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I want to ride my bicycle... and all that.
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21 June 2016

The Heat is On

First heatwave of the year

The last few days have been excessively hot here. There is a small heatwave passing going over most of Greece right now, the peak was on Saturday and Sunday. Right now things are slowly improving. In our little mountain village on Naxos, it was the first time that we experienced the temperatures not cooling down significantly over night - the wind was stil hot. We're new here, so that might be no surprise, but the oldtimers tell us that it's not something that happens "normally".

The weather report says we had temperatures around 37°C, while in Athens the temperatures would have passed 40°C. I've lived through worse, but that doesn't make it less annoying.

It didn't keep me from riding my bike though. Over the last few weeks I've been working on my acclimatisation. I've been riding more and more in the heat, at the same time improving my hydration. Because when it's hot, you have to get used to it and you have to drink a lot of water. I used to take small sips of water every now and then. Now I switched to drink large gulps at once, as much as I can drink without getting out of breath. The rate of emptying my water bottles has increased a lot like that. On Saturday I drank one bottle (I think they're about 600ml) every 10km / 30min.

Sunday evening I the breeze wasn't that hot any more, yesterday evening it returned to being a cool breeze, even if it wasn't very strong. I hope it stays with us for the rest of the summer.

Posted by betabug at 08:39 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
30 June 2016

Ride Slow to Get Fast?

No matter if it works, I like it
My shadow

There is this story in cycling that says that to get faster, you have to do some rides slower. The story goes that the main difference from amateur to pro cyclists training is that amateurs don't ride slow enough on their slow rides, and not hard enough on their hard rides. I'm not a trainer, and I can't give any scientific evidence on this. But I've tried it for a few weeks now. Here is what works for me now...

In my process to get back to my level of pre-accident cycling, I was already in a good spot. Doing a lot of gym sessions in the spring, brought some power back to the hurt leg. I've been cycling for quite a while now again, so I was slowly working up. Also as reported, I've done a few harder weeks, when friends visited and we basically cycled as much as we could.

Recovery rides without flat roads

Then, when I stopped the gym for now, I had an online discussion about recovery rides. I complained again about the lack of flat roads around me, and the other guy told me to try riding slow using my low gears. After that discussion, I told myself to just give it a try. I selected the easier and more regular of my main two starting climbs around here, and headed out "one fine afternoon".

Keeping an eye out

I kept one eye on the heart rate monitor display, and the other one on the very beautiful landscape. The first few hundred meters I had to restrain myself to go too fast. Also I had no idea what kind of heart rate would be feasible. But just right after that, things started to click. I was moving slow, and enjoying myself. Sometimes my heart rate would "spike" a bit, but it was easy to relax and bring it back again. My cadence was obviously quite low. Apart from the heart rate, I watched out not to put too much pressure on the legs. It took a bit more patience on the steeper parts, but then I had lots of fun.


On one of the rides, there were some tourists with their cars stopped near the top, taking pictures. As they saw me coming, really slow, bend over the handlebars, they shouted encouragements. It probably looked as if I was suffering terribly on a really steep climb. I wanted to shout: "No no! It's not what it looks like! I can actually go fast! It's just a recovery ride..." But then I didn't bother. They're probably still talking about that poor guy on his bicycle up that steep climb.


So I've been doing these rides for 3 weeks now, twice a week. They work well for me, because, I can go for a fun ride after a day of work, without getting tired After the "harder" weekend rides, I can ride to recover, instead of just "sitting around". The theory is that lactic acid gets removed from your muscles, but there are no new micro-tears in the muscle tissue. After these rides, I feel my legs are feeling really warm, but not tired or sore. The next day there is no tiredness.

My kilometers per week and hours per week have been going up a lot this way, while there is no more fatigue than before. I noticed my heart rate on "normal" rides has become a bit lower, and my ability to go on longer rides has improved. I've also become much more tolerant to going slow, the old tension to go as fast as possible all the time has eased up. None of these results I can prove to be caused by the slow rides. They might as well be because of more time having passed and the legs building up again (combined with the gym work). But since I like doing them anyway, I'll keep on going slow.

Posted by betabug at 10:48 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
18 July 2016

//INRNG Supporter Jersey

A really nice jersey even in black
Black jersey in the shade of a hot day

For some time now I'm reading the //INRNG blog about pro cycling. One mark of how well done this blog is, is that from time to time people think it is a comercial cycling press website, and they demand more of this or more of that. Instead it's one man's hobby blog, with a bit of extra income by sponsors and... the sale of supporter jerseys, caps, and socks. So after my usual hesitating and back-and-forth, I decided to finally order a jersey and some caps. So here is what happened and how I like the jersey so far...

The first step was to go to the website of Prendas and check out the size guide there. This works by taking some jerseys that you already have and doing some measures on them. I find this much more reassuring than the usual height/chest/waist measurements, where I usually end up with a blank stare, thinking "my waist and chest suggest I get an XS, but my height says an L, wtf?".

You also give them your weight/height/chest on the order form, so they re-check against mistakes. I had a like boubou with ordering (problem on my side), so I called Prendas to sort out a stuck order. Which was nice, as the guy on the phone saw the measures and my note saying "I wear an M in Castelli" and suggested an M. After discussing it a bit, he reluctantly agreed that a size S could be ok. Which it turns out it really is.

The fit of size S works really well for me. When standing upright, I can close the zip all the way, but given my bent neck, when riding I have the zip a tiny bit open. The only fit issue is that due to the small size, the pockets are a bit high up on my back. Luckily my arms are quite bendable, so I can reach the pocket contents anyway. My first ride with the jersey was relatively short, an easy ride in not that hot weather (relatively speaking, this is Greece, and I'm well acclimatiesd to the weeather). On Sunday we were expecting more heat, and I was going out for a longer ride, with more climbing. In the end it wasn't full heat-wave temperatures.

