Friday, October 30, 2009

I’m At The Beach!

The Road Dragon is on vacation, in an undisclosed location. Yes I took a bike with me. Do not expect me to answer posts or emails.
I just spent the day in a motor vehicle, driving to get here. I’m a bit cranky, but a good dinner and some great riding await.
There are almost no other folks around. The usual tourist traps are pretty much shut down. It’s quiet, and I have the roads almost to myself. It’s cool and a bit windy. The sky is amazing.
Long ride tomorrow. I’ll be doing this one alone. Hours of solitude on the bike. This is a time of regeneration.
You’ll see more on this next week.
I’ll be back in the regular grind again next Friday. That’s November 6. Until then, I will continue posting in this blog, but otherwise, I’ll be out of touch.
Take care of yourselves. Ride when you can. Be safe. Have fun with it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday Thoughts: Accountability

I am not going to do the standard fall back and spend time on a “Halloween” theme. Hope you all survive that just fine. Me? I won’t be there.
For the cyclist Autumn is an odd time. We really want to keep riding, but it’s difficult. The days grow shorter… And colder. Then, to add insult to injury, the bureaucrats mess with the clock! Suddenly it gets dark an hour earlier!
Most of us have some kind of coping mechanism. Many of us start slipping a bit. It’s not unusual for adult cyclists to “fall off the wagon” completely. By Thanks Giving, it’s all over. We are out of shape, and gaining weight. Not for nothing are there jokes about the Old Guys Who Get Fat in Winter Racing Team.
Lots of things can help. Here are some of my favorites. Use what works for you.
Pick a Spring event and enter it! Pick one that will be demanding enough to require some serious training. Commit to the thing. Write a check. (Once you have money on it, it is real!) Then work up a written training plan. Post this where you will see it each and every day. Keep a training log. In writing. Post your progress in your log on a daily basis. These things tend to give you some accountability. They keep you focused.
Join a Spin Class. (Accountability again.)
Get into a routine of gym work. I know! It’s boring and creepy to be at the gym, but it helps you.
Pull your “standby bike” off the hook and get it into good riding condition. Do the work yourself. Learn how. This keeps you thinking about next year, and how you are going to ride. Once this task is done, tackle your prime ride, and get it fully maintained and functioning perfectly.
You don’t have a “standby bike”? Maybe now is the time to purchase that. You could find a “beater” and work it up. You could plan for, and acquire, a new bike as the primary, and then use your current one as the “standby” or “rain bike.”
Think about some of the things you want to do on the bike next summer. Find pictures that capture that. Online, in bike magazines, etc. Post these pictures on the inside of your front door, on the refrigerator, on the bathroom mirror, and other places where you will see them regularly. It helps.
Ride whenever you can.
Stay in touch with your cycling friends. Try setting up some regular weekend rides with them. The hlidays will interfere with this, but if the routine is established, it will survive the interruptions.
Keep the Faith! Spring will come!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Imagine the scene. Hawaii. Maui. You’ve slept late and enjoyed a pleasant tropical breakfast, rich in protein and carbs. You are getting dressed for the ride. You will wear summer weight cycling clothes, but you will carry arm warmers and a wind shell. You apply plenty of sunscreen, fill two water bottles, and make sure your sandwiches, bananas, and gels are all packed aboard the bike.
You eat a light lunch, and then ride over to meet the others just outside Lahaina. Ride time is at 2:00 PM.
Everyone is ready. You start. After about 20 miles of gently rolling coastal road, you turn inland, and up. As you climb, you quickly leave the sugar cane country. After about five miles of steady gentle climbing you reach the split in the road, and again turn uphill. Soon you are climbing through dense tropical forest. Around mile 30 the climb steepens, and the scenery changes again. The trees thin, and you see grassland ranches with a lot of cattle. You turn onto the road to the summit.
Now you are in it! The grade goes to a fairly steady 6%, with occasional pitches of 7% or a little more. The grass becomes patchy, and rocks are a lot more apparent.
At mile 40 or so, you notice that your breathing is more labored, even though your speed and cadence haven’t varied. One of the group has a GPS reciever, and he mentions that you are over a mile above sea level. More than half of the atmosphere is below you, and all you can see ahead are mountain and switchbacks.
By mile 45 most of the vegetation is gone. There are only a few scraggly desert brush type plants, widely scattered among the rocks, and occasional patches of lichens. Mostly, your surroundings look like a picture of the surface of the moon. The light is brighter, and has a harder “edge” to it. Things look a bit more blue than you are used to.
At mile 50 there is no vegetation visible. You round a bend and suddenly you are looking out over the island to the west, and across the wide empty Pacific. There are some wispy clouds out there, but they are below you! The grade seems steeper. You reduce speed again. You are making a lot of heat, but it’s okay, the air is cool. The GPS guy mentions that you are at 7,500 feet.
It’s an hour later, and you are pulling into the parking lot at the caldera. You have summitted Haleakala. The “House of the Sun.” You are standing atop Maui’s huge and ancient extinct volcano. In almost all directions you can see the improbable blue of the Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon. And the Sun is lowering toward the ocean.
You eat your rations, drink the last of your water, and go to refill your bottles. It is late enough in the day that the last of the bike tour operators have left, herding their disk brake equipped, fat tire riding charges into the closely supervised “gravity pilot” descent. You notice that, when you stand, you get a little light headed. Of course! You are over two miles above sea level!
As the lower limb of the Sun just touches the Ocean, you are all assembled. It’s time to go! You all pulled on arm warmers, knee warmers, and wind jackets. Now you are glad of it. It’s a bit chilly now.
The descent is absolutely exhilarating! Mile after mile of swooping curves go by. By the time you are down in the cattle country it is getting dusky. Night will fall quickly in the tropics. Still you descend! It’s warmer now, but you are still glad of the wind cheater clothing.
By the time you hit the coast road, the Sun is fully down, but there is just enough light to see by. You all pull off the jackets, and then turn on the tail lights and go!
You pull back into the historic whaling port of Lahaina, just at full dark.
Of course you made reservations in advance at the Old Lahaina Luau. You will be entertained wonderfully, even as you are fed extravagantly.
Congratulations! You’ve just had one of the world’s perfect cycling days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Commitment & A Ride Report:

