First ride with the Tuesday Night Urban Assault

Interesting is the only word that comes to mind to describe my first time on the Tuesday Night Urban Assault ride.

Two hours, 36 riders, two or three flats, one crash and seemingly endless circles and stairs. At 11.8 MPH average, it qualifies as the slowest ride I’ve ever done. Most of that is because of where we rode.

The ride starts at the Adams St Recreation Center in historic Corn Hill. Meet up time is 6PM and we ride out at 6:15. TNUA is a no-drop ride. So that everyone’s accounted for throughout the ride, everyone on the ride is assigned a number, and we count-off several times during the ride. My number tonight was 23.

We leave the rec center parking lot and circle “the circle” in Corn Hill for a few laps to warm-up. Then it’s off on the ride. Every night’s route is different, and no-one—not even Scott, the ride leader—knows where we’ll go. The ride’s not necessarily aimless, it’s just that there’s no pre-planned routing. Scott tries to get in a little bit of everything. And tonight’s two-hour ride was packed with variety.

Tonight, we crossed the pedestrian bridge over I-490 and headed downtown. We tooled around past the jail and into the central business district. Took a few spins around the parking lot at the old IBM building, then did some slow-speed stuff in the park between the Federal Building and the river. Never having ridden in such a large group, I focused on trying not to hit anyone and riding predictably so as not to cause a crash.

Most of the riders had mountain bikes. There were a few road bikes and a couple of hybrids like mine. I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of other commuter rigs too. Ages ranged from 20s to 50s and rider skill and preferances seemed to cover a lot of ground too. I’d guess I’m somewhere in the lower-middle as regards skills.

I need practice at slow speeds and I got a lot of it tonight. We spent an inordinate amount of time in the park riding up and down, practicing tight 90° turns on the sidewalk. I feel better already about my bike-handling skills at slow speeds and in confined spaces.

The stairs, I could do without. And I did, since fortunately, most of them also had wheelchair ramps. It’s not that I’m afraid of stairs, nor do I think I can’t learn how to negotiate them properly and safely. It’s just that with only one bike—and with it being my only form of transportation—I can’t afford to mess up the bike during the learning curve. Fortunately, about a third of us did the ramps instead of the stairs, so I didn’t feel left out.

I’m guessing it was the stairs that caused the flat tires. We spent more time there than anyone really wanted to while we waited for riders to fix their tires. It made me glad that first, I use kevlar-belted tires with Mr. Tuffy tire liners and heavy-duty tubes, and second, that I stayed off the stairs.

After a while, I got kinda bored with riding in circles around the park waiting for tires to be repaired and stopped for a smoke. This caused no end of fuss and amusement among the other riders. One of the young guys from Full Moon Vista came up and called me hard core. To which I replied, “Hell, it’s the only way I can ride this slow.”

Once all 36 were back and ready to ride, we went south on South Ave. At the central branch of the library, the group somehow got split up at two traffic lights in succession. The first bunch apparently turned right at the Dinosaur BBQ, and the rest of us went striaight ahead, onto the Riverway. We lost a lot of time getting that all sorted out, but eventually all met back at the Dinosaur and counted off.

Apparently, the lead group thought the second group had a good idea, and we all headed up the Riverway on the west bank. Just under the Ford St bridge, a rider went down, about 100 feet ahead of me. I don’t think he took anyone else with him, but he did a fine face-plant on the asphalt. Blood everywhere on the pavement. And there’s a distinctive and chilling sound when a bike goes down. I hope not to hear it very often, and hope never to be its source.

Someone called 911 and the ambulance came to take the rider away. Meanwhile someone from Full Moon Vista took the guy’s bike to the shop for safekeeping. We later learned that the crashed rider had been riding extremely aggressively in the group, passing unsafely and such, and had been warned already by other members of the group. His ride partner also admitted they’d been riding stupidly and said he was glad that no-one else got hurt.

That took some of the steam out of the ride and we finished-up with a few repeats up and down Wilson Blvd, which parallels the Riverway between Ford St and the U of R. After all the slow-speed stuff and the wandering around waiting to find the rest of the group, then waiting for the ambulance, it was nice to be able to drop the hammer for a few miles.

It was during one of these repeats that I suffered a casualty of my own. I caught sight of something falling out of the corner of my eye, then heard something bouncing along in the street. It was the display unit of my cyclometer. It hadn’t come out of the mount, but the screw holding the two parts of the mount together had come loose and fallen out. It seemed to work just fine riding in my pocket for the rest of the night.

After the last head-count, the group crossed the Ford St bridge back to Corn Hill. I rode the other way, up Mt. Hope Ave, to Alexander St and home.

I rode 21.12 miles, averaging 11.8 MPH with an average cadence of only 35—about half my normal average for a ride. Even so, it seemed like a harder workout than riding 73 miles yesterday. I’ll be back at the TNUA ride next week.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

The UPS man came just before I had to leave for the TNUA ride. He looked at me strangely when I thanked him for bringing my snow tires. Given the size and weight of the box, it didn’t make sense to him until after I explained they’re for the bike.

I had just enough time to open the box and release that wonderful fresh rubber smell before leaving the house. When I got home, the whole place smelled like a tire shop. It’s wonderful. If Glade would make a tire shop scented air freshener, I’d buy it.

The tires look less aggressive in person that they do on the web. Which is good. The tread blocks are shaped and spaced such that there are always two or three of them on the road. They’re certainly not knobbies. This relieves two concerns I had. I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough rubber on the road for safe riding in the dry, and I was concerned that the tread pattern would make for a huge increase in rolling resistance and a huge reduction in ride comfort.

I think the Nokian Hakkapeliittas will work out just fine. I’d almost say I can’t wait to try them out in the snow and ice. Almost.

Also in the box was my new Thomson Elite seatpost. I’m of two minds regarding the nice cloth drawstring bag it comes in. On the one hand, it seems like a needless expense, used only to justify the $90 list price. On the other hand, it keeps the finish absolutely pristine. It just took my breath away sliding the tube out of the bag. It’s almost too nice to actually use.

Woe be the first bike mechanic to scuff the finish clamping the bike into the repair stand.

I was pretty impressed with the weight of the seatpost I’m replacing. The Thomson Elite, despite being 80mm longer, having thicker walls and having a larger clamp on top, is lighter still. It’s an amazing piece of work. There must be helium or something in the aluminum alloy they use to make this thing.

And did I mention the quality of the finish work? It’s far and away the best-looking piece on the bike. I can’t wait get out and start dialing in the new seat postion.