Cyclocross Participation in the US, 2013-2016

Colin tweeted the other day about a plateau in the number of cyclocross racers in the US:

This got me thinking: are the numbers stagnant across all US regions? Are some places shrinking, and others growing? Here in Colorado there’s a general perception that numbers are down this year, are we seeing something real? Colin was nice enough to extract a data set that contained state info and send it to me so I could pursue some answers to these questions. State data became reliable in 2013 – apparently before that, the scene in NULL was super hot – so that’s what we have here.

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I have a Lance Armstrong story now

Yeah, yeah, I know. Breaking a four-month blog fast for this? But I think it’s worth it.
As one or possibly both of my readers know, I rode my sixth Pan-Mass Challenge this weekend. Being a high-profile event for a major regional charity, it tends to bring out the politicians and celebrities, at least those who are willing to pedal a bike. This year, Lance Armstrong decided to pay us a visit. Upon hearing the news a few days prior to the event, one of my friends remarked “how are they going to fit him and [PMC founder] Billy Starr in the same room?” Neither one is known for his humble demeanor, and LIVESTRONG could rightly be called a rival to the Jimmy Fund juggernaut.

Apparently somebody found an ego shoehorn, because LA found his way to Friday night’s opening ceremony in Sturbridge, shared a stage with Billy, and rode with us on Saturday morning. I had a small group of friends to ride with, and our sole goal was to avoid the freak show within the freak show. PMC inspires people to get on bikes, which I wholeheartedly endorse. Just don’t put me behind or beside them while they’re still working out how to grab a bottle and ride a straight line at the same time. I figured that our man would have a permanent cloud of admirers trying to work out how to ride a straight line and OMG TAKE MY PICTURE WITH LANCE at the same time, and I did not want any part of that.

Despite my best efforts, the rolling admiration society found me. A little more than 20 miles into the ride, my little paceline passed a group of 20 riders or so. My buddy JP noticed Lance in there, and we just kept riding. But then gruppo LA caught up. This happened two or three times. I noticed John Kerry in there, too. He’s riding a yellow Cervelo these days. I think his head tube is 1cm tall for every year he’s been in the Senate.

A few minutes later we started climbing a moderate hill. Lance was maybe third wheel in the group, I was a few bikes behind him. About halfway up, another guy passed me, rode up beside Lance and made the universal “slow down” gesture. Lance immediately backed off. I didn’t get it at first, but as I passed him, the pieces fell into place and I looked over at him. “So was that the ‘slow down, you’re blowing up Senator Kerry signal?'” I asked. “Yeah, but it’s not me!” he said, tossing his head mock-defensively at the riders up the road. I chuckled as I rode on.

Though I’m using Kerry to tell a joke here, seriously, the guy is pushing 70, he’s a U.S. Senator, and he’s out with us for a casual 110-mile ride with us. I admire that, even if he did wobble around somewhat. In the interest of equal time, I’ll note that Scott Brown came with us, too. He can ride a straight line, but (as he did last year) he brought his full tri-geek setup: TREK TT bike, TT helmet, disc wheel. I’m sure there’s some kind of political allegory in that, but I can’t quite work it out. I also bet he had a ton of fun with the crosswinds on the outer Cape yesterday.

So yes, another PMC in the books for me. Though my stories tend to focus on bike riding, I try to remember that everybody on that ride has a cancer story. That’s why we’re there. I’m truly impressed by the number of people who find the strength to drag themselves off their couches and do this ride. And I’ll probably go back for more next year.

2010 Cyclocross Race 6: Cyclocross, Lancaster, MA

Hey, what’s the freshness date on race reports? A week? I guess you get a pass if you podium in the A race. That would not be me. Still, I want to waste a few electrons on the race from two weekends ago. And some of the usual New England bike blog suspects just aren’t putting out right now, though GeWilli does his level best to fill the gap.
Initially, the decision to move the race from Wrentham to Lancaster didn’t excite me. The Wrentham course doesn’t offer the most exciting racing experience, and it has a long stretch of narrow trail, but it’s only a 20-minute drive from my house. Lancaster is about an hour away, and I heard the new course would be flat. Negative move, I thought.
Then, the day before the race, I saw this:
Look at this on Twitpic
That changed my opinion, since by race day, it turned into this:

