May 30, 2007

Heeeeere we go!

Welp, it's almost here.
In 50 hours or so, I'll be lining up for the Kansas City 600K.
I'm desperately excited, as I just got news yesterday that Ort down in Texas completed his 600K last weekend, and had a decent time of things despite a couple of flats near the end of the ride.
I'm stoked --- when you hear of successes near your home camp, it's inspiring.
It's not like "hell, if THAT tosser can do it....", it's just bolstering in a way. Hard to explain, but it's a good feeling knowing that the year is turning out so good for those of us that had so many challenges last year.
In a few days, it'll be my turn to keep that vibe by completing my first 600K.

Am I nervous anymore? Not really. Of course, complete complacency is dangerous. I have done all the equipment checks, the new taillights are installed, fresh batteries everywhere, fresh bulbs in the headlights, saddlebag will be packed tonite with the neccessary gear to handle the 62-85 degree temperature swings fron day to night, and possible rain that's popped into the forecast. It's kind of exciting for me because nothing quite beats riding into a thunderstorm, assuming it's not severe. And assuming you're prepared. All I have left to do it swap on a new rear tire and touch-up the chain lube, and I'll be ready to roll out Friday night.
So, nervous? No. Careful? Always!

The only thing that's really changed in my game plan is the notion about riding straight through. I don't think I'm going to be too hard-set on that notion after reading Ort's accounts. It seemed that he ended up catching people that had decided to NOT stop for rest when he woke up from his 3 hour nap and started riding again. Since it's six-of-one (whatever), I think I'll take a nap in there somewhere for god measure. Part of me REALLY wanted to treat this like a 24-hour race, since essentially that's what I'm training for -- but I'm not sure I've got the speed base built up yet for that kinda of torture. The best plan I can have is almost not to have one -- just ride and see how I feel after the sun goes down, after who-knows how far I will have ridden. But, it's a good course, I know it well, and the end of the ride is all on home turf. Let's get this thing over with!!!

The full - and probably lengthy - ride report will be coming about a week after the completion of the ride, but I will update on June 4th indicating whether or not I'm still alive! :) Stay tuned!

May 16, 2007

PART 2: Getting the steed ready for the big'un.

It's amazing to me, I do this EVERY time, and THis year really is different because I caught myself before it got bad.

The 600K is a huge deal. People don't realize that. Thoughts of someone being "crazy" for riding X-number of miles were tossed out the window at the 300K level. Most recreational cyclists and tourists can ride a century plus, so a 200K is not out of the question -- yeah, it's a long ride, but I think 90% of people on bicycles TODAY could do it. The 300K, people start questioning things - and the notion of riding almost TWO centuries starts to weed out the crazies. By the time we get to 400K, there's very few of us left over. In a typical year, you can have almost 30-40 people show up for a 200K, then 15-20 for the 300K, and then maybe 10 for the 400K. Needless to say, the numbers for the 600K are usually smaller.
Now, this is a Paris year, so the numbers will be higher than usual - but still, the 600K is huge. It's a HUGE deal. It's THREE 200K's. It's nearly 400 miles. It's big, and most things that I've read all agree that your FIRST completion of a 600K can actually be a life-changing event. It's that hard.

So, am I nervous? You bet! Not like in year's past, certainly, however - I have a lot more control over my training than I've practiced in the past, and I have felt better at the end of each brevet - probably moreso than I have in years past. But, that big BIG ride is coming, and in typical fashion I start to think.

Thinking turns into TOO much thinking. And too much thinking can be dangerous. This is the kind of thinking that has brought me to completely restructuring my bicycle stable, completely re-doing drivetrains the week before, and packing and re-packing everything I own, running from over-prepared, to far-too-minimalist.
I've had real issues with this in the past. This year, again, is markedly different - as this behavior started up again with regards to the 600K, I actually have JUST -- as of yesterday afternoon -- taken a huge step back, and stopped myself.

