Friday, June 30, 2017

Halftime 2017

At the end of the first half of 2017, my cycling season is right where you would expect it to be.  I have done 84 rides for a total of 2,133 miles. Here’s how my January 1—June 30 mileage total stacks up historically:

2017: 2133
2016: 2425
2015: 2855
2014: 2159
2013: 2059
2012: 2474
2011: 1961
2010: 2290
2009: 2205
2008: 1950
2007: 1772
2006: 1243
2005: 1160
2004:  441

This year I’m placing much more emphasis on mountain biking, and miles on the mountain bike are harder to accumulate than miles on the road bike. And I’m placing more emphasis on mountain bike racing: 4 races already this year, versus 0 in the first half of 2016.

My weight? Well, it’s a little higher than it was at this point a year ago: 194 pounds versus 190. But that’s still within a normal range for me.

2017 has been a good year so far and I think the best is still to come.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Happy 50th Birthday, Jeff Wren!

Jeff and me at the 2014 Gravel Metric in DeKalb IL.  (Amy Dykema photo)

I won’t get all mushy but this does seem like a good occasion to point out how lucky I am to have Jeff as a friend. If you read this blog frequently, then you probably guessed that already. His name comes up again and again because we race together, train together, volunteer together, and have remarkably similar tastes and goals when it comes to cycling. Paved roads, unpaved roads, mountain bike trails, rail trails, cyclocross courses … you’ll find us there. As competitors we’re very evenly matched, and my friendship with Jeff has helped me to understand that a rival isn’t the same thing as an enemy. We make each other better, and what more could you ask of a friend than that?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fun At Greenbush

You read that headline correctly: fun at Greenbush. I haven’t had many nice things to say about Greenbush over the years, but today I actually enjoyed riding there. Following the wheel of Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), who has a lot more experience than I do on those mountain bike trails, I completed a sub-56:00 lap. That’s not too bad by itself, and it looks even better when you consider that I was making my first visit since May 2015. My previous best at Greenbush was 59:51.

I can’t give you the exact time of today’s lap because my progress was halted by a downed tree. I lost several seconds as I dismounted, carried the bike over the obstacle, and got back up to speed. That shouldn’t be a problem on October 7 when I compete on a freshly-groomed course in the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series championship race, the GEARS Greenbush Grinder. But I will need to improve on today’s effort. It was a decent training ride, not race pace. Being faster was a product of my improving skills on singletrack. To be truly competitive, though, I would need to go sub-50:00 per lap for 3 consecutive laps. I don’t think I will get there, but who knows? In 2011 when I did my first-ever lap at Greenbush, I finished in about 80:00 and couldn’t have imagined a day when I would go sub-56:00.

More practice sessions at Greenbush to follow ...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No Cable? No Problem.

I’m an enthusiastic cord cutter … maybe even a fanatic. I grew to hate the cable bundle to the point where it simply had to go. My family and I have a much better experience with TV now that we get it over-the-air, on the Internet, and through streaming services. We’re saving money and we’re making smarter entertainment choices. Gone are the days of mindlessly flipping through 300 channels in search of a single decent program. Our viewing experience is now very focused.

For me, much of the focus is on bike racing. In the past I praised those pirated feeds of the major European TV networks, but during the last year it seems like they have gotten less reliable. Sites like continue to publish links, but more often than not the feeds are geo-restricted. Video quality—a hit-or-miss consideration before—is now almost uniformly terrible. And while I have been able to enjoy many races without English commentary, it’s better to have English if you can get it.

So, today I subscribed to the NBC Sports Gold cycling package. I will get a year of live and on demand video that includes all the major road races, some BMX, track and mountain bike events, and (especially) cyclocross. Only a small portion of the coverage will be broadcast on NBC’s family of over-the-air and cable channels, so don’t look at this $39.99 investment as a replacement for something I was getting in the old bundle. No, this is the epitome of à la carte TV: just cycling. I’m getting only what I want, whenever I want it, at a very high level of quality, from a single trusted source.

When I was a cable subscriber I checked out NBC’s streaming coverage a few times, so I know what I’m getting: extra content, no commercials. We’re between major races right now. The real test begins on July 1 with the Tour de France. I expect to be very satisfied. In the meantime, I will continue to check out the on demand offerings.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Go, Vols!

When you go to a big sporting event in America—something like pro or college football, Major League Baseball, etc.—you go with the expectation that everything will be taken care of for you. Someone shows you where to park. Someone shows you where to sit. Someone brings you drinks and snacks. And they all have one thing in common: they’re getting paid.

Cycling isn’t there yet, and it might never get there. Even when an event is overseen by a professional management company, volunteers do much of the work. The Tour of America’s Dairyland is Wisconsin’s biggest cycling event: 11 straight days of pro and amateur racing, starting tomorrow in Kenosha. When ToAD comes to Grafton on Saturday, I’ll be there for a 2.5-hour course control shift. On Monday I will work a 4-hour course control shift at the ToAD race in downtown West Bend. It’s fun, but it’s also serious business. ToAD brings out a lot of curiosity seekers who badly underestimate the speed of the racers. They can cross the course when I say so, and not before. And they can sit a little farther back from that hot corner, where experience tells me we’ll eventually see a crash.

On Saturday, July 29, one of my Team Pedal Moraine friends and I will run the last rest stop at the Wisconsin Women Century. The ride will begin and end in Cedarburg, but the rest stop is squarely on TPM’s home turf: the Cedar Lake Wayside just outside West Bend. Volunteering there isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also an opportunity to raise TPM’s public profile—particularly with women—as we continue to recruit new team members.

For our volunteer time, my teammate and I will earn free entries to the Holy Hill Classic on Sunday, July 30. It’s a hilly century ride that we’ll use as a tune-up for Race The Lake. So, our commitment to the rest stop isn’t completely selfless. Even ToAD has little rewards: free T-shirts, free food and drink, and so on. But such incentives aren’t the reason I volunteer. I’m motivated first by a desire to sustain the special cycling events we have in this area, and then to expand on them.

At this time, the Downtown West Bend Association is still short of volunteers for next Monday. There are several roles to play. If you can help, then please follow this link to sign up.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

West Bend’s Bike-Friendly Report Card

On May 25 I got email from the League of American Bicyclists with a link to West Bend’s bike-friendly community report card. Our city didn’t meet the League’s criteria for Bronze-level recognition, despite recent efforts by Bike Friendly West Bend. And this came as no surprise; BFWB applied for recognition with no expectation of success. The application was intended to elicit exactly the response that came: a point-by-point checklist for BFWB to use as a blueprint for future initiatives.

The League recommended that West Bend adopt a Complete Streets policy. That won’t happen anytime soon. There’s more hostility than support for Complete Streets from the governor and the state legislature, and without their attention the city’s Common Council doesn’t even have to consider, much less to accommodate, the needs of cyclists and pedestrians. West Bend only grudgingly repairs its streets for motor vehicles; expecting anything more would be silly.

The League also noted that “the current on-street bicycle network does not appear to include striped bicycle lanes.” True, nor will it in the future. Bike Friendly West Bend isn’t even asking for that. The goal of BFWB is bicycle boulevards: a network of low-traffic routes defined by signs and sharrows.

There is reason to hope that the League’s recommendation of an official Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee will become a reality. Bike Friendly West Bend already functions as one, and it wouldn’t take much for City Hall to create an official committee, perhaps one that could share resources with such existing groups as the Board of Public Works, the Park and Recreation Commission, the Plan Commission, the Police and Fire Commission, the Safety Commission, and the Tourism Commission. The League recommends that West Bend “increase the amount of staff time spent on improving conditions for people who bike and walk,” but that can’t be done until we have committee status. The efforts of Bike Friendly West Bend, however effective, won’t meet that recommendation.

The last of the League’s recommendations was to review and (ideally) to repeal sections of the municipal code that mandate bicycle registration. The League says, “Mandatory registration can be a barrier to some people choosing to use a bicycle.” I say that a $10 lifetime registration fee is hardly a barrier to prospective riders in a state that requires $75 annual motor vehicle registration. But it is possible to argue that bike registration in West Bend should be discontinued for other reasons:

  • Low rates of compliance by citizens
    • Citizens likely are unaware of the requirements
    • Citizens are unlikely to comply when enforcement is unlikely
  • Low rates of violation enforcement by West Bend Police
    • Registration applies only to City residents, not to visitors, and
    • Registration stickers are hard to see when a bike is in motion, so …
    • Enforcement is likely only when a rider is detained for another infraction
  • Low rates of lost or stolen bicycle recovery in which registration was a factor

Kenneth Meuler, West Bend’s Chief of Police, addressed these points in an email to Bike Friendly West Bend on May 29. He confirmed that his department is not citing residents for non-compliance, but argued that the requirement functions as a valuable service to reunite owners with lost or stolen bicycles. It remains to be seen whether the League will be mollified by the distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

Getting recognition from the League of American Bicyclists will be an uphill battle. At their May meeting last Wednesday, members of Bike Friendly West Bend reviewed the League’s report card and seemed resolved to continue to work toward that goal. But there was some discussion about the value of League recognition—i.e., just what would being a Bronze-level bike friendly community do for West Bend? Would it be a boon for tourism? Would it encourage new families to relocate here? Those are unanswered questions. A different advocacy group would have been discouraged by the League’s critique but for Bike Friendly West Bend it was just another agenda item. The group remains confident in its plans to make the city better for cyclists and pedestrians, whatever outsiders may think.

Monday, June 5, 2017

2017 Battle Of CamRock

West Bend’s Jeff Wren was 4th in the Sport 50-54 race.

Located between Cambridge and Rockdale in eastern Dane County, CamRock County Park features some of the most popular mountain bike trails in Wisconsin. For me, though, CamRock has been primarily a cyclocross destination: different part of the park, different trail system. For whatever reason, my only mountain bike race at CamRock was back in 2012 when I competed as a Cat 3.

That beginner-friendly course was much easier than the one I faced on Sunday in the Battle Of CamRock, my second WORS race of 2017. I knew that I would be severely tested by many technical descents. Those continue to be my Achilles’ heel, and my inability to handle them well resulted in a 12th-place finish in my 15-man age group in the Cat 2 “Sport” race. I was 112th of 189 overall.

Not my best result … but the effort was there. I had a productive pre-ride on Saturday afternoon, got good rest on Saturday night, managed my nutrition and hydration needs effectively, and so on. Even the weather was in my favor: sunny and 82° on Sunday morning. My start was OK and the early flat or uphill sections of singletrack were no problem. My fitness was good: at just 1:11:48.1 of race time, my endurance wasn’t tested. But my performance went downhill whenever the trail went downhill—it’s that simple. To finish 12th out of 15 in my age group is disappointing, but it was a fairly tight pack. I was less than 4 minutes behind Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) for the final podium spot, and I lost all of that time on descents.

I thought about going to Wausau next Saturday for a WEMS race, but I’m abandoning that idea. And I’m taking Eau Claire and La Crosse off my WORS calendar, as I always suspected I would. I think it makes sense to put more energy into practice sessions close to home. I haven’t been to Greenbush yet this year, and I haven’t been to New Fane enough. Those trails are not just nearby; they’re also the sites of major racing objectives at the end of the season. Even Glacial Blue Hills looks like a good option for me right now. I need better skills, and maybe it’s best that I don’t try to find them during a race.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Venue Change For The WORS Cup

Yesterday the Wisconsin Off-Road Series announced a venue change for its signature event, the WORS Cup. Originally scheduled for Cascade Mountain in Portage, the 3-day event now will be held at Alpine Valley near Elkhorn. This is a big deal. A decade ago, Alpine Valley was part of the WORS family. Then it dropped off the radar for a while. But within the last few years, new trails at the resort have attracted a lot of riders and a lot of praise. Racing returned in 2015 with an 18-hour Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series event. UW-Whitewater hosted a collegiate race weekend at Alpine Valley last September. Now WORS is back, and I expect great things.

Cascade Mountain wasn’t a bad location. It was close to Madison and its proximity to I-94 made it an easy destination for racers from Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. But I think Alpine Valley has bigger potential. It’s much more fun to ride there. And even though the WORS Cup doubles as the USA Cycling Midwest Regional Championships, its competitors are mostly a Milwaukee-Madison-Chicago crowd. Compared to Cascade Mountain, Alpine Valley is closer to more population.

And closer to me! Traveling from home to attend the pre-ride on Friday, July 7, I will save about 30 minutes. Those are precious minutes for a guy who has to work overnight. On Saturday the 8th, the time savings will really add up. When my work day ends in Brookfield at 7 a.m., I will be just 31 miles from Alpine Valley. With 4 hours at my disposal before the race begins, I can stop somewhere for breakfast, reach the race venue without stress, and warm up as much as I want. If I had to be at Cascade Mountain by 11 a.m., then I would be facing a 97-mile drive. That would be achievable, of course, but a bigger expenditure of effort on something that doesn’t contribute to my race performance. Even on Sunday, the least time-crunched day, the venue change helps me. The STXC race begins early: 9 a.m. Because it’s at Alpine Valley and not at Cascade Mountain, I can sleep for an extra half hour.

The venue change also helps me because I already have raced at Alpine Valley this season. I didn’t get an especially good result in the WEMS race on May 13, but I built some confidence on the trails. At Cascade Mountain I would have been starting from scratch on unfamiliar ground. Yesterday’s announcement was nothing but good news for me!