Monday, June 29, 2009

5 Banjo Rated Shawnee State Forest Gravel Road Ride Adventure

All too often I hear riders describe themselves as roadies or mountain bikers. Personally, I love the middle ground, a foot on the pave' and the other on the hard pack. I shouldn't have, but I missed out on a real adventure on Sunday, June 21st. This ride was a fire-road oddessy through southern Ohio's Shawnee State Forest, an adventure featuring gravel roads through pristine Ohio wilderness with pitches of 29 to 34 percent, with nary a soul in sight, except for the dogs. Welcome to Banjo pickin' country. Today's post comes from guest blogger, ride organizer and dog dodger Jim Katenkamp.

This past Sunday, June 21st, I recruited a few asphalt loving road biking friends and coerced them into going back in time, when roads were skinny and paved only with hard packed dirt and loose stone. For our adventure we were heading to ride the unpaved double track and gravel roads of Shawnee State Forest. The course profile is pictured above.

I have ridden road bikes for years but never have I gone off road. I was a little uneasy about this ride in the beginning. I thought to myself, "I’m going to do 50 – 55 miles on a 36 pound mountain bike with the forecast calling a high in the upper 80’s?" To compound the issue, at the start of the ride our tour guide Michael informed us that some of the areas we were going to ride through are classified by banjos with five banjos being the worse. Nice. That really calmed my nerves, especially while wearing spandex in the woods.

After riding 10 miles we regrouped at a church. As we left the church and started down Carter Run Rd, I quickly realized we should have stopped in, said a prayer and lit a few candles. Only a couple hundred yards down the road I went around a bend and I almost ran into Michael. He had slowed abruptly because the road was so steep and in such a poor shape. I went around Michael and could not believe the size of the ruts and the steepness of the road. After getting to the bottom of the hill I took pictures of everyone else as they descended. Later when I got home and looked up Carter Run Road on Topo USA I found out it has an average grade of 29 percent with a maximum grade of 34 percent. That's a five banjo hill.

As it happens on so many rides, the riders in front stir up the dogs and those in the back fend for their lives. Near the end of the ride and finally back on asphalt, peacefully rolling down a hill this really big mean dog comes running at us full tilt from a nearby house. He wants a piece of somebody real bad. Guess who's in back? Not as easy to outsprint a dog on the mountain bike compared to my road bike. I sped up and eyed a bridge with a turn on the other side. The big gnarly dog was closing. Within seconds of reaching the bridge, it didn’t look like the boards were fastened properly. Some, in the middle, bowed badly. Michael and I went flying across the bridge! I yelled “right” to those in front. I had never ridden this road and hoped I made the right call. I didn’t want to back track past that dog. Thankfully the bridge acted as one of those cattle crossings stopping the dog in his tracks after we had made the turn.

PS: All dogs aside, Jim's planning a return trip in the fall.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Cyclists Toolbox: Replacing Cleats With A Sharpie

With the heel-side lip half gone, I could still clip in with my Shimano road cleats. Like Kramer on Seinfeld seeing how far the car would travel on an empty tank, it certainly was ridiculous and amazing, if not slightly dangerous, to see how long my cleats would continue to engage in my Ultegra pedals. (see heel-edge of cleat in photo: old cleat top, new bottom) Maybe stemming from the time and effort spent on a bike fitting session a few years ago, I used to fear replacing cleats, never quite sure that I’d be able to install the new ones in the exact same sweet spot on the bottom of the shoe. Yada yada yada, it was my fear that the last chunk of plastic would break loose at the worst possible moment that won the battle of the two fears. I replaced them before the Ault Park criterium yesterday.

Regardless of how tough they are, if your cleats ever come even halfway to looking like the photo, pony up the credit card and buy yourself a new set. While it’s the girth of the lips that hook into the pedal that matter, pretty much, if the yellow walking pads are nearly gone you should buy a new set. Cleats, along with bar tape, tires and saddle, are among the four things you can replace to make your bike feel all new again. Something to keep in mind when cash is tighter than a drive side spoke.

