Thursday, October 27, 2016

Coffeeneuring ride 5: Early morning edition at EVP Coffee

Monday morning, five o'clock. I was awake, and with the SO traveling, there was little incentive to stay in bed. Checking the weather forecast, I was surprised and pleased to see that after a warm Sunday it had barely cooled down over night. In other words, perfect conditions for a quick coffeeneuring ride before work. I briefly considered my options, but after checking opening hours of various shops within reasonable distance, EVP Coffee on East Washington Avenue was the only plausible option. In addition to getting a ride in before work, I also needed enough time to finish a couple things for Madison Bikes, the local advocacy group I'm vice-president of. 

To get to EVP in time, I took the slightly-longer-but-pretty route: Going over to Lake Wingra, following the Wingra Creek Path to Lake Monona, and the follow the shore up to the Yahara River -- almost all on separate bike trails. Only the final short stretch was on busy East Washington Avenue. I was tempted by EVP's outdoor patio, but the traffic noise made me opt for the indoor seating. It's a nice and cozy space, populated at this time of day mostly by regulars. To celebrate the warm temperatures, I ordered an iced coffee, which turned out to be just that and not the cold brew I had expected. Oh well. I made it back to work with plenty of time to spare, and in an excellent mood! 

I realized I still had a gift certificate from 2015...
Cozy interior
Pretty but noisy patio

A calm Lake Mendota

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Coffeeneuring ride 4: Incidental cross-coffeeneuring

Pretty Airstreams at Lake Farm Park
I'm not sure if it violates rule 9, about the "spirit of coffeeneuring," if you go out for a ride and incidentally come across a tasty coffee opportunity. That's what happened two weekends ago: After the S24O on Friday/Saturday, I wanted to get some more kilometers in on Sunday, and riding to a cyclocross race in one of Madison's suburbs seemed to make for a good destination. I took the long way there, looping on the Cap City trail before heading to Badger Prairie Park in Verona. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Cadence Coffee nitro cold brew trike on site. They have built up a successful little local nitro empire, with their coffee now on tap at the university hospital, the student union, and also available in cans in many shops around town. So I took the opportunity to get in ride four of my 2016 coffeeneuring journey, while watching people torture themselves on the 'cross course.

New bike repair station on the Cap City Trail
The Cadence coffee trike

Coffee 'n' cross

My friend Jake in his first Cat 3 race

Overheard the guy saying, "I have no chance of winning. So I may as well make people smile."

Jacob with a well-deserved post-race beer

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Coffeeneuring/S24O, 2nd ed.: Sjölinds Chocolate House in Mount Horeb

Last weekend offered another opportunity for a combined S24O/coffeeneuring adventure. Friends of mine had grand plans: Bike to Blue Mound State Park late on Friday, camp there, ride 200 kilometers the next day, camp again, and then ride back to Madison. My wrist and general fitness were definitely not up for the middle part, but another quick fall S24O camping trip sounded good. 

As per usual, I didn't manage to pack my stuff the night before and therefore only left Madison around 5pm. It was a beautiful fall evening, warm enough for 3/4 shorts and a short-sleeve jersey. I was riding Grando, with two Ortlieb Front Roller panniers and my handlebar bag. The sun was slowly setting, and by the time I rode through Mount Horeb, it was mostly dark. My friends, who had left Madison earlier, texted me that they were on the wait list for a table at Hooterville in Blue Mounds, famous for its Friday fish fry. After dinner and a couple beers, we headed to the state park and set up camp. I finally got a chance to try my new hammock, but of course it was pitch dark by now, my headlamp was low on battery, and one of my whoopie slings seemed to have some sort of malfunction. In the end I did get the hammock and tarp set up more or less properly and slept alright. More testing is required to see if I'm a hammock person or not...

Military Ridge Trail

Unexpected obstacle on the Military Ridge Trail

Tartar sauce explosion at Hooterville
 The others had set their departure to 6:30am, and since I was up early anyway, I quickly packed up my stuff and got on the road at the same time. While they turned west and then north, I headed back east into Mount Horeb. I was the first customer of the day at Sjölinds Chocolate House. While their main attraction certainly are the various kinds of chocolates, sweets, and quiches, they also have decent coffee. I hung out there for a while, reading a John Grisham novel I had picked up from the Little Free Library next to Sjölinds's bike parking, first drinking a cold brew and then a regular coffee.
7am at Sjolinds

I bought some fancy hot chocolate powder for the SO, and then headed back into Madison.
Double-track detour near the Quarry Park MTB trails


A strangely warm and breezy October day

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Coffeeneuring and a Fall S24O, two-in-one

Despite my deep immersion in all things bike and my love of coffee, somehow I never picked up on the coffeeneuring phenomenon. Yeah, I had seen the occasional hash tag, but only this year did I realize that there is more to it than just getting on your bike and having coffee somewhere. You can read all about the origin and rules of this "utility cycling challenge" on the Chasing Mailboxes blog. In any case, this year I'm participating.

Sunrise on a beautiful fall day
After a false start over the previous weekend—I had assumed the challenge started on October 1—I got my first two rides in last Saturday and Sunday. Even better, we combined coffeeneuring with a fall sub-24-hour overnight camping trip, the first one since my crash in July. Living in Madison puts you in the fortunate position to pick from four different destinations for an S24O that are all close enough to not be too challenging, despite me still recovering from my injury. This year we had already done two trips to the west (Blue Mound State Park and Brigham County Park) and one trip to Sand Hill Station in the east. So this time we opted for New Glarus Woods State Park, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Madison.

New Haro coffee carafes at Crescendo

Both the SO and I still had some work to do on Saturday morning, giving me an opportunity for a quick coffeeneuring ride to one my favorite Madison coffee shops, Crescendo. It is less than a mile from our home to the shop, and so after enjoying a nice Rwanda pour-over, I had to do some detouring to get the trip distance over the required two miles.

After lunch I crammed all our camping gear into a plastic tote strapped on a trailer and hitched to my SOMA Grand Randonneur, and off to New Glarus we were. The great thing about the route is that is almost exclusively on trails. First on pavement, where lots of people were out on their bikes, absorbing the October sun. Once the Badger State Trail turns to packed gravel, bike traffic diminished quickly. The trail was quite overgrown with grass, turning it into double-track, probably due to the above average rainfall over the past weeks. While the bike was in the track, the trailer would roll over grass, providing me with an extra workout.

Downtown Belleville
 After a quick snack stop in Belleville, we continued on to the always amazing Stewart Tunnel. Time to leave the trail and ride the final stretch to the park. This involves a rather mean climb, where passed two other bike campers headed for the park.
Obligatory tunnel pic

Exeter Crossing Road, just before the climbing begins

Slanty camp site, in close proximity to Highway 69...

When we arrived at the park, we were amazed how busy it was. Almost all the walk-in camp sites were already occupied! A chatty ranger informed me that not only was there a harvest festival and a renaissance fair in New Glarus, but that night there would also be a bonfire and candlelight hike in the park. While we didn't care much for the park and camp sites, the proximity to New Glarus is a nice feature. We rolled down the trail into a bustling little town and enjoyed dinner at Toffler's Pub.

Rolling into town just after sunset

The next morning we once again followed the trail spur into town, getting in coffeeneuring ride 2 at Fat Cat Coffee Works. This is a great little coffee shop right on the bike trail, offering decent coffee and excellent pastries and breakfast foods. It's quite popular with the cycling crowd, and indeed while were there a large group of roadies made an appearance, including someone in a RUSA wool jersey.

We had a bit of a headwind on the way back, but we made the S24O mark with time to spare, arriving back home around 1pm.
On the Sugar River Trail

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Roll-on bike service on the Hiawatha, and soon the Empire Builder

Update 2016-07-06:
After talking to a friend who recently rode the Empire Builder with his bike and was skeptical about the prospects of walk-up service coming soon, I contacted Amtrak through their website. Here is their response: 
Thank you for contacting us regarding walk-on bike service on long distance trains.
[...] Currently, we have no information regarding projected dates in 2016 when walk-on bike service will be expanded on long distance trains, including the Empire Builder. Expansion of this service will be announced on our website, at the News & Media link at the bottom of our homepage..
We hope this information will assist you.
In other words: Don't hold your breath...

Good news for cyclists in Wisconsin and Illinois! As the Bike Fed reports, starting May 4 Amtrak's Hiawatha line, which connects Milwaukee to Chicago, will start offering walk-up service for bikes. Previously your bike had to be partially disassembled and go into a box, whereas now you can just roll up your bike to the train and it will travel in the cab (after having made a 5-dollar reservation). This is not quite as good as the "walk on" service where you yourself roll the bike on and off the train, but it still is an improvement. Another, related limitation is that bikes can only travel between the respective downtown stations; all intermediate stops won't be served because the car in which the bikes travel will be locked.
Amtrak's Hiawatha at May Street Crossing

For Madison residents the practical relevance of the new service is probably limited. If you want to go Chicago, instead of riding the 140 kilometers (85 miles) to the Multimodal Station in Milwaukee, you might as well bike approximately the same distance to Harvard, IL and take your bike on the Metra train. However, the ride to Milwaukee is arguably nicer (about 90 percent on trails), and Metra allows bikes only during off-peak hours. On the other hand, Metra is only $10.50 (no extra charge for bikes) versus $30 one way on Amtrak (including the $5 bike fee).

