When the Weather Turns Rough It’s Time to Go Commando

When the temperatures drop and the wind starts to howl it becomes a bit harder to motivate my roadie self to hit the grid for a long Sunday ride. Add to that the declining daylight hours and the need to push our start time back and we have some angry wives too.

But ever since getting my fatbike last winter, I’ve mixed things up a bit. I rode the Pugs quite a bit when the snow hit and when the roads were just too dicey to take a road bike out for a spin. It was a nice alternative to the trainer. I have explored neighborhood streets, parks, paths, gravel and areas of the UI campus on fatbike and it has been fun. I’ve gotten some good workouts too.

When I bought my fattie, my salesman told me about a group of guys who routinely rode fatbikes all fall and winter on Wednesday evenings. I’ve seen these rides pop up on Strava as “UCR” but never really understood what the hell it was. That was until this summer when I finally joined them for one.

The UCR or Urban Commando Rides are generally attended by members of the Champaign-Urbana Wild Card Cycling Team and are mostly organized by team member and fatbike enthusiast, Karl Crapse. There was great variety among the riders and the bikes. There were two of us on fatbikes, four or five on cross bikes and guy on a single speed MTB. There were guys/gals in their 20s and dudes who I presume are well into their 50s.

During the course of these rides we encounter a wide variety of road surfaces and terrain. While the majority will be on paved roads and paths, we do seek out gravel, grassy fields (with hills) and even a little urban single track. We may take advantage of natural or man made obstacles on the route to hone handling skills or in the case of the cross racers, mounting/dismounting skills. My favorite thing to do is ride along the railroad tracks, especially when there is a train coming (just kidding).  But the tracks are fun. You get to see the city from an entirely different perspective.




As bikes and beers are natural bedfellows, the Wednesday evening rides begin and end at a local downtown watering hole that specializes in craft beer. There’s nothing quite like barreling through town with your fatbike posse on a little craft beer buz. It’s a welcome diversion from my usual roadie/triathlon sufferfests.

I’ve done a fair amount of solo UCRs. As a bike commuter I will sometimes expand my trip home from work to include some additional miles where I explore the city a bit. As with most cycling activities, it’s definitely more fun in a group.

The great thing about these rides is that everyone knows little nooks and crannies in the city a little better than the others so we can always try new routes. This keeps things fresh. If I had to describe a UCR in one word, other than “fun,” it would have to be ‘diverse.’ There is great diversity of surface, terrain, riders and bikes. I’ve been able to further expand my cadre of cycling buddies and gotten in some damn good workouts in the process. First and foremost, though, these rides are about the most fun I’ve had on two wheels since taking up cycling. The UCR will be a permanent addition to my cycling repertoire.

Check out this video of a night time UCR!

There Are No Strangers On Bikes (Fond of Fondos)

I completed my very first Gran Fondo yesterday. It was the Rollfast Gran Fondo in Carmel, Indiana. This was an enjoyable and well organized and supported race/ride. What made it even more enjoyable was being able to ride with old friends and make new ones along the way.


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Me, Steve and Cliff at the finish


There was no denying that this was going to be a leisurely ride. My friend, Cliff, made it quite clear he was “just looking to finish” and my other friend, Steve, was doing his first century ride. After a summer full of hammer-fests on Sunday mornings, including a century ride I completed the prior weekend, I was looking forward to a nice leisurely meander through the Indiana countryside at a comfortable and social pace.

It was a damn near perfect day for the ride. It was a tad bit chilly at the start requiring multiple layers, full fingered gloves and toe warmers but as the miles piled on, the layers were shed as the temperature climbed and the only chance of rain was the sun’s radiant energy raining down on our skin.

We lined up near the back of the pack, behind all the ‘serious’ riders but in front of families on mountain bikes. There was a mass start at 8am sharp and like any mass start of this magnitude it was a bit of a cluster. Getting out of town proved to be a slow and arduous process with average speeds in the single digits for the first several miles. It was well worth that to look ahead and a river of cyclists flowing smoothly through city streets and arcing around roundabouts. I imagined this would have looked very cool from a helicopter.  Strangely there were no cameramen in copters chasing us. Note to race organizers: consider a chase drone for next year!

Once the crowd thinned to the point of allowing us to fall into a rhythm. Cliff started to push the pace a bit north of 20mph which worried me but we soon settled into a nice pace. Steve seemed to really enjoy climbing pushing up most hills before falling back to our normal pace. We spend most of the first 50 miles riding just the three of us, occasionally picking up riders here and there for a few miles but nothing really organized.

I started feeling kinda bad around mile 45. We had stopped at around mile 25 for sandwiches and bathroom break but here I was only 20 miles later starting to feel a bit bonky. The wind had picked up a bit and we were heading into it. Worst, though, was my ass.  My ass was hurting and I was thinking to myself that this was gonna be a long ass day with a sore ass. Yes…I was trying to use ‘ass’ as(s) many times as(s) I could in that sentence. Anyway, I digress.

Cliff had promised me fried chicken at mile 55. Mile 55 came and went and there was no fucking chicken. I was starting to get pissed. Finally at about mile 57 we came into a cemetery, one of about 50 we passed on the route, where and aid station was set up. This was the turning point of the ride…for me at least.

At this stop I was able to dine on fried chicken and chili cheese Fritos. This made me feel better almost immediately. Better yet, there was a large group of riders there that seemed like cool people and we decided we would head out with them because we needed some draft time.

Starting off with the group was divine. We settled into the back of the pack while two very strong riders pulled for what seemed like forever at a nice pace north of 19mph. I looked at my buddies who had expressed no interest in riding that fast but they were comfortable. So, I’m thinking, “Fuck yea! This is going to be the shit!” Eventually the riders at front pulled off and we settled into a loosely organized paceline. We had enough riders so that the stronger ones could take turns at the front but those that wished to hang at back could do so without hurting the group.

The group was quite diverse.  I’m not sure how many we numbered but it had to be at least a dozen. There were men and women.  Young and not so young. There were roadies, triathletes and even a dude on a Surly gravel grinder in baggy shorts. About half of them knew each other and had started the ride together. The others, like me, Cliff and Steve, just tagged along. One of the more outgoing riders, a young lady named Brook, chatted me up when we were alongside each other in the paceline. She was explaining to me who knew who and who the strangers were. To that I replied, “there are no strangers on bikes.” She acknowledged that was true, a testament to the friendships forging on rubber and road with each passing mile.

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Mile 75: The group fuels one last time


It was really good going until the next rest stop at 75 miles. At this point some people were feeling the pain. Somehow I had gotten some kind of second wind. My ass no longer hurt and my legs felt great. We turned into a headwind and Tisch, a “not so young” triathlete like myself and I plowed into the headwind. She was strong and pushed the pace. I kept up. Soon we were getting calls from the back that the group was suffering. We backed off and tried to keep it together. This would not last.

By mile 85 the group was fragmenting. We hit a hilly segment and the climbers were separated from those that struggled up hills. At one point Brook came to the front with me and started to push the pace. Shortly we lost the group and she dropped back. By mile 90 Tisch, Oscar (a middle aged roadie with the coolest looking Giant Defy) and myself were alone at the front with about a quarter mile from the rest of the group. We started riding hard. We were headed back to town doing north of 20 mph. It felt good!

At one point the road back into town was blocked a semi-truck deploying construction equipment. Not wanted to break pace, Ticsh, Oscar and I dismounted, got on the sidewalk and road until we cleared the obstruction. We then dismounted and carried our bikes over some sandy, gravely shit cross style and remounted on the road. We hammered back to town hitting the finish line a few minutes before the rest of the group.

All in all it was a great day. I really enjoyed the course and the scenery. In contradistinction to the Capital City Century Ride I completed last week, the roads were mostly in very good condition consisting of smooth blacktop except for a few short stretches of tar/chip and frank gravel. It was a well-supported ride with aid available at appropriate intervals. Thankfully Mother Nature provided us with a near picture perfect day.

The best part of the day, other than the post ride IPA, was that it reminded me why I love cycling so much.  This ride took me back to my cycling roots. Before there were races and Ironman and Sunday morning Strava segment sufferfests, there was cycling for fitness and FUN. One of the best things was showing up to a group ride and being welcomed as a regular even if it was your first time. I have expanded my social circle through cycling more than any other activity I have ever participated in. The ride yesterday proved how ‘strangers’ working together can make easy work of many miles and pestering headwinds. It also proved how important fried chicken is to good cycling performance.  Although post-ride ‘sliders’ were a necessity to replenish my caloric deficiencies.  But most importantly it proved that a good group ride is a thing of beauty and this Gran Fondo was a beautiful thing.


F#$k the Chocolate Milk. THIS is my ‘after.’



