Saturday, May 24, 2014

on flow states, adrenalin junkies, and equipment you trust

Do you check out Red Kite Prayer?

It's one of the few sites I look at that says anything at all about competitive cycling, because while they DO write a lot about competitive cycling, they also write (a lot) about other stuff about cycling: equipment, bad behavior, spirit and soul.

I got to this article a week or so ago, and for a few reasons, I wanted to wait a while before I wrote about it. The author writes about returning to cycling after a crash (bad enough to induce a concussion), and has a few things to say. One of them is about bikes, the machines themselves:

Bike reviewers often talk about those bikes that inspire confidence. That’s a real thing. The Focus Izalco Max made one of the easiest descents I know feel as sketchy as riding ice on slicks. It made me question how much my abilities had returned... I hated that.

Some weeks ago I rode an Ibis Ripley 29 on an assortment of trails, some stuff I knew super-well and other stuff I was familiar with, but didn’t have memorized. The bike was a revelation. On stuff where I had only marginal familiarity, I found myself ripping through turns with verve and confidence. I wasn’t just riding fast, I was riding with authority...

What I’ve learned is that while a bike can’t give you a flow state, it can take you out of one.

Which makes sense to me. I haven't ridden enough other bikes to know the difference he describes between the Focus and the Ibis, I know that if I've had a mechanical problem on a ride, even just a flat, it can take miles for the worry that a problem is going to recur. Sometimes the worry doesn't dissipate for the whole rest of the ride. And this is small potatoes indeed compared to his crash (go read the article).

Another thing he says is about flow states and adrenalin junkies.

And here I make note of two of the more curious intersections that I believed true prior to my crash, but couldn’t claim with complete conviction. The first is that the good time I’ve been chasing in descents for the last 20-odd years, known as a flow state, has a bete noire. The funny thing is that we’ve been operating with a complete misunderstanding of our own neuroscience. We love to refer to adrenalin junkies, as if what extreme athletes are after is the hormone known for kicking us into the fight-or-flight response. Bad journalists and lazy doctors have allowed us to be saddled with this false belief. In a flow state, there’s no fear. But if adrenalin is coursing through your system, it’s because you’re afraid, mortally afraid. Straight up, there’s no such thing as an adrenalin junkie. Flow junkies, yes, but to be addicted to adrenalin you’d have to be profoundly dysfunctional. You’d make a cutter look like a Buddhist.

Sorry, Padraig, but you can't presume your experience is universal. We in the mental-health biz talk about "satiation seekers" and "thrill seekers". Both of 'em may seek flow states... but to a thrill seeker, satiation is just dull. The states they seek are different, but both can induce flow.

I'm a satiation seeker. I like "down" highs (when I was using, my choices were alcohol, cannabis, Quaalude, and enough nitrous oxide that I'd fall off the sofa). I've descended at over 44mph, and you know what? It wasn't fun. It was terrifying.

I ride with somebody who regularly seeks to break his records on previous descents. I used to say, "Anybody can go fast," but I was wrong; I can't; not like he can. I don't know if he's a thrill-seeker (his satiation may just be different from mine), but anybody who's seen the two of us ride together, and who looks at us and thinks about it, can see we look for somewhat different things when we ride.

Some time ago, Tom H had a post on his blog about why we ride. In it, he had some glib talk about riding because we like to eat. And that's true. But there's way more to it than that. There have been attempts to describe it. Some are wretched, and some come close to hitting it (although I am always a little disappointed; there always seems to be a couple more things...).

Maybe all the bicycle posts on this blog are just an attempt to try to tell some of it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

pain and strength

I'm not ready to write a full post about it yet, but I want to get these notes down. On the ride with Ken G yesterday, he made a comment about how he's not stronger than many of the riders he goes with, but he can tolerate more pain.

Then I got an email from Winter Larry about my post about my recent solo ride, in which he said, "If you averaged 18mph going UP Coppermine then you suffered or should be a racer!"

Now, of course, I DIDN'T average 18 going up Coppermine; that was my average for the whole ride. My average going up Coppermine was probably more like 11 than 18. Nonetheless, I think it's true that I suffered. I think it's true of everyone who pushes himself or herself on a bike, that we suffer, to some extent or other.

In fact (and here's the part I'm not ready to write a full post about yet), I think we suffer every time we extend ourselves in any way. I don't think it's a facile as the Nietzsche quote,  "That which does not kill me makes me stronger," has become, but I think it's true, nonetheless. 

I think that's why some people's worlds become smaller and smaller. Sometimes, even keeping the same boundaries requires extending ourselves, and it hurts. To avoid the pain, some of us give up little bits of ourselves, over and over. In time, there's only a small territory left.

I need to think more about suffering and extending ourselves.

(Larry, I am NOT going to be a racer. In fact, I'm trying to starve that competitive part of me!)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

hilly trio with ken g

Part of the reason I didn't add the five miles to yesterday's long ride to make it an even hundred was that I wanted to get out on Ken G's ride today. Ken does a hilly ride from Hart's Cyclery on Sundays in season, and I like him, and I like to drop in at the store afterwards (although it was busy enough today that I didn't have to assuage my guilt by spending any money).

Ken doesn't have a lot of miles in for the season, but still: he's fast and strong enough that I would have thought we'd get more than the three riders we had: besides Ken and Me, there was Bob (and in the only picture I've got, he's turned away from the camera). But we went anyway. Ken had been setting up this route with his daughter before we left, and evidently she kept urging him to make the ride longer, because she thought the roads were pretty.

She was right, and it was a good ride. I was surprised that I felt as well as I did, given the workout I got yesterday. Ken got a couple of good sprints in (he can clean my clock when he's in shape). We did Alexsauken Creek road the other way (I always come down into Lambertville from there), and the covered bridge, and then to Stockton, where we stopped (I caught a cute kid getting a lesson from his father). Along the way, we saw a number of the Anchor House riders on their training ride, have various levels of fun and success.

From Stockton, we came mostly straight back. Part of Pennington-Harbourton is milled for repaving, and Ken gave us the option of doing Poor Farm (also the other way from the way I usually do it), but I pleaded tiredness, and luckily, the milled road wasn't that bad (or maybe a new saddle is doin' its job).

I developed a brake chirp in the rear wheel. When I got home, I cleaned up the rim and the pads, and while I was at it, I cleaned the chain, broke down the cog and cleaned that, removed the cranks and cleaned and lubed them, and checked the torque on the bottom Bracket (which was correct). I've still got the brake chirp. Might be time to just change the pads, eh?

Pics. The first are just the barns and the railroad end in Pennington; I've passed 'em a number of times, and I just love 'em.

The bikes in Stockton:

That family caught my eye.

Ken, and the back of Bob's head. D'OH!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

long flat hill slug ride

Laura OLPH's blog post announcing the ride for today included this:

Saturday's ride, flat (really), is shaping up to be a long one.  My first attempt at a route has us back at the East Picnic Area of Mercer County Park at 73* miles. We will have two rest stops, though...

We'll start around 9:30 a.m.  Extra-milers can add 14 by meeting me at my house for a 9:00 a.m. push-off.
...which I did, and the two of us headed off to Mercer East. When we got there, parking was overflowing; there was some kind of dog show/convention/rodeo going on (I don't know; I'm not a dog person). We met Jackie F and The Other Jim, and then John K drove in. The Other Jim had a nifty Cervelo on which he had only a few hundred miles (see the glamour shot below), and John K had tires the color of bubble gum on his blue and white Serotta (I guess the other one is the serious bike).

Off we went. We did this route, which was not exactly what Laura intended -- the intended route was a bit shorter; we missed a few turns and had to go back, and we had to adjust the route at one point (as I'm writing this, Laura is emailing with comments about her intention and the route as it worked out). Instead of 74 miles (which was what the final planned route was), we did 78 with the crew (a little over 5% variation; is that within acceptable error?).

It was a beautiful day, though. We went over roads that the Ride for McBride and the century on the Freewheelers Event use. I remember Laura saying she hoped for this kind of weather on the Event Century; she's had bad weather karma (although I guess hers is no worse than anyone else's who did that ride!).

The first rest stop was to be at the Olde World Bakery near Pemberton. Shortly before that, The Other Jim broke a spoke on the drive side of his rear wheel. Now, this appears to be a fairly new wheel, and drive-side spoke breaks are less common than left-side breaks; I hope he can get warranty coverage. Because it was a Mavic wheel with their proprietary spoke nipples, none of us had the tool to re-true the wheel, so we opened the brake (the wheel was WAY out of true), and he limped along to the Bakery and called for a ride home; there are pictures below of him with the spoke and the open nipple.

The rest of us went on. At one point we missed a turn and had to pull over, I have a picture of Jackie and John bein' all friendly, and Laura puzzling out a route on her smartphone. The second stop was at the convenience store in Columbus (both of the stops are favorites of Dennis W and Team Social Security, the "old guy" weekday riders).

As we got close to home, two things happened: a headwind kicked up, and Laura realized she'd be close to 100 miles for the day by the end of the ride. We dropped off Jackie and John at the park, and Laura dropped hints about making it a century for the day, but I just didn't have it in me. She did, though, and emailed me a photo of her odometer with 100.0 for the day.


Above, a glamour shot of The Other Jim's Cervelo. Below, John arrives.

Below, at the Olde World Bakery. In the second one, The Other Jim holds the broken spoke.

Below, the empty nipple.

Bubble-gum pink tires!

Below, John & Jackie smile while Laura plots a route.

The bikes at the Columbus store:

Friday, May 16, 2014


As a number of riders do, I keep a floor pump in the car for pumping up bike tires when I get to rides, in case I haven't done so before I left the house.

At first one, then another of the tires on my battered Prius have developed slow leaks. Yesterday, they both needed refilling at the same time, so, since I was at work a little early (the doors don't open to staff until 7:30 am), I pulled out the floor pump and filled the car tires. It takes a lot of pumping: about 70-100 strokes per tire.

(Above: Not me. But it could be...)

As I noticed the looks from other early-arrivers in the parking lot, I realized I've developed a number of those weird habits that old guys get. When I was in high school, my associates and I would laugh about these guys, and hope out loud that WE'd never get like that.

(Sigh.) I guess it's time to have the tires plugged. As for the weird habits, there's probably no hope for that.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

i don't always ride 39 miles before breakfast

I don't always ride 39 miles before breakfast, alone...

... but when I do, I average over 18mph, including goin' up Coppermine.

(No, I can't do that all the time, but it's pleasant when I can. And I promised The Excellent Wife (TEW) that I'd only ride like that when I was alone.)

I wasn't even wearing my ultra-fast Poland cycling jersey!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

another slow ride

The weather was threatening thunderstorms for today (and, as I write this, there's thunder; they may still come), but I figured I'd plan on going to Johnson Park for the start of the "D" ride I had planned for today. The Excellent Wife (TEW) wasn't too sure... but she decided to come along as well.

I like to do these on the third Sunday, but John W also wanted to do a beginner-rider thing, and the Rutgers students have graduation next week, and tomorrow is Mother's Day... and it just seemed like today was the best day for the schedule. But then the weather was threatening all week.

AND I wanted to do the towpath ride that we didn't get to do last time... but the rumor was that the rains last week had washed out much of the towpath, so a road ride seemed like a better idea. And some of the Rutgers folks wanted a road ride.

Well, the weather held; TEW said that if she'd decided NOT to come, she would have been kicking herself. In fact, by the time we got to the stop, the sun was out and it was hot. But it turned out I needn't have worried about the Rutgers people; Alex B rode with us for about ten minutes, and that was it for them.

Instead, we got Freewheeler Lou, and Bike Exchange volunteer Mike B, and along the way Tom joined us. We did this route from Johnson Park in Piscataway. Speed is higher than posted because I didn't brake on the downhills, and because when I thought I'd lost Lou, I took an opportunity to sprint a bit (it's HARD WORK goin' that slow on the Yellow Maserati!), but we didn't lose anybody, I had everybody in sight all the time (we only got split at a light once, and the front group waited), and the only person complaining was Mike (and if he's not complaining, how are you going to know if he's happy?).

For next month, maybe the towpath, or maybe a ride from Blackwell's Mills down to the Main St cafe. I'm open to suggestion.

Pictures! First one, I took over my shoulder on the road.

Waiting at the light:

At "Deli Bicycles" on Amwell Road:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

slow ride for 5/10

Edit 5/10/14, 7:50am: I'm goin'. Hope to see you there.

Edit 5/9/14, 5:30am: Weather is iffy; I'm planning to go unless it's pouring, but I'll try to keep updates on this page.

Here's the info for the ride for Saturday, May 10: I had hoped to do the canal towpath ride that we couldn't do last time because of the half-marathon... but usually-reliable sources say that the recent rains and flooding have left the towpath a bit of a mess.

So instead, let's do a road ride. Still less than 20 miles, still "D" pace (average less than 10 mph, no major hills). We'll start at Piscataway, Johnson Park, Grove 4 (that's the one across from the Cornelius Low house; you can find Grove 4 at this link)... UNLESS there's another competing event, in which case we'll meet at Grove 5. Freewheelers have my contact info in the list.

9:00 am start.

The usual stuff: bring/wear helmets, no attitudes, nobody dropped, lots of stops, and only two speeches (maybe three). This is a combined Princeton Freewheeler and New Brunswick Bike Exchange ride.

