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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Building the calendar

It's hard to believe that January is almost over already. Was it just 4 weeks ago that we were welcoming 2013? And just 10 days before that we were huddled in our bomb shelters against the end of the world? (JOKING!)

Trying to schedule my events for the year, it seems that the planets just aren't aligning for me. The Vicious Cycles events I was looking at (Gran Fondo Leavenworth and Gran Fondo Winthrop) fall on not-the-greatest days. I found a couple other interesting-sounding events that are remote possibilities, if not for this year then potentially next year: The Lewis and Clark Ride & Tie on Labor Day, and The Oregon Coast Gravel Epic on October 5th and 6th.

The Ride & Tie is a 150-mile two-person relay on bikes, with a car to accomplish the leap-frogging, over some pretty challenging terrain. My sister lives in that area, and I've visited several times -- it's basically right on the crest of the Cascade mountains where the Columbia River flows through, the only sea-level passage through these mouintains. Weather can change rapidly (the locals say "if you don't like the weather, just wait 20 minutes"). And there's a reason that this area is one of the world-capitols for wind- and kite-surfing. But it's surrounded by mountains. Climbing would be the word of the day.

The Gravel Epic just sounds like a fun ride much like what I was looking for with the Gran Fondos. My wife, bless her, was looking at the ride calendar trying to find other events for me on better dates, and was finding a few (though not many) Gran Fondos... and not realizing that the reason I was interested in the Vicious Cycles events was due to the off-pavement aspect. The Gravel Epic, on the Oregon Coast just south of Newport, is ALL off-pavement (as I understand it) on forest service roads. Gravel roads one day, a beach ride and run the next.

Not that these events are necessarily on better dates for me this year. Who knows, though...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Surly Cross Check -- the build, the ride.

I've had some time to get some miles on the Surly Cross Check now, with the build having been completed just before Christmas. With over 250 miles on the new ride, I'm finding it very comfortable, solid, and mild-mannered.
[Note: Excuse the crappy cell-phone pictures. I'll replace them with proper outdoor shots soon.]

I went about building up this bike with an eye on budget, but not cheaping out on function or durability to get the lowest cost. The Surly Cross Check isn't a high-end bike by any means, so it didn't make sense to trick it out with light-weight or high-zoot parts.

First, I checked my parts bin to see what I had already.
* Handlebars -- A no-name "wing" type ergo road bar.
* Stem -- Easton EA50 100mm, +/- 6 degree.
* Seatpost -- American Classic Aluminum.
* Saddle -- old Concor from an old bike I don't have any more.
* Front Derailluer -- Had a choice of two: a Shimano 105 7-speed, and an Ultegra 8-speed. I used the 105.
* Pedals -- One of my many sets of Speedplay pedals.
* Chain -- SRAM 8-speed. I have several in stock for maintenance.
* Cassette -- SRAM 830, 11-28 spread.
* Bar Tape -- Benotto Bike Ribbon.

That took a good chunk out of the parts I needed to buy (and the expense) to complete the build. Sometimes it's nice to be a bike nerd...

But I still had some pieces to track down. Here's what I found and how much it cost me:

* Brake/shift levers -- Shimano 2300, bought off eBay for $63. The windows over the gear indicator needles are broken off, but it doesn't affect the function.
* Brakes -- Cane Creek Curve, another eBay purchase for $55. More on these later.
* Rear Derailleur -- Old Deore XT  unit. I had searched eBay for long-cage derailleurs that would work, then asked around on Slowtwitch and BeginnerTriathlete. Turns out a fellow forumite on BT had this RD that he would give me. Free stuff is good.
* Cranks/Chainrings and bottom bracket -- FSA Gossamer with Mega-Exo bottom bracket, $45 from Slowtwitch classifieds.
* Tires -- Kenda Kwest 700x35mm, $25 from wholesale.
* Headset -- FSA Orbit XL-II, $30 from wholesale.
* Fenders -- Planet Bike, from the shop where I work, $33.

You'll note that I didn't include the wheels. I'll get to that in a bit, but for now I'll just say I transferred them from another bike.

I started the build with an injection of frame protectant. Boiled linseed oil works very well for this (also an old-school standby for wheel building), and is cheaper than Frame Saver and other purpose-formulated products. Using a veterinary syringe and a short section of rubber tubing, I could direct the oil into the inner frame holes and into each tube. I then rotated the frame around several times to make sure the oil coated all the surfaces, and then let it dry for two days. Linseed oil dries to a nice, tough protective finish, which makes for a good cautionary note: don't get this stuff on any clothing you care about, and DON'T do this process over any carpeting! You've been warned...

I've built up several bikes from bare frames, so it's not an unfamiliar task to me. Everything went together fairly smoothly. In fact, the most arduous task was cutting the fork steerer to the correct length -- the hack saw at the bike shop needs a new blade, especially now that it's been abused on this steel steerer.

Dialing in the drivetrain used a little creativity with the chainrings. The crank is made for a narrower 10-speed chain, so the chainrings are closer together to prevent the chain from lodging between them. But that closer spacing makes for chain rub when using the small chainring and smaller cassette cogs. Not much of an issue, as about the only time I use the small chaingring is getting started out my driveway. But it's an annoyance that can be avoided -- I reversed the direction of the small chianring, putting the offset towards the inner side rather than the outer. Voila! Eight-speed shifting without chain rub.

And why 8-speed, when current spec is now almost universally 10-speed, you may ask? Well, I've got a couple of good reasons for that. One, all my other bikes are 8-speed, with the exception of my mountain bike (which is currently one-speed). I like being able to swap wheels and cassettes between bikes. And I've got a lot of those (along with chains and other maintenance parts). I don't want to have to swap a cassette BECAUSE I swapped wheels. My system is grab-and-go, and I like it that way. Second, 8-speed is more robust, especially the chains. It lasts longer before it needs to be replaced, is less finicky with chainline adjustment, and is just plain stronger (due to the thicker chain side-plates). With this bike being a commuter and potential off-road ride, reliability is a key factor.

I added one rare piece that I've found to improve shifting performance dramatically -- an Avid Rollamajig. I don't think Avid makes these any more, which is too bad. It's a piece that goes in-line with the rear derailleur cable, replacing the large loop of cable housing with a roller, eliminating a whole lot of cable friction.

The brakes have their own saga... The Cane Creek Curve brakes are made for mountain bikes, a linear-pull system. Great for tire and fender clearance, no need for brake noodles (so a lot less cable drag)... but DISMAL brake performance with short-pull road levers. I thought I had the brakes set with the pads very close to the rim, and decent stopping power, but the first two rides convinced me that this was NOT the way to go -- levers buried to the handlebar, and still needing lots of road to stop the bike. I could have added a Problem Solvers Travel agent (a device that makes long-pull linear brakes compatible with short-pull road levers), but that kind of defeated the purpose of using the Cane Creek brakes.

Fortunately my shop has a "vintage" bin of parts that I've been given free-reign to pilfer. For free. Yep, free parts are nice. I picked out a set (well, three actually) of cheapie cantilever calipers and put them on instead. This also necessitated a front cable hanger. I grabbed an old Tioga unit from the same parts bin, ground out some of the material so that it would clear the FSA headset upper bearing, and I was good to go. Well, that is after two of the cantilever spring tension rings detonated when trying to center the brakes side-to-side. Plastic is not the right material here, but the brakes were the right price, so I can't complain too much. Finally, with the brakes dialed and holding, I was good to go.

I took the wheels off my Paul Barkley Softride, which I'd been using as my commuter. The tires are 700x28mm Performance Stradas, a lower-end tire with some decent meat to them. They're getting a little long in the tooth (the tires), so I figured I'd be replacing them soon in any case. The wheels themselves are Mavic Open 4CD rims, 36-spokes, laced to a Shimano 105 rear hub and Suntour Sprint front hub. Yep, these wheels are probably 18 years old, or more. The Mavic rims were THE workhorse rim of the day -- strong, decently light, and incredibly durable. I haven't had to do much to them at all, even in the way of needing truing. Strong stuff, those rims. But the 28mm tires are at about the limit for these narrow road rims -- going with wider tires pinches the tire casing down, causing vague cornering feel and increasing the chances of pinch flats (sport-bike motorcyclists know what I'm talking about, for sure). So I'm still running the 28mm tires on these wheels. My plan is to get a set of Velocity Chukker rims to lace up to my even older (and with more miles on them) Ultegra/Sprint hubs, and then utilize the Kwest 35mm tires. And maybe slap on some even WIDER off-road worthy tires for some gravel road riding (hmm... plans in the works, maybe?).

