Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sticker Shock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 25, 2016

First Ride Of 2016

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

West Bend Announces ToAD Date

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

Cord Cutting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ride Your Bike At Ridge Run

Well, maybe not today.

Ridge Run County Park is now simply Ridge Run Park, a City of West Bend property, thanks to 2014 Resolution 66. The ownership change opens approximately 3 miles of trails to which bicycles didn’t have access before. There’s cool stuff in Ridge Run. For the most part the trails should be explored on a mountain bike. Some of it is cyclocross bike-friendly, but anything less would be too light-duty. Be prepared for a couple of steep hills and a section of deteriorating boardwalk that I do not advise you to ride across. I’m looking forward to my first ride at Ridge Run, but right now it’s snow-covered and fit only for fatbikes.

Washington County continues to prohibit bicycles on county park trails, and that bothers me. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason for the ban. On dozens of hiking and snowshoeing visits to Ridge Run and Sandy Knoll, I usually have had the trails to myself. If the county is worried about user conflicts, then it’s probably worried about the wrong thing. I debate with myself whether I should take up the fight to open county park trails for bicycles. Sure, I have mentioned it to my County Board representative and to Planning & Parks staff, but I have bigger fish to fry and Ridge Run was the only park in which I had a personal interest.

Heritage Trails County Park (about 2 miles), Sandy Knoll (about 3 miles) and Homestead Hollow (about 3.5 miles) are very flat and wouldn’t be cycling destinations per se, but casual riders might enjoy the trails for a post-picnic calorie burn. All three parks have potential for cyclocross and for wintertime fatbike riding. Featuring more wooded acres and more elevation change, Glacier Hills (about 5 miles) could be fun for mountain biking.

With Ridge Run open to me, I’m content to ignore the possibilities at the other parks … for now. If you live near them and/or imagine that you would use them frequently, then you may want to get the rules changed. And winter is a perfect time to think about it. Maybe fatbike access could be the “foot in the door” that eventually leads to year-round accommodation.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Plan For 2016

New Year’s Day is always an occasion for optimism. Whatever we were before, today we can be something better. Or so we’re told. Never mind that we can make positive changes in our lives at any time, and the sooner the better. But who am I to argue? If you made a resolution that had to wait for today, then good luck to you, starting … now!

I try to be careful when I announce my future plans. For me, there’s a huge difference between “I might” and “I will.” In 2015 I did not foresee being laid off, and then I did not foresee how long it would take to find a new job. Forgive me if I didn’t make any progress on Park Site O, or if I failed to meet some other expectation. I didn’t lose my enthusiasm for Park Site O, but now I can’t spare the resources that I once was ready to give it. Last year was a sobering reminder of how tenuous is my hold on all of my ambitions.

And yet I am not without ambitions.

In 2016 I plan to serve as the captain of Team Pedal Moraine, Washington County’s only bike racing club. This could be a make-or-break year. I will try to recruit new members—younger racers in particular—with the objective of keeping the team going for many years into the future. If the recruitment effort fails, then it’s only a matter of time before the team dies of old age. Our average age is 46 and it seems like 48-50 is where participation really declines.

Also this year you can expect to hear about Bike Friendly West Bend, an advocacy group dedicated to local bike and pedestrian issues. I am, uh … not a perfect fit for such work, but I do know a thing or two about cycling and was invited by the director of the city’s parks department to help out. Since last July I have been working with the group on ideas that we hope will be incorporated into the city’s master plan. Those ideas include a looped system of bike routes, mapped out by Yours Truly. If it comes to be—and you might see signs of development as early as this year—then here’s a pretty good preview:

I absolutely intend to bring to you another great Cheesehead Roubaix in April and a full complement of Tuesday evening cyclocross practices at Royal Oaks Park in August and September. For myself, I mostly want a warm and dry autumn full of cyclocross racing. In the meantime, my race schedule could look something like this:

04/17 - Grumpy Grind 4 @ Milledgeville IL
05/29 - The Gravel Metric @ DeKalb IL
07/16 - Stump Farm 100 @ Suamico
07/24 - WORS Cup STXC @ Portage
08/14 - Race The Lake @ Fond du Lac
08/21 - Reforestation Ramble @ Suamico
09/17 - Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane

A year from now I might reflect with satisfaction on a 2016 cycling season wasn’t too different from my 2015 cycling season. By continuing to explore cycling from many different angles, I won’t be bored.