Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cross Training And Another Colorado Bike Town

Between cold weather and some travel, both ride time and writing time have suffered here at the JBar Bunker, but, as usual, the world has not been standing still.

Cross Training
Since this is a cycling blog, that's what I'm calling a recent ski trip, anyway. Yep, I'm training at altitude, just like the big boys.
Diane and I once again joined the Little Rock Athletic Club for a few days on the slopes at Crested Butte, Colorado. As a skier, I would compare myself before this trip to a rider who is not confident enough to ride in a group and who might well feel compelled to stop and put a foot down before daring to open a gel or take a drink. It has been damned frustrating for me, but for some reason the switch was miraculously flipped and  I now claim the elevated status of being a mediocre skier! I'm quite pleased, as it had gotten a little old having Diane waiting for me at the bottom of each run and strangers blowing by me shouting, "Just relax, man".

Damn those holiday crowds. Blue skies, cold weather, daily grooming, and a good base made for perfect conditions.

Powder hounds might have been disappointed by the lack of new snowfall, but Colorado has enjoyed a lot of early season snow and conditions were perfect. Though we heard a couple of locals complain about crowds, I can only guess that they are spoiled, as we usually skied directly to the lifts. It was rare to find lines more than 3 deep.

Most mornings started out with temperatures well below zero, but warmed to around 30. Sunshine and good gear make that comfortable skiing.
Diane celebrated her 50th birthday, an event that was noted by this banner at the ski area base, compliments of Rhonda and Jack Lessenberry.

The Town
Crested Butte is a small mountain town and bears little resemblance to resort towns like Vail or Beaver Creek. The elevation is high at around 9000 feet and the population is low at about 1500. Nearby Gunnison offers an airport with direct flights from major hubs and additional amenities. CB was a coal mining town when founded in the late 1800's and the downtown area is made up of mostly Victorian era buildings.
We were repeatedly told by locals that summer is the best time to visit, a slightly surprising position for a ski town, but Crested Butte is likely as well known for its cycling, hiking and self-proclaimed status as Colorado's wildflower capital as it is for skiing.
Crested Butte has character in spades. The small downtown is rich with good restaurants and funky bars where visitors and locals can enjoy great food and local craft beers at very reasonable prices.

The Bikes
We spend our summer vacations in the Salida area, a couple of hours away over Monarch Pass, and are always impressed by the fact that almost every resident has some kind of a townie or cruiser for local transportation. Crested Butte is no different. Though many of the streets and sidewalks had a layer of ice, there were still a lot of folks getting around by bike. I asked one rider about the danger of riding in icy conditions and he just said, "slow and easy". Fat tires don't hurt, either. Local buses provide easy transportation to the ski area 2 miles away from several stops in town, running every 15 minutes, and it was not unusual to see bikes simply leaned against a snow drift near the bus stops. Few locks were seen.
Richard Machycek of Arkansas Cycling and Fitness, knows his bikes. He gleefully identified the "donor bikes" of various components of this pieced together "Frankenbike".
This pristine Schwinn Collegiate is a beauty from a period when Schwinn still meant American-made quality.
I just had to throw in this page from the 1968 Schwinn catalog. By the 70's, imports were taking over the high end of the bike market. Trek was formed in 1975 and slowly placed itself in the top tier of American built bikes.

And you thought women-specific bikes were a new thing! This pink color scheme and step-through frame screams "girl bike".

Not everyone rides through the winter. I felt a little sorry for this trio.

I love the Colorado bike culture, which embraces everything from Tour level road riding and world class mountain biking to the fat-tired townies favored for local transportation. In the Colorado Rockies, most towns were compactly built along rivers and railroad grades so that even in the heart of the mountains, flat terrain dominates, making a trip to the local beer joint or grocery store an easy cruise on fat tires and platform pedals. One thing that I always wonder about is, where did all of these cool old bikes come from? You see a few new Electras and other townies, but the scene is dominated by classic American two-wheelers.

