Plantronics Voyager 5200 by Erin Wade

Plantronics Voyager 5200

Okay - I realize that the days of anyone looking cool wearing a Bluetooth earpiece, if indeed they ever existed, are long since past. However, there are some types of work activities that truly do benefit from the use of these devices, regardless of whether they make you look douchey.

I’ve had my struggles finding good, uncompromising solutions in this area. As I’ve discussed here before, the market for high-end Bluetooth earpieces seems to be be dwindling, replaced largely by lower end items that either price the market down enough to drive out high end players, or work adequately for listening, but aren’t necessarily well set up for conversation.

For a while I’d decided to get by with my Jumbl Bluetooth receiver. This device has the benefits of working with any set of wired headphones, which lets me put the conversation in both ears - a bonus around background noise - and being inexpensive.

When my first Jumbl failed, I went looking again and came across an earpiece by Honshoop (nope - I’d never heard of them before either) that promised noise cancellation and a bevy of other features for about $30. While that seems too good to be true, the price of entry was worth the risk, so I took the leap. I wrote up a brief review of it... sort of. The thing is that, a couple of weeks into owning it, it disappeared from Amazon. There were other models under the Honshoop name, but not the one I’d purchased. This is not confidence inspiring, but given that I already had mine and it was working well, I moved on.

And the Honshoop worked great until I lost it. It just disappeared one day - I’m sure I must have dropped it out of my backpack - never to be seen again. And so the search began anew.

The remaining standout in the high-end market - aside from Apple AirPods, which I’m sad to say don’t fit in my ears - appears to be Plantronics. Unfortunately, back then when I tried to purchase one through Amazon I had to pay for shipping, and attempting to purchase thru the website got me nothing but an error page. I decided to look again and I was delighted to find I could now order a Voyager 5200 thru Amazon with Prime shipping.

With about a month of experience I have to say that this is what I’ve been missing from the dearth of high-end devices. Sound quality is very good, and I’ve actually had a colleague who thought I was in my office rather than in the car during a call. There is a video on Amazon that demonstrates the efficacy of the noise cancellation and, after experience, I believe it. The 5200 has a comfortable, over the ear design (similar to the Honshoop, which I assume copied from Plantronics). It’s lightweight and feels good even after having been on the ear for an extended period of time. It has multiple buttons with clear purposes, allowing for the activation of audio, such as podcasts, or for Siri, without any confusion between the two.

A separate button provides for on-device muting, which is an absolute bonus feature for taking calls on the go. This feature means you just have to tap the earpiece button to mute the microphone instead of reaching for the phone. An additional component of this feature is that the device detects if you start to speak with mute engaged and tells you that mute is on. This is a great idea, since you don’t have a visual indicator for it, and it promises to prevent unheard soliloquys that otherwise occur. However, in practice I’ve found the reliability of that feature to be mixed at best.

Battery life is good, lasting through long days with multiple calls so far. Putting it on towards the end of the day and hearing that it still has five hours of talk time available inspires confidence in the device. Plantronics does offer a case for it that has a battery pack in it for charging, similar in concept to the AirPods case. This is an extra cost item that looks well put together, but so far I haven’t run out of battery between charges. If I were traveling in a situation without easy access to other charging sources it might be worth considering.

Plantronics Hub App

An additional feature for the Plantronics Voyager 5200 is the Plantronics Hub iOS app that can be downloaded for it. The app offers some basic information, including an indication as to whether the device is connected, a readout of whether it is on the ear or not, and the amount of available talk time. Included here are also two components that function as a replacement for the paper owners manual. Buttons and Lights shows you what the different components on the earpiece do, while How do I provides the step-by-step instructions for things like pairing, answering, muting, and launching Siri (or your personal digital assistant of choice).

The app also offers the ability to change multiple settings on the earpiece, including things like ring volume, whether you want to use voice commands to answer or ignore a call, and the settings for the aforementioned mute features. Anyone who has ever had to follow the arcane multiple button-press dance that it used to take to set up these kind of features on a Bluetooth earpiece will appreciate the app for this reason.

And let me give a special mention of appreciation to the answer or ignore voice feature. In this day and age even cell phones routinely get spam calls. I don’t know anyone in Coral Springs, FL or Cumberland, MD, so I’m certainly not going to answer a call from them. However, the ringing of the phone takes over the whole device, so any such call that comes in interrupts the music or podcast that is playing until one dismisses the call. Typically that means reaching up to the screen and tapping "decline", which is not ideal in the car. With this feature you can simply say "ignore" and the bot on the other end simply disappears.

And given the disappearing act performed by my Honshoop earpiece, I also appreciate the fact that the app has a "find my headset" feature which, like Find My iPhone, makes your missing earpiece put out an audio tone to help you locate it. You’d still have to have a rough idea of where you lost it, but at least it’s a start.

It should also be noted that the app works with multiple Plantronics models, so if a different version trips your fancy, the app may be available for that as well.

The two niggles I have with the device thus far center around the location of the volume buttons and the "earbuds" it comes with.

For some reason, the volume buttons are placed at the top of the device. Just to look at them this may not seem to be a problem, but in practice the location is not ideal. Try to simply push down on the buttons while wearing the device and you simply push the whole device down on to your ear. And because of where they are at, and the general shape of the earpiece, finding a location to hold against when pushing down is a bit awkward. Ultimately, I ended up placing my thumb at the bottom of the battery at the back of the ear to hold against it while pushing the volume buttons. This will likely become second nature over time, but it isn’t terribly natural.

In addition, when volume buttons are at the back of the device, as with similar models, the top button is "up", and the bottom is "down" - straightforward and intuitive. Because they are on the top, there isn’t an intuitive sense of which button is "up", and which is "down". They are marked with a "+" and "-", but of course you cannot see these when you are wearing it. It’s a small thing, but a curious one, because it appears as if there is room on the back for the volume buttons.

volume buttons

The challenge with the “earbuds” - and this is how the documentation describes them - is that they aren’t earbuds. They are flattish silicone gel discs. With some fiddling about I finally figured out that these are the Plantronics variation of the type of earpiece that puts gentle pressure on the inner earlobe to keep it in place and against (but not in) the ear canal.

Approached that way sound quality with the discs is good, even allowing me to hear clearly in my considerably not quiet car, and they even sound clear using it to listen to podcasts while riding my trike. Playing around with the three different sizes of these allowed me to select the one that made the earpiece feel secure on my ear as well - e.g. that it wouldn't jiggle about when I shook my head. For me, surprisingly, that was the biggest disc (I have smallish ears).

Although sound quality was good, I did decide to see if I could improve it with something like a more traditional earbud fitting. To test this, I ordered one such kit from Amazon. This was not inexpensive, given what you get - about $14 for what amounts to earbud gels and (what I suspect is the cost center) a bespoke piece that fits into the earpiece and mounts the earbud gel.

After some testing back and forth, I find that these do not result reliably in the earpiece being solidly in the ear canal. I wonder if it’s simply the case that the design sits too far outside for this to be practical. That’s fine, though, because I also do not detect any significant difference in sound quality between the stock silicone discs and the aftermarket earbud. And, given that the disc sits outside the ear, it may well be the case that they will be comfortable for longer time periods.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’d recommend spending some time with the stock earpieces before dropping coin on the aftermarket item.

TL:DR

In summary, the Plantronics Voyager 5200 turns out to be an excellent bluetooth earpiece. Notable features and pro’s include:

  • Exellent incoming sound quality
  • Phenomenal noise canceling features
  • On-device mute
  • Long battery life
  • Comfortable for long wearing sessions
  • The bonus of a supportive iPhone app for settings and features

Downsides:

  • Confusing use of terminology surrounding the “earbuds”
  • Less than ideal placement of volume buttons

If your needs include the type of usage that goes with a traditional bluetooth earpiece like this the Plantronics Voyager 5200 is an excellent choice. It’s more expensive than many similar looking competitors on Amazon, but you are getting what you pay for.

Military Ridge Trail Revisited by Erin Wade

A few years ago I had the opportunity to take a relatively short ride along the Military Ridge Trail in southwestern Wisconsin. This was a Black Friday ride - much of the family goes shopping or gets lost in video games (or maybe plays video games about shopping? I’m sure they exist), and so I took the opportunity to go out for a ride.

The last couple of years we’ve done our turkey day closer to home, but this year we headed back up the cheddar state. Given this I made special arrangements to get the Catrike strapped to the roof of our Honda Fit and figured I’d give the Military Ridge Trail another go.

I wanted to go either further, or in a different direction than last time. From Ridgeway, my starting point, the trail offers the opportunity to ride to two different state parks. To the east, the section of trail I’d already spent some time on, the trail heads over to the town of Blue Mounds, and rides along and through the southern end of Blue Mound State Park, a 10 mile ride (though last time I’d begged off due to the effects of turkey and wine and stopped in Barneveld). To the other direction it heads into Dodgeville and Governor Dodge State Park, for 9 and 8 1/2 mile rides, respectively. These were similar distances, and I might have gone for the novelty of the other direction, but fortunately my brother-in-law and sister-in-law are familiar with the trail, and indicated parts of it were cut off due to construction in the Dodgeville direction. So Blue Mounds it was.

The trail is mostly dirt or crushed stone, though parts of it are really just sand. I started relatively early in the day - about 8:30 - and this guaranteed that the softer bits would still be frozen. While it’s still technically autumn, we’ve had a bit of snowfall across the Midwest, and much of the trail is shaded enough that many patches of it remain

Snowy Trail

Military Ridge Trail cuts through the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, so the landscape is different than other parts of the state. Here sits an ancient, mostly buried mountain range, and the views give you that feel from time to time. You can be looking off into the distance and see what seems like a distant peak:

Mountain?

And then you think "that can’t be a mountain - I’m in Wisconsin". But it is, technically. It’s just that the valleys around it are mostly filled in through years of erosion. And, of course, you can see it because you are also high up in the mountains. These thoughts - the result in part of a geography class I signed up for in undergrad nearly 30 years ago, mostly to round out my credit requirements for a semester - accompany me every time I ride or drive through this area.

Barneveld on the Map

Barneveld is the first town stop along this course. It’s a small town, though certainly bigger than Ridgeway. There are a couple of taverns/restaurants along the trail, so folks looking for a pit stop on their ride along the Ridge have their opportunity here. The early morning nature of my particular ride didn’t really leave this an open opportunity, so I can’t vouch for the businesses themselves, but many of these little places in Wisconsin offer a fine meal for those unafraid of a little cholesterol.

Barneveld

Barneveld is also the gateway to Botham Vineyard. For those who enjoy a glass of Wisconsin wine with a view, the winery offers tastings with a view of the vineyards and Wisconsin countryside. For the warmer weather this would be an excellent side trip, particularly if accompanied by a picnic lunch. Days and hours available for tastings are specified on their website. I didn’t visit Botham on this ride, but MLW and I have been there before and enjoyed the trip.

As you ride out of Barneveld you also ride away from the highway that the trail parallels for much of the first part of the trip.

Out of Barneveld into Blue Mound State Park

From there the tree cover is more dense, and you begin to feel much more alone and in the wilderness. About three miles past Barneveld you enter the southern edge of Blue Mound State Park. There are occasional signs mounted to the trees off the trail that tell you this.

