Sunday, March 23, 2014

Long Courses Difficulty Data


Sam and regular commenter Damon provided great input in the comments.  The "how hard is it" spreadsheet exists in its current state at this link (Google doc.)  Anybody can comment in its current state.  If instead you think it would be more efficient to do so, ask me for editing permission.

My theory on difficulty:  distance is the primary challenge; climbing is the secondary challenge; temperature delta is the third challenge; weather is fourth; elevation delta is fifth.

An explanation:

1.  Distance:  the first one is obvious.  I think distance becomes harder in stages -- thus, 544 (Adirondack) is qualitatively harder than 384 (Fireweed), but only slightly harder than 508 (Furnace Creek).  How distance is factored in needs to be determined.

2.  Climbing:  again, obvious. In order not to double-count, climbing must be factored on a feet-per-mile basis.

3.  Temperature Delta:  my theory goes that riding at 100 degrees is hard as is riding at 30 degrees.  But either can be trained and planned for.  Wild temperature swings are much more difficult.  A route with daytime lowland highs of 100 degrees plus and nightime montain lows of 30 degrees would be qualitatively harder than a comparable ride with fair consistency at either end of the spectrum.

4.  Weather:  here I am seeking data on wind and rain.  Wind is probably worse, but I assume any serious weather event just sucks.  Tailwinds do not make up for headwinds, so unless a route always enjoys tailwinds I assume any weather is a difficulty.

5.  Elevation Delta:  in an effort to quantify hard climbing versus easy climbing, I am looking for data on elevation changes.  That should go a ways toward separating out the rollers (easy) from the passes (hard).


I also removed the rides that (under my subjective assessment) have not yet achieved certain indicia of acceptance.  Regretfully it meant dumping the two South Dakota events, each of which I'd like to try.  I did leave the Naked Challenger because it looks professionally promoted.

So comment/edit away!


I've been surfing the various realistic ultracycling events (i.e., excluding the cross-country or around-country (if Europe) races) and thought I'd compile a short list of elevation profiles in an early attempt at quantifying the objective difficulties of these events.

Much more to study to accomplish this task.  I'm intrigued, though, at the results of this first pass.  Want to make RAAM look like a cake-walk?  Try the Naked-branded races in British Columbia going online this August!  (I included the shortest of the three.)  Interested in massive feet-per-mile in a ~36-hour event?  Go first to South Dakota, then Oregon, Alaska, and New York.  The notorious Furnace Creek 508 rolls in an astounding fifth in US-based weekend-long ultras.

First, brief notes on my selection criteria.  The events chosen are:
  1. North-America based; 
  2. those for which the course was created for a reason other than to maximize climbing.  Thus, a route created by Jan Heine would be automatically disqualified (facetious, but you get the point); and 
  3. finite-mileage road ride/race events, excluding dirt road randonnee-type rides and 24-hour races.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Gunnar Roadie -- 2014 Version

In 2007 P__ bought me the Gunnar Roadie for our anniversary.  I've toyed with a handful of other bikes (and here) (and here), am currently excited about yet another that is being built (the Breakaway), and regularly drool over the fancy jobbies (and here) (and here) (and here) (and here) the beautiful people ride, but whenever I get back on the Gunnar I realize there is no sweeter ride.

I just completed the most recent update.  I've lost count, but we must be at four rebuilds since the bike was new.  (Example.)  The bigger changes include a repaint (original color was deep red) and a new groupset.  This time was a milder refresh.

Here it is.
Gunnar Roadie.  New for 2014.

I replaced the stem, bars, and the headset, and I added a Garmin mount.  Not sure why I wanted 3T bars over the FSA bars recently removed, but likely it is because the color scheme matched better.  (The FSA had some red accents and this is a gray, silver, black and white bike.)  The stem is a Thomson X2, marketed for road use and ~30 gms. lighter than the X4 (mountain) that I replaced.  The Garmin mount is a little silly-looking, but it opens up the stem to mounting batteries for both the lights and the Garmin. The Cane Creek 110 headset is top-of-the-line for external bearings, of the ilk of the feted Chris King Nothreadset.

My one complaint:  as with the prior Cane Creek headset (S-3), there is an annoying ~1.5 mm gap between the fork crown and the bearing cup.  I have no idea why.

That's the angle that makes the saddle
look so, er, snobbish.
The WTB Rocket V SLT saddle is from last year, but the new Thomson Masterpiece seat-post shaves a fair amount of weight. (~76 gms.)  It is also noticeably more delicate than the Thomson Elite I removed (and am using for the Break-away).  I like the Erica Hanson seat-bag, which I wrote up in the doo-dads post a few months ago.  New seatpost clamp to match the silver headset.  (Thank goodness I reined in my inclination to buy a $18 Cane Creek clamp for brand-matching.)

I went with silver aluminum cages instead of the former black carbon.  The carbon cages did not grip the bottles terribly well and they looked like carbon.  These match the headset, seatpost clamp, and accents on the wheels.

I've converted entirely to the seat-stay pump mount. I think it looks awesome; it permits me to carry a frame pump with all of the wheel inflation efficiency that entails; and I preserve the valuable top-tube space for a frame pack.  (I'll let you know when a pump finally kicks out and causes my rear wheel to seize up at speed.) I like the Zefal Classic in silver and black, with the famously durable metal head.  Again, it matches the colors, if nothing else.

Finally, new wheels.  I went with Mavic Ksyrium Elites:  the SLs, SSRs, and similar were just out of my range.  At 1520g for the set, with famously durable steel spokes and the same rim as the higher-end Ksyriums, for $529 shod and shipped, these are right in the sweet-spot.

The Ksyriums replace my beautiful, all-black, custom-made White Indus. Hubs/Sapim CX-Ray spokes/Kinlin rims setup from White Mountain Wheels.  Those wheels are going on the Breakaway, which I anticipate riding in places where the ability to change a spoke road-side will be very helpful.

The white-and-black Ksyriums match my color scheme and give me just enough branded bling to satisfy the itch of looking like I want to look like I'm a big shot.  I anticipate changing the tires to 28c Schwalbe Ultremo ZXs, but for now the 25c made-to-match rubber should serve the purpose.

What else might I do?  Very little.  I am tempted to replace the cage on the underside of the down-tube with the Tallac Behold.  Tools down there and rubber and patches in the seatpost bag would be tremendous.  That and 28c Schwalbe Ultremo ZXs on the wheels.

And, I hope, 5000 miles between knee surgery and the end of the year.

Friday, March 7, 2014

I suppose we all know this, but

Merlin has this "guide to cleaning your bike."  Not a bad reminder.  I'm a terrible scofflaw in this department.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


The Richey Breakaway is maybe the coolest looking and certainly the most affordable real-bicycle-made-for-traveling on the market.
Steel Breakaway.  $1499 asking; available for $1200 without much effort; available for $1049 if you get last year's colors.

[OK, that's before I found this offer by Dahon -- literally just now -- which is obviously licensing Richey's patents.  The Dahon does not seem to come with the travel case, which is part of what makes the Richey such an attractive option.]
Dahon Tornado.  $799 at Bikewagon as we speak.
I test-rode Steve Dodds' titanium Breakaway (Sram Red build), climbing a 6% grade in the big ring in my best effort to find intolerable noodling -- and I was impressed.  It rides like a road bike, which it is.  The Breakaway is available in road or cross configuration and in titanium or steel.

The technology is elegant.  The bottom junction, just above the bottom bracket (look closely at either the Dahon or the Breakaway above), is simply a flange with a collar.  The top junction is at the seatpost.  The frame never literally rejoins itself there at all.  Instead, there are two seat-post clamps -- one on the top tube and one on the seat-tube.  When both are clamped the seatpost serves to join the frame.  I suppose all things equal I'd choose not to ride a carbon seat-post, although I'm sure the specs. suggest it would be just fine.

The cable junctions are equally elegant:  they screw apart and there are cable-stops on either side of the junction.

Other options for true road-worthy frames include small-wheel jobbies like Bike Friday's Pocket Rocket (and various other bikes in its line).

Pocket Rocket from Bike Friday.
Bike Friday is both (1) expensive and (2) sufficiently funky that I'd be slightly concerned about my ability to strip and build quickly.  And it looks a little silly compared to the clean lines of a good road or cross frameset.

Bicycle Doctor USA, based out of a warehouse on a country road 10 miles from Bloomington Indiana, is the world's largest dealer of Breakaways.  The shop is run by Steve and Eric Dodds, who appear to be father and son.  The shop feels like the website:  you walk in and there are racks, and racks, and racks of mid- to high-end bikes built up and ready to sell.  In the back room there is a loft with boxes and boxes of frames waiting to be built.  There is a bike stand and a bench with tools scattered about.  Frankly, the shop looks like Sam's garage must look with his 9 bikes in a row (but with many more bikes).

Steve and Eric sell Breakaways cheaper than anybody else I've found anywhere.  $1049 for a 2012 frameset; $699 for a 105 groupset; $90 for a build.  They even bought back the 105 crankset from me for an astounding $177, and the 105 cassette for $40, when I showed up with my own parts bin and unloaded it on their floor.  No problems building with my wheels, bars, seatposts, saddles and stems. I'd feel a little sheepish bringing in a full $450 105 Gruppo from Merlin, but I would bet they would take it in stride.

The bikes come with their own travel cases that do not literally meet airline maximum measurements but are close enough that I've never heard of anybody paying fees.  And Eric showed me how to trim the plastic on the inside so that I can deflate the tires and tighten it down to the 62" maximum.

Eric Dodds trimming the Breakaway travel case to meet airline maximum measurements.
Punch-line:  by next week Eric will have built two steel cross Breakaways -- one for P__ and one for me.  And that isn't all:  Steve rents out his Grand Cayman Islands beach-house and gives good advice on experiencing the island by bike, so in April P__ and I will be taking a short sojourn to test our new rides.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Another new frameset?

I'm getting new bike fatigue.

That is inconvenient because when building my fixie last night -- which I am building because I had a frameset to use -- this happened to my trusty aluminum P2SL frameset:

Got a little aggressive with the headset press on the P2SL.

I've had this bike since 2009.  It replaced a Cervelo Dual that had a cracked weld; the Dual dated to 2007.  Cervelo has a good return policy, but the company no longer makes anything aluminum and there is no way it will replace straight-up a carbon P2 for this old P2SL -- in particular when the damage is so clearly my fault.  And I already have a carbon P2, so even if Cervelo will give a discount, I'm not willing to pay the difference.

I suppose I could simply stop and go without for a while, but recall that I had a beautiful set of wheels built just for the purpose of this fixie.

In sum, I could just cry.  What to do?

Here's one option:  I have exchanged e-mails with a titanium builder I found on Alibaba.  You gotta admit, this would make a pretty sweet build:

Titanium fixed frameset from Alibaba.
The problem, of course, is that Alibaba sellers are looking to establish relationships to supply businesses in the US.  The minimum order is five and to order that few I'd probably have to permit this guy to believe I was planning a bigger purchase.

One thought:  open a titanium fixed gear bike business.  Sam and I both have lamented that we had built entire bikes because we had one spare part lying around.  How about building a new business because I had a set of wheels I needed to use?

Option 2:  A Habanero fixie.  Sam has made Habanero his go-to supplier.

Option 3:  A Richey Breakaway steel fixie.  

Traveling fixie.  Credit:

This runs about the same price as the Habanero titanium.  It's a pretty steel frameset.  It would be easy to store when not in use!  Biggest problem?  I'm actively planning to buy a titanium Breakaway cross bike for travel riding.  By "actively," I mean "like next week, unless I get religion before then."

Option 4:  one of the other steel frame-maker fixed gear builds, like Soma or Gunnar.  Soma is tempting at $350 for the frame, but the 1" head-tube would not fit either of my spare forks.  At $950 for a steel frame with a notoriously delicate paint job, the Gunnar is a tad dear for this purpose.

Soma Rush.

Option 5:  Surly Steamroller.  This frameset does everything right.  Sturdy, inexpensive steel frameset.  Clearance for balloon tires.  Color options include -- I kid you not -- "meth teeth."

Steamroller in "meth teeth."  Credit:

There is also white and black, either of which would be better with the colors in which I had the wheels built.  At $420 for the frameset the Steamroller is a tempting choice.  I'm not at all pleased with the seat-tube only cage bosses, however.  Who carries one bottle -- and on the seat-tube, at that?

More on this never-ending project bike to follow.