Catrike

New Project 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

Tailwinds by Erin Wade

So. Last week I wondered how windy was too windy to ride.

Gee, I wonder which direction the wind is coming from...

In a lot of ways that post was part of my process of trying to decide whether to brave the elements, or whether I finally had found an excuse (besides lightening) for not going out on my Sunday ride.

The thing is, you can only read so much about a person riding across Antarctica in higher winds and lower temperatures for days before all the mental whingeing about whether or not to head out for an hour or so seems, well, a little pathetic.

So - you know - I rode.

I decided to head out on the route that I’ve now come to call Rocks 8. This is the gravel route I put together to take advantage of snow cover and freezing mitigating the unpleasant effects of the gravel. I reasoned that it was a relatively brief route and remained close to home, so if safety became an issue I would be an easy rescue. And besides, once the warmer weather comes I will likely avoid the gravel portions of this route, so I might as well enjoy them while I can.

It’s a route that runs in a square, and that square, given the Midwest road grid patterns, runs on the cardinal compass points. This means that the eight mile route is about two miles in each direction - two miles south, two miles east, two miles north, etc. Suffice it to say that my ride maps are often, well, pretty dull.

The wind last Sunday was coming directly out of the west. Westerly winds are the predominant pattern in this area, and this day was point on. The wind speed during the ride, according to Cyclemeter, was 38 mph:

38 mph winds

Cyclemeter offers up graphs of your ride speed across the miles of distance traveled, and then compares it to your "official" or reference ride (by default, it’s your first recorded ride on a given route). On the graph, the purplish dotted line is the reference ride, and the blue line is the current ride:

Graphical differences

Can you guess which part of the ride it was during which I had the west-to-east tailwind?

I did a more in-depth analysis of the effect of the wind on my rides a while back, but it still amazes me somewhat how much of a difference it can make. The elevated section on the graph runs between mile two and three, smack in the 20-30mph range. It’s notable too that this section is entirely across gravel and, while not involving immense climbs, isn’t entirely flat either (which accounts for some of the up and down in speed). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t push a bit during this section - how could one not? Fast is fun! But for reference, my average speed for the year prior was 11.86mph, and the overwhelming majority of that was set on my Catrike Pocket, which is what I was riding for this outing as well.

You can see the headwind section as well across miles six and seven. My average speed for mile seven was 5.38mph. That’s better than walking, but not a lot, and really gives some credence to why Maria Leijerstam chose a trike for her Antarctic ride - you’re starting to get down to speeds where it would be difficult to stay upright on two wheels. For fun, the headwind also makes it hard to catch your breath at times, and throws bits of debris into your face.

It also brings the overall averages down to earth. Despite that section running between 20-30 mph, and a top speed of 30.60mph on mile three, the average speed for the route was only 8.95mph. This is still better than two minutes over my median speed for this route, but it illustrates how much the headwind cuts into the time.

At the end, though, you definitely know you had a workout. Maddeningly, Cyclemeter does not appear to take the wind into account with respect to calorie burn. How exactly it counts calories does not appear to be explained on its otherwise very detailed help section, but you have to enter your weight for it to work, so it seems to be based upon that vs. your ride speed and distance. For this brief, slow ride, then, it credits me with using 399 calories. I suspect that, in reality, I burned that or better during the headwind section alone.

Overall, tho, west to east, I’m not even sure the trike needed me...

How Windy is Too Windy...? by Erin Wade

I begin my Sunday mornings in a similar fashion most weeks. I get up earlier than I intend (by force of habit), make some coffee and perform my ablutions, and think about where I will go for My Sunday Ride.

I try to get out to ride at least two days a week. I’d love to do more, and I do if the opportunity presents, but my goal for bare minimum is the two days. My Sunday Ride is an important component of that goal because Sundays are, all told, the day that I’m most free to get that ride in.

As I ponder a ride here this morning, however, that contemplation is accompanied by a soundtrack of howling and gusting wind. My iPhone’s weather app tells me that we are sitting at a wind speed of more than 30 miles an hour, and my ears are in general agreement with that assessment. All of which suggests the question: how windy is too windy to ride?

Wind speed

Any cyclist knows that the wind can have a huge effect on the degree of forward progress one experiences when riding. (I spent a little time going over my personal numbers on the effect of the wind here a little while back). Still, I’m not riding for transportation, I’m riding for my physical and mental health and the general enjoyment of the activity. And as far as that physical health part goes, the resistance a strong headwind offers is really just a bit of frosting on the cycling cake.

...right?

Having my Catrike does make a difference in this calculation, at least a bit. The lower profile nature of the trike does absolutely make the wind less of an issue, of course. This is part of the reason that Maria Leijerstam chose one for her record setting ride to the South Pole.

Of course, spending a little time reading about Maria Leijerstam’s ride across Antarctica makes one feel rather wimpy about the question one is asking for this very post. She was contending with 50mph winds and temperatures so low that the sweat was freezing in her boots. So, you know, it offers a bit of perspective there...


