Archive for the ‘outdoors’ Category.

Using OsmAnd Offline Maps during Remote Rides

Many of the popular, long cycling events — or even just solo rides — require a GPS so that one can follow a route in order to navigate. While most of us have bike computers that will show the route, most folks don’t have a GPS with the kind of detailed base maps that become useful for detours, emergencies, or just as an additional tool… Much less something that works when outside of cellular coverage areas.

For this, I recommend you look at offline maps using OsmAnd.

I have (and love) the Garmin Edge 130 as it’s perfect for my riding and training. It’s been great for displaying recording data and following routes from the unmarked 100 mile versions of The Crusher and Barry-Roubaix, to augmenting signage in Marji Gesick and following a route through remote parts of Batchawana River Provincial Park. But occasionally I need a bit more; something to help find a detour around a flooded road, a quick way back to the car in a rainstorm, or just a sanity-check of which branch to take at a fork on the road.

Sure, I could buy a super-high-end bike computer that features detailed base maps, but I rarely need these and don’t want the physically large computer on my bike. So I use my phone, running OsmAnd, loaded with offline maps that display without requiring a data connection. Coupled with putting one’s phone in Airplane mode (turns off the cellular and WiFi radios and saves battery — yet GPS still works) a modern phone will typically get days of battery life while sleeping, with maps and a route quick to access.

Whenever I actually need to see this map I simply pull it out of my pocket or bag, wake it up, get what I need from the map, and carry on. No screwing around with a small touch screen and funky zooming on a Garmin or Wahoo. (I believe that, to date, neither Garmin nor Wahoo have made map perusal as straightforward as it is on a basic mobile phone.)

This is also a great way to get maps on your phone when traveling somewhere costly for cellular data, like during a day-trip to Canada.

Whether you’re doing Marji Gesick or The Crusher or just following a route found on a cycling club’s website, I recommend augmenting your navigation with offline maps in OsmAnd by doing the following:

  1. Visit the OsmAnd site and follow the links to your phone’s store to install the software.
  2. Get a copy of the GPX file on your phone; for Android phones this is often as simple as visiting the download website and downloading the file.
  3. In OsmAnd‘s menu, pick Download Maps and download maps for the regions you want. I personally have Standard Maps, Contour Lines, and Hillshades for Michigan installed all the time, and then if traveling will install for other states/provinces/countries.
  4. Once the offline maps are installed, pick Configure map from the menu, then Map source, and ensure Offline vector maps are selected. The default, OsmAnd (online tiles), is an online map source that requires data.
  5. To display a particular route, pick GPX files…, Add More…, and then browse your phone to add the downloaded GPX file. Ensure this file is enabled (checked), and then go back to the map screen.
  6. You’ll now see the route overlaid on offline maps, easy to zoom in and out of and find your way around. Try turning on Airplane Mode and see that it all still works.

Once I have everything set up, here’s some tips about how I actually use OsmAnd while out on my bike:

  • If in an area with minimal or no cellular service, put the phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t get used up while it searches for a signal.
  • Turn off all lock features on my phone (fingerprint / pattern / PIN unlock), so I can wake it up with just a press of the power button.
  • You can use this at the same time as Strava, and Strava generally works in Airplane mode as well.
  • If I’m at a spot where I’m not quite sure which way to turn (based on the single line on my Edge 130), use the map to figure out which branch to turn on. Even the remotest of fire roads and two track are often mapped.
  • If I think I might have missed a route sign (say, in Marji Gesick) I’ll use OsmAnd to see if I’m still on route, and to get back if needed.
  • Look for other nearby roads or trails if I need to detour or shortcut back. I had to do this yesterday during the Founders Fall Fondo as part of the 62 mile Barry-Roubaix route was flooded.
  • Many small, old, sometimes abandoned, yet somewhat navigable roads are still listed in the OpenStreetMap (OSM) data that OsmAnd uses. While these aren’t great for cars and won’t show up on things like Google or Apple Maps, they are often quite useful when on a bike. Look to these for exploring / finding new routes.
  • Many trails open to mountain bikes are included in the OSM data. This includes all CRAMBA trails and most trails in the NTN and RAMBA areas. (Note: Trailforks is a better source for discovering MTB trails themselves.)
  • Periodically update maps to get new OSM data. As roads and trails change, maps get updated.
  • Pay For OsmAnd+ Live ($5.99/year) to get access to more-frequent, automatic map updates and support the open mapping community. 

