Friday, October 11, 2013

Northwest Road trip with Bikes: Orcas Island and Mt Constitution

Tent site at Lopez Farm
our camp on Lopez Island
After spending two wonderful nights on Lopez Island. Our plan would take us to the largest of the San Juan Islands--Orcas Island. We woke up, de-camped, and packed our gears onto our bikes. We leisurely pedaled to the ferry dock and waited for a mid-day ferry, saying goodbye to this wonderful island along the way. From everything we have read and heard in conversation, Orcas is the hilliest of the major San Juan Islands. Our apprehension only got worse when a tourist riding a Surly LHT told us how he struggled on the roads. The place we planned to stay was in Eastsound Village, so we didn't have much of a choice. After taking a couple swigs of water and a bite of energy food, we began rolling.

Alpaca Farm
Alpaca Farm on Orcas Island
The road pointed north first before turning east toward Eastsound. It was early afternoon and the sun was out in full force, but the breeze from the sound kept the temperature down and the conditions quite pleasant. We were more observant of our efforts so as not to over-ride and struggle later on the supposedly hilly terrain. Though to our pleasant surprise, the terrain, even with our load, was nothing to worry about. I guess our usual riding and touring in the Bay Area hills prepare us well.

Crescent Beach
Crescent Beach outside Eastsound
Orcas is simply beautiful. Quiet country roads, evergreens and pastures everywhere. We took a bypass road that's even lighter in car traffic than the main road, then soaked in the bucolic atmosphere. The 9-mile ride to Eastsound Village went by quickly. Soon we had to slow down to enter this quaint town that sits in the middle of the island. We stopped to call our host for the night to get direction to his lodge/campground.

Riding toward Mt Constitution
Riding by Alpine Lake in Moran SP
We rode by Crescent Beach, upped a hill and arrived at the lodge. Our host Dave was very nice and showed us around. M. was tired so she took a nap on the hammock while I set up camp and went back to Eastsound to get some groceries for dinner and breakfast. We also had plans to get out for a sunset ride up Mt Constitution.

Our camp
our campsite on Orcas Island
After dinner, we relieved our bikes of panniers and locks, and rode toward Moran State Park. At 7:30 it was still very bright, though the temperature was beginning to drop. We rode at a good pace in the crisp but fragrant evening air. Moran State Park is a clean and serene area with big patches of evergreen forest and several alpine lakes. Soon we came to the fork and began climbing on Mt Constitution Road.

Wide panorama
Wide Panorama of Puget Sound from the top of Mt Constitution
Mt Constitution Road is a significant climb that gains 2000 ft in 5 miles. It reminded us of some of our favorite climbs in the Bay Area--BoFax Road from Alpine Dam or Bolinas to Ridgecrest, Kings Mountain Road, and Pinehurst Road. It was very well shaded but with a challenging gradient. We worked hard to crest to the top and enjoyed the output of effort. We were also rewarded with an expansive and jaw-dropping panoramic view of the Puget Sound. The climb itself was enjoyable, but the vista definitely put this climb to among our favorite roads to ride.

Alpine Lake Sunset
It was dusk now and we only have perhaps 30 minutes of civilian twilight left. I put 2 maps on my chest to maintain my core temperature for the descent turned on the dynamo light and headed back to the campground. We cleaned up and ate a snack before getting into our tent, under a tall evergreen, and went into a deep slumber. Tomorrow we will leave the island, but we will surely come back to this lovely place again.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Northwest Road Trip with Bikes: Lopez Island and Orcas Sighting.

A panorama shot from under the walkway to the ferry
Puget Sound from the Anacortes Ferry Terminal
We really enjoyed our time in Portland; so much so that I began second-guessing our decision to head to Puget Sound for 3 and 1/2 days. After all, wouldn't we be able to relax more and have a true vacation if we were to simply chill out in Portland? The calculus on the other side was that this was our first true longish vacation in a while, and we'd already driven all the way up here, so we might as well drive the extra 3 and 1/2 hours to Anacortes and check out the islands. In hindsight, our trip to the San Juan Islands was totally worth the extra drive and planning.

Washington State Ferry
From the ferry deck
Driving on the main corridor on the day before the July 4th long weekend was not the most pleasant experience. We stuttered our way to Anacortes, worried about missing our 5PM-ish ferry to Lopez Island, where we planned on staying the night. We got to the ferry terminal parking lot with enough time to unload our bikes, pack our gears onto the bikes (since we were camping for the next 3 nights) and wandered to the line for pedestrians/cyclists. I bought two tickets for us, chatted with a resident cyclist who is an experience tourist, and proceeded to board the ferry when the ferry worker let us on. Both M. and I were so excited about our trip--we giddily walked around the boat to soak in the amazing scenery and daydreamed about our adventures for the next days. Little did we know at the time that our adventure was indeed about to start, but not quite the way we planned.

