An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Monday, February 23, 2015

High-tension day

Sometimes it's good to throw something new into the training regimen.

Even when it's not planned.

Today is a good example. Or maybe a bad example. Or... well, you decide.

I missed an awesome riding day yesterday due to getting the "new" car (see Haulin' post). So I made sure to get out today, even if it was just for the hour-plus standard lunchtime loop.

Everything was going great, in spite of a nearly empty water bottle. About 4 miles in, I hit the shifter to downshift and "thunk"... Suddenly pedaling got a LOT harder. I stopped to take a look, and, sure enough, the cable anchor on the rear derailleur had loosened.

This has NEVER happened to me before. But, okay, the bike still pedals, and sure it's hard...

About a half-mile later I pulled into a Pro-Build lumber store to see if they had an allen wrench I could borrow. Yeah, yeah, Boy Scout isn't prepared. But they had one that fit close enough (I'm sure it was an SAE size, but close enough to 5mm) that I could get the anchor bolt to hold. I was back on the road.

Starting out again, I was pushing my top gear getting going. I cross-chained it to the small chainring, got started, then downshifted to accelerate. And downshifted. And downshifted. THEN the gear started changing.

I got 3 cogs up the cluster, and hit the last detent in the shifter. Oh boy.

While I'd tightened the anchor on the cable, I hadn't gotten it pulled all the way through, so I was limited to my 4 tallest gears on a 10-speed cassette.

Well, I guess that means I'm over-geared for the day.

I soldiered on, with only a few short and not-so-steep hills (hard to actually call them hills when they gain less than 100 feet) remaining, giving myself an impromptu high-tension workout. Standing up on almost every rise, pushing a lower than normal cadence.

In the end, my average speed was right in line for what would be normal on this loop on this bike. Including the stop to tighten the cable. What does that tell me about how I've been possibly dogging it on my rides? Of course when you're over geared like this, you can only go SO slow before you have to just power through it.

You single-speeders know what I'm talking about.

I usually carry a couple wrenches with me for several rides after a new build or any extensive servicing. I figured I was past the shake-down phase on this bike. I guess I should just carry them anyway, all the time, eh?


My car is a bike-transport vehicle first, and a people mover second.

I usually carry two bikes in the back of my car daily to work, so that I can ride during my lunch hour-and-a-half. Why two? Well, one is for road, one for off-road, and I let weather, temperature, and mood determine which I ride on any particular day. It has just enough room to put the bikes in front first, with the bars wrapped close to the front seats.

So last Thursday, when my 2001 Ford Escape decided to have a melt-down, the cost of which to repair approached the value of the car for a private sale, the time was at hand to replace it.

Oh, what to get.

Obviously bike hauling capacity was the first priority. I put up a thread on the Velocipede Salon forum to get some feedback, and some of the responses were interesting. I'd specified being able to put the bikes INSIDE the vehicle. After some looking around online including a Bicycling magazine article "The Four Best Cars for Cyclists", which included NONE that would take a bike IN the car, my wife and I made a short list of used vehicles to check out, shuttled off the little one to a friend for an afternoon, loaded up the bike as a test-fit object, and hit the road.

First up was a Honda Element. Roomy, infinitely practical for my intentions. Unfortunately the one we looked at was a salvage title, so we passed on that one. A newer Escape was on the list, and while it was newer, the automatic transmission coupled with the 4-cylinder engine made for weak, anemic acceleration on the flattest of roads. I joked that you hit the gas, and then mailed in your request for more speed.

Many vehicles got eliminated right away due to not enough room -- the Chevrolet HHR, the Honda Fit (which a lot of people DO put bikes in, even 2-3 at a time -- I just couldn't get it to work easily), the Mitsubishi Outlander, anything Mazda.

The Dodge Grand Caravan was a good second -- back seats folded down, and the mid seat tilted forward, there was ample room. But it's a mini van... Yes, I had a Plymouth Voyager back in the day, a 1990 that I bought new (one of the few cars in my life I've ever gotten new), and rarely had the bench seat in it. I was racing on a team at the time, and it was often designated the "team car". On one team road trip, I had 13 (I think, that was a long time ago) bikes in the back for a stage race in Oregon, all the road and time trial bikes for the guys.

Anyway, we found a nice Honda Element locally, in good shape, and for a good price (after strong-arming the dealer a bit). Taking out the back floor panel and replacing it with a fitted piece of plywood, on which I bolted some old fork mounts, and I'm ready with two bikes in the back again.

For anyone out there hauling sports equipment, and especially bikes, the Honda Element seems the ideal ride. Too bad they discontinued production just a couple years ago.

Hopefully by the time I'm in this position again, there will be more options out there.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's February, right?

We've had some pretty incredible days of weather recently. High's near 60, clear or mostly clear skies. Perfect riding weather.

In the PacNW reagion, we will routinely get what I call a "teaser week" of weather, usually around the end of February. Temps will climb, college students will break out the shorts and tank tops. Thoughts turn towards spring...

Only to have it come crashing down with a March 1st snowstorm. It's happened more than I can count.

But this is strange. While the east coast is setting records for snowfall, we're a good couple months ahead of the curve.

Not that I'm complaining. I've gotten out on some great rides, though still shorter than I'd like. Something about not quite being in shape for the distance yet... I keep having to remind myself that it's February.

My trainer is getting lonely. Breaks my heart (NOT!).

