Monday, April 25, 2016

So, you're going to start riding a bike...

With spring finally showing it's face it seems like a lot of people are considering getting out and getting on a bike.  While many of these folks are seasoned riders, there seem to be quite a few people that I know that are getting back to riding a bike after giving it up since they were kids.

Since I'm an experienced ('experienced' means I've spent a lot of time on a bike, not to be confused with 'expert') bicyclist I thought I'd take a little bit of time and write down a few thoughts for people who are getting familiar with riding again, especially those who are getting into mountain biking.

There are a lot of different opinions on bikes - and I am not an equipment kind of guy, so I don't have much to add.  As far as advice on buying a bike I have one major point - buy from a reputable local bike shop.  For God's sake do not buy a Walmart/Target bike - please, just don't do it.  Go to a local shop, tell the person there what you want to do on your bike, and let them guide you towards the right bike.  If you can, try to compare a couple of shops.  Stick with your budget and don't get talked into a really expensive bike right off the bat.  If you're starting in mtb you should be able to get a 26" hardtail for less than $800.  This will not be a top of the line bike, but should be perfectly adequate for a new cross country mountain bike rider.

What other gear are you going to NEED to start riding?  Two items - helmet and gloves.  Of course you can spend a thousand dollars on neat new Lycra bike jerseys and shorts, with matching socks etc.  But what you really need is a helmet (for all singletrack mountain bike rides) and padded bike gloves.  A small backpack is nice for carrying water and snacks, and as you get more involved in riding you can pack first aid kits, spare tubes and tire pump, bike tools, lights etc.  But when you start - helmet and gloves.

If you haven't been on a bike in years (or even decades) it can take a while to get back into the swing of riding.  I started again in my mid 40's after not riding more than 20 miles a year for two decades.  It took me a while to get my leg muscles toned up so that it wasn't so hard to pedal.  If you're in the same situation consider getting used to riding by putting some in some miles on bike trails, or low traffic paved roads.  This way you can focus on the first requirement - getting your leg muscles ready to move you and the bike for an extended period of time  - without having to worry about picking up new skills like riding over roots and rocks.

Another thing if you haven't ridden for a while - shifting a drivetrain with 24, 27 or 30 gears might take a while to get used to.  If this is an issue for you try this: set your front derailleur in the appropriate position and just leave it there, adjusting your gears only with the rear derailleur until you get comfortable with shifting.  If you're on flat pavement set the front derailleur on the biggest ring, if there are some mild hills or wind try the middle ring.  Save the small ring for hills and rough terrain.  As you ride more, shifting will become second nature, and you'll be running through the range of front and rear gears without even thinking about it.

So now you're out riding on your new bike, and it's a lot of fun.  The wind is in your face, you're picking up the shifting concept and you can put down some miles.  But by the end of the first ride your butt is killing you.  There are a couple of things to know about this.  First - your rear end will get used to riding a bike after a while.  Second - you can adjust the position of your seat to make it more comfortable, all it takes is a hex key. Third - you can change your seat to something more comfortable than the stock seat that came with your bike (try a slightly wider seat with gel or memory foam, and check out one with the relief cutout in the center).  And fourth - riding your bike on the pavement is different than riding a mountain bike on singletrack (i.e. dirt trails).  On pavement you pretty much stay seated, not changing position but instead cranking out the miles.  But when you're riding on singletrack you're far more dynamic in your position - moving forward or backward, and often standing out of the seat.  Riding like this is way easier on your rear end than pavement riding.  So do not despair if you get sore at first, this can be dealt with.

And you can start picking up the skills you'll need to get on dirt while riding around your neighborhood.  Practice getting out of the saddle - standing up while coasting, and then while pedaling.  When you're comfortable doing this try riding with your weight shifted back, so that you're butt is hanging off the back of the seat a bit.  This is the technique you'll use to keep from going forward over the bars when descending steep bits of trail.  You can try riding off curbs while out of the seat to start getting the feel for what a small drop feels like.  Once you can do that, try riding up a curb at a slow rate of speed - approach while out of the seat, pre-load your front shock by quickly shifting your weight forward, and then pull back up on the bars as the shock bounces back and unweight your front wheel so that it can get up and over the curb.  Check out Youtube - there are many, many videos on there that can help new riders develop specific skills, where you can see it done right, in slow motion, over and over again.

