Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for December, 2009

New mountain bike! and, a shakedown ride in HNF

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Getting a new bike

So, I’ve been in the market for a new mountain bike. I had my heart set on a 29er; I saw a good deal on one locally, and put it on hold. But, then I went up to Indianapolis last weekend to look at other options. Long story short, I ended up buying a Fuji Tahoe 29 Comp from Circle City Bicycles.

When I test rode the bike, I immediately loved it. I could tell that the bigger wheels do indeed roll over things better, and traction is better as well, thanks to a longer contact patch. But I felt stretched out on the bike, and had a bit of trouble pulling the front end up to wheelie over things. I told this to the guy at the shop, and he did a fitting, having me stand in this device that took some measurements with lasers. He printed out the measurements and based on the printout, checked the setup of the bike, making a few adjustments.

I rode the bike again, a little skeptical that this would solve the problems. I was astonished: it felt perfect! No longer did I feel stretched out, and I found the front end easier to lift. Those were my only real reservations about the bike. After consulting with my wife, I bought it.

Shakedown ride in Hoosier National Forest

Naturally, I was anxious to take the bike for its first proper ride on Sunday. Unfortunately, we are having freeze/thaw issues here, so the mountain bike trails were too muddy to ride without damaging them. Instead, I planned a ride on the gravel roads of Hoosier National Forest. I had planned to ride around 34 miles, but by the time I swapped pedals and a few other things from my old bike onto the new one, I was running short on time.  I ended up riding about 22 miles of very hilly gravel, with a few trail sections and paved sections in the mix as well. Here’s a map and elevation profile of my ride. Climbing was about 2000 feet.

View 2009-12-06 HNF gravel roads on new mtb in a larger map


I parked by the fire tower and rolled out. The bike felt great; it definitely rolls better than my 26″ mountain bike. I enjoyed a few rolling hills on relatively smooth gravel.


I misread my GPS and took a side trail, when really I should have ridden further and turned onto a road. But it was fine, this gave me a chance to test the bike on a trail, at least a little bit. The trail was faint and overgrown, but the bike rolled right over the shrubbery with no problem. I hopped a couple of logs, which proved a lot easier than it was on my 26″ mountain bike. I bashed a chainring at one point. At first I thought the bottom bracket was lower than on my old bike, but when I got home, I looked it up. It’s actually slightly higher. I think I just rode over a log that I normally wouldn’t even attempt.


I got back on the road and took a side road that, according to my map, would lead down to Lake Tarzian. I had never seen this lake before and I wasn’t 100% sure I could get to it. I had to ride through the Maumee Boy Scout Reservation to get to it. There were some gates, but they were wide open. I rode right down to the lake, and startled dozens of geese when I arrived.









I had a bit of climbing to get back up to the road from the lake, but it was definitely a worthwhile trip. And once I got back on the road, I enjoyed a blistering descent down from the top of the ridge.

Unfortunately, that short-but-sweet downhill ride was followed by a hell of a lot of climbing. I climbed for the better part of two miles. Some sections were steep, others were gradual. This bike is definitely a little on the sluggish side when it comes to climbing. It’s heavy, and I noticed one other shortcoming: its lowest gear isn’t quite low enough. I think it has an 11×32 cassette, that might need to be replaced with an 11×34 at some point. I passed several different Hickory Ridge trails. It was tempting to try riding on them, but I didn’t have a trail pass, and I had limited time anyway.






I saw something rather puzzling. I saw a dog running toward me, and there was a pickup truck behind it. At first I thought the people in the truck were waiting for the dog to get out of their way, but then I realized it was their dog, and they were simply following him. I guess they were “walking” the dog, without the walking part? Maybe it was too cold (notice the ice, above).

Whatever they were doing, after they passed me, I stopped. I figured I was roughly at the top of the hill, and I wanted to get a couple shots of the bike.



From there, I had a couple flattish miles, mostly paved, to the small town of Norman. I took a few more photos as I rode through/past it. There’s not much there.








