What this blog is about

Bicycle commuting, bicycle touring, bicycle racing; bicycle ADVENTURING.
To the grocery store, up a mountain, across the country or to the finish line--
it's all an adventure.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Body Weight

I've had an interesting history with weight.

I was never one of those twiggy kids whose knees were bigger than her thighs, nor was I overweight. I was always athletic. I played club soccer year-round and still managed to be an all-sport kid (softball, basketball, cross-country, track.. even did lacrosse for a year). In middle school, I ran a 6:35 mile, which isn't a blazing time that will take you to State-- but fast enough to say I was an in-shape lil' kid.

Enter high school soccer. We had a very competitive women's soccer team that had been winning State recently in a school division larger than our school actually was. I made Junior Varsity my freshman year and rumor was that I'd be moved up to the Varsity team to warm the bench at State. Then I blew my knee out. POP!

Long story short-- I tore my ACL, meniscus and sprained my MCL, the "unhappy triad." Though I didn't figure that out until I had surgery on it right before college. Yeah, long story short.

Unfortunately, I wasn't one of those people who could mentally get over their injury and play just as well in a knee brace. My brain guarded my knee all the time and I wasn't the same soccer player anymore. So I tried everything else.

Cross country, lacrosse, fast-pitch softball, I ran a half marathon and even tried some triathlons on my Mongoose after spotting the idea in a YMCA catalog.

And I gained weight.


Yup. I went from a lean 135 (I'm about 5'4") to 150+. Size 6 pant to 14.

How was this happening? How could I continue to be SO active and GAIN weight?

Theory? Stress and a deeper unhappiness. No soccer = unhappy RJ.

I went to college with my NEW Specialized Allez road bike (thanks mom and dad!) and discovered that Whitman had a blossoming cycling team. I was HOOKED. Cycling was FUN! Walla Walla was the most addictive place to ride and my teammates (both men and WOMEN) were awesome. The sport was a brilliant blend of endurance fitness and teamwork. Most every race I would get dropped (fall behind, away from the group) and struggle to catch up-- until the Conference Championship Criterium, where I did keep up! 

I never focused on losing weight-- only on riding, having fun and my athletic performance. But fall it did-- by sophomore spring, I was lean and on the Nationals team, winning the Team Time Trial with my teammates. I was 135 in a size 6 pant again.

So yes, when subjecting your body to a new sport and riding lots and lots of hours and racing lots and lots of hours-- science says that losing weight and leaning up makes sense. But how come that half marathon or all those sprint triathlons or cross country season did nothing for my figure?

My answer? Happiness. Cycling replaced soccer for me and once again, I had a physical playground in which I felt euphoria and teammates that I would bust my ass for. 

For all those people out there, struggling to get in shape-- you try and eat well, you sign up for a 5k run, you hit the gym, but you just. can't. lose. the. weight..

I think that stress, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, lack of a team environment, lack of focus-- these are the things holding your weight on. You may THINK that you're fairly happy-- surely I enjoyed myself on the cross-country team. But are you really, truly, deeply INSPIRED by the weights at the gym? Does that elliptical trainer make you feel ALIVE? Does plodding down the pavement during your morning run just feel RIGHT, like your body was made to move that way?

If you are struggling with your weight-- for health reasons (physical, mental, spiritual) and not for vanity-- then this is my advice to you:

  1. find a physical endeavor that you can fall in LOVE with.
  2. do it with people whom you can love and respect.
  3. get addicted to it.
  4. and share it with others.
  5. never think about the fact that you are trying to lose weight.
  6. treat yourself like an "important athlete."
  7. and have fun.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Commuting Intermission

Begin at bus station.

(I got dropped off. Work with what ya' got.)

Intermission at Stumptown.

Which is conveniently, halfway up Capitol Hill.

Does anyone ever stop to take pictures of themselves, their car and the scenery while driving to work?

I think not.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Morning and night

I kinda felt like a cheater when I lived in Walla Walla. I bike "commuted" most everywhere-- but it only took 10 or 20 minutes to get there. Walla Walla isn't big. and it's FLAT! Maybe I rode 30 minutes if I was visiting my friend Alice, she lives WAY out on the edge of town.

Now, I'm a bike commuter in the sense that most people think of when they think "bike commuter." I take the bus and I ride my bike for more than an hour to get to work. And I stop for coffee because nothing feels more like rocket fuel than a fine cappuccino and morning glory muffin! (Thank you-- Stumptown!).

AND, I get to ride the cool bike path across I-90. It's funny what people like or don't like. I think it's fun to ride alongside the water and mentally raspberry at the cars whooshing past. I have a friend who rather does not prefer the bridge. I don't like it when it's wet and you gotta hold your breath when cross the metal grating thingies, but otherwise find it more than tolerable. Ah, well. My commute has many landscapes! This is just one of them.
Bike path on the I-90 bridge.
Skyline in the background is Bellevue.

Bellevue Transit Center, waiting for the bus.

Friday, April 23, 2010

SEE the morning light

Bicycle touring is not just about bicycling. Most of the touring cyclists we met on our TransAm trip this summer, did not previously identify as "cyclists." 

Bicycle touring is heightened awareness. You actually SEE the morning light. 

In your day to day life, you might "see" the morning light as you hop in your car and drive to work, you look across the freeway and see a nice sunrise and think, "gosh, that looks pretty." But seeing something with your eyes and seeing something with your whole being is totally different. 

I think that many of us live our lives as if we're looking at pictures and not reality. We see things and think, "oh, neat." and not "......WOW......" We can hardly be blamed-- we have so much to process, that our brains naturally want to create shortcuts for ease of processing. 

If you bicycle to work, you may relate to what I'm trying to describe. Instead of being in a box, zooming up Capitol Hill-- you can FEEL Capitol Hill (quite literally, in your legs) if you pump a bicycle up it. 

It's the difference between microwaving and cooking a meal from scratch. 

It's the difference between standing awe-struck in front of a painting and clicking past it on the internet.

Now imagine this feeling every day, all day. Something as simple as THE GROUND becomes very important-- is it level? soft? wet? You really begin to SEE the ground. You see people. And landscapes. And food. You might even see yourself.

And that's just one reason, why I encourage people to bicycle tour.

If you're thinking about it-- DO IT. Even if you can't leave this summer or next year-- put just a little bit of money aside each month. Invest in a touring bike. Start riding to work and carrying a load. Get out of debt and don't create new ones. See how well you get along with that one friend for extended amounts of time. And bike some more.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Riding in Paint

Riding in Seattle is growing on me. It won't ever produce the quiet meditation that Walla Walla can. Riding in Walla Walla is like riding through a Rothko painting. Two, three broad strokes of color, plus texture, body encompassing size and a vibration that will blow your mind.

Riding in Seattle is more like riding through a Kandinsky painting. There is SO MUCH going on. You want to go this way, that way, see this, see that, follow that line, melt into that color-- and you find, that somehow, it isn't just a flat canvas, but that it actually makes NOISE-- you can actually HEAR the painting-- rumbling and shivering. The painting is in perpetual motion, as if that black line had twitched since you last looked away and you brace yourself for calamity of colors colliding.

And that's pretty exciting. Diverse. One minute you're in this neighborhood, that neighborhood-- then you wander, saunter over here, but WAIT-oh, this way.. then that leads to the next thing, and look at this little detail..

I love the calm of Walla Walla, but I am just starting to feel the pulse of Seattle.

Bus, Sip, Ride

Put your bike on a bus-- see where it takes you.

And if the hill is long, stop for coffee.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bike Station is becoming BIKE PORT

What was once known as "Bike Station" is becoming"BIKE PORT."

BIKE PORT is located in downtown Seattle, is run by (and next door to) the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and also hosts the JRA Bike Shop.

BIKE PORT is affordable, convenient, and secure bike parking. Yes, there is "free" bike parking just about anywhere you can find a pole-- but would you leave your nice panniers in the street? What if you're 'geared up' in 'cycling clothes' because you've been riding for an hour, and need to change and freshen up? Using Bike Port takes the stress out of bike parking if you don't already have an indoor place to secure your bike and use a restroom.

Parking is free on weekdays, 9am-5pm. Buy a pass for 24/7 access! For my 'sporadic use' membership, I am only paying $2 for each time I park after-hours!

There is a public work stand and tools for you to use (as well as a professional mechanic at the in-house bike shop if you don't know how to fix it yourself).

A vending machine has all the basics you might need, even if the shop is closed.

Some memberships include the use of a locker.

The bathroom is big enough to swallow up you and your bike!
(No showers yet, but they're working on it.)

LOTS of parking.

Security cameras. While the security of your bicycle and belongings is not guaranteed (you should still lock your bike and take your valuables), the odds of theft are much lower. Bike Port is staffed 9am-5pm on weekdays and only members can enter using their key-card after hours.

Bike Port is next door to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington!

And yes, I've blogged on this before: HERE.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I-5 Colonnade

The other day I poked around the Colonnade-- the famous, one-of-a-kind, mountain bike skills park under the I-5 freeway in Seattle, WA.

I was hoping (I was told) that there was a bit of riding for beginners as well as advanced. This is sort of true. The Limestone Loop, first photo below, is a skill-building half-mile cross-country loop. It was beyond me. I haven't really mastered the switchback. Challenges (albeit small) were being thrown at me so constantly, that if I didn't nail the first drop, I was going to screw up the next. I found that to be the theme of the park: JAM-PACKED. 

The Tqalu trail is another feature-filled area of the park, presumably for beginners, which even featured signs explaining how to attempt each skill-- but the features were so brief, I wasn't sure that riding through a 3 foot sand box was really going to develop my skills for riding through sand. 

The only feature I spent any time on was the low logs near the Lakeview entrance. Being alone and more interested in the cardio aspect of bicycle riding-- I got bored and walked around to snap photos instead.

Alas, before I sound unappreciative of such an amazing park-- this park is.. AMAZING. For any intermediate to advanced rider who likes to drop, jump, hop, balance and just free ride-- you will be in your ultimate playground. For someone like me, who needs to huff and puff between technical challenges to feel like I've been on a bike ride-- better to do a couple laps at Duthie.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Planning a Bicycle Tour: Calculating Days

Recently, a reader asked me how long our bicycle tour across the country took and how we did the math to figure that out. Here is my response:

Our trip (4,250 miles) was about 3 months. We took 1 day off per week and 1 week off half-way. Started the evening of May 31 (7pm!) and ended somewhere around August 27th or so.

When I am planning future trips, I use an average of 60 miles/day + 1 extra day/week + a week off if applicable (trips greater than 2 months, or if you just want to visit a place like a National Park) + travel to/from the start/finish to figure out about how long the trip would take. Even if you THINK "oh, my average will be more than 60 miles/day!" I would still recommend using 60 (or even 55), especially if this is your first big trip. Using a number that is slightly lower than you expect to ride will give a buffer for mishaps, preventative weather, mechanicals, etc. Remember that 60 is an AVERAGE. One day riding 80 miles and another riding 40 averages out to 60.

So, for example-- The Sierra Cascades route is 2,362 miles. 2,362 divided by 60 is about 39 days, or a month and a week. Add 5 days for a day off per week, plus one day to get to the start, 4 days at the end (one to rest, one to sight-see/rest, one to pack, one to actually travel). That's 39 days + 10 days = 49 days. If I were taking time off work, I'd add more days to the start/finish for rest and packing.

Something else that is useful in planning is checking to see how long the self-supported (not van supported!) Adventure Cycling group plans to take.

Because your trip is 6,000 miles and will take longer than a season to complete, I'd also be very aware of any passes you'll go over and whether or not they'll be open during the time of year you expect to be there. If you search around, you can find charts that list when passes opened and closed over the last 50 years and their average opening/closing date.

Hope that helps!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Weight and Gears-- the Truth About Hills

Weight and Gears-- the Truth About Hills from Rebecca Jensen on Vimeo.

Many people over-obsess about the weight of their bicycles. If you're racing-- fine, it makes sense. If you're the person that walks into the bike shop and announces, "I'm not a racer," (which is about 90% of customers) because you feel pressure from the media to be one and think that the bike shop will assume you are one... why are YOU anti-weight, since you JUST told me that you're "not out to set any records."

The riding you want to do is not competitive, you just want to go for some recreational rides after work and on the weekends. You'll ride 20-30 miles on average and occasionally, you'll sign up for a bike event to train for that 60 or 100-miler. The bike you want is one that has a less-aggressive body position (torso is more upright) and is fairly compliant (smooth ride, absorbs the bumps in the road) and can get you up hills (generous gears or lightweight).

One candidate is a bike like the Specialized Roubaix or Ruby. These are bikes with "endurance" geometry, which creates a more upright body position and more stable handling over traditional race geometry. Plus, features like "Zertz inserts" smooth out the ride and the carbon fiber is lightweight, so it's less to carry up hills. The gearing has some easier options than a racing bike, especially if you get a triple (3 rings in the front).

Another candidate with an even MORE upright geometry, MORE stable handling, a SMOOTHER ride and a VERY GENEROUS gear range to tackle the steepest climbs-- is a touring bike! But. A touring bike is HEAVY. Oh no. Now you're not interested any more. But what if I told you that the gears on my touring bike make hills just as EASY as on my light bike, but I just might go slower? What? You want to go fast now? Didn't you say that you're "not a racer"? And isn't that your gut I see hanging over your belt?

*I didn't take footage of myself seated and climbing on the SuperNova, because I can't. Due to the gearing on that bike, I HAVE TO stand up to get up that hill.


Last weekend my alma mater came to town. I had a BLAST cheering them on!

in the ROAD RACE


and the CRIT! (criterium)

*half the video is cut off because it's "wide screen." Click the white title on the screen to visit YouTube.com and see the full screen.

Collegiate Cycling is something special. The skill spectrum is huge-- you've got kids who are still practicing clipping into their bicycles and others being offered pro contracts. I find that this spectrum gives the beginners inspiration and the fast folks some temperment in their intensity. Add to that, EVERYBODY is expected to cheer on everybody. Team enthusiasm is huge.

I haven't been on a cycling team since college, because I've found that racing becomes more about results and carbon rims-- and I'm not interested in either of these things. I just like to ride hard and cheer hard. GO WHITMAN!!

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