Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Weekend of Riding

Saturday I took the boy out riding. I'd just signed up for a 50-mile off-road race and needed some training, and the boy was bouncing off the walls in the house. By magical mystical luck, I'd also just the day before come into possession of platform double-sided SPD pedals.

So after an evening of tinkering with the pedals, fitting the right tires, stripping all the unnecessary hardware from the commuter, and fiddling about with kit, he and I set off to Richmond's James River Park System.

Since parking at Tredegar Iron Works is usually a huge PITA, we started our trek from the top of Forest Hill Park (sneaky ploy on my part to make him work harder), rode down around the pond, through the park, and across onto the trails.

Neither of us had ever been on the South Side trails to access Belle Isle, so we were completely unprepared for a 1-mile long ride on a 2' wide track with a fence on one side and a cliff on the other. Oops. But once we made it on to Belle Isle, he had a blast riding his bike around the island and through the technical course. After much cajoling, I even convinced him to ride across the suspended pedestrian bridge to the Iron Works, and he suggested riding the crazy steep ascent to the VA War Memorial. It was a good time, but he was spent, so we made a straight shot of it across the (Lee) bridge back to Riverside Dr, where, in an utter lapse of judgment, he rammed his bike straight into a curb. The bike bucked, he stayed on. The rear then hit and bucked, and he STILL stayed on. But for reasons that will never be clear, once the bike was almost back to stable, he bailed.

No real harm to the bike, and a random passerby gave him kudos for staying upright, though the soft bits took a bit of a blow.

By that point he'd ridden almost 9 miles, more than he'd ever done in a single stint, so it was over to Crossroads Coffee & Tea for a Mexican Coke and a cookie.

Sunday was a different beast.

I woke up feeling cruddier than I wanted to admit, with a hint of a sore throat and a headache that sort of came and went through the morning. But with a forecast of 50F, I wasn't going to let the day get away without some saddle time.

I'd spent part of Saturday evening putting together some longer routes to let me explore more of the Richmond area without re-tracing all of the normal Saturday morning rides. I've fallen in love with the views along the James River, so I knew I wanted to include Riverside Dr, and I wasn't interested in refitting the enduro/commuter bike, so the racing bike would be the steed du jour.

So after lunch I kitted in a medium-weight winter kit, readied myself mentally to be out for about 4 hours (including coffee stops), and rolled out.

The first 25 miles were amazing. PR's left and right. The cool early-afternoon air felt almost refreshing, and the bike felt alive under me. I knew I was throwing away too much energy, but I held out hope that all the training I've done recently would buoy me. I made it to the South Side and halfway along Riverside Dr before I noticed a growing problem.

Chafing. And in a rather distinct and unpleasant area.

It seems that on the racing bike I can achieve a much tighter tuck position, one that causes the bibs to release a bit of their tension on the tenderest bits and allows them to move about a bit. And this movement seems to happen right at the sewn edge of the chamois.

For 25 - 30 miles or so, this isn't much of a problem. At 40 it becomes an irritation. Sunday I rode 65 miles.

And it might seem a simple enough solution to just not get down into the tuck position. Sure. That would be one idea. But Sunday did not get to the promised 50F. In fact it never crossed 40, and those lower temps were accompanied by some erratic gusts that seemed to always come from the direction I was headed. No tuck: no progress.

So tuck I did, and re-adjust as well, but each time the problem would return.

But the ride, from mile 25 to 40, became a mix of joy at riding with distraction and discomfort, with the realization that the only option was to soldier on or call for help. I ain't no quitter, and I wasn't about to abandon my planned route, even though it for some dumb reason included both Libby Hill and 23rd St.

At about 40 miles I came to Richmond's first official multi-use bike path. It connects the North Side to downtown, but both ends are in really weird locations, the climb is overwhelmingly steep for a multi-use recreational path, and even though it was only opened last year, it appeared to be functionally abandoned. Granted, it was a cold, gray, windy day, but gumballs completely covered the path at points, and deep slippery mud blocked at least 2 entrances.

Not knowing I was at the end, I avowed to abandon it myself as being more dangerous than just being on the road. I doubt I'll bother with it ever again.

Then came the winds. And while I'd had some winds to deal with, these were ruthless and unabating. I kept looking at flags blowing straight at me, no matter which way I was headed, and I lost a lot of interest in what I was doing.

So I guess it was good luck that I'd planned the last 20 miles to match my typical evening cycling commute. If I'm gonna be miserable, I might as well be miserable in familiar territory.

And then the temperature started to drop.

It's a really weird thing to be able to feel a 2-degree drop, and to have such a small change throw off your whole game. But at mile 45, the temp went from 39 to 37, and it chilled me to my bones. Uphill, into the wind, falling temps. As I came back through Ashland at mile 60, it was time to warm up with coffee and put on my wind-breaker.

I called my darling wife, told her I'd be 30 minutes later than I'd expected, and sipped a hot hot hot cuppa and ate a sammich and thought about asking for a ride. But as we were expecting company, I realized that making her pay for my miscalculations wasn't fair, so I hopped back on and shivered my way up the road.

It's worth pointing out that there are hills in Richmond worse than 23rd. They may not be as steep, but they are certainly long and grueling and steep enough of their own merit. There are 3 that fall at the end of my ride, they follow in quick succession, and each seems to build on the worst properties of the one before. For reasons that remain unclear to me, my bike--specifically my racing bike--likes to drop its chain at the base of the 3rd hill. She held true to this odd tradition, and at 64.4 miles and 36 degrees F dropped her chain with my street in view, leaving me with no momentum to start a 10% grade after 3.5 hours in the saddle.

But then it was done. I'd beaten the darkness, arrived home before my guest, and put down a 65-mile solo effort. I got to see some of my favorite parts of Richmond, and I unlocked February's Gran Fondo kit in Strava!

Now I just have to figure out the secret to prevent chafing (bike, bib, seat, position, cream?) and go for 80. The Cap-2-Cap ride in May won't train for itself!

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