Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Friday, August 31, 2012

Getting my Mt Washington Fix

Regular readers know that the pixie fixie (that's the bike) was due to make another appearance at Mt Washington this year for the bike race up to the top. Leading up to the ride, the Fixie Pixie (that's me) tried to get back into proper fixie mode. I admit that I have been a bit shifty since late spring, with lots of long hilly rides with gears, but starting the first of August, I pulled out my road fixie and rode it a lot. Then I borrowed a belt-drive bike set up as fixed and test rode it for a week. And I raced the pixie fixie up Mt.  Equinox to test out my new slightly higher gear. So by the time August 18th rolled around I was definitely back in a state of not knowing how to shift.

It's been an action packed year, with lots of long distance rides, as well as a few hill climbs. I got a good kick-start with the Strava-Specialized climbing challenge back in the spring, and continued to do lots of climbing in the longer events. My first hill-climb race of the year was the Newton's Revenge race up Mt Washington.  I was finally persuaded to give gears another chance, and ended up having a pretty good race with gears, taking 5 minutes off my previous best time. But I really wanted to have another go on fixed. After all, I tell folks that fixed is actually an advantage.

But I'll admit that to take pressure off myself, I started saying the opposite. It's a little mind game I play so I can sleep the night before a big event. I'm not really racing. I don't care about placing. I'm just here because I drove John and his bike to the race. I'm just going to ride my bike up the same mountain. He's the one racing.

But apparently, my subconscious had a different idea, and turned my stomach inside out. I felt nauseous before the start, and most of the way up. It didn't make sense. I had already convinced myself that I would be slower than my Newton's time, and that the top three places in my age group would be much faster than I could be.

So why was my gut doing backflips?

At 8:35AM, the tiny cannon fired for the first time. I was across the street and watched the top notch folks, including John, take off like rockets. I still had 15 minutes. I had been warming up on a geared bike. The pixie fixie is geared so low (20X19), that it is pretty well impossible to ride on anything other than a steep climb, so I warm up on a different bike.  I headed back to the car to get the pixie fixie, pack away the warmup bike, and most importantly,  pack away my sunglasses. I'd just gotten a new pair of prescription sunglasses, and did not want to break them like I did the last time I forgot to leave them in the car! Then I locked up and headed over to the start.

The first group to start is the top notch racers, those who have previously finished in less than 1:20. The second group is for folks aged 20-34, then a 35-44 wave. The final group is 45+, tandems, unicycles and juniors. This group is usually almost half the total field. So they break this group into two, but not by age, but rather alphabetically, so one can be racing against folks who have started 5 minutes before or after. Even split, these two groups are still quite large and extend well beyond the steel grate bridge. It is really unpleasant for me having to start on that bridge. I really wish they would break this group up more and do it by category.

Anyway, there I was on the bridge, trying to suppress the butterflies and chatting with a few friends. The tiny cannon goes off for our wave, and folks hammer off the front. I manage to get started and twiddle my teeny gear down the little hill and across the flat section for a few hundred yards before the road finally pitches up. I'm the last rider in my wave to start up the actual climb, but very quickly I start passing folks as I twiddle that little gear up the hill. The first half mile can be a bit tricky as folks blow shifts and fall over or weave across the road, but I just take it easy and make my way through until I finally get some space and open road ahead. Well there was never truly open road. I had cyclists to pace off the whole way up the climb.

5 minutes in, I heard the teeny cannon again signalling the start of the final wave of riders. It seemed to take the first folks from that wave no time at all to catch and pass me. Riders from different start waves have different colored numbers so I could tell whether I was catching someone from an earlier wave or someone from a later wave was catching me.

I've gotten to know many of the women who do the series over time and thought I knew who was in my age group. I saw Amanda ahead of me, but I was certain she was in a younger age group. But wait, I'd already ruled out any thoughts of placing in my age group. Why was I thinking of these things? Darn, it seems that no matter how much I say I'm not competitive and that I'm not really racing it, I do have a suppressed racer inside struggling hard to get out. And she was struggling so much that I thought for sure I was going to puke her out! But I just did my best to ride below what I call the VO-puke threshold, but still maintain enough momentum to get the bike up the climb.

As I passed riders, some noticed my lack of derailleur and offered compliments and encouragement. I noticed many of them were in a similar gear, and were foolishly carrying an extra 19 gears, excess chain and derailleurs and shifters. Honestly, this mountain is quite optimal for a fixed gear. The gradient really doesn't change much. After the first half mile, most folks are stuck in the same gear for the rest of the ride. Might as well not carry the weight of all the other gears up the mountain!

I thought back to a conversation I'd had a few weeks prior. I had been asked, "What do you think about while you climb?" This time, my mind was blank. I really wasn't thinking at all, just letting my body do what I'd taught it to do, push these pedals around in circles, and keep the bike aimed uphill. I didn't even have a song stuck in my head.

I did have a small GPS mounted, but without my glasses,  reading the data was tough. At times, I make out the average speed, and the elapsed time. I watched the average speed settle down to 5 mph. And I watched the elapsed time spin by.

I hit the dirt section that signifies 5 mile grade. I worried briefly about my gearing choice, but I managed to keep the pedals going around. Thankfully it was a much calmer day than in July when the winds were so strong that I was practically being blown sideways and backwards.

By this stage most folks had settled into finishing order, although I would still occasionally catch someone and a rider from the last wave would occasionally pass me. One of those was 17 year old Rachel Chambers, who started 5 minutes back and had enough breathe to chat a bit as she danced past looking like it was effortless! Ah youth.

Copyright, Leo Kenney Photography.

