Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cue sheet and view from the starting line.
The "Four Star Bike and Chow" on Aug. 25 was a great time. I love exploring the back streets of the city. And bonus! Mary tagged along for the 22-mile route this year on a wonderfully warm, sunny day.

The ride is the longest running organized bike ride in Chicagoland and benefits the Active Transportation Alliance. There was a new twist this year: appetizers from local restaurants served at the rest stops. There were pierogies from the Red Apple Buffet, a landmark for Polish home cooking on Chicago's Northwest Side; and pulled pork sliders from The Smoke Daddy, an award-winning home for Chicago style barbeque. We didn't get to try to the samosas from Arya Bhavan, an Indian restaurant on Devon Avenue; they were served at the rest stops for the 35- and 62-mile routes.

As I found out on my first Four-Star Tour last year, this is
Pierogis were the local dish
at the Wrigley Field stop.
an extremely well-run event, with mobs of enthusiastic volunteers. In addition to staffing the registration and rest stops, many of those volunteers were stationed along the route to point riders in the right direction.

The first stop, about 10 miles in, found us munching pierogis at the corner of Waveland and Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous hand-operated Wrigley Field scoreboard. They were just OK. The pulled pork sliders at Seward Park, about 17 miles on, were better. The Star of Siam appetizer at the finish line was the standout: pad thai and a small crispy spring roll. These were just tastings, not meals, but that was OK. Ninety-degree heat is a pretty good appetite suppressant.

As I found out last year, the city is the star of this show. After the start at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, our 22-mile route wandered through interesting back streets, more or less paralleling Halsted up to Wrigley and back.

I want to go back and investigate all the little shops and restaurants along Taylor Street just west of the campus. And if I ever move into the city, I want a house on a tiny one-lane, one-block-long street called Alta Vista.

A highlight of the finish-line festival was a troupe of young women dancing with BMX bicycles to a Lady Gaga song. It was really well done.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bow waves

The effect didn't videotape very well;
it's actually kind of dark in there.
This plastic sheeting (at left) is giving me an interesting lesson in wind resistance. There’s a remodeling project going on here at work, and the facilities folks kindly put this sheeting up to keep the dust and debris levels down.

When I walk down the hallway, the plastic starts billowing outward — at first, just a half-inch or so right alongside. But as you proceed (at a fairly brisk pace, as I tend to do), the air-compression wave gets stronger and moves ahead of me as far as 15-20 feet. It’s a classic “bow wave” (think of the wave moving ahead of the bow of a boat). 

Yes, if I had to compare my normal bicycling speed to
a watercraft of some sort, it would be this one.
Obviously this is taking place in the relatively confined space of the hallway; still, this has given me a new appreciation for just how much air we’re pushing aside as we ride along on a bicycle and why it gets more and more difficult to maintain a steady pace the faster you go.

I’m compressing and pushing a fairly significant air column out of my way just walking at 3-5 mph.  Imagine what’s happening at 15 or 20 mph, let alone a Tour de France pace.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day Ride

Went for a long-ish trek this morning on the Joliet Bicycle Club’s Fourth of July ride. The plan was to meet some members of The Chainlink and go for a moderate-to-slow ride for 30 miles, after which I was hoping to group up with one or two members of the group to extend the ride along the 45-mile route.

The selfie, taken while riding through the only
100 feet of shade on the entire route.
Well, the crowd at the start/finish point, Plainfield South High School, was large enough to foil the plan of just wandering around and looking for people who looked like they were wandering around looking for people. At about 7:30, I got antsy and decided to get on the road.

The route was very well marked, and the cue sheet was easy to follow. Unlike, say, the North Shore Century, where you’re turning every quarter-mile, today’s route went through the ramrod-straight roads north and west of Plainfield. Turns were sometimes seven miles apart.

Since I was riding solo, I had planned to do the 45-mile route, but on a southbound stretch, into the 5-10 mph breeze, I started to flag. The guy who had been drafting me for a couple of miles went around. Yeesh, I thought. Only 10 miles in and I’m about to throw a lung. Pelotons of sleek young jerseyed bodies flashed past me. I’m getting old and fat and tired, I thought. I should sell this bike and buy a rocking chair.

