By Gary J. Boulanger.
The sky was blue, the sidewalks were bustling, and the IPA was flowing on a warm, 62-degree Sunday afternoon in Marin County as a gaggle of Mountain Bike Hall of Famers gathered in San Rafael, California on February 10 to raise a pint and funds for Marilyn Price’s Trips For Kids organization, which takes underprivileged youth out on the trails.
The 15th Annual ‘Brews, Bikes & Bucks’ attracted local riders, supporters, and bike industry personalities to the Broken Drum Brewery where the owner, Noah Berry, donates all proceeds of the day to Trips For Kids, based just down the street. The non-profit receives the bulk of its funding from the Re-Cyclery Thrift Shop at 610 4th Street, with inventory donated from local supporters and several bicycle companies.
The nice weather brought out several pioneers, many of whom rode in on bikes, including Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, Gary Fisher, Scot Nicol, Charlie Kelly, Chris Lang, Dave Garoutte, James McLean, Jacquie Phelan, Mert Lawwill, Bruce Gordon, Sky Yaeger, Dave Koski, and our own fearless publisher, Maurice Tierney.
From left: Chris Chance, Joe Breeze and Mert Lawwill. Chance and Breeze are legends with the torch, and Lawwill was the star of "On Any Sunday", plus a talented mountain bike suspension designer.
From left: Chris Chance, Scot Nicol and Otis Guy. Chance ran Fat Chance Cycles out of Boston, once called the Ibis of the East. Nicol founded Ibis Cycles, called the Fat Chance of the West? Either way, Guy is always smiling, and is fitter than you’ll ever be.
Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher started a little home-brewed company called "Mountainbikes" in Marin County back in 1979, and Charlie still flies the flag in Fairfax with this more modern machine.
Above left: Trips For Kids founder and director Marilyn Price enjoys gathering the tribe together every year, and Joe Breeze seems pleased as a schoolboy. Above right: Mert Lawwill raced motorcycles with Steve McQueen, designed full suspension bikes with Gary Fisher, and still cuts a mean figure in black leather. Son Joe handles marketing for Shimano America.
Maurice Tierney with Gary Fisher and his wife Alex.
Local gal Sky Yaeger designed many Bianchi, Swobo, and Spot bikes you see in your neighborhood. Now she’s whipping up something really special for Shinola, a new company based in Detroit.
Like several Marin County-based Mountain Bike Hall of Famers, Joe Breeze has his name on the down tube, and lives within riding distance of the Broken Drum Brewery in San Rafael.
Bruce Gordon was a key figure in the development of the 29er tire in the 1980s, and this 2013 model shows off his updated Rock N Road tires, featured in the latest issue of Bicycle Times.
After some socializing and bench racing with old pals, Gary Fisher and his wife rolled out to catch the Larkspur ferry back to their flat in San Francisco.
The 15th Annual Trips For Kids fundraiser, "Brews, Bikes & Bucks" gathered at the Broken Drum Brewery in San Rafael, California. Among the mountain bike pioneers were Chris Chance, Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher, Jacquie Phelan, Mert Lawwill, Otis Guy, Chris Lang, Dave Garoutte, Maurice Tierney, Sky Yaeger, James McLean, Dave Koski and Broken Drum owner Noah Berry. Not pictured: Charlie Kelly, Bruce Gordon, and Scot Nicol.Tweet
By Gary J. Boulanger,
Belgian road racer Eddy Merckx packed the athletic power of Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, and Walter Payton into his 6’1”, 180-pound frame, demolishing his rivals consistently between 1965 and 1978, where many raced for second against the one they called ‘The Cannibal’.
Merckx, who first tasted victory as an amateur on October 1, 1961, continued his victorious ways throughout his professional career, eventually tallying 525 wins, for which a new book has been named.
Merckx 525, published by VeloPress (222 pages, $60), is a hefty book, befitting the hefty career the now 67-year-old Belgian. After all, he won the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia five times, the world road championships three times, Milan-San Remo seven times, and Paris-Roubaix three times, and set the hour record in 1972, which stood for 12 years. His first Tour victory in 1969 included winning the general classification (yellow jersey), points classification (green ‘sprinter’s’ jersey) and the mountains classification (now polka dot).
Despite Merckx’s vise-like grip on the podium, his adversaries were formidable; many, including Joop Zoetemelk, Felice Gimondi, Luis Ocana, Raymond Poulidor, and Roger De Vlaeminck, would’ve been ultra superstars if Merckx hadn’t lined up in their era. Many dared to go toe-to-toe with Merckx, and many beat him, but not regularly. Merckx 525 does an excellent job chronicling Merckx’s career in words and pictures, providing the wonderful minutiae and insight behind his greatest achievements.
Several books on Merckx have been published since his retirement, but Merckx 525 gives the reader an intimate view of the Belgian’s life on and off the bike during his prime years, sideburns and all. Vintage bicycle aficionados will appreciate the lugged steel bikes, leather saddles, wool shorts and jerseys, metal toe clips and leather shoes.
What I found most interesting was the quick metamorphosis of Merckx’s physical appearance on the bike as he won the Classics and Grand Tours; his round-cheeked face became more chiseled, as did his thighs and chest. He morphed into a machine of sorts, pounding out the RPMs like a metronome clarion as a reminder to his adversaries of who was in charge. The burden climaxed by March 19, 1978, Merckx’s final race. He came in 12th at the Tour of Waaland, which finished in Kemzeke, just 100km from his birthplace of Tielt-Winge, Belgium.
Merckx 525 captures the raw effort of bike racing, with the backdrop of Europe as Merckx’s canvas. His life, both private and professional, is laid out for the world to witness. I can picture a slight Flemish smirk creasing his face as he reads it, and a familiar frown of resignation on the faces of his adversaries, at least those who care to relive their glory years.
Editor’s note: We’re happy to share this great submission by reader Dave Hodgson about his first attempt at racing ‘cross. Have a story you’d like to share with readers? Send it to email@example.com.
By Dave Hodgson.
I have read some great race reports over the last year of heroic deeds by ‘cross riders. This, my friends, will not be one such report. This is on the other end of the racing spectrum.
After spending all year training to ride long road races, I thought I would try my hand at cross this fall. High intensity sprints in field— a natural choice for a roadie. I mean, it’s only 40 minutes long. How tough could it be? That idea would come back to haunt me.
My first cross race was at New Brighton Park in Vancouver, B.C. Along with the usual obstacles of barriers and small hillocks there was a 25 foot sand pit—not bad the first time you rode through, but decidedly dodgy after 30 people had been practicing on it for 45 minutes.
I thought I would go to the very back at the first race, so my inexperience would not cause any mayhem. There I meet a girl in a pink tutu, a fit looking 20-year-male and, I believe, a blind guy.
“I got the blind guy," I thought.
Well the race started, and someone promptly fell at the first corner in the leading group, leading to a bit of a pile-up.
“I could have done that!” I chuckled.
I was happily hanging on at the back until we reached the sand pit. I figured I would run the pit, as it might be quicker. What I didn’t figure on, was putting the bike on my shoulder, immediately falling over and having the big cog take out a chunk of my right ear. Picking myself up, and dripping blood, I thought “Great, a smaller ear will make me more aerodynamic for the second lap.”
Already the transformation to cross racer had started.
Passing the pits, some bloke yelled, "Pick it up, you’re getting beat by a girl in a tutu!” and you know, he had a point.
The second lap involved another fall against a tree stump, but at least I negotiated the sand pit without the need of a surgeon.
On passing the start/finish line, I must have looked a bit of a sight because a marshal asked me if I wanted some bacon. I grabbed it most heartily and shoved it in my throat. Unfortunately, in my throat it stayed, as I spent the rest of the lap choking and praying maybe someone might know the Heimlich maneuver.
By the 4th lap I was completely shagged and not very impressed with the lady who cheerily told me there were still 2 laps to go. By this stage I was looking for a friendly face, and I spotted one of my club riders on the sidelines. I was just about to acknowledge him, when he shouted “Come on Jason, don’t get stuck there," and with that, Jason promptly overtook me, although he at least had the decency to say sorry when he passed.
By now the finish line couldn’t come fast enough, but on the last lap I was able to get by the tutu girl in what I thought was sprint, but was more accurately a crawl.
As I was dry heaving at the finish, she came over to me and said “Nice stamina, how long have you been training?" That was when I realized that maybe a bit of training might not have been a bad idea.
She looked me in the eye and said, "There’s race a tomorrow at Vanier park, are you going?” And before I could help myself I said, "Hell yeah, that was fun!”
And really, that is what cross is all about—the winners and losers all suffer in their own way, but in the end, everyone has a bunch of fun. I would thoroughly recommend it to those of you thinking about giving it a try.
I think the only way I can accurately describe the new fever I have for ‘cross, is the look of total political incorrectness and horror on my wife and daughter’s face a few weeks later when the results were posted and I jumped on top of my chair and screamed out loud "Yeah baby! I beat the blind guy!"Tweet
A Ciclovia day in Bogota. Every Sunday and holiday, the city closes 75 miles of streets to car traffic from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. In all, 1.3 million people attend the weekly event.
By Klaus. Photos courtesy of Gil Peñalosa and the author.
By the mid-1990s, Bogotá, Colombia, was an incredibly difficult place in which to live. As the city’s population grew closer to the 10 million mark, its endless neighborhoods continued to spread into the Andean peaks that surround it and the quality of life in the city dropped precipitously. Crime was rampant, as an overall sense of disdain grew within Bogotá’s population.
It was around that time, however, that several key changes took place in Bogotá, changes that would positively alter the course of the city’s history in ways that no one imagined. In a matter of years, the city changed dramatically. Through the work of several visionary leaders, Bogotá lowered its crime rate significantly, delivered much-needed services to its poorest citizens, and improved congestion through an innovative mass-transit system. The bicycle also emerged as a centerpiece in the city’s renaissance. As this happened, Bogotá’s citizens began to take pride in a city they previously loathed.
A key visionary in Bogotá’s rebirth during that time was Gil Peñalosa, who worked as Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation. Under Peñalosa’s leadership, the city designed and developed over 200 parks, as well as the “new Ciclovía,” in which 1.3 million people enjoy over 75 miles of car-free streets throughout the city every single Sunday and holiday. Additionally, it was during this time that Bogotá built over 185 miles of sheltered bikeways, and instituted a once-a-year event known as Car Free Day, in which no privately owned vehicles are allowed on city streets.
Gil Peñalosa, on the streets of Bogotá, Columbia.
Today, Gil Peñalosa is the executive director of the Canadian non-profit organization 8-80 Cities, which seeks to create vibrant and healthy communities by focusing on the needs of cyclists and pedestrians through the design of public spaces. In that role, Peñalosa has helped numerous cities around the world learn some very valuable lessons from a seemingly unlikely place: Bogotá, Colombia.
Klaus for Bicycle Times: Growing up in Bogotá during the 1980s, the city was a disorganized and often frightening place. Do you see the city’s willingness to accept the bike as a viable method of transportation—and in doing so respecting cyclists—as proof that there’s been a fundamental change in how the city operates, and how its citizens think about one another?
Gil Penñaloza: I do, without a doubt. I say that because the bicycle is a very egalitarian tool. Yes, one bike can cost fifty dollars while another can cost five thousand. But when you are riding through the city, and people are going places, that doesn’t really matter. Riding a bike becomes a common ground, and the person is very visible. The bike can become secondary. You engage with people face to face, you see their eyes, and the interaction becomes very real and very human. Things happen at a human scale.
Cars, on the other hand, are differentiators. They are large, and are not merely used as transportation. If people used cars to get from A to B, and had no other reason for owning one, they would all own Honda Civics. But that’s not the case. Cars are status symbols, and they are used to differentiate the owners from one another. By and large, that’s just not the case with a bike.
Another powerful aspect of riding a bike is that public spaces are safer the more they are used. Bikes play a big role in this, but cars don’t. This is certainly true for roads where bikes are ridden because they instantly become safer as more and more people use them. Parks become safer if people ride their bikes and walk in them, but not if cars go by them at forty miles an hour. Cars are unable to have that kind of positive effect on their environment because they remove humanity from the equation. Bikes put it back in.
BT: Would you say that applies to Bogotá? That more bike use, and thus more people at a human scale and at a slower pace, have made the city safer and thus better for its citizens?
GP: I would. Absolutely. It’s far from ideal, but more people walking and cycling and using public spaces have improved safety and quality of life.
BT: How did you first become aware of the value of the bicycle, not only as an ideal method of transportation, but also as one that could have a valuable democratizing effect upon cities?
GP: This is something I always thought about, because I’ve always seen bikes as part of a bigger suite of solutions, which includes the needs of pedestrians, as well as city parks and gathering places. As such, today I am clear about the fact that bikes are not the end, but rather a medium. Bikes are not the end result of any of these initiatives, but they are a way of making cities more equitable and livable. There’s some general confusion about bike initiatives, because people see them merely as transportation, something to take people from point A to point B. A goal is to make cities more human and more equitable, and the use of bicycles plays a role in the process.
BT: Large cities in wealthy, industrialized nations have had great difficulties in implementing initiatives that Bogotá has not only put in place, but also invented. Things like the Ciclovía, sheltered bikeways, and a car-free day are all impressive undertakings for any city, particularly one in a place that many see as undeveloped and potentially dangerous, like Colombia. How did Bogotá come to be a leader in these initiatives?
GP: My sentimental side would like to believe that things—changes that are worthwhile—must grow from the bottom up. But the reality is that cities are often transformed by leaders who are able to change things from the top down, simply because that’s where the power lies. That’s been the case in New York City, where they have a great commissioner who is willing to lead these changes.
BT: Within the context of a city like Bogotá, that mentality certainly makes sense. It takes a great deal of vision, and the power to implement it, when you’re talking about launching something like a car-free day.
GP: It does. When my brother Enrique Peñalosa [Mayor of Bogotá, 1998-2001] first introduced the idea of having a car-free day, no one was talking about the topic of cars, or alternatives in transportation. He introduced that theme by talking about having a car-free day. It got people talking about the problems that the city was facing.
Similarly, when I worked with Antanas Mockus [Mayor, 1995-1997], the topic of the Ciclovía was not discussed. We had about 10 kilometers, and only a few thousand people using the Ciclovía. I have to admit that I became obsessed with the subject, and within two years I had over 62 miles (121 kilometers) of Ciclovía in the city. We went from having a few thousand users, to having over a million users every Sunday, and every holiday. We built an infrastructure, and a reproducible model that can be used all over the world.
So this idea of a Ciclovía, of letting people use the street for fun and fitness, became something that cities all over the world took up, and it all came out of Bogotá. But it wasn’t anything that the city was talking about; it was introduced into the discourse.
I was speaking with some students from the Andes University in Bogotá not long ago. They asked me what the socio-political climate was that gave birth to the growth in the Ciclovía, and the growth in bike paths in Bogotá. I told them there wasn’t one. Really. I challenged them to look at the newspapers in Bogotá from the two years leading up to the growth in the Ciclovía. They can even make it three or four years. They won’t find a single article where anyone voiced an interest in increasing the program or even concern about this topic. So, I have to put modesty aside and tell you that this happened and came to the forefront because I became obsessed with the objective and surrounded myself with a great team of people. That’s why I believe that change can happen from the top down, because I’ve seen it happen.
BT: As part of the changes you put into place, the Ciclovía finally arrived to poor neighborhoods in Bogotá, which had never been the case before.
GP: Right. We not only grew the system of the Ciclovía, but we did so in a way that would integrate the city in a system. That’s what the Ciclovía does; it integrates and unites the city and its citizens. It takes you to vastly different neighborhoods; it brings the young and the old, the poor and the rich together. This is no small feat, when you consider how often we engage and spend time with those who are unlike us. In Bogotá, you will find the wealthiest owners and presidents of the most prestigious companies with their families, running into their workers who make minimum wage, who will also be with their families at the Ciclovía.
In Bogotá, the gap between these people is great, but that’s the case in other cities as well. But through the Ciclovía, they are in the same place, doing the same thing. These are people who don’t live in the same neighborhoods, their kids don’t attend the same schools, they don’t shop in the same stores, and they don’t eat in the same restaurants. But they are in the Ciclovía together. One can have an imported bike that is three thousand dollars, while the other has one that is 30 dollars…so be it. They are both having the same fun with their family, and they stop and chat. It’s a rare activity that can allow this integration to happen. The Ciclovía becomes an exercise in social integration; it is much more than cycling, walking and skating.
BT: When you talk about the social value of the Ciclovía, I can’t help but think about the bike trails that are common in North American cities. These are often in suburban neighborhoods. They go from nowhere to nowhere, and are not inclusive in any way, nor do they serve the purpose of potentially getting their users to any place in particular. Similarly, many cities seem selective about which neighborhoods get to have bike lanes or sheltered bike routes. The needs of poor, and often minority populations, are very seldom taken into account.
GP: This is certainly a problem. You’ll often find that the best places for recreation and the amenities that allow for best transportation are in the wealthiest neighborhoods, but not in the places where they are most needed—that usually means poorer neighborhoods. People start to make excuses, and I’ve encountered this. They may not want a route, for example, to be connected to an area because it’s poor, or because it’s a primarily Black neighborhood. The reality is that these bike routes, parks, and things like the Ciclovía should connect people, but also connect places that people want and need to go to.
So as much as I like small neighborhood parks, they are usually limited to people in that immediate area. But if you have a long bike path, it can start to cut through numerous neighborhoods, and all kinds of city areas. It can also get you to a destination. This is a big part of making something like this useful, and helping to bring people together. Connecting people and places.
BT: In Bogotá, the poorest neighborhoods are serviced by the bike routes that were put into place during your time working there. This is hugely important, since people in poor neighborhoods need bikes not only as a form of entertainment and fitness, but also as a way of getting around, while wealthier populations may have more options. Was this taken into consideration when planning out these routes?
GP: Certainly, but this is something that could be said of all cities in all countries. Similarly, keep in mind that it costs thousands of dollars to maintain a car, and it only costs more the longer you own a car. There are people in wealthy nations who barely have enough to feed a whole family, not enough to take a small vacation, but they have one or more cars. They end up working just to pay for their car. So these concerns are universal. BT: Sadly, many cities seem to be wasting time and effort into putting single bike lanes here and there, where there is room for it, rather than where they are needed.
GP: Right, and that’s because people talk about a bike lane, or a bikeway. No. They should speak about a network, a system of bikeways and bike lanes. Plural. You can’t have a bike lane that goes from nowhere to nowhere. It won’t be used. Imagine if the mayor of a city put up one goal post and one end zone, and then complained that it wasn’t being used by the football team. Two years later, they could put in the first few yards, and then some more yards. Of course it won’t work, and it won’t get used—it’s not complete or usable for the activity. So cities will put in two bike lanes, which are one mile each. Then they’ll stop putting more in, because they’ll simply say that they don’t have a “bike culture,” and that no one is using them. Well, you didn’t build a system that people could use—of course it wasn’t used. Connectivity is critical in order to have positive results.
In Bogotá, we created a network of bike routes. We were a city that lacked the “bike culture” that many talk about. But when we built a network that people could use, that connected them to the places they had to go to, we went from having 28,000 people using a bike as a way of getting around, to over 350,000. So today, for every four cars in Bogota, we have one riding a bike. That becomes a substantial and important part of the population that has to be accounted for, and cared for. This has happened in other cities as well. In Seville, Spain, four years ago almost no one used a bike as their method of transportation. It was 0.2%. They built 100 miles of bikeways, separate from car traffic and separate from pedestrians, in three years. As a result, they now have 6.6% of the people using bikes. Now they want to get to 15% by 2015. And a big part of this is connected points where people originate from, to places they are going to. It’s that simple.
BT: It’s worth mentioning that in many North American cities, “bike lanes” are nothing more than a white stripe of paint on the road. That’s vastly different from the fully sheltered bikeways that are the norm in Bogotá. Do you think that bike lanes as they are implemented in the United States are of some value as a first step, or should they be rejected in hopes that we’ll get proper solutions from the start?
GP: You have to get the real solution, and not settle for paint on the road. The reality is that if you paint a line on the road, you’ll only get a few more people using that route. So again, you’ll fall into the same problem that I mentioned before. Few people will use it, and the city will say that they don’t have a “bike culture,” that no one is using it, so they won’t invest in more bike lanes.
I saw this exact thing happen in Orlando, Florida. They put in a bike lane, which was nothing more than paint on the road, along a six-lane road. The cars there were going 45 to 50 miles an hour. Those who fought to have that line of paint put in told the city that the number of users would go from 100 to 1,000. The reality is that it went up to only 150, and the politicians said, “It didn’t work.” But of course it didn’t! All that was separating people on their bikes from cars going 50 miles per hour was a line on the ground. So better solutions are needed. And in residential neighborhoods, we need to lower the speed limits. All streets in neighborhoods should have a maximum speed of 20mph; 20 is plenty. This allows people to safely exit their cars when they park, people can cross the street with their babies and their dogs. But in larger routes, we need bike lanes that have a physical border separating cyclists from traffic and from pedestrians. These three modes of transportation differ in speed, and can’t be expected to work seamlessly together in the exact same environment. The idea of a bike lane that is nothing more than white paint on the road is disrespectful to cyclists and to all citizens.
BT: Then I must ask you, what is your opinion regarding the lack of sidewalks in so many American neighborhoods? Is this not a statement that the city is making about the value of certain citizens who can’t afford a car, those who take public transportation, or maybe even the elderly who can no longer drive?
GP: Absolutely. In the last ten years, 47,700 pedestrians have been killed in the United States by cars and 679,000 pedestrians have been injured. These are numbers from the Department of Transportation. So one has to ask, how is it possible that neighborhoods are still being planned out without sidewalks? BT: So the message to those who walk, be it for pleasure or need, is clear.
GP: It is. And at the same time, the United States has an obesity problem that is costing taxpayers billions and billions, along with environmental issues that are now becoming more known. But all this aside, how can cities not care for their citizens, and allow pedestrians to be killed and injured?
BT: Keeping in mind that change often comes from the top down, what can we as citizens do in order to bring solutions to those obstacles to the forefront?
GP: The biggest obstacle is a political matter. It’s not a financial problem. It’s also not a technical problem. The budgets that cities have for roadways, and to make things better for cars, are huge. It takes very little money to improve things for cyclists. If a city doesn’t know how to build appropriate bikeways, it’s very simple and easy to find someone who does. So, as a citizen, you have to speak about this subject if no one in your city has put this topic on the table. You have to write newspapers, you have to start blogs, you have to call in to radio stations, and you have to go to public meetings.
Politicians are sometimes afraid to lead, but if they see that the public wants and needs something, they’ll listen. Similarly, these things have now been tried out in numerous cities of all sizes around the world. So, politicians can be shown that these initiatives work, and that will help ease their fear about change.
But really, at the end of the day, citizens have to become involved. They have to understand that a spaceship from Mars won’t magically land in their city, and build this infrastructure overnight. It just won’t happen.Tweet
By Giles Snyder.
I had hoped that a nice, sunny day and cool spring temperatures would combine to help make my first-ever bike overnight memorable. While my companions and I did get a remarkable trip up the C&O Canal Towpath from Washington, D.C., the weather we got was far less than remarkable.
It started raining the moment we left our starting point in downtown D.C. It rained as we cycled through trendy Georgetown, got a little lost, and almost got mowed down by a big delivery truck in rush-hour traffic. And it rained long past the time we shivered ourselves to sleep. Sometimes it came down as a bearable drizzle. Other times, it splashed down on our heads in big pregnant drops. It rained despite assurances from one of my companions that the day we planned to go is always “a beautiful day.”
Except, apparently, when you plan to spend it on a bike. I often cycle portions of the C&O Canal Towpath. It’s easily accessed from where I live in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. But, like many who make their homes in this region, I work in D.C. From my driveway to where I park my car downtown, it’s about 90 miles. That’s a lot of ground to cover each workday. I wanted to slow down and see what I’d been missing.
The towpath snakes its way alongside the Potomac River for more than 184 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. If you have time, you can go on for another 141 miles via The Great Alleghany Passage Rail-Trail all the way to Pittsburgh. (Read about our trip along the GAP and C&O. – Ed.)
The idea for the canal dates back to the earliest days of our nation. George Washington himself championed it as a way to connect the western frontier with the more populated east. Workers started building the C&O in the 1820s and canal boats used it to bring lumber and coal to market into the early 20th century. The canal was a lifeline for communities up and down the river, but it couldn’t compete with railroads. It would have fallen into obscurity if not for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who led efforts to convince Congress to turn the canal into a National Park. Today it’s a haven, not only for cyclists, but for hikers and others who want to take in its natural beauty and gaze at history first-hand.
On our trip up the towpath, though, we had to work hard to find the bright future that Douglas saw. It was not only wet; all that rain made it seem much colder than it was. When we stopped from time to time my teeth started to chatter. One fellow who briefly rode along with us suggested he just might spend the night in one of the towpath’s port-a-johns. From then on, every time we passed a port-a-john, I seriously considered curling up in it, but I couldn’t get past the heat source. Besides, our goal was a lockhouse near Point of Rocks, Maryland.
According to the C&O Canal Trust’s website, there used to be 57 such houses. Lockmasters lived in them with their families, helping boats deal with the elevation change as the canal made its way into the Maryland mountains. Less than half remain, but the Trust has made a few available for overnight stays. They’ve been restored to reflect separate time periods in the life of the canal.
The lockhouses are rustic by modern standards. Ours had no heat, no electricity, and no running water. But it was well-appointed with period furniture, and a welcome sight after a full day of cycling in the rain. If you are looking to unplug from the hustle and bustle of city life, this is it. It’s also a great way to experience how life was lived along the canal in bygone days.
After spending the night snug in period beds, we got up the next day in relatively good humor. The morning sunshine renewed us and it wasn’t long before we were back on our bikes.
Two of my companions went back the way we’d come, leaving me and another to move on to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, where abolitionist John Brown staged his famous raid aimed at sparking a slave revolt. My remaining companion lives there, so that’s where we parted ways and I cycled the final dozen miles or so by myself, ending my trip at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Confederate forces retreated through there after the nearby Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.
While the second day’s sunshine was reinvigorating, the constant rain of the previous day should have made my first overnight cycling trip a miserable failure.
In fact, the adversity only whetted my appetite for more, if only to see what a cycling trip is like in a dry pair of shorts.
We left more than 100 miles of the towpath undone. I’m hoping to tackle the Shepherdstown to Cumberland stretch later this summer. Once our plans come together, it’s a good bet I’ll be keeping an eye on the weather. But since I’ve already cycled through one deluge, a little more rain won’t be enough to scare me off.
Check out Adventure Cycling Association’s new website, Bike Overnights, aimed at providing inspiration, resources, and tools for short bicycle tours (one to two nights). You’ll find stories, tips, and how-tos about embarking on short overnight cycling adventures, whether you’re traveling to a beautiful state park solo, lounging at a B&B with friends and family, taking your child on their first overnight bike adventure, or anything in between. Plus, you can submit your own trip report for possible publication; Adventure Cycling hopes to collect bike overnight tales from all 50 states!
Words and photos by Gary J. Boulanger
The fourth annual Levi’s King Ridge GranFondo attracted an estimated 7,500 riders and 20,000 festival attendees to Santa Rosa, the charming northern California town chosen by both Alfred Hitchcock and the Tour of California.
While Hitch had murder on his mind filming “Shadow Of A Doubt” in 1943, event organizers VeloStreet/Bike Monkey hoped to expose cyclists of all stripes and types to the unlimited riding opportunities on the roads streaming out of their town of 167,000. The economic impact of the King Ridge GranFondo has brought more than $6 million to the area since 3,500 riders first clipped on and rolled out of Finley Park in 2009.
The event, based on the popular gran fondos (big rides) of Italy and Spain, was hatched by professional road racer and multiple Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer, who lives and trains in Santa Rosa most of the year. Instead of making it an event for advanced riders only, Leipheimer and VeloStreet decided to make it a family affair, with a huge festival coinciding with the ride options of 35 (piccolo), 65 (medio) or 103 (gran) miles. All three routes use the same roads raced by the pros during the Tour of California. This year, medio and gran riders could choose a dirt road alternative route up Willow Creek Road, off Highway 1 near the Russian River, bypassing the infamously steep Coleman Valley Road.
As with most gran fondos, a dose of celebrity participation is de rigueur in these parts. This year, Grey’s Anatomy star and avid cyclist Patrick Dempsey joined 2008/2012 Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, 2000 Olympic medalist Mari Holden, Garmin-Sharp pro Tom Danielson, multiple World Champion mountain biker Brian Lopes, Team Exergy pro Freddie Rodriquez, current world downhill champion Greg Minnaar, and former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, a recent convert to cycling who’s lost more than 20 pounds in two years.
“My doctor told me to choose cycling and swimming after a series of surgeries two years ago,” the 48-year-old told me at lunch following the ride. “I bought a road bike and was passed by an old dude the first day. After several tries, I figured things out and now I’m hooked.” Bonds rode the 65-mile route with Holden and Specialized Bicycles owner Mike Sinyard.
With an average age of 45 and a healthy male/female ratio of 70/30, the King Ridge GranFondo caters to each rider as if they were the celebrity. Nearly 2,000 volunteers prepare, set up, and provide rest-stop nourishment with a smile, and dozens of course marshals are on the bike, clad in easily identifiable jerseys to lend a hand and keep it safe. Official number plates with timing chips, a Tyvek number for pinning on the back of one’s jersey, and a seatpost sticker number ups the pro look of everyone’s bike, whether it’s a sleek racer, hybrid, or in some cases, recumbent. Several young families enjoyed the ideal 80-degree weather.
I hopped on the NorCal bicycle builder train of Jeremy Sycip, Curtis Inglis, and Steve Rex where the medio and gran routes diverged. Our small peloton of 10 riders zipped along the Sonoma County roads two-by-two when possible, and we made sure to enjoy the rest stops, bumping into Dempsey, who posed with excitable middle-aged women and the local Girl Scout troop, enjoying the day like everyone else.
We opted to climb Willow Creek Road, an ideal mix of beat-up asphalt, gravel and sand, which rises to the top of Coleman Valley Road. After answering the call of nature, a member of our peloton thought he’d impress a recumbent rider by passing him riding a wheelie, losing his balance (and a bit of his pride) and falling over. Dusting himself off, he rejoined our laughing crew (the recumbent rider was good natured, thankfully, and a beast up the dirt climb), as we snaked our way to the top.
Despite the large volume of cyclists sharing the road, it never felt like 7,500 people were getting in anyone’s way the entire ride. There’s plenty to notice in 65 miles, and I was impressed by the number of people visiting from Vancouver, Colorado, Idaho, and other locales. Several riders told me they look forward to riding the King Ridge GranFondo every year because they never tire of the scenery.
Leipheimer and his wife Odessa Gunn are highly visible within the Santa Rosa and Sonoma County communities. In addition to supporting the regional Humane Society’s Forget Me Not Farm with proceeds from the King Ridge GranFondo each year, more than $400,000 has been raised for charities and cycling support programs.
As the 38-year-old Leipheimer enters the twilight of his racing career, it appears his commitment to the community and his passion for cycling has laid a strong foundation for generation of cyclists to come, whether they’re local or visiting from another part of the world, just like those I met in Santa Rosa on September 29.Tweet
By Sarah Raz, photos by Josh Tack.
Whenever I think of bike tours, I think of months on the road. I think of cross-country excursions and miles and miles of pedaling and so much time on the saddle that the days run into one another and time is measured in peanut butter sandwiches. I picture tents growing weathered, tires being swapped out, calf muscles becoming staggeringly large and powerful.
My boyfriend, Josh, and I are lucky enough to work at the Adventure Cycling Association, so we can usually swing one long-ish bike trip a year. We love to take trips abroad and spend weeks on end investigating a foreign countryside by bike. The rest of the year, however, we have this thing called work to consider, so long bike tours are out of the question. But since we still love to get out and explore, we’ll often spend a weekend on a mini-bike tour or a bike overnight.
We live in Missoula, Montana, a sweet, laid-back college town just a hop, skip and a jump from the border of Canada. It’s a wonderful place; it’s surrounded by snow-covered peaks and has a long growing season (for Montana) that earned it the nickname “The Garden City.” On the three-day weekend of July 4th, we decided to check out the Rattlesnake Recreation Area. We’d pedal up the 15-mile dirt road corridor to the wilderness boundary with our backpacks in tow. From there, we’d make yet a deeper hike to visit the still snowed-in lakes of the pristine backcountry.
We started out with a technical difficulty. We were using trailers to pull our backpacks and my trailer had been having problems ever since I’d had the bright idea to pull my 180lb. friend home from a party (the weight limit is 80lbs.). We’d made it home all right, but the left back wheel hadn’t been the same since. Before we hit the trail, we had to abandon my broken trailer at the Adventure Cycling office. “Don’t worry, Josh, you’re so strong!” I said. “You can just pull both of our backpacks!” Josh is a good sport, but he didn’t look too convinced. The corridor up the Rattlesnake gets extremely steep, and our packs, loaded with food and camping equipment, were heavy.
Finally, we were off. Montana summers can be hot, but it got nice and cool as we started to climb away from town and into the mountains. The creek was bubbling next to us, and the air smelled good and fresh. At first we saw some other cyclists and hikers, but as we headed up there was just Josh and me and the flutter of birds and insects in the air. The pathway opened before us and the landscape became more rugged and high alpine. I noticed a waterfall from snowmelt to our right. I thought about how easy the riding felt and then remembered that wasn’t carrying anything. I looked over at Josh and he just laughed. “Next time,” he said, “you’re carrying everything!”
Before I knew it, we’d reached the wilderness boundary. We stashed our bikes and trailer, strapped on our backpacks and hiked upwards a few more miles. I wished for boots instead of my light trail runners—although it was still warm, there was snow everywhere and within minutes my shoes were soaked through. Before dark, we found a place that met our three requirements to camp (flat, with a view, bear-hang tree readily available) and promptly conked out.
How much snow is there in the mountains in Montana in July? More than I’d ever imagined! The next morning after we packed up and started walking, it wasn’t long before we couldn’t locate the trail any longer due to heavy snowpack. “I think we go this way,” I said, pointing to the right. “I can just feel it!” Josh studied the map.
“Actually, I’m pretty sure we go in the other direction,” he said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with feelings, but that’s what it looks like on the map.” We headed off with just the hush-hush of snow all around us.
Suddenly, I sensed a bit of movement in the woods and turned my head. An animal, smaller than a deer, was running along the ridgeline in near-silence and with incredible grace. Was it really a wolf? I almost couldn’t believe it. His silver-gray hair glistened and his legs seemed longer than I would have expected, almost gangly. He padded along, not really in a hurry, but not lingering either. Then he was gone. I realized I’d been holding my breath for a solid minute. I let out all the air in a giant rush.
There we were, not twenty miles from our back door, surrounded by snow and wilderness and a magnificent wild animal. I suddenly felt small and very humble. When we camped next to a frozen lake that night, I lay awake in my sleeping bag for a while, looking at the stars through the bug net. None of my worries seemed of consequence anymore, and I felt grateful for the shift in perspective.
The way home was all downhill. We crunched our way through the snow, then pulled our bikes out of their hiding spot and hooked up the trailer. “Hooray!” I said, piling my pack on Josh’s trailer, then zooming away, unencumbered. But I think it was more than the freedom from the packs that made us feel lighter. It hadn’t taken a grueling airplane ride and a month away from work to discover some remote backcountry. All we needed was a long weekend.
Check out Adventure Cycling’s new website: www.Bikeovernights.org, aimed at providing inspiration, resources, and tools for short bicycle tours (one to two nights). You’ll find stories, tips, and how-tos about embarking on short overnight cycling adventures, whether you’re traveling to a state park solo, lounging at a B&B, or taking your child on their first overnight bike adventure. Plus, you can submit your own trip report for possible publication; Adventure Cycling hopes to collect bike overnight tales from all 50 states!Tweet
By Molly Hurford,
When I was down in Georgia back in February, I raced Southern Cross: 54 miles of some road, some dirt, some gravel, some fast descents, some wicked slow hills. It was a grind, and when I finished that race, I was exhausted. THAT, I thought, was a hard race.
Then, I did D2R2, which, consequently, is not even technically a race. It is a "fun ride" where even the shortest distance is longer than the Southern Cross distance, with more climbing and infinitely more dirt. And while it is billed as a "fun" ride, I don’t think my heart rate went under 150 the whole time, mainly because even on the screaming downhills, I was fervently hoping that I wasn’t about to eat it and roll off the edge into the woods or streams below. I’m sure there is a way to ride with “easy,” but I have yet to meet a New England cyclist that believes in riding anything easy, let alone roads where there are “competitors” out ahead of you.
Moral of the story: New Englanders don’t mess around. I know this because, in Georgia, the racers were all fit, tough-looking hard-core riders. D2R2? There were people of every age, shape and size on every type of bike taking to the start line. The casual way that the racers approached what was — for all parties, no matter how fast you chose to ride — going to be a hard day was nothing short of incredible.
The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee, or D2R2 to those who know it, was started in the ’90s as just a fun ride through the heart of Western Massachusetts. Maybe because it came at the end of road season when racers were ready to shift to knobby tires, or maybe it was just the fun-loving vibe of a race where you can camp on site the night before, but whatever the reason, its popularity has grown considerably. Now, with four different distances to choose from (100K, 115K, 150K and the hard one, a 180K for the masochist crowd), it has become part of the legend that is New England cycling.
The course is spectacular: back roads in New England showcasing the entire Pioneer Valley, complete with rivers, streams, cliffs, mountains, fields, meadows, quaint New England towns, covered bridges… It’s like someone took a set of a Disney movie and plunked it down on the Massachusetts/Vermont border. I very nearly expected to have birds start singing in chorus with me as I toiled along. A llama even stuck his tongue out at me, which is literally a scene out of The Emperor’s New Groove (Anyone? Anyone?). Of course, this fairy tale beauty does have a caveat: it’s flipping’ hard. Even on the shortest of the loop options, there is 7,000 feet of climbing, mostly up dirt roads.
So, I admit: there were dark times: the first grinding hill, the second grinding hill, the third grinding hill; the moment when I asked "how far along are we?" and got the answer of, "11 miles"; and the moment when I was triumphantly thinking that I was digging deep, really reaching into myself and shredding, only to have my ride buddy blaze by me while chatting with another rider.
But of course there were good times too: the sandwich I wolfed down at the lunch stop while admiring the beautiful view of the covered bridge; the last screaming dirt descent, even though I thought my hands were about to fly off of the hoods where I was feathering (clutching) the brakes for dear life; the beer I got to drink after pulling through the finish line.
It was, in short, fabulous. And anyone that finishes it — from the father-daughter tandem team to the speediness that is the Boston crew to the woman who was at least three times my age and on a mountain bike — is one seriously tough cyclist.Tweet
By Gary J. Boulanger,
Take a pinch of steel, add a dash of jazz guitar, throw in a few hundred bicycle lovers, and mix it all with wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and you have a party, San Francisco style.
Una Pizza Napoletana owner and avid cyclist Anthony Mangieri teamed with Soulcraft Bikes’s Sean Walling to throw the second annual A Ruota Libera, an officially unofficial NorCal Handmade Bike Show at Mangieri’s South of Market pizzeria on Sunday, August 12.
The industrial retail space was alive with conversation, centering around bicycles on display from several regional frame builders and designers, including Ahrens, Black Cat, Black Mountain, Blue Collar, Bruce Gordon, Caletti, Falconer, Frances, Hunter, Inglis/Retrotec, Rebolledo, Rock Lobster, Soulcraft Steve Potts and Steelman. Local component makers Paul Components, Pass and Stow, and White Industries balanced off the exhibits. Santa Cruz filmmaker and photographer Brian Vernor’s work lined the walls, while Mangieri and his crew served authentic Neapolitan pizza with Italian beer and wine all day long.
For Walling, the small venue and low-key atmosphere is a nice change of pace compared to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show that pops up around the country each late winter. Plus, Mangieri has befriended several of the framebuilders, and enjoys throwing a party. Several local enthusiasts showed up on bikes, which were tended to by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s free valet parking service.
Former Bridgestone Cycles icon, cyclo-cross legend and longtime Rivendell employee Pineapple Bob rubbed shoulders with another East Bay legend, Bob Roll, in town on vacation with his family. Bobke, as he’s called, was tipped about the event by former endurance mountain bike racer and current popular chef Chris Cosentino, who spent the afternoon at Una with his family as well.
Mangieri relocated his popular pizzeria from New York’s East Village in late 2010, after spending several vacations riding mountain bikes in the Bay Area. His friend, filmmaker Mike Evans who’s also a New Jersey native, helped organize the event. Evans debuted a short film about Walling at last year’s A Routa:
Former professional skateboarder Tommy Guerrero provided the event’s music, a solo fusion of looped jazz guitar mixed with his own take on several classic obscure rock songs. He also provided the soundtrack for Mangieri’s documentary by Evans:Tweet
By Robert Annis, photos by Jeremy Albert.
After decades of little or no attention paid to cyclists, Indianapolis has made massive strides over the past three years to encourage two-wheeled transportation, thanks in large part to a bike-friendly mayor and a small but dedicated group of advocates.
Before Greg Ballard was elected mayor in 2007, the Hoosier capitol had less than one mile of bike lanes within the city. During Ballard’s first term, road crews painted nearly 64 miles of bike lanes, and shortly after his November 2011 re-election, the mayor pledged $20 million to create an additional 75 miles of trails and lanes by 2015. Once completed, Indianapolis will have more than 200 miles of trails, greenways, and bike lanes, allowing commuter and recreational cyclists to travel nearly anywhere in the city almost entirely via the bike network.
A jaded observer might call the Republican Ballard’s courting of area cyclists an attempt to grab votes in a Democratic-leaning city, but it’s obvious after spending any time at all with him that he truly loves bicycling. Unlike many mayors who dust off their rusty Schwinn for the annual Bike to Work Day, Ballard rides as often as he can before heading into work in the morning. He’s also a fixture at organized rides, bike races, and trail openings, and even rode in the legendary Little 500, the race made famous by the movie Breaking Away. Ballard also sponsored the city’s first Polar Bear Pedal last January, which attracted nearly 500 riders on a snowy, sub-freezing day.
Ballard is already thinking past 2020 and beyond Indianapolis’ city limits. He and other mayors and leaders from the surrounding counties have been working on a proposal that would expand the trails to the suburbs and legions of potential bed- room community commuters.
Ballard’s Democratic predecessor Bart Peterson didn’t do much to encourage bike commuting, but he did help shepherd the 10-mile Monon Trail, which stretches north from Indianapolis to Westfield, to completion in 2003. Not only did the trail increase cycling’s visibility, but it also serves as the primary spine for the city’s northbound bike network.
“Anytime you create cycling infrastructure, it feeds upon itself,” said local advocate Tom McCain. “Trails lead to more cyclists which leads to the need for more bike lanes which again leads to more cyclists…the Monon has become more than just a piece of transportation infrastructure, it’s become a way of life for a lot of residents. It was an important first step that laid the groundwork for expansion.”
Part of that expansion is the eight-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which, when completed later this year, will weave through several of the city’s hip neighborhoods, including Broad Ripple and Fountain Square. It also includes the new $1 million Indy Bike Hub, which opened to much fanfare last fall.
