Road bikes are for roads

Posted in Triple Bypass at 17:12 by RjZ

Not every where is Boulder, Colorado. Before I proceed, I am not dissing the fine city from which you are reading this (even if it isn’t Boulder, Colorado) I am just pointing out a difference. Nothing normative here, just some observations. Get off my back.

Uncharacteristically, I was able to take my bicycle with me during my last business trip. Instead of the usual flying, I was able to (also read forced to) drive, so I thought I’d get some rides in on a real bike instead of some uncomfortable recumbent fitness cycle with a ripped foam seat in the stuffy motel fitness room.

Vernal, Utah is definitely a place to mountain bike, except I haven’t got one of those. On the way to my motel, I saw a bike shop and figured I’d ask them where  a good road-ride is. The looked at me puzzled and slack-jawed but without any answer. I pointed at the sampling of skinny-tired bikes hanging in the store and said “You sell them. Doesn’t anyone ride them around here?” The owner showed up from the back and rescued his employees with a suggestion.

About 10 miles out of town I rode about 20.2 miles out and back on the road into Dinosaur National Park. A great suggestion, I could have extended the ride (if it weren’t getting dark) and it’s beautiful there. The road was good and traffic was minimal. The very rough surface of national park roads leaves something to be desired for finicky road bikers, but that just makes me happier about my 19.1 MPH average.

I pulled into the hotel in Green River, Wyoming with enough time to get another bike ride, but I didn’t see a bike shop on the way in, so my genius tip wasn’t going to work. I asked the hotel reception. She suggested the bike path along the river. I explained that it’s a, um, race bike. It goes really fast. Will I be a nuisance to people walking their pets? What’s the path like? Is it a narrow sidewalk, or is it really for bikes? She assured me it would be fine.

Six miles later, I’ve dodged baby carriages, multiple pets, pleasant old couples and I’ve already ridden on sidewalk, old asphalt, and across a dirt parking lot, but I am done with the trail. It’s actually a lovely trail with views over the pleasant green river. It leads from a park, along the river and to a baseball field and another park. If I were running, it would be perfect. For bikes, not so much.

I left the path and road up the mountain that leads to Flaming Gorge. These are three lane roads which leaves plenty of room for the passing cars to get out of your way while climbing, and the road was so steep, few had to pass me on the way down. Turned out pretty fun at 17 miles and almost 1500 feet of climbing. When I got back the person at reception saw my bike and said something like “Wow, that has really tiny tires. How do you balance on those?”

My mother lives in what I hope will be the wine country of Idaho soon. They have several wineries not very far from her, and there actually quite tasty. Check out Ste. Chappelle for example. I did a ‘reconnaissance’ ride for what I hope will be a Tour du Idaho some day. Well, some day, but right now, Caldwell isn’t as bike friendly as some other places. Really, the ride was just fine, and stopping at the wineries would make for an excellent tour. The roads are mostly flat but there are a few climbs too. Problem was more the (mercifully few) idiot drivers, and the really rough surface roads with essentially no room for a bike. They’re great for tractors, but they don’t get many spandex warriors out that way. I rode 45 miles around the wineries and Lake Lowell, but it felt like much further on that road. I somehow managed an average of 18 mph.

I told my brother about the ride, explaining it was a nice ride, but I need to train on some climbs, and maybe there is a road somewhere with little traffic and, maybe I’ll get lucky here, a smoother surface. “Oh, there are tons of bikes on the bike path along the river. You should go there.” My brother is not a road biker, so how is he to know what I’m looking for. I told him about the ride in Green River, but he assured me this was different. There were lots of road bikers on this ride.

He was partly right. I saw not one single rider the day before in wine/tractor country. Here there were, indeed, a few folks dressed in silly spandex (like me) and riding on ridiculously skinny tires. I assume they were on their way to or from a ride, because this beautiful “bike” path sure isn’t meant for road bikes. The bump-bump-bump of the gaps between the concrete surface didn’t prepare my wrists for the true jamming into shoulders they would receive as the trail passed over the roots of trees.

Also, the trail just ended abruptly. It starts up again, of course. If you’re walking or running it’s no problem, but walking through a muddy underpass on bicycle cleats is sub-optimal.

I found another bike shop and they gave me a hint. It’s pretty much the same place my brother suggested, but with a slightly different route there. I ended up putting in 61.4 miles up, and then well past Lucky Peak. Only six, or so, miles were suffered on the ‘bike’ path, but the ride was excellent. If I had a bit more time, I’d have ridden all the way to what used to be the biggest city in the pacific northwest: Idaho City, and back. And, best of all, I passed some people!

Climbing 900 feet up and past Lucky Peak, a rider on a high-end Specialized blew past me. No big deal; being passed is a fact of life at home. Strange thing was how he just didn’t really seem to be pulling away. Nearing the top, I found I had plenty of juice, so I poured a bit on, and beat him to the peak. Crazy thing is it happened again on the return climb. I triathlete wearing a team ‘U’m Special’ jersey passed my on the climb. He was out of the saddle and sprinting forward, but then falling back. And once again, near the top, I shifted up a gear and rolled right passed him! OK, he passed me on the way down the hill at some dangerous speed, but I still felt pretty good!

I don’t know how much effect altitude has when the difference is from 2600 feet (Boise) to 5400 (Boulder) but I still call it a victory. This never happens in Boulder. This weekend, winding up our 95 mile ride (a respectable 16.4 MPH average), we met an older gentleman riding a vintage steel bike he’d converted to a fixed gear (meaning you pedal all the time, up hill and down, one speed, no coasting!) His lovely retro bike was complete with beechwood rims. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t pass him going up any hills. Now that’s Boulder for you.

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