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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pamela's Brevet Bike - Seven Axiom with S&S Couplers

My journey through bikes to find my Nirvana


Remember my credo (from my most recent post): a brevet bike is one you use on brevets with little or no hassle or pain!

I promised at the end of that post to tell you about my bike...

As I tried to emphasize in that previous post, any bike that fits well can make a good randonneuring bike. I mentioned a few things that one might do to make a bike more comfortable for the long rides, like adjusting the fit to really suit, mounting the fattest tires that fit, attaching some kind of fenders, affixing some sort of bag to carry stuff and mounting whatever type of light is needed for the event/distance.

I included options for the most basic needs as well as some more elegant or customized approaches that one might consider down the road. This is what I can do with what I've got now and these are options I might consider on some future bike. For example I mentioned some fenders that will work on any bike as well as full coverage fenders that require more clearance.

Part of the reason I offered so many options is that I have taken advantage of the various options many times myself!

For my first PBP in 1987, I used an inexpensive sport touring bike which I bought a few short weeks before the big event. I had been planning to ride tandem that year, but my tandem partner (at the time) and I decided after all the qualifiers and training that we just couldn't tolerate being together on the same bike for that long. Fenders were still required in 1987, and I couldn't get them onto the (single) bike I had. So I ended up trying to quickly put together a new bike that would take fenders on a tight budget. In the first 100 miles of PBP, I had some problems with a series of punctures, thanks to having ridden through lots of broken glass before the event and then suffered double snakebite flats after following a line of cyclists across a recessed manhole cover just a few miles into the actual ride. I have since learned better how to boot a tire with big cuts or cuts in the sidewall, as well as to carefully check the tire to find all the damage the first time. At the time, however, I had much to learn. One lesson I learned the hard way is that the folding Michelin tires I bought at the first bike shop on the route, to replace my now-very-cut-up tires, required the rim to have a hook or they would simply blow right off. Suffice it to say, I did not have a successful ride that year. Today, most (if not all) modern clincher rims work fine with foldable tires. The message to take away here isn't specifically about tires and rim incompatibility, but rather about using your equipment lots before the big event, so you can work out any kinks and discover the issues long before the big show. It was unfortunate that I did not ride the brevet series on that bike, or I would have found the problems and solutions prior to going to France. It is best to avoid the need for a brand new bike right before the big event! You should ride the bike you plan to use throughout the season and work the kinks out early. That said, every 4 years, I hear about some poor soul whose bike doesn't make it to Paris, who then scrambles to get a working bike hours before the ride start. I've even heard reports of success. It can be done, but is still best to be avoided!

So since that bike didn't quite meet my no-hassle criteria, I moved on.
 
Sure I could have bought new wheels that would work with folding tires, but there were other things about the bike that weren't ideal. And then this adorable red Vitus made it's way into my heart.

I really loved that Vitus. It was actually a gift from the aforementioned former tandem partner, maybe in hopes that we would do better riding together on separate bikes. This bike was comfortable and fit me well. We set it up with a triple crank and a narrow block cassette to give nice wide range of gears with small steps in between gears. With aero-bars and lights attached to the handlebars, I chose to carry all my gear at the back of the bike. I adapted a handlebar bag to work by mounting a stoker stem/bar to my seatpost. (I didn't know about Carradice bags at the time!) This gave me a large well supported bag in which I could carry all my gear for a 1200 km brevet. This was a non-custom bike that happened to fit me well, which I adapted and accessorized to make suitable for brevets. It was light enough so that after weighing it down with all that extra gear, it wasn't unduly heavy. As I mentioned in that previous article, it did have some big limitations with regards to using wider tires with fenders, but I was living in the land of smooth. dry roads, so it was fine for my needs at the time.

I treasured this bike and logged over 50,000 miles on it (including both BMB and PBP) until one day in 1993 when a loose farm dog crossed my path. The collision resulted in lots of road rash for me, and bent top and down tubes along with a crumpled fork for my beloved Vitus. As non-sentimental as I claim to be, that busted frame still sits in our basement, waiting to be converted into a picture frame of sorts!

After that, I tried a few other bikes before I picked up the Independent Fabrications Club Racer that featured in my BMB 2000 article. This was a sporty road bike designed to use medium-reach brakes (57mm vs the 49mm found on most race bikes), providing ample clearance for cushy tires with fenders. It also had eyelets for mounting those fenders as well as eyelets for racks. It even came with fenders and a nice rear rack. The chain stays were slightly longer to accommodate the bigger tires, but not as long as found on a classic touring bike. This bike was relatively light and nimble and responded well to a hard effort. I bought the bike second-hand (from the actual builder no-less), but it fit me perfectly and I used it on many brevets for several years. At this stage I was living in Massachusetts, land of potholes and puddles, so I really appreciated both the wider tires and the fenders.

I understand that this particular bike and subsequent demand for this type of bike may have well saved 57mm brakes, as apparently Shimano was considering discontinuing them at the time the Club Racer was introduced.
 

Nirvana


Now after going on in that previous article about how you don't need a full-on custom bike to do any brevet, and especially your first, I hope I don't sound like a hypocrite as I describe my current steed - which actually is a custom bike

After 25 years of tweaking and refining various non-custom bikes, I had compiled a long and detailed list of all things I wanted in my ultimate bike. And thanks to increased demand from like-minded folks, a few manufacturers were starting to offer the style of bike that met many of my desires, so I could get lots of things on my list without going to a full custom bike.  Then what pushed me to custom? It was a combination of wanting couplers as well as a geometry tuned to my riding style while eliminating/reducing the dread toe clip overlap (TCO).

We have traveled overseas with our bikes using full size cases many times. However due to the size of the cases, we can't take advantage of cars or standard taxis to get to/from the airport. When trying to continue from an airport to somewhere accessible by train, we can't take the high speed TGV, since some full size cases can exceed their size limitations. The in recent years, it got to be even more difficult and more expensive to travel with full size bike cases. For some European trips, we had to carefully check for bike fees on different airlines as some were charging as much as $200 per bike, each way.

Since we had couplers on our tandem, we would usually travel with the tandem. However, one day when looking over photos from a recent trip, we noticed that many were of me holding up the tandem (and looking bored). If we had single bikes, we could have action photos.

So we started talking more about couplers on our single bikes...

At the time I wasn't so much thinking about traveling off to do far-away grand randonnées, as I was thinking about traveling off to do European gran fondos, and credit card or supported tours. But travel is travel, and while packing a coupled bike might take a wee bit more mechanical know how and confidence than using a full size case, I was pretty comfortable with my mechanical and puzzling abilities, thanks to having packed the tandem so much. 

