Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to Get Great Service on Your Next Bike Ride

It seems to me that road cyclists understand the importance of serving others. We do it all the time in our pacelines: pointing out road hazards to the rider behind us, offering hand signals for our next turn, offering spare tubes to a rider with a flat. It's part of our culture. At our core, we're "cycling servants."

This past Saturday's ride showcased our cycling servant culture. And it was a joy to watch it all unfold.

Our ride began under baby blue skies. Finally. For our coldest April on record, we were rejoicing that today's ride would be in temps broke the 65 degree barrier. After I shared a brief devotional message for this Easter weekend and then prayed, we hopped on our bikes and headed west along the Burke-Gilman trail into Kenmore. We were headed to Mukilteo for our favorite coffee and lunch stop on this circuit—Red Cup Café—overlooking the Mukilteo ferry terminal and Possession Sound.

The route weaved through Kenmore and Briar and then we jumped on the Interurban Trail. I've mentioned before that the Interurban Trail generally follows the route once used by the Interurban Trolley that ran from downtown Seattle to Everett from 1910 through 1939. I like this paved trail for two reasons. It's not well known so there are few other cyclists, walkers, joggers, dog owners crowding it. And it's not well known so often I'll have cyclists with me experiencing it for the first time. For Bob D., who usually rides in the south end, that was the case. New territory for him.

We were pedaling toward Martha Lake behind a Walmart when I heard the call from behind me, "Flat!" Kimberly had flatted—or as the British like to say, "punctured." We pulled to the side of the road and I casually mentioned to Kimberly to give her tire to Mike as he was the champion tube changer on our team. Five flats on one ride earned him that title. Mike didn't miss a beat and gladly donned his rubber gloves and pulled out his tools. Kimberly's tire was repaired in record time. Unknowingly, Mike had just set the theme for today's ride. Serving.

Before we left our impromptu stop, a middle-aged man in a blue cargo van called over to us. "Are you a cycling club?" I walked over to him and told him yes, we're from Eastside Foursquare Church. He was looking for a cycling club to ride with. I gave him my card with a map on the back and invited him to join us some Saturday. Serving. This is feeling good.

We pressed on to the north, back on the Interurban Trail as it parallels Interstate 5. We passed Everett Mall, Casino Road, and were descending a small hill and about to turn left onto Beverly Blvd. when I heard what sounded like a gunshot. I looked behind and saw Jim pulling off the road. No blood. But instead he leaned over his bike and inspected his rear tire. Not only did he have a flat—our second for the day's ride—he had a rear rim that had splintered.

The rim was original and hadn't been replaced since Jim bought the bike several years ago. The brake wear had worn through the rim and caused it to break much like when a sidewall on a semi-truck rips away from the rest of the tire. He held the splintered and frayed rim in his hands and we all gathered around brainstorming a solution. There was a Bicycle Centre bike shop 2.2 miles north of us. Too far to walk. Should we call his wife? (We all have at some point in our riding career). A taxi? Maybe a guy in a pickup truck would come by and give Jim a lift, I thought out loud.

Not a moment later, a minivan with a 4-position bike rack on the back carrying a single road bike and the passenger window down rolled to a stop at the traffic light next to us. Mike ran over to the van and explained our situation. The driver quickly nodded yes and pulled into the parking lot next to us.

We introduced ourselves to Zack and thanked him for stopping. We couldn't have planned a better solution. Zack was more than willing to give Jim and his bike a ride to the Bicycle Centres shop. The rest of us would pedal on and meet him there. Talk about service. This guy was an answer to prayer. One cyclist gladly serving his fellow cyclists. This was real serving.

By the time we reached the shop, Zack was just about to drive away. We shouted our thanks and then went inside to find Jim and his bike eyeing a new pair of rims. Since the repair and installation was probably going to take an hour, the five of us with bikes intact decided to ride on to Mukilteo. We would either meet Jim back here or give him directions to catch up with us.

I found a quick route to get us back on course and soon we were flying along Mukilteo Boulevard under warm sun and bright blue sky. At Red Cup Café, we placed our orders, sat back in the sun, shared good conversation, and enjoyed our coffee and sandwiches. As we were finishing, Jim phoned. His bike was done. I gave him directions for the 5.5 miles between him and us. Within 20 minutes he made his appearance at the Red Cup complete with brand spanking new rims. The best part, now Jim could finish the ride with us... all the way back to Bothell.

