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Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

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When a bike dies

I bought my Fuji CCR3 in June 2008. Sunday, it died.

I was about to head out on an ALC training ride, and I noticed that my rear tire had gone soft overnight. I unfastened the rear hub and started to remove the wheel. As I did so, I heard a ping! noise and saw something drop to the floor. I thought I had simply unscrewed the hub too much and sent a piece of it flying.

But when I picked up the piece, I quickly realized something was wrong. Very wrong.

There was metal fatigue on this piece. And on the surrounding frame, a piece of the frame was broken away around the screws. In short, one side of the apparatus that held my rear wheel in place had simply disintegrated.

That's the scary part. I discovered this at home. I was about to ride 45 miles, just as I had done the previous day. What if this failure had happened while I was in motion? I suppose I wouldn't have gone down immediately, but the potential for a serious injury certainly seems all too real. I'm trying to not think too hard about this, because it seems more than a little bit sobering.

Why didn't a bike shop catch this? Perhaps the failure developed quickly. And the area where the failure occurred isn't necessarily one that gets regularly inspected -- I'd previously not seen or heard of a failure of this type. So I don't think I can hold any shop particularly culpable; this is just the type of thing that happens, albeit quite rarely.

Warranty replacement? The Fuji warranty says that depreciation is taken into account. So, after riding 22,093 miles on this bike, it's doubtful I'd get any meaningful payback. Moreover, the shop where I bought the bike is no longer an authorized Fuji dealer, so I'd have to deal with a different shop, and it's just not worth the trouble.

Because I'm me, I couldn't go long without a bike. So within five hours, I had purchased and was already riding my new wheels, a 2012 Specialized Roubaix Elite C2 (just like this one, same color). The ride is smooth like butter, but it's got a compact double instead of the triple that I've used since 2004.

This in particular is going to require lots of readjustment on my part, as I discovered on a 46-mile shakedown cruise yesterday. But the highlight of the day was climbing Highway 84 between 280 and Whiskey Hill. Another cyclist had stopped behind me at the signal at 280, and he was one of those types who, just by looking at him, takes his cycling seriously (unlike me, of course). I took off and quickly found that I was maintaining 12-13 mph all the way up this not-too-bad hill. I already knew that I'd easily be setting a personal-best time for that part of the climb, but I kept waiting for Mr. Elite to pass me. He didn't.

We reach the top at Whiskey Hill and begin coasting to the four-way stop at Cañada. He says, "That was quite a pace you had there; made it look easy." Well! According to Strava, that particular effort on my part ranks 204th out of 671 among all riders, 51st out of 160 in my age group (hush, you), and 37th out of 102 in my weight class (again, hush). It's not every day that I turn in a score like that! Perhaps the bike helped a bit.

We'll see how this new journey goes. Here's hoping it's longer than 22,093 miles.

Distance Training #5: Metcalf (3/10/2012)

Date: Saturday, March 10
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 69

Description:

A new route for the Distance Training rides! We start with a gentle route to Los Gatos (no Mount Eden), and then we'll cross Blossom Hill on our way to Santa Teresa Blvd., which we'll do in the eastbound direction (the opposite of what we've always done in past years) through South San Jose. After a quick rest stop, we'll make our way to the highlight of the day: Metcalf Road, a steep 2-mile climb that's a local favorite and has been part of the Lance Armstrong Livestrong Challenge in San Jose. The good news is that Metcalf is the only significant climb of the day; the return is mostly urban (and parallels light rail almost all the way, in case you need to bail out) along Capitol Expressway, White Road, Capitol Ave., and past the Great Mall into Santa Clara. This ride gives you an opportunity to experience plenty of remote backcountry riding and big-city conditions, both of which will be part of your journey to Los Angeles.

Strava reports about 2,650 feet of climbing for this route.

This ride is Caltrain- and VTA-friendly. The first southbound train of the day leaves SF at 8:15 and arrives in Mountain View at 9:29. We're about four blocks from the station.

Note: Sunset for today is 6:11 p.m. All riders must complete the route before sunset; riding after sunset is not allowed on this ride, even if you have proper lighting.


RSVPs are requested but not required.

Distance Training #4: Crystal Springs (2/25/2012)

Date: Saturday, February 25
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 59

Description:

This ride is a simple trip up and down the Peninsula that's mostly tame, but a few hills in the middle will quickly rack up the elevation stats. From downtown Mountain View, we'll take the gentle route past Stanford to Alameda de las Pulgas and follow it all the way until it ends in San Mateo at Crystal Springs Road. This includes the part beyond San Carlos, which has a couple of rather significant climbs, although we're doing it in the somewhat easier direction.