Blue Mound State Park

Another half-mile or so in there is an asphalt trail to the north that leads up into the park’s campground area. For those looking for a hill climb this offers a nice opportunity.

Up the Hill

Campground

The trail itself ends up in the park, so the way in is also the way out. The descent is fun, of course, though ice and snow on the path limited my speeds on the way down. Be aware that, depending upon time of year, hunting is allowed in the park. Though there were no campers that I could find, I did come across a batch of gentlemen in blaze orange planning to head up into the trees. I was thankful for my brightly colored gear, flag, and flashing lights.

There are other trails in the park, and some of them can be seen off the camping drive. These are more rustic, however, and not suited for my trike. Folks riding up on a mountain bike or similar would likely be able to tackle them, however.

I continued on past the park into the village of Blue Mounds.

Blue Mounds

Mounds View Park was my turnaround point. While the town itself is smaller than Barneveld, it too has a couple of taverns for the hungry and thirsty. They are a little further off the trail, but in a town this size that’s not saying much. There also appears to be, according to google maps, a yoga studio and a meditation center (go figure).

Cave of the Mounds road crosses the trail on two spots following this and will take you (unsurprisingly) to the Cave of the Mounds. I’ve never been, but according to its website, it is the "premier cave in the upper Midwest and the jewel box of America’s major show caves" (some carful parsing went into that description). It does appear to be open year round, however, so winter cyclists can absolutely make this a stop if they wish.

From there it was just a matter of turning around and heading back. The trail itself, as mentioned before, is mostly crushed stone, and so is relatively soft. In the warmer air and partial sunshine of my return trip it had gotten softer still. The surface is such that it was slow going in general - I averaged 8.21 mph for the ride, and I’m usually in the 11-13mph range on the Catrike. The broader footprint of the trike made the trail navigable on its road-ish tires (Schwalbe Marathons). If I were on an upright I’d want mountain bike tires - I’d imagine a road bike would be a challenge on parts of the trail even on a dry summer day. There was a brief, sandy uphill section that required dismounting the trike and walking it up, making me briefly wish for a fat-tire trike of my own. Not that it would have mattered - I recall struggling on the same section three years ago on MLW’s Schwinn which, while certainly not fancy, has what one would assume would be the "right" type of tires for such a situation.

As I mentioned back then, sections of the trail do parallel the highway, and provide a more... agricultural view, particularly between Ridgeway and Barneveld. The additional distance into Blue Mounds, as opposed to stopping at Barneveld, makes a big difference in the scenery. I’d recommend going the extra miles or, alternately, starting in Barneveld and heading east on the trail if you are looking for a shorter trip and a view. If you are simply looking for some peace, quiet, and alone time on your ride of choice, however, any part of the trail will do nicely.

Trike Transporting - Getting on Top of Things by Erin Wade

One of the questions that comes up pretty regularly with respect to living with a recumbent trike is how to transport it from place to place for riding. For myself that’s usually a pretty simple question to answer - I put it in the back of my Honda Fit:

Trike in Fit

In fact, this is such a routine thing that, much of the time my Honda functions as a rolling garage for the Catrike. I think it’s fair to say that it spends more time in the car than it does stored in any other location.

But the reality is that this doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work for every situation. I’m a long-term fan of hatchbacks - I like little cars with good gas mileage and very flexible interior arrangements that allow for the carrying of (relatively) large volumes of stuff when the need calls. My Honda Fit is just the latest in a line of cars that includes a 1991 Dodge Colt, a 1995 Honda Civic Si, and a 2006 Mini Cooper S.

Like them as much as I do, the fact is that, as flexible as these cars are, flexibility is still a study in compromise: Do you want to haul stuff inside, or people? You can’t do both.

This came up as a need for us in preparation for Thanksgiving. We were heading up to spend the holiday with family in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. This type of trip is a multiple bonus, given both the opportunity to spend time with family, and to spend it in an area with a beautiful state park and bike trail system (everyone celebrates Black Friday in their own way...).

I initially came up with what I considered a simple, straightforward solution to the problem, but the kids unreasonably objected to making the two and half-hour drive riding on the roof, so I was going to have to come up with another answer for my trike.

Perhaps the most common solution for this issue is to move up. I first purchased a roof rack for the 1995 Civic, and I’ve used variations of that roof rack on every car since. When I was riding upright bikes routinely this was a fairly simple solution to work with - Yakima (the brand I happen to have) offers multiple solutions for upright bikes of various designs and styles. This was a good arrangement for one bike and, even on a fairly small car like the Civic or the Mini, you can comfortably fit two or three bikes on top.

mini and kid with bikes

Thing is, while I do already have the roof rack set to fit my current car, and have used it for carrying other things they don’t have ready-made solutions for recumbent trikes. This means that, like storage solutions, we are left rolling our own.

What I arrived at was using a variation of what I already had. The upright mounts I was accustomed to using with my system are Yakima Copperheads. These were a relatively low cost fork-mount style of bike holder which included a trough-style wheel tray with a ratcheting wheel strap for the rear wheel. My plan was to use the ratchet straps for all three wheels of the trike.

I had two of the mounts already, but obviously I would need a third. The Copperheads appear to no longer be made by Yakima (I bought the rack back in the 1990’s, so they are a couple of years old at this point), but they can be found elsewhere. eBay was my solution in this case, and in fact I was able to find just the trays and ratchet straps (since I did not need the fork mounts). The trays I found happened to come in a set of two, which would turn out to be handy...

My first attempt at this was to put up the two Copperhead mounts intact - e.g. with the fork mount mounted to the front bar, and to put one of the trays from eBay in the middle for the rear wheel.

Unfortunately, what I found was that this arrangement did not allow enough length for the trike - I couldn't move the ratchet straps for the front wheels far enough forward to get the rear wheel strapped in. A more planful person would possibly have measured first to learn this without completely assembling it, but then I was also cited repeatedly in grade school for failing to read directions before starting on the assignment...

So - as I mentioned, that additional tray came in handy. I had to disassemble one of the Copperheads by taking the fork mount off, and that gave me three trays to mount flat across the bars. I did measure out the space between the front wheels and between the fronts and the centerline to figure out where to place the trays relative to one another. Once put together, this arrangement allowed for enough room, lengthwise, for all three wheels to be tightened down with the wheel straps.

On the roof - profile

trike on roof - rear view

The sharp-eyed viewer will note that the trike is not centered over the roof of the car. This was on purpose. I put it as far to the driver’s side as I could to make it easier to get the trike up on the roof. At about 33lbs my Pocket is not especially heavy, but it is awkward, and it’s necessary not just to get it up there, but also to line all three wheels up with the trays. I didn’t want to also have to reach across several inches of roofline while doing this.

This secured the trike down well on the rack, and I did a short test run to make sure it would stay up there at highway speed. However, while that was successful, I was going to be on the road for longer than a short run, and I was going to be out on an interstate highway for much of the trip. I wanted to supplement the wheel straps to better ensure the safety of the trike.

My inclination was to use nylon ratchet straps. I have a fair number of these and I use them pretty regularly. They work well. I decided to try them out with a test run by taking the trike with me on an extended drive.

The good of it is that nylon ratchet straps absolutely held the trike down well. However, at speed the nylon straps began to vibrate in the wind in with a sonorous thrumming that translated down into the rack to which it was attached, and from the rack into the roof to which it was attached. I ended up taking them off part way home. It was too much, and that was on a 40-minute ride. Two and a half hours of that would have been pure torture.

The following day I swapped out the nylon ratchet straps for heavy-duty black rubber bungee straps and made another trial run. This was much more successful, and this was the solution I employed for the trip.

Rubber bungee front

front bungee hook close-up

rear bungee

Another thing that I realized was that the trike was strapped down, but it wasn’t locked in any way. The Copperhead mounts had locks built into the fork mounts, but those weren’t in play here. An enterprising theif with a little time opportunity could unstrap it and make away with it. I solved this by using my bike lock to tether it to the roof rack. This also presented as a potential additional fail-safe if the other straps all failed.

Bike lock

All told, the trip was successful. The trike got to and from Wisconsin intact and unharmed. Wind noise was higher on the way up, but not awful. On the way back it was considerably windier, and thus considerably noisier.

Which is to say that, by "successful", I mean that this worked for what was intended, and I think it would work well enough for around-town types of transport when needed. But I also took it off the following morning and will be returning the trike to its customary mobile garage placement inside the car.

Why? Well, on that trip back, it was not not just noisier due to the wind, but as we entered the last leg of the trip home over the open prairie of Illinois it was, frankly, loud enough to make the radio or any conversation hard to hear. What’s more, the wind gusts periodically made the little car lose speed despite cruise control (e.g. set at 70mph, but occasionally dropping itself to 65 as it struggled to maintain speed). This is not a difficulty the car has ever had without the rack on top. As you might expect, mileage drops when using a roof rack as well. In addition, on this trip home it was not just windy, but it was raining. Raining on my trike. This part - which is always a risk of carrying your machines outside the vehicle - I do not love. Which is ultimately why they usually ride inside the car.

An additional note here: the car I’m using for this is a 2009 Honda Fit with over 300,000 miles on it. It’s been chewed on by my dog (seriously) and has been through a hailstorm, among other things. I was completely unconcerned about what would happen to the paint as a result of multiple attempts to get the trike up there, attaching and unattaching straps above it, and so on. I’d think twice about this on a vehicle where one cared about its appearance.

TL:DR

The roof-rack setup that I put together here worked well enough for the purpose for which it was assembled - transporting the trike while also carrying people in the back seat. However, I’d regard it as a secondary solution to be used when other options aren’t available.

The Good:

  • Allows for carrying a trike and multiple people with a smaller car.
  • Inexpensive solution if you already have a roof rack.
  • Additional parts needed for rack can be found on eBay.
  • The world can see that you have a recumbent trike!

The Bad:

  • Trike is awkward to get up on to roof - if you cannot lift your trike over your head this is not an option.
  • Trike is exposed to the elements.
  • The world can see that you have a recumbent trike - need to find a supplementary locking system.
  • Wind noise and effects on driving and mileage.
  • Also, did I mention wind noise?

Trailside Sightings by Erin Wade

Just by virtue of convenience I do most of my riding on country roads. Where we live is open farmland, former prairie, and as such doesn’t offer a lot of trees for cover. As such, although there are deer out here, I rarely see them on my road rides (though, oddly, more frequently than I’d like when driving...).

Trail riding is a different story. When I get out on to trails the sightings become more common. The trail that I get to ride on most frequently, which leads into Lowell Park in Dixon, IL, does offer regular opportunities for deer sightings. Usually these are fleeting - a flash of white tail and then they are gone.

Last week, however, offered an usual opportunity. I saw the deer at the edge of the trail from some distance, and it seemed transfixed - perhaps "caught" in the headlight of my trike. I took the opportunity for a quick photo and then, when it continued to not move, I flipped the camera to video:

You can see the second deer - which I did not see - run off afterward in the distance.

