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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Something happened on the way to the frame jig

Every once in a while, something happens. A mistake is made. It doesn’t get caught until…

And so it was with a frame that was 90% complete, basically just waiting on one more small braze-on part, when I figured out what was wrong.

The idea behind the build was a bike specific to hilly rides and events, a “climbing” bike that was lighter in weight, utilizing 650c wheels of smaller diameter than the standard 700c, and made for the SRAM eTap component group. eTap is SRAM’s wireless electronic shifting groupset, which is a boon to frame builders in that no extra pieces need be added to the frame for the derailleur cables – lighter, fewer heat affected zones (which increases longevity), and generally just really, really cool.

I’d also planned this build to be a specific project within a limited time span when I would be home alone for an entire weekend. A bit of a challenge to myself to see whether I could get this frame completed, sans some finish work and paint, in that time.

And it worked – I had the design ready and tubes in hand, and set to it when the day arrived. By Sunday evening, I had a completely assembled frame. I could do the hand finishing in the cracks of time over the coming weeks, and it would be ready for the “season” of longer and loftier riders.

And then the discussion happened surrounding the groupset. It’s not cheap, by any means, and even with access to wholesale pricing, it’s a chunk of change. It was deemed a lower priority, a “some day” thing at some undetermined later point.

And then… the house happened. The horizon went from "some day" to "the remotest of possibilities ever".
I set the frame aside, it moved with us into the new house, and sat next to the boiler.

I’d take it out and throw the wheels on it occasionally, just to think and look. At one point I leaned it up against my current road bike. Something didn’t look right. I tried to put the frame pump under the top tube. It didn’t fit. That’s when I realized I’d done something very wrong, and went back to the original design, thinking maybe I’d measured to the wrong side of the T-square, or something.

No, it all matched the dimensions of the computer model. Everything fit up nicely according to the printout. But I’d made one error, assuming one dimension that I’d planned to double check, but forgot. So the frame is almost 4 inches too long.

It’s recoverable, but will take some work. Fortunately, the top tube butted section is long enough and the tube is in position such that it can stay attached to the seat tube and just be trimmed at the head tube end. The down tube, though, will need to be cut out at both ends and re-trimmed. So that means a lot of grinding out and sanding at the bottom bracket to get that ready for the new join.

I’ll get that started shortly. And I’ll get it built without the wireless group. That just means a few more bits added onto the frame after getting the head tube in the right place.

Which makes for three frames in the pipeline at near-complete stages. The first being my daughter’s first pedal bike, the second my replacement gravel bike (with clearance for larger tires). 

It’s just a matter of time…

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Getting high -- Cascade Bicycle Club's High Pass Challenge

I guess I have some need for penance, some need to self-flagellate. It's the only explanation I have for doing events like this.

With that, I bring you the Cascade Bicycle Club's High Pass Challenge, a 104 mile out-and-back ride from Packwood, WA, to the Windy Ridge overlook on Mt St Helens, and back. The real story, though, is the 7500-some feet of ascent along the way.

I'd had this event on my list of possibilities last year, but opted to pass. My mileage had suffered greatly with the efforts to sell our house, and it fell right in the time we were looking at moving into a temporary location. 

I signed up about a month ago, did some final prep rides with a lot of climbing, and relied somewhat on the base that got me through the Ellensburg Gran Fondo in June. Then I kept an eye on the weather forecast... And watched the approaching lower temperatures and rain.

The ride is scheduled on a Monday to avoid traffic in what is a fairly popular tourist destination. The weather further helped, as longer range views, and the mountain itself, were obscured by clouds.

Ride morning dawned (okay, I was up well before dawn) to a wet car and sporadic misty showers. I made the drive to Packwood in good time, arriving just before the registration tables opened. An hour previous to the ride start provided the time to get gear together, make the last pit stops, and line up with 200 of my new best friends.

We rolled out at 7am, and within a quarter mile of the already wet highway, it began to rain. I had opted to don my vest over wool base layer and jersey, and I'm glad I did. The rain continued over the first eight miles or so, adding to the nervous energy expenditure of staying with the lead pack. At one point a log-loaded semi turned onto the highway next to us (in the oncoming lane) and proceeded to move over into the peloton. This caused a bit of mayhem as riders dove for the shoulder, hitting the brakes with varying effectiveness. No one kissed pavement, though, so we pushed on. This did, however, cause a bit of a split in the group, and I was in the second. 

