Monday, December 26, 2011

The Gift Bag

Well, Christmas has come once again and emptied in its wake the usual mixed bag of good news and bad, grace and greed, jolly elves and Scrooges, gifts and Grinches. My holiday weekend has worked out nicely, having had the infrequent opportunity to spend some quality family time with my own small clan, though I will admit to experiencing a little Scrooge-a-tude Christmas morning. My usual routine is to ride to my in-laws for Christmas Day festivities and then waddle home at dark with a full belly. I've had some questionable Christmas rides involving howling winds, cold, and generally crappy cycling conditions, but both the execution and the concept of the trip always made it worthwhile. Christmas 2011 was a perfect day for a ride, but, alas, newest nephew had a christening on the schedule, the venue for which precluded my usual spandex-clad arrival. Though Presbyterians seem to be a fairly open-minded bunch, my tights and helmet hair might have upset some sensibilities of those arriving for Christmas morning services, so I resigned myself to a rideless day. My selflessness was rewarded when I was told that there would be an unexpected four hour window between church and Christmas dinner. I used the opportunity to ride the River Trail system and make note of some of the gifts that the Central Arkansas cycling community has recieved over the last year.

Santa Claus Gifts: The Big Stuff
At our house, our big gift always came from Santa Claus. We would exchange gifts from one another on Chrismas Eve, then awake Chrismas morning to find that Santa had visited. By most standards, it was slim pickings, but our Mom always managed to come through with something special for each of us. Here in Central Arkansas, 2011 brought a couple of very nice gifts for cyclists in the form of the Two Rivers and Clinton Park Bridges.
Two Rivers Bridge
Of the two major projects, Two Rivers Bridge is the most valuable to cyclists, in that it opened a safe route to the trails of Two Rivers Park and to the many popular road routes that lie west of town.
The Two Rivers Bridge and Park serve as both a connection and a destination. Walkers can appreciate the proximity to the park and cyclists enjoy the safe route to the lightly used roads and trails to the west.
Two Rivers Bridge, with its easy access and short span, has proven to be immensely popular with all kinds of trail users. On Christmas Day, the parking lot was full and the trail alive with visitors.

The Christmas Day traffic on the Two Rivers Park trail was heavy with strollers and dog walkers.
This rider was enjoying the light traffic on the BDB.

The Two Rivers Bridge may have displaced the Big Dam Bridge as the most popular place to show off the new puppy, Christmas bike, or the snappy new Nike jogging suit, but the BDB remains the iconic structure of the River Trail, both in terms of its scale and of its importance within the trail system.

Clinton Park Bridge

The Clinton Park Bridge anchors the east end of the River Trail and its completion represented a somewhat symbolic "closing of the loop". The CPB is a very nice alternative to the Junction Bridge, but still has a feel of having been built more for a stroll than for transportation. That's just fine, and it is usually active with folks who look more like visitors than locals.
I find myself using the Clinton Park Bridge more frequently, enjoying the change of scenary.

The Clinton Park Bridge is a boon for downtown bike commuters and is infinitely more bike friendly than the elevators and stairs of the Junction Bridge just upstream.
Now, the stocking stuffers!
Sometimes, smaller gifts turn out to be the most treasured. Only time will tell, but here are few trinkets to put smiles on the faces of biking boys and girls.

The intersection of Cross and LaHarpe is still a hazardous puzzle, but this recently improved approach resolves the problem of having to jump a curb on to the sidewalk.

The traffic circle and extended bike lane under construction at Riverfront and Rebsamen Park Road should make things a little safer for cyclists.

CARVE Club donated this work station to NLR Parks as a service to the community.

There are a lot of other things to be thankful for, but these came to mind. Though we're all taught to be grateful, not everything received at Christmas is appreciated. As a stubborn child, I was often threatened with getting a bag of switches, which is the equivilent to the more universal  lump of coal. I clearly understood the negative implications of switches, but, having never seen a lump of coal, would not have been intimidated by the threat of one and might have thought it a cool curiosity. These days, we all know that the ol' lump of coal isn't worth squat.

The Lump Of Coal

Dead End: Still no resolution for the Little Rock Cathedral School/Dillard's trail gap.

Our lump of coal is the lack of progress on closing the Moronic Mile trail gap. A few hundred thousand dollars was spent on a plan and a nice presentation seeking federal transportation funds for the elaborate River Bluffs project, but that was a long shot bet and came in like most long shots do; a loser. Maybe next year will bring us a viable plan to support cycling traffic along this stretch of LaHarpe Blvd, but in the meantime I'm going to enjoy playing with the gifts we've got. It has been a good year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Team CARVE At Work: River Trail Bike Repair Station

Giving Back To The Cycling Community

Central Arkansas Velo, aka: CARVE, has had a significant presence in our area for a decade as a race team, an active cycling club, and as a medium for supporting cycling in general.  Over the past year, CARVE has reinvented itself with new leadership and  slightly restated mission. While still enjoying the sponsorship of the Chainwheel, there has been a broad effort to be inclusive of more riders, including those who ride for other entities on race days. 2011 marked a banner year for CARVE as they sponsored a string of successful events such as the Burns Park criterium series, capped by the Dr. Feelgood Star-Spangled Criterium in downtown Argenta, State Time Trial Championships, and many other competitive, training and recreational cycling activities. At the CARVE/ Chainwheel anniversary event, CARVE president Sid DeGarmo announced that CARVE would be donating a bike work station to the North Little Rock Parks Department, and then this week I got an e-mail from Sid advising me that the Fixit work station had been installed. Being the curious type, of course, I had to ride on down to check it out.
The work station is located at the pavilion near the north foot of the Big Dam Bridge and incorporates a work stand, pump, and a selection of common bike tools.
Just hook the nose of the saddle on the stand and get to work!
This is the tool selection on the Fixit. 

Much like a new bird feeder, the station immediately started drawing customers. 

 The CARVE kit can be seen on many, many riders in Central Arkansas, some active in the club or team, while many simply enjoy riding in the sharp pro-style kit. One result has been that CARVE has been unfairly portrayed in some circles as being an outfit of trail-racing outlaws. I'm not a CARVE member, but I'll say that my experience with the core CARVE riders has been that they are a conscientious bunch. You'll see small groups of CARVE jerseys on the River Trail as friends ride together, but CARVE club group rides head out of town east or west to avoid trail conflict and to take advantage of the open roads. My experience has been that those rides are typically more orderly and better disciplined than most, due in large part to the experience and regard to safety of the riders, which is not to say that they aren't sometimes fast and competitive.
Thanks to the entire CARVE membership for supporting the work station donation. With the club's effort here, along with their beginner rides, juniors program, mountain bike trail work days, and event support, CARVE is serving and representing our community well by actively promoting a variety of cycling activities.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gettin' Over The Hump

We'll be getting over a couple of humps this Wednesday, that little hump between now and Friday, and the bigger hump of the Winter Solstice, which occurs at 11:30PM on December 21. We will have that paltry 9hour 49minute 30second day behind us. New Year's Day will be 31 seconds longer than New Year's Eve as the days get longer at an encouraging rate. On March 11, the day we go back to Daylight Savings Time, sunset will be at 7:14PM and the eleventh will be 2minutes 10seconds longer than the tenth.

DateSunrise               Sunset            This day  Difference Time         Altitude        Distance
Dec 20, 20117:12 AM5:02 PM9h 49m 33s− 06s12:07 PM31.9° 147.177
Dec 21, 20117:13 AM5:02 PM9h 49m 30s− 03s12:07 PM31.9° 147.168
Dec 22, 20117:13 AM5:03 PM9h 49m 30s< 1s12:08 PM31.9° 147.158
Dec 23, 20117:14 AM5:03 PM9h 49m 33s+ 03s12:08 PM31.9° 147.150
Dec 24, 20117:14 AM5:04 PM9h 49m 40s+ 06s12:09 PM31.9° 147.142
Dec 25, 20117:14 AM5:04 PM9h 49m 49s+ 09s12:09 PM31.9° 147.134
Dec 26, 20117:15 AM5:05 PM9h 50m 02s+ 12s12:10 PM31.9° 147.127

You can follow your solunar path to springtime here.

Don't get me wrong. I'm years past wishing away any of my days, but it is encouraging to realize that at just about the moment that the shortening days start affecting the mood, the pendulum swings. Our harshest winter weather lies ahead but we'll be getting a little more sunshine every day.

Not that it's been all that bad..
After an intense work day, I fell to the temptation of Tuesday's humid 60 degree temperature and headed down to the River Trail about 4:00. There were a few optimists out riding in shorts and short sleeves, but I found the addition of knee warmers and a long sleeve base to be perfect for the mellow conditions.

The winter light and the clouds help make I-430 a thing of beauty on a calm evening.

Tuesday was as comfortable an evening as we can hope for in late December; warm, humid and not a breath of wind. It pays to be ready to ride and there were quite a few folks out and about enjoying the unexpectedly nice evening.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Along the Trail: An Expected Disappointment, Some Small Improvements

Tiger III Grant for Dillard's Trail Section Improvement: Not Approved

I don't think anyone held realistic expectations that the transportation grant for the "River Bluffs Trail Section" would be approved in the current political climate. Arkansas did get $9.8m for enhanced electronic driver notification systems for the Mississippi River bridges. I am awaiting the outrage from the legions of folks who regularly complain about spending for bike and pedestrian infrastructure as wasteful spending. Look for the letters to start appearing in a newspaper near you! After all, $10,000,000.00 (OK, I'm rounding for dramatic effect.) to tell drivers "traffic ahead" and "click-it or ticket", along with the occasional Amber alert, seems like a bit of a boondoggle to me. Well, OK, there will be no outrage, because nobody ever questions the hundreds of millions of dollars regularly slung around to support our national dependence on motor fuel.
The upside to the grant exercise is that the River Bluffs Trail Section project planning that has been done to date will give the City a head start should funds for such projects become available in the future. The downside is that if the funds never materialize, the significant planning costs could have been spent on some other approach to closing the trail gap.

Temporary Hazard: Improvement in Progress
A small improvement project is currently underway at what is arguably the most dangerous point along the Moronic Mile, that patchwork of parking lots, trail, streets, sidewalks and wrong-way riding that connects the Medical Mile to the River Trail near Junior Deputy Park. At the corner of LaHarpe and Cross, westbound riders must cross oncoming traffic lanes to gain the sidewalk in order to proceed to North Street before getting back on the sidewalk........etc, etc. If you're local, you know the spot.

For the moment, westbound non-bunnyhopping riders on the designated bike route have little choice but to dismount and step into the oncoming traffic lane to get back onto the sidewalk. Traffic coming off of LaHarpe poses a hazard here under the best of conditions.

Eastbound riders at least have the benefit of moving in the direction of traffic and they have a better sight line to check behind on cars exiting LaHarpe.

The positive side of this is that the work is supposed to make the transition from street to sidewalk a little smoother, which is good news because this is no place to hesitate! The photos above were taken Friday afternoon and a city official to whom I spoke expected the work to be complete early next week. It is a small thing, but it demonstrates that the City of Little Rock is now paying attention.
Shout out to reader Richard Bassett for alerting me to this construction.
Temporary Hazard North: Progress

 I reported last week on a void in the trail near the Clinton Park Bridge in North Little Rock. That little project is complete. Now, if pedestrians and riders would pay attention to the in-out arrows, safety at this point will have been enhanced.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cyclocross: Arkansas Super-Prestige

Arkansas State Cyclocross Championships

There was a nice crowd in Burns Park last Sunday for the Arkansas Super-Prestige cyclocross race, and the racing was hot and heavy. Due to an early morning mission, I made it to the event just in time for the "A" Race. The course looked difficult enough, with an appropriate variety of surfaces ranging from pavement to slop, and the usual barriers and changes in elevation. The Arkansas Cyclocross blog is the place to see the results and more photos. At some point, you'll also find information there on the upcoming season finale on January 15.

I missed the early race, but Patrick Emery's tired smile and muddy kit told the tale.

The "A" race start

Riders coming across the pavement were getting a little air as this young lady demonstrates here. She hung with the front riders deep into the race.

Richard Machycek raced on a hardtail Specialized Stumpjumper. It didn't seem to slow him down riding the course or running the barriers.

These guys were the eventual overall and Cat 3 winners. Stephen Erickson, Bikes of Tulsa, in the foreground, rode the muck and slipped off the course as overall winner Scott Walnofer, Snapple, elected to run it. Erickson was second overall.

I maintain that cyclocross is the most spectator-friendly form of bike racing, with the competitive but casual vibe and good visibility of the riders over most of the course, as is usually the case. Throw in a rowdy crowd, cold weather, and some mud and it can be quite the event.The cowbells were ringing and the crowd cheered on the riders on Sunday, but I will say that it lacked a little of the crowd buzz of last year's Competitive Cycling sponsored   Klein Rots Cyclo Kruis. The CC boys had the fryers going as they handed out frites and root beer. Any self-respecting Belgian would scoff at the keg of root beer, but it was Sunday in Burns Park and cyclists are all about minding the rules. Cyclocross is generally considered to be a slightly beer-soaked discipline, and though Arkansas cyclocross racing hasn't reached that state, it is great way to spend a few hours watching or doing some good bike racing with your friends. Look for info on the January 15 race. Maybe the venue will allow for beer hand-ups.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Camp Robinson: Closure dates

UPDATE 12/15/12: Well, it seems like we just can't trust the government these days....

Camp will be closed this weekend, Dec 17-18, for a muzzleloader hunt.

Just when we get all ramped up to ride at Camp, we get notice of some "closed" dates:

We have to be flexible since we're playing on an active military reservation. We may have full-springers and hardtails, but they have helocopters and automatic weapons.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Crash of the Computer Kind; Trail Fairies

Crash! No Road Rash!
A computer crash has resulted in minor inconvenience until Dell onsite support shows up with new parts. My PC has slipped a disk or thrown a rod or something along those lines, but help is on the way, I have another machine to use, and I can live without access to my files for a few days.

Trail Fairies at Work
 I went out to Camp Robinson Sunday morning and the check-in procedure is so easy that I almost felt like I was sneaking in. I did very little riding, but scouted around a little, including a ride out 10 Bridges from the entry trail in search of a downed tree that I had targeted on a previous ride.
10 Bridges Trail from the parking lot to the clear cut was rideable except for this downed tree.

Much better.
There is about a mile of more-or-less intact 10-Bridges Trail, including 3 of the bridges, that doesn't look like it has been ridden since the timber harvest. It is marked with yellow ribbon and clear of wood, but overgrown in places. If you decide to check it out, turn left at the clear cut and you'll ride back to the Yucca/ Bridges connector. Look for trail flagging at the large mud hole to find the trail link.
Also, word is that another pack of fairies was re-flagging Yucca, also on Sunday.

Trail fairies are rarely observed, with the likelihood of seeing one falling somewhere between that of a black T-shirt at Riverfest and Bigfoot. Though the authenticity of this snapshot cannot  be verified at this time, experts speculate that this is the subspecies Fairius husqvarnius.

Most of the Camp Robinson trails are in great shape and those that are not are getting some love! It was a good morning to ride some more, but I needed to get to Burns Park for the state championship cyclocross races. More on that event coming up.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Oh, yeah,a couple of other things...

Just when it seems that my topic well has run dry, other things come to mind that bear mentioning.

As I finished my ride Wednesday night, I decided to cruise on down to the Clinton Park Bridge to see if it was as desolate as the rest of the trail system. As I approached the gate through the flood wall near the NLR RV Park, imagine my surprise when I saw that the pavement was........gone.
It was closer to dark than this photo makes it appear, but still light enough for me to see that my ride stopped here!

It looks like they are improving this approach, but for the next few days, I suggest looking before you go barrelling out the gate. It pays to approach this point with caution, anyway, as I've had a couple of close encounters here as I entered from the street, only to meet people heading out on the left side (MY right) of the opening and hidden from my view by the wall. A "KEEP RIGHT" sign might be in order.

