A Bike Life

Four decades of touring, racing, commuting and recovery … a bike life indeed!

The High Trestle Trail

This week The Bike Wife and I went to Des Moines to ride a bit of RAGBRAI (a week long ride across Iowa). I have ridden several RAGBRAI’s starting 37 years ago with RAGBRAI IV. Originally, we had hoped to ride at least a full day but she tore her ACL and meniscus. She is recovering nicely but it will be some time before she returns to normal. She has been riding her bike on a trainer and riding some trails with me. She really is not ready for hills so we decided not to ride the full 50 miles.

We got to Des Moines on a Monday night and before we checked into our hotel we decided to go ride the High Trestle Trail from Woodward to Madrid. The High Trestle Trail is one of the gems of the Central Iowa trail system. The route from Woodward to Madrid is about an 11.5 mile round trip. The highlight of the trail is the trestle bridge, 13 stories high and almost half a mile long. the bridge spans a river valley and is lit up at night. The bridge is made up to look like a mine tunnel and it is lit up at night. We had hoped to catch the lights on this trip.

We were riding near dusk. As we rode, a storm front began to develop and we could see the thunder clouds forming. As time passed we began to see lightning on the horizon. We decided to hurry back to our car. Good thing, because shortly after we got to the car the Des Moines area was hit with straight line winds of 50-60 mph and heavy rains. One of these days, we’ll see the bridge at night. Even so, it was a great evening to be  on the bike with my wife.

The Death of ‘Twinkie the Kid’

Twinkie the Kid, RIP

Hostess, maker of Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, Ho-Hos and Wonder Bread declared today that because of a failure to reach an agreement with the baker’s union they would cease production and begin liquidating assets. Boxes of Hostess Twinkies are going for $100 on Ebay. It is indeed the end of an era.

You may be wondering why I am posting about Twinkies on a bike blog. Twinkie the Kid my have died today, but I almost killed him in 1978. It was the summer before my senior year in high school. I was 17 years old and riding my 4th RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is a week-long group bike ride across Iowa, in those days there were about 7-8,000 riders.

It was the middle of the week, Wednesday. This was the century day, 100 miles. I was riding with my friends and just a few mile into the day, my derailleur broke. Rather than quit, I simply shortened my chain put the bike in a medium gear and carried on. In this configuration, I could only ride in one gear. For the next 45 miles I rode in one gear, uphill, downhill or flat no shifting. It was painful but I didn’t want the guys to think I was a wimp so I rode on. When it came to hills, I tried to charge down each one so as to make it easier to climb the next. My single gear was really too high for climbing so I wanted to take advantage of momentum.

I had arranged for my dad to meet me at the 60 mile mark. He was supposed to go to my local bike shop, Europa Cycles, and get me a new derailleur and chain. In praise of local bike shops, the guys didn’t know (and neither did my dad) what kind of derailleur I would need so they just gave him a whole box of new derailleurs and said, I could pay them after the ride. When I eventually met up with my dad he had a box full of Huret, Shimano and Campagnolo derailleurs and Regina and Sedis Sport chains.

Before I met my dad, I had to run (ride) a gauntlet. At about the 50 mile marker, I’d been riding my single speed for over 40 miles, at the low spot between two hills most riders had come to a stop. So as I came over the top, I sped up to charge down the hill. And then I saw him, bigger than life — Twinkie the Kid. It was a guy in a Twinkie suit passing out Twinkies to riders. Things might have been different but I hate Twinkies, had it been Hostess Cupcakes, I might have stopped.

I was not going to stop I pedaled as fast as I could down that hill, head down over the handlebars and while I don’t remember what I said, I think I was screaming. All I knew was that if I stopped I was going to have to stand up on the pedals and climb the next hill in my high gear. People heard me and started moving out of the way, until finally there was no one in the road but me and Twinkie the Kid. I had visions of me and my bike strewn across the road smeared with cake and cream filling.

At the end of the day, Twinkie the Kid saw the look in my eyes. He knew that this town wasn’t big enough for the both of us. Twinkie the Kid wisely stepped aside as I streaked by. So Twinkie the Kid, lived to fight another day. I must say that I was saddened to hear of my old nemesis’ demise. He survived our showdown outside of Hudson, only to be done in by a baker’s union strike.

Over the years, as I’ve gotten older, Twinkie the Kid hasn’t seemed to age at all. I though that he would live forever (at the very least Twinkies last for years and years without refrigeration).

