London Calling

I guess this bike (frame set) was released last year, and sold out, but I didn’t hear about it until some time this winter.  I decided I had to have one, and made a pre-order.  A bike swap was attended and items purchased, the pre-ordered frame set arrived in stock and shipped early, and a very promising looking weather forecast had been revealed, which clearly seemed like the end of winter.  And so I find myself, a few weeks later, with a completed Planet X London Road, custom build.  And riding it around in balmy Spring weather.  Awesome!

london road in stock

This is what it looks like.  How ’bout that color, huh?  Zesty!  So what is so great about it?  Well, if it isn’t obvious…

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Planet X kind of pitches this bike as a full time commuter and part time cyclocross bike, and potentially a bike with which one could do some touring.  But here in the US, gravel racing is kind of a big thing.  I’m sure there must be dirt and gravel roads in England, but perhaps not to the extent of rural North America.  So calling it a “gravel bike” to an English audience would not make a lot of sense.  Fair enough.

But this is indeed a gravel bike.  And a commuter, a tourer, and a cyclocross bike.  It is a disc road bike, with rough road and off road capability.  Because of tire capacity (40mm+) it can offer a greater measure of comfort than other road bikes, if you desire or need.  But no reason it can’t go fast, too, with the skinny tire bunch.  I think it is a brilliant design, combining things in a way that I don’t think has quite been done before.  In the early days of gravel racing, people were adopting bikes that already existed, but now there are bikes and frames designed and optimized for this kind of riding, and I think this is one of the best.

 

 

 

 

New Bike (650b Gravel)

I’m pretty excited about my new bike.  I had this frame sent over from England, it was almost the last one.  It is a Cotic X.

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For winter, I built this with a 1 x 8 drivetrain.  Shown with slick Pari Moto tires, just before our epic winter had struck.  It is 8 speed in the rear, because a Campagnolo 10 speed shifter pulls just the right amount of cable when coupled with a Shimano 8 speed cassette and a suitable Shimano derailleur.

I hardly was able to ride this, before it got cold.  Then really cold.  Then snowy, icy, and really cold.  Shoot!  I was looking for winter tires in the 650b size, but everything was too big.  But I decided to give the Vee Rubber XCX a try, based upon measurements others had taken.  And yes, the 650b/27.5″ x 1.95 Vee Rubber XCX did indeed fit in this frame (rear), without modification to tire or frame (which I was pretty close to doing).  And the Kona Project 2 fork, well it has tons of room, so I went with a Vee Master Blaster.

IMG_20140129_161538_402I’ve tried to get out on this as much as possible, but it has been so freaking cold!!  But so far, I like it.  I think it is going to shine the most off road and on gravel, which of course is the intended use.  And it handles the snow well, too.

The story of this bike…well, of course, I could go on and on about all the minute details- and, I really have nothing better to do, so here goes…

Actually, not a long story.  But, my experiences last season with the 650b wheels and gravel races were good, and I started thinking about what would make the bike better.  And I realized that the best thing would be to design a frame from the ground up, optimized for the wheel size.  And I sat down with Google Sketchup, and designed a frame that I thought would do everything I wanted it to.

650b Gravel RacerAlthough there are a fair number of production 650b road bikes out there now, and more coming, these are all (mainly) in the Randonneur style.  And of course there is nothing wrong with that, but it is not what I was after.  And then there is the route of the custom builder, too, which has been and is being done.  But the custom frame does carry a higher price tag, which I am not currently able to embrace, psychologically  or practically.  And if I can’t afford to employ an experienced frame fabricator, I wouldn’t be able to afford building it myself, either.

But roaming around the vastness of cyberspace, seeing bikes others had converted (to 650b), well, I searched to see if I could find something that I could convert, and meet my requirements.

My Criteria:

  • Bottom bracket drop around 60mm
  • Short chain stays, overall short wheelbase
  • Steel, but not excessive weight
  • Disc brake mounts
  • Sloping top tube geometry
  • Generous tire clearance

And I found the Cotic, and it pretty much hit all the points, closely enough, and was pretty darn close to my drawing.  So I pulled the trigger, and got it.

IMG_20140129_161839_417The main purpose of this bike is gravel racing, which I am looking forward to doing a fair amount of this coming season.  I have other bikes, road, mountain, track, but what is cool about this bike is you can take it just about anywhere.  Really just a tire change makes it capable on pretty rough off road conditions, and with a 38c lightweight tire, the bike flies along pretty well on the smoother and harder surfaces.  I really like that!

So, like I have said earlier, I have ridden this a limited amount.  I was never able to take it on a gravel ride to make a good assessment.  But I am hopeful this will be my “go to” bike this year, and proves itself up to my anticipation.  I have some new components at the ready, just waiting for Spring to break and get this bike into full racing dress.

And the custom frame, or the self custom frame, will have to wait.  But in time, that may come, too.

October Gravel Update

IMG_20120401_120931Well, to any new readers, or to refresh the collective memory, it was last year that I developed the interest in “gravel grinders”, and entered my first event.  (Well, actually it was two, but I try to forget about the first one…)  And that first event was The Heroic, to which I brought my wonderful old ’73 Raleigh International, and rode.  And I didn’t do too bad.

And this event and the emerging gravel racing “scene” rekindled in me a desire to race bikes, which I had abandoned (regretfully) 25 years prior. Give it another go.  And I discovered that all kinds of people show up for these events, but some race their bikes in other “disciplines”, and take these events pretty seriously.  They show up to not just finish, but to race.

IMG_20121006_130952Like this guy–

This is Mark Skarpohl.  He won the Heroic last year, on his vintage Raleigh International.

I don’t know him personally, and haven’t seen him around this year.  But his ride last year was a pretty big inspiration for me.

If he can do it, maybe I can.  And I don’t mean win, necessarily, but be competitive (reasonably), at least.  Train, and become fit, and fast, and race.  And age is not an excuse.

And this year, I set out to do it.  To enter several events, to train and push myself farther than I have before, and to see what happens.  And below, a list of events, in the order they occurred in 2013, the last of which will occur in just a few days.  (Ha, my “race calendar”, if you will…)  And then I’ll do a quick synopsis of each one.

  1. Dairy Roubaix (April, gravel)
  2. Ironman Bike Ride (April)
  3. Dirty Benjamin (June, gravel)
  4. Southside Sprint (July)
  5. Lifetime Gran Fondo (August)
  6. Inspiration 100 (September, gravel, 1 day before my 45th Birthday)
  7. The Heroic (October, gravel)
  8. Filthy 50 (October, gravel)
  9. Dirt Bag (October, gravel)

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The Dairy Roubaix.  65 miles. Early in the season, and late snow made it tough to get enough miles in the legs.  I rode a new bike, the course and day were beautiful.  I did pretty decent, and passed the guy on the fat bike in my finishing kick.

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Ironman Bike Ride.  A week after Dairy Roubaix.  100 miles was the tentative plan, but was shortened to 78.  Had a strong ride, and rode with and then dropped some pretty “racy” characters.  It was one of best Ironmans, weatherwise, ever.

Dirty Benjamin.   This was to be my first 100 mile gravel ever undertaken.  And only the 3rd time, ever, I would cover 100 miles on my bike.  I pushed a little too hard for the first half, and there was not much left for the last thirty miles.  A pretty violent and windy storm blew through, too, which I had no choice but to endure and pedal through.  I was alone for most of the second half of the course.  Sheer determination got me to the end, and in almost exactly 8 hours.  I was really glad I left that rear mudguard on.

Southside Sprint.  A circuit road race in my town, Minneapolis.  I had known about this race earlier on in the year, but didn’t give it alot of consideration, until a couple or few weeks before.  I didn’t train well, and showed up with tired legs.  The clouds were gathering early that morning, just as predicted.  Much rain fell, just before my race, and continued through my race.  I worried about crashing, and was scrubbing a lot of speed in the corners.  But honestly, I would have likely been dropped no matter the circumstances.  The race was going very fast, and I just couldn’t keep with it.  And then I was pulled from the course, because I was getting lapped.  I left there pretty frustrated.  A small consolation — I made the local news.