Your first ride on singletrack - an incredible experience for most.  Try to find out where the beginner level trails are in your area - do not try to start on something advanced and technical, because that takes a good deal of skills you aren't likely to have.  Instead look for trails with not many hills, and not huge amounts of rocks or roots.  And don't try to do a ten mile trail the first time out - it's probably going to be way harder than you thought, and a couple of miles may be more than enough.  If you can get an experienced rider to go with you that's probably a good idea.  They can point out areas that are going to require specific skills or help guide you away from more hazardous features.  Watch how they deal with riding over roots and shifting to get up sudden hills, and remember to try and practice that when riding around your neighborhood or on your next singletrack ride.

Once you get that bare minimum of skills needed to make it at least partway around your local trail, what do you do to be able to ride like a pro?  Watching videos can give you some ideas, but the only way to get good is to spend time in the saddle.  Try to ride a couple of times a week if you can, or get out and build leg and cardio vascular strength with pavement rides until you can get back on the dirt.  Nothing makes a better rider like getting in three riding sessions a week for a summer.  You won't believe the difference at the end of a couple of months.

Good luck to all the aspiring mountain bikers out there.  It's a great way to get fit, lose weight, and spend time in the great outdoors.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A Different Winter

Looking back, it seems that I missed posting in December - and if I don't hurry up I'll miss January as well.  Not that it would be a significant missing link in my riveting history, but I do like to take a look back every now and again to see what I've been up to.

But I should take a minute to talk about my progress in getting more fit, since I'm at nearly the one year anniversary of re-setting my goals last February.  In that year I've lost 25 pounds and established a much healthier diet by largely excluding foods containing processed sugar.  I've pushed my exercise program further than before, logging more miles than ever and adding a semi-regular weight program.  And, joy of joys, I managed to avoid gaining weight during the "Fat Holiday Season" between Halloween and Christmas (last year I gained over 10 pounds).  I'd still like to lose a bit more weight, but as long as I keep my calorie count honest and exercise several times a week I think I'll be able to continue with slow progress.

Our extended autumn weather continued well into December, with only the slightest hint of snow and unusually warm temperatures.  And I certainly took advantage of the conditions to get out as much as I could manage, with over 150 bicycling miles in November, and over 250 in December.  Thanks to this strong finish to the year I racked up over 1700 miles in 2015.  Now I've set my sights on trying to get in over 2000 miles in 2016 - and I've got a strong start with nearly 200 miles so far this January.

November gave us some excellent weather for mountain biking, and I managed to get in 12 rides on dirt, covering a bunch of the local trails.  The majority of my riding was at West Branch State Park, but I also got a ride in on the excellent new East Rim Trail at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as Quail Hollow State Park, Beaver Creek State Park, and North Road Nature Preserve.

West Branch State Park mtb trails in November.
West Branch Reservoir at sunset from the trails.
Lots of night riding during the short days.
Amazing berms and jumps at the new East Rim Trail.
Trail work time at North Road Nature Preserve.
More West Branch trails.
West Branch after the snow.

I spent some time out on the trails at North Road Nature Preserve, doing some much needed maintenance as well as pushing to close our final gap.  There was also a good deal of clean up needed after the electric and gas line right of ways were re-trimmed.  Hopefully we'll be able to get in a bunch more work this off season so we can FINALLY get the last phase of trail finished this year.

New trail armoring at North Road Nature Preserve, trying to close the gap!
Right of way trimming debris.
Of course the majority of the miles I ride are on pavement, mostly on rail trails.  And I managed to get in a LOT of miles in the last couple of months, spread out across several trails.  All these extra miles are great for my legs, and for my cardio as well.  And of course burning that many calories can only help with my fitness goals.

Western Reserve Greenway Trail under heavy leaves.
Little Beaver Creek Greenway in the snow.
Portage Hike and Bike Trail last weekend.
Thanks to the milder temperatures and a massive amount of rain in late December I even managed to get in a nice whitewater kayak trip.  After it rained I loaded up all my gear, and my wife and I headed over to the Allegheny gorge area to check out what was running.   Turned out that EVERYTHING was running, and it was all too high for a mild mannered paddler like me.  But I came back two days later and managed to get in a nice run on Scrubgrass Creek.  This is a beautiful, safe, easily accessed run near Kennerdell, PA that has become one of my favorite easy whitewater runs in the area.

Scrubgrass Creek near the put-in.
One of the other things I've been doing is learning to use a new video production software.  So I've been taking a lot of new footage, as well as using old footage, to make some new videos.  Here's a link to the one for the Scrubgrass Creek trip:

Scrubgrass Creek trip

Let me say that I have no illusions about the "gnarliness" of the whitewater I paddle.  I know it's easy class II, the type of stuff that serious whitewater paddlers wouldn't even cross the road to paddle.  But for me it's become about having a good time without the stress and strain of pushing your limits.  So I'm just fine with Scrubgrass Creek as a destination.

As far as videos go, I've put together a couple of mtb compilation videos - just to practice what I'm learning on the software.  These mtb videos are on a par with the whitewater video above - no serious rider would ever consider this to be great riding, but I'm having fun without having to worry about breaking any more bones!  Anyway, here are the two videos I put together.

Hope you enjoy the videos, as well as the photos.

Right now I'm thinking about tonight's snow ride on the Little Beaver Creek Greenway - it's going to be fun!  Bring on the winter!

Monday, November 2, 2015


Now we've moved into November, and in northeast Ohio the bright reds and yellows of October have faded to the russet and pale yellow of late fall.  Temperatures are starting to get lower at night, and the hours of daylight are shrinking.  This past weekend Daylight Savings Time switched over, so now the sun sets at 5:30 - just when I'm getting home from work.

The frenzy of early autumn outdoors activity is dying down for the most part.  People are packing away their summer toys and clothes, getting ready for spending the next few months indoors as much as possible.  There are no cars at the campgrounds, trails are becoming less crowded, and there's almost no one out paddling the creeks and rivers.  The wheel of the seasons rolls around again, and people hunker down to wait for the sun again.  Almost time for me to unpack the cold weather gear and resign myself to cold fingers and toes.

There have been quite a few rail trail miles for me since my last entry in late September.  I've continued to put in a bunch of miles on the Western Reserve Greenway Trail, the local rail trail that's only 5 miles from my house.  This is my default ride when I want to get in some miles and don't have the time to travel elsewhere.  It's a nice trail, with over 15 miles north of town in our county, which then continues on in the next county north nearly to the shore of Lake Erie.  The WRGT is just about the straightest, flattest rail trail around, as the railroad bed that it was built on traveled parallel to the river, instead of crossing over several drainages, and climbing in and of a bunch of creek valleys.  Some riders say that the it's boring to ride, because of the lack of variety in the terrain.  But there's plenty to see, if you keep your eyes open.

The Rock Creek bridge and observation deck.

Looking down from the bridge at the bedrock of Rock Creek.

There were three events on WRGT in the last 6 weeks or so.  The first was the First Annual Bike Ride with the County Commissioners.  One of the three commissioners showed up to ride, and a group of 15 or so bicyclists made the short 7 mile ride.

Ride with the County Commissioners on WRGT.
Then last weekend there were two separate dedication ceremonies.  The bike trail through town, as well as the county parks bike trail both recognized a local cyclist, Garrett Wonders, who was killed by a motorist while training for the Olympic cycling team several years ago.  Both ceremonies were well attended, despite the chilly fall weather.

The Warren Bike Trail is now the Garrett Wonders Bike Trail.
My Friday after work rides on the Little Beaver Creek Greenway have continued.  This trail is 45 minutes south of me, but it's the only local rail trail that allows night riding, so it's become my go-to Friday ride. Usually I ride the 20 mile round trip of the main section of trail end to end, a beautiful ride through rural farm country and Beaver Creek's stream valley.  However I did have an incident on the trail a couple of weeks ago that was less than pleasant.

I was riding along in the dark with my lights on, somewhere around midway, when an animal ran out in front of me.  It came down the steep hillside on my left and tried to cross the trail, but was stopped by the fence to the right.  It did an abrupt about face and bounded back up the grade.  It was only like 10 feet in front of me, and startled me enough that I rode off the edge of the trail and dumped the bike at about 15 mph.  It's been a while since I've crashed on pavement, and I've got to say that I don't miss it. Several bruises, more damage to my already screwed up left knee, and road rash that is still healing.  As for the animal, I originally thought it might have been a grey fox, but after looking at a couple of pictures I think it was probably a coyote (or maybe a chupacabra).  No real damage, but it's a good thing I had my helmet on, because my head bounced off that asphalt like it was a super ball.

I also headed a bit west and rode a section of trail new to me.  I've ridden on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail before, up near Peninsula, but never had been on the southern end, down between Massillon and Bolivar.  This trail isn't built on an old rail bed, rather it's on the road used by mules to haul boats up and down the Ohio and Erie Canal.  It was a gorgeous fall ride with only a few other trail users to be seen in over 25 miles.

The O&E Canal Towpath Trail on the banks of Tuscarawas River.
With mostly dry weather continuing I've managed to get in a bunch of mountain bike rides in the last 6 weeks.  Several times I've managed to get after work rides out at West Branch State Park (the local trails) including a couple of great night rides.  I also got in rides at North Road Nature Preserve here in town, and at Bavington in Pennsylvania.  And just this weekend I got my fastest lap of the year at Quail Hollow State Park (that would be 23 minutes flat, including time to stop for a dropped chain).

The town trails at North Road Nature Preserve after raking.
West Branch SP trails with heavy leaf cover.

Sunset from the West Branch trails from a night ride.
My brother during a rest break at Bavington.
Some of the Bavington trails are overgrown with multiflora rose (my nemesis).

I even had a chance for a little overnight adventure a couple of weeks ago.  My wife was heading down to Columbus to visit her sister for the weekend, and the boy was off backpacking with the Scouts.  That left me with no adult supervision for the weekend, so I decided to pack the bikes and some camping equipment and head out.  I started with a night ride on the Sandy Creek Trail near Franklin, Pa.  This is a remote trail, way out in rural western Pennsylvania, and all through the ride I kept hearing the crashing of animals through the woods on either side of me.  Luckily the only thing that I saw were 3 porcupines wandering around the trail (no chupacabra this time).

Riding up to the Deep Hollow tunnel on Sandy Creek Trail.

After finishing my ride at Sandy Creek I headed further east, and by 10:30 had made camp near Robin's Island camping area on the Clarion River in Allegheny National Forest.  After Labor Day these campgrounds are pretty much abandoned, and I had the place to myself.  No need for a tent since it was just me and I was planning on leaving early in the morning

A tarp, cot and sleeping bag - home for the night.
View of the Clarion River from my campsite.
The goal of this trip was to investigate some multi-use trails on land recently put under Cooks Forest State Park management.  That meant getting way back on some rough dead end roads onto land I'd never visited before.  It was beautiful remote territory down by the river, but the trails themselves left a lot to be desired.  Mostly they were old logging road double track, and shared with horses - so the riding situation wasn't that great in the first place, and then it was churned up to mud by the horses.  Too bad, since this is such a perfect place for mountain biking. I can only hope that eventually PA DCNR wise up to how many people ride mountain bikes these days and put some effort into REAL mtb trails.

Old doubletrack near Cooks Forest - Boiler Trail.

More logging roads masquerading as mtb trails near Cooks Forest SP.

Plenty of rocks for trails!
Beautiful forest near the river.
Only one chance to kayak since the last entry, since it's been raining in small increments when it eventually does happen.  I took the middle half of the day off work last week and got on Beaver Creek for a quick run while the water was up.  I keep hoping we'll get a good rain event to bring up some of the Allegheny gorge creeks, but it's getting closer and closer to snow season...

I'll end up this post with some miscellaneous fall foliage pictures - gotta love the colors of autumn!

Northern Trumbull County.

Clarion River at Gravel Lick.
Mahoning River near it's mouth in Pennsylvania.
Late fall in Trumbull County.
Compass rose at a local trail.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Seasons Change

Yesterday was the first day of fall, and that summer feeling is fading from the air.  School is well under way, and Kenny is now submerged in geometry and Spanish.  The temperatures are starting to cool, especially at night, and leaves are starting to turn color in some places.

It always seems to me that the first touch of fall makes people double down on their attempts to get outdoors and have fun.  They can see the cold and snow on the horizon and hurry to get in as much outdoor time as possible before the weather chases them inside to wait for spring.  Even though I try to carry on having fun outdoors through the winter, I feel the same urge to take advantage of the nice weather before it goes.

So there's been quite a bit of bike riding, some camping, some hiking, and even a little bit of kayaking over the last month. The weather has been very dry, so the trails are in great shape - but of course that leaves the creeks so low that boating is mostly out of the question.