My average pace stayed steady at 5mph though, and I began to realize that despite my sick stomach, that I might actually post a good time. Then I caught Amanda, but then the road flattened out and she passed me while I spun wildly. Then it pitched back up. I think we did another back and forth, but then she put in a good spurt and got ahead definitively. I didn't worry - not my age group!

Then I heard the sounds of the top, the announcer, the cowbells, the cheering. People were yelling encouraging words. You're almost there. Keep going.

Traffic around me had thinned. I looked back and saw there was no one close behind me. This was important because I always hop off and run/walk the final steep pitch. For me it's just more efficient, and I'm just so paranoid about blowing up or falling over that mentally I can't get myself to stay on the bike. But I don't want to mess up someone else's line by hopping off in front of them. So I check that it's clear first.

I was also looking around in the crowd for John, but didn't see him.

I hopped off a bit early, ran a bit harder than I should have and was a bit winded when I got to the flatter part at the top. But the gear is so low it is pointless to get back on, so I kept running/walking to the line. And I saw the numbers 1:45:12, 1:45:13, 1:45:14, 1:45:15, 1:45:16, 1:45:17, 1:45:18, ... my goodness... it took forever to get across the finish line, but I finally did as the clock ready 1:45:19. Take off 15 minutes, since my wave started 15 minutes after the clock and that meant 1:30:19. I had just taken another 4 minutes off my time from July, with a sick stomach no less!

And the handicap of a single gear!

I collapsed and tried to get the heart rate down. I don't doing any training for running, and the running at the end had pushed me over the top. I really must start doing some running, or learn how to climb that last bit. I eventually felt well enough to stand up and go look for my hilltop bag. As I came around the corner I saw Erik and Regina with my bag AND John's. Uhoh... Why did they still have John's bag? Erik told me something had gone terribly wrong with John's bike, but he wasn't sure what. I was starting to get really chilled, so I grabbed my bag and headed up to change clothes. Just then I spied John. he told me a bit of the story, which I will let him relay in his own posting, coming soon.

Results are here

It turned out that Amanda is indeed in my age group, and edged me out for the podium! But 4th isn't half bad. Especially since I wasn't really racing. Yeah, right!

I do keep suggesting they add a fixed gear category. Maybe if all the fixie riders out there lobby them...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Belt Drive Fixie

"Why fixed?"

It's a question that I hear lots. Actually I hear this question mostly when I am riding fixed. Which isn't always, but this month it has been a lot. In a blog posting last week, I mentioned that I would be doing Mt. Washington on the pixie fixie again. So leading up to that event, I've been avoiding those shifty bikes in favor of fixed. Therefore it seemed like an ideal time to do an extended test ride of the Seven Cafe Racer S set up with a Gates Carbon Drive belt and a fixed cog. I'd first spotted this bike at Ride Studio Cafe last year. It was set up as a single speed. I took it out for a short test ride last spring, and then asked Rob about fixing it, and letting me take it for some extended rides. He ordered the fixed cog right away, but the bike was actually booked on a flight to London for a some test riding and reviewing there, so I'd have to wait a little while before I could really put it through the paces.

I hear the bike had a great time traveling, and may have even sent a postcard home. This particular bike has S&S couplers, so it is made to fly. And as a single speed, it is also super simple to disassemble and pack. So while it was off having fun in England, I waited patiently...

Soon after seeing the bike reappear at RSC last month, I asked Rob again about getting that fixed cog and taking it out for a few days.

Last Wednesday, I headed over to RSC to get the bike. I took it out that afternoon for a short spin - well actually 26 miles. It was still in single speed mode and had a narrow man's saddle/torture device. Obviously I noticed the saddle, and I will also admit to noticing the funky Tiberius handlebars - more on them later. But I determined right away that I will never make a good bike reviewer. Other than these personal preference contact points, the bike pretty much disappeared beneath me. I saw some lovely bluebirds as I passed through the golf course. I noticed that the golfers, at least the one's at this golf course, seem to favor a more subdued fashion than the brightly colored plaid knickers that some pros seem to like. As I climbed up the hill past the Campion Center, I noticed that this year's poison ivy crop was thriving. If I could find a commercial use for poison ivy, I could solve the world economic crisis!

What I didn't notice... was noise from the bike - and that's not because, as John believes, that I can't actually hear the squawking of a dry rusty chain, but because there isn't any noise to be made. This is one of the advantages of belt drive - a pretty much silent, no-maintenance drive train. Another advantage is complete lack of chainring tattoos on one's calf.

Since the belt doesn't need to be lubed, it is completely clean, making it possible not just to avoid this mark that often invites ridicule, but also to be able to remove a rear wheel to fix a flat and handle the belt - all while keeping one's hands clean. This is great for a commuting bike, or a bike that gets loaded into a car, or for anyone who just can't be bothered with lubing a chain until flocks of birds join the ride believing the chirping noise from the dry chain to be a call to follow.

The other big advantage is weight. According to Gates, the weight of a belt and the two pulleys, their name for the chainrings and cogs, is less than the weight of just a chain. As a weight weenie, who rides fixed, partly because fixed is lighter than a bike with derailleurs, cassette and excessive chain, getting something lighter is even more appealing!

So now this brings me back to "Why fixed?" as in why fixed, versus single speed. My little 26 mile spin on single speed reminded me. Most people know that with fixed, you cannot coast, and that is indeed true. And it's picturing a rider going downhill, legs spinning fast and wildly, that usually causes folks to start asking "Why?" To be honest, descents are part of the appeal. One can get a nice consistent workout, pedaling for the entire ride, never coasting. And it's a great way to keep warm in the winter. But the real advantage isn't that you have to pedal all the time, it's the push you get uphills. Yes, applying force to the pedals makes the wheel go around, but the momentum from the wheel going round helps push your feet around. Yes, even on a steep climb, you actually get a little help turning the cranks from the momentum of the wheel. It seems to be worth about 8-10 gear inches for me. I can ride up the same hill in a much higher gear fixed than one that is free.