Lifetime Gran Fondo.  This was a road event, and a little more racy folks than at the typical century events.  The mileage for this course was 60.  I had done a lot of road riding through the summer, and tested myself with time trials nearly every week.  I thought this would be a good test of my legs, and a bridge to my next gravel event in early September.  I did ride with a pack early on, but more treated this as a long time trial.  I faded a bit towards the end, but I was proud of my time, finishing 60 miles in 3 hours and 15 minutes.

And some time during the summer, ideas started to simmer about a new bike, and this was the result of those ideas, ridden in the Inspiration, and for two more events that year.  It has worked well for me.IMG_20130911_150237

2636763824_535398a1d3The Inspiration 100.  A day before my 45th birthday.  100+ miles of gravel.  Turned out to be a very hot day.  The roads were soft and loose, and some pretty decent hills on the course, to boot.  It was a very tough day.  I overcooked it a bit, again, and the last 30 miles were pretty grim.  Even “Our Lady of the Hills” couldn’t deliver me from the suffering of that day.  But I managed to finish on a day when others had to abandon the race, and still managed to better my best 100 mile gravel time by more than 20 minutes.  Progress?  God, I hope so.

Then in the beginning of October would come again The Heroic.  65 miles of gravel.  The race that one year before had started all this madness.  I finished not a huge amount behind the winner, and I was included in the “leader’s group” officially, despite having not seen another rider for perhaps the last hour.  I put in a time of 4 hours and 10 minutes.  It wasn’t terrible, but still left me a little discouraged.

f50-lgThere were going to be two gravel events for me in October, two weeks apart.  But then somebody decided to host a brand new event called the Filthy 50, in Stewartville, MN, just south of Rochester.  50 miles of gravel.  (Officially, by my record, 51.84 miles)  And I got myself registered, and I was in.  And there was more than a little buzz about this new race, and 300 people fairly quickly filled up the roster.

And I felt really good at the start of this, and thought I might have a good day.  I really wanted to be ” in the race”, even if for just a while, instead of just “completing the course”.

And I got what I wanted.  I wasn’t going to try to go with the fastest group, I’m not a fool.  But with as many riders as showed up for this, I had hoped a 2nd, or 3rd or 4th group might form on the road, that I could join with and ride and contribute, and maybe get to the finish a little faster with our collective effort.

So as is typical, the lead group went away, and I found myself in a smaller pack, which seemed to be disintegrating quickly.  I tried to not panic, but I was determined to hold a wheel as long as possible.  I watched a smaller group form and start to split and drift ahead of mine.  That’s okay, I told myself, just ride your race, and stay with these guys.  And that’s what I did.  But it wasn’t long at all, and my group was starting to split up and disorganize.  One guy was surging forward, only to drift back again on a hill, or after a turn into the wind.   Other guys one by one were dropping away behind us.  This group was soon not going to be a group at all.

And then the unthinkable happened.  I don’t exacltly remember making the decision, but I just started to ride away.  And as I was going ahead, I thought, “maybe I can bridge to the next group”.  And I worked hard, but within my ability, and not at my limit, and the group that had gone ahead of us, starting drawing closer and closer.  And then, BAM!  I was with them.  I got in the rear of this line, and was able to collect myself.  And I rode along in this new group, usually at the back.  And I started thinking, “these guys seem pretty good, how am I riding with them this fast, and not cracking yet?”  And I stayed with this group, for quite a few miles, and I felt fine.  The pace was quick, but I could do it.  I even took a turn at the front a time or two.  But then the unthinkable happened again!  I don’t remember exactly if our group had slowed or what, but I found myself on the front again, and then, I went again.  I rode off ahead.  And I bridged again, to another small group.  I don’t remember exactly, but I did this 3 or 4 times.

I found myself with another two riders, who were going okay together, but not great.  And then we caught some other riders, and our group grew to 6 or 7.  I thought most everybody would stop at the first water stop, and I didn’t need water, but had planned to grab some food then.  But nobody stopped, and I was like, “okay, I have to eat”.  And I dropped off of this little bunch just a bit, hoping I could get some food into myself and rejoin them.  And then an important turn was coming up, and this group of 5 or 6 all blew right by it.  But I didn’t.  I made the turn and suddenly I was alone.