The process started after the 400K wrapped up, with the saddlebag issues.
After going thru the whole thing with ordering up a new rack and such to get the saddlebag repositioned, it did not turn out the way I liked. Not even close - and it was a lot of added complication to accomplish the same end result. Yes, the saddelbag WAS rubbing me raw at the end of the 400K, so a fix WAS needed -- but I took it way too extreme. Keep it simple! After all that monkeying around, I have removed that fancy new rack and put the Carradice SQR system BACK on the bike, with some minor changes: Namely, I put the steel rack portion of the assembly into my bench vise and gave it some careful bending. Solid steel is very forgiving in this way, much like cold-setting a frame to take a wider rear wheel. But, one does have to use caution and make small movements, which I did. Afterwards, the saddlebag is now about an inch farther away from the back edge of the saddle than it was previously - and a test ride around the block confirms that there is now no contact that will cause abrasion. Problem solved. Unfortunately, now I have a nice new rack that I don't need: thank goodness for swap meets.

so, why go back? Well, after I'd just got done saying (justifying) that I never used the quick release feature while ON brevet, it's infinitely handy when transporting a bike TO a brevet. All of the stuff I need for the ride is pre-packed in the bag, and the bag is off the bike in the car itself, which prevents a lot of problems. Further, while I never have before removed the bag during a ride before, there is the issue of changing clothes. Spending a full day in the same pair of shorts is inadvisable, unless you enjoy saddle sores -- so changing clothes at the halfway of a 400K is a practice I've gotten into over the past few years, and the 600K might even have three changes. The best, easiest way to do this: simply remove the bag from the bike, which has everything in it, and take it right into the restroom at the c-store, instead of gathering a handful of stuff in the parking lot and walking in with it - which is what I've been doing in the past. Ointments, sunscreen, etc., are already in the bag -- why not just take it ALL inside? The SQR makes sense on brevets as well as commutes, and actually it's MORE solid than the rack system I tried for a week - sway is nill, and the bag is held solidly in place on climbs. The notion that the fixed rack would be more secure didn't prove to be true -- with a rack trunk, perhaps, but not with a transverse saddlebag. And with the SQR's 10kg weight limit, there is no penalty whatsoever. Even with the bag stuffed to the gills I seldom approach even half that weight. There is no silver bullet, and if something happens durign the 600K I will simply have to adapt. Even on the 400K, as annoying and painful as those abrasions were starting to feel, pain like that is temporary. It's not worth a DNF.

One quote that I recently read is something I'll carry with me now on all my long rides:

"If whatever hurts will heal in two weeks, keep riding."
-Lon Haldeman (paraphrased)

Also as alluded to in the previous post, the handlebar bag is gone, and instantly the bike feels a little more agile. Considering I was carrying less inside it than it weighed itself, the gains are substantial. It was a neat item, but again it will probably make its way to a swap meet this fall. Keeping it simple is key, and if I have three back pockets, I should use them. It's that simple. I have in the past, so shall I here on out. There is a difference between "touring" and "randonnuering", after all, and I was letting myself get off-base again.
While one can't be too much of a minimalist, this is hard-charging timed riding, and the bike should be as agile and light as possible, without sacrificing preparedness or strength. After 300 miles, I was really not going to want that big box in front of me anymore.

The bike now looks as it did before the 400K - purposeful, and ready. Trim, but not super-light or racey. Efficient. The little stem-mounted, zip-tied binder-clip is back to hold my cue sheets on the sections where I'll need them, and the saddlebag is now far enough back that abrasions should be a thing of the past. A long test ride this weekend will hold the verdict - but I have a feeling it's the way it should be now.

There are some changes that are welcome and are staying, however, that were also spurred on by the 400K. The new Cane Creek brake hoods, after a few rides, are MUCH nicer than the Shimano's they replaced, so my initial impressions stand. Further, the new Schmidt E6 is fabulous, still, and after a little re-aiming of both lights, the pattern on the road is nearly perfect and more than adequate for the darkest nights. The bike is ready.

Finally, I have reached a point where I can just ride and enjoy what lies ahead - the 600K will be a pleasure -- I actually can't WAIT until I'm on that long stretch of K-152 on towards highway J in Missouri, in the dark at who-knows-what hour, passing by the La Cygne powerplant, all lit up and humming - on towards the lights of Butler in the early AM for a well deserved break. Only 15 days away!

May 14, 2007

Night Fever, Episode 2

Welcome to the dark side!
Friday night, the time was perfect, the temperature was perfect and the skies were clear. I still don't know where the moon was, but that's okay - we all had decent headlights, but I tell ya what the road was DARK under those trees. Yeesh. Good test of the new dual-headlamp system, however, finally getting a chance to put the new E6 secondary light through the paces - and it scored quite high. For mild cruising in a group of other riders, however, I'll probably leave it off. Until the road gets really dark or I get out by myself, or get to a fast downhill. It's ALMOST overkill, but after a little re-aiming I think it'll be okay. Seems the hot spots of each light are overlapping a bit. Still, I was lighting up roadside reflectors nearly 1/2 mile down the road at some points, and was able to take long, dark, unfamiliar downhills without touching the brakes, so there was plenty of light.

The new bag mount also worked quite well, with just barely some contact on the backs of each leg - really not bad at all, and not NEARLY as bad as what was happening on the 400K. No sharp contact - just a light brush to the back of each thigh on the downstroke -- might have to tweak it a little, but it shouldn't really be an issue. If I let out a notch on each strap, it might be perfect.

The handlebar bag, however, is gone. It's too much. After feeling a little cumbersome on this shorter ride, I think the novelty of it has worn thin - and considering how tired of fig newtons and crackers I became on the 400K, I'm no longer seeing the value of having those munchies so close at hand. The only other issue might be the cue sheet, however the 600K is a route I'm already intimately familiar with, and the cue sheet won't be neccessary - and if needed I can always reinstall the little stem clippy I was using before, which worked just as well. While it will likely someday come in handy on a tour or camping ride, for brevets where efficiency and relative speed are key, it's really too much -- and while it doesn't matter what other riders do when it comes to making my own decisions, it's notable that even the heavily loaded riders on the 400K didn't have them, and the only other person that had a handlebar bag was using it as his ONLY bag, aside from a small seatbag that carried flat & repair tools. The back pockets on a jersey are there for a reason, and since they were empty on the 400K, it's clear that the only thing the 1000gram bag is doing is replacing my back pockets. With the looming 200K of nasty hills promised on the 600K, I will thank myself.

The night ride was AWESOME, but I was tired for most of it after having time-trialed my way home from work that afternoon. It was a hard ride - but the speed work is becoming more neccessary. It'll be June before long, and it's only a few months away from the big Tejas countdown!
Tonite was not really about speed work or Tejas, however -- just a good night to get out on the bike with friends. The temperature was perfect, about 72 degrees at the start, with the last remains of twilight fading in the western sky.

The ride started quite nice -- plodding along Valley Pkwy, we saw a couple deer, including one close call SUV vs. Deer encounter. Traffic was light, and the air was perfect, just a small hint of chill in the valleys and pockets of hot air at the hilltops. The group was excellent, a who's who of heartiness on the saddle, T-Bone Burns, Badger, Juan Sunuke and your own Dude; Looking purposeful and well-equipped, we proceeded under K-10 and into the darkness of rural Johnson County.

The details of the route aren't as important as the feeling of rolling along quietly in the darkness. The headlight beams led the pack along some excellent country roads, and we were greeted by owl and rabbit, and the occasional roadside hoot from residents out enjoying the night air on a Friday night. There were two really good hills, and the stars were fantastic. Conversation flowed. Ahhh, bliss.

Then we hit Desoto. You know, sometimes I think that 83rd Street ruling is a good idea. I don't WANT to ride there. HA! In all the years and miles I've been riding, I've only had something thrown at me once. That was back in 2003 (freak, did EVERYTHING happen to you in 2003? Shut up!) at the tail end of a 400K, when some bored teens on Mission road decided to make a few high speed passes on me as I rode north through the hilly part. They had terrible aim, and eventually gave up.
Four years later, I'm in Desoto with friends - one of which is on his first EVER group ride - odd that he picked a NIGHT ride to be it: he's such a rando guy, he doesn't even know it yet. We reach our mid-point on Lexington, and it's closed. Too late in the evening, perhaps? It's barely 11pm! The liqour store lady is visibly nervouse, huddled near her doorway, phone to ear. "What's them bikers doin'?, they gonna rob me! Holy Toledo!" Geez, chill out. Bill finishes fixing his front fender, and we're off --- RIGHT when some yeahoos in a tan Saturn, clearly having a stellar Friday night with their old friend "Busch Light" (read: watery cheap crap), decide to pull up and start hollering such thought-provoking phrases like "don't you know it's dark out?", and my favorite "what da hell you doin'?"

What da hell YOU doin', foolio? Chucky Cheese close early tonite?

Of course, that's what I WANTED to say, but none of us even acknowledged them. We rode off down the road, on the way to a Phillips station that we knew would still be open. Timing is everything. Of course, hanging around would have just invited more comments, probably, but we weren't much for carin'. I needed food.
And, then, probably since we ignored their banter, they decided to follow us along the road for a bit --- as I led the pack, I didn't hear anything, no honking, no hollering, no revving engines. HEck, these nice boys I guess had actually watched a few Tour de France videos or something, and decided to play "excited fan wants to cool off his favorite bicycle rider" move, so as they rode by they doused us with a half-liter of water from a bottle. Could have been worse. I think there might have been a holler in there afterwards, as they passed by and took a right turn - but no until I got a clear shot of their license plate. Idiots. Not that the Desoto police would care, but you never know. I like THIS town about as much as I like Warrensburg. At least they were kinda enough to drop the evidence in the road for us to confirm that is was indeed just water. You can't be wasting good beer on folk like us, after all. We arrived at the Philips station, slightly cooler, and ready for a donut. Ahhh... more bliss. So this happens once every four years. I can live with that. I blame T-Bone; he said he'd been getting a lot of this kind of thing lately. thanks, man. ;)

Onward we rolled, out of town, under K-10, and onto a HORRID road that almost made the roads north of Liberty look GOOD. Quarry road, at night, uphill. WHoooo! Pothole city! After successfully navigating the asteroid field, it was relatively smooth sailing again on the return route.

Ok, there was one enthusiastic group of idiots in a big Chevy Silverado that hot-rodded past us off the highway near Prairie Star Pkwy, but hey -- it's their $6.00 they blew out the tailpipes, not mine. It was a GREAT ride, overall, even with the Desoto factor, which I'm sure is nothing more than random - unless there is some connection between the liquor store lady and those Busch-swillin' half-brain water-chuckers. Then it's a conspiracy, and it must stop. And I have to stop it.

Because I am .... Sparticus....

May 11, 2007

Tentative solidarity

Ahhh...spring! Dawn is early, the sun beginning to light the air as early as 5:30am nowadays. With warm pre-dawn temps and pristine skies, joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists are out enmasse, making my morning commute a little less empty.

YEP, that's right - surprise - it's rant-mode time.

Yeah, I can't control everything. I know that. It's not any one man's place to control everything -- and without delving into politicism, I'll leave it at that.
However, there is indeed an individual responsibility to do good, do right, and help to improve the societies within we each live and work -- in other words, act locally. If you DO want the world to be a better place, you must take the first step. That's part of this whole movement, this commuting to work by bicycle thing that I push and pump and preach. I can't MAKE anyone do it - but by simply doing it MYSELF, I can hopefully lead by example and others might follow. That's all I can do. I can't go around stealing car keys.

When hard work gets undermined, it hits home. Sometimes doing the right thing is a losing battle. Take driving, and one of my problems with it around here: while change must begin with the individual, and one must try to do right and lead by example, there is sometimes a force, a regime, an incumbent behavior that is SO rampant you will probably get run over - and the fact that you're doing right is actually frowned upon, to the point where it inspires anger. Try driving the speed limit on any local highway, for example. It's hard to obey the law, and there are no longer enough people doing it to make the ones that choose NOT to throw up their arms and simply give in to the posted limit. Let's not get started on how few seconds one actually saves by driving 15 MPH over the posted limit IN TOWN during a 15 mile trip. The logic doesn't seem to sit well.

When you reduce the odds, however, and look at things in terms of bicycles - this is also one of those battles. There are really SO FEW of us out there using bicycles as transportation, and SO many cars, that it becomes increasingly important to do things right, if for no other reason as to benefit our fellow cyclists. For example, if you are placed in an environment where only ONE PERSON on the highway is speeding, the rest of the drivers will get annoyed, angry, and will point fingers. If placed in an environment where EVERYONE is doing it, suddenly it becomes okay.
Becasue there is SO much of that happening, it actually HAS become okay -- it's only a problem if you happen to get caught doing it. Back to cyclists, there are, again, so FEW of us out there, that the pressure to set the right example HAS to be higher. Motorists interface with so few of us, that the precedent of example becomes far more important. For EVERY car that passes me, and sees me doing things correctly, perhaps that will fare better the NEXT cyclist they pass on the road, as the laws of assumption would dictate that "if the last guy did this, then I can expect the next guy to ALSO do this". Conversely, if a cyclist or a group of cyclists runs a red light, a stop sign, rides four abreast, doesn't yield, flips the bird, rides the wrong way in traffic, doesn't signal, rides all the way up the right side of cars to be first in line at the light, etc., it sets a poor precedent that can and usually IS taken out on the NEXT cyclist that the affected motorists encounter.

