Tag Archives: bicycle

In Praise of Fall Rides

Despite the emergence of pumpkin spice lattes and the forthcoming Halloween festivities fall is an amazing time in eastern Iowa for those of us who ride bicycles.

Why?

With RAGBRAI long past and college football in full swing a ride on the weekend is usually an affair where you might see a half dozen people out on the trail.  In the summer it is like spending Black Friday at the Mall of America.  Yes, it gets that bad.

Despite the increase in wind speeds the drop in temperature is manageable through some strategic layering and thoughtful ride timing.  A friend of mine says that if you wear black in the sun it feels ten degrees warmer than whatever the weatherman is telling you.  I do not know if that is true, but fifty degrees is pretty darn nice when you are twenty miles into a thirty some mile ride and starting to really heat up.

The cool temps and lingering humidity keep the dust down on the gravel.  Save for the patches of trail covered in green hulled walnuts, which will drop you on your ass if you are not careful, the surface conditions are just about perfect.  Dry and firm with enough give for traction.  This is a trail you would have killed for in the middle of sun baked summer when the conditions vacillated between rock hard and sloppy mess.  Sometimes in the same ride.

For some reason the animals are crazy this time of year.  Kamikaze squirrels will dart across the path with alarming frequency.  Raccoons crawl out from under bridges like they are coming off three day dumpster benders.  Bald eagles circle lazily looking for the plump, easy meal of a rodent making its way across a freshly harvested soybean field.

The changing colors and dying grasses add an otherworldly quality to the landscape that has grown so familiar over a lot of summer miles.  Where there used to be impenetrable walls of tall grass is now a mottled screen of drooping stalks and golden leaves.

Perhaps best of all is that your legs feel like they are carved from springy wood.  Hardened from thousands of miles, yet fresh from a taper in riding time equals some refreshingly fast and fun rides in mid-October.

Plus, you can wear a flannel shirt on your ride and no one looks at you funny.  Try doing that in July.

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Third Quarter New Year’s Resolutions Progress

It is now October and that means it is fall.  It also means that I am nine months of the way through the year which is probably a good time to check in on where I am at with my resolutions or goals for 2019.  Here goes:

  • Decarbonize transportation—My 2015 Nissan Leaf has been in the garage for almost nine months. Through the end of September 2019 I have driven ~5,893 miles.  By trading a Ford F150 for a Nissan Leaf I have saved ~6,733 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted.
  • No more Amazon—While I failed in the first quarter and succeeded in the second quarter, the third quarter was a little better. I spent some money that I was “awarded” from work via a gift card.  It was money spent at Amazon, but it was not my cash and I felt that the effort to transfer the funds was not worth the return.  Trying to reduce my spending at both Amazon and Walmart has made me think about our consumer habits in general.  More to come.
  • No more Walmart—Spent about a $100 on school supplies for a work organized effort to help out area kids during the back to school time. Walmart was running sales where I was able to pick up whole classrooms’ worth of some supplies for a few dollars.  It was craziness and well worth failing in my goal to make it happen.
  • Read twenty five books—38 books read in the first nine months.  Mission accomplished.
  • Drink local—Doing pretty good so far.
  • Declutter my house—This is probably the singular failure so far this year. Sure, some stuff has gone to Goodwill but I feel that on the whole nothing is less cluttered than it was nine months ago.  Maybe I can sprint to the finish.
  • Replace existing toilets with low volume flush models—I have picked out the model of toilet to replace my existing commodes. I have even purchased the wax rings to install the new toilers.  Now I just need to get a free day on a weekend to spend a few hours doing some plumbing.  Can you tell that this is my favorite way to spend a few hours on a Saturday?
  • Plant at least five trees—Two Norway spruce trees are in the ground. Three Colorado blue spruce trees in the ground.  Mission accomplished.
  • Reduce lawn coverage— No real progress, but I have plans. I promise!
  • Ride 2,500 miles on gravel roads—I am sitting at ~2,718 miles for the season as the month of September came to a close. Surprisingly, September was a real dog of a month for riding as the weather really conspired to keep me inside.   Mission accomplished.

