Tuesday, November 23, 2010

So Low

My bike poses atop The Crag.

Some bike blogger I turned out to be!

I just went 62 days between rides. I counted.

Yes, I've been busy, sure, and I was sick with bronchitis for a few weeks, and I got married in there somewhere, but jeesh. Sixty-two days?!

It's hard to believe as I write this (where it's cold and dark and dreary outside), but the weather was actually exquisite in Prague not too many days ago. In fact, we set a record for the warmest November weekend in Prague history, at something like 21 Celsius, or almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Truly amazing.

I asked around to see if anyone wanted to head out on the trails with me on such a glorious day but could find no takers. So I headed out alone, just me and my bike and my spaghetti legs and iPod.

And what a day it was.

With NPR's "All Songs Considered" podcast to keep me company, I ventured from my house in Černý Vůl, west of Prague, down through Únětice to Roztoky (nothing happening at the site of our beloved Koliba, by the way), then along the river to Lysolaje, then up through some nasty construction to V Šáreckém údolí, and then up to the fantastic Croatian restaurant at Jeneralka called Chorvatský Mlýn. (I remember when this ride from Podbaba up V Šáreckém údolí used to take everything I had. Today, even though I'm out of shape, it's nothing, really. I guess I can still take some faint pride in that.)

From there, I headed into my old route into Divoká Šárka, with the aim of seeing if one of our old haunts, the beer garden near the swimming pool, was open on this day. And indeed it was. Lots of cyclists and families with babies in strollers and old folks with dogs out for a stroll on what was probably the last nice day of 2010.

The justifiably popular beer garden in the middle of Divoká Šárka.

I gassed up on a beer and a klobasa, mustard and bread and watched the rock climbers as they scaled the surrounding cliffs.

From there, it was up the very steep, paved trail just behind the beer garden (I admit I had to walk my bike part of the way), and then up to what we call The Crag, a rocky outcropping that offers sweeping views of Sarka and the surrounding countryside and city.

A lovely, but steep, trail heading up to The Crag.

The view from The Crag.

I changed my iPod to a Genius mix that included Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Kasabian, White Lies, Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, The Boxer Rebellion, Maximo Park, and the XX.

Then I headed on a path that skims the edge of Sárka to another path that cuts across some farmer's field (where I recorded the audio clip below), across The World's Most Dangerous Road, to the village of Přední Kopanina. Then through the forest connecting the village to Statenice, my neighboring village, where I stopped for a second beer, which I sipped outside in the waning sunlight, and then home.


At around 25k, my legs started to give out on me. I felt pretty good otherwise, but my thighs just started to ache. Thankfully, it was pretty much level or downhill from there, so I wasn't forced to do any climbing. But it was pretty obvious that I hadn't ridden in quite some time.

Even though winter is approaching, I hope to remedy that situation.

Length of ride: 31 kilometers
Average speed: 13.7 kph
Maximum speed: 37.4 kph
Time on the bike: 2.14.23
Pivo Index: 2
Distance ridden so far in 2010: 535 kilometers

Long shadows as I head for home.

A final sunny beer in Statenice.

Despite the great weather, it was pretty sloppy out there in the forests.

I don't know why exactly, but I really like this failed photo. In the woods near Přední Kopanina, the planes fly pretty low as they make their approach to the Prague airport.

Another nice trail in Divoká Šárka.

Architectural detail near Chorvatský Mlýn.

What I believe is a relatively fresh memorial, presumably to a walker or cyclist hit by a car, along the normally bucolic V Šáreckém údolí. A disturbing development.

Shadows and patterns.

Construction scene sculpture in Lysolaje.

I came up behind a group of horse riders on my bike near Únětice. These kinds of encounters always make me nervous, since I'm afraid my presence, coming up from behind, will spook the horses. I always slow down or stop and make sure everyone knows I'm there before proceeding past. I had one unfortunate experience with this a few years back.


Near Únětice.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

He Almost Mist It

It's been rainy and foggy and kinda gloomy in Prague for the past few days.

My cycling buddy Rob took the photograph above. He says:

"I found this great bit of new cycling infrastructure this morning. A great new path along the outside of the park around the Star Lodge," also known as the Letohrádek Hvězda.

He also took this photo in the village of Brve, presumably on the same day, judging by the weather!

Nice photos, man.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Whatever Comes Our Way

Allen took a video of our ride using his Contour HD helmet cam.

Homer Simpson: The first meeting of Hell's Satans is called to order.
Ned Flanders: I move to reconsider our club name. Make it something a little less blasphemous. After all, we don't wanna *go* to hell.
Lenny: How 'bout The Devil's Pals.
Ned Flanders: Nuh-no... see...
Moe Szyslak: How about the Christ Punchers?
Ned Flanders: The Chri...! I-I don't think you understand my objections.
Homer Simpson: I'm the president and the decision is mine. We're Hell's Satans. Besides, I already made our club jackets.
Lenny: Ooo, machine wash warm.
Carl: Tumble dry... Oooh lah lah.

As some wise person once said, "It's not the destination, but the journey." And that old adage certainly held true last weekend, when I went on my first group motorcycle ride with some cool dudes from the Czech Expat Bikers Club.

I'd received an e-mail from the club's guru, Allen Harris, back in August. He'd seen a previous blog post I'd done on the ride that Daisy and I took to Český Ráj and wanted to know if I'd be interested in riding together.

He wrote:

"I have 2 cruisers, a Yamaha VX1100 Virago and a VX535 Virago. I have had them for 10 years now and after a period off them due to work I am getting them back on the road. The first job is to get new STK approval which will start next week for the 535 then I will get the 1100 back on the road as well.

"I have been looking out to find someone who might enjoy pottering about the countryside at the weekends, take in the smells, sights and life of the area. It is good that you like to drive at a moderate pace as riding cruisers at speed results in getting very long arms and continual tears rolling down your face.

"I am planning some short trips around the area as soon as the bikes are legal, so if you are interested maybe we could get together one day soon and put a mark on the map."

That sounded right up my alley. My idea of motorcycling paradise is cruising along at 70 kph on a deserted country road.

But what with my mom's injury and recovery, and my trip to the U.S. to take her home, and then the month of September was pretty much consumed by wedding plans, Allen and I never did get to ride together.

But at the end of October, Allen organized a meeting at a Smichov pub for interested riders. I stopped by for a few cold ones (OK, they were Radegast Birells) and met Allen and four or five other expat bikers, all cool guys and all interested in riding together.

The next week, Allen scheduled a ride, which I didn't think I'd be able to make, as we had friends coming over with their new baby for dinner. But then Daisy got sick, and we didn't want to risk making the baby sick, too, so suddenly I was free to ride. I didn't realize this, however, until about 45 minutes before they were all scheduled to meet at the McDonald's on Evropská.

I threw on my riding leathers and raced over. The skies were dark, but it hadn't rained, and it was quite warm (around 14 C or 57 F).

Turns out there were, in addition to myself and Allen, four other bikers, all of whom had not been at the pub meeting the week before. Here are the guys I rode with, and what they ride (photos of the bikes can be founda at the end of this post):

Allen Harris rides a Yamaha XV1100 Virago.

Marcus Pauels rides a European 2008 Harley-Davidson Softail "Rocker C" (1584 cc)

Andy Schofield rides a 1999 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade (918cc)

Karthik Shetty rides a 1999 Honda X11 (1,137 cc)

Stu Schaag rides a 2008 Harley-Davidson Nite Rod Special (1250cc)

And me? I ride a 2002 Honda Shadow 600.

By the way, Stu got his Harley outfitted with a monster after-market exhaust system that really shakes to your core. I recorded a bit on my iPhone. Take a listen:


I sort of assumed that everybody knew everybody else, and that I was the odd man out, but that wasn't the case. We were all just bikers eager to ride with other bikers but who didn't really know anyone to ride with.

Allen (left), me, and Stu at a pit stop at the lovely Ve Stoleti.

Andy (left), Karthik and Marcus across the table at Ve Stoleti.

Someone decided we should ride to Lany, which is the town where what you might call the Czech Camp David is located. There's a chateau there that's long served as the summer residence of Czech presidents. The first president of Czechoslovakia, Thomas Masaryk, is buried in the local cemetery. President Vaclav Havel used his regular "Talks From Lany" radio programs to comment on current events.

Anyway, that sounded like a fine destination, probably a 30-minute trip from Prague through the rolling Czech countryside. In the end, though, the trip took us something like 90 minutes, after the leaders got lost numerous times.

For my taste, we spent way too much time on major highways on that route and not enough time peeling fall leaves off our visors, but it was still a hell of a lot of fun.

Here's a funny bit of audio I recorded of Marcus and Stu discussing where we'd all gone wrong on the roads:


In Lany (where just about everything was closed for the season), we stopped for coffee (I had another nonalcoholic Birell) and then headed down to Beroun, twisting through some genuinely gorgeous autumn-hued countryside.

From Beroun, we headed back toward Prague and stopped again in a really cool restaurant and hotel that Marcus knew called Ve Stoleti in Loděnice. He spoke highly of the food and service, and while I didn't eat, the place had a great vibe and looks like it is spectacular in sunny, warm weather.

Stu and I needed to get home to our wives, so we cut out a few minutes early and headed up the highway. Turns out that that was a smart move. About 10 minutes from home, it started to rain, and rain pretty hard. I managed to make it home before getting too soaked, but the guys who stayed behind had a very wet ride ahead of them once they finished their meals.

Members of the Expat Bikers Club? Or an outtake from "Wild Hogs"? The gang stops in Lany for a break -- (left to right) Andy, Karthik, Stu, me, Allen and Marcus.

Let me just say a few words about riding motorcycles in a group. This is the first time I've ever ridden with even one other rider, and it does have its advantages:

1. You have support if something goes wrong.

2. You have someone to talk to when you stop for a coffee.

3. You can just follow the pack and not worry about where you're going.

4. And I must admit: You really feel like a badass when you're one of a gang of six motorcyclists passing through a town or village. People stop and stare and generally get the hell out of your way. You feel, well, cool. There's no other way to say it.

I had a fantastic time on this ride, which ended up being around 140 kilometers or so. I do have to admit that I'm an enthusiastic motorcycle rider, but I know next to nothing about the geeky aspects of riding -- that is, I don't know that much about bikes, or engine sizes, or horsepower, or the advantages of a twin-cam air-cooled engine.

All the other guys really seem to know their torque from their compression. And truth be told, I really don't care that much. I just want to ride. And that seemed cool with them.

Despite feeling slightly out of place, I had a fantastic time. I made some new friends, saw some beautiful countryside, and experienced that surge of adrenalin that only comes with riding a motorcycle.

When's the next ride, gents?

Karthik's 1999 Honda X11 (1,137 cc)

Stu's 2008 Harley-Davidson Nite Rod Special (1250cc)

Allen's Yamaha XV1100 Virago.

Marcus's 2008 Harley-Davidson Softail "Rocker C" (1584 cc)

Andy's 1999 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade (918cc)

My bike, a 2002 Honda Shadow 600

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The 2011 Prague Bike Blog Calendars Are Here!

Yet another blog post in which I make excuses for not riding...

I got married earlier this month -- as you may have read ;-) -- and was out of the country. Then I got sick for two weeks with bronchitis, which I'm just now pulling out of.

I hope to be back in the saddle again soon.

In the meantime, I am thinking of putting together a 2011 Grant's Prague Bike Blog Calendar, featuring some of the best, funniest, and most entertaining photographs from the blog over the past four years.

It hasn't been created yet (I'll post a link when I get a final version together), but in the meantime, let me know if you'd be tentatively interested in ordering one of these babies, at cost.

It'll probably run you around $20 each, plus a few bucks for shipping.

They make excellent Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers!