Car Less Ohio

Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State

A Towpath Century

It’s been a lower-than average mileage year for me; by mid-August of 2013 I had three century rides under my belt for the year, but I had not done one at all this year until today. A day off with fine fall weather (summer sun with mild early fall temperatures) beckoning took me to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail with my Salsa Fargo.

Other than a short ride to work one day, this was the first test of some new upgrades on the Fargo. I had purchased a pair of Velocity Blunt rims that I found a good deal on a couple of years ago. They are 36-hole rims, so I figured they’d make a good pair of heavy-duty touring wheels someday, and was I saving them until I settled on what hubs to use. A couple of friends of mine started using generator front hubs, so I jumped on the bandwagon to try out being self-sufficient with power while on the road. I went with the Cadillac model of hub, the Schmidt SON28, and likewise for a dynamo-powered headlight, the Busch & Mueller Luxos U. For the rear hub, I went with a Shimano Deore XT.

The Luxos U headlight has a handlebar-mounted switch with a built-in USB port. During the daytime (when you’re not using the headlight), you can plug in your smartphone or any USB-powered device to keep it running and charged. With my phone in my top tube bag and the USB cable running between the phone and the light switch, I was good to go.

Occasionally taking the phone out to snap some pictures of the scenery along the way didn’t post any additional challenges.

Trunk sewer line near the Towpath Trail just south of Portage Path in Akron.

Trunk sewer line near the Towpath Trail just south of Portage Path in Akron.

Floating bridge over Summit Lake south of downtown Akron

Floating bridge over Summit Lake south of downtown Akron

Towpath Trail bridge over Pancake Creek a mile north of the village of Clinton

Towpath Trail bridge over Pancake Creek a mile north of the village of Clinton

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A dike separating the Tuscarawas River from State Route 21 near downtown Massillon

I noticed there were a few more sections of pavement on the Towpath compared to the last time I had ridden down this far south. One part included a section just south of the Summit/Stark county line. I suspect this may have been done after the repair of some flood damage from storms that we received in Northeast Ohio in the spring of this year.

Downtown Massillon is currently the only unfinished section of the Towpath Trail in Stark County. The trail ends when you reach the Lincoln Way bridge. I usually just detour through downtown–it’s quicker and less complicated–to make my way over to the Walnut Road bridge, where the trail continues south. Instead, today I decided to follow the posted detour just out of curiosity. It takes you over the river on the Lincoln Way bridge, then along a convoluted series of back streets, glass-strewn alleys, and paved local park paths until you reach Walnut Road. However, I noticed this not-yet-open extension of the Towpath Trail extending under the Lincoln Way bridge:

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When I got to Walnut Road, looking north, I could not see where this new stretch connected to continue south. So, I’m not sure when this new trail will open, and if and when it will complete the continuous trail through Massillon.

UPDATE Nov. 30, 2014 – Apparently, there was a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for this new section of trail on November 12.

Since my goal was to do 100 miles today, I continued south of Massillon until my cyclocomputer hit the 50-mile mark, which happened to be this spot about a quarter-mile south of Wooster Street in Navarre, on another stretch of new pavement:

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I had a Clif Bar snack before turning around and heading back north. I stopped at the Cherry Street Creamery in Canal Fulton for some lunch (chili cheese dog and a soft pretzel).

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Beaver Marsh area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Beaver Marsh area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Usually, when you do an out-and-back ride to reach a specific distance, the margin of error makes you end up a little over or a little under your target mileage. Surprisingly, in this case, the moment I arrived right at my car back at my starting point in Peninsula, my cyclocomputer turned over just 1/100th of a mile over 100 miles.

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The generator hub coupled with the USB port on the headlight worked perfectly. After running the Endomondo app on my phone during the entire 8-hour ride, I ended up with a fully-charged phone.

My Excellent Singletrack Adventure

It’s been over five years since the first mountain bike trail opened in the Cleveland Metroparks, and the opponents’ predictions of world chaos have not come true. The first was a short 2.5-mile loop in the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation. Then, in June of 2012, a 10-mile double-loop Royalview Trail was created in the Mill Stream Run Reservation in Strongsville. Just this past June, the Bedford Singletrack opened up in the Bedford Reservation.

I’ve been enjoying the Bedford Singletrack since it opened, as it’s the closest mountain bike trail to where I live. It’s a short 15-to-20-minute drive, as opposed to the 45 minutes or more it takes to get to any other local trail. At about 6.5 miles from home, I had been thinking that it would be practical to ride my bike there, hit the singletrack, then ride home. This past Tuesday, I finally had the opportunity to do that.

I headed out Ravenna Road from Twinsburg, which turns into Broadway Avenue at the Summit/Cuyahoga County line and the Village of Oakwood. A paved bike path runs next to Broadway through most of the village, which makes makes this part of the ride a little more stress-free. Then, I proceeded up Broadway into the city of Bedford, and made a left onto Union Street, which intersects the paved All-Purpose Trail that runs through the Metroparks. Making a left on the APT leads you to the Egbert Picnic Shelter in the Bedford Reservation, which also serves as the main trailhead for the Bedford Singletrack. I arrived in just a little over 30 minutes.