That was not as much fun as it looked. It was approximately 478.3 times as much fun. Seriously, since the race I look at stairs and think “man, I could totally ride down those.” Which is absolutely true, if I didn’t mind breaking an arm. Maybe I should take more handicap ramps.
I also managed to pull out my best result of the season. If you count the DNFs, I finished in the top half. I might have finished in the top half of the finishers if I hadn’t wasted a few seconds at the top of the flyover on the last lap, letting two guys get past me, one of them on a flat-bar bike. I think he’s a NECX mail list regular, too. Oh, the shame. At least he didn’t make my nemesis list on crossresults.
Next up: Canton Cup. Last year I raced the masters 35+, finished near DFL, and extinguished any further thoughts of upgrading. This year…more of the same. I can’t resist that noon start.

2010 Cyclocross race 5: Providence Cyclocross Festival Day 1

Yes, it’s Wednesday after a three-day weekend and I’m just now getting around to writing up the race from four days ago. I’m well aware that nobody cares anymore, if anybody did in the first place. However, we have standards here at JLS.CX. Low standards, but standards no less. Races must be blogged.
We had another beautiful day for a bike race down in the 401, but I knew I was in trouble well before we even staged. My lone nemesis recognized me and launched into a friendly tirade. “Every damn race you come blowing past me on the last lap!” Steve shook his head. “You need a better start!” Um, yeah, Steve. Working on my start is right up there with not letting my remounts go to hell during the race and figuring out how to get around a corner without losing all my speed. But I take your point.
I thought Saturday would be my big chance at a better start and a better race. Providence, bless Tom Stevens’ twisty, off-camber little heart, stuck with staging by order of registration while so many other races are using points, or the time-honored shoving match to determine start order. I happened to be near a keyboard a few weeks ago when reg opened, so I grabbed spot #1. Front row. Probably the only one I’ll get this year. I’d better make it count.
I did my usual ultra-nervous warmup laps, reviewing the down-up 180s in the bowl section a couple times. Those I got fairly well, but the downhill, off-camber 180 at the south end of the course still had me running. Staging came and I lined up to the left, figuring that would give me a chance at the outside line or, if I managed to really nail the sprint, dive-bomb the right-hand corner into the grass. Not that I’ve dive-bombed anything in my life. With two minutes to go, I thought to grab a piece of gravel off the road and scrape the dirt out of my cleats.
At thirty seconds or so, GeWilli called out “Hey James, don’t mess this up!” Thanks, dude!
I actually chilled out after that. The lump in my throat disappeared, I looked up the road and decided I really was going to nail it this time. And I did. We got the whistle, I hit the clip-in on the first try and put my back into the first two pedal strokes. It felt great, I surged. And then…drag. Way more than I should have felt, even on an uphill start in a tall gear. Riders poured around me as I felt a dull pounding from my rear wheel. Did my massive power pull the wheel out of the dropout?
Stop. Get off the bike, pick up the rear and spin the wheel. It was still straight in the frame, but after a confused moment I realized that the left cantilever brake arm had lodged underneath the rim, causing the pads to hit the spokes. Again. About the same time, caught the acrid stench of burning brake pads. I whacked the arm a couple times with my palm to free it, ran, and remounted. I cursed myself all the way up the starting straight, and finally caught up with the tail end of the field as they went into the first 180 before the grassy cambered straight. I passed a handful of guys, then was off the bike again by the pits. Somehow that brake had taken another dive, and the straddle cable came loose just for good measure. I fixed it, but there went a few more seconds.
After that, I raced just to finish. I passed a few guys but spent a good, long while in no-man’s land. My morale wasn’t up to chasing a target I couldn’t even see, so I just focused on not crashing too hard or too often. I did get close to riding through the tape once after I spaced out and forgot that we had a 180 right after the Temple of Music, but other than that it was pretty uneventful. I finished alone. And my name was left off the results. I’m not complaining about that; mistakes happen, I had my chance to fix it and I didn’t take it. I’ve finished 50th before, I didn’t really need another one on my resume.
Afterward I threw down the bike and picked up the camera to work on my panning technique a little bit. I found a good spot that allowed me to get some sky in the background. There are a few sets in my Flickr stream, but here’s my favorite photo of the day, from the Masters 35+ race:
Seeing Stars
Not the best photo technically, but dayum. Two current national CX champions and a former USPRO national road champion tearing up the front of the Masters 35+ race. I don’t need to tell you how cool that is. Yes, it’s just bike racing. The world would probably be a better place if we put all this energy into feeding the hungry or curing cancer or some other, higher calling. But if you like bikes, there’s no finer place to be than inside the tape in some New England park on a weekend morning.
Oh, and that brake is fixed now. The pad was definitely hitting too low on the rim, which set me up for failure. I still have no idea how the pad got wedged under the rim like that, though. When it happened at Sucker Brook, I thought I kicked the brake on the remount. No way my foot came into contact with the brake this time. Maybe the rear wheel flexed enough to move the rim into contact with the brake? Maybe I accidentally applied the brake when starting? I’ll never know. But I don’t think it’ll happen again.
Next up: MRC/ on Sunday. That looks like a long, twisty lap. With a flyover? Seriously? I may have to bring the family for that one.

2010 Cyclocross Race 4: Great Brewers Grand Prix of Gloucester

In 2007, I signed up for Gloucester. After racing at Quad and not being able to get myself back on the bike, I sat out. I couldn’t show my face at the biggest race on the local calendar.
In 2008, I didn’t race cross.
In 2009, I hit the signup as soon as it went live. Two weeks before the race, I hurt myself during the recon lap at Larz Anderson practice. A calf strain, probably grade 2, left me unable to walk straight. So much for Gloucester.
This year, I got my run base up before I raced, so I haven’t had any significant injuries. I’ve raced enough to get over that freaked-out feeling, though my skills still tend to go to hell when the whistle blows. Heck, I was even just about over the head cold I collected before Sucker Brook. I had no excuses. Time to throw down at New England Worlds.
Thanks to the magic of points, I knew I’d be staged about 9 or 10 rows back. This race attracts a full field, though apparently only 103 racers made the start. 125 registered, and I think we had a wait list, too. I know life happens, but that strikes me as pretty high pre-start attrition. Starting that far back caused me to take a different approach. Instead of turning myself inside out to go for a hole shot I couldn’t even see, I decided to start steady, look to hold position, and not get jammed up in the first turn. We started downhill, which is probably against one of those rules that only Internet trolls know about. After about 150m of pavement, we piled into a narrow, rocky and bumpy dirt chute that fed into a hairpin turn.
Rather than waste electrons on course description, go see the video or check out my nifty GPS view. Though less technical than I expected from Gloucester, that was a really long lap.
My race summary:
Lap 1: I survived the start, made it through the dirt 180 and the sand pit clean and in contact. A few bodies flew in that first dirt stretch, but it didn’t look too bad to me. I passed guys, even on the barrier run-up. I began to entertain delusions of mediocrity.
Lap 2: Washed out on the super-tight, off-camber hairpins after the first set of down-up 180s (with the red barriers). Got up and back on the bike, and immediately felt over the limit. Dialed the effort back and had to let guys go. My delusions left me
Lap 3: Started to feel like I could race again. Found a small group and hung on, then passed most of them. Noticed that my left foot wasn’t really staying clipped in very well. Ran the whole blue-barriered section.
Lap 4: Was alone for the first half, then came up on a group of 7 coming up to the left turn by registration. Cramped on the run-up, but got past about half of group by the finishing straight. Was tight with Jose Martinez from 545 into the final turn. He sprinted, I got a reminder that my left foot wasn’t really clipped in, followed by a reminder that I really wasn’t totally over that cold and should probably go sit down or take some oxygen or something.
Final result: 71 of 103 starters. I improved on my 92nd-seed start, but like approximately 101 other guys who started the race, I’m not exactly happy with the result. Perhaps my purpose as a cross racer is to make everybody else look that much better, but gee, it sure would be nice to finish in the top half one of these times. I’ll just have to keep trying. Comparing lap times, I’m definitely not ready to upgrade to the 3s. I try to keep my ego in check, but getting lapped every weekend might be a bit much.
But everything else – holy wow. Great crowd. I hear the groans about charging for tent space, but really, Club Row is a great idea. It’s a great way to build a crowd, and it’s much easier to find folks. BHCC needs to spring for an E-Z Up. The Masters 35+ race offered up 3 national champions (2 USAnian, 1 Canuckistanian) duking it out at the front. I wish I could’ve stuck around for the Elites. I did take a few pictures. I should do both days next year.
Next up: PVD on Saturday. This will be another big-time race, and if they hold to the order-of-registration seeding, I should be way further up, and I’d better make use of it.
I’m disappointed to miss Night Weasels tomorrow, but that’s the life of a working family guy. I hope everybody gets nice and muddy. That’s what separates us from the animals. Well, except for the weasels.