The first ride in tights… It’s getting colder. Some of us have already done this, some will soon. The first ride in tights… It feels good to pull them on, knowing that, regardless of the falling temps, you are going to ride!
Maybe you’ve put off using the tights. You’re trying to hang on to the last dregs of summer as long as you possibly can. It might mean that your knees are freezing, but you’re not ready to fly the tights just yet.
Maybe you pulled your “winters” out as soon as the temps dropped into the 60s, and you were in your tights then. (And you found yourself sweating, as the temp rose to the low 70s.)
Regardless of whether you’ve been wearing them for weeks now, or have yet to don them, there is something about that first ride in tights. It’s about commitment. You are not going to stop riding. You will ride, and you will ride until the weather is right again. You are committed.
It’s Autumn, and it’s time. Dig out the tights, and go for a ride.
Ride Report ~~ Nights Under Lights:
We did it again. On a Monday night no less.
We again started in dusky conditions at 7:00 PM. The attendance was a bit disappointing. I’m chalking this up to a case of the “Mondays.” Hopefully we’ll see more folks in the future. This was a pretty good night for it. The cloud cover kept it from getting cold, and the rain held off long enough.
In spite of words I’ve posted in the Tuesday Tome, I’m thinking of trying this on a regular basis. I’m going to experiment with a once a month ride. So… Here’s the first announcement of…
Nights Under Lights
  • When: 2nd Tuesday of the Month. Beginning in November
  • Start/Finish: In front of Bicycles Unlimited
  • Distance: Approx 17 miles
  • Pace: Moderate night time touring. Approx 13 mph avg
  • Conditons: Temp above 20 degrees F
  • Requirements: Good strong headlights, a good strong tail light, reflective sash or vest, reflective ankle bands, helmets. Dress for the weather.
Let’s see how this works.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Rides & Random Notes:

Wherein you will find some details about; Nights Under Lights Tonight!; The North Triple Ride; Dawn Patrols; and a totally Random “seasonal” Note. Please do read on.
First a word on night riding: There are several principles involved in riding at night. The first and most obvious is,
There ain’t no such thing as being too visible! Lights and reflectors! Lot’s of lights and reflectors.
Second, be predictable. Motorists are greatly puzzled by bicycles, and more so at night. When motor traffic is present, go single file, be steady, use hand signals, be very predictable.
Third. It is not a race! No one is as fast at night. Expect to be slower. Caution is advised.
Fourth. If you see something ahead that you don’t understand, A) shout it out! B) Slow down!
Stay on Gray: If something in the road appears dark black, avoid it! There is no way to tell if it’s a pothole, and oil slick, road kill, or a rock or some other obstruction. (Well, there is one way. Go ahead and hit it. This tends to cause crashes.)
Communicate with the riders around you! It’s difficult to see behind through the glare of headlights. If you are dropping, let the rider ahead know. If you are a rider in the middle, pass the word forward. When you are caught up, pass the word forward! If there is a problem or need, don’t hesitate, shout it!

