Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Have barely ridden the bike for more than a week, except for a quick 15-miler to visit my grandmother. My achilles tendons are still sore from the North Shore Century, and of course there's been this:

That, my friends, is one huuuuuge low-pressure system centered directly on my house. It extends from Lake Superior (at the very top) to the Gulf of Mexico (at the bottom) where it can suck enormous amounts of moisture from the warm, oily waters, transport it north, and dump it on my local bike trails in a never-ending series of showers and spitting drizzles. This thing has been sitting exactly where it is for close to five days now. It's forecast to ... move ... very ... slowly ... off to the east after tomorrow. Good riddance.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Well, I done did it. I completed the North Shore Century ride yesterday. My first-ever century.

The stats: 108 miles total in 7 hours 43 minutes (yeah, I know, a glacial 14 mph average speed. I'm blaming the headwind on the return route).

The iPhone is hard to use one-handed. My regular
camera died the night before the ride.

This in a light drizzle that ended for a while, returned, then became a steady light rain over the last 30 miles. Air temperature hovered at about 60 degrees. It really was only uncomfortable at the rest stops, when you'd stop working the muscles and the cold could seep in.

(You'll notice there are few pictures with this entry. That's because my Nikon died the night before the ride, and it was raining too hard to risk using my iPhone.)

The event itself, organized the by Evanston Bicycle Club, was well-run. The route meandered through some very interesting  neighborhoods and past dozens of local landmarks -- from the Adlai Stevenson historic home in Lake County to the mesmerizing Baha'i Temple in Wilmette. The route is fairly flat (yay! After my escapade in mountainous southern Ohio just a few days before, I didn't want to see any more hills).

My only complaint would be the roughness of the roads; some of them were chewed to pieces for miles at a stretch. Really hard on the hands and slowed me down.

Never having done this before, I was fascinated by the group dynamics; small bands of 5-15 riders would self-organize by riding speed, and help each other spot hazards (like the incessant potholes) and the spray-painted direction markers on the pavement. If someone took a wrong turn (not hard to to with the rain cascading down your glasses), they would call out or even chase the rider down.

The rest stops had much more than the standard bananas, cut-up Clif bars and water. There were watermelons, grapes, bagels, home-made brownies and other baked goodies, and barrels of sports drink. At the half-way stop in Kenosha, there was hot potato soup. Very much appreciated.

I had not intended to take the scenic route, but herd instinct took over after the Kenosha stop and I followed a group of guys who looked like they knew what they were doing. Ended up at the Washington Park Velodrome, which is a bicycle racing track. It's an oval track with very steeply banked turns at each end. Well, the gate was open. I got on the track, cranked it up and took two turns around, mindful of the wet conditions. It was pretty freaky in the turns, canted over at about a 30-degree angle, with centripetal force sticking me to the pavement.

The downside: the velodrome route was an optional side-trip that added five miles to the total. Urrrgh.
This is what the last third of the ride looked like to me.
It was raining steadily.
I don't remember much of the last 25 miles. I was deep in grim-determination mode. I do remember passing the Glenview Naval Air Station, and a long, wonderful stretch of bicycle path along Sheridan Road (?).

At the 80-mile mark I knew I was going to finish. Despite the rain and the cold and the aching achilles tendons and the fact that I could barely see, I got a burst of energy. Maybe I was just sick of the discomfort and wanted to get it over with. Either way, my speed crept up and I started passing people.

Somewhere in Glencoe, the GPS read 99.8 ... 99.9 ... come on you son of a ... 100! I let out a whoop. Whatever happened, I had completed a century at that point. But there was still another eight miles to go.

I arrived at Dawes Park in Evanston disheveled, cold but oddly perky, which worried me a bit. I picked up my certificate of completion, limped back to my car and cranked up the heat as high as it would go.

I hope the weather's a bit better next year.

dsj 110919

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lebanon ride, Sept. 13, 2011

Visiting the kin in the Cincinnati area again, this time for a funeral. Had a morning free, and needed to get away from the sorrow and the drama for a while. We left home in a near-panic, so I didn’t have my Madone. Borrowed my sister-in-law’s old hybrid trek and set out generally northeast-ish after a delightful Waffle House breakfast.
You don't see these on the Prairie Path.
Damn, it sure isn’t Illinois around here. Hill after hill after hill.

