Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bike Month 2016

May is Bike Month across the United States and this year West Bend will host a wide variety of activities to support local riders. Things kick off this morning—yeah, I know it’s still April—with Healthy Kids Day at the Kettle Moraine YMCA, where from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. children will learn the basics of safe riding. Kids will be the focus again on Wednesday, May 4, for Bike to School Day.

There’s stuff for grown-ups too. Mountain Outfitters will host a roadside repairs clinic on Wednesday, May 11, 7-8 p.m. You can learn how to fix a flat tire, a broken chain, and other common problems. Pedal Moraine will host a bicycle commuting clinic on Tuesday, May 17, 7-8 p.m. Topics will include safe riding techniques and bike maintenance. Bike to Work Day will be Friday, May 20, with activities at the downtown train depot, 6-8 a.m.

On Saturday, May 14, at 11 a.m., members of Bike Friendly West Bend—our local advocacy group—will lead a ride from the downtown train depot. Riders will see not only the Eisenbahn State Trail, but also portions of the on-street bike routes that BFWB has proposed to the city. On Wednesday, May 18, at 7 p.m., the Ride of Silence will start and finish in the parking lot of the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

Let’s hope for good weather and a lot of public interest. I think Bike Month has the potential to make an already eminently bikeable city an even better place. And if you see Bike Friendly West Bend’s representatives at the downtown farmers’ market on Saturday, May 21, stop and say Thanks! for the coordination and promotion.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Time To Cast Away Stones

“I realize caring for Mr. Burns seems like a big job, but actually it’s just 2,800 small jobs.”

On   to Phase 2 of my 2016 cycling season! Phase 1 ended almost poetically on Sunday with another successful Cheesehead Roubaix and the simultaneous completion of my first 1,000 miles. I love Cheesehead Roubaix but it is a part-time job for a couple of weeks every April. Like any project it has a number of individual tasks, some of which must be completed in a certain order or according to a fairly rigid timetable. Hosting cyclocross practices every autumn at Royal Oaks Park comes with a similar set of tasks, but I don’t need to think about that until late July. For the next 3 months I can be kind of selfish and focus on my own training and racing objectives.

I have been on a “whatever the weather allows” training plan, but with more predictable weather ahead I should get into a better rhythm. Today I set out a detailed schedule that covers every day from May 1 through August 31. (I would have gone even farther into the future, but the WCA cyclocross dates haven’t been announced yet.) It’s good to have some kind of structure even if there are bad weather days and other circumstances that force me to change my plans on any given day. For example, I really want to work out on the mountain bike twice per week. Last year I typically hit the trails only once per week. Mountain biking gives me a more intense workout in less time than an average road ride, and this year I’m not trying to run up a big mileage total.

My “new” job is now 7 months old and I still haven’t found the best sleep schedule to accommodate my overnight work shift. Some days I just don’t have a ton of enthusiasm for training. Weekends will continue to be a good time to pile up endurance miles, but I can’t commit to a regular diet of 3-hour weekday rides. Short, hard efforts have more appeal during the week: mountain biking sessions at New Fane, time trial efforts on my Trenton road course or on the Eisenbahn … that sort of thing.

For the remainder of this week I will concentrate on the non-cycling things that built up on my “To Do” list during the last few weeks. Anything that could wait until after Cheesehead Roubaix, did wait. Now it’s time to give the lawn its first mowing of 2016, time to install the vegetable garden, time to give a thorough spring cleaning to the house and the automobiles. One big push ought to do it, and then I get serious about having fun again.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Time To Gather Stones Together

Lovers Lane. That’s me, leftmost. The man on the ground is a photographer, not a corpse.

Nine o’clock in the morning on the last Sunday of April is one of my favorite moments of the year. That’s the moment when riders roll out of Fireman’s Park in Newburg to start Cheesehead Roubaix … and it’s the moment when all of my preparations are done and I’m just another rider. Today we had the chilly, wet weather that is so common to the northern European spring classics that Cheesehead Roubaix has tried to emulate for the last 7 years. (It snowed on Liège-Bastogne-Liège today; at least we avoided that!) Despite the weather in some cases, and because of the weather in others, turnout was strong: something in the neighborhood of 300 again. Contributions to the Newburg Fire Department were strong too: more than $1,500. NFD also sold about $500 of food & drink from its concessions stand, so I think we can count on that new amenity becoming a permanent fixture. This was a successful day from NFD’s point of view, and from mine.

My ride stats looked like this:

This was neither my fastest nor my slowest Cheesehead Roubaix. I consider it a good effort on wet roads, and also I spent a fair amount of time riding on my own—perhaps 20 percent of the ride, though not in one big chunk. I would have been faster if I had found a group with which I could work for the entire distance. The strong group with which I worked from Jay Road to Belgium would have been ideal. I set the pace all the way down the mile-long gravel section of Willow Valley Road, but everyone contributed something during our time together. New alliances formed after the rest stop, though, and I didn’t find another group so strong or cooperative.

Recent resurfacing of a couple of gravel roads—Sauk Trail and St. Augustine, most notably—made this year’s route one of the easiest ever. If the roads had been dry, then this would have been an exceptionally fast Cheesehead Roubaix. But Lovers Lane was nasty. Check out this video! I rode Lovers Lane well, but I had to set a foot down for just a moment when a rider stalled in front of me. The signature feature of Cheesehead Roubaix claimed some victims today!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

You Want Epic?

Saturday was the first 70° day in West Bend since November 5. We topped 70° again on Sunday and I did my fastest ride of the year. Then on Monday we hit 80° for the first time since September 17 and I went even faster and farther. Warm weather brings out the best in me, and it made plenty of others happy too. Roadies posted pictures on Facebook to show off their sunburned skin. Mountain bikers returned to New Fane—which opened for the season on Friday—and to other nearby trail systems. Just two weeks ago, almost every trail was a muddy mess with patches of snow hiding in the shade. But even perpetually soggy Pleasant Valley is partially open now.

The last few days were uncommonly nice for April, but now we’re back to normal. If you were outside yesterday shortly before sunset, then you experienced a 15° temperature drop in just 20 minutes! For the remainder of the week we will struggle to reach 60° and rain is almost assured. Too much rain could flood Jay Road and force a detour at Cheesehead Roubaix on Sunday, and rain on Sunday itself would really thin out the crowd. With fair weather I could have more than 300 riders; wet and 40° at the start probably means less than 100. I will rue missing an 80° Cheesehead Roubaix by only a few days, but I suspect many of the riders will be glad to have the crappy conditions that contribute to the romantic image of the Spring Classics … if that is what we get. Right now the forecast is bleak, but it still could swing back toward my kind of weather.

Don’t expect leaves on the trees, though. Full foliage is still a month away. Spring in Wisconsin.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Jeudi, Jeudi, Jeudi

Cary Grant: Classy, on the bike or off.
Like many cyclists I generate a lot of statistics. Some are worthy of analysis because I have competition goals. Others are just numbers. Today’s ride wasn’t outstanding in any measurable way; as “data” it was interesting only because it broke a peculiar streak. I had not done a bike ride on a Thursday since September 24. That was 29 weeks ago.

During the cyclocross season, Thursdays were scheduled rest days. But my last cyclocross race was on November 14, so what accounted for the continuation of the streak during the last 5 months? Not surprisingly, the weather played a major role. On 9 of those Thursdays we had rain or snow. On 9 of those Thursdays the temperature was 32° or colder. On at least 2 of those Thursdays we had sustained winds in excess of 20 mph. No other day of the week was so ill-favored.

I rode outside on 9 of the last 11 weekends—a period that goes back to the end of January—so we didn’t have any abnormally long periods of completely unusable weather. Our longest stretch below freezing was 10 days, which is bad enough but is not out of character for a Wisconsin winter. Thursday simply hit a streak of bad luck, and streaks come to our attention because they defy the law of averages. But the forces that pulled Thursday out of alignment will make it right again, and maybe today was the start.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

More About Our Rails-With-Trails Prospects

Lately the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has been talking about a concept called the Route of the Badger, a long-term plan to link the various multi-use trails of southern Wisconsin into a coherent network. The map above shows the relationship between trails and railroads in our area. You can see clearly that making connections will be easier in some places than in others.

Here in Washington County, the Eisenbahn State Trail has no close neighbors and there are no abandoned railroad corridors to develop into traditional rails-to-trails projects. The Eisenbahn is a mostly north-south trail between two other mostly north-south trails: the Wild Goose State Trail and the Ozaukee Interurban. But it’s not hard to imagine that the Eisenbahn and the Wild Goose will meet in Fond du Lac someday, or that Fond du Lac and Sheboygan will be linked by an extended Old Plank Road Trail. If that’s the future at the north end, then how can we tie things together at the south end?

On Thursday I wrote about a rails-with-trails extension of the Eisenbahn from West Bend to Highway 60 in Jackson. That would make for an interesting alignment, as the Wild Goose also terminates at Highway 60 and the Ozaukee Interurban intersects with Highway 60 in Grafton. From a planning perspective, the easiest link would be a new “Highway 60 Trail” that works just like the Old Plank Road Trail, which runs parallel to Highway 23. But a trail that feels like a frontage road is OK only for short distances or from a transportation alternatives perspective; most recreational riders wouldn’t enjoy it.

So, let’s imagine a rails-with-trails component to our southern connector route for the Wild Goose, the Eisenbahn and the Ozaukee Interurban. Start at Minnesota Junction and head east through Horicon, Iron Ridge, Hartford and Slinger:

That’s 25 miles of car-free riding! Now follow Highway 60 for just 6 miles from Slinger to the new southern terminus of the Eisenbahn in Jackson. From that point it’s only 7 more miles to Horns Corners Road on the northwest side of Cedarburg. We can expect the Highway 60 corridor to continue to attract commercial and residential development, so between Slinger and Cedarburg we can make a case for a parallel trail as a commuter enhancement. A 0.5-mile portion of Highway 60 in Jackson is already designated as a bike lane, and there’s an existing 1-mile bike path on the north side of Highway 60 from Horns Corners Road to Washington Avenue. From Washington Avenue it’s just 2 more miles to the Ozaukee Interurban.

Obviously a project like this would be hugely expensive with many political, legal and technical challenges. But wouldn’t it be cool? The desire for a practical, off-street bike route that crosses Washington County from east to west has led me to explore ideas that include utility corridors and waterways, but this combination of a rails-with-trails project and a new trail along Highway 60 might be the best solution.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Rails-With-Trails Opportunity?

This afternoon I attended a thought-provoking webinar hosted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The 90-minute presentation focused on rails with trails, an alternative to full rail corridor conversion in areas where the railroads continue to operate. Fans of our own Eisenbahn State Trail know that the trail’s southern terminus at Rusco Drive is not the end of the corridor itself, and many of us look with longing at the still-active line that stretches down to Jackson and beyond.

It’s the 4-mile segment from Rusco Drive to Main Street (State Highway 60) in Jackson that interests me the most. I would love to see the trail extend all the way to Milwaukee someday, but in the near future the costs of building such an extension would be prohibitive. Jackson, though, is an obvious target because the village is so closely tied to West Bend. We share a school district, for example, and an Eisenbahn that links the communities would give middle school and high school students a safe and practical route that would take only about 30 minutes to complete.

(I have mentioned some of this before.)

Of course, there are challenges. Getting permission from the railroad would be a huge hurdle, but finding the money would be even bigger. The Eisenbahn as we know it was, for the most part, created by the simple application of limestone screenings on top of the old railroad track ballast. As a rails-with-trails project, an extension to Jackson would be 4 miles from scratch.

The rail corridor intersects at-grade with Rusco Drive, Rail Way, County Highway NN, Pleasant Valley Road, and Cedar Creek Road, and there are two or three creek/ditch crossings where new bridges would be needed to accommodate trail users. Also, there are the four railroad sidings, short lines that branch off from the traffic line to serve industrial sites. They appear on each side, so a trail cannot be constructed without crossing at least one siding. “Best practices” recommend construction of a fence to separate the trail from the railroad tracks, and that by itself is a considerable expense we didn’t have to worry about before. And, given the urban commuter nature of the most likely user base, the extension should be paved with asphalt to match the trail surface within West Bend. Up front, that makes construction more expensive but it’s actually cheaper to maintain over time.

Washington County built the Eisenbahn from the Fond du Lac County line south to Rusco Drive, and probably only Washington County could build an extension to Jackson. The extension would pass through the City of West Bend, the Town of West Bend, the Town of Jackson, and the Village of Jackson. It wouldn’t make sense to have multiple civic divisions entering into their own agreements with the railroad, arranging construction and maintenance, etc. (For you out-of-state readers, a Wisconsin “town” functions just like your “townships.”) I can’t imagine the county taking this on; it seems more likely that such a project will wait until the railroad corridor falls into disuse. But you never know. At the urging of Bike Friendly West Bend—and with the promise of funding from private sources—the county is moving forward with significant improvements for the Rusco trailhead. Watch for a proper parking lot, a toilet, and an information kiosk by the end of 2016. Just a year ago, that project was only a dream, too.