So our thanks goes out to Zack. The guy driving the white minivan, carrying a bike rack, and arriving at just the right time.

Thanks for serving your fellow cyclist.

Riders: Jim, Bob D., Mike, Kimberly, Randy, Bob H.
Distance: 50.8 miles
Time: 3:31
Flats: 2
Servant-hearted Cyclists: 2 (at least)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sharing and Oversharing on the Red Brick Road

I suppose this is all my fault. I began today's ride by sharing something. I shared with Ken and Randy why I was riding today on very little energy. I was on a liquid diet and hadn't eaten anything since Saturday evening. I explained that later today I would be "clearing the fuel lines" to prepare for a procedure tomorrow.


Randy and Ken knew all about this from their own personal experience. I don't know if they admired me for cycling today on no fuel or thought I was crazy. I took a swig of my Gatorade and hoped the two bottles would be enough.

A few minutes later, Tenille and her boyfriend Brad arrived and greeted us. They were a bit panicked and hurrying to change and get their gear ready. Our ride was set to start at 1:00 but she thought it was at 1:30. So, Ken, Randy and I shared some more conversation while we waited. (Sharing.)

Tenille pulled her bike off the roof rack and I immediately noticed it was her old ride. She had left the new Orbea Orca at home. I shared my disappointment. (Sharing.) We all wanted to see this new, shiny bike and experience a ride with Tenille on a "real road bike." Brad's bike was a mountain bike with slicks. As I shook hands with him and welcomed him to our group, I shared my suspicion that Tenille left the fast bike at home so he could keep up. (Sharing.)

I casually shared with Tenille and Brad that I was going to make today an easy ride—in part because Brad wasn't ready for the torture we sometimes offer—but also because I was on very little fuel. She wanted to know why. So... I overshared.

Immediately, she named the procedure. "Oh! You're having a..." Her recent classes in Anatomy and Biology and whatever else taught her well. She shared how she even got to dissect something related to this procedure. (Nice.)

Time for a devotional and prayer before we headed out. Each of us briefly talked about the morning's sermon and the power of the cross as we looked forward to Good Friday and Easter. (Sharing.) Then I prayed for our ride and for our group. Off we went.

Our ride headed over to Woodinville and onto Rt. 202 through the winery district. I noticed several people walking along the sidewalk with wine glasses in hand as they visited the various tasting rooms sharing a glass of wine. (Sharing.)

As we continued on, a light rain began to fall and then soon turned to hail. The scattered clouds over the valley made the showers and hail very localized. All I had to do was turn right, get onto the Sammamish River Trail, and we were out from under the clouds and in the sunshine.

We entered Redmond and passed Redmond Town Center. I could smell Claim Jumper before we even saw it. Man, I'm hungry. I took another swig of Gatorade wishing it was maybe a cheeseburger. We rode on and reached a streetlight where all five of us regathered. Hearing my complaints of my hunger pains, Tenille asked if I was allowed to eat a gel? I didn't think so but when I saw she had an espresso flavored one, I couldn't resist. I traded a raspberry gel I had on hand and took her espresso gel. I thanked her for sharing, ripped it open, sucked it down, read the ingredients, and then figured my doctor would have said that energy gels aren't on the list of "clear liquids." No matter. I felt better already.

Route 202 turned to the east up a long incline and then a short descent where we turned left onto 196th Avenue NE, also known as the Red Brick Road. This historical road contains the longest stretch of exposed historic red brick highway in King County. We stopped next to the bright blue historical information sign and posed for a group shot. Then we hit the bricks.

The red brick surface is bumpy, bone-jarring, and teeth-chattering. On the upside, you get a nice hand massage as your handlebars rattle back and forth. On the downside, the road is about a mile and a half long. After a quarter mile, Tenille loudly shared, "Okay, I'm about done with the bricks!"

Not me. I pressed on, snapping photos and smiling in the sunshine. I love sharing this hidden road with those who didn't even know it existed much less ridden it. At the end of the road, we headed back to Redmond for a coffee stop at Victor's Coffee.

We pulled into Victor's Coffee and I purchased a tall Americano. A far cry from my now prohibited white chocolate mocha. As I exited, I noticed that Tenille and Brad were without drinks. Since she was the one who asked about the coffee stop, I inquired why. No cash, she explained. Victor's apparently doesn't take plastic. I had four bucks on me. So I willingly shared what I had with Tenille. (Sharing.)