What about us?
Our urban structure here in central Arkansas is very different that that of small-town Colorado. Urban sprawl is unimpeded by geography and the mindset for  generations has been that transportation means cars. Roads are built for moving as many cars as possible as fast as possible, with little thought given to walking or cycling for even the shortest trips in our neighborhoods. 
Older neighborhoods, with their sidewalks and narrow streets, seem to have a head start on livability. Hillcrest in Little Rock is a good example of what a neighborhood can be, with shopping and dining opportunities within riding or walking distance for most residents. Our own Park Hill area in North Little Rock has got great potential but lacks the kind of amenities that a community can grow around. Grocery stores require a trip of several miles to more suburban locales and a recently overturned ban on the sale of alcohol had made the area unattractive to anything except a few fast-food restaurants.
Fortunately, communities are coming together and demanding a different view on development. We need only to look to the South Main project in Little Rock to see a neighborhood on the rebound as new residents see the value nearby dining and shopping, along with restored opportunities for walking and cycling for transportation. These folks could be called urban pioneers as they help redevelop a deteriorated area and bring along new ideas about traditional neighborhoods where people actually lived near the places at which they shop and dine. Pretty revolutionary, these old concepts of convenience.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Suggestion For Syllamo Riders: Beer

Last summer I wrote about a ride on which we ended up at Gravity BrewWorks in scenic Big Flat, Arkansas. At the time, brewers Billy Riffle and Tony Guinn were still at work finishing up work on the brewery and tasting room, but they brought out some home brew for Sam and I, as we were damn thirsty after 80 miles of hills and heat.

The good news is that Gravity BrewWorks is up and running and it's only about 15 miles from the Blanchard Springs Campground, or 12.8 miles from Fifty-Six. Billy was the award-winning brewmaster at Little Rock's Vino's before heading to the hills, so he knows his beer.
Give them a shout, see what they're pulling, and run up for a pint and a growler fill.
Gravity BrewWorks
11512 Highway 14 East
Big Flat, AR 72617
If you want to get in a road ride, park at Gravity and ride Push Mountain Road down to the White River and back. It's 50 miles of low traffic, stiff climbs and screamingly fun descents. I highly suggest that you get the ride part done before settling in at the tap room. 
Good riding and good beer seem to go hand-in-hand and both can be had up there in the Ozarks.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Syllamo's Revenge and Subaru/ IMBA Trail Team Weekend

It's likely way too late to register for Syllamo's Revenge since registration opened yesterday and the race usually sell out within hours. Here's the lowdown, anyway:

Registration for the 10th Anniversary of the Syllamo's Revenge, which will be held on May 17th, 2014, opens tomorrow, January 12th @ 6am CST.  Due to Forest Service concerns of overcrowding, the field will be limited to 400 this year, down from 450 in previous years.  Registration for last year's Revenge sold out in less than 6 hours, so set your clocks, get registered, and take off for a training ride to prepare for 50 miles of single track that will test your nerve as much as your fitness! 

This year's Revenge be dedicated to the 50 Mile event only and will not include the NUE Series race.  That will allow more awards and increased prize money for all divisions, bonuses for all top 10 finishers and a $250 winner's bonus.  Check out the website @ for details and for the link to the registration site.  

I got the news just yesterday that the back campground is scheduled to open the week before the race, so more campsites will be available.  In previous years, all sites in Blanchard Springs Campground were first come first serve, but this year, scheduled to begin in March, sites will be able to be reserved in advance at  I'll let everyone know when the Forest Service has that ready to go.    

I've also reserved both group campsites that are adjacent to the start/finish area.  Those areas will accommodate a total of 60 tent sites.  I'm going to add an option during Registration to purchase those sites for both Friday and Saturday night for $5.  If you need additional room, you can purchase more than 1 site.

IMBA trail work is going on this weekend, and another huge work day is planned for the weekend of January 31st, and February 1st and 2nd.   There is no doubt in my mind that the trails will be brought back to the condition they were in when they received IMBA Epic status.  I hope to see a bunch of you in Mountain View for the work weekend!  

Be sure to like Syllamo's Revenge on Facebook @  

I'll see 400 of you in May!


Subaru/ IMBA Trail Team Weekend

IMBA is coming to Arkansas! Jesse and Lori of the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew will be in:

Mountain View: Jan 30 - Feb 2

You are invited to join the crew as well as the Friends of Syllamo Trail for the weekend.

The visit features IMBA's Trail Building School on Saturday. This is your opportunity hang out with like-minded trail lovers while learning about building and maintaining sweet, sustainable singletrack.

Click on the town listed above for more information and to register.

You are receiving this email as an IMBA member or contact. Help us get the word out. Please forward this invitation to other area mountain bikers, land managers and trail users. The more the merrier!

If the events are too far away for you to attend, we understand. We sent you this email to not just invite you but also let you know about the important work IMBA is doing in your area.

We hope to see you there!

Marty Caivano, IMBA Field Programs Coordinator

Editorial Comment: Who Should Be Responsible For Trail Maintenance?

There has been some lively discussion among my Bike Nerd friends about who should be responsible for trail maintenance and repair, especially before and after events such as Syllamo's revenge. Some think that the promoter should have to get the trails in shape and then repair any damages done during the event since the promoter stands to profit. The general consensus is that there isn't any real profit in these events and promoters mostly put in the effort simply for the good of the community and to maintain the traditions of long-standing races. An accounting of the  successful Carpe Diem event held at Camp Robinson a few years ago showed that the riders' swag bags cost more than was raised through registrations and only through sponsorships did the race break even.
My opinion is that if the burden of maintaining the public trails on which most events are held falls to the promoter, then events like Syllamo's Revenge would fade faster than hydraulic brakes with a line cut. When it comes down to it, these events are the product of the willingness of a few individuals to put in a lot of hard work in organizing, getting permits, arranging for emergency services and port-a-potties, advertising, producing awards, and listening to a lot of complaints. Their reward is satisfaction and a few "thank-you"s. Add the job of fixing up 50 miles of single-track to the list and would-be promoters would likely decide to pay their money and enter a race themselves. That is, if they can find a race to enter.
I'm not deeply immersed in mountain biking, but almost all of the trail building/work that I've witnessed has been done by volunteers, either as individuals or as part of community efforts. A good example of a well-organized community effort is Salida Mountain Trails. Take a look at their website and see what good things can happen when riders get together and go to work with local bike shops and other stakeholders.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Single-Digit Double-Dog-Dare Ride

We all have memories from our childhood days of doing something deemed unwise by our closed-minded parents. My Mom sometimes just shook her head when I told her I had jumped off of a high bluff at the rock quarry or had done something else questionable with a buddy because, " he dared me" (or I dared him), but she usually took my survival as an indicator that it wasn't that bad, though I would get the standard, "If he dared you to jump off of the roof, would you do that?!"  By this point in the conversation, I was usually wise enough not to shoot back, "how high is the roof?", and settled for a contrite, "No, ma'am".
The Challenge
All of that was simply to lay a foundation for explaining why I found myself riding the River Trail toward the Big Dam Bridge at 6:15 on the past Tuesday morning, which was the coldest day in the past few decades. I've got a neighbor buddy, who prefers to remain anonymous, with whom I've embarked on some rides in questionable conditions. On a recent cold ride we were reminiscing about our coldest ride to date, which took place on a 17-degree day after we had been home-bound for a week due to an ice storm. That ride was not only cold, but was marked by some sketchy bridge crossings and several detours  to avoid still-ice-covered hills. At some point in that conversation, he said, "We need to do a single-digit ride.', to which I thoughtfully responded, "OK".
You see, I am a bit of a student of local weather, being in the HVAC business and engaged in many outdoor sports, so I knew that I would get man-points for agreeing while also knowing that single-digit weather is seldom seen in Central Arkansas. Well, like betting against an inside straight, the odds were in my favor, but sometimes the cards fall to make that straight. With an arctic blast approaching, my phone rang over the past weekend and neighbor's voice asked, "Have you seen the weather forecast." Well, shit, here we go! Game on.

Monday evening shakedown. Sun on the horizon and 18 on the BDB, 14-degrees a short time later in the Icebox.

With temperatures already in the teens Monday evening, we decided to test our plan, so we rode out from Burns Park headed to the notorious Icebox trail section that lies between the BDB and Two Rivers Bridge. The area is shaded for most of the winter and is always a few degrees colder that anywhere else along the trail. We caught the last rays of sunshine while crossing the bridge but the wind was blowing 15-20 MPH so it was still harsh. My Garmin showed a low temperature of 14-degrees, so we had already hit a new low for us. We actually saw a couple of folks walking dogs or just strolling but no other riders.

Concerned: 5:00AM and a balmy 11 Degrees
It's usually coldest just before dawn, so with sunrise coming at 7:17, I was only a little concerned that my thermometer showed double-digits when I got up at 5:00. Depending on which forecast you put stock in, the predicted low was to be from 6 to 12 degrees. We left my house at 6:00AM and were on the bikes at about 6:15 at Burns Park. We were still reading above 10 at the BDB, but that marked the end of the warm spell.

It was a beautiful clear morning for a ride.
At 6:33 it was 10.5 on the BDB and we were on our way to the Icebox! I was moving to get into some light, hence the 1.4 MPH.
My Garmin graph showed 46.4 when I took my bike out of the cab of my truck and started recording. It was downhill from there!
From the Garmin report:
Avg Temperature:12.8 °F
Min Temperature:6.8 °F
Max Temperature:46.4 °F
The temperature remained around 7 degrees for the ride back to the truck.
Playing in the lights on the Two Rivers Park Bridge. Crowds were not a problem.
Traffic was building on I-430 as the day brightened.
There was really no purpose in this ride other than to be able to say we did it and to expand the range of conditions in which we have ridden. For me, the 6.8 degrees stands at one end of the scale and a 114 degree day anchors the other.
Our dress was not all that extreme compared to usual winter ride gear. I wore tights over knickers, knee socks, a light fleece in addition to the usual cold weather base layers under my jacket, ski gloves, and a more robust hat with ear flaps. Feet are always the weak link. I have some wool socks with cut-outs for cleats that I put over my shoes and under my shoe covers, but after an hour or so, the cold had crept in through the cleat area. That is easily solved with some $2.00 chemical toe warmers, but I'll save those for a longer exposure.
Commuters in Minneapolis would probably laugh at us, but we're southern boys! Neighbor boy is already talking about a ride at zero. The odds are against that happening, so I'm in!

Big Turnout For BACA, Southwest Trail

US Pizza in Hillcrest was packed with 90-100 cycling advocates, cyclists, and representatives of local governments attending last night's BACA meeting. Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines and BACA's Mason Ellis presented details of the proposed Southwest Trail to Hot Springs from Little Rock along with other topics of interest to this community. You can follow the link above to an earlier post for details of the  ambitious SW Trail project. The meeting was attended by  Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs, who enthusiastically endorsed the plan, as have officials from Hot Springs, Benton, Bauxite, and other entities along the route. The trail will likely see development of stretches within these communities first, and as that happens, momentum will build to connect them.
The trail is expected to be a 5 to 10 year effort, though much of the mileage follows an abandoned rail line, making for relatively easy construction. Challenges include right-of-way property title and acquisition issues, several expensive water crossings, and political resistance from some corners.

To that point, Judge Villines reminded all that this is an election year and that politicians listen to their constituents. As we are approached by candidates, it is important to express support for projects like the Southwest Trail. They are certain to hear from the "anti" crowd who are resistant to transportation that does not include cars or to anything that requires government support. I've found that even a few voices can influence the direction of government at the local level, so let one of those voices be yours!
Keep in mind that the conversation should not be just about bikes. Broaden the discusion to include walking, public health, tourism, and economic development, as all of those things are proven to benefit from the presence of trails.

(If you want a few talking points, take 15 minutes to hear Oklahoma City's Mayor tell what resources like trails, sidewalks, friendly streets and improved public health can do for a city. It is an interesting development within a very conservative state.
Keep in mind that Oklahoma is even more "red" politically than Arkansas.)

Judge Buddy Villines explained the Southwest Trail proposal and pitched his project to place a sculture representing families in Two Rivers Park. I'll post some details of that project when I have them.
Judge Villines is rightfully proud of his accomplishments, particularly the Two Rivers Park Bridge and projects within the park. Residents and visitors to the area have expressed their approval with their feet and their wheels, as over 900,000 people have crossed the bridge since last April.

BACA president Judy Lansky opened the meeting and kept things moving along nicely. BACA has been a consistant voice in Central Arkansas for decades and the results of BACA efforts are clear. We have become a bike town! If you are not a member of BACA, click the link and join to add your voice to the conversation.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

BACA Meeting-Tuesday, January 7

It's way too cold for most folks to be playing outside in the dark, so come on out to U.S. Pizza in Hillcrest tonight at 6:30. If you have not seen the details of the proposed Southwest Trail bike route from Little Rock to Hot Springs, you need to check it out and join in the excitement. Oh, yeah, they also have pizza and beer.

BACA General Meeting

Villines will speak about the new Southwest Trail and BACA VP Mason Ellis will
have a slide show prepared. Come learn about this exciting new trail

Tue Jan 7, 2014 6:30pm – 8:30pm Central Time
U.S. Pizza in Hillcrest (2710 Kavanaugh Blvd.) (map)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Local Rides: BDB To Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor Center

Most of us settle into a bit of a routine when it comes to local road rides, choosing a "route o' the day" based on the time available, training needs, degree of ambition, or group dynamics. The more experienced riders among us have likely explored many of the established rides surrounding the City and have a menu of courses from which to choose, while many folks stick mostly to the River Trail rather than take to the open road. If that describes you, check out this little ride to expand your horizons. 
Here is a ride that combines some River Trail miles with some open road within the Arkansas River Trail System. The distance makes it just right for an after-work summer ride, being an 18 mile loop from the parking lot on the Little Rock side of the Big Dam Bridge and 25 miles from the parking lot near Victory Lake in North Little Rock's Burns Park. From my house in Park Hill, it is a 40 mile loop, making for a nice mid-distance winter ride. There is enough climbing to remind off-season legs of their job, but not so much as to seriously intimidate novice riders.
The Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor Center is located off of Pinnacle Valley Road, just over 5 miles from the Two Rivers Park gate on County Farm Road, or about 9 miles from the Big Dam Bridge.

Cycling supermodels David Williams and Diane Barton leaving the park for the open road.
Beyond the park gate, County Farm Road has bike lanes to its junction with Pinnacle Valley Road. It is 1.5 miles from the park gate to the right turn on to Pinnacle Valley. Though Pulaski County built "bike paths" along Pinnacle Valley Road to the 90 degree left turn near the entry to Maumelle Park, the quotation marks above are employed for a reason. The paths are seldom used by road riders, as they are narrow and often interrupted by driveways and sharp jinks around trees and other obstacles.
The entrance to the state park is marked by a sign and a half-mile climb.
The hill east of the VC entrance is the sketchiest point of the ride as far as traffic is concerned. There is no shoulder and very limited sight distance, so both drivers and riders need to exercise caution here. When traffic is present, it is imperative that cyclists ride single-file, especially when approaching the crest of the hill.
After cresting the hill, the fast descent takes riders to the well-marked turn to the visitor center. This entire area is popular with road riders, so expect to see other cyclists.
After turning into the visitor center entrance, riders face a 3/4 mile climb to facility.
Halfway up the climb to the center, riders can choose to add a little spice by descending 1/2 mile to the launch ramp on Big Maumelle River. What goes down, must come up!
The Visitor Center offers a shop, exhibits, spectacular views, restrooms, information, and refreshments.
The ice cream case is looking sadly empty in late December, but is a big attraction for me on hot days. Well, OK, it doesn't have to be hot. A buddy and I split the last Fat Boy ice cream sandwich on a ride last weekend.
The summit of park namesake Pinnacle Mountain as seen from the Visitor Center.
 I had passed by the VC entrance many times before I ever ventured up to check it out but it has since become a regular desitination for short rides.
From the BDB, go west over the Two Rivers Park Bridge and through the park.
Turn right on Pinnacle Valley Road and follow it until you see the signs marking the right turn to the visitors center. From the BDB to the VC and back is 18 miles and includes about 800 feet of climbing with some fun descents as a reward for your efforts.
There has been friction between riders and local drivers in the area, so please be alert to traffic and ride single file as appropriate.