The days are getting longer now. Every cyclist knows that….sure, it’s not accompanied by a rise in heat (although it is a balmy 51 degrees here today), but every day for the past week has had just a minute or so more daylight. What possible difference could that make, you ask? Any cyclist will tell you that in good weather that means my rides over the past week could be two whole miles longer! THAT is a huge deal!
So I was in my bike cave the other day putting a pair of new bikes together for my sister. She bought them as holiday gifts for her grandsons and, because she is family and has done so much for us over the years, I offered to put them together out of the box for her and make sure all the cables and fittings were adjusted properly, etc. The store she purchased them from wanted to charge her $80 each for “expert assembly” in time for Christmas! Seriously. First of all, the high school kid they are paying $12/hour to is NOT an expert bicycle mechanic, but even that kid wouldn’t spend more than two and a half hours assembling each bike out of the box!
As I was putting them together, I remembered the joy our grandsons had when we gave them their first bikes – for their first birthday! Yes…the first birthday present for each grandson has always been a tricycle that could do double duty as a stroller for our daughters. The boys loved it, and my wife was thrilled! Each time they would come to our house, they had to ask us to go down to the bike cave to see Nana and Papa’s bikes…each of them had their favorite in our stable, but they know them all! For his third birthday, our oldest grandson graduated to a balance bike. He, and it, were the hit of the party….well, OK, the bounce house my daughter had rented was the hit of the party, but the bike was the hit present! My wife’s eyes sparkled with delight!
Back to my activities last week. I hate getting old and so easily distracted…it’s the same thing out on the road when I’m alone…SQUIRREL!
Anyway, the events of last year prevented me from getting the boys out on their bikes as much as I would have liked. As I was putting together the bikes for my sister’s grandsons, I thought “Why not incorporate that into my goals for next year?” Every cyclist sets some sort of goal as part of their New Year’s resolution…even if it’s as vague as getting out and riding more. Last week, I informed readers of the goals I had set since my bariatric bypass, and how those had unfolded over the years. By keeping my last promise to her, I got back on track and now have other goals to achieve in 2019. I know it’s what she would want. It’s what I have to do to stay positive and keep in some semblance of shape – physically as well as mentally. Part of my goal setting for 2019 is going to involve riding with my grandsons and teaching them a love for the sport, for physical activity, a firm grasp on how to be safe, etc.
What are these goals? How did I arrive at them? And what is all this terminology you are using? I am so glad you asked….because otherwise, there really isn’t a point to this blog, is there???
A few terms and definitions before moving on to the goals will help some of you. Feel free to skip if you are an expert cyclist…or feeling adventurous!
STRAVA – A free cycling app that keeps track of your mileage in a variety of activities. The app tracks your mileage by day, week, month, year, and all-time. It can also track your mileage by equipment – bikes, running shoes, etc. If you pay to upgrade, it can give you some coaching tips, as well as generate a heat map to show you the routes you have covered within a window of time that you specify. I personally do one for each year, as well as for all time. I love looking at the all-time heat map because it shows everywhere in the world I and my wife have cycled and generates memories.
Segment – When you use STRAVA, certain parts of a route may be very popular with other cyclists and it may have been designated as a “segment” that is timed for racing purposes. STRAVA awards a digital trophy to the fastest 10 times (by gender) to those who cover the segment. The fastest is King (KOM) or Queen (QOM) of the Mountain/segment. Several cyclists attempt to collect KOM’s and incorporate that into their goals. At this writing, I have 18 KOM’s on STRAVA – down from 23 a couple of years ago.
Invitational – An invitational is a bicycle race or ride that is usually sponsored by a local bicycle club as a means of fundraising for their club activities. Most bicycle clubs choose at least one charity to donate to, as well as sponsor bicycle safety classes, helmet and/or bicycle give aways to disadvantaged youth, etc. Usually an invitational is a single day event, although there are a few that my wife and I took part of that lasted as long as three days. The invitationals will offer a variety of distances from 12 miles up to 150 or more, and all within the same event. For instance, my wife would ride the 20-35 mile option for a given event, while I almost always took the longest option available. Invitationals almost always offer a variety of services for cyclists and their families, and most will reward their riders with food at the end of the ride. This can range from a full spaghetti dinner, to an ice cream social (my wife’s favorite), to a barbecue to pie….it all depends on the creativity of the organizers…as well as their pocketbooks! Riders will also at times be rewarded with certificates, patches, T-shirts, etc., for completing the invitational. In terms of cost, invitationals can run from as little as $15 to as much as $75, depending on the organizer, length, early or late registration fees, etc.