The Hub is located in City Market, a historic, city-owned building that had been struggling to keep tenants for much of the last decade. Officials had toyed with the idea of building a fitness center in the building’s east wing, but the idea quickly gained momentum after the bike proponent was added. In addition to showers and a locker room, the bike hub includes a full- service repair and retail shop, operated by Bicycle Garage Indianapolis.
“The Bike Hub sends a pretty strong signal we want people to ride to work, to have a place where they can get cleaned up and hit the gym if they want,” Ballard said. “We’re putting the pieces together to make bike commuting as easy as possible.”
Ballard claims he’s not a micromanager, but admits he was insistent on at least one aspect of the Bike Hub—lockers large enough for several days’ worth of work clothes and toiletries. The largest lockers available for monthly rental were reserved within weeks.
Ballard sees the infrastructure improvements as a much-needed form of alternative transportation in the growing city, and as another enticement for the young, creative class most regions are trying to at- tract. “There’s a cultural change going on in the city,” Ballard said. “As we see more physical changes [to the city and its residents], we’re going to continue seeing young and middle-aged people really respond to what we’re doing. By offering lots of activities and options, people are going to change the way they move around town.”
The hard work is getting noticed. In 2010, the League of American Bicyclists named Indianapolis a Bicycle-Friendly Community.
The city doesn’t yet have a solid grasp of exactly how many people are using the lanes, but the League of American Bicyclists estimates a 62 percent increase in commuter cyclists from 2008 to 2009. City Planner Jamison Hutchins said the city plans to hire an outside contractor to create a count sometime this year. McCain, who heads the local Pedal and Park non-profit, claims all-time highs last year for events worked and the number of bikes stored.
“A few years ago, demand for the program really took off,” McCain said. “We’re seeing a huge increase in the non-traditional cycling crowd, mostly young families who want to go to an art festival (or other event) and want to have fun and exercise at the same time.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been any hiccups. Some critics believe the city’s efforts on bike lanes are actually making commuters less safe. Local attorney and blogger Paul Ogden argues the design of some of the bike lanes leave cyclists open to getting hit by motorists opening their car doors, while other lane markings are too confusing for many drivers. Ogden also criticized the lack of upkeep of many of the lanes, saying they’re frequently covered in glass and road debris.
“These bike lanes are giving riders a false sense of security,” said Ogden, himself a frequent bicycle commuter. “They think they’re safe, but it’s only a strip of paint separating them from vehicle traffic. I wouldn’t want my son or daughter riding them.”
Although Ogden claims they’re dangerous, city officials aren’t aware of any motorist-cyclist accidents involving the bike lanes. By contrast, elsewhere in the city, there were 160 vehicle-bike collisions between January 1 and October 1 of last year.
Ogden and others prefer a greater emphasis on greenways or segregated bike lanes, both of which are more expensive than traditional bike lanes and not as financially practical for the cash-strapped city. Hutchins understands their desires, but believes they’re missing the point, arguing that most cyclists realize that just because they’re in a bike lane, they’re not magically protected from traffic.
Hutchins acknowledges some of the earliest bike lanes aren’t perfect, but claims city engineers are learning from previous mistakes. Local advocacy group Indy Cog recently created a list of suggestions for the city to help improve the existing lanes, many of which the city were already implementing.
City planners have gone out of their way to avoid controversies, declining to move forward with at least one bike lane project that would take away on-street parking for surrounding businesses. In- stead, the city went with sharrows.
“There’s still a bit of confusion every now and then,” Hutchins acknowledged. “But typically traffic continues to roll smoothly. There’s just one or two lane shifts; it really doesn’t change the way people drive.”
Ballard has heard complaints about the lanes from constituents, particularly those who are a little older, but is quick to point out the designs were created according to federal standards.
Education efforts are underway as well. Over three weeks last summer, Indianapolis police held a special enforcement campaign, issuing warnings to both drivers and cyclists they noticed breaking the law. As the bike network continues to expand, city officials hope to do more of the campaigns.
“Drivers were driving partially in the bike lane or not giving three feet to the riders; cyclists were riding on the wrong side of the road or running stop signals or signs,” Hutchins said. “Cyclists have the right to be on the road, but they also share the same responsibilities as a car. No one’s immune to the law.”
League of American Bicyclists spokeswoman Meghan Cahill says the best thing cyclists can do to promote safer riding conditions is multiply: “The more cyclists you have on the road, the more awareness you’re going to have.”
Bicycles will likely never outnumber pick-up trucks on Indy’s streets, but the city will continue the last three years of amazing progress. City officials and bike advocates admit Indianapolis still has a way to go before it can join the pantheon of bike-friendly cities like Portland or Minneapolis, but with Ballard leading the way, don’t bet against it.Tweet
By Gary J. Boulanger
Northern California has been the epicenter of bicycle innovation and manufacturing for decades, with the surrounding terrain and ideal climate providing a near-perfect fusion for saddle time with friends and strangers. As a result, Soulcraft Cycles owner Sean Walling organized the ‘Meet Your Maker’ Tour, a series of Saturday group rides designed to bring frame builders and parts makers together with friends, customers, and like-minded riders.
“Sometimes we lose sight of what our industry is all about,” Walling, pictured above, said. “Handbuilt bike shows are good, but sharing a ride with friends and customers brings it all together. The Meet Your Maker Tour is about providing access to the people who make great bikes and parts. This Tour makes it easy for riders to meet the NorCal builders who they hope to do business with locally. Our goal is to see as many local brands under riders as possible.”
The second MYM Tour was hosted and organized by Mark Norstad, owner of Paragon Machine Works in Richmond, Calif., on July 21. Paragon designs and manufactures dropouts, bottom bracket shells, seat stay caps and other components used by Walling and his manufacturing brethren.
The 26-mile ride route was designed as a historic tour of a region known for its World War II manufacturing output, with several stops planned by Norstad, including one at the Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond, Calif.
By 9:15 a.m., 36 people had assembled in Paragon’s parking lot. Framebuilders joining Walling and Norstad included Steve Rex (Rex Cycles – Sacramento), Josh Muir (Frances Cycles – Santa Cruz), Mauricio Rebolledo (Rebolledo Cycles – Sonoma), Bruce Gordon (Bruce Gordon Cycles – Petaluma), and Robert Ives (Blue Collar Bikes – Sacramento).
The sky was a crisp blue and the wind was minimal, with temperatures in the high 60s when we rolled out of the Paragon Machine Works parking lot. Riders came from Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Mountain View, Oakland, San Francisco, Sonoma, Petaluma, and San Bruno, and the collection of bikes included Soulcraft, Hunter, Retrotec, Rex, Bruce Gordon, Charlie Cunningham, Gianni Motta, Frances, Engin, Peugeot, Rivendell, Ibis, Bianchi, Pashley, Blue Collar, and Rebolledo. The tribe was almost equally split male and female, with Walling’s young daughter Lucy keeping us company in her dad’s Burley trailer.
Richmond is an industrial, gritty town of 93,000-plus, with brightly colored homes with low fences and cars galore lining the streets. Norstad designed a route using the Bay Trail and connector bike paths, linking us to Shimada Park, Vincent Park, and Marina Bay Park, home of the Rosie the Riveter memorial. Richmond’s ‘Rosies’ played a significant and nationally recognized part in the World War II home front. The four Richmond shipyards, with their combined 27 shipways, produced 747 ships, more than any other shipyard complex in the country. Richmond was home to 56 different war industries, more than any other city of its size in the United States.
From there, we pedaled to the former Ford Motor Company Assembly plant, a 500,000-square-foot architectural marvel of Albert Kahn’s ‘daylight factory’ design. President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the production of civilian automobiles during World War II, so the Richmond Ford Assembly Plant switched to assembling jeeps and putting the finishing touches on tanks, half-tracked armored personnel carriers, armored cars, and other military vehicles destined for the Pacific Theater. By July of 1942, military combat vehicles began flowing into the Richmond Ford plant to get final processing before being transported out the deep-water channel to the war zones. The adjacent Craneway Pavilion hosts the Bay Area Derby Girls Championships on August 4.
Cruising through the port, we made our way to the S.S. Red Oak Victory shipyard, where Walling’s grandparents met decades ago.
We continued along Highway 580, then dropped onto Western Drive for nearly four miles, rising past a rifle range that paralleled the San Pablo Bay north of the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge before climbing the uber-steep Point San Pablo Marina Road, which Norstad referred to simply as a ‘grunt’. The more than 20-percent grade had several in the group grunting…
Norstad’s plan was the reward of ripe blackberries on the backside of the hill near the marina, which several in our posse enjoyed before we reversed course and returned to Paragon, passing brightly-painted graffiti and more industrial building along the bike path.
Highlights of the ride include:
- Watching Josh Muir coast down a steep grade no-handed on his custom cargo bike as he made adjustments to his helmet, then climb the grunt while most of us walked.
- Chatting with Bruce Gordon about his relaunch of the popular Rock ‘N’ Road tires.
- Getting to know folks from the Bay Area who are relatively new to the area and are excited to talk bikes with professionals.
- Drinking in the antics of Stevil Smith.
- Listening to Sean Walling, Steve Rex, and Bruce Gordon talk casually about their craft – they have nearly 90 years combined experience.
- Watching the guy with the full-face helmet pilot his 40-year-old Peugeot through dirt, gravel, and grass, with one cargo pant leg unzipped.
- Sweating one-third my body weight on the grunt.
- Watching Bruce Gordon patiently answer ‘no’ to a well-intentioned older woman in a car ask if we were part of a club, Meet Up, or race.
- Riding down the bumpy backside of Point San Pablo Marina Road, the second worst road in the world after the one in front of Steve Jobs’ Palo Alto house, which looks like it came from the “Lord of the Rings” movie set.
- Laughing with Stevil and his cohorts while Lanie Walling tried her best to calm a rather unhappy Lucy after Sean scarred her for life riding down Point San Pablo Marina Road.
Want to get in on the action? The 3rd Meet Your Maker Ride is scheduled for early October, hosted by Paul Components in Chico, CA.
By Gary J. Boulanger,
The governing body for international bicycle racing gave the nod for disc brakes to be used on cyclocross bikes a couple years ago, but the development process to bring a carbon machine to market takes a while. Felt responded quickly, and now offers two carbon models, the F1X and F3X, to compliment its aluminum F65X model, carried over from 2012.
Frame and fork technology
The 2013 Felt FX3 frame is made with Ultra Hybrid Carbon (UHC) Performance Modular Monocoque Construction (MMC) carbon fiber with a 3K protective weave for added durability against errant rocks and chain slap. According to Felt engineers, the UHC Performance carbon has a tensile strength 7.9 times greater than 3Al/2.5V titanium, with a stiffness rating 3.34 times greater than 6061 aluminum.
Using the same InsideOut internal molding process as the Z2 road bike I test rode in Irvine, Felt still feels strongly about using an aluminum insert for its BB30 bottom bracket shell for a more precise fit and less squeaking, and provides an electronic or mechanical cable routing option. Carbon dropouts with IS-mount disc tabs and a smart replaceable dérailleur hanger come standard.
The fork also is made with the same UHC Advanced material and process as the Z2 fork I tested, with 100 percent monocoque construction and full co-molded carbon fiber dropouts, also with disc tabs. Felt’s Control Taper design improves front-end stiffness and steering precision without adding weight, relying on a tapered carbon steer from 1.125 inches down to a 1.5-inch lower. Reliable handling isn’t just for roadies; control is paramount on the dirt and sand, especially in sketchy, technical sections where adventure riders are likely to tread on a bike like this.
The affordable performance SRAM Force gruppo handles drivetrain and shifters duties, while custom Ashima stainless rotors (140mm rear/160mm front) and Avid BB-7 mechanical disc brakes handle speed modulation. Felt’s engineers cooked up several house-brand components, including stem, bars, seat post and wheels, all labelled CxR. A Prologo Nago Evo saddle rounds out the cockpit. The 46/36-tooth BB30 crankset is matched with an 11-to-26 tooth, 10-speed cassette for all terrain use, with an emphasis on ‘cross racing.
“We found areas for improvement on our ‘cross bikes for 2013, especially mud clearance,” Felt road manager Dave Koesel told me. “Disc brakes make this attainable without sacrificing performance. We designed our own road tubeless wheelset, with a sub 300g rear hub, and 135g front hub. We chose the Geax tubeless-ready ‘cross tires so riders could use lower tire pressure.”
The 2013 Felt F3X will be available in matte carbon with lime green highlights, in 47, 50, 53, 55, 57, 60 and 63cm sizes for a targeted retail price of $3,829. According to Koesel, a 57cm F3X weighs a shade over 18lbs with inner tubes and uncut steerer tube. "The bike is tubeless ready which would save nearly 100g once set up with sealant," he added.
The flagship F1X carbon disc ‘cross frame is made with Felt’s UHC Advanced MMC carbon fiber with 1.5K protective weave, and upspecced with the latest SRAM Red with custom WickWërks chainrings. A custom 3T carbon fork, handlebars and seat post, plus Mavic CrossMax SLR wheels, round out the component spec, with a target retail price of $7,249. The frame is made with Felt’s UHC Advanced MMC carbon fiber with 1.5K protective weave.Tweet
By Gary J. Boulanger,
Felt pioneered the aerodynamic road bike concept in 2007, and while that category is expanding across the bike industry, the non-racers seeking high performance in gran fondos and other long distance rides will be excited to try Felt’s revamped Z2 model. A longer wheelbase, slightly taller head tube, more efficient carbon layups, and improved tube shapes have all been addressed for 2013, which, according to Felt’s engineers, have shed 50g and stiffened the ride 25 percent over last year.
Sounds like my kind of bike. I also had the advantage of attending the recent Felt media launch in Irvine, California, so I decided to find out if the actual ride matched the paper spec. It helped that the roads around Irvine rise mightily, providing our group with some 20-percent climbs and ripping descents to put the Z2 through its paces to see if the weight savings and subtle stiffening would be noticed.
The frame material is made from Felt’s Endurance Road Ultra Hybrid Carbon (UHC) Advanced Modular Monocoque Construction (MMC) carbon fiber with a 3K protective weave, which Felt says is 20 percent lighter than its UHC Performance carbon. Felt says its InsideOut internally optimized molding process eliminates excess material. How? Felt achieves this by placing polyurethane inserts inside the frame during the molding process, especially at the head tube and bottom bracket areas, then applies a precise amount of pressure and heat, resulting in the desired tube shapes and diameters.
Felt also modified the seat stays with smaller and rounder constant-diameter cross sections that intersect low on the seat tube to increase comfort and dampen ride quality without sacrificing torsional stiffness or vertical compliance, the usual performance-robbing suspects. The new Z frame also has a "kick-up" in the chain stay, a subtle modification to smoothen out the ride.
