Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday's Ride

I need to put myself into dynamite shape. In less than a month I'm going on a one day, 116 mile bike ride in Arizona. Most of the other riders will be about four decades younger than I am. I'd like to survive the experience.

With daylight persistently hanging in there, at least through the summer solstice, I tell myself I have plenty of time to train.

On Tuesday, late in the afternoon, I chose my exercise-induced weapon of choice, my fixie. I knew it would guarantee a good workout.

Yes, only one gear, so I wouldn't ride up hills featuring any appreciable grade. No freewheel, either, so no coasting, guaranteeing a good workout, even on the flat streets I wanted to ride.

As soon as I pushed off on my ride, I wondered why I waited so long to try riding a fixed gear bike. Maybe it's because I'm so, well, old. I'd see people a lot younger than me riding fixed or on single speeds, tooling along up and down Sunset Blvd. around Vermont Ave., or on Melrose Blvd. (where I was headed now). Maybe I didn't understand how brakes works on a fixie.

When I finally did ride FG, it was love at first pedal. I keep away from some of the 15% grades I like to climb on a road bike, but I can pull myself, when I want to, up some steep hills with just one gear. Today, though, there would be no appreciative hills. I planned to ride through Hollywood, into downtown L.A., and back.

I'm usually struck (maybe that's a poor choice of words) at how empty the streets of Los Angeles are most of the time. Keep to residential streets and there's a dearth of traffic. Note the photograph of the young women - she and I were the only moving vehicles on that shady avenue. And riding in traffic on boulevards is not inherently dangerous. The perception, though, amongst those who don't or at least rarely ride a bike, is that a cyclist is in mortal danger. Or as a casual acquaintance put it just as I started out, "How are you going to keep from being killed?"

There is no need, therefore, to ride on the sidewalk, and good reasons not to. Taking the sidewalk - note the second syllable - means potential contact with pedestrians, and contact with cars and trucks entering and exiting driveways and alleys.

The rider in the red jersey moved in traffic at a relaxed pace. In fact, he moved at a snail's pace, too slow to be tucked over his handlebars in an aero position; at least he wasn't riding on the sidewalk.

I headed east on famed Melrose Ave., where I passed the uber-trendy Paul Smith clothing store. British-born Smith is a devotee of bicycling, and his West Hollywood shop recently sponsored an exhibition of vintage bike clothing (the photo here comes from the Paul Smith website). The exhibit was co-sponsored by Rapha, another British company that makes exquisite clothing for cyclists; I'll ride with the Rapha touring team this summer in Arizona.

A little farther, I passed by a store selling glasses frames. What caught my attention was the vintage Olmo bike, complete with a spare sew-up tire, leaning against the big glass window. I wanted to ask about the bike, but the door to the shop was locked, and no one appeared to be inside.

I detoured onto Spauling Ave., to photograph the mural of the Dali Lama and his Chinese super-power "friends." A little later, I passed Spiderman. I didn't forsee I could have used his super powers a little later.

It all seemed to be going so well. Then I felt, but didn't hear, a rhythmic bump, bump, bump. Never a good sign. Before I could do anything about it, there was bang, and I found my ride "puncturated" by a flat on famed Melrose Avenue. As I opened my tool bag, I discovered to my disgust that I didn't have the air chuck for my CO2 cartridge for instant inflation of my spare tube; nor had I brought along my emergency mini-pump.

The flat was a case of operator error. The gauge on my old floor pump give an inaccurate readings - I may have overinflated the tube just before I started my ride, and I might not have seated the tire on the rim properly when I mounted it a few months ago. So the tube oozed its way to the outside world. That bump, bump, bump was the the tube hitting a brake pad.

Where was Spidey when I needed him? At least I was wearing my mountain bike shoes, making it easy to hoof it to the nearest bike shop, which took about 20 minutes of walking.

Along the way a beautiful young woman offered me a free bottle of an energy drink. That almost made the flat worth it.

On the way home to retrieve my air chuck, I crossed Wilshire Blvd. I looked back to see the Art Deco facade of the old May Company department store (now part of the county art museum) in reflection in the windows of an office building.

Air chuck and mini-pump back where they should have been, I set out on my bike again, this time west, with light and time, for the day, for my training, fading away. At Century City, once the back lot of 20th Century Fox studios, I turned around, making a safe return on busy Olympic Blvd.

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