Great Moments in Cycling: The Roller Derby

11.22.2005 | 5:44 pm

I’m just going to come out and say it: the cycling trainer is an abomination. Trainers take two of the best things about cycling — freedom of movement and the ability to go somewhere while you exercise — and strip those things away.



Trainers are very simple. They grip your rear wheel’s axle, lifting your bike into the air, and apply resistance to your rear wheel. Thus, in a matter of moments, a trainer converts your bike from your favorite thing in the world into a loathsome piece of stationary exercise equipment.

But you know, I kind of like rollers.



With rollers, you just put your bike on top of the free-spinning drums and ride. Sure, you’re still not going anywhere, but at least it takes some skill — rollers require that you use a very light touch on your steering, balance evenly, and ride a nice, straight line.

This is not to say that I would ever pick riding rollers over going outdoors to ride, if it’s an option at all. All I’m saying is that while rollers are a poor substitute for riding, they’re not as poor as trainers.


How to Tolerate Riding Indoors

I don’t think there’s any force in the world that could make me ride the rollers for more than one hour. Which is odd, considering one hour on the bike outside doesn’t seem like much of a ride. It just goes to show, I suppose, how critical the "going somewhere" component of riding is to the whole experience.

I do, however, have a secret that makes it possible for me to ride for a full hour on the rollers (just ask any avid cyclist: an hour on the rollers is actually more than most people can tolerate): Martial arts movies.

Yes, that’s right. Martial arts movies. Bruce Lee. Jean Claude van Dam. Jackie Chan. Especially Jackie Chan. These movies are perfect for exercising to, for the following reasons:

  • The constant action helps you keep your cadence and energy level up.
  • You can look away from the screen for a few moments without fear of missing something crucial.
  • If you zone out for a little while, you can come back without having missed much.
  • When you get to the point where you’ve just got to get off that bike, you can turn off the movie and pick it up the next day without having it occupy your mind the whole rest of the day.

Back in Utah, I had a perfect setup for riding on the rollers in the winter set up in my unfinished basement:

  • A TV and DVD player
  • Wireless headphones, so I could hear the movie over the drone (quite loud) of the rollers without fear of tangling a cord in my front wheel
  • A Netflix subscription, giving me all-I-could-stand access to martial arts films.


Loudest, Most Embarassing Crash Ever

You know, I don’t know if I even need to recount this anecdote. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Of course you do. Oh well, I may as well soldier on.

About four years ago, while riding on the rollers, I got deeply involved with a movie. I’m pretty sure it was the one where Jackie Chan plays a loveable misfit with — for some reason — extraordinary improvisational martial arts skills. During one of the action scenes, Jackie is using a ladder, a shopping cart, and a mannequin’s arm to defend himself against the entire Mafia.

Before I continue, I would like to say that anyone who is not amazed and entertained whenever Jackie does one of these scenes is a stuffy old fart.

Now, one thing you must do when riding rollers is check from time to time — every thirty seconds or so — to make sure you’re not drifting off one side.

I drifted off. All the way off. While pedaling at about 24mph.

Must I really describe what happened next? I must? OK.

I shot forward, my wheels making nice skid marks as they made contact with the concrete floor, straight into the table I had the TV and DVD player on.

The TV, DVD player and wireless headset base station fell over with a mighty crash, the bike and me on top of it.

"Is everything OK down there?" I hear my wife yell from upstairs. I look at the damage. I’m scraped up, and the TV has a nice divot in the tube.

A pause while I stifle the screams, then: "Everything’s fine, dear!"

Actually, the TV was toast, the wireless headset would never work right again, and I hurt like crazy in about seven different places.

But I wasn’t quite prepared to admit that I had just accidentally sprinted my bike into an entertainment center.


A Review of Several Energy Gels, In Spite of the Fact that I Think They ALL Taste Nasty

11.21.2005 | 5:10 pm

Not that I ever hold myself up to any kind of journalistic standard, but today’s headline is particularly flawed. I didn’t, for example, go out this weekend and buy a bunch of different kinds of energy gels and try them out. That would be gross.