Once past Norman, I hit gravel again and rolled down a huge hill. The new bike descends like a dream! It feels very stable and solid, even when tearing down a gravel road. I can’t wait to ride it on trails.

The scenery was very beautiful, down in the valley. I enjoyed some more mostly-downhill riding once there, too. The sun hung low in the sky; the hills, woods, and fields looked gorgeous, and the road followed a creek for some time.



Soon, I turned onto the paved, but very rough, Hickory Grove Road. I knew I’d have a long climb here, and admittedly I was a bit nervous about it. The first 1/4 mile or so was pretty brutal, but after that, the grade let up a bit and ultimately, the climb wasn’t as bad as I expected. I did mostly climb for maybe 2 1/2 miles, but most of it was gradual, and I discovered that the bike really excels at long, gradual climbs. The weight isn’t too much of a factor and once you get rolling, you tend to stay rolling. I also thought the bigger wheels took some of the sting out of the bumps.



At some point, the road transitioned back to gravel. I passed some interesting-looking campsites, and some more parts of the Hickory Ridge Trail system.


Somewhere near the top of the hill were the tiny Hickory Grove church and cemetery.



I rode for several more miles, over some rolling hills and up a long, arduous hill on very loose gravel. This part was no fun — some things suck no matter what bike you’re riding …

I rode back to the car, and those 22 miles felt great. I could’ve ridden more, but it was cold and getting dark. I can’t wait for the next ride on this bike!






Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

My ride home from work was rather … interesting. It was the perfect combination of my least favorite commuting conditions: Completely dark. Temps in the 30s. Pouring down rain. With 20 mph winds.

I’ll take snow over this, any day. There’s just no way to stay warm when you are that wet. And no way to stay dry when it’s pouring that hard. And no way to see, when your glasses are covered in raindrops, and fogging up. Rain drops pelted my face, stinging, until the numbness set in. In hindsight, I should’ve had another layer or two of clothing.

So, it wasn’t exactly a glorious day for commuting. These things happen, but I made it anyway.

Tomorrow looks to be interesting as well, but with snow, rather than rain, and 50 mph winds. Whatever the conditions are where you’re riding … be careful out there!

First snow, and a little inspiration

Monday, December 7th, 2009

We got our first snow of the season overnight. According to the local paper, the accumulation totaled around an inch.

Naturally, this being southern Indiana, panic ensued. I sometimes forget how much people freak out about a little snow. The local paper had an article entitled “Snow, slick roads cause havoc on traffic, delay school start times.” Apparently, there were a number of accidents — in fact, my mom e-mailed me during the day to say that she had witnessed one on her way to work (and was able to avoid it):

A car was stopped at the light and a big SUV approached too fast (imagine that!), spun around and hit the back of the car and spun them around.

My bicycle ride to work was barely affected. There was a bit of snow on the roads, and the bike path was covered, but with knobby tires on my bicycle, I had no problems. And the side roads I take to work had little traffic. A good thing, since while I know how to deal with the snow, most people on the road do not.

I did my part to inspire another cyclist today, without even trying. As I left my apartment this morning, bike in hand, I saw one of our neighbors, a middle-aged lady I’ve seen riding her bike to/from work a few times before. She saw me with my bike, in the snow, and came over to talk to me. “Isn’t the snow a problem?” she asked, explaining that they had moved here from Arizona. I told her it’s not usually a problem … that ice is the real problem, and today I didn’t expect it to be too bad. I asked if she had knobby tires on her bike. She said yes, so I told her she was ready to go. She said, “Maybe I’ll give it a try. Thanks for the inspiration!”

After work, as I was walking the dog, I saw her roll up on her bike. “I did it!” she said. I talked to her for a minute, and she thanked me for helping her get the courage to try riding in the snow. My pleasure, of course. “I love my bike!” she said, as we parted ways.

It was great to see another rider enthusiastically broadening her horizons, and know that I helped in some small way. And, sometimes inspiration runs both ways. I remember my trepidation and excitement when I first started riding in the snow, and seeing a middle-aged lady trying it for the first time is pretty inspiring.

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