Knockoff SPD-SL Cleats: You Get What You Pay For

I have only one problem with my Shimano SPD-SL pedals, the cleats wear out every year.  Shimano cleats are made of plastic so it’s not like they should last forever, but at 29 bucks they are some really expesnsive plastic.  I used Look pedals for a short time and while I much prefer the SPD-SL, one benefit with the Look pedals was cheap aftermarket cleats.

I was happy to see recently that aftermarket cleats are now available from Exustar and unnamed manufacturers.  Since I’m super thrifty I bought a cheap set from ebay for 10 bucks.  You can get them cheaper direct from China if you want to wait a month, but these were from the US.

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They arrived in about a week, oddly another bike part I ordered on the same day came in 3 days from California.  They came with the required mounting hardware and a bonus 4mm hex wrench.  Only real surface difference I could tell between these and Shimano cleats were the screws, they are longer which is a good thing if you use cleat wedges.

No surprises attaching the cleats, and no surprises clicking in.  They work identically to Shimanos.  The yellow rubberized plastic which is included for grip is definitely not as soft as Shimanos which I thought might be a good thing.  The reason these cleats wear out is damage from walking around.  Yes a person could use cleat covers when walking, or avoid walking in their shoes, but I that seems silly to me.

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After about 4 rides with the new cleats I thought to check them out, to my surprise on the left foot the yellow front plastic was gone, it had just fell off.  In probably 10 sets of Shimano cleats that has never happened.  It should be noted that this plastic seems to have no effect on how the cleats actually work, the shoe still clips in and out the same, and I can’t really tell a difference walking, though I’m sure if I stepped in a slick spot I would notice.  I’m also worried without the yellow plastic the cleat will wear out much faster.  I’m going to keep using them, but keep an eye on it.

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So you get what you pay for, Shimano cleats can now be purchased for 20 dollars online or at your bike shop.  I would go with the genuine cleats and avoid the knockoffs.

I have said many times that I can be very lucky.  The first night I used these cleats I took off for a short ride to test them out.  A couple miles out of town I took to the rail trail to return home.  I had a pinch flat, I had also recently changed saddles and forgotten to reattach the saddle bag where my patch kit and pump are located.  Oh and I left my phone at home too.

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I removed my brand new shoes and started walking, after a mile of walking on the concrete bike path I was back in town but still 2 miles from home.  I saw the truck of my parent’s neighbor who rides the trail most nights.  I said to myself, “Self, it should would be nice if she was done with her ride and could give me a lift home.”  Before I’d even finished my thought here she came down the trail and she was happy to give me a ride to my parents where I could patch my tube.  What luck!

 

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Tour de France 2016 Final Thoughts

For me the best part of July has always been watching the Tour de France and I always feel a particular sorrow when it’s over since the end of the Tour bodes the end of Summer.   This is a tour I’ll remember for a long time, thanks to Chris Froome’s two unconventional maneuvers.  One thing I won’t remember this tour for is exciting GC racing, no one even came close to challenging Froome and Team Sky, luckily there was more to follow then just the GC.

How do you watch the Tour?

I’ve never had satellite TV, so for years I watched the Tour by paying for the NBC sports online package.  Which meant I listened to Phil and Paul, commentate, they did a great job, but honestly they are showing their age. The last few years I’ve been downloading stages to watch later in the day.  This year I went with ITV’s nightly 45 minute highlight show.  ITV has Ned Boulting and new for this year, David Millar providing color commentary.  Millar contribution was great, having only retired last year and being a prolific writer of his cycling exploits, his comments were informative, relevant and insightful.  The highlight show is really the perfect format for cycling since sometimes hours can go by where nothing really happens.

Sprinter in Yellow

He's back

He’s back

Often times the Tour starts with a prolouge time trial to sort out the riders, which usually sees a TT specialist or a GC rider getting the yellow jersey.  Some years the Tour starts with a classics style stage that finishes with an uphill sprint, but this year it started with a pure sprinters stage meaning a guy like Mark Cavendish could lead the Tour de France, at least until it goes uphill.  In the past Cavendish won sprint stages at command, though he hasn’t performed well in the last few Tour’s.  This year after training on the track for the Rio Olympics Cav was firing on all cylinders and won 4 stages proving himself in a class of his own.  He passed Kittel so fast one stage that the sonic boom almost knocked the German off his bike.

Sagan the Star of the Show

Peter Sagan makes winning the green jersey look easy but the truth is that he’s working hard for it every day.  Since he’s not the fastest sprinter he has too.  He’s going in breaks nearly every day up the road and gaining points on hilly and mountain stages where the other guys just can’t compete.  To put it in perspective you could double Marcel Kittel’s points and he still wouldn’t beat Sagan.

Sagan is easily the strongest overall rider right now, and one of the greatest personalities in cycling both on and off the road.  His crazy videos are hilarious and awesome and his finish line wheelies and bike handling skills are the stuff of legend.  Besides winning green, he spent time in yellow and he won 3 hilly stages this year.

