Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to TOSRV (for the first time)

Tyler, age 12, on his first TOSRV, 2005
It was the first big ride I ever heard about.  It was the early `70s and while to trying to find myself in high school, I was also trying to eat, sleep and breath bicycles.  I grabbed a copy of Sports Illustrated, not for the baseball or football (not even the swimsuits), but because I found an article about the bike boom, and Eddy Merckx, and this ride Mothers Day Weekend in Ohio that had 6,000 riders riding 200 MILES in TWO DAYS!  6,000 riders!  I wasn’t crazy or alone for wanting to ride.  That ride became something I had to do.  Of course, first I would have to get a nice bike and a driver’s license so I could get to Columbus, and ride my first century.

Started in the early `60s, The Tour of the Scioto River Valley (TOSRV or TOZ) is the mother of all midwest rides. It’s reputation is many fold, the challenge of back to back 100 miles days after as little as a month of decent spring weather.  The actual ride weather itself was always intimidating; wind, rain, heat, tornados and even snow.  Registering was a ritual of mailing a SASE in late January, with a rush to return the completed entry form before the ride filled in 3-4 weeks.  TOSRV is a collection of images of endless lines of riders streaming out of downtown Columbus and into rural Ohio, following the Scioto River, the railroads and the old canals, until you finally came to the Ohio River and floodwalls of Portsmouth.  Out of TOSRV grew legends of bad weather, Bikecentennial (which would become Adventure Cycling) and friendships that would last years.

Through luck, chance and jobs, it would be 1979 before I finally rode my first TOSRV, on a single bike, surviving Saturday afternoon thunderstorms and flash floods in Waverly, and falling asleep in the door of my tent in Portsmouth.  Over the next 11 years I would return to ride 5 more times, though now on a tandem, and each with a different guest stoker.  While not a tandem event, it is very poplar tandem ride; the challenging yet tandem friendly terrain, seems to draw couples, sport teams, and parent/child teams.  No official count is taken, but there are easily 150 or more tandems, and a triple or two.

For me each ride was different experience; the laugh when rider called car back after hearing the tandems tire buzz over taking him.  Pulling paces lines of 20 or more bikes. One year a guest stoker arrived the day of the ride 40 pounds heavier than our last ride the previous year, and our rear wheel barely survived the weekend.  A minor car accident and severely broken finger bone almost canceled me one year, but I was in Columbus and on the bike two weeks after the cast was off, and after 30 miles, captained the rest of the weekend. 1990 was a reunion ride of sorts for 4 of us now living or heading to 4 different states, and would begin a 15-year break for me.

Over the next 15 years I would move across the country and back, but always thinking about that Mothers Day ride in Columbus.  Finally, 2005 would be the year I would end my hiatus and for the first time I would have a family member join me, my oldest son.  Tyler and I had tandemed his first century a year and half before.  An accident in 2004 curtailed my cycling season and kept us from trying another long ride, though he was now able to do 50+ miles on his own.  Since leaving Iowa for Indiana, Tyler had wanted to replace our BRR father/son ride (Iowa’s late February, 20 miles and usually snowy ride season kick-off), and TOSRV seemed fine to him, even it was 10 times the distance of BRR.  At least snow isn’t “normal” for TOSRV.

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, two pending spring centuries will focus your training.  I was regularly riding on the wind trainer just after Thanksgiving, and Tyler was soon doing likewise.  The family work out room soon hosted a fun contest with average speeds and times posted on a dry erase board.  (Youngest son Justin soon requested a trainer seat, but he will have to wait a year until we can accommodate a third bike.)  Midwest winter riding is always catch-as-can, with the nice days while you are at work, and snow or rain on the weekends, and this year was par for the course.  TOSRV’s mail-in registration and SASE were replaced with on-line registration, completed in early February. The four of us had a few family bicycle outings in, I was riding well on my own, and Tyler and I had a couple of training rides in. Then in early March I got very panicked call at work from my wife.  She was with in the emergency room with Tyler for x-rays of his right arm, which he had just injured in a fall during some horseplay at school.

