Category "Around town"
April 17, 2006
Bruce Vento Regional Bike Trail
Saturday's weather was great for a bike ride. This was our first venture out on the tandem this Spring, so we decided to take it easy and do a little reconnoitering.
Since we live in Saint Paul, one of the loops we like to do is to pick up the Gateway State Trail (photo map) near the State Capitol, head North-east, and then come back via the Bruce Vento Regional Trail (trail map link) past Lake Phalen and into Swede Hollow heading back into downtown.
But the Vento Trail had been closed for quite some time right at the junction of Phalen Blvd. and Johnson Pkwy (In Google's "Hybrid" view you can see the old trail curving off to the left of the intersection). Would it be open now? The frustrating thing is that, try as we might, we couldn't find any information about why the trail was closed and what all of the construction was for. There was no "Future Home of.." or "Coming Soon..." signs and nothing that we could find on the Internet.
As I said, the weather was nice and we had some free time, so we decided to chance it. One of the nice things about the Vento Trail was how quiet it was. As a converted rail corridor, it took you away from the traffic, past some industrial sites, and then down into the nice tree-lined Swede Hollow area. (Here's what it used to look like.)
What a change we found: a four-lane boulevard had sprung up where no road used to be! The Vento Trail now follows the newly-extended Phalen Blvd. through what is dubbed the Phalen Corridor. (The street is so new, it's not on Google Maps yet or Mapquest yet.)
The trail is now adjacent to the street for several blocks until you hit Arcade St. There you can swing off the the right and down into the original trail that goes through Swede Hollow (more). The newly-constructed trail is nicely surfaced and there are the beginnings of some nice landscaping. But the trail also crosses streets now and the new curbs are not well graded yet, so there's about a 1-to-2 inch gap in some places between the curb cuts and the cross-streets.
From the information on Phalen Corridor web site, it looks like the Phalen Blvd. part of the trail will only become more busy as new developments and businesses go up. The up-shot may be that, hopefully, this will attract more bike commuters to the area, either living or working in the Phalen Corridor.
I miss the seclusion of the old trail, but it's nice to have the Vento Trail connected and whole again. And if you do the loop like we did, coming South-west down the trail, it's a great down-hill ride all the way.
If the city wants to encourage more bike commuting, I have one last suggestion. The trail ends at the corner of Payne Ave. and 7th St. just North-east of downtown. It would be great to have bike lanes along 7th St. into downtown, especially on the bridge across I-94 E. The road is very busy, even on a Saturday, and a little extra wiggle room would be great. Oh, and connecting the Bruce Vento Trail to the new Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary would be nice, too.
January 11, 2006
A little winter exercise...
I'm a little sore this morning. Got back on the bike for the first time since before winter break. But I wasn't riding, I was spinning. And I wasn't alone. It was me and Ben and 198 riders from the 2003 Tour de France.
Ben and I got a new bike trainer just before Christmas, since the old one bit the dust. At some point over the summer its fluid must have leaked out because when we set it up this winter there was no resistance--we were just spinning a hollow tube. The new one is much better and it is designed to handle the wider real wheel we have on our tandem. (The old one Ben had to jury-rig with some stiff wire.)
Spinning on a tandem works out pretty well. We can both exercise at the same time, like when we get home from work, or one of us can exercise alone. Ben did some solo spinning over the weekend when I was away, so I'm sure he's not as sore as I am this morning.
But what really makes spinning fun--or at least more enjoyable--is keeping your mind engaged during the workout. We're not interested in training videos, and most of what's on television won't cut it either. Last year we started buying DVDs of old cycling races and those are perfect. The races keep us engaged and motivated and set the right pace.
This year for Christmas, Ben gave me the awesome 12-hour 6-disc set of the 2003 Tour de France. (By the way, the DVD producer, World Cycling Productions, has its home right here in St. Paul, Minnesota.) We popped it in for the first time last night. Ah, it's a classic, right? The chases, the crashes, the suspense. It was great to see big Jan Ulrich in the Team Bianchi colors, now-defunct teams like ONCE, and Tyler Hamilton riding for the Danish CSC team. We just finished the Prologue--bad luck for David Millar whose chain slipped off and cost him the win--and the 1st stage that saw a horrific crash in sight of the finish line, one that broke Hamilton's collar bone and portended a wild and woolly Tour.