This is one of the delightful things about outdoor exercise, particularly when it involves use of relatively quiet activity - cycling is arguably quieter than hiking - it allows the observation of nature because it doesn’t startle it all away.

November Cycling in Northern Illinois by Erin Wade

It’s a curious title, the one heading this post. Curious because, as of this particular post, there’s been precious little.

While I can usually find something to enjoy about all of the seasons, Autumn is often my favorite time of the year. The colors change, the temperatures cool down, and the air takes on a delightful, crisp flavor that is very pleasant. It’s a delight to walk outside and see the carpet of leaves across the lawn.

But to be fair, that’s true for the first, say, third or so of Autumn. Then November comes rolling in. And it’s not the temperatures that are a problem. No - we have been running with high temps in the 40’s and lower 50’s, and we’ll be there or a little lower for the next few weeks at least.

The problem is the rain.

I’ll ride in just about any conditions - beastly hot, bitingly cold, and just about anywhere in-between. I’ll ride in a spring or summer rain as long as visibility isn’t too compromised. But the cold November rain? That’s something else.

Fortunately, this past Tuesday finally offered a reprieve, and like that cool glass of water sitting, tantalizingly just out of reach at the end of a long desert trek, it was all the sweeter for it.

While the roadways are clear, the trails are covered in leafy patches in varying shades of amber and brown.

4AE163C8-2520-4E7C-985D-49F921410859.jpg

And while the rain is an impediment when it’s falling from the sky, asphalt dampened by the prior days rain combined with a leafy slickness is the perfect recipe for opposite-lock sideways adventures at speed...

You might simply say that it felt good to get back out on the trike.

Now, possibly if I invested in some good, solid, water tight riding clothing I’d feel differently about the November rain, but riding without such gear in pervasive wet conditions in 40° weather is something different entirely. And, if things go awry with your wet weather gear under these conditions, it gets unpleasant in a hurry. And it would take some pretty amazing wet weather gear to prevent all intrusion under those circumstances. But my strike out back on the trail makes me want to explore the possibilities.

Because then I wouldn’t have spent quite so much of November thus far looking out the window, looking at the radar, and swearing at the weather gods. So a searching I will go, for it seems unwise to be swearing at weather gods...

Bike Ogle County by Erin Wade

Twice in the past month providence has placed me in the small town of Oregon, Illinois. In both cases, providence presented in the form of high school Cross Country meets, the most recent of the two being the sectionals race. Apparently some people, my offspring being one of them, like to spend their time running across uneven ground for multiple-mile stretches. I’d like to think they do such a thing simply because they have not been made aware that machines have been invented to make their efforts so much more efficient, but alas, I assure you, my child has been introduced to cycling, and yet chooses to run. It’s frankly mystifying...

But what these trips into Oregon offered for me (aside from the enjoyment of cheering the team on) was the realization that Oregon, and more broadly, Ogle County (of which Oregon is the seat) is actively courting cyclists.

As you ride into the downtown area you will encounter planters with decorative arrangements featuring various and sundry bicycle displays, and you’ll encounter this at the northeast corner of the county courthouse:

Ogle County Display Picture is a screenshot from the bikeogle website

I noticed all of this on my first visit through, but didn’t have time to more thoroughly investigate it. But the second trip did allow, particularly with MLW’s help, and I was able to gather some information. At first I assumed this would be references to a dedicated bike path or two in the region, but that was incorrect. Rather, the county has laid out different road courses that cover the region, with each focusing on different sites that one can expect to see along the way. They’ve then taken each of these and put it together in detail on a dedicated website at: www.bikeogle.com

Now, to be clear, I have not yet had an opportunity to ride any of these routes, but I am familiar with the region. The routes appear to be quite thoughtfully put together, and leverage the natural beauty and historic sites that the region offers. The Rock River) flows through Ogle County, and it is home to Castle Rock State Park and Lowden-Miller State Forest. It’s also the home of the Blackhawk Statue, and multiple other historic sites. At least one of the routes cheats a bit by dipping into Dixon, Illinois, which is in Lee, rather than Ogle county, but it’s for good cause.

The ten routes outlined range from 19.5 miles to 45.5 miles, offering options for people with different levels of skill, motivation, or perhaps free time. Most of the routes are on secondary rural roadways, which, in north central Illinois farm country, means roadways where drivers are quite accustomed to encountering slow-moving vehicles. If you are comfortable with road riding, most of these routes will be in your wheelhouse. One of the routes does take the rider up Illinois Route 2, which is a beautiful, winding and twisting section of road that travels right along the Rock River - I’ve driven in many, many times. It is busy, however, and may be a little intimidating for those less comfortable riding on the road.

All of the routes begin and end at the depot in Oregon, ensuring a route where the rider can bring their ride and park, comfortable they will return to the same spot. And fortunately, that spot is in downtown Oregon, which though a small town, is still lively with restaurants, bars, and stores. And the routes themselves each provide multiple things to see, including sites like the John Deere historic site in Grand Detour, and the Ronald Reagan boyhood home, among others. One can take a leisurely ride to sight-see, or a more speed-focused ride. And the site offers descriptions of each trip, including sights to see and a bit about the nature of the course chosen:

FullSizeRender.jpg

Included in the description of this route:

Finally, you turn right onto Oregon Trail Road leading you back to town. It takes you through wooded countryside and roller-coaster hills before turning right into Oregon Park West (4). (Emphasis added).

This helpfully lets you know what you are getting yourself in for if you choose this route.

To me, this is an incredibly thoughtful approach for the county to have put together. Yes, one could certainly have mapped out such routes oneself, using google maps or a similar approach. But incorporating the sites seen here would take hours of work, and a considerable knowledge of the area. Here it is done for you, with some 10 different options so you can go again and again. It’s almost certainly designed to bring people into downtown Oregon and spur interest for travel in the county itself, and why not? It has many things to offer.

If you are a cyclist who lives in the region, or if your travels will bring you into the area, this site can be an excellent resource for figuring out where to ride - I’d recommend adding it to your bookmarks and checking them out.

Comparisons... by Erin Wade

A couple of weeks ago I was pulling my Catrike Pocket out of the back of my car, and noticed something on one of the front tires - a bit of greenish coloring. I rolled it into the garage to get a closer look. At first I thought it was something that had gotten on to the tire from the road. As I looked closer, however, it became clear that it was the layer under the black rubber peeking through. A spin of the wheel found that it was showing in spots all the way around.

I got my Pocket in June of 2017 - about 19 months ago. It’s a 2012 model that I found on eBay. Technically it’s used, of course, but the person I’d bought it from had been given it by someone else who hadn’t ridden it, and he got it for his wife who also decided she didn’t want to ride it. The tires on the trike still had the little nubs around the outside. My little Pocket had seen very little action.

Since then, according to Cyclemeter, I’ve ridden 1861.02 miles on the Pocket. This may seem like a lot, or not that much, depending upon the circles you travel in - to avid, regular cyclists this type of distance in 19 months is no big deal. But it’s important to compare yourself to yourself, and for me last year was my biggest mileage year ever up to that point; and this year I’ve already ridden further. This owes in no small amount to my trike - I love riding this thing.

So: it makes some sense that it would be time for new tires. I took the trike in to the always helpful folks at Meads Bike Shop in Sterling to perform the feat (a bike mechanic I am not). Because the tires needed to be ordered it was going to take a couple of days. (I did actually take a couple of rides on the worn tire, but I figured I was really increasing my odds of having to call for a pickup each successive time).

This meant, when it came time for last week’s Sunday ride, I had no trike. I do, however, have my road bike - it’s a 1987 Cannondale SR400 that I’ve had for years, and was my primary ride until I got the trike. Here she is:

Cannondale SR400

I looked back in Cyclemeter later and realized that it had been over a year since I’d ridden the Cannondale. This week’s Sunday ride was on October 14th, and my prior ride on this bike was October 10th, 2017. The ride prior to that had been on June 27th and, in both cases it was, then as now, because I’d had the trike in the shop.

Now, to be clear, I didn’t get the Catrike because I was unhappy with my Cannondale. Quite the contrary, I’ve always been very fond of it. It’s lightweight, it has an elegant simplicity, and even with only the 12 gears it’s age allows it, it is a fast, capable machine. And I love the clean, simple lines of its design. Heaven help me, I even kind of like the 1980’s pink neon lettering.

I didn’t get the Catrike because I was unhappy with my bike. I got it because I think recumbent trikes are cool. I mean really cool. As I’ve said here before, I’ve wanted one pretty much since the day I realized they existed.

That said, I figured it would be good to get the old girl out and take her for a spin. Of course, there’s been nothing to stop me from doing that over the past year - she’s always waiting, patiently, there in the garage. But still...

I pumped up the tires (it had been a year, after all), put some oil on the chain, and rolled her out down the driveway. The Cannondale rode perfectly, as if no time had passed. But for me, there were several things I noticed on this ride that I likely wouldn't have a year and a half ago:

  • Wind noise. It was immediately clear to me that this was going to be a louder ride than usual due to the wind in my ears. We live in out on the Illinois prairie, in a wind farm, so this is always a factor, but it was so much more noticeable here.
  • Speed - I was still as fast, or perhaps a bit faster, as on the trike. This isn’t necessarily surprising - the Cannondale is lighter and has larger wheels than the Pocket, and my speeds on it are historically higher (though I’ve been getting closer).
  • Comfort - My tuchus was sore well before I reached the end of my 12-ish mile ride (perhaps a loss of callous over time?). And I do not miss the riding position - cranked over and tilting your neck up to see the road ahead is not a bonus.

I had noticed the wind issue from a different perspective last winter when I took my wife’s mountain bike out for a comparative ride. In that case, being up in the wind was noticeable because of how much colder it was. Out here on the prairie, lower is definitely better when it comes to dealing with that wind.

Speed, as I noted, was not an unexpected difference. Here, I suppose, what’s nice to see is that a year away on a different type of machine hasn’t really affected my ability to ride the Cannondale - I suppose it’s true that you never forget how. But I’ve gotten faster on the Pocket since I got it, and it makes me wonder how much closer I’d be with a more comparable machine. Would an Expedition or a 700, with their larger rear wheels, be more comparable machines? (This also leads me to wonder what the valid comparisons are between different bikes and trikes - a question we certainly won’t answer here today...).

The comfort issue is also unsurprising, I suppose. One is actively choosing to make a trade-off when one chooses to ride a road bike. And there will undoubtedly be people out there who suggest that I’d be more comfortable on my Cannondale if I got a fitting for it. For them, let me say here: this is possibly true. Did I mention that I love my Catrike, and that it wasn’t for reasons of comfort that I bought it? A fitting on my road bike isn’t going to get it back off the hooks any more frequently.

The Pocket is back now, fully shod with new shoes on all three wheels. The Cannondale is back in the garage. It is a fine machine, and it did a wonderful job of standing in when needed. But I’m afraid it’s going to remain on the backup bench.