Tyler had minor hairline fracture above his wrist requiring a cast that would be removed barely 4 weeks before the ride IF it set properly.  So out the door went plans for any nire progression training the spring. And would Tyler even still be interested?  The first thing he asked Mom in the ER when he finds out about the cast is can he still ride TOSRV?  The next few weeks are a roller coaster.  Tyler had been in cast and couple years before and had healed quickly.  Though he was frustrated, he took it easy the first two weeks in the cast.  Then with mild encouragement, he got back on Mom’s wind trainer mounted bike and rode 15 minutes.  Over the next several weeks his frequency and duration increased until he was riding up to 30 minutes at a stretch.  After talking to his doctor and thoughtful family discussion, Linda and I decide we could plan on the 50-mile day option and still make the ride, if he does not need a second cast.  And that was our first good news of the spring, no re-cast was necessary; but we were asked to wait 2 weeks to begin exercise.  He would have two full weekends to ride before our trip to Columbus.

The first training weekend arrived and we rode an easy 30 miler, with Tyler stoking comfortably in his wrist brace.  After almost 2 months off the tandem, he did quite well, and his wind trainer regimen has certainly helped.  More of a challenge is how much he had physically changed in the last year, now at 120 lbs and 5’ 8” tall (Yes, he is only 12!).  We don’t have a lot of time to experiment with saddles; one test saddle is rejected and we commit to his trusty Serfas youth gel saddle.  The next evening we joined a nearby training ride, and while we can’t hold the pace, but we are able to get in a flat-tire shortened 20 miles, for 50 miles in two days.

The next weekend is make-or-break if we are going have a chance to ride a century, so early Saturday morning we ride from home to the start of our club’s weekend ride.  Overcast and a cold north wind results in a light turnout of 60 riders, as we head out with the main group on the 54-mile long route.  This early in the spring, most riders doing the distance are already riding for speed, and we are soon off the back of the main and riding with other stragglers.  At the same time, we meet the spring headwind that is going to be our constant companion for the first half of the ride. Sometimes with small groups, sometimes alone, we have ridden 30 miles into  15-20 MPH wind to the turn around. Almost 2 1/2 hours of headwind grind are rewarded with 25 miles of tailwinds for the ride home in an hour less.  It is our longest training ride of the spring, and the one that really tested us.  We finish the weekend with 2 more rides and over a 100 miles total.  TOSRV will not be our fastest ride, but we are ready to go; if the weather is good, we will try for the centuries; bad weather and we ride the 50-mile days.

It’s now May 1, and I begin watching the Columbus 7-day forecast online; after the cool wet spring, it is finally showing a break in the pattern, with the jet stream moving north by mid-week, and mild 70’s pushing in. Friday arrives, and the bike is cleaned, the gear is selected and sorted, and the bags are packed.  A good example of how a 12-year old mind worksis that he is still getting the concept down that we won’t be returning the to van the first night, so no, the laptop can’t be brought along to watch DVDs; anything we need during the weekend, or the second day has to be on us and the bike, or in our duffle bags on the baggage trucks.  While I load the bike and gear, Tyler takes on prepping our minivan for the road trip; I find the front console is stocked with Reese’s Pieces (his), jelly beans (mine), two kinds of potato chips, and the cooler in reach behind the seat.  Our only disagreement is on Dad’s iPod tunes for the trip.

We have a nice afternoon drive to Columbus, talking about school, summer break, and odds and ends, just nice casual small talk between father and son.  We arrive in Columbus and meet two of the three friends I last rode with in 1990, Martin from northern Indiana, who picked up Dave from his flight in from Texas.  Between them, they have only missed TOZ’s a handful of times since 1980.  We all head for dinner, and Tyler is somewhat skeptical at first of the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, but he finds a chicken dish he likes and rises to the occasion.  Over diner we compare notes; why am I still riding the oldest bike (the 1985 Sovereign), what was STP (Seattle to Portland Ride) in Seattle like, how is riding in Texas, or Martin’s latest adventure in bicycle warranty replacements.  After 15 years and casual emails, the biking let’s us talk has though little time has past, and even Tyler is comfortable, chatting about his rides in Iowa and Indiana; his first century at 10-years old impresses two 100,000 mile plus guys in their late 50’s.  After dinner, Tyler and I drive into downtown Columbus to pick-up our ride packets and scout the morning drive to the start.  It is then back to hotel to lay out clothes, attach luggage tags, rider numbers, ice the CamelBaks for the night and scan the Weather Channel. As we turn out the lights and TV, early morning rain, clearing by mid-morning is now in the forecast.