After hill after hill after hill.

Yeesh. Probably wouldn’t have minded so much but that old Trek was *heavy* and the derailleur was badly in need of adjustment. Grind crunch curse wobble rattle rattle clunk! In Illinois you kind of point the bike in the direction you want to go, find a gear and take a nap -- now I really needed a good set of gears and they only worked in fits and starts.

Still, it was a pretty, warm, breezy day and the scenery is wonderful in that part of the world. And of course, I blundered into an excellent, paved bicycle trail. I swear, you can spit in any random direction down there and you’ll probably hit a paved bike trail. These trails would be celebrated as wonders of the world in Illinois. Here they’re just a fact of life.
I mean, look at this beautiful trail.

This turned out to be the “Lebanon-Countryside YMCA Trail,” an 8.2-mile spur off the Little Miami Scenic Trail. It winds through the backcountry from the Little Miami River into downtown Lebanon, Ohio.

Well alrighty then.

Obviously not rails-to-trails here: right-angle bends, steep hills. Scenic bean fields, forest, the occasional exurban backyard, a low-key industrial park.

I reached historic downtown Lebanon (does any little burg in America not call itself “historic” in a sad bid for some sense of place?) desperately thirsty, since there was no water bottle on the borrowed bike. After some searching I found a gas station with a soda fountain. I bought a 32-oz. Coke and two large bottles of water. In the same small strip mall was “Porky Capone BBQ,” a hole-in-wall that set my restaurant spider-senses tingling. Unfortunately, I was still digesting my Waffle House hash browns. I vowed to return for lunch.

Turns out Lebanon actually is historic. This passenger
train makes occasional runs into Mason.

Lebanon is also home to the Golden Lamb, the oldest hotel
in the state (Ohio).

I damn near threw a lung on the way home. Tried a different route back, which of course turned out to be even hillier than the way in. And the most direct road was closed for construction and impassable.

Finally, somehow, the road dumped me on the Rt. 741 near King’s Island Amusement Park and some sort of level ground. Total was a paltry 23.75 miles, but the Endo Mondo app on my iPhone only measures horizontal distance --  I’ll bet it was at least that far vertically as well.
Best damn barbecue joint in Ohio,
as far as I'm concerned. I will never again visit
the area without stopping here at least once.
Took a shower and headed back to Porky Capone. It was better than I had hoped. They served real slow-smoked barbecue. You can get a pulled pork sandwich served "nasty" -- with a big patty of coleslaw on top, just like it's supposed to be. Try the side of collard greens with vinegar and a spicy tingle. All served with small-town friendliness.
dsj 110913

Friday, September 2, 2011

Gotta get this off my chest

I am continually surprised by the amount of venom drivers display when they talk about bicyclists. They’ve all seen a bicyclist run a stop sign or stop light, and can harp about it for what seems like hours. Or they once had to slow down for a damned bicyclist because there wasn’t enough room to go around.

What a bunch of big babies.

I don’t blow through stop lights (unless there’s no traffic and the light obviously isn’t going to sense a bicycle), but I won’t halt for a stop sign if there is no traffic coming. Naperville has about three million gratuitous stop signs sprinkled at random intervals throughout its back streets. These signs are not elements of a rational traffic control plan: they’re intended to prevent cars from speeding. Whenever some whiny suburbanite calls city hall to complain about those crazy kids screeching down the back street with their thump-thump music blaring and endangering the children, a stop sign is born. I doubt that any stop sign, anywhere, was intended to slow down those crazy speeding bicycle riders.

I earned my kinetic energy with my own personal sweat. I can’t stop and start with two ounces of pressure from my big toe. Half the time I’m lugging 25 lbs. of groceries as well. I’m not gonna stop and start up again for no damn good reason if I don’t have to.

As for once in a great while a driver having to actually touch the brake pedal, twitch the steering wheel an inch to the left and back again to go around a bicyclist: awww, you’re so deprived by being delayed for 10 seconds. My heart bleeds for you.

You know what it is? Jealousy. Yep, I’m healthier than you. I’m losing weight and my wife is finding me more and more attractive. I’m actually enjoying my commute. I smile when I blow past a line of cars, knowing that the drivers are watching me and feeling envy and annoyance because they’re trapped in their expensive metal cages and here comes this handsome, fit bicyclist who’s getting lots more great sex than they are.

