Culpeper Metric Century: Things I Think I Think


With the Culpeper County Metric Century now two days into my rear view mirror, here’s what I think I think:*

1.  I think I like organized rides.  They give me a goal to shoot for, provide some great interaction with other cyclists, and give me an opportunity to ride on routes I am not familiar with.  The t-shirt was nice too!

2.  I think the Culpeper County Century ride was well organized, well supplied, and well marked.  The route was a great route that provided wonderful views of the area and was not too difficult for novice cyclists.  The volunteers were friendly and eager to help.  If there’s a better ride for a relatively small group, I’d like to see it.

3.  I think riding with a partner is great fun and forces your heart rate to slow down (you can’t speak when you’re exhausted).  This makes for great endurance riding but not so good training, I think.  I think it’s probably best to train alone and have fun in groups.

4.  After the October 23 Great Pumpkin Ride, I don’t think I’ll be signing up for any more 65-mile rides.  I think the money and effort to drive to the site require a 100-mile commitment on my part.  And I think I’m ready for the challenge.

5.  I think my seat is too high.  I have been experiencing chronic pain behind my left knee since I bought the Trek.  During Saturday’s ride, this pain appeared behind my right knee as well.  It was pretty bad.  Two days later it is subsiding, but still present.  A Google search indicates this symptom is closely associated with seats that are too high.  And Sloan mentioned that he thought my seat was high.  And I adjusted my seat upward after only one ride because it felt too low.  So I’m pretty sure I my seat is too high.

6.  I think I need to work on my upper body technique.  My elbows were in a good deal of pain, probably because I ride with my elbows locked.  I need to fix that.  On the positive side, I adjusted my hand grip and largely solved the numbness problem I experienced a week earlier.

7.  I think I need to figure out my cold weather clothing plan.  I got lucky with the compression shirt and the gloves.  In a few weeks, that won’t be sufficient.  Head, leg, and shoe clothing are in order.  Sadly, I remain a cheap skate and will probably dither over each of these purchases until I am satisfied I am getting what is absolutely necessary at a good price.

* My apologies to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, whose weekly column on the NFL was the inspiration for the title of this post.

Prince William Forest & Quantico

On Saturday, I traveled around Prince William Forest and did a couple of laps on Quantico Marine Corps Base.  Although the calendar informed me it was Fall, the weather was decidedly summer-like, with temps in the mid 90s.  I’ve traveled all these roads at least once before so there was very little new to report, other than the Modern Day Marine Expo, which I passed on my way by the post HQ. 

From the outside, there wasn’t much to see other than a bunch of white “beer tents.”  I’m sure it is very nice and the Marines are very proud of it, but I had finished only 20 of my 45 miles and couldn’t be bothered to stop.  Instead, I took my break on a bench at the Quantico Elementary School playground.  It was in the shade and nobody was there.  Much better than a tent full of Marine stuff.

Here is this ride’s installment of “Virginia Historical Marker Picture.”  This marker is on Rte 234, near the entrance to my subdivision, Montclair:

And this is what it looks like in its natural setting:

I finished the ride in good shape and in a better-than-average pace of almost 15 mph.  There was only a small issue, namely that when I got off the bike I had no feeling in the ring and pinky fingers of my left hand.  This continued for most of the day, which was a tad disconcerting.  Some one-handed google searches informed me that I was suffering from handlebar palsy, an overuse injury caused by excessive compression of the ulnar nerve which runs down the arm and (most importantly for this story) the outer portion of the hand, ending in (you guessed it!) the ring and pinky fingers.  It is also responsible for hand strength, which explains why I had a tough time using my left hand to properly operate a clothes pin later that evening.

The treatment for this condition is rest, usually 2-4 weeks.  I’ll give it six days.  Various websites also recommend frequently changing hand positions  (something I already do) and additional padding in riding gloves (something I will definitely look into).  The hand is already doing much better and I am even using it to type this post – yippee!