I realize, as I look back over the past couple of weeks that I’ve spent a lot of cognitive effort and writing time on complaining about the weather. I’d like to say that this is not my fault, and rather to lay the blame at the feet of, well...

...of February. That is, assuming February has feet.

Looking back over the past few years in Cyclemeter, tho, it’s clear that February has issues. While my amount of riding varies across time, the second month of the calendar year is routinely one of the lowest both in terms of riding outings and distance traveled. It is the shortest month, of course, so that may be a variable as well, but I suspect that a calculation of average distance per day across the months would also put February routinely at or near the bottom.

If it would just be more cooperative we’d get along so much better, February and I. But to be clear, this is all February‘s fault.

Gravel Subdued by Erin Wade

I don’t like gravel.

I live in a rural area - grew up here, in fact, though I moved away for quite a while and then returned. Gravel has always been a part of life out here. The road that live on now was gravel for most of my childhood, and parts of it still were up until a couple of years ago. Although it has since been paved, many of the secondary roads around us remain covered in loose rock.

I’m sure gravel has its benefits, but from a road user perspective it’s hard on things. It’s hard on your vehicle, chipping paint and throwing dust on things. And it’s particularly hard when cycling. On an upright, or diamond-frame (DF) bike riding a gravel road is a matter of carefully finding the narrow paths through the surface where the gravel has been worn away and hoping against hope that an errant rock doesn’t find your front wheel and take you down.

And wiping out in gravel? I suppose, technically, a gravel road is a softer surface to fall on than is asphalt. I mean, after all, the rocks are simply sitting on top of dirt, right? But this does not account for the hours (and sometimes days) of picking rock after rock out of your skin. Ugh.

When I got my Catrike Pocket one of the things I was looking forward to was being more comfortable on gravel. But while my recumbent trike is my preferred ride for virtually every option, it isn’t able to tame all of the issues gravel has to offer. That risk of falling is gone, of course, but the ride over rock is still very rough and uncomfortable, and the layout of the trike is such that soft material - for example, loose gravel on an uphill track - causes the rear (traction) wheel to loose hold, and you find yourself sitting and spinning with no forward motion.

And I’m aware that they make gravel bikes, and that fat tire and suspension bikes and trikes are a thing. But I’m the (apparently somewhat rare) cyclist who really doesn’t collect bikes and trikes. I like to have a well rounded machine that does most things well, and I find my Catrike fits that bill.

But it means that I map out my rides so that I can avoid riding on the rocks.

It occurred to me last weekend, however, that the snow-covered nature of our roads this season might offer up an opportunity.

Out here in rural Illinois the plows go to great effort to clear primary highways down to the asphalt. Liberal application of spark showering blades combined with road salt means that, for the most part, a heavily traveled roadway with a state or national numerical designation is going to be showing pavement. But on the secondary roads the plows content themselves with removing the drifts and ensuring the road is passable to traffic only. They remain coated in white.

This is pleasant to ride on - last week I mentioned the delightful sound of snow crunching under the wheels. But it occurred to me when I was trying to decide where to ride last week that it also had the potential to be an equalizer of sorts. That is, a snow-covered road is just a snow-covered road, regardless of what is under it.

That thought in mind, I decided to give it a go. I don’t have to ride far to get to gravel, and I ended up laying out an eight mile circle (well - it’s a square circle - we’re in farm-grid country, after all) that included four solid miles on the gravel.

So the first, simple part is that it worked. If you didn’t know these roads were gravel ahead of time there’d have been no way to tell simply by looking.

Intersection at Gravel and Asphalt

This is taken at a gravel and asphalt intersection. Which is which? I know, because I was there...

More importantly, there was no way to tell by riding on it either. Turning off of the asphalt and on to the gravel was an indistinguishable change as far as my backside was concerned.

What’s more, this opened up an opportunity to travel down roadways that, although nearby, I hadn’t seen in years. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the house down one of the roadways is, apparently unoccupied - no sign of activity, of attempt to clear the driveway or get a vehicle through. There was an old barn that I remember playing at as a kid that I see is now gone, and I passed at least one house that, if I’d ever seen it before I don’t remember doing so.

Hidden creek

big sky country?

These are small things, but they are part of the joy of cycling through the countryside, and offered some novelty, some fresheness from my typical routes. In fact, I took the route again yesterday, moving my usual Sunday ride up a day because a) it looked like the weather today was going to be inhospitable and would turn the roads to a slushy mess (and so far that is true); and 2) it was simply gorgeous yesterday - too gorgeous to pass on the opportunity.

It might seem surprising that this possibility hasn’t occurred to me in the past - I do a fair amount of winter cycling. Still, the reality is that most of our winters here really don’t offer extended periods of snow cover. It’s typically cold, but real snow on the ground and the roads for an extended period of time is a rarity. This may be the first season since I started winter cycling that the opportunity presented itself.