SAG – Support Assistance Group. These people are cyclist’s best friends! They are part of most organized invitationals and tours. Their job is to ride the route and provide assistance to any rider who needs it. If the assistance is a simple mechanical, such as a problem with a tube or tire, usually they can provide you with the tube and a pump. More knowledgeable SAG drivers can help with other mechanicals. If they are unable to get you and your bike back on the road, whether for mechanical or medical issues (for liability purposes, very few SAG drivers now are allowed to provide first aid), then they will transport you back to the start, the next rest stop, or the overnight town.
Tour – A bicycle tour is different from an invitational in that it is specifically designed for multiple days, much longer distances, and almost never ends where it began. While some tours give a portion of their proceeds back to local and statewide charities, some purposely keep their fees low to just cover their expenses so riders can enjoy the experience at a lower cost. Tours for cyclists usually involve the cyclist packing a tent, sleeping gear, clothes, etc., and having the tour transport those bags to each day’s destination town, where the rider arrives, climbs off his bike, sets up camp, grabs a shower, grabs dinner, grabs a beer, grabs a few hours of sleep, then wakes up at an ungodly hour to pack up and do it all over again the next day! And it’s fun. We like it. Especially when friends, family, and lots of beer are involved! Tours vary in size and length….I’ve been on tours of two days (Hershey, PA to Philadelphia, PA with 400 riders)…of six days (Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, St. Clair, or Erie with 800 riders), to the largest rolling party on the planet – RAGBRAI – of eight days, between 16,000 and 30,000 cyclists every day – from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River completely across the State of Iowa. More on this later. Costs for tours vary widely, depending again on length of tour, but also on the amenities the cyclist wants – such as having your camp site set up for you, or for meal plans. It can be as low as $135 for a week, or well over $1000 for some companies on RAGBRAI that provide you with a tent, private showers, set up camp, etc.
Randonneur – A randonneur is an ultra, long distance cyclist. Randonneurs ride routes between 100K (62 miles) to 1200K (744 miles). They are expected to “check-in” along route, within a specific time window, based on the mileage, etc., similar to automobile rallies. A cyclist must average about 15K/hour to complete the routes within the given window. This is ELAPSED time…in other words, cyclists are given a certain number of hours and minutes to arrive at check points along the route and complete the ride. HOW a cyclist gets there is up to them….nature breaks, photo ops, going slow and enjoying the scenery, etc. For longer rides of 400K (248 miles) or more, sleep time is also factored in. All riders are required to be self-sufficient – that means they must be able carry their own repair equipment, gear, etc. (although you can arrange to have a bag with fresh clothing, gear, food, tools, etc., dropped off at a check-in point along route) No one is allowed to meet you on the route and provide you with mechanical, logistical, medical, or dietary assistance. If you fail to check in within the allotted window, or if you receive assistance along the route, you are disqualified from the event. Riders must belong to a variety of randonneur organizations to participate in these events (in the United States, the umbrella organization is Randonneurs USA….RUSA.org). The rewards vary, as there are several categories of achievement based on mileage, type of event, etc. One of the biggest is eligibility to participate in the Paris-Brest-Paris event, held every four years, with 2019 being a PBP year. The PBP is one of cycling’s most grueling events – a test of endurance, speed, linguistic skills, etc. This event is to amateur cyclists what the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, or Vuelta Espana is to the pro cyclists!
Permanent – A permanent is an RUSA route that has been designed by an RUSA member, has been tested and evaluated by RUSA for viability in terms of completion feasibility, and most can be ridden at any time of the year. The routes vary in length from 100K and up, although most permanents are 300K and shorter and are designed for a solo rider, or very small group. There are hundreds of these routes all across the USA. The cost for doing a permanent varies….some are free, and some can be as much as $25. Registration about a week in advance is required to allow the check in card to make it to you.
