Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Long Haul Trucker in black with big tires

This bike sure is fun. This is the new Surly LHT in black, 56 cm frame with 26" wheels.
Surly LHT 56
We put the Schwalbe Big Apple 26x2.15 tires, fenders, and racks on it. Mongo has taken to calling this "my new LHT"... Just riding it around the block certainly conjures the imagination to thoughts of loaded tours in exotic locales, or even adventures on the more rustic roads of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, etc.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Minneapolis #1 bike-friendly city?

I hear a rumor that Bicycling Magazine, in a possibly yet-to-be-released issue, has selected Minneapolis, our fair city, #1 in their 2010 Bike Friendly Cities list. Portland has been moved to #2.

This is funny because these lists have never before included Minneapolis, except maybe in the "honorable mention" category. The truth is that Minneapolis has been leading the nation in bike infrastructure since the 1890s, when bike paths were added around some of the city lakes. And year after year, Minneapolis is #1 or #2 in bike commuting as a percentage of population. We have extensive bike trails and bike lanes and an easily navigable grid of generally quiet city streets. Yes, we have winter, and this last one was tougher than most, but even in winter, cycling is generally a viable, even pleasant activity on most days. Of course, in my experience, a simple mention of the word "Minneapolis" to people who've never been here usually results in a semi-horrified wrinkling up of the nose and/or a grimace, or maybe the person will ask if I know his/her friend in Madison or Milwaukee. We live in the big homogeneous frozen flyover land that no outsider is likely to consider as a cycling hot-spot. Except that it is, and now the secret is out.

(I'll be humored if Bicycling plays the rise of Minneapolis as a "most improved" thing, rather than admitting that they simply overlooked us before)

Banjo Brothers backpack in WHITE!

Our friends at Banjo Brothers are, in a departure from their long-time tradition of making black bags, about to introduce their popular commuter backpack (medium size) in white for $90.

We are taking pre-orders, here.

And we have the black backpacks, too, in medium and large sizes.

Actually, you can't go wrong with anything from Banjo Brothers. Good stuff, good people, good warranty, good price.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New stuff this year

This may be the nicest March weather in memory. The terrifying icy streets have given way to long streaks of mild temperatures and sunshine, and an apparently early start to the non-winter cycling season. Business seems to be looking up, too. We've already sold quite a few bikes for this time of year, and we hope/expect that trend to continue. 2010 is looking to be a great year for bicycling, and we are now stocking lots of new and interesting products.

First, the bikes:
The new 26" Surly Long Haul Trucker has been a big hit for us. We are currently sold out, but will get more soon. These are now available in Blue and Black.

Also from Surly, we have the Pacer complete bike. At $1175, this may be the most sensible road bike on the market at anywhere near that price. Why do I say that? Because it takes bigger tires (and fenders, if desired) than most other road bikes, and because it's made of steel. Perfect for brevets and other long-distance riding, or even lightweight, minimalist touring. It may not be as sexy or ridiculously lightweight as some of the wonder-fiber roadies on the market, but if you read this blog, you're probably beyond being dazzled by that stuff. Rest assured, however, that YOU can be as sexy and lightweight as you ever are, even on a sensible, comfortable steel bike!

We are low on Rivendells now, but we do have this lightly used 54 cm Rambouillet:

My wife rode it a bit (maybe a few hundred miles) before we had our 2nd and 3rd kid. It's not in perfect condition, but it's very nice. Now it seems like she might be better served by a stouter bike for pulling trailers and carrying kid seats. So this bike is for sale for $2275-ish depending on what accessories/parts you want on it.

We are expecting a load of beautiful Sam Hillborne frames soon. I ordered 52, 56, and 60 cm framesets. The sizing scheme for these frames is a little unorthodox, so if you wonder what size works for you, I will help you figure it out (for scale, I usually ride 57-59 cm bikes, but I could ride a 52 or a 56 on the Hillborne). The framesets include frame, fork, headset, bottom bracket, and seatpost for $1000. The 52 cm size will (just this once, I think) be made in Wisconsin by Waterford, and will cost $1200. Complete bikes start at $2000 or so. I will get a limited number in each size. If you think you want one, please let me know (I'll ask for a deposit to hold one for you).

Second, the tires:
Our tire selection is the inverse of most shops. We have one, maybe two options in 700x23-25, and lots of options for 26", 650B, and 700C tires in medium and wide sizes. Among these, I feel compelled to mention Schwalbe first. We stock Marathon Supreme ($70 each) and Kojak ($55) in the popular 26" sizes. The Supreme (700x35, 700x40, 26x2.00") has become my go-to tire for most applications, as it has an attractive combination of good flat resistance, light weight, and reasonably low rolling resistance. We also like the smooth, round tread that puts a lot of rubber in contact with the road even in hard cornering and sandy/gravelly situations. If you're willing to sacrifice some toughness for even lighter weight and lower rolling resistance in a wider tire, the Kojak is for you. I haven't done an exhaustive search, but the Kojak may well be the lightest (by far) smooth tire in 700x35 and 26x2.00".

We finally found a source of the 700x37 Pasela (black sidewall), which I thought had been discontinued. We have other sizes, too, in addition to the TourGuard and UrbanMax variants. The Pasela is both cheap ($22-38 depending on size and variety) and good, which is a rare combination.

Also made by Panaracer, we have the Rivendell Jack Brown 700x33.3333. We just have the lightweight "green label" version now, because that's the one that people rave about. I'm trying the tougher "blue label" version on my tandem, and it's tough alright, but I'm not sure if I like the ride quality.

We have lots of other tires, and can special order almost anything we don't have and get it for you quick.

Other stuff:
We are getting deeper into Ortlieb and Tubus this year, and we're awaiting a shipment from them as I type. We also have Arkel bags (mostly commuter oriented items), and of course, the fantastic and economical and local Banjo Brothers and Minnehaha Bags.

As usual, we are happy to set up a generator lighting system for you. I'm mostly ordering dynamo hubs and lights as needed, since the variety of what's available is huge and damned if I know what the next customer will want. But we'll keep a few of our favorites on-hand.

For battery powered lights, we're still stocking the cheap/bright Planet Bike Blaze headlights and Superflash taillights. My favorite battery light, however, is the Nite Rider MiNewt Mini. It's rechargeable (AC or USB), weighs nothing, and throws out a lot of light for $100.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

WTB Saddles

Long-time customers know that we at HC have always sold Brooks saddles almost exclusively. I recently ordered a few WTB saddles, because I think they're generally comfortable, well-made, and reasonably priced. I figured I'd order three or four different WTB saddles and they'd last me all Summer. My first small order sold out almost immediately! I ordered a few more, and those sold fast, too. I decided to take the plunge and purchased the WTB saddle test ride program. This is an assortment of 9 WTB saddle models specially marked as test ride saddles. We will loan these saddles to customers who wish to try before they buy. A deposit will be required to borrow a saddle. This is a great way to find the right saddle.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lake Pepin ride UPDATE

A few tidbits pertaining to the Lake Pepin ride on Sunday, March 28.

The weather forecast is volatile. One minute it's going to be be 38F and rainy, and the next it's 51F and sunny. I'm monitoring the situation closely, but in the end I'll probably do the ride in any weather. If it's cold and wet, we can laugh about it later.

It looks like the Cannon Valley Trail will likely be closed because of snow, ice, and perhaps flooding. If you or anyone you know is planning to ride the CVT on Sunday, I'd suggest forming an alternate plan. The roads around Lake Pepin are not exactly in the lowlands, so I think they'll be above water.

I have mapped a 107-mile route around Lake Pepin that incorporates many invigorating hill climbs descents and some topographically impressive gravel roads. The 107-mile option is basically the 75-mile main-road loop with a bunch of detours up into the hills in search of gravel and exercise. There will be many opportunities to get back on the main roads (less steep, more direct) if you decide that it's a bit early in the season to push yourself so hard.

Some have asked me the usual questions about how fast the ride will be. Personally, I'd prefer a social pace and to keep the group together. If some people want to go fast, it's a free country, but my priority will be to keep the main group together, which means not abandoning slower riders (I may be the slow one). When planning these things, I always assume a pace of 10 mph, including stops. Obviously, riding speed will most likely be faster than 10 mph, but I don't plan to rush through pie or lunch or coffee, etc. I love riding my bike and I'm not in a hurry to be done riding my bike. If I have to use lights by the end of the ride, that's ok. Oh yeah, you should bring some lights.

