This past weekend Lorena, Heath, and I went to Michigan to hang out with Marty and ride mountain bikes. We've made this trip numerous times before and the drive is usually not much to write about. To quote a famous movie line: "Ain't nothing to see on the interstate but interstate." (Bonus if you can name the movie!)
As we often do, we thought nothing of putting our mountain bikes on the roof of the car for the trip. That's how we get our bikes from place to place when we travel. The beauty of the roof rack is that the bikes don't have to be on a trunk rack that prevents easy access to gear in the back of the vehicle. On top of that, the bikes aren't in the "crush zone" should you get rear-ended. Most of you don't need me to extol the obvious benefits of roof racks. This weekend's trip did, however, make it obvious that the Ohio Turnpike Commission doesn't quite see roof racks for bikes/kayaks/canoes/luggage/etc... in the same way.
When we go to Ypsilanti, the Ohio Turnpike is certainly the easiest and fastest way to get there. We get on at Rt 8 or I-77 and get off at I-75. The toll would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4. Not really a big deal. We don't mind paying a toll if it means the road is better maintained and that generally seems to be the case with the Ohio Turnpike. On the other hand, anybody who's travelled the Ohio Turnpike since at least August knows that tolls have recently increased pretty significantly. That same trip now will cost you $7.25. That is, if you don't have bikes or any other gear on top of your car. With bikes, it's $12. Each way.
Using the number of axles to calculate tolls really boils down to how vehicle weight is distributed to the road. Most passenger cars and trucks have two axles making them Class 1, the lowest fare. The lower fare is totally understandable because they are relatively lighter vehicles and therefore do less damage to the road. Many tractor-trailers have five axles making them Class 5 and understandably pay a higher fare because they are heavier. Their weight-per-tire is considerably higher than a passenger vehicle even though they have more than quadruple the number of tires. For example, a loaded tractor-trailer with 18 tires might weigh 80,000 lbs and therefore has 4,444 lbs/tire. Our Ford Focus station wagon weighs around 2,650 lbs equating to 662 lbs/tire. Regardless of whether we put our bikes on the roof or inside the vehicle, three mountain bikes add around 70 lbs to our vehicle or a whopping 17.5 lbs/tire. Even with the additional bike weight, the force our vehicle exerts on the road surface is obviously nowhere near that of a tractor-trailer. If tolls were based simply on weight distribution, I'd be totally fine with it. It only makes sense that vehicles that can do more damage to the road should pay more for the road's maintenance.
Then, there's the height factor. As it stands right now, the height cutoff from Class 1 to Class 2 is 7ft-6in. If you're over that height, regardless of the number of axles, you become a Class 2 (or higher) vehicle and will pay a higher toll. What does height have to do with damage to the road? Certainly, an assumption can be made that taller vehicles are likely heavier and it is often true. However, it is not always true. A tractor trailer is taller than our car and is certainly heavier. Putting bikes inside our car doesn't make it any taller but it makes it heavier. The only issue I can think of where a vehicle's height is important on the Ohio Turnpike would be for going under overpasses. Even then, most overpass clearances are at least 13ft-6in. Tractor-trailers are taller than our car with bikes on the roof and they clear these overpasses with room to spare. Other than the taller=heavier assumption, I see no logical reason for height to be a factor in calculating tolls. Unless...
With the institution of the EZ-Pass system on the Ohio Turnpike, we speculated that some sort of height measurement might be part of how your toll would be assessed as you drive through the EZ-Pass lane. Since you have to drive slowly through the lane for your transponder to be read and the gate arm lifted, a simple array of photoelectric sensors would have enough time to determine the vehicle's height based on how many light beams you break. Even if this were the case (which it's not), it's an easy, but definitely not perfect, way of automating the toll calculation. Taller = heavier = higher toll. Some research into how the EZ-Pass system works revealed that no height measurement is taking place. The transponder in your vehicle is simply coded for your class. Technically, you could drive a school bus (Class 2) through the EZ-Pass lane with a transponder coded for a minivan (Class 1) and pay a lower toll.... as long as you don't get caught. (Disclaimer: I am most definitely not condoning this practice.) So, if the fancy automated system isn't using height to calculate tolls and/or prevent toll fraud, why does height even matter? I could have an EZ-Pass transponder for our car (Class 1), put bikes or whatever on the roof that makes our height above 7ft-6in (technically Class 2), and drive through the EZ-Pass lane only paying a Class 1 toll. EZ-Pass makes it "EZ" to commit fraud.