Next, Crystal Springs Road takes us to the Polhemus hill that made its debut on ALC10 due to the dam closure, and then we'll go down the Ralston bike path to pick up Cañada Road with a short little hill or two before we reach Woodside. We'll then go around the backside of the Portola Valley loop, and we'll end by retracing our route to Mountain View.

Strava reports about 2,850 feet of climbing for this route.

This ride is Caltrain- and VTA-friendly. The first southbound train of the day leaves SF at 8:15 and arrives in Mountain View at 9:29. We're about four blocks from the station.


RSVPs are requested but not required.

Ride report: Distance Training #2 (1/28/2012)

Go, riders!

Our run of incredible winter weather luck continued today with near-perfect conditions for our group of 43 intrepid cyclists (one of whom, alas, didn't make it past the first mile due to a mechanical issue). We experienced a wide variety of cycling conditions, and we saw a lot of things that should help us get ready for the event in June -- and we ride out just 20 weeks from tomorrow. Special thanks to Terri for outstanding SAG service, and to Diana (who was a bit under the weather and didn't ride with us today) for the yummy baked goods.

Stop signs are a fact of life on the event and on training rides. Regardless of what you feel about them, and regardless of how desolate the territory or how alone you are, it's an ALC rule that we always come to a complete stop, with one foot on the ground and no forward motion, at every stop sign every time (unless law enforcement directs us to do otherwise). Sure, we love to ride miles and miles without stopping, and there's plenty of opportunity in June to do that as well. But since we're training, part of the training is to deal with what might seem like silly stop signs. Trust me: One $300-plus ticket from any of our local law enforcement agencies (and, trust me, they know where cyclists go), and they won't seem so silly anymore.

Also today, we transitioned repeatedly from city riding to country riding to residential riding, sometimes quite suddenly. This also happens in June; we ride through beautiful countryside, big and not-so-big cities, and even some quiet residential districts where you never know what might be backing out of a driveway. Another tip toward a happy ALC is being able to enjoy all these types of cycling and being aware of things to watch out for in each case.

Proper nutrition and hydration also become increasingly important with each successive ride. Your body can operate on its stored energy for only about two hours, and all of these rides are longer than that ... and they'll be getting a lot longer. You can try to randomly stuff yourself with whatever is available at the next rest stop, restaurant, or convenience store, but you'll probably be happier and ride better if you plan your nutrition as carefully as you plan the other parts of your ride. In June, you'll know each day's breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu the previous night, and you'll quickly learn what snack items are available at our official rest stops. And always carry some "emergency" nutrition with you -- something like a snack bar, an energy gel, sport beans, a bagel, or a banana -- so that you can take immediate action if you start to bonk.

Now, let's spend a couple of minutes in Nerd Corner.

If you record your training on a Global Positioning System (GPS)-capable device such as a Garmin, I hope you're using at least one of the many online training tools. And if you have an iPhone or almost any Android-compatible phone, you can do likewise. Many of us use Strava or RideWithGPS. (There are many other tools as well. They aren't just logs; most now offer a whole boatload of gee-whiz Web 2.0 social-media features.

I mention this because one of the features of GPS tracking is recording the total amount of climbing you do on a ride. And when I advertised this ride, I said it would have about 2,170 feet of climbing. That's what I got the last time I rode this entire route. Today, however, most of the riders who recorded elevation showed totals in the range of only 1,700 to 1,900 feet. What happened? Elevation can be tracked several ways. Your bike computer or smartphone might be able to use atmospheric pressure to estimate your elevation at any point. But this depends on your device knowing exactly where you are. Unfortunately, GPS doesn't provide that level of accuracy; it can usually position you to within 15 feet or less of your actual location. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you're in hilly terrain, the rounding error could record you as being off the road and partially up or down a hillside. The result is that the calculated elevation gain can vary significantly from rider to rider, and even from day to day. This is something to keep in mind when you see estimates of climbing.

OK, enough time in Nerd Corner. Let's look ahead to our next scheduled ride, set for Saturday, February 11. Westridge Plus. (Cue the ominous minor chord.)

What's the big deal about Westridge Plus? This is a true training ride -- not a pleasant recreational spin -- in every sense of the word. We'll start with about 20 miles that are almost perfectly flat. If you're one of our typical Mountain View riders, you might want to crank it into high gear and fly up and down Central Expressway. But -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- you probably shouldn't do that. Why? Because the rest of the ride is a festival of climbing, some of it not just steep, but very steep.

For most riders, Westridge Plus will help you find your limit. There probably will be some point on the ride where you'll want to just get off your bike. You'll probably walk up part or all of some of the hills, especially the very steep Joaquin Road in Portola Valley, and your head might even begin to go into some unhappy places. That's the idea. Because then you'll need to get past the tough part, get back on your bike, and keep riding, at least to the next hill if not beyond. (And if you truly need to end your day early, there are countless bailout options available to get you back to Mountain View by going only downhill or level.)

In June, all sorts of things can happen on the ride to mess with your head, and it's essential that you learn to deal with that effectively and safely, not just for your sake, but for the sake of everyone around you -- like a rest stop volunteer who really doesn't want to be snarled at because your day has turned sour. It's tough to simulate the stresses of a multi-day event on a training ride of only a few hours, but Westridge Plus will come close.

We've done Westridge in previous training years, and it's served as an early-season benchmark of your training level. It's often fun to return later in the season on your own and see how much you've improved. Even though this isn't necessarily a "pleasant" ride, I urge you to join us because there's an abundance of important lessons that you can learn from this challenging ride. Details and RSVP are here.

But when I announced this morning that the first forecast for the 11th was calling for sunny skies and 72 degrees, I hope I didn't speak too soon. As of tonight, the forecast for the 11th is calling for chilly, heavy rain and a high of only 51 degrees. Forecasts that far out are, of course, only a guess, so we'll see what develops. One good thing about this route is that, if the weather turns too ugly, we can easily return to Mountain View after the flat part without doing any of the nasty hills. Stay tuned.

Thanks for riding today, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

'Merge left out of bike lane; it's a trap!'

If you've looked at the route sheet for this Saturday's ride, you might have noticed an unusual instruction as we ride through Los Gatos on Blossom Hill Road. We've used this route many times before, but the incorrect lane markings invariably trap at least one or two cyclists and force them onto a sidewalk.

That's because, if you follow the striped bike lane past the school zone sign, it dead-ends onto the sidewalk just before the Highway 17 overcrossing. The proper thing to do is to merge left out of the bike lane and continue with the flow of traffic.

If you forget and get trapped anyway, it's not a big deal -- you can just dismount and take your bike back to the street. But I've decided to include this note on the route sheet for the first time, hoping that nobody will get trapped this year.

And near the end of the ride, when we turn onto Loyola Drive for the first time, we'll deal with an eight-way (!) intersection. Our route continues on Loyola, but you'll need to check the street signs carefully. Here's a hint: Of all the paths available, we'll be going up the steepest hill ... of course. Here's a picture:

See you Saturday!

Lost and found department

I ended up with somebody's water bottle after Saturday's ride. If it's yours, identify it to claim it. It was left on the post-ride food table. I can bring it to our next ride.

Ride report: Distance Training #1 (1/14/2012)

Go, riders!

This is the first ride report for the 2012 ALC11 Distance Training rides. These reports capture my first impressions soon after each ride, and they will be posted here after every ride, and I'll also email a copy to every rider whose email address I can decipher from either an RSVP or a sign-in sheet. (If you don't get an email copy, it's not because I don't like you!) This online version usually will have a few photos as well, sometimes by me but also often by some of your other riders and ride leaders. One thing to note is that I write only about things that I experience or hear from others. In our large groups, it's possible -- and even likely -- that other things might happen. Always please feel free to share your ride experiences with me, especially if there's anything we can do to make your training more successful.

Today's season opener had a whopping 53 riders -- that's the most ever for a first ride out of Mountain View. And with only a couple of exceptions, everyone completed the 42-mile route and did so in great time! Being this strong so early in the season is a good sign and points toward a successful season. But please try to keep your training fun: Go on rides from other locations, meet other riders, and test your limits gently. If training stops being fun, then you've probably gone too far, and you should dial it back a notch or two. I want you to be excited when we ride out on Day 1 ... which is just, yes, 22 weeks from tomorrow. (Egads!)

At "only" 42 miles, today's ride was about as long and as difficult as the shortest day of AIDS/LifeCycle. On rides of this distance, many of us can afford to ride "all out" and complete the route near the top range of our usual paces. But as our training rides get longer and we get closer to June, many of us will want to revise that strategy. A key secret to AIDS/LifeCycle success is pacing yourself. There's no prize for getting into camp first, second, 100th, or 2,400th, and everyone has the same 12.5-hour time limit for most days of the event. On our third training ride, coming up in early February, we'll see the importance of pacing yourself when we simulate the stresses of a multi-day event. And as our training rides reach and exceed 100 miles, you'll want to set a consistent pace that you could essentially keep "forever." This pace will be different for everyone, and I encourage you to start working now to discover what your magic pace should be.

Before today's ride, I made a big deal about safety and our rules of the road. This isn't just idle chatter from me to fill time while the last couple of riders sign in; it truly is a big deal for all the reasons that I mentioned. A couple of things I noticed while riding today:
  • A few folks, mostly first-year riders, didn't always call out "On your left" or "Car back." These are very important because this is the type of communication that our riders expect from one another. In particular, "Car back" should echo up a line of riders from person to person. Even if someone near you already has called it out, you should do so as well.

  • We don't do pacelining on ALC, either on training rides or on the event. This isn't because we dislike faster riders; it's because our group of riders is so large and contains riders of so many skill levels that pacelines can become a hazard. A good guideline is that if you're deriving any aerodynamic benefit from the rider in front of you, then you're probably following too closely. This is also important because we often need to make sudden stops or movements on the event, and we need time to react to what happens in front of us.

  • We always ride single-file in ALC, even in marked bike lanes where California law allows us to ride side by side. This is because we always need to leave a clear path for faster cyclists to pass us. If you've been stuck behind side-by-side riders on Foothill Expressway, you know why this is important!

A few folks took some wrong turns today and got to ride some "bonus miles." Reading a route sheet is generally not a skill that you need for June, but it is one that you need for training rides since our training routes are not visibly marked. For our Mountain View rides, the routes are always published in advance, so please take a few minutes to study the route, especially if parts are unfamiliar to you. Although we often ride on popular cycling routes, we often make turns at unexpected places and might not be following other riders who aren't part of our group. If you're not familiar with part of a route, please don't hesitate to ask a ride leader to ride with you through that part of the route. Our Mountain View rides usually have an abundance of ride leaders, and we're here to help you and prevent disappointment and frustration.

Finally, mostly for all the new riders this year, a couple of words about me. This is my sixth consecutive year as an ALC ride leader and also my sixth year doing the ride. (I skipped the ride last year, and I missed it so much that I ended up driving to the first four days of the ride and handing out food and water!) I resumed bicycling in June 2004 after being off the bike for many years, and since then I've racked up (as of today's ride) 45,721 miles. Like all your other ride leaders, I'm an unpaid volunteer, and I actually have other things that keep me busy when I'm not on my bike. Each of us brings a unique story to AIDS/LifeCycle, and I invite you to share your stories with me or any of the other leaders; they're a source of inspiration to us all.

Our next ride is in two weeks, on January 28. We'll go to Los Gatos and tackle some attention-getting hills, but the total climbing is only about 10% more than what we did today. You can find out more and RSVP here. The weather forecast is looking a little iffy, but remember that we cancel rides only in heavy rain. I strongly recommend getting some experience riding in the rain because, with the increasingly weird weather of recent years, I wouldn't be at all surprised if we start seeing more rain during the event in June. And in June, we ride rain or shine unless things become so truly awful as to pose a safety hazard (as they once did a few years ago).

Thanks for riding, I hope to see you again soon, and thanks for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

How to read a route sheet

We have a lot of new riders joining us this season. Some of you might not be familiar with how the route sheets are set up for AIDS/LifeCycle training rides. Here's a post that shows you some of the key things to notice.

On rides that I lead, I use the format that you see here on a route sheet from last season. This is very similar to what the event in June has used for the past several years, so this gives you valuable experience in learning how to quickly get the information you need.

1. The header contains the ride name and the total distance.

2. The elevation chart shows you a graphical representation of how much climbing you'll do on this ride. The vertical scale for most rides is from sea level to 2,000 feet, even when we don't climb anywhere near that high; that's what ALC typically uses in June. The horizontal scale is usually to 110 miles, again since that's what ALC uses every day of the event. This gives you a common reference to compare the rides that we'll do together. One thing you'll discover over time is that this means even small-looking bumps on the elevation charts can be very attention-getting climbs. Also pay attention to the circled locations; these are numbered rest stops, water stops (W), and lunch stops (L, but I don't designate specific lunch stops on our rides).

3. For training rides, this section includes the pace and terrain ratings, matching those you find in the official ALC calendar. I also include an approximate amount of total climbing for the day. These are usually obtained through Strava (strava.com). Other mapping tools can generate very different numbers; for example, Ride With GPS usually gives higher numbers, and Map My Ride usually gives lower numbers. This section also includes mobile phone numbers for the ride facilitator (me), most or all of the other ride leaders, and (if available) the SAG vehicles on this ride.

4. The distances in the left column are total miles from the beginning of the ride. We don't use incremental mileages, so this means that if you go off-route, your bike computer might get out of sync with the official distance. Also, it's common for individual bike computers to vary as much as 1% to 2% or even more, so a 100-mile ride could register as anything from 98 miles to 102 miles. Use these mileages to get a sense for how far it is to the next event on the route sheet.

5. In the second column, each turn you'll make is shown as "L," "R," "Bear L," "Bear R," or something similar as dictated by road conditions. If nothing appears in this column, it's reasonable to assume that you will not be turning at this point.

6. In the third column, you'll find the name of the street that you're turning onto. We usually don't include "Avenue," "Street," "Road," or other suffixes unless they're necessary to help you distinguish between streets ("Yerba Buena Road" and "Yerba Buena Avenue," for example). If this entry is not for a turn, this column usually contains a complete description of what you're expected to do here, a warning or caution, or other important information. Other things you might see here:
  • The instruction "Continue" means to go forward, although you might end up on different street or road as a result.
  • "Becomes xxx" usually means the same thing, except that a street simply changed name, often at a city or county boundary.
  • "Begin climb" often indicates the start of a significant climb, with the total length shown. On very hilly rides, not all significant climbs are shown on the route sheet, although they appear in the elevation chart.

7. All scheduled rest stops are boxed and highlighted with their location on the route, distance to next rest stop, and name. Unless marked otherwise, you can assume that all of the scheduled rest stops on my rides offer food, water, and restrooms. (I try to have vegetarian options available, but this might not always be possible, so check the rest stop locations in advance if you have any concerns.) On my Distance Training rides, we include rest stop closing times -- the latest time by which all riders should be out of the rest stop in order to keep pace with the group. On the event in June, the rest stop hours are strictly enforced and can put you out of the ride for the rest of the day if you miss one, so it's a good idea to get in the habit now of making steady progress throughout your riding day.

One important way in which training rides differ from the event in June is that training ride routes are not marked. This means that you must use the route sheet to navigate. Therefore, you should invest in a way to mount the route sheet so that you can easily and safely refer to it while on your bike. The most common ways to do this are with either a map holder or binder clips; check your local bike shop. Do not rely on other riders to guide you -- they might not be on the same ride as you, or they might be equally lost.

And if you think you're lost on a training ride, stop where you are and call a ride leader or SAG driver for assistance. We don't want you to have to ride bonus miles.

See you on the road!

Distance Training #3: Westridge Plus (2/11/2012)

Date: Saturday, February 11
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 50

Description:

This ride teaches you one of the most important lessons to have a successful ride in June: Pace yourself.

The first half of this ride is almost completely flat, and you might be tempted to ride all-out. But don't -- because then we shift into a festival of hill-climbing, starting with the Quadbuster-esque Westridge in Portola Valley. This year, there's a new challenge (that's the "plus"): We'll then head up to the end of Alpine Road and then climb (or, in some cases, cross-train) the fairly short but even steeper Joaquin Road. The reward is an amazing descent down Los Trancos Road back into Portola Valley. And as if that weren't enough, we'll finish with the dual climbs of Elena and Taaffe in Los Altos Hills. Yes, that's a lot of hills, but none of them are more than a mile long, so you can always cross-train where needed.

Strava reports about 2,900 feet of climbing for this route, almost all of it in the second half.

This ride is Caltrain- and VTA-friendly. The first southbound train of the day leaves SF at 8:15 and arrives in Mountain View at 9:29. We're about four blocks from the station.

Beginning with this ride, the Distance Training rides move up to a 12-15 mph pace. But you do NOT need to be a 15 mph rider to do these rides! 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.


RSVPs are requested but not required.

Distance Training #2: Los Gatos (1/28/2012)

Date: Saturday, January 28
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 46

Description:

It's not too late to join the ALC11 Distance Training rides! We're on our way to a goal of 200 kilometers (125 miles) in one day in mid-May, two weeks before the ride.

Today, we'll start with a gentle route to Saratoga (no Mount Eden), followed by a couple of small hills on residential side streets into Los Gatos. Then it's up and over the 2-mile Kennedy Road climb, followed by the shorter but steeper Shannon Road climb back into Los Gatos. We finish by taking Highway 9 back through Saratoga into Cupertino, where a couple of last-minute surprise hills will help you finish the day with a true sense of accomplishment.

Strava reports about 2,170 feet of climbing for this route.

This ride is Caltrain- and VTA-friendly. The first southbound train of the day leaves SF at 8:15 and arrives in Mountain View at 9:29. We're about four blocks from the station.


RSVPs are requested but not required.