Monday, November 28, 2011

Winter Riding: Time to Buckle Down and Saddle Up

For the last couple of months, we've been able to do a little dance with the weather and ride in the comfort of mild, sometimes quite warm, fall temperatures. Though we still have zinnias and marigolds blooming in our front yard here at the JBar bunker, there is a chance of snow flurries in our current weather forecast, and ride conditions Sunday could only be described as harsh, with wet roads, gray skies, and a cold wind making the 40's feel plenty cold enough. It's not quite "now or never" for winter riding, but it's time to get on the bike and break the ice, so to speak. Many of us ride year 'round, but like many others, I put off taking the first really cold ride of the season as long as I can. It's easy to just take a day off the bike when the weather is crappy, so long as there is some sunshine around the corner, but when the "no ride" days stretch on, we have to adjust our sensibilities to our current reality. After a few days of fishing, tempered by turkey and dressing, chocolate pie, apple pie, cherry pie, and chocolate pie (that's not a duplication; I made two!), I needed some time on the bike, so I bundled up and rode to Allsopp park to check out the Turkey Burn 'cross races.
I escaped the dinner table enough to spend quite a few hours over the holiday wading the shoal behind our cabin.

The results were favorable, as I was able to make the temporary acquaintence of several dozen nice browns and rainbows; however, wading in the fast water was not enough to compensate for this action:
I won't bore you with false modesty; I make a badass chocolate pie and Diane rolled out the perfect crusts!

I try to tell myself that it's OK to relax, eat and chill out this time of year, but even a minor expansion of the waistline is cause for alarm and some anxiety. I'm not going to skip dessert, so time on the bike is a must.

Turkey Burn Cyclocross Race
When conditions suck, it helps to have a destination, and my Sunday destination was the Turkey Burn Cyclocross Race. The fact that it was damp, cold and muddy made it a perfect day for 'cross and the course at Allsopp looked plenty challenging to me.
Iconic photos of 'cross races always include plenty of mud.
Wes cleared the mudhole, but not the adjacent tree. The result is a bent down tube and pedals overlapping the front wheel. The good news: It was a short ride home and a borrowed frame.

CARVE, Team Spokes, and Arkansas Cycling and Fitness were all well represented. It is great to see the competing local  bike shop guys work together to put on events, wear each other out on the course, then often ride home together. That's community.
This doesn't have to make sense. It's cyclocross racing!

You can find a lot of great photos here, compliments of AC&F, and at Arkansas Cyclocross blogspot, along with results. There are still a couple of races in Little rock, including the Jingle Bell Cyclocross Race this Sunday, December 4 at Boyle Park. Grab you family and head on over to race or just check it out. Cyclocross is some fun stuff for riders and for spectators. A race culture in which beer hand-ups are commonplace says a lot about why it is increasingly popular.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Searchers

One of the things that I appreciate about the Blogger platform is the fact that it provides an overview of my readers' statistics. No, I can't see who you are or get any insight into your shopping or porn viewing habits, but it does provide information like number of views, sources of links, and browser platforms. For example, Internet Explorer users represent 34% of readers, with Safari running second at 25% and Firefox at 19%. Very interesting stuff for us numbers geeks. Also of interest is the  number of international readers. Though I sometimes have concerns about some kind of cyber ne'erdowells when I see contacts from countries like the Ivory Coast, Indonesia and  India, not cycling hotbeds in my mind, I think it's cool if there are readers there as well as in countries like Russia, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Australia and the UK. Here's a snapshot of "Pageviews by Country" for a week:

United States
United Kingdom
 I know that there are some Texans in the mix, also, though they do not stand out in the stats as a "whole 'nother country" in spite of the tourism campaign that touted Texas as such. What really touches me is when I hear from deployed military personnel. In fact, I'd really like to hear from anybody reading JBarCycling abroad. Some of those "readers" may actually be some kind of sinister cyberbot, but so far I have not received reports of Nigeria letters on my email account.
The statistics also list the most commonly used Google search terms used to find the site. The most frequent, of course, is simply some version of JBar Cycling. Surprisingly, the second most used search term at this time is "Christmas Poems"; surprising, because I don't think I've ever mentioned Christmas poems, but perhaps I'll be motivated to pen one for the satisfaction of the seekers. While it is constantly changing, terms appearing persistently are "snarling dog", "cat 5 tattoo", "bike polo", "Arkansas cycling" and my favorite, "flying monkey tattoo". The term actually appeared in the same post with "snarling dog" in a discussion as to which image might best serve as a tattoo design to mask a scar from a serious dog bite. I'm still voting "flying monkey".