Becoming a Pack Rat-My Experience as a Bike Commuter



Me on my Pugs ready to commute

Photo courtesy of Nelson J Photography Inc.


I’ve been a serious cyclist for about five years. I started down this path as a triathlete and roadie and this kind of riding has dominated my training log for the past several years. A couple of years ago I started riding some trail, mostly in the fall and winter, as an attempt to prolong my riding season. Throughout my riding career I’ve crossed paths with bike commuters and have always been intrigued by their fitness when road riding and comfort riding in traffic. This year I decided to enter the fray and I have to say that I’m hooked.

Before becoming a seasoned bike commuter, if I can indeed be considered that, I had to overcome some barriers. One of the key perceived barriers was time. I’m sure many out there feel the same way. However, when you really analyze the time expenditure, I think you will find it is not as much of a time-sink as you might have thought.

Consider this.  My typical commute is about 4.5 miles.  By car on the main arterial roads I normally travel, this trip takes me between 12 and 15 minutes.   The same commute by bike takes me on average 22 minutes. So, round trip it might appear that I am losing 20 minutes a day due to bike commuting.

BUT WAIT! My bike commute nets me an extra 45 minutes a day of low to moderate intensity cardio exercise.  Therefore, I come out 25 minutes ahead. For the time starved individual, one might cut a morning or evening workout short to accommodate the bike commute. For me, these are bonus hours and miles logged by the end of the week. The math will be different for everyone but the important point is to consider the exercise benefit when evaluating the time it takes to commute.

The other major barrier for me was the traffic. I live in a fairly bike-friendly community with an abundance of cyclist-commuters, bike lanes and “sharrows.”  But still, I was afraid of riding in traffic, real traffic. Luckily I am able to get from home to work and back using a network of mostly lightly traveled side streets and multi-use paths. I have to cross a few busier streets en-route but my experience with this so far has been positive and safe.  As a automobile operator we tend to focus on the main roads often ignoring the vast network of side streets and little-traveled country roads. If you check the map and get out and explore, you will likely find a safe and scenic route between work and home.

It is worth mentioning that my job allows me to dress casually and my work clothes easily fit into my backpack. Yes, I am a bit sweaty upon arrival to work but a quick towel-off with baby wipes and a few minutes in the air conditioning make me presentable. I realize that not all people have this luxury. I’m not sure I could don a suit after a bike commute but I know some that do.  I also have an abundance of bike parking available to me at my place of employment which, again, can be a challenge for some.

Probably the greatest benefit I’ve noticed from commuting by bike is stress relief. I don’t like driving much. I hate traffic and even the little bit of congestion experienced in our small city is enough to spike my blood pressure. However, I love to ride my bike. The 25 minutes spent on my commute home from work after a hard day allows me time to decompress. I can take in the sites and sounds of the world around me that I am usually insulated from in my car.

I’ve also noticed an increase in my performance on the road bike. As one of my cycling buddies astutely pointed out, commuting is a bit like doing intervals. When cruising through town with stop signs there is quite a bit of taking off fast to get into the flow of traffic then stopping for the next intersection.  You are actually stopping at stop signs, aren’t you???  I don’t much care for interval workouts on my road or tri bike but as a bike commuter I cannot avoid them. I tend to commute on my fat bike which requires a bit more power to get up to speed in traffic but allows me to cruise over any road obstacle with ease and even take a shortcut through my favorite park on the way.

After a few weeks of riding to and from work I noticed that the presence of automobiles didn’t phase me quite as much as it used to. There is something about being a bike commuter that makes me feel that I am part of traffic, much more so than when out on my training rides. As a commuter I’m just another vehicle out on the road trying to get to work on time. It’s almost as if the cars have more respect for me too. On a fitness ride I am viewed as an obstruction but as a commuter I feel I am viewed as part of traffic.  I may be off base here but that is my perception at least.

Finally, I must say that I thoroughly enjoy the scenery of my bike commute much more so than my automobile commute. While by car I tend to traverse a more commercial and industrial sections of town, my bike commute takes me through the tranquil tree lined streets of historic west Urbana. This just adds to the experience.

I really wish I had taken up bike commuting sooner. I would urge you to put all those perceived barriers aside and give it a try for just a few days.  If it doesn’t suit you then fine. However, if you enjoy riding your bike for fitness or pleasure why not combine that activity to make something somewhat less pleasurable (your commute to work) more palatable.

Summer might be almost over but there is still good riding to be had. I’ll see you on the road.