It's like a legal performance enhancer. Just don't tell WADA - they'd surely ban it.

Of course, there is the matter of selecting the proper gear, one that works well for both the ups and downs for whatever roads you are riding. It is a compromise, something low enough to get up, yet high enough to get down without spinning your legs out of the joints, and good for whatever lies in between. And of course there is being able to adjust to changes in cadence, rather than changes in gear.

Now, the first thing I did after my 26 mile ride was to change the saddle for my own. I took one from my Bike Friday, which isn't seeing much use these days due to my complete lack of commuting into the city. And wow, what a pleasure it was to discover that Seven Cycles seat post.  This seat post was designed to make changing saddles easy. I don't understand why all seat posts don't have this as a primary design goal. The design allows for separate fore-aft and seat angle adjustment. And the clamping plate rotates out of the way, so one can place the saddle, move the clamping plate back into position and tighten the bolt, without the need for 6 extra hands and some special incantations or swearing! Getting the saddle level was an easy adjustment. Not that I change saddles a lot, but now I want new Seven seatposts for all my bikes. If you've ever struggled with changing saddles on an uncooperative post, definitely give this one a look.

Next up was actually fixing the bike. Rob had been kind enough to get a fixed pulley, but we would need to provide a compatible wheel. The plan was to use one of our fixed-ready wheels that would take a threaded cog. Surprise, surprise, the Fixie Pixie has a few fixed gear wheels.  The candidate wheel was one with a White Industries hub from John's Cielo, since John's being all shifty these days, so it wouldn't be missed for a week. Also this wheel is relatively lightweight, compared to my heavy duty commuter wheel with the Phil Wood hub. The one issue is that this wheel takes a splined fixed cog on one side and a freewheel on the other. The fixed pulley from Gates was threaded. It would go onto the freewheel side, but with backpedaling would presumably just come unthreaded, without a proper lockring. John assured me that once I'd climbed my first hill, it would stay put, and this was indeed the case. We put plenty of anti-seize on the threads, but it's going to take more than backpedaling to remove that cog after a week of climbing!

As it is John's wheel, it has a cushy 28mm (measures 30mm) Grand Bois tire. The nice long chainstays and thoughtful design of the Seven with the brake set up with pads at the bottom of the slot meant the wheel with the cushy tire would fit just fine. I had plenty of room with a nice comfy ride for our bumpy New England roads.

Plenty of clearance for the cushy (measures) 30mm tire - with a Dura Ace brake

I then added a bottle cage/bottle, pump, small seatbag with basic tools, a GPS mount and was ready to go.

And go I did. I logged over 350 miles in the week that I had it. I did both solo and group rides and I had a blast. I really hate to return it.  It is light, smooth, comfortable, stable, fast and all things a bike should be. As in the initial ride, it continued to disappear beneath me. Again what I noticed most was what I didn't notice - noise. And of course, no chainring tattoos!

Belt-drive is definitely on my wish-list now.

The gear is a little lower than what I'd typically use for group rides around here, but can easily be changed with a larger front chainring - um, pulley. The gearing is currently 50/21, but I held my own with most of the group. I might be able to keep up with the young guns or contest a town line sprint with a 55/21, but that's just gearing choice, nothing to do with the belt. Currently the only thread-on (fixed) pulley is 21. But front pulleys are available in 39, 42, 46, 50, 55 and 60.

(There are several other rear pulleys available for single speed or internally geared hubs. The Gates website has all the details for various gear combinations, belt lengths and chainstay lengths.)

The Seven Cafe Racer S with belt drive is a great climbing bike. I even managed to set a few Strava PR's on climbs this week! I can't get the low-low Mt. Washington type gearing though, so I'll have to give it back and go back to my heavy, greasy chain fixie for the race. But I wonder if I can get Gates to make me some custom pulleys and belt for next year...

Using a tugnut makes setting the belt tension easy. Also note the bolt that joins the seatstay and dropout. This is necessary to install/replace a belt. It is the only downside. The frame must be designed for belt-drive, with a split at the dropout or seatstay.

Pulley alignment is very important with the CenterTrack belt and was easily accomplished with a single spacer behind the threaded pulley to match the pulley on the crank. 
Front Pulleys are available for 4 arm 104 BCD or 5 arm 130 BCD cranks.

 Near the end of my last ride, I noticed the rear tire was soft. I opened the quick release, backed off the tugnut, pushed the wheel forward and pushed the belt off the front pulley, then freed the rear pulley, so I could pull the wheel out. My hands were still clean. In fixie mode, I had used the front brake, but had barely touched the rear, so even after fixing the puncture, my hands were still clean. I slid the wheel back into the dropouts, re-mounted the belt - rear first, then front, then pulled the wheel back to a reasonable tension, tightened the tugnut, then the quick release, and was on my way - with clean hands

The Tiberius Commuter Bars drew almost as much attention as the belt and the fixed gear. These are very nice bars, and awesome, as designed for commuting, but maybe not my choice for longer distance rides. To be fair, I was really not using the bike as it was intended to be used. Who does 80 mile rides as a commute, on fixed?

Even with couplers, the bike is soooo light that it flies!

Just what I need to get me to the coffee shop fast!

Quality work from the fine folks at Seven

If you still want a chainring tattoo, you could get a permanent one!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fixin' to Climb Mt Equinox

The pixie fixie has seemingly been in hibernation for a while, but all that changed recently. After stoking the tandem for a week, I wasn't sure I could handle going back to doing my own steering, braking and shifting all at once. So I decided to leave out shifting for a while. I pulled down the road fixie and just reacquainted myself with steering and braking.

