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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Vicious event -- Gran Fondo Ellensburg

There's really only one word that describes this ride. Brutal. Details to follow.

The Gran Fondo Ellensburg is a lollipop shaped (mostly) ride of 92 miles, with a few thousand feet of elevation gain thrown in for your thigh-sapping pleasure. This is the fourth of five Gran Fondo rides on the Vicious Cycle calendar, and only the second in which I've participated. The last was the Gran Fondo Leavenworth in 2013. And I was better prepared for that one (on top of being five years younger).

The weekend started on Friday for me, with a drive over to Moses Lake for an overnight stay and then mechanical support at the BuDu Racing Moses Lake Triathlon. I was also there to display and promote Mjolnir Cycles (my brand) and Cirrus Cycles Kinekt seatpost.

After that event I hung around town for a short while, then drove about 2/3 of the way to Ellensburg, staying the night in Vantage, right on the Columbia River. I took a short shake-out spin on the bike, and happened to cross paths with one of the riders from my Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride participants. They had ridden over from Ellensburg and were camping the night in Vantage. They had the advantage of a stiff tailwind (that turned into gale-force winds lasting through the night), and were praying it died out by the next day (didn't happen, and I hope they didn't get blown into the river during the night). After a dinner at the only eatery, I settled into my room to watch some Sci-Fi channel and TBS before turning in for the night, being woken several times by the wind.

Up early, I put down a little food before hitting the road for Ellensburg, stopping for fuel (for my car and me) within spitting distance of the course start at Mt Stuart Elementary School.

Warm-ups are really not needed with an event like this. A neutral roll-out keeps things together and allows every one a chance to get in the groove before the lead truck pulls off. Then it's game on. Only we had another 25 miles into a stiff headwind. No one wanted to keep their nose up front for long, so things stayed mostly calm. There was an interesting phenomenon, though -- an ever-present fear of losing the pack and having to push into that wind alone. So there were several surges from the back, and about 20 miles in there was finally a split in the pack. On a downhill. All it takes is two people letting the gap open for this to happen. 

But I wasn't in this event to race. The pointy end of the fondo scene is VERY sharp, and my days of knocking elbows with these guys is long past. I'm fine with that. I found myself in the second pack as we entered Cle Elum, and headed into the hills. I utilized the first food stop to use a port-o-potty, and everything was mostly alone or with just a few others from that point to the end.

Really, though, this is where the riding starts. At least what matters on a ride like this -- GRAVEL. Usually gravel roads that are steep. And this course had such aplenty. The next 6 miles gained nearly 2600 feet, with pitches over 20%. Yes, I had to walk a couple of them. And I didn't lose much time at all to those who were still on their bike rather than pushing. By the time we got to the top, there was sleety stuff falling from the sky. Not much, but enough to say we got snow. In June. Yes, it was cold enough.

Then a bone chilling descent, another climb, another descent, etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. Fortunately these descents were fairly smooth, which allowed one to let go of the brakes and fly for short periods. Lots of fun. Almost makes all the work of going uphill worth it.

I kept watching the ride distance, trying to calculate in an increasingly fuzzy brain just how far it was until the last rest stop and the return to pavement (and a merciful tailwind). I thought I had it all worked out when I came to the food area, volunteers offering to fill my water bottles. I said, "So, it's all downhill and with the wind from here, right?"

"Yep, after that 1000 foot climb it's all downhill."

I knew he wasn't kidding. Yep, five more miles of dirt, with a long somewhat steady uphill thrown in. The back side of this one was not so smooth, though. The bane of gravel riding, at least to me, is the washboard that is developed in the road surface from cars and trucks going into corners (I blame the proliferation of anti-lock brakes), which becomes a dangerous back-and-forth whipping on a bike at any appreciable speed. Two-wheel drifts result, and one can't be on the front brake or there is the very real risk of sliding out, locking the front wheel, or just going off the road entirely. Or any combination of those. Even when successfully negotiated, it's not comfortable at all.

I survived it, but had to stop along the way to give my neck a break.

