Nuts and Bolts: June Issue

Jun 12, 2012

Our production time was past due. Content was bursting from the seams. Where were we going to squeeze in the Nuts & Bolts sidebars for the stories from Chuck Haney about cycling in Northwest Montana and Paul Lamarra about riding the Iron Curtain?

Short answer: We weren't.

To the rescue: The Internet

While it's not an ideal solution, we're going to rely more on the Internet in the coming months and years, and while it may not always be Nuts & Bolts on Adventure Cycling's blog and website, it will be some portion of Adventure Cyclist. We've been wrestling with the interplay between our printed materials and, well, everything else for years now. It started with the Cyclists' Yellow Pages becoming a web-only beast, ahead of it's time perhaps, and it will continue with the development of the relationship between Adventure Cyclist, the web, and mobile devices.

There will be a lot more on this subject over the next year or so as we try to decipher how best to weave through the noise and stitch our content delivery systems together to meet the various needs of our readers. But for now, here are the Nuts & Bolts of the June issue.

Nuts & Bolts: Northwest Montana

Best times to visit:

Locals here in Montana like to say things like 'we have 9 months of winter and three months of relatives visiting.' That is a bit of a stretch, but July and August are very busy with our tourist season. The shoulder months of May, June, September and October are a pleasant time to visit, easier to get a room and there are fewer cars on the roadways.

Precautions:

Road surfaces here in Northwestern Montana vary from smooth to downright rough. On many of the routes described in this article there is little to no shoulder on the roads, but on the plus side there is relatively little traffic and for the most part, drivers are very courteous to cyclists. When mountain biking on the trails, take a map and carry first aid and extra clothes in your pack as the weather can change quickly, especially in the mountains. Though I have never had an encounter with grizzly or black bear out on the trails in over 20 years, it is a good idea to carry bear spray (very strong pepper spray) and make some noise in thick cover.

Resources:

Whitefish CVB: Explore Whitefish, Travel Montana

The Whitefish Trail: whitefishlegacy.org

Local bike Shops: Glacier Cyclery, Whitefish, 406-862-6446;  Great Northern Cycles, Whitefish, 406-862-5321; Wheaton's in Kalispell, 406-257-5808

A Good read: Mountain Bike Rides of the Flathead Valley by Michael Meador and Lee Stanley. Contact Lee Stanley at P.O. Box 5143 Whitefish, MT 59937 or pick one up at Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish.

Events:

Huckleberry 100, a century ride with shorter options, a great loop around the Flathead Valley in late August.

Cino Heoica, a heroic bike ride celebrating cycling's yesteryears, in Northwest Montana.

While northwest Montana certainly has an abundance of secondary paved roads to ride, the immense mileage of dirt and gravel roads crisscrossing the vast National Forest lands here dwarfs the amount of pavement. So it was no surprise that a band of adventurous locals came up with a unique cycling event that has achieved cult status in these parts. The Cino Heroica ride, held the second weekend of September, celebrates an era of European cycling when wool garments and toe clips were standard gear and racers relied on their own mechanical skills while toiling up graveled mountain passes in treacherous conditions. The ride is based on a similar event held each year in Tuscany known as L’Eroica (The Heroes) and pays homage to the legends of riders like Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi, and Eddy Mercyx, whose Tour de France victories were accomplished with a flair not commonly seen these days.

This Montana event entails riding throwback bicycles from mostly the 1970s and 1980s, over a combination of roads from the Flathead Valley across the Salish Mountains and to the small town of Hot Springs and back, a total of 110 miles over two days. This is not your ordinary road ride as 75 percent of the course is on dirt and gravel surfaces. Any type of bicycle is allowed to participate, but an emphasis on being throwback or Cino is encouraged. I saw everything from vintage Pinarellos, Bianchis, and Bottechias to a 1933 three-speed. Several intrepid (and strong-legged) riders turned their classics into single-speeds. While the riding takes center stage, it is equally as important to look stylish as it is to ride well. It is, after all, based on an Italian race!

Watching the parade of colorfully-attired participants at registration in the tiny hamlet of Kila was a treat in itself. Riders came dressed head to toe in old-school cycling caps, hairnet helmets, knickers, neckties, and suspenders down to leather shoes topped with all-white socks. Spare tubular sew-up tires were laced around torsos. I even spotted several ladies riding in old-fashioned long dresses and high-heeled shoes! There was so much merino wool in the registration line that it was little wonder that there was a flock mentality as everyone followed the leader through the snaking line.

Each bicycle is given a score based on how many old-school amenities it possesses such as vintage steel frames, downtube friction shifters, toe clips, and plastic handlebar tape. Enough points earn the rider the coveted “Heroic” status and prizes at the overnight in Hot Springs. The ride started with seven riders just five years ago and has continually grown to over 80 participants last year, some coming from as far away as Texas. Lunch stops are luscious spreads featuring cuts of salami, cheeses, baguettes, and there are even bottles of Chianti and packs of cigarettes to fortify the nerves.

And calming the nerves can be vitally important when descending with skinny wheels on gravel roads where washboards, loose surfaces, and ruts can test the best of a rider’s handling skills. The ride participants spend the night in the small town of Hot Springs and as the town name implies, there are several mineral-rich hot springs in which to soak weary muscles. The party atmosphere goes on well into the night. Grainy film screenings from long ago Tour de France editions flicker against a cement-building wall. The lighthearted and amusing awards ceremony is a hoot and prizes are handed out -- like the “Jacques Anquetil Award” for the individual who most shows an unbound passion for life and everything Cino, which loosely translates to closing down the bar in Hot Springs while telling racing stories and then whipping everyone going up the big climb the next day.

The return trip along the Camas Prairie began on smooth pavement, which soon gave way to chalky white gravel. We rolled up, across, and over giant grass-covered ripples of silt that crested up to 35 feet high in swell-like formations, remnants of when ancient Lake Missoula suddenly drained when a massive ice dam broke and caused catastrophic floods all the way to the Pacific Coast, the last one occurring around 10,000 years ago. There was virtually no automobile traffic along the route brimming with browning, cured grasses of late summer. I wasn’t worried about “whipping” anyone up on the nine-mile climb in the unrelenting sun to Browns Meadow, stopping twice to sop my jersey in cold water. At the summit, weary riders gathered under the shade of lodgepole pine trees swapping stories over a cooler of cold beverages that was a most welcome reward for the big climb. I figured it would be an easy cruise back down to Kila. Wrong! Two flat tires halted my descent while I only wished that my 23-year old caliper brakes would keep my speed in check as I maneuvered as smooth a line as possible in the rocks, ruts, and loose gravel while attempting to keep the bike upright. Finally, the pavement reappeared and felt extra smooth compared to the rattling surface I had grown accustomed to.

The Cino Heroica is a tough ride with several long climbs on dusty roads where numerous flat tires test a cyclist’s resolve. Finishing the ride comes with a real sense of accomplishment and a deep appreciation for those who rode before us in a simpler time with more unreliable gear. I rode my first Cino on my 1988 Bruce Gordon touring bike and it served me well. But I have the feeling I might be scouring the internet over the coming winter to see if I can dig up an old Gitane or Colnago for next year’s ride. After all it’s style and substance along with fortitude that earns you hero status on the Cino.

Nuts & Bolts: Iron Curtain Trail

The extended plan for the Iron Curtain Trail is to follow the entire 4,500-mile route from the Artic to the Black Sea. The project is being supported by the European Union. There is a long, lonely section of border between Russia and Norway and Finland much of which is inside the Artic Circle. It then enters the newly-independent nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania where the trail follows the Baltic Coast. It continues to follow the coast for the whole of the Polish section before turning inland at Travemünde to head south through Germany to the Czech border. This is the most well-developed and interesting section, and there is even a dedicated guidebook. The German section is 870 miles but as yet there are no signposts. The trail then follows the borders that separated the former Czechoslovakia and Hungary from Austria, the former Yugoslavia from Romania, and Bulgaria from Greece to emerge on the Black Sea in Turkey. Reaching either end will take determination and ingenuity.

 

When to go:

Anytime between the spring and fall, although the German fondness for log fires, snug hostelries, and glorious colors make the fall the ideal time to go.

Where to stay:

Campgrounds should, in theory, be everywhere, however, we found some to be closed. German youth hostels are excellent and everywhere. Full board is around $40 a night. You have to be a member of Hostelling America.

How to get there:

The border area became a bit of a dead zone so it is not easy to reach. It’s easiest to fly from Berlin where you can also take in the Berlin Wall Trail before taking the train to Travemünde via Lubeck. To take a bike on trains costs around $7 per trip. Turn-up fares are more expensive so it is best to book in advance. Bike spaces on high-speed ICE trains are limited and must be reserved. Check with Deutsch Bahn for updated information.

Useful information:

Guidebook and maps:

German Border Trail by Michael Kramer (ISBN: 978 3 85000 254 7). Detailed color maps but not well translated from German so it’s a bit awkward to read. For more information, visit www.ironcurtaintrail.eu/en. For comprehensive information on cycling in Germany, visit germany-tourism.co.uk.

Equipment List:

Tent:

Aiming to travel light, we shared a Terra Nova Voyager tent, approximately 4.5 pounds. It’s a tent I have used for almost 20 years and is a good compromise between space and weight. It has survived in all weathers. The ample porch area is the biggest plus.

Stove:

I set aside my trusted Coleman multi-fuel stove and replaced it with a two Primus Express gas stoves weighing only ounces. In benign conditions, they burned hot and efficiently. Gas was easy to obtain and a small canister retailed for $7.

Panniers:

For the first time, I used Ortlieb rear panniers. Every cyclist worth his salt in Germany carried a pair of Ortliebs and I really felt like I was one of the gang. The biggest downside is that they have only the one compartment but the upside is they are easy to pack and they keep things dry.

Bike:

I left my hand-built Dawes Galaxy behind and opted instead to take the bike I bought from a local bike co-operative for $400. It’s lightweight easy to pack onto the plane and with 27-gears had plenty of versatility on the varied terrain. I missed my precious Dawes but I was prepared to make that sacrifice for the sake of ease.

Sleeping:

Before traveling, I treated myself to a new Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite regular (32 ounces) while Rob slept on my old one. Unlike my old one, it could be packed away inside the panniers. It was lighter, longer, and more comfortable.

iPhone:

Invaluable for finding accommodations and finding our way around towns when the guidebook instructions were sketchy.

 

Photo 1: Cyclists on the Iron Trail wait for the ferry at the Elbe River. By Paul Lamarra

Photo 2: Paul Lamarra enjoying one of Germany’s greatest creations.  By Paul Lamarra

Photo 3: Cino Heroica riders tackle tough terrain in northwest Montana. By Chuck Haney

Photo 4: A Cino Heroica rider keeps his spare tube close to the chest. By Chuck Haney

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MIKE DEME is the editor of  Adventure Cyclist magazine.

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