While this is just a basic overview of using OsmAnd and how I use it when cycling; it does a whole lot more including recording routes, navigation, editing map data, sharing location between contacts, and more. Give the online Help and Features a look for more information.

 

What’s In My Pack? (2018 Edition)

Back in 2012 I wrote What Do I Carry When Riding My Bicycle? to show what I carry to be prepared for long mountain bike rides with a pack. Six years and some refinement and reduction later, it’s time for an update.

I like to do longer — but single day — rides, summer and winter, on any kind of MTB from XC to trail to fat bikes. My gear tends to stay the same for everything from an endurance race to a long day on dirt roads linking together parks, back country rides during a road trip to the typical after-work roll around a suburban park. None of these require the bike packer-level of supplies, but feeling assured that a surprise situation will be manageable does require a bit of planning. Since water and primary food (typically ERG! Energy bars and Infinit Nutrition mix) varies by ride I won’t be covering it here, but my pack and pockets have plenty of room for extra drink mix and food.

Almost everything I carry is because it was needed at some point in the past, and I like knowing that my gear is consistent between rides. When doing MTB rides I almost always wear a pack, only leaving it behind during shorter races where I’m trying to be competitive or rides where I’m okay with walking out should something happen.

My current pack is an Osprey SYNCRO 10 in Velocity Green color, M/L size. This is a high vis yellow/green that I chose because it both helps me be seen and it stays cool in the sun. Having a thin metal frame and mesh back keeps the pack away from my body which keeps me cooler in summer avoids a sweaty back in winter. A replacement badge from the Sport model Road ID is slipped over the elastic on the upper part of the left strap near my head, providing easily-visible identification and emergency contact info.

While many folks are moving to frame bags and waist packs, I’ve stuck to a pack because it allows me to carry a lot of water, easily transition gear between bikes, and it doesn’t rub on the frame. Frame packs seem like a great option and work out well for many folks, but as of now they just aren’t for me.

Here’s the two setups, summer and winter, tiered to show how things are packed:

Default / Summer MTB Pack:

  • 6″ x 5″ Nylon Zippered Pouch (Amazon Link)
    • Cable (Zip) Ties: 4x each thin/short and wide/long.
    • Nitrile Gloves: 2x, in small plastic bag.
    • Spare Derailleur Hanger(s): One for each bike style.
    • Cash: 1x $20, 1x $10, 2x $5, 3x $1, in small plastic bag.
    • Glue-Type Patch Kit: In plastic storage box.
      • Tick Key
      • Quick Links: 3x 11 speed, 1x 10 speed, 1x 9 speed, 1 link single speed chain.
      • Folded Paper Towel: Prevents rattling and rubbing, for cleaning tube before patching.
    • Presta to Schrader Adapter
  • Lezyne Sport Drive HP Pump
    • 4′ of 3″ wide black Gaffer Tape: Wrapped around pump body.
  • Tools in Cotton Sock: Prevents rattling and rubbing, doubles as rag.
  • Spare Tube(s) in Cotton Sock / Rag: Prevents rubbing, doubles as rag.
    • Q-Tubes Super Light: 29 x 1.9″-2.3″ for XC/trail bikes, 26 x 2.4″-2.7″ for fat bike.
  • LOKSAK aLOKSAK: 4″ x 7″
    • Phone: Google Pixel 2
    • Driver’s License / Credit Card
    • Toilet Paper
  • Fox 40 Micro Whistle: Pealess, won’t freeze in winter.
  • CamelBak Antidote Reservoir: 3L, aka bladder.
  • Emergency Food in Plastic Zip Top Bag, about 500 calories.
  • House/Car Keys

Winter-Time Changes from Default:

  • No bladder for water; it freezes. Insulated bottles on bike instead.
  • Remove derailleur hanger and tubes for summer bikes.
  • Mylar Emergency Blanket
  • Little Hotties Adhesive Toe Warmers (2x)
  • Extra gloves, head covering, and jacket, depending on conditions, planned length and effort of ride, location, etc.

This all has worked out well for me, being able to handle situations from cut tire sidewalls to puncture flats, broken chains and derailleurs to detached front brake cables.