The weather was great for the Conneaut, Ohio D-Day re-enactment on August 22.  Kenny and I headed up in the morning to check out the encampments before the main event.  It was amazing to see all the people in uniforms from the middle of the last century - American, British, French and German troops each had their own area. The re-enactors buy their own gear and weapons, and come to this event all at their own cost, from all across the eastern U.S.

We watched a re-enactment of a battle over a bridge near the beaches on D-Day, then got a spot for the main battle.  Though they lacked a big armor presence, the landing craft, artillery and aircraft made for an amazing, and very touching, recreation.  This was our first trip to the event, and I'm sure it will be something we'll be going to every year from now on.

I took quite a bit of video of the battle of the bridge, but it gets so blurry when downloaded to Blogspot that it's not worth putting on the blog.

Since we missed out on a real vacation this summer we tried to get as much time off as possible for the Labor Day holiday.  Kenny and I headed over to Allegheny National Forest near Cooks Forest State Park on Thursday afternoon, hoping to beat the holiday crowd and get one of the nice dispersed campsites along the Clarion River.  We got over to the river around 8:00, just about half an hour after a surprise rainstorm brought a couple of inches of rain and high winds to the area.


We managed to get a good site near Robin Island, just before the road was blocked by a downed tree.  It was getting dark as we set up our tents, but we've been camping so many times before that we could probably set them up in total darkness.

Diana had to work on Friday morning, but headed over just after lunch.  The rain brought the river level up from barely runnable to a good low level, so Kenny got in his first solo river kayak trip while we were waiting for here to arrive.

Kenny on the Clarion River.

Diana did manage to find her way to our site, and with the extra gear she brought we finished setting up our campsite.  We had three tents (one for Kenny, one for us, and one for the gear), a big tarp over the eating area and a tarped off shower spot in the back of the campsite.  Kenny even had his hammock set up by his tent for serious relaxing.

Diana took Kenny for some go kart racing and lunch while I took a short kayak ride down the river, with a bike shuttle.  It was amazing how many people were out paddling - I'd never seen so many non-rental boats on the river in one day before.  The high point of the trip was the surf wave at Heath Station, just upstream from Belltown.  There is an old gas pipeline across the bottom of the river, about a foot in diameter.  When the water level is right it makes a really nice, wide surf wave that's just perfect for kayaks.  I spent half an hour surfing, and then later Ken and I came back for another little surf session after lunch.  If we hadn't got the rain the night before the level would have definitely been too low, but it was absolutely perfect for us.

We stayed till Monday, so that made for 5 days out for Ken and I.  There was more boating, some bicycling, hiking, and plenty of relaxing.  We all went up to Leeper to eat at the Sawmill one evening.  All in all it was a pretty great mini-vacation and I'm glad that we got a chance to get out in the good weather.

Diana and I at Beartown Rocks.

Beartown Rocks trail.
View over Clarion River Valley from Beartown Rocks overlook.

Clarion River near our campsite.

The next weekend I had hoped that there would be enough rain to make the streams come up so that I could kayak.  Turns out there wasn't enough rain for that, but it was enough rain to make the mountain bike trails soft.  That left me wondering what to do, so I decided to try out a new paved trail, over at Goddard State Park in Pennsylvania.

Goddard State Park, Pennsylvania
It turned out to be a great place to ride.  They have a 12.25 mile loop around the lake, with about a mile of it on park roads, and the rest on paved trails.  These trails aren't flat and straight, like the rail trails around here.  Instead they have plenty of short hills, and lots of curves.  It was so much fun riding that I came back Sunday to ride again.  This place is definitely moving into heavy rotation on my list of fun places to ride!

Lots of hills!
There have also been plenty of bike rides in the last month, both on pavement and on dirt.  I got several rides, including a couple of night rides, on the mountain bike trails at West Branch State Park.  And I got plenty of miles on the Western Reserve Greenway Trail and Little Beaver Creek Greenway.

Evening approached on Little Beaver Creek Greenway.

Sunset at the same spot the next week.

The descent into the Gorge at West Branch State Park.

A fellow trail user on Western Reserve Greenway.

Leaves starting to change color on the Western Reserve Greenway.
There should still be plenty of time to get in another camping trip or two, and hopefully we'll get some rain soon so that the creeks run.  And there is always the opportunity to get out and ride, even if the weather turns.  Autumn is always a special time of year, and I'm looking forward to getting out and enjoying it.

Ken on baritone sax at the Apple Cider Festival parade.