Monthly Archives: April 2011

‘Royal Wedding cycle chic!’

I didn’t think it was possible to write a post about the royal wedding on a bicycling blog.
But there was this from today’s Christian Science Monitor: “Glenn Gratton is bicycling frantically around London today, chasing down Kate Middleton and the crew during the royal wedding ceremonies.”
The bicycle, it seems, was the favored mode of transport for Gratton and other paparazzi covering the nuptials between Prince William, heir to the British throne, and commoner Kate Middleton.
Gratton is the founder of the London-based paparazzi agency Matrix pictures, which had photographers stationed at eight points along the wedding couple’s route between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. They presumably were equipped with two-wheeled transport.
“We don’t have our guys aggressively follow cars,” Gratton said of the paparazzi’s sensitivities toward the British royals after the death of Princess Diana. Diana, mother of Princes William and Harry, died Aug. 31, 1997, in an auto accident in Paris as her car was being pursued by paparazzi.
“We are sensitive to that. I mean, not only because of what happened, but because there might be kids there, and we don’t want to be held responsible for any harm coming to anyone. And we understand the princess would be wary of us. You would be, too.”
Because of street closures in central London during and before the royal wedding procession, bicycles became a convenient way to get around, not only for photographers.
The writer of a blog called I Bike London wrote this week: “The combination of road closures around St. James’s Park and the Mall, quiet bank holiday traffic and glorious unseasonably warm sunshine meant that tourists and locals alike were taking to two wheels to check out the buzz. The parks were beset by picnicking Pashley riders, whilst visitors on hire bikes cruised past the Abbey. Getting about by bike was the way to go this past weekend. … It’s Royal Wedding cycle chic!”

London Mayor Boris Johnson (left) unveils a custom-built tandem bike for the royal newlyweds

And what better wedding gift for an active young couple who are about to begin married life on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales, where Prince William is stationed as a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot? How about a bicycle built for two?
London Mayor Boris Johnson, an avid cyclist who has implemented a bicycle-sharing program for the British capital, took to a stage in Trafalgar Square where thousands had gathered to watch the royal wedding on a giant screen, proposed a toast, cut a cake and unveiled a custom-built bicycle to be presented to William and Kate on behalf of the people of London.
“I look forward to seeing the newlyweds on tandem wheels as they start their new life in Anglesey,” the mayor said.


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Cause for celebration in Iowa

If I were an Iowa cyclist, I’d plan to be this Saturday in Ankeny, Sheldahl, Slater, Madrid or Woodward — or in all five towns during the day.
Those are the towns along the High Trestle Trail, a 25-mile-long former Union Pacific railbed that links Ankeny, just north of Des Moines, to Woodward to the northwest.
All five towns are planning a grand-opening celebration for the trail from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with food, music and art, rain or shine, with no registration required. Cyclists are encouraged to travel from one community to the next with a “grand celebration passport” to mark their passage.
The distinguishing feature of the trail, and the reason for its name, is a 13-story-tall, half-mile-long high trestle bridge over the Des Moines River Valley between Madrid and Woodward.
The High Trestle Trail is the latest addition to an estimated 1,200 miles of trails throughout the Hawkeye State, used for such pursuits as bicycling, walking, in-line skating, etc.
Because I can’t be in Iowa, I’ll have to settle for a virtual tour of the trail, compressed into just over two minutes, in the video below.

The High Trestle Trail is built on the railbed of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Co., laid down in 1881. The Union Pacific Railroad sold the corridor in 2005 to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, which worked with the five towns and four counties — Polk, Story, Dallas and Boone — through which the trail passes to make the iconic bridge a reality.

Sunset view of the High Trestle Bridge. Photo from the website of television station KCCI/Channel 8 in Des Moines

The high trestle bridge cost $14.7 million and was funded by public grants and 800 donors. It was designed by Snyder & Associates and Shuck-Britson Inc. The art on the span was designed by RDG Planning & Design. The bridge has six overlooks with interpretive panels that highlight the region’s cultural and natural history.
The most distinctive art elements on the bridge are the 41 rusty “frames,” designed to look like the timber supports inside a mine, reflecting the area’s coal-mining industry. At either end of the bridge are 42-foot limestone towers, which are veined with black ceramic strips to look like coal seams.
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the nine jurisdictions that the trail passes through have been working to establish a trail authority that will maintain and manage the High Trestle Trail. The authority is expected to be fully functional by the first quarter of 2012.
So, the next time I’m in Iowa …

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The obscure corners of sport