Then I pulled down the pixie fixie (note the difference here - pixie fixie is the pink bike with the teeney fixed gear. Fixie Pixie is the small gal with the pink jersey and braids who rides the pixie fixie). Anyway, I pulled the pixie fixie down from the hook where it spends most of the year and starting prepping it for the race up Mt Equinox. First up was changing the rear cog. I've used 20/20 gearing for all my previous (successful) races, but decided this year to throw caution to the wind, and step it up a notch by using a 19T cog in the back! I also decided it was time for some new tires. Not that I have ridden the bike a lot, but apparently the tires had quite a bit of use before I put them on the bike last year. So I treated the pixie fixie to its own dedicated pair of brand new tires. Finally I moved my super-light pedals over from the geared hill-climber. I double checked that the wheel was on nice and tight. Last year, I had a incomplete (DNF) on Mt Equinox when, after changing the cog, I didn't tighten the wheel enough and it came loose on the descent. I did not want a repeat!

Descent, you ask? Yes, there is a screaming descent at around 2.3 miles in. For non-fixies (OK, everyone but me and the unicyclist), it's a chance to coast, rest or use the big chainring. For fixies (like me and the unicyclist) with a wee-tiny gear, it's one of the biggest challenges. Fixed gear riding on the road is all about finding the right gear that works for both climbing and descending. But for pure hill climbs, it's about having a gear one can comfortably push all the way to the finish line - of course, assuming no descents. For me, this is a pretty darn low gear, which means that even a wee little descent is a big challenge, requiring some braking to maintain some control. In this sense, Equinox is not really a good climb for fixed, but it's still a good test for me before Mt Washington. Mt Ascutney is another good fixie climb, but the timing and logistics this year put us on the tandem. So if I wanted to do a hillclimb race on fixed before Mt. Washington, Equinox would have to be the one.

I rode my road-fixie all week leading up to the race, but I did bring a bike with gears for my warmup and for post-race rides. It was already quite toasty and sticky when I started the warmup, so I didn't have to do much to get warm. I'd had some thoughts of a fast-ish time leading up to the weekend, but this humidity pushed all those thoughts right out of my mind. Besides, I had to remind myself how to use shift levers for the warm-up. And then forget all about them again for the race. Too many things to think about at once!

I wished John well, and watched his group take off 15 minutes before my start time. Then I got to stand around and get nervous. What's to be nervous about? Just point the bike uphill and pedal...

Eric Scheer and I lined up next to each other at the back of our group. Eric rides a unicycle, which is kinda like riding a fixed gear, although there is no disguising his insanity. He commented that we were in the same position last year. I just thought to myself that I hoped for a better outcome this year.

A friend recently asked me what I think about on a hillclimb. Usually my mind is pretty blank and focused. Stay upright, keep pedaling. I wonder if I can catch that person 10 meters ahead of me. Keep pedaling. Is my GPS busted? Why isn't the distance number changing? Why is time standing still and flying by at the same time? Stay upright. Is this climb 5.2 or 5.4 miles? Oh and I usually come up with a solution for world peace, but then forget it by the time I finish!

But for the first 2.5 miles of this climb on this day, all that goes through my mind is that I hope I tightened the wheel enough and I just need to get past that effin' downhill. There's a fellow ahead of me in a cream colored Rapha pro-team jersey. He's riding at my pace, so I don't gain any time, and I try not to lose any time either. Then the descent and he's gone. But the climb gets tough again after the descent, and I quickly catch him and go past! Yippee - passed one person. Then I reach the spot where I had to get in the van last year, and go past it! Yippee!

There are volunteers handing out bottles of water, but I'm not comfortable letting go of the handlebars. It's a flattish spot - ideal for the bottle hand-ups, but my cadence is so high now and it's just not good for me. I have a small flask in my back pocket if I really need water, but I'm well known for not drinking on long rides, so I should be able to get through an hour.

But it sure is hot and sticky, and darn, I should have taken water. I also realize that I still have my sunglasses on. I need some breeze on my eyeballs! I manage to get the glasses off and safely tucked into my helmet. Hmm, I was able to let go of the bars with one hand and maintain control. I could have taken water! Next time, I will. But before that I have to finish this one.

Now here's where it gets surprising. I start catching people. I think this is all my endurance training. I start slow and stay steady. I could go all day at this pace - well maybe not all day, but I am riding at a pace and rhythm that I should be able to maintain for a while. And I can push this gear. In fact, maybe next year, I could go for an 18T!

Still close to an hour goes by...

photo courtesy of Bruce Hiltunen

I come around a corner and hear the tell-tale signs of the top, bell ringing, cheering and Andy announcing folks as they cross the line. Some dude I had caught earlier, sprints by me, but he went too soon and fades and I come back around him. I see folks with cameras and instinctively smile. I just can't seem to do a suffer-face for the camera. I'm still seated. I haven't stood at all. I sprint across the finish line at 5mph, still seated!

photo courtesy of Bruce Hiltunen

1:01:23, my best time ever on this mountain!

With the construction taking place on the mountain top building, there is a big fence right after the finish line, meaning no chance to ride around and spin out the legs and cool down. Just sprint across the line and STOP! Well this is certainly good prep for Mt. W.

I stand over the bike for a while trying to figure out how to get away from it - well not so much get away from it, but how do I get to where I am not straddling it anymore! I'd really like to collapse, but the bike is in the way. I eventually realize I have to lift my leg and swing it over the saddle.

