Gotta Ride, Part 5: 300+ Fezzari Miles Later*

Coyote Creek Trail

There is a section of my favorite bike trail, a sinuous stretch that winds between ancient trees, that is far enough from picnic spots that there is little foot traffic or large family bicycle outings. Along that stretch, I am occasionally able to flout the local speed limit and really have fun. Or to be precise, a different kind of fun, because it fills my heart with gladness to see a whole family out there enjoying the air and the trees and some of the good things about life.

And now there are bike helmets for kids that are awesome. I saw a young girl with a unicorn lid today that was just plain cool. I could be tempted, is all I’m saying. I’m never going to grumble about having to slow down for groups like that; in ten years I’ll be the one getting in the way of the girl who has eschewed her unicorn for an aero helmet. Hakuna-matata, or something like that.

But I digress.

I am thankful for the quieter stretches, on this trail and elsewhere, over which I can put my head down a little bit, and see what I can do. The stretch on Coyote Creek Trail was always one of my favorites, but then I got the new bike. The Fezzari Empire changes things in ways I could never have imagined.

The Coyote Creek segment is flat by bicyclist standards, but it rolls a bit, with rises that seem gentler than they used to, and descents that seem more fun than ever. Ascending, rather than drop down a couple of gears and pedal enough to preserve some of my momentum, I’m more inclined now to stand up and mash, the challenge to never break my cadence as I attack the slope. Often now I’m going faster when I get to the top of these minor obstacles and my heart is pumping harder and I feel good.

Then through the twists and turns, and as confidence increases (see Rule 64) I find myself slicing through the corners, my bicycle eager to carve a path as my tires hiss over the pavement and my shirt ripples with the wind. It is a singularly awesome moment.

I mentioned somewhere in Part 4 that the new bike loves to turn. In fact, it is much like the little two-seat sports car that is buried under bike stuff in my garage. Quick, twitchy, and communicative, if a little more demanding and rougher than my good ol’ Giant commuter bike. The Fezzari is talking to me all the time, and listening as well. And if I don’t pay attention, things go astray much more quickly than when I am on my other bike. Kind of like my storytelling.

Perhaps now is the time to mention, for people who don’t know me, that when I speak of my recent triumphs on my new bicycle, that the successes are relative. I will not be competing in the Tour de France any time soon; I am a gradually-less-overweight guy with skinny little legs who has earned his long white beard. Most of the Spandex Crowd** still passes me. (Hehe… most.) I’m probably not saying anything here that experienced cyclists don’t already know. But maybe the experienced cyclists out there have forgotten just how awesome getting on a good bike and riding really is. And that joy is what I’m here to tell you about.

On the subject of communication with a bike: Never has a chain lube given such instantaneous gratification before. I had not considered that the repair stand I owned would not work on a bike with a through-axle, and I suddenly found myself scrounging. It was 250 miles before I did the first cleaning/lube (factory chain lube is supposed to last a while… right?) and I had identified a rumbling feeling coming through my cranks. I thought it might be an alignment problem with my fancy derailleur, but nope, after routine chain maintenance it was like I was pedaling a cloud. A badass cloud. The sound of the tires actually rises and falls with my pedaling cadence. Zhoosh-zhoosh-zhoosh.

Along the Guadalupe River Trail there is a brief, very steep slope up from the river to the top of the embankment. The other day I stood up and mashed, increasing torque on the pedals by pulling upward on the handlebars. The front wheel was lifting off the ground as I pushed up the slope, and I leaned forward to put more of my weight over that wheel.

Like a real goddam cyclist. For the rest of that outing, my longest single ride ever, I was taking it easy to conserve energy, especially while fighting a fierce headwind for the first half, but for the few uphill bits I turned into a maniac.

How does my Fezzari compare to a Trek or Specialized with similar components? Honestly I have no idea. Fezzari is a smaller outfit out of Utah, and they make a big deal of their production techniques. The marketing copy sounds convincing, anyway, and there are some good reviews. And for a bike with the same components I’d be out at least another $2000 to go with the big name. Probably more. That’s a lot of dollars. And the water I carry weighs more than the frame does.

Someday in the future I will haul my pedals down to visit my roadie friends in San Diego, and try not to destroy their gear as we ride about more slowly than they are accustomed to. Maybe then I can do a comparison. In the meantime, I can only gush about the game-changer I’m riding now.

The Fezzari folk are awfully friendly as well, although I think this road bike is new for them. In a couple of cases I feel a bit like a beta tester — a couple of conversations with their staff were a little confused, the assembly instructions didn’t apply to this bike at some points, and the brace for the seat post needs a little design work. The front derailleur was not adjusted properly when it arrived, but they may have been rushing because I was pestering them with “is it ready yet?” messages every seven minutes and they just wanted to give an excitable old man his bike.