New Options For Camp Robinson Sportsman Passes
This passed along by Bryan Shipman on 11/29:

"Starting tomorrow sportsman's passes will be sold at the visitors center Tuesday - Friday from 10am - 6pm. Mrs. Tiffany Alexander is now on-board with us and were glad to have her. Please post this information to your websites and pass along to all? :)"
visitor center 501.212.4090

As many of you know, I'm just a seasonal mountain biker (this is that season!), but a proponent of use of the CARP trails at Camp. The last year or so has been trying for Camp riders, in that there has been clear cutting, wildfires, controlled burns and bulldozer work, all of which impacted some of the trails. In addition, the procedure for entry has been a moving target. The new hours for obtaining a Sportsman Pass have been extended and now make it possible for clock-punchers to get by after work (I still suggest calling before trekking out there to buy a pass), and most of the trails are in good shape, in spite of another recent foray by a bulldozer to tie a couple of clear-cuts/landing zones together. Once you have the pass, entry is easier than ever. All you have to do is sign in at the visitor's center and show your ID as you enter the gate. No more hauling in documents or dealing with the security guard.

Airport, Outer Loop, Port-o-potty, Buddha, Ball of Nails, Merlin, ZigZag and other top quality trails are intact and in good shape, needing only some leaf blowing and some riders. I've spoken to a couple of mountain bikers this week who have rediscovered Camp Robinson. It's easy to get your groove on at the newly improved Burns Park trails and forget how very good and diverse the Camp trail system really is. I've never come close to riding it all in a day. In fact, there are still a few stretches that I've never ridden.
This is a not entirely a selfless admonition to riders to use the trails. The trails are better with use and I would despair a loss of access if the powers-that-be were to ever decide that the area would be better used by the Guard for some other purpose.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Weather, politics and Christmas (as close to religion as I'm going!)

Weather is usually the only completely safe topic, but here we go!

Neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night...

Well, you can see where that attitude got the United States Postal Service. I think of myself as a pretty hardy cyclist where weather is concerned and, as validation of that premise, I consider the many days that I've crossed the BDB with nary another soul in sight. There are certainly people out there who can make me want to huddle with my binkie with their frozen haired tales of commuting determination, but I'm a warm-blooded creature and ride for fun, so I do have my limits. Any heat that Arkansas can throw our way is manageable, and headlights can lengthen short winter days. I don't like cold or wind, and I especially don't like cold wind, but I'll put my head down and ride. I don't start rides in the rain unless I'm belittled, abused and called a girlie-man by some of my good friends, and that has happened fairly regularly over my riding career, now that I think about it. That makes me consider whether I should just HTFU and ride or get some better friends. I'm getting a little off track, but I'm circling around to the fact that riding conditions have been downright miserable. After joining the CARVE ride Saturday morning, resignation set in that we were in for a few days of rain. By Tuesday, the rain had been removed from the forecast, but we woke up to this Wednesday morning:

This doesn't usually bode well for a ride day, but it turned out OK.

I really don't complain too much about Arkansas weather, because there is seldom a week in which we can't get in a couple of reasonably comfortable rides. I managed an hour on the bike this evening and feel all better! It was pretty cool, but clear and not too windy, and the near-full moon was already high in the sky.

The BDB was not too crowded! The sun melted the snow, but there was a strip of ice lurking in the shadows.

I think I passed four riders  and saw a couple of more, along with a few runners and a dozen or so walkers. If you want some solitude on the trail, this is your time! Other than a few puddles and some dirt and sand washed out near the rock quarry, the NLR River Trail was clean and in good shape.

My respect goes out to those proud folks who rode the Jingle Bell Cyclocross Race on Sunday at Boyle Park. I planned to go by for photos, but should have checked my information, as I drove to Kanis Park. On seeing the empty park, I headed home, with my error dawning on me moments later, but by then I was just ready to slink back to the dry comfort of home. You seldom see a forecast that simply calls for "continuous rain".
The Arkansas State Cyclocross Championships will be this Sunday at Burns Park. It looks to be clear and cold, so bundle up and head on down! Last year's event was big fun and some very exciting racing, with homeboy Noah Singer taking the win on the last lap.

