Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Training for a Century--the Marla Streb method

Marla Streb, pro bicycle racer, gives you exactly what you're looking for if you haven't crossed the Century threshold. And she gives it to you in doses of clarity, week by week. If you're doing it for the first time or coaxing someone else, Bicycling Magazine's Century Training Program is the book.

Marla uses her brother, Dave, as her foil to bring her vast knowledge to the average rider, and it works well. After each chapter/week, two training logs follow that contrast his actual sleep/miles/notes with hers. He of course has a "real" job and family constraints. I also like that she pays so much attention to sleep. Not only does my body dig sleep, adequate sleep is under-recognized in its importance to effective training to my mind.

Along the way are snippets of essential but basic wisdom about equipment, overtraining, riding in groups, heart rate, exercises, nutrition, basic periodization, etc. What I most like is what it doesn't include: intense charts and graphs that can be intimidating and off-putting to those we're trying to lure in.

And let's face it, the century is the benchmark. It is the ritualized ride. "Have you ridden a century yet?" is a common question. And once you've done "your century", the whole behind-the-curtain-of-the-harem-tent of longer distance cycling awaits the intrepid explorer.

So I consider Marla's well-conceived, simple, and engaging book to be an "Open Sesame" to the Century Ride. That's a pretty good service to the sport we lovingly refer to as randonneuring. Thanks, Rodale. Thanks, Marla.

Looking for a good guide to the Century? Go with Marla and her bro.

Keep it going to one hundred,


Monday, June 29, 2009

Colorado: cycling culture and other fun

Here we are: my wife, our sons, and me. Pramila traveled to Colorado for work. Janak went for Zimfest, a Zimbabwean Music Festival. And I visited my son, Mike. We all convened in Boulder, where I snapped this self-portrait (the skill is in avoiding the arm shadow; I did it in this one!).

Earlier, Mike and I had breakfast in Fort Collins as they were just setting up for their Brewfest. As a result, most shops were closed, including the Fort Collins Bike Library. Mike is standing in front of it here.

Inside, there is a Rudge High Wheeler on the wall that you can just make out through the plate glass window.

Mike and I also went for a walk in his town of Wellington which is such a quiet little town that little boys ride their bicycles right down the middle of the street. This guy is clearly not satisfied with silent bicycles as he accompanied his riding with very loud NASCAResque sound effects. Impressive!

On the wall of the Cafe Ardour is this 1898 Columbia Safety Bicycle made by Pope Manufacturing Company. It features a 98" gear, "The Kelly" adjustable handlebars, and wooden rims. There is a badge on the fork that is a permit for users of the paths.

This bicycle (also the Rudge and others I could see through the windows of the Bike Library) are part of the Fort Collins Bicycle Museum Without Walls. There is no building for the Museum yet, so it is a traveling collection. The Museum is a project of Bike Fort Collins. Jeff Nye, Vice President of Bike Fort Collins and owner of the Columbia Safety Bicycle pictured above, says this of the Rudge Highwheeler in the earlier picture:
This is a heavily restored 60" light roadster model built in England in 1885, it features spade grips, a replica Brooks saddle. Sixty inches was the largest size of production high wheel that was available in this period, it would take a person with an inseam of about 44". The bicycle hangs in front of a mural designed and drawn by me and painted by the very talented local muralist Grant Wade, the street scene in the mural represents some of the Victorian architecture of the Old Town area. The machine was the first machine purchased by BFC to be a part of our collection.

Boy, I sure am infatuated with those High Wheelers, but 44' inseam. Yikes! I tried to meet a collector in Golden, CO during this trip, but his current health situation precluded a visit. I wish him all the best.

And guess what else abounds in Boulder and Fort Collins? Bicycle Trails. Everywhere. Well marked. Heavily utilized. With tunnels. Well maintained. A normal part of the landscape. Here's a link to the Bicycle Trails of Boulder County.

Now I know that both are big University towns, but they are inspiring. Truly though, the Bike Library and the clear sense of civic support for bicycling was bittersweet to me. I loved that they've got the spirit in Boulder and Fort Collins, but why not Seattle? On the heels of the movie Veer (my previous post about the Portland bicycle scene), it just got me feeling a little blue because we have so much potential if we just had a little more support (taking nothing away from the progress many have worked so hard for).

Traveling is good for building perspective.

Here's another of Mike and I atop Flagstaff Mountain where we all went out to a lookout (May's Point).

Once again, putting motors to wheels is always alluring. Janak speeds away in Go-Kart #20. Mike is not far behind.

Keep your perspective,


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Veer, the movie about bicycling culture

If you like bicycles, infectuous fun, the good guys taking on the powers that be, outrageous costumes, and a lively music selection...then go see Veer. I saw Veer a few nights ago at the Columbia City Cinema, my neighborhood theater. Among other emotions, envy filled my chest at the unabashededly pro-bicycle aura that surrounds Portland, the city featured in the film. But sadness rolled around too as Veer delved into the dangerous side of cycling.

As we know bicyclists are vulnerable against automobiles and trucks. Portland has had more than its share of tragic collisions recently. This collision side of cycling is conveyed very powerfully in the grief of the victims' families.

Organizing for a new law emerges from their pain: "vulnerable user" legislation. I won't spoil the story, but David Hiller, lobbyist in chief for Seattle's cycling community and the Advocacy Director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, vowed during the interim between the early and late shows at the Cinema that we'd win "vulnerable user" legislation in Washington next year. I'm not completely clear, but I think the impact of the law would be that a motor vehicle operator who injures or kills a cyclist and is convicted of reckless or careless driving would have additional penalties added due to the relative vulnerability of cyclists.

Currently, a driver who kills a cyclist could get off with a small fine and not suffer any further consequences. I believe David that we could pass "vulnerable user" legislation, but it will take all of us backing up David's and the Cascade Bicycle Club's efforts. They will need our help.

But again, Veer is primarily about the infectuousness of bicycling. Even a Portland bicycle cop admits he'd like to go ZooBombing. ZooBombing is a weekly semi-organized event in which cyclists ride 16" wheeled children's bicycles really really fast down really really steep hills, including the one near the Zoo.

So where is the cause and effect in this wannabe cop Zoobomber? Does the Portland policeman who rides his police bicycle every day want to ZooBomb because riding his bicycle tunes him into the fun side of cycling, or is it that he chose to be a cycling cop cause he loves bicycles in the first place? Who cares? His unabashed admission is a kick.

What's missing, I'm afraid, is the randonneuring scene in Portland. I've participated in two Oregon Randonneurs brevets this year, and they are their own subculture too. The Oregon Randonneurs (ORR) is a great and highly organized group and would have made a balancing contribution to the film. Together with the commuter subculture and perhaps a little more depth to the cyclotouring segment, the ORR would have rounded out the age diversity in this protrayal of bicycling culture. Veer seems to imply the cycling subculture is a younger people's thing. Not exclusively so.
The showing I attended (perhaps the only night in Seattle) was a benefit for the Cascade Bicycle Club's Major Taylor Project.

Here are the goals of the Major Taylor Project:
* Engage youth to learn about the benefits of bicycle riding and maintenance.
*Introduce groups of 11 to 18 year olds to Major Taylor and different types of bicycling, including road touring, mountain biking, track racing, and cyclocross riding.
*Provide mentorship and physical activity in an out-of-school time activity.
*Partner in the community and increase cycling overall in targeted neighborhoods.
Marshall "Major" Taylor (1878 - 1932) was the first African American professional cyclist, and he endured enormous discrimination. If you aren't familiar with his story, explore a little; he's an inspiration.

Veer is spirited. Veer celebrates bicycles. Veer cheers what bicycles can do. Veer loves cyclists coming together.

Go see it!

All of the graphics and photos here are from the Cascade Bicycle Club website.

Here is the YouTube trailer for Veer.
Keep it bombing,


Friday, June 26, 2009

My Randonneuring Bicycle, Part 2: More than the sum of her parts

As a union organizer, I've been accused from time to time of being a revolutionary. Tricky word, that. But I got to pondering my recent post about my current randonneuring bicycle, and recognized that I wasn't doing her justice, either individually or as a representative of her class. My current randonneuring bicycle is more than the sum of her component parts; why she's a bloody revolutionary!

She, like her sister bicycles everywhere, is a serious change agent. Just look at her in front of this big red barn from Sunday's ride, ready to git gittin'.

She's 33 years old, and burns no oil (excepting chain lubrications). Consistently, she challenges me to realize my better self. She takes me places I'd otherwise never visit, and she could quite possibly be a big part of the solution sitting beneath our noses to the problem of our self-destruction via fossil fuel consumption. (For the model of eschewing the burn-the-oil status quo see Kent Peterson who has gone carless--talk about a revolutionary act--for years and years!)

And like revolutionaries everywhere, she is that curious amalgam of real-world sturdiness imbued with her own beauty, absolute practicality soaked in abundant charm, and all the while answering to no one and yet eliciting broad appeal. Wheeled vehicles like her have a history of revolutionary change as attested to by my wife's posing with her steed alongside yesteryear's wagon.

If I seem over-the-top, understand just how remarkable bicycles are. They are the most efficient means of self-transportation for humans. Think about that.

And when I unceremoniously listed her component parts in my previous post (See Part 1, The sum of her parts), I omitted her very soul and her ability to satisfy mine (See also Part 3: First Tease). Also, check out Part 4: Let the Build Begin!

Others climb mountains for adventure. Cool. Or sail the seas. I considered that. But she transports my soul to my chosen or unexpected adventures while connecting me with the land, introducing me to new pals, and moving my legs and heart a whole life's long as Nature intended my legs and heart to do. And, she makes my cycling companions and me smile.

OK, she's got soul and she's a soul mover. What about her fitness for the seeking of adventure we call randonneuring? For fellow newbie randonneurs I have an obligation to say that one doesn't need a snazzy ride to randonneur (even though future posts of mine will document the creation of my new snazzy ride). As I recalled all the componentry of my current randonneuring bicycle it became obvious that I have switched out most original parts by now. Even that is not necessary, fellow newbies. Many randonneurs have and will ride brevets with old and new, faddish and unfashionable, and even unreliable bicycles, though I don't recommend the latter. Just know that there is no "must" for a Randonneuse.

What would I like her to have today that just wasn't widely available in 1976?

Wider tires and room for fenders.
A front rack built for her unique geometry. Braze-ons for three water bottles and a pump peg. A dependable lighting system integrated into her design.

But then, would I have had the sense to make them part of the order had they been available? Fenders were so not the thing. Wider tires would have elicited smirks.

The truth of it is that if I couldn't buy a new bicycle today I could certainly and happily keep tweaking the old Fuji, and she'd do fine.

Like all bicycles she is way more than the sum of her component parts. She is serious transportation and outrageous kid-on-the-bicycle-for-the-first-time fun. How can one vehicle be so much of both at once? Save us from our polluting selves and fun to pedal around with no object other than the pedaling? She is very simply the embodiment of the most revolutionary and transformative truth we all seek after.
It's what we get when we fall in love with one another.

What we want most of all is what she delivers: that special coming together when 1 + 1 = 3.

Keep it adding up,


UPDATE: For a hint at how I'm thinking about the new randonneuring bicycle I'm having built up, check out this post.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bunnies on Highwheelers Video!

The Bunnies captured many a heart so here is a YouTube video of sweet bicycling bunnies.

Also, here's a bunny from a ride report from randonneurextra. Every bunny is cute, no?

Yes, the bunnies on highwheelers are actually on trikes. Not quite the same, but I'm told all the hopping made them unstable on traditional highwheelers.
Coming up next: My Randonneuring Bicycle, Part 2: More than the sum of her parts.

Keep it hoppin'


Monday, June 22, 2009

Bunnies on High Wheelers!

That's right, bunnies ride high wheel bicycles because Bunnies know what's cool and elegant!

Lucia Neare's Theatrical Wonders performed in Seward Park near my South Seattle home this evening. Though I couldn't stay for their performance, I snapped a few pics of these magical bunnies on high wheelers (the original fixies).

All part of their Lullaby Moon series--performances on the New Moons of every month for an entire lunar year--the Neare tribe was a wonder indeed. I had trouble capturing the Bunnie Bikers alone as they were followed continuously by a parade of enchanted young children.

Check out the Lucia Neare website. Her influences include Dr. Seuss, P.T. Barnum, and her time living in Southern India. She describes her mission thusly:

I am devoted to creating free, living, joyful experiences for public audiences that offer vivid infusions of whimsy and inspire hope and expansive thinking--that gifts can spring forth on the streets and in our lives, that it is possible to fill the air with love through the power of our intent.

Of course all was enhanced by the specialness of the time of day when all calms, and the last light on the lake fades away.

Thank you for your inspired cycling, Bunnies!

Keep it enchanted,


Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Randonneuring Bicycle, PART 1: The sum of her parts

My current randonneuring bicycle, or Randonneuse, is pictured here. She's an old pal, a Fuji Finest (See Part 2: More than the sum of her parts and Part 3: First Tease). I bought her in grand anticipation--with zero follow through--of the 1976 BikeCentennial. So I bought her in the Fall/Winter of 1975-76 but I worked the summer of 1976 instead of cycling across our nation. Ah, regrets!

She's an old favorite--ah, young love!--who's about to be replaced by a new Pereira custom-made Randonneuse so I want to give her her due now before I get all hot and bothered about my new flame. Ah, raw lust!

She was a Fixie for a while, but when I discovered randonneuring just after the 2007 Paris Brest Paris, I reconverted her back to her multi-geared origins. Here are her current specs:

  • "Fuji Double Butted Chrome Molybdenum Steel Tubing"
  • 73 degree Seat Angle
  • 73 degree Head Angle
  • 58.5 cm Top Tube (center to center)
  • 6 cm Bottom Bracket drop
  • 43.5 cm chain stays
  • 5 cm fork rake
  • Off-the-shelf replacement fork
  • 144 mm Tread or Q-Factor
  • Matrix 32 hole Front Rim
  • Shimano 600 Front HubGentleman 81, 36 hole Rear Rim
  • Suzue High Flange Rear Hub
  • Grand Bois Cypress 700c 32mm Tires
  • SKS Plastic Fenders
  • TA Pro 5 Vis 170 cm Cranks
  • Shimano PD A520 Pedals
  • Technomic Stem
  • Grand Bois "Randonneur" Handlebars
  • Selle Anatomica Saddle
  • Nitto Saddle Post
  • Clamp-on Water Bottle Holders (no braze-ons)
  • Weinmann Vainqueur 999 Brakes
  • Tektro Brake Levers
  • TA Cyclotouriste 32-44-52 Chainrings
  • 14-28T five speed freewheel
  • Suntour 7 Front Derailleur
  • Suntour VX Rear Derailleur
  • Suntour Shifters
  • Chris King Headset
  • TA Bottom Bracket
  • Velo Orange Decaleur
  • Velo Orange Front Rack
  • ViVa Saddlebag Support
  • Ostrich Handlebar Bag
  • Ostrich Saddle Bag (not used on 200k or 300k brevets to date)
  • Cateye Strada Cadence Cyclocomputer
  • Planet Bike Blinky's
  • Busch & Muller Ixon IQ headlight (not pictured)
Here she is in her original condition in a pic from a cyclotouring trip in 1977 along the Scioto River in Ohio. Note the Kirtland Panniers.

Discerning eyes will note the old red/white lenses on the "French" flashlight hanging from the left pannier. I also had a small handlebar bag mounted on a removeable handlebar rack. Non-aero brake levers. A Silca pump. Campy Record pedals with toe-clips. And a really heavy sleeping bag!

The tires were sew-ups and the saddle was a Unicanitor plastic saddle covered in Buffalo hide. I also had a Cinelli Stem and Handlebar. The original fork rake was 7 cm.

I'm a sucker for chrome, but alas will not go for it on the new Randonneuse. Too environmentally damaging. The Fuji was and is a good bike. And she's the only one since my Schwinn Continental, so I guess I'm about ready for my Pereira.

But she's got to get me through this season still. She and I are getting set for my next challenge: the 400k. Let's see how we do together.

Keep it, and keep it, and keep it...


UPDATE: For a post on my early thoughts about the new randonneuring bicycle I'm having built up, check this out. And also: Part 4: Let the Build Begin!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Welcome, DartreDame!

Who was that previous mystery poster? Why it was the lovely DartreDame, pioneering cyclist and the woman who abides my randonneuring ways: my beautiful wife of whom I have previously written! That's her with her son, Janak, as we headed out recently on a jaunt to Kubota Garden. Thank you, Dartre for your insights. It is great to learn of your perspective as an even newer newbie.

Expect to hear more from Dartre here in the coming weeks as she addresses her first century challenge.

Guest Bloggers

I also have a commitment from another guest blogger who'll post on tandems and his and his wife's journeys, from Seattle to Scotland by Bike Friday tandem. I expect to have yet another guest blogger report on his adventure transitioning to a recumbent bicyclist.

One thing every guest blogger really appreciates--and only you can help here--is comments. Lots of comments. Remember, we all need a little lovin', or even friendly disagreement! Consider it the small cost of admission to the special guest bloggers.

Blog Features
Here are a few other items about this curious blog. In additon to the blogs I recommend, do check out the website links at the bottom right. Some goodies there. The slide show has got all the images, and one item folks seem to like is the "How does one say 'randonneur'?" Especially the French version. Any guesses who the French speaker is?

And if you like a particular post topic, check out the topics list to find others with similar content.

Next for Me

I'm gearing up for the Seattle International Randonneurs 400k on August 22. It will be my first 400k, so a big adjustment. I will keep you up to speed on my training and plans just as DartreDame revs up for the July 25 Seattle Century. Also, links to the recently completed SIR 600k ride reports.
Tomorrow, I'm off to the other Washington, and I hope to blog remotely with a special blast from the past!