Sky and Emperor Brailsford

Sky is compared to the Empire in Star Wars, their team bus is called the Deathstar.  They may wear black but they’re not evil, just really meticulous and prepared.  Did you know that Sky has personnel that go into the rider’s hotels each night to disinfect their rooms and replace the linens and mattress with the riders personal ones.  When your team budget is millions more then most, and ten times that of some you can afford things like that.

Sky is criticized fairly for strangling the race, especially in the mountains.  The team is so good that they have 4 riders on the front setting such a strong pace that no one can attack. It definitely takes some of the excitement out of mountain stages when the few attacks that happen are reeled in so quickly and easily.

Froome Attacks!

It looked weird but it worked!

It looked weird but it worked!

You can’t criticize Froome this year for being boring.  Yes he dominated the race, often times sitting behind his team, but he also did the unexpected.  His downhill winning attack on stage 8 was epic.  Quintanna was caught completely by surprise while Froome blasted down the hill.  I’ve seen lots of riders sit on their top tubes but I’ve never seen anyone sit there and pedal.

Of course Froome running through the crowd on Mount Ventoux will ultimately be what this tour is remembered for.  It was such a surreal sight to see a rider running along the road where we usually see crazy fans running beside the bikers.  I’m surprised a big group of fans didn’t start running with him.

Anyone else notice how many fans were wearing animal onesies along the road?

Anyone else notice how many fans were wearing animal onesies along the road?

 

On stage 19 Froome tried another downhill attack in the rain going for the stage win.  He crashed when he slipped and went down hard on a wet road bringing down Nibali behind him.  The rest of the peleton were several seconds back.  He finished the stage on a borrowed bike.  This mistake could have lost him the Tour.

OH we can’t forget Froome’s viscious attack of a fan who got a bit too close with his flag.  I can’t believe that stuff doesn’t happen more often the way some of the fan’s act.

The Competetion?

American TeeJay was just along for the ride until he wasn’t.  He was hanging in there for the first 2 weeks but was obviously spent by the last mountain stages and fell off the GC.  His teammate Richie Port was happy to jump in as team leader though I think he thought of himself as team leader for the whole race, but he definitely proved himself the stronger rider.

Quintanna was more or less just sitting on the bus, he did great, but his attacks were few and lacked any power.  Of course we covered how hard it is to get away from the Sky train.

Contador crashed hard on the first stage and just never really seemed to recover, though his crash was completely his fault.  Didn’t look like his heart was in it this year, he threw in the towel early.

The Irishman Dan Martin, who I don’t think I’ve ever really seen race for a GC was there, attacking and riding really well.  It seemed like he was surprising himself.  The young Adam Yates was definitely impressive, as was Frenchman Roman Bardet who I’m hoping can bring the French their first victory since the 8os.  I think the French deserve to win their own race once a decade at least.

Lost History

I’m fascinated with how years of Tour de France history have been selectively edited.  Of course I’m talking about Lance 99-05.  It’s funny how everyone around the race seems to pretend that never happened.  In one short video segment a reporter was asking Tour organizers and veteran racers if they’d ever seen a team as dominate as Sky.  Well obviously US Postal, who just like Sky put everything on the line for GC and was legendary for their preparation.  Oddly no one mentioned Postal or Lance, it’s like it never happened.

UK Dominace

Christopher Prudhome wants 8 rider teams next year, and though he didn’t say it the idea is to weaken super teams like Sky.  I think this is a good idea, though I doubt it will make the race more interesting.  I’ll freely admit that I didn’t complain about the race being boring when US Postal was dominating it.  The way to make the racing more interesting and competitive are the other teams being on a more level playing field.

British Cycling is now a powerhouse, British riders, won 1/3 of the stages this year and the overall.  British cycling and team sky are well connected, Dave Brailsford is the leader of both organizations.  It’s safe to say that Team Sky benefits from this relationship.  British cycling is funded by UK lottery money.  If other teams were as well prepared, supported, and funded as Team Sky then maybe the playing field would be more level.

2016 was a tour to remember and I’m already looking forward to next July!  Viva le Tour!

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Get Ready for the Great Egyptian Omnium 2016

Great Egyptian FlyerThe Great Egyptian Omnium (GEO) is the only cycling race in Southern Illinois so I was sad to see it canceled last year.  In all honesty I didn’t expect it to come back, it was a great event, but we don’t have a big cycling community in Southern Illinois and putting on a multi-day event is a lot work.  I’m glad to say that the event is back thanks to the good people at St. Nick’s Brewing Company and the Bike Surgeon.  As in previous years there will be a time trial, road race, and criterium events taking place over the last weekend of July, but they’ll be hosted in a new location.