It wasn't long before it was well strung out, and by the time we hit the real climbs entering the park, we were at one's and two's. Everyone for themselves. I stopped at the first food station to refill a bottle and grab a cookie or two. It was at this point that I realized I hadn't started the recording on my Garmin, so if anyone looks at my online profile there it appears I cheated. Honestly, I did the whole thing! Anyway, I then forged on up the road.

And up.

And up.

Fifteen miles of climbing only briefly interrupted by flat sections or short downhills. Lots of back-and-forth passing of riders as the pitch varied, noting differing pedaling styles and gearing. I found myself in my lowest gear for long stretches, but I think I nailed my needs well -- I wasn't wishing for any lower gearing at any point.

The roads were still wet for much of the climb, but in the last few miles the dry patches increased, and the sun broke through the clouds. The last several miles are above the tree line, and the landscape become much more open. I passed one rider who made a comment about maybe hitting the "gold standard" at the top. I knew they timed the first half of the ride (up to the lookout), but had no idea what he was talking about. Turns out it's an award level (gold, silver, and bronze) based on the time one hits the summit, given a 7am start (if you start late, oh well).
I passed through the banners at the summit at 10:32 (and some seconds), just two minutes shy of the cutoff for that gold standard. So close. Most likely I could have eked out the two minutes somewhere, if I'd been aware of it.

I lingered at the top for a while, wringing out my socks, refilling my water bottle, and getting some more food in me. Thankfully Windy Ridge didn't live up to its name on this day. The sunshine felt almost warm. But the mountain, or what's left of it after the 1980 eruption, was being shy, hiding behind a bank of clouds.

The return ride starts with a slight downhill, but then soon climbs a bit. Good to get the legs woken back up after the rest stop. But no one was in any mood to hurry back. Spinning the pedals lightly was the way to go. 

The long descent was over often sketchy pavement, missing completely in some places, replaced by packed gravel. Many depressions where erosion had hollowed out underneath (one particular hole looked to have an absolute abyss below the tarmac), checked areas where patching had broken away. I had to take my sunglasses off in order to see far enough into the distance to anticipate my path. But in all that, even with 23mm tires, I never felt in danger of flatting or losing traction. 

The last 20 miles back into Packwood were a search for a rider or two to tag along with. Mercifully there was no headwind, and the pace could be kept high. Like horses smelling the barn, we rolled fast into the finish. The "Welcome to Packwood" sign was indeed a welcome sight.

Back at the finish, I changed clothes, got some food (provided by Cascade Bicycle Club), and spoke with other riders about the ride.

Then it was back on the road for the trip home, tired, but satisfied with a hard day in the saddle.

In a bit of summary, here is what I view as the critical elements in making the ride a success for me:
* Gearing wise, I think I hit it perfectly with the 11-28 10-speed cassette and 46/34 chainrings. There were times when I would have liked one of the middle cogs, but in order to make that happen, I'd have to go to 11-speed. Or 12...
* Opting for the vest was a good choice. I think I would have been very chilled without it. It's a bit flappy, but the wind block was needed.
* I wore gloves for the first time in I-don't-know-how-long, an old standard fingerless pair of Schwinn brand. I think going without would have been unwise.
* Once at the first rest stop, I was filling my second bottle with Nuun rather than water.
* Smartwool socks were... smart. The rain soaking kept my feet on the edge of going numb.
* Smartwool base layer just worked.
* The Kinekt seatpost kept things comfortable even on the worst of the sketchy pavement, and the miles of chip seal on the return trip down Hwy 12 back to Packwood.
* One of my customers had given me a jar of his home-brew all-natural chamois cream. I had used some a while back, but just got out of the habit after a while. I restarted using it a couple weeks ago, and the difference is amazing. 

I told my wife after I got home that, yeah, I could do this one again. And with that two-minutes-to-the-gold-standard thing bouncing around in my head, I was already thinking about what I could do to make it up the hill just a little faster.

I guess I have a goal for next time.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Help them on their journey

Sometimes people just quietly go about doing something epic, something amazing, something good. They choose to make a difference, and get on with the task.

And occasionally, it draws some attention.

Hopefully this post helps draw some attention.

Matt Broshat is slowly making his way clockwise around the United States. By bicycle. Unsupported. 

He's doing it to raise money for Young Life Capernaum, a branch of the Young Life charity ministry that focuses on disabled children. His goal is modest: $25,000 raised through pedaling some 11,000 miles solo.

I heard about Matt through his cousin, making a post on the Slowtwitch forum. He was starting out from Portland, OR, on August 8th. I read the post on the morning of August 9th. I looked at his route, and it seemed he was starting out by riding the Seattle-to-Portland route in reverse. Which, hey! just so happens to pass a couple miles from my house.

I made a contact through his website, and quickly got a reply. After some back-and-forth, it was all set up, and around 6pm on Thursday, Matt rolled into our driveway.

He was ecstatic over the prospect of a shower, bed, dinner, breakfast... Simple daily things most of us take for granted. After spending the previous night in his hammock, with sprinklers starting up around 2am, I can imagine that the accommodations were a considerable step up.

Matt is affable, unassuming, and humble. He isn't out to make any money for himself on this trip, it's all for the kids. He has been involved with Young Life for some 8 years, a third of his life already. His ride is completely self-supported.

Matt with my daughter before resuming his journey
on Friday morning.
I posted on Facebook after he resumed his journey on Friday morning, the next leg taking him into Seattle for the next day before turning east. I immediately got responses for folks willing to host him in Spokane, WA, and Bozeman, MT.

I saw in his route feed that he's in Spokane now -- hopefully with one of the volunteer hosts.

I wish Matt well, a safe journey, and generous people along the way.

Take a look at Matt's proposed route, and if you're near, consider hosting him for the night. Or even offering a lunch, a cold drink, some encouragement. And maybe a donation to his cause.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Lucky Masochist's Gravel Deuce, Part IV

It's been a week, so the pain has subsided enough to think about another event. But I'm getting ahead of myself already.

Last weekend... Well, not last weekend, but the one before, the one after the Seattle-to-Portland support day... Anyway, it was the fourth edition of the Lucky Masochist's Gravel Deuce, my gift to the cycling community in the form of two days of riding in Capital Forest and areas to the south. 

Based out of the Lucky Eagle Casino, the first day travels counter-clockwise around Capital Peak, with some very long and steep gravel roads thrown in because... Well, because. The second day meanders southeast before hitting gravel again, then goes southwest to the Brooklyn Tavern for lunch.

Weather this year was the warmest it's been for this ride. I like the heat. I'm strange like that. But I think I still had difficulty keeping up with hydration demands. I suffered on the steeper inclines, watching my ride mate disappear into the distance every time the road tilted up to any significant degree. I was doubting myself the whole way. And then I had to walk some of the steepest grade.

I maintain that there's no shame in needing to walk any of this ride, and two of the four rides now I've been able to make it up this particular hill without walking. That day was not to be. My Garmin kept up the joke by telling my it was auto-pausing. Even when I finally got back on the bike, it couldn't decide whether I was moving or not. Lovely. Here, have some salt to rub in that knife wound, how about...

But I soldiered on, the descents a sweet reward. This was my first time using the Kinekt seatpost on this course, and I could tell it made a big difference in my descending. Some of the roads were "chunkier" than I remember from previous editions, but it made less impact (haha) to my speed. The ride was just that much smoother.

The last hill... mountain, really, is a long, LONG ascent. It just keeps on hitting you with more. But I made all that just pushing through the pain, slogging my way upward, and watching the elevation profile rather than my (low) single-digit speed. 

Tailwinds on the final run back to the hotel were a welcome relief, and the brews and sandwiches that my wife provided to feed us eventually brought be back to humanity.

Just in time for day two.

This time, again, I was alone. Just me, myself, and I for the ride. So maybe I didn't push as much at the beginning. Or maybe I had just recovered better. In any case, no difficulty. But also, since I was alone, I opted to not take the road all the way out to the Brooklyn. Traffic considerations had me cut off about 10 miles, along with the lunch stop, so I could get home sooner. The hour plus drive back can easily turn into three given Sunday afternoon highway congestion. 

I had been considering signing up for the Cascade Bike Club's High Pass Challenge, a 104-mile out-and-back jaunt from Packwood to the Windy Ridge lookout over Spirit Lake and Mount St Helens (site of the May 18, 1980, explosive eruption). For those keeping score, that also includes 7500 ft of uphill. Given how I felt on Saturday, I was having doubts. 

But as I said at the beginning of this little diatribe, it's been a week, the pain has subsided, and I've had another weekend of test rides to see if I am, or at least will be, ready for the ride. And I think I'll be okay.

I signed up yesterday.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Seattle-to-Portland Classic, from the repair stand

I had explored the idea months before. A way to help the riding community while putting the Mjolnir Cycles name in front of probably THE largest gatherings of riders each year.

