Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Time To Catch Up- Winter Projects

Only a few more weeks until the winter solstice. Yep, the days will start getting longer before we know it. Until then, we'll have to get on the bike at every opportunity and fill the long, dark hours as best we can.
For me, that usually means taking on some long-delayed projects. Some of those projects have a higher fun factor than others. Scraping out cracked grout from around our kitchen counters and replacing it with the proper caulk was a task that I had successfully delayed for more than a decade, but a recent rainy Sunday drove me to action. Other endeavors have included cleaning the chimney at our river house, having procrastinated since spring in calling a chimney sweep. The result was that I couldn't get a chimney service for weeks and, since we planned to spend Thanksgiving parked in front of the  fireplace,  I bought the tools and headed up a very tall borrowed extension ladder.

Preparing the tools for the job. The mighty 8" wire brush.
I know that "Chimney sweep" sounds like a glamour job, but I'm not so sure.
A more interesting project: The  1983 Trek 560
In 1983, my girlfriend decided that we needed road bikes, so I dutifully went to the bike shop of her choice and plunked down what seemed like a whole lot of money for the Trek 560 road bike. We were boaters and many of my paddling friends were actually athletes who excelled at such things as running and riding, while most of my non-whitewater pastimes were less ambitious and usually took place somewhere near beer.
In 1983, 419.00 bought Trek's next-to-the-top-of-line road bike, though I'm sure it was available with a Campy group upgrade.
This sleek beauty was built with double-butted Reynolds 501 tubing, and featured an Atom Helicomatic Freewheel. This was the first system that used a cassette cog system. Unfortunately, my research indicated that it was poorly engineered and executed, though the idea lived on.
I never really made it as a rider in the '80s. Riding back and forth on Rebsamen Park Road or circling Burns Park seemed to be my routes, and the occasional foray up Overlook was usually met with a hasty retreat. I was built for boating and aerobic exercise was not in my repertoire. In my defense, I will ask that you check out the gearing that was standard on this race machine. The 52-42 chainrings were matched with a 6-speed 13-24 cog set and a 170 MM crankset. Compare that to today's 50-34 compact rings and 11-speed cassettes that offer cogs up to 34 teeth, with 12-28 being common.
The frame was hand built in the USA, and the rest of the components were made in either France or in Japan. The group was SunTour Blueline, and Shimano was just starting to grow into favor. Campagnolo was the gear of choice among aficionados and my bike shorts had a real chamois leather chamois.
I've kept this bike for over 30 years. Every few years, I would air the tires and make another run at riding or I'd plant it on the trainer and spin for a couple of miserable sessions before returning the bike to a closet. That changed 10-years ago when I read an article about Orbea USA locating in North Little Rock that made note of its proximity to the River Trail. I decided to take the Trek out for a ride. I rode 10-miles that hot August day, never venturing more than a couple of miles from my truck, lest I needed to beat a hasty retreat. I went back the next day, and the next, and the next....
I ran into a neighbor, Darwin, who helped (and still helps) me learn a lot about the bike and about riding.
After a month or so, I decided that I needed a modern bike, so I headed to Bikeseller (aka:Competitive Cyclist) and bought a shiny new Cannondale. The Trek was once again relegated to storage, though it did see a short life as a single-speed. After spending years hanging on the JBar Bunker as a stripped down frame, a winter project brought it back to life.

The maiden ride of the "new" Trek 560.
I had most of a Shimano Ultegra 9-speed groupset in a box, having stored it when I converted the Cannondale to 10-speed. I picked up a pair of brakes and a Brooks professional saddle at the Biketoberfest swap meet, ordered a clamp-on cable stop to allow the STI shifters to be used in place of downtube shifters, and went to work. Vintage bike lovers may consider this a travesty, but I wanted to ride the bike in comfort and safety, while retaining some of the old school steel frame groove.
Ride report
I still have some minor fit issues to work out, but I can best describe the ride as silky smooth. The steel frame and fork soak up vibration and minor bumps, and the 9-speed Ultegra 5500 group shifts as flawlessly as ever. I really like this group. It has a very sure, smooth feel that can be described as "substantial". One component that I did not replace was the front derailleur. After shopping around for something to fit the 1 1/8" seat tube, I decided to just try to original SunTour. I had concerns about whether it would match the throw of the modern shifter or handle the 14-tooth drop of the 53-39 crankset, but after adjusting the limits, it works perfectly.
On the Brooks saddle
 I had heard horror stories about breaking in Brooks saddles.  I actually picked it up for my buddy Darwin, who swears by them, but I decided to give it a try myself so that I could make fun of them with more authority. I expected to suffer a bit and then hand it over to Darwin, but I found that it was pretty comfortable on the first ride. I had to be convinced of the requisite "nose up" positioning, but fear that I may become a convert.
The legendary comfort comes at a huge weight penalty. On modern high end bikes and components, you can count on spending about $10.00 for every gram of weight loss. At that rate, the Brooks diminishes the "weight value" of the bike by about $2000.00. As it sits now, the Trek weighs in at about 23lbs.

Other project bikes

Last year, I converted my 1986 Marin Pine Mountain all-steel mountain bike for use as a town bike.

The Mrin Pine Mountian dressed up for town.
I traded some lumber to my brother for this bike back in the late 80's. I decided that mountain biking was really hard and mostly used it to commute to my barn at Heber or to cruise with my young nephew. It was well-used but in pretty good shape. I started by replacing the knobbies with slicks, and replacing brake pads along with all of the cables and housings. A trip to Angry Dave's to get the wheels serviced and trued made the bike road ready. I installed a Topeak rear rack and bag system to add function. This generation of mountain bikes has a near road bike geometry, with wider forks and stays to accomodate fat tires, so the handling is very predictable and crisp on the road. The 3x6 gearing will get you up hills easily enough and the upright position is right for cruising. Panniers fold out of the trunk and will hold my yoga mat along with most anything else you might need to haul.
I made a similar conversion of my brother's old Klein, which is now doing duty in Fayetteville as our niece's commuter. 
I know that not everybody who rides wants to work on bikes, but I also know that a lot of riders have old bikes hanging in their garage that could be given new life with a little "repurposing". The classic steel frames may not rival the sex appeal of a sleek Euro-carbon race machine, but they can still add a lot of funk to a fuctional ride.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Gear Up, Get Out.

I have a history of writing seasonal articles here at JBarCycling, usually noting each change of the season, often accompanied by my clearly succinct observations or vital bits of information and unsolicited advice. After all,  I don't want to have my readers stumbling blindly through life on the bike without the benefit of my self-acclaimed wisdom. Well, folks, I have fallen down on the job and for that I am sorry. I hope you've all been able to get by on your own, as I have allowed us to slip through the soft, warm days of the Arkansas fall and straight into the teeth of harsh, dark winter without so much as a whimper.
The cold weather is pushing me, so we'll just fast forward to full on winter mode.

We can usually get by with arm and knee warmers, base layers, and maybe a vest at this time of year.
With unusually cold November temperatures slamming our area, it has already been necessary to pull out.....everything!
Year 'round cycling is the norm for many of us here in Central Arkansas, and we can usually enjoy some fairly mild conditions even in the heart of winter. If recent weather is any indication, we may have to up our game, or at least up our gear, to get through this winter.
Here are some things every cyclist should have to ride through the winter:
Arm warmers
Knee warmers
Various base layers
Full-finger gloves in a couple of weights
Ear band, hats
Warm socks, wool
Toe covers, shoe covers
This stuff lasts for years, so don't scrimp.
I did without a jacket for several years by simply layering up with a vest, and multiple base layers and arm warmers, but a Windstop jacket with good ventilation features is a nice piece to own. I've also come to love my bib knickers. They are a little more robust than bib shorts with knee warmers and are comfortable in a range of temperatures from the 40's to the 60's. When worn with knee socks, they offer an even wider range of comfort, not to mention the opportunities for fashion statements limited only by your sock collection.
It's not really hard to keep your core warm, and an ear band or skull cap will usually suffice for the head. The hands and feet are the weak link for most of us.

Good socks, shoe covers, and a little chemical heat will keep your feet warm.
I've put chemical hand warmers in my shoe covers on top of my shoes to good effect, and the thinner toe warmers above stick to your socks under your toes. The label promises 6-hours, but I'll rate them at 2-2 1/2 of blessed toe comfort. On the coldest days, they're well worth the price of $1.99. I've got no special advice for your hands, other than to have good gloves.
The rites of winter-Ceremonial Taping of the Shoes.
Use electrical tape to seal the vent hole in the soles of your bike shoes.
This ritual takes place each fall. In looking back, the date has been remarkably consistent, having taken place on November 14th, 16th and 18th in recent years. We got a reprieve in 2012, when the taping took place on the winter solstice..
 If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.
 *If you are not familiar with the rules, then you need to stop now, read and learn.
After waiting for temperatures to rise above freezing on Saturday morning. I ran into John and Ian finishing up the CARVE ride out east. They reported a large group on a very cold morning.
My badass friend Robert reported a 9-degree ride in the early season snow near Steamboat Springs, CO.
It's way too early to give in!
We may be in for a long winter, so it's too early to hang up the bike!
Gear up and get out.

Judge Villines Appreciation Dinner

Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines has been instrumental in bringing several key cycling infrastructure projects to Central Arkansas, most notably the Big Dam Bridge and the Two Rivers Park Bridge. You help honor Judge Villines and support Bike Advocacy of Central Arkansas by attending or sponsoring "There Goes The Judge,
An Appreciation Dinner For Judge Buddy Villines".
From BACA President Mason Ellis:
This is a reminder that the deadline to purchase tickets or be a sponsor for the Judge Villines Appreciation Dinner is almost here. The last day for you to sign up to be a sponsor is tomorrow (November 18) and the last day to purchase a ticket for the dinner is November 28th.

We hope you will join us to thank Judge Villines for all he has done in Central Arkansas. Our MC for the evening will be none other than Craig O’ Neal and the evening will be capped off with a performance by Little Joe and the BK’s.
As Judge Villines has often stated, “Together we can make a difference.”  Help us honor Judge Villines and carry on his legacy.  Purchase dinner tickets here or consider a donation if you cannot attend. See sponsorship opportunities and the associated benefits on the Sponsorship page
We hope to see you there!
President, Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Construction Ahead- Avoid If Possible: Cantrell Road Pump Station Pipeline Project

I usually try to vary my topics a bit, but this is timely.
I was invited to sit in on a meeting at the Little Rock Department of Public Works regarding the pipeline project that is getting underway near the Episcopal Collegiate School on Cantrell.

Representatives of Little Rock Wastewater, the City of LR, Arkansas River Trail Task Force, RJN Group (engineers), and S&J Contracting gathered to discuss how to best accommodate cyclists and pedestrians while the large sewer main that runs along the trail route is being replaced.

I've discussed this in some detail in previous articles, so I won't bore you with more specifics.
Here are the basics:
-S&J got "notice to proceed" on on Monday, November 10, on the project to replace a pipeline that roughly follows the "temporary" ART route from the pump station at the foot of the Cantrell viaduct east to the UP RR tracks and beyond.
-The project will require major excavations and boring to go under the ECS driveways and the UP tracks.
-Substantial completion is expected to take 170 days-until April 29, 2015, with the section around ECS being done, hopefully, by around the first of the year.

Initially, riders and pedestrians will continue to use the present route along the sidewalk in front of ECS, but there will be large bore pits next to the sidewalk from which dump trucks in the adjacent turn lane will be loaded across the walk.

The next phase will have riders and pedestrians crossing Cantrell and using the sidewalk on the north side. Some minor improvements will be made to that sidewalk to help in getting past utility poles and curbs between the traffic light at ECS and the connection to North Street heading east. (Clarification for those folks not familiar with the area, there are short sections of North Street on both sides of LaHarpe. )
Riders will then need to cross Cantrell again at State or Chester Streets to rejoin the bike route on Markham.

The area will be a big damn mess and will be best avoided for the foreseeable future, BUT it will remain open to cyclists. My suggestion is that you avoid it unless your transportation needs force you to use the route.
The contractors and the City are all trying to work with the cycling community to assure that the trail stays open and to help move pedestrians and cyclists through the area as safely as possible. Be patient and remember that the workers on site are not the bad guys. They're just doing their job.