If this were our normal kind of winter, I wouldn't be thinking of warmer, drier climes for a future move. Bring it on!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Maiden Voyages

In the bike world, there's just something very sublime about the first ride on a new bike.

Buying a complete bike from a shop, likely it's been test-ridden by some one else a time or two, and maybe even yourself before your first full suit-up and trip down the road. But it's still something special, kind of like new-car-smell.

Even buying a new frame and having the shop build it up, hopefully the mechanic took it for a short shake-down cruise of a mile or two to make sure everything was hitting on all cylinders. But it's the first real feel of how the bike handles, how it jumps when you stomp on the pedals, maybe eats up the bumps, that first taste of double digits on the new bike.

Buying that bare frame and building it up yourself provides another feeling of adventure. Not just all that comes with a  new bike from a shop, but a little sense of trepidation -- did you do everything right? Is the shifting crisp, the braking secure and responsive? No ticks or squeaks?

And at the pinnacle, taking a frame you built yourself, hanging all the parts, and then taking it out on that first ride adds another layer to it all, the icing plus the cherry on top.

All the thought into the design, all the hours of fabrication -- cutting, cleaning, brazing (in my case, maybe welding for some one else), finishing, painting -- get put to the test, the proof in the pudding, when it's taken for that first ride. Does it really fit? Does it handle how you intended? Does it jump when you stand on the pedals? Does it rail the corners with confidence? Is it stiff enough? Does it transmit every road vibration into you?

Then there's those nagging little doubts that are best kept locked up during the ride... Is it going to hold up? Are all the brazed joints really strong enough? Especially the fork?

And so it was Monday that I took one of my first builds out onto the public roadways for its maiden voyage. The bike is built as a cyclocross/gravel bike, with wide-ish tires and very relaxed geometry. The segmented fork looks very beefy and stout, and is a first for me both in fabrication and riding. 

I babied the bike for the first few miles, testing it out. The feel, how it responded to inputs of pedaling and steering, the inherent stability. A bit of giddiness at taking out this new bike, one I had built from tubes to finished product, and seeing it to its final purpose.

As the miles clicked off, I put it into different paces -- a bit of a launch from a stand-still, pushing it a little on a hill, standing up pedaling at a slow cadence, spinning it up to a higher speed, taking a corner, trying a no-hands cruise or two. Some brake noise on standing pedaling was actually the spokes hitting a caliper bolt. tightening the front quick-release solved that issue, and I continued on.

The verdict? It rides well. Stable, stiff, easy to roll. It jumps off the line, stays planted in corners, and seems comfortable enough for much longer mileage (this was just a 23 mile quick ride before a family outing). Pans? Not much: (1) The handlebars are a little higher than I'd like, though the hip angle is good. I hadn't trimmed the head tube fully when I finished the build, so I've got some area to bring that down, which will keep the hip angle and rotate the whole position forward a little. (2) The wide ratio gearing isn't really suited to road riding, but once in the gravel and steep mountain roads, it'll be a blessing. (3) Right at the end of the ride, a no-handed cruise induced some front-end shimmy.

I didn't have any instrumentation on this ride, so while I was in motion I didn't have any feedback on my speed. Post-ride, though, Strava says my average speed was a somewhere between my current gravel bike and my road bike. With some more miles on this one, the confidence in the machine will go up and I'll be flying.

And it may just be the one that takes me over the river and through the woods to who-knows-where.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Enjoy the Silence

Some days it's nice to just get out and enjoy the silence and solitude.

Today was one of those days, getting out on my mountain bike on a beautiful but cold day on some new terrain.

This past summer I took a long lunchtime ride that had be skirting the roads just east of Joint Base Lewis McChord, looking at a lot of empty land with occasional dirt roads leading in, and thinking it would be great for a gravel ride. I looked at maps and satellite imagery, and started planning a large loop. I asked people who I ran into that might know about how accessible that land was (and how likely it would be that I'd be shot at or end up in a military prison). 

All indications were that it would be okay, but that given military exercises were often done on this land, I'd have to pay attention to any signs warning of unexploded ordnance.

So when the weather forecast said that today would be clear, no chance or rain, and I just happened to have this week off for holiday, it provided the perfect opportunity.

I loaded up the car in 26 degree temps, and headed out.

At 9:00 I hit the trail, or gravel road actually, the first several miles siding along the paved road and then turning into the woods. As the miles ticked by, I found myself breaking out into clearings, meadows hundreds of acres vast.

With the cold, my water bottles quickly got slushy. Having to stop often to check navigation (and having to restart Cuesheet each time) added a significant amount of time to the ride. And even though there was little in the way of elevation change, I was wishing I'd gone slightly lower with my gearing on the single speed. But none of that dampened the enjoyment of the ride. Sun, nice gravel, seeing only 3 other people the entire ride (and they were training their hunting dogs). 

There were only two points where I needed to portage around large pools of icy water. And only one point where I had to re-route when the road I'd mapped crossed a stream. Had this been summer with temperatures in the 80's instead of freezing, I might have ridden through it. I back-tracked to a bridge, and re-joined my route, not missing much mileage.

Sometimes you run into unexpected things out in these areas. The sad part is that I could always tell when I was getting close to the paved roads - dumped trash.

My choice of going with a monster-cross bike might have been overkill, but I had no idea what I was going to run into on this route. Next time I'll ride the 'cross bike.

And there WILL be a next time. I don't think I touched 10% of the gravel roads that lace this area.