Car Less Ohio

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Category Archives: Touring

Springtime in January, Again

The weather gods smiled upon me once again this month, with dry skies and temperatures into the 50’s on my day off. I took Uncle Rico (my knickname for my Xtracycle-equipped bike) down to Kent to check out Wild Earth Outfitters, the new outdoor store.

The most direct route to Kent is about 18 miles. I decided to try a new way to avoid some of the more heavily-traveled roads. I started by heading to Aurora and jumping on Pioneer Trail, a common launching point for many of my favorite routes. A good ways into Portage County (more eastward than I had anticipated), I made a right onto Diagonal Road. This road heads south and slightly west towards Kent, and runs concurrently on State Route 303 for about 1/2 mile in Streetsboro. I was starting to regret taking the scenic route, as I just wasn’t “feeling it” today; my leg muscles felt like they were running out of gas early in the ride.

I reached the point just north of Kent where Diagonal Road becomes a one-way (the wrong way for where I was headed). To avoid having to hop on State Route 43, I made a left onto Ravenna Road, then after a couple of miles, a right onto Lake Rockwell Road, and shortly thereafter, hopped on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail for the final push into Kent. I finally arrived in Kent, after covering about 27 miles since I left home.

I headed back out of town on Fairchild Avenue, and caught the Summit County Bike and Hike Trail where it starts near Stow-Munroe Falls High School. I followed it to where it meets Barlow Road outside of Hudson, then took Barlow Road west to go browse a bit at Appalachian Outfitters in Peninsula. After that, I backtracked to the Bike and Hike and headed north. This is one of the most beautiful sections of this trail, where the former railroad bed cuts through a hillside, creating a rocky canyon wall, with sunlight streaming through the tree branches.

I got to check out the latest developments on the Brandywine Road bypass. All of the trail is now done except for the new bridge over Interstate 271. Continuing north, when the trail dead-ends just before the future bridge location, you only have to hop on Brandywine Road for about 100 yards, and then make a left into the newly-refurbished parking area for Brandywine Falls. Then, hop on the new trail, loop around back under the parking lot entrance using the new tunnel, and continue on the new trail, around the Brandywine Inn, up the hill along Brandywine Road, then continue on the original trail.

At this point I would usually continue north on the trail until it ends at the Summit/Cuyahoga County line, and follow Alexander Road back towards home. However, I had always wondered what it would be like to follow State Route 82 on the busiest part through the strip mall stretches in Northfield and Macedonia. So, when I got to where the trail crosses Boyden Road, I just made a right onto Boyden, headed up to Route 82, and made a right to head east.

Route 82 wasn’t so bad after all. The only recommendation I’d make is to take your place in the line of cars well enough ahead of time before you get to a traffic light. Otherwise, the shoulder often disappears right before and after the light, so if you don’t take the lane, you’ll get squeezed out.

Just east of where Interstate 271 cross Route 82, a bike lane starts and runs right along Route 82. The only dicey part was just before the Macedonia/Twinsburg border, when all at the same time, the road narrows from two lanes to one in each direction, the bike lane ends, and the road shoulder turns to soft dirt. The road opens back up to two lanes in each direction again soon after, leaving plenty of room to share the road heading towards downtown Twinsburg.

Before heading home, I made a sightseeing side trip into the Locust Grove Cemetery, Twinsburg’s first burial ground, and the final resting place of many local historical figures, including Aaron and Moses Wilcox, the twin brothers for whom the city was named. I arrived at home with a total of 56 miles under my belt for the day.

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Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 3 – Touring

This is the third part in my ongoing review of the Salsa Fargo bicycle. In Part 1, I gave my initial impressions based on some short road rides, including commuting. Part 2 was my head-to-head comparison of riding the Fargo on singletrack versus a full-suspension mountain bike. As promised, this post describes my experience with using the Fargo in a touring environment.

First, I’ve made a couple of changes to my Fargo setup since the last part of the review. After the singletrack test was done, I swapped out my Kenda Small Block Eight tires for the new Continental Comfort Contact 700×54. This is a smooth but fat tire, basically equivalent to a 29×2.1-inch tire in size, which runs at a maximum of 60psi. As you might have expected, these tires made the Fargo feel much more road-worthy, rolling more efficiently, not to mention more quietly.

