Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring Classics Are Upon Us!

Before I became absorbed with all things bicycle, like most Americans, my knowledge of the international bike racing scene was limited to an annual dose of the Tour de France. I will admit that even my interest  in the Tour only became quasi-serious when American Greg Lemond won it, and then, of course, Lance Armstrong made cycling fans of all of us with his years-long dominance. I thought that the best bike racing always took place in France during the month of July right up until my neighbor Darwin loaned me a VHS tape of a very muddy Paris-Roubaix.
George Hincapie in the 2002 Paris-Roubaix . In conditions like this, riders are forced to the crown of the road or to the gutters in order to avoid crashing out on the slick pavé.
Photo from Cyclingtips

I won't say that it convinced me that the Tour was for pussies, but I came away convinced that the real hard men of cycling show their colors in the spring in Belgium where rain, slick cobblestones, cold, and cow shit defined the race course. The winner was decided not by team time trails or weeks-long strategy, but man-to-man in one day contests in which the first rider across the finish line wins. Period. Game over. The only second chance is next year.
Check out schedules at CyclingNews , VeloNews, this get a good overview from entry on Wikipedia. Live video can usually be found at SteephillTV or

A note on cycling websites: I was introduced to Velonews as the "go to" site for live race blog-style coverage. Over the years, Velonews dropped live coverage in the face of competition from CyclingNews. One was usually no better than the other but it costs money to have folks pecking away on the keyboard with live descriptions of the action. I subscribe to Velo magazine and their VeloNews website still has excellent content; just lacking in immediate coverage.
Video streaming sites: They often require some finessing. You'll usually see several sites for English language, and many will ask you to download software. I advise against downloading from any of those links. When you find a broadcast that you want, there will often be a banner ad obscuring the view. Maximizing the image usually bypasses those ads and their pesky links.

Live and delayed broadcast coverage of some races can be found on NBCSports  or beIN Sports (Comcast channel 268). I have my DVR set to record events with CYCLING as a keyword so that I can catch events without having to search for an obscure listing. You can also usually find highlights or the closing kilometers of a race on YouTube by searching the race name.

Don't miss out on some of the best racing of the season! The drama is already increasing as perennial classics contenders Fabian Cancellera and Tom Boonen have already fallen to injury, and Peter Sagan has had several poor performances, having been dropped in the final kilometer of Wednesday's E3 Harelbeke. Sagan, Tour green jersey winner and all-around top rider, had been anointed as a likely classics star.
This is vital information for those of you already plotting to take prizes in the JBarCycling Fantasy MiniLeague.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pedal On Down To Pedal Palooza- Sunday, March 29, 2015 11:00 AM-4:00PM

I really appreciate events like this, as it gives a community a place to pick up bargains and get rid of unneeded goods, an environmentally and economically sound practice. As a bit of a gear-head, I always seem to have parts and pieces that never made it to some project or used gear that is perfectly functional but no longer in my "active use" inventory.  Of course, I'm also a procrastinator, so I still have all of that stuff! While Pedal Palooza won't clear my garage and barn of surplus kayaking, windsurfing, camping, fishing and cycling gear, I may be able to pick up some stuff that I think I really need!

At Biketoberfest last fall, I was in the middle of a project to renovate a vintage Trek road bike, and was in need of some brakes and a rear derailleur.I had a pair of Shimano Ultegra shifters, but really didn't want to spend a couple of hundred bucks to complete the group. I was able to pick up everything I needed for a few dollars and topped it off with a Brooks Team Professional saddle for a fraction of retail.

I was able to make a practical project of this sweet ride.

I'm not in the market for anything right now, but I still plan to check out Pedal Palooza, and may have to ride my town bike so I will have panniers just in case i run across something that I just don't know that I need yet!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Broadway Bridge Construction- Caution

North Little Rock Construction Area-Please Keep Out

I got a call this morning from Cooper Kyhl, engineer, with Massman Construction. Massman is the contractor for the Broadway Bridge project and Cooper was asking for a little help and consideration from the cycling community. As has been reported here in previous posts, a portion of the Arkansas River Trail has been closed to pedestrian and bike traffic as Massman does preliminary work on the bridge. As the job site has become more active, the Massman folks are increasingly concerned about trail users who have been bypassing barriers and entering the construction zone.

I will confess to having ridden around a few barriers in my role as a quasi-journalist in my quest to provide readers with relevant and current information, some barriers are what I'll call "suggestive", while others clearly mean "keep out".

 The east closure fence clearly means "KEEP OUT".

This closure also clearly says, "KEEP OUT", as well. Unfortunately, this fence has been repeatedly pulled up. It will be anchored more securely. 

The east end of the construction zone is very secure; however, at the west end there was an easily bypassed barrier where the detour meets the trail, and then there is a chain link fence, shown above, that is more secure. While I doubt very seriously that recreational cyclists were pulling up the fence, curious riders who have bypassed the first barrier are obviously taking advantage of the open gate, as Khyl has observed them riding out through the construction gate near his job trailer. Since my visit to the job yesterday, the west end barriers have been made more secure.

Bottom Line: Massman understands that the detour in an inconvenience, but they are serious about safety on their project. Please respect that. The trail is impassable near the bridge, so riders are still forced on to Riverfront Drive. The area will become increasingly hazardous as time goes on, so we just need to get used to the detour. 

On The Detour....
I contacted Chris Wilbourn, NLR Planning/Traffic Engineer (Director), regarding the lack of clearly visible signage along Riverfront Road advising drivers of the presence of cyclists. We had discussed the need for the signs in some previous conversations, and Chris responded quickly, working with the AHTD to get better signage. The Broadway Bridge replacement is a project of AHTD. 

Additional signs along Riverfront Road. Signs like this have been added to the east and westbound lanes.
 The crosswalk has been more clearly marked,

Thanks to Chris Wilbourn and the AHTD. Thanks, too, to NLR Alderman Debi Ross for her support. I had asked about the possibility of bike lanes on this stretch, and Chris indicated that temporary bike lanes are possible. There is no shoulder or even a white stripe between the traffic lanes and the curb. 

In Little Rock

Kyhl advised me that they were preparing to close a portion of the River Trail in Little Rock, as well. Things are going to be very sketchy for cyclists in the downtown area for the next couple of years.
This is a preliminary map of the River Trail detour in downtown Little Rock.

I have been involved in many discussions and meetings on the subject of handling trail traffic in downtown Little Rock during the bridge project over the last couple of years. There was never a real consensus, likely because there are no really good alternatives. The map above shows westbound traffic using Clinton Blvd/Markham Street, while eastbound traffic is one way on 4th Street. Local cyclists will find their way, and visitors will likely be very confused. 

We've all known this was coming, and the detours will be a hassle, but the present situation will just be a warm-up for the mayhem that will ensure when the Broadway Bridge is actually closed to traffic. Learn to be patient. Now, go ride your bike. The sun will shine....sometime. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Glory Days- Fine weather arrives!

Early spring here in Arkansas has thus far been a bit of a disappointment. For cyclists, that may be a bit of an understatement, as it had really sucked. We seem to have had very few nice days, and the few that have come along have mostly been during the week and prior to the time change. We've endured more than our fair share of cold, dreary weekends, late season sleet and snow, grey skies, and record low March temperatures. That is why the past Sunday was so welcome. A drizzly cool Saturday led to a warm, sunny Sunday that seemed to call every rider, dog walker, runner, stroller, and baby carriage roller to the Arkansas River Trail.

So, here we go again!
With the crowds come the usual challenges of minor trail user conflicts, so cyclists need to be acutely aware that we share the trail, and many of the folks that we share the trail with at this time of year do not have a clue as to the norms of trail etiquette.
 Two Rivers Park saw the usual congestion on Sunday.

There was something for everybody to enjoy along the trail.
A perfect day on the BDB
Parking everywhere along the trail was problematic. Near the LR side of the BDB, cars parked in the bike lane and along the road well past the Overlook turn. 
Blues Brothers? I guess you don't need a license plate for a surplus cop car; just blown out pipes and a big V-8 to roar out of a crowded park. 