The dilemma of these events is that the real challenge, the actual draw, is the gravel. Getting off the pavement and into something more primal, with less traffic. It's about you against the chosen route, even if you're not at the pointy end of the race where it's as much you vs. route as it is you vs. other riders. Once you get past the top 10 placings, there's more of a cooperative effort. Maybe it's the shared suffering.

Finally, the road surface turned smooth and firm, and speed was rewarded with a rush of adrenaline, instead of more pain. A quick food stop again, and the final run back to Ellensburg was underway. What had been a hefty headwind on the way out (from which I stayed as hidden as possible behind other riders) was now a nice tailwind. It's a nice mental boost to see speeds into the mid-20's again, but then you realize that everyone else is getting the same boost, and you're not making up any time on anyone. That guy up the road is staying just as far away...

A paceline 6 strong passed me, and I latched onto the caboose position for a nice stretch of speeds in the upper 20's and low 30's. Unfortunately I really didn't have the legs to stay with it after a couple of uphills, and found myself pushing on alone for the last 10 miles. I kept a mental count-down of the distance, the last of which were on the Iron Horse Trail. Nicely traffic-free, but the surface was loose and required more concentration than I was wanting to put forth.

And finally the finish. Seemed a little anti-climactic, crossing between two orange cones with one person writing down numbers, and another passing out the finisher's patches. Where's the brass band and ticker-tape? After over 6 hours in the saddle, how about a little love?

I cruised the last three miles back to the school, propped my bike against the truck, and climbed in to change out of my riding clothes. And the skies chose that moment to open up.

I waited it out before putting the bike away and venturing over to get my post-ride burrito. Barely able to walk, and with mental capacities not quite 100%, I stared at the can of Coke in one hand, the burrito in the other, and decided to get back in my truck to eat. And then the skies opened up again. I really felt for anyone still out there on the course, hopefully off the hills by that time.

I waited around a little while longer, than took the 3+ hour drive home. Gotta love Snoqualmie Pass traffic on a late Sunday afternoon.

So now it's Tuesday, and I think my legs have recovered enough so that walking looks normal, and I can ride a bike uphill without crying. Checking the results, I ended up 45th out of 101 male finishers (one lady finished just under 6 minutes ahead of me -- she was in that paceline that I briefly picked up on the return tailwind section). My final official time was 6:45:28, only an hour and 20 minutes behind the event winner... So that's not all that bad.

I remember the Leavenworth ride making me feel like I'd done the hardest ride of my life. I think this tops it. Yes, I have myself to blame for my longest ride leading up to this one only being a tick under 4 hours. And my nutrition and hydration definitely weren't on point. I made the entire ride on 8 Fig Newtons, 1 chocolate chip cookie, and probably just under 4 large water bottles full of only water. The mind wanders to figuring out how I could do better.

 Maybe I've gotten these epic rides out of my system.

Or maybe I just need another 5 years to forget how much fun it is...

A big thanks goes out to Cirrus Cycles Kinekt seatpost for saving my backside on the gravel. The ride cush was appreciated to no end...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Well, not really. But it kind of looks like it's snowing. 

Little white things floating around in the air, settling on the sides of the road, like cold dry snow, drifting, stirring up by passing vehicles.

Yes, there are places in the world where it actually does snow this time of year. Far from here, in the southern hemisphere, where they are in late fall and approaching winter. It doesn't snow here in May.

It's the annual cottonwood seed crop.

Yesterday was bad. Today was even worse.

At 10 am, the grassy areas were still wet. And then the cottonwood seeds would accumulate in the bare areas. My tires would get caked with wet white stuff, and then fling it all over on the descents.

I felt like I was slowly accumulating a white ghillie suit. Ready for sniper duty on planet Hoth!

Cottonwoods are such horrible trees. Truly weeds of the forest. Dropping limbs in even light winds, breaking apart when you try to fell them... And burning the wood is best left to fully enclosed wood stoves, as it smells terrible.

And the seed crop.

Hopefully it'll be over with quickly.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride, 2018 edition

It was a dark and stormy night... The eve of the 2018 running of the Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride saw the postponement of a family photo session due to torrential rains that parked over the area for a few hours. But the forecast said it was supposed to improve overnight and be "nice" all day Sunday.

This was the fifth year for this event, more loosely organized group ride than anything else.

Attendance has varied over the years, with a high of 17 to a low of 4, mostly weather dependent. The course has been steady since the 2015 event, so returning riders generally know what's in store (at least the parts that the brain doesn't lock away due to painful memories).

I drove out early to place the water stop cooler and to post the KOM/QOM prize (FREE BURGERS!). I had decided to do something a little different than the Strava segment this time, hammering a stake along the side of the road at a semi-random location with a paper plate sporting the ride emblem (a John Henry I'd used in the first two years) with tags stapled to the back -- in order to win, you had to be the first person by that sign to see it and stop to get the tag. I put it near the top of the last climb... yep, ON the hill. I'm cruel like that.

The riders started to roll in about 8:40 for the 9 am start. We rolled out 5 strong to tackle the hills and gravel.

This ride is "only" 47 miles, roughly. But included in that is 19 miles of gravel roads by the original route. With the addition of the Bud Blancher trail bypassing the run in to Eatonville, it adds more. I'm thinking I'll just make that the official route in future events, and forego the water cooler in town. Anyway, those gravel roads are where the really nasty stuff happens -- the real elevation gain, and one particularly heinous stretch of self-flagellation that tests traction and will. And that is thrown into the middle of the longest climb. Part of the post-ride conversation always includes the question of "did you ride the whole thing?" This year, I can humbly say I did not, as I walked the last 50 yards or so, not able to turn the pedals over any more. I tell everyone before the ride starts, there's no shame in walking that one. Frankly, it's not that much slower, either.

Vistas were fairly shrouded in fog on this day, but on a clear day you can see... quite a long ways.

The final roll back into Elbe is a gentle descent along the Mountain Highway, making you feel heroic from the high speeds after all that abuse. A quick change at the car, and then it's all about the BURGERS!

The Elbe Bar and Grill serves up the best post-ride refueling. On any other day it might be too much, but after a ride like this, it's perfect. And this year the free burger went to Nick Koops, who selected the Boiker (famous for the inclusion of peanut butter).

Much conversation about future events, trails, and hidden gems in the Pacific NW.

So... with the 2018 running of the Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride in the books, look for the Lucky Masochist's Gravel Deuce in July, and the return of the Elbe ride next May.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Catching up

Sometimes you meet up with some one you haven't seen in a long time, and it seems like it was only yesterday that you last saw them.

So it was this past weekend, meeting up with Shane.

My daughter-the-elder is beginning her college search, being a high school junior, and Whitworth University (Spokane, WA) was holding their "Pirate Preview" weekend May 6-7. One of my old riding and racing friends also lives in Spokane, and so I contacted him for a riding route suggestion. He did far better -- he invited me to his house, just a few minutes from the university, for a ride together.

I showed up at about 5 pm, and after the handshake-hug, re-introductions and such, readied quickly and we were off to his guided tour of the Spokane River.

Dropping back into the valley, we hit a horrendous headwind, and my thoughts went toward "this could really suck". But we got to a more protected area and the wind settled down some.

Talk ranged over reminiscing on past rides and races, family, moves, careers, injuries, aging, and a lot of talk of spiritual things. Life views, parenting, past mistakes... Catching up, to where it was like no time had passed since we last rode together. But we did the math, and figured out that 24 years have gone by. Neither of us had children at the time, and now we've goth got girls in late high school, and he has one late in college.

The route along the Spokane River wound around quiet roads and walking/cycling paths, through a pine forest. Rolling hills throughout made for difficulty finding a rhythm, but also made for a challenging ride. Several deer, a few geese, and my first-ever wild turkey sighting.

At the dam, the spillway was flowing deep and fast, the river swollen from the months of rain. We stopped for photos, then got back on for the return ride on the opposite side of the river.

Shane is a really strong rider. Always has been. I tell him that he's always been able to ride away from me at will, and it's still true. Especially late in the ride when the long morning drive was catching up to me that I found myself truly trying to catch up with him on the hills. Yes, I did drop my chain twice, and that did force a stop, but that wasn't really why I was flagging. I was glad that he'd had a long and hard ride the day before.

We ended the ride just shy of two hours, my fastest ride this year (and I think last year as well). We sat for a while, more conversation. Brothers from another family, seemingly.

Catching up, in so many ways. May it not be so long til the next time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Blessed Event (BuDu Racing Mt Rainier Duathlon)

No, not a birth. Sorry, no cute pink-n-wrinkly newborn pictures.

This is about an event, a race, the BuDu Racing Mt Rainier Duathlon, which was this past Sunday in Enumclaw, WA.

I've participated in this event in various capacities over the years, as a racer in its first few years, to volunteering in positions of traffic control, timing chip retrieval, and motor support (lead-out and draft marshaling), and now as one of the multi-sport series sponsors (this is my third year giving a custom bike frame and fork to one of the athletes that does at least three of the six multi-sport events that BuDu Racing promotes and executes).

And in all my time at this race, set against the entrance to the Cascade mountains, I've never been rained on during the event.

These guys are somehow blessed when it comes to this race.

This is in Washington, the Pacific north-wet (no, that's not a typo). It rains here. A lot. Especially at the Cascade foothills where the moist ocean air unloads itself to make it over the mountains. Timed in the spring at Beltane (April 30th for those not aware of a Pagan calendar -- and no, I'm not Pagan), the odds are good that an odd rainfall or ten would deluge the race right off the road. And I understand one year there was a pretty good hailstorm, but I was elsewhere on the course at the time and (thankfully) missed out. I've had the rain chase me home after the race a couple times, this past Sunday being one of those. We were just getting everything into the BuDu trailers when the skies opened up. 

I'd like to know what anti-rain dance they're doing!

But for the Regional Long-course Duathlon Championships, BuDu again put on a flawless race, with great support all around. And they even had the race results posted online before everything was packed up. First-class event organizers, these folks.

Oh, and they do a load of other races with timing and course set-up. 

I'll be at their June 9th event in Moses Lake as well, delivering the bike that was awarded last season's lucky winner. I hope she likes it.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Daffodil Classic Ride, 60 miles in the mist

I'd been waffling for over a week on this ride, keeping an eye on the weather forecast.

Rain. Rain and drizzle. Cloudy and rain possible. Cloudy with a touch of rain.

At that point I figured I'd survive and most likely even enjoy the ride, so I kind of committed to showing up by telling my day-job boss that I would be there if the forecast stayed that way or better. The final weather outlook said "cloudy with rain possible" on the morning, with temps in the low 40's, and I loaded up the car and headed out a little early.

I had originally hoped to use the newly-revised road bike for this ride, having moved the (corroded) top tube cable stops and added a pump peg. I ended up with the gravel bike, opting for the larger tires and less care about grime, adding the rear clip-on fender from my wife's mountain bike to protect the Kinekt seatpost mechanisms from gritty road spray. That turned out to be the right call for the day, about the only improvement would have been a full front fender.

I got to the ride site, a small-town middle school, with plenty of time to spare. I lounged around a bit, finally paid my fee and got my number, then back to my car for the final prep of pinning it on, and piling on the layers.

I hooked up with my boss and four other riding buddies of his, and we headed out into the falling mist. At least there wasn't any wind.

I led out the train, as I was very familiar with the ride course. The pace was easy, and the group stayed loosely tied together through the first few miles. I drifted back to chat a bit, then saw that two of the riders were up the road a little. I chased in, and the three of us rotated a bit...

One dropped back, and I though he was going to pull in behind me. When I looked, he was nowhere to be seen. I continued on with the other rider. Once the road tilted up, he started down-shifting, and just before it leveled off he pulled left. Again, I thought he would slip in behind me. But instead he dropped back entirely, a huge gap opening within a few yards.

At that point I knew it would be a long and possibly frustrating ride if I stayed back, so I continued on. That's the last I saw of them for the day, just 5 miles into 60.