It’s an ephemeral opportunity at best. It was 40° here yesterday, and the snow cover on the asphalt was already transitioning away. There were even sections of the gravel starting to show thru.

Gravel showing thru snow

It’s already 40° again here this morning, and the surrounding world is blanketed in the thick fog that rises as the snow releases its hold on the earth. It’s 40°, on its way to 41°, with a low also well above freezing, and a projected high for tomorrow of nearly 50°. The snow - even with the prodigious volume we’d received - will be gone soon. There might be more - the forecast speculates some for next week, but we all know how reliable that is. Odds are that, even if it happens, it will be fleeting. That’s just the way it goes here.

But for a short period of time, a few days, and two rides, it opened up another part of my little world.

Trike in snow

Recumbent Trikes - Growing In Popularity? by Erin Wade

MLW and I were chatting a bit the other day about recumbent trikes (what do you talk about at home with your spouse?), and she mentioned that they seem to be becoming more popular.

I wasn’t sure whether that was a real thing, or just a household effect of having gotten a trike myself. So I did some brief internet research, and the proliferation of companies that make recumbent trikes does seem to be something of a more recent phenomenon.

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard about recumbent trikes, but it was at some point in the early to mid-1990’s, I believe. I’d come across an article about a human-powered airplane flight looking to break a previous record. I think it was The Raven Project, which got press in 1996, it fits time-wise; but I’m linking here to a Chicago Tribune article about it without a picture because it’s website seems to have become some sort of soccer fan-site (?).

At any rate, that article led me to the International Human Powered Vehicle Association (IHPVA) site, which then led me to recumbent trikes. At the time the only brand I recall seeing was Greenspeed. I couldn't speak to model names at that point, just that they looked exotic and very cool; and they seemed expensive and hard to find here in the States. And I wanted one.


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


In fact, when I found my Catrike Pocket on eBay it was literally the first I’d ever heard of Catrike. I’d been searching for a new bike of some type and, after being outbid on a couple of Trek road bikes it occurred to me that, if I was looking for a new machine, maybe now was the time to find a trike. Once I came across the Pocket I did a crash course of research on the brand. I knew next to nothing about recumbent trikes, but what I saw about Catrike spoke to the road cyclist in me - aluminum frame, relatively lightweight (about 11lbs heavier than my Cannondale), etc. - so the rest was history.

But looking back on that, when MLW mentioned them become more popular, it made me wonder where all of these trike companies were back in the mid-90’s when I first looked. So I did a brief bit of homework just checking the About and/or Wikipedia entries for the companies, and this is what I found about when they were founded:


And a couple of disclaimers about the list:

  • I know SunSeeker makes trikes as well - I didn’t include them on the list because I couldn’t easily find a founding date for them.
  • The ICE Website indicates that they took over a company called Trice, and I know some of their earlier models carried this name, but it was hard to find info on Trice online.

So - given when I started looking, it makes sense that I’d only have come across GreenSpeed - the others hadn’t started yet, or were just beginning. But the fact that there are now multiple companies producing trikes, and that the youngest of them has been in operation for nearly 20 years, does suggest increasing popularity.

To me that’s encouraging. While I certainly don’t mind being outside the typical, it’s great to see this thing I enjoy as a growing market, with active development and experimentation. This suggests that we can expect an ongoing availability and progression of trikes in the future.

2018 Cycling Year in Review by Erin Wade

It’s our tendency right about this time of year to look back and consider what the past 12 months have looked like. Now, to be clear, this is a review of my year in cycling, not, say, the industry or the race scene, or what have you. It is most certainly not a review of your year in cycling (and how creepy would that be if it were?).

It is always important, I believe, to remember to compare oneself to oneself, not to others. I periodically have to remind myself of this, particularly when undertaking something like this. And with that in mind, with some Decemberists playing in my headphones, and with the help of Cyclemeter, I took a look at the data:

Distance

Perhaps the simplest, but most telling, data point to look at is distance as compared to previous years. For better or worse, for this year I set myself a personal goal to get to 1000 miles. This seemed reasonable, given that my distance for 2017 was 937.51 miles - I knew I wanted to increase my riding time overall for 2018, and I wanted a distance that would represent improvement over the year prior year, but was attainable. And I suppose I should note that, while the goal represented only 62 or so additional miles over the year prior, 20 17’s mileage reflected my greatest distance since I started keeping track. Prior to that my best year - 2014 - was 752.47 miles.

To make a long story short, I’m pleased to say I met the goal. Mileage for 2018 as of this writing sits at 1358.29 miles.

I say "as of this writing" because it’s the 30th of December, and I’ll take at least one more ride before the end of the year (today), two if I can squeeze them in. There’s a part of me that would like to bring the number up to an even 1400 (I also like things to be at right angles on my desk - don’t judge me...), but while that’s not impossible, it would be pretty challenging for me - my average distance per ride for the year is just under 13 miles.

