Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February’s Foggy Farewell

February ended today with more unseasonable warmth, but also with rain and fog. It was a good day not to ride a bike. I finished the month with 11 rides for a total of 285 miles, a personal record that tops the 205 miles I rode in February 2016.

In a typical year I don’t start to string together outdoor rides until roughly March 10, so it’s a bonus to reach the end of February with 405 miles already in my legs. I had counted on just 50 in January and another 50 in February, but our mild winter has allowed for much more.

Still, winter is not over. Some of the heaviest snows I have ever seen have fallen in March. As I write this, we’re under a winter weather advisory: probably a couple of inches tomorrow and perhaps a dusting on Thursday. We’ll be melting it on Saturday, though, and by Sunday afternoon we might get to 60° again.

What can you expect from me in March? I’m not sure. I definitely want to return to the Fox Valley Bike Sale in Oshkosh on Saturday the 18th, hopefully pairing that occasion with another attempt at the Wiouwash State Trail, which last year proved too wet to ride. And on Sunday the 26th I might throw myself into the Screw City Cyclocross Classic in Rockford IL, not with the expectation of a good result, but because I could use a big injection of intensity. By March 26 I will be only 6 weeks away from the start of the WORS season, and my training will have to be much more structured than it has been so far this year.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just Right

I ride a lot—you know that—but not even I can claim to be familiar with every road in Washington County. There are some places a bike can’t go, like our limited access highways: Interstate 41 and US Highway 45. I know those roads well enough as a driver, but not as a cyclist. Interstate 41 runs for 28 miles within the county. Sometimes it and US 45 are the same road, but there’s another 20-mile section of US 45 that stands alone. The northernmost 6 miles of US 45 are not limited access, but I don’t ride my bike on them, as there are better and safer routes.

We have 252 miles of state highways within the county and I haven’t seen all of those, regardless of my mode of transportation. Like the freeways, our state highways tend to have too much fast automobile traffic to make them attractive for cycling. Still, there are some sections that are more than accommodating. I have no problem with Highway 28 and not much of one with Highway 144; it’s Highways 33 and 60 that I avoid.

How much farther behind must I be in my experience with our 1,325 miles of local paved roads? Think about it: every residential street, every dead end, every cul-de-sac … it all adds up. If you traveled that many miles in a straight line to the west, you would find yourself in the vicinity of Boise ID. Much of it is wonderful, but some of it is useless for a bike ride. My routes usually take the shape of a big circle. It’s a rare occasion when I go down a dead end road just to see what’s there.

We have a mix of population density and road density that makes Washington County an uncommonly good place for cyclists. Not everyone is so fortunate. If you look around the country, you can find plenty of places with a lot of roads, but in most cases you will also find those roads choked with motor vehicles. You also can find plenty of places with low population density, but in those places you might not have many route options. I got curious about these variables and did a little research. In most states, there’s a clear correlation between population and road density. Physical size matters too, but not as much as population. Alaska is our biggest state by total land area, but it ranks 47th in population and 46th in miles of road. Here’s the full breakdown, showing the states in the order of their physical size:

Texas and California are physically big and heavily populated, so it’s no surprise that they have the most roads. Centrally located states like Kansas and Missouri are punching above their weight as people and things move through them. Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey show the effects of highly-urbanized populations in small physical spaces. Arizona and Washington appear to be underserved by their road networks, but that could be a “false positive.” Both states are physically large but their populations are crowded into fairly small regions.

With 1,325 miles of local roads, Washington County ranks 19th among Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Dane County has the highest total: 2,449 miles. That’s another example of physical size plus population. But our most populous county, Milwaukee, ranks just 17th with 1,341 miles. Looking only at the mileage totals, you might conclude that recreational cycling opportunities in Washington County and Milwaukee County are roughly equal. You would be dead wrong. Milwaukee County does have some good places to ride, but Washington County has almost no bad ones. Never lose sight of that. If you didn’t already know how fortunate we are, you do now.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All-Time Highs

What a great weekend to round up some buds and get outside!

In West Bend, there was never a February 17-19 like this before! On Friday we reached 50° for the first time since November 29, then hit 60° for the first time since November 18! Our high for the day was 61° and, though we were at that level only for a few minutes, it’s the new all-time high for February 17. The old record was 57°, set in 1981. Saturday was great too: 59° for a high, beating the old record of 52°, also set in 1981. Today we topped out at 63°, tying the record set in 1981.

It goes without saying that I hopped on the bike. Friday’s ride was short: just 20 miles to test the new chainrings on my BMC. The old ones were worn out, causing a really frustrating auto-shift issue. On Saturday I did my fastest ride so far this year: 40 miles at an average speed of 17.4 mph. Today I did my hilliest ride so far this year: 44 miles with 1,936 feet of climbing … at an average speed of 17.1 mph. I had company on each ride, including 5 other riders today. Ego made me push harder than I would have otherwise, and as I write this I am a little fried. It was a big block of training for this time of year.

But I’m not quite done. Rain is coming tomorrow, but I probably can get out for a short recovery ride late in the morning. I need just 7 more miles to set a new personal record for miles in February. Then it looks like we’ll have back-to-back sunny days in the 60s on Tuesday and Wednesday before falling into the 40s on Thursday and back to more February-like temperatures next weekend. February 21st is noteworthy for being the date on which West Bend’s average daytime high finally creeps above freezing, signaling the end of a long winter. But this year is breaking all the historical trends. With no measurable snowfall in the forecast, southeastern Wisconsin could escape February with its second-lowest total ever. Eleven weeks from the start of the mountain bike racing season, I’m hoping for a dry remainder to our winter and an early opening of the trails.

Monday, February 13, 2017

3-Day Weekends

My unusual work schedule turns every weekend into a 3-day weekend. I work overnight on Fridays but I’m usually home by 7:30 on Saturday mornings and that leaves me with the best part of the day. I’m completely free on Sundays, and I don’t have to return to work until 11:00 on Monday nights. It really is like living an 8-day week … though sometimes I have to cheat myself out of sleep to make a Saturday everything it can be.

This past Saturday was decent enough: overcast, but with a high temperature of 40° and tolerable winds. Jim Saueressig (Gryphon Velo) and I spent 90 minutes together on the roads between West Bend and Fillmore. On Sunday the high temperature was 40° again. The skies cleared up, but the winds were terrible: 25-30 miles per hour in the afternoon, gusting above 40 miles per hour. In such high winds I don’t like to be on the road. A mountain bike ride would have been a nice alternative but there are no trails open to me. If the ground were frozen but the trails were free of snow and ice, then I could ride them on my 29er. But things are otherwise, and the IMBA chapters in our area have asked us to stay away. I went for a 90-minute walk on a hikers-only section of the Ice Age Trail. It was solid ice.

Today we got to 43° and again the sunshine was brilliant but the winds were a little stronger. I wasn’t feeling super ambitious, but I knocked out 24 miles on my cyclocross bike to bring my year-to-date total to 215 and my February total to 95. My record for February is 205 miles, set last year. Give me another nice 3-day weekend and I’ll make sure that record falls. There’s no precipitation in the forecast this week and right now it looks like we’re climbing into the 50s by Saturday. That would put us more than 20° above normal for this time of year.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Chris Kegel


Today Wisconsin lost perhaps the greatest advocate for bicycling that it has ever known. Back in 2006, it was my pleasure to meet Wheel & Sprocket CEO Chris Kegel in Whitewater at the end of the first day of the MS 150 Best Dam Bike Tour. He was nothing less than a cycling celebrity, yet he remained a humble man who was generous with his time and attention. Follow this link to read about his remarkable career.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Making Tracks

You might recall that back in 2011 I started snowshoeing, with borrowed equipment at first but with my own soon thereafter. This winter began with higher than average snowfall in December and I expected to go snowshoeing frequently, but I haven’t gone even once. We had a big warm-up in January and our current base in the West Bend area is only a couple of inches. It’s nothing for which you would need snowshoes, and frequent freezing/thawing has left many of our hiking trails icy and dangerous.

This week I added two new weapons to my winter arsenal, the first of which I christened today on the Ice Age Trail between Paradise Drive and Ridge Run Park. YakTrax makes anti-slip devices that attach to shoe and boots. For less than $20 on Amazon, I purchased the most basic model and set up an old pair of cross-trainers as my “new” winter trail shoes. I’m not backpacking and our sections of the Ice Age Trail aren’t so technical that hiking boots are required. My simple, inexpensive setup was more than up to the task today. I hiked on packed snow with complete confidence, even down fairly steep hills.

The other addition to my collection of sporting goods is a pair of cross-country skis—classic, not skate, for those of you who make the distinction. I have never been on skis in my life, and I don’t know when I’ll get on these. They were a gift from Jeff Wren, my indefatigable training partner in every cycling discipline. I think he misses me in winter. He has been trying to coax me onto the ski trails for years and he has just about succeeded. But first I need to find boots that will work with the Salomon bindings of my second-hand Fischer skis. And then there’s different kinds of wax for different parts of the ski? I don’t know anything about this stuff, least of all whether I will enjoy myself once I get going. All I can say is that it comes highly recommended from a number of friends, and I’m willing to give it a try if I can do it without spending a lot of money.

In the week to come, we’re going to have a couple of days with favorable cycling conditions. Getting on the bike remains the priority, but I know that’s not always possible. It’s good to have cross-training options.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Matters / Doesn’t Matter

Is this news you can use, or just news? An agreement between Washington County and the City of West Bend to swap a few key parcels of land includes a re-route of city traffic away from the county courthouse. The south end of Schmidt Road will become little more than a driveway. A short section of new roadway will connect Rolfs Avenue to Schmidt Road at Creek Road. The city is accepting contractor proposals until February 14 with the expectation that the new roadway will be open sometime between November 2018 and December 2019.

That’s kind of interesting. But if you’re a local cyclist, then you probably don’t use that part of Schmidt Road anyway … if you use Schmidt Road at all. With no paved shoulder, crumbling pavement and a fairly high volume of motor vehicle traffic, it’s not one of our more bike-friendly streets. I use it frequently from Creek Road north to the Eisenbahn State Trail connector at Lac Lawrann Conservancy—a distance of only a half mile—but almost never from Creek Road south to Washington Street. And that’s because I would rather not ride on Washington Street, also known as State Highway 33. If I’m traveling east-west in that area, then Creek Road and the Riverfront Parkway are better choices.

Still, I will keep an eye on this project. It could have ramifications for Bike Friendly West Bend’s route plans. As currently envisioned, the “red” route will include that section of Schmidt from the Eisenbahn connector south to Creek. Depending on how the pattern of motor vehicle traffic changes with the extension of Rolfs, it might make more sense to use the new roadway as far south as Lang Street before turning east to meet River Road.