Cycling

Cat(trike) Fight - Expedition vs. Pocket by Erin Wade

Facing Off

Ok - not really a fight, but I’ve been riding the Expedition now for three weeks, covering a little over 200 miles, which seems long enough on the new machine, and away from the Pocket, to be able to make a reasonable comparison. And I thought some of this information might be useful first for anyone who also has a Pocket who might be considering moving to an Expedition, and secondarily to folks thinking about moving from a trike with a 20" rear wheel to one with a 26" wheel.

There are differences in equipment between the two machines. I detailed that a couple of weeks ago, and you can look back if you are curious. But for now, let the Cat(trike) fight begin!

Size

The Expedition feels bigger than the Pocket and, given that it is bigger, it should. But when I say "bigger", I would say that it gives the impression of being more substantial as opposed to feeling heavier. I don’t really get the impression that I’m hauling more machine around in terms of it being more work. It’s just more substantial.

What this does translate to, tho, is comparatively less of the "go-kart" feel you get with the Pocket. This is not suggest that the Expedition is not a lot of fun to ride, but the sensation is different. To make an automotive comparison, the Pocket handles reminiscent of, say, a Triumph Spitfire or Mini Cooper S, while the Expedition is closer to a late 70’s Camaro (these may be somewhat idiosyncratic examples)...

Triumphant

(Yes - that boy is painfully young, and even I can see the teenage attitude)

All of which is to say that it handles well, but it’s not quite as immediate a handling experience as with the Pocket. This may change with additional experience, but I suspect not much - I think this is a factor of additional length.


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That additional size does also translate into additional carrying capacity, and I am finding that the new pannier bags work quite nicely. I can easily see carrying back a growler from a brewpub in them. It’s also pretty clear that I’m going to have an easier time hooking up my trailer when I finally get around to finishing it.

The size does have an impact on transportation as well - at least potentially so. The Expedition does fit in my Honda Fit (it fits in the Fit). The primary difference between the two machines is that, with the Pocket I can also bring along a passenger. To accommodate the extra length of the Expedition I have to move the passenger seat all the way forward on its track, lean it forward, and remove the headrest (because it blocks the right side rear view mirror).

No passengers

I should say that this scenario involves me making no changes to the trike - I could put in the boom and would likely gain several inches. However, I did try this once and found it very difficult to slide in (by design, I believe). I’ve received several suggestions regarding this, including carrying along a rubber mallet to assist with moving it and putting talcum on the boom to make it slide more easily. I think these are good ideas, and I may try them in future, but the overwhelming majority of the time I don’t really need to accommodate a passenger, so the motivation is fairly low. And I could either strap it to the roof or set up a trailer with the car if I really need to (I do have one). As such, this is more of a difference than an inconvenience. And realistically, over the past couple of years my car has essentially become a rolling trike garage anyway. Passengers may just have to find their own way home.

Speed

One of the more common questions asked by people new to recumbent trikes is whether they are faster than Diamond Frame (DF) bikes, and/or how fast a given trike will go. Answers to this often fall into the accurate but unsatisfying range of either "it depends" or "it’s up to the motor (you)". Setting aside the fact that there is almost certainly a technical, gear-limited top speed for each machine, it’s generally a frustrating example of the real world failing to provide simple answers.

For my part, I had hoped that the Expedition would be faster than the Pocket, but based upon other people’s descriptions and experiences, I didn’t necessarily expect that to be the case. Yes, the Expedition has a larger rear wheel with the same (well - similar - 10 Speed vs. 9 speed cassette) gearing, and so technically a higher top speed capability. But I cannot say that I was routinely pedaling past the gear limits in top gear on the Pocket, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

And - before we get to what I’ve found thus far - there is an introspective part of the middle-aged me that wonders at why I’d want to go faster. While I’d love to ride more for actual transportation, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of the time I ride for pleasure and exercise. What exactly is the upside to making that go by more quickly?

But the truth is that there’s still a fair amount of that kid with the Triumph in there. He’s not necessarily rational, and might have purchased a series of other poorly conceived sporty cars over the years to meet that need (but I digress...).

So what is the deal with speed? Well:

Overall Average Speed

Yeah - The Expedition is faster.

That’s right, hands down, full stop - it’s just faster. What you see in the graph is a comparison between the lifetime average of the Pocket, the Expedition, and (for fun) my Cannondale SR400, which was my primary machine before getting the Pocket. And as can be seen, the Expedition is faster than both of them.

Now, there are some qualifications needed here to understand what this is showing:

  • The Cannondale referred to is a 1987 Cannondale SR400. It is a 12-speed aluminum road bike from the era of Madonna and Duran Duran and Mötley Crüe - it is not a modern machine. However, it was my regular ride for years, it is all of 22 lbs, and tho I prefer to ride the trikes now, I still think it’s a very elegant design. More details on it can be seen in the Cannondale catalog from 1987, and the bike itself is pictured below.
  • The averages for both the Cannondale and the Pocket reflect far more miles over much more varied conditions - including winter riding (which is always slower). The distance on the Expedition thus far is only 204.89 miles vs 2901.35 for the Pocket and 2462.47 for the Cannondale

Cannondale SR400

In order to compensate for the difference in number of rides I thought it would make sense to compare on specific routes. I compared overall speeds on the routes, and then also went thru and, where possible, did a comparison on the last three rides on each of the routes on the Pocket - all of which were in the last couple of months - in order to remove any effect of winter riding on speed (except the Inlet route - I’d only ridden that once on the Pocket, and that was this spring). That is shown in the table and graph below:

Routes comparo

The outcome: The Expedition is faster.

Removing the effect of winter riding for the Pocket definitely makes it faster (snow is fun, but it slows you down), but the Expedition is still faster. It’s faster than the Pocket, and actually faster, on average, than the Cannondale.

I say "on average" here, because the LP route presented is the one that I ride most often. This is a function of convenience - it’s a bike path right by one of my worksites. It involves a hill climb up from the Rock River of about a half-mile or so. My fastest time on that route is still held by the Cannondale - 31:51 for the 8.44 mile loop at an average of 15.90 mph. But I beat my PR on the Pocket with the Expedition on my first ride on the route. And this despite the potential disadvantage of the larger rear wheel on climbing.

So yeah - faster.

Shifters

The Pocket is a 2012 model, and it came with grip shifters.

Grip Shifters

The Expedition has bar end shifters, as does every Catrike model currently on the site, including the Pocket, with the single exception of the Eola. My impression from participation from online groups is that people generally prefer the bar end shifters.

I am finding that I miss the grip shifters a bit.

I like the indexed nature of the grip shifters - each click is a gear. The bar end shifters aren’t really indexed - you can feel them drop into gear, of course, but shifting with them is much more reminiscent of the downtube shifters on the Cannondale. Usually it’s fine, but sometimes I have to adjust a bit to get right into the spot.

The other difference here is location - which is to say that I have to move my hand up to the top of the hand grip in order to shift, instead of just making a quick twist of the wrist. I’ll grant that this is a small thing, and I’m quickly adjusting to the bar ends, but it’s not (yet) as automatic as the grip shifters.

While I’m in this area, I’ll note that that the handgrips on the Expedition are a foam material that gives the impression of less durability than the rubber (or rubberized plastic) of the grip shifters. I have had no difficulty with them thus far, and I’ve never seen anyone complaining about these, so I’m not expecting that impression to be true, but that was my initial impression nevertheless.

The Expedition comes with the wrist rests on the handlebars, which is not a feature I have on the Pocket. This is nice, and I’ve found myself with my hands relaxed on top of them over long stretches. This sort of replaces my habit of on the Pocket of resting my wrists on top of the grips where the mirrors mount (and maybe will result in a longer lifespan for the mirrors). And speaking of those...

Mirror Mounts

The Pocket (or at least my Pocket, anyway) puts the mirrors on the end of the handle grips. This option goes away because thats where the shifters are on the Expedition, and instead there are separate stalks for the mirrors. The stalks are, quite simply, excellent! Not only does it get the mirrors out away from you a bit, but it also provides additional space to mount other things. Right now I’ve put my phone mount on there, which places it much closer in reach than its previous location on the boom.

Rokform Mount

And there’s room on it for other things - I’m considering a bell for trail riding (I’m often surprised by the number of people who are still startled by me after I’ve called out "on your left" - apparently they didn’t think I meant their left...).

Neck Rest

The Pocket didn’t come with a neck rest (and doesn’t from the factory), so there’s no direct comparison here. In fact, given the angle of the seat, it doesn’t really need one. I installed a Power-On Cycling neck rest myself, but this was more to get A) a higher mounting point for a taillight; and 2) give myself a handle for walking the trike. On rare occasion, on longer rides, I would lean my head back and rest it against the pad, but I really didn’t even have it in a position to work as a neck rest.

Just looks more comfy, doesn’t it?

The Expedition has a greater degree of recline: 37° vs 41° for the Pocket. A difference of 4 degrees doesn’t seem like a lot on paper, but it’s enough to make you want to use the neck rest. I had sort of planned to order another neck rest from Power-On when I got the Expedition - again, mostly because of the elevated mounting point for the taillight - but I figured I’d hold off until I had a little experience with the stock model (and save a little coin if I could).

I was able to sort out how to get a taillight mounted on the stock headset.

Taillight on headrest

And the Expedition is tall enough that, between the neck rest and the handle on the pannier bags it’s easy enough to walk it as it sits. The stock neck rest that it comes with works fine in terms of getting into position to lean against while riding. This would all be great, and represent a cost saving, but I am finding that it makes my neck a bit sore over rough terrain. I’ve ordered the Power-On rest.

Clipless Pedals and Shoes

As I mentioned in my initial comparison, I’d never used clipless pedals before. They weren’t a thing when I was a kid (I think versions of them existed, but farm kids riding around the countryside were not a target market). My Cannondale had toe clips (the cages or stirrups) when I got it, and I found those worked quite nicely. On the Pocket I’d installed the heel slings from TerraTrike, and supplemented them with Velcro cross straps to better secure and facilitate a full power stroke (pulling on return in addition to pushing). So, despite the fact that this technology has been around for a while, it was new to my use.

They are... ok.

To be clear, they absolutely work as designed and advertised - you snap in, and your foot is solidly restrained on the pedal. They are also easier to get in and out of than the combination I have on the Pocket. There I have to lean forward to my feet to put them on or off (the cross straps specifically - you can just rest your feet in the slings). The clipless literally just snap in and out. And thus far, that’s the primary advantage.

Right now I have one pair of shoes - the Shimano Sandals I ordered about the same time I ordered the Expedition. The sandals, again, work as advertised, and I can walk around in them - the cleats are recessed enough that you can hear them click on gravel or pavement, but they don’t appear to affect walking. But the design of the sandal itself is visually more like something you’d get out of a bin at Wally World, something you’d keep around for going to the beach, than a sandal you’d want to wear all the time (can you tell I’m still bitter that Keen doesn’t make the Commuter Sandal anymore?).

And, of course, they are expensive, which will still leave me needing to make decisions come winter. Do I seek out specific winter cycling boots (these do exist) or get myself into a pattern of installing and removing the heel slings for cold weather months (since I already have the sandals)?

A part of this also bumps into my personal bias - which I absolutely want to acknowledge here - against cycling specific clothing and gear. While I realize that cycling is primarily a recreational activity here in the US, I’d love to see it move towards more regular use for actual transportation. I do believe that the tendency towards cycling specific gear - especially clothing and shoes - takes away from that. It can give non-cyclists who might be interested the impression that you have to get all of this extra stuff just to get started. That presents an additional, artificial barrier to entry that might discourage folks who would otherwise come on board. Cycling to work becomes all the more effort if one thinks one has to purchase an extra set of clothing, carry the change of clothes that you’ll wear while at work, and change both once you arrive and again when you leave.

And, to be clear, this is a personal bias. I know people enjoy their bespoke cycling gear, and I have no problem with that (I even have a cycling jersey myself, despite all of this). But I don’t want to see the cycling world move towards designing daily use machines that require additional specialized gear.

And maybe part of my problem here is that I am actually considering winter cycling shoes rather than just getting another set of heel slings...

Ok - off the soapbox...

To Sum Up

Overall, I’m really enjoying the Expedition. It is a faster machine and feels like it - I can tell when I’m riding that I’m moving along faster than before. As much as I try to tell myself that shouldn't matter, it just does.

Everything else is just niggles, and a lot of it will go away with additional familiarity and adaptation. Most of the size differences are already fading - it felt much bigger than the Pocket originally, but now when I look at the two machines together the impression I get is that the Pocket seems smaller - the Expedition now - already - feels like the right size.