Also, remember that this is an unsupported ride. Just a social gathering on bikes. If we get halfway around the lake and you decide to bail, there is no sag wagon. On the other hand, if you're riding next to me and your tire goes flat, I will help you fix it (at the very least, I'll offer a bunch of annoying "advice" on what you're doing wrong as you struggle to fix it by yourself).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Early-season Lake Pepin ride!

Assuming we don't get a bunch of snow or ice, I'm planning to ride from Bay Point Park in Red Wing around 9 AM on March 28. If you'd like to join me, great! To get in on a car-pool, meet at HC at 7:30 AM. If you have a vehicle that allows you to carry multiple bikes and passengers, please consider driving. Otherwise, please bring gas money for the person who drives you and your bike to Red Wing.

Riding options in this area exist for every difficulty level:

Easy: ride the Cannon Valley Trail, then turn around and come back. If you go all the way to Cannon Falls (recommended), round-trip distance is 40 miles, all paved, and the hill climbing is minimal.

Moderate: Ride around Lake Pepin on Hwy 35 and Hwy 61. Distance is ~75 miles, all paved, and there is one big hill (2.5 miles) and some smaller rolling hills. Plenty of nice places to take a break, get food, etc.

Possibly more challenging: Drive or ride to some choice piece of road, between Maiden Rock and Stockholm, WI, for example, and ride as many miles as you like, then stop.

Most challenging: I will concoct a loop around the lake that includes as much gravel and climbing as I can find. This loop will be designed such that it will be possible to get a century by doing the whole thing, but there will be opportunities for bailing out and riding back on the main roads. There will be several places to stop for food and rest. I plan to ride this at a comfortable pace, and I think it would be fun to ride as a more or less cohesive group.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What we discussed at the Almanzo planning meeting

This evening a small group of dignitaries convened at The Bulldog on Lyndale to get to know each other and to make plans for the approaching Almanzo 100 event. Food and beverage were consumed, a not inconsiderable amount of BS flowed, hilarity ensued (naturally), and some plans were hatched.

Out of these plans comes action, my friends.

Firstly, I have created a google group to discuss not only the Almanzo 2010 event, but also Minnesota gravel riding in general. Click here. This will be a forum to discuss everything from practice sessions and social events to the occasional heated debate over the best rimstrip for gravel.

Secondly, we discussed having some practice rides leading up to the Almanzo 100. I have a wonderful route around Lake Pepin that includes plenty of hills and some nice gravel. We will ride that loop on March 28, assuming the weather is remotely decent (broadly construed). The Lake Pepin loop can be as easy as a gentle 75 miles or as difficult as 100+ semi-vertical miles. I plan to do the long, hilly version, but those of you who aren't that enthusiastic so early in the season will enjoy the 75-miler, or some combination of the two. We'll meet early at HC that morning, and try to cram all the bikes/riders into the smallest possible number of cars for the drive to Red Wing. I'll post a more detailed post about this later in the week. But the take-home point right now is this: keep Sunday March 28 open on your calendar.

Friday, March 12, 2010

How to take Amtrak with a bicycle

This photo of baggage handlers in Winona unloading our bikes is from my first Amtrak/bike excursion, Summer 2007.
unloading the bikes
Since then, I have traveled with bike by Amtrak roughly half a dozen times. I consider Amtrak to be a valuable service for the adventurous bicycle type who doesn't have time to pedal across large parts of the country to get to a cycling destination. Weasel and I used Amtrak on our DC-Richmond adventure, and I plan to use it at least one, two, or three more times in 2010. The procedure for taking a bike on the train may seem intimidating at first blush, but it's really pretty simple. Here are some important points:

1. Your starting and ending train stations must have luggage service (check Amtrak's website for services offered on each train and at each station). Without luggage service on both ends, you can only take your bike if it packs small enough for carry-on. Most modern folding bikes and take-apart bikes meet this requirement, but normal bikes do not. If you have a normal bike, and luggage service is available at the start/end points, read on.

2. I hear that some trains/routes permit the cyclist to simply roll the bike onto the train and hang it on a hook. I have not encountered any of these trains. The train routes I have used require the use of a bike box. The bike box is a turn-off for a lot of people, apparently, but I find it convenient and easy. The Amtrak bike boxes are much larger than the boxes that are used to ship bikes via UPS or FedEx. With the Amtrak boxes, the bike will generally fit if the pedals are removed and the handlebar is turned sideways. Sometimes the handlebar/stem must be removed and nested on the top-tube. The Amtrak boxes cost $0 (used), $10, or $15 depending on how lucky you are. There's another $5 charge for the oversized luggage. In other words, expect to pay $5-20 per bike per trip. You may save a few bucks by packing in a smaller shipping box, but that would be a lot more effort. Best just to use the Amtrak box.

3. You can get the bike boxes from Amtrak and pack your bike ahead of time, or you can just ride to the station approximately 1.5 hours (or more) before departure and ask for a box. It is probably a good idea to call a day or two in advance to make sure the station has bike boxes on-hand, but the boxes have always been available on the trips I've done. If you ride to the station, and have the appropriate tools to remove the pedals and loosen the stem bolts, it will likely take 15 minutes to box the bike if you're not in a hurry. Oh yeah, bring your own packing tape.

4. After you pack the bike and check the box, then it's just a matter of getting yourself on the appropriate train and making your connections, if any. When you arrive at your final destination, your bike box will be waiting for you at baggage claim. Simply drag the box to a low traffic corner of the room, remove the bike from the box, reassemble, and ride away. Amtrak staff will take the box. If it's still in good shape, they will save it and give it to the next bike traveler.

I have heard stories about people having bad experiences traveling with a bike on Amtrak. Most of the bad experiences seem to be the result of poor planning (for example, showing up with a bike for a trip to or from a station that doesn't have luggage service). In my experience, Amtrak staff are very helpful and accommodating.

One thing to keep in mind about Amtrak is that, for long trips at least, it's slow compared to air travel. Most of the trains get up to about 80 mph, but the average speed is slower because of stops, etc. Kevin and I traveled by train from Portland to St Paul in 2008. I think it was 37 hours with no layovers. The recent St Paul to DC trip was roughly 30 hours with one layover. Traveling this way allows one to take in the landscape and to get a sense of the distance traveled.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Almanzo preparation meeting at Bulldog Uptown

rob down the road
The Almanzo 100 is still 2 months away, but we at Hiawatha Cyclery recommend that you begin your preparations for this event sooner than later. We assume you've been putting in the miles and tweaking your bike for optimal performance on the road, but physical readiness is only half the battle. The process of readying yourself for the challenge mentally and logistically begins this Sunday, March 14, at 4 PM, Bulldog Uptown.

If you are registered for Almanzo, or even if you're not (Monte), come by The Bulldog to have a snack and a beverage and to contribute to the discussion. Topics will likely include, but are not limited to:
- sharing of opinions on equipment, techniques, strategies for gravel riding and racing
- coordinating transportation to/from the event and lodging
- discussing the logistics of the highly unofficial and loosely planned ~300-mile version of Almanzo
- comparative analysis of various items on the Bulldog menu
- other topics of pseudo-intellectual and non-intellectual merit.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Regret avoidance and bike parts

Here's a typical HC bike.
The frame is the Sam Hillborne from Rivendell (frameset MSRP is $1000), and the parts are mostly mid-level Shimano (Deore, LX Tiagra, etc) and similar mid-range parts from other brands, bringing the total price of this bike to around $2100. None of the componentry on this bike is the kind of thing that bike geeks lust after, but none of it is shoddy either. This is sort of the sweet spot of bike part economy, where you get most of the performance (whatever that means to you) at a fraction of the price of the flagship groups and boutique brands. Don't get me wrong, we like fancy parts, too. If somebody wants a $3500 Sam Hillborne, we are happy to accommodate!

People who are interested in bikes tend to be knowledgeable about the price hierarchies of, say, Shimano groups. The very existence of the hierarchy creates aspiration for the upper-echelon groups, even though most of us can't accurately articulate why Dura-Ace is so many dollars better than Ultegra is better than 105 is better than Tiagra, etc. I once worked at a larger shop, where we carried some big lines that featured similar bikes at various price-points. We had the mid-range 105 bike that met a popular price target, but I never let anybody just buy that bike without at least trying the Ultegra bike that was, say $300-500 more. After riding the more expensive bike, most claimed, without any prodding from me, to detect an infinitesimal improvement in shifting smoothness or some other mechanical attribute, and often that was enough to justify the expense of the upgrade.

That was some easy up-selling! Why was it so easy? I'm no marketing scholar or psychologist, but I believe the answer lies in our fear of buying something cheap, then regretting it later when the cheap item continues to disappoint long after the cash savings has been forgotten. Playing the "regret avoidance" card has been part of marketing and sales strategies forever, and it really works.

Luckily for us (cyclists), we are living in a time when even the relatively inexpensive stuff is really good! There is nothing to regret with a Deore derailleur or Tiagra hubs. They do the job, look fine, and tend to last a long time. Sure, if you have the money to spend, and aren't concerned by the diminishing returns of expensive parts, there's nothing wrong with going top-shelf. Just that you don't have to, if your goal is simply to have a nice bike to ride.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My trip to NAHBS, or The Hobo Life

The plan to take Amtrak to the 2010 North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Richmond, Virginia was rooted in tradition going back to the 2008 show in Portland and the 2009 show in Indianapolis. It never occurred to me that Richmond has two train stations, the first of which I investigated does not provide luggage service. No luggage service = No bikes. Obviously, the solution to this dilemma was to take the train as far as Washington, DC, and ride to Richmond. Google maps says 111 miles, which, even when inflated a bit for back roads, seemed like a comfortable two-day ride. I ordered a bike map from Adventure Cycling - now I had the motivation and a map. How much easier could it get? Anyway, I soon discovered that Richmond has a suburban train station that does in fact have luggage service, and I, along with my traveling companion Weasel (I use this pseudonym to protect my companion's reputation), decided to ride from DC, and take the train home from Richmond.

Leading up to the trip I had the brilliant idea to do this ride on a fixed-gear:
This is an old picture, and I've changed a few things, but you get the idea. It's an old Stumpjumper reconfigured as a fixie touring bike. Every cyclist should have something like this. Weasel, who has historically always been agreeable, continued his unblemished record of agreeableness this time, and matched my enthusiasm for this fixed-gear idea with his Kabuki Submariner fixed-gear. I questioned the sanity of this decision many times, especially when Washington, DC got three feet of snow right before we left, but I'd already been bragging up the plan, and I didn't want to lose face by bringing a bike with gears and the ability to coast down hills. The die was cast.

Day 1:
We got to the Amtrak station in St Paul very early Sunday morning. We packed our bikes into the huge bike boxes and put them in the caring hands of Amtrak baggage-handling staff. The 8-hr ride to Chicago was uneventful. Mostly I just took in the beautiful scenery along the Mississippi River for the first couple hours and enjoyed my first Amtrak meal of the trip: corned beef hash, eggs, and grits. We killed time looking for a decent cup of coffee during our layover in Chicago before girding our loins for the 17-hour trip to DC. I should mention that we were traveling Coach Class. On previous overnight trips I had a sleeper reservation, and that caused me to miss a lot of people-watching! Suffice it to say that the people who self-select to make long trips via Amtrak Coach Class are, to put it mildly, fascinating, and unabashedly so. Oh! The humanity!

Day 2:
After a not-very-good night's sleep, I saw the first rays of daylight breaking over the lovely city of Pittsburgh, PA. After the Pittsburgh stop, I was treated to some of the most lovely countryside I've ever seen in southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. To describe the landscape as "hilly" would be a laughable understatement, and I was seriously concerned about my earlier hubris surrounding the fixed-gear idea. By the time we got to Cumberland, MD, things were starting to look more topographically civilized. We arrived in DC Monday afternoon, and we had a couple hours to kill, so we rode our bikes:

It's a lousy cell-phone pic, but until I get around to dumping all the images off my camera, it'll do. We rode past the Capitol building a few times and out to the Jefferson Memorial and to the American Indian Museum for a lunch in their highly recommended cafeteria. After our initial exploration of DC, we were warmly welcomed by a wonderful family I knew previously only through the internet and blogs. I find that traveling to new places is greatly enhanced by staying in the home of like-minded locals, and this experience was no exception. Weasel and I had a wonderful time with our bike-centric, tv-free hosts.

Day 3:
Our hosts had to go to work and school, and Weasel and I were excited to see the town, so we rolled out after breakfast. We spent a few hours in the Museum of Natural History, where I was excited by all the geology displays. We parked at the bike rack outside the museum next to a nicely spec'ed Ritchey Breakaway cross bike. When we came back out, the Ritchey was gone, but a note was left on my bike. I don't recall the exact wording, but the author was apparently excited by our approach to bicycle touring with a single-speed. After the museum, we rode over to the Jefferson Memorial again and across the nearby bridge to the start of the Mount Vernon Trail, which was also where our ride to Richmond on the Adventure Cycling route would begin the next morning. We rode maybe 5 miles down the trail to confirm that it wasn't as snow-covered as we'd heard. Had we ridden six miles, we would have seen the snow, but we didn't.

Day 4:
I was waiting for a call from a friend, former bikeshop coworker, and former Minneapolitan turned New Yorker who was to meet us at Union Station in DC. I will call him Igor, again to protect his reputation. Igor rolled out of the train station with a 1960's vintage Raleigh 20 folder with a large suitcase bungee-corded to the Pletscher rack. It was quite a system, and quite a sight for anyone who holds in his mind the standard archetype of what a touring bike should look like. By the time we actually got moving, it was a leisurely 10 AM. We had all the time in the world, since we believed that our planned overnight destination, Fredericksburg, was an easy 60 miles away. We stopped for a leisurely lunch in Alexandria, and took our time ambling toward Mount Vernon. The snow on the trail became impassible and even dangerously slippery in spots, but we had time. As we passed Mount Vernon, we suddenly found ourselves on busy roads with no shoulder. Some of the roads had bike paths, but the paths had become temporary repositories for all the snow that had recently been plowed from the roads. There were few bike lanes, almost no shoulder wider than 6 inches, and traffic was very heavy. I assumed it would improve as we got further from the DC asteroid-belt. Near Lorton, VA, we lost Igor. I was able to reach him on the phone, and he told me he was going to stop and eat and rest for maybe half an hour, and he urged us to go ahead to find a hotel room. Later I talked to him and got the mistaken impression that we wouldn't see him again on this trip, as he seemed to be relaxing and having a beer when I expected he'd be riding again.

Weasel and I continued onto what appeared to be lovely country roads. If you were planning a bike trip by looking at a map, these are the roads you'd pick, and, in fact, these are the roads that Adventure Cycling picked. The roads were narrow and without ANY shoulder and had every appearance of being rural, wooded, and/or agricultural. Appearances can be deceiving, I guess, because traffic was very heavy. I estimated that we were encountering maybe 300-500 cars per hour in each direction. One after another continuously: zoom, zoom, zoom. This went on for hours! There was no place to go, so our best bet was to ride as fast as possible and stay to the right so the cars could pass. It was very stressful and unpleasant. It got even more stressful when we noticed that it was getting dark. Traffic was not relenting, and we were starting to realize that we'd seriously underestimated the distance involved. The Adventure Cycling route was much longer than whatever route Google had prescribed.

Weasel and I came upon a little country store, where we stopped to gather our wits, rest our legs, and eat junk food. I got in touch with Igor who had somehow gotten ahead of us, since he was braving the traffic on the more direct US-1. On the advice of the somewhat confused person who ran the store, we got off the Adventure Cycling route in search of lodging. At this point, hearing a car coming up behind us, I got a little too far to the right, my tire went off the pavement, and I crashed. Nothing horrible, but my knee was bleeding and I bruised my hand a little. Soon we found a Super-8 in a hellish place called Garrisonville, VA. It was close to 9:30 PM when we got into our room. Weasel and I had ridden 90 miles that day, yet were still 10-15 miles shy of our original goal of Fredericksburg. We ordered and devoured a large pizza and soon Igor found the hotel and joined us.

Day 5:
Garrisonville, VA, where we spent the night, is a place that was designed with no provisions for pedestrians, even less for cyclists. We identified a probable breakfast location across the street from our hotel. Traffic was heavy, and there were no crosswalks. We had to wait for a break in traffic and then run for it. On the other side, we found ourselves traipsing through landscaping to get to the restaurant. During breakfast we contemplated the route. Igor convinced us to abandon the Adventure Cycling route and adopt his approach of riding the very narrow shoulder of busy US-1. If we were gonna have traffic, a 6-inch shoulder is better than NO shoulder. And the US-1 route would be more direct with almost no tricky navigation. Google said it would be about 65 miles. Easy!

We made Fredericksburg quickly, where Igor opted to leave us and complete his trip to Richmond on Amtrak on account of a sore knee. Weasel and I continued on US-1, which became worse and worse, traffic-wise, as we made our way through the sprawling hell of Fredericksburg. We stopped at Taco Bell to fill water bottles.

We tried to make use of frontage roads, but soon we faced the fact that there was no pleasant way to ride a bicycle on or near US-1. I studied the Adventure Cycling map and identified a way to get back to the recommended route. We were not eager to get back on the AC route, after the previous day, but US-1 seemed like the worse of two evils.

As soon as we got on the AC route south of Fredericksburg, it was GLORIOUS! The roads were beautiful rolling, meandering ribbons of smooth pavement, and almost no traffic! There were old churches and babbling brooks and rustic farms. Furthermore, we soon realized that navigation was a cinch because the US Bicycle Route 1 was incredibly well-marked. All the way into downtown Richmond, the riding was as good as it gets on pavement. Upon arrival in Richmond, we contacted the "Prince of Beer" and close personal friend Lanny, who was, at that very moment, doing a beer-sampling event at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. I don't drink beer, but after 93 hilly, somewhat windy, fixed-gear miles, I was a bit peckish, and free all-I-can-eat Vietnamese food sounded like a great idea. I ate two heaping plates before making my way to the hotel room I was sharing with Igor. I rounded out the day with 98.6 miles.

Day 6:
By now I was tired and sore and didn't mind taking a day off the bike. Luckily, this was the day for the big NAHBS show, which was easy walking distance from the hotel. Igor and I started with breakfast at a recommended joint down the street. I ate, among other things, more grits. I usually eat grits as a novelty when I venture southward. But I really like grits, and may start making grits at home.

The NAHBS show is, for me, little more than an excuse to ride my bicycle in an unfamiliar city that is warmer than Minneapolis in February. It's a nice show and I see friends there, but let's face it, four hours is enough for me to see it all. I didn't go through all the aforementioned effort and expense to look at fancy-pants bikes! I took maybe 150-200 pictures at the show, and I'll post them one of these days.

That night we had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called Comfort. Some of the best eating I've had in a long time.

Day 7:
After the major mileage riding from DC and NAHBS show, the extra day in Richmond was sort of anti-climactic. Lanny had a rental car and we drove to a recommended breakfast place and to some local attractions of historical significance. Igor had a train back to NYC to catch, and Weasel and I had to make our way to the suburban Amtrak station sometime before our 5 AM departure.

We spent the afternoon riding the 10 or so miles out to the Amtrak station. Things got exciting when they didn't seem to have any bike boxes (I called ahead and they claimed to have them...) Eventually two well-used boxes were located, and we packed our bikes. I'd hoped that there would be some form of entertainment near the train station, but our only options were derelict strip mall venues. We passed the time by using Wikipedia on our cell phones to beat the trivia game at Dunkin' Donuts. That was fun. But soon it was back to the Amtrak station, where we passed the entire night on the benches waiting for our early morning train.

Day 8:
The Amtrak train to DC didn't disappoint. It was a short leg, less than 2 hours, followed by an 8-hr layover. We visited the Air and Space Museum and the American Indian Museum again.

Back on the train for the 17-hour slog to Chicago. I hadn't showered or changed clothes in 2 days by this point. That's life on the rails!

Day 9:
In Chicago we walked around and made our obligatory visit to The Bean.

It just felt good to walk around in the fresh air after such a stretch on the train.

The 8-hr leg back to St Paul seemed pretty mild compared to what we'd done already. It was good to be back home with the family.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Come and get your poster

The new HC posters by Adam Turman are now in stock and available for local pick-up. If you reserved or pre-ordered one and you're local, come and get it, please. If you ordered one and you are not local, it will go out in the mail in the next few days.