Friday, April 29, 2011

On Randonneuring

Over the course of fifty-some posts on this blog one of the things I've tried to do is paint a picture of what randonneuring is all about. Or at least what it's about for me. I doubt I've painted a very clear picture because... well, randonneuring is a surprisingly difficult thing to explain.

Today I ran across this description of randonneuring by Alec Burney on the Velo Orange blog. I thought it was well-written and did a good job of succinctly explaining the sport, so I thought I'd pass it along. It was one of those pieces that made me think, "I wish I could have said it that well."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Addicted to Old Steel

Uh oh... I think I may be developing an addiction. No, it's not to pain pills (although I did spend a few days in a very pleasant Percocet-induced stupor after the surgery on my arm). My addiction is to cheap old bikes on Craig's List.

It started so innocently when I ran across a 1982 Trek 311 on CL last fall. I’m not sure why I was even looking at bikes on CL, it’s not like I needed another bike. But I’ve always heard great things about those old lugged steel Treks, and for $75 I couldn’t afford to not buy it, right? I bought it in the same way you might pick up a box of those deep-fried jalapeno poppers at Trader Joe's after they hand you a sample on a toothpick.

That Trek 311 turned out to be a really great old bike and I’ve had a lot of fun fixing it up and trying out different configurations. I’ve come to love the the simplicity of friction shifting and a two by six speed drive train. Since I bought it, the Trek has become my most ridden bike even though I already had two much newer and "nicer" bikes.

The only thing about the 311 that isn’t quite perfect is that the frame is just on the edge of being too big for me. The problem is that back in the day Treks came in only five sizes: 19.75" (or occasionally 19" instead), 21", 22.5”, 24" and 25.5". The right size for me is really about halfway between 21” and 22.5”. The 311 is a 22.5” and I’ve made it fit by using a shorter stem and scooting the saddle forward a bit. It’s very comfortable as it’s currently set up, but I’ve really wanted to try a similar Trek in the 21” size so I could find out if that works even better.

As a result, I've spent the past several months scouring Craig’s List looking for a similar Trek with a 21” frame. The idea (aka, "rationalization") was that I could buy it, try both for a little while and then keep the one that fits the best and sell the other. Well, last week I finally found a good candidate. It’s a 1984 Trek 560. The price was reasonable and it was in decent shape, so I bought it. It’s not quite in as good condition as the 311 which was virtually unused and totally original when I bought it. The 560 has most of the original parts, but somewhere along the way it got some funky replacement wheels and a new saddle, and the frame shows it's age with a lot a scratches and chips. But mechanically it's all there and working well.

So, here’s where the addiction comes in. I've only ridden the 560 a couple times, but I'm definitely feeling like I have to keep both bikes. The 560 is completely different than than the 311 (somewhere, my wife just rolled her eyes at that comment). The 311 is a "sport touring" bike with a relatively long wheel base and solid predictable handling, while the 560 is a full-on racing bike with short chain stays, tight clearances and snappy handling. The larger frame of the 311 allows a more upright position that's really comfortable for all day rides. The smaller frame of the 560 puts me in a more aggressive position that just makes me want to ride hard and fast. So you can see why I need to keep both, right? Right?

The good news is that Sarah hasn't dropped the either-the-bikes-go-or-I-go ultimatum on me yet, and it's cheap old bikes we're talking about here rather than boats, cars, motorcycles or methamphetamine. Still, just to be safe I think I'll lay low for a while and try to stay away from Craig's list. I suspect 1980s Treks are just a "gateway" bike. It won't be long before they no longer get me high and I'll move on to Italian or French bikes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tailwinds and Sunshine

(Sorry about the photos. I touched the lens with a schmutzy finger and didn't notice until after the ride.)

Pine Canyon Rd. a.k.a "the Orondo Grade"

Yesterday was a good day. Not only did I complete a 200k brevet--my first solo brevet since FOOSHing myself two months ago--but I did it under warm sunny skies, with friends, and with the wind at our backs for much of the last half of the ride. It doesn't get any better than that.

The ride started and ended in Wenatchee as part of SIR's "brevet week" a.k.a Northwest Crank. NW Crank is a several days long cycling orgy with a full Super Randonneur Series worth of brevets and as well as a bunch of other "normal" rides. Sarah, Adam and I just went over for the 200k. Actually, I went for the 200k while Sarah and Adam went for the mini golf in Leavenworth.

It looked like there were about 25 of us at the start of the 200k. Several of the other riders had already ridden a 600k and a 300k earlier in the week. There was a lot of talk about the wind on the earlier rides. Apparently both rides had become horrendous slogs into cold headwinds. I heard stories of riding at 10kph on flat ground for hours at a time. Sounds like fun.

But Saturday's forecast was for calm winds and clear skies. It was chilly as we rolled out at 7:00am, but nothing that couldn't be overcome by pedaling harder.

Bread Pudding 200k

The ride headed up highway 2/97 to Orondo, about 15 miles up the Columbia river. I led the pack for most of this stretch since I was feeling strong and having aerobars on my bike makes it much easier to lead than to follow. At Orondo the route turned east on highway 2 and started climbing up Pine Canyon. Highway 2 climbs 2,000 ft here in about 6 miles, so I knew this would be a good test of how much fitness I had lost in the previous two months. I started the climb with Robin, Bill and Michael. Robin and Bill are on the Charly Miller team, and Michael is someone I've ridden with on previous rides. These guys are all strong riders, but I've never had a problem staying with any of them before. I was dropped like a brides panties on her wedding night. Either these guys were doping or I had taken a big step backward in my fitness.

About an hour later I caught up to Robin and Bill at the first control in Waterville. Thankfully they decided to sit down at the coffee shop for some bread pudding and a cup of coffee. (This 200k is named the "Bread Pudding 200k" in honor of this coffee shop's bread pudding.) I joined them and we had a nice civilized little break, far better than the usual chocolate milk outside a convenience store.

Bill and Robin pulling away as we start up the Orondo Grade

At this point the ride entered a new world of rolling wheat fields. I was reminded of riding through this same stretch last year with Kelly on the Cascade 1200 and how amazed we were by the vastness of it (it's still vast, Kelly). On the rolling hills it was a little hard for me to ride smoothly with Bill and Robin since they were faster on the ups, and the aerobars made it difficult for me to draft them on the flats and downhills. But they rejected my suggestions to leave me behind and were committed to staying with me for the full ride.

Bill and Robin pulling away again. This time Sagebrush Flats.

After a screaming descent into Moses Coulee we headed south toward Ephrata on a beautiful quiet road. There was a bit of a rolling climb before heading down into Ephrata and again Robin and Bill left me in their dust. But again, they were waiting for me at a the control in Ephrata, this time the more typical chocolate-milk-on-the-sidewalk situation.

From Ephrata the ride was mostly flat and uneventful, through farmland, and on roads as straight as an arrow. I was really starting to poop out at this point so I did more than my share of wheel sucking. Robin and Bill slowed down so I could stay with them and happily dragged my unfit butt along. Through this section we had some tailwinds so even though I was dragging, we were often moving at better than 20 mph.

Straight as an arrow

As we approached the Columbia River we were treated to a nice 40mph descent which was a little scary since I'm still getting used to the whole aerobar thing. Once down to the river we had a few more easy miles back to the start at the Inn at the River in East Wenatchee. We rolled in a few minutes before 3:00 making for a sub 8 hour 200k. Not bad for being out of shape (never mind that without Robin and Bill's help I would have finished about an hour later).

Robin and Bill dragging me home

With this 200k in the bag I'm back on track to qualifying for PBP. I obviously have some work to do to get back in shape if I want to make a time at PBP, but at this point my wrist isn't holding me back as much as my general fitness. I'm hoping to ween myself off the aerobars after the 400k in two weeks.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Risk of Cycling: Broken Arm

After six weeks of feeling pretty pessimistic or at least anxious about my hopes for riding PBP this summer, things are looking decidedly up. My cast came off last Wednesday. Initially I was pretty concerned about the soreness and lack of mobility in my wrist, but day-by-day it's getting better. It's far from back to normal, but it's improving enough that it seems conceivable that it could be 100% by the time PBP rolls around.

I asked my Dr. when he thought I might be able to get back on a bike, and he tilted his head in a doctorly way and said, "let's see how it feels in a couple of weeks." Then I told him that I rode 300k last Saturday. I got the tilted head look again, plus a doctorly furrowed brow. Then I said, "Look... I'm going to start riding right away. So what are the risks?" We talked about risks for a while and basically it came down to this: The greatest risk is that I'll crash and re-break my arm. I pointed out that every time I go for a ride there's a risk that I'll crash and break something. My good Dr. didn't really have an argument for that, and more or less agreed that I might as well start riding right away.

I felt good enough on Friday to ride to work as a little test. The test went well so I decided to push it a little harder and went for a ride around Lake Washington this morning. My wrist definitely felt every bump in the road, but I finished the 50 mile ride feeling like I could keep going. A good sign. I was careful to take it easy on the ride and never really put a lot of stress on my wrist. Actually I sort of had no choice other than to take it easy since I seem to have lost some fitness over the past month and a half (anybody seen it?). Luckily PBP is still over four months away. That should be plenty of time to get back in shape assuming I don't crash and break something (which, as my doctor pointed out, is a risk faced when riding a bike).

One of the things I've done to make it easier to get back on the road is, I installed some clip-on aerobars on my bike. The aerobars allow me to take weight off my wrist and put it all on my forearms. I never really thought of myself as an aerobar bar person before. I usually think of colorful lycra and funny helmets when I think of aerobars, you know? But I have to admit that they work quite well once you get used to them. I doubt if I could have done the 50 mile ride this morning without them. So, I guess I'll just try to ignore the cognitive dissonance of aerobars on a 1982 Trek with a Brooks saddle and fenders, and keep using them until my wrist is back in shape.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On the Road Again!

After having spent much of the past couple weeks stressing about how on earth I'd be able to qualify for PBP if I couldn't ride the SiR Spring 300k, I'm very pleased to report that IT IS DONE! Yesterday, I finished the 307 kilometer (191 mile) course well within the required time.

Actually I should say we finished it. I was on the back of Robin and Amy's tandem with Amy as my trusted captain. There's no way I could have completed this ride by myself on a single bike. I can't begin to express how much I appreciate what Amy and Robin did to help get me through this ride. Robin, for being our "wrench" and helping to figure out the creative cockpit that allowed me to ride relatively comfortably with a broken arm, and Amy for captaining me through the ride when she really would have rather been at home enjoying the twin miracles of central heating and comfortable chairs.

This 300k turned out to be a pretty tough course with about 9,000 ft of climbing and a fair amount of urban and suburban riding that made navigation a challenge. Add to that the fact that I haven't been on a bike in nearly a month and a half, and my arm is still in a cast, and well... it was the toughest 300k I've ever ridden.

I was hurting nearly everywhere by the end of the ride, but the good news is that my broken arm was probably the least painful part of my body. Robin and I rigged up an aero bar arm rest sideways so that I could rest on my left elbow to get my weight off of my wrist. Here's what it looked like:

Amy, my apologies for posting a picture of your butt on the internet, but it's all in the interest of science.

This was my first ride of any more than a couple miles on a tandem. It wasn't bad, but it's definitely not like being on a bike by yourself. For one, you have to get used to having this as your view all day:

And without being able to see up-coming bumps in the road, you don't get much opportunity to take weight off the seat and absorb them with your legs. Amy did a great job of calling out bumps and twists and turns, but my backside was still feeling it by the end of the ride.

Other than the challenges of dealing with the broken arm and getting used to being on the back of a tandem, it was a very nice ride. It was cool and overcast, but I never felt more than a couple rain drops. The route put us on some beautiful rural roads with llamas, yard chickens and mostly friendly dogs along the way.

I'm pretty sure the farmer who painted that barn was colorblind. You just don't paint barns blue. It's somewhere in the farmer code of conduct.

While we rode long sections of the ride with no other randos in sight, we also spent a fair amount of time with a crowd behind us, apparently one of the pleasures of riding a tandem. This guy kept trying to grab our wheel but eventually we were able to shake him.

As with every SiR ride I've ever done, the ride was very well organized and well staffed with nice folks meeting us at the controls to hand us a Vietnamese sandwich or fill our water bottles. Thanks to Gary, Dave and the whole crew for putting on a fantastic event.

Having this ride in the bag is a huge load off my mind. I still have a long way to go before I'm qualified for PBP, but I feel like I have a little breathing room now. The 400k is a month away and my cast comes off in two days so I'm hoping that's enough time to get somewhat comfortable on a single bike again. "Speedy recovery" is my mantra.

Courtesy of Mark Thomas

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Still Limping Along Toward Paris

I pre-registered for Paris-Brest-Paris this morning! With my pre-registration and a €30 fee I've tentatively locked in a place at the start in August. Now I just need to complete the four qualifying brevets of 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k.

Ay, there's the rub. At the moment my left arm is still in a cast, and the brevet season is in full swing. I missed SiR's first 200k brevet a couple weeks ago and next weekend is the 300k. I'll still be in the cast next weekend, but I've decided to give the 300k a go anyway. I can't support much weight with my wrist and definitely can't squeeze a brake lever with my left hand, so a normal bike is out of the question. Luckily my friend, Amy has generously offered the back seat of her tandem. We're messing around with the set up, trying to create a position for me that keeps weight off my wrist and is tolerable for 300k. I've never gone into a brevet with more apprehension, but if I want to ride PBP this summer I have to take some chances.

The course for the 300k looks good. It's not too tough, no bumpy dirt roads (which would really mess with a broke wrist), and it covers a lot of familiar terrain.

The weather forecast is pretty meaningless this far out, but for what it's worth it's currently calling for partly cloudy skies on Saturday. I'm hoping for a break (no pun intended) from the velo/weather gods since this ride will be challenging enough without crappy weather.

P.S. Don't tell my orthopedic surgeon what I'm up to next weekend!