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November 30, 2009

2009 cycling season in review

This year wasn’t my best when it comes to cycling. My finances didn’t allow me to take a weeklong trip this year; my hope was to have done RAGBRAI, but that fell through because my money had to be spent elsewhere.

Except for the diehards, the cycling season in the St. Louis area generally ends in early November. We were lucky to have a mild November, so the season went a little bit longer than normal. Here’s hoping for a few mild days in December, including next Sunday when Interstate 64/Highway 40 in St. Louis is open to bikes for one day only before it’s reopened to cars next Monday.

Without a multiday highlight ride this year, I had to look at individual rides for my highlights of the year.

Longest ride of the year: OK, a 60-mile ride normally wouldn’t be my longest ride of the year, but it was this year. That came in July, when I rode connected Madison County Transit trails, including the Quercus Grove Trail extension, from Collinsville to Staunton and back.

As a metro-east cycling enthusiast, it thrilled me to know that you can ride from Collinsville to Staunton and back on trails and designated road routes. As I wrote earlier this year, it is now possible to ride from downtown St. Louis to Staunton on bike trails or designated on-road bike routes.

The ride was noteworthy because I didn’t start until after 4 p.m. and rode the last eight miles after sunset. That was because I had to fix a flat tire on the Quercus Grove Trail between Hamel and Edwardsville on the way back home.

Most interesting rides: Those took place in the Chicago area Nov. 11-12. On the 11th, I rode 20-plus miles on the Green Bay Trail between Evanston and Highland Park, and I followed that up with a 30-mile ride from Evanston to downtown Chicago and back.

I rode my sister Teresa’s hybrid on both rides, and that seemed to be a good choice. I was surprised that so much of the Green Bay Trail is crushed limestone. I guess I’m really spoiled by the MCT trails down here. Still, because it runs along the Metra lines that head north from Chicago through Evanston and into Wisconsin, it is relatively secluded and yet give you easy access to the downtown areas of the northern suburbs.

I particularly was impressed with the ride from Evanston to downtown Chicago. My initial plan was to do a short ride through the Northwestern University campus and along the lake because my back was hurting. But once I started riding, the pain subsided and I decided to ride into Chicago. The question was how to get from Evanston to the Lakefront Trail, and I was surprised how well the on-road bike routes are marked in Evanston and Chicago. I had no problem at all finding my way to the Lakefront Trail, and I was impressed how cars and bicycles could co-exist on the roads I traveled up there.

I felt truly fortunate the same mild weather that extended the cycling season in the St. Louis area also blessed the Chicago area that week.

Favorite club ride: I enjoy every ride I do with the Belleville Area Bicycling and Eating Society because it a chance to see some of the nice rural scenery in St. Clair, Madison, Monroe and Clinton counties.

However, the rides I particularly enjoyed were the rides I led out of the Lau-Nae Winery in Red Bud, Ill. The closing of Ravissant Winery in Belleville forced us to find new sites for our Winery Rides in addition to the Hidden Lake Winery near Aviston.

I wasn’t familiar with all the roads in the Red Bud area, so an initial search on Google reveals some routes with promise. However, I learned quickly that just because it shows up on a map, it doesn’t mean the roads are suitable for road bikes. Three of the roads that looked promising degraded to dirt and gravel, Fortunately, that allowed me to find some roads that our riders enjoyed,

Many of the roads north and west of Red Bud are filled with rolling hills — nothing really difficult, but hilly enough to make things interesting. There’s some pretty country in Randolph and Monroe counties, and the folks at Lau-Nae were very happy to have us.

Tour de Stooges: Our numbers were considerably lower this year — 375, compared to the 600 to 700 we’re used to getting. However, the quality of the ride ranked among the highest of the 12 editions of the Tour de Stooges I’ve led. Despite forecasts of 30 to 80 percent of rain, the people who came out saw lots of sunshine and little wind.

I’m looking forward to the 13th edition on May 1, and I can tell you we are making some changes to the ride to make it more affordable for those of you on a budget.

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