Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Second Mileage Record In 2015

This was today's short, counter-clockwise spin around West Bend.

March goes out like a lamb: 55 degrees with brilliant sunshine! I finished the month with 538 miles, a personal record that beat the 516 miles I rode in March 2012. Add that total to my record-breaking January (241 miles) and predictably quiet February (50 miles) and I’m at 829 so far this year. That’s a month ahead of last year’s record pace.

Early-season miles, while slow and frustrating at times, really matter to me. Maybe it is just a psychological hurdle, but I always feel like I am “back” to being a cyclist once I get to 1,000.

After 4 straight months of weight gain, I dropped 2 pounds this month. I am 1 pound lighter than I was on this date last year, a statistic I almost don’t believe because I feel so heavy. The numbers don’t lie, but I remember the form I had during the cyclocross season. I’m a long way from that, and simply running up a big mileage total won’t bring me back. Last year I didn’t drop a lot of weight until the ’cross season started. Then the combination of high-intensity training sessions and weekend races really worked. With the goal of competing as a Cat 3 this fall, I want to be lighter than I was when the 2014 season began. That means more high-intensity workouts, starting in April.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Roo Baby

It has been a while since I mentioned Cheesehead Roubaix, but with less than 4 weeks to go the ride is increasingly on my mind. Several friends have ridden the route already this year and their reports have been encouraging. The unpaved roads that give the ride its character are drying out and firming up ahead of schedule. Prior to today I had seen only bits and pieces of the route, and only the final unpaved sector.

My wife’s sister and brother-in-law were in town for the last couple of days and, as I told them more than once, it’s a shame that they missed the great weather we had earlier this month. Glen has ridden here with me before and we hoped to share a couple of long rides during this visit. But yesterday was rotten: rain and high winds kept us inside. Glen did a solid trainer workout in my home gym, an unusual but productive experience for a guy who is used to rollers when stuck indoors. Today, then, was our only chance to ride outside. We grabbed that chance enthusiastically.

Glen wanted to see the Cheesehead Roubaix route, but with only 3 hours at our disposal we knew we couldn’t complete it. What we ended up with was a scaled-down but still satisfying version of the ride. After an 11-mile ride from my house, we jumped into the route at Lovers Lane near Boltonville, the signature feature of Cheesehead Roubaix. It did not disappoint: it was every bit the ugly mess of a road that people both desire and dread. On the full route, Lovers Lane appears at Mile 8.5. We then stayed faithful to the route until Mile 20.9 when we took a shortcut through Fredonia to ensure our timely return to West Bend. We rejoined the full route at Mile 47.3 and kept to it until Mile 58.8, so Glen got to experience not only the first unpaved sector but also the last. Blue Goose and St. Augustine were a little wet and dotted with potholes, as expected.

Thanks to Jeff Wren for the use of his cyclocross bike. None of my bikes would have been a good fit for Glen. I used my cyclocross bike today rather than my BMC, which currently is equipped with 700x23 tires that probably would have failed me on Lovers Lane. I was able to ride the entire mile without putting a foot down, but I didn’t set any speed records! If conditions are wet on April 26, I may opt for the cyclocross bike again.

If you’re a Facebook user, then please let me know if you plan to attend Cheesehead Roubaix. Go to this page to sign up. As always, the ride is free but it’s good to know how many people will want snacks and drinks at the mid-ride Belgianwerkx rest stop.

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Full-Length Eisenbahn Ride Of 2015

Spring officially arrived today, though we have had very spring-like weather for the last two weeks. I welcomed the season with a full-length Eisenbahn State Trail ride. At 47 miles, today’s ride was my longest of the year.

On Monday I took the trail into Fond du Lac County and then headed for New Fane over county highways and town roads. On Wednesday I took the trail to Campbellsport and back. Now that I have gone all the way to the end of the trail in Eden, I’m happy to report that the whole thing is free of snow and ice. Some spots are a little softer than others, but the entire trail is firm enough to ride. However, the community park at the north end of the trail has not re-opened yet, so there’s no access to bathrooms or drinking water.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Riding The Wheels Off

An old railroad car axle and wheels as seen today on the Eisenbahn, just north of the Fond du Lac County line.
OK, so I didn’t really ride the wheels off my cyclocross bike today, but I did cover 33 miles with an average speed of 17.2 mph and that’s pretty good when you consider that the first 13 miles were on the Eisenbahn State Trail. Unpaved sections of the trail were dry and firm—not summertime hard, but firm enough to ride without leaving ruts. Maybe it was the joy of gravel beneath my tires that led me to push a little harder. Whatever the inspiration, today’s mixed-surface ride was more than 1 mph faster than my best all-road ride so far in 2015.

