Saturday, January 31, 2015

Extending My January Record

A few solo miles wrapped around an hour with El Reyezuelo …

Following the 26-mile route you see above, today I finished off January with a total of 241 outdoor miles. That’s a personal record. Not too long ago, I would not even consider riding outside in January. I have thought of myself as a serious cyclist since 2004 but I didn’t do my first January ride until 2012. I racked up 117 miles that month, and another 83 in January 2013. Last winter was uncommonly cold and I didn’t ride outside at all in January. My total this month wasn’t just better than any previous January, it also was better than my best February (137 miles in 2012) and my best December (175 miles in 2012). This month we had 21 days at or above our historical average daytime highs, and I proved to myself that I can ride pretty comfortably at or even a little below the freezing mark.

February is going to start with snow and a big temperature drop. We are on the northern edge of a storm that is going to hammer Illinois and is expected to bring at least a few inches of snow to Washington County between tonight and Monday morning. That’s no good for me, but the snow might have only a short impact. The long-range forecast predicts the return of above-freezing temperatures for next weekend, followed by a week in the high 30s or even low 40s. My February mileage PR will be in serious trouble if that forecast proves true.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

More Input For West Bend Parks And Trails

My time at City Hall was short today—30 minutes, tops—but it proved to be another good opportunity to talk about bike-friendly ideas for West Bend. Last week I spent 2 hours with the Parks, Recreation & Forestry staff. This evening I spent most of my time with members of the Park and Recreation Commission. Most initiatives need support from the department, the commission, and the Common Council to become a reality. So far, so good: I have not hit any significant resistance to the idea of trail development at Park Site O. I can expect some from the Common Council if I go looking for tax money, but hopefully I won’t need it.

After conducting open-house sessions for the public and gathering opinions from an online survey, the city has a lot of ideas to consider. Many people voiced support for bike lanes and/or trail expansion, but I don’t know whether they considered the costs or that their requests, in some cases, were for things beyond the city’s jurisdiction.

The photo above shows a big map on which meeting attendees were encouraged to make notes and to draw new trails. Perhaps the most ambitious of the recommendations was for a connection between West Bend and the Wild Goose State Trail. That’s hard to imagine. A bike trail parallel to State Highway 33 would run for more than 25 miles before reaching the Wild Goose. On the Eisenbahn State Trail the closest point to the Wild Goose is at Eden, and that’s still a 9.5-mile gap. Perhaps someday the Wild Goose and an extended Eisenbahn will meet in Fond du Lac. More realistic were the recommendations for a connection between West Bend and the Ozaukee Interurban Trail and for an extension of the Eisenbahn south to Jackson, with which West Bend shares a school district. Other suggestions included a parking lot for the Eisenbahn at the Rusco Drive trailhead, mountain bike trails at the landfill west of Villa Park, and bike lanes for busy Paradise Drive and 18th Avenue.

The online survey will be active through February 8 and I encourage you to speak up for cycling in West Bend even if you are not a city resident. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious—it’s fun to dream big—but remember that the city has limits both physical and fiscal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is It Time For The Milwaukee River Trail?

I was at City Hall for 2 hours today, talking to the staff of Parks, Recreation & Forestry about things I would like to see in the future of West Bend’s parks and trails. You wouldn’t call it a meeting; today’s gathering was more of an “open house.” The department will do it again on Thursday, Jan. 29, 4-7 p.m. Hopefully, that session will get better attendance. I was one of just a few visitors today. Despite the low turnout, I felt like my time was well-spent. If you can go next week, then do it. If you can’t attend, then take this survey to let the city know what you would like to see.

I’m all about Park Site O right now and the folks from Parks, Recreation & Forestry have expressed support for trail development there. But I also was interested to hear about the prospect of development along the Milwaukee River near the airport. The new trail would link to existing trails in Quaas Creek Park and would look something like this:

We might see some development this year. And as the city pushes its corporate limits farther to the east, we could see additional development in the future. With cooperation from other municipalities, someday we might even see the realization of this old idea from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission:

Wouldn’t it be great to have a Milwaukee River Trail connecting West Bend to Newburg, Fredonia, Saukville and Grafton? Once you get that far, you can connect to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, which connects to Milwaukee County’s trail system, and so on. Washington County needs an east-west trail corridor to offset the strong north-south bias created by the Eisenbahn State Trail and the Ice Age Trail. A revitalized Milwaukee River Trail concept might be just the thing.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Rush And A Push

This charming man and his entourage would have been a little under-dressed today.

Earlier today I did my 6th ride of the new year. I have covered 125 outdoor miles already, a personal record that surpasses the 117 miles I rode in January 2012. Due to extremely cold temperatures, last January was a complete shutout. February was rough too. I didn’t do my 6th ride of 2014 until March 18!

My mileage goal this year is 5,234, which would get me to 50,000 lifetime miles. (I like round numbers.) This is how I planned to get there:

050 January
050 February
500 March
500 April
500 May
750 June
750 July
750 August
500 September
500 October
250 November
134 December

As you can see, I didn’t expect a lot from January but I expected something. I had to concede that we were not likely to have a repeat of last winter’s exceptional cold.

Today was the end of Week 1 of my 12-week winter plan. It was supposed to be a rest day, but the weather was nice enough to permit an outdoor ride and I have to take advantage of such opportunities. With 4 outdoor rides and 2 indoor trainer rides in the last 7 days, I logged 8 hours in the saddle. And though my body weight is up significantly from where it was during the cyclocross season, I’m lighter than I was at this time last year.

Not a bad start … and January isn’t over yet. Being so aware of the numbers makes me want to extend my January record. Perhaps the bar was set low, but I am happy to be ahead of schedule.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dusting Off The Trainer

My 2015 mountain biking season began today on a road bike in the home gym.

Early last winter I didn’t feel compelled to train hard. My first competition goal was a WEMS race on June 7, and even that was more of a tuneup for a WORS race on August 24 than an important objective by itself. I didn’t log any indoor trainer time in January 2014, then I made a good effort throughout February, and by early March the weather was nice enough for outdoor rides.

For me, trainer rides are a necessary evil. Prior to today, my last one was on December 4. In the meantime I did 7 outdoor rides and 8 hikes. That’s fine for general health, but not enough for race-level fitness. With 4 mountain bike races tentatively planned for this May, I couldn’t wait any longer to get back into structured training. So, today was Day 1 of a 12-week plan. It’s not an indoor training program per se; I will get outside whenever I can.

If this is a typical winter, then by March I should be doing most of my training outdoors. When the 12-week plan ends in early April, my base will be solid and I should have an opportunity to work on mountain biking skills. And skills matter! In 2014, my first laps at New Fane were 31:30 and 31:50, respectively. By the end of the summer, I was routinely turning consecutive sub-27:00 laps. I attribute only some of that improvement to fitness. Sharper skills and a deep familiarity with the course were more important.

My hope this winter—and every winter—is that we will get less-than-average snowfall. It’s the snow and not the cold that keeps the mountain bike trails closed in the spring. If we get an early opening, then maybe I will add the Greenbush WEMS race to my schedule so that I’m racing on all 5 weekends in May!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Recommendations For WCA Cyclocross

For a moment, let’s forget about today’s debacle at the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships in Austin TX. If you haven’t heard the news, the championships were postponed until Monday after Austin’s parks department raised concerns about the damage the races were causing at muddy Zilker Park. The show will go on tomorrow … albeit without some of the players.

This evening I would like to focus on the Wisconsin Cycling Association’s 2015 season. We are just three weeks away from the year-end party for the 2014 season, so now is a good time to start the conversation about the changes we would like to see. I have some ideas …

Give us points for the Trek CXC Cup. It's the biggest cyclocross race in the state, and the WCA wisely refuses to schedule series events on the same weekend. But is there a way to reward series riders for their Trek CXC Cup performances? The Iowa series counts Jingle Cross Rock ...

Fix the registration process. Pre-registering should benefit both the racer and the promoter, but for the racer it’s usually a better deal not to pre-register. Our fields don’t fill up, so you are not going to miss your chance to race. By pre-registering you lock yourself into a non-refundable commitment that in many cases—thanks to USA Cycling’s service charge—actually costs you more money than in-person registration. Everyone needs to check in at the registration desk anyway, and sometimes it’s actually faster if you’re not pre-registered! Is WORS-style series registration a possibility? Would more racers pre-register if they could buy into the entire series with a single discounted fee?

Standardize the call-up criteria. No one should be able to buy a call-up by pre-registering. That system can place slower racers ahead of faster ones, leading to unnecessary dangers in the early moments of a race. In 2014, some races based call-ups on pre-registration (and, by extension, on USA Cycling’s flawed race predictor) and some on series points, while others didn’t do call-ups at all. Pick one standard. I recommend series points, which generally will reward those who perform well consistently, and at worst will reward those who most frequently support WCA events. When calling a rider to the starting grid, use the rider’s name and number. Riders and officials don’t always recognize each other’s faces, and I have seen people taking advantage of their anonymity by occupying starting grid spots they didn’t earn.

Standardize podium times. Podium presentations should be part of the published schedule for each event. Give the officials enough time to score the race properly and to resolve any disputes. Pick times that don’t conflict with other races in which the riders might be expected to compete. For example, don’t schedule the Cat 4 Masters podium during the Cat 4 Open race.

Standardize number placement. I would rather show up at the race venue with two numbers already pinned on my jersey than to have just one number about whose placement I was unsure. Many racers care about number placement—if they didn’t, they wouldn’t ask about it days ahead of the event. It’s an easy “win” for the WCA to establish a standard that applies at every race in the series.

Brag about yourselves! Race promoters, if you have special amenities like flush toilets, heated changing facilities or a bike wash, then say so! Those features are hugely attractive to racers and belong on your flyer and your Facebook event page and/or website.

Keep everyone in the loop. Recognize that good ideas can come from anywhere. What happened to the 2013 racer survey? Its findings were never shared with us. Will there be a survey to wrap up the 2014 season? And don’t wait until August to publish the 2015 schedule! Even if you can’t publish the entire schedule at once, get the dates out as soon as you know them.

These are not earth-shattering changes; they’re little things that really add up. What sets a “series” apart from a loose collection of races is consistency. That’s what I want most of all: a set of standards whose execution is so routine that all I really have to worry about is my performance on the course.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Park Site O: Not Just For Bikes

One possible configuration for multi-use trails, avoiding the wetlands near Quaas Creek.

Over the last several weeks I have presented my ideas for bike park features at West Bend’s Park Site O, an undeveloped property that spans nearly 80 acres. The location is a blank canvas and the possibilities for cyclocross, mountain biking and even a pump track are exciting.

The city has neither a plan nor a budget for Park Site O. Nothing will get done without volunteers. To express your support for trail development, please complete this survey from Parks, Recreation & Forestry. On January 21 and again on January 29, you can meet the department’s staff to discuss the future of West Bend’s parks and trails. The meetings will be held 4-7 p.m. at City Hall.

Getting support from different groups of cyclists is essential. Getting support outside of the cycling community is important too. There are several recreation options at Park Site O that have nothing to do with cycling. If you can imagine roughly 2 miles of trails spread over a rolling landscape with no abrupt elevation changes, then you can imagine snowshoeing and cross country skiing. (But don’t imagine groomed snow unless you plan to groom it yourself.) Take away the snow and the park could be an excellent place for trail running and cross country running. By using a combination of turf trails in the spectator-friendly prairie and dirt trails in the woods, one could easily devise a 5,000-meter course … probably not a single, 5,000-meter lap, but still. If you are familiar with the national championship-caliber course at UW-Parkside in Kenosha County, then you should be able to see the potential for something similar at Park Site O. At any time of year, Park Site O could be a good place to enjoy an easy hike or a geocaching adventure.

Please take the city’s survey and attend one or both of the meetings if you can. Tell the city you support trail development. This is a rare and special opportunity, so don’t miss it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Passing The Savings On To You!

Further to yesterday’s post … if you are a cost-conscious mountain bike racer, the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series is an outstanding value. Here’s the WEMS schedule for 2015:

05/09 Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge @ Greenbush
05/23 Stump Farm 100 @ Suamico
06/06 18 Hours of Alpine Valley @ Elkhorn
06/20 Wild Ride Buzzard Buster @ Hatfield
07/18 Thunderdown in the Underdown @ Gleason
08/08 Southern Kettles Classic (Emma Carlin Trails) @ Eagle
09/12 RASTA Rock N Root @ Rhinelander
09/19 Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane
10/03 WEMS Championship (location TBD)

If we can assume that series registration fees and per-race prices do not change from last year—the details are not yet available on the WEMS website—then the entire season can be enjoyed for as little as $205 for the short-distance category. You will pay a little more to compete in the middle-distance or long-distance categories. For most races in the series, the short-distance category is about 3 hours or 30 miles, middle-distance is about 5-6 hours or 60 miles, and long-distance is about 10-12 hours or 100 miles.

Yesterday I wrote about a couple of options for my 2015 calendar that would give essentially the same experiences as the “name brands” but without the high registration prices. WEMS races are longer and yet cheaper than Wisconsin Off-Road Series races. And WEMS doesn’t require a USA Cycling license, which by itself is $70 annually. (I have a license anyway. For some people, $70 is a barrier to participation. Others just prefer not to support USA Cycling.) On the WEMS calendar there is no greater example of value than the 18 Hours of Alpine Valley. The race will begin on Saturday, June 6, and continue through the night, finishing on Sunday, June 7. There’s nothing like it in WORS, but it should be a lot like the non-series Wausau24 race, whose entry fees range from $45 to $140 per person. So, the Alpine Valley race is cheaper and an opportunity to earn series points and 100 miles closer to my home. As so many ads for so many products have asked us, “Why pay more?”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ride This, Not That

We all want more bang for the buck.

I have big plans for 2015 and that means big expenses. This will be the year that my house gets a long-overdue bathroom remodeling. I’m talking about thousands of dollars. And while most of that money is already in the bank, I can easily imagine a few scenarios that would bust the budget. Whatever may come, the job must get done this year.

As a cyclist, there are just two things I must do: host Cheesehead Roubaix and make an earnest attempt to reach 50,000 career miles. I must do those things because I told you I would. Cheesehead Roubaix is free. Riding a bunch of miles on bikes I already own is free. Even if I did nothing else, then 2015 would be a pretty good year. But there are many other possibilities competing for my attention … and my money. I want to travel this year: maybe a trip to Texas in March, maybe a trip to my native Pennsylvania in June, maybe a trip to Richmond VA in September for the UCI road race and time trial world championships. And there’s always stuff to buy, maybe even a new cyclocross bike before autumn.

Today’s headline is inspired by “Eat This Not That,” a book that teaches its readers to reduce calories and fat by making better food choices. We all know celery would be a better choice than a cheeseburger; choosing between polar opposites is not the point of the book. The lesson is that, in many instances, healthier options are just as appealing as unhealthy ones. Applying the underlying principle to my cycling plans, maybe I can have a full and rewarding year without wrecking my finances.

Here’s an example: springtime gravel grinders. Last year I went to DeKalb IL for the Gravel Metric. It was a great time and a great deal for my $20 donation. This year the Gravel Metric falls on the morning after the WEMS race at Suamico. I really want to do the WEMS race, and to do both events on the same weekend could be exhausting. Looking for an alternative to the Gravel Metric, I found the Rough Road 100 (kilometers) in Morris IL on April 11. Then I found the Grumpy Grind in Milledgeville IL on April 12. So: two choices, same weekend, same driving distance from home, roughly the same event distance. The difference is the cost. Pre-registration for the Rough Road 100 starts at $38.10 and gets more expensive after January 31. The Grumpy Grind is free and includes free post-ride food and drinks. Do I have to tell you which one is on my short list?

Then there’s the Ride Across Indiana, a gran fondo that has tempted me for years. It looks like a great event and I would welcome the chance to ride 160 miles in a single day. That would be my longest ride ever, breaking my current record of 114. But the logistics of the event are problematic. I would have to stay overnight near the starting line in Terre Haute, probably in a hotel. At the end of the ride I would need to pay for transportation back across the state. Registration starts at $40 and goes up to $60 as the event draws closer. Maybe the better option for me is one of the Great Lakes Randonneurs dates: April 18, May 2, May 16, May 30 or June 13. For just $15 ($5 annual GLR membership, plus $10 for the event itself), I could ride a 200km brevet out of Delavan. That would be about 125 miles—still a new single-day record for me—for a fraction of the cost of the Ride Across Indiana. RAIN gets in excess of 1,000 participants. It would be a bigger event than the GLR brevet, but does the difference justify the extra costs?

One of cycling’s great strengths is that it can be done as expensively or as inexpensively as you like. Usually you get more when you pay more, but often you can have the same experience—or, at least, one that is very similar—for little or no money.

Monday, January 5, 2015

STXC At Park Site O

Running clockwise, this course would finish with a dramatic dash out of the woods.

The cyclocross national championships will be held in Austin TX this week. In Wisconsin the season ended on December 6. I wish it could be cyclocross season all the time, but without the extreme cold. So, it should not be a surprise that I am intrigued by the very similar discipline of short track cross country (STXC) mountain bike racing.

USA Cycling describes STXC as “a shortened cross-country style race, designed to be spectator-friendly and easily televised. The course is 100 percent rideable regardless of terrain and weather conditions. It is a multiple lap race with lap times not less than 2 minutes for the fastest riders. Race duration is 25-30 minutes at the Pro/Elite level. Spectator viewing and access are key.”

Unfortunately, the annual WORS Cup provides the only sanctioned STXC race in Wisconsin. Participation is robust and I think the market for STXC is underserved. A second STXC race—maybe even a series of races—might be popular.

I thought about this before, but my idea for STXC at New Fane was not a big hit. As a DNR property, New Fane comes with a lot of red tape. Getting permission to set up the area for STXC could be more trouble than it is worth.

What about Park Site O in West Bend? You know I think it would be a great bike park. If we create a permanent cyclocross course there, most of it would be suitable for STXC. Barriers would not be a permissible feature of a short track course, but the remainder of the cyclocross course would be in play. And Park Site O certainly meets the spectator-friendly requirement: the STXC course would be more accessible than the WORS Cup course. It would be an excellent racing venue in its own right, but also an excellent training ground for the WORS Cup. The topography at Park Site O is very similar to that of the lower slopes of the Cascade Mountain ski hill in Portage.

The market for STXC is never going to be as large as the market for traditional cross country mountain biking, but that’s OK. While thinking about all of the possible ways to use Park Site O as a bike park, STXC is one more option.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Let me make this clear: I still don’t like winter.

On   January 1, 2014, the temperature in West Bend bottomed out at –6 and topped out at just 9 degrees. Last winter was uncommonly cold and I didn’t do my first outdoor ride until February 18. By sitting out all of January 2014, I broke a streak of consecutive months that stretched back to February 2011.

This year is off to a better start. We reached a high of 29 on New Year’s Day and 32 this afternoon, and on each of those days I completed a 20-mile bike ride in relative comfort. Overnight snow made for wet roads today, so I spent most of my time on the Eisenbahn State Trail.

As my desire to ride throughout the year has grown, so too has my willingness to invest in good cold-weather clothing. It makes a huge difference. A few years ago I bought a pair of Bontrager wind-front bib tights that added something like 10 degrees to the bottom of my temperature range. I’m lucky that I don’t get cold feet while cycling, but I do get cold hands and I have never had proper gloves for winter rides. Lately I have been wearing nitrile rubber gloves as liners under long-finger mountain bike gloves. Nitrile gloves don’t breathe at all. My hands stay warm but they get wet from trapped perspiration. In next week’s mail I will receive a pair of Pearl Izumi’s top-of-the-line winter cycling gloves, a bit of an extravagance made affordable by a Christmas gift card.

But having the right attitude for winter riding may be just as important as having the right clothing. Some people believe the serious cyclist’s solution for everything is HTFU. Amateurs like me are supposed to emulate the professionals. So, it should be enough if I temper myself to the hardness of the top Belgian cyclocross riders, right?

Maybe not. During the coldest months of the year in Belgium—December and January—the average daytime high is 43 degrees. That’s warmer than the average high in West Bend during December (31), January (26), February (31) and March (41), and nearly as warm as November (44). We get almost 50 inches of snow during a normal winter. With temperatures below freezing for weeks on end, we sometimes don’t see our lawns from December until March. Belgium rarely gets more than a dusting of snow, and that rapidly melts. So, guys like Sven Nys are generally riding in milder weather with fewer restrictions on where they can go. They also have the best equipment and clothing, none of which they purchase, clean or repair by themselves. Obviously, I am not in their league when it comes to racing, but in many respects they have it easier.

I get out more often than I once did, but I haven’t embraced winter riding the way some people have. Pure mountain bikers—people who rarely or perhaps even never ride on the road—seem to be OK with the cold, and the fatbike crowd absolutely revels in it. I still pick my spots, riding only at the warmest time of day, only when conditions are relatively dry and the winds are low, and more often when there’s sunshine.

So, have I turned a corner when it comes to winter riding? Yes and no.