CategoriesFitnessAdventures

Recap: 2020 Aravaipa Jangover Ride

The answer is the Aravaipa Jangover Ride. The question is, what race starts just a few hours after a long work week and goes to the wee hours of the morning?

I registered for the 6-hour solo category of the Jangover Ride after lunch on the day of. That’s right. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. I could’ve also registered for a single 15-mile lap (too short), a 12-hour (too long, but there are also quad categories in addition to the solo), or a duo 6-hour (not for me). There was no separate solo class, though.

jangover ride
Ready to ride

I’ve been riding a lot this year thanks go the coronavirus, so I knew I’d be fairly decent compared to previous versions of myself. I hadn’t been on my mountain since June, either.

Anyway, here are a few random thoughts and observations about the 2020 Jangover Ride.

Good Course – No Surprises

The Jangover Ride uses the well-known, 15-mile Pemberton Loop at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

I consider this perfect for a few reasons: First, 15 miles is a nice chunk of trail. You won’t wind up riding it so many times that it’ll make you stir-crazy with boredom.

It’s also a well-maintained trail that has that elusive quality known as “flow.” It doesn’t feel like you’re constantly fighting the trail. There are tricky bits that require your attention, but it’s far from super-technical.

And there are bits where you can just let it all hang out. It’s a good time on a mountain bike.

sears fire
I tried to get a decent photo of the Sears Fire, but they were all meh. I’m pretty sure Jamil from Aravaipa took this one since it was on their Facebook page.

Everything is on Fire … Again

The Sears Fire started earlier in the day. Riders could see the flames on every lap, which made an interesting if unfortunate backdrop.

Also, a water main at the park somehow broke. That meant the bathrooms were out of commission. Fortunately, the Aravaipa crew had plenty of drinking water plus Port-a-Johns.

Aravaipa Jangover Ride = Stellar Amenities

This was my second Aravaipa ride, and it was again a clinic in how to provide for riders.

They had a solid selection of food, though I stuck mostly to my own stash of solid foods. But I was grateful for the Heed electrolyte mix (to supplement my Gnarly Hydrate mix and Nuun mix), the cold water and the pickles/pickle juice. I could’ve grabbed cookies, watermelon, oranges and even a cooked-to-order quesadilla had I been so inclined. There were two aid stations – one at the start/finish line and one at the famous Jackass Junction that locals love so much.

jangover ride
stopping for fuel

It wasn’t quite as marvelous a spread as the Frenzy Hills race, but it exceeded my expectations for a race in the Covid era.

For non-food amenities, I appreciated the ample number of outlets and USB ports for charging lights. That’s invaluable!

Laid-Back and Friendly

Yet again, Aravaipa provided a friendly quality to an event. They ran out of t-shirts my size (no surprise, I was a last-minute entry), But they still offered to send me one. That’s exceptionally gracious.

They also texted me about moving my start time earlier, and even allowed me to grab a time I liked even better than my original start time.

The riders were all very cool, as well. The super-fast dudes passed safely and where appropriate. The slower people made room when needed. Riders chatted before the event and during laps.

It all just adds up to a good experience.

The start/finish area had tunes playing the entire time – though I’d recommend they start making it a tradition to play “Two Minutes to Midnight” starting at 11:58pm!

Desert Night Riding is Awesome

I don’t often ride at night. But desert night riding is something everyone should experience, especially in the summer.

What I like so much are the weird fluctuations in temperature. Sometimes, you’ll climb out of a ravine and the temperature will jump 10 degrees. Other times, you’ll drop a few feet along a wash and the temperature will plunge in seconds.

And you’ll see all sorts of desert critters – I saw jackrabbits and coyotes. I’ve seen plenty of snakes, tarantulas and scorpions on the Pemberton, too.

Plus the stars came out in full force once the moon set.

How I did at the 2020 Jangover Ride

I figured three laps would be a guarantee. I expected that I’d do two laps back to back, with both of those being at about the same speed. I expected my third lap to be considerably slower, and that I wouldn’t even want a fourth lap.

Well, I did those two laps and stopped for a break. I fought off a little cramp in my left hamstring with help from pickle juice, lots of electrolytes and some protein gel I got at Sprout’s.

I did feel the effect of going racing right after a long work week, and I’d been up since 5am. So I stretched out in the back of my RAV for a quick rest. That was probably a smart move, ultimately, because my third lap was remarkably consistent with the other two. My bike handling was slightly sloppier – possibly because I was having a lot of fun and just hammering a bit harder in the downhill bits.

jangover ride
Getting ready for another lap. Party on, Garth!

I had more than enough left in my legs for a fourth lap. Taking that lap, though, meant I’d be virtually useless the next day. So I packed it in after three.

A few things I’ll do differently next time: Take a half-day off to get some pre-race sleep, and also set my camp up along the route to make my battery and water bottle switches faster. I also had a problem with my helmet light ejecting itself from its mount just minutes into the first lap, which cost me some time. I’ll need to figure out what’s up with that.

The Lighting Situation

My main light was an older Nightrider with a lithium-ion battery rebuilt by the super-awesome people at MTO Battery. My backup light was an Exposure Lights Race from Bicycle Haus.

I used the low mode of the Nightrider for the climbing parts of the lap before going to medium for the downhill. The Exposure Race was on some kind of interesting adaptive mode that used a dim setting for climbing, then brightened up as my speed increased. I put each on the charger after every lap.

Pro tip on the Exposure: It charges way faster using a USB3 port. If you have a laptop computer with a USB3 port, bring it for charging just in case. I also mounted it under my handlebar, so I had to cut away a bit of my number plate.

Oh, that other backup light on my helmet that fell off? That was one of my old MagicShine lights from like 2010. That thing sucks.There’s a reason why people who bought then started calling them TragicShine. I don’t know if the new ones are just as bad – but I’d be shocked if you didn’t wind up needing the batteries rebuilt.

Final Thoughts on the 2020 Aravaipa Jangover Ride

12/10, would do again.

via Gfycat

CategoriesFitnessGearTastes

Testing the SOS Hydration Mix

Hydration is the difference between a good ride and a low-down, cramp-filled, no-good sufferfest that will make you regret ever getting on a bicycle (or running, or kayaking, or whatever it is that you do). I largely have my regimen set, but I’m always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing. That’s why I was excited when SOS Hydration contacted me about testing their electrolyte mixes.

SOS Hydration sent me a sampler of two each of several of their flavors, including berry, citrus, mango, coconut and watermelon.

Putting SOS Hydration to the Test

I took a little time to crunch the numbers to try getting the liquid-to-’letctrolytes ratio just right.

My typical loadout for a hot summer ride is three bottles:

  • One 20-ounce one (exactly like the nice one SOS Hydration sent me) with a single Trace Minerals Magnesium tab in it. That 4-gram tablet contains 150mg of magnesium – which I’ve discovered is critical for me – along with 175 mg of sodium and not much else.
  • Two 25-ounce bottles each packing 1 Trace Minerals magnesium tablet and a Nuun Hydration Sport tablet.

To be somewhere in the ballpark with SOS Hydration, I’d need 1 5-gram sachet in the small bottle and two in each of the big bottles. Let’s break down the comparison between my two big bottles of Justin Formula versus the SOS Hydration bottles. Oh, and I’m also going to list my go-to Gnarly Hydration mix that I use for particularly hot days and races. All serving sizes are 10 grams. (I’m only hitting the electrolytes that are most-important to me rather than the whole laundry list. I also don’t really care about calories.)

Magnesium Sodium Potassium Sugar
Justin Formula 175 475 150 4
Gnarly 96.6 250 100 7
SOS Hydration 67.2* 660 190 3

*I calculated based on two things: The USRDA of magnesium for guys my age, which is 420mg, and the SOS Hydration label that said that each sachet has 8% of the USRDA of magnesium. That comes out to 67.2mg for two sachets, well short of the 100mg claimed on the comparison page of the SOS website.

 

That’s not the only discrepancy I noticed. It also appears that the SOS is comparing two servings/sachets of their mix to one Nuun tablet. I didn’t check the numbers on Skratch, which is the only other legit hydration mix for athletes in the table. Pedialyte, Gatorade and coconut water don’t belong, and I’ve never heard of WHO ORS.

My main takeaway from the chart is that SOS is really salty, and it lags in magnesium. Through trial and error, I’ve found that potassium isn’t a difference-maker for me.

So how would it perform?

Testing on the First Ride

I had my three bottles all frozen the day before the ride, and my plans to use my road-plus Lynskey Urbano for a 50-miler want to hell. It had to get some attention from the good people at Bicycle Haus.

That meant it was time for a summer mountain bike ride! Hot weather makes desert mountain biking a real bear, and I had a nasty sunny morning to deal with.

I headed to South Mountain since it had been awhile since I’d been there. Right from the get-go, I could tell this ride would be pretty tough.

Aside from the heat, there are no casual, easy rides on a singlespeed hardtail. They’re demanding bikes that flog their riders pretty hard.

sos hydration test
There’s never an easy ride on this thing.

And I just wasn’t feeling it after the first five miles.

I slugged generously from my icewater-filled Camelbak and my two bottles of SOS Hydration mix. My first impression was that this is some seriously salty stuff. There was more than a hint of the Dead Sea to it.

I’d planned to ride at least 25 miles. But I turned around about 13 miles into it to head back to my car. I stopped at a trailhead to drink the rest of my SOS mix, then I refilled them with the sachets I’d brought along.

My ass was well whooped after this short ride. It was a nasty day, to be sure.

So I had to give SOS a more regular test.

Round 2 – Apples to Apples

With my Lynskey back in action the next weekend, I set my course for San Juan Point, which is about a 53-mile jaunt from my house. It’s also a ride I do often, so I have plenty of data to compare SOS and look for any major observations in performance.

I still hadn’t acclimated to the saltiness of the SOS Hydration mix.  But I did find that I liked the coconut and watermelon flavors best. I wonder if I like the watermelon so much because real watermelon contains big amounts of magnesium, which makes this guy happy.
sos hydration test
I had a pretty solid ride that day, especially since I’d bumped up my tire size from 32C to 38C. The big tires cost me very little time, only about 8 seconds slower than my personal best on a 3.1-mile climb. The very next weekend, though, I set a new PR that was 20 seconds faster with my usual mix.

As per usual, I drained my three bottles (all filled with SOS) and had to refill. Those were the last of my sachets, so I finished my ride with a bit of Gnarly mix. By that time, though, all the serious work was over.

Wrapping Up the SOS Hydration Test

It appears that SOS works pretty well. Aside from that one especially unpleasant mountain bike ride, it wasn’t a liability.

Still, I’m not a fan of the taste and I’d like to see more magnesium in it along with less salt.

I think it would also be a good idea for SOS to double-check the numbers in its comparison chart to make sure they’re measuring similar serving sizes. They should also include more serious competitors, like Gnarly, EFS and CarboRocket Half-Evil. That’s serious stuff that you’ll see at the big races.

And that might be the problem with SOS: It positions itself not just for sports nutrition, but also for hangovers and illnesses. Casting a wide net might cause some of the finer points of more-athletic use to get overlooked.

There’s also something else to note: There is literally no one-size-fits-all formula for every bike racer, marathoner or (insert sport here). This makes me extremely skeptical of their research claims. I know I said this a few sentences earlier, but it bears repeating: The same formula will not work for every single person.

We’re all individuals, and the ratios in SOS Hydration might be exactly what you need. If it fits you and you like the taste, you’re good to go.

CategoriesFitnessTravel

Bicycling in Southern California – A Quick Guide

Bicycling in Southern California is a real treat, especially if you’re from the desert like I am. Even in June, you can count on mild temperatures, decent cycling infrastructure and some hilly routes to help burn more calories.