Brevet – A brevet is a route sanctioned by RUSA, ACP, or other Randonneur governing board. These events can vary from populaires (100K) to Grand Randonees of 1200K or more. Brevets are scheduled at various times of the year and usually involve the same route, such as the Thumbs Up 200, 400, or 600K Brevet ride around Michigan’s thumb region put on by the Detroit Randonneurs every year. Brevets are designed to host large groups of cyclists. For randonneurs, there is strength in numbers! On my first Thumbs Up brevet in 2014, I was with a rider whose rear wheel quick release lever had snapped mid ride. Randonneurs carry every form of equipment imaginable – just in case – such as four extra tubes, zip ties, extra chain links, extra batteries, first aid kits, etc. Yet nobody had an extra quick release lever that day….except for me! His ride would have been done without it. He thanked me and we moved on. Later that year, I was doing a 1000K brevet around Lake Ontario with a group of friends when I got a flat. No big deal…tube replaced in a minute or two, and back on the road. For about 100 feet…until it blew again. Still not a big deal, since I had 4 tubes. The big deal came when I noticed a split in the sidewall of the tire that no boot (a small piece of cardboard or rubber) could fix. MY ride would have ended there except one of my companions happened to have a spare foldable tire in his pack. I now carry one of those as well!
OK…back to my goals for this year. 8500 miles. Minimum. That was the easy part, because, again, my wife and I intended for me to increase my mileage 1000 miles each year until her retirement and I could bike from Alaska to Buenos Aires in a single year while she SAG’d and shopped. Last year I kept my promise to get back on track and hit 7500 miles, which I wrote about last week. To accomplish my goal this year, I must average 23.29 miles every day, or 708.4 miles every month. Not an easy task, especially in Michigan.
I love getting the STRAVA digital award badges. STRAVA challenges riders with these as an extra incentive. At one point, I had ridden a metric century (62 miles) in a single ride, at least once every month for 18 consecutive months! Yes, even here in Michigan! That streak was snapped a couple years ago, but I am currently on an 8 month streak of getting that STRAVA Gran Fondo badge. This year, the goal is to keep that streak alive every month and end 2019 with a streak of 20 months! That will help.
Another STRAVA incentive is the Monthly Training Series badge – awarded to riders who can log 1250K, or 776.7 miles in a single month. Prior to this year, my PR for earning these badges in a year was five, set in 2015. I had never earned one in a month between October and March. This year, I currently have earned six in a row…including my very first October and November MTS badges. I am afraid, however, the streak will end this month as I am about 175 miles shy of the badge and have no plans to try and earn it before Tuesday morning. Realistically, I know that June, July, and August are always my biggest months in terms of mileage. This past year, I logged 3500 miles in those three months alone! While I do not have to earn the MTS badge every month to achieve my 8500 miles, it is my goal to earn the badge in at least seven different months in 2019.
While I can no longer afford to do as many invitationals as we once did, there are a few that I will always do – such as the Pumpkin Pie Ride put on by my club in Ottawa, IL the first Sunday in October…the One Helluva Ride, put on by my club in Ann Arbor, MI the second Saturday in July. A few years ago I reconnected with a friend from HS that I hadn’t seen in over 30 years and we rode the Hancock Horizontal Hundred together – the flattest century ride in the nation – the biggest hill is a freeway overpass! My wife loved that one and we enjoyed the time with my friend and his lovely wife. I’d like to ride that again with him. I’ve attached the links to these clubs and events, as well as some others below. Registration may not be open yet, but most cyclists fill up their calendars early and will register by the end of March for all invitationals when possible.
Of course, the one invitational I HAVE to ride in is for my late wife. When she passed, my children and I decided that in lieu of flowers, we would simply accept donations and maybe send one kid from an inner city school to summer music camp, as means of extending her legacy. I forgot how well my wife and I played good cop/bad cop over the years! We were so inundated with donations from colleagues, friends, family, and former students (hers and mine) that we formed a 501c-3 for the purpose of giving scholarships to at risk students who could otherwise not attend a summer music camp. Last year, we awarded FOUR full scholarships, and hosted the 1st Annual Angie’s Angels Legacy Ride as a fundraiser for the scholarship fund. Our grandsons went on the six mile loop of that ride, with me towing them while they laughed, squealed, and “air-pedaled” the entire way! We are in the process of scheduling the 2019 ride now!
Becoming active as a randonneur again will help make that 8500 miles go fast, if not easily. I love the challenge of a really long ride. The ability to push your body and discover its relative limitless capabilities is a key benefit to being a randonneur. The solitude of the road…the opportunity to purge your mind of all other distractions as you – SQUIRREL! – (sorry) pound out a cadence on your pedals, is a benefit to mental health. I am scheduling several RUSA permanents and brevets this year that will allow me to hit the goal, push my body, and discover new roads. I want my grandsons to be a part of the planning of some of these so they can see what their Papa is doing. I know part of me did it to show off for my wife when she was alive – and it worked – but now I want them to discover and learn just how amazing their bodies can be if they take care of it! I want them to be proud of their Papa!
Before she passed, and even before she began the downward spiral of the last month of her life, my wife and I discussed the tours and invitationals. She wanted me to take part in a tour we have here in Michigan called PALM (Pedal Across Lower Michigan) – a week-long tour the last full week of June that is family friendly and that she and I had done together several times. I did it this past June with her brother, thinking that now that I had done it after she had passed, I could let that one go. But, while putting those bikes together and reveling in the longer daylight hours, I thought…”Hey! What about taking my grandsons on PALM?” I know she would have loved to take the boys camping on this ride – although she would have made ME be the one pedaling them around in the trailer! It’s all good, really! I see lots of people doing the same thing on these tours…pedaling their kids and grandkids along in a trailer, or attaching a tag-a-long to act like a tandem to their own bicycle. My favorite is a grandfather I have seen on PALM several times now that pedals up front and has his three grandkids attached in tag-a-longs behind him “pedaling” together. That man has calves that would stop a bullet! Seriously. He is my hero! Those kids have a blast and are always bopping to the music grandpa streams from a playlist on his phone. At night they are always giggling, playing ball, Frisbee, tag, or other games with other kids on tour and generally having the time of their lives. I want THAT for my grandsons! She would too!
There are other things I am choosing NOT to focus on in 2019….I have decided KOM’s are for stalkers and/or the young. I’m out here to have a good time and not take chances that would send the wrong signal to my grandsons. If I get a KOM by surprise (I actually picked up one about a month ago on my cyclocross bike with wide tires!), then, cool.
I’m not focusing on speed this year, except as a means to an end. A certain speed is necessary for randonneur events, and I want to do a 100, 200, 300, 400, and 600K event this year, with at least one permanent or one brevet in each month. But, at my age, I frankly know I am not going to be winning a spot on Lotto Quick Step’s Tour de France team! I would just like to log my miles in a decent enough time to get back home so my dog doesn’t go stir crazy – literally! The ability to relax at home with a good book, a beer, and a pipe, with my ginormous yellow lab acting like she’s a Yorkie and sitting on my lap to squish everything out of place, cannot be understated! It makes the miles worth it! And it makes grandson moments to remember that she would love.
A couple days ago my children and grandchildren presented me with one of my gifts. My wife and I had a tradition dating back to our first Christmas in 1983 of gift giving. We were poor and it was bitterly cold. I had grown up on my uncle’s laps while they smoked a pipe and told stories. I wanted to start, so she bought me a Dr. Grabow pipe that year…inexpensive, but I cherished it! That was the first year of those silly, plush animal slippers. She wanted a pair to keep her feet warm. I gave her Bugs Bunny. Every year after, I got a pipe and she got slippers…no matter how tight, or well off we were.
I opened the box as my grandson said “Look, Papa!” I had smoked the night before and read him a story while he pushed his fingers through the smoke rings I blew. In the box they gave me was a note from Santa that said “A beautiful angel Whispered in my ear That she needed help Getting it to you this year.” It was on a gorgeous briar pipe carved by Tomas Cristiano, stained with hints of blue and teal – her colors – from the same shop my first pipe came from and that we patronized so much over the years. My grandson was thrilled and, of course, I obliged by smoking it and blowing smoke rings. Yes. It’s ok, you can choke up. I did.
I stand corrected from last week, honey. Apparently you ARE here to share it with! And will be when I get those boys out on the road with me this year!