So - this year compares favorably to prior years. I first started using Cyclemeter back in 2011, with the first entry appearing on July 30th of that year. Years across that time are shown in the graph below:

2011-2018 by year

Obviously there’s a pretty sharp increase in 2017 that continues into 2018. This may be due, in part, to a change in activity focus. Back in 2014 my child and I started taking martial arts - specifically Tae Kwon Do - together. This was a new activity for LB and a return for me, and I suspect that’s the reason the years subsequent to 2014 see a drop off in riding time (time in class, at tournaments, etc). As LB moved in to high school, however, their interest (understandably) waned, and I made the difficult decision this year to stop going and focus more on riding. I want to note, also, that this is due primarily to convenience - the school we attended was an hour away (this made sense with respect to my work activities) but is otherwise a great place with wonderful instructors. But that hour drive contrasts with the fact that I can ride right out of my driveway at home.

Still, while that definitely played a role, more of it has to do with what I was riding...

Machines

Breaking down the riding distances narrows down when the increase in riding really took place:

2011-2018 By Month

Looking at things this way shows a pretty significant uptick in riding distance back in June of 2017. There’s one particular event that occurred in that month that speaks to why...

2011-2018 By Month - Catrike Pocket

I got my Catrike Pocket in early June of 2017, and took my first documented ride on June 4th. I say "documented" because, of course I had to ride it around the yard a bit when I first got it home. But the 4th was the first I’d gotten it fully up and running with Cyclemeter tracking it.

My primary machine prior to getting the Pocket - which I still have and ride - was a 1987 Cannondale SR400. It’s a lightweight, 12-speed aluminum road bike. It’s a machine that I have professed my love for many times over the years. It’s elegant and simple and visually (to me) always looks like it’s ready to move.

Cannondale SR400

I’ve said here that this is a bike that I still have and ride, and this is true. But it’s less true than I would have thought. If you’d asked me to estimate how often I’ve ridden the Cannondale this year, I’d have estimated it at a half-dozen or so times.

It’s once. Exactly one time.

I took out the Cannondale last on October 14th, for a ride into town to take a picture of a historic marker and to pick up something from the grocery store. And I took it explicitly because the Catrike was in the shop getting new tires put on. What’s more, looking back thru the data, the last prior ride was October 10th, 2017. I had literally not ridden it for over a year before that outing.

I actually rode rental bikes more frequently in 2018 than I did my Cannondale. Not much more (three outings), but more. The only more neglected machine was MLW’s Schwinn, which I would occasionally take out for snow or gravel, but which hasn’t come off the garage hooks since December of last year (and that only because I wanted to compare it to the Pocket in the snow).

I can’t really decide whether I should feel bad about any of that or not. What is clear, however, is that the recumbent trike has had a huge effect on the amount of riding I’m doing, as well as what it looks like. I like to recline.

Trips

While, as I noted above, most of my rides this year start and end at my driveway (this is an advantage to living out in the hinterlands), I did manage to get out and see some new things. Mostly this involved exploring new trails and routes. Probably my two favorites were the Illinois & Michigan Canal and the Hennepin Canal paths. While they are both canal paths, the experience between them is quite different, with the I&M Canal path offering access to multiple communities along the way, and Hennepin offering mostly nature and solitude.

Occasionally traveling offers opportunities to explore less familiar areas, and a trip along the Rend Lake bike path did just that for me, as did a longer ride along the Military Ridge Trail last month.

Catrike Pocket at Rend Lake

For that last trip I also learned a thing or two about transporting my trike on the outside of my vehicle. ...and it’s clear I have a bit more to learn on that front. Or perhaps I just can’t ever take more than one person with me...

I also rode in the Farmondo again this year, a group cycling event put on by Tempo Velo cycling club and sponsored by Mead’s Bike Shop. For the second consecutive year I was the only person on a recumbent trike in the event. That it’s the only group event on my roster for the past two years says much more about my temperament than the event, which is actually well organized and a lot of fun. And while it’s not technically a competition, the experience provided (for me) a handy reminder about who it is I should compare myself to (see above).

Next Year?

So where does that leave things for next year? Broadly, that’s fairly simple. I’d like to ride more and further. 1500 miles seems like a safe goal, and that’s probably what I’ll set for the year.

I think I’d also like to find more trail routes and try them out. This is often a little more challenging for me simply because, like martial arts, driving to a trail or path competes with riding right out of the driveway. But it does offer the opportunity to see new and different places, and (at times) to chronicle them here.

Along those lines, I think I’d like to travel further along both the I&M and Hennepin Canal trails. The notion of riding the I&M to Ottawa and stopping in at the tap room at Tangled Roots or getting some sushi at BASH is appealing (though riding back might be more challenging afterward. If the opportunity presents I’d love to get MLW a trike so she can join me for those types of trips.