So far, so good I think.

Stuff I Like: Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds

I do not wash my bike often, but when I do I use Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds:

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Unlike Dr. Bronner’s more well-known pure Castile liquid soaps, Sal Suds is a concentrated all-purpose cleaner.  According to the instructions you can use it on just about anything without fear of damage.  Depending upon your cleaning task you can mix in more or less Sal Suds.

When I clean my bike—which happens so infrequently that anyone I ride with refers to my bike as the “dirtwagon”—I mix a healthy squirt of Sal Suds into a wash bucket and fill the rest with water from the hose bib.  A few minutes with a soft bristle scrub brush and some low pressure water spray is all that is needed to get my bike into near new condition.  Okay, as news as something can look after thousands of miles.

When I rinse my bike and allow it to dry in the sun there is no greasy soap residue that you might get with something like an all-purpose wash for an automobile.

This stuff is great because I do not need to worry about the impact that the cleaner will have on my landscaping when it inevitably gets washed off the sidewalk or driveway.

About the only downside I have discovered is that my disc brakes howl like a monkey on meth the first ride after a wash.  Seriously, it is like I put polyurethane brake pads on my bike.  For those of us who came of age on bikes in the 1990s, never forget Winwood Poly Brakes.

Note: I buy this stuff with my own money and get no compensation from Dr. Bronner’s.  This is not some influencer pimping a product for money.

Building Volume in the Shoulder Season

September is the beginning of the shoulder season.  That is to say, September represents the descent of days spent in the saddle and an increase in the number of workouts to get prepared for the upcoming ski season.  Snow may not have fallen on the slopes yet, but September is when a successful ski season begins.  It does help to have put on over 2,500 miles on my bike this summer so I am starting with an excellent aerobic base.

Switching from long rides on gravel to a high intensity interval training (HIIT) regime that emphasizes explosive movements requires some planning.  If one were to just jump right in you might find yourself spending the better part of a week walking around sore.  Never mind the chance of injury that comes from not properly executing lifts when fatigue sets in.

The key is to build volume over a period of time.  Most people like to focus on adding weight as a benchmark of progress, but if there is not a base of volume to work from injury will likely result.  Matt Owen, a St. Louis based trainer, was quoted in Outside Magazine:

We need to really build that base of general physical preparedness in order to build other stuff on top of it—strength, power, sport-specific movement. We’re going to value volume—one to two hours of work every day—over anything else at first. It’s a lot easier to get strong when you’re able to tolerate more work, more time lifting weights, and you’re able to recover faster than if we just pull you in and make you start lifting heavy.

I am not over fifty years old…yet.  Nonetheless, this advice is sound for anyone who values long term fitness across multiple physical disciplines without experiencing injury.  Once the base is set through a series of workouts a person can focus on the stuff that will really allow them to excel on the slopes.  The same thing can be said in the spring.  No one should jump on the bike and grind out a fifty mile day without first putting on some miles via series of shorter rides.

During the shoulder season, as I watch the early season snowfall reports with anticipation of deep powder days, I am working in three to four HIIT sessions a week while maintaining three or four long rides on my bicycle.  The difference from my HIIT sessions later in the year is that I have lessened the weight on most movements and focused on keeping the repetitions high.

By October I should be ready to transition into four or five longer HIIT sessions with heaver weights and more time on the rowing machine.  By December my body should be ready for the slopes.  Of course, I will be sore after my first day of bombing and ready to soak in the hot tub.  It’s tradition!

Labor Day in Lincoln, Nebraska Leads to…

Bikes and beers of course.  Were you thinking I was going to say University of Nebraska Cornhusker football?  Hah!

As a loyal University of Iowa alumnus going to spend a long weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska I was not going to participate in any game day festivities.  Instead I was going to attack the Homestead Trail south of town.

Last year over the Memorial Day weekend I went on a ride that covered a portion of the Homestead and Jamaica North trails.  At the time the temperature was hovering around 90 some degrees with an equal percentage of humidity which forced me to cut my ride short.  Heading back to my truck I vowed to return.

