Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

May 3, 2015

Best Laid Plans, and a Re-run - the Oak Grove 322km report

MO state highway 20... if this view doesn't say "never-gonna-get-there", I don't know what does.
For the hearty few, it says "reach..."   Reach we did.

Phoning it in?  Yeah... a little.  It's been three weeks since the Oak Grove 322km brevet, and, well... it went pretty much exactly like last year's, with just a few minor changes.

Instead of trying to stay with the lead pack on the way out of the parking lot to the first control and destroying myself, I decided to hold back a little.  Result?  After a nice pre-dawn chat with Josh and a few others, we turned north on highway D, and I found myself alone - stranded between groups.  This was okay, but, I kept feeling that undeniable urge to bridge-up.  I was feeling good, yet, I couldn't bridge ... and, I didn't want to get caught, either.  Not sure... but, maybe that fire won't ever go away.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  It did, however, confirm that my whole "feeling stronger and faster" sensation from the Mere Two-Hundred was either a fluke, or, it means I shouldn't measure my progress in a vacuum.  I *need* -- if I'm to continue this pursuit of fun *AND* speed between controls, I need to chase people on a regular basis, like at ye olde Saturday AM rides.  

The interesting parts:  I'm heavier this year.  I'm out of practice, not really up into any kind of streak at the moment -- I suppose I have three now, with this ride's completion, so that's good, actually!  I'm still interested in getting back into that groove, and I'm already trying to sort out the remainder of the year as far as route choices.  I've got one of my own still sitting out there, yet, I haven't ridden it for credit yet.  Lot's of choices... all good ones.  

Arriving at highway FF, still solo - and j-u-s-t over the hills I can see the taillights of the main pack, probably a mile ahead, maybe more.  I'm at ease... I like it out here, and I'm okay being by myself.  Sometimes, that's the best parts about brevets and permanents - the solitude lets the mind wander, and complex problems can be resolved more easily... sometimes, it is nice to simply coast through the breeze and take flight with the birds and sunbeams.  That might sound a little "oochie-coochie-coo", but, seriously - that sort of thing is why I like working outside, playing outside, driving with the windows down nearly ALL the time when I do drive.  It's important, and good for the soul. 

Panorama of the parking lot as Bob Burns lays out the day for us.  There's talk of a detour, which we'd get details on later in the morning.  

Reminds me - I'm very grateful and appreciative of the outpouring of support both online and offline regarding what I was elusively calling the "Beyond the Blog" project.  This had been my run toward a position with a local non-profit serving the KC-area's bicycling and pedestrian programs and advocacy efforts.  Sadly, but only on a personal note, the position was justly awarded to a far more qualified candidate - which explains my comment about that only being personal:  for me, personally, yes:  I was excited about the potential opportunity and a change in lifestyle and scenery, and being afforded the chance to make a living doing the sorts of things I've long wished I had more time for.  Personally, that was a bummer; but, for Kansas City it's a huge, huge win.  When considering the qualifications and experience of the person hired, I would have made the same decision.  These were some big shoes to fill, and when weighing the future of Kansas City's bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and the sorts of efforts, events, and programs this organization runs - it's important to get the right person in that role; and that's exactly what's been done.  For me, someday... I need to keep my eyes and ears open.

Along the outer road east of Oak Grove, the traffic of I-70 to our left.  Here, the entirety of the pack stretches out before me, and at least ten riders are already out of reach by a half-mile.  The morning was crisp, not too cold, not too breezy - jussst right...

On highway D heading north into the ever lightening skyway.  They're up there... but I can't get 'em.

...Yet, I'm not alone...

Josh and I trade places on the road amid conversation, and the occasional dog.

The sun's first appearance, just before hiding behind passing cloud cover.  About a mile up the road, barely visible, are the fleeting glimpses of red taillights on the distant hill.  Last year, I was right up there with them - this year, I'm just out of reach.  It seems my change in approach hasn't really yielded anything other than a change in scenery and camaraderie.  Even at my cruising pace, I'm not feeling any less tired.  Perhaps it's just me, but, what was the point of "holding back", again?

Still all smiles along highway FF - one of the hidden gems of the midwest, as far as riding roads are concerned.

Along the way to Higginsville and the first control, Bob Burns catches up to me and we chat for a while, car to bike.  I feel like, for a brief second, I'm on a major event or race, like RAAM --- man, do I ever need to get back on the speed train if I'm going to tackle that one.  Bob holds a perfect line about 2 feet away from my left side - he's used to seeing me up with the front bunch, and after catching me back by myself, his initial questions had to do with my mental state and how I was feeling physically.  That aside, we chatted about "old man stuff", like my shoulder surgery and recovery from the summer before, and things along those lines.  It was a nice diversion and passed maybe a mile of time before he headed up the road to check on the next bunch of riders, who were now seeming to be out of my sightline.  Ah well... the day, at least the morning, was to be my own to enjoy.  That was just fine by me, and I settled into a good, sustainable rhythm for the miles remaining to the first control.