Halestorm by Erin Wade

Heavy metal music as a category can be somewhat confusing nowadays, particularly if you come at it as a more... seasoned fan. For those of us who grew up listening to the likes of Judas Priest, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, and Sammy Hagar, modern offerings in the category can be somewhat perplexing. Frequently exploration of the category in the modern era results in encountering indiscernible vocals that suggest a singer trying to clear a decade’s backlog worth of phlegm, backed by guitars crunching in a non-melodic pattern that are reminiscent of sandpaper being run across the strings.

Halestorm stands in distinct contrast to that trend. All of their albums are excellent, and their newest release - Vicious - scratches the heavy metal itch in all the right places.

Vicious - which came out July 27th, 2018 - is a vocal tour de force, with Lzzy Hale front and center. She is the force.

I’ve been listening to Vicious for the better part of two months now and, while the band absolutely has its own distinct sound and character, 30-plus years worth of listening to music makes my brain inevitably draw comparisons. And with respect to that, the comparison I keep coming back to is Ronnie James Dio.

Heavy metal, new and old, is full of singers who can wail or put that low, gravelly timbre into their voices. But few vocalists have demonstrated the range of Ronnie James Dio - that ability to put all of that range on display in a single song - Don’t Talk to Strangers being a prime example of that:

Black Vultures - the opener on the new album - is the song that most makes me think of this comparison.

They are very different songs, to be sure, but the range within, from relatively soft and quiet to rasping scream, is there in both. Listening to the album, but especially this song, made me want to cue up Holy Diver and give that a listen thru as well.

What’s clear, with all of this, is that Lzzy Hale is a vocal powerhouse. I first encountered her as a guest for the title track on Linsey Sterling’s Shatter Me - a standout song on an excellent album that made me determined to find out out more about the vocalist. As is often the case, I discovered that, while she was new to me, the band has been active for a while, with an existing catalog. What’s delightful within that is that the catalog includes three other albums of original work - Halestorm, The Strange Case of..., and Into the Wild Life; and it includes three EP’s of covers, all under the title Reanimate (e.g. Reanimate, Reanimate 2.0, etc).

It’s that vocal flexibility that makes this so magnificent - Lzzy and crew’s love for the songs they are covering is clear and true on each of these. What’s more, they show her ability to sing virtually anything across the hard rock/heavy metal spectrum. One might expect that, for example, when seeing that Heart’s All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You is on one of these EP’s (Reanimate). One might be more dubious when one sees Whitesnake’s Still of the Night show up (on Reanimate 3.0 ). One would be wrong:

And lest one think that these covers sit only in safe, hard rock territory, realize that artists as diverse as Stevie Nicks, Lady Gaga, and Twenty One Pilots also get the Halestorm cover treatment on these EP’s.

This shines within the new album as the songs range from relatively soft and reflective (The Silence), to funky (Do Not Disturb, Conflicted) to solid hard rock/heavy metal (Buzz, and the aforementioned Black Vultures). And while Lzzy clearly enjoys that heavy metal edge to her voice, she also brings out the baby doll range where appropriate (e.g. on the aforementioned Conflicted).

Of course, a vocalist is not an entire band, and the albums would not be convincing if it weren’t for the rest of the crew as well. The guitar and bass work here is excellent, giving that crunch and funk where needed, in just the right measure. Drum work, handled by Arejay Hale - yes, Lzzy’s brother - is both supportive and complex. Drum work can take many forms, of course, but in heavy metal it often seems relegated to timekeeping with occasional accents for punch and fills. Here you get something different. Arejay‘s drum work has an expected heavy edge, but interesting, lighter rhythms fill in the spaces in-between, and often mirror and add to vocal lines. If you enjoy music where the drummer takes an active role you’ll find things to enjoy here.

While I’m drawing comparisons to Ronnie James Dio, the comparisons vary when we get to lyrical content. You won’t find songs full of angels and demons here. Halestorm‘s topic areas are quite different. Black Vultures opens the album with an anthem about rising up against, or in spite of, others trying to bring you down:

I don’t give in, I don’t give up I won’t ever let it break me I’m on fire, I’m a fighter I’ll forever be the last one standing

This leads into Skulls, which shifts gears into metaphor for people uncritically taking in the information they are fed, along with Lzzy’s inability to simply sit by and let that go:

Leave the TV on Believe what you want If you can’t see right or wrong...

And the songs continue, with a real-life and wonderfully earthy tone - Halestorm embraces the topic of sexuality openly and directly, and this is reflected in songs like Buzz and Conflicted, and more than directly in Do Not Disturb...:

I’m on the very top floor, room 1334 There’s a king size bed, but we can do it on the floor Turn your cell phone off, I’ll put a sign on the door That says "do not disturb" And if I were you I’d bring your girlfriend too Two is better than one, three is better than two...

And further on into relationships gone wrong and the subsequent pain - the album covers a gamut of experiences and emotions. It works excellently as a cohesive piece - in an era where some artists have set aside the album format in favor of serial singles, this is a coherent album true to the name, without a bad moment in the set.

If you have been looking for heavy metal music in the classic style and have been struggling to find it, you need look no further - it’s alive and well, right here in this album and in this band.

TerraTrike Comfort Pedal Conversion Kit by Erin Wade

In a lot of ways, a recumbent trike is arguably safer than an upright, "diamond frame" (DF) style bike. The fact of having three wheels under you instead of two means that there is no need to balance, nor any of the issues that can come from failing to do so. I’ve been riding cycles for most of my life, and the majority of the injuries and mishaps I’ve experienced over the years have involved some instance of the upright not remaining so.

This is not to say that a recumbent trike is free of risk. It is possible (or, ahem, so I hear...) to roll or flip a trike, for example. But a somewhat unique risk is the one that falls under the charming description of leg suck. This is what occurs when the feet leave the pedals at speed and get caught and dragged under the seat of the trike.

I’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced this thus far in my trike-riding tenure. Over the first couple of months this was just dumb luck - I bought my Catrike Pocket used on eBay, and so didn’t know about this phenomenon. Joining triking groups on Facebook made me aware of it, and after that it seemed reasonable to take precautions.

Catrikes come with a pretty nifty stock pedal that has a flat, platform-style regular shoe option on one side, and a fairly standard "clipless" option on the other. This offers up the option of simply getting clipless cycling footgear and snapping into the pedals. For a lot of people this is probably a pretty good option, especially if you already own cycling shoes.

I am not one of those people. My DF bike is a 1987 Cannondale SR400 (sadly, largely in disuse since I got the Catrike) with Toe Clips, the old stirrup-style cages that wrap around (but, oddly, don’t clip on to anything) the foot. As such, I’ve never purchased cycling shoes. And because I ride year-round, I’d need several different types for the different seasons, which could get spendy in a hurry.

My interim solution for this was to use cross-straps built from Velcro Thin Ties (like a Velcro tie wrap). This is two strips of Velcro put in a diagonal pattern across the pedal that I slide my foot into. When the foot turns vertical they tighten up and hold the foot in. They seemed to work ok, and at just over $10 for 100 of them, they are pretty economical - about ¢0.20 per foot. I’d love to take credit for this idea, since it seems such a simple, elegant solution, but I borrowed it from someone else in one of the triking groups (I wish I could remember who) who clearly does a better job of thinking outside the box than I do.

Now, they would periodically wear out and break, but that’s only ever happened when putting my foot in them - never when riding.

...So far.

It’s the so far part that bothered me. Maybe this solution is perfectly sustainable over the long haul, or maybe I’ve just been lucky. If the latter was true, though, it seemed reasonable to look for a different solution.

This past April I had the opportunity to swing through the Wheel and Sprocket Bike Expo in Milwaukee. I’d gone to get an opportunity to take a test ride on a Catrike Expedition (this seems like the front-running candidate for my next trike), but while I was there I looked at the other trike displays as well. TerraTrike was there, and one of their models had heel slings on the pedals. I asked the staff/salesman about these, and he indicated they are designed to bolt on to any pedal. They go by the somewhat cumbersome name of Comfort Pedal Conversion Kit. Apparently "heel slings" isn’t a jazzy enough name. But jazzy or not, they run right under $45 bucks, which is way cheaper than all but the least expensive single pair of cycling shoes on Amazon.

That was April and this is October, so it clearly took me a while to get around to ordering them. When I did so, they were out of stock on TerraTrike’s Website, but Bicycle Man had them (I may have bought their last set - it’s currently listed as sold out).

I ordered them in late August, but ran into a snag as I went to install them. These are, perhaps unsurprisingly, not designed with the standard Catrike pedals in mind. They are a pretty simple design, intended to be bolted in through the holes that the standard pedal reflectors mount to. To do this, they come with a threaded backing plate.

Backing Plates

This would work quite nicely, but the backing plate was too wide to fit into the space allowed on the Catrike pedals. So I stepped away from them, went out for a ride, and waited for a day that I would have time to sit down with a grinder and shape the plate down so it would slide in.

When that day came I was able to get it to slide in to the open space with a minimal amount of shaping. But once it slid in it was clear that the plate was also too tall for the opening - the holes didn’t line up (and it drops against the pedal on the other side). Clearing away that material would have involved a lot more grinding, and my skills in this area are limited. So, again, I stepped away, went for a ride, and thought it through a bit.

Ultimately I realized that I might be able to find nuts to secure them to the pedals instead. I stopped by the local hardware, taking the mounting bolts with me, to see if I could get a match. After a little bit of trial and error I was able to find them - they are M5.00’s. I picked up a handful of both nuts and lock washers in the appropriate size (I always get extras - makes it much less frustrating when something gets dropped and rolls away, nowhere to be found).

nuts and washers

Pedal with nuts

This worked, albeit with caveats:

  • The bolts it comes with aren’t long enough to get both the lock washers and the nuts on, so I went with the nuts alone. The bolts come with thread compound on them, so this should help hold it. I’ll need to check them periodically.
  • To get the nuts on I had to remove the Allen bolts from the outside frame of the pedal and swing it up. This meant that the plate for the heel sling covered one of the holes once it was attached, so I had to leave one of the bolts off. The outside frame is now held on by three bolts instead of four. Hopefully that will not cause any issues.

swing down pedal frame

All told, once I had all of the parts together, this took about an hour to do for both pedals. If you are more handy than I - and odds are good that you are - it will probably take you less time.

How Do They Work

Caveats aside, I got them installed and I’ve since had them out for a couple of rides. My very first impression involved trying them out for a very short ride with my typical summer riding shoes - a pair of Keen sandals. The picture on the box shows them used with sandals, so you’d think this would be ideal:

Judging a box by its cover

It... wasn’t. The way the strap falls does not go across the sandal strap as is shown in the drawing on the box. Rather, it falls across the heel, below that strap. Having the strap loose enough to get the shoe through means that it is a little loose at the heel. Yes, it is Velcro, so you could open it and close it each time, but it’s one very long, continuous piece of Velcro, so that would become a real pain in a hurry. On that initial ride, it didn’t feel as secure as I would have liked. It was fine with the cross straps (which I left on the pedals), but didn’t feel as secure when I rode for short ways without them.

foot strapped in

other foot strapped in

However, they worked quite nicely with regular shoes. In this case, I broke out my nearly pristine pair of running shoes that I purchased, oh, say, 10 or 12 years ago (turns out I love cycling and hate, hate, hate running). The straps fit perfectly over a shoe without an open back, and the extra lip of the heel holds it in. I did (and do) continue to use the cross straps, but I did ride for a short distance without them just to test them out, and the slings seemed to secure the foot (with regular shoes) quite nicely. I took them out for a 20-ish mile ride, and found them to be quite comfortable. Getting in and out of them while also using the cross straps takes some learning, but it gets easier with practice.

