Sunday, March 30, 2014

Highlights from the BYOB Pub Ride

The weather report was looking rather ominous on Saturday March 29th, 2014. It was to be the day of the 'Build Your Own Bike' pub ride hosted by the Sarasota County Off Road Riders. Cyclists were encouraged to scavenge together old klunkers with spare parts in a rusty soup of ingenuity and labor to build the ultimate pub cruiser for under $100.

The angry skies parted ways only minutes before the gathering began. Riders met at the Gazebo in Centennial Park on Venice Island and displayed their patchwork of frankenstein creations. While the weather made for a lower turnout than hoped for, those who did arrive brought the good stuff.

The cruisers ranged from those with outlandish geometry to those that were almost painful to observe. There was a bike painted with chalk in which people were encouraged to write their names on the dusty frame. One cruiser was so caked in rust that you needed a tetanus shot just for looking at it. One rode seated straight up reaching for handle bars set higher than a person's shoulders while another leaned so far forward the rider labored to keep the beast from tipping over.

After everyone had signed in and displayed their builds, the group set off for the first leg of the ride. Awkward balancing acts ensued as knees hit handlebars and shoes hit the pavement. Some of these contraptions didn't have brakes. It was one thing to shape such unique vehicles but it was another entirely to actually pedal them. 

On the opening leg of the ride, one P.O.S immediately stood out. Thomas Obermeyer had put together a delicate pink contraption with a wooden seat and airless tires. It rumbled down the road sounding like a truck with two flats attracting the full attention of onlookers. Barely a quarter mile had passed before it started falling apart.

At first it was merely the box top that kept sliding out of place. This was a rear compartment where Tom stored his most important of repair items - a full roll of duct tape. After fixing the box, he rode on only to have part of the front tire brake loose. No problem - add more duct tape. This became a recurring and ever more hilarious theme throughout the night. Tom would ride, loud and proud and then something would suddenly snap. He'd add more duct tape and continue on.

The night became a whirlwind of neon lights, tasty brews, wobbly bikes and laughter so whimsical your cheeks start to hurt from all the smiling. They visited Pineapples bar, the Daiquiri Deck, The Brew House and then finished up at the Tap & Cork. Along the way riders were given yellow zip ties which they attached to the bike they thought deserved to win the prize for best pub cruiser.

At night's end the winners were announced. The prize for "Girliest" bike went to Terri Brashear for her Spring Fling cruiser covered in flowers and decorative butterflies. The "Rustiest" prize went to Janice for her chainless klunker. The Biggest P.O.S. and Cheapest build prizes as well as the Overall prize went to Thomas Obermeyer. He was handed a huge, hand carved drinking stein and the one hundred dollar prize.

Money raised from the event went to SCORR's ongoing commitment to trail building in south Sarasota County. Cameras were on hand to capture the creativity of the bikes and the fun of the evening.

As a special bonus we kept the cameras rolling and were able to put together the following music video. If you have ever wondered what a pub ride looks like, here is your chance to see. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Trail Building in Myakka State Forest

They say it takes a village to raise a child, well it takes a small army of tough volunteers to build a good trail. Construction has begun on the first mountain bike specific path in Myakka State Forest. The forest has 8,500 acres of pinewoods and wetlands which are connected through several dirt roads including north and south loops. There is a great deal of potential space for off road exploration.

Work on the "Palmetto Trail" has been going on since the beginning of 2014. The Sarasota County Off Road Riders (SCORR) have already sent a handful of teams into the woods with challenging results. It is challenging because the Palmettos are fighting back! Even a large crew of experienced builders must push hard to make headway through this area of new growth forest. Armed with some serious weapons, they tag, chop, dig, cut and rake one yard at a time. It can be a grueling slog.

To access the new build, riders must park at the north entrance just off East River Road. When facing the kiosk you'll see the sign for the Slash Pine trail on your left but on your right you can find a much smaller path, this is the Palmetto Trail. It enters the woods and cruises for about 2 miles before connecting back to the Slash trail. This can be connected to the already established 19 miles of marked trails but most of them are wide swaths of grass or sand which cannot compare to the fun of singletrack.