If you’re into bicycling, Encinitas is a nice place to get a taste of bicycling in Southern California. It’s a bit removed from the craziness of San Diego, but close enough that you can still get there in about 20 minutes or so.

Here’s some advice for riding in and around Encinitas.

Bring Your Bike or Rent?

If you’re traveling, I recommend renting a bike. It’s one less thing you’ll have hanging off of your car or pack up for the airplane.

It’s also fun to try a different bike. You’ll appreciate your personal bike a little better, while also getting an idea of what other bikes do well.

I rented from RIDE Cyclery. It was $80 for 24 hours with a carbon-fiber Cannondale road bike with Shimano 105 on it.

bicycling in southern california

The staff was friendly and very accommodating. I actually forgot to bring my personal pedals from home, but they found a matching pair among all their spare parts. They also took time to nail my saddle height, plus they included a small seatbag with a few essentials for fixing flat tires.

I added my own computer bracket to track my ride. And some of the locals hanging around recommended some routes for me. RIDE Cyclery couldn’t have been better at helping me get the most out of bicycling in Southern California.

What’s Bicycling in Southern California Like?

If you’re visiting Encinitas, Carlsbad or any of these beach communities and plan to ride your bike, hit Strava. Look for people holding “King/Queen of the Mountains” records and check their routes.

Chances are, you’ll find some nice options for rides of all lengths. These can be the building block for planning your route. If you’re using a fancy GPS-based computer, you’ll also be able to create turn-by-turn instructions to navigate.

bicycling in southern california
Hanging out on the beach after a ride.

One of my routes took me down the Coast Highway to the north end of La Jolla. The route had some nice fast parts, along with a terrific climb as I headed south.

The Coast Highway can be a bit maddening when you start hitting four-way stops and stoplights. When you’re on the beach, you’ll also deal with a lot of people walking in the bike lanes, especially in the wrong direction.

El Camino Real is also a great street to ride on. I got stopped at traffic lights while riding early on a Sunday morning. But traffic was light and most of the lanes were in decent shape. Also, nice views and plenty of rolling terrain and curves. Good fun!

There’s an interactive bike lane map for the area. It’s a valuable resource for planning a ride in the San Diego area.

California Bike Culture

In Arizona, when you pass riders in the opposite direction, you give a nod or a wave. Not so much in California.

That could be because there’s so damn many riders. If you acknowledged them all, that’s pretty much what you’d be doing the entire ride. It’s actually nice to see that many people riding.

There’s also widely varied opinions about how to handle stop signs, especially when there are no cars around.

Most of the drivers were also relatively civilized, so that was pretty good.

On the down side, more than a few streets had “sharrows,” those infernal arrows that indicate that bikes can use the same lanes as cars. Every cyclist or cycling advocate I know find these sketchy. Give me a good, dedicated bike lane any day.

What About After the Ride?

To me, beer and biking just go together.

The closest spot to get a beer is at the Modern Times tasting room. They have a huge selection of fine Modern Times beers, including many I couldn’t ever access back in Arizona. They also had their social distancing game dialed in. The food seemed to be all vegetarian (but still good).

bicycling in southern california

If you want to go further afield, I recommend Arcana Brewing. They had a delicious single-hop ale called Mosaic Monster that was perfect; moasic hops are among my favorite (along with amarillo, galaxy, simcoe, and cascade). Another standout was a fruited braggot. It’s one of those places that changes its lineup often, so you won’t always find the same selection. It appears they are BYO for food, too.

So that’s what you need to know about bicycling in Southern California. I recommend Encinitas rather than Carlsbad as your base, just for proximity to Modern Times and the great people at RIDE Cyclery.

CategoriesFitness

It’s hot. Let’s talk about summer hydration.

It’s not even June yet, and I’m already doing my usual summer hydration stuff when I exercise. Beating cramps and the dreaded post-exercise headache is a huge undertaking. For me, getting it right is the result of trial and error.

Not everybody is riding 60 miles in 100-degree heat. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from some hard-won knowledge to stay healthy or to stay alive. Let me share some of my secrets.

Summer Hydration Doesn’t Just Mean Drinking More Water

There’s more to hydration than water, especially when you’re sweating during the hotter months. Sweat leaches your body of electrolytes. And that doesn’t just mean salt. Potassium and magnesium are two other important ones.

You will not function as well if you only replace the liquid and not the electrolytes.

But figuring out which ones isn’t always easy.

summer hydration

What to Know About Sports Drinks

When I say “sports drinks,” I don’t mean Gatorade or anything else you can buy in a convenience store (though convenience stores have some helpful stuff, which we’ll get to later).

I’m talking about the good stuff. Skratch Labs, Nuun, Trace Minerals, Gnarly, Hammer Nutrition and even Sprouts are just a few brands I’ve used.

Over time, I learned what worked well for me. After a ride, you can see streaks of salt all over my face. The muscles in my calves would twitch like there was some sort of alien just waiting to burst out of my skin.

Apparently, that was a sign that I needed more magnesium. So magnesium became the number-one priority in my drinks.

summer hydration
Even with a wealth of hydration products on this table, I went for the Gnarly Hydrate formula.

Surprisingly, the sports drink industry doesn’t agree on a ratio of electrolytes. They’re all over the board. Almost all have some salt. Many skimp on magnesium. Others try to say the key is potassium, while skimping on nearly everything else.

I haven’t seen any sports drink maker say “If you have these problems, you need these electrolytes for summer hydration.”

This means you’re in for some trial and error, especially if you exercise hard in the heat.

My Summer Hydration Formula

I’m going to include magnesium per serving here since that’s a big deal to me.

For a typical hot-weather ride, I’ll freeze three bottles three-quarters full with a mixture of one Nuun tablet and a Trace Minerals Magnesium tablet. My ratio is one tablet of each per bottle. You can use any flavors you want, but the strawberry lemonade Nuun and orange Trace Minerals Magnesium tabs pair nicely. I find them both easily at Sprouts. That’s 42% USRDA of magnesium.

Electrolytes in tablet form are also handy – you can take a tube with you for longer efforts. My three bottles won’t get me even two hours in the dead of summer.

summer hydration
Image found at www.snstoman.wordpress.com. Be sure to visit them – but feel free to get a latte first!

For races or other special occasions, I’ll use Gnarly Hydrate. Their orange-pineapple flavor is packed with magnesium, as well as being one of the tastiest drinks out there. It’s pricey next to my other mix, as well as harder to find. I’ve always had to get it online. That’s 23% USRDA of magnesium.

I’ve also had good results with EFS mix, another big-time magnesium monster. My wife digs Carborocket Half Evil, which is especially good for people who don’t like to eat while exercising; it packs 333 calories per serving. Half of 666 … get it? These are 38% and 28% of USRDA of magnesium, respectively.

I still have to be careful: It’s possible to get carried away with magnesium. The result of overindulgence is pooping like a banshee for several hours.

Thoughts from the Grocery Store

Is there anything good you can get a grocery store for summer hydration?

 

summer hydration
This is not an actual photo of me, but this is my summer exercise spirit animal. (Found at whiskeyriff.com)

Not so much for during the ride. But there are some great post-ride options. Pickles are amazing for rehydration, and straight pickle juice is almost as trendy among endurance folks as bone broth is among CrossFit bros. Apparently, the real magic is in the vinegar, not even the salt. It’s also more appetizing than it sounds when you’re low on electrolytes.

Then there’s my dirty secret: V8 vegetable juice. The only race I ever won was a three-person, 12-hour relay. V8 was part of my between-laps fueling protocol (along with chocolate milk and Pepsi – it was not pleasant, but it worked for 25-year-old me).

That brings us to a far tastier option. Watermelons are full of magnesium. They also happen to be delicious and versatile. Use them to make your own sports drink, or just devour one after you exercise.

What If I Can’t Find Anything?

In my last blog post, you’ll remember that I mentioned the couple who went for a “5-minute hike” without any water? Don’t do that.

Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Bring something salty, too. Potato chips will do. Just don’t overlook doing something for summer hydration outdoors.

And remember that you may need to experiment to find what works for you, even under the best circumstances. The harder you exercise in the heat, the more likely you are to uncover some specific needs of your own. Plow on, ask for help, look things up on the Google machine (or DucKDuckGo, if you’re the paranoid type). You’ll figure it out!

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.

CategoriesFitnessAdventures

Review: Frenzy Hills Mountain Bike Race

The inaugural Frenzy Hills mountain bike race put on by Aravaipa Rides was one very cool event. Some of this was by design, and some was luck of the draw from Mother Nature.

In a weekend extravaganza of off-road activity, I raced my singlespeed in the 50-mile category. I think I may have been the only 50-mile SS rider to finish, albeit at the back of the entire pack for that distance. My wife did the 25k run the day before.

We both think Aravaipa did a great job with the events. I can’t speak to the running side of it, but I’m going to fill you in what I liked so much about the Frenzy Hills race. After that, I’ll share some thoughts about my day out that on some slippery, sloggy (is that a word?) trails.

frenzy hills
The clouds made my familiar mountains look even more epic.

Frenzy Hills, Not a Frenzied Vibe

This wasn’t a busy race. I drove up an hour before start and found a parking spot close to the start/finish. Everything was a laid-back affair.

I’d estimate there were only 20 people in the 50-mile ride. That spread us all out pretty well. I’m sure this made everyone more willing to banter when passing or getting passed.

Awesome Aid Stations

Most aid stations in most races are kind of crappy. I never count on them. I bring my own stuff.

But if Aravaipa keeps this up, I won’t have to do so for their races. The Frenzy Hills aid stations rocked. I only stopped at two of the three. But check this out: The best one, at Jackass Junction, had a spread that boggled my mind. My favorite items were the watermelon (for magnesium), the dates (for potassium), the energy gel package recycling box, and the delicious Gnarly pineapple electrolyte drink.

frenzy hills jackass junction
Taking a break at Jackass Junction

The station also had pickles, peanut M & Ms, cookies, bananas, and many other things that actually help in events like this. As I told the emcee at the finish line, it was almost like someone knew what they were doing. Love it!

Race Necessities Were Perfect

After a long race, pizza doesn’t just nourish the body. It nourishes the soul. Freak Brothers rejuvenated me with a sausage and pepperoni pie for the ages.

The venue also has bathrooms with showers, and Aravaipa provided a row of portable toilets.

Relive ‘Frenzy Hills 2019’

Another nice touch: There was also a bike stand with a floor pump. I may have seen a few tools, too. This is just nice. It reflects a staff that knows what riders need during a tough event, and the mental lapses that sometimes occur when packing up the gear.

My Day on the Bike

So, we’ve probably established that I’m not super-fast. This was only my third race on a singlespeed. It was also my longest SS ride.

Frenzy Hills was on trails I know well: Escondido, Pemberton, and Long Loop, primarily. I do pretty well on Escondido, generally. My bike rips up the back side of Pemberton because I can settle into a nice climbing groove. The Long Loop is pretty rocky, so my hardtail gives up some speed to the squishy bikes. But I like riding it, anyway. And it’s the perfect bike for sloppy conditions thanks to its belt drive.

Most of the trails were wet thanks to off-and-on rain. The clouds made the McDowell Mountains look a bit like The Remarkables in New Zealand (which you may have seen in Lord of the Rings). The rain would soak me, then stop and let me dry off. By the time I got comfortable, I’d get hosed again.

My times up Pemberton Climb were far slower than usual thanks to soggy ground sucking at my tires. Some of the downhill portions were perfect hero dirt. Portions of the Long Loop were a bit scary for me. There was enough mud in places to make my rear tire sink in a few times.