I also took them out for one of my most common rides with the sandals on. They still felt a little less secure, but the sensation went away after a bit. And since the strap falls at the heel, if the foot does drop out, it’s going to catch between the bottom of the foot and the sandal - it’s still in a position to keep the foot from falling off the pedal.

While they take some learning in terms of getting into and out of, they took none at all once I was riding. They technically add a bit of weight to the trike as well, I suppose. In either case, on my first two rides I actually had personal best times for both. I don’t think they improved my speeds (though I suppose I could be wrong about that), but they certainly didn’t slow me down, and they felt pretty natural after a few minutes.

Visually, they aren’t particularly sexy, but in the end, my risk of leg suck should be significantly diminished.

not sexy, but safe

TL:DR Section

The long and short of it works out like this:

  • These appear to be an economical alternative to cycling shoes, especially if one rides across multiple seasons.
  • They work better with solid-backed shoes than sandals. I will continue to use a cross strap in addition to the heel sling for all shoes, but especially the sandals.
  • They are not designed to bolt directly to the standard Catrike pedals. This is not surprising, since they are built by TerraTrike. But you can attach them with M5.00 nuts. Make sure you have some kind of thread locking compound.
  • When I put them on, it involved removing the outer bolts on the pedal frames to swing the frame up so I could attach the nuts. This resulted in the sling brackets covering one of the bolt holes, so it left me with three rather than four bolts holding on the pedal frame.
  • They take some learning to get in and out of, but riding with them comes quickly.

The Primary Opponent by Erin Wade

In athletic endeavors, your primary opponent is always yourself.

My child competes on our local high school cross country team, and this reality is something that is focused upon in that context. While there is certainly an identification of where one finished in rank order against competitors, the primary attention is frequently paid to one’s own time, and that against one’s personal record. I think this is a valuable lesson for young athletes to learn, a healthy perspective on athletics for them to carry into their adult lives.

I was reminded of this for myself a couple of weeks ago.

For the second year in a row I decided to ride in the Farmondo. This is a large group riding event put on by Tempo Velo, a regional cycling club, and sponsored by, among others, Mead’s Bike Shop, both located in Sterling, Illinois. The event offers rides in three distances - 20, 43, and 80 miles - and plots a course along winding, rising, and falling rural roads through the region (yes - Illinois does actually have hills, and I believe the event organizers have found most of them...). This year, as last, I decided to do the 43-mile event.

For the record, 43 miles was then, and is still, the longest distance I’ve traveled in a single ride. I enjoy myself out riding, and I aspire to longer rides, but the realities of schedule and time mean that I typically end up on shorter routes.

Keeping in mind the aforementioned healthy perspective, my goal for this event was to improve over last year. The organizers absolutely present the event as a group ride and not a race, but they do issue number tags and take official times. For the event in 2017 I came out at the following time and average mph over 43 miles:

3:40:30.92 @ 11.7mph

So that’s 3 hours, 40 minutes, and just under 31 seconds for the 43-mile ride. I’m no speed demon there - I came in 72nd out of 86 riders. I rode in the event on my 2012 Catrike Pocket. I believe I was the only recumbent rider in the event.

Farmondo 2017

I got my Pocket in June of 2017, so I’d had it about three months before taking it into this event. My average speed per ride on the trike has come up a bit since that point, so I was hopeful that I could come in at least a little faster this year than last. Still, another aspect of riding longer distances is how many breaks you take. There are two official break stations for the 43-mile portion of the event, and last year I stopped at both of them. Since I’d never ridden this type of distance before - my longest ride in training up for it was just under 29 miles - I reasoned that I didn’t want to overtax myself.

At the first break station last year I paused, drank a bit of water and took another for the road, but I was not physically in a position where I needed to stop - I did so as a precaution. By the second, however, I was pretty fatigued, and gulped down drink and watermelon to compensate. So - looking back it was clear that this was space in which I could improve my time - if I could eliminate at least one of the breaks, I’d finish more quickly.

In building up to this I increased my ride distances and experimented with ways to carry enough water with me to cover the whole distance. I laid out the longer distances around my usual cycling routes and included hills where I could (though I’m out on the prairie - the event route is through river country, so my hills pale by comparison). I was able to piece together a 42-mile route on the map, but I never quite got there. My longest practice ride ended up being 38 miles. Things seemed to get physically pretty challenging around the 35 mile point, but I was able to finish the 38-mile rides without a break, and had enough water to get through.

Weather for this year’s event was just about as perfect as one could hope: 65° and sunny. The humidity was up a bit at 75%, though this is not uncommon for Illinois. The only real downside to the weather was a bit more wind than one might prefer, running at about 14 miles per hour (all according to the weather reading for the event in Cyclemeter). In short, it was a beautiful day for a ride.

It appeared that I was, once again, the only recumbent rider in the event. This really only feels odd over the first mile or two, when all of the riders are grouped together. In that situation you are, of course, looking up at everyone else, with them packed around you. Once the road opens up it’s no different than coming across other cyclists on the road or a path on any other day.

The route for this year’s event appeared to be identical to last year, with the break stations in the same location. Because of the longer training routes, I was comfortable rolling right past the first station, and reasoned that, if I needed, I could always stop at the second one. This year as last there was a lot of trading positions on the hills with the folks on their upright bikes - them passing me on the uphill climbs, and then me rolling by them shortly after the hill was crested, only to see them ride by me again as we climbed the next rise. This is an understood phenomenon, the notion that recumbents are slower uphill and faster down than upright or "diamond-frame (DF)" bikes. As I understand it, it’s a feature of the difference in riding position, which is to say that one can stand up in the pedals on a DF bike, which aids in climbing, while the laid back position on the recumbent is aerodynamically better for downhill speed. This was certainly true last year, it was true this year, to a point. More on that later, perhaps.

So I rode past that first break station, secure in the knowledge that I could stop again. What I was pleasantly surprised to find was that, when the next station loomed ahead of me I still had enough water and I did not feel the need to stop. So I was able to roll past both of them.

They make the results available online very quickly afterward. I had an inkling of where I was at immediately after I finished because I was using Cyclemeter during the event, but Cyclemeter isn’t the official time, so I was excited to see where I would land. When I got home I loaded up the website and scrolled down past the group to focus directly in on my clock results. My time for 2018:

3:20:46.97 @ 12.9mph

For that first few seconds I was pretty pleased - building up to bypassing the breaks had achieved the desired effect. This was definitely an improvement.

And then my eye wandered over to my place:

I came in 79th out of 93 riders.

Don’t bother to scroll back up, I’ll just tell you: I came in 72nd last year. I was down seven positions from the year before.

The thing is, this is a stupid way to look at this. Logically I know this, and yet it still happened in my head. There despite the time, effort, and actual improvement.

All of which is why that aphorism is important: Your primary opponent is always yourself.

That a part of the focus in athletics for kids seems to have moved towards this perspective I think is a valuable thing. There will always be the few who are out in front of everyone else, but for the rest of us who endeavor to remain, return to, or simply become more athletic as adults, it’s vital that our comparative focus remain in the right place - improve yourself. Everything else is secondary.

Looking Back at Hindsight by Erin Wade

A few weeks ago I installed a new pair of mirrors on my Catrike Pocket after a surprise failure of the existing mirror. I used Mirrycle MTB Bar End mirrors - these were direct replacements for the existing mirror, which I had been happy with aside from, you know, the breaking.

After that post a couple of folks in the Recumbent Trikes Group on Facebook suggested an adjustment to the way the mirrors are mounted. The Mirrycle mirrors are three piece items outside of the bar end (four, if you include the piece on the inside that tightens it). The three pieces include the piece going into the bar end, a bent piece that attaches at a 90° angle to that piece, and the mirror. In the configuration shown on the box, all three pieces are together. This is the configuration I had on the trike before, and this is how I mounted the two new mirrors.

Hindsight

The suggestion was to remove the 90° piece and attach the mirrors directly to the piece coming out of the bar end, with the rationale that this will reduce vibration and allow for a clearer view behind.

Mirror close up

Now, a clearer view behind sounds great, but in years of riding first an aluminum frame upright road bike, and now my Pocket, which is also aluminum with a solid frame (e.g. no suspension) I’ve more or less come to accept the fact that things are going to vibrate. Still, the suggestion made good practical sense - fewer components means fewer things in the mix to move about - so it was worth a shot.

The bend removed

The long and short of this is: it absolutely does make a difference. While they still vibrate (along with the entire trike) over rough surfaces, most of the time the view behind is much clearer. In past, these were good enough to see that something was coming up from behind, but not enough so that you could tell what type of vehicle. With this configuration it is much clearer.

Additional bonus here - I noted that one of the benefits to having a two mirrors was that I could now see being me when signaling turns by looking in the mirror on the opposite side (because my arm was all I could see in the mirror on the signaling side). This adjustment only brings the mirrors down a couple of inches, but it’s enough that I now get a view of the road behind rather than just a view of my arm on the signaling side.

There’s also something about mounting it in this way that makes it feel a little more old British sportscar to me (a feeling that the trike already gives me). This isn’t something I can quantify, but it’s there nonetheless.

This all seems like a pretty simple thing, but I think a lot of folks - certainly me - tend to install things as they come. The mirror came in three parts, and had a picture on the box. That’s how I installed it - use all the parts and make it look like the picture. Some folks, however, think outside the box (pun intended - you can insert a sad trombone sound here if needed), and get different - better - results. My thanks to Vince and Mike for the very helpful suggestion!

And also thanks to everyone else who suggested alternative mirror arrangements. As time and budget allows I may be trying those also - it’s good to be able to see behind you...

Rend Lake Bike Path by Erin Wade

Take I-57 south about half an hour south of Mount Vernon, Illinois, and you’ll come across Rend Lake. In fact, you’ll actually start catching glimpses of the lake itself off to the right earlier than that - it’s pretty big, coming in as the second largest man-made lake in the state. Much of the land around it is protected in one way or another. One of those areas is Wayne Fitzgerell State Park, which I wrote about here a while back.

For this trip I had the opportunity to do some homework ahead of time, and found that Rend Lake has a much longer continuous section of trail system around its southern end, where the dam that formed it falls across the Big Muddy River.

Trail map

This compares favorably to Wayne Fitzgerell, where the path was shorter, and seemed to lack anything resembling a start or end point.

To get there, you’ll exit I-57 at Benton, and travel back a bit through the countryside. This is all lovely, intensely rural country - trees and water and prairie occasionally punctuated by farms and small towns. If you are from outside of Illinois you may assume that it’s all Chicago, but most of the state is not, of course - most of the state is like this to a greater or lesser degree.

Once you get to the lake, the most challenging part is selecting where to begin. You’ll find, on the map, that you enter on the aptly named Trailhead Lane.

