Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Climbfest in the Catskills - Part 1

Longtime readers may have spotted a theme to our vacations at this stage. It seems that we find some place with lots of concentrated climbing and travel there to concentrate on climbing.  This spring, we decided to go to the Catskills in New York. I joked with a friend recently as I referred to this as a "Staycation", since we weren't flying anywhere. Despite this area being just a few hours away by car, we had not ever truly explored it. We've cycled through Woodstock, NY on the Westfield 600km and really enjoyed the scenery and the climbing. So it's long been on the list, and this year it bubbled up to the top.

We decided to rent a house for the week in Woodstock and since we were driving out, we'd bring both the tandem and a couple of single bikes. I have a brand new Honey All Roads, and I was eager to put it through its paces. But we also love riding the tandem, and since we could bring multiple bikes, we did.

We got a bit of a late start on Saturday morning, as we still needed to pack and load up the car. John had a very stressful work-week. Why do employers insist that you do all the work you would do while away, in the week before you go? I don't miss that kind of stress. I hate to see John dealing with it, but at least this week, he's left it all behind and is just enjoying some fine riding.

I contacted Hudson Valley Randonneur, George Swain, to see if he might be interested in getting together while we are in the area. We had met George a few years ago at the end of a fleche, and we've kept in touch through social media and blogs. It would be good to reconnect in person and spend some time riding together. We also have some mutual friends, not to mention mutual interests, so we'd have plenty to talk about on a long ride. I knew he had a few permanents in the area, and figured he'd be a good resource for the best roads to ride. We arranged to meet in Woodstock on Sunday to have coffee and go for a ride. We decided to ride the tandem and had a great reward of a long sustained descent for our efforts. George proved to be a most excellent tour guide, leading us on a fabulous route up past Kaaterskill Falls, followed up with a great view of the slopes of Mount Hunter and down through Devil's Tombstone to Phoenicia, for lunch at the awesome Mama's Boy Coffee Shop. He also offered lots of route advice for the rest of the week.

On Monday, we decided to check out a route we found on RidingTheCatskills blog that offered a bit of climbing and teased us with mention of gravel. The Honey All Roads really wants to be on dirt or gravel! Researching various possibilities, I found a route from Woodstock to get us over the reservoir where we could join up with the Peekamoose ride with gravel.

It took us a while to get to that first bit of gravel, but in the meantime, we found lots of climbing, descending, more climbing, more descending, some gorgeous waterfalls, possibly the worst convenience store ever, and finally some dirt.

A few days before the trip, the weather forecast was looking dire. So I mounted fenders on the Honey, and packed rain gear. I didn't really expect winter to return though. While we didn't get snow, it was darn chilly for the first few days, and I dressed in my winter gear. I did get the heavy jacket off for the big climbs, but was quite happy to have it, and my winter hat and some heavy gloves for the descents!

Still things looked a bit dodgy for Tuesday, so we planned a route that circled back through Woodstock to give us a bailout option. We'd passed an interesting looking Euro-style road with lots of hairpins on Monday and decided to go check it out. We found a few routes on various online mapping/tracking sites that took it in, so we figured it must be rideable. When we got to the base, we found lots of signs warning us away from the private road, but we decided to risk riding around a closed gate. If they are really serious about keeping cyclists out, they'd have a big fence, right? A gate like that is just to keep cars out! So if you are bothered by gates and private road signs, and you have come to this blog looking for routes, don't do this one.

It was a glorious twisty euro-style climb, and I finally found lots of dirt on the descent, so this made us both happy. Happy, but frozen by the time we got back to town. Hot chocolate and hot soup at Bread Alone helped thaw us.

Warmed and refueled, we headed out to climb Plattes Clove, better known as Devil's Kitchen. If the hot chocolate didn't warm us, this climb would. Astute readers may remember that my new Honey has low gears, with the lowest less than 1 to 1. I spec'd these gears for some of the nasty dirt climbs I have planned this summer. Well the Devil and her kitchen got first shot at my 34/36 combination. It was slow going for me, but I made it up - pedaling. We rolled up to a nice view of Hunter Mountain and then enjoyed the lovely swoopy descent back down past Kaaterskill Falls.

Luckily the rain we had feared we'd get passed us by. I hear our friends back in Boston weren't so lucky. 

Again when checking the forecast, Wednesday had initially looked dodgy. I had plotted out some nearby out and back climbs, but on Tuesday night, I saw that the chances of precipitation had all but disappeared for Wednesday, so I planned something a bit longer, but not so long that it wouldn't count as a recovery day!

