Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Big Ride 1 & Big Ride 2

Road bike or gravel riding?
How about both?
How about two of the best rides I've ever had in less than a week?
Yep. I'll take that. I think I'll call them Big Ride 1 and Big Ride 2.

I'm going to start with Big Ride 2 because I just got back from riding it.

Ever since I started riding gravel (I've probably ridden it only ten times since last fall)  I have wanted to ride what I call "the big hill." Today I set out with a goal of riding 5 miles of gravel and took off and hit just about every gravel road and dirt path near my house. I rode five miles and kept going. At about 7 miles I was ready to head home but the big hill was there. I decided to go for it.

The big hill is actually two big hills - a big one down into a valley then a big one back up the other side. Then of course I have to ride back down and up again to get home. I thought the first "up" was going to be a challenge but I managed it pretty well. Then I turned around to head back home and noticed the hill back up was going to be a tough one.

The Hill - the first half. Taken last April before things greened up

It was. The gravel was soft and deep. I got off once and walked my bike about six paces. Biked some more then got off again and walked my bike to the other side of the road where the gravel was better. But, save for about 20 paces, I biked the whole thing.

From the top of the first hill - the hill back to home. Much prettier at this time of the year.

The hills have been a goal of mine - and today I rode them.  At this moment I am tired but feel incredibly strong. It's a good feeling.

Big Ride 1 happened on Saturday. I rode my longest ride to date - 64 miles made up of the 60 mile route of the Jesse James Bike Tour (which is actually 62 miles) plus a couple of miles of biking from my van to ride start to equal 64.

The day of the JJBT was gorgeous, a bit warm but no wind and a perfect day for a ride. Owen and I set out around 7:30 am. The ride from start to finish went well. I smiled almost the whole ride and had fun talking to Owen and to people along the route and at the rest stops.

Owen and I just after tacking one of the hills near the Carleton wind turbine on the 2011 Jesse James Bike Tour.
Photo by Scott Davis - Davis Portrait Studios

I did not cry at mile 45 like I did last year (it was very windy the whole ride last year and the hill at mile 45 just was too much. The ride was so hard I never had the energy to blog about it. I did finish the ride, though, and stopped crying by mile 46). Instead at mile 45 I was feeling darn good and stopped to chat a lot at the rest stop in Faribault, especially with Ben Witt from Milltown Cycles who was set up there offering mechanical support to riders who needed it.

The final leg of the ride, the last 15 miles, went well. I had way more energy than I thought possible for such a long ride. At ride end we found our friend, Steve, who rode the 60 mile route as well. And we found a bunch of guys we know who set out 15 minutes before us and rode the 100 mile route and still finished well before us. They are fast. I am not. And this is okay.

The fast riders inspire me and it sure was fun to see them whiz past me in their brightly colored team jerseys and hear how quickly they biked 100 miles - but my biggest inspiration on the JJBT was a woman named Deborah who I met at the first rest stop. She was perhaps a little older than me and not in what I'd call tip-top shape. She was riding the 60 mile route alone and on a hybrid - it's a bike that is comfortable but not the fastest or best bike for a long ride. Riding alone on a hybrid on a long ride is pretty amazing but what really inspired me was her attitude. We talked about people passing us and she said something like "everyone passes me"and we both chuckled. Then she said something like, "But who cares? I could be at home on the couch watching tv like other people but I'm out riding instead."

Yep. I like that attitude.
Get off the couch and ride a bike.
It's a bit of work sometimes but it's awfully fun.

By the way, I saw Deborah shortly after she finished her 60 mile ride. She was smiling :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Can't Stop Smiling - Riding the Salsa Mukluk

This morning started in the most fun way possible - After I got the kids on the bus for their second day of school I drove down to Milltown Cycles in Faribault where I met Ben, the shop's owner, for a morning mountain bike ride on a Salsa Mukluk fat bike.

I'm not a mountain biker. I've never ridden trails and, save for riding gravel a dozen times, have only ridden on paved roads and paths. I never thought I could be a mountain biker or ride on anything but roads. But after an hour on the Mukluk I am hooked. Absolutely hooked. And I can't stop smiling.

At first I was smiling just because the Mukluk is such a funny bike - it looks kinda odd with the big tires and the feeling of riding it is so different at first it just made me laugh.

Once we hit the trails and I was faced with all sorts of stuff I've never ridden over before I was smiling because, despite my lack of experience, I was actually riding mountain bike trails with success. I never thought I could ride trails and there I was riding up and down hills and over rocks and tree roots pretty well. 

Without Ben to help me I doubt I would have taken the Mukluk over the terrain we did this morning on my own. I know I wouldn't have, actually. But with Ben guiding the way and teaching me in his easygoing, laid back way, I felt way more confident than I expected. I found myself laughing my way down steep hills and asking to do them again. 

We rode for about an hour, mostly on trails through the nearby nature center. It was a gorgeous morning for a ride - my only regret is that I didn't stop to take pictures along the way. A picture of the Mukluk back in the shop will have to do.

Salsa Mukluk in their smallest frame size and set up to fit me

I'm not qualified to actually test drive a bike and do a review but here are a few comments on my ride :

The Mukluk's big tires made the ride smooth whether we were on tar or gravel or a rocky downslope. I would call them "forgiving" - where a narrow bike tire would slip or slide on the gravel the Mukluk's tires just truck on over everything. The top tube slopes downward so it was easy to get on and off of the bike. I rode with regular tennis shoes and flat pedals. Ben put a women's specific WTB saddle on the bike - I've had a ton of trouble finding comfortable saddles and the WTB worked well for me. 

Big Tire on the Salsa Mukluk - picture taken by Milltown Cycles

All in all the Mukluk was comfortable to ride and a whole lot of fun! 

If you're looking for a bike that will keep you smiling - it's hard to beat a fat bike :)

Salsa Mukluks - another picture taken by Milltown Cycles

Thanks to Ben and Curtis from Milltown for letting me test drive the Mukluk this morning. And Ben, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to ride with me and teach me new stuff. I appreciate it!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

30 Days of Biking - Round 4

Well, it's time for the fourth round of 30 Days of Biking and I'm doing it again.

If you don't know what 30 Days of Biking is it's, in short, a challenge to ride your bike every day for 30 days. It was started by two guys from the Twin Cities who challenged their Twitter friends to ride their bikes every day. The challenge went viral and several hundred people from around the world participated in the first 30 Days of Biking.

I was one of them. I rode my bike every day in April 2010.
And, though it sounds over-dramatic to say this, 30 Days of Biking changed my life.
I became a much more active person. I realized I could do things that seemed impossible. I met a bunch of positive, fun people. And I really started "loving the bike," as my friend, Darryl from Loving The Bike likes to say.

Since that first challenge there have been two more and I've done them all. Owen and the kids joined me for Round 2 last September. Owen joined me for Round 3 in April and I had the fun of being a member of Team Loving the Bike for a fun competition with a group over at Bicycle Radio.

I'm a huge fan of 30 Days of Biking! But, I will admit, when the announcement went out that Round 4 was starting on September 1st I was a little less than keen on doing the challenge again. I'm not really sure why. Maybe because I know that I can in fact ride my bike every day for 30 days in a row. Or maybe because I was feeling sort of tired of riding my bike. Or something.

But I decided to ride Round 4.

Well because doing 30 Days of Biking makes me feel great!

When I'm biking every day I feel happier - probably because of the exercise and also, I think, because each day is an accomplishment and I like accomplishing goals.

It also feels wonderful to be a part of a big bicycling community made up of people from all over the world. Each time I do the challenge I "meet" so many fabulous people and reading their tweets and Facebook comments about the challenge is inspiring.

30 Days of Biking also reminds me that bicycling is more about having fun along the way than it is about going far or going fast.

So here I go again with Round 4 of 30 Days of Biking!

And here's a fun video from last September when it rained a lot - but we still rode our bikes every day!

On a related note, 30 Days of Biking introduced me to a very cool bicycling blog, shebicycles. I follow the blog and entered a contest to win a YMX bicycling jersey. Guess what? I won - and Cassi at shebicycles asked me to write my "bike-ography" for her blog. Read my bike-ography if you wish and be certain to read the blog. It's wonderful and, as an added bonus, the pictures are awesome!