Politics and Cycling

Bikes and Politics

I am very involved in politics and serve on the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa. So, this August between the presidential debate and the Ames Straw Poll, my wife and I took a morning and rode the High Trestle Trail again. This is a picture of our van with political bumper stickers and the bikes on back.  Unfortunately we have one of a very small number of vehicles that neither Thule nor Yakima roof racks can fit.

The weather was perfect for our ride, this time there were only a few people on the trail. Jan is feeling much more comfortable on the bike and she now does 10-15 mile rides without any difficulty at all.

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The Mayors’ Bike ride

Getting Ready to Ride

Earlier this month I rode with my wife and our daughter Josie  and our friends Justin and Amy along with two of their children in the Annual Linn County Mayors’ Bike ride. [Yes, the grammar is correct Mayors’ since the event is sort of sponsored by all the mayors in the county.] This year the route was changed a bit and it flattened some of the hills out. It was a beautiful cool summer day with highs in the mid 60’s.

The ride is a free family-friendly event that gets a couple of hundred riders each year. As the ride got started, my daughter Josie was riding a little slowly. We quickly got separated from the Justin and Amy. My wife rode on ahead and I rode the 8 miles with Josie. We had a great time and a lot of fun but as the ride went on we found ourselves near the back of the pack. After getting stuck behind a long train we ended up being in the last half dozen or so riders. We still had an excellent ride and a good time together.

I do want to take special notice of the Linn County Trails Association and the Cedar Rapids Police Department. LCTA volunteers were there all along the the ride and they stayed to the very end to make sure the last riders were escorted in. Also the CRPD  officers in cars and on bicycles were all along the route to assist cyclists and direct traffic. The bike officers all payed special attention to my daughter and encouraged her on the ride. This was an awesome community event and I would encourage everyone — regardless of ability — to give it a try.

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The Longest Ride

Southern 1/3 of the Grand Rounds

For my wife’s birthday this weekend, I talked her into going to Minneapolis to ride bikes. Since my wife is a novice cyclist this was quite an accomplishment. Friday night we enjoyed a leisurely ride around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriett. For Saturday I had more ambitious plans. Minneapolis is one of the most bike-friendly towns in America. They have an extensive trail system and a culture that embraces an active outdoor lifestyle. I decided that we would ride a 20 mile urban loop covering the southern 1/3 of the Grand Rounds. The portion we would be riding starts out by Lake Calhoun, follows the Midtown Greenway  east to the Mississippi and then takes the bike trail on West River Road south to Minnehaha Falls. From there, it follows Minnehaha creek back to the Chain of Lakes.

Jan on the Midtown Greenway

It turned out to be a perfect day for a ride. There was a breeze from the south but when we rode into it we were on West River Road riding mainly downhill and somewhat protected from the wind. We started our ride by getting on the Midtown Greenway. The Greenway goes across town parallel to and just north of Lake street. It follows an old trolley or rail line and has exits for the major north-south streets. Most of the Greenway (and many of the major trails) have two bike lanes and a separate walking lane. Along the Greenway we passed by the bike-friendly Sheraton hotel. The Sheraton is right on the Greenway and has bike packages including a bike valet! Next time I am in Minneapolis, I am going to give them a try. This is a picture of my wife on the Greenway in her neon bike outfit.

Near the Mississippi, the Greenway crossed several roads at grade level. I was impressed with how courteous the Minnesota drivers were. In every case, cars stopped to let us and other cyclists by. In fact I felt guilty because a couple of times, I stopped at a road crossing to rest or wait for my wife and traffic on the street stopped to let me cross — I ended up having to wave them on.

At the Mississippi

The next portion of the ride was along West River Road. The path in this section parallels the river and is nicely shaded with woods on one said and stately old homes on the other. In the direction we went this section of the ride slopes gently downhill most of the way. There are a number of scenic outlooks and benches where one can stop and enjoy the view. We took a brief detour to ride across the river and back. The bridge is a couple of hundred feet off the river and had great views north and south. Since the day was beginning to warm up we appreciated the breeze. There are some businesses along the route near the Lake Street bridge, where one can purchase food and drinks. We saw dozens of bikes parked outside one of the establishments near the bridge. They had outdoor seating and looked like they were drawing a large crowd.

Sea Salt at Minnehaha Park

At the south end of West River Road, we came to Minnehaha Park. The last time I had ridden this route was in the evening so I didn’t stop at the park. Minnehaha Park is home to Minnehaha Falls. I thought the falls were some distance from the trail so I had not planned on stopping. About this time, we needed to refill our water bottles so as we got to the park we saw that tere were concessions and pulled in. To my surprise the park and concession area were packed with bikers, walkers and picnickers.  We stopped at the restaurant, Sea Salt to have lunch. Lunch was perfect. The restaurant prides itself on fresh fish so we ordered a fish sandwich, avocado stuffed with crab salad and a strawberry and walnut salad. We must have waited 30 minutes to order and 45 minutes to get our food, but we needed the rest. When the food arrived it was worth the wait. I generally do not like breaded fish but the sandwich was crispy on the outside and a perfect moist flaky white on the inside. The crab salad was equally good and I love avocado in nearly all forms. A perfect way to enjoy the halfway point of the ride.

Wearing Neon at Minnehaha Falls

After lunch we walked the 50 or so fee to Minnehaha Falls. The falls were spectacular and you could hear the cascade over the dining area. The picture is the two of us in our camouflage jerseys next to the falls.

After the falls both of us were getting a little tired. My wife was tired because it was her longest ride to date. I was tired because not only was it the farthest I have ridden my fixed gear bike but by far the most time I have spent on it. Fixed gear bikes do not allow you to glide so whenever the bike is moving, you are pedaling. I also discovered that while my saddle is comfortable for about 10 miles, after that it is not. I am going to have to look for an old school Selle Italia Turbo Special like I have on my road bike. That saddle is comfortable all day long.

Looking up

The last part of the ride follows Minnehaha creek just north of the airport. The creek meanders through a residential neighborhood with some really nice homes and lots of green space. We saw people tubing and canoeing in the creek along the way. This part of the trail also has a few small rolling hills. As it got later in the ride we stopped more. This is a picture I took lying in the shad of a big tree and looking up into the sky.

After following Minnehaha creek we returned to the familiar territory of Lake Harriett. I had been carrying our swimsuits and towels in my front panniers but I was too tired to look for someplace to change and swim. When we got back to the car my odometer read 19.99 miles. I spun my front tire to make it an even 20. We had a great time, perfect weather, great scenery, excellent food and the chance to celebrate Jan’s birthday. We are definitely going to have to do it again.

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The Prerfect Evening Ride

Sunset on Lake Harriet

This weekend was my wife’s birthday. So, being the romantic kind of guy that I am I decided to take her for a weekend getaway that included bicycling. It wasn’t too long ago that I would never have considered such a thing but since she has been riding her bike I decided to give it a try. Since our oldest daughter just moved to Minneapolis, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

A couple of years ago, when she got her bike, she came with me on a business trip to Minneapolis and we rode some of the trails in the area. She had a good time but we really only rode about eight miles at a time. Even now she has been riding between 8-10 miles at a time. For her birthday I wanted to try something a little more challenging.

We got to Minneapolis in the late afternoon and after visiting my daughter, we checked into our hotel. We had a snack in the hotel restaurant and decided to head out for a short ride before dark. Our goal was to ride around Lake Calhoun and maybe Lake Harriett before dark. The last time we were in Minneapolis, my wife did not want to ride over the hill between the lakes. This time was different. We parked the car, set up the bikes and hit the trail. It had been a hot day but was cooling as the sun set. We rode around Lake Calhoun and she was willing to climb the hill to Lake Harriett.

Lake Harriett has a band shell on the North end so we listened to the music for a while and rode around the lake. The photo shows our bikes in the setting sun on from the southeast side of the lake. It was a great ride. We rode about seven miles at a relaxed pace and we both enjoyed every minute. My wife is a much stronger rider than she the last time we were here. It was a good warm up for our big ride the next day.

