Mid-Mitten Cycling

Dreaming of Spring Rides

Barry Rd. Hill
Barry Rd. Hill

One day of nice spring weather and already I’m dreaming of warm weather riding. Yet it’s still a bit too snowy, icy, puddly, and pot-holey to make riding safe, let alone fun. So for now I’ll content myself with thinking about climbing the biggest hill I’ve found in the Lansing area. This is Barry Rd. out near Williamston Rd. Three steep pitches punctuated by two level sections over six-tenths of a mile.

Lansing cyclists, do you know of any other hills in the area? (Paved roads only, although to call this section of Barry Rd. “paved” might be a bit of a stretch right now.)

Mid-Mitten Cycling

Get Psyched for Indoor Cycling

Kinetic Road Machine Trainer
Kinetic Road Machine Trainer

[UPDATE: since I posted this, the YouTube account Indoor Cycling Videos has posted a bunch of one-hour workouts. See details below.]

Thirty-one degrees with freezing rain. Five above with a windchill of twenty below. Two feet of snow followed by temperatures too cold for the salt to work on the roads. Forty degrees and an inch of rain turning all that snow to icy slush. These are the forecasts that try cyclists’ souls.

While cross-country skiing or jogging make good cross-training, the conditions aren’t always right for these activities either. So it’s into the basement for some time on the bike trainer. But if you’re like me, you’ll quickly go out of your mind with boredom while riding indoors. What’s needed is something to trick your mind into thinking you’re riding outdoors, or at least remind you of how nice it is to glide through a tunnel of green trees on a warm summer day. Here are five videos that have kept me from losing my mind this winter.

But first, make sure you have a decent bike trainer like the Kinetic Road Machine. It beats the hell out of the cheap, loud one I started out with. This one is quiet and gives good resistance. That means you’ll actually be able to hear the sound on these videos while pedaling hard.

CTXC Cycling Club 45-Minute Workout

This video from an Australian cycling club will give you the feeling of riding in a paceline. The videography is smooth, the scenery is mostly suburban with some occasional views of the ocean, and the music is a motivational but somewhat repetitive club mix. On-screen titles guide your target effort, with 10 minutes of warmup followed by 20 minutes of medium-effort intervals, a short break, and five minutes of hard intervals. Of course, you’ll need to provide the increased effort by switching up to a higher gear and even getting out of the saddle, if you’re comfortable with that on a trainer. A couple of counter-intuitive things for an American audience: they’re riding on the wrong side of the road and the effort scale is from 1 through 6, rather than 1 through 10. And another strange thing I learned: there are club mixes of “Addicted to Love” and “Highway to Hell.” But at least they stop for coffee at the end.

New Mallorca Training

An hour-plus of beautiful scenery on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, mostly on sunny days. The video features five climbing sections with recovery intervals on the descents followed by a section of short intervals. If the climbing and the Europop music don’t get your heart racing, the close calls with cars and other cyclists on narrow mountain roads should do the trick. The onscreen titles are in German. “10 Minuten Einrollen” – I think that means 10 minutes of easy riding. “3 Minuten bergauff” must mean three minutes of butt-kicking. And of course, “Widerstand erhohen” translates to “out of the saddle, lazy-ass!” You get the idea.

Maratona dles Dolomites 2013

John McKechnie did a fantastic job of capturing helmet-cam video from last year’s Maratona dles Dolomites, one of the largest of the Italian Granfondos, with 9,000 riders covering seven passes in the famed mountain range. The scenery is incredible. No music here, just the natural sounds of wind, tires on pavement, and cyclists gasping for air. I tried to go hard when they were climbing and take it easy when they were descending and nearly killed myself. Next time I’ll just use it as nice background scenery while riding in the basement.

Bike Trainer Video 10 – Kensington Metro Park

Lucaseq77 has a series of cycling videos shot right here in Michigan. This one features two laps around Kent Lake on a beautiful spring day. The video was shot with a handle-bar mounted camera, which makes it a bit shaky. But if you need a reminder that Michigan is not always black-and-white, but bright green for half the year, this is it.

SDBC Fiesta Island Paceline

More sunny skies with the San Diego Bicycle Club on their training ride around Fiesta Island in Mission Bay. If you’ve got watt and cadence meters you can compare your numbers to the ones these guys are putting out as they ride at 24 mph. No music, just the wind, gears changing, and an occasional shout at a slower rider.

Liz Hatch – Come Ride with Me

And now I realize that’s four hours of nothing but men, mostly their butts. That could either be motivational or demotivational, depending on who you are. So here’s a video from 2009 featuring pro cyclist Liz Hatch, from Cyclefilm. It’s part interview and part scenes of Hatch cycling on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin. There’s beautiful scenery featuring redwoods and the stunning Marin coastline, plus a good variety of music.