Incoming Ferry
Ferry coming into Friday Harbor
The resident cyclist whom I was chatting with found us looking out the window and pointed out that we were on the wrong ferry, as the one we were on were headed directly for Friday Harbor on the main San Juan Island, whereas our intended ferry was the one after. We poured over the ferry schedule and realized that we won't be able to get to Lopez Island until 11pm at night. We considered finding a place to stay on San Juan Island but on late afternoon of July 3rd finding a spot to stay was nearly impossible.

Marina at dusk
Friday Harbor at Dusk
After we got off the boat we decided that we would hang out in Friday Harbor and wait for the late ferry to get on Lopez. We sat around and enjoyed the harbor the best we can. It was getting cooler, and we sought shelter in a enclosed hut on the dock. It was getting late but the darkness was slow to arrive. As we left Friday Harbor at 10:30 or so the night had barely fallen.

Sun is out
Sunrise at the campground on Lopez Island
I'd been to Lopez Island once in 2005, but navigating it at night, even with bright dynamo headlight on our bikes was not easy. We proceeded cautiously and were able to find our campground and stumbled our way to our site. After a long day of travel both of our patience was wearing thin. Somehow we got the tent pitched and we fell into slumber in the quiet evergreen forest on Lopez.

I also made the mistake of not bringing a sleeping bag. I'd checked the weather prior to leaving California, where we had the worst heatwave in several years. Portland was baking when we were there also. The forecast for the islands showed temperature in the 50's. I thought bringing a thin fleece blanket would be sufficient. I was mistaken and had to put on all the layers I had and stayed as close to M. in the tent (she had a sleeping bag) as I could. I did get used to it the following two nights and slept well.

Sequoia at the harbor
Lopez Island Harbor on July 4th
Lopez was very tranquil, even on a day like July 4th. I rode my bike 1.5 miles to the grocery store at the local village center to buy some food and supplies. The town was hosting a 5k run to raise fund for several local organizations. I meandered to the harbor nearby the market and stared for a while before heading back to the campground. Few folks were up at this point and hanging out in the common area. I made some breakfast and woke M. up to eat. After tossing a frisbee for a while I convinced M. that instead of kicking back and sitting in a lawn chair for the rest of the day, that we should take the ferry to San Juan Island again to check out the beautiful coastline on the west side of the island and to try our luck with potential sighting of orcas. M. was doubtful but decided to follow my whim.

Sequoia on Ferry
Bike on Ferry
We collected a bag of snacks and maps and headed for San Juan. After getting off the boat, we rode at a leisure pace toward the coast. The weather was breezy and sunny. There were more cars than I remembered from 8 years ago. After a couple of hilly stretches M. was regretting her decision and missing the hammock back at our camp site. We reached the coast shortly after and began to make our way toward Lime Kiln Point State Park.

Orcas watching
Orcas watching folks and boats
We saw some folks pulled over on the side of the road and made various sounds of exclamation. We stopped and walked up a big rock to see what it was about, and saw a line of boats moving steadily northward undoubtedly carrying passengers to watch orcas. While we were standing there enjoying an amazing vista of the sound, we saw it--an orca surfacing just above water and was moving about. Though it wasn't for long our interest was now definitely piqued. We decided to ride 2 miles to Lime Kiln to get a better view.

The state park had quite a few folks at this point. For the next hour or so, we sat on a rock near the beach in the park and saw 2-3 orcas surfacing from time to time, to the joy of people on the shore. It was truly an amazing sight, even if they were merely small specks from the beach.

Orca sighting!
The best I can do to capture the Orcas
Reluctantly, we got back on the road and headed back toward Friday Harbor so we can catch our ferry back to Lopez. Even without the orcas sighting, the ride up and down the west coast of San Juan was incredibly scenic and relaxing. We rode back to Friday Harbor in time for the ferry. After a low-key dinner and some time in the law chairs, we turned in to catch up on some needed sleep. The next day we planned on de-camping and then go visit Orcas Island before heading back to Portland for the weekend.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Northwest Road trip with Bikes: Portland 1

Hawthorne bridge

 My wife M and I managed to have a break at the same time, so at the last minute we decided to put a road trip together. Destinations that we considered include Portland, San Juan Islands, and Vancouver, BC. After looking at various transportation and lodging options, we decided to travel to Portland and the San Juan Islands for this 8-day trip.

Tram that travels between the two campuses of OHSU;
We loaded up our stuff and bikes--her Trek 720 and my Specialized Sequoia--on our car and began driving north on Highway 5. We were in the middle of a heatwave that impacted much of the West Coast. The Bay Area has begun to cool down as we were leaving, however, the HWY 5 corridor is more inland, and it was scorching once the morning sun had some time to cook the earth. As we left Mt Shasta and California around noon, the car's thermometer was registering triple digit, and hovered there for the rest of the trip to Portland. We stopped in Ashland to have lunch, and stopped whenever we needed to refill our water bottles or gas tank, or empty our bladders. We got to Portland around 6PM, and though it was beginning to cool some, it was still in the 90's and more humid than what we are accustomed to in the Bay Area. We stayed at a house we found on Airbnb in Southwest Portland, near Oregon Health Sciences University. Our host is a nice young couple who had moved to Portland relatively recently.

After settling into our room and rolling our bikes into the garage. My friend Joseph from high school came by and took us to dinner. Since he is vegetarian also, he is familiar with the many vegetarian/vegan options available in Portland. After a short discussion, we decided to eat at Los Gorditos, which is a greasy-spoon, Mission-style taqueria with a full vegan menu.

Vegan mexican food
Great Vegan Cal-Mex food at Los Gorditos
Coming from the Bay Area--the supposed mecca of Cal-Mex food and a metropolitan area with a good vegetarian/vegan population--I thought I had seen the newest and best of vegetarian Mexican food, but I was impressed and humbled by the food at Los Gorditos. The restaurant has on its vegan menu items that are commonplace in regular taqueria but unusual in vegetarian joints, such as vegan quesadilla and vegan chile relleno. When I was ordering, the cashier asked "what kind of vegan meat do you want, tofu, soyrizo, or soy curls?" I felt embarrassed for not knowing what soy curls are--they were good!

Joseph was kind enough to give us his run down of Portland after moving there from Seattle three years ago for a job. Although he prefers Seattle still, he does like PDX quite a bit. He drove us around and we got out the car and walk around the downtown and waterfront areas in the NW. We saw amazing food cart clusters, the long line at Voodoo Doughnuts, and the many folks out and about in and near the Esplanada and the waterfront park. The Willamette River and the several bridges over it provided great ambiance to the summer late dusk (it was close to 10 and it was still not dark out). By the time Joseph dropped us off it was past 10pm. We fell asleep pretty quickly after a long day of driving.

Riding along the river
riding along the river toward downtown
The next morning, we chatted with our host some over breakfast, got our bikes ready and set out to explore Portland. We didn't have any specific destination in mind. From the get go we were impressed with the city's famed bicycle culture; not only were the infrastructure plentiful and well-designed, but the sheer number of people on bikes is perhaps unrivaled in the United States. We rode along the Willamette River and the connecting bike paths toward downtown, and eventually ended up near Voodoo Doughnuts again, but the line was still too long. We were getting hungry as it was close to lunch time so we rode around looking for a food cart cluster--another great feature of Portland. A few blocks away at the intersection of Stark and 3rd, we found DC Vegetarian in a cluster. We ordered a vegan bacon cheese burger (check out this portlandia clip for reference) and a vegan bah mi (Vietnamese-style vegan beef sandwich). They were both extremely delicious.

DC Vegetarian
Food Cart Cluster
The food cart cluster concept is brilliant, and I wonder why more cities don't learn from Portland to encourage it. These clusters are usually located in empty parking lots, and bring benefits to all parties. For vendors, the cost of starting a business is significantly lower than starting a restaurant. Given the low cost, vendors can have a longer incubation period where they can test and adjust menu to find out what customers like. Being close to several, even a dozen or more other vendors attract a wider audience who may not have been coming for a specific food cart, but may end up buying from it once they get to the cluster for various reasons. Once a vendor establishes a clientele and a strong demand, it can set up a location that can serve more customers (see Los Gortidos above). For patrons, having many food carts in a cluster means many options of food, and also innovation of menu where vendors are more willing to try new ways of preparing food because their start-up and ongoing costs are lower. For the cities, food cart clusters energize gray and dead spaces such as parking lots or other empty lots, and generate foot traffic and commercial activities. We found Portland downtown to be buzzing around lunch time where people were out on the sidewalk and benches eating and chatting.