The course turned back north, downwind. With the decreased wind noise, I heard a faint scraping sound. I thought maybe I had picked up a leaf or small stick, which had lodged in the brake assembly and was rubbing on the tire. I stopped, examined both wheels.

(Must have been five people slowed or stopped to ask if I needed help. My fellow bicyclists are great people.)

I picked up the back end, spun the back wheel. It immediately stopped. Crap, I thought, the wheel’s
Met a guy in the parking lot who had
realized my two-wheel dream: a
bike rack on his motorcycle.
bent. But a little experimentation revealed that the brakes were the culprit: they had been about half-locked for who-knows-how-many miles.

I felt a huge sense of relief. It wasn’t me, it was the damn bike.

Well, I thought, all I have to do is disable the back brake and I’m on my way. Just have to be careful, and fix it when I get home. A close examination revealed a teardrop-shaped bit of plastic on the caliper. I played with it, and the brakes released. Huh.

Long story short: that little bit of plastic (I think) allows you to adjust the brakes to compensate as the shoes wear down. Somehow, I had hit that bit in such a way to tighten it about halfway -- maybe when I wrestled the bike out of the back of my SUV. When I hit that upwind stretch, the added resistance started to really make itself felt.

Shadowfax cockpit, somewhere north of Plainfield, Ill.
Well crap. I got back into the cockpit and -- with the resistance gone -- relatively rocketed the next five miles to the rest stop in Platteville.

But I was pretty sure at that point I wasn't going to make 45 miles. The extra work had taken a lot out of me. I sighed, ate a wonderful plum from the abundant food on the table, went back for another, and got back on the road.

By the time I got back to the high school (despite the last loooooong uphill mile on Caton Farm Road), I was actually feeling pretty good. I considered maybe heading back out for a quick 10, decided to save it for Saturday.

Total was 32.34 miles at an average speed of 13.88 mph. Not bad for a 52-year-old with a Frankenstein knee and the parking brake engaged. I think I’m ready for 50 miles, maybe a metric, and looking forward to my annual North Shore Century ride.

- 30 -

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

1st Long-ish Ride of 2013: Fox River Trail

March 31, 2013

14.47 miles, average speed 13.75 mph

On the first mid-50s day of 2013, I drove to downtown Aurora, parked just west of the casino and suited up. Equipment: Trek Madone 3.1 and a new Camelbak “Mule” backpack.

A representative sample of the Fox River Trail.
Mostly straight (there are a few surprisingly curvy fun bits!)
and paved. Good to excellent condition.

Good gravy it felt wonderful to get back on the bike outside. Grinding away on a trainer in the basement is, at best, adequate preparation for real cycling. It works most of the right muscles, but it doesn’t provide the sensory input -- the sights, the sounds, the smells, the decision-making -- of actual bicycling.

I dodged a few twitterpating geese and ducks as I settled in on the northbound paved trail on the west side of the Fox River. Familiar sights greeted me along the way: the looping arches of the I-88 bridge, the North Aurora Dam.

On the northbound east side of the river, look for a small sign that
says "Cave -->."  Walk down a few steps, say hello to the
old gent fishing for cats, and check out the actual cave.
It ain't Mammoth Cave, but what do you want for nothin', rubber biscuit?

I had a soda at the McDonald’s in Batavia. The Camelbak was fine, but the first tank of water tasted like plastic. I emptied the bladder and refilled it at the fast-food joint: much better. I headed back along the east side of the river. A steady supply of cool water, ever-ready via a tube on my shoulder, was very welcome. I investigated North Aurora Island Park, then headed back along the west side. All too soon, I arrived back at my car.

Decoration on the State Street Bridge over the
(you guessed it) Fox River.
The Camelbak is excellent -- or will be, once the water stops tasting like plastic. The backpack portion holds just the right amount of stuff: a long-shank U-lock, wallet, keys, sandwich.

Winter has not been kind to me: I was really tired after this short ride. Better start working on my stamina if I’m going to meet my goal of completing three 100-mile rides this summer!

15 miles down, about a thousand to go.