Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tommy Godwin and the Unbreakable Record

Pappy Boyington once said, "Show me a hero and I'll show you a bum."  In the wake of the Lance Armstrong Scandal it is very difficult to look at bicycle racers and find heroes or role models or even harder, gods.  Mine happen to be mostly local bikers that I have known and respected over the years.  Yet a Lycra clad stick biker blasting through the trails disrupting everyone's enjoyment makes me question the respect I place on racers.  Yet there is one subculture of racer/athlete that I have yet to fault, the endurance racer.  Des Moines was bless with the presence of one Dr. Bob Breedlove who set records on RAAM (Race Across America) until his life was tragically extinguished by someone driving a truck.  I always considered RAAM the toughest athletic competition of any discipline.  After all, it is riding a bicycle from coast to coast.  7 days is the approximate time and record.  Then I discovered a new challenge, an unbreakable record set back in 1939.

Tommy Godwin

Back in the early 20th century to the middle a quest to see who could ride the most miles in one year was a feat which a few met and set.  In 1939 a man from England set the record.  He rode 75, 065 miles in one year!  He took only one day off.  He exceeded the old record, 62,000 miles,  in October and continued.  He beat his challenger by 10,000 miles.  And if that was not enough he continued into May of the following year to become the fast individual to set out and ride 100,000 miles.  And if that were not enough, he took a week off, basically to learn how to walk again, and joined the RAF.  As the bitter dark clouds of WWII encompassed Europe, Tommy Godwin rode a bicycle to give Great Britian its endurance record back and to give the nation hope.  He probably did it for himself.  As an endurance racer he pretty much beat every record and need one great challenge to conquer.

The Challenge

For someone to match the yearly mileage record they would have to average 205 miles per day every day for a year.  For the 100,000 mile challenge, 200 miles per day for 500 days straight.  And the bicycles were a custom built Reynolds 531 steel road bike with a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed internal hub and later a 4 peed medium ration SA hub a Raleigh Record Ace with the Sturmey-Archer 4 speed hub.  Estimated weight, 30 to 35 lb.  No fancy high tech clothing.  No advanced scientific nutrition.  No GPS, mobile phone or lights.  To ride at night he used a friction generated light.

His record has sat for over 70 years.  maybe because people forgot about it in the aftermath of WWII.  Maybe no one has interest in such endurance sports.  Maybe nobody has the fortitude to challenge it.  Until now.  Steven Abraham from the UK and an American (I cannot find his name) have announced that they will attempt to break the unbreakable record in 2015.   Steven says that he has been preparing for 2 years.  He has researching on the bike he will ride and plans to use disc brakes to save time from replacing traditional brake pads and wheels since disc brakes do not rub off the braking surface on wheels.  He is working on getting sponsors since the attempt will require him to take a year off from work, the need for spare parts and food and to be able to pay the UMCA (Ultra marathon Cycling Association) who will govern the event.  Guinness Book of World Records will not sanction the challenge since they consider it too dangerous.

One Year Time Trial

Personally, I do not consider the record unbreakable.  It just takes time and dedication.  Obviously money as well.  Find a location devoid of mountains and major hills as well as a  temperate weather and a direction to ride 200+ miles with a tailwind.  And look at today's bicycles, lighter, stronger, faster, more comfortable.  Today's nutrition to fuel the body cannot be ignored.  Then again things have changed for the worse since 1939.  There are a lot more cars on the road.  And maybe our generation and future generations lack the stuff of the Greatest Generation.  I wish Steven and the American all the luck in the world and I hope the memory of Tommy Godwin will live on.

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The Bicycle Games of Van Randall

There are times that I really am sick of riding a bicycle.  There are also many times that I could pull the plug on FaceBook.  Yet there is something that at times makes me throw the leg over the bike and ride when i don't feel like it or need too.  And that same thing keeps me on FB.  I appreciate it and wish that others could enjoy this magic.  It is the games that one person creates for bicyclists.  Randall Van Scyoc.