The Redlight
We returned to Voodoo Doughnuts yet again after lunch, but after seeing the unrelenting queue, we decided to move on and check out other parts of the city. We rode across the Burnside Bridge, and rode to Hawthorne. We parked our bikes (great parking infrastructure!) and walked and checked out different stores. M. scored some vintage T-shirts at Redlight, and we decided to check out a tea bar where we can sit and read for a while.

Side of the caboose
The Tea Chai Te Too is located in Sellwood, which is south of the SE Portland. We rode to the river bank and followed a long (4 miles) rail-to-trail Springwater corridor to Sellwood. The trail is extremely well maintained and provide commuters and recreational cyclists a fast, safe, and pleasant way to travel between SE Portland and Sellwood. The front part of Tea Chai Te Too tea bar is housed in a former caboose. It even kept some original setup of the train cart. We ordered several different types of cool tea and read and dozed off for a couple of hours. We decided to eat at Los Gorditos again because it was simply too good.

Crossing Hawthorne Bridge
Afterward, we crossed the Hawthorne Bridge back to the west side. As we exit the bridge (which has separate bike exit ramps) we saw the bike counter, which was showing "6267". Which shows the volume of folks traveling on bikes. We hung out on the Esplanade for a little longer as the sun was setting; folks were out walking and riding around. Portland reminded me of London with its many bridges on the Thames. The ride back to our BnB was very enjoyable, as the temperature has finally dropped to a comfortable level. It was a wonderful day in Portland!

Under hawthorne bridge

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ebisu freshened up

Ebisu 2011 set up

My Ebisu has a very distinctive grey color, and it worked really well with a pair of red Grand Bois Hetres tires. The ones I had on it were there since when the bike was new and has now 2500 miles on them. They are still in good shape. My Specialized Sequoia needed new tires, so I decided to give Ebisu a new look. I put a pair of low-mileage new-to-me white Hetres that I got in a trade recently, and then re-wrap the handlebar with white Fizik microtex tapes. I pumped the tires up to 45 psi with 26"x 1.25" Q-tube superlight butyl tubes (they have lower listed weight than the Schwalbe 650b SV latex tubes) and rode the Ebisu on the recent SFR DART Populaire. Everything being equal, the white performs about just the same as the red ones. Perhaps the red ones feel slightly plusher because they have been stretched and worn some. I also changed the front derailleur to a 8-speed Shimano 600 one to replace the 10-speed R700. The 8-speed front mech has wider cages and allows me to shift the entire cassette without trimming very much in the front. The next project for this bike, which may be months away, is to build a pair of lightweight event wheels out of Pacenti PL23 rims and Chris King/SON Delux hubs.

Ebisu with white tires and bar tapes

SFR DART Populaire: Millbrae to Berkeley

Team Berkeley Cyclers
Team Berkeley Cyclers on Canada Road
I gathered a team together to participate in the San Francisco Randonneurs' DART Populaire event. My teammates Rachel, Deborah, and M. got on BART at 8:45 to get across the Bay for our 10AM start. The DART, similar to Fleche, is a team randonneuring event with each team designing its own route but all ending at the same location. This SFR hosted two distances for DART, 200k and 120k. Given my lack of shape after two months of little riding, our team went for the 120k (Populaire) version. The route starts in Millbrae and meanders down the Peninsula along roads in the foothills, then cross the Dumbarton Bridge to East Bay. It goes east from Fremont and connects to Castro Valley via Palomares Road, then comes back to Oakland and Berkeley on Redwood Road and Montclair.

Water Temple
Taking a Break at the Pulgas Water Temple
Our last teammate Rinaldi met us at the Chase Bank near the BART station, and led us through the easy going neighborhood roads through upscale suburbs on the upper Peninsula. We took the Polhemus Bike Trail over to Canada Road, then rode along the Crystal Springs Reservoir for a while, even stopping at the Pulgas Water Temple. The weather was forecasted to be very hot in the Bay Area, and though at this time of the day it was breezy enough to be comfortable, the pool at the Water Temple was inviting. Canada Road's smooth pavement and a slight tailwind made for fast riding, and we got to Robert's Market in Woodside in decent time. After getting a receipt and taking a brief break, we descended on Woodside Road and rode through Atherton and Menlo Park and headed for the Dumbarton Bridge.