Watch this blog in case of weather; I'll post updates.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

a game

Of course it's too small, go check out the original.

I have a number of webcomics I follow more-or-less regularly. As some go defunct, I try to add others. I've been following Mary Death for a few months; it's about a precocious little girl and the figure of Death (reminds me of Death in the Terry Pratchett universe). I'm having my 59th birthday, and this one touched me.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

new brunswick ciclovia

Today was the first of this season's New Brunswick Ciclovia events (others are planned for July 12 & October 12). A 3.4-mile route was blocked off from cars in the city, and the streets were opened for pedestrians, bikes, scooters, skateboards, and other modes of tranportation.

The New Brunswick Bike Exchange, my newest cause, had a booth for bike tune-ups and repair. We had thought we'd only do the basics, but all kinds of bikes, with all kinds of needs, appeared, from low tires and dropped chains (easy fixes) to brakes and derailleurs needing adjustment, to a bottom bracket that was beyond our power to fix with the tools we had; from simple requests for advice to size adjustments. I was one of the "wrenches" on hand, and I had a great time. We were surrounded by families and kids, and by students from Rutgers. Many of them ride away in better repair than they rode in, and most of 'em were happy with the service they got.

I'm DEFINITELY planning to be at the next two. Y'wanna come?

Pics. Here's Alex & Aimee at setup:

Below, early volunteers, with more earnestness than direction:

Below, the wrenching station. Note the excellent use of graphics on the ground:

... and the safety station next door. We gave away DOZENS of helmets.

Some of the customers, below:

Below, the fellow at the information table, looking on with some concern, is Julio, our boss at PRAB (the parent organization of the Bike Exchange):

Below, fellow volunteer Mike B fills a tire:

Looks like a happy customer.

All kinds of people came!

2013 double reservoir ride

I expected that the first weekend in May, predicted pleasant and warm, would bring out a tribe for Laura OLPH's first ride of the year, but perhaps her description scared people off:

When Perricone's in Quakertown shut its doors, the Double Reservoir Ride route from Frenchtown was erased with it.  Now, with extensive rejiggering, the Double Reservoir Ride is back.  The route and rest stops have changed, but the terrain is every bit as brutal as before.

We'll start from Mine Brook Park on Old Croton Road, off of Route 12, in Flemington, at 9:00 a.m. The new route is 60 miles with two or three rest stops and over 4000 feet of ascent.  Pace-pushers can use the old route.
Brutal terrain? Well, maybe that was why only six of us were in the lot at Mine Brook Park: in addition to Laura and me, regulars Ron S and Snakehead Ed C, nearly-regular Barry Y, and John K. We did this route. It starts right off with an uphill to get out of the park. Complaining and dumb jokes (as much staples of Laura's rides as are hills and coffee) began right away.

If I remember Laura's description of the route, we ride up over a ridge, down inot a valley, then up a hill to get to Round Valley reservoir, then down again and over the ridge that separates the Delaware and Raritan watersheds, then down and up to the Spruce Run reservoir, then down along a flat and over the ridge to get back to the park (Laura will,no doubt, correct my misapprehensions).

I remember hills, and I remember searing descents, and being sure to get out of Snakehead's way to let him pass me on them. He's a much better descender than I. As he kept passing me on the downhills, I kept hearing in my head (to the tune of the Platters' "Great Pretender"): "Oh, yes... he's the great... descender... (whoa-oa)".

Laura had planned for stops at Round Swamp [edit: Round Valley; Round Swamp is on Long Island, where I grew up), Whitehouse Station, Spruce Run, and perhaps Clinton, but when we got to the top of the hill in Cokesbury at the Hilltop Deli, Snakehead pulled right into the Hilltop Deli, and I pulled in behind him. When Laura came up she said she was wondering if we'd want to stop there. "You'd have had a mutiny if you didn't", was my reply. (I was so beat, I forgot to get pictures there.)

We didn't need to stop in Clinton; instead, we came straight back. There was a nifty flat run along Hamden Road; I've been in the area before, but I didn't remember that. It could easily become a favorite road, like Alexsauken Creek and River Road in Warren County: they're beautiful; I think of them as "fifteen minutes of vacation".

Then back up (we were tired by this time) and down to the park and home. It was a great, beautiful ride. The fast folks would have been irritated by the slow pace and the many stops, and the flats riders would have thought there were too many hills. But it was just right for me. And to do just about my age in miles, in the week before my birthday, was an added attraction!