I began to run control routines through my head again.  Over the previous week, the local forum had been alive with discussion on reducing control times and generally reducing the overall ET of a ride like this - and I have to admit, I was in touch with that.  Over the last few years, I can't really say things have been bad or anything even remotely like that... if it had been that way, certainly I would have dropped out of these kind of rides a while ago.  Now, things had, however, become slower.  Whether it had been the time spent at a control, or the time spent on the road between them - something had changed.  For me, personally, some introspection seemed to point to a rough time period before and after the famed "bike fit" of 2010.  Giant personal lesson there - if it isn't broken... yeah, that old nugget.  Anyhow, it seemed that since then my speeds had dropped a bit.  A lot of this wasn't the fit's fault - it was instead my constant fiddling with things after the fit session, and a sort of mental break whereafter just about anything relating to saddle height, cleat rotation, any sort of knee movement, foot pain, hand going numb, anything out of the ordinary was not to simply be ignored, but, instead tweaked and tortured until threads became stripped and anxiety brought to a boil.  I really didn't like myself at that time, seriously.  I was so busy justifying things and talking myself into and out of theory, it sucked all the joy out of the activity.  I really, really, really, really wish I could go back in time and just have left well-enough good and alone.  Can't do that, so, I live with the lesson.  

However, it's hard to ignore a steep drop-off in overall ET on permanents and brevets - which became all the more frustrating, as the fit (in my mind) was to have improved them:  it was too difficult for me to believe that I, alone, had already achieved my own personal perfection, and that getting a professional bike fit done was somehow going to prove me an idiot for listening to my own body in the years prior to it.  I'm already approaching the point, here, of belaboring the past; yet, I now I've learned a good lesson from it, now.  Having ditched those numbers, I'm back to the point where I have simply been listening to my own body's responses to changes and tweaks - if any have been made, of course, which lately isn't the case.  The only really notable change, of late, has been the slow transformation of my body's response to the Gilles Berthoud leather saddle underneath me since April of 2013.  

Noticed initially on commutes, the fine leather saddle has begun to finally break in - which, as expected, had taken about twice as long as my experience with Brooks leather saddles in the past.  I have to say, I have long wanted leather saddles to work for me.  I really appreciate the labor-intensive process and techniques applied in this last, traditional method of bicycle parts manufacturing.  Plus, on a fine lugged steel frame, they just look "correct"; and, it's difficult to deny my soft spot for aesthetics.  However, that trend is fading, and this ride would prove to be the last straw.  Over the last month, during these changes I've noticed, the process with leather saddles unfolds:  upon initially installing the GB Aspin, one sets it level.  It's one of the few leather saddles that doesn't have a greatly exaggerated "dip" between the heel and nose, when new.  For the longest time, this firm, level, straight set-up was very comfortable indeed.  I didn't even have to make any adjustments at all for the first year.  GB's leather, also, is very thick - thicker even than Brooks' Team Professional model (which I'd tried back in 2005?).  Because of this thickness, it holds its shape far longer than most are willing to allow a saddle to break in.  For me, it seems, the pre-break-in shape actually works perfectly for me, so this isn't a concern... but, the inevitability of any such saddle to break in and begin shaping my one's posterior, comfortable for most, becomes the point where my problems begin.  In short, if I try leather again, it will be something with a designed-in cut-out.  Apparently, despite its flaws, my old Selle Italia Flite T/A - with this cut-out - set the bar pretty high.  When the break-in occurs, creating two nice divots onto which the rider's sit-bones rest, pressure on the perineum increases.  This is mitigated by tilting the nose of the saddle downward compared to the overall front/rear leveling of the initial install.  While this would normally cause the rider to slide forward onto the nose and cause more problems, the new sit-bone indentations are supposed to stop this from happening.  At that stage, the riders "parts" are suspended above the nose instead of fully resting on it, thus preventing the pressure problems.  In my case, I'd reached a point where neither the front/rear leveling or the raised heel (heck, even a dropped heel) position yielded comfort.  Same as before, I found myself constantly wiggling around and re-adjusting myself backwards on the saddle - to the tune of perhaps every tenth pedal stroke.  This resulted in a sore "area", saddle sores, and stiff and sore arms, neck, and shoulders.  All of this, further, is happening within a scant few degrees of adjustment from one extreme to the other - on a Thomson seatpost, which is designed for very minute adjustments.  While the Mere 200 only resulted in some amplified soreness, this 300+km ride would ultimately create a really bad abrasion in a not-so-cozy area.  After a few weeks of negotiations between me and this prized saddle, I've given-in.  So, yeah... one well cared-for GB Aspin saddle in "natural", for sale.  I've done the majority of the breaking in for you - ready to ride.  They simply don't work for me, and no matter how much I want them to, it's not worth the eventual suffering.  Since the initial shape seems to work best for me, switching back to a saddle that holds that shape "indefinitely" makes sense, and so I'm back to a "plastic" saddle again.  So be it.  I either want a bike I can ride, or I want a bike I can hang on the wall...  having both is seldom possible without compromise.  