The route from just south of Lincoln at the trailhead off Saltillo Road southward to Beatrice is a little over 30 miles.  Round trip I expected this ride to take about 4 hours assuming I could keep a consistent cadence on the gravel.

The morning started out cool and humid.  How humid?  Like fog dripping from the sky humid.  Like trailside grasses sagging under the weight of morning dew humid.  At least the trail dust was kept down by all the moisture in the air.  One can really tell that it has been a wet spring and summer in Nebraska just by the density of the greenery along the trail.  It is damn near jungle-esque.

Traffic on the trail was light.  A few ultra-runners early on, but almost completely depopulated by mile ten.  I passed a few people on bikes the rest of the way.  If you want to be alone with your thoughts on a bike I highly recommend the Homestead Trail.

The trail surface was in good condition for most of its length.  Somewhere around mile 20 the trail was scarred by what appeared to be quad bike tracks that whipsawed across the width of the gravel surface.  It was as if someone deliberately came out after a rainstorm and dug deep tire tracks in an effort to frustrate cyclists.  If so, that is just sad and belongs in the hall of shame next to the guys who “roll coal” next to cyclists at traffic stops.

I have got to be honest, the trail is a lot of this:

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If it looks really flat that is because the trail is really flat.  Over 60.34 miles—out and back to Beatrice—I gained a total of 479 feet.  That is right, just an average of less than 8 feet of elevation gain per mile.

I made it to Beatrice:

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Barn wood…it’s not just for people from Waco, Texas:

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Caution: Animal Holes…my new favorite sign:

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The reward for achieving my goal of riding to Beatrice and back was a trip around Lincoln to try out a few, new to me breweries.  My legs were rubber after sixty miles of riding, but I was game for quick pit stop by White Elm Brewing and Code Beer Company in Lincoln.  Both breweries put out a well-made IPA.  I really only had the energy to sample a few beers before heading to dinner and bed.

Like before, I will be back.

Going Back to a Flat Bar Yet Again

There are certain themes I seem to come back to time and time again.  When it comes to my bicycles the past is prologue which means it must be time for me to give up on the drop bars and return to a flat handlebar setup.

After several thousand miles and two different drop bars—the OEM compact set and a reused 44cm Salsa Cowchipper 2—I spent a weekend rebuilding my primary bicycle into this:

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Let’s get a few things out of the way before the drop bar mafia makes their presence known.

Compared to the variety and comfort of flat bar grips the usual drop bar solution of grip tape basically sucks.  You can point me to extra cushioned tape or thick natural cork tape or gel pads under tape…it all sucks compared to a set of Ergon grips.  Plus, I can never seem to wrap a bar neatly or in such a manner that the grip tape starts to come undone in less than a month.  My Ergons are held in place with a single bolt and stay rock solid.

When it comes to hand positions, which is the primary reason that the drop bar mafia claims to love drop bars, I found myself riding almost entirely on the flats or hoods.  You know what those two positions look a lot like in my current setup?  The two primary hand positions.  Hmmm…

Additionally, the position on the flats of my Salsa Cowchipper 2 never felt wide enough.  It was the most comfortable position for my hands, but it felt like someone was squeezing my shoulders inward.  That is not a sensation that is particularly comfortable on a big day ride.  I could have opted for a wider drop bar or gone to a bar with more flare.  However, that would have made the outer hand positions feel wider to a degree that was also uncomfortable.  Do you see where I am going with this?  I could not find a good spot to put my hands for a long ride.  Any ride over the two hour mark really started to hurt my hands and wrists.

In addition to switching to a flat bar I switched out the OEM Shimano Sora 9 speed drivetrain for a SRAM GX based 10 speed drivetrain.  Both setups utilized a single 42 tooth chainring up front.  If this setup looks familiar that is because it is reusing parts from a prior build I did on my old bicycle.  Hilarity, so to speak, ensued when I discovered late Sunday night that the derailleur cable for my rear shifter was about an inch short.  Naturally, no bike shop was open and my build had to wait to be completed until Monday evening.