I can't wait to get back on the bike and see what happens next...
December 6, 2005
Smoother ride for NYC bike commuters
Here's a news item for all of my cycling friends: Bridge Is So Smooth Now, Why Not Have Breakfast While You Ride? - New York Times
(Note: Link has been fixed.)
November 1, 2005
Bone health for cyclists and swimmers
There is an interesting article on bone health in the November issue of Outside magazine. It opens with the story of Bill Holland, an avid cyclist, who participated in a bone density study at the age of 48 and was shocked to find that he had "the heart and lungs of a 17-year-old and the bones of a 70-year-old."
Although I've heard for years that low-impact sports like swimming and cycling don't do as much as other exercise to stimulate bone growth, I was quite surprised that someone like Mr. Holland, who rides 150 miles a week, would have such deteriorated bones. I know that the amount of force you apply to a bicycle pedal is less than the amount of force you apply to the ground while you are walking (or running) -- that's the beauty of the bike as simple machine. But it still seems that multiplying that force thousands of times over the course of a cycling workout would leave your bones stronger than your regular couch potato.
The article goes on to shed light on this seeming disconnect. It turns out that you lose calcium in your sweat as you exercise - as much as 120 milligrams per hour. (The typical adult needs 1000 to 1200 mg/day of calcium, but athletes may need up to 2000 mg/day.) So it's this combination of less stimulation for bone growth and loss of the key mineral in bone growth that compounds into a big bone health problem.
Bone is an amazing tissue. Far from being static and passive, this tissue is simultaneously and continually being built up and broken down. Bones require feedback in the form of impact stress to keep promoting growth. Another good reason to take the stairs!
July 19, 2005
The joys of a tandem
The '05 Cannondale (we have an '03). Isn't it beautiful?
My husband and I were out for a long ride on Saturday. It had been awhile since we had been able to get out on our tandem, and I was looking forward to working off some nervous jitters before a big conference presentation I had on Sunday. It was super hot and even though we had water with us, it still feels like I drank a gallon and a half when we got back home.
After recovering, I was able to reflect on the joys of riding on a tandem:
· Conversing is easy -- the other person is only a few inches away.
· The more powerful rider never gets too far ahead; the less powerful one never falls too far behind.
· Wow appeal! I love people's positive reaction to the relatively rare sight of a tandem. And kids love us! (Minor adoration is still adoration...)
· Steady on up the hills. Hills are tough, but with two people cranking you get a pretty steady momentum up the hill. Even if one person momentarily falters, that steady momentum keeps you on track and helps you recover.
· Speed demon down the hills. Thanks to the laws of physics, our doubled mass on a single machine means increased velocity down those hills. We can really get flying!
Other things I've learned:
› You really have to communicate with your partner. Shifting your weight, coasting, getting out of the saddle - all those things you do on your solo bike without thinking need to be communicated so the other can prepare.
› You know someone is a tandem rider when they use the term solo bike. I'd never heard of this term until I became a tandem owner. Now I use it all the time.
› The person in front is called the captain; the person in back is called the stoker.
› I'm the stoker because I'm much less experienced than my husband. If I had a dollar for every time someone quipped to me, "So, do you sit back there and relax while he does all the work?", I'd be able to afford our dream tandem. Okay, that's an exaggeration. But my husband and I weigh about the same, so if I don't work, we don't go anywhere -- period.
› Tandems, like solo bikes, come in different styles for different uses. When we were first thinking about getting a tandem, we rented one at a state park we were visiting and took it for a spin. I think it was a Schwinn cruiser -- big tires, big saddles, upright position, and heavy frame. By the end of two hours I was beat and thinking a tandem wasn't a great idea. When we got home, we test-drove some light-weight road tandems -- huge difference!
› If you're interested in learning more, one of the best books we've found is The Tandem Book by Angel Rodriguez and Carla Black.
June 17, 2005
Hennepin Canal Trail, Central Illinois
My husband and I have had great success in finding ways to do some exploring on our bicycle as we travel to visit family and friends. This past weekend we were in Davenport, Iowa, for a lovely family visit and also happened to discover a great piece of history.
The Hennepin Canal was designed to link barge traffic between the Illinois River and the Rock River which flows into the Mississippi at Rock Island, Illinois. But by the time construction was completed in 1907, seventeen years after building began and thirty-six years after Congress authorized survey funding, the Canal had "missed the boat" in terms of commerce innovation since by then the rail system was well established and a cheaper way to ship goods. By the 1930s, the Canal was mainly used by recreational boats.
Luckily for us, one person's expensive commercial disappointment is another person's fabulously beautiful and serene biking, hiking, and horseback-riding trail. The entire 155 miles from Bureau Junction/Hennepin in the East to Colona in the West is now the Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park.
We biked from the western end at Colona to Geneseo and back, about 24 miles round trip. For much of the way you are riding on the old towpath right next to the canal. It reminded us both of an old European tree-lined boulevard. I'd only seen canals in BBC television mysteries like Inspector Morse, never in person, so it was a totally new experience for me. We saw lots of birds and sunbathing turtles, plus a few people fishing and some scouts out for a hike. But for the most part we were quite alone. Many of the original locks are still there and some have been refurbished. Here's an old lift bridge the trail crosses over near one of the locks.
The biking was good and quite easy since it's very level. One thing we found odd was the recommendation to use mountain bikes instead of road bikes on the trail because of the surface. But the surface was quite good for our part -- a tar base layer with small rocks a crushed rocks on top. The was a short dirt section of 100 yards or so through a wildlife preservation area, but the dirt was very firm so no problem there. There were nice toilet facilities at major access points along the way and information for finding food and other services in the larger towns we passed.
Check out this best website for the trail to see more pictures, maps, elevation charts, and more.
June 9, 2005
We went on a great urban bike ride yesterday evening. Up to campus, over the river, then hooked up with the bike path heading South along the Hiawatha Light Rail line. It crosses over Hiawatha at 28th St SE and picks up the Midtown Greenway.
The Midtown Greenway is spectacular! There are newly planted trees, flowers, and sod. It really is like a beautiful park -- a long and narrow beautiful park right through the city. We'd not been on the middle part since they finished it. Well, it was finished and then closed for construction of the Midtown Exchange at the old Sears site on Chicago & Lake. There's still a detour around the construction, but it will be finished and there will be a Grand (Re)Opening party on June 25th.
The last section of the Greenway yet to be built will extend the trail to the Mississippi River. This will be great for us Saint Paul-ites to have a trail that can link us more directly to all of the great Minneapolis bike trails around the Lakes and further West.
June 3, 2005
Trikes and the Trans Iowa
Two students and a professor at Purdue University have designed a whole new way for young children to learn to ride a bicycle. Gone are the training wheels, replaced by two rear wheels that start off wide apart for stability but merge together as the bike gains momentum. This gives kids a safety net when they are going slowly and most likely to fall over, but gives them experience balancing on two wheels all on their own as they pedal faster. What a cool idea! They call their bike SHIFT and it's won first prize in the 9th International Bicycle Design Competition in Taiwan.
In other biking news, my home state of Iowa keeps surprising me. It's home to the very popular and much-beloved RAGBRAI tour but now it sprouts a mean and tough-looking biking cousin, the Trans Iowa Mountain Bike Race. It's a "two day, 300 mile, non-stop, self-supported, solo competition along the gravel roads of rural Iowa" -- from the town of Hawarden, on the Missouri River, to Decorah that is one county shy of the Mississippi River. The inaugural race was April 23-24 and it's reported that out of the fifty-some starters, thirty-some made it to the half-way point in Algona, and only eight made it to the finish. I'm not surprised at the attrition. I've seen those roads and I wouldn't want to drive on them let alone bike them. More power to you!
April 24, 2005
Here's a picture my husband took during a break in our ride along the Cannon Valley Trail from two weeks ago (see River rides and mini-vacations). Our Cannondale pride and joy...