A Sharpie marker is an ingenious tool that should be in every cyclist’s toolbox. Choose a color other than black. I use a blue one. It’s perfect for marking the positions of saddle heights on seat posts, saddle position on rails, handlebars on stems, hoods on bars and exactly where your new cleats should be installed on your shoes. Before removing the old cleats, just trace around them with a Sharpie. Then replacing the cleats as simple as putting the new triangle cleat over the triangle outline (photo of tracing above.) Triangle block into triangle hole. It’s elementary. Just clean up the shoe, lightly lube the bolt threads (light enough so bolts don't rust & cease, but not too much that they easily loosen), drop in the hardware, tighten to spec and you’re golden. If your old cleats aren’t that bad, toss the best one along with its hardware in your toolbox. That way you’ll have a make-do spare. Cleats are most likely to break on Sunday’s, 2 minutes after the local shop closes. All hail the Sharpie.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cincinanti's Dedicated Bike Lane For Beefing Big Balled Bicyclists

Every now and then what is at the root a crime, usually of a lesser degree, is on the surface super freaking funny. Sometime within the last 2-3 weeks the bike lane arrows on Erie Avenue in Cincinnati have been repainted, neither at the hand of any city employee nor at the hand of a very mature person. I, being somewhat immature, found these modern cave drawings incredibly hilarious, especially after a long ride, going up the last hill on my way home with my last sip of water in my bottle. I nearly blew that sip out my nose when I saw this.

I present the road marking which depicts a bike lane that I presume is only for gassy cyclists, a bike lane dedicated to me. How thoughtful. Someone out there knows that I enjoy a healthy diet of legumes, mushrooms and the occasional broccoli. Since both Erie Avenue and Brotherton lead nearly parallel paths up the hill to the neighborhoods of Hyde Park and Oakley respectively and the painting is tagged with a "B", I’ve deducted that maybe someone who lives on Brotherton was offended by a blasting biker or tooting tandem on their street and decided to go all vigilante, repaint the bike lane markings and get the offending athletes to detour up Erie Avenue instead. May I add that looks like one horrendous spider bark. I think the color is dead on. But, that’s not all. Just a few meters up hill from the flatulence artwork is this picture.

Women and lesser men, I am sorry, but it appears that the Hyde Park bound Erie Avenue bike lane is only for farting cyclists with giant cantaloupe sized testicles, beefing bicyclists with big balls. My last sip of water is officially coming out my nose. Bravo to the vigilante. However criminal or offensive the act may be I have found another reason to look forward to the last two miles of my bike rides. Happy Friday, Facebook Friday will return next week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stimulate This! The Most Kick Ass Bike Path Ever vs Cincinnati East End High Speed Rail

If you watch the video from Cincinnati’s WCPO, the state of Ohio wants to use Stimulus money to increase economic development via putting a high speed train and station along the last sliver of Cincinnati’s remaining scenic Ohio Riverfront. The East End stretch between the neighborhood of Columbia Tusculum and Downtown is in transition, home to an increasing number of new homes, rehabbed historic buildings, a couple of very nice parks, community centers and Columbia Square. This is the same stretch of tracks that ultimately may be the recreation path linking the Little Miami Scenic Trail from Newtown to Lunken Airport and Downtown. The same trail that makes Loveland Ohio a suburban jewel where shops, restaurants, festivals, new homes and rehabbed historic buildings are fed by rollerbladers, mommy joggers, bikers, and romantic hand holding walkers out for a quiet stroll after dinner. I’m so glad East Enders were on it like Blue Bonnet and didn’t miss a beat voicing the obvious fact that a big fast noisy train would make people run from the East End, Columbia Tusculum and lower Mount Adams faster than the great flood.

I want to see those last few Riverside Drive empty lots fill up with new homes, the historic East End homes of the 1800’s come to new life, new business and restaurants sprout in Columbia Tusculum and aged Riverside Drive storefronts, the property tax base increase, bike or walk to the park with family and friends, hold hands with my wife and go for a scenic Ohio River vista filled walk after a nice dinner out in Columbia Tusculum. Let’s scrap that whole goofy train nonsense and concentrate on what makes great neighborhoods great: being a nice place to live. However, the funny thing is that when government thinks of using stimulus money for infrastructure projects it seems like it has to be a gargantuan amount of cash and proportion. A bike path? That’s like federal pocket change, nowhere near the kind of shocking dollar amounts needed for spending stimulus money. If that’s the case, I propose a stimulus money worthy recreational path, in essence THE MOST KICK ASS BIKE PATH EVER.

First off THE MOST KICK ASS BIKE PATH EVER would incorporate scenes and views of all the places I love to ride. As a canvas, we already have a view of the Ohio River and rolling hills of the entire valley. To put that stimulus money to good use, I propose making that view even better by shipping in a couple groves of Colorado Aspen trees, a few stands of fragrant tall pine, and whatever makes the Pink Beds in North Carolina’s Pisgah national forest so beautiful.

Stimulus money is big, and so are State Park Country Club-esque lodges that rent a few rooms, offer incredible views, and house free public amenities like; showers, water bottle filling stations, air pumps, a bike shop, bike lockers, racks, picnic tables, and horseshoe pits. Like the lodge at Hueston Woods State Park, THE MOST KICK ASS BIKE PATH EVER would have one near Schmidt fields that caters to the path users, softball fans and marina users. Give it a cool local name like Queen City Cottage.

Scattered with authentic mining shacks and water towers to explore, one of my favorite rides is the Bankers Tank loop in Breckenridge. THE MOST KICK ASS BIKE PATH EVER would have the Cincinnati version, maybe what appears to be an abandoned riverboat workshop turned into a coffee/bike/smoothie stand. That Fuel Coffee shop on Riverside would be perfect. Even with the lodge, boutique shops, and imported landscaping, I don’t think I'm even close to spending a stimulus worthy amount yet.

Looking back on all my vacation experiences, the best bike paths always have a long wooden suspension bridge over a quaint creek and cool wooden trail signs that tell you how far the nearest town center is or what is in the distance of the beautiful Ohio River vista. THE MOST KICK ASS BIKE PATH EVER would have signs carved in the shape of paddle wheels that say “Mount Lookout Square 1 mile” and “Dayton KY founded in 18-blah blah blah.” And if there’s a few million left over, let’s put a the most kick ass ferry ever between Columbia Tusculum and Dayton, KY so riders from both sides of the river can access THE MOST KICK ASS BIKE PATH EVER.

Most bike paths are wide enough for one, maybe two bikes wide in each direction. THE MOST KICK ASS BIKE PATH EVER would have at least three lanes in each direction and dedicated lanes for roller bladders, mommy joggers and possibly an adjacent dirt or gravel path for dog walkers. In addition, there would be an express lane down the center for racer types and those middle-of-the-day fast retired guys on triathlon bikes so they can crush their daily century. At dedicated points there’d be turn outs to stop and chat with friends complete with bike racks and comfortable benches. If there are still a few pennies of stimulus left, I want on and off ramps.

Like the people downtown that wear cute kerchiefs and ascots and help with directions, THE MOST KICK ASS BIKE PATH EVER would have ambassadors traveling the path with maps, bus & event schedules spare inner tubes, Kleenex, first aid, air, tools, Clif Bars and Gatorade. Like the bike path version of the CVS van on the freeway. Now that’s serving the community.

I don’t know what an 8-10 foot wide five mile stretch of blacktop costs, but I’m positive the costs are smaller and the benefits way larger than putting a high speed train along a beautiful riverfront. Last time I checked THE MOST KICK ASS TRAIN STATION EVER is still just west of downtown Cincinnati. Train train go away.