At around the time we were starting to think about coupled bikes, Rob Vandermark, of Seven Cycles, opened a cafe/bike shop in Lexington called Ride Studio Cafe. Those who know me well, know that this was an irresistible draw - a bike shop where I could hang out with other cyclists while drinking a proper espresso. Fear Rothar and I became regulars and over time, after lots of casual conversations with Rob (who happens to be the most low-key, almost anti-sales person you will ever meet), we finally understood that Seven is all about custom bikes! Prior to our meeting Rob at RSC, we mistakenly thought Seven just built high-end racing bikes. But what they really build is a bike for you - whether it's a featherlight belt-drive fixie, or a super versatile dirt road bike or an adventure travel bike. My new bike wasn't just to be a coupled bike with fender mounts. It would be completely tailor made for me - with my size and style and features.

Rob and I had a few meetings where we talked about my desired ride qualities and fit issues, which also included the wish to eliminate or reduce TCO, along with features like wide tires and fenders. After going through my list, Rob took lots of measurements of me and my current bike. He set me up on a trainer on my current bike and watched me ride. We talked about what works well now and where I might want changes. We talked about my quirks, long ingrained after so many years or riding. We discussed things that I should change and things that we wouldn't try to change. Did I have pain that needed to be addressed?

Once we'd spec'd out the measurements and fit issues, we went through the detailed specs including desired tires size, mounting points/clearance for fenders, and what kind of components and gearing I'd use. The funny thing is, I wasn't trying to design a brevet bike! I really thought I was designing a bike to take to Europe for gran fondos and supported or very light touring. But randonneuring seems to be in my DNA, since the features I sought make this bike ideal for brevets too.

First and foremost, it fits. 'Nuf said.

And it flies. With couplers, I can travel with very little hassle.

Since the frame is made from titanium, it is tough and durable, with a bombproof low maintenance finish. I opted for no paint, based on previous experience with fancy paint jobs on coupled bikes. No matter how carefully the bike is padded and packed, inevitably the paint will get chipped, due to all the other sharp pointy things packed in the case with the frame. Scratches on this unpainted frame can be easily buffed out with a Scotchbrite pad! Riding on gritty, salty roads in New England, it's also nice to eliminate any possibility of corrosion. Titanium allowed me to get custom geometry in a lightweight frame that tolerates a lot of abuse! 

In the previous article, I talked about wide tires overshadowing any effect that results from frame material or butting. That said, one can still fine tune ride quality with geometry, material and butting.

To be totally honest, I can't really quantify what is different about the ride of titanium, but there is something subtle that causes me to prefer this bike over others. Rob selected the tubing, butting and geometry to match my goals. I just told him I wanted to ride comfortably all day and all night and be able to dance up climbs like Pantani and descend with the confidence of Roche. And while I haven't taken any KOMs from Pantani, this bike has met all my expectations in the ride quality department. And even with couplers and pretty standard, non-stupid-light components, my bike came in at under 20 pounds with the fenders! This is most important when lifting the case off the luggage carousel at the airport.

One of my other big goals was to reduce TCO that is common on bikes for smaller riders, without having to go to a less common wheel/tire size. Rob designed my frame and fork so I got the most toe clearance, while still getting a stable, yet spritely ride. Seven uses dropouts with different offsets to achieve different rake using the same fork blades. I'll admit the fork with the extended dropouts looked a little different at first, but I really love not banging my toe off the fender when I turn.

The Seven mid-reach fork claims clearance for 700X28mm tires with fenders. In fact, it works perfectly in that configuration. Recently, I tried pushing the envelope by mounting a Grand Bois Cypress 30mm tire with a fender, but found I couldn't properly use the brake quick release to easily remove/install the wheel, so I went back to a 28. BTW, in the dry season (i.e. without a fender), there is plenty of room for that 30mm tire.

In my initial conversations with Rob, I foolishly said the biggest tire I'd use with fenders was a Grand Bois Cerf 700X26, and the clearance in the back (chainstay length) was built to that spec. I was quite happy with this choice for the first two years, only once regretting that limitation, when we were riding over some bumpy muddy tracks in Ireland, when I envied John's choice of a 30mm tire with fenders.

I thought if I had access to a time machine that I should go back in time and ask for clearance for a bigger tire. 

Then this fall, after I broke my back, I really wanted access to that time machine. But since I couldn't change history (and skip the ride on September 8), I asked Seven to rebuild the back of my frame (extending the length of the chainstays to correspond with the max tire size afforded by the 57mm brakes), and I can now use a 700X30mm tire with fenders on the back. The cost of doing so was not cheap, but also not prohibitive and I'm positively thrilled with the results. I just wish I'd saved some money and spec'd it that way initially. This is one of the reasons I tell people to take their time to really work out what they want before going full-custom.



Shortly after getting my modified frame back from Seven, Portland Design Works released a new wide full metal fender, the PDW City fender. Thanks to the increased clearance, I was able to mount these elegant fenders and love them -  see this post for more details. Incidentally, I have SKS Longboard Fenders on my Seven Fixie, and (because the frames are essentially the same) can easily swap them between the two bikes. In fact, for travel, I will likely take the Longboards, since the plastic fenders are less likely to get damaged when packed into an S&S case.

Because people have asked, I will include details on my components and in some cases why I selected a particular item. This is what works for me today. Remember, this is a bike tailor made for me!

For gearing, I use a Shimano Ultegra (because I like the dark grey color and sleek lines) compact crank (34X50) with a wide range SRAM cassette (12-36), giving me a low enough gear that I'm not intimidated by any climb! Remember John's Motto: Better looking at it than for it! Well now I look for bigger harder climbs, because I don't have to look for lower gears!

I use SRAM 10 speed bar-end shifters (to go with the SRAM Apex front derailleur and X9 long cage rear derailleur). I like bar-end shifters, since I can tell by feel what gear I am in at night and they are very reliable. Over the years, I've tried other types of shifters, but my hands seem to expect the shifters to be at the ends of the bars, so that's where I put them! The range of this gearing is as good as any triple I've used in the past, without the finicky front shifting. I have no problems with the size of the spacing between gears. Remember I ride fixed a lot, so am well used to varying my cadence.

Tektro 539 57mm brake calipers mated with Cane Creek levers stop the bike. Both the calipers and the levers have a quick release, which really helps with the fat tires. The Tektro brakes were chosen because their shape works better with fenders than the Shimano calipers I initially used. Since I use bar-end shifters, I can chose from any non-integrated levers (sometimes called single speed brake levers) and I really like the shape of the Cane Creek models, along with having the additional QR in the lever.

