Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bike Garage

And now for a compliment to my university! They have created enclosed, locked bike garages! I don't know why am so pleased by this. It has always worked fine to drag my bike up to my office. But now I'll be able to lock my bike up in a locked space that is protected from rain and snow, and just a five minute walk from my building. I hope I can rest assured that my lights and other expensive doodads won't be stolen. No more melting slush on my floor! No more amused looks as I carry my loaded bike down the stairs, in my winter biking regalia, lights flashing, gear laden baskets creaking.

I'm happy to pay the $60/yr for my two bikes.

And, in their defense, I must say that this is just one part of their obviously determined effort to promote biking on campus, from an active and fully functional bike store and repair facility, to an apparent effort to put bike lanes on every campus road.

Now if we could just get a bike lane to run to campus from the eastern suburbs, where so many faculty live.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

No Bikes On Sidewalks!

The Powers That Be here at my university have been trying to figure out how to keep bike riders from killing pedestrians on campus sidewalks, a worthy goal. These young people are lunatics on their bikes. (I, on the other hand, am a paragon of caution and consideration.) It's a tough problem. The obvious way to do it would be to impose a speed limit, maybe 5 mph. Ha ha ha. The other obvious way to do it is to ban bikes from the sidewalks.

I would have said ha ha ha to that, too, except that the signs just went up: "It is ILLEGAL to ride bikes on the sidewalk. Your bike will be impounded if you ride on the sidewalk." My first reaction was good luck with that. I can just see a herd of bike-mounted police officers chasing after sidewalk riders. Or perhaps roadblocks to catch offenders. And then the obvious question: Where are the thousands of bike riders going to ride, if not on the sidewalk? The Powers That Be say that they should ride in the (only partially existent) bike lanes and to the right on roads without bike lanes.

A few observations: First, Michigan law says that bikes can ride two abreast. Is that going to be OK? Michigan law also says that bikes can ride to the left in the left lane when there are two lanes in the same direction. Is that going to be OK? What about when bikes want to turn left from a bike lane that's on the right-hand side of the road. Cut across traffic? Turn left from the right lane? And what is the likelihood that bike riders will ride all the way around the one-way circle drive to get to their building that's "just over there"? Not a chance. They'll ride the wrong way in the bike lane, a la NYC. And what will the campus streets be like with thousands of bike riders? It will be Peking in the 20th century: Wall to wall bikes. I actually like the idea. The car drivers won't be so crazy about it. Too bad. They can bike to campus. Except there are no bike lanes or paths that go to campus from the south, east, or north. Mixed messages. Don't drive to campus because there's no parking. Don't bike to campus, because there's no safe way to do it. We don't want you to have a discount to take the bus to campus, either.

So I am going to start following the rules. I shall take my proper place in traffic. I shall wait at stop lights and stop signs. I shall avoid sidewalks. When I turn left, I'll move over to the left lane. Let them honk! I wish I had a sign that says "Don't Blame Me!"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

I Should Be Windsurfing

It's windsurfing season here on the Leelanau Peninsula, the time when my covetous gaze once turned ever lakeward, the better to gain a peep at the piping breeze. 

"Wind's up!" I would cry and then drive frantically to the beach, rig, wade in, sail for sometimes as little as 15 minutes, then wade out, unrig, drive home, and get back to my life, only to keeping peeping lakeward to see if maybe I missed the best wind of the day. It consumed every waking minute.

Now I windsurf a lot less and bike a lot more. And I worry that I'm cheating myself out of the pleasure of regular sailing. But yesterday as I was grinding up the hill at the south end of Glen Lake I decided that I get equal pleasure in biking, in being able to grind up that hill and cruise at 19 mph in the flats and easily ride 30 miles as my daily outing. My legs felt good, the bike was smooth and responsive, and the scenery was lovely. Not Alpe d'Huez, not TdF speeds, but lovely and fun. Perhaps I am trying to ride away from old age; perhaps I won't like biking as much with old weak legs and gaspy lungs. But for now, it feels OK to neglect windsurfing in favor of biking. It's nice not to obsess as much.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


I've been trying to get back to the B17 saddle. Wonderfully comfortable leather, but the hard interface with my ass has caused welts in the past. So I slid the saddle forward (contrary to rivish philosophy, which holds that the saddle can't be too far back), which helps me use the wider part by rolling back onto my natural (ahem) cushion. Quite comfortable (relatively speaking, which means not actually comfortable but better than other saddles), and no welts thus far.