As we sat outside Victor's chatting, I got to know Brad a little better as he shared about his work, education, and where he lived. As the temps dipped, Tenille shared how she was getting cold. I offered to dump my Americano down the back her jersey to warm her up. (That really would be oversharing.) Brad mentioned that would be a lot like what happened on Saturday at the gun range in Issaquah when a very hot spent cartridge went down Tenille's shirt. "Yeah! I got burned! Look, you can see the burn mark!" She then proceeded to unzip her jersey, pull at her collar and show a bright red mark just below her neckline.

A few inches lower and that would be... Oversharing.

Ken's moment of oversharing came when he mentioned that he still couldn't get that song out of his head. He's been practicing the drum part to it and now it was firmly embedded. What song? "Telephone" by Lady Gaga. Ummm... Okay. Thanks for sharing.

We jumped on the bikes and headed out of Redmond. As we neared the Sammamish River Trail, I polled the group. "Who's ready for at least one hill today?" No one objected, so I shared my hill with them—the Willows Road hairpin hillclimb up to NE 132nd Street. At the top, we heard the tones of an ice cream truck. Kids were running out of their apartment building with cash in hand to buy some overpriced ice cream novelties. They weren't sharing. Not with us anyway. I was hungry enough to eat five or six.

Now we were on the home stretch. Apparently Randy was in a hurry because he had a Skype call scheduled for 4:30 with his new long-distance flame. Earlier he shared with us a photo on his cell phone of her. Cute gal. She calls him "pooky." He calls her "babe." (Oversharing.) But I did appreciate Randy's prayer for me for the procedure tomorrow. That's good sharing.

Our remaining mile or two was through a neighborhood near Eastside Foursquare Church. The scent of an early spring barbecue wafted through the air. "I can't stand it!" I shouted. My friends urged me onward. "You can do it, Bob." I was thankful for their shared support.

Finally we arrived back at Eastside and I thanked everyone for enjoying the ride with me. I had made it. But man was I looking forward to a visit to Red Robin tomorrow. Before I pulled away, I offered to share on Facebook the photos that would be taken tomorrow at the doctor's office. No takers.

That would be oversharing.

Riders: Randy, Ken, Tenille, Brad, Bob
Distance: 25.5 miles
Ride Time: 2:05
Average Speed: 13.3 mph
Max Speed: 38.0 mph
Average Climb: 3%
Max Climb: 11%

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hills, Coffee, and Rain

Today's ride had all the earmarks of an early spring ride: jackets, shoe covers, fenders, coffee, and rain. When we departed Eastside Foursquare Church, the question at hand wasn't "Will we get wet?" It was "When will we get wet?" Fortunately, the first half of our ride was pleasantly dry.

We headed south through Juanita and the Kirkland waterfront. I was a little surprised to see several die hard walkers and joggers already out along Lake Washington Boulevard. I daydreamed for a minute and imagined how this same stretch of roadway will be packed with runners, sun bathers, and moms pushing strollers in just three short months. Today, the number of sun breaks and sun bathers were the same: zero.

Our first climb took us into Yarrow Point. I turned to David at the foot of the hill and said, "Smile, I want to take a 'before' photo." I knew the climb would be arduous. At the top of the climb, he was still smiling. That was either out of pride—not wanting to show his exhaustion—or out of joy—it's just plain fun to tackle these hills!

Our route continued through Clyde Hill, Medina, and Old Bellevue. These less traveled roads through Bellevue offer more opportunity for conversation as we rode two abreast and chatted our way along Meydenbauer Bay. Hill number two loomed ahead as we turned off of Main Street and past Wildwood Park. The Lake Washington Bicycle Trail launches you out of downtown Bellevue on an out-of-the-saddle, quad-burning, lungs-heaving climb. At the top, we curled over our handlebars speaking in two or three-word sentences until everyone had summited.

Now for the fun part. Our route rockets down and around stately homes on well-treed lots through the Beaux Arts neighborhood. Peekaboo views of Lake Washington are caught as we raced through this shaded community just north of the I-90 interchange.

At the I-90 Bike Trail entrance, we regathered and noticed we weren't the only cyclists out today. Another group of 7 or 8 riders came on by. They, too, were risking the rain. So far, so good. We're all still dry. We crossed I-90. I glanced northwest across the water to see Seattle in the distance. It was a palette of gray. So different than the view from this same point in mid-August.