An Interesting Lesson

I definitely drink a lot less in cool weather. I was down to a single bottle about every hour and 45 minutes. And I still peed three times during the Frenzy Hills race!

So I wasn’t dehydrated. Still, a cramp tried to take hold of me about 45 miles in. The watermelon I ate must’ve kicked in: I rode through it, and it was completely gone not 5 minutes later. My lesson is that I needed a higher concentration of electrolytes to ride my best. The cooler weather means I need to drink less, maybe, but I still need my magnesium!

frenzy hills
Is a medal that isn’t made out of metal still a medal? Or am I just meddling with this wood medal?

Frenzy Hills Finale

This was a fun day to be racing, even if the rain made things a bit more difficult. It also added to the fun in a weird way.

CategoriesFitnessAdventures

Recap: The 2019 Tour de Scottsdale

This was the big year of my big comeback to the 70-mile course of the Tour de Scottsdale. That was the plan.

Back in 2016, I signed up for the Tour de Scottsdale after years away from riding road events. It started off good, but I got a lot of things wrong and wound up finishing in the 13 mph range. Terrible!

This year would be different

Leading up to the Tour de Scottsdale

Had there been a 70-mile course for this year’s El Tour de Tucson, I might not have ridden in the Tour de Scottsdale. But the financial trouble plaguing El Tour convinced me. Plus, it’s close to home and doesn’t give out the ugliest t-shirts known to humankind.

I haven’t been training my hardest in the last few weeks, thanks to a trip to Seattle and general late-Arizona summer malaise. But I had a good base in mileage and a lot of confidence from good performances in El Tour, Tour de Mesa, Prescott 6er, Taylor House Century and a few other tough races.

tour de scottsdale
The electric number plate for the Tour de Scottsdale interfered with my seatbag, so I had to improvise a way to carry a few things

The Tour de Scottsdale itself would come in with just short of 3,000 feet of climbing. A bit less than the Taylor House 60-miler, and without the problems of altitude. I had one late-race leg cramp in that ride, but still had a respectable day.

Something Awesome About Tour de Scottsdale

Last time I rode this event, I was frustrated by getting stuck behind some people whose bike-handling skills, situational awareness and courtesy were -- let’s just say a bit lacking. Fortunately, my recent times earned me a place in one of the TdS "starting corrals." They tried to group riders of similar skills and speed together in seeded sections of the start line.

This made the first few miles a far better experience. It was also far safer for all involved. More races should do this!

What’s in Your Feedbag?

One of my previous mistakes was relying on the aid stations to refuel me. Pretzels, Gatorade and bananas just don’t do it for me. Even since that first Tour de Scottsdale, I’ve experimented with my food and drink.

This time, I carried stroopwaffles, a bottle of EFS gel, a fistful of Sprouts electrolyte powder packs, a few packs of GU Roctane and a vial of pickle juice. This allowed me to skip the first two aid stations before stopping at the third to refill my water.

tour de scottsdale
A view from my handlebar.

I ate half a stroopwaffle every 45 minutes or so. I saved the EFS for the fourth aid station, and split the pickle juice between stations 3 and 4. The GU Roctane came in handy in the final 10 miles.

Hint: I froze all three of my bottles all of the way. This was a mistake. They didn’t unfreeze in time to be completely empty by the third aid station as I’d planned. Still, I had to pee by the third aid station, though I held it until the fourth station. That was another mistake.

While we’re talking about mistakes, I also left my heart rate monitor watch at home. And I wasn’t as diligent about pre-loading myself the week prior with Trace Minerals Electrolyte Stamina capsules.

Quick Bike Note

I rode a Lynseky Urbano, which is a titanium frame with cyclocross geometry. It’s my third event of this type, and I’ve ridden them all with 30c tires inflated to 60 psi. It’s a smooth ride that’s outperformed my previous Lemond Zurich every single time. Which is funny because that was a dedicated road bike rolling 25c tires at 110 PSI. It might also have been lighter.

How I Rode the Tour de Scottsdale

My plan was to find a similarly paced group, maybe some people slightly faster, and shamelessly leach off of them. I have no pride!

It took me about 15 miles to find that perfect group -- which splintered shortly after at the climb up Rio Verde Drive/Dynamite Boulevard. I’d grabbed onto a few other groups that rode slightly faster than I wanted to go. But I decided to Push It and see if the extra effort would pay off. I only got a few miles out of each of the slightly faster groups, but I think they all helped motivate me.

I also took it easy on the descent down 9-Mile Hill. I maintained a low wattage on the pedals while letting the bike do its thing.

I got through all the climbs in Fountain Hills where my legs had cramped in my previous Tour de Scottsdale, which was awesome! Oddly enough, I had about five different cramps between mile 55 and the finish line – all in relatively flat or even downhill parts of the ride. I’m a bit flummoxed over this. I also rode through 4 of the cramps, with only 1 requiring a stop to massage the kinks out. And I also made it up one more nasty climb without a problem, which is odd. Why cramping in easier parts? Weird.

Also weird: It took about two miles for my GPS unit to connect to a satellite.

An Observation About the Cities

The Tour de Scottsdale of course goes through Scottsdale. But Fountain Hills and I believe Carefree are part of the route. I’m not sure if Rio Verde is an actual real town or a county island.

But here’s the point: Fountain Hilles closed a full lane of traffic on one of its busiest roads, even though it has an ample bike lane throughout its portion of the route. This was a convenient, safe and downright classy of Fountain Hills.

In contrast, Scottsdale did not close any significant portion of its roads. Closing a lane of traffic along Frank Lloyd Wright would’ve been a great gesture toward safety -- and actually being the bike-friendly city Scottsdale claims to be. FLW is a terrible place to ride. It has no bike lane and no shortage of ill-tempered drivers who can’t seem to stand bicyclists.

The End Result

I had hoped to ride the Tour de Scottsdale in the top third. I figured this was feasible since I was top quarter in El Tour de Tucson.

Even if I’d ridden both courses at the same speed, though, I would’ve barely cracked the top half. The Tour de Scottsdale seems to draw a fast crowd. I finished in the bottom third.

On the plus side, I knocked 30 minutes off my previous time. That’s progress! I’ll definitely have the Tour de Scottsdale on the calendar next year to see if I can bring it up to my Tour de Tucson and Tour de Mesa speeds.

CategoriesAdventuresFitness

The Taylor House Ride in Flagstaff – What You Should Know


I just did the Taylor House ride for the second time. I previously did it more than 10 years ago, and exactly three things stood out about it that first time:

  • A tube-socked dude who nearly wiped a bunch of us out through having some of the worst bike-handling skills I’ve ever seen;
  • A very scary return to Flagstaff from Sunset Crater National Monument;
  • The scenery was absolutely wild as the road went through the lava flow area.
taylor house ride
A fast, beautiful stretch of road early in the Taylor House ride.

That last bit is what really brought me back. These days, it’s possible to record ridiculously beautiful rides with gear like the Cycliq Fly 12CE bike light/camera combo. I’ve been testing one for about the past month, and I really wanted to let it roll on this beautiful ride, which comes in four flavors (35, 45, 65 and 95 – I did the 65, which featured about 3,200 feet of climbing).

So let’s break the ride down a bit with some things you need to know.

Taylor House Ride is More Overgrown Group Ride than Race

There are no number plates of official timing for the Taylor House ride. It’s an open course, so you won’t be separated from traffic except for about the first 5 miles thanks to a police escort through the main part of Flagstaff.

Relive ‘Taylor House 65-mile Ride’

That’s pretty much alright until you’re headed back into Flagstaff on Route 66. You’ll have headwinds and crosswinds, plus some really narrow road shoulders. The bike lane also disappears in a few places. And you’ll have to jockey for position with semi trucks, people pulling trailers, RVs -- all that sort of stuff. And there’s a lot of pebbly crap to contend with, which can be scary in some of the faster spots.

On the other hand, the rest stops are superbly stocked and the volunteers are extremely helpful. F-Bomb had some of their cool keto nut butter mixes, which was nice.

There are also event photographers, but they didn’t manage to get a single good shot of me. Then again, I am not photogenic at all, so there’s that!

It’s All About Scenery

I promise that some of the scenery on the Taylor House ride will blow you away. This is especially a treat for people who haven’t seen it before. There are some wonderful bits of forest and prairie to cruise through.

sunset crater
Looking into the business end of Sunset Crater

And Sunset Crater National Monument is pretty much a movie set. Thousands of acres of lava flow and cinders, along with a dramatic cinder cone. Any person who visits from out of state will have trouble keeping their eyes on the road during this bit. In person, it’s far more grand than what you’ll see in my photos.

A Tough Ride Between Climbing and Wind

We had a brilliant day with a few clouds. But holy cow, we had one helluva wind behind us. I knew as our pack rolled through town effortlessly at 30 mph that we would face serious winds on the way back.

Sure enough, there were times when people would be crawling along headed back to Flagstaff. I really wanted to find a pack to stick with both out and back, but I was having trouble matching my speed to anyone. So I wound up going alone for quite a bit of it. It wound up being my slowest time in awhile, which wasn’t helped by a leg cramp with about five miles left; the narrow margin of error along Route 66 kept me from drinking for about 45 minutes, which played hell with keeping the electrolytes flowing.

I wound up finishing in about 4:20, right about how long it would take me to ride 75 miles in El Tour de Tucson.

Wrapping Up the Taylor House Ride

taylor house ride 65
Cranking back uphill from the 65-mile turnaround.

I enjoyed it, and I’m glad I did it. I’m not eager to repeat my experience on Route 66 — some of that traffic is simply too close for comfort. If they decide to close off a lane for cyclists, I’d do it again in a second, regardless of the wind. I think the Absolute Bikes crew did a nice job with everything; they can’t wave a magic wand to make Route 66 better, but I encourage them to do what they can to reduce the pucker factor there. (Maybe I’m just a big baby who hates trucks, trailers and RVs … I’m OK with that!)

Also huge props for:

  • The well-stocked aid stations;
  • The tasty finish-line food;
  • The general event vibe.

Have you ever ridden the Taylor House ride? What did you think?

sunset crater
A look at the lava flow
CategoriesFitness

The Best Workouts in Scottsdale

There is no shortage of ways to burn calories and all of them claim to be the best, so I set out to find the best workouts in Scottsdale. I believe that it’s smart to switch your routine now and then, too.

Much of my exercise regimen orbits around being better at mountain and road biking. My goal is to be light but powerful, more soccer player than swole bro. (Most male cyclists look like praying mantises, and I don’t dig that look. I also don’t find it functional, and I love being able to try whatever sport I want.) I like learning stuff that I can use during my home workouts. Even though I can and do train independently by myself, I like training with other people, too.

best workouts in Scottsdale
Not the goal. Nope.

OK, onto the list. WARNING: Everyone gets a grade. You might think my grade is too low — and that’s fine. I’m evaluating based on my own preferences and biases, which lean more toward actual real weights and creative use of bodyweight. If it’s an A for you and a C- for me, that might just mean we have different goals and requirements. This is an evolving effort that I plan to update. If you have a suggestion, throw it my way in the comments.

TruHIT Reigns for Current Best Workouts in Scottsdale

I took my first TruHIT class back in September. The equipment in the studio mirrors a lot of what I have at home: kettlebells, Olympic bars (which are rarely used in class), medicine balls, box jumps and jump ropes. Truhitt also has a few things I don’t, such as TRX rigs, rowing machines, dumbbells and stretchy bands.

The TruHIT staff combines this all in some creative ways. Different days throughout the week focus on different goals, such as legs, upper body and general conditioning. Personally, I opt for the leg days. Leg muscles and glutes are your biggest muscles, and they burn a lot of calories.

During my time there, I’ve found that that variety is pretty good. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the other participants are also a good bunch. There’s a lot of mutual encouragement, but not in the showy, bro-y, over-the-top way you might see at other gyms. You can borrow quite a bit for your home workouts, and I also like the scale/scanner thing in front that helps track your weight, metabolic age, body fat percentage and other data points.

best workouts in scottsdale
Good for tracking your progress

Is there any room for improvement? I find the TRX exercises involving stretchy bands kind of meh. Some of the exercise variations can be a bit much. A bit of simplifying and streamlining could reduce the "am I doing this right?" factor. I wouldn’t mind some specific classes for more technical movements like squats and deadlifts.

Overall, though, I find TruHIT to be the place to beat for the Best Workouts in Scottsdale title. A drop-in class is $15, and you can also go for monthly unlimited classes or get passes for a certain number of classes. Also good to know: They have a kids area where the staff will keep an eye on your little people for $5.

Grade: B+

Eat the Frog For Odd Hours

This studio is pretty interesting. They provide a heart-rate monitor for you, and you can see your status in real time on the monitors. Also noteworthy: Eat the Frog has other classes that don’t have instructors. You do your workout based on what’s on the monitors. That gives them some interesting flexibility with their hours.

Eat the Frog involves some quality time with a rowing machine. (This photo wasn’t taken at Eat the Frog.)

I did a drop-in class that focused on core movements. It started off with a warm-up on the rowing machines, where the instructor encouraged us to hit certain heart-rate target zones.

I’m not a huge fan of core-focused classes. It’s a relatively small muscle group, and I’m really into compound movements. Eat the Frog does not seem at all suited to people who dig basic but hard movements like squats, deadlifts and pullups.

That said, my core did get a good workout. And I never object to time on a rowing machine. That’s a quality way to get stronger and leaner.

Ultimately, Eat the Frog is not for me. It’s not a bad workout, but I don’t see it building power the way I’d like. I also do find a lot of the exercises a bit gimmicky being the back-to-basics guy I am. Packages range from $80-$150 a month. They also have a "punch card" sort of setup, but I didn’t get pricing for it.

Grade: C+

Fitwall: A Bit Funky

I’m always up for something a bit oddball in my quest to find the best workouts in Scottsdale. So I gave Fitwall a shot. I went during one of their leg days. The sessions revolve around a slatted metal wall where might do leg exercises or ersatz pullups.

best workouts in Scottsdale
A look inside the Fitwall facility.

Sigh. Man. Fake pullups. I get it. Pullups are hard — damn hard. Most people can’t do ‘em. But this wall idea does absolutely zero to get anyone close to a pullup. There is no substitute for a real pullup bar and struggling like crazy to do just one, single, solitary pushup.

During the session at Fitwall, I also used resistance bands and some light dumbbells. I would’ve happily traded them for heavier ones and doing fewer reps. But in all honesty, I am probably not the Fitwall model user. I see this as a workout for people who don’t really have much background in exercise. They’ll burn some calories and tone up a bit. I could also see a serious competitive bodybuilder using some of these exercises to hit smaller muscle groups. (Talk about use cases at opposite ends of the spectrum!)

There are some group exercise classes that seem to involve actual weights, but those take place in a different room. The pricing structure is a bit opaque: The website says they have plans from $7 a class. This morning, they tried to lure me in via text with an offer for $29 for two weeks.

I passed on the offer. I don’t see myself getting what I need out of Fitwall. It’s too gimmicky and focused mainly on proprietary equipment. People newer to training won’t really get enough out of it to independently build their own fitness routine. Unfortunately, I think that’s the goal of many fitness studios. That’s not a knock on the staff members, who were uniformly welcoming and helpful.

Grade: C-

Sweating at Hot Yoga University

I’ve already written a full review of Hot Yoga University. I’ve been going there a long time, and they’ve actually gotten better over time. They now have these HotFIIT and IronSculpt classes, and they are pretty serious stuff. The IronSculpt classes even use some dumbbells. They’re light, but you’ll definitely feel the burn after a few rounds.

best workouts in scottsdale
Hot Yoga University is the yoga studio we all need.

That said, I consider Hot Yoga classes more of a supplement for me. Others with different goals might be fine relying on these as their go-to workouts (even though some yoga folks probably get upset at those of us who think of yoga as a workout).

As for Hot Yoga University itself, it’s reasonably priced ($10 drop-in classes can’t be beat!) and considerably more friendly than many other yoga studios. Some people might be seeking more muscle mass and explosive power. Hot Yoga University can’t provide that alone, but it is absolutely great stuff for those who have other weightlifting routines in their fitness routine.

Grade: B

CategoriesFitness

No, the Pool Noodle Bike Hack Isn’t Great. At All.

Someone put a pool noodle on a bike to keep drivers away. And now media outlets are all over the place are saying this a genius and that the pool noodle bike hack is the greatest thing ever.

No. It’s not.

Using a Pool Noodle as a Bike Hack Sucks

Any transportation planners who see a cyclist using a pool noodle as a visual cue to drivers should hang their heads in shame. It means that their infrastructure is so bad that drivers don’t feel safe.

bicycle infrastructure
Protected bike lanes would work far better than the pool noodle bike hack.

That’s epic bike planning failure. You think cyclists in Finland or the Netherlands need pool noodles to stay safe?

No. Because they have good cycling infrastructure and their drivers are relatively civilized.

This is what the Pool Noodle Bike Hack Really Means

Municipalities in the U.S. were delighted by this news. It cushions them against the abject, epic failure of most towns and cities.

That’s because it’s another device that dumps the full burden of safe cycling on cyclists and absolves drivers and planners. The City of Mesa in my city, which has exactly one good piece of cycling infrastructure along the Rio Salado, shared this post on one of its Facebook accounts:

I called them out, and of course they said it was "just interesting." Smart cyclists see this for what it is: an attempt to push the narrative that cyclists alone bear the responsibility of safety.

Oh, a driver killed a cyclist? Were they wearing a helmet*? Did they have flashing lights? And now -- did they have a pool noodle? Because that’s the best bike hack!

This is Why People Don’t Ride Bikes

Why invest in cycling infrastructure when you can tell people to wear helmets, ride with lights, use horns/bells or strap a pool noodle to their bike?

Casual riders see these so-called hacks and think "if I have to do all that, maybe riding a bike isn’t safe." I see where they’re coming from. Even experienced cyclists have a hard time steeling themselves to ride around cars.

And before anyone starts with the tired “cyclists break the law” argument … so do drivers. Nearly every driver speeds. When I drive 70 in the carpool lane, I’m speeding. And yet I get tailgated, cut off and passed by people who think that’s way too slow. Drivers run stop signs and stop lights constantly. The consequences of their transgressions are far greater in 4,000 pounds of metal than a person who is 170 pounds of flesh and another 30 of metal. (I believe people who like arguing would call this a “false equivalency” or if “whataboutism” if they favor new vernacular.)

pool noodle bike hack
Also better than a pool noodle bike hack: bike/pedestrian paths completely separated from drivers.

Fix the Real Problems, Stop the Band-Aid Approach

Every ride I take, I encounter some absolutely wretched infrastructure. People park their gasmobiles in bike lanes or use them as turning lanes. The bike lanes disappear, or it’s completely unclear what’s supposed happen near intersections. Drivers get away with literal murder, and cyclists have more close calls than you can imagine. But nobody measures close calls.

So to all you touting the pool noodle as the best bike hack: It’s not. It’s a sign that cycling infrastructure, transit policy and law enforcement have all failed.

Bonus Round: Reddit Piles on the Pool Noodle Bike Hack

Ahhhh, Reddit -- the source of so much Internet fun. The cyclists there took to the pool noodle bike hack topic and squirted some humor into it. A few choice bits:

‘Murica loves noisy, smelly gasmobiles. It hates cyclists. But what if the cyclist has a flag on their bike?!

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On point. Still lets planners off the hook a bit, but not every response on the Internet can cover every angle.

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I can’t resist a Star Wars reference. Especially when someone else replies “A more elegant noodle for a more civilized age.” That’s how you win at Internetting, if I can verb the noun.

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This person certainly wears a silicon wristband that says “WWBCD?” That’s What Would Bruce Campbell Do? And the answer is always “put a chainsaw on it.”

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This is a real cyclist: They know the bike industry loves a chance to make money and churn out some carbon fiber bike bling.

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Not really pool noodle-related, but definitely a good question. I’ve ridden among autonomous vehicles many times. And I’ve had no problems. They pay attention. They don’t hate cyclists. They’re not texting. They are able to stay in their lane.

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*I absolutely love wearing bike helmets. They keep me cool through venting and keeping the sun off my noggin. I hate, though, that the first question when a driver kills a cyclist is "were they wearing a helmet?"

 

CategoriesFitness

Bicycle Infrastructure is Cycling’s Big Problem

Better bicycle infrastructure could solve a lot of transit problems. More people on bikes means fewer cars on the roads, more people burning calories and cleaner air.

Cycling advocates love to point to the Dutch cycling culture to illustrate the possibilities. Adopting even a small percentage of their policies would be huge for the United States.

Unfortunately, decision makers at every level of government in the United States simply don’t care. Even those who support cycling are too cowed to front the political and financial resources. Exceptions are rare — all credit to the governments in the Tucson, Ariz., are for their success on The Loop. That’s 130-plus miles of safe, convenient riding.

This is why I have no confidence in an American cycling boom.

bicycle infrastructure
This bike superhighway in Helsinki is a great example of bicycle infrastructure.

Inconsistent Bicycle Infrastructure

I live in the Phoenix area. And you wouldn’t believe how widely our bike lanes and trails vary in quality — often within the same city.

Bike lanes wind up going nowhere. And city planners seem to have no concept of their user groups. Most of the bicycle infrastructure is adequate — barely — for recreational riders going less than five miles. Long-distance commuters and recreational riders have to overcome bike lanes that don’t connect to the corridors they need. They encounter frequent traffic lights and situations where drivers have no idea what to do.

One of my least-favorite examples is a cycling corridor along Pima Road: It has bike lanes on both sides of the street, which is good. But there’s a second bike-specific corridor on one side; the two-way bike traffic adds a layer of confusion for drivers and cyclists.

There are signs of progress, but they come very slowly.

Terrible Lane Maintenance

I’ve lost count of the places where I have to swerve out of the bike lane to avoid obstacles. Potholes and overhanging branches are common around Phoenix. That gives drivers another reason to be annoyed by cyclists.

There are many spots around the Valley where cities have added great bike lanes. But within months, plants encroach. If you build bike lanes, have a plan and budget to maintain them!

Debris is also a problem. Broken bottles and fallen branches litter the bike lanes. There’s no plan for reporting bicycle infrastructure problems. Concepts like Bikelanes.org help. But if government entities don’t act on the reports, it doesn’t matter.

Speaking of reporting problems: I’d love a cycling GPS that could log problems on the fly to be shared later.

Bike Industry Not Focused on the Problem

I like racing bicycles. I do it a few times of year, and it’s a great celebration of bike culture.

Photo by Ed Buckel.
This isn’t the reality for most people who own bicycles. We need to focus more on people who ride the roads. (Photo by Ed Buckel.)

But bike commuting and family riding are important, too. Unfortunately, the bike industry is uniformly too focused on the Mountain Dew-swilling extreme sports adrenaline junkie cliche. Most people can’t identify with that.

Maybe bike manufacturers could sponsor fewer races, and throw some money into advocating for bicycle infrastructure. Find some room in the budget for a lobbyist to influence pro-bike legislation and policies. That will pay dividends in bike sales and branding.

No Support from Law Enforcement

Every time I ride, I think of people like Rob Dollar. He was one of way too many cyclists who have been run over by drivers. Way too few of these drivers are ever held accountable.

Some police support would also help with drivers who threaten, harass and endanger cyclists. Chesney Parks’ Twitter account is a litany of near-daily conflicts with drivers. And some of the worst offenders are the authorities. The abuses of power are often shocking.

And police don’t seem to take this literal life-and-death situation seriously. According to this article, they look for any excuse not to investigate.

That sends a message to cyclists everywhere: We’re all alone in this.

And that means fewer people will see cycling as an alternative to cars.

Drivers Can’t Deal with Cyclists

Overall, drivers have no clue how to deal with cyclists. Some will try to be polite, but wind up screwing up traffic flow (Example: At a four-way stop, DO NOT wave at a cyclist to take your turn. Treat them like a car so everyone else knows whose turn it is next.).

bicycle infrasctructure
Here’s a great and very cost-effective way to protect a bike lane. Spotted in San Jose, Costa Rice in November, 2018.

Just yesterday, I was heading through a green light. The driver in the oncoming left-turn lane started to turn in front of me and changed her mind -- and then repeated the process twice. She then started gesturing at me.

And I’ve had so many cars swerve into the bike lane that I can’t even remember every close call. You can see a great example of this with the red cup experiment. Protected bicycle infrastructure would offer some protection.

Other Reading

https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/EBC_report_final.pdf

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-bicyclists-drivers-crashes-statistics-2014nov22-story.html

https://thecisforcrank.com/2018/07/25/bike-lanes-are-for-everyone-fact-checking-claims-that-only-the-privileged-want-safe-cycling-infrastructure/

CategoriesFitness

Rio Salado Bike Path: A Ride Guide (With Video)

The Rio Salado bike path is one of the most-overlooked places to ride in metro Phoenix. It’s a 16-mile stretch of sweet car-free riding. I’ve had many local riders act completely surprised to hear about it.

So let’s lift the lid on the Rio Salado bike path, which doesn’t even seem to have an official name.

Rio Salado Bike Path Overview

There are very few places to ride in Phoenix where bikes are completely separated from traffic. This is one of them. From the family-friendly Mesa Riverview Park to the Mad Max-style apocalypse-opolis of 18th Avenue and the Rio Salado, riders don’t have to cross a single street. It’s all separate bike path.
rio salado bike path

A look at the handy (but not perfect) MAG bike map.

You’ll have to dodge other trail users from McClintock to Priest Avenue. And that’s because Tempe is a prime place to park. You’ll find more users there who aren’t aware of trail etiquette, so be prepared.

As you head west, you’ll pass Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Liberty Wildlife and the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.

Depending on whether you’re chasing a Strava PR, you can stop to have a look at them.

underpass rio salado mcclintock
Construction has started to link the Rio Salado bike path under McClintock Road. That will make it much more convenient.

Who Should Ride the Rio Salado Bike Path?

There’s a little something for everyone. Serious riders will use it as part of a higher-mileage ride. The route doesn’t offer much climbing, but there’s usually a stiff headwind in at least one direction.

But there are several other places where you can do a less-intense ride. Families and more laid-back riders should start somewhere like Mesa Riverview, Tempe Beach Park or Central Avenue and the Rio Salado. Each spot has parking, restrooms and water.

What’s the Best Bike for the Rio Salado Bike Path?

My Lynskey Urbano gravel bike! But seriously, you can ride nearly anything here right now. The pavement is in good condition, so road bikes are pretty good to go — just be careful going under Central Avenue until that gets paved.

There’s very little climbing along the Rio Salado, so even single-speed beach cruisers will work.

What are the Path Conditions?

The Rio Salado bike path is in overall great shape. Here are a few good-to-know bits:

  • The Mesa portion has a 15-mph speed limit. That’s ridiculously slow, especially since it’s nice and wide with lane dividers.
  • Tempe could put some thought into educating trail users. I’ve seen some awful behavior, mostly users meandering on the wrong side and not paying attention.
  • Speaking of Tempe, you can use the pedestrian bridge west of Mill Avenue to ride to the North Bank.
  • The City of Phoenix made some recent upgrades: repaving some chopped up areas and adding underpasses. Its signage could be better, and the 7th Avenue underpass could use some paving. It’s fine for gravel bikes, but road bikes won’t be happy.

Improvements for the Rio Salado Bike Path

Overall, this is a good riding experience. But there is room for improvement:

  • Add more viable, safe connections leading to the Rio Salado bike path. This is especially true on the west side, where there’s literally no good place to ride once you leave the river bottom.
  • Add more bathrooms and water stops.
  • Stretch it out further west, preferably on the South Bank. The City of Phoenix appears to own the property where a fence spells an end to the ride. I wonder how viable it is to move the fencing a bit to allow bike access.
rio salado bike path rio reimagined
Near the end of the line of the Rio Salado bike path on the north bank.

About the West Side: It’s awful past Central. The area needs development. But I know that’s a challenge because of property ownership. But it should be a priority. Until the west side connects to someplace cyclists want to ride, this ride will be a mere out-and-back that pales in comparison to other cycling infrastructure. One good starting place, though, would be figuring out a way to link the Rio Salado path to the new Grand Canalscape bike path.

Fitting in With Rio Reimagined

Redeveloping the Rio Salado is part of an ongoing discussion that’s been tagged “Rio Reimagined.” It’s one of those projects that could last more than a generation. And it involves multiple governments. Sustaining some cooperation, coordination and vision will be hard for the long term.

rio reimagined rio salado bike path
As the Rio Reimagined project progresses, addressing the dead end at 15th Avenue must be a priority.

The Rio Salado bike path is arguably the first tangible link in this chain. Maybe the organizations trying to make this happen should focus there. It’s a perfect starting point for a connected, healthy community. It could fuse transit, recreation, business and residential development.

The Rio Reimagined effort should definitely engage supporters of The Loop in Tucson. That’s 130 miles-plus of car-free riding. And Phoenix cyclists who know about it are jealous. It’s an example of what’s possible with political will and funding.

Planning a Long Ride

Typically, I take Rio Salado Drive out to Mesa Riverview Park. That’s where I’ll hop on the Rio Salado bike path and head west as far as it goes.

I now stay on the south bank since Phoenix re-paved the munched-up sections. Then I’ll usually turn around and head back to Tempe, crossing Tempe Town Lake via the pedestrian bridge. From there, I have a few options for adding more mileage as I like.

rio salado bike path
There are some places along the Rio Salado bike path here you can forget you’re in a major metro area.

Of course, you can plan your own ride. And the MAG Bikeways map is a huge help. It’s not fully up-to-date, though: For example, it doesn’t show that the section under the 143 is finished. It also doesn’t indicate the quality of the routes — a pristine piece of new pavement with barely any traffic is marked the same as a choppy bike lane populated by speeders and semi trucks. Also, it doesn’t point out water sources, bathrooms or parking.

What The Rio Salado Bike Path is Like in 2020

The Rio Salado bike path has some growing pains. The cities have built it, but they’re doing a terrible job overall on a few key elements: They haven’t consistently signed it, and they haven’t educated users about some basic matters of safety and courtesy.

That means you have people wandering all over both sides of the path with no situational awareness. You have unauthorized motor vehicles (mostly ATVs). I’m also not thrilled with the Tempe Center for the Arts golf carts blocking traffic; we use this path to get away from vehicles. There’s no way the arts center couldn’t shuttle people elsewhere.

Take a look at this video. Keep in mind this is just one ride featuring literally everything I mentioned. At least I didn’t get chased by unleashed dogs on this ride. That also happens often.

And look at this guy from my previous ride. Keep in mind, stuff like this happens all the time. By that, I mean multiple times per ride.

It’s impossible to make every human behave themselves. But striping this path and having directional arrows would at least give people a clue. And a bit of attention from park rangers or police could keep motorcycles and ATVs off.

The Rio Salado bike path could be a world-class asset with some attention. Until then, we’re stuck with mediocrity. Building it isn’t good enough. We have to maintain it.

CategoriesFitnessGear

Recap: 2018 Tour De Tucson

The 2018 Tour de Tucson started to go pear-shaped for me about 20 minutes before the start.

As I walked my bike toward the start, I heard a "whiiiiiiiirrrrrr" sound from the front wheel. Disc brakes problem? I was sure of it, until I notice that the zip tie holding the brake cable to the fork had broken. My wife solved that problem by pulling out a roll of clear packing tape.

 

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Sending my dad off for El Tour De Tucson. Once this goon is on his way, I’m going to the zoo. #cycling #bikes

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Then, as I rolled to the start, I got caught being a wise guy. There was a line of people waiting to go under a tape barricade to get to the start. "A-ha," I thought, "I’m on a gravel bike!" So I popped onto a landscaped parking lot island, went around them and grabbed a nice spot in the line. Great success, right? Well, I noticed the goat head thorns in my front tire, then in my back tire. I pulled them out and spun the affected parts of the wheel to the bottom until the tire sealant did its trick. Thank you, tubeless wheels and tires! (And yes, they held for the entire race).

Then I went to turn my wrist-mounted heart rate monitor on. And it refused to wake up. I thought I’d charged it, but you know how that goes. So I’d have to rely on the Force.

2018 tour de tucson

And We’re Off for the 2018 Tour de Tucson!

Things got way better from there. My mid-pack starting spot saved me much of the frustration of passing a bunch of people, and it gave me and a work friend a chance to tag onto some faster-moving groups.

The 2018 Tour de Tucson had a different starting place for 75-mile riders than in the past few years, and it was definitely more convenient than it’s been in years past (please keep it, but sort the road signage out so we know we’re allowed to drive to the staging area). It routed us past a bit of the AMARG airplane graveyard – which also hosts a 10k run in the fall that you shouldn’t miss.

Desert Boneyard 10k
Hell, yes, I did the Desert Boneyard 10k in a frilly pirate shirt!

Being sans heart rate monitor, I had to rely on how my legs felt. I was a bit distressed to feel that electricity-like jangle high in my quads. I’d hit the electrolytes hard all week. I made a mental note to keep an eye on that situation. Within 10 miles, though, it was gone. Last year, I rode a tiny bit conservatively because of the crampfest that my first Tour de Tucson had been in 2016. This year, I wanted to really open in up a bit. So I did, which involved working with other riders for as long as possible until one of us wanted to slow down or go faster.

New Bike Comes Up Aces
Lynskey Urbano November Wheels
My Lynskey Urbano sporting its November Bicycles wheelset.

It was also my first race on a new bike – a Lynskey Urbano, which leans more toward the cyclocross side of the geometry spectrum. It’s longer than the LeMond Zurich I rode for nearly 20 years before, and it can accommodate some wide tires (I was on 30C tires after a summer training on 40Cs -- and the LeMond always had 25C). This made the Urbano super-stable on the fast descents. I was also riding with disc brakes and a flared handlebar, which made for great braking and a nice variety of hand positions. Part of the 2018 Tour de Tucson also goes through a wash (just like in years past). Rather than dismounting and walking, I rode the whole thing – Schwalbe S-One HT tires, for anyone looking for the right tire for their mostly-road-but-sometimes-gravel bike. Fast on the road, but still capable of getting you through some dirt with confidence. I’m also very enthusiastic about my November Bicycles wheelset.

After the gravel section is the short, steep climb where spectators love to gather. That would be a good test to see if that electrical pre-cramp leg tingle would come back. Nope, no sign of it. Strava would later tell me that I beat my best time handily, as it would for most segments of the ride.

I was worried about the wind. The ginormous used-car-lot American flags along the route were stretched taut on their poles. And it appeared to be headed opposite our direction for the final stretch of the ride up Silverbell Road – or Silverhell, as I like to call it – and along the I-10 freeway. Oddly enough, that meant the wind should’ve been at our backs as we headed north. But I couldn’t feel any benefit from the wind – I rode that part with a fast, experienced rider who seemed to know everyone on the course. Super-smooth bike handler, too. We’d been near each other off-and-on for the first 35 miles, and teamed up for about 15 miles. She finally latched onto a fast-moving group of dudes right around there.

Feeling too Groovy to Stop

I was also skipping aid stations. No need for a bathroom, and my two 20-oz bottles and little 16-ouncer filled with Nuun tablets and Trace Minerals magnesium tablets were doing the trick perfectly. It was also pretty cool out, so I wasn’t sweating up a storm. Every 45 minutes, I ate a fig bar. That and the electrolytes kept me sorted out.

2018 tour de tucson

I’d planned to refill water bottles at any stop around 40 miles, but I skipped it. I blew past the 50 miles stop. I stopped for the first time in the race at 61 miles to use the bathroom, fill bottles and get my EFS gel shot ready for use. By that time, I’d slayed the Silverbell dragon. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much wind. I grabbed onto a passing group as I left the aid station – they were some of the faster people in the 42-mile category, which made them pretty sprightly. I wasn’t able to stay with them, but I did team up with some guys who got bounced out of the group along with me. We all took turns at the front, but they couldn’t stick with me. Another guy on a Lynskey was a huge help for a few miles until he tagged onto a faster group. It was only about two miles to the finish at that point.

Those last few miles went well, and I sailed into the finish line about 35 minute faster than last year. I wasn’t really sure about how this year would go. I’m not sure why I rode that much faster, but I have some thoughts:

I’m 10 pounds lighter than I was last year. I’d ridden 500 miles more than I had by this point last year. Since August, I’ve done regular HIIT workouts at TruHit and switched up my routines a lot more. In August, I did plenty of squats at higher weights and lowers reps … and I experimented with the keto diet. I couldn’t stick with it … and I know I’m not being scientific here, but shaking my eating habits up temporarily did something.  

My Lynskey Urbano versus my Lemond Zurich. The Lynskey’s tires, fork and brakes are heavier. I’m not sure if its titanium frame is that much lighter than the LeMond’s; it’s overbuilt like crazy. They both fit well, but those wider tires and its relaxed geometry allow me to let it hang out on the downhills more.

2017 tour de tucson
Me in the 2017 Tour de Tucson. I’ll update when I get my new photos!

I trained solo a lot. In the summer heat, I was out there training for the 2018 Tour de Tucson. I spent a lot of time riding in the dirt and into the wind on those big 40C tires. I even did a 55-mile group ride with roadies on them, and was able to more than hang.

I started in mid-pack instead of working my way up from the back. This allowed me to team up with faster riders, and helped my first 10 miles go far faster. It’s a huge chore to churn through riders who are slower or – worse yet – not conversant in how to handle themselves in groups of rider (hint: slower traffic stays to the right).

Which of those factors made the biggest difference? I don’t know. Being lighter is, to a point, a good habit to keep up. I hope my Urbano will last as long as the Zurich. And I will definitely make it a point to get a good starting spot in the future.

 

CategoriesAdventuresFitness

2018 Tour de Mesa Review

A few weekends ago, I rode the 2018 Tour de Mesa. It was my first of the Perimeter Cycling events held in the Valley after doing El Tour de Tucson for the past few years. The Mesa version was a 60-mile loop that had a bit of everything – flat sections, screaming downhills, grinding climbs, roads completely devoid of cars and sections where riders had to suck some serious exhaust. In short, a perfectly legit and enjoyable road ride made better with good support, good traffic control and a good finish line festival.

I’m not one of those guys at the front of the pack. The 2016 Tour de Scottsdale was my first road event in a very long time thanks to a near-miss some years ago. I’ve worked my way back into road bike events with the simple goal of trying to get a little better with each one. That’s been going well, with my average speed in each race rising.

With that out of the way, here’s my 2018 Tour de Mesa review.

Registration and Check-In

Online registration is what it is. It’s hugely convenient next to the old days of race registration. So that was all fine.

Packet pick-up was also pretty decent. There was a small exhibition going on. The first person who saw me was very enthusiastic – a bit too much so. Her recitation of “go here do this than that in this order” was more hand-holding than I need and was ultimately more confusing than anything else. I’ve checked in for many races, and it’s not rocket surgery. Ever.

The goodie bag was full of stuff that got recycled after a cursory glance. The bag it came in was by far my favorite item. Quality re-usable grocery bags are awesome! I didn’t take a Tour de Mesa t-shirt because they’re just as ugly as I expect from Perimeter event t-shirts. They put most Christmas sweaters to shame.

Getting the Ride Started

I showed up at the starting line for the 2018 Tour de Mesa confident in my preparation. Strava has been a huge help in tracking my mileage and effort. I’ve figured out what electrolytes I need. I’ve tuned my eating habits on the bike (no more gels – just fig bars). My ritual starting a week before the ride ensures that I’m hydrated, well-rested and topped off with electrolytes. I was probably a little too confident: I spent time yacking with other riders instead of making a visit to the portable toilets – that would cost me later.

When the group rolled out for its start, I had the novel experience of not being stuck in narrow streets behind riders who were all over the place. The wide streets allowed passing room, and I was able to find a comfortable pace within moments. I didn’t experience the frustration of being confined behind anyone. Sure, there were a few people out there who deserved a "hey, get to the right unless you’re passing" yell. But I contained myself.

Out of the City – 2018 Tour de Mesa

Once we turned on to Country Club/Beeline Highway, little groups started to form. Some were spontaneous, others were clearly friends who were used to each other. For a random guy like me who trains alone, this presents some opportunity to be social while also enjoying the benefits of drafting. But try as I might, I really couldn’t find a group in my Goldilocks Zone. Some were just a touch too slow, some a touch too fast. As the climbs steepened, I passed many of the groups who’d zipped by me in the flatter parts.

Beeline presented a nice place to get into a groove. Which I could’ve gotten into better if I’d made a visit to the john. But no. Within 30 minutes of the race start, all I could think about was a toilet. The second rest stop (I completely missed the first) came just short of 20 miles in, and I went running for the john. That little visit cost me about 2 minutes. The work I’d put in on the climb got undone. Ultimately, I’d see the same people over and over again: I’d pass them on a climb, then they’d band together in a downhill or flat section and pass my lonely ass. And they’d be going just a bit too fast for me – maybe because they were drafting off of each other, or I’d put it too much energy on the climbs.

Great Scenery, A Few Problems

I should mention here that the scenery after the third rest stop was spectacular. The mountains in this area area a treat for the eyes, and I wished I’d thought to put a camera on my bike. Next year, I definitely will. The speeds also picked up in the downhills. One guy on a low-slung handcycle that looked like a street luge zipped right by me at ludicrous speed. I really enjoyed seeing that!

I made my first refueling (as opposed to the "defueling" of the last one) at Aid Station 4. There, one of the friendly volunteers helped me wrangle my spare canisters of EFS drink mix into my bottles. I was in and out very quickly, and that proved to be the only filling stop I needed (I started with two full-sized insulated bottles and a smaller bottle, all filled with EFS).

Tour de Mesa
“Sports drinks have nutrients!” “Hmm, yeah – gimme more EFS, heh heh!!”

I also had a few strange problems starting to pop up: My butt was absolutely killing me by about 40 miles in, which is extremely unusual. This is not something that happens to me at all. I’ll have to solve that mystery. Also weird: My left hip flexor didn’t seem happy at all. Fortunately, I know of some ways to deal with that.

The middle of the Tour de Mesa is kind of the crux of the thing: In my head, I had my sights set on two stiff climbs. As we were grinding up what I thought was the first of them, a couple of guys were like "just one more hard effort and we’re home free!" Somehow, the first of the climbs didn’t even register as a big deal. OK. I can deal with that. Five minutes later, we were descending back into Mesa.

Back into the Concrete Jungle

Our route along University took us into a section that didn’t have a bike lane. Fortunately, the local police agencies (including DPS) had that all under control. A few drivers had moments of confusion, but the situation was well in-hand. Everyone seemed to feel safe and able to concentrate on the last miles of the ride. (Except for some people on the Facebook page. There was some carping about the section without the bike lane, which I can understand.)

We had a wind coming in from the southeast, which gave a little boost of speed as we approached downtown Mesa. About a half mile from the finish, I accelerated and passed a few riders without getting overtaken myself. My right calf didn’t respond well to the hard effort, but I can’t complain about a slight, fleeting cramp in the finishing chute of a race. Not at all.

I also learned that medals were based on your finishing time, and my finish was good enough to snag me a gold. I think that’s kind of a nice setup, and I think more races should consider having different medals. It’s something to shoot for when you know you don’t have a chance at winning.

There were a few food truck available for refueling – and some company was giving out samples of hard kombucha (that went down pretty well!). Another nice touch: There were activities for kids. Had I known, I might’ve recommended that my wife bring our little person down to enjoy the fun.

I’ll definitely do this race again and look forward to it. Good course and an overall good vibe.

Random Thoughts: 2018 Tour de Mesa

STUFF I ATE/DRANK DURING THE RIDE: A fig bar every 45 minutes, one bottle of EFS per hour. DID NOT USE: Hammer Gel that I carry just in case, vial of pickle juice.

LESSON LEARNED: I might need to team up with other people to take my times up a notch, especially in El Tour de Tucson

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS: Strava tells me my heart rate was a bit higher for this ride than for my previous road rides. This tells me I’m able to work a bit harder without worrying about cramping. That’s huge, and means I have a bit more performance to extract from myself.

CategoriesFitness

I’m a Dad, and I Have One Small Request for Playground Designers

playground designers
It wouldn’t take much for playground designers to work adult fitness into their plans.

This is a small request to playground designers from a dad doing his best to stay fit: Remember that adults spend a lot of time at the playgrounds you build, and we could also use a little something to burn some calories.

Every single day, I see some news headline screaming about the nation’s obesity rate. Which is odd, because I also can’t escape people on their way to Crossfit, hot yoga, pilates or whatever classes. A good chunk of those people are parents -- parents who happen to spend a lot of time watching their kids go wild on playgrounds.

There is no better way to help parents get fit (or fitter) than by making a few modest additions to your playgrounds. For example, the city of Mesa recently renovated Pioneer Park to the tune of more than $7 million. That’s money well-spent – it’s a terrific example of a playground and park that looks great and keeps kids occupied. It’s beautiful and modern and flat-out awesome.

playground designers
Not all parents are content to sit around – they’re training for Spartan and other obstacle course races. Maybe playground designers can help them out.

But how much more would it cost if the playground designers had put in some adult-sized pull-up bars and monkey bars? Maybe a bouldering wall? Or even just a simple rope-climbing station or three. Something tells me that would be just a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of the Pioneer Park overhaul. And these additions would promote and enhance functional fitness.

Let’s go back to the so-called "obesity epidemic." American sports culture isn’t really about participation – it’s all about passive watching. I don’t even know where to find the statistics, but I would bet that most of the time allotted for sports leagues at public parks goes to youth sports. The message here is clear: You play sports when you’re a kid, then you turn 21 and start going to "sports bars" to watch other people sports, and then you become a parent and never raise your heart rate past 100 again. Then researchers and public officials wag their collective finger at us while simultaneously taking zero substantive steps to address the problem.

Not even with something simple, like putting some adult-sized fitness apparatus (apparati? What’s the plural there?) on the playgrounds where we spend a good chunk of time with our kids. It’s a simple, low-key, relatively low-cost addition for playground designers. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as this adult playground … not that I would mind having this near me!

playground designers fitness adult
Races like this are great for functional fitness. And adult-sized obstacles are an easy addition to existing kids’ playgrounds.

Let’s think about the example that sets: If the kids see their parents cranking out pullups, box jumps, pushups and whatnot, staying physically active becomes their norm. We shift the thinking from the current "go to the gym because New Year’s resolutions to lose some of that fat" to "lifelong healthy lifestyle."

Remember, this doesn’t need to be extensive or expensive – but it can be, and I’m absolutely salivating over the GameTime Challenge Course. But even just a few small features could create a huge shift in the way we think of fitness. Over the past year, I’ve moved to chipping away at a few calories everywhere possible rather than just saving it for the gym, even if it’s just a few push-ups or turning a low wall or park bench into a box-jump station. I would be thrilled for a place where I could do a few things I can’t do at home, especially monkey bars and a rope-climbing station. I’m sure every parent who does Warrior Dash, Spartan, Tough Mudder or other obstacle course races would agree. Even parents who don’t get into that stuff could have some fun with these challenges.

So, playground designers, next time you plan a playground, remember that there are parents out there who could really use that time to get some exercise along with their kids. It’s already starting to happen in some cities – the expertise and desire are there. So get onboard!

CategoriesAdventuresFitness

Recap of El Tour de Tucson 2017

Within a few miles of starting El Tour De Tucson a few weeks ago, a mantra came to me out of the blue. It was a phrase I’d heard from a co-worker. It was "Calm yo’ tits." (Hearing it for the first time was doubly funny since it came from the mouth of the most Disney-obsessed young Mormon woman on the planet.)

Here’s the thing: When I rode El Tour De Tucson last year, I rode a high of starting out fast and furious. I was feeling way too good and pushed way too hard when I should’ve saved more for later. I’ve been hanging my head in shame ever since.

El Tour de Tucson
Last year, before my ride went wrong.

This year, I was determined to ride calm and cool – like Spock, Iceman, Arthur Fonzarelli and Jan Ullrich gene-spliced into one El Tour de Tucson-riding machine. I would reign myself in by repeating "Calm yo’ tits" whenever my mood swung. Ripping it up with a fast time? Calm yo’ tits. Feeling like I should be motoring faster? Calm yo’ tits.

tour de tucson
I swear, I found this gif. I didn’t have to make it.

To set the stage, last year’s El Tour went beautifully for me until about the 55th mile of the 76-mile race. The route turned up Silverbell Road into a headwind and a slight climb. At some point both my quads contracted. When I finally loosened them up, I could barely spin the pedals without warning signs of another cramp. My average speed went from respectable to laughable. I was literally embarrassed.

I didn’t want that to happen again.

At the last tours – and in fact for most race events I’ve ever done – I’ve relied on gels and Skratch Labs drinks. I can’t even remember exactly where I found two vital pieces of advice: that I was too low on magnesium and that I needed to eat some solid food earlier in the ride and save the gels for later. I do know that my wife, who had four Ironman triathlons to her credit (including one in the 11-hour range) and has actually been coached, had advice for me.
And then there was the pickle juice debate: I was skeptical. It’s just a bunch of salt, right? Well, one of the faster local people pointed out that the vinegar in pickle juice is just as important.
When I lined up for El Tour De Tucson, here’s how I was loaded:

  • Two packages of organic fig bars (total of about 400 calories)
    A vial of pickle juice
    Three bottles of EFS mix, about 100 calories each with a huge hit of magnesium
    A bottle of EFS gel for the final stretch
    Two Hammer gels just in case
    An extra serving of EFS in a Nuun tube
    Two packages of electrolyte brews I found at Sprouts

All of this was loaded into either my jersey or my amazing Beer Babe feed bag.

El Tour de Tucson
A few last-minute instructions from my assistant coach.

OK, now let’s talk about the ride day.

We started it off by breaking my coffee fast with a perfectly made cappuccino at a place called Ombre; we grabbed breakfast at the adjoining Bisbee Breakfast Club; their baked oatmeal is a perfect way to fuel for a race. It’s also on the big side – two people could pretty much split it.
From there, we made our way to the race start at the east campus of Pima Community College. This is a bit of a chore since Google maps wants to route you up roads closed for the event, and the El Tour map in the race packets isn’t very handy. There’s also not much signage near the start line. This made my wife, who was at the wheel, a bit crazy. It’s really the only criticism I have of El Tour De Tucson – well, that and the absolutely dog-ugly t-shirt that is already pulling drivetrain-cleaning duty in the workshop.

I don’t do this stuff for the t-shirt. I do it for a good ride and a good vibe. Even last year at my worst point, I had nothing but praise for El Tour De Tucson. This year’s tour – from course to volunteers to traffic control – was just as good.

via GIPHY

I was Fonzi-cool through the chaos of the first 10 miles. I chatted with a few people and tried to find my happy place -- that perfect pace where I can settle into a groove and establish a good base for the race. The course starts off with a bit of climbing, and then a long section of screaming downhill. I held back a bit on the descents, choosing to keep the legs fresh for the later parts of the ride. I ate my first fig bar on schedule 40 minutes in, and finished my first bottle of EFS in the first hour.

The first 18 miles flew by. I stopped for a good pee at the "push a bike" section, and then the course got a bit hilly. There was the steepest climb of the route, and I blew past a bunch of people but also met some people I’d ride with on and off for the rest of the ride. If I were smarter, I would’ve pulled us all into a little group. I’ll give that a shot next year.
The next 20 miles had some climbing, but also more than a few descents to break things up. The climbs were a bit tough, but I rode inside my comfort zone. I largely ignored my heart rate monitor, but dropped to the lowest gear of my 2X11 drivetrain early and spinning it out instead of pushing big gears.

tour de tucson
My Lemond Zurich before repaint and reassembly.

[bike break]
I ride a 1999 Lemond Zurich. It’s been repainted and refitted with a 2016 Ultegra 6800 group and wheelset. It has a slick Ritchey handlebar/stem combo. In the months leading up to the Tour (this year and last year), plenty of new bikes have turned my head. But then I ride this thing in a tour, and it feels like I’m on a monorail. So steady and comfortable. I know it’s not 100-percent future proof with its 1-inch headtube. I’d love at some point to have a road bike with thru-axles, disc brakes and room for bigger tires. But holy cow, it’s really hard to give up on this bike. Really, really hard.
[/bike]

Here’s the interesting part: In analyzing my Strava data afterward, it appears the I climbed faster in 2017, yet descended slower.

How about them apples?

I made my first real stop just before the big Oracle climb. I refilled all my bottles, and dumped my EFS into one of them. I recognized this next 15 miles or so as pivotal for my ride. I resolved to repeat "calm yo’ tits" no matter who I passed or who passed me.

I had some good chats with a guy doing the 100-mile ride, and teamed up shortly with a few different people. Thing is, none of us were paced perfectly for each other. I seemed to be climbing faster, while others hammered the descents or flats. The Moore Road section was a bit desolate, and the surface is pretty chewed up. How rough was it? The rattling would actually ring the little Knog bell on my handlebar!

My confidence was growing here because my legs felt good, but the rest of my body seemed happy, too. No aches, no pains – and I was sharp mentally. I’d stuck to my schedule of one fig bar every 40 minutes, and one bottle of EFS every hour.

tour de tucson
Some confidence is a good thing – but I was still trying to not get Ron Burgundy about it.

At the end of Moore, we had our screaming descent toward the freeway. And toward a repeat of my old enemy -- Silverbell Road.

Last year, my legs started to get that funny electric tingle that warns of cramps right when I crossed the I-10. This year? Nothing. Not a twitch. I told myself to "calm my tits" and check in again five miles later. Sure enough, rock solid. I rode into a rest stop a bit up Silverbell, which was the last stop for the ride. I ate half a banana, grabbed some bits of chocolate cookie -- and then – I noticed little cups full of pickle slices. Brilliant! Perfect! I quickly gobbled a few cups and topped off my third bottle with Gatorade – I figured better to have something with salt in it rather than just all plain water, especially since I’d used my pickle juice already.

As I rolled out of the rest stop, someone latched onto me. He was moving a bit more slowly than I probably would, but I figured he would help me stick with my "calm yo’ tits" mantra. He turned out to be fun to ride with since he could talk about stuff like long-haul air travel and solar power. He was eventually unable to keep the pace, so we parted ways and I headed out alone.
I hit the 65th mile, than the 70th. Not so much as a twinge of problems from the legs. My back was holding up, and I was still mentally really alert. Silverbell seemed to fly by, especially without last year’s horrible headwind.

Sure enough, the course made its final turn toward the finish line, and I rolled in with a strong finish. I lopped more than 45 minutes off my previous time. The thing is, I could’ve done even better. I had a hard time being disappointed with myself about that because I rode and ate according to plan. I now have a very good idea of what I need to do to avoid cramping and stay focused and dialed in through a good tour. My official results brought me into the top half of the pack, which I’ll take any day!

To really make a big improvement next year, I am convinced that I’ll need to find a few other people to form a pack. If any of you want to join me, I’m gonna aim for a moving average of 17-17.5 mph. Hit me up if that sounds like a good pace for you, and let’s see about working together.

El Tour de Tucson
I swear, I won’t make you help me pee if you ride with me at El Tour de Tucson in 2018.

After the race, I refueled with a giant burger at Graze. After some rest at the Varsity Club hotel (which I highly recommend), we headed to the new-to-us Tucson Hop Shop to have beer; I dearly love the beer at Pueblo Vida, but I couldn’t get my head around voluntarily heading into the downtown Tucson traffic again.

I have to say, Tucson Hop Shop is one of the coolest beer bars ever. Such a relaxing vibe – and that stupidly delicious Sri Lankan fusion food truck helped, too.

I am 100 percent on-board with riding El Tour de Tucson in 2018. Again, hit me up if you think it would be fun to ride with me!

CategoriesFitness

Recap: Prescott 6’er Mountain Bike Race

For the past year, I’ve ridden about 90 percent of my mountain bike miles on a belt-drive singlespeed (first a Raleigh XXIX, then a Domahidy Ti). The big question on my mind has been -- could I actually race the thing n the Prescott 6’er?

prescott 6'er
A bit of race-prep help from a short person.

The races I do are typically long: I’ve been in 24-, 12- and 6-hour races, along with singletrack races 40-65 long. And I also do the occasional 60+ mile road bike tour. The biggest question mark comes from my legs’ tendency to completely seize up about 4-5 hours into a hard ride (more on that later).

Well, I decided it was time to see if my solid (for me) summer of training, some new practices and a fun belt-drive bike could get me through the Prescott 6’er. If you’re unfamiliar with the format, that’s as many laps as you can do in 6 hours. Each lap was 8.6 miles with about 650 feet of climbing. My previous longest singlespeed ride has been about 30 miles, with right around 2,000 feet of climbing.

It’s Race Day at the Prescott 6’er

If you didn’t know the Prescott 6’er was going on, it would be easy to overlook the venue, which was right near a gravel pit. In fact, we had to point one other racer in the right direction. It was a small field, with only 6 racers in the men’s singlespeed solo category. In all, I’d estimate fewer than 200 racers. The promoter, Mangled Momentum, gave the event a friendly, low-key vibe that was extremely welcoming. There was even a beginner class.

prescott 6'er

The start-finish area passed close to spaces for team tents, with a dedicated Solo Alley. Mangled Momentum was even nice enough to put up a tent for solo riders who needed some shade – I brought my own, but that was still a very nice touch.

I set up my little camp with a cooler full of water bottles filled with EFS mix. I trained with EFS because of its large load of magnesium, which was part of my cramping problem in previous events. I also had a jar full of pickles, a box of fix bars, a bunch of gels, various single-serving electrolyte powders, extra EFS mix, some jugs of water and a bottle of Starbucks iced coffee just in case I felt a bit sleepy.

Oh, and someone asked me about my gear ratio, probably because I’m not only rolling a singlespeed, but also a belt drive. They got my standard answer:

Prescott 6'er

Go Time

I started out at the back of the pack for a few reasons: I wanted to take the first lap a bit easy. Getting wedged behind people prevents me from going at the course like a spider monkey -- thus blowing my legs out early. I often felt like I was holding back on the descents and climbs. But I kept it friendly and easygoing knowing that it would be a long day. I passed only when it was safe and tried to chat with other riders.

The course itself is seriously fun riding that has that elusive, hard-to-define "flow" that seems to make bikes and riders happy. There were a few sandy patches, but traction was overall pretty good anyway. The hardest part was the far north part, where there were some steepish switchbacks covered in loose rocks.

On the Rocks

It was on the switchbacks in the first lap where I had my major problem of the Prescott 6’er: My seat tube water bottle cage broke! My plan was to ride two laps at a time with two water bottles. I figured that would be good for the distance (I don’t like racing with a Camelbak if I can help it). But that plan went pear-shaped in a hurry. I had to hop off my bike, fetch my bottle and broken cage, stuff it all in my jersey pocket and then re-start in the switchbacks.

A few people I’d recently caught also reeled me back in because of this, but it probably would’ve happened anyway. I already got away from my plan of riding my own race and not focusing on who I’m catching or who’s catching me.

Lap After Lap

I actually rode my second lap slightly faster, but the stop to deal with my water bottle cost me some time. The nice thing about the second lap is that I wasn’t front wheel-to-poop chute with everyone else, which gave me space to ride the way I like. And also had more opportunities to take a gulp out of the water bottle. There just wasn’t really time and space on the first lap.

The third lap was definitely a bit slower, and I felt just a twinge in one of my calves. I staved that off with a generous swig of pickle juice. On the fourth lap, I felt no sign of cramping, but my legs felt tired. I settled into my camp chair to enjoy some shade, a can of coconut water, more pickle juice and an electrolyte packet that dropped a huge magnesium bomb into my system; my wife, who has ridden four Ironman-distance triathlons and definitely knows her stuff, suggested magnesium to me -- but with an ominous warning along the lines of "too much of it will make you shit like a demon." Well, let’s just say this electrolyte package may have been the definition of "too much."

But did my legs cramp, even on my first singlespeed race? Now. Those legs stayed loose and ready to go, albeit with less life in them than the first few laps. My biggest problem on that fifth lap was getting pounded by the seat. On a geared bike, you can shift into a higher gear, push the pedals a bit and keep the weight from settling square on the ol’ taint (or chode, if you were a Beavis and Butt-head fan). On downhills, my speed exceeded the bike’s gearing, so my butt settled right onto the seat. This is just something I gotta get used to for future races.

The fifth lap of the Prescott 6’er also brought the demon of trail boredom. Races like the Tour of the White Mountains ensure that you don’t keep seeing the same stuff over and over again, which definitely keeps me mentally more alert. I kept getting that Groundhog Day feeling.

By the time I finished that last lap, I knew I was for the first time ever in dead last. But my time would’ve gotten me into mid-pack in the familiar and comfortable environs of the regular solo class. And there was really no way for me to move up. So I just said "it’s time to go have a shower -- but maybe first a stop at the portable toilets." I was also a bit in the Groundhog Day cycle of boredom. I’d seen the same trails too much in a given time frame.

Digressions and Final Thoughts on the Prescott 6’er

Let me digress here: When you’re at an event where there are portable toilets, thank the people who keep those in decent shape. Shake their hand, and don’t even think of cringing when you do. They are vital and important people taking on an extremely dirty job to make your life better through sanitation. Better yet, go immediately to your streaming media player and find the Australian film "Kenny," which is all about the adventures of a portable toilet plumber. You will never take these people for granted again!

Prescott 6'er
“Do these blokes really need that much magnesium?”

About the event itself – so low key and laid back. If you sign up for a future Prescott 6’er, you won’t have to wait in long lines. You won’t have to circle around looking for parking. You won’t have to drive into some remote place. You can even send people for a quick supply run to a nearby grocery store if you forget something. And bike shops aren’t far away.

I’m hoping some event photos appear, especially since I saw a few people snapping shots with SLR cameras. The only other photos are from the start/finish shoot, which doesn’t make for very good photography.

The promoters also provided a pretty cool event t-shirt, along with some free gels and fizzy electrolyte tabs. Racers would also find coolers full of water and Hammer Nutrition products, along with solid stuff like bananas and cookies.

I would definitely race this event again and recommend it to anyone interested in a longer event. The six-hour (along with the 12 and 34) format has its ups and downs. You see the same trails a lot, unlike something like the Tour of the White Mountains where it’s one giant loop. This format allows you to support yourself much more easily. Personally, I like to do a bit of both.

CategoriesFitness

24 Hours of Enchanted Forest Race Report – Pedal With Warriors Team

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
A starry night at 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest.

Back in the old days, I worked at Adventure Bicycle Company in Mesa with this guy named Chad Hummer. He could race really damn fast, make an avalanche of jokes that started with the phrase “your mom” and also perpetrate dastardly pranks on people – usually when they were trying to have a peaceful session in the bathroom. Just one of the many fun people who worked there, for sure. Anyway, he returned from a good, long mountain bike racing hiatus to check out 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest – a race in New Mexico with a solid-gold reputation. He posted a write-up on Facebook that I thought needed an audience even wider than his mom, so he granted permission for me to gank his report and re-publish it here. Over to you, Hummer!

I’d been hearing for the last 6 years that there are some good things going on with mountain biking around Gallup, NM. In the past, I’ve always avoided Gallup unless I needed fuel or a pit stop. The town isn’t much to look at and it depends heavily on the I40 traffic and reservation to survive. Then I found out the Zuni Mtns above Gallup are around 7500 feet and the trails are getting better and better. At first I was going to just go to 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest and help out while exploring the area.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
The whole 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors team.

A week before the event I was feeling like I had logged good miles and my legs were recovering … so I asked around if anyone needed a ‘motivated’ team mate. Elisa hooked me up with Pedal With Warriors, a non-profit group that helps veterans to use mountain biking as a way to rebuild the mind/body/soul. Pretty soon I was added to a PWW group text and I was happy to secure a spot to race in the pines! My teamates were a little astonished because they found out I didn’t have a Strava account. I guess everyone except me has Strava … and your only as good as your last race … and mine was over 8 years ago, maybe 10 years if you count a 24hr endurance event! I tried to assure my team I had a lot of experience racing and that I will be 100% ready to help them out.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
“I’m too tired too make a ‘your mom’ joke” said Chad never.

Our team leader, Kirsten, really wanted to be on the podium. We had two ladies and two guys to form the PWW Co-ed 4-Person Team. The race started at 11AM Sat and ended 11AM Sun, temps ranged from 95 degrees during the day to 45 degrees at night. I’ve always done well in warm weather and I didn’t mind the heat! My first lap was around 3PM, one of the hottest laps of the day. I went out at 90% effort and legs felt great, except my lungs burned since I hadn’t opened them up properly with any hard efforts. I was happy with my lap times.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
Chad Hummer of the Pedals WIth Warriors team up to his usual shenanigans at 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest.

The second through fifth lap felt a lot better on the lungs and I kept hydrating and feeding my legs with solid foods. My stomach normally starts to knot up around 3AM but this race I kept feeling great all night and into the day. Legs were 80% from top form but I was pushing every little downhill section like my life depended on it. The Santa Cruz 5010 was heavier than I wanted and had way too much suspension for this course, but I made it perform on every little section of DH I could rip. Sometimes that meant passing 30-40 people per lap, jumping downed trees, and being creative with line choices. The course was 97% single-track … which made it fun yet interesting passing all types of people. I really liked the course and people for the most part moved over when needing to pass! It had a mix of everything except really steep switchback climbs/descents (which is perfect for people working into shape).

After the dust settled, our PWW Team had netted a solid 6th place finish out of 36 Teams with 19 laps/247 miles covered. I highly recommend checking out the trails around McGaffey Campground, only 25 minutes above Gallup! Thank you, Pedal With Warriors, for the opportunity.

Photos courtesy of … I dunno, the dog in the third photo? If it’s you, let me know and I’ll update with a proper credit!

CategoriesFitnessGearTastes

Riding Hard with Fuel100 Electro-Bites: A Review

For the first time in a few weeks, I did a long mountain bike without a stash of Fuel100 Electro-Bites. I’d run completely out of them, so I dug back into my extensive stash of gels.

And here’s the weird thing: My latest ride wasn’t that much longer than the previous weekend. The temperatures weren’t that much hotter. My route actually had a little less climbing. Yet I spent the rest of my Sunday feeling pretty whooped.

Could that be the Fuel100 Electro-Bites versus the gels? That’s a tough conclusion to attribute to just a difference in on-bike fuel. But there are some things I can definitely, conclusively, unequivocally tell you about Electro-Bites.

Fuel100 Electro-Bites
A convenient size with just the right amount of fuel inside.

A Welcome Change from Gels

For years, gels have been the THE way to refuel on a bike. They’re pretty super for races. But it has its drawbacks: Gel from open packets tends to get all over the place. And honestly, I can only handle so much sweetness.

The more-savory taste of every variety of the Fuel100 Electro-Bites seemed to please my tastebuds far more than gels.

I tried all the varieties: Simply Salty, Salty Vanilla, Apple Cinnamon, Salty Vinegar and Pumpkin Spice. Each flavor has the same core taste, which is very earthy and salty. That makes sense considering that potato starch is the main ingredient. The vinegar and apple and pumpkin flavors are all pretty subtle. I actually didn’t wind up with a favorite flavor.

Fue100 electro-bites
Inside, puffy little savory nuggets await to keep you topped off with energy.

Aside from the flavor, the texture might be my favorite attribute. The Electro-Bites are small pellets that have a nice crunch, but they also dissolve pretty quickly. That means you won’t be chewing for a long time and you won’t be distracted; even though this product was developed by runners, that’s great for mountain bikers who want to pay attention to the trail.

An Idea for Improving Fuel100 Electro-Bites

Packaging is one of the best attributes of gels: I use electric tape to attach packets to my top tube and handlebars, making it really easy during races to grab one, eat it and stuff the empty pouch into a jersey pocket.

That’s a challenge with the Electro-Bites packaging. There are riders out there who are skilled enough to manhandle a package of Electro-Bites, eat them and still not slow down. I’m not one of them – so I’ll have to ponder some ideas to innovate on a way to carry them. I figure there must be some sort of flip-top container I could stash in my jersey or in a stem pouch.

Fuel100 Electro-Bites
Rolling out to the trails with my last remaining packet of Fuel100 Electro-Bites.

Bottom Line on Fuel100 Electro-Bites

My experience with mountain biking dates back to the days when dudes would rip up a PowerBar and stick them directly to their stem and handlebars. I don’t miss those days at all, let me tell you. We’ve been through a lot of innovation and evolution with fueling up during exercise and races, and I really like what Electro-Bites has done. I like the taste, I like the texture and I like that they work well – possibly better than gels. I know just about every other rider (especially those without sponsorships) is always on the lookout for the next big leap in sports nutrition, and Electro-Bites are a worthwhile entry to the list.

Their price isn’t even out-of-line with other products, with a six-pack going for about $13. Chances are you’ll need to order them from the Electro-Bites website since they’re still finding traction with retailers. If you put in the effort to order some, I think you’ll like them.

Speaking of that, I need to place an order to get more – and they’ll be a go-to for races and long rides for the foreseeable future.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Electro-Bites for free from Fuel100 in consideration for a gear review. As always, this is not a guarantee of favorable coverage. The product still has to earn its praise honestly.