Wednesday, February 10, 2016

New Bike/Ped Path Along Highway 175



In March the Wisconsin Department of Transportation will begin reconstruction of State Highway 175 in southern Washington County and there’s a small but important bike/pedestrian component in the plans.

The entire project covers about 2 miles from Beechwood Industrial Court north to Polk Street in Richfield. Highway 175 is one of our least bike-friendly roads, and that stretch of it is an especially busy area with lots of shopping and restaurants. A new multi-use path will be constructed along the west side of the highway from Beechwood Industrial Court north to Elm Street, a distance of 1.5 miles. It will run right past Richfield Elementary School, where today there isn’t even a sidewalk. Nice deal for the kids in that neighborhood!

The Richfield Volunteer Fire Company will host an open-house meeting next Wednesday, February 17, 4-6:30 p.m., for anyone who would like to learn more about the project.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Re-Connecting





With a 24-mile road ride on Saturday and a 27-mile road ride today, this weekend I rode on consecutive days for the first time since Nov. 24-25. We’re not getting consistently nice weather, but we are getting good days just often enough to keep cabin fever in check. Normal for this time of year is 29° but Saturday’s high was 32° and today we topped 40° for the first time this month. Bright sunshine more than made up for the wind, which in general was higher than I would have liked and sometimes hit me with gusts up to 23 mph. In the new year I was a solo rider until today; training partner Jeff Wren joined me for 22 of those 27 miles. We had not seen each other in weeks.

I can’t complain about very much today, but I will complain about this: when I got home from my ride Garmin Connect was down. I rely on the site to sort out my ride stats. I upload the FIT file from my portable GPS device and Garmin Connect shows me a map of my route and all sorts of other information. Websites go up and down all the time but Garmin Connect is usually pretty solid. Today I didn’t feel like waiting for the service to be restored, so I tried to crack open the FIT file with a text editor. Unreadable. OK … what does Google say about FIT file editors? As it turns out, there are several choices for third-party software. I went with this one, which is free of charge, downloads and installs quickly, and gets the job done. The map gives a color-coded view of where I was faster or slower. I can see where I reached my top speed, and clicking on the red dot at the end of the route shows a summary of the entire ride. Not a bad little “emergency” backup for Garmin Connect.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Motoring Into February


On Saturday we got to 41° in West Bend, 14° above the average high for January 30. Saturday was our warmest day of 2016 and our first taste of 40° since we hit 54° back on December 23, a record for that date. I spent the afternoon on my 29er but it was the wrong tool for the job. The roads were perfectly dry and those 30 miles were slower than they should have been. Under dazzling sunshine this afternoon, I did a very satisfying 26-mile ride on my cyclocross bike.

Did you catch all the big cyclocross stories last weekend? On Friday the UCI announced its 2016-2017 World Cup schedule and Iowa’s Jingle Cross made the cut! That is huge news for American cyclocross in general and for the Midwest particularly. Jingle Cross is very popular with Wisconsin’s cyclocross community, as Iowa City is within a 4-hour drive of something like 90 percent of us. The Trek CXC Cup dates were announced on Saturday, so we can look forward to this amazing block of racing in mid-September:

Sat., 9/17 Trek CXC Cup, Day 1 @ Waterloo WI
Sun., 9/18 Trek CXC Cup, Day 2 @ Waterloo WI
Wed., 9/21 UCI World Cup: Cross Vegas @ Las Vegas NV
Sat., 9/24 UCI World Cup: Jingle Cross @ Iowa City IA

Technically, Jingle Cross will be held Sep. 22-25, but the World Cup race is the main event. I wonder if the Trek CXC Cup will attract more top-level talent as our best domestic pros tune up for the bigger prizes of Cross Vegas and Jingle Cross. And I wonder whether the Wisconsin Cycling Association’s cyclocross season will be on hold for those two weekends.

On Saturday at the UCI World Championships, Thalita De Jong of the Netherlands was the surprise winner of the women’s elite race. Belgium’s Sanne Cant, the prohibitive favorite after another outstanding season, slipped from first to third in the last half of the final lap. Then came the bizarre story of Belgian U23 women’s champion Femke Van den Driessche, and we all went to sleep feeling a little worse about the sport. But Sunday’s races were great, first for the U23 men and then for the elite men. In the finale, Wout Van Aert of Belgium outlasted Lars van der Haar of the Netherlands in a brilliant head-to-head duel. Cyclocross legend Sven Nys thrilled his fans by surging into the lead at the midpoint of the race. Nys eventually finished in 4th place, just behind fellow Belgian Kevin Pauwels. With 2 World Championships and 50 World Cup titles to his credit, Nys will retire at the end of this season.

Today I was very motivated to ride outside because tomorrow we’re probably going to get significant snowfall. Then comes another long stretch of sub-freezing days. As I flip the calendar over to February, I feel some pressure to train properly. Time to dust off the turbo trainer …

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sticker Shock



Last January I presented some high-value alternatives to high-priced cycling events. Let’s revisit that idea, particularly as it applies to mountain biking and recreation trail riding in our part of Wisconsin.

Yesterday I dropped by the Waukesha office of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to purchase my state parks vehicle sticker ($28) and my state trail pass ($25) for 2016. That’s a grand total of $53, up from $45 last year, an increase of almost 18 percent. Ouch!

What am I getting for my money? Well, between mountain biking and snowshoeing I might make 28 trips to New Fane this year and I suppose I can’t complain about paying $1 per visit to park there. And my vehicle sticker is good at all DNR properties, though I am not likely to visit any others. If, say, 25 of those trips to New Fane are for mountain biking, an activity for which a trail pass is required, then again I’m looking at $1 per visit. Still, $53 isn’t an insignificant sum. For me it’s fairly reasonable only because of the frequency with which I use New Fane.

Your situation might be different. Let’s say you do all of your training on neighborhood trails that require no fees. And let’s say you race in the Wisconsin Off-Road Series exclusively. There are 10 races on this year’s WORS schedule and not one uses state land: 4 are on private property, 4 are on county property, and 2 are on city property. You might easily avoid paying anything to the DNR.

There are 9 races on this year’s Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series schedule: 1 on private property, 5 on county property, and 3 on state land. Stay clear of Greenbush, Emma Carlin, and New Fane and you’ll owe the DNR nothing.

Many counties have their own daily or annual vehicle and trail fees. Last year I paid for access to Brown County’s Reforestation Camp and Waukesha County’s Minooka Park. Such fees are completely separate from the DNR and can really add up. But there are no such fees here in Washington County or in the neighboring counties of Dodge, Fond du Lac, Ozaukee, and Sheboygan. The mountain bike trails at Glacial Blue Hills, Pleasant Valley, Port Washington, and Sheboygan are free. Our major rec trails are free, too. The Old Plank Road Trail and the Ozaukee Interurban Trail are non-DNR properties. The Eisenbahn State Trail, the Mascoutin Valley State Trail, and the Wild Goose State Trail are DNR properties but they don’t require trail passes.

If you visit enough of Wisconsin's mountain bike and recreation trails, then you will wonder what is different about those that demand your money. The experience of the no-fee Wild Goose is at least equal to that of the pay-to-play Glacial Drumlin State Trail. The maintenance at Pleasant Valley is no less careful than at Minooka, as caring for singletrack always falls to volunteers and not to governments regardless of who owns the land. Yes, cycling can be expensive. But around here you can still do a lot for free.

Monday, January 25, 2016

First Ride Of 2016





Today in West Bend we got above the freezing mark for the first time since January 15, and with dry roads and only a light breeze it was time for me to do my first bike ride of the new year. I covered 20 miles at 13 mph. That’s not far or fast, but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to get outside.

Prior to today, my last ride was way back on December 23. Not coincidentally, that was our last 40-degree day. Actually, it was our last 50-degree day too. When the weather turned on us, it turned in a hurry. Today I rode my 29er, running very low tire pressure in anticipation of some snow and ice. And I found some in the parks, but none on city streets. A few parks were completely inaccessible to me. Others, like Regner and Riverside, were at least partially open.

The forecast calls for a little more snow overnight and a return to daytime highs below 32 degrees. Can’t say when I’ll get outside again. I had a record January in 2015: 11 rides for a total of 241 miles. I won’t come close to those numbers this year, but that’s OK.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

West Bend Announces ToAD Date





The Tour of America’s Dairyland is coming to downtown West Bend on Monday, June 20! The criterium will run counter-clockwise on the 0.75-mile course shown above. Now in its 8th year, ToAD is a big deal! The 2016 series will begin on June 17 and features 10 straight days of racing, finishing with back-to-back National Criterium Calendar events on June 25 & 26. Get out there and show your support!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Cord Cutting




As I write this, the wind chill in West Bend is -27° and I’m hoping that Saturday’s forecast—32° above zero, and sunny—proves accurate. That’s still cold but it might be good enough to draw me outside for my first miles of the new year. Meanwhile, it’s mid-summer in Australia where this week’s Tour Down Under kicks off the 2016 UCI World Tour. I’m looking forward to TV coverage from Adelaide and I guess you are too, as in the last week my blog statistics have shown a spike in searches for the schedule. Cozy up to your computer: live streams from NBC start tonight at 8 p.m. Central. And in my experience that’s not a bad way to watch cycling. Generally, you get more coverage than you would if the race were on regular TV.

I have written several times about my dissatisfaction with American TV coverage of cycling. It’s a sore subject because there’s almost nothing else that I want to watch. My kids likewise have little interest in TV. My wife watches the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) almost exclusively. But for years we have been a cable bundle family, choosing a single provider for our TV, phone, and Internet services. We have paid thousands of dollars to receive hundreds of channels of which there are only about 10 that we actually watch.

Last year I did a lot of research into cord cutting, the process by which we could free ourselves from the expense of the wasteful bundle. My family has a huge appetite for the Internet, so we have to keep that. We have five cell phones for four people, so the home phone can go. And cable TV definitely can go when our multi-year contract expires in February.

There are more than 40 over-the-air stations in Milwaukee. Using a simple antenna we can receive all of the important ones, and most of the rest, with picture quality that is superior to cable because the signals are not nearly as compressed. Much of it is crap we will never watch, but in that respect it differs from cable only in what it costs! The only thing we might give up is the convenience of DVR, but even that could be had (here’s the best of several options) if we decide we can’t live without it. As things stand, if we miss a show when it airs live, then we can catch up at that network’s website. And just yesterday we added an Amazon Prime account. The annual subscription was on sale for just $73 instead of $99, which is still a deal. That gives us access to more on demand video than we could ever consume.

Again, being able to watch live bicycle racing is the big thing for me, and dumping cable doesn’t really change how I will do that. By the time I bought my Chromebox more than a year ago, I already got most of my cycling coverage online. Eurosport, Sporza, VeloNews, USA Cycling and YouTube’s UCI channel provide access to almost every road, track, and cyclocross race, while Red Bull.tv covers UCI World Cup mountain biking. Viewing at some websites is restricted to certain countries, but a VPN tunnel that masks my US-based Internet address is an easy work-around.

The bill for our bundle has swollen to nearly $200 per month, and we don’t have movie channels or other premium options. Unbundling will save us more than $1,500 per year. It makes sense to spend our entertainment dollars in a more focused way, buying complete seasons of our favorite cable-only shows on DVD or to stream through Amazon Prime. We’re done with the expense of the bundle and with the frustration of searching through 300 channels of garbage to find 1 worthwhile program.