Further, I didn’t go on the Web to find out what kinds of energy gels are out there right now, and which kinds experts recommend. If you want to do that, though, I’d be interested to know what you learn (but only mildly interested, to be honest).

Instead, I just dug into my years and years of being a gullible gel consumer. I’ll base the strength of recommendation for each gel on how weak of a gag reflex the memory of that gel inspires.

And the thing is, that’s a totally unfair way of reviewing gels. I mean, Hammergel in particular is going to get a raw deal out of my review; my aversion to their stuff is due entirely to my own stupidity.

So, let’s begin: my subjective, non-scientific, unfair, and totally non-comprehensive review of gels I have tried.



This is the energy gel I started with. And I stuck with it for years, for two reasons, neither of which I’m especially proud of:

  • Taste: PowerGel Lemon Lime flavor tastes better than any other gel, by any other brand. On one hand, that’s not a half bad selection criterion. On the other hand, admitting that I like the taste of lukewarm key lime pie is not something I’m all that enthused about.
  • Cost: PowerGel seems to be free. Oh, sure, you can go into your bike shop and buy it for a buck a shot, just like any kind of gel, but if you race at all, you’re bound to have noticed that organizers always seem to have boxes and boxes (and boxes) of free PowerGel just lying around. And the organizers don’t want to take it home after the event. So, while I have consumed more PowerGel than any other brand, I have spent less on it than on practically any other brand.

I have no science at all to back this claim, but it seems to me that PowerGel hits you faster than any other gel. This is both good and bad. It’s good because just a few minutes after you suck it down, you’ve got a big spike of energy.

It’s bad because I chose the term “spike of energy” in the previous paragraph very carefully. PowerGel drops you off a cliff, energy-wise. If you haven’t queued up the next boost of PowerGel 15 minutes after you took one, you’re in for a sudden and discouraging energy sag.


Clif Shot

When Clif Shot first came out, it came in little toothpaste tube-like containers, with a resealable twist cap. It also made a big deal of using brown rice syrup, and so didn’t have that same spikey surge of energy that other gels had.

The problem was, it tasted so bad that nobody ever finished a single tube. People would buy one sample tube, tried it, twist the cap back on, and never twist it back off again.

Clif came out with a second iteration of Clif Shot, this time in the single-serving foil pouch. And this time they did something really clever: they put a little connector between the top tab that you rip off and the main pouch, so that you don’t accidentally lose the top tab and litter.

I used Clif Shot for about two years in this second iteration, because . . . well . . . because I got it for free. I got about a truckload as partial payment from a race organizer for building him a website. I love the bartering system.

The best Clif Shot flavor is to mix Razz Sorbet with Viva Vanilla. The vanilla tones down the insanely sweet taste of the Razz Sorbet to something nearly tolerable. Wow, that’s quite a recommendation, isn’t it?

My final observation on Clif Shot: while it isn’t as obvious as it used to be, the brown rice syrup flavor is still back there, and it leaves a molasses-like aftertaste.


Hammer Gel

I have always understood the cardinal rule of endurance racing: don’t try anything new on race day. No new clothes, no new equipment, no new food. Especially no new food. So I have no excuse for why, a few years ago, I bought a big Apple-Cinnamon Hammer Gel jug the day before the Brian Head 100. Maybe it was because of all the positive recommendations I had heard. Maybe it was because it seemed so convenient to be able to just put the bottle the gel came in in the water bottle cage. Maybe it’s because I had gotten cocky from having done a lot of endurance rides, and thought the cardinal rule no longer applied to me.

It still applied to me.

Within an hour of the beginning of the race, I had decided that I hated the taste of Hammer Gel.

Within three hours, I had decided Hammer Gel hated me. I was experiencing stomach cramps in a unique, almost exquisitely painful way.

So I stopped using the Hammer Gel. And of course, in the absence of a nutritional Plan B, I bonked in a manner most colossal.