So, yeah, enough about the parts, HOW DOES THE BIKE RIDE?

In a word: Solid.

It's not light, by any means, but with the purpose of this bike in mind, it doesn't need to be. I'm not planning on doing any cyclocross races on it (hoisting it onto my shoulder 5 times a lap to hurdle the barriers), so the weight isn't much of an issue.

The handling is very stable. No-handed riding is effortless, even down to 10 mph. This is one of the things I was looking for in the bike -- almost fall-asleep steering. Not something I'd want to race in the local crit, but that's not the bike's purpose.

It jumps well out of the saddle, accelerating well, but bumps in the road generate a light "thump" rather than a bone-jarring "clang". While nothing can be as plush as the Softride, this bike doesn't beat me up like others I've ridden (hello, aluminum Cannondale!). Part of that is due to just the characteristics of steel, and part is the design of the frame.

I've been riding this mostly on my daily (or at least almost daily -- I've about 50% for the year so far) commute to work, as well as Saturday morning group rides out of Inspired Ride Bicycles, with a few other rides thrown in for good measure.

I haven't yet taken the bike off-pavement. I'm waiting for the re-build on the wheels (and using the wider tires) for that test. By every indication so far, the bike should behave admirably.

Last week, I emailed a link to my friend and training partner Eric (who wrote the Altra Superior review featured just a few weeks ago) for the Gran Fondo Ephrata, a partially off-road (gravel roads) tour/timed event on March 10th. While that's a bit early for me (and also a week before Eric's half-marathon), the June 23rd Gran Fondo Leavenworth would be just about timed perfectly. I'm watching for information to be published, but from some in-the-know people I've contacted, it looks to be an epic ride in some awesome country...

Intriguing. And it just so happens I have the bike for it...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Skechers Go Run All-Season

Skechers Go Run Ride All-Season
When the Skechers Go Run first came out in late 2011, I was very impressed with them. Those impressions led to a relationship with Skechers as a wear tester for models under development. They've had some very good things in the works, and I'm eager to tell you all about them. In time... I'm constrained by non-disclosures to keep things under wraps until the company gives the nod.

Last May, I was sent a pair of the Go Run with a new All-season upper. I was instructed to put them through the paces, and report back...

My first run in them was a bit of a failure -- NOT a failure of the shoes, but a failure of my preparation and better judgement. First, I had forgotten to bring an extra pair of socks with me to wear after my lunchtime run. So instead of going without socks after the run (not a problem, really), I opted to go without socks on a run with new shoes... As many readers will know, I'm not always known for making the most long-sighted decisions.

Sure, I used to run sans socks ALL THE TIME... back in college. And even a few years ago I did all my running sockless. But that was several years ago (and in the case of college, MANY years ago), and my feet have grown accustomed to wearing socks inside my shoes.

So about 3 miles into a run where I was LOOKING for wet things to run through, I started to develop a blister. Two, in fact. But I can't blame the shoes! They held up against every attempt I made to soak them via puddles and tall, wet grass. And the blisters were in places where I've had them before on sockless runs with virtually any shoe. Nothing wrong with the design of these shoes.

And that was about the time the local weather started going into summer mode. "Dry". Or at least raining less, enough less that I wasn't running in the rain. Hmm... Okay, gotta put the real testing of these shoes on hold.

So a few months pass, September rolls on by, and about mid October the weather gets Pacific NW seasonal again, meaning rain. I've had plenty of opportunity to put the All-season aspect of these shoes to the test in the last couple months, and I'm happy to report that this material does live up to the claims: water stays out. Not only that, but after so many muddy and wet runs, they still look as new as they day they arrived at my door.

The upper material is stiffer than the original Go Run, and it makes a little "pop" noise as the material creases and straightens over the toe area. This also makes the toe box seem a little narrower, but not so much that it causes issues.

