17 April 2015

What I Know For Sure

What I have learned after 15 years of road biking in Colorado

Sharing my experiences in an honest humorous do's and don'ts way after being involved in many levels of cycling in Colorado.

Never be intimidated by any mountain climb in Colorado. Even if you go so slow you feel you will fall over, and even if you stop several times, you will make it to the top if you have it in your mind to succeed. The ride to the mountaintop is not about the journey (although it is about the scenery), or how many people pass you or do not, it is about the destination. You must believe deeply to get yourself to the top.

Do try to find 2-3 people to ride with whom encourage you, are dependable, make you laugh and at the end of the ride leave you feeling better in spirit; better in body is not a guarantee and is about as reliable as a consistent game of golf. Some days you will ride better than them, some days they will ride better than you, but together you will be stronger. You will know you have a mate who will be there for you in sickness and health, and in "Ha, I beat you to the city limit sign!"

Never trust or get involved in a conversation (rant) on Twitter with anyone who is antagonistic or eager to beat you down. Also never read the comments on 303Cycling.com, some people are just plain angry or mean. Be discreet and communicate directly with anyone you have an issue with in the cycling community. Tensions sometimes run high. Everyone makes mistakes and this community is too small to make enemies.

Do remember those who brought you to this point. Once you have ridden a bike next to someone, you have made a friend. I might not see all the people I used to ride with, but I always wish them well as years go by. When you experience the pavement rolling by under your wheel and ride side by side with someone whether in conversation or in quiet, or follow their wheel over the hill and dale, there is a bond built forever. I have only ever felt this kind of bond in sport in big wall rock climbing or back country skiing. I have learned so much from so many.

Never take your bike into a bike shop unwashed and ask for a "tune-up." Do ask the mechanic questions about your bike every time they make or plan a repair. You will learn exponentially; there is always more to learn. Maintenance of your bike is a responsibility of ownership. Do learn how to change a tire; the skill will afford you far more freedom.

Do talk to anyone who has a bike in hand. Honestly, all barriers vanish. If you ride a bike, you have something in common. Whether he/she is 12-years old or 75-years old, the most decorated racer or the newbie rider - talk to them. Say hi, give an honest compliment, ask a question, listen to their story, leave with a smile. I am serious - there are some very cool people riding bikes around this state and you never know their story until you break that silence.

Do understand that nutrition matters; weight of the bike less, bike handling is super important, and determination even more so. Try to learn not to be anxious and stressed out while riding, it takes away from your experience and your performance.

Never wear your helmet pushed too far back on your forehead. I will tolerate almost any other clothing style errors but this one. Okay, maybe no long dangling earrings either.

Do volunteer at races or events and please represent cyclists as law-abiding citizens. Enough said.

Never go into a porta-potty (portable toilet) with your cycling gloves on. Enough said.

Do find a bike that you love riding. Not a bike someone else has, or recommends for you, or thinks is top-of-the-line. Find a bike that makes you want to get out and ride. 

Never keep your chamois on for hours after your ride. Even if you do need to download your GPS ride data and Tweet or Facebook about your awesome speed and altitude gained. You have chamois priorities!

Do buy the very best technical clothing you can afford. It will last you for years (if you keep it out of the dryer) and might just save your ride.

Never neglect to return a wave or a hello while riding. Being rude has no place on this earth. Enough said.

Do know that most storms pass, including those pesky afternoon rain showers in Colorado. I say wait it out and remount. This motto applies to most things in life.

Never buy 3 full kits, plus jacket, vest and all the accessories of any team kit (unless they are free) because the team sponsors will change the next year, or somebody won't be happy with the leg elastic, and you are out considerable moolah.

Do at some point, ride both inside, and more importantly outside, the county borders of Boulder, Colorado. 

Do know that you will evolve. You will roll with the times and changes as much as your bike will. You will grow faster and then slower. You will have triumphs and disappointments. But in the end you will have racked up some awesome experiences along the way.

Do save some cool memorabilia from your cycling experiences. Not that we need more stuff, but memories are the right kind of stuff. 

Never build your entire identity around the bike. Everyone should be able to talk about at least 4 topics in depth. My dog counts as #2 of 4.

Do plan weekend trips to ride in other areas of Colorado. Within a two to five hour car drive, a whole new world of riding possibilities open up. Get out and explore by car, by tent, by trailer, by hotel, by bike!

What I do know for sure - and try hard to keep sight of - is that I would be more interested in sitting down to dinner with someone who described to me the view from the mountaintop than I would with someone who described to me the view from the podium. Over time, experiences had and connections made, count more. It is not about where you placed at the finish line but that you made it to the line. Unless, of course you were first. Or you doped, denied it, won, got caught, said you were sorry, or didn't, and then made tons of money for the rest of your life in the industry you cheated and everyone seemed okay with that. I'm still not.

I'm hoping those types pay at the gates. For the rest of you - you are invited to dinner!

Memories ...