So, I have to ask - the morning recreational cyclists this morning that I saw, at two different locations at two different times, that both ran red lights - and even for the rider that I saw last weekend that did the same thing at 10:30AM at busy 87th Street and Renner, turning left onto northbound Renner against traffic on a red signal in front of me and Badger (sitting at the light waiting for our green) and all the cars there that witnessed it - I have to ask of all of you, what are you assuming or thinking?

Is it the mentality of the group ride? Is the the inability to unclip? Ignorance of the laws that apply to automobiles AND bicycles, both vehicles on the road? Uncaring nose-thumbing? One has to wonder. When we are all up-in-arms in advocacy efforts with regards to issues like 127th Street's improvements, complaining that cities don't provide enough bicycle lanes, and wondering why cars give us a hard time - one has to wonder if there simply is no connection between behavior and expected outcome. Since there are so few of us, why is there this constant pressure to do as the group does? Why not just stop, wait for the light, signal, stay to the right as practicable, ditch the headphones, listen for cars, and generally use common sense? This notion that doing the right thing is somehow "uncool" or will be somehow frowned upon by others in the cycling community is a notion that should have been ditched after high-school. Do *I* do everything right? HELL no. Yeah, these always have the potential to come across kinda preachy, but dammit - what do you get on Sunday mornings, and how quickly do you forget it? I'm not infallable, and I don't pretend to be - but there are mistakes, and then there are repeated offenses. I'm asking for those that have rights to the roadways to simply obey the rules at least long enough to make it easier for the ones that already do.

If you don't want rights on the road, and are not going to benefit the situation, there are lots of well-maintained bicycle paths available now, metro-wide. Please use them, because after much debate THAT is what your city governments, after public pressure and voting, have decided is best for what is deemed "a cyclist" by the general public. Your actions on the road directly affect that definition, and it's creating an environment where the people that DO follow the rules might as well just give up and do what everyone else is doing - because it's just easier than ranting on a blog, or choosing not to return a wave to someone that isn't even AWARE that what they are doing is foolish, unsafe, illegal, and detrimental to the general culture of bicycling.

Next time you run a red light or a 4-way stop, ask yourself:
Would you have done that in a car?
Would you want your wife doing it?
Would you want your KIDS doing it?
What would your mom think? Seriously? Would she be proud, assuming you still value her opinion?

The answer should dictate your behavior - and if it does as I hope it does, we can FINALLY all - as a cycling collective - begin to reap the benefits of a governmental system and a general non-cycling public that appreciates and respects our presence on the roadways.

Please be safe out there - for ALL our benefits.

May 9, 2007

Getting the steed ready for the big'un.

First off, a big heart-felt salute to the people of Greenburg, KS., where Friday at 9:50PM a EF5 tornado swept the town clean off the map, and claimed 12 lives. The tragedy reinforces why I spot/chase for my county in the first place - prevention of the loss of life or property by providing ground truth. It's a scary reminder of what we train for. Our thoughts are with you.

And therein lies a little insight to one of my OTHER hobbies/passions.

But, I digress, because after all this ISN'T the Scattered Observations from the Storm Spotter blog, is it?

The BIG'UN is a'comin'! The 600K, baby... it looms like a dark cloud on the horizon.... but really it isn't THAT dark. After a successful brevet season so-far, checking off all my goals in green to date for 2007, I am headed into this event with a lot more confidence than in previous years. This year, the voices of self-doubt are quiet, the body is willing, and the spirit fresh. Once all of those things are in place, the only thing really left to mess with is equipment! As the 400K wrapped up, I started making my shopping list in my head. The brake levers that had served so well for so many rides were suddenly giving my hand issues (probably the additional body weight that was absent in 2005, the last time I did this distance.) The saddlebag had dug a couple holes in my backside (but not my shorts?), so a new bag attachment system of some kind was in order. Plus, after years of trusty service, the Lumotec round headlight begins to pale in comparison to it's contemporary, the Schimdt E6. Let the fun begin!

Thanks to an appropriately timed bonus check from work - sometimes corporate america isn't THAT bad - it was time to hit a few of my favorite sources for parts: Rivendell Bicycle Works and Peter White Cycles.

First, the saddlebag support/rack from Nitto, Tokyo, JP. I had this thing in the back of my mind for a long time as a good solution, but had never jumped because it's a RACK. I generally don't like racks - not for any reason other than visually cluttering on the clean lines of a nice frame, but that notion has slowly been evolving into and understanding that the RIGHT rack can actually enhance a bicycle. Aside from that, functional notions took precedence and I simply needed my bags to come off the bike quickly, for commutes. The Carradice SQR system was the perfect solution, and it's been along with me on brevets and commutes alike for years now. Cut to today, and the Kogswell frameset: It's amazing how much of a difference a couple centimeters can make on a set-up, no matter what it is. The SQR system is comprised of a rack-like attachment that fixes to the bag itself, and then a seatpost block that uses heavy steel clamps to affix to the post and hold that rack, which holds the bag. Great system, solid, holds up to 10 kgs (22 lbs!) and keeps the bag from swaying, keeps it off your legs while riding (as opposed to a direct to seat-rails attachment), and promotes easy removal for taking the bag inside once you arrive at work. Unfortunately, this seatpost block's clamps must be able to slide up and down the seatpost for proper placement - and the Kogswell frame has a rather nice, while ornamental, spire on the front of the top of the seat tube. It's a nice touch, but it effectively adds 2.5mm to the top edge of the seatpost, and thus limits how far DOWN those clamps can be mounted. This in turn raises the entire assembly UP. Not a huge deal on bigger frames, or for riders that have a lot of seatpost showing -- in my case, this places the saddlebag attachment point ABOVE the saddle line. Not a big deal, but when seated back on the saddle, there is contact. Unwanted contact. I dealt with it, but after a while (say, 20 hours...) that unwanted contact starts to develop into unwanted SORES. And there is no way to lower the block any farther. Function before fashion also has a limit, and there's no way I'd take a Dremel to that nice ornamental touch on the frame, even though it serves no structural purpose. Some things should stay as they are, because NO ONE does things like that anymore for frames! My solution became clearer when I accepted that fact that since bringing the Surly Steamroller back into daily duty, the Kogswell was no longer a commuter machine, but a randonnuering machine. Why do I need to maintain a quick-release saddlebag attachment?

Enter "Mark's Rack" from Rivendell. Made by Nitto in Japan, this silver Cro-Mo rack is gorgeously made, rock-solid, attractive and SUPER functional. For those that don't know, Rivendell doesn't sell junk. They are VERY particular about the products they offer, and this rack is no exception. Nitto products in general are among the finest bits of anything you can attach to a bicycle, from stems to seatposts, and racks. Installation was easy, and I was pleased to find there was more than enough hardware included, even good washers, lock-rings, and Ny-Loc nuts for the clamps - oft overlooked items with cheaper racks. The clamps themselves are a work of functional art; highly polished, well sized, with rubber anti-slip, anti-mar pads included. Installation was easy, and it was also easy to customize the layout of the struts and stays to get it where I wanted it. After installation, the Carradice bag now sits perfectly upon it's minimalist platform. My spare taillight, which used to be mounted to the rack braze-ons themselves, is now displaced - but finds a home on the taillight mounting plate which Nitto brazed to the rear cross member of the rack. The bag now sits move upright, which helps angle the reflective material more perpendicular to the road, and it's well back away from my thighs, and most importantly it's fully below the saddle, so I can sit anywhere without anything pressing against me. Fully loaded on a test-ride, the handling consequence is actually reduced over the SQR system, mainly because the load is lower, if only by a few inches. Problem solved!

The next acquisition solves three problems; the brake levers. For the longest time I have been using the same Shimano "aero" brake levers, model BL-R400. They are simple, and perfect in nearly every way. Solid, and they do as advertised, which is stop the bike. The hoods are comfortable, although a little thin, and in the past I have had to allow for a couple passes of bar tape around and under the hoods to ensure comfort on long distance rides. This time, the Kogswell's journey of discovery continues. Having only had the frame for a little over a year now, it was a completely new set-up from previous bicycles, and while most of the measurements from the old Trek and Bianchi were carried over, things do tend to change, as does one's points of comfort. So, what worked before was downright painful at the end of the 400K, even though it hand;t bothered me much on the 300K -- which could have been because I did the entire 300K in thicker, full-finger woll gloves. In thinner summer gloves on the warmer 400K, the lack of additional padding was apparent after 18 hours of riding. Further, the only design fault I have to cite on these levers is the metal body. Strong, yes - but when tighten against a metal handlebar, there is the possibility of galling or grinding - the latter of which was occuring where the lever body and handlebar were making contact, evidenced by shiny grooves where the brake lever bodies were sitting. That's one benefit of a black handlebar! While not a big deal, tightening didn't fix it, nor did surface grease, and the creaking while riding in the hoods forced me to find other places to put my hands while climbing.

The solution lay with Cane Creek's new SCR-5 brake levers. While brake levers are kind of un-romantic and probably one of the least zippy of bike accessories (save for STI levers, perhaps), they are critical. They stop the bike, provide leverage, a place for hands - but they are taken for granted and overlooked. Cane Creek listened to distance riders and cyclotourists that were looking for a brake lever that could be used on a bike that shifts some other way (bar-ends, or down-tubes, whatever) that was just as "fancy" as high-end "brifters" (Sheldon Brown term). They produced a solid winner with this lever. First point, the levers themselves are modeled loosely around Campagnolo's "Ergo" levers, and the name is fitting - the lever paddles are shaped and have a big, solid, engaging tactile feel. Pull is short, linear, predictable and consistant. The return springs are heavy, and the calipers snap promptly back open after release. The hoods are thick, but not TOO thick, and supple. The "ramp" of the lever is dead flat, compared to the sloped "cup" that the Shimano levers force your hand into, so by contrast the Cane Creek design gives more options for hand placement, spreads weight more evenly, and is ultimately more comfortable for this type of riding. Physically larger, the lever body allows the rider to place the hood surface higher on the bar, without pivoting the entire lever to the point where the paddle isn't reachable from the drops. It's a good design. Additionally, the lever body itself is high-impact molded resin instead of metal, so while weight is not a concern it IS lighter despite it's size, and the metal-to-metal noise issues are completely eliminated.
Additionally, and also borrowed from Campy, there are quick-release buttons on the levers themselves that allow you to open the brakes - notable that most Campy brake calipers do not have quick-releases, so this is essential - but for Shimano and Tektro calipers that DO have quick-releases, this means that I can flip the release at the lever, and then flip the release at the caliper, and BIG tires can now be removed from the bicycle without releasing air, or otherwise struggling to squeeze the tire past the brake pads. This, in reality, was never a "problem" for me, but the addition of this feature made me smile, and now removing the front wheel will take a lot less hassling. A very good design. Problems solved!

The final "issue" I had was with lighting on the 400K. The trusty round Lumotec light that has served me well since it's initial purchase in 2002 (!!) is a terrific light, still is. But, it's never been up against anything better. Only recently have LED systems produced good beams and bright lights to the point to make a genuine decision-making process when it comes to new riders getting a lighting system. It's not as cut and dried as it used to be - but I still like and prefer generator systems for my lighting on brevet. You never have to worry about how far your batteries will take you, if you have to carry or buy extras, and if it's rainy during the day you can run them and not worry about paying the price when the sun goes down. When you ride, they come on. That's about as good as it gets. It's evident that generator systems are here to stay, as technology and improvements continue; LED generator headlihts are now available, and improvements have been made with regards to halogen systems, as well. It's this last point that really tripped my trigger on the 400K.

I remember when it first became available, the Schmidt E6 headlamp. It's pricey: $110 compared to the Lumotec's $40. Initially, since I was not able to see if for myself, my impression was that is can't possibly be $70 brighter than what I've got... it's got the SAME light bulb in it, a 3W, 6V halogen bulb, just like mine, and it runs off the same hub. No fancy circuitry, no tricks - how can it be brighter? I kept right on using my Lumotec. It's GREAT. It lights up the road, on-coming traffic dims their brights for me on dark country roads - I know they seem me, and I can see reflectors on bridges and cars nearly 1/4 mile ahead of me when it's aimed properly. At the 400K in 2005, four other riders crowded behind me and Spencer (another Lumotec user) for the final 40-miles back to Grandview, because our lights were THAT much better. It's a great light. Can the Schmidt E6 POSSIBLY be better?

Finally, randonnuering in this area is taking off. More riders are riding distance, and that ups the chances that you will see a wider range of gear being implemented. While many still depend on battery lights and multiple LED headlamps, many others are springing for generator systems. Once the benefits are realized and the math performed on battery costs, they start to make good sense for riders that will continue to do long rides into the night. This was the case this year - in prep for PBP, riders showed up good numbers, and there were many different lights to see, including the Schmidt E6. One randonnuer has a gorgeous Rivendell Romulus with TWO Schmidt E6 lights, one primary, one secondary, mounted low on the fork. This was my first time seeing the E6 in full darkness on a non-streetlit road. At first he only had the primary switched on, but it was already apparent. The pattern is tight and bright. I mean BRIGHT. Yes, the optics are the key - and while the Lumotec has terrific optics and produces a good pattern to see the road, with the top of the beam being brighter than the bottom for good even lighting, the Schmidt takes this even farther and the result is a trapezoidal beam pattern with a sharp horizontal cutoff at the top - you literally get a lane-sized polygon of perfectly even and wicked bright light right where you want it. Then, he turned on the secondary light for a downhill. Twice as bright - the road was illuminated as to give the same confidence on a downhill that one would have in bright daylight. The edges of the road were clear, the darker spots on the pavement were easily shown as just that - spots - as opposed to potholes. With the secondary aimed slightly higher, the pattern on the road was excellent. There are motorcycle headlights that don't do this good a job. Seriously.

Later that night, I was teamed up with Dale and Ed, and Ed also had the Schmidt E6 mounted up on his handlebars. With the higher mounting point, I expected the pattern to suffer a little, as is normally the case - but again, I was simply shocked. riding side-by-side down MO-58 in the dark, I could not even discern MY headlight beam because his was so overpowering. FROM THE SAME BULB and HUB. Keep in mind, all things indeed are equal in this comparison: we are both using the Schmidt SON dynohub, and both lights use Philips 3W,6V light bulbs which are interchangeable between brands of light. The Schmidt is simply THAT much better.

I figured the best of both worlds was in order, for my solution. Never having something to compare it to, I was completely content with the Lumotec by itself - but now I MUST have a Schmidt - but to minimize costs I opted for the E6-Z secondary light to run in tandem with my Lumotec. With proper aiming, I can have an effective "lo-beam" with the Lumotec, and really kick things up at speeds above 10 MPH by running both lights. In essence, I can have twice the light, at the same effort, simply utilizing the over-voltage from the primary light with a switched series connection to the hub. After mounting, aiming, and wiring it's confirmed in practice on a local street where, conveiniently, this week the streetlights aren't working. Good test, and not too far from home. Like streetlights would matter! The Lumotec alone is barely visible in street-light conditions. The beam density simply isn't high enough to be effective - but that's ok because you have streelights, and after years of commuting I've never faulted this issue. I've never hit anything I wasn't looking out for, and the headlight beam has never left me wondering. Now, however, by switching on the secondary Schmidt I don't have anything to balk at. The beam is fully visible in streetlit conditions, and on dark roads it's seriously difficult to tell if the Lumotec is even turned ON. I had to return to the garage for a little re-aiming, to maximize both beams and get a good even pattern - but still, the light is so bright from the E6, it makes me wonder if a primary E6 is in my future, too. It's a landmark of design and optics. The Lumotec has been dethroned, but still trumps the E6 in safety overall by having a built-in reflector -- but that's the beauty of a mixed dual-light system -- I truly CAN have it all now. So, is the Schmidt E6 $70 brighter than the B+M Lumotec? Yes.

So, with the lights, the rack, the handlebar bag and saddlebag, the Kogswell looks as if it's arrived where is was designed to be: it's a full-on randonnuering bike.

Bring on the 600K -- mentally, physically, and now mechanically - I'm ready.