Time to ride...

Sizing Things Up by Erin Wade

As I mentioned when I first wrote about my new Catrike Expedition, part of the reason that I went forward with getting the new machine was because MLW had expressed an interest in riding a trike as well. Like many people, she remembers enjoying riding bikes when she was younger, but finds the riding position - and especially the seating options - of a DF bike to be ...unforgiving.

If there had been any question that this was a desire in earnest, it was erased by the fact that, within a day or so of my setting up the Expedition, she was already out riding on the Pocket, using a pillow as a spacer to reach the pedals. This, of course, because the Pocket was still sized to me.

Any time a new person gets on a bike of any kind, things need to be adjusted. The seat and handlebars on a DF need to be raised or lowered, for example, to fit the height of the new rider. The same is true for a recumbent trike, but the process is different and, at least at first blush, a little more intimidating.

This is because, for many types of recumbent trike, re-sizing means re-setting the distance of the boom - the telescoping portion at the front of the trike that holds the pedals - and then either shortening or lengthening the chain.

Boom-boom

The first part, I think, sounds pretty straightforward. The boom just slides in and out, and so it’s somewhat analogous to moving the seat on a DF bike. It’s that second part that gives a bit of mental pause: shortening or lengthening the chain.

I mean, all of us with any experience with bikes as a kid know what a chain is; it’s that thing that lets the pedals move the bike forward, and also the thing that catches our pants, gets grease on us, and periodically falls off, making us unable to move while our friends, not realizing our crisis, continue to ride away...

Ahem.

What we didn’t learn, most of us, was how to _do_ anything with the chain except oil it periodically and re-set it on the sprockets when it came off, incidentally cursing that oil for now being on our fingers. (I still remember the revelation I experienced when my dad showed me how to more readily re-set it by flipping the bike upside down - perhaps my first real-world lifehack).

This means that approaching that portion of the re-sizing seems a bit of an arcane, black art - a bit of sorcery known to the grizzled bike shop wizards of old, but a power which the novice knows not how to harness.

But: I’ve been resolved to learn how to do more things myself, my localest bike shop being 20 minutes away. And while MLW had devised her own solution for reaching the pedals, it seemed like it would probably be nicer for her to have it actually sized to fit her. So it set forth to tackle it on my own.


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The first thing I did was consult the folks at Utah Trikes on how to do this via their channel on YouTube. They actually have a very nicely done video that shows how to go through the process, including how to set the gears before doing so (tho you’ll want to watch it a couple of times, because that’s a brief aside several minutes in).

Then I marked the old spot on it for me with a sharpie, loosened up the quick releases on the boom, had MLW sit down on it, and went to slide the boom in and...

...nothing. Wouldn't move.

I’d been expecting it to slide right in, so I was a little surprised at the complete lack of movement. But, faced with an obstacle, I did what any red-blooded American male does:

I hit it.

By which I mean I smacked it at the front with the heel of my hand. This was successful, as far as it went, except it made my hand sore very quickly. I commented that maybe this would work better if I had a rubber mallet.

I made this comment standing five feet from my toolbox which, incidentally, had a rubber mallet sitting on the floor in front of it. So, of course, I continued to hit it with my hand. I point this out in part so that you will understand the grace and kindness my wife exhibited when she quietly said "you know, there’s a mallet right there" and completely refrained from appending "dumbass" to the end of that sentence.

Turns out the mallet worked at least as well as my hand, and with considerably less incidental discomfort. Who knew? (Yes - MLW knew, that’s who).

Once the boom length was set I... let it sit for a few days.

We’d set the length on a weeknight, and some time ago I learned to let new and longer projects wait until the weekend, when I have more time to struggle with them. Otherwise I become frustrated with the need to leave things partway completed - better to do it all at once. And given that I hadn’t changed a chain length before I didn’t know how long it was going to take me.

When I did sit down with it I first started with simply locating the master link on the chain. The chain on a recumbent trike is long - much longer than on a DF bike - and as I slowly worked my way through it I found myself wondering if I was simply cycling through the same sections of chain over and over again. I solved this by cleaning off a couple of links so I’d have a clear, shiny reference point (turns out there may be a benefit to not routinely cleaning your chain... kind of).

Once I located the link I started working on getting it apart. I did not have a master link tool, but I reasoned that it looked a lot like a set of needle nose pliers, and I certainly had those, so they would work just fine.

Right?

Well, no. After about five minutes of aborted attempts I decided that maybe it would be better just to ensure I had the right actual tools for the job, hopped in the car and headed out to my localest bike shop: Bike Works in Peru. The folks there were, as usual, very helpful. I explained what I was doing and they put together the items I needed and got me on my way. I was literally in and out in less than 15 minutes.

And what a difference the right tool makes! It literally took seconds to open the master link with the tool once I put it in play. This is a thing that I have had to learn over and over again across the course of my life - maybe this time it will stick (Narrator: It didn’t).

My experience with the chain tool was similar to that of the master link tool. It took a little longer to sort out just how to seat the chain and just far I would have to push the pin in in order to get it thru, but once I sorted that out it just came apart as designed.

As laid out in the video, I’d taken a picture of the position of the derailleur before I started moving things, pulled the two ends of the chain together until the derailleur position matched the picture, and put them back together. Bob’s your uncle - I was finished!

Well, I thought I was. I set up an improvised rope and pulley (using a garage rafter in lieu of the actually pulley) to get the rear wheel off the ground so I could cycle thru the gears. I was pretty pleased with this:

Rope and pulley

It worked a treat, and I began to spin through the gears on the big ring, pleased to see that it hit them all, and then again to see it on the middle ring. And it worked okay on the small ring, except that the chain was dangling slack in the top few gears. Which meant I hadn’t taken out enough chain.

In the area of true confessions, I’d taken my picture of the rear derailleur with the chain in a different position on the rear sprocket than they recommend in the Utah Trikes video. I’d realized this fairly early on, but I figured, you know, as long as it’s all in the same position at the end it’ll be fine, right?

Right?

So, again: no.

And now I didn’t have an accurate picture to use for reference. What I did have, tho, was another trike that I could set up with the gears in the same position and hopefully that would approximate the correct orientation for the derailleur. Which is why you see the orange Expedition sitting behind the Pocket here:

Expedition as reference

I got the gears on the Expedition into position and used that to eyeball the derailleur angle on the Pocket. Now I can’t honestly say whether it was a brilliant idea or just good fortune, but it actually worked (they say sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good)!

And there you have it - One Catrike Pocket, resized for My Lovely Wife. We also ordered her up a new flag to go with it, and she’s ready to hit the road.

Pocket Sized Up

Catrike Expedition - Differences in Setup by Erin Wade

700B4E66-EB97-4E31-BDC7-E2D43FB01BE5.jpeg

As I mentioned last time, when I ordered my new Catrike Expedition I chose to do some things differently from how they present on my Catrike Pocket. While I love the Pocket, I’ve had two years of riding experience and research to consider what I might do differently the next time around. As such, the configuration I arrived at was mostly stock, but with a handful of extras, primarily:

  • A right-side mirror with mount
  • A full fender set
  • The Utah Trikes rear cargo rack
  • A set of pannier bags (Axiom Seymour Oceanwave P25’s)

Let’s talk briefly about the why of these in turn:

Mirrors

The Pocket has grip shifters - you twist the handlebar in order to shift gears. That allows for an option of putting the mirrors right on the end of the handlebar. The Expedition (and I believe actually the entire Catrike line now) has bar end shifters occupying the end of the handlebar. This means that mirrors have to go on separate mounts along the steering mechanism. A left-sided mount comes stock, but I realized fairly early on with the Pocket that more mirrors was better, both for a broader rear-view as well as from a built-in redundancy perspective, so I ordered a right sided mount as well. One of the nice things about that is that the mirror mount also allows for additional mounting points for accessories.

Fenders

The Pocket did not have fenders when I got it, and still does not. This is a thing that I find I regret every time I ride thru a puddle, every time it starts to rain, and certainly any time I’m dealing with mud. The fact that it still does not have them is due in part to the fact that I’ve struggled to find fenders to fit the 16" front wheels (tho there is at least one option for the rear). Suffice it to say I’ve spent a fair amount of time with dirt-speckled forearms, and I was hoping to find a better way this time around.

I think the fenders look good on the Expedition, but it is clear to me that the rear fender setup is going to be a source of some noise on the road. I’ve been able to isolate most of that (a couple of carefully placed bits of sticky Velcro - soft side), and what little remains I think will be a fair trade off against the mud-stripe that would otherwise appear on my back.

Probably the one limitation that they do otherwise present is in how the mirrors are mounted. At the suggestion of folks on the Recumbent Trikes group on Facebook I mounted the Mirrorcycle mirrors without the little vertical arm on the Pocket.

No vertical arm

This has the effect of decreasing vibration a bit, making it a bit easier to see what’s coming up behind you. Where the mirrors sit atop the fenders on the Expedition doesn’t allow any room for that option.

tight fit

And actually, it’s not clear they allow room for it without the fender - the mirror might hit the wheel. I could possibly adjust the position of the mount in future, but I’ve left it for now - we’ll see how much the vibration bothers me.

Rack and Pannier Bags

The Pocket does have a cargo rack, and by the looks of it, it may well be from Utah Trikes (actually, given that the Pocket’s boom is painted, I suspect it may have been ordered from UT by the original purchaser, since this is an option they offer). It works well, so I knew I was going to want one on the Expedition. The Pocket also came with the Arkel frame bags, which I thought were an elegant use of space when I first saw them, and I still think they are.

Arkel bag on Pocket

Unfortunately, it is sometimes the case that an elegant design is not always the most practical or effective alternative. I find the Arkel bags can be challenging to get into and/or to zip up at times, as the zipper is very close to the frame. And while they make good use of the space in the arc of the frame, that also means their size is limited and the shape, dictated by that arc, isn’t terribly space efficient. But probably the biggest issue is more mine than theirs - the way the zipper sits, if you forget to zip it up and ride away, odds are good that you will lose your stuff.

I am... good at losing stuff. I’m good at it without the help of the design of these bags, and they have conspired to abet that tendency on an occasion or two in the past. So I wanted a design that closed at the top, such that if I failed to zip it, wouldn't start leaving a trail of breadcrumbs made from my gear.


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I went with Axiom Seymour Oceanwave P25 Panniers. The name is a mouthful, but key components to these for me were the additional size, the top opening feature, extra side pockets, and a carry handle for them when off the trike. This last item is a bonus in case I ever need to park the trike someplace where I’m concerned about someone getting into the bags (I did a brief search for lockable bags and didn’t find any, tho I’ll bet they are out there). I don’t carry a ton of gear, but the additional space in these actually leaves room for things like a sweatshirt or other changes of clothes, which is a thing I’ve often wished for in the mixed weather of spring and fall.

Expedition

Other Differences

Not on the list of differences are a couple of things that I didn’t get (or at least, haven’t yet). On the Pocket I have a Power-On Cycling headrest. The Pocket did not have a head or neck rest when I got it, and the degree of recline to the Pocket’s seat isn’t such that I felt it was really necessary (tho it is nice to have from time to time). But what this item did offer was a higher mounting point for a rear light, as well as a convenient handle for walking the Pocket.

You only have to get a flat tire three miles out one time to realize how much you want a handle to walk your trike by. Or so I hear...

But the Expedition comes with the Catrike neckrest as a stock item, and it also sits a bit taller. I think it’s quite likely that I’ll still end up ordering another headrest from Power-On, but I figured I would try out the stock arrangement before shelling out the coin.

I also didn’t order, and thus have not installed, the heel sling kit from Terratrike that I have on the Pocket. As with the headrest, it’s not due to dissatisfaction with that item - I actually find the slings work nicely, particularly with an addition retention strap across the top of the foot. But I while I’ve been riding bikes of one stripe or another most of my life, I’ve actually never used clipless pedals. I thought it might be worth giving it a try so that at least I have a frame of reference for comparison.

I ordered a pair of Shimano Cycling Sandals for this purpose. I wear sandals for three seasons of year, cycling and otherwise. My preferred sandals are Keens, but it appears that they have elected to stop making the Commuter Bike Sandal (I actually emailed the company to verify this - they are really what I wanted). In fact, cycling sandals are, for some reason, a rather difficult thing to find in general, and where I could find them they were often either out of stock or not available in my size (and I’m an inch shy of the national average height - I’m not an odd fit). Is it possible that I’m the only one with feet that get hot when riding?

