It’s a perennial problem.  People are always faster than me.  Better climbers, better on the flats.  They have better bikes, or weigh forty pounds less.  They have less years on them, or more miles in them.  And so I’m always off the back.  So I’ve taken to subtly sabotaging their bikes, in order to slow ’em down a bit.  Here’s my quick in dirty guide to making them slower and you faster.
1.  Fill their inner tubes with water.  About 2 cups per tire.  Take out the valve stem, dump it in.
2.  Put 6 rolls of pennies in the seat tube.  Remove seatpost, insert rolls of coins, tamp with paper, reinstall post.  Adds about 4 pounds to the frame.
3.  Lube their chain with butter.  It will seem nice and quiet for about 20 miles, then it will wear off and start making a horrible racket, demoralizing the rider.
4.  Over tighten their brakes.  So they just rub when they are climbing…
5.  Dial in the limit screws on the rear derailleur, so they can’t get in really high or low gears.
Note: don’t actually do any of this.  It’s a joke.  The real way to slow anyone down is to feed them a huge burrito preride, and an extra large ice cream cone.

The impending autumn means a few things at the shop.  More time for bike fitting, weird custom builds, endless cups of coffee.  Wool jerseys and rides where it’s ok to wear jeans.  Our clinics really took off last year.  We covered all sorts of topics, everything from disc brake bleeding (3 different brands!) to bike camping to recycled bike jewellery making.  We’d like to open it up this year to suggestions.  What do you want to learn about?  Chances are we either have someone on staff who can talk about it, or know someone who can.  Are skills clinics more rad than mechanical clinics? Do we need more art?  Do we need to have classes on road etiquette?  Let us know, either via email, or if you are reading this via the blogosphere, in the comments.  Our email address is bikedrfrederick (at) gmail (dot) com

We’ll be starting clinics in about two weeks, the first of which is always the comprehensive, hands on fix a flat clinics that takes place at 7pm on the first Wednesday of October.  Figure it will take about an hour.

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Don’t forget to register for the Bike Doctor Frederick Grand Fondue.  It’s coming up in about a month, and we already have a good group of folks showing up, so sign up before it fills up!  For those that don’t know, the Grand Fondue is a semi organized ride that takes in the rural roads of Frederick County.  There will be dirt roads, gravel roads, normal roads and tiny barely paved roads.  Four ride lengths are on offer, so there is something for {almost} everyone.  You don’t need a whatevering bike to do this ride, but it’s not a bad idea!  Way more info on the ride here.  You can register via paypal here, and just email us with what your t shirt size is and your ride length.  Again, our email address is: bikedrfrederick (at) gmail (dot) com.  We’d love to see you out there!

Lastly, the shop rides:

There are only two right now, both on Sunday.  The women’s road ride is every Sunday morning.  It’s location varies, but if you qualify (ie you are not a guy), head over to the BDF women’s group ride Facebook page, like it, and get more info!

Sunday evening (meet at 5, wheels down at 5.30) is the whatevering ride, 30-50 miles of mixed surface road riding.  Bring: a suitable bike, real lights (200 lumen min) a relaxed attitude and a willingness to climb lots of hills.

-The Bike Doctor Crew

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On Socks

If you are the sort of person who buys high tech socks, you might be excused for thinking we have entered some sort of sock golden age.  Look at the high tech materials, the comfort zones, the looped fibers next to your skin.  Look at the impressive patterns that fun socks have woven into them.  Look at how well they deal with moisture and odor.  They come in sizes!  They have compression qualities to help with blood flow!

Of course, none of that is new.  None of it is even remotely new.  We just have packaging to tell us what features socks have had for hundreds of years.  People didn’t have packaging for socks in the 1800s.  If they did, the socks would have looked very similar to the socks you wear today.  Maybe more white, less colors.

A midcentury sock, pictured above, features pretty much everything we think about when we think ‘high tech sock’.  A blend of silk, wool and nylon, ribbing for a tight fit, a thinner instep and thicker pads at the toe and heel and a tight fitting top.  It even has non functional colors and patterns to help differentiate these areas, like a contemporary sock.  Obviously, before the nylon fiber was invented, this same sock would have been made of just wool and silk.

Socks don’t have a clear day o’ invention.  They are from that time in history when things evolved, they didn’t just hatch, fully formed, like say, the light bulb or the pneumatic tire.  Dating the original sock is pretty close to impossible, like dating the first human.  Both rely on finding remains that might not have be preserved over the years, and so the record is prone to occasional updating.  Socks have a tendancy to get lost and to wear out.  They were made of natural fibers, and therefore prone to decomposing over a period of time.

The first socks that we can point to and say: ‘these are definitely socks’ are from sometime around 300-500AD.  They are a pleasing red earthen color, and have a handy split for wearing them with sandals.  They were created using a precursor to knitting called naalbinding, which was an incredibly time consumptive way to create a sock, or anything else for that matter.

I’d wear those socks.  Before the Egyptians were rocking the two toe’d naalbinding sock, Greek and Roman folks covered their feet in strips of leather or furry animal skin as a protosock, and bound them at the top.  The foot wrap concept was carried into the late 20th century by Nordic armies, who only recently replaced the foot wrap with normal socks.  We owe the name sock to the Roman term Soccus (a type of light shoe), which of course is an adaptation of some inpronounceable Greek name for a similar piece of footwear.

The modern sock was born with the advent of the sock knitting machine, in the mid-1500s.  The machine could crank out six socks in the time that it took to handknit one sock.  Remember: no electricity yet.  But even before socks were produced on a machine, many of the high tech features and even patterns we associate with today’s wonder socks were available.  Dig these socks, from the 12th century.

Way more advanced than 1980’s tube socks!  This particular specimen has a strike against it, though: it’s made of cotton.  It was made to be a servicable sock, though, with a replaceable heel.  It has a constricted arch, to help with sag, a tapered ankle and extra material around the top to prevent slippage.

They remind me of contemporary socks in pattern, as well.  Check the new socks below, and compare to the socks above.  The impressive thing is that the socks above were done by hand, and have more intricate patterns!

For years, cyclists wore thin wool and silk socks.  Nylon was absent from cycling apparel until the late 1970s, even though normal people had been sporting nylon since the 1940’s.  Dig Eddy’s socks up at the top of the article.  Clearly his mom knit those for him.  They aren’t sagging, he’s pushed them down to get some air flow.  Colored socks were defacto banned from the Pro Peloton until recently.  Even today, looking at socks in the Peloton, 97% are white, with maybe some light printing going on.  Black socks are few and far between, and look like sore thumbs in the sea of sparkling white socks.  Wiggins looks like an outcast in the 2012 Tour with his black socks.  Like someone gave him those to punish him.

Personally, I like semi tight socks with dark, nature based colors.  The higher the wool content the better.  14 years ago I put on my first pair of Merino wool socks and threw out all of cotton socks shortly thereafter.  I strayed from the path occasionally, trying synthetic socks (not absorbent enough, stinky) and cotton blend socks.  But today my sock bin is 100 wool based.  I would wear 100% wool socks, but they wear too fast, so I stick with wool/nylon blends.  A good wool blend sock will outlast whatever shoes you are currently kicking around, unless they are Vasque Montanas, or vintage Scarpas.  Look for ones with a high wool content.  It’s always listed, and more is always better.  Sometimes folks come in and tell me they have found these great wool socks for say, 5 bucks each.  And then we look at the packaging, and it’s 5% wool.  That’s not a wool sock any more than a frappuccino is a coffee drink.  60% minimum.  75% is better.

Here’s a poem by Pablo Neruda about some socks someone made for him. It’s a good, free associating poem that underscores the magical properties of a good pair of socks.

Ode to My Socks

Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
Violent socks,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.

Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
keep fireflies,
as learned men collect
sacred texts,
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.

The moral of my ode is this:
beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.

Wood Shims, Wobbly Legs and Elmers Glue

Our local frame builder checking frame alignment on a lugged steel frame.

When a wooden chair has a wobble in it, you go in the basement, find a tiny sliver of wood, jam it in the space between the wobbly leg and the base of the chair.  If it’s a close enough fit, and it makes the wobble go away, you take it out, dip it in some wood glue, jam it back in and sit on the chair the next morning with a satisfied smile.  Now, try that with a plastic chair.  Or a particle board chair.  Report back.

I like things that are fixable, by anyone.  Jason, a good friend/customer of the shop recently found a crack in his 25 year old (give or take) steel road bike.  He’d recently done a fair amount of rehab on it, so this was bad news.  The crack was at the seat cluster, one of the hardest areas of a frame to connect up.  This one was overheated at the factory, which resulted in premature failure.  IE, the frame should have rusted out before this happened.  As a side note, Jason had been riding it for ages like this, basically cruising around with one functional seatstay.  He’s not a tiny, whippet climber like say, Dan the Younger, so he was putting a bunch of strain on this bike, with only one chainstay, and it was still rideable.  We know it had been cracked for a while because the crack was really rusty.  Anyway, moral of the story, he took it to Rudy’s Cold Beer and Welding and had it Tig’d back together for less money than a trip for two to the movies.  And the bike is fine now.

When we went to design our signature frame, ‘The Gary’, there was never any question about what material to make the frame and fork out of.  It had to be steel.  Steel is still the quintessential frame material.  It has more development behind it than any other material.  No other material can ever catch up, because steel has about a 4000 year headstart.  The very first bikes that we would recognize as bikes were steel.  They tried iron, but it was too brittle, despite being appealingly castable.  We knew the bikes had to be steel because steel is repairable.  It can be ridden when damaged.  It’s a beautiful frame material.  Even tig welded steel frames have a certain industrial beauty to them.  The mitering and welding must be pretty precise to not have nasty gaps.  Our favorite though, is lugged steel.

What the heck is a lug?  A lug is a sort of metal socket that frame tubes fit into.  The tubes are cut and mitered to length, stuck in the lugs, and then put in a frame jig.  Then they are brazed together, using a sort of metal glue made out of some liquid brass or silver.  The lug, when finished, acts as an external reinforcement for the tube.  If it’s shaped properly, the lug helps distribute stress around the joint.  It’s a strong way to put a bike together.  It’s also repairable.  If a tube gets severely damaged, you can melt the brazing material, pull the tube out and stick in a new one.  Not a bad program, if you are riding a bike you really love.  Here’s a picture of a top tube and headlug, before brazing and mitering:

Lugs have other interesting facets, not the least of which is their shape and shape-ability.  Here is a sample of some of the different lug styles offered by our friends at Waterford Cycles:

Many custom frames can be ID’d sans paint.  The builder often incorporates custom touches that no other builder uses.  The Gary is lacking fancy lug work.  We intentionally kept it minimal, to keep costs down.  We did chose the lugset (simple, Italian cut) and we did spec certain aspects of the lug shaping so that it will hold up better to off road riding.  We also designed the brake cable routing so the cable stops on the top tube wouldn’t dig into your shoulder if you have to portage your bike somewhere.  There’s thought in the frame, for sure.  It’s just utlity thought, not overt fancy ornamentation thought.

