Know the Signs … of a good ride

I recently heard a commercial about the warning signs of a stroke. Certainly a serious matter and, having known people who’ve had strokes, I’m happy to have some tips to help me remain vigilant.

strokeride

Image credit: stroke.org

I have to admit though that the first thing I thought was how similar the warning signs of a stroke are to the signs of a really good bike ride. Take the Kreme Delite Krusher as an example. As the ‘Krusher’ part of the name suggests, this is a hard ride. Done correctly, it’s common to experience some of the same symptoms of an impending stroke.

Face: Hard bike rides are so much fun you can’t help but smile but if you’re doing it well, you likely lack the motor control to manage an full, normal smile even if you believe you’re smiling from ear to ear. Your smile is drooping and there is probably some slobber and/or snot involved.

Arms: You don’t have to ask us to raise our arms. Hell, we live for posting up at any city limit sign, fence post, or hill top. Does one arm drift? Probably. There is also any number of bizarre combinations of imaginary pistols and peace signs.

Speech:  Sometimes, I don’t even understand the things that come out of my own mouth when the ride is in full cry. ‘Car back, HOLE!, pull my off the right back, bottle dropped!’. If a doctor was listening, they’d surely dispatch an ambulance.

Time: If you observe these signs, you’re having an awesome bike ride. Unlike a stroke, you should not immediately call 9-1-1. Instead, you should meditate on Rule #5 and pedal harder because this ride will get even more awesome if you push even harder …. and why would you want to go slower?

Additional signs of an awesomely hard bike ride include, numbness or tingling in your extremities, a burning sensation in your quads, calves, glutes, lungs, and crotch, blurred vision, nausea, and a desire to have more of the same.

Of course, if you’re experiencing these symptoms but you don’t ride bikes, you should call 9-1-1 …. and then get a bike and start riding.

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Kreme Delite Krusher Ride Tips

About the KDK: for those who don’t ride road bikes, this won’t make much sense. For those who ride but know not of the KDK, listen up. The KDK is the best ride ever ATMO but the tips apply to any group setting that often turns into a race … and don’t they all?

About this time each year, we end up talking about ride etiquette, pace lines, or other things that will be of consequence this coming Tuesday. A few helpful articles have been posted in the past but usually, we don’t really drill down on it or force the issue. Luckily, we have a pretty good group and transgressions are minimal … but as the KDK grows, sketchy behavior has more grave consequences. So rather than find some blog or website with group ride tips (anyone interested in being better has already searched and studied and those who are unconscience to their own squirreliness or confident in their own god-like group skills won’t bother) I thought I’d just point out a few things that I think we can do better as a group to make the ride safer for us and less obtrusive to motorists. These comments represent my opinions and are simply offered for the betterment of the group. I will not be offended by those who disagree and encourage others offer constructive input and not be offended. Also, in many cases I’ll be talking about the stupid things I do so please don’t think I hold myself to some lofty status.

There is no prize money
Nobody makes a living from the KDK so please think about that before doing something that may seem quite glorious in your mind but in reality is just stupid or egotistical or, more commonly, way out of your skill range. That city limit sign seems like a chance at immortality sometimes but it’s just a stick in the dirt that isn’t nearly as important as the 3200 pound car drifting into our lane, heading towards us at 50 mph as you ease just over the yellow line to lunge for the line to get 4th place IN A FREAKING GROUP RIDE! Please don’t make me tell that story to your family.

The Lane
When we ride two abreast, the rider on the left should not be on or even near the yellow line. We should use about half the lane with the exception of when the front riders come off after a turn. The left rider moves slightly left, the right rider slightly right and the next pair comes through the middle. I understand the ‘taking the lane’ deal but a group of 20 isn’t likely to be missed and having a bit of cushion between us and the line allows for some margin of error for inattentive drivers and offers some extra room for drivers overtaking us to feel more confident in doing so safely. There will be times where we ride in oddly shaped bunches, 2, 3, or even 4 wide even if we all know that isn’t a good idea. I’m not sure if that’s such a bad thing since it could be easier to pass a shorter, wider group than a line of single file riders but I do feel strongly that drivers only see a narrow corridor in which to pass us so, when we can, we should leave as much room as practicable*.

When you’re done on the front
After your pull is complete in a single pace line, an elbow flick to the side you are moving off to (like a turn signal in a car) is the appropriate notice to give the riders behind you that your turn is complete and the order of action is: elbow flick, move off the front in a predictable fashion, slow down to move to the back of the line. Key here is not slowing down (don’t stop pedaling) before you’re off the front. That just stacks the riders behind up as they grab brakes to keep from plowing into the back of you. I feel it’s important to keep both hands on the bars too. I do not understand the ‘ass tap’** as a signal and disagree with its use, ever. It is always accompanied by a swerve or wobble and a decrease in speed while the ass tapping** rider is still in front of the group resulting in an panicked accordion effect in the line behind. I’ve never seen any positive mention of that habit anywhere and I hope we never see it again at the KDK. Before you explain that you don’t rub your butt until after you’re off the front; a) then you gave no signal before pulling off, b) why are you rubbing your butt then? as we all know your aren’t on the front at that point, and c) I’ve never seen that happen.

Good Citizen (aka, the Greg Persell rule)
The majority of the KDK route is out in rural countryside where slipping through a 4-way stop without really stopping is just not a big deal. However, as we roll out of town and back into town, it is important for us to pay attention to the law. We should be stopping at all stop signs and signals and obeying all motor vehicle laws. Greg has been consistent on this and he’s right. A few extra seconds leaving and returning to town really helps our image with the citizens of a town who’ve been pretty accommodating to us as cyclists. It’s not only the least we can do but it is better/safer for us as well. Our established neutral zone is from the parking lot start until we cross north of Hwy 99 (roughly 1.5 miles) and when we again cross Hwy 99 on the way back in. In those zones, let’s try to stay together.

A final note on stop signs: the one at Sandlin Rd (the Elkmont exit) on the final run into town, where some people who shall remain nameless mostly because I don’t want to out myself, have run the sign to gain an advantage on the group, has become a dangerous point in the ride. There’s a hill to the left over which cars traveling quite fast appear quickly. There are cars coming off the interstate, a bit speed blind, and turning right, towards us often without looking. In other words, this is a dangerous intersection so we should, without fail, stop at this sign. Remember, there may be plenty of time for the first person to make it through but I’m 10 riders back, completely gassed from barely hanging on, and I might be, unwisely, trusting that it’s clear simply because you didn’t stop. And if we’re not going to run it, why not give everyone a chance to get across and get clipped in before accelerating to ludicrous speed again. Really, if you’re that strong, you can afford to be magnanimous enough to let the little folks onto the back of the train before it leaves the station.

Stragglers
As I’ve gotten fatter, I’ve been able to spend more time off the back of the main group after I’m dropped. I always wonder why we roll along alone or in twos and threes when there’s 10 or 12 of us trailed off the back? It seems safer and way more fun to me if we’d look around and get together with others to form a group – like the sprinters do in the Tour on mountain days, a groupetto – to work together, rider harder and faster than we would alone. Mostly, it seems safer and more fun that way. I think one of the more dangerous scenarios is riders spaced out by a few hundred feet. As a motorist focuses on passing a straggler, they fail to see the next straggler or group just up ahead.

Surging or Attacking
This one is tough because of the nature of the KDK. Generally, a pace line is meant to maintain a particular pace. See, that why it’s called a PACE line and not a ‘show us what a stud you are by surging for 3 seconds before you get blown off the back’ line but with the KDK, maybe you’re just attacking when you surge when it’s your turn to pull so who am I to point out that it isn’t working? Not so cut and dried when we’re out to suffer I guess. Mostly, I think of the KDK as a fast group ride where it is completely acceptable to try to blow up the group with an attack at any point outside of our neutral zones. But as a cyclist who desperately wants to be able to attack, I think a half ass surge that only serves to dislodge the poor sap who just gave his/her all to maintain the pace for a few seconds is just poor form. Attack or don’t, but surging for a few seconds every stinking time you get to the front and then pulling off is just a Fred move in my book. Please note, what I describe here is different than giving the person who just pulled off a few seconds to get on, then lifting the pace for a legitimate pull. That is a proper infliction of pain and makes us stronger. A similar move to the surge is the down hill attack where you assume the super tuck, passing us every time the road points down only to block the road as soon as the next rise in the road appears. It’s possible you don’t realize what you’re doing … so read this section again.

Pull through or sit on
If you are able, you should really pull through. Trying to sit on the entire ride hoping to win a sprint or attack on the last hill is poor form especially when, as I’ve mentioned, there is no prize money on the line. Do you really want to win a fake race that way? That said, if you’re suffering, there is no shame in sitting on*** for a while or taking a very short pull. If you can pull through and maintain the pace for 3 seconds, that’s better than nothing and it helps the group by maintaining the momentum. If you’re on the rivet, skipping turns or just sitting on is fine in my book. I think it helps us get stronger when we stay as close to the front as we can. However, I urge you to consider your contribution when it comes to a sprint or an attack. If you’ve been a passenger the whole ride, attacking those who’ve worked for 2 hours is poor form for sure … so be sure you can make it stick if you decide to take that route. I’m kidding. Don’t do that.

Lighten up Francis
The Krusher evokes emotion so it’s understandable when we get a bit wound up sometimes. We can write stuff like this all day long but really, we will only make substantive improvements by correcting things as they happen and that means one person asking another person to change. Remember, it’s an effort to improve not an effort to embarrass or harass anyone so do your best to take constructive criticism as such and get better. For instance, once Tom politely told me I was making way too many watts. Now I could have told him to mind his own business but I knew he was trying to help so thanked him and told him I’d pedal one legged for a while so he didn’t feel so inferior. See how that works?

Have fun
It’s supposed to be fun. As the wise Mitch Danner put it, this ride is awesome because of the ‘vibe of the tribe’. Yes, the route is great, the traffic is light, and there is ice cream at the finish but what has allowed this ride to thrive is the welcoming, positive attitude of all of you. So, let’s make sure we keep that going.

Love,
Mark

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*Practicable is a word we should know since it appears in the state laws concerning bicycles on the open road. It means ‘able to be done or put into practice successfully’.

**Yes, I’m giggling like mad every time I type ‘ass tap’ but in all fairness, I do that every time I see someone tap their own ass in a group ride. Who in the world came up with that and decided it made any sense at all. All I can think is why is that person tapping their butt? Should I look at their butt? Does it mean they intend to move left or right or are they just letting me know that they slowed down on purpose in front of me so I could test my brakes in the middle of a pack of riders?

***The art of properly sitting on, especially in a double echelon (rotating) pace line without disrupting those working in front of you or those hanging on behind you is something worth learning.

Swim

I’ve used this picture before but it’s the only one of the creek* I have handy so forgive me for using it again. Also, it has my dad in it so I like it.Me and Dad in the creek circa 1968 A few years after this picture was taken, I learned to swim in this creek and when I say “learned to swim”, I mean swimming by my grandmother’s standards and taught by her tried and true, never lost a baby to the water, methods. There are stories of her nudging her children out of a small boat in Mobile Bay to induce swimming. In my case, she used the current and a bend in the creek as a final exam in a class my mother didn’t know I was taking that day. Katherine T. Still was a graceful swimmer and never in any danger of drowning herself due to the fact that she was unsinkable. To this day, I’ve never seen any human being who could float like she could. It was as if she was perched on the surface of the water the way a deity would demonstrate its deityness to non-believers. She barely had any draw at all. On this day, we floated around the bend in the creek together. “The bend” was just a curve in the creek where the water was a little deeper and the current was a little stronger. Little kids didn’t go around the bend without grown-ups because we weren’t strong enough to swim back against the current. We’d always catch a ride with a bigger, stronger swimmer and I figured that would be grandma on this day. I figured wrong. As it turned out, she had a different plan for me. She believed I was strong enough to swim myself back around the bend and before I could try to change her mind, she was gone. Frankly, I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking at the moment. I don’t recall if it was the fear of being stranded or some sort of blind faith in her but I didn’t sit there long before swimming after her. Of course, she was right. I swam myself right back around the bend.

Now, some 40 years later, it’s a known characteristic of my personality to step off into the deep end with little consideration to whether or not I’m actually prepared for it. It works out most of the time. Do an Ironman triathlon on no training? I did that. It hurt, I was slow, but I did it. Need someone to do a presentation to a large group … now? Sure thing. What would you like me to talk about? I hope I don’t stop putting myself in those situations just because I may not have all the experience or training it might seem I’d need to be successful. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be prepared but you never know what you’re really capable of so I tend to err on the side of being able to swim back around the bend on my own even if I’ve never done it before. Thanks grandma.

 

*the creek is a particular stretch of water with incredibly cold water and a stout current where my family went to swim for as long as I remember and a long time before that. We’d meet there and spend the day playing in the sand and swimming. I’m not sure why we stopped doing that but I sure have fond memories of many days at the creek.

Reflection

Sunday, March 6th

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on decisions I’ve made and thinking about how to move forward. Today in particular was full of reflection.

A new job late last year and a long stretch of 14+ hour days, 6 or 7 days a week certainly didn’t help my hopes of getting fit. That job is no longer an issue and while I’m still in retail, I sell bikes and have time to ride but haven’t. As I woke this morning, I was really wondering if this was just it for me and cycling. The mounting back issues from late last year got much worse over the winter and, while I’ve made progress and improved, I’m not sure I can get back to riding hundreds of miles a week like I need to let alone start running to help prepare for that half ironman I signed up for in September. Since I first started riding, I’ve never gone this long with so little activity, I’ve gained weight (again) and fitness seems far away. So, is this it? It feels easy to just let it go.

Fortunately, my wife Melissa knows how much cycling means to me and how much it helps my state of mind and physical being so she’s great about encouraging me to get back to it. “Who are you riding with Sunday?” she’ll ask. We only have one day a week with each other since I work Saturday so I appreciate her willingness to give a few hours away for me to ride. The answer to the “who” question today, as it has been so often, is Tom Holt. Tom is responsible for me ever turning a pedal on a road bike in the first place and he’s still there to push me to get back out … and kick me once we’re riding. As I clumsily assembled my gear to meet Tom at his house, feeling like it’d been a life time since I kitted up for a ride, I took my time to ensure I remembered everything: helmet, shoes, ziplock for my phone and some money, bottles, Garmin charged – I’ve got it all. But then, more reflection on the way over to Tom’s house. This time it was the reflection in my rear view mirror; there should be a bike in that reflection, sitting on the rack on the back of the car but there isn’t a bike in that reflection because I forgot it.

After a delay to return home to get my bike, we eventually head off to ride. Just like we used to roll, no real route, no preloaded GPS data, just a general direction and a neat old country store with a friendly owner were we hoped to take a mid-ride break. As we rolled along talking about the usual wide range of topics, I was reminded of what drew me into the sport in the first place. This sort of camaraderie, being outside, feeling the effort, it all seems so much closer, so much more obvious that I will get back to it and find my legs again. If I needed any extra motivation, more reflection was there to show me the truth I need to see. We all have this ability to see ourselves differently than how we really are. I’m quite adept at convincing myself that I’m not that heavy and frankly, I’m not for non-cycling folk but for even a recreational cyclist, I’ve grown portly. As Tom and I rolled along side by side, the reflection in his sunglasses was as honest as it gets and I’m quite round … ouch. I mentioned what I saw and Tom was quick with the polite comment “well, the lenses are curved so it isn’t an accurate reflection” which made me chuckle. What a nice friend but there has been enough denial … and pizza …. already.

I’ve got some ground to make up to be fit like I want and need to be but I’ve got people who will help me get there, the looming reckoning of a half ironman event in just six months, and a love of riding a bike. I’ll make it and hopefully, soon, the reflections will be much kinder.