Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Return to Cleveland: Part II

(Didn't read Part I? Click here)

Many apologies for the long delay between posts: I have been slowly switching my digital self from that of a PC to that of a Mac. The faint but frequently heard chants of 'one of us…one of us' aside, it's a jarring experience. Switching to Mac after nearly two decades of PC use is like opening the silverware drawer in your kitchen and finding several rows of neatly folded socks there instead. Nothing is where it should be in this strange, new world (a delete key, every photo I have ever taken, and so on) but after much grumbling I have finally located everything I need for this post.

On my second and final full day of riding in Cleveland, it was again cold. Not Hoth-without-the-Tauntauns cold, but cold. Since my tattered but trusted neoprene booties were sitting in a dresser drawer 499 miles away, I was forced to improvise with some black electrical tape. My hope was it would create an effective barrier between my feet and the cold air.

It didn't.

Anyway, my plan was to travel west for the day just to see what was Out There. Since I was already partially familiar with it (due to Blazing Saddle Cycle being located there) I decided to travel down Detroit Avenue.

Before doing so, I decided to roam around the banks of the Cuyahoga River (where the picture of the metal bridge was taken). Several notches of the country's Rust Belt are down there, as well as an unusual bike shop underneath one of the above road bridges. Since I was planning to visit the shop in the early evening, when it would be open, I decided to ride the recumbent there first to make sure I wouldn't have to search for it later in the dark. I also found yet another way to cross the river - which would also be a tremendous help later. 

I left the banks of the river and headed over the Veterans Memorial Bridge, with the recumbent getting several appreciative and/or puzzling stares from motorists and pedestrians. I really did have no other objective other than to see how far I could ride. 

I ignored the cold air as much as I could, but about 12 miles in I decided to stop at the first available non-chain coffee shop I saw (I didn't drive 499 miles to go to Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks). A blue bike rack caught my eye next to the words "Seriously Amazing Coffee." I locked up the bike, stepped inside and quickly smiled: Erie Island Coffee Company, which serves a great cup on E. 4th Street, has just one other location in Rocky River, and by sheer coincidence, I had stopped at it.

This one has a fireplace right in the middle, and after getting coffee and a baked good, I sat in front and warmed up. In Ted Clampett style, I even removed my bike shoes so I could try to get the feeling back in my toes. Nobody was heading for the exits, which told me my feet didn't stink. 

Within a few minutes, an admirer of the recumbent stopped in to say hello and ask about DIYBIKING.COM. When I told him about my mostly aimless westward trajectory, he recommended I take a right turn at my next chance and follow Rt. 2 along Lake Erie. He also recommended that I stop at his wife's business around the corner, which makes, and sells, soap and related products made on the premises. I didn't ask if the proceeds from the sale of these products funded underground boxing matches, but I left Pure Enchantment with some body butter to give my wife all the same. 

I resumed pedaling down Detroit and took a right on Linda Avenue, which brought me to Rt. 2. As promised, it was a flat and even route with a view of the lake, mostly through people's backyards. As a lifelong East Coaster, I find the sight of water stretching off into the horizon to be quite soothing. 

I rode over ten miles on Rt. 2, even leaving Cuyahoga County. Now I recommend this route with an asterisk: if you want to ride as many miles as possible in a single day (century, anyone?) this is probably the road you want to take: few stop signs and stop lights, a decent shoulder/bike lane, little traffic and a mostly billiard-table flat terrain. However, since it is mostly residential there aren't a lot of small businesses to see along the way. Also, I wasn't prepared to ride a century and the cold weather began bullying my toes once more. Besides, this post is about Cleveland. 

I stopped for lunch and to warm up at a Mexican restaurant called Casita del Lago; 25 miles after I had left Cleveland, psyched myself up, and began pedaling back. I thought about smearing the body butter all over my toes to keep them warm, but I didn't. I took a detour hoping to find a tag sale that sold thick socks I could put over my bike shoes, but I failed. Still, the miles flowed out of the recumbent, and I would have stopped once again at Erie Island Coffee to warm up but the sun, which had been hidden behind gray clouds for the previous three days, chose that moment to peer out onto Detroit Avenue. I don't think it made it any warmer, but the psychological effect was enormous. I powered my way over the Veteran's Memorial Bridge, and with the odometer approaching 50 miles, I stopped at Colossal Cupcake to get a treat.

I returned to the room to rest, send and receive a few necessary emails, and prepare the next trip out: I topped off the tires of South Norwalk, charged my Serfas bike light and taped the repaired red blinky I found nearly two years ago on a New Canaan ride to the seat tube. I was going out at night, which isn't the most fun thing to do in a city you live in - much less one you've only visited twice. But the streets outside of my hotel were well lit when I set off to my first of two destinations about 6:00pm.

Armed with the wisdom of the area I had gleaned that morning, I pedaled in the dark down Columbus Road and turned right on Merwin Avenue (just before the bridge), walking South Norwalk on the cobblestones so I could enter the lot and find the entrance to Ohio City Bicycle Co-op. As the web site promised, there was a rack where I could easily lock the bike just behind the invitingly open door.

For this season at least, it is open on Wednesday nights between 5 and 9pm, and I was especially happy I'd be able to visit while it was open. When describing this place, the term 'right up my alley' comes to mind as the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op has a very simple mission: 'helping people use bicycles' but the scale of that mission goes far beyond those four words: in addition to promoting bicycle use in Cleveland, they provide bicycle education and instruction on how to repair bikes. Kids can earn a bike from the program by learning how to fix them, and the organization runs on donations and the sale of refurbished bikes at its shop, which is what I was very excited to see. 

All of the bikes on the floor were once donated to the organization and had been refurbished - with all of them priced competitively and looking like they were ready to hit the road. Now some of the bikes in that room do not exist in the natural cycling world. Some of these bikes exist only in Cleveland.

I swear my cousin and I once built one of those when we were kids by sawing an old Kent in half. 

Another unusual bike in the room that day was this excellent tandem, which at that moment wasn't for sale as it hadn't been repaired yet. I felt like the kid at school who knows the answer to the teacher's question and raises his hand frantically: thanks to my time leafing through my copy of Cyclepedia, I recognized the yellow work of art as a Buddy Bike: the tandem for people of equal size and weight who do not ever need to negotiate traffic.

The Ohio City Co-op has also built several original creations of their own, such as a cargo trailer they made without welding that was specially designed to fit through a common doorway. They also sell a few smaller items built from scrapped bikes to help with fund raising

The whole place seemed to be a scaled-up version of Domus' excellent Trafigura Work & Learn Business Center in Stamford. The workshop area, where some of the classes are run, is a great looking place with the right amount of clutter and organization every effective bike workshop needs.

I was also shown the warehouse area where donated bikes are brought in before they are refurbished. The room, seems bigger than the land my house in Stamford is on, reminded me of the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think I saw an old guy pushing a crate on a squeaky trolley off into the distance.

I thanked the staff for my tour and after buying something small, I soon left. It was great to see an organization with such a long history working so many angles to get people on bikes. I was sorry to learn I'd be gone by the time they did their As-Is Bike Sale and Holiday Open House this December 1st, so if you are in the Cleveland area please visit and support this great organization - and do consider sending me dusty bike frames from the 1970s and earlier in lieu of a Christmas card (you know: raw materials for welding). 

When I left, I crossed the Cuyahoga River through the rusty lift bridge and, pedaling South Norwalk safely but furiously, made it back to famous Ohio City sculpture and the blue container-turned-bike-rack so I could have dinner at Nano Brew.

This place did not open too long ago, and was recommended to me by a few residents I had contacted before my visit. Later on, when speaking to my parents on the phone, I should have spoken more clearly to avoid one of them incredulously asking me "you ate at a biker bar?!" so now that I can type the description, I hope to avoid confusion: It's a bicyclists' bar, right across the street from Joy Machines. In addition to the bike parking outside, there is a workstation inside where one can bring a bike that needs tuning and work on it yourself. From the web site I learned that this workstation has a place to rest a beer while you work on your bike. 

I went inside and found a comfortable spot at the bar. I rarely drink beer. In fact, I rarely drink anything at all that isn't either a) water, or b) water that has been heated and poured through caffeinated brown powder. Knowing I wouldn't fool the bartender by feigning any sort of sophistication, I asked her to recommend a beer for an infrequent drinker, and she steered me straight to The Fixie, which was quite good and light on the alcohol content.

The food menu isn't long, but it is well edited. And I will say this: the hamburgers at Nano Brew are the reason cows were invented. Not only did my burger taste excellent, it did not later feel as though I was digesting a small anvil. I could not believe that there could be a chain hamburger place within fifty miles of the place. Now for the vegetarians among DIYBIKING.COM readers: they have at least one meat-free burger which is probably fine, as well as other meat-free things on the sides menu. 

I ate and drank leisurely at the bar for a little while before I was convinced I was full enough and adequately sober to get back on South Norwalk for the ride back to the hotel. Just down the street from Nano Brew, I could see the West Side Market, which I didn't have a chance to visit this time. The beef from Nano Brew's burgers come from there, which by itself is more than enough reason to visit.  

I decided to put full faith in my bike lights and helmet rearview mirror to get myself safely across the bridge. It was a bit intimidating, but I easily made it and, after passing through the still-under-construction intersection near Progressive Field, I took the long way to the hotel, passing a guy sitting on a folding chair across from Horseshoe Casino playing 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head' on a trumpet. 

The next morning, it was time to go home. But with a late checkout before the long ride back to town, I made a last visit to the E. 4th Street location of Erie Coffee Company before returning with South Norwalk to the bridge, determined to get one decent shot of the sunrise. I snapped a few pictures before heading back to pack and secure both bikes in the car. In typical fashion, the weather that day was going to be the best yet even though I was going to be stuck in a car for more than eight hours. 

Once again, it was a great visit to Cleveland, and I really am sorry I didn't respond to all who sent me a note about what places to go and things to do. I'm convinced the city is to cyclists what Alfa Romeos are to car buffs (known as 'Petrolheads') in Britain: just like you can't consider yourself to be a true Petrolhead until you've owned an Alfa, I don't think you can be a true Bicycle-Equivalent-of-a-Petrolhead without visiting Cleveland. And like Alfas, there are cities that look nicer and have better infrastructure, but they lack a certain indescribable something that gives them soul, and for Cleveland a lot of it has to do with having so many people and organizations - Bike Cleveland and others - working to make the city an even nicer place to ride a bike than it is now.  

Do try to go this weekend so you bike about and support the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, but whenever you do go, do not do everything all at once: you'll find that there will be more than enough reason to visit again. And again. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 


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