Tour Divide is not a sporting event that will bring its participants fame and fortune. No cover story in Sports Illustrated. No photo on a Wheaties box. No lucrative endorsement contracts. No Nike commercial viewed by millions during a Super Bowl.
No, the competitors in the Tour Divide, billed as the world’s toughest mountain bike race, and other athletes who take part in long-distance endurance cycling, as randonneurs or riders in the Race Across America, labor in the obscure corners of the sporting world. They derive their satisfaction from pushing their bodies to the limit and surviving to finish.
And they have to be a at least a little bit crazy to compete in such events in the first place.
Ride the Divide, a feature film about the Tour Divide, has been making its way around the country, being shown at events hosted by bicycle clubs, at fund-raisers for such charities as Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation and at schools and other organizations.
The documentary, which debuted at the 2010 Vail Film Festival and was named the festival’s Best Adventure Film, focuses on the experiences of three of the 16 competitors in the 2008 Tour Divide as they traverse more than 2,700 miles along the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M., a small, dusty crossing on the border with Mexico.

Tour Divide route

Mike Dion, a 40-year old family man from Denver and the film’s producer, used the challenge to chart a new course in life, says a blurb for the film. Matthew Lee of Chapel Hill, N.C., a leader in extreme endurance racing, was competing for his fifth time. And Mary Metcalf-Collier of Idyllwild, Calif., was the first female rider to race in the Tour Divide, which for the most part consists of trails and gravel Forest Service roads. The participants have to cover about 100 miles per day if they hope to finish in a month.
“Over the course of a few weeks they’ll attempt to climb over 200,000 vertical feet over the Rocky Mountains,” the blurb says. “That’s the equivalent of ascending Mount Everest from sea level seven times. They’ll experience mental breakdowns, treacherous snow, hellacious blisters, and total fatigue. Above all, they’ll race with no support — at times in total isolation.”

Matthew Lee at the U.S.-Mexico border

Matthew Lee won the 2008 race featured in the film, finishing in 19 days and 12 hours for an average of about 140 miles per day. He went on to win the Tour Divide in 2009 and 2010 for a total of five victories. This year’s Tour Divide begins on June 10.
The Tour Divide, which began in 1999, may be tougher than the Tour de France, as Outside magazine suggested in its review of the film about the race, but it has nowhere near the fame of the French classic.
The blog Get going NC! reported that only one person was on hand to congratulate Lee as he crossed the Mexican border in the dark of night to win the 2008 Tour Divide. That’s “a far cry,” the blog said, “from cruising down the Champs-Élysées to the cheers of hundreds of thousands of fans.”
Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times and is an American sports icon. Matthew Lee has won the Tour Divide five times and he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.

Ride The Divide Movie Trailer from Ride The Divide on Vimeo.


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It’s all about the finish

I rode 75.2 miles on my bike on Good Friday — from my house near downtown Fort Worth, into the rolling ranchland to the west, and back to my house.
I was whupped at the end, beaten up by the humidity and hellacious wind and fighting off quad cramps. The four younger friends I was riding with patiently waited for me as I walked off the cramps on a long stretch of rolling hills that took us directly into a southerly wind.

At Lake Weatherford marina, the turnaround point for a 75.2-mile ride on Friday. From left: Larry Kemp, Nick Black, Michael O'Brien and me. Fellow rider Jay Ellis shot the photo.

As I neared home, I worried about getting up the last steep hill to my house, on high ground above the Clear Fork of the Trinity River and the Fort Worth Zoo. But I made it.
My goal for the day was 75 miles. Despite the pain and discomfort, I finished, and I was pleased. Not bad for an old guy, I figured.
But then I had another, humbling, thought: Damn, if I were Jeremy Shlachter, I’d still have 300 miles to go.
Jeremy, nearly 40 years my junior, a longtime friend, neighbor and custom bike builder, is a randonneur — a long-distance endurance cyclist who racks up ridiculous mileages on a single ride.
On the previous weekend, for example, Jeremy had ridden 600 kilometers (375 miles) in 27 hours and 6 minutes on a course mapped out around Italy, Texas, south of Dallas. That’s 20 miles more than the distance between Chicago and Minneapolis, and just 18 miles short of the distance between Boston and Washington, D.C.
Jeremy’s 600-kilometer ride was the last in a series of endurance events to qualify him for the grandaddy competition of randonneuring, a 1,200-kilometer (745.6-mile) ride from Paris to Brest on the Atlantic coast of France and back to Paris.

