Citizen Staff Writer
A group of Tucson cyclists is taking on El Tour de Tucson in November. But the fun starts now.
There will be flat tires, tough hills, group-ride anxiety and big, bad cars. But the good thing is, no one has to be alone. Instead, things can be downright sociable.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, the largest endurance sports training program in the world, with some 35,000 members, is the sponsor of 15 Tucson riders and the call has gone out for more.
“We’re always talking to folks, trying to get them more involved with cycling,” says Mike Madigan, 53, a veteran racer and rider who is serving as a local coach and adviser. “People may want to learn how to ride and do El Tour but have fears. Some may be scared of riding in groups. This is something where everybody looks out for everybody else.”
Mike Wilhite, 61, a close friend of Madigan’s, is a coach and adviser from the beginner’s side. He is a tennis-player-turned-cyclist since moving to Tucson three years ago – he couldn’t resist the mountains and foothills and scenery – but he learned “the hard way.”
“I didn’t know this and I didn’t know that, took some things for granted,” says Wilhite, who with Madigan will present frequent blogs for the Citizen on the training regimen. “With team support, you learn together.
“I got into it for my son, who is a survivor of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I actually found out about Team in Training when I attended an expo for El Tour last year. This organization is very well organized, and safety and fun are the main concerns. They will also have nutrition training, bike and shoe fitting clinics and fundraising clinics.”
Riders have begun a training schedule leading up to El Tour on Nov. 18 with the main purpose of Team in Training in mind – the ride against cancer.
“I have experienced friends who have been touched by cancer,” Madigan says. “This is why I’m doing this. And I enjoy getting other people into the sport I love.”
The group has a plan to complete the 109-mile El Tour main event in whatever time it takes, “but we don’t want this to be a death march,” says Madigan.
“As we go along, we are going to see where everybody is. If it gets to the point the 109 miles might be too much, we’ll suggest maybe 80 miles or 66. The important thing is to have fun and it will all be in groups with support.”
The signs are good. The group has already attempted Mount Lemmon, advancing to the Palisades area.
“That’s most of the hill climb,” says Madigan. “At the beginning (this summer), we never thought we could do something like that so soon.”
Wilhite got serious about road biking last September when his wife, Roz, presented him with a bike as a birthday gift. He did the Tumacacori Century a month later and bonked badly.
“I did not eat right,” he said.
Not discouraged, he entered and completed the full El Tour in 6 1/2 hours.
“Now at least I can keep Mike in the horizon,” says Wilhite, who emphasizes racing is not a priority.
“What I can bring to this is to prove anybody can do this if he or she is willing to work some and get in shape.”
The following did not appear in the print edition.
A well maintained bike is not only safer, but also faster! If you are not comfortable
working on your own bike, find a reputable bike shop. Your coaches and mentors can give you advice on which shops they like in your area of town.
Keep it clean: Cleaning your bike regularly not only makes it last longer, but also helps identify loose parts which could cause problems on the road. Be careful not to spray water or Simple Green mixture directly into wheel hubs or bottom bracket [where the pedal crankarms attach to the bike]. To clean your bike, use warm soapy water or a mixture of 50/50 water and Simple Green and shop rags. Don’t forget to dry off the bike and lube the chain when you are finished!
Headset: Make sure that there is no movement in the headset. The headset is where the handlebar stem goes into the frame. You can do this by holding the frame and then trying to move the handlebars front to back or side to side [not turning]. If there is movement see your mechanic.
Tires: This is one of the most important bike maintenance activities that you can do yourself. Besides inflating tires before every ride, check them every week for wear and tear or cuts. Do not hesitate to replace a tire that is starting to look worn!
Wheels: Check that the skewers [the levers that tighten the wheel onto the forks] are tight before each ride, that the wheel is true and does not touch the brake pads. Check spokes on a regular basis to make sure that none are loose.