When I left home, the plan was to go easy on the final day of a 10-day block of rides. I expected to be fatigued but I wasn’t going to let a 60-something-degree afternoon go to waste. I racked up 313 miles during the last 10 days and now have 333 this month. In March 2012, I set a personal record of 516 miles and with half of this month remaining I feel good about my chances of beating that mark. But I’m taking a rest day tomorrow. I am overdue and the weather won’t be nearly as nice.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Happy Friday The 13th

Our streak of incredible weather continues! Today West Bend reached the 60s for the first time since October 28. I rode outside, of course, covering 35 miles in the company of Jeff Wren on the route shown above. I probably will see Jeff again tomorrow for a 25-mile group ride to Newburg and back, leaving the West Bend train depot at 10 a.m. Feel free to join us.

On Wednesday I mentioned a Fond du Lac County meeting in which the issue of year-round ATV access to the Eisenbahn State Trail would be considered. I emailed the five members of the committee and the county’s parks director to voice my opposition. Some of my friends did too, and it was gratifying to get feedback almost immediately. No vote was required at the meeting and no action was taken, but the committee appeared to be unanimous in its opposition to expanded ATV access. While that’s great news, the fight is never over. On Thursday I spoke to my Washington County supervisor and proposed a Memorandum of Understanding for the stakeholders: Fond du Lac County, Washington County, and the City of West Bend. Each plays a critical role in the administration and maintenance of the trail, so each should understand that a major change to the character of the trail in one jurisdiction could negatively impact the others. For trail users, the Eisenbahn is a single entity, not three pieces with wildly different rules. If the other municipalities along the trail—Kewaskum, Campbellsport, and Eden—someday contribute their own resources to trail maintenance, then they should have a place at the table too.

With a successful defense of the Eisenbahn on Wednesday and Washington County’s adoption of 2014 Resolution 66 on Tuesday, the good guys were 2-for-2 this week in working with local governments. Actually, let’s call it 3-for-3. On Wednesday I sent this photo to West Bend’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Forestry:

Dozens of screws are working themselves loose in the boardwalk just south of the bridge over the Milwaukee River at Quaas Creek Park. Some of these could be a tripping hazard and most of them are a flat tire hazard for bicycles. Today the city thanked me for the tip, so hopefully the problem will be fixed soon. Be on the lookout for stuff like this and bring it to the attention of the proper authorities. In my experience they always have been grateful for the information.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Good News For People Who Love Bad News

Cycling is a masochistic sport. If you want to be any good at it, then you have to hurt yourself. It’s not boxing or martial arts. Your opponent isn’t hurting you; you are hurting you. You could stop anytime you want, but you don’t. And if your love for cycling goes beyond your own little world and embraces professional racing, then you’re really a glutton for punishment.

I have been watching Paris-Nice since Sunday but it has been a spiritless slog toward the mountains that will decide the general classification. So far the racing has been characterized by doomed breakaways and bunch sprints. Of the 14.5 hours completed in the first four days of the event, roughly 10 minutes have mattered. The TV announcers have had plenty of time to dissect the CIRC report, the latest laundry list of doping offenses and UCI malfeasance. I’m with the folks who understand that cycling has done a lot in recent years to combat doping and, in fact, is way ahead of other sports in its commitment and methodology. I’m with the folks who understand that the fight against doping doesn’t have a tidy conclusion but instead is a from-now-on effort to stay ahead of the bad guys.

The fight for cycling facilities is much the same: you win some and you lose some. On Tuesday the Washington County Board of Supervisors approved 2014 Resolution 66, and that will have positive implications for cycling in West Bend. But later today in Fond du Lac County, ATV advocates will argue in favor of year-round access to the Eisenbahn State Trail. High-speed motor vehicles have no place on a trail used by cyclists and pedestrians. If you’re a Fond du Lac County resident, please attend today’s meeting at 6 p.m. Right now the ATV issue is still at the committee level, so even a favorable reception by the committee doesn’t guarantee that the larger county board will eventually grant access. But cyclists and pedestrians need to step up now to protect the trail. It’s bad enough that so many existing users tune out the world with earbuds and allow their dogs to roam without leashes. Just wait until 700-pound ATVs are roaring down the trail at 60 mph. Granting year-round access to ATVs effectively would turn the Fond du Lac County segment of the Eisenbahn into an ATV-only trail, because it simply wouldn’t be safe for anything else.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

More Sun, More Fun

This was the weekend to “spring forward” as Daylight Saving Time returned. As it always does, the time change came with a chorus of complaints from people whose lives apparently are so finely tuned that they won’t be able to function for days after missing a single hour of sleep. What a luxury to retire every night at precisely the same time, to rise every morning at precisely the same time, and to sleep continuously all the hours in between. I couldn’t achieve that if I had a personal anesthetist.

Following an exceptionally cold February, the prospect of an early spring has excited the local cycling community. This weekend many of my friends took advantage of back-to-back days above 40 degrees. We didn’t have any 40-degree days in February and we have had just 4 all year. I rode 75 miles this weekend, loving the sunshine and only mildly cursing the brisk winds. The week ahead looks outstanding for early March: 45 tomorrow and low 50s thereafter, with continuing sunshine and much lower wind speeds. Unpaved trails will remain closed to me—there’s still a fair amount of snow in the woods, and even the exposed Eisenbahn State Trail will be too soft to ride—but I’m expecting a high mileage week.

As recently as last Thursday, we were below zero! The dramatic improvement in our weather is inspiring enough by itself, but the pro cycling calendar is heating up too. Paris—Nice began today and will run all week, Tirreno-Adriatico starts on Wednesday and will continue into next week, and the US Cup mountain bike season begins on Saturday in California. In our part of the world, group rides are popping up all over as roadies abandon the turbo trainers in their basement pain caves. Give this ride a try if you’re free on Saturday morning and you want some easy, early-season miles. (I probably will tack on some harder solo miles when the group ride is done.)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

2014 Resolution 66

The black loop now includes about 1/3-mile of additional trail not shown on this old map.

Next Tuesday, March 10, the Washington County Board of Supervisors plans to vote on a series of measures collectively known as 2014 Resolution 66. It’s a joint agreement with the City of West Bend in which several parcels of land will change hands. For the cyclists of Washington County, the big items on the list are the transfer of jurisdiction for River Road from County Highway NN all the way north to Washington Street (State Highway 33) and the transfer of Ridge Run from the county parks system to the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Forestry.

The city will be able to construct sidewalks along River Road near the high school, creating a much safer environment for students who walk or ride bikes. And bicycle access to Ridge Run is long overdue. Aside from the rickety boardwalk—it almost feels unsafe for walking—there’s no good reason to exclude bikes. As a county park, Ridge Run’s trails are off-limits, but as a city park it should be open to us. If approved, 2014 Resolution 66 would make Ridge Run a city park in January 2016.

This morning I emailed my county supervisor to urge him to support 2014 Resolution 66. Now I urge you to contact your supervisor. You can find the list of supervisors and maps of their districts at the county’s website.

This is a big deal! Please take a minute to contact your county supervisor. Approval of 2014 Resolution 66 will mean safer routes to school for West Bend students and miles of additional trails for off-road biking!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Scheduling The 2015 Cyclocross Season

I am going to make some assumptions about this year’s Wisconsin Cycling Association cyclocross season. Chief among them is that race organizers want to retain the weekends on which they have traditionally operated. Those dates may be tied to the availability of facilities and volunteers, so the prospect of moving existing races into new time slots is not something we should take lightly. Nonetheless, changes will come in 2015 and they are significant enough to warrant an examination of the entire schedule.

In recent years, the season has begun in Sheboygan on the first Saturday of September. This year, that’s Labor Day Weekend. If I were a race promoter, then I would avoid that weekend on the assumption that registrations will be low and I won’t make enough money. For many families, Labor Day Weekend is the last celebration of summer and the last weekend before the new school year. So, let’s move the season opener back a week. No big deal.

The WCA held its annual meeting on February 15 and the minutes from that meeting reveal a little bit about the 2015 cyclocross season. There will be two new races in the series, but they are not named. Let’s assume that one of them is Flyover Silver Creek Cross in Manitowoc, a non-series event in 2014 whose course was highly praised by the racers. Sheboygan and Manitowoc are just 22 miles apart but are far from any other WCA host cities. Let’s schedule those races for September 12 and 13. Some racers and USA Cycling officials may elect to stay overnight in a nearby hotel rather than to return home between races. Now let’s assume that the other new race will be held at the Washington Park Velodrome in Kenosha, something discussed at the meeting but not finalized. Kenosha could be an ideal replacement for the now-defunct East Troy race. Let’s schedule it for September 19 and the Lake Geneva race for September 20. Kenosha and Lake Geneva are just 35 miles apart, but more importantly both are close to the Illinois state line. Chicago’s cyclocross series doesn’t begin until the end of September and racers from Illinois will flock to Kenosha and Lake Geneva to tune up.

But now we have a problem: by moving into October, the Trek CXC Cup will force the rescheduling of Grafton Pumpkincross and Badger Prairie Cross, which otherwise would occupy the weekend of October 10-11. Pumpkincross is tied to a community-wide festival whose dates might not be moveable, but let’s assume a Grafton race will live on even if its ties to the festival must end. September could look like this:

09/12 Sa Sheboygan
09/13 Su Manitowoc
09/19 Sa Kenosha
09/20 Su Lake Geneva
09/26 Sa Grafton
09/27 Su Badger Prairie

Nice and tight! And having made a clear path for the Trek CXC Cup, the rest of the October races can use the same weekends they occupied last year:

10/03 Sa Cross-Shooshko, Milwaukee
10/17 Sa Sun Prairie
10/18 Su Gordeldiercross, Milwaukee
10/24 Sa Halloween ’Cross, Milwaukee
10/25 Su Fitchburg
10/31 Sa Estabrook Park, Milwaukee

But let’s talk about November. Traditionally, its race schedule isn’t as compact as October’s and if we simply replicate the 2014 schedule we get this:

11/01 Su Waterloo
11/07 Sa Cam-Rock
11/08 Su open date
11/14 Sa open date
11/15 Su Kringle Kross, Milwaukee
11/21 Sa open date
11/22 Su Madison
11/28 Sa Thanksgiving Weekend
11/29 Su Thanksgiving Weekend

Let’s try this instead:

11/01 Su Waterloo
11/07 Sa Cam-Rock
11/08 Su Madison
11/15 Su Kringle Kross, Milwaukee
11/21 Sa State Championships, Milwaukee

We must avoid Thanksgiving Weekend or risk a backlash from racers who want to spend that time with their families. But we also need to avoid pushing the state championships deeper into December. Jingle Cross, a UCI event in Iowa that attracts a lot of Wisconsin racers, will occupy the weekend that normally would include Wisconsin’s state championships. Let’s move the championships up, not back, to minimize the chance that extreme winter weather will hurt attendance and, therefore, the competitive legitimacy of the race.

Again, I assume that race organizers want to retain the weekends on which they have traditionally operated. My recommended schedule achieves that goal in most instances. But there is a case to be made for Milwaukee weekends and Madison weekends, just as I have made the case for a Sheboygan-Manitowoc weekend and a Kenosha-Lake Geneva weekend. It’s clear from past results that riders are more likely to attend races close to home. Has the WCA made it too easy for Milwaukee-area riders to skip Madison-area events, and vice versa? On weekends that feature two races, would it make sense to have both in the same area instead of splitting them? If you could cut your driving burden in half, would it be worth the overnight hotel cost? I don’t know how an all-Milwaukee or all-Madison weekend would affect attendance, but it sure would make life easier for USA Cycling officials and racecourse equipment haulers. If only for that reason, it might be worth a try. Tearing down one course on Saturday evening and driving halfway across the state to set up another before 8 a.m. on Sunday can’t be easy.

There’s no perfect schedule to meet the needs of every racer, but I encourage everyone with a stake in the WCA cyclocross season to consider how we might make our season operate more efficiently. Greater attendance means more competitive racing and greater profits for the race organizers. That leads to greater stability for the WCA cyclocross series, plus opportunities to reward the racers with more cash and/or better merchandise. And if we can make life easier on the officials and volunteers, so much the better.