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An Abridged History

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June has been a quiet month for riding.  The weather, weekend travel, illness and idleness have all kept me off my bikes.  I started 2015 with aspirations to average 1,000km a month.  So far I am 150km per month short of that goal.  Nevertheless 2015 is shaping up to be one of my better years for cycling.

I consider my first day as an avid cyclist to be Sunday January 31st, 2010.  That was the day Big Bill B guided me on a 53km loop around Houston, including a food stop at Carter & Cooley Company Delicatessen in The Heights.

It was the first time I rode with a Garmin cycling computer on my handlebar, which allowed me to commit this and all future rides to that collective memory that is the internet.  I am a bit of a ride data geek.  I started feeding that habit with Garmin Connect.  After a few years I supplemented that with Ride With GPS, and very soon after Strava was added to the mix.  Lately Veloviewer has joined the party.

Why so many tracking apps?  In my case, mostly because they each provide different ways to view my ride data.  Ride With GPS provides nice summaries by month or year.  I can see what my buddies have been up to in Strava.  Veloviewer makes annual comparisons easy.  Charts like these ones provide the grist for this post.

Charts courtesy of Veloviewer

Charts courtesy of Veloviewer

Between January and the end of April 2010 I rode in and around Houston.  Those rides included my first century ride, The Space Race, and my first BP MS150.

Heat Map courtesy of Strava

Heat Map courtesy of Strava

My biker chick had started her new job in Den Haag, The Netherlands, in April.  So my bike spent May in a container, along with our other possessions, on a ship bound for Europe.

I spent the rest of the year exploring the bike paths around Den Haag.

I logged 2,831kms in 2010.  My average ride distance was 59kms.  My average ride time was 2 hours 28 minutes.

In 2011 my total distance covered jumped to 6,886kms.  My average distance went up slightly to 63kms.  The average ride length went up in tandem to 2 hours 33 minutes.

Much of that increase in total distance ridden is testament to the outstanding cycling infrastructure in The Netherlands.  You can’t help but get on your bicycle in a country where the riding in so safe, convenient, and scenic.

In 2012 my mileage again jumped significantly over the previous year.  To 11,019kms.  The average distance stayed almost the same at 62.25kms.  I picked up speed though, with my rides averaging 2 hours 29 minutes.

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Almost all of my riding over these two years was in The Netherlands.  I did occasionally venture further afield.  I made my first extended cycling trip in 2011.  I went to Ninove in Belgium, to ride in the Ronde van Vlaanderen sportif.

In 2012 I did the Ronde van Vlaanderen again, which started and ended this time in Oudernaarde.  I also took two trips to Maastricht, for the UCI World Championships and the Amstel Gold sportifs.

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Heat map courtesy of Strava

In October 2012 my biker chick and I returned to Kuala Lumpur.  My bikes (by this time I had two) followed soon after by air freight.  So it wasn’t long before I was immersing myself in the relatively new and booming road cycling scene in Malaysia.

Cycling in Kuala Lumpur reminds me a lot of cycling in Houston.  You share the roads with traffic.  Sometimes a lot of traffic.  City riding is best done at night, when the roads, or motorcycle lanes where provided, are quieter.  The popular daytime cycling routes are mostly outside the city.

In 2013 I started venturing further afield.  Century rides in various cities around the country become a regular activity, including one international road trip to Hatyai in Thailand.

Despite the number of century rides, my mileage in 2013 was only 7,102kms.  My rides had become shorter, averaging 49kms and 1 hour 58 minutes per ride.  I remember that tropical rainstorms had a lot to do with curtailing riding time in 2013.

The downward trend continued in 2014.  I had four months of enforced time off my bikes because of a crash, and two unrelated surgeries.  Those breaks from cycling resulted in only 3,918kms ridden.  My average ride was surprisingly long though, at 66kms and 2 hours 35 minutes.

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Heat map courtesy of Strava

Almost all of my cycling since the end of 2012 has been in Malaysia.  The exceptions were in 2013, when I flew to the United States to ride in the BP MS150 from Houston to Austin, and to ride in the 5 Boros Ride in New York City.  In between those rides I visited an old friend in Denver, where  I managed to squeeze in a few rides as well.  I came home with bicycle number three.

Heat Map courtesy of Strava

Heat Map courtesy of Strava

That bicycle is a Ritchey Breakaway.  It came with me to Melbourne in December 2013.  My last cycling trip away from home to date.

Heat map courtesy of Strave

Heat map courtesy of Strava

2015 looks good so far.  I am up to 5,078kms as at the end of June.  My average ride length for the year is 71kms.  I must be a bit fitter than I was last year too.  I am riding on average 5kms further this year as compared to last, but my average time is the saddle is only 3 minutes more, at 2 hours 38 minutes.