The new location is the DuQuoin State Fair Grounds, the road course and crit both stay within the fair grounds while the time trial ventures off the grounds.  This location lacks the hills around Stone Fort and Creal Springs of previous years, but it comes with many big benefits.  First all the racing will be staged from one single area, the fairgrounds is a perfect place to host events and more importantly this area will be closed to traffic.  No traffic means much safer racing and the race will not be crammed onto just one lane.

The crit is totally flat and the road course has some very slight elevation changes this  will be a fantastic course for riders like me, big guys!

If you haven’t raced before let me tell you, it’s something you’ll never forget and this will be your only chance to race in Southern Illinois.  Come out and support the event and spread the word!

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Colorado Adventure

Guest Post by Moe

I have been wanting to get out to visit Luke in one of his adventurous locations for a couple years now. Last year he was in Arizona, now he is in Colorado. This year, I finally made it happen. A few months ago I told Luke to get me his work schedule as soon as he knew it. From there, I could clear my schedule here at home and check flights to see if it would be possible for me to go out and ride with him. He is in Grand Junction right now which is a much more expensive flight than Denver. So, we decided that if I could make it happen, I would fly to Denver and he would pick me up there to save on flight cost. It was determined that we would ride the front range to save travel time since I would only have a few days to ride. Once he received his work schedule for July, he sent it to me and I got to work looking up flight prices and making sure I didn’t have any prior engagements for the dates I wanted to go. A few text messages back and forth with him and boom, dates were locked in and flights were booked. I would leave early on Wednesday morning and since Luke had to work Sunday, return Saturday night. Other than telling him that I didn’t want to ride much over 10,000’, I left all of the ride planning up to Luke.

Fast forward a couple weeks and I’m sitting in Luke’s van on my way to Big Ring Cycles to pick up my rental steed. Get the bike, a couple tubes (my 29r tubes wouldn’t work), a few gels and we are on our way. We headed up the hill, then partially back down the hill in another direction to end up in Winter Park. Luke had reserved a room at the “Vintage” hotel. We were skeptical due to the name of the place, but it was a great place. While checking in, two guys ride their bikes right into the front door and hop off to walk to the elevators and go up to their rooms. I thought, “dang, this place is pretty bike friendly”.

After carrying all of our gear up to the room, we take off looking for some lunch. There is a gondola/ski lift that runs from upper Winter Park Resort to lower Winter Park Resort. It was a great way to shuttle back and forth and avoid a 700’ climb back to the hotel each time. We had some lunch while noticing there were no other cross country type riders there. Everyone was wearing full face helmets, flat shoes, full shin and knee pads, full forearm and elbow pads and what looked like a set of football shoulder pads under their jerseys. Luke joked that maybe there were people hiding along the trails with spears and tridents trying to knock you off of your bike and that is why everyone was dressed for battle.

After lunch, we suited up and took off on ride #1 from the hotel. We hopped on the “Green horn it” downhill trail to drop to the bottom of the resort area and get on the trails that would take us away from the downhill area and to the XC area. The ride started with a nice descent followed by a couple short steep ups. A little flat section followed until about mile 10 there was a 2 mile climb that kicked me right in the lungs. There were many trails in this area and we hit several that local riders had told us about. They were all great fun. Mostly short connectors or loops that would have been really nice to follow a local through, but we made the best of it while stopping often to check out maps. We headed downhill and popped out at the town of Winter Park. There is a really nice paved bike/longboard/walking/running/rollerblading path that runs from Winter Park to Winter Park Resort. It is about 4 miles between the two. It turns out that this bike path is a pretty serious climb all the way to the resort. I was expecting more of a mellow cruise through the woods. Nope, just another 450’ climb to get back to the resort. Once back at the resort, we got cleaned up and headed out for pizza. https://www.strava.com/activities/640229764 

Thursday started with heading to the bike shop in Frasier to add some air to the rear shock on my rental bike. The bike I had rented was a Cannondale Habit 3 Carbon. It was a really sweet bike, but very different from what I’m used to. Honestly, I wanted a XC full suspension, but nobody had those for rent. Everything was more all-mountain or Enduro. Since I usually ride a rigid single speed, I’m not used to riding a full suspension and not even used to climbing too much in the seated position. I found it absolutely impossible to climb standing on the rental bike and it just didn’t climb very well seated either. Of course, part of this was my poor ability to climb in general compounded with climbing actual mountains about 8500’ higher than where I usually ride. The bike was riding like a pogo stick. On the other hand, I could descent like a rocket. The thing was stable and handled very well at high speeds going downhill. While at the shop, one of the guys gave us some great route intel while the other researched the shock on the rental bike online and found out that it is not a very good shock. Pumped it up way higher than it should need to be and headed out the door to ride. We took off right from the bike shop for a nice big loop.

