Monday, October 26, 2009

Upgrade the ride?

I like my bike. A lot. Discovery 7 has been veddy veddy good to me. The Trek hybrid has been instrumental in my weight-loss program (now at 57 lbs. and counting — I’m the original Fat Cyclist). However, I’m thinking about getting an actual tour/road bike.

After a long ride, like last week’s meander down the I&M Canal Trail, I noticed I’d lost feeling in a few of my fingers, especially the ring finger on my left hand, the one with an actual ring on it. I think the handlebar angle is just five degrees or so too far back – just enough to cock my wrists at an angle and mess with the grip. No big deal, I could just replace the ‘bars, I suppose.

But for the longer rides I enjoy so much, 20+ miles, I think I want the drop handlebars to cut down on the wind resistance, and fenders to keep the limestone grit out of the chainrings and cassette (not to mention my water bottle – urrrgh.)

Where I think I’m headed is a good road/tour bike for the weekend expeditions: Cannondale Touring 2 or the Trek 520, something in that range -- but I’m open to suggestions! I’d keep Discovery 7 for local rides and grocery shopping.

I’ve got about 15 lbs. to go to reach my goal weight. When I hit that mark, and maintain it for a month or two, I think I’m going shopping.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I&M Canal, take II

A personal best today – 38.7 miles, from Channahon to just past Morris on the I&M Canal trail. And it may just have been the most enjoyable bike ride of my life.

Drove on I-55 south to Rt. 6 west, and followed the signs to the trail access. The Lonestar Restaurant and Lounge in Channahon provided the traditional pre-ride diner breakfast. Pretty good food, and the waitress might have called me “hon” if she had seen me there before.

This time, I set off in the correct direction from the trail access (see my earlier entry on the I&M Canal for a description of the bass-ackwards map signboards).

Lock #8 and the locktender's house.

The Channahon access is right where the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers come together to form the Illinois River. As you head west, the canal is on your right and the Illinois is on your left. If you’re doing this on a brilliant fall day under a crisp, cloudless sky, with the water a brilliant sparkling blue and the maples on the hillsides exploding with red and gold, well, there was so much color it was almost painful to behold. "Spectacular" is about the only word for it. Just about every time I looked up, I gasped.

The trail is the standard limestone screenings in good shape. There are a few short, 50-yard stretches that have been patched with gravel, mostly in the three miles between Locks 6 and 7 and Lock 8. After that, the trail is in very good condition, at least as far as Morris and about two miles beyond, which is where I hit the 20-mile mark and decided I’d better turn around.

The mile markers include factoids about the I&M Canal, such as: "Canal diggers often demanded that whiskey be provided as part of their wages because they believed it would protect them from diseases." Yah. "Diseases," got it. Payday must have been interesting back in 1846.

I really needed a Diet Coke at the halfway point, so I left the trail at Morris and explored the downtown area, looking for a fountain (personal peccadillo: it’s a fountain Diet Coke or nothing. No cans or bottles, please).

Downtown Morris was deserted on a Sunday morning, but uptempo music was playing through speakers mounted on the lightpoles. Stoplights dutifully cycled for no one. Yes, it was creepy.

The Jacob Michael Eckstein towboat (5,600 horsepower) rumbles past the Discovery 7 (.4 horsepower).

Found “The Bigger Bite” sandwich shop and got my coke, but not before the woman behind the counter warned me about “all the homeless people” that live along the towpath. I hadn’t seen anyone but yuppies on expensive bikes (no fixies; that trend hasn’t really hit here yet) and retirees on tandems. Chalked it up to urban legend.

I chugged back east, ruefully noting my average speed dropping as my legs gave out. Twelve mph, 11, 10 ... Then the bicycle gods smiled on this unworthy one in the form of a nice breeze from the southwest. The 15-knot zephyr definitely helped get me through those last five miles.

Arrived back at the car wobbly-legged and ravenous – I absolutely vaporized a Subway six-inch chicken teriyaki on wheat on the way home. Pretty sure I could have eaten three.

I’m not ready for the Century just yet – but I’m starting to think it just might happen next year, and probably on the I&M Canal Trail.

There's lots of online info on the (more interesting that you'd think) history of the canal, including maps 'n' such.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Saturday was one of those intensely bright fall days. The summer haze is gone, leaving the air clear and sharp. Trees are just beginning the process of changing color; contrasted against the intensely blue sky, it's a cacaphony of colors.

Had a lot of errands to run, figured I'd shrink the carbon footprint a bit and take the bike. It was 42 degrees when I left the house. Warmed the core quickly by keeping the pace up around 15 mph. The breeze chilled my chest despite the layering.

First stop: the new "Eggsperience" pancake house for some fuel. Normally I shy away from places with cutesy names, but I was hoping against hope for a nice diner-type place with a counter where guys (women don't sit at counters) leave their newspapers for the next customer to read and the waitresses call you "hon."

No counter. Waitress did not call me "hon." Noisy, lots of families. Food was very good. Sigh.

I headed off toward the hardware store, but got sidetracked by a windbreaker I saw in the window of a new store specializing in overpriced clothing and shoes for runners. I took the plunge and bought an $80 Pro Velocity Super Microft Teijintex "shell" (It's not a "windbreaker" - you can't charge $80 for a "windbreaker"). I rationalized the purchase by telling myself it's also a safety measure, since it has reflective strips all over it. It also boasts a "moisture management system," which used to be called "water repellent" back in the Stone Age.

But where has this thing been all my life? The difference was amazing; I was much more comfortable. I especially liked the zippered vents in the armpits: makes it simple to get the heat balance just right.

Hardware store for toilet parts. Casey's for lunchmeat and vegetable oil. Peterson's for a bottle of chianti to go with tonight's homemade pizza. A stop back at home to empty the pannier bags, and back on the road to Radio Shack for replacement computer speakers.

Came back via the DuPage River Trail, a short but spectacular paved bike/running path. I'll write more about this trail next year - right now it's blocked by construction at 75th Street, and there's a new segment under construction that will extend the trail all the way to Whalon Lake in Bolingbrook.

Total for the morning was 21.1 miles and about $200.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A quick 10 on a cold day

My standard 10-mile run to Jewel on a cool — all right, cold — overcast October afternoon. Needed wheat bread and Bac-Os for my standard diet of salad and low-sodium turkey sandwiches. Also I just needed some damned exercise. I felt turgid from a greasy breakfast and sitting in a car for the better part of two days.

I like to shop at Casey’s, a family-owned store, but at five miles round-trip, it’s gotten to be too “close” now that I’m riding almost every day. I’ve taken to hitting the Jewel on Rt. 59, which is about twice as long a ride.

The tires were down a few pounds in the cold, so I topped them off. I donned my ski helmet, a souvenir from last year’s ill-conceived skiing vacation. I’ll probably never go skiing again, but the helmet has nice cloth ear flaps and works extremely well for biking in the cold. Gloves and a bright orange sweatshirt.

I stash my reusable shopping bag in the pannier— I’m all about the carbon footprint, baby!— and set off into the damp chill.

I’m slowly finding back-street alternatives to the four-lane, divided nightmares that carry most of the east-west traffic in Naperville. There are sidewalks, but they’re rough and overhung with tree branches. Unfortunately, none of the streets go through, so it’s two blocks forward, two blocks sideways, one block backwards.

Once the muscles start to work, the chill rapidly recedes. There’s no wind to slow me down and make my eyes water. The streets are quiet on a Sunday afternoon. I settle into a rhythm and do the five miles to the store in about 20 minutes.

I’ve been dreading the idea of hanging up the bike again for five months and waiting out the winter. Maybe I don’t have to, if you believe the lunatics at If the ski trip taught me anything (aside from “skiing is for other people”) it’s that it doesn’t really take that much physical activity to keep a properly dressed person warm at 15 degrees F.

Maybe I’m just deluding myself, but maybe I won’t be so quick to stow the bike away this year. What the worst that could happen, besides frostbite, hypothermia and death?