Sunday, September 8, 2013

Who Is 'The Bike Writer' Without A Bike?

I wish I had a better way to kick off Fall riding season than the story I'm about to tell, but...

This happened ≥≥≥

My beloved and faithful Blue II was steamrolled by a garbage truck. Right in front of me.

You'd think that a couple of months later, the sting would finally start to wear off, but I still pretty much feel like my dog died. I had hoped against hope that the Bike Wizard who works at my local repair shop could pull a rabbit out of his hat and fix her, but even he couldn't put "Humpty Dumpty" Blue back together again.

So here I am, suffering through the gorgeousness that is pre-Autumn New York weather without my beloved Blue. Finding a replacement won't be easy (or cheap) given the fact that I'm incredibly picky and I've been so aggressive with paying down my student loan debt that my savings are shot. 

But it's got to be soon. I don't know how much longer I can take the two-way Subway commute. I'm about one more unsolicited 8 a.m. dance show away from saying to hell with it and just walking the 6 miles to work each day. 

I have been using my Citibike membership whenever I can but as there aren't any stations in my neighborhood yet, it's kind of pointless commute-wise. 

On the plus side, I had one of the coolest experiences on a bicycle yet – teaching a close friend how to ride today! It was her wish on her 27th birthday.

I've never taught anyone to ride a bike before but I figured my dad's method with six-year-old me wasn't the way to go. He secretly jacked up my training wheels and waited until I was sailing down a hill in front of our house to tell me to "Look down! Ha!"

I promptly freaked out and crashed in a heap on the asphalt. 

I took things a bit easier with my friend. She was a little wobbly at first, but I was stunned at how quickly she caught on. Within 30 minutes she was able to stay straight up and (kind of) steer. Go girl!

It was especially fun to see passersby stop to cheer her on. It's never too late to learn, guys! I took a short video of her last ride. Hopefully it'll inspire any late blooming bikers out there to give it a go: 


Monday, August 20, 2012

And the winner is....

Without further ado (sorry for the delay...technology is hard!) let's see who won my first bike tour giveaway!

The winner will have until Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 5 p.m. EST to email me at thebikewriter[at]gmail[dot]com in order to claim the prize. Otherwise, I'll do another drawing that night.

Thanks to everyone who entered.




PS: Congrats Lynston!!! 

Friday, August 17, 2012

NYC'S BIKE SHARE HAS BEEN DELAYED -- AGAIN

There's been another big setback for NYC's bikeshare program. Citi, the private sponsor behind the program, has apparently run into technical issues that will set back the launch date to 2013.

City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the announcement this a.m., according to Transportation Nation.

“Unfortunately there are software issues....One of the newspapers keeps writing, ‘you’re hiding something.’ Yeah, well, nothing. The software doesn’t work. Duh. Until it works, we’re not going to put it out until it does work.”

At this point, I'm beginning to seriously doubt whether we'll ever see this thing ever get off the ground.

Bloomberg himself even seemed dubious, saying "Hopefully the software will work by [spring 2013]. We want to make sure that it works. Washington and Boston are pretty good tests.”

If this thing ever comes to be, there will be 10,000 bike share bikes rolling around the city. 


DON'T FORGET: Win a free pass to this year's NYC Century Bike Tour. E-mail bikewriterblog@gmail.com with your name OR Like The Bike Writer on Facebook before Sunday, Aug. 19 @ 8 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

BIKE TOUR GIVEAWAY: Join Me On This Year's NYC Century Tour

::Skip to bottom for giveaway details:: 

Something about the month of August makes me instantly nostalgic for all things sunshine and heat and summertime cycling.

The rational side of my brain knows that there is still an entire month of the season left in which to frolic, but somewhere deep inside my old school girl psyche faces Fall with the kind of dread that only final exams and teachers with coffee breath can incite.

Fortunately enough, this year I've got two incredibly exciting events to look forward to that have been helping me get out of my pre-post-summer funk.

Number one is slightly non-bike related. I'm going to Brazil! For 9 days in September, I'll be exploring Rio de Janeiro with nothing but a backpack and probably an ultra-touristy map I'll try and fail to navigate on my own. I haven't taken a solo trip in three years (remember the Chilean adventure that first sparked my bike obsession?) and as much of a high I get out of speeding through Manhattan's streets, there's nothing that compares to dropping myself in a foreign country and getting by on my own.

I. Can. Not. Wait.

Except, I kind of can wait...because September also brings the NYC Century Ride! This was my first ever stab at a century tour last year and my favorite ride of 2011, hands down. In my opinion, there's no better way to kiss summertime goodbye and usher in the season of golden Central Park and cinnamon lattes as this bike tour.

This all brings me to my next bit of exciting news: This year, the kind folks from Transportation Alternatives have slipped me an extra ticket for the ride, which takes place Sept. 9. The best part?

I'm going to give it to one of you lovely people! 

Whether you're a bike tour junkie like me or never could quite bring yourself to pony up the cash, here's your chance to ride my all-time FAVORITE bike tour for free (a $60 value for non-members). I had such a blast last year and I hope you will too. 

You can pick any route: 15, 35, 55, 75, or 100 miles.

TO ENTER: Send an email to bikewriterblog[at]gmail.com or drop me a line on Facebook with your NAME and EMAIL address. I'll do a random drawing for the winner on Aug. 19 at 8 p.m. Just in case you were worried I'd rig the thing (I'd never!), I'll draw the name on camera and post the video with the winner that night. 

Need some tips to get ready? Check out my Bike Tour Survival List > 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Ultimate Bike Tour Survival List


As my next bike tour draws closer (I'm coming for you NYC Century!), I've found myself mentally compiling a list of all the essentials I'll pack. 

I've got about eight bike tours under my belt so far, and by now I pretty much know exactly what's worth toting along and what's better left behind. The key is to pack as light and efficiently as possible.


Here goes: 

Sunscreen. I tan easily, but that doesn't mean I like it. I worry constantly about sun damage while riding each day and since bike tours take place in spring and summer, they're pretty much all-day, blistering hot affairs. Pack a mini bottle of spray on sunscreen (it dries quicker and it's easier to apply while riding).

A water bottle. This is a given and if you're biking more than 50 miles, I'd suggest carrying two. My go-to bottle is Polar Ice, which is far cheaper online than you'll find in stores (though I did stumble upon a $6 sale at the Container Store once). 

Always remember to pack light.
Spare inner tubes. If you're not sure what size your tires need, drop by any bike shop and as (or just inspect your tube for its measurements and make sure the tube matches). I have yet to go on a bike tour where no one gets a flat, and it can happen to anyone, I don't care how fancy your $2,000 bike is. 

Ibuprofen. I'm not condoning drug use here, but if your joints tend to get inflamed during strenuous activity like mine, you'll save yourself a lot of pain by keeping a few anti-inflammatories handy. I always take a couple before a tour and then a couple more during the ride. If that's not enough to ease your pain, chances are you're not using good form on your bike. Drop by your bike shop for an adjustment before any long ride to be sure your seat and handle bars are properly set. 

Extra snacks. Each bike tour varies, but most typically provide some kind of food along the way. Do yourself a favor and pack something you know you'll enjoy anyway if you don't want to take a chance on missing out on all the "goodies". Personally, I get sick of PB&Js and power bars, so I love packing oranges (they're hold up well in the basket) and nuts to keep myself fueled. If there are snacks available, chances are they'll have vegetarian options but the gluten-free and vegan crowd should definitely stock up on their own stuff. 

Portable tire pump. If you're riding a group, make sure at least one person has a portable pump. You can find them for under $20 on Amazon and it's handy to have one on hand if a tour volunteer isn't around to help. 

Baby wipes. Yes, baby wipes. I can't tell you how quickly my friends and I go through these things during longer bike rides. You'll need them to wipe the muck off your face, hands, arms, legs, and eyes (because sunscreen will inevitably dribble into them and burn like hell) throughout the day. Trust me––there will be muck, especially for the sweaters out there like yours truly. 

First-aid kit. This doesn't have to be anything special, but a few bandages and anti-septic cream are probably a smart idea to carry along. You never know how well-stocked tour first aid tents (if there are any at all) will be and even then, it's best to treat scrapes as soon as possible. 

Cash. This is for emergencies and also in case you get sick of tour snacks like I do and need to run into a bodega for something else. 

A visor. I'm not a huge fan of those dorky visor/cap thingies people wear under their helmets, but they are damn useful on bike tours. Keep the sun out of your eyes as much as possible and you'll save yourself one major headache down the road. 

That's all for me. Did I miss anything? Let me know!




Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Ride To Montauk 2012: The Recap (Part 2)

Without further ado...Here's what went down in the second half of the Ride to Montauk (See the first half of my review here).

50(ish) mile rest stop: 

At this point, my friends and I were KILLING it as far as time goes. We made it to the halfway mark in just under four hours, but of course, it was already swarming with cyclists.

What a beautiful mess. 
We booked it over to the snack tables, which were pretty much a big pile of goop at that point. PB&J was on the menu, and it was as if everyone's motor skills suddenly devolved to toddler levels because the stuff was just all over the place. The baking hot sun melted the PB into peanut juice and the jelly didn't fare much better.

Of course, it was also freaking delicious. Don't ask me why, but PB&J hits every spot the body needs during a long day of activity like that. I also made it in time to score some fresh watermelon and nab some gatorade before it ran out. The later in the day it got, the fewer supplies were on hand.

Miles 50-75: This is the road that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friends....

MILES. That's what happened here, folks. Dozens of miles zoomed by and my legs were flying through each and every one. I don't know what got into me, but there was this seemingly endless stretch of gravely beach road immediately following the 50-mile rest stop and  I barreled through it.

Anyone who did the tour will know what I'm talking about––having to pedal against those strong headwinds coming off the waterfront was no easy task. And I remembered from last year what would be waiting for us at the end of the road.

The mother of all bridges. 

I do not have a photo because I was too busy hauling butt over the thing, but I'm happy to report it was not as tough as last year. I was dying for some hill action after all that flat road, which is probably one of the toughest parts of this ride––it's no where NEAR as flat as Glenn and his team seem to believe, but when it does flatten out, it is SERIOUSLY flat for a LONG time. Bright side: This is the point on the tour where it's fun to hop off the road and take a quick detour to the beach. I didn't stop this time around, but I recommend it for first-timers.

After we passed the bridge, we hit the rolling hills section of the tour, which I personally love more than any other. No one else probably agrees with me, but that's OK. After powering through at least a half dozen mini-hills (they're all on a highway, with a pretty narrow path for bikes), we entered a bit of suburban beauty. As soon as we started hitting ponds and passing wide gardens, I knew we were close to the rest stop and I kicked it into overdrive...

Mile 75 rest stop: Eat my dust

You know you've made it when you see the windmill!
I sailed into the third and final rest stop flying higher than a kite on endorphins and sheer disbelief. I made it that far and my knees were completely pain-free.

It was so night and day from last year's ride, I couldn't believe it. I remember very vividly scraping my friend off the ground after he nearly collapsed from exhaustion during last year's ride and barely making it to the rest stop myself before the pain stabbing its way into my kneecap reached epic levels of hurt.

I was grinning like an idiot this time around. Not only had I made it in one piece, but all my team was behind me. Not FAR behind me, but they were behind me none the less.

THAT NEVER HAPPENS. 

Two of them (you know who you are, boys) are always miles ahead of me and I usually enjoy a nice view of their backsides whenever we go on longer bike rides. If ever I needed proof that I've strengthened as a cyclist in the last year, it was the look on their faces when they pulled into the rest stop and saw me there ahead of them.

Alright. I want to punch myself for bragging but I couldn't help it.

I did not eat much as this rest stop, namely because they pretty much only had PB&Js and some pie and I didn't want anything heavy sloshing around in my stomach during the last leg of the ride. There's a little cafe across the street that I recommend checking out. I grabbed a coconut water and some plantain chips for carbs and we took a good 40 minute break to build up steam again.


The home stretch: DEAR GOD IS IT OVER YET? 

So, remember how this year the tour planners added on an extra 3-8 miles to each tour? The 100 mile became 108, the 70 mile became 73, etc.

In my mind, I thought they would space that length out. Instead, it was all basically tacked on to the last leg of the tour, which extended about eight miles further than last year's finish line so that it could take place a bigger, prettier venue.

Those eight miles were the closest to hell I've ever come.

I lost count of how many hills we had to cross, but there were at least six and it seemed like each one was steeper than the one before. At this point, my group was pretty far behind me and because I had no one there to check my mood, I might have fired off a few choice words along the way. Sorry to anyone I offended but it was TOUGH you guys. I felt every single pound of Blue II underneath me and all I wanted was to get off my bike and never get back on again.

The bright side: The scenery was lovely as ever. And none of us died.

When, finally, we reached the finish, all that fatigue and rage completely dissolved and I was so excited to see so many smiling faces there to greet us. I've never been happier to have a bell to ring than that moment. It really meant a lot, even if those nameless cheerleaders didn't know me from Adam.

THE FINISH: 

For the FIRST TIME EVER y'all, I actually made it to the finish line in time for food AND beer. I'm not saying it was the best food ever, but it was food and I ate it and nothing is better than a cold beer after a ride like that.

We rolled in around 5:30, which put our total tour time at about 9.5 hours (minus our rest stop breaks). Not too shabby! The sheer fact that I was able to hobble to the shower truck without excruciating pain this year was reason enough to celebrate. And we were at least two hours, if not more, faster than our NYC Century Tour time from September.

I wish I could say my crew finished as perky as I did. Unfortunately, one friend slipped on some sandy road in the last leg and sliced a good chunk of skin off her arm in the process. As she pointed out, there was no first aid team to be found at the finish line which, if true, is pretty disappointing and shortsighted of the tour operators to forget. She went home without proper bandages (a volunteer gave her a T-shirt to wrap it with) and wound up with a bad infection afterward.

Another pal succumbed to a flat tire on the rolling hills of death portion of the ride and had to walk the the last couple of miles. I had completely forgotten my spare bike tubes, so it was lucky I made it through without getting a flat of my own.

And one last bummer to report...the time they give cyclists at the finish line is just not enough to really enjoy ant of it. My crew certainly made good time, but if you cycled at an average 10 mph pace and took about 15-20 min at each rest stop, that would put you at the finish line by nearly 7 p.m. for the 100-mile route. It was 6:45, we just got our food and then they announced the LAST shuttle to the train back to Manhattan was leaving at 7. We rushed and barely made it. Unlike last year, they didn't have tour buses on hand to shuttle volunteers to the city, which I wasn't aware of.

When I asked Anne about it, she gave me a pretty shady look and told me I should probably get on the school buses they had shuttling regular participants to the train station. I obliged, but there was something in her face that made me believe she wasn't telling the whole story. There might have been special buses for tour staff, but not enough room for all volunteers. That's perfectly OK, but a little transparency would have been nice.

THE AFTERMATH: 

From the sound of the emails I've received from Tour Director Glenn over the last four weeks, what transpired after this year's tour was a big, hot MESS. Some bikes never made it back to Manhattan and dozens of cyclists were left to pick up their bikes at various bike shops in the city and even as far as Babylon.

Fortunately, I made the best decision by opting to pick up my bike the day AFTER the tour this year. After waiting till 2 a.m. last year and going home empty-handed, I wasn't about to repeat that process. Blue II was right there waiting for me when I picked her up the next afternoon.

RECOVERY:

My team, totally tuckered out.
Every cyclist's body is different, and I know we all felt the pain from Montauk in different ways. My shins were totally wrecked for a few days afterward, but I was pleased that my knees held out like champs. All in all, it was nothing a little ibuprofen and some R&R couldn't fix.

I've heard from others who did the ride this year that it will be their last ride to Montauk. This saddens me a little, because I think it's such a unique and special bike tour. But, honestly, I can't blame them. Disorganization runs rampant at this tours and it seems like Glenn and his team have this "Oh well, shit happens!" mentality about most of the hiccups.

While I completely agree that people shouldn't whine about each and every little thing that goes wrong (c'mon people, pack your own damn Lara bars if they're THAT important to you!), I do think that we paid a good chunk of change to participate and we should at least have the security that our bikes will be safe and our wounds will be tended to in due time.

In Glenn's final Montauk email, he mentioned they'll likely cap participants next year, which I think is a wise move. That, or they need to come up with a better way to ration out food at rest stops throughout the day. Cluster fucks weren't a problem during the tour, it was mainly limited supplies.

My Century Tour future: 

This century tour definitely took a lot out of me, but I'm still pretty pumped for the next 100-miler on my schedule: TransAlt's NYC Century Tour, which takes place Sept. 9.

Me and Blue II are ready to roll. Hope to see some y'all there!

xx Mandi

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Ride To Montauk 2012: The Recap (Part 1)

::IMPORTANT:: For the time being, please update your bookmarks to this web address: www.thebikewriter.blogspot.com


I'm having issues with my web domain! Hoping to work them out soon.

It's hard to believe it's been two weeks since the Ride to Montauk, but I'm pretty sure anyone who participated this year will understand when I say it's taken me about that long to process everything that went down.

On a slightly more personal (and a little whiny) note, I've been avoiding my laptop at all costs outside of work. I've developed a pretty gnarly case of carpal tunnel syndrome/tendonitis that makes it painful to hammer away at a keyboard for any significant stretch of time. I wish that didn't eat into my blogging time, but unfortunately, it is what it is.

I DIGRESS.  The tour. Let's do this! It's in two parts because I have so much territory to cover. In a nutshell, I had a really great time this year. Unfortunately, a lot (a LOT) of other riders did not. As always, I will go into far too much detail about this. Ready?


Pre-ride Volunteering –– Ups and downs 


Just like last year, I decided to volunteer for the ride in order to ride for free. This time around, I opted to help out on the Friday before the ride, rather than forcing myself to wake up at 2 a.m. to work the registration desk Saturday morning and then bike 100 miles on a few hours of sleep.

My friends and I showed up at Bicycle Habitat in SoHo at our 2:30 p.m. call time. There were a couple Budget Travel trucks already parked there and a pretty sizable line of folks snaked around the corner of the shop.

But there was one thing missing: TOUR PEOPLE.

We waited about half an hour before someone from the tour showed up. The face was familiar. It belonged to Anne, the powerhouse volunteer wrangler/tour organizer that I remembered working with last year. She barreled in and instantly divvied up the dozen or so volunteers on hand to work different tasks. I slid behind the check-in desk while a few friends helped load bikes onto the trucks.

After about 20 minutes, I wished I'd joined them. It was exhausting work signing everyone in, especially since I could answer practically NONE of their questions (we were told to direct them to the website) and I felt like I was going hoarse from repeating the same instructions over and over again. Four hours in and I was just about to strangle myself with the wrist bands I was supposed to be doling out to riders. Luckily, the other volunteers were in pretty good spirits and I think my grouchiness went unnoticed (Anne did supply us with snacks and water, which was nice).

It was a complete mess trying to direct bike traffic on the narrow strip of sidewalk we'd taken over and I know people were frustrated with the long wait. I still think pre-loading bikes is the best way to go for this tour, but I wish they could find a more streamlined way to manage the crowds. Perhaps arriving on time would be a good start. Also, it might have helped to have several check-in stations set up, rather than bunching us altogether.

The Big Day –– Race to the starting line 


I went to sleep Friday night on a full belly of carbs and lots of fluids and woke up feeling bright and springy when my alarm rang at 3 a.m. There are four different distance options for this tour––35 mile, 73 mile, 108 mile and 145 mile legs––and each had a different train to catch from Penn Station. The exception was the 145-mile crew, which left straight from Manhattan (bless their hearts).

My train was leaving at 4:45 a.m. and I made it there with probably two minutes to spare (Thanks, MTA). The ride to Babylon (Long Island) was pretty uneventful––save for the rowdy group of Long Island party-goers who refused to shut up. I sucked down the iced coffee I'd thankfully remembered to pack and scarfed down a Clif Bar while my friend whipped out a bag of––no joke––bacon he'd fried up as a pre-ride snack.

Bike pick up –– Off without a hitch  


Our chariots await.
I was instantly grateful we'd pre-loaded our bikes the day before. They were right there waiting for us when we arrived, which was a huge difference from last year when we showed up and had to wait as tour volunteers frantically unloaded them from trucks that had been delayed.

I know a friend was stuck waiting for his bike to arrive for at least 45 minutes, and he definitely wasn't alone.

Determined to hit the road by 6:30 a.m., we only took two 20 minutes or so to load up on snacks, drop off our bags that would be transported to the finish line, and slather ourselves in SPF. Then, we were off!

Leg One –– The life-sized piñata 


I could tell we all felt great during the first few miles of the ride. The sun was just getting a good hold on the sky and everything was bright and clear and calm.

Traffic was light, which was good because one of my crew hit a pothole that sent just about every piece of his bike that wasn't bolted down flying onto the pavement. It was pretty hilarious (kind like taking a really satisfying thwack at a life-sized piñata) but it would have been wildly less funny with dozens of cars zooming by.

Because we'd all agreed to take the tour at our own pace, it wasn't long before our group broke up. There was probably no more than five minutes separating any of us, but it was nice to free myself up to ride as hard or as gently as I wanted. I was taking it as easy as possible, given the fact that my knees were what wrecked last year's ride for me and this year I completely forgot to pack my trusty Advil.

Rest stop 1 –– Boozy bikers


I can only describe our entrance to the Blue Point Brewery rest stop as if Ponce de Leon himself had stumbled upon the fountain of youth. It was a treasure trove, I tell you. A TREASURE TROVE.

Lara bars, trail mix, fruit, gatorade (TWO flavors), coconut water, and honest-to-God beer were all piled high on picnic tables. There was probably more that I'm forgetting but I can tell you nobody left that rest stop wanting anything in the way of food or drink. I think people were just so glad they found food at all (last year there were shortages because of a busted truck delivery of sorts) which I think led to some unfair hoarding.

I totally understand the desire to pack a little extra kibble and bits to munch on during the long stretches of road between rest stops, but people were acting like they wouldn't see another meal for DAYS. Unfortunately, that meant that riders who showed up later weren't left with very much to pick from.

This would be a trend throughout the day, unfortunately. I wonder if they might consider doing a better job rationing out supplies...I know it's hard to tell thousands of full grown adults to go easy on the snacks, but it's not fair that people who paid just as much for their spot on the tour were left feeling like they got the short end of the stick.

Next up....Bloody surprises, rest stop fail, hit and runs––and you'll never guess how many hours I shaved off my time this year. 
----

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