Update: I just received a note from the contractor that they have placed some informational and warning signs at the request of the City.

Everyone is doing their best here. The fact is that there just isn't much room along this stretch, so be patient and prudent.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Developments: Updates on Cantrell/LaHarpe and Public Meetings

On Cantrell Road Close-The-Loop Efforts

I reported here back in August on sewer line work to be done in conjunction with the rebuilding of the force main station near the Episcopal Collegiate School on Cantrell. I've learned a little more about the project, and it will be more extensive than was my original impression. My current understanding is that the new sewer lines will run from the pump station, go under the ECS driveway to the east, then under the UP tracks and across LaHarpe to rejoin North Street near Chester. I don't have much more detail than that, so I'm unsure of the degree of above-grade disruption. It promises to be significant.
Plans call for the ART to be detoured from the light at ECS across to the north side of Cantrell.
Where do we go from here?
The sidewalk there is to be widened to accommodate the detour. As noted in my earlier article, the temporary detour will be even more convoluted than the current seemingly permanent detour in front of ECS. That said, the options are few in this densely developed area and locals will manage. My sympathy goes to any visitors attempting to navigate the River Trail loop during this project.
My understanding is that work is to begin on November 10.

East and West Terminus Projects
As you may recall, projects are planned to build new approaches east and west of the Dillard's property to eventually tie into the proposed River Bluffs trail section. The Gill St. project to the west should begin in 2015 and be completed in 2016.
The project to cross the UP tracks to the east has run into a big snag as concerns about the geology of the bluff and the effect of required hillside cuts have come to light. As always, it is a matter of money.
The completion of the River Trail in this area continues to be a huge challenge, as evidenced by the fact that my article on the River Bluffs proposal was dated November 2011 and, though there has been some incremental progress, there is nothing on the ground in the form of concrete and steel. Go to the linked River Bluffs article above and watch the 5-minute video if you need to recharge your enthusiasm for what could be a spectacular addition to our community.

The challenges are aplenty...
Money is always the key, and the "red wave" of the recent election does not bode well for the funding of alternative transportation projects. Republican lawmakers are typically more beholden to oil and gas interests than to anything that could help reduce dependence on those fuels, and many of the current generation of anti-government far-right legislators see little role for government in improving lives through things like parks and trails. That said, the election of Barry Hyde, a Democrat and a cyclist, as county judge, and folks like Staci Medlock , an avowed supporter of the trails system, to the Quorum Court gives us some hope locally. The simple fact that they have experienced the River Trail and have seen the benefits, both to the local economy and to our health and well-being, should be helpful in driving decisions to continue the progress that we have seen under Judge Buddy Villines.

Public Meetings
Decisions on public policy are sometimes made as we might suspect-- over cocktails at the country club where someone with special interests bends the ear of an official of some sort, while picking up the tab and handing over a campaign contribution. Yes, that happens, but policy is often decided by those who show up.

Here are some chances for you to throw your political weight around:

Bike-Friendly Community Committee Meeting Wednesday, November 12, 2014 11:30am-1pm Little Rock River Market, 400 President Clinton, Little Rock, AR (3rd Floor above Boulevard Bread).
Drop on by and be part of the process.

Louisiana Pavement Marking Public Meeting 12pm-1pm, Thursday, November 13th, 2014 Downtown Partnership, Lafayette Building, 523 Louisiana St. 
 note:This meeting is to address complaints about the recent restriping of Louisiana St. to include a separated bike lane. The lane lies between the parallel parking and the sidewalk. This system helps protect cyclists from traffic and reduces "dooring", but has caused confusion and wailing from some corners. There also has been comentary,notably from the Dem-Gaz's crusty traffic columnist, that the lane is infrequently used. I believe that we need to build for what we want our city to become if we want to make it a better place to live. This is a small example of forward-thinkng.

Daisy Bates and Chester Resurfacing Project Public Meetings Thursday, November 13th, 2014 5:30pm Dunbar Community Center
1001 W. 16th street