Would I recommend the Fezzari Empire to other cyclists? Oh, heck yeah. Am I the guy other cyclists should be taking advice from? Only if you love to ride.

_____

* As well as a fair number of miles on my old Giant.
** The term is not to disparage; I will be a member of this crowd soon enough.

Gotta Ride, Part 4: Riding!

It was before noon when the package arrived. My new bike. “I’m pretty excited,” I told the FedEx guy.

“New bike?” he asked as he lifted the large box.

“Yeah.”

He handed me the box with no thought about whether a dumpy gray-bearded guy could handle it. It was bulky, but not very heavy. I opened the box and set to work.

It took me a while to get everything put together. This was mostly because I wanted to be very careful, and partly because there were parts in the shipment that didn’t apply to me, that I had to come to terms with mentally. At the bottom of the box was a pistachio shell. The human touch.

But before long the bike was assembled, and almost ready to ride.

“Almost” because this bike does not use traditional cables to shift gears, instead it uses an electrically-actuated system that can make subtle adjustments based on the gears selected. Which means my bike uses batteries, and the batteries were shipped with no charge.

The good news is that the day cooled somewhat over the three hours it took to get the batteries charged (I will need to recharge them monthly or perhaps more often if I ride a lot, but I can plan ahead and not be held up again.)

Finally, the batteries were charged. Then came the firmware updates. I now have an app on my phone for my bike’s drivetrain.

You might be wondering whether this hassle is worth it, but I have been waiting for three months now for a tool to help me maintain the cables on my other bike. It will get here eventually. In the meantime, I have a bike with no cables.

Batteries charged, firmware installed, it was time to ride!

My first trip was a loop around the neighborhood to get a feel for the bike and think about seat height. It was unlike any other experience I had ever had on a bicycle. First impression: This bike wants to turn. I’m going to have to get used to such a twitchy ride. Second impression: This bike wants to move. With tires hissing as I pedaled I was going faster than I had before.

A lot of that has to do with weight, obviously; the new bike weighs half what my faithful Giant, loaded with commuter gear, weighs. But there was a time when I weighed less, and the combined weight of rider and bike then was not that different than me on the Fezzari now. But this is an entirely different feeling.

I got home from the loop, nudged the seat up a bit, loaded up with beverages, and headed out for adventure. As I did, I made two mistakes. Afraid of damaging the carbon-fiber frame, I did not crank down the seat post clamp hard enough. It could happen to anybody. The BIG mistake was that I didn’t bring the adjuster wrench with me. As a result, I was soon riding with a seat much too low, and my brand-new seat post got some pretty bad scratches in it as it moved with my pedaling.

On the maiden voyage on any bike, bring all the tools.

But oh, what a ride. You know what you don’t worry about when you’re commuting? The lines you take through corners. And while my default route is pretty flat, there is one small climb that I literally laughed out loud while climbing — I reached for the granny gear on the bike and it was way too low. I pulled up that brief slope with confidence.

Were it not for the seat problem, I would have added a more serious climb at the end of my ride.

Strava runs on my watch while I ride, and every once in a while I would look at my wrist and just shake my head. I had to remind myself to be a responsible rider when other people were on the trail ahead of me.

Toward the end of my ride, back on urban streets, I caught up to a man who had his headwear held on by a scarf that went under his chin, his sandaled feet pushing the pedals of his bike. We stopped a light together, and I said hello.

“How are you today?” he asked.

“I am very happy,” I said.

He was a little surprised at my response, I think, but after he adjusted. He smiled. “That is good,” he said, as the light changed.

1

Gotta Ride, Part 3

Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod, my new bike os ON THE WAY.

Quick recap for those just joining in: I have a very nice bike, a sturdy number with a massive cargo rack and a cushy seat and good mechanicals and several thousand miles of bonding time. But I need a new wheel, and what I thought would take days has instead taken weeks.

While I waited for my faithful bike to be road-worthy, I started drooling over much fancier bicycles. Bicycles I could buy RIGHT NOW and be riding again. But then I started looking for American small businesses, accepting that maybe I would pay yet more but I would be supporting something I believe in. In my search I found a bike that had my ideal drivetrain and glowing reviews for about 60% the cost of the big guys.

I am not one to underthink anything. I searched and scrabbled, but these guys seemed real. Finally, I placed my order. That included providing many, many measurements, so they could get the bike set up as close to perfectly as possible without actually meeting me.

First note about Fezzari – if anyone there has any doubts about the bikes they are building, they do a damn fine job of hiding it. The pride in what they do oozes from every communication. Second note – they take customer service seriously. They are a friendly and enthusiastic bunch.