Along the way you might see some of the wildlife known to frequent the area. The forest is well known for bobcats, feral hogs, deer and gopher tortoises. Over 100 species of trees and plants have been identified on the property which backs up to a tributary of the Myakka river.

While riders can come to visit the small completed section, there is so much more to do. The spring rains will be coming soon, along with the heat which can squash progress. If SCORR can get enough volunteers, it is possible to complete the remaining 3 miles before summer so that group rides can take place at the park.

For those rides to happen, the volunteer army needs to grow. Check the SCORR Rider Facebook page for dates concerning the next battle with the dreaded palmettos. Many weapons have been lost to their tough roots but still the workers soldier on. 

You can help expand off road riding here in south Sarasota County and all it takes is a couple hours worth of sweat on a random weekend. Remember, you always appreciate a trail more when you've had a hand in creating it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Love Affair with Hiking Boots

It was a frosty New England winter night when I pulled into the parking lot of the Auburn Mall. I was working a delivery route that took me 250 miles through small towns in western Massachusetts. My job was basically to be a mail man for small banks. Come rain or shine, come snow or high water, the checks must be delivered. That year the weather had been particularly frigid. The dented gray Hyundai hatchback work car had a moderate heater at best. The January squelch was bleeding into my sad summer sneakers, my feet were freezing. It was time for new shoes.

All my life I had been a sucker for low rise runners, preferably Nike or Reebok. However my needs were changing as was part of my identity. I scanned the shelves at Famous Footwear to discover a pair of black & gray Columbia hiking boots. They were 50% off and they looked warm. Most importantly, they were my size. I snatched them up like a greedy miner who had just unearthed gold.

I didn't even wait to get back to my car. I sat on a bench in the mall, slid my feet into these comfy new boots and threw away my old, sodden sneakers. These Columbia boots were snug, they hugged my feet and shielded my ankles. They were waterproof, had great traction and only weighed 200 grams. I was in love. I wouldn't wear sneakers again for 3 years. That shouldn't be a surprise considering that Columbia has a 70 year history of making high quality products for the most rugged terrains. No wonder they won me over.

My Columbia's became my everything shoes. As my activities required more protection, they assisted me along that path. I started mountain biking and hiking wearing these boots. They were on my feet through my first season on the XC race circuit around New England. They ascended Mount Monadnock and descended Mount Killington. They got me through the rocky mud of Pat's Peak and some arid summer days at Highland Mountain Bike Park. I even wore them during my first season of BMX racing.

After five years of use and abuse, my Columbia's have taken a serious beating. My boots made me feel tougher, so I braved more than ever before. Structurally they are still firm but there are only so many times you can pull them out of a wretched swamp or stomp through the puddles of Florida's tropical storms. They smell pretty bad and I've had to replace the insole about five times. Truthfully, I still haven't thrown them away. Instead, I tried to replace them.

My wife bought me a pair of tan Merrell's from the Kittery Trading post in Maine. They were light, fit a little loose but they were airy and had a decent appearance. I didn't subject them to the same rigors and thank god I didn't because they were not very tough. Within a year they had started to tear open. I made a pathetic attempt to sew the hole. The rubber grip was fading fast, the interior seating widened to the point that I was afraid of rolling an ankle. Keep in mind I'm not slamming them as a company, I have a pair of their low top summer shoes that are just brilliant. Merrell has been on a mission since 1981 and has built up a fantastic selection but most of their products are way outside my price range.

My old boots were close to death and my new boots were practically useless. On many occasions I made an effort to find another pair of Columbias. I searched the stores, looked for online sales and even checked Ebay. Either the price was too high or they didn't have my size. I looked into other companies that claim to have the same quality but ran into the same problems. I was heartbroken.