Nights Under Lights Tonight! That’s right. We’re doing it again. Meet at Bicycles Unlimited for another hour+ ride in the dark. We had a blast on the last one of these, and I expect we’ll do so again tonight.
Location: Bicycles Unlimited
Start Time: 7:00 PM (sharp)
Distance: Approx 18 to 20 miles
Pace: Steady recreational road (approx 14 mph avg) Group will stay together.
Conditions: We’re going
Requirements: Helmets, good head and tail lights, reflective vest or sash, reflective ankle bands.
The North Triple Ride The concept is simple. We go to Helen, GA and we ride the “North Triple.” That’s a loop out of Helen. It includes Hogpen Gap, Jacks Gap, and Unicoi Gap. The loop is just a bit over 40 miles. Great climbing, thrilling descents, and spectacular vistas. We’ll do this one on a Sunday. The most likely dates are November 15 or November 22. I’d like some feedback on which is preferable.
Dawn Patrols Will be starting in December. These rides are an extension of the “Nights Under Lights” concept. (In point of fact, the Dawn Patrols came first. We’ve done these in years past. The evening version is the more recent, and still experimental, addition.) We get up early and start riding in the dark. The general format of the ride is as follows. We start in the early morning dark, with very little traffic. We ride someplace that we could never ride in the daylight hour. Along about dawn, we’ll make a stop for coffee. An additional hour’s riding after the coffee stop, will get us back to the start/finish point. Post ride breakfast is optional.
Part of the idea behind these things is that a tourist or randonnuer will, in the season ahead, invariably face a situation where night riding is unavoidable. Most likely that will be a high fatigue situation. These rides allow for practice for those skills. Besides, it’s fun being out when the world is quiet and we’re just about the only folks on the road.
As the season progresses, we will start these rides progressively earlier. So start now, learning how to dress and light up. Believe me, a four hour ride in the pre-dawn is an epic event!
Requirements: This is serious night riding. Helmets, strong headlights, good strong tail lights, reflective vests or sashes, reflective ankle bands are required. (Additional reflective and lighting equipment is a good idea.)
Strong Suggestion: Gear up as if you were on a tour and self-supporting.
The first one will be on Sunday, Dec 6. We’ll start at 05:00 (sharp)
Start/finish: Fayetteville IHOP parking lot.
Conditions: Ride goes at any temp above 20 degrees F, and all weather. (Yes, we’re still doing it if it snows.)
Pace: Night Time Touring, approx 13 mph avg.
Random “seasonal” Note: There are four seasons in the redneck year. They are, Rototiller, Barbique, Fourwheeler, and Yardsale. We can tell what the conventional season is, by observing the weather, trees, and animals. We can determine the Redneck Seasons through simple observation of the contents of redneck pickup truck beds and trailers.
The first season of the year is Rototiller. At this time, the typical redneck is seen carrying big gas powered tillers or heavy yard tractors in their trucks.
As the year warms, the home farming equipment vanishes and the plumage changes to big smokers, or industrial propane barbique ranges. This display will continue intermittently through the hotter parts of the year. It is especially apparent during the mating season around Memorial Day, and July 4th.
As the year advances, the cookers are displaced. The primitive hunter-gatherer urges are felt, and behavior changes accordingly. The visible indicators are the presence of large, camouflaged four-wheel ATVs, usually sporting rigle scabbards. This equipment is completely necessary, as it is not possible to sneak up on a deer, unless one is astride an unmuffled 250 horsepower machine, and toting an elephant gun and a fifth of Wild Turkey.
The final season of the year is Yard Sale. At this point the seasonal pair bonds have been broken by the strains of the side-partner mate attraction activity displayed during Barbique, and the mate neglection of Four Wheeler. Pair-bonds are split, and the nesting implements are discarded, or sold in the front of the dwelling. At this time of the year, pickups will be full of furniture, usually with large bedding lashed above. Cultural antrhopologists speculate that this too is a mate-attraction behavior. Just as in some species of birds the male builds a nest to attract a suitable mate, so it is with the recently unmated Redneck. The display of home making furnishings and bedding are, quite possibly a means for the male to signal availability and suitability to likely females.
For those of us who ride bikes, these signals say one thing clearly; “Watch this driver closely! He is subject to random, intermittent, erratic behavior.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ride Report: Cheaha Fall Colors Ride

What an incredible wonderful day it was! Twelve of us met at Hollis Corners to do the climb up to the summit of Cheaha and back. Yes, I said that right. The funny thing about climbing this particular mountain is that you just keep climbing it! Cheaha is not as high as some of the standard “gap climbs” in the southern Smokey Mountains. It’s part of the Talladega Range. These are much older than the Smokeys. That means that the road actual grades of the slopes aren’t as steep. This tempts road builders to do evil things, like just running a road right on up the side of the mountain, without the benefit of switch backs. That means steeper climbs. So while Cheaha isn’t as tall, a rider gets to climb and descend, and do it multiple times in order to reach the top. If you look at the profile of our ride, b elow, you will see that the elevation gain is close to comparable to the famous “Triple Gap Loop.” In any book, that’s a lot of climbing. More, the individual grades are steeper.
To add a final note of fun, you don’t just climb Cheaha. You climb for a while, and then descend. Then you get to climb again. And to add insult to injury, you have to do a considerable amount of climbing in order to descend this beast.

This is a shot of most of the group up in the observation tower, at the summit of the mountain.

Taken from the tower, looking out over the Talladega Range.

This is almost all of the group.
There are three folks missing from the shot above. Gary and Rick are such strong climbers, that they had already summitted before we got there. Rick chose to ride a bit farther, and Gary turned back on a mission of mercy.
The last (but far from the least) member of the groups was Amy Hill. Amy is about to have knee surgery. She was climbing behind the group, and Gary turned down the mountain to check on her. While we were goofing around up at the tower, Amy had completed the main climb and turned back down. Gary rode down ahead of her, stowed his bike on his truck, and then drove back up. He met Amy better than half way down the mountain. (Remember, you have to climb to get down!) By that point Amy was pretty much done. She is a brave lady, with a lot of sand. I doubt many could have turned in the same performance on a set of trashed knees. Bravo Amy!
The weather was exceptionally kind to us. It was a bit cool as we did the climb, but the sun broke through the clouds while we were on the summit. That made for a much more pleasant descent.
This was a strong group of riders, so we accomplished the whole trip in a good bit less than the time I’d predicted. I would be happy to ride with anyone in this crowd, on any day. Kudos and bravo to all.
Oh yeah! When we were back at Hollis Corners, Doug asked, “What’s next?” In reply, I’d like to suggest a trip to Helen, GA, to do the “North Triple.” That’s Hogpen Gap, Jacks Gap, and Unicoi Gap. It’s about a 47 mile loop, with more than 5,000 feet of gain. I’m thinking of doing this on a Sunday, in mid to late November. Who is up for that?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday Thoughts: Why We Ride