Jeremy Shlachter after 24 hours in the saddle during his 600-kilometer ride

This year’s Paris-Brest-Paris event, held every four years in August, will be Aug. 21-25. A competitor has to finish the 1,200-kilometer course in 90 hours to receive the prestigious PBP finisher’s medal and have his or her name entered into the event’s Le Grande Livre (“The Great Book”) along with every other finisher dating back to the first Paris-Brest-Paris ride in 1891.
All would-be participants in the Paris-Brest-Paris event must do a “Super Randonneur” series of “brevets,” or rides, of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometers in the year of PBP and finish the series by mid-June. The qualifying rides are overseen by the governing body of randonneuring in each participant’s country. The governing body for the United States is RUSA, or Randonneurs USA. The club for North Texas, which organizes and monitors randonneuring events, is Lone Star Randonneurs.
During a randonneuring event, the clock runs continuously. Participants ride through the night, sleeping as little as possible, sometimes catching a brief catnap beside the road before continuing.
For his final qualifying brevet, Jeremy took along, on one of his own custom-built bikes, spare inner tubes, lights, a camera, eight “bonk-breaker” bars, 10 hammer gels, four power burritos, three vegan bologna and pickle sandwiches and two packages of electrolyte tablets.

Charles Terront, winner of the first first Paris-Brest-Paris cycling endurance event in 1891

“One of my favorite things about randonneuring is that you don’t ‘get’ anything for participating in the ride,” he wrote on his blog. “No one handing you Gatorade and orange slices at a rest stop, no event T-shirt that ends up in the back of your closet or as a shop rag, no finisher medals or photographers trying to sell you unkempt pics of you sweaty and exhausted. Just the satisfaction and experience of the ride.”
He says he “should be in great shape” for the Aug. 21 start of the Paris-Brest-Paris ride and that he just hopes to finish within the 90-hour time limit and “make it into Le Grande Livre.”
I posted a note on Facebook on Friday about my own 75-mile ride, a piddling distance compared to Jeremy’s brevets. But the note and an accompanying photograph of me and my fellow riders prompted a nice comment from a Facebook friend: “And here I was feeling good about going 16 miles today. Thanks for showing me how much more work I gotta do to call myself a cyclist!”
Thanks, Mark, but everything is relative. And whether the distance is 16 miles, 75 miles, 375 miles or 745 miles, it’s all about the finish.

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The locals aren’t always friendly

I wondered, as I wrote the April 19 post about two young Canadian women who are bicycling the ancient Silk Road between Europe and China, about the dangers they might face as they pass through some very remote, sometimes turbulent, territory.

Seven Estonian cyclists in a YouTube video pleading for their release

An example of the perils to adventurers posed by locals who are not always friendly and welcoming is the case of seven Estonian cyclists who were kidnapped on March 23 in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley shortly after they crossed the border into northeastern Lebanon from Syria.
On Tuesday, reported the French news agency Agence France-Presse, a video of the captive cyclists, pleading for their release, was uploaded to YouTube. AFP said that a Lebanese website, Lebanon Files, received a tip on Wednesday about the video, uploaded by a user identified only as “thekidnaper2011.”
The video, which has since been taken down, runs for one minute and 47 seconds and shows each of seven men begging for help in English. The men, wearing cycling attire, appeared disheveled, tired and frightened but unharmed.
“We are turning to you, prime minister of Lebanon Saad al-Hariri, the King of Saudi Arabia King Abdullah, the King of Jordan King Abdullah, the President of France Mr. Sarkozy, please do anything to help us to get back home,” said one of the seven quoted by AFP.
“Please give what (the kidnappers) have asked … please make everything to get us back home to our families as soon as possible.”
“This is a really difficult situation,” said another. “Please do anything, do everything, what it takes to get us home.”
“Help us” and “Please help us,” said others.
AFP said YouTube removed the video hours after news of the posting broke, saying that “its content violated YouTube’s terms of service.”
The news agency Aljazeera quoted Lebanese security forces as saying that “masked gunmen in a black Mercedes and two white vans with no licence plates kidnapped the foreigners on a road between Zahle, a mostly Christian town, and Kfar Zabed, a mixed Sunni-Christian town.”
An unidentified official told AFP: “The vehicles headed toward the eastern Bekaa village of Kfar Zabed near where there is a post for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).”
Local television quoted a PFLP-GC official as saying that the Palestinian group had nothing to do with the abduction of the Estonians.
CNN Correspondent Arwa Damon described the border region where the men were abducted as “very porous” and said that it is a “very difficult” place for even “Lebanese authorities to navigate.”

