Monday, June 8, 2015

In Which Misfortune Leads to Better Things

Today there was so much biking news that it barely could fit in one post. So let’s take things in three chapters:

Chapter 1: In Which I Ride and Admire Decorations

I am going to be soon helping my wife watch four young grandchildren for a few days, and my biking pal and sister is traveling soon to Kansas City to grade exams (lucky her, but it is an extra gig that earns her extra money) for a few days, so it felt like today, before these events, was the day for a big bike ride.

I met my sister at 7:40 a.m. (10 minutes late, my fault) at Riley’s for a filling breakfast. Then I met her again at her house, and we were on our way. Neither of us had been to Ely lately, so we decided to head down the Cedar River Trail in that direction. The goal was to ride RAGBRAI-like miles, to aim for 60 or so, without really worrying about RAGBRAI-like hill climbs.

When we got to Ely, the coffee shop that is our usual smoothie stop was closed, but Casey’s next door had doughnuts and chocolate milk, so all was well. Before we headed north, I photographed a yard she had noticed on the way to the stores—I called it the “National Lawn Ornament Monument,” but she informed me it was the “National Lawn Ornament Museum and Library.” The librarian, to judge by the sounds, is a yippy little dog.

Ely, Iowa, home of angels and gnomes and frogs, oh my!

Anyway, as we headed north again, I photographed some other beside-the-trail decorations, and thought the theme for this blog post would be said decorations. Foreshadowing—There Is Much Bigger Biking News To Come.

More decorations in Cedar Rapids near south end before Cedar River Trail turns into the Hoover Trail.

Chapter 2: In Which Fate, It Seems, Decides to Lend a Hand

We were going north. The morning had been very pleasant, and although we had to battle a headwind, it wasn’t really a serious wind. The day was starting to turn warm, but was still nice. When we crossed the Bridge of Lions, I had a question for my sister.

“Are you ready to explore a bit?”

She was.

I had an idea that there should be a route from where we were (north end of the Lions Bridge) to Otis Road, which leads to the Prairie Parks Fishery. I knew that there was a side street next to the Cargill plant, and if I could get to that street from where I was, well, it’s an alternate route that avoids a busy street crossing further north.

We ended up riding on a sidewalk on a busy road, and doing at least several extra blocks due to a dead end, but we discovered you can get to the street that goes by St. Wenceslaus Church, and that said street indeed does tie into the street that runs beside Cargill. But my triumph was short lived.

“Joe,” my sister said, “you back tire is really low.” This was an unpleasant surprise, because in preparation for this epic ride, I had pumped up both tires this morning. My back tire should have been firm and full. It was flabby. Not fully flat, but headed that way.

Well, we both had frame pumps, and hers is new. So we decided to push on to the Prairie Parks Fishery, and there used her pump. For a frame pump, it seemed to work well. The tire went from flabby to slightly firmer, but not “tight.”

“You know,” she mused, “there is a full set of bike tools available at New Pioneer Coop.” We had been thinking of trying a new pizza joint on 42nd Street for lunch, but decided that they sell food at the coop, too.

We pumped up again at Cedar Lake and made it to the Coop. Because stopping every half hour to put air in my tire wouldn’t be fun, we wanted a better fix. But, I was not too worried. I carry a spare tube, and since the coop had a nice bike pump, I figured it would be worth the mess and 20 minutes of work to replace the tube.

Lunch. Prepared store macaroni salad and sandwich in a bag. With "honest" tea. It was all about 1,000 times better than it looks, though. Go to New Pioneer Coop for your biking lunch sometime, Trust me.

Fresh flowers on the table of the eating area in the store.

So we had lunch. It was divine. I recommend the Coop as a great lunch stop—it’s not that the food is unique, as I had a turkey sandwich with macaroni salad—it’s just that the mundane food is so well prepared that you’ll honestly think “that was about the best turkey sandwich and macaroni salad I’ve had in my entire life.” And you’ll mean it.

What happened next—fate, right?—was not so divine. I took off the old tube. We inspected tube and tire, and decided that there was a hole in the tire that matched a hole in the tube, but whatever made the hole wasn’t stuck in the tire any more. So I partially inflated the new tube and had the 15-minute wrestling match of putting the tire back on the rim. And we attempted to inflate the tire. Every time, the first few pumps would make it feel a bit more firm, and then it would go limp. Really limp. With our hands and ears, we could detect air leaking out where it should stay in—the tube, apparently, had a defective valve.

We appreciated nice set of bike tools (see other end of rack) but could not figure out New Pi bike rack. My sister documents the insanity. It seems a bit odd to hang your bike, so I cheated. The nice New Pi tools couldn't hide the fact that my spare tube had a bad valve.

Darn. After 44 miles, my 60-mile ride was done. I called my wife for rescue.

She was a bit grumpy with me, which was my fault because I had left a mess when I rushed out this morning. I was looking for some of the stuff I wanted to take with me on the bike journey, and had not repacked a kitchen cupboard I rummaged in. Husbands out there, take note—that’s a serious strategic error, especially if you require a rescue.

But, after reminding me of my transgressions, she agreed that she would come to my aid.

I said adieu to my sister and proceeded to try to install Instagram on my new smart phone to pass the time while I waited. In fact, I was so engrossed I did not see her drive by, and she came up and grabbed my bike before I realized she was there. And so the story seems over, but yet it doesn’t end. Because, big as Chapter Two was, it doesn’t compare to the drama of Chapter Three …

Chapter Three: In Which I Get What I Don’t Deserve

As we headed for home, we drove by the bike shop, and without consulting me, my wife pulled the van into the parking lot. "You wanted to stop here, right," she asked. Clearly, yes was the only answer.

I went in and whined a bit about the tube with the bad valve. The bike shop guy didn’t fuss much, and handed me a free replacement tube. That was, in retrospect, a Very Good Move on his part because of what happened next.

My wife called me over to the new bikes. “What do you think about this one?” she asked.

I’ve been thinking about getting a new road bike which would be much lighter and faster than Francis. I can do RAGBRAI on my hybrid, but let’s face it—as the bike shop guy said, “you can buy speed on a bike.”

My biking sister and youngest son have recently acquired new bikes. My sister purchased one at this very shop (Northtowne) that I envied. Her new bike has several features I like, including those hooked-style handlebars (good for when you face a headwind and want to tuck down), but also dual brake controls, so you don’t have to go into the wind crouch just to stop your bike.

And guess what this road bike that my wife spotted had? The handlebars I want. The weight (much lighter than Francis) I’m after. Dual brake controls.

“Do you want to take it for a test spin?” the bike shop guy asked. For some reason, he was seeming even more jolly.

I rode. I liked. I bought.

It’s not the fancies of Fancy Bikes. It has regular pedals and a kickstand, for instance, both of which are way too downscale for true road bikes. It’s also an aluminum frame, not fancy carbon fiber. But despite being forged of metal, it’s way, way lighter than Francis.

It has regular pedals. And I asked Northtowne to add a kickstand, which they did for free.

And so the ups and downs of the biking day turned again from a big down to a bigger up.

I need a name for this new silver fellow:

My new bike.
I rode the new bike home, but first went a bit north on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. Not far—just after the 3 mile mark, I stopped to take the new bike’s photo. It looks nice, don’t you think? A bunny—no, I don’t know why bunnies are suddenly abundant on this bike blog, they just are—was watching indifferently as I shot some image of The New Bike That Needs A Name.

The new bike bunny. Is the new bike "Bunny?" No, sounds too much like an exotic dancer's stage name.

I timed one mile (no computer) and it took 5 minutes. That’s 12 miles an hour, but there were two roads I had to slow down for in that mile. So I timed the next mile. It was 4 minutes, 15 miles an hour, but I was battling the same headwind we had faced earlier. So after the photo shoot, I timed the same mile again and did it in about 3 ½ minutes or between 17 and 18 mph. Not a land speed record, and probably not my fastest mile on Francis, under the right conditions, but these were miles at the end of a long biking day.

Between 6 or so miles on that trail, maybe 3 miles to get to those 6 miles and 5 miles more on the way home (I did the neighborhood hill just because), I didn’t quite get to my 60 miles. But I got close. Add 14 to 44 and you get 58.

Also, there is no computer on What’s Its Name, so who knows? Maybe I did 60. I think it’s a good sign that I was able to do my hill practice at the end of those miles, too.

I do feel a bit more ready for RAGBRAI.

And don’t worry, Francis. I will put a new tube on you (and a new tire) and get you ready to ride. You’re still my main commuting pickup truck of a bike, and you are the bike with the tot seat for small grandchildren to ride on. You won’t rest in the garage, buddy.

But I would be telling a lie if I didn’t admit I’m pretty happy with, with ….

Well, with whom? Blog pals? What shall we call this dainty new silver road bike?

I'll have to wear my backpack water bag--no front basket could fit on this bike. The multi-position handlebars with dual brake controls are still totally worth it.

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