July 29, 2010

Simplicity itself

I've been tinkering in the garage lately, trying to get a winter/gravel bike rolling - and it's sometimes frustrating what my initial vision is, and what I have to work with - be it parts, or financial ability.  I've had the frame, and it's been taken down from the wall and readied.  I came up with some older road wheels that are stout, and have good hubs.  Finally, I scored most of the parts i needed from a friend that is moving, whose bike I'm re-purposing for the task.  While a complete bike isn't ever a bad thing, I don't have any need for an aluminum, tiny-clearance, road bike:  been there.  The winter-bike (what's this, part 6 now?) is steel, once again, with plenty of tire clearance... though, not nearly as much as my FINAL, someday winterbike/gravelbike, the Surly Long-Haul Trucker, 26" wheel model.

Until that time, however, I have gone through a throng of annual winter-bike build ups.... Purple Hippo, "it", The Crudwell, Monokog(swell), the singlespeed version of my long-gone Trek 720, Schwinn World Sport, and others.  Each time, I must admit, they get a little sweeter, a little more involved.  This year's is no exception.

So, a heavily frame-savered Trek 450, fenders, room for Nokian's new(ish) Hakkepeliitta A10 700x32c studded road tires.  I've waited a long time for a road tire with studs that could potentially fit under the fenders of the Kogswell - but I'm keeping that bike in reserve this winter.  My first season on studded tires was last year on the Monokogs, and I'm hooked... SO confidence-inspiring, I can only imagine that getting a little speed back on a more "traditional-for-me" road bike will be stellar.  Swap on my trusty Panaracer Pasela TourGuard tires for drier days, and I should be in good shape.  In fact, spurred by a post from KC-Bike.net, here, the pictured Specialized Infinity 700x32 tires that barely fit into a more modern alloy-framed bike with fenders removed *should* fit into an older steel bike frame WITH fenders... so those might be the tires of choice for otherwise dry days, and definitely for gravel road adventures or rail-trail riding - which is the other motivation for this build.

In the "these parts just won't work" arena, I'd been drumming my fingers for a few weeks - wonder if I'd ever get the bar-end shifters I needed, whether or not to use the STI levers that came with the bike... and then looking at my giant lobster-claw winter beef gloves, and wondering how I'd shift.  And then remember why I went single-speed in the first place, way back many winters ago.  Trying to keep things cheap, but being kind of impatient, I rolled around more ideas in my head.  I don't want to go single-speed, because after last year - well, I want gears.  The gear ratio that was simply brilliant in deep snow and on rutted ice was murder on smooth, flat pavement.  Sometimes reaching 300 RPM (ok, not really) on 175mm mountain cranks was nuts... and I always felt like I was NEVER going to get home.  In fact, even on a dry day it would take up to 20 minutes longer to make the trip, just because of gearing.  Anything steeper, however, and I begin to lose the wicked-awesome traction and plowing ability of a super-low gear.  So, okay... gears.  I want 'em.  I also want "cheap", "simple", "reliable".  

Something called the Surly "Dingle" popped to mind.  A cool solution to a fixxie's wish for more than one gear on a single-sided hub... or four gears on a flip-flop.  Rivendell Quickbeam riders?  Rejoice.
You see... it's kinda weird, I get that:  you're adding gears to an otherwise "simple" single-speed... so why not just put the dérailleur back on, and shift?!  I know, I know... It's like, I want the single-speed experience... but I want options.  It's part of the reason I like my bar-end shifters on my otherwise modern-drivetrain bike:  I like having gears, and it's convenient to be able to shift...but the bar-end make it so it's not TOO convenient.  So, this next thought that fell into my head gave me pause enough to give it a try.  

For complicated q-factor, crank-length and bottom bracket width reasons, the triple crankset I was going to use wasn't going to work.  I opted or a double front chainring, super-compact:  a 42x28 Sugino set-up I had laying around which would have been perfect... but the bottom bracket was too narrow, and the granny ring met the frame.  Ugh.  Again, think about the notion that I want this project to go down with as LITTLE out-of-pocket expense as possible.  Yes, there are tons of ways to solve the issues I was having by throwing cash at it, or waiting patiently and visiting lots of swap meets ... but stay with me, here.  

Instead, I resorted to a 1-x-"X" set-up... the "X" usually being an 8 or 9, cassettes of which I had both, so the rear drivetrain was still open or discussion.  Lots of 'cross racers run this kind of set-up, on the notion that the "weak" or "lazy-shifting" part of the drivetrain is usually the front.  So, I'll just eliminate that variable.  It's be interesting trying to buy ONE shifter, but whatever.  Worry about that later.  I remove the granny ring from the Sugino crankset, and swap the 42t ring over to yet another Sugino "double" crankset - thereby also eliminating the granny-ring mounting points, which were also dangerously close to contacting the frame.  There... all better.  Hmmm.... perhaps I can make things even simpler?

I still like the single-speed idea, but that "dingle" cog lingered in my head.  Then I remembered something I'd read about Ultra-racing legend Lon Haldeman.  While I can't find the exact article, Lon Haldeman, among other amazing things, started and ran the Pac-Tour organization (another item on my long "to-do" list)... and I remember hearing or reading that on many occasions Lon would ride cross-country on a three-speed bicycle.  However, this was not the "gentleman's three-speed" or Sturmey-Archer internally geared 3-speed set-up, but more of a hybrid of a traditional road bike set-up.  I examined my stack of used cassettes, the fact that I had a good, long-cage rear dérailleur in place, and the fact that I had a single-chainring up front.  Hmmm.  But, I'd still need a shifter, right?  Wrong.

It's quite simple, really:  
I took apart three cassettes to get the cogs I wanted from each, and a multitude of spacers.  I then arrange the three cogs that I want in the most centered location on the freehub body, for optimum chain-line in relation to the chainring up front, using spacers behind, and in front of the triple-cog "cassette" I've created.  Of course, using spacers between the cogs themselves is paramount here., or the chain won't fit.  In essence, I am choosing two ratios that would be ideal for the conditions I'm expecting:  for snow and ice riding this winter, or really steep routes, I chose a 26 tooth cog.  For smooth, fast pavement riding on dry days I picked my old favorite, the 17 tooth cog.  And, finally, a step between them is a 21 tooth cog.  17,21,26 x 42.

Chain tension is handled by the rear dérailleur, and shifting is manual.  Most rear derailluers have limit screws that allow you to set the outer and inner limits of travel, to accommodate variances in wheels and cassette combinations and frame spacings, dropout hanger thicknesses, etc.  In this case since the cogs are positioned near the center of the freehub body, you almost have to completely tighten down the limit screws on both ends.  Your outer, zero-cable-tension position should be centered directly below the outermost cog, and the inner below the biggest cog -- just like normal, but just more extreme.  The total throw of the dérailleur is just really short now.  Okay, shifting.... well, one could use a bar-end or a down-tube shifter... the shift lever will only move as far as the limit screws on the dérailleur allow it to, so as long as you are in friction-mode, you're good... but I'm sparing even THAT expense.  

In the guise of single-speed simplicity, and keeping my hand on the bars and not worrying about how thick my gloves are vs. how dexterous I need to be to operate my shifters, I'm keeping this a manual system.  With a twist... literally.  Most modern dérailleurs that are set up for index shifting have a barrel adjuster on them, for trimming in the final indexing.  If you tighten this barrel adjuster all the way down, and then loosen it all the way up again, you may notice there is quite a bit of difference between fully tight, and fully loose.  Turning this adjusted puts tension on a cable, just like a shift lever at the front of the bike would - so I'll employ it as my "twist shifter".  I took a small, 4" long length of shifter cable, and I inserted it into the barrel-adjuster end of the dérailleur so the soldered, molded cable end that is normally nestled inside the shifter is now down inside the barrel adjuster itself.  The cable end that comes out is attached to, with the adjusted tightened all the way down, to the pinch bolt, just like you were running shifter cable on a normal set-up.  With the rear wheel elevated off the ground, pedal the cranks forward and start turning the barrel adjuster, which adds tension to the cable.  Voila!  The dérailleur moves, slowly, towards the next cog in line - and you've just shifted to your middle cog.  Keep turning, and it shifts to the largest cog.  The limit setting stops it from there.  Yes, you would have to plan ahead, stop, shift manually, remount the bike and continue.... but just like on ANY single speed set-up, chances are you won't do that unless you REALLY have to.  You simply pedal harder.

Finally, depending on the particular dérailleur and it's available barrel-adjustment length, you might even be able to squeeze in a fourth cog... but I'm not sure why you'd need to if you choose your ratios carefully.  Beyond that, I'd consider actually adding a shifter up front, and putting six or more gears back into play.  For the purposes of this build and the intended use, three is plenty... and the idea is to choose gears that would in of themselves make adequate single-speed ratios, so you aren't forced to stop and switch gears too much.  In my case, I'd save the 21t cog for the nasty days, knowing that it'd take a long time to get home anyways.  Using Sheldon Brown's gear-inch calculator, it's very close to what the Monokogs had on it as a single ratio.  The 17t will be perfect for dry days that are just cold, and the 26t cog figures out much taller than what the Monokogs had, for REALLY nasty conditions... or really steep hills on minimum-maintenance roads.  Fun, fun, fun!!!  I won't have to shift much.. but I *CAN*.  I love that.

So, the simplicity and "purity" of the single-speed set-up remains intact... but, you have options along for the ride.  Even better, those options are available without having to remove a wheel, adjust chain tension in the dropouts, or manually move a chain between ring and cogs.  Shifting is convenient... but not TOO convenient.   Plus, my "need" list for the rest of the project just got a whole lot shorter, and I've brought a little uniqueness to this latest winter-bike.  How it plays out in the field remains to be seen, but I'm pretty satisfied at this point!

Pics to come.... perhaps even a video of the set-up.
Thanks for reading!

July 26, 2010

Sweet, summer rain

With a lot on my mind, and a careful eye on the forecast - back pockets full of lessons-learned from almost 30 days prior - I saddled up for another shot at the Free-State Border Patrol permanent: 217 kilometers of fun in eastern Kansas. Spencer K. was along for the fun, as was Robert L., proving he's as glutton for punishment as I am when it comes to these things. anyone with a brain would have chosen a shady route, if such a thing exists around here. Four-AM... here we go again!

Riding along 175th street in the pre-dawn hours of a weekend morning is a magical experience - the streetlights are gone, and the natural darkness of the night takes over, this time punctuated by a nearly-full moon to the west. The confident glow of LED headlights against the pavement, wind from the south, and stars. LOTS of stars... except to the north, where the storm front that was still dozens of miles away loomed, occasionally lighting up the sky with the silent, orange flash-over of lightning beyond the horizon. With the temperature already at 82 degrees, and the humidity very high, I was looking forward to rain at some point in the day this time out, which was forecast at a 50% chance after 1:00pm. Spencer, Robert and I took up our positions on the road - Spencer on the fixed gear, slowly spinning away in a comfortable, warm-up pace fell back about 1/4 mile, and Robert on the recumbent ended up about a 1/4 mile ahead of me... evenly spaced, no headlight-shadows, silent running. Even without my usual 7-Eleven ride-start coffee, my mind was alive - just looking around and scanning the skies, enjoying the sights, and I was lucky enough to be looking slightly up when a bright green shooting star blazed across the atmosphere... perhaps a good sign. I smiled to myself, and took another drink of water.

Pre-ride hydration was working already - a quick nature break along 199th Street after climbing the big hill on Antioch - which to my delight was FINALLY repaved! I don't mind gravel when it's gravel, and there's no notion that the road was ever meant to be "improved", but when an otherwise paved road falls into disrepair, it's frustrating dodging potholes when tasked with climbing a 12% or better hill. After a couple years of degraded conditions, we were finally blessed with only having to climb the hill instead of having to find a good line, too.

Metcalf - uneventful, quiet, blissful conditions... despite the headwind. The wind was markedly stronger than last month, but the cooling effect was welcome with the humidity. We hit the BP station at Louisburg around 5:45am, found it to be open, so we topped off the water bottles and took another restroom break.

Already sweaty, and the sun isn't up. Louisburg, KS.

Jingo Road... the heat of summer had clearly taken its toll on the over-the-road trucking industry... or it was just a bad month for tires. Compared to last month, the shoulder along highway 69 between 335th and 359th streets was littered with detritus from re-tread blowouts and sidewall failures. "Road gators" were more common, and while I did my usual best to avoid running over anything obvious, it wasn't too big of a surprise when my rear tire went soft about 10 miles after getting off the highway shoulder and back onto rural roads. Probably a mile away from the turn onto K-152, I found myself with the bike upside down, digging into the seatbag to fix the resulting flat tire, and finding the typical radial-tire casing wire sticking into the tread: which is about the only thing most Kevlar anti-puncture belts are eventually powerless against, with enough weight and revolutions. I went through the usual thoughts about how "worthless my tires are" and such nonsense, but this was the first time I'd flatted on this route since March 2008, so I had no room to complain. That would come later. I still love my tires - stick with what works, but sometimes the negative thoughts are automatic.

Continued notes-to-self to keep an even pace, and slow down, and that it doesn't matter who is ahead and who is behind - difficult thoughts for someone who, hard to admit, is a touch competitive on the bike sometimes. I knew it was hot, and I knew the day was long - but I could feel my shoulders tense a little once I had the seat-bag repacked and the bike upright again. I knew Spencer had passed me a few minutes earlier, and I knew Robert was WAY ahead - and I also knew that none of it mattered, and I'd logged hours of solo-time on this route in the past... but, I felt that urge to make up time. I tucked and screamed down the long hill into the valley once on K-152... but quickly came back to my senses once the road flattened out. They had to stop at Casey's, just like me, so there's no reason to rush. Besides, the hills were coming... and while I'm not bragging, the simple fact was recumbents aren't good on climbs, regardless of rider strength, and Spencer was on the fixed gear, which to a certain degree would make him slightly slower up the grades that were coming. He's a terrificly strong rider, however - so, I resorted to the notion that I'd at least see Robert again. Casey's came, and they were still there - which was cool, but they were wrapping up their time there. So I fell into my usual control routine, and then headed out, maybe a few minutes behind them.

After some time and patience, I bridged back up with my counterparts right around the first hill of the "middle section" of the Free State Border Patrol, and settled in. The headwind was strong, but the downhills were still a blast as always - and the hills themselves; I felt strong, confident, and was spinning out a decent gear - but not too hard. Wrens were in song, meadowlarks, too. The sky was endlessly clear, and it was getting hot. Really hot. I was regretting my black helmet -- not my first choice in helmet color ... not even my LAST choice... but, it was all that was available in my size and preferred model at the time, after discovering that my previous helmet had been more than sufficient in absorbing the blow of my bike falling onto it while it was parked at a control back in May. I'd ridden it for a while before discovering it, and initially it didn't seem that bad - but in subsequent weeks I kept discovering new cracks, some that were through and through with the clear imprint of my bar-end shifter on the outside shell. Yeah, my chances of finding the limits of the material with my head were pretty slim, but when my friend Noah hit a deer last month, that was it for my second-guessing. Spurred by the wife, too, I got a fresh lid. I just don't think the color fits me, and it certainly doesn't reflect heat very well. Heck, it was blinkin' hot either way... something tells me that a white helmet would have felt a little cooler. Who knew a shop would run out of white helmets? I'm not a fashionista when it comes to bike gear... just ask my safety-yellow jersey, my mismatched gloves, and garish socks... but, I prefer a white helmet. Maybe next time.

The hills were done - and we stopped at Pleasanton, rested, I washed myself off and applied new sunscreen, got fresh water and ice, a bit of a refill to my back-pocket munchie supply, and we were off again. More pacing on the hills on the return, and especially after turning north for the first time, more dousing with water. Tailwind... all cyclists revel in it, the speed rush, the high average speed opportunity. Today, however, I was almost wishing for a double headwind: as soon as we turned north and the wind turned off the temperature seemed to climb 30 degrees in an instant. It was hot. Literally, like riding in a bread oven. Eventually, despite how much it really WAS helping, dousing with extra water would prove futile. The humidity was high enough that it really didn't matter...but, it did help. Since the skin is no longer radiating heat, because the temperature is too high... and the humidity is too high for evaporative cooling to work... the only thing dousing does is temporarily cool the surface of the skin. Once your body warms that water... or the sun does, whichever... you're right back to being hot, wet, and miserable. BUT, my ears were not popping, my sinuses were not crushing, and my vision was clear and focused. So, there is a benefit. The only thing I noticed about myself: I have to practice breathing when it's this hot: in through the nose, out through the mouth. That is how it's supposed to go - but I guess I end up breathing through my mouth a lot more when I'm under effort... but when cognizant and concentrating on breathing correctly, I could notice a difference in how I felt, and how much cooler and composed I felt. Interesting... and, if it works, do it. Vascular benefits, perhaps? I don't know - not going to research that part right now... but, there you go. I found myself a lot of time having to remind myself to "just breathe", in order to keep myself under the red zone.

We arrived back at La Cygne before 11AM, shockingly, despite the long break at the halfway. It was difficult to believe with the heat that it was still early... I honestly did a mental time-warp in the wrong direction, and did a double-take when the girl working the counter at Casey's entered the time on my card at 10:47am. HUH? I whipped my head to the clock, thinking somehow it was noon at least. Nope. Man, it's hot. Time-wise, this was pretty good, and I was continuing to make mental notes to NOT try and catch anyone or hurry (Spencer had been out front again after Pleasanton, leaving the halfway just a bit before Robert and me). I even stopped, full-stop, on the roadside near the last downhill, took a picture of the valley below, and rested.

Looking north on DG-1095, at the top of the last downhill before the river valley.

Still, the time was not bad. From there, on, however - slower going was the order. I recall even feeling fairly good at this point last month, but the last 47 miles is where everything started to go WAY south. I felt exceptionally good this time... but I wasn't going to take advantage of it. I don't think any of us were. We still remained gapped and separated on the road, each leaving the controls spaced a little bit apart - but no-one catching up to anyone on the road.

The big hill on K-152, coming out of the valley... and Jingo Road again. Mentally checking off landmarks, I stopped again for a bottle change and photo near one of my favorite parts of the route. I could, at that point, see the glint off of Spencer's crankset on the next hill ahead, as he climbed towards 359th Street, so I had closed some ground: time to rest, then. A bit opposite of my usual approach of "you're close... push harder".

This is the junction of Jingo Road (continues straight north), and the old alignment fo US-69 highway (which curves to the east here, closed long ago). The new highway is about 3/4 of a mile to the east.

Back on US-69 highway again... and diligence against the road debris... seemingly, this side of the highway was a little better off - but still a good amount of crud scattered about. Rutlader, at 335th Street. 319th.... 311th... 295th... yes, literally, I was just riding to the next street: feeling good, staying relatively cool, but aiming for the BP station at 280th and Metcalf, air conditioning, ice, cold drinks, and a restroom. Once again, thanks to the sun being almost perfectly overhead, I caught the glint of Spencer's crankset rhythmically pulsing atop the next hill, and watched his tiny figure pull into the gas station... whew... won't be long now.
Robert wasn't terribly far behind, but I'd started to wonder about him -- turned out, he was taking the same, safe approach: more rests. Good work!

Almost on-match with June's ride, some clouds started to appear overhead in the sky - which was quite welcome, but they were spaced far apart. There was still a chance of rain, but one o'clock would eventually come and go without a drop. Ugh... no relief. Plus, it seemed as if our tailwind was dying out. Hmmm. After another long rest, one by one, we all left the BP station and headed north. This was not my favorite part: Louisburg traffic headed north towards 247th street (the next closest US-69 interchange) and the place where I don't remember much about last months ride... hanging in my head. Breathe, pedal, drink, douse, repeat.

"Wha?.... " squish squish... that tell-tale feeling in the bike handling when there isn't any air in the rear tire anymore, second time that day. Grrr... oh well: I suppose, in some way, this is what I get for starting a ride like this with 3,300 miles on a tire that is generally good for 4,000 miles. Simply not enough material left to really fend off sharpies effectively. Once again, after finding a safe place to get off the road, the offender was one of those radial tire wires, sticking into the shoulder of the tread where the anti-flat Kevlar belt isn't. Not much to be done about that, and probably a result of the highway section again, combined with my thinner tire. On the first flat, I didn't want to "waste time" patching it - I just tossed in one of my two spare tubes, and carried onward. I figured, one-flat per ride... just use a tube, and carry on. This time, flat-number-two, I opted for patches to keep my last spare tube in reserve. This may end up being "one of those rides", after all. Hole found, patch applied, reinsert tube, frame pump... pump pump (repeat about 50 times), done.

"Hey, ya'llright?" It was Robert, rolling past...

"Yeah, just a flat... again! I'll catch up to ya...."

Right about the time he was out of sight, right about when I'd had the seatbag repacked...

"wha?" Grand... been here before... remove wheel from bike, tire from wheel, tube from tire... first patch held just fine... but there's a tiny hole right next to it that I missed... nothing in the tire corresponding to it... oh well... that's why we carry 12 patches, right? Right. Patch number 2. Mount tire... inflate... start to pack seatbag.... PFFFTTTTTSSSSSSSSSSSsssssssssss....

"oh, come now......" A little tenseness in the shoulders, but whatever... what am I going to do, cry about it? No... repeat previous steps, and came to find the 2nd patch's glue had apparently dried up or I was foolish and didn't prep the surface correctly. Bubbled up from the pressure, a vein of air had pushed past the adhesive. Ok, peel off bad patch - prep, reapply another. Bingo! Much better.....pump pump pump pump, pack seatbag, wheel back on bike...


Really fast, all of the air suddenly escapes from the tube AGAIN. Heavy sigh. I stopped, stretched my back, leaned against the fence I was up next to for a second, looking off into the trees, collecting myself. Breathe. Drink... you're not riding, but you're still out here. No shade... I seemed to have flatted about 1/2 mile between two stands of trees. Sweat rolled out of my bandana, even though I wasn't "working". Ugh... let's just fix this, and get moving again.

15 minutes had passed, easily, since I'd stopped... catching Robert? Forget it... even if he was going to stop at Stilwell.

Frustration... let it pass a second before you do anything foolish. Okay... wheel off bike, tire off wheel, tube out of tire... this time, the three-in-a-row hammering and rocking action of valve-stem vs. frame-pump had taken its toll, and the rubber had separated from the metal around the base of the presta stem. Welp, been HERE before, too... Spare tube this time, no choice. Gads, this was good practice, I suppose.

Pump, Pump, Pump.... and a long pause. Rotating the wheel, listening, feeling for solid pressure.... I think we're good... THANK YOU LORD. Yep, out loud... with the luck at that point, I was only 8 patches away (give or take) from a phone call, or a LOOONG walk to Olathe. I didn't want to do this ride all over again.... so, I was very thankful when this last fix held true, and the tube would prove to hold air for the rest of the ride. Yeeeeesh.

As a bonus, I got a little of an arm workout for the day. I can hear the critics now, and you know what?... I partially agree: CO2 inflation would have been really handy here... but, considering that I used to only carry three on a 200K back in "the day", I would have been out of air before the 2nd tube would have come into play, and Robert had already passed. It was maybe a four mile walk back to the BP station in Louisburg, where I could have utilized my Presta-to-Schrader adapter at the gas station... but, MAN... even with time to spare on the clock, that would have been a long, frustrating, hot, tiring walk... and, as randonneuring goes, four-miles north of Louisburg isn't exactly "remote". Put this ride on the Liberty route, and ask me how you spell "screwed". On the second tube, I used the included Presta "nut" to help stabilize the valve stem while I pumped - but, honestly, I just think the failure of the first was bad luck. Certainly my frame pump technique isn't THAT barbaric. Theories aside, it's another round of confirmation out on the open road that a back-up air-pump of SOME kind isn't a terrible idea. For me, it's a frame pump or nothing. This was just a bad day for flats, and while I didn't feel too comfortable riding without spare tubes on hand at least I had an endless supply of air, and a handful of patches left. Back to business.

Catching Robert was out of the cards - I resorted to riding this one "08-style", solo. Low and slow. Plenty of water left, and maybe 8 miles to Stilwell? Easy. I pedalled, and coasted, and took in the sights - including my favorite dead tree near 235th and Metcalf. A freight train passed right under me at the 215th street bridge, which was really cool (and loud), and finally I was at Stilwell Grocery at 199th street. I looked longingly to the right at the front of the c-store, looking for figures and bikes... and there were some I didn't recognize, but I did finally see Robert. He was JUST leaving... but he waited. Almost having given up hope, he held back a few extra minutes while I topped of the bottles again, and took a quick restroom break, and we were off.
The other cyclists there? I have no idea. I saw them, they saw me, but they didn't respond to my "how's it going?" query, so that's all I'll say about that. Welcome home, Johnson County, KS. My stunning Safety yellow jersey musta struck 'em dumb.

Robert and I, back together on this last, hard, surprisingly challenging final 12 miles. I think it's the nearly continuous, steady climb from 175th and Antioch back up to Lackman Road that does me in, every time. Whatever it is, at least it wasn't the death march that last month's edition was... in fact...



The first few miles after Stilwell had been a LOT nicer, as the clouds finally started to gather and organize, providing shade and relief... but now, there was actually RAIN falling... sweet... summer rain! I tilted my head upwards, grinning from ear to ear, letting it just fall upon me. Not a downpour... barely more than a sprinkle, but it felt marvelous. The air smelled of water and wet pavement, the birds sang louder, and I began to feel the miles melt and run off of my arms and legs onto the road beneath me.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't last -- but, for the majority of the last three miles, I felt like a new man. We hit the 7-Eleven to find Spencer sitting on the sidewalk - 30 minutes he'd waited... dang... but, it was good to see him. We all did our final check-ins, and that was it. Later on, back at home, the rain would pick up strength, and thunderstorms pulled in... and I stood out on the back deck and just took it all in. Sure, it was hot, and there were flats ... but, at the end of it all:

Lessons learned from last month - quality over quantity also applies to water bottles. I've been running Camelbak's new-style insulated water bottles for a while now, but - foolishly - I opted for more capacity in June by using my Zefal Magnum water bottles. There's only one thing I'd like to add to my current bike frame, and that's a third set of bottle cage mounts - and I know, clamps, riv-nuts, repaint with braze-ons added... ain't happenin'. Plus, I'm not wearing a hydration pack - not for me. So, I opted for the largest bottles I could find. The larger capacity bottles allow me to carry 66 oz. of water, without having anything on my back, and without losing rear rack space - which is normally reserved for extra layers. The larger bottles aren't insulated, though - something that isn't ever a problem when the temperature is below 80 degrees, really... but the June edition, it never dropped below 80, and as the distances went long between stops the warm water just wasn't refreshing or helpful. The insulated bottles are shorter, and because of the insulation there is not as much internal capacity: they only hold 21oz. each. Two bottles total 42 oz... which isn't bad at all, really, and the colder water is FAR better for the body. Being a touch paranoid, however, I decided to carry a third insulated bottle on my rear rack, bringing my total capacity to 63 oz.: practically the same as the Zefal bottles afford me, all while keeping the water inside much colder. I'm not sure what I was thinking last month, because, to my earlier point about the rear rack space, ...well, I don't need to stow extra layers in the summertime, right? After re-educating myself on hydration method and reviewing previous ride notes, I stuck to a steady intake of "a bottle per hour max", based on what the body can normally absorb - combined with a consistent 1-per-hour Hammer Endurolyte capsule. No cramps, despite what I had previously thought wouldn't be enough. I felt better all around as a result. Three bottles, though? I know... you might think, why carry all that water if you're only going to drink a bottle-per-hour? The rest of the water on-board was used to douse myself and keep my temperature down - something I didn't do last time out. I ended up being soaking wet, but I felt MUCH better this time during the hottest part of the ride, though it was a constant battle of tailoring pace for the conditions, and keeping cold liquid on me. Carrying the extra bottle allowed me to continue keeping cool, without running short on the water my internals needed. Plus, I couldn't reach the third bottle (safely) from the saddle, so it made a between-control rest-stop/break a welcome necessity. Good time for photos, too.

Pace: I tell ya, I swear... I had zero-intent on this ride. Finish, and finish safe. It was going to be hot, with blazing sun and high humidity. As the morning progressed, and even with conscious efforts to actually SLOW DOWN my pace despite what my riding counterparts were doing, I averaged fairly well. As you'll read later, I had a little bit of "race radio" in my head at times... but it was really only for fun, and was not accompanied by a heated pace or high effort. It reinforces my notions that the mid-June vacation and layoff from exercise may have left me well rested, but the accompanying recreational activities might have had a negative effect on my abilities. With higher temps and stronger headwinds, we arrived at the Casey's in La Cygne in really good time, and arrived at the halfway in really decent time. The tailwind after turning around certainly helped the average speed: but I certainly wasn't taking advantage of it by pushing the pace to get a good number. No matter how good any of us felt, we still had to ride the last 22 miles... I kept that in mind, the BIG picture... not just acting impulsively on how I was feeling on whatever particular stretch of road I happened to be on. That was an improvement over the June approach. Riding smart, based on the conditions, is the way to go. There is nothing written that says one has to try and average high simply because it's summer.

Food: Carboplex, worked marvelously again - and I carried one extra serving in the back-pocket for the last stop at Louisburg. This provided good, even fueling - all day. I also had a little bag of treats back there, PB crackers, some pretzels, some crumbled-up Pringles chips, and some chocolate chip pancakes, the frozen kind, that I'd toasted up and let cool the night before. Calorie-rich, and mighty tasty. Still, despite all the extras on top of the Carboplex, my math still had me at a slight deficit - but I am learning to eat enough for the time and distance at hand. The result, combined with correct hydration, is starting (to my point about pace) to net slightly more consistent and slightly faster 200km finishes.

Finally, while riding with an audio player would certainly provide some distraction and possibly elevate my level of enjoyment while on these longer rides, I still choose not to ride with one. What I have done in the past is turn on my phones internal audio player and use the external speaker, usually in the last ten miles of a long brevet or a night ride. The battery won't last very long that way and the sound quality isn't that great - but it gets me "home". During the majority of the riding I do, however, I find it curious and fascinating what songs pop into my head through the natural course of subconscious selection. Some are songs that I haven't heard in years - others are something maybe I heard on the radio the day before - others still, I can't quite place why they pop into my head, what along the ride cues it up.. but, again, that adds to the fascination. In addition to movie and TV quotes, old radio-morning-show-skit quotes, and various other absurdities that pass my lips after the odometer passes 100 miles, here are the songs from my head: My musical tastes are eclectic, so each is linked to a video or audio track if you're not familiar with the song.

"Summertime" - Ella Fitzgerald (or Billie Holiday) popped into my head, and was sung out-loud in the C'D-lounge-singer style, while approaching "hill #3: outbound" about 3 miles west of Pleasanton, KS. Oh, how the neighbors love me when I croon... once I forgot the words after the first two verses of the original version, my mind switched to the Sublime dub-version....thusly; "Doin' Time" - Sublime

Upon reaching the base of "hill #3", Phil and Paul took over the mental space - something that would happen occasionally all day: something that always happens for me in the month of July, especially when - after that first flat - I found the uncanny desire to ....

(fade to Paul Sherwen)...

... bridge the seemingly insurmountable gap that was opened up by the lead break upon crossing the flatlands of the Rhone (errr, Marias des La Cygne) valley. The crosswinds are maybe going to be a bit of a factor. You saw the skill when the puncture came, there was no panic at all, he took up the spare wheel... but it was certainly not part of the plan this morning, and with this gap now, with the damage done, I've got to wonder if he's still dreaming of a stage win today?

Phil Liggett: It would be a sweet victory indeed, but he's not a terrific time-trialist, this man; if he's going to secure the polka-dot jersey before Paris he needs to make a move here and dig deep. The puncture occurred, a little bit of bad luck, but if he wants a stage result or a chance to retain his lead in the King of the Mountains competition, he's got to make a move.

Paul: ...he does, Phil, but whether or not the individual time trial is his specialty, he will absolutely turn himself inside-out to catch the two leaders on the road. He's a true professional, he knows what's at stake, and he will ride to the limit... the question is, can he do it before the first col arrives, and will he have anything left in reserve to take the climb?

Phil: And there's the move now.... look at the face of this man, you can see the effort... and perhaps a little shadow of a grin now as the race officials pull the team cars out of the gap - he'll know what that means... The gap was around two minutes at the turn to the mountain road, and he's nearly pulled them back - the last check is at twenty seconds, and we're just now getting onto the slopes of this climb now...(fade out)....

Anyone that even remotely follows cycling sport has had Phil and Paul in their heads for motivation at one time of another, and I love it when it happens. One of the best amateur short films about this phenomenon is centered around one man's bicycle commute to work, and it's a perfect example of Phil and Paul commentary ( HERE ) for those that don't follow professional bike racing.

"What I have done" - Anna Ternheim - popped up somewhere along Jingo Rd., before my first flat. A kind of tapestry-woven melody that isn't quite on par with the studio version, though I prefer Anna backed by a band, rather than her preferred singer/piano set-up. Not quite as creepy or haunting as Imogen Heap, but easier to listen to.

"This is hip" - John Lee Hooker - heard along 175th street, in the dark sometime around 4:30AM. The master. I had a subway sized poster of this guy leaning up against a late 40's Buick with his big hollow-body guitar on his knee. Doesn't get much better when it comes to real, genuine, working-man's blues.

Zero7 - "Somersault" - quite a bit of my mental airspace is occupied by Zero7 - mellow, mildly techie, airy and honest, and very good "soundtrack" feel for rolling along an open road, rich in texture. While vocal skill is a very subjective thing popularly speaking, I think that Sia Furler can honestly belt a song maybe better than most, without digital assistance. She's a bit quirky, and very talented as a song-writer - and I'm a long-time fan of her solo work, and Zero7, of course. Not surprising, this song popped into my head yet again - which isn't a bad thing. There is a forthcoming "best of" collection of remasters coming out soon, and I'm excited to get it.

There ya have it, folks -- stay tuned for a ride report from the upcoming "Hard Cider" ride on August 7th.
Don't know what that is? Email me.

Thanks for reading!

July 23, 2010

Border Patrol pre-game

It's the final day of ramp-up prior to taking on the Border Patrol route once again, for R-12, vol.2, no.6 -- the halfway marker for my 2nd R-12 run!

Stay tuned for a ride report, and (hopefully) some photos.  In fact, I'm using the heat and humidity as an excuse to take purposeful breaks and rests - and take some pictures with my new phone.  This isn't a tech blog, but in short it's got a 3.2 megapixel camera built-in, where my last phone had a 1.3 megapixel.  This is, by today's standards, still pretty "light", as some pocket point-n-shoot cameras are upwards of 14 megapixels now --- but it's an improvement, and it'll be clear enough for my purposes.  Sure, I could just carry a real camera -- but not at the price I paid for the phone, and not as conveniently.  So, hopefully the blog and Facebook spaces will be alive with richer photos... assuming I have the mental wherewithal to occasionally extract the camera from my pocket or bag.

Besides the purposeful rests and photo stops I hope to take on this ride, my training for tomorrow has been much more like the old race-prepping I used to do for ultras in the heat.  Sharply contrasted to last months' attempt, I've been actively hydrating and paying closer attention to "hard days" vs. "easy days" on the bike.  To minimize the risk of injury, I have removed cross-training from the regiment this week - not long enough to lose any fitness from it, but long enough to be better rested.  Finally, I haven't been on "vacation" - the diet has been followed, and I've abstained from the "drink".  While this certainly won't be "Tinbutt '05" as far in speed in concentration, I should be far better prepared for what looks to be a carbon copy of the conditions from June's ride.

Looking at a 40-50% chance of thunderstorms after 1:00pm locally, and a fairly strong SSW wind.  It will be a matter of conservation on the outbound leg, and then taking advantage of the tailwind on the return without being in the red-zone.  The tailwind will be nice, but it tends to make the heat feel ever hotter - so it's important to save something for the return, despite the fact pedaling should be easier.  Humidity will be there, and I think the only reason the National Weather Service office hasn't extended the Excessive Heat Warning into Saturday is because of that chance of thunderstorms.  We didn't get a drop last time - but the rain chances were slightly lower.  I won't complain one bit if it decides to rain, even if it rains hard - it will feel terrific to have 10+ hours of sweat and road dust washed off, and the relief from the heat will be welcome.  With as exposed as this route is, however, things come to mind like lightning... and the lack of things for it to strike on certain parts of the route.  All in all, we'll still have a better chance of winning the lottery - the scant trees and phone poles still offer less resistance than a guy on a bicycle... at least, that'll keep my mind at ease.  Had worse.

So, I'm not going for any time records, average speed goals, or "be back to X by X o'clock" thoughts.  The primary goal is to finish, and the secondary goal is to finish in better physical shape than last month.  I'll have two companions riding with me on this edition, also, so I'll have plenty of ways to gauge effort and condition.  Robert on the yellow recumbent will be along for the fun again, and Spencer K. is coming down from St. Joseph to ride with us.  Ought to be a good time!

I'll have to remember that while climbing "hill number 3" on the return trip from Pleasanton!  Also, it will be difficult after three-weeks of Tour coverage to keep Phil and Paul out of my head.  Part of me thinks it'd be rather extraordinary to have someone out there along the rural highways to see us coming, jump off their riding mower or tractor, and run to the side of the road to cheer us... maybe running alongside, and somehow producing a Basque flag from their coveralls to wave in our faces.

vive le Tour!  vive les randonneurs!  Allez, allez!!

Thanks for reading!

July 19, 2010

Hydration revisit

Recently, I tried to outline some of the tips for hot weather riding and staying cool - and ultimately safe - when the temperatures are high.  After two relatively mild summers, it seems that 2010 is closer to "normal" for the region.  It's been hotter, and extremely humid lately.  Instead of having you struggle through a horridly written account of how I think you should stay hydrated... and more importantly after my last 217km permanent and the hardships I encountered... I recommend doing some serious research and training in the heat - in moderation - to find out what works best for you.

Short, quick hits:  drink enough, but not too much.  Thinking back to the end of June and my ride, I started out in the hole - but then I went WAY over the top and started taking in too much.  In my efforts to stave off dehydration, I went the other way.  Thankfully, I did supplement electrolytes during that "adventure", but I still took in far more than I should have.  Reinforcing that is a good, well-written article about hydration that I found on Hammer Nutrition's website.  

Disclaimer:  I don't work for Hammer Nutrition, but I've been using their stuff for years (when I can afford it), and have a pretty high opinion of their thinking, philosophy, etc.  BUT, they are a "company" with employees that are trying to make ends meet.  Refreshingly, this article is not terribly "sales-y" in nature.  Facts, numbers, advice, and cited references abound - but, yeah, they are going to mention one or two of their products, just like any company will.  I still recommend reading it if you are still riding and training in the high heat we've had around here lately.

You can find the article here.

Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for another 200+ kilometer ride report, coming next week.
Stay cool - ride safe.

July 13, 2010

The power of you.

I heard the term "bicycle lifestylist" coined recently, and while I'm not sure what the exact definition was intended to be for the exact person receiving it, it is one of those terms that kinda fits me.  While I don't own many bikes, while I don't race, while I don't currently have a fixed gear, while I admittedly don't live completely car-free, I do - no question - love cycling.

It's not really about being outside, because that part is easy.  It's not really about the parts or the frame, because anything will do - but, admittedly, I do rather enjoy the mechanically-slanted part of the discussion.  There is just something about it all coming together.  It's a sort of purity, I've heard said.  At its core, perhaps, yes.

No-one muddies the waters of purity more than I do, with discussions about this grouppo or that, trials of dehydration, what shorts fit better than others, what helmet is the nicest fit, what tires to run, bike fitting.  At MY core, however, it's pretty clear:  I simply love to ride, even on days where it might seem I'm having a rough go.  

I wake up, I shower, I put on the clothes, and I ride.  It really doesn't matter where I'm headed; I'm happier if I'm riding there.  Hot, cold, wet, dry; I'd rather be riding.  Just like my love of my family, I'll probably keep on loving riding until the day I don't.

I feel a page turning, however - I haven't attended a "t-shirt" ride in years, it seems.  The exception, the MS-150, I probably won't be returning this year.  I've been absent from most regular "group rides", too.  Granted, if I had more time (and a car) I probably WOULD attend some, because there are faces I miss terribly.  Commuting alone clearly isn't enough - and that's where randonneuring has come in, clearly.  If I can't ride the weekly group rides, I seem to be making up for it on brevet or permanent weekends... mileage-wise, anyways.  

Speed?  Yeah, I still love it.  I guess I still have something of a competitive drive in me.  Even as the years pass I still find the county-line sprint intriguing, but I find myself changing in other ways, all the while.  I still ache for more prowess in the hills, still wrestle with my own physiology -- all while seemingly making my bikes heavier and heavier as time passes.  Part of me still wants the trim physique of a pro climber... but I still want a front rack and a good handlebar bag, too.  I still prefer lugs on my frames... but I drool over SRAM Force parts.  Just yesterday I reveled in the fact I was able to hammer on a flat at 27MPH, keeping up with residential traffic.... but I still want bigger tires under my fenders.  All healthy things, I suppose, if not a little confusing on the exterior.  I can almost see myself in ten years, sitting astride a specially-made lugged behemoth with 26" wheels, 2.0" short-knob gravel-specific tires, fenders, lights, racks, bags, wool, probably  a full beard, probably eating a PB&J from my, by-then, nicely worn-in handlebar bag, complaining and beating-up on myself for not staying in the lead break at the weekend fun ride.  I chuckle at the thought, because I doubt I'm far off.  I'll probably talk your ear off about it if you happen to be there and I'll certainly blog about it, assuming such a thing hasn't slipped into obscurity.

Another part of me sees myself astride that same bicycle, with any luck at all my wife by my side, staring across the open plains on Old K-18, way out west of here west of Alma, KS.  Who knows, but I'll probably be smiling.

While it's not about the bike, clearly equipment CAN be a limitation - and of late I find myself with desires that my current set-up doesn't quite support.  I read other blogs and I ache for adventure.  I read of highway bans and I see local traffic becoming more and more of a hazard, and I long for open stretches of rail-trail or gravel back-country roads, remote and quiet - where, in large part, being on a bicycle puts you back at the top of the transportation food-chain.  

No drastic changes here, not yet - but I feel it coming.  I feel it slowly becoming easier and easier to let go of things like the "skinny tires"... and by "skinny", I mean the 700x28c tires I've been running for years now.  Yeah.  Letting go of things like the "small seat bag" and the restrictions of "long-reach" road caliper brakes.  Hmmmm... It's still years away, but I can almost envision it hanging upside down in the garage, waiting to be used.  I'll keep the road bike, for sure...but for some reason I see myself redefining "road".

It's one thing to be perched atop a hill on the side of a road, looking backwards and realizing that the only thing that got you there was the power of "you"... that's a very satisfying feeling, and it never gets old... but I imagine it's quite another feeling to be standing on the side of an excuse-for-a-road, upon which you haven't seen a soul for over a day, where your GPS says you're not ON a road...  and looking backwards from there... well, that feeling has to be something altogether special in a completely new way.

I hope to have the health and the resources to someday make that happen, if only for a short time.

Thanks for reading, and no matter HOW you do it -- ride on.

July 6, 2010

Everything is bigger in Texas

The Texas Time Trials are back!
September 23-25, 2010

Probably the best event of its kind anywhere I've been.
Visit the webpage above for all the information - and take the challenge!