Monday, December 29, 2014

Along The Trail: Pot Luck

A lot of folks are taking some time off over the Christmas and New Year holidays and, for many of us, time off of work means some time for the bike. Daylight is a precious commodity this time of year, and not to be wasted, even if sunshine has been hard to come by.
Staying in town for a day off during the week has a different feel than a weekend or an out-of-town vacation. Your spouse may have to get up and go to work or customers may call, but you've got the freedom to have another cup of coffee and finish the newspaper. It always reminds me a little bit of a day skipping school.

On those days off, I seldom ride with an agenda, but I always get great pleasure from dropping in for lunch somewhere. I don't leave my bike on the street out of my sight, so security is a consideration for me. Many places don't mind a bit if you simply bring your bike in and lean it in some out-of-the way place, while others have a place in sight where you can lock up.

Cafe@Heifer Village   is a great choice. I'm a bit of a regular at Heifer. They have daily specials, good salads and soup, and a burger that is among the best in town. There is a bike rack near the back door and it is visible from both inside and from the outside dining area. It is also isolated from the street and pedestrian traffic, making a lock largely unnecessary.
Wheel around to the back door of the Heifer Cafe.

It's easy to keep an eye on your bike while enjoying some really good food.
Diamond Bear on North Broadway, NLR, is easily accessible from the River Trail, has some good pub fare, local brew, and bikes racks near the door. I really like the atmosphere at Diamond Bear- friendly staff, good service, big screen TVs for sports, and just a good vibe.

If you're a hop-head, try the Willie's IPA.
It would be a travesty for me to say that beer and bikes don't mix, so I'll say impairment and bikes don't mix. I don't want to encourage irresponsible behavior.
Of course, there are many other places to choose from, such as the Capital Hotel, which offers the only bike valet service that I know of, Muggs and Cregeen's on Main in NLR,  Boulevard Bread in the River Market and on South Main just to name a few I've tried.

A small cafe lock easily fits into a jersey or vest pocket and offers sufficient security for low-risk parking spots. It won't stop a determined thief, but will prevent your bike from becoming a target of opportunity.
Cold, grey days and rain have been discouraging many of us from racking up the year-end miles, but on the cold days, the hardest part is just making yourself get out the door.

If you enjoy open spaces and uncrowded conditions, pick a cloudy day in the 30's.

The Mello Velos were out in force. I suggest that friends don't let friends ride in shorts when it is 34 degrees.
On days like last Sunday, I recognize almost every rider I see out on the River Trail. Most of us are just out there alone knocking out some miles, and you will see a few twos and threes sharing tales of lost fitness and over eating. I was only a little surprised to see the Mello Velos gathering at the submarine as I neared the end of my ride.
The MVs have a good thing going on in terms of supporting riders of all levels, being involved in local events, and having fun off the bike with some nice social activities. The group is a little different from many in that they have a fairly formal structure and the rides are 'members only' for purposes of insurance. They allow for a 'test ride' and then request that you pay dues and join if you want stay Mello.
Retro: It's OK, you can call me a Girl.
Back in the days of the legendary Fast Girls/Slow Guys rides, there was a conscious decision made that there would be no members, no charter, no rules, and no officers. It was "Fast, Fun and Friendly" and, damn, did we have some fun! The group was originally a few friends who started riding every spring in preparation for the Hotter'n'Hell 100. When I ran across them, there were usually 10-12 cyclists on a ride, but things soon blew up. The BDB was under construction and a lot of folks were discovering riding on the River Trail.
In 2006, the Fast Girls were a force.
 We weren't about racing, though many of the group went on to compete. We were mostly hard riding intermediates who simply loved riding our bikes together. Nobody wanted to be a Slow Guy, so we were all Fast Girls.
The Tuesday and Thursday night rides grew to 50 or more riders and it was a hard bunch to control, but I don't think I ever saw a serious crash in or caused by the group. We respected one another and other trail users, though some folks chose to flee in fear of the sheer weight of numbers. Trail use has grown and evolved since those days, but much of what we learned became protocol for later group rides on the trail.
Mixed Message: Loose Gravel- Haul Ass

The sign says you need to go faster.
There was some much needed resurfacing of parts of the Two Rivers Park trails recently, but I couldn't help but be amused by these signs.
Folks, the days are getting longer, and if the sun ever comes out again, you will be able to tell. I'll be seeing you along the trail.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Out On The Road- Situational Awareness

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Situation awareness is the perception of environmental elements with respect to time and/or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status after some variable has changed, such as time, or some other variable, such as a predetermined event. It is also a field of study concerned with perception of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic areas from aviation, air traffic control, ship navigation, power plant operations, military command and control, and emergency services such as fire fighting and policing; to more ordinary but nevertheless complex tasks such as driving an automobile or riding a bicycle.

OK, the definition above is accurate, though it took a while. Here's a shorter version:
"knowing what is going on so you can figure out what to do" (Adam, 1983)

or, even shorter:
"paying attention" (JBar 2014)

Situational awareness is vital when riding a bike, especially on the road. A rider needs to be aware of the position of other riders, automobile traffic, intersections of side roads, dogs coming off a porch, pot holes, the condition of his bike, and often even wind strength and direction or the position of the sun, among many other things.

Of course, I'm leading up to something; in this event, a moment of danger and fear brought on by an aggressive driver and a lack of situational awareness by another rider.
I was riding west on Pinnacle Valley Road on a slight uphill stretch before the hill near the Pinnacle Visitor Center. Up ahead, I noticed a couple of riders, one 50 yards or so in front of the other, descending the hill as an SUV decided to pass them. The lead rider was in the center of the lane, sitting up, coasting and drifting a bit, seemingly oblivious to the passing car, a Toyota FJ Cruiser. As a result the driver kept moving further in to my lane until he blew by me a what I'd guess to be 60-65 MPH and about 3 feet away. I was at the white line, ready to rake to the ditch. At that moment, I suspended the JBar E.R.P. (Expletive Reduction Program). 3-feet may be legally considered safe passing distance, but stand on the edge of the freeway and see how safe you feel as cars pass at highway speed. Ok, don't do that. It's very dangerous.

There is obviously not enough room for cars to pass among cyclists traveling in both directions on this road, but it happens every day on Pinnacle Valley Road. We can't make them drive better, but riders can help out by paying attention.

To the driver:
Was it really worth it to put us all at risk to pass those two riders in the face of oncoming traffic (that would be me!) in order to save a very few seconds? The speed limit is 35-MPH and the rider was likely going 25. And, in spite of the fact that you likely consider yourself to be a highly skilled driver of a finely tuned road machine, I consider you to be a dumbass in a truck. Please give me a little more room. I don't trust you.

To the cyclist:
You apparently don't ride on the road much. Especially this road, which is often crowded with bikes and cranky local drivers who don't like or respect cyclists. When some a-hole roars up behind you on a narrow road with no shoulder, it is considered expedient to move as far to the right as is practicable. It is also expedient to have looked far enough ahead to realize that an oncoming cyclist is approaching as the dumbass in the truck is passing you, and that you should do us all a favor by not taking the whole freakin' lane and holding your line.

Failing to exercise situational awareness on the bike can result in consequences ranging from an ill-advised pace line snot rocket to a catastrophic head-on with a speeding truck, none of which are good. Either of the above examples are likely to see you left out of the next group ride.

Exercise some situational awareness. Please.


Getting Over The Hump- Winter Solstice

Today marks the shortest day of the year. Though it is technically the first day of winter, I have a hard time seeing it that way. For the next six months, the days will get progressively longer and, though much of our coldest weather lies ahead of us, the ride opportunities will get better day by day.

Hang in there!

Even a hint of warmth can bring out the crowds this time of year.
...and sunshine brings out everybody!

We have plenty of winter ahead of us, but my attitude simply gets better after the solstice.

Druids and Pagans. Do you think they all ride single-speeds?

The druids and pagans may chant and dance at Stonehenge to mark the solstice, but here in Arkansas, I took a celebratory ride to the Pinnacle State Park Visitor Center. The sun was shining and there were Fat Boy ice cream sandwiches in the Center's freezer. Even on a chilly day, that can make a bike rider dream of the coming spring.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Southwest Trail Memorandum of Understanding Signed

A milestone was recently reached in the effort to develop the Southwest Trail, which would serve cyclists and hikers with 67-mile route between Little Rock and Hot Springs, connecting communities all along the way.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on December 8 formalizing the agreement between the counties and municipalities along the SW Trail route to cooperate in the development and maintenance the trail.

I reported on the press conference announcing the project  last October, and most of the details remain as announced at that time. Much of the route was intended to follow an abandoned Rock Island/UP rail right-of-way. Title to much of that property reverted to the original landowners upon abandonment by the railroad, so identifying current ownership and re-acquiring an easement has been a challenge. It is my understanding that the AHTD has agreed to provide an easement along the Highway 70 right-of-way in Garland County to allow for trail construction. This cooperation would make the trail development much easier than having to find and negotiate with land owners along the rail line, some of whom were willing and some of whom had no interest in allowing an easement for the trail.

Judge Villines and other leaders at the press conference last October.

An excerpt from the document:

This MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING (MOU) is hereby made and entered into by and between Garland County, The City of Hot Springs, The City of Lonsdale, Pulaski County, The City of Little Rock, Saline County, The City of Bauxite. The City of Benton, The City of Bryant, The City of Haskell, and The City of Shannon Hills (the Cities and Counties), Arkansas.
A.       PURPOSE:
The purpose of this MOU is to continue to develop and expand a framework of cooperation between the aforementioned Cities and Counties to develop mutually beneficial programs, projects and bicycling activities at the local and regional levels. These programs, projects and activities comprise part of the proposed Southwest Trail's multiple use missions and to serve the public.
These programs, projects and activity benefits include an active partnership within the three-county and eight city area to plan, construct and maintain the Southwest Trail as a multi-use trail, as well as to serve local publics through the patrol of such trails. The benefits for the cities and counties through this cooperative effort are provided through the strategic planning of trail development and public service to all trail users. The mutual benefit for all 11 jurisdictions is to provide a public service to maintain and patrol designated trails throughout the three-county region.

Tourism, Industrial Development, and Tax Dollars

There is a large and growing market for what I will call "participatory tourism". Whereas in the past many people traveled simply to see things that they had never seen before, we are so immersed in media that when we travel, many of us want to do something. We want destinations that allow us to pedal, paddle, climb, hike, ski, or run. Cycling is a huge part of that trend, as almost anybody can ride a bike. Bicycling tourism is among the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry, as evidenced in the fact that the River Trail brings people from all over the region just to ride. A trail to Hot Springs could expand the experience into an overnight or multi-day adventure that could include hotels, B&B stays, and camping along the way. Trail are also proven to increase property values in the areas that they serve. More tourism and increased property values mean more revenues.
Amenities like our trails systems also make it easier to recruit educated young people to the area. There is a reason that images of the Arkansas River Trail appear in almost every example of media representations of Central Arkansas.

Time and Money

The MOU is not a contract to construct the trail, but serves as a framework for cooperation. Judge Villines estimated last year that completion of the project would cost $20-25 million in public and private investment, and that it would likely take 5 to 10 years. Those figures were Villines' best guess at the time.
One thing that is certain is that a development of this magnitude has to start with a plan. Once a plan is in place, then the search begins for funding.
In the current political climate, many alternative transportation advocates are less than optimistic, but opportunities will arise and it pays to be ready. We need only to look at the Two Rivers Park Bridge to see what can happen when a plan is in place as funding becomes available.
Some of the community leaders involved in the Southwest Trail project are conservatives of the "limited government" persuasion, but they recognize a good thing for their communities. I hope that these folks have some of the same tenacity demonstrated over the years by former NLR Mayor Pat Hays and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines.
The Southwest Trail can be a very good thing for Arkansas. Let's build it.

Note: I will be participating in a short (5-Minute) interview on the topic of the SW Trail on KARN-FM 102.9 on Wednesday morning at 8:10.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Get Your Winter Ride On- Group Rides /MORE RIDE INFO ADDED!!

Rule Number 9 states:

"If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period."

Though winter in central Arkansas means increased opportunities to show your badass side, you don't really have to suffer too badly in order to get your ride on. Our weather is relatively mild in the big scheme of things, so we can ride year 'round by keeping an eye on the weather forecast and with a reasonable collection of gear.
Spontaneity is often the rule for getting in a quick hour on the bike, but there are several regular group rides that continue through the winter. Here are few rides that keep the wheels rolling:

Spokes Shop Saturday Morning Ride

From Spokes' Facebook page.
The ride leaves from Spokes downtown,119 Main Street,Little Rock. The mellow 8:45 start time gives you time to get a caffiene jolt from the selections at Spokes' excellent coffee bar before the roll out. The route varies and the group usually splits up to accomodate a variety of paces.
CARVE Saturday Morning Out East Ride
This long-standing winter standard is a seasonal diversion from CARVE's summertime leg-breaking race pace Lake Loop rides. The ride is on wheels promptly at 7:30 Saturday mornings from the submarine in North Little Rock, and follows a pancake flat 40-mile loop to the Scott area. Even in marginal weather, quite a few folks will show up for this ride.

Incoming CARVE president Scott Penrod making a couple of pre-ride announcements.

The roll out on a recent Saturday morning.
The winter CARVE ride is described as a base building ride and, as such, the pace is steady and controlled, usually clicking along at around 20MPH. The actual speed varies with the road and weather conditions, but the level of effort is pretty consistent. A little tailwind can easily push speeds to the 25 MPH range, but in that case, after the turn-around the headwind returns the average pace to "as advertised." The effort level allows for lively conversation.
This ride is a good place to sharpen your group riding skills. If you are coming out to lay down the law and hammer, try another ride with these guys in the summer. You may also get some unsolicited advice if it is warranted to help keep the group together and safe. Consider this to be a learning experience. You'll find that following protocol keeps this ride fun and relaxing.
Some or all of the group will stop for flats and mechanicals, so you won't be left out on the road. There is also a nature break at the halfway point that allows you time to discharge excess fluids or munch a Clif bar. This is a very supportive group and the pace isn't hard, but if it sounds like a big stretch for you, pick another ride. For knocking out 40 base-building miles along with some good company, this is one of my favorite winter rides.
George Rhode leads a ladies ride starting at 10:00 from the sub. Pretty much the same drill, but designed to help female riders become comfortable with riding in a group.
More CARVE rides.....

Thursday Night Slow Ride (Base Building)

Thursday nights, meet at base of BDB (Little Rock side) at 5:45. NON RACE pace, base building speed ride. Plan for 40ish miles of flats and some climbs. Road bikes (any welcome) and will be sticking to the trail and the adjoining low traffic roads in NLR (Funland, Fort Roots, rollers behind burns, etc.). Bring lights and leave the ego at home. This ride will clear out the trash from the Tuesday Urban Assault and compliment the longer Saturday morning winter rides out east.
This is an open ride. Although it's at night and lights are required. Please contact George Rhode for details.

Urban Assault Mtn. Bike Ride
OK, The Gunslinger out West ride is moving back in town! We meet at the Church on Woodlawn St. (Pulaski Heights United Methodist). Bring your Mtn., cross, or an old road bike and a light. Wheels will be rolling at 6:15 for an intense 27ish mile ride of pure adrenaline! Come on out! We eat afterwards.. Difficulty 4.8 out of 5.0...

I've never done this ride ('cause I'm scared!), but I've encountered them. I think it is wild and woolly, not for the slow or faint of heart. This ride has been taking place for many years in some form or the other.

The rides on the CARVE calendar are open to anyone who shows up, but you are assuming any risk involved. There are no SAG vehicles, sign-up sheets or waivers, and no "no drop" guarantee.

Don't let winter take you completely off the bike. Few of us are able to maintain our preferred mileage, weight, or fitness over the winter, but there are opportunities if you take them.
If you are aware of other open rides, feel free to post  in the comments section.

 Go ride your bike.

From the BACA Facebook page comments on this post:

Don't forget the ABC riders. We had 14 people out on Tuesday.
  • John Barton Cpreen, I obviously did forget the ABC rides. now, you're going to make me find and post the information. There's a link, and ABC has an active calendar. There are several weekday rides for the retired or those of independent means.

    Arkansas Bicycle Club|By Arkansas Bicycle Club

  • Cliff Li And we have an ongoing mtb ride every Wed!

  • John Barton You guys are being a bit coy. When, where, and what about it? Help a working brother out, here!

  • Cliff Li My mtb ride is every wed night, 6pm at the Pfiefer pavilion. Ride Pfiefer loop and burns park.

  • Sunday, December 7, 2014

    Bye, Bye Buddy-

    Outgoing Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines was feted on Tuesday at the Marriott Hotel in Little Rock in an event appropriately called, "There Goes The Judge". A benefit for Bike Advocacy of Central Arkansas, over 500 tickets were sold.

    Until I started riding and subsequently got involved in the politics of cycling advocacy, I had not really been very familiar with Judge Villines. I had voted for him because he was the incumbent and things seemed to rock along pretty smoothly in county government and from what I read and heard , he seemed to be a reasonable guy. When what was to become the Big Dam Bridge became a topic of conversation, I started paying a little more attention. Like many others, I had my doubts that such a project could ever be funded and built, but the tenacity of Villines, along with North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays and others, kept the vision intact. In the fall of 2006, I was among the first members of the public to ride across this now-iconic structure, having watched the construction progress on my regular rides on the River Trail.
    I got a hint of the visionary side of Buddy at the grand opening of Spokes bike shop in January of 2009. The judge spoke of the importance of the River Trail to our community today and, more importantly, to the future generations of our community.

    I said it as well then as I could say it today, so, from that article:
    He noted that Iroquois Indians had a philosophy of basing decisions on how they affect the next seven generations. That kind of vision is rare in today's world in which politicians are concerned only with the next election cycle and corporations rarely look beyond the next quarterly report.

     In our world of politicians who want a quick return, who, among other things,  dispute accepted science with industry-sponsored dogma, and who would readily sacrifice the quality of our air and water in favor of short-term cheap energy, a dose of Buddy Villines was refreshing.

    Two Rivers Park Bridge was a plan going nowhere as the nation was slammed into a recession. Funding for such a project seemed unlikely, but when stimulus money became available for infrastructure, Pulaski County had a shovel-ready project waiting to be built. The idea was progressive and the timing turned out to be impeccable. The result makes the plan for the bridge look absolutely visionary. Two Rivers Park has gone from being a lightly used 1000 acre dead end to becoming a wildly popular destination, in addition to being a vital link within the Arkansas River Trail System.

    I jokingly told a neighbor that I was on my way to meet 500 of my closest friends. That was pretty close to what happened, though I'll admit that I only knew 3 or 4-hundred of them.
    You can read more of Villines' bio below, but as a lifelong North Little Rock resident, I can honestly say that central Arkansas has become a more attractive place to live than I ever imagined it could become. While a new shopping mall to be a pinnacle of achievement to some civic leaders, Buddy Villines has been a driver of the type of progress that has changed many lives for the better while making our community more attractive to business and industry.

    Craig O'Neal hosted a roasting as Villines modeled a trolly car hat, which could not rival the red, white, and blue double basket handle Broadway Bridge headgear of the next speaker.
    I'm not usually entertained by tributes and roasts, but Villines' personal story is an interested outline of his generation's experience from 60's rock'n'roll and Vietnam to the present.  Add a couple of decades of the history of growth and change in Pulaski County in the company of friends and like-minded folks to complete a very nice evening.
    Thanks go out to presenting sponser Big Dam Bridge Foundation and all the other folks who contributed and participated in this event.
    And to Joudge Buddy Villines, thank you. You have made a difference that will last for those seven generations and more.