I bought my first road bike in 2001. The next weekend I rode from Boulder to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had no idea what I was doing (but at least my helmet was straight), I simply believed I could do it. This was such a great group I rode with, I think of them fondly but haven't seen them in years. They inspired me and changed my life.

Fall River Pass 11,795 feet of adventure
Our group of five who biked from Boulder to Steamboat in 2001 because Mike Ricci (left) planned the trip and thought it would be fun. I said "sure" probably because I didn't know any better. One thing is for sure - I should have kept that orange and yellow helmet.

16 April 2015

Traveling with a bike - cycling tips

Pedal Dancer tips and tricks for bringing or renting a bike on vacation

Last weekend I was honored to be guest speaker at the Denver Bicycle Touring Club's (DBTC) Spring Kick-off Meeting. DBTC is the original bike club in the Denver Metro area. I wasn't quite sure what to speak about, but I know there was much more I could have said. How could I wrap fifteen years of cycling travel experience into fifteen minutes of speaking? I promised I would write out a condensed version of my travel tips. I will do it in two parts, as this is anything but condensed:
  • PART I: Traveling with a bike
  • PART 2: Travel tips for cyclists
All of these tips are offered from experience, either learning the hard way what not to do, or following the tips of close friends, family, and readers.

PART I: Today I begin with my tips for traveling with your bike.

Making your reservation

Reality in 2015 is the cost of flying with a bike can add greatly to your overall ticket cost. You should expect added costs from $50 to $300 one-way. Please research bike luggage costs before deciding on a flight that is $75 cheaper than a competing airline, only to find out your bike is $150 more, each way. (Learned through Twitter rants).

Start by discovering the airlines that fly to your destination. On their website, read the fine print about luggage allowance for bikes, including weight, loss or damage. Next look at transportation required from the airport to your hotel, tour group or starting city. Make sure all the pieces of the puzzle work, considering day, timing and limitations, and THEN look for the best airfare (calculating in all the extra expected costs).

The steps to booking transportation when traveling with a bike:
  1. Bike shipping cost, weight and size allowances, loss and damage for each airline.
  2. Research all other transportation costs and choices: taxi, shuttle, van, train, bus, airport transfer.
  3. Purchase your airfare after you thoroughly understand Step 1 and 2.
Handy websites:
Try your hardest to use one airline when completing your entire reservation. If you experience problems with connections or lost luggage - you will be dealing with one airline's customer service and baggage claim. Make your reservations directly through that one airline, you will receive better customer service for delays or cancellations than dealing with a second-party ticket agency.

If using miles, call a customer service representative directly to see if she/he can get you a flight to your desired destination using your flight miles. They might find a route you may not have considered on your own or see flights available through their system, which you could not see online. (Learned happily by me).

Consider using smaller airports, large airports often mean big taxes and fees, and more time navigating through long terminals with overworked employees. I will do anything to avoid Charles de Gaul airport with a bike box. From The USA to France, for example, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, and Bordeaux are much easier airports. For those within Europe, you might choose Biarritz, Pau, Lourdes, Grenoble, Nice or many others. Collecting and returning a rental car is also easier from these smaller airports (Learned from local friends). The same holds true for flying within the USA. I would select arriving into Burbank (BUR) or Santa Ana/John Wayne Airport (SNA) over Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Whenever possible, try to fly all the way to your destination. Attempting to make multiple connections with a bike is a hassle and a risk. Picture stairs, turnstiles, no subways, taxi trunks (boots), clearing customs, special luggage deposit and collection locations, loading onto trains, more stairs, larger rental cars, and doing all of this in a hurry. Not to mention the baggage handler who neglected to transfer your bike box to your next flight. Fly as far as you can and hope your bike arrives. At least you will be close to your destination in case you need to change plans (Learned the hard way!)

Allow extra time for transfers to another plane or train. Bike cases arrive in the over-sized baggage area and sometimes take 30-45 minutes to show up; sometimes well after all the other passengers have collected their suitcases off the belt and are busy kissing sweethearts. You'll be breaking out in a cold sweat, certain your bike has been lost forever, but be patient: allow enough time for your connection and believe that door will open and your bike will appear ready for its next adventure.

I always plan to remain near my final arrival point on the first day, just in case my bike was lost or damaged in transit (Learned the hard way!). Typically the airline is able to find your bike and have it at the same airport for you within 24-hours. But if you eagerly booked a departing TGV for a destination 4-6 hours away immediately upon your arrival to meet a tour that starts at 8:00am the next day, things just got a lot more complicated. I learned to use the first day of arrival to buy supplies or perhaps visit a local bike shop, take a city tour and have a good meal, get some exercise - in the form of a long walk - and shake off jet-lag.

Your luggage

Of course, I am going to mention having clearly identifiable luggage (I have a bright green suitcase and a blue bike case), but first I must talk of the three rules of traveling light:
  • Rule #1 - avoid over-weight charges
  • Rule #2 - bring as little as possible
  • Rule #3 - always put things in the same place inside your bags
You will bring three pieces of luggage with you, if one will be a bike. Two pieces if you have no bike.
  1. Carry-on (with small inflight bag)
  2. Suitcase (with clothing, bike tools, sandals/shoes, toiletries)
  3. Bike Case (with your prized possession)
Carry-on luggage: inside this bag, keep a small lightweight strap bag or nap-sack that can be easily removed and kept at your seat during your flight. Inside this bag you should have everything you need during the flight. This bag should be capable of being quickly removed when you get to your seat, the rest of the heavier, bigger carry-on bag goes in the overhead compartment never to be revisited until you land. 

Inside your larger carry-on bag, should be your rental car papers, paper maps, any instructions needed upon arrival, and primary itinerary with reservation details. You should also carry on your camera, cycling shoes, any medications, laptop, GPS, battery charger for phone and all devices. I like to keep all my cords in one bag. I also carry-on my pedals in a pouch (but not a pedal wrench or tools) and I like to keep track of where my helmet has been, so I carry it as well.

Remember to bring an electrical adapter if you will be changing planes in another country and have a long layover, this way you may charge your devices at the airport (although some airports now have for-a-fee charging stations). Do not pack any essentials in your check-in suitcase, if your bag is delayed for 24 to 72-hours, it can be a real inconvenience. Remember to remove air cartridges from your saddlebag before flying; instead bring a pump. I have seen passengers on the floor opening bike cases at the check-in counter to remove cartridges (of course one is always yelling at the other saying, "I thought you took it out").

Safety and your luggage

Remember bike cases are opened at security, and can be unzipped. Don't pack anything of value in your bike case, or anything that could easily fall out of the case. Carry-on all devices and laptop, camera, or external hard drives. A stolen carry-on bag, that you swore you'd keep safe, can be a real bummer, so never ever put your wallet inside your carry on bag. Wear your carry-on over your shoulder at all times and avoid placing anything in external zippers.

Even if you dislike money belts, you are most vulnerable while using transportation of any sort. Use a money belt for your passport and credit cards and a photocopy of your contacts. As a woman, I prefer using a neck wallet - a small bag around my neck, tucked inside my shirt. Example

I keep a small amount of money easily accessible for small purchases, so I do not have to pull out my money belt/pouch in public. I keep a small pouch for euro coins. Always travel with two credit cards in case one is swallowed by a machine and gone forever (Happened to a reader at a tollway!). I leave a detailed itinerary at home with a family member, plus details of my credit card and airline pins, in case of an emergency (Learned by family and me).

Your bike box

First things first, airlines will or will not accept liability for damage of bicycles, sometimes it depends on the type of encasement you use - you can find airline bike packing requirements in the fine print on their websites. The fee you pay is for shipping, it is most likely not for insurance (although your home or renters insurance might pay for damage to your bike). Your best chance for compensation from the airline in case of damage, is to exactly follow that airline rules for packing a bike AND inspect your bike immediately upon arrival and notify baggage claim in case of damage.

I always bring a copy of my personal bike geometry and fit measurements. In case my bike is ruined - my vacation might not be. I can hope to rent a bike.

What type of case should you use: hard case / plastic bag / cardboard box / soft case / wheel bag? For most people reading this blog (not including pros who have their luggage paid for), I am going to cut to the chase and recommend a soft-sided bike bag (unless such a case does not apply in the above paragraph). I realize I have posted in the past about how to pack hard bike cases (and I have one), but times have changed. There are excellent soft-sided bags that will protect your bike well. My brother has had great success with his Pica Packworks soft-sided bike case, or consider an Evoc Bike Travel Bag.

Soft bags are easier to handle, easier to store inside a rental car and in a hotel or B&B room. The soft bags are lighter to carry and run a lower risk of your bike bag being overweight. I used to sweat my 14 pound bike being loaded into my 34 pound hard bike case. By the time all the packing and straps were added, I came in just under 50 pounds every time, with no room for anything else inside the case.

I advise you to think of the security agents when you pack your bike case. Make their job easy and maybe they will show more care when closing your bag and maintaining its alignment inside your case. I label the bike case well on the outside and place a paper inside the bag with my name and address and intended destination and date.

If you are using a hard case to transport your bike - bring a short strap with a large click buckle. Use this buckle strap to attach your rolling bike box to your rolling luggage, and instantly your weight load is far less having created a four wheel wagon of sorts. This is how I pull my luggage behind me through airports.

Here is my final tip about bike boxes: be inconspicuous. Approach the counter with your act together, have your passport and ticket ready. Make it look like your case in easy to handle and lightweight. Don't offer information, but do answer all questions honestly. Smile, be kind, be patient, don't talk too much. You might just find that you won't be charged for your bike case. It has happened to me plenty of times, most often from Europe returning to the USA. Only once in the USA when the airline employee couldn't find the price on their own website, and the manager decided I was holding up the line (Their mistake, my gain).

Oh wait, I do have one more tip: You might save money if you pay for your luggage (including your bike) in advance online. But if you do this, you loose the opportunity not to pay, but risk paying far more at the counter. Whichever way you choose, just don't start tweeting how outraged you are by high airline bike box costs - you should've done your research!

My brother Mike gave up his old hard case for a Pica Packworks soft-side bike case.

Packing your bike box for travel

I will mention such bike packing tips as using plumbing foam tubing, zip ties and tape, rags around derailleurs and cog sets, marking your saddle height and stem/bar positions with tape before removing, absolutely removing your pedals, putting all screws back exactly where you found them, fastening all items in the box to prevent pieces from rattling around and damaging your frame, bringing every tool it took to take apart your bike with you to put it back together ... but I will leave it to these sources to instruct you on how to pack a bike for traveling:
If you have any questions about packing your bike, make a trip to your local bike shop to arrange a time with a mechanic to teach you how to pack your bike and how to put it back together. I am sure you could ask to pay for a personal instruction session.

It should take about 45-minutes to complete the entire packing process.

Plane travel 

Bring the phone numbers to the baggage claims departments at all airports you will be traveling to. Leave these numbers, along with your itinerary and bike case description with somebody back home. It can be easier to let them deal with local baggage departments then for you to worry about finding a lost bag in a different language in a different time zone (Learned the hard way!). Again do your research ahead of time, be prepared for things to go wrong; when they do not - your vacation is off to a great start.

Bus travel

While in Italy, I find bus travel with a bike case to be easier than train travel: the curbside loading and unloading is much easier. Train stations in Italy often have a lot of stairs (Learned the hard way) and buses often depart from the center of towns. But be aware, not all buses will accept bikes, especially the transport buses between airports. If you are traveling anywhere on a bus with a bike, read the fine details on the bus company website before hand.

Train travel

Bike cases can be hard to load onto trains and also might result in a gruff conductor looking down his nose at your. The cases are sometimes stacked near the doors of the TGVs in France, and might have to be moved as passengers load and unload: requiring diligence and effort. Again read the luggage guide on the train websites prior to all travel. Most trains have both packaging guidelines and placement on the train guidelines that must be followed.

How the pros do it: in a $1200 SciCon hard case bike box:

Chris Froome says goodbye to his prized Pinarello bike... I am a bit concerned about that posted no bikes sign.

Planes, trains, buses and automobiles in the USA

Think car rental - plain and simple. Almost anywhere you will want to ride a bike in the United States will be reached by car, from a trail head or a town. Study car models to make sure your gear will fit. I have gone straight to the auto maker's website to look at the inside, or seat configuration, of a particular car model.

In the USA, some car rental agencies rent racks or top luggage/gear containers. If the car rental agency does not rent a rack, you might find a local rack company (such as Yakima or Thule) that will rent you a rack and help you install it on the car (my brother does this for long road trips and finds it easier than storing one at home). You will want to Google rack rental [city name].

Once again, when you arrive into the United States, I would allow one day to make sure all your gear and supplies are in good condition and ready to go. 

What if you want to ship your bike

Okay, it no longer means you will be placing your bike on a ship, but airfare and ground transportation across an ocean isn't all that much faster than a ship, and it costs a lot. A lot. There are more and more emerging businesses that offer to transport your bike for you in-country. This is especially convenient if you plan to attend an event or race and want to fly unencumbered. These companies offer services from packaging, loading, build and transport. See services listed on the particular event website or Google bike shipping, or transport, [city name or event].

Renting a bike

More advances have been made in 2015: with more bike shops, lodges, and tour companies renting high-end bikes to customers. This is great news. Always check the bike frame and especially the gearing. If you will be climbing, you want at least a 28 rear cog and a compact crank, this is minimum gearing for women or for riders who plan to climb day after day. I am not shy - I'll take a 32! Saddles and stems might be adjustable for a better fit, just ask. To best fit a bike - I always bring a copy of my personal bike geometry and fit measurements (another tip is to bring a string marked with your key measurements).

Bring your own pedals, shoes and helmet (and maybe even saddle). Reserve well in advance and ask about cancellation policies. For a safe back up, I would research two places for bike rental in any given area where you plan to ride, just in case something happens to your first reservation - your vacation is not ruined.

Google the city with the words bike rental to begin your search. Also check the map for nearby cities that might rent bikes. Call a bike shop in your destination city and ask if they know who rents bikes in town. Once you find a bike rental shop, be sure they rent the bike you need for the type of riding you want to do.

Traveling without a bike is much easier if you plan to pass through large cities. Using subways or taxis and walking distances over cobbles is much less of a hassle, not to mention elevators, stairs and already small enough hotel rooms.

This is my 10 euro rental bike resting on the Koppenberg in Belgium. I rode this bike up the Kwaremont as well and had a blast! Rent anything if it means getting to ride a bike on vacation.

Bikes included with your bike tour

I think this is a fine idea and chances are - the type of bike the company offers will be the bike best suited for the terrain you will be riding. Again bring your own shoes and helmet, and ask about saddle and frame size. After advice from a reader, I might suggest asking the Tour Company to send you a photo of the saddle you will be using during the tour. If you have any concerns, measure your saddle height, and pack your saddle and tools. (Learned from a reader who had a very painful, but fun, tour).

Storing your case

I happen to know that renting a Renault Scenic will fit two hard bike cases upright in the back, allowing for luggage and two people. This car model will also hold three (uncased) bikes upright and 3 passengers. Bike cases definitely take up room in your car. Most cases will fit along the back seat of a car (without a passenger). Soft-sided cases are much easier to store than hard cases, and cardboard boxes can be disposable.

I had a friend who asked a hotel to keep their two hard case bike boxes in a storage area while they traveled around France. They of course stayed a night upon arrival and another night before departure. Ask the hotel if they are able to store your box, you never know (Learned from a reader who is now a friend).

If you plan to cycle tour from one location to a far distant location, then using a cardboard box (with plenty of plumbing tubing and bubble wrap and tape) is probably your best bet. Again, make sure your airline accepts cardboard boxes. Some people swear by using them. I met a trio of cyclists who arrived in France with their bikes in boxes, ditched the boxes, rented one car, bought a simple bike rack at a local sporting goods store, drove and rode select routes across the country, ditched the rack, found more boxes, returned the car, and flew home.

How the boys from Ireland made their way across the Pyrenees (packing up outside Pyrenees Cycling Lodge in June) with their bike rack and rental car.
Buying what you need

Unless you are going to a very secluded place (or are seven-feet tall like my nephew and looking for a bike frame), most cities have sporting good stores or bike shops where you will be able to buy anything you have forgotten or lost. A trip to a Decathlon store in France is a tradition. I always buy a couple lightweight blankets (dark gray preferred) to cover my bikes while in the car.

Safety of your bike while traveling

Bring a lock, buy two light weight cheap blankets upon arrival. Although I do not ride my nice road bike to a place where I will need to lock it up and leave it, I have heard of bikes being stolen while resting along a cafe patio fence in a larger city (okay it was Grenoble, France and Boulder, Colorado). Even a lightweight lock will slow them down, or maybe they will take a different bike than yours. I do not leave my bike unattended in a large city. If I ride to a mountain top finish of a bike race, bikes are generally safe resting along the hillside. Be very careful leaving your bike inside the car. I always cover the bikes with blankets, and if I am in a big city, I lock them up (inside and out).

Returning back home

I have learned to find a hotel near the airport for the night before any early morning departure. I arrive the night before and check into my hotel, depositing all my bags inside my room. I then drive my rental/lease car to the car return, leaving the car. I then use the free hotel shuttle service back to the hotel. I arrange the hotel shuttle to the airport for early the next morning, informing them that I will have a suitcase and a bike box. Now I have a sense of timing to get to the airport from the hotel the next morning. That evening I enjoy a glass of wine while repacking all of my bags and bike, leaving anything I no longer need for the maids and then get a good nights sleep. This is one of the rare instances I use big chain hotels during my travels, but I have learned it affords me with great peace of mind after a long trip.

Try to find a friend to drive you to and from the airport. Airport Shuttle companies will charge you more to carry a bike, and taxis might not have room. Another good option is to arrange a local individual who owns a large SUV or van and transports people to and from the airport as a self-owned business. I personally have had great success with this type of service and find they often do not charge additional for bike cases. I am not talking Uber.

Wrap up

I hope this post helps give you some ideas of things to think about and be aware of prior to your cycling vacation or event. Bon Voyage! Have a Great Trip!

Previous posts by Pedal Dancer® that apply to this topic:

This photo has nothing to do with packing a bike, I just came across it while searching for bike box photos and it made me smile - a wonderful memory of cycling up the Col du Soulor in France on a lazy lamb kind of day.

Happy travels!

If anyone has any great bike travel tips - I will happily share them.

14 April 2015

I woke up at 5:00AM to watch the Paris-Roubaix

And it was worth it!

Last Sunday was my most anticipated race of the year - the Hell of the North - the Paris Roubaix. It is the time in spring when I get to watch someone other than the main GC names win a career-making race. It is the day when tough men race over tough cobbles. I love the Paris-Roubaix, this year it did not disappoint.

When my alarm clock rang on Sunday morning, I shot out of bed. There was no hitting the snooze button. I had prepared the coffee pot the night before, I had made sure my viewing devices were set and channels/websites selected. It was the morning of the long anticipated Paris-Roubaix.

John Degenkolb won the race in 2015, but the biggest controversy was the daring crossing of the railroad tracks during the race to beat the high speed TGV to Paris:
Paris-Roubaix is like Christmas to me. I can't sleep for the excitement and I happily arise early.

Last week, I had fun tweeting some imaged taken when I was fortunate to be a fan at the race a couple years ago. I was there to see the riders inside the Arenberg Forest and again at the restaurant of le Carrefour de l'Arbre. I had watched the race online for years and knew exactly where I wanted to be if I ever got the chance to be there in person. I had sort of hoped for rain and mud, but was instead treated to a fantastic good weather day in northern France.

Here are some of the images I tweeted last weekend (with many more I did not tweet). Paris-Roubaix is a tradition and these are sights can be seen any year - even the year you will go.

All photos by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

La Trouée d'Arenberg (ou Tranchée de Wallers-Arenberg) (Arenberg Forest)

Thrilling to be a fan on the sector of pave
Getting in the mood with some Jupi
Ropes are used in the middle of the forest to control fans
We timed it right to walked into the forest behind this group!
We walked the entire length of the Arenberg forest. Then we got a beer!

There is a big celebration at the start of the Arenberg sector (east side) with beer tents, entertainment and sausages!

A long tradition for fans
The same fans gather on this section year after year
Entertainment stage at the start of the cobbles - I loved singing Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline with the crowd.
Sausages and frites are a tradition.
And beer tents
At the entrance to Arenberg Forest there is a memorial to Jean Stablinski,
a French professional cyclist from a family of Polish immigrants, who worked the mines in northern France.

The fans take their place, the gendarmes try to keep order, the TVs get in place and the cobbles are ready for action:

It is really exciting to line the barriers with the other fans
There are barriers at the beginning
Gendarmes on police patrol the forest
The mood is fun and relaxed before the race.
Photographers piled up on the left side
Gendarmes on motorbikes stand up as they ride the rough cobbles

Then the peloton roars by and the earth shakes:

Fans are so close to the action!
The green grass of the irregular cobbles
When the moss grows on top and the grass is wet - the cobbles are really slick.
When the helicopters show the riders turning onto this pavement, I know they are through the forest.

Le Carrefour de l'Arbre (ou Pavé de Luchin)

We got in our car and drove to another section of pave to see the peloton yet again, shortly before the finish at the Velodrome in Roubaix.

Only 2 star sector of pave, but strategically, a very important corner of the race.
Not the time to get a flat. Usually only three sector of pave remain.
Beautiful working fields of northern France
The scene at Carrefour de l'Arbre
Gendarmes (police men) are everywhere along the course
A great way to spend a Sunday
On the enormous big screen TV at the corner near the restaurant of l'Arbre, we were able to see the finish in the Velodrome happening just a short distance away. The crowd roared at the finish. I couldn't believe I was in France on this Sunday in Spring!
My niece Kristina walking back to the car after seeing the race pass and the finish on the large screen TV at l'Arbre.
Roubaix Velodrome

I visited the Roubaix Velodrome on a quiet day earlier in the week, when I could walk the last section of cobbles and walk into the veldrome as the riders would do on race day, imaging the thrill of victory. 

The final (modern) secteur of pave before the Velodrome
The most important corner of the Paris-Roubaix (entering the Velodrome)
What every rider wants to see first - the finish line inside the Roubaix Velodrome
What great memories!!

Related posts by Pedal Dancer:
I can't wait until next year. I plan to get up at 5:00a.m. again. 

07 April 2015

Five years as a blogger

For five years I have tried to contribute to the cycling community

A sudden inspiration occurred to me while watching the Paris-Roubaix race in 2010. I should blog.

It was a time when I was really into pro races abroad and learning the roads and travel logistics to attend the races. I had friends in Belgium attending the Paris-Roubaix in April 2010; they were in Belgium and I was home watching the race online - it felt as if I was there with them. Then it occurred to me: I should share my experiences and research about cycling travel. Maybe I could help others by sharing what I know and more importantly, what I learn.

I was planning a five-week cycling trip to France that following July, it would be my fifth trip to see the Tour de France. I wanted a way to share my travels with friends and family back home, so I continued blogging while traveling through France ticking off many of the high Cols. I remember looking at my blog statistics one day in July 2010 and marveling that a hundred people had read my blog. One hundred people where interested in my stories of riding a bike in France - it was hard for me to comprehend.

Then a strange thing happened - people started to recognize me.

I began to hear from people through email, comments or in person; readers who recognized me from my blog. It was cool! Every person I met, told me their story. And I love travel stories! They told me where they had been, where they had stayed, and whom they had met along the way. My world suddenly became much bigger.

If you are a traveler - or better yet, a traveler who loves to ride a bike - I am guessing you have experienced the feeling when the mountain makes you feel so small. Where the world makes you marvel at how insignificant you are and yet how your actions impact so many others.

For me, this is the joy and purpose of getting out and riding a bike in new places. 

Sometimes I think I shouldn't be so transparent on my blog; that I should protect my privacy. As much as I love facts and information (and if you read my blog you know I love compiling and sharing data), it is the times when I share my humor (Irish humor that would be!) or tell of my woes, which seems to best connect me with all of you readers.

I've had some great times and I've had some hard times in the past 5 years. I long to be in the shape I was five years ago when the Triple Bypass was completed with ease. I have worked very hard on Pedal Dancer and enjoyed covering the pro races and traveling to France, Belgium and especially Ireland for the Giro d'Italia last May, but the time spent on creating the blog was great. I probably should have been following a regimented training plan instead to maintain that awesome shape that is now long gone.

I wish I never broke my pelvis mountain biking in Moab - that was a true bummer and I have never been the same cyclist since. I have fears and pains that I am still trying to solve 4-years later. I injured my left knee in the fall of 2014 and was recently diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia. But through all the pain, I put together six totally awesome routes for Ride with GPS as a new Ambassador to Summit County bike rides in Colorado. I swear I wrote an entire guidebook to cycling in Summit County in the process.

Without a doubt, I can say that I contribute to the cycling community in Colorado. And that makes me feel good. I suppose we all want to feel as if we contribute in some small way to the great big world around us.

The topics I write about, in my blog, have varied greatly over the years. Like my fellow cyclists, I am sometimes interested in bikes, or training, nutrition, race routes, pro riders, hot topics, best new equipment, or simply a good place to grab a beer. If you scroll down my blog you will see the topics discussed vary as much as a conversation with a good friend. That is the exact joy of being a blogger - freedom of expression.

I get to take and share photos like this, even if they are not finish line shots, and especially because I like seeing Bradley Wiggins' kids in the frame ...

I get to be close enough to feel the spray of champagne after a good competition in sport ...

I get to recommend cool places to visit like this cafe in Carbondale, Colorado ...

I get to travel to places like this, in France and sit and have a picnic (with wine of course!) ...

I get to say "I've been there", "I've climbed there on my bike" ...

I get to direct Bradley and Cav to their team buses after sign-in before the stage start ...

I get to write a guide to Summit County bike rides, because I love Colorado! ...

I get to plan more travel and hopefully much more cycling ...

And I get to meet all of you!

Thank you all so much for your support and encouragement over the years. Those one hundred visitors have now turned into thousands daily. That makes me happy. If I had made a dime off of all of this - it would've made me even happier!

I have visitors from around the world, although most come from the U.K., Australia and France (along with those Russia spam visitors). Most visitors still come to read about races or equipment, or about roads and tollways in France. Plenty visit to see Marcel Kittel's legs. I hope I can provide visitors from outside the United States with a sense of what it is like to ride or race a bike in Colorado or California.

California is my home state, Colorado is now my home residence.

Some of the things I personally do for Colorado Cycling:
  • Compile annual Event and Race Calendar Lists
  • Detail the climbs in Colorado with facts and links to experts
  • Write a Guide Page to Summit County Cycling
  • Recommend local rides in Colorado
  • Cover the race and write Fan Guides to the USA Pro Challenge
  • Volunteer in the community at events and as a photographer at races
1.  Pedal Dancer® Colorado Bike Event and Race Calendar Lists
2.  Pedal Dancer® Colorado Climbs
  • Colorado Climbs - The very best bike climbs in Colorado with all the facts, offered in one convenient place.
3.  Pedal Dancer® Summit County Cycling
4.  Pedal Dancer® Favorite Rides
  • Favorite Rides - My favorite rides in Colorado and France are featured.
5.  Pedal Dancer® USA Pro Challenge Race Planning and Coverage
  • USA Pro Challenge -  For information on the 2015 USA Pro Challenge bike race in Colorado, August 17-23, 2015, please go directly to this Pedal Dancer Guide Page
6.  Pedal Dancer® Volunteers!

I sure hope all this effort and good will has helped someone. If it hasn't, I should have just hired a personal coach and gone for those personal STRAVA records, then gone home, cleaned my bike and opened a beer. For five years!

Instead I wanted to contribute and accomplish a few things, I think I did that. And my photography got much better. Thanks again for the ride ! Thank you so much for visiting my blog.

06 April 2015

L'Etape California 2015

L'Etape California - ride a stage of the Amgen Tour of California

A challenging fun day for cyclists. All about the 2015 L'Etape California:

May 16, 2015 - San Dimas/Claremont (TBD) to Mt Baldy 

It is a tradition that AEG organizes a timed ride in which amateur riders can ride one complete stage of the Tour of California. Typically they select the hardest stage, and this year that would be the Queen Stage of Stage 7 up to Mt Baldy, an incredibly steep and difficult final climb. Test your metal alongside retired pro Jens Voigt, who is this year's ambassador for L'Etape 2015.

Two courses are offered in 2015: a shorter 40-mile more direct route to Mt Baldy (5,000 feet of elevation gain over a 13-mile climb) and a traditional longer 80-mile loop course climbing to Mt. Baldy Village, along the scenic Glendora Ridge and Glendora Mountain Roads, and then up the final climb to Mt Baldy.

What is special about this year, is that L'Etape is ON THE SAME DAY AS THE PRO RACE, which means once you cross the finish line, you will join other L'Etape participants inside the finish line barriers for special viewing of the final climb where ONLY L'Etape riders will be allowed for the conclusion of the professional race. ONLY L-Etape riders will be allowed to ride their bikes across the finish line barriers; ONLY L'Etape rider will be treated to a BBQ while waiting for the pros to arrive; ONLY L'Etape riders earn the really cool Shut up Baldy tshirt (below).

