The Daily Bike: New Year

The first ride of the new year. 

I don’t go crazy over new years. I don’t see how the calendar turning over to a new month, a new year is the magic potion to make people a better version of themselves. I speak from experience- you’ll only make those changes if you’re ready and willing to make them.

I took a ride because it was my first day back after being home for holidays. And let me tell you about my new favorite website: Most of you will probably be thinking, have you been living under a rock?? Yeah, yeah. I’ve been on it awhile, but just realized how it can help me.I’m not very good at just going out and riding- I need a plan or general route. And MapMyRide is perfect for helping me find rides in the area that other cyclists have done. All you have to do is type in an address or town and it will find all the routes people have logged. It’s great for inspiration and ideas. Today I went somewhere totally new, but other days, I’ve used it to help link up rides I often do with new areas and routes. This helps keep me excited about riding. I get bored if I’m riding the same routes all the time. So while it isn’t perfect (I haven’t figured out how to get those routes I bookmark to show up on my phone), it’s making me excited about riding again!

New Kit! Lotto-Belisol

January 1st means lots of things: hangovers, resolutions to break, a crowded gym, etc. January 1st also means new team kits! The first of the year is when everyone can finally wear their new team kit. Before this date, riders are contractually obligated to wear their kit and ride the bikes from their previous team. Now, as the racing season starts with the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic in Australia this week and the Tour Down Under on the 17th (the first official UCI race), all the teams are officially revealing their new kits. And all the armchair sports fans, like myself, are officially critiquing them! So, first up: Lotto-Belisol. This is one of the teams to come out of the break up of Omega Pharma-Lotto.

Not Jedward

Separately, I like the parts. I like the colors and the design of the jersey and shorts on their own. However, the two design teams clearly didn’t consult each other, as there no continuity between the two! There is no flow from the shorts to the jersey and it just looks mismatched. The shorts are all vertical and the jersey is all horizontal. I wish they had done a better job integrating the two, because this coulda been a contender for a standout kit of 2012- based on what I’ve seen so far, the Leopard-Trek theme is holding strong. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s relatively unimaginative.

Anyway, here’s a comparison picture of the Omega Pharma-Lotto kit from last year. I like that one better. Takeaway lesson- keep the shorts simple.

EDIT: Here’s a roster of the team, so you know who will be wearing this kit!

  • Greg Henderson (from Sky)
  • Lars Bak (from HTC-Highroad)
  • Jurgen van den Broeck
  • Jelle Vanendert
  • Adam Hansen
  • Andre Greipel
  • Jurgen Roelandts
  • Bart De Clercq
  • Joost Leijen
  • Brian Bulgac
  • Frederique Robert
  • Dennis Vanendert
  • Jonas Vangenechten
  • Mehdi Sohrabi
  • Sander Cordeel
  • Gaetan Bille
  • Tosh Van der Sande
  • Kenny Dehaes
  • Marcel Sieberg
  • Olivier Kaisen
  • Frederik Willems
  • Jens Debusschere
  • Jurgen Van De Walle
  • Vicente Reynes Mimo
  • Francis de Greef
  • Maarten Neyens
  • Jurgen Roelandts
  • Gert Dockx

Dress for success

On Thanksgiving, I went on a ride around DC. It was suggested by someone who is part of one of my meet up cycling groups. I love riding around the city when there isn’t any traffic and Thanksgiving seemed like the perfect time for that. While it wasn’t as empty as I thought it was going to be, we were definitely able to ride on roads that are normally car choked! The weather was amazing- it started off pretty cold, but warmed up pretty quickly. Cyclists are obsessed with the “right” gear for the right weather. Summer is easy- you just wear as little as possible, while maintaining some decency! But all the other seasons require finding that delicate balance between being warm enough and not overheating. Winter is complicated, requiring, at a minimum, a base layer and a wind breaking layer on the top and some sort of fleece lined tights on the bottom. Various other layers can be added depending on the conditions and your susceptibility to cold. Then for your extremities you need covers for those well ventilated shoes and have sufficiently windproof gloves, so neither your toes or fingers fall off. For the top of your body, you need a gaiter or scarf for your neck and a hat or a headband for your ears. Even though it’s a lot, during the winter, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you go out, so the weather is not a surprise. Fall and spring, on the other hand, are much more of a guessing game. There are any number of garments which can be worn in these seasons- arm warmers, long sleeved jerseys, vests, light jackets, leg warmers, knee warmers, knickers, light gloves, heavy gloves, hats, headbands. It’s a game of mix-and-match to find exactly the right combination to suit your body temp and the outside weather.

