Sunday, March 28, 2010

To The Trail Builders: Thanks, Folks!

As I've noted here a time or two, I've become much more comfortable and enthusiastic about mountain biking over the past winter. Whereas my previous forays on the trail were motivated primarily by weather conditions that  I deemed too crappy for the road (and I'll accept a broad range of poor conditions for road riding!), these days, I head to the woods because I've found joy on fat tires and appreciate a little diversity in my riding. This expansion of my range would not have happened if it were not for the convenient access to a wide range of quality local trails. From the easy flats of the Pfiefer Loop near the BDB to the many miles of single-track at Camp Robinson to the rocky, rooty slopes of the Burns Park Boy Scout Trails, like road riders, Central Arkansas dirt riders enjoy an embarrassment of riches when it comes to riding opportunities. And that's just the stuff that is within the city of North Little Rock! Stretch the loop a little bit and you pick up Little Rock's notable Allsop Park, where many of the area's best riders cut their teeth. I'm still new to the sport and have had little motivation to go further than Camp Robinson and Burns Park since both are just minutes from home, so I'm sure there are many miles of good riding that I haven't even heard of.
A common thread of all of the primo venues is that somebody had to build the trails or help make existing trails suitable for the bike and somebody has to do the maintenance to keep them ridable. It seems like magic to most of us that bridges appear over muddy sloughs, flat rocks arrange themselves in line across small creeks, trails get rerouted around mud holes and drainage structure pop up in problem spots. In riding at Camp Robinson lately, I had noticed that the trail elves had been hard at work. A washout on Christmas Tree Extension was replaced a well thought-out drainage system. Trails all over the system have been shifted to avoid the worst of the winter's mud holes, rocks have been hauled and placed and more bridges and ramps are appearing. Folks, this stuff ain't magic. It's the result of the hard work of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to make difference for the benefit of the rest of us. I ran across some of these guys as I finished up a ride at Camp Robinson on Saturday. First, I came upon Lane (I apologize for not getting his last name) loading up a wheelbarrow with rocks for a trip into Ten Bridges Trail to add some bottom the many sloppy stretches of that often-wet trail. If you've ever had the pleasure of pushing a heavily loaded wheelbarrow, you know that it's simply hard labor and most of the trail work at Camp is done miles from any vehicular access. Then, back at the parking lot, I found Bryan Shipman and his crew of young trail builders preparing to haul in a new bridge structure for a particularly troublesome stretch of Outer Loop.

This drainage structure was recently built by Lane near the entrance to the Christmas Tree Extension trail, and includes collection system, a drain pipe and outlet, and a rebuilt trail surface over the top. Such work is vital to maintain the ridability of the trails. Just walking in requires a significant level of commitment.

Bryan Shipman and his crew prepare for the haul-in. The beams were strapped to a wheelbarrow frame and some cross members were tacked on for the trip. The rest of the cross members, cut to length, were loaded into the backpacks and carried in by the young men.

Special projects require special tools, like Bryan's bridge hauler.

 I wrote awhile back about my experience on the Sylamo Trail system near Mountain View. Devastating ice storms closed the entire 50 mile system last year. This looks more like a commercial timber operation than trail clearing, but force of mostly volunteers has cleared the whole trail system in what had to be a massive effort.

The purpose of this article is to serve as reminder of our good fortune in having such great riding resources and that those resources don't come easy. On top of the trail building, outfits like CARP deserve our gratitude for working with the Camp Robinson administration to regain access to the facility in the post 9-11 world.  Other individuals and groups have worked to gain or keep access to a number of local venues.

To all of you, thank-you. As much as I've been enjoying the trail lately, I owe you a little shovel time.

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Entry Into Social Media.....