SO, back on the road, and the final couple miles to Higginsville, and the first control.  With my new control routine practiced in my head, I rolled into town, passed through a new construction area, and then down the hill on MO-13 to the Casey's.  To my surprise, I found dozen's of riders still there - maybe I wasn't so far behind as I'd thought?  In any case, this was my chance to shine -- so early in the ride, in the day, there was little excuse to linger at this first control.  Quite literally, I was in and out in perhaps less then five minutes - even with a quick OJ purchase.  There was even time to overhear Bob and Steven W. exchanging information about the detour toward the middle of the route after Glasgow, MO., and the river crossing.  Barely off the bike, I was repacked, fueled, water topped off, cue sheet flipped, and back in the saddle, tailing Gary D... one of the fast ones.  

Gary is in that same camp - that rare, rare membership of riders who, when the going gets tough, they simply turn the gas UP.  I've witnessed this so many times, to my mixed admiration and disgust at myself for not taking better notes:  Dan Jordan, Del "Ort" T., The Warbird, and now Gary D.  When the day seems long, and the legs tired... well, some slow down.  These guys seem to get annoyed that things are dragging out, and so - somehow - they just decide to go faster.  I bow to their seemingly endless power and potential - for, when the chips are down, they simply turn on "something" and begin to disappear up the road ahead of me.  So early in this ride, barely at 30 miles in, Gary really shouldn't have had much to worry about or become frustrated with... but, upon turning east again after the control, we chatted for a bit, and then he simply stood up and caught the next rider on the road, and they two just started to make ground at a startling pace.  There was no catching them... I shifted, tried to match, and nothing ... just nothing... frustrating.  More personal evidence:  if I want to be "up there", if I want to lower the ET of these rides, to push myself back into the "single digits" for 200km finishes (sub-ten-hours), then I need to work, and HURT a little on the shorter rides.  I need to stop being SO concerned with maintaining a reserve that - time and again - has simply proven not to be there.  I meter out the power so delicately that I simply run out of it - and the rides take as long as they do, still limping the last five miles, at least.  Despite my fast control at Higginsville, the tires barely having a chance to cool off, today would prove no different.

Make no mistake, however:  This is only personal frustration.  Ultimately, was the ride "fun"?  Was it a success?  Was it a finish?   Yes, to all.  It continues to frustrate me, however, proof that I'm not quite done "trying"... when I *do* decide to make an honest attempt to bridge up to Gary and his companion, on the one section I think I have a chance to:  highway V from route AA up through Corder and to MO-20, with a tailwind... Despite being in top gear, despite standing and trying to throw ever more power to the road, Gary D. is un-catchable.  Whatever advantage I'm working to exploit toward his capture, he's up there doing the same... but with 10% more progress.  Maybe now with the saddle issues and associated soreness and fatigue out of the way, maybe that's where I can find the extra "umph."  Consider it a project begun.

Reaching Corder, and the giant vintage boneyard.  I still want to get up here someday and just wander the aisles and aisles of Detroit hardware.

A tall, old tree along MO highway 20.

An old farmstead along MO highway 20 - standing watch over the high plains between Marshall and Corder, MO.  The size of the house seems to indicate a large family, and the level of decay makes me almost visualize a scene where perhaps a fresh coat of paint is being applied on a day not unlike this day, but, underneath my tires would be gravel or dirt, perhaps exchanging waves with a passing stagecoach.  Who knows if it's really that old, but, it certainly makes my mind drift away from the seemingly endless stretch of road ahead of me.
That "endless stretch" of highway that is MO-20.  It's about 22 miles from the turn near Corder until arriving at Marshall, MO., and riders generally feel every yard of it.  Exposed, flat - but, not flat... ; this road demands a bit from each of us, and there is seldom a day where wind isn't a factor.  Today, certainly compared to years prior, its not so bad.  For me, I feel focused and strong - strong enough to begin actually reeling in a rider who had been isolated from the main pack... still just BARELY visible on the far hill if you zoom in enough.  I would never successfully pass this rider, however, whose name I don't know, still.  He was as determined not to be passed as I had been determined to pass him, and we both played cat and mouse for at least three miles before he ultimately won the game and started to advance out of reach up the highway ahead of me.  I'd never see him again this day, but, I have to think that chase made me just a little stronger for "next time."

The modern counterpart to the dilapidated farmstead I'd photographed a few miles earlier, along one of the first "jogs" in the highway, indicating that Marshall, MO. is getting closer.