2010 Cyclocross Races 2 and 3: Sucker Brook , Auburn, NH

“I need to meet some strange men,” Elise informed me last week.

“Um, OK. Anything in particular going on?” I really couldn’t figure out where she was going with that, and I figured I had about a 67% chance of not liking it.

“It’s Oreo. He’s afraid of guys. We need to practice meeting men.”

Oh good, it’s just the dog. “Well, ya know, it doesn’t get much stranger than cross racers…”

Thus hatched the plan for the whole family to head up to Auburn for Sucker Brook Cross 2010. Andrew had been bugging me to do a kids race for a while, and Mags, well, Mags came along for the ride.

Sucker Brook was my first race last year, maybe my 4th race ever, and is one of the least technical courses on the local calendar. It’s flat and fast. This is generally a Good Thing for me, because I don’t do well in technical races. And by “technical,” I mean “anything with more than one 90-degree turn.” This year, feeling that I’d stepped up my training and skill a bit, I decided to double up and race both the Cat 4 and the 3/4 35+ groups. The 4s race was only 30 minutes, and I’d have 30 more minutes after that to recover before my second race, so what’s the problem?

Andrew did a warmup lap with me on the big boy course. He had to walk a lot, but he did fine. We came around and couldn’t find the girls, and I felt the itch to get a faster lap in, so he did a second lap on his own. When he came around again I dropped him off with E at the sand pit (conveniently located in a playground). E met a couple folks, worked on Oreo not barking his head off when a strange guy approached, and generally remained calm.
This year’s course added a log-barrier section after the fire road (which used to go through a forest, but now goes through a sad moonscape that used to be a forest) and raised the sand-pit difficulty by putting the U-turn in the pit, instead of on the grass beside the pit. Oh, and somebody sucked every last drop of moisture out of the soil. Rather than waste more words on course description, here’s the lazyweb version:

Sucker Brook ‘Cross cat 3 lap 1 from Threshold Cycling on Vimeo.

That’s exactly what I saw, except that video looks like it’s on fast-forward compared to what I experienced.

I started in the 4th or 5th row of the 4s, and felt like I got a good start until we got through the first corner and guys were still coming around me. I was still carrying a good bit of the cold I picked up last week, so maybe that slowed me down a bit, but…dang, racers, why can’t I hold position in the first 500 meters? I made it through the twisty bits, up the stairs to the up-down-hairpin-up combo before the loose camber section and promptly fell over when my front wheel washed out in the sand. GET BACK ON YOUR BIKE! Bomb down the fire road, through the loose corner, and up to the log. Am I even thinking about riding the log? No. Over the log, remount – dammit, where’d my pedal go? Too late. Dead stop.

I think I’m starting to see what my problem might be.

I made it up a few places, even did some actual RACING when passing a few guys in the twisty bits, but didn’t manage to claw my way back into the top half of the race. Snot streaming down my face, tongue hanging out and seemingly three times its normal size, I did have the presence of mind to look behind me and call off the sprint when I didn’t have anybody sneaking up on me at the finish.

Hey, I get to do this again in half an hour? Lovely. Oh, except this one is ten minutes longer. That didn’t go any better. After the first turn, I nearly yacked up the Clif blocks I ate between races, but managed to keep them down. While distracted by that, I didn’t really notice when I let the race ride away from me, but at that point I didn’t much care, either. On the third lap or so I managed to kick my rear brake into my spokes on a remount, which took me a minute or so to untangle. The sand pit, which I managed to ride partially in the first race, proved too much. There’s a video floating around of me mincing like a schoolgirl through the sand. Don’t watch it on a full stomach.

Fortunately, the kids fared much better. The kids race took place on the soccer field, a twisty little course marked out with tiny orange flags and a couple of railroad-tie barriers. Andrew grabbed the hole shot in a field of 10 kids or so, then lost his advantage when another kid on an MTB was able to ride the railroad ties. He managed to hang on for 2nd. Mags used her technical advantage – training wheels – to lay waste to two other kids on tricycles. I think she slept with her medal last night. They both got to practice their podium poses.

The second race probably destroyed any chance of improving my start position for Gloucester this weekend. On the other hand, making it to the start at all will be a refreshing change of pace. Last year I’d managed to injure myself badly enough that I couldn’t start. I still have a few days to screw it up, but it looks like I’ll get to show my face at the New England World Championships this year. Now all I have to do is stuff my fear way down and go harder than I’ve ever gone.

Men are from Larz

A fortuitous set of circumstances gave me a rare treat this week – Tuesday and Wednesday without the need to wrangle kids in the morning, as well as cyclocross practice sessions scheduled for both mornings. The catch? Getting up at 5:00 to leave the house by 6:30 so I could scoot up to Larz Anderson park in Brookline in time to meet the group.Oh, and then figuring out how to clean up enough for work without the benefit of a shower in the office.
No problem, I’ll trade sleep for the chance to ride with folks who are way faster than I am on the grass. I set off at 5am yesterday (in the car, unfortunately), baby wipes and deodorant tucked in my bag. I must admit, I was a bit intimidated by Larz. Last year, I had one opportunity to get up there, about two weeks before Gloucester. I got about three minutes into the warm-up lap, dismounted for the stairs, and my calf went “pop.” Major calf strain, no Gloucester for me. That injury dogged me through December, actually. I sure didn’t want that again.
Rosey and company have come up with a different course that crams about 10 km of bike driving into a 1.5 km lap. We just have a few cones to mark the course, but a simple rule helped me stay with it: if you see a tree, turn 180 clockwise around it. Go 180 counterclockwise around the next tree. Repeat until you come back to the barriers. The big set of stairs has been replaced with a grassy slope. The weather also ran about 30 degrees warmer and a million percent humidity higher than last year, too, all conspiring to keep my muscles nice and loose. No calf pops. I ran the slope on all the hot laps on Tuesday, but other guys were riding it (and passing me in the process).
I thought about heading down to Wrentham today for the evening training race, but I decided I needed to get back to Larz and ride that slope. I showed up a little early this morning so I could practice before practice. As I was setting up the bike, a woman rode up, introduced herself and said it was her first time there. She followed me over to the slope, and while I circled at the bottom, she cleaned it on the first try. Turns out that women are from Larz, too. I attacked it, found a patch of loose dirt and fell over. Then I had to ride back to the car to get my wrenches and straighten out my handlebars. But after that, I found the line. Hey, maybe I can do this after all…
As we did yesterday, we started with a set of 3 laps, rested for a bit and then did 2 more. 3 laps took me just under 20 minutes, and I was ready to puke by the end of lap 2. We had a much bigger crowd today, though, and I seemed to be in pretty good company with the pukitude. Riding the slope (which I managed to do on all the hot laps) rather than running helped me keep things under control, but there’s a lot of climbing on that lap no matter how you do it. And oh, the turns! A tight chicane, fast downhill corner, a short but tricky double set of stairs, and more tree turns than I can remember. I have lots of ideas for setting up my own practice now, but I don’t have access to terrain like Larz.
This may have been my last chance at Larz for the year – I want to hit the Wrentham race next week, because I’ve never done it, and after that I’m back to wrangling kids on Wednesday mornings. But even just these two sessions helped me out. I’m loving the feel of the new bike, and I can’t wait for the first race. Just 10 more days…

