Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 Ride Highlights

 It's 4:46 pm on New Year's Eve. Will I be able to put together a post with ride highlights for the year? Sure! No particular order. Just memorable rides, for one reason or the other.

A 200k with Ben

Ben and I have big plans. So we rode my 200k permanent route together. We probably went a little fast, had some mechanical and biomechanical issues, but overall it went well!

Full Moon on a parking garage

Not every memorable ride needs to be long. After a friend's birthday party I decided to explore a large new development. A new parking structure was still empty but kinda open. On top I got a great view and the full moon. 

Pick Me Up at the Border

For the first time, I actually rode all the way to the Illinois border and back on this ride. As per usual, the weather was questionable, and I didn't actually enjoy the ride too much. But it was good to check this one off. 

Birthday Ride for Nicole

We celebrated Nicole's birthday at Dot's Tavern, right off the Badger State Trail. Beautiful evening/night ride.

Wright Stuff Century, extended version

Another good one with Ben. The Wright Stuff Century used to start in Middleton, but this year the start was farther away, at Brigham County Park. Ben and I rode to the start from Madison and then did the "short" route. 

Zugspitze mini golf

My riding in Germany was cut short because of injury. But this was a fabulous ride in the German Alps. I biked; Nicole took the train, and we met up for mini golf in the most spectacular setting.

A ride that shouldn't have happened

Knees were wrecked from hiking and there was record heat. I abandoned along the route but probably shouldn't even have started.

Ride for your Life

The biggest advocacy ride Madison has ever seen.


Wind, mud, CX

Like every year, I rode to the Trek Cyclocross World Cup. It was windy, wet, and muddy. 

MKE x MSN Sandhill Station Camping

A meeting of urbanism/street safety/bike advocacy folks from Milwaukee and Madison. Not quite at the halfway point.

Fetch the Keg

Madison Bike Week: Get beer donated from Hop Garden, pick up by bike. Make it a group ride. Suffer on the hills on your fixie.

Credit: Ben Sandee

Kites on the Lake

I didn't get many frozen lake rides in this year, but this was a good one. Kite festival on the Lake.


Camping with Nicole

Our tent leaked. It was a wonderful camping trip to Sandhill Station nonetheless. 


Another 200k

Dipping into Illinois again for some, uh, shopping and tile collecting.

 Not the Ride Across Wisconsin but

Went for a spontaneous ride without a fixed route and ended up on the Ride Across Wisconsin route, going the opposite direction. It was awesome to see the endless string of the people on the ride.

Friday, April 7, 2023

First impressions: Adidas Velosamba: vegan, good looking, no crunch


For years, my casual cycling shoe of choice was the Giro Rumble VR. I extensively reviewed the shoes on this blog. While I've had my complaints about them, on balance they were a great shoe and the ended up lasting longer than I thought. I actually still have an unused spare pair in the closet. But when it was time to retire the current pair, I was curious to try something different. 



The Adidas Velosamba struck me as an interesting option. I'm German, and even though I never owned an actual Samba shoe, the aesthetic appeals to me. Add to that they're vegan and Adidas was selling them at a discount. 

I bought the shoes just before winter and so for several months I didn't actually have a chance to wear them. But now winter is nearing its end and I've worn them enough to write up my initial impressions. These impressions are heavily influenced by my experience with the Giro Rumble VR: Are the Velosambas better? Is that even a sensible question to ask? We'll return to that at the end of the post. 

Let's start with the looks. The shoes come in 7 different styles, from the classic black with gum sole and white stripes, some more colorful options, and finally an all white shoe. If you know me, you would be surprised that I went for the all-white shoe! Is a white cycling shoe actually practical? I had my doubts, but in the end those were the ones on sale at the steepest discount while still being available in my size. So I was willing to take a gamble. When the shoes arrived, I was really pleased: The white is bright, and slight iridescent under light. The upper material is mostly very smooth plastic and probably cleans up fairly well. At the front of the shoe, there is some fake suede leather, which probably is more challenging to keep clean. The laces are white as well, with black ends as a color accent. 


Functionally, the Velosamba has a few nice features: The lace retention system is well thought out. You can tuck the laces under an elastic band, which is easily lifted with a little pull tab. The cutout for the SPD cleats also seems to be well thought out: These so far have been the least crunchy bike shoes I've ever owned! Maybe this will change as the shoes wear, but it's unlike the Giros, which were crunchy from the get go. 


Clever lace retention tab


Speaking of the sole: it seems to be a decent compromise between stiffness for biking and flex for walking. This makes them a great choice for my use case, where I want want a shoe that can easily transition from the bike to walking around town. It appears that the Velosamba is cut lower around the ankles and the heel compared to the Giros. This probably provides less support but probably won't be an issue for me: I often ride with shoe laces barely tightened, but I can see how for some people this might be a problem on longer rides/walks. At any rate, I have neither biked nor walked for longer distances in the shoes so far, and so I'll hold off on a final verdict.

Nicely recessed cleats make for a quiet walk

My main concern so far is the breathability of the shoes. Adidas proudly (annoyingly?) pronounces on the insole ,"End Plastic Waste" and states that the shoes is partially made from recycled plastic. Greenwashing aside, the material does indeed appear plastic-y and breathable at all. Again, I haven't worn the shoes enough to truly judge this.

So let's come back to the comparison with the Giro Rumble VR. In a head to head comparison, Adidas wins in these areas: 

  • looks 
  • less crunch
  • lace retention 
  • walking/standing comfort (to be confirmed)

The Giros are ahead in: 

  • breathabilty
  • price
  • foot support

Once I've had the chance to wear the Velosambas for a few months I'll post a follow-up to these first impression. So far I'm really happy with my purchase.

Adidas Velosamba at Amazon 

Velosamba at Adidas

Sunday, December 25, 2022

2022 Ride Highlights

 It's Christmas and I just finished reading the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly. It's the 20th anniversary issue and looks back at highlights from the past two decades. And two days ago I listened to the end-of-year episode of bike podcast Antritt, which also looked back at the year. So now it's time to look back at my bike year and review some highlights. 

The Swamp Tile

Where the road ends, you get out the snowshoes


A very early highlight of the year: Collecting the damn Swamp Tile. What is the swamp tile? It's a square of land in the Deansville Wildlife Area that's quite inaccessible. I needed to visit that square in an effort to expand my max square for VeloViewer Explorer, and I had failed to reach it twice before. So when the weather looked alright for January, I decided to make another attempt at the swamp tile in the Deansville State Wildlife Area. I loaded snowshoes on the back of my studded-tired fixie, brought a spare pair of socks in case it'd get my feet wet, biked out there, carried/pushed the bike through frozen swamp/grass and succeeded in reaching the tile!


Three Lakes X

Riding across the three main Madison Lakes -- Mendota, Monona, and Wingra -- in early February should've been a highlight. Unfortunately the experience was somewhat spoiled by an asshole truck driver at the very beginning of the ride. But still, riding across frozen lakes is still a special experience.

Lake number 2: Monona

Hugh Jass Fat Bike Race

In between a lot of basement Zwifting, I did a fat bike race in late February. Kevin and I made the dubious decision to bike to the start and we arrived barely in time to still register (I'm still embarrassed about dripping all over the sign up sign up sheet as my balaclava thawed... Unfortunately no pictures.


The high point, literally


My first time in Colorado was basically a week's worth of highlights. Every ride was amazing, especially the numerous sections of empty gravel roads. This trip also included a ride to the highest point I ever biked to: 3075 meters (10,088 ft). 

Gold Hill

To the top

A steep gravel road on the way to Gold Hill

200 km Permanent Recon

I like randonneuring. I don't like having to make the arrangements to get to the start of a brevet in Richland Center. So created a Permanent route (i.e. a randonneur ride that people can do at any time) out of Madison, dipping into the northernmost parts of Illinois. In June I test rode the route to make sure there weren't any issues with the route or cue sheet. More detailed post here.



Toward the Albula

Another first this year, another highlight: Vacation in the Swiss Alps. The bike highlight of the trip was my loop across two major passes: the Albula and Flüela.

Second place: Biking from Davos through 4 countries to catch the train back home in Lindau. This is my favorite type of ride: A recreational adventure that has some faint practical purpose to it. I could have just taken the train back from Davos, but riding 130 kilometers through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and then just across the border into Germany, would save me some small amount money because I had a monthly rail pass. 

Following the Landquart River toward the Rhine

Liechtenstein Parliament: "The highest task of the state is to promote the whole welfare of the people."

The final border crossing of the ride, from Austria into Germany

 Swabian Jura Errandonée

Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik (Württembergian Metal Wares Factory)

Speaking of fun rides with a purported practical purpose: My parents had borrowed a set of dessert forks from a friend. Somehow a few of the forks disappeared. The obvious solution: A very hot and hilly 126 kilometer ride to the fork manufacturer's HQ and outlet store and back. 

Swabian Jura Errandonée

New bridge for the high speed rail connection between Stuttgart and Ulm

Historic center of Schwäbisch Hall

One of the many beautiful, apple-tree-lined roads in the Schwäbischer Wald

Sunset wine bar in the vineyards


There were a few other amazing rides in Germany: An after-work ride to a vine bar in the vineyards; a train-bike-train-bike adventure centered around the Stuttgart Critical Mass; and a ride to Schwäbisch Hall on the quiet, scenic (and never flat...) roads of the Swabian Forest.

Karlsruhe to Critical Mass

Schwäbisch Hall


Stuttgart Critical Mass

Fake records

Waiting out the rain in Dodgeville


Once back in the US, I had some repentance to do. Many months ago I had made up a story about a historical event: In the late 19th century, a man named John D. Cannonball wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the highwheeler over the safety bicycle by breaking the previous record for riding from Dodgeville to Madison. My fake was a little bit too convincing and a friend scheduled an event to commemorate the historic ride. We decided to keep the ride on the calendar and of course I felt compelled to participate. So Jacob and I biked to Dodgeville (and got soaked by a thunderstorm) and then rode back to Madison as fast as we could. I think this should become an annual event...

At the "finish line." We and our safety bicycles made good time

Wright Stuff Century

The Wright Stuff Century is an annual, pretty low-key event organized by Bombay Bicycle Club. It takes you through the Driftless area west of Madison and has a lot of climbing. This was the first time I did the long route and it was very enjoyable. I rode with my friend Andy Q, who was prepping for a 600k ride, and he's a great riding buddy. 
Riding the Driftless with Andy

Pick Me Up at the Border & Badger Challenge weekend

Two big rides, one weekend: On Friday night, I joined Bike Fitchburg's traditional Pick Me Up at the Border ride: Start in Fitchburg in the evening, ride south on the Badger State Trail toward the Illinois border. Because I had yet another big ride planned for Sunday (see below), riding all the way to the border was too much. Instead I rode with the fast kids in the front for as long as I could and then turned around. It was still over 100 kilometers and I got home just before midnight.

Then on Sunday it was time for the Badger Challenge, a charity ride for the local cancer center. I was signed up for the 100 mile ride, but with way to the start and back it ended up being my longest ride of the year, at 204 km. I overcooked it early on and had to battle a strong headwind on the way back. A challenge it was.

Tandem camping at the CX Cup

Despite several attempts earlier in the year, the SO and I never managed to go bike camping. The Trek CX World Cup seemed like the last opportunity. So we loaded up the BOB trailer and rode out there, with an amazing tailwind. And tons of fun at the World Cup. 

A little chilly for camping

Season Closer: To Rochelle and back

The last big ride of the season maybe also was the hardest ride of the year: An overnighter to Rochelle, IL. The first day was long, at almost 200 kilometers, there was a lot of headwind, and my eating and drinking were messed up. It was a very long and mentally hard day in the saddle before I rolled into Rochelle just around sunset. There's something about knowing what you and your body can do -- I know for sure that I can ride 200 kilometers in a day -- and the experience of actually doing it when the conditions are against you. Fortunately, the way back was shorter, more scenic, and had a wonderful tailwind. 
To Rochelle: and back
Nice Illinois gravel, with a side of tailwind