Interesting (and not often discusssed) how a saddle's comfort depends in part on the height of the handle bars and the relative forward placement of the saddle.

Nope. At the risk of TMI, let's just say butt boils are back. There's discomfort and then there's discomfort. The nicely padded saddle is back.

It has nothing to do with sweat or bacteria or chafing. It has everything to do with a bony butt on a hard leather saddle.

Enough said.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


I love/hate bike listserv discussion boards. It's such a pissing contest. Today someone said that he likes a certain handlebar for short rides . . . under 100 miles. Says he can ride in Carhartt shorts and boxers when doing 50 miles. But when doing 200 miles, well, that's different.

I could probably ride 200 miles, but it would count as epic/heroic/insane. My 132-mile day was very very long. Not insane, not heroic, a bit epic. But to go another 68 miles? I don't think so. And I'm fantastically fit (for an old guy).

So when these people casually say, "Yes, well (yawn) when I'm riding 200 miles I like to prepare a little better," I'm inclined not to believe them. I am compelled to believe them, because who could get away with such lies on a bicycle discussion board? But I'm inclined not to.

Quite frankly, when I go out for a 50-mile ride, I notice it. I can do it, and I do it often in summer. But I notice it.

Well. Humph. I guess the 200-mile guy wins the pissing contest.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bike Trails, Good Business

I'm afraid I got in a bit of an argument in the barber shop about bike trails, specifically the new one that we have here in the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Paved, it runs through the woods from Empire to Glen Arbor. In its one of year of existence, it has been hugely popular.

As is inevitable with all good things, the trail has haters. Too many trees were cut down; the pristine wilderness was violated; the trail is too crowded with damn tourists. Cindy actually had a woman in the store argue that the trail killed too many bugs.

Anyway, this guy in the barbershop was complaining about the trail. "What a waste of money! Bikers never spend a penny in my store! What a boondoggle!" Since this was one of the dumbest things I've heard about the trail, coming from a business owner, especially, I defended the trail. I not very respectuflly disagreed. I said that we get MANY bike riders in our store, many of whom say, "I never knew you were here!" They often come back and spend money. Do they spend it right then, on their bikes? Probably not that often (although earrings are pretty easy to carry on a bike). But thanks to the trail, they now know we're there. We know they come back after their bike ride.

This guy owns a sporting goods store, so he thinks that just because bike riders aren't buying fishing gear, they have no value for him. He doesn't realize that business is a multi-step process. Perhaps the most important step is simple awareness. That's what advertising is all about, after all.

I think of the High Line in Manhattan. I'm sure there were many people, business owners, even, who thought the High Line was an idiotic waste of money. "It's a walking path! How is that worth the millions we're spending on it?" The answer is that simple walking path draws, quite literally, millions of people to the lower west side of Manhattan, to an area that was a bit of a waste land. It is now a tourist hub. The Whitney Museum just opened down there. It is going from having a few hundred thousand visitors each year, to having millions. And it's all due to a simple walking path.

Bike trails work the same way. They are good business. Any businessman who doesn't get that can't be much of a businessman.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

NEW New Touring Model

At the risk of repeating myself, I need to figure out a new model of touring by myself. I probably could have done the last "new" model (100 mile days, motels), but when push came to shove, when the pedals hit the metal, when the piper had to be paid, when it came time to shit or get off the pot, when . . . Well. It didn't happen.

