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