My 56cm tester was built with Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting, with a secondary climbing shifter pod on the top of the handlebars. Felt has specced a 3T Ergonova Team HM carbon handlebar, 3T AR Team 7075 aluminum stem, 3T Dorico Team UD carbon seatpost and Prologo Scratch pro titanium railed saddle. Shimano RS20 wheels rounded out the component selection.
I began the ride a novice on the Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting. Already having ridden the Campagnolo Record EPS a month ago, my learning curve was short and sweet. Shifting was crisp and immediate, and I was also thankful for the 28-tooth cassette cog on the climbs. I was able to stay in the 50-tooth large chainring while cross-chaining up the cassette on the gradual climbs without any interference, and the 34-tooth small chainring was low enough to tackle Koesel’s lung-bursting ascent of Modjeska Grade.
Our small band of journalists clipped in to our demo bikes, following Felt road product manager Dave Koesel and engineer Nick Ducharme for a 90-minute jaunt. They led us on part of the section of a famous Sunday morning group ride called “Como Street”. We started up El Toro Road past Live Oak Canyon onto Santiago Canyon Road, and onto the motorcyclist hot-spot “Cooks’ Corner”.
The gradual climb was interrupted with a right turn onto Modjeska Grade, which Koesel refers to as the “mini L’Alpe” of Southern Orange County, where thousands of cyclists test their legs (and lungs and machines) up the nearly 20-percent grades.
The twisting descent allowed me to test out the stability of the Z2. With my hands in the drops and my butt shoved back in the saddle, I carved the turns with confidence, skirting a few busted rocks and sand strewn across parts of the road. Riding with strangers on strange roads is usually a little unsettling, but the company I kept was reliable and smooth, just like the Z2.
Our quick descent back to Santiago Canyon Road and back through Foothill Ranch (past Oakley) to Felt headquarters in Irvine was slightly wind-aided and blistering. We strung out in a single line to let ‘er rip, pro peloton style, and I was actually wishing I had a more pro 53-tooth large chainring to keep up. The 10-speed cassette starts with a 12 tooth, so I was spinning out a bit in the 50/12 gear combination. Ducharme saw to it that I was brought back to the paceline.
At a hair under 16.8lbs for my 56cm tester with bottle cage without pedals, the Felt Z2 is competitively light, considering the Ultegra Di2 gruppo with remote buttons. I never felt nervous or skittish on the ride, and was impressed by the handling and responsiveness compared to other similar models I’ve tested from other companies. The sloping top tube allowed for some welcome flex in the longer seat post, but nothing that inhibited performance. This is an ideal machine for the performance-seeking unracer.
Available in matte carbon with red highlights, the Felt Z2 will be available in 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm sizes, and will retail for $5,999.Tweet
By Gary J. Boulanger
Most grab-and-go townie bikes are over-designed and over burdened with frilly extras to cater to the beginner crowd, but Felt decided to develop something inspired from the 1950s French delivery bikes. Starting with a TIG-welded chromoly steel frame with traditional double-diamond design, the Felt York features a Sturmey-Archer 2-speed kickback hub, based on the old Bendix design used by millions of American paperboys.
The kickback hub allows the rider to shift gears with a slight rearward push of the cranks, engaging the internal mechanism without the use of a handlebar-mounted gear shifter. It looks like a coaster brake because it is; the guts of the rear hub are just designed to accommodate another cruising gear, keeping the lines of the frame clean without the need for cable guides. This is more like your grandfather’s fixed gear bike, but one with practicality, thanks to the swept-back bars, full fenders, and front rack.
Complimenting the custom-butted frame is a steel tapered fork with a windowed fork crown, a nice touch for an affordable bike. Compared to Felt’s other fixed-gear models, the York’s wheelbase is 18-plus millimeters longer, with a 47 versus a 43mm fork rake for more stable handling. Open-ended track dropouts are wisely used to allow simply chain tensioning; remember to loosen, then tighten, the non-drive clamp band when adjusting.
Component spec includes a Campagnolo-inspired cold forged polished crankset, Tektro front brake caliper, riveted vintage-shaped saddle, and polished steel fenders. The shiny, high-flange, sealed-bearing front hub looks nice with the Sturmey-Archer rear.
Available in Duke Blue, the Felt York comes in 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm sizes. Weight is TBA, and retail will be $829.
By Paul Rozelle
Randonneuring is long-distance, unsupported, noncompetitive cycling within prescribed time limits. The events—called brevets—are 200km (13.5 hour time cut-off ), 300km (20 hours), 400km (27 hours), 600km (40 hours), and 1000km (75 hours). Grand Randonnées are 1200km and riders must finish in 90 hours or less. The original Grand Randonnée, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), was first held in 1891 and inspired the modern Olympic Games and the Tour de France. There are also populaires, rides longer than 100km but less than 200km, and the flèche, a 24-hour team event.
Brevets are sometimes called randonnées, a word that has no precise English translation, but which is evocative of touring, adventuring, and wandering or rambling. One may also see the word audax in reference to randonneuring. Technically, audax rides are commonpace events where cyclists ride, rest, and finish together at a pace established by a route captain. Audax is roughly translated as “audacious,” which certainly describes riding a bicycle 750 miles!
Randonneuring began in Italy and flourished in France at the end of the 19th century. Professional road racing, cycle touring, and equipment trials trace their early roots to randonneuring.
Randonneurs (women, who participate on equal footing with men, are called randonneusses) are hardy, resourceful cyclists. Once a brevet begins, the clock runs until the rider crosses the finish line. There are no allowances for inclement weather or mechanical or bodily breakdowns. Eating, resting, navigation, bike repairs, and of course, cycling, must be done efficiently enough that the rider finishes within the time limit. In keeping with the noncompetitive nature of randonneuring, official finishers are listed alphabetically, without reference to or recognition of finishing time or order.
Self-reliance is critical to a randonneur’s success. Non-neutral support may only be taken at a contrôle (“control” in English), or checkpoint, which are typically about 50km apart and are designed to keep riders on the prescribed route, which must be followed exactly. At a control, some of which may be secret, the rider has his or her brevet card stamped to show passage though the control within the prescribed time limit. In addition to a cut-off time for the event, each control has an “opening” and “closing” time and a rider must pass through the control between those times.
Brevets typically use tertiary roads through rural areas. Routes are hillier than most club rides or centuries. For example, PBP has about 30,000 feet of climbing on it and is considered to be of average difficulty for a 1200K. The ominously named Endless Mountains 1200K in eastern Pennsylvania has twice as much climbing.
There are as many approaches to train- ing for brevets as there are randonneurs. Most randonneurs do not ride huge volume, nor do they do great numbers of long rides. Rather, each brevet helps build the fitness and experience necessary to undertake the next one: i.e., the “training” for a 300K is completing a 200K.
Although the time limits are generous (a rider must maintain about 8mph to finish within time), training to improve rolling speed will enable a randonneur to obtain more rest, deal with the unexpected, or just finish a brevet more quickly. That said, randonneuring favors the efficient, determined, steady rider more than the “fast” one. Using time off the bicycle wisely, figuring out and maintaining an appropriate pace, and maximizing comfort, both on the bike and off it, are at least as critical to success as fitness.
Cyclists considering a brevet should not be deterred from participating by thinking that they need specialized equipment or a “randonneuring bicycle.” For a 200K, most riders travel pretty light. Supplies necessary to fix basic problems (a flat repair kit and good multi-tool), a variety of clothing items if the temperature might vary widely or rain is expected, and a couple of bottles are the basics. I don’t carry much more for a 200K than I would for a club ride and I can fit it all in jersey pockets and a small seatpost bag.
For rides longer than 200km, lights are required. Riders also must wear reflective ankle bands and a vest when riding at night. Some of my most memorable randonneuring moments are from night riding, especially climbing the Feather River Canyon in the Sierra Nevada by the light of a full moon on the Gold Rush 1200K. Whether to use a hub generator lighting system or a battery-powered light is as personal as the wool/ synthetics clothing debate. Both have zealous advocates, but no one approach offers any substantial performance benefit over the other. I use a battery-powered system to enable easy transfer between bicycles, but many prefer generator systems for their aesthetics and to avoid charging or replacing batteries en route.
A “good randonneuring bicycle” is any bicycle that fits and on which the rider is comfortable. On Paris-Brest-Paris, one will find every conceivable human-powered machine on the road. I have completed brevets on bicycles as diverse as a full-carbon racing bike, a cyclocross bike with 32mm knobby tires, a tandem, a fixed-gear pursuit bike, and a fixed-gear bicycle designed for urban riding. While many randonneurs gravitate to classic bicycles in the tradition of René Herse or other constructeurs with steel frames, relaxed geometry, and ample clearances for racks, fenders, and wide tires, such a bicycle is by no means a requirement nor is there any evidence that riders on “randonneuring” bicycles achieve any better results or somehow have more fun. Randonneurs describe their sport as a “big tent,” and one will find riders of every age and ability—and bicycles of every age and design—under the roof.
The 600K and longer events present randonneurs with the issue of how to manage sleep and rest. Some ride without sleep. Some take catnaps where and when the need arises. Park benches, churches, post offices, and 24- hour convenience stores are havens for the tired randonneur. I even saw a rider on PBP ’07 stuffed into a phone booth, fast asleep. On the other comfort extreme, some will check into a hotel and shower up, change clothing, and get a full night’s sleep before setting off the next day. If you tend toward roughing it, carry a bivy sack or foil emergency blanket. If you like your beauty sleep, remember your credit card.
Randonneurs also need to address nutrition and hydration. Some riders carry all their own food, but most will provision themselves along the route. Many brevets provide food at the contrôles, included in the entry fee. Riders who require particular sport drinks or gels, or have dietary needs that might not be addressed in the countryside, will carry those items with them.
Try to enjoy the trial-and-error process of figuring out what you like to eat and drink on long rides. I’ve fueled brevets with homemade GORP and surf-and-turf and just about everything edible in between. What tastes good in your kitchen may be unappealing after you’ve been riding all day. Many find sport drinks to be too sweet later in rides. Ibuprofen and acidic foods can upset even the most iron stomachs on Day 2 of a 1200K.
By now you may be thinking, “What’s this PBP thing all about, and how do I go about doing it?” You’ve got time to plan: the 18th Paris-Brest-Paris will not occur until August 2015. Originally, PBP was held only once a decade because the thinking at the time was that to ride it more frequently would be too harmful to one’s health. Today, some randonneurs do several 1200Ks in a season, but PBP remains a quadrennial offering to permit planning a quality event (moving 5,000 riders and organizing volunteers across rural northern France is no simple task) and, perhaps, to add to its allure and mystique.
To ride PBP (and most other 1200Ks), one must first qualify by completing a full brevet series (200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K) in the same calendar year as PBP. Qualifying helps to ensure that randonneurs are prepared to meet the challenge and that their experience will be not only successful, but enjoyable. Historically, between 70 percent and 90 percent of those who start PBP finish within time. RBAs—regional brevet administrators—design their brevets to ensure that their riders have the greatest preparation and chance for success on PBP. Complete PBP, and you’ll forever be known as an ancien (ancienne, for the ladies), a distinction bestowed by the French with pride, gravity, and honor.
Resources and links
- Randonneurs USA (RUSA) organizes brevets in the United States. RUSA’s website, www.rusa.org, contains a wealth of information on upcoming events, advice, and history of the sport.
- PBP is put on by l’Audax Club Parisien. See www. paris-brest-paris.org for more information.
- There are many excellent randonneuring blogs. Among my favorites is The Daily Randonneur (thedailyrandonneur.wordpress.com), which contains diverse stories, interviews and information from the randonneuring world.
- - There is a randonneuring list-serv, groups.google.com/group/randon, covering all things randonneuring including ride reports, advice and information on events.
- Perhaps the best way to learn more about randonneuring is to participate. Register for the next local 100km populaire or 200K and chat up someone with an interesting bike or ride jersey. You’ll find we’re a friendly bunch, and especially eager to help new riders avoid the many mistakes we made when starting out. Bon route!
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By Robin Jenkins,
I thought that chasing the Tour de France might be a challenge but I was very sure I might not survive the chasing of my mother, a fan of all things Tour related.
When I told my mother, Karen, I was invited to the wedding of a college roommate in the south of France early in July 2010, it did not escape her that the wedding would occur just after the start of the Tour. She suggested joining me after the wedding in a city where we could see either the start or finish of a stage and then spend time in Paris.
Memories of recent summers started to surface: daily phone calls relating endless Tour information about stage locations, updates on specific riders, and requests to join silly, fruitless, online contests. All of this information came from one Tour de France fan – my mother – and it came whether I wanted to hear it or not. So being an adventurous person and a thoughtful daughter, I agreed to her suggestion. This would be her chance to see a Tour stage in person and I always enjoy spending time with her, especially when travelling. During Thanksgiving, we got a large Michelin map of France and started to plan.
As it turns out the Tour routes are not made public until about six months before the race, so we definitely needed help with picking a city, finding a hotel, renting bikes, and general Tour information. Fortunately and not surprisingly, my mother worked her contacts to find someone who specializes in bike tours for cyclists to follow portions of the Tour. Joe Tonon, owner of Destination Cycling, offered generous and invaluable advice and assistance. By March, Joe helped us confirm our destination to be Reims, in the Champagne region of Northern France for the end of Stage 4. We got our airline and French train tickets and Joe made our hotel and bicycle reservations in Reims. The rest was up to patience and fate.
My mother arrived in Reims a day before I did and was standing in front of the Grand Hotel des Templiers, our charming and affordable hotel, when I alighted from the cab from the train station. Getting advice from Joe to rent bicycles in Reims was one of the best decisions—that plus the hotel he booked for us which was two blocks from the Tour route into Reims and six blocks from the finish line and the center of downtown.
The next morning we had a pleasant 15-minute walk to the bike rental agency at the train station that also rented cars. When my mother asked about renting bike helmets, the agent insisted no one wears helmets, that we would look silly. My mother, who is a League Cycling Instructor, and never without a helmet when riding a bike, sighed along with the agent as he dolefully said it was better that we did not look like “helmet heads”. We quickly learned that in Reims, bike riders are expected to be on the sidewalks. After several motorists stopped to yell at us for riding in the streets, my mother sighed again as we pulled the bikes onto the sidewalk to ride.
A beautiful city, Reims proved to be a splendid size to explore by bicycle while waiting several days for the arrival of the Tour. We visited majestic townhouses, fascinating museums, interesting historical sites, and enjoyed delicious inexpensive meals. Surprising was the role of Reims in World War II as the headquarters for General Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Command.