I topped off my water bottle at the drinking fountain provided near the picnic shelter, and headed a bit further down the APT towards the singletrack. I stopped to let some air out of my tires to go from the higher pavement-level pressure down to the appropriate dirt-level pressure.

20140819-bedford-1-loThe Bedford Singletrack consists of about 10 sections of off-road trail, connected by brief sections of the All-Purpose Trail, for a total of about 10.5 miles. The singletrack is intended for mountain biking and hiking only, with mountain biking in the (roughly) clockwise direction, and hiking in the opposite direction. It also crosses the equestrian trail a few times, and runs concurrent with the equestrian trail for a short stretch.

The trail is marked with white arrows or blazes of white paint on trees. The Metroparks also provided signs to indicate the proper direction for bikers and hikers. Originally, the signs used the classic “red slash” (“NO!”) signs for bikers and hikers. So, if you were hiking and saw a sign indicating “No Hikers,” that meant that you were just hiking in the wrong direction. If you were mountain biking and saw a sign indicating “No Bikers,” that could have meant that you were on the correct trail but going in the wrong direction, but it also could have meant that you were on a bikes-prohibited trail (e.g. the equestrian trail).

This trip, I noticed that some of these signs were replaced with the symbol to indicate the preferred activity on the trail in the direction you are headed, instead of the red slash signs. Numerous psychological studies have shown that people respond better to positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement. I’m glad to see that the Cleveland Metroparks have finally realized this, and that they are taking this additional (although small) step away from being the organization of “NO” and towards being the organization of “Yes.” They still use the red slash signs to indicate that horses are not permitted on the singletrack trail, and to indicate that bikes are not permitted on most areas of the equestrian trail, which is understandable and I agree with.

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I rode the Bedford Singletrack for two complete loops, then headed back towards home. Before I left the Egbert Picnic Shelter, re-filled my water bottle again, and took advantage of the bike-fix-it station provided there to pump my tires back up to pavement pressure. I carry a mini-pump with me in case of a flat tire, but having the full-size pump here made this a lot easier. The fix-it station also has a variety of tools used for most common bike repairs and adjustments, including tire levers, screwdrivers, and hex wrenches.

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The Bedford Singletrack, like any trail, can be a bit of a challenge to find your way around at first, but once you ride it once or twice, you’ll get the hang of it. I put together this first-timer’s guide on my bike shop’s web site that provides a step-by-step overview of how to follow the trail in the proper direction to take in every section of the singletrack.

 

A Tale of Two Fargos

It’s been almost a year since my last post. I spent 2013 just trying to get in as much riding as possible between juggling work and home schedules, and did not devote time to this blog. If you follow Car Less Ohio on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve tried to keep up with news about living with less car in Ohio.

Last March, I put together a new Surly Cross-Check, and kept putting lots of miles on it. I rode two centuries in one week–the Sweet Corn Challenge in Richfield on July 28, and then the Bike MS Pedal to the Point from Brunswick to Sandusky on August 3.

The other bike project last year was converting the Salsa Fargo from its drop-bar rigid off-road touring bike configuration to a traditional hardtail mountain bike. Here’s what it looked like pre-transformation, from a ride last April:

The Chagrin River in Geauga County, Ohio

I wanted to convert it to a hardtail for no particular reason, other than just out of curiosity to see how it would work, I needed another bike project to keep me busy (and from buying another bike), and because I always wanted a nice 29er Ti hardtail.

I kept the Truvativ Stylo crankset and SRAM X-Gen front derailer. I had a pair of SRAM X.7 trigger shifters and an X.9 rear derailer in the parts bin.

The only major acquisition necessary was a fork. I opted for the X-Fusion Slide RL 29, mainly because it was cheap enough for what I knew would be a temporary project. I’m not picky when it comes to suspension setup, and the less dials and knobs to fiddle with, the better. It’s got a lockout knob and rebound adjustment, which is enough for me. The travel can be set to 80, 100, or 120mm; I set it to 80 to match what the Fargo frame is designed for.

Oh, and although it wasn’t necessary, I picked up a pair of Shimano Deore XT hydraulic brakes on impulse when I saw them on sale. I did the derailer cable housing in blue to further the blue bling look with most of the other components.

I kept my Thomson seatpost on it at first. but later swapped to the Salsa Shaft post. When I bought this frame three years ago, I was on the fence between a Medium and Large. After test-riding both, I settled on the Medium, because the Large, although it would have worked, gave me that feeling like I was riding on a scaffolding. I’ve been happy with my choice of the Medium, and I think that works best in drop-bar mode, but I found that in hardtail/flat-bar mode, the Large would probably be better. So, the Salsa Shaft seatpost compensated for this, as its greater setback stretched out the cockpit the way I needed it.

I switched my saddle to a WTB Silverado, which I had picked up on the cheap at FrostBike. I’ve got a plethora of WTB saddles; they’ve been my favorite for years. The models range from the Laser V, Speed V, ProGel, Rocket V, whatever. I couldnt’ tell you the difference between them all; they are pretty much the same to me.

Here it is heading off to one of our first rides, at Mohican State Park:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at Mohican State Park

That’s a Thomson stem and a Soma Odin handlebar. The bike rode pretty well, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the feel of the cockpit, so I swapped to the more upright Salsa stem that I originally had on the bike, which necessitated a 31.8 handlebar, which I happened to have around in a Salsa flat bar. That provided the sweet spot, which was confirmed during a ride at the local Royalview Trail in the Cleveland Metroparks:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at the Royalview Trail

And later at Quail Hollow State Park:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at Quail Hollow State Park

I took it for a spin around West Branch State Park at some point, too, but didn’t get a photo.

The tires initially were Schwalbe Racing Ralphs, which I had also used for off-road riding when the bike still had drop bars, including at the 2012 Iceman Cometh Challenge. I never really got completely taken by these tires. I like the tread pattern, but they always felt too hard. It became apparent right away that the minimum recommended pressure of 35psi was WAY too high, so I dropped them to about 27. That felt pretty good, but it seemed dangerously close to pinch-flat territory. I know, the solution to that is to go tubeless, but I have not made that technological leap yet. I switched to a pair of WTB Nano tires that I had also picked up at FrostBike, and these are the cat’s meow.

So, you’re wondering, how did this beast ride? To make a long story short, it’s a short-travel hardtail, so it rides like, well, a short-travel hardtail. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; I cut my mountain biking teeth on a short-travel hardtail. The suspension fork is just enough to take the edge off, but you’ve still got to ride with finesse and pick your lines carefully.

The WTB Silverado saddle worked pretty well for me. I thought it would take more getting used to, because it’s harder than my other WTB saddles, but it turns out that wasn’t a bad thing.

I felt like I was coming close to pedal strikes when going through rock gardens more often than I should have. My initial theory was that this was because of the Fargo’s lower bottom bracket compared to a regular mountain bike. I compared it to a no-name 29er that I’m using as my commuter bike, and the Fargo’s bottom bracket was actually about a centimeter higher, so there goes that theory. However, the other bike was measured with a rigid fork, so the measurement may be meaningless. Or, the pedal strikes could be because the Fargo’s longer wheelbase makes it more likely to “hit bottom” when rolling over obstacles. Or maybe it was all in my head.

Anyway, the bike was more than capable of handling whatever Royalview, Quail, and Mohican had to throw at it. The smoother sections of West Branch were manageable, but the rock gardens got a little dicey. I was going to ride it at the ’13 Iceman race, but at the last minute decided to go back to my trusty Mongoose Teocali Super dually.

Late in 2013, I began the process of migrating the Fargo back to its old drop-bar self. The bar, of course, is the Salsa Woodchipper. Back on went the Shimano Deore XT rear derailer, bar-end shifters, WTB Laser/Rocket/Speed V saddle, and rigid steel fork.

New for this iteration were Cane Creek brake levers. I’ve used these levers for years on my Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike. I like the shape; they are more like modern STI levers and provide a more flat transition from the top of the bar to the hoods. However, these are road levers, which meant I had to switch to road disc brakes. This involved a four-way swap between the Fargo, another of my bikes, and two of my girlfriend’s bikes (the details of which I won’t bore you with), but I now sport Avid BB7 road brakes on the Fargo, as opposed to its original Avid BB7 mountain brakes. The Serfas Drifter 9er tires went back on, along with a Thomson stem and seatpost. My original Thomson stem was a zero-offset model, but a few months back I traded it to a co-worker for the setback model that came on his new Salsa El Mariachi. He felt he needed to be a little less stretched out, and we’ll see how being a little more stretched out works for me.

The other change was that I gave up my Lizard Skins DSP bar tape (which has become my favorite bar tape the past few years) to try out the new ESI RCT silicone bar tape. ESI’s silicone grips have been a favorite among some mountain bikers I know (I have not tried them), and I was checking out their new bar tape at Interbike in September 2013, so I thought I’d give it a go. I kept with the blue theme on the bar tape, as well as the brake and derailer housing.

The new brake levers allowed me to experiment with the angle of my Woodchipper bars a little more. I was able to have them not turned quite so far upward as I did before, which makes reaching down for the bar-end shifters a lot easier. Before, the ends of the drops were parallel to my down tube; now, they are parallel to my top tube.

Here it is on the first ride of the 2014 season, out on a shortened version of the Sunny Lake Loop:

Salsa Fargo at Sunny Lake Park in Aurora, Ohio

(Yes, that’s a Salsa Minimalist rack on the front.)

It was good to be back on the Fargo in its any-road/any-trail setup. The BB7 road brakes stopped just as strong and sure as the BB7 mountain brakes. The brake levers, it turned out, were a little too high, as might be apparent in the photo. They were a bit hard to reach when I was riding in the drops. When I got home, I turned the bars down a bit. I think this might do the trick without having to re-wrap the bars to re-position the levers, but only another ride will tell for sure.

Legends of the Beer Ride

Whether you’re in an urban, suburban, or rural area, every group of cyclists has their own set of traditions for the “Beer Ride.” But for the uninitiated, I provide for you here a step-by-step guide to planning your own Beer Ride.

Step 1. Select a date. Under ideal circumstances, the Beer Ride is spontaneous, i.e. “Hey, let’s do a Beer Ride tomorrow night.” But, this is the real world, and folks need time to get permission from their significant others and/or employers, so a week or two advance notice works best.The beer ride is often a recurring event on or near a national holiday, as in the case of my group’s original Beer Ride, as well as this latest one, Cinco de Mayo.