Goodbye old friend …

The Longest Ride

Southern 1/3 of the Grand Rounds

For my wife’s birthday this weekend, I talked her into going to Minneapolis to ride bikes. Since my wife is a novice cyclist this was quite an accomplishment. Friday night we enjoyed a leisurely ride around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriett. For Saturday I had more ambitious plans. Minneapolis is one of the most bike-friendly towns in America. They have an extensive trail system and a culture that embraces an active outdoor lifestyle. I decided that we would ride a 20 mile urban loop covering the southern 1/3 of the Grand Rounds. The portion we would be riding starts out by Lake Calhoun, follows the Midtown Greenway  east to the Mississippi and then takes the bike trail on West River Road south to Minnehaha Falls. From there, it follows Minnehaha creek back to the Chain of Lakes.

Jan on the Midtown Greenway

It turned out to be a perfect day for a ride. There was a breeze from the south but when we rode into it we were on West River Road riding mainly downhill and somewhat protected from the wind. We started our ride by getting on the Midtown Greenway. The Greenway goes across town parallel to and just north of Lake street. It follows an old trolley or rail line and has exits for the major north-south streets. Most of the Greenway (and many of the major trails) have two bike lanes and a separate walking lane. Along the Greenway we passed by the bike-friendly Sheraton hotel. The Sheraton is right on the Greenway and has bike packages including a bike valet! Next time I am in Minneapolis, I am going to give them a try. This is a picture of my wife on the Greenway in her neon bike outfit.

Near the Mississippi, the Greenway crossed several roads at grade level. I was impressed with how courteous the Minnesota drivers were. In every case, cars stopped to let us and other cyclists by. In fact I felt guilty because a couple of times, I stopped at a road crossing to rest or wait for my wife and traffic on the street stopped to let me cross — I ended up having to wave them on.

At the Mississippi

The next portion of the ride was along West River Road. The path in this section parallels the river and is nicely shaded with woods on one said and stately old homes on the other. In the direction we went this section of the ride slopes gently downhill most of the way. There are a number of scenic outlooks and benches where one can stop and enjoy the view. We took a brief detour to ride across the river and back. The bridge is a couple of hundred feet off the river and had great views north and south. Since the day was beginning to warm up we appreciated the breeze. There are some businesses along the route near the Lake Street bridge, where one can purchase food and drinks. We saw dozens of bikes parked outside one of the establishments near the bridge. They had outdoor seating and looked like they were drawing a large crowd.

Sea Salt at Minnehaha Park

At the south end of West River Road, we came to Minnehaha Park. The last time I had ridden this route was in the evening so I didn’t stop at the park. Minnehaha Park is home to Minnehaha Falls. I thought the falls were some distance from the trail so I had not planned on stopping. About this time, we needed to refill our water bottles so as we got to the park we saw that tere were concessions and pulled in. To my surprise the park and concession area were packed with bikers, walkers and picnickers.  We stopped at the restaurant, Sea Salt to have lunch. Lunch was perfect. The restaurant prides itself on fresh fish so we ordered a fish sandwich, avocado stuffed with crab salad and a strawberry and walnut salad. We must have waited 30 minutes to order and 45 minutes to get our food, but we needed the rest. When the food arrived it was worth the wait. I generally do not like breaded fish but the sandwich was crispy on the outside and a perfect moist flaky white on the inside. The crab salad was equally good and I love avocado in nearly all forms. A perfect way to enjoy the halfway point of the ride.

Wearing Neon at Minnehaha Falls

After lunch we walked the 50 or so fee to Minnehaha Falls. The falls were spectacular and you could hear the cascade over the dining area. The picture is the two of us in our camouflage jerseys next to the falls.

After the falls both of us were getting a little tired. My wife was tired because it was her longest ride to date. I was tired because not only was it the farthest I have ridden my fixed gear bike but by far the most time I have spent on it. Fixed gear bikes do not allow you to glide so whenever the bike is moving, you are pedaling. I also discovered that while my saddle is comfortable for about 10 miles, after that it is not. I am going to have to look for an old school Selle Italia Turbo Special like I have on my road bike. That saddle is comfortable all day long.

Looking Up

The last part of the ride follows Minnehaha creek just north of the airport. The creek meanders through a residential neighborhood with some really nice homes and lots of green space. We saw people tubing and canoeing in the creek along the way. This part of the trail also has a few small rolling hills. As it got later in the ride we stopped more. This is a picture I took lying in the shad of a big tree and looking up into the sky.

After following Minnehaha creek we returned to the familiar territory of Lake Harriett. I had been carrying our swimsuits and towels in my front panniers but I was too tired to look for someplace to change and swim. When we got back to the car my odometer read 19.99 miles. I spun my front tire to make it an even 20. We had a great time, perfect weather, great scenery, excellent food and the chance to celebrate Jan’s birthday. We are definitely going to have to do it again.

The Perfect Evening Ride

Sunset on Lake Harriet

This weekend was my wife’s birthday. So, being the romantic kind of guy that I am I decided to take her for a weekend getaway that included bicycling. It wasn’t too long ago that I would never have considered such a thing but since she has been riding her bike I decided to give it a try. Since our oldest daughter just moved to Minneapolis, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

A couple of years ago, when she got her bike, she came with me on a business trip to Minneapolis and we rode some of the trails in the area. She had a good time but we really only rode about eight miles at a time. Even now she has been riding between 8-10 miles at a time. For her birthday I wanted to try something a little more challenging.

We got to Minneapolis in the late afternoon and after visiting my daughter, we checked into our hotel. We had a snack in the hotel restaurant and decided to head out for a short ride before dark. Our goal was to ride around Lake Calhoun and maybe Lake Harriett before dark. The last time we were in Minneapolis, my wife did not want to ride over the hill between the lakes. This time was different. We parked the car, set up the bikes and hit the trail. It had been a hot day but was cooling as the sun set. We rode around Lake Calhoun and she was willing to climb the hill to Lake Harriett.

Lake Harriett has a band shell on the North end so we listened to the music for a while and rode around the lake. The photo shows our bikes in the setting sun on from the southeast side of the lake. It was a great ride. We rode about seven miles at a relaxed pace and we both enjoyed every minute. My wife is a much stronger rider than she the last time we were here. It was a good warm up for our big ride the next day.

RAGBRAI – the next Generation

On RAGBRAI with Jaylee (I’m the one on the left)

I am a first generation RAGBRAI-er. I started riding as a 14-year-old on RAGBRAI IV in 1976. Over the years as my children have grown I have taken them on RAGBRAI. Jaylee is the  seventh of my eight children and over the years all of her older siblings have ridden on RAGBRAI with me.

This year I took my 13-year-old daughter Jaylee with me. We chose Wednesday, the shortest flattest day from Boone to Altoona. Jaylee was nervous about riding the whole 56 miles so we picked up the ride in the middle at Alleman. We got together with my friend Jared, a triathlete on his first RAGBRAI, and drove to Alleman. We unloaded the bikes and got on the road at about 8:00 am. Since Alleman was about 32 miles into the ride, our start time put us pretty early in the pack.

Weather was a big concern, there was a chance of thunderstorms and temperatures in the 90’s with high humidity. As it turned out since we got off the road early we avoided the heat and the storms never happened. It was a beautiful day for a ride. At first the ride was flat or even a bit downhill. Jared and I tried to encourage Jaylee to set the pace because we did not know if we were riding too fast or too slow for her. I think she was worried about keeping up with me.

As it turned out she need not worry. At 13 Jaylee is a competitive swimmer and in excellent shape. I am 50 and clearly out of shape. When we hit the few moderate hills on the ride the difference in fitness levels became apparent. Like all old men I get to reminisce a bit, in my younger days, the guys I rode with and I would charge full speed up the biggest hill of the day singing Monty Python songs. Once we reached the top, we would ride back down just to repeat the performance and climb it again. On days with especially big hills we would often pass the same people once going up, twice going down and a third time climbing up again. Well that was then and this is now. As soon as we hit a big hill I slowed to a crawl and Jaylee and Jared rode on ahead. At the top of the hill there was a stand selling fruit slushes so when I got there I stopped and enjoyed a smoothie in the shade. Jared and Jaylee waited so long in the next town they were almost ready to come back and look for me 🙂

In the end, we had a great ride. Jaylee had a blast and she is convinced that she can ride a whole day or more next year. The smile on her face says it all — mission accomplished. Now I have to get my wife to try it.

Just like new!

My RB-1 with Fizik White (logo) Tape

There is something about new handlebar tape that makes a whole bike seem new. I just got through putting some new white Fizik tape on my road bike. I finished it off with some red electrical tape to match the bike’s red and white theme. The Fizik tape looks durable and from what I’ve read on the Internet it is easy to keep clean.

Over the decades I have used a variety of types of bar tape. Like most cyclists my age, I started with Tressostar cloth tape. It was thin woven cotton with an adhesive backing. I used the black version without lacquer and it lasted forever. I was never brave enough to try the famous harlequin wrap.

When I started racing I moved on to Benotto Cello Tape. This stuff was made of tough plastic and looked really cool on the bike. It was shiny with a slight texture and surprisingly grippy. Unlike modern tape, the Tressostar and Benotto had no padding at all.

My RB-1 with Velo Orange Elk Hide

My previous tape job was the coolest looking but alas, it did not last. When I re-furbished my Bridgestone RB-1 I decided to try Velo Orange‘s Elkhide sewn on bar covers in white. These are pre-cut elk hide and come with excellent directions. On evening I spent a couple of hours stitching them on. As you can see they looked great! Everywhere I went, other cyclists asked about them. They we comfortable and had excellent grip, the problem was that there was no good way to keep them clean. After a while they looked really ratty. I finally removed them and put the Fizik on instead. Apparently Velo Orange has discontinued the white version.

Well, with my new white tape I am ready for anything. I am sure that I will be faster on tomorrow’s commute!

The Five Schwinns of my life

A good friend recently asked for help fixing her bike. She has a Schwinn Varsity and the rear derailleur had lost a pulley. Because the bike was so old, I had to replace the entire derailleur, but now it works just like new. As I worked on her bike, it reminded me of the five Schwinns I have owned over the years and how big an impact they had on a bike life. The pictures in this posts are not of my bikes, I wish I had pictures of all of them 🙁 I chose these pictures because they are similar to the bikes I owned.


My first Schwinn was a classic Stingray like the one pictured here. Mine had a green banana seat and matching grips. I think it had silver fenders and I know it had a 2.25 inch slick tire in the rear, just like a dragster. It was more than a bike, to a kid in 3rd grade, the Stingray was freedom. I could go anywhere from 18 Street to Seerley Boulevard from College to Main Street and I didn’t have to be home until the streetlights came on. I raced with my friends, did wheelies, delivered newspapers, rode down stairs and jumped off homemade ramps on that old Stingray. Today my kids have Facebook, Xbox, Twitter, etc, I wish I could share with them the joy of that old Stingray.


I spent my junior high years on Guam. My family lived in faculty housing by the university and my neighbor had a brown Schwinn Varsity chained to his water meter. One day I asked if whe would sell it to me and I took my paper route money and bought it. Those old Varsitys were heavy! I am sure mine weighed 50 pounds. But to me that bike was a thoroughbred race machine. During my stay on the island a small bicycle club was formed. I remember a ride in the hills of southern Guam. Of the twenty or so riders, only three of us made it to the top of the hill by Fort Santa Agueda without walking. The other two were adults on Schwinn Paramounts (Schwinn’s legendary top of the line bike), of course I was on my trusty Varsity. When my family returned to Iowa, I had the varsity shipped back and it was my way to re-acquaint myself with my old hometown. I even took it on a 55 mile ride with the local bike club.

Super Le Tour 12.2

I worked all summer the year I returned from Guam to earn enough for a serious bike. I had my heart set on a Peugot PX 10 but by the time I had the money there were none available in my size. So I ended up buying a brand new Schwinn Super Le Tour 12.2. The Le Tour was one of the first mid-line Japanese Schwinns. It was relatively light for its day and the blue and chrome finish made it look like it could fly. I rode that bike on my first RAGBRAI(a 430 mile ride across Iowa). I added toe clips, bought stiff Italian cycling shoes and replaced the wheels with a pair of sew-ups with Campagnolo hubs and a Regina ORO racing freewheel. I raced that bike in criteriums and time trials all over Iowa. The old Le Tour saw me through my high school years looking at this picture (not my bike but the same model) is like looking at a picture of an old friend.

High Sierra

Many years and four children later, I was living in Wichita, Kansas. I had not yet finished my college degree and I was working as a Red Lobster manager. I wasn’t doing much bicycling. Mountain biking was just coming of age. An employee of mine sold me an old beater mountain bike. It had some nice components but the frame was junk. I went out and bought a Schwinn High Sierra frame that had never been built up. The frame was bright yellow and in the fashion of the 1980’s I tricked it out with hot pink accessories. The next year I returned to college for a year to finish my degree, the bike and I (hot pink components and all) sere a regular sight around campus. Mountain biking was just the shot in the arm I needed to get back into cycling.

Paramount PDG 70

I have been fortunate to own a number of great bikes, some of them considered classics to this day. I have also been fortunate to not have to spend top dollar even to buy high end bikes. The Le Tour was the only bike I ever bough new at retail. When I finally got my college degree and a job to go with it my wife let my buy a Schwinn Paramount PDG-70. The PDG-70 was a high end mountain bike, no suspension with Shimano Deore XT components throughout. This bike was a leftover, it was a previous year’s model that had not sold so I bought it new at a significant discount. This bike was sexy and fast. As you can see in this photo The top tube and stem were long encouraging a very aggressive riding position. I rode this bike almost exclusively on hilly single-track trails. Some years later I replaced it with a newer model (not a Schwinn) with front suspension and I sold it to my brother. I think I made a mistake, I like the PDG-70 better.Of the many bikes I have owned, five have been Schwinns. Each one evokes memories and has a special place in my heart.