Amtrak to Sacramento

What is maybe more exciting for the Madison adventurous touring cyclist is that the Empire Builder will soon also offer walk up service for bikes. The Empire Builder travels between Chicago and Portland/Seattle, with attractive stops such as Glacier National Park in between. It's only about 50 kilometers (35 miles) to the Amtrak station in Columbus (Wisc.), and not having to deal with boxing up the bike makes a long-distance trip West seem much more attractive. There is no firm date yet for when this is going to happen, but hopefully it will still be this summer.

Next step: Get walk-on service on the train to Madison. Oh, wait...

Saturday, April 30, 2016

First impressions: Giro Rumble VR, a casual, vegan bike shoe

Winter was coming to a end, meaning that I'd switch from my Lake MXZ-302 boots—with cleats that no longer allow me to clip in—to my Mavic Rush MTB shoes—with a sole worn enough to make them a safety hazard. It was time for a new pair of shoes. This time around I wanted something that didn't outright look like a bike shoe but would still allow me to use clipless pedals. The non-bike bike shoe market segment has grown quite a bit over the years with companies such as DZR, Mission Workshop, or Chrome, and now also more mainstream bike clothing brands.

I'm vegan and have pretty big feet (size 14 US/48 Euro), though, constraining my options a lot. After some searching and reading reviews, I found the Giro Rumble VR, which checked all boxed: No leather, not looking bikey, available in size 48, generally good reviews, and pretty affordable. I ordered the blue/gum model (the other option is black/red) for $80 from REI, thinking that if they didn't work out I could easily return them.

I've worn the shoes for a few weeks now and am generally happy. They look great, sort of retro sneaker style (and matching our living room rug...), and I can even wear them to work. They're definitely large and wide enough for my feet. The laces are slightly short when you lace them through all the holes. Since that made them too tight for my liking anyway, I just leave out the uppermost hole, resulting in just the right length of the laces. For cycling shoes, laces can be problematic, but the Giros have a little elastic tab in the middle of the shoe's tongue that allows you to safely tuck away the laces. I have the suspicion that the elastic will eventually wear out, but we'll see. The outsole is made by Vibram and features a removable panel under which the four screws for installing SPD cleats are hidden. In contrast to many other cycling shoes, the panel is secured with screws and therefore you could theoretically go back from cleat to no-cleat. As you can see below (even though it's difficult to capture in a photo), the cleats are recessed, but not very far. This makes me concerned about the longevity of the shoes. But again, we will have to see.

What about comfort? On the bike I initially experienced some numbness even on relatively short rides (25-40 km/15-25 mi). Part of that was probably due to lacing the shoes too tight, and the fact that it was pretty cold on those rides possibly contributed as well. The numbness improved with looser lacing and warmer temperatures, but some of it remains, as well as hot spot issues. I will experiment with cleat placement and see if that helps. Even when laced not particularly tightly and mashing or spinning on my fixed gear bike, they securely stay on my feet. Off the bike the shoes are fairly comfortable—but not quite as comfortable as they look. The sole is very stiff. Walking or standing in the shoes for extended periods is not that great, even compared to my Mavics. After all, the Giro Rumble is very much a bike shoe.
In conclusion, I really like the looks of the Giro Rumble VR, as well as the fact that they're made from synthetic materials. What remains to be seen is if I can improve the on-bike comfort and if the shoes turn out to be durable. To be revisited later.

Update 2016-05-03
A couple additions from things I forgot and feedback I received:

  • A friend who also tried the Rumble VR says that they did not work out for him because of the foot bed: "I owned a pair for a week. They killed my arches. It's possible that I just have really high arches, but I've never had a cycling shoe mess with me this way..." Giro offers adjustable inserts to vary the arch support, but they are rather expensive.
  • I forgot to mention that because of the snug fit and the lack of a loop at the rear, I use a shoehorn to put them on. Without that, you'd have to loosen the lacing quite a bit to comfortably get into the shoe and/or possibly destroy the heel cup prematurely.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Magnum Photos: "Cycling"

BELGIUM. Antwerpen (Antwerp), 1984 © John Vink

I love cycling and I love photography. So it's exciting to see that probably the most famous photo agency, Magnum Photos, is releasing a book about cycling. Based on the pictures I've seen on Amazon and elsewhere, this looks very promising. Guy Andrews, founder of Rouleur, selected the images from Magnum's vast archives and provides the text. The photographers featured include names such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, John Vink and Harry Gruyaert. I'll probably preorder the book (release date is June 14) and report back once I have it in hand.