Today, I took the Trek back to Revolution Cycles to give it a tune up prior to next weekend’s ride in Culpeper.  The cables, derailleurs, brakes, and whatnot on new bikes have a break-in period.  Small adjustments are usually necessary after the first couple hundred miles.  Such was the case with my bike.  After a few small tweaks and a chain lube, the Trek was right as rain.  I briefly loitered at the glove section, hoping to find a pair of full-fingered gloves for my winter riding.  I found several, but none for less than the cost of dinner at a fine restaurant.  I think I’ll shop around a bit!

Century Season

I was at Revolution Cycles today, buying some absolutely critical gear for my bike prior to the Culpeper Cycling Century (of which I am only riding 65 miles) ride in two weeks.  Ok, “critical” may be a slight exaggeration of its importance.  It would probably be better to say I was buying some “things I could probably do without but they’d be nice to have so what the heck lets get ’em.”  I was short some accessories and I didn’t want to keep swapping them from Old Ironsides to the Trek every time I switched bikes.  So I picked up some water bottle holders, some Revolution Cycles water bottles, a Revolution Cycles saddle bag, an inner tube, and an CO2 system in the highly unlikely event of a flat.  Faithful readers will know that my first experience with CO2 inflation system ended in complete failure.  After some reassuring words from Ronnie, the store manager, I decided I am ready for another try. 

But CO2 systems are not the subject of today’s post.  Rather, a parting comment by Ronnie is what I am ruminating on this evening.  I mentioned to Ronnie that I was signed up for the Culpeper ride and he said, “Yes, it is now definitely Century Season.” 

This got me to thinking (a dangerous past time, I know).  I had no idea there was a specific “season” for century rides.  I suppose I could have guessed such a thing existed, if I ever stopped to consider it.  If there was a season for century rides, it certainly wouldn’t be in the Winter and I would imagine Spring is out as people are generally not prepared for such things at that time of year.  That leaves Summer and Fall.  I guess I always assumed that once it warmed up, centuries would be occurring all the time, everywhere.  

I’ve read about long tours and rides all summer but, upon further review, it does appear to me that things are picking up a bit as of late.  Just this weekend, a blog friend in Ashland, VA, completed a century in Surry, and she discusses several more events she’s getting ready to ride in.  Another blog friend in Illinois rode in an event this weekend.  Yet another blog buddy mentioned a Civil War Century brevet (a long distance ride sponsored by a type of cycling club known as randonneurs) went off last weekend.  I read about this event in yet another blog.  Then, of course, there’s my little ride in Culpeper.  That’s a lot of activity for the supposedly cooling weather during the busy school season.  

This is all of some interest to me as I begin to formulate my Grand Plan for next summer’s riding.  My planning is currently being foiled by the lack of information on 2011 rides just about anywhere on the internet.  I will continue to wait patiently for dates to be announced, but the lack of announcements could be explained by the fact that most events for 2011 are still 11-13 months out.  Patience, I am told, is a virtue.  I cannot speak from experience on that point, I’m afraid. 

I’ll leave you with some pics of today’s haul.  I tried everything out on a 26 miler and they worked just fine.  How some water bottles, holders, and a saddle bag could fail is beyond me but I believe if they could cause problems for me, they would! 

I could have bought blue water bottle holders, but Ronnie and my wife agree white was better


If my bike breaks down and people want to know where I bought it, I'll point to this.

Night Rider

So there I was, window shopping at the Performance Bike Shop in Reston, when I came across a dirt-cheap bicycle light set, on sale for 50% off.  The sun has been setting earlier (funny how that happens) and my weekday rides have been difficult to get in.  I decided to take the plunge and enter the world of Night Cycling.  Behold, Bike Modification #4: the Ascent Commuter Bicycle Light Set!

This installed very quickly on my bike, although the front light was still a tick loose when I tightened it as much as possible.  The lights have several options, including steady and various blinking configurations.  Having successfully installed the gear, I took the pics you see here and waiting for dusk.

It was after sunset when I headed out.  There was still plenty of ambient light, but it was getting dark quickly.  Staying on multi-use paths and side streets, I made my way to the Rte 234 path.  I was surprised to see a couple of cyclists without any lights or reflective gear.  I also saw four middle-schoolers wandering unsupervised along the dark pathway and reflected on the current state of our culture.

