My First Century! (well, metric century to be specific)

After a nice easy shopping ride to Target/TJ’s/EMS on Saturday, I was up for a big ride on Sunday. The local ivy-league university’s commencement was taking place, which means that you can’t do much on the East Side because everything is clogged with students and families. Spouse was taking part in commencement, so that left me free to pursue my own interests.  I had absolutely no soreness from my shopping jaunt (aprox. 30 miles, much of it with full panniers), so I figured I could handle a ride across the entire state!

Before setting out, I figured I would give my bike a quick clean & lube, and finally install my cyclometer. It had been sitting dormant in the basement for quite a while with a dead battery. Since I’m now getting more interested in distance riding I figured I might as well take the time to install the thing.  After the clean & lube, I started re-installing the cyclcometer. Zip ties hold the transmitter at the fork and a bracket holds the computer display to the handlebars. As I was attaching the bracket, the tiny little nut fell out of my grasp and on to my gravel driveway:

Let me know if you find it in there. My favorite local hardware store is closed on Sundays, but I knew my route would take me past a big-box home improvement store where I hoped to find the appropriate nut.

This is basically the first distance bike ride (solo) that I’ve done where I felt like I had all of the necessary emergency equipment. My bag was stuffed with: multi-tool, spare tube, patch kit, tire levers, pump, and some food & water. I was ready to hit the road!

I decided to ride through the edge of the campus just to check out the commencement scene. This decision resulted in:


I biked down Thayer Street and then prepared to make a right turn on Angell. I signaled as I pulled up to the right hand side of the road and waited for the light. A BMW SUV pulled up next to me. When the light turned green, I proceeded to turn right and the BMW tried to pass me while turning. While this might work in NASCAR, it’s not a good idea on Thayer St.  Besides, we were both turning right, and in NASCAR you only need to turn left. He honked when he saw that I would be in his way. I had the right of way so I made sure I was clear of his car and continued up the street. I initially wrote a moment-by-moment account of the rest of this encounter, but I’ve deleted it.  Let’s just say that I held to my right of way and continued up the street at a reasonable pace and a safe distance from all barriers and door zones.  The BMW revved its engine behind me. To which I say, all you helicopter parents hover my wheel.

[close honk report]

Moving on. I made my way to the big-box store, oh all right I’ll dispense with the anonymity, it was a Lowes. I’m calling them out by name because as I approached the store, I realized I would soon need to write another chapter in:

The Indignity of Bike Parking: Lowes Home Improvement in Cranston

This particular Lowes features plenty of car parking, ample disabled parking, but of course, no bike rack was visible at the front of the store. This was not particularly surprising, but I thought that on the off chance they might have one in the back for their employees. I dismounted and walked my bike into the entrance and asked the first employee I saw if they had a bike rack I could use. She said that they did not, but I could lock to one of the cart racks out in the parking lot. This didn’t seem like a great idea to me since people tend to haphazardly toss their carts in there and could easily damage my bike.  I asked if I could lock up to the flower racks out front. This would require moving some flowers around and would be a little unsightly. Another employee had joined the first and they both balked at this idea. The original employee suggested that I just leave it with the returns counter, but I didn’t like that idea because there was nothing to lock to. Employee #2 also didn’t like that idea because he didn’t want the store to be responsible for a missing bike. Eventually we settled on the interior cart rack rail. The bike would be out of the way, and unlikely to be hit by an errant cart or poorly controlled car. I found the nut I needed, of course I had to buy a 10 pack of them (uh oh, starting to sound like my dad). At $0.81 for the entire transaction, not much to complain about. Except for the parking! This store is within 100 feet of a 15 mile long bike path! In all of the parking indignity that I regularly encounter, I try hard not to dump on the employees of whatever store has the bad parking. Instead I’m going to become one of those guys – in this case one of those guys who writes emails to companies that do things he doesn’t like. I’ll keep you updated if anyone ever responds.

Wait a minute, what was this post about? Ah yes, my longest ride ever!

Okay, at last I’d installed my cyclometer. My very humble cyclometer. I took a picture of my revised cockpit earlier this evening:

I got this cyclometer at MEC for about $20 while living in Canada. It was cheap, but it’s still working! It might seem a little silly to put a speedometer/odometer on a bike, but having it there and knowing how fast you are going and how far you’ve gone does change the experience of a longer ride. You can set mini-goals for yourself as you go along, such as “can I keep an 18 mph pace on this flat stretch?” “can I go faster than 8 mph up this hill?” “can I keep my average speed for the entire trip above 13 mph?” As you can see from my mini-goals, I am a very modest cyclist. Mine is an extremely basic computer – the fancier ones have an additional sensor to measure your cadence (aka how fast you are pedaling) and the fanciest even include a heart rate monitor.

The first stretch after Lowes is a little dull. It’s almost completely straight and almost completely flat. It was almost 11 AM by this time, and the path was starting to fill up with what appeared to be casual riders out for a few miles on a lovely day on a holiday weekend. I totally dropped all of them and left them eating my dust.  Actually, as tempting as it may be to blow past them, I do slow down quite a bit when passing the casual riders. I see no need to frighten anyone with my blazing speed. As mentioned in an earlier post on the Washington Secondary Bike Path, the path runs for about 15 miles in total. After the boring straight part, the path curves around with the Pawtuxet river, going past many old mills. This is the river that saw the worst flooding earlier this year. I was on the lookout for evidence of this flooding, but it seems that the path was above most of the damage. I did catch a glimpse of a bridge that was knocked out by the flooding.

The pavement ends in Coventry, but the path continues unpaved all the way to Connecticut.  When I reached the end of the pavement, I stopped for lunch and to allow myself to be swarmed by mosquitos – always a refreshing break.  I looked out past the end of the pavement and thought I’d give it a go. That gravel doesn’t look too bad, right?

It was nice riding in the woods, but the trail quickly deteriorated into a bumpy, root crossed mess. I checked the GPS and headed over to Rt-117 at the first opportunity.

Ah, the open road. Smooth pavement, no slow pokes clogging the bike path and motorcycle after motorcycle blowing out my eardrums with their g-d straight pipes. Rt-117 started out well with a nice wide shoulder. There were a few sandy patches here and there, but the road was smooth, and relatively free of broken glass. This part of Rt-117 is even a “signed bike route” which doesn’t seem to mean much except that there are signs declaring it to be a bike route. The signs stopped when the shoulder ended. Aside from a few tentative rides outside of Springfield, I don’t think I’d been on country roads without shoulders. I was a little aprehensive, but the road was smooth, and there didn’t seem to be any sudden hills that would lead to a car overtaking me suddenly. More importantly, the speed limit here was 35. Slower-moving cars have more time to react to seeing me, and they won’t throw me off of the road with their shockwave. I was passed by many cars and motorcycles, but no commercial trucks (which throw off a huge shockwave). Almost every car that passed me gave me plenty of room, with many going all the way into the other lane in order to give me plenty of room as I passed. I was passed by pack after pack of motorcycles, sometimes 20 at a time, and these seemed to be the only vehicles who got too close for comfort (but maybe it was just their extremely loud engines). Rt-117 curves around and goes up and down as it makes it’s way to Connecticut. I was going about 8 MPH on the uphills, and reached almost 30 MPH on the downhills. My bike felt pretty steady on the descents, and I only reached down for the granny gear a couple of times on the ascents. About 5 miles from the border, I was starting to feel it. And by “it” I mean the rubber in my legs.  Eventually, I reached my goal:

Luckily, there was a little roadside picnic area where I could rest briefly before the ride home.

Here’s the map of my ride:

And the all-important elevation graph:

That’s just one way, of course. After my brief rest, and a little hydration (that’s VSB for “drinking some water”) I headed back home. It certainly felt a little easier on the way home, I think that the overall downhill slope helped with that as well as the normal phenomenon where retracing a route one has just taken always seems shorter. I did see a few other road cyclists on RT-117, one even passed me as I was heading up a hill on the way home. And when I say passed, I mean he dropped me like MCA drops science (which is like when Galileo dropped the orange, or so I’m told). Here I was huffing and puffing my way up a hill when I hear a faint click of a bike and then this guy is blasting right past me. I didn’t even see what kind of bike he was riding. He was definitely in far VSB territory – the only extra weight on his bike was his water bottle and very small saddle bag. Within 3 minutes he was completely out of sight. It was a little humbling, just like almost everything else about this ride. It also made me kind of want a light-weight road bike.

You may be looking at my veloroutes map and thinking to yourself, “if his one-way distance was 29.21 miles, that means his roundtrip was less than the necessary 62.1375 miles to make a metric century.” Well, my friend, I had to make a little side-trip before I headed home. Despite loading up my panniers with 20 pounds of fruit and nuts the day before, I’d forgotten a few key items from Trader Joe’s. Most notably, the pound-plus chocolate bar. By the way, there’s no bike rack at the Trader Joe’s, so I locked up to this patriotic railing:

I know, I'm not actually locked in this picture, but you get the point.

I’ve seen worse as far as bike parking goes. And with that bunting, I could hardly call the parking situation undignified. At least no one came out and told me to move it. Whoa, look how high and proud my cyclometer is flying in the above picture as compared to where it rests now:

totally aero now

After my pit-stop at TJ’s, I was back on the bike path home. It was mostly downhill, until I got back to the East Side, where I once again climbed up through the commencement festivities.

In the grand scheme of recreational cycling 100 kilometers is not much. I recently met a cyclist in Olathe, KS who routinely goes on 300, 400 even 600 km rides. But for me, it was the longest ride I’ve taken. I was very tired at the end of the day, spacey even. I could barely make conversation for a few hours after I got home. My legs were tired and my hands were sore (other contact points, however, were perfectly fine.) And I have to admit, I feel like I’m starting to get bitten by the bug of road cycling. I want to hit the road again next weekend (but I’ll be out of town and sans bike), It’s almost 11 PM and I kinda want to go out for 5 miles right now. I may even wake up early tomorrow and get in a few miles. (We’ll see how my newly increased love of cycling fares vs. my long-standing love of sleeping in.)  So I’m going to lay out a public goal right now: I plan to ride a true century by the end of summer – 100 miles in one day. Let’s see how that goes seeing as how a day later, my hands are still very sore.

*The honk report is inspired by the Carbon Trace blog. It’s an attempt to quantify the number of times cars honk at me.


4 responses to “My First Century! (well, metric century to be specific)

  1. I haven’t done this trip but I know the area. The elevation change in western RI along the Conn border can be challenging. For a century, you may have an easier time going east of Providence through Rehoboth, Swansea, and Dighton, then south to Little Compton and Westport.

    • The hills in western RI were just on the line between challenging and rewarding. I hope they get more towards the rewarding end as I start riding more. At some point this summer, I also plan to bike to Jamestown, spend the night there and bike back the next day. Unfortunately, this requires a bus ride over the Newport bridge. It should be less than 40 miles one-way.

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