I'd also really like some shade and a pool full of ice, but neither is to be found. Someone brings me a bottle of water, half of which I pour on my head. Then I drink the rest. Wow, it is brutally hot and humid. I soon find some shade, as well as John who didn't have his best day on the mountain, but is still pretty chipper. We replace our toxic waste that passed for cycling clothes a short while earlier, with dryer less smelly clothing and hang out talking to everyone while the last folks make their way to the top.

Then it's in the car for the ride back down and sitting in the shade enjoying the picnic and awards ceremony. It was so hot that we ended up just going for a swim in the afternoon. We always go back out for a ride, but I had zero interest. That's how hot it was.

I'm happy with my gear choice and am looking forward to getting the pixie fixie to the top of Mt Washington later this month.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Quadzilla - Day 4

The final day, and there I was checking the weather again. Initially the forecast had looked good, but now I saw a big swath of green and yellow headed our way on the radar. What a pity we still haven't mounted the fenders. I'm ashamed to admit this, but we've been doing so much dirt road riding and simply had not wanted to risk damaging them. Oh well, I'd have to suffer the indignity of a wet bum. We put our rain jackets into the seat bag, and headed out trying to get as far along as possible before being overtaken by the storms.

We passed through the charming looking town of Skaneateles at the top of its eponymous lake. It looked like a lovely place to spent a night, or at least have a coffee, but the storm brewing behind us kept us on the move. The rain caught us in earnest as we began the first real climb of the day, and the thunder and lightning were almost of top of us when we reached the summit, where Chuck and Crista were waiting in their van offering bananas and encouragement.  I quickly put on my jacket, while John took a banana and we apologized for not hanging out due to the lightning! We just wanted to get off the mountaintop. We got down as quickly as we could, while still showing some caution for the wet and steep roads, and those ever-present stops signs!

We were barely able to see and were quite thankful to have the GPS for navigation as we made our way down through a series of turns to the control near the interstate. The climb up Song Mountain did not make us sing, but prayers, or at least OMG's might have been uttered on Church Hill. With our giant 36 tooth cog on the cassette, it was rare for us to use the granny in front, but this climb deserved it!

Somewhere around the top of Church Hill climb, the clouds started to break up a bit, but we didn't trust them not to reform, and we just kept pressing on. We were wasting no time and actually met Marcia on her way to the secret control point (that we'd already passed), so she stopped and set up for us partway up the Long Hill climb. Hunger makes good sauce and those turkey sandwiches went down a treat!

The next descent was a glorious one and took us down to yet another lake. Yes, at this stage, we had seen every lake out there, and had ridden on numerous different Lake Streets, Lakeside Roads, and Lake Hill Avenues and every variation of that. So ho, hum, another effin' lake! Actually it was pretty cool to keep seeing so many lakes, but we knew it'd just be a screaming descent and then another climb where we'd have to winch ourselves back up to a view high above said lake! We had a couple of info controls along this section, as Mark had us weaving up and down in between lakes to get more climbing and distance.

We dared not acknowledge it for fear of scaring it off, but the sun was trying hard to overcome the clouds. This was also warming things up a bit, and by the time we reached Moravia, we were ready for a cold drink and some additional calories.

After a short stop, we headed out for the final leg, and spied Mark waving at us from a cafe. He had taken a more direct route after growing weary of the storm cloud that seemed to follow him around, likely because he still hasn't learned not to use that four letter word while on a ride, and was waiting to meet up with the other riders still doing the full course. There weren't many left though. Quite a few folks had either taken direct routes or lifts during the storm. The sad part was that the weather actually improved when folks dropped out and continued to get better as the day wore on!

We had a couple more big climbs after Moravia, and then found ourselves in the midst of a giant series of yard sales along a pretty main road, with cars darting in and out for parking, and completely destroying all our momentum for yet another big climb! What followed was a long series of downhills with just a few leg burning climbs tossed in before we hit the only curvy twisty road on the route taking us past the gorge that runs through Cornell. We stopped for a couple of photos and then enjoyed the final descent back to the motel.

4X200km days with 36,000 feet of climbing. Now it's time to rest.

Thanks to Mark Frank for his devilish route and Marcia Swan, the absolute angel of support.

This was a good hard challenging ride. I'm quite happy with the staged format, as it was really nice to see everything in daylight. Mark could do a better job arranging the weather, but then it might be too easy! As I've probably said too many times already, the climbs were somewhat demoralizing because they were dead straight, and you could see exactly what awaits.  If you like a good climbing challenge, you'll find it here. And if you want to beat the daylights out of your quads, quadzilla will do it!

Hmm, looks like R....

Wet roads - missing fenders!

Bits of blue sky?

Puddles are getting smaller

Stoker is still there!


Quadzilla - Staged - 4 legged beast ... Done and Dusted!

Quadzilla - Day 3

After two hard days with over 10,000 feet of climbing each day, we were looking forward to this easy day with a mere 6,000 feet. There was even a little temptation to make it easier, by riding directly to Auburn, without taking the dogleg up to Lake Ontario. Fortunately Mark had emphasized that the ride up to Fair Haven State Park was beautiful and the views of Lake Ontario would be well worthwhile.

Still we were pretty tired. We rolled out of town with MaryBeth and Vida, and enjoyed getting to know them better as we rode along, chatting away. Shortly before reaching Waterloo, I heard comments about stopping for coffee, so I kept my eyes peeled as we passed through town, and we found a lovely coffee shop just at the edge of town. As we sat down to enjoy our find, Robert pulled up with the same idea. He had sprinted off the front, but had missed a turn, resulting in some bonus miles. Great minds think alike though and he was also ready for a break in Waterloo.

After the refreshing stop, we'd aimed for Seneca Falls where Marcia had set up a secret control. At this point, we made the turn north to head to Lake Ontario. The terrain continued to be gentle and conversation friendly. At some point, we caught up to most of the rest of the group, and we all rolled along together chatting away.

