Matt Lovelace’s New Specialized Sirrus

Mike Lovelace on his new Specialized Sirrus

“I want a bike for about $350”

Son Adam said his buddy, Matt Lovelace, was looking for a new bike, but he didn’t have a lot of money to spend – about $350 – because he was a student working on his Master’s Degree in Biomedical Science.

I told Matt that my wife and I had started out with Trek Navigator 300 comfort bikes for about that price in 2001. “The most important thing is fit, not price. You’re 31, which is when you start losing the flexibility that let you ride an old yard sale bike you could pick up for $50 in your 20s.”

I suggested that he’d be better off going to a regular LBS, instead of a big box store, so he would be dealing with folks who understood bikes and riding.

Of course, he went to a big box store

He found a Diamondback Insight at a good price and was pleased with some of the reviews he found, but, fortunately, someone walked by who knew something about bikes and convinced him that it was the wrong size.

It was then that he “decided to spend my money on something that was the right fit,” and he ended up at Bicyclery on Military Trail south of Okeechobee Road in West Palm Beach.

“I had to have it”

There, he saw the Specialized Sirrus in a flat black color scheme. “It just felt right. I had to have it.”

The base bike cost him $520 plus tax, more than he had anticipated spending originally.

I told him before he started shopping that price was important, but to keep in mind the price of the bike spread out over its lifetime. If you think you’ll outgrow what the bike can do in about three to five years, divide the difference between what you planned to spend and what you want to spend and you’ll find out that it’s probably less than a cup of coffee a day.

Nice handlebar grips

I liked the feel of the Specialzed handle bar grips that are a little flatter than the normal round grip. I think they’ll be more more comfortable on a long ride.

A compromise on the front fork

This model bike has an aluminum front fork. To go to a carbon fork would have jumped him up a model and about another $100. He figured he could put up with a slightly stiffer ride for the dollar difference.

That was probably a good choice. He’s already talking about accessories: bib shorts, computer with cadance and, after today’s ride, a spare tube and some basic tools.

Florida sand spurs are nasty

He liked that the Sirrus comes with a wider tire so he could go on sand or gravel if he wanted to. He was demonstrating that on a ride with his friends this afternoon and scored his first flat when he picked up a sand spur.

The Specialize Sirrus meets his initial goals

Matt was looking for a bike that would let him ride in a more or less upright position while cruising parks and trails with his girlfriend. At the same time, he wanted one that would let him ride faster and longer if he wanted to go on longer rides with his friends.

He came back from his first group ride feeling like he had found a bike that would meet those requirements. The ride wasn’t that long, but he did manage to hit 26 mph for a stretch when they gave him a chance to see what it would do.

SwampStomperus and Group Get LOST

Despite our name, we don’t actually lead bike tours. That was an idea that came and went (very quickly). We’re always happy to suggest places to ride and one of our favorites in this area is the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST).

Way back in August, Dave Fletcher, AKA SwampStomperus, contacted my foodie friend Jan Norris about riding the LOST. She passed him off to me and we traded emails until the first part of November when he said he was putting together a gaggle of riders to finally do the ride.

Dave's Group taken when they crossed path with the FORCE riders

It happened to be the same weekend of the FORCE ride. Both groups were starting in the Clewiston area at about the same time, but the FORCE riders were riding clockwise and Dave’s folks were going counterclockwise.

He promised an account of his ride and some pictures. Here it is.

A group of South Floridians had their first go at the LOST on the weekend of Nov 14-15.  Thanks to Ken and his great LOST maps, we finally were able to undertake an adventure that at least one or two of us had only dreamed about for several years.

Unofficial Map of Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail

View Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail in a larger map

All ages and experience

With the best support crew you could ask for (Peggy and Carol) we 7 riders set off from John Stretch Park for an unknown, but sure to be excellent, adventure.  Dave, Leo, Linda, Patrick, Edwin, Jerry and Yenz, aged 13 to 59…some with years of experience and miles under our belt…and one with a brand new bike and little experience at all.