Lebanese security personnel with the bicycles of the abducted Estonians. Photo by Reuters

On Wednesday, Estonia’s foreign ministry confirmed that the seven men seen in the video were indeed the tourists from the Baltic state.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said in a statement Wednesday: “It appears from the video that all seven abducted Estonian citizens are alive and well. However, it is not known when the clip was recorded. The message did not include the conditions of the victims’ release, any demands, or information on who is behind the abduction.”
Speaking to reporters in Tallinn, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: “No requests have been presented to Estonian authorities in regard of the kidnapping.”
A previously unheard of group, Haraket Al-Nahda Wal-Islah (Movement for Renewal and Reform), claimed in an e-mail to the website Lebanon Files that it was responsible for the kidnapping and demanded an unspecified ransom to free the Estonians. But the e-mail had not be authenticated by security officials.

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Cyclists without borders

Since reading of the adventures of Marco Polo as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the Silk Road, the ancient overland trade route between China and Europe. And my wife and I even had a chance to visit some of the cities along the Silk Road in Central Asia when I was based in Moscow in the early 1970s: Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara in what is now Uzbekistan.

Melissa Yule and Kate Harris

I regret that I’ll have to be an armchair adventurer in following the trek of two young Canadian women, Kate Harris and Melissa Yule, scientists and wilderness conservationists, who are traveling the Silk Road by bicycle.
Harris and Yule began their journey in January in Istanbul and so far have ridden through Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, the first three of a total of 10 countries on an itinerary that will take them to India by way of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Nepal.
They hope to complete the trip in Leh, India, in December 2011 — “or until even our most frugal penny, euro, ruble and rupee pinching habits fail us, and empty bank accounts force a retreat home.”
Leh, in the mountainous state of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India, was a major waypoint on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and also between India and China.

Route for Cycling Silk

Harris and Yule have posted on the Internet a four-minute video of their trip so far. “Eventually,” Harris wrote, “this will turn into a full-length documentary about how borders make and break the world, a film marrying adventure with environmental advocacy to encourage people to think beyond borders.”
The two women have been pals since age 10 and have been, as their website says, “co-conspirators in countless misadventures.”
In 2004, they ran the New City York Marathon “on a whim”; in 2005, they biked across the United States; and 2006, they cycled across Tibet and the Xinjiang region of China, along a part of the Silk Road.

Yule and Harris on the road

Harris has a master’s degree with a thesis on transboundary conservation and conflict resolution from Oxford University and a second master’s in earth and planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Yule worked on long-term environmental and community development projects in Ecuador and Nigeria and earned a master’s in sustainable development at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
“Now we plan to put lessons learned in the classroom, in the field, and on previous adventures to the ultimate test,” they wrote. “On our last sojourn down the Silk Road, both of us fell madly in love with the wild mountains, sublime deserts, and diverse cultures we encountered. Now we want to do what we can to help protect these places and the modes of life they uniquely make possible.
“In the process, we also hope to inspire others to get outside and explore; to live adventurously and with conscience; and above all, to think beyond borders.”
Ah, to be young again!

Cycling Silk 2011 Trailer from Kate Harris on Vimeo.

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‘The bikes — they won’

Controversy over bicycle lanes in Vancouver, British Columbia, has prompted some cycling advocates with too much time on their hands to adapt some footage from a 2004 film on Hitler’s last days to fit their cause.
The footage of a rant by the German dictator has been used to poke fun at a variety of events over the past few years: Hitler learns that Sarah Palin has resigned as Alaska governor, Hitler finds out that comic Jay Leno is moving back to a late-night time slot, Hitler is informed that his Xbox live account has been terminated, Hitler rails against the vuvuzela at the 2010 World Cup, etc., etc.
But this is the first adaptation from the film Downfall that I’ve seen having to do with bike lanes.
The video clip, called “Vancouver Bike Lane Nazi,” was uploaded to YouTube on April 1 as an April Fool’s joke. As of this writing, it has been viewed 37,746 times.
“It took us 3 hours to get to Robson Street,” says a Wehrmacht officer briefing Hitler at the start of the clip. “Everywhere we went there was a bike lane. We thought that the Burrard Bridge would be the fastest way downtown, but there is a new bike lane there.”
Hitler launches a tirade in which he proclaims: “Roads are for cars! Every morning I have to sit in traffic while the bike lanes sit empty. No one wants to ride in the rain. Even with all these bloody bike lanes, there is always some idiot weaving through the traffic. I’m slamming on the brakes while he listens to music! I oughta stop the car, get out, take the air out of his tires and throw his iPod into traffic.”
At the end, Hitler concedes: “I’m fed up with waging this battle. I can’t see any other option — but carpoooling. The bikes — they won.”
Click on video link below.

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