Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fun At Greenbush

You read that headline correctly: fun at Greenbush. I haven’t had many nice things to say about Greenbush over the years, but today I actually enjoyed riding there. Following the wheel of Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), who has a lot more experience than I do on those mountain bike trails, I completed a sub-56:00 lap. That’s not too bad by itself, and it looks even better when you consider that I was making my first visit since May 2015. My previous best at Greenbush was 59:51.

I can’t give you the exact time of today’s lap because my progress was halted by a downed tree. I lost several seconds as I dismounted, carried the bike over the obstacle, and got back up to speed. That shouldn’t be a problem on October 7 when I compete on a freshly-groomed course in the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series championship race, the GEARS Greenbush Grinder. But I will need to improve on today’s effort. It was a decent training ride, not race pace. Being faster was a product of my improving skills on singletrack. To be truly competitive, though, I would need to go sub-50:00 per lap for 3 consecutive laps. I don’t think I will get there, but who knows? In 2011 when I did my first-ever lap at Greenbush, I finished in about 80:00 and couldn’t have imagined a day when I would go sub-56:00.

More practice sessions at Greenbush to follow ...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No Cable? No Problem.

I’m an enthusiastic cord cutter … maybe even a fanatic. I grew to hate the cable bundle to the point where it simply had to go. My family and I have a much better experience with TV now that we get it over-the-air, on the Internet, and through streaming services. We’re saving money and we’re making smarter entertainment choices. Gone are the days of mindlessly flipping through 300 channels in search of a single decent program. Our viewing experience is now very focused.

For me, much of the focus is on bike racing. In the past I praised those pirated feeds of the major European TV networks, but during the last year it seems like they have gotten less reliable. Sites like continue to publish links, but more often than not the feeds are geo-restricted. Video quality—a hit-or-miss consideration before—is now almost uniformly terrible. And while I have been able to enjoy many races without English commentary, it’s better to have English if you can get it.

So, today I subscribed to the NBC Sports Gold cycling package. I will get a year of live and on demand video that includes all the major road races, some BMX, track and mountain bike events, and (especially) cyclocross. Only a small portion of the coverage will be broadcast on NBC’s family of over-the-air and cable channels, so don’t look at this $39.99 investment as a replacement for something I was getting in the old bundle. No, this is the epitome of à la carte TV: just cycling. I’m getting only what I want, whenever I want it, at a very high level of quality, from a single trusted source.

When I was a cable subscriber I checked out NBC’s streaming coverage a few times, so I know what I’m getting: extra content, no commercials. We’re between major races right now. The real test begins on July 1 with the Tour de France. I expect to be very satisfied. In the meantime, I will continue to check out the on demand offerings.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Go, Vols!

When you go to a big sporting event in America—something like pro or college football, Major League Baseball, etc.—you go with the expectation that everything will be taken care of for you. Someone shows you where to park. Someone shows you where to sit. Someone brings you drinks and snacks. And they all have one thing in common: they’re getting paid.

Cycling isn’t there yet, and it might never get there. Even when an event is overseen by a professional management company, volunteers do much of the work. The Tour of America’s Dairyland is Wisconsin’s biggest cycling event: 11 straight days of pro and amateur racing, starting tomorrow in Kenosha. When ToAD comes to Grafton on Saturday, I’ll be there for a 2.5-hour course control shift. On Monday I will work a 4-hour course control shift at the ToAD race in downtown West Bend. It’s fun, but it’s also serious business. ToAD brings out a lot of curiosity seekers who badly underestimate the speed of the racers. They can cross the course when I say so, and not before. And they can sit a little farther back from that hot corner, where experience tells me we’ll eventually see a crash.

On Saturday, July 29, one of my Team Pedal Moraine friends and I will run the last rest stop at the Wisconsin Women Century. The ride will begin and end in Cedarburg, but the rest stop is squarely on TPM’s home turf: the Cedar Lake Wayside just outside West Bend. Volunteering there isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also an opportunity to raise TPM’s public profile—particularly with women—as we continue to recruit new team members.

For our volunteer time, my teammate and I will earn free entries to the Holy Hill Classic on Sunday, July 30. It’s a hilly century ride that we’ll use as a tune-up for Race The Lake. So, our commitment to the rest stop isn’t completely selfless. Even ToAD has little rewards: free T-shirts, free food and drink, and so on. But such incentives aren’t the reason I volunteer. I’m motivated first by a desire to sustain the special cycling events we have in this area, and then to expand on them.

At this time, the Downtown West Bend Association is still short of volunteers for next Monday. There are several roles to play. If you can help, then please follow this link to sign up.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

West Bend’s Bike-Friendly Report Card

On May 25 I got email from the League of American Bicyclists with a link to West Bend’s bike-friendly community report card. Our city didn’t meet the League’s criteria for Bronze-level recognition, despite recent efforts by Bike Friendly West Bend. And this came as no surprise; BFWB applied for recognition with no expectation of success. The application was intended to elicit exactly the response that came: a point-by-point checklist for BFWB to use as a blueprint for future initiatives.

The League recommended that West Bend adopt a Complete Streets policy. That won’t happen anytime soon. There’s more hostility than support for Complete Streets from the governor and the state legislature, and without their attention the city’s Common Council doesn’t even have to consider, much less to accommodate, the needs of cyclists and pedestrians. West Bend only grudgingly repairs its streets for motor vehicles; expecting anything more would be silly.

The League also noted that “the current on-street bicycle network does not appear to include striped bicycle lanes.” True, nor will it in the future. Bike Friendly West Bend isn’t even asking for that. The goal of BFWB is bicycle boulevards: a network of low-traffic routes defined by signs and sharrows.

There is reason to hope that the League’s recommendation of an official Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee will become a reality. Bike Friendly West Bend already functions as one, and it wouldn’t take much for City Hall to create an official committee, perhaps one that could share resources with such existing groups as the Board of Public Works, the Park and Recreation Commission, the Plan Commission, the Police and Fire Commission, the Safety Commission, and the Tourism Commission. The League recommends that West Bend “increase the amount of staff time spent on improving conditions for people who bike and walk,” but that can’t be done until we have committee status. The efforts of Bike Friendly West Bend, however effective, won’t meet that recommendation.

The last of the League’s recommendations was to review and (ideally) to repeal sections of the municipal code that mandate bicycle registration. The League says, “Mandatory registration can be a barrier to some people choosing to use a bicycle.” I say that a $10 lifetime registration fee is hardly a barrier to prospective riders in a state that requires $75 annual motor vehicle registration. But it is possible to argue that bike registration in West Bend should be discontinued for other reasons:

  • Low rates of compliance by citizens
    • Citizens likely are unaware of the requirements
    • Citizens are unlikely to comply when enforcement is unlikely
  • Low rates of violation enforcement by West Bend Police
    • Registration applies only to City residents, not to visitors, and
    • Registration stickers are hard to see when a bike is in motion, so …
    • Enforcement is likely only when a rider is detained for another infraction
  • Low rates of lost or stolen bicycle recovery in which registration was a factor

Kenneth Meuler, West Bend’s Chief of Police, addressed these points in an email to Bike Friendly West Bend on May 29. He confirmed that his department is not citing residents for non-compliance, but argued that the requirement functions as a valuable service to reunite owners with lost or stolen bicycles. It remains to be seen whether the League will be mollified by the distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

Getting recognition from the League of American Bicyclists will be an uphill battle. At their May meeting last Wednesday, members of Bike Friendly West Bend reviewed the League’s report card and seemed resolved to continue to work toward that goal. But there was some discussion about the value of League recognition—i.e., just what would being a Bronze-level bike friendly community do for West Bend? Would it be a boon for tourism? Would it encourage new families to relocate here? Those are unanswered questions. A different advocacy group would have been discouraged by the League’s critique but for Bike Friendly West Bend it was just another agenda item. The group remains confident in its plans to make the city better for cyclists and pedestrians, whatever outsiders may think.

