Description

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


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gravel Love/Hate

Gravel rides can be funny things. Usually they start and end on pavement, the means to get to what the ride is really all about -- getting OFF pavement and onto gravel and/or dirt roads. But the progression of the mood is what makes it so amusing. It becomes a love/hate tug-of-war, all the more polar as the distance increases.

This past week I took a trip to the northern Oregon coast for a couple days of relaxation. Manzanita was our base, about 30 miles south of Cannon Beach (famous for the rock formations on the beach). I had mapped out a few ride routes and loaded them onto my Garmin with the idea that I could get out on a couple rides while there. Two of the three routes I had planned incorporated gravel roads linking road sections to and from our rental house.

It's a given that, especially on the western side of the Cascades, gravel roads mean hills, usually long and quite often very steep. Getting to a 1:1 gear ratio is highly recommended. I'm close, with a 34/32 low gear. Even with an elevation profile, though, I was unprepared for what hit me.

First, you'd think that 101, being the COAST highway, and following the coastline and all, would be, you know, flat. It follows something at sea level, right?

Well, that's a glorious yes as well as a disappointing no. Riding north out of Manzanita heading to my turn-off at the Short Sand Cutoff road, I encountered what seemed like one long uphill, followed closely by another. Taking the right hander onto the gravel was a relief. FINALLY some flat road!

But that relief was short-lived. Within another quarter mile, I was headed up again. WAY up. Bottom gear, rear tire slipping with every pedal stroke kind of up. And it just went on. And on. And on...

The crown in the gravel road made it interesting, with each slipping of the rear tire sending me closer to the edge of the road. Several times I had to get off and walk, keeping myself on the road and giving myself a little bit of a break. Getting started up again was another problem in itself.

At the three mile mark from leaving pavement, I hit what I hoped was the summit. I slumped myself over the handlebars for a minute, letting my heaving lungs subside into a more natural rhythm, then rolled on into the mist.

Fortunately, it was the summit. Unfortunately the downhill portion was no better than the uphill, and in fact was worse in many ways -- far rougher in sections, and just as steep.

Passing around a second gate on the descent, and finally seeing pavement again, I was surprised by five HUGE black birds taking flight just to my right. I had to take a close look -- TURKEY VULTURES! I had never seen these birds on the west side of the Cascades before. I decided to keep moving to make sure they didn't mistake me for their next carcass.

And even with the sad state that this pavement was in, it was a wonderful relief to be back on something smooth again.

After just a few miles cruised back west and south on the North Fork Road, I was back at home base, tired and dirty. And glad to be done with the ride.

That's the mood progression that's so funny. At first, on pavement, you can't wait to get to the gravel. Once on the gravel, and hit with the normal hills, it becomes a grind, possibly some of the most strenuous riding around. Then heading back down from all that, it's a balancing act of caution and terror, maintaining speed and control. By the time you get back down, pavement is such a relief, and you're glad to be off the gravel.

For the next day's ride I opted for a road loop, relatively flat.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Late August? Really?

It seems summer just got here, and the signs are showing that it's soon to be history. I can't believe the leaves are already starting to fall. Off-road rides are crunchy. I'm not ready for fall!

The Lucky Masochist Gravel Deuce went off perfectly, with more riders than last year and great weather. Day one was overcast and cool, which helped on the climbs (of which there were plenty). The warmer temperatures and sunny skies made the Brooklyn Tavern a more-than-welcome stop on day two, and the chili dogs were just the thing to fuel us to the final 22 miles. To think that was a month ago! The time has flown by. I think I've finally recovered.

As a thank you to Lake Tapps Brewing Company for helping out with supplying beer for the first-day's after-ride gathering at the Lucky Masochist ride, I put together an evening slow-cruise ride starting and finishing there. The weather was still very warm at 6:30 as we rolled out for a six mile social foray onto local multi-use trails and low-traffic roads. I think we had 15 riders show up, including several children. It seemed to be very well received by both the riders and the Lake Tapps folks. I'm thinking we'll do this one more time before calling it a season and putting it away until spring.

Things on the docket for the not-so-distant future:
* A trip to the north Oregon coast, that will include a couple opportunities to ride in a new area. I'm mapping some mixed-surface rides.
* An old racing team mate of mine is planning an assault on the hour record at the Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome (formerly the Marymoor Velodrome). No, not the international Hour, but the record for the track -- currently at 27 miles. It was originally scheduled for this Saturday, but has been postponed a few weeks. I was thinking I'd head up to witness the carnage and cheer him on.
* Ramping up for the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival in October. This will be my second showing at this festival, and hopefully will garner a few new customers, as well as spending some time with the area's top-notch custom builders.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Instinct taking over



This past Saturday I did a reconnaissance of the second-day course for the ride I’m hosting in two weeks – the Lucky Masochist’s Gravel Deuce.