In my previous installment in this series I mentioned that I would have to wait a few months to get my bike. After I placed my order I got a phone call to go over what I had requested and whether I had any questions. I had a couple, and the guy had easy, technically-trustworthy answers. We parted happily. A few seconds later, I got another call from Fezzari. Same guy. It seems he had forgotten to ask me an important question: If I was willing to forgo the teal color highlights in favor of olive, I could have my bike in four weeks instead of four months.

Big “fuck yeah” to that. In anticipation of the arrival, I ordered from my local bike shop pedals to match my shoes and light mounts so I could move lights from one bike to the other.

Four weeks shrank to four days, and now FedEx is bringing me my bike. Delivery estimate: Sunday. Day after tomorrow.

I was ready to wait months for this thoroughbred, confident that my trusty pony would have its new wheel any day now. My Giant is a great bike, and will always be my commuter vehicle, when the day comes that I commute again.

But I am giddy with excitement. I have planned my first ride on the new bike, which is essentially my default ride with a hill-climb option at the end. I have started to worry about not having padding in my pants. I’m telling my knee that soon all will be well.

My Fezzari arrives Sunday, some small amount of assembly required. If it’s late in the day when my new ride arrives, I’ll have to take Monday off. Mental health day.

Gotta ride.

Gotta Ride, part 2

Since the previous episode, when I had my eyes on a fancy bike that was sold right out from under me, I did not stop lusting over fancy bikes. I pored over the bike shop’s listings so thoroughly that when I went in there a few days ago to check on my wheel progress (I am unbiked right now while I wait for a wheel) I recognized individual bikes in the inventory. “Oh, that’s that sweet demo model with the 58cm frame!” (Too big for me.)

Side note: while I was at the bike shop, a family was shopping for the kid’s first bike. A big moment! They were looking at a few models but none was perfect. “If we order the other color, how long?” Mom asked. “About a year,” the bike store guy replied. “September 2021. Bikes are hard to find these days.” Dang.

I saw a matte gray bike from their “high-performance pack mule” line. I had studied the range of gear ratios between the two drivetrains offered at the top of this line — the SRAM 1×12 and the Shimano 2×11 drivetrains. For the nerds: SRAM has a lower granny gear, Shimano has a taller top end and smaller steps between gears. But you know how to stop having problems with the front derailleur? Don’t have one. 1×12 is simpler and lighter. And more expensive.

In person, I was struck by just how dang graceful the offerings from Trek are these days. Those are some pretty bikes. And there they were, just one credit-card transaction away, as I learned that one of my wheels was still in transit, and the other wasn’t set up yet.

(Iso-speed, a voice whispered in my head. Trek technology that reduces vibration reaching the rider, thus improving endurance.)

I had walked to the store, I could have ridden home. I did not. I might have given in, but I had already found a new object of desire, one that demanded less in return. Today I did two things at the same time: I ordered a new bike and I became one of those people who rides way more bike than he has any business riding.

The bike comes from Fezzari, an outfit out of Utah, known mainly for mountain bikes. They pioneered a construction technique that, rather than make carbon-fiber elements and join them together, builds the frame all in one go. No joints. The version of the drivetrain I most wanted in the world comes at an enormous discount on this frame, compared to Trek, Specialized, Giant and the rest.

This frame-is-a-single-piece thing allegedly also reduces vibration and rider fatigue, along with blah blah blah bike stuff. And this frame has apparently passed some series of mountain bike strength tests. Most road bikes could not pass those tests, my new best friends at Fezzari assure me. While true roadies might not find this important, I sometimes fall over. A tough frame can be nothing but good. Especially if the frame weighs less than two pounds.

Aesthetically, where Trek is a dolphin, Fezarri is a stealth fighter, angular and aggressive. In the almost-inconceivable world where my bike frame aerodynamics make a difference, I might have to upgrade again. In that world, I’m a professional bicyclist and someone else is picking up the cost.

This bike will be a pretty good climbing bike. Were it not for the big belly I carry around, I would have a climbing physique. I’m kind of… itching to climb. (Not so keen on descents.) I’m already scouting hills in my neighborhood. While long climbs around here involve interaction with cars, there are some great sprint-climbs nearby with no traffic. When I get my wheel I’ll start measuring myself on them with my current bike. When the new bike arrives a few months from now, I’ll be ready for the polka-dot jersey.

Yeah, a few months. The wait time is 16-18 weeks. Not a lot of uncertainty, but a lot of waiting. It is NOT the instant gratification I set out looking for; it is not the get-me-riding-right-now fix that started me on this quest. But the new bike will provide a riding experience that I think will keep me over the wheels for years to come. Although I will have to adapt to riding a bike that has no kickstand. Weird.

But when it’s raining, or when I need to carry stuff, or when I need my head up in traffic, my faithful old Giant will be there. It’s a great bike, and shall always be loved. While the Fezzari will become my bicycle, the Giant will remain my car.

3

Gotta Ride

Supply chain issues have sidelined my bicycling. I’ve been exercising every day, but in all my biking years I have never pined for the trails the way I am pining right now. It’s different this year.

I love my bike. It’s tough, all-weather, and it’s rigged to carry a lot of stuff. The only gripe I have about it is that currently it has only one wheel. My Local Bike Shop is working on that problem, but I’m getting impatient. So when that same shop sent out their weekly email with the section “bikes in stock” in my head I jumped straight to “bikes I could ride today.” I had to take a look.

Because of those same supply-chain issues, the only bikes in stock are the high-end ones. And honestly, were I to buy a second bicycle, it would have to be an upgrade, and fill a fundamentally different role than my mighty commuter rig. It would have to be my joy-riding bike.

I looked though the offerings, filtering by “In stock”. One bike came up that checked all my wish-list boxes, with style.

A recent episode here mentioned the Velominati Web site. Rule 12: the correct number of bikes to own is n+1.

I went out to the garage. One of the two bikes would have to be, at any given time, hoisted up and out of the way (as long as there are two cars, as least). Would that stop me from riding one of them? When commuting resumed, would I be able to hang up my sports car and get back in the practical plodder?

I’m pretty sure the answer to the latter question is yes. The right tool for the job. Plodder for commute, plodder for the rain. And I will always appreciate my Giant. It is a great bike.

But (I tell myself), the fact I’m pining so badly to get back on the trail, to be pedaling again, shows that maybe it’s time to level up. Maybe it’s time for a non-commuter bike, especially since it will still be months before I’m commuting.

But on the other hand, I’m riding for my health, and a lighter bike means less exercise. Unless I go farther, faster. Which would be SO MUCH FUN! But then other riders would see a big beer belly plodding along on a high-end-bike and roll their eyes about someone with more money than sense, and they’d be right. Until I rode that belly off. And my long gray beard flying in the wind earns me some pretty good slack.

But… it’s a lot of money. And my current bike will be ready to ride eventually.

But… it’s an awesome bike. An expensive awesome bike. It’s in stock in my size. I could walk to the bike shop with my pedals in hand and be off on a new adventure shortly afterward.

The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas naturally has some say in this decision. Mostly, I leave the budget stuff to her. I haven’t talked numbers with her, except for a cringy “yeah, north of that” to her pretty-high guess, but she is not against investing in health. And in this case, this year, mental health is just as important as physical health. Just being about to ride has lifted my mood lately.

I have a friend with a super-fancy bike from a previous era. He doesn’t ride it. I’m pretty sure now he would not be able to ride it even if he wanted to. So a fancy bike is a challenge and a commitment. Gotta ride it. Gotta ride it enough so that I will always be fit enough to ride it.

… ah, dang.

I just reloaded the bike shop’s page. Someone bought the bike I was agonizing over. Jerk.

2

I Once Hit a Squirrel — or, should I say, He Once Hit Me

I was riding my bicycle along a very pleasant path, winding between shade trees, when I heard rustling in a bush next to the path. Suddenly, even as I was passing by, an orange-brown ball of fur shot from the underbrush, headed right for me.

“Whoa! Hey buddy!” I shouted even as the rodent went into my spokes. The impact knocked him up and away from the wheel, to glance off my shoe. By the time I was stabilized enough to turn around, the squirrel was gone.

I was not far from here when I first wrote in this blog about the Suicide Squirrel Death Cult, back in 2004. (It is an episode worth revisiting, if only for the comments.) Now they are throwing themselves at passing bicycles as well.

I see a pattern among squirrels, a rule that goes something like, “whatever side of the path you are on, it is safer on the other side, and there is no limit to the risk required to justify getting over there.”

One stretch when I saw no squirrels today was when I was 20 miles into the ride and the shadow of a large bird of prey fell in next to me as I pedaled, and followed me for a while. I suspect it was one of the larger hawk varieties, but I had seen a buzzard on the ground earlier in my ride. Hopefully I wasn’t looking like the bird’s next meal, but rather something that might cause a rodent to do something stupid. Because they will.

Also on my ride today I saw a large number of water fowl, doing water fowl stuff, and chickens, raised by a homeless family between the creek and a golf course. Then there was the Caballero riding his dancing horse. He was an older gentleman, with ramrod-straight posture, plaid shirt over blue jeans, a white straw caballero hat protecting him from the sun. The horse was a big bay with a light step and plenty of moves.

At the southernmost point of my ride, I was debating whether to turn back or push on a little farther. That was decided by a friendly park ranger who told me that the path was closed, due to fire risk and some “hazard trees”. I’m assuming those are trees at risk of lighting up due to sparks. He told me that I could take the road and rejoin the trail a few miles south in Morgan Hill; I just laughed and turned around for home.

It’s not unusual to have a story after a ride, but today had Extra Story Density.

3

Rule 6

In a bike-related email thread at work, titled “A Cautionary Tale”, I first learned of the Velominati. I was first introduced to Rule 64: Cornering confidence increases with time and experience. The rule goes on to note “This pattern continues until it falls sharply and suddenly.”

Curious what the other rules might be, I moseyed over to Velominati.com to take a look. Needless to say, not many of the rules apply to plodding commuters who can’t even decide if they’re riding a mountain bike or a road bike. (Commuter bikes are sort of a hybrid, with the posture and drive train of a mountain bike but narrower tires for the road.) And many of the rules were far too worried about the appearance of riders for my taste.

But there were quite a few rules that I thought applied universally, and there was a lot of fun to be found. There is Rule 9: If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period. I actually enjoy riding in the rain, and when it’s cold in the morning that first mile is uncomfortable, but then it’s all good. So, every once in a while, I’m a badass even to these semi-pro riders.

One of my favorites (that doesn’t even remotely apply to me) is Rule 42: A bike race shall never be preceded with a swim and/or followed by a run. There is further expansion of the rule, and if you allow me, I’ll just paste it here: “If it’s preceded with a swim and/or followed by a run, it is not called a bike race, it is called duathlon or a triathlon. Neither of which is a bike race. Also keep in mind that one should only swim in order to prevent drowning, and should only run if being chased. And even then, one should only run fast enough to prevent capture.” I might amend that rule to say “… one should be the second-slowest runner involved.”

Beer makes an appearance in several rules. Rule 47 recognizes the importance of beer with no shortage of wit, and can be paraphrased, “don’t drink shit beer.” And there are the two cornerstone rules, Rule 5: Harden the fuck up, and Rule 10: It never gets easier, you just go faster. The second of those is a quote from Greg LeMond, one of cycling’s greats. Rule 5 (sometimes written Rule V) is the core ethic of the Velominati.

For me, those rules apply (although I would substitute “farther” for “faster”), especially since I’m so soft that sneezing will harden me up (although I’m noticing definition returning to my calves!), but the best rule of all is Rule 6: Free your mind and your legs will follow. At its heart this is the rule I need more than any other. Plan, prepare, then ride. “Your mind is your worst enemy. Do all your thinking before you start riding your bike.  Once the pedals start to turn, wrap yourself in the sensations of the ride – the smell of the air, the sound of the tires, the feeling of flight as the bicycle rolls over the road.”

When I achieve that, I always have a great ride. I get home tired but mentally refreshed, my brain even more a beneficiary of the ride than my legs, heart, and lungs were. Yesterday, after a gnarly weekend, I told myself before I started that I was taking a Rule 6 ride. It was, as the kids say, just what the doctor ordered.

So here’s to Rule 6. A rule written for over-thinkers like me. And while my definition of “feeling of flight” might not be the same as the feeling the authors of the rules experience, it still applies.

Rode the ol’ Bike Today

There was a time, not that long ago really, that I spent many hours each week on my bicycle. It was my primary transportation; so much so that I had to get a little trickle-charger for my car’s battery, because it would be weeks between times I needed to drive it.

Every once in a while, I would poke my leg and think, “I didn’t know I had a muscle there!” It was silly how well-defined my skinny legs became.

Then… I stopped. The reasons are uncertain, but it may have been about time. The 30-mile round trip added an hour to my commute time each day. (The amount added varied greatly, based on traffic, but when I was at my best the bike round trip was never more than 2:15, and the car commute varied from 1:00 to 1:45 or occasionally much worse).

Time. It was probably a work crunch that did me in. I remember thinking, not long before I stopped, that I could not imagine going back to commuting by car. And then I did.

Mondays were good days back then. I called them “Monday legs,” the way I felt after two days’ rest. I’d scoot to work and feel full of life, a feeling that lasted all day. I used to say, “The first 100 miles each week are easy.”

I have tried and failed — more than once, now — to recapture those days. I am trying again. There was so much good about that time. I even, really, truly was in a conversation with someone about hippie shit and he said, “Well, I drive a Prius, so…” to which I could honestly reply, “I ride a bike.” One of the greatest moments of my life.

Another great moment was when my liveroligist said that my enzymes looked good. I am of the body type that puts fat on organs. The bike fixed that.

And when I am on the bike, I can just think for a bit.

So here I go again. If any others who read this use Strava, please help me out by connecting with me and pushing me forward. Hold me accountable. Talk trash. I’m known over there as Jerry Seeger.

When does School Let Out?

Recently I was riding on a path and ahead of me was a small bank of flood-deposited sand and gravel. It looked pretty solid, so I thought I could coast gently over it and be fine.

Nope.

Plunk! and a scraped-up knee, bleeding down my shin as I plodded on to work. “Lesson learned!” I thought to myself. “Unless you have big, fat tires, that’s not the terrain for you.” So at the expense of a little flesh I became a wiser bicyclist.

Yesterday morning I was riding calmly through a little park. Many people walk their dogs on those paths, and I like to give dogs plenty of space when I come up behind them. It’s not fair to the dog to expect them to just step calmly aside when startled from behind. So when the human walking a pretty bulldog didn’t respond to my bell, I did what I often do: I left the sidewalk and circled around on the grass. I made a point of giving him a cheery “Good morning!” as I slogged through the lush lawn.

Only, this particular time, the deep green hid the fact that the step back up to the pavement was rather high. I hit it at too soft an angle, didn’t hop with my front tire, and spilled over the handlebars and onto the pavement. Plunk!

My OTHER knee is now scraped up, and I have a nasty contusion on my thigh where it hit the headlight attached to my handlebars. Lesson learned: Always assume that transition will be dangerous unless handled properly. So at the expense of a little flesh I am now a wiser bicyclist.

I just hope I reach the end of the syllabus soon.

1

Whoring Myself Out

Winter is coming, and with it comes the dark. And the fog. I’ve been pretty nervous riding my bike in the fog before.

On a related note, if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Jerry’s a pretty nice guy, I wonder if there’s a way I can help him win free stuff,” well, buckaroo, your wonderin’ days are over.detail-image

If you don’t want to be bothered with the rest of the pitch, here’s the link: Super-cool bike lights

You see, there’s a pretty cool system called Revolights that attach to the wheels of your bike and light your way ahead, and act as tail lights, even brake lights, and provide awesome visibility from the sides as well. I’d been ogling them about a year and a half ago, but never took the plunge. In the meantime, the kids in R&D have been improving the system, and soon there will be a bluetooth-enabled version with frikkin’ turn signals and other gee-whizzy features for the same amount they were charging for their original system way back when.

Then I discovered that if I whore myself out more effectively than anyone else whores themselves out, I can get the system for free. Oddly, most of my cycling friends fall in the ‘serious’ category, and you may not be interested in adding any weight to your wheels, but if you ride in darkness, the system is pretty sweet. (I’ve seen it in action, and it’s nice.) Maybe you serious folks know some lunchpail commuters who would like to be more visible.

I’d appreciate it if some of you bicycle-minded people would sign up and accept the occasional bike-gear-related email message. And, just as important, pass that link along to your other bike friends. I absolutely benefit from each person who follows that link and coughs up an email address, but I also think there are likely to be folks out there happy to learn about this.

So whaddya say, blogosphere? Can you help me win the prize? Do you have friends who like bike gadgets or who ride in the dark? Then take a minute or two and help me out.

Thanks!

1

Suicide Squirrels Revisited

Recently I learned something about myself. When faced with a squirrel who seems determined to be bisected by my 100-psi 28mm bicycle tires, my response is to shout “Dude!” at the rodent. Perhaps better spelled “Doooooode!”

It is an involuntary response on my part, and it has expressed itself a few times lately. So far my shouting has worked.

Strava vs. MapMyRide

One of the first decisions I made after choosing a bicycle was choosing an app. I did a search on the ol’ app store and found quite a few options, but only a few were what you might call “feature-rich”. Strava, the most popular app for bicyclists, did not appear in my search results for whatever reason, and I ended up choosing MapMyRide.

Later I heard about Strava — first from a comment on this very blog, and realized that most of the cyclists around me were using that service. Strava is especially popular among “serious” cyclists, which I’m really not, despite the miles I rack up.

There are, I’ve heard, people who ride bicycles without an app, if you can believe that. I find the app extremely valuable, from logging how well I did and guessing calories I burned (MapMyRide seems… optimistic in that regard) to totaling up my miles for my maintenance log. (Hint to both services – maintenance log would be sweet.)

When I got my Apple Watch I found that Strava has a a watch app but MapMyRide does not. It was time to try out the senior service, but I wasn’t ready to walk away from MMR quite yet. It’s about the data. In MMR’s database there are hundreds of my workouts – not just bike rides but walks and machine training as well. MapMyRide is part of a family of apps and Web sites that go under the general moniker MapMyFitness. MapMyWhatever started with MapMyRun, so its features aren’t terribly bike-centric. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While I was interested in Strava, I was not about to abandon all that data. The obvious answer: use both for a while, and then choose the better service.

So I have been using both for quite some time now, and this episode is intended to compare and contrast the two services. The comparison is, of course, subjective, but I think I can be honest about where my subjectivity comes from.

Technology:
Strava wins hands-down. The core functionality of the two apps is similar — you push the start button when you begin riding, you push the stop button when you’re done. Both apps (and the corresponding Web sites) show how you did and draw your path on a map. Both apps have a lot of other features that are done better on the Web sites. It’s a fundamental law of human nature: time on task is inversely proportional to screen size.

Strava’s iPhone app just works better, and MapMyRide doesn’t even have a watch app. MMR’s app crashed my phone on a couple of rides, but that problem seems to have been fixed.

Technology doesn’t end with the app. While MapMyRide.com has a cool-but-useless feature that allows you to relive your ride in 3-D, Strava has a mind-blowing heat map that will show you where the locals ride, anywhere in the world. It’s great for finding the best route in unfamiliar terrain, and it’s great for city planners and those with a vested interest in improving bicycle infrastructure. And heck, it’s just fun to drift through. It’s awesome.

They sure do ride a lot of bikes in England.

Also Strava offers a “fly-by” feature. If you interact with someone on your route, or are merely curious about the guy who blew past you while you slogged up Homestead Ave, you can use the fly-by feature and if the person was using Strava and makes their data public you can see a little about them. (I have chosen not to share my data close to home, but the rest of my trip I have made public. It seems like a good compromise.)

Bike-centricity:
Strava. Strava is a bike service that now does running as well; MapMyRide is a running service that expanded to cover all fitness. This has echoes though both services. For you, bike-centric might be a plus, it might be a minus.

Web Site – General:
The phone apps gather the data, but it’s the Web site where you really dig in. I’m giving MapMyRide the nod here. The dashboard is what a dashboard should be, not just a list of events but a meaningful summary of your recent activity. When you look at a particular ride, you get the information you’re most likely interested in, in a simple-to-survey, color-enhanced display (were I red-green colorblind, I might not feel the same way). Overall, I think the information design is better at MMR.

Web Site – Social:
Both sites have ways for you to connect with other riders. I don’t use them. I ride alone, mo-fo’s. Though I am part of a group of Apple riders on Strava, and it does motivate me to be in the top ten for mileage each week. Last summer I could hang in there on weekdays, but I got blown away when the weekend warriors come out. I’m trying to get back up there again this month. But really, as a guy who’s no big fan of Facebook, I’m not qualified to judge this category.

Web Site – Performance:
Performance in this case means your performance. Both services offer a great deal of analytics to help you evaluate how your ride stacks up. The way the information is presented demonstrates the fundamental difference in thinking between the two services, and it probably defines which service is right for you.

Here’s the deal: Strava pits your best against everyone else’s best. MapMyRide compares you to your previous efforts, and rewards consistency.

Each service starts with a similar concept. Strava calls them “segments”, MapMyRide calls them “courses”. They are (usually) fairly short bits of your overall ride. The mighty servers in their air-conditioned warehouses recognize when you traverse a segment/course (hereafter, “bit”) and provide a wealth of analytics to compare you with everyone else who has ridden the same bit.

The analytics offered between the services are very different. Strava ranks your best performance on that bit with the best performance of everyone else. If you pay for premium service, you can filter those numbers so that you can measure yourself against people of your own gender and age. If you’re riding your bike to break records, then this is what you would want to see.

MapMyRide instead has a point system. Sure you get points for being fast, but you get even more points for being consistent. You might not be the fastest over that half-mile stretch of trail that month, or even the tenth-fastest, but if you do it day after day you will rise to the top of the rankings.

Here are a couple of screen shots, showing one small part of the data each gives. Both show data from my ride this morning. On the surface, Map My Ride shows much more. Each allows you to dig deeper into your performance on each bit. Map My Ride shows how you stack up using their points system (which greatly rewards riding the same course many times), while over at Strava the most important thing is how your best time stacks up against other riders’ best times.

Here’s a look at the top of the summary of my morning’s ride from Strava. At a glance, there’s not much information, but with a click one can dig deeper. On the right of the expanded section is my best time compared to the best times of everyone else. My other rides aren't really represented. But holy crap – how did I get in the top 10%? Now that I think about it, I don’t even think that’s right. So, that’s a bit of a problem.

Strava data about my morning ride

Below are the first three bits of my ride summary from this morning on MapMyRide, comparing my times with my own past performance. I was not exactly fast this morning, but I’m slowly getting back to form. You can dig down into each of the courses in the list to see how you’re doing compared to others for speed and consistency. The default period for the comparison is this month.

Map My Ride course summary

The difference between Strava and MapMyRide might be summarized as performance vs. health. The MapMyFitness family is about habits, about getting out there every day and doing what has to be done. Strava is about the result of that fitness regimen, that one day when you fly over the hill and bank a great time. They both have their merit.

Missing from both (as far as I can tell):
I want to have my own, private, way to stack overall commutes and chart my progress, without creating a route that is visible to the public. I want it to be a little flexible so if I take a different zig through the cemetery or a zag through Santa Clara it will still be in the comparison.

As mentioned above, a maintenance log integrated with the service would be awesome, and would provide ample selling opportunities. “Hey, that’s a lot of miles on your chain…”

Web Site – Promotions:
MapMyRide has better promotions with better free stuff.

Data Freedom
I won a premium membership in a MapMyRide promotion, otherwise my data would be hostage to that service. Dicks. Strava acknowledges that my data is mine. This is actually a big deal.

Use of Spaces
Ugh. I wrote this whole episode with words separated by spaces – “Map My Ride” and whatnot. But their own copy smushes the words together, so I went back and applied a global-smush algorithm.

Conclusion
Are you a plodder? An everyday grind kind of person hoping to maybe get stronger but mainly getting from place to place and burning a few extra calories in the process? Perhaps you’re trying to lose weight, and the most important measure is whether or not you’re doing what needs to be done. Then MapMyRide is for you.

Are you a competitor? When you get on your bike is your primary goal to kick ass? Then probably Strava is for you.

Personally, I’ve managed to get into the top 66% on most of my Strava segments (ignoring the clearly incorrect reading I’ve discovered lately). I’m right around the bottom third. On a couple of odd backwater segments, I’m actually way up there. If I were to pay for a premium membership I could see how I stack up against other 50-year-olds, but in all likelihood the results would be more depressing, since my main excuse for slowness will be stripped away, so honestly I don’t want to know. MapMyRide, on the other hand, says, “Good job, Jerry, you got back out there and did it again today.” I don’t need to be best. I need to ride.

BUT — Today I chatted with a spandex-clad man on a fancy bike. A teacher, celebrating the first day of summer vacation. He even rode slowly enough to chat with me for a bit after the light changed. As soon as I got to work I fired up Strava and checked the fly-bys for my ride to see if he was there. Alas, he was not. But if I hadn’t been running Strava I would have been gnashing my teeth and rending my clothing over not being able to check. So I can’t ride without Strava anymore. I just can’t. You never know when you’ll run into an engineer from Tesla on your ride and want to follow him.

But the information provided by MapMyRide fits my style so much better. I have to use that.

For the foreseeable future, then, I’ll be using both.

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A Slow Ride

As I passed through Campbell park today, I wondered which was more depressing: that I was only halfway through my morning ride, or only a quarter of the way through my riding for the day. I seem to have misplaced a lung somewhere.

I bet it’s tire pressure. Yeah, that’s it. I got lazy and didn’t check it this morning.

On the other hand, I’m really glad I rode. It would only be worse if I waited until Monday. Next week: 90 miles! I can do it! (If I go slowly enough, that is…)

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An Open Letter to the Drivers Sharing the Road with Me on my Ride Home

Let’s start with the guy driving the faded red pickup truck, tires caked with mud, a skull wearing a german helmet adorning the back window, mariachi music blasting into the heavy traffic. You know who you are.

Thank you.

You went out of your way to make my journey home safer — not once, but twice, protecting me not only from yourself but from other assholes as well. The world needs more folks like you.

As for the minivan driver and the woman driving the beat-up sedan, I’d like to thank you as well. Also the woman who waved me through the four-way stop.

Toward the end of my ride I realized how out of shape I was when I started hallucinating. I could have sworn the guy who slowed down way before he needed to, specifically to give me a safe space to pass a moving van parked in the bike lane some distance ahead, and who leaned over to make eye contact with me and wave me ahead, a kind and courteous gentleman, was driving a big, shiny, new BMW.

But that’s just not possible, is it?

Still, hallucinations aside, it was a good ride home, and I’d like to thank all the courteous drivers out there who made it happen. I hope to see you all again soon.

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What’s In A Name?

This morning I rode my bike to work for the first time in a good long while. To commemorate the event, I thought I’d give the ride a special name in Strava, one of the apps* I use to track my pedaling. The default name for rides in the morning is, remarkably, “Morning Ride”, but this seemed more significant than that. As I rode through the graveyard, appreciating only peripherally the mist clinging to the ground as I huffed along rather slowly, I thought “Back in the Saddle” might be a good title.

By the time I was pulling my sorry ass up Willow, I had changed my tune a bit. “It’s like starting over,” I hummed, as it seemed I was in no better shape than I had been when I first bought the bike. Somewhere along Los Gatos Creek Trail the title changed again, to “Holy Crap”, and a few miles later on Prospect it was “Oh God Oh God it hurts make it stop.”

By the time I turned onto the benign stretch of Miller Ave. heading north, the name had been simplified to a nice concise “F***”. (I figured Strava wasn’t a place to go saying things like “fuck” where just anyone might see it.)

And now, were you to go to Strava and look me up, you would see my effort this morning is called “Morning Ride.”

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*Yes, one of the apps. It’s a long story, the rough draft of which is already in the system.

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