Another course record

To follow up on this morning’s apex of achievement, I
eked out a new course record on my favorite seven-mile loop this
afternoon. With the wind coming out of the south, and quite mildly
too, I zipped around the loop in 21:12, which is 12 seconds short of
20 mph, or 19.8 mph. That was the second time around; the first time
was a respectable 22:14, or 18.9 mph.

 I’m so pleased with myself every time I put in a good ride like today;
I apologize for the surfeit of functionally identical posts saying the
same thing.

 Especially riding a single-speed, going faster means pedaling faster
and moving the wheel around more frequently in the same time period.
Or rather, accomplishing the same number of revolutions in a little
less time. It seems a little more elemental than it would on a bike
with a derailleur.

Chain tension again

Jose and I went back to the wrench work today to loosen up the overtight chain. I had tightened it two days ago because it was getting a little too loose. I was afraid that as the tension got looser, speeding up would cause the chain to flip right off the rear sprocket. This used to happen during interval workouts in early December, before the most recent time that I tightened up the chain tension. I would get a good head of steam on, and then about when I got to 25 mph or so as I passed the dump entrance (my point of reference for the interval), I could hear a loud grinding sound as the chain slack from the take-up was pulled around the rear sprocket and the chain would be riding clatteringly on top of the gears, instead of nestled smoothly inside them.

The first time it happened (2 December), I thought I had achieved enough speed to take off into the air, like one of the jets on the parallel runway, and that the grinding was related to that. It was easier to believe at the time than it is now because I had my hands in the drops and was bent way over, so that I could barely see the road ahead and all I could see what the quickly moving pavement right underneath the front wheel.

After Tuesday’s episode at the workshop, I noticed that it was hard to turn the pedals in reverse (free-wheel) and that in general the bike made more noise than it ought. Overtensioning the chain could lead to destruction of the race and bearings in the freewheel, as well as deforming the chain, so I took yesterday off, staying out of the saddle instead of riding the bike hard and wearing out the parts for no reason.

Last night, the good news started to return, however. First I discovered my personal 15mm box wrench in my jacket pocket so I didn’t need to go back to the garage to borrow their wrench. Then this morning, with Jose again levering the wheel tight with the broomstick, I tightened the bolts finger-tight and made sure that the chain could turn freely on the freewheel in both directions (look out for those fingers when the wheel turns, kids!). Then with the broomstick keeping the nuts from sliding forward in the dropouts, I tightened them up with the box wrench.

The first time on the bike again, on the way to the refectory this afternoon for lunch, I turned left at 2nd Street and pounded up the slight hill, leaving Jose and his boat-anchor bike in the dust. With the tension right, I could feel the difference in the ride, as the power I applied to the pedal stroke was smoothly and instantly transferred to the top of the chain, pulling the freewheel cog around and driving the rear wheel.

It sounds a little technical (I was going to call this post “Chain-al re-tension” but didn’t dare), but I thought I could tell the difference in the action, especially going uphill, where I use the freewheel less and rely more on the direct pull from the pedals to turn the wheel. Hasn’t the pony been riding a little sluggish lately? I thought it was me, but maybe it’s been the bike. I’ll find out more this afternoon on the ride, which I am looking forward to now that the wind has died down after three days.

Latest night ever!

Eyes bleary from lack of sleep and mouth acrid from stale coffee, I
check in with my faithful readership. I don’t know how I got myself
roped into working the graveyard shift here at the Emotional Trauma
Center and Whine Ward. It’s been refreshingly quiet and the phone has
not rung since I got here at 10:30 p.m. Jason, tonight’s able
assistant, and the pet mouse sit in the front room, buying motorcycle
helmets online.

 It seems like a long time since I went biking this afternoon in the
warmer weather. I actually stripped down to short-sleeves for the
first time in about three weeks and was rewarded with a good hustling
pace, making 18 mph on my pair of seven-mile loops. Unfortunately for
me, the fickle wind shifted direction between the first loop and the
second. On my first loop, I was cycling in the doctrinally correct
manner, pushing against the wind on the out leg and reaping the
benefit of the tailwind on the return leg. That created a nice reverse
split, where the back half was faster than the front half.

 On my second trip around, I noticed myself daydreaming a little bit
about the book I was reading (Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories)
instead of really pushing hard, and a couple minutes later at the far
western extent of the loop, I checked my time and saw that though I
hadn’t pushed too hard, I had still beaten my corresponding split time
on the first lap. Of course, the return leg was a doozy because I was
pedaling into the wind. Takeaway lesson from that is: if it feels too
easy, it probably is and you should push more.

 On that last doomed leg, however, I discovered something new: an extra
(fourth) gear. Not really a gear, as if I had an automatic
transmission instead of two leggy-pegs, but a metaphorical gear. First
gear is just pushing the pedals along, second gear drops the elbows to
relax the arms and lower the upper body while the legs start to move
the pedals in circles, both pushing down and lifting up (I have found
that not overlubricating the chain is actually a pretty good way to
determine this because I can hear the ruff-ruff of the mostly pushing
stroke, as opposed to the smoother circular stroke sound). Third gear
involves pushing the ischial tuberosities back off the end of the
saddle, which moves the fulcrum of my femurs slightly more distal,
like choking up on a baseball bat, shortening the pedal stroke. This
new fourth gear, which came upon me as unexpectedly as a power-up in a
video game, involves the same position as third gear except for a
slight extra bend forward and just more pedal strokes, more quickly. I
wonder if I’ll be able to get to it again.

Mon semblable, mon frère

Finally, I am not alone! Guess who caught up to me today? Another single-speed rider! I’ve been here at Secret City for seven months and this guy is riding the first vitesse unique I’ve seen besides my own. His is blue, with some kind of circle-R nameplate, and rainbow accent striping around the tubes. But it’s definitely a single-speed frame, with the dropouts facing the rear to help maintain proper chain tension. I was circling around in the non-customary direction (clockwise) today, having just passed the detention facility, and he came along from behind, then I caught up to him.

We started to hammer along past the same marines who were running in groups as last week, while I hung on his wheel, then as we approached the taxiway I told him I would pull from there. So I got in front and we went along past the new chapel and the fire station. At the Barrels, the junction with Perimeter Rd, he went left, back down the hill, and I went right, around for another loop. I saw him again a half-hour later going in the other direction.

I said only three things to him (“I’ll pull from the taxiway on” / “I’m going around for another loop” / “Okay.”) but there’s something about seeing someone with the same kind of bike that makes me feel as if I have a secret friend in the secret city. Someone else came to the same conclusion I did about how much easier it would be to maintain the fixed-wing down here, and how the absence of gears would be compensated for by the absence of hills, and made the same choice I did! I am vindicated! I’m a trendsetter!

Of course, the next chapter of the story is that it was a real doozy of a ride. I broke the 7-mile-loop record I set and wrote about last week, doing the circuit in 21′ 19″, and I was so energized the whole way through that I did the full 28 miles in less than 1:33, or faster than 18 mph. I guess considering this morning’s run it’s been a pretty good fitness day all around. Now it’s six p.m. and time for dinner.