It’s worth noting that purchasing the sandals means that right out of the gate this is an expensive experiment - the sandals cost nearly three times as much as the heel slings, and they obviously won’t work for winter riding. I’m determined to give the system a fair shake, but it will have a hurdle to clear to be better.

Going Forward

And those are the differences going in. I’ve been out on the new trike three times thus far, and I’ll be heading out today. It is a different experience than the Pocket in multiple ways - I’m liking it, to be sure, but it’s different in ways that are interesting, at least to me. After I get a bit more seat time we’ll discuss.

Time to ride...

Catrike Expedition by Erin Wade

New Arrival

We have a new arrival within our cycling stable - a new (2019) Catrike Expedition in Atomic Orange!

This was an addition I’d been considering for quite some time. I very much love the Pocket - have from the day I got it - but I’ve had my mental eye on an Expedition for a while. In addition, a little while ago MLW mentioned that she might be interested in riding a trike as well, which put my efforts into high gear.

Mostly I like to buy my machines used, but after spending several months combing through classifieds on Facebook and Craigslist I came to find that A) people who have Expeditions must really like them, because they don’t come up for sale very often; and 2) When they do, they were always at least several hundred miles away. As can be said for all of us, my free time is limited, and spending a day of it on travel - especially with the possibility that the thing you’ve come to see might not be all that was described - was not an attractive proposition. I was extremely fortunate back when I bought the Pocket two years ago because it was only an hour away and, though it was five years old, it had virtually never been ridden - it still had the little nubs on the tires.

So ultimately, after considering several options, I went with Utah Trikes. This let me pick the options I was looking for, including the color, and get it shipped to my door, and they offer a very attractive financing option. I’d actually been to their site multiple times during my search, and configured the trike more than once without pulling the trigger as I was thinking things thru. Once I did finally order it I found folks from UT very helpful. I took measurements of my positioning from the Pocket as they suggested, and sent along pictures of what I’d measured to make sure I’d done it correctly.

Turns out that was a good idea, since I did it wrong the first time around... but it all worked out. And, of course, once it was ordered, there was the waiting.

Einstein has taught us that time is relative, and while I’m certainly no theoretical physicist I’m pretty sure he was talking about the effect that occurs after one has made a decision to go ahead and order something. Over the days and weeks while one is mulling something over time moves forward at a perfectly normal pace, just minding its own business. But once one has actually made the decision time dilates down into a focused, incredibly slow moving stream such that one might feel they have approached the event horizon of a black hole...

Yeah - I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant by it.


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It seems that the folks at UT also have an understanding of this effect. Once my trike was assembled they set up a webpage for it and sent me a link so that I could see it! This was unexpected and very cool.

That interminable, tortuous, painful length of time between ordering and arriving at my door? One week. I did order a color that was in stock, which made things go a little faster, but I think all-in-all that’s a really good turnaround.

And, when I say "shipped to my door" I’m only being slightly metaphorical:

On the truck

The driver for XPO Logistics who was, frankly, just delightful, got it off of the truck for me and once it was down said "should we look inside?" I think he may have been nearly as excited as I was, and he did say he thought it was a pretty thing once we popped the top. At it was:

It’s not even Boxing Day

Opening things a little at a time

I was a little surprised that the box was not filled with packing material - honestly, that’s what I’d expected. Instead there seems to be rather clever placement of additional cardboard buffers and holding sections within the main box to serve that purpose.

The rest of the process the first day was really just getting it out, looking it over, and allowing for it’s inspection by the other members of the household.

Rosie approves

And I also wanted to get a look at it side-by-side with the Pocket to allow for some comparison.

Side by side

Siblings or cousins?

The Expedition is different from the Pocket, of course. It’s bigger in all directions and has larger wheels all around (26" rear and 20" front vs the 2012 Pocket’s 20" rear and 16" front). It’s got a greater degree of angle to the seat - that is, its more laid back or recumbent than the Pocket (37° vs 41° for the Pocket). It also has bar end shifters while my Pocket has grip twist shifters.

While I love the Pocket, two years of experience has provided the opportunity to consider a couple of things that I wanted to be different with this new machine. As such, the configuration I arrived at was mostly stock, but with a handful of extras, primarily:

  • A full fender set
  • The Utah Trikes rear cargo rack
  • A set of pannier bags (Axiom Seymour Oceanwave P25’s)
  • A right-side mirror with mount

And, while I use the TerraTrike heel slings supplemented with Velcro cross straps on the Pocket, I decided this would be an opportunity to give clipless pedals a try (a thing I’ve truly never done before), so I’ve ordered a set of Shimano cycling sandals that I’ll be trying out.

Because the Expedition arrived in the middle of the work week I’ve been stealing snippets of time after work to get things set up. Mostly this involves things like getting the mirrors and head rest positioned and sorting out where to mount my other accessories, and getting the pannier bags placed and loaded up. I also had to spend a little time sorting out how the fender is mounted (there was a bit of tire rub as it was originally set up). I also had to put the SPD clips on the sandals and figure out how that system works.

Because of all of that, even tho it arrived on Tuesday, I didn’t get it out for a ride until Saturday (yesterday) evening. As you might expect - I liked it a lot (there was little to no chance of any other outcome, really). But there are clear differences in the experience between this machine and the Pocket. We’ll talk about those here, after get a little more experience with my new baby.

Time to get ready to ride...

Capture the Flag by Erin Wade

Last week I wrote about my early July trip down the I&M Canal Trail from LaSalle to almost the Buffalo Rock State Park entrance, a trip that involved mud pits, and resulted both a filthy trike and a lost flag and rear light.

No Flag
No Flag

The flag that I lost came with the trike when I bought it back in 2017. In my mind it really is a part of the character of the trike. It’s featured in many of the shots of the trike on this site. I was frustrated and tired - and sick of wet, muddy clay - when I gave up looking for it, but when I did that, my intention was to purchase another, identical flag. The following morning I fired up my iPad and began my search for just that.

Things went south quickly.

The flag in question was a Soundwinds design, the owner of which is retiring and selling off his stock; my flag was sold out. This was very discouraging, and the similar designs in stock, tho very nice, just weren’t what I was looking for 1.

My cheapness gene was also starting to kick in, and I was beginning to balk at the prospect of dropping money on a new flag and new rear light when I could have looked longer the day before.

So I set the iPad down and felt bad for a couple of minutes, and then an idea occurred to me. I looked up my route on Cyclemeter in map view, and I’d made it a good portion of the way into and thru Buffalo Rock. With any luck, I thought, if I came in from the other side - from the Buffalo Rock entrance to the trail - I’d only have to contend with one of the clay soup patches (the one I chose not to ride thru the day before).

There’s a big assumption or two in there, I realize. Based on the map, I was probably only a mile or so from the Buffalo Rock trail entrance when I’d stopped, but there was the real possibility that the entire mile was soup. I hoped not, but it was possible. I was also assuming that the flag would be wherever it came off the trike - that no one else would have come along and picked it up. This latter item seemed a fair bet, tho, simply because I had been the only soul on that section of the trail for the entire ride the day before, despite it being a weekend.

I debated whether or not to bring along the trike or simply walk the trail. I hadn’t yet cleaned it up from the day before, and if I could ride the distance it would go much more quickly; but if it was all soup that would be a wash. I decided to bring it along, and figured that, if I found the beginning of the trail at Buffalo Rock to be soup, I could just leave the trike in the vehicle, but then I’d have it if riding were an option.

This turned out to be a good call, as I was relieved to see that the first, visible portion of the trail westward from Buffalo Rock was dry and intact. This meant that, for a half-mile or so at least I could move forward with pretty good progress.

And then I encountered the soup.

This particular batch also had an additional impediment, as there was a tree down across the trail about 25 feet into the clay soup.

Tree in soup
Tree in soup

Given that I was going to have to portage the trike over the tree, and that the tree wasn’t very far into the soup, I decided just to carry it up to the tree. A Catrike Pocket weighs about 33 lbs unloaded, probably 35 or so with my gear. I was certainly still carrying my kid around when they weighed that much, so it seemed reasonable.

I listened to and rued the repeated "thuk-thuk-thuk" of my footsteps in the muck as I walked up to the downed tree, and stepped over it with my left leg. As I set my foot down, I felt a sharp, stinging sensation in my left calf.

Literally a stinging sensation.

I looked down to see the Yellowjacket stinging me, ended its existence, and quickly stepped away from the tree. As I looked back I could see a couple dozen of them swarming around this side of the tree near the ground. Either they had nested in the tree before it had fallen, or it disturbed a ground nest when it fell. Either way, they were not happy about it (and besides, Yellowjackets are aggressive assholes anyway), and one of them had decided to take it out on me.


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It’s been a long time since I’ve been stung, and I was not nostalgic for the experience. It took nearly a week for the bright red spot on my calf to fade and, in the interim, it provided a sensation I did not recall from prior events - it itched. A lot.

That was for future me to enjoy however. I continued to carry the trike another quarter-mile or so until we got to dry land. I tried to wipe and/or shake off as much of the clay as I could from my sandals, and began to pedal forward.

I was quite surprised when I saw it.

I’d expected to find it - if I found it at all - laying on the ground to one side of the trail or the other. That’s primarily where I’d been casting my eyes both the day before and during the bulk of this particular mission. The reality was something... different.

Flag in the distance
Flag in the distance
Flag up close
Flag up close

To be honest, it hanging there like that was initially a little creepy - reminiscent of something you’d come across wandering lost in the woods trying to shoot a documentary. I wondered for a moment if perhaps someone else had come along and found it, and hung it up so that, if the owner came looking, it’d be clearly visible. But that did not appear to be the case.

On the vine
On the vine
On the vine
On the vine

The closeup here shows it as I found it. The streamer at the top of the flag appears to have gotten wrapped around a hanging vine, and then lifted it up off of the lower half of the pole. The connection where they join isn’t loose, exactly, but it is pretty easy to slip on and off. I may need to add a bit of tape to increase friction at the connection.

Once I got over that initial creepy impression I was simply relieved. Though the trip took me out of my way for the day, it did save me the cost of a flag and a rear light (and I seem to go through lights at a prodigious rate anyway).

I lashed the flag to the rack on back and went back to once again tackle the clay. I rode thru it on the way back, at least up to the Yellowjacket tree. There I stopped a little short and considered strategy before trundling thru.

"Considered strategy", I say, like there were a lot of options. Ultimately it just involved making sure I had a good, firm hold on the trike and then going over the trunk as quickly as possible without slipping and falling in the clay soup. And there I was actually successful (yay) - gotta take the wins where you can get them.

As the day before, I emerged from the trail with both myself and my trike coated in gray.

It wasn’t gray when I got it
It wasn’t gray when I got it

This particular adventure was different, tho, because I knew what I was getting into. Of course, this did not cause me to gain any newfound fondness for the sticky, slippery, sucking mess that is muddy clay (not that I’m bitter) - I won’t be signing up for a mud-soaked cyclocross event any time soon - but I was in much better spirits upon arriving at the trailhead. So much so, in fact that I decided to ride back the other way, towards Ottawa, for a couple of miles. Besides, I reasoned, I really didn’t have a better way of getting the extra clay off of the tires...


  1. The Soundwinds website says that some of their designs were going to be taken over by Premier Kites "later in 2019", and that a link would be included on the site when that happened. There was no link one the site when I looked at it - there still isn’t - but I decided to go over to look up Premier Kites anyway, just to see what they have to offer and, sure enough, they had my flag design in stock.  ↩

I&M Canal Early Summer 2019 by Erin Wade

I’ve been wanting to get back to the I&M Canal Trail this summer, but I’ve been reluctant given that the Midwest has become the equivalent of a northwestern rain forest this year. At the top of my list of concerns was the rather rustic stream crossing that appears about 2.5 miles east of Utica.

And by “rustic” I mean that you have to carry your machine over the water. There’s a bridge, of sorts but, given its positioning, odds are good that at least your feet will get a little wet. This is a picture of that crossing from last year:

The "bridge"

This Sunday the weather was just too perfect, and MLW and LB were away visiting family, so I was footloose and fancy free. I decided to give it a shot, and figured I could just turn around at the stream crossing if it was washed out. And if I made the crossing, I figured this would be my chance to cover the distance all the way to Ottawa - maybe stop in at Tangled Roots for a Kit Kupfer - instead of stopping at Buffalo Rock State Park like I had last year. Either would make for a great ride, albeit one option longer than the other.

The trail between LaSalle and Ottawa is a varied affair that I’ve discussed here before, but I’ll note again that it make for some very enjoyable scenery. There’s the canal historical site at LaSalle, the sandstone bluffs between LaSalle and Utica, the brief glimpse of downtown Utica itself, and then the more remote trail from there to Buffalo Rock. This was predictably pleasant and, at least when in motion, the bugs (which have been prodigious this year due to the rainfall) were a minimal problem even as I rode into the cattail lined portions of the trail towards the aforementioned rustic crossing.

There were a few puddles and soft spots as I progressed along this portion of the trail, and I did come across this section of water crossing the entire trail:

Early water crossing

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the water is not a puddle - it was flowing from one side to the other. The flow was slow and gentle, so any fear of washout is a distant one, but it did serve to remind that the trail is a firmer canal towpath, and that it was all built in the floodplain of the Illinois River. And of course, it did make me wonder once again what I was likely to find at that crossing.

My curiousity was sated soon enough as I rolled up to the spot...

The rustic crossing

So - clearly what had happened here was that the stream had moved the bridge down a bit, one suspects during a higher water period, but there was enough solid (or semi-solid) material on the route to and from the bridge to make it passable. I was going to get my feet wet, that was clear, but I was wearing my usual summer riding footgear (sandals - Keens, and they are waterproof), so that wasn’t any big deal. I carried the trike across. I did sink in and gather material into those sandals, but I went back, sat down on the bridge and rinsed them clean before riding on.

Rinsing the feet

That hurdle cleared, I figured this was my day to make the ride the rest of the way out to Ottawa.

I was not correct.

The trail from this point eastward to Buffalo Rock is remote, without a doubt. You get peeks at water occasionally through the cattails and other tall wetland plants, but for much of it you are in a botanical tunnel of sorts - nothing to see but the trail ahead.

The wetland plants should have, perhaps, been a hint of what I was about to encounter, but I’d ridden this trail before without incident. Given that, I was surprised when I came across the first...

...I’m not actually sure what to call it. Clay soup, perhaps?

It was an expanse of very wet, soft, slippery exposed gray clay filling the trail from one verdant wall to the other, proceeding forward as far as the eye could see.

Clay soup

I’m sure in the dry this is just a bare and dusty spot - I didn’t remember anything about this area from last year’s ride to suggest it would be like this when things were more damp. Not that any of that mattered, because here it was, regardless of my recollection.

I gave it a moment or two of thought, and then figured "how much of it could there be?" and decided to tackle it.

It was slow going, to be sure, and there were many moments where I could feel the rear wheel slipping, and there were a couple of times where I had to provide front-wheel assist (wheelchair-style, but using the spokes instead of the tires because, well, yuck), but I got thru it without having to get off the trike.

I also got thru the second patch.

Now, to be clear, I am not, and have never been, a person who enjoys playing in the mud. Before I got my trike my ride was a road bike, and I don’t own a mountain bike - the closest I come is my wife’s Schwinn Suburban - and if I did own such a machine I would not want to take it out when the trails were sloppy. It’s just not my thing. I say all of this so you will hopefully understand the "why" when I say that, when I came up to the third patch of this material I said "I’m not having fun any more", reasoned that there were bars in Utica and that they probably also sold beer, and turned around.

Of course, this meant that I also had to slog my way back through the other two patches, but that would have been inevitable if I’d kept going. And this was all very nice, once I got past the clay soup, and I rode along happily until I got back to the rustic crossing.

I have to get off the trike at this point in order to roll it down the walking path and cross. And when I did, I saw this:

No flag

What you are seeing, or rather not seeing, is my flag. The bottom half of the pole is there, but the top half, which holds the flag and my rear taillight, is gone. Just gone.

No flag

I made a comment questioning the parentage of no one in particular, and began to pace a bit. I walked back maybe a hundred yards and couldn’t see it. I realized I would have to ride back.

So I did, and made my slog again thru, and past, the first serving of clay soup, finding nothing. When I reached the second section I stopped, took a very long look at it and the increasing volume of gray clay coating my ride and myself, and decided that I could probably just purchase another flag and light. I turned around and rode back, tackling my fifth trip thru the clay soup along the way.

The rest of the trip back was more or less what you would expect, in terms of the trail. However, I did make a stop at the Lodi Taphouse in downtown Utica...

Lodi Taphouse

...and bathed my sorrows in an Evil Horse) Balmoral - an ESB), which is a style of beer I absolutely love, and which doesn’t often appear nowadays, seemingly lost to the sea of IPA’s and sours that microbreweries are pumping out.

If ESB isn’t your thing, however, they have a shocking array of beers on tap, along with a couple of ciders and a couple of mead options (really!). These were the offerings on the chalkboard when I was there:

Chalkboard

The Balmoral was lovely, and put a much more positive spin on what had become a rather frustrating ride. After I relaxed a bit I headed back out, covered the five miles back to LaSalle, packed up and headed for home. It occurred to me, as I rolled into view of the canal boat moored at the LaSalle end of the trail that, frustrating or not, it really is true that a bad day of cycling is still better than a good day doing a lot of other things.

...Which is where, under most circumstances, the story would end. But of course, now I needed a new flag and rear taillight. So the following morning I fired up my iPad and began my search. This did not go as expected, however, but that’s a story for another post...

TL:DR

  • The section of the I&M Canal Trail east of Utica, from the rustic crossing to Buffalo Rock State Park, as of 7/7/19, has sections of soupy mess that you may want to avoid or wait out until things dry up unless you enjoy riding in the mud.
  • The trail from Lasalle to Utica, and up to that rustic crossing, is just fine; and...
  • ...I can heartily recommend stopping in at the Lodi Taphouse for a refreshment as part of your ride.

Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns by Erin Wade

roadside attractions

In my day-to-day life I think of myself as a person who is somewhat technically inclined. If you are having issues sorting out how to do something with your technology - your iPhone, your Mac, and yes, even (grudgingly) your Windows or Android device - odds are good that I can help you out with that. I’m even somewhat mechanically inclined, or at least I was in a past life. For much of my 20’s and early 30’s I did the lion’s share of maintenance on my own vehicles - oil changes, spark plugs, brakes - and only went in to the mechanic for more involved activities and repairs (Honda timing belts, for example, were beyond my ken).

Bicycles and other HPV’s are relatively simple machines. Yet despite my technical history, I am often surprised - and frequently stymied - by how little I actually know.

Some of this is simply due to experience. As a kid I learned to do things like raising and lowering my seat, and adjusting bent handlebars, both from necessity (the former due to growth, the latter typically due to misadventure). I got considerable practice with re-seating slipped chains as well. But when it came to other skills, like changing tires, and certainly when we move on to the more mechanically intricate components of a derailleur system, I confess to have been largely mystified.


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As a kid, issues with these components would simply have to wait until I could get my Dad to help. As an adult, returning to cycling after a hiatus borne by focus on work and schooling, I found that it was generally preferable to let the local bike shop handle the areas where my knowledge base and skills were lacking.

This worked out fine when I first started back riding. While I was enthusiastic and enjoyed it, in those early years of return my riding time and distances were relatively modest. My need for LBS intervention was largely limited to annual checkups and occasional rear wheel straightening on my relatively ancient Cannondale SR400.

However, a couple of related factors have caused me to have a change of perspective on this front. The second of those factors is the fact that my riding time and distances have increased considerably over the past two years. My records in Cyclemeter go back to 2011, and before 2017 my highest mileage year was 752.47. What’s more, that was in 2014, and my mileage dropped in 2015 and 2016 to 547.18 and 260.49, respectively.

Come 2017, however, my mileage increased - to 937.51, followed by another bump to 1372.14 miles in 2018. I’m on track to do a similar distance (and hopefully further) for 2019.

That increased distance is undeniably due to the first of the factors: In June of 2017 I got my recumbent trike - a 2012 Catrike Pocket. As I’ve detailed elsewhere here, while I’ve always enjoyed cycling, the recumbent trike really kicked that into high gear.

I’ve realized, though, that the trike does provide some interesting implications from a maintenance perspective. About a decade ago we made the call to move to a rural setting. This is a great thing when it comes to going riding - instead of piling things into the car and driving to a trail, most of the time I literally just head out of my driveway - it’s miles and miles of riding pleasure at my doorstep.

However, living in the boondocks also means that everything is far away. While I talk about my LBS, in reality the localest bike shop is a half-hour drive. And while they are great and always helpful, the Pocket is somewhat of a specialty item, and the nearest Catrike dealer is nearly an hour’s worth of travel time distant.

None of that is to complain - I knew what I was getting into when I moved out here. What it does, though, is help to refocus my attention on the need to learn some things about maintenance and repair. Realistically, now, if I can’t fix it myself it means that I can’t ride the trike, at least not until I can fit in a trip to the shop. It’s a different situation than back when I lived in a city with a bike shop nearby, and amplified a bit by the specialized nature of the trike.

(I do still have my Cannondale as a backup, but in general, I’d rather not take that option).

So - I’m learning. I’m quite certain I still have a ways to go. As I detailed here, a couple of weeks ago, I managed to successfully change a tube myself for the first time, along the side of the road. But I’ve now also had to change that tube twice more since, leaving me trying to figure out what the unknown unknowns are about the situation, and realizing how little I actually know about wheels and tires. With the help of some of the very friendly folks on the Facebook recumbent trike groups I’d gone through and done my due diligence in terms of inspecting the wheel and tire itself for debris. But I’ve now also realized that I didn’t ever know what rim tape was or what it was for, and it appears that mine is in need of replacement... (more on that in the near future).

Making that particular potential issue now a known unknown. And if that fixes the recurrent problem, it will move the the known category. If it doesn’t, well, then clearly there’s another unknown unknown...

Bottom line, however, I have to gain a wider base of knowledge and practice - remove the unknowns - if I want to continue to ride and ride further distances.

And I do.

Cycling Gear - San Pellegrino by Erin Wade

I do not, as a general rule, use cycling-specific clothing.

This is not to say that I don’t have clothing that I wear to go cycling. I do have specific articles of clothing that I reserve for cycling - a specific pair of shorts, a couple of shirts and rash guards that I alternate between for riding. But I don’t own bicycle shorts, don’t wear bibs, don’t have cycling shoes, etc. I find that similar, all purpose gear typically costs less than task specific items, and is suitable for multiple uses. For example, I’ll wear components of the same gear for hiking and cross country skiiing as I do for riding, depending up on the time of year.

However, Father’s day brought an exception to that rule. For the holiday MLW purchased for me a San Pellegrino cycling jersey.

Me and San Pellegrino

It’s resplendent in bright orange - my favorite high visibility color and my second favorite color overall. It’s incredibly lightweight, vented, and extremely comfortable, with additional venting available through the simple act of zipping down. I wore it for its inaugural ride the afternoon of Father’s day, and it’s been on every ride since.

It is a traditional cycling jersey, so it has the pockets on the back. I was initially a little concerned that it might be uncomfortable on the trike, but the pockets are barely noticeable. And it all means that there’s a bit of me in the middle of the trike that is just that much easier to see.

So - as you can probably tell - I really like it. The only problem now is that I’m philosophically conflicted. You know, because I don’t wear cycling specific clothing.

Except for this. And philosophically conflicted or not, I’m gonna keep wearing it!

Roadside Repairs - Part the Third by Erin Wade

Although I write about cycling here a lot - it’s the majority of the posts on Applied Life at this point - I do try to vary the subject within that topic from week to week. But sometimes the fates have other ideas (apparently).

Last week I had a sudden, but fortunately non-catastrophic,disassembly of my left front axle to to write about. I wrote that up, got dressed for a ride, did a careful walk-around on the trike, and hit the road.

Somewhere just after mile 6 my rear wheel started to get squirrelly and, when I looked back at it (this is a bit of a stretching feat on the trike) I could see that it was uncomfortably low on air. I had a flat.

My first strategy was to hope that it had somehow just gotten the air knocked out of it (I know, I know - wishful thinking). So I pulled out the hand-pump that I keep in what is almost certainly a purpose-designed pocket on the back of the seat (there are several of these pockets on the back of my Catrike Pocket seat - it’s a clever design) and pumped it up. And it seemed to hold air, so I remounted and rode away.

...for maybe 100 feet.

Yes - then it was flat again, and it was clear something more permanent had happened to the tire. I’m frankly not sure what - there was no clear event to proceed this, but there I was, regardless (which is why I think the Norns may have been having a little fun with me).


