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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The thrill of finishing STP

Thank you for a great STP!

When I registered in May for the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, I knew it would be the biggest physical challenge I had ever undertaken. I'm not an athlete, although like everyone else, I make my New Year's Resolution to exercise more frequently. Riding a bicycle 100 miles two days in a row was not one of this year's resolutions.

So why do it?

Everyone has their reasons, and I have mine. I didn't do it for the party-like atmosphere at the midpoint and the finish line. I didn't do it for the gold badge you get for completing a double-century ride. And I certainly didn't do it in order to blog about it.

On the verge of 35, I did it to shake myself up: I needed to break the inertia of being a slug. I did it to prove to myself that I can train for a physical challenge and complete it.

As a shy person, I also felt it was important to get out there and meet people. I saw generosity in bicyclists stopping to help other bicyclists with flat tires.

I saw patience and humor as we waited -- and waited -- in long lines for food, showers and toilets.

I saw individual quirkiness in the types of cycles on the road (tandems, unicycle, you name it) and in helmets decorated with feathers, plush dog ears, and blinking lights.

I saw the landscape with a new lens, the kind you develop sitting on a bicycle. The trees appear alive. The road becomes a complex structure with indentations, debris and varying surfaces. And motor vehicles take on a more ominous note, especially those that are speeding. (My one regret was not stopping and taking a photo of a butcher shop I passed in southern Washington where they advertised frog, rabbit and alligator meat.)

And both during STP and before the event on training rides, I met a bunch of great people whose company I really enjoyed. I didn't get a chance to thank you! Anna, Carlton, Venki, Alex and Sonja, if you're reading this, thanks for your company and please e-mail me at

Well, now it's back to the "real world." But as I head off to work today, the aches in my hamstrings, quads and calves just remind me of what a special weekend it was.

I feel lucky to have experienced the fellowship of being among 10,000 cyclists. Crossing the Lewis & Clark Bridge into Oregon was just one sliver of many memories on the challenging journey Sunday marked by hail, rain, lightning and cold winds -- but that moment of us rushing down the bridge together in one streaming yell of glory is the one I'll treasure the most.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mapping the STP with photos

As those of you who have followed 80 rpm have noticed, you can now see all the markers on my Google Map where I took photos of the journey.

Not all of these markers showed up during the ride, especially between Centralia and Portland, where the cellular services were limited. My Verizon Blackberry Storm wasn't able to get a strong GPS signal anywhere between Centralia and Portland.

As a result, none of my photos could be geotagged on the fly. Let me know if you had better performance with your carrier or device.

I've gone back after the fact and geotagged the photos now to where I think roughly they were taken. Hope you enjoy them!

Now that I'm back in Seattle, I am resting my slightly sore legs and thinking about what completing my first STP ride means to me. More to come.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


After 200+ miles, I feel terrific!!

Almost there

Day 2 has been a tougher ride, as expected. We have had a strong headwind for most of the ride. The misty rain has kept me cool. Still, this last 10-12 mile stretch is just going to be hard.

Woo hoo! Crossed into Oregon!

12:44 pm.

The sight of thousands of cyclists coming down the bridge reminds me of the Tour d'France. I feel incredible!

Preparing to take the bridge at Rainier

THIS is going to be hard... See the bridge in the background? Uphill, baby!

The non-conformist

This unicyclist has got guts ... And a comfortable saddle, I hope.

Breakfast in Chehalis rocks

We rode through rain and lightning after a subpar breakfast in Centralia College (they ran out of food and coffee) and stumbled upon an all you can eat breakfast in Chehalis sponsored by a community service group called Sertoma. We almost wept with joy, except we were already wet and cold.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Good night!

After a hot shower, mediocre meal and Fat Tire Ale in the beer garden, we are off to sleep in our tents.

Hurray! Made it to Centralia midpoint

I reached centralia at 4:30. I covered 102 miles with average speed of 14 mph and top speed of 29 mph. Ride time was about 7 hrs plus breaks.

I feel great considering I just biked my first century! Hamstrings are very sore.

Cell battery running low. Will try to find a power outlet to charge it.

Finished - but not without an accident

I wiped out here because some idiot wasn't watching and hit my back wheel

Stop in Tenino at mile 88

Mmmm.. Gatorade

Cyclists help each other!

Rami's tire got fixed in a jiffy. But the pic didn't upload in sumner. We are in Spanaway now.

Water line at mile 55

Whole foods market! We are devouring Dave's Killer Bread, bananas, PBJ and oranges. It's getting hot,

Ride buddy Rami has a tube blowout

We're at mile 42

Cyclists with mt rainier in background

And we're rolling

Stuffed with bananas

Stop at REI

And we're off!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pack that rain jacket

Sunday we will likely see (if not bicycle through) some rain:
  • A 30% chance of showers from 7 am to noon in the Chehalis/Centralia area.
  • There's also a 30% chance of showers in the St. Helens area just north of the Washington-Oregon border from 10 am to 3 pm.
  • There's a 50% or higher chance of showers in Portland after 4 pm. is forecasting a high of 87 and low of 56 in the Chehalis/Centralia area on Saturday. From 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., temperatures should be spectacular and then drop into the low 60s.

All you one-day riders are lucky you won't have to ride through rain!

Start line details

Before dawn, the crazy one-day riders (I love your zeal) will head out between 4:45 a.m. and 5:15 a.m., exiting south onto Montlake Boulevard from the University of Washington's E1 parking lot. They'll try to reach Portland by sunset.

Then the two-day riders (in which I include myself) will depart between 5:15 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., in waves every 10 minutes. We'll camp Saturday night in the Centralia-Chehalis area.

This year there are riders from 46 states and six other countries – Australia, Bermuda, Canada, England, Puerto Rico and Sweden -- according to Cascade Bicycle Club, the main organizer of STP.

Keep an eye out for bib number 8384.

Wish me luck!

Feed those hungry cyclists!

Here's a partial rundown of the food being provided on the route at the official stops, according to the Cascade Bicycle Club:

26,000 sandwiches
35,000 cookies
43,000 snack bars
11,000 fig bars
16,000 banana servings
10,000 oranges servings
9,500 grapes servings

What's your favorite snack on long rides? Post a comment!

STP is a money-maker

When as many as 10,000 cyclists depart tomorrow around dawn, they will embark on a 202-mile ride, stopping along the way for food and fluids.

But the ride is more than a fun and challenging event. It's a financial windfall for the non-profit Cascade Bicycle Club, the main organizer of the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. It's also an important fund-raiser for other non-profits, such as Altrusa International, Portland Wheelmen, Spanaway Junior High, St. Helens High School Band, Gold Wing Touring Association, and many smaller churches and high school clubs.

The financial model is so successful that Cascade says it's never lost money on the event.

Cascade Bicycle Club expects this year's STP will book more than $1.1 million in revenue -- half of the club's annual budget -- and produce net income of $637,000 after deducting the $491,000 cost of putting on the event, according to figures provided by club spokeswoman M.J. Kelly.

Registrations account for three quarters of the revenue, while the rest comes from sponsorships, processing fees and commissions on merchandise and photo sales. The title sponsor is Group Health and presenting sponsor is Carter Subaru. The other sponsors are Performance Bicycle, REI, Dave's Killer Bread, New Belgium Brewing Co., Ultima Replenisher, and Clif Bar & Co.

Those costs include paying about $30,000 to police agencies along the route for traffic control, Kelly said. The cyclists do have an impact: The Washington Department of Transportation put out a traffic alert labeled "high impact":
SR 507 Southbound Bicycle event on SR 507 southbound from the Roy Wye to the
Thurston and Lewis county line from 07:00 a.m. 07/11/09 to 07:00 p.m. 07/12/09.
Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. Drivers are asked to share the
road and prepare for traffic delays along the route. From milepost 43.57 to

Another expense is paying the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce for organizing the welcome wagon for about 7,500 cyclists coming there to spend their cash! Centralia College is the official midpoint of the ride and hosts on its website a photo gallery of STP in previous years.

The surplus from STP supports Cascade Bicycle Club's advocacy for more bike-friendly communities, education programs and other services.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cyclist captures RAGBRAI with time lapse camera

Someone who rode the RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) used a time lapse camera mounted on the cycle to document this week-long ride (nearly 500 miles). It's an interesting concept.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The bike doesn't have to hurt

How much can you do to banish the hurt? A lot, actually.

I just read a well written piece on Gregg's Cycles explaining the most common causes of pain from riding a bike and how to tell if a bike fits.

My shoulders were hurting, as were my sensitive parts.

It was easy enough to figure out why my shoulders ached: I was reaching too far forward for my handlebars. The solution: replacing my fixed stem with a shorter, flexible stem.

As for the groin pains, I bought a new saddle that has a cutaway in the middle that relieves pressure and preserves blood flow to sensitive parts.

After my pain seemed to get worse, my awesome bicycle shop guru showed me that the saddle wasn't level; it was tilted upwards. Since he leveled the saddle I've been much happier.

All systems go!

Just picked up my packet at REI in Seattle.

It ain't the Tour de France

STP is not a race.

That isn't going to stop some cyclists from thinking it is.

For a race, check out the Tour de France. The New York Times has a cool interactive graphic of the route.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Don't forget the smartphone

Water bottles? Check.

Energy bars? Check.

Smartphone? Definitely.

One of the items you don't want to leave home without on a long ride is a cell phone, preferably a smartphone like the BlackBerry Storm or iPhone.

Two weekends ago, I had the misfortune of having my back tire rip in the middle of a busy intersection in Renton. I didn't know the area well, and there was no bike shop within my sights.

Smartphones can be handy in this situation. On my BlackBerry Storm, I opened my Google Maps application, located my position and searched for "bike shop." The app searches within a fixed radius. Sure enough, the app listed the name and phone number of a bike shop that wasn't too far away if I hopped on a bus.

If I did not have a smartphone, I could have spent a half-hour to an hour looking for a bike shop. Instead, it took me 60 seconds. Incredible.

During this weekend's ride, I'll be traveling with my Storm and using it occasionally to snap photos or video and upload them to the web. Now I know the iPhone lovers are clucking their tongues and feeling sorry for me.

While it's no iPhone, the device that the New York Times' David Pogue panned when it launched last November doesn't deserve ridicule. Either you like SurePress or you don't. I happen to like it because I know what letters I'm about to type before I select them.

The Storm is an efficient, reliable and robust workhorse, especially since Verizon Wireless pushed out an OS update.

The 3.2-megapixel camera and GPS are well integrated, so all my photos are geotagged and can be quickly mapped. My Storm will be turned off while I'm riding to preserve battery life.

Thanks to the strength of the Verizon Wireless network, my emails arrive at their destinations in less than a minute, and Web pages load relatively fast on the beautiful touchscreen. Unfortunately, the device doesn't have Wi-Fi capability.

I am sure that we will pass through some dead zones where my Storm won't be able to connect with the network.

The area between Olympia, Wash., and Longview, Wash., is where my access to mobile email and web browsing may be less certain. The enhanced services area (dark green) looks pretty constricted on a map I captured from Verizon Wireless' website (below).

But I should still be able to make a call in case of emergency!

Don't Blog and Bike

How do you blog & bike at the same time?

A few people have asked me this question. It reminds me of the time when I went cycling and wine-tasting in Oregon's Yamhill County.

The simple answer: You don't do both simultaneously. I'll be posting to the blog when I'm taking a break. We cyclists are told we should consider ourselves as vehicles and obey all the rules of the road. (Of course, we all know drivers who text or talk on their cell while switching lanes.)

I don't expect to be writing long essays about the experience during STP. I probably won't even post a paragraph.

What I hope to do is take photos or video of the scene, maybe add a few words to describe what's happening. The purpose is to document the experience as it's lived by one participant. I can go back and add more text and thought later.

As one friend reminded me, I should be out there having fun and taking in the scenery, not worrying about whether I've tweeted it in the past 5 minutes. I expect we'll take snack/water/pee breaks every 30 miles, and so I'll be happy if I am able to post 5 photos a day.

Vital stats on STP

Last year, about 9,500 cyclists participated in the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, according to the Cascade Bicycle Club, which organizes the annual event. That makes it the largest multi-day ride in the Pacific Northwest.

Here are some key statistics, based on self-reported data:
  • Cyclists came from 44 states (primarily Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho) and several foreign countries.
  • About 70% of the riders were males.
  • Oldest rider was 85.
  • Youngest rider was 4.
  • Almost one in five were riding in STP for the first time.
  • 310 riders have done the event 10 or more times.

Data on cyclists participating in this year's event (30th anniversary) isn't available yet, according to Cascade.

This year's route is 202.25 miles, of which 30.87 miles is uphill. If you add up all the vertical distance of all the hills we'll be climbing, it adds up to 1,951 feet! But we won't be riding in the mountains: The maximum altitude we'll ride at is 463 feet above sea level.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Green River

I took this photo of the Green River in June from a bridge in Flaming Geyser State Park.

Oh, the things you'll see!

This is Bothell Landing, a park on the Sammamish River. It's on one of the trails I rode on March 10.

One of the great pleasures I've experienced during training is seeing my region with a new lens.

When you drive a car, you whiz by the landscape. You have places to go.

When you ride a bike you take it in, you savor it. You think about the hills you had to climb just to get here.

STP starts in four days and 10 hours

Geez, I'm going to be in pain.

The most important factor in preparing for any endurance ride is mileage. Since I started riding seriously in early May, I've racked up about 400 miles of saddle time.

That's far short of the cumulative 2,400-plus miles recommended in Cascade Bicycle Club's STP basic training plan. The club's plan recommends participants start riding in mid-February, and Cycle University's Cascade Training Series gets going in mid-March.

According to the club, two-day riders will need to average 10 mph to finish each 103-mile day in under 11 hours, with 55 minutes of breaks each day.

Of course, average speed may need to be higher if you have a flat tire or two, snack frequently or have an insatiable desire to update your STP blog.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The history behind my Bianchi

When I went shopping for a cheap used bike five years ago, I was just looking for a bike I could ride occasionally on paved trails and city streets. I didn't want to spend $1,000 only to ride my bike for two months out of the year. (This is Seattle.)

Something about the bike I saw at the Recycled Cycles shop in the University District was special: It even said "Special" on the top tube. The bicycle was solid but lightweight thanks to a steel frame. The hot red frame said "sporty," and it seemed to fit my 5'6" frame just fine.

This vintage bike belongs to the last breed of racing bikes before the modern road bike came on the scene equipped with index-shifters, carbon fiber components and high-tech braking systems.

The "Bianchi" name refers to the Italian bicycle maker, founded in 1885.

F.I.V. Edoardo Bianchi S.p.A. is the world's oldest bicycle-making company still in existence, according to Wikipedia. The company's crowned-eagle logo appears on my bike, but so do Japanese names. I didn't understand why a bicycle maker would assemble most of its product with Japanese parts and brand it with an Italian name. Bianchi's corporate web site is apparently silent on that piece of its history.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Japanese bicycle industry was kicking the pants off European bicycle makers in the American market. During the 1970s, Americans clamored for bikes, thanks to an oil crisis that made driving expensive. Manufacturers in Europe and Japan churned out affordable 10-speed sport bikes patterned after racing bikes.

The Japanese were known for quality workmanship and innovation in technology-intensive parts used in racing bicycles, including SunTour's slant-parallelogram rear derailleur (1964) and Shimano's index system for shifting gears (1984). The Japanese manufacturers also had cheaper labor costs than their peers in Europe.

And so apparently Bianchi did what is taken as a given today: It outsourced some of its manufacturing to Japan, at a time when the Yen's value was falling sharply against Western currencies. Bianchi provided the design specs and the Japanese assembled the bikes from their well-established parts manufactuers.

The names of Japanese bicycle parts makers appear everywhere I look at my Bianchi bike. (For the uninitiated, it's worth becoming familiar with the basic anatomy of a bicycle.)

Handlebars: The polished aluminum handlebars are engraved with two phrases -- "Road Champion" and "Sakae Custom Japan."

Crankset: Also from Sakae Ringyo, which bought SunTour and became SR-SunTour in 1987.

Braking system: Shimano makes the hoods, brake levers and the single-pivot side-pull calliper brakes. Modern racing bikes have dual-pivot calliper brakes.

Friction shifters: The SunTour down tube shifters mark my bike as belonging to an extinct species. The rider has to take a hand off the steering and reach down! And the rider must become adept at knowing just how far to move the lever to switch from one gear to the next. Sloppy shifting results in the sprocket and chain not lining up properly. Think of it as the difference between driving stick and automatic. Modern bikes have handlebar index shifters that click-stop as you change gears.

Sprockets: It appears to be the Shimano 600EX series introduced from 1978 to 1988 for road racing bikes. There are six cogs in the freewheel.

The six cogs help explain why I have a tougher time climbing hills than my fellow cyclists who ride modern racing bikes, which come with lower gears. They keep pedaling at a steady cadence, whereas my rpm falls sharply as I struggle in my granny gear.

Of course in training for STP I could have abandoned my Bianchi for a modern road bike, as some riders suggested. Believe me, I thought about it many times on hills.

It would be foolish to change bikes days before the event. After STP, a modern road bike will definitely be on my wish list.

But I'm holding onto my vintage Bianchi. I love the eighties!

Me and my bike

I'm at Warren Magnuson Park with a fun group of Cascade Bicycle Club riders.

We are chowing down on Papa John's pizza. I think I am on my third bottle of water. Thank you, Cascade, for holding the pizza party!

We're celebrating the end of training for STP. We rode about 50 miles today around Lake Washington. I was way behind the group but I pulled a respectable average speed of 14 mph.

I made the mistake of not eating or drinking before the ride, and I ran out of water because we didn't stop in Renton as we did before. I need to get another water bottle holder on my bike.

One of the great things about training is getting to meet others. On today's ride I met a cardiologist from Federal Way and two people who came from Port Orchard. We talked about our aches and pains, admired each others' bikes and agreed to look for each other on Saturday.

Counting down to STP

Seven days to go until the biggest physical challenge of my life.

When I decided in May to register for the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (or "STP"), the idea of riding 200 miles over two days seemed like an impossible feat. Yes, I knew friends and co-workers who had done it.

But it was easy to come up with reasons why I might not get to the starting line:
  • Out of shape. I dislike routines, especially exercise.
  • Fear. Three years ago I had had surgery to fix a potentially life-threatening arrhythmia. What if something else went wrong during training?
  • Not enough time to train. The experts advise beginner cyclists to start training in February. I had just over two months to prepare, and two out-of-town trips planned.
  • My red Bianchi road bike, circa 1980s, may break down.
  • I don't know how to fix a flat tire on a bike.
  • I have no clue how to ride with clipless pedals.
  • I can't climb hills. Even gradual ones.
  • I don't have any riding buddies to train with.
  • I don't want to damage any sensitive parts.
You get the point.

But I'm very stubborn once I commit to anything. The past two months have been nothing short of a miracle, with lessons on every ride.

So at about 7 a.m. Saturday, I will set off on my red Bianchi, joining some 10,000 other cyclists on the journey from Seattle to Portland.

The organizers tell me that most participants will take two days to complete the ride. To finish in time, we'll have to cycle about 8 hours a day, keeping an average pace of 14 to 16 mph.

Okay, I'll try not to think about the fact that my average pace is not quite in the range.

The bike shop gurus tell me I need to pay closer attention to my cadence, or the number of revolutions of the crank per minute (rpm). The faster I pedal, the higher my rpm. But like everything in cycling, there are nuances.

Cycling coaches say the key to a smooth and efficient ride is finding the right cadence for yourself -- that is, turning the right gear at the right speed.

"So what rpm should I strive for?" I asked my bike shop gurus.

80 rpm or higher, they said.

Being a journalist, I sought and found confirmation from other sources, including this seemingly sardonic comment in The Cyclist's Training Manual:

"...non-cyclists tend to prefer a cadence of about 60 rpm, close to the number of paces they take when walking (emphasis added). In contrast, most experienced cyclists keep to a figure of at least 80 rpm, and often closer to 100 rpm."

Well, I certainly expect to move faster than a pedestrian. (Um, except on steep hills.)

My cycle computer isn't equipped to calculate my rpm, but it's easy enough to calculate by counting the number of times my right foot is at the bottom of the stroke during a 15-second interval, then multiplying by 4.

I've always rooted for the underdog, and I sure feel like one going into my first STP. I'll try to share some of my experiences on this blog through text and photos. I'm learning as I go. We all have to start somewhere.

So, STP, here I come -- at 80 rpm.