....or "The Jetsons meet The Flintstones"

In this action packed episode, Elroy invents a time machine and uses it to drag JBar Cycling into the 21st Century

OK, maybe it's not that cool or earth-shaking, but I finally decided that I needed to set up a Facebook account before I was left hopelessly behind. I am not technology averse but have been slow to realize the extent to which social media has taken over as the primary mode of communications for many people. As one who admittedly remembers party lines and the introduction of the touchtone phone, I must admit that, having had visibility of Facebook for only a couple of days, I'm still trying to get my arms wrapped around the concept and the possibilities. That said, I'm about to push the button that should make this space visible in Facebook world. We'll soon see. Or not.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rebsamen Park Road Bike Lanes

Recently, I received an e-mail from a friendly reader expressing his concerns about riders on Rebsamen Park Road slowing cars on that stretch by riding in the traffic lanes. The reader, being a mannerly and thoughtful individual, felt that riding in the traffic lanes with the bike lane close at hand would only serve to incite drivers to possible crankiness. While I agree with the reader that cyclists shouldn't hold up traffic by riding abreast, etc., simply to assert their right to the road when they could as easily string out and let traffic by, or to my reader's point, when there is a servicable bike lane close at hand. Therein lies the rub on the route in question. The bike lane is poorly maintained and it is often/usually littered with gravel, glass, and tree limbs and is therefore deemed unsafe by most riders wanting to train at speed or ride a paceline. Drivers are seldom delayed for more than a few seconds and, frankly, this stretch of road should be driven with the expectation that it will be busy with cyclists and other recreational traffic.

Riders need to accomodate the flow of traffic, but we shouldn't be expected to ride on this. Rider safety trumps pressure to stick to the bike lane.

Like many cities, Little Rock has budget problems, but I think the inability to run a street sweeper a few miles once a month is more of an indication of the low priority given cycling infrastructure by the city.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Local Headlines: Doe's Fire,Orbea Store

Fire At Doe's Eat Place
..from the Arkansas Time blog:
Doe's was damaged by an apparent grease fire late Friday night. I consider Doe's to be one of the better burger eateries in town and also have an appreciation for their tamales, though I must admit I've never tried one of their trademark steaks. The aroma of hot grease never fails to tempt me as I ride down Markham Street and on several occasions I have rolled in to fill my belly while cruising town on a day off or a lunchtime ride. They just smile when I roll the bike through to the patio, so I rate Doe's as bike-friendly and hope they recover from the fire soon. Their outside dining area is a nice refuge on a spring day, though, like many outside dining areas in our town, the fresh air is often tainted by cigarette smoke.

One word of caution: Bike shoes on the greasy tile floors make for some challenging footing.

Orbea Concept Store To Open

From Arkansas Business...

"Little Rock cyclists are by summer going to have a unique laboratory at their disposal, courtesy of Orbea.

The elite Spanish bike manufacturer's headquarters for the Americas, in North Little Rock, is looking for retail space for "a true high-end bicycle concept retail store," Tony Karklins, the managing director for Orbea USA, confirmed to Whispers. "
After missing out on a location on President Clinton Avenue in downtown Little Rock, Orbea is still seeking a 3,000- to 4,000-SF retail space near the city's urban core and cycling center. (Presumably, that means ready access to the Arkansas River Trail, which brings North Little Rock space into consideration.) "

I like the idea of a downtown bike store, complete with a coffee bar, though I'm unsure of the affect on other shops in our already bike shop rich market. I had some conversations about the idea some months ago with one of the Orbea folks and I was somewhat surprised that their preferred location was the River Market area. They were also looking at an Argenta site, which would seem to give the concept a better chance of success. The attraction of the River Market site is the traffic count, which in my mind would also be the kiss of death. The killer of the many retail attempts in the River Market has been parking and almost any specialty retail demands convenience. Buyers of bicycles, accessories and service do not want to have to circle in search of inconvenient parking and then carry their goods to and fro for the likely couple of blocks distance. And the most likely times that most of us have for bike shop stops coincides with the most difficult parking hours in the Market area: lunch, evenings and Saturdays. When I opt for an outdoor lunch at the River Market on a pleasant day, I often find that the easiest option for parking is to park at the sub and walk over the Junction Bridge. While the traffic count is high, very few of the tourists and partiers who make up that traffic are likely to impulsively drop the bucks for a bike, being more in the market for a souvenir t-shirt or a cold IPA. Argenta offers easy access to the River Trail and, at least for now, readily available parking.
I wish the Orbea folks success wherever they may land. The idea of a comfortable atmosphere where we cyclists  can visit over a cup of good coffee and a bite to eat definitely has appeal and I think the market is mature enough to support it. If the idea is for a coffee house with a bike shop motif, the River Market may be the place. If Orbea wants to have a successful specialty retail operation with the added amenities and warmth of a little food, conversation, and hot java, it will also have to be convenient for the customer who just wants to pop in and buy something.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lance Light