The ride started with a nice mellow 3% grade road climb for a few miles. We then hit the single track entrance and the grade picked up to an average of 8% for over 3 miles. Luke dropped me like a bad habit going up this climb. This is where I first started to get worried about being eaten by a mountain lion or a bear. Weird thoughts start filling your mind when you are in the pain cave and have no idea how much longer you will be there. Or, if you will ever see your friend again…. About that time, a turkey explodes out of the brush about 3’ from the trail and 2’ in front of me. I nearly ruined my shorts. Apparently, the ole’ girl had a nest next to the trail. She ran down the trail pretending to be hurt so I would keep following her and not mess with her nest. What seemed like hours later, I finally reached the top and saw Luke there waiting for me. From there, we hit what I was sure would be an incredible downhill. We were FLYING down this thing and bang, a large rock had hit my rear tire which was not setup tubeless. Shortly after that I get the feeling of the squirmy flat tire followed quickly by the totally flat tire with rocks banging the rim. I yell to Luke “FLAT TIRE!!!!!” and hit the brakes hard (I didn’t want to have to replace the rim or tire on the rental bike). It seems that Luke heard me and was hitting the brakes as he rounded the corner also. I get stopped and can clearly hear Luke continuing down the mountain. No problem at all, except Luke has the CO2 and the inflator……

I figure that he will get to the bottom, wait a bit, then assume that I’m dead and go on into town. So, I go ahead and swap tubes in the tire and put the wheel back in the bike. All I need now is air. Hopefully someone else will come by and have some type of inflation device. About 15 minutes goes by and I hear someone coming up the hill. Luke had waited a couple minutes at the bottom, then climbed back up to bring me the CO2. He didn’t seem to upset about the extra climbing he had to do. I don’t think he even cracked a sweat. I inflated the tire, and off we went. We bombed down the rest of the hill, hit several more miles of single track and then popped out on the road for the descent back into town. A great ride other than the flat tire and taxing first climb. https://www.strava.com/activities/641118419 FRASIER SCENERY AND CANNONDALE HABIT 3 PHOTOS

Ride #3 would be in Buffalo Creek. We parked at the top of the trail and headed out for the “Big Loop” ride. Luke expressed how this trail is one of his favorites. It sure seemed sweet at the start. It was super flowy, fast and just roller climbs. I could keep momentum and just stand to shoot up the short steep rollers and stay really close to his wheel here. I was loving it. The trail was very solid with what was a crushed limestone type top layer. It was loose and slick, ensuring you kept your focus on the trail. We were really cruising and knocking out the miles. Before long we popped out at the top of a very large valley that looked like a forest fire had wiped it clean several years ago and things had not grown back yet. The trail was beautiful and fun down through there. Things were getting quite sandy and loose in the trail though. Going downhill this just added a few sketchy places where you had to do a nice two wheel drift through corners. Going uphill, this SUCKED. And SUCKED bad…. I was in the granny gear and crawling through what was more than 1” of loose sandy crushed rock. Literally climbing in quicksand. Climbing is not my strong suit, and climbing in loose deep sand is embarrassing slow for me. Once at the top of this, we hit some more sweet flowing trails that somewhat erased how bad the climb was from my memory. Then we emerged from the nice flowing shaded single track into the open valley again. 

We were near the top and had an awesome descent through the valley, then through some timber, then more valley until we arrived at a FS service road at the very bottom. From this point, it was just one large climb back to the car Luke says. He takes off like a rocket while I start working my way into it. I make it a few hundred meters before clicking to the granny ring on front. I spin and I spin and I spin seemingly going nowhere up this hill. Watching my garmin elevation reading I see 100’ go by, then 200’, then 300’. I wonder to myself where did we start? Was it 7000’ or 8000’? It turns out that it was nearly 8000’. This climb started about 6800’ and the car was at 8000’. Oh boy…. I’m in trouble.

I climbed and climbed and then climbed some more. The entire time I’m exposed to full sun and feeling like it is baking me. There was a breeze that felt nice often, and the temperature wasn’t crazy hot, but I was miserable. My body decided that the only thing I wanted to drink was cold water. Well, I didn’t have any of that. I had a few ounces of water left in my camelback and a half bottle of sports drink. Nothing sounded good to eat either. I was bonking and bonking hard. I sat down on a log along the trail at one point and was hoping this would end soon. I took breaks every couple hundred feet of elevation. The trail was sandy and loose, and when only moving about 3mph, the bike was very hard to keep on track and in the trail. I was wandering back and forth across the trail and having a difficult time staying upright. I did come across a mule deer that wasn’t even concerned with me being there. Likely because I was moving too slow to spook it. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it back to the van. Luke had been there for nearly 40 minutes waiting on me. I told Luke that I was done, and possibly done for the weekend. I wanted to die… BUFFALO CREEK BREAK TIME AND MULE DEER PHOTO

 