For more on the Ohio River Trail click here. For what it's worth, an inch of bike path costs $15.78 and you can purchase an inch by clicking here. Thanks to Building Cincinnati blog readers for visiting and thanks for the link Kevin.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ohio State Cat 3 Road Race Championships: The View From The Passenger Seat

It wasn’t quite Africa hot, but maybe a Disney Orlando type hot, humid and nearing 80. It looked like about another 15 signed up day of, adding to the 65 prereg’d riders. A fat field of 80 lined up on the Cat 3 start line at the Ohio State Road Race Championship Sunday at Caesars Creek State Park. I guess I ducked into the bathroom a little too late and hit the start line three quarters back in the enormous field, lining up with BioWheels/Reece-Campbell teammates Andy P & TJ. 80 guys mean lots of teams with lots of riders. Seeing that, I decided to call shotgun. I was going to plop my spandex rump in the passenger seat and wasn’t going to take a driving role at the front until absolutely necessary, that’s if I could even get to the front. Picking your way through an 80 person field is like navigating your way through the US Bank Arena concessions area at intermission with a sell-out crowd. Wedge a shoulder in her, stick a foot in there. If a handle bar wide gap opened up you had to take it. Running that many riders at once through the single lane farm roads that made up the downhill and back sections of the course was the cycling equivalent of draining a gallon of Gatorade through a pixie stick. No doubt as the first riders sprinted through the right hand bend at the bottom of the hill, the last riders were still on top. For many the race was over on the downhill, even before they hit the 1st climb. I never saw my teammates again after the 3rd or 4th turn.

The Clank-Lap 1

Just in time for the downhill, I had managed to work my way to the front of the field, at least within the first 20 or so guys. As the front of the group smoothly drizzled like olive oil down the right-left-right chicane that lead into the big bomber downhill, I concentrated hard keeping speed while still maintaining enough wiggle room to account for people checking up on the brakes or misjudging the corners. I remember squinting as it was hard to discern how much room was between the riders in front of me and whether I could split the hairs at speed so I wouldn’t have to touch the brakes on the softer corners. The front guys bombed around the final steep dropping left hander. KAH-LANK!! Within a second I rounded the corner and saw a Bianchi on the right side of the road by the guardrail and a bottle rolling down the road. No rider. Crap! He must’ve gone into the woods either over or under the guardrail. Maybe’s it’s a heightened sense of awareness brought on by the focus that racing demands, but I’m still amazed at my ability to recognize a bike’s brand laying on the ground as I pass it at well over 40mph. Bianchi!

Jesus With The Handoff

Lap by lap the tight corners, downhill and climb cut the pack. There were attacks going off the front, but nothing got past dangle-ville without being swept up by one team or another that wasn’t represented. At the top of the 4th time up the climb, my number was up. Wheezing like I was just caught by an axe murderer who was about to bury the hatchet, I couldn’t hang on to the wheel in front of me, that guy couldn’t hold the wheel in front of him and so on. Yada yada yada, I ended up with six or so desperately hoping that the front group rolling away would hesitate. 10 meters turned to 50 and we were done. It wasn’t a very big front group rolling away, maybe 25 riders. The five I was with abandoned at the start finish. I did the math. Heck if I stick this out, I might still finish better than two-thirds of the field. I got in the drops, hunkered down, and grabbed my bottle, a half-full bathwater warm lemon-lime Gatorade. With two laps still to go, up the dam, I thought about grabbing someone else’s handoff. Then, like a personal Jesus, my teammate Jaden appeared on the sidelines in the feed zone. There to support his wife in the women’s race, Jaden saw me and handed me an ice cold bottle of water. I downed half of it within the next half mile, and finished it before the downhill. Only later did I learn that I got the last bottle of cold water and Jaden’s wife got a warm bottle meant for the dogs. Sorry Bridgie.

Zip & Kick (rewritten since orginal post, and my appologies to my group companions for seemingly being a tool at the finish line)

I spent about a lap and a half riding solo in the drops just keeping it steady. Headed into my last lap, I saw at 4-5 guys on the sidelines or noodling in the opposite direction who I know were in the group up the road only minutes earlier. Well if there were 25ish riders in the lead bunch, and now there’s at least five who dropped out, I could be looking at eeking a top 20 or so out of this. Just before the downhill, I was caught by 3 others and got on the train. One rider joked, “We’re not going to attack each other up this last climb?” I said, “Naw, no use in clawing it out for 30th place.” We rode tempo up. At the top, the guy in front of me zipped up his jersey. As the cool breeze hit me, I did too. A third rider joked that we were getting ready for the finish line photo. Really we were at that point where being too hot was turning into the chills. I wondered if we’d just paceline it in or sprint it out for the scraps. Within the last 300 yards, the Walker Homes rider that was with us got up on his pedals. Well that answers the question, I thought. In the third spot, I held out till just past the 200m mark and let it rip to the line. I’m sure it looked pathetic. I pipped the three rides I was with at the line and kept rolling straight to my car, no doubt avoiding being chastised for sprinting for a top 25 spot. Afterward, I heard that no on sprinted but me. Guess that guy who got up on the pedals was just stretching his legs or getting the tingle out of the taint. Needless to say, I ended up looking like a total tool to my companions. Appologies boys, even with the low stakes, someone appeared to flip an ace on the table. It’s nice to have stories of attacks, counters, great teamwork, and pack sprints, but sometimes attrition is a tactic that works. Within a few minutes my teammate Andy rolled up to the car, no doubt he finished a few guys behind me. Getting dropped sucks, but finishing a tough race seems to make up for it.

Look for photos here:

Results here:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Facebook Friday: What's THAT In Your Jersey Pocket?

It’s Facebook Friday on The Best Bike Blog Ever*. Every Thursday Facebook friends answer a burning cycling related question and every Friday the answers are posted here. If you’d like to join the fun, send a friend request with a note about “Facebook Friday” via the facebook link on the right side-bar. Today’s question is:

It's not a tool, money, ID or key...What is the oddball thing that you must carry on your ride?


My sarcastic wit


I rode Mohican with my recently deceased cat’s picture mounted to my handlebar! Moe-hican I called it...


Wet naps.


Don't know about oddball, but I carry a very tattered photo of me and my daughter from when she was about three months old. It's a talisman.


Chapstick and Tums.


An old short pencil wrapped with 3-4 feet of duck tape. Ya never know. Usually I use a piece of it at least twice for something on a ride every year. In 98 we used it in W. Virginny to stabilize my friend's dislocated shoulder and ride (slowly) back to the car.


A pen and a little note pad so I can write down license plate numbers on the fly, Would carry a 9mm, but then I'd be in jail.


A Holga camera — it's lightweight and makes everything you shoot look 30 years old.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hungry Covered Bridge Chows Down Another Cyclist in 2009

I dare not venture underneath the Covered Bridge, but curiosity may get the best of this cat next time through. Last night the Covered Bridge tallied another victim. The 2nd I’ve been party to this year. The rider made it through thankfully with all his teeth and parts intact. A severely bent Easton rim was the only toll the bridge exacted from him for trying to ride the tire-width gapped planks of the bridge deck. (For more on the history of the bridge and past victims, see previous articles here)

While he was relatively lucky, I can only imagine in the years of the bridge's existence, others may not have fared as well losing bottles, keys, seat bags, deraileurs, even whole bikes to the bridge. I’m convinced that underneath the Covered Bridge lies not a peaceful Clermont County creek with buzzing dragonflies and flowered lily pads, but a gaping purgatory of cycling history. A pile of bent chromed fork steel bikes with Mafac and Suntour serve the base for a mountain of dented aluminum Cannondales and despoked Mavic Open Pro’s dangling from Shimano hubs. These days the Covered Bridge hunger growls for carbon frames, Kyseriums, Sram Red and Campy 11.

Thankfully the rider, my teammate TJ, managed to stay upright and ride through the bridge's jaws. However, upon inspection at the exit of the bridge, the wheel was bent enough to hit the brake pads and stop on both sides when spun up. A secondary danger of the bridge is that it is about twenty miles from Cincinnati, a long walk or miserable wait to call and get a ride home. Without anyone in the group carrying a spoke wrench, the wheel was passed to Mitch, an expert mechanic and owner of BioWheels in Madeira. Mitch carefully found the bent area on the wheel, double checked his precise diagnosis and BANG! With a single resounding whomp against a tree, like a blacksmith he hammered it straight enough to ride home on. He added, that this was not the first time he wonked a wheel into shape at the Covered Bridge. It certainly won’t be the last.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Happy Farmer Tan Day

The first week in June is when my farmer tan reaches its prime, when the contrast between my wedding dress white shoulders and Starbucks light roast brown arms causes non-cyclists to point and laugh. The Best Bike Blog Ever today hereby rolls up its short-pants to reveal the border between Pasteville and Tantown and proudly proclaims June 9th Farmer Tan Day. Today’s the day to stop cowering in a fetal position on the sofa afraid to go out in public, and show off your well earned stripes.

In my early cycling days, I used to be embarrassed about the farmer tan, going so far as to wear a surfer shirt at the pool on vacations. Nowadays, maybe because my youthful quest to look buff has been overshadowed by a middle aged mission to race bicycles, not so much. Instead I revel in the achievement of cycling enough hours to make my arm freckles look like potting soil scattered across Moab slick rock.

However before you go around shocking your coworkers, please note that today is Farmer Tan Day and not freak hand tan day. Unless you’ve somehow been able to cover you entire body in cool polka dots to match the ones the glove hole made on your hands, it’s nearly impossible to rock a freak hand tan. Please, put your hands in your pockets or draw a smiley face on your tan hand freak dot till you can go for a ride sans gloves. The Best Bike Blog Ever has no appreciation for that horrific malady. Mercy will only be bestowed upon those who braved a log hot ride on a sun filled sweat soaked muggy day or a ride where gloves were an absolute necessity.

That said; rejoice in your spectacular stripes that no amount of SPF can strip. Grab yourself a Farmer Tan Red Ale and celebrate the sight of your righteous rice-white skin shorts. You earned it. Happy Farmer Tan Day. Now put on a freaking’ shirt for Pete’s sake! Farmer Tan Day is a holiday best celebrated alone.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Facebook Friday: Most Genius Trail or Roadside Repairs

It’s Facebook Friday on The Best Bike Blog Ever*.  Every Thursday Facebook friends answer a burning cycling related question and every Friday the answers are posted here.  If you’d like to join the fun, send a friend request with a note about “Facebook Friday” via the facebook link on the right side-bar.  Today’s question is:

What is the most spectacular trail/roadside MacGuyver fix you've ever performed or seen performed?


On a spontaneous trail ride, which followed a white water rafting trip, one of the ladies with us flatted several miles from the Rivermen camp. As the ride was spontaneous no one really had packs or gear with them (i.e. no patch kit or tubes). I pulled the brain bucket off my head, peeled back one of the sticky velcro pads (which holds the cushion thingies onto the inside of the helmet, and used it as a patch. It worked great and we road for several more hours!


The best I have ever seen was when Chad's pedal came off the spindle about 10 miles into the Mohican 100k last year. In classic Irey fashion, he took out his race day tool kit full of stuff like flat head screwdrivers, spare baring, and spare washers. Then scratched his head and figured out how to rebuild the pedal on the side of the trail. Then hammered, passed all of us, and had an awesome finish.


On my trials bike, to resolve a chain slack issue, I made it back to the car and I used a garage door roller that I kept in my tool box and piece of wire hangar to make a (make-do) chain tensioner.

Bill Again

After driving for hours to attend a race, a guy I know (uh-hem) soon realized that he had forgotten his shoes. Using an inner-tube cut into two small sections, he MacGyvered a set of "toe clip" style loops which he wrapped through and around his Look pedals. This guy then went on to race into a top 10 placing using these homemade toe clips and gym shoes!


Kim significantly bent his wheel when he attempted to ride across the covered bridge near Milford and slipped in between the boards. Will took the wheel and banged it against a tree and straightened it. I think it was more true after that then before the accident. Kim made it home.


I repaired my own bleeding and broken fingernail on a trail once. Does that count?


Yes that counts.