Enjoy the celebration at the finish line with fellow L'Etape California participants. 

Before departing the start area in the morning, you will be given a specific event bag into which you may load any items you want at the finish area. This bag will be transported to the top for you. A jacket, warmers, replacement drinks, clothes and walking shoes are recommended items to include in your bag. All items must fit into the one event bag (not your own bag). All L'Etape rider services will be within the last 1-mile of the finish. There will also be festival booths at the top of the mountain.

The last time ATOC included a stage finish atop Mt Baldy was in 2012, when the pros were estimated to finish between 3:17-3:56pm (I was there, I rode my bike to the top, but I was in an exhausted excited daze and cannot remember the exact time of arrival). This year they again expect the pros between 3:00-3:30pm. The podium presentation will take place within 20-30 minutes after the finish (of the first pro riders to arrive).

After the conclusion of the professional race, L'Etape riders will descend Mt. Baldy Road (along with spectators and many of the pros) 20-miles down the mountain back to the ride start. Mt. Baldy Road will reopen to all cyclists at approximately 4:00PM. If you want to descend the mountain before the pros (and the road closes) you must descend before (at least) 2:00pm. It will indeed be a very long exciting day for L'Etape participants (plan on 6:00am - 5:00pm total).

Mt Baldy it the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, in San Bernardino County, Southern California, USA
It hurts. The peloton suffering on Mt Baldy in 2012. Photo by Willie Weichenstein for Pedal Dancer®
Fans watching the race on the last swithback to the top of Mt Baldy in 2012. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
L'Etape California FAQs:
  • Date: Saturday, May 16, 2015
  • L'Etape Stage: Stage 7 (Queen Stage) of the 2015 Amgen Tour of California
  • Distance (2 distances): 40 and 80 miles
  • Return Distance: 20 miles
  • Route: L'Etape California 2015 Route Map
  • Start: San Dimas/Claremont (TBD)
  • Start time: 7:00am 80-milers, 8:00am 40-milers
  • Finish: Mt. Baldy
  • Required finish time: 2:30pm
  • Schedule: time schedule of events for the day
  • Information: Read more here
  • Amgen Tour of California ambassador: Jens Voigt
  • Registration: Register for L'Etape
  • Cost: ,
  • Biggest Challenge: averaging a nearly nine percent gradient for the final 4.3 miles
  • Return to the start: No riders will be allowed to descend between 2:30pm and 4pm as the course will be fully closed.
Registration includes:
  • “Shut Up Baldy” Jens Voigt T-shirt
  • Food/Hydration/Mechanical Support from SRAM (food stops on route)
  • Exclusive ride through the Amgen Tour of California Finish (not open to the public)
  • Complimentary photography
  • Timed Mt. Baldy climbs
  • Post-ride BBQ and viewing area along the final climb
  • Bag transport to the finish
  • Bike valet (they will safely store your bike at the finish while your watch the pro race!)
L'Etape Rider's Schedule for the day: Saturday, May 16:
  • 5:00 AM Registration Opens (Pickup ride materials)
  • 6:45 AM Registration Closes
  • 6:45 AM Bag drop off for transport to finish line
  • 6:50 AM Athlete Briefing and Opening Remarks
  • 7:00 AM 80-mile ride start
  • 8:00 AM 40-mile ride start
  • 10:30 AM First rider arrives at Mt. Baldy Finish Line 
  • 10:30 AM Post-Ride BBQ Begins (1/2 mile below finish line)
  • 10:30-2:00 PM L'Etape riders may descend to bottom of mountain 
  • 10:30-4:00 PM Bike Valet provided at finish line area (store your bike)
  • 2:30 PM Last rider arrives at Mt. Baldy Finish Line
  • 2:30 PM Road closes to all moving traffic
  • 3:00 – 3:15 PM Professional race finishes
  • 4:00 PM Spectators and participants (cyclists) may descend Mt. Baldy back to the start

Tshirt and Jersey of 2015 L'Etape California
Tshirt and Jersey of 2015 L'Etape California
Route of 2015 L'Etape California
Route of 2015 L'Etape California. Download course map
Profile of L'Etape California 2015
Profile of L'Etape California 2015
Red = steep!
This profile map is even prettier:

2015 Etape California profile map
2015 Etape California profile map
Ride it and you will get special finish line viewing!

Finish barrier for Etape California
Finish barrier for L'Etape California partipants - BBQ, bike valet, exclusive final 1/2 mile viewing!!!
The scene at the top in 2012 as fans wait for the pros to arrive. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
A bike, a rider and a road. Mt Baldy.  Photo by Mike Rakestraw for Pedal Dancer®
You'll be begging for a push somewhere within those last tough 4.3 miles to the top. Cyclists on Mt Baldy on race day in 2012. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
He was climbing the road to Mt Baldy in 2012!