Kolo T.C. – Drums in the Deep

Of course, if you like to go off-road, you’ve got a lot more options in winter. You could be like these guys on their cyclocross and fatbikes up in Traverse City, and get out on snowy trails. Or you could just watch them from the comfort of your basement. The video begins with ten minutes of warmup with snobiking footage, then moves to one of the Cross the Bay series of cyclocross races in northwest Michigan. You’re encouraged to ride the two twenty-minute sections of the race at tempo, wrapping up the last segment with a kick to the finish. The laps on the course through a park get a bit repetitive, but the onscreen coaching is motivational (extra points for the LOTR reference!), and the music has some of the best variety of any of these vids, ranging from hip-hop to soul to alternative.

Indoor Cycling Videos on YouTube

This YouTube account has a ton of 30-minute, one-hour, and 90-minute videos shot in locations across Europe.

The entire playlist is here.

Michigan cyclists, what are some of your favorite indoor workout videos?

Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

An Easy Cruise to a Gut-Busting Hill – Plus Beer!

Park at Rockford Dam
Park at Rockford Dam

Hills! I need more hills! I’ve decided to do the Big Mac Shoreline Tour 100-miler in Mackinaw City in September. It has 1600 feet of climbing, so I’d better get in shape! In pursuit of hill training I traveled back to the Grand Rapids area, and the White Pine Trail. This paved bike path passes through lovely forests above the Rogue River, using an old railroad bed. The path is well surfaced, wide, straight, and has very few hazardous crossings, all of which are marked with stop signs.

Of course, railroads never go up steep hills. To find those, this route takes side trips to hilly streets on either side of the Rogue. You’ll cross that scenic river twice and climb a couple of gut-busting hills. When you’re done tearing your legs off, you can cool down with a level three-mile cruise on the White Pine Trail to Rockford, which offers cafes, a brewpub, a bike shop, and a pretty riverfront park at the Rockford Dam. Put all of this together with the great weather we’ve been having this summer, and it makes for a perfect Michigan biking day.

A word of warning: this route involves many turns, and also many discontinuous streets with the same or similar names, so follow the directions carefully and print out a cue sheet.

White Pine Trail at Herrington Crossing
White Pine Trail at Herrington Crossing

To find the start, travel to Rogue River Park, on Belmont Ave. just north of Lynhurst St. in Belmont, which is just north of Grand Rapids. The park offers ample parking, bathrooms, and a drinking fountain. A paved ramp from the parking lot access road climbs up to the White Pine Trail. Turn right, northeast, onto the trail to begin your journey.

The 92-mile White Pine Trail, traveling from near Grand Rapids to Cadillac, is the main feature of White Pine Trail State Park. We can thank the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, Friends of the White Pine Trail, and Fred Meijer for its existence. The trail uses the roadbed of the abandoned Michigan Northern/Penn Central Railroad, making for straight sight-lines and gentle grades. Much of the trail has yet to be paved, so enjoy the smooth asphalt your tires will be gliding over.

The relaxing, gently rising bike path, coupled with steep hills on either side, makes this a good outing for a family or other group with differing abilities. Those who just want an easy cruise can stay on the path. But if you want to test your legs on steeper roads, you’ll turn off the path after a little over one mile. Anarchists can turn left at the first stop sign, using the unsigned, private Wildwood Creek Dr. (What’s with all these private roads in West Michigan, anyway? Worse, these aren’t marked as private on Google Maps.)

Law-abiding cyclists should wait for the second stop sign and turn left. (Like most intersections on the White Pine Trail, this one doesn’t tell you which street you’re crossing. The map marks it as Herrington Ave., and you can easily recognize it as the only gravel road crossing the bike path. There are also no annoying “Private Drive/No Trespassing” signs here. You may want to walk or carry your bike across the twenty yards or so of sandy surface.)

Whichever way you exit the bike path, you’ll soon arrive at public Van Dam Dr., where you’ll turn right, climbing gently to Packer Dr. NE. Turn right on Packer, which soon passes high above the bike path on a bridge, then begins a gentle-to-steep descent to your first crossing of the Rogue River. The street is quiet and the bridge is wide, so take the opportunity to snap a photo here.

Beyond the river crossing, turn left on Las Vegas Dr., entering a residential area. Go two blocks, turn left on Blythefield, then immediately right on Riverwoods. After a gently rising third of a mile, turn left on Kuttshill. This is where the real climbing begins. Use caution on Kuttshill, as the pavement is rough and the shoulder narrow. Make a left onto Childsdale Ave.

Rogue River at Childsdale
Rogue River at Childsdale

The steep climbing continues on Childsdale, giving you 130 feet of ascent in a little over half a mile. From the summit, Childsdale rolls along for half a mile then descends steeply for another half-mile to the second Rogue River crossing. A river access point across the bridge offers an opportunity to enjoy the stream and maybe cool your feet on a hot day.