In a recent rant, ESPN's Tony Kornheiser went off on a tangent about Washington , DC, bike lanes and the rant evolved into an exchange with his co-hosts about tapping cyclists, running them over, ridiculing bike clothes, etc., etc. I listened to a few minutes of the show and actually had a hard time taking it too seriously, but it hit a nerve with many cyclists who pressed Lance into the fray.
Lance Armstrong busted him out on Twitter, then ended up on Korheiser's show today, calling in from Europe. While I don't claim that Kornheiser has been stealing my material, after discussing the bike comments, sharing the road with bikes, Lance's return to competition, etc, Kornheiser said, " You're a Texas boy. You don't really drink the Ultra, do you".

Tony, write your own material, please! To listen to the conversation with Lance Armstrong, follow the link below:

Ok, I won't complain about our weather...

...because it's a hell of a lot better than what Oklahoma City has in store for the weekend:

Saturday: Snow. Widespread blowing snow. High near 34. Windy, with a north northwest wind between 23 and 28 mph, with gusts as high as 39 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.

Saturday Night: Widespread blowing snow and a chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 27. Windy, with a north northwest wind between 17 and 26 mph, with gusts as high as 37 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%.

Sunday: Snow likely, mainly before 1pm. Cloudy, with a high near 37. North northwest wind between 17 and 21 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%.

Smoke On The Water
I don't think that it will be real handy to be on the bike in NLR's Riverfront Park this weekend. Here are a couple of shots of the scene of the Smoke On The Water BBQ Competition:

It looked more like a county fair than my idea of a BBQ Cook-Off, but these are not a couple of bubbas sittin' around a Weber grill. They're serious! I guess I could be acused of thinking small. There was already plenty of Miller Lite going down by Thursday evening, and that was just for setting up, so things should be in full roar by Friday night. And, with all of that fine BBQ, I have to wonder who is going to eat corn dogs and turkey legs, but I'm sure they'll get some takers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Milan-SanRemo On Universal

Cavendish at the line: Milan-SanRemo 2009
Photo poached from Cycling News.

This ~180 mile slugfest should be some great racing. Unlike stage racing, there are no time bonuses, no time trials, no second chances. The first man across the line wins. Last year, Mark Cavendish pipped Heinrich Haussler at the line for a dramatic finish. A little road racer named Lance will be getting some attention this year, though I'll be surprised if he is a contender. Ya' just never know!

Update, Fri, March 19: Lance is out for M-SR due to a tummy ache. His nonstart is unlikely to affect the outcome of the race but I'm sure the organizers are disappointed due to the increased interest that his participation would have brought to the event.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Trail Stuff

The parking area and trail in North Little Rock's Riverfront Park will be closed this weekend due to the Smoke On The Water BBQ event. You may still be able to park near the River Trail Station, but I would bet it will be packed. The forecast calls for gloom, anyway, so get your rides in during the week! That extra hour of daylight has been nice, in spite of the cool weather.