The rest of the ride was a solo effort punctuated with overtaking riders in ones and twos. It's not that I was really pressing the pace, but I didn't dally by any means. At the 25 mile mark I abandoned the glasses, as the mist and road spray had rendered them a detriment, and I had nothing dry or particularly clean to utilize for wiping. The stretch along Mountain Highway is 10 miles straight south, and seems a lot longer than it is. Finally we get to turn off the main road and onto the chip-selaed backroads. Definitely the roughest stretches of the entire 60 miles. Between the rear clip-on fender and the Kinekt seatpost, they quite literally saved my backside.

From the 35 mile mark to the second food stop at 40 the road has a steady incline, and this stretch tests my mental fortitude every time. To put it bluntly, it sucks. But like all the other miles of road, it passes, and after a few minutes to fill a bottle and grab some snacks in Eatonville, I was on intimately familiar roads again and knew at any moment just how far I had to go to the final incline, and the finish.

The final downhill is a thrill. The rains had stopped some time prior, and though the roads weren't dry, there wasn't standing water. On previous iterations of this event I've had to hold up for traffic on this descent, but not this time. I could completely open up and fly. It makes all the miles before worth the effort.

The only picture I got for the day before my phone
decided to shut down.
Cruising the last two miles to the school again, I looked forward to dry clothes and strawberry shortcake. Got the Strava tracking saved (whew!), snapped this picture, and then my phone decided to self-terminate (shut itself off, despite the 26% charge remaining).

I took my time changing, waited around a little, had my shortcake, but finally headed back home. Tired, definitely. Glad I did the ride, even if it was mostly a solo effort.

A couple hours later I got a text from my boss: "How long have you been home?" 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Why it works -- Some Kinekt details from my perspective

To say I was enamored with the Softride system is to invoke the British gift of understatement. I've had three dedicated Softride bikes, by two different framebuilders.

I raced them. On the road and on the track. In a transitional era when bike racing and what constituted an acceptable machine was still steeped in tradition, and anything "not normal" was derided. Constantly. But in spite of being on something so unusual (and before they were deemed "no longer legal" for international competition), I did fairly well for myself.

I've now been riding on a Kinekt seatpost for a little over a week. Well, actually, I've put in five rides on it. Three days in a row over the first weekend (Aaaaaah!), then a week riding my single-speed monster-crosser without the Kinekt, a weekend of trainer rides (and Netflix)... I brought the Kinekt to work to put on that bike to ride over VERY familiar terrain (almost 40 hours so far just this year on these trails/gravel roads).

 Oh, yes! It made this:

feel more like this:

But I'm not so much wanting to gush about how good it feels, rather I want to take a little time to expound on why I think it works so well for gravel and even road riding.

Most of what hits you on gravel is fairly low amplitude single bumps, non-rhythmic stuff going over embedded small rocks, sticks, small pot-holes-in-the-making, and the occasional grass clump. We're not talking about the big stuff that you should be avoiding or jumping anyway (your tires will thank you), but the constant undulations, pokes, prods, and little jolts that you unconsciously (or consciously in many cases) unweight the saddle to roll over.

It's exactly this kind of constant upsetting in which the Kinect post shines. There are two reasons for this, in my opinion: Direction of movement, and active nature.

Direction of movement

When the rear wheel rolls over a small bump, the entire bike rotates around an axis. Initially one might think that the point of contact of the front tire to the ground is that axis, but the entire bike is not a rigid body. The wheels rotate, or from another perspective, the bike also around the wheel at the hub. The axis of the bike when the rear wheel hits a bump is at the front hub rather than the front tire's contact patch. The rear hub motion is vertical, only because it is at a horizontal position relative to the front hub. The saddle rigidly attached to the frame moves in an arc upward and slightly forward. To counteract this in an ideal manner, the suspension motion must be down and slightly rearward.

Which is just what the Kinekt does. Unlike telescoping systems, the parallelogram moves the saddle in very nearly the ideal direction.

