Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rolling Stops

The State of Idaho has long had a law allowing cyclists to employ rolling stops at stop signs and the Oregon legislature is considering such a law. I picked up this animation from the BikePortland website and was impressed with well-reasoned explanation of the desirability of allowing cyclists to employ rolling stops; that is, allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.

Take a look at this short video:

Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

One of the more common rants that appears in response to any proposal to accommodate cyclists, or even give us equal protection under traffic laws, is that cyclists are scofflaws who run stop signs. While I think these folks should spend their energy more productively complaining about motorists running stop signs, a practice that actually endangers others, I appreciate the calm, rational explanation in the video of the benefits of rolling stops. The benefit to motorists is that mixed traffic can move more smoothly if cyclists do not have to deal with the momentum killing act of coming to a complete stop when there is no practical reason to do so other than the law.
There is certainly a faction of cyclists that believes that strict adherence to all traffic laws is the only "right" way to behave. I'm more of a "spirit of the law" kind of guy in that I think that the inherent differences between the operational characteristics of a 4000 pound, 280 HP, air bag equipped SUV being piloted by a texting soccer mom and those of a 15 pound bicycle being powered and guided by a quarter horsepower human protected only by a helmet and survival instincts merit some allowances for the cyclist.
Early on in my cycling career, my bike guru said something that still makes sense to me. He said, " My priorities on the road are my own safety and the safety of other people, then I start worrying about the law."
Traffic laws exist to safely manage the movement of people on the roads. If safety and efficiency can be enhanced through a little flexibility, then let's have some flexibility. The smooth flow of traffic benefits cyclists and motorists alike.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Genuine Innovations: JBar Star for Service

I've reported previously on the great customer service that I have received from companies like Cateye and Patagonia. We often complain about the really crappy customer service that we get from many companies today, so it is only fair to recognize the good guys! Let me add Genuine Innovations to the good list.
 In the "JRA" article last week, I reported that I found I had lost an O-ring type seal from my several-year-old Microflate, rendering it useless for its intended purpose. Fortunately, I was in good company at the time of my flat tire, so I wasn't stranded on the road. I've always appreciated the compact, simple design and the reliability of the MicroFlate and have one in each of my flat kits, so I dropped G.I. customer service a note to ask if they could send me a new seal. I did not get a response and was prepared to follow up when I noticed that Diane had brought in an envelope from them in today's mail. It not only contained a replacement MicroFlate, but also a really groovy green anodized Limited Edition Air Chuck inflator. I would have been happy with an O-ring, so they far exceeded my expectations. I like that!
This is the kind of response that makes me a loyal customer. Most of the local shops carry Genuine Innovations products, so look for the brand when you shop for an inflation device! They've got a wide variety of great products and here's a link to get you started:

I hope that Genuine Innovations makes a few sales as a result of my experience. Great service should pay off. On the other hand, when I get poor service or poor quality, I make an effort to communicate my disappointment and give the guilty party a chance to make it right. Then I make an effort to tell everybody I know. That's fair, too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Just Riding Along.....Then Hell Breaks Loose!

JRA is the most common cause for component failure on the bicycle. Ask any wrench for the most common explanation of events preceding a breakdown or a crash and you'll find that most stories start with, "I was just riding along...."

Well, this morning, Saturday, we were just riding along, a group of around thirty riders on the Saturday morning CARVE winter cruise to Keo and back. The pace was relaxed, the conversation pleasant, the weather was acceptable and the double line was operating steadily and smoothly. Then, with absolutely no warning, a rider ahead and to my right was thrown to the pavement, the rider behind him slammed hard into the still-in-motion carnage, followed by the impact of a third rider who, I swear, looped head high as he piled into and over the train wreck that had just exploded across the road.
The cause of the wreck was determined to be a small pothole in the road that was narrow but deep, just perfect for snagging a wheel and Paul, who was the initial victim, had taken a drink and had his water bottle in hand. I'm not sure if things would have turned out much differently otherwise, as, unless warned by leading riders, these small but potent hazards come at you in a hurry when riding a paceline. Other than that one odd little slot of a hole, the pavement was smooth and in good shape on that stretch of road.

Paul suffered the worst of it with a banged up hip, knee, elbow and shoulder, along with some back pain.

Hmmmm....I think your wheel is a little out of true. Might need to loosen the brake a bit.

 Suzanne, who was on Paul's wheel, was OK but her bike looked like it had been dropped from a roof, with the bars askew and the sweet DuraAce carbon rear wheel tacoed. I figured that the damage to riders would have been worse considering the violence of the crash, but Suzanne and Cody the flying boy were seemingly uninjured.

We left Suzanne and Paul waiting for a ride and headed on back to town, part of the group having already gone ahead of us. To add a little exclamation point to the day's events, I banged into a little hole on a rough stretch of Faulkner Lake Road and had a pinch flat, myself. I told everyone to go on as I had two tubes, 3 CO2's and my inflator, but some of the boys insisted on sticking around. I'm glad they did because there was a seal missing from my ultra simple, very reliable MicroFlate and I would have been quite screwed.

It just goes to show you that stuff can hit the fan at any moment, especially on a group ride, where incidents seldom involve a single rider. And even though I felt that I was completely prepared to deal with any flat situation, it pays to have friends on the road.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Watering Holes: Update

Update: The fine folks at NLR Parks have repaired the fountain and water is on at the NLR end of the BDB.

My friend Mooney and I rode up to the BDB on a recent evening, and found that the fountain head at the NLR pavilion was off of the base and water was flowing freely. We contacted the folks at the city and the water was shut off. It was still turned off last Saturday and it may be off until warmer weather. There is still water available at the host site (there has been a large RV there) to the left of the nasty restrooms at Cook's Landing parking lot. To my knowledge, all of the water has been turned off for the winter on the Little Rock side.

Things Going On

Things continue to be slow along the trail, as is the norm for the season, but that doesn't mean that there is not plenty going on in the bike community. It's time to start looking ahead and mapping out your season. Even us recreational riders need to have an idea of when we need to be in peak fitness so that we don't have to suffer the ridicule of our peers for something like getting dropped before the Dogtown City Limit sign in the Tour de Rock. Here are a couple of things that should be fun as a participant or as an observer:


 I spotted a note on the CARP page regarding Syllamo's Revenge, a badass moutain bike race on the certified epic Syllamo Trail. We met some folks in Colorado this year who have ridden some of the toughest races in North America, like La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica, booked as "The Toughest Mountain Bike Race on the Planet" and the Trans Rockies race. They are from the Southeast, but counted Syllamo and the Ouachita Challenge in Arkansas as among their favorite events. The race sold out in less than 24 hours, but I might have to get up there for a day to see what it's all about. Many of our local boys and girls will be up there kicking their class around.
I am also anxious to go ride the Syllamo Trails myself. Camping at Blanchard Springs and riding the trails over a couple of spring days has some appeal as I continue to feed my mountain bike bug at Camp Robinson. It's been a little wet and muddy, but, while my road bike gets a thorough cleaning after almost any contact with rain or mud, it doesn't bother me a bit to drag home a mud and/or ice encrusted mountain bike, hit it with the hose and drag the nasty monster into the garage. I guess I recognize a losing battle when I see one. OK, I still keep a relatively clean drive train, but that's just the way I roll!


Another ride, and one that is among of my favorites, is the MS150. It takes place the second weekend of September, but if you want to play, it's good to register early. The ride covers 78 miles each of two days and both routes begin and end on top of Petit Jean Mountain. The Saturday route is fairly hilly, while on Sunday, riders take to the Arkansas River Valley for a mostly flat day. Both days end with the rewarding climb up Petit Jean and Sunday, while mostly flat, includes a punishing little steepy called Cove Mountain. Our friend Chris Irons parked himself on the climb a couple of years ago and reported that as many as half of the riders had to dismount. Don't let the hill talk scare you, though, as there are shuttles up Petit Jean each day for the faint of heart or crampy of quad, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. It's the only event ride on which I make it a point to stop for lunch. This will be the last year for the MS150 to be held at Petit Jean and I can't imagine a better venue. If you've been intimidated by fast century rides, try the MS150, even if you just do one day. It is very well supported, it's a good cause, and I believe the maximum number of riders is capped at 300. Note that Mather Lodge is usually totally booked, but rooms become magically available in the weeks before the event. I assume that many people book rooms a year in advance and then start cancelling as the event approaches if they decide they don't need the room. There are also campsites and other lodging opportunities on Petit Jean.

There are many events upcoming in Arkansas, but there will be time to visit on them down the road.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cat 5 Tattoo

Cat 5 Tattoo
OK, I'll admit that this was a set up shot. Being a clean
bike freak, my chainring would hardly leave a mark.

We've all had 'em and most of us have made fun of our buddy's. I'm talking "Cat 5 tattoos". You know what I'm talking about, those greasy chainring imprints on the inside of your right calf. I've learned to avoid them for the most part, but I've got one riding partner who, while a fine athlete and an expert rider, somehow always manages to get tatted on the inside and sometimes, the outside of her calf. How she manages that, short of being a Chinese acrobat, I can't fathom.

I ran into my friend Bill Steward down at the river last night and he proved that his wry sense of humor is still spot on, as he managed to poke a little fun at himself and, in the process, at all of us, with his genuine Cat 5 Tattoo!

Based on my conversation with Bill, the reaction of his kids ranged from disbelief to appalled, but his grandchildren all thought that the ink was very cool. I thought it was pretty damn funny, myself, and appreciated Bill's sharing and agreeing to pose for this article.

The simple secret to Cat 5 tat avoidance:
 Always leave your right foot clipped in while at a stop.

Monday, January 18, 2010

2010 ProTour Racing Season Starts Now!!

The 2010 ProTour season is upon us with the Tour Down Under kicking off on the 19th and, of course, Lance is grabbing many of the headlines.  That's a good thing, because if Simon Gerrans or Josep Jufres's name popped up on the news in most of the world, nobody would pay attention any more than I pay attention to high school football players' names in the local paper. So, anyway, Lance brings a huge spotlight to bear on the sport of cycling and focuses the attention of millions of otherwise indifferent people. Proof of his popularity in Australia was the reported crowd of 750,000 spectators who lined the course for last year's opening crit.  This year's opener saw Lance break away with a group of five riders and demonstrate that he's still a force, ultimately getting reeled in by the pack, but showing that he has made progress in his form over the last year. The crit isn't a stage in the Tour but is more of an exhibition event.
So, cycling will have huge audiences this season, with the build up to the 2010 Tour de France already full bloom before the end of the 2009 Tour was even decided. The rivalry between Armstrong and Alberto Contador was well-established and the shape of the 2010 Tour started to become clear when Lance announced the formation of Team Radio Shack after the 18th stage of last year's race. There have been many, many high level rider transfers beyond the move of virtually all of Astana sans Contador to Radio Shack, including Cadel Evan's late transfer to BMC, joining George Hincapie. North America will be very well represented with Garmin-Transitions, HTC-Columbia, Cervelo Test Team and BMC either ProTour or ProContinental teams. New British team Sky V has already shown the colors by taking the top two places in the aforementioned crit.
It is going to be exciting. If you have never followed ProTour racing other the the Tour de France, this would be a great year to tune in. The one day classics like Paris-Roubaix and Milan-SanRemo differ from the Grand Tours in that they are just that- one day events.  The first man across the finish line wins and some of the battles are epic.The Tour of California has taken on new importance with a later date and more North American teams.This whole season looks to be packed with trash talk, drama, and intense competition. Start now, and by the time the Tour rolls around, you'll have a much better appreciation for the race and the riders, though you will still have to explain to your coworkers why Lance doesn't win every race.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Still Not Out of The Woods

I seem to be suffering from some kind of rectocranial inversion when it comes to picking my cycling conditions. On the two debatably coldest days of the year, I hit the road. When the weather improved appreciably over the weekend, I headed back to the woods. Today, Monday, was beautifully sunny and almost 60 degrees and I was barely able to take time for a bite of lunch, much less get in a ride. I probably won't get much sympathy from folks whose jobs preclude them from ever getting in a wintertime lunch hour ride, but the same forces that allow me a bit of flexibility in my schedule can also be very demanding. While thankful for the occasional midday hour on the bike, I am ready for longer days and evening rides that don't involve headlights, shoe covers and piles of fleece.

Friends Chris Irons, Chris Shaw and Patrick Newton called up a ride at Camp Robinson on Sunday. I had done some exploring on my own on Saturday and was ready to get out and play with the boys. It warmed to at least freezing and we had  one flat, one bent derailleur hanger, one clean launch over the bars, a few rock and tree encounters, some map reading, cussin', discussin', and a big ol' time.

Why is this man smiling? He's the one with a flat.

The structure of some of the ice and mud on the trail made for some
odd sensations under the wheels.

This puddle was solid Saturday, if a little slick.
 Last week this was hub deep mud.

I've been trying to improve my technical skills on the mountain bike, learning to use more front brake, maintaining some speed in some situations where I might have tended to stall out due to indecision, and generally riding enough to understand how the bike works and how to drive it.
Friends have tried to sell me on mountain biking over the years by making comparisons to kayaking; a comparison that I consider to be a bit of a stretch. As I see it, the primary similarity is that in both endeavors, most of the fun involves going downhill in an environment defined by its proximity to large rocks. The mountain bike environment expands beyond the streambank to include a large number of firmly rooted trees and, in the process, leaves behind the water that softens the impact of most screw-ups in the boat. I've never turned over on my bike without hitting something hard, while a roll in my boat is the natural and expected result of play. This is not to say that there is NO water factor on the mountain bike. I usually find enough to soak me, chill me, cover me with mud, trash my bike and create some really weird textures and surfaces when frozen.
Back to "boats versus mountain bikes", the similarities are more of mindset and attitude than of technique, and the learning progression in mountain biking seems to be a familiar one. For most people, getting down a whitewater stream for the first time is a matter of  survival instinct and luck. Not all of that luck is good. Nothing is instinctive about being upside down in cold, fast-moving water and things often seem to happen way too fast; however, somewhere along the way, those giant waves become easy riffles. The eddy lines that sent you spinning become friendly refuges and the holes that you avoided in terror become inviting play spots. Things slow down, as instead of getting blown down a rapid, desperately avoiding obstacles, you begin to pick your way from eddy to eddy, controlling your pace and using the features to your advantage.Things are shaping up similarly on the mountain bike. The trails that appeared frighteningly tight, and had me swerving and braking like a drunk with a beer spilled in his lap, have seemed to open up, and the once-challenging stretches are getting easier as my recognition of both obstacles and the good lines improves.  I'm still very much a beginner and enjoying the usual rapid rise in confidence that comes with acquiring some basic skills. I'm starting to look at some harder terrain and I'm having more fun.Of course, it is inevitable that the rocks and trees will continue to have their way with each of us along the trail of progress.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This Was Going To Be a Week Off The Bike, Then...

Thursday, January 7
Temperature: 27 and Falling Wind: NW 23-31 MPH
It was a harsh day outside, and that message had been echoed over and over by every talking head on TV. I passed on the noon ride bunch and on the later invitation from a buddy to ride today. Too busy, too cold, way too windy. Day done. Written off.
Then, my neighbor Darwin called. I know better than to use a phrase like, "If you're riding...." with Darwin. He doesn't call just fishing for possibilities. He's going riding, and 15 minutes later, so was I.

Riding from the sub, we headed straight into the wind. We've all been there, that "WTF was I thinking" moment, but we settled into a rhythm and ground our way upstream. We were both a little overdressed, actually, with Darwin shedding a layer and me preferring to suffer a little perspiration, given the conditions. It's really not too hard to dress warmly for the bike. Hands and feet are the biggest challenge and I can address that by grabbing some old ski gloves for the hands and I sometimes stuff chemical foot warmers between my shoe and shoe covers for the feet. The warmers are good for a couple of hours, which is usually enough when the weather is cold enough to call for them. Another option is to pull some old socks over your shoes and cut out holes for your cleats, then put shoe covers over them.

These little warmers can make a big difference. They won't fit in my bike shoes, so I tuck them in the shoe cover.

Friday, January 8, 2:00PM
Temperature: 23 Wind: NW 12-18
OK, it's really cold. I've made a few sales calls and retreated back to work in my basement office after making myself a sandwich.
Then, my neighbor Darwin called........and we were off again.
We got in a little over an hour on the bikes and I got back to my office with cold toes and with a few calls to return, but it was well worth it!

The flags were still straight out on Friday, but the wind was nothing like the action on Thursday. Note the crowd.

This jetty was ice-covered on Friday. On Thursday, the wind was driving some big waves down the river, making for freezing spray.

At some point, I will just say, "Too cold!", but Darwin seems to be able make this stuff sound reasonable enough to lure me out. Our coldest outing to date was a few years ago when we headed out in 17 degree weather after having been ice-bound for a week or so. We rode about 30 miles, included a few detours around still-frozen hills. Riding ice-covered streets on a road bike is sketchy at best and touching the brakes is ill-advised. Of course, after spending a few decades willingly getting out in icy waters in a kayak, my take on "reasonable" is pretty broad when it comes to dressing funny and going outside. At least on the bike, you're dry.

We're fortunate to be able to ride year 'round here in Arkie-land. Even our most extreme conditions are fairly moderate in the grand scheme of things. Often, the hardest part is just getting yourself out the door.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Holiday Rides; MTB/I-Pod Confession

Diane and Nephew Nicholas Cruising The BDB

A Load Of Snow-Covered Coal and Scrap Iron Locks Through On The Day After Christmas

The weather has been a little harsh (OK, it's been real harsh) by Arkie winter standards. The rainfall has been historic and temperatures are running well below normal. Throw in some wind and you start getting a pretty good idea about why there have not been a lot of riders out and about. That said, if you pick your moments, things aren't that bad for the intrepid rider. The hardest part is just getting out the door.
Diane has had a full crew of family in town for the holidays and on the day after Christmas, her nephew Nicholas from San Francisco joined us for a little BDB ride. Nico acquitted himself quite well on his borrowed Huffy and was looking stylish in his new LiveStrong helmet. His little brother, Alex, and Aunt Sharon met us and took to the bridge afoot. There were a few people out and about, but not up to the usual post-Christmas numbers of new bikes and puppies that have become the norm on the BDB.

I also answered the call of Chris Irons and Company for a New Year's Eve ride to the Ferncrest area. About ten intrepid souls set out on a cool  day of about 45 degrees. The way the weather is shaping up for the next week, I'm looking back on 45 degrees and thinking, "balmy". It's always good to get together with a bunch of friends this time of year, even if some of them are a bit surly and  absent-minded about their helmet. In the dead of winter, the happenstance meetings on the trail are few.

True Confessions

I've expressed my emotional neutrality on mountain biking. In addition, I have a little disdain for I-pods, particularly when worn in pace lines or group rides, but also, to a lesser degree, in any situation where you might be expected to have any awareness of your auditory surroundings. I continue to chuckle at people on the trail who so isolated by their tunes that they jump and squeal when a rider passes by, though the rider has been calling out to them for the last thirty yards of his approach. I've had to go so far as to tap people on the shoulder to let them know I was passing them.
Simple, unsolicited advice: Turn it down.

OK, here's my confession: I really like plugging in my ear buds and getting out on single-track. No cars to worry about and I've mostly been riding by myself, though there's not much opportunity for conversation , anyway. I think I just need to keep busy mentally. On the mountain bike, I'm in a near-constant state of "what next?", which occupies a significant portion of my capacity for reason. Some fine music serves as a good background for all that brain work. On the road, "what's next" may be a turn ten miles up the road or the decision to cross the BDB or not. That leaves room for the mind to wander. That, and I've felt really uncomfortably unsafe anytime I've tried tunes on a road bike.
Maybe I'll find mountain bike love after all.