Pass it along, please!

If you know a cycling pal, please pass along the link.

Keep it curious,


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Saying It Here and Now

Ok. You heard it here first. The woman from India who learned how to ride a bike when she was 19 years old, and all the kids in her friend's New Orleans neighborhood laughed to see someone that old fall down and get up...and fall down again. The woman who still is a little shaky riding standing up. The woman who just a year ago got clip in pedals and only just converted to a road bike with drop handlebars.

Signing up for a century.

Curious Randonneur (my sweet other half) has been wanting me to announce it and I've been too plain chicken. As a writer, I know that words are powerful...and words on a page even more powerful. Those words don't lie, they don't fade, they don't disappear. What I write here will be here for me to look at in six weeks when that century is over. Which means that I better do it now. I think that's the whole point of writing it down, right?

I've watched CurioRando and his (second) love affair with randonneuring with some puzzlement, a little jealousy for time away, and lots of admiration. As you probably know, living with a Randonneur is not always easy. In the beginning, I tried scorning the idea of riding (not racing, he would always tell me) unsupported long distances through the night without sleep. I tried casting some disapproving looks at all the magazines, books, videos that began turning up on his bedside table on randonneuring, long distance cycling, core building. I tried ignoring the cyclo-core videos he did religiously, in preparation for his rides.

And then I saw him working, training, pushing his body and his mind to expand. He became the most fit he's ever been, even as he turned 52 this past year. He trained, on rollers first and even converted his 30 year old bicycle into a fixie for a while to hone his pedal stroke and technique. He started combing the rando blogs, reading accounts of long rides, and researching training techniques for randonneuring. Early this spring, he completed his first 100K and then a 200K and then a 300K. The happiness. The sense of accomplishment and joy. The descriptions of roads stretching out ahead, two wheels and the powerful body. The sense of adventure, of completion, of exertion, of inner and outer confidence that comes in achieving something you set out to do.

Suddenly, it was very clear that this love was to be encouraged, supported, held gently. There isn't anything a partner would rather see than this! Best of all, even with his singular focus on randonneuring, he made it clear that there was no speed he wasn't willing to cycle at if I went along. And so, slowly I started to think about bicycling too.

What I really wasn't prepared for is the way in which bicycling would start to draw me in. No longer just something I did to humor Curious Rando, it became something that I started to first fear less and then even enjoy. It started a couple of years ago when Curious Rando convinced me that the way bikes and riders work is all wrong. "The best riders have the best bikes--they're lighter, faster, fit them well. The worst riders have the worst bikes. It's all screwed up! The beginning riders should have the better bikes--that fit them well, are light, fun to ride. That'll make them better riders and help them to feel better, bike more and get even better. The strong riders can ride on anything and still be strong." I fought that for at least a couple of months--the idea of sinking a couple thousand dollars into a custom bike seemed crazy for an occasional rider like me.

But then we went and started looking at new bikes for me and I decided that Rando's logic made a lot of sense--albeit expensive sense. We invested in a nice custom Rodriguez for me which is so light, I can haul it up the steps or on top of a car with no problems. Best of all, it hauls my body up hills with a lot less effort expended on my part than before. The action on the gears is beautiful--makes my still-awkward shifting up and down hills so much easier, intuitive and in tune with the ride.

For all you serious riders reading this, you probably are going to laugh, but I've never ridden a bike with drop bars! My old one was a heavy Gary Fisher women's hybrid with mountain biking handlebars. I had been convinced somewhere along the line that the missing disc in my spine meant I couldn't ride drop bars. The guys at R&E Cycle convinced me that a well fitting road bike with drop bars would do my back just fine and give me a lot more power. Wow, were they right.

Armed with a new light bike, frog pedals, new bike shoes, I started biking. But sporadically. Rando convinced me to do the MS150 in 2007--we did 50 miles the first day and 75 the second day and I loved it! I loved the feeling of doing something I never thought I would, and finishing--without hurting too much. But then came fall and winter and the bike didn't get much riding. Last summer, we did some more but not much. When Rando started picking up long-distance cycling, I started getting interested again.

We did the bottom half of Lake Washington a few times and each time, it got a little easier. He even convinced me to try the Populaire, but it was pouring rain, even hailing, the roads were slick, I was miserable and bailed not even 10 miles into the ride. Not one of our best biking moments but luckily it didn't deter me for too long.

A couple of weeks ago, we went around the lake, something I really wasn't sure I could do. I hadn't ridden that distance (55 miles or so) since the MS150 and it felt good. In fact, I would have kept going if we had had the time. The pizza and beer reward system didn't hurt.

I started riding to work--not a long distance but with a big hill between me and the office. Previously stymied by that steep hill that came less than a minute into my morning ride, I found a slightly more gradual hill to take up that gave me a little more time to pedal in the morning before starting up. A few more loops around Mercer Island, sprinting harder than I have before, drafting off CurioRando when I'm tired but trying to charge the hills more and have more consistency to my pedal stroke.

And then I decided it was time. Century time.

Now understand that I've always been nervous about serious athletic events because I never grew up thinking that I was an athlete. CurioRando jokes that I can speak in front of hundreds of people, as I often do, and not be in the least bit nervous. But tell me I'm going to do something athletic that I've never done and watch me turn pale.

I guess it's always all about what we lead ourselves to believe (or what others lead us to believe) we can and can't do. What I'm learning is that those beliefs are rarely unchangeable. And it's really our duty to not let beliefs get stuck in stone without at least questioning them first.

I can't quite believe it but I'm starting to feel like I really like this bicycling thing. I'm reluctant to say I'm hooked just yet, but I love the feeling of the whir of bicycle wheels on a quiet road. I love how the bushes and trees on the side blur at the corners of your eyes as you whip down a big hill. I love putting everything I have into climbing a hill--and finding fewer and fewer of those hills that seem impossible as I do it more. I love feeling the wind lift my jersey and cloak my body. I love traveling new terrain, or even old terrain but seeing it differently.

I've got about 6 weeks till the century and am out of town for two of those. But I'm excited. Nervous. Ready to show myself this is just another hill I can climb.