Neener neener neener.

Ah, that felt good.

Morning with lake and landfill

Been getting up early to run 10-12 miles. I'm in training for the North Shore Century -- only two weeks away now! Here was the view from the DuPage River Trail this morning, just after sunrise. That's Whalon Lake in Bolingbrook, looking north. The hill in the distance is the Greene Valley Landfill, which is what passes for terrain around here.

Getting kinda nervous about the century ride.My goal is to finish in some kind of reasonable time: I'm going to shoot for 7 hours, which comes out to an average of 15 mph. That seems to be my average speed on a long ride. Hope it's not too windy that day, or if there is, I hope it's from the north (tailwind on the return route).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bike commuting in August

A sweaty 58-minute bicycle commute to work this morning. Low overcast and  77F, which should have been very comfortable, but the humidity was about 600%. More like swimming than bicycling! I kept feeling drops hitting my legs and thinking it was starting to rain -- nope, just sweat dripping from the rim of my helmet.

Caught all but one of the lights and starting hoping for a sub-50-minute record-breaker, until I came over the I-55 bridge on Woodward and saw the DuPage County Sheriff's car and yellow tape blocking the Frontage Road. Dangit! I continued on to the next street, but that added more than a mile to the trip. Double-timed it the rest of the way, but the damage was done.

(Evidently there was an accidental drowning in a pond along the Frontage Road, and the fuzz was keeping backstreet short-cutters like me away of the scene.)

Arrived at the building soaking sweaty and actually looking forward to the A/C. I'm a warm-weather fan and probably part reptile: you can count on one hand the number of times each summer I'll break down and turn on the car's air conditioning. But this morning, the blast of coolness when I opened the door to the building elicited a drawn-out "aaaaaaahhhhh."

Humidity seems to be dropping as the day goes on, and I'll have a nice breeze at my back this afternoon. Looking forward to the return ride.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Waubonsie Creek Trail, Aurora, IL

Took a medium-length road tour — just under 30 miles — on a warm, bright late-July Saturday morning. Just wandering around the back streets with the vague goal of having a Diet Coke somewhere in the vicinity of downtown Plainfield. Ended up near Montgomery somehow, and blundered into a real gem: the Waubonsie Creek Trail.

Came across it behind the Rush-Copley medical complex near Ogden Avenue and Rt. 30. The smooth asphalt-paved path hugs Waubonsie Creek, which is dammed at one point to form a small lake. (Aside: I’ve seen a lot of kids fishing in these little park lakes and retention ponds lately. Does my heart good.) It seems to be a loop about five miles long all told, with lots of curves and a couple of small hills for variety. Delightful scenery and not particularly crowded, even on a pleasant Saturday morning. 

Apparently, the Virgil Gilman Trail, which I’ve not yet ridden, is a few short blocks from the Waubonsie Trail’s western end. This calls for additional investigation!

Here’s a map.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bike tour of Gloucester, Mass.

Brought the old hybrid bike along for our big trip to New England. We’d trailered the motorcycles to Gloucester, Mass., where we stayed at the Colonial Inn, an 1860s vintage mansion that is now a bed and breakfast. Great place to stay with good access to Boston -- highly recommended.

The bike rode east ignominiously strapped to a rack on the back window of my SUV. I’d learned from the last trip, when we'd stuck the bicycles between the motorcycles on the trailer. Both motorcycles bear vibration-induced scars from the bicycles on that trip. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mary’s motorcycle got beat to hell.

I took a few short bicycle rides in the mornings, just down the road to fetch a Diet Coke and a newspaper (New York Post headline on the Casey Anthony verdict: “Not Guilty As Sin!”). On Independence Day eve, I found myself with a few hours to explore Gloucester, America’s oldest seaport.

I stopped for the standard diner breakfast at Zeke’s Place. Classic breakfast/lunch restaurant, with a ten-place counter. The waitress called me “dear” (well, it was New England, it came out “deah.”). Food was good and not overly greasy. I ordered my scrambled eggs “super dry, burned to a crisp” and by golly, they came out nice and dry, the way I like ‘em. Thick-cut bacon, too.

Suitably fueled up for the mission, I set off to see the rest of the town. I headed into Gloucester proper, along the seashore. The core of the downtown area is the Gorton’s Seafood headquarters. There’s a large office building and a dockside facility.

 The Gorton’s fisherman, whom I don’t particularly trust, is loosely modeled on the target of my next stop: the monument to those Gloucesterians lost at sea -- “They that go down to the sea in ships” of the Bible verse. There are a lot. A lot. The monument lists their names,hundreds of them, from dory fisherman lost in the late 1600s to the crew of the Andrea Gail and even more recently. I hope the Bible verse comforts them.
Here's they that go down to the sea in ships
and he that go down to the sea on a bicycle.

 The young helmsman of the monument looks out to sea, wearing his slickers and confidently steering his ship into the nor'easter. I imagine most of the hundreds of names on the monument belonged to kids in their 20s.

 It occurred to me that I have been from sea to shining sea, from San Diego to Gloucester, and many points in between (not necessarily, and not usually, on a bicycle). I am a lucky man to have seen so much of our amazing country.

A few hundred feet down the road, another monument has been added, commemorating the wives and children of the fisherman who never came home. A hard life, made even harder. Perhaps even more deserving of our consideration: the dead don’t have to pay the rent or buy their kids shoes.

For some reason, it always seemed to be low tide.Makes you wonder how they get all the lobster pots from the pier down to the boat.

In the artist's colony of Rocky Neck I came across this scene. The boat looked like it had been the goal of a refurbishment, but the project had stalled years ago and the once-proud ship had become a sort of second garage for junk storage. I wonder if the magnum bottle of wine was once meant for the re-christening, but was drunk when the owner realized the ship would never again set out to sea.

One of the churches in town is Our Lady of Good Voyage. Here’s the Lady, protectively cradling a boat, on the steeple. I’d have taken some pix inside, but morning mass was in session. I was expecting something like Father Mapple’s sermon from Moby Dick:

And the Great Whale shuts to all his ivory teeth like so many white bolts upon his prison. And Jonah cries unto the Lord, out of the fish's belly. But observe his prayer, Shipmates. He doesn't weep or wail. He feels his punishment is just. He leaves deliverance to God. And even out of the belly of Hell, grounded upon the ocean's utmost bones, God heard him when he cried.

… But the modern sermon was the usual mumble blah oh lord i am not worthy to receive thee mumble blah.

At the the "Cut Bridge" on the way back to the inn, a fishing boat passed right underneath me. It was one of those steel-grate bridges that haunt the nightmares of motorcycle riders even though they're about as dangerous as cinnamon-scented unicorn farts. Anyway, I was jealous of those on board. I hope they has as great a day fishing as I had exploring Gloucester.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday ramble

 Just a few random miles to bulk up my Bike to Work Week totals, which include bicycle trips one would have taken by car. I took the DuPage river Trail south from 87th Street to downtown Naperville. What a scenic ride, with the duck-filled river on your right as you head north. It's not all this pretty, but much of it is.

Einsten Bagels in downtown Naperville is my usual Saturday morning haunt. Today I tried a turkey sausage with salsa, which sounded tasty. The actual result was on a "thin" tasteless bagel and a tasteless turkey patty covered with a cylinder of tasteless egg whites, which I discarded. The "salsa" was a squirt of mexi-flavor gel. Blech, except for the fruit cup and the fountain Diet Coke. Next time I'll have my usual wheat bagel.

Behind the Naperville Police Station
is this picturesque pond with a surrounding bike path.

Anyway. Next stop: The Naperville Police Department, so I could register my new bike. Up Aurora Avenue I went -- but it turns out the Naperville Police Dept. doesn't work on weekends. At least, as far as bicycle registration goes.

The DuPage River Trail devolves into a series of backstreet left-right
turns in what used to be historic Naperville. These huge easy-credit
mansions -- built right out to the lot lines -- are replacing the
human-scale housing in downtown Naperville.
A stop at Ace Hardware for toilet parts, and back home. Total was 17.7 miles, which counts toward my Bike To Work Week total. Cool.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yay, it stopped raining.

Only managed two bicycle commutes during “Bike to Work Week” — today and Tuesday. Got rained out the rest of the week. Total will be a paltry 50 miles or so. Oh well.

 This morning was glorious. Temperature in the low 60s, cloudless and windless. A lightweight bike in tip-top condition. A middleweight rider in so-so condition. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the 60 minutes and 33 seconds it took me to get to work today.

79th Street running through the
Greene Valley Forest Preserve.

Should be a great ride home, too: an easterly breeze at my back, and 80 degrees. I can rack up a few more miles tomorrow running errands; BTWW doesn’t officially end until Sunday.

dsj 110617

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bike to Work Week!

It's on! Doing my part to help Argonne National Laboratory best Fermilab and Alcatel-Lucent. My son accompanied me on this morning's 12.5-mile, 64-minute inbound commute. Looks like tomorrow will be a washout, but Thursday and Friday promise to be rain-free and warm.

Learn more about bicycle commuting from the Active Transportation Alliance.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mr. Metric!

Mary and I visited the kin down on Cincinnati this weekend. I brought the new bike with the idea of attempting a "metric century" -- 100 kilometers, or 62 miles -- on the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

Well, shoot. I did it.

Perfect day for the attempt: warm, very light winds (supposedly from the north). The trail, as I've noted before, is smooth and paved with asphalt. Just right for a fresh-out-of-the-box road bike.
Got on the Trail at Kings Mill and headed north. Most of the trail is fully tree-lined; it's like riding in a cool green tunnel. You get glimpses of the Little Miami River on your left. (See my previous post about this wonderful trail.)
A representative stretch of the Little Miami Scenic Trail.
The trail was littered with a lot of small debris from storms that had rolled through in previous days: twigs, leaves and the occasional downed branch. At one point, I had to stop and carry my bike over a downed sapling.

A fellow road-bike rider got in behind me about 10 miles into the ride. It took me a while to figure out he was drafting. That was a first! I was flattered.

The trail was busy -- turns out there was a triathlon in progress, sponsored by one of the local campground/canoe rental outfits. 
The town of Spring Valley was the turnaround point, 31 miles from the start. I had a most excellent chocolate ice-cream cone at the Two Scoops shop. And of course, the weatherman lied: the wind was out of the south, right in my face on the way back.
A rare opening in the tree canopy.
About 50 miles in, I really started feeling the distance. My shoulders started getting shaky, and my hamstrings began to bark. I stopped at the Morgan Campground/Canoe Rental HQ in hopes of finding a fountain Diet Coke. No luck there, but I bought a Clif energy bar and was offered free bottled water, courtesy of the triathlon. I gratefully accepted.

The last 10 miles was a true test of my endurance. I haven't pushed myself that hard in a long time. But the anticipation of reaching a long-time goal kept me chugging along. Four hours and 22 minutes after I started, I was sitting on a bar stool in the Train Stop Inn, celebrating my first metric century with a Rolling Rock and a well-deserved hamburger.

Next: a full century. I can do it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Welcome Naperville Sun readers!

The Naperville Sun's Grace Wong was kind enough to interview me for an article. I was only too happy to help spread the word about bicycling in Naperville, the SW burbs and across the Midwest. Your suggestions for good rides are welcome!

That blur was me

The new bicycle is a white-hot bullet of justice and awesome. This morning's commute: 12.5 miles, 56:08, a new personal record (previous best was 58 minutes and change). And I wasn't even trying that hard.

New goal: <50 minutes!

Now back to your regularly scheduled blogging. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We bike the drive, in a fog

 The family went for the annual "Bike the Drive" event, in which Chicago's most famous roadway is closed to motor vehicle traffic for a morning, and opened to bicycles. Well, bicycles ridden by those who have paid the $55 fee, anyway.

Mary and Dave at about Oak Street, with the
beautiful Chicago skylline in the background. Somewhere.

As a sight-seeing event, the 2011 Bike the Drive was pretty much a bust due to a heavy fog and a misty drizzle. The skyline of Chicago was invisible.

Still, it was fun joining thousands of fellow cyclists for a low-speed toodle on LSD. We started at Grant Park and headed north, stopping occasionally to wipe the mist from our glasses. We enjoyed the people-watching and the many types of bikes, from tour-ready racers to home-made recumbents.

At the turnaround point, Bryn Mawr Avenue,
volunteers served protein bars, bananas and water.
There were several tents set up in Grant Park for vendors and information, and a Blues Brothers cover band, but the crowds were sparse. Most people seemed to want to get out of the cool, damp conditions. We took a look around, then made a beeline for Chinatown and a dim sum breakfast. (Tried a new place, Shui Wah, which was very good. We highly recommend it.)