Viva la Shinytouch

This isn’t an equipment blog. I spend too much time thinking about the stuff of biking as it is, I don’t need to indulge myself by writing about it, too. And besides, every bike has a story, usually interesting only to its owner.
I got a new cross bike. This one has been six months coming, and I’m so glad I got to ride it this week that I just gotta share.
Late last fall, I became aware of the reincarnation of Spooky bikes. Apparently the original company came and went during the ten-year period starting in the mid-90s when I really wasn’t paying attention to cycling. Now, Mickey Denoncourt, a self-described “underachieving overachiever” out in western Mass, is bringing it back. His commitment to domestic manufacturing really caught my attention. He wants to bring production jobs back to Massachusetts. As a guy who pushes bits for a living, that somehow struck home.
In January he announced that he had 2009 team framesets for sale, so I called him up and we talked a little bit. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse on a frame, fork and headset. I paid right then, but didn’t take possession of the parts until early May. On the bright side, I did get to talk to Mickey once a week for status updates. I kinda miss that.
While I was waiting, I had the idea of getting the frame polished. I’ve been easily distracted by shiny objects since I was a kid, staring at pictures of P-38s and B-29s in books, so “shiny” means “speed” to me. In fact, it wasn’t so much an idea as a vision – polished frame, blacked-out fork, wheel sand other parts. I hate it when I get an image like that, because it usually causes me all kinds of trouble and a pile of cash. But making it real is the only way to get it out of my head.
I poked around the Internet a bit and came up with Mirror Finish Polishing. He had a picture of an MTB frame he had done, so I figured he knew what he was getting into. He quoted me a six-week lead time. I sent the frame off in the third week of May, figuring I’d get it back toward the end of June and would have plenty of time to get it built up. Well, estimates being estimates, I actually got it back while I was away at the PMC. But Tony did shine it up quite nicely.
Once I had the frame squared away I could focus my compulsive behavior on components. I recycled levers, derailleurs and crank from my road bike, but I needed to scrounge chainrings. Cyclocross-appropriate chainrings for Campagnolo cranks are hard to come by. After a few evenings of searching, I ended up calling Zank and getting a set of 36/46 PMP with the Campy-specific not-quite-110-BCD-drilling rings from him. He also saved my bacon when I hesitated on buying another Record/Reflex wheelset and suddenly couldn’t find hubs in stock anywhere in the US.
A few late nights of bolt turning and cable cutting, and, behold, the Shinytouch!
Spooky Supertouch
Click through for a few more pictures.
Best of all, while lots of other riders are still getting their race rigs together (sorry guys), I got to ride mine twice this week! One nighttime park-and-neighborhood session on Thursday night, and a full-on cross practice Saturday morning. Cross newbie Scott K brought his new Major Jake down to the local middle school and we stomped down the wet grass for a couple hours. The bike did pretty well. I got the front brakes squeal-free on the first try, even. The front end might be a little light, so I may need to find a bit more drop or reach, but the drivetrain is race-ready and the saddle position is just right.
Less than two weeks to Quad Cross now. The first and last time I did that race, 2006, I didn’t do well with the backside of the run-up in the woods. I’m much better with the skills now, we’ll soon find out if I’m good enough.

D2R2 – 100 Km of Vitamin Dirt

Yesterday’s ride: the 100Km “lite” version of the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee, aka D2R2. A 1000-word entry on this beautiful and brutal ride would do it justice. But the bike-build time is encroaching on the bike-writing time, so I’m going to have to just hit the highlights tonight.

  • In addition to meeting various folks I know online, I bumped into a guy I used to work with and haven’t seen in about 9 years. He told me what he was doing now, and I thought he said something about running a “meatery.” Well, not quite.
  • I ran out of traction and bike-handling halfway up the first dirt climb, Old Albany Road. This road was extremely loose and gravelly, and there were basically no good lines. The organizers started riders in small groups, which meant less congestion in the early miles. Still, my so-so low-speed skills and 28mm Paselas weren’t enough, and I fell right over, bashing my knee on a rock. Guys on cross bikes with 32mm tires did fine. But I sure did like the long-reach caliper brakes later on in the day.
  • To the bearded gent playing bagpipes on Cooper Lane – thanks. The pipes always give me chills.
  • Checkpoint 1, at 12.9 miles, came up in about 1:05 of ride time. Fortunately, things got a little faster after that. Aside: it’s a 100 Km ride, but the cue sheet is marked in miles?
  • The Franklin Hill Road climb was probably my favorite. Hard-packed dirt hairpins. 34×29 was definitely low enough for the 100 Km ride.
  • We ate lunch in a little riverside clearing near a covered bridge. I could have stayed there all day. In fact, I should have stayed there all day, since I flatted on Green River Road just a couple miles after the stop, losing my spot in the BikeBarn paceline. I had 2 tubes and 2 CO2 cartridges. The contents of the first CO2 went straight out the vent hole in the inflator. Fortunately, the second one did its job and I got rolling again.
  • The 180 K and 100 Km routes join briefly after the lunch stop, and I got to ride with Doug Jansen for a little while. I said “hi” and asked how he was doing, knowing he probably didn’t know who the heck I was. He was looking pretty good, coming back from a broken ankle. At that point I think he was a little ahead of his group, since when we turned on Nelson Road he lagged behind a little, checking on a guy who was having some kind of mechanical issue, and I climbed on.
  • I rode most of the third section solo and made it to the 50-mile checkpoint before the BikeBarners left, but again lost my spot when I stayed behind to have a couple more of the best peaches I’ve ever tasted. Apex Orchards, wow. I need to go back.
  • After that I played a little leapfrog with gruppo Zanconato, catching up to them right about the time we hit the Hawk Road climb. The descent down the other side of that gravel track lived up to the “gnarly” description on the cue sheet. Washouts and wheel-eating potholes everywhere. I was thinking about my soft rear tire and having to drive myself home, so I went slow.
  • We finished in about 5 hours of ride time, with maybe 6000 feet of climbing. I didn’t exactly attack the ride, but it’s plenty challenging, and not at lame, as some (who, as far as I know, haven’t done the 100 K or the 180 K) might have you think.
  • Alas, I had to skip the beer-drinking and storytelling portions of the agenda and scoot home. Maybe next year.

I took a few pictures, but Darren’s are better.
Anyway, the scenery and good company make that a high priority for me to return to next year. And Ge, if you sign up for the 180K I will do my best to ride every pedal stroke alongside you.

Teaching kids to ride

Not that anybody asked, but I’m getting dangerously close to blog abandonment again. So, here’s a short description of how I taught my two kids to ride bikes, one at age 6, the other at 5:
0. Don’t push too hard! They’ll get it. If they’re not interested, don’t force it. Eventually they’ll want to. You don’t get any upgrade points for getting your 4-year-old onto a two-wheeler.
1. Both of mine rode training wheels for about a year first. I don’t think training wheels are all that great, and in the unlikely event I get to do this again, I might try a like-a-bike or weebike instead of a 12″ or 16″ bike with training wheels. I’m not sure it would make a whole lot of difference, though. In the end, the kid has to learn to pedal and balance. Learning them one at a time simplifies things. I’m not sure the order is all that important.
2. Make sure the bike fits, but realize that even the little bikes are heavy relative to the kid. A 12″ or 16″ bike might weigh almost half as much as the typical 5-year-old, making balance that much more difficult. Imagine riding a bike that weighed 50% of what you did. You’d steer like Harvey Wallbanger, too.
2. Initial balance sessions should be short, and on grass. I found that the kid has a “whoa” feeling the first time out and won’t want to practice too much the first time out.
3. For real balance practice, find a park with a gentle grassy slope. We’re fortunate to have one not a block from our house. Soft surfaces and no curbs let the kid focus on keeping the eyes up and the bike going straight, with low penalties for deviating from the intended path. The slope counteracts the higher rolling resistance of riding on grass.
4. To help the kid balance, grab the back of the saddle, not the handlebars. It’s uncomfortable to reach that far down, and I’m not all that tall. Pick out a landmark for the kid to focus on (the bike will go where the eyes go), give a little push, steady the bike from the saddle, and gradually let go as the kid picks up speed.
Both of mine only needed a couple of 15-minute sessions to get the hang of balancing. Starting and stopping takes a little longer, as does turning. And the 5-year-old is OK in the park but not ready for the sidewalk yet. She might be by next week, though.
I wish I could still pick stuff up that fast…