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RAGBRAI the next generation

On RAGBRAI with Jaylee (I'm the one on the left)

I am a first generation RAGBRAI-er. I started riding as a 14-year-old on RAGBRAI IV in 1976. Over the years as my children have grown I have taken them on RAGBRAI. Jaylee is the  seventh of my eight children and over the years all of her older siblings have ridden on RAGBRAI with me.

This year I took my 13-year-old daughter Jaylee with me. We chose Wednesday, the shortest flattest day from Boone to Altoona. Jaylee was nervous about riding the whole 56 miles so we picked up the ride in the middle at Alleman. We got together with my friend Jared, a triathlete on his first RAGBRAI, and drove to Alleman. We unloaded the bikes and got on the road at about 8:00 am. Since Alleman was about 32 miles into the ride, our start time put us pretty early in the pack.

Weather was a big concern, there was a chance of thunderstorms and temperatures in the 90’s with high humidity. As it turned out since we got off the road early we avoided the heat and the storms never happened. It was a beautiful day for a ride. At first the ride was flat or even a bit downhill. Jared and I tried to encourage Jaylee to set the pace because we did not know if we were riding too fast or too slow for her. I think she was worried about keeping up with me.

As it turned out she need not worry. At 13 Jaylee is a competitive swimmer and in excellent shape. I am 50 and clearly out of shape. When we hit the few moderate hills on the ride the difference in fitness levels became apparent. Like all old men I get to reminisce a bit, in my younger days, the guys I rode with and I would charge full speed up the biggest hill of the day singing Monty Python songs. Once we reached the top, we would ride back down just to repeat the performance and climb it again. On days with especially big hills we would often pass the same people once going up, twice going down and a third time climbing up again. Well that was then and this is now. As soon as we hit a big hill I slowed to a crawl and Jaylee and Jared rode on ahead. At the top of the hill there was a stand selling fruit slushes so when I got there I stopped and enjoyed a smoothie in the shade. Jared and Jaylee waited so long in the next town they were almost ready to come back and look for me:)

In the end, we had a great ride. Jaylee had a blast and she is convinced that she can ride a whole day or more next year. The smile on her face says it all — mission accomplished. Now I have to get my wife to try it.

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Just like new!

My RB-1 with Fizik White (logo) Tape

There is something about new handlebar tape that makes a whole bike seem new. I just got through putting some new white Fizik tape on my road bike. I finished it off with some red electrical tape to match the bike’s red and white theme. The Fizik tape looks durable and from what I’ve read on the Internet it is easy to keep clean.

Over the decades I have used a variety of types of bar tape. Like most cyclists my age, I started with Tressostar cloth tape. It was thin woven cotton with an adhesive backing. I used the black version without lacquer and it lasted forever. I was never brave enough to try the famous harlequin wrap.

When I started racing I moved on to Benotto Cello Tape. This stuff was made of tough plastic and looked really cool on the bike. It was shiny with a slight texture and surprisingly grippy. Unlike modern tape, the Tressostar and Benotto had no padding at all.

My RB-1 with Velo Orange Elk Hide

My previous tape job was the coolest looking but alas, it did not last. When I re-furbished my Bridgestone RB-1 I decided to try Velo Orange‘s Elkhide sewn on bar covers in white. These are pre-cut elk hide and come with excellent directions. On evening I spent a couple of hours stitching them on. As you can see they looked great! Everywhere I went, other cyclists asked about them. They we comfortable and had excellent grip, the problem was that there was no good way to keep them clean. After a while they looked really ratty. I finally removed them and put the Fizik on instead. Apparently Velo Orange has discontinued the white version.

Well, with my new white tape I am ready for anything. I am sure that I will be faster on tomorrow’s commute!

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Five Schwinns

Stingray

A good friend recently asked for help fixing her bike. She has a Schwinn Varsity and the rear derailleur had lost a pulley. Because the bike was so old, I had to replace the entire derailleur, but now it works just like new. As I worked on her bike, it reminded me of the five Schwinns I have owned over the years and how big an impact they had on a bike life. The pictures in this posts are not of my bikes, I wish I had pictures of all of them 😦 I chose these pictures because they are similar to the bikes I owned.

My first Schwinn was a classic Stingray like the one pictured here. Mine had a green banana seat and matching grips. I think it had silver fenders and I know it had a 2.25 inch slick tire in the rear, just like a dragster. It was more than a bike, to a kid in 3rd grade, the Stingray was freedom. I could go anywhere from 18 Street to Seerley Boulevard from College to Main Street and I didn’t have to be home until the streetlights came on. I raced with my friends, did wheelies, delivered newspapers, rode down stairs and jumped off homemade ramps on that old Stingray. Today my kids have Facebook, Xbox, Twitter, etc, I wish I could share with them the joy of that old Stingray.

Varsity

I spent my junior high years on Guam. My family lived in faculty housing by the university and my neighbor had a brown Schwinn Varsity chained to his water meter. One day I asked if whe would sell it to me and I took my paper route money and bought it. Those old Varsitys were heavy! I am sure mine weighed 50 pounds. But to me that bike was a thoroughbred race machine. During my stay on the island a small bicycle club was formed. I remember a ride in the hills of southern Guam. Of the twenty or so riders, only three of us made it to the top of the hill by Fort Santa Agueda without walking. The other two were adults on Schwinn Paramounts (Schwinn’s legendary top of the line bike), of course I was on my trusty Varsity. When my family returned to Iowa, I had the varsity shipped back and it was my way to re-acquaint myself with my old hometown. I even took it on a 55 mile ride with the local bike club.

Super Le Tour 12.2

I worked all summer the year I returned from Guam to earn enough for a serious bike. I had my heart set on a Peugot PX 10 but by the time I had the money there were none available in my size. So I ended up buying a brand new Schwinn Super Le Tour 12.2. The Le Tour was one of the first mid-line Japanese Schwinns. It was relatively light for its day and the blue and chrome finish made it look like it could fly. I rode that bike on my first RAGBRAI(a 430 mile ride across Iowa). I added toe clips, bought stiff Italian cycling shoes and replaced the wheels with a pair of sew-ups with Campagnolo hubs and a Regina ORO racing freewheel. I raced that bike in criteriums and time trials all over Iowa. The old Le Tour saw me through my high school years looking at this picture (not my bike but the same model) is like looking at a picture of an old friend.

High Sierra

Many years and four children later, I was living in Wichita, Kansas. I had not yet finished my college degree and I was working as a Red Lobster manager. I wasn’t doing much bicycling. Mountain biking was just coming of age. An employee of mine sold me an old beater mountain bike. It had some nice components but the frame was junk. I went out and bought a Schwinn High Sierra frame that had never been built up. The frame was bright yellow and in the fashion of the 1980’s I tricked it out with hot pink accessories. The next year I returned to college for a year to finish my degree, the bike and I (hot pink components and all) sere a regular sight around campus. Mountain biking was just the shot in the arm I needed to get back into cycling.

Paramount PDG 70

I have been fortunate to own a number of great bikes, some of them considered classics to this day. I have also been fortunate to not have to spend top dollar even to buy high end bikes. The Le Tour was the only bike I ever bough new at retail. When I finally got my college degree and a job to go with it my wife let my by a Schwinn Paramount PDG-70. The PDG-70 was a high end mountain bike, no suspension with Shimano Deore XT components throughout. This bike was a leftover, it was a previous year’s model that had not sold so I bought it new at a significant discount. This bike was sexy and fast. As you can see in this photo The top tube and stem were long encouraging a very aggressive riding position. I rode this bike almost exclusively on hilly single-track trails. Some years later I replaced it with a newer model (not a Schwinn) with front suspension and I sold it to my brother. I think I made a mistake, I like the PDG-70 better.

Of the many bikes I have owned, five have been Schwinns. Each one evokes memories and has a special place in my heart.

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