Not quite hooked just yet. But wait till that century is over.

To find out whether DartreDame finished her first Century attempt, go here.

But he's also a cyclist!

John Burbank is a friend of mine who is also the Executive Direcor of the Economic Opportunity Institute here in Seattle. Here's the mission of the EOI:
The Economic Opportunity Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy center advancing new ideas to build an economy that works - for everyone. We pursue change through research, media outreach, public dialogue and policy initiatives that help make Washington State a better place to live, work and do business.

But he's also a cyclist! John knows his way around a good policy, and for him bicycling is just good policy--all the way around!

Path to health is best taken on two wheels
Last Sunday my wife and three friends and I decided to bicycle up to Snohomish from Seattle. We had a great ride north, finishing with a swooping downhill on the Springhetti Road, past Harvey Airfield, and stopping at the Snohomish Pie Company for a few delicious slices of pie.

That in itself was worth the trip. I had marionberry, and tried to poach some bites of the peach, apple crumb, and rhubarb as well. We came back along the Snohomish River, appreciating the farms and forests along the way (and, incidentally, the growth management act that prevents unmitigated sprawl) until we had to make the long slog up the Woodinville-Duvall Road back toward Seattle. We went longer than we had planned, and ended up good and tired for the evening. But what could be a better thing to do on a beautiful June Sunday?

This bicycling thing is not just about long weekend rides. What is more important for our health and our climate is to make bicycling part of our normal way of life in getting around to work, to school, and to do errands. In King County the Cascade Bicycle Club and Group Health have just concluded the May Commuter Challenge, with more than 10,000 participants logging more than 1 million miles on their bikes.

In Snohomish County, Community Transit's and Group Health's Bike Commute Challenge runs through Friday, so there's still time to join in. Already 819 participants have logged over 85,000 miles in over 11,000 trips. They are closing in on the 2008 record of 102,000 miles biked. They have already eclipsed 2007's totals for participants, trips and miles biked. For more information go to:

Bicycling to work can be daunting, if you let it. But think about taking this in chunks. Maybe you drive to a park and ride and take the bus. Try riding a bicycle to the bus. A lot of people are doing this. Community Transit now reports 100,000 bike boardings on its buses annually. Want to go to the local coffee shop? Get on your bike. That way you can enjoy the iced mocha and burn a few calories! But be careful and wear a helmet. Last weekend a dog ran out in front of a friend. My friend toppled over and scraped some skin. But his head is fine -- he was wearing a helmet.
You don't need a fancy bike. Dig out that 10-year-old bicycle that's been gathering dust in the basement.
In the past decade, our local governments have made a big effort to connect the dots for bicycling. In Snohomish County, you can download maps of the best bicycle routes at www.commtrans.org/FAQs/BikeMaps.cfm. There are some great paths, for long and scenic weekend trips, like the Centennial Trail, or for getting around in the urban and suburban sprawl, like the Interurban Trail. That trail directly connects to the Lynnwood Transit Center and the Mariner Park-and-Ride.

The good news is that 20 percent of Washingtonians rode bicycles in 2001. The bad news is that only 1.6 percent of U.S. commuters bicycle to work. Not surprisingly, cars and trucks in our country consume 10 percent of the world's oil supply. That's just not sustainable. With volatile and increasing gas prices, our dependence on the automobile is not sustainable for the family budget. Our health while we sit in our cars or just watch things is also not sustainable. After tobacco usage, the leading cause of death is inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. Bicycling can solve all these problems at once.
Don't get put off by the bicyclists whizzing by in their spandex body suits with garish colors and advertisements. I plead guilty to that, occasionally. But you can also get on your bicycle with street clothes and a helmet, bicycle at a leisurely pace, and start work refreshed. You don't need to start out svelte. (Indeed, with those spandex shorts and shirts, we often see a little too much of people's physiques.) New bicycle commuters, on average, can expect to lose 13 pounds their first year of bicycle commuting. A 150-pound cyclist is estimated to burn up 410 calories while pedaling 12 miles in an hour. That's something to keep in mind when you're pedaling along, especially on the uphills!

John Burbank is executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org ).His e-mail address is john@eoionline.org.

This piece by John appeared in the June 10 edition of The Everett Herald.
Keep it literate,

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Smell the Roses via Transport Stages?

I was reminded today of the notion of "transport stages" that Jan Heine describes in his Spring 2009 issue of Bicycle Quarterly. My wife and I had dropped Janak, her son, off at a school function at Golden Gardens Park in Seattle.

Oh, the aroma of BBQ's, suntan oil, and salty air from Puget Sound. Exquisite. A drummer in a tunnel provided the soundtrack. Summer had enveloped us in a warm embrace, and we surrendered.

We considered just sitting and soaking--not a bad choice--but we had brought our bicycles, so we decided to go for a summer afternoon ride. But alas only an hour now left to ride!

We hopped on board our bicycles and sped down the trail toward the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. Our aim was to go across the locks and up into Magnolia. As any Seattelite knows one must walk one's bicycle through the crowd. And this sunny afternoon there was quite a crowd.

A crowd of sightseers and boats alike. And so we found ourselves sightseeing too. And it was lovely.

Our bicycles had transported us, though not very far at all, to yet another lovely spot.

But when we realized we had to meet back up with Janak very shortly, we had to skedaddle! And so skedaddle we did.

We cruised. Pramila took the lead, looked back over her shoulder and cried out: "Get on Board!". We sped back faster than we'd otherwise, and made it back in time to meet Janak right on time.

And that's when it hit me. Jan had discussed this notion of transport stages from the old days of cyclotouring. The group would head off at a very fast clip to a scenic or historic destination. Once there they'd pause, smell the roses, take in the sights and relax.

Once the allotted hanging around time had elapsed they'd jump back on their bicycles and speed home.

What appeals to me about this is the ability to satisfy one's curiosity. I find myself--and this is also a product of my as yet too slow speed--unable to check out all these little gems I'm cycling past.