Bicycle Ride&Seek is a bicycling FaceBook game.  Everyone there is a new list of items that one must photograph their bicycle near.  Usually this list is 10 to 12 items long.  Often there is a theme depending on the season or month.  For example, in October a "haunted house" was required.  In July a "representation of an American flag not an actual flag."  Often this requires a keen eye, creativity and good photography.  I usually do mine half arsed but occasionally I have a gem.

GeoCouching Map

The other game Van Randall created is GeoCouching.  Not GeoCaching.  Here one needs to find an abandoned couch or upholstered piece of house furniture and have their photograph taken of it while sitting on it with the bicycle in the photo.  Photo and exact location is either emailed to him or placed in the FB GeoCouching group.  He will then post it on the GeoCouching map (Google Maps) for all to see.  Quite fun.  Few things are as thrilling as spotting an illegally dumped couch during a bike ride.  It helps to have someone with you to take the photo or to be creative enough to build a tripod out of a smashed beer can and a tree.

A third game that Randall turned me onto was the 2014 Brewvet Challenge  This was a photo contest to ride a bike to different locations to enjoy a beer, photograph it and write a review of it.  despite starting two weeks into it, there was a time limit, I was the first one to complete it!  Had to represent Iowa!  Unfortunately, I missed the coffee version of this held last month.  Brewvet Challenge Blog

So whenever I ride I scan the horizon to look for necessary photo stops.  And often I smile when i see ones that I could have used in previous months.  And if you are riding with me when I spy a couch, prepare to stop and take my photo!  I lead Iowa in GeoCouching.

Friday, December 19, 2014

One Hellish Tandem Ride

Called an old friend of mine the other night.  Separated by miles and his refusal to get online and my disdain of traveling by car, we have not ridden together or even seen each other in over a decade.  Maybe less but it feels like a decade.  Usually about this time of year we text or phone each other.

After catching up on family the conversation twists toward one bicycle ride.  He claims that he tells everyone about it.  I smile knowing that at least once in my life my bicycling skills have left a permanent and positive impreesion in someone's memory.  Probably more than one person because we had a busload of witnesses.

Montrose, Iowa, 1992, the last day of the Ragbrai.  The very last 11 miles of that ride.  Mary's first go at Ragbrai, my second and our tandem's first.  We traveled light, throwing our bags in back of Europa Cycle's truck.  Rob was their pro, head wrencher.  He said he would be able to get the last day off and ride with us.  But that got cancelled since he was the only one from Europa that could drive the truck pulling the trailer.  The new plan was Rob would take care of getting the truck and trailer to the end and then ride the route the opposite way and meet us half way.  He would be using my Motobecane road bike and once we met up mary would ride that bike and Rob would be the stoker on the tandem.

We never met up until Montrose.  A mere 11 miles left for the day and for the entire Ragbrai.  Mary and I had given up hope until riding past the school we heard him call out above the din of the crowd and REO Speedwagon which was blaring from giant speakers on the roof of the school.  The place was crowded.  Last town out.  Last chance to party.  Beer was available here, odd considering it was on the school grounds but then again it was southeast Iowa during the Ragbrai.  Rob handed me a piece of paper with a message.  Jack the tab.

Mary took off on the Motobecane leaving Rob and I to our own devices.  One beer then hit the road.  But we had trouble leaving.  No sooner than were were a few pedal strokes into it two bikini clad girls with supersoakers drilled us.  "Take the lid off your water bottle and turn around.  Let's get them!" Rob insisted.  Sure enough vengence was ours.  They were surprised!

Then the woman he flirted with all week showed up.  Had to stop.  Last chance to see each other.  I think they traded shirts.

Then I had to pee.  Leaving the kybo I see Rob riding the tandem from the back seat and head straight into the Mississippi River.  "You bastard!"

"Don't worry about it,  he laughed, "this bike has seen worse this week."  True, it had rained several times.  I had the bottom brackets replaced 15 years later, not that I needed them to be replaced, just because I had the money and wanted it done.  Bike World said that they were still alright.  Still....

Finally we got rolling.  Up out of the hole and up on the high road.  Change of stokers requires new communication.  The only real issue is that he did not want me to coast.  Easy for him to ask.  After all I had been riding all week while he worked.  Rob also raced and was disciplined.  "Just give me a gear when I ask for one," he asked.  Prospects of a painful ride.  Rocket man on back not allowing my pedal pedal coast coast method.  Fine.  Head down and pedal.

It must have been a hot humid day despite the grey sky.  I was aware that I had taken my jersey off.  Then I was aware that it was or had been raining.  We were going fast.  The bikes we passed appeared to be standing still.  The road had red spots, from the local cheap rock, where road work had been done.  But these areas seemed small as if it was mere pothole patching.  Each red patch was flown over in mere seconds.  The bike's computer died a few days earlier so I had no idea how fast we were going.

As we sped quicker to Fort Madison there were people that cheered us on.  Someone gave Rob a pinwheel and he would hit me with it.  Later other people statred booing us.  "Ragbrai is over!"  Funny, we passed a bunch of slow bikes and hundreds of people were still behind us in Montrose.  Keep going, ignore them, faster.

Finally the town appeared.  The route proceeded downhill with a hard left turn at the bottom.  A crowd of people stood behind a State Trooper who was signaling us toward the turn.  the road was wet, confirmation of the rain.  We were still hauling ass at top speed.  Time to scrub some speed.  I applied the brakes for a second or two.  "Off the brakes, the rear wheel just slid 4 inches!" Robert exclaimed.  In retrospect he should have complimented the bike's brakes for being able to lock up when wet.  But with the necessary retrograde completed I released the brakes.  "Slow down, man, we gotta turn!"

My replay was simple.  "I know what I am doing!"  Some in the crowd began to back up and move.  What I was about to do I had done once on a mountain bike.  At the right moment i was going to hit the front brake HARD with my left hand, push the handle bar HARD with my right hand, shift weight to the left and release the front brake and make the 90 degree turn without losing an ounce of energy or speed!  To put it simply, redirect the kinetic energy of the tandem without crashing or losing speed.  I had no time to explain this to Rob or the State Trooper who was now jumping out of what he believed our path was.

Sure enough, it went down as planned.  I did not have time to look to see their faces.  We were headed in a new direction at the same speed as before.  The tandem stayed upright.  That was the peak, the highlight, the high water mark.  Some high speed bootlegger move that the crowd could only stare in disbelief as we spirited away, warp factor 7.  Of all the crazy stuff I had done on bicycles before--divebombing hills at 50+ mph ect, nothing has ever topped that move.  On the phone, Robert told me he still tells that story.

So we peaked and now the comedown.  Literally spiraling downward toward wherever the Ragbrai ended.  Cars and people everywhere.  I let the speed drop.  My energy suddenly vanished and all adrenalin reserves were depleted.  Time to find Europa,  Time to find Mary and her father who drove here to pick us up.  Very soon the real world and all its ugliness and responsibilities would come crashing down on us.  But for the remaining moments the Gary Fisher Gemini tandem let us ride freely.

Russ Clark, owner of the bike shop appeared.  it was over.  He grabbed the handle bars and looked my in they eye with a crazed smile on his face.  "Did you see God?"  I could not speak.

Mary and her father appeared too.  Punctual as ever, my smiling father in-law had the Chevy Scottsdale waiting for us and the bikes.  Game over.  A few hours to drive home.  He took the same road the rout was on.  Nice to have this perspective.  Those red spots I thought were small were really nearly a quarter mile long.  In the cab of the truck it felt like we were flying.  Moving without effort above the road.  A new sensation.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Trek 560 Rolls Again

Yeah, the reable cable housing is a bit too long but it was what I had at the time and Rob was on his way.  Shifted nicely anyway.  

After a long year of only doing bike maintenance when i had to, finally pulled the classic Trek 560 out of storage and placed the finishing touches on it to make it road worthy again.  A few years ago one son managed to throw the rear derailleur into the spokes and thus destroyed the Shimano 600 Ultegra derailleur.

Several months ago I purchased the replacement derailleur and place it on the bike and put it back in storage.  I think it was because the white bar tape was dirty, nasty and ugly.  But when I pulled it out today I think the reason the project was delayed was because of the want of a chain.  I did purchase new bar tape and I removed a chain from a different bike that was not going to need it anytime soon.  it was, however, a new chain.

The 560 is a lugged and brazed Reynolds 506 steel frame.  Long chainstays and not provisions for racks.  When I purchased the bike it was missing a seatpost, derailleurs and handlebars.  I had the missing items except for the seatpost which I obtained at a benefit for Stretch Wilson's family after the death of his granddaughter.  Silent auction at Carl's Place.

The bike has that wonderful steel feel to it and at times seems a bit twitchy at slow speeds.  But it is a comfortable bike and the fit is reminiscent of our beloved but stolen 1991 Cannondale R400.  The wheels were custom built by a friend at Europa Cycles for my Motobecane, the French company not the Chinese company of the same name.  27" Matrix Titan Tour with butted spokes.  The front is a bit noisy after years of use but still a solid wheelset.

Unfortunately, I could not find my pedal wrench in time for a ride with Rob den Hartog.  Rat traps had to do.  We rode to Cumming and back and then the Holly Jolly Lights in Water Works Park.  This was our first ride together.  The first of many I hope.  It was almost 60F outside.  29 miles with stop at Principal Park.  Christmas miracle indeed!

Needed this photo for Bicycle Ride&Seek

54 Miles Because it's 50F

Mensch on a tandem team!  Big Wheel Rally 2014.

My faith in weather forecasting is nil.  Still I check.  Not much one can do.  Study yearly  records and determine what the weather will be for a certain date?  Two weeks ago the Weather Announcers said that warm weather would hit this weekend.  They promised that it would warm up to the 50s.  56F for Saturday.  This forecast never changed.  We had to do one last long ride before the hammer comes down and we would be forced to endure another winter of 20 below Zerex.  Craig had a similar thought.  Together we planned to ride to Dallas Center, Iowa, before joining up with the Big Wheel Rally on Ingersoll Ave Des Moines.  Since the BWR was an all day and night marathon of bicycles, big wheels, costumes and drinking I had no fear of arriving late.

The best laid plans often get torpedoed and the warhead that jammed our rudder was in the form of my family.  We had to make sure my mother got up, took her medication, had dry bedding and insulin.  I suggested that we do this in the evening on our return from a long ride and thus skip the BWR to ensure proper attitude and sobriety.  But my sibling had some training and could not take the morning shift.  It worked out very well for us.  The only thing about it was that we would not be able to ride with Craig to Dallas Center and Minburn.  I was not about to abandon Mary on this day.

New plan was to ride to Johnston and check on my mother and then ride to Polk City from there and have lunch at Papa's Pizzeria.  After lunch intercept the High Trestle Trail and ride to FireTrucker Brewery and then ride back to Des Moines and catch up with the Big Wheel Rally.

Our steed was our fast tandem, a Cannondale  RT3000.  2014 was the year that it sat in storage since it seemed that we rode the touring tandem more often.  Checking the Bike Log, the C-dale had been ridden about 3 times for a total of 63 miles.  September was the last time we rode it.  The tires were down to 40 psi.  Sad, but that how one can extend the life of a bicycle by not riding it often.

We planned to leave early but we slept in.  I had a massive headache that even coffee could not kill.  Funny, I only had one beer the night before and no wine.  Did I take anything for it?  No.  Suffer, bitch, suffer.  I do appreciate that I had time to brew coffee.

Late starts are not bad this time of year as it allowed us the liberty of not taking as many layers as an early start require.  I wore tights, a long sleeve base layer and a long sleeve jersey, two pairs of socks and sandals.  to keep my head warm I wore a Santa hat sans helmet.  Oh yes, a pair of those $1 brown gloves.  Perfect.

It was near 50F when we left.  The roads and trails were wet.  It appeared as if it rained over night but it may have been from the ground thawing out and moisture from the melting snow.  Grass was turning green.  it was a bit foggy.

Neal Smith Trail to the Trestle to Trestle Trail and then the InterUrban Johnston Trail to reach mother's apt.  Once we deemed her ok we left.  We headed north on Merle Hay Rd and stopped at the Kum&Go for water and food.  We left our water bottles at home.  I have not used a bottle in months since I don't need one on my commute in cold weather.  Then we took the trail to NW 70th St. to NW Beaver Dr.

When a sign says "TRAIL CLOSED" please obey it even if you can see it all the way to the end without anything that would appear to be the cause of the closure.  I ignored the sign and took the trail, sidepath really,  Sure, the work appeared to be finished but there was a layer of slimey dirt/mud on the surface which not only caused the back wheel to loose contact on occasion but stuck to the wheels like no other.  Our 700x25 tires looked like 26x1.5s.  Mary's backside was getting dirty and my face as well.  Lesson learned.

The tandem is smaller than a Corsair2
The tandem is smaller than a tank.
Smaller than this tank, too.

The tandem is smaller than a large caliber towed field artillery.

Once on NW Beaver we followed it north past Camp Dodge to highway 415 and crossed the Mile Long Bridge to Polk City.  Kinda fun crossing that bridge and I wished I would have take photos.  A bit hazy and the lake was mostly frozen and the guard rails seem to be real short.  I wondered it we were hit if we'd fall of the bridge and if so would be be better off landing on the ice or the open areas.  I also noted that high profile vehicles could also suffer the same fate.  But the expansion joints were the most disturbing.  It seemed that the closer we got to the end of the bridge the worse they were.  But our wheels never got stuck and nobody honked at a tandem with the captain wearing a red shirt and Santa hat.

Papa's Pizza was as good as always.  We had the Hawaiian, two sodas with multiple refills and a beer.  Please make that joint a destination on a bicycle ride.  Fast and friendly and great pizza.

To get to the HTT we just followed the main road out of town and took the county road to the Oasis.  maybe 2.5 miles.  Another 6 or so on the trail itself to the end in Ankeny.  We encountered one tandem.  the stoker said hello, the captain was silent.  They had the tailwind.

Firetrucker can be found at the end of the trail across the street.  It is a busy street.  There is a dirt entrance/exit from the trail to the road.  Frogger time but you end up right in the driveway.  This place was set up for bicyclists.  Large bike rack out front adjacent the beer garden.  All sorts of plug ins for your phones and electronics.  USB ports on the electric sockets at the bar!  I had the pumper truck Porter which was excellent.  Mary had the Uptown IPA.  My second and last selection was the 2Alarm Red which was 7.6%.  Most of their beers were $4.75 per pint which is very reasonable.  We will be back.

The return trip to Des Moines started with the trail again.  I really do not know how to get from the trailhead to the sidepath on Oralabor Rd so I navigate it like this.  Take the trail to IrvinedaleRd.  Get on the street and ride that to the GitnGo on Oralabor Rd/415.  Take sidepath west and connect up with the Neal Smith Trail.  OR continue south past the Casey's and get on the NST off of Morning Star Rd.  We chose the former for a change.

Once in Des Moines we had the decision to make about the best way to get to Ingersoll Ave and the BWR. Do we take the trail all the way downtown and then head west?  Do we take the InterUrban trail and cut through Drakeland?  We opted to get off the trail at North HS and ride 6th to Clark and then ride through residential areas until we reached the Drake area and then connect with Kingman Blvd and take 28th to Ingersoll.

With the sun starting to set we found our friends at the BWR outside the Ingersoll Tap which was having their busiest day ever.  We hung out there both inside and outside to soak up the good vibes and see friends.  We skipped the Yacht Club in favor of having sushi at Sakari.  Sake, too,  Nothing washes down raw salmon like sake!  Then off to home.

54 miles on the dot on the clock!  Now it is time to hose off the tandem and put it away until the Spring.  I am glad we gave it a glorious ride for its final big roll of the year.  we did ride it to Church this morning for the forgiveness of its riders' sins!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Metro Trails Snow Clearing November 26, 2014

Yeah, a little late on this report but it is necessary.  The Des Moines Metropolitan area received around 2.8 inches of snow the day before Thanksgiving.  For most people this was a working day.  For those that commute to work on bicycle they were faced with the decision to ride on uncleared trails or snow covered roads with cars and trucks driven by individuals who are traveling in snow for the first time since last winter.  Also, snow on streets gets dirty and wet quickly.  I chose the trail system.

snow event 11/26/2014

Going to work was not bad at all.  I love to ride on fresh virgin snow.  Riding home was not too bad either. The City of Clive had the Greenbelt Trail cleared of snow.  So did Windsor Heights.  Des Moines, however, dropped the ball.  No attempt to plow the Bill Riley Trail from Water Works to the dog park was made.  Now, the snow was still rideable when I made my trip home but I knew what was going to happen.  No one was going to clear in Thursday since it was a holiday.  Nobody was going to get to it on Friday, Saturday or Sunday since it the weather was forecasted to be in the 40s on Friday and Saturday.  Also, given the holiday, who would be on the trail?  Everybody.  And when everybody uses the trails and leaves tracks--footprints, tire tracks and dog tracks the snow will freeze leaving the tracks as evidence of use.  This ice is very dangerous.

Wednesday night and Thursday the temperatures dropped and what was wet and malleable became dry and hard.  There were at least 6 major ice spots on the aforementioned trail that were dangerous.  First there were 2 near Irish Run Horse Stables on the Bill Riley Trail that required riders to dismount or ride off the trail to avoid the ice.  Studded tires were of little use because the surface was too bumpy to ride over.  Tires wanted to bounce increasing the likelihood of crashing.  It should be noted that this was the place that Courtney Hilton crashed his fatbike on ice and broke his ankle a few years ago.

Even worse was the the stretch of the Walnut Creek Trail that parallels the soccer fields south of Pal Joey's.  The north-south stretch is hidden from the sun's love and thus formed the longest ice patch of the trail system.  Impossible to ride.  I suppose a fatbike would make it through if ridden carefully and with 4 psi in the tires but not everyone has a fatbike nor a week to ride to their destination.  Once again we had to ride on the grass and get on the road parallel the trail.

I was impressed that someone, assuming Des Moines Park&Rec, added ice to these sections.  I have never seen this happen before.  And after several days of adding ice melt to the troubled spots the trail became safe.  Thank you for correcting this oversight.

Other neglected trails were the Neal Smith Trail from Lutheran Hospital on up.  The levy was fine but going through the wooded area was bad.  The InterUrban Trail was ignored.  The area adjacent to Harding Hills Hy Vee is DANGEROUSLY NEGLECTED.  The Trestle to Trestle Trail was not plowed nor were the Johnston trails.

I wish to thank the City of Clive for brushing off the Greenbelt.  last year there were a few times when this trail was inadequately cleared and months long ice formations dotted the trail like a minefield.  By clearing it on Wednesday the trail was perfect Wednesday evening and on Monday for the commuters and runners and walkers who use this trail.  Well, the section behind the fuel storage tanks just west of Wittern Group could have used a refresh since it is exposed to the north wind and drifting.  But it was passable and the sun did clear it up by midweek.