Volunteering to provide mechanical support for the riders of the Cascade Bike Club Seattle-to-Portland Classic at the first major rest stop. Which happened to be about 3 miles from my new dwelling place. Convenient for me.
I contacted the organizers, and eventually my inquiry landed on the right desk -- I was immediately accepted. Apparently there is more need than volunteers.

There was a span of no communication, and suddenly it was two weeks before the day. I hadn’t been given any direction on just what should be provided (I was told that we weren’t expected to give away any repair parts, and that riders were instructed to carry cash to pay for any needed items – we were volunteering our time and knowledge), so I made my best guess and put in a large order for tubes, patch kits, cables, and other items I thought would be needed. 

With that plus tent, banners, work stand, tools, and bike rack loaded into the truck on Friday evening, I set my alarm for 4am and went to sleep.
The st-up, next to the entrance road.

The opening time for the rest stop was 6am, so I arrived about 5:30 to set up shop. A local middle school (where my daughter will eventually attend, given that we stay in our current house for another 7 years) provided the area where riders would enter, pass the repair area, and on to the port-o-potties, medical support, and food. I made full use of the proximity to the only entrance, and set up just at the curb. Ready to greet the ten thousand of my new best friends.

Duran Delgado -- a godsend
of previous experience
and gregarious nature.
I had a working partner in Duran Delgado from FSA/Vision Tech, who had volunteered the previous year. He had some valuable first-hand knowledge of the volume of work coming, and the types of repairs we would be performing. And a lot of stories to tell of his growing up in the Dominican Republic.

I’d also brought my own road bike, sporting the Kinekt seatpost, which generated some interest and conversation through the day. Courses like this one are tailor-made for the Kinekt, with many miles of rough chip-seal.

At 6:01, the first riders rolled into the rest stop. Just a few, well spaced. With this stop situated some 50+ miles from the start, I had to wonder just how early these riders set off. I didn’t see lights on all their bikes, and I know it was well before sunrise. Regardless, these riders didn’t need any mechanical help, and we just watched them roll by. But it wasn’t long before our first customers arrived for bike first aid.
The surge begins.

And from that point it ramped up to… the only term I can come up with is “frenzy”… of going from one bike to the next, making adjustments to shifting, airing up tires, changing tubes, lubing chains. There were a few broken spokes, and while I didn’t have any replacements (and the rider was loathe to spend the time waiting for a full repair anyway, with removal of cassette, brake rotor, tire, tube, rim strip… just to get AT the spoke), I could make it better than it was. 

Gregg’s Greenlake Cycles was ready to help with repairs at near 10. I had been told that they hadn’t brought any spare parts, but it turns out they did – they just ran out of a few things (specifically tires, which I had run out of as well by that point). 

I sold a lot of tubes, CO2 cartridges (which I wasn’t sure I would even want), all the tires I had brought (as an afterthought, and I could have sold a couple more), a few brakes pads, a chain. I didn’t move any of the spare cables or housing, or patch kits. Which is fine – I can still use them.

The front table set-up. Tips welcome.
I also had a tip jar, “Mead Money”, placed on the front table. I took payments for parts in cash to that container, and also had Paypal set up through my business email address. It was amazing how generous many of the riders were. Tips poured in. In one case I spent as little as 30 seconds making a derailleur adjustment, and the rider tipped me $20! While I’m sure there were more a couple tubes or such that got out without payment (especially when given the option to pay via Paypal after the fact), overall I didn’t lose money, for sure.

No saving this one.
The most extensive repair inquiry came from a young gentleman aboard a Novara (REI house brand) road bike, whose downtube had completely failed. Truly, there was nothing that could be done for that one, and the best I could offer him was a call to REI for a warranty replacement. I saw him a couple hours later walking out to catch his rescue ride, his STP done at 50 miles.

This Firefly is a rare bird in the
PacNW, and a relief lifting into
the repair stand.
At around 12:30, things tapered off a bit, a good three-and-a-half hours of steady work where I didn’t sit, didn’t eat or drink, just jumping from one bike to the next, performing triage and first-aid to bikes. And in all of that, there was only the one bike we couldn’t get back on the road in short turn-around.

As I was breaking down my tent, one lady pulled into the rest stop with a rather shell-shocked look.

“Oh no, did I miss the lunch?”

I directed her to the area behind the school where they had a veritable banquet set up still. The relief on her face was apparent. 

I was packed up and on the road back home by 2:00. I felt good about the morning, and was already thinking about how I could better support the ride next year.

And I’ve already put in my offer to volunteer at the 2019 edition.