We’re taking ‘The Gary’ prototype in for paint this upcoming week.  I’ve been riding the heck out of it, on road, off road, and in between.  It’s been exceeding expectations so far.  We’ll have more pics and build options soon on the final product.  We’re shooting for a base price of $2550 complete.  It’ll be offered in 3 sizes to start with: 52cm, 54cm, and 56cm.  We’ll do a bigger size run if the demand is there.  Locally crafted and locally painted.  Still sorting out graphics, but there will be two options for each frame: traditional and punk rock graphics.

Here’s a pic of it out in the wilds:

 

 

Charm City Gastro-Whatevering

Cities are full of nuance and texture.  Urban life unfolds on a variety of stages, many hidden, obscure or inaccessible.  Unless you have a bike, of course.  Tourism is mainly conducted by two main modes of transport: car and foot.  Drive to a neighborhood, park, walk around.  But how do you drive to the neighborhood? Usually the fastest way possible, often navigating by GPS.  Shuttling between guidebook neighborhoods in a speeding car is a great way to miss everything in between.  Aqua astroturf backyards.  Screen door paintings, murals, corner shops, hidden markets, and most importantly, good eats.  Riding lets you go fast enough to get out of bad areas fast, but slow enough that you can observe the scene surrounding you, stopping right in front of places you want to check out.  No paying for parking, no tickets, no forgetting where you parked.

Andre had to drop a case of Mead off at Woodberry Kitchen, and I needed to get out on my bike.  So we combined missions, threw the bikes on the back of his wagon, and drove east.  We found parking near the Kitchen, and went in search of some grub.

Our first stop was Artifact Coffee, where I dorked out on a house made apple tart and some Hario drip coffee and Andre kept it OG with an Earl Grey Latte.  I knew Andre needed a Vinyl fix, so we scoped out Atomic Books, which has a great little punk rock record store tucked in the back.  After snagging an LP of dubious artistic merit, we rode down Falls Road, a post industrial nightmare of a road, serving as a handy low traffic connection between Hampden and Charles Village.  Andre had never really done any serious city riding, and he lucked on his first foray.  Light traffic and polite drivers were the theme throughout the day.

In Federal Hill, we hit some cobbles, took in the harbor view, and dipped into Cross Street Market for some more food.  Andre flipped at the variety, struggling to pick between the vendors.

Eventually he ended up with ye ole squid on a stick, drenched in plum sauce and Siracha, and I threw down on some Bruce Lee Wings.  We split a Buffalo steak and cheese, which was covered in every possible condiment, including a secret garlic sauce.

Thusly crushed by calories, we rode the back alleys of South Baltimore and pedalled up to Lexington Market in midtown.  Andre bought us a pair of Jamacian Beef Patties, and bellies thus sated, it was time to head back to the car.  After a brief bit of whatevering thru the Johns Hopkins campus, we found ourselves back in Hampden.  We closed out the day with some overpriced sodas and headed home.

Here’s a link to a map of the route, should you decide to get your foodie fix via bike.  http://ridewithgps.com/routes/2275917

On Saturday April 13th, we’re hosting a Trek Demo Day at the Gambrill Tea room in Gambrill State Park.  It’ll be happening from 10-3.  Test rad mtn bikes in a huge size run.  We’ll have more details on Facebook really soon.  Call or email for details.

Two bits of shop news:  The Wednesday evening hill climb rides w/ Brian are happening now.   Join us at the shop at 5 for a quick ride up some big hills!  Sunday evening shop rides will start the Sunday following Easter.  These are real whatevering rides, with dirt roads, hills, a casual pace, and encroaching darkness.  Email for details or call.  Wheels down at 5.30 from the shop.

 

Picnics, Rides, and Going Custom

First things first: the Frederick Bicycle Coalition is having its annual pot luck picnic this Sunday.  If you are free, come on out.  Rides will be leaving in the morning, and then a lunch with burgers, veggie dogs, and adult beverages, all served up at the Gambrill State Park Tea Room.  There will be rides lead by local singlespeed legend Joe Whitehair, a gravel road ride lead by me, James, a normal non-painful road ride lead by our friend Mike Wali, and a downhill thing lead by Hillary Elgert. Details at FrederickBicycleCoalition.com   Here’s the flier, in case you are more of a visual learner.

It’s been a while since we’ve had time to write to you, and we’re sorry about that.  We’re going through a transition at the shop, with John Harrison leaving to make loads more money, and John S. leaving Sundays to go race ‘cross for the season.  We wish them both loads of luck with those things!  John H’s wife made us a cake for his last day at the shop.  She works at Charm City Cakes, which is the place to go if you want a delicious and really good looking custom cake.  They are like the Bike Doctor of the cake world.  Here’s a pic, in case you missed it on facebook.

Erica’s cake magic. We ate maybe 50% of on day one, and we think Zach maybe ate the other 50% on day two…

John has a custom Waterford 650b bike frame we are going to build up for him hanging in the shop.  It just has a headset on it so far, but stay tuned while we build it up.  It’s going to be pretty sharp. Here’s a sneak peek:

John H’s 650b lugged Waterford. He had a special fork crown brazed on. The frame can clear huge 44mm tires and fenders, so it’s made for some hard riding!

Speaking of custom, we’ve had a few custom builds roll through the shop recently.  We need to get way better at documenting them, because they all look great.  Here’s a few shots, apologies for quality of image, some are better than others!

Dan’s CAAD 10

Dan the Elder build up this custom Cannondale CAAD 10 w/ Bike Doctor’s 2012 paint scheme.  A super light alloy frame mated to a full carbon fork.  He went with SRAM Rival bits for the drivetrain, and some rad 3T cockpit parts.  Fizik saddle and Ultegra pedals round out the package.  He already had a few touringish bikes, and this guy satisfies his need for speed.

Mike P’s Karate Monkey punk rock action

Mike P was sick of beating the snot out of his Dual Suspension bike.  So he got all punk rock minimalist and had us put this Karate Monkey together for him.  One gear.  No suspension.  Fat tires at a low pressure, and big old bars to muscle up the hills.  24 lbs of tough steel love.  We handbuilt the wheels and spec’d only tough stuff through out.  He’s trying tubeless for the first time, and we think he’ll dig it!

Dico’s Gucci singlespeed project.

Dico wanted light, unique and tough.  Brian spec’d out this ode to minimalist excess in the form of a Custom Seven Singlespeed Frame with a Whiskey full carbon fork.  I9 wheels round out the package.  This thing is a one gear rocket.  Seven, for the record, offers a variety of Ti frame options, and does a good tig welded steel frame as well.

Gregg S’s Salsa Casseroll. Gregg wanted a good gravel road bike for some light touring.

Gregg’s Casseroll, not quite finished.  He wanted a solid all rounder with a minimum of future maintenance.  A lifer bike, in short.  We spec’d only the best: Nitto stem and seat post, White Industries rear hub, Mavic rims, Paul Brakes, and a Schmidt Light and Generator Hub.  He already reported back from the first ride: “Picked up the bike this morning and took it straight to Church & Market where I began the three covered bridge ride from the FBC (web)site. It was 45
miles of very happy cycling.”  That’s what we like to hear, Gregg!

Gunnar demo set up

Here is a blurry pic of our not yet complete Gunnar Sport.  This guy will clear 26mm tires and fenders or 32 mm tires w/o fenders.  We built it up using handbuilt by Zach wheels, 105 shifters and mechs, and a pretty retro styled front crank.  Brooks saddle of course…  This gravel monster will be ready to demo really soon, so come sign up.

There are at least 3 more of these guys, including Mark S’s heavily modified Madone pass hunting bike, that will have to wait for the next post, because I am outta time!

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Upcoming group rides: Frederick Bicycle Coalition Picnic rides on Sunday mean there are no group rides Sunday, besides that one.

Wednesday:  Hill ride with Brian.  Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening.  Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again.  Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.

Thursday meet the Team Flying Dog guys and Brian for a spin through the Frederick Watershed.  The ride is hard, but the pace is taylored to attendees, and they won’t cook you unless you want it.  Meet at the Maintenance shed at the foot of the dirt part of Mountaindale Road.  Wheels down at 5.30.

Additional notes… are you even still reading this?

We will be resuming our clinics soonish, but right now we are still way too busy.  What are you looking for in clinics? let us know via comments!

Do you have a story you want to submit to the blog?  Send it to us at bikedrfrederick (at) gmail (dot) com.  We’d love to see it.  Pictures with stories help!

Who you jivin’ with that Cosmik Debris?

Zappa clears the room of Cosmik Debris

If you were going to get a friend who only listens old time country into rock and roll, you would not make them a Frank Zappa mixtape.  It would be hard to listen to, confusing, annoying, and cheezy, often all at once.  You would not lend them your stack of Lou Reed’s wandering 70’s output, nor would you let them borrow your treasured tarnished copy of King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon.  You don’t convert people to your cause by giving them the most outrageous, over the top intro you possibly can.  You slowly indoctrinate them, and when they are hooked, well into the indoctrination process, that’s when its ok to pull out all the stops.

I’m talking about lyrca.  Flashy helmets.  Carbon bikes, click in shoes.  Long horrible climbs in the heat of summer.  Heart Rate monitors.  When you want someone to get into cycling, get them into the fun part first, so they get to know how enjoyable a bike can be.  Here’s how:

-Dress down.  Looking like a cyclist might make you feel fast, but it also makes the ride seem like it’s all business, and will be conducted at a fast uncomfortable pace.  Dress like you are going to a barbeque.  Wear normal shoes and use normal pedals.  Tell them to do the same, the tight pants can come later, if ever.

DSC01092

Sander rocks the BBQ picnic look on an old, decrepit Trek single speed with horrible brakes.

-Pick a low traffic, super scenic route, without a ton of hills.  People seem to love covered bridges, so that’s an idea.  The ride, traffic wise, has to be as non-threatening as possible.  And if it just goes by a bunch of boring stuff, it will be blah.

-Rest at the top of hills.  Look at the sky, the cows, the flowers.  Don’t stare at your slow friend as they suffer up the hill.  When they get to the top, don’t shove off immediately, give them a few minutes to get their heart rate into the low 200’s.  Offer them a snack, not magic food like a gu, but a snack.  A cookie, or half a banana.  Magic food comes later.

DSC01114

takin’ a break by the river. who doesn’t like an abandoned building?

-Have a cool destination that is cheap and fun, ie Ice Cream, or an overlook, or a picnic table by a river.  Take 20 minutes and eat a sandwich, let your friend cool down.

-Let them borrow your better bike, and you ride the old crappy hybrid covered in cobwebs.  If you are riding say, a Cervelo R3, and they are riding a crappy steel French 10 speed with a mattress saddle, they are going to suffer horribly, and you are going to be riding with no effort.  Reverse that, so they can see the value of a good bike, and how easy a good bike is to ride.  If you have a bike with a basket, and one gear, perfect, that’s your bike for this ride.

DSC01105

Jay rocks a handlebar bag presumably filled with cookies and heavy cameras. Andre sports huge work out shorts that he stole from the 1990’s, a cotton t shirt, and a huge custom wooden box that brings the total weight of his UNLOADED bike to 35 lbs. But the pace was casual, and everyone did well.

-Tell them it’s ok to walk, and when they get off to walk, walk with them.

-Don’t talk about training, puking, sweat, chamois butter, lactate thresholds, hill intervals or cadence.  These are applied to cycling when people get serious.  People don’t start with race ambitions, and talking about it just makes people nervous.

Not an inviting look.

-Teach them how to shift, with patience.

-Don’t watch them descend, just lead by example.  Don’t constantly look over you shoulder at how slow they are.

-Tell them how good they are doing.  Take pictures and brag about how well they did on Facebook or whatever it is you use.

-Invite them back, repeat.

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Bike Doctor Shop Rides:

Sunday evenings:  If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm.  We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace.  We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise.  The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air.  We even take breaks.  Bring these things with you:  Bright Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way. 

Tuesdays:  8am road ride from Starbucks on 7th street.  45 miles or so right now, by the end of the summer we will be doing 80ish.  This is a long ride, with no fixed schedule, and ridden at ‘James touring pace’ which is to say slow.  Climbing, back roads, stuff you maybe haven’t seen. Bring: food, money, tubes.

Wednesdays:  Hill ride with Cory, Brian is on Vacation!.  Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening.  Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again.  Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.

hittin’ the trails

Thursdays:  Mountain ride with Team Flying Dog.  Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed.  Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.

Sunday Mornings: Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center.  8AM 12-18 miles on low traffic roads.  Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.  These rides are starting to get a good turn out, but the mileage will go up soon, so get in on it before it does, so you can start easy.

Slammed bars, sad bulldogs and the suitcase of painful paychecks.

The tour rolls around once a year and makes everyone who isn’t a pro Euro racer look like a slouch. The rolling soap opera that is the Tour speeds around France, with super fit riders riding tiny bikes in impossible aero positions.  John S., who works here, told me that Cadel Evans’ saddle to bars drop on his time trial bike was 23 centimeters.

Cadel’s position is crafted in a wind tunnel. How does it feel? See below.

That’s 9 inches, or 7.5 inches more than we would recommend to anyone in our fitting process.  He wears a skin suit so tight that riders often complain of difficulty breathing, like Victorian ladies on warm summer days.  He uses a water bottle that just has enough liquid in it so that it can be counted as a water bottle, not a liquid aero faring.  Read that again.  It’s not for drinking, its just there to make him go faster.  The man is paid to suffer.  That’s why he looks like a sad bulldog all the time.

Sad Bulldog Cadel Evans

Pros are not paid to look at the view, or to talk with their friends, or really to do anything that makes cycling enjoyable.  Often, to get more aero, they look at their front hubs, not even the road in front of them!  They are paid to go as fast as they can, no matter what.  If they go numb, or suffer tendonitus or have horrible hand pain at the end of a tour, but they won, that is what matters.  Saddle sores and foot pain are nothing compared to a paycheck and glory.

Don’t discount peer pressure.  When racing, even stateside, there is a desire to copy the fastest guys, and if they have an ultra agressive position, everyone else wants it too.  The fastest guy might do 300% more yoga, and have a lower back that is ‘strong like bear’, but there is also a copy cat environment in the peloton.  If rider A is riding a really aggressive bike, and wins, other riders will copy the position, even if it isn’t right for them.  They want to look the part, even if it means being less biomechanically efficient.  This of course makes no sense, except from a psychology standpoint. It’s all about feeling fast, apparently, not actually going fast.  There is a good amount of solid data showing that fatter tires are faster than skinnies, but loads of people still reach for the narrow tires, citing personal weight concerns, or just saying ‘it’s what i am used to’, which is like saying I am used to riding bricks around, and wish to continue, even if its less comfortable, less safe, not as fast, and harder on my race wheels.  Skinnies look fast.

So do slammed bars, and stiff aero wheels, and tons of exposed seatpost.  There are tons of blog posts and articles and comments in forums on how bad *** it looks.  Case in point, SLAM THAT STEM, a blog devoted to destroying your Ulnar Nerve.

Tom Boonen’s Spring Classics rig, taken from SLAM THAT STEM*. Do you think he won because of the position or the huge 30mm custom tires at 60psi? I’m guessing the latter. *caps lock from the blog’s title, repeated to illustrate the mentality of the author of said blog.

The sad thing with this phenomenon is how it shuts down a great place to ride: in the handlebar drops.  The vast majority of pro riders spend most of their time on the ramps and top of the bar, or hanging over the front, in a fake time trial position (needed because their bikes are too small).  When bikes are sized correctly, a few things happen.  One: you can breath better.  If you are in a horrible, crunched up position, with your diaphram completely compressed, breathing becomes a chore.  Two: the bike handles better.  Bikes are designed around certain stem lengths, and 140mm-150mm stems are outside of the projected range of what the manufacturer designed the bike around.  Wanna know why there are so many crashes in the tour?  They are going really fast and their bikes handle like a scared rabbit on crystal meth.  This does not make the bike faster, in fact, fighting the bike to keep it stable saps critical energy.

Eddy lays it out in Mexico with some long chainstays, aero Brylcreem and hand knit white socks. Gloves? Not Aero!

Eddy Merckx’s hour record bike had long, touring bike length chain stays, so he could go as fast as possible without fighting the bike, thereby putting all his energy in to going fast.  Three: you have less pressure on your soft bits. If you are crunched over, you hips are rotated and you are barely sitting on your sit bones.  We need to sit on our sit bones, not soft tissue, so that we can use our bone structure to put power to the pedals.  Soft bits are soft, and they squirm around, hardly a solid foundation to lay down some speed.  Lastly, Four: Little bikes and big riders make riders look like they are on clown bikes.  Like their parents couldn’t afford to get them the next size up.  Do we really want our heros riding circus bikes?

All of this of course relates to fitting, and if you are a regular reader of the blog, you know I don’t often plug stuff here at the shop, mainly because I am bad at it.  We do fits at the shop, we’re pretty good at it, Brian and I having done literally hundreds of them.  If you think your bike fits well, but could be a little more comfortable, or more aero, or you have an injury you are working through and want to adapt the fit, we can help you with that.  Check out our article on fitting, which is 87% complete, basically lacking in pictures and scientific looking diagrams.

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Shop rides:

It’s a huge summer o’ shop rides!

Riding thru the Wtfacolfsville valley, often visited by the Wednesday nite crew, and the Sunday nite crew.

Sunday evenings:  If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm.  We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace.  We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise.  The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air.  We even take breaks.  Bring these things with you:  Bright Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way. 

Tuesdays:  8am road ride from Starbucks on 7th street.  45 miles or so right now, by the end of the summer we will be doing 80ish.  This is a long ride, with no fixed schedule, and ridden at ‘James touring pace’ which is to say slow.  Climbing, back roads, stuff you maybe haven’t seen. Bring: food, money, tubes.

Wednesdays:  Hill ride with Brian.  Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening.  Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again.  Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.

Thursdays:  Mountain ride with Brian and Team Flying Dog.  Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed.  Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.

Sunday Mornings: Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center.  8AM 12-18 miles on low traffic roads.  Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.  These rides are starting to get a good turn out, but the mileage will go up soon, so get in on it before it does, so you can start easy.

The women’s ride is geared toward most ages and most abilities.  It’s still a road ride, not a casual family saunter though, so bring a road bike, please!

The Tour de France vs Everything Else

The Tour is in its 99th year.  The summer race around France, with pastoral country side and towering mountains, through pouring rain and tire melting heat, draws 15 million viewers every July.  It spawns the sales of thousands of road bikes to people who would otherwise never even consider a bicycle at all.  It makes lycra ok.  Well.  Sort of.

Cipollini takes it to the limit, one more time.

Since the first edition of the Tour, raced on steel fixed gear bikes from sun up until long past dusk, riders have racked up mileage in excess of 220,000 miles, greater than the distance from the earth to the moon.  The tour has changed shape over the years, from the early days of zero support, where riders rode exclusively for themselves with no outside help allowed, to today’s team cars, radios, and group tactics.  The daily speeds have gone up while the distances have gone down.  Road surfaces have drastically improved, from goat tracks and cobbles to smooth, fresh tarmac.  The 1970’s saw a decreasing popularity in the tour amongst the municipalities the Tour went though.  Towns, embarrassed at the rustic state of their roads, saw fit to pave the country byways before the tour came through, gutting budgets and causing resentment.  It was not until recent times that Tour organizers were able to convince towns that the rustic roads were the raison d’etre, and that fans loved to see the riders suffering on historic roads.

Eddy Merckx and a founding member of The Specials wonder what’s around the bend.

Technology and science have changed the face of the tour.  Mandatory helmets, the move away from traditional clothing and frame materials, the increased, overbearing presence of science and power monitoring have all taken some of the guts from the sport and replaced it with logic, forgone conclusions, and a seeming inability to just ‘go for it’.  But there is still romance, pain, suffering, and victory against overwhelming odds in the Tour.  There are still surprises, breakaways that actually work, huge solo efforts against mountains that harken to the days before we knew what a Lactic Threshold was.  There are still bad guys and good guys, scandals and stories of redemption, winners and the ones you wish would win…

I don’t follow sports.  I fail to see the appeal of soccer, or football, or baseball, or car racing.  I don’t understand how poker is sport, or pool.  I love swimming, but only in a lake, with the possibility of ice cream afterward.  I don’t understand huge paychecks for tossing a ball around, or wacking one with a stick.  When I was a kid playing soccer, I never could remember which goal was ours, because I was so bored that I was constantly day dreaming.  My main concern was sliding through the grass and missing the ball, mainly so I could collect impressive grass stains and or scabs.  Our team always got some sort of pitiful trophy that looked like it had been microwaved, the fake gold soccer player sagging and possibly crying atop his faux marble stand.  It seemed to me like these were activities you partook in when there was literally nothing else better you could be doing.  Poking a mud puddle with a stick for instance, or filling model airplanes with firecrackers and tossing them out the bedroom window.  Important things, things with meaning.

“We’ll put the firecracker right here…”

My first real bike was a beautiful grey mountain bike with matching grey tires.  It was steel, and rode like a dream.  Every summer I spent hours climbing the mountain at the end of my street, a long, grueling dirt climb that ended in beautiful meadows, followed by a harrowing descent down the otherside, and a slow cruise back home next to a glacial lake.  This suffering was fun!  It had meaning! Views! Adventure!  Possible ice cream endings!  I was hooked, for life.  But I didn’t know about bike racing.  I wasn’t ready for the soap opera drama of it, the weird euro names, the impossible to memorize team monikers, the tactics, the length and depth.  I collected baseball cards for the stale gum, not the players, whom I knew nothing about.  Stats were something akin to IRS tax code, irrelevant, confusing, and pointless. Then I went to college.  Had free cable TV.  My future wife and I fell into the Tour De France because of the Controversial Texan.  He was a symbol, a story, a reason to watch.

Lance shows his math skills

Everyone has their own reasons to watch the tour, or not.  It takes time, lots of it.  The tour lasts for hours everyday.  If you were to actually watch the whole thing, you would have no life.  If you just watch the highlights, you might as well not watch.  It is within the daily struggle that the story unravels like a spider spinning a long lycra thread.  The commentary on the background of each rider, the suffering on the faces of the breakaway group and their inevitable demise, the riders who die small deaths off the back of the peloton, the disorientation of those who crash, the anger of those who suffer mechanicals, the passion of the sprint and the heroism of the climbers.  The nuance of the sport is lost in the highlight reel.  There is no history in the reel, no peeks into psychology, no lessons on the country side, stories about this Chateau or the upcoming climb.  There is just racing, at its most distilled.  Sometimes, as with good bourbon, you have to add a bit of water, so it can breathe.

Subscribe to the tour online at NBC.  It’s 30 bucks for a month of racing, and there is excellent, highly biased commentary that is occasionally really funny.  It’s like a book on tape.  Think of it as summer reading for cyclists.  Think of me as Oprah, and this is my book club assignment to you.  I don’t make any money off it, unless you come in and buy a road bike from me!

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Shop Rides:

Tuesday and Wednesday’s rides are cancelled. Look for them next week though!

Sunday evenings:  If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm.  We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace.  We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise.  The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air.  We even take breaks.  Bring these things with you:  Bright Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way.

Thursdays:  Mountain ride with Brian and Team Flying Dog.  Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed.  Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.

Sunday Mornings:   Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center.  8AM 12-18 miles on low traffic roads.  Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.

What’s in a s24o?

John Muir walked into the woods with not much more than a journal, some flour in a sack and a pair of boots.  He would disappear into the wilds, exploring, making notes, making weird breads out of plants and the flour he brought, drinking from mountain streams, making house calls on lonely woodsmen.  These days he makes a decent tomato sauce.*  The appeal of Muir’s adventures has not diminished with time.  Every REI, Hudson Trail Outfitters and Patagonia advertisement calls upon his sense of the world: shedding the chains of urban or suburban life, forging a simple, if temporary life in the woods and wilds of the country.

Back before celebrity scents, Abercombie sold useful things, like tents. This ad is from 1925. Can you imagine buying an Everest worthy silk tent at Abercrombie today? At the turn of the last century, the basement of Abercrombie’s flagship store had a shooting range to try out the latest hunting rifles.

Americans have always loved the concept of roughing it.  Most of us just don’t have the time.  There are other concerns as well.  Lack of comfort, lack of know-how, lack of equipment.  Backpacking is a time and potentially equipment intensive sport, and many of us have enough expensive hobbies already.  It’s time intensive: planning, driving to a hiking spot, spending hours cruising through the woods to get to your camping spot, doing it all again the next day.  Long trips require more planning, from meals, to supply drop points, to potential bail points.  Weeks of planning cannot control the weather, which can dump rain, extreme heat or snow, depending on the season.  A preplanned trip can lead to misery, as tents fail to dry out, blisters form, snakes consume fellow hikers, etc.

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Dr. John rummages while the Author looks at the morning coffee makin’ fire

Alternatives exist.  The sub twenty four hour overnight, or s24o is a great, cheap way to get out into the woods.  It works like this: leave in the evening, ride to your destination (don’t drive, loading the car adds time, complexity), camp, wake up, ride home.  All in under 24 hours.  You could leave Saturday night and be home before 10 am Sunday.  Despite the limited time, the s24o allows you to switch gears, relax, and get a good nights sleep in the woods.  Everything that makes camping fun is in place: the transcendent act of watching a fire burn down, the taste of sunrise coffee in the morning, the heart pounding scares at night when you think a squirrel foraging for night snacks is actually a bear waiting to devour the first person to leave the tent for a quick pee…

20081005_05

John’s Gunnar road bike. Not a sport touring bike.. this thing has a carbon front fork and tiny tires. He has standard road gearing, not even a compact up front. If the road gets to steep, you can walk, no big deal. Those panniers were homemade (by the Author’s wife) for less than 15 bucks. The huge roll up top is a car camping sleeping mat and a big ole tent. Perfect example of making due.

You’re thinking: man, I am not a tourist, I don’t have a touring bike or all that kit.  Well you might, actually have most of it.  It’s just overnight.  You don’t need advanced equipment, a stove, a titanium spork or a even a tent.  You just need a few basics.  A tent is fine, but a tarp works just fine.  A blue 8×10 tarp and some twine will keep you dry even in a nasty downpour.  That green thing in the picture above is just a tarp, pitched like a tent.  Blue tarps are under 10 bucks in the size you would need.  Most summer sleeping can be handled by a cheap foam mat and a fleece blanket.  You don’t even need the mat if you find a cushy place to sleep, like on moss, or if you make a pile of leaves.  So the three most expensive things, really, can be replaced by stuff you already have or can get for less than twenty five dollars, total.  You can bring a stove and cook, but really, just cook over the fire.  Bring something to shove on a stick, some snacks, and you are set.  Because it’s just an overnight, if you forget something major, it’s not a big deal.  Even if you forget food, you’ll live till you get home.

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No, its not the first episode of Twin Peaks. That’s Big John snoozing under a tarp.

There are plenty of places locally to get your s240 fix.  Gambrill, Greenbrier, and Cunningham Falls State Park all have inexpensive camping, with showers, water supplies and bathrooms.  They are all a pretty easy ride from Frederick.  Cunningham Falls and Greenbrier both have swimming, which is rad.  There is free camping too.  A bit of a ride, but totally doable: head up to Michaux State Forest which is just above the PA line above Emitsburg.  Camping here is free, you just plop down in the woods where ever looks enticing.  This is real woods camping, no amenities, no water, etc.  Go prepared.  Slightly less rustic, but just as free, is camping along the C and O canal.  The canal is littered with decent camping spots, all of which have water pumps and porta johns, and is a pretty easy ride from Frederick to access.  I personally really like the area between Harpers Ferry and Hancock, which is scenic and has some great sleep spots.