Marshall, MO., on this route, is an equalizer and divider.  The strongest of riders seldom need to stop here, but, for me it's nearly a necessity.  Water bottle long empty, at least my hydration routine was in play for the better - but, continuing on, despite the relatively short distance remaining to Slater, MO. (the next town with a Casey's) seemed out of reach without a refill.  Maybe I don't need to drink AS much?  Still, I stop - and my quick stop fast becomes extended as I stash away layers to dry and welcome those riders who had been close behind me.  Josh and Steven arrive, and a couple new-to-the-scene riders, one whose name I forget, and the Curb Destroyer; a gent I'd emailed with back and forth concerning the 200k of the previous month.  It was nice to put a name and a face together.  Both these guys looked strong, traveled light, and though behind me at that moment, they had been smartly metering their efforts, and would be miles and miles ahead of us by the time the day was done.  For now, we all exchanged stories about technique, tires, packing, food, this ride and that.... the sort of stuff that, often, makes "rushing" the controls seem foolhardy.  Honestly, though, had I been seriously keen on shortening my ET I'd have been rolling already... but, this proves that conversation, people, and riding with friends far trumps overall time, so long as one finishes within the time.  All smiles, Steven, John and I saddled up and headed out of town toward Slater.

Heck, maybe it just takes me 70 miles to get warmed up, I dunno.  The section between Marshall and Slater is one of my favorite roads - full stop.  While I don't remember being especially tired or sluggish on the previous sections, I felt as if I were floating along above the pavement here on Highway O.  The undulating hills, the seemingly endless vistas.  We caught up to and passed a fellow rider here, a nice guy in a grey shirt on a really well-equipped all-road touring machine, big tires and disc brakes and all that.  Awesome!  Wish I'da stopped long enough to figure out who it had been, because only passing him seemed to miss the whole point of being out there.  My bad.  Here, with Steven close behind, and I think Josh ahead of us at this point, things are good - but, I'm regretting the foolish mistake of forgetting my riding glasses in the trunk of my car.  Thankfully my daily glasses at least have Transitions lenses, or I'd have been miserable - but I did miss the full coverage at certain sun angles.  

Oh, there's Josh!  Flyin' the plaid and bustin' out a solid pace under perfect skies.

Ancient barn and some other random structures resting along MO-240.  Right on the other side of those railroad tracks is the Missouri River, and sitting atop is a group of freshly painted Kansas City Southern locomotives.  Still no leaves on the trees, but, at least the grass is greening up.  

Enjoying nearly fresh pavement along MO-240, our threesome approaches the run-up to the bridge across the Muddy MO., and into Glasgow, MO. on the other side.

Finally making our way across the Missouri River... always bigger and farther down than I remember from the year before.

On the detour, finally a chance to take the left turn onto the highway that everyone usually mistakes for the actual turn onto route AA, which is under construction this year.  Highway 240, here, east of Glasgow, had been an unknown... and, aside from the flush of heavier traffic closer to Fayette (the halfway), it was perfect and amazing, IMHO.  Here, it's the closest I've felt to riding the long, uninterrupted grades of Colorado in a long, long time.  Yeah, I haven't ridden in CO in over a decade, but the experience is that changing.  I am looking forward to doing a series someday with RMC, especially their 1,200k - which, arguably, is probably a better choice for my first than something like Last Chance.  I love these long, "never-ending" climbs - I can get into a rhythm and just work.  LOVE IT.  Although I'd miss the stunning scenery along route AA, and the mother-of-all-walls climbs from AA to E, this section was a pavement-perfect, almost traffic-free joy.

Courthouse in Fayette, MO.  (I think)

Heading back west on MO-240, after another long, long, too-long halfway rest at Fayette.  Pretty certain, after having seen nobody else coming east, that we were dead-last on the road.  There was little that could be done about that, so we just pedaled along, feeling really good (at least, I was; probably the best I'd ever felt on this return to Slater, which is normally something of a death-march!)  

A borrowed shot from Steven W.'s eye - Josh, stone-faced and hard to read, and me, hamming it up as usual.  Heading back to Slater on MO-240.  From the homebrew splashguards and the hammered high-polish fenders, to the clamp on Pletscher rack, Steven's Motobecane is a masterpiece of randonneuring goodness.  (Photo credit Steven W.)

Over the shoulder shot of Josh, the long, flat expanse of the Missouri River flood-plain nearly behind us.


Small cemetery along Highway O, as we head back to Marshall, MO.

Hey, guy with dog along highway O.  Do you really think it's a good idea to taunt bicyclists along what you refer to as "your highway"?  After all, we know where you live.  

I think I was trying to take a picture of that large hawk/eagle taking flight, but, it sorta gets lost in the trees.

Brick wall mural celebrating 125th anniversary of the Missouri Valley College in Marshall, MO.

Just a postcard perfect restoration and example of the sort of American architecture one can find out on these forgotten highways.  We take the counterclockwise one-way loop around Marshall, MO's. courthouse building stands proudly above the downtown square, looking nearly brand-new - a testament to the folks who maintain it.