The Contenders

OK, I've got to talk some bike racing. The Tour de France is the big prize, but many aficionados believe the best racing is in the spring, when the hard men  rule and the Grand Tour contenders hone their act for the big show.The European spring racing season is in full swing, with Paris-Nice ending Sunday with a victory by Alberto Contador, who also won the Volta ao Algarve. He's started two stage races this year and has won them both convincingly.  Cadel Evans raced Tirreno -Adriatico this week, where he is finished a respectable third. Frank Schleck also raced Paris-Nice, but wasn't too visible, brother Andy delayed the start of his season after a knee injury, and Lance Armstrong finished 7th in the Tour of Murcia and has now decided to race Milan-SanRemo this weekend. Levi Leipheimer dropped out of contention early at Paris-Nice. A lot can be said about where the various top riders intend to be at this point in the season but so far Contador is showing the best form of anyone in the pro peloton. He's made few mistakes and his Astana team has been adequate. Mistakes will likely prove more costly in the heart of the season and "adequate" may prove to be "less than" in the Tour, but Contador has comfortably gone two for two in a couple of big stage races so he is confident to the point of easing back on his schedule. On the other hand, Lance Armstrong just added the brutal Milan-SanRemo to his already heavy schedule, indicating that he is not where he needs to be. At Murcia, Armstrong focused on the time trial and had a mediocre performance. The alarm bells have got to be ringing.
Milan-SanRemo was won in a dramatic fashion last year by Mark Cavendish, establishing his credentials as a classics rider. He's not in top form this year, having had a long recovery from oral surgery, and Lance will want to prove, at least to himself, that he's got some chops. Armstrong is unlikely to win, but he needs to ride well, if for no other reason to prove to himself that can compete.
Armstrong and Contador will meet in the Criterium International on March 27 and 28th. It will be an interesting opportunity to see who has what and/or what they are willing to show. Contador will go to the race to win. Lance is likely to keep his intent close to the vest, then rationalize any perceived weakness as the result of his still riding into form. A few years ago, that was taken as fact, as we knew that come July, Lance was going to bring it to the Tour de France. Right now, it looks like Contador has the edge, Evans and Schleck are next tier and I really don't know where Lance fits in the order of Tour contenders. I'm sure he still has the competitive fire and I hope he still has the wheels.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

River Mountain Update

This sign showing the design of the new bridge has gone up. Looks good to me!

It didn't take long for the parking situation at  River Mountain Park to become a problem. All it took was some sunshine, warm temperatures and a weekend to overwhelm the relatively limited parking. From what I've heard, the parking lot at the River Mountain launch ramp was madness on Sunday, lovely day that is was. Even the addition of parking spaces west of the driveway will not be enough to absorb the temporary loss of parking due to the bridge construction. The county has prohibited trailers in the new parking area, and would hope that cyclists would use that area first to allow the more open spaces to be used by boaters and fishermen pulling their rigs.  It's easy for me to say since I can easily access the trail at several points, but I'm going the again suggest that riders with other reasonable access options employ them. West Little Rock and Maumelle folks looking for an option can always jump across the river to Cook's Landing. The best idea, of course, is to ride your bike to your bike ride, but that's not always practical for everyone. Pulaski County is trying to accommodate everyone while Two Rivers Bridge is being built, and I'm sure the different user groups will work out the crowding while the construction is underway. When it's all over, there will be more parking than previously existed and the turn-around will be moved further west, allowing for more traffic-free ride/walk space

While the bridge construction has created some parking problems, the plan is to keep the River Trail open to pedestrians and cyclists for the duration of the project. The contractor appears to be ready to roll, with site work well under way. There is a sign up with a rendition of the new bridge. Another sign is being added that includes information about Two Rivers Park, as it seems many people were unaware that there was a park over there.


I got this story second-hand at best and make no claim of accuracy, but...

While gathering information on the bridge project, I mentioned the problem of car break-ins along that stretch of road. I was told that the police had installed a surveillance camera and caught the culprit on camera. He was pulling up with a bike on his car and milling around as if preparing to ride. When he thought the coast was clear, he'd smash a window, grab some property and drive off looking like any other park patron. After becoming a video star, the culprit was met by Little Rock's finest at the top of River Mountain Road.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bike Patrol: Marathon Duty

Last week, I was asked if I would be interested in volunteering to be a bike escort for wheelchair/ hand-cyclists in the Little Rock Marathon. I've ridden the course a couple of times over the years during the race, as an outlaw I found out when I got around to reading the rules,but it was fun and this would allow me to do the same thing legally and give a hand in this very grand, well-run event.
We met near the start line at 7:00 on Sunday morning and got our marching orders. Four riders would stick with the hand-cycle guys and the rest of us would start out with the lead runners and then drop back as clusters formed and be something of a vanguard.

This is how it looks outside the start line. I was clipped in and ready to get moving when they turned loose the hordes.

At about mile 4, the eventual winner of the race, Moninda Marube, got separation from the small group of elite runners and never looked back. I stuck with him, heroically leading the way through the crowds. Well, not quite leading, since the escort at the head of the race consisted of four cops on rumbling Harley-Davidsons, followed by a police car, followed by a Cushman meter-reader scooter with a timer mounted on it, all of which had flashing blue lights on and were giving an occasional toot of the siren. Then came me in my official skirt-length Marathon "Bike Team" T-shirt and then came the most impressive among us, the skinny guy tapping out the 5 minute miles.

It was lonely off the front!

After taking the lead at about mile 4, Marube was never threatened, and won by about 4 minutes.

The Bike Team was kind of a test to see what value we could add to the race. There were a couple of times when it helped to be at street level on a bike in that I was able to speak to people, which the police escorts could not as readily do from their vehicles. I think the single runner kind of caught people by surprise and it was easy for me to alert the inattentive folks who might have stepped into his path. As we pulled onto Cantrell, I took the lane and held it behind the runner until a patrol car slipped into the gap. The Little Rock Police and the volunteers did an excellent job of securing the route, so mostly I got to just ride along and pay attention. Having volunteers on bikes seems like a good idea to me, due to the intimacy with the runners and the crowd and the fact that with due care cyclists can move safely and unobtrusively among the runners.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Two Rivers, River Mountain: Of Parks and Parking

Developments surrounding the construction of the Two Rivers Bridge will be a continuing topic here, as 1) it's a big deal and 2) some phases of construction will likely affect River Trail usage.

The past weekend afforded me opportunities to scout the sites of both ends of the bridge. Saturday, I met my usual crew of tormentors at Two Rivers Park for an out and back ride to the junction of Hwys 113 and 300 on Wye Mountain. It was a great day by recent standards, which doesn't say much, but at least the sun was shining, so afterwards, I rode down to the east end of the park to take a look at the bridge site.
Then, on Sunday, Diane and I took a town ride that included the construction site on the River Trail side.
The Country Store on Highway 300 was declared "bike friendly" by the young lady working there, though she confessed that she doesn't "know how to drive one". She may have simply been intimidated by the appearance of this crowd.

The heavy machinery has gone to work on the south approach...

Heavy machinery has yet to make it to the Two Rivers side, but preliminary excavation was underway, nonetheless.

Parking Will Be A Problem

Parking at the River Mountain boat ramp is going to be problematic as spring progresses. There is not enough room to absorb the capacity of the areas closed for the bridge construction and the launch ramp users need plenty of room to maneuver and park their boats and trailers. There is bound to be resentment as cyclists and other trail users take over "their" lot and we need to be mindful of their needs. In the early days of the Fast Girl rides, we got a little cross with the fishermen at Cook's Landing, but after we talked to each other, it all worked out. Keep in mind the distances required to park and turn a trailer. For riders, I'd suggest parking at one of the many lots along Rebsaman Park Road and leaving the spots closer to the BDB for the walkers.

At least one boater left in frustration while we watched after being unable
 to get a clean approach to the ramp on the newly crowded lot.

The Little Rock Parks folks cut down this huge old cottonwood just west of the ramp. It was a bit of a landmark, but had been dead for a few years. Aspiring supermodel Bill "El Tigre" Steward serves as an object of perspective to give the reader an idea of the tree's girth.