It practically kills me to be so close to yet so far from this mystery revealed or that notion followed.
So, I'm going to think some more about these transport stages and their accompanying special interest stops.
Shouldn't we as randonneurs stop and smell the roses too?
As I write this I realize many randonneurs already do. They are the ones who pause at the coffee shops because they have time banked up while I struggle just to finish. OK. But, when I get faster, I hope to organize some special visits to secret spots...all within the time limits.
It's that "when I get faster" part I have to work on!
Keep transporting to one curiosity after another,

Friday, June 12, 2009

If you're not out cycling...

What do you do?

You could jump on the rollers as I am doing in this picture.

Or you could go randonneuring vicariously, via electrons. I'm talking blogs!

We bloggers are not bashful, so if you want tips, ride reports, equipment reviews, or goofy flashes of insight that only come on after too many kilometers in the saddle, then check out the blogs.

One or two will become your virtual pals, and you’ll go into rando withdrawal without your daily fix!

So, here’s a list of some of my favorites. I choose ones that tend to have pretty regular postings. For me, that keeps me coming back. You can also find my favorites in my “Blogs to pique your curiosity” to the right of this posting*.

For the most part, these bloggers keep their posts on a roll or have added interest by their sense of place, poetry, keen observation, stunning photography, diversity of media, or other such creativity:

· Kent’s Bike Blog (not actually about randonneuring, but too good to ignore)
· Dr. Codfish Chronicles
· formerly floyd speaks
· Randonneurextra
· Research Trailer Park
· Alaska Randonneurs
· The Daily Randonneur
· Spokesong
· mile 43
· cycling in seattle
· Alex Wetmore is always busy with something…

Keep clicking curiously,

*I have my favorite blogs sorted to display in order of most recent posting.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bicycle Book Gems

In my family, there is a running gag that if you want to try something new--and we love that--you'd better get a pile of books first. Especially my brother! And being older, he was my role model.

The singular anticipation that comes from a good introductory book is sublime. And the key ingredients are a little self-effacing humor and and a distinctive charm. In the 35 years since Anybody's Bike Book and Bike Tripping were published I haven't seen any to supplant them. (If you disagree, please post a comment with your recommendation!)

Anybody's Bike Book was the first of the two in 1971, and my smudged copy taught me how to repair bicycles and start repairs I had to have "fixed" by a real pro, though there weren't many around Pittsburgh then. But mostly what it did was demystify bicycles and nudge me into seeing bicycles as the revolutionary vehicles they are. Of course in 1971, Revolution was in the air and at 14 I was tuned in (too young to turn on or drop out) to everything that challenged the status quo. Though not quite the Steal This Book (by Abbie Hoffman and also published in 1971) of bicycling, the underlying theme was self-sufficiency--a requirement and trademark of randonneuring--and the notion that society was changing and we better help it along.

Rick Morrall was the illustrator, and juxtaposed with clear, exploded views of complex components, say a headset, he provided clever caricatures of all the funky bicyclists out in the world, and the goofy ways we have of getting into trouble. He doesn't compare to Daniel Rebour in terms of precision or fineness but his cleverness and wit satisfy. Bike Tripping (published in 1972) includes a special frame section written by Albert Eisentraut, but otherwise the text in both books is by Tom Cuthbertson.
Cuthbertson provides the charm:

You can do an amazing amount of your short-distance traveling on a bike, instead of in a smogmobile. If you live in a small town, or a suburb, or even in a quieter neighborhood of a big city, you can learn to take routes that mix good transportation and ecology vibes with enjoyment and escape from the humdrum. Do at least part of your daily commuting and/or shopping via bicycle, and it will break up the routine, like recess used to when you were a kid.

Truth be told, these two books formed deep impressions into my psyche. Bicyles became more than getaway machines, they became transformative machines. They were also my pals. Check out the big old grease stain!

Looking at the diagrams I came to understand that machines had logic to them, and were no more than a composite of separate pieces. Sounds obvious, but if you are intimidated by machines, it is a profound revelation.

But check this out. Who is the conspirator? Who is wrapped up in their own world? Who is at risk?

I loved these old charmers, and I refer to them still.

Bike Tripping even sent me on my first cyclotouring trip down the C&O Canal towpath at 16 years old for two weeks with a pal. We pedaled into a Washington, D.C. festooned with Soviet flags in honor of Premier Leonid Brezhev's visit. But that is another story!

How about you? Any cycling books that turned your crank? Don't be miserly now, SHARE!
Keep it curious and keep it tripping,

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Read All About It: 600k!

For someone whose longest brevet is a 300k, a 600k feels overwhelming. I suppose that's how someone training for their first century might look upon my 300k. From where you're currently situated on the continuum, the limits beyond your own can seem unattainable.

John Day River (National Parks Service photo)

What's becoming clearer to me is that each distance has its own demands that are more than the obvious distance differences. What follows is not news for veterans, but I am still catching on to the nuances.

For instance, depending on your speed, the 300k is the first brevet that could demand night riding and therefore a proven lighting equipment package and night riding strategy. Though if you're fast enough, you might not have to ride at night.

The 400k requires nighttime strategies for all riders. But there are finer points. Experienced riders project where on the course the night riding will likely take place and that determines whether they go batteries or generator. Also, will the night riding be hilly or not? Wouldn't have crossed my mind.

Sleep strategies are demanded if you're not fast enought to blast through. Building up a time bank to draw on if something unforseen occurs gets factored into sleep stop and other strategies.

But don't take it from me. Check out the Oregon Randonneurs website to get a variety of exceptional ride reports and photo collections. Also, see Mark Thomas' (of SIR fame) detail his struggle on his blog, Mark's Rando Notes.

Deschutes River (Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Photo)

Responding to those postings, Vince Sikorski wrote to the Oregon Randonneurs listserve about his unique river dunking strategy for the same OR Randonneurs 600 XTR:

I really do not have much to add to the extensive write-ups already provided. It was HOT!, I set a P.R. for river dives. Really not deep enough to dive, but I only removed my hemet and any food in my jersey pocked. Would walk into the river (shoes on) and would lie down in the water until sufficiently cooled. Three dunks in the John Day river. One in the small stream on the left side of HWY-26 shortly after turning right on it. Once in the Deschutes River (Coldest and shortest dunk), and once in Eight Mile Creek (along Eight Mile road approaching The Dalles). For extra credit, I also lied on the ground under the open faucet at Cant Ranch (that was also very cold) and took a quick spray from Michael Wolfe at the hose outside of the store in Mitchel.These dunks really brought down body core temperature. I would feel great for the next 5 miles or so afterwards. In the dry Central Oregon climate, I dried out (too) fast.

And if all those postings got you rarin' to go, the Seattle International Randonneurs have their own 600k this weekend:

Is this your first time? 600k

Ride Description:This is a beautiful course and lots of "firsts abound" If you've been waiting to do your first 600k, this is the one. If you've been looking for a personal best on a 600k, this might also be the one. By SIR standards this is a relatively flat 600k, no mountain passes and 'only' about 10,000 feet of elevation gain total (we have some 200k rides with that much elevation gain).

Keep it cool and curious,


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Demise of a fine tree, birth of a fine bicycle

Pramila and I did a quick spin around the Mercer Island Loop this morning, and as I was heading back into our yard a glint caught my eye. A new bicycle!

Our neighbor, Grace, was showing off her new Rivendell Hillborne to our other neighbor, David. David was cleaning up his yard since the City Light crew removed the old tree that had faltered yet again, this time in the latest windstorm. During the big windstorm of 2006 that old tree was resposible for ten days of blackout (Is that right, David, ten days?) when its limbs took out the power lines.

Here's David with the elegant snag/stump that remains.

Here's the drivetrain.

And here is Grace, proud owner of this new inspiration.

As David noted, it is a quite lovely shade of green.

And, Grace told us, another new bicycle is on the way. Her partner, Dylan, has a new Mercian on order!

OK, can you spot the cat in these pictures?

Our condolences, David, on your grand old tree.

Congratulations, Grace, on your grand new bicycle!

Keep it fine,


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Which is Worse: Unceasing Rain or No Gears?

Newbie Randonneur Tip #1
Sidle Up, Latch On, Pester

This smiling randonneur is John Vincent, experienced randonneur. This grimacing randonneur is me. The Smiler is holding a chain tool. The Grimacer, pointing at the chain tool, could cry at any moment. Twelve hours earlier we never knew one another existed. Eleven hours earlier I sidled up to John, latched on, and pestered him about everything randonneuring.

John and I rode the Oregon Randonneurs Berkie 200K (3/28/09) together in the pouring rain. I had stopped in the first few kilometers to remove a layer of leg warmers I'd soon regret removing when John came by, and we rode most of the remaining rainy brevet together.

I know what you're thinking: this is where the author spins a long story of exaggerated rain and details just how hard and for how long and how no other rain could compare. Normally, you'd be right. This time though I'll refer you to a much better description than I could convey. Narayan Krishamoorthi tells the tale: Narayan's Birkie 200k Ride Report.

I had remembered Narayan's name even before I had ever ridden a brevet when I checked out his blog on randonneuring. I said to my wife, an Indian-American, "Look, honey, there's even an Indian randonneur," crudely trying to impress her with my new passion and desperate to make any oblique connection for her. She was, naturally, unimpressed that one of her over one billion fellow Indians had found his way to this obscure sport. Nonetheless, Narayan is a consummate rain tale teller so check out his version of this brevet, and I'll only add this lone fact about the rain: John and I kept rigid observations and throughout our entire 12 hour brevet, it stopped raining for no more than one minute total. Truly.

What do you do for twelve raining hours? Well, I spent the time invoking a Vulcan mind meld on John and he imparted all sorts of randonneuring lore. I won't reveal it all here, because my dear Newbie you'll have to do your own sidling and pestering. That's half the fun!

I will reveal one tidbit. John insisted as we climbed Timber Mountain on the way out that the essence of randonneuring is just staying committed to a brevet once you've begun until it is simply too late to finish. More directly, if you run into a difficulty don't quit until it is physically and absolutely impossible to finish in the allotted time.

I hear you muttering "Well, duh! That's kind of basic, isn't it?" Well, it may sound basic, but I am hereby elevating it via fontifying and boldifying to Tip status:

Newbie Randonneur Tip #2

Don't Quit--Let the Clock Crush You First!

Here's why this tip is more than what it seems. After about 150k, we became noticeably more relaxed. Despite some barking knees I felt I could finish. John had felt extraordinarily cold earlier--really chilled--and Life was getting better for him. We had just been overtaken by a small band of merry bikers and now comprised a chatty, little peleton rolling along when I suddenly screeched to a halt as my chain wrapped around that little area between my largest cog and my spokes. In the process, it destroyed my rear derailleur. Hmmm. I also found that the chain didn't want to unwrap. Tug as I would, pry as I might, it was stuck-stuck. Pretty bleak as the you-know-what-that-I-pledged-I-wouldn't-talk-about came down on John and me.
At that point, I knew I was finished. I knew it. How could I finish with a wheel that wouldn't turn, a broken derailleur, a sore knee, and that stuff pouring down? I was sizing up my hitchhiking probabilities (I have hitchhiked and freight-hopped myself across the country so I wasn't worried), and gave one more try at the chain. Somehow something was different and it came loose! I heard someone say in what sounded like my voice that if I just had a chain tool I could convert the bicycle into a singlespeed cycle and possibly continue. John heard that voice too and said that he indeed had a chain tool.
FREEZE FRAME! At that moment I am looking at John and trying to determine whether I was grateful, relieved and hopeful or whether I was pissy, impatient, and filled with dread. In that frozen moment I weighed going back over Timber Mountain on a one-speed bicycle and suffering vs. the cliched image of regaling a pickup truck driver in the cab of a warm truck about how I almost finished a 200k bicycle ride. The pickup was tempting.
RESUME ACTION! I said "Great!" or something as John gave me the chain tool and asked for leave to carry on without me so that he could finish. This was only right as the chances of my success were slimmish and asking him to wait would be clearly unfair.
As he pedaled away and no trucks or cars or cyclists came by for at least a half hour I felt a little lonely. I also worked furiously. I had been riding a fixie a good deal about a year ago, and knew I might be able to go on if I could just get the chain the right length. There was a moment when I pushed the rivet all the way through both links and it fell into the mud and I couldn't find it. That was my personal nadir.
But I did find it, and reassembled the chain! The rivet wasn't all the way into the outer link, and it was barely hanging in the bent outer link. Again, I pondered whether I really wanted the chain to hold or whether I was secretly cheering for its coming undone. I discovered I in fact had a two-speed as I could switch rear cogs by hand if I adjusted the fore-aft of the rear wheel. Great, except that I realized in my haste I had set it for the wrong two cogs (one cog smaller, therefore harder) than I intended. Oh well. Just pedal, dammit!
So I saddled up. My mental imagining of Timber Mountain was far greater than the reality, and when I crested I knew I had a chance. When I overtook John, I was elated. I knew if I kept with this experienced randonneur I could do it. Now there was no dissembling on my part. I wanted to finish--desperately so. I was kicking myself over the crooked link and dreading its coming undone.
By the time we were within 5 kilometers I was mentally calculating the time available against the kilometers to go and factoring in the slowing if my chain broke and I had to trot my bicycle in. One last pestering question to this experienced randonneur: must one ride the entire brevet or could I simply push my bicycle over the finish line if I had to? He confirmed that I could push. YES, I WILL FINISH!!!!
And we did. And when I asked Susan France and the other ride organizers, of whom I am very grateful for their brevet organizational roles, to take the picture of John and me with the chain tool I could have cried.
Later, in the privacy of my car and surrounded by wet and steaming clothes and bags and a muddy bicycle, I called my wife. When she answered I sang my new song: "I AM...a RANdonneur! I AM...a RANdonneur!" as I choked up with many mixed emotions.
Sidling up, latching on, and pestering led me to discovering for myself the truth of what not-quitting means, and I had completed my second ever brevet. Thanks, John.
What is the answer to the question: Which is Worse: Unceasing You-Know-What or No Gears?
The answer is: Neither.
Keep it and keep it and keep it curious,

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cool Randonneur Bag

This is a photo of Cecil Anne while she is on the first day, May 30, of the Oregon Randonneurs 600k XTR. You can view her Flickr album of 111 photos here.

For folks new to or curious about randonneuring, there’s a great deal to learn from this photo.

Randonneurs often:

1. Mount a handlebar randonneur bag setup as she does here instead of panniers or side bags. Reduces wind resistance, makes items available while riding, provides a convenient location for the cue sheet or route directions, and looks coooool.

2. Bring a rear bag on longer rides for tools, extra clothing, spare tubes/tire.

3. Provide full fenders and mudflaps since we ride no matter the weather. Riding behind a fenderless bike in the rain that sprays a constant stream of muddy water onto your glasses and lips is a big dragola. Fenders protect the rider’s shoes from drenching and also those around you. Most courteous.

4. Utilize generator powered lighting instead of batteries so that we always have light without the worrying over inadequate batteries. Dependable, powerful, and the accompanying headlight is retro cool.

5. Sit on leather saddles. Believe it or no, they are more comfortable than any others. And of course, they look so c………

6. Pedal lots of lowish gears so that we can get up the hills and mountains with all the junk I’ve just been describing. Most look down their noses at our plethora of cogs, but we’re too cool to care.

7. Ride on fat rubber. Wider tires grip better, are comfier, are not necessarily slower than skinny tires, and to some eyes are the cat's moustache. Nine out of ten folks think they look dorky, but they happen to be wrong.

8. Are thieves when it comes to nourishment. See how Cecilanne steals that poor farmer’s water. We’ve been known to raid cooling fruit pies sitting on window sills (just like in O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Fruited or nut-filled trees? Look out. Watermelons? Only if we can get them in our cool handlebar bags!

These are generalizations that comport with my preferences, but Cecilanne’s bicycle is tricked out very similar to how I envision my new ride.

Please visit Cecilanne’s album; she’s got pics of snakes, including a “pissed-off” rattler, a walrus (how many Walruses would one normally see on a bicycle ride? [In Googling the plural of Walrus {it is officially “Walruses”}, I discovered that there is an online petition to Merriam Webster asking him to change it officially to “Walri” due to their "majestic" nature]), and even mesmerizing, tattooed, cyclist legs!*

Keep it curious,


*I think I have an adult onset of some kind of parenthetical fetish. Love those parentheses (really!)!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Gotta love sitting in the sun at a cafe AFTER a ride! Pramila, my wife is very happy, and her friend, Andrea on the right, graciously shares the moment.

We are at Tutta Bella's pizza joint in Columbia City.

Pramila and I had just ridden around Lake Washington, the first time for her. It had been one of those lurking fears--whether she could do it or not--that just disipates once conquered.

"Yep, I just rode around Lake Washington, thank you very much" is the proper translation of Pramila's glowing face. Don't you love that face?

I particularly do today, because Pramila is returning home tomorrow after six days in D.C. that includes her emcee'ing a Town Hall today with 700 folks including members of Congress. This is the launch of the nationwide Reform Immigration for America campaign put together by a coalition of immigration organizations.

Pramila's organization OneAmerica is a statewide immigrant rights/human rights organization that is absolutely amazing. Check them out!

Isn't it funny, our fears?

Pramila was a little afraid of the ride around Lake Washington yet thinks absolutely nothing about being the Emcee for a huge national event that includes certainly-not-egoless members of Congress on one of the most controversial topics in America today.

And what's up with our deep fears of immigrants? We need them, they need us. Isn't that what we learned as children: that we need one another?

I'm proud of Pramila. Her fears, her overcoming her fears, her fearlessness at fighting injustice.

Which is why my face will be beaming with the broad smile when she returns home tomorrow!

And imagine if you will the faces of immigrants and the rest of us once we pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform once and for all. It will be like sitting in the sun again.

Keep it curious...and smiling...and in and around that fear place too,