Friday, November 28, 2008

The last rowing class...

The last time I was off of running for a substantial amount of time, I swore I'd sign up for a learn-to-row class the next time I was off of running. Why rowing? After some years of running around Green Lake and along Lake Union I'd seen the rowers out at the same time I'd be out very early in the am. I'm sure they were enjoying the same exact things I was enjoying. They were getting a workout but also an almost spiritual workout. Dawn. Stillness. Effort. Sweat. Peace.


Tomorrow I have my last learn to row class. I knew absolutely nothing about boats and haven't been on anything much smaller than a cruise ship. Bow. Port. Weigh enough. It was a foreign language so much so that I had to make flashcards to help me remember the terms. I grew up swimming and I'm very comfortable in the ocean body surfing or a swimming pool but an iddy biddy shell in the middle of a lake in winter in Seattle? I watched the safety video about "catching a crab" and freaked out thinking about getting in that little shell.

but I'd paid my money and I was going to learn to row, dammit! We learned the basic stroke in a tank. We practiced on an erg in the gym. We learned the calls the leader of the boat (the coxswain) would use to coordinate 8 people to get a 165' foot shell out off of the stacked racks and into the water. Then we learned how to get in the boat. The 20 people who had signed up for the class dwindled as it got cold and windy over the course of a month.

And we learned to row. I sit port in a sweep boat (one oar) and have sat at the bow of the boat. You do a lot of setting the boat so it is level in the water when you sit bow. lately as our numbers have dwindled and we just have enough to fill an 8seater boat, I've sat stroke. Stroke? it means I'm the first rower and sit right in front of the coxswain who directs the boat. Every rower takes their lead off of what the stroke does. I count my pull and my recovery and don't really think about anything but the effort of what I'm doing and what my oar is doing in the water. When I sit listening to the coach I take it how beautiful it is on Lake Union at night. It's stillness, effort, sweat and peace.

I got into a discussion with our coxswain, Bill. A dedicated rower and oh so patient with a bunch of newbies in a very tippy boat. He's been off rowing since June because of a bad bout of tendonitis (possibly a tendon pulled off the bone) in his elbow. He's been grounded and just started back to rowing last week. Oh did I so understand the pain physically and mentally he's been going through. there is nothing like rowing according to him and now I can understand that.

There is also nothing like running and I'm very glad to be back at it. However, rowing is waiting for me. At some point I'll need to do more of it...

P.S. The last class was fabulous. Only six people showed up. I got put into a two-seater sculling boat and we were able to row together. According to one of the coaches we did very well for such newbies.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PSA - Helmets save lives.

Helmets are fine.
Helmets are good.
They help your head
when you go boom.


I took a tumble on my bike this week commuting into work. I was not going very fast but I felt my head hit the ground hard. And once it hit all I could think about was "I am so thankful I am wearing a helmet." I picked myself up, put the chain back on my bike and finished going into work. Sorry for the slightly blurry photo. Once I got to work, I checked my helmet and saw the crack through the helmet. There was a nice dent and scrape on the shell of the helmet to show right where I hit.

I stopped by REI on my ride home and got a new helmet. And reading the instruction manual, they suggest that the materials in helmets do degrade with time so replace your helmet every few years. mine was a number of years old and still worked just fine for the low speeds I was going.

I have just a couple of very minor bruises on my knee, my elbow and possibly my dignity. I have reported the bad pavement area to the local authorities and hope to see it fixed and soon. And my bike is just fine.

This ends this public service announcement.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The First Ride...

It was a perfect day for a bike commute. I had added my rack to the bike so I could carry a trunk and pannier, added my light, put on my pedals, guestimated my seat height by measuring my bike fit from my Bianchi and was (finally) ready to ride.


I looooove Ginger the bike.

It's just a comfortable fit and so easy to go uphill compared to my mountain bike. I don't think the new bike is all that much lighter than my mountain commuter either. Ginger even compares favorably to my road bike on this issue. One of the complaints about my road bike is a bit too flexible when you are out of the saddle climbing and I have noticed that. I tend to climb hills seated more often because of this reason. It is much more comfortable being out of the saddle climbing on Ginger; it's more solid feeling and gives me the feeling of more power. The mountain bike, of course, had front shocks so being out of the saddle climbing was just a waste of energy and I never did it if I could help it.

I go over some gnarly pavement in the downtown area and I was worried about that feeling rough when on the new bike. The mountain bike has wider tires and a front shock which does help with that. No worries! Ginger handled it just fine.

With my pannier on my mountain bike, I would sometimes hit my heel on the pannier when starting off. I think the wider wheel base of Ginger stops that from happening which is nice. I'd often be surprised by that when on my mountain bike. Surprise and bicycling don't go all that well together in my experience.

Stopping power was phenomenal. I was really pleased and think maybe I need to switch out brake pads on my road bike.

The ride home seemed so much easier! The commute home is mostly uphill for me so it just was so nice to feel like I was flying up the hills.

It was a perfectly dry day but I am (maybe) looking forward to how the fenders work!

What needs to be tweaked?

The handlebars seem very large to me and I have not measured the difference between the road bike and Ginger. This could be because the handlebars are up high right now as Free Range Cycles does not cut the downtube down to size until the bike is sold. I did not want that cut until I'd had a chance to ride for a bit. I will bring the handlebars down a bit and that will change the large feeling for the better I suspect. I really like being in the drops on the new bike too. The relaxed angle is so comfortable.

Still need to tweak seat height a bit and figure out if I can get the seat level. It tips forward just a bit right now and I don't think that's adjustable.

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Bike - first commute.

More about the ride later. The sunrise was stunning! I had to stop at the entrance to the pedestrian tunnel above I-90 to soak in the view. Chatted with other cyclists doing the same. This photo just taken with my camera phone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The (Bike) Realization.

I've been riding my bike to work regularly for a few weeks now and really enjoying it. With gas prices higher overall and a general mindset to be greener, I've also been trying to use my bike for short errands. Sure my commuter bike has been fit to me but I hate the mountain bike positioning now. Hate it! After some years of mostly riding my road bike, I am just not comfortable on the mountain bike. My back gets sore, my wrists and hands bother me and it's just so clunky feeling (different than heavy because it isn't for a mountain bike).

When I first started commuting, it seemed like there weren't very many choices for commuter bikes. I had never ridden a road bike before so I naturally ended up with a mountain bike because that's what I was comfortable with. It was hugely better than my former hybrid bike which must've weighed as much as our car and didn't have the gearing necessary for the hills I climb every day.

Every single ride I have been envious of those on their road bikes (cyclocross, touring, road) set up for commuting. After multiple rides last week in the rain and no front fender, I was feeling so done with my trusty mountain bike. it was time to go bike shopping!

What did I want?

steel frame
more relaxed geometry than my road bike (less twitchy) and fits me well
wide commuter tires
fenders and rack capable
components just needed to be good enough
no weirdness (i'll explain later)
already built and not so pricey that I wouldn't want to leave it locked up somewhere

This list ended up being a little more difficult to find than I thought. Right now bike stores are selling out of 2008 bikes in my size but don't have 2009 bikes in yet. I could have a bike built up but that ends up being very pricey.

First off, we went to Free Range Cycles. K bought his bike here a few years ago and loved the service that he got here. The standout bike for me here was the Salsa Casseroll. See picture below:

It fit me so well and was so comfortable to ride. I took it up and down some hills and over some bumpy pavement and was amazed at how light and responsive it felt for not a real light bike. I had some qualms about the color (so shallow of me I know!). The only real drawback was that it was just a bit more than I was hoping to pay. I tried a couple of other bikes here including the Jamis Aurora Elite (felt clunky which was surprising) and the Surly Cross check (more about this one later).

Next we headed to Greg's GreenLake Cycles for a quick spin of the Bianchi Volpe.
It's a nice color (dark blue) and a good price for what I'm looking for in a bike. My fun zippy road bike is a Bianchi as well but not capable of handling fenders and a rack and has skinny tires. And? It was too close to my road bike. Twitchy. The reach was a little long and I'd have to switch out the stem (just like I did on my Vigorelli). Don't get me wrong. This is a nice bike and I've been seeing a lot of them on the roads but it is not what I am looking for in a commuter bike.

Next we went on to Recycled Cycles. I'd not been in this store in some years and was impressed with how they've expanded their inventory and lessened their junk yard feel. It was pretty busy but I got to try quite a few bikes. I tried a couple of different versions of the Surly Cross Check:
It's a very common bike in Seattle and I can see why. A nice solid bike but it had some big strikes against it for me. Bar end shifters are just awkward for me (this is the no weirdness cited above). Yeah I could have them switched out but why bother? The reach on this bike is a bit long for me so the stem would have to be shortened. It was an eh for ride feel which surprised me. I expected it to be a more comfortable ride but it was not.

Next the guy trotted out a used and new version of the Kona Paddy Wagon.

I was pretty tempted by these bikes. Eventually I decided the used bike was too small for me and the newer version had weirdness in the form of downtube shifters. I was too afraid to even try to shift the bike let alone go climb a hill. The tires weren't as wide as I was hoping and at some point I knocked my foot with the front wheel which made me wonder if the fit was a little off. And still compared to the Salsa Casseroll it just wasn't as comfortable.

This brings me to the biggest pet peeve I have about bike shopping and bike stores in general. I mostly had good help but you often run into some pretty serious attitude from bike store people (read: it's mostly men I hate to say). The guy at Recycled Cycles kept putting me on small bikes and then once we had established that i probably rode the same size bike he did (unsurprising since I was an inch taller than he was), he was unwilling to put the seat high enough for when I was test riding.

When I asked him to put the seat up higher he gave me all sorts of bull crap about how I must be used to the bike seat too high and blah de blahda blah. My road bike was fit by an expert in this area and I loooooved what it felt like after he was done with it. Eventually I told bike store dude that was all well and good but put the seat up higher so I can ride (dammit). The dammit part was unspoken but he may have heard it anyway.

It can be pretty challenging to find a bike for a woman. If you are small, your options are limited and you run into trade off with shoe clearance and wheels (scary stuff actually). If you are taller like I am, generally your legs will be longer than a male of similar height but with a shorter torso so any bike will fit just a bit off. You must keep trying different bikes and try to imagine what would happen with some tweaks to fit (this is hard to do if you aren't used to biking). Add in some attitude at bike stores and it's not always a pleasant experience.

After stomping around a bit after that experience I had to think about it for a bit. We stopped by Montlake Cycles where they really didn't have much else but I did get a longer ride in on the Casseroll. Monday I commuted in on my mountain bike again and had a long hard think.

Salsa Casseroll in ginger beer color here i come! We went to Free Range and got the bike yesterday. I got to meet the owner of Free Range (Katherine) and also thank the gentleman (?name) who helped me over the weekend. I am currently prepping the bike for commuting and cannot wait to ride it!

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Strangest election discussion with someone at work:

Me: So did you vote today?
Person: Oh no!
Me: (puzzled look at her vehemence) Really?
Person: I refuse to vote until my vote is really counted. When they do away with the electoral college then I will vote.
Me: :-/ I think you are going to be waiting awhile.

Best moment:

Walking out of rowing class after some fun on the erg (lightning sighted so didn't get out onto water) and hearing the election had already been called. Relief and joy and a hug with SG who was tearing up.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Some firsts...

It's been a strange year. Last year at this time I was just coming back to running after taking some time off for shin splints (sound familiar?). And now a year later, I find myself about to come back to running after a stress fracture. However the year has still been memorable but just not how I would've expected it to go.
  • I ran my first track race and cross country races in the Super Jock N Jill Winter Series.
  • I ran Eugene Marathon. I wasn't too pleased with my time but still it was a sub-4 marathon which is nothing to take for granted.
  • Ran a fantastically fun trail run with friends to Wallace Falls and lake.
  • I ran as a team member in the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage.
  • Acquired my first stress fracture. :-/
Ok those are all running related. I have a bunch of firsts that are not running related but only would've happened since I am in shape from running and want to maintain some of that hard won fitness.
  • First time biking 50 miles.
  • First time biking over 100 miles in a week.
  • Adventure Ride - biked Seattle to Columbia River via The Iron Horse Trail.
  • resumed bike commuting for the first time in years and biked in the long way three times in one week. I remember commuting three times (the short way) once when I was a regular bike commuter and I was wiped from the effort. This week it was no big deal and I'm planning on doing it again.
  • signed up for my first row class and today actually got in a boat with 7 other people and rowed on Lake Union today. What an experience!
So, I am really looking forward to the test runs that are coming up late next week. Running has opened up a lot of possibilities for me even when I can't run. it is good to remember that.