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Category: outdoors

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.

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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.


Human Power or GTFO

A few years back on the regular Stony Creek Wednesday Night Group Ride someone with a rather curious bike joined us. It very customized hard tail fitted with an electric hub motor and battery pack and the owner was proudly showing it off, explaining how he built it and uses it because he doesn’t like riding up hills. Many of the group gave him a hard time about it being motorized, but he headed out with us anyway. During the ride I was behind him a few times and saw him spinning his rear wheel up climbs while he wasn’t pedaling and mentioned to him how that’s not cool.

Mountain bike trails are built for human power, and ever since that day I’d hoped to run into him again and advise him to stay off of the trails on his motorbike. Since that group ride I’d see him a couple time per year, sometimes on trails† and others when returning to the parking lot, but was never able to successfully engage him in a conversation… until yesterday.

When getting ready to ride Stony Creek on Friday evening I noticed the vehicle above pull into the parking lot, holding what looked to be an updated version of the electric motorbike that I remembered being shown a few years back. It was the same guy‡. When he headed into the bathroom I took a moment to get clear pictures of his bike and license plate and then waited for him to come out.

At first he seemed a little proud that someone had noticed his bike, but the conversation quickly took an different tone when I asked “that’s an electric motorbike, isn’t it?” and then stated that they aren’t permitted on the mountain bike trails, which are designed for human power use only. The bike owner protested, claiming that he’s “done it for years” and “no one has complained”. He tried to claim that it’s just “electric assist”, but backed off on the last claim when I pointed there is no torque sensor and has a throttle on the handlebar. Other protestations he tried to use were that it’s “quiet”, that he “still gets passed”, he uses it as a “carrot”, and that he pedals “most of the time”.

He kept getting ready for his ride while myself and another guy kept him engaged with questions about his motorbike, and he seemed to be hurrying to get out on the trails, almost braggingly claiming that he hasn’t been caught yet. Phone in hand, park office number in the dialer (which he noticed me dialing), I eventually pointedly told him that if he set out on the trails I’d be calling the park police and waiting for him. It was only after this that he began angrily packing up, calling me a “fucker” for “ruining his ride”. Then I watched him leave, waiting to be sure he didn’t head to one of the other mountain bike trail parking lots.

I hope that this encounter and others reminding him of the same makes him rethink riding his electric motorbike on trails. It was clear that he knew it wasn’t permitted, but he was ready to head out anyway. Only the threat of being caught by an authority figure with the capability to penalize him seemed to be an effective deterrent.

Bicycle companies are starting to sell electric motorbikes, frequently branding them as simple assisted bicycles, diminishing the fact they are still motor vehicles. While they are currently costly items, as prices come down it’s inevitable that we’ll see more and more of these on our trails. I sincerely hope that everyone who cares about human-power-only designated trails — cyclists, hikers, runners, and walkers alike — will do what’s needed to keep these motorbikes away. In this post I present reasons why their presence is a problem and offer suggestions for what to do when you encounter someone with an electric motorbike at mountain bike trails.

† Encounters include: Him almost hitting me and forcing me off the trail on some of the humps at Clinton River Park Trails, just seconds before I met Phil (for the first time) to whom he’d done the same. Seeing him riding out onto The Overlook at Pontiac Lake on a hot summer day — the top of a climb and just after one of the hardest climbs in the park — without pedaling and looking fresh and unsweaty. In the parking lot at Pontiac Lake where he rolled up to his car without pedaling and seemed to get in his car and drive away quickly when he saw me eyeing him from across the lot. I’ve heard numerous stories of him from others who have also seen him rolling around, not pedaling, under motor power only.

‡ Dark grey Jeep Laredo 4×4, Michigan license plate DCU 3622 (photo), with a black 1UP USA bicycle rack. Owner is a trim / thin Asian guy, medium complexion and short dark hair, about 5’6″, with prescription regular and riding glasses.

His electric motorbike is a heavily modified black Motobecane Fantom Elite DS with white Fox fork and black rear Fox shock. Custom carbon fiber battery holder inside the front triangle, power regulator (the block on the underside of the downtube), and hub motor are the most notable features. Throttle can be seen near the right grip. (High res photo.)

This is legally defined as either a moped or motorcycle as per the Michigan Vehicle Code Act 300 of 1949, section 257.3b. (I feel the differentiation would be whether or not it can exceed 30 MPH on a level surface. The motor is roughly 350W [owner said “something like that” when I asked if it was 350W], which on a flat/level surface in an aero position may be able to reach 30 MPH. Having a hub motor the operator does not need to shift gears to make it work.)


Danielle Saves The Day

84 rides, 2367.44 miles, 213:44:52 is how long the freehub on the Shimano FH-M785 from the Salsa El Mariachi Ti lasted. Today while out on a longish ride (intended to be ~6 hours) with Dana, heading north on Hosner Rd. just north of Drahner (Google Maps), the freehub seized up and the wheel would no longer coast. This happened very briefly last night while riding at River Bends with Danielle, but it was only a gentle tug feeling before it let go again, so I figured it was only transient or something that wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Unfortunately, it was. After acting quirky a couple times over fifteen minutes, and once somewhat badly while riding up Markwood, it went very wrong on the descent from the monastery. Flipping the bike over, it only did this: video. I pulled the wheel, found that it was VERY difficult to advance the freewheel, Dana called her husband Josh (a professional bike wrench) for suggestions, and then I called Danielle for help. She ended up driving out to where we were — about half an hour away — bringing my single speed so I could finish the ride. Sure, it wasn’t great spinning along at 100 – 120 RPM on rail trails and dirt roads, but it worked out pretty well and very surely saved the ride. We were able to do another 54 miles, including some of Bald Mountain South, a full lap of Bloomer, and most of River Bends before calling it a day.

Unfortunately, neither of us had realized just how close we were to doing a century (100 miles). Had I not reset my bike computer during bike changes I would have known to put in another 10 miles… I had plenty of energy and food left, so it wouldn’t have been a problem. Oh well.

Here’s the data for today, as seen in Strava: Part 1: Gears / Part 2: Single Speed.

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A Fine Day


Despite being a bit frazzled at times, today has been a pretty productive day. Due to the snow this morning I worked from home, but I got a fair bit of stuff done all while being able to listen to good music, watch a snowstorm outside of my window, bisected by the tasty lunch shown above†. There are definitely less comfortable ways to work.

After this I was able to:

  • Wash the salt off of my fatbike and experiment with some different techniques for cleaning off salt residue (none of which were successful). Thoroughly cleaned the somewhat-rusty (thanks, salt and lazyness!) drivetrain.
  • Figured out a likely reason why the fatbike has been ghost shifting: a partially-separated plate on the chain. This was easily fixed with a chain tool.
  • Went snowshoeing with Danielle, Erik, and Kristi to pack down the mountain bike trails at River Bends. This was my first time using snowshoes somewhere other than near home, and thanks to the four of us the trails should now be fatbikable and mostly prepped for ¡Ay CRAMBA It’s Cold Out!.
  • Shoveled the excess snow out of the parking spaces that both our neighbor Rick and I regularly use. These had been plowed, but as the plow can’t get right to the curbs, hand-shoveling the final bits helps keep the spots nicely open and accessible. I don’t like shoving the grill of my car into a snowbank to fit in a spot.
  • Ate some really tasty chorizo nachos that Danielle made for dinner.
  • Mopped the laundry room floor in cleaning up from bike washing, then did a the dishes.
  • Get started on some new signage (Coroplast ordered, vinyl spec’d / requested) for River Bends and other CRAMBA trails. Frustratingly, someone has stolen a number of the signs at River Bends and they now need to be replaced.

So, while I felt a bit frazzled and frustrated at times, overall this has turned out to be a quite fine day.

† A hot smoked salmon topped with herbs and an English muffin (Bay’s, of course) topped with cheddar, butter, scrambled eggs, and harissa.

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2014 Huron-Clinton Metroparks / Oakland County Parks Passes are Poor Quality


The 2014 Huron-Clinton Metroparks / Oakland County Parks pass is much lower quality than the ones from past years. Starting this year the sticker has a few changes which make it much harder to apply: the backing is split instead of starting at a tab at the top, and the white background fill is alcohol soluble. Because of the split backing I had a much harder time applying it and ended up with a slightly wrinkled sticker, and cleaning the window post-application wiped off some of the white paint and left it smeared all over the window. With the tear-off top of the decal being perforated along the top of the decal itself this also means that the top edge is rough and can’t be evenly smoothed.

I much prefer the older style decal, as I could easily get it applied smoothly in the lower corner of my car window (photo) and passing over the sticker while cleaning the windshield didn’t wipe white paint all over the lower reaches of the glass.

UPDATE: When I attempted to use the Contact Us page on to relay this concern to park management it returned an ASP error that I believe was trying to give me an HTTP 500 (Internal Server Error) so I tried using the listed email address, which then bounced saying recipient not found. That’s worse quality than the passes. Time to dig up some real people’s addresses.

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On-One Floater: Traction for Days

This evening I left work a little early to squeeze in a ride at River Bends before it got dark, and this ended up being a great evening. Because of a freshly fallen quarter inch of snow and a few days of below-freezing temperatures the ground was a beautiful white, and clearly visible and ridable half an hour after the sun had set. Riding comfortable along the ridge, sun just below the horizon, looking down at the oxbow lakes (ponds, really) along the Clinton River looking at the leafless grey-brown trees and mottled white forest floor was incredibly beautiful. I would love to have what I saw captured in a photo, but it’d be so difficult that I didn’t bother to try.

Besides just getting out for a ride, one other intention for today is to try out the On-One Floater tires (package photo) that arrived last week. I purchased these hoping for something with a similar knobbiness as a Surly Nate, but a bit cheaper. Last year I’d picked up a Big Fat Larry for the front, moving the original Larry to the rear, and while this was a decent setup it left me wanting for more traction in snow. While the Nate would have been my tire of choice for this, at $128.74 (shipped) for a pair of Floaters they are (per tire) less than half the MSRP of a comparable 120 TPI Nate. Roger picked up a pair of the Floaters earlier this year and was happy with being happy for general trail riding, so I figured I’d give them a go.

Last night I set them up with 20 PSI to seat and stretch the tires to shape, then today I rode them at 11 PSI (rear) and 9 PSI, and I’m really happy with them. At 1460g and 1462g each they added a total of 172g (0.38 pounds) to the bike, which is nothing to be concerned with given the radical increase in traction. The center / transition knobs are about 5.1mm tall on the Floater, versus ~3.15mm – 3.5mm on the Larry / Big Fat Larry, and they have a very square-ish shape as opposed to the Larry’s ramped triangle shape. Width came in at ~3.85″, which is a bit shy of the 4.0″ printed on the sidewall, but still a very acceptable width. On the Mukluk’s 82mm Surly Rolling Darryl rims the furthest-out side knobs are parallel with the sidewall, giving the whole setup a great profile and feeling. Here’s two photos showing tread detail: 12.

Normally with the Larry family tires I’d get a controlled, comfortable bit of slide/drift in corners; something which was very predictable and worked nicely. When on frozen surfaces it’d get a bit weird, and would at times wash out if I pushed a bit too hard. I wasn’t able to make the Floaters behave in the same way, and coupled with the deeper tread I think these will meet my desire for a snow fatbike tire.

Oh, and that monster truck feeling when one first gets a fatbike and rides through rough surfaces with impunity, holding lines that would have been considerably harder on a skinner tire bike? Tonight I had that feeling again while riding the frost heaved Swamp Loop at River Bends. It was rough, bumpy, crunchy, icy, and oh-so-much-fun.

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This Is How It Gets Done

A scant 3.5 years ago the MMBA Metro North chapter, now known as CRAMBA-IMBA, finished completion of the first phase of official mountain bike trails at Shelby Township‘s River Bends Park. Today we had another trail work day to give the trail a nice autumn cleanup and the rerouting of a couple problematic spots.

It’s pretty amazing to me how things like this come together. A group of us, who generally all get along and work well with each other, came together and worked to make something that we enjoy even better. Even though the specific mechanics still baffle me, this is how it seems to work: people with a wide variety of skills but a common interest come together, self-organize, then volunteer their time building publicly accessible facilities that the entire community can enjoy.