My Salsa Pro Road Small 2 handlebars are quite narrow (36cm center to center), have a shallow drop and short reach. One of my frustrations with production bikes is that even in small sizes, the bars are usually quite wide. The rule of thumb is that handlebar width should match shoulder width. A few years back, I realized that I could actually wrap my old handlebars around my shoulders, so I tried narrower bars and what a revelation. No longer riding spread-eagle-like eliminated so much pain for me. Then when I discovered shallow drop, I finally found myself using the drops a lot more. This is not to say that you should get these bars. It's more to point out that bars come in all shapes and sizes, with various length reach and drop. These work great for me.

While on the subject of contact points, I use a Terry ladies Butterfly saddle with a cutout. There are probably more saddle choices than any other component on a bike.

My wheels have pink Chris King hubs laced to Velocity Aerohead rims, hand-built by Fear Rothar. I also have matching pink King headset and bottom bracket, just because!

When in brevet mode, I use Schmidt dynohub with a Lumotec Luxos U light mounted at the fork crown. This light has a USB port for also powering/charging a device like a GPS or phone. I also have classy, stealth reflective tape from Lightweights on the spokes, seatstays and other places. The bike lights up in car (and bike) headlights. The photo below was taken with a flash to show off the reflectors.


I believe pedals designed for recessed cleat shoes (so-called mountain bike shoes) are ideal for brevets, given the inevitable walking around at controls. The Turkish toilets at the Carhaix control on PBP have to be the best a reason to avoid unstable footwear or cleat covers! (If you've not experienced these, there is a hole in the floor, and a couple of marked footprints. The aim of many cyclists after 600 miles tends not to be so good, and squatting with toe-up footwear can result in cramps, or worse yet - falling in! And really do you want to put those cleat covers back in your pocket?) Spiral marble staircases found in many Italian cafes also offer good incentive for walkable shoes. I use Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals. I love the easy entry and mud-clearing feature of these pedals. Some folks scoff at the idea of so-called mountain bike shoes, claiming they are flexy or heavy. While some of them are, there are many lightweight shoes with stiff soles that have a recess for the cleat. It's not like mountain bike racers don't want lightweight efficient shoes! My favorite shoes from Dromarti are more classy than light, but they are the most comfortable pair of cycling shoes I've ever tried. 

I use a large Ortlieb wedge type seat-bag and an Ortlieb mini handlebar bag. I like this setup because it is totally waterproof. If it's worth carrying, it is likely worth keeping dry.

I keep my valuables like wallet, passport, brevet card, camera, phone, some food and anything I need for quick access in the small bar-bag, since i can easily pop it off to take it with me into controls and cafes. I also keep things I might put on and take off on the move like arm warmers, gloves or a vest, depending on weather conditions.  Because my frame is small, I have moved the mount for the bar bag, so it sits slightly higher to clear the headlight.

I keep things in the rear that involve stopping to use and/or don't need to be carried into every cafe, like tools, spare tire, jacket and leg warmers. While one could do a complete change of clothes on the move, I find it more efficient to stop!




I'll also mention that John also got a pretty similar coupled Seven at the same time. As I alluded to above, he was smarter than me and opted for the maximum tire clearance in the back right off the bat. Aside from size and color, the main difference between the two is that his bike also has a take-apart rack, which is mainly intended for light tours. Given our differences in strength and photographic desires, we decided that handicapping him with the gear and the camera would be a great equalizer. I still carry my usual on-bike gear, but he has my pannier with my street clothes. I'm not too proud to accept this equalizer!

And to prove how versatile John's coupled Seven Axiom is, I'll mention that he has used it on numerous brevets and three Green Mountain Double 200 mile dirt road races. He also has reconfigured it slightly to do some hill climb races, including multiple impressive top 10 finishes on Mt Washington. And since travel was the impetus, he has taken it apart and packed it up, along with the aforementioned take apart rack, for several trips, including a two week tour in Italy and another two week tour in France. All this to say, a brevet bike need not be some very specialized machine to be used exclusively on brevets.



Finally, and this might surprise you, is that these full-custom titanium bikes are actually a great value. I recently saw an ad for a fancy steel rando-frame that had been custom-built for someone else who, for whatever reason, didn't take delivery. This frame (not bike) is now for sale for $6,000. Would you pay $6,000 for a custom frame that wasn't custom made to your size or specs? I've heard stories of many-years-long wait lists for custom rando bikes. Without meaning to sound like an ad for Seven, I'll just say that you can get a sized and tuned to you titanium bike (not just frame) this season for less than $4300. Their steel models are even less expensive.

The verdict after almost 20,000 miles for me is that this bike is indeed my Nirvana of brevet bikes.

However, I will admit that, despite how versatile and perfect both these bikes are for our road events and touring and traveling, we have both acquired dedicated bikes that take even fatter tires and disk brakes. While we have ridden our S&S bikes extensively on dirt and gravel roads, disk brakes offer several advantages for this type of riding. John opted for a titanium Seven Evergreen, while I went for a steel Honey All Roads. BTW, I promise that John is working on a post about his Evergreen, and it will be posted some day - maybe before 2015!

And of course, as the fixie_pixie, I have a belt-drive fixie also made by Seven, which I used on last year's flèche as well as last year's races up Mt Washington - a very different kind of endurance event! I was so happy with my coupled geared bike that I wanted a comparable fixie.

And yes, we do still love and ride our tandem on the occasional brevet - for randonneuring with guaranteed company!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What's a Good Bike for Brevets?

Ask n different people and you will get n different (and most likely contradictory) opinions for what defines a good brevet bike. Do a simple google search and you will find loads of articles on precisely this topic. (It may be how you found this one!) So since there is already so much information out there, why am I bothering to add to the noise with this post?  Partly because I get asked the question so frequently, and partly because my definition is in many ways counter to the standard dogma.

Here's the Reader's Digest condensed version...
A good brevet bike is one you use on a brevet with little or no hassle or pain.

This means the bike is:
  • reliable and comfortable
  • has enough storage capacity that you can carry what you need for the distance and conditions (including clothes and tools) and/or store what you no longer need. 
  • and since the longer brevets require lights and usually involve sustained night riding, a bike used for longer brevets should have reliable long-lasting lights. 

I really want to emphasize that one should not consider getting a custom randonneuring bike as a barrier to entry for doing brevets. I cringe when I see new riders doing their first event on some special custom rando bike as defined by someone else. Don't start out trying to spec and acquire the perfect machine before your first event. Save your money. Use the bike you have.

If your current bike fits you reasonably well and you've done your local club century on it, it is a fine bike for a 200km brevet. The only thing you have to do different is just ride 24 more miles!

