A velo weekend

I finally got the trike out for an overnight trip. I heard about a thing called the Niagara Velomobile Happening and found out that there was free camping for those attending. Seemed like something interesting and a good way to do a shakedown cruise with the gear on the Trike.

I’m usually the ‘cycle that gets the comments and stares whenever I go out for a ride, but with this group, I was the conservative one. In case you haven’t heard the term velomobile before, it refers to a vehicle that is usually based on some form of human-powered vehicle and often has a full body, or at least some windscreen.

These enthusiasts took that to heart and many velos there were fully enclosed and electric motors to assist pedaling were very common as well. Some were home made, some were commercial products. They were pretty much all very interesting.

Like going to a robotics event, the same concept often resulted in a wide variety of solutions, some odd at first, some elegant, but all original and very cool. In this crew, my basic trike was boring…

The event was held on a former grape farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, just a short drive from Lockport, but a challenging ride with the border crossing and extra baggage. I left home about 8:30am and rode off on my adventure. The happening began at 10am, but you could arrive any time.

All my camping gear, clothes, food, etc. were packed into the panniers and loaded on the bike. I pumped the rear tire up to 100psi to be sure it wouldn’t pop the first pothole I ran into. I crossed my fingers and took off up my street. I realized I had forgot to do something and did a U-turn to go back. I almost flipped the trike over! One wheel actually started to lift off the ground and I only avoided rolling on my side by quick reflexes and brakes. I was going to need to be very careful with this load sitting almost all on the back wheel.

I soon got back on the road and made a bike stop at the ATM. I bet they don’t see that too often. I planned on taking Route 31 most of the way then heading north to Upper Mountain Road and to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. Route 31, aka. NY Bike Route 5, is not a great ride, but has wide, smooth shoulders, whereas, Upper Mountain has poor or no shoulders in many places. this meant cutting through the Tuscarora Indian Reservation almost any way I went. Not a problem, though. I had ridden through there on a club ride a few weeks prior and took some of the same roads.

A funny thing about the roads on the rez… they have no street signs. I don’t know if they just don’t bother, or have taken them down, but you’re on you own for navigation there. I went by where the sun was much of the time and came out okay. It’s not that big an area and much of it borders on the Power Project Reservoir. The Res is in the Rez, you could say.

It was a nice, sunny, but cool day and was warming up as the day went on. I eventually came to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge to cross the Niagara River into Canada. I had checked it out online in preparation, so I rode in confidently in a place that one would assume that bikes weren’t allowed. I paid my toll, all of 50 cents, and rode across the bridge in the truck lane. There was very little traffic in the direction I was going, so I could have rode anywhere as the speed limit is only 15 mph on the bridge.

I went to the rightmost Canadian Customs booth. There was just one car ahead of me. A bored looking woman looked up and asked me the usual questions, then said to go ahead and have a good time. Another man was walking over to the booth and asked me if I had been there before and if I knew the way for a bike to get to regular roads. I told him it was the first time I had tried it on a bike and he directed me to a side access road. He said to just go around the barriers and it would take me right out to the Niagara Parkway. I followed the drive, which seemed like an access lane for maintenance and official vehicles and there were two of those arms that tilt up out of the way with a key card, but to go around them meant getting up on the sidewalk. The curbs were high and there were no cutouts, so I didn’t feel like lifting the trike up on them, so I just went under the bars. I got off and pushed it by hand and other than the flag the whole thing rolled right under. I could have stayed sitting on it! The drive went out in front of the building for the bridge, where there was a circle and a parking lot and the drive led me right out onto the parkway. Across the street, was the bike path and I got on it.

A couple minutes later, I was at the intersection where the bike path crossed the road I needed to take towards the velo meet. I was off and riding in Canada. I stopped in a small town at a store and picked up my lunch, a sub and bottle of soda then headed off to the north. After coming to the right road and turning, I began looking for the address. I didn’t need to, there was a sign and a velomobile parked at the end of the drive. I pulled in and saw lots of strange and wonderful pedal-powered vehicles.

I got signed in, met people, figured out where I could camp and settled in. I set the tent up and got the trike unloaded just in time for the talk on electric assist systems. It was pretty informal and a lot of fun. Most of the speakers had their vehicle there to show and it became a short talk followed by a show-and-tell. In between seminars, there was plenty of time to mingle and to take test rides, if the owners allowed. I didn’t do much of that, as I had my Crank Brothers cleats on and most seemed to be set up for SPD. I didn’t want to take the chance of my feet slipping off because of the incompatible cleats. But I did ride one trike, a Trice that had the Crank Bros. pedals and even though it was set up too short for me, was a fun ride. I remembered trying a ICE Expedition 1 out at the Bicycle Man and liking it a lot. This was a predecessor to that model.

The sessions went on until afternoon when they held the BBQ Dinner. The food was great and everyone enjoyed it. I had a pulled pork sandwich and all the fixin’s. The snacks and refreshements were out all weekend, so there was no way to go hungry. Between the BBQ on Saturday and the Sunday morning ride out to breakfast, I didn’t cook a thing. I could have left the food I carried home and saved some weight. I’ll try the camp cooking next time out.

They held a group ride after dinner. We kind of rushed to get out before dark, but still ended up doing much of the ride in the dark. We stopped at a dairy store for Ice Cream then continued in even darker passage along a bike path next to the Welland Canal. It was a blast seeing this long line of flashing, blinking lights ahead. A good hill on the last few miles gave everyone a chance to see how fast they dared go in the dark. Of course, my headlight batteries chose then to get flakey and go dim, so I took it fairly slowly. I replaced the batteries and found the ones in there were still the ones that came with the light. Not bad for using it all summer.

Sunday morning came after some light rains during the night. I took some time shaking the water off the tent fly and getting things packed up again. The plan for the day was to ride out for breakfast, then through Niagara-on-the-Lake to entertain the tourists. The route went up the bike path towards the bridge, so I planned on keeping on going to head home. It was almost at the end of the ride where I would leave the rest of the group and there was nothing else scheduled for the day, so it seemed like a good plan. It meant riding with the group fully loaded, but I was up for it.

We had a great breakfast and headed out. In NOTL, we stopped at a couple parks where we got a lot of attention from the people around. It was a busy day in the little town and many people stopped what they were doing to watch us ride by and take photos. The second park we stopped at happened to have the end of a 10K run going on and a lot of people were there for that. We must have stayed there an hour answering questions and talking to people about the velos.

Then we went off up the bike path, saw Fort George, and continued up the path. Eventually, the group turned off but I kept going to the bridge. There’s a good sized hill to get up just before the Brock Monument, but I had ridden it a month earlier with the recumbent group. Part of it is on regular streets, the rest on paved bike path. I was still concerned about the weight and it’s effect on the handling of the trike. Part way up the street section of the hill, I had an epiphany. If I moved the heaviest thing on the bike forward, it would help a lot. What is the heaviest thing on the trike? Me! I didn’t want to move the seat forward, because that would move the pedals too close to me, but I could tilt the seat to a more upright position. I sat up for a bit to see and it seemed to help.

Where the path resumed, there was a short level patch. I pulled off the path and set about changing the seat angle. It’s easy to do, just pull two grenade pins and move the seat, then put them back in to lock it in position. I had to remove everything to get at them, though. I had put nylon wire-ties on the rings to keep them securely in place, but they were small ties and I easily broke them. I didn’t worry about replacing them, even though I had some with me, because the panniers sit so close to them they can’t come out. After I got the panniers and everything loaded back on, I was off once again, feeling more secure about the handling. It was amazing how a small change made such a big difference by putting a little more weight towards the front wheels.

I came back to the bridge and tried to figure out how to go about getting to the far side without getting on the 405. The signs directed traffic to the USA a certain way, but as I followed it, I soon realized it would take me a long way before it crossed over the highway and turned back towards the bridge. The directions I read online from the bridge authority said something about seeing the Toll Captain for directions. So I headed back to the access road and ducked under the gates again. As I rode out towards the booths, I could see a barrier that would keep me from crossing to the side going to the US. I looked to me left and saw a sign that said “Toll Captain’s Office.” Just what I was looking for. I rode down to the entrance to the office and before I could even get off the trike, someone had seen me and came out to meet me. They directed me across the lanes to an opening in the barricades. Since I was now behind the Canadian Custom booths, traffic was slower and not likely to come out of a booth at me. They told me to stay out of the truck lane, but get in the next most right lane and I could cross the bridge to the US Customs. I still had to be careful for traffic, but at least only one direction at a time because of the barriers. I’m not sure if I missed a second opening in a divider, or not, but I ended up going through the Duty-Free area. No harm there, but I didn’t stop for anything!

Customs was as uneventful as they ever. A long wait. There were three truck booths and probably 6-10 auto lanes with inspection booths open. Why does Canadian Customs get away with about three booths and no lines, yet the US is always backed up with three times the booths? I kept to the right and as more lanes opened up feeding more booths, kept moving over. The lines were shorter there, but didn’t move any faster. I was still in the most right car lane with the trucks lined up to my right. A line of flourescent cones separated us. It took about half an hour for me to get to the customs booth. A couple in the car in front of me kept playing suck-face, oblivious to anything around them. I hoped they didn’t decide to back up and try to change lanes. Maybe they were on their honeymoon going to Niagara Falls… A woman in a vehicle on my left asked me where I was riding to and coming from. I think she was a little disappointed I wasn’t on a cross-country trip, but it was nice that she asked. A bit later, a trucker on the right rolled down his window to ask me how I steered. I just grabbed the handlebars and wagged the wheels back and forth. I’ve found it’s easier than explaining it.

Soon enough, I got to the booth and after answering the obligatory questions, got sent through. They didn’t seem to want to hassle a guy on a bike. They must figure someone smuggling would pick a more ordinary type of transportation. I certainly had no place to hide much.

Getting out of there and back to Upper Mountain Road was a little unclear to me. I had forgot to run the Google directions in the reverse direction, so I hadn’t even read them. But I had driven it a few times. I had some choices on the signage, but Upper Mountain wasn’t one of them. The next best choice was Lewiston Road, aka Route 104. Coming in, Upper Mountain crossed Military and went right to the ramp to the bridge. Going in the other direction, it looked like if I didn’t get off at 104, I’d be headed onto the Robert Moses Parkway or Route 190, neither of which allow bikes. Somehow, though, I rode off onto 104, thinking I was going south, when I actually was going north. But it didn’t matter. It came to Military Rd. shortly and I turned onto Military, thinking I was already past Upper Mountain and would just head on down to Route 31 if that was the case. But since I was confused in my direction for a while, I was actually heading back towards Upper Mountain Rd. and when I saw the intersection, I was happy to turn there. Sometimes, things work out no matter how badly you screw up. I found out later, that if I had cut through Mt. St. Marys Hospital, I could have saved quite a bit of riding!

I rode Upper Mountain all the way back to Lockport, despite it’s lack of shoulders. Most of the way the shoulders are gravel and about 3 inches lower than the road. Even when there is an asphalt shoulder, it’s so bad that you can’t ride on it. Fortunately, the traffic was light and my blinding red light kept the cars away from me. I stopped at one store just before the reservation for a bottle of Mountain Dew and use of their rest rooms. They were watching the Bills game and I asked the score. I had forgotten all about the game, but hadn’t missed much. Green Bay was having a field day running over them.

I rode the rest of the way home without event. Riding in the reservation is usually quiet and it’s actually a nice ride. I always seem to see a 4-wheeler ATV come roaring down the middle of the road. I even saw a car with no plates on it zoom by. No police are going to bother them there. But if I ride by a house and someone is outside and see me, they always wave or say something. the natives are friendly!

I got home about 5:30pm. It made a long day of riding, but I felt pretty good. But all I wanted was to get out of my dirty clothes and take a nap.

More photos of the Velomobile Happening are here.

Posted in Cycling, Photos, Tech Stuff
One comment on “A velo weekend
  1. Al Gritzmacher says:

    I almost forgot the statistics: 92 miles total, including the ride there on Saturday, the 33k ice cream ride and the 28k breakfast ride Sunday that melded into mu ride home. I rode Sunday from 10am until 5:30pm with only a few breaks.

    I rode the usual 25 miles on Monday with the bike club.

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