Friday, November 13, 2009

From Dayton to Cincinnati

Every year my neighbor participates in a bike ride with some friends and this year he invited me to join in. Steve’s friend lives near the bike trail here on the outskirts of Cincinnati. His friend’s brother lives in Dayton and every year they organize a ride with family and friends from one brother’s home in Dayton to the brother’s home in Cincinnati, a trip of over 70 miles.

On Sunday, I woke at 5:00am and went next door o Steve’s house. The morning was chilly, about 42F, and we were bundled up for the ride. We loaded our bike in Steve’s car and drove to the Cincinnati house. We picked up some other riders and drove to Dayton. The front yard of the Dayton house had bikes on it and people were going in and out to use the bathroom and get one more granola bar and banana before the ride.

There were 9 riders this year which was down from previous years. This is a sort of family reunion with relatives coming in from Atlanta and California. I was one of 3 or 4 non-family riders and was just meeting people for the first time. Even so, I was warmly welcomed and included in the friendly banter.

The ride started out and wound through some of the suburbs of Dayton and even rode by the Wright Brothers home (quite a nice place for bike shop owners). We rode into downtown Dayton and soon picked up a bike path that took us east towards Xenia Ohio. During this part of the ride we were really riding easy as a group, just trying to get warmed up.

We reached Xenia station and took a break. Xenia is the head of a portion of the Little Miami bike trail; a rails to trails bike path that goes through my little village to the east of Cincinnati some 50 miles away. At Xenia station there is a nice little park with water fountains and bathrooms. They have done it up nice.

Once we started back on the path we came upon a portion of the path that was wide and without anyone else on it. We formed a double pace line. This was the first time I had ever rode in an actual pace line and it was very cool. I found that I really had to concentrate, particularly when it was my turn at front since I had a tendency to want to speed up. With the double pace line you were only in front for less than a minute, but it really increased the speed of the whole group and going 20mph felt almost effortless. We would repeat the pace line a few times over the course of the ride, but as we got closer to Cincinnati the path got narrower and more crowded and the group broke up. It was very fun while it lasted.

The path follows the Little Miami River and is very rural for most of its length. Every so often it would go through a portion of a small village that has set up a park along the path. While riding the rural sections it is not unusual to see farm livestock and other animals along the path. When I ride this path in the morning I regularly see deer, foxes and small forest animals. At one point of this ride we even had a call of “Chickens Up!” as a flock was wandering across the path.

As the day wore on it got warmer and with the clear blue sky is was a very pleasant ride. We were not pushing the pace, but it was by no means a casual ride. There was really not much opportunity to talk while riding and being a newbie I was concentrating on my bike handling and trying to avoid the walnuts, sticks, wet leaves and other riders/walkers/runners.

Finally we reached the turnoff from the bike path and started up a nice climb to Steve’s friend’s house. It was here that I saw the real race begin as there was a sprint up the hill to be the first one home. When I arrived back where we had started there were dozens of people waiting as the family reunion was in full swing. Once again, everyone was welcoming and there was plenty of food and drink to go around.

The ride had been 72 miles and was the longest I had gone. I am not really sure how long it took, but this really was a ride and not a race. I did feel like I could have gone further and it made me confident that a century is in my future.

The Sunflower Revolution 2009

One of the things I miss most about running is the race day excitement. When you show up at the starting area of a road race, the feeling is electric. You are nervous, excited and thrilled all at once.

I wondered if I could have a similar experience at a bicycle race, so I registered for the Sunflower Revolution 100K. This was a 62 mile ride out through the countryside of Clermont County just to the east of Cincinnati. I trained for the ride by taking training rides that finally topped out at 55 miles.

The first thing I learned is that it is not called a race, but a ride. I also noticed that they had different levels of medals depending on how fast you finished the ride. Hmm, sounded like a race to me.

A great thing about this ride is that it started only two miles from my house, so I could ride my bike to the start. The 100K ride started at 7:30am, and as with any race I got there a few minutes early. I got my timing chip (remember this is not a race?) and took in the scene.

The Sunflower is one, if not the, largest rides in the Cincinnati area. It has about 1,000 riders. The largest running event in Cincinnati will have upwards of 15,000 runners, so the start area seemed pretty empty to me. An upside of that was that there were no lines for the port-a-potties. The mood, however, was much like the start of a running race. There were, people meeting friends, checking their equipment, exchanging training stories, and a few, like me, looking a little anxious.

As the start time approached I moved to the starting area. I had decided to start way in the back. My biggest fear was that I would cause a crash if I started ahead of faster riders. The starting corral was a little tight and I did not yet trust my bike handling skills in a crowd.

The race started on time and we were off. The first few miles were crowded and I really tried to be careful to keep clear of people. The major intersections were monitored by police and the side road intersections by volunteers. Still, there were times you had to wait for traffic to clear. A major difference between this ride and a running race is that the roads were not closed. Particularly on the small portion of the ride that was on major roads, you had to be very aware of cars.

At mile 10 we turned off State Rt. 50 on to a side road. Soon we came to a covered bridge (yes there are covered bridges in Ohio) and we all had to dismount and walk through the bridge and its’ very uneven planking to the other side.

After the bridge we had our first significant climb. It was here that I saw my first crash. We were all laboring up this hill and some were standing on their pedals. There was a lot of weaving side to side and someone off to my left lost balance and went down. I think he took at least one other person with him. I really don’t think I had anything to do with the fall as I was being very careful to hold my line, but we were still bunched up after the bridge. It really had an effect on me. I had to be careful.

The hill, and some nice descents, had the effect of thinning out the field. I soon found myself out on my own. Up ahead I saw a group of about 10 riders and decided to try and catch up. Using my running experience I started to reel them in slowly.

Before long I had caught up and found that I was riding with Team Portman. For those who don’t know, Rob Portman served in Congress for a number of terms, and was the Budget Director and US Trade Representative under G.W. Bush. Rob is an avid runner, cyclist and the presumptive republican nominee for US Senator from Ohio in 2010. Rob lives in my little village, and regardless of political party, everyone knows him as an intelligent person with a solid family and an all round good guy. It you want to know what pressure is, be a newbie biker riding inches off the wheel of a possible US Senator. I definitely did not want to be the known as the person who wreck Rob.

This was my first experience with drafting and riding in a pace line. It was a very informal pace line since the members of Team Portman were really more interested in having a good time and conversing, but the rest of us hanger on’s were happy to draft. It was my first experience in any type of group ride and I was amazed at the drafting effect. The decrease in effort needed to keep up a higher speed was more dramatic than I ever thought. I really noticed it when I took a turn at the front.

I rode with this group for a long time. The ride wound through the country side of Clermont County, past farms and fields of corn hard against the road that towered over our heads. The weather was great with blue skies and temperatures in the 60’s. It was really a perfect day for a ride.

At about mile 50, Team Portman pulled off at a rest stop and I kept on with a handful of people. We took turns leading in a very informal arrangement. It was certainly not an organized pace line, but it kept our speed up until the finish.

I rode across the finish line in 3:08, which was much faster than the 3:45 I thought I would finish in. I attribute that to the race day effect, and the help of the pace line which increased my average speed from 17.5 mph on my training rides to 19.5 miles on this ride. It also helped that my Garmin had the ride as only about 60 miles. My time earned me a “Gold” finisher’s medal, short of the platinum (remember this is not a race), but ahead of the silver.

While different from running, I found the ride a great experience. It was fun how people worked together in the pace lines and I found that I had to really had to concentrate throughout the ride while in a group. It was, however, definitely a race rather than a ride, and I loved it. I can’t wait until next year and do my first century.