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So there I was, a little less than halfway into my ride, and at the furthest point from home in the route, and I began to debate in my head about whether to call for a ride.

The thing is, I’ve never successfully changed a tire on the trike. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I’m actually not sure if I’ve ever done so on any bike or cycle. If I have, it’s been a very long time. And by successfully, I mean that I’ve tried on a number of occasions, but those efforts have ended up in failure for various and sundry reasons - either I’ve flattened the tube in the effort to install it, or I’ve been unable to get the tire back on the wheel, or encountered similar such issues. I managed to do both when I tried to change a tire on the Pocket myself the last time, and ultimately gave up and took it the 20 minutes down the road to the local bike shop. And that is my general approach, for better or worse, because I’d typically rather spend my time riding than repairing.

But here I was, at the side of the road, with a choice to either tuck my tail between my legs and slink off, or take a shot at rectifying the situation myself.

After a bit of thought I reasoned that there was very little to lose by giving it a try. First, I was already immobile and had a bad tube. This was pretty much the worst the situation could get, and if I failed I’d still be making that call for a ride.

Second, and more important, the situation was different than in the past. I’ve now watched the guys at Peru Bike Works change the tires on the Pocket’s wheels multiple times, plus I’ve spent a bit of time on the subject on YouTube as a result of my last adventure in this area, and so I’ve learned a bit about the technique. Perhaps even more important still, that watching made me realize that something existed that I, even more embarrassingly still, had previously been unaware of: tire levers.

You’d think that, in forty-plus years of riding, I’d have come across these little marvels before. I’m quite certain they are nothing new, and I fear they may be nearly as old as the pneumatic tire itself. Still, I had previously been ignorant of their very existence, and so every time I’ve tried to change a tire I’ve employed the tool within my toolbox that most closely seems to fit the task: a flat-bladed screwdriver. Which works, of course, to move the tire off and on the wheel, but routinely pinches or pokes and flattens the tube. At which point I then have to go to the bike shop...

This time, however, I was armed with both new knowledge, and new tools that were appropriate to the job. I was also emboldened by the fact that it was the 20" rear tire, which would probably be a little more pliable and easy to move than the 16" fronts had been. So I gave it a shot.

I rolled the trike to an easement area aside the street and started to work. I was in a residential area of the town of Mendota, which at least meant I was in the shade and out of the wind, and didn’t have to contend with traffic moving at rural road speeds near me as I worked. Of course, it also meant that I was on display to everyone in the neigborhood, making a public event of my potential failure.

The wheel came off of the back and out of the chain perfectly, and the tire levers absolutely did their job. I was, frankly, astonished at how easily the tire came off the wheel.

Wheel off trike

I inspected the tire and found no cuts or holes. And the leak in the tube itself had to be very small, as it would hold air for a bit before deflating. This was encouraging, since it suggested that the tire was fine to continue riding once (if) I managed to get everything up and running.

Tire off wheel

Going back on was a little more effort, but not as much as I’d feared it would be. The levers were a big help in this respect and, after noodling with it a bit, I was able to reseat the tire around the new tube. Then I went to pump it up with the hand pump and...

...nothing. The new tube would not hold air. I tried pumping it up for several minutes (or at least so it felt) with absolutely no progress made.

I really do not think I’d pinched it or damaged it putting it on. There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but I don’t think I ever even came near it, even with the tire levers, so I suspect it was faulty from the get-go. Fortunately I had another (I carry two tubes to match the rear, and three for the fronts, which always seemed like overkill given that I couldn't change them myself anyway, but sometimes things work out...).

I reversed the process, pulled the first tube off, put the second one on (I pumped it up a bit to test it first), and that one held air. So - you know - success!

I popped it back on, and continued with the rest of the ride. The entire process took a long time, relatively speaking - Cyclemeter says my stopped time on this route was nearly 52 minutes, and I can verify that 50 of those were due to the flat; So I certainly wasn’t speedy. But that was nearly an hour spent developing experience at something that, if I continue riding (and I will) I will almost certainly need to do again.

I had never before used either of the two tire levers, or the little hand pump (which I’d purchased for that pocket on the back of the seat shortly after getting the trike two years ago). This one use more than justified the purchase of both, and I’m glad I had them - and the extra tubes - along for the ride. I probably won’t be so quick to run to the bike shop next time this needs to be done.

And when I got home, I immediately ordered two new 20" tubes from Amazon - Fortuna favet paratus...

Roadside Repairs - Part Deux by Erin Wade

It’s been a little less than a year since I had a brake come apart a few miles into a ride. I was actually thinking about that event this past Sunday as I was getting the Pocket ready for a ride and, as a result, checked the brakes to make sure they were tight. A few seconds with the allen wrenches on each, and they seemed to be just fine.

Confident that all was good, I hit the road for a 29-ish (ok - 28.7) mile ride. Bucking the trend of this extremely wet season, it was a near perfect day for a ride: Sunshine, 69° (F), a relaxed (for the prairie) 12mph wind (Cyclemeter keeps track for me). Honestly, it would have been hard to ask for better weather.

As I came into the last third of the ride, I was heading south, with that 12mph wind at my back. The road was relatively level and I was running at a pretty decent clip, a little over 20mph (no bragging here - this was definitely with wind assist). And then something came up off the road.

Now, as anyone who rides can probably attest, tires do periodically pick things up off the road. On the recumbent trike you are much more intimate with your wheels, and so you become more aware of it when it occurs. Even more so if your front wheels do not have fenders, as is the case for me. It happens often enough that, at this point, one tends to dismiss it.

Which I did. At least initially.

But a second or so after seeing (or maybe feeling - it goes by very quickly) the debris, I heard it land.

...It made a metallic "ping".

Most road or trail debris is of the stick or rock variety, so a metallic sound is, shall we say, at least potentially troubling. So I slowed down, did a U-turn, and rode back slowly over the prior 1/8th or so of a mile (again, I was moving at a pretty good clip when it happened). I couldn't see anything from the vantage point of the trike on the way back, but I rode slowly back over the section again the other way. Again seeing nothing, I decided I was going to have to get up off the trike and walk the area to be certain there were no issues.

After a couple of feet I reached my turnaround point, and saw a wheel skewer laying on the road.

Now, for just a second, I swear what I thought was "oh - someone lost a wheel skewer here".

This despite the fact that the skewer was about six inches long, and I am literally the only recumbent trike rider for about 30 miles or so, as best I can tell. It clearly would not have fit any kind of traditional upright.

But that was for just a second. Ok - maybe two. (I swear I’m not dumb. Not really...) And then I looked back at my Pocket:

Wheel missing skewer

Wheel missing skewer

And so now I knew what I was looking for along that road. Or at least what else, now that I’d found the skewer. I needed to locate the two seating nuts (my term - I’ll bet they have an actual, technical name) that hold the skewer into the wheel and mounting bracket.


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I walked back over that 1/8th mile or so and, after several minutes of looking, found the outside one in the grass on the opposite side of the road. It’s forward momentum had apparently bounced and traveled it across the other lane of travel to rest there.

Outside nut

I carried the nut, a little worse for wear (though some of the scratching is from another incident) back and placed it on the seat with the skewer while I went to look for the inside one.

skewer and nut

It made sense to look for it in the general vicinity of the skewer. Where I found it, tho, was a few feet further down the road from my turnaround point - on pavement I hadn’t yet traveled.

Inside nut far away

Inside nut closer up

For scale, it helps to realize I did my turnaround right by the stop sign, which is also where I saw the skewer.

Piecing it together I figure the sequence of events was something like this:

  1. The outside nut worked its way loose and came off first. This was the item I saw/felt come loose and bounce away with the "ping".
  2. At that point the skewer was loose, but still on the trike. When I did my U-turn the skewer fell out as I hooked around. This probably gives an idea of how quickly I did the turns (recumbent trikes handle like go-karts - it’s part of the fun - but perhaps not advisable when your wheel isn’t, you know, attached).
  3. Shortly after the skewer exited the inside nut came free - either off of the skewer or off of the trike - and being lighter than the skewer, continued its forward momentum.

An inspection of the wheel found that the springs were still intact. The repair - such as it was - was the simple action of putting the pieces back together. The fix took considerably less time than the finding of the pieces.

But as I was doing that and then resuming my ride, some considerations ran through my head.

First - how amazing and fortunate is it that the wheel stayed on the trike? I suspect this owes in large part to the fact that the disc brake calipers are mounted to the frame and not the wheel, helping to keep everything in place. But all told, I probably rode a little more than a quarter mile (albeit slowly) with the skewer (axle) missing, including two U-turns - riding back over the area looking for what I found - before I got off the trike.

Second - how fortunate is it that I actually chose to stop? As I said, things being kicked up by the front tires is not an unusual occurrence, and I nearly dismissed it and kept going. I was about 20.5 miles into my 29-ish mile ride, and things were going well (or so I thought). I really did not want to stop. How far into that last stretch would the wheel have hung on for? And how rude an awakening would it have been when it came apart?

Third - how amazing and fortunate is it that I was able to find all three pieces? I was able to avoid calling the road support crew (also known as my wife and/or child) to come and get me, mostly due to dumb luck.

I’ve ridden over 1100 miles since the incident with the brake, so I’ve gotten more than my fair share of mileage without issue, I think. In fact, so rarely do I have any difficulties with my trike that I think I may have become a bit complacent with the equipment checks (I checked the brakes because I thought of it, but they were the only component I checked). All-in-all, I’m feeling pretty fortunate.

But - you know - I’m going to start checking things a little more regularly too. I think I may have used up my supply of dumb luck.

Fortuna favet paratus...

Hennepin Feeder Canal Trail: Martins Landing to Rte 172 by Erin Wade

Hennepin Canal Park Sign

The Hennepin Canal in Northern Illinois has garnered some attention in the cycling media of late, given its designated status as the "gateway" trail for the Illinois portion of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy’s Great American Rail Trail Project. The Hennepin Canal Trail makes a great deal of sense in that role, given that it runs predominantly east to west, connects with the Mississippi River at the westernmost end, and covers over 100 miles of distance.

This is not that Hennepin Canal.

To be clear, it’s a part of the same canal system, but what I’m writing about in this post is actually the feeder canal - the man-made ditch that was dug to supply water to the Hennepin Canal itself. Back when the project was undertaken, it was designed to take water from the Rock River nearly 30 miles to the north, and divert a portion of it southward to fill the shipping lanes of the canal itself.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for the person going cycling on this trail? Mostly it means a slightly different view from the main canal (a portion of which I wrote about here, a little while back). Because it was not really designed to be a shipping lane the feeder canal has no locks along its distance - with the notable exception of the lock set at the entryway into the canal from Lake Sinnissippi on the Rock River. This is different largely because the locks make an interesting, historical set of distance markers as you progress down the main canal. But this small difference does not keep this portion of the canal parkway from being a beautiful place to ride. It’s also notable that Rock Falls and Sterling make for a fairly sizeable municipality for northern Illinois, which means restaurants, hotel accommodations, and a handy local bike shop - Meads Bike Shop, which recumbent trike riders may find handy, as they sell and services Catrikes - none of which you will find along the main canal.


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The Canal Parkway technically begins in Rock Falls, Illinois, just south of the Rock River, and there is municipal parking there for folks to begin their journey along the trail. However, I wanted to start in Sterling, Illinois - just across the River - because it also offered the opportunity to cross the bridge that runs across the dam. I suppose technically I could have parked in Rock Falls and gone back over the bridge, but that just seemed... silly.

So my ride started at Martin’s Landing in Sterling.

Martin’s Landing

This is essentially a trail head sited just to the side of the historic Dillon Home Museum. Be aware, if you go, that there’s no public parking here - the lovely brick lot is specifically for the Dillon House - but street parking is readily available just East of Martin’s Landing on 2nd street.

Dillon Home Museum Lot

Martin’s Landing sends you straight down to the Rock River, with a stone tunnel that takes you under the train tracks at the north end...

Tunnel

...and puts you in view of the lower side of the dam and the bridge that spans it.

Dam and Bridge

It also puts you in view, in the springtime, of pelicans and other waterfowl plying their business along the waterway. The pelicans themselves are a fairly recent phenomenon for the region, but a welcome one. They keep their distance, making a clear shot challenging with an unaided camera phone, but with some zooming you can see them.

Pelicans

At the entryway to the bridge there is an information sign off to the side.

Bridge info

And the bridge itself appears to be constructed in two sections, with the longer, wood-based portion covering the spillway, while a cement and steel component takes you over the gates.