Of course it started with a brutal climb right out the door up Meads Mountain Road. Various maps showed a road up to a lookout. It turns out the out and back part of the climb is a fireroad, with some big loose gravel and very steep pitches. I'd need more skill, legs and gears than I had to get up to the lookout, so we passed on that trail and continued on for more exploring of new roads. But not before I dropped my camera and busted the screen. I can still take pictures, I just can't see them and I can't access the menu. Good thing John's the primary photographer!

I'd used online mapping software and the gazatteer to put this route together. The next road on the map turned out to be dead-end, and I've learned my lesson. If the sign says dead-end, you don't need to descend a thousand feet to prove it right! OK, it wasn't a thousand feet, but it was enough that I was not so excited about climbing back out. Fortunately it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought.

We enjoyed some easy terrain as we made our way back to Phoenicia for another lunch at Mama's Boy. Then we got to digest briefly before resuming the climb-fest, finishing it off with a euro-style twisty climb called Seven Sisters.

Tomorrow we are headed west to Delaware county to find some proper dirt!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Not quite a cycling post, but then again...

Never again, when someone asks where I am from, will I have to respond "just outside of Boston". Now I can just say "a few blocks from THE boat in Watertown, MA."

Last week left me and John feeling very lucky. While we got to experience a stressful day of lockdown at the end of the week, we were nowhere near the marathon on Monday, and on the far side of the river from all the action in Watertown on Friday. And this was the message that I attempted to send to far distant friends and family throughout the drama all week. At times, it felt wrong to post messages on FB or twitter, that we were safe and sound, while so many others were not. But our families needed to see these messages from us. And it turns out social media is actually a good way to broadcast a message like that to a far distant audience. I admit to being quite relieved to see the check-ins from various friends that I knew were doing the marathon on Monday. But I was still heartbroken to hear of the deaths of people I did not know, but who's stories I will not forget. And I was devastated by the news of all the severe injuries, including so many leg amputations, a most cruel attack on fans of running!

Like so many other folks, my response to all this is not to hide away in fear, but to seize the day. Like most of the other residents of my town and neighboring towns, I "sheltered in place", not out of fear, but to stay out of the way, and not cause any additional hassle to an already over-stressed police department and other public safety officials. It was a glorious day, warm and sunny. I had planned a short ride for the morning, since I had so much to do to prepare for our vacation that was scheduled to start at EOD Friday. I needed to get the bike rack back on the car, and load up tandem and single bikes. I needed to get clothes and such packed, print out maps, do more route research, do laundry and a bit of shopping, etc.

But we awoke Friday morning to find text messages, emails and FB messages from various friends, alerting us to stay inside, keep the doors locked and check the news. We are used to hearing helicopters. We live near a major commuter highway. We are used to sirens from the highway and nearby hospitals. But the sounds we could hear in the distance were not the normal ones, and soon we knew why.

"An abundance of caution" was the phrase used, asking people outside the immediate search area, to stay in place. (Those in the thick of it likely didn't need to be told!) The entire public transit system was shut down. The governor asked schools and businesses in Watertown and surrounding towns to stay closed. Taxi service was suspended for a while - presumably all this was to eliminate means of escape for the wounded suspect, who had crashed and abandoned his stolen car. Amazingly the airport was open. Not that I thought there was any chance that the suspect would be impacted by closing the airport, but how was anyone supposed to get there? Or get home?

Our street was eerily quiet. Some likened it to a blizzard, except in a blizzard, we go outside and shovel and build snowmen and play and help our neighbors with their shoveling. And we get warning, so we have an abundance of bread and milk in the house. 

Like many I could not turn the news off. I tried, but then I'd get another email, or hear more noises, and I'd turn the radio back on. I had many rainy day things to do at home, but I couldn't concentrate. I have a backlog of posts to do on the blog, but made no progress. I need to work on the fleche route and have another permanent route I'm working on - no progress. I have bikes in need of maintenance.

All I could think about were my neighbors across town, and hoping that this would all come to a peaceful end soon. I wanted to open the door and let the warm fresh spring air in. I wanted to go for a bike ride. And I wanted the world not to be filled with misguided angry people.

Today, things are calm back home in Watertown. We packed up Saturday morning and have been enjoying some lovely cycling in the Catskills this week, and I promise to post pix and stories soon.

This is not a political blog, and I'm not going to make it one. But I will repeat something I said last summer. Bad stuff happens to random people at random times. I will not live my life in fear. Instead, I make every effort to live in the moment and appreciate exactly what is happening at the time.

And one of the best ways I can appreciate each moment is on my bike, breathing hard as I climb a steep grade, or enjoying a beautiful mountain vista, or gliding down some twisty descent. And this week, that experience has been a bit more poignant.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Permanents and Transcience

As a fixie rider, my feet are always moving. Could it be some form of hyperactivity that draws me to riding a fixed gear bike - since I just can't seem to keep my feet still? Or maybe hyperactivity is why I am always seeking variety. I'm not one of those riders who can go out and do the same route week after week after week.  I just read about a Kiwi rider who did the same century route every day for 65 days in a row to celebrate his 65th birthday. While an impressive feat, I would have gone insane by day 3!

While it may help someone training to compare their time or performance on the same loop from week to week, that's not why I ride a bike. Yesterday, while leading my Tuesday ride, someone asked me how to get strong. I laughed, as I said that I was the last person to ever ask about training advice. I ride my bike to get to great places to eat, to enjoy the view, to enjoy good company and to have fun. If fitness comes as a side benefit of my riding, that's great. But it's not my goal.

My goal on Tuesdays is actually to share with my fellow riders all the quiet and scenic roads and cafes that I have found within a 60 mile round trip of Lexington! If the cool scenery or great cafe is on top of a big climb, it's certainly nice to be fit enough to get there without enduring a lot of pain. But it's not a training ride, it's a ride for its own sake!

I've been leading these rides every Tuesday for about a year and a half now. I have about a dozen different rides that we rotate though, so it takes us about 3 months to repeat one. I also create a new one every once in a while, so someday, we will have even more variety!

For locals, we do these rides every Tuesday at 10AM, from Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington, MA. I tweet the link to the route, usually on Sunday nights, and that tweet can be found on the right hand side of the blog, along with other pithy comments throughout the week!

I absolutely understand how much work goes into creating a new route, especially a long one, so I don't fault any club that runs the same century year after year, or any of the brevet organizers who use the same routes for their brevets. After all, in these cases, you are really only doing the route once a year.  Even so, I do crave variety and despite having a few favorites, I do find myself travelling to different regions just to do a different route.

Enter the RUSA permanents.

Over the past couple of years, I've been travelling back and forth to NC quite a bit to help my dad, after my mom passed away, and when he got sick. I was back and forth enough that I bought a bike to leave there. I used my GPS and various mapping programs to explore, and this worked reasonably well since I often couldn't get away for long rides or rides at set times. But recently as things have settled down, I've been able to plan a bit more in advance and get out for a full day.

As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, I joined the NC randoneurring email list and sought fixie company. I both wanted an interesting route and to ride with some like-minded riders. I've known about permanents for a while, but they haven't really caught on here in New England like they have in other areas. So it was a pleasant surprise to be invited to join a group on a permanent - even more so when a few were riding fixed. I had a great ride and made several new friends. On a subsequent trip a few weeks later, I did another and also had a great time.

With this serving as inspiration, I finally decided to see about turning some of the Tuesday routes into permanents. I spent a bit of time refining the cue sheets, figuring out reasonable places for controls, and then had a discussion with Crista, RUSA's permanista. She is such a great resource and does so much for this program. She coached me in everything I'd need to get my cue sheets right and helped with info controls and getting the route cards correct and such. Despite having done brevets for 25 years, I learned a tremendous amount about some of the less than obvious logistics!

So now I have a few permanents based out of Lexington, MA.  And I think there might be some pent up demand for permanents in the area. I've had lots of company on the first two that I rode officially. Following RUSA rules, I picked a date and time and sent out email to the local list asking if anyone would like to join. And quite a few folks did.

So I look forward to seeing more of this type of activity on our local randoneurring list. Hopefully others will be inspired to share some of their favorite rides, and we can really get a big library of cool routes. For RUSA members, the permanents also offer the chance to take part in some of the year-round challenges, or geographic challenges, as well as some practice hanging on to a route card or navigating with a cue sheet.

So for any of my RUSA friends who haven't checked out the permanents program, I encourage you to do so, both as a rider and route creator. It's a great way to find new routes in a new place or even in a familiar area, and potentially a cool way to meet new folks in a slightly less formal event like a brevet. Of course it's only slightly less formal. You still have the route card and receipts and such, but my experience so far, is that riders may be just a bit more laid back on a permanent.

And I must be careful with my wording here, as I say that isn't limited to RUSA folks. As I've mentioned, I do rides like this every Tuesday - using the same routes - although different from week to week - no cards, no info controls, no RUSA credit.  Although be aware that sometimes I may stop to take a quick photo of some stone marker that could be used as an info control, as I go through the process of submitting more routes!

And you don't have to ride with me! Almost all my routes are public on ridewithgps. Many can be found on the routes page on this blog, which I promise to clean up and update very soon. And folks are welcome to download and go ride them with friends or on your own at any time. Just be warned that they have lots of turns and a GPS is handy, they sometimes include dirt or a short trail, and they tend to have some climbing - because the best scenery is often at elevation.

Finally, despite indications to the contrary, I do not secretly work for Garmin helping them sell GPSs, but they sure do come in handy!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Little Diversion

I know. It's been a while. But radio silence on this blog is coming to a screeching halt! I have a serious backlog of things to write about, so there may be a flurry of posts in coming days.

Despite the backlog, I'm going to start with my most recent diversion. I went on a seriously fun bike ride last Saturday, and tonight I'm still smiling and giggling with glee. Ride Studio Cafe and Honey Bikes put together an awesome event and they built a bike, just for me, just for the occasion. Really! They did! How cool is that?

And in the true spirit of Just-In-Time manufacturing, it came off the bike stand about 15 minutes before the start of the ride. But no fear, I hopped on the new bike, rode it around the block, across some cobblestones, down a trail and off and onto curbs a few times, and then headed out to do a group ride on twisty trails, with rocks and roots and bridges and boardwalks, grinning ear to ear the whole time!

I had a blast, but for some reason, kept thinking about coffee!

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark

OK, that was the Reader's Digest version. Now for the rest of the story...

I started designing this bike in my mind last year during the Green Mountain Double Century. Or maybe it was actually years before that I really started pondering it, whenever I'd find myself on a rough dirt road, with a steep climb or a wet descent.

My dream bike really had just a few simple requirements - fat comfortable high performance tires, clearance and mounts for fenders with those cushy tires, powerful non-fiddly brakes, comfortable but still high performance geometry, and gears low enough to get me up Archambo Road (D2R2 vets know what I mean with that requirement). And it goes without saying that the bike must be fun to ride - and have a homing device that directs it to good coffee shops.

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark
The Honey All Roads brought this all together for me. Ride Studio Cafe has carried Honey Bikes since the shop opened. I remember the early days of going into to drink coffee and drool over this belt-drive single speed with wood fenders. So I admit that I have lusted after a Honey Bike for a while now. But recently, Honeys have been taking over more floor space at RSC and working their way into my dreams even more.

However, the path to get me to this day was actually a winding one. After borrowing the shop's Seven Titanium Cafe Racer last summer, I found myself looking for ways to finance a new fixed gear machine with a belt. A few months ago, I started selling off a few bikes to do just that, and then began the order process. So I started out asking for a belt-drive fixie. And then I added disk brakes. Belt-drive mean you don't get your hands dirty handling a chain, and disk brakes would keep the rims (and therefore hands) clean, when fixing a puncture. We'd need an eccentric bottom bracket to work with the disks of course. Once I had disks on the brain, I thought of Green Mountain Double, which even I would never be crazy enough to do on fixed, so I thought, let's make the bike extra versatile and also build an internally geared wheel to work with the belt. I'll ride it fixed most of the time, but geared for a few dirt road rides, and oh yeah, while we're at it, let's also make it work for Mt Washington. When all the specs came back I realized I had inadvertently designed Franken-bike, and apologized repeatedly as I suggested we just rip those plans in half - and instead make two bikes. So I'm still getting the Cafe Racer, but it's back to being simple and light, like the one I borrowed last summer (and have kidnapped now). We are still going to do something to give me Mt Washington gearing, and since I dropped all that talk of disk brakes with an eccentric, it will be super-light. And always fixed, with just a simple change to go from regular fixie road riding to Mt Washington fixie gearing.But that's not what this post is about...

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark

Now for my dirt road adventures, I looked at the various new team Honeys on display at the Studio and asked for a cross between the cross bike and the winter/rando bike. I wanted the fat tire clearance and disk brakes with carbon fork from the cross bike, the fender mounts and all-day geometry of the rando bike, with even lower gears than either had to help me climb some of the really long steep roads on Green Mountain Double and D2R2. And thus, the All Roads was conceived.

Then the Diverged Ride was announced. And the beekeeper promised I'd have my new bike in time for that event. Now I really like riding the lovely hard pack dirt roads in Vermont on my road bike, and I even do the occasional easy trails nearby on the same bike with 700X26mm tires. And this was really what I had in mind - dirt roads on much fatter tires than I can fit into my Seven to give me the confidence to really let loose on hard pack dirt descents, and light enough to not hold me back on the climbs. I hadn't really thought much about actual trails and rolling over rocks and roots. But my new Honey should allow me to do that with ease! And since they'd worked so hard to get it ready in time, I'd give it a go.

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark

The bike was set up with 650BX42 tires  pumped up to about 30 pounds of pressure.  Now I know plenty of folks on the ride did just what I am afraid to attempt on their 25 or 28mm tires, so don't think I am suggesting otherwise - after all that was what Rob was doing at the front of our group. Maybe if I didn't have such a vocal inner chicken, I would try these things on the skinny tires. But old dog, new tricks...

Now I literally got the bike 15 minutes before the start of the ride. It was set up with all my preferred positioning - so I could just hop on and it fit like a glove, and it was absolutely confidence inspiring in the ride and feel. So don't get me wrong when I admit that I was still a wee bit nervous, going out on a group ride with a brand new bike with an absolutely gorgeous paint job.

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark

And this wasn't just any group ride. Despite signing up for the last group - the supposed fun easy (slower) group, the names on the sign-up list included stars of NECX, who could probably ride this terrain blindfolded. But despite this, everyone really was there to have fun, and there were no egos on display, and fun was the order of the day.

I offered to sweep. I had a GPS with the route loaded, so I could help if we got too spread out. More importantly, this would give me an excuse to be at the back! I took it pretty easy on the first few trail sections and slowly gained more and more confidence to just roll over stuff. After a few miles, I stopped worrying about scratching the beautiful new paint. I plowed over rocks and roots. I stayed on the bike through tight turns. I dropped into those low-low gears to get up the steep stuff with traffic slowing down ahead, and then thoroughly enjoyed the non-shocking descents and the awesome stopping power of those brakes. The first bridge we crossed had nice high railings (thanks Rob), so I didn't have to panic. And I got better and more confident on each new section of boardwalk. Now I'm still a chicken. Don't get me wrong. No bike will perform the miracle of suddenly transforming me into fearless log-hopper, but this bike and those tires let me ride the kind of things I really want to ride with a smile on my face.

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark

Rob did an awesome job leading our group, keeping us together and keeping it fun. A few days later, I'm still grinning ear to ear. I had such a great time on the trails and loved riding my new bike so much that I headed back out later that day to do some more trails and then pumped the tires up to 45 pounds and took it out on a couple of pure road rides over the next two days - maintaining the same average pace I normally do. It is indeed an All Roads bike.

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark

A final note... I'm using Chris King Hubs, infamous for the angry bees sound they make when you freewheel, and thought initially to name my new Honey, The Angry Bees. But after a few days, I realized there was nothing angry about the bike, so I've named her Honey Bees! So keep your eye out for me and Honey Bees on a trail or dirt road or paved road near you! We'll be buzzing and grinning sweetly!

Special thanks to Jeff at Ride Studio Cafe for working so hard late Friday night and coming back in early Saturday morning to get the bike ready in time for the ride - and to all the beekeepers back at Honey Bikes for such a fine job on the frame. Also thanks to Rob V. for letting me use all his great photos.

Photo courtesy of Rob Vandermark

Oh and since folks will inevitably ask, here's the component specs. After thinking back to my last experience with an IGH and how I didn't really love it, I dropped that whole idea and went with chain, cassette and derailleurs. I am using a mix of SRAM Apex and X9, with a compact (50/34) crank and 12-36 cassette, so I've got a lower than 1 to 1 gear to get up Archambo Rd, and a nice range of gears to cover all terrain. I'm using SRAM bar-end shifters because that's where my hands expect to find shifters, and SRAM 500 brake levers with Avid cable-actuated 160 disk brakes. The fork is an Enve Carbon disk fork with oodles of clearance. Wheels are Velocity Blunt SL rims laced to Chris King Angry Bees hubs, sporting Gran Bois Hetre 650BX42 tires.