Unfortunately, EZ-Pass is simply a way for the Ohio Turnpike Commission to save money by not having to pay workers in the toll booths. One might suggest that taking the human element out of the equation is part of the problem because a worker could look at a car with a kayak on the roof and reason: "Oh, you're driving a Honda Civic, that kayak doesn't weight 6,000 lbs, and you're below the 13ft-6in overpass clearance. That makes you a Class 1. That will be $7.25 please." While simple and logical, this is also unmanageable because it becomes a judgement call every time.
If you're still reading by this point, you're probably thinking "Boy, this is a lot of complaining without offering any suggestions of how to fix the system." Keep reading.
In my perfect world, there would be scales in the toll booths that measure your vehicle's weight including whatever you have inside it, be it people, your life's possessions, or anything in between. Toll booths are generally located at exits from the highway. This means you're probably going to be driving more slowly on the exit ramp approaching the toll booth. Toll booths are often busy and so a stop-and-go scenario is already likely. Why not require vehicles to stop to pay the toll (to an actual person or automated) while simultaneously being weighed by the scale? If you really want to keep height as a factor, why not limit access to the Turnpike to vehicles that are shorter than a maximum height that safely clears the shortest overpass?
The only sticking point I can think of is how to account for the number of axles/tires on a vehicle without a human to verify. Optical/computing technology does exist to discern geometric features from a photograph and could be applied to automatically determine the number of axles from a side photograph of the vehicle. So, with the actual vehicle weight known and the number of axles known (human determined or automated), we can calculate the weight distribution to the road. If the toll classes are based on ranges of weight per axle, accurate toll calculation that is based on what actually damages the road is easy.
Will this system be perfect? I'm sure the answer to that question is NO. However, I believe it would be the most accurate overall. Precision of weight measurement would likely be the biggest issue because the calibration of a lot of scales would have to be maintained. Then again, they do this all the time at weigh stations along other non-toll highways. The weight per axle ranges for toll classes would simply have to be statistically determined to account for measurement error.
Now, if you're still reading, you might think "This is a lot of stink raised over $24." The thing is, it's not just our $24. It's all of the money extorted from outdoor athletes/enthusiasts that use the Ohio Turnpike to get to where they enjoy their equipment. Honestly, why should someone driving a Toyota Prius that has two road bikes on the roof pay more in tolls than someone driving a Ford Excursion because of height? The Excursion weighs a lot more than the Prius even though it's shorter. What if we had a minivan instead of our station wagon and decided to put a luggage carrier on the roof to comfortably hold the gear of a van full of people? I'd venture it's still lighter than the Excursion but probably taller.
Unless the Ohio Turnpike Commission changes their rules for how they determine toll classes, I recommend boycotting the Ohio Turnpike and taking the side roads. Not only will it probably not take much longer to travel the same distance, you might find some cool, out-of-the-way restaurant that will certainly be cheaper than eating at any service plaza on the Turnpike. It's almost like eating in an airport. Just remember, you're paying too much money for the privilege of being a captive audience to pay way too much for a Whopper.
AKA Cross My Heart and Hope to Die. AKA Cyclocross, JIF style. AKA Racing in Wet Concrete. AKA Quick, Easy Ways to Double Your Bike's Weight While Crushing Your Soul... etc...
Saturday's cyclocross race in Willoughby was one of the hardest cyclocross races I've done in probably 6 years. The previous hardest was also a Bike Authority Series race at Broadview Heights back in 2003(?) when we had temperatures in the 50's after a day of snow. Back then, it turned a short segment of the course into a thick mud that took nearly everything you had just to get through it. Thankfully, it was only a segment of the course. We weren't so lucky this time around.
According to several other race reports, it rained in Willoughby all night on Friday and didn't stop until around 11AM on Saturday. I drove through very little rain on the way to the race, but it wasn't raining when I arrived around 11:45 at the venue, Todd Field. The sun was even threatening to peek out.
The course didn't look that bad when at first. Then again, no racing had taken place yet. A majority of the course was on grass with a few very notable elements. First, there was a run-up with a barrier at the bottom. As many others have noted, that barrier proved to be pretty much unnecessary.
Thankfully, during the B-race we only had to run halfway up the hill. The A-race had to run the whole thing. In retrospect, I think the A-riders had a bit of an advantage because they got a longer roll-out on the downhill that maybe allowed them to sling a little more mud off their tires. The course headed toward the hill two more times albeit in shorter segments. In the B-race, most everyone ran every bit of the hill. It was just so chewed up and soft that pedaling them was only possible by the strongest riders. I'd speculate that those in the top-5 were among those able to ride it.
The next most difficult element of the course had to be what was dubbed the "Spiral of Death". Now, those from Team Spin can't claim total credit for the name as the great Ted Chauvin used the "Spiral of Death" in a cyclocross race two years ago in Pullman, WA. In both cases, the spiral was setup on a baseball diamond. The primary difference between these two circumstances lies in the conditions. In Pullman, it was pretty dry. Not the case in Willoughby:
The photos don't do the conditions justice. This mud was incredibly thick, sticky, and much of it went home with me on my bike. When you exited the spiral, the mud was a little soupier before the barriers. It was almost a relief. I couldn't believe how much mud had accumulated on my bike throughout the race. It was especially noticeable when going over the barriers. I remember thinking on the last lap "Holy crap this thing is heavy." as I picked my bike up to go over the barriers.
Even in the grassy sections, the ground was really soft and it took so much effort to push through. On the very sparse segments of pavement in the course, it felt like someone lifted a 50lb weight off of your shoulders. You could go so much faster it felt like a dream. The extra momentum helped when you hit the grass again shortly after.
I'll fully admit that I didn't have my best race ever. My start wasn't great despite starting on the front row. Everyone was extremely cautious going into the first turn because it was greasy. After that, there was a bit of a cluster the first time up the run-up. It was a little frustrating, but I figured that I'd go through my usual tactic of simply making up for the bad start by picking off riders through the rest of the race. Sure, I as able to make up several places and then I'd give up a few. The last lap was mostly survival... and trying to hold off Pat Miranda who was chasing me. Thanks, Pat. Nice work keeping me motivated!
In the end, I finished 21st out of 41 finishers. According to the results, there were a few mechanicals and some DNFs. Both are totally understandable. That mud got in EVERYTHING and it's a wonder our bikes even worked. I also can understand some not finishing due to having their soul beat out of their body with their legs. It was hard, and, thank goodness I get to drop a couple of my bad finishes in the series points chase.
On the plus side, the race was certainly fun. On top of that, I didn't have the same abdominal issues post-race that I had two weeks prior. The drive home past the Cuyahoga Valley was gorgeous with all of the fall foliage.
Kudos to Team Spin for putting on the race. We all know how hard it is to organize and pull off such an event. In this case, however, I don't envy them if they have to repair the baseball field with the "Spiral of Death". In their defense, they certainly couldn't have predicted the weather when they scheduled the race. Unfortunately, it's all just part of cyclocross and race promotion.
I was able to get a few photos from the A-race and the aftermath that was my cross bike. For the full slideshow, see below:
Well, the last few weeks have been VERY busy for us. Perhaps the biggest news in our little world is that we're in the process of buying a house. It's a little hard to believe, but it's nearly ours. The inspection happens next week and, provided that all goes well, it's just a matter of time to get all of the paperwork through. Still not exactly sure whether I think the process is easy or mind-boggling complex. So far, it's been more straightforward than I anticipated and I'm OK with that.
On the riding front, it's been a few weeks since the last Bike Authority Series cyclocross race and tomorrow marks the next installment. I hope the legs feel as good as they did today. What with all of this house-buying stuff, riding time has been a little limited. I'm definitely mentally pretty psyched since I'm doing well in terms of series points.
The last little nugget is the fact that the University of Idaho Vandals football team is friggin' 5-1! Everything I've read this week suggests that we should beat Hawaii in the Kibbie Dome tomorrow. If we do win, we're bowl eligible for the first time in 10 years! I was really hoping Tulsa would knock off Boise State and make the November 14th game between the Vandals and Broncos even more interesting... Hell, Idaho even got a vote for the Top-25 last week! Is that enough exclamation points for you?!!
More to come tomorrow I'm sure... Gotta go take some fresh bread out of the oven and then get a good night's rest.
Sunday's cyclocross race at Leroy Township Park near Painesville was one of the sloppiest races I've done in a while. Even last weekend's race at Kent Stark in a downpour didn't get nearly as muddy and Starcrossed in 2008 wasn't horrible despite the all-day rain. I knew things were going to be interesting when I stepped off the parking lot and onto the grass upon arriving at the park. That telltale 'squish'. Granted, it didn't rain at all during the race, but they'd had plenty and the ground was super-saturated.
The C-race got started around noon and they did a good job of 'breaking-in' the course for us B-racers. Temps were in the 50's and it was difficult to decide whether to go with arm and/or knee warmers given that getting wet was not optional. After warming up, I opted to lose the arm warmers for fear of overheating during the race. I'm still not sure whether that was a good idea or not. I definitely didn't notice the cold and had plenty of sweat pouring off my brow.
I didn't get a great start, but managed to be about 10th going into the first turn. It was a slick one and thankfully I was smarter this week by running lower tire pressure. I stayed in 10th position for quite a while, occasionally trading a few spots throughout the first 3 or 4 laps. The top 10 riders seemed to be fairly close together for a good portion of the race and I kept seeing people in front of my that I was closing in on. During the last two laps I pretty much buried myself trying to catch them and only managed to make up one place. I'll still take 9th place though. It's my best finish so far this cyclocross season and I don't think I'm quite at my peak yet. Right now I've got a 10th, 15th, and 9th with nowhere to go but up.
Hats off to Robert Sroka for his second place finish. He was right in front of me at Wendy Park and finished 5th at Kent Stark. He's definitely on his way up. Also, nice work by Rick Parr for once again holding me off. Dude, if you're reading this, you made me work my ass off chasing. I really don't think I left anything out there on the course, that's for sure.
Post-race, I was talking with a fellow OCC rider and suddenly felt really light-headed and nauseated. It nearly brought me to my knees and I had to squat down for a while until the feeling passed. As I continued to get changed and ready to depart, I just felt worse and worse. Standing up made my stomach turn somersaults and I completely lost my appetite even though I knew I had to eat something. I got everything loaded, choked down and Larabar and hit the road for the 1h45min drive home.
This had to be one of the worst drives home after a race that I can recollect. In addition to stomach cramps and nausea, I also became extremely tired and almost pulled off at a rest area to sleep. Oddly enough, the exciting finish of the Browns/Bengals game on the radio kept my spirits up enough to get home safely. Though, upon walking in the door, I promptly collapsed on the couch and went to sleep for a couple of hours. I had to have my legs up in the fetal position to make the cramps bearable. The worst part was not knowing the cause. I woke up around 6:30pm and managed to eat a little and try to stay awake for a little while longer. Finally, I went to bed at 8:30pm and didn't wake up again until 6:30am the next morning when the alarm went off. When I did wake up, I felt 100% better. Almost like the previous evening of pain never happened. I went through the whole day at work with no lingering effects and still don't know the cause. Probably never will.
The next cross race isn't until the 17th in Willoughby. Plenty of time to recover and get ready. Until then, here are a couple of my favorite photos from the race: