March 2, 2008

Spring in the air, saddle up my bum.

Ahhh, spring is indeed in the air this weekend: as I sit to type out my latest ride report it’s a blistering 69 degrees outside, and thunderstorms are on the way… unfortunately, it’s EARLY to be calling it spring because not far behind the thundershowers is likely another good dose of sleet. It’s hard to get me down, however, as the cobwebs of winter go a thorough dusting this Saturday. I headed out a little later than my usual “crack of dawn”, to let the temperatures moderate a bit, as we rose to a crisp 34 degrees, which began to climb as soon as the sun rose. It was going to be gorgeous, and I was going for a ride! Suited up, saddled up, and out the door I went! Down the street a titch, and a right turn towards freedom and therapy!

Gosh, it’s a touch windy!

It was expected, and it was a WARM wind, so I didn’t mind a bit. The Trek felt awesome, especially shod with new rubber. I just am NOT a skinny tire guy anymore, and as much as I tried to be thrifty and use what I had in the garage when building her up the 23c tires that ended up on the wheels were just punishing, as I discovered in Texas on their monster chip-seal. That was one of the only bike changes that was absolutely on the big list once I got home, and it was one of the first things I did with some tax-return money. Back in the land of the sensible, I have chosen to run the same tires on BOTH bikes, the Kogswell and the Trek. This makes things like last minute wheel swaps, and notions about running the generator wheel on the Trek perfectly possible without any crossover issues, not even so much as a computer recalibration. So, the Specialized All-Condition Armadillo Elite tires, in 700x25C – which, I should note is a BIG 25C. Compared to Continental, even compared to Panaracer. Panaracer tends to run a little under what the sidewall reads, and one of my favorite all-time tires is the venerable Pasela TG. I ran those in a 700x28, and a rim to rim comparison, the Specialized 25cs are the same width, height, and volume. Compared to the Continentals I used to run, the 25c Specializeds are the same size as a Conti 32c. Conti’s run REALLY small. So, this is certainly NOT a lightweight racers tire, despite the manufacturer. In fact, in the last 3 years, Specialized has gone from a so-so tire maker, to a real competitor – to the point where just about everything they make tromps on the adjacent competitor’s offerings. I don’t work for, get money from, or otherwise hob-knob with Specialized, or their reps, by the way. I worked at a bike store that carried them, and by consequence and lack of funds, when tire time came and I had the choice between Panaracers and my shop discount, I gave the Specializeds a try. I was surprised. My first exposure to them was back in 2005 at Tinbutt down in Oklahoma, but that was the racy “Mondo” model. It’s still a great tire – but as I have matured as a rider, and found my niche in randonneuring, it’s more about comfort balanced with performance, and the All-Condition model is simply top-notch. I must say, however, that the Panaracer Pasela TGs are still fantastic tires, and very inexpensive – but for me, there is a little bit more of that “racer” feel and “snappiness” to the Specialized that the Panaracers just don’t have. Plus, the sidewalls are black – a sticking point for some, but definitely more contemporary. While the tan sidewalls of the Paselas never got me any bad attention or goofy looks, sometimes it just looked a little “old”. That’s just me, tho. These new Specialized tires on the Trek feel terrific, and the ride is smoothed up just enough to make it perfect. Rough pavement, and even a stint on freshly-graveled Woodland Rd. between 175th and 199th streets was fairly cozy. Yup, that’s a good test of a tire – if it tracks well and soaks up freaking boulders like THAT on brand-new, untamped gravel, it’s smooth and perfect on just about anything considered “pavement”. Plus, the flat-protection of the new Armadillo Elite belt, which I can only guess is some new form of Vectran™ by DuPont®, contrasted to the now old-school Armadillo, which was their version of Kevlar™ by the same company. Vectran™ first appeared in bicycle tires with Continental’s new GP4000’s, but arguably not in perfect execution. It’s a pure race tire, after all. Specialized uses it bead-to-bead for nearly bullet-proof protection, and it’s bragged upon heavily by Specialized by one of their field-testers: Ultra-cycling legend Danny Chew, who logged 11,000 miles on ONE of their tires before getting a flat. I can firmly stand behind something like that claim. That’s huge. I’m sold, so far, as the name claims, the All-Conditions don’t seem to be nervous about anything from sleet and snow, to flooded streets, to hot tar, to gravel, to chip-seal, sandy shoulders, whatever you got. A good, install and forget tire.

Dang, this wasn’t supposed to turn into a tire review – but, anyways, back on the ride I go… Just a simple loop to stretch the legs, not after any big numbers this weekend, as the brevet season officially starts here in Kansas with a 200K next weekend. I really really hope the weather cooperates – today, again, it near perfect. Sunny, warm, breezy… ok, maybe a little TOO breezy. Yikes. I head south on Mur-Len, and turn west on 175th street, head down into a fierce and growing gale. It’s nuts, leaves flying everywhere like it’s fall again, with 30 MPH gusts making the trees sing and the power lines whistle. I make fairly good progress, having to lean my head a little to the left to steady the bike against the crosswind. A little resistance training, eh? I head south on Woodland, which is partly packed dirt, but it gives way to that aforementioned fresh gravel after about ¾ of a mile – too far to turn back, I press onward instead of backtracking. It’s slow going, and one portion is so loose and soft underneath that I finally have to dismount and hoof it for about a ½ mile. A UP mixed-freight train passes on the adjacent track, so I stop and have a drink and rest for a few minutes. A local in a home-made tube-frame buggy zips by while I rest, throwing dust all over the place – but he chills out on the throttle just before reaching me, thankfully. Everyone, regardless of hobby, is soaking in the first 60+ degree day in MONTHS. It’s awesome out here! We exchange waves, and I saddle up for the slightly better ¾ miles or so that’s left of Woodland road before the pavement picks back up. Finally back on smooth asphalt, I turn towards Spring Hill on old 199th Street, veer onto Webster, and face the south wind head-on, pedaling hard down what is normally a 30+ MPH downhill. This wind is nuts! Good workout…. Keep thinking good workout…. Don’t turn back yet.

I traverse Spring Hill, and approach 223rd street, especially hard today after passing all the houses and natural wind breaks on the edge of town. I’m greeted by an absolute wall of air, pushing hard against me – I bend lower, and focus on the white shoulder line, occasionally glancing up to check my next 50 yards of road for obstacles. Thankful for the cycling cap I chose today, I finally reach the 223rd street intersection, and look upwards just in time for a massive gust of air to launch over the highway berm, across the pavement, kicking up buckets-full of sand from winter treatments into the air – head DOWN! MY eyes are saved, but my exposed shins take a pelting of stinging stones. Wow. I turn right on 223rd, thinking to myself I’ll forego the torture that is probably Old KC Road today and just stick to the west. Unfortunately, the crosswind down here is wickedly bad, coming off of Hillsdale Lake just to the south beyond the tree line. Crossing over the top of US-169 was particularly touchy, as wind buffeted over the top of the bridge and pushing at the bladed spokes on my wheels – I might as well have been riding a sheet of plywood, as the bike – while easy to manage and control normally – is pushed towards the guardrail, the only thing between me and the highway below. I lean hard, and steer carefully, and traffic following me over the bridge is surprisingly forgiving, slowing down and allowing my LOTS more room than normal, as my struggle against the elements is probably more than apparent. Good gravy…. I reach the end of the bridge, and slide in some loose sand as the wind gusts one more hard time before I reach the safety of the trees on the other side of the long bridge. Man, alive! I’m upright again, now I only have to deal with a moderate headwind that is chasing up the road, spiraling between the lines of trees on each side of the road. 223rd has an especially long and fun downhill good for nearly 50 MPH if you play hard and climb the gears – the Warbird and I used to play here a lot, but today the wind is making it hard to stay above 20 MPH – in a reasonable gear, I spin DOWN the hill and frown a little – but then smile to myself… a few months ago, I would have wimped out and headed home by now. I was working, but I wasn’t dying from the effort, and I knew the training was coming from it. My wind vest flapping angrily in the gale, I start to climb out of the valley back onto a plateau. Uh, oh…. Yep… more wind waits at the top, and it welcomes me with a smack to the face, and a twist of the front wheel. “Dude!!!” I belt out loud, falling into the drops, putting my head down and left, steadying the bike once again. This is far more than 15-20 MPH with gusts to 30 MPH… .this is gotta be 40 MPH wind… flags nearby are straight and stiff, pulling hard on their poles, ropes clanging and slapping the metal, wind chimes on a farm house are nearly sideways, and a plastic grocery bag clings for a moment to a wire fence, only to give way, ripping apart and flying north at high speed.

I reach the safety of another tree line, and relax for a little – I start to count the miles to the next turn at Gardner Rd, and the end of my struggle with this wind, which was becoming dangerous – as the wheels catch more air, the bike keeps sneaking over to the right, and I hear the crunch of loose sand and leftover salt as the edge gets nearer and nearer – I veer left and lean, pulling the bike back into the lane – but it’s narrow here, and the traffic is light, but the speed limit is 55 MPH, and I can’t hear ANYthing coming up behind me… as far to the right as practicable is becoming farther and farther to the middle of the lane with each passing minute, as the wind grows and becomes harder to fight. Traffic is forgiving when it comes, again my struggles probably visible, and not just in my head today. I rise to another plateau, and the wind is horrid – nothing lying to my south and west by a large field, plowed flat, the nearest trees probably a mile away, and the road is up on a rise, about 10 feet higher than grade. The wind is catapulting over the small rise and slamming into my body, sending me in a full lean to the right all of the sudden, the drop off into the culvert below looms big in my field of vision as I lean hard back, and correct for it …. Time to ride sideways again, I guess! Saved it… but this is becoming un-fun, real quick. Gardner Road, thankfully, is ½ mile ahead… I turn, and breathe a deep breath at last!

Finally free of the head/crosswind, I stop for a break, and shed the knee warmers and the wind vest – it’s WARM out here, and I’ve been working hard! Soaked in sweat, for the first time in months I don’t have to worry about hypothermia, and enjoy the cool breeze as it cools my back. A long drink, a long look around, and back pockets are filled up – ready to enjoy the toils!

We’ve all enjoyed a good tailwind, and it’s one of my favorite parts of riding, especially when you work for an hour or so to earn it, and then turn back for home – the ultimate reward! However, usually the tailwinds are moderate, 15 MPH, sometimes less, but enough to make a noticeable difference. Today, it was so strong I had to concentrate on staying stopped while I put items in my back pockets – the wind was shoving at me, egging me forward. I mounted up and started off, and the wind was literally pushing noticeably against my back, accelerating me. It almost made me unstable until I got up to about 25 MPH! Finally, I was spinning fast enough to get the choppy winds to cooperate, and before I knew it I was zipping north at 32 MPH. Simply awesome, the bearings in the wheels singing happily and leaves and birds joining me in my northbound fun. Gardner road between 223rd and 199th isn’t exactly flat, but I don’t really remember the hills being too much of a pain today – there is that ONE that lifts you up over a small ridge, but after that single cogs moves in the back were enough to keep the RPMs steady, and keep the speed high. This is one of those times where I really am glad I have gears back on the bike, to take full advantage of such a boost from behind. I remember riding along and spinning out before reaching 30 MPH, frantically pedaling, and then coasting helplessly, knowing I could go faster – but not being able to. Yeah, there is still a place for fixed gearing and me – but today, I love my big chainring. 33….34……35 MPH… easy! The road zooms by underneath me, kilometers ticking off, and before long I’m at 199th street! I turn right, and that violent crosswind now is at my back by 3/4ths, so I can enjoy it instead of fight it. I breathe easier, 199th’s gorgeous rolling hills stretching out to the east in front of me – not exactly a flat road, either, but much easier to handle today. I zip along, almost no traffic, the sun shining, the horses running in the fields nearby – awesome! After a while, I’m back at 169 highway again, back to Ridgeview – back to Webster and 199th, and stopped by a passing train at Woodland road again. I peel off the arm-warmers here, finally feeling hot – taking in the last of my water, only a few miles from home now. What an awesome afternoon this is! The grass is still brown in the fields, but the sky is a brilliant and clean blue – none of the wintery grey that has covered us like a heavy burden these last months. I couldn’t stop smiling!

Clear of the train, I head east to Ridgeview, rocket past the new high school, past the farms at 191st Street, past the unfortunate construction at 183rd, and past the old tractor crankshaft mailbox right before 175th, having to brake harder than normal, the gale still boosting my progress, almost to a fault – I’ve never had it THIS good, where it was hard to brake! A few more turns, and the old familiar roads come back into view for one last charge up Brougham Road and back to the homestead. Ah, MAN, what an awesome ride…! It only ended up being 35 miles, but for today it’s a perfect distance to stretch the legs and get some of the old air in my lungs blown out in the fresh, spring-like air…. Before long, we’ll all be complaining that it’s too hot, true--- but today, everything it right where it should be… ok, maybe except that wind.

In the garage, I pull stuff out of my back pockets, and retrieve my phone – two new text messages?? Wonder who called me? No-one, it turns out…. It was a double text from the National Weather Service, announcing a wind advisory…. I laughed out loud… NO KIDDING?!! GREAT ride…. Stay tuned! 200K next weekend!

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