-Please be polite. I often hear riders, mostly newbies, barking "ON YOUR LEFT" as if it was an imperial command. That pisses some folks off. It is supposed to be an act of consideration to advise people that you are passing by. A kinder, gentler, "On your left, please.", will usually make more friends. I long ago settled into using "Passing by, please.  Thank you." That usually gets me a wave, a "thanks", and often a  smile.

- Manage groups. Group rides are fun. Group rides are empowering. Group rides create bonds and can improve your riding. Group rides can scare the hell out of people, simply due to the mass that is passing by them in close proximity. Keep this in mind. If you're a leader, slow down the pack and pass the word for the group to tighten up as you enter busy trail sections. When you get back out on the road, maintain a slower pace so that everybody catches back on. Do not punish those riders who exercise good trail manners by  forcing them to chase.
This group included several folks on aero bars. I was glad to see them sit up so they could reach their brakes as the turned on to the trail at Two Rivers Park

-Do your time trial riding on the road. Aero bars and high speed don't have a place on crowded trails. None of the walkers are going to be impressed by either your new helmet or your awesome power and most experienced riders will pick you out as a recent convert to triathlon.
Being polite and sharing the trail is only burdensome if you choose to make it so. It is simple to "Be alert. Be polite. Stay right."  It is slightly more difficult to be patient with the ranks of the clueless with whom we often. share the trail, but we can do it.

It's a new season. Be careful.
Within the last few weeks, two members of my small ride group have been hit by cars, and a third took a crash resulting in serious injury when he touched wheels with another rider. The only lesson here is that the season is young and many of us are not quite in the mid-season groove. Take it upon yourself to be extra mindful of your own safety and the safety of those around you.

A couple of notes on trail and road conditions

There is a lot of gravel on the roads of central Arkansas, usually with complementary potholes as a result of the recent snow and ice. The bike lanes along County Farm Road have been covered with gravel for the last couple of weeks, making it sketchy for cyclists and prompting many of us to choose the traffic lanes for their relative safety.
 Gravel is dangerous for road riders.
These riders are trying to stay right to allow traffic to easily pass, but gravel in the bike lane was a more immediate hazard. I'll note that these guys were not really "parade makers" holding up traffic. I spotted the line of cars approaching and waited for the shot.

Pulaski County responds!
I dropped a note on Sunday to Judge Barry Hyde's office concerning the gravel. I got a response that it had been forward to Roads and Bridge guy John Burton, and that the bike lanes would be swept today (Monday). Thank you! Pulaski County has usually been responsive to reasonable, specific requests and that kind of working government is to be appreciated.

Flooding on the North Side

High flows on the Arkansas River make for dramatic viewing at the BDB and can cause some problems along the North Little Rock River Trail. 
 This little girl had a plan for the rising water. Feet up and flying!

The first photo was taken at about 1:30, and this one was taken several hours later at near peak flows according to the USGS.

Be aware that the high water may change you ride plans. The USGS gauge information indicates that the river peaked Sunday afternoon, so unless we get more precipitation upstream, things should be returning to normal pretty quickly.  

Pinnacle Valley Restaurant

I'm going to give these folks another pitch. They are eager to welcome cyclists and are working to make us feel wanted. They have a nice beer selection and I'm looking forward to checking out the food. 
Owner Gina Fullerton showing me the deck behind the restaurant at Pinnacle valley and Beck Road. She, along with husband Mike and manager Christian, are set to welcome cyclists. They will be equipping the tables with umbrellas for shade, though the sun felt pretty good on Sunday. 
In addition to the restaurant, bar area and deck, a large meeting/party room in back boasts one of the bigger projection TV's I've seen.

I can see the Pinnacle Valley Restaurant becoming popular with riders for a post-ride brew or a late breakfast after knocking out some weekend miles. They will have their grand opening on Thursday. Drop by to say hello and check it out. They will soon open a convenience store for riders and park users, and plan to install bike racks. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Along The Trail- Slow Times, But Just Around The Corner.....

Though the calendar is telling us that it is spring, the lingering cold, drizzle, snow and ice seem to disagree. As I type this, our weather forecast is calling for thunderstorms, then 3-5 inches of snow followed by single-digit temperatures. The Razorback baseball team  and staff spent 4 hours Monday shoveling snow and ice from Baum Stadium in order to get in a double-header. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks...and hot chocolate and a parka.
 Events like the Crosswinds Classic and the Little Rock Marathon took place last weekend in dismal conditions, so hats off to those who raced or supported those in challenging conditions.

