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A Sucker for Punishment

I must have been dropped on my head as a baby.  My aborted first ride with the Six Thirty group should have been my cue to stick to gentle solo rides along the Columbia Tap Rail to Trail.  Instead, at the very next opportunity, I planted myself, clad in Cordura and polyester, amongst the others resplendent in their Coolmax and Lycra, outside West End Bicycles.  This time toward the front of the group in the hope that it was not possible to be overtaken by everyone behind me before the first traffic light.

This photograph of some of the group was taken many many rides later, after I had swallowed the red pill and was worthy of wearing the Six Thirty jersey.  Alisa K. is second from the right.  Tom B., who features later in this post, is third from the left.

Most of the group did get past me by the first traffic light.  But not everyone.  Call it competitiveness or plain bull-headedness but I stayed ahead of a few other riders. If I was going to get lost again I was determined to have company.  Apart from the constant struggle to keep the group ahead of me in sight I don’t remember much about the 18 km / 11 mi to the old Houston Scottish Rite Temple on Brompton Street.  I was just glad that it was getting easier to see the flashing rear lights ahead of me as it got darker and darker.  What a relief it was to get to the midpoint of the route and to see the gaggle of faster riders who had stopped to wait for slowpokes like myself to catch up.

Naturally the stronger riders, having had a rest and a chat while waiting, were raring to get going again.  Red tail lights twinkled off into the distance as I leaned over my handlebars, struggling for breath and wondering if the hammering in my ears would ever stop.  Pounding heart or not, I had to start riding again.  I didn’t know the way back to the bike shop.  To get home I had to keep the group in view.  I pushed down on my pedals and bumped and clunked along for a few metres.  I had my first ever flat tire.

A feeling of dread descended upon me.  I was up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  I was in total darkness and had just a small headlight that provided minimal illumination.  I had never changed a flat tire before.  Which was irrelevant because I didn’t have any tools or a spare inner tube.  The prospect of having a flat tire had never occurred to me.  Neither had the notion that I would ever need to call for help to get home.

As I was trying to figure out the name of the street that I was on I heard a voice say “Are you okay?”  Tom B. appeared out of the gloom.  I don’t remember hearing it but he must have been accompanied by the sound of angelic harp music.  Tom changed my inner tube for me and guided me back to the bike shop.  A kindness for which I remain eternally grateful.  He is a very dear friend to this day.

I was at West End Bicycles the very next morning to buy inner tubes and tools both for myself and to replace what Tom had used to get me back on the road.  Before I rode again I practiced taking a wheel off and replacing the inner tube.  And I am happy to say that I have had opportunities since then to make my own contributions to good bicycle karma by helping other new cyclists who unexpectedly find themselves unprepared to fix a flat.

Reality Bites

Reality Bites is a 1994 film about the tough transition from the idyllic and unreal world of college to the harsh world of everyday life.  The film is set in Houston.  Coincidentally the city where I had my own “Reality Bites” moments as a cyclist.

After a few months of riding around downtown Houston I decided I needed some padded biking shorts.  After all I was putting in the miles; a hefty ten at a time mind you.  I was starting to feel the inadequacies of cycling in gym shorts.  A Google search gave me a link to West End Bicycles.  I liked what I read and saw on the website so one Saturday I rode to the shop.

Photo courtesy of West End Bicycles

As soon as I walked in Blaine G. asked if I needed any help.  Blaine is second from the right in the photo above.  He must have seen “Neophyte” in capital letters across my forehead.  After a lengthy chat and some recommendation from Blaine I came away with two pairs of Endura Singletrack shorts and liners.  The Lycra aesthetic was not for me.  Not then anyway.

More importantly I met Daniel M. who is the owner and is a very nice man.  He is standing on the far left above.  As we chatted Daniel gave me the once over and then looked at my bike.  “Your bike is too small for you” he said.  I blinked bemusedly a few times in response.  I hadn’t given the size of my bike a single thought since I bought it.  So while my new shorts played a part in making my riding more comfortable, the major improvement came from having the saddle raised by a good twenty centimetres and from adding bar ends to my handle bars.

My ride home from the bike shop marked transition number one.  It was my first ride on a bike that fit me reasonably well.  Transition number two was to come in a few days.  While adjusting my bike Daniel told me about the Tuesday and Thursday evening rides that start outside the shop.  He suggested that I send an email to Alisa K, a regular on the rides who could give me some more information.  Which I duly did.  Alicia quickly replied with information as promised.