Where I Rode in 2016

I’m not normally one to do a list on all the places I’ve ridden in a given year, but this map from RubiTrack — my preferred offline ride tracking application — changed my mind for this year. In my personal life it’s been quite an interesting year or so, and I took advantage of of that to travel a bit more. Some of these were with my amazing girlfriend Kristen, some with friends, and some by myself. Whatever way, it made for some great riding.

Calculated via Strava, I ended up with 261 rides totaling 5928 miles over 503 hours 22 minutes and climbing 234,394 feet.

Here’s all the different places/trails that I was fortunate enough to ride, broken down by state:

Michigan

  • Addison Oaks County Park
  • Aspen Park
  • Bald Mountain Recreation Area
  • Bear Creek
  • Big M Ski Area
  • Bloomer Park
  • Brighton
  • Bruno’s Run
  • Churning Rapids
  • Clinton River Park Trails
  • Clinton River Trail
  • Copper Harbor
  • DTE Energy Foundation Trail
  • Fort Custer
  • Glacial Hills
  • Hanson Hills
  • Harlow Lake
  • Hewen’s Creek
  • Hickory Glen Park
  • Highland Recreation Area
  • Hillside Trails (Munising)
  • Hines Park
  • Holly-Holdridge Mountain Bike Trail
  • Iron Ore Heritage Trail
  • Island Lake Recreation Area
  • Kensington to Proud Lake Connector
  • Lake Orion High School
  • Lakeshore Park
  • Maaso Hiihto
  • Macomb Orchard Trail
  • NTN Trails (Marquette)
  • Maybury State Park
  • Merrell Trail
  • Michawyé
  • Milford Trail
  • Morton – Taylor
  • Munson Park
  • North Country Trail
  • Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties
  • Olson Park
  • Orion Oaks County Park
  • Ortonville Recreation Area
  • Owasippe
  • Paint Creek Trail
  • Pontiac Lake Recreation Area
  • Potawatomi
  • Proud Lake Recreation Area
  • RAMBA Trails (Ishpeming and Negaunee)
  • River Bends Park
  • Rolling Hills
  • Rouge Park
  • Ruby Campground
  • Seven Lakes State Park
  • Sharon Mills
  • Stony Creek Metropark
  • Stony Creek Ravine
  • Swedetown
  • Valley Spur
  • VASA

Ohio

  • Mohican State Park
  • Ray’s Indoor MTB Park

Indiana

  • Brown County State Park
  • Nebo Ridge

North Carolina

  • Bent Creek Experimental Forest
  • DuPont State Forest
  • Pisgah National Forest

Missouri

  • Berryman Trail
  • Greensfelder County Park

Arkansas

  • Back 40
  • Blowing Springs
  • Coler
  • Hobbs State Park
  • Lake Atalanta
  • Lake Leatherwood
  • Park Springs
  • Razorback Regional Greenway
  • Slaughter Pen

Here’s to 2017!

Cut Vinyl Outline Retrofit for Rockart Directional Arrows

Earlier this year CRAMBA took on a project to install durable trail marking at River Bends Park using fiberglass marking posts and decals from Rockart. After installation a significant lingering issues was the visibility of the decals for the Single Track: Yellow (Main Trail) sections. The stock Rockart decals (eg: 10-124) are a single color printed over a reflective white base, and even with ordering gold color decals (eg: 10-124-10, a darker yellow) the contrast was so low that the arrow was hard to see.

We considered a few different options including custom decals, hand-tracing the arrows with markers, or re-coloring this loop, but settled on retrofitting the existing decals with cut vinyl outlines. One of our volunteers — Ken Markiewicz  — made short work of getting us enough cut vinyl to fix up all the signs in the park, and as seen above it’s radically improves the visibility of the decals.

So that others running into similar decal contrast problems can do the same, I am providing the templates here under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, for all to use: vinylcut_toppers_for_yellowgold.zip

This template contains outlines for both the 10-124 (straight) and 10-125 (diagonal) decals. Outlines are 2.5mm wide with the outer curved square placed evenly over outer colored/white edge and the arrow inset on the white area. We found this provided the best result for keeping the arrow visually separate from the outline.