If you want to know more about bike camping, what you need and don’t need, stop by the shop and we can chat about it.  If you want to go full hog, and get some dorky backpacking kit, we love that stuff and can either source it or point the way to it.  We have a great selection of panniers, racks, and all that.  Again you don’t need that stuff, but if you get into it, life gets marginally easier with it’s use.

If there is more interest in the topic, I can write about how to make some kit, but, probably there won’t be, so consider this the final word!

*That’s a joke, I know he really runs Ken Burns’ Civil War themed Laundromat.

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Shop rides:

It’s a huge summer o’ shop rides!

Sunday evenings:  If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm.  We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace.  We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise.  The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air.  We even take breaks.  Bring these things with you:  Bright Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way. 

Tuesdays:  8am road ride from Starbucks on 7th street.  45 miles or so right now, by the end of the summer we will be doing 80ish.  This is a long ride, with no fixed schedule, and ridden at ‘James touring pace’ which is to say slow.  Climbing, back roads, stuff you maybe haven’t seen. Bring: food, money, tubes

Wednesdays:  Hill ride with Brian.  Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening.  Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again.  Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.

Thursdays:  Mountain ride with Brian and Team Flying Dog.  Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed.  Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.

Sunday Mornings:  THIS WEEK’S WOMEN’S RIDE IS CANCELED BUT WE WILL BE BACK NEXT SUNDAY!  Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center.  8AM 12-18 miles on low traffic roads.  Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.

The Cycling Cap: a Statement of Intent

Goggles not Included

The rain has begun.  Drops fall fat on steaming forearms.  Tires on the pavement sounding like lost AM radio signals.  Dial it in.  Face drawn, eyes up, flip the brim of your cap down.  The connection is made.  Bikes are time machines.  Moving not like the reenactment of some Civil War battle, but like Marty McFly through the past.  They are direct conduits to times past, hardships endured, battles fought, won and lost.  A rider, subconsciously or not, moves with the same motions and facial expressions of the rider 100 years ago.  Sits in the same position, fears the same hills.  The hunger is deep at the end of a ride, the legs have the same feeling of day old room temp jello.  And the cycling cap is there, perched Belgian style, high atop the head, or pulled down low against the rain, or backward on a steep decent, or rakishly canted, a ship tossing on a storm writhed sea.  The colors and the pattern and even the origin of the hat are cues: teams supported, races ridden, swaps attended.  We learn the origin story through visual cues.  Is the hat dirty?  The brim sweat stained? Holes burned in it from campfire sparks?  Is it crushed? Threadbare? Perfect and crisp?  Not this authors.  The hat must come from a place to go to a place.  In other words, the cap must be procured for a reason, so that it may exist with reason.  Sometimes you are what you own.

Aero Tassle

The cycling cap has humble origins.  Original cycling caps where just appropriated from other walks of life.  Baker’s brimless skull caps, the chicken and egg problem of the Welder’s cap, knit alpine beanies for mountain stages.  The first caps were just whatever would get the job done.  There is validity still in the found cap concept: it’s hot, out, you need to get the sun off your face, almost anything will do, even a Redsox hat.  But the quiet grace of the cap, its packable construction, its minimalist fit, the telegraphed poise, these attributes elevate the cap to the level of gestalt.  Nothing can be added.  Nothing removed.

The casquette is in trouble.  How does perfect design fall onto hard times?  Progress means forward movement towards a greater goal.  In the case of professional cycling, this greater goal is the ability to plaster more sponsor names on any given garment.  So the small, quiet grace of the cycling cap is being supplanted by the gaudy Nascar-esque fitted baseball cap.

Andy, Al, and Lance wait for the 3rd inning

The podium is now mounted three men who look like rejects from the Class A Short Season Minor Leagues.  The compulsory helmet laws of the past decade in pro racing have also helped with the demise of the ubiquitous cycling cap.

Coppi and Bartali, on their way to a Gnocchi eating contest

The racers’ abandonment of the caps has caused a vacuum in the universe.  The universe, abhorring vacuums, (and house hold cleaning in general) gave us the hipster, who has appropriated the cycling cap.  The hipster, his world clouded by pastiche, wears the cap as a statement of fixed gear solidarity. Perhaps they don’t actually own a fixed gear, or, owning one, know how to properly ride one.

Having just bought a Dokken album, Larry remembers his record player is still in his mom’s basement. Then he realizes: that’s perfect, I live in my mom’s basement.

It is time for real cyclists to reclaim the cap.  Pull it low, hide the suffering, and destroy the mountain.  Dip it in a silty drainage ditch and let the muddy water cool your broiling head. If you race, take the podium in a cap, not a hat.  If you race in the rain, wear it under your helmet.  If you go out to eat, wear something decidedly unhip, and a cycling cap, to undermine those who wear it with senseless irony.

what podium winners should look like

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Shop rides:

We’re about to embark on a huge summer o’ shop rides. Join us for a few, maybe you will get hooked.

Sunday evenings:  If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm.  We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace.  We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise.  The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air.  We even take breaks.  Bring these things with you:  Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way. 

Tuesdays:  8am road ride from Starbucks on 7th street.  45 miles or so right now, by the end of the summer we will be doing 80ish.  This is a long ride, with no fixed schedule, and ridden at ‘James touring pace’ which is to say slow.  Climbing, back roads, stuff you maybe haven’t seen. Bring: food, money, tubes

Wednesdays:  Hill ride with Brian.  Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening.  Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again.  Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.

Thursdays:  Mountain ride with Brian and Team Flying Dog.  Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed.  Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.

Sunday Mornings:  (starting June 10th) Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center.  10am (I think, check Facebook for details) 12-18 miles on low traffic roads.  Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.  She’ll have more details in next week’s post, so stay tuned for that.