Adventures in Retrofitting

My first official cyclocross season came and went without amounting to much of anything.  I found a bike in September, just before the season’s first race.  Finding the bike had been a challenge of it’s own.  Let me put it this way: had there been a handful of cyclocross bikes to choose from, I may not have ended up with the one I’m riding.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great bike, but it’s mine simply because there wasn’t another choice.  There just aren’t many bikes available in the small size I ride, which is probably fodder for another blog post.  Nevertheless, I finished a couple of races and then experienced a series of flats which resulted in a few DNF’s (Did Not Finish).

Since I had only one wheel set, I very quickly found myself in a place where I needed to make some changes to said wheel set in order to get back into the races AND finish.  The choices were 1. to use a conversion kit on the stock wheels that would result in a tubeless setup or 2. to upgrade the wheel set to a tubeless ready system.  In other words, choice 1 costs around $80 and choice 2 closer to $500 and up.  Since I wasn’t sure how long I would keep the bike, I decided to go with choice 1 and consider choice 2 next year after I had a few more races under my belt and a better sense of whether I wanted to keep the bike.

After doing some web searching, watching videos, and reading step-by-step instructions, I was confident in my (husband’s) ability to successfully complete the conversion under my supervision*.  The Stan’s No Tubes web site even states “Converting requires very little mechanical ability but it is important to follow the Instructions.”  I was confident that even a non-bike mechanic gal like myself could supervise this project flawlessly.

I purchased the cyclocross conversion kit.   The process of cleaning the wheel, drilling the valve hole, and applying the rim tape was easy enough.  The problem we encountered was that the rim was chewed up enough to leave a gap large enough that the rim tape, tire, and sealant combined weren’t enough to close that gap.  Yes, we tried the compressor.  It resulted in a shower of Stan’s sealant all over a friend’s garage before we finally gave up.  Here’s an image of the rim to give you an idea of the kind of ding that prevented this conversion from working.

IMG_4846

I wish the very thorough instructions and videos on the Stan’s web site would have mentioned that your rims need to be ding free in order to work with the conversion kit.  Unfortunately for me, the conversion kit was a failure and waste of money.  On the bright side, I have a sweet new wheel set on a bike I may or may not keep and another wheel set that is very likely to become wall art. I’d say everyone won in this case!

*Disclaimer:  I’m not a bike mechanic.  I don’t even play one on TV.  But I do have a very handy husband who helped me with the conversion.

Keep Left… or Not

My dear friend JQ has been a great riding buddy and friend since I met her four years ago.  We normally mountain bike together.  I’d hurt my tailbone recently and couldn’t do anything too strenuous, so we decided to take to the road in Bear Creek Lake Park.  It was planned to be a slow, chatty ride so we could catch up on all the recent changes in our lives.  As we pedaled along the bike path, I couldn’t help but be astonished by the fact that there was an entire paved loop throughout the park that I had never ridden.  I typically ride the dirt there on my mountain bike, so this was an exciting discovery for me!  I’d always wondered what people were referring to when they talked about riding the loop through Bear Creek clockwise or counter clockwise.

As we climbed up a hill on the southeast side of the park, the path forked and I started to veer to the right.  JQ called out to keep left.  A bike in the distance caught my eye.  It was laying in the dirt beside the path with what appeared to be a sweatshirt or coat beside it.  I thought it seemed odd that there was a bike there, without a person nearby.  They do tend to go in pairs.  I looked left and then right again as JQ repeated to keep left.  I didn’t see anyone around the bike and decided to go investigate.  As I approached the bike, I realized the clothing on the ground was, in fact, on a person who was laying there, entangled in the bike.  I dismounted and approached the man as he lay in the dirt bleeding from his nose and head.  He was unconscious but breathing.  Beside him was a puddle of blood.  I started talking to him to see if he would open his eyes or speak.  After a few seconds we decided to call 911 and summon help.  I didn’t find any identification on the man and his phone was of no help.  We managed to get his name ~ Mark ~ and remove the bike whose handlebars had somehow found their way around his leg.  He was in obvious pain and could barely move.  As he moved in and out of consciousness, we kept him calm and still as the paramedics made their way up the bike path.

As the ambulance drove away, we observed 10 feet or so of silver scrape marks on the sidewalk that led directly to the puddle of blood.  It appeared Mark was descending when something went dreadfully wrong.  The few cyclists who had gathered had a brief discussion about the risks of riding alone. Phones that require a touch ID or key code are of absolutely no use to a complete stranger trying to offer help to someone incapacitated.   Some of us were wearing our Road ID‘s, others were not.  Each of us keenly aware that it could have been any one of us laying there in the dirt.

