Preamble: I am a complete outsider to the NYCC and to the SIG (was not even a member when I did the first SIG ride) and to any kind of road biking, really, so hopefully this can be a good read for someone who is similarly curious but has no clue.
Yet another diary of a siglet
Week 1, Saturday 3rd, March 2007
I've loved cycling (and only cycling) as a method of exercise and getting-out for maybe 4 years now. Up until this spring, I would go out for a half hour, an hour max, and call it a day with 10-15 miles at the most. Maybe I had two or three multiple hour long sessions to exotic places such as Palisades Park or Coney Island, but nothing you could really call "road biking". But, I thought I was one hot whippersnapper zipping past those silly guys in spandex, myself on my ATB and jean shorts. Eventually (2 years into it) I got a road bike; padded shorts followed suit not a day too soon.
Anyway, I have planned to go for the bigger distances since last year, in 2006, summer was it I believe, when I would do 4 laps for the first time around Central Park (with a ton of 18-minute one-lappers in my belt) with a senior NYCC member, whos name I unfortunately do not remember. Bob, John, how many of you guys are there? Please forgive my bad memory, all I recall thinking is "I wish I am in his shape when I am his age."
So half a year after, I plunged myself into the A SIG as he suggested. First I had ambitions of going to the A STS (which he suggested), but decided against it as I had no group skills and I didn't want to be any kind of pain to the rest. Even at the A 19 SIG, which I wedged myself into on that awesome March morning, I think I might have come a bit unprepared.
I had a road bike and helmet, to be sure. I also had sandals and a turtleneck (with one of those dri-fit shirts on top of it, thankfully.) The best part about it was of course the weather. Sunny, and even *hot* 20 miles out into the boonies at a local diner. Everyone else expected colder, so at least I wasn't *so* out of place in my padded shorts, versus their padded pants and shoe warmers.
Then the trip back, and I am starting to feel the combination of a lack of winter conditioning (totaling at maybe two 30-minute rides in the past two months for me) and of a lack of any kind of more-than-20-mile conditioning.
And then the climb. For these cyclists it was 20 degrees of nothing, but here I am, hot whippersnapper in his full regalia (sans jean shorts and balaclava), in The Lowest Gear Possible, cranking one revolution per three -- maybe two seconds. It was excrutiating. It was mind numbing. It was absolute will over ill. And I did it without getting off the bike, and I realised now there is no turning back, come Bear Molehill or Alpe d'Huez, I'm cycling with the big boys and girls. That same day I bought my first pair of cleats.
Presently I just hope my thighs are not still sore by next Saturday. (Arms were first to recover by Monday, then my back by Tuesday)
What I did on the ride:
The orientation at 70th street and Bway had some free gel so I packed three of those (two of those turned out to be in powdered form and I was too lazy to mix it). I also had a bottle of vitamin water with me and two imitation clif bars that I got because they were fudge flavor (they were good!). I drank half of the water by the time we reached GWB where I also ate my first fudge bar. The ride to the halfway point was really quite fine, a couple huge decents, a couple very easy ascending inclines, and there was indeed a dead rabbit as per 2003's diary of a siglet (you have to read it). The Diner was nice, I refilled my now empty bottle (still had half of it full by the end at GWB), drank/ate the gel and ate my second fudge bar, along with a triple decker (which did not match Al's on 34th/7th -- had cold roast beef, no pastrami, and coleslaw on the side instead of in the sandwich). I learned to call "slowing", "stopping", "hole/roadkill left", and so on, although I thought calling "turn left" and "turn right" was a bit excessive since "how can you miss a big column of bikers turning" -- ? But now that I think about it, missing a turn is quite a bad thing to happen to a biker in a group, so now I know it is effort well spent. Anyway, it was the ride back from the diner that hit the message home: this is for real. That 20% grade climb (well, it looked bloody steep to me, ok?) had two tiers, and after I did the first tier (yes, taking up to 3 seconds to push the lowest gear over -- in sandals) I couldn't believe there was another one. It was probably not even half a mile (maybe not even 1/4th) but it hurt. And I'm going to do it again. Stronger this time, and in cleats :) After that climb, I was barely holding on at the back, and I guess the group picked up the pace as they caught first sight of the towering supports of the GWB, because I got dropped off the back maybe 5-10 seconds, but I caught up just before the GWB, so it was fine. No real mechanical failures or flats for anyone in our group, thankfully (I saw maybe a half dozen similar group outfits stopped (we split up into 4 groups so might have even been some of the NYCCers) and repairing, and even a lady in our group had one of her front gears malfunction), I didn't even have a spare tube or any kind of tools (that same day I bought both along with the cleats). I also got plenty of advice to get cleats on the way to GWB from that climb from all of the folks riding with me... which I heartily accepted :) Also after the GWB, as some of us were going to our homes in the downtown direction, I checked my computer with someone going the same speed as me and indeed it was showing the same MPH, so I can confirm that we were doing 20-22 mph on some of those flats back there in the boonies. So much for A-19, but hey, I asked for it, I got it :)
Week 2, Saturday 10th, March 2007
This week was a lot easier than the first, probably because we had a (record?) of four flats across three riders. Well, they were spread only around 5-10 miles or so, and were caused by the fact that nobody in the front called out the holes, and some of these holes were pretty huge, with stuff sticking out of them. I guess that's to even out the no-flat ride last week. The flats were actually best, in that no one got hurt, because at least one of those falls could have been a lot worse. The first two flats I stuck around to see how they do the tire replacement, but the third and fourth started to reveal to me just how important calling holes is. I'll still need to get hands-on on the tire changes to be able to say with confidence that I can do it.
This week, we did pretty much the same route, which is nice because I could gauge my progress. We did that same hill (walnut street something or other) and I did significantly better. I think I was still in the lowest gear possible, but this time I was spinning instead of mashing, and got up there quite a bit faster and quite a bit less fatigued, in the middle of the pack instead of being dead last; although my thighs were pumping battery acid all the same. Hopefully during this week I can get some hill repeats in; Tuesday sounds best.
I also met a cute girl in the halfway diner point, she was with her dad riding with the one of the other SIG groups. Panty lines under lycra based cycling apparel might be a no-no according to the NYCC rules, but they are still a sexy sight :o
Anyway, I was not dropped and rode in the middle of the pack mostly, but I did have one half of a fall and about seven eights of a fall (ok, ok, so I finally fell!) as I was still getting used to the cleats. I think that one fall more or less "broke them in," so the cleat business should become more and more second nature by the end of this week.
Week 3, Monday 19th, March 2007
I am still pissed at the weather over this weekend. Seventy degrees during the weekdays, but as soon as Friday waned, boom, it snowed like no tomorrow. But there was a tomorrow, and on that tomorrow our 3rd SIG ride was scheduled, and because of the slush and the melting snow freezing causing black ice to form on the icephalt (cough) it had to be cancelled as well as on Sunday. And of course now it is monday, and temps are up in the 40s (from 20s). Blah. I guess that's payback for the two really nice weekends we had the weeks prior. Anyway, this week I will be riding my butt off (including tonight, even though showers are forecast) to compensate, and there will most likely be two rides next weekend, the SIG and a Sunday recovery ride; we will see how that goes.
I did have a real nice half-hour ride in the week after the second ride. I was at my best pace of last year (20.3 mph over 30.xx minutes) which is very nice considering it is only my 4th real ride of the year, and I didn't really go all out or have any kind of drafting! The new cleats must be helping. I think the best way for me to get used to them is for the next few rides to concentrate on pulling up on the pedals, kind of reversing the psychology as well as physiology where up until now I would only concentrate on pushing down on them. Hopefully the dormant muscles will be jolted into life with this strategy.
I haven't done any hill repeats yet, but I will have to work on them asap.
Week 4, Monday 26th, March 2007
This weekend was awesome. Saturday was forecast to have some rain during noon, but it was the complete opposite: sunny and a cloud here or there. I was feeling great on the bike, we finally started rotating the paceline and I kept staying too long in the front hehe. Towards the last 10 mile or so leg I popped a tube. Ed, who was assigned as my mentor (NYCC is trying this one leader per two/three siglets mentorship program first time this year) showed the whole group how to change a flat. I'm going to have to get one of those huge tire levers that he has... I also didn't have any air that time, so on Sunday I got a topeac masterblaster. Now I'll need a second bottle cage for a bottle-sized pack to hold more stuff in it :>
Anyway, back to the ride, after the popped tube I also managed to bust another spoke (thats two in as many weeks? well, three weeks, but only about two real weeks of riding) while crossing the GWB. The first time I lost the spoke on that back wheel a week or so ago, I went to my local bike shop to get it fixed. Not to bad mouth them, I've done good business with them for 4 years now, but I decided to get this second spoke fixed at toga bike shop instead and we shall see how long their worksmanship lasts.
On the bridge, my wheel was so out of true that it was still getting stuck even with the brakes totally relaxed. Ed gave us another lesson: how to retrue a tire to some extent so that it can at least be driven to the shop. The lesson is: screw out the busted spoke (you need what looks like a 2 mm hex wrench), then tighten the two adjacent spokes (half a rotation each -- two 45 degree cranks) on the side of the missing spoke, and loosen (another half a rotation each) the two adjacent spokes on the opposite side. It did the trick for me; the wheel was still out of true but rideable. The shop then needs to be instructed in what you have done, and then they need to loosen all the spokes and retrue the wheel from scratch -- not just retighten the missing spoke -- which is what they should be doing in the first place. Such a procedure should take them more than 10 minutes.
On Sunday we were given an option to do a recovery ride, seeing as we missed the previous weekend entirely (due to the snowed in conditions), even though that missed weekend does not count as an absence. Some people on Saturday were apprehensive at Ed's definition of a "recovery" ride, and for the few (eight or so) of us this turned out to be true. It was more in between a recovery and a normal ride, than a real recovery pace, especially up the hills to which I am not yet accustomed to. Not that I'm complaining for myself, I actually felt very good, even the strain on the hills dissipated very quickly after the summit. But at least two of our riders kept getting dropped. I met another cute girl on that ride, no panty lines on her though ;p
I am feeling a lot stronger than I did on March 3rd, that's for sure (although I am still probably one of the weaker A-siglets), and I even got a little bit sunburned/windburned, as Sunday was also quite sunny. And it is not even April yet! I will have to add sunblock to my cycling accessories...
Week 5, Saturday 31st, March 2007
Well I don't have any sunblock yet, but come the end of April I bet I'll really need it. I did get a pair of gel gloves and they are a lot more comfortable (and also save my hands from getting streaks of rubber from my handlebar tape.) This weekend I did rides both days -- Saturday and Sunday -- and also found a nice way from the GWB to 96th, skipping broadway/other avenues and their potholes. Thanks to Ed Fishkin, the way is two or so blocks uptown from GWB, and then left, and at the end there is a secretive little way down across the hudson highway (whatever it is called), and then left again and under the GWB (it looks even more ginormous down there than from the bridge level) and into a nicely paved bike path, with not too many pedestrians (what more could you ask?)
My knees and calves are feeling sore a bit, but within limits, and I am feeling quite good. I am still getting fairly winded going up Walnut Hill, (which we did on the Sunday ride, which is supposed to be "recovery" pace hehe) but I am getting up there in the front of the pack, instead of dead last as was the case on the first ride. So I must be improving. But I did notice that while I am in the lowest gear, I am spinning nowhere near as fast as the guy next to me who is going my speed, but spinning faster (and thus working less) which finally leads me to believe that my gears are a bit high for hill climbing. I'll have to count the teeth on the casette to measure them...
I also got a nice 10.1 megapixel ultra-compact camera which I have been snapping pictures with and they look real nice. I will also take this camera to my end-of-May trip to Russia. Speaking of which, I thought the SIG would finish at the end of May, but this weekend I have learned that the graduation ride will actually be on the 19th of May -- which is the day my plane leaves, and it leaves at 4:xx PM so there is no way I would make it :( oh well, hopefully that will be a good excuse to do the graduation ride next year!
Week 6, Saturday 7th, April 2007
While before I could focus pretty easily during the weekdays, now it seems like every weekday I am thinking only about being on the bike on the weekend and on the nights in the park. Thankfully I have enough will power to stop myself from running out of the office with my arms flailing and yelling "must!!! get!!! bike!!!", but it is still a feeling worth mention. I guess in the meantime of these weekdays I've been keeping busy regardless, as my cycling accesories are slowly growing in number, and now include new pairs of: tights, half-gloves, three new shirts, a gore-tex jacket (it just slices through wind and makes a humongous difference) and other miscellaneous stuff. (I also swapped my black handlebar tape on Sunday for an urban-camo-looking black-and-white zebra tape; definitely increasing the points on my bike's look.)
Well, the past week (after week 5's ride) I busted a spoke on my first training ride in the park on tuesday, and my bike was out of commission on Wednesday (torrents of rain) Thursday and Friday (local bike shop backed way up). I got the bike back on Friday, with not a trace of soreness in my knees or calves (so it seems they take about 2-3 days to get back to normal) and felt very good and strong on the Saturday right.
The Saturday ride itself was a bit hillier than the rides before, including the final climb before the midpoint stop -- a long (a mile or two?) stretch of incline (not sure about grade, something between 2%-5%) on which I was able to quite nicely pace myself at around 8mph and sprint to the summit. But let me start at the beginning. My sub-group had a number of mechanical problems and Maggie (and a lot of others whom I do not know by name) were getting winded; so Maggie would catch up and roll past the mechanicals to gain some ground before getting caught and dropped again. So during one mechanical (there weren't *that* many, this one was maybe the third one) I decided to link up with her and off we rolled until another A-19 sig sup-group started passing us at which point I told Maggie I would see her at Nyack, and off I went with this new group.
Well, this particular sub-group definitely had its act together; very smooth double rotating paceline breezing through at 20+mph, and I was very proud to be keeping up without too much effort. Good encouragement from the leader in the back (relaxed elbows and shoulders do not come naturally but are an asset at this kind of formation) and before I even had a chance to pull at the front, we started hitting some of the hills. (The route was to Nyack, but it took some different non-linear paths that were more hilly -- on purpose.) I remained in the leading sup-group-sub-pack over the undulations (and there were some big-looking calves spinning the cranks in front of me) and although it was hard I made it over without being too winded, and soon we were stopping to regroup with the rest of the sub-group behind us. Then it was a straight route on asphalt to Nyack, including the aforementioned big climb.
Nyack was nice, but packed as usual (it is becoming usual to me only now, anyway) with all kinds of cyclists, and our first eating destination was packed to the brim (people were walking out with their goods and eating outside!) so we detoured to the other place (owned by a retired cyclist) and he was more than happy to see us.
Sunday ride was also great, and I felt very good, especially pulling through the wind on the hudson drive from GWB into the city on both Sunday and Saturday, which I suppose is a good indicator (to be strong at the end). This week I plan to do some training I hope will not be delayed again by any busted spokes; but unlike last week I plan to do only two days of hill repeats, to see how non-sore thighs continue to feel on the Saturdays.
Week 7, Saturday 14th, April 2007
It has been really gray and rainy these past couple of days (and forecasted for a couple of more) but today was awesome, barely a cloud in the sky, but some wind nonetheless.
Since starting the SIG in the beginning of March, I've lost 20 pounds. Today was a 70 miler at a 16.x pace, very similar route to the one we took last saturday, except with a different group (I can remember almost all their names now) Jeff, Kim, Matt, Terry, Steve, Betty and Bob, and two more who I can't remember. Ed was absent because he had to attent a Bar Mitzvah, and there will be no Sunday ride tomorrow anyway because it is scheduled to rain cats and dogs.
Since I got the cleats (but I doubt I would be less sore without them) I've noticed the sides of my knees and calves are more sore than the rest of my legs/body. Perhaps they are more sensitive muscles? But I think they are just more sore, because they have become active finally after 4 years of cleatless gear mashing with my thighs only.
Last week the two rides we did were 14.x, so definitely we are improving, and I bet my body is feeling it more as well. Last tuesday I did a nice half hour sprint at a good almost-20 pace, but since last saturday I have been getting more and more sick (culminating in a grocery bag of snot filled napkins over the span of two days) and I am still a bit sick (coughing, but the runny nose is stopping.) I took two doses of sudafed over the week and hopefully I will be tip top by next weekend.
Also, today I alone took the hudson bikeway; most others went the riverside route, but I now prefer the bikeway which Ed has revealed as it is not as windy (but still windy at parts) better paved (but not by much) and lacks cars and up-down undulations (well, there are some, but smaller scale)... So, being alone, I also took some opportunities to snap some scenic shots of the bikeway and its surroundings. I also did some photo-ops during the couple of mechanicals along our way. Hopefully I can get these online some day, maybe on nycc.org
Speaking of which, I've been working with Tim McCarthy (A SIG Classic leader, and NYCC webmaster) a little bit in progressing the site forward, so that is also becoming rewarding. It is a volunteer effort, of course, but it is still nice to develop a site for them (currently using an open source cms.)
Well, there you have it; it will be raining tomorrow and most of the rest of the 5 day forecast... But I intend to get some training time in over the week anyway. Cheers :)
Week 8, Monday 23rd, April 2007
Whoo. Well, this Saturday rocked. It rained hard all last week except for Thursday and Friday, so on Thursday I rode pretty hard for a half hour, to the point of swelling a tendon on the left side of my left knee, even. Then Friday morning I got Maggie to train with me for a couple of laps; hopefully she can get there earlier than 7AM, I didn't really dig the traffic.
Saturday was hot. This time, the destination was on Long Island -- Syosset, I think that's how you spell it (apparently my barber used to work there -- I got a haircut on Sunday and told him about it.) We were absolutely flying. Anything from 20 to 22 to 25+ even on the flats, and down some slight hills we were hitting high 30s! We stopped somewhere around 200s in Queens to pile into the Subway and skip the crazy traffic. But three of us decided to bike into the city anyway -- Kevin, Ed (a younger, taller and slimmer Ed #2, no offense Ed #1!) and me. All three of us had similar shade dark blue jerseys on which was kinda weird (mine had developed a huge white salt sweat stain on the back, though, as I had later learned) and we did another 15 miles or so to bring the total mileage up from high 50s to low 70s. All down Queens Boulevard, dodging traffic and so on.
On Saturday morning I applied some sun screen from a fellow rider's supply on my face -- but I forgot my arms! They got burnt pretty well. I've drenched them in aloe vera three times on Sunday and even once this morning, and the pain is numbing down today finally, but I have a hunch at least my upper arms will peel.
My legs also got a bit burned, but more on the suntan side, really. The rest of me is fine, except the combination of the fairly hard riding and the sunburn has drained my energy on Sunday and I decided to skip the Sunday 'recovery' ride.
I am now shopping around for a new cyclocomputer. This SIG has definitely taught the value of accessorizing to me, and while having a hill gradient read-out on my computer might be too much, I want it anyway. Later.
Week 8, Wednesday 25th, April 2007
I thought it would wear off by now, but it is still the case that my thoughts are dominated by the coming Saturday and 5+ hours on the bike. Let's list the accessories I have had light shed on:
• Short socks
• Full-leg tights
• Long-sleeve shirt
• Portable air supply (co2 > pump)
• Spare tube
• Latex gloves in a ziploc (to at least keep a semblance of sanitization)
• Antibiotic ointment
• Aloe vera
• Spoke wrench
• Hex toolset
• Tire levers
• Water (vs sticky sports drinks) in the bottle.
I've been trying to wake up early so I can bike early instead of at night, but it is a lot more difficult than just mashing gears after 7pm. Did some good hill repeats with Maggie yesterday on harlem hill -- it is repaved (but still bumpy in parts, heh.) But Maggie cannot get out before 7am, which is really when the park opens to traffic. The best morning times for this sort of thing is 6:00-6:59 am, and I tried to wake up that early today but just couldn't do it, heh. Maggie called it off too, but yesterday I was doing 15-16mph up harlem hill which is pretty good (totally winded at the top, though).
Make up Ride, Friday 8th, June 2007
Every week leading up to a SIG ride, I could think of nothing but the coming ride, the ehxiliration, fun, and thrill of riding in the group. That's probably why I haven't missed a single SIG ride, except the very last graduation ride, and that was because I was led to believe it was earlier than it really was, and had made my vacation plans accordingly.
Well, no matter, there is a makeup ride for the last one that is this sunday, and this week I have also been thinking about nothing else, except this time I am full of dread :) because it is quite mountaenous, and is 100 miles.
Coming back from my vacation, I had missed 2 weekends and 2 weeks of riding. I went for an 80 mile ride last weekend, the same route as the penultimate SIG ride, with plenty of climbing as well. Despite an advertised under-A19 pace (it actually came out to almost A19, anyway) I was quite exhausted by the end of it, needing a few pit stops after GWB on the way home, as well as a total of 4 group pit stops during the route.
Well, it won't kill me, that's for sure, so I'm going to do it anyway!
I did every ride in the A-19 SIG, including the final ride to Bear Mountain which I did on a make-up date; thereafter I attended the graduation ceremony at a pub, meeting most of the cyclists for the first time without their helmets (and tape) :)
Now, the last week of March 2011 is coming up and I'm looking forward to my 4th ride in the A-SIG classic. I've been riding at least every weekend since that A-19 SIG (Bear Mountain through to Garrison being my favorite ride) mostly solo if only because a suitable group (fast enough/slow enough) is difficult to find; but the A-SIC classic has turned out to be a great fit thus far!
I can grind out any grade on my triple (and I haven't had a triple decker in a real long time...) although I'm nowhere near the fastest up a hill, I can change tires, adjust spokes (thanks Ed!), and am generally self-sufficient to Bear Mountain (or whatever) and back, all thanks to the SIG. As the years have passed, I have become more keen on using hand signals, the key intent being "alert, not panic-stricken", calling out hazards when they really pose danger. (Rolling through a tranquil neighborhood at 10AM while yelling "slowing!" just doesn't feel right.)
All told, I've probably spent more than I care to count on cycling accessories (and a whole new bike!) as well as wheelsets, drivetrains, computers, whatever. Although my on-the-road loadout has been significantly streamlined (yes, I've worn the fanny pack as a marshal, no, it is not comfortable.)
The open source cms mentioned was, indeed, Drupal, and now the site is fully operational on Drupal (without my help until very recently.) And I now have much more than just a hill gradient readout on my multiple computers, but also GPS and power; a geek has got to have his toys! :)
But, no more sandals for me :)