Saturday, May 31, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol.8 - Helmets

Anyone who survived their childhood and now understands that they aren't invincible also knows that some simple preventative items can extend extend their lives significantly. In the world of cycling, one of those simple things is head protection. Nothing like a brain bucket to keep the skull intact. When I started bicycle commuting to downtown Portland Oregon back in the mid 1970s, I bought my first helmet. It was an MSR (Mountain Safety Research) consisting of orange lexan with dense foam lining. It had 3 vent holes in the front and 3 in the back. I actually used the helmet for its intended purpose once when a dog tried to attack my front wheel. I went over the bar and rolled a couple of times, bouncing my helmet off the pavement on each rotation. I figure MSR saved my life that time. I was able to get up, sorta straighten the front wheel and wobble on in to work. I had a stiff neck for a few days and the helmet had some deep scratches. Since then, I won't ride across the street without donning a helmet.

My most recent helmets include a Giro Gila (the red one) that I used for probably too long (Its probably a good idea to replace a helmet every 3 or 4 years). It was reasonably comfortable, but in spite of the Roc loc strap sytem, it didn't stay put as well as I would have liked. That became obvious when I started riding in Phoenix, where the trails are enough to rattle your teeth out. I know, riding a stiff aluminum hardtail might be part of the problem, but a new helmet is cheaper than a new bike.

I finally decided to replace the Giro with a new bucket, and searched around the local stores until I found one that fit. The box advertised that it had a GPS system! Turns out it had a little thumbwheel on the back that tightens and loosens its grip on the head. They even had the gall to call it a "Global Positioning System." Now, I know I have a somewhat large hat size, but refering to my head as a globe is a bit much. They even put this system on smaller sizes. I had to wonder if they have one that fits Pluto, which isn't even a planet any more. I would have expected that having GPS would help me figure out where I am, but no, all it does is keep the thing in one place. Its no competition for Garmin. A nice feature with this Bell Influx is that it has lots of big vents, which is a good thing in the hot times of Phoenix. I don't recommend it for a long day in the saddle though, because you'll end up with an interesting sunburn design on your globe. I could slather SPF 45 on my bald spot (most of my noggin), but lotion melting and running down into my eyes really sucks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Urban Assault Seattle - Highly Recommended

Sean tells a better story than I do, so for an update of the Urban Assault Bike Ride, I recommend his blog. I thought I'd just add a few pictures.

This ride had a Le Mans start, so here we are setting up our bikes so we can make that flawless grab and hop on. I'm old, fat and I don't believe in running. Sean's heal was sore from an opops at Collonade the day before, so we didn't exactly get out of the gate first.

Sean and Michele took most of the pictures, except this one that I cribbed off someone else's blog. I didn't ask for permission, but the photographer didn't ask for mine before publishing this very compromising shot.

The real culmination of the day was the two laps we took on the "adult sized" big wheels. Ever since the big wheel was invented, I have believed they were completely wasted on children. Now, I know that kids had a lot of fun with them, but kids can have fun with a rock. Big wheels should have been made for the people who bought them, not the rugrats that got to ride them. Finally, my life is complete!

The miniature bicycle, however, is a toy that should never have seen the light of day.

I'm not sure that, until this day, Michele truly understood the mystique of big wheels. Now look closely at this shot. Notice the calm intensity, the angle of the wrists, the leaned back - head forward, hair blowing in the wind created by the awesome power of the machine. I think we've got another convert!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Urban Assault - Seattle

This evening will be my last chance for a training ride before the Urban Assault Bike Ride this Sunday in Seattle. I'm going to do about 10 miles of trails tonight with as much climbing as possible. Tomorrow, I'll be on the morning flight to Seattle, followed by goofing off and getting ready for the race.

So far it looks like Sunday's ride will be about 20 miles, interspersed with a bunch of checkpoints. The weather is expected to be mostly cloudy and temps in the 60s, perfect for this kind of race. This one will be a new experience for me.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Piestawa Peak (aka Squaw Peak)

Since I am kind of in training for the Urban Assault Bike Ride next weekend in Seattle, I have been out on my bike every evening for the last week. I started out about 7 pm and rode the trails for about 2 hours. It seemed like I should probably take a rest day, so this morning I figured a good change of pace would be to climb Piestewa Peak. Its about 1200 ft vertical climb over a distance of probably less than 2 miles, and the trail is more like a badly designed staircase than a mountain trail. It is also claimed to be one of the most climbed mountains in the world, probably true since its one of the smallest. Anyway, it is a pretty good hike to the top and back. I didn't time the hike, but it was probably about an hour and a half. On the way down, a lady who had passed me going up and down was climbing slowly back up again, looking all over the trail. I asked her if she'd lost something, and sure enough, she lost her car keys. I said I'd keep an eye out and continued on down. When I got to the bottom, there was a fire truck and crew sitting at one of the Ramadas, so I asked if they knew about lost keys. They said that a young couple had just walked away and had the keys. We got them to come back and told them that the owner was heading back up the mountain looking for them. I described her and the guy took off running up the hill. I hung around and talked with his wife(?) and another person while he gave chase. Now this guy couldn't have been more than 110lbs and 22 years old, but it was still amazing to watch as he ran up the hill after having just finished hiking it. He caught the lady of the lost keys about half way up and brought her back. While he was gone, I found out that they recently moved from Israel to Phoenix. We had an enjoyable talk and hearty congratulations for the runner when he returned.

One thing I have wanted to get a picture of this spring is a Saguaro bloom. Of course, Saguaros bloom at their tops and its really hard to get a shot of the blooms unless you are in a steep place and get above them. Great thing about Piestewa Peak is that its really steep and you can get above the flowers. I took a couple of shots, but without a good telephoto lens, they didn't come out as well as I hoped. It is now something of a quest for me to get a decent picture.

Another great thing about getting up on top of the peak is that you can see most of the trails in the Phoenix Mtn Preserve. I picked out a few that I didn't know existed and figured out how to get to them. Tomorrow's ride could make for an interesting morning.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Old Fat & Slow Gear Vol.7 - Lights

Here in Phoenix, riding in the dark season is arriving. Riding in the dark season is the local answer to keeping up the riding skills in spite of the heat. We are seeing temps in the 90s most days now, and while the low humidity (It’s a dry heat) makes a 90 degree day bearable, the sun is still pretty intense. The solution to the heat is evening riding as the sun sets and finishing up in the dark. Later this summer when lows will be in the 90s, it will be riding at 0-dark-early and finishing up at the butt crack of dawn.

The alternative to night riding is an occasional run up to Prescott or Flagstaff, where the cooler temps make for great summer riding. Gas prices put a damper on too many of those trips, so for Phoenicians night riding is the answer.

Of course, night riding can be a real challenge unless we rely on Thomas Edison and some later inventors. Probably the best theory about night riding is simply, the more light you can throw out in front of your bike, the better. As a cheap rider, there is something to be said for economic balance in the equation. It’s possible to spend $600 to $1000 to get the latest in LED lights and long life batteries that are truly amazing. Some folks I ride with have done exactly that. However, some of the “obsolete” systems work really well for an OFS rider like me.

My first Phoenix light system is a Light & Motion single halogen unit of probably 10w and a strap-on battery pack, loaned to me by Sean. I added to it when I found a Cygolight Night Rover system at REI with a closeout $75 price tag. Having a 20% discount available brought it down to $60. It has 2 bulbs, a 6w and a 10w, and a water bottle battery. Both systems are good for about 2 hours, which is great for me. And, yes, they are heavier than the latest LED systems, but I can take care of that problem by eating fewer Bratwursts at the ballgame.

I started out with the first system on top of my helmet. I found that I did not like that setup because the rocks, ledges and drops all looked two dimensional. The light, being so close to my eyes, eliminated shadows and gave everything a flat appearance. I moved the light to my handlebars, which restored shadows, but limited my field of view to the area the front wheel pointed at. That worked pretty well until I did an endo up on 1A in the preserve. The mount broke and proved to be irreplaceable. Light & Motion had a substitute that I bought. It was while I was at REI trying to get a new mount that I found the Cygolight. At $60, it was a great price. It does look a bit cheesy with a hard shiny plastic case, but it has worked so far. With both lights on, it lays down a good pattern and plenty of light.

I recently started riding with the Light & Motion on my helmet and the Cygolight on the handlebars. Great combination, plenty of light and enough shadowing to keep the terrain in 3D.