Confusingly, Childsdale both heads straight and turns right after crossing the river. But there’s no confusion for you: you’ll head for the steep wall facing you straight ahead. CAUTION: You may be tempted to blast through the yield sign to use momentum to carry you up the hill straight ahead, but watch for cars coming from your right on the main branch of Childsdale Ave.

Childsdale Ave.
Childsdale Ave.

This hill on Childsdale shows how misleading the elevation profiles on MapMyRide can be. My route map shows it as a smooth 2% grade. Mapping just this portion gives more detail, showing it as a 7% grade followed by a 2% grade. In reality, the road climbs at what I call a gut-busting grade for about a tenth of a mile. I could just barely keep spinning my easiest gear without standing up. I’m going to guess it’s 10 or 12 percent.

The road levels off to a more gentle climb as it bends left, crosses the White Pine Trail (a good opportunity to meet up with group members who chose the easier option), and becomes House St. The respite of gentler climbing continues a short distance, before the road kicks up nastily around a right-hand bend.

House St.
Where you’ll want to yell, “Shut Up Legs!”: House St.

As you grit your teeth to make it up this short, steep pitch, just remember: no pain, no beer (or large mochachino with double whipped topping, if that’s your preference) at the end. Another tenth of a mile returns you to gentler climbing up to the circle where House St. dead-ends. From the Rogue River crossing, you’ve climbed 165 feet in a little under half a mile.

Turn around at the circle for a fast descent back to the White Pine Trail. Gluttons for punishment can continue down Childsdale, reversing the route as far as Riverwoods, then U-turn and do these climbs again. But our route turns right, southwest, onto the White Pine Trail for a gentle, 1.5-mile descent back to Herrington.

Turn right at Herrington, being careful of the sandy surface. This time you’ll turn left on Van Dam, heading west toward Belmont Ave. Get ready for the steadiest, longest climb yet, as you turn right, north, onto Belmont. Use caution on this ascent, as the shoulders are narrow and the traffic is moderate (at least mid-morning on a Tuesday). You’ll climb 150 feet in three quarters of a mile, with grades ranging from 2 to 5 percent, averaging about 4 percent.

Cresting the hill, descend  and then climb a short distance to a right turn on House St. (yes, House St. again, separated from that other House St. by a tributary drainage of the Rogue River). Now you have a choice to make. Anarchists can continue on House, turning right where it dead-ends into House Court, then quickly left onto the private Roguewood Dr., marked with “No Trespassing” signs. This brings you in half a mile back to the bike path.

(UPDATE: On my second visit to the area, a resident warned us that there has been vandalism in the neighborhood, and residents are prone to call the police when they see cyclists riding through. So consider yourself warned.)

Belmont Ave.
Belmont Ave.

Law-abiding cyclists should use House St. to turn around and head back south on Belmont. Use extreme caution turning left onto Belmont, then look for the left onto Packer Dr. in about three quarters of a mile. Again, use extreme caution making the left from Belmont onto Packer.

Packer heads east, then south. You’ll want to pedal rapidly as the road descends steeply past a house on the left with a dog that likes to bark and race cyclists. At the bottom of the steep hill, you will have completed one seven-mile, figure-eight loop (not including the warm-up on the White Pine Trail). If you’ve been keeping track of the numbers I’ve been giving for the climbs, you’ll see that you’ve climbed about 450 feet. But MapMyRide’s tally for the loop is only about 350. Remember, all of these figures are just estimates. My advice: do two loops, call it 1000 feet, and go have a beer.

Rockford Brewing Co.
Rockford Brewing Co.

To repeat the figure-eight loop, with its hills on Childsdale and Belmont, follow Packer as it turns left and crosses above the White Pine Trail, then repeat the route directions above. Or, if you’ve had enough climbing, continue straight ahead onto Van Dam, reversing your route from the beginning of the day. A scant quarter-mile descent brings you to Herrington, the gravel connector to the White Pine Trail, on the left.

From this junction with the White Pine Trail, the parking lot at Rogue River Park is one mile to the right; Rockford, with its shops, cafes, and the Rockford Brewing Co. Pub right on the bike path, is three easy miles to the left, offering a good cool-down. Since it was only 11 a.m. when I arrived in Rockford, I opted for an excellent coffee and lemon-raspberry oat bar at the Twisted Vine Deli.

If this figure-eight route seems too complicated, or if you’d like to pack your hill-climbing into a shorter distance, here are a couple of suggestions:

Belmont Only: Park on Van Dam (or use the White Pine Trail as a warmup), then do semi-loops of Van Dam to Belmont to House, then Belmont back to Packer and Van Dam. That will give you about 150 feet of climbing in a 2.5-mile loop.

Rockford Dam
Rockford Dam

Childsdale Only: Park in the residential area at Riverwoods Dr. From the corner of Riverwoods and Blythefield, follow Riverwoods to Kuttshill to Childsdale to the dead-end on House, then return. That will give you about 400 feet of climbing in just 4.5 miles.

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