Monday, June 5, 2017

2017 Battle Of CamRock

West Bend’s Jeff Wren was 4th in the Sport 50-54 race.

Located between Cambridge and Rockdale in eastern Dane County, CamRock County Park features some of the most popular mountain bike trails in Wisconsin. For me, though, CamRock has been primarily a cyclocross destination: different part of the park, different trail system. For whatever reason, my only mountain bike race at CamRock was back in 2012 when I competed as a Cat 3.

That beginner-friendly course was much easier than the one I faced on Sunday in the Battle Of CamRock, my second WORS race of 2017. I knew that I would be severely tested by many technical descents. Those continue to be my Achilles’ heel, and my inability to handle them well resulted in a 12th-place finish in my 15-man age group in the Cat 2 “Sport” race. I was 112th of 189 overall.

Not my best result … but the effort was there. I had a productive pre-ride on Saturday afternoon, got good rest on Saturday night, managed my nutrition and hydration needs effectively, and so on. Even the weather was in my favor: sunny and 82° on Sunday morning. My start was OK and the early flat or uphill sections of singletrack were no problem. My fitness was good: at just 1:11:48.1 of race time, my endurance wasn’t tested. But my performance went downhill whenever the trail went downhill—it’s that simple. To finish 12th out of 15 in my age group is disappointing, but it was a fairly tight pack. I was less than 4 minutes behind Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) for the final podium spot, and I lost all of that time on descents.

I thought about going to Wausau next Saturday for a WEMS race, but I’m abandoning that idea. And I’m taking Eau Claire and La Crosse off my WORS calendar, as I always suspected I would. I think it makes sense to put more energy into practice sessions close to home. I haven’t been to Greenbush yet this year, and I haven’t been to New Fane enough. Those trails are not just nearby; they’re also the sites of major racing objectives at the end of the season. Even Glacial Blue Hills looks like a good option for me right now. I need better skills, and maybe it’s best that I don’t try to find them during a race.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Venue Change For The WORS Cup

Yesterday the Wisconsin Off-Road Series announced a venue change for its signature event, the WORS Cup. Originally scheduled for Cascade Mountain in Portage, the 3-day event now will be held at Alpine Valley near Elkhorn. This is a big deal. A decade ago, Alpine Valley was part of the WORS family. Then it dropped off the radar for a while. But within the last few years, new trails at the resort have attracted a lot of riders and a lot of praise. Racing returned in 2015 with an 18-hour Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series event. UW-Whitewater hosted a collegiate race weekend at Alpine Valley last September. Now WORS is back, and I expect great things.

Cascade Mountain wasn’t a bad location. It was close to Madison and its proximity to I-94 made it an easy destination for racers from Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. But I think Alpine Valley has bigger potential. It’s much more fun to ride there. And even though the WORS Cup doubles as the USA Cycling Midwest Regional Championships, its competitors are mostly a Milwaukee-Madison-Chicago crowd. Compared to Cascade Mountain, Alpine Valley is closer to more population.

And closer to me! Traveling from home to attend the pre-ride on Friday, July 7, I will save about 30 minutes. Those are precious minutes for a guy who has to work overnight. On Saturday the 8th, the time savings will really add up. When my work day ends in Brookfield at 7 a.m., I will be just 31 miles from Alpine Valley. With 4 hours at my disposal before the race begins, I can stop somewhere for breakfast, reach the race venue without stress, and warm up as much as I want. If I had to be at Cascade Mountain by 11 a.m., then I would be facing a 97-mile drive. That would be achievable, of course, but a bigger expenditure of effort on something that doesn’t contribute to my race performance. Even on Sunday, the least time-crunched day, the venue change helps me. The STXC race begins early: 9 a.m. Because it’s at Alpine Valley and not at Cascade Mountain, I can sleep for an extra half hour.

The venue change also helps me because I already have raced at Alpine Valley this season. I didn’t get an especially good result in the WEMS race on May 13, but I built some confidence on the trails. At Cascade Mountain I would have been starting from scratch on unfamiliar ground. Yesterday’s announcement was nothing but good news for me!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Don't Miss The Demo Day!

Bad weather wiped out both of the demo days that were scheduled earlier this month, but tomorrow’s weather looks good. Belgianwerkx and Rocky Mountain have rescheduled their mountain bike demo at Pleasant Valley Park in Ozaukee County. Come out between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. to see and ride the newest, coolest bikes in Rocky Mountain’s line.  Admission is free.

Monday, May 29, 2017

2017 WEMS Stump Farm 100

My race on Saturday at the Brown County Reforestation Camp in Suamico could have been a disaster. Bad weather limited me to just 2 training rides between May 18 and May 26. I hadn’t been on the mountain bike since May 13. I worked 12-hour nighttime shifts on Thursday and Friday, and when my race began at 12 o’clock I had been awake for almost 24 hours. I should have been an embarrassing combination of under-trained and exhausted.

I wasn’t. I had abundant energy and a really fun race. I took 15th place in the 33-man short distance category. My time of 2:24:02 was way off the winning pace of 1:59:23 set by Dan Teaters (Team Wheel & Sprocket), but I never expected to match him. Teaters is a 33-year old Cat 1 who was racing on his home course, motivated to win Stump Farm for the second year in a row. His closest competition finished more than 4 minutes behind.

My closest competition was Shaun Putz (unattached), with whom I began working early in Lap 1. Putz was smooth through the singletrack and I was happy to follow his lines. And he was a good communicator, calling out hazards like slower riders from the mid- and long-distance categories … and like the big garter snake I would have crushed if not for his warning. We completed Lap 1 just 3 seconds apart and comfortably ahead of any chasers. By the end of Lap 2, however, Putz had a 58-second lead on me. For much of Lap 3, I couldn’t see him. But I knew I was faster on the cross country ski trails and on the climbs, so I pushed especially hard in those areas and got back to Putz’s wheel with 3 miles to go. Again I was content to follow, sure that I could out-kick my rival on the long section of ski trail at the end of the lap. With less than a mile to go, my plans almost fell apart: I crashed when my front tire washed out in a sandy corner. I wasn’t on the ground for long, but any delay was a bad delay that late in the race. When I emerged from the singletrack Putz had a 200-meter lead. I went into the big ring, reeled him in, and finished 2 seconds ahead. I was grateful to have a reason to keep pushing throughout a race that easily could have turned into little more than a solo ride.

Then I saw the results and realized I finished only 19 seconds behind my top rival, Jeff Wren (Team Extreme). I had lost sight of him early in Lap 1, which he completed in 45:45 and I finished in 47:03. I was 34 seconds quicker on Lap 2 and 25 seconds quicker on Lap 3, but it wasn’t enough.

With two category wins, Saturday was a great day for Team Pedal Moraine. Matt Grady won the long distance singlespeed race—that’s 101 miles of mountain bike racing—in 8:42:08, beating his closest rival by just 6 seconds! Nate Gruenke easily won the mid-distance fatbike category.

The next race in the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series is the Romp In The Swamp Epic on June 10. Because of the distance between my office in Brookfield and the race venue in Wausau, I haven’t committed to that date. But Saturday’s race showed that I can race well even after an overnight work shift and a long drive. I’m hoping for a high finish in the series standings, so any points are good points.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Enjoy State Parks & Trails For Free

Most of Wisconsin’s state parks and trails require some kind of payment from their patrons. Each year I buy a state parks vehicle sticker ($28) and a state trail pass ($25). Those are good for unlimited visits to any state park or trail, but most years I use them only for mountain biking at New Fane. I visit New Fane often enough that the annual passes are far cheaper than daily passes ($8 vehicle / $5 trail). If cost has been holding you back, then circle next weekend on your calendar:

Monday, May 22, 2017

2007 Raleigh Competition For Sale

It's a great bike; I just don't use it anymore. The BMC Gran Fondo is my road bike now and probably will be for many years to come. But this Raleigh will be a super deal for somebody! Click here to see the details on Craigslist.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bumped From The Schedule

Wisconsin weather strikes again!

I’m taking the Iola Bump & Jump off my schedule. Iola is going to get more than an inch of rain tomorrow and that will wipe out the pre-ride window, then on Sunday the skies will be overcast and the wind chill will be 48° for the Cat 2 (Sport) race at 11:30 a.m. With no opportunity to pre-ride an unfamiliar course, and faced with a cold mudfest, I’m staying home.

Skipping Iola has big implications for my WORS season. There are 11 scoring opportunities, the best 7 of which count in the series standings. I got series points back on May 6 at the Englewood Opener. Now I have just 9 more chances to score. Distant races like the Red Flint Firecracker in Eau Claire (June 25) and the Hixon Forest Epic in La Crosse (August 6) have always been nothing more than “maybes” on my calendar. The WORS Cup offers 2 scoring opportunities—cross country on Saturday, July 8, and short track or enduro on Sunday, July 9—but the unusual race schedule meshes badly with my work schedule. Without 7 results there is no prospect of a high finish in the series standings, and the most realistic path to that goal now looks like this:

06/04 - Battle Of CamRock
06/18 - Mt. Morris Challenge
07/08 - WORS Cup: XCO
07/09 - WORS Cup: STXC
07/23 - Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic
08/20 - Reforestation Ramble

Racing at Iola would be unpleasant enough for me under the conditions the weather forecast describes, but it also might compromise my WEMS ambitions. The Stump Farm 100 is coming up next Saturday and I don’t want to miss it because of illness, injury, or mechanical failure. WEMS also uses the “best 7” format to determine series champions and I won’t get to 7 results in that series, but at least I should get to the minimum of 4 results I need to be award-eligible. Stump Farm will be my second WEMS race this year—Alpine Valley was the first—and I already have registered for the 3 races at the end of the season:

09/09 - Northern Kettles Fall Epic
09/16 - 9 Hours Of Silver Lake
10/07 - GEARS Greenbush Grinder (WEMS Championship)

So, 2017 still looks like a very full year of mountain bike racing even without Iola and, perhaps, without some of the other WORS dates.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

9 Hours Of Alpine Valley

Climbing well despite too much belly fat! (Brittany Nigh photo)

Last Saturday was peculiar. After working overnight, I crawled into a quiet corner of my office building and slept for a while. It didn’t make sense to drive back to West Bend from Brookfield, then hang out at home for a few hours, and then drive south again for the 9 Hours Of Alpine Valley WEMS race. Taking an hour of driving off my schedule made for an easier approach to a day that I knew would be challenging enough.

I didn’t have high expectations for my race performance, and I didn’t get a high finish: 26th of 39 men in the 3-hour division. I clipped a tree early in Lap 1 and crashed, dropping me behind some traffic that I wouldn’t have fallen behind otherwise. On a course that is almost all singletrack, it took a while to reclaim the spots I lost. Meanwhile, a couple of guys with whom I thought I would contend were able to get away and I never saw them again. But meandering across the Alpine Valley ski hill, I was very pleased with my climbing ability. To whatever extent I had success against other racers, that was the reason. My descending skills remain shoddy but they got a good workout that afternoon, and only by challenging myself will I improve.

In a typical year I don’t show up until I have enough fitness to compete at a reasonable level. This spring I am trying to race myself into shape. I consider last Saturday a success because I pushed much harder than I would have in a non-competitive environment. I also picked up some series points that will be useful later. I’m expecting a better result on May 27 in the Stump Farm 100 at the Brown County Reforestation Camp in Suamico, where I usually race well. But my real targets on the WEMS calendar come at the end of the season: the Northern Kettles Fall Epic on September 9, the 9 Hours Of Silver Lake on September 16, and the WEMS Championships on October. It’s a long season and clearly I’m not yet where I need to be, but the wheels are in motion.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Try Some Buy Some

If you live in southeastern Wisconsin, then during the next week you will have two great opportunities to test ride new bikes from Giant and Rocky Mountain. Giant’s demo day will include road and mountain bikes. It will run from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. this Saturday, May 20, at the John Muir trailhead in Walworth County. Hosted by Belgianwerkx, Rocky Mountain’s demo day will be a mountain bike-only affair at Pleasant Valley in Ozaukee County, 4-8 p.m. next Tuesday, May 23. Both events are free, but remember your state trail pass and state parks vehicle sticker if you go to John Muir. You can buy 1-day passes at the trailhead if you don’t have annual passes.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ride 2,000

Pretty standard stuff ... with two notable exceptions.
Today’s ride was short: 22 miles with only 531 feet of climbing, completed in a little less than 1.5 hours. Really it was just an easy spin on my cyclocross bike, a “recovery” ride on the day after a much larger effort. But it was a significant ride nonetheless because (1) it was my 2,000th ride since my life as a cyclist began back in 2004, and (2) my left knee didn’t hurt.

So, what was this much larger effort on Saturday? The WEMS race at Alpine Valley. And why did I think my left knee might hurt? Because I crashed in the WEMS race at Alpine Valley. The crash didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. It happened just a couple of minutes into the race, and I then rode for about 2.5 hours without any discomfort. But my knee got tight overnight and had me limping around the house this morning. I was relieved that it didn’t bother me at all during this afternoon’s ride. In another day or two it should be back to normal.

I’ll post a race report as soon as WEMS posts yesterday’s results. I know I didn’t have a high finish, but I left Alpine Valley yesterday with literally no idea how many people finished ahead of me or behind me. I don’t think I have ever done that before, and I hated to do it but I couldn’t wait around any longer than I did. WEMS switched to a new scoring system this season and so far things have been a little clunky.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

2017 Englewood Opener

Team Extreme’s Stuart Shelton and Jeff Wren took the top spots.
The 2017 Wisconsin Off-Road Series began in Fall River on Saturday and I was there, using the occasion to begin my own racing season. In fact, I started the race from the front row and was solidly in the Top 5 on a long, uphill leadout into a stiff wind. But the ambitious start was too much, too soon: halfway through the first lap, I had dropped back to the middle of the pack. And that’s where I would finish, 8th place out of 16 in the Sport (Cat 2) 50-54 age group at the Englewood Opener.

Lap 1 was considered a prologue: a shorter lap that omitted most of the technical sections of the course. The idea was to create separation between riders and thereby prevent bottlenecks at the rock gardens and other tricky spots. The strategy worked for the most part, but with a big field of riders there was always someone for me to chase and always someone just behind. I was 91st out of 166 overall.

On Lap 2, feeling a little ragged from the aerobic challenge of the prologue, I ran through a couple of technical sections rather than risk a crash. If I still had been in the Top 5, then I would have accepted the risk, but I didn’t lose much time in the bargain. By the midpoint of Lap 2 I had settled down and my handling skills were feeling sharper. That helped me to recapture a couple of positions. I had ridden singletrack just 5 times this year prior to Saturday. Some of Englewood’s technical sections were at the limit of my ability, but I rode them all on Lap 3 with growing confidence. I spent the entirety of Lap 3 with teammate Larry Hipps, and together we picked off a few stragglers while defending ourselves from pursuers. The podium spots were out of reach but we did well to consolidate our positions. In the end, it was a Washington County 1-2: Stuart Shelton of Hubertus took the win, followed by West Bend’s Jeff Wren.

I’m OK with my result. During Friday’s pre-ride, I knew the technical sections would be a problem for me. But I also knew that I would do well on the open areas of the course, including the many climbing sections. Englewood was a must-do because it was new and because it was just 56 miles from home. That makes it the second-closest venue in a series that includes dates in Eau Claire and La Crosse. I haven’t committed to all 10 races, but I am glad to have opened my series points account. In the week to come I will spend more time on singletrack and more time on hills in preparation for the next WORS race, the Iola Bump & Jump on May 21. Whether that means I will line up for next Saturday’s WEMS race remains to be seen, though there may be no better preparation for Iola than the course at Alpine Valley.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

New Fane, New Look

Presenting the new Pedal Moraine jersey!

Today I returned to New Fane for some badly needed time on singletrack. I had not been on the mountain bike since I visited New Fane on April 15 & 16. I can attribute the layoff to an overabundance of rain and wet trails, but it’s also true that I was wavering in my commitment to the WORS season opener this Saturday. When I finally made the decision to race, the decision to practice followed swiftly.

If only I were riding swiftly! I can’t claim that yet. I did 2 short laps today and then 2 full laps. My full-lap times were 27:23 and 27:33, respectively. Those were my fastest laps this year, but I’m still about 30 seconds per lap behind the pace I set in last year’s Northern Kettles Fall Epic.

Tomorrow is another day … one that I will spend pre-riding the Englewood Opener course. I’m curious and optimistic about a purpose-built XC race course: trails not designed to be ridden, but to be raced. That’s unique in Wisconsin and it’s rare in most other parts of the country. We’re behind the rest of the world when it comes to course design, and it shows. Pre-riding is always a good idea and even if my fitness isn’t great at least my mental preparation for Saturday can be strong. It’s a huge advantage to be familiar with the course when others are not. For some of my WORS rivals who are used to Sunday races, the unusual schedule of the opening weekend will be a hardship. The Friday pre-ride window won’t fit everyone’s schedule. For me, it will be an opportunity to gain an edge. I have no real expectations for my performance on Sunday. I will be happy just to get the first race of the year under my belt, gain a little fitness by pushing myself harder than I could in training, and grab some points in the series standings. A good result would inspire me to be more active in the series than I might be otherwise, but I haven’t done enough this year to deserve a good result.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Not Your Average Cheesehead Roubaix

Lovers Lane is bad enough when it’s dry! Click here to see all the great Moroder Photography shots.

In years to come I hope I will remember the 2017 Cheesehead Roubaix as “the weird one.”

Today was the 8th annual running of my interpretation of the Spring Classics, and it was notable for two things. The first was the weather. Around here, an average April 30 has a low temperature of 40° overnight and a high temperature of 61° in the afternoon. Today’s high temperature was 41° ... and that doesn’t figure in the winds. With 10-20 mph winds from the northeast, the wind chill was in the low 30s. (It was 27° early this morning when I was setting up some of the signs along the route.) Mist and light rain fell throughout the ride. Conditions were just about as bad as they could have been. At least it didn’t snow, I guess. At least there wasn’t any lightning, I guess.

The second thing that made this year’s Cheesehead Roubaix so different for me was that I didn’t ride it. As the event’s creator, I had never missed a chance to see the ride from behind the handlebar. But today I saw it from behind the steering wheel of my minivan. In fact, I saw most of the route more than once. Cheesehead Roubaix is intended for the self-sufficient, but conditions were so rough today that my conscience wouldn’t allow me to leave the riders without any support. As you might imagine, poor weather had a dramatic effect on the turnout. For the last couple of years I have been getting about 300 riders, but today I had only about 30. That meant each rider had fewer companions on whom he/she could rely, and many riders rode long stretches of the route alone. A couple of riders bugged out after climbing Lovers Lane. At least 11 abandoned at the Belgianwerkx-sponsored rest stop in the Village of Belgium, roughly halfway through the route. I provided transportation for 2 of them. Short-cutting the route on my return to Belgium, I saw a few more riders feeling their way back to Newburg.

Newburg itself was a little different this year. During the winter, an ice jam caused the Milwaukee River to flood Newburg Fireman’s Park. The fire department is still working to reverse the damage, and the parking lot was not available to us today. We’ve had nearly double the normal amount of rainfall for April, slowing the park’s restoration. But the fire department did come through with a portable toilet, and the post-ride snacks available at the concessions stand were a nice treat for several riders. Between concessions sales and cash donations, today netted about $300 for the department—a big drop from last year, but not bad under the circumstances.

Today’s ride was challenged by some of the worst weather Cheesehead Roubaix has ever seen. When the temperature is 20° below normal and the whole day is wet, windy, and dark … what can you do? Today the people behind the ride supported the riders in more direct and personal ways than ever before. Next year we might have beautiful weather and 300 riders and a bucket full of cash for the fire department and things will be back to normal. And normal at Cheesehead Roubaix is pretty great. Today was weird, but hopefully the people who showed up thought it was pretty great anyway. We did our best to make it so.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Let’s Take It Statewide

All of Wisconsin deserves a cyclocross series, not just the I-94 corridor.
Yesterday’s release of the 2017 WCA cyclocross calendar once again confirmed the big city bias of which I have written before. And I don’t mean that as an indictment of the people behind the series. It makes sense to hold races where a lot of people will attend and where the promoters can at least cover their costs. Where do you find a lot of people? In the I-94 corridor that connects Milwaukee and Madison.

Races in cities like Oshkosh and Wausau prove that even great promoters with great courses cannot count on the support of racers from the I-94 corridor. As I have said before, the big city racers are spoiled to the point where a lot of Milwaukee folks skip the Madison races and a lot of Madison folks skip the Milwaukee races! The SuperCup—the 12 races that actually count toward the series championship—is split evenly between Milwaukee and Madison. And only your best 6 results count in the SuperCup standings, so in theory you could win the championship without ever leaving your home territory.

Maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe Wisconsin is just too big for one series. It’s 430 miles from the Superior in the northwest to Kenosha in the southeast. This isn’t a small state and our population is not evenly distributed across it. So, what if instead of marginalizing races in cities like Oshkosh and Wausau, we made them important to their own series? Take the 18 races on the 2017 WCA schedule, pull out the state championship because it belongs to everybody, and split the others by region:

For now, drop the “best 6” provision and count all race results within each regional series. The “best 6” concept can be revisited if the regional series grow. And let them grow! Allow each region to establish its own schedule even if the dates conflict. Some will argue that to do so would be to split a finite pool of racers into too many small pieces, making it harder for promoters to attract enough racers to cover their costs. I don’t agree. We’re already split. Just look at the results of past races to see how reluctant racers are to leave home turf. The greatest challenge to multiple races on the same date may be the availability of USA Cycling officials. While I’m not sure we have enough at present, we can do more to attract, train, and then retain them.

What if you could add Green Bay and Appleton to SuperCup-North? What if SuperCup-North split into Northeast and Northwest someday after welcoming places like Superior, Eau Claire, La Crosse, and exurban Minneapolis-St. Paul into the fold? The current WCA model discourages racing in those parts of the state. There is and shall remain just one state championship, and it’s a big enough prize to pull in people from all over. But clearly the SuperCup is not. The “best 6” rule is itself a concession to the reluctance of racers to travel to every race in pursuit of every point. By splitting the series into regions, every race would matter again, if only within their own regions, and markets the WCA has either ignored or underserved would have a chance to develop.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The 2017 WCA Cyclocross Schedule

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

This morning the Wisconsin Cycling Association announced its 2017 cyclocross schedule and there are definitely some surprises. Here’s the schedule itself:

09/09 Sa - SuperCup: Cross-Shooshko, Milwaukee
09/10 Su - SuperCup: VeloCause CX, Milwaukee
09/30 Sa - Flyover Silver Creek CX, Manitowoc
10/01 Su - Cross Of The North, Wausau
10/07 Sa - SuperCup: PumpkinCross, Grafton
10/08 Su - Diablo River Cross, Kimberly
10/14 Sa - SuperCup: Fitchonia Cross Omnium, Dane County
10/15 Su - SuperCup: Fitchonia Cross Omnium, Dane County
10/21 Sa - SuperCup: GP Jo Vanderaffe, Milwaukee
10/22 Su - SuperCup: Battle Of Waterloo, Waterloo
10/28 Sa - SuperCup: Crossfire @ Angell Park, Sun Prairie
10/29 Su - SuperCup: Sun Prairie Cup @ Sheehan Park, Sun Prairie
11/04 Sa - SuperCup: Estabrook Park, Milwaukee
11/05 Su - SuperCup: CamRock CX, Cambridge-Rockdale
11/11 Sa - SuperCup: Sijan Cross, Milwaukee
11/12 Su - FatKats CX, Sheboygan
11/18 Sa - Sunnyview Cross, Oshkosh
12/02 Sa - SuperCup: State Championships, Waterloo

Surprise #1: So many Sundays! There is a faction within the WCA that wants to confine this series to Saturdays as much as possible, leaving Sundays open for the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series. Chicago races attract larger fields that include more top-quality racers, making them more valuable to elite Wisconsin racers looking to improve their USA Cycling rankings for nationals. I expected to see some movement away from Sundays this season, but that aspect of the schedule didn’t change.

Surprise #2: Cross Of The North is back. As a new event in 2016, it featured a great course … but dismal attendance due to its location. Wausau is simply too far away from the big population centers of Milwaukee and Madison. Those who do give this race a try will not be disappointed.

Surprise #3: With the GP Jo Vanderaffe, cyclocross will return to Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes. That’s where I did my first-ever cyclocross race back in 2011.

Surprise #4: No Halloween-themed race. It was a tradition at Washington Park in Milwaukee. Then a muddy race damaged the park in 2015 and the threat of rain prompted Milwaukee County to cancel the event in 2016. (OK, maybe this one isn’t that much of a surprise.)

Surprise #5: After a 1-year absence, Sheboygan returns to the schedule … under new management. The FatKats, better known as a mountain biking team, have stepped up to replace Sheboygan Bicycle Company.

And now here’s something that won’t surprise anyone who kept up with my 2016 cyclocross season: I’m going to miss most of these races.

This season my top competitive priority is mountain biking. I’m already registered for WEMS races on Sep. 9 and Oct. 7, dates that otherwise would belong to cyclocross. Cyclocross is still important but I'm not going to put as much pressure on myself as I have in recent years. For example, I have always wanted to do Patriot CX—Sep. 10 in Rantoul IL—but it has always conflicted with something else. And it does again this year, but why shouldn't I do it anyway? Also, as I demonstrated last season, I am reluctant to travel very far for a Saturday race, given the overnight work schedule that keeps me in the office until 7 a.m. on Saturdays. So, this might be the extent of my 2017 WCA schedule:

10/08 Su - Diablo River Cross
10/21 Sa - SuperCup: GP Jo Vanderaffe
10/22 Su - SuperCup: Battle Of Waterloo
11/04 Sa - SuperCup: Estabrook Park
11/05 Su - SuperCup: CamRock CX
11/11 Sa - SuperCup: Sijan Cross
11/12 Su - FatKats CX
11/18 Sa - Sunnyview Cross

Those 8 races plus Patriot CX plus Region Riot Cross in Crown Point IN on Nov. 26 would give me 10 for the year, which is the same number of cyclocross races I typically do. Let’s face it: I’m not competing for a series title or state championship. I should build a schedule that makes me happy.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Stick Around For Joy

This weekend got off to a terrible start. I was at work early Saturday morning when the news of Michele Scarponi’s death reached me. There really is no other sport that loses its stars during training. Automobile racing? It’s not the same. Test laps at the track are conducted in a controlled environment. Scarponi’s training ride was on open roads near home. Like mine. That’s what makes these situations so hard to take. When the best riders in the world can die in almost stereotypical fashion, then how can we deny our own vulnerability? I know the risks, I accept the risks, and I do everything I can to mitigate the risks. There’s a right way to conduct your business out there. It doesn’t guarantee that you will come home, but it greatly improves your chances. As I rode this weekend I thought of Scarponi, and of Amy Dombrowski and of Burry Stander, and still I rode without fear. They weren’t martyrs. I don’t intend to be one either. I’m not riding the roads to prove a point; I’m riding the roads because it pleases me. To degrees great and small, risks are everywhere. Some can be avoided entirely—I will never die in a skydiving accident because I will never go skydiving—but many cannot. Anything to which you give your heart comes with the risk of loss. Your spouse may leave you. Your children may grow up to disavow you. Your friends may betray you. But most likely, those people will be sources of great joy. Cycling is one of my great joys—one of only a few—so it’s worth the risk.

Early this morning I drove most of the Cheesehead Roubaix route and it’s looking good for next Sunday. The wildcard is the weather. Too much rain in the days before the ride could force a detour from low-lying Jay Road, but even rain on Sunday morning will not cancel the event.

There’s no rain in the forecast tomorrow, though, or on Tuesday, and I will need good training rides on both days to make up for the poor effort I gave today. This week I’m going to hit 1,000 miles for 2017, but I’m still not in any kind of groove. I always look to the completion of the first 1,000 miles as a major goal, because historically I “switch on” at that time. No promises this year … except that I will keep looking for the switch.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Spring has been cool and wet overall, and that’s not unusual around here. This weekend was uncommonly warm and mostly dry, but the winds were very high. It would have been a frustrating time to be on the road bike. Fortunately, I got to hide from the winds at New Fane, whose mountain bike trails opened for the season on Friday. Greenbush is now available too, and I plan to visit it several times before the WEMS Championship there on October 7. This weekend, though, was all about New Fane.

New Fane is important not just because of its proximity, but also because it is the site of the Northern Kettles Fall Epic on September 9. I have done well in that race historically and I intend to do well again this year. A big key to my success there is familiarity. The more practice laps, the better. I did 2 laps yesterday—my first visit to New Fane since last year’s Northern Kettles Fall Epic—and I did 2 more laps today. And they weren’t great. I was slow because I’m out of shape. I was hesitant because prior to this weekend I had only 1 hour on singletrack this year: last Sunday’s trip to Glacial Blue Hills. About all I can say is that today’s laps were faster than yesterday’s laps. It’s a start.

There’s a lot of work to do. Nevertheless, I’m confident that I will get back to where I want to be … in time to give a good account of myself this fall. Whether I will be in anything like race shape by May 6—the date of the WORS season opener—is a more pressing concern. It’s back to the road tomorrow for some fat-burning, endurance-building miles, and then maybe it’s back to the turbo trainer if rain returns on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Good Busy

Stop, paint, drive to the next intersection, stop, paint, drive to the next intersection ...

This was a good weekend. And thanks to my strange work schedule, perhaps it’s not over yet: I’m free on Mondays until late at night, so there’s a better-than-average chance that I’ll spend some time on the bike tomorrow. But even if I don’t, I will remember this weekend as one that was full of cycling in several forms.

On Saturday I did a respectable 30-mile road ride, then returned home just in time to watch streaming coverage of the Sunny King Criterium from Anniston AL, pro women first and then pro men. Entertaining stuff, but really just an hors d’oeuvre for this morning’s Paris-Roubaix. That’s my favorite pro race, and this year’s edition did not disappoint.

Paris-Roubaix ended shortly after 10 a.m., leaving me with the rest of the day to fill with my own cycling activities. Knowing that it was going to be a dry day—and knowing that I can’t always count on those—I was determined to prepare the roads for Cheesehead Roubaix, now just 3 weeks away. Jeff Wren joined me and we knocked out the route in about 3.5 hours, which is roughly how long it takes to ride those 63 miles! But stopping at every intersection to paint logos and directional arrows is tedious work. And it was work that alternated between hot and cold: with a strong wind from the southeast, we were toasty as long as we were a couple of miles inland, but chilled when we were close to Lake Michigan.

In West Bend the temperature reached 73° this afternoon, just 3° from the all-time record. It was our warmest day so far this year and our first 70° day since November 17. Starting at 5:30 p.m.—love me some Daylight Saving Time—I spent an hour working on mountain biking skills at Glacial Blue Hills. It was my first time on singletrack since the WEMS race at New Fane on September 17. The long layoff and my relative unfamiliarity with the trails was evident, but at least it was a step in the right direction as I prepare for the mountain bike racing season.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Steve Tilford

American bike racing legend Steve Tilford died today from injuries he sustained in a multi-vehicle accident on a Utah highway. Tilford, 57, was a versatile racer who competed at the highest level across multiple cycling disciplines. Among his accomplishments:

  • 4 elite US national cyclocross championships
  • 2 masters world cyclocross championships
  • 5 masters world mountain bike championships
  • Winner of the 1st US national mountain bike championship
  • Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee

A native of Topeka KS, Tilford was no stranger to Wisconsin. He won masters titles at the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships at Badger Prairie in 2012 and 2013. He was a 3-time winner (2000, 2001, 2002) of the Chequamegon 40 mountain bike race, and a top competitor on the road at both SuperWeek and its successor, the Tour of America’s Dairyland.

From his popular blog, Tilford influenced the culture of bike racing in America by arguing for rule changes and against performance-enhancing drugs. His competitive spirit and his voice of reason will be missed.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Worst March Ever?

Was this the worst March ever? I could make that case. I did only 6 rides. I logged only 158 miles, my lowest total since 2008. And back in 2008 I wasn’t as prepared for cold weather as I am now, so it’s not even a fair comparison. This month had snow, rain, and high winds in abundance:

  • 16 days at or below 40° (9 of which were at or below 32°)
  • 14 days with measurable rain and/or snow
  • 29 days with double-digit wind speeds
  • 26 days with wind gusts in excess of 20 mph (52 mph on March 8!)

Good riddance.

I’m going into April with 563 miles, year-to-date, compared to 620 miles last year. That’s not much of a difference, but I don’t think I’m nearly as fit as I was this time last year. March wrecked the momentum I had built with a better-than-average January and an all-time-great February. And the biggest problem is still one whose resolution is nowhere on the horizon: all of the mountain bike trails remain closed. New Fane, Greenbush, Pleasant Valley, Minooka, Alpine Valley, CamRock, Silver Lake … they’re all too wet to ride. It’s not just the frequent rain; it’s also the nearly complete absence of sunshine. There is no consolation in the knowledge that the mountain bike trails are closed to everyone. Most of my racing rivals are better technical riders, and whatever success I have against them comes from greater fitness. I expect my fitness to improve dramatically over the next month. But greater fitness doesn’t guarantee success in competition. I need to sharpen my skills. In April I will take as much time on singletrack as I can get.

The slag heap we call Glacial Blue Hills likely will be the first trail system available to me—maybe by next weekend if the current forecast proves true—and I guess I’ll make peace with it even though I don’t enjoy riding there. Part of my prejudice against Glacial Blue Hills is that it isn’t a race course, so training there feels like a waste of time when I could be training on trails that I will race later. I literally would rather drive the 75 miles to CamRock than the 5.5 miles to Glacial Blue Hills, but that’s a moot point right now. Glacial Blue Hills does have technical trails and long-ish climbs, and maybe that’s what I need but it’s not what I want. I want to rip through New Fane and the Brown County Reforestation Camp.

Looks like April is going to be all about the work. I trust the fun will show up later.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pedal Fest 2017

1421 S. Main St., West Bend
(262) 338-2453

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bicycle Benefits

Have you heard of Bicycle Benefits? It’s a nationwide program for bicyclists that provides discounts on a huge array of products and services. You buy a lifetime membership sticker for $25, put it on your helmet, ride to your favorite local businesses and save money. The program is in its infancy here in Washington County, but it already includes Coffee Corner Bistro in Kewaskum, Coffeeville Company in Jackson, CAL Fitness in Slinger, and all of these locations in West Bend:

  • Pedal Moraine
  • Mountain Outfitters
  • Savoring Thyme
  • Laughing Mountain Gourmet Popcorn
  • The Norbert
  • West Bend Tap & Tavern
  • Toucan Custard
  • Serendipity
  • Dublin’s
  • All In Books
  • Expressions Yarn & Bead Boutique
  • Merle Norman Co.
  • A Conversation Piece
  • Jeff’s Spirits on Main
  • Cherry Pickin’s
  • Dunn Brothers Coffee

Discounts vary by location. At Pedal Moraine, for example, you can save 20% on all bike lights … and those can be expensive, so with a single purchase you might offset the cost of your lifetime membership. Check the Bicycle Benefits website for a merchant-by-merchant breakdown. Going on vacation? Use the website to identify bike-friendly businesses and give them your patronage. Bicycling and small business are essential to strong communities, and this program benefits both.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring. Forward?

The normally easy-going Jeff Wren is a bulldog of a bargain hunter.
Spring officially arrived today. Whether that means anything to me remains to be seen.

On Saturday I traveled to Oshkosh for the Fox Valley Bike Sale, a swap meet and expo. I wasn’t in the market for anything and the only money with which I parted was my $5 admission fee. But I didn’t come away with nothing: the swap was a gold mine of information. The biggest nugget? Race The Lake is on August 13, not on August 20 as reported in the Bike Fed’s ride guide and on the Wisport website. That’s significant to me because after last year’s good-but-could-have-been-great experience, I wanted to try it again. I didn’t want to miss my favorite WORS race, though, and I know the Reforestation Ramble is scheduled for August 20. Now that I’m sure there’s no conflict, Race The Lake is on my schedule again.

And I might be fit by then: my back is still a problem. On Sunday I did a 35-mile road ride and I was a little uncomfortable the whole time. This morning I felt OK—still not 100% but at least as good as I felt on Sunday—so I did an easy 20-mile ride around town, exploring the parks and finding a “secret” link between Decorah Hills and Badger Lane that I had never seen before. Today’s ride pushed me past 500 miles, year-to-date, and finally past 100 miles, month-to-date. I had such high hopes for March but now I’ll be content if I’m not limping at the end of it. If I have to abandon some of my plans for the earliest weeks of the racing season, then at least I still can dream of late summer.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Emergence … Or Emergency?

At 1:45 yesterday afternoon we hit 33° to break the evil spell of freezing temperatures that began at 10:20 p.m. last Thursday. My short ride on Sunday was my only ride during that period. I’m anxious to ride again but I’m still very concerned about my back, which has evolved to include some sciatic nerve pain. I have never had that before. On balance, things have been getting better over the last few days but I’m a long way from 100% and I’m trying not to aggravate the area. It’s hard to know what to do: sometimes stretching helps, sometimes not. It’s usually true that the more I move, the more I can move, and the worst thing I can do is to stay in one position for too long. There wasn’t an instant of trauma—an “oh, shit” moment, if you will—when this began. I don’t know what I did, so I don’t know what I shouldn’t do again. After missing a couple of upper body strength workouts early this week, yesterday I returned to the home gym and got through most of my routine. I skipped one exercise that I thought was too risky, but I completed the others without any trouble. That’s a good sign … not as good as a string of pain-free days on the bike, but a good sign.

Whatever momentum I was starting to build in my training for the racing season is probably gone. I will know for sure when I return to the bike this weekend. With just 50 days to go before the WORS season opener, I can’t afford any more delays.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Cold One

Just like Fry in Futurama, I am frozen against my will.

We got to 30° in West Bend today, 10° below normal and 50-60° below where I would like to be. Today’s ride was a modest, 22-mile affair on the mountain bike, up to Kewaskum on the Eisenbahn State Trail and then back home with a detour through Glacial Blue Hills. It was my first ride since last Sunday. The weather has been rotten and soon will be even worse: we’re expecting 6-9 inches of snow between tonight and Tuesday afternoon. I am unlikely to ride again until next weekend. With just 50 miles to my credit this month, March is shaping up to be a big disappointment.

Today wasn’t too bad, despite being at the bottom of my temperature range. But like all rides of its type, today’s cold weather adventure was more valuable for my psychology than for my physiology. I just had to get outside. If the day had been a little colder or the clouds a little thicker or the winds a little stronger, then I would have gone hiking. I can kill only so much time with TV and other indoor distractions. The back pain I reported last Wednesday hasn’t gone away completely, so we’ll see how I feel tomorrow. My back did not bother me during today’s ride, but that doesn’t mean I won’t tighten up overnight. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking toward the start of the racing season …

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


With fewer than 60 days to go before the start of the mountain bike racing season, I am in trouble. You might even say that my back is up against it … literally. For the second time this year, I’m fighting lower back pain and it’s stopping me from training properly.

The first flare-up came in February after a challenging 44-mile road ride with nearly 2,000 feet of climbing. The latest discomfort came on Sunday after a comparatively sedate and flat 28-mile road ride. I’m experiencing stiffness in my lower back that lasts for days. This is absolutely not normal for me—it’s unusual for my upper body to tire out—but there can be no question that there was a Cause & Effect relationship between those bike rides and the discomfort. At the beginning of any new season there’s a hardening process as I readjust to the rigors of training, but I don’t remember anything quite like this. And I never play with saddle height or other bike fit variables, though many experts recommend lowering the saddle a bit at the start of the year and then restoring it to its normal position as flexibility returns to the body.

It has been a good winter for strength training in the home gym, which only makes this lower back issue more surprising. And I’m trying to maintain a workout schedule despite the discomfort, albeit with some concessions to my reduced range of motion. Whatever is going on, it comes and goes. I have had more pain-free days than painful ones. But I’m losing training opportunities at a time when I should be ramping up the frequency and the intensity of my rides.

This would not have been a problem last year, when cyclocross was my focus. But this year my focus is mountain bike racing. I need to be fit not by the beginning of September, but by the beginning of May. Right now, I am not on track.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February’s Foggy Farewell

February ended today with more unseasonable warmth, but also with rain and fog. It was a good day not to ride a bike. I finished the month with 11 rides for a total of 285 miles, a personal record that tops the 205 miles I rode in February 2016.

In a typical year I don’t start to string together outdoor rides until roughly March 10, so it’s a bonus to reach the end of February with 405 miles already in my legs. I had counted on just 50 in January and another 50 in February, but our mild winter has allowed for much more.

Still, winter is not over. Some of the heaviest snows I have ever seen have fallen in March. As I write this, we’re under a winter weather advisory: probably a couple of inches tomorrow and perhaps a dusting on Thursday. We’ll be melting it on Saturday, though, and by Sunday afternoon we might get to 60° again.

What can you expect from me in March? I’m not sure. I definitely want to return to the Fox Valley Bike Sale in Oshkosh on Saturday the 18th, hopefully pairing that occasion with another attempt at the Wiouwash State Trail, which last year proved too wet to ride. And on Sunday the 26th I might throw myself into the Screw City Cyclocross Classic in Rockford IL, not with the expectation of a good result, but because I could use a big injection of intensity. By March 26 I will be only 6 weeks away from the start of the WORS season, and my training will have to be much more structured than it has been so far this year.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just Right

I ride a lot—you know that—but not even I can claim to be familiar with every road in Washington County. There are some places a bike can’t go, like our limited access highways: Interstate 41 and US Highway 45. I know those roads well enough as a driver, but not as a cyclist. Interstate 41 runs for 28 miles within the county. Sometimes it and US 45 are the same road, but there’s another 20-mile section of US 45 that stands alone. The northernmost 6 miles of US 45 are not limited access, but I don’t ride my bike on them, as there are better and safer routes.

We have 252 miles of state highways within the county and I haven’t seen all of those, regardless of my mode of transportation. Like the freeways, our state highways tend to have too much fast automobile traffic to make them attractive for cycling. Still, there are some sections that are more than accommodating. I have no problem with Highway 28 and not much of one with Highway 144; it’s Highways 33 and 60 that I avoid.

How much farther behind must I be in my experience with our 1,325 miles of local paved roads? Think about it: every residential street, every dead end, every cul-de-sac … it all adds up. If you traveled that many miles in a straight line to the west, you would find yourself in the vicinity of Boise ID. Much of it is wonderful, but some of it is useless for a bike ride. My routes usually take the shape of a big circle. It’s a rare occasion when I go down a dead end road just to see what’s there.

We have a mix of population density and road density that makes Washington County an uncommonly good place for cyclists. Not everyone is so fortunate. If you look around the country, you can find plenty of places with a lot of roads, but in most cases you will also find those roads choked with motor vehicles. You also can find plenty of places with low population density, but in those places you might not have many route options. I got curious about these variables and did a little research. In most states, there’s a clear correlation between population and road density. Physical size matters too, but not as much as population. Alaska is our biggest state by total land area, but it ranks 47th in population and 46th in miles of road. Here’s the full breakdown, showing the states in the order of their physical size:

Texas and California are physically big and heavily populated, so it’s no surprise that they have the most roads. Centrally located states like Kansas and Missouri are punching above their weight as people and things move through them. Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey show the effects of highly-urbanized populations in small physical spaces. Arizona and Washington appear to be underserved by their road networks, but that could be a “false positive.” Both states are physically large but their populations are crowded into fairly small regions.

With 1,325 miles of local roads, Washington County ranks 19th among Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Dane County has the highest total: 2,449 miles. That’s another example of physical size plus population. But our most populous county, Milwaukee, ranks just 17th with 1,341 miles. Looking only at the mileage totals, you might conclude that recreational cycling opportunities in Washington County and Milwaukee County are roughly equal. You would be dead wrong. Milwaukee County does have some good places to ride, but Washington County has almost no bad ones. Never lose sight of that. If you didn’t already know how fortunate we are, you do now.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All-Time Highs

What a great weekend to round up some buds and get outside!

In West Bend, there was never a February 17-19 like this before! On Friday we reached 50° for the first time since November 29, then hit 60° for the first time since November 18! Our high for the day was 61° and, though we were at that level only for a few minutes, it’s the new all-time high for February 17. The old record was 57°, set in 1981. Saturday was great too: 59° for a high, beating the old record of 52°, also set in 1981. Today we topped out at 63°, tying the record set in 1981.

It goes without saying that I hopped on the bike. Friday’s ride was short: just 20 miles to test the new chainrings on my BMC. The old ones were worn out, causing a really frustrating auto-shift issue. On Saturday I did my fastest ride so far this year: 40 miles at an average speed of 17.4 mph. Today I did my hilliest ride so far this year: 44 miles with 1,936 feet of climbing … at an average speed of 17.1 mph. I had company on each ride, including 5 other riders today. Ego made me push harder than I would have otherwise, and as I write this I am a little fried. It was a big block of training for this time of year.

But I’m not quite done. Rain is coming tomorrow, but I probably can get out for a short recovery ride late in the morning. I need just 7 more miles to set a new personal record for miles in February. Then it looks like we’ll have back-to-back sunny days in the 60s on Tuesday and Wednesday before falling into the 40s on Thursday and back to more February-like temperatures next weekend. February 21st is noteworthy for being the date on which West Bend’s average daytime high finally creeps above freezing, signaling the end of a long winter. But this year is breaking all the historical trends. With no measurable snowfall in the forecast, southeastern Wisconsin could escape February with its second-lowest total ever. Eleven weeks from the start of the mountain bike racing season, I’m hoping for a dry remainder to our winter and an early opening of the trails.

Monday, February 13, 2017

3-Day Weekends

My unusual work schedule turns every weekend into a 3-day weekend. I work overnight on Fridays but I’m usually home by 7:30 on Saturday mornings and that leaves me with the best part of the day. I’m completely free on Sundays, and I don’t have to return to work until 11:00 on Monday nights. It really is like living an 8-day week … though sometimes I have to cheat myself out of sleep to make a Saturday everything it can be.

This past Saturday was decent enough: overcast, but with a high temperature of 40° and tolerable winds. Jim Saueressig (Gryphon Velo) and I spent 90 minutes together on the roads between West Bend and Fillmore. On Sunday the high temperature was 40° again. The skies cleared up, but the winds were terrible: 25-30 miles per hour in the afternoon, gusting above 40 miles per hour. In such high winds I don’t like to be on the road. A mountain bike ride would have been a nice alternative but there are no trails open to me. If the ground were frozen but the trails were free of snow and ice, then I could ride them on my 29er. But things are otherwise, and the IMBA chapters in our area have asked us to stay away. I went for a 90-minute walk on a hikers-only section of the Ice Age Trail. It was solid ice.

Today we got to 43° and again the sunshine was brilliant but the winds were a little stronger. I wasn’t feeling super ambitious, but I knocked out 24 miles on my cyclocross bike to bring my year-to-date total to 215 and my February total to 95. My record for February is 205 miles, set last year. Give me another nice 3-day weekend and I’ll make sure that record falls. There’s no precipitation in the forecast this week and right now it looks like we’re climbing into the 50s by Saturday. That would put us more than 20° above normal for this time of year.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Chris Kegel


Today Wisconsin lost perhaps the greatest advocate for bicycling that it has ever known. Back in 2006, it was my pleasure to meet Wheel & Sprocket CEO Chris Kegel in Whitewater at the end of the first day of the MS 150 Best Dam Bike Tour. He was nothing less than a cycling celebrity, yet he remained a humble man who was generous with his time and attention. Follow this link to read about his remarkable career.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Making Tracks

You might recall that back in 2011 I started snowshoeing, with borrowed equipment at first but with my own soon thereafter. This winter began with higher than average snowfall in December and I expected to go snowshoeing frequently, but I haven’t gone even once. We had a big warm-up in January and our current base in the West Bend area is only a couple of inches. It’s nothing for which you would need snowshoes, and frequent freezing/thawing has left many of our hiking trails icy and dangerous.

This week I added two new weapons to my winter arsenal, the first of which I christened today on the Ice Age Trail between Paradise Drive and Ridge Run Park. YakTrax makes anti-slip devices that attach to shoe and boots. For less than $20 on Amazon, I purchased the most basic model and set up an old pair of cross-trainers as my “new” winter trail shoes. I’m not backpacking and our sections of the Ice Age Trail aren’t so technical that hiking boots are required. My simple, inexpensive setup was more than up to the task today. I hiked on packed snow with complete confidence, even down fairly steep hills.

The other addition to my collection of sporting goods is a pair of cross-country skis—classic, not skate, for those of you who make the distinction. I have never been on skis in my life, and I don’t know when I’ll get on these. They were a gift from Jeff Wren, my indefatigable training partner in every cycling discipline. I think he misses me in winter. He has been trying to coax me onto the ski trails for years and he has just about succeeded. But first I need to find boots that will work with the Salomon bindings of my second-hand Fischer skis. And then there’s different kinds of wax for different parts of the ski? I don’t know anything about this stuff, least of all whether I will enjoy myself once I get going. All I can say is that it comes highly recommended from a number of friends, and I’m willing to give it a try if I can do it without spending a lot of money.

In the week to come, we’re going to have a couple of days with favorable cycling conditions. Getting on the bike remains the priority, but I know that’s not always possible. It’s good to have cross-training options.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Matters / Doesn’t Matter

Is this news you can use, or just news? An agreement between Washington County and the City of West Bend to swap a few key parcels of land includes a re-route of city traffic away from the county courthouse. The south end of Schmidt Road will become little more than a driveway. A short section of new roadway will connect Rolfs Avenue to Schmidt Road at Creek Road. The city is accepting contractor proposals until February 14 with the expectation that the new roadway will be open sometime between November 2018 and December 2019.

That’s kind of interesting. But if you’re a local cyclist, then you probably don’t use that part of Schmidt Road anyway … if you use Schmidt Road at all. With no paved shoulder, crumbling pavement and a fairly high volume of motor vehicle traffic, it’s not one of our more bike-friendly streets. I use it frequently from Creek Road north to the Eisenbahn State Trail connector at Lac Lawrann Conservancy—a distance of only a half mile—but almost never from Creek Road south to Washington Street. And that’s because I would rather not ride on Washington Street, also known as State Highway 33. If I’m traveling east-west in that area, then Creek Road and the Riverfront Parkway are better choices.

Still, I will keep an eye on this project. It could have ramifications for Bike Friendly West Bend’s route plans. As currently envisioned, the “red” route will include that section of Schmidt from the Eisenbahn connector south to Creek. Depending on how the pattern of motor vehicle traffic changes with the extension of Rolfs, it might make more sense to use the new roadway as far south as Lang Street before turning east to meet River Road.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Wisconsin Cyclocross Hits The Big Time!

World Champion Wout Van Aert at the start of the 2016 Trek CXC Cup. (Anthony James photo)

What a moment for cyclocross in Wisconsin! Today the UCI announced its 2017-18 World Cup schedule and the biggest race in the Badger State is now one of the biggest races on the planet. Mark your calendars: Trek Headquarters, Waterloo, September 24.

Trek brought UCI cyclocross to Waterloo in 2013. And the Trek CXC Cup was always a top domestic race, but in 2016 it achieved international attention when most of the top Europeans used it as a tune-up for CrossVegas and Jingle Cross. For the 2017-18 season, CrossVegas drops down a notch and Trek takes its place in the World Cup. Here’s the full schedule:

09/16: Iowa City IA, USA (Jingle Cross)
09/24: Waterloo WI, USA (Trek CXC Cup)
10/22: Koksijde, Belgium
11/19: Bogense, Denmark
11/25: Zeven, Germany
12/17: Namur, Belgium
12/26: Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
01/21: Nommay, France
01/28: Hoogerheide, Netherlands

Amateur and non-World Cup professional races will accompany the main events on those weekends. And, as in years past, you can be sure the Wisconsin Cycling Association won’t schedule any of its own events on Trek’s weekend. Whether the WCA also will steer clear of Jingle Cross remains to be seen. For Wisconsin racers, Trek is now indisputably the bigger prize. A smaller WCA race outside of the Milwaukee-Madison corridor might take a chance on September 16-17.

CrossVegas will remain a prominent domestic race, but one wonders how many Europeans will take interest. It falls on Wednesday night, September 20, right between the two World Cup races. I predict most of the top racers will prefer to stay in the Midwest than to burden themselves with additional travel expenses. We might be witnessing CrossVegas in its death throes, as it always has coincided with the Interbike trade show, which is known to be looking for a new home. My recommendation: Chicago. It’s close enough to Iowa City and to Waterloo for O’Hare to serve as the international airport of choice, it has essentially unlimited hotel and expo space, and the impending development of the Big Marsh bike park could provide a race venue to replace CrossVegas. For Europeans accustomed to short distances between major races, a 10-day block that includes Jingle Cross, Big Marsh and Trek would be attractive. For American fans, it would be 10 days at the center of the cycling world and just maybe a precursor of another UCI World Championships week on American soil. Louisville KY had the honor of hosting the World Championship in 2013, the first (and still only) time the championships have been held outside of Europe.

Yes, someday we might look back on today’s announcement as a watershed occasion in American cyclocross. For now, let’s thank Trek for its commitment to the sport and in turn commit ourselves to support the race and the riders who come to Wisconsin to entertain us.