This course takes us through two off-pavement sections that are part of active timber sales which are not on state land, so there is the possibility that they’d be rendered impassable by various factors. Even last year on the first rendition of this ride there was some question, as I hadn’t ridden the route since the previous year. Some washouts made things interesting, but other than requiring a dismount, it was all good.

It wasn’t until fairly late on Friday evening that I decided to do the recon ride on Saturday. With an eye on the weather forecast, I opted for the better day, at my wife’s gentle persuasion. And so my preparations were pushed into early Saturday morning. Grabbing food, navigation and repair gear, clothes, bike, wheels…

I made the drive to the Lucky Eagle Casino, departing from my house at an almost-early 7am, and with clear traffic arrived at the scene of the crime in just over an hour.

The shenanigans started as soon as I was preparing to ride.

Tire levers? Oh, those were in my locker at work along with my lighter arm warmers, left over from an urgent get-to-the-restroom loading of the bike on Thursday (I usually leave them in the car, but kept them in my jersey pocket to save a few precious seconds). Well, at least I could use a quick-release skewer if needed, and I’ve pulled these tires off without tools before.

At least that seemed to be the only thing missing. Until I turned on the Garmin to load up the day’s route. “Lucky Deuce Day” was listed, but only once. I knew that the unit I have truncated off the last digit of the course name, but I’d always had two on there, for each day’s course. I tapped the screen to bring up the course, and sure enough, it was the day-1 route.

Turns out that with one of the latest updates, that truncated character wasn’t even in the memory any more, so it now assumed that these were the same course and discarded one of them. What to do?

I looked at the hotel across the street, where I’d planned on doing a check-in to reserve the room for the ride weekend after today’s ride. Maybe they have a computer that I could use to download the day-2 route? I had the cord with me, so off I went to hopefully save the day.

Well, yes, they have a computer, but with security set up such that I couldn’t download Garmin Express to connect to my Edge Touring device. Stymied!

I had a flash – I’d also duplicated the routes on RidewithGPS. A quick load of that onto my phone, and there the route was… Saving grace! Or so I thought.

Until I got on the bike and went to turn on the navigation. “Not supported on your account.” What? I’ve used it in the past. I tried another function. “This function only supported on paid accounts.” Ah, so that was their thing – functions that had been part of the free offerings were now only available if you paid them for it.

So what to do?

In the true spirit of adventure riding, I put my phone back in my pocket, said “here goes nothing” (okay, that’s not really what I said, but this is a family-friendly blog), and started off on the day’s ride, hoping that memory and luck would guide me through.

I pushed out east and south, into the first climb that would take me to the gated gravel road of the initial off-pavement excursion. The first turn came sooner than I expected, but the distance to the forest road felt like it was expanding. Did I miss it? Or did it just not exist any more?

Finally I arrived at the turn-off, ducked under the gate, and journeyed into the wilds. It all looked familiar at first, but then opened up into a very large clear-cut. Nothing looked the same. What had been dense and fairly dark forest was now wide open stumps with scattered piles of slash. The roads all looked different as well. I hit the steep uphill that I hoped was right (it felt right, but with everything looking unfamiliar, I wasn’t sure), then took the middle fork of a tree-way intersection… It wasn’t until another mile later that I was assured I was on the right path.

Right about the time I hit a sharp rock with my front wheel, and heard that “hiss-ss-ss-ss-ss”. The tube change was uneventful, and the tire hadn’t sustained any damage, so I was on my way again quickly. The last half-mile of this section, after a good mile long descent, was a bit overgrown, long grass bent into the double-track making a fairly narrow path. Last year when I’d ridden this, the grass looked the same, but was soaked from the rain. Today, while the rain had been light, the grass was somewhat dry, so I didn’t get the soaking that the last time I came through here produced.

I was feeling like a navigation rock star, having made it through the first section with no wrong turns, in spite of how the landscape had changed.

On pavement again, I turned west and north, quickly arriving at the entrance to the second off-pavement sector.

The gravel was in good shape, with just the occasional blackberry vines encroaching into the roadway. As I ventured deeper into the woods, I scared up deer multiple times, and one owl. I passed several turn-offs, some of kept count in case I needed to turn back and re-route. Four miles in, a downed maple provided a challenge. How to cross through? I mentally tried two paths before arriving at the conclusion I’d have to break some (rather large) branches to make it. I like traipsing through the woods in silence, mimicking the natural fauna as much as possible. The snapping of the branches might as well have been a brass band announcing my presence in the solitude. But at least there’s a somewhat clear path through this obstacle now.

