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Archive for the 'Gravel' Category

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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Secret night ride

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Last night, Dave and I did another awesome nighttime mountain bike ride — this time, in the rain. I’m not going to disclose the location of this ride because technically, we might have broken some “rules” and I wouldn’t want to make it difficult for us to do this ride again.

We set out down a smooth-packed gravel road; it was raining, and our lights reflected off the rain drops and almost made it look like snow was falling. Within a couple of minutes, we looked ahead down the road and saw two beady eyes glowing back at us. We couldn’t tell until we got within about 10 feet that it was a possum crossing the road. We nearly hit it, but rode around and it ran off.

Soon, we reached the end of the road, and the beginning of a trail. The leaf cover was substantial, and we kept thinking that we were seeing crumpled up pieces of aluminum foil on the ground. Upon closer inspection, we realized that every downturned yellow leaf had water beaded up on the back of it, and somehow the way our lights reflect off them gave off a silvery sparkle.

We rode a long, gradual downhill on the trail, our lights providing enough light to see the trail a bit in front of us, but not much more more. We had to navigate around, over, or through various mud holes, sticks, branches, even whole trees at times. I found it easiest to keep my speed up, it helped me roll over the sticks and through the mud.

We stopped to adjust our lights and when we did, we heard coyotes yipping and yelping and howling, in the not-too-distant distance. We fell silent and listened to them for several minutes.

The trail got rougher and more rutted, but the leaves made it impossible to tell where the muddiest spots and other obstacles were. The harder it got, the more speed I picked up. It seems counterintuitive, but going fast was just easier than going slow.

We turned onto another trail, this one in much worse shape than the first. The trail had been heavily damaged by horse traffic. In places, our pedaling got us nowhere — our tires just spun in the thick mud. I got off my bike to walk and my whole foot sank into the mud. It was difficult to keep moving. At some point the rain stopped and the cloud cover thinned slightly, enough that we could see the moon glowing through the clouds.

But the trail turned steeply downward and this made it easier to ride. But we were still slipping around a lot. Once again, picking up speed helped; at times, I was practically floating across the top of the mud.

Suddenly, we reached the bottom of the hill and the trail spit us out onto a dam. One odd thing about riding in the dark is that you have no frame of reference for where you are. You can’t see more than about 10-15 feet ahead of you, and you have no peripheral vision. So when we reached the lake it felt very abrupt.

We stopped and turned our lights off. The lake looked breathtakingly beautiful. The sky was still cloudy, but the moonlight dispersed through the clouds, and the sky looked surprisingly bright. We could see the silhouettes of hills looming over the lake, the fast-moving clouds, and the calm water reflected the scene. We lingered for a while.

We switched our lights back on and rode on some gravel roads through the forest. We could see a bit better briefly, as the tree cover let up. But soon, the trees covered the road and we had tunnel vision once again. During this stretch, we saw the first car of our ride. We could hear a creek gushing alongside the road. We climbed for what seemed like a very long time. We were riding up a familiar hill, but once again, with no point of reference, we couldn’t tell when we were nearing the top.

Eventually, we did reach the top, and we turned onto another road. After a few rolling hills, we were done. We did see another car along the way, increasing the total number of cars spotted to 2.

This ride was fantastic in so many ways. It was a great combination of fun, insanity, challenges, and scenic beauty. Night rides are always a bit crazy, but this one was especially so, with the rain and mud. I think I was muddier after this ride than I have ever been.

Mt. Nebo

Monday, October 5th, 2009

This weekend, I set out for a nice, long road ride. I had a route of 60+ miles planned, which would take me through Morgan-Monroe State Forest and up to “Mt. Nebo,” which I saw on some topographic maps. It looked like an interesting area, and a little outside of my normal riding area, so I was interested to see it. My route also had me taking a bit of an adventurous route home, on some questionable roads that might or might not exist, through Yellowwood State Forest.


View 2009-10-04 Mt. Nebo in a larger map

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Fall is here. It seems like it arrived quite suddenly, as temperatures went from warm and comfortable to a bit chilly, seemingly overnight. It takes some adjustment to get used to this and try to figure out what to wear to be comfortable on a ride. In terms of foliage, even though a few trees started to turn a couple of weeks ago, we’re only seeing a little bit of color right now. It’s also harvest time; I saw several farmers harvesting soybean crops during my ride.

My ride started out on familiar roads, although some I hadn’t ridden on for quite a while. I had a fun, but uneventful trip up to Morgan-Monroe State Forest.

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The main road through the state forest follows a fairly flat ridge top. Eventually I came to a point where heavy logging had occurred. I’ve seen this spot before, but never stopped to further explore it. I found a pamphlet explaining the “Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment.”

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What will our forests be like in 100 years?

(Hopefully NOT like what they’ve done here)

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The pamphlet and Web site make this sound like a legitimate academic experiment, but I have to wonder if it’s really necessary to do all this clear-cutting in order to study its effects. Sounds more like a convenient excuse for some profitable logging to me.

I rode over to Cherry Lake and stopped for a break at a picnic table right by the water. A family (mother, father, and daughter) were having a picnic nearby, their bikes parked in the grass. I lingered for a while, enjoying a contemplative moment by the lake.

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Next I had a long, bumpy decent down Rosenbaum Road toward Low Gap Road. This area feels very remote and consists of rugged state forest lands, and once you reach the bottom of the hill, a few homes and many corn and soybean fields.  I took Low Gap to Mahalasville Road. I debated doing a shorter (50-mile route) but decided to go for the full ~65 miles or so.

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Suddenly, the land was very flat, but I could see the ridges where I had just come from jutting up in the distance. I struggled with the wind a bit, but it turned out not to be too bad.

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It remained flat for a while, and I rolled past farms, lakes, and some surprisingly impressive subdivisions. Lots of huge, new homes with large yards. This remote area was surprisingly affluent. After a tough climb, things got flat again for a few more miles.

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I turned onto State Road 252 and had a long climb (for this area) of close to a mile. This was “Mount Nebo.” Not a real mountain of course, but it was a lot of work to reach the top.

This part of the ride reminded me a bit of riding in Pennsylvania: there was a long climb, and as soon as I reached the top, the road turned back downward. And to my surprise, I enjoyed a long descent of probably 2.5 miles, during which time the road went through enough twists and turns to make things a lot of fun — but, I didn’t have to ride the brakes. It was wonderful!

Climbing “Mount Nebo”:

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I turned back onto some back roads and pedalled across some gorgeous rolling farmland.

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Soon I found myself back on a different part of Mahalasville Road. Another decent climb took a lot out of me … but once again it paid off when I got to ride down the other side of the hill. Fun stuff!

Eventually, I turned onto Bear Wallow Road. The route I had put together had me taking Bear Wallow to Possum Trot Road, but I couldn’t tell from the maps if Possum Trot really went through. Some maps seemed to indicate that it did, some didn’t show it at all.

Bear Wallow was paved for a while but soon I passed a “County Maintenance Ends”  sign (unfortunately, I missed this photo opportunity) and the road turned to gravel. It was flat for a while, but soon I reached a hill. I started climbing and really had no idea how big this hill was. I had already ridden 50 miles at this point, so I was moving slowly up this gravel climb. The hardest part of the climbing was over in 3/4 mile but by the time I reached the top of the hill I had climbed for well over two miles. A few dogs showed some interest in me during this time, but none gave me any trouble.

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Once on top of the hill, there were a few small rolling hills and I watched for Possum Trot Road, but my GPS told me I had passed it. I rode back and found a small, muddy, overgrown fire road. This might be fun to explore at some point but bicycles are not allowed here, according to the signs.

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So, instead of taking this “road,” I stayed on Bear Wallow Road. My GPS told me this would eventually connect with North Shore Drive, and I knew how to get home from there. I started riding and very soon found myself riding down the other side of the hill. I was hoping to coast down the hill, but I passed several homes that had multiple dogs, and some of them gave chase. One was particularly tenacious and I had to ride hard to get away from him. It was a crazy, curvy 20 mph gravel road descent with dogs nipping at my heels. Even once I dropped the dogs, I was a little spooked and rode hard down the hill. I did stop at Bear Lake, a small, pretty lake which I don’t think I even knew existed before. I didn’t stick around to explore, but it seemed like a good find.

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Once at the bottom of the hill, I had a few flat miles of riding and then I connected with North Shore Drive.

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I thought about riding across North Shore, which as you might guess follows the north shore of Lake Lemon. But instead, I rode around to South Shore and rode home from there, as that way I would only have one big climb on my way home.

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All in all, a lovely ride. It always feels good to stretch beyond my usual riding area. This ride was mostly paved, but there were 5-6 miles of gravel mixed in. I have some ideas for what should be some great mixed-terrain riding that I hope to do in the next few weeks, especially as the fall colors set in. I love fall!

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