Have you ever observed how people come into our lives at just the precise moment when we need them?  Then, when their job is done, they’re gone. I’ve observed this a number of times in my life and the timing of this phenomenon never ceases to amaze me.  It’s sort of like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide.  As you walk along a beach, you’ll encounter shells and sand washed in by the waves.  Some of the shells will catch your eye, some will not.  Some will end up in your pocket to keep and others will disappear back into the water as quickly as they appeared.  And like the grains of sand under your feet that make your path of travel easier, some people are simply there to lend a hand when you are unable to help yourself.  I’m not sure what compelled me to go right rather than left.  I guess on this occasion, I was meant to be the grain of sand. beach

The Emergency Commute

I frequently commute via bike to my job…it’s only a 3 mile trip, so there isn’t really a good excuse not to ride to work!  Because North Table Mesa sits between my house and work destination, sometimes I’ll take the dirt around the base of the mesa.  When I opt for this route, I usually select either my mountain or cyclocross bike.  Most days, however, I ride my road bike in the hopes that I’ll have the opportunity to tack on some additional mileage to my commute.  I’ve written in other blog posts about how I like to be prepared for the unexpected when I ride.  However, I found myself dreadfully unprepared last week when my phone rang and my husband informed me that he was on his way to the Emergency Room at St. Anthony’s Hospital.

a + cMaybe I should clarify… I was prepared to fix a flat tire, or to use the multi-tool I keep in the pouch under my saddle to adjust something, or to ride for 40 miles if the opportunity presented itself.  I was not prepared to go to an ER.  Where would I put my bike, especially since I didn’t have a lock with me?  Would it take longer to ride there than to pedal home, get the car, and turn around and drive right past where I was sitting to get to the hospital?  The biggest question of all was whether Motoman was experiencing a blood clot in his lungs and if so, could I get there in time?  My mind was racing with questions.

I quickly used google maps to find a bicycling route from where I was to the hospital where Motoman was going.  Fortunately for me, I had chosen to ride the road bike on this day.  I knew my way through Golden by bike just fine, but riding through Lakewood was completely new to me.  I got a general idea of the way I wanted to go and good ole Google was showing it would take me an hour to ride there.  I was confident that on this occasion, Google was wrong.  I stuffed my crocs in my backpack so I’d have something besides cycling shoes to wear when I arrived at the ER, strapped on my shoes and helmet, and pedaled away.

I arrived at St. Anthony’s ER 42 minutes later.  Security was kind enough to watch over my bike for the few minutes it took to track down Motoman and get the key to the car he’d driven to the ER.  I’m sure they would have held onto the bike indefinitely, but I’ve never trusted complete strangers with any of my babies.  I locked the bike in the car and spent the next couple of hours with Motoman.  He was later discharged with a diagnosis of Atelectasis – a complication of the surgery he’d had two days before.

Since that day, I’ve toyed with the idea of carrying with me a locking cable no matter what kind of ride I’m taking – leisure or commute.  But the reality is that I’m not sure I want to be prepared for a trip to the ER.  So for now, the lock will stay in the garage until my next commute to the grocery store.

Handlebars, headsets, and tunnels. Oh my!

Last year I did a couple of cyclocross races and got bitten by the bug.  I started shopping for a cyclocross bike in late July because bikes in my small size are few and far between.  I was scouring online forums and bike shop web sites for something, anything in my size so that I would be outfitted come race day in September.  It was suggested that I visit a certain bike shop in Boulder because it was known to be “the” cyclocross bike shop in the area.

I dedicated an entire afternoon to making the drive up to Boulder with the intention of test riding as many bikes as I could find to fit me.  The first (and only) bike that I rode was a Focus Mares CX Disc 105.  I rode along South Broadway in Boulder to some open space where I could take the bike on the dirt.  Overall the bike felt large and sluggish.  I gave this feedback to the sales rep who was helping me.  He suggested swapping out the stem so that I would feel less stretched out on the bike.  We went to the back of the store where he did this while we chatted.

He asked me to take the bike in a loop around the parking lot before departing for the open space just to get a general sense of whether it felt any better or not.  I gave him the thumbs up and once again headed south on the sidewalk parallel to Broadway.  I was bunnyhopping, jumping, and generally riding aggressively on the bike as I pedaled alongside the busy road.  By the time I reached the tunnel that passes under Broadway, it became evident that there was a problem with the bike.  As I entered the tunnel and it became darker, I became very confused about what was happening.  I realized that while I was still going straight forward on the bike, the handlebars were turning sideways.  I had absolutely no control over the direction this bike was going.  I gingerly placed one hand up to run it along the tunnel wall and bring the bike to a stop.  As I rolled to a stop in the dark tunnel, six kids came charging through the tunnel as they rode their bikes home from school.  I was subjected to bells ringing and verbal reprimands for stopping so foolishly in the dark tunnel, which only added to my confusion and fear.

After dismounting the bike and pushing it back into the light, I was able to confirm what had happened.  In swapping out the stem earlier, the sales rep had failed to properly tighten down the headset.  All the jumping and aggressive riding I’d done between the tunnel and bike shop had loosened the one bolt that he had tightened.  I started the walk back to the bike shop.  As I walked by all the obstacles I’d jumped, I wondered how it came to pass that I had not lost control of that bike and veered off into the traffic speeding by on that busy road.

When I finally arrived back at the bike shop, a couple of their team members snickered as I walked by with the bike.  I suppose it was quite a sight: me in my loose fitting shorts, t-shirt, and shop-loaned helmet walking a bike with the handlebars turned completely to the side.  When I entered the shop, one of the sales reps looked at the bike in horror asking what happened.  I rolled the bike toward her and told her I was sent out with a loose headset.  As the gravity of that sank in, I retrieved my driver’s license from the sales rep who swapped out the stem.  He seemed as appalled as I was by what had happened and took full responsibility for it.

Later that night I received an email from the shop owner inquiring about the situation.  He assured me that this incident was the first of its kind at his shops.  We exchanged a couple more emails and ultimately he reassured me that he’s ridden for years and nothing has ever stopped him from getting back on a bike.  I knew it wouldn’t stop me from riding either.  I’ve had too many good experiences on the bike to let one incident like this stop me from riding.  I also knew, however, that a most basic level of trust had been violated.  The nightmares I’ve had about biking since this incident confirm that it affected me on a very deep level.  As I said before, it hasn’t stopped me from riding, but it has stopped me from returning to this shop.

Riding the Beartooth Pass

Riding the Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Pass is on US Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana.  The highway meanders along the borders of Montana and Wyoming high on the plateau of the Beartooth Mountains and eventually leads right into Yellowstone Park.  It’s closed in the winter and occasionally on other days throughout the year, given the right weather conditions.  The day before I pedaled up the pass on July 30, it was closed due to snow.  At its summit, this road is the highest elevation highway in both Montana and Wyoming.

I’ve driven over Beartooth Pass several times on my way to or from Yellowstone Park over the years.  The views never disappoint despite the wind and cool temperatures on top of the plateau.  When I started this cycling journey four years ago, riding up Beartooth Pass on my bike was  always a thought in the back of my mind.  I guess you could say it was on my “ride bucket list”.  Yes, cyclists have such a thing as I suppose motorcyclists do as well.  However, each summer when I returned to Montana, there was always some reason why I couldn’t do the ride: last year, I brought a mountain bike, the year before I was too busy… the list goes on.  This year I was feeling overwhelmed with all that is involved with moving from one home to another and felt a sense of urgency about returning to Colorado.  However, after seeing the weather forecast for the remaining week of my visit, I decided to stay just long enough to fit in the ascent.

I got up early on the morning of July 30, loaded my bike into the car, and departed Billings for Red Lodge.  As I

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

approached the mountains I realized there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I unloaded my bike, suited up, and pedaled away.  I had done better research for this ride than my previous ride on Alkali Creek Road and knew that I could expect to pedal for about 25 miles to the summit on a paved road.  I could expect the ride to take me approximately 2.5 hours based on the results of other cyclists I had seen on Strava.  I also knew that the climb to the summit would be gradual, at about 4% on average.

As I pedaled along, traffic was minimal on this beautiful late July day.  I saw many more motorcycles than cars.  The switchbacks started at nearly 7 miles into the ride.  As I approached the scenic overlook turnout, I passed 5 other cyclists, all of whom pulled off into the overlook parking area.  I kept going because I knew it was about halfway to the summit and I don’t like starting and stopping on prolonged climbs; it’s hard to get the legs going again.  Besides, there was no need.  I had plenty of fluids and food tucked in my pockets.