I finished the race, but I have only one enduring memory of that year’s Brian Head 100: Hammer Gel = pain.

Which is unfair to the Hammer Gel folks, of course. I shouldn’t have tried it for the first time in a race. I should have found a flavor I liked. And it’s totally possible that the cramps were due to something I ate the day before.

But that doesn’t change the reality: I can’t even think about Hammer Gel without shuddering.


Honey Stingers (Warning: Website has Very Annoying Audio)

I love honey. I confess, as a kid I would secretly get the honey bear out, upend it and suck out a mouthful (Note to parents and sisters: sorry ‘bout that. Also, sorry I did the same thing with the milk jug. And the Hershey’s Syrup). And so having a company come out with a “gel” that is really nothing more than honey with some flavoring and salt seemed like pure genius.

There are just a couple problems, though:

  • Sticky: Any gel is capable of making a sticky mess. However, honey is stickier by an order of magnitude. And it spreads, somehow. You get a little on your lip and soon it’s on your glove, then on your handlebar grip, then on your jersey. Soon, gnats and road debris are sticking to you. It’s less attractive than it sounds.
  • Does Not Play at all Well With Others: Most gels mix badly with some things, but as near as I could tell, honey mixes badly with every single kind of sports drink that exists.

I tried making my own honey-based energy gel by diluting honey with water, adding a little salt, and microwaving it to make it easy to mix together. The result tasted really good, but the 5-serving gel flasks I used to hold this honey didn’t seal well, with predictably disastrous results involving me stuck to my saddle.



Gu is the gel brand I’ve settled on for now. Specifically, Vanilla Bean Gu. The way I stumbled on this flavor underscores how subjective these preferences are. My riding buddy Nick had bought a box of Vanilla Bean Gu and hated it so badly he asked if I’d take it off his hands. Always the scrounge, of course I said yes. Turns out, I can tolerate it just fine.

Here’s what I like about Gu: I can slurp one down with a mouthful of water, and it’s gone. The energy pick-up comes quickly enough, but doesn’t pitch me off a cliff immediately afterward. It is, in short, moderately good at everything a gel needs to be good at.

I declare Gu the Honda Civic of energy gels.


PS For DIY Types: Kent’s Choco-Peanut Goop

Cycling guru and expert at keeping things simple Kent Peterson shares the following recipe for making your own Reeses Peanut Butter Cup –flavored gel in a randonneuring ride report. I haven’t tried it yet, but Kent’s ideas are generally worth investigating. Plus, I like chocolate and peanut butter a lot.

  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup chocolate syrup (like what you’d put on ice-cream)
  • 1/4 cup water

Take the ingredients listed above and put them in a mug. Heat the mug in a microwave for about 30 seconds and then stir everything up. It should all blend together nicely and and have a thin, creamy texture. Spoon it into one of those refillable Gu flasks. Be sure you taste the leftover Goop that’s stuck to the mug and the spoon. If you don’t like the taste of this stuff at home, you probably won’t like it on the road. But I find it delicious. Unlike commercial Gu which is basically just carbohydrates, Goop has some protein, fat, sodium, niacin and vitamin E in it as well.


PPS About All Those Brands I Didn’t Mention

Yes, I know. There are a lot of brands out there I haven’t mentioned. Carb-Boom, for example. If they’d like to send me a batch, I’ll try it and even write about it. Same thing goes for pretty much any other brand (except Hammer Gel, which I’d have to give to someone else to try).

Connoisseur of Sludge

11.18.2005 | 4:24 pm

The first time I tried an energy gel, I fell in love. Certainly not with the taste: it was a lemon-lime PowerGel, which tasted like a key-lime pie that had been sitting in the sun too long. And certainly not with the texture, which is somewhere between gelatin and toothpaste.

I fell in love with what it did.

About ten minutes after sucking down a gel, you get a sudden, obvious, wonderfully useful boost of energy. If you’re climbing, you’re able to climb faster. If you’re on the flats, you’re able to put the hammer down. It’s 100 calories of pure energy, a guarantee that you are not going to bonk for the next twenty minutes.

I was hooked.

In the ten years or so that have elapsed, energy gels have been an integral part of my cycling life, mostly for good, sometimes for evil. And I have, without really trying, picked up an absurd amount of knowledge about them: how well they work, how to carry them, tricks for using them, things to watch out for.

And now I will share my precious wisdom with you.


Pros and Cons

The benefit of an energy gel is simple and obvious: it gets calories into your system faster than just about any other method, short of an IV. You suck the little packet dry, take a swig of water, and then a few minutes later, you have energy. You can suck one down without stopping or even slowing down. In an endurance race, they’re practically indispensable.

But that little packet of energy has a few "gotchas," too:

  • Slippery Slope: Once you’ve started sucking down energy gels, you don’t get to stop using them until you either finish the ride or get something more substantial to eat. That little packet o’ power is going to drop you back on your butt just about twice as fast as it picked you up. Twenty (or thirty, tops) minutes after you use one energy gel, you’ve got to take another (and then another, and then another), or you’re going to notice your legs have stopped working.
  • Does Not Play Well With Others: Since most energy gels are really nothing more than super-simple carbohydrates (ie, sugar), you wouldn’t think combining them with other foods or drinks would ever pose a problem. And you would be completely — and sometimes, painfully — wrong. The wrong gel, eaten at the same time as the wrong energy bar, washed down by the wrong energy drink, and then nicely shook up on a bike, is a recipe for … ummm… gastric distress. Which ones should you not combine? Everyone seems to react differently to different combinations, so I’m afraid you’ll have to experiment, preferably on a day on which you do not later have pressing social engagements.
  • Tastes Horrible: The very best energy gel in the world would be one that somehow has no taste at all (or, perhaps, one that tastes like chicken). As is, though, no matter what flavor the gel packet advertises, the overwhelming sensation of every single gel is of extraordinary sweetness. And if, over the course of a long endurance ride, you suck down enough of these energy gels, you will stop noticing any flavor other than sweetness. Seriously, I recall riding on the Kokopelli Trail and sucking down a PowerGel, without looking at the wrapper. I then asked myself, "Was that lemon-lime or Strawberry Banana?" I had no idea. It was just sweet. So the next time I sucked one down, I made a point of not looking at it, and tried to tell which flavor it was. I couldn’t. Just sweet. Sickeningly sweet.
  • Loss of Humanity: Once you start using energy gel, you have admitted that you are willing to eat something nasty, just for the calories. You’re no longer eating like a civilized human, you’re feeding a machine. The next step on this path is the consumption of Soylent Green (Assimilation into the Borg Collective is the step after that).

Easy Access

The whole point of using an energy gel is to get calories into you as quickly as possible. You don’t want to stop or slow down. So where do you keep them? Well, that depends on how many you need to carry. I put one under the elastic of each leg of my shorts, with just the tab showing. The gels stay put that way, and I can grab one with one hand, tear it open with my teeth, and suck it down in just a few seconds.

If I’m doing a big ol’ race — 100 miles or so — I’ll get around the whole problem of opening those individual packets ahead of the race by emptying them (you can also buy energy gels in multi-serving packets) into a water bottle. 20 servings — 2000 calories — only fills a water bottle about half full. I’ll then dilute the gel with water and shake, so I can easily squeeze it through the bottle’s valve.

The sad thing is, at about $1.00 / serving, that bottle’s now got $20 worth of "food" in it. For that much money, it ought to taste much, much better.



If you’re going to use single-serve packets (and most of the time, you are), you’ve got a problem right off the bat. What are you going to do with it once you’re done? Well, during a race it seems like most people’s answer is, “Discard it on the trail, as a gift to the locals who live nearby, and the volunteers who will clean up after my selfish piggishness.”

OK, that was harsh. I’m sorry. And actually, I did once see someone who was glad for those discarded gel packets, in what is easily the most disturbing biking anecdote I know. And I’m about to share it with you! Oh boy!

I was in the final 25 miles of the Leadville 100 — I can’t even remember which year. As a cruel practical joke, the organizers have a five mile climb in this section, which is so difficult that most people have to get off and walk big portions of it. It was during this hike-a-bike tour that I first noticed someone about 100 feet ahead of me, stooping down and picking something up. After another twenty feet, he stooped again, and picked something else up.

I was actually feeling pretty good, so was on my bike. Curious, I stepped up my pace. It didn’t take too long before I had nearly caught up with him, since he was pushing his bike. I was going to ask what he had been picking up, when he stopped again, and picked up an empty gel packet.

“What a great guy,” I thought. “He’s picking up other peoples’ litter, even during the race.”

And then I saw him put that gel packet to his lips, trying to squeeze something out of it. He wasn’t doing litter control. He was so far bonked he was scavenging discarded gel packets.

I looked away as I rode by. (Yes, yes, I would have given him one of my own, but I only had one left and that was for me.)

I will pause for a moment for you to let that sink in. Once your heebie-jeebies have subsided, I will continue.

You OK now? Good.

So, there’s a proper technique for putting an empty gel packet back in your jersey pocket (or under your bike shorts elastic, if you’re me): roll it up or fold it up, but start at the mouth of the packet. This keeps gel from dribbling into your jersey pocket, which is good, because since it’s sticky and gross-looking, and you don’t want it on whatever else you’ve got in that pocket.

I guess I should mention I learned this the hard way. Back when gel was new to me, I used it all the time — I’d suck one or two down even during two-hour rides. Once, mid-ride, I asked Dug to take an empty packet — my jersey didn’t have pockets. He took it, and of course by the end of the ride, his jersey was glued to his back.

Until then, I had never thought Dug had it in him to give a cross, schoolmarmish lecture on gel packet etiquette. Turns out, though, he does have it in him.


When Should You Use Gel?

When I first started using gel, I used it practically every ride. I relied on that little rush of energy to get me over the next hill, even during ordinary training rides.

At a buck a pop, that gets kind of expensive — I was spending $10 / week on that goop.

And also, after a while, I started to get really sick of gel, to the point that I’d get a minor gag reflex when I saw a packet.

So, here’s the reasonable course of gel action: don’t use it during your training rides, except when you’re training for a race or big riding event. In that case, you’ve got to find out what kinds of gels you can tolerate — both from taste and intestinal perspectives — and what kinds of food and drink work well with that kind of gel. You don’t want any nasty surprises during the race / event itself.


Oh, I’m Just Getting Started

You know what’s pathetic? I know more — a lot more — about energy gels. Monday, I’ll give a subjective, non-scientific, unfair, and totally non-comprehensive head-to-head retrospective review of gels I have tried.

It promises to be the gooiest blog entry ever.

That’s No Way to Treat a Bike

11.18.2005 | 1:27 am

Congratulations to Rocky for winning yesterday’s contest. Yeah, he’s my brother-in-law, but he still had the best story. And I figured, the fact that I’m his bro-in-law is punishment enough; it shouldn’t stop him from winning a contest: 

My second real moutain bike was an Ibis Mojo. It was a steel wonder. I decided that I would build it up myself, since I needed to learn bikes. I did. Along the way the bottom bracket began to creak a little. I pulled the crank and tightened the bottom bracket–super snug it was. The sound went away and I was happy. Then it came back. "Hey, it worked once, I’ll do it again." After three or four of those episodes, the bottom bracket d finally just gave out. I tried to remove it, but it would not let go. I took it to the bike shop to have them look at it.

They tried every which way to get it to let go but to no avail. I returned at the appointed hour to pick up my bike and there it was, still in the mechanic’s stand awaiting some badly needed repair. I asked if there was anything that could be done to remove it. The mechanic reached under his table and pulled out a 4 ft. "cheater pipe." He said that he would not try it, but that I was welcome to. He didn’t want the liability. He helped me set it up, and then, like a loving mother that cannot standby and watch her dying child suffer, he went to lunch. I wrestled with it there in the shop alone for ten or fifteen minutes, only to discover (when he returned) that I was turning it the wrong way–I was further tightening it. You know, that left-hand thread thing.

The good news is that all of that wrenching in the wrong direction had broken the vise grip that the bottom bracket had on the frame. With only significant, monstrous effort did it let go competely when I was finally turning it in the correct direction. At last, I was free of that infernal creaking.

That day I learned two things. I first learned that some graphite powder or some grease should go into the threads of the bottom bracket and the frame prior to tightening it. Second, I learned that the mechanical stuff should be left to the mechanics.

All Apologies

I have a crushing headache and am swamped at work. So while I tried to write something this morning, tried again at lunch, and tried again after work, I’m simply not funny today. You’ll just have to believe me when I say that everything I wrote was better off deleted than read. It just didn’t happen. At all. As you can see.

I’m going to go ride my bike home now and get a good night’s sleep. I may also show a pint of Ben and Jerry’s who’s boss.  

The Phone Call of Shame

11.15.2005 | 3:58 pm

I was really looking forward to my ride last Saturday. It was the first time in several weeks I’d be able to ditch my fenderized, light-laden, geared bike —in favor of my fixie, my current favorite bike.

When all your riding has been your commute, you start to forget how free a bike can feel. You forget that bike rides don’t have to go anywhere. You forget what it’s like to just carry what you need for the ride, instead of having to pack clothes and food for the day. You forget what it feels like to go riding without a messenger bag slung over your shoulder. You forget what it’s like to ride in daylight, if you live far enough north.



So, around 10:00a.m., I checked my air pressure, stuffed a Clif bar into my left jersey pocket (the one I can get into most easily), a phone into the right (I have a tough time getting into that pocket; I’ve separated my shoulder so many times it’s ruined my range of motion), and a water bottle in the middle pocket. I loaded up the new seat bag I got for this bike (thanks, Banjo Brothers) with a tube and a 16g CO2 cartridge and a twist-on valve. I had everything I needed for my ride.

Or so I thought.

Raise your hand if you already know what I was missing.

OK, put it down. I was just kidding. You look silly with your hand in the air like that.

That said, you for sure don’t look as silly as I was about to feel.


The Joy of Riding in Solitude

Not everyone likes riding alone. I do. Riding’s when good ideas come to me, or, when I’m lucky, when I stop having ideas at all. I don’t have an MP3 player; for me riding and music don’t mix.

So after a quick couple miles of descending from the Sammamish plateau, I was in farmland, riding the quiet country roads of Sammamish, Carnation, Fall City and Snoqualmie. It’s perfect terrain for fixies: fairly flat, with occasional climbs and descents to keep things interesting. The requirement of keeping a smooth cadence occupies you just enough that you start spinning smoothly, and soon you stop having the cranks reminding you that coasting is strictly against the rules.


Bliss, Interrupted

I was enjoying the independence of riding alone — exploring the area, picking turns at random, going where I wanted to go at the pace that felt right for the moment — when the rear wheel went flat.

“I need to change out these tires for Armadillos,” I thought, as I rolled to a stop. There’s so much debris on the road this time of year. I unzipped my bag and got out the tube, air cartridge, and valve.

I wasn’t upset; changing out a tube on a road bike is a quick, easy task.

Except there was one slight problem: I didn’t have a wrench.

As a rider who has never had anything but quick release skewers, making a wrench a part of my tube-change kit hadn’t even occurred to me.

In short, I had a flat, in the middle of nowhere, without any way to fix the flat.


To the Rescue

I just stood there for a minute, unable to believe my stupidity. Here I was in a beautiful place to go ride, at a beautiful time to ride, with a beautiful bike for riding. And I could not ride my bike.

That just seemed wrong.

And also, I hated myself.

Not having a MacGuyver gene, though, I couldn’t see a way around it. My ride was done, just as it was getting good. I got out my phone and called my wife.

Now, I should say that I normally really enjoy talking to my wife on the phone. We have plenty to say to each other. But whenever I’ve had to call to say I need rescuing, she knows the conversation is not going to contain lots of cheerful banter, because I am simultaneously doing the following:

  • Admitting I have not prepared adequately
  • Confessing I am a poor mechanic
  • Showing that I am not the self-sufficient, independent soul I like to imagine myself being while I am on the bike Losing brownie points by the truckload, because not only am I not contributing to the care and feeding of the children at that moment, I am being yet another needy child who needs her help.

Suffice it to say: making the call for help is not my favorite thing to do.

Imagine my joy, then, when as I was talking with my wife — trying to explain the complex series of turns I had made to get onto this particular farm road — another cyclist rolled to a stop beside me and asked if I needed any help.

“Do you have a wrench?” I asked doubtfully, pointing toward my rear wheel’s axle.

He did. He did!

“I’ll call you back in a minute,” I told my wife.


Thanks, Alex

The helpful cyclist’s name is Alex, from the Netherlands. As we both worked on my first fixie tube change — which went smoothly, to my relief — he told me he’s getting ready to do an IronMan in New Zealand this March. It’ll be his first non-sprint-length tri. Good luck, Alex, and thanks for use of the wrench.

Once the tire was on, I inflated it in 2.2 seconds — I really, really love CO2 — and he took off in the other direction. I called my wife and told her that my ride had been salvaged.



It was starting to rain, but not hard: more like a humidifier set on super-duper-high. The nice thing about the flat I just had was that it happened at the highest point of the ride; I was able to get up to speed and into a biking groove fairly quickly. I cruised through farmland, spun through the town of Carnation and then through Carnation Marsh, looking for the bald eagle I sometimes see there. Not today.

Finally, I got back to Highway 202. I could turn left and head toward Snoqualmie Falls; that’s a beautiful ride. Or I could go straight and ride along Issaquah/Fall City Road. That’s steep, but another great ride. Or I could turn right and head home. I turned left; I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that much climbing in a fixie today.

And that’s when I got my second flat.

With no wrench, no CO2 cartridge, and no tube, this time my ride was over.

I could see no way out of it. It was time to make The Phone Call of Shame. I called my wife and told her I was stranded. She told me she was out shopping with the kids, but would cut it short and come get me. Which means that in addition to the other things I hate about making this call, I now got to deal with the fact that I was actually making her rejigger her schedule stop doing something productive (well, technically it was more consumptive than productive, but it needed doing) to come and rescue my sorry, helpless self.


The Theory

It would be about 45 minutes ‘til my wife would get from where she was to where I was, during which I had time to think: I haven’t always had a mobile phone. What would I have done with this situation if I didn’t have the mobile phone crutch? Walk all the way home? Maybe. Knock on a door and call my wife from there? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have done any good — in the pre-mobile phone scenario, my wife would have still been out shopping.

Or would I, perhaps, maybe been better prepared? I mean, it’s not like this was some crazy, impossible-to-anticipate emergency. A double flat on scree-rich roads is not unheard of.

Yeah, that’s probably the answer. I’ve replaced bike tools with a phone, and now I was dealing with the consequences — instead of riding, I was taking my bike for a walk. It’s not a dignified picture: a middle-aged guy in tights, walking beside his bike awkwardly because of his stiff-soled shoes and monster-sized cleats (I use Speedplays on my road bike, which are great when you’re riding and terrible when you’re walking).


The Resolution and Questions

Today, I’m buying a toolkit (including a wrench) and Armadillos for the track bike. I don’t want to have to make The Phone Call of Shame again anytime soon.

I’m sure, of course, that I’m the only one who’s had to make The Phone Call of Shame, and doubly certain that I’m the only one who’s had to make it for such a lame reason. And I’m absolutely sure that I’m the only one who has seriously mixed feelings about having a phone along for the ride at all.



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