At 5 AM the alarms go off, and we quickly shower and dress. The preceding week’s forecast had committed us to the century days.  Out comes the rain gear, though the sun comes up as we eat a quick Mc-breakfast before driving the 5 miles to the start.  Downtown, we find the parking garage, and load the tandem for the day.  Balancing duffels on our shoulders we make our way to the baggage truck for our assigned overnight.  Around us hundreds of other riders do the same, all watching the sun to east, but aware of the clouds coming in from the south and west.  Like the others, Tyler and I find another rider to snap our picture with the tandem and the Ohio Capital building in the background.  I give Tyler a hug for luck, we mount up and roll down the street, the last rays of morning sun disappearing as the gentle rain begins. I am back, and we are off.

May 2005 (Originally written for Recumbent and Tandem Rider magazine in 2005)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Social Network for Bicycle Clubs: CIBA 2020

I originally submitted this to CIBANews in 2006.  I was probably a couple of years early on CINDYC, and the iPhone has replaced the iPod.  However, I think everything else predicted is still a very reasonable extension of what is happening today.

CIBA 2020

It’s roughly 12:30 UST (7:30 AM for the Standard time holdouts) when you roll over, and ask your HC (Home Computer) for your start page. Since it’s a weekend, your personal profile results in the weather conditions making-up the headlines rather than news and traffic.  Mid 50’s now, highs near 75 with no rain, light SE winds, so it is going to be a great day for riding.  You roll your eyes to morning chore list (the display follows your eyes, no need for a keyboard or mouse); a couple easy tasks, and you’ll be ready to ride in three hours.    Before getting out of bed you call out your ride request to HC “Ride-CIBA, 15:30 home start, 80 klicks- social-workout” and then head for the shower.

How will CIBA and the role of bike clubs change over the next 30 years?  The last 30 years saw the recreational bike clubs driven by the baby boomers wanting to exercise. Hand-typed monthly newsletters and ride schedules served a mentoring function for out-of-shape novice riders on poor equipment with steep learning curves. At a club ride the “new” riders were the one’s in tennis shoes and cut-offs.  While getting in shape and learning to shift, they learned how to ride with a group. Today, index shifting and more novice friendly bikes, plus diverse fitness backgrounds (running, spinning and triathlons) and readily available equipment result in rides where the novice may be fit and strong, but have no idea on the intricacies of safe, fast, group riding.

By the time you sit down for breakfast and check in, CIBA’s RideServer has matched your ride request with two rides it is building for the north side. 15 riders (so far) are heading up to Lebanon for lunch, while another group of 17 is going to Tipton.  You blink the Lebanon ride; and check the rider list; not “him” again you think- and this time you remember to put him on your least preferred list.  You try the Tipton ride, and see a handful of your regulars.  You blink in for that ride; by the time you refresh you see 2 more riders; the Tipton ride is now up to 20, and the RideServer will now post the ride to CIndyC.

Today another boomlet in cycling is in progress as baby boomers become empty nesters looking for social activities and fitness.   Newsletters are done on PCs now, but where does a 4-week production cycle newsletter fit into a world of email, Facebook, web pages, Twitter and text messaging?  Bicycling riding remains popular, but busy schedules and a wide variety of other recreational fitness choices are now available.  Information on any topic is readily available for free.  Why join a club, if the ride schedule is on the web, and the mentoring function is available for free from other sources.  And what about younger riders- how do you approach and appeal to even younger h-tech savvy riders?

Since 2015, Central Indiana, (Greater Indianapolis and the 16 super donut counties) have relied on CINDYC (InDOT’s Central Indiana Traffic Control, part of the nation wide Traffic Control network) to monitor vehicle traffic and control traffic flow.  Every TC aware vehicle entering the region is linked with CINDYC and the information is used to prevent traffic jams and put vehicles on the most efficient routes. For the last 2 years, CIBA and InDOT have experimented with posting CIBA rides of 20 or more riders into CINDYC.  This let’s drivers know when the larger riders will be on the road and adjusts traffic controls (even many rural stops signs are now TC aware LED panels) .  And some riders (like yourself) are even riding with TC-aware bike computers and phones.

So how does a club thrive or survive in these conditions?  They must find a way to add value and remain relevant to their audience.  While events like the Hilly Hundred and NITE ride will always have their place, does a volunteer intensive weekend ride schedule fit the needs of the current audience?  How do you provide safety and mentoring for a group of 100 or more riders who leave a ride start looking like a closed course criterium?  Just one possibility is adapting “social” software available today to build rides (on-demand) based on matching riders by interest, skill level, fitness and schedules.  Think about a half dozen or more rides occurring every day with riders looking for the same kind of ride.

While you finish cleaning up the kitchen, the ride is updated again, with the start time adjusted 15 minutes later by CINDYC.  This lets the ride get by a soccer field between game changes; you accept the new time, and your iPhone is updated and you go about your morning. Working away until your iPhone chimes and it is time to get ready to ride. Your last update shows 25 people have now joined.

Just as the bicycles and riders have changed over the last 30 years, so must the organizations that want to encourage and foster group participation in this great sport. There are so many diverse talents with such great potential in 2,000+ member organization like CIBA.  All it takes is the willingness to think outside the box, and say “What if?”

You roll out of the garage on schedule, and you iPhone and bike computer and now synched, and talking with CINDYC.  You haven’t gone for the new heads up display glasses yet, but your bike computer beeps each turn, while keeping you at your planned pace.   A few miles from home, you say “Hi” to the first rider joining (has her name appears on your bike computer).  By 5 miles out, another 30 riders are now rolling along together.  It’s going to be a great ride.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Social Networks for Bicycle Clubs 101: Using NING for Bicycle Club Websites

Since 2007, I have been responsible for managing the HOOTS, (Hoosiers Out On Tandems), a central Indiana based tandem bicycle club.  The HOOTS operate under the umbrella of the Central Indiana Bicycle Association, and is funded from proceeds of hosting the Midwest Tandem Rally (MTR 2004 in Columbus, Indiana and for MTR 2010 in Shipshewana, Indiana).   Along with a mailing list, I am responsible for the HOOTS web site, which provide information to member and non-members.  Since 2008, the HOOTS web site (http://www.tandemhoots.ning.com) has been on the NING social networking platform (http://www.ning.com).

More than a website, the NING social networking platform provides many of the essential elements of a bicycle club in an easy to administer and maintain platform.  It is entirely web based, and can be run from any modern web browser.  Costs are very reasonable and comparable with traditional web hosting solutions.

NING services are available in 3 plans, Mini, Plus and Pro.

The Mini plan is $19.95 per year, you are limited to 150 members, and this plan does not support events.  (This plan is ideal for a small club, or for someone just wishing to experiment with NING.)
The Plus plan, at $200 per year, includes Events and Calendars, and allows you to use a custom domain name. (This would require a custom domain hosting service and fees.)  We use this plan for the HOOTS web site.  (http://www.tandemhoots.ning.com )
The Pro plan, at $500 per year, offers many additional customization features, allows up to 3 additional custom domain names, and allows you to store video and music files on your site, among other features.

The NING environment requires little technical skill to maintain.  Only the Pro plan, which allows for a custom home page, would require any web page creation skills.

Page Administrator
The person who sets up the account with NING and creates the site becomes the Page Administrator (or Page Admin). The Page Admin has access to a Dashboard tab, that allows for the site and features to be configured for appearance and privacy. Other members can be designated has a Page Admin to spread the work around and allow for vacations, etc.

Once the site is up and running, the other role of the Page Admin is to manager membership and content moderation.  Potential members can be invited by email, and membership approval (by the Page Admin) can be required.  I strongly advise using membership approval.  The Page Admin can also broadcast messages to all members.  For content moderation, (controlling what appears on the site), each feature can be set to allow content to require approval prior to being made public on the site.

Basic Features
The NING platform offers many features that make it ideal for bike clubs: Membership, Events (Calendar), Photo Albums, Blogs and Discussion Forums.  Each of these features is easily managed by the Page Admin from their Dashboard tab (only visible to the Page Admin).   Each feature can be configured to allow members to add content, and for the content to be moderated before being made public.  Each feature is visible on its own tab, and features can also be included on the Main Page.  The Main Page opens when you use your default page address, for example, http://www.tandemhoots.ning.com .

The Main Page
The Main Page becomes the home page for your NING hosted web site.  Page customization is available through the Dashboard, and this includes themes and colors.  The Main Page can summarize all your club activities, with the most recent items from each of the feature you choose to use their.  Your site privacy settings determine if non-member can see content beyond the Main Page.  Your Main Page content is also searchable by Google.  With the Pro plan, custom home pages can be created for a look that is different from the Main Page options available from NING.

Members join the site and have full access to all information on the site. Each member has their own profile page, which has information about themselves.  Profile page information is set-up by the Page Admin.  Members can also choose to have a profile picture, which they can upload.  Profile pictures are very handy helping members get to know and recognize each other. A member can allow other members to include them in site friend lists; one member can only send messages to other member’s they have approved.  Any member can post a message on another member’s profile, a good way to allow members to start connecting with one another.

Depending on site settings, member can post to any of the features (Events, Blogs, Photos, Discussions) that are on the site.

If allowed and set up by the Page Admin, potential members can apply can apply and members can login into the site using their Facebook, Google, or Yahoo accounts.  This eliminates the need for another site-specific password.

Events and the Calendar
Events have all the standard items: Event Name, and Event Image (a photo or logo), description, event type, start and end time and dates, location and address, a link to another web site or Google Map to the location, and organizer contact information.  About the only missing feature is the capability for adding recurring events.  The description box allows you to include active hyper links, and the final event also generates a link to the event that can be emailed to others.  Events can also be shared or linked to a members Facebook profile.  Members can also RSVP to an event, creating a guest list.  Member can also leave comments on events, or contact the event organizer.

Blogs are short articles for your members. They can be ride and event announcements, general news items, ride reports, and other information useful to your members.  You can configure your site to allow any member to post a blog, and determine if Page Admin can moderate (approve or refuse) a members post. Blog comments and sharing are also standard features.

Pictures and Albums
Members can post pictures through a photo upload tool, or email directly their profile from an Internet capable phone.  Pictures uploaded to the site can be organized into Albums, by either the submitting member or the Page Admin.

Discussion Forums
A full discussion forum tool is available.  Discussion and content are fully configured and moderated by, you guessed it, the Page Admin.

More Bells and Whistles
Other features include member-to-member chat, video and music sharing, advertising options and Google Analytics.  I have only covered the most important features to clubs here.  On the other hand, you mind find these useful for your club.

How Does It All Work?
The HOOTS site now has over 2 full years of use.  In my next article, I will fill tell you more about our experiences with the site and what we have learned, and the advantage of NING over some of the other alternatives.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Social Networks for Bicycle Clubs 101 - Facebook Profiles, Groups, Pages

Here is a quick summary of the Facebook “pages” that were discussed in yesterday’s CIBA Board Meeting.

Some of these links will only work for Facebook users, and what you see may vary with your privacy settings.

Facebook Profile: Your personal page. This is what you create when you join Facebook and where you post information about yourself. Your profile has two main components, your Profile, where you place your interests, and the Wall, where see the latest posts from your Facebook friends. Your privacy settings impact your profile looks like to other Facebook users and external search sites.
http://www.facebook.com/jay.hardcastle my profile.

Facebook Group: a collection of Facebook members who joined a page
  • Groups have admins, (administrators )who create the group, set privacy and can invite, remove or ban members.
  • Group “page” content are not visible to external search Sites.
  • Group Privacy can vary from invitation only and completely private to globally visible in Facebook with open membership. 
The CIBA Group we were discussing:

Facebook Page: Pages are “profiles” for a business or organization.
  • You “Like” a page by clicking on thumbs up icon (this used to be called become a Fan, )
  • Pages have admins, (administrators) who can post and remove content. Pages can have multiple admins.
  • Pages are visible outside Facebook to Search site like Google, Bing and Yahoo. This includes events.
  • Pages can send updates to Fans. Updates go to all members, but appear in a separate inbox on a user profile.
  • Events can be added to pages, and fans can be invited, updated or post comments on events.
  • Discussion Forums are all supported.
Page for a business: (shameless commercial plug - I manage this page BGI)

Page established for the Midwest Tandem Rally:

I am working on more detailed white paper on Social Network for Bicycle Clubs, and appreciate you comments on this content.