Trailforks, Pinkbike, and OSM

For years I’ve been pretty enthusiastic about OpenStreetMap (OSM) and using it to map trails (MTB and otherwise). While there are a bunch of other ways to map trails online (Google Maps, MTB Project, Trailforks) I have stayed away from contributing to them because of the one-way nature of submissions; your contributed data gets locked behind their license. While MTB Project and Trailforks both claim to allow some manner of reuse of data, it’s nothing as useful as OSM‘s Creative Commons (CC) based licensing. Effectively being the Wikipedia of GIS makes it extremely useful for those of us who want to both contribute data and build open maps on the larger set.

Then suddenly last night I read this article on Pinkbike discussing how they took OSM data, parsed it to highlight mountain biking routes, and are now using it as the base map for their Trailforks mapping site. They built a tool on top of the open data and made something great.

This is really, truly excellent.

This sort of reuse of public, open data in OSM is the exact reason why I contribute to it. The folks at Pinkbike / Trailforks have taken a useful set of data from all over the world, processed it, and made something good. This would not have been possible with the data locked up in Google, MTB Project, or even the stuff contributed directly to Trailforks.

I look forward to where this’ll go. The Pinkbike article mentions that they’ll be reimporting the data a little different in the future, and talks about how they are going to have another article about tagging to better support Trailforks. While OSM has some minimal standards for MTB tagging (eg: mtb:scale:imba) I look forward to a bit more de-facto standard around this.

Manistee / Cadillac / Ludington Area Fat Bike Suggestions

A few months back I happened across this page on fat-bike.com about Ken Blakey-Shell and Scott Quiring riding part of the Little O ATV Trail on fat bikes and wanted to try it myself (Video 1 · Video 2). A mutual friend put me in touch with Ken, and within a few days I’d received a boatload of excellent information about where to ride in the area. Ken encouraged me to share the info, so I’m posting it here for public consumption. While I haven’t ridden any of these trails yet myself, the routes sound excellent and something I hope to do in mid-June.

I’m really excited about riding these. Back-country rides like this are something I love, and new trails to explore sound wonderful.


Here are the suggested routes as Ken emailed them to me. I’ve edited these slightly add links, GPX copies of routes, etc, but it’s otherwise his words:

Little O ORV Trail / North Country Trail

The Little O ORV Trail (PDF Map) / North Country Trail (NCT) figure 8 just north of M10 is the easiest and least technical. It is 50% NCT and 50% moto trail with a around half of the moto trail being super good and the other half of it being only ok. The moto trails are fairly sandy and are best on a 4″ tire fat bike setup although 29+ and 26×5″ work OK too. Regular MTB is a no go. The moto trails are wider (4 wheelers use them too) with lots of banked corners and whoops. There are some extended downhills that are super fun. The other half of the ride is on NCT which is awesome in its own right. There is some significant climbs on this loop but it is all pretty gradual and none of the downhills are very sketchy. I normally start and finish on the northern end of the 8 but you could just as easily start at Timber Creek on M10 and ride NCT a little ways to connect up with the figure 8 loop.

  • This is the shortest route cutting out part of the upper 8. If pressed for time, fitness… this gets all the best parts: Strava · GPX
  • Strava link for just the figure 8: Strava · GPX
  • Strava link for the figure 8 plus some extra NCT starting and finishing just north of the Sable River: Strava · GPX
  • You can also start from the NCT Freesoil Trailhead on 8 Mile Rd but that makes for a fairly long ride: Strava · GPX

North and South Caberfae Loop

The other two routes I recommend are between Manistee and Cadillac. One route is north of M55 and the other is south of M55 and both start at the Caberfae Snowmobile Trailhead. Both routes are a combo of moto trail and two tracks. The moto trail is a lot more technical than anything I have seen for MTB trail in the LP  – I often describe them as the most non-IMBA approved trails in the world. They go straight up and down hills, have tons of water erosion caused trenching, exposed roots and rocks and are really challenging on both the up hills and down hills. There are tons and tons of whoops and bermed corners. Unlike the Little O which is a wider 2 track type trail, these trails are tight singletrack. Quiring and I find these trails to be the most fun of any trails we have ridden in the state but you have to like a challenge to fall in that camp. 29+ is the ideal setup but 4 or 5″ fat bikes work great too. You may be able to ride a regular MTB but it would be tough. You can combine the two loops if you want into a monster ride but you need to be in top shape (both upper body as well as normal riding shape) because you are going to get worked. Both loops are equally good so it is a coin toss which to do. I normally break people in on the north loop first because you start out on one of the best downhills around as soon as you start riding the ORV trail.


Maps

Here’s some heavily annotated map snippets that Ken has graciously provided. The base image for these comes from the National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated maps of the Manistee National Forest: 758 Manisteee National Forest, North Trail Map and 759 Manistee National Forest, South Trail Map. I strongly suggest buying the base maps, as the additional context is necessary to find your way to the trails and for understanding the area. These maps appear to be a great compilation of road, ORV trail, and North Country Trail maps all in one. No other map that I’ve seen as clearly shows how they all overlay; something which is incredibly useful for hikers and mountain bikers alike:

Broken Derailleur Hanger

For the first time in my life, I’ve broken a derailleur hanger. Yesterday when riding at Bald Mountain Recreation Area, a few miles from my car which was parked at Addison Oaks, I heard a thunk and looked down to see the derailleur in a rather awkward, unhelpful position (photo). Sunset was coming soon, and while I had lights the Oakland County Police who patrol Addison Oaks† are not fond of those who are in the park after dark, so I had to do some quick thinking to get back to the car.

Along with breaking the derailleur hanger, the derailleur cage itself was twisted, so I figured there was no way to get rolling without making the bike a single speed‡. I removed the derailleur, strapped the cable and housing back, broke the chain, and re-connected the chain in the best gear combination I could identify for decent chain tension. While there were occasional shifts up and down the cassette as the chain bounced, this worked well until I was climbing the final hill before Lake George Road.

With a bang the chain had ridden one cog on the cassette higher than intended, tensioning the whole assembly so tightly that I couldn’t turn the cranks. Opening the quick release rear skewer transferred tension to the skewer, bending it, and making things worse. Since the bike would freewheel my only choice at that point was to walk the bike out, hopping on to coast down hills. Thankfully I was only two miles from the car at this point.

I’m still not exactly sure what happened to cause the break, but I can’t help but suspect that yesterday’s crash had weakened it somewhat. Even though was shifting fine and the derailleur appeared straight, I suppose this could have played some part?

Once I got home I set to fixing the bike, and thanks to having a spare derailleur (leftover from making the El Mariachi a 1×9) and basic parts like a spare derailleur hanger, chain, and cable, I was able to get the bike working nicely again. It also gave me a good reason to wash the bike and clean Orange Seal residue from the tubeless valve stems. When the chain bound one cog on the cassette became slightly bent, so now it makes a bit of noise when riding, but it wasn’t noticeable on a test ride. I’ll try to bend it back when I next have the cassette off the bike.

The photo above shows the broken derailleur hanger, and what I believe to be plastic deformation. I find the stretching of the laser etched “Wheels Mfg Droput-25” logo to be particularly fascinating, as it shows how the aluminum stretched before failing. The thin, torn off sliver is interesting to me as well.

After the work my bike is back in order, and while everything seems in place, I need to give it a shakedown ride before I’m willing to take it out on remote trails. With luck I’ll be able to squeeze this in tomorrow morning.

† It seems that junior / trainee officers are regularly assigned to Addison Oaks, and they seem to take a hard line which makes them less than pleasant to deal with. While a broken bike likely would have been a fine excuse for being in the park after dark, I didn’t want to deal with this.

‡ In retrospect after inspection at home, I probably could have gotten the bike well enough to ride out with a new hanger. I’d have had to deal with a bunch of mis-shifts, but at least I wouldn’t have bound the chain and had to walk. This is what I should have done… Oh well, at least it was a nice day and now I have a story.

Marquette, MI

With two weeks off of work I took some time to head up to Marquette, MI for some mountain biking focused around the Noquemanon (NTN) Trail Network. Thanks to suggestions from my friends Nick and Marty Shue it was very easy to find my way around and I had a great time and I’m looking forward to my next trip there.

Here’s a dump of my thoughts consolidating information.

Lodging / Location

I stayed at the Ramada in downtown Marquette. Location for this was excellent, with a couple mile easy bike ride (via safety paths / non-road bike/foot specific trails) to both the North and South trail areas. These same trails extend for miles outside of town and would make for good road riding as well. I stayed in room 106, which was a single queen size bed located quite close to an outside door. This was very convenient for riding to and from the hotel. The room itself was nice, although it felt a bit damp in there and gloves/clothes took quite a while to dry.