At about 19.5 miles into the ascent, I came to a place where I had to descend and then climb again to reach the summit.  I’m not going to lie, I was cold and considered calling it good and turning around.  But then that little voice in my head chimed in with “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now, especially when I can see the summit in the distance.”  I got as aero as I dared and

Elevation 10,947 feet

Elevation 10,947 feet

descended as quickly as possible, so as to minimize how much colder I would become before the final climb.  My garmin showed about 23 miles at the summit.  I took turns with all the motorcyclists taking pictures in front of the summit sign.  Then I slipped on my wind jacket for the descent.

What I didn’t realize when I had done my ride research was exactly how much climbing the ride would entail.  The total elevation gained was 5,262 feet… just 18 feet shy of a mile, give or take.  Hmmm.  That’s interesting considering the fact that I now reside in the “mile high city”.  A city known for more than just it’s elevation,  if ya know what I’m sayin‘.

On the descent, I stopped and took some pictures along the way…Enjoy!

So many motorcycles up there!

So many motorcycles up there!

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The Beartooth Mountain range. Look closely for the triangle shaped precipice on the horizon over the upper right corner of the sign. That’s the bear’s tooth. The next picture zooms in on it.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

The Importance of Researching a Ride Route

While Colorado is my home, I remain a Montana girl at heart.  Every year I make it a priority to visit my family in Montana, where I spent most of my adolescence.  This year I brought my Cannondale Evo along to ride during my visit.  Billings is just large enough that there are parts of the town that I’m not familiar with.  I grew up on the west side and rarely ventured to the other parts of town.  Therefore, I wasn’t exactly sure where each of my rides would take me.  This “from the saddle” discovery is one of the funnest parts of riding and has the potential to turn each ride into a fun adventure ~ or not.

The view from Molt Road.  The wild turkeys didn't make it into this pic.

The view from Molt Road. The wild turkeys didn’t make it into this pic.

On my first ride, I decided to take the Molt Road out of Billings.  I was planning to ride out and back and expected at some point I would see a sign indicating how many miles it was to Molt.  Since there was no sign- or because I missed it – I just rode until it was time to head back to Billings for other commitments.  I could see Molt in the distance, but would have to save the complete ride for another day.

On the next ride, I went to the Billings Heights part of town.  I happened upon a bike lane and followed it until it ended.  I ended up riding in a big loop.  I then came upon a pretty nice bike path along Alkali Creek Road and decided to see where it went.  After a few miles, I caught up to three women out for their morning training ride.  I rode with them for a few miles and it turns out one of the gals was on the committee that plans the Billings bike path.  She was a wealth of information on the bike path system and gave me some helpful directions and ideas about where to ride in Billings.

The route for my next ride was inspired as I drove down Highway 3 northwest of Billings. IMG_4388 It had been a long day in the car because we had decided to drive from Banff, Canada back to Billings all in one day.  As we neared Billings, we passed a street sign out in the country that read “Alkali Creek Road”.  I had just ridden on the bike path along Alkali Creek road the other day when I rode through the Heights.  At that time, I had wondered if it connected with another road, and here I had just driven by the intersection of Highway 3 and Alkali Creek Road.  My ride route for the next day was planned!

As I set out on Alkali Creek Road the following morning, I started my ride on the bike path.  Eventually the bike path ended and the houses became fewer and further between along the road.  I wondered how far of a ride it would be until I hooked up with Highway 3 – a detail I had neglected to look up online before departing.  I came upon a man walking toward me and figured he was a local who might be able to tell me how far I had to go to Highway 3.  I slowed, said hi, and then asked him if he knew how many miles it was until Highway 3.  Instead of answering yes or no to my question, he looked at my bike and said “you’ll never make it on that bike with those skinny tires.”

“Really.” I replied.  He went on to say that the road turned to gravel around the bend.  The gravel was so treacherous that he had a difficult time with it on his mountain bike.  I told him thank you and said that I would go see this gravel for myself and pedaled away.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t done proper research before embarking on this ride and was left to ask a stranger a simple question that he refused to answer.  When I saw the gravel, I agreed that it was in fact deep.  Deeper than I would have liked to have ridden under normal riding conditions.  But I’ve ridden on gravel roads before, and if it was only a short distance, it was certainly doable.  But now I wasn’t riding under normal riding conditions; I had been challenged.  And  nothing makes this girl more determined to do something than a boy telling her what she can’t do.

Shortly after embarking on the gravel, I remembered to check the mileage on my Garmin.  After about two miles, I bagan to wonder if I might be better off turning back.  And then I remembered the challenge.  The gravel was unlike any of the gravel roads I had ridden in Colorado.  It was more like I was riding through someone’s deep landscaping rock, rather than down a dirt road with the occasional washboard and rocky sections.    I kept creeping along the road and thought I may have seen cars moving along Highway 3 in the distance.  As I pedaled along, I became more and more annoyed with my failure to research the ride more thoroughly; with the fact that I didn’t notice the road being gravel as I sped by the other night; and with my stubbornness that wouldn’t allow me to turn around.  I considered letting some air out of my tires so that I might have some traction, but I didn’t want to have low pressure for the remainder of the ride after reaching the highway.  Onward I went.

After about 4.5 miles had slowly passed, I finally reached Highway 3.  There wasn’t anyone around to witness my superior dance, so i kept right on pedaling onto Highway 3 and back to Billings.  Will I do better research for my next ride in unfamiliar territory?  Maybe.  Finding your way is a big part of the adventure.  And if it takes a little longer to get there… that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re on a bike.

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon.  More on that adventure coming soon!

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon. More on that adventure coming soon!

The Joyride

Spring riding can be so elusive with Colorado’s wild spring weather.  The last couple of days had been warm enough to melt some of the 18 inches of snow that had fallen nearly two weeks before; during that time, I’d spent more time on the trainer than I like to.  I had been out each afternoon this week doing intervals at Lookout Mountain in anticipation of the hill climb coming up Saturday.  As I sipped my morning coffee and contemplated riding into work, I heard the birds chirping outside and didn’t see a cloud in the sky once the sun came up.  I decided it would be a good day to ride – perhaps a bit chilly on the way in, but the ride would be worth it, especially on the way home when it was warmer.   I froze just enough to build a little character on the way into the office.

When it came time to ride home, I decided to take a different route just to add on some additional miles and be in the sunshine a little longer.   I needed a joy ride!  As I pedaled along, I saw lots of other cyclists, dog walkers, and runners out enjoying the sun just like I was.  I said hello or waved to everyone I encountered, just like I do on every other ride.  Sometimes I get a return wave, but most of the time I don’t get any response.

As I turned from the Ralston Creek Trail onto Virgil Way, my chain became tangled as I shifted from the big ring to small.  I was unable to take a single pedal stroke as I began to pedal up the hill and quickly came to a stop.  Here’s what I saw upon inspection:

An attempt to downshift resulted in this tangled mess.

An attempt to downshift resulted in this tangled mess.

Fiddle as I might, I could not get the chain unstuck.  During the few minutes that I was kneeled in the grass alongside the road with my bike upside down, three cyclists pedaled by ~ 2 men, 1 woman.  Not one of them said a single word or paused their pedal stroke as they went by to inquire whether I needed or wanted any assistance.  That annoyed me more than the fact that I might be walking home in my Sidi’s.  So much for my joyride… and just when I had been contemplating which detour to take next.

As I mentioned before, I’m the kind of cyclist who greets and waves to other cyclists that I encounter on my ride.  I make a point of slowing and interacting with cyclists that are stopped along the roadside dealing with an obvious problem, especially if it’s a woman.  Most of the time I simply confirm that they have the tools they need for the job, but on occasion I’ve provided assistance.  At the very least, I can offer moral support or to make a phone call if I’m unable to help.

Clearly the standards I hold for myself are not shared by every cyclist.  As I started the long walk home, another cyclist pedaled by without a word.  Then my phone rang.  I got lucky that my husband (AKA Mr. Fixit) was nearby and able to come and pick me up.  When he arrived, he was able to untangle the chain so I could resume the joyride home.

On my way home, I came upon a little Asian lady who was holding an empty dog leash in the air and looking distraught.  I slowed and circled back to her, remembering ALL the people who had ridden by me without a word.  Through her broken English, I understood that her little yellow dog had gotten away from her and was now missing.  She would sit on the curb and wait while I rode ahead in search of the little guy.  Instead of the dog, I came upon my neighbor who was heading in the opposite direction back toward the Asian lady.  I asked if he had seen the yellow dog in the direction he had come from.  He had not and agreed to tell the Asian woman when he came upon her sitting on the curb.  I turned around and continued my joyride home.

Whether you decide to help another person clearly in need speaks volumes about the character of your person.  More importantly, I’m a firm believer that you get back what you put out there in the universe.  So I’ll continue to smile, wave, and offer help to those in need, even those that choose to ignore me.  It’s just the way I roll, even on this joyride.