In every other way, these shoes mimic all the things I like about the original Go Run -- smooth transition from forefoot strike to mid-stance to toe-off, no rearfoot structure to force the foot to do things it doesn't want to do, and flat inside to let the foot do the work (and get stronger in the process). As with the original Go Run, they feel utterly goofy when walking, but these shoes aren't made for walking (yeah, they're called the Go RUN for a reason, eh?). Once running, that goofy feeling disappears.

On the Skechers website, the All-season upper is offered on the Go Run Ride, which is a slightly more beefed-up version of the Go Run, with slightly less rocker to the midsole, but all the other good aspects of the Go Run.

Would I have these as my only shoe choice? Maybe if I lived in an area that rained 12 months of the year. In warm and dry weather they are a little hotter on the feet. But for rain and winter weather, these are the ones I reach for. And it does that a little bit in the Pacific NW.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jack Frost nipping at your nose...

It's cold out. Temps have barely broken freezing at the warmest part of the day. Areas that don't see the sun stay frosty all day.

And I've had a blast riding my bike to and from work the last two days.

Early morning (3:45 this morning, just a little later than that yesterday) make for very quiet roads. An extended dry spell -- around here this time of year that constitutes two days -- made fore clear roads with the exception of where overnight fog deposited a thin layer of frost. Mostly in the bike lane.

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday (referring to running, but it's appropriate for riding as well): There is no inappropriate weather, just inappropriate clothing. Aside from my face, I've been just fine riding into the low 20's for the half-hour that the ride takes.

It's also a good exercise in keeping things smooth. No hard power bursts, no sudden steering inputs or weight shifts.

The Surly Cross Check has been performing very well. I'll post a full build report and ride review very soon, as I've got about 150 miles in the bike already.

So I'm two for two on bike commutes so far this year. Not that I've got some no-car goal. It does save me $3 in gas each day vs. driving my car to work. I put that money aside as fun bike spending money...

I'm not sure what I'll do yet when the weather turns nasty (cold isn't nasty, it's just cold -- rain is nasty, and it does that a lot around here). I'll likely ride more often on days when I normally wouldn't have last year.

I've got the bike for it.

And the clothing.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking back, looking forward

Happy New Year!

Changing that last digit of the date, putting a new calendar on the wall, seems to trigger something in a lot of us. All those squares on the twelve calendar pages from the previous year getting stored away, a little walk down memory lane before it goes into the recycle bin, and some thoughts, hopes, for the coming year that will fill up the squares of the new twelve pages.

I closed out 2012 with some celebration (my wife and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary), a ride on the trainer, some video entertainment, and a whole lot of noise outside (the fireworks all over the neighborhood started early and stayed all the way 'til midnight). But that was just the last day of 2012.

What of the previous 364 days?

Certainly there were many memorable days in there, some of which I wrote about in this blog. RAMROD, some long training days, a triathlon with my wife, putting on a bike race with my wife and the Wheelsport Cycling Team. A lot of learning.

Training wise, my run mileage was less than half of 2011's, but I'm fine with that -- I let go of chasing a round number from that year which was detrimental, and drove me to injury. Older and wiser, I hope. For cycling, I hit 3674 miles, but that doesn't include any off-road or trainer time. 335 hours 37 minutes total, which at an average of only 17 mph would be over 5700 total miles for the year. Not bad. Certainly others do more, and some less. Swim-wise, I basically did the minimum I had to do to get through the events on my calendar. And again, I'm fine with that.

Looking ahead to 2013:

* I don't have plans to do RAMROD again (though since my wife volunteered this past year, I'd have a lottery bypass, but it's just not on my to-do for the year), and the only real "must do" event is the Bonney Lake Triathlon on Labor Day weekend.

* We will put on the Joe Matava Memorial Criterium again this year, July 4th.

* I still want to do the run/hike route around the Crystal Mountain basin. It just sounds like a fun "adventure day". Will likely plan this for an early-summer or late spring day, with an eye on the weather.

* I still plan to do the 150K 50th birthday challenge in September, though I will need to change my planned route for a swimming venue.

* A trip to Las Vegas in in the plans for September also, which will include attending Interbike for the first time ever.

* And I WILL start frame building in 2013. I now have two old and broken frames to cut up for practice joints.

So it's an exciting year coming up, with a lot of changes and some continuances.

What do you have planned for 2013?