A Bike Life

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

Month: July 2011

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!

It Looks like an Expedition

Lining ’em up

My wife and I have eight children. Even with my adult children out of the house, a bike ride for the whole family invariably involves not just my kids but their friends as well. On the Fourth of July we decided to go up and visit my father and brother-in-law in Cedar Falls. Cedar Falls was one of the first cities in the country to get serious about bike trails and for a city of its size, it has an excellent trail network.

Unfortunately it takes a lot of work to get seven bikes ready for a ride. the first problem was that we didn’t have enough bikes in the right sizes. My son’s friend was coming along so his dad loaned us a bike. The loaner bike and my three bikes (road, fixed gear and mountain) all had clipless pedals of one sort or another and I was the only one in the group who knew how to ride with them. So, I had to swap pedals on a couple of bikes. Next I put the boys to work inflating 14 tires.

Seven bikes in the big van

Of course the other  difficult part of taking the whole crew on a ride is getting the bikes there. We have a Pointiac minivan that has the distinction of being one of only a few vehicles that neither Yakima nor Thule roof racks can fit. We have a Saris two bike rack that my wife and I use. Fortunately for big events we still have our Ford 15 passenger van. I have Yakima’s largest roof rack for it but as you can see on the right it is rarely necessary. With three of the seats removed we can fit 8 people and still have room inside for 8 bikes.  It is hard to tell but the picture above shows seven bikes in the back of the van.

The expedition was a success. We rode along the Cedar River on a tree-lined bike trail. The teenagers rode on ahead while my wife and I rode with her brother. Her brother hasn’t been on a bike in at least twenty years so we took it pretty easy. We probably rode about 7-9 miles. All in all it was a good ride. Her brother is interested in buying a bike since his house, in the Chicago suburbs, is surrounded by bike trails. We’ll have to make an expedition to go and ride with him.

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