Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Talking 'Bout Some Tools

Most people who have been riding bikes for a while have amassed some kind of a bike tool collection, some more than others, of course. I've got a friend who lives in a small town and who has recently been eaten by the bike bug. "Bitten by the bike bug" probably wouldn't cover Matt's condition. I think the bike bug hit him like a big brown trout going after a streamer, but that's not the direction of this article. He asked me what wrench he needed for pedals, which caused me to wonder what you do in Cleburne County when you need your bike adjusted or fixed. You pack up and go to North Little Rock or Searcy or you buy basic tools and supplies so that you can do it yourself. I vote for number 2. I'm not trying to take business away from our fine local shops, but much of the basic maintenance work required to keep your bike in good running order is pretty easy but often requires a specialty tool.
I like to do most of my own work, so I've purchased tools as tasks have come up that required them. Many riders, quite sensibly, would rather just take the bike to their friendly LBS, but for small-towners that can be a ride breaking hassle, and many of us just like to be able to work on our own bikes.

At the very least, everybody needs:

Tire levers- they're dirt cheap. Keep in your flat kit. I also have a couple in my home tool kit.
Multitool- most multitools will have all the hex sizes you need, screw drivers, and a chain breaker. Good for the seat bag and emergencies. Most are clumsy to use, but actually having the right tool out on the road is a small trade for fumbling a bit.

After that:
Hex wrenches- a multi-tool will serve, but you can buy a set of cheapies for $5.00.
 I finally broke down and bought a nice ball-end, T-handle set, and they were worth the 30.00. Hex wrenches are used for almost every fastener on the bike, so you use them a lot. They're first on the list for a reason.

Work Stand- A work stand provides a stable platform for your bike while allowing you to turn the cranks and operate the shifters. Even cleaning your bike is a bit of a pain in the ass without a work stand, so if you don't have one, put it on your Christmas list. You can buy a stand for under $50.00, but a decent work stand will cost north of $100.00 and a really good one is typically $200.00-300.00. You can often find bargains on a good stand shopping on line, but always give your local bike shop a shot at your business first
Cleaning brushes and rags- a clean bike works more reliably and cleaning you bike gives you a good chance of finding damaged or worn parts before a failure leaves you on the side of the road.

If I lived 50 miles from a bike shop, I'd also have the following:

Chain tool- allows you to press out and insert pins to remove and assemble a chain. Chains are reliable, but a broken chain means no ride if you don't have a back-up plan. Chains are "wear" items like tires and I always keep a spare on hand. Replacing chains before they wear out saves on more expensive cassettes. See how to check for chain using a ruler wear here, or you can buy this simple tool from Park. There are several tools available for this purpose, but simple and cheap works fine here.

Chain Whip- This unique tool is used to remove a cassette from the hub body of your rear wheel. It is a long-handled tool with chain attached to engage a cog on the cassette as your loosen the cassette lock nut. It is a necessary tool for the home bike mechanic and, as an aside, use of the term "chain whip" in casual conversation is sure to grab the attention of listeners.
Chain whip with cassette locknut tool and a pedal wrench.

Pedal Wrench- Most pedals have a hex socket accessible through the bike side of the crank; however, it often takes some torque to remove a pedal. All pedals have a 15mm wrench flat on the spindle adjacent to the crank arm. Pedal wrenches have an open-ended 15mm fairly thin head, are long-handled, and are built in a manner that would make them a formidable weapon. If I'm ever jumped by ninjas in the bike shop, I'm grabbing a pedal wrench. If you have one bike, you may never need this tool, but we have a few bikes, sometimes need to throw on some flat pedals for guests or take pedals for a rental or demo. It's a tool that you'll never wear out or break and that will do its job without scratching up your crank as you are likely to do using standard tools.

Cable and Housing Cutter- while it may seem that a wire cutter would do the job of cutting shifter and brake cables, they're generally not up to the task. Cables, particularly shifter cables, do eventually fail, and it is convenient to be able to replace then on your own. Of course, that means that you also need to have a cable and the confidence to adjust your derailleur or brake after installation.

My tool selection also includes a torque wrench and bottom bracket tools. Bar tape and a chain are good to have on hand.

The proliferation of carbon parts and frames make a torque wrench a desirable addition. Crack a carbon seat post and you've spent enough to buy a pretty good tool set.
Bottom bracket "standards" have gone crazy. I put "standards" in quotation marks because in recent years we've gone from standard English or Italian threaded BB's to BB30, BBRight, BB90, BB95, PF86/92, PF30, etc, etc.  The result is a lot of confusion over crank and frame compatibility and some system-specific tools. Most bikes made up until a few years ago had English threaded BB shells and installation and removal of the BB was fairly simple.
If you're of a curious nature, you can let your head swim here in an in-depth article on the topic. My new frame has a PF30 BB and I am resigned to visiting my local bike shop should it need work. I'm holding off on buying new BB tools until I need them and have a better grasp of servicing the system.

Parts and Supplies
It is a good idea to keep consumable parts on hand and to learn the basic skills to install them. I always have a stock of extra tires and tubes, bar tape, a couple of brake and shifter cables, and a chain on hand, along with lube, grease, and cleaning supplies. Tubes are a no brainer. Tires are a good idea. A couple of weeks after I got my now old Cannondale, I tore a sidewall on a Saturday afternoon, resulting in a phone call and a mad dash to the bike shop at closing time for a new tire to salvage my planned Sunday ride, so I started keeping an extra tire. The same goes for cables and a chain. Bar tape emergencies rarely arise, but fresh bar tape is just plain nice and it's something that can be done on a whim if you have tape on hand.

You will eventually use these things, so I advise buying them at your convenience rather than scrambling around the night before a big ride.

Most riders have no interest in being a bike mechanic, but folks with a basic mechanical aptitude can easily learn some of routine jobs required to keep your steed in good running order. Beyond fixing a flat I would urge you to learn common tasks to include minor derailleur adjustment, wrapping bars, and replacing the chain and cables. Youtube is a fantastic resource for learning almost anything and you will find easy-to-follow tutorials on each of these jobs. And, when all else fails, your bike shop guy will be entertained when you bring in your torn-down bike and box of parts. I suggest that there be a 6-pack in the box if this step is required.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Big Dam Bridge Parking Alert!

New "No parking" signs have gone up on the Little Rock side of the BDB where park user have parallel parked along Rebsamen Park Road. Apparently, the signs were put in place by Pulaski County in response to complaints by Corps of Engineers employees at the dam. After the complaints resulted in the signs going up, additional complaints to the city about people parking within the new "no parking" zone resulted in tickets being issued.
These signs were erected by the County at the request of the Corps. The property is federally owned and leased to the city, as I understand.
The Little Rock police officer was getting an earful, but was as gracious as he could be under the circumstances. He seemed a little puzzled by the change in policy, as was I, but he had a job to do.
There are a couple of Corps employees who are well-known to cyclists for their aggressive driving in the area. Apparently one of them honked at some cyclists who were in the road, and the cyclists took issue with him. A police report was filed and things went downhill from there. I think we've all been guilty of milling around in this area, so let's try to do our meeting and socializing out of the path of traffic.
 I don't see how demanding elimination of the parking is anything but some small revenge from somebody who resents having to drive through a park to get to work, but that is simply my impression of the situation. There may well be other issues of which I am unaware.This is a no-win for BDB and trail users and for the City, so just be cool if confronted by impatient drivers in this heavily used area and expect to be ticketed if you ignore the signs.
Signs will go up directing overflow parking to Murray Park. No big deal for cyclists other than increased fear of break-ins in the more remote lot. Casual walkers and moms pushing strollers may not appreciate adding a mile to their routine, but we'll just have to deal with it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Eye Candy Along The Trail: Big Racks, Sleek Boats and Old Tires

Eye candy for hunters and lovers of wildlife, that is...
These boys were hanging out with some ladies and showing off impressive velvet covered racks.
I whistled softly to get everybody's attention for this shot. I was 60-70 yards away, and the herd was alert to me but pretty settled in to their grazing.
This little spike on the other side of the park was not alarmed at all by riders and walkers passing by. I was 12-15 feet away.
The open fields in Two Rivers Park are almost always alive with deer in the mornings and evenings, but last Sunday I was taken aback when I saw this group of deer. There were several nice bucks in the bunch sporting some nice racks. I seldom see bucks grazing around in the open, much less a gang of them.  Do these guys only fight for the does in the fall when they need a date to the football game? Somebody with more knowledge of deer bevavior can perhaps fill me in on what this brotherhood thing is all about.
On the north side of the river....
There are boats in the new marina even as construction continues. A small parking lot has been paved across from the riverfront property and there will be a crosswalk across the street/trail. The marina will add to the traffic in the area, as will a planned launch ramp near the skate park.
The new marina parking lot is to the left. This view is facing west on Rockwater Blvd. in front of the Rockwater Apartments.
There is a need for signage where Rockwater Blvd meets River Road and the River Trail. Drivers are not alerted to bike traffic entering the roadway. Recently planted trees along the parking lot will beautify the property but may limit visibility and rider safety.
I spoke to Bernadette Rhodes with the City and she is already in conversation with the traffic director to work toward improvements.
 Some marina slips are already occupied and the long-ignored stretch of river bank is getting a clean-up. I counted roughly 100 tires that had been hauled up to the trail for disposal.
 I spoke to a resident of the Rockwater complex who was walking his dog on the closed portion of River Road. He had recently moved here and when discussing the marina, he expressed his concern about the increased traffic in the area resulting from the marina development and a planned launch ramp near the skate park. He was obviously enjoying his riverfront home and the easy trail access.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tour de France Velogames Wrap-Up

The Tour is over and the results are in. Yeah, yeah, Froome won, but I'm talking about the JBarCycling MiniLeague!

I took a decidedly contrary position in selecting my team in that I took Contador as my GC hopeful (at least I didn't pick Andy Schleck!) and I passed on a phenomenal Peter Sagan. My man Mark Cavendish had to play second fiddle to Marcel Kittel as this year's top sprinter, while persistent break-away artist Thomas Voekler apparently left the race just after team photos. I'm still a big Cav fan and he'll stay on my teams, but little Tommy Voekler is dead to me, I tell you!
We had ten teams in the JBar Cycling Minileague and Bob Fegtly ran away with the win after hanging in the pack until the closing days!
As promised, I stand prepared for the payoff in the form of a 6-pack of a quality IPA.
I'll even be gracious enough to allow Bob his choice of brew so long as the brand name includes no reference to "light", "lite" or "ultra".
And there's more!!!
I will include as a special bonus one of these beautiful JBarCycling coffee mugs!

This is a JBar exclusive! No, this sumbitch is not "as seen on TV"! It is far too rare for those shysters. You can only get it for being a winner and only right here.
Congratulations Bob! Jim took second and my buddy Sam made a late surge to round out the podium. Chris Irons took the lantern rouge, so I should probably buy Ironman a beer for helping propel me up from DFL.
Thanks you everyone who played. Having a Velogames team really does add interest to the grand tours!
Vuelta, anyone?
Here are the final standings:

Team Fegtly bfegtly  5757

catbitefever  jim      5352

JBarCycling2013 MiniLeague Sam Ledbetter  5191

Velo Nut  Peyton Greenwald  4976

Sprokets  Doug_Pope  4775

txotxPaul Alexander4 616

JBar Cycling  JBar  4531

TDF Team CARVE  Michael Mattox  4352

Team Grid  Grid  4349

Nothing Has Changed  Pessimist 4120

Irons_Revenge  Chris Irons  3086

Thursday, July 18, 2013

On A Delicate Subject: Chamois Cream

As a result of this blog, I get a lot of questions, suggestions, and direction from readers, friends, and passing riders. It may be synchronicity or simply seasonal relevance, but these topical contacts seem to come in clusters. In the last few days, chamois cream seems to be the popular subject.

Do you or don't you? Should I?
Folks seem to shy away from the topic, though in my mind, it pales in comparison to inquiring about condoms, hemorrhoid medication, or any number of highly popular personal care products. Chamois cream has evolved from the days of the real chamois leather pads used back in the day, when its purpose was to keep the leather soft and supple. It's now more about protecting the delicate hide of the rider.

Butter up the buns!
I use chamois cream on every ride and have done so since I started riding nine short years ago. When I started putting in miles on the bike, I was fortunate to have a neighbor who became my bike guru and to whom I could address virtually any question from chain lube to pack etiquette. He was a proponent of cream and at some point in time had started using Ponds face cream for the purpose. I used Ponds for a while and it was effective, but my bibs soon smelled a little too much like my grandmother.

Make your butt happy, indeed! Many makers of chamois creams love playful names like Chamois Butt'r, TBS "That Butt Stuff", Dave Zabriski's DZ Nuts, and Enzo's Button Hole.
I don't consider my ass to be particularly delicate, but I do ride most days and find that if I forgo chamois cream that the skin on my sit bones gets rosy after even fairly short rides. This is especially true for summer riding here in Arkansas. Once you get a bit of abrasion, things can go downhill faster that a fat guy on River Mountain Road as the affected area sits in the sweaty bacterial stew of a soaked chamois. If you've ever had a saddle sore, you will know that what would be an annoying pimple on your nose on prom night becomes a source of true pain when located between sit bones and saddle on a 5 hour ride. Think of sitting on a hot marble for a few hours.
Girls get special treatment...
There are several offerings which specifically target the female rider. I can see that, as, well, uh, ummm, well....let's just leave it at that. I can give no specific feedback on the efficacy of these products in comparison to that of standard offerings, though one interviewee allowed that "it's just fun."
Bliss by DZNuts is specially formulated for females.
I've found all of the chamois creams that I've tried to work. I'm presently fond of TBS, as it contains tea tree oil, a fairly common ingredient, that gives it a little tingle.
Beyond buttering up, the most important practice to avoid unpleasant butt reactions in simple good hygiene. I have been seen standing around in my bibs sipping a refreshment after an event ride, but it is best to skinny out of the nasty things as soon as possible and get into some dry cotton. I'm always taken aback when asked by newbies, "How often should you wash your bike shorts? I'm thinking about getting a second pair." When I come in off of a summer ride, I can barely stand to touch my stinky, sweat soaked bibs long enough to peal them off, much less consider putting them on again before washing both them and me.
Go forth, butter up, and enjoy the ride. Perhaps next time, we'll discuss nose hair. Or not.

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's good to be kind to cyclists.

And it's even better when you're on your way to a Dave Matthews concert and the cyclist is Dave Matthews.

by way of Facebook, Greg Churan and The Path Less Pedaled:
from CNN-

That stranded cyclist you encounter on the trail or road may not be a rock star, but you never know. Maybe you should offer to help, just in case.....

CNN) -- Emily Kraus was psyched.
She had been a Dave Matthews fan since she was 9. And she was on her way to see him at a show in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
What she didn't count on was finding him stranded by the side of the road with his bicycle.
To say it was the surprise of her life would be understating it.
The Grammy-winning musician had gone out for a pre-show ride Saturday when the back tire of his bike popped.
"I did not have a cell phone on the bicycle. So I thought, 'Sh*t," he recalled that night at his show at Hersheypark Stadium.
"And then a nice lady named Emily rode up in a red car with a bicycle rack on it and gave me a ride on to the gig."
Conversations with a superstar
Kraus said she and her boyfriend were running late to the show. But, as she told CNN affiliate WHP, everything happens for a reason.
They spotted a man stranded on the side of the road who looked very familiar.
They pulled over.
It was Matthews, his bike broken; he without a cell phone.
Lucky for her, her parents had just recently given her their bike rack. And she offered her idol a ride, to his own concert.
Along the way, they chatted about how the tour was going and his daughter's summer camp schedules.
"We didn't know how to make conversation with him," the star-struck fan laughed.
'Cheeks still hurt from smiling'
Matthews, grateful for the gesture, invited the couple for dinner. Then, backstage. And then, to front row seats to the show.
Oh, and during the concert, Matthews recounted the incident, referring to Emily by name.
"My cheeks still hurt from smiling, giggling and laughing all night long ... this will always be remembered," she wrote on the affiliate's Facebook page.
Sunday morning, Kraus said she woke up, wondering if it was all a dream.
But then she noticed the concert tickets. Matthews had signed them, saying "Thanks for the ride."
"OK, yeah, that really happened yesterday," she said. "It was surreal, we couldn't believe it."

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Arkansas River Trail Safety Celebration

I have been remiss in not following up on the efforts of of Bernadette Rhodes, Willa Williams, and others for organizing this event, which took place on Saturday, June 29th.

The BACA tent crew: Pat Hays, Tom Ezell, Ken Gould, Judy Lansky, Mark Taylor,
Jim Britt, and Mark's lovely daughter, who may not forgive me for forgetting her name as I write this!
Along the North Little Rock Burns Park River Trail, volunteers from CARVE, ABC, BACA, Central Ark Trail Riders (equestrians), and NLR Fit2Live manned tents and offered trail maps, cold water, safety tips, helmet fitting and even free helmets to trail users! I even got advice from Sid Degarmo of CARVE that my helmet strap was too loose (it slipped, I swear!).
One couple who got free helmets from Sid and Tom Burks at the CARVE tent was delighted and amazed that somebody would give them helmets, just because they needed them! They rode off smiling and looking more stylish than when they had upon arrival.

Bernadette and Willa have become quite a team for North Little Rock Fit2Live  and Safe Routes. They have energetically promoted cycling in elementary schools, distributed trail maps and safety cards to local bike shops, facilitated LCI instructor training, and much more.

I owed them a call out!

Along The Trail: Progress Report and Backward Driver

Many of you may have noticed an announcement a couple of months ago that funding had been approved to add lighting to the Junction and Clinton Park Bridges. That work is about to get underway and an immediate result will be Monday-Thursday daytime closures of the bridges.

These signs have appeared on the Junction and Clinton Park Bridges.
Photo provided by Diane Barton
As noted in the sign copy, the lighting improvements will be grand. Basing my judgement on the effect of the lighting on the Big Dam Bridge and the Two Rivers Bridge, if the plans for the downtown bridges are similar, the improvements will indeed be grand.
Medical Mile Washout Repairs and Bridging The UP Tracks
Medical Mile washout in 2009
Way back in the fall of 2009, flooding rains caused a washout of a portion of the Medical Mile of the Arkansas River Trail. Given that the trail section ended with a dead end at the Union Pacific RR line, not many trail users really noticed or cared. The event was more of a curiosity than an inconvenience for riders, and there was little pressure to make the expensive repairs. Well, repairs are now underway. Little Rock received some grant money and a contractor is at work. 
LR Board of Directors Approves Trail Improvement Project
What I called the "Trail to Nowhere" in November of '09 will now have a western counterpart. The Little Rock Board of Directors approved a resolution to allow construction of a trail segment on the north side of the Cantrell Road viaduct through the Cantrell Marine property to Cantrell Road in front of Dillard's HQ.
A resolution to authorize the City Manager or his
designated representative to execute all appropriate
agreements and contracts necessary to expedite the
construction of the River Trail River Bluffs Connector
Improvements Project (west termini).
Funding for this project will be from the Transportation
Alternatives Program (80%) and City Match Funds from
the grant match account. The total estimated project cost
is $487,500.00.
This project authorizes the City Manager to sign grant
award documents and to execute agreements with
Metroplan and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation
Department for funding a portion of Arkansas River Trail
Improvements near Cantrell Road at the western termini
of the River Bluffs segment of the trail consisting of a
trail connection from North Cantrell Road at Gill Street
eastward through the Cantrell Marine property.
This project may not make a lot of sense in the immediate scheme of things, but it gets the Arkansas River Trail two steps closer to the mythical "closing of the loop". I don't pretend to know where negotiations stand to allow for the construction of the ambitious River Bluffs Trail along the river behind Dillard's, but the connectors will be in place when that bright day finally arrives.
Arkansas River Trail System Makes Google Earth
As you may recall, the ART System includes 88 miles of trail and highways in Central Arkansas. I was using Google Earth to scout a ride recently when I noticed that Arkansas Highway 365 is designated Arkansas River Trail! I follow up and found that the map guys at Metroplan got the designation added for to Google Earth for the system.
Signs Are Meant To Be Read
I was finishing a ride last week and as I pulled into the parking lot near Victory Lake in Burns Park, I noticed a black sedan cruising along the River Trail toward me with two women inside. It takes a little bit of effort and a whole lot of ignorance to get on the trail at this point, but here they came, driving along at 20-25 MPH.
I responded by pulling out my phone to take a photo, as I am always on the alert for blog material. When the young lady driving saw me taking that action, she stopped, put the car in reverse and started backing furiously in the direction from which she had come.
Reading the sign is less costly than hitting it. Note the door trim in the grass.
Some folks can drive fast in reverse and some can't. Her level of expertise at "mirror driving" was at the "can't" end of the scale, as she veered off of the trail and into a post on which was mounted a sign carrying the message "Motorized Vehicles Prohibited". Both passenger side doors of the car were damaged and they left a small debris field at the base of the sign as a warning to others. As they drove away, I noticed that the car still had temporary tags, and the repairs will likely exceed the promised $500.00 fine.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Spoiler Alert: Friday Tour Talk

As we're winding down the second week of the 2013 Tour de France, what only a few days ago appeared to be a methodical march to Paris for Chris Froome and Team Sky has instead become a bit of a rolling brawl.

Froome still has over 2 minutes on his closest GC rival, but the day after his dominant stage 8 win in the Pyrenees, Sky saw Richie Porte, second on GC, crack badly as he lost 17 minutes, and key mountain helper Vasil Kiryienka missed the time cut.
Froom bounced back to take minutes on his key rivals in the ITT, only to lose the powerful Edvald Boassan Hagen to a crash in stage 12.

Nobody expected much action in Friday's stage 13, marked as an easy day for the GC guys with a bunch sprint finish, but crosswinds created tactical opportunities for Mark Cavendish's OMQS team of Belgian hardmen as they split the peloton. That move left behind 3-stage winner Marcel Kittel, who had beat Cav straight up in Thursday's sprint.

Tweet from Cavendish on his team in today's stage:
Today I saw 9 of the biggest hearts I've ever seen & 18 even bigger balls. 1 of the most beautiful wins I've been part of. Proud of

Later, a superbly timed move by Saxo-Tinkoff split the leading field even further and left behind Froome, along with sprinter Andre Greipel. Cavendish immediately jumped across to the move. The result was a sprint win by Cav from the small group of 14 riders and a minute taken from Froome by Alberto Contador, as Sky just did not have the horsepower to close the gap in the crosswinds. In another bad sign for Sky, Richie Porte faded early and lost 30 minutes.

GC second place Moviestar's Valverde had an ill-timed flat and lost almost 10 minutes, taking him out of contention for the GC.

With Mont Ventoux looming on Sunday, expect Froome and Team Sky to be forced to fend off furious attacks from Saxo-Tinkoff and Belkin, whose riders fill out the current top 5 on GC.
  • 1. Christopher FROOME, Sky, in 51:00:30
  • 2. Bauke MOLLEMA, Belkin, at 2:28
  • 3. Alberto CONTADOR VELASCO, Saxo-Tinkoff, at 2:45
  • 4. Roman KREUZIGER, Saxo-Tinkoff, at 2:48
  • 5. Laurens TEN DAM, Belkin, at 3:01

  • With Sky down to 6 riders, Froome could be isolated early and any crack in his armor could see him lose big time. He still has a big lead and yet another time trial, but things are not as settled as they appeared a few short days ago.
    Hell, yeah! This Tour needed some excitement and it is here.

    VeloGames TdF JBarCycling MiniLeague

    I took a contrary position when selecting my fantasy TdF team, passing up favoties like Chris Froome and Peter Sagan. As a result, I have been languishing in DFL among the 10 JBC MiniLeague teams. Cavendish has missed out on some wins that I expected from him, Thomas Voekler, always good for a breakaway, has been invisible, and my other picks seem to have needed some PEDs.
    But, I scored points with Dan Martin's stage win and Contador, my GC pick, is showing signs of life, so I can now stand proudly and say loudly, "I'M NOT DEAD F'N' LAST!!"
    That honor now belongs to my good friend Chris Irons. (Note to Chris: Andy Schleck is soft and will never time trial worth a damn.).
     Add a couple of more sprint wins by Cav and a move by Contador, and I may move up to "also ran" status.
    Leading the pack is Team Grid, owner unknown, a team which, remarkably contains Schleck, along with Cavendish, Sagan, and Porte.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Back To The Ozarks: The Pull of Push Mountain

    I wrote just last week about riding Push Mountain Road with my friend and frequent ride partner Sam Ledbetter. Sam and I were discussing the opportunity to take advantage of some unseasonably cool July weather to perhaps make the ride again when Sam upped the ante.

    He had been laying out what he referred to as "an epic ride" of 96 miles that would take us from Highway 14 near Harriet, down to and across the Buffalo River, north through Yellville, over the White River at Cotter, and then would wind through the back roads south of Mountain Home before joining Highway 201 to the junction of Highway 341, or Push Mountain Road. From there, we would cross the White River once again and begin climbing back toward Big Flat. I am usually pretty conservative when it comes to biting off more than I can chew and I was uncertain that I could manage this ride. Yep, I was chicken, fearing failure, so I said, "OK".

    That was followed by some negotiation, as I was concerned not only about the distance and the fact that I assumed there is not a flat place to be found on this route, but that Highway 14 is narrow, curvy, and can be busy on a holiday weekend as folks make their way to enjoy the White and the Buffalo. The previous week's tragedy at McCrory was fresh on my mind and I knew that Sam had some concerns about traffic, as well. In the end, we elected to ride from the Rock Creek Cemetery northwest of Harriet and finish at the soon-to-be-operational Gravity BrewWorks at Big Flat. Sam's neighbor, Doug, agreed to meet us at the brewery at the end of our ride.
    We got an early start and soon found ourselves descending to the Buffalo River, giving up 600-700 feet of altitude that we knew we would earn back soon enough. The climb out of the Buffalo was gradual and the following miles up to Yellville and Summit were surprisingly easy going.

    Things were quiet in Yellville early on a Saturday morning. As we passed, I spotted a storefront with a number of bikes mounted on the awning in front. Bike shop in Yellville? Nope, just a pawn shop but might be worth a stop sometime.
    As it turned out, the traffic was remarkably light on Hwy 14 and the drivers were unfailingly polite in passing. We made our way east through Flippin and then made our first crossing of the White River at the historic old Cotter Bridge before heading on to Gassville. Considering the geography, the ride had been relatively flat, even as we left Gassville and rode out Buford Cutoff to Highway 201 to Highway 341, aka: Push Mountain Road.

    EDIT: Fact versus perception- Sam's Garmin disagreed with my Google Earth assessment of any part of this route being flat!

    Crossing the Cotter bridge on Highway 345
     As I'm writing this and rolling over our route on Google earth, I'm surprised at how little the elevation changes over much of our ride. The area north of the White is a bit of a plateau. There are some long rollers and gains of 50-100' but it was the kind of up-and-down that allows you to maintain some momentum.

    The party's over...

    Sam heading across the White River at the Hwy. 341 Bridge. This was the line of demarcation for pain as far as I was concerned. 25 miles on Push Mountain Road starts here.

     I was already wearing bit thin, and we got over any possible disappointment at the lack of gravitational challenges as we crossed the White for the second time of the day. I had forgotten that the climb out of the White was actually two long steps with a false flat in between, and it was painful when I realized that I was only halfway up the first big climb on this leg of the ride. We knew what lay in store for us from there and marched on to Big Flat. On our last Push Mountain ride, we at least got to enjoy the big descents before having to engage the big climbs, and my legs were not anywhere close to fresh as we were 50 miles into the ride. I suffered over the last miles and found Sam waiting for me at the Highway 14 junction as I finished the final climb on 341, which seems to be strategically placed just to let you know that the road isn't done with you, yet.

    From there, it was just 3 miles to Gravity BrewWorks. We were a few minutes behind our ETA and Doug was pulling out of the driveway to look for us as we rolled in. It had turned out to be a hot day in the Ozarks and we were salt-encrusted and tired, but this ride had been a beauty! I can't think of many better ways to spend a Saturday morning than riding in and out of a half-dozen river and creek valleys, along ridges and through small hill towns in the heart of the Ozarks.  The ride was 80 miles and had 5650 feet of climbing, much of it concentrated in the last third of the distance. This, for me, was a challenging, quality ride. 

    No, I won't bore you with weekly trip reports, but...
    I know this report is a little redundent to the earlier Push Mountain write-up, but, hey, I don't get out much! Over the years, I've wanted to do some road rides in the Ozarks and often envison myself on the bike as I drive to this area on business or for boating, but I've been put off by the distance of driving to the ride and, as much as anything else, fear of the traffic on unfamiliar roads. As it turned out, our concerns about the traffic on Highway 14 in the early morning hours were overblown and Sam had done a good job of putting us on little-traveled back roads when he could. To our surprise, we encountered two other cyclists along the way, one riding locally near Rim Shoals along the White, and another lone rider heading north as we rode south on Push Mountain Road.

    The experience reminds me that as cyclists we have thousands of miles of rural Arkansas roads waiting on us to find them.

    A note about Gravity BrewWorks

    Billy Riffle and Tony Guinn are in the process of building a microbrewery in the small burg of Big Flat. Billy and Tony live in the Mountain View area, where Tony does her career thing with the USDA Forest Service. It is an interesting proposition, but the word is the Billy makes very good beer. Big Flat is in the corner of Baxter County, which is wet, so we look forward to visiting the tap room when Billy and Tony get things up and running.

    Thursday, July 4, 2013

    Tragedy In Woodruff County-18 Year-old Rider Dies. What Do We Do?

    By now, most of you have heard about the tragic accident in Woodruff County in which a 21-year-old plowed into a group of high school aged cyclists. The road was apparently straight, in dead flat country, and it was broad daylight. Reports indicate there was no sun-in-the-eyes, and no other factors that would have prevented the young man from seeing the riders had he exercised any degree of reasonable care.

    From the Arkansas Times blog:

    Update from David Goins of Fox 16 on the accident in which a car plowed into a pack of cross-country bicyclists near McCrory this week:

    McCRORY, AR - Arkansas State Police confirm one of the seven cyclists injured in an accident Tuesday in Woodruff County has died.
    According to a fatal crash report released Thursday, Lee Levitan, 18, of Milton, Massachusetts died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident north of McCrory.
    Levitan and twelve others were on the American Challenge a six week cross country bike trip from South Carolina to California when a car struck seven riders on Highway 17 around 4:30pm Tuesday.
    Tom & Liz Costley of Overland Travel in Massachusetts released the following statement on the company's website:
    "This morning we received confirmation that Merritt Levitan of Milton, Massachusetts, died as a result of injuries sustained in a terrible incident that occurred outside of McCrory, Arkansas, while participating in an Overland bicycle touring program. Liz and I, and the entire Overland community, are heartsick by this tragic loss. We extend our deepest condolences to Merritt's family, friends and loved ones."

    Arkansas Roads: Dangerous For Cyclists

    Last year, a cyclist attempting to circle the world by bike in a Guiness World Record effort was struck and injured near Judsonia in White County. Prior to that, another cross-country cyclist was struck and killed by a motorist, also in White County. We've had two local riders and friends killed by cars in the last couple of years, Marilyn Fulmer by a grandmother running a red light and Diane McConnell who was struck by a motorist on Kavanaugh Blvd. as she rode home from a bike advocacy event in downtown Little Rock. I'm sure there are others that I don't know about, and we regularly hear stories of encounters with drivers who are careless, aggressive, and just plain mean when dealing with cyclists on the road. We are buzzed, yelled at, honked at, run off the road and often scared shitless by drivers who are either inattentive, angry, or who find some sick humor in the act of putting another human being at risk.

    We have a 3-foot safe passing law that requires motorists to give cyclists a 3 foot buffer when passing. There has not been a single ticket written under this law, even in cases where cyclists were struck and injured or killed.

    That's got to change.

    I don't even want to hear about cyclists rolling stop signs or that "we shouldn't be on the road". Bullshit. The first time a cyclist running a red light or texting on the road kills a driver, then we can have that discussion.
    I recently read a Facebook thread in which an Arkansas State Trooper was talking trash about bicyclists on the road illegally "impeding traffic." One of his buddies responded by saying that he appreciated the post and that now he "wouldn't feel bad when cyclists get mad at me for passing too close." Huh? You risk my life and you're smug about it?!
    I won't pull the statute, but the trooper was flatly wrong, and when called out on it he admitted his error, but said he didn't understand why bikes are on the road when we have perfectly good sidewalks. This trooper is one of the folks who is supposed to be protecting us from a-holes like his bike-buzzing buddy and instead he is stirring the pot of animosity toward cyclists. Please consider another career, sir.

    I don't have the answers, but we need action at the state level to at least demand that motorists learn that cyclists have a right to the road. I don't know how to teach simpletons that we are human beings with value, and that this is a fact that doesn't change when we get on a bicycle. If this driver had rear-ended a car load of slow driving grannies with babies-on-board, there would be hell to pay and cries for his head. As it is, most Arkansans are probably saying, "Too bad, but what were they doing riding bicycles on a road?"
    The answer to that question is simply that the roads belong to us, too. Respect it.

    Wednesday, July 3, 2013

    Payday Loan on Push Mountain

    My friend Sam recently invited me to join him at his cabin near Cozahome in the heart of the Ozark Mountain Buffalo River country. I had been wanting to see his place which is, to put it mildly, remote. Cozahome is a spot on the map, a few miles past the end of the pavement north of Harriet. If you're not familiar with Harriet, you may have been to Big Flat. Or, maybe not. In addition to the striking view of the Buffalo Valley a mile or so away, Sam had tempted me up with the promise of a bike ride on nearby Push Mountain Road.
    The "Dragon" of Push Mountain Road.
    He had mentioned the ride a few times, with its great scenery, good pavement, nonexistent traffic, and screaming descents, and I had expressed an interest in giving it a try. It was the Memorial Day holiday weekend and I was out of excuses, so I headed up Friday evening, following a page and an half of detailed turn-by-turn directions to find Sam's hide-away. After a pleasant evening at the cabin, we got up early to prepare for our ride.
    We headed to a point near the intersection of highway 14 and 341, or Push Mountain Road, to begin the 50 mile out-and-back. In addition to the fact that the cabin is miles from pavement, Highway 14 is pretty busy and has no shoulders, so we had elected to drive to our ride. It was a crisp beautiful morning and we saddled up a little after 8:00, getting a chilly start with an immediate descent of  half mile or so. Fun. Of course, in the Ozarks, nothing is flat and every descent is followed by a climb, so the chill was soon left behind as we climbed and dropped, going up, over and around a series of sweeping turns.
    As it turns out, Push Mountain is famous among the motorcycle set, being mentioned in the same breath as the Dragon's Tail in North Carolina as a "must do" ride. Harley-Davidsons throb through turn after switchback turn and sport bikes scrape metal as they test the limits of bikes and skills. Almost very conversation with local folks brought a mention of fatal crashes and helicopter evacs of those whose ambition outweighed their abilities. A Google search finds stories of 120mph runs with hearts pounding and sparks flying.
    The headliner of the ride, of course, is Push Mountain itself. We rode from south to north, so we got to enjoy the nearly 2-mile descent about 17 miles into the ride on the way out, and it was as sweet as advertised!

    This is a happy place. Depending on direction, you're either starting the descent or finishing the climb of Push Mountain.

    Good clean asphalt, almost no traffic, no driveways to belch gravel onto the road, and sweeping turns rideable at speed. We did not approach crotch-rocket velocity, but we rode much of it somewhere north of 40 mph, with my top speed registering 44MPH. While we did touch the brakes a time or two, more familiarity with the road would make that unnecessary for confident descenders due to the geometry of the turns and the good pavement. The descent of the Push Mountain Dragon, as the motorcycle crowd calls it, took mere minutes and left us smiling. An additional 5-6 miles of riding rolling hills brought us to another long descent down to the White River at a point south of Mountain Home.

    We had done a lot of climbing during the "out" leg of the ride, but we had also started high above the river valley so we knew what lay in store.  The elevation at our start point was a little over 1100 feet, while the elevation at the White River is about 380 feet. In between, elevations range up to around 1300 feet. The 50-mile ride came packed with over 4000 feet of climbing.
    Sam compared the the experience to taking out a payday loan at the Gravity Bank and Trust.  The exhilarating descents were comparable to the immediate gratification that comes with getting a little easy money to buy some crack and a 30-pack, and maybe make a payment on the flat panel TV from the rent-to-own. It makes for a good weekend but the payback is long and painful. We thought we were being very clever amusing ourselves with the payday loan analogy as we groaned and creaked up the miles of climbs on the way back to the truck. I thought that the groans and creaks were coming from Sam and me, but it turned out just to be my seatpost.
    This is a fantastic route and I appreciated the opportunity to ride this Ozarks jewel. The absence of traffic on a perfect holiday weekend was remarkable. It is well worth making a road trip and would be a fine addition to a Buffalo River weekend.

    Monday, July 1, 2013

    Tour de France: Opening Weekend Mayhem!

    This Tour promised to be predictably unpredictable and, if the opening stages are any indication, that will be the case! Rather than opening the three week Grand Tour with the traditional short prologue time trial, the 2013 Tour opened with its longest stage, a flat 130 mile stage that should have ended in a bunch sprint and a yellow jersey for one of the top speedsters. It is never a sure thing, but prognosticators had all but fitted the first yellow jersey on Manxman Mark Cavendish.

    All of those predictions went to hell as a team bus, late to arrive at the finish, got stuck under the finish line banner and the peloton flew toward the line at high speeds.

    Not according to plan! The late-arriving Orica GreenEdge bus was waved under the finishing banner, only to become wedged in place.

    With only minutes to act and racers near the 5k mark, race officials announced that finishing times would be taken 3k out, where timing cameras were in place. Unfortunately, the 3k mark was also at a traffic circle, which would have made for mayhem as sprinters piled in at 50MPH. Finally, the bus was moved and the finish was moved back to its original point.
    Unfortunately, as riders frantically tried to deal with spotty information, a moving finish line, and a rare chance to wear the yellow jersey, a massive pile-up took sprinters Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, and Andre Greipel out of contention. German Marcel Kittel took the sprint and the yellow jersey. Kittel is a fine sprinter but would likely have been somewhere in the pack of "also rans" had the likes of Cav, Greiple, and Sagan been in the mix.

    Stage 2 was alittle more true-to-form, but the party was crashed by Jan Bakelants (RadioShack Leopard), who held on the take the stage out of a late breakaway. I won't say the obscure Radio Shack rider's win was unexpected, but he was identified as teammate Markel Irizar as he took the win.

    It's early, but I am DFL in my Fantasy League!

    I counted on Cavendish to take the opening sprint and I don't really care for Peter Sagan, in spite of his substantial talent. Sagan took second in stage 2, winning the bunch sprint as Cavendish was dropped on one the 5 climbs on the stage. As a result, the teams in my league who have Sagan (all of them but me?) are kicking my ass, as I languish in last place. It's long way to Paris, so I will have opportunities for redemption, but in my current position I feel like I have double-flatted and thrown a chain during a neutral rollout.

    Are We There Yet?

    From Metroplan, a continuing opportunity to participate in shaping the future of transportation in Central Arkansas!



    Contact: Judy Watts

    Phone: 501.372.3300




    “Are We There Yet?” Lets Residents Choose How to Achieve Regional Vision and Win an iPad


    LITTLE ROCK, ARK. – June 20, 2013 – Imagine Central Arkansas is pleased to announce the launch of a new phase of outreach highlighted by an “infoGame,” an interactive online activity. “Are We There Yet?” lets residents of central Arkansas set goals for the region’s future, and then make decisions about major trends, policy options, and funding sources to meet those goals.


    “Are We There Yet?” is designed to inform central Arkansans about conditions affecting our future, and to obtain important feedback regarding emerging trends and policy directions that will predominate the region over the next three decades. Topics included in the online activity include transportation infrastructure, walkability, and revenue sources. You can play “Are We There Yet?” here through mid-July.


    As an added bonus, participants who complete the infogame between June 21 and July 19, may enter for a chance to win an iPad mini. Visit Imagine Central Arkansas for more details.


    In addition to “Are We There Yet?”, there will be a number of opportunities to connect with Imagine Central Arkansas over the summer, including:


    ·         Hometown Visits at festivals, special events, expos and other community gatherings,

    ·         Guest speaking engagements as requested, and

    ·         Online 24 hours a day, seven days a week at


    Those interested in having Imagine Central Arkansas for a Hometown Visit or speaking engagement may contact Judy Watts at (501) 372-3300 or Information on scheduled events can be found on our website.


    Imagine Central Arkansas is the name used to identify the planning effort led by Metroplan, the metropolitan planning organization, to expand transportation, housing and development choices within the four-county region that includes Faulkner, Lonoke, Pulaski and Saline Counties, and to set priorities for transportation investments in central Arkansas. All individuals and groups who share a common passion for and interest in preserving our region’s rich culture, history and resources while planning for a vibrant future. Imagine Central Arkansas strives to be all-inclusive so that each and every voice has an opportunity to be heard.


    Imagine Central Arkansas will culminate in a new metropolitan transportation and development plan by late 2013. Residents can learn more about Imagine Central Arkansas and participate at any time by going to, or via twitter @Metroplan, #ImagineCentralAR.