I’m hoping to take at least one cycling trip outside Malaysia this year.  And I am looking forward to staying healthy and spending as much time as possible riding.

JFK Quote 3

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2012

The 2013 Spring Classics season is almost upon us.  If the current weather conditions in northern Europe are anything to go by, the March races in Belgium may include the snow, sleet, rain and howling winds that, together with the legendary pavé, give Gent – Wevelgem, the Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV) and Paris – Roubaix their harsh reputations.

So I was thankful that there was no snow or sleet in the lead up to the 2012 RvV cyclosportive. I tried to be better organised than I was for the 2011 edition (click here for that story.)  I looked on-line for group tours to the RvV.  I found one put together by the Gruppo Sportivo Gazzetta.  They were coming from the UK to ride the RvV.  They had block booked accommodation at the family-run Horenbecca Hotel in Horebeke.  Which was within riding distance to the start in Oudenaarde.  Most importantly there was room for up to six Not Possibles if we quickly confirmed our participation.

There were lots of Coffee Club conversations about riding the RvV, but no quick decisions.  By the time Richard and I finally decided we would do it, Gazzetta had already confirmed their numbers with the hotel.  Theresa, my Gazzetta contact, gave me the telephone number of the hotel.  I still had laughter ringing in my ears from my late attempt to book RvV accommodation the year before.  As expected, Luc Wachtelaer, the owner of the Horenbecca, told me that all his rooms were booked.  What I didn’t expect was to be offered space in the almost finished spa that he was adding to the hotel.  “As long as you don’t mind not having any windows” Luc said.

We met the eight Gazzetta members who made the trip across the Channel for dinner at the Horenbecca on Thursday evening.  Luc is an excellent chef.  We knew from the first bite of our evening meal that we would dine at the hotel as often as we could.

RVV 2012 Gazzetta 03

Luc, his wife and his mother kept the food and drink coming late into the night.  Which meant that it was a slow start for some on Friday morning.  After a top-notch breakfast we headed out for what Theresa had described as a warm-up ride.  Richard and I interpreted “warm-up ride” to mean a jaunt of perhaps 30km at a fairly gentle pace.  The reality was a little different.  We covered about 90km, including two climbs up the Kapelmuur.  “Just for fun,” as that famed climb was not part of the 2012 RvV route.

I was grateful that those two climbs were split by an excellent pasta lunch and a couple of coffees in Geraardsbergen.

We rode over a few cobbled stretches, including one bumpy descent before lunch where I lost the bolt that joins my non-drive side seat stay and chain stay.  I must say that I was very impressed with the strength of the aptly named Columbus Muscle carbon rear triangle.


Despite one seat stay and chain stay no longer being connected the rear triangle didn’t snap and collapse.  The only clue that something was amiss was the smell of hot rubber from my rear tire rubbing against the non-drive side chain stay.  There was a bit of a wobble but that was masked by the bouncing around on the cobbles.

That could have marked the demise of my weekend.  So I was doubly grateful for the help Neil provided.  He hoisted my frame, sans wheels and water bottles, onto his shoulder and rode to the nearest bike shop to look for a replacement bolt.  Forty five minutes later he was back with my repaired frame.  What a star!

Neil on the left

Neil on the left

Richard and I woke up on Saturday a bit worse for wear from the previous day’s exertions.  Nothing that a good breakfast couldn’t fix though.  We had opted for the 87km route.  Our new Gazzetta friends were all doing the 138km route.  So the only part of the ride that we shared was the 10km to the start in Oudenaarde.

It doesn’t look it from this photo but 15,345 riders from 32 countries rode the 2012 RvV.  Granted not everyone started in Oudenaarde.  3,000 hardy souls rode the full 244km course that started in Bruges.

RVV 2012 Start

Richard is an avowed BMC fan.  The morning started out well for him!

RVV 2012 Richard at BMC

It was a fairly cold morning, though thankfully without rain, sleet or snow.  So Richard and I were bundled up as we left Oudenaarde.

RVV 2012 083953_hires

It wasn’t long before we were warming up.

RVV 2012 095214_hires

A ride profile like this is guaranteed to generate some heat, but it never warmed up enough for us to take our jackets off.

RVV 2012 87km Profile

The 87km route had more than enough climbing in it.  Despite the pretty views . . .

RVV 2012 Climb 02

. . . some of the climbs were tough, . . .

RVV 2012 Koppenberg Sign 02

so we made sure we followed the correct arrows!

RvV 2012 Directions

There were lots of these on the course.

RVV 2012 3S

Some research revealed that they were for Dries Devenyns (3 S = Drie S). Dries is from the village of Kluisbergen, which is all of 13kms from the race finish in Oudenaarde.

We also saw this gentleman pushing his draisine along.  He may be Czech, but he is a true Flandrien.  He put the rest of us, including the penny-farthing rider, to shame.

RVV 2012 Draisine 01

Richard and I rolled into the finish seven hours after we started.

RVV 2012 133445_hires

Despite having eaten at every rest stop we were starving.  We passed on the offerings at the finish . . .

RVV 2012 Food Bus

. . . and rode into Oudenaarde, past the marching band . . .

RVV 2012 Band 01

. . . to where else in Belgium but . . .

RVV 2012 Frietshop

for a heaping portion of double-fried frites.  We were thusly fortified to make it up the final climb to the hotel.  A ride to Horebeke in one of these would have been appreciated though.

RVV 2012 Helicopter

The next morning we all kept an ear out for the thump-thump of helicopters.  The RvV race route would twice bring the riders near the Horenbecca Hotel.  The approaching helicopters signaled the imminent arrival of the breakaway group, the chasing peloton and everything that accompanied it.

This was a great finish to a memorable weekend.  Hopefully I can repeat the experience one of these years.

I’ll See Your JZC and Raise You an RvV!

By the time of the 2011 Witte Kruis Classic I had been living in the Netherlands for nine months.  I had done quite a bit of cycling in those months but had yet to meet anyone to ride with.  Then suddenly it all started happening.  I  linked up with Eugene and we rode the Joop Zoetemelk Classic together.  A few days later I was introduced to the Not Possibles.  A group of expatriates who meet on Saturday mornings for “no drop” rides.  I was on the bike paths with them that weekend.

Eugene couldn’t join us on the Not Possibles ride.  But he had bigger fish to fry.  Around the time we registered for the Joop Zoetemelk Classic he suggested that we try and get into the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) sportif.  The Ronde is one of the monuments, a classic one-day road race on the European spring professional calendar.  The professionals would be racing from Bruges to Ninove.  Amateurs could ride the full 250 km course the day before the race.  Eugene and I set ourselves a more modest goal.  The profile for the 75 km route showed almost 600 meters of climbing.  We thought that was enough, especially as we had climbed a whopping 13 meters the weekend before during the Joop Zoetemelk Classic.

We had left it a bit late to register.  More than 15,000 cyclists participate in the Ronde every year.  I was frankly surprised that we got places with only two weeks to go before the event.  Finding accommodation was another matter.  I enquired about rooms at a number of hotels and B&Bs in the Ninove area.  I was told that I might just be in time to reserve a room for the 2012 event.  But a room in two weekends time?  “Ha ha ha ha”!  “Ha ha ha”!  I got literally laughed at.

So I felt very fortunate to score two rooms at the Schauvliege B&B outside Ghent.  We would have a 40 km drive to the start, but that was infinitely preferable to leaving at 4am to make the trip all the way from Den Haag.

My biker chick and I left Den Haag on Friday afternoon.  We picked up Eugene and his bike in Rotterdam on the way to Belgium.  We got to Sint-Denijs-Westrem in  time to have a gentle ride around the B&B before dinner.  Here we are with Madame Schauvliege and our fellow house guests.  These two guys had just flown in from Ireland to ride the Ronde.  I suppose if I had flown in from Dublin I would have opted for the 130 km route also.

RvV Irish Guys 1

Zulfa drove us to the start at the crack of dawn.  Well, not quite all the way to the start.  A few thousand other cyclists were ahead of us on the road.  So we had a 5 km warmup ride.  By the time we got to Ninove I wished I had left my jacket and long-fingered gloves in the car.  Eugene was wearing his Swift club jersey and arm warmers.  A much better choice of cycling kit.

RvV 2011 JM Start Hi-Res

We set off into the crisp morning air.  After a few kilometers the terrain turned into rolling countryside.

RvV Countryside

All very picturesque, but we were somewhat disturbed to discover that what looked and felt like some of the famed Flandrian hellingen (hills) were nothing of the sort.  These were the equivalent of bunny slopes at ski resorts.

Gentle Climb

The early kilometers were the calm before the storm.  The combined storm of cobblestones and greater than 10% inclines.  The cobbles were literally tooth-rattling.  So much so that all manner of items were shaken free of jersey pockets and off bicycles as their owners bounced along, hands in a death-grip on handlebars.  The climbs were wall-like in places.  This is the iconic Kapelmuur, just over a kilometer long with a maximum gradient of 19.8%.

RvV 2011 JM Kapelmuur 1 Hi-Res

Eugene got to the top of this climb before I did.  A scenario that was repeated all day long.  Here he is taking photographs of the suffering riders below him.

RvV 2011 Kapelmuur 07

You can tell from our pained expressions in this video that we had our share of suffering too.

Eugene and I spent the evening talking about doing the 130 km route the next time.  I reckon this gentleman had already made his room reservation for 2012.

RVV 2011 Costume