Upcoming rides I'm leading:
Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

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What happens when rain is likely

The latest forecast has increased the chance of rain to 70% at ride-out time in Mountain View. But do not lose hope. I've seen far too many times where the weather has turned out downright clear and sunny despite a forecast of near-certain rain.

That said, here's generally how things work on a likely-rain ride morning:

-- About two hours before meeting time, I start checking the radar to see what's approaching. If a total washout is near-certain (i.e., the radar is an explosion of color), I may decide to cancel the ride then. Either way, I will post an update to this blog. If you have access to the net in the morning, please check first before calling me, because I'm probably busy getting ready for the ride myself!

-- If a ride is still possible, I continue to check the radar, especially over our entire ride route, since we usually travel across more than one of the Bay Area's many microclimates. As meeting time nears, I may still decide to cancel the ride. If so, I'll always post a notice to this blog.

-- Even if a ride is cancelled, I will always show up at the meeting point at the designated time. And I might not make the decision on whether to cancel until after I have arrived at the meeting point, depending on what the weather is doing.

-- If a ride is cancelled, some riders may choose to individually ride the designated route. These rides are strictly unofficial and are not sanctioned or controlled by ALC. You can use our route sheets, but you're probably on your own.

I know it's disappointing to travel to a meeting location only to have a ride cancelled. But safety is always our first priority, and especially this early in the season, it's best to err on the side of caution. There will be another day to ride.

Princesses: Never too early to book those rooms

Last year, I waited too long (until November) to book my two nights of motels along the route. The result was that I didn't get the motel I wanted in Paso Robles -- and I ended up in, shall we say, a less-than-satisfying lodging experience.

So today, I made my reservations for Paso Robles and Ventura. The good news is that rooms are still available at the Best Western in Paso Robles, the closest motel to the campground. In Ventura, I stayed at the Motel 6, a few minutes away from camp, and the experience was, well, Motel 6-ish, but by Day 6, Motel 6 seems like a palace of earthly delights.

Remember, of course, that ALC could possibly change camp locations (or even camp cities) for this year. But now that we're as big as we are, such major changes seem increasingly unlikely.

For first-time riders, the Princess Plan refers to spending one or more nights in motels along the route, instead of in our glorious campgrounds. There is a very unofficial website that tells more and gives detailed info for each 2008 host city.

South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #6: Mountain View to Newark (12/7/2008)



Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 1 - mostly flat
Miles: 35

Description:
This week, we take a break from the hills and head for the Dumbarton Bridge. Depending on the weather, the ride through the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge can be scenic and pleasant ... or windy and cold. We won't know until the morning of the ride! We'll take a rest stop in Newark before turning around and retracing our route back through Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Total climbing on this ride is only about 610 feet, and a lot of that is on the bridge.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:14 a.m.

Route sheet for this ride is here.

Be sure to check the Training section of the ALC website for information on how to prepare for a training ride and what you must and should bring.

Leaders:
Chris Thomas
Dan England
Susan Fish
Zack Kreiter
Maggie Vande Voorde

RSVPs are requested but not required.

South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #5: Mountain View to Saratoga, the not-so-gentle way (11/30/2008)



Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 33

Description:
We did the gentle route to Saratoga a few weeks ago, so today it's time to take a somewhat less-gentle (but much more scenic) route. We'll take Foothill Expressway through Cupertino and into Stevens Canyon, where we'll do our big hill of the day, the 0.7-mile climb up the legendary Mount Eden. (It's OK to take a break partway up, or even to walk part of the way.) After enjoying about 3 miles of descents, we'll take our first rest stop, and then we'll climb again, but this time much more gradually as we head up Quito Road toward Highway 9. After taking a second rest stop (what a deal!), it's almost entirely downhill or flat the rest of the way back to Mountain View. Total climbing on this ride is about 1,630 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:14 a.m.

Route sheet for this ride is here.

Be sure to check the Training section of the ALC website for information on how to prepare for a training ride and what you must and should bring.

Leaders:
Chris Thomas
Dan England
Lynn McComas
Rich Prendes
Maggie Vande Voorde
TJ Zmucki

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Ride report: South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #2


Go, riders!

Chilly fog giving way to beautiful sunshine and near-perfect cycling temperatues ... who could ask for a better preview of life in June, and who could ask for a better day of riding today? On today's ride to Menlo Park and back, our group of 18 riders tackled a few hills (some might say MORE than a few hills), and everybody made it back to Mountain View in great form.

The type of terrain you saw today is a good approximation of much of what you'll see during the ride in June. Sure, we have a few bigger hills during the big ride, but much of the week consists of gently rolling terrain, with an occasional gear-shifter thrown in just to keep you on your toes. If you can handle today's ride -- and you did! -- then you're in great shape for building strength and endurance in plenty of time for ride-out on May 31.

These early rides serve two important purposes. First, of course, is building your cycling skills. Second, and just as important, is learning the rules of AIDS/LifeCycle riding. Especially for those of us who already have some cycling experience, adjusting to the rules of ALC can be difficult at first, and perhaps even a little bit frustrating at times. But it's important -- and, of course, mandatory -- that we ride according to ALC rules. This isn't just for your own safety, either. A key part of our training program is learning how to ride safely as a group, so that all of us get to Los Angeles safely. That means a common set of easily-understood rules, so that riders of all abilities know what to expect of one another.

Here are a couple of safety-related things that your marvelous ride leaders saw today. (And, by the way, remember that all of the ride leaders you saw today are volunteers who freely give hours and hours and hours of their time to help ALC be as safe as possible.)

-- What happens when you reach a signal-controlled intersection where the signal is red and there is a right-turn lane but no bike lane? You should stop in the rightmost through-traffic lane, not the turn lane, and you should stop behind -- not alongside -- the vehicles already waiting in that lane. Why? If you stop in the turn lane or even next to it, then vehicles won't be able to turn. And if you try to pass stopped vehicles closely on the right, you risk all sorts of bad things -- and those same vehicles will just have to pass you again as soon as the signal turns green.

-- What happens when you're in a bike lane and there's a group of slower riders in front of you? (Believe me, this happens often in June.) Well, if the other riders are ALC riders, they should be riding single-file, thus giving you an opportunity to pass when it's safe to do so. But what if they're not, and what if they're holding you up? Only pass them when it's absolutely safe to do so. Look behind you to make sure there's no approaching traffic. Look ahead to make sure there's no traffic about to turn in front of you. Then call and signal your intentions, pass, and get back into the bike lane as quickly as possible. If there's no safe place to pass, then chill out for a while and wait for a good spot to happen -- or until the other riders go some other direction. We had a nasty crash on the first day of ALC7 this year when a cyclist veered into traffic on Highway 1 while trying to pass another rider. Don't let that happen to you! As Zack said during the safety speech, it's a ride, not a race.

Another key part of a training ride is making sure that you're prepared for things that might happen during the ride. This means that you should carry a rather extensive (yet compact) set of items with you on every training ride. Some of these items are mandatory for ALC training rides: bike pump, spare tube and/or patch kit, tire irons, at least one full water bottle, photo ID, and emergency contact info. There are many other useful items you should consider bringing; for a full list and explanation, check the first page of the ALC training calendar.

Many of you asked about what's ahead in training rides this season. The schedules are still being assembled, but here's some general info that you might find useful. These South Bay/Peninsula early-bird rides will continue every other Sunday through November, and then every Sunday until December 21, when we'll end with a 45-mile mostly flat loop around the South Bay. Then, beginning in January, you'll have many options:
-- A series of weekly Cat-2 (10-12 mph) rides will run on Sundays. Similar rides will be offered from starting points in Sunnyvale, San Francisco, and the East Bay. These rides will build in distance and terrain until mid-May up to about 100 miles.
-- Several Cat-1 (8-10 mph) rides will run as well, but I don't have much information on cities or dates yet. There will definitely be some Cat-1 rides in San Francisco, and they're likely in other locations as well.
-- I'll be leading a set of 10 Cat-3 (12-15 mph) rides every other Saturday until mid-May from our same starting point in Mountain View. These rides will start at 40 miles and end with a 125-mile ride. (These rides are meant to be done in conjunction with other training rides and/or your own training, since it's important that you train far more often than once every other week.)
-- Plus, ride leaders will be scheduling all sorts of other random rides, mostly on weekends but also on weekdays as well. All paces and terrains will be represented.
Watch the ALC training calendar for announcements of upcoming rides.

What's next? Next Saturday is the ALC kickoff ride in San Francisco. It's actually three rides in one -- a clinic for novices, a 22-mile intermediate ride, and a 38-mile advanced ride. Both the 22-mile and 38-mile rides go across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito and beyond ... which, of course, means that the return route involves climbing back up out of Sausalito! It's also a great way to meet other cyclists and learn more about the event. Check out all the details and RSVP here.

Our next Mountain View ride will be in two weeks, on November 2. We'll take one of the easiest routes to Saratoga on a 28-mile ride that's a little bit longer than today's ride but actually has a little bit less climbing. (Did I just hear applause?) The only tricky part is that most of the climbing is concentrated in about the first half of the ride -- but that means that the second half of the ride will be a breeze, with nearly all of it downhill or flat. For more info and to RSVP, go here.

Thanks to each and every one of you for helping make a difference. We're in for an amazing training season, and I look forward to sharing our experiences over the next few months, right up until we all ride out of the Cow Palace on May 31. I hope to see you on Saturday, November 2, at 9:30 a.m. in Mountain View.

Cover those legs

Despite what the calendar says, "summer" in the Bay Area really means September and October, and those days are fading fast -- as is the temperature. And because most of our rides begin early in the day, temperatures can be especially cool, if not downright cold. A key part of safe cycling is keeping your body's temperature properly regulated.

When it's cool or cold, keep your legs covered with tights or leg warmers. How cool is cool? Opinions differ, but a common answer is, believe it or not, 70 degrees:
Riding under 70 degrees with bare legs predisposes you to a variety of problems including patellar tendonitis, Achilles tendonitis, problems with other connective tissues (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL) and increased muscle soreness. You must keep your knees warm.

Some other folks say 60 degrees is an acceptable threshold, but I tend to err on the side of caution, especially since I had big knee trouble the first year I heavily got back into cycling. Removable knee warmers are an essential part of your cycling wardrobe.

Bottom line: Sunday's forecast high is only 70 degrees, so temperatures at ride out will probably be in the 50s. Cover those legs!

Learning a new bike

Starting the new training season on a new bicycle? Worried about your performance? Don't fret.

Today, I test-rode our upcoming not-so-gentle ride to Saratoga. Coincidentally, that was the very first ride I took on the new bicycle I bought in June right after ALC7. My total riding time for the 34-mile route that day was 2:40. Today on the exact same route, it was 2:22.

What makes this more interesting is that there is no way possible that I am a stronger cyclist today then I was back in mid-June. I've been riding far less, and I could certainly feel the recent lack of training while slogging my way up Mount Eden today. But overall, I apparently was more confident at moderate speeds on good roads, and the descent down Mount Eden only terrified me somewhat slightly this time. (Back in June, I was so unsure of the new bike that I actually forced myself to stop partway down the hill.)

So, the moral of the story is that there's a long time between now and May 31. Keep a cycling log (always a good idea during training season anyway), and when next May comes around, you may be surprised at the difference.

See you on tomorrow's ride!

Cat-3 Distance Training rides 2009: Save the dates

The short version, for those of you who already know what this is:
January 10, 24; February 7, 21; March 7, 21; April 4, 18; May 2, 16 (all dates are Saturdays)

And here are the details:

Again this season, beginning in January, I'll be leading a group of 10 Cat-3 rides for intermediate cyclists who want to increase their physical and mental endurance on long-distance rides.

These rides start at about 40 miles and gradually increase to a mid-May finale of a double metric century: 200 kilometers (125 miles) in a single day. (This will make Day 2's 106 miles seem much less intimidating.)

Rides generally will take place every other Saturday and will leave from Mountain View. You do not need to be a super-fast rider to participate in these rides!

A Cat-3 ride is one that averages 12-15 mph over the entire ride: a bit slower while climbing, a bit faster while descending. Our experience has been that many cyclists taking part in Cat-2 training rides actually ride at a Cat-3 pace. And it's perfectly OK if you're at the lower end of the Cat-3 range; you do not need to be a 15-mph rider.

I'm planning some interesting new routes and will also be using the best of last season's routes, so we have a fun season ahead of us. More info will come later.

South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #4: Mountain View to Stanford Loop (11/16/2008)



Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 29

Description:
From our starting point in downtown Mountain View, we'll head into Palo Alto and past the Stanford campus to pick up the Stanford Loop, one of the region's most popular cycling routes. It starts with a steady but gradual climb to about 600 feet elevation, followed by a nice set of rolling hills and a couple of little climbs on the way back into Menlo Park. We'll return the easy way through downtown Palo Alto on the Bryant Street bike boulevard. Total climbing on this ride is about 1,250 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:14 a.m.

Route sheet is here.

If you're new to bicycling, read the Training section of the ALC website.

Leaders:
Chris Thomas
Dan England
Rich Prendes
Maggie Vande Voorde

RSVPs are requested but not required.