In February of 2014 fate stepped in to give me a hand. All through the winter I had been entering every online Mountain Bike related contest that I could in hopes of getting lucky. Somehow it had worked! A new website called was running a survey to determine the best Mountain Bike parks in America. I'd been to six such parks so I gave them my input. Two months later I got an e-mail saying that I won a prize - a new pair of Teva shoes. I wrote back and asked, can I get boots instead? The answer was yes!

 I searched their website for something similar to my beloved Columbia's. It turns out that Teva make a boot called the Riva Winter Mid. It has the same Thinsulate insulation and waterproof membrane that I had come to love plus a shock pad in the heel and a plush insole. Most importantly, they made them in my size. The people from Teva gave me a code so I ordered a pair immediately and they arrived in just shy of a week. I knew this company from the Mountain Biking world. Teva makes shoes specific to my sport and they even sponsor competitions. These investments mean a lot to savvy consumers like me. I want a company to care about what they are making and have a reason to do so.

Some might think I'm crazy for falling in love with hiking boots but it's not so strange. If you really think about it, we depend on our shoes more than any other piece of clothing. They get us where we need to go. If they are well made, they get us there in comfort and with confidence. Don't believe me? Go take a hike in the mountains wearing everything except your boots. See how far you get.

I have only just received my new Teva's but so far they are living up to expectations. They are solid, strong, black and beautiful. I'm not in love yet but my feet are feeling warm and fuzzy just the way they are supposed to. I think my heart just skipped a beat.

Disclaimer:  No one hired, suggested or influenced me to write this story. The thoughts, affections and ideas are my own. I just happen to love hiking boots, deal with it.

 Get the complete library of Alex's books here!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The 'Build Your Own Bike' Pub Ride

The boys from SCORR are at it again! Their famous pub rides are becoming well known not only for great places to eat and drink but also for the creativity of the themes. This might be one to top them all - The BYOB pub ride is coming! It means "Build Your Own Bike" and it is a competition! It's time to get your wrenches working, start cruising garage sales and scan Craigslist. The Sarasota County Off Road Riders are having their first Dedicated Pub Ride Bicycle Build off.

There is a $100. Grand Prize for the Best Overall Bike!

The Rules
1. Build a bike that you would be proud to ride at the next pub ride. The crazier, the better.

2. Think accessories, paint scheme, cup holders, music, light show, rust etc.

3. Don't spend more than $100.

Prizes will be awarded for Ugliest, Biggest POS, Cheapest Rebuild, Rustiest, Girliest and of course there is the $100. Grand Prize for the Best Overall Bike.

The BYOB Pub Ride happens Saturday March 29th, 2014. Riders will meet at the Venice Gazebo at 7pm. All cyclists must have helmet and lights. Cost for the event is $10. with proceeds going to help SCORR build off road bike trails in South Sarasota County. There will be a guided ride around the island to some local watering holes and of course the final judgement.

For details and updates make sure to check:

 Click here to see Alex's complete library

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WTB Velociraptor MTB Tires Review

Let's face it, you never know when you are going to need new tires. A nasty thorn, a sharp nail or in my case a construction staple can find its way through your old skins. It is inevitable that you'll need to change up. I had been rolling on my Schwalbe Rapid Robs for a good year. I was very happy with their performance especially considering the price. My Rapid Rob review has become the number one most read story on my blog. So, I decided to record the adventures of my new rear replacement tire.

My local shop Real Bikes Englewood sold me a WTB Velociraptor 2.1. With front and rear specific treads the Velociraptors are a gnarly trail lovers dream pair. They first came out in 1994 and have been tearing up the muck ever since. Granted, jumping from the small, fast rolling knobs of the Rapid Rob to the huge paddles of the Velociraptor is a big leap but I assure you it was a necessary change.

Once again I know what you're thinking. You're thinking; Alex, you live in Florida. It's not exactly the land of technical riding. It's more like a giant sand bar sitting on a reef of limestone and phosphorous. True again but what better way to push through the beach than to have a rear tire designed for unconstrained obstacles. The Velociraptor can handle rocks and roots but it is also built to power through loose gravel and sand.