It took me nearly 15 minutes to get the bike on the rack, and get into the van. I felt sick, hot, tired, and somewhat embarrassed that I had let myself get into this shape. With the A/C full throttle I tried to cool down and just couldn’t get cool or comfortable. We pulled over to check out a campsite and I got out of the van and sat in the shade along the van in the rocks. Within 10 seconds, I was laying in the gravel road trying to get my body to cooperate with me and not puke or pass out. Luke remembered that he had a Gatorade in the van and gave that to me. I chugged down 32 oz in about 30 seconds hoping that would help. It took nearly 10 minutes, but I started to feel better. We got back into the van and headed towards civilization. We pulled into the first gas station we saw. Both of us ended up with chocolate milk and a Klondike bar. It was delicious and brought me back to life. https://www.strava.com/activities/642222775

We made it to Golden and had a great burger at Bob’s Atomic Burgers across the street from the Coors brewery. 

Grabbed a hotel for the night in town and I was still unsure if I wanted to ride anymore. My spirits were broken from that last climb. After a night of rest, I woke up feeling pretty good and wanting to ride one more time before I had to go home. We decided to hit North Table Mountain near Golden. There was a 14 mile loop that we should be able to knock out in a couple hours. The climbs looked mellow and there wasn’t a bunch of elevation change. We arrived at the trailhead about 8:30 am and hit the trail.

The trail started with a fairly steep climb on a paved trail. I was feeling much better than expected. We reached a flat area and saw a single track heading off to the right. It was really worn in single track, but the weeds were tall along the trail. I thought “is this the right trail?”…. We continued on and the trail turned downhill after a mile or so. When I say downhill, I mean the most technical chunky, rocky boulder ridden descent of the entire trip. We really ripped this downhill at a pretty good pace. After popping out at a lower parking lot we found a trail at the other end that went back up. Well, it seemed that we should have brought backpacking gear to strap our bikes to. This climb was absolutely impossible to climb on a bike, and even impossible to push a bike up. We had to carry our bikes. GPS data shows this trail was near 30% grade. We climbed for about 15 minutes, then saw rock climbers another 1000’ above us. At this point, we retreated and headed back down. Once back at the parking lot, we took the road back to our original starting point and tried this trail again. We rode it the other direction this time and found it to be very fast and nearly flat.

Speaking of flat…. This is when I pinch flatted again. It seemed odds were against us for this last ride. But, I swapped the tube and we were back at it. We knocked out 4 more miles or so before we needed to be back at the van and get the rental bike back to the shop. https://www.strava.com/activities/642873850

After loading up our gear, we headed to town. We dropped the bike, then hung out at the whitewater stream in Golden to clean up before I needed to get on an airplane. We had lunch at the farmers market, then headed to the airport. Luke dropped me off, and I waited for my plane to arrive. Several hours later, I was back at home and ready to rest up.
It was a great trip and I had a blast. Luke gave quite the tour of the front range on trails that I hadn’t been on yet. I plan to try to catch up with him again in the future at one of his adventurous locations.

Posted in Barn Door Cycling, Bikes and components, lifestyle, Mountain BIking, Rides, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whirlwind Tour of the North 2016

Road Trip

After doing a short 3 day road tour on my own last month I wanted to do something a bit longer and farther out.  With our recent purchase of a van, and the fact that my wife’s best friend would be in town for a few days to keep her company I embarked on my first solo road cycling road trip.  So my buddies Luke and Eli are old hands at mountain bike road trips, they have both traveled all over the country solo and could write far more interesting blogs if they were inclined but I had 5 days to play with and tried to make the most of it.

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Planning for this trip was virtually non existent.  I literally knew nothing about the places I was going, just the names of towns where there was suppose to be good mountain bike trails.  I desired to travel North where it would be cooler and after looking at the map for a about 30 seconds decided to drive up through Indiana and lower Michigan, cross to the Upper Peninsula, then shoot back home through Wisconsin.  I used MTBproject.com and singletracks.com to find some of the best trails I would be passing by.

My first spot would be Brown Country State Park, only 3 hours from home near Bloomington IN.  I’ve been there before and it’s got to be some of the best riding in the lower Midwest.  I wanted to stop there just to break up what would otherwise be a day long drive North.  The next trail would be Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, then Copper Harbor, and finally I’d head down to Hayward Wisconsin before coming home.  Of course I would be doing this as cheaply as possible, which mean camping in the van every night, though I wasn’t really sure where I’d be camping, though I was strongly considering wal-mart parking lots.

5 Dollar Bike Permit?

When I arrived at Brown County a gentleman asked me to pay nine dollars to enter the park.  I guess that’s something I’m a bit spoiled about, being from Southern Illinois we have many outdoor areas that cost nothing.  I considered turning around but decided I could go for it, then the guy said I’d need to by a 5 dollar bike pass if I wanted to ride advanced dirt trails.  I told him I wasn’t an advanced rider and would stay on the easier trails, and got away without buying the pass.  Brown County was great, though I only had a couple hours to ride.  Could have easily rode 4 hours there.

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6 hours later I pulled into the  St. Johns Michigan Wal-Mart at 10 PM with my fingers crossed, this would be my first attempt at Wal-Mart camping.  I’d read about it on the internet but wasn’t really sure if it was a real thing.  There was already an RV in the parking lot so I parked near it and put up my curtains, then went inside for some snacks.  It was a problem free way to spend the night.

mackanaw bridge 1

The next day I spent time sight seeing at Mackinaw City waiting for a storm to blow through.  I couldn’t help but think of Shauna and how much she would enjoy the tourist shops and walking along the beach.  The Mackinac bridge was the longest bridge I’ve ever seen.  Driving across the upper peninsula was interesting for awhile, but 2 lane roads that go straight for 100 miles with nothing but huge trees on either side of the road can get a bit dull.  I did some sight seeing in Munsing and finally made it to Marquette in the late evening.

mackanaw bridge 2

I tried camping at the Marquette tourist park, which had multiple open tent spots but when I went to register I discovered that they had all been reserved.  They did have a full hookup RV spot available for 34 dollars but I went to Wal-Mart instead.  There were many campers already in the Wal-Mart lot.  In the morning when I left I was astonished to see a couple tents pitched in the grass.  This leads me to a little mini rant.  The cost of camping in many campgrounds is ridiculous.  Primitive tent spots are often relatively affordable at around 12 dollars, but many campgrounds offer a tiny number of these spots and 20 or 30 times more RV hook up sites which cost 20-40 bucks.  Then when you figure in many states have a separate fee just to enter the park you might as well go to a motel, or sleep at Wal-Mart.

Marquette Rules!

mount marquette

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I rode the South trail system in Marquette the next morning.  It was awesome.  The trails were not easy, there were occasional tricky technical areas, lots of rocks, and plenty of climbing.  They were exceptionally well built and maintained.  Kiosks at every intersection featured a map so it was easy to navigate.  They were just so much fun.  I was the first person to the trailhead parking lot that morning at 7AM, but when I returned a few hours later the place was packed and many riders were leaving off.  Several families were there letting their kids play on the pump track.  I felt great and wanted to try and hook up with a group, but I had a long way to go still.

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Yet I felt so good that I wanted to try out some of the paved trails on the lake shore.  I brought my road bike for just such and occasion.  I ended up doing a 25 mile road ride on some really awesome roads and then riding through the downtown area checking out the architecture and whatnot.   So many people were out riding, hiking, trail running, and just being outdoors. Marquette was truly an awesome town.

Copper Harbor

copper harbor lighthouse

I guess I’ve heard a few people mention Copper Harbor, but when I was checking singletracks.com for the best trails in Michigan it was number one, it’s certainly not easy to get to.  I had now driven 16 hours in the last couple days.  I stopped to check out a historic copper mine near Houghton and arrived at Copper Harbor in the early evening.  Unfortunately there was no Wal-Mart in town, but they did have a nice campground at Fort Wilkins that was 24 dollars a night.  That evening I did a short road bike tour of the area, there were so many cyclists and so much natural beauty to take in.  Eventually I stopped to take pictures and talked to a young couple hanging out on a dock.

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The young guy said I should get the shuttle service, it was a steal at 45 dollars a day.  I told him I enjoyed riding up trails.  He told me the riding was brutal and I would really need a full suspension bike.  “These trails are full of rocks and stuff.”  I took his warning with a grain of salt.

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The next morning I went to the towns trailhead to see that the trails were closed for a running event until 11 AM.  This aggravated the crap out of me, I rode a couple miles up the highway until I got to a trail crossing where there was an aid station for the running event. The people there were super friendly and gave me a map telling me which trails the runners had already been through and how to avoid them.  Since there are no maps out on the trails having a copy of this map was very useful.

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I’ll avoid giving you a play by play of what I rode, but I’ll say that these were some of the funnest trails I’ve ever ridden, they aren’t brutal, though there were some tough technical challenges in places.  The Downhill “Overflow” trail was like nothing I’ve ever ridden, of course I didn’t do the jumps, and in fact many places were so steep and scary that I walked down them.  Near the end of my ride I encountered a large group of guys with all kinds of skill levels, I rode with them for a couple miles at a bit more speed then I’d been riding by myself and took more risks then I would alone.  I ended up snapping my saddle in half.  About half the group had crashed behind us.  It was one of those deals were the front 2 guys make it to the next intersection in 5 minutes and then wait 20 for the remaining 6 guys to show up.  I took my leave of them and returned to the campground.

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I could have easily spent another day here, but I had one more epic area to ride, CAMBRA trails in Wisconsin.  Luke had good things to say about this large area of trails.  I arrived in Hayward at 9 PM and found refuge at another Wal-Mart.  I awoke Monday morning to the sound of rain, then hardcore storming with winds that rocked the van back and forth.  There was a break in the weather at 7AM but radar showed many waves of storms approaching so I made my way South.  Very strong storms would pass through the area that day causing flash flooding and killing 2 people in the area.  I’m very glad I left.

CAMROCK!

I arrived at Camrock near Madison Wisconsin around noon.  Camrock is a county park shared by the towns of Cambridge and Rockdale, it has around 20 miles of mountain bike trails and a nice gravel trail as well.  I found this place on MTBProject and knew nothing about it.  In the parking lot I encountered a guy named Bruce, he was an older guy on a very sweet custom singlespeed, the first single speed I’d seen the whole trip.  The whole trip I’d been dressed out of place.  I don’t have separate mountain bike clothes, I have jerseys and spandex shorts.  Style really isn’t my thing.  Today was even worse since I was wearing a Hi-vis jersey.  Bruce on the other hand wore baggy cargo shorts and a T-shirt. I asked if I could tag along behind him to learn the trails.

I soon found out that Bruce had one speed, fast.  Most singlespeeders are like this, it’s almost a requirement.  For the first time really on the whole trip I was on the rivet.  This guy was really fast, and he attacked every climb out of the saddle.  My heart was beating out of my chest and I was just barely holding his wheel as we railed one bermed corner after another.

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The trails at Camrock aren’t overly technical, but they have some challenges, especially when ridden at speed.  Between nearly killing me Bruce told me all about the area and the trails, he was a member of the club and even though kept downplaying his role in modesty I was beginning to think he was a major player in the area.  We took the trails back to Cambridge where he was showing me around the town and the plot of land where they preparing to build a pump track.

Listening to Bruce speak was like being in another world, “Yeah funds aren’t a problem, we’ve got plenty of money, working with the county is great, they gave us this plot of land, they bought that building and gave it to us for our trail building equipment.  Over here we just got a wetlands study done so we can now build right up to the creek, over here we’re going to build a connector, over here we’re going to build a pump track, we’ve got a youth team, things are really taking off.”

Oh wow, I mean back home we’re not even technically allowed to be on the trails, and the horses turn them all to crap faster then anyone could maintain them.  I keep thinking I live in the wrong place.  I guess in Wisconsin the outdoors are for more then killing or riding animals.

A new group of riders approached, a young guy, and a couple middle aged guys, both bigger like me.  This turned out to local royalty.  The Mayor of Rockdale and his friend Gomez who runs the website www.fat-bike.com  I did another loop of the trails with these guys at a much more relaxed pace.  Gomez was one of the funniest people I’ve ever ridden with and believe it or not he had been to Southern Illinois, telling me he proposed to his wife on the river to river trail in 1986.  It’s a small world after all.  I tried to keep up with the young guy, who was a salty rider.  He was so quick in the corners.  I was trying to corner at his speed and ended up washing out for my first crash of the trip, though it was minor.

In Conclusion

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I spent the night at one more Wal-Mart that evening and finished my drive home Tuesday completing my first solo mountain bike trip.  Upon reflection I was very happy with how things went.  The trip was incredibly cheap.  I spent about 275  dollars for 5 days of traveling and rode the best trails I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’ll never forget the view from Mount Marquette, or riding “On the Edge” and “Stairway to Heaven” at Copper Harbor, and it was blast meeting so many cool people and seeing how awesome things are at Camrock.  My only regret was that I didn’t take more time.  I could have easily spent twice as long riding at every location.  Still for the amount of time and money I had I couldn’t imagine a better trip.

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Camping Van and Bike Maintence

So when I rode to Mammoth Cave I met a guy with one of those tear drop campers and it was really cool.  My wife has always wanted a tear drop camper because while she likes to camp she doesn’t like tents.  A small camper is something she has always wanted, until we look at the prices.

It occurred to me that we were going to need a new vehicle soon, and since our Honda Civic takes care of fuel economy I thought, hey why not something we could camp in.  Like my hero Luke I began to look at vans.  Luke has a Ford Transit Connect, for his van dwelling lifestyle.  It’s a cargo van with no windows, or any rear interior at all.  In fact it doesn’t even have seats, which is fine with him.  We considered that but ultimately were impressed by the ubiquitous Grand Caravan with stow and go seating.  The front and rear seats easily fold into the floor making a huge cargo space in the rear.

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After some searching we eventually found one in our price range.  This week we had the opportunity for a camping trip at Land Between the Lakes to test it out.  So with the seats all folded down we can easily slide in a twin size mattress which I conveniently acquired recently.  There is about 50 inches of horizontal space across the rear wheel wells so it’s just a little too small for a full size, though I think an air mattress would work fine since it would just squeeze around the wells.

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We arrived at LBL and found a great spot where we could pull the van in under shade.  Since we’re limited to a twin size mattress I set up my hammock.  It was going to be a cool night and I looked forward to sleeping outdoors.  Then Shauna said, “Oh you know it’s going to rain tonight, right?”

