Friday, September 26, 2014

2014: Don't go to the White

I see a lot of riders who think they are riding safely when they are able to ride down the center of the white line on the edge of the road. For a number or reasons, this is a fallacy, and a white line fixation is a potentially risky riding technique and road position.

First and foremost, bikes do not travel in a straight lines. The act of balancing a bike is a constant input of steering adjustments to bring the bike back under the rider. These adjustments can be imperceptible, but they are always going on. Your mind and body does it constantly, without thinking about it; in fact, thinking about it makes more difficult.

When you change pace, change handlebar positions, or even turn your head in conversation, you make even more of these subtle steering adjustments, so a straight line becomes a band that is actually 3-6” wide. The need for these micro-adjustments and subtle steering inputs is why I always encourage a rider to be relaxed; the tense rider with locked arms is going to make more handling mistakes.

Another reason that riding the white line is an error is that it becomes your focus point, and your bike will alway follow your eyes. Looking at the white line, and focusing on it and the edge of the road, increases, rather than decreases your chances of riding off the road. If the pavement on the edge of the road and white line begins to break up, inexperienced riders tend to focus on that the broken edge of the pavement, rather than looking at where the wheel should be going.

Riders focused on the white line or road edge are typically looking a much shorter distance ahead, and do not spot road hazards soon enough to smoothly avoid them with small adjustments; rather they are forced to make quick adjustments, and then over-correct, and then over-correct again.

This is compounded when road hazards come up to the left of the white line, because now the riders avoidance options are halved; they may only have the option of hugging the side of road even tighter or riding off the edge.

Finally, a riding position on the extreme edge of the road will actually encourage cars to pass you. This is why safety instructors and advocates have spoken for years about riding the right hand tire track of the traffic lane, to “claim” the lane, and force overtaking cars accept you in the flow of traffic.

Even if you are not comfortable in the right hand track, you should ride in a physical space that gives you adequate maneuvering room on either side of your wheel, at least 12” to 16” from the edge of the road. A good way learn this space is to look down your right arm, and your right hand and brake lever should be inside white line, rather than over it.

By riding farther away from the white line or road edge, you can:
  • ride more relaxed and confident, knowing you have good surface on both sides of your wheel.
  • look further down the road, and make more gradual adjustments for road hazards.
  • claim more of the lane to be a part of traffic.

One further note; it is extremely hazardous when a rider with a white line fixation is in the middle of a pace line. Along with hazards mentioned above, this greatly increases the chance of overlapping wheels, and erratic breaks in the pace. All riders in a paceline should be in the same line, and that line should be well clear of the edge of the road.

Friday, September 12, 2014

2014: 1,000 feet per minute

My Connect the Dots Tour - Day 1, Columbia, Mo. to Hermann, MO.  August 2014

After all the planning and preparation, it was finally time to hit the road.
Ready to Roll - DALMAC Jersey
My bike was in my mother-in-law’s garage, loaded with my final selection of clothing and gear. The three of us shared a breakfast, and I made sure all my non-touring luggage was packed for Linda, who would be driving home at the end of the week. I said my goodbye’s to Mrs. Brown, who was still worried I was taking on too much of a challenge. Then after a few pictures,  Linda and I got on our bikes and rode out of the driveway, starting on a very warm, sunny morning.

It was a short 3 miles to the MKT Spur trail head in downtown Columbia. We were able to take bike paths and bike lanes all the way there, as Columbia is working very hard to be a Bike Friendly city. The first mile of the trail was paved, and then it became crushed limestone. Linda rode a few more miles with me, and then we paused, said our goodbye’s and I was on my own.

The spur leaving Columbia actually heads south
Linda escorts me thru a cut on the Columbia Spur
and west, crossing a number of small creeks, and passing through some minor rock cuttings, each just a few dozen feet above the trail. Many of the crossings were on old iron rail road bridges, and in a few places tubes take the trail under the busier roads. The grade is very mild, with just a few levee crossings as you pass through farm fields.

Occasionally I had to watch for long horizontal cracks in the limestone trail, where is it sliding off the original raised railbed, and there were a few soft spots where a thin layer of fine crushed limestone was loose. But for the most part it was smooth riding at a steady 11-13 miles per hour.

Trail Hazard 
I finally hit the trail head at McBaine, and I had my first surprise; the first warning sign that the trail was closed. At the same time, I realized Linda had been trying to call me. I checked in with her, and she had met a pair of riders from Europe, headed back into Columbia, who had found the same barrier while riding west to east, and decided ride back toward Columbia to find a way to around the closure.

This reaffirmed one thing I had known in advance about the Katy; current information is very difficult to find. Oddly enough, Missouri State Parks does not consider it necessary to post detours for significant closures. The lack of detour information is unfortunate for the couple from Europe, who did not realize the cross road at the closure was Route K, the first leg of a faded, hand-written detour description a “local” had posted on the barrier.

Another challenge to navigating the Katy is the private “Katy Trail” website ( is at least 5 years out of date; yet if you Google “Katy Trail”, it is one of the first sites listed. Even the Missouri Parks information site is at least a year or two out of date with regards facilities on or near the trail. (Too it’s credit, does have a handy interactive map feature for determing distances between points along the trail.)

Why is no detour posted?
Don’t get me wrong, the Katy Trail is a great riding experience for day trippers driving to trailheads from cities and major towns like Columbia, Booneville or Jefferson City. But if you are trying to use the Katy Trail for point-to-point travel, the reality is you might as well be on the Appalachian Trail. The small river and railroad towns along the way have all faded with time, offering few open businesses, and those will have erratic open days and hours. Many of the official trail heads do not even offer a source of water. My decision to start the day with over a gallon water and GatorAde on board had been a good call.

When I hit that closure, it was pretty obvious I had at least an hour of detour time to move 4-5 miles up the trail. And the handwritten note also mentioned that much of the detour was poor condition gravel road. If that was the case, I might as well skip the Katy and head overland to my alternate North route. So I flipped a mental coin, and about 20 minutes later, I was east of the trail closure. During that 4 miles, I didn’t see a workman, no bridge was out, and there was no interruption in the trail. The word pointless came to mind as I moved along.

First sight of the river, near Cooper's Landing
Compared to pavement, riding on crushed limestone is noisy, and it slows your pace. As the morning went on, I was averaging between 11 and 13 miles per hour. Doing some math in my head, it came to roughly 1,000 feet per minute, or 2 bike lengths a second. Every 4 to 5 minutes or so, I would count down another mile marker, and the surroundings would change almost at random.

You would be riding along a corn or bean field for a few minutes, and then a bluff would be on your left, and river would would come within feet of the trail. Or you could be in a tunnel of trees, with a hint of water to your right, and peeks at rock walls through a tangle of vines and branches. And then over the next few minutes, the river would push away from the trail, sometimes with a dry or soggy slough, or into another corn field reaching far to the south, where the bluffs and rolling hills on the south bank of the river were lost in haze.

The old bank in Tebbetts, Jesse James hid nearby.
A town sign would come into view, sometimes followed by a line of buildings and an abandoned cement elevator, all along a street a paralleling the old rail bed. But sometimes all that came after the town sign would be a gravel road crossing the trail, the only indication you had been through the town was the back of an east facing town sign on the north side of the trail, passed a minute or two later, after another 1,000 feet or so. Easley, Cooper’s Landing, Wilton, Hartsburg, Claysville, all rolled past at 1,000 feet per minute.

Just before Wilton, I found another bridge closure, but this one had a short marked detour on a paved road. It came at the price of a steep 1/8th of mile climb over the bluff that guided a creek into Wilton. I was up and over that, then back on the trail after less than a mile on pavement. Passing through Wilton I met a couple on bikes, pulling a kid trailer with no kid, but filled with camping gear, also headed east. They had left Boonville early in the morning, and had also encountered the McBaine closure. They had taken the handwritten detour, the husband talking the wife out of riding around the barricades, so I may have started a family argument. We chuckled, wished each other luck, and I rode on.

As I continued east the trail was now miles north and west of the river, and the Missouri state capitol, Jefferson City slowly climbed out of a hazy cornfield. The trail crosses under highway 63 a few miles north of Jefferson City (Jeff City to anyone from Missouri), and again, there was no sign of any open business within miles of the trail head. Fortunately, there was a working restroom with running water, and I was able to top off my Camelbak.

Wainwright and Tebbetts were the next two near ghost towns, In Tebbetts, the one stone building on the main street was an old bank building that looked old enough to be from the Civil War. Robbed by Jesse James, I thought to myself in jest. And there at the historic summary under the trailhead canopy was a bit of trivia about the the polite young stranger who wintered in Tebbetts after the Civil War, sang in the church choir, and was rumored to have been Mr. Howard.

It was finally at Mokane, after 57 miles, that I found the first open store within site of the trail. Outside were a half dozen dusty bikes, and inside were the half dozen, dusty, 20-something guys riding them, all working their way though snacks and Gatorade. I bought myself two quarts of Gatorade, and then split a bag of ice with them after filling my CamelBak. They shared a gallon of water they had purchased.

Bluff near Rhineland, MO
I learned they had first ridden the Katy together as college freshmen, and this was their 4th annual gathering. They were on a mix of road and mountain bikes, and carrying clothing, but not camping. They were headed toward McKittrick and a bed and breakfast overnight, but were running late due to a number of flat tires earlier in the day. We left Mokane together and chatted for a few miles, but we soon separated, as they fell into very different paces and would stop to regroup.

Steedman was the next town up, with no store but an active tavern. It was late in the afternoon, and I kept heading east, grazing through the remainder of the grapes, apples and Clif bars I had started out with. That, along with 3 quarts of Gatorade, would be my meal for the day. I was already falling into my old bachelor habit of lunch-less touring.

Portland came up next, and this was a bit of history for Linda and I. In 1980, on a short 3-day tour out of Columbia, Linda and I had "jungle camped" here on the river bank, years before there was a Katy. Portland is now is now trail access point, and the trees we had tented between had survived the floods of 1993, but it was otherwise unchanged. I rolled on for another hour through Bluffton, and Rhineland, and finally passed under Route 19, the road to Hermann, and went on a quarter mile to McKittrick, the next town on the trail.

Sun setting from the Hermann bridge.
McKittrick had no open store, and there was no campground (again) despite the camping icon. I had about 45 minutes of daylight left, so I rolled back to Route 19, and rode the 3 miles into Hermann, crossing the Missouri River in the process. After a stop on the bridge for a sunset picture, Dan Henry’s guided me directly to the city park and campground, and after 88 miles for my first day, I began to setup camp.

I was a bike tourist again.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2014: 10 things that worked great on my latest tour

I am still going over my tour notes, but I wanted to cover 10 things that worked great for me on my most recent bicycle tour from Missouri to Indiana. Some were new, some were old, and one was borrowed, and they all contributed to a great experience and relatively problem free tour.

1) Continental Gatorskin Tires (700x28)
Most of the first 160 miles of this ride were on crushed limestone of the Katy Trail, so I had given a lot of thought to what tires to use. I had looked at the Continental Tour Rides, but they just seemed too heavy, at twice the weight of the Gatorskin.  I also had to consider that over 300 miles of the ride was going to be on pavement. So I went with the wire bead Gatorskin, and did not regret it. I had two pinch flats on the second day, first after I hit a rut hard, and the second, less than 5 miles later was because I didn’t inflate the tire enough with my mini-pump.  Lesson learned, and more about that later.

Handling and traction were not an issue on crushed limestone, even in the soft spots, and once past the Katy, the Gatorskins really shined on pavement. I was a little gunshy over bumps after the flats, but was then able to borrow a floor pump every couple of days over the rest of trip. (Surprisingly, it was the state of Illinois secondary roads that had me considering a more substantial adventure bike tire and wheel combo.)

2) Showers Pass Elite Jacket
I've had my Elite Jacket for a couple of seasons now, and specifically bought this heavier, technical jacket for touring. It met every expectation, as I encountered much cooler and wetter weather than I expected on mid-August ride. You can wear it in a campground in confidence, and the venting worked great while riding in damp, overcast, 65-70 degree mornings and late afternoons.
Breakfast near Effingham, Illinois. 

3) Arkel CamLocks (update to my Eclipse Panniers)
Our 1980’s Eclipse panniers started as the original “slide” mounts, but in the late ‘80’s, I changed them to a DIY copy of the hook & strap-secured system used by Bruce Gordon’s Needleworks bags. Though very secure, that choice later proved to be troublesome in moving the bags to different racks. So I picked up two sets of Arkel’s CamLocks, and breathed a few mores seasons of life into these classic bags. And after the first two days of rain, two of frozen pocket zippers were even sliding.

4) CamelBak Hydration - Rouge pack and Podium Big Chill Bottles
The CamelBak was great for cold water on demand and hands free drinking on busier roads and soft sections of trail. And 70 oz of water, plus two 25 oz bottles was very handy on the long vacant stretches of the Katy and rural Illinois. I have to rave again about the ability of these bottles to keep Gatorade drinkable after a couple hours. I was grazing through 4-6 bottles a day, (along with a 70 oz CamelBak). The combination made it easy to stay hydrated, and the pack was also a convenient source of water for camp meals.

Camped behind a phone substation in Brussels, Illinois.

5) REI Passage II tent
My Passage II tent was on its first extended test, and it passed in flying colors. Yes, it is supposed to be two person, but it gave me a good mix of elbow room and gear in reach all night. The double doors and vestibules were great for all my soaked gear that couldn’t come inside. Set-up and take-down were fast, and I stayed dry through a night of thunderstorms. Looking forward to many more nights on the road with this tent.

6) REI AirRail 1.5” Self Inflating Pad
I used to save weight with ¾ length pad, but I have been spoiled by the full length pad used on my recent supported tours. The AirRail was comfortable, easy to inflate and packed quickly. Just need to find a pillow that is as nice.

7) JetBoil stove.
I borrowed a JetBoil canister stove at the last minute, and now I want my own. The speed and convenience were amazing. I had been skeptical of backpacking meals for bike camping before this trip, and glad I thought outside box to bring this stove, and the meals along.

This was a Google maps BICYCLE choice in eastern Illinois.

8) Google Maps for iPhone
Once I kept my iPhone charged, the Google Maps app, and bicycle option worked great. Out of the 300 miles I was dependent on it, there were only two minor miscues, and there was a enough detail in the surrounding maps to correct for those. (Sorry Apple, but you need a bike option.) My only complaint was the confusing interface when you want step back from navigation to overview; there was not an easy way to do this in the current version.

9) Handbuilt wheels
In 1988, I built up my self a set of touring wheels around some Phil Wood hubs, using DT 2mm stainless steel spokes, laced 3-cross, into 36-hole, Trek Matrix Box rims. These wheels have at least 10,000 miles on them already. They were still true at the end of this trip. Maybe that is sign of overkill in design, but I can live with that!

Done with Illinois near Dana, Indiana

10) Assenmacher Touring Bike (1980). 
 I have written about the origins of my custom built touring bike before. This was the most challenging ride I have had chance to use it on, and I still love this bike. The first couple of days of this trip, I thought the handling was off, but when I made some adjustments to how I was loading the rear rack, the handling tightened up wonderfully, even in a standing climb. Thanks, Matt!

(I hope you will like The Ride So Far on Facebook.)