Marcia was waiting for us at Fair Haven, and again made us wonderful sandwiches and supplied us with all sorts of fruit and pocket snacks. Mark had gotten a late start due to a tire issue, but arrived shortly after the group, and then took us on a ride out to the headland for nice views of the cliffs across the way and some group photos.

Next it was onto Rudy's at the Lakefront, which seemed to be a local institution with seriously long lines of folks waiting to order seafood. Fortunately the lines for ice cream weren't so bad. It was starting to get hot, and ice cream was definitely appreciated. We enjoyed the great view of a local sailboat race, while polishing off our ice cream cones. But feeling the previous long days in our legs, we pressed on toward Auburn, while most other folks chilled out a bit longer.

I hadn't checked the cue sheet carefully for services and had neglected to top off my bottles, so while the lovely quiet roads were very enjoyable, I started to hope for some sort of village or store, as I drained my bottles dry in the afternoon heat. We reached a closed bridge, marked on the cue sheet as passable by bike, and got to climb over a barrier and then navigate a narrow trail lined with poison ivy! Shortly afterward, we reached the oasis of Port Byron, where we stopped for cold drinks before the final push to Auburn.

Mark had made dinner reservations for the group, so we quickly cleaned up bike and bodies and headed out for the nice group dinner.

One more day...

This is John Deere country. We saw several displays like this one along the way.

A great day to be at the beach

Riding out to the headland

The whole gang

Stepping carefully through the poison ivy

Avoiding the rusty bits!

Stay tuned for the final day...

Friday, August 3, 2012

Quadzilla - Day 2

Cyclists seem to be more obsessed with weather and weather forecasts than anyone. Inevitably when gathered among a group of cyclists, discussion turns to weather, weather apps and weather forecasting tools. We've all got several weather apps on our smart phones, ipads and laptops. Some of us are on a first name basis with the local TV weather reporters. I will even admit I subscribe to a weather twitter feed. We obsessively check and compare and sometimes shop around to find the most favorable forecast - being optimistic creatures and all.

Conversation at dinner Wednesday night kept turning back to the weather. We'd had an absolutely glorious day for riding Wednesday with crystal clear blue skies, although the humidity had started to rise a bit late in the day and some clouds were rolling in for the final climb.  It was just starting to sprinkle a bit as we walked down to dinner.

Thursday's forecast was the opposite of Wednesday's. Thunderstorms along with oppressive heat and humidity in the afternoon. Various riders were looking at options for shortcuts or alternative routes. Negative thoughts entered my mind as well.

But all who know me or have ridden with me on a threatening day know that I am equally obsessive and superstitious about the mere mention of that four letter word that starts with R, ends with N and has A and I in the middle. Years ago, I learned that simply uttering the word out loud can bring on torrents of biblical proportion. The most damning phrase ever spoken by a cyclist is, "At least it's not raining." This is almost always followed by the wrath of the rain-gods.

After some impressive rumbling overnight, we arose to see wet roads and dire forecasts. I'd never heard the term derecho before this year, but after the Washington DC area was hit earlier in the summer, everyone now knew the term, and it was being tossed about for Thursday's forecast! I looked at my favorite weather site, weatherspark.com, and saw a big swath of green and yellow stuff heading toward us in the afternoon, with big numbers in the probability and amount rows. I looked at the route maps and route profile again, and took note that most of the big climbs and more importantly big descents were in the first half. I also took note that if we went to Letchworth, we were pretty well committed to do the whole ride.

John headed down to the lobby to grab some spoons and saw Marcia, who told him that Mark was cancelling the ride, and suggesting shorter options for mid-day. I rechecked the weather, and came to the conclusion that we should get out early. But then when I went down to the lobby, Mark and several others were suited up and ready to head out on the official route. Mark warned, not so much about the danger of thunderstorms, but of loosing traction of climbs and needing to take care on wet descents. He and three others were familiar with the route and heading out, along with Marcia who would be at Gannet Hill Park and Letchworth. Well, if they are going, we are going.

We rolled out with the small group, on damp roads, but with little bits of blue sky visible. I started in knee warmers, and my black jersey, appropriate for a messy day, along with my R-jacket in the seatbag.

We rolled along by the lake for a while, but I knew from studying the map that this was just a tease, as Bopple Hill lay in wait. Bopple is well known in the area for being a nasty steep climb away from the lake, with a turn in the middle that hides the nastier steeper climb that follows. I'd climbed this hill a few years back when John, David and Susan and I were out here doing some touring. At the time, I was on a new super-light bike with a compact crank (i.e. not my usual triple) with 34/50 rings giving me a low gear of 34X27, not my usual 1-to-1. I recall cursing that not-so-low gear. I've since come to my senses and that bike now has a crank with a 26/39 set of rings. And it's not just me that finds this climb hard. Here's another take from a non-flatlander.

Our new tandem has a pie plate cassette on the back with a giant 36 tooth cog, meaning we rarely have to use the granny. Well Bopple and Granny are good friends now. John was taking photos while I was looking at the GPS, hollering, "Put the camera away. Bopple is just ahead!" Camera was safely in the bar bag as we rounded the corner and started up the little wall. Quadzilla indeed. Our quads woke up, and we winched the tandem up and away from lake level. Then it was around the bend, and there it was, a vertical wall. Ah yes, I remember it well. But we managed to get to the top without use of ropes or walking! Then we turned left and then right and started up Gannet Hill. This one got my attention as well.