So I slept out in my hammock last night, pretending that I was stealth camping. Actually quite pleasant. The 3/4-size air mattress was the perfect insulator. (All camping hammocks require insulation between your backside and the relatively cool air below; the traditional insulator is a car sunscreen, those foil lined fold-up covers you put on your dashboard to keep your car cool.) But the air mattress is nice because it can be used on the ground, when the hammock is used as a pup tent. 

Could I imagine actually stealth camping?

The funny thing is, I did it numerous times when I was a lad. Jon and I camped along the road on a trip from WI to MI, and another pal and I camped in various places on a trip to Maine, including in cemeteries (which are quite lovely places to pitch a tent). Even back then, I recognized how limiting it was to insist on camping in official campgrounds (or motels) when bike touring. Often, they simply don't exist.

I suspect that, mostly, people don't care when you stealth camp on public property. A few years ago, a group of Rivendell bike tourers were passing through Empire; they asked at the grocery store where they might spend the night, and they were told to just pitch their tents in Johnson's Park. I suspect no one even noticed they were there. (And if they had been questioned, they could have said, "Phil told us to camp here," and they would have been left alone.)

That's the only way to tour: camp in campgrounds when possible and convenient, motels when necessary and convenient, and otherwise stealth camp.

But can I do it by myself, or will I always talk myself out of it?

I'm glad no one other than Chester reads this. Who wants to read the obsessive musings of a self-flagellating failed bike tourist?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Letting Cars Pass

As a side note to my report of my aborted trans-Ontario trip (see previous post), I had a revelation during my inglorious ride home today. Namely, I value my safety too much to play road games with cars. So today, whenever a car came up behind me in a situation that prevented it from passing (oncoming traffic, hills, windy turns), I just pulled off the road and let it go by. Didn't cost me much time, it was safer than having a car on my tail, and it probably defused the driver's bad thoughts about bike riders.

So as I was planning my route, I picked a stretch that I knew to be just about the worst road and traffic in all of Michigan, if not the known universe. Heavy traffic, no shoulder, no room for a car to squeeze by. But since I only needed to ride about three miles on this road, and since there were no alternative routes if I was going to visit my childhood cottage, I just did it. I probably needed to get off the road ten times, but I didn't care. It allowed me to ride safely on an extremely dangerous road. Obviously, this would have been impossible without a mirror; but what moron rides on busy roads without a mirror?

Bike Trip Aborted

I'm supposed to be in St. Thomas, Ontario, tonight. Instead, I'm at home in Michigan. Why is that?

On Tuesday night, as I was putting the finishing touches on my preparations, getting ready to make a crack-of-dawn departure, I went to grab my passport. "Thank goodness I didn't forget THIS!" I says to myself.

Then I looked at the expiration date: March, 2015. Let's see. This is June, 2015, so March, 2015, was in the past. So my passport is expired.

Do they have 24-hour passport stores? They do not. I was not going to be crossing any international borders any time soon, and certainly not in two days.

I like to think I didn't intentionally try to sabotage my trip by forgetting to check my passport's currency. No, I'm pretty sure that's not what I intended. But that was the result.

So what now? I spent the rest of the evening, into the wee hours, putting together an alternate trip, one that took me to Buffalo via Ohio. I could catch a train in Buffalo, arrive NYC on the designated day. Google maps told me that it would be a 65-mile day, then four 95-mile days. Hm. Let's go!

But I didn't have good maps, which makes me uneasy. I used Adventure Cycling's new interactive map to give me a pretty good sense of their route from Toledo to Buffalo, but it would require me to use the iPad as my main source of route guidance. It works beautifully, but it's not the same thing as having a map in front of me all the time. Four 95 miles days would be doable.

So I left at noon and rode to my father's house in Ann Arbor. I even let him take me out to dinner as a special treat (for him, of course).

I did have the Adventure Cycling map for Ann Arbor to Toledo, and as I started adding up the miles, I realized that my first day was going to be well over 100 miles. And so would the other days, since Adventure Cycling rarely takes the most direct route. (Google maps, impressive as it is, doesn't really do a very good job picking bicycle routes.)

