Exploring the Lower Rio Grande Valley on a Bike

I’ve made a few changes to my blog site and what I want to focus on. My tag line used to be about losing weight (and it’s still my goal) but I wanted to change directions. Instead, I want to focus more on exploring the lower Rio Grande Valley on a bike. I figure kill two birds with one stone. Explore the Valley with long rides and lose weight at the same time.

The lower Rio Grande Valley is located in deep south Texas. I have to put the word, lower, in it because the Rio Grande Valley stretches all the way up to Colorado where the Rio Grande River starts. I realized this when I would see the Rio Grande Valley associated with New Mexico and I was saying, “What?”. After doing a little research, I found out about the Rio Grade Basin and why New Mexico also has a Rio Grande Valley. Well to avoid any confusion, I added the ‘Lower” prefix as I should have done all along.

The Valley is located in deep south Texas along the U.S. and Mexico border. If you want to look it up in a map then look for the cities of McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville. That’s where I’m at. The weather is sub-tropical which means 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures in the summer and 40-50 degree winters. The terrain is flat but lots of wind provides the simulated hills. The Valley is a Winter Texan haven during the winter months and I do see them out cycling.

Anyways, my goals are to ride around more on my bike exploring and seeing what I can find. I’ll do the long rides out to the sites or drive near by and start from there. Maybe even an overnight trip. Who knows.

I still plan on posting on the equipment that I find and use as well as the training that I’m doing. This year looks to be a good one, I just need good health to make it happen. Expect to see more postings as I explore the lower Rio Grande Valley on a bike.

2012 Specialized Sirrus: A Commuter Bike

It’s been a while since I’ve ridden my Sirrus. Not because I don’t like it but because I now have the Roubaix as my primary ride. For a long time, the Sirrus sat in the shop with the wheels removed waiting for new rubber to be put on them. Pretty much just collecting dust. What a shame. I’ve always wanted to convert it to a commuter bike so I could ride to work on casual Fridays, but I always put it off. Well not anymore! This month I got the ball rolling on making the Sirrus a good commuter bike and this is what I came up with.

First of all it needed new tires so off to my LBS and picked up some Continental 4000S II. I love these tires. They have a good balance between low rolling and puncture resistance plus long life to boot. For the rear I used 25 mm and 23 mm for the front. It’s the same setup on the Roubaix.

After a good wash and lube I went out for a quick spin around the block to check things out. No issues. Brakes and shifting were great, just as I remembered it!

For the pedals I left them as is. They were the Shimano A530 SPD pedals and since they had a platform side I figured I could use them and not have to worry about hauling a pair of regular shoes when I commute. At least that was the idea.


Next, I needed a rack for the bike. I didn’t want to do that song and dance of taking a change of clothes the day before and pick them up the day after (or in this case on Monday). I wanted to be able to haul my clothes with me to and from work. For that a rack is needed. This posed a problem for me because the 2012 Sirrus didn’t have any eyelets to mount a rack. A coworker suggested to look at Old Man Mountain for a rack. Sure enough there was one designed for bikes like mine. The Black Rock rack was suggested for bikes with out eyelets. After emailing them and asking specifically about using it for the Sirrus they assured me that it will work fine and told me where on the seat stay to mount the clamps.

Sirrus_MountThe Black Rock rack is designed to mount on the outside of the hub dropouts. They also provide a longer skewer for you to use to clamp it down. The bulk of the weight that it supports is supported there at the hub. The attachment to the seat stay is needed to position the rack horizontally and hold it there. The loop clamps that attach to the seat stay are coated so that they will not scratch the bike and they are contoured so that it is not squeezing on the frame. Once completed I again went out for another spin. Solid! No rattles of any kind.

Sirrus_Rack_InstallWith the rack in place I now needed some panniers for it. Another trip to my LBS and I came home with something to try out. Not the most expensive one nor biggest but something to put in my clothes and zip it up. I wasn’t sure how big they needed to be in order to take a change of clothes. I would have to stuff it and see if it can hold it all. That was the first thing I did when I got home. Doing this made me think as to what I had to take with me and how to pack it. Not only do I need clothes but I also need wipes (to clean up when I get there), deodorant, tire pump, my keg (holds spare tube, patches, tire levers and some cash) and my iPad. After I gathered up everything I proceeded to pack. Yes! Everything fits with room to spare.

Knowing that I got the right size bag, I went ahead and installed it on the rack. Installation is straightforward with hooks on each side that clamps to the bottom of the rack. As usual I took it out for a spin to check it out. Uh oh. Problem. The back of my feet hits the corner of the bag on the up stroke. Yikes, I don’t want that.

After doing some research I found out that you should try to get panniers that are tapered on the front so that your feet won’t hit the bag (you can also tilt the rack back a little). I looked at mine and they were the squarish type. Time to take them back and look for something else. Luckily a different LBS had the kind I was looking for so I got them. After installing them and going out for another spin, all was good. I’m ready to go.

Friday’s ride to work was good. The road was a little wet from the night showers but I didn’t get rained on going or coming back from work. The 14 mile ride was a lot faster than I thought it would be. The last half of the ride I was pushing 18 mph easily. It must have been the wet roads or the thrill of cycling to work because it was a different story going home. Going home was a lot harder but enjoyable once I changed my mindset that this is not a race.

Some lessons learned from this one ride. Fenders. I need fenders for the wet roads. Either that or I don’t ride on wet roads. Finding fenders for this type of bike is going to be difficult since it has no eyelets for them either. I think I’ll go with the option of not riding on wet roads until I can find a system of mounting some sort of fenders. Around here that is not a high priority so it can wait.

Sirrus_PedalsThe other issue I had was the pedals. I always had to flip them around to get the flat side up plus my shoe slips while cycling. I’m constantly readjusting my feet position as I ride for a bit. New pedals are in order. Checking Amazon I see a lot to choose from and I see that the majority have those pins on them. I remembered that the LBS had some pedals like that so I went to check them out. Sure enough they had the Specialized Bennies Platform pedals, also in red. Perfect.

Sirrus_TargetMy next ride was out to Target to pick up some groceries. It’s been raining a lot recently so I had to wait for the right day to do it. The trip was 4.5 miles one-way and the pedals were rock solid. No slippage and stuck to my shoes like glue.

One aspect of the bike was the use of lights. Riding to work starts early morning and I need lights to see and be visible. My front light is the same one I use on the Roubaix, the CygoLite TridenX. Super bright and can easily moved from bike to bike. For the rear I also reuse the same light on my Roubaix. It has a nice band strap that I can take off and move to another bike. I also had two ankle cycling lights that I’ve got from several charity rides. I put one on my left ankle and the other strapped to the top of the panniers. One last set of lights are the spoke lights from Nite Ize See’Ems (Yes that’s the what they call them). They add visibility from the side. I’m basically all lit up for night riding.

Can you convert a 2012 Sirrus Limited to a commuter bike complete with panniers? I showed that you can sans the fenders. Doing this modification was a fun, learning experience for me. I’m still looking to find a way to add fenders for those days that the roads are wet and I’m sure I’ll figure out something. Now that it is done, the bike will see a lot more use with trips to work, groceries and social rides with friends to local markets.

Comments/suggestions/concerns? Drop me a comment let me know what you think. Will my the carbon bike hold up? Time will tell. Pedal on!

Exploring the Rio Grande Valley on a Bike

Cycling this year has been different for me. Aside from the usual bike routes, I have started to venture out and explore the Valley on my bike. It started when I passed up a road that I’ve never been on that was going through resurfacing. Passing it several times on my outings I always wondered where it led to. I knew it was in the general vicinity of a 900 year old tree but I never knew exactly where it was. It wasn’t until one day, when I was doing my usual route, that I noticed that the road was finished and open to traffic. On the way back I decided to make that turn and go look for that old tree. It was then that I began exploring the Rio Grande Valley on my bike.

So far it has been fun riding places to check things out. Sometimes I go by myself and other times I create an event on Facebook and invite others to join me. Many cyclists go out riding for either speed or distance. They get their workout in and hang up the bike until next time. Others ride the same route over and over until there is a rut on the road. Don’t get me wrong I’m just as guilty, but lately I want to explore other routes. I check the Strava Heat Maps and look to see where people are riding. I look for those lesser known routes that I can go out and see for myself, what is out there?

So far I’ve gone to see a 900+ year old Montezuma Bald Cypress tree that I heard about through the grapevine. Some of my friends have been to it, but I have never made the trip to view it with my own two eyes. I was stuck in that rut like the majority of people here and couldn’t see myself going there. The tree tends to catch on fire with visits and then things settle down and it goes back into obscurity until the next discovery by a new batch of cyclists. Currently, I’m the new batch. I shout its praises and take who ever wants to see it.

Next came the old town of Penitas. It’s a little further down the road on Abrams past the tree. Penitas is one of those little towns that if you blinked you passed it. That’s the bad thing about driving, you tend to pass things up. This is an old town that has survived the ages. Settled in 1520 it is the oldest city in the United States. Penitas is Spanish for “small stones”. There is a lot of history there of exploration and colonization from Spain.

Abrams road is a fantastic newly resurfaced road with shoulders that turns into old military road and parallels the expressway (or should I say the expressway parallels military road since military road was there first). This is perfect for cyclists traveling in that area as it’s a good way to travel from town to town without getting on the expressway. You really get to see more of the countryside on this route. Lots of farms and wildlife preserves with small communities dotting the route. Following this route will take you to Abrams, Penitas, and La Joya. Shortly after La Joya the road turns into a caliche (dirt) road to Sullivan City.

Recently, a fellow cyclist and good friend made a trip to see the Los Ebanos Ferry (south of Sullivan City). What’s so great about a ferry you ask? Well it’s the only hand drawn ferry between Mexico and the United States. That’s right, hand drawn or pulled. There is a rope that is anchored on the US side to a huge Ebony tree and stretches across the Rio Grande River over to Mexico. The ferry operators use that rope to pull, by hand, the barge across the river. As a result, only three vehicles and foot traffic can cross at any given time. My friend, Letty and her riding partner are like me, explorers. They took the off beaten path and went exploring the area for new sights and sounds.

I thought that was a neat place to go check out. Although Letty didn’t get to see the Ferry, that didn’t stop us from creating an event and rounding up some cycling friends to make our own trip. It was a good 40+ mile round trip with excellent weather. What a site to see that old barge in operation. Not only did we get to see it we also took a ride on it! Two dollars later we were on it on our way to Mexico!

Once on the other side we were not sure what to do. Turn around and take the ferry back or press on to the town nearby for some tacos. After talking to the Mexican officials we decided to press on. We rode on over to the nearby town and although we didn’t find any tacos we did find some pastry treats. On our way back to the ferry we did stop at a street vendor and got our tacos from them. Great homemade food.

Another treat down Abrams/Military road is over in La Joya that I never knew existed is Rancho El Charco. El Charco is a 150 acre ranch / event center that has picnic tables along Walter Lake, a Restaurant, three swimming holes and many different exotic animals. Some people have heard of it before and other cyclists have not. After another event was created on Facebook, we had a ride over there to celebrate the end of summer. We did pick up some new cyclists for the ride and lost others due to other last-minute conflicts.

Going further West there are places that I’d like to cycle to such as Rio Grande City, Roma and Falcon State Park. These could be day or over night trips. Rio Grande City has the Fort Ringgold history while Roma was a steamboat port of trade. Who knows. I might find other places to check out while I’m there.

Going East towards Brownsville has many other destinations to visit. Numerous state parks, old towns, farms, civil war sites and battle fields during the Mexican-American war. In fact, it was my cycling friend, Letty, that has opened my eyes to the eastern part of the Rio Grande Valley. She has cycled that area before and has posted a lot of pictures from her cycling travels. These are sites that you have probably passed by in your car and didn’t even notice. On bike, you have the time to notice things you swear were not there when you drove. That is the beauty of cycling, discovering things you missed while zipping by in your car.

So, yes, the Valley does offer a lot to explore by biking. The terrain is relatively flat with good roads to travel on. The weather can be pleasant during the Spring and Fall seasons. Very doable during the mild winter months. the Summer months can be a scorcher with 100+ degree (Fahrenheit) during the day, but if you travel in the early mornings you will be fine. You are limited to going West, North and East due to the proximity to the border with Mexico but that offers a lot of farm-to-market roads to choose from. There is plenty to see, you just need to conquer your fears or perceptions of traveling on those roads or locals.