Brakes: Look at brake pads on a regular basis to see if they need replacement. Most brake pads have a wear line to indicate when they should be replaced but you should also check that they are wearing evenly all over. If some of the pad is missing the rim completely, then the pad may need to be replaced. Make sure there are no deep grooves in either the pads or the wheel rims. These are signs of wear that may require the replacement of both brake pad and wheel rim. Make sure that brake levers are down before you ride and after changing a flat tire.
Helmet: All Team in Training participants are required to wear a helmet.
Be aware: Besides knowing the rules of the road, the most important way to avoid accidents is to be aware of your surroundings. As you ride more and more you will develop a “sixth sense” on what is happening [or about to happen] around you. Another way to think of this is to anticipate a car, pedestrian or dog doing the worst thing possible [e.g. : turning or running in front of you] and be prepared for it.
Going straight through an intersection: Look in both directions before you enter an intersection, even if the light is green. The safest assumption to make when approaching an intersection, driveway or even pedestrians is that you are invisible. When crossing through an intersection and a car on the right is making a right turn, wave or make eye contact with the driver to make sure that he/she sees you! Be aware of the fact that many drivers do not think that you are traveling as fast as you are and may try and pull out in front of you. If the light is red, when possible stop so that cars turning right behind you can pass on your right. When approaching an intersection you should avoid the blind spot on cars who may or may not be turning right. Don’t assume that the car is not going to turn just because there is no turn signal.
Turning left at an intersection: After looking back to make sure that it is clear and signaling the turn, cross over to the left turn lane and position yourself as far as possible to the to the right side of the left turn lane. The goal here is to allow cars turning left to be able to pass you on the left when the light changes. The same is true for intersections with multiple left turn lanes. The exception to this is when the left turn lane also has an arrow letting cars go straight through the intersection. In this case the safest thing to do is to position yourself in the center of the multiple direction lane and then move to the right as soon as you cross halfway through the intersection. If there are already cars in the lane position yourself behind them, but still in the middle of the lane. This prevents cars going straight from cutting you off.
The second option for making a left turn when you are unable to position yourself in the left turn lane is to make a “pedestrian left”. You make a left as a pedestrian would: cross the intersection on the right side of the right lane and stop at the right side of the lane going in the “left” direction; wait for the traffic light to turn green and proceed straight ahead.
Turning right: After signaling the right turn, check the crosswalk for pedestrians and continue the turn. Remember that you must still stop before continuing at a red light.
Be seen: Brighter colors are more likely to be seen than dark ones. Make eye contact with motorists when possible.
Parked cars: When passing parked cars, watch for such things as break lights or heads of drivers through car windows that might indicate a driver pulling out or getting ready to open a car door. If you are in a pace line and see someone in a parked car, warn the other riders with a hand signal or by calling out “door”. Making this announcement also lets the person in the car know that you are passing. Some cyclists tend to stay to the left of the bike lane [not outside of it] as much as possible to avoid doors. If there are open spaces in the line of cars don’t weave in and out of them as cars approaching from the rear may not see you. The same caution should be exercised when passing a stopped line of cars on your left. There have been incidents of passengers of cars waiting in a line of cars at a stop sign opening doors in front of cyclists.
Take the lane: When safe and appropriate, taking the lane may be the best option. This is especially true when riding in groups. A good example of this would be to avoid getting squeezed in a narrow passage [such as next to a concrete barrier] or in the case of a four lane road with diagonal parking. As always, look back to make sure that it is clear before you do this and get back to the right side of the road as soon as it is safe.
Look up: Many cyclists have a bad habit of getting so focused on a hard effort or when tired that they tend to look down at the road instead of ahead. In one case this ended up in a rider hitting the back of a pickup truck and landing in the bed of the truck. Always watch where you are going.
On your left: Don’t be shy to call this out when passing other cyclists, runners, or pedestrians. Along the same lines it is a good idea to call out “heads up” or something similar when you see people standing by the side of the road that may cross your path unknowingly. Never pass a cyclist on the right. It is unpredictable and unsafe. Always pass on the left.
Aero bars: Aero bars may be on your bike, but they may not be used on group rides. Because of the position of the brakes, they are unsafe in a group. Aerobars are for time trials, not group rides.
Railroad tracks: When approaching railroad tracks, cross them in a perpendicular fashion. If on the front of a paceline call out “tracks” to the rest of the group so that others will be prepared to cross.
Cell phones: Do not answer cell phones when riding, even with a hands free device. If you get a call and need to answer it, let it go to voice mail then inform the mentor or another member of the group that you are pulling off to answer a phone call. You will be responsible for catching back up to the group or falling back in with another group.
Mentors: When in doubt of what to do in a situation, watch your mentors or ask them. They can advise and set the example on how to get through difficult situations safely.
Clipless Pedals: When using clipless pedals for the first time, practice on a trainer or roads around your house before coming to a group training session.
Headphones: Headphones are dangerous because they impede your ability to hear traffic and other cyclists, Headphones are not permitted on group rides.
On the front of the paceline: When on front of the paceline you are not only responsible for your safety, but also for the safety of others in the group. It is critical to know your hand and voice signals and use them to warn others of hazards. When you are ready to move off the front of the paceline, make sure to look back first, then motion with your right arm ( some use a “chicken wing” movement) to signal that you are falling back. Move out to the left and proceed to the back of the paceline behind the last rider. Remember to save some energy to get back on the back. Do not drink from your water bottles when on the front of the line (Unless you are very proficient at doing so and do not slow down or coast). Do not coast when on the front of the paceline, even when going down hill.
No sudden moves: Avoid sudden braking or side to side movement. Every motion should be as smooth and predictable as possible. Ride in a straight line; this is known as “holding your line”.
Not too close: Don’t ride closer than you are comfortable to the rider in front of you. If in a traffic or potentially dangerous situation allow more distance in case the group stops. Don’t get too close behind unknown riders, especially at the event. A good rule of thumb is to follow a bike length until you are more confident in your cycling skill and ability, then move in to a wheel length behind the rider in front of you. You will still experience drafting benefit at these lengths. DO NOT EVER FOLLOW CLOSER THAN A WHEEL LENGTH BEHIND THE RIDER IN FRONT OF YOU. Do not overlap wheels with the rider in front of you. When descending allow a great deal of space between you and the rider in front of you. Allow a lot of room because at high speeds you won’t have much time to react to road hazards (or the rider in front of you going down).
Pay attention: Stay focused on the riders in front of you. Don’t be hypnotized by the wheel of the rider in front of you, keep your head up. This gets even more important later in the day when everyone gets tired.
Pass it back: When in a long paceline, pass any hazard signals back through the group. Sometimes riders at the back of the line may not see signals from the front.
Slowing down: Use your left or right arm with the hand outstretched, palm toward the back, pointing down and out toward the side a little to indicate you’re slowing down. Call out “slowing”.
Stopping: Use the same hand motion as when slowing, while you call out “stopping”.
Glass/debris/gravel/sand/holes: Hold your arm out on the side of the approaching hazard while calling out the type of hazard (debris, gravel, sand, holes, glass, etc.).
Runner/walker right: Call out “runner/walker right” as we approach them.
Car back: when you hear a car approaching the paceline, call out “car back”.
Left turn: Point to the left with your left arm and call out “left turn”.
Right turn: Point to the right with your right arm and call out “right turn”.
The chicken wing: Used by some cyclists when tired of riding at the front of the paceline, check over your left shoulder to be sure it’s safe. Stick your right elbow out like a chicken wing and flap it up and down. Then pull smoothly out toward the left of the paceline to let the line pass you. Pedal lightly to minimize the time it takes the paceline to pass you. Remember to save enough energy get back on after the last rider.