Step 2. Publicize your Beer Ride on Facebook or some other accessible place on the Interwebz. “But,” you’re asking, “Won’t that mean there will be a bunch of whackos showing up for my ride?” Well, yes, but that’s the whole idea–making new friends and having a good time. Worst-case scenario, you’ll have a good idea of who to leave off the guest list for the next Beer Ride. Plus, when some wet blanket hassles you afterwards about not getting an invitation, you can tell them, “It was a public event. You didn’t need an invitation.”

You’ll have a core group of “founders” who started your Beer Ride tradition, and a handful of others who rotate in and out on an ongoing basis. For each ride, one of the founders will have a lame excuse for backing out at the last minute.

Step 3. Choose your bike. Any bike will do, although if you’re the type of person whose bike collection is up in the double digits, you’ll have a bike dedicated just for Beer Rides. A Surly makes a nice choice, as it did for over half the people on this ride.

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Step 4. Choose a starting location for pre-ride beers. A local bar, your local beer-friendly bike shop, or someone’s house makes a good choice. In our case, it was the house of the guy who backed out of this ride. If there’s anything better than raiding somebody else’s beer fridge, it’s raiding somebody else’s beer fridge when they’re not home. The pre-ride beers might get so out of hand as to force everyone to forego the actual ride.

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Step 5. Take photos to share the debauchery during the ride. The photos will get progressively more blurry as the night goes on, either because of the pre-ride beers, or the increasingly dark conditions in which cell-phone cameras don’t work so hot.

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Step 6. Choose a destination. You can vote as a group, either ahead of time or the night-of, or as a founder, exercise your authority to choose when you organize the event. A place with food and a good selection of beer is a good choice, such as Mr. Zub’s Deli in the Highland Square neighborhood in Akron.

An off-road route, like the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, is nice, but not necessary. A few on-road connections are unavoidable, including a hill or two like Merriman Road or Portage Path to separate the women from the girls.

Lock your bikes up, especially if you’re riding to a place like Akron. Not everyone will remember a lock, but as long as you have about one lock for every three bikes, you should be in good shape. Sitting by the front windows where you have a good view of the bikes helps as well.

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Step 7. Enjoy your meal, mid-ride beers, and the ride back. You may want to add more bars to the route–this is where group cohesion usually breaks down, as ride fatigue and beer fatigue catches up with some riders and not others.

Fellow bar-hoppers will notice your group on bikes and make some comment like, “Hey great idea; don’t have to worry about getting a DUI.” While technically, you CAN get a DUI while riding a bicycle, in our experience, The Law will leave you alone as long as you’re not acting like a jerk.

Inevitably, one rider will somehow get lost on the way back and end up at the corner of Steels Corners and Hudson Roads, nowhere near the actual return route.

The Fall, Rise, and Fall of RapidRise

Surly Cross-Check with Shimano Tiagra brake/shift leversWhen I put together my new Surly Cross-Check earlier this year, I used a Shimano Tiagra rear derailer and a SRAM 11-28 9-speed cassette, just because that’s what I happened to have around. It’s got compact double (50/34-tooth) chainrings, and Shimano Tiagra integrated brake/shifter levers.

During the first couple of rides, although the routes were rather hilly, I never felt like I didn’t have a low enough gear. However, it’s not always a matter of having a low enough gear, but being able to find the “right” gear. I always had plenty low enough gears on my road racing bike with a 12-27 cassette, and the combination of the standard double (53/39-tooth) chain rings seems to allow me to cruise along for long stretches in either the big ring or small ring as needed.

The benefits of a compact double are having almost as low of a gear range as with triple chainrings, with the lower weight and better reliability of a double. I find myself having to switch between the small and big chain rings more often with a compact double, though, and the 11-28 cassette seemed to make this issue even worse.

Looking through my spare parts, I had a SRAM 11-34 cassette, but no spare mountain rear derailer that could handle that large of a cassette. So, I turned to our store stock to see what I could buy that was a decent model at a reasonable price. In searching through 9-speed Shimano rear derailers, this oddity turned up: Deore LX RapidRise. The very definition of “new old stock.” Out of curiosity, I gave it a try.

Shimano originally debuted their RapidRise rear derailers in the early 90’s, mainly for use on entry-level hybrid bikes. On a RapidRise rear derailer, the spring action is reversed, so that the “natural” position of the derailer is on the largest, i.e. easiest, cog. This is also referred to as “low normal.” This is as opposed to a “traditional,” or “top normal” rear derailer, where the natural position is on the smallest, or hardest cog.

When you operate your right shifter with a traditional rear derailer, the shifter action that pulls the shifter cable pulls the derailer against the spring tension to a larger, easier cog. Clicking the shifter to release cable tension allows the spring tension to pull the derailer back to the smaller, harder cogs. This action is reversed with a RapidRise rear derailer.

The alleged benefits of this are twofold. First, if your derailer cable should happen to break, the derailer returns to the easiest gear, rather than leaving you stuck in the hardest gear. Second, for novice riders, it makes shifting easier and more intuitive, because on both your left and right hands, the same actions make pedaling harder or easier on both the front chain rings and rear cogs. When selling a bike to a new rider, I find that traditional rear derailers make this one of the most confusing concepts to try to explain . “Okay so you click with your right finger to make it harder to pedal, and push with your right thumb to make it easier to pedal. But on your left hand, it’s the other way around.”