I was pretty sure the group who had missed the turn, would eventually catch back to me.  I took a look behind me from time to time, but never saw them.  It was going to be a solo effort now.  Towards the end of the big climb of the day, at which mile I can’t remember,  I was caught and passed by one rider, “a young guy” I thought to myself.  I might have caught him again a little later.  And then more lonely miles, nobody seen ahead or behind me.  Until somewhere 10 miles or so from the finish.  A group of two were behind  me, both wearing the same kit it appeared.  I could see they were gaining on me, I was going to be caught.  And I was, and tried to stay with them, but I couldn’t keep their pace.  They dropped me, I was alone again.  But I was totally okay with that.  I had set myself the goal of 3 hours for this race, or as near to that as I could.  And looking at my computer, I started thinking it was going to be close.  I continued on, and then, the two that had passed me, there they were again, on the side of the road, taking a “natural break” (peeing).  So I rode by these guys, and thought “how long before these guys catch and drop me again?”  Well, it wasn’t long before they caught me again, but this time, I wasn’t dropped.  I don’t know why, but I stayed with them this time.  And then 2 or 3 miles to go, we picked up another guy.

So there we were, the four of us, surging towards the finish.  I was happy to be with these guys, but honestly I was just racing the clock at this point.  It was coming up on 3 hours, and it was going to come very close.  I rode with these 3 and took a turn or two on the front, and then two of our four sprinted ahead for the finish.  And then I finished!

My time was 3 hours 52 seconds.  My placing was 34th of 184 riders who finished.  25 of the 209 riders who started did not finish.  I finished about 32 minuted behind the winner, and less than 15 minutes behind some pretty accomplished riders.

At times, throughout the season, I doubted and felt like I wasn’t really getting anywhere. And it’s hard to not ask yourself “why the heck am I working so hard?” when you aren’t getting the results you are hoping and training for.  But in this race, for me, things came together in a really satisfying way.

dirt bag brown email

And then the Dirt Bag would be the final gravel race of the year.  The course was set at 88 miles for this year.  The forecast was looking a little grim, with rain and cold temps possible, maybe even some frozen precipitation.  I was tempted to drop out, no doubt.

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But I didn’t.  I showed up.  And the rain did come, but not right away. (on right- my filthy bike at the finish)

Well, the race unfolded in the typical pattern.  I got to hang with the cool kids for about 6 miles.  And I found myself in a second group which became whittled down to three.  And the three of us hung together for about half the race, sometimes joining or being joined, but then becoming three once again.

And somewhere near halfway, one of our three went ahead.  And the other dropped behind me.  And then I saw the guy ahead turn off in the wrong direction.  When I got to the intersection, he was gone.  And John joined me again for a little while.  And I think it was right around this time the first rain started.

Well, it rained, on and off.  The roads became wetter and sloppier.  The winds picked up, and became pretty fierce at a couple of points.  The temperature seemed to drop.  At one point there was sleet.  Dirty water and sand was flying up from my tires, often flying right into my eyes.  I had to put the eyewear away.  Eventually the cold set in, but fortunately with not too many miles.  But the last miles were some pretty tough ones.

And I had hoped to finish at about 5 and a half hours, a time that I could be happy enough with.  Even 6 hours wouldn’t have been a terrible day (for me).  But I pulled it off even a little better, and covered 88 miles in 5 hours and 16 minutes.  I finished 49 minutes behind the leaders, and my placing was 17th overall.

And so, this was my gravel season.  I’m pretty happy with it, and am looking forward to more of this next year, and for a long time to come.  I enjoy the challenge, and it is rewarding when your hard work pays off.  For me, that payoff was improving my times and placings, and I really couldn’t have asked for more.

And of course, as always, thanks and gratitude are always owed to the people who give of their time and energy and resources, to put on these events.  You are some fine people!  See you next year!

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Gravel Bike Baby!