South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #3: Mountain View to Saratoga, the gentle way (11/2/2008)



Daylight savings time ends Nov. 1. Make sure your clock is correct!
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 28

Description:
There are lots of ways to get to Saratoga, and today we're going to take one of the easiest ones. From our starting point in downtown Mountain View, we'll pass through Cupertino and dip briefly into San Jose before heading up Saratoga Avenue. We'll take a quick rest stop in Saratoga and then head almost entirely downhill or flat back through Sunnyvale and Los Altos Hills. Total climbing on this ride is about 830 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:14 a.m.

Route sheet for this ride is here.

Be sure to check the Training section of the ALC website for information on how to prepare for a training ride and what you must and should bring.

Leaders:
Chris Thomas
Bernard Cabigon
Dan England
Maggie Vande Voorde

RSVPs are requested but not required.

An update from Kumar, and an important safety note

If you're just joining the story, Kumar was signed up for ALC7 and was an eager rider in many training rides last season. But that all ended in March when he suffered serious injuries during a high-speed solo downhill crash on a training ride.

But Kumar has been recovering ever since then, and today I was amazed and pleased when Kumar RSVP'd for our next Peninsula/South Bay training ride! He passes along this note, which he asked me to post here on his behalf:
Incidentally Cervelo has recalled all Wolf forks. It was done two months ago. I was not the only person to crash, there have been multiple crashes all over the world due to the fork. The steerer was cracked. If you know anyone riding a Cervelo, they need to change their fork if it is a Wolf. Cervelo does it for free at any Cervelo dealer. Although if they are a registered Cervelo owner as I was, they should have been informed.
So if that describes your bike, take note.

And with Kumar joining us on the 19th in Mountain View, that would be a wonderful day to show up en masse to welcome him back to our ALC training rides and applaud his spirit and determination. Ride info is here.

South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #2: Mountain View to Menlo Park (10/19/2008)



Join us for the next official South Bay/Peninsula training ride!

Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 25

Description:
Now that you're back on speaking terms with your bicycle, it's time to add a couple of little hills into the mix, and we'll also add a few more miles. From our meeting point in downtown Mountain View, we'll head directly to Foothill Expressway, where we'll ride to Palo Alto and past Stanford University on our way to Menlo Park, where we'll take our first Starbucks rest stop of the season. From there, we'll head toward Portola Valley and go through the scenic Arastradero Nature Preserve. Then it's mostly downhill or flat back to Palo Alto and Mountain View. Total climbing on this ride is about 1,180 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:14 a.m.

Route sheet for this ride is here.

If you're new to bicycling, read the Training section of the ALC website.

Leaders:
Chris Thomas
Dan England
Zack Kreiter
Rich Prendes
Maggie Vande Voorde

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Ride Report: Peninsula/South Bay Get-Acquainted Ride

Go, riders!

Whether today was your first AIDS/LifeCycle training ride ever or your first ride of a new season, there's no mistaking that special feeling of excitement that says Here We Go (Again). Today was the day when the reality boldly asserts itself: Less than eight months from now, we'll be on our way to Los Angeles, covering distance and terrain that all of us at some point thought was impossible. And especially if 21 miles is the longest distance you've ever cycled in a day, hearty congratulations are in order! Every one of us was at that point sometime; with slow but steady training, you can do this ride.

I send this ride report via email shortly after each ride I organize. If you RSVP'd via email or put an email address on the sign-in sheet (or if I have one from a previous ride you did with me), you'll get this report via email. Otherwise, you can still read it here. (If you gave an email address when you signed in today and still didn't get this via email, it's not because I don't like you; either I couldn't read your writing, or there was some other email issue that I couldn't resolve.)

We had a total of 19 riders today -- far more than I expected, and I was pleased to see a mix of new faces and returning friends. Today's route was a gentle introduction to what ALC training is like, especially our focus on safety and observing traffic laws. Yes, all those stop signs in downtown Mountain View can be a pain in the rear, but we do indeed stop completely at every one of them, every time. On the big ride in June, there really are stretches of road with that many stop signs (think Pismo Beach, for instance), and yes, we completely stop at every one of those stop signs, too. This isn't just to obey an arbitrary law, either, and it's not just when other vehicles are around. As you saw today, ALC has riders of all different abilities and backgrounds, and each of us brings our own set of cycling habits. A key part of ALC training is learning to set aside some of those habits so that we all follow the same set of rules while riding together, so that we know what to expect of other riders in our group. So even if you've grown accustomed to doing a "California stop" (no such thing, by the way) when riding on your own, start now to change the habit so that by the time May 31 rolls around, the ALC way will be second nature for you.

Also, if you are riding on a borrowed bicycle, now is the time to start thinking about what bicycle you want to ride in June. It's important to make your decision (and possible purchase) early so that the bicycle can be properly fitted to you, and so that you can get plenty of experience in learning how that bicycle performs. Many bicycle shops around the Bay Area offer discounts to ALC participants; in fact, I got a new bicycle right after the ride this year, and between the ALC discount and an in-store sale price, I was able to save more than 40% off list price. Don't let price be your only guideline; tell the sales staff that you're doing ALC, so that they know endurance and comfort, not necessarily speed, probably are your primary goals. Your ALC participant guide is full of information on choosing a bicycle; although our copies haven't arrived in the mail yet this year, you can read much of the same information online.


Another thing you want to think about now is clothing. We keep training all through the "winter" (or at least what passes for winter around here), and it's not uncommon to have temperatures in the 40s even at ride-out time during the ride in June. You want to have layers that you can easily add or remove as the temperature changes, and you probably want a windbreaker that will keep you warm when cycling into the inevitable headwinds. Again, check your participant guide, or ask a salesperson at a local bicycle shop. And if money is tight for you these days (like it is for most of us!), don't feel pressured into dropping big bucks on high-tech clothing and gear that you might not yet need. Talk with other cyclists and ride leaders, see what works for them, and take advantage of your ALC discounts. But if you have the money available, it's a good idea to start making your ALC-related purchases now so that you can spread them out over several months, rather than having to buy everything at the last minute.

And my apologies to those of you who had difficulty reading the chalk marks on the pavement today. The good news is that the ride in June is extremely well-signed and staffed, and it's almost impossible to take a wrong turn. The bad news is that nearly all other training rides are not chalk-marked (I won't be doing this often), so you'll need to rely heavily on the route sheet for directions. If you're unsure about a route, study it in advance, and try riding with another rider. And if you're ever unsure about where to go while on a ride, it's always OK to call a ride leader and ask for directions.

I'll be leading about 16 to 18 rides this season. This post talks about what's ahead.

Up next is a 25-mile ride in two weeks, on Sunday, October 19. We'll go to Menlo Park, where we'll have our first official Starbucks rest stop of the new season. From there, we'll go through the Arastradero Nature Preserve before returning through Palo Alto on our way back to Mountain View. Because the official ALC ride calendar page still isn't working (grumble, grumble), you'll need to look at my website for details and to RSVP; I should have details posted soon, after I firm up the roster of ride leaders. Time and place will be the same as today, but this ride will have a few more hills and will be a decent early-season challenge.

Again, big, giant thanks to every one of you for making the commitment to do these rides. There are as many reasons for riding as there are riders, and whatever your reason is, I applaud your devotion. Have a wonderful training season, and I hope to see you on more rides soon.

Don't let the rain scare you

The forecast calls for rain this weekend (first time in months!), but it's supposed to end Saturday, leaving us in great shape for Sunday's ride. Details and RSVP here.

Here is part of an entry I wrote last year about what "rain cancels" means:

For now, all of the training rides I lead are marked "rain cancels." What does this mean? Generally:

-- A sprinkle or two is not "rain."
-- If the roads are wet enough so that water splashes up from your rear tire onto your butt and jersey, that is "rain."
-- I look at the chance for rain along the entire route we'll be riding that day.
-- The weather on South Bay and Peninsula rides often differs greatly from the weather in San Francisco. If you're coming from San Francisco, don't assume that rain up there means rain down south.
-- On longer rides, if rain is likely only over part of the route, I may consider rerouting the ride to avoid the likely rain.
-- If rain begins during a ride that's already in progress, the ride leaders will evaluate the safety of the situation in deciding whether to continue riding the planned route or to find the shortest, safest route back to the meeting point. In severe weather, ride leaders may direct riders to stop where they are and wait for conditions to clear.

If there is a significant chance of rain cancelling a ride, I'll post updates here on this blog as we get closer to meeting time. On ride morning, you should check here first before trying to call me to ask whether we're riding. (Imagine me trying to take 150 phone calls while trying to get ready!)

Even when it's raining, however, at least one ride leader will always show up at the meeting location in case other riders show up. And, although the ride may be officially "cancelled" as far as ALC is concerned, individual riders (including some who may have been scheduled to lead the official ride) may make the decision to ride unofficially on their own. ALC neither promotes nor endorses such rides, however.