Mary celebrates at the end of our 18-mile ride.

dsj 110531

Friday, May 27, 2011

Elroy-Sparta trail, Wisconsin, May 24, 2011

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes at the Elroy Family Restaurant (server was the friendly and efficient Brittney, please tip generously), my son and I jumped on the famous Elroy-Sparta Bicycle Trail and headed north.

The beginning of the trail, in Elroy. The depot has bathrooms
and a gift shop.
This was the first long trip on the new bike, "Shadowfax," and it proved itself worthy. Other than the infamous stock Trek seat. Ouch.

The path is the usual rails-to-trails limestone screenings, in excellent condition -- packed down as hard as pavement for the most part. I cringed listening to the grit skitter off my brand new ride's frame and chainrings.
This centerpiece of this little park
is the stone foundation of Western
Wisconsin's largest train turntable.

I'd been a bit concerned about how the 25mm tires (at 120 PSI!) would perform on the limestone, but I needn't have. Other than a little bit of slithering on a rare soft patch, the ride was stiff but relatively effortless.

(Where has this bike been all my life? Featherweight frame and comfortable drop handlebars with at least four different hand positions. The bike wants to go just a few more miles, and take me along for the ride. I am insanely happy -- I think this going to be my all-time favorite bike. (Once I replace the stock Trek "prostate poker" seat.)
The town of Kendall has very
impressive monument to the area's
service men and women. Sobering to see
so many killed from the same families.

The trail is more or less ramrod-straight and level through verdant, rolling, bucolic (in the classic sense, meaning "a lot of cows") Wisconsin boondocks. Towns are pleasantly spaced about every 5-7 miles, and all have some sort of businesses catering to the bicyclist. However, on a Tuesday preceding Memorial Day, most of those businesses were closed.
The 1st tunnel north of Elroy, 1,694 feet long.
The doors kept out the cold in the winter,
so the constant water seepage wouldn't freeze
and cause rockfalls.

The Elroy-Sparta trail's claim to fame are its trio of tunnels. 10 miles or so north of Elroy, we hit tunnel number one -- 1,694 feet long. I was glad I'd remembered to bring a headlight; it was pretty darn dark in the middle. It's asphalt paved inside, but it drops away to either side into slimy-looking drainage ditches. They're only a foot or 18 inches deep, but I wouldn't want to slide down in there. What a cool -- and a little bit spooky -- highlight for the bike ride.

We walked through, as instructed by the warning sign, passing a couple of other trail riders as we did so. We rode another half-mile up the trail, and decided to turn around: we'd noticed that we were going to have a southeast headwind on the return trip, and didn't want to go too far north. Steven talked me into riding through the tunnel as we headed southbound. We survived.
My son had never been in
a phone booth. This one is
in Elroy.

Hadn't really noticed on the way north, but it had been two miles of slow but steady uphill grade before the tunnel. (What a marvelous machine is the Trek Madone 3.1! OK, I'll shut up now.) The return trip was a delight: downhill on a fast bike as the glycogen reserves started to kick in. I barely had to pedal at all. The miles flew by in a green blur.

All too soon, back at Elroy and the car. Today's total: 21.7 miles (plus another half-mile in the tunnel that the GPS didn't record). I am coming back with the wife at some point -- she'll be enchanted by the scenery and the tunnel. But I'm also going to return solo, pack a lunch and see all three tunnels on the trail.

Some of the delightful scenery along the way.
The last word: this is a trail every avid bicyclist should try at least once. You will need a daily pass, for $4, or an annual, for $20. Not that I've ever been checked, but the money seems to be well-spent on trail maintenance. It's a real gem.

dsj 110524

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Trek Madone: First impressions

After a thorough fitting and adjustment at Bicycles Etc., I rode the new Madone 3.1 home Tuesday night. My initial impression was confirmed quickly: what a sweet, sweet ride!

More than once in the early going, the bike accelerated faster than I could shift. Part of that was my unfamiliarity with the Shimano 105 system, and the other part was the gossamer weight of the all-carbon bike (24 lbs., according to the mechanic’s scale at the shop).

Rode east on Aurora Avenue into a 20-25 mph headwind, which would have been a real grind in the hybrid’s upright riding position. Between the rail-thin tires and the more compact riding position of the road bike (Yay! Drops!) I sliced through the cool wind easily.

South on Fort Hill Drive to the Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve path, a typical crushed limestone trail. Headed east, again into the wind, a little apprehensive about how the skinny, high-pressure tires would perform on the trail.

No problemo. Just a little unsteady in a tight turn, which I’ll have to watch. But that’s not an issue on most of my rails-to-trails rides, which rarely have anything resembling a curve.

South on Modaff toward home, wind at my back. A couple gentle hills to test my gear-shifting. Figured out the “half-click” that keeps the high gears from rattling on the small chainring. The notorious stock Trek seat will probably have to be replaced with something designed for humans, but I was expecting that.

After a very pleasant six miles, arrived at home. Won’t be able to ride again until a work commute on Friday. Already have a change of clothes stashed away in my office. Can’t wait!

The bike’s tentative name is “Shadowfax.” Yeah, I’m what you call a geek.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bike Day!

Spring 2011 has been a complete disaster from a bicycling standpoint. It’s been cold, windy and raining for the last month and a half. (Almost literally. Seriously, it’s been the coldest, wettest spring on record — ask Tom Skilling.) I’ve managed to bike to work twice, snuck out a couple of times between rain showers for a quick 10 miles on the DuPage River Trail and made a few local errand trips to the grocery and hardware stores. But otherwise, April and half of May have been a washout.

But things are looking up: supposed to hit the mid-70s this weekend, and I’ll have a new bicycle: a Trek Madone 3.1. Yow. 

I’ve been looking at a road bike for more than a year now. The original idea was to get the new bike when I hit my goal weight. Although I’ve lost more than 60 lbs., I’ve been stuck at goal weight +10 lbs. for the last six months. With my 50th birthday fast approaching, I figured a new bike could be my birthday present and motivation to finally lose the last vestiges of my middle-age paunch.

After receiving indifferent treatment, or being downright ignored at several other shops looking for a Cannondale (cough Bike Shop Glen Ellyn cough), Mary and I stopped by Bicycles Etc. last Sunday to see what they had. Bicycles Etc. is a great local bike shop; I’ve been a steady customer for years and I highly recommend the place. It’s a family-owned business. Their salespeople and mechanics are knowledgeable, professional and have a great service attitude. All my dealings with them have been positive so far. Kudos to our salesperson Russ, who took the time to show me several options and patiently explain the advantages — then showed me the 3.1, stepped back and let the bike sell itself.

Actually, the test ride sold the bike (no other bike shop I’d visited had offered a test ride, BTW). I’d never ridden an all-carbon bicycle before: during the first turn around the parking lot I actually looked down at the drivetrain to check if there was a motor of some sort. It was that effortless. It took me a few seconds to figure out the Shimano 105 shifters, but once I did, well, it was insane quick. Turned like a snake. Comfortable cockpit. Felt like home. All carbon for pretty much the same price as the aluminum Cannondale.

Now, two grand is a hell of a lot of money to spend on a damned bicycle, and I tried desperately to talk myself out of it. I’d been looking at a perfectly acceptable Giant cyclocross bike at the Spokes bicycle shop — that one was “just” $1,000 and I thought that was crazy. I thanked Russ for his assistance and we walked back to the car. Mary stopped me from settling. 

“You’ve wanted this bike for years,” she said. “You’ve earned it. And happy birthday.” Seriously, who’s the luckiest man in the world? (Hint: it’s me.) 

Russ set me up with six-months-same-as-cash, cut-resistant tires, pedals with toe clips and a rack. Hated to add all that weight to the featherweight bike, but I’ll need that stuff for the upcoming, absolutely epic rides on the Elroy-Sparta Trail. 

Discovery 7, my faithful old Trek 7100 hybrid, will continue to serve for errands and winter-biking duty. I’m not lugging groceries with a Madone. That would just be wrong on several levels. 

I’m considering breaking with tradition and not naming the Madone “Discovery 8.” I’m open to suggestions. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Reset the odometer on my GPS today on my first ride of 2011. Total for last year was 1,590.69 miles -- that's since I bought the GPS in July. Total-total was certainly over 2,000 miles and probably in the 2,500-mile range. I hope to double that next year. I mean, this year. 2011.

Happy New Year everyone!