We cyclists will not stop until we find that perfect combination of clothes for any weather. We will endless debate at exactly what temperature one should wear knee warmers versus legs warmers or arm warmers versus a jacket. We will spend a significant portion of our bike budget on finding the right clothes for the right weather. We will do all of this because we love to ride our bikes. Most of us cannot stomach the thought of putting away our bikes for the winter, not to ride again until the snow melts and temperature rises. Some will brave the nastiest and coldest of weather if only to avoid using the dreaded trainer. I love riding in the winter. I like bundling up, I like how the cold invigorates me, I love coming home and warming up with a hot shower and a hot drink. But best of all, I love having the trails to myself.

Another way to get the streets to yourself? Ride on Thanksgiving morning.

For the Love of Twitter

When I say I use Twitter, the usual reaction is “Oh geez, one of those people, thinking every minutiae of their life should be disseminated in 140 characters.” As is the case with most things, getting people to change how they stereotype things isn’t easy. So, sometimes I just let it ride and say, “Yep, I know my 600 followers hang onto my every ‘going to the bathroom now’ tweet!” Other times, I try and take the time to explain to them what Twitter means to me.

I’ve explored this topic before, but from a “how to use Twitter to watch pro racing” angle. Twitter is an invaluable tool to helping one enjoy pro cycling to the fullest. Now that’s it’s been a little over a year since I started using Twitter seriously, I’ve discovered how it’s so much more than just a way to enjoy pro cycling. It’s also a place to make friends and find motivation.

Not only is Twitter a place to participate in pro cycling, it’s also a place to discuss the many facets of cycling. You can use Twitter to follow along while races are happening.  You can dissect race results and tactics when they’re happening and when they’re over. You can follow breaking news and developing rumors. You can discover cyclists to obsess over. You can dish over all the hot cyclists!

Twitter isn’t all good, all the time. It’s easy to get lost in the minutia- any event, race, rumor, comment, is discussed and argued and picked apart down to the smallest detail. It’s often easy to get caught up in the negative sides of the sport (the doping, the cynicism, the corruption). And as anyone who’s spent any time on Twitter knows, it’s impossible to win an argument in 140 characters, so it often devolves into name calling and insults. As a person who doesn’t deal well with lots of negativity, I have to be careful to not let myself get sucked into that part of Twitter.

But, Twitter is more than just racing and tactics and rumors. I have, dare I say, made friends on Twitter! Some scoff at this idea, saying you can’t be friends with people you only know as a Twitter personality, or asking how do I even know that these people are real. In truth, I have no way of knowing if these are real people. They could all be robots, or impostors, or scam artists. But my trusting nature and the length of time I’ve known many of these people leads me to believe they are real. And the fact that I’ve meet a few of them in the flesh (@cyclebordom, @iowakathy, @theepicride) helps reinforce this idea. But the main reason I think they’re real? They care about me. They care about the ups and downs of my life. When I tweet that I’m having a shitty day, they reply and want to know what’s wrong and hope I feel better. When I tweet that I had an awesome ride and feel great, they reply to say congrats or ask about the ride. When I tweet sometime discussion worthy, they’ll engage me in conversation and debate. Those are the things that convince me they’re real people.

However, the best thing I get from Twitter? Motivation. I don’t have many people to share my cycling obsession with in the real world and on Twitter I can be as cycling nerdy as I want and my Twitter friends will share that with me. They want to know about my rides, my progress, and my adventures, so I want to ride to have something to share. When I started following cycling, I didn’t have a bike. The more I got into Twitter and saw how much those I followed loved their bikes and riding, the more I wanted to be part of that. Once I got my bike, I wanted to share how I felt and my Twitter friends were there for that. If I’m ever feeling sick of my bike, or I don’t feel in the mood for riding, I just hang out on Twitter for awhile, and I remember why I love it.

To be riveted by all my bathroom journeys, follow me @bloomingcyclist.


The Daily Bike: Fall

What a lovely fall day for a ride! However, what with the truly winter day we had on Saturday, I was anticipating cold temperatures and cold wind on Sunday. I didn’t actually bother to stick my head outside, though, to check and instead of a cold winter day, it was a mild fall day. Therefore, I was way overdressed! Regardless, it was a wonderful, leisurely ride. I’ve been eating like crap lately, and have been feeling guilty about not riding, so the two hour ride I took today helped alleviate some of that guilt.

I’d been feeling nostalgic for my old riding haunts, now that the weather has turned, and decided to ride back to my old neighborhood. A great choice, as the leaves are turning and the trail riding was beautiful. Since I was in the area, I decided to go back to my old bike shop to have them look at my rear derailleur, as it’s been acting wonky for awhile. I was glad I went. Twenty minutes later, I had a derailleur which shifted nice and smooth again, new brake pads, tightened brake cables, and a straightened brake hood. Thanks Arrow!

It was just a great ride. I was in no hurry and just rode along as I felt like it. I don’t even know how far I went or how long I rode- I just went until I needed to turn around and then went back again! The trails were lovely and now that it’s a bit colder, there are fewer people out, so I had the trails all to myself. I’m comfortable riding on the road, but it’s not very relaxing in the city- there’s too much traffic to be aware of. On the trails, with no one around, it’s much easier to let your mind wander and enjoy the scenery. I welcome the return of the colder weather, as I find cold rides invigorating and the roads empty.

So, let us not lament the end of summer, but embrace the empty trails and hardcore status that winter riding gives us.

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Book review: Ten Points by Bill Strickland

Reading this book felt like an invasion of privacy. I don’t know Bill Strickland- I’ve never met him and I don’t even know anyone who has. But I read his articles and blogs, I’ve read his books and I’ve heard him interviewed, so I feel like so know him. This meant reading his memoir Ten Points didn’t feel just like reading any other book- it felt like reading his diary. After finishing his book, I feel like I’ve been shown all the life changing events of a person I’ve only just met. I felt like a peeping Tom reading this book, but it was absolutely worth it, as it was an amazing read.

Strickland was consumed by demons left over from an abusive father. For the most part, through his life, he was able to keep the demons in check. But once he became a husband and a father, he became fearful that his demons will ruin everything he helped build. He feels sure the curse of his childhood will cause him to turn into his father. Even when he discovered that cycling helped keep the demons in check, he was still afraid that they signified a curse which doomed him to failure. Which is why when his daughter innocently asks if he can score 10 points in his crit season, he says yes, hoping it will help banish the demons and break the curse. So we follow Strickland as he turns himself inside out to score 10 points and save himself from the curse.

I love reading, but I prefer simple fare- I’m not interested in flowery writing or pages of descriptions or in deciphering clues hidden in words. There are a few exceptions and Strickland is one of them. His writing seems effortless and the beauty with which he describes even the simplest of actions amazes me. He finds ways to put words to emotions and feelings and internal experiences that can’t be put into words. I wanted to put an example here, but I realized that each sentence and paragraph is part of the whole. You know how they say the whole is the sum of its parts? To take a part out of context would, first, lessen the impact it would would have as part of the whole, and second, deny a new reader the joy of discovery how it all fit together.

Strickland also has a way of weaving a story together that makes me envious. Whenever I write, I obsess over organization and flow. Strickland’s stories of his past and present are woven together seamlessly, with the introduction of each past event flowing into the present event  it mirrors and influenced. In this way, we are allowed to discover alongside Strickland how what he experienced in the past shaped who he becomes in the present.

As someone who loves cycling, I thoroughly enjoyed how he described the racing. I’ve never raced, and probably never will, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse into the middle of the pack. It is in these sections where his descriptive abilities really come out. The jostling, the shouts, the fighting for position, the reading of the pack, the way breaks get away, the recovery after sprints- the narration of the races made me feel like I had actually been in a race. It is during these races where Strickland discovers new things about himself and using his skill with words, his self realizations are put onto paper.

I will admit that the parts I enjoyed most were not the racing bits- it was his interactions with his daughter and wife that drew me in the most. The presence of his family around him as he fights his demons and as he looks back into his past made his journey into himself all that more moving.

While this is a book about bike racing, it isn’t just about bike racing. In fact, it’s mostly about how a family needs all its members to survive. It’s about how the weakness of one can destroy it and the strength of another can save it. The bike just happens to be where discoveries himself and tries to rid himself of the curse of his childhood. Through his book we are allowed a glimpse into his life. We get to see how he is a good father, even though he thinks he’s not. We see how the childhood events of his wife’s life shape her family decisions. We are allowed a brief look into a marriage that has gone through fire and emerged even stronger. We see how the wisdom and innocence of a child can inspire and motivate the adults that surround them.

This is not an easy book to read- books that deal with child abuse never are. There were many times I had to put the book down and compose myself. But I had to finish it. I had to know how (if) he conquers his demons. This book is a moving look into how what doesn’t kill you really can make you stronger, but only if you’re willing to face it head on.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 9 | A Hill

Okay. I’m a little embarrassed that I’m this far behind on #30daysofbiking. My motivation to bike is waaaay down. I barely ride during the week anymore. Going on a ride after work just seems like sooo much work. I’m bored of all my usual routes and I hate riding in after work traffic. So most of my riding is on the weekends. But I enjoy taking pictures and writing about my rides, so I’m going to keep it up, even when it’s not longer fashionable to do so.

On the weekend of this ride, I went with Melissa (my 50 states buddy) out to MacArthur Blvd. My first trip on MacArthur was my ill fated trip with Shannon that resulted in 3 flats, 45 minutes of walking, and a bike fairy. My second trip on MacArthur was out to Great Falls. This time I was finally going to tackle the epic hill of MacArthur. I don’t know much about this hill, except that lots of people ride it because it is hard. Does it have a name? Probably. But I don’t know it. I was dreading it and looking forward to it, as it would be an interesting test of my fitness. The hill was hard…but not that hard. There was suffering, but it was not epic. Whenever I thought it might be too hard, I said to myself, “You did RAGBRAI and 30 miles on that [bleep] Skyline. This hill ain’t nothing but a mole hill compared to that.” So I made it to the top. And I could even hold a conversation with Melissa when I got to the top! Progress, what?!

We took a break about half way through and the second half was pretty brutal. We were riding on more heavily trafficked roads (which is not relaxing), there were a lot of stoplights, it was a lot hillier than I expected, and I was more wiped than I thought I was from the big hill. Melissa is significantly faster on the climbs than I am, so I would get dropped and only catch back up with her when she would stop and wait. It was exhausting. Plus, I was so unprepared food-wise, I had almost no food to eat and was starving. This mean that once I got home, I ate a big ass burger, a milkshake, and drank a beer. Well deserved.

My Ride Around the 50 States

This past weekend I participated in WABA’s 50 states ride. This is a 65 mile route that covers all 50 state streets in the District and goes to all 4 quadrants of the city (SW, SE, NE, NW). When I signed up, I did some research to see how hard it might be. Most people don’t usually think of DC as being particularly hilly but the blogs I read by people who had participated in past years quickly put an end to that idea. For a person with average bike fitness like myself, it was clear the hills would be significant! Also- 65 miles is not an insignificant amount of miles to bike. However, I felt confident in my ability to complete the ride. I had, in fact, ridden RAGBRAI and 30 miles on Skyline Drive. I could do 65 miles in moderately hilly DC!

Got that memorized?

I rode with Melissa, who rode with me and Shannon on Skyline Drive. She was not wearing her cute red earrings, but I decided to ride with her anyway. Check in started at 7:30 and we got there a little after 8. We were thinking this would mean we could leave early, but they didn’t want anyone to leave until 9! While this meant we had an hour to kill, it also meant we got front row line up! Yeah! The one and only time I will be lined up in the front row for anything bike related. AND Melissa totally got the hole shot! The ride was definitely off to a good start.

On the front row (all the way to the left, from my best side) Photo: WABA Flickr

Now, I was a bit nervous about the 7 page cue sheet and the hundred some cues. However, my nerves were unfounded. It was surprisingly easy to stay on track, often because there would be another group of 50 staters ahead of you, showing you were to turn. And even when we were by ourselves, it really wasn’t that hard to follow the cues. The best part was when we missed a cue and a bunch of construction guys started yelling at us that we were going the wrong way! “Over here! You missed the turn!”

Cue sheet

The first 20 miles  flatish and fast, as we wound through downtown DC. Once we got to Anacostia (SE DC), that’s when the road turned up. Right after the Anacosita rest stop, it was a long ride up MLK Jr Ave, which I didn’t find too hard and thought to myself, if that’s the worst of it, I’m golden. However, it wasn’t the worst and I was not golden. We soon turned to go up Alabama, which I found to be MUCH worse- longer and steeper. I felt a little throw-upy at the end of that hill.

Throw up Alabama

Ride Profile

The rest of the route was up and down, up and down. I thought the worst section was the NW section- the hills were significant and we kept riding over the same roads over and over.

NW section

The WORST hill was right after the last rest step, where we had to do a little out and back to hit Arizona. As we went down Nebraska, I could see others coming up the other side, and thought, shit, we gotta come back up this! Then it was a very, very steep descent down Arizona and as we whizzed down that, i thought oh SHIT, what goes down has to come up again! And come up we did- I almost had to get off and walk the first part, as the road went directly up after it turned and I didn’t have time to shift down. And it was a steep mo-fo! I had to employ the zig-zag technique to get up the hills. It was the only way I was able to keep up enough momentum to avoid stopping or even going backwards. And once we escaped that section, we still had to go back up a section of Nebraska we had descended to get to Arizona. It was brutal. But! Shockingly- I felt okay! I didn’t feel throw-upy at all, even though I was quite out of breath. Ever since RAGBRAI, I don’t care either way about hills. I don’t love them, but I don’t hate them either. I just accept them- when one hill is immediately followed by another, I just think, Oh well, another hill, and start climbing. It’s quite refreshing, actually!

The hills of Arizona

The coolest part about the ride was going to all the different areas of the city and the thing I liked the most was seeing the variety of housing around the city. I wished I had taken more pictures of the all the different styles. There were the beautiful townhouses, uniquely colored and styled, with elaborate yards (no matter how small). There were the functional rowhouses, all the same with their brick simplicity. There were the mid sized detached houses a little further out, with yards. And there were the run down houses of all varieties.

You absolutely need to be comfortable riding in traffic and on crazy city streets to do this ride. As the day went on and traffic picked up, some of the roads were super sketchy to ride on. I would say South Dakota and Michigan NE were the scariest roads to ride on- lots of traffic, lots of lanes, all fast, with nowhere for bikes to go. The same went for Connecticut NW. Trying to cross 2 lanes of heavily trafficked road to turn left is not for the faint of heart.

Of course, a bike trip with me wouldn’t be complete without a flat. It was a frustrating flat, because in the spare tube I had, where the valve sat in the tube was wider than other brands and prevented the tire from sitting directly on the rim. Once I figured out this was the problem, I just used Melissa’s spare tube, but we probably wasted about 40 minutes trying to figure out my flat.

It was a great ride. I’m glad I participated and I’m definitely coming back next year! To close the post, an obligatory photo with our home state street signs!

Person First

As I’ve entered the cycling world and became a cyclist myself, one thing I’ve had to get used to is the amount of anger, dislike, and disregard centered around cyclists. All cyclists, and especially me, have learned to stay away from the comment section of stories about cyclists- whether it is a story about a hit and run, or a fatality, or biking infrastructure. Why? The amount of vitriol and hatred that is directed at cyclist in those comments makes me sick to my stomach. People say things like, “I want to run cyclists over when they get in my way,” “When they slow me down, I honk my horn at them to scare them out of my way,” “Cyclists deserve to get run over, they have no place on the road.” Those things sound like exaggerations, but they’re not. I’ve read multiple comments along those same lines. When I read things like that, first I feel sick, then I get angry, then I get scared- what’s to say that these commentators, or people feel similar, aren’t driving behind me and get so angry that I’m in their way, using “their” road that they decide to bump my back tire, or squeeze past me and “accidentally” hit me on the way by? Or, less life threatening but no less terrifying, yell something obscene at me or throw something out the window at me? I know these comments don’t represent the entire car driving population, but it only takes one angry driver to cause me to crash.

For me, there are two issues to address. One is that the road does not “belong” to anyone. Just because cars use the road the most and they are usually the biggest thing out there does not mean it is “their” road. The road is for everyone to use- everyone pays for the roads, everyone can use the roads. It’s true that those who own cars do have to pay special taxes associated with them- gas tax, licensing fees, etc. But most of that money goes towards interstates and state roads- most of which cyclist don’t (or can’t) use. The county and back roads that cyclists most often use are mostly paid for through general funds, which get their money through local, property and sales tax- things unrelated to automobiles and which everyone pays, no matter their mode of transportation. In addition, most roads don’t even pay for themselves at all- they don’t even break even when it comes to construction and upkeep. So they are constantly being subsidized. (For more information: Cyclists Ride on the Roads They Pay For, Bikes Pay for Roads Too, Actually, Highway Builders, Roads Don’t Pay for Themselves)

But my other point goes beyond numbers, money, even mode of transportation. It’s about the fact that I’m a HUMAN. Just like everyone else. Just like those driving in cars, just like the pedestrians crossing the street. The fact that I’m on two wheels and not encased in metal doesn’t make me less of a human than a person sitting in the car. I deserve respect and consideration just like anyone else- it shouldn’t matter whether I’m on two feet, two wheels, or four wheels. NO ONE deserves to be yelled at, harassed, threatened, spit on, bonked on the head, run over, called terrible names. It’s true that cyclists aren’t perfect. There are a lot of us who don’t follow all the road rules. And I know that can be frustrating to see. But please don’t hate all cyclists just because one ran a red light, or didn’t stop at a stop sign. Does every single motorists follow every single rule? No. Neither does every single cyclist. Yes, cyclists can be unpredictable and dangerous, but so can can motor vehicles. Everyone has the responsibility to remain diligent and alert, whatever mode of transportation they are using. Because the road will only be as safe as the people make it.

Next time you’re tempted to honk, rev, yell, or worse, at a cyclist, just imagine that it’s me on that bike. Or, if you don’t know me from Eve, imagine it’s your sister, or best friend, or significant other, or anyone else you know that rides a bike. Imagine how I (or that person), might feel about that honk, or yell, or profanity, or that pass which cuts a little too close and too fast for comfort. I just want to be able to ride my bike and not worry that my mere presence on the road will incite someone to cause me bodily harm. I’ll do my best not to act stupid or behave recklessly, and I’ll try my hardest to make sure I’m not unnecessarily impeding the  journey of those in cars. But if I feel I need to take the whole lane because I’m scared that someone trying to pass me won’t have enough room and will knock against me, I’ll do it. Not because I hate cars and the people in them but because I have a right to the road too, and a right to feel safe on them.

When you see a cyclist, don’t just see the two wheels they’re riding on- see the person who is using their two feet to push their bike forward.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 8 | The Ride Home

Today I rode my bike home, and of course, I picked the one day of the week that it decided to rain. But, while I’m sweet, I’m not made of sugar, so I didn’t melt. And it certainly wasn’t the worst rain I’ve ridden in! I’ve been biking home from work for awhile now. I used to bike to and from work, but have abandoned the “to” part. I decided the hassle of riding to work was more than I was willing to put up with. Picking and packing the day’s outfit, along with all the necessary accessories and vanity products was too stressful. So, I started taking my bike on the metro in the morning then riding my bike home after work. This works so much better. Bikes aren’t allowed on the metro between 7am and 10am, so I do have to leave my house earlier. But packing is so much easier, as I only need to mindlessly pack my cycling gear, and I get to leave work a half hour early, as I get into work a half hour earlier. As the days get shorter, this option will be even more appealing, as it means I can get a ride in before it gets too dark.

I upgraded my backpack, also. I got a very nice Timbuk2 laptop backpack. While my bag is still heavy with my laptop, it’s easier to transport. And it’s a great backpack for short trips! So, this is an official endorsement of the Timbuk2 H.A.L. laptop backpack! (Although Timbuk2 has a lot of good commuting  backpack options!)

Since I’ve started biking home, I’ve moved, and while my new route is the same length as my previous commute, it is a much more urban route. However, thanks to Google Maps and Rails to Trails, the route is quite bike friendly, with many streets with bike lanes being used.


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