Drivers surprised these Broward riders

We were a combination of road bikes and mountain bikes—so we knew there would be some road riding ahead but our first surprise came just to the east of the park when we saw the “closed” sign on the LOST.  What to do?  We decided to forge ahead, hoping that we could at least get by.  In fact, we made it as far as Torry Island without a hitch.  Then came the road biking to get around levee maintenance.  Thank God for iPhones to help us navigate the roads.  As for the roads themselves, we were pleasantly surprised.  We are from Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood where a road ride is equivalent to a death wish.  But we found roads with wide shoulders, smooth surfaces and drivers who actually slowed down or made a significant effort to move over and give our riders a wide berth—what a very refreshing experience!

Our first casualty (so-called) came when our youngest (and newest participant) decided to call it a day.  But hey—he made it 19 miles on a trail bike—which certainly would give him bragging rights over any other 13 year old that I know.  We were proud of him for having made it that far—and he was good company for our support team too!

Lunch at the Subway

In the meantime, our support team found us lunch at the Subway in Pahokee and it made for a great mid ride break.

Lunch at Canal Point Subway[Editor’s note: I’m pretty sure that Subway is actually in Canal Point, which is north of Pahokee. I stopped at the same place on Sunday. The food is OK and the bathrooms are clean.]

We set off again after lunch, resisting so many temptations to stop at the numerous yard sales in Pahokee—what a dream.  We continued along the road—again amazed at the courtesy of the local drivers—and inhaling the sweet smell of burning cane—tis the season!

Headwinds take their toll

Attrition hit us again just before Port Mayaca and again at Port Mayaca as our two other trail bikers decided they had done enough for the day.  Again, not bad at all, considering they had been riding into a headwind for most of the day.  We could all feel the stress and a nice break in Port Mayaca helped refresh us for the final stretch.  Now we were back on the paved levee and inspired by the beautiful views of the lake.  Down to only four now, we set off again, determined to make Okeechobee in time for a relaxing dinner and the comfort of our hotel.

Carol and Peggy provided support on the Lake Okeechobee rideIt seemed that the wind was picking up as the day went on.  The last stretch was a bit of a challenge and we dropped another rider at Henry Lock.  As usual, our support team was ready to move into action and they were soon there to take him away.  Now we were down to three—all determined to make the finish.  We finally did pull into the Okeechobee pier a bit before 5 pm.  A short ride up to the Holiday Inn and we were done.  Our terrific support crew had us already checked in and had our gear in our rooms.  They took care of everything (except the massage!).  They had already decided on a dinner location so, after cleanup and a short rest, we were off to The Clock, where, again, these south Floridians were amazed—this time by the low cost of dining out!  We’ll certainly be back to Okeechobee.

Food and lodging are reasonable in Okeechobee

That evening found a few of us relaxing in the hot tub while others were off to dream land shortly after dinner.  The next morning, over a terrific complimentary full breakfast at the Holiday Inn, we discussed alternatives for the day.  We knew the mountain bikers wouldn’t make the whole day again.  We also knew that the first half of the ride would be on the road, where the lake wasn’t visible and the second half would be on the levee where we would experience more of the natural environment.  So, instead of riding the first half from Okeechobee to Moore Haven on the road and then sagging, they decided to have a relaxing morning at the hotel and meet us in Moore Haven for lunch.

Moore Haven bridge is quite a climb

Dave, Jerry, Edwin top Moore Haven BridgeWith that decision made, three of us set out along 78.  For all of us it was the first time we’d ever been on that road.  What an experience.  It seemed to be what old Florida must have been like:  very quiet, little traffic (but again—very courteous drivers) and some nice landscape scenery.  We did take a nice break at Lake Port (home of the Sour Orange Festival) and checked out the observation platforms off Harney Pond Road—taking in the silence and the beauty of the vast wetland there.  We also delighted in seeing several ospreys along the way, including two with fish in their talons and several other species of wildlife.  Truly this was a remarkable stretch of road and I look forward to returning there some day.

A suprise meeting with the FORCE group

Once in Moore Haven we rendezvoused with our support team and the sagged riders.  After a short lunch we set off toward Clewiston, riding the levee, happy to be a team of 7 riders once again.  The wind was now a bit behind us and we made fairly good time.  We had quite a surprise awaiting us in Clewiston when we actually ran into Ken, owner of this website and whose generous guidance provided us with the information we needed to do the ride in the first place.  We were glad to be able to thank him in person.

Ready to do it again

Patrick and Yenz lead the pack into the Clewiston MarinaAn hour or so later (and down one rider—our 13 year old made it 20+ miles on the second day) we were greeted by our support team as we pulled into John Stretch Park.  It was a great weekend—perfect weather, a perfect route, a perfect support team and a perfect group of riders (and friends.)  We all left with the resolve to do the LOST again—soon.

St. Pete’s Silver Riders “of a certain age”

[Editor’s note: Former co-worker Jan Norris and her friend, Jimmy Barron were over in St. Petersburg earlier this month for a funeral. While they were eating breakfast at The Dome Grill, Jimmy spotted some cyclists and jumped for his camera. Jan, who is usually slower at everything, joined him. Here is her occasional Riders on the Road story with Jimmy’s pictures.]

ST. PETERSBURG, FL -A group of cyclists in hot yellow T-shirts was launching from the sidewalk outside the patio of The Dome Grill. I had noticed quite a few bikes when we arrived, but my head was in my Blackberry and I didn’t think much of it. Bikes – and bike stands – are everywhere in St. Pete.

I grabbed my pen and ran outside to get their story.

View Larger Map

Silver-haired group

Right off the bat, I figured this was a men’s group of “a certain age.” All the guys were buff and tan, but most had snowy hair atop their pates.

“Who’s your leader?”

St. Petersburg FL Silver Riders Several laughed – then pointed at the guy in front of me. “I guess I am,” said Rudolph Oswald, of Seminole.

He formed the group of mostly Honeywell Corp. retirees 10 years ago, he said. They number 20 to 25 on any given ride, but there are about 50 in the club. “I’d say 65 is the average age,” he said. The oldest? “85 – and there are younger guys who can’t keep up with him.”

The main group typically rides 25 to 30 miles once a week on Tuesday. They were at a halfway point at the Dome, with 16.8 miles under their seats. A smaller group rides a second time on Thursdays, he said, 30 miles or more.

Most rode hybrids; a few have bents, Oswald said. The one bent rider on this ride uses arm power to compensate for a bum leg.

Pinellas County is perfect for cyclists

Blog JB-silverriders-stpete6 With the Pinellas Trail that runs the length of the county, and numerous other bike trails snaking off it and along the water, this is one friendly area for cyclists — you see them everywhere. Because they ARE so common, cars seem to be more courteous to them than over here on the east coast of Florida.

“We have about 20 different trails to ride, all over the county,” Oswald said.

Two unbreakable rules for safe riding

“We only have two hard and fast rules – if you don’t follow them, you don’t ride,” he said. “Number one: You must wear a helmet. And number two, we never leave anyone on the trail alone.”

He added that quite a few of the riders had taken a first-aid and CPR courses as well, so they were prepared for emergencies. And of course, they have cell phones.

Stopped to tank up at The Dome Grill

St. Petersburg, FL, Silver RidersThey had stopped at the Dome to eat and fill their water bottles – they’d need them this day: the heat and humidity were oppressive again — Ida’s remnants were being felt all along the Gulf Coast. Though there was some wind, it wasn’t nearly like the near gale we’d encountered coming over on Monday.

This was one of the cheeriest groups I’ve met in a while – all pedaled away, smiling and laughing. Not sure how to contact them to catch a ride with them, but if I get over there again on a Tuesday, I’ll keep an eye out.

Maybe one of them will find this online and comment to let us know.

Lake O Adventure “Challenging”

This weekend was the 115-(more or less)-mile bike ride around Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.

Billed the Lake O Challenge by the Florida Off-Road Cycling Enthusiasts and supported by Tom Rassiga of the Bicyclery, the ride started in Clewiston, stayed overnight in Okeechobee and ended up back in Clewiston.

Here’s a video of the two-day ride

About two dozen riders took the challenge

Lake Okeechobee Challenge RidersThe riders left the Corps of Engineers parking lot at Clewiston shortly after 9 AM, and made their way to the paved section of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) that leads to the Moore Haven locks where Tom Rassiga and his yellow Bicyclery bus was waiting.

Except for a slight crosswind, the trip started smoothly. One rider mentioned seeing a couple of gators along the rim canal.

Armies and cyclists travel on their stomachs

MH RestDSC_7881Even though they’d only been on the road about an hour-and-a-half, the cyclists took full advantage of the food and drinks waiting for them.

For the record, there are clean restrooms at the Moore Haven trailhead. Facilities on the LOST are few and far between (read non-existent), so it’s good to note when you find some.

Mountain bikes were recommended

Tom said that they ride would be more comfortable on a wide, low pressure tire and that it would be rideable on a touring bike like my Surly Long Haul Trucker, but that a mountain bike would be more suitable.

The video above covers some of the challenges experienced by the riders on the first unpaved leg of the ride between Moore Haven and Fisheating Creek. Not only did they have the expected rocks and grass, but the authorities had been grinding up trees and brush into mulch that drifted onto what passed for a trail.

You have to understand that a lot of these folks are members of the Florida Off-Road Cycling Enthusiasts (FORCE). What we road riders consider a barrier is merely a challenge to these folks.

I skipped the first unpaved leg

I don’t have pictures of that section because I opted to go directly to the Fisheating Creek rest stop. I learned a long time ago that I can either do an activity or I can COVER an activity. I figured I’d get a taste of the dike later. You’ll see a video of that in a couple of days after I’ve stopped vibrating. The video looks like it had been shot on the inside of a popcorn popper.

The group was glad to see the shaded rest stop

Fisheating Creek Rest stopApparently the non-native trees that used to provide shade had been cut down. Fortunately, Tom carried fold-up shade with him. Some of the riders needed his repair skills to take care of bikes that had been knocked out of adjustment by debris that had blown up on the trail.

Where are the stragglers?

Tower DSC_7915Tom and his daughter, Kailyn, climbed the observation tower at the Pier II Resort to see if they could spot the stragglers at the end of the day. They made it in just before a search party went out to look for them.

That was something I noticed about this group of riders. Some of them had ridden together before and others were newbies like me, but everyone went out of their way to be friendly and helpful.

Time to relax before heading out to dinner

Gillis DSC_7916Most of the group stayed at the Pier II resort, but I waited too long to make reservations and it was booked solid by the time I called.

I fell back on the Scottish Inns a couple of miles away. The room was about $20 cheaper and was perfectly adequate for a biker night.

Okeechobee Golden Corral for dinner

Kailyn polishes off her ice cream at Okeechobee Golden CorralAfter some discussion, the bulk of riders ended up at the Golden Corral in Okeechobee. Most of us were interested in fast food and lots of it. I’ve never had a bad experience at this particular Golden Corral, so I was less surprised than some at the quality of the food.

Chris and Kailyn were pleased with their meals

Ice Cream DSC_7948I didn’t have any problem falling asleep, and I only rode a shade over 16 miles.

One of the best things about this ride is that it doesn’t start until 9 AM.

I’ve never liked rides that expect you to roll out at 6 AM, which means you have to be up at 3 AM.

The LOST had some snags

Lake Okeechobee Adventure riders go over plans for rideThe original plan called for riding from Taylor Creek to Port Mayaca on the dike, hopping on the road to Pahokee to avoid construction and then continuing on the dike to the finish in Clewiston.

Some folks who were riding the lake counterclockwise told me the night before that construction had the trail shut down north of the Torry Island trailhead, so we would have to stay on the road a few miles longer than anticipated.

Chris and Lynn dodge gate on Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail

No checking for gators at Nubbins Slough

Pam, Per and Rick dodge gate on Lake Okeechobee Scenic TrailI had told the riders that one of the best places to spot big gators is at Nubbins Slough, where I had seen as many as 25, many in the 8 to 10-foot range, on some days.

I stopped to see if there were any around and saw only one hanging around. It didn’t make any difference. These folks could smell home and didn’t waste any time blasting by me.

Off-road cyclists arrive at Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail rest stop

Rest stop at Chancy Bay

Chris takes refreshment at rest stop along Lake Okeechobee Scenic TrailTom set up the yellow bus at Chancy Bay (also known for J&S Fish Camp) and it wasn’t long until the first riders came bombing down the dike to the parking lot.

Here’s another way you can tell it’s an off-road group. They go off road every opportunity they can.

Chris, obviously, likes beer as well as he likes ice cream.

Last rest stop was at South Bay

Mike Freye passes rest stop at South Bay boat ramp on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic TrailThe last chance for riders to take on food and water before the final 16-mile run to Clewiston was at the boat ramp in South Bay.

As soon as they made the turn west at the bottom of the lake, the nice quartering tailwind they had for most of the day turned into a head wind.

Since you are perched 25 or 30 feet up in the air with nothing around you to block the wind, that can be a real killer.

Fortunately, the winds were light, probably in the 5 to 7-mph range, with gusts only slightly higher. Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I was in my van.

Then we were back in Clewiston, and it was over

Clewiston end of Lake Okeechobee Big AdventureBefore long, everyone had their luggage sorted out, their bikes racked on their vehicles and they were sitting around, pigging out on chicken, subs, left0ver fruit and some beverages in brown bottles.

Even though everyone was ready to go home, you could tell that they wanted the experience to go on just a little bit longer.

Lynn and Pam look at pictures

Lynn and Pam look at pictures from the Lake Okeechobee Big Adventure rideTom’s wife, Lynn, and Pam Karagoz pull out a camera and look at pictures of the ride.

Our parking lot was directly west of a cemetery where a burial service was being held several hundred yards away.

I thought back over the weekend and how much fun it had been and realized that you have to take advantage of times like these while you can.

The guys gravitate to magazine centerfolds

Studying bike porn after the Lake Okeechobee Big Adventure RideBoys will be boys. Per, Andrew and Chuck relaxed by ogling a magazine centerfold spread.

In a biking magazine.

I told you they were off-road cyclists.

I Knew Amy Murphy When…

I was walking along the Mississippi river watching the water roll by when my eye was drawn to a shiny bike with blue fluorescent rims. Next to the bike was Amy Murphy, a sophomore theater major at Southeast Missouri University.

Amy Murphy with Tahiti bicycle on Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, MOAmy was busy having an animated conversation when I started stalking her, shooting pictures at increasingly closer distances and from different angles.

Amy Murphy on Mississippi River bank in Cape Girardeau, MO, with her Tahiti bikeFinally, just about the time she noticed me and looked like she might consider jumping on her bike and escaping this wierdo wearing a bright lime-green cycling windbreaker under a Domke shooting vest, I flipped her a PalmBeachBiketours business card.

I waved off her offer to cut her call short and wandered around shooting some other pictures.

Looked like pepper spray city

Bike baptism in the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, MoThen, a guy walked up, grabbed her bike and started dangling it over the water. She was agitated, but not enough to break off her phone call.

Just before I started to intervene (with my hand on the pepper spray in my pocket), the guy gently dipped the bike’s tires into the Mississippi river. Turned out later that he had helped her build the bike and wanted to baptize the bike in the muddy waters.

A closer look at the Tahiti

Amy Murphy with her Tahiti on the banks of the Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau, MOAfter she wrapped up her call, we had time to chat about her bike.

She said it was a Tahiti, bought on ebay. It’s a three-speed with a rear coaster brake, nice fenders, a chainguard and a huge sprung saddle. Its upright position and step-through frame makes it look like a nice short-distance beginner’s commuter bike.

It has a nice-looking reflector mounted on the rear fender, but no taillight. I encouraged her to get a light for the back to go along with her headlight.

“I love this bike”

“It’s so hilly around here that I have to push it a lot,” she confessed.

She’s managed to make it up Broadway hill, although some trips she still has to push it. Cardiac Hill, is her ultimate goal.

It’s great to be a sophomore

After we had exhausted our bike talk, I asked her tell me a little about herself. I’m hedging my bets by attaching this video of her talking about her goals and dreams. Some day it might be worth a bunch of money and I’ll get to say, “I knew Amy Murphy way back when….” (Sorry for the noisy barge working its way upstream in the background.)

“I might be a playwright. I might be an actress,” Amy said. She worked as a waitress at Yellowstone National Park and managed to squirrel away three or four thousand bucks (I hope the IRS isn’t listening).

First sibling to go to college

After she graduates – failure isn’t an option because she’s the first of her siblings to go to college – she’ll waitress long enough to build up a nest egg to tackle Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or Portland.

“I can write. I can be a comedic actress. I will succeed. I’ll do that as long as it takes to get me a bunch of money, then I’ll just quit. I don’t want to do anything. I’m not lazy. I just want to see the world. I want to do everything there is to do in the world.”

In the short term, though, she’s focusing on getting up Cardiac Hill without pushing her bike.