stand and admire the local greenery while contributing various salts and minerals to the soil. This was not an easy task. In slight desperation I ended up climbing Ladd Road and finding a little turn-off from there where I could relieve myself in peace, and while I stood and observed how the blackberries were unfortunately past their prime I had a sudden realization: I had found silence.

Yes, just after the top of this hill, far out of my way and nowhere near what would be considered a "short spin" from SW Portland, I had finally found silence on my ride. Not the absolute kind of silence, mind you, but the kind of silence that you get when all human noises are removed and just the normal sounds of a planet going about its business remain - wind, birds, etc. For two weeks I rode with the sound of cars in my ears, even on the quieter roads, for a car was seemingly always in sight if not actually passing me on these quiet "country roads". Everywhere seems close to some relatively major thoroughfare, and if you can't find the privacy to pee you certainly can't find relief from the noise of traffic either.

Even looking out from the top of a hill, on the quietest road I had ridden on in my short explorations, it is not possible to escape the feeling that my post was a mere oasis, and that any direction would inevitably drop me back into cars.

By contrast, I was lucky enough to do two shortish rides around the lower valley this weekend, one in Eugene and the other around Corvallis and Philomath. In Eugene, Azul and I went climbing in the south hills neighborhoods and found what would pass for supremely quiet roads up here. We did some loops I used for standard training when I was short on time - Timberline, McLean, Chambers, Lorane, Blanton, Crest, Willamette. No cars brushed me or flipped me off or tried to right hook in front of me. It was amazing. Then, riding on Willamette at about 50th St, I noticed something else that I hadn't experienced in two weeks: animals. Two nice bucks, one fat doe, and dozens of turkeys. We used to see animals on every ride in Eugene. The most I have seen here is roadkill squirrel carcasses, and the occasional suicidal live one.

On Sunday I explored some of the small roads through the hills near Corvallis and then ended up riding down Hwy 34 a ways to get some steady state in. Again, it was quiet. I saw a few cars but nothing you would call "traffic". They gave me lots of room - they had lots of it themselves. I saw more animals. I stopped and took a leak. No-one drove by and saw me. I saw some forest, some timber, farms with goats and squash and cabbage and not just big "Pumpkin Patch! Corn Maze!" signs. I saw back yards open to the road. I didn't get a flat. It was very, very nice.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lawyer Up!

There is a group ride on Mondays and Thursdays that leaves out of SW Broadway and Yamhill called "The Lawyer Ride". I think that's because it was started by R. Thomas, Esq, back in the day, but I suspect that a fair number of the gentlemen who show up are also in the legal business. I heard about the ride yesterday and went down to check it out this afternoon, having heard the ride described as a quick one.

First, I have to say that it's sweet to see a real group ride happening, an all-comers type of thing that leaves at 12:15 sharp and regroups when needed. It's a bit like a mini mid-week CSC ride, which is the weekend event down in EUG. And these guys don't mess around - there was some serious bike bling being ridden through PDX traffic this afternoon. Check out exhibit A:

Yep, that's a BMC "somethingorother-machine" in full race mode - Edge carbon wheels on DT 240s hubs (cost more than my whole bike collection), full SRAM Red including cassette, carbon SLR saddle, head to toe Rock Racing kit - I was very nearly intimidated.

Next, I have to say that these guys are a little bit crazy. The "route" is a climb up out of town at a chatty pace and then two laps around some road, I think Fairmount or Fairview or something, followed by a ~4-5min climb. They regroup after each lap and before the climb. The laps are, basically, sketchy. It's blind corners, some double-apexes, have leaves and stuff on the roads, and are tight. They start out in a double paceline and then sort of race it in the second half. The twists and turns are such, though, that it's not really possible to drill it full gas. You kind of have to float through and someone eventually just gaps people off to get off the front. I did a lot of jumping and braking as I constantly came into the turns too hot for my comfort. It was fun, but I wouldn't do it in the rain.

After the ride Ben and I rode back to NE so I could borrow his PowerTap hub tool and replace the batteries in my unit, then I rode down to SE to see if I could figure out a better route from there to here - SW, by Alpenrose - for potential commuting. I rode the three routes that seem to be feasible. They all have a certain suck-factor.

As before, getting from Sellwood to SW is not very fun. There just doesn't appear to be a good way to do it. Any way you go is uphill for a good chunk, which is fine since that's a problem of geography more than anything. I went through the cemetary off of Hwy 43, which was pretty, but requires crossing heavy traffic once and the gates close between dusk and 8am. No dice. Going up Corbett is about the best way from a traffic perspective, but it has 20%+ grades. Not fun on a commute, if you have a pack, rain clothes, and a 39t small ring. Then I went and figured the way back if I take Barbur, which isn't awesome either because of the heavy duty traffic, despite the apparent status of Barbur as a main cycling thoroughfare from downtown to SW. And, of course, while grunting up the hills to get to Barbur heading home, I flatted. Thanks, PDX.

I took the wheel off, inserted my spare tube, tried to pump and found the valve stem just a hair short to properly seal on the frame pump as the DT RR1.2 rims are a few mm's too tall. Great. So I pulled that tube out, sat with my $1.99 patch kit and an extra handful of minutes of my time, and patched the original rubber. Not so happy.

I finally made it back on the Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy, and TT'ed back towards the house. Speeding home on the slight downhill at about 30mph, I passed that most ignoble of all PDX commuters, the hipster on the fixed gear. This one at least had a front brake, I noticed as I went around. He was certainly giving it though, apparently in a bit of a hurry. And passing this creature triggered its competitive instinct has he (unbeknownst to me at the time) gave chase. Hipster took the lead for good when, as I stopped at a traffic light, he flew through the intersection's red light about 15s later and very nearly painted the front of a school bus a brand new color. Way to represent the cycling community.

That dude should come on the lawyer ride this Thursday. He's going to want one if I see him between now and then, because I might be tempted to U-lock his skinny jeans to his frame, and his frame to the nearest water tower.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dear Google: I can't do that.

I know the bicycling directions are in Beta, but really? Straight through houses?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The first rides from the new base of operations (right around the corner from Alpenrose Velodrome) have been ... less than satisfactory.

Monday's ride consisted of exploring SW PDX/Tigard/Beaverton and inadvertently doing big loops as I dropped onto the occasional terrifying road when, say, a bike lane suddenly stopped on a blind downhill single lane turn and I found myself committed to the flow of traffic. Or when I somehow wound up in downtown, and had to alternate bike lanes and full-traffic lanes, at the start of rush hour, to get my butt back home. In the last 7 years, since I first moved to Eugene, I could count on one hand the number of rides where I returned more stressed out and pissed off than when I left - Monday was one of them.

Tuesday was another.

I took a good look at Google Maps before heading out, with the intent of riding out to Forest Grove, which really looked like it should have been 20 miles out, 20 back, and maybe 5 miles of loop out there to see the town a bit. So I followed the main roads that appeared to be safe, and despite a fair amount of traffic actually made it out OK... eventually. Not only is there more traffic at any one time than I would see in my neck of Eugene on any day, except maybe if I tried to ride West 11th, but the scale of things meant that all of those stoplights, stop signs, and general traffic-related events took a hefty chunk out of the ride. That, and of course the inevitable massive-staple-to-the-tire routine that happens when you ride on crap roads for miles and miles.

I'm sure there's a better way out West, on back roads and such. But it's not intuitive and getting lost can put a serious dent in your afternoon.

Eventually I got out and decided that 90min was more than enough in one direction and that I needed to head back. I ran into a kind professor from Pacific University who was commuting home and took me on some back roads to drop me off on Hwy 47 back towards Hillsboro.

This was the part of the ride where, for 20 minutes or so, I got up some false hope about finding nice quiet roads to train on, relatively safe from cars, with blackberries and apple trees and green grass waving in the wind. Sure, 10 of those 20 minutes we rode around a big cloud of smoke emanating from a burning vineyard, but that's just a sure sign of being in the countryside. Right?

So, I headed back. Which turned into a complete crap-show. A wrong turn, dwindling day-light, and general frustration landed me in the town of Farmington, where my cell phone, my sister, and Google Maps informed me that I had gone the wrong way down Farmington Rd for several miles and had overshot my turn to home a long ways back. I headed back, lights now flashing, until the vanishing bike lanes and heavy traffic had me pull over and call for a ride home. Departure time: 2:30. Return time: 7:15. Total ride time (while moving): 3:40. Stoppage time: stupid. Plus, I had meant to have dinner on the table by 6:30 - which meant I wasn't the only grumpy one, and rightfully so.

So I think that I need a GPS. Well, I need the $450 that an Edge 800 would cost, more specifically. ANT+ reception of my PowerTap and touch-screen color mapping? Yes please. Maps and a good sense of N-S-E-W orientation just aren't going to cut it out here. I'll need some actual direction, and a reference for when I am looking for shortcuts or the quickest way home.

The disheartening first rides were saved when former Whitman rider / Rubicon-Orbea fast man / next year's neo pro / Quadzilla / bad-ass Ben Chaddock took the lead and we rode from his place in the Rose Quarter out past Troutdale, on old Hwy 30 up and up and up until we sat somewhere high above the gorge where, finally, it seemed like we had gone for a real bike ride and not just a glorified urban commute.