Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nothing If Not Consistent

The mountain bike trails at New Fane opened for the 2015 season back on April 17 and in the last 2 weeks I practiced there on 4 occasions, including today. On each occasion I did 2 full laps, plus a little bit of warming up and cooling down in the parking lot. My lap times have been far from spectacular, but at least they have been consistent:

4/30     27:56     28:10
4/24     28:44     29:06
4/18     27:46     28:04
4/17     28:33     28:17

As slow as I feel, I’m not doing badly for this time of year. I'm actually faster than I was at the start of the 2014 season.

Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) joined me on each trip to New Fane this month and it was humbling to watch him ride away. But Jeff has ambitions in the Wisconsin Off-Road Series that I don’t share, so it’s only appropriate that he be ahead at this point. The WORS season begins on Sunday in Iola. The Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series season begins with the Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge on May 9 in Greenbush, and I plan to be there to help Team Pedal Moraine with race administration. My racing ambitions are on hold while I sort out my employment situation, but I hope to resolve everything in time to challenge Jeff in the WEMS race at New Fane on September 19.

In last September’s Northern Kettles Fall Epic at New Fane, Jeff beat me by just 5 seconds after almost 3 hours of racing. My 6 laps ranged from 26:41 to 27:14. The race uses a very slightly modified lap to slow the riders down as they pass the timing station, but a strong correlation remains between practice times and race times. I still have 4½ months to find the 90-120 seconds per lap I need to repeat last year’s Top 10 performance. In 2014 I did 17 practice sessions at New Fane in advance of the WEMS race. This year I expect to practice there even more frequently, and I have made a good start.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

2015 Cheesehead Roubaix Recap

Listen up: This ride is awesome! (Nicki Lock photo)

What a stunning day for the 6th Annual Cheesehead Roubaix! After a dismal-looking week—and credit to the weather forecasters for telling us it would be—today was brilliantly sunny, almost 50 degrees as the ride began, and breezy but not blustery. I can’t count how many times I heard someone comment that today’s weather was perfect … or, at least, a big improvement on last year’s. I’m actually a little bit sunburned but I’m not complaining.

And with great weather came great numbers of riders. There’s no official total, but we know there were more than 275 and probably around 300. That’s roughly triple the total from 2013 or 2014, and many times more than we had in the early years. Larger attendance resulted in a generous collection of $1,044 for the Newburg Fire Department, money that will directly benefit Fireman’s Park.

The growing popularity of Cheesehead Roubaix attracted the interest of a few entities that had not noticed us before. The West Bend Daily News published a ride preview on its cover page last Friday. Valentine Coffee Roasters set up a tent for coffee sales in Fireman’s Park before the ride. Shimano provided a technical service van that offered pre-ride support and then met the riders again at the Belgianwerkx-sponsored, mid-ride rest stop.

Fun new signs contributed to the atmosphere. We even had a mini-cyclocross course at the rest stop, equipped with a sand pit and double barriers.

My own performance? Today’s ride was my longest so far this year, and my fastest. I finished the 63 miles in 3:38, a 17.3 mph average. That’s 2 mph faster than my 2014 ride but 1 mph slower than my 2013 ride. High winds made last year’s ride something of a statistical anomaly. I might have matched or bettered my 2013 performance if I had spent more time riding in groups. As the host, I was among the last riders to leave Newburg. I spent much of my day chasing down groups, sitting in for a while to recover, then going off on my own again. I was very proud to ride up Lovers Lane cleanly when many other riders stalled and had to dismount. I rode a very good Cheesehead Roubaix, but not a perfect one. On the unpaved part of Sauk Trail, I rode straight through a wet rut that left my bike muddy for the remainder of the ride. On the final unpaved sector, St. Augustine, I hit a bone-jarring pothole that I was sure had just killed my front tube … or the tire, or the wheel, or all three! Everything held together but those were mistakes I should not have made.

This year’s ride was really satisfying for me on many levels. Still, I’m glad it’s done for another year. Team Pedal Moraine’s annual mountain bike race is rapidly approaching, Park Site O is still awaiting development, and other important initiatives need attention.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hard-Working Weekend

Cheesehead Roubaix is just one week from today and I think it’s going to be great, but this weekend was pretty great too. On Friday and Saturday, I spent about 6 hours on Cheesehead Roubaix-related tasks. You don’t think that ride just happens, do you? It takes a long time just to drive the 63-mile route, stopping at every intersection to paint directional arrows on the road. And this year’s setup is more intricate than ever. I hope everyone enjoys the fun new “atmosphere” elements. Some things won’t be set up until the morning of the ride, as they will be experienced best as surprises rather than as something a friend spotted ahead of time.

Friday and Saturday were mountain biking days too, my first this year after an aborted attempt at Glacial Blue Hills on Wednesday. Trying to ride singletrack for the first time since last September, I discovered that the smallest chainring on my 29er was basically useless. I left Glacial Blue Hills after only a few frustrating minutes. On Friday the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources opened the state-owned trails of the Northern Kettle Moraine for the season. With a new chainring on the bike, I headed to New Fane and turned in two 28-minute laps. My two laps on Saturday were marginally faster: the better of which was 27:46, about 1 minute slower than my race pace on that course. Encouraging stuff. Last year I didn’t ride at New Fane until May 3, and the two laps I did on that occasion were almost 32 minutes apiece.

For what it’s worth, at New Fane I use only my middle chainring. But that’s not the point; I hate a malfunctioning bike. I did a few laps of the parking lot in the small ring to make sure the repair eliminated my shifting problem, but the trails at New Fane would be perfect for a 1x setup.

Today began with streaming coverage of the Amstel Gold Race from the Netherlands, an often overlooked one-day classic that doesn’t have the epic reputation of Paris-Roubaix or Flanders but never disappoints. Late this afternoon I did a head-clearing solo road ride.

The week ahead looks kind of unpleasant: high winds (still), periods of rain, and temperatures 10-15 degrees below normal:

But if that’s what I have to get through to ensure a dry Cheesehead Roubaix, it’s a fair trade.

Friday, April 17, 2015

2015 WCA Cyclocross Schedule

The Wisconsin Cycling Association announced its 2015 cyclocross schedule today. I got what I really wanted and what I earnestly felt was best for the series: a more compact season that will conclude in November, not mid-December. There are a couple of surprises, but overall the schedule looks much like I thought it would.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


A controlled burn along the Eisenbahn State Trail this afternoon in Fond du Lac County.

I am starting to get the “switched on” feeling that always seems to coincide with the completion of the first 1,000 miles of each new season. I surpassed 1,000 miles on Saturday. And while that ride was not especially fast overall, I felt very good on the climbs and could sense that “form” was returning.

Today on the flat Eisenbahn State Trail, I established a new personal record of 48:25 over the 15.6 miles from Campbellsport to my house. The old record—set on September 1, 2013—was 50:47, so that’s a massive improvement. I averaged 19.33 mph on my cyclocross bike over a mostly gravel trail.

Improving my time to Campbellsport is a task for another day. My PR is 53:00, set on August 4, 2012. That’s a 17.66 mph average … not bad when you consider the clock starts when I take the first pedal stroke out of my garage, with no warmup. Today’s ride to Campbellsport was a leisurely 1 hour flat, including the handful of seconds it took for me to snap the picture you see above. The picture below kind of speaks for itself:

I do this "time trial" several times each year, and I can't remember any previous occasion on which I made such a big jump in just 4 weeks. That's a good sign.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Grand In Hand

Today’s road ride put me over 1,000 miles for the year. April 11 is now the earliest date on which I have hit that milestone. Here’s the breakdown going back to 2004, my first year as a serious cyclist:

2015 April 11
2014 May 08
2013 May 13
2012 April 14
2011 May 16
2010 April 29
2009 May 12
2008 May 22
2007 May 28
2006 June 14
2005 June 22
2004 Sep. 04

I didn’t keep statistics in 2003, but I know I didn’t reach 1,000 miles that year. I rode just a couple of hours per week from spring until early autumn, using the bike only as an exercise machine to make my legs strong for softball. Even 2004 is a statistical outlier in many respects. I finished that year with just 1,454 miles. At the time, that number represented a major shift in my commitment to cycling, but it was quickly surpassed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Back Pages

Don’t let the hairline fool you: I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

For most Major League Baseball teams, yesterday was Opening Day. That’s always a fun occasion and a time to be hopeful, even if your team comes up short. Nobody ever goes 162-0.

I am hopeful too: not just about a baseball season in which my Pittsburgh Pirates have a legitimate chance to win their first division title since 1992, but also that my employment prospects are improving. I have been looking for a new job for almost three months. Thanks to a generous severance package from my last employer, I haven’t had to take just any job. Everything for which I have applied has been something I could imagine myself doing with satisfaction for years to come. My most recent job was in information technology, but I wasn’t always an IT pro and I might be something completely different in the future.

As a high school student, I wanted to be a journalist. Working part-time for the Racine Journal Times seemed liked a promising start. For the first two years I worked the telephones in the sports department, edited wire copy from the Associated Press, and learned good page design. My bosses thought I was too young to be taken seriously out in the field.

Things changed in 1984 when the Minnesota Twins moved one of their minor league franchises to Kenosha. Playing in the Midwest League, the Kenosha Twins would compete against affiliates of the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, each of which had a strong following in Racine. We couldn’t ignore the Kenosha Twins, but we couldn’t afford to cover every game. As a compromise, we set up a Sunday feature called Minor League Notes. It was my baby. The emphasis was on the Kenosha Twins but I had the freedom to grab stories from every minor league team. I even got to cover a Brewers-Yankees game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium to see the contrast between the minors and “the show.”

Being a sports reporter was cool. I met a lot of big stars and got to experience things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. All these years later, it’s still true that the only NFL games I have attended are the three Green Bay Packers games on which I reported for the Journal Times. Those were good assignments: parking right next to the stadium, a pre-game buffet, a heated press box and someone else to keep the statistics. Most of my assignments were less glamorous. I covered a lot of Racine-area high school and college teams, plus individual athletes in just about every sport you can imagine.

But not cycling. I still have copies of every story from my Journal Times career—1982 until 1988—and I can’t find a single mention of cycling. We didn’t cover track racing at Kenosha’s velodrome, and there certainly wasn’t a road racing or mountain biking scene to rival what exists today. Perhaps most importantly, kids weren’t racing. Things would have been different if there had been a Wisconsin High School Cycling League back then, or a local racer as accomplished as Kaitie Antonneau. Even when Greg LeMond won the world championship road race in 1983 and the Tour de France in 1986, his victories were little more than footnotes.

A new media landscape led to more coverage when Americans dominated the Tour de France from 1999 through 2006. We were fascinated by the accomplishments … and later by the depths of the deception. Now it seems like we have taken a step back. We enjoy specialty news sources that didn’t exist in the 1980s, but mainstream American media once again regards bike racing as interesting only when it produces a high-profile doping case or a spectacular crash. Shimano’s bad day at the Tour of Flanders made the highlight reels on Sunday and Monday. ESPN probably still doesn’t know who won, but why would anyone care about that?

Would I go back to journalism if I had the chance? Maybe. I have dabbled in it occasionally since those early days at the Journal Times. In the 1990s I expanded my reach beyond sports and into the significantly less fun arenas of local government and school board meetings. Writing for a cycling publication would be a great marriage of personal interest and professional ability. But those positions are rare and the best of them are based in Europe. As my job hunt continues, I still hope to find something I can do for cycling here at home.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Fixing A Flat Like Never Before

As much as I ride, you might think it’s common for me to suffer flat tires. Actually, it’s exceedingly rare. In a typical year I might have to make one roadside fix. Most of my flat tires are the result of slow leaks, something discovered in the garage on the day after a ride. On a solo road ride today, I noticed that my rear tire was going down and it wasn’t going to get me home without a new tube. That was an unwelcome situation, of course, but also an opportunity to try something new.

A couple of years ago I bought a Planet Bike Air Kiss CO2 inflator. I had never used such a device before, so I did one practice tube change at home and then stuffed the inflator and a cartridge into my seat bag. And there they stayed until today. The few flats I had in the meantime were on other bikes, fixed with trusty low-tech frame pumps.

I approached today’s innertube swap with a little apprehension. CO2 inflators can be unforgiving. I had just one tube and just one CO2 cartridge, so any mistake might leave me stranded. But I did a good job to ensure no pinching of the tube and a proper seating of the tire’s bead within the rim, and the inflator worked exactly as advertised.

Finding things that I haven’t encountered during a bike ride is getting harder. Every experience—even a humble one like today’s—makes me a little more capable and confident. But I still don’t know what I will do if I snap a chain in the middle of nowhere …

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Pedal Fest 2015

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