Active nature

The second reason the Kinekt works so well on the small, constant hits is its active nature. Shock-absorber based suspension systems rely on seals and dampers to keep the suspension medium (air and oil) in the fork and working. These seals produce friction -- resistance to the suspension doing its job. Additionally, dampers slow the motion of the shock so that it doesn't "pack up" or over-rebound. This is great on the big hits, but a shock system tuned for hits like that is fairly inactive over small stuff. And that's the nature and need in the mountain bike world. For gravel riding, the hits are smaller, and you want a suspension that lacks the "stiction" (static friction) of an air/oil shock based system. You want it to be active on the small hits.

Again, the Kinekt shines in this regard as well. Where the Softride worked as essentially a big leaf spring (with an elastomer layer for damping), the Kinekt uses coil springs inside the parallelogram, and extremely little in the way of friction. The result is a very active suspension that responds to the small bumps, with enough travel to take up most of the normal little stuff that you'd ride over.

The big hits? Potholes, large, sharp half-buried rocks? Still go around them or jump over them. You'd be pinching a tube or denting a rim anyway, so just don't go there. The Kinekt won't save you from reckless abandon or sheer lack of smarts.

And that's all well and good when the pavement runs out. But how about road riding? 

Well, again, the very active nature of the Kinekt system reacts to even the smallest of vibrations, so all those chip-sealed backroads feel more like that newly laid asphalt on the main highway. All that little buzz is something that you don't even notice until it's gone, and you wonder how you didn't realize what it was doing to you. It's fatiguing. Taking it away doesn't make you necessarily faster -- in the first hour. But as the ride gets longer, the difference is very apparent.

So... Still a very enthusiastic two-thumbs-up vote. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ghost Rider

I took a ride with ghosts yesterday. They stayed with me through two hours of roads, and some off-pavement stuff that had me grinning.
No, I'm not going to post
pictures of my legs...

The sun was out, which is nice, but it was also warm! Well, at least getting near 60, which is warm enough. Okay, not warm "enough", since I really like it when it's in the high 70's to low 80's, but for March, I'll take it.

Certainly it was warm enough for shorts. As in no additional leg coverings (!!). My normal lower-body dressing for riding starts with shorts, shoes, and socks. Add knee warmers if needed (below 60), toe covers or oversocks. Below 50 and I have the toe covers and oversocks, tights over the knee warmers. Below 40 it's the winter shoes, and I'm contemplating wind-proof tights.

I wore an orange jersey, a Christmas gift, for the first time. As I was leaving, my wife said I'd be bright on the road. But she wasn't looking at the jersey.

Yep, after a fall and winter of indoor trainer rides and layering on the lower extremeties, my gams are pale. The ghosts were brought out. Sorry to all you folks blinded by the glare.

But after just a little over a two hour ride, I have tan lines.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Kinekt Bodyfloat suspension seatpost

Let's start off with this disclosure: I have been selected to be a brand ambassador for the Kinekt Bodyfloat suspension seatpost, and as such was provided this product free of charge for testing and promotion purposes. I'm not paid to do this -- in fact, Cirrus Cycles (makers of the Kinekt seatpost) insisted that I give honest feedback.

Now let's get to why I'm excited about this. For many years, when I was bike racing, I rode on Softride bikes. They were rare in bike racing, illegal for international competition, and often looked at with disdain by the tradition-bound within the sport. I landed on Softride after riding for several years on standard double-diamond frames, in long distance cycling events and triathlons. After a particular triathlon, run over heavy chip-sealed back-country roads where my backside went numb from vibration, I was looking for an alternative. I'd heard about Softride, and after another triathlon in Bellingham, took a test-ride on a Sofride on the Kulshan Cycles sales floor. I was instantly sold. Within minutes I was looking for things to ride over -- manhole covers, railroad tracks, etc. The plush ride, while maintaining the stiffness of the main frame, was eye-opening.

I contacted Paul Barkley, one of the initial designers of Softride and framebuilder for most of the first generation of Softride branded frames. I trekked back up to Bellingham to get measured, and a couple months later had my first custom Softride frame.

I had two more built by TiCycles in (then) Seattle, one a track bike built on 650c wheels (I needed all the help I could get with low-intertia wheels for acceleration). To say I was a believer in the Softride system would be an understatement. Even though the system was heavier than a standard frame and seatpost, I gladly dealt with the weight penalty for the comfort. The advantage wasn't that the frames were faster, but more that the damped out vibration had a long-term energy sparing effect, essentially leaving more in the tank towards the later miles. And I never felt like the weight held me back on hills (I was actually at the pointy end when it came to climbs).

The feature that made the Softride such a success was the active nature of the suspension -- there was no "stiction" to overcome in order for the suspension to move.

But there were issues with the Softride system, namely the mounting of the beam to the frame. I had a few of the through-bolts fail, one in an event. And the aluminum disks had a nasty tendency to crack along the lip where they interfaced with the cross-tube on the frame as well. After Softride sought (unsuccessfully) a buyer for their business, the spare mounting hardware essentially dried up, making failed parts become stored and unusable frames.

Photo from the 2014 Seattle Bike Expo,
my first look at the BodyFloat post.
I was first introduced to the Bodyfloat seatpost at the Seattle Bike Expo in March, 2014. I noticed the same Softride demo rig in a booth, then saw Paul Barkley, this time demonstrating the effectiveness of the Bodyfloat product. It instantly took me back to riding the Softride -- though not with the amplitude of response, it had the same movement and active nature. I took their information, looked up the product, and tucked it away in the "must do some day" file.

Fast forward a few years, after doing a whole lot of off-pavement rides, I'm in the process of building my next gravel bike, and had designed it around the 25mm offset of the Bodyfloat seatpost, with the idea that I would be fitting it onto this frame. I inquired with Kinekt regarding their current generation of seatposts, which are offered in a 12mm offset, and that's when I noticed the link for applying to be a brand ambassador. After a discussion with the head of the ambassador program, I was given the green light. So that brings us to today.

Kinekt post delivered. Can't wait to try
it out on the bike!
The seatpost came on Thursday, and almost the first thing I did was put it on my Mjolnir Cycles Vidarr gravel bike. Almost, because I had to clean/ream the seat tube first -- something I hadn't done when I built the frame four years ago. Per the instructions, I added one centimeter to the seat height, and used the same setback. What I didn't do, however, was set the preload such that the saddle didn't move up when it was unweighted. There are two reasons I did this: (1) the nature of the Softride system was very active, with no preload, and I wanted to duplicate that feel as much as possible, and (2) I didn't have a second person available to watch me unweight the saddle. 

Today (Friday), I took it out on the maiden voyage. The ride difference was immediately apparent: Plush. My driveway was recently rendered a third-world runway by the need to replace the water line, so it's pretty bumpy. I could feel the bike moving under me, but the saddle just changed pressure against me, without forcing me to move along with it. It immediately reminded me of my old Softrides. 

My ride was a little over 35 miles of mostly familiar backroads, some of varying quality chipseal. And even though the tires I was running are 700cx42mm Continental Speed Rides at 58psi (rear), I'm very familiar with how they feel on these roads -- meaning I still feel it in spite of the air volume of the tires. The Kineckt post is so active that all the variations in the chipseal surface just melted away. 
The test bed: my current gravel bike.

I came home smiling, impressed. As stated earlier, the ride is very much akin to the Softride, which makes sense since it shares many of the same designers. I didn't take it off pavement (much), so that review still remains. I expect that will happen within the next two days.

One might ask about the weight of the Kinekt post, and yes, it is heavier than a normal seatpost. How much? I didn't weigh it, but the difference is far less than that of the Softride system. In fact, unless you're at a bodyfat percentage where people are constantly asking whether you're okay, you could probably lose the weight difference from your body in a week's time without drastic lifestyle changes. I certainly didn't notice the added weight on my bike, either climbing (where weight really becomes a factor) or standing and swinging the bike.

So the verdict? Two enthusiastic thumbs up, so far. The Cirrus Cycles Kinekt seatpost does essentially the same job that the Softride system did, with many other pluses going for it: much lighter weight, legal in USAC and UCI racing (I'm pretty sure -- I'll have to check on that), and doesn't require an entire new bike frame for best execution. This will add rider isolation to any bike with a round seatpost.

Actually, I only see one downside: I need two more for my other bikes...

More to come.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Pics or it didn't happen

There's a common reply when some one claims some extraordinary feat or accomplishment on any kind of social setting (whether social media or in conversation), "Pics or it didn't happen!"

It's said it jest, really (at least normally so in my experience). 

Well, in cycling circles (social circles, not literal riding a bike in circles), there's a twist on that response -- "Strava or it didn't happen!"

Strava, for those of you who might not know, is a social media type of GPS-based tracking application for smartphones and other GPS-enabled devices, recording speed, distance, route, and performance vs. other users on any user-defined "segments" (sections of a route, usually an uphill, where the time split is compared to every other user who traveled over the same section). Segments are another subject entirely...

Anyway, today was a ride that didn't happen.

I usually track my rides via Strava on my smartphone. I start it up when I push off to start a ride, put it in my jersey pocket, and don't touch it again until I'm done. I don't even have a speedometer on my handlebars any more. I kind of ride "unplugged", and just check the speed, distance, and sometimes the segments (if the system flags me and tells me I did well on a particular segment) after the ride is done.

But today, I was in a hurry, starting a little earlier than normal to fit a ride in before a noon meeting. When I got to the locker room to suit up, I realized I'd left my phone on my desk. Not wanting to sacrifice the time to go get it, I rode without, and just used my wrist stopwatch to time the ride. I estimated the average speed (it's usually within a couple tenths of a mile-per-hour) to get the distance.

I'm fine with that. At least until some one puts me to the test on it (not that I expect anyone to do so, especially since I don't crow about what an accomplishment the daily ride might be).

But if they did... It didn't happen.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Changing course

As some readers may know, I put on two multi-surface bike rides each year (or three, as the second one is a two-day affair). They are now in their fifth and fourth iteration in 2018, respectively.

But, being the nature of out-in-the-real-boonies service roads (in some cases that's being generous), I find it necessary to recon the route before event day, in case there are last-minute changes needed due to washouts, major construction, or in some cases paths that have disappeared entirely.

Such was the case for the second leg of the Lucky Mashochist's Gravel Deuce, 2017. I ventured out two weeks prior to roll-out day to make sure the roads were clear enough to ride. I wasn't concerned with the first day route so much, since it's all on forest service roads in Capital Forest -- roads that get quite a bit of traffic most of the year from recreationalists of all types. But the second day route takes in logging areas and real back-woods. Each year the first off-pavement sector had been varying degrees of overgrown on the southern exit, and fairly recent logging meant that the northern entrance might be impassable. But this past summer the first sector was fine, it was the second sector that caused the problem. The last descent had caused wash-out ruts across the road, but was still passable (even though I took it on foot). This time around, as I made the descent, I noticed that the path was increasingly encroached-upon by small trees and such. And when I got to the bottom, I came to a screeching halt. What had been a wide trench, though dry, in 2016, had become a deep ravine, some 20 feet wide and a good 6 feet deep to the water, with a bottomless layer of silty mud underneath.

The impassable object.

I tested the depth with a couple rocks, and watched them disappear into the murky abyss. I looked around for any potential to build a quick bridge across the chasm, but since I had not thought to bring a chainsaw, aside from the fact that the resulting noise would have brought some unwanted attention, I ended up turning back the way I'd come. Which was about 6 of the 7 miles of that section. I looked for another branch off that road that might punch through, but alas, everything else just petered out to dead ends or vanished into impassable overgrowth.


Fortunately, there was a paved option that offered a nearly identical distance, so I remapped the route and vowed to look for another off-pavement option for 2018.

Sure, there are some options, which will have to be scouted out to make sure they (1) actually connect through, and (2) don't cross hostile private property. Yes, I will always ask permission on any private access, but sometimes the answer is clearly "no" before the question is even asked.

So I may be making a sojourn back to that muddy river to build a bridge some time this spring/early summer. But I'll come at it from the other end.