April 15, 2005
River rides and mini-vacations
I'm coming around to the idea that mini-vacations can be just as fun and restorative as long stays away from home. We enjoyed a wonderful anniversary celebration last week by staying two nights in a bed & breakfast just 40 minutes from home.
The Quill & Quilt Inn is a lovely 3-story house in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, built in 1897 and run by a very sweet young couple. Our hostess saw to our every need, including safe storage of our tandem, recommending local restaurants and acquiring passes to the local bike trail. One great feature of this B & B is the day spa on the third floor. What a great idea for small business owners to pool their talents like that! The spa was booked up for our stay, but I'd love to return for a hot stone massage.
Thursday night we were the only guests -- quite a treat. After discussing our dining options, we set out for Chapati, an Indian restaurant in Northfield, a 15-minute drive through the countryside. We found the restaurant, and the whole of Northfield, to be quite a delight! Northfield really showcases what a river town can be, with the downtown area nestled along both sides of the Cannon River. We took an evening stroll along the brick river walk and over the bridges. Many restaurants and pubs have terraces and plazas right on the river. There is quite an eclectic array of shops, dance studios, and artists galleries, plus a nice energy that comes from the local college campuses (Carleton College and St. Olaf College). And I was delighted to recognize that their local public library is a Carnegie library (although it has undergone quite a bit of expansion).
Friday morning, after a nice hot breakfast in the dining room, we hit the Cannon Valley trail. This is a converted Chicago Great Western rail bed that runs along the Cannon River from Cannon Falls to Red Wing, where the Cannon meets the Mighty Mississippi. With a trail access point literally a stone's throw away from our B & B, we on our way immediately. The above-normal temperature that day made for a very nice ride. We saw lots of birds, including a bald eagle, and spied some turtles sunning themselves. But it was a little weird for it to be so warm and have the surroundings still in their brown winter stasis. Most of the trail is lined with trees, but without their leaves we were in the sun the whole day. We didn't give much thought to it until we came back and took a relaxing soak in our Jacuzzi tub (oh, so nice!). We were quite surprised to see how red we had gotten from the sun. We had ridden the length of the trail and back - 40 miles. As is typical of these rails-to-trails, the ride was quite flat and nicely paved but I was still pretty tired by the time we got back. Although I could definitely feel the benefit of all of our indoor bike training over the winter.
We rounded out our day with a walk to the local cemetery to see the Colonel William Colvill monument. Colonel Colvill was a leader of the First Minnesota Volunteers during the Civil War. (This visit was a nice tie-in to the trip to Gettysburg we'd taken two years ago.) Then we had a hearty spaghetti dinner at the local pub and walked back to the Inn. All in all, an excellent celebration and restorative mini-vacation!
February 26, 2005
With the start of the cycling season, a long drought is over
The Outdoor Life Network (OLN) has published their 2005 cycling race coverage schedule. The first will be the Paris-Nice race on Sunday, March 6. I wonder if OLN is only covering it because Lance Armstrong is slated to attend? No matter, I'm just happy to get a chance to see it.
Some of my friends may find this hard to believe, but I've become a bit of a sports fan of late. It all began when I started dating my now-husband. He and his family are huge Yankees fans. I found that once I started to get into it - knowing the players, etc. - that I really enjoyed watching the games. Then I started following the Cubs, a team I always had a fondness for. Then it was cricket - a great sport, once I learned how it was played. (If you ever want to challenge your brain, try learning a sport you didn't grow up with, have never seen played, is kind of similar to America's favorite pastime in some vague and not-too-helpful ways, and is steeped in British history and jargon.) Then it was cycling, which I now have a great passion for.
So now like all those sports fans I never understood before, I'm jones-ing to see a race, match, or game. This time of the year is a serious dead zone for me. (I still can't get into watching basketball or hockey, the latter being a moot point this season anyhow.) There's cricket going on, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, but my satellite company isn't offering any matches up in the near future.
So now I sit and wait for the cycling Spring Classics and baseball's Opening Day...