I rode seven miles out and by the time I turned around to come home, it was well and truly dark.   This was an interesting experience: riding over a path I knew very well, only now in conditions of darkness.  I’m glad I stuck to a path and stayed off the street.  I would have felt VERY unsafe on the road next to the path – I simply would not have trusted the oncoming traffic to see my blinking red tail light, even though it seemed to be quite bright.  I was also glad to be on a path I knew very well.   When I was moving at or above 20mph, the visibility was dicey and I was occasionally surprised by an unexpected bump.  I almost hit two joggers who were heading toward me with no reflective gear at all.  Fortunately, they saw my light in plenty of time and cleared out of the way!

On the whole, it was an interesting experience.  My lights performed well and served their purpose of notifying others of my presence.  They’ll let me continue weeknight rides into the Fall, albeit at a slower pace and only on routes which include paths.  I have since read several reviews of this light set – most of them negative.  We’ll see what the future brings, but after one hour of riding, I can report they handled just fine!

Bike Mods #2 and #3

All went well at the bike shop.  They replaced my broken spoke at no charge but they didn’t have the exact same pedals in stock, necessitating Bike Modification #2 (my first mod being a camera clamp).  In lieu of the original pedals, they offered me some VP pedals at no charge.  These are low-end and nothing terribly exciting.  They consist of a single piece of resin surrounded by a metal frame.  They can’t be worse than the stock pedals, which had a lifespan of about 250 miles.  After today’s 38 mile ride, all is well.

After taking care of my broken parts, I decided to get an upgrade which resulted in Modification #3.  The stock hand grips on the Crosstrail are tolerable, but one of the main disadvantages of this style of handle bar is you cannot change hand positions like you can with drop-down bars used on most road bikes.  This causes your hands to go numb after a while, no matter what kind of gloves you’re wearing.  To help with this, I picked up some Specialized ergonomic hand grips.  They are flatter with a wider base to help distribute the pressure point where the hand meets the bar.  Like with the pedals, the early results after today’s ride are encouraging.  They don’t stop all  the discomfort, but my hands never went numb like they have before.

As an aside, if you decide to get new grips I encourage you to have your bike shop install them.  They are a MAJOR hassle to take off unless you have access to a pressure hose, which the Old Towne Bicycles mechanic inserted under the original grip.  With high pressure air moving under the grip, they easily came off.  I can only imagine how much cursing and sweating would have been involved if I attempted this in my garage!  So a heartfelt thank you goes to Tyler, who offered to make the switch without my asking! 

Today’s ride was in ridiculously hot conditions much like the past four weeks have been.  I pedaled up Bristow Road and used Nokesville Road to cut across the southern part of Manassas.  I then picked up the Prince William Parkway and headed home.  I tried some back roads in a residential area off of Spriggs Road – that was a mistake as there were way too many stop signs (and I don’t want to be the cyclist who blows off traffic laws and earns the score of nearby motorists).

I passed this guy on Rte 234.  Note the iPod on his left arm.  He was in his own world and I startled the heck out of him as I passed.  Remember kids, iPods are bad.

And finally, here is a pic of some geese and a few ducks in a Manassas Pond.  Most of these guys were in the water when I arrived, but my appearance caused a mass migration for a nearby shade tree.  I’m not sure the point of that.  There weren’t begging for food and if they knew anything about me at all, they would have known it was far safer for them in the water!

Why I Am Not Cool (Part 2 in a Continuing Series…)


Long ago, I learned my approach to cycling is extremely uncool.  There are many aspects of my bike, fashion, etc… that immediately point me out to serious cyclists as someone who does not belong in their inner circles.  I have already shared one such sign with you.  It is because of these clear signs that I will never be invited to the coolest cycling parties or enjoy the unabashed admiration of other cool cyclists.

Somehow I am still able to sleep at night.

I would like to share another aspect of my cycling nerdiness.  It is silver, weighs approximately 2/3 of a pound and keeps my bike out of the dirt.  I am speaking, of course, of my kickstand. 

Of all the things one might do to signal his unwillingness to conform to cycling cultural norms, installing a kickstand has to rank at or near the top of the list.  This is akin to wearing pocket protectors in the office or black socks with your flip-flops at the beach.  You might as well have a flashing red light over a sign stating, “Behold the Loser Cyclist!” dangling from your handlebars.  Much like orange safety flags, kickstands are the preserve of young children.  They identify you as someone who hasn’t a clue as to how to properly rig your bike.

“But Steve,” you point out, “the uber-cyclists have state-of-the-art bikes that cost thousands of dollars.  How do they properly take care of them?” 

Glad you asked.  There are only two acceptable ways to store a bike worth more than many peoples’ mortgage payment.  Option 1 is the “Throw It On The Ground Method,” demonstrated by this lovely couple:

You might think this is the exception, or even a rule that only applies to mountain biking.  I assure you this is perfectly normal, nay expected behavior.  Any damage to the bike is far less significant than the damage to the cyclists’ egos which would certainly result from employment of a kickstand.

Option 2 is the “Lean It On Something” method, demonstrated by this gentleman:

While still quite cool, this method is less desirable than Option 1 because it exhibits some level of regard for the bicycle.  Certainly the paint and handlebar tape will be destroyed over time, which is nice, but the main point is THERE IS NO KICKSTAND.  This is what is paramount and I cannot stress this enough.

Why the strong aversion to a device which serves a worthwhile purpose?  As is the case with dork disks and other taboo items of the cycling culture, reasons are often listed.  All of them are flimsy.  The most common rationale given for this rule is the weight of the kickstand – which weighs about the same as a pair of pedals or a tool kit.  If you’re competing in a time trial, I can see your point.  That accounts for a fraction of the folks who follow this practice.  Some cyclists will actually carry a portable stand in their jerseys, thus bringing the very weight they hoped to rid themselves of, while making their jersey less comfortable and forcing them to remember one more thing when they prepare to ride.

The reasons for this and other cycling taboos are often silly, but that is precisely the point – in order to be considered a seriously cool cyclist, you must ascribe to a series of arcane behaviors which help set you apart from the normal world.  The fact that these behaviors are counterintuitive only reinforces their importance.  It’s kind of like pledging a fraternity – by agreeing to the somewhat silly and arbitrary rules, you gain entrance to a subculture and are thus considered to be part of the group, ie., cool.

Cycling is awesome and I’m thoroughly enjoying my rides.  Sadly, I also enjoy my kickstand which – even as I type these words – is keeping my bike off my garage floor.  There’s a lot to be said for a piece of gear which can help keep your paint and tape intact and your chain out of the dirt.  If it causes some to turn up their nose, that’s ok – I still appreciate my stand.

And I’ll have to look into getting one of those orange safety flags.  They look pretty sharp!

My Dork Disk


See the clear disk on my rear axle?  Bet you didn’t know this particular piece of gear has a nickname.  It’s called a “dork disk.”

Bet you don’t know why.

Well, if you are a serious cyclist you probably do know why and if you’re not one, you probably don’t care.  But I’m going to tell you anyway.

The purpose of the dork disk is to prevent the chain from flying off your inside gear sprocket and slamming in between the spokes of your rear wheel.  Should this happen, several unfortunate events would occur including (but not limited to) the destruction of many of the wheel’s spokes and probably the wheel itself, and a sudden complete stoppage of forward momentum – except of course for the rider who will continue to experience whatever forward momentum he/she enjoyed prior to the destruction of the rear wheel, meaning the rider will be catapulted forward to an uncertain (but probably unpleasant) future.

This seems like a good reason to have this gear on your wheel axle, but the cycling elite will quickly point out that the only way for a chain to jump the inner sprocket as described above is for the bike’s rear derailer to be improperly adjusted.  And only a dork would allow that to happen.  Thus the name.

That all seems perfectly rational, but I’d rather keep the disk on my wheel to prevent that sort of occurance. If this means the occasional super-cyclist who flies by me at mach speed considers me to be a dork, I believe my ego can take the punishment.