Tag Archives: Cedar Valley Nature Trail

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.

Stuff I Like: Rock “N” Roll The Absolute Dry

I will admit that I do not clean and lubricate the drivetrain of my bicycle nearly enough for the amount of riding that I do.  Compounding this fact is that a lot of the riding that I do is north of the paved section of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  This is the section of trail where a weird amalgam of crushed limestone, loose dirt, sand, and whatever else has been spread over the years comprises the surface.

In the 1990s and for probably a decade or more afterward I was a firm believer in the lubrication powers of White Lightning.  Not the white lightning of rural American fame, but the chain lube that used to promise a quiet and clean running chain.  Somewhere along the line the formula changed or my expectations changed.  No longer was it the preferred choice.

After a series of products recommended by the Internet, friends, not so friends, and whatever I call those dudes who ride recumbents in jean shorts I was at my wits end.  Why?  All of the lubes I tried seemed to become a mass of trail dust, grease, and other gunk within a few rides which necessitated scrubbing my drivetrain clean with a stiff bristle brush.  Is there anything more tedious than spending a weekend morning scrubbing your cassette?  I thought not.

On the recommendation of the good folks at Goldfinch Cyclery—best bike shop in eastern Iowa—I bought a bottle of Rock “N” Roll The Absolute Dry:

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Like Popeye’s Chicken in the oft derided Adam Sandler classic film Little Nicky, this stuff is the shiznit:

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All right, early aughts nostalgia aside The Absolute Dry is the answer to my lube prayers.  That sounds all wrong when I say it out loud.

Here’s the deal: I put this stuff on when my drivetrain starts making some noise and I generally forget about it for a week or more.  What more can I ask out of a bottle of chain lube?  Oh wait, it also does not create the mini mountains of trail crud that seem to result in using more moist lubes that promise to endure miles of abuse.

If you ride a lot of dust strewn miles get a bottle of this stuff and save your weekends for riding.

Note: I bought two bottles of The Absolute Dry with my own money and of my own volition.  I receive no compensation or reward for suggesting that this is an awesome product.  There is no influencer pimping going on here.

Going 1x a Little Sooner than Expected

Well, this happened on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail today:

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I do not know how to describe my front derailleur being bent ninety degrees the wrong way, the chain being pinned against the large chainring, and the large chainring being bent about half an inch out of true.  Oh, look at what the front derailleur did when pinned against my bottle cage:

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It’s hard to tell from this picture, but you can see just how out of true the large chainring is as a result:

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No bending back a few teeth with a pair of pliers for this repair.

I have some of the components for the switch to a 1x drivetrain like I did on the dirtwagon a couple of seasons back, but most of the stuff is going to have to be acquired in the near term.  And to think that I was trying to make it the whole riding season before deciding what path to take with the drivetrain.

Homestead and Jamaica North Trails Ride Report

This past weekend in Lincoln was a blast…okay, spending two days in a garage driving nearly 500 2” pan head screws for a slat wall in near 100 degree heat was not a blast but I did get to ride.  Specifically, I spent a morning on large chunks of the Homestead Trail and Jamaica North Trail southwest of the city.

For a lot of people this is the Homestead Trail:

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Look it up “Homestead Trail” on Google and this is likely to be in almost all of the images.  Yes, bridges and century old ironworks are cool but this bridge is about a mile south of the trailhead.  It is not like people are really getting deep into the trail to get their shots for Instagram.

The trail runs thirty miles almost due south from the trailhead on Saltillo Road in Lincoln to Beatrice.  I rode about halfway to Beatrice before a headwind really picked up and I started to get concerned about the rising temperature.  It was already in the low 80s by mid-morning.

The ride reminded me a lot of what the Cedar Valley Nature Trail used to be like before it was paved all the way into Center Point.  It’s not good or bad that the trail is paved.  It is just different.  The surface is a thin layer of crushed limestone—yay, limestone dust in every crevice—over packed dirt.  There were very few ruts and it did not seem like anyone had been out when the trail was wet to cause any trouble, which is more than I can say for some of the unpaved sections of the CVNT north of Center Point.  Whoever rode their fat bike on the trail and put a wandering two inch wide rut in the trail for about three miles can suck a fat one.  I digress…

At about the mid-point of my ride the Homestead Trail ran parallel to Highway 77 which is a four lane divided highway from Lincoln to Beatrice.  You will find yourself exposed to some serious wind in this section.  Be advised.

The Homestead Trail is connected to the rest of Lincoln’s trail via the Jamaica North Trail.  The Jamaica North Trail runs a little more than 6 miles north and south on the west side of Lincoln.  The southern portion is crushed limestone like the Homestead Trail and the northern section is paved.  I did not ride on any pavement for the portion I rode.

On a hot day this was a nice ride because it was shaded by thick vegetation.  The gnats were not even that bad on the day that I rode.  It was even too hot to eat a Runza.

Right now the biggest issue with this great trail pair is that most of the southern portion of Lincoln is isolated from the trail via active railroad tracks.  There is a fundraising effort underway to build a link connecting these trails to the existing Rock Island Trail near Densmore Park.  One can never have enough trails.

If you find yourself heading to Lincoln grab your adventure bike and get out on the trails.  The Great Plains Trails Network has some excellent maps to guide you on your way.

Remember, where the pavement ends is where unlimited possibility begins.

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The Missing Link in Local Trails

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is an amazing recreational trail here in eastern Iowa.  Travelling from just north of Cedar Rapids in Hiawatha over 50 miles north to Waterloo it is justifiably a gem for those of us addicted to two wheeled recreation.

Notice I said travelling north.  To the south things are decidedly less amazing.  Paved trails exist throughout Cedar Rapids and extend as far south as the small town of Ely.  In Ely things peter out as you approach the Linn County-Johnson County line.  I say peter out when what I really mean to say is end abruptly.  As in the trail literally comes to an end at dirt with nothing more.

Plans have been in the discussion and preparation stages for what seems like a decade.  Now, this spring—despite the horrible weather—construction has finally begun!

It will take two years or more to complete.  Bet on the “or more” as delays are almost inevitable with projects like this and Johnson County is notorious for meddlesome parties to become involved in delaying projects for spurious reasons.  Nonetheless, the future is bright as this section of trail south of Ely into Solon will connect the trail systems of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City for the first time in forever.

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You can take a look at the trail map of the Iowa City-Coralville-North Liberty area and imagine a purple line extending from the intersection of Highway 382 and Ely Road NE into the town of Ely.  Now merge that with the trail map of the Cedar Rapids-Hiawatha-Marion area to get an idea of what a combined system will look like.

It is my hope that this combination becomes a catalyst to complete the connections to orphaned sections of trails throughout the area.

Now, if spring would actually get here we could really get to riding.  How bad is it?  It’s April 19th and there was measurable snow on the ground this morning.  Seriously, what is this?  Minnesota?

Witness the Horror

Approaching mile 16 of my ride, which was supposed to be a nearly 19 mile ride out before turning back, the rear tire of my trusty steel steed went pillowy soft. Not flat, mind you, but so soft that it was all squirrely.

Nothing that five minutes with some tire levers and a mini pump could not fix. That is when I was witness to the horror.

Inside my bag was not a replacement 700x30C tube, but a 26×1.25 tube. I tried pumping up the tire thinking that the presta valve might have come loose and leaked out some air. It would not hold any more than approximately 25-30 PSI of pressure.

There is nothing quite so nerve racking as babying a rear tire with almost no pressure across almost six miles of fresh gravel and ten miles of pavement. Turns were a real treat as my rear tire would wander and squirm at the slightest provocation.

The moral of the story is check your repair supplies more than once a season. I obviously had not changed over my tubes from my commuting rig to my cyclocross ride. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

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An Open Letter to RAGBRAI Guy

As the weather warms up here in eastern Iowa the trails and byways are flooded with a certain breed of cyclist not seen in other parts of the world…RAGBRAI guy. From about mid-June until the actual event begins in July travelling packs of cyclists will clog whatever path you are trying to ply and look at you with disdain when you attempt to pass their travelling circus.

Here’s the thing, no matter how much you claim to be advancing the notion of cycling as a mainstream recreational pursuit—something that does not require your assistance by the way—you’re actually a bad actor. Let me count the ways:

  1. A jersey from RAGBRAI does not entitle you to any special benefits from any other rider on the trail. It’s not a magic totem. There are thousands of us who put in just as many miles per year, if not more, and have no desire to spend our summer pretending to be part of a human powered gypsy caravan. Stop acting like you are the be all and end all of two wheeled fun in the Midwest.
  2. Riding three wide a few rows deep on a recreational trail is an asshole move. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I do not care that this is Team Ball Sack or whatever your clever clothing is supposed to indicate. You do not own the trail any more than the Hells Angels own the road.
  3. No one wants to be submitted to the sonic stylings from your modern day ghetto blaster strapped to the handlebars of your bike. You cannot hear me clearly when I am trying to pass you and the Grateful Dead suck. Save the jam band session for when you stop to crush a few Natty Lights.
  4. Don’t throw stones because your behavior leaves you residing in a glass shack. Lecturing other people on the trail about their behavior when you are a horde of locusts is just bad form.

Come the third week of July the trails and byways will be clear of these creatures as they spend the better part of a summer vacation rolling from town to town in search of a shower just above the temperature of a well digger’s ass on the shady side and a cold can of light American swill. Just imagine the collective stink of thousands of people sweating out a twelve pack of Busch Light mixed with the eau de nut cheese.

I cannot wait until July 18th.