As you do more and longer rides, you might want to change a few things, and after quite a few long rides, you may even want to change a lot of things -  enough to get a different bike or even a custom bike, but this is a learning process and, over time, you will learn what you need and want. It's as much about you as it is about the bike.  Many experienced randonneurs have taken this journey, evolving along with their bikes. In many ways, this post is about my own on-going journey. I've been doing this stuff for 30 years, and, over that time, my ideal bike has actually changed a few times. And of course, there is a lot of "It depends," involved.

Since I began doing brevets almost 30 years ago, I have made many changes on my bike, some related to fit and position, some because of new technology and some related to the nature of the roads I prefer to ride. Before making a big investment in something custom, it's a good idea to really figure out what works and doesn't work for YOU. This isn't to say to ignore all the advice you'll receive from all these well meaning people. It's just that we don't all fit the same mold, and this is why there are so many opinions out there.

<sarcasm> Now read on for the one and only true way! </sarcasm>

 

 Bags 


While I am a firm believer in the motto, "Better looking at it than for it," I will say that it isn't necessary to bring the kitchen sink on a 200km, nor is it necessary to attach a trailer or panniers to carry that kitchen sink! Sure it's probably more comfortable to have stuff packed away in a saddle bag than overflowing your jersey pockets, but if you've managed to do a century with your pockets and current seat bag, you can probably cope with another 24 miles. As the events get longer, you will likely want to carry more stuff and will likely need to use something other than just jersey pockets, but you don't have to go buy a fancy expensive rando-bag, or have a bike custom built that sports some fancy front rando-rack. A medium to large under seat bag can hold a lot of gear. There are also lots of great and well-designed bags that work without custom racks and don't adversely affect handling. Some people would have you believe that you need a custom bike with special geometry designed to carry all your gear in a large front bag mounted on a special custom integrated rack. I'm not one of those people.


These rides are long and cover a wide range of terrain, weather and temperatures. If you want to be comfortable, be prepared. Whether that means carrying gear or having space to store the gear you are wearing, there will be times you will need one or the other.

As I mentioned above, there are many under the saddle wedges and bags that work well for carrying tools and spare tires and cables - stuff you won't need to access on the move. I also tend to use a rear bag to store clothing that I'd need to stop to put on, like leg warmers or a rain jacket. I'm a big fan of the large Ortlieb saddle bag. It has the advantage of being completely waterproof. It attaches with a secure mount, but the bag can be removed quickly and easily. It is a single compartment wedge bag, so sometimes what you want has made its way to the bottom of the pile, as it were.

There are lots of transverse mounted saddlebags with small to enormous capacity, many modelled off the gold standard Carradice bags.

A web search will turn up lots of choices of bags. When selecting any bag,  keep in mind ease of installation and removal, stability and whether you want compartments. One thing to consider with any bag is the potential adverse effect on handling.  A heavily laden saddle bag can "wag the dog" when climbing out of the saddle. Eliminating sway is important in this regard. Also bear in mind that your needs and desires will likely vary from mine!

Not long ago, a rider local to me - but well known for her exploits of doing insanely long events on fixed gear - Emily O'Brien, started a company called Dill Pickle Gear, to implement designs born of experience, after being inspired by her own frustration with commercially available bags. Emily makes everything you could want for carrying gear on a bike, including transverse mounted saddlebags, wedge type seat bags, tool bags, handlebar bags, panniers, etc. I have one of her handlebar bags that I love, both for the design and for the aesthetics. Recognizing that everyone has different preferences, she makes each bag to order, with the buyer selecting whether to have compartments, map case, etc, as well as choosing from an amazing variety of colors!



Speaking of handlebar bags, I will again mention that I prefer to keep my front bag light and only packed with things I want to access on the move, like snacks or arm warmers or valuables that I want to carry with me when I am away from the bike, such as my wallet, passport, camera and phone. By keeping the front bag light and easy to remove, I both minimize any adverse effect on handling, plus I do not hesitate to take it with me into a control or coffee shop. This means I rarely have to run back out to my bike to get my route card, wallet or camera. The small Ortlieb bar bag meets my needs for a small, completely waterproof and easily to remove front bag. 

BTW, because the head-tube on my bike is short and I have a light mounted at the fork crown, I moved the mounting hardware on the bag pictured below a bit so the bag clears the light. Sometimes creativity is required to make things work together!


Despite my stated preference for easy removal, I do have one of Emily's bar bags semi-permanently mounted on my dirt road adventure bike. I simply keep my valuables in a smaller, easy-to-bring-with-me bag that fits inside the main bag. It's a tradeoff that I made between having the extra weight of a separate mount and the stability and elegance of this bag.




There may be as many approaches to carrying gear as there are riders. This is likely something you'll refine over time and with experience - especially figuring out what to actually carry for a given distance or weather or terrain.

As I alluded to above, one real consideration when selecting bags is potential interference with lights.  Bar bags and headlights often compete for the same space. For instance, one cannot use any of the typical American handlebar-mounted lights with a handlebar-mounted bag. I use a gadget mounted to the side of the fork to take a small battery light (with a bar mount) while my main generator powered headlight is attached to the fork crown below my bar bag. Taillights and large seat bags can also compete for the same space. Make sure that, whatever you use, the bag doesn't block the light.

Which brings us to ...

 

Lights 


It is unlikely that you will need lights on your first 200km, so you can probably forgo fancy and expensive lights to start. If lights are required for a 200km, most any simple modern battery powered LED light should suffice - unless you have chosen a dusk to dawn event as your first brevet. As the rides get longer and have you riding into or through the night, you will likely want a bright long lasting light.

Lighting technology has improved significantly in the 30 years since I did my first brevet. The old, heavy, dim battery lights of yore have given way to the bright, non-power thirsty LEDs of today. The old, noisy, inefficient bottom bracket generators have been replaced by quiet and efficient hub dynamos, and you no longer have to sacrifice a water bottle cage to carry a heavy 6-volt lantern battery.
 
I desperately need to update my old lights article (it's next in line after this post), but for now I'll just summarize. A light that is self-powered or whose batteries will last through the event (or more specifically the nighttime part of the event) is fundamental brevet equipment, and the topic of many discussions among randonneurs. A backup light is a sign of wisdom or experience. 

A Schmidt generator hub provides an endless source of power, for lights as well as electronic gadgets, like GPSs and phones. In the late 1990's, Schmidt re-defined the modern dynamo hub with a smooth efficient design. They have refined the design a bit over the years, making new hubs lighter and even more efficient. In my opinion, Schmidt is still the gold standard dynamo hub.

It seems that lighting technology improves at the same rapid rate as microprocessors these days. LEDs have been a game changer. Today, there are at least three companies producing high quality, dynamo-powered LED lights. Schmidt, Busch & Müller and Supernova offer fairly comparable models. I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones I have used. I would be happy with any of the current offerings from these three.

German law for bike lights is very strict and dictates that lights used on roads and paths must have an asymmetric beam pattern, supposedly to avoid blinding oncoming traffic. The first few iterations of asymmetric lights that we used were less than brilliant, but current models are much better at providing illumination everywhere I want it.

Today, John and I have several lights from Supernova mounted on various bikes, including our tandem. 

The bike I use for most brevets has a Lumotec Luxos U light with a USB outlet that can be used to run or charge a GPS or phone. At low speeds, the light stays on while the external charger cuts out, but at moderate speeds I get power both to the light and the device. It's pretty nice to have power for my GPS to last throughout a long event!

John also has a separate gadget made by Sinewave Cycles Revolution to allow one to  power a USB device and run a light (he's using a Supernova) - handy if you already have a light or multiple lights/bikes. Similar to the Luxos, at higher speeds, both the light and device will get power.

I will add that there are a plethora of USB batteries available now for providing extended power to those other devices like a GPS or phone, and the capacity of these is rapidly approaching that needed to keep a GPS going for a long brevet.

As for battery-powered lights, there are lots of new bright and inexpensive LED lights. Many of these newer lights re-charge via USB, so may be considered slightly more environmentally friendly than using disposable AA batteries. However, AA models have the advantage that, if needed, you can easily carry extras or stop and buy more power at a convenience store! For shorter events where lights may only be needed for an hour or two, a battery light will suffice.  Since I'd go broke buying and reviewing them all, I'm going to leave this as an exercise to the reader. I will offer this advice: If shopping for battery lights, consider both the optical - burn time and method of recharging, as well as brightness and beam pattern - and the mechanical - an easy to use and secure mount.  Despite the advances in technology to make more efficient lights, the focus in America seems to be to use that efficiency to make brighter lights, versus longer lasting. It seems lots more American cyclists want a really bright light to go off road for an hour or so after work, than a light that will last for 3 nights!

Busch and Müller make a battery powered light that will run through the night. While not found in the typical American bike shop, thanks to the Internet, one can easily find and purchase these longer lasting lights.

As for taillights, I'll just say that most manufacturers seem obsessed with blinding, blinking taillights. I understand the desire to be seen, and more than you might realize, I appreciate not being hit from behind. But please consider the rider behind you (if you ride in a group) when setting the mode on your taillight. Many come with multiple modes for flashing as well as steady. Please, if you are riding with me, use steady mode! PDW has seemingly heard my cries and now have a new model with a group-mode option:  it is non-flashing and dimmer than the other modes, while still providing ample visibility to drivers.

Taillights should be mounted so the light is aimed straight back, not up into the eyes of the rider behind you - be kind, don't blind! Also make sure your light is not obscured by bags or fenders and can be seen from a vehicle well behind you. Get a riding partner to drop back to check out visibility from behind.

Redundancy is also a really good idea. I always have two taillights, typically one battery and one dynamo powered. The same goes for headlights. Even though I have a great and reliable generator and headlight, I carry a small battery powered headlight, because it's better being able to look at it than for it!

Now we've figured out how to carry stuff and light our way, so let's get to the truly important stuff - comfort - and the number one thing that contributes to comfort is fit.

 

Fit


First and foremost a good brevet bike fits well. If your current bike doesn't have a perfect fit, but it's not outrageous, there are a few simple things you can do to improve it.

I recommend getting a professional fitting, with the caveat that your fitter shouldn't try to force you into an extreme racing position, or dramatically change a position you've been using for a long time, or use the fitting purely as a way to sell you a new bike.

Most professional fitters are actually pretty good at listening to the rider, but I have run into some (often young racers) who are determined that handlebars must be 5 inches below the saddle, regardless. My very best fitting experience was with Rob Vandermark of Seven Cycles and Ride Studio Café. Rob listened to me as I described the type of riding I do. He didn't assume that I wanted to race and take seconds off my 25mile time trial PR. It was so refreshing to work with someone who makes high-end bikes, who gets that people have different goals, and not everyone wants to increase their sprinting ability.

He also noted that I had been riding for more than 30 years, and at this stage my position and habits were somewhat firmly ingrained. I tend to sit rather far back on the saddle, regardless of the seat-tube angle. Rather than try to change my technique and position in ways that other fitters have tried and failed to change, he looked for ways to work with my quirks. Like many others, I also pedal a bit toe-down. This, we have tried to address, but not to the degree of radically changing my saddle height in a way that could introduce pain or injury. Fitting changes should be introduced gradually. Muscle memory is a strong force!

One of the first things a fitter will check is saddle height and fore/aft position. Knee pain is often a sign of a saddle that is too low or too high. Hopefully if you are already doing 100 mile rides, you've got this part sorted. But if you are having knee pain or others comment that your hips rock when you pedal, it may be worthwhile making an appointment with a fitter. 

Another potential source of discomfort on long rides can be easily addressed without buying a whole new bike. Traditionally bikes have been sized and sold based on height or leg length alone, often ignoring reach to the bars. But reach isn't necessarily uniformly correlated with height or leg length. Some people have longer or shorter legs while some have longer or shorter torso and arm lengths for a given height. Flexibility and where one bends also contribute significantly to reach to the bars. A bike whose reach is too long or short (or low or high) may result in too much pressure and pain on a variety of places (bottom, hands, neck, shoulders, back). On shorter rides, one can get away with riding a bike with too long a reach or too much drop, but for brevet type distances it is absolutely critical that one not be overly stretched or too cramped. Many newer stems, both quill type and threadless now come with a removable front plate, making it much easier to change out a stem for a longer or shorter one, or one with a different angle - without removing and reinstalling brakes and shifters and bar tape.

This type of stem also makes packing and reassembling the bike easier, a likely occurrence for a brevet bike. It also makes changing handlebars (a little!) easier. One of the best discoveries for me was narrow, shallow drop, short reach handlebars. Handlebars come in all shapes and dimensions, varying in width, reach and drop. Only you can decide what you like.

Some folks recommend higher bar placement for randonneuring bikes than what you see on typical racing bikes. In a short time trial or road race, where aerodynamics trumps comfort, one can put up with bars which are significantly lower than the saddle. But for longer distances, bars closer to the height of the saddle might afford more comfort. That said, if you are comfortable with the setup you have, don't change it! I can't emphasize enough that you shouldn't change things that work, just because you read something on the Internet!

Finally changing the length of a stem drastically may have an adverse affect on handling, so if you have to make a big change, it could be a sign that you may need a different frame down the road. I'd still recommend taking time to figure out what else you might want to change before making any big investment in a new bike.

There's lot more involved in fitting a bike, and it's well beyond the scope of this article. Getting the right saddle height, fore/aft position and reach is really best done in person (with a professional), who will measure you and your bike and can offer advice based on both standard practices and taking into account your measurements, flexibility, posture and experience, and most importantly watching you ride. You can only go so far with tables and formulas. One cannot do a fitting on the Internet!

So let's assume that you now have taken the steps to get your bike to fit you well, so we can look at other sources of comfort.

 

Tires


Some marketing folks and bike reviewers will have you believe the different grades of materials and butting have a big influence in bike comfort, but IMNSHO, any difference in materials is absolutely dwarfed by different width tires and tire pressure. In a blind test with the same frame geometry and tires, but different materials (steel, aluminum, carbon, titanium), I believe most riders will struggle to tell much, if any difference. But change the tires from 18 to 23 to 28 to 35mm, and I believe most riders will instantly notice a significant a difference in comfort.

This experiment can be tricky in practice though, when many production bikes are not designed for tires fatter than 25mm.

This isn't to say that one cannot fine-tune the ride of a bike with different materials, or butting or geometry, but tire volume differences don't (necessarily) require a new bike, and will likely give a bigger bang for the buck!

New England roads take a beating in the winter. Snowplows and the freeze-thaw cycle do their best to rip up our roads. Anyone who has ever ridden BMB can confirm that the roads can be brutally rough (and sometimes the pavement is missing completely). Skinny tires, 750 miles and rough pavement on the BMB course will beat up any rider. A 25mm or bigger tires can make a tremendous difference.  My recommendation is to mount the widest tire you can get in your frame! 

Add rain or wet roads, and you may want fenders too. This is where things get even trickier, because many bikes just don't have clearance for both. For PBP in 1991, I had to use a super skinny (18mm) tire on the front of my Vitus to work with fenders. I recall telling folks after PBP in '91 that French roads were rough, but after using a much wider tire in '99, I have come to realize they are amazingly smooth, especially in comparison to the BMB roads. The good news is that many modern forks actually have more clearance than my old Vitus, and there are several models of fenders specifically designed to cope with the tight space between brakes and tires.

 

Fenders 


A wet muddy backside is another potential source of discomfort, easily remedied by fenders!
 
As I mentioned above, in 1991 my Vitus sported French-sourced narrow Salmon aluminum fenders with ridiculously narrow tires (18 mm Michelin on front, 20 on the back). I first saw these fenders on French bikes at PBP in 1987 and thought they looked cool. My local randonneuring shop imported and sold a bunch prior to the 1991 PBP. However, these skinny flat fenders were actually more fashionable than functional. The fender was essentially a flat strip of aluminum. With no sides, they weren't as effective at keeping spray under control. And while narrow in width, they were actually thicker than most other fenders, so further limited tire size.

Over the years, John and I have used many varieties of fenders, including models from Portland Design Works (PDW), SKS (formerly Esge), Honjo, Velo Orange, Berthoud and others.

We recently mounted the new wider full metal fenders from PDW on a couple of our bikes and so far have found them very effective in the wet, and significantly easier to setup and mount than many other lightweight metal fenders. See a detailed review of the wider model here.




Other lightweight stainless and aluminum fenders (like those made by  Honjo, Velo Orange, Berthoud and other) are quite popular with many American randonneurs these days and are actually quite functional, providing good coverage. But they can be an absolute nightmare to mount and our experience is they can crack and break under minor abuse - especially any bending like one might get from packing or catching a twig while riding a trail. I believe with great care, they can least for years - just that it can require great care! Don't do like John and ride off curbs or through the woods the first day out with a brand new set!



SKS remains the gold standard for so-called plastic fenders. I say so-called plastic because these fenders actually have a thin piece of aluminum sandwiched between layers of plastic, but for simplicity sake, I'm going to categorize them with other plastic models. The new SKS Longboard provides the best coverage of all the SKS models. The Longboards are much longer than the Chromoplastic models, and come with pre-installed mudflaps. Sadly the Longboard doesn't come in the same variety of sizes/widths as the Chromoplastics, but the 700X45 Longboard works great on my Seven with 700X32 tires. I wish SKS would just make the one model of fender, in the all the sizes for 26" and 700 by all widths - like the Chromoplastics, but with the extra length and nice mudflaps of the Longboards! Keep things simple.  Maybe they just like having many different models of fenders to confuse the consumer!

These plastic fenders also have the advantage for a travel bike of being easy to mount and they tolerate being pushed around when packed or forced into bike racks on trains. They also are flexible enough to cope with brake QR movement, but not so flexible as to be wobbly on the bike.



I've also got some nicely painted to match plastic fenders from Planet Bike on my Honey with 650BX42 tires. These are a nice fit - despite not being a 650B specific fender, but they are a bit more flexible than the SKS, so following riders complain about seeing some wobble! They are also a wee bit short, so I've added a long mudflap make them a bit more social!

I mentioned fenders that cope with tight clearances and work on bikes that lack of eyelets for mounting. SKS and Planet Bike, among others make several similar models. PDW also make a full metal fender designed for tight clearances.

SKS Race Blades work on pretty much any bike. They come in a couple of widths, and are relatively easy to mount, although they are also relatively easy to mount wrongly and ineffectively! Eyelets are not required and under-brake/tire clearance is not an issue since they don't go under the brakes, but they offer much less protection to both you and your riding companions than any of the other full-coverage fenders. Still they are infinitely better than nothing!



SKS Race Blade Longs go one step farther. They are ... well ... longer, and have a much more secure mounting than the Race Blades. They come with QR gadgets for folks who want to remove them on dry days. Once the initial setup is done, it's pretty easy to pop them off/on. The big down side is your tire size is limited to 700X23 - although friends tell me they've gotten them to work with 25s. They use the wheel QR skewer for mounting, so have some hassle factor when fixing a flat - you have to quick release the fender to remove the wheel. Still, I've been thrilled to see my riding companions show up with them on wet days. 

PDW also make a narrow metal fender that works well on bikes with 700X23 tires, tight clearances and no eyelets. They have special mounting hardware that goes over the rear brake, cutout sides for narrow forks and like the race-blade longs, have hardware to go on the wheels' QR skewers to make up for missing eyelets. Like the race-blade longs, if one is using the optional hardware, one has to QR the fender when removing a wheel. However, it's not as quick as the SKS model, since it requires a tiny allen key to do so. Still it's a nice approach to the problem of no eyelets.

