Let the genie out

Behold the water bottle. Looks simple, relatively harmless, right? Actually the number one cause of accidents on the Pan Mass Challenge is the humble water bottle. They get dropped, pop out of their cage, roll across the road, and riders in pacelines unsuccessfully dodge them. Ouch!

I crashed out of the 2014 B2VT ride when my bottle popped out for the second time. As I slowed down, my front wheel was caught in a crack in the pavement (curse you Pepperell!) and down I went, just 30 miles in. I replaced the rear cage with a Specialized Rib Cage and that bottle only comes out when I want it to!

I drink more when the water is cold so I like to freeze bottles. If you throw a bottle of water into the freezer it could split – unless you first fill it up with ice cubes. This trick lets me keep a few frozen bottles ready to go for a hot day’s ride.

Gatorade and Powerade are expensive, so instead buy the powdered versions. You will have to shop larger supermarkets, and look at the edges of the sports drink shelves. A $4 container lasts me most of a season.

The first person to win 5 Tour de France races was the French cyclist Jacques Anquetil who had an innovative way to climb better – he would put his bottle in his pocket to make the bike lighter. Not exactly a physics major, but he did excel at the time trial.

How about Camelbacks? I bought the first generation of these, thinking it would be handy to have the equivalent of 3-4 bottles ready to drink. In my experience they are uncomfortable, and need to be cleaned thoughly. The last time I used a Camelback, I accidentally swallowed the bite valve and rode 8 miles with the hose clenched between my teeth until I could get to a store to buy a replacement. Maybe I’m just too stupid to drink out of anything but a bottle.

Don’t be that guy, be this one

From raising two children, I’ve learned to give positive advice. “Stop hitting your brother”  does no good as the sibling still does not know what to do. “Go outside and keep away from your brother” worked better.

So I’ve tried to follow the same advice here. Today on the Climb to the Clouds, two people were stopped right in the middle on the intersection of Deershorn and Rt. 62 in Lancaster. Don’t be this guy! If you stop, pull completely off the road. Better yet, look for a driveway so you are fully out of traffic. Don’t make other riders and cars go around you.

If you have a choice of where to stop, generally pick a shaded spot. No need to sweat while you dig out an energy bar or change a flat. Two exceptions are if a place is thick with mosquitoes (they hate the sun) or in cold weather when you want to avoid getting chilled.

Speaking of obnoxious behavior, how annoying is it to be on the side of the road and have every passing rider ask if they can help? Actually it is quite helpful, so I try to be that annoying guy. Perhaps someone is not comfortable with changing a flat. At intersections someone may need directions. Be that annoying person who asks, because you might be on the other end.

Lastly, when someone asks for directions, always ask where they really want to go. Initially they might just ask how to get to an intersection that they passed a mile ago. Find out of they are actually going to Lexington, Mt. Wachusetts or Narnia. You can help with the first two, and probably should just ride off for the last.

The Big Countdown

The 2015 Pan Mass Challenge is August 1 & 2nd.By now you should be locked in on how you are going to train for the last few weeks. Time to think about your bike.

Plan on a quick service before the big ride. You don’t want to show up at the starting line with shifting issues or a tweety bird in your idler pulley, squeaking away. You also don’t want to change anything at the last minute; after a tuneup give yourself a weekend to stretch out any new cables. So the ideal time for a tuneup is the week of July 20th. This also gives you a little breathing room if your shop needs to order a special part.

Now is also a good time to replace worn items like tires and cleats. Most cleats need to be replaced every year or two. Before you take off the old one, draw around it with a black Sharpie on white soles or a silver Sharpie on black soles. Now you can swap in the new ones and get the alignment perfect.

Riding the Straight and Narrow

My previous blog entry discussed etiquette of riding in a pace line. One important idea is keeping a straight line. Few things ruin a pace line like an erratic rider who wanders back and forth. (Especially people with aero bars – sorry Ira!) Here is a quick tip even outside a pace line – practice riding smoothly by riding on the white line as long as possible. Pick a fairly straight section of road with a line that is smooth, with few cracks. Look down the road as you pedal and you can easily stay on top for a quarter mile. If you stare at the line in front of your wheel, 50 feet max. It’s all about being more mindful and balancing all the parts of being on a bike.

Mini-tip: dropped chain. If your chain falls off the front chain rings when shifting, just pedal gently and shift back. This trick works 99 times out of 100. (Maybe I need to adjust the front derailleur if it is happening 99 times!)

Pace yourself

A great way to finish rides faster and less tired is to join a paceline. A rider drafting behind another will use 10-30% less energy than on her own. It can also be a good way to crash. There are dozens of recommendations on how to ride in a paceline, some contradictory. Here are a few basics.

Ride to your ability. You may be more efficient in a group, but if the group consists of racers, you will burn out and get dropped after a few miles, more exhausted than when you started.

Ride steady. Avoid speeding up, slowing down, or moving too much back and forth, especially sudden motions. If the person in front of you slows, don’t tap your brakes as you might exaggerate the motion, causing a ripple back through the pack. Instead move a little to the left, catch some wind, and slow gradually.

Ride ahead of yourself. New riders often stare at the tire of the person in front of them, then get surprised when the speed changes. Instead look down the road and anticipate changes such as hills.

No Superman. When you are drafting, you can take it a little easy and not over exert yourself. So when the person in front peels off, you feel rested and ready to fly! Don’t do it. Keep at the same speed, otherwise you will fly off the front, which stinks for the person behind you who no longer has anyone to draft. When you are at the front, curl your toes a little to keep from mashing on the pedals.

Change early and often. It is better to take a pull that is too short, and hand over the lead than to stay out in the wind for a mile, get toasted, and then fall off the back. If you are next up and not feeling great, skip it. Otherwise you will end up dropping out of the pack and that benefits no one. Every pack is different, so follow the example of others. Are people swapping every 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile? Every minute or two? That is your goal, but don’t cook yourself.

Drop with care. When you peel off, usually to the left, give a little wave to the rider behind you so they know you are not just dodging a pot hole. Sit up, stretch a little, take a sip and even nibble. Now you are at the back and can recover. When the next person drops back, tell them you are the last rider so they know to pull in.

Drop at the top. When you are in the lead, it is better to drop at the top of a hill than the bottom. At the top the next person can start gradually while you coast to the back. Every hill, every transition is different, so use your best judgement.

Love those sprints

Wow – Team Lick has embraced town line sprints with a vengeance, or at least a few guys. On Friday Tom jumped on the one at the end of his street, then Steve remembered a pair on the same street. I got one in before Steve jumped and grabbed the line at the entrance to Harvard. As we rolled down Oak Hill, George sped up so I stuck on his wheel, knowing there was a line just after the Rt. 2 bridge. Tom watched us chat and sprinted downhill, well over a 1/4 mile ahead of the boundary. I took off after him, but couldn’t close the gap. When I looked at my heart rate, it was the highest in several years and we were still descending. I sat up and Tom took the well earned first. Guess I am always the bridesmaid, and never the bride.

Most of these sprints are won by memorization, a few by guile and trickery, and occasionally they are contested outright. Anyone trying is getting in that extra training, and bringing a few laughs to us all. Below is a photo of our team at the bottom of Oak Hill in Littleton.

Team Lick at the bottom of Oak Hill in Littleton

Team Lick at the bottom of Oak Hill in Littleton


Cape in a day, and a wimpout

On the 4th of July Jim and I left town at 4:30am, headed for Provincetown, then a ferry trip back to Boston. This is the classic route that the Pan Mass Challenge is based on, though Billy and friends started from Newton and we headed out from Stow. This is my 5th time doing the ride and I almost have it perfected, except that we got lost in Plymouth. Now we had a good excuse as the whole town was lined up for a 2-mile long parade and we missed out turn. Eventually we made it to the McDonald’s in the shadow of the Sagamore bridge. 4 hash browns, lots of Coca Cola and we were set.

Cyclists are supposed to walk their bike across the Sagamore, but I am not interested in hoofing it that far. In the parking lot of the Christmas Tree shop we ran into 4 law-abiding riders, including Mark Vautour, who I know from Landry’s. He pulled us along 6A, the access road, and much of the PMC route from Sandwich in the upper Cape to Truro in the lower Cape. (Yes, that sounds backwards. Trust me, it is a nautical thing.)  Without him hanging out in the wind in front of us, we would have been much, much slower.

What’s the rush? At 3pm is the fast ferry back to Boston, a 90 minute cruise. Miss that and you have to take to 4pm which is 3 hours. With Mark’s help we rolled in at 2:30pm, and even had time for me to get a jerk chicken sandwich and salsa smoothie. 150 miles before a late lunch. Here we are on the boat, with the P-town monument in the background.

2015-07-04 15.01.35

The skies were grey and overcast, good biking weather until the clouds open on you. So Jim and I called his wife and asked her to pick us in at the Seaport terminal. Normally we would have ridden the 30 miles back to Stow, however I dislike riding in the rain. Kathy, we owe you big time!

We both ride on the 3rd, and I hope to get in 30 more miles tomorrow. Wish me luck!