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Shauna really likes Hillman Ferry Campground at LBL, they have a beach, really nice bathrooms, a camp store, and usually really nice campers.  So the new thing to do at the campground is bring your golf cart or scooter and drive around the campground over and over again.  At first this was neat, we were close to the road on the end end of a loop so everyone had to slow down.  Eventually I realized it was the same people over and over again just out cruising the campground.  Eventually this became mildly annoying, but it may have jealousy since we didn’t have a golf cart to cruise around.

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Shauna was super happy with the sleeping arrangements in the van, and I was doing fine in the hammock until about 4 AM when an intense wind blew through that sent me swinging back and forth.  Shauna told me she heard rain drops hitting the roof of the van so I scrambled in and shut the door.  There was just enough space between the mattress and floor for me to lay so we laughed about how I had to sleep in the crack.  Still it was much nicer then the pouring rain outside.

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I made this torch years ago but this is the first time I’ve tried it out, it worked really well, in fact it was hard to put out.

The next day after breakfast I rode over the North Welcome station and did a lap of the famous Canal Loop trail.  Probably the best trail in the tri state area.  I was trying to keep up a good pace, but my stomach and 26 inch rigid bike weren’t really helping.  I still beat my old fastest time by several minutes.

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That leads me to my next topic, my 29er mountain bike has been hanging in the basement in need of maintenance for a few months.  I’m going to be taking the adventure van on a bike trip soon and I wanted to take the 29er.  It needed alot of work, the outboard bottom bracket bearings were demolished, the rear brake was completely useless, and the rear wheel was messed up.  I built up a new wheel from some parts that my pals Greg and Mark gave me, and also had a new hydraulic rear brake to install.  I replaced the problematic outboard crank with an old internal crank so I’m not buying new bearings every couple month.  I even cleaned the bike up!

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Posted in Barn Door Cycling, Bikes and components, lifestyle, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tour de Corn 2016

Thanks to a really nice co-worker I was able to make the Tour de Corn this year.  My pal Shon went with me, he wanted to ride the 100 mile route, but I didn’t.  Essentially I just wimped out, it’s a great route, and a very good way to get a century in, but it was also going to be hot and humid.  In many ways we were fortunate, this was an excellent day for the tour; winds were very light, just a few miles per hour, it was hot and humid but it could have been worse.  All in all it was a great day for a bike ride.

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I lost Shon in the crowd at the beginning, and started near the front.  Before long I had chased down a group of 3 guys who were flying.  We worked together and reeled in the remaining riders in front of us and flew past the first rest stop of the 60 mile course without stopping.  By the time we came to the second stop we were all ready to take a break.  In less than 30 seconds Shon, and my pals, JW and Justin rolled up.  30 seconds after that was a huge peloton of probably 40 riders.

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The rest of day, my new riding friends, Bryan, JJ and Derek, along with old pals rode together at a pace that was a bit outside of my comfort zone.  I was OK in the draft but as soon as I hit the front to pull I was losing speed.  These guys were all awesome and it was a privileged riding with them.

In a recent post I’ve already covered how much I like Tour de Corn, and this year was no different, it was great again.  There is one story I have to share though.  The volunteers are always super friendly at the rest stops… but.  Well Derek wanted to get a group photo of us and he asked a lady behind the counter at the final rest stop if she would mind snapping a photo.  Pretty normal thing, right?  People do it all the time.  Well this woman looked as though he’d ask her to help him build a house, rebuild his transmission, or join a cult.  The look on her eyes was like a deer caught in the headlights.  Derek repeated his question slower, thinking perhaps she misunderstood his request.  She began moving her head back and forth slowly and pointed at the other volunteers.  “I’m just here to volunteer,” she said.

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There was an awkward pause for several seconds while we all just tried not to burst out in laughter.  Eventually he asked a different person to take our picture and she was happy too.  Perhaps the volunteer has a phobia of cell phones, maybe she was Amish?  I’m sure she wasn’t being rude, but it was such a hilarious out of the norm reaction that we all cracked up.

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The ride finished with me taking a final pull to get us close to town, when we entered the town I pulled off and shifted into my lowest gear, I was completely spent.  As everyone else sped away from me I was riding alone for the first time.  My back wheel was making a horrible sound and I could hear and feel the brake rubbing.  I looked back and saw my rear wheel was radically out of true and banging against the brake pads every rotation.  Wow!  No wonder it was so hard.

This was a very old open pro wheel that is on my spare bike.  Why did I take my spare bike to the biggest ride I’ll do all year?  Because it has aerobars.  A spoke had popped out of it’s threads and was completely loose, an easy fix.  I wonder how long I was riding like that and how much difference it would make?

Thanks again East Prairie for hosting another excellent Tour de Corn.

Posted in Barn Door Cycling, Rides, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment