Sunday, January 3, 2016

Icycle Bicycle 2016

Friday 1 January 2016

Every New Year's Day, the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen organizes a bike ride around the city. No matter what the weather, be it pouring rain or snow so deep we have to get off and push the bikes, we ride. Today we lucked out. It was cold enough to snow but only a couple rare flakes were seen. Easily 100 of us left from REI in South Side Works to head down East Carson Street. No unicycles, but at least two tandems and two recumbents.

My ride there was pleasant enough, though I had not been on the bike at all for 10 days, due to a combination of a troublesome series of flats, the Christmas holidays, and working from home. But you never forget how to ride a bike, right? Not that 10 days is much of a lapse. But back to the trip. My route was Perry Highway to Perrysville Avenue to Federal Street, across the Allegheny River on the 7th Street Bridge, 6th Avenue, Grant Street, and out the Jail Trail. I made the trip in just over an hour, which I thought was making pretty good time, but just as I arrived, someone asked "Did I just see you on Perry Highway?" We crossed paths at Rochester Road, but she went via Rochester, Babcock, and through Millvale. So that can't be any slower. The only stop I made was to rescue a broken bus stop sign from the middle of the street and lean it against a tree.

To me, the main point of riding Icycle Bicycle this time is to make sure I am ready for winter. Winter has not really arrived in Pittsburgh yet this year; more it's an extended autumn, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Until today, that is.  29 and a stiff breeze out of the west. I donned the longjohns and double gloves and socks, which served me well. One pesky finger turned white, but otherwise my body core and extremities were fine. If anything, I got too warm.

After signing in and looking for a few familiar faces to trade stories of how we were faring so far this year, all 11 hours of it to that point, we lined up in the street, a gaggle of lycra and jackets and wheels. Someone counted down from 10, we yelled Happy New Year! and we were off. By South 10th Street, the strong, fast cyclists had sped out ahead. I was at the rear of this front section, but opted to drift back after the Smithfield Street Bridge. Sarah Quesen was riding her recumbent trike without a flag, so was hard to see. I rode behind her, taking the lane assertively. Normally I ride at about the "40 line", 40% of the way between the left and right lane lines, or where a line would be if they'd painted one. I was a bit more aggressive here, riding at about the 25 line. Any more to the left and I would be getting too close to passing cars in the adjacent lane, but by being here, that gave her some wiggle room. Her slower pace on the hill under the Fort Pitt Bridge also allowed the next group of cyclists to catch up and pass. I controlled traffic coming off the bridge so she could get by. There was none, but I was ready to run interference if there was. This continued onto the West End Bridge, a very busy, high speed highway bridge. Once off the bridge, she could get up to cruising speed, but as she explained, since she cannot stand out of the seat to gain an advantage in torque, the only oomph she has is what's in her legs, and in that she is limited by both vehicle weight and her own, once in a low gear.

I made a restroom stop at the Carnegie Science Center, only to find myself in the middle of its annual Mess Fest: dozens of 7 to 15 year-olds decorated in chocolate pudding (and other flavors). So it wasn't enough to walk through a crowded room, I had to do so with half the people present coated in goop from nose to knees -- not totally, but common.

Once back on the road, I rode with another group back to REI, mainly friends from the cycling community.

As on many rides, I took notice of race, gender, and age distribution. Nobody teenage; everyone appeared to be an adult. Maybe 1 in 5 female, 1 in 15 non-white. At least half over 40. Why is cycling so Caucasian? Or do black riders simply not join group rides? And why so few women? This was not a difficult ride, and the weather was not a major factor -- a tad chilly and breezy, but not distressingly so. If there was going to be a ride for newbies, this was it. I don't know how to get more people to bike all year. It can't be that only middle-aged white guys are stupid enough to bike all through the winter, but that's sure what it looked like.

Post-ride, I retired to a coffee shop where I penned the first draft of this, plus scratched down a few other ideas of what I'd like to do this year. That accomplished, I biked the rest of the way home, too. All told, it was about 30 miles. Not bad for the first day.