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Ride report: ALC9 South Bay/Peninsula kickoff ride (11/14/2009)

Go, riders!

Welcome to the AIDS/LifeCycle 9 training season in the South Bay and on the Peninsula. This ride report goes out shortly after every ride that I facilitate between now and June. If I have a good email address for you, it'll show up in your inbox. If I don't (if, for instance, I can't read the sign-in sheet), all of the reports are posted here as well ... with photo enhancement.

We certainly started things off in grand style this morning with 33 intrepid riders who braved a very unexpected -- but mercifully brief -- heavy rain shower on our 22-mile ride from Mountain View to Cupertino. Along the way, we learned a surprising number of things about getting ready to ride in ALC.

In most cases, the ride in June goes on rain or shine. (The ride this past June was a notable exception, when conditions simply were too hazardous to safely continue. But that's a story for another time.) And since much of our ride is along the coast, drizzle or light rain really can happen at just about any time of the year. Day 1 of the ride is notorious for thick fog that sometimes turns into drizzle as we head south out of San Francisco. Even if you don't like riding in the rain, chances are that it will happen to you sometime, so it's always helpful to get some rain-riding experience before you have to do it with 2,500 other riders around you.

What's different about riding in the rain? Mostly, it's just common sense. Slow down. Allow extra braking distance. Turn cautiously. Leave extra space behind the rider in front of you. Use your lights if you have them. Be on the lookout for car drivers who might not see you.

Flat tires happen more frequently in the rain ... as many of us (including myself) discovered today. That's because the wet surface allows all of the nasty little bits of road detritus to stick to your tires and wedge themselves in toward your tube. You can reduce your chances of going flat in two ways: Slightly reduce the pressure in your tubes (by no more than 10 psi), and stop often to wipe the junk off your tires by spinning them and using part of your gloved hand to clean them.

Our training rides give you a chance to practice many of the skills you'll need on the ride on June. But there are a few additional skills that you need to make the most of training rides. One of these is learning how to read route sheets. Even though you'll get a route sheet for each day of the ride in June, the route is physically marked very well and packed with roadies to direct you. During training season, however, the routes are not marked with arrows or other indicators, and you need to study your route sheet so that you can avoid making a wrong turn.

Another thing that you'll find on route sheets for rides that I lead is an elevation chart for that day's ride. You'll notice that today's elevation chart had a scale of 110 miles distance and 2,000 feet of elevation, even though we did nothing close to that today. That's because this is the scale that you'll find on each route sheet during the ride in June, and this gives you good practice at gauging the relative difficulty of a ride.

Many short but significant hills barely register on an elevation chart of this scale ... such as today's short climb up McClellan Road in Cupertino. Here's a magnified view of part of the elevation chart. See the bit circled in red? That's the hill on McClellan! At actual size, you probably didn't even notice the little bump in the elevation line.

The ride in June typically has about 20,000 feet of climbing spread out over seven days. While there are some long climbs almost every day, there are countless little hills like this one that aren't very long but certainly can be attention-getting, especially after you've been on your bike for days. If (like me) hills aren't your favorite thing, just take them at whatever speed is comfortable for you -- and don't be afraid to walk part or all of one if needed.

Before today's ride, I talked at great length about the importance of safety and following the AIDS/LifeCycle code of conduct. By and large, your ride leaders were quite pleased with what we saw today. A couple of notes from the road, however. First, when someone calls out "on your left" and is starting to pass you, try to move over as far to the right as safely possible to give the other rider room to pass. This is very important in June because chances are that you will pass or be passed dozens of times each day. Second, although the ALC safety rules don't specifically say anything about prohibiting photography while riding, that's something you probably shouldn't do in most cases, especially in hazardous conditions like this morning's rain.

And I'll close for today with a few words about that rain. My apologies to each of you; I honestly didn't expect that we'd get rained on, especially to the extent that we did. But this gives me an opportunity to talk about our rain-cancellation policy. Most training rides are marked either "rain cancels" or "heavy rain cancels." Generally, light drizzle doesn't count as rain. Depending on when you rode through Cupertino this morning, the rain you experienced was somewhere on the dividing line between "moderate" and "heavy." When there's a chance of rain, the ride facilitator tries to make a good call as early as possible so that you'll know whether the ride is on or off. The decision is based not just on the forecast but also on where we'll be riding on any given day; for example, twisty, narrow mountain roads are more dangerous in the rain than are quiet residential streets.

If rain happens during a ride, the ride leaders confer to decide how best to proceed. After talking with most of you today, we decided that with only 9 miles left and improving skies, we'd continue with the rest of the ride. And sure enough, it was sunny by the time we got back to Mountain View. Sometimes, however, ride leaders might take riders back to the meeting point via a shorter route that isn't part of the designated route. When rain breaks out on a training ride, it's often best to wait at the next rest stop until a ride leader shows up. (Of course, if the conditions are too dangerous and no rest stop is nearby, stop at the next safe place and wait for the weather to clear.)

On a ride morning when weather is an issue, I'll always post updates on my training blog and my Facebook page; please check there before calling me. If we do cancel a ride, a ride leader will always be at the meeting location at the designated time, usually with route sheets for anyone who still wishes to ride unofficially. Such rides are by individuals, however, and are neither organized nor sanctioned by ALC. (End of legal stuff.)

What's next? I've got three more Mountain View rides coming up before the end of the year. Next Saturday, we'll be riding 29 miles to Portola Valley around the Stanford loop. This is one of the most popular cycling routes in the nation, and we'll have plenty of company as we tackle the rolling hills. All of my rides meet at the same place as today's ride, and you can find out more and RSVP here. Other rides from Mountain View will be on Dec. 5 and Dec. 12, slowly increasing to 41 miles.

We have a fun and challenging training season ahead of us, I look forward to riding with you, and I thank you for making the commitment to be part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

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