So it was that I rolled up to the shop on the following Tuesday evening on my hybrid bike, resplendent in my new baggy shorts.  To be greeted by thirty or so people, each astride a road bike and many sporting matching custom jerseys.  I divined who Alisa was and introduced myself.  Right away she made me feel welcome and made introductions.  It was many moons later when she revealed that she had taken one look at me in my t-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes, and at my bike that evening and thought to herself “This is not going to go well.”  She is a perceptive one, that Alisa.

“Two minutes!”  Juan R. barked out the signal that our departure was imminent.  Immediately the clicking of cleats into pedals arose all around me.  I positioned myself toward the back of the group and silently placed one foot on a platform pedal.  The group started to roll down Blossom Street and across Durham Drive and Shepherd Drive.  The pace picked up as we approached the left turn onto Jackson Hill Street.  I was pleased that I was able to stay with the group.  Famous last words.

Everyone seemed to bolt down Washington Avenue.  I caught up to the group at the red light at Heights Boulevard.  The group surged away from me as soon as the light turned green.  And they did it so effortlessly too.  The gap between us closed again at the next red light at Studemont Street.  I could see this was going to be the recurring theme of the evening.

An evening which didn’t last much longer.  A few minutes later everyone else was so far ahead of me that I didn’t see them make the right turn onto Fannin Street.  I found myself at a dead end and facing Minute Maid Park.  I didn’t know the route so the only option was to ride home.  Wondering to myself if I would ever be able to ride at the pace I had just witnessed.

R R Go Away, Come Again Another Day

The weather had looked threatening all afternoon.  The heavens finally opened in spectacular fashion at 6.30pm.  Thunder, lightning, and lots of water.  This was the view from our hotel room at 7.00pm.  Droplets still running down the window, but the main show was over.

Emails about the weather were a common feature of ride days in Houston.  A number of online weather sites were consulted.  Screen shots of radar images went out.  Six Thirty riders looked out of their office windows and reported about the state of the roads along the ride route.  If the roads were going to be wet at 6.30pm the ride would be canceled.  The Six Thirty group never rode in the wet if it could be avoided.  I remember just one occasion where we got caught in a deluge about halfway through the ride.  Somewhere in the vicinity of the old Masonic Lodge on the corner of Brompton Road and North Braeswood Boulevard.  Whatever the weather there was one constant.  The words “rain” and “wind” were never used.  It was always just R and W.  One of those cyclists’ superstitions.  Which I will disregard for the rest of this post.

The weather featured large in Den Haag too.  Saturday morning Not Possibles rides and all other rides were preceded by a look at various weather forecasts.  The concern was less about the rain though.  It rains much less in Den Haag – 25 cm / 10 in annually than in Houston at 122 cm / 48 in per year.  Plus everyone in the Netherlands seems to be very comfortable with riding in the wet.  We often rode on wet bike paths and in the rain.  A waterproof jacket and SKS Raceblade Long fenders were essential items.

For The Not Possibles it was more about the direction of the wind.  The average windspeed in Den Haag is 28.6 kph / 17.8 mph compared to 13.3 kph / 8.3 mph in Houston.  The decision to be made prior to the start of every ride was which way to head out so that there would be a tail wind on the return leg.  The wind in Den Haag is a fickle beast though.  We had many rides where the wind seemed to be in our faces no matter which heading we were on.  On some particularly windy days we chose to sail along with the wind, spinning at an effortless 50 kph for an hour or more.  Then we would ride the train back home.

The amount of rain in Kuala Lumpur is double that in Houston.  We get 240 cm / 94.5 in a year here.  This evening’s downpour dumped a significant amount of water onto the streets.  Enough water for Albert K to call at 7.15pm to say that the Racun Cycling Gang evening ride had been called off.  The fall during last week’s ride is still fresh in the memory.  That no doubt contributed to the decision to cancel this evening.  I shall have to get used to the R getting in the way of riding here.

“Toto, I Have a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.” *

My last urban night ride was in Houston in April 2010.  The Six Thirty West End group still does a Tuesday evening and a Thursday evening ride through downtown Houston.  I can still hear Juan R’s “Two Minutes” call at 6.28pm.  And I can still taste the Tex-Mex at Jax Grill where we had regular post-Thursday ride meals.

I was delighted to hear that Van’s hosts urban night rides in KL.  They start at 9pm so lights are essential.  Of course when I was packing up my riding stuff in Den Haag I didn’t think I would need lights right away.  My Niterider MiNewt Mini and Planet Bike Super Flash are in the sea freight, not to be seen until November sometime.  So if I was going to ride on Tuesday evening I needed lights.  When I was at Van’s on Monday, creak hunting with YC, I bought a Cateye Rapid 5 tail light.  Raymond T at Van’s kindly lent me a headlamp.  Good to go!

The Racun Cycling Gang met at the Decanter restaurant on Jalan Setiabakti in Bukit Damansara at 8.45pm for a 9pm start.  We were a mixed group of nine riders.  As was the case with the Genting Sempah ride the majority were on folding bikes, although Wan A was on a rather tasty looking yellow Specialized  S Works Tarmac SL3.  We headed out onto quiet residential streets with YC following behind in a car.  The roads were still a bit damp from the afternoon rain.  And my bike was still creaking!

Those were the least of my concerns though.  Here is the elevation profile for the first twelve kilometres from my last ride in Den Haag:

Here is the elevation profile for the first twelve kilometers from the Tuesday night ride:

We weren’t even two kilometres into the ride and my heart rate was pushing 150 bpm.  Which is not far short of my maximum heart rate.  The rest of the ride was more of the same.  A series of  7% to 9% gradients packed fairly together.  Those low-geared folding bikes were starting to look good.

We were fortunate to have YC in a car following behind us.  At the 4km mark we were all descending at some speed.  I heard the unmistakeable sound of a bike hitting the pavement behind me.  The damp road surface, wet leaves and speed had brought down one of our group.  Fortunately he came away with only scrapes and bruises.  YC took our unlucky rider to get his road rash cleaned up.  The rest of us looked around for my headlight, which had fallen out of its handlebar mount at about the same time the accident happened behind me.  We found the batteries and the light, less the battery cover and lens cover.  The LED was still working so I stuck it back in its mount and rode on.

We made it safely up and down the rest of the climbs that made up this ride.  We regrouped at the Decanter, loaded our bikes into our cars and drove down to a roadside stall for a lime juice and cycling chat.  Which stretched to another lime juice and more chat.  And a third lime juice and yet more chat.  I’m not sure that “I was just out for a bike ride” worked as an excuse for why I got home at almost 1am.

* Title courtesy of The Wizard of Oz.

Two Degrees of Separation

I had been home for two days.  The jet-lag made it feel like I hadn’t slept in all that time.  The default action would have been to hop on a bike and go for a ride.  If I had had a bike to hop on to.

I had not heard about when my bikes would be delivered.  My Cyclistis friend was travelling on business.  It was starting to look more and more like I would not be riding on the weekend.

The bright spot in the day was dinner with BP alumni friends at Cava.  We are a group of about a dozen who manage to get together once or twice a year for good food and lots of laughter.  A number in the group keep up with my cycling addiction via Facebook.  Alice K mentioned that her brother had been similarly stricken, and that she would send my contact details to him.

I was hardly back at the hotel when Alice’s brother Albert K messaged me.  There was a ride on Sunday.  Was I interested?

Was I ever!  I had to calm myself though.  It would all depend on whether I had possession of my bikes by Saturday evening.  SMSes zipped between us as ride location details and so on were exchanged.  I was invited to join the Racun Cycling Gang group on Facebook.  Natuurlijk!  Especially when I read the group’s ‘About’ statement:

A Cycling Group which always takes care of each other…. no one will be left behind!
We ride not for the best time
But we ride for a good time

That in essence is what I really liked about my previous cycling groups:  West End Bicycles in Houston and The Not Possibles in Den Haag.  That and the fact that we ate breakfast tacos every Sunday in Houston and apple pie at every opportunity in Den Haag.

The final piece fell into place on Friday morning.  Allied Pickfords called to say that our air freight would be delivered the following morning.  Well, in reality the final piece fell into place when the Allied Pickfords guys handed my bikes to me at 10.30am on Saturday.

My first ever road ride in Malaysia was imminent.