Finally I'll mention fenders from Crud. These are superlight and are designed to work with tight clearances. They offer surprising good coverage and do an admirable job of keeping spray off me and my riding companions. They come with pads allowing the fender to align/float on the rim. The minimal design and the floating feature means you will see movement, but it's by design. I made mudflaps for mine from packing tape to enhance the coverage. These fenders mount easily with no hardware, using reusable cable ties, thumbscrews and rubber bands. They come apart into three pieces so pack quite easily. And the extended section on the front guard comes off easily with a thumb screw, enabling quick removal when using a roof rack where an extended fender might interfere.


I have alluded to the fact that I am not a fan of metal fenders for a travel bike where the act of packing and transporting simply stresses them and me too much! For ease of packing, the Crud fenders can't be beat, and for mild conditions are great. However, if traveling to a very wet area, I'd go with a full coverage SKS models. 

While fenders are no longer required for PBP, I still use them and highly recommend them. BMB rarely saw dry weather for the full four days, and more often than not had sustained or heavy rain. In recent editions, PBP riders have also experienced some serious rain. In Boston, our qualifiers have almost become famous for the heavy rain. Fenders can make a tremendous difference in one's comfort on a long rainy ride. They also make riding in a group much more pleasant. So in my opinion, a good brevet bike has fenders.

OK, enough about fenders!

 

Travel


A final and IMO, big consideration for a brevet bike is travel. You are likely to want to pack your randonneuring bike up and take it somewhere far away to do an event, like PBP or one of the other thousand 1200kms that have popped up in recent years. S&S couplers make this much easier (especially on a tandem). If you are considering buying a new bike, I'd definitely keep this in mind (and retrofitting is also an option). Even without couplers there are several things you can do to make travel easier. I mentioned the bolt off front stems above. Cable couplers are another great travel aid. DaVinci Designs make an inline cable separator that makes it easy to remove the handlebars for packing without fear of kinking cables, or the hassle of having to readjust brake and derailleur cables. We use them on our non-coupled tandem now (to eliminate the need for tandem length cables) as well as any bike we travel with.


Wires on a travel bike can be a big hassle. I use wireless computers (actually a GPS these days) and try to keep lighting wires as simple as possible. Many years ago, I did an elegant job routing wires from the generator to a taillight on the inside of my fender, only to have to undo it all when I packed the bike. Wired taillights are nice for the same reason all generator lights are nice - no fear of dead batteries, but do keep in mind the travel issue. Today, I use a quick connector in the run to the taillight to make it easier to disconnect.

Just last weekend at NAHBS2014, I saw the most elegant and best engineered solution to the problem of wires at the Harvey Cycle Works booth. Kevin Harvey has designed a fork and light mounting system that is modular and very elegant with respect to electrical connections. I heard so much buzz from other builders eager to have him do work for them, that I suspect we are going to see a lot more of his designs in the future.

Gearing


BMB was known for it's long steep climbs. PBP has a similar amount of climbing, but it is spread out more. The brevets in our area also have many of the long steep climbs. Having low gears on day 3 of a long event will contribute greatly to comfort.

Triple front derailleurs have improved, but they can be finicky and today one can get the same spread of gears with a compact crank (34-50) and long cage derailleur and wide range cassette with a large cog of 34 or 36. I feel the ability to spin up those tough little climbs on day 3 can make all the difference in the world.

Of course, I must admit that it is entirely possible to do brevets on fixed gear, and I have done quite a few that way myself, so I'd be a hypocrite to say you MUST have lots of gears, but I still recommend them.

There are seemingly infinite choices of shifters available these days. I may be accused of being a retro-grouch for still having bar-end shifters, but that's where my hands expect to find the shifters, so that's where I have them. I've heard good things (including long battery life) about the latest generation of electronic shifters, but have no real experience with them.
My recommendation here is to use what you are used to, provided of course, that it works reliably.



So what do I ride? Stay tuned for the next post...

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Fender Day

Last year our friend, @the_wilcox (who recently moved out to Portland, possibly in an attempt to get even more use out of his fenders), showed off his beautiful Full Metal Fenders from Portland Design Works and raved about how well they worked. I must admit to admiring their looks, with the simple elegant stays and lovely anodized finish. But more than the aesthetics was the fact that they worked so well and held up to abuse over the long term, unlike many of the lightweight metal fenders we've tried over the years. Fear Rothar has cracked or broken pretty much every type of lightweight metal fender out there (Honjo, Berthoud, Velo Orange), to the extent that I've now bribed the folks at Harris Cyclery to stop ordering new ones for him to break.. the bank!

John claims to have one original set with lots of trouble-free miles, but there is a box full of discarded broken fenders down in the garage, and I remember a few rides where he finished with half a fender strapped to the bike or hanging out of a pocket. I also recall a recent snowy Saturday that he spent hacking up a broken one to use to patch and reinforce a cracked one! [Editor's note: Do not ride trails with metal mudguards. They do not like sticks and branches!]

My belt-drive fixie Seven with SKS longboards and room for 32mm tires!
These days many of our bikes sport non-metal fenders with the SKS longboards being the most effective of the ilk. One advantage to the plastic fenders is they tolerate bumps and bending, that comes from opening brake QRs, removing wheels, loading bikes into or onto cars, bikes falling over, and packing/travelling.

Still I was tempted by the metal fender offerings from PDW, since they are so rock solid and @the_wilcox gave them a thumbs up in the durability department.

Sadly PDW's original full metal fender was designed for 700C X 23mm tires, which may be fine for the perfectly smooth paved roads of the Pacific Northwest, but our New England roads are laced with frost-heaves and are more potholes than pavement these days and I've just grown to appreciate the comfort of wider tires. 

Besides the only bike I have with skinny 23mm wide tires is also my only fender-free bike. Regular readers may recall this same tire size limitation was my main complaint with the SKS raceblade longs.

BTW, I will say that while the raceblade longs won't work for me due to that max 23 mm tire width, many of my friends (who ride with those skinny tires) have found them to be just the ticket for their bikes with tight clearances. And honestly I'm grateful that they have them!
 

Crud Roadracers with mudflap made from high-tech packing tape!

Readers of my previous blog entries on fenders may also remember that I've been using the super lightweight Roadracer Fenders from Crud on my coupled Seven. They are reasonably effective and come apart nicely for packing. But I, and more importantly my riding companions, longed for something with better coverage. After breaking my back last fall, I also decided I really wanted fatter tires so I had the back end of my coupled and geared Seven modified to take a tire like the Grand Bois Cypres (nominal 700CX30 - but measures closer to 32) with a fender.
  
My belted/fixie Seven already had this clearance, and sports the wide SKS Longboards with a Cypres tire on the back. I was just about to put those same fenders on the newly rebuilt geared bike, when I noticed that PDW had released a new wider version of their metal fenders, the Full Metal Fenders - City, which at 45 mm wide, are designed to work with 700C tires up to 38mm. I asked our local shops about getting a set, and Harris Cyclery was able to get them for us.

We had to do a slight modification to get the front fender to work with my fork. The original narrower fenders have cut outs on the sides to accommodate a narrow fork crown and to allow for the QR on a caliper brake. The wider model does not have this cut out by default, so we had to do a bit of tweaking. We have found that the Tektro 539 brake has a more fender-friendly shape than the Shimano 57mm reach brake that I had used previously, so we made that swap. 

Both front and rear fender come with safety quick releases for the stays. The stays slide into the QR and are secured with a tiny hex key. The fenders come complete with nice mudflaps, and in relatively short order my new-ish bike was ready for a proper fender test.



We've had plenty of snow in the last few weeks, and the roads are covered in sand and salt. Since mounting them, I'd managed to get out a few times on dry-ish roads, and the fenders felt solid and kept grit off my bike and backside.

Then last weekend, the temperature soared to over 50F. That, combined with thunderstorms the day before, snow clogged storm drains, and the snow-melt canal - 2 foot high snow banks on each side of the road - made riding on the road more like riding in a shallow river at times. Puddles were more like small lakes, hiding craters that could swallow a small car.

This was a day made for fat tires and fenders! And it was time to test them both...

A rare dry section of road and no muddy wet stripe up my backside!


More typical of the road conditions on Saturday!
As my friend Richard Fries put it so eloquently in a recent tweet, fenders prevent the dreaded ice-water enema!


At one point an oncoming cyclist offered a greeting of "It's sure a messy day!" But John and I just shared a private chuckle that we hadn't noticed and how clean we were thanks to our be-fendered machines.



I'll also point out that the front of me is clean too, because my riding companion also had good fenders!

Remember friends don't let friends spray friends! Spring is fender season! Let's be dry out there! 








Another dry bit of pavement




The verdict so far. Awesome. I'll report back in a year about the longevity. In the meantime, I'm hoping they will make a wide 650B model that we can put on the tandem! hint, hint



In closing, I'll leave you with these images...
Photo by Natalia Boltukhova
www.pedalpowerphotography.com

www.tinyrussianstudio.com

Photo by Matt Roy
Mo Bruno Roy looks great all the time, but she really carries off the muddy look with style and grace!

I'm quite happy not to have ended up in this state on Saturday!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cycling in Ireland - shot in the arm

The snow is coming down - yet again! - as I type. We joined the Ride Studio Cafe gang for part of their cafe-to-cafe ride this morning and early afternoon, before heading for home more directly when flakes started floating down. The good news is that leaves me with some free time to finish up a long promised post on my cycling adventures in Ireland at the end of 2013.

We originally had a trip to Ireland pencilled in for October last year, but Pamela's contretemps in September put that plan on hold indefinitely. To make a long story short, she had recovered sufficiently by late November to make air travel viable. And while late November and early December might not be the time that most people plan a trip to Ireland, we both really needed a change of scenery and I needed to use up my time off at work. Thus, carpe diem!

I had only managed to get out cycling occasionally since early September and felt like a complete slug. Despite having more than a little to contend with herself, Pamela could see me unravelling and kindly encouraged me to fit in as much cycling as I reasonably could, around visiting family and friends. Happily, my brother David had the first week in December off, so we were able to take advantage of genial weather conditions and get out for several spins together.

Our first spin together took us on a western slice of the Wicklow Mountains, to Blessington. You have to work a little harder these days to get out of Dublin but, once you do, road bliss awaits!

Climbing up to Red Gap

Near Ballysmuttan Bridge

View from The Ranger's Road

The lower reaches of Sorrel Hill



Descending towards the Blessington Lakes

Our route to Blessington follows:

The next day took us west into County Kildare. The day's route was in complete contrast to that of the day before - flat, but with a warren of roads to choose from to keep things interesting.



The ride looked like:


Next up was a jaunt to Skerries, on the coast, for lunch with our old (longtime, that is) friend Declan. This took in some classic roads in the north county, which I entirely failed to do photographic justice to.




Our route to and from Skerries looked like:





We then travelled down to County Carlow to visit my sister, Daphne. She is located in a simply gorgeous corner of the country and we tried to take full advantage of that fact. We pointed our wheels south towards the Blackstairs Mountains and, in particular, Mt. Leinster.

The climb from Myshall to the Corrabut Gap is an attention getter in more than one way!

Closing in on the top of the Corrabut Gap

Yours truly approaching the Corrabut Gap

The next leg of the climb up to The Nine Stones

We, err, bumped into Pamela and Daphne at The Nine Stones

Then we got to do some descending...

...before climbing again

We just managed to make it back to Duckett's Grove before sunset...

...catching a view in the gloamin'



Our Blackstairs ramble went here:




Dave next took us on a masterpiece of a spin, to Clonegal, centre of worship of the goddess Isis. We left Tullow by the historic Mount Wolseley before diving into labyrinthine lanes, finally emerging hungry in Clonegal. While the closed Sha-Roe Bistro taunted us across the street, we scrounged what we could from the shops in town before continuing with the delights of our day.




A view of Clonegal





Our route to Clonegal looked like:




The next day, on a whim, we decided to see if could find a clear view of Humewood Castle, in nearby Kiltegan. We failed, but certainly had fun trying! For those curious, you can see some pictures of the castle here.

Looking towards the Humewood estate in Kiltegan



Did I mention we had fun looking for views?

Keadeen Mountain had her head in the clouds


We took a side trip to the High Cross in Moone

An octagonal fixer-upper

Mt. Leinster in the distance

If Daphne lived there, we would have been home
Our route to Kiltegan looked like:



Returning to Dublin, I next took a spin up to the Hill of Tara with my friends Colm and Declan. We talked our way up, chatted our way through a very long lunch at the coffee shop there, where we met Pamela, my mom and my sister Suzanne. Leaving lunch just before it got dark (!), we headed to the nearby Skreen Church for sunset. That left us with a fun return through the lanes in the dark, when the craic never went below ninety!


We just made to Skreen before the sun set




That spin looked like:


A storm on our second last day was not enough to deter my nephew, Luke, from wanting to do a spin together. We took to the nearby Royal Canal for something a little different and to avoid traffic.


This picture doesn't capture how slippery the mud was

Christmas-special steam train with canal waves courtesy of the gale force wind