The durable DNA rubber was a little heavier than the Robs. In fact the tire could almost stand up on its own. The thickness of the huge knobs and concave paddles inspired confidence in the tire's ability to handle the toughest conditions. The latest version has 27 tpi and is advertised as "Impervious" so it would take a lot more than a staple to flatten this bad boy.

As for making a change, the tire fit with ease. The Velociraptor slid on the rim and it took a minimum of air to fill it. I immediately decided to address my only real worry - rolling resistance. Being that I was in the final week of training for a big race, I decided to take the tire out for a long mixed terrain ride. What followed was 32 miles of mostly road but also dirt, sand and gravel. On the pavement I could hear a medium hum from the rear. I did feel a little drag, a little extra weight but in all, it didn't slow me down. Off road it was a beast. The side knobs made tight turns a breeze and the paddles propelled me through low sand with no hesitation or slippage.

The second test was a nighttime group ride on bumpy singletrack. Here the rear tire gripped like velcro. I tore through that 6 mile stretch in my fastest time. I never had to worry about washing out or sliding around a corner. The Velociraptor planted itself in the dirt, sand or grass and boosted me forward. The large knobs provided a little more padding when I bumped over roots and logs making for a slightly less bouncy ride.

The final test was the 50 mile race I had been training for. You can read the full Tour de Picayune report here but specifically, that brutish rear tire was a mixed blessing. On the plus side it allowed me to carve the grass singletrack, bounce easily through rocky sections and thump over obstacles. It looked like I was going to have a good race except for one area - the deep sand.

The narrow 2.1 tire literally dug a hole in the sand traps bringing me to a complete stop. Had this happened only once or twice I could blame the sugar sand but no, it happened about fifty times. This was the wrong tire for such a demanding course and I paid for it as the energy was sapped from my legs.

Since it is rare for me to face this kind of deep sand I will continue to ride the WTB Velociraptor tire in the coming months and I'll update this review as conditions change. In the meantime you can read more about it at the website below.

 Click here to see Alex's complete library

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top Honors Awarded at Zoomers Banquet

On Sunday afternoon March 9th at the beautiful King's Gate country club in Port Charlotte, southwest Florida athletes gathered for the Zoomers Run & Triathlon Club's yearly awards ceremony. More than 50 members arrived, dressed in contrasting black & white attire each ready to share in the camaraderie and support that this group is so well known for.

The athletes were treated with breakfast food followed by sweets including cookies shaped like running shoes and a cake specially made for the occasion plus a cash bar. As everyone enjoyed lunch, a ten minute slideshow displayed the year in review. Not only did it include shots from the dozens of races that year but from Zoomers social activities and personal parties. As empty plates were collected, the proceedings began.

This ceremony is to award athletes for their performances in the 2013 Zoomer's Race Series. Runners accumulate points over the course of the year by competing in select races, their best six races are weighed against their peers. There are 10 Overall winners and 24 age group winners, all of which receive a symbol of recognition for their victories. Plus there is always a number of special awards.

This year the awards were emceed by Zoomer's President Dug Stetter and ceremony coordinator Tina Elkins. They handed out medals, took pictures and gave special mention to the essential people who make the series happen. Unique gifts were given to newcomers, ultra runners and those who go above and beyond the call of duty to volunteer their time and expertise. 

2013 Overall Race Series Winners

Overall Female - Heather Butcher
Overall Male - Mark Steuve
Masters Female - Kathy Hendricks
Masters Male - George Chamberlain
Grandmaster Female - Marti Stetter
Grandmaster Male - Scott Varner
Senior Grandmaster Female - Buteena Pfeffer
Senior Grandmaster Male - John Bates
Veterans Female - Anne Marie Paradiso
Veterans Male - Frank Nicolosi

Click to see larger image of all winners!
A list of all the winners was placed at each person's seating area. It included thanks to long time contributors Bob and Carol Geyer for their "Time, Care and Love." It also thanked Ed and Joan Morgan for their "Exceptional skills of putting together the volunteers." Ed Gillen won the award of Best Race Director for his management of the 2nd Annual Howl at the Moon trail run.

