Tuesday, July 28, 2009



I squeezed in a 22 mile ride after work today. Went up the really stinky North Shore Trail again up into Evanston. It really, really smells like ripe and mildly toxic sewage anywhere within about 15' of the Chicago River. Way to go Chicago! At least we send it out to those poor saps downstream of us, misery loves company as they say.

Rode into downtown Evanston and stopped at Turin, as I like to stop at a LBS anytime I pass by one and just pop in, pick up something cheap, etc. I discovered while buying a tube there that Turin joins Rapid Transit in Wicker Park in having the distinction of the most expensive tubes I've ever bought. Not $5, not $6, but $7 for a regular 700c/23-25 tube! I mean, REALLY! How can the same thing be $5 at Boulevard Bikes, $4 at Smart Bike Parts on Armitage and need to be $7 at these places? Methinks I shall abstain from shopping at Turin in the future. Tubes are not a luxury item, they are like oxygen to a cyclist (or beer). Anyway, I got my 22 miles in.

Also, I spent the weekend in Madison, WI and enjoyed riding about 85 miles in 2 days on the bike-tastic paths that the city is infested with. It was like shock treatment coming back to the streets of Chicago. Oh Madison, why can't you not be a frozen wasteland in the winter, I love thee in the spring/summer! While there I popped into Cronometro and had the pleasure of being entertained by the owner Colin for a good 15-20 minutes as he showed my wife and I around the shop, discussed the fitting process, Seven and Serotta bikes, etc. etc. A VERY nice guy and a perfect example of what a small bike shop owner should be like, i.e. FRIENDLY! Anyone could be your next customer. And while Cronometro may have $7 tubes as well (I didn't check, but I like to think not), greeting someone in a friendly manner and taking the time to give them a nice shop tour even when they say they are just there to look around would make such things go down a lot smoother. I'm not sure when I'm going to get around to buying a new bike in the $4,000 to $12,000 range, but when I do, that place will be a the top of my list. Thanks Colin!

If you are all carbon-fibered out from Le Tour, here is a little old-fashioned racing to cleanse the palate:

Finally, I'm seriously considering going ahead and building up a 29er bike. I keep thinking about doing more of that riding. I'm now online browsing and early-lusting, we'll see where it goes. Could be fun for some fall trail riding and also really handy for the deepest armpit of winter as I don't think my big ice tires will fit on my Surly Pacer very well, but they'd go swimmingly on a 29er frame. We shall see!

And finally-finally, my other developing lust is for putting together a S and S coupled bike. They had an incredible Seven Alaris at Cronometro with that setup and my wife was being a super sweet enabler and telling me how I had to get one. She is really good for being the "just do it" devil (or angel depending on your point of view) on my shoulder when it comes to not prudent purchases, god bless her! Anyway, I think I'll manage to hold off on that insanity for a while, but it got me thinking about doing that to my Paramount frame. Waterford Cycles, where I was planning on sending that thing for the beauty treatment, does the retrofits and I could also have it done by Bilenky Cycles in PA, which is perhaps the leading retrofitter of this setup. If you do not know what I'm talking about, click here. The idea of having a regular sized suitcase to take on trips is pretty awesome to me. I hope to be doing more and more bikeable travel in the coming years, and I think the Paramount was coming in at just over 20 lbs. with a pretty heavy set of wheels and pedals, so I think it'd make a pretty swell sub-40 lb. suitcase bike. We'll see on that one too. Probably at least several months away no matter what, but my interest is piqued!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Some truly insightful analysis


I've become instantly addicted to this guy's TDF analysis.

Friday, July 24, 2009

personal TT


In honor of the individual TT yesterday I went out and ran my own little faux-TT out to the Chicago Botanical Gardens. Departing at 2:45pm, I had my 7-ish miles of city riding to do before I got to the head of the North Branch Trail. I did some very fun drafting behind a couple of slow trucks (slow for automobiles that is!) going up Kimball and drafted behind them for about a 1/2 mile each at around 30 to 32 mph! It's amazing how fast you can go in the vacuum of a large truck. Pretty fun!

Rode maybe half the ride in these new clip on bars I stuck on the Look. It's pretty easy to keep it up over 20 with those things. Steering a little tweaky, but you can do pretty reasonable turning, etc. with them. The windy asphalt trail is good fun for trying to keep the pace high. I got out to the top of the loop around the little lake up there in an hour and 15 minutes for 23.5 miles. According to my computer, average speed of 19.8 mph including city traffic. Pretty okay, I reckon.

On the way back, it started sprinkling and I rode on until it changed to a good solid drizzle, then a pretty heavy downpour. I put away my computer and iPhone and just plowed on through it. I had shoes full of water and numb hands and feet by the time I got back home, but it was a pretty fun 56-ish mile ride. Still can't emulate the heat I'll be looking at on the Hotter Than Hell ride in August, the good old midwest just won't cooperate!

Going to Madison this weekend and if the weather cooperates, I'm hoping to get a good 60 to 70 miles in on the Capitol City Trail.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Milwaukee calling


Well, I did the ride to Milwaukee. There was a group ride going on Saturday via the Chainlink, but it wasn't good timing as we went to the PItchfork Festival followed by a housewarming party on Friday night, so I decided to go it solo on Sunday. My lovely wife's grandmother resides in Milwaukee (St. Francis actually), so we had a plan for her to drive up to visit and for me to meet them and catch a ride back.

I poked around on the internet and found a route on mapmyride.com which was someone's route all the way to Door County, but it was free of any sorts of cues or landmarks, etc. Searching around I found chunks of information on the trail system that gets you there, but I kept coming across this pesky book that seemed to be just about how to ride your bike on the trails from Chicago to Milwaukee. Really?! A whole book? Seems like the kind of info that any bike loving human would just want to share with anyone. I know I do. I'll do my best here, but there was some ad hoc poking around here and there and some kindness of strangers involved, so you have to be a little self-motivated and remember which way north is.

One good move I made Saturday was to go on a recon ride with my wife and my friend JBI to check out the Chicago trail that starts the whole odyssey. It's the North Shore Trail (not to be confused with the North Branch Trail which is in the Cook County Forest Preserve District). This trail basically runs along the north branch of the Chicago River. Consequently, it's quite stinky for a lot of it's length. We rode back and forth past it a few times before finally picking it up quite a ways north of it's actual origin and I saved myself a lot of time by later riding back down it to discover that it begins on Francisco just north of Lawrence Ave. This is a little one way street south between Kedzie and California and you just ride up it the wrong way past a beautiful old sanitary district pumping station (they really don't make them like they used to!).

Francisco basically ends and the street veers right and it is at this corner that the trail begins. There is a point a few miles north where you get dumped off onto Kedzie again, but just go up to Devon and hang a left and you'll hit it again at the NE corner of the next intersection. Here you'll find a nice windy asphalt path with a miles long sculpture garden built right in!

This is the part that leads all the way up to the Ladd Arboretum in Evanston. The path turns to the first section of many, many miles of crushed gravel pathway here. I found myself debating the merits of staying on these paths a number of times during the day. They are a bit slower to ride on, though not like something you need a mountain bike for, any reasonable road bike tires work just fine.

This path ends at Green Bay Road. If you go left along Green Bay Road and get to the north side of it at Lincoln, you begin seeing signs that run you through a very posh neighborhood. This route leads through Wilmette, where it turns into a proper bike path through downtown, then through Kenilworth and eventually you will get to the Green Bay Trail. This is a pretty decent asphalt path along the Metra tracks along Green Bay Road. This path goes for several miles and (if memory serves) it eventually turns to crushed gravel up around Ravinia (you go right through the back of Ravinia actually). After some time you end up being put a wide sidewalk that takes you past Fort Sheridan and is the beginning of the McCrory bike path. This sidewalk is pretty irritating as the squares of concrete have all begun to settle and have a fairly significant bump between each of the hundreds of them you have to go over. (City planner types, FYI, it's MUCH better to make an asphalt path, concrete sucks and I'd think it's got to be more expensive to put down.) This cement world gives way back to gravel then ends up on another sidewalk along a highway-ish road that approaches the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Here, look for a sign across the road that says "McCrory bike path north" which will indicate that you need to go across the road (at 24th street) and take a loop under the highway to another little industrial road to the west. Here's a pic of the intersection:

Which reminds me... NOTICE THE LITTLE CIRCLE WITH A SLASH THROUGH IT PAINTED ON THE SIDEWALK!!! This seems to be the universal sign for the bike path, at least on this route. It kept me on track many, many times throughout the day. This little sign is the breadcrumb trail to follow when signs are not appearing before you.

This dead ends into a messy torn up T intersection that looks into a factory and a little service drive. Go across here and you'll see the path on your left. This heads a back into crushed gravel world and this is the path that goes straight to Wisconsin, and I mean straight!

North of this area, you finally get back into something like small towns that aren't super posh suburbs. Here is an old closed high school I came across in Zion (I reckon from the name of the school anyway).

You'll just go and go crossing a big road every so often until you finally see a trail sign after Russell Road that says Kenosha County trail-something. You're in Wisconsin!

This trail goes on again for some time and eventually dumps you out on 30th street in Kenosha. Follow this road for about 5 miles (stop in at the nice little Southport Rigging bike shop you'll pass if you need anything!) until you see Gateway Technical College. On your right you'll see the Gateway Cafe. After this landmark, take the next right (at the light) and about a half mile down, the path starts again. This path goes straight to S. Racine. At this point of the day, I'd been doling out some Clif bars and some tasty little energy gummies, but I was bogging down pretty hard in between Kenosha and Racine. After averaging something like 16 mph for the first half of the trip, I was slogging down to 12 or 13 here for some miles. I thought maybe I was in trouble, but I think I was in a food lag. It is SUPER important to eat before you are hungry on such long rides. I was also drinking every 10 to 15 minutes.

In Racine you are dumped onto West Blvd. Follow this north and go right on Kinzie (you'll be in a large cemetery area here). Take Kinzie around (it bends north-ish), go right on W. 6th St., left on Memorial Dr. and then a right onto State St./38. At this railroad tracks right after this turn, you should pick up a path again that goes on out of Racine. I got a bit lost during this Racine part, but came by a fire station and figuring those guys know about some town geography, stopped for advice and got put right by a local fireman (sorry for interrupting the Brewers game!).

This trail takes you up into the hinterlands south of S. Milwaukee. At the end of the trail, go west (left) on 6 Mile and take a right onto Douglas Ave/32. This is your road for quite some time. After hours of being on the gravel, it felt VERY good to be back on a roadway! I suddenly found my third (?) wind and was bombing along around 20-ish mph for miles and miles.

32 turns into S. Chicago Road as you come up into S. Milwaukee. Most of the time the shoulder is nice and wide and is a pretty nice ride. Drivers were uniformly courteous and scooching over even when it wasn't really necessary. Thanks Wisconsinites! One up into S. Milwaukee (the city of), you jog over on Marquette to stay on 10th Ave./S. Chicago. This eventually turns into Packard and I took this up to S. Kinnickinnic Ave. and headed up that to my final destination. I was SO VERY hungry by this last 4 or 5 miles, that I was basically sprinting to get to food, running for miles around 23-24 mph. I felt like I was on a solo breakaway on a Grand Tour stage!

I made it to the St. Francis Brewery having ridden for a total of 5:45 (including stops) for a total of 81.6 miles. I probably ate about 2500 calories in an hour. (St. Francis Brewery has delicious food and a great Kolsch Beer BTW!) My average was something like 14.5 mph, but that includes about a total of 20 minutes of stopping for "natural breaks" (in the parlance of race announcers) and a few directions checks and photo ops. Not bad for this almost-40-year-old on my longest ride to date.

For those heading all the way up into Milwaukee, there are a few other ways/paths up into town. More info can be reverse-engineered from this route
, which is from Milwaukee to Chicago. This is an enjoyable ride. You can do it on a road bike, but just make sure you have some fairly sturdy tires. I rode my steel Surly Pacer with Continental Gatorskins and I think I'd have gotten at least one flat if I was on my Look with the Michelin Pro 2s. The gravel is quite well packed and smooth, but it's just a long ride with a lot of odd rocks and things you can hit. Also, take at least a couple bottles of water and 500 to 600 calories of grub. It's a very mellow ride and I hope to do it again soon.

For a little packet of images of the route that I put together from Illinois trail maps and Google maps, click here

Monday, July 13, 2009



Try this one on for size:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kettle Moraine, etc.


Last Sunday I went for my first ever proper mountain bike ride. Having spent years riding a mountain bike in the wrong terrain before discovering that road bikes are for roads (!?), I finally went to see some of the terrain that spawned the most common bikes in the city.

As stated on the Wisconson Off-road Bicycling Association's website:
"Located in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest are some of the best mountain bike trails in the country. Both the John Muir and Emma F. Carlin trail systems offer a great opportunity to test your riding skills.

Well, my friend JBI and myself drove up so I could take said test. He is an old, old hand at the mountain biking who had hit these trails many times, but hadn't been in a couple of years. After some reallly dumb driving detours courtesy of the iPhone's Google Maps app (do not put too much trust in such maps in rural areas as "approximate location" can, and did in this case, mean "give or take 20-ish miles"), we arrived at Backyard Bikes where I was to rent a suitable bike for my foray. I just told them my size and to set me up with what seemed good. What I ended up with was this Gary Fisher Cobia, a 21" frame 29er mountain bike. These are mountain bikes with 700c wheels (rather than the smaller 26" wheel), which seem to be all the rage these days.

The first thing I had to do was ride this thing about a mile and a half down the road to the trailhead and, let me tell you, I remembered why I was so floored when I first rode a decent road bike. Riding even a modified mountain bike in the city is like riding a road bike through molasses, but with the Stay-Puft tires on this thing, it was like riding through setting cement! I pulled up to JBI in the parking lot and asked "are these tires really necessary?" to which he replied "you'll see once we're in there."

He did a little parking lot tinkering on his custom built Ted Wojcik bike, which apparently regularly gets some "whoa dude, old school!" reactions in the forest, I futzed with my seat position and went over and bought a couple of trail passes and off we went.

We went in on the Blue Trail, which is the big loop around the whole area (10 miles) and is "intermediate" apparently. I would not yet want to see "advanced" because intermediate was plenty! This trail is like a roller coaster that you have to navigate yourself. In many places the clearance is barely wider than your handlebars and its just a shoulder shaking, upper body crushing job to move along at a decent pace and keep yourself on the trail. I found it highly amusing what you could roll over on this bike. I'd be swinging wildly back and forth on the narrow trail and suddenly hit a little jog left, not quite staying on the trail and see that I was veering into a 2' high boulder and think "I'm done for," only to roll right up over it without even trying. Same for giant tree trunks in the path, pipe-sized tree roots, etc. etc. It was pretty funny! Another thing that you learn very quickly (thanks for the tip beforehand JBI!) is that it doesn't really pay to climb out of the saddle as your traction pretty much completely disappears if you are not in the saddle to weigh your back wheel down. Sometimes it can't be avoided (standing) and then you just end up in this comedic mix of climbing and skidding in place. There were a few climbs where I was absolutely sure I was not going to make it, but somehow I always did.

I had to stop about every 15 to 20 minutes to just sweat from every pore in my body and gulp down some precious water. The nice part was that the sweat was great air-conditioning once you started back up.

Did I mention that this is some GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS forest out there? Every once in a while we'd come into a clearing where you could look around (like the area in the picture above) and it would just take my breath away. We rode around 3/4s of the John Muir trail loop and then went off onto the Emma Carlin connector trail to add a few miles in. The main loop is one way, which means that once you're on it, you're on it! The connector was ostensibly two way, but we ended up being the only people we saw going back the way we came, so that was a bit confusing. There were some pretty new cuts and confusing signage back there though, maybe next time I'll ask at the bike shop.

After a couple of miles on the connector trail, JBI came down with a flat and we decided to fix it and head back as the day was waning a bit by then.

Speaking of which, what a beautiful day it was! Low 80s, sunny, just a picture perfect day.
All told, we rode something like 15 miles in about an hour and a half. Not exactly a marathon distance, but it left me feeling as if I'd ridden 60 hard miles on a road bike.

Once we got back to the bike shop, we sampled the wares from their great little cafe/snack shop. They make an assortment of tasty healthy sandwiches and salads and also have a STELLAR beer selection. I pounded a New Glarus Cherry Ale (750ml) to slake my considerable thirst and then finished off the last 1/3rd of JBI's for good measure. We had a nice drive back home (nice for me anyway as I just vegged out in the passenger's seat) and I collapsed onto the couch for an hour or so before I could do anything. Exhausting!

I would not describe it as relaxing, by any measure, something that I often think of with road biking, but it was certainly exhilirating! I am looking forward to my next trip. Not sure if I'm ready to dip my toes into building/owning a mountain bike yet, but knowing myself, I'm sure that will change eventually!

In other news, I have ridden about 140 road miles this week and am still hoping to squeeze in another 30 today. I'm feeling pretty good about my very unstructured "training" so far. I did a really nice ride day before yesterday into the Forest Preserve off-street trail system up northwest of me. It is a pretty beautiful ride up there. Similar to Madison but with more crappy major street crossings to contend with (Touhy, sheesh!!!). I didn't make it all the way to the Botanical Gardens, but got pretty close before having to ride back to some work in the real world. We'll see if I make it today. The missus might come up there with me for a ride later.

I am going to shoot for riding to Milwaukee a week from tomorrow. I'll have to research the route, but I feel ready to do it. This will be the real test run for the HHH ride. I got some clip on aero bars in the mail yesterday at work, though I probably will not get them mounted until Monday. I think having this option will be a big help on a long, windy ride. Also, provides a great position to stretch a tight back out.

More soon...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

TDF watching / HHH100 training


So, Tour de France watching is happening after all. Starting on day 2 (unless I missed it before, but I thought I looked), there was suddenly an online package thingy at Versus.com to watch on the website. It's not super great quality video, the first hacker guy I found at dustin.tv was a much better feed of Versus' broadcast, but it's pretty decent, and it was not terribly expensive, like $35 I think for the whole tour.

Lots of weird action over the last few days. I liked the hard TTT. I guess a lot of riders don't but, man (respectfully) if all the courses were just made to be easy to ride, this probably wouldn't be a multi-million dollar spectator sport.
Half a team crashing does shake things up a bit and those who did their homework (like Astana) had some serious spoils to gain.

I'm hard at work getting up to snuff for my late August century ride. I rode 31 miles along the lakefront Tuesday and 35 miles out on the Forest Preserve bike path towards the Botanical Garden today. It was my first day to go riding out there and it's pretty nice, though it's also pretty broken up by roads and crossings of very major, highway-like streets. Nice for around here anyway.

I'm going to try for at least 30-ish miles every other day and at some point, I'm planning on riding to Milwaukee to see what a 16-17mph pace is like for something close to 100 miles.

I just realized I haven't put anything up here about my first ever for reals mountain biking experience. Crazy, crazy riding. Coming shortly!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

TDF watcher - It's not going to be that easy



I'm picturing a massive control room full of copyright control specialists in the Amoury Sports Group batcave with massive supercomputers scouring the world for any way that unauthorized viewing is taking place. Yesterday I literally watched all sorts of web peer 2 peer feeds getting shut down one at a time. That nice Australian feed was fully happening then. Oh well, the internet will find a way. Or maybe I'll just get Comcast cable.... wait a minute, no I won't!!!

Anyway, I'm watching it "elsewhere" on the interwebs now. We'll see how long that lasts!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

misc. things


Happy b-day USA! The usual din of bombs bursting in air is happening all over the city tonight. I saw a guy zip down my street in all black on a stealth black bike too and thought "don't catch a bottle rocket in the face buddy!" It's a bit scary out there, at least my dog certainly thinks so!

Here is an interesting op-ed a friend just sent along. It's a neat perspective on a situation that is usually viewed in a totally car-centric way. Namely, the desolation of the "Motor City."

TDF started today. I like watching the time trials even though, ostensibly it's one of the most boring parts of bike racing to watch. I guess it's just the understood tension and personal exertion that keeps me drawn in. It seems as if you can legitimately watch it on this Australian network's website, I thought they would somehow see your IP location and shut you down but it seems to be cool. Vive le tour! Fabian Cancellara, ouch!! Take that, mere mortals!

I'm officially "in training" for the Hotter Than Hell 100 in Wichita Falls, TX on August 28th now. I'm not sure what that's going to end up meaning, but I certainly think I need to be riding at least 120 miles per week from now on. I did bring my bike down to Houston for a trip home to visit family and did a nearly 40 mile ride with my old friend Ryan in some upper 90s heat. It was just fine, we actually literally rode abreast and talked the ENTIRE 38.5 miles. I guess that's some kind of cross-training!

I'm also going to take a trip up to Kettle Moraine Park in Wisconson tomorrow and do my first offroad biking since I was a little BMX-er back in 7th/8th grade! Going to rent a bike up there and see what it's all about. I will update you, faithful (3 or 4?) readers!