Bridge

The change in the current makes itself known both visually and audibly.

Once you get to the other side you are at the entryway into the Canal Parkway. as you enter, you see the lock that controlled flow into the canal itself.

Lock

This particular lock is interesting, in part, because of the machinery that is still present at the sides.

Machinery

At least for the section of the main canal I rode, I do not recall any clear machinery on the locks.

From there you can see the trail ahead.

Trail view

The first portion of the trail is asphalt, and that continues along the Canal Parkway for about 3 1/2 miles. For those familiar with asphalt trails in Illinois, this is a predictably mixed bag. The harder surface lets you pick up some speed, of course, but our weather extremes have a tendency to buckle and bend asphalt in unforgiving ways. This trail is no exception. However, that aside, the trail moves out of the view of small town life into the appearance of remote nature in a hurry.

It’s mid-spring here in the northern hemisphere, and the plant life is abundant along this trail. Much of it, as can be seen in the trail pictures, comes in various shades of green, but there are patches of other colors along the way:

Yellow

White

And along with the flowers there are long stretches of wild grass ranging from green to reddish brown.

Grass

Maybe my favorite part of the nature on this ride was the ongoing game of tag I seemed to be playing with a Great Blue Heron. I tried to get a picture of it, but every time I rode close it would take off again. But she did show up on video...

After Buell Road the trail switches from asphalt to gravel.

Buell Road underpass

Later on it shifts from gravel to... less gravel, I guess (it’s dirt. Good dirt, but dirt). It’s a softer surface that gives the impression of perhaps having been last been graveled some time ago. But honestly, the gravel is more forgiving than the asphalt, and the latter surface more forgiving still than the gravel. The trike handled it well, and anything from a hybrid on down to mountain bikes will be fine. In the rainy season, at least, road bikes are probably going to struggle.

The other thing that goes with spring is rain, and this year has been exceptionally wet. Riding along a canal means water is a part of the mix, and the DNR has actuallyclosed portions of the main trail:

TRAIL CLOSED from Lock 26 (900 E Rd) all the way through and past Colona to Lock 29 at the Rock River due to the Green River flooding into the canal. TRAIL CLOSED from Bridge 3 (2160 E Rd) to Bridge 4 (2050 E Rd) just east of Tiskilwa, due to a levee break at Lock 7

There were no closure notices for the feeder canal, but this didn’t mean there were no impediments along the way. Multiple roadways cross the canal, and those crossings are punctuated by underpasses. These vary from culverts...

Culvert underpass

...to more intricate affairs:

Highway 40 underpass

But while they aren’t closed, that doesn’t mean that the rainy season doesn’t bring the water level up. On a couple of occasions, this meant fording my way through overflow:

Standing water

In most cases there is an alternative option - you can ride up to the road and cross there. Most cases, but not all. On occasion you can see the route, but there simply isn’t a trail up to the road. But the deepest area that I forded was the underpass for interstate 88 - so obviously, crossing at the road grade was not an option. I rode thru, slowly...

I88 underpass

I88 underpass underwater

On the trike you sit low, so there’s a risk that you are going to drag your tuches through the water. But if you lift at the handles and push your back against the upper part of the seat you can remain above it. But while I was able to keep my backside dry while fording my way through the I88 underpass, my heels were definitely dipping in the water while I was pedaling.

Speaking of rain, it’s been doing that routinely this spring, and for most of Memorial Day Weekend as well. I really wanted to get out to try this trail, so I got up early, eyeballed the weather reports, and timed my travel time and ride so that I’d finish up ahead of the incoming rain.

...I failed. Almost completely. I was able to catch most of my pictures and video in the first part of my ride. That was important, because it rained on me for about two-thirds of the ride. Now - to be clear - that’s no fault of the trail; that’s all on me.

I will ride in almost any weather, but rain is my least favorite riding situation. But I was dressed entirely in synthetics, and I was on a trail, so visibility was not an issue. And importantly, it wasn’t cold. So, you know, ride on.

Well, I rode on until I came up to this:

Rte 172 underpass

This was the underpass at Route 172. Unlike the other flooded passageways, I couldn't easily tell how deep it was. To be fair, I could have ridden up and over the road - the trail offers this option, and there’s a parking area at this point. But I’d planned on a 20-mile round trip, and this point was 9 1/2 miles (ish, ok - 9.45) in, so it seemed like the right point to turn around.

The route back up was damper (err - more damp?) than the way down, but I ended up playing Heron Tag on that direction as well. I have no idea if it was the same bird, but I like to think so...

It’s a good ride, but you’ll want to be aware that it’s pretty remote once you exit Rock Falls. There are a handful of minor facilities - trailside benches, an occasional picnic table. In the 10 (ok, yes, 9.45) mile stretch I rode there was one site with a porta-potty, and another (at 172) with an outhouse. However, aside from these options, outside of town there were no formal shelter options - if I’d wanted to take shelter from the rain I’d either have had to sit in one of the underpasses, or taken refuge in an outhouse. I don’t think this is uncommon for rural trails, but it is something you want to be prepared for when you go.

And if you like rides on remote trails, this one has a lot more to give. As I noted at the beginning, the feeder canal itself offers up more distance than I traveled by a factor of three; the entire canal system could readily offer up a half-century or more for the interested rider.

Memorial Day Weekend Rides by Erin Wade

Memorial Day Weekend is often looked at as the unofficial start of summer. It’s also the first long weekend of the season for most of us and, weather permitting, provides an opportunity for a ride or two that is longer or more adventurous than we might otherwise undertake. Given that, if you find some time for a ride in-between your cemetery visits and grilling of various meats, I thought it might be helpful to have information on some trail options. These are all places I’ve been in Illinois and Wisconsin. The post at each link will give trail descriptions as well as pictures and other information to help you decide whether to venture forth:

The Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail - Details my ride along the I&M Canal trail from LaSalle, IL to Buffalo Rock State Park. Several pics and details about the trail and the sights along the way.

The Hennepin Canal State Park Trail - Lock 2 to Lock 13 - The Hennepin is set to be a major component of the new Rails to Trails cross-country route, but my trip down this part of the Hennepin Canal was also a bit of a personal journey to find the site where my great-grandfather worked as a lock tender. It’s a very cool, and somewhat secluded ride - lots of pics and details about the trail and sights. Also notable - the Hennepin Canal Trail is the Illinois gateway trail for the new Rails-to-Trails cross country Great American Rail Trail. The I&M Canal Trail, above, is also a significant portion of it in Illinois.

The Rend Lake Trail - This trail runs around the lower third of Rend Lake in Southern Illinois, and offers river, water, and woodland views. It’s a little out of the way, but definitely worth checking out if you have the opportunity.

Wayne Fitzgerell State Park - This is a state park in Southern Illinois that I visited back in 2015. It sits along the banks of Rend Lake (see above), but this entry describes the riding through the park itself.

Military Ridge Trail - This trail runs through the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin. It’s beautiful territory and well worth visiting. I’ve written about it twice - Once on an upright bike, and more recently on my Catrike:

  • Military Ridge Trail - My first ride down this trail, on an upright, big box store mountain bike, in November 2015. Ride was from Ridgeway to Barneveld

  • Military Ridge Trail Revisited - This post from December 2018 details my ride from Ridgeway to Blue Mounds, with a side trip up into Governor Dodge State Park.

Tunnel Hill State Trail - Vienna to Karnak - Tunnel Hill State Trail is rail-trail that runs nearly 45 miles, much of it through the heart of the Shawnee National Forest at the tip of Illinois. This entry descrIbes the southern-most 10-mIle sectIon through wooded wetlands, with pictures and observations of stops along the way.

And there you have it - make your choice(s) and enjoy!


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Tunnel Hill Trail - Vienna to Karnak by Erin Wade

I spent some time at the pointy end of Illinois recently, and this presented an opportunity to explore the Tunnel Hill State Trail.

Tunnel Hill is a rail-trail that runs more or less north and south for about 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak, much of it running through the Shawnee National Forest. For my part, 45 miles was a little ambitious (not to mention that I would have needed to get back to the car, so it would have been 90 miles...), so I started at Vienna and rode south to Karnak (and back), coming in at just over 21 miles.

I don’t think that I was aware before this that there was a "Vienna" in Illinois, but I should not have been surprised. This same broad area also hosts a Cairo (pronounced "Kay-Ro", thank you very much) and a Metropolis, and further north, near Springfield, there’s Athens (say "Ay-Thens").

I was aware of this trail because the recumbent trike groups on Facebook feature a member or two living in the area who ride it regularly, and make it look very cool. I am not generally an advocate of Zuckerberg’s monster, but specialty interest groups like this are the thing that proves the rule - if you are a cyclist with a FB account who is not in cycling groups, you are missing a bet.

Vienna was a convenient place to pick up the trail from where I was at, and I chose the route southward because the map suggested this would be a fairly remote and wooded route. Fair warning here - it does not feature the tunnel for which the trail is named. But it does feature a wooded ride with a variety of natural views along the way.

As you start out southward from the site office at Vienna you get a view of rolling fields through the trees:

Making Hay?

The rolling grassland appears to be hay in the making - you’ll see more of along route 146.

The trail itself is crushed stone, more or less, for the entirety of the route. It’s a softer surface, so the resistance slows you down a bit despite the largely flat presentation (or, at least, that’s what I’m telling myself).

crushed stone

Early into the ride the first of many bridges presents itself. Some are traditional wooden spans:

Wooden Bridge

But others appear to be the original rail bridges, supplemented with wooden guide rails on either end:

Rail bridge

Every bridge that I crossed was well maintained.

The state DNR site says the only tunnel is at Tunnel Hill, but this is not strictly true - there is a brief tunnel as the trail passes under highway 45.

Highway 45

Not the sort of tunnel you might name a trail after, but it’s there nonetheless.

As the trail moves past 45, the landscape turns to wetlands. The trail itself is elevated, and so up and out of the way, but the views are close by.

Wetlands

Wetlands

I was riding the trail in springtime, of course, so it offered up flowers along the way.

Yellow

White

There are also mile markers along the trail.

Mile marker

Given that the trail itself is about 45 miles long, it’s not clear what specific distance these are meant to denote, and websites on the trail appear to be silent on this point. But they still give sense of your progress along the route.

Heron Pond Lane crosses the trail, and the map indicates that that this leads up into Heron Pond Preserve.

Heron Pond Lane

My ride didn’t take me up that course, but I think I’d follow it next time. Or perhaps...

restaurant & winery

...I’d take the road to the left to visit the winery.

The map shows this as Cache River Basin Restaurant and Winery, and places it just a half-mile down the road. Google showed it as closing at 5 PM, which put me well past closing time as I rode past this point, but the restaurant is apparently open later. Illinois wine tends towards sweeter than I prefer in general, but I find it surpassingly cool that this feature is such a short distance off the trail.

A little further on the trail crosses into the village of Belknap.

Belknap

Belknap is tiny, even by rural Illinois standards. Wikipedia (which is never wrong) places the census in 2010 at 104 people, and you’ll see cattle and other livestock as you ride thru to the next clearing.

From there the trail remains pretty remote. Google maps shows this as a dotted line on its bike-mapping service, which would suggest a rough surface, but it wasn’t clearly distinguishable from the rest of the trail. However, you are accompanied by streams or wetland on either side. Including, at one point, a tiny bit of whitewater.

whitewater

You can hear this bit of rapids before you see it when approaching from each direction.

As you approach the end of the trail near Karnak, you’ll see the trail offshoot to the west.

Wetland Center

I didn’t have time to explore the offshoot, and it doesn’t appear to be an official part of the Tunnel Trail, but I’d like to do so if the future presents the opportunity.

Also at this intersection are some facilities for people and their pedal-powered transport.

Facilities

Shortly after this point you hit the town of Karnak.

Trail End

Karnak

I did not realize until doing my research for this post that Karnak also has its own Mediterranean/Little Egypt connection, sharing a name with a temple complex in Luxor, Egypt. I should not have been surprised.

The ride back was a delightful reverse of the ride down, with one exception offered up by Belknap. As I came out of the trees to the brief opening it offered, I was joined by a bit of company.

Baby

Momma

These escapees were presumptively from the fenced pen the calf was in front of, though I couldn't see a break in the wire. They were unperturbed by my presence, though the entire tableau gave the impression that momma was enjoying some particularly fresh grass while junior was worrying that they’d be caught, standing back by the fence as he was.