Arriving back at the non-control of the Marshall Casey's store, the sky begins to darken and all the extra layers stashed earlier in the day come back out.  We each get a chuckle, and it's easy to realize that some of it came from frustration.  I had tried to make a good, steady performance on highway 20 that morning, trying not to blow myself up in the early miles.  I tried and succeeded in executing a master-class control at Higginsville, hitting it at exactly 8AM, and being back on the road at probably 8:05.  Some of the folks that had arrived at the control before me were still there when I left, it was downright "Dan Driscoll" Texas-style.  I had tried to up my pace on some sections of highway 240, when I'd felt best.  All in all, however, it seemed we had arrived at the Marshall Casey's -- if not at the same time as last year, certainly the same time as the year prior.  I am having trouble, and seem to be blending the year I tackled highway 20 at sundown with Del G. and Steven W., and the year I tackled it with Steven W. and Josh... were those two memories on the same ride?  I need to go back and look... but, my frustration stemmed mainly from memory of my first ride on this course for me, perhaps 2010, with Danny "the Colonel" C. and "that gal from Colorado", which was my last ride on my original "fit."  I curse myself, quietly, for ever having done it, once more, as the memory of watching the sun set AT HIGGINSVILLE, still 30+ miles distant, after sitting down and eating and chatting with Danny and company for at least 30 minute prior to that.  Yes, I once watched the sun set from the saddle... at least a couple miles along highway FF.  I remember that ride ending before midnight, and while I remember being dog-tired from the effort in the closing miles, it was a great feeling, having left it all out on the course.  I've been too conservative these last couple years - and I still struggle with whether or not that's really a problem.  Honestly it isn't, never was, isn't going to be... but, I may not be able to have my cake and ... uh... hammer it into a nice, predigested pulp that I can drink through a water bottle nozzle during a high-speed 24-hour time trial.  Yeah... that.  Onna these days I'm just going to have to be okay with saying "sorry, boys, this one is personal..." as I shift and hammer up the road.  The only real 'problem', if there has to be one, lay in the fact that later that day they'd end up catching me anyways (probably by the next control), so I need to stop talking and start trying.

After all the planning, all the chats online... we labored hard, and came into Oak Grove, yeah, maybe feeling a little fresher than last year... but, we basically had the exact same ET.  I don't know if I'm at a place where I can laugh about that yet... but, it'll come.  It's a finish, and it was a darn good day out.  Who can complain about that?  

Steven W. takes point, Josh already up the road a bit, as we begin the night section on highway 20 heading back to Higginsville.  His 2W taillight, visible during the DAY, is definite insurance against the "I didn't see him" sort of driver.  If you don't see this taillight from behind the wheel... well, you won't be driving, because you'll either be legally blind, or dead... and if you're not dead, it'd be like Han Solo's sight coming back, where instead of a big dark blur you see a big (red) blur... and, that blur is Steven's taillight.  This is the 2nd gen taillight, which has a wider side-to-side beam, and not so much of a complete omni-directional beam as my 1st generation version has.  Either can be found online for around $30 - search for the Cygolite Hotshot.

And, as the sky continues to darken... which tends to happen at nightfall ...Steven begins to pull ahead.  I'm not sure if I was simply out of steam, or if the growing saddle sore right along my "middle" was beginning to make it more difficult to even sit much less pedal with any vigor.  Later, upon inspection, I'd discover that I'd been bleeding into my shorts pad for who-knows-how long.  It wasn't much, but, it wasn't a ton of fun, either.  This sore would dog me for a week afterwards.  On an otherwise great day, this was a real bummer - but, it's the sort of thing that heals, which means only one thing for randonneurs:  keep going.  Bummin' about it wasn't going to get me to the finish line.  HTFU, Gates.

Somewhere along highway 20, in the darkness, with a long, long interval between passing traffic (which was seldom), I'd been SO determined - despite the pain, the leaden legs, and the self-frustration - that I simply didn't want to stop, for anything.  For the first time in a lifetime of adult cycling, I pulled off a "pro-peloton" move.  I answered the call of nature (#1, thank you) from the saddle of the bike, while coasting along a slight downhill grade at 20+ MPH.  The call of nature had been screaming since six miles out from Marshall, I had already been dropped, and there was no way I was going to let up until I caught someone's wheel.  Yep, I did it.  Felt amazing.  Just... I dunno, at the time, not the sort of thing I felt like bragging about, because it wasn't the challenge of doing it that drove me, it was the fear of being dropped for good by stopping to use a bush.  Ultimately, I did end up catching Steven and almost Josh, right before we arrived at the best little c-store in the world at the crossroads of MO-20 and 23.  Yay, me!

Borrowed a shot from Steven W. (photo credit) here as well, just as a personal note.  Saddle height, knee position, etc. seem good here, but my shoulders had been killing me ever since reaching Slater on the outbound leg, the byproduct of having made a minute adjustment the week prior, and now, every tenth pedal stroke had me fighting my inevitable slide-forward onto the nose of the saddle and right onto my "zone of pain".  Not fresh, and the first real battle with on-ride saddle discomfort since before buying the GB Aspin saddle.  These are great, great products - but, they just aren't for everyone; certainly not me anymore.  I'm either just doing it wrong, or I'm not made right.  I appreciate Steven taking this shot, even though he'd not have known how I'd end up using it - but, it's seldom I can see myself from the side like this, just to get a warm-fuzzy on how I'm sitting on the darn bike.  Valuable stuff when considering changing saddles.

All in all, I always have a great time on this route.  It's terrific, and I honestly want to try it as a permanent some-time, instead of always doing just the requisite 200k.  If nothing else, it's a good test, and good training.  As uncharacteristically destroyed as I'd felt after this one, I know it had to have been good training, and I appreciate that fact -- I can feel it now, in the weeks that have followed, even yesterday .... a bummer of a day, because I missed the 400k, the one from Liberty, MO. to Davis City, IA. and back, which is... no word of a lie, probably my favorite route for that distance... and, honestly, my favorite distance to ride, and additionally the weather was perfectly in line with my ideal rando day... a chance to use ALL one's resources... rain, some mild heat, humidity, a good headwind... I know, some folks wouldn't like to ride a ride like that, but I love a rainy brevet... it just seems, I dunno... more lofty of a challenge.  I just enjoy it.  But, combined with a persistent head-cold which had started on Tuesday of the preceding week, well, despite my efforts with zinc, vitamin C, antihistamines and nasal decongestants ... apparently I had no interest in waking up to my THREE alarm clocks that I'd set, and a wife who was trying to shake me awake, unsuccessfully.  Maybe it was better that, in that woozey, head-cold dizziness, I didn't get behind the wheel of a car, or try to ride a bike 250-some miles.  HTFU, again, I've had worse... but if I didn't wake up, well, there you have it.  I'm really bummed that I have to wait a year to ride this again, and I am half-tempted to see if it, too, is available as a perm.

So, the 600k, then... I like that route, too, and - trained or not - I will be ready.  I'm set to hammer out some longer commmutes this coming week, perhaps an overnight 200k or 100k (or both) to get amped-up and then taper off... a crash course.  I'm looking forward to knocking it out, my first since 2007, and I'm not planning on over-sleeping that one.  

I'd really appreciate it if this cold would just leave already, though. 

Thanks for reading... 
stay tuned... the 600 is coming. 

April 30, 2015

A home-brew saddlebag mount (for saddles without bag loops)

So, what does one do when one comes across a problem to which the solution may not be immediately apparent?  Let's find out. 

The problem:  After struggling with some post break-in saddle issues with my GB Aspin leather saddle (which has bag loops), I've moved back to a design which has suited me well in the past.  However, all this time, I had been making the mistaken assumption where sit-bone width equals the width of saddle I'd need.  Thusly, I had ridden well over a decade on my Selle Italia Flite Trans-Am.  It's a very well-made saddle, and to-date it remains in service on my son's bike.  However, at 143mm wide, the same width as my sit bones, it had begun to turn into something of an "ass hatchet", if you'll forgive the term. (Thanks, Noah! LOL)  This new saddle is wider, at 155mm, and supports me far better... and, bonus, it shouldn't change shape as drastically as leather.  Granted, leather saddles work for a lot of people - however - They just don't work for me.  I think "third times the charm" is diligence enough.  When these leather saddles do break in for me, the hammock effect simply places too much pressure on "the area."  As part of the break-in process for leather, however, when this does occur the rider simply adjusts the saddle to put the nose (first 1/3rd of saddle) level, raising the heel higher, and (hopefully) returning the rider's weight to the broken-in sit-bone area, and removing the hammock-created pressure.  For me, unfortunately, the adjustment created more pressure on my arms and shoulders - as I continued to slide forward, off the sit bones portion and onto the nose - which creates the aforementioned hatchet effect - while also placing my knees too far ahead of the pedal spindle.  Push backward with arms for half a pedal stroke, count out five to ten more pedal strokes, and repeat.  All in all, what this final leather saddle adjustment successfully does for most simply doesn't do anything good for me in practice.  The return to a "racy" saddle with a central cut-out, I can tell a huge difference.  The horrifying, shorts-ruining saddle sore received during the Oak Grove 300k is now gone, and my arms, neck and shoulders feel much more relaxed - I've returned to a neural position, and have a saddle which I can actually sit on.  YMMV.  I'm already eyeing the purchase of another one, just in case the Specialized line-up is to suffer the same marketing-driven change which discontinued my old Flite T/A.

...but, dude, you should have:  tensioned the saddle, waited longer, soaked it in baby tears, rubbed it with an ill-tempted sea otter, hot-dipped it in maple syrup, and then fine-tuned the angle over a period of months until it'd been just right.   Yeah.  Been there, done that; and, I'm already a sad example of poor choices and negative history repeating itself.  The less tweaking I need to do, the better off I am in the long run.  I'm not heading down that dark alley anymore.  The Specialized saddle, installed now and with already a few hundred miles logged, was comfortable right out of the gate, and hasn't changed a bit.  I'm not sliding, I'm not aching.  Leather is a fantastic product, and I love the way it looked on the Kogs, but, I refuse to suffer for the sake of vanity.  If something works, I'm using it - I don't care what it's made from.  Life is too short to continue wasting time on things that aren't improving my experiences.  Twenty-four months is plenty long enough - perhaps too long - to determine whether or not it was to eventually become comfortable.  Moving on.    

Saddle problem sorted out, the primary problem has created a secondary problem solved by the solution outlined in this post.  Since this is a new, "racy" saddle, it obviously doesn't have bag loops to allow the attachment of a saddlebag.  That's where we are today.

Now, filing this carefully under the "time is money" heading, I must preface ALL of this by informing you, the reader, of the existence of many products manufactured and sold to solve this particular issue.  Carradice makes their own saddlebag loop attachment for saddles, and a separate quick-release system that I've used in the past, which attaches to the seatpost.  Unfortunately, while their QR design allows easy release of the saddlebag, the seatpost mount left behind after bag removal prevents one from installing a regular wedge-style seatbag.  There are also fine examples from Nitto of Japan, and a few others by "Bagman" and some whose names I forget.  There are also many home-brew solutions outlined on the Bikehacks site, and on spurs off of Sheldon Brown's site.  For me, while it would have been cheaper to just buy one - if I consider the time I invested here - I enjoy fabricating, drilling, sanding, polishing, shaping.  It's almost therapeutic, and I see it as a way to hone certain skills which may someday lend themselves toward larger projects like racks; and, ultimately, complete bicycle frame-sets.  For now, it's a simple hunk of 6061 Al angle stock from the local hardware store.  $8.00, if that... and long enough to yield about ten of these "mounts".  So, while it did take time in my non-mass-production hands, the materials themselves are fairly cheap.  If I recall, for comparison, the Carradice clamp-on saddle rail bag loop solution is at least $24, and the Nitto is closer to $100.  Close examination of Nitto's workmanship, however, indicates the bargain their price represents for the aesthetically-minded.  Nitto doesn't do anything halfway, for sure, and the results are stunning and solid...  still, a little rich for my pocketbook, so... here we go:

Since moving to a front bag system, most rides don't prompt much more rear storage than provided by a typical wedge-style seat bag.  In fact, the 400km level is probably the dividing line - that ride can be done in under 24 hours, typically, and in moderate weather one doesn't usually need extra storage for bulky layers, or extra 'day two' clothing.  The majority of all bike sales are directed at folks who ride far less than this, especially the weight-conscious racing folks.  Saddle loops, then, simply don't make sense for most aftermarket saddles.  Even for randonneuring, my front bag gives me everything I need, but, jumps to 600km and beyond - just a bit more space may be desired.

Basic aluminum 90 degree angle stock - first cut to length, about 10cm, and edge polishing to avoid snags or saddle cutting edges.  The dowel rod underneath comes into action later on in the process.  This is accomplished with a hacksaw, a metal file, and some foam-core sanding blocks, which work well and keep the material removal very even and consistent, regardless of pressure.  I don't have anything fancy like a bench grinder - in fact, my drill-press is about as advanced as I get in my shop at the moment - and that drill is about 35 years old, and really needs to be retired as it tends to not remain centered, due to the bearings being quite loose.  All my cuts, holes, and finishing is effectively done by hand, the drill being the only power tool used.
Holes drilled in both surfaces after the edge finishing had been completed.  The larger relief openings (for weight savings... on a mount for a 10kg max load saddlebag. LOL) are created with step-up drilling from a pilot hole, and final drilling handled by a metal hole cutter - an invaluable bit, it creates perfect openings from 3/8" up to 1/2".  Two holes are opened with this bit, and then the space between them cleared with a small coping saw to create a single, oval opening.  
The smaller holes drilled provide perfect anchoring of the work against a hunk of 2x4" wood, allowing a lot more flexibility when working.  The 2x4 is clamped into a bench vise, so both hands are free to work.  On the left, one of the oval openings has been cleaned up and finished with emery cloth strips, to round off all the edges and even the openings with their perpendicular surfaces.  At right, the extra material has been sawed out, but it has yet to be filed and finished.  On the surface butted up against the wood, the two drilled holes haven't had the excess center material removed yet.

I could polish and radius edges and corners forever until it'd be "perfect" - I invoke Wabi-Sabi on that front: perfection is not my goal here.  Moreover, that's why the $24 for a manufactured product suddenly seems "cheap" when considered against the weeks of sporadic start/stop/revisit cycles by which this project unfolded.  Now, as good as necessary; it awaits the next steps.  Metal-work, complete!

...fine, maybe a little more polishing with the super-fine sanding block, to get the beginnings of a mirror-like finish.  I'm perhaps most proud of the singular line I've created from oval to oval, where each edge on each of the two planes sort-of intersect.  Yes, I've had more than a few comments likening this to a door strike plate for a deadbolt - and I got a good chuckle out of that once I realized it also - but, the rest will make sense in the coming images.

Now, the dowel rod comes into play.  First, an arc of material is removed to create a flat plane from about a 1/5th of the rod's diameter.  This will allow it to sit flush against the aluminum backbone.  The pencil marks are addressed in the next step.

Now, 180 degrees from the flat area, a wood rasp is used to notch out three 1/4" wide slots, the purpose for which is found in the next step.

Now, the saddlebag mount begins to come together, the final steps involving high-tensile (75 lb.) zip-ties.  For visual purposes here, neon multi-colored ties are used.  Three of them pass through the aluminium backbone, one for each pair of holes drilled through the "two oval" plane.  These line up with the notches carved in the previous step, which will prevent the dowel rod from creeping side to side once affixed.

With the zip-tie heads tucked against the flat, inner surface of the backbone, each are tightened around the dowel rod until no movement remains.  Wood against aluminium can create a bit of a "creaking" effect, which I discovered in the first field test.  This is mitigated with the addition of rubber washers - a total of six - each passed over the zip-ties and separating the wood and aluminum surfaces.  This, via rubber compression, allows a bit tighter cinch on each zip-tie for a very secure final fit.  This completely silenced any "creaking".  
An underside view, showing the zip-ties seated in the dowel rod notches, and cinched up against the rubber washers.  While these washers can be had at any hardware store with those handy parts bin (usually my favorite section of the store), I opted to save a little cash and instead bought about two feet of good ole automotive vacuum line.  Using a good razor and a small miter block I am able to spec washers in whatever thickness I like - hundreds of them.  In addition to being applied here, I've used the same material on the decaleur for my front bag.  This completes the portion from which the saddlebag itself will attach.

Try to ignore the occasional switch back and forth between yellow and pink zip-ties here, as the photos had been taken out of sequence between field tests three and four.  the concept is effectively the same - here, the remaining plane is comprised of one larger oval and two pairs of smaller holes through which the last two zip-ties pass.  This is the section that will attach the assembly to the underside of the bike saddle.

Missing from the shots with the yellow zip-ties are the addition of spacers/pads/silencers which will fill the space between the saddle rails and the aluminum backbone.  These are rendered from the same automotive vacuum hose.  A longer length is cut from the hose, and then slits are created though-which the zip-ties are passed.  This creates a thicker, more compressible cushion between the rails and backbone, which serves to allow tighter zip-tie tension, and adds a tiny bit of suspension for the saddlebag itself when under load.  Further, this holds the rubber itself captive, so, upon removal, you don't lose track of them when the next install comes around.  This also adds just enough spacing to prevent the dowel rod from being cinched too tightly against the underside of the saddle itself, which could create interference issues for the rider as the bag would be brought too close to the back of the cyclist's thighs.

Here, with the saddle added to the shot, the entire concept takes shape.  The remaining two zip-ties (they changed back to yellow again!) loop around the saddle rails, and then are cinched from underneath - you can see the zip-tie heads just on the other side of the oval cutouts.  

Finally, with the saddlebag added to the mix, the final design should be apparent.  Final closure and trimming of the ends of the saddle-rail zip-ties is all that remains to perform.  The leather straps of the saddlebag loop around the exposed ends of the dowel rod.  Simplicity might suggest one remove the dowel from the design completely, yet, in an earlier, wider prototype, this created a lot of bag-to-rider interference while pedaling, as the bag is pulled too high and forward under the saddle.  Considering that saddles with bag loops typically have those loops under the rearmost edge of the saddle, to prevent this interference, the dowel rod in this design achieves the closest match to where the bag should be - albeit still a bit forward of "ideal."  Further, the dowel rod's radius places less wear against the bag's leather straps, and the natural flexibility of the wood adds a tiny bit of additional suspension, in addition to what the wooden dowel inside the bag itself provides, as part of the Carradice design.  The true test will come on an extended ride, to determine if the mount tends to creep at all, or similar.  In the future, I can envision a metal-only version made from larger angle stock, which would place the bag loops exactly where they should be - but, if this works out, why mess?  the colored zip-ties add an interesting flair - but, may be replaced by standard black once deployed on brevet.

I'll report back after a few long rides with findings and notes, if any - yet, I don't anticipate issues at this writing.  I'm still taking a few extra zip-ties along, just in case.  ;)
And, yes - a lot of this could be solved by simply doing as most Americans do:  use a rack trunk.  Well, the rack I'm using is very narrow compared to most - and in addition to not being able to find a rack trunk that fits it correctly without me having to add some sort of platform, I feel they place too much weight out behind the rider, which can feel weird when climbing out of the saddle.  The English, transverse-mounted saddlebag solves this (for me), and heck - it's already paid for, so... yeah.  

So, there you have it --- the market doesn't really demand too much of this sorta thing, and while products are easily ordered which accomplish this, I just enjoy the process of taking an idea from brain, to bench.  If nothing else, it creates unique conversation pieces when attending local rides, and gives that personal touch so important to one's randonneuring machine., time to go ride! 
Hopefully up next, the Oak Grove 300k report... and hopefully before the 400k unfolds THIS weekend.  Ack!  

Thanks for reading!