Saturday, November 17, 2012

Return to Cleveland: Part I

In mid-autumn, I discovered that I'd have another chance to road trip from Stamford to Cleveland, which meant about 8+ hours of mind-numbing driving comforted only by the destination and whatever bikes I had crammed into the back of the Element.

It also meant I'd be returning to a distant city I actually had some experience with. But as I wanted to check out some new things I decided to email a few folks I had met on my first trip to get some ideas. So I put together this graphic and sent it out, hoping to build - I guess the word is 'buzz' - for DIYBIKING.COM's return.

If you're looking at that picture with a furrowed brow, you probably do not live in or around Cleveland, nor did you read Part I or Part II of the posts I wrote this past June.

The graphic was successful - possibly too successful. As the photo made its rounds, my inbox became jammed with friendly emails from some terrific people. Due to bad planning on my part (and my planning session being interrupted by the irritant known as Superstorm Sandy) I was only going to end up with two solid days of biking in Cleveland, bookended by a few short and tiny trips. I also wasn't able to do everything that was suggested, but I do want to personally thank those who sent me messages with ideas; some of which would have to wait for yet another trip.

The first order of business for me was to decide what to take. Since I never get to travel long distances with it and I thought it would do quite well in an area mostly devoid of hills, I brought my early 1980s Turner Hypercycle recumbent. It is quite possibly the coolest and the squarest bike I own.

With the (even) better bike box mounted on the back, I couldn't use my homemade interior bike rack without my rearview mirror being completely blocked, so I had to put it in the car at an angle, which greatly reduced my options when it came to bringing an additional bike. So I brought, as you may have guessed, South Norwalk.

Eagle-eyed visitors will note the addition of a rear rack of my own design - an improved-upon version of what I made for my Brooklyn trip last month. This is made from the front fork of a random department store bike and a few pieces of welded steel I was able to bend with pliers and a vise. I attached a fork mount, making the perfect 'tow package' for South Norwalk. You see, after missing my opportunity to buy the folding tandem I saw at Blazing Saddle Cycle on my last visit, I didn't want to rule out the option of being able to go somewhere to pick up a bike and bring it home. I was also going to keep my eyes open for throwaway bikes so I could build more furniture from top tubes. I didn't have room in the car for a full-sized trashed bike, so I packed my own hacksaw, just in case.

I was able to bring some wisdom from my first visit with me on my second. For starters, I could go to The Christmas Story house when the gift shop was open.

Someone in my family has a really cool, possibly disturbing stocking stuffer coming their way, believe you me.

We could also visit the new Museum of Contemporary Art on Euclid Avenue. If you look at the building at just the right angle, it kinda vanishes.

Also, after 499 miles driving the car, I could take a short ride on South Norwalk on one of the family-friendly Cleveland Metropark trails to stretch my legs.

I also didn't have to spend a lot of time looking up where things were. I still got lost (as I have a tendency to do) but I understood the scale of the city and when someone would give me landmarks I occasionally understood what they were talking about.

For this trip, I stayed at the Key Center Marriott, and was ever so grateful to be able to park the car and never turn the ignition key again until I had to drive back to Connecticut several days later. I learned from an employee that the hotel doesn't really want guests to wheel bikes through the lobby - but the Marriott thoughtfully included a bike rack, complete with pump, on Level B of the parking garage, very well-lit and right next to the doors. The employee who told me this was a biker himself, and was very nice about it when he saw me wheeling South Norwalk into the garage elevator (I thank the Marriott very much for the comfortable stay and hope they have a sense of humor when they realize that if a person has a bike that can be folded up to the size of a shoe they can easily carry it, incognito, into the room to take a photograph - not that I'm suggesting anything).

Later I saw a sign on a building that read something along the lines of: "Do not chain bikes to the parking available on [Nearby]" which helped me understand more of why Cleveland feels differently from most cities I've ridden in. The message between business owners and cyclists doesn't feel as adversarial. Some cities have real or imagined pictures of bikes with a circle and a red slash going through them. Cleveland, with all of its construction and faults, just tends to have a better and friendlier message, and even when bike infrastructure is covered or surrounded by orange construction cones (as the Hope Memorial Bridge was for my entire visit) you just feel like the discussion between the cyclists and the city is ongoing.

On my first full day of riding, I started off with South Norwalk and ordinary clothes. Several layers of them, in fact. As it turned out, I was in Cleveland during a particularly cold spell with temperatures in the thirties for the first couple of days. The local meteorologist used the unfamiliar term 'lake effect' which I took to mean as: "you drove 499 miles to feel like you're still biking in New England."

But I was determined not to let it bother me as I went to the Erie Island Coffee Company on East 4th Street for an early breakfast.

The attractive barista recommended a dark roast (since I put milk in my coffee) and I settled down at the bar to plan my day. Not only was her recommendation good, but she knew the names and drink preferences of the next three customers that came in after me.

South Norwalk got some appreciative glances during this and my other visit to this coffee shop (on my second visit the day I was to leave I forgot my lock so I just carried the bike inside).

Once fueled, I walked the bike up E. 4th Street to a place I wanted to visit on my first trip but didn't: The Bike Rack, which is an indoor bike parking facility that also has showers. I especially like that it is right next to a car parking garage, so motorists can see it as they drive in (the garage belongs to The Horseshoe Casino, but it's still the thought that matters most).

The Bike Rack is operated by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the city itself, and the attendant gave me a great tour. However, I didn't hear most of what he was saying because I was too busy wondering why more cities didn't have this: you ride your bike to work downtown, you park it, you shower, you go about your day. You can lock your bike to a secure rack and use the shower/locker room.

The facility also allows bikeless visitors to Cleveland the chance to rent bikes, and, in addition to bike repairs, is also offering some spin classes.

I left with a card explaining the costs of a daily pass ($5) and a monthly pass ($25). Now I know that in cold weather there would be some empty spaces in The Bike Rack, but I'm sure it will be a matter of time before people living further from downtown or closer to Rocky River would see the beauty of this: if you live 5 miles from downtown and have a car that gets 23 miles a gallon, you spend about $0.16 per mile to drive to work in, what I soon learned, is pretty slow traffic. $0.16 times 10 means you're spending $1.60 per day in fuel to commute. There were 23 workdays in October alone, so 23 times $1.60 equals $36.80. Even if you end up using your car (in 'lake effect' weather days and the like) five or six times a month, a membership is still cheaper than using the car full time. And that's just what can be measured in dollars as I'm not counting the environmental benefits, putting less wear-and-tear on a car, and making one's body look better (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Are you listening, two-annoyed-Cleveland-drivers-who-honked-at-me-while-I-was-biking? (Yes, unlike my first visit, I was honked at on this trip - No city is perfect, but I'm not ruling out that the honking may have come from drivers who simply wanted to ask me what on earth I was riding since I was on the recumbent both times).

I thanked the Bike Rack attendant for showing me what the future of every city in America should look like before returning to my hotel to change my clothes and my equipment. Now with the recumbent and my clipless bike shoes, I set off into Ohio City, where I soon discovered that the famous sculpture changed colors, much like a maple tree in Vermont when the seasons change: here's what it looked like in May:

And here it is again in November. Looks like someone added some planters as well.

I parked my ride in the recycled shipping container next to Nano Brew (which was recommended to me by several Cleveland cyclists and by a nice person from Positively Cleveland but wasn't open that morning).

I then decided to visit my old haunts. Actually, I had only been to the following three excellent bike shops about once each six months ago. I don't know how often one has to visit a place before it officially becomes a 'haunt.' Three? Four or more? Nevermind.

I went to Joy Machines first to check the shop out once again and buy a couple of things to put in my bike box. Foolishly, I did not buy the reasonably priced toe warmers.

After my visit, I unlocked the bike and pedaled to Fridrich's to check their store out again as well and see how their inventory was changing. It appeared there were more sleds available, but the supply of recumbents had changed too.

Shortly after buying a bell to add to South Norwalk, I shivered my way to 65th street so I could pedal to Detroit Avenue and get to Blazing Saddle Cycle.

Still the great shop I remembered. No folding tandem to tempt me this time, but I bought a T-shirt I liked. I could have bought the whole inventory as the bike box still had a cavernous amount of space left in it.

Next, I headed someplace I hadn't been but had been recommended by many: Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park. It was sleeting at this time and tiny pellets were pinging off my bike glasses and collecting on my jacket. My toes were genuinely cold by the time I arrived at Ray's, which is in a featureless former industrial building.

The interior, however, is anything but. One of the first things I noticed (and appreciated; thank you Ray's staff) was a fireplace, which, coupled with the couches and picnic tables scattered about, created a nice atmosphere to thaw but also reminded me that the mission of the place was to help make a mountain bike destination work during the off-season. It made me think of the mountain bike I built and the amount of dust that collects on the frame and the amount of air that seeps out of tires during the winter months. But if I lived in or around Cleveland, that wouldn't happen. I looked around and liked what I saw - and the pictures do not do it justice. Incidentally, if you want to take your own, they offer GoPro Hero 2 camera rentals.

Just being there was interesting, and it was especially cool to stand in the doorway of the area just near the fireplace and hear the bikes thundering overhead, leaving me to guess the speed of the riders.

I would have gladly paid to use Ray's that afternoon, but I was tired and hungry (it was past lunchtime by this point) and decided to return another day with my own mountain bike. I thanked the staff and left, and before long I came to Bonbon on Lorain and enjoyed a great lunch which was punctuated by homemade donuts that were still warm by the time they arrived.

I should have filled my bike box to the top of those little donuts, or at least stuck one on each of my toes to keep them (the toes) warm for the cold ride back to my hotel. There, I finally warmed up, did several computer-related errands, then met my wife for an excellent dinner at Lola on E. 4th street.

It was a very good first day, but as it was about accuracy (hitting all of those places without getting lost) I decided that the next and final full day of riding needed to be about distance - no matter how cold it was going to be.

To be continued...

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)


  1. Just to set the record straight, the Bike Rack was initially the project of ClevelandBikes, a nonprofit cycling advocacy organization. While ClevelandBikes is no longer operating, the nonpofit Bike Cleveland is very active in helping to strengthen the cycling community and create the accessible neighborhoods you have enjoyed on your rides ( Visit the website for more great cycling ideas. Enjoy!