Why Bike

March 2007

In my original rationale for bike riding, written in 2002, I mention both the health benefits and my love of being close to nature. Now I realize that I have some other motivations as well, I’ll fill these in as I have time.

  • Adventure
  • Low oil lifestyle
  • Local
  • Time for Reflection

Here is some stuff I wrote back in ’02, before blogging hit the big time!

In the Fall 1998 I started riding my bike (an old Schwinn Collegiate that I bought to commute to my job at the Bloomington Voice/Independent). After much cogitation, I bought a Trek 700 in July of 1999. A hybrid bike, it offered me the ability to hit the road for a long ride around Lake Monroe, but also served to navigate the potholes of Bloomington. I rode it through December of 1999, and I am sure it was a major contributing factor to a neck spasm, causing pain and numbness down my neck and back. As I ride to lower my blood pressure, I could not give up riding. Through the generous help of good friend Kevin Atkins, I was able to start riding an old (but well maintained) Rans Status.

I try to enjoy short trips (15-20 mi.) each day, and once a week a longer journey (40+ mi.), usually around Lake Monroe to the south, or around Lake Lemon to the north. I logged 4500 miles in 2001, but due to an increased work load, made just 3800 in 2002. I replaced the back cassette and chain last spring, which improved the over all performance by 20 percent. I have been having trouble in the recent snow with freezing cables, but no falls as yet!

While riding my mind is occupied with observing the plants and wildlife here in southern Indiana. In a single week I’ve seen kingfishers, hoot owls, bluebirds, hawks and eagles. I’ve coasted past fawns standing innocently in the road, and saw my first red fox crossing Lanham Ridge Road (and I have seen 3 more since). On March 8, 2003 while riding around Lake Monroe, I saw first a flock of sandhill cranes, then a group of very talkative red-tailed hawks, and on Chapel Hill road I startled by 4 wild turkeys, who flew right past me. On the botanical side, I’ve found wild bergamot, bellflower, fire pink, and pawpaw. I’ve eaten dandelion, watercress, mulberries, apples, black raspberries, blackberries, may apples, sumac, rosehips, persimmons, and mushrooms, including a specimen of Agaricus Campestris, I found right on the IU campus!

My concern about the PCB pollution here led me to study the watersheds and the karst typography of Bloomington, and I’ve developed an interest in knowing where I am in relation to waterflow, what creek or sinkhole takes the water I see on my rides. We have some great hills here, dropping in and out of the creeks that feed the two forks of the White River in the Norman Uplands/Mitchell Plain area where Bloomington is located.

Ice biking on Griffy Lake, January 2015

This year was the best year in a decade for ice biking (and skating) on Lake Griffy.

The ice was 4 inches thick, and completely clear and slick. There was a deep freeze, and no snow, sleet, or rain had marred the surface, so it was perfectly smooth. So how does a bike work on smooth clear ice? Perfectly well, thank-you! There are several tricks to biking, and staying on your bike, on ice. First, do not push hard on the pedals! That will cause slipping for sure. Start slow, and keep adding just a small amount of power to your spin till you are going at a reasonable speed, which on ice is usually less than 10 mph. Second, don’t turn quickly, your front tire will slip, and down you will go. Third, be very careful when braking, in fact the best policy is to leave them alone; don’t put yourself in a situation where they are needed, and you will be fine.

About tires: Nothing special is needed, though I assume having studs would give you the ability to move faster as you would have better traction. But this is has not been necessary for me. A couple years ago I had slicks on front and back, and they worked great! More contact with the ice gave me better traction. This is not true for snow, where having tread really helps gain traction. Snow riding is a bit harder than ice riding, but just as much fun, there is no doubt.

After a week or so, a light snow covered the surface of the ice. I could not tell if it was more or less slippery than clear ice, I think it was a combination of factors each way so that it was a draw, though it was just a little harder to pedal.

The snow it did not slow down the intrepid skaters Michael and Jenny, who explored the deep end of the lake with me.

Ice Biking 2010-11

This was a long and cold winter, but I got in only a few good rides this year. My biggest was a 6 hour tour of Lake Monroe that included Moore’s Creek Bay, the causeway, Back Creek and Potter’s Cave, and finally to Axom Branch, where the stone cabin ruins are to be found. On the way back, just rounding the corner opposite Rush Ridge, I went through the ice where a spring had thinned the 6 inches of ice. Fortunately, I was riding my long wheel base recumbent, and only the front wheel went in. I was up to my armpits in the water, but it was easy to roll off onto the ice. I watched a second and realized it was wedged in, but would soon enough sink, so I grabbed the handle bars and pulled back and up but it was stuck. I realized I should not put extra weight near the hole, but there was little I could do about that. I pushed a little to free it, then pulled back and the bike came out. I stood around for about ten minutes, drying my Iphone and waiting to see if you was going to go into shock or get really cold.

But neither of these things happened. So I got back on the bike, and moved closer to shore where I knew the water was not deep, and made my way back about a mile to Pine Grove. Climbing the hill back to 446 warmed me up, and I only noticed the cold in my feet as I rode the 9 miles back home.

From Ice bike ride, Dec 28, 2010
From Ice bike ride, Dec 28, 2010

Biking on Ice and Snow 2009

Frozen Lake Monroe, January 2009Wahoo! Another year of ice riding on Lake Monroe (and Griffy), you know, I sometimes worry the ice will not form (like in 2007). But this year the ice has been over 4 inches thick for over three weeks, and had many different faces. And yes, I wear my sandals (and 2-3 pairs of socks) on the ice. I have shoes that I use only when there is deep snow.

I took 2 vacation days from work to ride on the lakes, and it could not have gone better. I know most folks find it hard to believe, but these days were really fun. I logged about 75 miles of the flattest riding you can do in southern Indiana, and never once came close to any real danger. During my 20 hours on the ice I saw 5 fisherman, 2 campers, 3 coyotes, 3 hawks, 2 bald eagles, and 1 great blue heron. We had no problem sharing the lake.

Griffy Lake Jan. 17-18
Pine Grove to ElkinsvilleJan. 19
Clear Ice and Blue SkiesJan. 24
Dam Ride Jan. 26
Last Frozen Ride Feb 6


Riding north on Lake Monroe
Clear Ice on Lake Monroe
Ice Types on Lake Griffy
Patton’s Cave (along Saddle Creek)

Notes on frozen lake riding:

  • The lake seems much smaller when you can ride rather than rowing, I’ve been end to end on my bike.
  • Snow can be a help in winter riding. Up to 2 inches will help hold the bike upright, although it does slow you down (a better workout?) More than 2 inches is a challenge.
  • Snow can be slippery. The only time I fell was riding on thin snow over rough ice.
  • White ice generally has better traction than clear ice, but is often bumpier.
  • Black (clear, green or blue) ice is ridable, even though it appears smooth, there it plenty of traction (as long as there in not a thin layer of water or snow on top.)
  • Braking is a challenge, it is better to stop pedaling and put your feet down.
  • Make wide turns only, or find yourself on the ice.
  • Use low torque, ie don’t press hard on the pedals, or you may peel out and meet the ice.
  • Cracks that have water one side or the other are scary, even though I know there is ice underneath the water. But who wants wet feet in January? I ride parallel till I find safe place to cross, which may be at the shoreline.
  • There are coyotes, eagles, geese, and great blue herons at the lake in the winter.
  • The Middle and South Forks of Salt Creek are frozen highways to Elkinsville and Maumee
  • A cup of tea is quite refreshing when on the ice.
  • The ice grumbling under your feet and pinging across the lake is a good thing, it is the sound of ice being made.

I mapped out a couple of my Lake Monroe routes after the fact, just to see how far I’ve traveled, and to fix in my mind where my photos were taken. It does help to have a map on the lake, on my first ride to Elkensville, I somehow started up Axom Branch, rather than riding north and then east.

Elkinsville map

Riding in January

Though not exactly an easy task, it’s not impossible, and can be fun. I ride more slowly in the winter, the wind chill at 15 mph can be brutal when it’s 20 degrees. So I don’t worry about being aerodynamics, I just bundle up in my winter coat and ride at 10 mph. There is great beauty in the bare winter landscapes, and the birds that winter here are easy to see with no leaves on the trees. With a light dusting of snow the hillsides glow in the early sunsets as the geese fly overhead.

The first week of January was quite warm, in the 50’s though cloudy, making for good riding. I’ve been exploring the east side of the county lately, riding a variety of loops on McGowen, Friendship, Duke, Kerr Creek, and Lampkin’s Ridge Roads. In years past, I’ve worked the loops to the south, riding to the lake via Stipp, Moores Creek, Ramp Creek, and Pine Grove Roads, and it is always fun to be by the water. But heading east, the Wildlife Nesting Area and the forests are the draw. Except during the fall hunting season, the Salt Creek valley north of the lake is empty (with the exception of birdwatchers and the occasional DNR employee) of humans.

