Monthly Archives: June 2012

More Secret Bike Races: Beroun Bike Weekend

Saturday Caitlin and I took a train to Beroun and then hiked over to Karlštejn.  Of course, the first order of business was to find coffee for Ms Thompson, so we walked to the town center—a full kilometer in the wrong direction!

In any event, coming into the main square, what did we see?

Mmm... Looks like some kind of run or something.

Oh man, that kid's got a number plate on... Maybe a bike race?!?!

We had indeed stumbled onto the opening act of the Beroun Bike Weekend, kicking off with a ridiculous amount of kids’ races around the town square.  This was only made more awesome by the fact that we had no idea what was going on and no one spoke English, so we could only assume the entire setup was for the kids’ races.  And, let me tell you, there was a lot of setup.

This is a way more elaborate finish than I've seen at some US national championships...

Food trucks, with the beer flowing readily by 9am at the latest.

Spin bike demo truck. These three people were in this thing for at least an hour.

He's a one man band caught in a trio... The first of two bands to play throughout the morning.

The awesome thing about kids' races is they bring spectators like nothing else can.

There were no less than four giant inflatable arches around the quarter mile square.

A strict bouncy castle regimen is now the only Joe Kopena-approved warmup routine.

A lot of the activity was actually really neat, and very kids-focused.  Several organizations had tents up teaching kids about road safety with different games and coloring books, in addition to more generic fun like facepainting.  There was also a really sweet, super well put together micro pump track thing for tiny kids to ride some bumps and curves on.

Lining up for the bump track.

Shreddin' some gnar... on push bikes!

The local police had a whole bunch of coloring books and posters about riding in traffic. I looked for the much-needed "How to Avoid Death by Angry Tram" but they were all taken already.

I have no idea what the guys on the left were teaching, but it seemed to involve painting things.

The table on the right had a guessing game about road signs. I... did not win.

The wisely chosen white tiger paint provided the necessary aerodynamic and ferociousness advantage to propel her to the win over the orange tiger girl. True story!

Racing was also in no shortage of supply, with a ridiculous number of categories divvying up the horde of little kids.  Boys, girls, toddlers, pre-schoolers, elementary school kids, everybody got a category, almost all with a whole bunch of other people in it, with each age group doing another lap beyond the previous one.

Pre-schooler boys get ready to rip it...

Some highly technical number placement adjustment going on.

From now on, this is the new gold standard in pace car technology.

And they're off!

The field comes back through the gates.

Girl pre-schoolers, goin' a whole lot faster than those wimpy dude pre-schoolers...

A girls' race winner after her epic victory. She looks way more credible as a bike racer than I ever have.

We gather there was some crazy mountain bike race there later in the afternoon, as well as some kind of gran fondo ride/race the next day, but we eventually managed to determine it wouldn’t start until late afternoon and couldn’t stick around.  The course looked awesome though, and was apparently quite long.  As we left organizers had started moving barricades to create a prologue sequence that looked super crazy to watch, wrapping and twisting all throughout town before making its way to the woods and an egregiously long opening climb.

Start line. (photo by mtbs.cz)

Across the Berounka river. (photo by mtbs.cz)

A long stretch of the trail we hiked out of Beroun was actually course taped, quite likely for this race.  We were super disappointed they started too late and we were not caught by a raging tsunami of mountain bike racers, especially given the seeming Czech predilection for starting all categories at once.  Except in kids’ races of course.  That’s serious business.

There are a few more photos in the Flickr gallery.

City Overlook

Early in the morning from a church front on the large bluffs overlooking Old Town.

There’s actually a lot of good running in the park up here, with a pretty big network of flat paths up top and a bunch of long, steep ramps and stairs to and from the river and Old Town.

Euro 2012: Česko vs Polská

The Czech Republic played Poland the other day in the Euro 2012.  This of course meant that Old Town Square was completely packed.

Enter the maelstrom...

Caitlin, don't wander away!

She wandered away...

Still no Caitlin...

There she is!

Caitlin thinks there should be bleachers with tickets only for short people.  It seems only fair.  There was no way to get any closer to the big screen than the shots above, but basically every little stand and kiosk in town had somehow found a big screen TV to play this on.  You could walk all around the tourist core of Old Town without missing anything if you really wanted to.

The Czechs apparently won.  We were actually in the square when they scored the only goal, fairly late in the game, and were shocked we weren’t crushed in a stampede to the big screen.  Poland is actually the cohost of the tournament with the Ukraine and this was an upset by the Czechs that put the Poles out of it, so I can’t imagine it was too pretty at the actual stadium.

Dawn over the Vltava

 

All from Charles Bridge.

Genesis Bike Prague MTB Race

Coming to Prague, I knew it had a pretty strong MTB scene and much less of a road cycling vibe.  This has turned out to be ridiculously more true than I expected.

Yesterday I was out riding, on my road bike, when yet another path just turned to dirt.  I figured, fine, whatever, I’m tired of this, and just kept climbing up the now-dirt, steep little pitch rather than turning around yet again.  Then course tape started appearing, blocking off side trails.  Then a steady trickle of mountain bikers, fortunately also going up rather than down, with number plates…

Coming over the top, I found myself in the middle of the biggest mountain bike race I’ve ever seen, right on the outskirts of Prague.  The trail I’d come up was the finishing climb of Genesis Bike Prague MTB, though fortunately no racing had begun yet.  It dumped into the start/finish chute, where hundreds and hundreds of mountain bikers of all types where milling about in early staging.

The front of staging.

(all photos by Genesis Bike Prague, I didn’t have my camera with me)

By the time the race kicked off, I was estimating there had to be 1000 people in there.  It seemed like such a high number though that I kept discounting in my head, arbitrarily cutting back down to five, six, seven hundred.  Sure enough, the results pages report 1027 starters.  To be fair, I have not raced out west where there are some bigger races, but that’s huge, three to five times bigger than almost all MTB races in at least the northeast US, and that’s not even looking at the hundreds of people hanging around on bikes, spectating.  I haven’t seen much like it since BikeLine used to put on races at Belmont Plateau in Philly with 600–800+ racers back in the MTB heyday, or the year MTB Single Speed Worlds came to State College and had 600+ racers.  The vendor expo area was as big and interesting as that for the Philly pro road race.

Part of the vendor expo area.

Part of a standard city block's length of industrial strength bike wash stands.

The podium on the rock concert-ready, full size stage.

The field was a hugely diverse mix, from near-pro looking types, to clearly very recreational riders and bikes.  All of these started in a single, ridiculously big wave, caveat the earlier kids’ race.  There seemed to be no controls or even self-imposed patterns over staging, though everyone seemed orderly out of the blocks, even working through much slower traffic.

Videos and pictures of the course itself are on the website.  From the start, several miles of highway were blocked off for an initial long climb to the other side of the park to spread the massive field out before hitting trails.  Once woodside, there were two options, one a 60km (~37mi) circuit.  That’s a fairly long race by typical MTB standards, a marathon rather than a straight XC, though from the pictures it looks to be distinctly on the less technical end of the spectrum.  The other option was an even less technical 35km (22mi) course on mostly roads and paths, explicitly noted by the website to be for recreational riders out for a fairly casual ride in a race atmosphere.  Kind of like an MTB gran fondo, though without the typical cost of a race, let alone the gouging gran fondos—registration was a very low ~$20US.  The trails themselves look like fun, though mostly more or less paths and some double track.

Course picture.

Course picture.

Course picture.

Course picture.

All in all, it seemed like a really sweet event.  It clearly incorporated aspects of both a race and a huge group fun ride, which I think is cool and an important direction events need to consider in keeping races sustainable.  I have to confess that Pavel Gonda, former ECCC superstar (NYU), had mentioned to me a few days ago that there was an MTB race going on nearby this weekend, but I had no idea he meant basically in Prague.  It’s somewhat unfortunate I didn’t realize it would be within riding distance and pretty non-technical or I would have thought more about taking him up on looking for a bike to borrow.

Foodstuffs

One of the aspects I enjoy about traveling is the things that are basically the same but not quite, all the little variations.  American municipal trash trucks work and look pretty much the same way all over the country.  Here they’re quite different in both design style—somewhat more sci-fi looking I would say—and in functional implementation, with a fork that lifts the can to hatch up top and no obvious exposed crushing mechanism.

Food is another one where’s the really a lot of commonality, but then a lot of differences.  For example, not surprisingly, I haven’t seen any cheddar cheese here, but there are stacks of Gouda and Eidam everywhere, quite the opposite of the US.

This is the biggest peanut butter jar I’ve been able to find. It does not nearly come up to Caitlin Thompson standards of quantity. Fun tip: January 24th is US National Peanut Butter Day…

 

This plastic thing seems like the most common container for eggs. Note that it holds 10 eggs, not 12. That realization after I got it home basically blew my mind. Sizes on sale seem to be 6, 10, 20, and 36 (!).

 

I pretty much grew up eating pineapple yogurt, which is ubiquitous in the US. Here it’s not available at all, but several much less common flavors are abundant, including apple, mango, apricot, and plum. What we call Greek yogurt is “smetanový jogurt,” creamy yogurt, and seems generally a bit more sour.  There’s also a much more curdled yogurt that seems to be used at breakfasts, but I haven’t identified it yet.

 

Granola bars.  The muesli bars are pretty good.  Corny Bars good but clearly toward the less nutritious end of the spectrum.  The generic protein bars are about as awesome as you expect…  They’re pretty awful unless very chilled.  There are also some strange bars around, like a muesli bar that has a really gelatinous, chewy fruit jelly stripe down the middle, quite different from US breakfast bars.  No PowerBars, Clif Bars, or Nature Valley bars to be seen.

 

At times I can go through a fair amount of Orbit gum.  So far I’ve seen a ton of flavors I’ve never seen in the US, and all of the more interesting US flavors are not available here.  Interestingly, I’ve come across at least three styles of Orbit gum, none of them like the small US strips or their packaging: A chiclet type candy like these, a more pill-like chiclet, and traditional Wrigley style long thin strips.

 

 

 

Řevnice

I finally got myself together, assembled my bike, and went exploring.  Obviously after I spent most of a warm, sunny Saturday inside reading it would be cold and rainy on Sunday, but it’s never actually been asserted by anyone that I make the best scheduling decisions.

Let's go!

To be fair though, in Philadelphia the weather forecasters are arguably not very good at forecasting.  In Prague they take it to the next level and clearly just don’t give a damn, making up whatever they feel like.  Today’s forecast as of this morning when I left was 65, sunny & clear all day.  An hour later the actual weather was 50 and raining steadily.  Such has happened on several occasions already.

Roads, Trails, Dirt

Riding in the downtown core of Prague itself is basically a ridiculous proposition.  A long time ago some guys and I were kicking around Philly on a ride near Christmas.  We hit Germantown Ave at Cresheim Valley and it was the most amazing fiasco—cobbles, trolley tracks, ice, snow, busy traffic patterns, angry holiday shoppers, chaos!  Somebody half-fell into ice water, somebody rode into a car waiting at the light, I slammed my rear wheel into a parked car to correct, it was a disaster.  For years that entire group would know exactly what you were on about if you yelled “Cycling apoc-a-lypse!”

The core of Prague puts that to shame.  Forget Germantown Ave, every road here is cobbles, with multiple trolley tracks, all going in crazy directions.  And it rains off and on all the time so everything’s crazy slick.  Plus there’s the lack of interest among European city planners in stop signs, yield signs, etc., and the resounding support that attitude gets out of every driver.

Once you get out of the core though, it’s actually very ridable.  Many of the roads that are more straightforward to navigate are somewhat busy, but they’re all in surprisingly good shape and traffic seems very accommodating.  In general it also seems like the Prague area really empties out on the weekends, an observation corroborated by several guidebooks and websites I’ve read, which is perfect for long Saturday or Sunday rides.

Looking down CZ115 going out of town.

Looking down CZ115 going back into town.

The thing to watch though is that it’s real easy to go from a perfectly nice, smoothly paved local country road, to something much more amenable to a cyclocross bike, sometimes even a mountain bike.  Similar could be said of many places in the states, say, in Vermont.  The difference here is that dirt roads seem to not be differentiated on maps.

This isn't even the worst of it; a short bit before there were fist sized rocks everywhere.

Similarly, there are actually a ton of fantastic bike paths around that go all sorts of places.  They’re actually fairly impressive, the network is in most ways much more substantial and interconnected than any similar system I’ve seen in the states.  But they’re super hard to follow at times as they co-exist temporarily through the occasional driveway or side street and it’s real easy to wind up off track or at a dead end.  Signage is at a definite minimum and fairly inconsistent in its placement and conventions.  Similarly to the local country roads, a lot of them also have significant gravel or dirt sections and there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell on a map.

Perfectly lovely little bike path...

Scenery along the little path...

This is going to be great, what a nice little path! The map says this goes all the way into Prague, so I'll just ride this all the way back and it'll be awesome! Mmm... What's around the corner?!

Oh. I see. No, Joe Kopena, no! How could you be so wrong?!?! Go back to start! Do not collect $200!

Notably, that photo sequence is on bike route 3, where the classification scheme indicates “Single digit route: International, very long distance route.”

In many ways though the most nerveracking part of riding around is just not having any concrete idea what the signage is saying.  Usually it’s pretty clear.  This sign was a good guess to mean “Cyclists dismount,” which it does.  But does it say more (it doesn’t)—that’s a lot of words for “Dismount!?!?!”  At speed on bigger roads there’s an awful lot of “Wellppp, hope that didn’t say anything important…”

Hmmm... ???

All that said though, I was surprised by the conditions of the roads and trails. Almost every road I saw today was in pristine shape and very smooth.  Interestingly, though not of visibly different composition they seemed a bit more slick than most American roads, but certainly not troublingly so.  Traffic was also steady enough that I never felt alone, which I consider mostly a positive in unknown territory in case things go real sour, but generally comparatively quiet, even on numbered inter-city routes.  It will be interesting to see how much that picks up during the week when Prague and the surrounding area are busier.

The A1, one of the main bike paths in & out of Prague. Another perfectly awesome path with just a few quirks.

Řevnice

Heading out I had the loose goal of riding to Řevnice, a town about 20mi south of Prague.  Poking around on Strava this seemed to have one of the larger road climbs in the area, most of which is slightly rolling but lacking in steep or long climbs.  In general this has been by far the most interesting use of Strava for me, even back home, exploring areas for good places to ride.  In this case the Explore view yielded a King of the Mountain segment in Řevnice.  It seemed like a bunch of locals ride it often, so I went to check it out.

Without anything in the way of a “route” planned out per se, I was moderately surprised to actually make it there, especially after a couple dead ends, some gravel, the rain, and a brief but somewhat nervy ride on the local equivalent of US30 or 73.

In the end as I approached Řevnice I was rewarded with sighting the first two racing-oriented-looking roadies I’ve seen here.  Neither acknowledged me, except the one guy had to when I pulled up right next to him at a blocked train crossing.  It definitely seems to be the case that in a complete reversal from American protocols, runners here all wave while cyclists of all stripes steadfastly ignore each other…

A short ride from Prague to Revnice.

The Řevnice climb itself was definitely worth the trip as well.  Hopefully I’ll be able to find harder, it’s basically a twisty, ~3.5 mile version of Shawmont Ave, but definitely a really pleasant little forested climb on which a pretty good workout could be put on.  I’m reasonably sure if I rode there fresh and was doing more than tooling around I could mount a credible challenge to the current Strava KOM.  Beware, Frantisek Padour, beware!

Looking back on the top of the climb out of Revnice.

Heading down into Minisek pod Brdy.

Prodoli

Following today’s workshop I was wandering about and heard the “faint” stirrings of Euro-pop way off in the distance. It turns out all these little walled-in town squares and narrow roads basically turn the whole city into an amplifier…  Obviously compelled toward it, halfway across the city I found an open air concert, apparently a benefit “for the gorillas.” Which gorillas or why or how were a complete mystery because that’s literally all anybody said, with no explication and no signage, pamphlets, or anything—in any language—but I am sure some primates somewhere feel better about themselves now.

In any event, there were a lot of stands filled to the brim with sausage, many other stands baking fresh cinnamon rolls, and then there were these folks!

The Prodoli Bikes stand.

Prodoli, it turns out, is a Czech manufacturer of high end road, mountain, and cyclocross bikes. I gather the frames aren’t made here, presumably the carbon is laid up in Asia with everyone else’s, but it seems like they do the painting, finishing, and final assembly here, though I could be wrong.  Almost all are carbon fiber with a mix of classic lines and newer, Specialized-style compact sloping road frames.  Part of their deal seems to be a heavy emphasis on aesthetics, with some really good basic stylings as well as more ornate, airbrushed artwork.  A lot of them look fantastic.

Seemed like their top-of-the-line road bike. Handlebars look awesome, I'm a big fan of the comfort of fat-wing geometries.

Bumpy bikes!

The blue lava frame in the background is very nice.

Another road frame---this stem not slammed, the horror!

I'm not sure I'd want to ride it forever and ever, but I certainly love this frame art.

Gorgeous. But a bit expensive to hang as art...

This I find a bit too creepy, but it's well done.

Their more traditionally styled bikes also look pretty sharp.

The crawling ants on hexes—a combo that seems to happen often, for some reason—is my favorite of those on display and looks amazing.  Prodoli’s gallery has a bunch of other good designs as well.  Even some of the wheels have ornate patterns.  I particularly like the Butterfly, the blue variant of the Romance, also the blue variant of the Lava, the Square, and the Oxygen team design.  In general I prefer a lighter, more open aired aesthetic, but Flames is a super well executed design that I could see a lot of people getting behind.  The Spider design also looks a lot less creepy on a solid background with less realistic bloated creepy-crawlies.  However, in addition to the Ants layout above, which must be new as it’s not in the gallery, my favorite is probably the clean, simple CSK team design.  There’s a whole bunch more in the gallery beside these, plus a custom design program.

I thought it was neat to see a local bike company, and to have a high end manufacturer—I don’t see anything of theirs under about $3500 USD; divide the CZK prices on the website by 20 for a rough idea—out at a smallish, random Saturday benefit festival.  I don’t know why I went to all the trouble and worry of packing up my bike to bring over here when I could have gotten one of these beauties around the corner, especially now that I’ve got that credit card linked to Caitlin’s account.  I mean, it’d be supporting the Czech economy, buying local, helping an independent manufacturer, all that kind of good stuff…