The Hennepin Canal route has a visitor center that I stopped a few miles short of and would like to see. It also has campgrounds, which suggests the opportunity to bike pack and camp. This is a notion that I find romantically attractive, though might struggle to fit in to my actual schedule. We’ll see what time allows.

Military Ridge Trail Revisited by Erin Wade

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

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

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

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

Snowy Trail

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

Mountain?

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

Barneveld on the Map

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

Barneveld

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

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

Out of Barneveld into Blue Mound State Park

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

Blue Mound State Park

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

Up the Hill

Campground

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

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

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

Blue Mounds

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

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

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

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

Trike Transporting - Getting on Top of Things by Erin Wade

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

Trike in Fit

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

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

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

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


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

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

mini and kid with bikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the roof - profile

trike on roof - rear view

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

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

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

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

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

Rubber bungee front

front bungee hook close-up

rear bungee

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

Bike lock

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

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

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

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

TL:DR

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

The Good:

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

The Bad:

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

Comparisons... by Erin Wade

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

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

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

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

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

Cannondale SR400

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TerraTrike Comfort Pedal Conversion Kit by Erin Wade

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

...So far.

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

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

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

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

Backing Plates

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

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

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

nuts and washers

Pedal with nuts

This worked, albeit with caveats:

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

swing down pedal frame

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

How Do They Work

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

Judging a box by its cover

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

foot strapped in

other foot strapped in

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

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

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

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

not sexy, but safe

TL:DR Section

The long and short of it works out like this:

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

The Primary Opponent by Erin Wade

In athletic endeavors, your primary opponent is always yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

3:40:30.92 @ 11.7mph

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

Farmondo 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:20:46.97 @ 12.9mph

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

And then my eye wandered over to my place:

I came in 79th out of 93 riders.

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

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

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

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

Looking Back at Hindsight by Erin Wade

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

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

Hindsight

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

Mirror close up

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

The bend removed

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

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

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

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

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

Rend Lake Bike Path by Erin Wade

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

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

Trail map

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

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

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

Trail map close up

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


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

Rend Lake in the distance

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

Big Muddy River

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

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

Where the water goes green

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

Big Muddy River

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

Dam View

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

Over the river and thru the woods

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

Lake View

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

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

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

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

Road America?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trike at Rend Lake

Benefit of Hindsight by Erin Wade

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

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

these pieces should be connected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Repair Crew My repair crew helping me out

Two Mirrors

behind sight!

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

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

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

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

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

Roadside Repairs by Erin Wade

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

them’s the brakes

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

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

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

The miracle is: I found it.

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

Thank goodness Allen let me borrow his wrenches

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

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

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

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

Rokform Comes Thru... by Erin Wade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broken RokLock

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

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

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

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

old and new

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

Hennepin Canal State Park Trail - Lock 2 to Lock 13 by Erin Wade

In rural northern Illinois there is a hidden gem of a state park. It’s long and narrow, and follows along the man-made waterway known as the Hennepin Canal.

Narrow to be certain - the park is generally the width of the canal and it’s towpaths, give or take a few expanded recreation and/or information areas. But also long to be sure. The Illinois DNR website indicates that the park occupies 104.5 linear miles, with 155 miles of towpath for riding/walking, etc. The canal runs from from the Illinois River just east of Bureau Junction to the Mississippi River near Rock Island. There is also a feeder canal that runs from Rock Falls southward and meets the main canal near Sheffield. The feeder itself runs nearly 30 miles, and provides water from the Rock River to the canal.

The eastern trail head is located in the tiny town of Bureau Junction, at the site of Lock 2.

Catrike Pocket at Lock 2 Trailhead

There is a Lock 1, apparently a little further to the east, but the towpath was not maintained between Locks 1 and 2, and Lock 1 is underwater during the summer months, making it hard to access and hard to see.

Driving to the trail head brought back a lot of memories. When I was a kid my family spent a lot of time on the Illinois river and its tributaries in this area. This included fishing trips with my father and grandfather, and weekend days at a beach along the river, swimming and waterskiing and watching the barges pass by. We’d marvel at the (relatively) tiny tugboats pushing row after row of shipping barge ahead of them. We’d have to stop and marvel because they also kicked up a significant wake that made you want to clear out of the water until they passed. And each trip we’d have to have at least one discussion about how it was odd that they were called tug boats, when they were actually pushing their cargo...


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Driving to the trailhead brought back these memories. The geography of the roads changes as you get into river country - the formal grid of farm country yields to the twisting nature dictated by the rivers and streams - and the smell of the air shifts to reflect the presence of the waterways even when you cannot see them.

The trailhead is set at Lock 2, and it literally begins at the lock.

Catrike with Lock 2 in full view

Lock 2 facing west

Lock 2 facing east

I decided to ride from the trail head to Lock 13 and back, a round trip a little over 22 miles. The surface of the trail varies considerably over that distance, from what appears to be older asphalt to crushed stone to dirt. One section, maybe 3/4’s of a mile long, is white chip gravel, with all the slow-going that entails for any cycle without wide tires (even a trike - you don’t worry about falling over, but you do still get to experience all of the bone shaking joy). Portions of the trail had late spring grass growing in abundance.

The trail ahead - taken at Lock 3

Traveling this direction takes you past the locks in ascending numerical order. As such, Lock 3 is the first you encounter, just a short ways down the trail. While Lock 2 is the beginning of the trail, Lock 3 may be the preferred starting point for the non-completist. This point in the park has a large cement parking lot (compared to the small affair at the trailhead).

A couple of weeks ago I ventured out on the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail, which was part of what made me think of this trail, which is a little further from home. Given that both are trails that run along the towpath of a canal, you’d expect riding them to be similar experiences. This is true, to some degree, but there are important differences between the two, at least for the sections that I’ve ridden.

The I&M Canal runs through multiple towns along its course. The section I rode began in LaSalle, went through Utica, and I stopped just three miles shy of Ottawa. Each of these locations offers opportunities to stop and eat, have a drink, all within a short distance from the path. As a result, you are also riding, albeit briefly, through settled areas.

The Hennepin Canal is decidedly more remote. Though the towpath crosses roads, for the 11 mile stretch that I rode it was mostly just me, the trail, and the canal. People fishing were encountered along the trail, typically within walking distance of the road crossings, but otherwise I was mostly alone.

The Canal itself is still almost entirely open water. This means that riding along it provides a view that includes water throughout, including the requisite wildlife; And the wildlife abound. Fish surface and jump in the canal, frogs wait alongside the trail, and I saw more herons in this single two and a half hour ride than I’ve ever seen on a single day before. I also frequently caught sight of a small dark yellow bird I did not recognize - not bright enough to be a goldfinch, but of similar size. My best guess, based on my Peterson Field Guide, would be a Common Yellowthroat. If so, common or not, it was new to me.

The Canal is almost entirely open water. There were multiple sections with land bridges intersecting the canal. The canal still flows past them, through culverts, but they appear frequently along the way.

Land bridge

If you look at the satellite view from Apple or Google maps you get a sense of how these re-occur along this section of the canal.

Satellite pic of land bridges

In some cases roads run across them, but in others they are simply grass covered. One assumes these were filled in to allow easy passage perhaps to farmers and others attempting to cross from one side of the canal to the other. This has little impact on biking other than to provide a short variation to the scenery. However, if one were canoeing or kayaking along this section of the canal, between the land bridges and the locks one would have to expect to portage frequently. Looking at the map the feeder canal appears to be free of either land bridges or locks, so that section might be the better choice for paddler.

In fact, at one point I did have to do my own, cycling version of a portage...

Tree Down!

One might expect a canal towpath to be mostly level. However, on this section there are elevation changes, some of them abrupt, particularly as one goes under bridges.

Trail under bridge

It is also the case that, from Lock 2 to the point where the feeder canal joins near Sheffield, the canal is rising. This isn’t easy to see, but one can feel it when riding. I was definitely faster on the way back.

In most cases the trail rises up to cross roads, but in one case it has a tunnel that runs under the roadway.

Tunnel

One wants to take care entering the tunnel. It’s not long, but the trail surface inside is dirt, and considerably less dry than the surface outside. I had to pick my way along it carefully to not end up with a back full of muddy water.

The other distinction of this canal is the locks themselves. Perhaps because it is younger and was in service later than the I&M Canal (still an active waterway until the early 1950’s) the locks are present and visible along the way. Their presence gives a feel for something very different than just riding along a river, and they provide more interesting markers of distance than a simple mile sign. Each of them has been set up now with a cement wall in place of the old lock hardware, causing a waterfall at each transition.

Lock waterfall

And the locks are each marked with depth measurements, likely to guide the lock tenders as they filled the lock in.

Depth Marker

Depth Marker circled

When you reach Lock 11, you’ll find a picnic area, as well as some weathered information signs to give you some of the history of the canal:

info sign

More info sign

And still more info sign

While I rode out to Lock 13, my actual goal was to reach Lock 12. This is due to a personal connection there - as I understand it, my Great-Grandfather Percy worked as a lock tender for this particular lock. I’d heard this before, and always pictured him coming from his home to work at the lock, one of probably multiple shift workers tending to it to facilitate barge traffic. It turns out this was a much bigger job than I’d imagined - the lockmen lived on the canal, provided with houses and outbuildings to support their work there. It was a year-round job, and in the winter they would cut ice from the canal and sell it to help fund its operation.

Trike at Lock 12

Lock 12 was also the site of one of the canal’s aqueducts - essentially a huge cement water bridge that carried the canal over existing natural waterways. In the case of Lock 12, it carried the canal over Big Bureau Creek. According to Wikipedia, of the nine original aqueducts, six remain while the other three were removed with piping put in to carry the flow of the canal water under the waterway it crossed. Lock 12 is one of the three that were removed.

On the western side of the bridge you can see the water reach its end...

Canelus Interruptus

...and there is a large drain gate for the water to descend.

Down the water goes...

Looking closely at the eastern side you can see the water burbling up inside the lock.

Water burbling

Bureau Creek is far below, with some of what must the the original pilings to support the aqueduct still present.

Bureau Creek and Pilings

Bureau Creek is actually a recurring companion along the trip, often visible on the trail opposite the canal. It is visually distinct, being a winding, twisting affair as it works its own path down to the Illinois River. This periodically gives one the sensation of riding along a causeway just above the water, which is a pleasant experience.

Bureau Creek Pano

There are campgrounds along the trail. They must be well-hidden, as it appears that I passed two of them, at Lock 6 and Lock 11, and did not see them. In both cases it appears they are on the opposite side of the canal from the cycling trail. If one wanted to do a multiple day trip along the canal, it appears it would be friendly for bikepacking.

If you go, you’ll want to bring along your own supplies. I’ve already mentioned that it’s remote, and the DNR website notes that the only drinking water available on the route is located at the visitor center. I actually wished I had brought along a second bottle of water for myself on this go-round. If you look at the canal along the map, it’s rare that it travels through settled areas of any size. You are on your own for drinks and snacks.

However, if you are looking for an opportunity to ride out alone in the wilderness - something that can be challenging in our well-settled times - this trail definitely offers the opportunity. You’ll come across the occasional fishing folks, and the sighting of them generally signals that you are close to a crossroads or trail entry point. Otherwise, if my trip was any gauge, you can expect long stretches of solitude in company of nature.

I&M Canal Trail - LaSalle to Buffalo Rock State Park by Erin Wade

Last weekend offered up an unexpected opportunity. It took a while to get the requisite everything else done ahead of my Sunday ride, so it was afternoon before I got my trike out to hit the road. Unfortunately, while the rest of the trike was game, the presta valve in my right front tire saw its opportunity to escape, and shot out across the driveway as soon as I popped the cap off. This was, of course, followed by the disheartening sound of all of the air in the tube rushing away, never to return.

Given my own previous experience with my tube changing skills, I quickly looked up the Sunday hours for Bike Works in Peru. It was about 2:00, and they were open till 3:00, which gave enough time to get there with room for a tube change before closing. The folks there were, as always, gracious and quick, and my trike was soon back in working order.

I had originally planned to head back home and ride one of my country road routes, but as I walked around the shop and waited, it occurred to me that I was only a mile or two from the Illinois and Michigan Canal trail along the Illinois River. Despite the fact that it’s less than a half-hour from home, I’d never ridden it. So, in the spirit of lemonade from lemons, I figured I ought to take the opportunity.

I entered the trail off of Joliet Street in downtown LaSalle. The trailhead is a little bit further to the west, in Peru, but I found this entrance first, and I didn’t want to waste daylight looking for the other entrance, so I went with it. This site also retains one of the original locks from the canal itself.

Lock High Side

Lock Low Side

You can get a feel for the change in elevation that the lock system facilitated by looking at the difference in levels on either side of the lock. Unfortunately, the lock doors do tend to gather gunk, but that doesn’t take away from the historical presence of the location. And, one assumes that, when the locks were in operation, that gunk would routinely be washed away.

The site is marked with information signs as well to let you know a thing or two about what you are looking at.

North Meets South

Rough and Ready

The trail itself runs along the canal, mostly on the original towpath (in fact, part of the trail turns out to be a side street called Towpath Road). This spot in LaSalle appears to be a popular one, with plenty of people walking the path and fishing at the side of the canal. One quickly finds that, in the LaSalle area section at least, the path is in need of some attention from a maintenance crew. Potholes abound, and avoiding them required focus on the trail ahead. This is (fortunately) not the case throughout. This first part of the trail was failing asphalt, but the surfaces varied throughout, including crushed stone, dirt, and grass.


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Since it’s on the towpath, you are generally in view of the canal. However, this doesn’t always mean what you might think it means. The canal has been out of service for about 85 years. This means that, while sometimes it’s open water...

Open Water

...other sections are essentially completely filled in.

Grass where water used to be... .jpg

There are portions of the trail where, if one did not know there had been a canal along the way, one would not guess that it had been there. This is spoken to by handy mile markers along the way that tell you which mile of the trail you’ve hit, how far you are from the next major point in the trail, and facts about the trail itself.

Mile Marker

The trail travels through the town of Utica, a charming little town that offers up a potential resting point along the way.

Utica downtown from the trail

Info Marker at Utica

The town itself has a tavern or two, a winery, and styles itself as the gateway to Starved Rock State Park, which is on the other side of the river from the canal. And being in the region of the park means that there are scenic bluffs on view during the ride. Sometimes these are glimpsed through the vegetation...

Bluff thru the cattails

...and other times they are right there in front of you.

Split Rock

While there are sections of the trail that run adjacent to, or directly through towns, other sections feel much more remote and rustic. As I moved into the remote and rustic portions foot traffic - and bike traffic for that matter - dropped off considerably. It was possible through some of these sections, overgrown and covered with trees, to feel completely alone.

Alone Time

And speaking of rustic, I came across this set of signs on the section of the trail about halfway between Utica and Buffalo Rock State Park:

Caution Signs

As one proceeds (cautiously) past the signs, this is what one finds:

Foot Bridge

Fortunately the trike only comes in around 35 pounds (33 without accessories) so it was easy enough to carry across the footbridge. That bridge is just laid in place, and some thoughtful soul has tied it off to a tree so it doesn’t wash away. While this was fun to come across, presents in stark contrast to other sections of the trail, where the bridge construction is at a somewhat higher level.

Bridge across the canal in Utica

As it says in the title, I followed the trail to Buffalo Rock State Park. As you start to enter park area you begin to come across picnic spots that range from basic...

Trailside picnic spot

...to advanced.

Picnic shelter

At Buffalo Rock itself there is a parking area for entering the trail. This sits just outside the entrance to the park itself, so if one wanted to ride into the park that option is available.

Arrived at Buffalo Rock

The park is about three miles from Ottawa, so one has the option of riding further and heading in to Tangled Roots for a draft and to fill a growler, or maybe swinging by BASH for a bit of sushi. For my part, I rode just a bit past the park entrance to round out the ride to 10 miles (I like round numbers where I can get them) and then turned around.

The rough condition of the trail around LaSalle aside, most of it is in good shape. Being along a canal there are very few sudden changes in elevation, so it’s the distance rather than any hill climbing that one has to take as the challenge. I could absolutely see taking the opportunity to bring along a picnic lunch, or maybe stopping along the way in Utica for a drink and a snack. The quiet moments along the trail give a feel for what it must have been like, 85 years ago and more, working the mules to pull the barges along the canal. I don’t know why I waited so long to go out and ride this trail, and I’m certainly glad that I took this opportunity.

Cross Country Skiing or Winter Cycling? by Erin Wade

Back when I started out with winter cycling it was primarily as an alternative to cross country skiing. I started cross country skiing in my mid- to late-20’s, and really enjoyed it. However, the winter snowfall and retention in my area is too unpredictable to allow for any sort of reliable XC skiing season. Some seasons drop a sizeable amount of the white stuff, while others leave a paltry dusting. And even when there is a sufficient amount to support the skis, it’s typically short lived - if you get an abundant snowfall on Monday, but can’t get out on the skis till Wednesday, you might lose your chance entirely.

So: winter cycling.

This has worked well overall. Looking back into Cyclemeter (which, despite the name, also tracks skiing, hiking, etc) the last year that offered an XC skiing opportunity that I could take advantage of was 2015, and that was one event in early February - three years ago. So it’s good to have winter cycling as an alternative.

And that’s how I’ve always thought about it - as an alternative. My winter cycling has evolved over the years, as I’ve learned more about how to keep warm and comfortable while riding. This year, of course, I’ve incorporated my Catrike Pocket into the mix, and winter activity was part of my reason for wanting a trike - less (or no) falling over. These factors make it even better as an alternative for XC skiing.

It had been three years without skiing until last week. The weather gods had dropped a good three inches on the ground, which is enough - though barely - to support the skis. I brought both my skis and my trike along just in case the snowfall at home wasn’t representative of what I’d find at my destination. Still, it seemed to be, so when I went out I opted for the skis. I managed about three miles on a lovely trail through prairie and woods. It wasn’t groomed, but it wasn’t so deep as to make forging difficult. I was alone in the woods, I saw a hawk, and lots of animal tracks. The workout was good. It’s everything I remember enjoying about XC skiing.

And here’s the thing: I’d rather have been on my trike.

I can’t explain this, exactly; a lot of it was more visceral than anything else. The snow was not deep, so the skis occasionally caught on the surface beneath. The trails are primarily gravel under the snow, which isn’t an ideal medium into which to drive ski poles, so these factors may have played a role. But winter cycling isn’t all wine and roses either. Even with the trike, there are areas you cannot get through without walking the machine (sitting and spinning while the trike itself remains motionless on a hill is, shall we say, an interesting experience). And no outdoor exercise ever involves a perfect environment - that’s part of the fun. If I was interested in controlled conditions I’d be in a gym.

I’m seriously rethinking my perspective here - I’m no longer looking at winter cycling as an alternative to XC skiing. I’m really just thinking about it as the thing that I do in the winter.