Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Return of Merlin

A new entrant in the best-looking-bikes category: the new Merlin Extralite from Competitive Cyclist.  CC offers a weight calculator for a build, which suggests that with Ultegra Di2 the bike is 12.5 lbs before you add wheels.  Unless they are leaving something else off, that suggests a sub-17 lb. metal bike is possible.


Sam is playing coy with the news of the Habanero rebuild, though I snuck a peak at the draft post and can give a sneak preview:  sweet.

Here's the Gunnar.  It needed less work than the Habanero, being newer and having become less of a frankenbike over the past 7 years.  (Having said that, and again, referencing only a draft blog post, I have to say the results from the more complete work on the Habanero is an argument for a total overhaul at least once a decade.)

The rebuild

What's new with the Gunnar?  New Ultegra 6700 groupset, with one alteration:  the front derailleur is (new) Dura-Ace 7800.  New Thompson X4 stem (a tad beefy for road use, but it matched the seatpost.)  New Richey UD fork, courtesy of Sam (who apparently has no bikes with 1 1/8" head-tubes).  New FSA compact bars with flat tops.  (I first rode compact bars in Alaska last summer on a rented Trek Madone. I'm hooked.  The drops are just about right to actually be comfortable riding low.  Maybe you don't get as low as you could on full drops, but when you never ride in the drops because the position is too low, you don't gain much aero benefit from the position now, do you?)  Pedals are new Look Keo, my new standard for everything except the Specialized.

The wheels

The wheels -- Hed Belgium rims, Powertap rear and White Indus. front hubs, 28 Sapim CX-Ray spokes, built by the Neuvation custom wheel-building juggernaut -- are not new, but they have seen precious little outside riding, something I intend to fix.  Current shoes are Gran Bois 26c with latex tubes (if tires are shoes, are tubes socks?), but I expect to take advantage of the wide Hed rims by swapping these skinny tires for some 28c Gran Bois, also with latex, when I get to DC.

Everything else

Only things really old are the three cages, seatpost, and saddle.  Cages may get swapped for those nice Chris King titanium ones, which I hope will match the light grey crankset and be somewhat more durable than $15 carbon from Origin8.  And I see no reason to mess with a good thing on the saddle and seatpost.

What's left

Now I have to work on the peripherals, by which I mean all the gear one has to carry to ride a long ways.  I think I will mount the ultra-small Topeak pump in the traditional compact pump position (tucked behind the seat-tube water bottle.)  I have not sorted out the aero-bars yet, but I know I need them.  Partly for vanity, partly for weight, and partly because I have gotten used to them I expect I'll use the stubbies.  Lights will be threeX Portland Bike Works taillights and twoX DiNotte up front, with a cheap Planet Bike LED blinkie for a backup.  And I expect to carry two computers -- the fail-safe wired version currently mounted, plus the Garmin on most rides.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Carson City, Silver City, Virginia City

On day 2 last March we rode 62 miles (or so) from Carson City into the hills, through or around historic mining towns, through phenomenal mountain suburbs of Reno, down a long descent, and back along Highway 395.

First we wound through the north part of Carson City on Arrowhead Drive in order to meet Highway 50 a few miles east of town.  Carson City is pretty gosh-awful for the most part, but bravo with regard to the ability to get out of town quickly and easily.  The eastern Sierras loom on the horizon to the southwest (behind Sam in this picture).  The mountains are probably part of the massif surrounding Lake Tahoe.

After leaving Carson City we had about 10 miles to ride along Highway 50.  It had a nice wide shoulder, so we rode without discomfort.  One is halfway tempted to miss the turn-off to Highway 341 and head east to Ocean City, Maryland.

This next photo comes not long after we joined 341.  The climbing starts in earnest just after passing a chocolate factory.  Air temp is still below 40, but as you can see it does not take long to start feeling warm!

After climbing a while we encountered some wild horses.  They are apparently quite used to being encountered and were happy to stand still to have their pictures taken.  This picture comes somewhere between Silver City and Virginia City.  For the sake of future route planning, we followed Highway 341, also called Occidental Grade Road, around Silver City.  The main highway becomes 342. Our route added a few or several miles, but avoided a stretch of 15% grade on the direct route.  Next time, bring lighter bikes and take it head on.

Then we reached Virginia City.  First we crossed the tracks for the Virginia - Truckee Railway.  A sign indicated the railroad is the infrastructure that spelled the end of Silver City, though exactly what about the railroad made a city obsolete is not clear.  Perhaps Silver City was a transit hub of sorts.  Truckee needs no introduction, of course; it is the jump-off to Tahoe area skiing.  We did not make it there on this trip.


After crossing the railroad we entered Virginia City.  It is a highly touristed, well preserved ghost town that is frankly pretty cool.  The below pictures include the opera house, the school, and the mansion in which the mine owner lived.  I can't recall the fourth building, but it looked pretty neat from below.

Highway 341 continued up and over the pass, turning into Geiger Grade Road on the other side.  We split off again onto Lousetown Road and then left onto Cartwright before returning to Geiger Grade.  Riding Lousetown Road was a marvelous meander through a dry alpine valley.  Not far into that valley we rode by this place.  Had it a "For Sale" sign, I would have signed papers on the spot.

I think we were both surprised at the challenge of climbing Cartwright Road back to Geiger Grade.  My GPS recorded a long stretch in the 8% range, which would be fine if we hadn't gone from "riding" mode to "isn't this pleasant" mode somewhere around Virginia City.  After hitting Geiger Grade we returned to the valley floor and Highway 395 in the course of perhaps 10 miles -- what seemed like non-stop 5% descending for 20-30 minutes.  But for a few rude cars and Sam's carbon wheel wiggling in the wind, it would be hard to complain.

We reached 395 at the point where Mount Rose Highway (431) winds uphill to the pass above Lake Tahoe, Mt. Rose Ski Area, and Incline Lake.  (That climb could be added to, or substituted for part of, the route described here.)  Since we were last here in August 2011, on that trip cycling a little less and looking at properties a little more, Highway 395 south from Reno to Carson City has been replaced.  We rode the old road, now named the Carson-Reno Highway, renumbered 395A/430, and boasting a nice shoulder and gentle traffic, while the trucks and speedsters took the Highway 395 just to our west.  We were plowing into a head-wind, it had been 30 miles or better since our last fuel stop, and this was an early-season ride, so the next ten miles might best be described as a slog -- but we seemed to agree that the road was reasonably pleasant nonetheless.

And we had one more main detour, this one on Eastlake Boulevard around Washoe Lake.  We rode this more than once in August 2011, so we knew we liked it and we knew there was a chance to refuel not far from the main road.  I introduced Sam to the wonders of the Snickers ice cream bar, a three-in-one beauty that we returned to more than once more on this trip.  (The three:  calories, cold, and Snickers.)

At its end Eastlake intersects 395 again, but by that point the quiet Reno-Carson Road has been absorbed into the main highway.  I elected to take one final climb through a ritzy Carson City neighborhood, following Hobart to Meadow Woods to Combs Canyon, back down to Ormsby and following College Parkway back to the hotel.  Sam took the directissimo and had a blistering descent on Highway 395.

We finished with In 'n Out in Minden on the way to Bishop.  (By labeling In 'n Out as the end of the ride you get to write off the calories.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek is an ominous name for a town (well, "Census Designated Place") in the middle of Death Valley. The name is not hyperbole; at 134 degrees Fahrenheit, it claims the world's highest recorded temperature. So if one were to go for a bike ride in the area, March seems like about as sane a time as any. Far more sane, at least, than October.

It was with that rationale, and a weather report from google indicating highs for the day in the mid 70s, that Max and I left Bishop, CA in the early morning and headed for Furnace Creek. As on previous days, our plans were not ambitious: a simple out-and-back to Badwater, a location whose name alone beckons one to visit it.

With that buildup, you might be expecting a ride report from an epic ride. That was not to be, so I'll cut right to the chase. We arrived in Furnace Creek with the temperature at a very pleasant 75 degrees. We rode a 40-ish mile out-and-back, with the car's thermometer reporting ~101 degrees in the shade on our return. In reality, it was probably a few degrees cooler than that.

We parked under a fortuitous covered spot at the ranger station, assembled our bikes, and took on some last minute hydration before riding a mile or two on Highway 190 and turning right onto Badwater Road. While it might seem surprising that one can start at 190 feet below sea-level and then trend downward from there, over 20 rolling miles that's exactly what we did. Most of the 'out' was pedaled at a quick pace as the downhills generally provided enough momentum to get up and over the uphills fast. Traffic was light and courteous and the scenery outstanding. The only mishap was one flat tire which we quickly dealt with.
Devil's Golf Course

Sam on Badwater Rd.

We reached Badwater, elevation 282 feet below sea level, and spent 30 minutes faffing about on the salt, while Max attempted to replenish his electrolytes by osmosis.
Max tries to save money on Nuun.

Finally, with the temperatures rising, we opted to head back to the car. As fast as the first 20 miles out had been the 20 miles back felt a bit like a death march. The scenery that I enjoyed on the ride out, I largely ignored on the way back. I've blogged before about falling apart in heat and, while this ride was by no means the equivalent of that, when we returned to Highway 190 I was toast regardless. Max and I had both gone through our two water bottles and, though he was still feeling spry I was not.

Fortunately the General Store near the ranger station was open. Max and I stopped and loaded up on soda and ice-cream bars, and then followed the 508 course out to 29 Palms.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013


Are there any good fenders out there?

Here's one that looks nice and is reported to be excellent.  A thick metal fender with full coverage, including a mud flap, would be just what the dr. ordered -- if it fit.

The PDW fenders linked above are supposed to fit 23c tires, "maybe a small volume 25c."  Not the 28s I hope to run when riding longer this year.  That sucks.  I really, really, want to try them, but at $120 I'm not experimenting.

Everything else is a decided second-best.  These from Planet Bike are what I have; they are flimsy and do not hold position.  I found these "Crud Catchers" on Bike Tires Direct.  They have limited mount points and an intriguing self-centering mechanism:  brushes ride your rims to keep the fenders from shifting from one side to the other.  I like the concept, but no way are they fit for a long event.  I would bet money they would end up in the ditch somewhere between Valdez and Glenallen if I brought them on the BWR.  (Seriously.)  How about these from Blackburn? 

The SKS P35s are supposed to fit 28c tires, although the reviewer who lauds PDW's offering complains that SKS are steel covered in plastic.  (Since when, by the way, would that be a bad thing?  And why not steel not covered in plastic?)  Sheldon Brown likes SKS.  The comment to this blog post says something about SKS with 28c tires on a Gunnar Roadie.  Apparently the post and the commenter are discussing the SKS Raceblade Long fenders.  These look really flimsy to me.  Again, I foresee their ending up in a ditch, although unlike the Crud Catchers perhaps they make it to Delta Junction first.

Sheldon (posthumously, of course) also speaks highly of Delta and Zefal.  As best as I can tell, Delta has gotten out of the fender business.  (It does make a cool iPhone mount, however.)  The only Zefals I can find are clip-ons and some really cheap-looking fuller-coverage fenders.

Then there's the fenders that don't even really try -- like these clip-ons from Planet Bike.  If nothing else is working, are they worth trying?  Not according to Sheldon.  I quote:  "These are crap."

I see that Sheldon also sells hardware solutions that prevents my needing to remove the brake every time I want to mount or unmount the fenders.  I will use such a thing if I can find fenders that fit.

Ride Announcement: Big Wild Ride 2013

Preparation begins in earnest for this year's attempt at the 1200 kilometer distance.  Max is likely to be joined by Damon, a former professional colleague and recent frequent partner-in-crime on events including marathons, triathlons, and longer rides.

We will ride the Alaska Randonneurs Big Wild Ride, from Valdez through Glenallen, Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Nenana, Healy, McKinley Park, Talkeetna, and Wasilla, finishing in Anchorage.  We will launch on July 21 at 6 pm.  A goal that sounds modest but in reality may be aggressive is finishing by July 24 at the same time, for a 72-hour tour of most of the paved roads in Alaska.

Sam remains undecided.  Or else he is decided but not saying so.  Or else he said so but I didn't listen.

I will be riding the Gunnar as rebuilt for the 2013 season -- full Ultegra groupset, well-worn Concor Light saddle, flat-top bars, custom 28-spoke wheels from Neuvation, and stubby aero-bars.  The fork is new this year, a base-model Richey carbon jobbie saving me about a pound of weight versus the original steel.  I expect to stay with 50-34 and 12-25 gearing.  As I write I am planning on running 28c Grand Bois tires with latex tubes, but that is tentative.  One question is whether I can mount fenders -- a big plus in a state in which summer rain is all too frequent.

Lots of experimentation to be done with regard to loading -- camelbak? 4 water bottles?  Frame bag?  How large of a seat bag?  And the same with lights.  If they work well in trials, my two new Dinotte head-lights and the mainstay PBW tail-lights are promising choices.

And the biggest preparation goal is to gain experience with two things.  First is night riding:  with the 6 pm start, night riding is essential on the BWR.  In fact, a highly plausible schedule would have one riding three nights in a row: 6 pm to ~2 pm to reach Delta Junction; 6 pm to ~2 pm to reach Healy; and 6 pm to whenever to return to Anchorage.  Second is multi-day riding.  I've had success finishing 400K and riding a 200K the next day on two 600s in Alaska (the picture is from one of them, and also happens to be a stretch of road the BWR encounters),
but that second day is fairly casual pedaling and the end is very much in sight.  Every other time I've reached beyond 200 miles, the idea of doing it again -- and again -- and again -- and still not being done has deterred me from continuing.

The solution to both is easy to state -- practice.  In reality it's pretty hard to implement.  Who wants to give over an entire weekend to the kind of discomfort that only ultra-cycling can cause?

I'm cautiously hopeful for this year.  Thinking far, far ahead, this is one step in a mid-range goal of gaining entry into the Furnace Creek 508, perhaps targeting fall 2015.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A little reality check . . .

for those of you riding (ahem) modern bikes.

Fast forward to 0:57 if you don't know what I'm talking about even before it starts.  "Carbon fiber" doesn't quite fit, does it?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

June Lake Loop

We need to begin a series of posts detailing the riding in the Eastern Sierras.  Here's a start.

The picture is Sam on Route 158 passing Grant Lake, maybe 30 miles north of Mammoth Lakes, California, in the Eastern Sierra.  The loop runs 25 miles or so from the junction with US 395, past the failing or failed June Lake ski area, through the town of June Lake, around June, Gull, Silver, and Grant Lakes, and after rejoining 395 about 6 miles back to the car.

Most of the loop is closed in the winter, with a metal gate and signs warning of avalanche danger and unmaintained roads.  On March 13, 2013, when we encountered the road, the closure was still in effect but the snow was gone and there was certainly no avalanche concern.

So we rode the remaining ~15 miles, around Grant Lake and back to US 395, with the road utterly to ourselves.

In the background you see one of (or more than one of) Carson Peak, San Joaqin Mountain, June Mountain, or White Wing Mountain.  The ice remained on the edges of the lakes and at some points on the road snow was still piled up on the shoulder, but the pavement was dry and for the most part in great condition.  With the only glitch being equipment related -- Sam's chain broke and I had left my chain-tool in the motel -- this to me ranks in the top few of all-time great rides.

My Recent Rebuild (and a potential problem)

I just rebuilt the P2SL frame with the parts pulled off of the Gunnar, plus a few new items.  In a nod to the old Cannondale, I went with a white saddle and bar tape.

I think it looks pretty sweet.  The torpedo bottle has become my new means of keeping water readily handy when sitting in the aero bars.  The Hed wheels match the frame nicely.

All the parts, except for the stem, bars, and saddle (new) come from the Gunnar.  That rebuild is next.

Here is the problem:  look closely at the cable routing for the front derailleur.  The position of the housing stop makes it impossible to run the cable without running it awkwardly across the body of the front derailleur.

I assume I can ride like this, but I also assume that if I make any substantial number of FD shifts I will kill that cable.  It's sufficiently awkward that I would not be confident that a new cable would last over a hilly event longer than about 200 miles.

What to do?  Option 1:  not worry about it.  Option 2:  go to a bike shop and have them tell me not to worry about it.  Option 3:  create my own housing stop further to the rear so the cable runs straight -- and behind the body of the derailleur.  The obviously right solution is more work than I have any interest in putting in to the fourth bike in my stable, which exists because I had spare parts to use.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Getting A Baseline

I've got a short out and back route near my house that I have used as a very rough gauge of early season fitness for about 6 years now. At just under 21 miles and perhaps 400 feet of elevation gain, with low traffic and perhaps 3 stop signs, it's a great little "time trial" course.

My best time on this route was exactly 5 years ago today, at 56:45 (22.0 mph) [gps link]:

 Today I rode it in 1:00:01 (20.8 mph) [gps link]:

20.8 is faster than I expected, but slower than I hoped. I was really trying for 21. Looking at the speed profiles in more detail, it's clear that I'm consistently 1-2 mph slower than in the past.

A couple factors that I've noted:

  • I'm about 20 pounds heavier now than I was in 2008. Even with only ~400 vertical feet on the route, I think this makes a big difference. Even on this flat route there are rollers where I slow down to 14mph, over which I used to sprint with only a minor slowdown.
  • I'm not able to maintain a sprint for nearly as long. In the past I could stand and sprint over a small hill for 1-2 minutes before really feeling gassed. Now that's more like 20 seconds, and recovery is taking longer as well.
Clearly step 1 is to lose some weight. Step 2, I think, is to keep climbing hills. There's another route near this one with a 1000 foot climb, that makes a good 'big ring' climb. Step 3 is to build up my fixed gear which, in the past, seemed to contribute substantially to increasing my top speed. Presumably because when geared appropriately (my old Steamroller was at 80 gear-inches), you don't really have any choice but to ride fast.

I plan to ride this route as a TT every couple weeks. I've always felt like 23.0 mph on this route would represent a fitness level that I'd feel pretty good about. I doubt I can hit that this summer, but getting back to 22.0 would be a start.

A Few More Bike Projects

I'm finishing up an 8-week sabbatical, and am spending this final week firmly planted at home. This has led to some questionable decisions regarding bike projects. By which I mean, projects that take quite a bit of time and money, with questionable ROI.

That said, here's what's cooking in my garage:

Upgraded Road Habanero

Blogged about here, this is virtually a complete rebuild of the bike. Everything is being replaced except the frame, stem, seatpost, and seat. This project is about 50% done; I'm waiting on my new Ritchey Carbon Comp fork to finish it up.


Upgraded Touring Habanero:

This bike has been my long distance rando companion for probably 5 years, with untold KM on it. I'm replacing the triple crank and barcon shifters with a compact double and STI brifters. I may also replace my butchered Brooks saddle. I haven't started this one yet.

Touring Habanero On The Rocky Mountain 1200

Touring Habanero Now

Rebuilding The Cannondale:

Max' Cannondale has been a family staple for more than two decades. He originally bought it in the 80s, rode it into the ground, then passed it on to our sister who used it to train for her first Ironman. Then Max rode it into the ground again, before loaning it to me. After a potentially devestating handlebar failure (the failure below occurred immediately following a prolonged 50mph descent, that terminates with a stop sign at a T-intersection), I stripped the bike and retired the frame. Now I'm going to rebuild it with a carbon fork and spare components.

This Could Have Been Really Bad

Cannondale, Stripped

New Fixie
Several years ago I sold the Surly Steamroller that I'd put a lot of money and time into. It was a gorgeous bike, and I sincerely regret selling it. That was a huge mistake. I planned to build a new Steamroller, but then noticed that Surly is selling pre-made single-speed Cross-Checks. For a lot less money than building my own Steamroller I can convert SS Cross-Check into a fixie Cross-Check. The bike has been ordered and should be here Friday!

My Old Surly

Cross-Check Single Speed

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bicycle Quarterly's Tire Issue

Bicycle Quarterly is as much a treasure as every other biking magazine is garbage. Available only by subscription (at least as far as I know), BQ features carefully thought out and well presented information applicable to long-distance riders. The magazine reads as an exploration of cycling by Jan Heine, the author of most of the content and an active member of the Seattle randonneuring community. He eats his own dogfood too, configuring his bikes based on the data he derives. Topics range from bike reviews (have you ever read a critical review in a popular bike magazine? Jan pulls no punches) to frame flex; aerodynamics to shimmy.

Several years ago BQ included a seminal article on tires. I don't have that issue, but there is an article available online with some interesting data. The most recent issue (Spring 2013, available for order) goes into tremendous depth on the subject, with about 25 pages of content.

I won't rehash all the details, since BQ does a much better job than I could. But some of the highlights:

  • Coefficient of rolling resistance can vary by 100% among various makes of tires. On a smooth road at moderate speeds, this might translate into a ~15% increase in power needed to ride the same speed.
  • Tire pressure has virtually no difference on tire performance. Moderate pressures are in fact less efficient than lower pressures.
  • Clinchers and Tubulars have virtually identical performance characteristics, except that a tubular can be run at lower pressures which improves performance on rough roads
  • Wider tires of the same make offer the same performance as skinny tires on smooth roads. On rough roads wider tires provide far superior performance.
  • The 'fastest' clincher BQ tested is the Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX. The various Grand Bois tires are ~0.5mph slower at 150W. A typical mass market tire (Michelin Pro2 Race) is another 0.5mph slower. Lots more detail (not from BQ) here.
  • Flat resistant tires exact a significant tax in rolling resistance that is hard to justify for long distance rides on paved roads.
  • Tire tread can, contrary to some assertions, provide assistance with wet traction and even puncture resistance. That does not, of course, mean that the tread most tires have helps with either.
The journal of course goes into far more depth on the testing methodology and results. I'd recommend it to any distance cyclist. Of personal relevance, I'm using Schwalbe Ultremo ZX 700x28 tires on my Habanero rebuild (primarily out of vanity, they look really sweet!). For a fatso like me, this probably puts my ideal tire pressures at about 80psi front, 95psi rear. BQ of course includes a handy graph for calculating your own tire pressure.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Foul-weather riding

The pictures are not all that descriptive, and maybe not even from the correct day, but they are intended to should show rain in the 1/4-1/2 inch range and temps in the 40s.  Pedaling was just downright unpleasant after we reached Purcelville.  Which was too bad, because the roads from Purcelville and Lincoln, through Snickerville into Middleburg, and on to the tiny hamlet of Marshall, were wonderful.  Well maintained pavement, next to no traffic, pastoral horse country.  We rode the WOAD Is Me permanent for 218K in a total of just under 10 hours to get our start on the Big Wild Ride qualification.

Some notes:

1.  Gels on rando rides are a decided second best.  Why not buy two Snickers at every control and enjoy your food?
2.  Booties and soft-shell gloves in the future when rain is a possibility.
3.  Tune the bikes already.  Not being able to stand in the ideal gear for fear of the chain jumping greatly undermines one's riding.
4.  I like the bottle and bag setup on Sam's bike in the opening post!  Very elegant.  Will have to implement.
5.  Aero bars are a without-which-not going forward.  Too much time on the wrists is a killer.

Time For A Bike Refresh

After about nine years my road bike has gotten a bit long in the tooth. Originally the "Century Special", built by the inimitable Sheldon Brown, it's since seen countless upgrades, downgrades, and flats. And also a lot of component and tire changes. I think at this point it's safe to say my trusty road bike is about as original as grandfather's axe.

Originally equipped with Ultegra 6500 9-speed, it's now a mish-mash of FSA, 105, Ultegra 6500, Ultegra 6600. The handmade 36-hole Open Pro wheels are long since worn out. Needless to say, it doesn't brake, go, or shift quite as smoothly as it once did. I've been constantly futzing with the futzables to keep it running, but it's time for a complete bike makeover.

On a recent trip (a subject for another post), my brother pointed out that a complete 6700 groupset is available from Merlin Cycles for around $700, a great price.

So with that my newest upgrade adventure started, and is now underway. New components, new bottle cages, new wheels and tires, new bars and tape. In fact the only holdover from the old bike will be the frame, fork, seatpost, and seat. I'm not going exotic -- no carbon, though the new bottle cages are Ti. I'll document the process with before and after pictures and weight reduction spreadsheet in a few days when the last components arrive!