Saturday, June 27, 2009

A new friend

Yes, it's true. I have an upright. :-)

I purchased a lovely used Bianchi Castro Valley from Joe last weekend, and have put about 110 miles on it during my commute this week thus far. Reasonable gearing (8 speeds, sufficient for me to get up to a decent speed on the flats, and to crawl up McClure at a snail's pace); dynamo hub paired with an IQ Fly (astoundingly nice headlight, compared to the DLumotec I've been using on the P-38), and a Shimano bar-end shifter paired with a Paul's Thumbie mount on Nitto Promenade bars. Oh, yeah, and XTR brakes with which I've already fallen in love. Some dings, some rust, but hey, it's a commuter.

So, why? Why, I hear you ask? Well, there are various reasons. First and foremost, the RANS Rocket on which I commute is in dire need of some love. The seat's about shot, the drivetrain is in less-than-stellar shape, and the frame could use a bit of paint or powder to prevent a terminal case of corrosion. I have a plan for a rebuild, but it's going to take a while to gather all the needed bits. It made sense to drop a few bucks on a machine that I could use ASAP, rather than rush the Rocket rebuild. Secondly, I've been wanting a decent upright for a while. Never having ridden one to any great extent, it seemed like a fun break from the 'bents, as well as an easy way to make use of accessories for the kiddies like Trail-a-bikes that are significantly harder to get working with the 'bents. That said, I have no intentions of leaving the recumbent fold...I'm merely expanding my horizons...

It's been an interesting week, full of discovery, adventure, and (a new experience) saddle discomfort. Things I like: the height, and ability to stand tall on the pedals to see from a more altitudinous vantage point; the handling, as it seems to work well with my drunken-monkey pedaling style; the ability to stand and power on the cranks for short periods is all kinds of spiffy. Things I dislike: the height, as it feels like I'm on a frickin' circus bike; the saddle, as my nether parts are not exactly inured to such pressures; and, although it may sound odd, the fact that most people could just hop on and ride off.

I'm already thinking about some changes: Joe supplied the bike with lots of extra bits, including the original drop bars, and experimentation has shown me that I feel more comfortable bent over a bit farther than the Promenades and current riser encourage. I'd have to drop a few bucks on some Tektro levers capable of pulling my XTR brakes, but that's a fairly trivial expense. Also, although I'm not going to jump the gun for at least a couple of hundred more miles, I may well invest in a Brooks saddle.

My lack of mad skillz must be addressed forthwith. I need to work on a couple of major areas, including one-handed operation (gotta be able to carry the coffee cup), slow-speed (okay, all-speed) turns, bunny hops and curb climbing, and graceful mounts and dismounts (it ain't pretty, believe you me!). Most of this will come with practice; it's just very odd to be a confident and moderately fit commuter, with minimal handling skills on the bike in use. I'm liking it, has really added a lot of joy to turning over the pedals this week. Not that cycling is tedious, but it's nice to shake things up once in a while.

An old friend

(This post was almost entitled "Riding an Old Friend", but careful reflection convinced me otherwise.)

I was feeling mellow, uncreative, and unambitious today, so I skipped the LHORBA Mt. Davis Century (just didn't feel like getting up at 4:30 AM), and did a variation on one of my old favorite loops. I chose to add Charles St, mostly because I was halfway down Brighton by the time I decided where I was going, and Chuck St is a nice way to warm up the legs.

I haven't ridden Rochester in quite a while, and Nicholson-Roosevelt has been neglected since I stopped commuting home from Cranberry. It was nice to revisit climbs that used to bring me to the brink of tears, and find that they really weren't that big a deal anymore.

It was also interesting to get all kitted up and go out for less than three hours. I've been so enmeshed in this all-day/multi-day rando lifestyle that I'm starting to forget that it's entirely possible to have a very nice ride without crossing a state line or needing to eat my body weight in gels and bananas.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

DC Randonneurs Frederick 600K

On Saturday, June 13th, and Sunday, June 14th, I enjoyed the 600K brevet out of Frederick, Maryland, offered by the DC Randonneurs. Although I missed their 200K (darn inconvenient childbirth thing!), I had previously ridden their 300K out of Warrenton, and the 400K also out of Frederick, so wrapping up the series with their 600 seemed logical. Well worth the drive.

Bill Beck's Photos
Maile Neel's Photos
Ed Felker's Photos and Ride Report

Short Version
375+ miles, rolling average of 16.2 mph, zero mechanicals, minimal profanity, lots and lots and lots of fun. Big thanks to Bill for running the show, Lynne for designing a rockin'-cool route, and the rest of the volunteers who made it happen.

Personal best: more than 6 hours of downtime in the middle of a 600K. That felt gr-r-r-r-ATE.

Long Version
Being the altruistic sort that I am, getting up an hour early to help out with bike inspection seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea. Of course, when the alarm(okay, alarms: wakeup call, cell phone, travel clock, and shock collar) went off at 2:15 AM, the wisdom of this course seemed somehow to pale a bit. Regardless, I poured myself out of bed, chugged the Starbucks FrappachinaMochaCaffeBeverage that I'd cleverly purchased the night before, prepped the bike, and staggered out into the night. "So late that it's early" is something that I've never quite mastered, but can usually fake pretty well.
Bike inspection was fun; it was a great opportunity to meet athletic people and check out their racks, so to speak. As always, the variety of bikes on the brevet delighted me; everything from weak-at-the-knees titanium Indy Fab glory to heavy steel tourers; from high-end folding Bike Fridays to recumbents laden with bags, bells, and gizmos.
A few encouraging words from RBA Bill Beck, and we were off. Significant portions of the 65 miles to the first control were familiar from the 400K two weeks prior, although reversed. It was particularly pleasant to do the gradual climb up Shippensburg, then plummet down PA233, rather than the rather painful climb along the reverse course.
We in the lead group were making pretty good time; darn near 17 mph average, which put us at the first controle, the Kings Gap Store, before its opening time at 7 AM. After a few minutes sitting and enjoying the culinary delights of Energy Beans and peanut butter crackers, it was time to get back on the road.
I was feeling pretty perky, so ended up going off the front after a bit. Eventually, the Chuck and Crista Tandem-driven Express Train appeared in my rear mirror, so a fun game of rabbit and greyhound was on. They eventually reeled me in, but I'm happy to say it took 'em quite a while ;-)
At the next control, it became apparent that a proper refueling stop was in order. The Main St Cafe in Mercersburg provided wedgies, sandwiches, ice-cold Pepsi in massive quantity, and a nigh-endless stream of pitchers of ice water. Upon leaving the controle, we were trapped on the wrong side of the street for almost 15 minutes by a mammoth motorcycle rally of some form, complete with police escorts, traffic marshals, matching tee-shirts, and a few half-wits who felt it was the height of comedy to make pedaling motions with their legs at us.
From Mercersburg, we proceeded on. The heat of the day was growing a bit oppressive, so a stop at the Battleview Market in Gettysburg for hydration and ice cream seemed in order. Our path then led across the Potomac and into Shepherdstown, West Virginia, en route to a miserably hot climb up Snickers Gap on Route 7, and the controle at the Pine Grove Restaurant. The pain of the climb was soon forgotten, as vast quantities of pulled pork barbeque were supplied. After a wholly inadequate digestion time, we set off on the final 50-mile leg back to the hotel. Arriving before dark was a delight, as no 400K in my experience had ever ended so quickly. Deciding not to depart until 4 AM the next day was equally delightful; it was quite liberating to decide that setting a personal best for time was simply not that important on this ride.
Sadly, I slept like crap; however, I still departed the next morning feeling far, far better than I would have otherwise. This was to prove crucial to my well-being, as, well, the climbing on the 200K loop was a lot more vigorous than that on the 400K. I believe the phrase "200' rollers" was used, and the description was pretty darned apt. The Pigeon Hills region of York County was beautiful, and Scenic, and ground me into the dirt in short order. Thankfully, Chip, Chuck, and Crista were less beaten down than I, and I managed to cling for dear life to their collective wheel. Ok, to be honest, I barely managed to keep them in sight for much of that stretch, but having them to focus on kept me going much better than I would have on my own.
We finally arrived back at the hotel in early afternoon, to be greeted with a lovely picnic by the pool. A liter of caffeinated beverage and a hot shower later, and I was feeling human enough to socialize for a bit. Then, somehow, I managed to pass out face down on the bed in my room, and completely missed out on the post-ride group dinner. Ah, well...guess I just need to head back down for another brevet, and another opportunity to chill with the DC folks. Darn!

Lessons Learned
  1. Taking an extra 2 hours of total elapsed time in exchange for 6 hours of extra downtime 'twixt the 400 and 200K loops is so very, very worth it.
  2. The combination of Heed, Perpetuem, and Jelly Belly Extreme Sport Beans (no, I'm not kidding), plus real-ish food every few hours, works very well for me. No problems with digestion, cramping, weakness, or dehydration to report; also, as a pleasant change from all of my long rides this year, no real lull or down period.
  3. NOT having to deal with one or more flats on a ride makes me a much happier man.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dirty Dozen hills are more fun after a metric...

...That was the theory, anyway. The astute reader, possessing even the most cursory knowledge of Pittsburgh's Dirty Dozen, can probably guess how that turned out.

Myself, Scott, and Alan rode out from the Vault at the positively luxurious hour of 7:30 AM. We headed out along California through Bellevue, Avalon, and Emsworth (changing street names every three blocks or so), then picked up Rt 65 to Sewickley. I suppose we could have done the traditional route via McKees Rocks, Neville Island, and Coraopolis, but the McKees Rocks Bridge is closing in a few days anyway, so we might as well get used to alternate routes to that part of the world.

In Ambridge, we picked up the Red Belt and pushed our way out to Tarentum, then back towards town via Freeport Rd. Nice ride; average speed over 17 mph for the first 60 miles, which is a darn good pace for me (I tend more towards the "let's do 14-15 for the next 200 miles" school of ride pacing.) In Aspinwall, we hung the ralph on Center. I rapidly discovered that, yes Virginia, riding a spirited 65 miles first makes Center hurt a Whole Lot Worse than usual. I took it with my usual utter lack of aplomb, dropping into my bottom gear and creeping up the hill in nicely gastropodial (sic?) fashion. The usual *ahem* rollers *ahem* on the way to the plummet into Sharpsburg were also a bit painful...

In Sharpsburg, we paused to rehydrate at the Quicky-Mart clone on 4th. We ended up spending a few minutes assisting a gentleman named Dean, whose mountain bike was decidedly squishy in the rear-tire regions. Dean lacked tools and expertise, so we took the opportunity to dispense patch kits and tire-changing wisdom in roughly equal measure. Then, off to Ravine for another joyous ascent. Scott and Alan rapidly became dots on the hill in my star-spangled peripheral vision; I, on the other hand, decided to shoot for bare survival and a more *ahem* leisurely *ahem* cadence.

Appropriately enough, I chose to bury my plans for two more hills when I reached the cemetary at the top of the climb. It was hurting enough that, frankly, I doubted my ability to complete Berryhill and High without potentially doing damage to myself that would affect the impending 600K this coming weekend. Alan and Scott, strangely enough, didn't seem to mind the idea of skipping the last two hills in the least.

Scott set off for home; I took Alan down to at least see Berryhill and High, on the way back to town to meet the family for the Three Rivers Arts Festival.