Many people don't realize how much work and effort goes into creating and timing these races but the Zoomers do. They know that it is just as important to recognize those who staff the finish line as well as those who cross it. Zoomers is and always has been one big family, this yearly gathering was a reminder of that bond.

If you would like to be a part of the 2014 Race Series, it is not too late. Just visit the Zoomers website to see which upcoming races allow you to qualify for points. Who knows, maybe next year's awards banquet list of winners will include you.

 Click here to see Alex's complete library

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fatbikes Rule at the 2014 Tour de Picayune

Right now in odd corners of the world, mountain bike races are starting to favor a whole new type of ride. Born simultaneously in the snows of Alaska and the deserts of Arizona, the Fatbike is a strange brew of rubber and bravado. Made primarily by independent fabricators, the frames tend to be works of art. The gearing tends more towards that found on a DH rig though most are set up with a single speed. The forks are usually rigid with the only suspension to be found in the tires themselves.

On the Fatbike, the wheels are where it's at. Boasting 3.7" inches or more they are the largest tires available on a non-motorized vehicle. The wide, low pattern treads allow for compression of soft elements like snow or deep sand which is why they came in droves to the 2014 Tour de Picayune.

My wife and I counted no less than 16 Fatbikes at registration which gathered in front of the forestry center around 9am. Riders traveled from all over the state, some were even visiting from others states. It was a laid back atmosphere with many people knowing each other from local riding or from the internet. Last years winner Joe Rose was in attendance but he wasn't competing due to a recent injury. Once everyone signed the waiver and paid the $25. fee, race director Wes Wilkins led the procession to the line where a slow rolling start began the race.

The Tour de Picayune is just that, a tour of the forest. The race is optioned out in 3 distances - 10, 25 or 50 miles which cover a wide variety of sections and terrains. It starts with a cruise down the main drag Miller Blvd then breaks left into a series of narrowly cut singletrack which is where the fun begins.

Since it is almost impossible to know what was happening all around the park, what I can do is tell you what I experienced as a first time racer. I began pedaling mid pack and followed the leaders into the tight singletrack. When I say tight, I mean you're shins are being scraped by every bush, leaf and vine. At one point a length of thorns wrapped itself in my cassette and derailleur. My fingerless gloves were not much help in pulling them free.

The corners are blind due to the high grass and each section starts and ends with either a dip or a sudden pitch. Eventually the trail crossed the road and entered another area of singletrack called Log World. This part was more open but contained some fallen trees as obstacles. For me, the first six miles might have been funnest part of the whole race. The course was well marked with orange arrows, tags and ties. With a little bit of work this singletrack system would be well worth a visit from anyone who loves to ride off road.

The singletrack emptied into the standard double track which circles and crosses the entire forest. It was here that I caught up with a couple riders who were cautious not to miss any markers. The ground was still firm and fast moving with a minimum of ruts. Over the next couple miles we rode over panther tracks and passed a swamp jeep that was careful to pull aside for oncoming cyclists.

The first major check mark was aid station #1. Just after refueling you would dive into the very first sand trap of the race. I had read a lot about their legendary sand traps on the website but still I didn't quite grasp the magnitude of what they were like. This was where the normal bikes got in trouble and the Fatbikes shined. While I was digging myself a pit of sorrow in the molasses like ruts of sugar sand, those with wider wheels slowly passed me by.

I escaped the first trap determined to make up lost time. A sprint down Rutty Roll brought me back out to Miller Blvd where I time trialed my way three blocks south to 92nd street and dove back into the Pine Flatwoods. It was moderate sandy double track until I reached the split and stayed left to continue the 28 mile loop. That's when it all went wrong for my skinny tires. The next several miles was a patchwork of sand traps, each more nefarious than the last. I was brought to a stand still and had to restart about fifty times. It sapped the strength from my legs. It was here that I decided the 50 mile loop was too much, I would have to settle for doing the 28 as fast as I could.

Several riders wished me well as they struggled by but eventually the deep sand ended and my desperation morphed into resolve. The woods gave way to open sky over a massive green grassy field with rolling tracks. I clicked back into the bigger gears and found my footing.

A couple more sand traps followed but by now I had resorted to picking up my bike and running through them. Once back on hardpack I buried the needle and made my way to aid station #2. I was reawakened by a couple sips of cold Gatorade and some smiling faces. When I heard there was only 5 miles left I scurried off at top speed.

Triple G Road was more than just hardpack, it was rockpack. Every one hundred feet was a thirty foot section of baseball sized rocks covering the road. I gingerly let the bike bounce while keeping true through the ruckus. The dirt road got a little softer but it was far more reasonable than I had gotten used to. Finally the road took a sharp right into a trail known as Super Log World.

In Super Log World you literally have to lift your bike over obstacles, some as high as your waist. This extremely tight, twisty singletrack was the final challenge for people like me who had wimped out on the longer trek. There were countless turns so tight you risked smacking into a tree or else loose your balance. At one point a stick jammed itself into my front spokes causing my bike to tip sideways as I crashed into the bushes. It was a minor stumble as I was back up and moving in seconds.

Despite the awkwardness of the design, Super Log World was my kind of riding. You never knew what was around the corner, be it a log hop, a black racer snake or a long wooden ramp. Here I got back into my groove and passed a few competitors. It was in this final mile that three photographers, including my wife, caught riders at their most determined or most awkward moments. Once again, this is the kind of trail that could become very popular with a little more refinement.

The finish line was a joy to see. I crossed it and looked at my stopwatch which gave a time of 3 hours and 18 minutes. I was the fourteenth person to reach the finish, though many turned just before the line in order to start the second lap of 22 miles to finish out the distance. I later saw on Strava that some of these iron men and one woman completed the full race in roughly 5 hours.

Under the tent I enjoyed a few snacks and some cold drinks while the race director pulled together some prizes for the big winners. Unfortunately Terri and I were exhausted so we didn't stay for the presentations or the nighttime party at the Snake Pit. There was certainly a lot more to enjoy at the Tour de Picayune than we had time or energy for.

Anyone interested in attending next years race can check their website for updates and details. You can see our race pictures at the link below. My only recommendation - bring your Fatbike.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tempo Cyclery Rides Every Thursday

It's that time of year again! The Tempo & Timmy Time Trials start in March. If you have never been to these events, they are a blast. Ten miles against the clock in one of the most rider friendly neighborhoods in Sarasota. The group parks at the Tempo Cyclery bike shop at 5140 Palmer Plaza Blvd, Sarasota. From there it is a short ride to the race start at the corner of Palmer Ranch Parkway and Honore.

The Individual Time Trials begins at 6pm. You might want to arrive a little early so you can sign the insurance waiver and get a numbered sticker for your helmet so they can track your speed. Then you simply line up and go. After the race, riders return to Tempo for the all important after race beers.

The Tempo & Timmy Time Trials will now be held on the last Thursday of each month.
The dates are as follows (Weather permitting):

* March 27th
* April 24th
* May 29th
* June 26th
* July 31st
* August 28th

The races will take place in cases of rain but will be cancelled when lightning is present.
Results will be posted on the Tempo & Timmy Time Trial Facebook Page.

So, now you've got plans for the last Thursday of each month but what do you do with the rest of your Thursdays? Luckily there are more rides available. The Tempo & Beery's Gulfgate rides will be on the 1st through the 3rd Thursday of each month, starting March 13th.

The ride starts from Mr. Beerys and goes down to Casey Key and back up the Legacy Trail for a total of 28ish miles. There are A, B and C speed groups. Get some fresh air with friends at your pace and then enjoy a few craft brews at one of Sarasota's favorite pubs.

So there you have it. Your Thursdays are now all booked throughout the spring and summer. Be sure to check the various Facebook pages for updates and have a great year!

 Click here to see Alex's complete library