Thursday, September 30, 2010

Garver Awarded Bike Friendly Silver

Local engineering firm Garver, LLC, was awarded a Silver designation as a Bike Friendly Business by the League of American Bicyclists, the highest level awarded to any business in the state. When I describe Garver as "local", I mean really local, as their new LEED certified office building is located in the NorthShore Business Park adjoining the River Trail. Oh, yeah, and my wife has worked there for many years, so I am very familiar with the company and the dedication of the management team to the fostering of healthy lifestyles. Silver is a big deal and is hard to come by. For example, Pearl Izumi was just awarded Bronze, so the award level is not about perception, it's about action.
The lovely and charming Diane Barton conducts this reporter on a tour of Garver's bike and fitness facilities. She later fixed me dinner. Of course, I had to do her laundry.

Secure bike storage is available on-site to cycling employees, along with a work stand and a good selection of tools. Many Garver folks hit the nearby River Trail for lunch hour rides.

Garver also has a well-equipped fitness center, including showers, lockers and towel service!
 Framed Team Garver jerseys add to the decor. Garver, LLC and Garver riders are active in the local cycling community on many levels.

I want to congratulate Garver on achieving the Silver award level and for the success that the growing company enjoys. The management group has a vision for the company's future that is reflected in their commitment to the health and fitness of their team.

Enough from me. Here's the official press release:

Diane Barton
Director of Marketing

Garver Receives National Recognition as a

Bicycle-Friendly Business

Engineering firm is highest ranking Arkansas company awarded for involvement in bicycling activities

NORTH LITTLE ROCK—September 23, 2010—The League of American Bicyclists has awarded Garver a Silver designation as one of the United States’ top bicycle-friendly businesses.

As part of its Bicycle Friendly Business program, the League recognized Garver for its efforts to promote employee health and fitness through bicycling activities. The League has designated 196 bicycle-friendly businesses in 31 states, and Garver is the highest ranking Arkansas company as well as the state’s first awarded engineering firm. Garver previously received an Honorable Mention designation, but after moving its office nearer to the Arkansas River Trail system and establishing new bicycling incentives and activities, Garver has become one of the top companies in central Arkansas that intentionally provides employees with opportunities to discover the benefits of bicycle riding.

“Our primary focus is recreational riding for health, fitness and enjoyment,” said Garver President Brock Johnson, who is an avid bicycle rider. “As a company, we’ve decided to provide facilities that encourage a healthy lifestyle. We offer employees loaner bikes and secure bike parking adjacent to our corporate fitness center. Showers and lockers are provided so that our bikers can fit rides into their daily routines.”

Garver’s recognition underscores the firm’s commitment to improving employees’ health through fitness. Garver’s headquarters is located less than one mile from the Arkansas River Trail system, which was a factor in relocating the corporate office from Little Rock to the Northshore Business Park in North Little Rock.

Garver has taken many steps to integrate bicycling into its business culture. In May, Garver’s offices in North Little Rock and Fayetteville defended commuter challenge titles during National Bike to Work Week activities. Garver also provides custom jerseys to bicyclists who meet fund-raising goals for local charities; offers cash incentives to employees who meet quarterly workout targets; posts upcoming rides and other bicycling activities on its corporate blog; and schedules weekly rides geared toward new bicyclists.

This Saturday Garver employees will be riding in the Big Dam Bridge 100 Cycling Tour. Garver is also hosting a rest stop in its front parking lot to serve food and drinks to riders.

Garver has more than 60 Arkansas professional engineers on staff and is the largest engineering firm in the state. Garver is a multi-disciplined engineering, planning and environmental services firm providing services for aviation, transportation, water, energy, industrial, development, federal, survey and construction administration projects.

Additional information about Garver can be found at


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hottest Headline: Alberto Contador Tests Positive At Tour

Alberto Contador tested positive on the final day (or the second rest day, depending on accounts) of the 2010 Tour de France for the banned bronchodilator clenbuterol. You can read the available details below but , while I'm not a big fan of Alberto, this would be a horrific blow to professional cycling. It sounds like what I'd refer to as a technical infraction in which little or no performance benefit would be derived; however, the UCI, the AFLD(French anti-doping agency), and Tour organizer ASO would be hard-pressed to let it go, so we'll see how well Contador's explanations hold up over the next few days. As many of you may recall, he was implicated and then cleared in the Operacion Puerto* investigation. Here's hoping that in this case he's found not to be at fault for the sake of the sport.

From VeloNews:
By Charles Pelkey • Updated: Sep 29th 2010 8:20 PM EDT

Tour de France champion Alberto Contador has scheduled a news conference for Thursday to address news of an apparent positive test for the bronchodilator clenbuterol.

Contador, a three-time winner of the French national tour, apparently tested positive for the drug in tests conducted on the final day of this year’s edition of the Tour and was notified of the result on August 24.
According to a release issued by his publicist, Contador is scheduled to hold a press conference at noon Thursday at the Hotel Las Artes in his hometown of Pinto, Spain. Contador has assembled a group of experts who will contend that the positive test is the result of “food contamination.”

“The experts consulted so far have agreed also that this is a food contamination case, especially considering the number of tests passed by Alberto Contador during the Tour de France,” the release asserted.

Contador said that a review of data supplied by the UCI makes it “possible to define precisely both the time of the emergence of the substance as well as the tiny amount detected, ruling out any other source or intentionality.”

Clenbuterol is a synthetic bronchodilator often prescribed to asthma sufferers. It is also regarded as a stimulant and has recently been used in off-label prescriptions as a weight-loss drug akin to ephedrine. The drug is banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substances list, and specifically banned under Article 21 of the UCI’s anti-doping rules.

Most recently, RadioShack’s Fuyu Li was suspended after testing positive for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour of Flanders.
While Contador appears to be challenging the result of his A sample, he has the option of requesting and overseeing the retesting of a second sample. Failing that, he risks becoming only the second rider in the history of the Tour de France to be stripped of his title because of a doping violation. American Floyd Landis was found guilty of a doping violation following the 2006 Tour.

VeloNation article:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Regional Cyclocross Events

Cyclocross season is upon us. I have a hard time getting pumped up about reading cyclocross articles and have little interest in cyclocross-specific equipment, but....
There are few cycling events that are more fun to watch!! Cowbells, mud,  greasy fries, rowdy crowds and morning beer all add up to a big ol' good time!

from Jason Neeley at Competitive Cyclist, here is a list of regional CX events:

Oct 9 Showdown at Sundown CX (Tulsa OK)

Oct 15 Ruts & Guts (Tulsa OK)

Oct 23 Champions Cycling Cyclocross Fort Smith AR

Carl Norris 479-484-7500

Oct 30 Bear Creek Bonfire & Brimstone Harrison AR

Jim McDonald 870-743-1607

October 30 & 31 Memphis Cross (Memphis TN)

Nov 7 Cyclocross at Lake Fayetteville, Fayetteville AR

Bruce Dunn 479-521-7766

Nov 7 Tentative event (Tulsa OK)

Nov 14 Outdoors Inc Mid-South CX Championship (Memphis TN)

Nov 14 Old Post Cross Race, Russellville AR

Doug Housley 479-890-6665

Dec 4 Old Post Cross Race, Russellville AR

Doug Housley 479-890-6665

Dec 5 AR State Cross Championships, Little Rock AR

Dec 5 Riverpark CX (Tulsa OK)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Seasonal Adjustments: Ride like you're invisible.

Fall is officially upon us and with its arrival come changes in our riding routines, some subtle and some not so. The dramatic drop in temperatures over the weekend here in Arkansas was one of the less subtle changes, as daily highs went from high nineties to low seventies. A slightly more subtle change involves the seasonal positioning of the sun and the resulting effect on visibility for both riders and drivers. With the winter sun low in the southern sky, it shines at a much lower angle than in summer, and with the shorter days, we are more likely to be riding at dawn and dusk, which also puts us on the road at peak traffic times. It becomes especially difficult for drivers to see riders, so if you're riding with the sun in your eyes, be conscious of the fact that drivers approaching from behind probably can't see you.

This kind of visibility is the norm on a fall evening. Drivers tend to focus on center lines or a car in front of them, making it easy to miss seeing cyclists. Ride like you're invisible, because it's likely that you are.
 P.S. That does not mean that you have superpowers.

We'll be pulling out the arm warmers, tights and long fingered gloves soon enough, but for now, let's just enjoy the perfect weather. It's a great time to be riding, but be careful out there on the road.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Big Dam Bridge 100

Seeing a couple of thousand riders stretched as far as the eye could see on LaHarpe Blvd. was very cool. This is Little Rock! Pay no attention to the goober in the Radio Shack kit flexing his muscles along with his posing friend.

The BDB100, Central Arkansas's premier cycling event, went off Saturday morning without a hitch. Rain had popped into forecast earlier in the week, but by ride time, the little front had already passed through leaving behind partly cloudy skies and temperatures that didn't leave the 70's. The northeast wind was a little bit of a header through parts of the course, but was a welcome tailwind for most of the last 30 miles of the century route.

The route started in downtown Little Rock, crossed the Big Dam Bridge and headed north for a loop around Lake Conway in mostly rural Faulkner County.

The route is a good one, with enough climbing that it clearly avoids the "flat" label and there is plenty to sting late-ride legs, but there's nothing to cause too much suffering unless you're at the limit, anyway. According to a rider's Garmin, the route had 2559 feet of climbing. We rode the first three BDB's, but after having missed it last year, I'm was impressed at how well things went, from registration to the rinse-off tents at the finish. The route out of town has been refined to better handle the growing number of riders. I hooked up with a reasonable bunch for this ride, and we finished at just under five hours. A pack of the local seriously fast boys went out shooting for 4 hours and were the first in at 3:55.

The finish area was roomy and Argenta had provided rinse-off and change tents. The streets were closed to traffic and it became an entertainment district so that the local watering holes were able to freely sell beer for outdoor consumption. Business appeared to be brisk as many riders stuck around and non-riding families and friends enjoyed the live music on a perfect day.

Diane snags her finishers pin as she and friend Sherri finish up their 68 mile cruise.

The bike check area still had a lot of takers when we left. In addition, many of the street racks were full, restaurants offered indoor bike parking and there were bikes leaned about anywhere that would serve.

This is the 3:55 pack at the finish. That was some seriously good riding! No wonder these guys regularly drop me on group rides.  Photo poached by permission from Bryan Shipman's blog at:

This is the fifth year of the BDB100 and it seems to be maturing nicely. Aid Stations were frequent and well-stocked and the traffic control was good where needed. There was a traffic backup on Maumelle Boulevard as drivers were forced to wait for the many small groups of riders to pass, but most folks seemed patient enough and the police did a fine job of protecting the riders. The BDB ride is a great cycling showcase for all of central Arkansas and seems to have staying power after five successful years. I'm looking forward to the continued growth of the event.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Two Rivers Bridge: Progress

The Two Rivers Bridge project is moving right along. A steel arch span will bridge the 210-foot gap between the piers in the left-center of this photo. Quite a bit has been accomplished since this was taken in early September.

The steel span over the navigation channel of the bridge has proven to be a design and fabrication challenge. I have been aware of some delays, but it appears now that a schedule is in place and there will be no delays in the completion of the project. My information has come from a number of sources, but the general consensus is that the bridge construction is ahead of schedule and that Jensen Construction is doing a fine job. I'm anxious to see the span in place, as it will do much to define the appearance of the bridge, and I hope to be on site to see it lifted into place. Here are a few things of interest that I will loosely call "facts" in that I don't have the engineering or contractual data:

The span will be shipped to the site in eight sections. A truck will be required for each of the eight pieces. Those pieces will be spliced at the floor beams into four truss sections before the final assembly. I was able to obtain some fabrication shop photos of the work-in-progress:

The truss sections will be disassembled at the center joint and placed on their sides for transportation, as the assembly would otherwise be too tall for highway transport. Spanning the 210 feet required a truss over 14' deep.

The entire span will then be assembled on site. There will be some large scale Erector Set action to get this accomplished.

The camber of the arched span is apparent from this perspective.

The steel is designed to develop a patina of rust that will prevent further oxidation and eliminate the need to paint. Even with the box beam construction, plate has been added to enhance the stiffness of the structure, more for the comfort of possibly queasy bridge users than due to a need for additional strength.

The steel is scheduled to ship in mid-October and, once assembled, the span will be lifted to its final location by a crane that I have got to see, though in checking around, 100-ton cranes are not that uncommon. The weight of the assembly is slightly over 200,000 pounds. These are bridge-building professionals, but I will bet that there will be a collective sigh of relief from all involved when the span is safely resting on the piers.

Folks, the cycling life in Central Arkansas just keeps getting better!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010 Big Dam Bridge 100 Cycling Tour

You're invited to go the distance! 

This Saturday, the fifth BDB100 will roll from LaHarpe Boulevard in downtown Little Rock. The route has been fine tuned to avoid some of the choke points in earlier routes and I'm certain the the support will be very good, as always. We missed last year's event due to a little three week obligation that involved kayaking 225 miles down the Grand Canyon, but we are back in the mix for this year. The BDB100 held early promise to become a very large event somewhat like the Hotter'n Hell 100 in Wichita Falls, which boasts 12-15,000 riders, but the logistics for an event that size are daunting, particularly when the route begins in an urban area and involves multiple cities, towns and counties. Let's face it, Wichita Falls is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, which is a perfect place for a massive ride. That said, the BDB is evolving as the route has been refined and it looks like the post-ride party downtown will actually be a bit of a party, rather than a boom box and some more PowerAde and pickles. The ride has always been a good one and it appears that the quality of the events surrounding it are catching up. The addition of shower/hose off facilities is a real plus, as nobody who has experience with such matters really wants to stand around in their sweat-soaked kit for any longer than is absolutely necessary. My usual drill has been to leave a solar shower or a couple of water bottles and a beach towel in my vehicle at the finish to facilitate a warm water rinse before changing into street clothes. There will also be a bag check and bike service available. These services will make it much more likely that riders will stick around and fill the bars and restaurants in Argenta and the River Market. Folks who hang around will be calling the Hogs as #10 Arkansas takes on #1 Alabama at 2:30. I'm sure that every watering hole in town will have TV's tuned in to CBS.
All of us here in Central Arkansas are proud of our trail system and its centerpiece, the Big Dam Bridge, and I think that as time goes on the BDB100 will mature into a well-known regional event that will fill hotels and enhance our reputation as a cycling destination. In its inaugural year, registration was limited to 1000 riders. That number has grown to 2500 and I think that we can expect continued expansion.

See you on Saturday!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Races: 1991 Natural State Stage Race

This advertisement ran in the Arkansas Gazette, March 22, 1991

The Natural States Stage Race series was arguably the biggest in terms of scale and star power. Andy's, a local restaurant chain put up $30,000.00 in prize money at a time when, like now, most bike racers were poor but the average price of a new car was around $16,000. Some of the notable names included Lance Armstrong, still an up-and -comer, Davis Phinney, Scott Moninger, Bob Mionske (the attorney and  "Road Rights" columnist of today), Bobby Julich, and Olympic gold medalist Alexi Grewal. Coors Light was the powerhouse team. The 1991 Natural State race consisted of these stages:

Friday, March 22 1991
Stage One- A downtown criterium. The course consisted of a loop of Main and Scott Streets between Second and Eighth Streets. The crits ran between 11a.m. and 1:30p.m. on Friday and the streets were closed except for a brief window at noon. The Men's Pro 1/2 category was won by Dave Mann of IME Bolla Wines, with second going to Brian McDonough of Gotham Cyclists. The two went away early and maintained a gap for over half of the  race, with Mann outkicking McDonough for the win. Mann had won the Tour of New Zealand in 1987 and had 14 career wins to his credit at this time.

Saturday, March 23
Stage Two: Time Trial from Murray Park II to the top of Overlook Hill.
This had to be a great way to start the day for the racers. Here are the top three finishers:
1) Mike Engleman, Coors Light 4:22

2) Shaun Wallace, Great Britain 4:30

3) Steve Tillford, unattached 4:30

Ok, I’ll include 4th place just for entertainment:
4) Lance Armstrong, Subaru-Montgomery 4:44

Engleman, riding for Wheaties/Schwinn, was pipped at the line by Coors Light's Greg Oravetz in the 1989 USPro National Championship. Future teammate Greg LeMond was 10th.

The only local name that I recognized was that of my old friend Robert Orr, who finished 9th in the Masters class at 5:20. Robert is also the only person I know who has raced a double Iron Man (he came in second).  I'm sure the folks who were riding at the time would recognize more of the competitors.

Stage 3: Road Race around Lake Maumelle, beginning and ending at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. This stage saw action from all of the big boys and was won out of a nine man break by Rich McClung of the Shaklee team, with Dave Mann in second and Graemme Miller in third. Lance Armstrong had taken a flyer for a few miles, only to be reeled in and finish with the break.

Sunday, March 23
Natural State Capitol Criterium
80 Laps around the Capitol course saw Davis Phinney take the win, followed by Coors Light mate Greg Oravetz, with Lance Armstrong taking third.

Dave Mann took the GC win for a whopping $2700, followed 27 seconds back by Armstrong for second place, which paid $1450. Davis Phinney pocketed $955 for third overall. There was payout through fifth place and for stage placings, etc, so the prize money was spread around.

This was a stellar field of riders. This kind of event requires an amazing amount of work and a chunk of money to pull off, but over the years a few folks have put together some really big bike races. I wish that I had been interested!

Saving the Planet? Maybe a little bit.

Or maybe not, but it made me feel better for a self-righteous moment. I fixed our microwave oven.

A few months ago, I shoved a rectangular dish in the microwave at the river house. It was too big to spin in the oven, so it clanked and bumped as the rotating plate turned under it. Well, it did for a while, anyway, then went quiet as whatever mechanism it was that turned the plate for even cooking gave it up. Like most microwave ovens, this one gets used mostly to heat a cup of water or coffee and to warm up leftovers, so cooking evenly wasn't a concern, but I soon determined that the performance sucked without rotation. Like most folks in this great land of ours, we set out to buy a new appliance. Diane didn't see anything that met her expectations at our local Super Center and by then I had decided that it didn't make sense to toss the old oven with no salvage effort. I pulled the little motor from the bottom of the oven and found the broken plastic part that linked the motor to the spindle under the platter in the oven. With the model number in hand, I went Googling and 5 minutes later, I had ordered the $4.00 part. It cost nearly twice that much to ship it, but I was still out only about 12 bucks. The part arrived in the mail a few days later and it was with pride that I watched a plate spin within the rejuvenated oven.

I'm not all that averse to spending money when I need to and the $100.00 or so for a new microwave wasn't a big hurdle, especially after I'd rationalized the 20-year age of the old one. For much the same reason that we don't yet have flat screen HDTV, I was more bothered by the disposal of the old unit and the waste of resources than I was by the prospect of shelling out a few bucks, so I allowed myself the moment of self-praise. Some things aren't worth the cost of repair, but often we just give up too easily and send  usable goods to the landfill and our dollars to China by way of WalMart.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blog Media Limitation;Arkansas MS150

For those of you who are only here to look at the pictures (I know, you try to tell people that you're reading the articles.....), I have bad news. While loading up to head to Petit Jean Mountain for the MS150, I apparently dropped my camera under my truck, ran over it and left it to be found by my friend Darwin. It is an Olympus 1050SW, a tough little camera, and I actually think it would have survived were it not for the two extra batteries stacked in the case. At first glance, it looked fine but first glance didn't tell the tale. Waterproof, freeze proof, drop proof, shock proof, but nowhere did the warranty say "GMC Z-71 Drive Over Proof". Sneaky Olympians. Not my best moment, but stuff happens and a new camera awaits. I'm now in the process of convincing myself that it was time for an upgrade. More pixels. More zoom. Mo' better. Technology is improving rapidly. I don't want to fall behind.

MS150: Petit Jean State Park
I participated in last weekend's MS150 at Petit Jean State Park. It has been my favorite of the local charity rides, in large part due to the venue, and this will be its last year at Petit Jean. A move to Little Rock is coming next year, with the current plans calling for the ride start to be from Two Rivers Park and the routes to cover the Lake Maumelle Loop and to the Paron area. I don't know any of the specifics, but it will have some climbing. I heard a couple of folks express disappointment in the hilly routes, but at least as many folks were relieved that it was not going to turn into another flat cruise out east.
I had a cabin for the weekend at Mather Lodge, and on Saturday I hooked up with friends Sam, Chuck and Tom. It was raining, so the start was moved to Opello so riders wouldn't have to make the descent off of Petit Jean on wet asphalt in the rain, a wise move. Sam and I were ready to let the rain pass, but we were outvoted 2-2 and rolled out in a steady shower. Chuck has been in the sure-enough structured, dedicated training mode and, ya' know, that stuff seems to work! One of these days I'll try it, but in the meantime, I'm happy with Chuck's long time-trail like pulls. After passing through the finish area on top of Petit Jean, Sam and I rode back to my truck so we got make the fun, fast descent on dry roads.
Sunday, only Sam showed up from Saturday's pack, and we planned to hook up with some more friends, but that was not to be. We leapfrogged each other a couple of times, at the start and at a rest area, but finally got together and were getting settled in with our group when Sam veered off of the road asking, "do you have a tool?". I thought, "Hmm.., pretty general question......"  "Yes, I have a tool." Our recently assembled pack rolled on without us. Sam's seat post was slipping and he soon realized the clamp was broken. Herman, from Outskirts Bike Shop, was running SAG and was right there. He tried to secure it with hose clamps, but by the time we'd gone the few miles to Atkins, Sam was having to stand to ride. We were looking for the other SAG, Bill from Chainwheel, and he was right there, but had no clamp. Sam resolved to SAG with Bill and I rode on by myself. By then, the faster groups had all passed us and I was pretty much resigned to ride the next 48 miles by myself unless I managed to catch somebody. At Pottsville School, a group was pulling out as I pulled in and Sam was there. I filled my bottles and jumped on my bike to catch the group, which took a mile or two, but it was a good bunch and I rode to the Dardanelle lunch spot with them. While there Sam called and said he was on the road, so I waited. It seems that Bill had been unwilling to be defeated by the lack of a clamp and had rooted around somewhere and found some kind of clamp that would go over the broken clamp on the Cervelo and hold it tight. It worked, though I hope nobody is hurt when the monkey bars or the jungle gym comes apart due to a missing clamp.
The Sunday route is relatively flat, but has a little stinger right before you have to climb back up Petit Jean. Cove Mountain has a stretch of 18-20% grade that is just damn hard, though the steepest section is mercifully short. Many riders end up walking it and a great many more give the idea serious consideration, but if you go in forewarned and geared down, you know that the pain won't last long so you just get it done.The climb up Petit Jean is fairly long, but not more than 4-5% gradient, light work after having climbed Cove. 

Thanks to Herman and to Bill. Both of them were relentless in their efforts to get the bike ridable, but Herman's hose clamps just weren't stout enough to do the job. I don't know exactly what Bill scrounged up for the repair, but Sam was impressed. Both Chainwheel and Outskirts likely earned the loyalty of some new customers, as these guys fixed flats, replaced chains and tweeked bikes for folks all weekend.

The four MS150 rides in which I've participated at Petit Jean have all been very well run, well supported and just plain laid back fun. I hope that the same atmosphere carries over to next year's Little Rock location.

Friday, September 10, 2010

MacArthur Park Polo Court Renovations Underway

Renovations are underway at the Little Rock Bike Polo courts at MacArthur Park, thanks to LRBP, Americorps, Little Rock Parks and Recreation and many others. I'm glad to see it and hope that the polo scene continues to thrive.

The materials are on site, but I'm sure that some more labor would come in handy! They will be working Saturday morning, 9/11, from 8AM until mid-day at least. Get your work gloves and help out if you have a mind to! Here's how the courts appeared Friday morning. To take a look at the swarm of volunteers doing their thing, follow this link if you have Facebook access:

If you want to get more involved, check out LRBP's site:

Nothing New Under The Sun:

I assumed that bike polo was something new, but, as is often the case, I was wrong!

All of the post-WW II British hotties played polo! I think that this 1947 photo also represented the ratio of women to men in that era.

..but most of the boys did come marching home! I guess that in 1948 they just didn't know that they should have wheel covers and a little ink!

This is how LRBP rolls!

Thanks to Bryan Signorelli for giving me the heads up on the court renovation!
If you want to read more about bike polo's past glory, here's a link to the BBC article:

Ahhh...the BBC. You just don't get the good stuff from Fox News!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Doing Some Dirt

 I got back out on the mountain bike Tuesday. I had a day off, it was kind of drizzly, and I wanted a little time on the bike as I'm still tuning my set-up. Checking in at 2:15, the Camp Robinson trails were all mine. I headed off for a loop of 5-Mile, then took Yucca to Christmas Tree and X-Mas extension, cut across to Dogwood, then out Merlin. Merlin has become one of my favorite trails because of the wide range of terrain and features that it offers. The addition of the new Shipwreck Trail adds a convenient return route to the parking area.Previously you had to either hike-a-bike up Pipeline or go downhill and take the circuitous route around Can-O-Corn before picking your poison for a trail choice for climbing back out from the bottoms. Shipwreck is a climb, but it is relatively short and direct, even given the numerous switchbacks it takes to get up the hill.
I don't have enough experience on a mountain bike to give much advice, but I have changed my tire selection  and suspension set-up. The change is like having a new bike that hooks up much better on the trail in a wide range of conditions. A little attention to these details can make you much more confident out on the dirt.

There is a little new deadfall, but the trails are in very good shape. Not being a summer mtb rider, I was surprised that they've stayed so clear of encroaching greenery. The little rain we had the day I rode made the trail surface just about right.

On Merlin, there's a new reroute around a tree that fell last winter. A big "thank-you" to the little trail fairies that do this kind of work!

Unabashed, uncompensated, unqualified product endorsement:
I think my bike fit is pretty good and I'm comfortable enough, but one area where I have been dissatisfied is with my bar grips. I replaced the reasonably adequate factory grips with some lock-on Oury models that were a little bigger and perhaps softer. An improvement, but I still had some discomfort and had to shake out the numbness from time to time. That's easily done when cruising on the road, but single-track usually demands my full attention and both hands. Enter Ergon grips. Diane and I did a ride with their team a few months back at the invitation of Competitive Cyclist and I had been interested in trying their stuff. Once I knew about the grips, I started recognizing them on the bikes of many of the best riders I know and the grips were given universal approval. I selected the Ergon GP1, size large, from the many choices within the product line. I have pretty big hands (and will say nothing to quell the rumors about guys with big hands.) and I'm generally more comfortable with a larger contact area. I've got to say that these things really are at least as good as advertised! I was on the bike for about an hour and a half and never gave my hands a thought other than perhaps, "sweet".

These Ergon grips have added a new level of comfort to my MTB ride. Good stuff. Go buy some.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Along The Trail: Cool ride, Uncool Actions, More Development

All those who labor were rewarded with a spectacular holiday weekend. I pulled out the arm warmers for Saturday and Sunday morning starts and delayed our Sunday ride time at Heber Springs to allow things to warm up from the chilly 48 degrees that marked our planned 7:30 start. Unlike most Friday evenings, the mild temperatures and blue skies saw the River Trail hopping with walkers, runners and riders. It is rare for Arkansas to enjoy days with lows in the 40-50's, highs in the 90's, and humidity low enough to make any shady spot pleasant even in the heat of the day.

This craftsman-cyclist lives in the Levy area and has a fleet of novel creations, including this pedal-mobile and a really loooong six-seater. I often see him running errands or just enjoying the trail on one of his creations with his young son.

 Not everybody respects our resources. These dozen or so carp and gar appeared to have fallen to bow hunters. There's no law against wasting rough fish, but the rude bastards shouldn't dump the carcasses on the launching ramp at River Mountain Park.
Hmmmmm..I guess after you've had a few dozen beers, trashing the ramp might seem like a good idea. Actually, I can't blame the beer. You've got to start off as an inconsiderate a-hole for this to make sense.

The 210 foot arch span will connect the center piers of the Two Rivers Bridge, but I've got word of a delay in the shipment of this key piece of the bridge. I'll provide details when everything is worked out. Lifting the span into place is going to be an impressive feat and I plan to be there to watch and report!

I was initially alarmed when I saw this sign near the deer fields, but I'm told that the golf range will be at the end of North Shore Drive in the southeast corner of the North Shore business park. It is my understanding that the piece of property is in a flood zone and is not subject to permanent development. Closer proximity to the River Trail might have served as additional motivation for those who choose not to wear a helmet. The creator of this sign may have already taken a couple of long drives to the noggin, as the map makes no sense at all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

1990: Natural State Capitol Criterium

This Arkansas Gazette article laid out the weekend events surrounding the Natural States Capitol Criterum

Lance Armstrong manages 13th, goes home $110.00 richer...

Little Rock is becoming a bike town. We owe much of that to a nucleus of folks who have supported and helped grow the sport over the years. This is the first in a series of articles about the Central Arkansas bike scene which will focus on the teams and some of the notable events of the past.

In the spring of 1990, Greg LeMond was the reigning Tour de France champion and the USA was actually kind of interested in road bike racing. About 500 people turned out on a cold March 25th morning to watch the 1990 Natural State Capitol Criterium, which was won by Wisconsin's Tom Schuler of the powerful 7-Eleven professional team. Schuler was the 1987 USPRO national road champion and the 1981 US Pro criterium champion and, more recently, the director of Team Type 1. The 1990 event, held on the State Capitol grounds, naturally, had the 62 riders in the senior 1/2 division, 28 of whom finished. According to the Gazette, "One of the most promising young racers in the country traveled from Plano, Texas, to compete". Eighteen year-old Lance Armstrong , racing for Team Montgomery, came in 13th* and collected $110.00 for his efforts. After the event, he commented on the tough race, the good organization, and the high level of competition.

...and the winner is Tom Schuler. At the time, he was a much bigger name in cycling than teenaged Lance Armstrong

 The event was sponsored by Colonial Bread and others. With prize money of $10,000.00, this was a rich race and the pros showed up along with all the regional hot-shots. There were several classifications with payouts, along with a Citizen's Race division that was made up of 33 mostly local riders.

The winner of the women's division was Juli Furtado, a former US National team skier who had won the National Road Championship in 1989 and who went on to win the first World Mountain Bike Championship cross country title. She followed that with a string of World Cup wins. You know the Lance story, of course. He was, indeed, a promising talent!

Let me note here that searching newspaper archives at the library is much harder than Google! You actually have to search for whatever it is you're looking for! Much of this information came from the Gazette archives along with helpful direction from Steve Shepherd and John Kelly.
 If any readers can make this story more complete, feel free to comment!

(*In researching this article, I found a statements in a 1991 Arkansas Gazette article twice referring to Armstrong as "last year's winner", and elsewhere in the 1990 article, he was said to have come in 14th. Confirming obscure information from before the information age is difficult!)

Next up....1991 Natural States Stage Race

Friday, September 3, 2010

Knee Warmer Weather: Is This Possible?

Forecast for Friday-Saturday:
Tonight: Clear, with a low around 57. North wind between 5 and 10 mph.

Saturday: Sunny, with a high near 83. North northeast wind around 5 mph.

Saturday Night: Clear, with a low around 54. East northeast wind around 5 mph becoming calm.

We've all been fretting about electrolyte replacement for the last few weeks/months, so this forecast looks more like Colorado weather than Labor Day weekend in Arkansas. My usual policy is to dress for the temperature and not the calendar and I abide by the "knee warmers below 65" edict, but I think I'll just have to suffer a little from the sweet relief of cool weather for a while. I can't bring myself get out the fuzzy accessories while I've got sleeveless jerseys hanging to dry.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sex Machine: 2011 Orbea Orca

This doesn't qualify as a product review because I didn't get to try said product, but I did have the privilege of taking a close look at a pre-production 2011 Orbea Orca recently when I went by Orbea USA in downtown Argenta to visit Steve Shepherd. I've got to say that the Orca evoked a little bike lust. I'm deeply involved in a happy, comfortable relationship with my titanium Litespeed Ghisallo, but sometimes the flash of carbon fiber and the flare of a shapely seat stay can turn my head. The new Orca is definitely a sexy machine.

The new Orca retains the elegant curves of recent models, but a closer look reveals some important design features.
The front view reveals the slick aerodynamic profile. The head tube is tapered for stiffness and features an hourglass shape that is supposed to reduce drag while allowing the cable guide profile to be reduced. The cable guides are designed specifically for Gore RideOn cables. The seat mast, fork and seat stays also feature improved aerodynamics.

The proprietary seat mast was designed in cooperation with Selle Italia and features Selle Italia's Monolink clamp system. Very cool, but limits your saddle choices to Selle Italia. Orbea addresses this with an optional seat mast to accommodate standard saddle rail systems. The mast clamp is also unique. Production models will feature a Torx bolt instead of the standard hex bolt. Apparently SRAM is moving toward the use of Torx fasteners, as well.

The Monolink rail system allows for easier tuning of saddle position and more front to back adjustment range.

The highly shaped seat and chain stays are tucked in close to the wheel.

The sculpted seat stay has become common on TT bikes and makes sense for an aerodynamically slick road bike. With adapters, both BB30 and standard bottom brackets may be used.

The cockpit is furnished with a lot of woven carbon. Bolt torque requirements seemed to be printed on every part and should be strictly adhered to. I think it is becoming time for home mechanics to invest in a torque wrench. It's on my shopping list.

I didn't ride this bike, but I'm sure that you can find plenty of expert opinions and detailed tech talk elsewhere. I was very impressed by what I saw and I appreciated getting a look at the Orca before it got packed away for the trip to Interbike. It's a beautiful bike!

Moving away from standardization?

I came away with a couple of general thoughts about some recent trends in bike design. One of the very positive things that I noticed about bikes when I got involved a few years back was that most components were fairly universal. Any saddle would fit on any seat post, bottom brackets were either French or English threaded, there were a couple of standards in seat post diameters and with little more than a few hex wrenches, you could put it all together and take it all apart. Shifter cables were generic and available at any shop. Most components could easily be moved from bike to bike. Some things, like tapered head tubes, integrated headsets, and BB30 bottom brackets, have become fairly standard and are not items that are likely to need immediate service or replacement on the road. Proprietary seat masts are fine, as a seat post is rarely changed once your fit is tuned in. Proprietary seat clamps and saddle rails severely limit choices, but likely represent an improvement in a long-standard design. A more subtle change is the word that more Torx bolts are coming into use in SRAM products and showing up in places like the seat mast clamp on the Orca. If you're not familiar with them, Torx  have a  6 pointed star pattern and started showing up in automobiles years ago. I did a little general research, aka: "Googled it", and found that Torx have more surface area for tool contact and can more easily transmit torque. A common complaint is that the heads are easily stripped, which seems contradictory to the torque transmission statement to some extent. Currently, 3 hex wrench sizes will do almost everything that you need done on a road bike. I don't want to have to carry another set of wrenches and don't see the Torx as being much of an improvement, but that appears to be where some segments of the industry are headed.
This isn't really a complaint, as many of the proprietary designs represent progress in design and the application of materials, particularly carbon fiber. The result is likely a more a better performing product but with fewer applicable component choices.

The really remarkable thing about this article is that I was able to see the new Orca weeks before most dealers and bike industry types see it at Interbike. It's notable that right here in my home town, we have a couple of major entities in the North American bicycle industry in the form of Orbea USA and Competitive Cyclist, in addition to our wealth of outstanding local bike shops. We are rich in that regard!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What's Happening With Road Bike Racing In Central Arkansas?

The answer to that question is, "not much". There will be no Arkansas State Road Race this year, and no criterium championship. This situation has upset quite a few folks, but such events require the commitment of sponsors and promoters in the form of time and money, and both of those commodities seem to be in short supply. When I started riding bikes six years ago, like most folks, I developed a curiosity about racing. I've never participated in any sport more competitive than beer-powered vollyball or hackysack, but I was interested. I only had a vague notion of the structure of the local cycling scene, being aware of the Arkansas Bicycling Club and CARVE and just assuming that there was some kind of organized racing scene. I was somewhat surprised when I started doing searches on the Internet to find that there was very little going on even then. Events were few and far between and even finding information about those events and the race results proved to be harder than I thought. I've been a kayaker for most of my adult life and many boaters were also long-time cyclists, so I had vague memories of hearing my friends talk about big races and various teams that they'd raced on. Recently, I started wondering whether those impressions of a golden, more active era in cycling were just the product of memories enhanced by time or if, indeed, the wheels had come off of road bike racing in Central Arkansas. Since I am still a neophyte, I started asking around among some of the veterans of Little Rock's bike scene and came up with mixed responses, but I heard enough to drive me to research the subject. My intent is to produce a series of articles recalling some of the important races of the past, some of the teams and their sponsors, along with some views of the current race scene and the opportunities for aspiring racers. Unlike much of my writing, this will actually demand factual information, for which I will have to depend on others. I've already spent quite a bit of time gathering information and I've got a few willing contributors, so I hope to get started soon. My sources will include long-time racers and a few promoters, along with team organizers and anybody else who I can find willing to spin a few yarns. My search for information has already led me down some unforeseen paths, so there is no telling where we'll end up with this project, but it's bound to be fun and, hopefully, entertaining for you!