Trail map close up

Not far along that path there is a large parking area that clearly abuts the trail. You can see that, because you can see the trail along trailhead lane. What you will also see is that the large parking area is clearly convenient, but it’s not where the trail begins. To be clear, after riding the course, I can say that it would be a fine place to start your ride, but I was looking for the whole trail experience, so I followed the road further in. What you’ll find there is a camping area and spots with smaller parking slots. You have to navigate this while keeping an eye on the trail itself, though, which you gain and lose through the trees as you do it. You’ll have to do that because, as best I can tell, despite the fact that you are driving on Trailhead Lane, there is no place where the actual trail head is marked (although I suppose it’s possible I simply didn’t go far enough in). Doing all of this added about 3/4 of a mile to the ride in each direction. If that extra mile and a half isn’t important to you, I’d suggest starting at the large lot.

Once you get riding you will find a course that offers multiple types of view. Much of it winds through wooded parkland, and for the first section you alternate between that and having the road off to the side. It then opens up into a small open area with the lake in the distance as you approach the side of the dam.

Rend Lake in the distance

The trail then rises up to the top of the dam, and you cross the Dam Road (the 12-year old boy in me loves that name) and the trail drops into the area below the dam, following along and then crossing the Big Muddy River.

Big Muddy River

Things change trail-wise here as well. Most of the trail is concrete on either side of the dam, but changes to tar and chip for this section. There are also a couple of sections that are perhaps spillways, where the trail drops down and then up by a couple of feet across a 15-20’ span. I’ve never encountered these anywhere else, but aside from being surprising, they were perfectly navigable.

Views along the Big Muddy are more or less what you would expect. You’ll see woodlands, of course, and you get glimpses of the river along these sections. Part of it is more wetland than river...

Where the water goes green

And the river itself here, falling just below the dam, is clearly channeled:

Big Muddy River

As you come out of this loop, the trail takes you out along the dam for approximately a mile:

Dam View

If you are here looking for wooded lake views, the first two sections of the trail might seem discouraging. Honestly, they were to me, though this was tempered a bit by a desire to get distance under my wheels as well. Press on a bit further, though, and things change. On the other side of the dam things open into the wooded vistas you are seeking.

Over the river and thru the woods

The trail frequently offers glimpses of the lake, and at times, rides right alongside it. For those inclined to stop and rest along the way, or bring along a picnic lunch, there are many locations, both formal and informal, that allow for this with a lovely lake view.

Lake View

The park is full of wildlife. As at Wayne Fitzgerell, deer are abundant. I came across small herds multiple times as I was riding, in most cases very close to the trail. On at least two occasions I was riding with deer bounding along the trail just ahead of me. I also came across wild turkeys, and a wide variety of waterfowl, including your usual ducks and geese, of course, but also some types of cranes and/or herons. These last, unfortunately, flew off before I could get a closer look and/or a picture.

This trail is peaceful, but it’s not quiet - or at least it’s not in late summer, when I was riding it. While the visible wildlife aren’t particularly noisy, this is cicada season in southern Illinois. You’ll hear them as an ongoing backdrop, a soundtrack, throughout your ride.

The trail itself is paved throughout. As noted before, below the dam it’s composed of asphalt tar and chip, while on either side above the dam you’ll find concrete. Automatically one might presume to prefer riding on the concrete sections, but there is good and bad there as well. The concrete is laid in large sectional blocks, resembling nothing so much as a very large sidewalk. This means that you hear and, depending on the type of machine you ride, feel the joints in an ongoing rhythmic pattern as you ride them. There is also a tendency, in a few sections, for the concrete segments to undulate, which can be unpleasantly surprising at speed.

And speed is a relevant consideration here. The trails above the dam frequently present as long, sweeping uphill and downhill sections. As uphill goes the grades are relatively gentle, but on the downhill versions of these sections one is rewarded with vigorous pedaling by a high speed twisting, curving ride that feels like you’ve suddenly arrived at Road America.

Road America?

These sections were a blast on my Catrike Pocket, really bringing out the human-powered gokart feeling that it can offer. I know that it would similarly be a blast on a road bike. But this is also when you discover that some of the sections of concrete undulate like a snake on a Don’t Tread on Me flag...

These winding twisty bits actually presented a bit of a quandary for me, because I wanted to stop and take pictures, but I also didn’t want to because I wanted to crest the next hill to take the next twisting descent...

The trail crosses roadways a few times, but it never joins them. It was busier than I’d found at Wayne Fitzgerell, which is to say that I occasionally came across walkers and a bicycle or two, but much of the time I was blissfully alone. The quality of the trail, and its remove from the roadway was such that darkness falling prior to the end is not a concern if you are comfortable riding with lights. You’ll need them to see, but you won’t particularly need them to be seen, since you are off the roadways.

As with the beginning, there is nothing at the end of it to tell you that you are at the end. You simply empty out into the parking area for a restroom and a bit of looking about finds no additional trail to ride.

Starting at the trailhead suggested by google maps will get you about a 20-mile round trip if you take the whole course. I got a little over 21 miles by going back a little further along the trail.

If you are looking for a place to ride in the region, this trail is absolutely worth checking out. I’d been aware of it before, but didn’t want to drive the few extra miles to get to it, stopping at the state park instead. Next time I’ll do the additional traveling.

Trike at Rend Lake

Benefit of Hindsight by Erin Wade

I struck out a couple of weeks ago for a 38 to 42-ish mile ride - I’ve been working on building up to longer distances. The weather was practically idyllic - partly cloudy, with a high in the lower 80’s; honestly better than a mid-August day in Illinois has any right to be. I’d worked out the route to allow for a full 42-ish miles, but to be easily cut to the shorter distance if I didn’t feel up to the full course.

All was going well until right about mile 10, at which point the rear view mirror on my Catrike Pocket snapped off of it’s post.

these pieces should be connected

That’s right - just snapped off. Not so much as a "by your leave", or "toodooloo" - one second it was there, doing a stalwart job at its duty, and the next it was a decoration on the pavement behind me.

The township road crews in the area have been diligently working on culvert repair over the course of this summer. As a result the highways and byways are punctuated with 3-4’ wide removed sections that reach across the breadth of the road, filled in with gravel rather than asphalt. These occur every few miles across the region right now and, inevitably, the difference in material results in a difference in the elevation between the road and the filler. It was upon encountering one of these sections, rolling along around 15mph or so that my mirror made its escape. As best I can tell, the jarring nature of the bump into the gravel fill must have been just enough to get it to give up the ghost.

I stopped and turned around to pick up the mirror, tossed it into a saddlebag, and continued on. I was already a third of the way into my ride, more or less, so it made just as much sense (I reasoned) to go on as it would to go back.

One of the things you quickly realize, under these circumstances, is just how valuable a rear-view mirror is on a recumbent trike.

Rear view mirrors are, arguably, desirable equipment for all road riding. I certainly have one mounted to my Cannondale upright as well, and I know that I miss them when I’m riding a borrowed bike, as with our adventures with bike sharing earlier this summer, or on the rare occasion that I take out MLW’s big-box Schwinn mountain bike.

Mirrorless rear view, however, is an area where a diamond frame bike has an advantage over a recumbent trike. Turning your head to look behind you is considerably easier on a DF bike than on my trike. It’s not impossible, mind you, but the effort is considerably higher, and the view one gains for that effort is not all one might hope.

This actually resulted in my cutting the ride down to the shorter route. The longer route included a section of road that, while only a couple of miles long, rises, falls, and twists with a minimal usable shoulder for emergency runoff. It seemed better to avoid that portion without the benefit of a rearward view.

I decided, given this experience, to order and mount two rear-view mirrors on the trike instead of just replacing the one. This puts a second mirror on the right handlebar.

The Repair Crew My repair crew helping me out

Two Mirrors

behind sight!

With the relatively small size of the trike, this may seem to be overkill. And from a visual field perspective, it is. Cars nowadays have mirrors mounted on both doors in addition to the central rear view mirror (though I’m old enough to remember when they came with one, standard, and getting one on the passenger side was an extra cost option. And then you had to prevail upon your passenger to adjust the mirror on that side, because there was no such thing as a power mirror... I digress - suffice it to say that I’m old enough to remember things that make me seem old...). The general width of a motor vehicle means that those three mirrors each provide a different view, with information within each that is valuable for the safe navigation of the machine. On a trike, however, the difference between the view in the two mirrors is negligible.

The similarity in view between the two, however, is more a feature than a bug. While it is overkill in terms of the visual field, what it offers is redundancy. When I first ordered the two mirrors, my thought was towards the idea of keeping the second one in the saddlebags as a backup, alongside the spare tubes and my toolkit. But while the mirror can be installed with a bike tool kit - all of the connectors have Allen heads on them - the real question that occurs is just how badly one would want to do a roadside mirror installation. Which is to say: not at all.

If I’d had the second mirror on the trike a couple of weeks ago, losing the one would have been a non-issue. Given that they provide virtually the same rear view, I could have comfortably soldiered on without alternating between wondering if anything was coming up behind me and shifting and craning uncomfortably to see whether or not that was the case.

I’ve also realized an additional advantage in rides since doing the installation. With the single mirror on the left side of the trike, I cannot see behind me when I signal a left turn - my arm is the only thing featured in the mirror at that time. It’s a small thing, for a short period of time, but now I can still get the rear view from the right-side mirror.

It’s always possible, tho, that the fates were just looking out for me that Sunday. As I mentioned, the loss of the mirror caused me to cut about five miles from the ride. It doesn’t seem like much, but my legs were pretty much spaghetti by the end of the trip even as it was, so all may have been for the best. Gotta get up to 42 miles eventually, though...

Cycling Resources: Google Maps by Erin Wade

One of the tasks that goes with cycling is sorting out routes to ride on. While it’s fun, at times, to simply pick a direction and see where the road takes you, much of the time it’s good to have an idea of where you are going, and how you are going to get there. This is especially true when you are trying to add distance to your regular routes. It’s pretty easy to use any mapping software or - if you still happen to have one about - a paper map - to sort out a five or ten mile ride. But as ride distances climb it becomes valuable to have a way to lay out clear routes that will work for the desired distance, and, particularly when riding on public roads, for safety purposes (it’s not fun to suddenly find that you’ve come to a point where your only choices are to either ride along a heavily traveled highway or backtrack).

Google Maps offers a free, readily available resource for this.

The first, simplest thing that it offers is cycling directions.

Cycling Directions

Usually this results in a route that avoids higher traffic areas, and it provides other information in a fashion that is specific to cycling - for example, travel times are at cycling speeds, and it gives a general impression of the terrain over the course of the route.

It also includes maps of biking trails and routes, identified in various shades of green lines on the map. The picture below shows biking trails in and around Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, Illinois.

Rock Cut Biking Trails

Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a key, so you are left to interpret on your own, but the Google blog says the following about the key:

  • Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail;
  • Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road;
  • Dashed green indicates roads that are designated as preferred for bicycling, but without dedicated lanes

Some of the maps also show red, or perhaps brown, lines which were perhaps added in later (?). Based upon some familiarity with one of the areas they show up in, it appeared to me that these were either hiking or off-road trails, and that seems to be supported by this article on using Google maps for cycling on Lifewire.com. That article also offers step-by-step directions about how to use the cycling directions, though they appear to be specific to a desktop/laptop interface. In Google Maps for iOS, you tap the layers button in the upper right-hand corner:

Tap the Layers button...

