Saturday, August 24, 2013

F100 -- Updated

UPDATE with a few notes about the first ride:

I couldn't sleep, so I read a few chapters of a recent Le Carre novel waiting for a little bit of light and headed out for 30 miles up the Monon Trail and out 56th Avenue here in Indianapolis.  This was the first ride on the newly built F100.  (It turned out, by the way, that I was a little overeager on getting out the door.  I rode a good 45 minutes in too-dark-to-be-riding-without-lights conditions.  Thankfully I had a taillight to alert cars, but dodging bike commuters on the Monon was a little dicey.)

Summary: this is a really nice riding frame.  The build needs a slight bit of refining to be perfect.

First realization:  the fact that the tires fit when first mounted does not mean they will fit when filled to pressure.  The front spins fine at my usual pressure (80 psi for balloons like these).  The rear does not spin at 90 psi, but a short deflating burst -- maybe down to 85 -- was sufficient to get it moving.  Unfortunately, that does not bode well when the wheels lose trueness.

The fit is just slightly off for me. I have a 110 mm stem and could use a 120.  It's comfortable but a little compressed for my liking.  I will move the saddle back and hope that accomplishes the goal.

I failed to compress the headset bearings into the head-tube, so there's a little more play and rattling there than would be ideal.  Lacking the proper tool, I hope the shop down the street will do that for not too much money.

The pedals -- Keo 2 Max rather than my normal Keo Classics -- work fine, with a caveat:  they have this neat feature that they stay level when you unclip.  That's great unless you are accustomed to flipping them upright with your toe on the way to clipping in, as I am.  I found myself flipping them upside-down!

This is officially my lightest bike, based on the ever-reliable pick it up and see how it feels test.  The carbon P2 loses out likely as a result of the excessive weight in the front-end from the bar system.  The weight is noticeable on the constant starts from a stop one does riding the Monon in rush hour.  Stop, wait for cars, sprint back up to speed, and stop again.  It's a nice-feeling bike out of the saddle, with about the right amount of flex characteristics to be comfortable and the right stiffness to feel snappy.

It is a very comfortable ride.  Can't say whether that's the frame, the all-carbon fork, or just the saddle and fat tires.  But it's on par with the Gunnar in terms of the apparent all-day comfort.  I must say that I'm very eager to find out!


Neuvation has been in a sell-off on the old framesets so I ordered a F100 for $250 ($327 shipped).  This is Neuvation's original aluminum frame that for years has been discussed as a black-label Cervelo Soloist; the closest John Neugent will get is to say (paraphrase) "this is built in a factory to which a top frame-maker sent engineers to perfect the design and manufacture process for the frame".  But the geometry is spot on and the semi-aero tubing looks about right -- and, in contrast with the over-branded Cervelo rides, this frame is an elegant, sleek, discreetly branded black number.  I'm also happy with a larger frame.  Less stuff sticking out to make it fit my long legs.  Neuvation included its full carbon fork with the purchase.

Stealth frame.
I was torn as to what to do with it -- build cheap and sell; build cheap and ride hard; build cheap and keep -- note that building anything but cheap was never an option! -- but one day I received my 28c Schwalbe Ultremo ZXs from Merlin, mounted them on the Hed Belgium rims, and put them on the bike on a whim.  And it was beautiful.  (Or so I thought.)

The tires cleared -- not by much, but they cleared.

At about that same time Merlin had a fire sale on Shimano 105 groupsets, so I bought this one for $417 shipped.  I'm an Ultegra snob and have been in danger of becoming a Dura-Ace snob, so it was gratifying to see that this was as pretty a set as any I've ridden.

105 Groupset.  Who needs high dollar options?
I've been wanting to build with some accent colors for a while.  I had always envisioned I'd do so on the Gunnar or on a new titanium frame, but this was the one I was building.  Though I'm usually an afficionado of blue accents, for some reason red seemed right to me.

OK, so the pedals are a little mis-matched!
I found chainring bolts (A2Z brand), a seatpost clamp (Hope -- coloring is slightly off, but it works); titanium skewers (A2Z again), bottle cage bolts (not sure, but A2Z is a good guess) and a top-cap (A2Z).  I had the red spacers from years back.  Had I my druthers I'd be using a red headset and external bearings, but those are a tad dear for plain baubles.
Cage bolts.

The accent also works because it matches the coloration on the Ultremos.  Of course, now I'm locked into that particular brand of rubber, but one could choose worse.
Hope clamp is slightly mis-colored.
I picked up the mid-range WTB Rocket V saddle -- Comp or Pro, I'm not sure which.  It's not the lightest number, but at 260 grams of proven comfort for $40, I'm not turning up my nose.  I had installed TRP carbon brake calipers on a vain whim, but they didn't clear the tires.  (Recall that the tires are my primary reason for finishing this bike!)
Red bar tape would have been too much and it didn't quite match anyway.  To my view the only obvious change going forward is to find red cable ends somewhere. I'm torn as to whether I mount stubby aero-bars.  Probably not.
Nice that Deda also goes shiny black with red accents.

 P__ asked me what I paid for it.  Adding up the incremental expense -- the parts I would not own if I hadn't been building this bike -- I think it comes to between $800 and $1000.  The wheels are a ~$1100 set (including powertap) custom built by Neuvation, but I owned those already.  Bar, stem, post, saddle, and groupset were all pretty cut rate; the 28c Schwalbe tires were $48 per.  Maybe $50-$75 in rubies.

On order is a Zefal HPZ-2 frame pump.  That should be the right size for a left seat-stay mount.  Then I have some tuning to do before taking it to the road.  My hope is that this serves nicely on some fall-time 200Ks.  Here's the view from the cockpit.

And from further back in the pace-line.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Unpacking the bike leg

Between being beaten silly while choking on water and suffering through your feet pounding tarmac, triathlon offers an opportunity to glide over ground as fast as your legs will push you and your steed will break wind.  I'm not a big triathlon cyclist -- only once to date (Great Illini, 2008) has my bike split been my most competitive of the three events -- but I do like an opportunity to hammer with impunity without regard to stoplights, cars, or the need to dismount for food or drink.

Yesterday I averaged 22.1 (22.4 if you believe the official results, but I think the course was ~3/4 mile short) over a modestly hilly -- very hilly by time trial standards -- 90K bike leg in the hills around Gilford, New Hampshire.  I am pretty sure I set a PR for the 40K as well, averaging around 22.7 to that point.  A better measure, from my perspective, is that I was right about 19' slower than one of the top American pro men on the same course on the same day.  That's definitely something I've never done before.

A side note:  it is more than perverse that I'm having modest success at the one thing I have committed to put to the side for the near future -- in favor of other types of events in which I have not been enjoying success.

Here's what I'm trying to sort out:  for the second time this year (and I hope not the last!) my riding in a triathlon has been well beyond my expectations.  What is working for me this year?  Can I replicate it?

(1) the ride.  Once a top choice for pro triathletes racing Kona, my P2 is a pedestrian rig in today's world of uber-steeds.  The Ultegra groupset came on the Cervelo Dual that I bought in 2008.  I transferred it to the P2SL when the Dual developed a crack in a weld -- and transferred it to the new P2 frameset last August in Boulder.  Yes, that's a recently substituted Sram Rival crankset (170 mm), though finished with Red 52-36 chainrings.  The wheels are a low-budget item from Merlin Cycles, made by the Dutch manufacturer Sensa Bikes, which only cost me $650 shipped.  They are nicely spec'd with Sapim CX-Ray spokes.  I bought them precisely because their paint job matched the bike.  The tires are Vittoria Open Corsa CX IIs, also inexpensive at Merlin, but broadly acknowledged to be the fastest rolling clincher money can buy.  They are black and red and also match the bike.  Maybe this setup can bring $2000 if sold in its current configuration.   I  think the bike is pretty sweet, but nobody's going to accuse me of going crazy on the equipment front.

(2) the gearing.  For both of this year's races I have ridden 52-36 and 11-23.  Not terribly tall, but not exactly Mountains of Misery gearing.  One thing about tall gears: maybe you burn yourself up on a climb, maybe not, but it's impossible to go too slowly.  As it stands, I think I race this set of gears in Tahoe.

(3) the position.  My stem isn't slammed, but it's only raised a centimeter.  So I'm pretty low, but I'm also comfortable.  I'm certainly not going lower.  My elbow pads are wider than past practice.  It has opened up my chest and I think allows for better breathing.

(4) the fitness.  I have maybe 3-4 weeks this year in which I haven't ridden 100+ miles, and several in which I've eclipsed the century mark by a good ways.  A fair amount of that riding is intervals or hills.  It's gotta help.

(5) the nutrition.  I'm working toward a magic middle of enough liquid and enough calories. I used diluted EFS in one bottle and diluted Gatorade in the other, with caffeinated salt stick tablets dissolved in both.  Plenty of calories, plenty of caffeine, and just enough (not too much) water.

(6) the attitude.  I'm not the baddest long distance cyclist.  I'm probably not even in the top half of badness.  But I may well be in the top 10-20 baddest taking the start at any given mid-course triathlon.  So I don't need to wait until the run to prove myself anymore.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Northern Foothills

There's a bike path that extends north from Anchorage along the Glenn Highway as far as Eagle River. I rode it once in maybe 1984 when I was 11 and S__ had finished her first triathlon (The "Bud Light") on the Fort Rich Army Base.  I rode her bike back, maybe as far as home but my memory isn't clear on the point.

Bud Light -- that's its own blog post.  An internet search reveals nothing online about the Anchorage event, although there is some historical writing on a six-city Pacific Northwest Bud Light Triathlon Series from the mid-1980s.

On Sunday, July 28, I decided to explore some pavement I didn't know or didn't know well, so I joined the Coastal Trail (again -- maybe my sixth foray out there for this Alaska trip!) at Westchester Lagoon and pointed north.  The trail has been redone from Westchester to downtown and is beautiful smooth black pavement.  I pedaled past the Comfort Inn of BWR notoriety and out the Ship Creek trail, judging my direction by going opposite the BWR arrows Damon had followed home earlier that week.

Ship Creek Trail -- from the Coastal Trail to Mountain View
The Ship Creek trail threads the needle between industrial properties to the south, situated at the bottom of the bluff at the north edge of Anchorage, and Ship Creek to the north.  Across Ship Creek you see another bluff, this one "Government Hill."  Government Hill is a collection of old federal government-build homes for employees of the Alaska Engineering Commission, engaged in building railroad around the state.  The neighborhood has since become halfway posh, not a surprise with its location walking distance from downtown and its views across the Cook Inlet to Fire Island and the Alaska Range.  The trail ends by a school in Mountain View, something of a slummy neighborhood, and by going straight you quickly reach North Bragaw Road.

Aside #1:  A Google search seeking a picture of Mountain View turned up this intriguing factoid:  Mountain View is the most diverse neighborhood . . . in America!  It's also a crime-ridden 'hood; other Google results had "man kills elderly couple" and the like.

North Bragaw to Mountain View Drive and you find the Glenn Highway Bike Trail.  As described by the Arctic Bicycle Club, this runs from Muldoon Road past Eagle River -- "up to 37 miles round trip." The trail has been under construction but is rapidly coming to completion.  Much of it is beautiful riding -- flat, fast, and low traffic.

The trail passes Elmendorf Air Force Base and the Fort Richardson Army installation.  The latter is responsible for my family's being in Alaska:  Dad was posted to Fort Rich in 1970 as a lawyer in the JAG Corps.  Faced in 1973 with returning to a job in Kansas, he balked -- and the rest is history.

Elmendorf AFB

Fort Richardson
In Eagle River, the nominal end of the Glenn Highway trail, I found the Old Glenn Highway.  I didn't explore the Old Glenn Highway Driving Loop,  but after researching for this post it's high on the list for next time home.  According to one source,

The Old Glenn Highway is a delightful 19-mile country road that cuts through the heart of the original Matanuska Colony Farmlands and provides a scenic alternate route between Anchorage and Palmer, Alaska.

One wonders, after Damon's disappointment with the closing century of the BWR, whether a route through Palmer and returning to Anchorage via the Old Glenn Highway might not be a good choice for a course revision.

Aside #2:  Such a re-route, if it were undertaken, might cross from the Parks Highway to the Glenn via Hatcher Pass.  That would offer tremendous views and a final climb of some real note.

Hatcher Pass, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska.
For a better look at Hatcher Pass, see this website for the Hatcher Pass Road Race!  Heck, who cares about the BWR?  Let's just go race 70 miles on dirt with 7500 feet of climbing!

I did follow the Old Glenn to the east of downtown Eagle River, then turned right on the Eagle River Loop Road, up a steep hill into the Chugach Foothills.  From there a left turn to the auspiciously named Skyline Drive . . . and 1500 feet of ascent over the three miles to the Mount Baldy Trailhead.

Mount Baldy, East of Eagle River, Alaska.
View from Skyline Drive.  This gate opens to undeveloped properties for sale . . .
From there?  Back down to Eagle River Loop Road and the Old Glenn Highway.  Happy not to be riding carbon rims on that descent!

And here's the great part:  the Old Glenn Highway trail continues north -- well north -- at least past the town of Chugiak (a bedroom town of Eagle River!) and Peters Creek, into a mountainside neighborhood a good 30 miles from Anchorage.  Somewhere there was Ski Road, at the top of which climb I heard a slow leak from the rear tire.  The tread on my trusty Grand Bois was worn through, but the tube was easy to patch and a boot cured the problem with the tire.

Bike Bridge over Peters Creek
Back home the direct route along the Old Glenn Highway to the Glenn Highway Trail, circling down the Coastal Trail past Valley of the Moon Park and up E Street.

68-some miles and 4200-some feet of climbing.  This ride was an A+.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Few Rides in Alaska

Not participating in the Big Wild Ride did not make the Alaska trip entirely a bust.  In addition to being a ride groupie (see "BWR from the Sidelines") I did get maybe 200 good miles in Alaska, including some new stretches of road or trail.  In the interest of readability, I'll limit this post to "pre-BWR rides." Reports on two rides from the weekend after following. (Where available, ride data in hyperlinked sub-headings.)

Coastal Trail

On Thursday evening before the BWR, Damon and I spun south from M__'s house to join the Coastal Trail.  We followed that path from Westchester Lagoon past Earthquake Park, the airport, Point Woronzof, and much of the way to Kincaid before turning to retrace our steps.  Instead of returning via E Street we climbed the hill north of the lagoon and followed the Park Strip back east to M__'s.  20 fairly unremarkable miles, though I did see one bull moose sporting an impressive rack.

Westchester Lagoon, facing the Chugach Mountains to the east.
View of Mt. Susitna -- "The Sleeping Lady" -- facing south and west from Point Woronzof.
Damon has a good video of the Coastal Trail at RememberingJaron near the top of his first post re: the Big Wild Ride.

Assessment of the Coastal Trail: it makes a better run than a ride, but it is a marvelous public resource.  I returned to it both by foot and by bike later in the trip.

Seward Highway

On Friday we parked the car at Rabbit Creek and Old Seward Highway.  That is an intersection I know well.  In high school on the blue Cannondale (see it rebuilt, a la Sam, in the picture to the right) my normal ride used to either descend Rabbit Creek before heading south along the Old Seward, then new Seward, Highways -- or, if riding from M__'s south Anchorage home, follow the Old Seward past Potter Marsh to join the Seward Highway at the Potter weigh station.  D__ and I headed straight south with the water to the right and the Chugach Range to the left.  After stopping for a photo at Beluga Point we continued to the log-construction Indian House at Indian -- again, a familiar sight, and my normal turn-around for the rides from M__'s.  Circa 1990 the bartender at the Indian House was willing to refill my water bottles.  We had no need on this ride so didn't ask.

Beluga Point, with the Kenai Peninsula across Turnagain Arm to the south.
Heading back we encountered a headwind and paid somewhat for the easy 22 mph spin we had on the way out.  The views heading back are not quite as magnificent; instead of seeing Turnagain Arm taper and end in a thicket of mountains you see the water broaden as it joins Cook Inlet and the mountains fall away.  We stopped at the McHugh Creek picnic area and trailhead to view the end of McHugh Creek as it falls from the cliff.  And while riding up the ocean side of Potter Marsh on the return we caught our first view of McKinley for the trip, faint and far away.

Potter Marsh.  Not Mt. McKinley!
Again, Damon's videos of this stretch are very much worth a look.

An interesting realization hit me as I was cruising past Potter Marsh headed back north to the car.  It went something like this:  this is as good as it will ever be.  I was feeling strong and enjoying the extraordinary weather, scenery, camaraderie, and anticipation of the upcoming 1200K, and I understood then that sport simply will never be more enjoyable than it was at that moment.  That meant not just that the riding was great but also that any quiet aspirations I've been harboring of becoming a serious or a competitive athlete are pipe dreams better suited to a younger man.  The realization was in equal parts liberating and depressing -- or, perhaps, seeing what happened to my cycling aspirations a few days later, foreboding.

Thompson Pass Descent

The Big Wild Ride was scheduled to begin at midnight rather than the originally planned 6 pm with the result that we would be making the uber-scenic Thompson Pass ascent after dark.  With a day to kill and a car to kill it with, we addressed that problem on Sunday by driving to the Worthington Glacier parking area for a picnic and returning half of the way to the hotel by bicycle.  We announced our intention to G__, the ride documentarian, who asked to join us to film the descent.  G__ also brought a third rider, this one astride a recumbent.

Worthington Glacier -- taken while *not* carb loading for the Thompson Pass Descent.
It was during our picnic at Worthington Glacier that the reality of my not starting the BWR finally set in.  I was for the third meal unable to eat anything, and drinking was approximately as futile.  That did little to dampen my enthusiasm for a blistering descent with views across the mountains and into Prince William Sound.  Driving up and coasting down -- I felt like a mountain biker (excuse the oxymoron).

Few to no cars shared the road with us, so there was nothing keeping us from simply letting it go.  After the initial steep descent I engaged the pedals just enough to keep the speed over some flats before entering Keystone Canyon, where we zoomed past several waterfalls.  We stopped not long after G__ filmed us passing Horsetail Falls, on the west side of the highway not far uphill from its better-known sibling Bridleveil Falls (picture below).

Once again, Damon's report is the best source for enjoying this one.  His videos from the descent -- well, everybody should have that kind of magic at least once in his/her life.

Valdez to Nowhere

Damon took the BWR start with 43 others at 11:59 p.m. while I did my best to sleep and to recover.  I had been granted a waiver from the closing times on the early controls for "mechanical reasons," so my plan, if I could recover, was to start riding in the morning and arrive very late (or early the next day) at the first overnight in Delta Junction, 270 miles up the road.  By morning my nausea had abated and at the very least I was unable to sleep longer, so M__ filled in the start time and signed my card and I headed north at 6 a.m.

This road was not new to me.  In 2011 Sam and I rode the first 70-or-so miles of the BWR before I wrecked.  We cruised the first 15 flat miles with a 29-rider peloton.  (An image of that peloton is the cover photo on the November 2011 American Randonneur Magazine.  Yes, that's my mug prominently displayed, riding second in the pace-line.)  Early ascending through Keystone Canyon is casual riding.

Bridleveil Falls, Keystone Canyon, 17 miles north of Valdez.
The climb gets serious at about mile 19, where it averages 270 feet per mile for 10 miles, or an average 5% grade.  That's not east coast hard, but neither is it east coast short -- after five miles at 5%, facing five more is a bleak prospect.  Thompson Pass is certainly one of the more substantial climbs in the Alaska Highway system.

It is also profoundly beautiful.  Off to the right (east) are dramatic vistas of ridge after ridge of craggy peaks.  To the left (west) the mountains rise immediately from the road-side with long and steep expanses of well-vegetated hillside and, even as late as July 22, a substantial remaining snow-pack.  Ahead the road snakes upward into a seemingly impenetrable range of mountains and behind it falls away, descending to parallel the churning silty Lowe River carrying melting glaciers into Prince William Sound.

Lowe River, Keystone Canyon, approximately 17 miles north of Valdez.
This morning's ride was from the start a futile effort to join a ride that had long since left me behind -- but with the sun up I will say I had the better of it on this stretch.

Proof, by the way, that I was checked out of this ride before it started:  I stopped mid-climb to change the wheel for some women who had been hoping to drive their bald-tired Subaru to Anchorage.

I topped out on Thompson Pass after 2.5 hours and snapped a photo that none of the official riders would be able to take:

The Gunnar at Thompson Pass.
And I descended into a head-wind to the first (technically, second) controle at Tsaina Lodge:

The Gunnar at Tsaina Lodge
This lodge, by the way, is a marvelous building sitting in the middle of nowhere.  Inside there is a beautiful bar/restaurant with picture windows facing across the Tiekel River and up the pass.

Picture of a picture of the Tiekel River.
I filled my bottles and rolled gamely for another 13 miles before coming to a rest on a small bridge over an unnamed creek.  And there I sat until M__ and B__ pulled up.  I loaded my bike and called it a ride. Between 2011 and 2013, I'm now 120 for 1500 miles in Big Wild Ride attempts!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

PowerTap Price Drop

About 4 years ago I bought a Powertap wheel from Neuvation for what was at the time a fantastic price: $900 without a head unit. The hubs were, at the time, selling for over $1000. So a built wheel for $900 seemed like a fantastic price.

For years Cycle-Ops had the market pretty much to itself, and the prices reflected it.

Imagine then my amazement to read on DC Rainmaker that Cycle-Ops has cut the price of their wheelset to $1000. For that price you get a 1800g wheelset (not light, but then again it does have a powermeter attached). Even better, you can get it for $900 through that blog's affiliation with Clever Training (code DCR10ZTG, apparently). Of course the hub has ANT+, and will work swimmingly with your Garmin computer.

For once, this leaves Neuvation looking almost pricey, at $849 for just a rear Powertap wheel.

I imagine this is the inevitable result of the plethora of power options that have come on the market in the last couple years. Pedal based systems, Crank based systems, heart-rate strap based sytems. There's even a handle-bar mounted powermeter that uses airflow and a gradometer, which name I can't recall. Of all of them, I still prefer the hub-based powertap, since it's trivial to move it among bikes.

Anyway, I don't really have a point here. I was just surprised at the price drop, and wanted to vent.