Suddenly it all seemed too much. I still needed to get to NYC, but perhaps biking wasn't the way. I checked plane tickets and found that I could fly for the price of my hotel rooms. I could still use my return plans (only they'd be easier because I wouldn't be schlepping a bike).

So I booked the flight, got up in Ann Arbor this morning, and rode back home. As consolation, the ride was lovely. I used some old favorite roads (Huron River Drive between Ann Arbor and Dexter was my first biking route when I was a kid, and it's still gorgeous.) I stopped in at the cottage on Portage Lake at which I spent all my childhood summers, I explored a completely new route that took me north to Fowlerville before turning west, and I rode on a fair number of quite nice dirt roads. So the return trip, 68 miles, was great.

But it's discouraging, bailing out on a planned trip, even one that was thrown together at midnight. Let's face it, it was cowardice, or lack of commitment or some other personality trait that I'm not proud of. I didn't think I could do it . . . no, that's not really true. I knew I could ride four 100+ mile days. But I suddenly didn't want to. I panicked.

And now I have doubts. Will I ever bike tour again? Perhaps there's no way for me to do it by myself, other than my "commuting" rides from mid- to northern-Michigan, which are actually quite fun. I suppose I could join an organized tour--Adventure Cycling has many--but that just doesn't sound fun.

Oh well. For those of you following this grand adventure, never mind. I'm going to power wash the garage, instead.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Okemos to Rome via Canada and the Erie Canal

The itinerary is set. Next Wednesday I set off from my house heading east, toward the Canadian border. I'll spend the first night near Lake St. Clair (north of Detroit), then two nights in Ontario, then two more nights in New York, along the Erie Canal (most of which I've already ridden). The long day will be 104 miles; the short day will be the last one, something like 68 miles. I'll catch the 4:30 train in Rome headed for New York City, where I have obligations.

Why do this?

Good question. I know Jon wonders why I have started doing these bizarre endurance tours. I do, too, a little bit.

First, I don't really like camping by myself. Other than saving money, I don't get much out of staying in campgrounds that are close enough to the road to be convenient. (I realize saving money can be an important advantage; if I were doing a two-month tour, staying in motels wouldn't be acceptable.) These trips are about the biking, not the camping.

So if I'm staying in motels, I want to maximize the distance between nights. As long as my body can take it, I don't mind riding 8, 9, 10 hours; if there's no setting up or cooking to do, rolling in at 7:00 PM isn't a problem. My trips last week and last year proved that I can do up to 130 miles in a day, even into the wind and over rolling hills, and I can do at least three long days in a row. I'll do five long days, plus one normal day this trip.

Why not just ride five 100-mile days out and back from my home? Somehow, a large part of the pleasure is actually getting somewhere, even if it's not somewhere I really want to be. (I have no interest in Rome, NY, even though that's my destination.) There's a metaphor there somewhere, the compulsion to keep moving forward through life or something. It's all about setting a personal goal and accomplishing it; setting the goal of riding 500 miles in five days without actually getting somewhere doesn't do it for me. In fact, I'm not sure I could make myself stick to it. After two 100-mile days, I think I'd say, "Just kidding. Didn't really want to do five of these." When I'm in the middle of nowhere, 300 miles from home or my destination, I've got to keep going. Plus, I just like exploring, studying maps (I love maps), figuring out how to get from point A to point B.

 Stay tuned. The ride reports will commence in five days.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Summer 2015 Shake Down Trip

As I sit here in my quite nice Days Inn in Clare, I feel that I can start to understand my desires and capabilities for the big trip of the summer, which has been planned as Okemos to NYC, but not without   a great deal of apprehension. I want to use my 100-mile-day model, staying in motels, but I'm not sure that I can sustain it for 8(!) days. Now that I have just finished a very reasonable 97-mile day (into a brisk headwind, no less), I feel confident I can do a multiple-day trip. Eight days? Maybe, but do I want to? Perhaps I should compromise and end in Rome, NY, where I broke off my first leg of my "cross-country by installments" project. If I end in Rome, I will have continuously ridden between the Atlantic coast (Portland, ME) and Okemos. I could then start the next leg of the project somewhere in Wisconsin, since I have ridden from Okemos to Muskegon (assuming I allow myself to take ferries).

Instead of 8+ days, a trip to Rome would be 5+ days, which seems much more manageable. In Rome, I could catch Amtrak for NYC, where cindy and I are going to a bash in Central Park, but that's another story. Stay tuned. 

Anyway, about this trip. I have ridden from Okemos to Empire (or the reverse) three times. Once under the old model of four 60-mile days, once in two days using the shortest possible route (which, as a result, wasn't very pleasant), and last summer's trip down the west side of the state in three 95-mile days. 

The old-school trip with Jon was the most satisfying, since we camped and cooked and did what we always have done. But of the trips by myself, last summer's long days that ended in hotels that had been pre-reserved was the best. I don't like camping by myself. Either I only go 60 miles and arrive by 2:00 and then kill time, or I go long days and arrive late afternoon and must set up and figure out food, and still kill time for a few hours. Much better to arrive at a hotel after a really long day (I arrived at 4:00 today), soak in the tub (or, even better, in the hot tub!), wander over to the inevitable nearby restaurant for a nice dinner, watch a little TV, turn in early, partake of the included breakfast, and be on the road by 7:00. Costs more? Of course. Worth it? Absolutely. It's the difference between doing a trip and not doing it. 

I am riding my preferred touring bike, the fold up Bike Friday. It's just a great riding bike. Super comfortable, with no performance downside. I averaged nearly 13 mph today, into a stiff wind, no less. I couldn't have done better on my touring trek. 

The big innovation of this trip is the lovely rivendell saddle bag. Their biggest bag, it holds a ton. Supported by a seat post rack, it is rock solid. Unlike any other touring bags I've used, it's very easy to get at the contents of the bag during the day. Just flop it open, grab stuff, and flop it closed. Expensive but highly recommended.
My Bike Friday with seatpost rack and huge Riv seat bag. The carrying bag for the bike is strapped to the underside of the rack.

The other (expensive) innovation is an iPad (on which I'm typing somewhat successfully right now). In a stroke of small genius, I photographed (with the iPad) detailed county maps for all the counties I'll pass through. In moments of doubt or route planning, I call up the county maps (no wifi or cell service required) and get a precise view of roads and routes. It saved me a couple of long detours today by showing me better routes than the ones I had planned with the regional and bike maps I was using. 

As I ride, I prefer just to have a big state map that shows me the really big picture. That map is not very good for planning, if you want to avoid the biggest roads. It shows the nicer grey-line roads, but it doesn't say what they're called. My pictures of the county maps do, and they show the even smaller but still paved roads. And I don't need to carry all that extra paper. 

Day 2
What a day. Because I didn't want to ride the hypotenuse (M-115), I added 20 miles to the total. They were mostly beautiful, but by the time I finished I had ridden 131 miles. My second longest day ever, eclipsed only by the day that Jon and I rode from Douglas to Ann Arbor, something like 160 miles. And I was 16 at the time. I am (wait for it) 40 years older now.

The weather continued cool, mid-30s at the start, never getting out of the 50s, mid-40s by the end. My Melanzana tights were lovely for all 226 miles of this trip. Gloves, hat, fleece top, windbreaker, not my normal biking garb, but it worked.

The first part of the day was on the newly paved Pere Marquette rail trail from Clare to Evart. Absolutely lovely. Woods and wetlands, lots of birds, no other people, lots of quiet. Speaking of birds, this was a good trip for them: A flock of turkeys ran ahead of me on the trail for quite a long way, their claws clickety-clicking on the pavement; a flock of vultures perched high on an old grain elevator along the trail, spreading their huge wings to warm them in the sun; a bald eagle landed on the road just a little ahead of me, then flapped off, harassed by a little bird.