Then select the cycling option in the menu:

...then select the cycling option

This will turn on the cycling route overlay so you’ll see bike trails and such on the map. You also want to make sure you select "biking" for the directions when you punch in your destination. This means that your directions will be set for cycling rather than driving, so if you use Google Maps for driving directions, you’ll want to remember to switch it back when you are in the car.

That Google Maps offers cycling directions isn’t new - it’s been around as a feature since at least 2010 - but it’s one of those things that you only really notice when you have a use for it.

The cycling specific directions are a great feature when you are trying to determine how to get from one specific location to another, but Google Maps offers another feature that is extremely helpful when trying to add distance to routes: the Measure Distance mode.

To turn this on using Google Maps for iOS you want to find your starting point on the map, and do a long press to drop a pin. This will bring up a menu on the left that includes "measure distance":

Measure Distance

(Note that, if you accidentally tap on a notable feature, it may not offer this option, so you may have to re-adjust your starting point slightly. I had to do that for this example, because I apparently tapped on just the right spot for Lock 2 of the Hennepin Canal for my first try).

Once you’ve selected this option, you’ll get a blue circle with a dotted line, and a distance readout at the bottom left hand corner. The trickiest part of this to get a handle on is that you don’t move the blue dot, you move the map under it. As you move the map the dotted line will extend. When you reach a turning point in the route you are exploring, you tap the "add point" button in the lower left-hand corner. This sets a marker and allows you to move the line in another direction (without it turns will get lost and the line will move at a diagonal direction - cool if you a traveling as the crow flies, but otherwise doesn’t work for the rest of us). This means that you’ll only need a few points set for a route with a few turns and mostly straightaways, but a lot more for routes that curve and turn. My example below marks out the distance for the Hennepin Canal Trail, which has a combination of straights and curves:

Hennepin Canal Trail

I’ve zoomed out a bit to give a larger picture here, but you can zoom in pretty close to make the map more precise as you are making it.

Ultimately, this lets you lay out a route for the distance you want. I find myself using it often to select routes for the distance I want in a way that avoids major thoroughfares, and takes me in a circular route from start to finish while avoiding re-covering the same territory as much as possible.

I don’t necessarily love Google products as a rule - I use Apple Maps on iOS for driving directions, don’t use their office software at all, and don’t generally use them for search. But I do generally try to use the best tool I can find for the job, all other things being equal. For cycling routes and directions, and for finding cycling trails, Google Maps is absolutely a step above.

Roadside Repairs by Erin Wade

About three miles into my Sunday ride last week I had a bit of a surprise when the brake caliper dropped off of the right side of my trike and started dragging along the asphalt.

them’s the brakes

This occurred following a bump in the road, and it was followed by a rather sickening metallic dragging sound - the sort of noise that you just know is potentially expensive.

I had started out with the intention of going for a longer ride - in this case, about 28.7 miles, so longer for me, anyway. I wanted a good time on the distance, so I lubed up the trike and pumped up the tires to make sure we were running at peak efficiency. Clearly it did not occur to me to check the connections on the brakes...

After getting over the initial surprise I scooped up the caliper (dragging by its cable) and, with it in one hand and the other hand on a handlebar, turned around to go back and look for the missing bolt. Of course, the bolt is black, the asphalt that I was looking for it on on was black...

The miracle is: I found it.

There it was, just laying there, a couple of feet from the side of the road, waiting for me. (The caliper is actually held in with two bolts, but I’m guessing the first one took it’s leave earlier on. Either way I was lucky enough to find one...). I picked it up and found a spot to effect a roadside repair. One of the nice things about riding in farm country is that one is never far from a pull-in for a field (or similar), so its relatively easy to get sufficiently off the road to allow one to safely focus on dealing with an issue.

Thank goodness Allen let me borrow his wrenches

The repair was simple enough. The bolt was undamaged and it went right in. I was also extra fortunate in that, although it mounts with two bolts, one seemed to be enough to hold it in place well enough for it to function. What’s more, it functioned well, with no noise or trouble, and I was able to finish my ride. I realized later in the week that this was a fluke. Going for another, shorter ride, it started to come loose, and I was unable to tighten it up in a way that left it lined up properly such that it didn’t grind or otherwise make noise. That I was able to get in the remaining 24-or-so miles in without a problem is pretty amazing.

While I experienced all of this good fortune, it did make me realize a few things:

  • Although I use it rarely, it turned out to be very fortunate that I have a repair tool in the saddlebags on the trike. My ride would likely have been over without it, and I’d either have been riding back the three miles holding a caliper in one hand, or calling for help.
  • It pays to listen to what your machine is telling you. In this case, that brake has been making a “clunk” on engagement for the past three or four rides. In retrospect, it’s clear that the caliper was loose and/or I’d already lost bolt number one.
  • Probably, doing periodic checks of such connections would be a good thing as well. I’m usually eager to get out and ride, and so looking over these sorts of things hasn’t been on my mental list. And, to be honest, my Pocket hasn’t really had any issues like this before, and I’ve put over 1400 miles on it since I got it over a year ago. So yeah - it’s the trike’s fault for being so reliable; its gone and made me complacent.

Since then, I’ve gotten my little Catrike Pocket in to Meads Bike Shop to get the caliper properly re-connected, and while it was there I had them do a tune up (I usually have that done at the beginning of the season, but time didn’t make that an easy option this year. Plus, Tempo Velo’s Farmondo is coming up next month, and given that bits seem to be falling off of my trike, it made sense to have the professionals give it a once-over ahead of the event.

Alexander The Great by Erin Wade

I have a long-term Audible subscription that gives me two credits per month towards audiobooks. When I say "long-term", I mean that this is something that has been in place since well before Amazon purchased Audible. In fact, according to my account information, I’ve been a member since January 2001 - not quite since the beginning of its existence in 1995, but still pretty early in its lifespan.

I listen to a lot of spoken word content in a blend of podcasts and audiobooks. At times, the volume of podcasts means that it takes a while to get back to the audiobooks, and from time to time I’ll hit a point where I have to use some of my Audible credits or I will lose them. Long story short, this is how I came to purchase Alexander The Great by Philip Freeman. It reflected an area of interest - I do enjoy history and biographies - but a mild one. It was something that I figured it wouldn't hurt to have, but I wasn’t sure when I would get to listening to it.

I should not have put it off. The worry, with a biography on a long-past historical figure like this is that it will be a series of dry facts, that it will be an experience more like taking one’s medicine - it’s good for you, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean that you enjoy it. The approach taken for this tome, however, was different. Rather than simply providing a series of facts, Freeman takes a cue from David McCullough. This book reads more like a novel than a history book, with the author providing descriptions of the locations, and offering (perhaps speculative) insights into the feelings and minds of the many players in the life and times surrounding the legendary man. That he is doing so is addressed early on in the book - there is no pretense that he actually knows what the people of the time were thinking, but rather the author notes that he intended to make a more picturesque tableau, and he does so quite nicely. The reader gets a sense of what it may have been like to be there marching through Macedonia, Greece, or Asia with Alexander.

Not that this should suggest that historical facts are left out of the picture. In fact, the book does a fine job of giving an impression of events during, after, and before the rise of Alexander. For myself, having a passing interest in his story with little to no specific background information, I found this book a wonderful introduction.

To provide clear context of the events that lead to the rise of Alexander, the author chooses to begin with going into detail on the rule of his father. I’d known that Alexander was not actually Greek, and that he was the son of Philip of Macedonia, but that was honestly all I’d known, a tiny bit of trivia retained from my undergraduate Western Civ class far more years ago than I’d care to admit. Who Philip was (the hard-won king of Macedonia) or how that provided the ground work that made Alexander’s conquests possible was something that, frankly, I’d never even thought to consider. Understanding that Alexander learned at the feet of a political and strategic mastermind who did considerable consolidation of the lands of Macedonia and Greece certainly provides a clearer picture of how the events surrounding the man himself are possible - such legendary figures do not simply appear, pristine, from the ether. Rather they rise up along the steps provided by those who come before.

Among the other things this book helped to provide was some clearer context in terms of the historical timeline. I’ve always though of Alexander as ancient, and he was, but my picture of him lacked context. This telling clearly puts him in a context with respect to other events in history, with touchstones such as battle between the Spartans and Xerxes (as reflected in 300), his relative presence to Greek philosophers, and the existence and his experience with the great pyramids in Egypt. At one point Freeman notes that the distance in time between Alexander and the builders of those monuments is akin to the distance between our time and that of Alexander. It makes one realize that the ancient world was a long time ago, but that it was also an incredibly long span of time itself, with huge swaths of history already past by the time this conqueror’s sandals trod the earth.

The narrator for this book is Michael Page. He sounds to be a British reader, and he is pleasant company for the journey in the book. The only caveat I’d make for this is that it may be beneficial for the American listener to visit the Wikipedia page on Alexander The Great to look at the spellings of some of the names and terms. Page has a delightfully English pronunciation style that will be different than we’d expect. The most frequent example is his way of reading the name of Alexander’s primary foe in the book - Darius the Third. Most of us in the States would likely say "Dare-E-Us", but Page pronounces it "Duh-Rye-Us". For the record, Dictionary.com agrees with him, as does Merriam-Webster, so perhaps I’m just off on this, but I suspect others may find it a bit confusing as well.

This book is a survey of the times, and rolls past like a story rather than a text, so it will likely be unsatisfying for someone well-versed in the lore of Alexander the Great. But if this is an area of interest for you, and particularly if you’ve wondered how to start in this, this book provides a very nice entry point.

Rokform Comes Thru... by Erin Wade

I was a relatively early adopter of the iPhone - I had a first generation model, and I’ve had at least every-other model since (e.g. I didn’t have an iPhone 3G, but I had an iPhone 3Gs, no 4, but a 4s, etc). I also have a couple of personal characteristics that make me a danger to such devices - I have a tendency to drop things, and a tendency to put such devices directly into harms way (by doing things like using the phone to track cycling speed and distances, etc), which turns out to be a potentially dangerous and costly combination (I managed to break the screen on my 3Gs within a day or so of getting it).

I’ve tried a variety of cases over the years, but when it became clear that I was going to need something protective, and something that would support mounting in my car and on my bike/trike, my search narrowed. Otterbox had already established itself early on as a leader in the protective case market, but I did not care for the bulk that it added on to the phone itself, and it left me high and dry for mounting options. And then I discovered Rokform.

I don’t recall how I came across them - likely through an internet search. But what they offered was a considerably sleeker protective case option, with a combination of both a bespoke mechanical mounting system, and a magnetic alternative or backup. And they offered mounts that worked with this in the car, and specific mounts for cycling, motorcycles, etc. I bought my first Rokform case for an iPhone 4s, and paired them with both the car mounting system and a mount for my road bike. I had to use the motorcycle mount and attach it to the handlebar, since Rokform’s bike-specific mount is designed for bikes with a 1 1/8" stem, something that hadn’t come along yet when my 1987 Cannondale SR400 was built. But it worked nicely once I’d sorted that out.

When I got my Catrike Pocket, I first installed the bike-specific mount on the 1 1/8" stem on the right handlebar (I’d purchased it for the Cannondale before I realized it wouldn't work, so it was already around), but then later decided to transfer the motorcycle mount from the Cannondale to the Pocket (I very rarely ride the Cannondale any more). This is mounted to the front accessory mount, which puts the phone front and center, but below my traffic sightlines. I can see my speed, distance, etc, readily when I want that information. Between the Cannondale and the Catrike I’ve been using the motorcycle mount, trouble-free, since at least 2015 or so.

But I came in the other evening after a ride, pulled my phone out of my pocket and sat on the couch, and saw a piece of plastic fall out of the back of the phone. Upon closer inspection it was clear that this was one of the tabs off of the motorcycle mount’s RokLock - the plastic holder that physically connects the phone’s case with the mount.

When I looked at it later, it was pretty substantially broken:

Broken RokLock

To the credit of the device - likely due in part to the magnetic backup - the phone stayed in place the entire ride without incident. I hadn’t noticed this till I got back.

Still, I was frustrated. Yes, I’ve had this mount for three years, and it gets pretty regular use. But Rokform’s products are not inexpensive, and I’ve viewed them as falling into the category of getting what you pay for. I didn’t relish the idea of shelling out for another motorcycle mount, but I pulled out the iPad and navigated to the company’s website.

What I noticed, as I was looking over the page, was a link in the menu for replacement parts. Following that, I discovered that, in fact, you can get a pack of three RokLocks, along with the torx screws that hold them on, for $2.99. That’s a buck a piece before shipping, and leaves me with two additional pieces for repairs down the road if I need them.

I ordered away. Once they came in, the repair was straightforward - unscrew the screw from the back, remove the old RokLock, mount the new one, and screw it back in. Honestly, the part of the activity that took longest was locating my torx screwdriver (this is not an item for which find regular use - I’m probably fortunate I was able to turn it up at all). Once the new one was mounted one could see why it’s important for the RokLock to be intact:

old and new

The upshot of all of this is that, by making these replacement parts available at an incredibly reasonable price, Rokform retains, for me at least, the worth-what-you-pay-for status. If one is going to step out and invest in a high-end system for protecting and mounting electronics in harm’s way, its good to know the company has recognized where their products might fail, and has devised a reasonable, low cost and low effort way to get them back up and running. Kudos to Rokform!

Catching the Signs by Erin Wade

It’s probably safe to say that riding a recumbent trike gives one a different perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize until I started was that this isn’t just a metaphorical difference.

Riding out on country roads things simply look different. Because of the position on the trike, one is at eye level with the long grass in the ditches, and a little extra care must be taken at the corners. It also means you get a different point of view on the wildflowers of summer:

Ditch Lilies

I’ve also started noticing something that was hiding in plain sight, albeit a little lower than typical eye level. Riding out here in rural northern Illinois one encounters a sizeable number of small waterways. Some of these are natural, while others are man-made (you can often tell by the course that they take - natural waterways tend to meander, while the man-made ditches tend to flow in straight lines and sharp angles). Some flow year-round, while others are intermittent. However, they have a commonality when they meet the roadway - they require a bridge.

I’d ridden my bike all around the area when I was young, and since moving back I’ve literally ridden hundreds of miles on the local roadways. Between those two time periods I’ve crossed bridges over these streams more times than I can count. But a week or two ago I noticed something that I’d never seen before: some of the bridges have plaques on them.

The first one I noticed was a bridge over Willow Creek on Beemerville Road (and folks, let me tell you that, despite the name, I see no evidence of any "ville" along this path). Neither the bridge, nor the road itself, are a fancy affair, though both suit their purposes and location. But as I was riding along it I caught notice of the plaque:

Plaque on the bridge over Willow Creek

Willow Creek (that’s pronounced "crick", incidentally) itself is an small, but ongoing affair:

Willow Creek

And the bridge and road are relatively rustic affairs - most of Beemerville road is gravel. This is a fact which, incidentally, I think I’d known and actually forgotten, or I likely would not have chosen it. Gravel is easier to navigate on a trike than on a road bike, but it’s still not, you know, pleasant to ride on).

Willow Creek bridge and Catrike Pocket

Of course, once one has seen a thing, discovered that it exists, has existed in the world despite one’s ignorance, one becomes primed to find it elsewhere. I had now begun looking for the plaques on the myriad other bridges I cross. And they are there, though certainly not everywhere. But they appear to have been present on a couple of bridges I have ridden across many, many times. I came across this plaque, which suggests the bridge it adorns has its own name:

Faber Bridge

Faber Bridge Plaque

This, then, is Faber Bridge (apparently). Faber is a common family name in the area, and the town of Mendota used to have a hotel by that name downtown, across from the train depot.

Hotel Faber

The hotel was still standing, albeit empty and unused, when I was a kid. Now only a gravel parking lot commemorates its location. But I digress...

The third plaque I came across is on one of the many bridges over Bureau Creek:

Trike at Bureau Creek

Plaque at Bureau Creek

Bureau Creek is large and long enough to garner its own Wikipedia Page, running some 73 miles across at least two different counties. It is the creek that used to run under the Hennepin Canal aqueduct at Lock 12, on its way to empty into the Illinois River. There are times of the year where, depending upon the amount of rain, it would be navigable by a small canoe or kayak.

Given all of that, you can perhaps see why a bridge over this waterway might have a plaque on it. But the others?

The Faber Bridge covers the Little Vermillion River, a waterway that eventually empties into the Vermillion River), and then the Vermillion into the Illinois. Willow Creek looks, according to Google Maps, to flow into the Green River), which later feeds the Rock and that the Mississippi. And so one might think these plaques go on to bridges that cover more important tributaries. But no - there are at least dozens of bridges over Bureau Creek, for example. I’ve crossed more than a couple of them either by cycle or auto, and most of them are not similarly adorned. They do carry load ratings, so perhaps they were meant to be informative, but they are not placed in a location that would be easily read by a truck driver prior to crossing; and, again, you’d think if that were important, it would be marked on all of the bridges.

Ultimately, to me at least, their purpose remains a mystery. (There may well be a bridge engineer out there right now, reading this, saying "well actually" aloud as he comes across this section...).

What it does help reveal is the effect of that difference in perspective. Riding on my upright road bike the physical position places one’s body such that the head and eyes are oriented down, towards the handlebars and the road. The head is craned upward to see ahead unless leaning back into the seat (and often with the hands off the bars). Ion that machine my head is five to six feet up off the road, depending upon position.

Riding on the recumbent trike these plaques are at eye level, and one is comfortably able to look forward - indeed is oriented forward - the entire time. That I’ve not noticed these before I suspect is simply due to not having them easily accesssible. I’ve enjoyed years of riding my upright bike through the countryside - I’m certainly not trying to imply otherwise - but it is sometimes surprising how a relatively small change in approach can provide a very different point of view, and access to a different way of seeing things you’ve looked at many times before.

Bubble Podcast by Erin Wade

Bubble

I love podcasts. Much of my audio-listening time is split between podcasts and audiobooks, and that split is about 70/30 in favor of podcasts. I’d prefer it were closer to 50/50, but the recurring nature of podcasts means that, each time I step away to listen to an audiobook, the podcasts stack up. I really shouldn’t care about that, but there’s a little voice inside of me that wants things to be completed, and a stack of unlistened-to podcasts is anathema to that.

All of which is to say that, while I love podcasts, I was not looking to add anything to my existing subscriptions - I have enough to keep up with. But then John Hodgman tweeted about Bubble...

Many podcasts -and certainly most of the ones I listen to of late - are just a couple, or a few, people talking, often around a loosely defined theme. That theme might be a movie review, a sport, or an historical or cultural phenomenon. But there are cases where people have decided to tackle the ambitious feat of putting together an honest to goodness, scripted radio play (or perhaps we should just say “audio play”, since there’s no radio involved).

Enter Bubble.

Bubble is a new, eight part audio series from Maximum Fun. It is written by Jordan Morris, and each episode (thus far) runs about a half hour. When I say new, I mean it - the first episode dropped on June 12th, and the second on June 20th. This is brand-spanking new.

There are multiple voices in the play, some perhaps familiar to the entertainment and podcast savvy. This is set in our time, but in a different place - in a world where the outside world is a harsh environment full of monsters - “Imps” who want to kill you, but where there are cities (or at least one city - Fairhaven) under protective domes, or if you prefer, in a bubble.

What quickly becomes clear, however, is that Fairhaven’s bubble is perhaps not so secure as one might think. And this is where the tension, and your lead characters - Morgan and Mitch - come in.

That description, of course, suggests this might be sci-fi horror, and I suppose it could be considered that, but with a hearty, healthy nod to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a little Portlandia thrown in. The dialogue is fun and fast, and the characters are a lot of fun - you know these people already, and you enjoy hanging out with them. Well... with some of them...

I always prefer to refrain from spoiling much of what is to come when you listen to or watch a thing, so I’ll stop here with the description. Suffice it to say this is now on my regular listen list - its a weekly release, and I really could not wait for episode two to drop. And given that it’s only slated for eight episodes, it promises to be the sort of show you keep in your pod catcher for repeated listening (I’ve already listened to the first episode twice).

Enjoy!

Spring Surprises by Erin Wade

Into the Mist

One of the downsides - if there truly is a downside - of having a regular Sunday ride is that Sunday is sometimes recalcitrant. Spring is doing her thing with the rain, and we’ve had enough over the past few days that the vernal ponds have emerged along with opportunistic streams. Still, the weather report for today claimed that the middle of the day would be dry, and the radar seemed to agree.

Opportunistic stream

Trusting in these sources, I geared up, pumped up the tires, and rolled out on my trike. The persistent cloud cover at least meant that the risk of sunburn was low (though I still sprayed on my exposed areas with SPF-as-close-as-I-can-get-to-1000 - have to maintain my alabaster complexion...). The cloud cover also allowed for temperatures in the 60’s, which is quite a gift for any point after Labor Day in Northern Illinois.

Strictly speaking, I did not encounter rain. No droplets fell from the sky in any noticeable form. It was clear, though, that I’d not considered the ability of midwestern air to hold water vapor in solution. As the ride went on everything just became progressively more... moist.

It’s rare that I wish for a set of glasses with built in wipers, but here I was, trying to decide between wearing them and not.

Wet Goggles

I ultimately went with the strategy of removing and violently shaking them off periodically as I went. By the time I arrived back home I was soaked through. Still, none of this is to say that it was a bad ride - any day with the opportunity to get out on the trike is better than a day without. My child is, no doubt, tired of hearing me say that if you wait for a perfect day to do something it will never happen.

And, true to form, it did offer a thing or two to see. As noted above, this time of year often results in opportunistic waterways emerging, the vernal ponds. And it offered up this as one of my final sights along the roadway:

what is that?

For those struggling to sort out what that might be, a closer look might help:

yes - that’s horseshit

Reminds you that you really are out in the country...