Aside from the occasional car on roadways that paralled the trail, I saw exactly two hikers on the entire 10 miles of the trail. I was otherwise alone for my ride. Solitude was the name of game.

Overall, this was a lovely ride with some very enjoyable scenery. I’d suspect that spring or fall would be the ideal times for this section of the trail - though it’s predominantly tree covered, which would help with the heat, I’d have to imagine mosquitoes would be prevalent along the wetlands as summer rolls in.

If the opportunity presents, maybe next time I’ll take that side trip and have a glass or two of wine...

Spring Countryside by Erin Wade

This past Sunday was my first longer ride for the season. Although I ride throughout the year, I find that my distances in the winter are generally shorter, and I try to choose routes that are closer to home in case I get into trouble. But once the weather starts to cooperate I can get out at further distances.

In this case, "longer" was right around 27 miles. My more typical rides run between 8 and 15 miles, and this mostly owes to available time - I often choose distances that I can manage within an hour, give or take, so I have time to get other things done. But we’ve been plagued with uncooperative weather over the past couple of weeks -first an unseasonably late snowfall, followed by copious amounts of rain. It’s been hard to get out between events, so I was itching to make up some mileage.

I laid out a route that took me through West Brooklyn and Inlet, and afforded the opportunity to visit Inlet Cemetery, a hidden graveyard that had been on my list to see (I’ve been engaged in genealogical research for quite some time, and my people are from the region - these visits sometimes offer the opportunity to find an ancestor or two). If you’ve never heard of these places, even if you are from Northern Illinois, don’t be surprised - they are tiny rural settlements, and well off the interstate highway.

One of the things that was made clear early on into the ride is the fact that the past winter has been very hard on our rural roads.

Potholes

Road wreckage

I drive these roads as well as riding them, so I was aware of the conditions, but coming across them on the trike provides a much more... intimate view.

The route took me straight west of West Brooklyn, and then a staggered ride northward. The ride overall was mostly on pavement, with a smattering - maybe 3-4 miles worth - of gravel. I don’t love riding on gravel, even on the trike, but the quality of the experience varies depending upon the condition of the road. In general, a good gravel ride, in my opinion, is going to be had on a road that is somewhat worn and broken in. You don’t want it so far gone that you are running into frequent potholes, but you want the passing of sufficient vehicle traffic to have carved tracks into the rock - essentially, so you end up riding on a well-packed dirt surface rather than raw stone. The roads on this particular course fit that bill nicely.

And once you get out on them you get to re-realize the rustic benefits of the path less traveled:

Fence line

Trike in fence line

The gnarled old fence lines whisper of times past, where these rare wooded areas in the prairie stood as pasture land. But the cattle and horses, while not entirely absent, are far fewer than in past.

Fence line and road

Turn and take in the whole scene - the fence line, the narrow gravel trail in conjunction with the light breeze and the solitude and one can briefly get a feel for what it might have been like living here during pioneer times. And when you are in these moments, you get an inkling as to why they stayed.

As you work north towards Inlet you move into a region that, before the turn of the last (twentieth) century was a large wetland. It’s since been drained down and the water that would otherwise stand atop the ground now evacuates through a series of ditches. These accompany you on the landscape, the straightness of line and regularity of curve the hint that they might not be entirely natural occurrences.

ditch pics

Ditch pics

If you know to look for it, Inlet Cemetery can be seen from afar off of one road, but you have to ride around to the other side to enter. It arrives at about the half-way point of the route that I picked, and it doesn’t, strictly speaking, have an entryway. One has to pick one’s way through about a quarter mile of grass strip to get there. It’s passable on a bike or a trike, taken slowly. I paused Cyclemeter for the side trip - I’d like to take this route again, but I likely won’t stop at the cemetery again. Plus, I didn’t want the pokey time riding through the grass to count against me. (More about the cemetery here, for those who are curious).

After a break at the cemetery for sight seeing, plus some water and a snack, I headed out for the second half of the route. The first part of this takes you out into open lowland punctuated by raised islands of trees. From here, particularly this time of year, it’s not hard to picture the swamp that was present not so long ago. In a month or two crops will conspire to obscure the true nature of the land beneath.

Swamp echoes

In some cases the lowland is lower still, and you get treated to brief views of ducks and geese relaxing (or are they - I felt they were eyeing me with suspicion...) along the shores of the occasional pond.

Suspicious geese

That all gives way, however, as the course turns to the south and enters the northern edge of Melugin Grove, which gives the pleasant change to tree cover and the rare (for northern Illinois) winding road.

long and winding road

This section of the route also offers up spring flowers for view, though they were apparently camera shy.

As the ride winds through to its end you may encounter a couple of things you don’t expect to see:

Is that...?

Yes, yes it is.

(There are a handful of tiny grass airstrips in the area, reflecting an era in which the world apparently thought we’d be traveling by plane from place to place the way we operate cars now).

And every great once it a while you might think you’d gotten slightly off course and ended up in Texas...

Longhorn

All in all it was a great ride - springtime in Northern Illinois at its best.

Trailer Project Part 2 - Cutting to the Bone by Erin Wade

I had a little time last weekend to move forward on my cycling trailer project. My goal is to take a dilapidated 2000 Schwinn Joyrider bike trailer and repurpose it as a utility trailer.

This second phase of the project essentially involved getting the old, mouse-infested canvas shell off of the frame, and deciding which portion of that frame to keep.

As discussed in the first post on this project, this old trailer had been sitting in the rafters of the garage waiting for the past decade or so for me to get around to it. In that time our rodent friends had chosen to take up residence within the confines of its shell. Folded down as it was to get it to fit in upper portion of the garage I suspect it seemed a pretty nifty space for the mice, keeping them all comfy and cozy.

For the record, you do not want mice to feel either comfy or cozy... they have not yet embraced plumbing or sewage systems, and it shows when dealing with their nesting areas.


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This meant that the old shell had to come off. Last Sunday presented with a nice opportunity for this. The day provided with a persistent wind that was strong enough to provide some olfactory relief during the task without being so vigorous that it discouraged outdoor activity. And believe me this: unlike assembling models with modeling glue as a kid, this was not a task to be undertaken in a poorly ventilated area.

I gathered up my tool box and took it out to the garage, and moved the trailer out into the breeze. When I’d first approached it I had thought about finding some way to neatly detach the canvas shell as one piece (I was one of those kids who also carefully removed wrapping paper from presents. ...okay, I’m still one of those kids...). There was no immediately obvious way to do this, however, and I quickly came around to the realization that I was just going to throw away the damn shell as soon as I took it off anyway. So the first tool I pulled out of the box was my utility knife.

The right tool for this job

This allowed me to take the bottom panel completely off. Honestly, it appears that, for the most part, either the shell is only partially completed and then sewn up around the frame, or perhaps the frame is inserted, partially assembled, into the shell.

Bottoms up!

There is one portion of the frame that attaches thru the shell, where the inner wheel mounts attach. I initially cut around those in order to get the bottom portion off and see what else needed to be accomplished.

cut around

I left the bits of fabric there at that moment in favor of working towards getting the bulk of the rest of the very stinky canvas material removed.

Leftovers

Leftovers

I later took them off by removing the wheel mount.

With the bottom off, mostly it looked as if the canvas shell would lift off of the frame. However, there were a couple of impediments to this. First is a lightweight aluminum 3/4 hoop that runs through the shell to provide some structure. That needed to be removed, and once the Velcro straps around it were opened up, it slid right out.

Hoop in place

Hoop removed

The second was a set of Phillips head bolts - one on each side - that attached the "seat" to the frame.

Seat screws

Both of these were rusted at the top - most likely due to mouse exposure, since they were on the inside of the shell (none of the other bolts were rusted). Once those were removed, the shell came off pretty quickly.

This left me with the frame:

Base and handle

The collapsible upper frame is there to provide structure to the canvas shell, and also offered a handle - this had been a convertible trailer that could also become a stroller of sorts. I also have in the garage the struts and front wheel that get attached for that purpose.

I looked at the trailer with this part of the frame attached from multiple angles. I could see benefit to considering keeping it on the bottom frame. The handle could come in to use both in terms of its original purpose (a handle), and potentially as a mounting point for other things. But what I think I’m mostly wanting here is a flatbed trailer to allow for versatility, which keeping the frame would make much more complicated.

That’s amplified by the fact that the folding upper frame is attached on the inside of the bottom portion.

Attached on the inside

This would mean that any flatbed added would have to have holes cut in it to accommodate the upper frame.

So I took the upper frame off.

Upper and lower frame separated

However, I’ve mentally compromised a little bit by putting it aside in the garage in case I want to use it in future. To be honest, mostly what this probably means is that it will occupy space in the garage for the next several years, making me periodically wonder why I kept it, but for the moment I’m still hedging my bets.

I washed the frame to remove any remaining rodentius residue, as well as the general detritus of long-term storage. It’s clear the center section should provide a pretty decent support for a flatbed of some sort, and the existing bolt holes - perhaps with slightly longer bolts - would suffice to hold quite nicely.

View of frame alone

So now the next step is to determine what I want to make the flatbed out of. The simplest choice might be 1/4" plywood, but I’d like to explore other options as well to address weight and similar concerns.

First Recumbent Ride - Looking Back by Erin Wade

It It looks like we are actually entering the honest-to-goodness warm spring weather here in the Midwest (or at least I hope so). For many folks that heralds the beginning of the outdoor activity season, and lots of folks will be cycling. It’s also the time of year that people consider the option of moving to a recumbent trike.

In the spirit of that, I thought I’d revisit my earliest experience with my Catrike Pocket and compare it to current day. Her maiden voyage with me was almost two years ago, and these were the things I realized from that initial experience:

There are several differences from riding an upright bike that became clear on this initial ride:

  • You sit low. This is a given when you look at it, of course, but when riding down the road you quickly realize that you are at eye level with the top of the grass in an unmowed ditch. The value of the bike flag becomes immediately apparent.
  • Because of the height difference, extra care needs to be at intersections to be sure you can see whether a car is there.
  • You cannot see into the cars as they pass you from behind - the angle is too steep. Oncoming traffic, however, is much the same experience as on the upright bike.
  • At first the act of pedaling causes a bit of torque steer. This goes away with some practice (smoother pedaling), but it's a real adjustment (enough so that it's mentioned in the Catrike owners manual).
  • Riding this is noticeably more of a leg workout than with the upright. This seems be due to the differences in positioning. On the upright you can stand up on the pedals, of course, but you can also use more of your upper body to supplement by pulling against the handlebars. It is possible to brace against the seat back, which offers a different but similar benefit, but I didn't fully sort that out until about two-thirds of the way thru the ride. I suspect this also contributed to the slower ride time; it will likelly improve with practice.
  • In relation to the above item, I did a lot more shifting than usual. Some of this, again, will likely pare back with practice. Still, I suspect more shifting is simply a part of the deal.
  • Because the rear wheel is right behind your head, you are much more aware of mechanical activity of the trike.
  • Steering is immediate and awesome - it's like riding a pedal-powered go-kart.
  • Similarly, the brakes are astonishingly quick. I don't know if this is because of the design of the trike itself, or just a feature of the disc brakes - I've never owned a bike with disc brakes. But in either case, it's noticeably different from my Cannondale.
  • This is the first ride of any length I've taken in years in which my hands did not become numb from road vibration. In fact the difference in controls and position was quite a bit more comfortable than on an upright bike.
  • Having a full seat back - even when it's made of mesh - results in your back getting exactly as sweaty as you would think.

Now, nearly two full years into the recumbent trike experience, I can verify that some of these things are the same, while others have faded with familiarity. In the warmer months - and they don’t have to be a lot warmer, a 60° day will suffice - my back still gets soaked. And it still feels delightfully like riding a me-powered go-kart. Frankly, I don’t think that’s ever going to get old.

With experience, though, I’ve gotten accustomed to the riding position, and have learned how to see what’s coming, though I still use the flag, along with lights, to enhance my visibility to others. Some adjustments in mirrors and learning to use them has addressed the issue with detecting cars from behind.


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The issue of torque steer has largely vanished with practice, and my legs have accommodated to the different type of effort needed. I honestly don’t think about either of these issues any more, and I’m simply reminded of them because of looking back at this post. Riding on the Catrike has gotten faster over time as well.

I’ve gotten used to the brakes as well. Back in the early days I did have a panic stop moment where I nearly flipped myself forward out of the trike, but that was a one-time event.