So, back to the early ’90s, when RapidRise made its first appearance. I don’t know from experience, but I’m told that it never caught on because it was used mainly on entry-level bikes, and as such, the parts were entry-level quality, and just didn’t work all that well. Bike mechanics hated it, so they wouldn’t buy  it, and wouldn’t sell it.

Shimano Dual Control operation diagramLater, in the mid ’00s, RapidRise returned when Shimano developed Dual Control shifters for mountain bikes. Without going into too much detail about how it worked, Dual Control was kind of like the mountain bike version of Shimano’s integrated road bike brake/shifter (STI) levers. With the way Dual Control levers worked, it just kinda made sense to use a RapidRise rear derailer with them. For a couple of years, they made two versions of some of their derailers, a traditional (top-normal) version, and a RapidRise (low-normal) version. And these were nice derailers this time around–Deore, Deore LX, Deore XT, and XTR. Dual Control lever sets were available for hydraulic disc brakes and for cable-actuated brakes (linear-pull rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes).

Alas, Dual Control never really caught on. I don’t know if it’s because riders just didn’t care for the way it worked, or because bike mechanics still had bad memories of RapidRise, and didn’t want to sell it. So, with the death of Dual Control came the second death of RapidRise.

Back to 2013 and my Surly Cross-Check and Shimano Deore LX RapidRise rear derailer. The installation and setup was a snap; I just put the chain in the largest cog, attached the derailer cable to the derailer’s pinch bolt, then fine-tuned the cable tension as needed. I had to add a link to my chain to allow for the longer derailer cage of the Deore LX compared to the Tiagra rear derailer. Unless you shifted the bike, you wouldn’t know it was any different by looking at it.

Shimano Deore LX RapidRise Rear Derailer

Out on the road, it works like a champ. It didn’t take me very long to get used to the opposite shifting action on my right hand. Down-shifts while climbing are much easier, and I think this is where the average rider needs their down-shifts to be easier.

There are only two possible downsides to this setup that I can see. One is that you can’t down-shift multiple gears at a time with one sweep of the lever (although you can up-shift multiple gears this way). The second is that with up-shifting being just a tad less responsive, this could be a detriment in sudden chase or sprint situations. However, this not being a race bike, neither of these issues are of any concern to me.

If this all sounds like a great idea to you, then I’m sorry, but your local bike shop isn’t likely to have many RapidRise rear derailers sitting around, if any at all.

The next evolution in bicycle drive train technology is Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting systems for road bikes. The latest versions allow you to re-program the shift buttons to customize them however you like, so you could mimic the shifting functionality that I’ve described with my setup by swapping the up-shift and down-shift buttons. You can program the buttons to shift multiple gears in either direction. You can even swap the left- and right-hand shifting if you want. I suspect that this technology will move to the mountain bike world in the next couple of years.

Catching up on 2013

With this past winter being more harsh compared to the mild winter of ’12, and my diminished motivation for bundling up and riding in bad weather this year, I haven’t had much to report on since my last post after the Iceman race last November. So, here’s a quick re-cap of the riding (or lack thereof) that I’ve done this season.

On a snowy Dec. 30, I met up with my friends Dave and Pam for a snowy ride on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Dave rode his Carver Ti O’Beast snow bike, Pam rode his Surly Pugsley, and I rode my Raleigh XXIX singlespeed. We started at the Canal Visitor Center and rode south for about 45 minutes (probably just a handful of miles) and turned around.

Snow bike riding on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail

A couple of days later, for a New Year’s Day ride, I met Dave and Brent in Peninsula for another snowy Towpath ride. I rode Dave’s Pugsley and Brent rode his Salsa Mukluk. We rode up to Brecksville Station and back.

Under the State Route 82 bridge on the Towpath Trail near Brecksville

A couple of days later, I met Brent and Sean for a night ride at the Royalview Trail in the Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation near Strongsville. Didn’t get any photos; the trail had been ridden by others on fat bikes already, but it was still tough going on my XXIX, and hard to follow the trail even with our headlights. We ended up off-trail a few times, as well as on some of the hiking trails. We finished up by racing up and down the road on Royalview Lane. It was fun, but the exertion in the sub-freezing air took its toll on me, and I caught a nasty head cold that put me out of commission for over a week.

I got back into the swing of things on Jan. 12 with a few laps around my “neighborhood loop,” a 5-mile loop consisting of the Twinsburg Center Valley Park multi-purpose trail, the Old Hickory Trail, and a few of the streets that connect the two. The next day, I rode to and from work for my first and only time so far this year.

On Jan. 16, it was still pretty cold, but the roads dried off, so I took the Xtracycle out for a day of exploring to Peninsula and back, using the Metroparks, Serving Summit County Bike and Hike Trail.

Overlooking the Ohio Turnpike on the Bike and Hike Trail

More snowfall came later in January, and I got two days of cross-country skiing in. The first was at the Horseshoe Pond are in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The second was on Feb. 1 at Punderson State Park.

Cross-country skiing at Punderson State Park

On Feb. 2 I borrowed Dave’s Surly Pugsley again, and we met our new friend Jack (on his new 9:ZERO:7 fat bike) for a ride on the Bike and Hike Trail. We started at the Alexander Road trailhead and rode down to Brandywine Falls and back.

A stop at Brandywine Falls while snow biking on the Bike and Hike Trail

I met Dave again the next day for another snow bike ride (on his Pugsley) on the Towpath Trail, from Peninsula down to the Botzum Trailhead and back.

The Botzum Trailhead, on a snow bike ride on the Towpath Trail

I did a few laps on the Neighborhood Loop on Feb. 16. Finally, in early March, we had a brief period of spring-like weather. I had just finished putting together my new Surly Cross-Check, so on Mar. 10 I took it for a shakedown ride on the Twinsburg-Garrettsville Loop.

On Winchell Road between Hiram and Aurora, Ohio

More snow, rain, and cold followed. On Mar. 21, the first day of Spring, the temperatures still hovered around freezing, but I decided to grab the Salsa Fargo and head out to the singletrack at Mohican State Park. I just did the first eight miles out and back (with the shortcut at the 4-mile point on the way back). The upside was that the frozen trail made it nice and solid and ride-able. The exception was the final mile along the ridge above the campground, which gets the most sun of any part of the trail, so it was wet and sloppy.

Mountain biking at Mohican State Park

On April 3, I took the Xtracycle for another cruise to Peninsula, just as a warm-up for the race on April 6, the inaugural Amish Country Roubaix. This was a gravel road race, or “gravel grinder,” as these increasingly popular events have come to be known. I was way too out of shape to be competitive in such an event, with over 4,000 feet of climbing in 45 miles over the back roads of Holmes County. It turned out to be a nice day, though. I finished in about 3 hours and 40 minutes, it was a fun ride, and a well-run event that I’ll probably return for next year.

The Salsa Fargo in gravel grinder mode

The next morning, I felt surprisingly fresh during a ride of the Valley Loop with a group from Peninsula.  More rain came during the week, but I managed to get a somewhat wet ride in on April 11 with a short 24-mile loop on the Salsa Fargo through Aurora, Bainbridge, Chagrin Falls, and Solon. Here I am on Geauga Lake Road over the swelling banks of the Chagrin River:

The Chagrin River in Geauga County, Ohio

Spring weather finally broke last weekend, and I did a 31-mile Sunny Lake Loop on April 14, and then 40 miles yesterday with an extended loop taking in the Bike and Hike Trail, Peninsula, and Hudson (both on the Surly Cross-Check). The winds were pretty stiff yesterday, but with temperatures in the upper 70’s, it looks like Spring is finally here, with more great riding to come!

Sunny Lake Park in Aurora, Ohio

Iceman!

The fall cycling season is typically capped off with my traditional trip up to Northern Michigan for the Iceman Cometh Challenge mountain bike race. Brent and I headed out early Friday morning for what was to be a re-run of the first day of our Michigan trip back in August–drive to Fort Custer Recreation Area outside of Battle Creek to ride the buff singletrack there, head over the Kalamazoo for lunch at Bell’s Brewery, head up to Grand Rapids for a quick refreshment at Founder’s Brewing, then continue north to join the main festivities.

I decided to ride on my Salsa Fargo this year. I’ve given it a good workout on lots of singletrack the past two seasons, but this was its first race experience.

We woke up to some rain and wet snow in Traverse City on Saturday morning, but when we drove to the start in Kalkaska, it remained somewhat cold but sunny and dry. Brent took off in Wave 12 at 9:33am, and I followed soon after at 9:36am.

After a tough race here in 2010, I felt I had to redeem myself and turn in a good performance in 2011. This year, I didn’t feel I had anything to prove. I just wanted to have a good ride and a good time and race my own race. I felt I prepared well for the day’s conditions, with my SmartWool Cuff Beanie under my helmet, DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves under regular short-finder cycling gloves, SmartWool liner shirt, long-sleeve Century Cycles wool jersey, Ibex wool bib knickers, my new Surly Chainsaw tall wool socks, and Lake MX-100 cycling boots. I had on my Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket for the start, but I ended up pulling over about 5 miles into the race and stuffing it into my jersey pocket. I was completely comfortable for the rest of the race.

The Fargo performed well on the course. The rigid fork didn’t feel like it beat me up as much as my rigid setup did back in 2010, and being able to ride in the drops to power through the dirt and gravel road sections was a huge benefit. As I’ve mentioned before, the bike climbs like a billy goat; among the many  short, steep climbs on the course, I only had to dismount on one of them, and that was due to a flubbed shift.

About halfway through the race as we approached Traverse City, we got into the snow zone, which made some of the course a little more soft and squishy than usual, but the firm Michigan mud was nothing compared to the sloppy Ohio mud.

I did the usual leap-frogging against the same handful of recognizable riders throughout the race.

The course ended up as the longest ever, about 30.5 miles, so times were a little longer than usual. I ended up at 2 hours, 31 minutes, and 7 seconds, about a third of the way down from the leader within my age group, so I was satisfied with that.

On our way home on Sunday, we stopped to ride the Potowatomi Trail at Pinckney State Recreation Area, followed by post-ride dinner at the new Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in nearby Ann Arbor; about as perfect a combination of biking and beer that you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Panniers and bivvies and Crocs, oh my!

I’ve been helping my friend Keven select bike-camping gear lately, and so we planned a Sub 24-Hour Overnight to test it out. Keven rode down to meet me in Peninsula, and we left as soon as I got off work at 4:00pm. We headed up to Hudson and stopped at the Acme for supplies.

I brought my commuter bike this time around, because it was the bike most ready to go in touring mode (my Salsa Fargo currently has mountain bike tires on it). Keven rode his Cannondale flat-bar commuter bike, with his gear all on the rear rack.

I had a couple new pieces of gear of my own to test out.

First were my new panniers from Hyalite Equipment (formerly known as Pacific Outdoor Equipment). The rear panniers are sold as a set, and the front panniers are sold individually. The rear panniers are left- and right-specific, with cutouts for heel clearance. The front panniers are ambidextrous. The rear model has zippered side pockets. They all are waterproof, and use a roll-top closure, with side-lock buckles and straps to hold the roll-top in place. There’s a loop of velcro attached to the ends of each strap, so you can roll up the excess strap and hold it in place without it blowing in the wind and getting caught in your spokes. The R&K hardware is adjustable, so you can make it fit almost any rack. It all looks kind of complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to make all the necessary adjustments the first time you pack up for a trip, and everything just attaches, detaches, opens, and closes easily during your trip. There’s a double pocket on the inside of each pannier, which would probably be big enough for a pair of flip-flops, but not big enough for a standard pair of shoes (or Crocs).

My previous panniers were Axiom Monsoon (front) and Typhoon (rear) panniers. They also had roll-top closures, but with an added flap that dropped down over the roll-top. I found that the flap just got in the way more than anything else when I was trying to get stuff into and out of the panniers, so I don’t miss the flap on the Hyalite panniers.

The one thing the Axiom panniers had that the Hyalite ones don’t is a stiff bottom that allowed the bags to stand up on their own when not on the bike. This was handy when packing the bags at home. I find, however, that during a trip, I usually leave the panniers on the bike most of the time, anyway, so I don’t think I’ll miss this feature, either.

With all of the experimenting I’ve been doing this year with ultra-light, ultra-compact bike-packing gear, the space provided by a full set of four panniers was like being back in the land of luxury. There was a time when I could barely fit everything I needed for a bike trip inside four panniers, but now as I packed for this trip, I kept thinking, “What am I going to put in all of this space?”

In my left rear pannier, I had my sleeping bag, pad, and shelter, with room to spare. In my right rear pannier, I put a pair of Crocs, a pair of pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, underwear, and a spare pair of socks, hat, pack towel, a bottle of camp soap and sponge, and my toiletries kit; again, all with room to spare.

In my right front pannier, I put my stove, cooking pot, coffee press, bowl, mug, utensils, small pack towel, small scrubbing pad, and fire starter sticks and matches. After putting my food supply in here after the stop at Acme, I still had room to spare.

Finally, the left front pannier was left only for the obligatory 6-pack. While packing, at the last minute I decided to toss in the couple of zip-lock bags full of tools and spare parts. I didn’t think I’d need any of this for a one-night trip, but then figured that since I had the room, it would be foolish not to pack them in case I did end up needing them. This still left plenty of room for the 6-pack as well as room to spare.

The next new piece of gear is not really bike-related, but it’s my new choice of off-the-bike footwear. No matter how comfortable my bike shoes are, I always find that it feels good to have a non-cleated pair of shoes to wear around camp in the evening. I’ve always felt flip-flops were not quite substantial enough. I never thought I’d buy a pair of Crocs; I always thought they were the ugliest and dumbest-looking things around. In talking it out with my other bike-touring friends, though, we came to the conclusion that they’d make the perfect bike-touring shoes. Enough support to walk around for reasonable distances, toe protection, they can double as shower shoes in less-than-ideal facilities, and you can strap them on a rack outside your bags if needed and not have to worry about them getting wet. I decided that if I were going to dive into the world of Crocs-wearers, I may as well dive in feet first and do it right, so I got the garishly bright blue version, to match all of the blue components on my Salsa Fargo.

Finally, the last new piece of gear was the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy. I had been thinking about investing in some kind of ultra-light shelter in place of a full tent in order to get the bulk of my bike-packing gear down even further. The Highland weighs next to nothing, and packs down to next to nothing:

The head area is supported by a single shock-corded pole. It’s got two stake loops on each end, plus a tie-out loop at the top of the hooped head area. I didn’t use any of these, but the stake loops would come in handy if it’s really windy and you need to worry about the thing blowing away when you’re not in it.

The inside is plenty roomy enough for my rectangular inflatable sleeping pad. The head end has a mesh zip-up panel, and then the outer zip-around panel. Getting into the shelter is a bit more of a challenge than a regular tent, but it’s not that bad once you get used to it. It’s not big enough inside to change clothes, but the head area does provide enough space to read or write for a bit before you go to sleep.

