Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Cyclist vol. 11: Texas Edition

Posted on: July 13, 2010

[Today we’re honored to have a Frontier Cyclist dispatch from Austin, Texas, a city famous for South by Southwest, Lance Armstrong and his bike shop, and the hottest summer ever. And as mathematical wizard Eric Katz reveals, it’s also a great place for the urban cyclist]

Last summer, Frontier Cyclist and I avoided civilization as cycling Mongols on our own Tour de Texas. Our rides included trips throughout the Austin city limits, a soujourn to the seedy Austin Aztex [sic] soccer stadium,  day trips to San Marcos and Lake Travis, and midnight loops around the perimeter of the Capitol building. I rode a heavy hybrid complete with fenders, racks, and metal baskets, and Cyclist rode a mid-’70’s Raleigh ten-speed of Irish provenance. By the end of the summer,  Cyclist returned to Brooklyn and bought a fixed gear, as required by local law. I moved to Berkeley for the semester and rode another heavy hybrid up Grizzly Peak three times a week and dreamed of a road bike. Since I returned to Austin, I’ve joined the lycra and (partially) carbon world.

Here’s what I learned:

10. Cycling is like music

Apply what you know about comparing musicians of varying popularity to cycling. Practice this: “I won’t deny that Jester Hill is really steep, but it’s got a consistent grade, and there’s no surprises. It’s long but psychologically, it’s not that intimidating. In my opinion, Ladera Norte is the hardest hill in Austin.” The same sentence can be used with minor modification if you replace Jester and Ladera Norte with, say, Radiohead and Can.

Ladera Norte, Austin, Tx.

9. Love your neighbor (and his bicycle)

There are two cultures in urban cycling: One of colored rims, anodized chains, and cards between spokes, another of lycra and carbon; one of hipsters on fixed gears, another of the hip-less on multi-speed racing machines. Whatever their ostensible differences, the sense of aesthetics in the fixed gear and road bike communities is rather similar. In between talk of carbon frames and aersospokes, I’ve heard mutual admiration for old-school steel frames. Besides, if you ride a racer too expensive and impractical for your commute, you’ll need to pick up a hybrid, fixed gear, or 25 year old steel road bike. Baffled? Let MC Spandex explain.

8. Training matters

If you do lots of hills and hard rides on a hybrid or mountain bike or 30 pound Schwinn, you’ll be an absolute monster when you switch to a modern road bike.

7. Save weight

Leave your lock at home and ride with a friend. Besides companionship, your buddy can watch your bike when you stop in the gas station to get energy drinks.

6. Be consistent

The difference between an inexperienced rider and a veteran isn’t speed or strength so much as consistent speed. You can go on a group ride that rides at 16 mph with veterans and be panting because the ride also goes 16 mph uphill. You can also be the weakest rider in the group and not know until the ride hits a hill.

5. Know your gear

Bike shorts, a headband or beanie to keep sweat out of your eyes, and a breathable, light (partially carbon) helmet all make riding a lot more pleasant.

4. Wear sunglasses

Shades matter more than any other piece of gear, even if you don’t live in Texas.

ZZ Top, “Cheap Sunglasses”

3. Redefine your sense of safety.

For example, a well-defined pace-line on a heavily trafficked highway with a wide shoulder is a lot safer than a rolling party on a side street.

Just another day on the Tour de Texas

2. Stay hydrated and energized.

Carry water bottles and try electrolyte tablets. You will not be able to eat enough to replace the calories from riding, but you can try. The middle pocket of your jersey is perfect for an energy bar or a banana.

1. Enjoy other riders’ devotion

One you start riding and talking to other cyclists, conversations about ideal tire pressure and the merits of different component groups become fascinating. Really. -Eric Katz

Eric Katz, a.k.a. Frontier Geometer, has lived all over the United States. Despite his music recommendations and the epigraphs to his research papers, he is not Brazilian. He works as an academic and currently has a really harsh cycling jersey tan.

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1 Response to "Frontier Cyclist vol. 11: Texas Edition"

[…] Perhaps a more surprising guest on El Existential is guitarist Curt Kirkwood, who led the 80s band The Meat Puppets. Then again, Grupo Fantasma has cultivated a crossover audience over the last decade, sharing stages with Prince and Spoon and playing at South by Southwest and Austin City Limits, the blue chip music festivals in their hometown. […]

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