NLR Trail Detour

As previously announced, the ART through North Little Rock's Riverfront Park has been detoured on to Riverfront Road. The detour is fairly well marked, thought the promised signage alerting motorists to the fact that they are sharing the road is minimal.

Last week, a few scofflaws disregarded the signs and rode through the construction zone. I think that we can safely say "Trail Closed" now. 

Barge mounted cranes will be the norm along the downtown waterfront for the next year or two. 

We all knew that the replacement of the Broadway Bridge was going to disrupt road and River Trail traffic, and that disruption is upon us. The crappy weather has kept trail traffic to a minimum, but as daylight savings time kicks in and spring inevitably comes, the riding community will have to make adjustments. Many groups ride from the submarine and they will immediately be forced out on to Riverfront Drive. I think that will be manageable until the Broadway Bridge  is closed to automobile traffic. I think that we will have an opportunity to give the City some feedback in the interim. If you ride this stretch and see room for improvement, make suggestions through your alderman if you are a North Little Rock resident. 

Some big event rides are already adjusting, with the BDB100 shifting the start to Riverfront Drive and Olive St. in North Little Rock (near The Enclave)  and the CARTI Tour de Rock moving its start from Burns Park to the US Bank at Broadway and Main.

Where are those pesky weekend crowds?
Weekend crowds have not been a problem on the BDB

Below the BDB, things are a little more active as gulls and pelicans compete for stunned shad coming through the dam.

I've managed to get in a few rides over the last couple of weeks, but there was little of the usual pleasure in the experience. We can usually count on some warm sunny days and reunions with our ride groups in the month of February, but I can recall only a single primo day over the last couple of months.

 The trail was not totally devoid of tourists. 

I ran into Shawn and Jill as they attempted a tandem selfie on the BDB last week, but they found their arms were too short to get the 2-seater in the frame. I offered to take the photo for them, and then dragged them up to Two Rivers Bridge before they turned back to try to get downtown before dark. He was from Texas and she from Wisconsin. They were headed north to her home, but were very impressed with what they found when they decided to take a ride here. I didn't hear what prompted them to get on the bike, as they had no information the bridges and trail system  but were delighted with what they found. they were already plotting a return trip.
Snow and ice can linger for days on the bridges and shaded parts of the trail. Forecast rains should clear the remain snow just in time for the next round of winter weather. Hopefully, our last for the year.

The first week of March is usually full-on spring in Arkansas, but as we brace for yet another round of snow and ice, we can take some comfort in the fact that sunset will be after 7:00 PM starting Sunday and us working folks will have more evening ride opportunities. That is a good thing, but I'm not putting away my tights and shoe covers quite yet.

Pinnacle Valley Restaurant

I've had a couple of e-mail exchanges with Gina Fullerton, one of the owners of the Pinnacle Valley Restaurant, which has opened at the corner of Beck Road and Pinnacle Valley. I had reported that their "soft opening" menu consisted of mostly burgers, catfish and barbecue. Good stuff, but not exactly ride fare. When I rode out last Sunday, I was pleased to see an extensive Sunday brunch menu, breakfast all day, and very reasonable prices. White tablecloths and a fresh interior gave the place a very nice feel. They will be opening a convenience store space, and plan to gear some of their offerings to the needs of the riding community. They will have some form of bike parking and will welcome cyclists. 

They offer beer and wine, and though the place is adorned with Bud Light banners at this time, they are carrying craft brews from the Lost 40 and Lazy Magnolia breweries.Lazy Magnolia is located in Kiln, Mississippi.and they advertise as "Mississippi's oldest brewery" as they approach their 10th anniversary. Of course, Lost 40 is Little Rock's hottest new brew house and they are quickly earning a reputation for their fine beer.
I'm looking forward to dropping by for a weekend after-ride "second breakfast" and our occasional Wednesday evening brews cruise may have found a new destination. Gina assures me that we will be welcome, road grime and all.