I had read in an online review that it’s recommended to leave the outer zip open six to eight inches in order to allow enough air to get inside for you to breathe. I did this after working my way inside for the first time. As I laid there trying to get to sleep, I was panting heavily and out of breath. I figured at first that this was just from exerting myself to get in, so I gave it a few minutes. After about 10 minutes, I was still panting heavily, and I realized that I was suffocating myself. I opened up the outer zipper completely, and that made all the difference in the world; I was able to breathe easy immediately.

With the outer cover zipped almost all the way, the tension from the front and back is enough to keep the hoop upright. However, with the outer cover unzipped, the hoop drooped over. I’ll have to experiment some more; maybe unzipping the cover halfway would provide a balance of enough air with enough support for the hoop. Tying a guy-line to the loop on the top of the hoop would provide good support, but that might make getting into and out of the bivy that much more of a challenge.

There were a few brief showers throughout the evening, but I stayed completely dry. With the outer cover unzipped, I had to try to make sure the edges of the top still hung out over the bottom edge, so that any water falling down would roll onto the ground rather than inside the bivy. This seemed to work well enough during the light rain this evening, but for a full-on downpour, this may not work as well.

In conclusion, the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy provides a reliable and comfortable enough shelter for when I want an ultra-light and ultra-compact option for a one- or two-day trip. Whether or not I could stand having it be my only home for an extended six- or eight-week trip remains to be seen.

Keven and I slept in and took our time packing up our gear in the morning. After making some camp coffee and having some breakfast snacks, we left around 10:30am and rode into Kent for a full breakfast at the Wild Goats Cafe.

A not-quite-century on the Towpath Trail

I rode a century on my singlespeed Surly Cross-Check about a year ago, all on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. I wanted to do it again this year. I thought about it the past couple of weeks on my mid-week days off, but errands and other life stuff got in the way. This weekend, I found myself with a Sunday off and no other plans.

I got up early and headed out under darkness, driving down to the Botzum Trailhead, and got started pedaling just as the first signs of daylight made their way on the horizon. I stopped at the Valley Cafe to fuel up with some pancakes just two miles down the trail. I hopped right back on the bike after eating. I should have relaxed a bit and let my breakfast settle a little more. Perhaps too much “All Hailing the Ale” the night before didn’t help, as well. Either way, my stomach was doing somersaults the whole time.

I stopped to take a break on the floating bridge on Summit Lake, then another longer break just before Snyder Road in Barberton, hoping things would settle down. This was the first time I’d ridden the new section of trail between Snyder Road and Eastern Road, which was the final part of the Towpath Trail to be completed in Summit County earlier this year.

Anyway, my queasiness continued, and I started to debate whether or not I should pack it in earlier than planned. When my front tire went flat just south of Canal Fulton, that sealed the deal for me. I swapped in my spare tube, and was able to use my mini-pump to get it re-inflated enough to ride, although just barely so. I continued south towards Massillon, hoping that Ernie’s Bicycle Shop would be open for me to borrow a floor pump.

I started to see a handful of bright green Electra Townie bicycles coming towards me on the trail, which I assumed were Ernie’s rentals, so that was good news. I arrived at the shop a little before noon, and asked about borrowing a floor pump, which of course, they graciously agreed to. After topping off both of my tires, I hung out a bit, topped off my water bottle, and peeled off the base layer I was wearing under my jersey (it was starting to warm up quite a bit).

I headed back up north and made good time. My gut felt a bit better, although still not 100%. I got back to my car around 2:30pm, with a total of 71 miles on the day, and no regrets. It was a fine ride and a great way to enjoy the unseasonably warm Indian Summer day.

When having the right tool for the job isn’t enough

I took a long ride today to do some exploring and run some errands. I grabbed my commuter bike, just because it was handy in the garage, and I didn’t have to check anything over other than pumping up the tires.

Throughout the ride, my fenders seemed to be rattling and making a lot more noise than they should; they have been pretty securely installed up until now. I stopped to check them out; after bouncing the bike up and down a bit and wiggling the fenders with my hand, I figured out that the noise was coming from the rear fender.

The bolt holding the rear fender to the seatstay bridge had worked loose a bit. This is normal; especially since this is my commuter bike, I should check these kinds of things more often.

I took out my multi-tool to tighten the bolt up. I found that the space was so tight between the seat tube and the fender that no matter which way I oriented the tool, there was no room to turn it to tighten the bolt, not even a tiny little bit at a time.

This is the Crank Brothers Multi-19 tool; I’ve found it to be quite a fine tool for most situations, and I would have had this problem with just about any folding multi-tool.

For these situations, you really need an L-shaped hex wrench. That’s why on overnight tours, I carry a small set of L-wrenches to be prepared for any roadside repair situation. The set that I bought were sold under the “Lifu” brand at the time. Since then, I’ve found that you can get them sold under the “IceToolz” brand. The set comes with metric sizes 2-2.5-3-4-5-6, plus an 8mm adapter. There are ball ends on the 4, 5, and 6mm wrenches. The wrenches aren’t as long as you’d get with a shop-quality set, but they’re far more useful in tight situations than any multi-tool. The separate 8mm adapter is the only thing I don’t care for; these things inevitably get lost. I may pick up an extra set or two of these wrenches so I can keep them at hand on more of my bikes.

IceToolz Allen Wrench Set

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