We were awed by the exquisite public library built with a donation from Andrew Carnegie after World War I and still lending books. Perhaps most memorable was the chapel of Our Lady of Peace which was the work of Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita who painted the stunning and mystical interior frescos. The spectacular Cathedral of Notre Dame, which looks beautiful at all times of the day, but especially at sunset, was breath-taking every time we crossed the large cathedral square. While my being in Reims to see the end of a Tour stage was very much for my mother, I found myself enjoying sightseeing and spending time together. Soon, I too was getting excited about the coming of the Tour de France.
Amazingly, the day before the Tour, we could only get a whisper of the route – nobody really knew for sure which roads it would take into Reims. The owner of our hotel did not know and neither did anyone at the local tourist office across the square from the Cathedral.
To Americans, this seemed very strange—shouldn’t the whole town be turned upside down for such a world- class event? None of the shops were selling Tour paraphernalia—T-shirts, postcards, caps, jerseys—anything to indicate that within a day, the Tour de France would roar into Reims. We took the little information we had and hopped on our bikes, intent on finding a good location from which to watch the cyclists pass by. Our criteria was very simple—a cafe along the route far enough from the crowds at the finish line and, most importantly, easy access to restrooms.
We decided to ride our bikes away from Reims and use as markers the handful of barriers along the way, which we figured would be set up to hold back the crowds. We found a small cafe where we had lunch and became acquainted with the owners. They too thought the Tour would go past their establishment and assured us we would be very welcome to return the next day. Everything was set. Or so we thought!
Early on the morning Stage 4 was to finish in Reims there was not a cloud in the sky. The weather was hot but fortunately, not humid. As we left our hotel, we were surprised that overnight the nearby streets had been transformed into a long stretch of barriers with police stationed every 20 feet. We decided to ride first to the finish line about six blocks away and then follow the barriers out of the center of town to our carefully chosen cafe.
The area for the finish had a great energy and excitement. Souvenir stands had appeared in the same streets where the night before we strolled and had dinner. Most impressive were the large gleaming double decker broadcast booths. We could look down the street past the VIP stand and see the finish line being painted. By 9 a.m. the crowd was growing. We spoke to a number of dedicated fans that had claimed their spots while holding large national flags. They would be waiting for six or seven hours for a chance to see their heroes finish—true dedication.
We started to ride away from Reims, following the barriers, to get to the cafe we had chosen the day before… and surprise… the route was different than we anticipated. Our cafe was now an eighth of a mile away from the route into Reims putting our view and access to restrooms in jeopardy.
Fortunately, my ears heard a wonderful sound—American Soul music coming from a cafe with empty tables right on the route just at a corner. Fate had intervened and helped us find an even better location. We would be able to see the cyclists as they approached the corner and as they made the turn to race into Reims. Since this was France relaxing at a cafe for many hours at a table is never an issue, it’s a requirement. So we introduced ourselves to the owners and settled in to wait. My mother was thrilled and the music was rocking!
By about 1 p.m., it seemed the entire neighbourhood was going to turn out for the passing of the Tour De France and we were among them—families, teenagers, seniors, shop owners, postal workers, delivery people—all filling the sidewalks with children pressed against the barriers for the long wait, while chatting with each other and the police.
We spent the next few hours talking to our fellow onlookers while drinking sodas and water, eating lunch, reading newspapers, taking turns sitting in the chairs, and being part of the growing excitement. At one point, I was even able to apply a fresh coat of nail polish. Then the long parade began. There were local groups that rode their bikes or marched past. It was not a typical parade, but rather many community groups that went past in no particular order, some had one or two instruments to accompany them and great gaps of time between each.
In between were small vendor trucks with all the Tour souvenirs unavailable in the shops. People would jump off the trucks and dash to the barriers to sell t-shirts, musettes, caps, balloons, pens and other assorted Tour items. We joined in the shouting for the desired items, quickly shoving euros at the vendors and miraculously getting back the correct change.
Then, the Tour de France caravan (or parade of floats) slowly passed by. Sponsored by French banks, businesses, and bicycle-related companies, the floats were colorful but small in comparison to floats in American parades. People on the floats and walking along the sides energetically threw free merchandise to the crowd—everything from candy, small toys, packets of laundry detergent, cycling caps, small bagged desserts, and the prized large green foam hands.
Kids scrambled to grab candy and toys while the police and adults obligingly moved out the way or gave away what they had caught. Caps were generously given to the elderly who did not have hats to shield them from the sun. We happily gave away the laundry detergent we grabbed in the scramble. I gave away one of the two polka dot (King of the Mountain) hats I caught while my mother clutched the big green hand she managed to secure. Amazingly, it seemed that everyone got something.
Meanwhile markers for the benefit of the cyclists were being put in place. A large white and red polka dot balloon jersey was blown up and secured at the corner where we were positioned to indicate it was 3km to the finish line. Then, a different kind of caravan rolled past, this time the huge brightly painted team busses; the equally colorful cars, each loaded with bikes on top; and a small army of support vehicles and photographers sitting precariously on the back of countless motorcycles. The crowd clapped, waved and shouted as the parade of busses, cars, and support vehicles went past. But after nearly six hours of waiting, where were the cyclists?
All of a sudden my mother shouted she could hear a helicopter, which soon was overhead. The cyclists must be near. We joined in the cheering with the crowd. The air was electric—and then it was over in less than 15 seconds, maybe 20! We knew it would be over fast, and I must admit it is still a blur of color and movement, but one of the greatest blurs I have experienced. I thought I had joined my mother so she could see the end of a stage of the most famous bicycle race in the world. Instead, we both found ourselves in the middle of long, boisterous, colourful, and generous community party to which everyone was welcome!
I’m sure some of you have been lucky enough to participate in something after dreaming and perhaps seeing it for so long on television. If so, you might appreciate and understand the happiness and enjoyment of my mother. Because I came to the adventure with no agenda and ready to absorb whatever craziness might occur, I had a great time and can now easily report that if it is your dream, it is very possible to see part of the Tour de France up close and personal.
My mother wants to see a stage of the Tour de France next year, but she wants to be a Podium Girl—one of the lovely women who each day hand awards and offer kisses to the stage winners. PLEASE drop me a line if you have any ideas on how to pull this one off… anything is possible, right?
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Editor’s note: Riders Write is an occasional column where we feature reader-submitted stories. This edition tells the story of the Trans-Iowa, a 330-mile gravel race that traverses some of the most difficult terrain imaginable. Author Jeremy Kershaw knows his gravel, too. He is the creator and director of the Heck of the North, a similar event in Minnesota.
By Jeremy Kershaw
Jay Barre and I looked back 100 yards at the figure of Bill Graves hunched over his bike. He waves us on. His front rack had broken. Jay and I spoke almost incoherently about what we should do. We had to go. We had another 50 miles to go. Time was all of a sudden a very valuable commodity. Our hearts sank leaving a very strong rider on the side of the road. We both hoped that he would just kick the damn thing off his bike and keep going. Just keep riding damnit!
Twenty miles to go. Eighty. 130 miles to go still. It just never seemed to end. The last 60 miles were without a doubt the most difficult miles of my life. Jay kept crunching the numbers and we had no time to waste. But the roads just went from bad to worse. Yes, we all "love to ride gravel" and all that, but fresh limestone (golf to tennis ball size rock) with no packed track made us almost sick to our stomachs. And the hills just kept coming. One after another.
There were so many times that we just asked, "how do my legs keep going?!" Ironically, our legs felt OK. But hands, lower backs and butts were all just wasted. Jay didn’t want to look down south any more in fear of what he might see. I was chafed for sure, but what concerned me the most was just the pure soreness, the pain of trauma on my inner butt cheeks. It felt better to stand and pedal. I worried I had ulcers forming. I worried I would turn into one of my patients that you have to turn every two hours. I shut out the thought and took two more ibu’s.
I had a second of doubt trying to follow Jay’s wheel toward the end. He was a pure motor. I mean he just didn’t seem to falter. Youth? Maybe. Natural toughness. Yes.
Somewhere I found another store of energy. How? How does the body keep going? This is what I came for at the Trans Iowa. This is the marrow of these endurance events. I needed another pure dose of this insanity. Another swim in the deep end. I put my head down and passed Jay so that I could take another pull at the front. He had done a lion’s share of the work this morning. But I scraped together a few more watts and broke the relentless headwind for him. At least for a couple of minutes.
Up ahead, we saw riders that had let us go earlier in the day. All were strong, great gravel cyclists. Good guys. But I stood and attacked and wanted them behind us. We slowly bridged to the five and just kept riding. I seriously felt like Jay and I were riding to the storied velodrome in Roubaix, France. Overcast, windy, rain threatening. Bodies absolutely hammered. For only maybe the second time in my cycling life, I found a reserve of energy that allowed me to go faster than I thought I could. It was a highlight of the race. Not passing those guys. But just feeling that strong when it mattered most.
I usually pride myself in my navigational skills. I love to lead and I swore that I would follow my cue cards religiously. I always do. I have done many solo nights successfully. But the sleep monsters were particularly mean this race. I don’t know how many times I looked down at my cue sheet only to go blurry eyed and feign some knowledge of our current where-abouts. I was lucky to be with a savvy and generous bunch of guys through the dark times of the T.I. I don’t think they missed a beat all night. So impressive.
And never will I go with such a miserable lighting system again. It was anemic at best. But again, lucky to be with guys who had enough combined lumins to do major surgery by. Thank you gentleman for your firepower, both brain and headlamp.
There must have been a legislative mandate to make all farm dogs in Iowa under 20 pounds. I have never been chased by so many Yorkies, Korgies, and other yippers. Where were the big, mean old guys of yore? In their place were the new Mig fighter planes. By the time you saw them it was too late. So much yipping. So many ankle biters.
And no, this is not RAGBRAI. We were not just riding out in the ditch. We are not lost, which is what must we look like to any rational Iowa rural resident.
Three AM. Raining hard and windy. Farmer hears their dog barking and happens to look out his window. A string of guys riding their damn bikes on a dirt road in the middle of the night. All wearing headlamps. Damn fools. Same pack of guys shows up at convenient store in absolutely the darkest part of the night. Guy at register stands there with dumb founded look. Headlamps still on. Click clack and muddied cycling shoes slipping on polished floor. Dumbly and I mean dumbly looking for something salty to eat. How hard is it to pick out something to eat after 230 miles? Really hard. Guy at register must think we are insane. But a curious question? Not one. Not one comment from register guy.
I slump down on floor by the cash machine and numbly eat a very white looking ham and cheese sandwich. I spill Chex Mix on the floor and sweep it up with my muddy, gloved fingers. I feel like a homeless guy at a Grey Hound station. Someone says we gotta roll. I say something like "thanks" to the guy at the register. Not a peep. We saddle up and head back into the darkness.
I feel pretty good. It’s dark but I know it will be getting light soon. I’ve lucked out and hooked onto a group of guys riding the pace I want to go. We are making miles into the headwind. I think I have a good chance of actually making the first checkpoint this year. I know I’m not going to give up this year. I hear the first robins chirping their morning song. The kildeer are barking their usual orders as they glide by right in front of our bikes. I love riding these rural roads.
I have never ridden my bicycle so hard or for so long.
Jay and I ride down the paved block to the park and finish line. It is just how I imagine it. Farrow is there. So are Ari and Giggles. We stop riding after 33 hours and 330 miles. Someone takes our bikes. I hug Jay. Guitar Ted and others congratulate us. I sit down and feel absolute and total relief. Someone gives me a Budweiser and it is the best beer I have ever tasted.
It is finally over.
I can finally stop pedaling.
By Gary Boulanger,
Grant Petersen is a hard man to define. His views on bicycling have run counter to conventional industry wisdom for nearly 30 years, which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who really knows the California native. Call it survival, cunning or instinct; either way, his latest book, ‘Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike’ (Workman Publishing, 212 pages, $13.95) is consistent with the belief system of a man I’ve known since digesting the indelible prose from the Bridgestone Cycles catalogs he developed during his 10 years as both marketing director and product manager for the small but influential company, located a mere 26 miles from Petersen’s Walnut Creek homebase.
Bridgestone Cycles closed its doors permanently for multiple reasons in late 1994, but only after Petersen developed a fiercely loyal customer base with his Bridgestone Owners Bunch (B.O.B.). Club membership was open to Bridgestone bicycle owners, and discounts were playfully offered to members with "Bob" derivatives (Robert, Rob, Roberta, Roberto, Robin, etc.). The B.O.B. Gazette was an extension of the well-written Bridgestone catalogs, where Petersen and other contributors openly communicated their views on what made cycling wonderful. Much of what the gang wrote about focused on fun and health, with a light dose of technical jargon about bicycle design, componentry, and competition. He was (and is) transparent about every aspect of bicycle development, sourcing, marketing and racing, and it struck a chord with many.
A page from the 1993 Bridgestone catalog.
Petersen discovered his voice at Bridgestone, and his style of sprinkling opinion with experience often planted seeds of joyous discovery for those seeking a unique and sublime cycling experience. At the same time, though, his writing confounded and angered some journalists, Bridgestone salespeople, and independent bicycle dealers who didn’t appreciate Petersen’s upstream swimming approach to get more people riding bikes. The B.O.B. Gazette allowed him to speak directly to a devoted audience, which formed the foundation of Petersen’s new company in late 1994, Rivendell Bicycle Works, and whose database he was able to inherit after Bridgestone shuttered for good.
Rivendell was the perfect transition for Petersen, which allowed him to publish catalogs in his own style and voice, plus continue to offer the unique products he felt strongly about at Bridgestone, with no corporate strings attached. He pioneered many things in the early Rivendell days: consumer-direct sales, membership and its privileges, and diaries/blogs (in small print form in his Rivendell Reader, an offshoot of the B.O.B. Gazette). Some say he kept Brooks leather saddles afloat, and ushered in the current handmade bicycle movement by keeping the home fires burning with his singular focus on lugged steel bikes during the steel-to-aluminum-to-carbon phase. Ditto saddle bags and wool clothing.
Northern California has been a hotbed for road racing for decades, and Petersen was part of that scene. There’s a photo of him beating former 7-Eleven/Motorola pro Norm Alvis up the popular Mt. Diablo hill climb event, proving he was no slouch on the bike. But Petersen understood early on that for a company like Bridgestone to survive and thrive in the United States against Schwinn, Trek and Specialized, a different approach was necessary, and it was a battle not be be won on the podium. This meant a focus on the rider and his or her needs. In other words, Petersen was quick to key in on the ‘why’ factor for Bridgestone (then Rivendell), providing compelling reasons why consumers would choose his products over the multiple competitors on the market. His straight-talk approach cut to the heart of what makes cycling so attractive to kids in the first place: adventure and freedom.
In many ways, Petersen has been peddling adventure and freedom since his early days working at REI in Berkeley before hitching a ride with Bridgestone in 1984. His new book encapsulates a lifetime of what that adventure and freedom has meant to him and the thousands of people he’s influenced through his writing, marketing and product development.
The 212 pages include counter-intuitive advice culled from years of practical use (leather saddles versus gel, lugged steel frames versus carbon, larger tires versus skinny, wool and cotton clothing versus Lycra, platform versus clipless pedals, etc.). He provides advice on proper diet, riding techniques, clothing, gear for bike camping, and bike fit and positioning. He practices what he preaches, and there’s plenty in the book that might prove unpopular with conventional thinkers (helmet use, blinky lights, charity rides, etc.).
Mind you, the nearly 58-year-old Petersen has been working with bicycles and bicyclists his entire adult life, so he’s perched solidly on a legitimate platform. Some dismiss him as a retro-grouch and a Luddite, but my observation has been that Petersen is more of a romantic, harkening back to the days when fendered British three-speeds with waxed-cotton saddle bags ruled the land. He’s an encourager, and he astutely debunks many misconceptions fostered by an industry quick to hitch its marketing wagon to racing, only to repeatedly see its heroes crash and burn amid this month’s doping scandals.
‘Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike’ is refreshing in its content and belongs in every library and school across the country, to be discovered by young cyclists looking for an alternative view. Buy it if you need a reminder of what it felt like the first time you rode a bike, or buy it for a friend who’s been blinded by the carnal racerboy tendency to tear his pedals off with every ride. Either way, Petersen offers a peek into a different insight that’s worth digesting. He’s the Pied Piper for the Un-racer.Tweet
Editor’s note: Today I’m excited to share the work of one of my favorite industry insiders. Jill Missal is the founder of GearGals.com, a site dedicated to the (sadly) often marginalized population of women who love the outdoors. The site is essential reading for women, and guys, you might learn a thing or two. Hopefully this will be the first of many of her contributions to Bicycle Times.
The venerable Rick Vosper wrote about the elephant in the industry – the cycling industry that is. You know what it’s like having an elephant around; it’s that thing that is glaringly obvious yet has no immediate solution so everyone just ignores it. The cycling industry’s elephant is that the industry has undergone essentially zero net growth in the last twenty years.
Zero. Small ups, small downs, but essentially has stayed exactly the same. It was a 6 billion dollar industry in 1990 and it’s a 6 billion dollar industry today. That’s right, every company out there is just fighting for a share of the same dollars. No blue oceans, no new markets, no innovation, nada, nothing.
Depressing, eh? If you’re a bike retailer or bike shop owner or have any ambition to make it big in the bike industry, you bet it’s depressing. You’d have to steal market share from either another small retailer, or battle it out with the Big Guns of which there are only a few. You’d have to beat out an enormous juggernaut of a company like Specialized to get any of their market. Good luck with that.
The reasons behind this lack of growth seem mystifying to some. To me, they are fairly obvious. The bike industry never changes, never evolves, never involves new markets or offers anything different than what it’s got. Consider the outdoor industry, which has grown and expanded to provide something for just about everyone. Not the bike industry – it struggles to change the consumer, not offer the consumer what she wants. So it doesn’t grow.
What, specifically, do I mean? Here are the biggest factors in the bike industry’s stunning lack of growth in my opinion:
1. The bike seat problem. I’ve been riding seriously for about seven years now and recreationally for a while before that. I have yet to find one bike saddle that doesn’t cause severe chafing, pressure, numbness, or flat out horrible pain. When I try to get help for this problem I’m met with the same old set of worn, useless pieces of bike shop advice: “Get good shorts.” (Done.) “Use chamois cream.” (Done.) “Get a bike fit.” (Done.) “You just have to get used to it.” (Done, and served up with a healthy dose of STFU. Are men told “get used to it” when they complain of saddle sores? I have to wonder. Any men out there care to report?)
It just doesn’t work. Bike seats are terrible and bike seats for women are inexcuseably bad. It takes a very dedicated person to keep doing something that causes pain, chronic issues, and potential disfigurement. For normal people, if it hurts, they stop. And cycling hurts the most sensitive parts of our bodies. So they stop. And the bike industry just keep churning out the same old seats. Any innovation in bicycle saddle technology is met with some variation of “oh my god, that won’t possibly work, and it looks different so we want nothing to do with it.” Which brings me to the next issue with the bike industry:
2. Form over function AND fashion. The cycling industry keeps telling me I want to wear garish, skin tight, unflattering and horrendously ugly spandex clothing covered in company logos. It tells me I want tall socks and shirts with insane pocket configurations and zero sex appeal. It tries to convince me that arm condoms make more sense than long sleeves.
It tells me that full-length bib pants are practical and I shouldn’t mind stripping naked on the side of the road to pee because my cycling pants are basically overalls. It tells me that the very things that can make riding easier and more convenient are so hopelessly uncool that I should be snubbed, made fun of, ignored, or practically shot dead for using them. Think hydration packs, flat pedals, non-spandex pants, loose-fitting clothing, shoes that can be walked in; you name it. If it improves the experience, you’re a shameless nerd and the cycling industry doesn’t want you.
Again, if it sucks to ride a bike because it’s uncomfortable, and, say, you don’t like dislocating your shoulder trying to get a snack out of the pocket inexplicably located at the small of your back, you won’t continue. If you are snubbed by other participants in the sport and urged to do things that make your experience not as enjoyable, you’ll find something else to do.
The cycling industry just cannot accept that the bulk of the potential market does not want to look like they’re wearing a sponsored sausage casing. They want easy access to food and water. They want to wear what they’re comfortable in. They want to do it the way they want to do it. Instead of finding ways to embrace that market, the cycling industry keeps churning out ugly and nonfunctional clothing and actively ridiculing those who would dare to alter the “look” of cycling. There are only so many people who will wear stuff that looks like that, and that’s the current limit of the cycling industry. The industry puts more energy into convincing me that I want to wear long socks than it is in making the socks I would want to buy. It’s backwards. You can’t control the consumer, you have to give the consumer what she wants.
3. Women. Oh, the legion of ways the industry excludes women. My recent favorite example is this article published by Canadian MTB powerhouse web site pinkbike.com, in which the writer manages to alienate female riders everywhere by at once disregarding them (did you know that NO women ride mountain bikes? None at all?
If you do happen to ride a bike, you evidently don’t count, because there are none of you in the sport), objectifying them (using a highly airbrushed, pouty glamour shot of a rider NOT riding a bike to illustrate the article), and displaying a forehead-slappingly appalling lack of knowledge of chromosomes (“Why No Y?” Oh my god. And it was published with that name. Shameful). The article wraps up with a condescending “To all the girls, sorry a guy had to write this” as if women like me haven’t been writing about this very issue for years (also, to author Mitchell Scott: We are not “girls.” We are women. If you want “girls” in your sport maybe you should target your article to kindergartens everywhere).
Naturally, the article was followed by a barrage of revoltingly sexist and demeaning comments, which are par for the course on mountain biking sites and events and seemingly not subjected to silly things like “moderation” from the site admins and event organizers. Go to a bike industry event and you see women all over the place – stuck out in front of booths like 3-D billboards in thongs and lucite stripper heels. Is that the way to sell women with money on the industry? (Hint: No.)
Well guys, there are plenty of women riding, we’re just not riding with YOU. Go read a forum or look around at a bicycle trade show to figure out why not. Professional women over thirty are a fast-growing consumer market because we have money to spend on ourselves. Lots of us ride bikes and have great careers so why would we spend time with idiots who talk down to us, demean us, and condescend to us? Which brings me to the next factor in bike industry non-growth:
4. Catering to the wrong base. I love this humor piece about types of riders, especially the part about The Racer who “works part time.” Amateurs do get obsessed with bike racing and basically give everything up to do it to try to get sponsored to get free stuff. They even give up their jobs and then they don’t have money to buy cycling stuff. One prominent cycling industry CEO told me bluntly “racers just want free stuff.” Yet the industry falls all over itself making things for racing types while ignoring a huge potential base of customers practically waving cash around and trying to spend it on bike stuff. Meanwhile the industry is kissing the ass of racer types who don’t want to spend money on anything. Again. Backwards.
5. Back to women. Like I said, we have money and we want to spend it. But the bike industry seems to really just not want our money. Go to a bike shop and you’ll see tons of dude stuff and a tiny selection of women stuff. Two saddles for women, one of which is bound to be the Terry Butterfly because bike shop dudes figure that’s the one we all want (no!). Most of the time, zero demo bikes in women’s sizes – usually shops stock M and L frames and that’s pretty much it.
So, what, we’re supposed to drop two grand on something we can’t even ride around the parking lot? We have to “special order” our frame size and sit around for six to eight weeks waiting for the mystery bike to arrive and hope that we like it? We’re supposed to be happy with one of the two options for bike seats you give us, or the single pair of shorts you have hanging on the rack? Even if a shop has more than that, it’s all gonna be in the same style and go re-read item 2 if you don’t know why that’s a problem.
6. Buy before you try. I’m pretty gear savvy but even I glaze over after thirty seconds of monologue about the details of component groups. When I buy a bike, I want to go try a bunch of bikes to see what I like, and then pick one and buy it and the bike industry just does not have things set up that way. The buy before you try thing is really damaging to potential market growth. Most people simply cannot and will not (and SHOULD NOT in my opinion) drop thousands of dollars on bikes they can’t try first. You’d never buy a car without a good test drive. Why should you buy a bike without a good few test rides? But since bike shops are just barely scraping by trying to make a living, they can’t afford to keep a fleet of demos. So you can’t try before you buy. So a lot of people don’t buy. Hello! Backwards!
7. Lack of innovation in marketing. The bike industry keeps marketing to itself in a fantastically nonsensical endless loop. Ads and marketing are focused on people who already ride bikes. Companies buy ads in bike magazines and go to bike events. That’s great, but it’s completely ignoring a huge number of potential markets.
A few years ago I was negotiating with a high-end boutique bike manufacturer for some consulting work. I tried to convince them of some marketing strategies that would open up new markets and sell more bikes. Instead the company opted to stick with standard bike advertising strategy: a dramatically shadowy studio shot of the bike, placed in a few bike-specific publications. And that’s it. People who already want that bike might like that ad, but people who have never heard of that bike or are just getting into bikes just see a picture of a bike. Or they don’t see it at all, because if they’re not already into bikes they’re not going to buy a bike magazine. Backwards!
There are so many untapped markets out there for the bike industry. I’m not going to list them because, frankly, as a consultant that’s what I get paid to do. If you’re interested in hearing my strategies, hire me to create one for you. It’s so frustrating, though, because when I point out a lucrative market for cycling companies that NO ONE is marketing to, it’s a golden opportunity: fresh meat, free money, no competition – but the bike industry says “no, no, that might set us APART!” And the LAST thing anyone in the bike industry wants to do is to set oneself apart from the norm. Sigh. Backwards.
One client turned down my marketing strategy because, though it demonstrated increased profits, the company was afraid of looking uncool to their current base, even though said current base is not buying more bikes from them. A base which, by the way, consists of internet forum-type douchebags. The company turned down a way to make actual money because they wanted to look cool to the crowd that doesn’t spend money. Needless to say this company has not increased its profits in several years.
There’s a reason bike shops are barely scraping by trying to make a living. Seven reasons, actually, so far, if you have a look above. I’m sure there are more. But I think it comes down to an absolute lack of innovation and a culture of exclusion. The bike industry would rather make fun of someone in a backpack than make a backpack that person would buy. It’s the worst business model ever and if the cycling industry keeps on like this, it deserves to not grow.Tweet
By Jay Walljasper, photos by Zach Vanderkooy
People across the country were surprised last year when Bicycling Magazine named Minneapolis America’s “#1 Bike City,” beating out Portland, Oregon, which had claimed the honor for many years. Shock that a place in the heartland could outperform cities on the coasts was matched by widespread disbelief that cycling was even possible in a state famous for its ferocious winters.
But this skepticism fades with a closer look at the facts. Nearly four percent of Minneapolis residents bike to work according to census data. That’s an increase of 33 percent since 2007, and 500 percent since 1980.
At least one-third of those commuters ride some days during the winter, according to federally funded research conducted by Bike Walk Twin Cities. Even on the coldest days about one-fifth of them are out on their bikes.
In 2010, Minneapolis also launched the first large-scale bikesharing system in U.S.—called Nice Ride—and boasts arguably the nation’s finest network of off-street bicycle trails. The city was chosen as one of four pilot projects (along with Marin County, California; Columbia, Missouri; and Sheboygan County, Wisconsin) for the federal Non-Motorized Transportation Program, which aims to shift a share of commuters out of cars and onto bikes or foot.
Bikes also figure prominently in the local economy with firms such as Quality Bicycle Products (bikes and parts wholesaler), Dero (bike racks), and Park Tools (bike tools), based out of the Twin Cities.
A delegation of transportation leaders from Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, came to Minneapolis for a tour sponsored by the Bikes Belong Foundation.
“Biking has become a huge part of what we are,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak declared to the delegation. “It’s an economical way to get around town, and many times it’s the fastest. I frequently take a bike from city hall across downtown to meetings.”
This is what a bike town looks like
In a city where bicyclists of all ages and backgrounds already ride recreational trails regularly, the goal is to make two-wheelers a central component of the transportation system by encouraging everyone to hop on their bikes for commuting or short trips around town. This is not a far-fetched dream, since nationally half of all automobile trips are three miles or less—a distance easily covered on a bike.
This year Minneapolis is adding 57 new miles of bikeways to the 127 miles already built. An additional 183 miles are planned over the next twenty years. By 2020, almost every city resident will live within a mile of an off-street bikeway and within a half-mile of a bike lane, vows city transportation planner Donald Pflaum.
“Places famous for biking, like Copenhagen and even Portland, feel very far away,” remarked Jeff Stephens, executive director of the Columbus advocacy organization Consider Biking. Stephens came to Minneapolis looking for ideas he could apply back home. “It was exciting to see what they’ve accomplished in Minneapolis, which is a city that seems a lot like Columbus.
“Our mayor has said that he wants Columbus to become a ‘bike town’,” Stephens added, “and seeing what’s been done here gives us a clearer sense of what that means.”
A world-class network of bike trails
Over three days in mid-July, the visiting group of city officials, planners, and citizen advocates pedaled all over Minneapolis in conditions more typical of Copenhagen or Portland—a constant threat of rain—than Minnesota’s usual warm, sunny summers.
They inspected America’s “first bike freeway,” Cedar Lake Trail, running along an uninterrupted rail corridor from the western suburbs through downtown Minneapolis to the Mississippi River. They also rode the Midtown Greenway, another converted rail line cutting through the city’s south side that carries as many as 3,500 bicyclists a day.
Both the Cedar Lake Trail and the Midtown Greenway connect to numerous other trails, creating an off-road network that reaches deep into St. Paul and surrounding suburbs. Intersections are infrequent along these routes, which boosts riders’ speed along with their sense of safety and comfort.
The crown jewel of the Midtown Greenway is the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge, a striking modernist structure that loops bike and foot traffic high above a formidable seven-lane highway. It’s named for a former Minneapolis congressman who became an early champion of bike riders in the 1990s.
Another sight along the Midtown Greenway is less dazzling but bodes well for cycling’s acceptance as a legitimate form of transportation. City engineers recently reversed a stop sign to give bikes priority over cars where the trail meets 5th Avenue South. The reason: more bike riders move through the intersection on a typical day than motorists.
Women, children, and seniors on bikes
Minneapolis is committed to creating separate rights-of-way for bikes wherever feasible, which helps explain why the city defies trends of bicyclists as overwhelmingly male. While only a quarter of riders nationally are women, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports the number as high as 37 percent in Minneapolis. Research shows that most people—including many women, families and older citizens—are wary of riding alongside motor vehicles on busy streets.
Having the option to ride apart from heavy traffic encourages more people to try out cycling as a form of transportation. Since the 1970s, Dutch planners have separated bicyclists from motor vehicles on most arterial streets, with impressive results. The rate of cycling has doubled throughout the country, now accounting for 27 percent of all trips. Women make up 55 percent of two-wheel traffic and citizens over 55 ride in numbers slightly higher than the national average. (These stats are from CROW, a Dutch organization that conducts research on traffic, transportation, and infrastructure.)
Nearly every Dutch schoolyard is filled with kids’ bikes parked at racks and lampposts. The Dutch also know that as the number of riders rises, their safety increases. Statistics in Minneapolis show the same results. Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Transportation Program Coordinator in the Public Works Department, notes that your chances of being in a car/bike crash in the city are 75 percent less than in 1993.
Taking it to the streets
Murphy led the Pittsburgh and Columbus visitors through the streets of Minneapolis on Nice Ride bikes, showcasing efforts to foster bike riding in a city that until recently accommodated automobiles in every possible way. About half of local bikeways are on the streets, with many more to come soon.
“We’re known for being pretty innovative about bikes,” he explained. “We like to explore creative solutions. We’re seeing what new ideas work.” The group pedaled downtown along Minneapolis’s first “cycle track,” First Avenue North—a bike lane separated from motorized traffic by parked cars. The configuration provides a better experience for both people on bikes and in cars by creating a buffer between them.
Murphy noted that the project was quite controversial when it opened last year, but now everyone is getting used to it. The Columbus delegation paid particularly close attention to this project, tapping one another on the arm and scrutinizing how the paint was applied to the pavement, because the street resembles one in their own downtown.
On the next block, everyone experienced another innovation designed to make bicycling on major streets more appealing. Shared-lane (“sharrow”) markers were painted on Hennepin Avenue within a continuous green stripe running down the street to send a clear message to both bicyclists and motorists that road space is used by everyone.
The group then pedaled out of downtown, crossing another bike- and-pedestrian bridge over a busy street before landing on Bryant Avenue, which has been transformed into a “bicycle boulevard”—a residential street where pedestrians and bicyclists are given preferential priority over cars. The city’s first bicycle boulevard, the River Lake greenway, had also opened to great fanfare in June.
How bike projects save money
Mayor R.T. Rybak stressed that in these lean economic times, cities across the country need to be creative about how they spend transportation dollars. Big-ticket road engineering projects to move ever more cars must give way to more efficient projects that move people by a variety of means—including foot, bike, and public transit.
“We need to get more use from all the streets we already have,” Rybak said. “It really is the idea that bikes belong.”
Bike projects in the Twin Cities are not limited to Minneapolis. St. Paul and many nearby suburbs are also making it easier for people to travel on two wheels and two feet. Steve Elkins, Transportation Chair of the Metropolitan Council, a government body that guides development throughout the region, highlighted his efforts as city council member in suburban Bloomington (home of the Mall of America) to push the idea of Complete Streets—meaning that roadways should serve walkers and bikers as well as cars.
He extolled the virtue of “road diets,” conversion of four-lane streets into three-lane configurations with alternating center turn lanes—which create opportunities to add bike lanes or widen side- walks without diminishing capacity for cars.
“When done in the course of regular road repair projects, they cost nothing more than what it takes for a community outreach campaign,” he noted.
Road diets have become common throughout the Twin Cities.
“The biggest obstacle to Complete Streets right now are traffic engineers who don’t want to reduce the width of traffic lanes, but we are beginning to wear them down,” Elkins laughed. “There’s nothing in the literature that suggests wider lanes are safer; indeed, if there’s any evidence, it’s that narrow streets are safer.”
One theme recurring through the entire tour was that better bike facilities benefit not just bicyclists, but everyone. Bike lanes improve safety for motorists too, by slowing the speed of traffic, explained Mayor Rybak: “We’ve found they’re the best traffic calming device around.”
Joan Pasiuk, Program Director for Bike Walk Twin Cities, distributed materials documenting how new bike facilities get bicyclists off the sidewalks, a major breakthrough for pedestrians’ safety and peace of mind.
Have a nice ride
The nation’s first major bikesharing program hit the streets in Minneapolis in June 2010, quickly followed by Denver, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Toronto—with Seattle, Chicago, Portland and other cities now readying plans.
Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride Minnesota—the non-profit organization that runs the bikeshare program—recounted the widespread skepticism that greeted the new system. Would bikesharing work outside Europe? Would it work in a city where a high percentage of people already own bikes? In a city that is low-density? Wouldn’t inexperienced riders hurt themselves? Won’t most of the bikes be stolen or vandalized?
But when the signature lime-green bikes were put away for the winter in November 2010, those questions had all been answered. Only one bike was stolen, only one accident was reported, no major injuries were suffered, and less than $5,000 in vandalism occurred, which was far lower than the organization’s projections.
More than 100,000 rides were taken from June to November last year, and Nice Ride operated in the black. Capital costs were covered by a combination of funding from the Non-Motorized Pilot Program and the health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield, with smaller grants from beneficiaries like the Minneapolis Convention Center.
In summer 2011 the system added 500 more bikes and 51 more stations, expanding outward from the center of Minneapolis and moving into St. Paul. From April to late September 2011, Nice Ride had logged 172,000 rides, with still more than a month to go.
Dossett believes the project’s greatest accomplishment is not the numbers, but the success in getting people to ride. Amy Duncan had not been on a bike since the 1970s but joined Nice Ride to do errands around downtown.
“I learned to ride a bike again and one hundred percent of my success belongs to Nice Ride,” she said.
The system is free for the first half-hour, $1.50 for the next, and rises steeply after that. The idea is to encourage short trips that might otherwise be made by car. You can get access to a bike for a yearly ($60), monthly ($30), or daily ($5) pass. Passes can be purchased with the swipe of a credit or debit card at any Nice Ride station.
The bikes themselves—elegant in design with an eye-popping lime green color— feature adjustable seats, lights, and a rack for carrying a briefcase or shopping bag. The system is particularly popular with out- of-town tourists, downtown office workers, university students, and residents of apartment buildings and condos. Many local users may actually own bikes, but find Nice Ride easy to use in certain circum- stances, such as when they take transit downtown or to the university. Every Nice Ride bike you see likely represents one less car on the road.
Winter wonderland on two wheels
“We’re colder than Montreal or Moscow,” Steve Clark, Program Manager of Bike Walk Twin Cities, confessed to the Pittsburgh and Columbus visitors, “but that doesn’t stop people from riding their bikes in even the coldest, snowiest, darkest conditions.”
Former bicycle/pedestrian coordinator of Boulder, Colorado, Clark pointed to research his group conducted finding that one in three summer-time bike commuters will also ride on warmer, sunny winter days. One in four rides at least once a week from November to March, and one in five will be out on their bikes through snowstorms and temperatures below zero.
City workers clear snow from the off-road bikeways just the same as streets, sometimes doing them first. Studded snow tires and cold-weather clothing make year-round riding easier than it looks, Clark said. And while Minnesotans are reluctant to dispel the notion they are hardier than anyone else, he revealed that even in the depths of winter, many days are above 20 degrees with streets free of snow and ice. A few tips for would-be winter bikers: install fenders, ride slower, lower your seat so you can use your boots as an emergency brake, and enjoy the Christmas-card scenery.
He emphasizes the importance of doing bike counts throughout the coldest months.
“Actual data legitimizes winter biking as transportation, and debunks the idea that bike projects are frivolous be- cause they are used only in the summer.”
Gary Sjoquist, Bike Belong’s Government Affairs Director who lives in suburban Minneapolis, added that gathering data is essential to promote bicycling. “We now understand that if there aren’t stats to show how many people actually bike, then nothing happens.”
Bike Walk Twin Cities pioneered new methodology for bike counts in its role as the local administrator for the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project.
A continuing concern for social justice
The notion that only upper-middle class white folks ride bikes is being challenged on all fronts across Minneapolis. The Major Taylor Bicycle Club, named for the African-American racer who claimed world records in the 1890s, organizes rides and bike events in minority communities.
Jon Wertjes, the city’s Director of Traffic and Parking Services, mentioned that a half- dozen bike rodeos to excite kids about cycling would take place in inner-city neighborhoods over the summer of 2011. In St. Paul, the Sibley Bike Depot offers a wide range of programs to introduce cycling to immigrants and low-income families, including a shop that sells low-cost bikes and lets people work on their own bikes for free. They also run pro- grams where kids can earn free bikes by taking bike repair classes and a bike library where low-income families can borrow bikes.
At a time when gasoline prices are high and transit service is being cut across the country, bikes can help fill the transportation gaps in poor communities. Nice Ride, with support from the McKnight Foundation, has extended service to lower-income areas of both Minneapolis and St. Paul this summer. Dosset says the initiative aims to overcome cultural attitudes in some communities that bikes are only for kids or people who can’t afford any other way to get around.
Bike Walk Twin Cities launched a social marketing campaign to promote cycling in the lower-income neighborhoods of Minneapolis’s north side, where this year a new Bike Walk Center opens along with an extensive network of new bikeways.
A tradition of civic involvement
Dorian Grilley, Executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, credited a “150-year tradition of civic involvement” as a major reason for Minneapolis’ emergence as a bike capital. In the late 19th century, city fathers wisely preserved land along lakes, creeks and the Mississippi for the public use. These became popular places to bike in the 1890s and again, 80 years later, when the second bike boom hit town. The Cedar Lake Trail and Midtown Greenway were initiated by grassroots groups, which convinced political leaders to take the bold step of developing abandoned rail lines as bike trails rather than as condos or industrial zones. That marked a major step for trans- forming transportation in the community.
Minneapolis was not always a good place to ride. What changed?
It just so happens that I live and bike in Minneapolis, although I was on the tour in my capacity as a writer and editor for Bikes Belong, not as a local expert. But I offered some background to out-of-town visitors on the first day of the tour.
I told them that local bicyclists would have howled at the idea of Minneapolis being named America’s best city 30 years ago. It was a frustrating and dangerous place to bike, crisscrossed by freeways and arterial streets that felt like freeways. Drivers were openly hostile to bike riders, some of them going the extra step to scare the daylights out of us as they roared past. Bike lanes were practically non-existent at that time. What changed in Minneapolis was that local bike riders patiently lobbied for better conditions, slowly winning over elected officials and city staff. Also, as the number of bike riders steadily rose, motorists became accustomed to sharing the streets with us.
Other factors that boosted Minneapolis as a bike town include:
- A large number of students at the University of Minnesota and smaller local colleges.
- Minneapolis was originally laid out for streetcars—like most cities outside the Sun Belt—which is a scale that works very well for bike riders.
- The high number of recreational bike riders here eventually translates into bike commuters. Fifty one percent of all Minnesotans rode a bike last year, and the numbers for the Twin Cities are much higher than that. Even folks who will never ride their bikes anywhere except around a lake can still identify with a person on two wheels, which reminds them to drive more respectfully.
- As a mid-American city far from the glamour capitals of the coasts, cycling has become part of our positive self-image. Even people who haven’t ridden a bike in years cheered when Minneapolis was named America’s #1 cycling city. It’s become part of our “brand.”
What Other Cities Can Learn from Minneapolis
At the end of the tour, the group gathered at a fire station transformed into a sports bar with Bikes Belong staff members Zach Vanderkooy and Zoe Kircos to discuss what they learned in Minneapolis. Here are the new ideas they were taking home.
Stephen Patchan, Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, City of Pittsburgh
"To increase mode share for bikes you need more than people who strongly identify as bicyclists. You also need to reach people who simply ride bikes. I also noticed how well Minneapolis uses parks and trails as the springboard for a bike system. Pittsburgh has a lot of trails that we can use to form a bike network by filling in the gaps."
Nick Popa, Bikeways and Community Mobility Manager, City of Columbus
"I realized how much bike lanes promote traffic calming; which means everyone benefits, not just the bikers. And when I saw the cycle tracks (bikes lanes separated from motorized traffic –ed.) I thought: we have places in Columbus where we can do that."
Yarone Zober, Chief of Staff for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl
"The bike facilities here are not all big, expensive infrastructure. You can do a lot to make biking safer just with paint on the streets. And the Nice Ride bikeshare system works really well."
Alan McKnight, Director of Recreation and Parks, City of Columbus
"You see right away how bikes are accepted as a mode of transportation. And the bike trails connect very well with the street system of bike lanes."
Darla Cravotta, Special Projects Coordinator for Allegheny County (PA) Executive Dan Onorato
"The trip reenergized me in thinking about biking. We have a lot of what we call recreational trails, which we should call bikeways. Some could be great commuter routes."
Greg Bachman, City Engineer, Pickering, Ohio
"They bike in the winter here! It can be done and it is. And I was impressed with the amount and diversity of facilities and trails they have, and how many people use them."
Scott Bricker, Executive Director, Bike Pittsburgh
"This helps me understand that a good bike system is not a cookie-cutter approach; you adapt and improve based on local conditions. And I learned a lot of the nitty-gritty about running a successful bikeshare program."