Back in the saddle, I pushed on, arriving at the last descent sooner than expected. More deer (with fawns this time) dashed off the road, just before the first of four wash-outs. It wasn’t until this point that I truly knew I was on the right path. Anyway, last year, there was a sign warning of the road being closed due to these wash-outs. That sign wasn’t there this time, and though I didn’t think they’d been repaired, I was hopeful that they at least weren’t worse. Turns out my hopes were right, and some quick dismounts got me through.

Up a last hill, and onto pavement again, I checked the time, and opted to drive out the last section to the Brooklyn Tavern (worth a post all on its own) rather than ride the 22 mile out-and-back, and rode back to the casino.

Thirty miles, two off-pavement with the potential to get lost several times, and no wrong turns. Memory, luck, and instincts got me through the ride safely.

That rock star feeling swelled.

But I renamed the routes and loaded them onto my Garmin as soon as I got home.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Calling AAA...

Whenever I'm on a ride and see a cyclist at the side of the road or trail, I ask if they need anything, if they're okay. The usual response is "I'm fine" or something to that effect. Cyclists can be an independent lot.

My wife and I had returned from a trip to Alaska (a subject for another time), and I had an extra day of vacation. She gave me a hall pass for a long ride.

I was about 2 hours into a 3+ hour ride, along a multi-use rail-trail conversion, when I saw three gentlemen on the side of the trail with an inverted bike. Like men do when confounded by things mechanical, they were circled around the bike, staring, with that "hmph" look. You know the look. Just lift the hood of any car and let the males gather, and observe -- it doesn't matter whether any of them know what's going on under there, they all get the same expression...

Anyway, I gave my usual "You folks okay?" greeting and got a response I'd never heard before -- "NO!"

Okay, to be completely honest, with an almost-three-year-old, that's probably the most-used word in the household. But this is the first time I've gotten that response in this setting.

I stopped and leaned my bike against the bench that was serving as their make-shift tool shelf, and walked around to see what I could do.

"I don't think we've got this right."

What I observed then was something that required some certain amount of talent to accomplish, and I wish I'd taken a picture. It was apparent that the bike in question had suffered a flat on the rear tire, and while they'd gotten the tube replaced appropriately, replacing that wheel into the frame and getting the chain threaded in the proper manner is what vexed them. They had, SOMEhow, managed to get the chain onto the cassette threaded BETWEEN the rear derailleur jockey wheels. WITH the quick release in place.

As I said, I wish I'd taken a picture.

Getting the wheel out was a bit of a chore. I had to remove the quick release and use some considerable force to get it out. After that point, it was an easy, if a bit messy, job of installing the wheel correctly. A spin of the cranks to make sure everything was moving freely, and it was road-worthy again.

One of them offered a handkerchief to wipe my hands of the excess of chain lube with which I'd coated my fingers, but I just wiped them on my shorts ("That's why they're made in black."). They thanked me profusely, to which I replied "No problem."

I grabbed my bike and rode on the rest of my route.

They were actually quite close to correct in threading in the wheel. Without pulling the rear derailleur out of the way when pushing the wheel into place, the logical place for that cog might just appear to be between the jockey wheels. How to physically accomplish that, though, is beyond me.

So check off one more thing from the list of "that's never happened".

I wonder how many other people passed these gentlemen before I stopped to help...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

New bike day

It's always fun taking a new frame out for its maiden voyage.

All the time designing the frame, cutting the tubes, brazing them together, finishing the joints to nice-and-smooth, painting... Then the parts build-up. And it's finally ready to get dirty.

As much as I trust my own skill in frame building, there's always a little trepidation, especially taking a new build into the rough stuff. But it quickly fades with each bump, loft and jump, and then it's fully game-on time.

Today was that day for my unsuspended single-speed mountain bike.

Most of the parts came off my old Specialized Hardrock frame, save the headset and seatpost. 

This bike's main use is for my lunchtime rides around my work site, with acres and acres of woods laced with gravel service roads and a slowly-increasing network of twisty dirt singletrack. There aren't any big hills, so a large range of gears just isn't needed.

The front geometry is long and slack, with a rather short back end. This keeps the front wheel light for lofting even when I'm out of the saddle. Handling is different than most -- at very slow speeds the front wheel wants to tip into corners, but at most trail speeds that makes the handling feel intuitive, almost like the bike is reading my mind. The short rear keeps power transfer efficient and snappy. The single speed drive train, without idlers, is silent. I like that in an off-road bike.

So a good hour-and-a-half on familiar trails was a great first test. And a sign of many happy hours to come.