I was riding RAGBRAI before you were born!

My first RAGBRAI patch

RAGBRAI! The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa is a weeklong bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. But to call RAGBRAI a bike ride is a misnomer. RAGBRAI is the grandaddy of all cross state rides in the country. It is not the oldest, longest or largest ride but at seven days, over 10,000 riders and an average distance of over 450 miles it is certainly the biggest long ride in the country. The ride is not a race, it is sort of a rolling community of riders unlike any other.

My first ride was RAGBRAI IV in 1976. I was 15 years old and had just finished my freshman year of high school. After a summer of de-tassling I  had saved enough money to buy my first serious bike — a Schwinn Super Le Tour 12.2. I mail ordered a pair of (genuine Italian!) Detto Pietro cycling shoes and had a local cobbler nail on the cleats. I am pretty sure that I rode with a leather hairnet helmet.  I rode with my friend John, he had a Raleigh Gran Prix and had only ridden ten miles before RAGBRAI. The thing I remember most about the first day was not the ride itself but the sandburs that got stuck in everyone’s tires and caused numerous blowouts. I think I had at least three flats that first day.

I was 15 and John was 14 so his dad agreed to drive from overnight town to overnight town in their Volkswagen with our camping gear. I am pretty sure that he didn’t believe we could really do the whole ride 🙂 That first ride was a blast. John and I had a great time and would go on to ride other RAGBRAIs together. It was an incredible adventure, for me it allowed me to do something that none of my classmates even dreamed of doing. I was not a typical high school athlete but I knew that on the bike I could compete with any of my friends.

Riding RAGBRAI with my son

Since that time I have ridden numerous RAGBRAIs. I think I have ridden about 12 complete rides and a day or two of several others. Over the years I have also enjoyed riding with my children. RAGBRAI is coming in a few weeks and I am hoping to ride at least a day with my daughter or a partial day with my wife.

When people ask me how many RAGBRAIs I have ridden, I usually tell them that I cannot precisely recall. In recent years I have also been able to say to many of them, “I was riding RAGBRAI before you were born!”

Rockin’ the Big Ring

The Big Ring!

My wife is a cycling newbie. It is fun to watch her improve as we ride. She is riding faster and farther nearly every time we go out. Today was no exception. We rode just about 10 miles and while she felt she could have ridden more we decided to call it a day.

On our last ride, she got on her bike after our daughter had ridden it. Our daughter had left the bike in its highest gear (52×13) and when my wife started out, she almost fell off! Today I decided I would try and help her shift the front derailleur. This was easier said than done since her bike is nearly new and has brifters (shifter combined with the brake levers). When I re-built my bike I stayed with downtube shifters and since I have never ridden hers I could not remember which way to shift up or down.

Up until today, my wife has ridden exclusively on the middle chainring. Her bike has a wide range rear cassette so she rarely has need to shift off the middle ring. Today, however I saw her pushing pretty hard up a hill into the wind, so I talked her into dropping to the small ring up front. She found a gear that she liked and rolled smoothly up the hill. On the way back, downhill with a tailwind, I coaxed her onto the BIG ring. It was her first time but she really got going, we rode quite a ways spinning in in high gear. She had a blast but was afraid to go any faster.

I am sure this won’t be the last time she is out there rockin’ the BIG ring.  Next I need to  teach her how to ride one handed and drink from her water bottle.


My Bridgestone RB-1

I am a bike commuter again. With gas well over $3 a gallon it just makes sense. Throughout my life I have had a somewhat varied relationship with the bike. I have been a racer, a commuter, a long-distance solo tourist, a club rider and yes a commuter.

I have started commuting to work again this summer. I began on my fixed gear bike but the 10 miles with hills on both ends was too much. I had lowrider mounts put on my Bridgestone RB-1 so now I can carry front panniers as shown in the picture and this is my commuting setup. I am going to try and mix biking to work and swimming for the rest of the summer.

Now, if only we had showers in my building 🙁

Since I am an old man I have a bailout gear on this bike. The setup is an Ultegra triple but I replaced the rings with TA Alize 24-38-48 up front and 13-24 in the rear. So if things get really bad and it looks like there is no tomorrow I can drop into 24×24! I was concerned that I might have to resort to the 24 ring up front. Apparently all the fixed gear time paid off I took a different route home and on the big hill I managed to ride my 38×19 all the way up!

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén