Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lesson Learned: Ride in the drops NOT ON THE HOODS when descending a hill on a road bike!

The day before Christmas at noon I went riding with my cycling buddy, Marc.  It was my first time riding in the hills on my new road bike.  We went in to the Oakland Hills via Montclair then to Lake Temescal, Tunnel Road, and Skyline and down Joaquin Miller Road.

The ride to Tunnel went well with another fall after a short rest. Can you say klutz? ;-)  I bruised my ego, again, and scraped a scab from
the previous falls resulting in a little bleeding, but that was the least of my worries that day.

I was embarrassed to need the rest, but it wasn't all about fatigue.  Shortly after we started climbing I told Marc I felt like I was going to regurgitate what I had just eaten.  I felt nauseous.  I had a banana for the first time before riding in the hills and two sample Clif Bars just before ascending Tunnel.

Knowing my fear of falling while clipped in Marc kindly reminded me to get out of my clips before I started heaving or I'd end up on the ground.

I was tired, but I decided to stop more because I was hoping my stomach would settle some.  Of course, I hadn't climbed in awhile and I was feeling that, too.

I climbed the Oakland Hills once shortly after I returned from the
Ride 2 Recovery (R2R) Golden State Challenge (GSC).  I rode my TREK hybrid.  I had no problems on that ride.

I haven't wanted to ride in the hills by myself until I'm more confident riding using clipless pedals.

I learned while going down Joaquin Miller Road on my new road bike that I could slow my bike, but I could not stop.  I ran a stop sign at about 18 miles an hour.   That scared me terribly.

I recall having difficulty stopping coming down Skyline where you turn right on Joaquin Miller Road that day, but it did not register that I might have a problem stopping again.  Can you say, not the sharpest knife in the drawer?

I didn't have to stop at the light because I was taking a right, but I don't think I could have stopped even if I wanted to.  I stopped right off Skyline on Joaquin Miller Road where Marc was waiting for me and where the road was flat.

Note:  I double checked my brakes in Montclair and they were fine.

I was fortunate that the two cars at the stop signs at Joaquin Miller Road and Mountain Boulevard were not moving through the intersection.  I'm sure they saw me coming towards the intersection rather fast and figured that idiot cyclist was not going to stop.

I'm sure they were irritated and justifiably so.   I can imagine the news if I had been killed or injured going through that sign.  I would have been remembered as an idiot cyclist who did not stop at the stop sign.  It would definitely be my fault.  The thought of being remembered that way has haunted me since.

I tried to stop; I was unclipped, but rolling too fast to put my foot out.  If there would have been a car in my path I probably would have made a quick right after the stop sign or I would have kissed the vehicle and the pavement.

There was a small flat area past the stop sign where my friend was waiting for me.  I managed to slow down and stop.  I told him what happened. Marc tested my bike and he could stop with no problem. My brakes were fine.

Nonetheless, he took some slack out of the cables because he thought my hands might be fatigued.

I tried to go down Lincoln, another very steep hill with Marc behind me. He told me to stop and I couldn't.  I didn't go far.  I ended up going in to someone's flat driveway and then into a grassy area.  While braking, I put my foot out to slow while grabbing a retaining wall to ensure I stopped.   Marc tested my brakes again; he had no problem stopping.

At that point, I wasn't getting back on my bike.  There were two major intersections with lights coming up and they were at the bottom of hills.  The thought of me not being able to stop my bike petrified me.  I was going to take a bus home because I was shaking so bad.  Instead of taking the bus, two of my friends came to pick me up.

I initially thought something happened to my brakes when I fell going up Tunnel after my short break, but then I remembered Marc had no problem with my brakes both times he tested them.
Later, I reflected on the fact the bike suitcase given to me with my R2R Stealth bike from the Ride 2 Recovery (R2R) was ripped during my flight home.  Hum, I better tell John about that.  I keep forgetting.
I was concerned whether my bike was damaged so I took it to a bike shop to have them put it together and examine it.  Nothing was damaged.  I had no problem stopping riding around "flat like a pancake" Alameda.  I had ridden at least 100 - 150 miles since I returned from the Florida Challenge (FC) on the flats.

I was looking for any excuse, but operator error.  It took awhile for me to get it through my brain that I hadn't damaged my gears/brakes on any fall and my bike didn't incur any damage during the flight home.

I discussed this incident with two cycling friends.  When one of them realized I was riding on the hoods he told me I probably couldn't stop because I was using 50% of my hand strength.  The other who is also a cycling instructor said I should be riding in the drops whenever I go down a hill because the hoods are only for the flats and slower riding and NOT going down hills.  

When to ride in the drops was not something I needed to know when I was riding down Highway 1 on the R2R GSC because I was riding my TREK hybrid that has flat bars with bar ends.

I recall Wayne Stetina educating me on the handlebars while I was riding with him and his wife on the first day of the FC.  I recall where to position my hands while reaching for my water bottle and I'm pretty certain he mentioned I have more control of my bike from the drops. 

I personally like riding with my hands on the hoods because it is more comfortable.  

Why I didn't consider moving in to the drops when I realized I couldn't stop is beyond me.  I think it's because I'm older, fatter and more uncomfortable in the drops and for some reason I feel clumsy and fear falling.  I recall that I always rode my Schwinn from the drops.  That made my hands closer to the shifting mechanism on the frame.  I never rode on the hoods before the Florida Challenge.

Marc told me it never crossed his mind that stopping from the hoods would be a problem for me because he can stop from his.  It never crossed my mind either and I suspect more males can stop from the hoods when descending hills, too. 

I thought the drops were there only if you wanted to ride using them and they were more important for racers.   The words inexperienced and stupid resonated in my brain as I wrote that last sentence.

Marc has been really busy so I took my bike to the bike shop to have one the mechanics show me where and how to loosen my brakes since I personally don't believe I had a problem with hand fatigue. 

The mechanic who showed me how to loosen my cables informed me that there was nothing wrong with my brakes other than I needed to loosen the brake cables some.  He thought it could be hand fatigue, too.  He and a few others at that bike shop emphasized I should NOT be riding on my hoods down hills either!

OK, OK, I got it.  I got it.  Ride in the drops NOT ON THE HOODS when you're descending a hill! :-)

Another person said that maybe my brakes were glazed.  I understand that can happen when you ride your brakes and they get really hot.  I told  him I "feather" when I'm riding down hill.  Hum, I have to look in to that more.

I have deduced the following from that experience and with the help of my cycling friends:

I don't have a good reach because my fingers are probably not as long as most males and my hands probably aren't as strong because I'm an older female.   I have compared how close my levers get to the handlebars from the hoods and the drops.  When I am in the drops, I have a firmer grip and I can bring my levers closer to the handlebars. 

My hands are strong enough to stop from the hoods on flats, but not strong enough to stop from the hoods when I'm descending a steep hill.   My weight and the grade of Joaquin Miller Road really accelerated my momentum. Most of the ride down Joaquin Miller Road I was going 27 - 30 miles per hour.    I was feathering my brakes.  For many cyclists that is slow, but for this cyclist anything over 35 mph is too fast and I'm most comfortable between 20 - 30 mph.  

The fastest I've ever seen on my Cateye is 38 mph on Skyline between Redwood Road and Grass Valley Road.  I slowed myself down immediately because that frightened me.  The fastest I went downhill on the Golden State Challenge was 34.7 mph.

I'm obviously NOT a speed demon, but I DO NOT ride my brakes.  I "feather" my brakes when I'm descending. I had my TREK's brake pads changed after 10 months of riding.  I know I had more than 3,000 miles on my brake pads and it could have been even closer to 4,000 miles.  To save me money, one of my talented friends changed my brake pads in preparation for R2R GSC.  He told me they were definitely due for a change and the grooves on the brake pads were almost gone indicating my brakes were quite worn. 

I know my not being able to stop at that stop sign with my R2R Stealth had nothing to do with the performance of my brakes/gears.  My brakes weren't worn. 
The R2R Stealth bike donated to me on the FC was new and I had no more than 600 miles on my brake pads.  My gears nor brakes were damaged from any of my falls or in the luggage department of the plane on the way home. 

There were very few hills on the route we rode in Florida -- if you can even call those hills. ;-) We had American Legion Riders escorting us on both Challenges and most of the time we didn't have to stop because along with local Sheriff and Police Departments, they would block traffic at major intersections so we could proceed through as a group.   I had no opportunity to test my braking on hills in Florida.

On the Golden State Challenge, I rode my beloved TREK. 

I'm certain had I trained on a road bike for the GSC, I would have learned the importance of riding in drops while descending hills before the ride commenced.  If the Golden State Challenge would have been my first ride on my R2R Stealth, I'm certain one of the professionals would have convinced me to ride in the drops going down hills and I would have either listened or experienced something similar or worse. 

I was lucky.  I try hard not to imagine if Marc and I would have gone another route.  I am thankful we didn't go back down Tunnel or Snake Road.  Joaquin Miller Road was the better choice with a 4-way stop.

Tunnel Road has a stop sign with no stop light or stop sign at the crossroad, Caldecott Lane or Tunnel Road depending on the direction you're coming from, and a low guard rail with a steep drop after that.   I could easily fly over that if I hit it with my bike, but hopefully I'd remember to take a right turn, if I couldn't stop. 

Snake Road is a steep and very windy road, hence the name Snake, with no flat area just before the last light and includes at least one stop sign. I could have run a red light and ended in the fence that runs along Mountain Boulevard with the freeway below, if I wasn't hit by a car first.  Hopefully, I'd remember to lean right and make myself fall and not get run over.

I remember John Wordin telling the Ride 2 Recovery participants on Day 3 of the Golden State Challenge from Carmel to San Simeon via Big Sur that what goes up must come down.  I know I won't be going in the Oakland Hills again until I am comfortable riding in the drops.  
I have to work on strengthening my hands and test my hand strength using the drops.  I'm positive I will be fine.  From the drops I'll have my entire hand gripping my levers like I do on my TREK hybrid just at a different angle.  Like my beautiful TREK, my R2R Stealth is powered by Shimano.  I figure as long as I do preventative maintenance and if my hands are as strong squeezing from the drops as they are using my TREK hybrid, my gears/levers will properly engage my brakes and I will stop appropriately.

No ifs, ands or buts, I have to learn to be comfortable in the drops and learn how to move from one to the other at any speed and especially when descending.  That experience of not being able to stop at a stop sign shook me to the core, tested my mettle, and now I have to dig deep and rebuild my confidence and find the courage to go up and down hills again. 

I'm sure I can; I am stubborn and I won't give up! A valuable lesson learned. ;-)   I have to get confident in my drops before the Napa Ride 2 Recovery (R2R) Cyclefest on April 16th.  I plan to do the 50 mile route.

I'm a little nervous about seeing my two friends who told me that I should NEVER ride on the hoods going down a hill.  I wouldn't be surprised if they want to thump me upside the head.  ;-) 
Until next time.







Flash said...

Debi, my 2 cent... After going down JMiller which is steep and fast, you should never have chosen Lincoln, which is steeper and faster, and has a red light in the worst place. That is an experts only downhill in my opinion and I never take people down it.

Tunnel Road is actually a far better downhill, it is longer and less steep than JM,as the second half is mild and you would be going 20 or less near the bottom.

Also, tightening your brakes after JM was the worst thing to do. You actually want them looser so when you pull on the lever you get more action, and therefore it makes your hand have more leverage power. You can buy cheap spacers that push your levers closer to the bar for the same leverage advantage, I made my own and use them on my Lemond, so I'm not just blowing theory here either! Leverage= power. Lastly, I'm glad that car didn't hit you, and you are not the first person this has happened to, I've seen it before, especially in the rain.

Debi said...

Thanks for your input Flash. I value it and consider it worth more than 2 cents; it's priceless. ;-)

I'm proud to say that I have descended down Lincoln back to Alameda with my cycling buddies, at least 4 times, with no problem. However, that was on my TREK hybrid with the flat bars and bar ends. I had control of my bike and brakes.

The winding of Tunnel and Snake Road deterred me from wanting to backtrack Tunnel or go down Snake on my road bike the first time.

My friend didn't like tightening my brake cables considering he could stop my bike, but was concerned that my hands were way too fatigued. They've been readjusted and now I have to work with the reach. I forgot to test my reach and grip when I was in the seat until I started practicing moving from the hoods and the drops this month.

This was definitely a lesson learned for this female riding in the hills on a road bike for the first time at over 50 years of age.

Again, thanks for your input and thanks for caring that I wasn't hit by a car and sharing with me that I'm not the only person who has missed a stop sign.

Hope to see ya' in the hills, Flash! I gotta' get there soon. I want to do the 101 miler on the Grizzly Peak Century, May 1st.

Can you spell stubborn? D.E.B.I. ;-)