The Hampton Inn location would also be good location-wise, but it’s quite a bit pricier than the Ramada.

Local Bike Shop

Upon arriving in town I stopped by Sports Rack, located about a block from the Ramada, to purchase an up-to-date trail map and get suggestions for riding. The folks here were extremely friendly, sold maps with all monies to benefit the NTN, and just seemed like a great shop. I didn’t need to buy anything from them, but if the need had arisen I would have gone here immediately. Definitely seemed like a great shop for summer and winter riding.

Food

The following restaurants were recommended to me by Marty, along with my thoughts on each. I would gladly eat at any of these again next time I’m in Marquette:

  • The Vierling: Little more upscale, but still casual and friendly. I had the whitefish with pasta, which was good, but the pasta was kinda lump-ish and together, which might have been caused by all the cheese. Still tasted good, though. Beer was good, even though when walking by the brewery one evening I saw an employee smoking while working in the brewing area.
  • Jean Kay’s: Seems to be proper pasties, nicely located between the North Trails and downtown not far from the bike paths. Good outdoor seating and deck for keeping an unlocked bike. Very tasty, not too heavy, great after a few hours of riding.
  • Donkers’ Restaurant: Candy shop / restaurant with good breakfast. Hash browns seemed a bit oily and I was disappointed that the sausage patty on one of the breakfast sandwiches seemed to just be a typical patty instead of something locally made, but it was still good. I had breakfast here twice.
  • Vangos Pizza: Bar that serves excellent pizza. Ate a small (one size up from a For One) with pepperoni, mushroom, and their house made sausage. Surprisingly good crust. Easy walk from Blackrocks as well.
  • Dead River Coffee: Really tasty coffee. I had a cappuccino while reading All my friends are dead.. I was there early enough in the morning that it was just myself and some employees so I felt a bit out of place (they were deeply discussing coffee roasting quality control techniques and whatnot), but not uncomfortable. This seems like a proper small coffee shop with people who really care about making good coffee.
  • Blackrocks Brewery: Probably my favorite of the local breweries. Great beer, really comfy atmosphere. Lots of bikes locked up outside. Bring food from elsewhere, though. Built in an old house.
  • Ore Dock Brewing Company: Another big name local brewery. Great beer as well, but didn’t feel as comfortable to me, perhaps because it’s more of a large hall-type building. Has pretzels (hot and cold) and popcorn for food, but also allows outside food.
  • Third Street Bagel: Bagel / sandwich place. Ate a breakfast bagel from here which I’d first purchased intending to eat while driving, but after seeing its size I ate it sitting outside the restaurant. Also has good coffee. Both were quite tasty and made for a pretty quick breakfast.
  • Togo’s: Sub/sandwich place. On recommendation of an employee I had the hot pastrami sub with mustard and horseradish. This was a good choice; ate it at Ore Dock Brewing Company.

Trail Routes and Difficulty

To start, the maps on the NTN website are not as up to date as the one which can be purchased at the local shops. Additionally, the purchasable map does not include the 1-2-3 portion of the Harlow Farms Connector Trail which is incredibly useful for accessing the south trails from the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (rail trail / non-motorized path) which runs through downtown and within a couple hundred feet of the Ramada. Signs like this lead the way. Still, this was quite easy to find when actually riding, and both of the main Marquette systems were close enough to downtown that I didn’t regret riding to the trails each day.

Once on the trails, though, the marking is outstanding. I almost never had a problem figuring out where I was on the South Trails, and only a couple parts of the North Trails (in particular in The Cedars section where the trails is very close to the Noquemanon Trail and there are a spiderweb of connectors) where I got a little confused, but I wasn’t lost — I just wasn’t sure if I was on the right trail. It was still loads of fun, though.

Anxious to get out and ride, on my first day of riding I found myself on a black diamond trail, and this is where I had my first fall. I was trying to ride up some rocks, got my wheel stuck, and just toppled over. I slid a bit, but wasn’t hurt and was more amused than anything else. This photo shows where I fell, which in retrospect (and after riding other trails there) was really quite an easy spot. I think I may have been arrogantly pushing a bit that first day.

What I learned was that the trail designations are pretty spot on to the IMBA descriptions. Black diamond is about my upper limit, and these seem to either be because of exposure (steep drop-offs) or technical challenges, or a mix of both.  I can deal with both by walking, but my slight fear of heights makes it harder to deal with the exposure. On my last day of riding in Marquette I found myself on a trail called Gorge-ous which had enough exposure in spots to nearly induce a panic attack in me. It’s beautiful, but it snakes its way down the edge of a gorge up above the Carp River, and the drop-off would cause some serious problems. This photo shows one of the more exposed spots, complete with a repurposed truck mirror to allow riders to see around the corners (these are two way trails, remember).

I mostly enjoyed the blue square (intermediate) trails, as there was pretty much nothing on these I couldn’t ride comfortably. They were nice for just rolling around and seeing how beautiful the area is. When I’m up in Marquette the next time I’ll likely try out more of the black diamond stuff, but after being a bit thrown off by a technically difficult group ride on Wednesday evening I was playing it safe.

Group Ride

The folks at Sports Rack told me about a group ride at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming on Wednesday nights at 6:30pm. Wanting to see some new trails I headed out for that. This ride apparently breaks into three groups (A, B, and C), and I made a mistake when I chose the A group. If/when I go back I’ll likely ride with the B group.

I’d heard that the A group was fast, and that Al Quaal was mostly XC ski trails with small amounts of single track. I’d also heard in the parking lot that the single track is about as difficult as the Blue loop at Marquette South, which sounded fine to me. I could ride hard on the wider stuff, then deal with the single track. This turned out to not be the case, the trails were some of the most technical and rocky that I’ve ever personally been on and I was in way over my head. There were numerous 8″ – 12″ rocky step-ups and climbs far beyond what I’ve ever ridden before and thus I walked quite a bit. For the part I rode there was actually very little XC ski trail, even though the climbs and downhills on it were quite fast and fun.

This held the group up a great deal, so after making my way through a bit of it I was going to head back early. Very kindly of them the group didn’t want to let me head off alone somewhere I hadn’t been before (even though I knew I could find my way back) so I kept on a bit further, before splitting off and heading back to the cars with someone who was cutting out early named Don. After this the group carried on to some other trails which apparently have considerably more exposure, including rocky ledges looking down at the tops of trees. I’m glad I didn’t carry on to this area.

(This technical loop seems to be partially labeled with pink signs indicating the Quaal Loop. It does not yet seem to be mapped.)

Later that evening I ran into two of the B group riders at Blackrocks who I had previously talked to in the lot, and that conversation confirmed that I was in over my head. It sounds like the B group would have been much more my thing… More XC ski trails, more single track but not things as hard as what the A group did. Whoops.

I just hope I didn’t squish the group’s plans too much. I definitely learned something that day, though.

Routes Ridden

In the three riding days in the Marquette area here’s where I went, as illustrated via Strava:

After Marquette…

After leaving Marquette I headed down to Glacial Hills in Bellaire. I’d heard of this trail for a couple years, and finally having the chance to ride it I wish I’d gone there sooner. This is incredibly flowing, quite easy (but fun) machine-built trail. I was amused that it was about the same difficulty as the Grom (Beginner / Kids) Loop in Marquette, but for almost 30 miles. It was a blast. (Strava data.)

Once I was done riding at Glacial Hills (mostly because the sun was setting) I headed to Traverse City and checked into a hotel, staying the night so I could attend an Iceman Out-and-Back ride put on by Einstein Cycles. This was a not-fast-paced-but fun ride from the shop out to Kalkaska, then back via most of the Iceman route. Due to pacing, stops to chat, and getting turned around on some of the newly cut trail segments we didn’t have time to do the full route, but it was still a good time. It was nice to spend some time in the northern Lower Peninsula riding as well; which is completely different from what’s found near home, and different still from Marquette. (Strava data.)

Photos

Photos from this trip to Marquette, including a couple along the drive and riding to and from there, can be found here.

Ground Bees and Bench Cutting

 

Today I was reminded that bench cutting trail is incompatible with ground bees. After an excellent meeting with the Bald Mountain Recreation Area staff and start/finish planning for the Addison Oaks Fall Classic I headed out to River Bends to do some trail work. We’ve been building Lazy River, a new-ish section of trail designed to repair / replace what was lost when ITC cut a corridor to replace an eroding high tension power line tower.

One portion of this trail segment is a flowing, switchbacky downhill followed by a short, but slightly punchy climb. To make this roll nicely it needs to be bench cut, and with last night’s rain I figured it would be a great time. Despite being hot and mosquito-y, everything was going great… until I hit the bee nest. Suddenly the bees began flowing out of the ground and I got stung while running away. A few run-by passes to collect my tools and I decided the day’s work was done.

This unfortunately means that about 12′ in the middle of the trail has been left unbenched with some nicely churned soil right in the middle of the nice line. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to it another day soon, armed with something to handle the bees.

Keep Electric Motorbikes Off The Trails: Do Your Part

On Friday I had an encounter with an electric motorbike rider at Stony Creek Metropark. The result was somewhat good, with him leaving the park without riding (due to my threatening to call the police on him), but it took a lot of mental energy on my part to stay topical, impersonal, and yet pointed so the goal (preventing him from riding) was accomplished in a safe and legal manner. It would have been better if he’d understood why riding an electric motorbike on mountain bike trails is a bad thing, but he didn’t seem to. Either I didn’t explain it well enough, or he didn’t care.

Much of the mountain bike trail access that we currently enjoy is specifically because we are a human powered user group. It was a huge battle in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s for mountain bikes to be seen as a legitimate user group, but thankfully in Michigan we have mostly won and are seen as fair, equal users in great part because riders are moving under their own power.

Bringing electric motorbikes onto the trails, under the guise of “electric mountain bikes”, puts that at risk. The worst case is a blanket ban because park staff doesn’t have a practical way differentiate between electric motorbikes and pedaled mountain bikes entering the trails, so it becomes foot traffic only.  (Hell, many people — cyclists or not — would look at this guy’s bike and not realize it’s motorized…)  That’d be awful, and not something that we can risk via inaction. That’s why we, the mountain biking community along with other trail users, need to work to curb this kind of behavior.

Richard Cunningham over at Pinkbike explains this very eloquently in much greater depth, in a piece titled A Secret Trail and an Argument Against E-Bikes.

After giving this a day of thought about what went right in the confrontation and what could have done better, I distilled them into a list. Here’s my DOs and DON’Ts for what to do when you encounter someone at a mountain bike trail riding an electric motorbike:

DON’T presume that the rider already knows they aren’t allowed to ride their motorbike on mountain bike trails. With the explosion in electric motorbike availability there is a fair chance that the rider simply doesn’t know any better.

DO consistently use the term “electric motorbike” and not “electric mountain bike”. Despite being based on a bicycle design, having a motor makes it a motorbike and maintaining this point is crucial.

DO inform the rider that they have a motorbike which is not permitted on trails designed for human power use only.

DO remain polite and calm, but direct.

DO inform the rider that you maintain and/or use the trails and have a vested interest in them.

DO inform the rider that using a motorbike on trails designed for human powered use threatens trail access.

DON’T simply use “because it is illegal” as your main argument, this frequently falls on deaf ears. Appeal to trail access.

DON’T engage in discussion about motor assist vs. throttle control, total power output, impact to trail surface, physical ability, etc. Debating nuance will weaken your message and wear you down. A vehicle that is powered by anything other than a human is a motorized vehicle and should not be on the trails.

DON’T act in a threatening manner nor physically contact the rider nor his/her motorbike.

DO call the police or the land manager (park office, parks and recreation department, etc) if you see the user riding their motorbike on the trails anyway. Inform them that someone is riding a motorbike on the trails then wait around for the police.

DON’T be afraid to call the local police instead of confronting the rider yourself. That’s their job: enforcing laws, such as those which already prohibit the use of motorbikes on trails.

DO keep your distance. Close enough to be conversational, but far enough away to maintain your safety and appear unthreatening to the rider.

DO remember that you don’t have the legal authority to stop the motorbike rider, but you do have the moral authority to engage, educate, and report.

I would prefer that an rider realize why riding a motorbike on mountain bike trails is a bad idea and stop of their own volition. Unfortunately, as was illustrated to me yesterday, some people just don’t understand or won’t care and refuse to change until threatened with a penalty.