So on Sunday I did an 80km ride, with 1400m of climbing, and an average temperature of 31°C, with a peak of 40°C (as reported by the garmin, which nota bene is not measuring in the shade, so this is not comparable to what the weather report says about temperature). I kept the intensity mostly low, at "heart rate zone 3", a pace that one should be able to keep for a very long time. I would say the jersey was doing fine. I did feel the need to open the zip a bit while climbing some of the time. Towards the end of the ride, I was joined by a friend, and he constantly challenged me to sprint as soon as the road went up... he was going for the mountain points... so a bit more intensity and sweat there. We had lots of fun and laughing though.

The other jersey that I got a while ago is the "Climber's Jersey" from Castelli. I like that one a lot, and I wore it when the temperatures were a bit higher a few weeks ago. There the average temperature was reported by the garmin at 37°C and the peak at 44°C. Also I was going pretty hard at one of my favorite climbs (pure stupidity, I know, but at least I didn't go all-out hard). Still, the "Climber's Jersey" appears to be in a different league, I never felt the urge to open the zip to get more ventilation. I haven't tested the Santini jersey at those conditions yet, though I suppose in days like those I'll go for the "climber's jersey" straight away.

How do the two compare, a bit of an apple/oranges deal, since these are different products? Starting with the Castelli "climber's jersey": It's more flimsy, I feel the need to wash it by hand. The pockets seem to hold shape well, but I always try not to overload them. I do like the longer sleeves on the "climber's" more, still the Santini sleeves fit well. The downside for many people with the "climber's jersey" is that it's almost see-through, which definitely doesn't happen with the black jersey. There is also the need to wear sun-screen under the jersey, while the black one probably protects the skin much better. I got the Castelli in last year's colors (which fit my bike better), there is a selection of colors this year which is a bit strange according to my taste, but there is a simple white/red variety too.

The Santini inrng-Jersey is more sturdy, a jersey to wear everyday for some time to come. My washing machine will get to see it again and again. The inrng-Jersey also has a zipped pocket, not that I fear so much to lose keys etc., but it helps to keep things organized. One point I don't like so much about the inrng-Jersey is that I'm not so fond of black jerseys. Don't get me wrong, it looks stunning. But I just don't think jerseys should hide the cyclist any further, and then a black jersey in the heat is just always a bit warmer than a light color - and I already discussed the heat problematic here a bit.

Do I recommend the inrng-Jersey from Prendas/Santini? Definitely, if you're a reader of the //INRNG blog, it's a sharp jersey to wear and support your favorite pro-cycling blog.

Posted by betabug at 22:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
05 September 2016

Dirty Fun with the CX Bike

Cleaning up after playing in the sand
Before: playing in the dirt, after: cleaning up

I've written about bike cleaning before. It's still something that I fail to do often enough. But since I've put some new tires on my (crappy) CX bike last week, and then went out to hit the Naxian dirt roads along the coast (from town to Agiassos), there really was some cleaning needed.

In difference to the description in that post, I didn't use WD-40 this time. Just water with soap. Maybe a bit more scrubbing was needed, but that was ok. Mostly I had to get all that sand and dust off. It was everywhere and it had gummed up anything that was oily before. Water and soap worked quite well for that. I can't claim that the bike is totally clean right now, but just "good enough for me".

As for the dirt cycling itself: I had a great time. I should write about the new tires (Continental Cyclocross Speed, 35mm) another time when I have a bit more experience with them, but so far they rock. They are perfect for the dry, hard dirt roads that are common here on Naxos.

Posted by betabug at 17:59 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
27 February 2017

Start of Spring

It's getting warmer, now for some more rain!
Almond tree in flowers

I'm not really active on this poor weblog. Somehow the desire to write stuff isn't there. But since I decided that I should write at least one post per month and February is almost over, let's have a look at what I'm up to lately.

Two things have picked up a bit: Work and cycling. At work I had a very good sprint with the international pizza team in November, then a good off-time over the holidays and new year, and then I managed to work on some interesting parts of the project, so the spirit is high.

In cycling, on the one hand I felt as if I hadn't really done very much during winter. I tried to put in about 100km / 5 hours per week. Mostly I was taking it easy, and mostly I wasn't in the shape for more than taking it easy. On the other hand as a swiss friend who visited last week remarked: "Hey, you rode all winter!" Indeed I did. I even had a few snowflakes fall on me one day.

Last year we didn't really have much of a winter, except for 3 days of snow around new years. Last February it was so warm that I was riding some days with short sleeves, without even a base layer underneath. The result of that winter was a very dry summer. This year there is a bit more rain so far. Not enough yet, but there is still hope (knocks on wood). We also had plenty of cold days - at least for our standards here. So when it's something like 14 - 16°C now for a week, it feels really nice.

The almond trees are in flower, and there are yellow flowers all over the green fields. It really looks like we're at the start of spring here on the island!

Posted by betabug at 20:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
30 May 2017

Checking The Weather Preview

It's a bit of a gamble anyway
The weather app on my phone, displaying weather preview data from wunderground

As a cyclist, I find myself constantly checking the weather preview. Looking if it's going to rain is one thing, but things are usually quite stable here. Once it's summer, rain is basically not in the menu. Temperatures are mostly nice-to-know. The most important thing is the wind. How much wind will there be and from which direction? This is really important for route planning. On the computer (with a big screen) it's really easy to see that kind of information, but on the phone space is more restricted. The usual weather apps on the phone seem to be mostly interested in "what temperature is it now / tomorrow" and "is it sunny / rainy / cloudy".

In the end I found the Meteogram Weather Charts widget for Android, which is ultimately configurable. Which means that it took quite some time fiddling and trying out settings, but ultimately I got pretty much what I want. I have it show me the next 4 days only, since I don't think the preview is good enough for a longer time in advance. I'm using data from Wunderground (you can set up various data sources). I auto-update at a very low rate, but can update manually any time.

The widget is set up to display temperature, cloud cover, chance of rain, wind speed and wind direction mostly. As you can see on the picture, things are displayed in a nice chart. There are labels to identify the top values (e.g. maximum probability of rain that day). You can download and use my settings with this json settings file. You will have to change the location, unless you want the weather for Naxos obviously!

Posted by betabug at 19:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
18 June 2017

Bike Checklist

Do I have everything?

I'm not really much of a checklist guy in life. I mean, I don't go on vacation or a business trip packing my stuff with a list, I just throw whatever comes to mind into my luggage. But when it comes to cycling, I do have my trusted bike checklist. It lives in a little notebook that my friend Saâd gave me some years ago. Not much gets written into that notebook any more, but it's always there due to housing my check list.

Why the check list? Because I seem to cycle a lot these years and with doing something as a habit in repetition one tends to sometimes forget some things. Making it a habit instead to always go through the checklist helps a lot not to forget stuff. Even if something isn't appropriate for the season (I might not need a rain jacket in summer - unless it's a crazy day like today when it rained here in freakin' June!). Better to mentally tick it off in summer than to forget it in autumn.

Maybe I would even know the list by heart now. I certainly start to assemble my stuff reciting the start of the checklist - it's a bit in an illogical order so the start is distinctive to me. The order is just the way I wrote it down when I felt the need for a list, more things being added at the end. Some things are also stand ins for others. The checklist just says "pump", but actually "pump and tools" should be meant there. Since these things are normally attached to the bike, it's just a short check that I hadn't removed them (e.g. for washing the bike).

Have I ever still forgotten to take things on a ride, even with the checklist? Yeah, it happens. But it's not the situation that I notice 50km into the ride that I don't have money to drink something at the coffeestop. Instead it's that I get out of the village and notice that I prepared the water bottle, but left it standing on the table. Much easier to remedy.

Posted by betabug at 18:59 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
30 July 2017

UT-FD120 - 12.45 Euro for two pieces of plastic and good shifting gears

My personal review of the Campagnolo UT-FD120 Front Derailleur Alignment Tool

For quite some time me and my mechanic have been fighting to get the front derailleur on my Campagnolo Veloce triple to shift well. Actually, even when I got the bike from the shop in Athens, it wasn't shifting so well either. It would go into the small ring only with some good talking to, only when you were in certain rear cogs. Adjust it and it wouldn't like to go into the big ring now, or then in the middle ring you had to "correct" all the time. Then the chain jammed a couple of times and things got even worse.

As I know now, the root cause of all this was that the front derailleur wasn't aligned properly parallel to the chain ring. Now of course if you are an experienced Campagnolo mechanic who adjusts 10 of these things every day, you don't have any problems to get the thing aligned parallel. (But then I wonder why the shop in Athens didn't get it right the first time...) Or you grew up in a time when front derailleurs were simple affairs of two straight, parallel pieces of metal, you can see the alignment and not my point. Nowadays front derailleurs have strange bends and curves to improve shifting - and I have squinted my eyes out to get to see where they are parallel.

In comes the "Campagnolo UT-FD120 Front Derailleur Alignment Tool", which I ordered - 12.45 Euro that I gambled on - suspecting that it would not change much. But it did! The instructions / manuals on Campagnolo's site don't mention the use of this tool for the triple. We had to improvise a bit, and I can see where things are easier for a double. Still, in a very short time we got the shifting to become perfect. We also installed a chain catcher for extra peace of mind.

My shifting is now optimized for rides with lots of climbs and changing gradients here on Naxos. I can use all the bigger cogs on the cassette while I'm in the middle ring, without having to adjust the front shift - and if that isn't enough, I can drop into the small chain ring. (Without fear of dropping the chain, thanks to better adjustment and the chain catcher.)

There are two of those plastic pieces sold together in the set. One is for when your big chainring is a 52 or 53 tooth, the other if it's a 50 tooth. They do not only help to get the front derailleur aligned parallel, they give you the perfect "height" or distance from the chainring too, making shifting even more smooth.

So in short: Buying those two little tools was totally worth it. You pay for the ease of proper shifting, not for the moulded plastic.

Posted by betabug at 19:12 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
23 August 2017

The end of an electronics lifetime for my Garmin Edge 500

... actually it's still working "somehow"
The buttons on my poor old Garmin Edge 500

I think I bought this Garmin Edge 500 in 2013. So it lasted about 4 years. Heavy use, you might say. But then, this is supposed to survive heavy use. Personally I think 4 years is not enough. No, I never had a crash with it (at least none where it hit the ground). Simply the soft, rubbery, dark blue stuff gave up and disintegrates.

The buttons started to be exposed some weeks ago. Yesterday one of the buttons fell off. Obviously the waterproofing is gone at this point. The electronics still work, but it's no good to go out riding with this thing any more. Another piece of electronics for the landfill.

Posted by betabug at 08:52 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
31 October 2017

Passing the Milestone

More km than 2014 already
City riding in Lugo

Since I restarted cycling, 2014 had been my strongest year, with the most kilometers riding done. That year I had been doing about 8018km. But it seems that 2017 is coming along even stronger, it's the end of October, and I've already passed that milestone. Not to mention that there are two more months left in this year.

2014 was a very strong year in other respects too: In Januar 2014 I rode my first brevet (200km). This October 22 I finally rode my 2nd brevet, even with some more climbing. Looking back and comparing my strengths and weaknesses, I think I was faster and had more punch in 2014, but I seem to have a bit more endurance in 2017. There is no definite conclusion I can take though, as my form fluctuates a lot. I get in good shape, then I get a cold or travel or something and bang, I'm down again.

In the ride where I passed the "highscore", I was with my nephew Max and my good friend Borja, riding near Borja's place, Lugo in Galicia, Spain. I was on an old steel bike from another good friend. We were having lots of fun. It was the perfect moment to pass a high score like that!

Posted by betabug at 13:22 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)
29 November 2017

Winter Riding in November

... and more typical November fun
Near Potamia on a rainy day

So, even though I posted twice in October, it seems I'm back to my "once a month post" scheme of things. Too bad. This year's November had a certain quintessential novemberness about it. There were colorful fallen leaves, clouds and thunderstorms, cloudy days, and clear and sunny autumn days.

I started out at the "sprint" in Spain (the friends I work with call it a "sprint" when we all work together for a week in one place). I cycled a lot there and even got to ride in rain for a few short moments. I don't think it was more than 3 times 10 minutes in total. It helped take a bit of my anxiety about riding on wet roads away.

Back on Naxos I enjoyed the riding too. At some point I mounted my fenders / mudguards on the bike again, which officially starts the winter season. Last year I had a lot of trouble with the things. I had changed tires and the new ones (Continental GP4000sII) are drawing a bit more volume, so the mudguards fit only barely. Every little bit of dirt that got stuck on the wheel made itself known.

This year I switched the bike back to the "old" tires (Continental Grand Prix 4 Season). More space under the mudguards, a lot less fiddling around to put them on. The first rides with the mudguards felt a bit weird, like wearing long trowsers again after the summer.

One of the first rides then made the mudguards worth it: I had just arrived at Giannis' bike shop in town when it started to rain. I tried to wait out a bit of the worst, then I went home and enjoyed half an hour of not-very-heavy rain on the way. (I took these two pictures on the way.)

A rainy donkey near Potamia on a rainy day

Another late afternoon ride led to a different adventure. I had dressed up quite warm, but not in full winter mode. I then went up to the mountains. The problem was only that at this time of the year, starting out at 4 in the afternoon brings you very close to a night ride. The sun is only very low near the horizon, not much of a source of warmth. Up in the mountains (around 600m above sea level for most of that route), it can get cold. In the end my GPS recorded an average temperature of 4°C with a low of 2°C. Definitely something that I managed to survive, but too cold for comfort.

The next rides were warmer, but still I managed another typical autumn adventure: I cought a cold. Which means more than one week without cycling now. Sitting at home definitely is nice once in a while, but it starts to be enough now... thankfully I'm improving. I'm looking forward to hold my nose into the wind again.

Posted by betabug at 22:27 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
30 December 2017

A day in the saddle - Brevet Ble200 / Tatoi

Riding my 2nd brevet, this time with friends
On the first climb

It's been almost 4 years since I rode my first brevet, going 200km from Elefsina to Nemea and back. I had wanted to ride another brevet for a long time with my friend George, but always something happened. You know, small stuff like breaking a leg, or moving to an island.

This time I was sure nothing of the sorts would come up. There would be a bit more traveling involved, as I had to get from Naxos to Athens. The brevet we picked was the "Ble200 (Tatoi)" on Sunday, 22nd October 2017, organized by the Ble cycling club where George is a member. That helped with the first step of setting things in motion: George went and signed me up in Athens. For some unknown reason we still would have to pick up the card at the event (normally you get it in advance), but that was manageable.

So on the Saturday, one day before the brevet, I installed me and my bike on the Blue Star Ferries boat to Pireaus...

Leaving Naxos with perfect weather The trusty steed in the boat's hold

I spent the afternoon in Athens visiting people and eating. Eating is quite important. In the evening I prepared my things and went early to sleep. I'm more used to sleep in the almost absolute quiet of a small village night, but I managed to get a good rest even with the car noise and neighbor's TV squeaking.

I needed the sleep, because I got up at 5, a time which I usually don't consider acceptable for being awake. By 7 I was at a Metro station on the other side of the Athens sprawl. Transporting your bike on the Athens Metro is easy if you know what you're doing. Doing it on Sunday at a godforsaken morning hour with fewer people around certainly helps. At the Agia Marina Metro station I met George. We inserted my bike into his car (where it joined his bike) and off we were. I did't miss the streets of Athens at all, and I missed them even less after watching still more cars on a Sunday morning on fast streets.

Trusty bike in Metro station

I got my bike ready and went to pick up our cards. There was a separate desk for people "from the province" who couldn't have picked up their cards in advance. Then I stood in line to get my bike checked (lights? Reflective vest?) and my card stamped. And then I stood around trying to find George. In the meantime I found Fenny and Hana, two well known riding friends. As I was roaming around, they had already taken off when I finally found George. So we took off in pursuit of them and some others from George's club.

In line at the start

The first few kilometers were along some "back roads" bypassing most high-traffic roads in the area. I didn't have much problem to find the route, all I had to do was to follow the stream of cyclists going in the same direction in larger or smaller groups. Meanwhile we didn't just follow, we pushed along quite a bit, passing a lot of riders. This was all on flat terrain, so not that much effort involved. I had a scary moment when I had to pass through a lot of small bits of broken glass next to a trash container. I kept on riding, no time to stop and check the tires. I rode for a while with a fear in the back of my head that I'd end up with a puncture early in the day - but nothing happened.

We were on the way out of Athens. This was on a Sunday morning, so really not much traffic. Except for us on our bikes. As soon as we got to the road that climbed out of the "basin" of Athens, this changed a bit. For one thing, it seems there were cars heading out of the city for the Sunday. The road was smaller now, winding it's way up the mountainside, so not much chance to pass hundreds of cyclists in small groups, alone, or in pairs. If you managed to pass one group, well, you were just stuck again behind the next group. Most drivers took it easy, but some were cursing and gesturing. A lot of them passed in stupid and sometimes dangerous ways. I didn't let that bother me. In the opposite direction there were a lot of classic cars who were on some rally type event, complete with race numbers. One of them had smashed into a tree, we saw the driver on the phone, probably calling in a period correct helicopter for air support.

Partially into the climb we finally cought up with George's club mates. We settled into a group and started to go up on a steady and easy rhythm. Meanwhile I was chatting with Fenny, catching up on life from when she was with her family on vacation on Naxos in summer. Things were going according to plan. Before the brevet, George had told me something like "you know, on the brevet you really should take it easy on the climbs", to which I had replied "I've been training to do that all week now!" But then best plans can go down in flame once fun arrives at the scene. At some point a group of about 12 very fit guys passed us at a good speed. We were joking about it, when Fenny and me decided to go and pass them again. Which we did... and then we kept on going. We had a good rhythm, we were having fun, and soon after we were at the top of the climb, where we would wait for the others. Obviously getting such a strong effort in so early in the brevet was not a good choice, as George had said, it's better to take it easy and save the energy for a long day of riding!

Personally I made another mistake at that point. As I'm a really slow descender (always have been, and even slower since my accident scared me of going too fast downhill), at this point I should just have kept on going and let the others overtake me on the downhill. I noticed that mistake when everybody was flying down the road (with a very good surface and only slight bends). I was much slower, so I just saw them disappear down the road. Once the road leveled out a bit, I chased and cought them, but here was another unnecessary effort eating into my reserves for the day. There was another, longer downhill section, where I lost them again.

George giving the go

At this point the road leveled out almost completely. We were on a long, straight country road. Luckily no wind at all. I came across Hana, who had been descending slower than the group too (but still faster than me). She asked me to pull her to the group, so I put my nose onto the handlebars and pulled, while Hana followed on my wheel. With another bit of effort, we reached the group again. Riding was easier now in the slipstream, even if the speed was quite high. Still I enjoyed the flat road. We don't really have that on Naxos. Even at a good speed, there is this nice, rolling sensation to it, especially in a bigger group.

This wonderful state didn't last so long unfortunately. After a long stretch of flat road, there came more of a lumpy downhill with people speeding away. Again me and Hana were behind, but this time Hana declared that she wouldn't go chasing. I gave it a go by myself and cought the group with George. This was a speedy train, the group hammered it good and fast. People were taking long pulls. Then my time came up to be in the front. I tried to keep a steady rhythm and not change speed too much, but as I'm mostly riding alone, I relied on the guy next to me. When the road was going slightly uphill, I noticed that the guy was standing up a lot. I stole some glances back and reduced my speed a couple of times. After the top of the little rise, I moved over to let the next guys take their pull. I didn't want to burn myself out. At this point George passed me by and remarked "you showed them well and good on the uphill". Guess I should have reduced a little bit more!

Stopping to view Halkida from afar

I stayed with the group some longer, but when the big descend down to the coast near Halkida started, I told George that I'll let them go. No way was I going to try to keep up with them, and I was looking forward to a nature break. Then I took the break I, and I also started stopping for a couple of pictures. I got into a bit of a more relaxed rhythm and felt that now I was really enjoying the ride! Going downhill definitely helped there, letting the bike roll without having to work at it feels good.

Near Halkida I remembered well that the road wasn't going into town. But where was it turning? So far I had always been with lots of other riders, playing the "let's follow these other guys" game. Since I was concerned that the battery in my Garmin wouldn't last, I had not activated navigation with the GPS track of the course. I've got this Garmin (520) fairly recently, and I'm not yet sure how the battery would hold up compared to my old one (500). So there I was, stopped at a big intersection, trying to figure out how to start "navigating" a "course" on the Garmin when you have already started an "Activity". I couldn't figure it out at that moment, and I didn't want to risk breaking the currently recorded track. At that point I was joined by another rider. Unfortunately he didn't know the right road either.

Nikos waiting at a closed train passing

But Nikos was of the more down-to-earth variety of "randonneur" than me. He grabbed his copy of the "road book". While I still tried to figure out on my copy of that piece of paper what I was supposed to do, he said: "We're at kilometer 102, what does it say there?" I had a look and said "Turn right, with a sign to Athens." Easy enough. We had to stop another two times or so in the next few kilometers, by which point we were well on our way, and two other riders passed us. One of them was from Halkida himself, so we followed them. Meanwhile Nikos and me had a little chat and he told me about the time he rode a Fidusa frame in some handicapped Athletes races. We kept on riding together till the first control, which was on the coastline. On the way there, we had to pass through another pile of broken glass near another trash container. This time I stopped to check my tires, I didn't want to risk my luck another time!

The first control was in a cafe near the sea. The volunteer staff (thank you very much!) enjoyed some tables in the outdoor part. Their life is much easier with reasonable weather like we had that day, while on other days they might be outside in heat, cold, rain. Here we were reunited with George, Fenny, Hana, and others from their club. I had a toast and a "Portokallada" (orangeade), to try and fill up some calories. Service was slow, but we were still waiting for others. When the others arrived, we were waiting for them to eat and refresh themselves too. We might have "lost some time" there, but in the end it's not a race, and that time wasn't lost, but spent on recovery.

Then we finally took off in a small group again. The fast train had departed long ago and was well off - not to be missed by me. We were riding along the coastline now. We were doing good speed, not just taking it easy at all. People were taking turns riding in front. At Aulis we passed by the spot where the Achaean forces had sailed for Troy. Luckily we didn't have that far to go and we were on a more peaceful mission!

Riding near the coast by Aulis

Near the end of that long, long coast section was the 2nd control. This time our never enough to be thanked volunteers did not have the luxury of a cafe. They had set themselves up at the side of the road. Together with getting our cards stamped, they also handed out little packets of salty snacks and packaged "croissants". I skipped on the croissants (there is probably more preservatives than food in these things), but the salty snacks were tasting wonderful at this point. There was a tiny little bit of coast road left, but going through a more urban area with shops and cafes. Some of the guys in the group stopped at a cafe for a real sit-down. I rode on with the others. We stopped at a kiosk and filled up on water. One guy got a "pita souvlaki" next door. He was greeted with a mixture of bewilderment and raw humor. He claimed that he needed the energy, but the next part of road made me question his choice - even if I hadn't already made the experience a long time ago of how a pita souvlaki can turn into a millstone in your stomach when out riding.

We hadn't left the kiosk for long, when the road started to go up. And when the road said "up", it really meant it. I had reviewed this spot on the map and on gps tracks from riders in previous years. It hadn't appeared so bad to me. Obviously we were leaving the coastline and going inland to a hilly area. But compared to some of the climbs on Naxos, this was ok, kind of a medium level affair of a climb. What I hadn't really factored in back then was, that we now had about 150km in our legs already. That way the climb insisted on not really being medium level.

The pecking order of our little remaining group was quickly established: Fenny and Panagiotis passed me after a short time, while George was somewhere behind me. A bit later I had lost Fenny and Panagiotis from view, while I couldn't spot George behind me any more. Business as usual then, me and the climb. It was about 28 degrees Celsius, which became quite stiffling. What's more, most of the forest around this climb had burned down a few months before. That didn't help to lift the spirits. There were some nice little spots where the gradient got to 10%. I was in my lowest gear (thanking myself for having insisted on having really low gears on my bike). There might have been some level of grinding it out involved, but I managed, even with tired legs. Since this was an unknown climb to me, I tried to look ahead and spot when it would be over. Unfortunately it's one of those climbs that mocks you by pretending to be over many, many times. Including ploys like having a taverna with a view at the side of the road ("they woull likely put that at the top, wouldn't they?" - well, they didn't).

When the climb was finally over, it wasn't really so obvious. There was a bit of a flatter part, some more uphill, some more flat. Found Fenny and Panagiotis and rode a bit with them. At some point as I was riding behind Panagiotis, I mentioned that his rear wheel was out of whack. He said he knew about it. And then there was a small cafe next to the road within the forest (now unharmed by the fire), where we stopped. A rest well looked for. More Portokallada for me. And even more Portokallada and filling up water. We waited out for George to arrive, sweet rest. As we left, Panagiotis asked me if I had a spoke key. I told him that my multitool might have what he needed. He gave it a try and tried to adjust his wheel. Turns out that at the top of the climb Fenny had grabbed her water bottle. Being a bit out of it after the climb, she didn't look and ran her bike into Panagiotis' rear wheel, breaking a spoke.

George cought up with us, and we were riding on together. It went up and down for a while, but the downhills weren't really enough of a rest to make the uphills easy, even being in the majority - I guess I started to be tired here. The third control was at a cafe again. I filled up on water, but didn't like the sandwiches they were selling. That probably was a wrong decision, anything would have been good now.

Then there came a bit of a longer uphill. Fenny and Panagiotis were keeping up well, when they started to pull away, George motioned to me to follow them. But I said I'd stay with George, better to reduce speed a bit and conserve some energy. So I tried to keep a steady rhythm, not going too fast. I was sensing George behind me and tried to accomodate to his speed. Until at some point I looked behind me and it wasn't George at all behind me! George had stayed behind together with a bunch of other guys. When the road rounded down again, I waited for George, and we continued in another little group.

At this point I was looking more and more at the kilometers on my GPS. How much did we do, how much was there left? How much time would that take? Having 30km left seemed to be a big deal, but even 20 was still something. Also I wasn't ever really sure how long the ride would be in total. I had some bubbles of energy coming back, and some lows where I thought I'd have to stop and rest. I tried to eat more, but the stuff would hardly go down. We passed the dam and reservoir at Marathonas, which was quite a nice sight. Others had stopped for pictures there, but I was glad to just go on.

Some times later, I was maybe 50m ahead of George, I heard shouts from behind. Looks like we had missed a turn. We were about five of us, but now we were in areas that some of the group knew. So we did some extra kilometers and got back to the main track. Now the road was going mostly down, through urban areas.

It was here that I had a strange feeling switching gears on my left shifter. I remember thinking "do these things ever break?", but not in an immediate way, more out of idle thought. It felt a bit squishy, but I didn't connect that squishiness and my thought. Shortly after I tried to shift up and... the plastic lever broke. It was only hanging by a thread now, no way to shift up again. Luckily the chain was on the middle ring. I moved up to ask some of the others how far it would be now. We had only 3 or so km to go, and it was only slightly downhill. That should be doable. I managed to stay with the group, even taking a longish turn in front. Then there was a car that got into an intersection when the group was a bit drawn out and I got cought behind it. The driver was going really slow and I didn't have the gears to pass her. My little group was gone. It wasn't such a big problem though, soon I passed from an airfield, and I remembered that we must be really close to the start/finish point. And right, there we were! I almost passed by the cafe where we had started.

The broken shifter

Here I found George again. I took a picture of my card after I got it stamped, and then I handed it over. While George got changed, I had another Portokallada, but my stomach didn't like any more sugary drinks. Finally George gave me a ride home. An opportunity for some more chatting and I didn't need to fight myself through the metro system while tired from riding 200km. Thanks again George!

At home, I stuffed myself with food. First some spaghetti, then I ordered a big hamburger. I had a lot of calories to refill. The next day I was still a bit exhausted. Comparing to the exhaustion I had after my first brevet in 2014, I was in better shape now. And I'm looking forward to the next brevet already!

Stamped brevet card
Distance: 212km
Elevation gain: 2653m
Moving time: 8 hours 29 minutes
Average speed moving: 25km/h
Elapsed time: 9 hours 50 minutes
Average speed over elapsed time: 21.5km/h
Calories burned (according to Garmin): 4500
Average temperature (according to Garmin): 20°C

Posted by betabug at 14:30 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
03 February 2018

Fast, how unexpected: Brevet Nemea 2018

Yeah, sure, we will take it easy
Lots of cyclists on the first kilometers (picture from George)

Been there, done that, but maybe it's time for some repetitions. Last Sunday I was riding the "Nemea" Brevet again, which I had done 4 years ago. Another repeat: I was going to be riding with George again. And same as for my last brevet (Tatoi), I had to travel from Naxos to get to the start.

The plan was: We are going to take it easy, because George is not in shape. But then, even the best plans go to hell when fun arrives on the scene. Actually it was George having fun, since he found out after the first few kilometers that his form wasn't that bad after all. So we went fast, how unexpected.

There was some confusion about my boat trip. A few days earlier, the boats didn't run for two days, because there was too much wind. Then I neglected to check the timetables, and found out only on the Saturday morning of my departure through a helpful phonecall that there would be no Saturday morning boat. It was a good chance to turn over and get some more sleep, I'll say as much. I took the afternoon/evening boat instead. Which meant that George had to pick me up at the port at midnight and I crashed at his place. That was saving me some hours of travel in the evening and morning. I went from a possible 3.5 hours of sleep to 5.5 hours, not bad.

George on the road

Then we were arriving by car in the morning at the start point of the brevet. We lost some time assembling bikes and trying to get the mudguards on George's bike to behave. The battle ended in a stalemate, the rear mudguard stayed on, the front one was left in the car. So we were a bit late at the start and to get our cards. Most of the riders had already gone and we didn't have to wait in any lines to pick up our cards - also the card pickup and stamping thing was very well organized.

(As a sidenote, we wanted to ride with some other friends from George's club... they left 4 minutes before us, but we never got to see anything from them on the whole ride. They were a lot faster than us.)

Off we go. The route had changed this year, there is no "Meletaki" climb, which was the first "big" climb almost out of the door. As I remember it, it wasn't such a huge climb compared to Naxos, but still it got people to measure their energy. Instead we are off on the flat. Pretty fast, a little group builds, until we catch the next faster group passing us. There is obviously no problem at all to ride on anybody's wheel, no animosity or complaints whatsoever.

For some while on the undulating coast road, we ride "near" a guy on a recumbent trike. He has a very low, lying position. He's got a little flag to make him more visible. It's fun seeing him, but after a while it gets a bit tiresome. The dynamic of this thing is quite different from our "upright" bicycles. He passes us whenever the road goes down, we have to pass him back when the road points upwards again. Again and again the same dance.

Riding with a group (photo from George)

A game of catching on to various little groups then. Sometimes they stop, sometimes we stop (to remove rain jacket and gloves). At some point we are riding with a faster group. We are sitting some wheels back and some brave souls at the front do all the work. At least there is no wind to speak of. But then they are missing the road, taking a wrong turn, getting into Korinthos. Someone even shouts out to take the other direction, but it's already too late. Group dymanics prevail, we're just continuing on. Someone seems to know where we're going and how we're supposed to get out of the urban area again. Which is all nice and well, but then George's mudguard rattles itself lose and we have to stop. Since the last brevet I have learned to enable the navigation feature on my bike gps, so I turn that on now. We thread our way back to the bypass road. But where we reach it, it's elevated, we can't just turn onto the road. In the end we spot an unused service ramp, we go up and lift our bikes onto the road surface.

More jumping from group to group now. We pass the canal of Corinth, not stopping for pictures - nor the traditional souvlaki that I remember from childhood days when this road was the official "highway" and everybody stopped their cars for some souvlaki.

Some more flat road, then the "climby" part starts. I'm still hanging in there, even if my HR is already up after all the hard riding. Going up in slow increments, not really steep, I'm grinding my teeth and occasionally my gears. Normally this kind of gradient wouldn't be a problem for me at all, but I've been going too fast with too high heart rate, so I'm way low on my reserves. Still, I'm switching to the small ring only a couple of times. Also this is not one long continuous climbs, but rather a lot of up and downs, with way more up than little down parts. Each little downhill could be a chance for a breather, if we weren't riding so fast to keep onto our group!

Stopping at the first control, everybody gets water and a toast

Finally the control stop at about 100km. I'm glad to be here, and to stop and rest a bit. The last time I was here four years ago, this was the point in the brevet when the rain started - for 3 or 4 hours. But today it's warm and easy.

Together with getting our cards stamped, we are offered a free toast and water. This is really nice service by the organizers! Keep in mind this is a brevet, for which we pay all of 5 Euros. We're not blowing out 100 Euros for a sportive with feed stations, so it's very nice of the organizers. I'm getting a good rest, but when checking the gps track now, it was actually not even 15 minutes that we were stopped. But I'm eating my toast and some sesame-honey bars and start to feel better.

After the first control, suddenly things stretch out. So far, there were always riders around us, groups passing us, we passing other groups and riders alone or in twos. Now we ride alone, then with another guy for a long time. Finally we catch another passing group. We ride with them, then at some point a really fast group passes us. George points and shouts and we push to latch on to them. We make it. But this group is almost too much for me. My heart rate is going up to the edge of my aerobic capabilities, even in 3rd or 4th position.

George and me riding on the front of a larger group

The riders at the front pass over to let others pull, and then we are in line to take our own pull. George is wisely restraining me from going too hard and I am having a constant eye on my heart rate numbers. So I manage. I don't know if the group notices that the overall speed is getting lower with us in the front, but I didn't hear any complaints. But now I don't want to burn out pulling for no glory, so I take the initiative for a switch pretty fast. At the back the strain is marginally lower. In the end I'm saved by the second control.

At the 2nd control

The fast group disappears up the road. My body demands taking a mini-rest. Checking now, we were stopped for 8 minutes, but it felt like we stopped for lunch and a nap. I wolf down some more food - we get a free chocolate bar from the volunteers at the control. Thank you very much, volunteers! Then another group passes by and as they get ready to leave, George suggests we stick to them. Good choice, they have a very nice, steady rhythm, and good speed - (but likely not as high as the other one). They don't break apart when the road points up, neither do they lose much formation rolling downhill. The aren't really so well organized, their double rows not as well dressed, people changing positions much more elastic. Doesn't matter to me, I like this group and we are making good progress.

George giving me a status report near "Kakia Skala"

We already see ourselves finish in a crazy "good" time. Where has all the "let's take it easy" gone? But then at some point this nice group stops. Apparently they actually all belonged together and did the brevet as a team. We continue on our own, the two of us, joined by what I think is the same guy who stuck with us after the first control. George and me trade pulls, so as not to lose too much momentum. There is a "secret" control somewhere along the way, so we get an extra stamp on our cards. We pass two touring cyclists from France, with bikes loaded up with luggage, with a trailer with a dog in it, and with a french flag. I greet them and we exchange some smiles.

The french touring cyclists (picture from George)

Then we go past most of the "kakia skala" again, the steeper parts of the coast road. We even stop for a minute or two. Energy levels are a bit low for me, but still I manage to get up the road. Then finally we get passed by a small, fast group of cyclists. We latch onto them and let them bring us the last stretch into Elefsina. At some point I had finished my water, but since there were only 10, 15 kilometers left, I plodded on - no way I'd lose this nice, fast group to stop for water. Finally in town, we lose them at a red light and make the last few kilometers on our own. We get our cards stamped. I'm looking for a kiosk to get a sugary drink. I get my picture taken by a fellow randonneur.

All done... (picture by random dude who offered to take my picture)

We're back much earlier than anticipated, we make our way back to George's place and start filling up on calories. Exhaustion level? George is feeling his best ever after a brevet he says. I'm a bit shot, but not as bad as 4 years ago. So that's a reasonable result.

Distance: 201.9km (200.8km brevet, a few hundred meters to/from car)
Elevation gain: 1544 meters
Moving time: 7h 15m
Average speed moving: 28 km/h
Elapsed time: 7h 40min
Average speed over elapsed time: 26.2 km/h
Calories burned: 4000
Average temperature: 10°C (ranging from 5 - 16°C)
Mostly sunny, no wind to speak of

(Most of the pictures are from George.)

Packing up the bikes

Posted by betabug at 18:27 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
21 March 2018

A Different Mistery Puncture

It's not always what you can't see

Quite often when you have a puncture in a tire, there is a bit of mistery about it: What caused it? Can't find any stones, thorns, pieces of glass inside the tire, can't see where the hole came from. A few days ago I had a different level of mistery.

My spare bike sits on the trainer in the downstairs room. It's seldom used, so I wasn't too surprised when the tires were flat a while ago. I pumped them up, and that was that. And then, some days ago, the rear tire was flat again. Ah well, I found an old spare tube and headed down there to switch out the one that presumably had developed a slow leak.

The usual procedure, take out the wheel, take off the tire, rip out the inner tube, put your hand in the tire to sweep left and right to see if you can find anything that caused the pu... outch! Not only did I find what caused the puncture, it nearly punctured my hand too and it hurt like hell. There was something like a 1cm long nail stuck in the tire, sticking up vertically on the inside. The thing had no "head", and the outside was flush with the tire surface. But the inside point was sharp. Quite obviously this is a condition that does not fit well with keeping the air in an inner tube.

Now the big mistery is there: How did that thing get into the tire, while the bike was on the trainer? It's not like it's going anywhere to pick up stuff from the road surface. Quite unlikely to have the trainer's roll push that thing into the tire vertically. And if it was there before, how did the inner tube survive so long? This bike has been on the trainer for months. Sticking out 1cm is not a situation where the nail works itself slowly into the tube. The tire was flat only twice in those months, so the nail having punctured the tube already, but having "sealed itself" only with a slow leak sounds also quite implausible. Your guess is as good as mine.

Posted by betabug at 12:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
04 June 2018

Snapped Gear Cable... or Matrix-style Probe?

Snap goes the shifter
Is it a matrix-style implant... or just the head of a snapped gear cable?

This morning I rode down to the next village for some shopping. As I was going up again, I looked at my gears... "hmm, in the hardest gear, let's shift some up", I said to myself. The gear lever went part of the way, showed some resistance and then moved free with a clack. Classical case of a snapped gear cable. It was snapped right inside the shifter housing.

Now if I was out on the road somewhere, I'd pull out the remaining cable and fix it under the bottle cage to keep the gearing in a manageable position. But as I was only in the next village, I had no problem to get back home. Lucky for me, this didn't happen on my last ride on Saturday. There I was in the middle of the Naxian mountains, on some steep climbs in the noonday heat.

This afternoon I went to Giannis' bike shop to replace the cable. Most of the time for the job was spent to get this little piece of twisted wire out of the shifter. As the cable slowly breaks, the strands go one by one. I had actually noticed the shifting deteriorate lately. When it broke totally, it left this tangled mess that is then difficult to get out. And as Wu mentioned, it looks a bit like that robot probe thing from the Matrix movie.

Posted by betabug at 21:20 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
27 December 2018


Nice, round numbers, goals, and distances
On a nice, sunny ride with the Kastro Team

I didn't set up a goal for how much I wanted to ride this year. Last year I was close to 10'000km, but not close enough to seriously think about getting there. The last winter was very dry here, so I rode a lot. Then I had a very strong spring, with some months where I hit 1000km each month. So at some point I started to think more serious about it.

It must have been somewhere in late summer, when I accepted that this had become a "goal" for me. Get to 10'000km riding this year. I normally try to ride 10 hours or about 200km each week. With 52 weeks, it seems easy enough to get to 10'000. But then, there are periods of bad weather (I used to ride gladly in bad weather too, but now I'm more thinking about staying safe and healthy). Speaking of "healthy", there are a usually also the periods when I catch a cold, and usually 1 week of riding is lost, while the next week is very limited. Travelling is another cause for missing kilometers.

But this year, things more or less worked out. In February I had an infection from a scratch from one of our village cats. 2 weeks without riding. I did one trip to Switzerland, without bike. 12 more days off. As mentioned, spring had lots of riding, summer wasn't so bad (in summer there is heat and lots of tourist traffic here, so I ride less). In fact I was coming along so well, that for a long time I had a buffer of about 500 to 800km.

Then in November I went to Spain for a sprint, and a chance to cycle up the Angliru climb (famous from La Vuelta). Also a chance to do some flatter kilometers to, around Lugo. So I had done plenty of training riding up the Liona climb (the toughest climb we have on Naxos, still only about a bit less than half as much as Angliru...) Instead I did only 2 short rides and then cought a cold. No Angliru and lots of days off.

Now the "goal" thing became a bit more interesting. I wasn't really behind, but I couldn't slack off either. In the end we had a rainy period in December, but I managed to "work around it", or rather: ride around it.

Today I rode the final kilometers for my 10'000km goal for 2018. While I was ticking off the last 4, I thought about the riding in this year, what I could remember from each month. Some months were easy and I had good recollections. But I forgot the brevet I rode in January, and it took me a while to remember when we had gone to ride on Paros. Still, lots of good memories!

Coming back, I uploaded my ride to Strava, and updated my stats. But where it had told me yesterday that I had 9936km (64 below the magic number), now I had ridden 65 and it showed me I had 10'099 in total. I guess Strava is drunk. In any case, I'm past 10'000km and the goal is reached... and I still have some days to go this year.

Posted by betabug at 18:08 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)
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