Articles from December 2009



Celebrating the “cycle” of life

Just celebrated my 36th birthday with my family.  Just me, my wife and the three kids.  Good times.  Being a cyclist, there was definitely an overriding theme to the gifts – due to both my family knowning me, and a couple of “hints” about what I would like.

So what does a cyclists 36th birthday look like?  Well:

  1. I’m still older than Mark Cavendish
  2. I’m still younger than Lance Armstrong
  3. I’ve never ridden pro, but I can still ride with the “Masters”

Socks!

And the gift list?

  1. Blue, long sleeve Perl Izumi jersey (Comfy!)
  2. Arm warmers (Toasty!)
  3. 3 new pairs of socks.  (Sweet!)
  4. and 3 new BlueRay movies – clearly intended for the post ride recovery/relaxation period :)

So at 36 I know I’ll never ride in the pro peloton – unless I get filthy rich and buy my way into some silly sponsorship, ride a stage type deal.  I’ll also never be as fast as those young bucks that blow past me on the trails.  I’ll also never be as fast as some of the “old” guys that blow past me on the trails.  But I am faster than most of the people I interact with on a daily basis, and I’ve got many thousands and thousands of miles lined up for these legs.

There are big plans for this coming year.  I want to try my hand in an actual criterium at some point.  I’ve also got a century on the schedule (the Tour de Cure) as well the Seattle to Portland ride – either a double century, or two centuries back to back on consecutive days.  Sounds like a good year for this old fart.

There you have it – a cyclist’s blog entry about a cyclist’s birthday.  Cheers to all, happy new year and I’ll see ya out there.  I think I’m gonna go out for a ride now.

Making bikes more “car like” by throwing electronics at ‘em

I ran across a blog posting “At MIT invented a ‘smart’ bicycle wheel” [sic] detailing some MIT folks and an electronics laden rear bicycle wheel they’re playing with.  More than the details of the post itself,  it struck me that it is exactly this kind of things that can lead to more wide-spread bicycle usage.  Adding bells and whistles to bicycles can make them more “car like” – and thus more accessible and user friendly to average folks.

That being said, there is still something that draws me in the other direction.  Sure – it is made of high-technical synthetic materials, and was designed using modern computers and possibly a wind tunnel.  But there is something very alluring to me about the apparent simplicity and elegance of a modern road bike.  I still don’t like riding without indexed shifting, though.  Hey – a guy’s gotta have standards.

Follow Ross To Work Day #4 – Caltrain and The Office

9:37am I depart San Francisco on the second train of the morning. Caltrain has something of a slightly troubled history with velo commuters, generally surrounding bicycle capacity on their trains.  Caltrain has specific, dedicated bicycle cars with a fixed number of spaces for bicycles.  So, unless you have a folding bike (which can go on any of the train cars – not just the bike cars) you will potentially be denied entrance to the train if all of the available slots are full – known as “getting bumped” in the Caltrain rider vernacular.

In the past year Caltrain has done a lot to improve this situation.  My commute home from Palo Alto on one of the Bullet trains is one of the busier train stops, and getting bumped used to be a regular occurrence for me.  Looking back, however, it seems it has been a very very long time since I’ve had to wait for the next train.

They’ve increased their capacity in two ways.  First, they started to remove seats to allow room for more bike racks.  Each rack takes the space of about 4 people seats, and holds 4 bikes.  In addition to adding racks in the bike cars, they’ve increased the number of trainsets rolling with two bike cars.  That means that some of the trains can handle 80 bikes at one time.

Caltrain has a little more of a “Big city commuter train” than the Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains.  There is not quite as much room in the seats, for one thing.  Also, of the two types of cars only one style has any table top surfaces at all.  Of the cars that do have tables, they are tiny in comparison to the Amtrak cars.  Also, electrical outlets on the train cars are rare and seem to be intended for servicing the train more than providing power to riders power-hungry electronic gizmos.

All that being said, I’m not sure I’ll call the ride unpleasant – it just feels a little more like mass transit.  City bus like almost.

Menlo Park Station

Caltrain travels up and down the pennisula in a basicly north/south line between San Francisco and San Jose – stitching together SF’s hipsters and the Silicon Valley’s techsters.  Even with frequent stops, it is by far faster compared to driving, especially during peak traffic times.

Cool places passed include Tesla Motors – with their rows of electric powered, Lotus bodied sports cars.

Train pulling away from Palo Alto heading south. My last stop for the morning.

Finally, I jump off at Palo Alto.  It is a short couple of blocks to the office where I work – and I walk in the door at about 10:37 or so.  It has been about 4 hours and 15 minutes since I left my driveway.  During that time I’ve:

  1. Traveled about 116 miles
  2. Reached a top speed of about 80 MPH
  3. Averaged about 28MPH – including stops waiting for busses and trains to leave – across the entire trip
  4. Drank 3 cups of coffee and eaten 119 grams of carbohydrates
  5. Burned approximately 413 calories.
  6. Written 1.5 blog posts
  7. Napped about 15 minutes
  8. Read about 10 or 15 emails
  9. Come into contact with countless people
  10. Actually spoke to 5-10 folks
  11. Saw a hawk flying right next to the train window
  12. Dropped my phone under the train seat trying to get a picture of the hawk flying right next to the train window
  13. Stopped at zero gas stations or toll booths, and was stuck in my car for zero minutes waiting for traffic jams to clear
  14. Felt very happy in the fact that, although my commute is up to 6 times longer than most, I’m contributing substantially less CO2 emissions than drivers.

There you have it.  Thanks for following along with me on my trip to work.  Unfortunately, the application I was hoping would allow me to post an exact map of my route isn’t allowing me to upload right now.  At some point I’ll get that map and post it here online.

Until then – it is a busy day, and I’ve got work to do.

My desk at work

– FIN

Follow Ross To Work Day #4 – The Amtrak Leg

The Amtrak Bay Area Commuter Train (aka Amtrak Capitol Corridor) is actually a fairly comfortable service.  The run hourly or less between Sacramento and Oakland, with some of the trains heading east as far as Auburn, and south/west as far as San Jose.  Almost all of the cars have standard electric outlets to allow you to power your laptop and other electronics without fear of draining your battery.  That, coupled with the fairly spacious seats with either full tables or fold down trays makes working on the commute a very viable option.  In fact, the entire previous post was done in transit between Davis and Fairfield.

They also have a cafe car – or, more accurately, a snack bar.  Drinks and a couple of microwaved offerings make up the menu.  And yea – alchoholic beverages are available.  The prices are a little on the steep side, but nothing compared to, say, a hot dog at a sports arena.  You’re always able to bring your own food along as well.

On this morning, the train left right on time – 7:00am.  I often get a kick out of watching the auto driving commuters on I-80 coming out of Sac heading towards Davis and teh Bay Area.  Usually I get to be all smug about the fact that I’m, not stuck in that traffic.  Today, however, traffic seemed pretty light.  [video clip]

I was finally able to catch some video [video clip] of the delta between Fairfield and Suisuin Bay.  Everytime I go through here I always imagine Lord of the Rings, and Gollum leading the Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes.  OK – guess I’m a geek…

Across the bridge near the Suisun naval reserve fleet, past petro refineries, past C&H sugar, Richmond and Berkeley and finally Emeryville.  From here, I transfer to a bus that takes me across the Bay Bridge [video clip] to the Caltrain station and 4th & King in San Francisco.  Time for another train.

Some mornings, however, I’ll traverse SF a little differently.  Depending on timing, weather and my general mood, I may actually take the bus and get off at either the Hyatt in the Financial District, or the Ferry Terminal.  From there, I’ll ride along the Embarcadero to Townsend street.  Makes for a nice, quick and generally enjoyable ride.

That’s it for Amtrak – and I board the Caltrain #236, leaving San Francisco heading south on the peninsula at 9:37am.  Last leg of public transit for the morning.

Follow Ross To Work Day #4 – Alarm Clock to Train

Those of you who have followed my twitter feed, Facebook, or read the (unfortunately now defunct) SacraFrisco Commuter blog will be familiar with Follow Ross to Work Days (FRTWD).  Here, I chronicle my normal commute from my home in Sacramento, CA to my place of employment in Palo Alto, CA.  For those of you already doing the jaw drop “oh my gawd” expression – hold on.  I don’t actually do this every single day.  It averages about 3 days a week.  I also don’t drive it – instead opting for a Bike-Train-Bus-Train-Bike combo.

Why is this FRTWD different or better than previous ones?

One word – technology.  A second word – Droid.  This time around, I’ll be including GPS maps and video along with the normal photo work.  As mentioned above, the most up-to-the-minute information and photos will be on my Twitter feed – which is also replicated to my Facebook status.  If you’re looking for more of a “digest” form than this blog is the place for you.  Here goes….

Alarm Clock sounds…

This morning was a 2-snooze-button morning, but I managed to make it out of the house even a little early. I knew the streets were wet from rains last night (but it wasn’t raining at the time) and that I’d loose some time as I juggled gadgets trying to capture as much content as possible for these posts.  The plan was to get a little video of the ride in, as well as map the route.

For the GPS stuff I’d actually decided to use two apps on the Droid.  One – CardioTrainer – is the one that I’ve been playing with to track my training rides.  I was planning to use this for the shorter segments (like the house to the train station).  It tracks cool information like calories burned, etc.  The second I’d just downloaded the night before – EveryTrail.  The plan was to use this to track the entire trip – from leaving my driveway to arriving at the office.

Well – I kinda blew it on the CardioTrainer portion.  I simply forgot to hit that uber-fancy “Start” button to make it actually record my trip.  Oh well.  EveryTrail is recording the overall trip, however.  It still remains to be seen if I’ll have an uploadable map to share when this is all done.

6:10am: So now we’re out the door and on the bike.  Things are going as normal for my commute.  The streets are pretty wet, but there is no rain falling.  I’ve got about 5 different variations on the trip to work, and I choose the easier one (as far as effort on the bike) to give myself ample time to play with the camera.  It also happens to pass through Land Park – which is where I plan my first video.  Unfortunately, before I get to the park the rain starts to fall.  In the interest preserving the Droid from electronics-unfriendly moisture – no video.

Not sure there is much else to really say about the ride in.  The rain got harder and I got wetter, but arrived at the train with ample time.  I skipped my normal Starbucks Espresso for the morning – more out of laziness than anything – and boarded the 7:00 am train at about 6:43.  Let the train ride begin!

Making Great Gains By Going Absolutely Nowhere

As we approach the winter months it can become harder and harder to get outside on the bike.  Not only can the weather be a challenge, but it gets darker earlier so you may be out of daylight by the time you get home from work.  All of these things can really hinder a training schedule.  I’ve got additional challenges I face – as a week out of every three or four I have work duties that demand my laptop always be with me.  Not only is it a hassle to carry it around while riding, getting stuck on the bike trail should I be called upon to actually use that laptop is not a happy proposition.  What is a cyclist to do?

Performance Bicycle RollersWell – my solution was to get a set of indoor rollers.  This solution was partially enacted when I found a used set on Craig’s list.  I think I paid the guy like $45 or something.  Not only was there a full set of rollers, but there was also a fork stand so that I could hard-mount the bike and just have the back wheel spinning.  Good thing too – the belt that is supposed to accompany a set of rollers had broken on the previous owner.  After a couple of sessions bracketed into the fork stand, I began my search for the replacement belt.  6 bucks a about 7 days later, the belt was in place, the fork stand was removed and I was ready to give the rollers a “whirl” for real.

I started out next to an object I could grab onto to – my “safety handle”.  I held on and started to pedal.  10 seconds later, my front wheel was off the rollers and I was clinging to my safety handle for dear life.  Wow…

So rollers are a little tricky to get used to to say the least.  I put about 20 minutes into that first session, and never managed to do much more than one hand on the safety grip, on hand on the handlebars, and a lot of starts and stops trying to keep in a straight line.  I’d read that riding rollers is not only good for basic strength/endurance workouts, but also greatly improves your bike handling skills as well.  Yea – I can see why.

After that first attempt, I moved the rollers into the door frame for my second attempt.  This is definitely the way to go.  What worked best for me was to position it so that my elbows were right where the door jam was.  This way, with both hands on the handle bars, I could gently stick out my elbow and put a little pressure against the door frame if I started to fall one way or the other.  The other thing I found was – just like on the road – for some reason looking down at the front wheel as it is spinning is not a good strategy for maintaining your straight line.  In fact, when I looked across the room at the TV and didn’t target my every thought on keeping my bike straight on the rollers, I actually found I could do it a lot easier.  It really is like riding on the road if you don’t get all hung up about it.  Only thing is, you’ve got to stay within about a 3 foot space (depending on the size of your rollers) or you’ll be in a world of hurt.

I thought a little bit about the nightmare scenario – namely falling off the rollers, hitting the floor at full speed and shooting across the living room.  However, in practice I found that if anything the front tire falling off seemed the most likely scenario.  And, if the front tire were to fall off but the back tire were still on there really is no forward momentum as far as the floor is concerned.  I don’t think the physics will allow the cartoon-inspired “hit the ground and ride straight through the opposite wall” possibility.

So currently I’ve got at most 20 miles on the rollers.  Not a lot of miles for sure, and I’m definitely no pro, but the clumsy feeling is starting to go away.  I imagine sometime within the next 100 miles done indoors it will become less painful that going out in the pouring rain.  Well, ok, the riding in the rain isn’t really all that painful.  But I absolutely hate needing to clean up the damn leaves and road gunk from my down tube … while it is still raining.