Red Rock Biking

Las Vegas is an interesting place, but the surrounding countryside is worth exploring.  Yesterday, our group ventured about a half hour away from the Strip, out to the Nevada version of Red Rock Canyon — it seems like there’s one of those in just about every western state — for a bike tour with Allison and John, the fine folks at redEbike.

First, a word about the basics of the tour.  Allison and John really make it easy.  Allison picked us up at our hotel and drove us out to the Canyon, John gave us a careful but quick training session on the bikes, and on the tour itself Allison led our pack and John followed to make sure that we stayed together.  As a result, there are no issues with getting lost or taking a wrong turn.

Second, you don’t need to be a cycling stud to do this tour.  The redEbike tours use electric bikes, so you won’t need to be huffing and puffing up the inclines.  The bikes have a quiet motor that is triggered by either moving the pedals or a thumb toggle switch on the handlebars, with four speed options.  So long as you know how to ride a bike (and we all know that once you’ve mastered that skill, you never really forget it), you can operate the bikes and enjoy the ride.  After a little training spin around the parking lot to get the hang of changing the speed setting, we were all ready to go.  On the tour itself, I used the pedals rather than the thumb toggle in order to preserve a modicum of self-respect and feel like I’d gotten a decent amount of exercise.

Third, the tour itself is terrific.  You follow a 16-mile track through Red Rock Canyon that takes about four hours.  You very comfortably share a two-lane road with cars on what is predominantly a one-way loop, going up 1100 feet — that’s where those nifty motors come in handy — and then down again.  The 16 miles are divided into bite-sized, three or four mile chunks with stops that allow you to goggle at the surroundings, walk around, and even get a miniature nature tour about how you can use the plants to survive a zombie apocalypse.  (There are bathrooms at several of the stops, too.)

The scenery is absolutely stunning.  The first stop is a red rock expanse that is used by hikers and rock climbers, pictured above, to show you conclusively that you aren’t in the Midwest anymore, and the rest of the scenery is equally striking.  Add in the fresh air, the desert plant life, the feel of sunshine on your back and the wind in your hair, and a few S curves and occasional straightaways where you can let the bike do its thing, and you’ve got a great alternative to neon, smoky casinos, and huge crowds.

Is there any downside to this great little excursion?  Well, you must don a bicycle helmet and simply accept that, for the entire ride, you’ll look like a hopeless nerd — because that’s what bicycle helmets are designed to do.

Thanks to Allison, John, and redEbike for a wonderful, truly memorable experience for our group.  If you are out in Vegas and looking for for a break from the norm, I give it five stars.  You can learn more about the redEbike electric bike tours here.

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Exercising The Bike Muscles

IMG_2413I’ve really been a slouch when it comes to riding my bike.  It’s been at least two years, and probably more, since I’ve straddled the Schwinn Caliente and pedaled off.  My bike has been needing new tires and some basic maintenance, and the bumpy brick roadways of German Village aren’t exactly conducive to a thin-wheeled bike, anyway.

This past week, though, Kish got our bikes fixed, and this morning I got up early and decided to take a ride. By staying on Third and Whittier I could stick to smooth asphalt roadways, and that worked out well because my destination was the Scioto Trail bike path on the Whittier peninsula.  It’s a nice, shaded ride along the river, winding past the Audubon Center and under the I-71 bridges, that emerges from the woods at the southern point of downtown Columbus.  If you’ve got the energy and desire you can then head north, past the Scioto Mile park, and join the Olentangy bike path that rolls past Upper Arlington and the campus area.

It was a beautiful morning and I rode for a few miles, turning around when I read the Main Street bridge.  I quickly realized, however, that my years of non-biking had taken their toll.  I can walk forever without a problem, but cycling uses different muscles, and on the way back my thighs were screaming as I labored up the very gentle incline that takes you over the railroad tracks on Whittier.  I desperately fought the urge to hop off and walk my bike up the hill — which would be a horrible embarrassment and egregious confession of failure — downshifted repeatedly to the lowest gear, and kept going at a snail’s pace until I finally made it to the top and could blessedly start coasting again.  Fortunately, I wasn’t passed by any elderly joggers or children on tricycles.

When I acknowledge that biking uses different muscles, I can’t ignore the hindquarters, either.  My keister hasn’t had to deal with a bicycle seat in a while, and it clearly needs some toughening up.

 

 

Bike Lane Blitz

IMG_1131Downtown Columbus isn’t exactly a bike-friendly zone.  Don’t get me wrong, the city is trying to encourage bike-riding . . . but it isn’t easy.

The problem is a combination of bad traffic design (from a cycling standpoint, at least) and Columbus drivers.  The downtown area has lots of one-way streets with weird turns and splits, and many drivers who aren’t especially attentive to or considerate of cyclists.  On Third Street, for example, at the point where the street moves from downtown Columbus to German Village, a cyclist chugging along in the far right lane of that one-way street has to move over two lanes to the left to head straight into the Village, at the same time drivers are jockeying to move their cars to the right, to get onto 70 West/71 South, the far right, to turn onto Fulton Street, or to the left, to merge onto 70 East.  Only the hardiest cyclists stick to the road and run the risks.  Instead, they ride their bikes on the sidewalks — which isn’t exactly ideal for the pedestrians among us.

Columbus is trying to change that, by adding painted bike lanes on Third Street and other avenues that show when the lanes changes need to be made.  We’ll see if it works, but I’m skeptical.  The problem isn’t the absence of designated lanes, but the merges and moves that the road designs require.  If drivers are looking back to make sure the roadway is clear, or speeding up to make their merge, they could easily miss a cyclist — and the cyclists know it.  They aren’t going to be keen to move left into a lane that may already be filled with cars or that is the target of other cars trying to make various upcoming turns.

I think we walkers will continue to share the sidewalk with our helmeted friends until the entire Third Street/70/71 design is revamped into something that approximates rationality.

Bicycle Hit Man

On this morning’s walk I came within a whisker of being struck by a bicycle.

It happened on one of the darkest parts of the leisure path, where there are no street lights.  The cyclist didn’t have a headlight.  I could see him because there was a dim red light on the back of his bike, but he apparently didn’t see me.  I moved to the right edge of the path, but he kept veering inexorably over in my direction.  I’m guessing he was fiddling with his gear or water bottle and wasn’t paying attention; I’m fairly confident no one has put out a bicycle hit on me.  Finally, I trotted off the leisure path to get out of his way, and the sudden movement got his attention. He said “Sorry!” as he righted his bike and went whizzing past, and I emerged from the encounter unscathed, with only an adrenalin surge to remember him by.

There’s always been an uneasy truce between cyclists and walkers on leisure paths and sidewalks. Bicycles move much faster than pedestrians, of course, and it’s unnerving to hear cyclists shout “On your left!” from behind you before they go flying by.  When I see cyclists weaving though the people on the path, I’m tempted to think that the path should be reserved for walkers and joggers.  Then I remember that I ride my bicycle on the path, too, because it’s a great ride — a smooth path, unhindered by stop signs or cars that drive too close, with a cool tunnel, little hills to get the blood pumping, and long coasting runs.  It’s perfect for cycling, just as it’s perfect for a brisk, head-clearing morning walk.

There’s no reason why cyclists, pedestrians, and joggers can’t share the leisure path, day or night or early morning.  But the cyclists need to really pay attention, especially when it’s dark outside.  Having a light on the front of the bicycle would help, too.

Broken Lance

Lance Armstrong has decided not to pursue arbitration in his ongoing dispute with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.  The USADA will treat Armstrong’s decision as an admission of guilt and will move to strip him of the seven consecutive Tour de France titles that he won from 1999 to 2005.  Armstrong says his rejection of arbitration doesn’t admit anything but rather is a recognition that the arbitration is part of what his coach called an “unjust process.”

Armstrong points to hundreds of different drug tests that he passed as evidence of his innocence.  The USADA, on the other hand, said it had evidence that Armstrong used banned substances and methods and that some of his former teammates from the U.S. Postal Service cycling team were ready to testify against him.  With Armstrong calling a halt to the proceedings while continuing to deny the accusations, citing the toll the investigation has taken on him and his family, the evidence presumably will never be presented.

It’s a sad day for Armstrong’s many fans, for supporters of his foundation and wearers of his “livestrong” bracelet, and for anyone who was inspired by his victory over cancer.  His decision to stop fighting what he contends are unsubstantiated charges also is contrary to Armstrong’s hard-earned image as an indefatigable competitor whose refusal to tire or slow down would crush the will of fellow contestants during the mountain stages of the Tour de France.

And, despite the somewhat triumphal tone of the USADA official quoted in the article linked above, this whole process has been another black eye for the sport of cycling — a sport that apparently has been riddled with cheating and a willingness to explore new frontiers in manipulating human blood and sinew, heart and lung, to gain a fractional competitive advantage.

A Fat Guy In A Thin Country

Paris makes me want to suck in my gut.

As you walk around the city, you can’t help but notice that there aren’t many overweight people here. Everybody, regardless of their age, seems to be thin, stylishly dressed, and moving fast.  The contrast with America, where you see seriously obese people everywhere, is startling.

Why is this so?  Maybe it is because more Parisians seem to smoke than Americans — at least, that’s the impression I get after a few days here — or maybe it is because food is expensive, and people have cut back a little on the chow-downs as a result.  More likely, it is because this is a city of walkers and cyclists.  On weekdays, you see people hustling down the streets to get to work or riding their bikes as part of their daily commute.  My guess is that few Parisians follow the American model of going to their garage in the morning, hopping in their car, and then driving to a parking garage a block away from their workplace, where they will sit on their butts all day.

I also think there is a strong social disapproval of being overweight — implicit, perhaps, but nevertheless a factor.  Everyone here wears fashionable clothing, from hats down to shoes.  If you want to join everyone else and be part of the haute couture parade, you’ve got to keep the weight off.  It’s hard to look stylish, and Parisian, if you are hauling around an extra 60 pounds.

Dirty Sports

Pro baseball has its steroid scandals, and pro football does too.  College football and basketball witness periodic allegations that teams have cheated in recruiting, in paying athletes, and in committing various violations of NCAA rules.  It seems like every sport struggles with some issues of cheating.

Is any sport more troubled in that regard than cycling?  From reading new reports you get the sense that cyclists are human pincushions who are willing to subject themselves to almost any kind of drug or other form of hare-brained treatment in hopes of gaining a slight advantage over competitors and then somehow avoiding detection by the sport’s regulators.

Cycling suffered another black eye today, when the winner of the Tour de France announced that he had tested positive for a small amount of a banned substance — a stimulant that increases breathing capacity and the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream. He says that he was the victim of food contamination, and the allegations will surely be carefully investigated by some supervisory panel.  Cycling enthusiasts, however, must be cringing once again at today’s headlines.