Mark had recommended watching the time to try and make the control before closing. It was a reasonable suggestion. With so much climbing in the first 30 miles, it could be close, but we rolled in to find Marcia, ever smiling and cheerful, with plenty of time to spare. I noticed that the rear tire seemed a bit soft, and we decided to take advantage of Mark's floor pump to add some air. Sadly we couldn't figure out that it was a Schraeder pump head in need of an adapter, until we'd let much of the air out. We pulled out our trusty Topeak Morph Pump and got the tire back up to proper pressure. We stopped at the loo and then headed back out for the next leg. We saw Mark had come in and spied Tom at the last corner. We didn't get very far before the rear tire became soft. I guess we should have changed it back at the control.

I have to backtrack a bit here. When we bought the tandem, we designed it around the ability to use different wheels (and tire sizes), with disk brakes. We initially set it up with 650B wheels, which would take 42mm tires and work well for all those dirt roads we love so much. We could also swap in 700C wheels with higher performance tires for things like hill climb races and pure road rides. We haven't built up the second set of wheels, and decided instead to try some high performance 650B tires in the form of Pacenti Pari-Moto tires. We got them just before the weekend, and I swear they aren't much thicker than inner tubes! We used them for the hillclimb race, and John said we should leave them on and see how they hold up. We did press our luck a bit after the race with lots of dirt roads, but the only puncture we had was on a paved section. Then we made it through Day 1 of Quadzilla, without incident, but now we definitely had (to use Dave Cramer's term) an involuntary deflation event. We pulled the tire and based on the excessive wear, decided to put on the spare. As we mounted the new tire and pumped it back up, Mark and then Tom rolled up. Tom was inspecting his tire as we rolled away with Mark.

Mark dared to say the R-word out loud, and within seconds, sprinkles started. Once we put some distance between us, it stopped!

Soon, we caught some really nice views of the windfarm in Cohocton, NY. We'd seen it from he other side the day before, but it was even more impressive from this vantage point. I counted over 30 wind turbines. It turns out there are 50. It is a gorgeous sight.

We had a few more long steep climbs and long steep descents, with at least one descent freshly chipped. The theme of long straight roads continued. It can be so demoralizing to see just how long and steep the climb is going to be!

We had a screaming descent down to Springwater, where we found the store despite complete lack of signage. John suspects that, like him, they're not on Facebook either. We refueled with breakfast sandwiches and rolled out soon after Mark rolled in and uttered the R-word, causing, yes, you guessed it, wet stuff to fall from the sky. Some people do not learn!

The climb out of Springwater was as steep as the descent into it had been, but it was on a lovely quiet lane, so we just cranked away. This was followed by another long steep descent into a bigger town, where John thought Mark had mentioned good coffee. What Mark had actually said was a good climb up Coffee Hill! We expected to find coffee plantations as we continued to gain altitude, but we never did figure out where the road got its name.

We finally started seeing signs for Letchworth State Park, and were thrilled to pass through the gates and ride up to the information control and find Marcia waiting with her wonderful turkey sandwiches. We got photos of the waterfall, found the plaque with the info control answer, downed sandwiches and drinks, and then headed out when Mark came in, bringing ... yes ... really ... RAIN! I don't know if it really followed him all day, but I swear every time we saw him, it rained!

We had another steep climb up from the gorge, but then started into the easier part of the route profile - well easier in that we wouldn't have anymore 1500 foot climbs, but we still had plenty of shorter nasty climbs ahead. We could hear the rumble of thunder and I was sure we would get caught, but refused to say anything out loud. But those rumbles may have inspired us to put the hammer down as the terrain flattened out for a while.

I started counting down miles and looking at the time as we climbed up to Conesus Lake. We took a quick stop at a store for some more refueling, but the rumbles of thunder got us moving again quickly. I made the mistake of thinking we might finish by 6, when the front tire went soft! We quickly replaced the tube, and got rolling. But it seemed no time passed when the rear tire went soft! At this stage, we were out of tubes, and had to patch. We also notice loads of cuts in the brand new tire, so we said we'd switch back to the Hetres when we reached the motel.

That was a ways off. We had about 4000 hills in the last 40 km. Up at 18%, down to a stop sign, straight up at 18%, straight down to a stop sign, again and again and again. But finally we rolled into town and back to our motel across from Wegman's. We made it in dry! No derecho, no lightning, no heavy rain! Woohoo!

John gave the bike a quick clean, and we made note of how clean our hands and the rims were. We'd had three punctures, had ridden on damp roads lots, and used the brakes tons, yet, thanks to the disk brakes, rims and hands were actually clean. I think I want disk brakes on all my bikes now!

Anyway. Day 2 done. Stay tuned for Day 3...

Damp roads, but bits of blue sky

Stoker still there? Check!

Wind turbines on the ridge

Stoker and one more hill behind!

Stay tuned for the Day 3...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Quadzilla - Day 1

Early in the season, when we looked at various events on the calendar, Quadzilla-Staged was to be one of the target rides for the Ride Studio Cafe Endurance Team. In previous years, Quadzilla was run as a 400 mile, 28,000 foot ride around all 11 Finger Lakes with a 40 hour time limit. The new staged format added 100 miles, another 10,000 feet of climbing, and expanded to four days with 200km routes each day. This would allow for proper meals and full nights sleep in comfy motels each night.  It would also mean all the scenery could be enjoyed in daylight! Maybe I'm just no longer a proper randonneur, but for some reason this format appealed to me. The initial plan had been for QZ-staged ride to also serve as a team photo shoot, so we would bring both the tandem and single bikes, since we'd have the photo car to carry the extra bikes. But at some point, the expense of a full week on the road caused the other team members some concern, and they decided to conserve resources. I'd already registered and booked all the accommodation and to be honest, I was fairly stoked about doing the ride. Now without the photo car to carry the extra bikes, we decided to just bring the tandem. Mark Frank, organizer extraordinaire, told me that Crista Borras and Chuck Wood would also be on their tandem, so this was even more incentive to bring the tandem. That and the route profiles... Woohoo, look at those downhills!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

So this became our summer vacation. We started off the trip heading up to Vermont to do the race up Mt Ascutney on Saturday, then enjoyed a few days of dirt roads around Ascutney and then Bennington, Vermont, before driving the rest of the way out to Ithaca on Tuesday. I think it was when we got off the highway and hit a smaller road on our way to Ithaca that I started to realize just how hard this ride was going to be. My poor car struggled on these hills.

Prior to going out, we had look at the statistics... 200km days, 10,000ish feet per day. No problem, we thought. We do 10,000 foot days on dirt roads in Vermont all the time.  But those numbers don't tell the whole story. It's the fact that every road is straight up or straight down with a bleepin' stop sign at the bottom. It seems that the folks who designed the roads in the Finger Lakes never learned about switchbacks or curves, or following contours. They just laid out a grid or roads, which crisscrossed the ridges left by the glaciers. As we winched ourselves up yet another climb and crested, we'd be faced with the demoralizing sight of an equally steep downhill, with the inevitable stop sign at the bottom, and we could see the pain that awaited us in the form of yet another vertical wall to climb...again and again and again... 

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

We arrived in Ithaca and checked into our motel, then found Mark to collect our brevet cards and maps and such. Then we headed back downtown to get coffee at Itahca Coffee and dinner at a great tapas place near the common. There was a Wegman's across the street from our motel, so we walked over to pick up some breakfast supplies, and then got everything ready for our 7AM start. 

First thing the next morning, we moved the car over to Wegman's, met up with the other riders, and after a brief talk from Mark, rolled out of town. Mark had made some noise about taking it easy, but he set a blistering pace leaving town! The road out of town was a bit busy and we stayed single file, trying to hang onto Mark's wheel. After about 5km, we turned onto a much smaller road and began the first climb. Again, Mark set a blistering pace. Soon we had all spread out, as everyone had to climb at a comfortable pace. We rounded a corner before a turn and Mark was pointing to the dirt surface and suggested folks could go straight. We live for dirt. We took the turn. Soon, we reached the top and began a long descent with great views. 

Crista had graciously created ridewithgps routes from the cue sheets Mark had sent out a few weeks in advance. Things had been so hectic that I hadn't had any time to study them at all. As we approached Watkins Glen, I looked down at the GPS and saw a dogleg, that would add a few kms and likely a climb. The morning had started chilly, but it was starting to warm up, so we stopped briefly to remove warmers and such. A short while later we saw a detour sign and mention of a closed bridge a mile away. We decided to risk staying on-route and were rewarded with a brand new bridge and no traffic. Soon after we spied Seneca Lake, which was soon followed by the first control. Most controls were at stores, where we'd buy something, and get the clerk to sign our cards. Breakfast sandwiches and drinks hit the spot. The rest of the group rolled in not too long afterwards. It was a small crowd - surprising, given the easier nature of the staged version as compared to the one shot ride. Mark said the ads hadn't appeared in the ultra and randonneurring magazines, and maybe the need to take a full week had some impact. In total, there would be 14 riders doing all or part of the ride, plus the fabulous Marcia Swan providing support and baggage transport. Some of these riders had done the original ride, and my hat is off to them. Bill Schwartz is one who had done the hard-core version before, along with loads of other super long distance events. Seemingly needing more of a challenge, this year, he was riding a hand-cycle. Bill is the most amazing athlete and to get himself up and down all those brutal hills on that hand-cycle was inspirational.

We left the control with Chuck and Crista, and chatted away for a while about their recent tour in Vermont. We somehow lost them on a descent, but knew we'd see them again soon enough. We did a mountainous tour with them about 10 years ago, and they are amazingly strong. We love having another strong tandem for company.  

After another good climb, we found Marcia waiting for us at a nice spot overlooking Lamoka and Waneta Lakes. This was a secret control and lunch stop. Marcia made us each a fabulous turkey sandwich and we had some great icy cold drinks. The rest of the gang rolled in and we gathered for a group photo, before plummeting down the hill to the lake. Then it was on to Keuka Lake and the charming town of Hammondsport.  Mark made a comment about not hitting the ride organizer for any reason. Whatever could he mean?

Mark and John

Lamoka Lake

The real fun was about to begin. I saw Bully Hill on the cue sheet. I remember climbing up Bully Hill when we were touring out here in 2005. I knew what awaited, but some folks were caught off guard by the steepness. Ah this was why Mark made that comment about assaulting him!

Mark also made a comment about 3 big climbs in the last 30 or 40 miles. We were all trying to gauge what counted as a climb in his books. It soon became obvious though. Those little painful rollers didn't count. It had to be 1000 feet of vertical.  The final one was called Stid Hill. We called it B'Stid Hill. We called Mark a stid. Actually stid even became a verb after a while!

One final control saw us seeking out Popsicles as it was getting hot! Duly refreshed, we rolled the final kilometers down to Lake Canandaigua  and into the town of Canandaigua to our motel, which conveniently was just across the street from a Wegman's. Hmm, does Mark own Wegman's stock?

We all gathered for dinner at a Mexican restaurant a block away, and then retired for a well earned night of sleep before the brutal ride to follow on Day 2...

Approaching Bully Hill Winery
admiring the view

Yet another lake

Vida Greer

Marybeth Chawan

Chuck and Crista

Not actually hitting Mark for his devilish route design

Happy tandeming

A little diversion to check out a barrel door!

Yet another hilltop vista

Irish Settlement
Stay tuned for Day 2...