As I write this, I am preparing for today’s Cheaha Fall Colors Ride. It will be a fairly demanding “climber’s party.” It will be cool out, with clouds, wind, and a possibility of rain. Why do we do this? Why do we ride at all?
It’s interesting. Define cyclist as “someone who rides a bike on a fairly regular basis, like at least once a week.” Then interview folks in this group. Ask them questions about their riding. Ask them why they ride. In almost 100% of cases one of the first three reasons will be something that translates to “therapy.” I think that says a lot about us, and a lot about our society.
What’s even more interesting is what happens when you drill down and ask about what part of riding provides this therapy. Common to most are comments about “escape,” and the release from everyday cares and concerns. Some find the therapeutic elements to be the fierce concentration of competition. (I’ve often said the phrase “competitive cyclist” is redundant. Why is that?) Some don’t particularly like riding, but the level of fitness that results from it is the reward.
I honestly don’t understand those in that last category. I do derive a lot of pleasure from maintaining a high state of fitness, but to me, that is a wonderful fringe benefit of cycling. I fall into another category, as I suspect, do many of you.
That category is the riders who are considered to be the “nuts” even by most of the “cyclists.” Don’t misunderstand. We ride for all of the reasons that the others do… but! For us, there is something more. It is something poetic and transcendent about the ride itself.
Why do we ride? Because we have to! We ride because it’s who we are. We ride because it’s what we do. We ride because it hurts too much to stop. We ride because that’s the only time in our lives, in our existence, when we are real. We ride because we must. We ride because the road is there. We are defined by every crank stroke, every fall, every climb or descent, by saddle sores, by epic rides, by short trips to the corner store, by tough rides and by great rides, and by the ones that almost break us. We are like the old Superman comics. We, mild mannered geeks, slip into our phone booths, we shed our Clark Kent camoflage, and emerge as our real selves… Cyclists!
We ride to live, “La vida pura!”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ride Report: Nights Under Lights

We did it!
Congrats to the small group of us who went out to brave the dark. Dan, Scott, Chris, and I completed this one. I certainly enjoyed it, and the rest of you seemed to be smiling at the end.
We started riding into the gathering dusk at 7:00 PM. It was pretty much dark by the time we left the edge of town. It's fun to be out there with other riders, the combination of multiple light sets adds to the ride.
The night was excellent for riding. It was cool, but not cold, and we had enough hill work to keep us warm. The sky was severe clear, with a new crescent moon just hanging low on the horizon. It was possible to see commercial jets lighting up and descending toward Atlanta. With the clear conditions, we could see planes over 40 miles away. An unexpected benefit to last night's ride was the added visual provided by the folks who decorate their yards for Halloween. Some of these displays are amazing. Some are just plain weird!! All were entertaining.
The details: We rode 17 miles at a good steady pace. The route was hilly, with a surprising amount of traffic in places. We completed in an hour and fifteen minutes, not bad time over this route.
One additional note: It's odd, motorists behave differently when they encounter a group of cyclists at night. They tend to stay back behind us longer, and most are a bit more cautious about making their passes. Of course we encountered two idiots who own the road, but on the whole we were treated well.
Hope to see more of you along the next time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Updates and Catch-Ups

Cheaha Fall Colors Ride: I sincerely wish we were going yesterday or today. From a weather standpoint, these are almost ideal.

The outlook for Thursday is not bad. Looks like a cloudy day with very moderate temps. Be advised, I will go regardless of weather. As the bard says, "There is no bad weather, only poor clothing choices."

Nights Under Lights: Speaking of weather, it looks near ideal for tonight's "Lights Ride." Should be clear, with temps starting around 60 and dropping into the mid to low 50s by the end of the ride.
Remember! It will get dark. Lights are absolutely required, along with reflective gear. We should be out for between and hour and an hour and a half. The pace will be pretty laid back. I'll do a safety brief just before we launch. Hope to see a bunch of you out there!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Thoughts ~~ Who is a tourist?

Considering that this blog devotes itself to the topic of bicycle touring, this just might be the defining question.
What follows are some thoughts of mine on the subject, and a bit of why I consider myself one. I don’t claim to be laying down anything profound here. I’m certainly not the ultimate authority on much of anything. But this is how I see it. I’d enjoy your thoughts in reply.
First approximation: A cycle tourist is someone who wants to go somewhere by bike. Usually that somewhere is somewhere else, and not too close to home.
Folks tend to divide into two camps regarding journeys. One group is interested only in the destination, the journey is a necessary inconvenience, to be dispensed with as quickly as possible, with the least effort. The other group is much more interested in the journey itself. For them the destination is mostly an excuse to take the trip. I suspect that all of us fall into each of these groups from time to time, depending on the journey, the destination, and the reason for the trip.
But I’m talking about a certain internal tendency. What is your default state regarding trips? Do you want to take your time getting there? Do you like to turn off and explore interesting looking byways? Are you the type who goes out and gets lost intentionally? Then you are more of what I think of as a tourist. At least that is more of the personality which would be compatible with cycle touring.
The tourist, it seems to me is what my home folks used to call “fiddle footed.” That is a person who gets restless in one place, a person with feet that need to go somewhere else. These are folks who, like the bear in the song, go over the mountain, “just to see what he could see.”
It helps if you like to ride a bike. I mean, really like to ride! We are talking here about the character who, at the finish of a ride, while putting the bike and gear away, is already looking forward to the next ride!
For people who possess both traits, touring is one natural outlet. A combination of Wanderlust and love of cycling will make a good basis for a tour.
Other traits are required for the successful tourist. Most that I have known are fairly gregarious folk, pleased by camaraderie, and yet they are not afraid of solitude. Long hours, spent solo, on lonely roads are a pleasant change from every day clatter. But long hours spent riding with good friends (even if just met) are a delight. I know this sounds contradictory, but who said humans are simple?
The tourist knows that adversity shared is adversity diminished, and joy shared is joy augmented.
The tourist is highly adaptable, and very self reliant. Usually he or she is an inquisitive soul.
The serious tourist doesn’t take himself too seriously.
She knows that training is important, but the key to endurance is perseverance.
A tourist is convinced that most of the problems encountered in life are solved, or improved, if one just gets on the bike and keeps moving.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Okay Let’s DO IT!

This is just the beginning. Keep watching this space!
Nights under Lights:
Dates & Times:
Tuesday, 20 October: 7:00 PM (sharp) to 8:00 PM (approx)
Monday, 26 October: 7:00 PM (sharp) to 8:00 PM (approx)
Where: Start/Finish Bicycles Unlimited.
Pace/duration: Low Moderate / approx 1 hour
Ride Type: Road
Conditions: Any weather, temp above 20 degrees F
Requirements: Helmets, reflective vest or sash, reflective ankle bands, strong headlights and tail lights.
Date and time: Thursday, 22 October. Depart Rally point @ 10:00 AM
Pace: Whatever gets it done, but we will leave no one out there.
Distance: Approx 40 miles (to the summit and back to rally point)
Conditions: We’re going!
General Description: BRING YOUR CAMERA!
We get rolling from the rally point at Hollis Corners, at 10:00 AM. It’s a long, beautiful, multi-step climb to the summit. Expect a total elevation gain to be similar to the Triple Gap. (You have to climb to get back down!) There are services a-plenty in the park at the top, and this time, we’ll have time to stroll, go out to the lookout point, etc. I figure about two and a half hours up, about two hours down, and an hour at the summit. That gets us back to the rally point at approximately 3:30.
Plan to start well fueled, and carrying plenty of water. Dress for the weather.
NOTE: This is a demanding ride. Lot’s of you are capable of handling it, but if you are at all uncertain, please check with me. Ask yourself this, “Honestly, am I up for something like the Triple Gap (with some steeper sections) in a five hour time span?” Another good comparison; if your legs aren’t ready to do a century, right now, you probably shouldn’t try this one.
Directions to Rally Point:
Miles Leg Turn Directions
0.0 0.0 RT onto Peachtree Pkwy N
3.3 3.3 ST cross GA-74
4.1 0.8 RT Senoia Rd
7.2 3.1 LT Palmetto Rd (becomes Collingsworth)
10.8 3.6 BL onto Weldon Rd
12.6 1.8 RT onto US-29
14.1 1.5 LT Church St
14.5 0.4 LT Toombs St
14.6 0.1 RT Hutheson Ferry
16.0 1.4 RT Cochran Mill Rd
18.7 2.7 LT S Fulton Pkwy
28.1 9.4 LT GA-166
39.0 10.9 LT onto GA-166 (four lane divided)
41.8 2.8 LT onto GA-166 bypass
47.9 6.1 LT onto GA-166
60.9 13.0 ST becomes AL-46
62.9 2.0 ST Ranburn, start watching for next turn!
65.8 2.9 LT Cleburn 10
79.4 13.6 RT AL-1
80.1 0.7 RT US-431
82.9 2.8 Hollis corners X AL-9 & turn into store on left

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A bit more on lighting systems:

I want to focus on rechargeable lights in this post.
There are three main types of rechargeable systems currently available, and several battery technologies.
Let’s consider light types first. These group by the thing that actually makes the light.
Incandescent lamps: (light bulbs) usually halogen bulbs. This is just a high tech light bulb. It has a filament, and eventually, the bulb will burn out. Halogen bulbs are reasonably bright, and emit a good white light. The problem is that they tend not to do it for very long when mated to a battery. In other words, they are not very energy efficient. There are some very good halogen systems out there. But typical burn times are in the two-hour range.
HID emitter: HID stands for High Intensity Discharge. Think of this as an especially high tech arc light. These are incredibly bright lights. The light is well into the blue end of the spectrum. They are very high-energy output. When mated to some pretty expensive battery systems, HID lights can burn for as much as four hours. Then they have to be recharged. These also tend to be very expensive.
LED: or Light Emitting Diode. This technology just keeps getting better and better. These lights have gotten to the point of being more than adequate for the serious commuter or tourist. I’ve done all night rides with them, and continue to find them a surprising value. The LED is a solid-state device. It uses remarkably little energy to produce the light. One caution, the overdriven ultra brights are sensitive to cooling. Look for lights with good heat sinks. Ideally metal casings.
One note of caution on LED type lights. They emit well into the blue end of the spectrum. This means that the beam is really absorbed in rain, and backscatter glare can be a real problem in rain or foggy conditions.
There are several factors in rating batteries, cost, weight, “charge density,” lifetime, level of maintenance. Most of these are self explanatory, but “charge density” may not be familiar to you. A brief discussion follows, but for those of you not so technically inclined, a higher charge density means it gives more power over a longer time.
Charge Density Explained:
Key terms:
  • Voltage: Electromotive force. Unit = Volt
  • Current: How much charge is moving. Unit = Ampere (or Amp)
Batteries are electro-chemical storage devices. As such it has long been normal to rate them according to two factors. The first is output voltage. This is a function of the number of cells in the battery’s construction, and the type of cell. Typical voltage per cell is around 1.6 volts. This can vary depending on the chemistry of the cell in question.
The second rating is a current-time rating. For larger batteries this would be AmpHours. A ten AmpHour battery would be capable of delivering 10 Amps for one hour, at it’s rated voltage. Or 1 Amp for 10 hours.
Naturally, in the wonderful world of bicycling, real specifications such as this are hard to obtain. But generally, when I state that a battery type has a high charge density, I am referring to more AmpHours (or AmpMinutes) for a given battery weight.
Alkaline: These are disposable batteries with good power to weight output. You find them in just about every kind of disposable battery light.
Lead Acid Sealed: Rechargeable. Lower cost. Shorter total life. Heavy for the charge density. Very sensitive to deep cycling. (If you want it to last, don’t go close to total discharge)
Nickel Cadmium (NiCad): Rechargeable. Medium cost. A bit longer service life. Slightly less sensitive to deep cycling. Last best if regularly charge cycled. (they like to be used. Shelving them for long periods of time shortens the useful life. Also, do not store partially discharged.)
Nickel Metal Hydride: Rechargeable. More costly than NiCads, but with improved performance. Less sensitive to deep cycling. Best if cycled frequently. Good charge density.
Lithium (Li-ion): Rechargeable. Relatively expensive (but cost is coming down on these) Light weight with extremely good charge density per weight. Best if charge cycled frequently. Do not store partially discharged. Best if recharged immediately after use. Very sensitive to deep cycling.
One last caveat: No battery lasts forever. With good care, Lead Acid sealed batteries can last three to four years. Most of the higher tech types are good for four to five years use. But be advised! The battery is the most expensive component in the system. Replacing it will cost more than half the price of the total system, sometimes as much as two thirds of the system price.
Those are the factors. Pick a system with the type of light and battery that best suit your riding style and habits.
My personal current favorite is an ultra bright LED powered by a Li-ion battery.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stuff from Waynesville

Here are a few shots from last weekend's Waynesville tour. Please note the elevation. This was not the highest point in our rides. But it sure was purty.

I'm afraid that's all, folks. I don't usually take many pics, and my riding partners were camera shy. Most I can say is, ya'll shoulda been there!

Tomorrow, more technical info on lights.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lights for the Nights

Go out and ride at night!? On the road!? Isn’t that, like really dangerous!?
There are risks in everything. Every year in the US, something like 200,000 people are injured in the bathroom, while in 2008 only 52,000 bicycle related injuries were fair comparison. Everyone goes to the bathroom, and not everyone rides a bike. On the other hand the overwhelming majority of deaths occur in bed. So stay out of bed, and out of the bathroom and you’ll be okay. Right?
Yes, I’m trying for a little humor there, but the point remains, most situations are as dangerous as you make them. Nothing is 100% safe.
I’ve ridden literally thousands of miles in the dark, in the country, in the city, in bad weather and good.
Here’s what I’ve learned about night time cycling.
  • Good lights are essential, Front and Rear
  • There is no such thing as being too visible
  • Reflectors and more reflectors.
  • Stay on the gray
  • Low angle headlights give you better vision, high mounts make you more visible to others.
  • More caution is required
Let’s examine those points. First off, good lights. I can’t recall ever hearing anyone complain that they had too much light to ride with. I used to recommend only rechargeables, or very high end generator driven units. Things have changed. Each year seems to bring out more and better units. One principle still remains true. If you go cheap, you won’t be able to see.
I really like the Cateye HL-EL 530. It’s a single, ultra bright LED, with a terrific burn time and light more than adequate for night riding.
CygoLight and Sigma both make some surprisingly strong rechargeables. Note: There are some issues concerning rechargeable lighting systems. I’ll discuss these in a post next week.
Among the rechargeables, I tend these days to go with the LED type in favor of their long burn times.
My old standby is my Schmidt Dynohub and the pair of Lumotec E6 lights on my tourist. Never a need to recharge or find new batteries, reliable. Downside, the occasional bulb change in the dark, and very expensive.
For a tail light, I am in love with the Planet Bike Super Flash. The thing is incredibly bright. It is an LED light, so it must be mounted with care. LEDs are most visible in only a narrow band, so you want the light pointed back at the cars, not pointed down, or up.
No such thing as being too visible: I want a driver, regardless of the direction of approach, to think, “What on earth is that!” Use lots of reflectors. Reflective vests or sashes, along with ankle bands are about the minimum. Those dorky wheel reflectors are actually a good item. That reflectorized tape stuff, applied liberally around the bike is a good idea.
I like to use a pair of the ankle bands around my hands to aid in signaling. I’m working on a garment for just this purpose. It would consist of two sleeves, with a connecting elastic strap. Each sleeve would have a forward and rearward facing reflective arrow, running the entire length of the sleeve. (If you want to put this idea into production and make a gazillion dollars, be my guest. If it already existed, I’d buy it!)
Stay on the Gray: Things look different at night. I know that sounds like a total Homer of a statement, but you won’t believe how much different until you get out there. Go slower at first.
Why “Stay on the gray? Your headlights will cast shadows. Pavement appears gray under lights. The black spots might be a tar stain, or a deep pothole, or a very large oil slick. You won’t know until you hit it. But why find out the hard way? Avoid the dark spots on the road.
Low Angle vs High mount headlights: Lights that are mounted low on the bike (say on the fork blades) throw the road into sharper relief, high lighting rocks, pot holes, and other possible hazards. Lights mounted on the handle bars increase how visible you are to other traffic.
Incidentally, you won’t be able to read cue sheets, or instruments, unless you have a good light on your helmet or forehead. I’ve found the two very good uses for helmet or head mounted lights. First, they let you read cues and instruments. Second, and more importantly, they can help you stay on the road by “burning through” the dazzle from an oncoming car’s high beams. You look down and to the side of the road. Your helmet helps block the intense oncoming light. Your helmet light illuminates the edge of the road, showing you where you are.
Finally, Want a good place to test your systems? Come on out on my Wednesday Night Path Ride. We go every week, starting from Bicycles Unlimited. Ride starts at 7:00 (sharp). No ride if raining at ride time. Lights required until Spring. This is a relatively short (about an hour) recreational paced ride, on the unlit, paved trails here in Peachtree City. There will usually be lots of other folks around, so if you do have a problem, you can identify it, and we’ll get you home.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back to the Present

