Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bicycling in Tucson...

Andrea and I have been living in Tucson since summer of 2004. Our first summer in Tucson was mostly nice - Tucson is a bit of a ghost town in the summer, and so we got to watch a lot of tumbleweeds blow. Everybody has different ways of getting exercise; my two favorite ways turned out to work very badly in Tucson. I tried, really I did, but never got into the swing of either bicycling or rollerblading. As you can see from my (not so) recent posts, I've been trying to get back into bicycling, but the big question was whether I could keep up my bicycling in the summer.

Last Saturday I rode over to the Ordinary Bike Shop, which is a pretty cool bike shop in Tucson. What's cool about OBS is mostly that they have a good group of mechanics, and they know what they are talking about. And while they do not have a huge selection of bike stuff, what they have is really good. So I was able to get a really nice bicycle light there - it's a high intensity LED powered by a lithium-ion battery pack about the size of a D-cell. The beam is strong enough that I can safely ride at a good clip without overrunning my headlight. I can't bomb down a steep hill, but it works just fine for more conservative riding in the hills.

Looking at the picture, you can see a small light to the left, and a larger light to the right. The smaller light is the Nite Rider high intensity light. The other light looks like it ought to be more powerful, but it's actually quite wimpy, and badly built. I keep it installed because it's kind of dumb to go riding on a bicycle at night with no backup headlight. If your headlight fails for some reason, what do you do, call for rescue? Walk ten miles home? The crappy light isn't much use on streets with no street lights, but it'll get me home faster than walking, and it's fine as a safety light, so that people can see me.

You can also see a rather weirdly-installed bottle cage in the picture just below the Nite Rider headlight. The standard location for the bottle cage on the Tikit is on the seat post downtube, to the rear, as you can see in the bigger picture. This is necessary because the front of the downtube folds into the bundle, and there's no space for the cage.

Unfortunately, this is an extremely awkward place to have a bottle, at least on the large Tikit. I find that I have to concentrate pretty hard to get the bottle back in after I've taken a drink, so it seems like a safety concern to me. The second cage is in an awkward location too, but it works. I tried it out last night, and it was a lot easier to use, but because it's sideways, the bottle has a tendency to fall out when you go over a hard bump - I had to catch the bottle two or three times, once at a very awkward moment. So I modded the cage with a couple of bits of 20-amp wire. These appear to do the job of keeping the bottle from falling out of the cage, although the jury's out on that - I have yet to road-test this mod.

I've gone on four night rides so far. I'm going to tell you about them more for people who are interested in riding in Tucson than for the three people who regularly read this blog, so if you get bored, skip to the end.

The first two rides were fast, but short - ten miles, probably averaging 15mph, which is fast for me. We live in the flat part of Tucson, and one of the rides I've been doing involves going north on Mountain Boulevard to River Road, and then up into the hills, which pretty much start on the other side of River. But those hills are pretty steep, and I was a bit nervous about riding at night there, so I just rode *to* River, and then turned around and came back. But riding on the flats isn't all that much fun, plus Mountain is under construction, and there are loose dirt piles in the road that aren't fun to navigate in the dark even with a nice headlight.

So the third ride was just a grand tour - I rode down the Aviation Highway bikeway almost to the end, then cut across to Kolb on Stella. This was a pretty nice ride - the bike path is wide, there are only a few grade crossings, and Stella is pretty low traffic. I didn't push myself as hard, because I wanted to go twenty miles instead of ten, which probably made it more pleasant. I screwed up at Craycroft by failing to notice that the bike path moves from the north to the south side of Golf Links Road at that point, but traffic was very light, so I wound up crossing to the bike path after a half mile.

Unfortunately, I didn't remember the bike map very well at that point, and I discovered that Tucson's bike routes have somewhat spotty signage. So I wound up just riding north on Kolb to Broadway. The bike lane on Kolb is perfectly pleasant, and traffic on that stretch wasn't bad. However, on the other side of Broadway, the shoulder gets narrower for some reason, so I wound up cutting back to Broadway. The Tucson bicycle map shows the stretch of Broadway from Kolb east to Craycroft as being for hard-core bicyclists only, but I found it quite pleasant. The bike lane there is a shared lane - shared with the Tucson buses. But since the Tucson bus system doesn't run very much at night, I didn't have to share it with anyone. The lane was very wide, and the relatively frequent bus traffic in the day seems to keep it swept pretty clean. I don't know if it's as pleasant to ride during the day, but I had no complaints.

However, Broadway is a high traffic street, and despite the nice wide, clean bus lane, I wanted to get off of Broadway, so I cut north on Craycroft and found the Third Street Bikeway at Rosewood. Signage on the bikeway is very spotty, and I got lost several times. The worst was when the street I was on subtly curved through 90 degrees and I would up back on 5th Street. Not a big deal - if I rode this path more frequently I don't think I'd have any trouble - but it's worth memorizing the changes in the route before trying to follow it the first time if you are in a hurry.

The Third St. Bikeway took me back to the University, and then I cut south on Highland back to Broadway and took Broadway back to our neighborhood, for a total of about 20 miles in two hours. Slow, but pleasant.

One of the best parts of riding at night in Tucson is that you can just wear regular biking clothes and no sunblock - it's almost like biking in the northeast. One difference is that it's a lot hotter, although the later it gets, the cooler it gets. I was worried about hydration, but it seems as if a single 20-oz water bottle is enough for 20 miles. Wearing bicycle shorts and shirt, it's very comfortable, and I haven't felt overheated at all, even when really pushing it. The low humidity helps with that.

Last night I did a really fun ride - one I've been wanting to do for a while. I crossed I-10 at Congress, which isn't particularly fun, but is okay - traffic out of downtown at night isn't bad, and Tucsonans are pretty polite. Once across I-10, there was a nice striped shoulder to ride on, and I took that up to Anklam Road and followed Anklam Road over the crest and down to Gates Pass Road (Speedway). From there I went right on Camino de la Oeste and followed that all the way to Silverbell.

The climb up Anklam wasn't too hard, and traffic was very light, so even though it's a narrow mountain road I felt comfortable the whole time. I think maybe one or two cars passed. The descent from the crest isn't steep; I didn't pedal much because I didn't want to overrun my headlights, but I didn't have to control my descent with the brakes to stay safe. The ride across Camino de la Oeste to Ironwood is hilly, but the ups almost exactly match the downs, so it's a fast, fun ride. You're never going fast enough to worry about overrunning the headlights, but it's brisk. Past Ironwood, it flattens out a bit, but remains a very nice country ride.

Silverbell sucked. Sorry, but there it is. It's listed as a red route on the Tucson bicycle map, which means that there's supposed to be a decent striped shoulder. And that's true, but it's pretty much a worst-case scenario - I really don't recommend going this way. There's a ton of traffic on Silverbell, because it's the only north-south route west of the Santa Cruz River, and there are no bridges between Ruthrauff and Grant. The shoulder isn't swept by traffic, so there's a lot of crap - I had to avoid a chunk of rubber tire once, and I picked up a staple that fortunately seems not to have punctured my inner tube. There are places where the striped shoulder is less than a foot wide, with guard rail on one side - these are infrequent, but given the amount of traffic, it's a deal-breaker for me.

You can of entirely bypass that section of Silverbell by taking El Moraga to Goret to Lloyd Bush to Ironwood. I'll try that next time I go up there. I would have tried it this time, but the signs are hard to spot in the dark, and I couldn't remember what El Moraga was called.

As I mentioned earlier I'm doing all this riding on the Bike Friday Tikit that we got when we were in Austin. The Tikit is a very cool folding bike - you can see a picture of it folded to the left, and unfolded a bit earlier in this post. I want to do a full review of it at some point, but for now let's just say that it's working nicely, and it's such a fun bike to ride that even though the performance isn't as good as my Lemond racing bike, I haven't been tempted to switch back to the Lemond. Both bikes are quite compromised for what they do best, and if I was really a speed demon I'd prefer the Lemond, but the Tikit is habit-forming.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, you have more than three regular readers.....


Sunday, May 17, 2009 8:06:00 AM  
Blogger Ted Lemon said...

In all honesty, I have no idea how many people read this stuff. I guess I could collect statistics, but my curiosity isn't strong enough... :')

Sunday, May 17, 2009 8:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those of us who do, are really happy to see a new entry--even if it isn't on a subject we're normally enthusiastic about.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 4:14:00 PM  
Blogger Ted Lemon said...

Your patience is appreciated. :')

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 5:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Im pretty new to cycling. I was planning on riding Silverbell tomorrow in the early morning having never tried it before. Im really glad I read your posting. Thanks for the heads up. Instead I'll head out east on Golflinks (I'll look out for the spot at Craycroft where the path switches sides. Thanks again.

Sunday, July 19, 2009 8:10:00 AM  

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