Once we reached Mercer Island, we followed the trail that parallels I-90 until the Tully's Coffee was in sight. We gladly rolled into the parking lot, set our bikes beside a table, placed our orders and sat down outside to enjoy our coffee and the fruits of our labor.

Just when it started to rain.

Riders: Jim, David, Bob, Sally, Gary
Distance: 30 miles

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Two Spokes Short of a Full Wheel

Any cyclist who has been at the sport for awhile knows that a pre-ride safety checklist is important. Even a good "once-over" will save you a lot of trouble down the road. Here's a good example:

Pre-Ride Safety Inspection
Before each ride, perform a safety check of your bicycle. This only needs to take a minute or two, but will help prevent avoidable accidents.

Check the tires for proper inflation (marked on the side of the tire). Check the tire treads for excessive wear or other damage, such as embedded glass or other objects.
Check the brakes. Spin the wheels to check for rubbing and then apply the brakes to ensure they stop the bike smoothly and evenly. Check the brake pads for excessive wear.
Check the cables and housing to make sure there is no fraying or splitting.
Check the wheel quick release levers to ensure they are secure.
Check for any loose parts or other mechanical problems.
Do a slow-speed ride and inspect bicycle, brakes, and shifting before you leave your drivewa

You should also make sure you have ALL of your cycling gear, including your helmet. Two of our riders didn't do that today. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Jim, Mike, Ken, and a new rider, Peter, joined me for today's beautiful ride. Our expectations were high as this was the first dry day in many. Last week's scheduled ride was a rainout. So we were overdue for our EFC Cycling Club ride.

As we gathered in the parking lot and prepared for our pre-ride devotional and prayer, Mike exclaimed, "Oh! I can't believe I forgot it!"

"Forgot what?", we all asked.

"My helmet."

Sure enough, the man was helmetless. He decided he would drive home and since he lives just a block or two from today's route, he would meet up with us a few miles into our ride. We shared our devotional and prayed for the ride then headed out under a bright sun.

Our destination was the Snohomish Bakery & Café in downtown Snohomish. It's a favorite among cyclists. We rode along the Samammish River Trail and past UW Bothell's campus. Within a few minutes, riding north along 35th in north Bothell, we met up with Mike. "Nice hat!" we all shouted.

With helmet on head, Mike joined our ride and we continued north into Mill Creek and up to Seattle Hill Road. Seattle Hill Road has a wonderful sweeping descent down into the Snohomish Valley. The Cascade mountain range was visible in the distance. The wind was blowing from the north, but the sun was bright and I had warmed up sufficiently from the early miles. As we crossed Highway 9 and neared the town of Snohomish I saw a bright blue road sign that read, "FOOD". I knew our Snohomish Bakery stop wasn't far away.

We turned onto 1st Street and suddenly Jim picked up the pace. I hadn't seen Jim ride this fast all day. Ken commented that it was as if the horse could smell the barn. Snohomish Bakery & Café was in sight and Jim knew it. Or maybe he smelled it. Or maybe it was that sixth sense that all cyclists have: pastry detection.

We parked the bikes outside, gathered around the bakery counter and placed our orders. Jim and I would share a cinnamon roll large enough to feed four but just right for two hungry cyclists. As we chatted around the table talking about upcoming rides, past victories, and future events, Ken piped up that he really wasn't riding well today. He felt sluggish. I quizzed him to see if he was sick or just experiencing "early season deficiencies."

"How do you feel at Spin Class?"
"Fine, just great.", he said.
"Have you been sick at all?"
"No, been feeling fine all week."
"Then it's your bike. Check the brakes. It wouldn't be the first time a rider has complained about feeling sluggish only to discover their brakes have been rubbing for the last 40 miles.", I replied.

We exited the café and Ken examined his bike. Sure enough, as his wheel spun, it hit his brakes and eventually slowed to a stop. Almost like I've done this before, huh? Riding with the brakes on is like pulling a cinder block behind your bike. It's a drag.

We biked up the street to Snohomish Bicycles and Ken handed his bike to the mechanic. The mechanic showed Ken the bad news. He had two broken spokes. The wheel was way out of true. That's why it was hitting his brakes.

Remember that pre-ride checklist I mentioned? That's why you check your bike. Riding with two broken spokes is like riding with a square wheel. And dragging a cinder block.

As we left the bike shop with Ken's remedied wheel, he was a new man. Like weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He rode anew. Jim pulled alongside of me and said, "Maybe Ken should give us a head start." Sure enough, within five minutes, Ken was easily 200 yards out in front of us. I finally caught him at the next intersection and asked him how he felt.


So next time you head out for a ride, do yourself a favor. Make sure you have your helmet. And make sure your wheel has all it's spokes.

You don't want to be the rider who's "two spokes short of a full wheel."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Putting the "Bent" in Recumbent

Our first Eastside Foursquare Church Cycling Club Ride of the Year. Jim, David Z., David J., Ken and I gathered in the north parking lot of EFC ready for 38 miles around Snohomish County. We planned for rain but were pleasantly surprised when we discovered sunbreaks late in the ride.

We rode through Kenmore and into Brier enjoying the fellowship and the start of our long-awaited cycling season. The snow had long since melted. All the ice was gone. The rain from earlier in the week had abated. And even though it was still a cool morning, it was by no means cold. I would call it "crisp."

At Logan Park we paused to wait for David J., our recumbent rider. Recumbent bikes are great for comfort—especially on your backside—but really are a drag on the hills. We kept encouraging David to "stand up on those pedals!" But when you seated in a reclining position akin to a poolside chaise lounge, it's a little hard to do that.

As we waited for David, a couple of walkers caught up to us and we chatted. With them were two yellow labrador retrievers. One of which was in a child's wagon and covered with blankets. They explained that she was getting on in years—16 I think—and couldn't walk. But she loved to get outside and go for a roll. In fact, if they forgot to take her on her "walk" she would let them know by being ornery the rest of the day.

David caught us and we continued north into Lynnwood. We entered the Interurban Trail which is a regional trail built on the old Interurban Railway Line that ran between Seattle and Everett from 1910 to 1939. Today the the trail begins in North Seattle and continues north through Shoreline, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, unincorporated Snohomish County, and Everett.

We exited the trail in north of Mill Creek and then took the 2.5 mile North Creek Trail that runs behind Mill Creek Town Center. The trail is hidden among the trees behind several apartment complexes. Occasionally the sun would dapple the black top, but most of the trail is shaded. On one tight 90 degree corner, the shade mixed with recent rains to make the pavement slick. Slick enough to cause David to dump his recumbent. I turned the corner and heard the crash right behind me. I thought it might be Ken who immediately behind me, but instead I saw David on his side with his recumbent's wheels in the air.

We helped him to his feet, checked him over for blood or broken bones, and then finding none inspected his bike. Jim noticed the damage first. "Hey David, your left aileron is a little high." It was evident that his handlebars were tweaked. They now pointed on a downward angle to the right. Upon closer inspection after the ride, David told me that he had bent his stem.

His recumbent was bent.

Fortunately, he could still ride fine. So we remounted and continued on. We exited the trail at Mill Creek Town Center and turned north again along Bothell-Everett Highway. We rode east past Jackson High School and then through the old neighborhood I lived in ten years ago when we first moved to Bothell. Continuing east, we noticed the sun was beginning to break through the clouds more and more. This was becoming a really nice day for riding.

Our café stop was at the Seattle Hill Road Starbucks. We each ordered our mid-ride food and took a seat. I noticed Ken's high-minded fare. A cracker, cheese, fruit, and boiled egg plate that Starbucks calls the "Protein Artisan Snack Plate." Wait. I haven't described it accurately. From their own website, here's how Starbucks describes this delightful spread: "Hard-boiled, cage-free egg, grapes, sliced apples, and white Cheddar cheese with multigrain muesli bread and honey peanut butter spread." It's good to know that the egg is cage-free. I don't like to eat eggs that come in cages...

After Starbucks, we headed south through Cathcart and Maltby and on into Woodinville. We took our favorite descent past Wellington Hills Golf Course that we call "The Plunge." It's a sweeping, fast drop that dumps you almost into the Woodinville Costco parking lot. If there was no traffic, no intersection, and no streetlight, I'd have coasted down that hill all the way up to the hot dog stand.

We hit the Sammamish River Trail for the final few miles back into Bothell and then up the hill to Eastside Foursquare Church. Our first ride of the year was done. All five riders made it back. And only one bike suffered slight damage.

But, hey, you can't spell recumbent without "bent."

Riders: Jim, David Z., David J., Ken, Bob
Distance: 39.8 miles
Time: 3:03
Avg: 13.2