Friday, November 18, 2011

Seasonal Rite, "Your Speed" on the BDB

It's that time of year.
I keep saying that our warm evenings are coming to an end, and now cool weather is making its move and freezing temperatures occurred overnight. We have had a few bonus days, but cold weather is inevitable. Knowing this, I took a few moments recently for one of my fall rituals....yes, the ceremonial Taping Of The Shoes. Road shoes are designed for maximum ventilation, which is absolutely required during Arkansas summers, but only adds to the challenge of keeping feet warm in the winter, hence taping the vents is an annual routine.
I know some folks use duct tape, but electrical tape does the job and doesn't leave adhesive residue when the tape is removed.
A few weeks after The Taping of the Shoes, I also move into my flannel lined Carhartts for the season.

Shoe taping is a melancholy affair, marking an immediate future of night rides and cold. On the other hand, the removal of the tape in the spring coincides with the joyous return of blooming dogwoods, short-finger gloves and bare legs. In all things, there is balance.

Watch your speed...
..because it appears that everyone else will be able to do so on the BDB. There is now a speed-indicating sign on the Little Rock ramp of the BDB. I was alerted to this development by the sharp-eyed Drew Moffitt and, though the sign is not yet in service, it promises to be a source of lively discussion.
We assume that this sign is equipped with radar speed indication. Either that, or motivational messages like "YOUR SPEED really sucks".
I envision a wide range of reactions to the speed sign. Cranky people will stand around and scold riders, much like the 5 MPH lady who spent a few weeks standing on the bridge waving her arms at folks who she perceived to be breaking the posted 5-MPH limit, which means all riders and most runners. The difference is that now they will have a means of quantifying their displeasure. At the other end of the spectrum of radar sign fans will be those riders who will be compelled to try to  record a top speed. When the BDB first opened, the county set up radar to see how fast folks came off the bridge. A county official related the story of a cyclist that clocked at over 30 MPH, then stopped and asked his speed. When he got a report of 31MPH, he said, “I can do better than that”, and headed up for another run. I can imagine mail lists going abuzz with posts of ever-increasing maximum speeds for a period of time after the sign is activated. Maybe they'll turn it around and move it up the ramp for a while so we can have some climbing trials. I assume the sign is the county's, and I'll try to do a little follow-up so that I can provide a more informed report.

Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

River Bluff/Dillard's Trail Section: I'm On Board, But....

...there's a matter of the money.

Thanks to the folks at Metroplan and the City of Little Rock, I received a lot of information on the proposed River Bluff Trail section, which is to run behind Dillard's and "close the loop" on the trail. I read the 27 page hand-out (I have this in pdf format. e-mail if you want a copy. ) and I must say that it is an impressive sales piece, all the more so due to the use of one of my photos on page 16 (without permission, but I'm glad to do my part for the cause!). It is part of a grant application for federal transportation funding in the amount of around $12 million of the $15 million total project cost.
Watch this video and consider the possibilities:

The video does a pretty complete job of telling the story. I must admit that the timing of Mayor Stodola's image hovering in the corner as the vision for the development of the River Trail was being mentioned was a bit off-putting. Nothing against the Mayor, but I don't think he was around as Buddy Villines and Pat Hays were taking giant steps to make the trail happen, and the implication is that he was the visionary. I'm being petty, but the subtle message didn't ring true and Mayor Stodola will have his chance to put his stamp on the River Trail with his handling of the solution to the "Moronic Mile". OK, I got that off my mind!
The possibilities for the River Bluff trail section are nothing short of spectacular!  I would not take odds on the project getting funding in the current political climate, but the only way to get it is to ask. That process in and of itself is expensive, especially with a project that requires significant engineering, but now there is a plan. I did not expect the Two Rivers Bridge to be funded anytime soon, but when the stimulus dollars became available, the project was planned and ready to roll. Stranger things have happened in the world of money and politics.

And heeeerrrre's Tom!

Tom Ezell filmed a ride through the current dangerous route past the proposed trail section, and it is presented as a link in the grant application. Ride along if you dare!

Monday, November 14, 2011

BDB Moonlighter

This is for all of us losers that did not attend the Full Moon Walk on the BDB Sunday night and for those folks who did attend only to find that there was no moon in sight. I'm sure it was still a wonderful evening and there appeared to have been a great turn-out.
The full moon, as seen from Two Rivers Bridge.

OK, I missed the Big Dam Bridge Moon Walk after planning to attend and even confirming my plans with a prominent BDB Foundation board member as late as Sunday afternoon. My responsibilities at home got in the way, as I had promised Diane that I would cook a pot roast, a commitment that I did not take lightly! The Moon Walk date was a bit like President's Day; not really the date of an actual event, but close enough for a convenient compromise. This lunar cycle was not a complete bust for me, however, as I was out on the bike Thursday evening to enjoy the moon when it was actually full, and it made for a spectacular evening along the river.
I was determined to get some photos, but with a hand-held pocket camera, shooting at night is hit or miss, usually miss, but this shot from the BDB of the moon rising came out remarkably well.

I was surprised by the colors of the trees in this long exposure, as they were not nearly so distinct to the eye. It was about 6:30 when this was taken, well after dark.
This view of the moon over the I-430 bridge is a better approximation of being there. Jupiter appears above and to the right of the moon, while a state trooper's blue light to
the right completes the triangle.

Riding the trail at night is a lot of fun, but does require lights and close attention to deer, skunks, and invisible walkers in dark clothes. Even the most drably dressed runners are usually given away by Scotchlite on their shoes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cleaning Up The Desktop: Friday Shorts

I'm always on the lookout for content for JBarCycling. It could be just an idea, an interesting photo, or some article I've spotted. Photos often just get parked on my desktop to remind me that I really should utilize them in some way. Well, I'm cleaning up the odds-and-ends that never made it into a post and some of them just need to see the light of day before going the way of the delete button.

This congenial officer in a kilt was seen enforcing civil order in downtown Salida, Colorado. A cop who will wear a kilt is likely a man to be reckoned with!

OK, say your house is on fire and you call the local fire department. As you anxiously await help, you hear a reassuring sound in the distance....ding, ding, ding. Ahhh, the fire bike is on its way, likely being waved through busy intersections by cops in kilts.

Speaking of kilts. This squirrel has done been kilt in its encounter with the bike. Unfortunately, the fork also perished in the battle. I think Bryan Shipman shared this with me.
This looks like a road-worthy jersey that could get a long honk and a good holler from some passing redneck if it was adorning some spandex-clad weirdo like me or you.
However, Team Nitro is more likely to be going up against Bubba here in the Big Bass Classic than putting the hurt on club racers. Note to my bass fishing friends: Never say anything about me dressing funny.I have pictures!
I think this freak show device was on the floor of the Richardson Bike Mart in Frisco, TX. Do you just have something against bicycles or can't get enough elliptical machine at the gym? This could be the answer for you, but I'm really surprised that there would be much of a market for something like this. I've seen stranger things that people were willing spend money on but this is a little pricier than your Chia Pet.
OK, maybe the Elliptigo wasn't the end-all in wheeled transportation. Perhaps it is the Rowbike, and they actually ride among us! Well, at least one does. I spotted this bad boy near River Mountain Road last year. Its rider was bemoaning the fact the there were not a lot of these around. He really wanted somebody to ride with! The fact that the rowbike is heavy, slow, and climbs like a fork-impaled squirrel notwithstanding, I'm sure it's a blast. I'll be looking into one as soon as I wear out my Trikke!

And, last but not least, John Martin shared this recent aerial view of downtown Little Rock from high above the oddly named Longfellow Arms apartments on River Road. Nothing says "HUD Housing" like a very out-of-place literary moniker.

Well, this was the JBar equivalent of cartoons. Enjoy the weekend and be safe! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back on (single)Track

'Tis the season! No, not THAT season. Even though I was greeted with strains of Winter Wonderland when went into Best Buy this afternoon to replace my purloined phone headset, it's not Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas yet for me. For me, it's time to get back out on the dirt and learn how to ride my mountain bike again. My mountain biking skill development pattern reminds me very much of a conversation that I had with a boating friend many years ago as we sat in an eddy near the put-in of the Ocoee River in Tennessee. I was very seriously into my boating at the time and the Ocoee was my favorite playground, while he was expressing misgivings about his own ability. I assured him that he'd be OK, "Man, you've been boating as long as I have. You'll do fine." He said, "Yeah, but you've had five years of experience and I've had one year of experience five times." I pondered that statement and decided that it made perfect sense and was an accurate assessment. Well, now I'm that guy and my mountain bike is his kayak. I rarely ride my mountain bike in the summer and each fall I seem to start over, perhaps a little better than the fall before, but not a giant step better.
The Niner and I are still learning to get along. It is exactly the sharp handling, nimble ride I was looking for and I'm looking forward to spending some quality time on it so I can do it justice.

Camp Robinson: Getting In Is Easier Than Ever

So, I headed out to Camp Robinson Sunday to get a little dirty, explore the state of the trail system, and begin my annual learning curve. The word on current procedure at Camp Robinson is that a $10.00 sportsman's pass is required for mountain bikers. They may be obtained at the main gate Visitor Center between 9:00AM and 4:00PM Tuesday-Thursday. You will need your drivers license, car registration and proof-of-insurance and the process takes about 5-10 minutes. The upside is that these days with a sportsman's pass, you simply sign in and out. No more waiting in line or having to deal with the guard, so once you have a pass, entry is streamlined quite a bit.
Note: If it's hard for you to get by during the hours available to buy a pass, call before you make the trip! There is just one young lady who handles those duties and I have heard of folks taking time off work only to find that her hours have changed, or she is off, etc.. The main number is (501) 212-5100. Ask for the Visitor Center.

Things are surprisingly good!
Camp Robinson offers a lot of trail miles featuring a wide range of difficulty and character, from fast flowing and mostly flat to technical and steep, so there is something for every rider and mood. Many riders virtually gave up on Camp last year due to confusion over the sportsman's pass procedure, extended trail closures for logging operations and the mess that results from clear cutting, and then a period of frequent controlled burns. I stuck it out longer than most before finishing out my season riding at Burns Park and elsewhere.
I got on the bike unsure of trail conditions but expected a bit of an overgrown mess. What I found was that the trails I rode were in remarkably good shape, the piles of debris from the logging were mostly gone, and the understory was fresh and colorful in the areas that were burned off last spring.

The last time I rode this stretch of Outer Loop in the spring, it had been freshly logged and then burned, leaving a smoldering mess. Now, the trail is clear, the brush is subdued and the the trail surface is excellent.

My ride covered Yucca, what's left of 10 Bridges, Outer Loop, Airport Loop, and the newly built Turn, Turn, Turn. I'm not sure who did the trail work, though the list of usual suspects would include the two generation team of Basil and Basil Hicks or Bryan Shipman. My gratitude goes out to anyone who has done trail work around the central Arkansas. This stuff doesn't just happen! All of the trail surfaces were dry at the time and in great shape. Some stretches were already getting the usual covering of fallen leaves.

Starting near where the old Christmas Tree once stood, I headed west and ran into signage for a new trail,  Turn Turn Turn. I'm guessing that the trail was a couple of miles and, true to its name, it turns, turns, and turns, though it flows pretty well and isn't as raw as I would have thought.

Camp Robinson is a fantastic place to ride, though it has fallen from popular favor for some of the reasons mentioned above and because recent trail work has improved the Burns Park system. That's understandable, but Camp can't be beat for single-track variety, and for opportunities to improve your skills. It's just what many riders need, and what the area needs most to stay good is more riders. I can hear Buddha calling.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dark-Thirty Comes Early.... light up.
Monday was the first day of our return to standard time. Other than the fact that the time change sucked, it was a great evening to get out on the bike, warm and humid with a steady breeze. I rode from the sub on a mission to visit each of the three bike bridges at their illuminated best.
I prefer to be seeing this scene at the end of my ride, but the striking view of the sun setting behind the capitol and the Broadway Bridge has to be appreciated.

I had a light on my bars and a headlamp, and hooked up with a couple of other riders as we came off of Two Rivers Bridge. Having the two lights allowed me to light the path in front of me while looking around with the headlamp. I also benefitted from the redundancy when the battery on my bike light died during the course of my ride. After a loop in the park with my new friends, I circled back to a point in Little Maumelle Creek that is probably my favorite spot in Two Rivers Park in order to enjoy the view and take a few photos. As I rode back out to my point, I noticed a couple of deer at the edge of the trail to my right. As it dawned on me that they had come out of the thicket to my left, I looked up just in time to lock up both wheels as the third deer bounded across the trail. The deer are thick, so it's a good idea not to outrun your headlight.
I had to stay pretty wide-angle to get both the moon and the bridge in this view from a point in Two Rivers Park.
The Two Rivers Bridge lights are cool and there were a lot of people out after dark using the parks and bridges. I just wish that everyone would put on something reflective or use a light.
The Big Dam Bridge was in full disco light mode.

The Clinton Park Bridge was my third tour stop. With its bright white lights, it is not as photogenic as the BDB and 2RB, but it has its own charm.

While the BDB, Two Rivers Bridge and Two River Park were busy with walkers, runners and riders, the Clinton Park Bridge was abandoned. Its proximity to the well publicized crime problems at River Market and the many homeless folks who inhabit the area may prevent it from the having the feeling of safety that is pervasive along most of the River Trail system. That said, our trails are remarkably active after dark and riding at night is a very positive experience.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stuff That Works: Garneau Super Prestige Gloves

Like many cyclists, I'm particular about my gear. Years of winter kayaking made me appreciate the value of bulletproof equipment to help keep me safe and warm, and that mentality carries over to my choice of cycling equipment. Function and fit are a must and, of course, a little style gets points, too. I had many years of cold, wet days in the boat to refine my collection of gear to allow me to really enjoy winter runs while encased in my Gore-tex dry suit, sport-specific fleece top, tights, pogies for hands, and warm booties. Even though cold weather, cold water boating is a more extreme exposure experience due to that water factor, in some ways it is easier to dress for the boat. Even if the air temp rises 25 degrees over the course of a trip, you're still in cold water, so the conditions you have to prepare for don't change much.
As I entered the world of winter road riding, I was clueless as to how to gear up. After a few years of collecting gear, I've got a pretty well-rounded quiver of clothes and accessories for every occasion, but I'm always on the lookout for something better than what I've got. One weak link has been winter gloves. My most comfortable ones aren't very warm. Liners help and add versatility, but are a small hassle. My warmest gloves are fine when it's really cold, but as the temperature or my work load rises, they start feeling damp and creepy. Last year, while milling around in Spokes, I started trying on gloves. I also have really wide hands, so I'm always on the lookout for the perfect glove. I decided to try a pair of Louis Garneau Super Prestige Gloves.
The Garneau specs says these are good to 14 degrees. I can't testify to that, but they're good for a very broad range of temperatures due to the fold-away lobster claw shells.

These gloves are pretty warm while in the five-finger mode, but they convert to lobster mode by way of an easily deployed shell that folds into a pocket on the back of the glove. The shell is not really noticeable while tucked away, but provides a real increase in performance while allowing fingers to couple up and snuggle. The split design makes for easy shifting and braking and the fingers are easily exposed for more delicate tasks like unwrapping a bar.

You can also leave your forefinger and middle finger out for dexterity and for communicating with rude drivers while leaving your pinkie and third finger warmly tucked away.

The gloves cost about 45 bucks. Bike gear is expensive enough when you are sure of what you're buying and we've all experienced the frustration of buying something, only to relegate it to the back of the drawer after a few disappointing uses. On the other hand, cost is forgotten soon enough when a piece of gear serves you well over the years. That's stuff that works.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

If it smells like......

It ain't spring water.

Last week, I noticed Little Rock Wastewater excavating a large patch of the pavement near the I-430 bridge on the trail just east of Two Rivers Bridge. It turns out that they were seeking to repair a leak in the sewer line.
Sink hole or stink hole. Your nose will tell you the purpose of this excavation.

 As I rode yesterday, there was a crew with a metal detector attempting to locate man holes which had been paved over many years ago. There are apparently major issues with the line in this area, so expect to see a lot of excavating equipment and activity. That's not much of an issue, but after riding to Two Rivers and starting my return west, I noticed a small sign advising that "sanitary sewer overflow" was present and warning against coming in contact with it. Since the entire width of the road was wet, there was little way of avoiding it. I'm sure it's bad policy to aspirate or swallow sewage being sprayed off of one's wheels, so this would be a good stretch to follow the admonition of "shut up and ride". On arriving home last night, my bike and I both got a thorough cleaning.