I was right about shifting - I still do more than I remember doing on the upright. However, except in very hilly situations, I am able to spend most of my time on a single (big) ring. In addition, tho it’s a more regular event, it’s become second nature, particularly on familiar routes. It’s a part of interacting with the machine that I especially enjoy (I also preferentially drive a stick shift - there may be a relationship there).

And overall, it’s still a more pleasant and comfortable experience than riding the upright. As I noted a little while back, I still have my Cannondale road bike, but it mostly collects dust.

Whether upright or recumbent, enjoy your ride!

Hidden Benefit by Erin Wade

I’ve made no secret here of my love for my recumbent trike - it’s plastered all over this site. These machines have all sorts of advantages relative to diamond frame bikes, including better stability over uncertain surfaces, decreased wind exposure, lack of saddle and neck soreness - and the list goes on.

But today, on National Recumbent Day (in The Netherlands, according to Bicycle World) I thought I’d mention an additional benefit that doesn’t always come up:

Wherever you go on your trike, you automatically have a chair to sit in.


Enjoying this post? Check out our Cycling page for links to other cycling articles on Applied Life


Riding on a trail with a lookout to a beautiful lake view that you want to sit and look at? Ride the trike up to it and enjoy. Rest your feet up on the pedals if you like. Want to ride out to a picnic, but the table was left gross by the prior visitors? Sit on your trike while you eat (and curse the inconsiderate slobs who came before).

It seems a simple thing, but it is absolutely a reality. And it’s one that it’s taken me a while to take full advantage of. This weekend, tho, I finally took that step.

My child participates in high school athletics, and they lean towards running competitions. In the fall that’s cross country, and in the spring it’s track and field. These events are mostly held in the out-of-doors (a couple of schools in the region actually do have indoor track and field setups). Neither sport is really designed with spectators in mind - there are never seating areas for cross country and, while track and field usually offers bleacher seating, can we all agree that there is an age after which the bleacher is no longer compatible with the buttock?

Many people address this by bringing their own folding camp chairs and finding a location to watch. I’ve done this on occasion, but it has occurred to me that I have a device with a seat in the car most of the time that I could use. And to be honest, it’s been occurring to me for a while, but I’ve been self conscious about breaking out the trike at these events. I can’t say why, exactly - perhaps not wanting to draw attention to myself (there’s a reason why I usually ride alone, and it’s not my body odor. Well, at least it’s not just my body odor...).

But at yesterday’s track meet I decided that I am a grown-ass man, and I can get my tricycle out to sit on it if I want to.

Turned out to be an excellent idea! It’s far more comfortable than bleachers and, frankly, I think it’s more comfortable than a camp chair. Plus it has, you know, pedals, so you don’t have to carry things back and forth to your seating area - you just ride it there and back.

The comfort level makes implicit sense to me - I’ve often been out on rides for a couple of hours or more, and it’s never gotten uncomfortable. And I do have a neck rest, so when the mood strikes I can lean back and relax. And it did not appear to draw much undue attention, and what it did was positive. One of LB’s teammates complimented me on my "cool bike", for example. This is an addition bonus because my child does not think dad’s recumbent trike is cool (which mystifies me, to be honest - I get that Dad can’t possibly be cool, but how can you not think the trike is? I’ve failed as a parent somewhere along the line) and gave me a "really?" along with a patented LB eye roll when I started riding alongside them.

So there you have it - if you were considering a recumbent trike, and just needed one more benefit to make that final decision, here it is. Enjoy!

New Project - Trailer Part 1 by Erin Wade

I’ve had this bike trailer for well over a decade. If memory serves, it was a garage sale find, and it served for several missions of child hauling during LB’s younger years. With sufficient preparation - books to look at and drinks and snacks and such - LB would remain content to allow for an hour or more of riding time, and it added a different dimension (mostly additional weight) to my regular riding routine.

I’d hoped that this experience would also spur in my child a love of cycling the way that riding with my father had in me. Unfortunately my parental failure is complete - my child prefers running to cycling. The horror!

When LB got too big for the trailer we continued to use it to carry things - a cooler for refreshments or a picnic during a break, groceries on the occasional trip to the store. But when we moved from the city out to our homestead it got stored in the rafters of the garage, with the intention of getting it back down to ply into service again as a cargo hauler. Someday.

That was nearly 10 years ago.

I’ve been thinking about it more regularly lately, tho, with the particular idea of using it with my Catrike Pocket when I am on functional rides - e.g. trips where I’m using the trike as transportation and not just recreation. But the decade in the garage rafters has not been kind to the trailer...

She’s a dirty girl...

There’s the general dust and debris from sitting unattended in an outbuilding for an extended period of time. But I had a chance to look at it a while back when I was up on a ladder, and I knew there was going to be another, larger (or, if you like, smaller) issue - the mice had found it.

There’s a lot to like about living out in an intensely rural setting. The privacy, the open air, the prairie wildlife.

But not all the prairie wildlife is enjoyable. If you are someone who is now thinking "but mice are cute", I would submit that you are someone who has never actually lived with mice. When you live out in farm country you quickly realize that they are everywhere and that a field mouse, given the choice between living in the actual field for which it is named, and living in your home or another, similar structure, will opt for the latter every time. And it is surprising just how unpleasant and damaging such a tiny creature can be. They will get into cabinets, drawers, vehicles (that’s a fun surprise going down the road, let me tell you); they will urinate and defacate everywhere, and tear up whatever is around them for nesting material. I don’t love the mice.

But I digress. I’d noticed, back when I was up on the ladder last, that mice had nested in the trailer, and this meant that I was not going to have the option of just getting it down, hooking it up, and going. The body of the trailer is mostly canvas, and that material was going to have been soaked with rodent effluent. It was going to have to go. Which is part of why it’s taken me a while to get to this - it was going to be a project.

I don’t like mice

my kid used to sit in there

Using one of these old trailers as a base for a different design is not a new idea, not original to me, to be sure. I have a well documented dislike of Facebook, but the recumbent trike groups within Facebook are an exception to that rule, and lots of people more capable and creative than I have gone through and modified these items to good effect. In the hopes that folks will understand that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, I’m going to copy from some of what I’ve seen and see what I can put together with this.

One of the questions I had to begin with is how to hook it up to the trike. It’s meant to attach to the lower rear bar at the back of a diamond frame bike. That bar is bigger on the Pocket, and not easily accessible with the frame bags in the way (and I don’t intend to use the trailer all the time, so it won’t replace the bags - they are staying). For the moment, at least, I’m thinking that it can connect to the rear cargo rack:

I think this may work

view from above

I think that may work, though it does put the trailer at a bit of an angle. I’ll have to think it thru a bit.

New Project

Any project that I start competes somewhat with my actual riding time, so I don’t anticipate this will get done in a hurry. But I’ve gotten the thing down out of the rafters in part so that it’s in my way, and thus has to be contended with. That should help ensure that I deal with it sooner rather than later - you know, not another ten years...

Site Addition - Cycling Page by Erin Wade

I have been writing and posting on this site since May of 2010. Applied Life is something more or less of a traditional "blog" site, by which I mean that I write about the things that interest me here. The initial focus - and the tag line - for the site was Science and Technology in Everyday Life. Hence the name.

The very first post on the site was my review of the original iPad back in 2010 (TL:DR version - I liked it). And much of those early years reflected that type of topic, with occasional excursions into things like TV shows or books, or music that I like and music that I don’t.

But more recently the site has become much more focused on cycling in various aspects. I’ve been a cyclist off and on for most of my life - when I was a kid it was our primary mode of transportation, and as an adult it’s one of my two favorite forms of exercise (the other is martial arts). Given that, it’s probably not surprising that cycling has been a part of this site since early on. My earliest cycling focused post appeared in December of 2013 and it was about winter cycling. But the topic of cycling was an occasional one until I got my Catrike Pocket.

That machine has caused considerable changes both to what I do and what I write about. I’m cycling more - more time and further distances - than ever before, and it definitely affects the things that are on my mind, which is, ultimately, where the material on this site comes from. In my head I sometimes muse over changing the name of the site to Applied Trike...

I’m probably not going to do that, but the volume of cycling material does mean that it seemed to me like it might be getting more challenging to find some specific things on the site. As such, I put together a separate page with some links to a series of specific articles that might represent topic areas people are looking for.

The page is just called "Cycling", and depending upon how you are coming to the site - e.g. via desktop/laptop or mobile device it will appear in a couple of different ways.

On the desktop you will see a menu of words across the top right hand corner of the site, one of which is "Cycling":

Desktop

On your mobile device - and my analytics say that’s how most people find their way here - that menu is in the hamburger button (the three little lines that denote a menu) in the upper right:

Hamburger button

Clicking that will get you the list of additional pages:

Applied Life Other Pages

Choosing ”Cycling" will take you to the Cycling Resources page:

Cycling Resources

What you will find there is a list of selected articles under specific topic areas related to cycling, including (to start with):

  • Trail Reviews
  • Life With Recumbent Trikes
  • Winter Cycling

As I noted, this is a list of selected articles, so it’s not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it should provide access to articles that provide longer-term reference information, and which seem to be among the more popular on the site. If you are a person who enjoys the site because of the cycling posts and want to refer someone here, this page would be a good place for them to start.

I will plan to update it and add to it over time - particularly in the area of trail and equipment reviews and so on. I will also likely include a link to it in posts about cycling to make it easy to find.

I said that I’ve been cycling off and on for most of my life, and that is true. But my enthusiasm for cycling has really grown over the past couple of years. I can see by the number of visitors that there are a lot of other folks who are also enthusiastic about it. I appreciate your time and attention here at Applied Life and I hope you will find the new page helpful.

And - of course - I also needed to update the tag line, which is now: Science and Technology - and Cycling! - In Everyday Life...

EJW

Seasonal Goals by Erin Wade

Last Wednesday took us over the calendrical hump into official Spring, and thus far the weather seems to be agreeing. Here in Northern Illinois we’ve seen temps in the 40’s and low 50’s over the past wee, with suggestions of numbers sneaking into the bottom end of the 60 degree range next week. Skies are also appropriately gray and threatening much of the time - depressing, but on track.

I am, of course, a year-round cyclist, so the riding never really stops. However, it would be fair to say that the variety of riding changes during the winter. When the snow falls and the air bites I tend to stay closer to home, and the routes available naturally become limited to what is cleared and open. Given this, the arrival of the fairer season gets me thinking about what type of riding I’d like to do in the warmer months. Given that, I thought I’d share some of the goals that are running through my head for the next couple of seasons.

More Trail Exploration

In my region we have two long-distance trail systems - the I&M Canal Trail and the Hennepin Canal Trail. I’ve ridden on each of them, but only one time each, and for shorter distances. I’d like to get back to each of them and spend more time and distance on both.

For the I&M Canal trail I’d at least like to extend out my rides to get from LaSalle all of the way into Ottawa and back, and I’d like to do that more than once, incorporating some sight-seeing into it. The trail passes through Utica on it’s way, which offers some interesting options, as well as Buffalo Rock State Park.

The Hennepin Canal trail is much longer than the section that I rode along last summer, and it is also listed as a primary component of the Rails-to-Trails cross country course. I’d love to go further along it as well. In addition, Hennepin has both the primary east-west course, as well as a feeder canal system that runs from Rock Falls southwards to the main canal. Lots of territory to explore and enjoy there.

There are other trail systems in the broad region that I’d like to get myself out to see, if at all possible. I’m primarily a road-rider, in part because getting out on trails requires car travel, which I often have plenty of during the work week. Still, the trails offer an opportunity for variety that I’m sometimes missing at home. Likely there will be reviews of these if and when they occur.

New Road Routes

A while back I put up a post about Ogle County’s cycling website. I think this is an excellent resource, and it’s a credit to the county that they provide it. Unfortunately, similar resources don’t exist closer to home. I’m hoping to establish some routes closer to home that provide a similar experience to what is detailed in their site. This will take some work, so it may not happen quickly (or I suppose, at all), but I’m hopeful.

Longer Rides

As is perhaps hinted at in the sections above, I’d like to see if I can’t incorporate longer rides into my routine. I had my highest mileage year on record last year, but my average ride was just under thirteen miles (12.94 for you sticklers out there). I am always impressed with the people who do century rides, and that’s something that I aspire to, but my available riding time makes something like that pretty challenging to fit in without significant planning.

Most of my regular rides are in the 8-14 mile range. I do have a couple of regular routes laid out at longer distance, but I think I’ll need some variety to make them more interesting to do with any sort of regularity.

Looking Forward

I’m sure there will be more to come as well, but this is where my head is at the moment. Spring brings hopes and possibilities!