A big shout out to the guys at Goldfinch Cyclery in Cedar Rapids.  When I could not get my drivetrain to shift accurately—it would not get into the largest cog—they got everything working lickety split.  Turns out you need to exaggerate the alignment a little bit to get everything working.  Who knew?

Friday Linkage 7/26/2019

The heat and humidity finally broke here in eastern Iowa this week and we got to open the windows.  Okay, we opened the windows in our house but it seems like everyone else still has their air conditioning running full blast.  Naturally, this includes my neighbors who run their air conditioning even when it is sixty degrees outside.  It must be an ice box inside that house.

These are the same neighbors who complain about their high electricity bill.  So it also makes sense that these same neighbors would install a hot tub.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, says high electricity costs quite like a hot tub.

On to the links…

American Green—If there is one thing that I wish people would do it is that they stop obsessing—in terms of both time and money—about the lawns surrounding their homes.  Who cares if a stray dandelion shows up or some clover has established itself?  Who cares it some spots start to brown out when the mercury hits 90 degrees?

New York Just Passed the Most Ambitious Climate Target in the Country—There is no climate leadership at the federal level, so it falls to cities and states to move things forward.  Luckily, the states most likely to move forward also happen to be home to a lot of people and a lot of economic activity.

Refinery Explosions Raise New Warnings About Deadly Chemical—If a Tesla or other electric vehicle catches fire there is sure to be a whole raft of coverage.  If a normal ICE car bursts into flames or an oil refinery explodes there is little coverage.  Never mind the potential of a truly catastrophic incident at an oil refinery.

It’s Just Good Business: Even Red States Are Dumping Coal for Solar—I think that this needs to be the response for anyone who gets asked a question about solar power.  It’s just good business.

Waste Only: How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World—Plastic is bad.  It may be a necessary evil in some applications, but limiting the use of plastics is the ultimate goal.

Cigarette Butts are the Most Pervasive Man-Made Pollutant—My late father, a former smoker who quit in his thirties, hated cigarette butts with a passion and had a more hot burning hate for the people who threw their cigarette butts about with abandon.  His whole theory was that cigarettes with filters should be banned, all cigarettes should be called coffin nails, and the package should say “Smoke More, Die Younger.”

10 Ways the Bicycle Moved Us Forward—The bicycle is a humble solution to a lot of problems.  As we design ever more complex solutions to our problems we need to remember that easier solutions exist.

In Madrid, a Car Ban Proves Stronger Than Partisan Politics—I know it will come as a shock to most right wing reactionaries, especially the ones on Fox News who want to cover themselves in a cologne called Fossil Fuel Funk, but people actually like living in places where cars are not valued over people.  Remember, in most modern offices your car will be allotted more space in the parking lot than you will be inside the building.

How ‘Corn Sweat’ Makes Summer Days More Humid—If you live in Iowa during the summer you understand this phenomenon all too well.  The humid haze that rises from the endless fields of tall corn in July and August is like an oppressive ghost moving through the landscape.  Maybe I spend too much time cycling along these same fields in the heat.

Dunkin’ Adds Beyond Meat’s Sausage to its Menu, Starting in New York—Are we turning the corner into a world where renewable energy is the cheapest source of electricity, people actually care about the climate, and non-meat alternatives are commonplace?  I sure know that non-meat alternatives seem to be everywhere.

Can You Taste the Difference Between Plant-Based Meat and Beef? Burger King Sweden is Betting No.—This is what the people behind calling plant protein “meat” in Arkansas are worried about.  Okay, their actually being funded by a locally powerful meat industry to take this fight on but their paymasters fear this outcome.

Has Wine Gone Bad?—When reading Napa at Last Light by James Conaway I was struck by some critiques of wineries for the total lack of environmental consideration.  The gist was basically that if anyone actually knew just how much of a bad actor the wine industry was in California it would cripple the industry’s marketing efforts.

The Budweiser Beer Empire was Built on Debt. Now it’s Racing to Pay it Off—Geez, I cannot imagine how building an empire through acquisitions fueled by debt could ever go wrong?