CategoriesAdventuresFitness

COVID-19 Quarantine is Getting People Outdoors. But There’s a Problem.

COVID-19 is driving a lot of people outdoors to find some relief from the quarantine. On the surface, that’s a good thing.

But a lot of these people discovering (or rediscovering) the outdoors are going to wind up injured, sick or worse. I went out for a ride to scout the Goldfield Mountains near Apache Junction, Ariz., yesterday. I’d never seen such long lines to park at a trailhead.

While it was initially refreshing to see, I had some encounters with other trail users that show that the COVID-19 outdoor boom is going to have serious repercussions.

This is important right now because our healthcare system is already working itself to death. The last thing anyone needs is your ass in an emergency room for reasons that are 100 percent preventable.

Lack of Preparation Can Kill

During the last few minutes of my ride, a couple in their 50s flagged me down.

They’d wandered out of the park boundary on what they’d planned to be a “five minute hike” (insert face-palm here). No water, no sunscreen, no snacks.

covid-19 outdoors
These two were lost, and they didn’t have a drop of water.

The wife was calm as could be. The dude was losing his shit (they were literally less than a half mile from their car). He was getting dizzy so he sat down – and I actually had to tell him to get in the shade. He also said “can anyone come and get us?“

This was a singletrack trail, so that wasn’t possible. He also kept saying he didn’t think the directions I gave him were right – my dude, only one of us is lost.

I gave him some gels and electrolyte powder (his response was “what is it?“). I also made him put on some sunscreen.

Wildlife is Nothing to Mess With

Spring in the desert means one thing to me: rattlesnakes.

I’m sure the guy wandering off-trail in tall grass would disagree. Rattlesnakes were clearly the furthest thing from his mind.

Here’s the thing: Rattlers love tall grass. Fortunately, they really don’t want to bite people. That’s a last resort. But stepping too close to them is their definition of last resort.

And a good way to step too close to them is to not see them, especially in areas where they like to hide.

This guy was a rattlesnake bite waiting to happen. And he probably has no idea what to do if he gets bitten by a rattlesnake.

How to Stay Safe Outdoors During the COVID-19 Quarantine

I don’t want people to stay indoors during the quarantine. This is a great time to rediscover the outdoors for recreation and fitness. But I don’t want any of you to do anything stupid. Like get yourself killed (dehydration and rattlesnake bites are awful ways to die).

covid-19 outdoors

These are some basic by no means comprehensive tips:

  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Carry water with you at all times. I recommend no less than a gallon per person.
  • Carry some form of electrolytes. Exertion and heat will make you sweat, and you need sodium, magnesium and potassium to keep your body working. I recommend Nuun tablets.
  • Bring a snack. Calories matter.
  • Screen yourself from the sun. Hats, sunscreens and long sleeves are the way. I know long sleeves seem counterintuitive. But loose-fighting, lightweight fabrics keep you cool and provide sun protection.
  • Use some sort of a GPS device, and carry a map, too.
  • Stay calm if things start going pear-shaped. Fear is the mind killer.
  • Finally, use the outdoors within your means. If you’ve been sitting on the couch for the last decade, don’t make your first hike an epic adventure. Work up to the bigger stuff.


I could add a lot of things, like first aid kits, a decent fixed-blade knife, etc. But none of that does any good unless you know how to use it.

Know How to Encounter Other People

It’s inevitable that you’re going to run into other people while you enjoy the outdoors during the Coronavirus quarantine. See keep something else in mind: Be ready to encounter others. Stay to the right whenever possible. Don’t spread your party out across the entire trail.

covid-19 outdoors
Bad trail manners on display. Stay to the right whenever possible. And travel single-file to hide your numbers

Treat it like a road. Allow others to pass you, whether they’re going faster in the same direction or headed the other way. Model this behavior for your kids, too. They’ll act on the trails just like you do. So be safe and courteous.

CategoriesFitness

Where to Ride on the Grand Canalscape Bike Path

My local news outlets recently had a bunch of headlines about the Grand Canalscape bike path. Most were breathlessly impressed by a bike/pedestrian lane that would stretch “12 miles from Tempe to the I-17.”

I’d bet that not a single one of the journalists rode the entire length on a bike. I honestly wouldn’t expect them to. What I wouldn’t mind, though, is if they interviewed a wide swath of users. That would range from people using a bikeshare for a mile to someone working the Grand Canalscape into a larger ride, maybe even in combination with the Rio Salado bike path.

I’m part of that latter group. So I have the info you couldn’t get from the news stories.

Part of a Huge Canal Network

I’ll repeat a key talking point: Phoenix has tons of miles of canals dating back to the days of the Hohokam civilization. They could be much more than they are today, which amounts to unsightly watery alleys.


Back in the old days, huge shade trees lined the canals. Jon Talton correctly points this out and laments the loss. I get it.

Right now, utilities are in charge of the canals — mainly Salt River Project. There are rules about how much unobstructed access utility crews require.

Trees cut into that, which is especially critical in skinner sections of the path.

Obviously, the beautiful tree canopy is history. There’s no bringing it back.

The question is — what’s the best way to use it now? The Grand Canalscape bike path sure beats letting the canal languish.

Phoenix Cyclists are Hungry for Infrastructure

The Phoenix area is a horrible, horrible place to ride a bike near a road (our mountain bike trails are pretty damn fine, though).

Experienced cyclists are scared to become the next Rob Dollar. Authorities have little appetite to protect us, either proactively with bike infrastructure or with arrests and judgments that fit the circumstances; one often-repeated line is “If you want to get away with murder, use a car.”

And make your victim a cyclist.

grand canalscape bike path
Here is the Grand Canalscape under construction in 2018.

The plethora of canals presents a nice option for separating bikes and cars. If you can’t make the drivers civilized, get cyclists away from them, right? Tucson showed what’s possible with the 130-mile length of The Loop. Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix have done an alright job with the Rio Salado bike path.

The Arizona Canal is pretty solid, especially since it offers quite a few underpasses for cyclists, runners, walkers, scooters and whatnot.

The Time is Ripe for Grand Canalscape Bike Path

So how was the ride?

grand canalscape bike path
Other people getting out for a ride on the Grand Canalscape.

Honestly, the Grand Canalscape bike path is a mediocre ride if you plan to cover the entire distance.

It’s as good as it can be, but it has some inherent flaws that prevent it from being world-class cycling infrastructure:

  • It’s at street grade with no underpasses. That means traffic signals will stop you often.
  • Speaking of traffic signals, some of them are interminably long.
  • Since the canal cuts through the city largely at a diagonal, you’ll run into even more traffic signals.
  • Drivers are either confused by the HAWK signals at the crossings, or they just don’t give a crap. I saw many blow right through when cyclists and pedestrians had the right of way.
  • There are no restrooms or water fountains. My bet is that officials were worried about use and abuse from the homeless. Well, address that situation better and the problem goes away, right?
  • There’s one particularly big miss: The Grand Canalscape bike path should be directionally striped like a road. There are way too many people meandering in the wrong direction. Some particularly incompetent riders can’t even seem to stay on one side. At least striping it gives the rest of us a leg to stand on when we say “stay on your side.”
  • If you’re trying to connect to the Rio Salado bike path, forget it. There doesn’t seem to be any logical, safe way to accomplish that at this point. I will keep hunting for it and update this post if I find a good way.
  • There are few good connections to any good locations or cycling infrastructure, actually. This needs to be a priority with both signage and helpful, obvious ways to connect bike lanes to each other.

Pavement, Amenities and the General Vibe

The pavement is perfect out in the east. I favor rubberized asphalt, but whatever this surface is, it’s pretty nice. It’s seamed concrete, but without the bumpity-bump I associate with this sort of surface.

The seams and the bump get more pronounced as you go west.

grand canalscape bike path
Here’s a driver blowing right through a signaled crossing. Note the Walk signal.

There are also no easy-to-see amenities. If you ride the Arizona Canal, you have OHSO Brewery. They’ve rolled out the welcome mat for cyclists.

The Grand Canalscape desperately needs amenities like this. A nearby espresso shop (or even an espresso food truck) would go over well.
Phoenix needs to encourage “a scene” for lack of a better word to coalesce around the canal. Food, beverages, bathrooms, bike shops — any combination of them would be brilliant.

How to Ride the Grand Canalscape Bike Path

The ride begins in the east (as of March 2020) on 56th Street south of Washington Street. From there, it goes northwest before hooking back to the southwest.
On the west side, the pavement ends at Fairmount and 22nd Avenue. It continues unpaved and ends with an exasperated sigh at the I-17 frontage road.

grand canalscape bike path
The Grand Canalscape ends with a whimper at I-17.

The nicest bits are between 7th Street and 7th Avenue. There are some coooooool homes around the canal in that area.

The worst is currently between 32nd and 16th Streets. 24th Street was entirely closed to cyclists, and 16th Street and Indian School don’t have signalized crossings.

What’s the Best Bike for a Grand Canalscape Ride?

Grand Canalscape is great for just about any bike except maybe traditional road bikes using old-school 23c tires pumped to 120 PSI.

There are still enough choppy parts and the western part has enough bumps in the seams that more-forgiving tire sizes and air pressures will make it a better experience.

grand canalscape bike path
The perfect bike for riding the Grand Canalscape bike path, no matter how short or how long your ride will be.

Bike shares, mountain bikes, gravel bikes? All perfect. Obviously, some riders will do better on bikes built for the ride they’re doing. I wouldn’t want to ride more than a few miles on a bike share just because the position is so weird.

I also wonder what the rules are for powered. If someone gets on the Grand Canalscape with a bike retrofitted with a gas motor, is that legal? And which types of electric bikes are OK?

Bottom Line

The Grand Canal just has too many inherent flaws to make the Grand Canalscape bike path anything special.

No matter how many espresso carts, public art, bike shops or water fountains line the route, it will always have a herky-jerky stop-start nature that drives long-distance cyclists crazy.

grand canalscape bike path
Some parts get pretty industrial, but that’s OK.

But for local commuters and casual cyclists? That’s another story. They should love it. I know it lacks any shade, but that’s honestly OK for short rides. This could get a few cars off the road, and that’s no small matter.

Let’s just hope that better cycling infrastructure like the Arizona Canal and the Rio Salado bike path get the attention they deserve. Those are the real game-changers for serious local cyclists.

And again, I have to credit The Loop as Arizona’s number-one example of prime cycling infrastructure.

CategoriesGear

I Rode a Singlespeed for 3 Years. Then I Tried Full Suspension Again.

I’ve been riding a singlespeed mountain bike for the last three years. During that time, my 2011 Santa Cruz Superlight sat in the garage doing absolutely nothing.

A recent ride with a friend made me wonder what would happen if I:

  • Pulled the Santa Cruz out of deep storage and ran a lap on my local bike/equipment test track.
  • Rode the same on a modern slack-angled full-suspension bike.

During the ride with my friend, I noticed our bikes were the exact opposite from each other: My Domahidy Ti belt-drive bike has fairly traditional geometry. My friend’s bike was carbon fiber with barely any stem to speak of — and a generous amount of travel. I noticed where our bikes excelled and fell short (see the video for some of the fun we had).

And I got curious.

Hardtail Versus Full Suspension for a Day

I topped the Superlight’s tires off with some Stan’s sealant and checked the shock air pressure. Then, it was time to ride.

I’ve been on the Domahidy 29er since I’ve been using Strava heavily. I have a ton of data on it from my local trails. So this would be a perfect test for my Superlight.

I felt like the more slippery climbs were a bit easier on it. I definitely felt faster on one particular rocky descent.

new mountain bike
My Superlight when it was still considered a modern bike instead of a throwback.

Overall, the Superlight didn’t feel as stable or as quick to handle as the Domahidy. That titanium hardtail holds its speed and accelerates with tons of punch.

And there I was thinking about gears again. Especially cumbersome with a 3X9 system versus the modern 1X systems. With a singlespeed, all my concentration is on picking the line and braking.

Enough Feelings – What About the Data?

My Strava times shocked my gizzard. The Superlight was nowhere near as fast on this ride as my top times on the singlespeed (which is also slightly undergeared). It was 52 seconds slower over my nearly 4-mile lap.

That rocky downhill I mentioned? It tied my typical time on the singlespeed hardtail versus full suspension. No faster even over chop and small drops.

I felt like I was working hard, but not worked over (I’d ridden 40 miles on my road-plus bike the day before).

This bears mentioning: I admit that I’m kind of a chicken. My priority is to finish every ride in one piece. So I ride in control, more Iceman than Maverick.

What I Expected

My prediction was that the Superlight would make me noticeably faster. Maybe by as much as a minute.

hardtail versus full suspension

I expected its top-end speed and ability to crunch over some of the rocky sections to win the day — even against the Domahidy’s efficiency.

What about weight? I have no idea what either bike weighs. But the Santa Cruz Superlight has always been a light-ish full suspension bike. Certainly lighter than the slack dropper-equipped trail bikes of today.

What I didn’t expect was for the longer 29er to carve corners so much better and to give up next to nothing to the Superlight in rocky downhill bits. I’m at a loss for words.

There are still question marks with the singlespeed hardtail versus full suspension issue: How would I do riding the Santa Cruz on long rides, like the Fat Tire 40 or the 50-mile Tour of the White Mountains? (The answer to that: If it rains beforehand, the belt drive singlespeed will straight-up murder every other bike I could pick. The mud up there can change the game.)

hardtail versus full suspension
This bike is unstoppable, especially in wet weather.

What Next for Hardtail Versus Full Suspension?

I’m eager to repeat this experiment with a modern bike. Rage Cycles in Scottsdale is right near me, and they have a Santa Cruz demo coming up. I’ll have to throw my computer on there and give it a whirl. [UPDATE: The demo got canceled because of COVID-19. I’m still trying to find the time, place and bike to rent to put this to the test.]

I may also rent a bike to test somewhere like McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Long Loop there is currently in chewed-up condition. During the Cactus Cup and Frenzy Hills races, I got rattled pretty hard back there.

I’ll update this post with more info and data when I have something to add — I hope that’s soon!