I initially debated about which crankset would be better, a traditional 22/32/44 mountain triple, or a 26/36/48 touring triple. I used the mountain triple for the rides covered in Part 1 and Part 2, and found it to be ideal for riding singletrack, but it felt a bit anemic on pavement. I swapped on the touring triple, and found this, like the tires, made the Fargo feel much more road-worthy. It may seem like a no-brainer: the off-road crankset works better for off-road riding, and the on-road crankset works better for on-road riding, but I can’t really explain why this is the case. The differences in the upper and lower limits of the gear ranges aren’t that significant, and I didn’t really spend much time riding at the upper and lower limits on either crankset. Maybe it’s a mental thing, or maybe it has to do with how often I needed (or didn’t need) to shift between the middle and large chainrings. Anyway, perhaps my experience with choosing the ideal gearing for a Fargo is common, based on the recently released specs of Salsa’s 2012 models. For 2011, they offered the Fargo with one version of the complete bike, which came with a mountain double crankset. For 2012, they are offering it in three complete versions, one with a mountain double, and two with a touring triple.

To transition into touring mode, I installed a pair of Planet Bike’s Cascadia 29er full-coverage fenders. With the Fargo’s full complement of eyelets, plus the chainstay-mounted rear disc brake, the fenders went on without any hassles. The only thing that caught my eye was that the two pair of eyelets on the rear are spaced kind of close together, making the mounting points of the fenders and my Topeak Explorer rack bump against each other. It worked with no problem, but the slightest variation in the length of the rack’s lower struts, or in the angle required for the fender struts, might cause some issues with other fender and rack combinations.

The Topeak rack works great for both commuting and touring, but I decided to dress up the Fargo with matching Salsa front and rear racks. The Salsa Wanderlust rear rack has more streamlined lower eyelets compared to the Topeak, so the rack/fender eyelet crowding is much less of an issue. The upper struts on the Wanderlust rack need to be trimmed to length for installation. Theoretically, you line up the upper struts with the upper eyelets on your bike, then mark the other end of the struts to know where to hacksaw them off. However, it’s not possible to line up the struts with the eyelets at first, because you can’t rotate the struts down enough to clear the strut mounting plate on the rack. This photo makes it more clear what I’m talking about:

Ironically, the installation instructions that come with the rack describe the process of lining up the struts with the eyelets, but they include a photo that looks pretty much like my photo above! So, they’ve designed a rack with a Catch-22 installation procedure: you have to align the struts to know how long to cut them, but it’s impossible to align the struts until after they’re cut. (This would be less of an issue on larger Fargo frames, or other frame models.) What you end up having to do is just completely remove the struts from their mounts on the rack, line up the eyelets, and hold the other end close enough to make an educated guess as to where to mark them to be cut. This is what I did, and my struts ended up being just long enough, so I would suggest over-estimating the length you need on the first cut, test-fit, then cut to trim again as needed.

The front rack from Salsa is called the Downunder. It’s a two-piece rack that uses the lower- and mid-fork eyelets. The problem with many two-piece front racks is that once you load them up with cargo, the torsional forces that the load places on the rack can cause the mounting bolts to loosen, or worse yet, strip out (I have had this happen). The usual solution to this issue is to use a one-piece front rack that has an upper platform or an arch that connects the two sides of the rack, which makes the whole rack rigid enough to relieve the torsional forces on the mounting bolts. The Downunder rack takes a different approach; it keeps the two-piece design to save weight, but the mid-fork mounts have a double prong design. Thus, in addition to the bolt on the lower-fork eyelet, each half of the rack is held in place by a bolt on the outside of the fork leg and a bolt on the inside of the fork leg. This design provides plenty of rigidity, and installation was a breeze.

Not that I anticipated needing them for my first brief touring tests, but just to show how cool they are, I threw on two extra bottle cages using the mounts on the Fargo fork. So finally, here’s a shot of the Fargo in its full touring-mode glory:

One final addition I made that is not apparent in the above photo was to add a taillight bracket to the rear rack. This ended up being a bit more of a science project than I anticipated. Most rear racks made for sale in the US have a light/reflector mount that consists of either two holes oriented vertically, or two holes spaced horizontally at 50mm apart (some, like the Topeak Explorer, have both sets of holes). Many racks made for sale in Europe have a light mount that is two holes oriented horizontally at 80mm apart. The Wanderlust rack has two eyelets spaced 80mm apart, but these eyelets are oriented so that the openings are vertical, i.e. pointed towards the ground and the sky. I emailed Salsa and asked what their thinking was behind this eyelet design, and how they suggested mounting a taillight. In their response, they said that the eyelets are intended for mounting your own home-made enhancements to the rack, and they suggested using a taillight with a rubber or circular (seatstay-type) mounting bracket.

My favorite taillight is the Planet Bike Superflash, which has an optional rack mounting adapter that uses either of the two US-style mounting holes, and I wanted to find a way to make this work. I dug through my stash of spare rack parts, and it turns out I had an adapter made by Topeak that converts an 80mm Euro-style light mount to a vertical US-style mount. I bolted this to the bottom of the Wanderlust’s 80mm eyelets, then bolted an L-bracket (the kind that comes with some cheaper racks in the US market to provide a reflector mounting point) onto the Topeak adapter. The L-bracket then provided two mounting holes in the proper vertical orientation to attach the Planet Bike mounting adapter. So, here’s the finished setup, without the actual taillight, so you can see all of the bracket detail:

I’m still on the fence about how I feel about this. On the one hand, it works really well, and I’m proud of myself for coming up with it. On the other hand, it kind of offends my aesthetic sensibility, because it seems a little too Rube Goldbergian.

I did a few commutes and other short road rides with the Fargo’s touring mode setup, and everything felt great. The first major ride I did was not a “touring” ride in the true sense, but what many recreational cyclists consider to be touring; it was the BikeMS Pedal to the Point on August 13. This is one of the many MS150 rides held throughout the country to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. My girlfriend and I do the one-day ride instead of the two-day, so that we don’t have to worry about finding somebody to watch our beagles. We wanted to figure out a way to do this without having to deal with taking a shuttle back (from Sandusky, Ohio) to the starting point (in Middleburg Heights, Ohio). So, we do the first-day route to the lunch stop, including the optional century loop that adds an extra 25-30 miles before lunch. Then, we do the regular route in reverse from the lunch stop back to the starting point. This makes a nice 93-mile loop. The weather forecast that day called for possible thunderstorms, so I put a single waterproof pannier on my rear rack to give us a place to stash our rain jackets and helmet covers, plus to keep our wallets, keys, and cell phones dry. Since we’d be riding the last part of the route “self-supported,” we also threw in a few extra snacks, and took an extra pair of water bottles (in my fork-mounted bottle cages). The predicted rain never came, and the day ended up being not too hot and quite pleasant. The Fargo continued to feel great throughout the whole 93 miles. I never felt like it was a struggle to keep up with the true roadies along the way when I felt so inclined.

My first true self-supported tour on the Fargo came when my friend Brent and I took an S24O trip on August 28. “S24O” stands for “Sub 24-Hour Overnight,” which means a bike-camping trip with a single night stay. The term was coined and made popular by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works; the Adventure Cycling Association has created a spin-off web site dedicated to the activity at www.bikeovernights.org. This was another “Tour de Salsa,” as Brent was once again riding his new Salsa Vaya.

I left work in Peninsula around 5:30pm, after realizing I forgot to pack a bike jersey for the tour. I decided to just ride in my t-shirt, and that worked fine, since it was a cool, pleasant evening. I had a full complement of front and rear panniers. In one rear pannier, I carried all of my camping gear: tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp pillow, and headlamp. In the other rear pannier, I carried my cooking gear and food: backpacking stove, fuel canister, cook pot, coffee press, plate, bowl, mug, utensils, two packs of instant mashed potatoes, one pack of ramen, and some pre-ground coffee. In one front pannier, I carried spare clothes: shorts to change into at camp; hat, arm warmers, and long-sleeve jersey in case it turned unexpectedly cold; spare socks; and rain jacket. I left the other front pannier empty to serve as a six-pack cooler. I also used a small handlebar bag for my phone, wallet, and keys. If this were a more full-length tour, my gear arrangement would have been a little different in order to better balance the load, plus I’d have more food, clothing, and spare parts and tools. But for this short trip, this packing scheme worked fine and would be easy to keep organized. When I first got going, the bike and panniers felt a little more shaky and unsteady than I had expected, but I think this was just because it had been so long since I had ridden a fully loaded bike. Within a half mile or so, I got used to the feeling again, and the load on the Salsa racks felt rock-solid.

I met Brent at the Acme supermarket in Hudson.

We stocked up on a little more food, and the aforementioned six-pack:

You can see from the shots of us and our bikes that we are sort of using the opposite packing schemes compared to what our bikes are optimized for. I’m using the full front and rear panniers that are more traditional for a road touring bike, where Brent is using a more “fast and light” setup becoming popular with the off-road touring crowd, with his camping gear up front, top tube bag for extras, and other gear in a large seat bag.

We made quick work of the remaining leg of the 26 mile trip to the campground at West Branch State Park, outside of Ravenna, Ohio. We took the Portage County Bike & Hike Trail for part of the route, which is an unpaved rail-trail, so the trip did provide just a small taste of multi-surface touring. We checked in at the campground a bought a bundle of firewood, which let me test the cargo-hauling ability of the Fargo a little more:

We had enough daylight left to get our tents set up, then enjoyed cooking and eating our dinners under the light of the moon and our headlamps.

We got up with the sun, packed up all our gear, fueled up with some camp coffee, and hit the road.

Our return trip was uneventful; our bikes and gear performed well. We stopped at the Starbucks in Hudson for a quick breakfast, then headed back to work.

I noticed one new thing about the Fargo after several rides with the current setup. I mentioned in my two previous reviews that whether riding on-road or off, I spent much more time in the drops of the handlebars on the Fargo, compared to a typical drop-bar road bike. However, I think mostly due to the smooth tires, and partially due to the touring crankset, I’m not having to exert as much effort to keep my momentum up, and so I’m spending a lot more time riding on the hoods now.

In conclusion, the Fargo without a doubt makes a great touring bike. I had some minor setup issues that were more related to the racks and accessories themselves, and not the actual bike. Packing, organizing, and hauling touring gear is a snap, and the Fargo handles it with finesse.

Of course, a longer, more rugged tour would be a true test of the Fargo’s design and abilities. As I mentioned earlier, the Fargo was meant for off-road touring. I’ll be experimenting with some alternative touring setups, including some fast-and-light off-road options, in preparation for a tour of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route I’m planning for 2014. Until then, I’ll report back on any more shake-down tours I undertake. Either way, the Fargo will be the first bike I reach for whenever I’m planning a self-supported bike tour, whether on-road or off.

Pennsylvania or Bust!

I’ve been thinking for a while about riding to the Pennsylvania border and back, just for the sake of doing so. I’ve also got a loop route in mind to Newton Falls and back that I’ve been thinking about doing. I set out on my bike this morning later than I had planned, and so actually had a cue sheet for the Newton Falls loop in my pocket. A few miles out from home, though, and I got to thinking that since it was such a nice day, and I was feeling good, then what the heck–I’ll head for the border. Another incentive was that the ride to PA would be at least 50 miles of roads that I had never ridden before, whereas the Newton Falls loop would have had only about 20 new miles about of 70.

The most direct route to the state line from where I live is east on State Route 82. I don’t usually think of that road as an ideal biking route, as it usually conjures up images of the strip mall towns of Macedonia, Brecksville, Strongsville, etc. But, when heading east, once you get outside of Aurora, Route 82 is relatively quiet and pleasant. The only real kicker is where the road crosses the Cuyahoga River just west of Hiram–there’s a long descent down into the river valley, followed by the long slog back up the other side.

At the main crossroads in Hiram, I stopped at the Hiram Cafe on the corner for a snack. I bought a candy bar and a bag of peanuts, which came to $1.78. I had a $1 and a $20 bill on me; the cashier offered to just take the $1 bill and pulled three quarters from their “Take a Penny – Leave a Penny” tray, but I said, “That’s okay,” and just took the change for my $20.

Here at this intersection in Hiram, Route 82 makes a right turn as it runs concurrent with Route 700 South, then bends back east through Garrettsville and beyond. I proceeded straight through Hiram instead, where the road becomes State Route 305, continuing my beeline for the border.

The route has a few more hills, until right about the time you cross from Portage County into Trumbull County, where it becomes pretty much dead flat. I went through several small towns that I had heard of, but never been to, like Nelson, Parkman, Champion, and Cortland, and a few that I had never heard of, like Bazetta, Fowler, and Hartford. The only real hill on this section was a not-too-steep quarter-mile climb about three miles before the state line.

I didn’t know what I’d find once I got to the border. It turned out to be as nondescript as a road map view of it would indicated. There’s a five-way intersection, with the main north-south road making the state border. On the Ohio side is a gas station with a convenience store and ice cream stand. On the Pennsylvania side is a bar called the 5 Points Tavern & Grille. I wanted a lunch more substantial than convenience-store snacks, so I opted for the 5 Points Tavern. Plus, I figured I pedaled all this way (not quite 54 miles) to get to Pennsylvania, so I may as well dine in Pennsylvania.

The tavern had the look of a rough biker bar; the kind of place where the jukebox goes silent and every head turns your way as you walk in the door. There weren’t any Harleys parked outside at this time, though, and they had a sign by the road promoting their new full-time cook and menu, so I figured they were trying to look welcoming and it was safe for me to go in.

The walls inside featured hand-printed signs highlighting the menu specials: chili dog, cheeseburger, tacos, but the one that caught my eye was the lasagna. The problem was, there wasn’t another soul in the place. I walked into the back room with the pool table, even tried to peek into the kitchen behind the bar to see if there were anyone whose attention I could get. I sat for about five minutes and was about ready to give up and leave when a woman finally appeared from out of the back. “Is the kitchen open?” I asked. “It is as of right now,” she replied. I ordered up the lasagna, plus a Yuengling draft to wash it down.

Another woman appeared while I was waiting for my lunch to arrive; she sat at the bar and continued drinking a can of beer that had been sitting there, so I figured she was a customer, but later she got up and started sweeping the floor and doing some other cleaning around the place, so she was an employee, too. They both recognized my bicycle helmet, and so asked me about where I had come from, and if I were doing some kind of cross-state tour. “No, just out for fun for the day,” I said. I asked the second woman, “What town am I in?” She said, “Well, that’s a good question. This is South Pymatuning Township, but the mailing address is Sharpsville. If you have a landline, you know, a regular phone line from the local phone company, it’s a Transfer exchange.” I thought “transfer exchange” was some kind of arcane phone system terminology, but didn’t bother trying to go into the details with her. I found out later that Transfer is the name of another nearby Pennsylvania town.

In the meantime, a third woman had appeared. I assumed she was the daughter of one of the other women; she looked to be about 17 years old, dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. She sat and spun on the bar stools, twirling her hair in her fingers, or wandered around, dancing and swirling to the country music on the radio. I thought to myself, “OK, so if coming into this place didn’t get me beat up, staring at THAT will.”

The lasagna was as good and plentiful as I had hoped, and came with a salad. Some time later, I noticed all of the women, including the young girl, had lit up cigarettes. This struck me as odd at first, until I remembered that this is still allowed in Pennsylvania. It was at this time that I also decided that the young girl was probably older than I had originally thought, and was also an employee, probably killing time before the start of the busy shift later in the day.

As I finished up the lasagna, I turned down the first woman’s offer of another beer, but accepted her gracious offer to fill up my bottle with some ice water. They wished me luck and a safe trip as I headed out for the ride home.

I followed the same route back as I had come. I was due for more fluids as I got back to Hiram, but the Hiram Cafe was closed now. I went up and around the next corner, and fortunately, the Gionino’s Pizzeria had PowerAde in their drink cooler. I was right in the thick of rush hour as I made my way back through Aurora on Route 82, but it wasn’t any problem. I had almost 107 miles on my computer when I got home.

I’d recommend the Route 82/Route 305 route for anyone looking for an uncomplicated way to go east from the southeastern suburbs of Cleveland. It would be a good route for multi-day touring, with several camping options along the way, such as Nelson Ledges State Park, Mosquito Lake State Park, the Jellystone Resort outside of Aurora, and one or two other private campgrounds that I noticed along the way.

Redemptive Ride to Rocky River

Today I did a long ride up to Rocky River. I’ve done three or four long-ish rides this year where I started out thinking that I might get my first century in for the year, but the failure to set a specific destination always left me with too-easy bailout options. Plus, my lackluster amount of commuting and riding in general this year left me feeling wiped out at around 60-something miles, and I end up limping the last 20-something miles to get home.

So today, by setting a goal of getting to Rocky River, even though it’s still not a century, I committed myself to a specific destination and distance.

I made my way from home over to the Brecksville Reservation, and hopped on the Valley Parkway. The Valley Parkway is traditionally “ground zero” for cyclist vs. motorist conflicts in this area. It makes of the western half of what is know as the “Emerald Necklace,” the chain of parks in the Cleveland Metroparks system. It provides a good mix of flat and rolling terrain, but since it also connects some of the major outer-ring suburbs of Cleveland, it’s also a popular car commuter route.

It had been a couple of years since I rode the Valley Parkway, so on the outbound leg of the trip, I was enjoy the once-again-fresh scenery, despite the long and sometimes steep climb from Brecksville to Ridge Road. Near the Big Met golf course, I took the detour to the left off of the Valley Parkway, up the steep climb to Wooster Road, through Fairview Park, and finally to Rocky River. All the while, I had not one close brush by a passing car, nor any honks, gestures, or yells out of open windows.

After hanging around a while to have a snack, I ended up getting started again later than I had anticipated, and found myself on the Valley Parkway during rush hour. Surely, I thought, this would increase the frustration level for everyone around me, but I made the return trip without incident. Maybe the local drivers have finally come to accept that they are going to encounter recreational users in a recreational area. Or, maybe I was just lucky to catch everyone in a good mood that day.

The best thing, though, was that I felt like I was riding good and strong the whole time, and never really ran out of gas until the last few miles out of the total 82. It was one of those rides that makes me re-discover why I enjoy cycling.

S24O Bike Camping Trip

Here are a few shots of one of my Sub 24-Hour Overnight (S24O) bike camping trips with my friend Brent. I feel like all of the photos from these type of trips are interchangeable, and the only way to tell one from the next is what bikes we’re riding.

On this trip, I took my Surly Long Haul Trucker, and Brent took his ’09 Salsa Fargo. We started in Peninsula, made a stop for supplies in Hudson, then rode to West Branch State Park outside of Ravenna to spend the night at the campground.

S24O Bike Camping Trip

This Sub 24-Hour Overnight took Brent and I on the usual route from Peninsula to West Branch State Park, outside of Ravenna, with a stop for supplies at the Acme Fresh Market in Hudson, and a breakfast stop the next morning a the Perkins of Hudson.

Brent rode his ’09 Salsa Fargo, and I rode my ’07 Raleigh XXIX, which is a singlespeed mountain bike, but at this time is converted to a Fargo-like touring bike. You can read more details about this conversion here.

S24O Bike Camping Trip

The latest bike overnight trip led Brent and I to the usual destination, West Branch State Park, outside of Ravenna. Brent rode his Surly Big Dummy, and I rode my Xtracycle. We stopped for breakfast on the return ride the next morning at Perkins in Hudson.

Land of Enchantment Tour – Day 12

Hiked a bit down the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, then drove to Boulder City, Nevada.

Land of Enchantment Tour – Day 11

Driving from Silver City, New Mexico to Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Land of Enchantment Tour – Day 10

Exploring the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.