The summer to date…
Despite the way I sometimes look at the world, with complacency and contempt, there are still things that manage to turn my head and cause me to stare in wonderment. It’s easy to get bored surrounded by cookie-cutter housing developments and me-too SUVs and minivans, but there is something always interesting about a green field, a meadowlark or a growing thunderstorm. It’s pure magic, even if it might be the same or similar to the ‘last time’ you saw it. It’s always, to me, fresh, exciting and stunning. It could be an old building, wrought with history and lore, the remains of an old farmhouse, marked only by the base of a chimney, or a scattering of foundation blocks. It could be a lone thunderstorm cell, making its way across the open plain west of town, its thunder rolling unchecked atop the waving crops. It could be a previously squelched birdsong, ringing clear and loud in the crisp air of a traffic-less township, well away from the stinging symphony of the strip-mall. In my often failed attempts to explain the magic of cycling to the non-believer, these are key points – you can’t get these in a car, and a brisk walk or jog is not fast enough to deliver the same sense of exhilaration and the pure joy of human and machine efficiently translating muscle into motion. It is not so much the act of riding itself that provides the magic as much as the places that riding takes you and your spirit.
The last two weekends have been wonderful riding, surrounded by interesting sights and sounds, brilliant colors, and impressive vistas. A few weeks ago, on June 26th, we threw together a little gathering of riders for what would be C’Dude XI – and even though I won’t officially advertise the rides with the associated number, I’ll probably still keep track – a record turnout of a whopping 5 riders came out (hey, that’s AWESOME – I don’t need to draw 100 riders to have a good time!) to Oregon Trail Park in Olathe for a repeat of part of the Lone Star Century ride that was held earlier in the spring by JCBC. The route markings still fresh, it would be a fantastic ride out to US-59 and back, for what we thought would be about 50 miles – and it turned out to be about 60 miles instead. Yeesh. The good bike still being out of commission due to a rear-wheel failure, I was on the newly acquired battle barge, affectionately dubbed the HMS Purple Hippo. A hodge-podge of a mtn.bike frame with slick tires on 26” rims and road handlebars, it’s a beauty, built for commuting and just plain ruggedness. Still, it’s a bit much to shove along for 60+ miles --- since I had ridden to the ride from home, I was actually going to end up with near 75 miles for the day.
We departed along 143rd Street and made our way up to 143rd and Dillie Rd, where Del and I, whom had managed to make a little headway, stopped to wait for the others – this would be his break-off point, as he had a morning obligation to meet. After a short wait and a derailleur adjustment, we were off again, this time with 4 riders --- but, after an unfortunate rash of flat tires, the group would become halved shortly afterwards, unbeknownst to Mike and I, as we’d neglected to look backwards to check and see if we were still a group. Mike and I, taking in the scenery and chatting it up, stopped at County Line Road for a nature break, and to see if they others would catch up to us. After a 20 minute rest, it was clear that they were not going to – we elected to ride onward, us two.
Alongside that piece of road, it was interesting to take a look around – we were very near a feed store looking place, and a smallish farmhouse. The Douglas County road signs stood motionless against the backdrop of high corn and uncut grass, bug buzzed around, and the new sun poured long shadows across the road ahead of us – it was barely 7:30am, and a thick, hot haze hung in the air, giving the landscape a foggy, orange-ish appearance. It was almost painfully bright. There was a slight headwind playing out, and the way day not getting any younger. The goal was to get back to the parking lot by 10:30am, so it was time to work out. Mike and I sailed along into the wind, checking off the miles as we went. The Lone Star route is pretty impressive in many areas – somewhere between County Line Rd and Vinland, KS, the road goes over a rise and the valley seems to open up before you as you roll along – unfortunately it was too hazy to really get a good view, but it’s still neat to see. Just take DG-458 west. Mike and I pedaled west, and near Vinland – even though I’d been thru there a dozen times before – there was something new that I’d never noticed – there is a church building near the road, barely visible through the trees, and camouflaged by years of age in deep brown/grey barn-wood and long-faded stained-glass. In front was a large sign, explaining the building’s history and giving a date of completion of 1858 – LOTS of history there, especially considering the proximity to Lawrence, and Ottawa and Osawatomie for that matter. A piece of history along our route! Shortly after the church is the grass landing strip of the Vinland Aerodrome, and a large, low metal hanger with five or six aged planes parked and covered residing within. Consumed by the activity of the SAG stop that usually accompanies the JCBC version of this ride, I had never noticed these finer details. Very impressive little hamlet, Vinland is.
The road curves north, and we enjoy a slight tailwind as we make our way to the junction of 458 and US-59 highway south of Lawrence. Fresh blacktop radiates the morning heat onto our tired legs, as we avoid glass, lumber and a turtle crossing the road near US-59 – a messy shoulder and increasing traffic focus our attention away from the early summer backdrop, but soon we are resting at the intersection, overlooking the bluffs and towering trees that beyond which lies Clinton Lake. No time to explore the lake today – we point our machines back in the other direction and proceed to head back east. Near DG1055, we spot a group of bicycles up the road – and we proceed to make headway and eventually pass them – a rag-tag group of hybrids and t-shirts, once of which we recognize as an MS-150 rider shirt! Out on a perfect morning for training, these folks are getting ready for the big ride in September – good stuff! With a hearty ‘mornin’”, we pass and make our way up the road, back towards 458 highway back towards Vinland again. The wind is ¾ to our backs now, but it’s truly a south wind, so the promise of a fast return is not really in the cards until we arrive at DG1061 for a straight northbound shot back to 143rd St/DG 900N Rd. – after a short climb, we enjoy a nearly two-mile long downhill run with a tailwind that has me spinning wildly, totally out of gear at probably mid-30’s MPH – these are the exciting moments of cycling that bring some of that magic back, and make you forget about the rising temps and haze. We made the turn at 143rd in record time, and then slowed down again as the wind did its best to impede our progress.
You can always tell it’s summer when you see other cyclists out and about. Not being one to have much of an off-season, I am used to cycling in solitude much of the year – not until March do I start to see larger numbers of riders out on the road, and most of those are the racers getting ready for the early crit series. It’s not until really late May into June that you start to see cyclist everywhere – even in the early morning, which is also why I don’t tend to see too many riders out. Where I am usually wrapping up the day’s training at about 11:30am or Noon, most cyclists won’t even venture out until then. Today was refreshing, as we exchanged waves with more than a handful of riders of all types, out beating the heat and enjoying the lack of traffic. A KCBC rider was out for a fast century on the route, a shirtless guy on a racked touring bike was spinning away the morning, and then there was our pack of MS-150 trainees, a few triathletes deep in their aerobars, and a couple ladies on road bikes making their way east shortly after our turn back onto 143rd St. – the route was buzzing with activity, and the heat of the day was building. A quick check of the clock showed we would barely make the parking lot by the projected 10:30am, but we weren’t sure why – but Mike’s computer revealed my mileage computation error, as we had much more mileage logged than we probably should have! Still, we were going ok, considering we had a few lengthy stops already in the bag, and our pace was slowing down a little – and further, we were both running out of water and food. So much for planning! Eventually, we did finish, and I made my way back home after a quick water refill at the parking lot – but not before Mike caught back up to me offering some Powerade to help me along. Turned out that Krishna and Atul turned back after a rash of flat tires – which explains why we never caught back up to them or saw them.
I tell ya, 75 miles on a converted single-speed mountain bike is not something I’m anxious to repeat, but it was SURE fun! Sometimes it’s not abut how far you ride, what you ride, or how you ride ---- just RIDE: if you’re feeling glum, a brisk ride in the country, a little discovery – you’re lease on life will be renewed.
More to come --- including C’Dude’s first fixed-gear century report!
I’ve waxed philosophical in the past about riding in the rain, and how magical an experience it can be if you let it. When you forget about how sloppy the bike is getting, when you stop stressing about the extra braking distance, when the temperature is right and you aren’t suffering – it’s magical. After nearly a week-and-a-half of rainy weather, it appears that our local monsoon season is coming to a close – at least temporarily. Eastern Kansas received almost NINE inches of rain since the beginning of the month, and area creeks and streams are bulging, there are run-off trails across the roads, and the bike trail is a muddy, sloppy, nearly-impassible mess. It was probably a record month for bike fender sales in the metro last week, after die-hard commuters probably got sick and tired of getting soaked day after day from the backside up.
I know, personally, that rain equals maintenance – and after breaking down the bike a few times this past week to wash the grit and slime out of the tubes and off the drivetrain, it eventually gets OLD! Having reduced the stable down to ONE bike, it took this very week for me to realize that there is indeed a need for a beater bike. It’s hard to be a commuter, randonneur, and fast-reccie rider with only ONE bike. It’s hard to find a single tire that is tough enough to handle daily commutes, and still handle well enough to tackle fast corners with the group riders…much less have a single bike that does EVERYTHING you want. The only way to satisfy my gravy-ness is to have more than one bike! After much deliberation, the ‘good bike’, after a successful stint on the commuter-circuit, gets returned to the plush glory-life of weekend-duty – with faster tires swapped back on, and headlights and stuff removed. But, what to do for a commuter bike?
Meet “Purple Hippo” – After a short search, I came across another ‘garage-sale’ find in the form of a Specialized mountain bike from the early 90’s. It’s a freakin’ TANK, kinda like my car. Straight-gauge Cro-Mo tubing, welded, with herky SunTour XCM components – all with a good amount of grit, slime, grime, and corrosion covering them. After a brief clean-up (this is to be a beater, after all), I stripped everything off, salvaged the 500gram, 48-tooth solid steel chain-ring and threw on a single-speed freewheel out back. The chain-line is ‘okay’, hubs good – plenty of room for even bigger tires than the 47-559mm knobby monsters that are on there now, and fenders, too. Dang. In a word, gnarly. Dank. Dare I say, Moto. This puppy is business. Proving my own point that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good, solid commuter-bike rolling, I managed to spend more on the freewheel and new chain than I had on the entire bike. For maybe two-week’s gas money I’ve got a utilitarian machine that will take racks, fenders, and all the abuse an overbuilt mountain-bike can take.
Now, to the propers: I take back every negative connotation I ever muttered about the mountain-bike set. Yes, yes – my ways have changed over the years, and I’m not nearly as partisan as I USED to be about the whole “roadie-vs.-offroadie” argument – but still, I have pretty much been a dedicated road-guy for at least a few years now. I like speed, skinny tires and endless miles of pavement – and dirty equipment makes me nervous.
But, DUDE --- props are due, huge, to the mountain-bike set – especially those that ride on the road. On pure luck, I managed to get a gear ratio that is nearly equal to my road bike’s, which I thought would be a good deal – I knew in the back of my head that the bigger tires, the attendant rolling resistance of squishy knobbies, and the overall weight difference of the bike would be something I’d definitely FEEL in my legs --- but I had no idea. NONE. The first hill after leaving the house, I was feeling it BIGTIME…. Holy crap, how do these guys DO this??? Perhaps it’s my own fault that I’m riding a single-speed all-terrain bike on the road, but I’m certainly not the first. True, off-road is different and ‘speed’ is a different thing: you have dirt, mud, hard-pack single-track, roots, rocks, technical descents and monster walls to climb – a 16 mile trail ride can feel like a 60 mile road ride, for sure: I’ve just never had the direct reference! Even when I had a mountain bike WAY back when, I always ran slicks – so I guess I’d either forgotten, or never thought about it.
There are tons of forums and emails that float around talking about rolling resistance and such, and weight-weenie stuff – but let me tell you this: it don’t matter much, as long as you’re keeping it in the ballpark: For roadies, I’ve noticed personally that there is very little difference in rolling resistance and speed-for-effort between a 700x20 race tire, and a 700x28 touring tire with Kevlar belts for puncture protection. There is weight, there is surface area to the pavement, but you don’t feel too much of a difference from the saddle. On paper? SURE. Perhaps in a 40km TT, you’d see it in the seconds column. Therefore, kvetching over 700x23 compared to 700x25 is just silly, but I used to be someone that would do it. Let’s go cross-genre, tho: THEN you have an argument: 700x23 (23-622mm) slicks compared to 26X1.95” (47x559mm!) knobbies??!!!! NOW you have an argument! It was like trying to pedal uphill thru Jello compared to my skinny race tires! You road-riding mountain bike guys – ROCK. I got straight schooled this morning on the way to work, and now I think I need a smaller gear ratio! …..or…. he,he…. Evil plot: keep things the same, get stronger, and then gat back on the road bike and rip the cranks off! BET.
Actually, at the very least I think I will have to get slicks, and if nasty weather has me grabbing this bike on a weekend, I’ll at least have a fighting chance keeping up with anyone – for now, though, feeling pretty good about my latest purchase, and ready to leave all excuses about rain, slush, snow, nasty trails and generally sloppy conditions behind. Heck, might even throw in some gravel, grass, and single-track action, just because I can! All I know is, the next time monsoon-season hits, I’ll be ready – and I won’t even have to wipe it down when I get back home. That alone is worth the price of admission, even if I will get strange looks wearing roadie clothes on a mountain bike.
Happy Flag Day, everyone!