As a community we essentially have two ways of making new public resources exist: we can either pay for something (via taxes, with all the overhead of getting this to happen), or we can make it happen ourselves doing the work without direct compensation, something generally known as volunteering. Parks typically don’t know what mountain bikers actually want, so for building new bike-accessible trails the best way is for us to get like-minded folks together and work with the parks to make it happen. This is what we did, and just like countless other locales across the country there are now trails that we all enjoy.

The trails at River Bends aren’t particularly challenging, but more people than I can remember have told me about getting started riding these trails. This was the goal, and it makes me, and surely everyone who has worked on these trails, very proud. We do good work.

(The photo above shows, from left to right, a number of people who were out at today’s trail day. In the top row: Mark Johnson, Erik Silvassy, Mark Senyk, Roger Class, Mike White, Rob Wedding, Bob Costello, Jeremy Verbeke (Co-Trail Coordinator at River Bends), Rodney Gullett, and Deanna Velasco. Second row: Aaron Burgess, Steve Vigneau (me, the other Co-Trail Coordinator at River Bends), Art Fleming, and Jeremy Kozak. Down in front is Jude, who is Mike White’s son and a perpetual presence at trail work days. Not pictured are the folks who were had to leave early or were out grabbing food for the rest of us, including Greg Kuhn, Chris Goddard, Erik Silvassy, Kristi Heuvers, Erick Mile, Katie Mile, Nick Shue, Marty Shue, or Pete Kresmery.)

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Remarking the Seasonal Loop at River Bends

River Bends is going to have a bit of remarking at the CRAMBA-IMBA trail day this weekend, and in preparation I removed most of the the wrong-way signs from the segment formerly known as the Seasonal Loops. A number of these signs were no longer necessary, and a handful of them had been shot with airsoft pellets to the extent that they weren’t very readable from a distance.

At some point in the next year or so I hope we are able to replace many of these with more permanent Carsonite-type fiberglass markers (such as this one at Bloomer), but for now it’ll be more of the same corrugated plastic and vinyl markers, color coordinated with the map.

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Iceman 2013: Wet Sand and Fun

I was going to write a somewhat lengthy post about this year’s Iceman Cometh Challenge race and put together some bullet points about the race for things that I wanted to cover, but I can’t bring myself to flesh it out into a complete post. Instead I’ll just post the bullet points themselves, expanded a bit to be solid on their own. It was a very fun race, a nice day, but not eventful in any way that makes me want to write a lot. I simply enjoyed myself, saw lots of friends, and had a great weekend with Danielle:

Here’s those bullet points:

  • Wet sand.
  • Large, infrequent mud puddles.
  • Raining as we left Traverse City, but stopped on the way to Kalkaska.
  • Really friendly people: no problems with passes either way.
  • I thought my HR monitor was reading high, but it was either consistently off by a few tens of percent (never seen this before) or I was able to ride harder than expected for extended periods of time.
  • My official result: 14 1374 Steve Vigneau Shelby Townshi MI 9:59:35 10:48:13 2:19:11
  • Four minutes faster (would have been doable) and I’d have been in the top 10. Oh well.
  • Started in Wave 9, almost missed my start as I was using the toilet when everyone was lining up. Took longer than expected when I got done 9 was moving up to the start area.
  • Chain drop behind cassette on a steep climb when downshifting somewhere after Anita’s Hill. Unsure why: sand? Can’t reproduce.
  • Not spent at end, could have pushed more.
  • YouTube video of my finish: link.
  • Strava data: link.
  • Congrats to people who won things: Joe Seidl, Brad Lako, Alex Gonzalez, John Osgood
  • Person who died:
  • Someone got hit by a car riding away from the finish area on the road. No word on their condition.
  • Foods consumed: ~2 hours of Infinit (from a 3 hour bottle), ~40oz bottles of water in pack, caffeinated gel before hand.
  • Clothing: Pearl Izumi boots, tall wool socks, plain black thermal knickers, Under Armor thermal base layer, summer jersey, Pearl Izumi AmFib gloves, cycling cap, helmet, glasses.
  • Photos of me:

The photo above? That’s just of some random sand still on my bike a week after the race. There’s so much wet sand and grit on my bike that it really needs a drivetrain cleaning before I ride it again. It was okay during the race, but as I’d switch to a less-used gear combo there’d be a few minutes of scraping sounds as the sand worked its way off the cogs.

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