Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Denizens of The River Trail

I started riding in August of 2004 after reading an article about the River Trail and the Little Rock bike scene. I had /have a 1984 Trek 560, which I bought because my then-girlfriend decided we should ride bikes. At the time, my cycling was pretty much limited to driving to Rebsaman Park Road where the serious riders often trained or doing a few loops in Burns Park. I'm sure my longest ride was less than 15 miles, but I kept the bike and occasionally got it out for a ride or stuck it on my trainer when I was feeling the need to drop a few pounds. In '04, I took the old Trek to a bike shop and replaced the rotting tires, headed to the trail and rode ten miles. Barely made it, but I was back the next day...and the next...and the next..
After that fateful August day that launched me as a cyclist, I've been on the Trail at least 4-5 days per week on average. I've watched construction of the Big Dam Bridge from start to finish and observed as the cycling scene in our town has grown and evolved, though I still consider myself to be a neophyte.
One of my favorite "trail features" is the cast of characters that populates the trail. Some come and go, some remain fairly constant and some remain but change in some ways. I have a habit of giving nicknames to people, often based on their appearance or habits. One of the first guys I came to notice was a middle-aged guy who rode almost every day for a couple of years. I called him "R.E.M. Guy" due to the fact that anytime the temperature dropped below about 80 degrees, he rode in fuzzy red ear muffs. Add tennis shoes, crew socks, very short gym shorts and a white T-shirt and he cut a unique figure. After we had exchanged head nods a couple of hundred times, I actually asked him about the earmuffs one day and his response was a simple "my ears get cold". Enough said. Then there was "FullTeamKit Boy", a large guy who favored, you got it, wearing full pro team kit. Not a bad look, but I will make a general statement that not everyone needs to sport worn-thin white shorts on a sunny day. Then, there is the "ceremonial stick guy". I can only speculate on his mission. He could be among the homeless, but carries himself with dignity and rides an old bike on which he has mounted on the downtube, like a cavalry carbine in a scabbard, a stick that appears to be decorated with feathers, leather thongs and other materials that imply some purpose. On occasion, he somehow mounts the stick on top of his head in a manner that reminds me of a black Bullwinkle rolling up the path. If he is just trying to arouse curiosity, his mission has been accomplished.

One of the oddest things I've ever seen appeared like an apparition as I made the little climb toward the quarry. At first, I thought I was seeing a large dog being followed by his owner, but as I crested the hill I realized it was something far more unusual. It was a miniature horse pulling a small cart being driven by a Fabio-like man, complete with bare chest, weight-lifter physique and long, curling blonde locks. Except for the pygmy-pony, the picture could have graced the cover of any steamy romance novel. There has been MoonGirl, the Cat Lady, Little Stevie and more, all of whom have their own story. In the last couple of weeks, I've observed a man busily digging with a stick at the same location, sometimes removing dirt, then smoothing it back over, circling the spot and returning to stir more dirt. I've speculated on his purpose, but have drawn no conclusion. My guesses have ranged from burying a small animal (nope, he's been digging at the same place for days) to digging for worms (nope, no fishing tackle), to preparing a piece of ground for sleeping (perhaps) to just a compulsive soul on a mission to move some dirt around. Maybe I'll learn what it is all about one day, but more likely, he'll drift away and my memory of him will be replaced upon the arrival of some new character.

I've become friends with quite a few of my "nicks", so I can't call them all out for fear of recrimination, but I will say that some of them are at least as, ummmm...."unique" as I might have speculated.

Call me easily entertained, but I get just a little pleasure almost every day from my observations and speculations on the denizens of the trail. Look around on your next ride. They'll be out there!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tour de Cure: Winds Over the Prairie

APT file photo (this route,not this event)

I decided somewhat belatedly to ride in Saturday's American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure. Garver had a big team and Diane had ordered me a jersey, so I showed up in time for the Century start with checkbook in hand. I immediately saw Chris, Jo, D. Wonn, and John Martin and knew the wheels that I'd need to follow! The route was pretty much "the usual", heading east and then south through England to Tucker. We started out with a pretty big group, but it rapidly thinned. Jonny Meyer stopped at the Scott rest area to stretch his cramping legs and I think several others that had not already been shed stopped there, too. I've ridden with these guys before and know to stick an extra bottle in my pocket, 'cause this train ain't stoppin'!

The wind went from bothersome to "screaming bitch" as we rode south. If we weren't teeth into the wind, we were riding in echelon, battling crosswinds, and the last 8-10 miles of open country were brutal. As we approached the Jefferson County Line, the rider in front of me rolled off after a pull and I was shocked by the wind we were riding into. I struggled to stay over 14 MPH, riding in my 21 cog and focusing on a tree line beyond the open fields as my goal before rolling off and dumping the load on Chris. It hurt, and we were glad to reach our only rest stop of the ride at Tucker City Park, the turnaround point for the 100 mile ride. We filled bottles, ate bananas, clowned on the three exercycles that were inexplicably posed in formation under a pine tree at the city park. 10 minutes after arrivng, we were back on the bikes.

Riding with these guys involves a lot of just hanging on for me. Their serious training pays off in serious horsepower and endurance, and, while I contribute and take some pulls, I know am a net wheel sucker! The return trip was not as groovy as anticipated, as we still had miles of crosswinds, but the true downwind runs were magic. David kept urging JMar to keep it over 30 MPH, then David took a pull and tore our legs off as we flew down the road at 32-33 MPH. It is a rush turning over that big a gear that fast for that long, listening to the sound of the tires on pavement and wheels slicing the air as the trailing wind is near silent. We were actually wishing for 11 tooth cogs, but the effort took its toll. I finally cracked as we rolled back into North Little Rock. Chris rode the last 10 miles or so to the finish with me and there was no place on my bike that I wanted to be. The route was mercifully only 96 miles and I was ready to be done.

I've done this route in the wind before and there is just nothing easy about it, but at least we had some tailwind on the way home. When your nose is on your stem, you're in your little ring and deep into your casette, and all you can see is open, wind whipped cropland ahead, it can really make you wonder what the hell you were thinking, but eventually you push the miles behind and finish the ride. And then it's good.

Thanks, guys, for the steady wheels (well, except for that one short moment of shear, rubber burning fear.) and the good company.
And thanks to the folks at Garver for their support of this event.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Trail updates

Old friend Mike Collier let me know that I was behind on my trail updates. Technically, he's wrong, of course! We go back many years and I can't let him start gettting points on me, now.
It is a Burns Park bike lane improvement and a good one! And a good catch, Mike, so I'll give it to you! So much for my self-appointed position of trail news-breaker.

Here's Mike's news:

A bike lane is being paved in the Fun Land area of Burns park between the Hospitality House and the freeway overpass. This has been a problematic area due to the high volume of traffic, narrow lanes and lack of a trace of shoulder. It adds a safer option to Burns Park loops.

Though NLR always leads tthe way in trail improvement and awareness, Little Rock has taken a positive step by removing a bench at the foot of the bridge. It was a potentially dangerous spot due to the speed of cyclists coming off the bridge (under 5 MPH, of course) and the fact that cyclists and bench-sitters could not see one another due to the concrete butress caps aptly used as decorative landscaping between the benches.

Many locals are aware of the source of these large concrete triangles, but if not, here it is!
They were cut off of the tops of the butresses on the downstream side of the bridge in order to create the flat surfaces on which the bridge piers sit. Some clever engineer suggested that they looked cool enough to be saved and they were integrated into the landscaping at each end of the bridge.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Practical pedaling

I have watched with some admiration as Diane has started running many of her errands on her commuter bike. She was already shopping for a commuter when she won a kid's BMX bike from the fine folks at Community Cyclist. She traded it toward a fine little Marin Lucas Valley and soon added a rack, panniers, a seat bag and, of course, lights. As I headed down JFK Blvd last Saturday for a quick hour on the bike ahead of the oncoming rain, Diane was riding up the hill from Main, having been to a yoga class over on Izard, Boulevard Bread and at least one farmer's market. Her panniers contained a couple of quarts of delicious local strawberries, our staple 8-Grain bread, a couple of squash....... you get the picture. I must admit that a few weeks back she got little respect at the drive-in window of Fire Water Liquor, her favorite wine stop, and we had to go inside. The sign on the door instructs patrons to remove hoods and sunglasses before entering, so it may have been her menacing look with the shades that got her ignored at the window.

She's commuted to work, runs errands downtown at lunch, has made trips to Pleasant Valley to see her folks, visit the athletic club and shop at Fresh Market in West LR. A little distance is not a factor if you have the right attitude. In Diane's case, the attitude is apparent in her smile as she goes about her business on the bike.

It's a great feeling to leave the car at home and get things done while enjoying the pure pleasure of riding a bike!

I couldn't bring myself to rack up the Litespeed, but maybe I could hang some bags on my single speed.....

Friday, April 17, 2009

My first retraction!!

In a post below in "Along The Trail", I incorrectly identified the pipeline going in at Cook's landing as a new fresh water line. It is actually a drain from from the bermed area being used for material dredged from in front of the hydro plant to allow excess water to run back to the river.

Nobody busted me on this, but in the interest of truth and justice, I did a little research. This particular research consisted of yelling to one of the workers, " Hey, is this pipe to drain the water out of there?"
To which he relied with an authoritative, "Yep."

Fingernails on a chalkboard....

That's not a sound that anybody likes, but it really doesn't hurt anything except perhaps your manicure; however, when the brakes on your road bike make a similar sound, it's time to take a little action.
When you hear a hissing, grating sound as you apply your brakes, you've likely picked up some sand, gravel, glass or other road debris and it's become embedded in your brake pads. Left alone, it may get worn down, polished, whatever, so that the noise abates, but you've still got an abrasive working on the braking surface of your sweet wheelset. The solution is simple and, yes, kids, you can try this at home! Brake pads are easily removed by loosening the small hex head set screw (you don't have to remove the whole brake shoe-just the rubber pad) and sliding off the pad. Remove your wheel to make it easier and the front brake may require you to squeeze the lever to allow the pad to clear the fork. Inspect the pad and gently pick out any hard stuff that has worked its way into the surface. It will usually appear silver, just about the color of your $1000.00 wheels. I use the point of a small pocket knife. While you're at it, clear the crap out of the sipes, or grooves in the pad. Replace the pads and tighten the set screw. Done.
By just removing the pads, you don't have to reset the brake position, so it is a very simple proposition that will extend the life of your wheelset and add peace to your ride.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Short shots

Want to feel your hair stand on end? Check this out.

From our friend and neighbor, Hunter, comes this link:
Click here:

Be sure you have five minutes set aside for some spine-tingling inspiration.

Thanks, Hunter!

One of several reasons (OK, four of several reasons) that I'm not skinny:

Hunter and husband Mark also dropped off some Pandera Bread cinnamon rolls yesterday. These bombs are my current favorite health food. They will fit a mid-sized plate and are quite delicious. I have mixed emotions about their motives on the cinnamon rolls, which I have dispatched with great enthusiasm (OK, Diane got one!), though at the expense of my "Get Lean" aspirations. I THINK Mark and Hunter were being very kind to me, though they are somewhat aware of my relationship with my bathroom scales. I estimate that it will take me an incremental 60 miles on the bike to get even. Hmmmm.....I guess can do that!

T. Boone Pickens on a national energy policy:

"They say the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today."

Makes sense to me. Pickens made his billions in oil and has become a vocal proponent of wind energy among other alternative resources. If we had been investing in alternative energy infrastructure and energy efficient products for the last few decades, I think we could have avoided little inconveniences like $4.00 gasoline and a couple of wars. It takes discipline and resolve, but the best time to patch a leaky roof is when the sun is shining. Let's not allow current low energy prices to distract us from the problem of energy dependence.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Along the River Trail

NLR is on it!:

The City of North Little Rock once again showed that it values the River Trail and its patrons. I noticed that an asphalt repair in the trail near the new restrooms at Victory Lake (ski area) had collapsed, leaving a hazardous hole. I dropped a note regarding the situation to Alderman Charlie Height on Monday, who forwarded the information to the proper department. It was repaired by Wednesday. Thanks, folks!

New blacktop:

The new path linking the Campbell Lake Trail to the NorthShore Business Park appears ready for paving and the turnaround loop at the NLR foot of the BDB is complete, allowing traffic at the base of the bridge to merge and disperse more safely.

The Dirtwork:

I stopped by today to read the permit information on the area near Cook's Landing that has been recently cleared, leveled and bermed. It states that it is the NLR Hydro Plant Dredged Materials Site or something to that effect. I assume it will replace the recently cleaned up area along the trail where the logs, sand, debris, etc., had been dumped after being dredged from in front of the hydro plant. In any event, it's not a sewer lagoon.

The Pipeline: CORRECTION!!!

The pipeline being laid by Cook's Landing is a drain from the dredge spoil area back to the river.

That's about all that I know. Friend Heather and I met Saturday for a 70+ mile ride out west of town, the Log Cabin Ride. I'll write up the route sometime because it's a good one! It was my longest ride of the season thus far, a beautiful route and a bunch of hills! I'm glad we got it in because my usual Sunday ride is a wash-out. I'm ready for some warm and sunny days!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Paris-Roubaix Tomorrow

Photo: Agence France

Paris-Roubaix was the first of the Spring Classics to which I was introduced and the race I watched was on a day like the one on which George Hincapie is shown above. Tomorrow's forecast is for a chance of rain, which turns a tough, cobbled course into "The Hell of The North". Bike and component makers work all year developing special gear just for this race. Handlebars get double-wraps, high spoke-count wheels and fat tires come out, bike frames are beefed up, and light weight is sacrificed in favor of damn near anything that can survive the pounding of the cobbles. Ask Hincapie. He was in the perfect position for a coveted win a couple of years ago when his steerer suddenly broke, leaving him with his handlebars no longer connected to his bike. His shoulder and his dreams of a Paris-Roubaix win were simultaneously shattered as he veered off into a ditch. When the roads are wet, there are only two places to be on the narrow cobbled sections, either the favored crown of the road or "shooting the gutters". Anywhere else and you're subject to having your bike slide out from beneath you, creating chaos. Imagine the scene above with a hundred motivated riders desperately fighting for the front, but unable to really put any power to their wheels anywhere but the crown or the gutters.
Set your DVR for this one. Versus at 4:00PM.

To see what the boys have put together in the way of hardware especailly for P-R:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lance in France: Here we go....

"Lance Armstrong says he is outraged over claims that he misbehaved during an out-of-competition doping test in France."

That incident leads to this:

The French anti-doping agency says the UCI confirms it has jurisdiction to open discipline hearings on Armstrong.
By Steve Frothingham
Posted Apr. 9, 2009
Lance Armstrong's 20-minute shower last month may be getting him into more hot water.
The French anti-doping agency, AFLD, said Thursday it may go ahead with disciplinary hearings against Armstrong for allegedly violating international anti-doping rules by leaving a French out-of-competition drug tester cooling his heels while Armstrong took a shower after a training ride.

The aroma of chickenshit is all over this deal. I have a hard time seeing Lance Armstrong as a victim, but it appears that he is going to be pushed and needled (literally and figuratively) at every turn. Even if he broke protocol by taking a shower, it's not like he could wash off the contents of his hair, blood and urine.

Just let the guy race his bike.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Flanders and The Pig

Two totally unrelated items:

1) The Tour of Flanders is featured on Cyclism Sunday at 4:00PM on Versus this week. It's one of the toughest, most prestigious of the one-day classics, rating right up there with Paris-Roubaix. These are races for the hard men!

2) The best music on radio in the Little Rock area is 101.1, The Pig. The signal can be sketchy, but if you like stuff like Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Bob Dylan, etc, it's the place for you to be. I've never heard a commercial other that station promos and there's no DJ, just good music. I have to wonder, "Who's paying the bills?"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Be careful what you volunteer for...

I'm averse to paying people to perform services that I can do myself. It's not so much that I'm cheap, but that I like to be self-sufficient and I feel like I'm as capable as most folks that I would hire. That's especially true when it comes to things like cleaning my gutters and mowing the yard, a little less so for things like building our screen porch, repairing my '51 Farmall tractor, re-plumbing and wiring my barn, and bike repair, but I learn. I guess I get it from my Dad. I wasn't around him much growing up, but, though he was in the insurance business, he seemed capable of doing anything. He was at times an expert fly fisherman, tied beautiful flies for his use and for others, gunsmith, marksman, trapper, mechanic, welder, radio operator, etc., etc. If he developed an interest in something, he learned it.
I do most of my own bike wrenching, buying tools and learning tasks as I've needed to. I enjoy it and have volunteered my services to friends for simple jobs like replacing cables, adjusting derailleurs, wrapping bars and the like.
This week, I learned yet another lesson: be careful what you volunteer for.
I told a friend (unnamed, as I'm likely to embarrass her)that I'd replace her shifter cables after she complained of slow and inconsistent shifting. Her bike is Campy equipped and all of my stuff is Shimano, so I thought it would give me a chance to get a closer look at another system. I checked it out, got new cables and housings from Competitive Cyclist and she dropped her bike off. This should be a 45 minute job even for a goob like me. 10 minutes for a bike shop guy.

Problem Number One:
Now I know why bike shops ask you to clean your bike before bringing it in. This poor bike was nasty. I know I'm a clean freak when it comes to my bike, but the space between her cogs was stuffed with what looked like greasey felt. I didn't think a bike was capable of hauling around so much grime. I couldn't stand it, so when Diane came home, I was out back with brushes, Simple Green, rags, WD-40, and every lube and solvent I could throw at it. When I could finally see through the links in the chain, I called it good. My 45 minute time budget was already spent.

Problem number Two:
Cables come with a metal plug molded onto the end. The cable threads into an opening in the shifter assembly and the plug seats in a like-sized opening, securing the end of the cable. The other end is eventually secured to its respective derailleur. This should just slip out when the cable is released from the derailleur end. I guess when this bike was built up, somebody grabbed the wrong type cable, as this one looked to be hammered in place. Sparing details, it took well over two hours to get the cable end out, one shard at a time, and I was wanting to talk to the guy who built up the bike. Call it three hours.

Down to the original task:
After that, the other cable came out as it should and the installation of new cables and housings went smoothly and took, oh, about 45 minutes.I had not realized that Campy shifter cables run under the bar tape, so I also had to rewrap the bars, but I keep tape on-hand. No problem, but add another 20 minutes.

All ended well, but at 10:30 last night, I was wondering how to tell my friend that she wasn't going to be able to ride her bike and how I was going to drag the whole mess to Comp Cyclist to beg for help. The bike shop boys would have been very amused. Rider girl, not so much.

It's always rewarding to solve problems and get a job done, so this was ultimately another positive experience in my life of continuing education. It just took a little longer than expected.
OK, a lot longer than expected.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bike Ride Outside The Box

This has already been a great week for cycling. After a fun day in the kayak on Saturday, (link photos from previous week)
Sunday was a stellar repeat of the Barrett Garrison Loop from Two Rivers. Riding from NLR, it makes for a nice 60 miler with about 4000 feet of climbing.

Monday turned out to be a pretty hard ride with Charlie R., Bob P., Jonny M. and Co.

Tuesday, we knocked off a couple of hills I had not ridden before (Southwind :Over the ridge behind Summit Church on Crystal Hill to Young Road and back. Not as hard as I thought it'd be, but a couple of steepies!).

Today, I had to go to Evening Shade on business. I have a client in Batesville who rides and I've threatened for the last couple of years to join his group ride. Today, it came together, at least for me.My friend, Steve, just got back from a week on the beach with a souvenir case of bronchitis, which cut his ride short. We met at one of the guys' home west of Batesville on Highway 69 and took a loop northwest toward Cushman, then south to Bethesda and back to the house for cold beer (I passed. Driving and all.) I've driven that country quite a bit over the years and I've always been impressed, but the ride was breathtakingly beautiful! Much of it was on little-traveled two-lane through rolling hills, spring creeks, woods and cattle pastures. As I think about it, I just realized something else that is really remarkable: it was unlittered. The few drivers that passed were very friendly, as the route has been used by this small group of riders for many years and the drivers are accustomed to them. That says something for the manners and attitudes both of the riders and the drivers.

I didn't know what to expect going into the ride. I was a little concerned that these hill-country riders would tear my legs off, however, they were a friendly and casual group of good friends, with our host being a robust and congenial 69-year old. We talked about getting started cycling and he pointed out his number from the 1981 Boston marathon (time 3:07) among the memorabilia on the wall. His story "I loved running, but started riding dirt bikes, tore up my knee in a crash. I had surgery in Little Rock and the doctor said, 'no more distance running.' On the way home from the hospital, I stopped by a bike shop in my cast and bought a bike. Been riding since." This was not a hammerfest, but even at a pleasurable pace, our little group of seven broke up, though nobody seemed to think anything about it. They all eventually wandered in and headed to the 'fridge for a brew. The house is on 30-40 rolling green acres and there is a swimming pool, which I understood to be stop number two after the refrigerator stop on hot summer ride days.

I had a couple of minor revelations:

This part of the state could be a riding destination. The hills are rolling, the scenery is beautiful and pristine, and the traffic is light and friendly. The one stretch of busier highway that we did had a wide, clean shoulder.

It was nice to see riding from a slightly different, completely laid back perspective. Nobody really pushed, yet some of the guys just drifted off to enjoy their own pace. I'm sure that they compete and push each other just like the rest of us, but today it was just the pleasure of the ride.