A Blog About Brian Albritton's September 2012 Cycling Ride Across Britain

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Gandy v. Bayshore: Which Is Safer to Ride?

Cycling can be dangerous.  City or country riding, it doesn't make much difference.  For example, take San Antonio, Florida.  It is a lovely rural community: lots of farms, country roads, and orange groves.  For the most part, the roads have few cars and little traffic.  What could be dangerous about that?  Unfortunately, there are few bike lanes there; we ride in the road, sharing it with cars.  Most of the drivers slow down, go around cyclists, maybe even wave; lots of nice people there.  There are a few motorists, however, who drive by at 60+ mph and who go just close enough you can feel the whoosh of the car going by.   There is no margin for error.

The picture at the left is Gandy Bridge, called "The Gandy" by us locals:  you don't go over the bridge,  you drive over The Gandy.  It is almost three miles long and it spans Tampa Bay, between south Tampa and Pinellas.  To get from Tampa to St. Petersburg, a great place to cycle with lots of bike lanes, you have to bike over The Gandy.  The speed limit is 55 mph on the bridge, but you would think that is the minimum speed:  everyone is going fast, 60, 70, or more.  The high walls you see in the photo radiate the sound, making it seem to the cyclist as if they are riding on a speedway.

But here's the great thing about The Gandy:  the shoulder is at least 8 feet wide.  From my point of view, it might even be one of the safer places to ride.  I mean, you're giving all those people on their cellphones at least a four foot swerve lane if they starting veering over.  When I ride across, I stay right next to the high sidewall.  My theory is that drivers rarely hit the wall and if they do, they're going to die.  So, that's a disincentive for swerving over 8 feet and hitting me. 

Compared to Tampa's other grand landmark, Bayshore Drive, shown here in the picture, The Gandy is a broad cycling vista.  The speed limit is 40 mph on Bayshore, and there is a bike lane heading north.  Yet, that bike land is 4 feet across:  a cyclist is right next to cars.  And, the speed limit is really an aspirational goal as opposed to a limit, given that so few people follow it.  One inattentive cellphone call or dropped coffee while you're driving, and the motorist is veering into the bike lane.  Cyclists do get hit on Bayshore.  It doesn't happen very often, but it happens.

Ironically, I am far more scared riding on Bayshore, and I try to avoid it whenever possible.  If I want to ride on Davis Islands, a local mecca for south Tampa cyclists, I put my bike in the car and drive the short distance there down Bayshore.

Needless to say, my long training rides can be very exciting, though for all the wrong reasons.

A. Brian Albritton
July 30, 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Riding Hills in San Antonio, Florida

On Saturday mornings, I am easy to find: I am riding the hills of San Antonio, Florida.  San Antonio is about 35 miles north of Tampa, off of State Road 52, and it is an area well known to cyclists.  On the weekends, individual riders and various groups come up to San Antonio to ride.  The parking lot at a local ball field where everyone parks is often full.

Here is a picture I took today of one of the hills on the ride.  The maximum elevation for the hills in the area is around 320 feet and the beginning elevation is around 170, though it does dip below that.  Not quite soaring heights, but they'll do for training.  By contrast, the hills on the Ride Across Britain are as high 1400 feet. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am learning to ride hills, having started coming up here in May.  I usually ride 3-4 hours at a time.  Some of the hills are quite steep.  I am making progress, however.  I used to have stop on some of them to catch my breath or use the lowest gear of my triple chain ring.   Now, I just try to find a comfortable low gear and struggle up.  It's not a thing of beauty, I can assure you, but I am making it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Building Up the Legs to Ride Hills

Hills scare me.  Having lived and cycled here in the flat lands of Florida, I haven't had much experience cycling in hills.  It's one thing to ride on the flats, but it is an entirely different kind of ride to do hills.  Look at the Tour de France and all the fast sprinters:  Mark Cavendish, winner of three stages, may be the fastest man in cycling on the sprint (a/k/a flat) stages, but he is at the back of the peloton when the riders hit the hills.

So, a few months ago, at the strong urging of my good friend T.J. Fitzgerald ("get a coach . . . what do you have to lose"), I hired a trainer here at the YMCA:  Yvette Wilmath.  If I didn't have hills to ride in order to gain strength, I needed to do the next best thing:  strengthen my legs.

We have been training since February; 3 days a week since March. She is a kind and gentle taskmaster.  Before we could even work a lot on my legs, we have had to do lots of work on my "core" muscles --the muscles that hold you up when you're riding.  Lunges and squats and planks and all other kinds of exhausting exercises.  Today we did legs.  As we were working on the machines, she would ask, "Are you feeling the burn?  No?  We need to increase the weight!"  Rest assured, I came to feel the burn.  With six weeks to go, Yvette wants to do even more to build the strength in my legs.  With several thousand feet of climbing on this ride, I will need all the strength I can get.  Thanks Yvette.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just About Six Weeks To Go

Dear Friends, On September 8, I will be setting out from Lands End, England, and with about 500 other cyclists, riding the length of Britain, to the most northerly point of Scotland, at John O'Groats: 960 miles in 9 days. It's called the "end to end" ride, and it is the iconic bike ride of Great Britain. As so many around me have suffered hearing about it, I have been training for this since last September . . . And I still have a ways to go. I am up to riding 5 hours at a time, which is great, but I am not very fast. In fact, I am slow. Riding over a 100 miles a day could take 6-7 hours in the saddle, and that doesn't figure in the hills. I read somewhere that the route has 20,000 meters of climbing. Should be interesting, and I am excited to be doing it. So, I hope you'll join me as I chronicle these next few weeks as I train and prepare for the ride, travel to England, and then actually cycle across Britain. I also hope that you will be moved by my venture to support Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay, as I am dedicating this ride in support of that great charity. Thank you for your interest and hopefully your support of RMHC as well. Brian Albritton July 24, 2012