Updates on Current Projects:
General Info: I’m having just a little difficulty getting schedules straight. Please bear with me. I have a couple of personal issues that are making schedule setting just a wee tad difficult.
Nights Under Lights: How about an attempt at this on Tuesday 20 October? Here’s the plan. We meet at Bicycles Unlimited. We’ll plan to do about a one hour road ride.
Lighting Requirements: Good Strong Headlight and a strong red tail light.
Clothing: Dress for the weather. Reflective vests or sash and reflective ankle bands are required.
Ride Style: Group will stay together.
Pace: Low Moderate. Likely about a 13 mph rolling average. (see the last post on averages)
Dawn Patrols: We’ve done these in the past and had a lot of fun doing it. The idea is similar to “Nights Under Lights.” Night riding. But there are a couple of twists.
Sooner of later every tourist will have to deal with night riding and sleep depriviation. So why not set up conditions where we can experience both, under somewhat controlled circumstances?
Dawn Patrols will be on some Sunday mornings. We’ll alternate between Fayetteville and Peachtree City for start points. The IHOP in Fayetteville, and the Original Pancake House in Peachtree City.
We’ll start very early in the morning, well before dawn, and go riding on long loop. The loops will be designed to get us to a reliable coffee stop at just about dawn. From there is should take about another hour to return to the start.
Once back to the start a group breakfast is entirely optional.
Likely, we’ll start these in December.
Note: When we’ve done these in the past we have gradually set the start times earlier for each ride. Eventually, we’ll get out there at something like 04:00.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Let’s Agree on Some Terminology

It sometimes seems that cyclists are bigger liars than fishermen. Usually this refers to boasts of average speeds, or mighty feats of climbing. We all hear these bench racing stories. Usually something like, “Yeah, it was a good ride. We were doing (fill in improbable speed) all the way.” Or, “Oh yeah, we usually average (insert intimidating number) on that ride.”
This is not helpful in determining whether a given ride is doable by a given rider. It gets worse. I know of riders who deliberately reset their cycle computers at the end of a warm up section of a ride. For that matter, most cycle computers only report “rolling average.” They do not account for time spent stopped and waiting at intersections or on rest stops.
It’s possible that some riders honestly don’t understand averages. It’s kind of simple, they look at their computer and see 19 or 21 for a good long stretch. That sounds good. They know they can hit that speed, so it must be their average. Averages don’t work that way. In order to hold an average of, say 15 mph, one must spend most of the time on a ride above that speed. Oops.
Overall Average Speed: This one is simple. First, take the total time of the ride. This is all of the time, from the moment the wheels start turning, to the moment that the destination is reached. This includes time spent at traffic signals, time spent at rest stops, every second between the start of the ride and the end. This total time is from the beginning of the ride to the arrival at the end.
Example: A ride of 60 miles. If each and every mile of the ride is ridden at exactly 15 miles per hour, then the rolling average is 15 mph. That would mean a trip time of exactly four hours. But suppose the rider stops twice for ten minutes to refill water bottles, spends an additional ten minutes waiting at traffic signals, and take a 30 minute lunch break. Now the total ride time is Five Hours. Simple division will show that a 60 mile ride, done in 5 hours, is done at an over all average of 12 mph.
It helps to remember that time spent at 0.0 mph really lowers the overall average. If a rider travels at 20 mph for one minute, and is completely stopped for one minute, the overall average is 10 mph.
Elevation Gain: This one is probably not used as much as it should be. It’s fairly simple. The “gain” of a given ride is the total amount of climbing on the ride. We don’t count the descending because it doesn’t take an effort to go down. If, for example, a ride was a loop of ten miles, with most of the loop being perfectly flat, and there was only one hill in the loop, then the height of that hill would be the total gain of the ride. Obviously, the rider would not be higher at the end than at the beginning of the ride. But if the hill was 100 feet tall, then the “gain” for the ride would be 100 feet. If the rider did the loop twice, the “gain” would be 200 feet.
Percentage of Grade: This is another area that seems to generate some amusing fish stories. One specific instance I’ll mention. Local cycling folklore often recounts a particularly long and steep hill near Luthersville. I have been repeatedly told about this two mile long climb at a 10% grade. I have to chuckle. Read on to find out why.
Definition: Grade Percentage is defined as rise over run. That means the total height climbed is divided by the total distance it took to do it. So, if a climb gained 100 feet, in a distance of 2,000 feet, the percentage would be 5%.
Put another way, a 10% grade rises one foot for every ten feet of forward travel.
So… If a grade was actually 10%, and was actually two miles long it would have a rise of 0.2 miles. Since a mile is 5,280 feet, that means the hill in question would be 1,056 feet high. Stone Mountain, for purposes of comparison is only 750 feet above the surrounding terrain, and it is visible for many miles around. Since we can not see the towering peak near Luthersville, it stands to reason that either the grade, or the length of the climb are being exaggerated. In fact, both are.
I mention these because grade percentage, and elevation gain are useful information in planning routes and determining one’s fitness to attempt a particular ride.
One last note: Touring is not about speed. It’s about getting there. Usually, a tourist is carrying a lot more stuff than a race type rider. So touring is about persistence, strength, courage, adaptability, and (hopefully) fun!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Planting the Seed of an Idea