Here are some pics from my first ride of the year, click the slideshow option:

First rides of 2009

Snowy Easter 40

On Sunday, I woke a bit late, the house does not get light till after 8 am. It took a while to get ready, it was in the 30’s and I wanted to be ready for anything, and this was fortunate, because I got everything from a snow squall and to a warming sun and billowy clouds.

Here us a full album of pictures I took that day.

Since it was Easter, the streets were quiet, and I simply rode straight out SR 46 to Friendship Rd. I knew the water had to be high, so I rode down the road, determined to make it to old steel bridge over Stephens Creek. I couldn’t tell how deep the water was over the road, but I’ve run through water several times on Moore’s Creek Rd, so I knew it was possible. However I forgot that my feet got wet last time, and it happened again, but I kept going and got to the bridge without falling.
Friendship Rd., and no paddleFlooded Stephn’s CreekMitch at Stephen’s Creek

As usual, I was wearing my sandals and two pair of socks. I am here to tell you, wool does keep you dry even when wet. The flood water was really cold, but after a few minutes of standing around on the bridge taking pictures, and were my feet were fine, I could feel them as cool but not cold. As soon as I got on the road again, I warmed up and did not change out of them for 2 more hours. By then the sun had disappeared, and I was on the ridge in a snow squall. So I pulled out my dry pair of socks, and then wrapped in foot in some plastic from a bag I had with me. This kept the wind off and even with just one pair of socks and 35 degree weather, I was fine.

I headed on up the highway and turned north on Brummett’s Creek to SR 45 at Unionville. Brummett’s Creek valley is a great 3 mile ride, a fertile agricultural valley surrounded by forest ridges, and the climb at the end is not so bad, steep at first, but it levels off before going up again at an easier grade. I rode to the highway, and then back towards town to pick up Tunnel Rd., which I rode to Shilo Rd., a quiet ridgetop ride that ends in the Bean Blossom Valley at Anderson Rd. It started snowing, and I pulled down my earflaps, with the big soft flakes clouding my glasses. I rode to Old 37, and then climbed up through Fox Hollow, I liked this road, it seemed very quiet. I crossed SR 37, riding it south for a few hundred yards to pick up Simpson Chapel Rd. to Bottom Rd, and then south to town and in along Kinser Pike and Cascades Park.

The weather had a little of everything, warm sun, fluffy clouds, overcast skies, cool winds, rain, snow, all in the range of 30-40 degrees. I saw no cranes this week, but spotted a red tail hawk along Brummett’s Creek. I usually see a murder of crows, but not today, and only a couple of buzzards were out. I did see a large bird in the Bean Blossom valley, it had a large wingspan, but not the long legs of a heron or crane. It was flying low over the grass in the field, sweeping back and forth, but headed for the woods when it saw me. It was a dark bird with white on the tail, but not at the tip like an eagle, but rather near the base.

I totaled over 40 miles, I had been waiting for a time I could spend the majority of the day on my bike and this was it. I tried to keep my blood sugar up, Sue recommended 150 calories/hour, and I’ve been liking the Clif Shot Bloks, they are tasty and good to suck on as you ride. They are mostly rice syrup, thus mainly glucose, which goes right to where its needed. I took some time and ate a full Clif bar and drank mint green tea at lunch, just to make sure I had the juice to make it back without bonking. Well, it worked, I came back strong. I didn’t need a nap, helped Eileen a bit coloring Easter eggs, and then we went out to Shanti with Tim for dinner. No problem! But I did feel a bit like a blackboard that had not only been erased, but wiped down well with water and a sponge.

Snow flakes over the valleyFarm and Snow Clouds on Bottom Rd.Swollen Bean Blossom Creek

Cool February Ride

We didn’t have much time today as it was really cold and rainy till well after mid-day. We stopped at the Bike Garage to adjust Jojo’s handlebars, and then headed up Lincoln towards Cascades. As soon as we hit the hill, I noticed my backrest acting funny, and so I stopped and found both sides loose. The screws must have worked their way loose during our rough winter rides, then finally dropped out. We rode back to the Bike Garage, got some help with new screws (thanks, Bill!), and got back on the road.

We rode our normal route north through Cascades and then up the hill (it is a good hill, just enough to warm you up without wearing you out). and rode Kinser Pike out across SR 37 to Bottom Rd. We rode out Bottom for a while, but time was short and we came back with just 20 miles, but that included 3 good climbs.

Cascades Creek was flowing freely, we rode along the wall away from the road for a while. Bean Blossom Creek was deeper than we have seen since last January, and had an interesting mud green color. We notice a copse of trees in the middle of a large field, and we wondered why the farmer had left them. I walked over and peaked in, there was a stream in the middle, but it only ran the length of the trees. Next time out when it is not so muddy, I will explore further to find the spring or seep that must be there.

CascadesFull green Bean Blossom CreekSpring?

Nature Journal: It was cool (mid-30’s) and damp, but nothing was flooded, though most of the week’s ice had melted. We saw lots of crows, a hawk on a wire, and not much else, unlike us, most creatures were hiding out somewhere waiting for better weather.

Frozen evening in Cascades Park

Cascades Rd covered in thin iceThere was freezing rain on and off all day today, and the streets were either wet or covered with a thin layer of rough ice, plenty of traction except going a steep uphill, and as long as I didn’t lock my front brake on a turn, I was fine. I traveled up to the water filtering dams between College and Walnut, only a single duck was swimming in the water. I watched the snow coming down, and the commuters heading slowly home. When I started to get cold, I headed down to Cascades Road, and road down the ice covered road. I crossed the bridge to ride on the path west of the creek, and then stopped off at the waterfall.

I then finished the ride down Cascades, crossed Walnut, and turned up Dunn St. past the dam. The hill is steep, but not too long, and no traffic this night. I crossed the bypass and headed home. This is about a 5 mile ride, not long, but in the cold icy weather, it was fun.

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Mushy Ice at Moore's Creek

Album of Ride Pictures

It was about 40 degrees as I rode down Harrel Road to Stipp, and then rode downhill really slowly because of all the grit on the road. At the lake the ice was still hard on top, and about 2 inches thick, so I headed east towards the main body of the lake.

I crossed over the first cove, and noticed several soft spots, so I went around them. I knew the lake was shallow here, but I did not want to get my feet wet, so I was cautious. There were spots where leaves had frozen in the ice, and they were always mushy.

In the shade of the ridge, the ice felt stronger, even though it was deeper along the creek channel. I crossed the second cove, and found my wheels would sometimes dig into the mushy ice, but I never felt I would break through.

Ice bikePurple Goose takes a rest on the iceGray ice

I stopped for a bite to eat, took some pictures of the bike, you can see how different the ice appears at different angles and light. Sometimes it was blue, or white or gray, or green, always different. After a bit I became aware of a background sound that had been getting louder as I moved up the valley. I pulled out my scope, and saw that a quarter of a mile up the bay was open water, and the sound was the strong south wind whipping the waves. I climbed a little way up the ridge and took pictures of the ice/water line.

Looking backWater’s edgeFrozen fish

On the way back, I ran into a couple of guys with their dogs, they had hiked over a ridge, but then were walking back along the lakeshore ice.
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Here I am starting up and riding on the last of the hard ice in the bay, after this shot, taken in the shade, I had to walk the bike.

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Coming back across the last cove was a little iffy, the bike was digging ever deeper into the ice, and I ended up walking the bike to the bluffs on shore near the boat ramp.

Ice TrailThe end is in sightBack home again

After climbing Schwartz Ridge Rd. I rode down 446 to Pine Grove, I thought perhaps the ice was still solid there. I was wrong. There was ice, but I quickly went through it and got my feet wet. This was not too scary, I was wearing two pair of wool socks, and I had a dry pair in my bag.

Semi-frozen Pine GroveMitch’s ice holePine Grove Ramp, open water

I decided to see if it was true that wool keeps you warm even when wet. Well I am here to testify that this is totally true. Even though they and my sandals were wet, my feet were warm by the time I got to the top of the hill, and they stayed warm the whole way back, I just didn’t feel the need to change them.

Nature Journal: It was a sunny 40 degrees, with a 15 mph south wind. I saw a great blue heron at Pine Grove, quite possibly the same one whose tracks we found last week. There was a gaggle of Canada geese at Moore’s Creek, and about a dozen big seagulls. I saw a portion of the larger murder of crows when I got back to town. The leafless trees allowed the silhouettes of the hills to be seen all along the valley, and I saw very few squirrel nests.