Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Big Rides We've Gotta Do -- Volume II

Continuing from an earlier post and drawing from the helpful comments, here is an expanded list.

Pony-Express Permanent.  This route heads from San Francisco to St. Louis.  According to the RUSA permanent list, it boasts over 3000 kilometers and 95000 feet of climbing.  It runs from California through Nevada, into Wyoming, then Nebraska and south to Missouri.  This is not the route per se, but there ain't many roads on this stretch of the globe, so I would bet I captured much of it.  I've driven basically that route countless times. We're talking serious open country.  You get one great ranges -- the Sierras in California/Nevada -- and then you sort of wind between the Rockies through big windswept passes and arid high desert all the way across Utah and Wyoming.  Of course, by eastern Wyoming and into Nebraska and Missouri, you are first in rangeland and then in ethanol country, with nonstop cornfields having replaced the historical wheat farms.

Some brevet in Nebraska.  Credit to cornbreadblog.

Picture of the Tour of Nebraska; credit to
If Pony Express isn't your thing, the Permanent Owner, Spencer Klaassen, has a handful of these uber-permanents.  The Mormon Trail is one option, but I'd be looking warily over my shoulder at my riding partner as we crossed Donner Summit.

Get back here!  I'm hungry!
My mouth waters just looking at it.  To be clear, though, I'm not sure I wouldn't rather riding one of these.

Slightly better equipped to handle head-winds.

Skyline Drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  If you park a car at the Front Royal K-Mart and head south on Skyline Drive, you have 105 miles with ~10,000 feet of climbing before you reach Waynesboro.  That is the beginning of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, running south through Roanoke, Virginia; Boone, NC; and into Asheville, North Carolina.  All told it's just 50 miles shy of a point-to-point 1000K and probably the prettiest stretch of road east of the Mississippi.

There may literally be 1000 vistas just like this one on this stretch of road.
Tourist traffic is a major annoyance, but weekday drives and late season present very different pictures.  By late season, I mean after this scenery has come and gone:

Not sure if this is color-enhanced, but wow.
And this:

Would be a better picture if that was a bike, rather than a car.
This Q&A offers a little comfort:

Q: What is the speed limit on the Parkway?
Maximum is 45 miles per hour, with some locations (in congested areas such as Mabry Mill) at 25 miles per hour.  

But what Q&A giveth . . .

Q: Can large RV's travel the Parkway?
Yes. Explore the list of all tunnel clearances on the Parkway.

Damon knows the first 50+ miles of the route better than most. I've twice ridden Front Royal to Waynesboro, which involves climbing nonstop to the half-way point, descending for 20 miles, and then riding rollers the rest of the way.

But I've never been on the Blue Ridge at all.  Barring one brick run that I did from Waynesboro, heading south a few miles before turning around.

Just to throw it out -- this seems like a good late October trip with a plan to spend four days in the saddle.  There's a lodge approximately 190 miles from Front Royal:

Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86) – Lodge and restaurant opening July 15th, Visitor Center, 1930s restored Johnson Farm, campground, picnic area, access to Appalachian Trail, extensive trail system to the summit of the three main peaks.

Night 2 is tougher.  If a car could meet you at the junction with Highway 58, you could camp out or catch a ride somewhere for a night's sleep and be dropped back off the next morning.  Hopefully the weather will be nice, because that creates a dangerous temptation.  Alternatively, you could plan to ride through, but the purpose of this list is to catalog pleasant-sounding adventures rather than brutal ones.

Night 3 may be in the ski resort town of Boone, North Carolina.  And Day 4 brings you to Asheville.  The stretch from Boone to Asheville is getting into some high country, with reportedly beautiful scenery.

Boone, NC, looking from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Credit blueridgeblog.
Mountain scenery near Asheville, NC
The Lap of the Lake 1000K.  Pete Dusel of the Western New York Randonneurs puts this on yearly.  It's a big big ride that crosses national borders twice (leaving and entering) and circumnavigates Lake Ontario.

Cribbed from (the site linked above).
Among other tremendous sights is Niagara Falls somewhere around Mile 500.  I know 20 miles of this route, which I've ridden 4 times, twice with Damon -- the stretch east of Ontario New York along the lake shore.  It's a pretty magical stretch of pavement.  Only this route follow that road all the way east, then north, to Canada -- before repeating the exercise on the northern side of the lake.  One danger might be that after 620 miles looking over your left shoulder at the view you can't straighten your head out for the drive home.

The familiar signal that you've reached Pete Dusel's house to start, or to end, one of his rides.
Bremerton to Klamath Falls 1000K.

Leaving Bremerton you follow the water on a busy road for a few miles before heading inland on the Olympic peninsula.  This isn't the busy road, but it is the water.
A few years back Sam and I started this ride, had a few hiccups, and spent an uncomfortable few hours sleeping roadside on Highway 1 just north of Tillamook before deciding we were in over our heads.  (We then rolled to Tillamook, ate at Denny's, and spent a very comfortable few hours sleeping in a field behind Denny's as the sun rose.)  An aside:  it was lucky for us that I took that header one month later on the Big Wild Ride, because the aborted 1000K was an inauspicious signal regarding our preparedness.

Cannon Beach.  Yes, it is that pretty.
Others have been more successful.  Here's one trip report.  Here's another.  Looking at the picture in the second link, I ask myself "how did he get to Cannon Beach in daylight?  (We made pretty good time, but found ourselves there as dusk was turning to night.)  Of course -- the organized ride starts at night.

Crater Lake.  Credit:  Cycleumpqua.
From what I've seen, it's as marvelous of scenery as any ride.  This is not exactly the route, but it's close.  The roads from Bremerton to Astoria, Oregon, the first 150 miles, are utterly untrafficked highways through the heart of the Olympic Peninsula.  The coast highway picks up more traffic, but the cars are accustomed to cyclists.  I noticed that tunnels have warning strobes when cyclists are inside, slowing cars down without pissing them off. If you can't ride in Alaska, riding the Oregon Coast has got to be a second choice.

The Race Across Europe.  OK, this may be a reach, but somebody has to point out that there are land masses larger than North America, and at least one of them has much better cyclists than we have here.  3000 miles, three mountain range crossings.  Some good pictures of this year's race at this link.

Picture from the finish of the Race Across Europe of Team Phoenix.  Rock of Gibraltar in the background.  Attribution:
Maps for next year not yet up, but the race crosses the Alps twice and then the Pyrenees, ultimately ending in Gibraltar.  Problem is, this isn't "across" Europe at all.  It's "around western Europe."  So, to be fair, RAAM has elegance over this one.  Why not ride straight from Calais to (e.g.) Magadan, rather than traipsing around France and Spain for a while?

It also turns out that this event is not the first to adopt the "race across Europe" title.  This route from the northern tip of Scandinavia to Gibraltar looks way cooler -- and way longer.

Belying the "toughest non-stop cycling race in the world" label, they give solo riders 15 days to complete the race.  That's 200 miles per day.  Not a pleasant spin in the saddle, but (unlike RAAM) not impossible for a normal cyclist.

More to come in Volume III.  Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee is one.  I'd like to include one of Sam's hypothetical routings through the Sierras, but that's probably his post if he can be convinced.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Eulogy For A Pair Of Shoes

My first pair of toe-squashers were of the cheap Performance variety. I blame Max, of course. When he drove his Cannondale cross-country to let me borrow it, he also passed along all of his cheap-skate wisdom. Chief among which was that one should never buy a brand name when there was a Performance alternative available. After a few months of flat-tires, out-of-true wheels, shorts that cause chaffing, and shoes that made my toes bleed I realized that his advice must have been a practical joke, getting back at me for being such a swell brother for a few decades. Jokes on him, though, I still have his Cannondale!
Max' Cannondale

I soon invested in a better pair of shoes. Shoes that were comfortable in all weather (including rain). Shoes that could adjust easily to layering. Shoes that were equally at home on trail or tarmac. Shoes that I could walk in without click-click-clicking, and ride in without sweating. Shoes that looked as good fine-dining as on the bike. One shoe to do it all.

Shimano SD-65

In truth this was my third pair of sandals; the first was an older Shimano sandal which I also loved. That was the previous 2-strap variety, but I eventually forgot them at a mountain-bike trailhead. The second was a pair of Lake sandals that simply sucked.

I don't know how many thousands of miles this pair has seen, but I'd guess in the neighborhood of 15,000 or so. They've been on countless brevets, centuries, and MTB rides. They've seen sun

Shimano Sandals at the Rocky Mountain 1200
And they've seen rain

Shimano Sandals at the Alaska 600K

One of the wonderful things about the Shimano sandals is the ease to which they adapt to all situations. They're comfortable with a thin pair of smartwool socks, and they're comfortable with layered socks, neoprene socks, and gore-tex socks. On a long ride when your feet swell, you simply loosen the straps.
Perhaps this is why they're a favorite of raam teams:
RAAM Relay Team

accomplished club racers:
Don't Know Who This Guy Is, But He Looks Accomplished
and even icebikers:

Rarely has an article of cycling clothing reached such heights of perfection. Mastered both form and function. The Shimano Sandal has transcended legend and become an icon. But it's time to replace them. On my first pair of Shimano sandals, the velcro failed and was replaced at least once. On these, nothing has failed, but they're falling apart nevertheless.

Still going...

This cleat has outlasted about 6 pairs of pedals.
Still looking sharp from the front though!
It's tough to replace something so simple, perfect, and obviously correct when we're surrounded by such overpriced mediocrity. Like trying to replace Friedman in a world of Krugmans. Tougher still because Shimano stopped making the SD-65!

So here they are. My replacement for the Shimano SD-65:

That's right, the Shimano SD-66! Shimano did the unthinkable: they added one to the model number, and removed one from the strap count.

Now truthfully I won't stop riding the SD-65s. I'm relegating them to MTB duty where a failure won't be catastrophic, and the additional foot coverage may be handy in encounters with rocks, trees, and small forest animals. But for the road they're mostly retired. It's been a good run.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Big Rides We've Gotta Do -- Volume I

Some of these are ultra races, some are rando events, some are just rides.  No order.  To be updated as comments reveal even better options and I have energy.

Trans-Iowa Race.   300+ miles of dirt.  Late April 2014.

Does the a peloton work the same on dirt?
Like randonneuring with none of the rules. This is nominally a "mountain bike race," but it appears anybody with talent is riding fat-tire road bikes or cross bikes.  (I wonder how big of tires I can fit on the Specialized?)

Looks a little soft.  Maybe this is harder than the average triple century!
Some other cool pictures here.  Just a thought, but we could seriously consider this for April 2014.

Allegheny Passage to C&O Canal.  335 miles of flat dirt from Pittsburgh to DC.

Makes me want to ride just looking at it.

Made for bikes.
Steepest grade?  1%.  (When was the last time you rode anything that long that was that flat?)

I'm envious of this nicely-loaded rig, somewhere on the C&O Canal Trail.
Maybe nice riding for a fat-tire fixie?

A not atypical scene on the C&O Canal Trail.
The route runs mostly through forests and along rivers -- i.e., shady, protected from wind, and plenty of opportunity to soak feet.  Could ride this either in one shot or stopping to sleep in Cumberland, Maryland, would work.  More detailed map of the first half here.  More detailed map of the second half here.  Elevation chart here.

The C&O Canal Trail (DC to Cumberland, MD)
Cool tunnels, apparently -- here's an excerpt from one trip report:

"The trail goes "thru the mountains, not over them as the GAP Trail goes thru three tunnels, the longest of which is the Big Savage Tunnel at 3,300 feet long (that's almost 2/3 of a mile long, but it is lighted)."

Yes, that does look pretty sweet.
And a bridge or two:

Mile 60 Bridge, C&O Canal
Can catch a train from DC to Pittsburgh for $49 to get to the start.  Bike carriage is, as always on Amtrak, less certain.  I would seriously consider a late fall go at this ride this year if anybody else was interested.  First or second weekend of November?

Maybe a little hillier per mile than the BWR . . .
Alaska Randonneurs Dirt-Road Randonnee.  (And here.)  300K into and back out of Denali Park on the park road, which is closed to cars except for limited permits and buses.  Damon blogged eloquently about the extraordinary beauty he encountered between Healy and Hurricane Gulch.  Well said.  Now imagine hanging a right just after one of the Nenana River crossings and riding 95 miles into that range before returning.
The road surface, while dirt, is pretty good.  28s could do it, 32s would be no problem.  I'd probably choose a road bike.
No, this is not a fanciful image (but of course it was taken on an extraordinary weather day).
Kevin holds this one in July.  It's only 300K, but I would bet it's as exciting as many longer rides. Among other things, I would not be riding this solo or sans bear-spray.  

Any Super Randonnee.  What is a super randonnee?  600K with a 50-hour time limit.  To justify the additional 10 hours, it is required to be abominably hard.  None of this mamby-pamby 20K feet of climbing stuff.  A super must have 10K meters -- 33K feet -- of elevation gain over 600K.  Basically 100 feet per mile the entire way.

Here's a Jan Heine blog post from this summer about checking out his Volcano High Pass Super Randonnee route.  I recognize some of that pavement through Mt. Ranier National Park from RAMROD, which Sam and I rode in 2010.  Here's the map of the Volcano High Pass route.  Big upside:  could catch a few hours of shut-eye at Sam's property at one of the turn-arounds.

There are two Super Randonnees approved in the US.  No surprise they are both in hard-man country. In addition to Heine's, Michael Wolfe from Oregon has the Six Passes SR.  Sam has a good trip report from that check-out ride, if by good one means "that sounds like Mountains of Misery x 3."

Keep an eye out for Volume II (and help me out in the comments, please!).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Being a D*ck

I've twice now bragged on myself under the guise of being surprised at how the bike leg of a triathlon went.  Needing a new excuse, here's braggadocio disguised as a confession of d*ckiness.

Nation's Triathlon is a huge olympic-distance race held entirely in the urban core of DC.  As many as 4000 participants all find themselves riding their bikes over a 40K course at roughly the same time.  The number was closer to 3000 this year, but the course had two loops -- thus, there could have been as many as 1500 per loop, or 100+ cyclists per mile of road.  The numbers don't stack up that badly, because there is a drawn out time trial start.  Although I did not start until 90 minutes after the first wave, some swimmers did not exit the water until I had finished riding.  Nonetheless, it's a crowded mess.  Most of the participants are just out to have a good time -- riding along, chatting with friends, sitting up straight and enjoying the sun, what-have-you.

Even worse, each loop had two stretches of no-pass-zone that ran for ~1/4 mile.  For a mile or better in total I cruised in a line behind whoever decided "no pass" meant "no exertion" and held the rest of us up.

Combine that with my newfound taste for treating the crank-arms on my ride as if they had kicked my cat and you have a recipe for unpleasantness.  Riding a triathlon bike leg has become an exercise in seeing pavement ahead of me and being really, really pissed that it isn't yet behind me.

The good is that with one exception, a really nice guy from Alexandria who finished one place ahead of me in the 40-44 age group, nobody passed me.  I've been running triathlon since 1986 and that's never happened.  The bad is that nearly everybody I passed, which seemingly amounted to most of the 3000 strong race field, suffered verbal abuse I'd like to think one might reserve for Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, or Kim Jong Il.  And the ugly:  "Get the f*ck out out of the left lane" might have been one of my gentler warnings.

I'd like to be of two minds about this.  On the one hand, we frequently celebrate competitors who are so vigorous that they are perceived as jerks by the competition.  Trash talk has its place and can be effective.  So I'm vaguely pleased that I can get over the inclination to be laid back and supportive in order to be competitive.  It is a new thing for me.

But the justification doesn't work.  The victims ended up being Joe and Sally who were out enjoying their day in the sun.  My competition, it turned out, was comprised primarily of participants in the elite wave who were off the bike and running before I even entered the water.  The one guy in my age group who passed me?  When I got him back on the run, we chatted amiably before he fell off pace.  Trash talk isn't helping my competitive circumstance.  It's just unloading my suffering on the world.

I'm enjoying kicking a little a*s in this year's races.  But I'm not sure it's worth the cost.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A History of Fixies

Sometime in law school the blue Cannondale became S__'s, then Sam's.  It is now the wise old man of the Huffman Bicycle Club collection, pictured to the right after some botox injections and skin tightening.  I managed to putz through the following five or six years with only a low-rent Novara mountain bike to my name; the Novara became a commuting rig until I sold it out the back door for $100 after a bad rebuild job in which I attempted to make it single-speed.

My return to cycling was on a fixed gear -- the IRO Jamie Roy, built on a factory-second frameset I bought from this brand new frame-builder based out of Brooklyn for less than $100.  (Sad to see IRO discontinued the aluminum Jamie Roy, but the steel Mark V framesets are on fire-sale!)  Here's one built up in a very different configuration from my own, but you can see the frame.  Not a bad-looking ride.

From Sheldon Brown's website.
I raced the IRO in my first attempt at an IDT, the Great Floridian in 2006.  Bad idea.  The Great Floridian is run in what may be the only part of central Florida that is not pancake flat, and I actually walked the bike up one climb.  Interestingly or otherwise, that ride was my longest ever on any bike, to say nothing of a fixie.  It was also a wicked hot day, with temps exceeding 100.  I required a solid seven hours for the bike leg and quit after one mile on the run.  At some point I sold the IRO for $300, not a great price but not bad after the use it had given me.

I replaced it with an el cheapo Motobecane Messenger, purchased for $250 off of eBay.  Mine was orange rather than blue.  Not an unattractive bike at all.

$300 shipped at Bikesdirect!  Only $500 more will make it ridable!
That supple steel-framed bike rode nicely, but the build was atrocious.  Its most glorious outing was a trip from Starbucks at Old Georgetown and Democracy to Pennsylvania and back, with Sam aboard, on another perilously hot day.  That 200K permanent -- the now defunct Mason-Dixon Permanent -- took us 12.5 hours, which included an hour napping in the shade at the 150K point and at least 10 stops for Sam to tighten the spokes.  On one stretch I drafted while Sam spun that bike to 28 mph while rolling through the century mark.

I recently sold the Messenger, much improved over its original build, for $300 to a really earnest young hipster, whose girlfriend confessed that they had just moved from Atlanta and were really looking forward to riding in DC.  By that I gather she actually meant "in" DC, rather than from DC to quieter places.  To each his own.

I'm now without a fixie.  For which reason this wheelset is being built by Ron at Whitemountainwheels as I write:



Weight (ea)
Price (ea)


Sapim CX-Ray (silver)

Al Nipple (blue)


ENO front (black) bolt-on

Kinlin XC279 (black)







Sapim CX-Ray (silver)

Sapim CX-Ray (silver)

Al Nipple (blue)


ENO standard fixed (black), bolt-on, 130mm

Kinlin XC279 (black)








The Cervelo P2SL (right) is the sacrificial lamb for this new ride.  More to come.

Salsa Warbird

I'm enjoying my approximately bi-weekly drool-fest over bikes that I will probably never own.  Here's a bike built for long distances on rough roads.  By that I mean it appears to be a touring-geometry titanium road bike with clearance up to 38c.

Picture cribbed from the blog.

I'm ambivalent about disc brakes on a road bike, but I can see the attraction if you anticipate lots of gunk flying while you ride.  I also think that long red rear brake cable is a neat-looking effect.

I like that Salsa correctly sees titanium as something other than race-bike material.  Even Salsa's primary road frame -- the Collosal -- can run 28c tires.  If I buy titanium I will most definitely not be running 23c tires on it.  The leading makers -- Lynsky, Seven, Litespeed, Moots -- don't seem to understand that reality.  Even Habanero, my instinctive first choice for a new frameset, is not making big tire frames, so far as I can tell.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


As usual, I'm discovering internet stuff after it's past its prime, and recently that's been Strava. I've long been annoyed that Garmin Connect really hasn't improved at all over the last 7 years, aside from a minor facelift during the MotionBased to Connect conversion. Strava seems to be a nice super-set of Garmin Connect features. And it's the first example I've seen of integrating "social" features into a website without being totally annoying or over-bearing.

So of course the first thing to do was to import all my old Garmin Connect activities. One of the really nice features of Strava is that it makes it really easy to define "segments" that you ride often, and use them to measure performance improvements. I used to do this with Garmin Connect by eye-balling the graphs, and making my own spreadsheets. Strava is a huge improvement in this regard.

My first attempt at this was the upper section of Pumpkin Ridge, a small local hill. The upper portion (which I picked because there are two lower portions, so excluding those gives me more data) is about 700 feet over 4.9 miles.

Looking at the data is revealing, for a couple reasons.

First, there's a big gap of about 2 years where I didn't ride it at all. Which means I really didn't ride at all. There's also a big drop from 2007/2008 to 2009, and then another big drop in 2013. It is, however, gratifying that with a solid month of riding under my belt, my times are once again reaching where they used to be.

The other route I ride often is a round trip from North Plains to Dairy Creek, a 20 mile out-and-back with around 600 feet of elevation gain (and loss!).

Those results are looking a little less cheery

Though in fairness I haven't really done an 'all out' effort on this route in a while. Regardless, the ease of comparing segments across rides is awesome.

The "social" aspect (I hate that word) is pretty cool, though it could also be depressing. Generally I've found myself right near the bottom 50% on climbs of any note (I suppose I could claim to be right near the top 50%!) with just a couple forays into the top 30%. On descents, it's quite the opposite -- I'm generally in the top 5 out of hundreds of riders, and there are a couple notable drops where I've got a considerable lead on everyone else. Girth giveth and it taketh away.

The mobile apps are pretty awesome. More than once I've forgotten to bring my garmin along, and used my cellphone instead. The results are, as far as I can tell, just as good as if I'd used a proper GPS.

For now I'm uploading to both Connect and Strava, because with the new web uploaders, there's really no effort involved. But my guess is that I'll soon be using Strava only.