I added a few more miles by taking the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail Linear State Park (known to its friends as the FMWPTLSP) from LeRoy to Cadillac. It's all paved in this stretch, and quite beautiful, so I figured it was worth the less direct route. I was pretty tired by the time I got to the Cadillac McDonald's, which was slow and ineptly run, as usual.

The final right-angle roads of the day took me up to the former M-42, which runs from Manton to Mesick. Pretty road, but lots of hills. The fact that it was clouding over and getting colder didn't help my mood. By the time I hit Mesick, I had gone 92 miles. 

From Mesick I took the hypotenuse of M-115. Perfectly good road, relatively light traffic, and the sun was peeking out again. I was on well-known to me roads the rest of the way. 

I was tired but not destroyed by the time I got to Empire at 7:30 (after 12 hours on the road). I even made it up the big hill on Indian Hill Rd out of Honor in relatively good shape.

What worked: 
The Rivendell large saddlesack was fabulous. I opened it, grabbed stuff, closed it numerous times during the day. I've never been able to do that with panniers or dry bags, which are a hassle to open and fish around in. As a result, I stored stuff inside the bag rather than strapping it all over the outside, which is what I do with other bags.

The Melanzana fleece tights were great (directly against the skin, if you know what I mean). No butt boils, even after 225 miles.

The Schwalbe Marathon tires continue to amaze me. They're tough. I've ridden this same rear tire for four tours, and it's barely showing wear. No flats, knock on wood.

The iPad was very handy, worth bringing. It just fits in my handlebar bag, so it's easy to use during the day. I took it out every stop, checked email, consulted county maps, read newspapers. 

I had my stool with me, but I only pulled it out once for a little sit down. In retrospect, I would have been happier if I had done it more often on the long day. It's worth bringing.

Finally, just for the fun of it, I walked a little bit each day. Late in the day, after many miles, it just felt good to get off the bike and walk for a half mile. Not up a hill, necessarily, just when I needed a break, but didn't want to just sit in one place.

As an aside, how do people ride brevets, 400K, 600K, 800K, 1000K? The rules state that you must finish 1000K (600 miles) in 75 hours. (That's about three days.) Really? I did 400-ish K in 36 hours, which is significantly over the allowed 27 hours. And I'm proposing to do 1000-ish K in about 120 hours, way over the 75-hour limit (like, more than two 24 hour days). To do 1000K (600 miles) in 75 hours, I'd need to ride 200 miles per day for three days. So twice as far, per day, as I'm proposing. Zowie. I think not.

Is it possible? Unless all these people (none of whom I have actually met, I must point out) are fictional, yes, it's possible. I'll try to keep that in mind on my fourth 100-mile day. "Wimp!" I'll say to myself. "You should be going TWICE this distance!" Of course, it requires riding at night, so I'd need lights. Hm.

On second thought, these people are fictional. It can't be done.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mackinac Island

We just got back from Mackinac Island, where we spent the night at the Grand Hotel (at a seriously discounted rate). The hotel was fun (although my dinner was awful), and biking around the island was fun, even though it was 43˚ and raining. Biking in the rain is better than not biking at all.

But what I liked best was seeing all the working bikes on the island. All the locals ride big, sturdy bikes with front baskets and fenders, many with dyno hubs and lights, which they just leave lying around when they are not riding them (as opposed to locking them up like precious artifacts). We didn't have fenders, which, on a rainy day, was a mistake. Since the island is covered with big old working horses clip-clopping on every road, dropping their "exhaust" everywhere, when it rains, the roads are covered with eau de horse shit. By the end of our ride, we were thoroughly coated from butt to brain pan.

Interestingly (to me), it wasn't so much the absence of a front fender that mattered. Cindy had a front fender (although one that didn't reach down far enough), and her shoes and down tube were still coated. But no back fender? Bad idea. Ideally, we would have had front fenders that reached nearly to the road (as does the fender on my commuting Trek) and full back fenders. Think of the neatness.