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Snow Bike

I did a couple gravel events last year, and in the snowy dark depths of winter, I started to think about the new biking season.  Actually so much so, that I started biking in the snow and ice, but maybe that should be another blog entry. I put this together (right) with a home made studded front tire.  Salt is brutal on bikes, though.

And I caught wind of the Dairy Roubaix, and signed up.  And started thinking about the upcoming season, and what I wanted to do, and to accomplish, on my bike.

And I needed a bike.  I rode my old Raleigh on a gravel event last year, and had a great ride.  But I don’t want to beat up the Raleigh, so needed something similar, that had the same kind of ride and fit as the Raleigh.

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The Raleigh International was a “sport touring” bike, if you will, with a longer wheelbase and slacker angles than the sportier racing models.  And built of light and lively steel tubing.  It wasn’t a racing bike, but wasn’t a full touring bike, either.  Somewhere in between.  And on gravel, in my opinion, all these things come together beautifully.

Roughly a year ago I started a project.  I had an old frame with bad paint, and decided I could practice brazing on it.  If I wrecked the frame, not a great loss.  If I succeeded, possibly a nice bike that could serve a variety of purposes.  I purchased all the little frame parts from a place that supplies that stuff to bike builders, a cheap brazing torch, and silver solder (and flux).  Learning to Braze and Part II.

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A couple of quick notes about the frame, why I thought it might be ideal.  One, the right size.  Another, steel, which can be brazed, and the ride quality, as previously noted.  And one more thing, but important–  the frame was originally made for 27″ wheels, a little bigger than the now standard 700c.  This creates an oppurtunity, as switching to the smaller wheels can allow a bigger tire and fenders, if desired.  And adding cantilever brake mounts gives the desired brake alignment to the smaller wheel size, and an all conditions brake.  One more thing, this lowered the frame which was really a size bigger than I usually ride, but helped to make the fit just right.

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Other things came up (last summer), personal things, and this project was hung up (literally), and almost forgotten.  And it can be hard to start again a project, there is a momentum that is lost.  But I needed a bike for the gravel races, and it occurred to me that this frame might be just what I needed.  After repair of some brazing errors, it was off to the powdercoater.

This is what the bike looked like completed.

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IMG_20130425_105813The color is an olive drab with low gloss, a color actually used by the military.  The bike is a mix of old and new.

The old, summarized-

  • vintage steel frame and fork
  • vintage quill stem and handlebars
  • vintage (80’s) hubs
  • vintage 7 speed cassette (customizable for gearing, longer lasting than modern 9, 10, or 11)

The new, summarized–

  • tubeless tires (awesome!)
  • modern cantilever brakes with advanced brake pads
  • modern crankset and pedals
  • very comfortable and effective brake levers
  • cartridge bearing headset (no longer offered by Shimano, though)
  • modern rims and spokes

The end result?  Well, I love the bike.  It eats up the gravel roads.  Just the right gearing for hills, mushy patches, or whatever.  Tires are, dare I say, the perfect combination of ride comfort, speed, and traction.  Tires did not slip on steep climbs, and helped me not go down when I hit a slippery section downhill at high speed.  Tires also are quite fast on pavement as well.  Steel frame absorbs road buzz and shock, and gives just the right amount of spring.  Brakes strong and confidence inspiring when going downhill and fast. Shifting  functioned without flaw.  Wheels strong, light, and compliant, adding to the comfort on a long ride or race.

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redneck ingenuity

I’m looking forward to more riding and racing this summer.

One more thing about this bike.  See the pulley?

I brazed on a post to mount a pulley, but managed to snap off a bolt in it, trying to fix the threads.  One prototype and then a second attempt resulted in this pulley, made from the clamp from an old front derailleur, and a derailleur pulley.  Works great.

All for now…

Gravel Baby!

The Dairy Roubaix has come and gone.  I remember in the photo I was trying to look wasted and pathetic, but don’t know if that really worked.

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our resident gnome, getting buried by snow in April

Our resident gnome, getting buried by snow in April

The Dairy Roubaix was 54 miles, or 100 and something miles on mostly gravel roads in hilly western Wisconsin.  I had a great time.  This was my second gravel event.  I did my best to train, but the unrelenting snow and winter made it tough to get any significant miles in.

 

 

Here are a couple more photos.     049047

 

 

 

 

 

There I am, roaring into the finish!  So fast, I passed a Pugsley.

How was it?  It was tough.  I did an extra 10 miles, 64 total, because I lost my cue sheet.  And then, I tried to follow some other guys in, who turned out to be lost, but didn’t know it.  I was really mad at those guys!

 

It snowed like mad the day before we left, but there was almost no snow anywhere, 200 miles to the south.  The sun broke through, and it turned into a pretty nice day.

I’m really liking this gravel thing, and I plan on doing more of these.  The Dirty Benjamin is up next, unless I find something else sooner.  I’ll be adding some more about the bike I rode later.

The Heroic (L’Eroica) Update, Finally

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Last October, I entered a bike race called The Heroic.  It is an (approx) 60 mile race through rural areas on almost entirely gravel roads.  It was started in homage to another race held in Italy, called L’Eroica.  (Unfortunately, it (the L’Eroica website) is only in Italian, they keep promising an English version, but never seem to get around to it…)

The L’Eroica is a non-professional, non-sanctioned “race” held in Italy.  It is intended to celebrate and honor the history of the sport of bicycle racing.  There are some requirements regarding your bicycle and dress.  Some guys show up like this.

P1000976This was my get up.

Ha Ha!     That is an inner tube wrapped around my shoulders.  The old timers didn’t have support and had to do their own repairs, and so carried tires like this.  The early Tour De France actually forbade riders to receive any help whatsoever.

This was the bike I rode.  It is my Raleigh International.  It was made in 1973, though built with later components.  It rode very well on the gravel.  I of course could go on and on about all the details of this bike, but will save that for a separate post!

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IMG_20121006_130952This is the guy who crossed the line first,  Mark Skarpohl.  He beat a lot of younger guys.  And he rode the same bike as me, except his was stock, with some really tough gearing, too.  Way to go, Mark.

This was my indroduction to gravel racing, and it was a great experience.  I had a solid performance that I was proud of.  I will be back to this and looking into other events as well.

Vive La Gravel!!

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The Strada Fango

      I have thrown my hat in for the Strada Fango.

Less than two weeks away, I hope my training proves adequate.  I have been doing some dirt and gravel rides to get the feel for what this is like.  I realized I haven’t ridden a bike on the dirt since I was a kid riding BMX.  I never got into the mountain biking thing.  Riding on dirt roads and trails is pretty fun.

 I discovered a great trail just yesterday, and riding distance from my house.  It is in the Minnesota river bottoms, the  Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  It basically takes you from the visitor center in Bloomington across the floodplain forest and along the river to Cedar/Highway 77. There is a pedestrian bridge there (it is hidden from view from the road above, never knew it was there!) that takes you across the river to the other side.  Then you can continue along the river to the end of the trail, near the historic town of Mendota.  The rest of the route is paved.  From Mendota you ride up the road a little ways and access the Mendota bridge, where you can cross the river again, and ride through Fort Snelling State Park (there actually are some more dirt paths in here, too). Then up and out to Post Road, which takes you by the Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport, and on to 34th Avenue past the Mall of America. Then on to American Boulevard, which takes you back to the Refuge Visitor Center.

Along the way on the south bank of the river, I ran into a surprise.  

Some industrious beavers had built a huge dam that apparently had some leaks.  It’s draining created these little creeks or gullies, washing into the river.  Thanks to the beavers, though, for providing the needed timber to fashion a bridge.

  No, I didn’t ride across these.

                                                                 I had some mechanical problems along the way.  Problems with my shoes and cleats and pedals.  Like, I couldn’t get my feet out of the pedals.  This became quite frustrating and nerve wracking.  Aarrghhhh!!

Here is my bike when I got back to the car.  I had to exit my shoe to get off my bike.

  Well, this turned out to be quite a ride, one that I will do again. (after I solve the shoe problem!)  Hopefully, good training for the ‘Fango, too.