More news: NLR Mayor Pat Hays(maybe) not running for re-election

From the Arkansas Times blog reports emerge that Pat Hays will not seek re-election in 2012, a report that Hays mildly disputed. While I've had my share of disagreements with Mr. Mayor over the years, he has provided vision for the city and a steady hand. Nobody is going to make us all happy, but, on the whole, the City has shown progress under his watch. There are other several candidates in the mix, some mentioned in the article and some not, so this development bears watching. Mayor Hays, along with Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, has provided leadership and resolve in developing the River Trail system, so his status is relevant to the cycling community.

And speaking of making appointed rounds...

Christmas is almost upon us. If you're unwilling to count on the jolly fat dude to deliver gifts to the cyclists on your list, here are a few ideas:

- Toe or shoe covers. If they don't have them, they need them! Same goes for arm warmers and knee warmers. Good stocking stuffers include gels and nutrition bars (See what they usually eat. Some of us are picky!), and it's hard to have too many red LED blinkies! If your bikes are all outfitted, they're great for clipping on the dog's collar or your pocket when walking after dark.  We can always use spare tubes, CO2 cartridges and other consumables.
You can never have too many socks. My favorite winter cycling socks are DeFeets Blaze.

Tights for cold weather riding. I also love my bib knickers. Many people have a hard time buying really nice bibs or riding shorts because they are so damned expensive, BUT, they are usually worth every penny. This can be a personal thing, but sneak a peak at your rider's current favorites, call your local bike shop and buy a better grade of the same brand. That way, you're pretty sure of the fit and, once again, premium bibs or shorts DO make a difference. 
Head light-Bike lights are kind of like computers in that they keep getting better and cheaper. With current LED technology, you can get a compact 500 lumen light (that's bright!) that charges via any USB port for around 150 bucks. These lights can mount on handlebars or a helmet. Just a few years ago, that much light would have put you in the $500.00 range and would have required a heavy, remote battery pack that needed an overnight charge. You can still spend a lot more money and get a lot more light, but 250-500 lumens is plenty for riding the River trail or
for a morning commute. Consider more power for single-track riders.

So far, I've managed to avoid the stinkin' trainer and I hope you have, too. I know many of us are finding that we have time on our hands, as I've had a steady stream of nerd mail concerning the relative weights and attributes of various disc brake rotors. I didn't even know that sintered was a word.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Along The Trail: Projects

The ride scene is pretty slow these days, as is usual for this time of year, but the lack of traffic is likely making life easier for construction crews working on various projects along the Little Rock side of the trail. A few weeks back, I noted that sewer work was underway along the stretch between I-430 and the Jimerson Creek bridge. It must have been determined that the old line wasn't repairable, so Little Rock Wastewater has a contractor on the scene.

Last Saturday, new pipe was staged along the sides of the trail in preparation for the job.

The new sewer line is now being run south of the road bed, but equipment will be present and construction will require that some areas of the pavement will have to be excavated. Crews have been instructed that the trail is to remain open, but expect to be routed around work zones. Be alert!
Just downstream, work continues on the west ramp of the Big Dam Bridge. The piers are near-complete and when I went by Thursday evening crews were making sure that this one was vertically true in preparation for pour the concrete base.
These guys are seeing that they've got it right from their vantage point on the BDB.

If things continue on schedule, the steel beams for the ramp should be delivered around the end of the month and then we'll start seeing some horizontal structure. I appreciate the fact that Little Rock and Pulaski County are both committed to keeping the trail open during these projects. I spoke to some of the workers on the sewer project and it would be much easier for them to just close the trail for a couple of weeks, but they were cheerfully accommodating.

Work continues to progress on the traffic circle at Rebsamen Park Road and Riverfront Drive.

The large rocks that can be seen to the right of the trail in the photo above had previously protruded out onto the trail, narrowing the passage at a point of limited sight distance. Thanks go out to Assistant City manager Bryan Day for helping to get that corrected.  The River Trail seems to be a near constant work-in-progress and I have great expectations for more improvements to come about on the Little Rock side of the world. In addition to some additional funding from the recently passed sales tax, there seems to be a greater awareness in city government of the benefits of improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Thanks go out to officials like Bryan, an active Little Rock Bike Friendly Committee, and some vocal concerned citizens who are helping to keep bike issues on the front burner.