Here’s a thought. Every time I’ve ridden on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I’ve had an incredible time. Many of those times have been awesome adventures, or truly epic rides.
I’ve done a lot of them. But I’ve never ridden the entire Parkway, and I’ve never done it at one time. So think on this. What about a tour of the entire Parkway, north to South?
It’s possible to take Amtrak from Atlanta to Charlottesville, VA. The cost is a bit over $100 for one person. Allowable in the fare is 50 pounds of checked luggage, and 50 pounds of carry on.
The Charlottesville Amtrak station is just 21 miles from Rockfish Gap, the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. An easy ride once the bike is assembled. (Remember that checked luggage?)
The Parkway is 469 miles from Rockfish Gap to Cherokee, Ga.
Tourists would have to leave the Parkway for lodging and services.
To do this at an enjoyable pace, taking time to sightsee, and explore, we would have to plan on doing the trip in 7 to 10 days.
We would have to promote rides home from Cherokee at the end of the tour.
Think late Summer or early Fall of 2010.
Does this sound interesting?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ride Report: Great Tour!

So, it was a much smaller group than we had originally planned. That meant we had to improvise our itinerary a bit. There was more automotive driving than I would have liked, but some superb quality riding was the keynote.
Day 1: October 1. We drove to Dillard, in Rabun county, Georgia. We used the Dillard house as a base for this leg. We rode from Dillard down through Clayton, and to Tiger. From Tiger we rode down old GA-441, and turned onto the Lake Rabun Road. We followed the road along Lake Rabun and down to Seed Lake before reversing course and riding back.
This is a part of the “Funnest Road Ride in Georgia” route. It is an exceptional cycling ride. The scenery is loaded with mountain lake views and spectacular lake front houses. The road is tight and twisty, lots of fun to ride, with little traffic. There wasn’t much climbing on this day, just enough to get the legs working.
Then we had an exceptional dinner at the Dillard House, before turning in. If you haven’t had the pleasure of dining at the Dillard House, you have missed a treat. You fenter the spacious dining room, are seated, and they bring the food. Lots of food. Incredibly delicious food!
As we ate, we were treated to the sun setting over the mountains. Superb.
Day 2: October 2. We drove to Waynesville, N.C. We were able to check into the hotel early, so we were set to ride early in the day. The weather was cloudy and threatening, so we simply explored the Waynesville area. This is a fantastic mountain town nestled in the Cashier range of the Southern Great Smokey Mountains. The terrain is anything but flat. After some riding we rode into town, and dismounted to walk the bikes along the sidewalks and play “tourist.”
That was when we had one of those amazing events that make cycle touring such a wonderful adventure. We were passing a realtor’s office. Jonnie, who ran the office, greeted us. She asked if we’d like to park the bikes in her back room while we walked and shopped. She told us her daughter was, at that moment, doing a tour from Blowing Rock to the coast. Amazing!
After wandering through some of the more interesting shops (do not miss Mast General Store!), and getting a bite to eat at a sidewalk bistro, we retrieved our bikes.
We spent most of the rest of the afternoon riding and exploring west of town. Then we went to Maggie’s Galley for dinner. This is an amazing place. You have to know where it is to find it. It’s built from a collection of rescued primitive log cabins. The atmosphere is kind of funky, but warm and friendly. Odd for a spot in the mountains, Maggie’s Galley serves some incredible seafood. I’m particularly partial to their seafood chowder, and their twice baked potatos.
Day 3: October 3. Still in Waynesville. Since the lack of riders and support drivers forced the change in plans we made the most of it. Waynesville is in the heart of the Cashiers, and is a great location for a base. We chose to ride the infamous “Sunburst Loop.”
Why infamous? I’ve taken a fair number of people on this loop. I’ve usually brought them back drenching wet and hypothermic. This was the day that ended the jinx. The weather was spectacular. Severe clear, with a temp around 48 degrees at ride time. We climbed. Climbing warms you. The sun rose higher as we climbed. It got warmer, and we shed some outer layers. In a run of 17 miles we gained 3,500 feet. At that point we intersected the Blue Ridge Parkway, and turned north.
The seeing was outstanding. We rode to Devil’s Court House, and dismounted to climb the trail up to the overlook on top of the rocks. We were able to see peaks in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee from the top.
A bit past Devil’s Courthouse, the route goes over Richland Balsam, the highest point on the Parkway, at an elevation of 6,047 feet.
After the “Court House” we continued north, past looking glass, Grave Yard Fields, Pigeon Gap, and ultimately to Mount Pisgah. We had a snack at the service area at Mount Pisgah. Then we reversed course. We rode back to the intersection with US-276. The descent down 276 is awe inspiring!
The pizza, stout, and cheesecake at Nick and Nate’s was pretty good too!
Day 4: October 4. This was going to be a big day. We got up early in order to get one more ride in before returning home.
What a ride! We started from Waynesville, and rode south to the saddle of Balsam Gap, climbing all the way. From the Gap we turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and south. It’s a steady climb all the way to Water Rock Knob. The section from Balsam Gap to Water Rock Knob is the steepest prolonged grade on the Parkway. It’s about ten miles long, and gains about 3500 feet. The view at Water Rock Knob is amazing. You have a 270 degree panorama of the Smokies laid out before you.
Departing from Water Rock Knob and returning to Waynesville is a treat. It’s 14 miles of uninterrupted descending back to the town. Chilly, but amazing. The Parkway is so well graded and banked that braking is almost unnecessary. The rider just finds that the bike will hold 30 to 35 mph, and will take the turns just fine at those speeds. Not to be missed.
I have to add one more note. Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a treat. The park Rangers, in particular, are great. More than once I’ve had one or another tell me, “We’re proud of our cyclists.” They really make you feel welcome.