Fixing a dropped chain on the dumbarton bridge
Fixing a dropped chain on Dumbarton Bridge
I was a frequent user of the Dumbarton Bridge as a cyclist when I was working in Sunnyvale and Menlo Park, but all my teammates hadn't riding across the bridge in this direction. While noisy and smelly, riding across the Dumbarton Bridge always impresses me visually. We battled wind on the trail following the span and entered Newark/Fremont on Thorton Road. After making a couple of turns to get on Mowry, we found a Subway Sandwich in a shopping center to eat our lunch.

Even though I felt we were going at a good clip all morning, we barely had time to eat lunch at a leisurely pace. Soon we were on our way again riding toward Niles Canyon and Palomares--the first of two major climbs of the day. Now the weather forecast has become true, and it was hot! M. felt it must have hit triple digit on the tarmac. While Deborah and Rachel rode on toward our second control Westover Winery, M., Rinaldi and I stayed together and slowly made our way up. M. was coming from a business trip and had a late night the night before, and was struggling in the heat. We got to the Winery just as Deborah was about to move again to catch Rachel, who had rode on. The owner of the winery was super gracious and hunted down some cold soda for us and filled our bottles with iced water. Feeling more refreshed and knowing that the summit is close, we rode on and soon we were descending and riding on the downhill rollers that followed. As we approached E. Castro Valley Road, our team regrouped.

M. decided to get on BART at Castro Valley--the heat had done her in, and it was a bit touch and go whether we would make it to the next stop--our 2-hour control. When I was planning the route, the SFR DART organizer Roland Bevan and I had discussed having a control on Redwood Road to be the 2-hour control, and a park entrance (Anthony Chabot Regional Park) 2 miles after the climb and 18 miles from the finish seemed to be a good choice. I even called the park to check if it has a ranger booth at the Redwood Road entrance.

Ebisu at the hard-to-find ranger station
Ebisu at the alusive ranger booth at Anthony Chabot
Deborah had gone ahead, and Rachel wasn't far behind her. When I got there, Rachel hadn't seen Deborah, and was wondering where to get water. I looked over and the sign says "rifle range, 1.9 miles; Ground Campground 2.0 miles; Campground 2.2 miles", my heart sank as we won't be able to obtain a proof of passage in time. I told Rachel to get some water while I wait for Rinaldi. Rinaldi rested some and decided to move on. I went after Rachel to get some water myself. After 2 miles of up and down riding with non-trivial hills, I finally saw the ranger booth at the bottom of a hill. I asked the rangers if they saw cyclists who fit Deborah and Rachel's descriptions but they couldn't tell me. Rachel must have gone to the group campground or the gun range to get water. I filled my bottles with a hose and began climbing back toward Redwood Road. At this point our team wouldn't finish on time.

Top of Crestmont
looks great, but I missed a turn and had to walk back up 20% hills
I rode solo all the way back to Redwood and Skyline and was ready to descend. At this point finally I got some cellphone reception and was able to talk to Rinaldi on the phone. They were just 5 minutes ahead of me. I urged them to head for the finish, and M. is making her way there, too. I dropped down on Crestmont from Skyline, but missed the Butters turn, and end up at a dead-end street after dropping on a couple of 20% descents. At this point, I got off my bike and walked back to Butters, which took me 20 minutes. At least it was very cool now.

With the fog in full force, my ride through Butters and Montclair was chilly--what difference does a couple of hours and less than 10 miles make!--I rode through familiar roads in Oakland and Berkeley and stopped by the house to pick up a jacket before heading to the finish. Deborah, M., Rachel were already there, and Rinaldi brought his family soon after. We vegetarians and vegans on our team, and the staff at T-Rex brought us yummy pasta, salad, steamed beans, and corn bread. Many other DART teams were at various stages of dinner and I said hi and chatted with several folks I know. Rob, our regional RBA told us that 7 teams DNF'ed, and even the 10 teams that finished in time lost riders.

Bike parking at the finish - T-Rex Grill
bike parking at T-Rex 
Over dinner folks chatted and ate merrily, and we all agreed that even though we couldn't get the official credit for the ride, we all had a wonderful day riding and 4 of us had more than 86 miles on our cyclometers. Thanks to the organizer's great effort we had a wonderful gathering at the end.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Red Hetres for Pink Sequoia

New tires for the sequoia

I got a pair of low-mileage white Grand Bois Hetres and put them on my Ebisu All-Purpose, and put them red Hetres that has been on the Ebisu since the bike was new on my pink Sequoia. I know it has been done before, but here it is again, the Hetres fit fine in between the stays without modification to this frame that was designed for 700x28mm tires. The front fork is now a Kogswell Konversion fork and fits the Hetres fine. Even the Tanaka fenders, which was intended to be used for 700cx35mm tires and was formed to fit 650b wheels/tires using a technique demonstrated here by Somervillain, accommodate the Hetres well with a set of good fender lines.

Other new-to-it parts include the Fizik Arione Saddle and an old pair of XT triple crankset repurposed as a double (these use spacers for the small ring).  I am experimenting with the Fizik saddle for long-distance riding. My only experience on it now is a 65-mile ride around Mt Tam last weekend. And though it definitely was different and less comfortable than the cushy old Terry Liberator saddle I had on the bike before, it didn't make me suffer too much. Perhaps I can make it work better with some more adjustments.

New tires for the sequoia

So far my experience with the Hetres on the Sequoia has only been on short around-town errands. They are noticeably faster and more comfortable than the near-new pair of Panaracer Col de la Vie tires. I noticed recently when I replaced the old, worn-out-but-smooth Panaracer Col de la Vie tires with a new-but-grippy pair, that the speed and comfort level suffered. These Panaracer tires are still great for touring and riding on unpaved roads (or both at the same time), but Hetres are definitely superior (now if only they can be cheaper).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First long ride on the Tachyon: Spring Time in Ukiah Valley

I brought the GT Tachyon to my office in Ukiah where I work part of the week. I have been riding it between my office and my cottage. It now sports a Tubus Cargo rear rack and I use a Seattle Sports roll-top small pannier to carry my stuff around. I have also remedied the overly long reach by swapping the original flip-flop stem out for a Velo Orange 6 degree rise/90mm reach threadless stem/stem adapter combo. The bike handles very differently from my other three bikes. The Tachyon is fairly stout, and though I have pushed the front wheel as forward as possible in the bike's unique sliding fork drop-out, the trail is still pretty high.

GT slightly updated

I got off work a little early today because I started very early, and it was a gorgeous day out in the valley--breezy, sunny with blue sky and beautiful faint-white clouds. I don't even have a saddle bag on the bike yet so I put a wind breaker and a cable lock in the pannier, as well as the essentials--wallet, cellphone and keys and began rolling. I also don't have any tool, pump, and spare tube so I have to keep my fingers crossed, hoping not to get a flat too far away from my cottage. Because of my fear of puncture, I decided to stay on pavement and went with a familiar route--Old River Road to Hopland and back.

Perhaps because of the tailwind on my bike, even with a stout bike I was able to move quickly on a fairly high gear--46/13 I think. Old River Road's undulating flatness is perfect for pushing a big gear and go fast. It was really pretty out as poppies and other wild flowers are blooming all across the hill sides and sides of the road, and it was not only picturesque, but also fragrant. I savored the breezy warm afternoon and soon got to the traffic circle just outside of Hopland where I would turn around. Looking down on my cyclometer, I was averaging 18mph without too much effort--I don't think my heart rate monitor went above 145.

As I turned around, I quickly realized the perceived ease with which I completed the outbound leg--strong tailwind. Now I had to fight headwind all the way back to Talmage. I got to a decent rhythm and kept a modest pace and just continued to enjoy the beautiful afternoon. Though now I can definitely felt my effort going up. My heart rate was hovering in the 150s and I had to ride off the saddle a lot more to keep my pace. Under this slight uptick in effort, I could definitely detect the less than perfect handling of this bike more. As I ride off the saddle, the bike's response to my effort is more clunky than my other three bikes, which remains stable and responsive even under very hard effort and bobbing when I am standing over the handlebar. I also needed to lubricate the chain as the sound becomes quite pronounced when you are not going as fast.

As I approached Talmage I decided to take a detour toward Ukiah on Roddick Cunningham Road so I could get some dinner in town. Roddick Cunningham is a shortcut to a point on Talmage Road halfway into Ukiah, and it's a small service road that wind through the local vineyards and orchards. Because I was changing directions several times, I wasn't fighting headwind the entire time and it was a more pleasant experience. After I got on Talmage Road I went in town and ate at Ellie's Mudd Hut.

On my way back and on an overpass on Talmage Road, I began to feel the back of my bike swerving around; I looked down and the rear tire was definitely more depressed than it should. I got a puncture after all. Since I don't have any way of repairing the flat, I didn't even bother to check what got it. Since it was less than a mile from my cottage I just strolled home under the setting sun.

It was a beautiful 30 some mile on my bike. Though after getting spoiled by my other bikes, the GT definitely doesn't feel or handle as nicely. I shouldn't expect too much as it was a mid-range mountainish bike that's fairly stout. I could probably improve the handling by using fatter tires than the 35mm Panaracer Col de la Vies I have on it right now and swapping out the narrow and somewhat awkward Modolo bar with ergo bends and not so ergonomic Dia Compe brake levers. I got some On-one Midge and Cane Creek levers ready. We'll see if I can make the Tachyon more enjoyable to ride.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Strange Beast: 90's GT Tachyon

GT Tachyon

I first heard about the GT Tachyon through JimG's blog entry several years past. I have then since saw several came and went on eBay and the several internet cycling-related groups I am on. The idea of the Tachyon intrigued me--a stout trail bike built for a strange wheel size (but compatible to my favorite wheel size 650b) and has several distinctive features that's relatively cheap to get. I missed out on a San Diego area CL listing in January, even though a local contact was willing to facilitate the purchase. When another one surfaced in February, I found another contact in San Diego and grabbed the bike.

Flip-flop stem
The sale included most of everything except the wheels on it. The seller had ditched the original 700D rims and rebuilt a pair of 650b wheels using the original suntour cassette hubs using Weinmann Zac19 rims. Since I already have a pair of 650b wheels (Velocity Synergy rims laced to a pair of Shimano hubs), I negotiated to buy everything but the wheels at a reduced price. I waited until my contact had some time to pack and ship the bike, and finally receive it several days ago.

Mixed drivetrain
I had planned to not use most, if not all of the original drivetrain, opting for parts compatibility/commonality in my bike garage. I took down the Suntour Command shifters, which were an innovative idea that places the shifting function close to the brake levers, akin to the modern integrated brifters that are now the norm. These shifters can operate in both index and friction mode, with the indexing only an option with Suntour rear derailleurs. I was able to take down most of the parts I didn't need (I planned on keeping and using the Suntour XC LTD front derailleur) except for the Sakae crank arm on the drive side. It was stuck, and the thread for crank-pulling was busted. This set up used a cup and cone bottom bracket; the spindle had a threaded section sticking out to be used with an M8 nut to secure the crank arm. My theory is that the additional length from the threaded section forces the crank puller to thread on less than sufficient number of threads, and perhaps some electrolysis between the Al crank arm and the steel spindle had taken place as well. I thought about and tried several methods, and at the end removed the crank arm and bottom bracket, still stuck together, by removing the fixed cup of the bottom bracket on the drive side. The build can now take place.

I kept the cockpit sans shifters, as well as the seatpost/saddle combo, and the front and rear brakes. The rear brake is a U-brake that's one of the unique feature of this bike. I am also pleased that the front cantilever brakes that come with the package is Dia Compe 986, which is one of my favorite cantilever brakes. Another unique feature that's staying on temporarily is the long flip-flop stem in matching color. I rather like the appearance of this stem together with the bike. However, given that the top tube is already pretty long for me (57.5cm), the long stem makes the fit uncomfortably stretched out with it. I will replace it with a VO stem adapter/threadless stem combo to bring the handlebar closer. The old headset is also replaced with a Ritchey Logic.

Sliding fork drop-out
One other quirk that the Tachyon has is the sliding fork dropout that allows a rider to adjust the fork offset and therefore handling. It's a good concept, but the normally thoughtless action of popping the front wheel in the dropout requires some attention to make sure the wheel sits evenly between the fork legs. I have to ride with different wheel position to report whether it makes a noticeable different in handling.

After building the bike up to ridable conditions, I will probably add a Tubus Cargo rear rack, and eventually get fenders. I am curious about fatter tires, but the weight/cost/performance on different surfaces combination of Col de la Vie is quite good, and I am really hoping that Vee Rubber's 1.9" 650b tires Speedster and 12 will materialize. In any event, I hadn't had a chance to ride the bike extensively.

Here is the frame specs and current build list:

Tubing/Construction: GT Triple Triangle CrossOver geometry TIG Pulse welded
TANGE Infinity Double butted Chromoly tubing
Frame: GT Triple Triangle Chromoly Cross Over frame
Fork: GT Chromoly Unicrown w/2x4 with multiple position dropouts
Headset: 1" Ritchey Logic threaded headset
Stem: GT Chromoly/Alloy Flip Flop
Handlebar: SR Modolo Anatomic Bend aluminum
Brake Levers: Dia Compe Aero BRS w/black hoods
Brakes: Frontt-Dia Compe 986 Cantilever black; Rear-Dia Compe AD990 U-brake
Shifters: Shimano S-A400 downtube friction shifters
Crank: Suntour XC-LTD 175mm crankset; 46/34/24T rings
Bottom Bracket: Shimano UN54 68x127mm
Front Derailleur: Suntour XC LTD triple; 28.6mm
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Black LX long cage rear derailleur
Cassette: Shimano 8-speed cassette 11-30T
Hubs: Shimano Tiagra rear hub 130mm OLD and Shimano XT front hub
Rims: Velocity Synergy 32-hole rims
Tires: Panaracer Col de la Vie tires
Seat Post: GT/True Temper Chromoly w.alloy micro adjust
Saddle: GT ATB Super Soft Gel foam
Pedals: Mavic performance road quill pedals

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Santa Rosa Saunter East to West

I have now signed up officially for the SFR Nor Cal Fleche, which is a team randonneuring event that goes for 24 hours and minimum 360km (or 224 miles). I have done the Point Reyes Lighthouse and Valley Ford 200k's, and was planning on riding the Russian River 300k, but a scheduling conflict arose in the days leading up to the ride and I felt a need to find a replacement as a stepping stone to the Fleche.

Waiting to go to DavisI looked for permanents--routes approved by RUSA (Randonneurs USA), that when ridden following randonneuring procedures, give riders credit in some situations just as an organized brevet events--from San Francisco Randonneurs, Santa Rosa Cycling Club, and the Davis Cycling Club. I found a route that's fairly similar to the first part of the Fleche route my teammates and I designed. I contacted the permanent owner, and set up to ride toward the end of the week.

The Santa Rosa Saunter (SRS) can be ridden in both the east-west or the west-east directions. My grand ambition is to start in Davis and complete the 202k (126 miles) permanent in Santa Rosa, then continues southward for as long as I can to add miles. I would finish at a bigger town to catch a bus back to San Francisco or the East Bay. I picked the SRS because it is relatively flat--only one major climb is in the cards, and the rest are gentle rollers. I took AMTRAK to Davis the night before for a 5:30AM start the next morning.

Bright pink blossoms
It was still very early in the spring, and the temperature, especially in the central valley still got down to the low 40's in mornings and nights. I had on a long-sleeve base layer, a thick long-sleeve jersey, a warm vest and a windbreaker for the top, and a pair of cycling knickers and leg warmers for the bottom. After getting an ATM receipt at the start in Davis, I began rolling eastward on what would become route 31. It was dark still, but getting brighter as we were a day away from switching to daylight saving time. The first 25 or so miles are basically flat with an ever so gentle incline to ~ 450 ft. Route 31, then route 93 takes one through flat farmlands and orchards around Davis, Dixon, and into Winters. We have had wonderful fruit blossoms this year due to the cold weather, and the lack of precipitations meant that they get to stay on the trees a little longer. All long the first part of this course blossoms of different variety lined or dotted the roads.

The view of Putah Creek
The route turns south just west of Winters onto HWY 128 W, which I would be getting off and on again later in the day. At the junction of Grand Ave and HWY 128 W outside Winters, I saw a flock of big birds trying to cross the street, yet they were turkeys. About a dozen peacocks of both genders were trying to determine my intention and keeping their distances. I am familiar with peacocks, as the campus on which I went to high school and now work to set up two new college programs have lots of them roaming freely. These birds were wild. I told my wife later about them and she joked maybe some of them ran away from my campus (in Ukiah more than 100 miles away) and settled down here.

Tree on Pleasant Valley Road
The road turned up slightly after the intersection, but flattens into a true gentle downward roller toward Fairfield. This stretch on Pleasant Valley Road (also HWY 128) was aptly named--the combination of the crisp morning air and rising sun, the even and smooth pavements, and the tall and rugged old oak trees and the multitudes of birds make this a cyclist's dream road. I was going at a good pace, and soon I got to Fairfield. Even though it wasn't a control, I stopped to buy some energy bars at the local Safeway before rolling onto Rockville.

At Rockville, I stopped at the Valley Cafe to get my official receipt for the control. This is a nice establishment, kind of an old-fashioned breakfast diner where folks sit around the counter and chat before going off to work. I bought some food, refilled my bottle and got going again. Now I was heading north on Suisan Valley Road, which later turned into Wooden Valley Road. This stretch was another highlight for this ride. Though I was beginning to be a little alarmed by the north-to-south headwind that was beginning to pick up, I thought to myself that the wind conditions in Napa Valley, which is beyond a pass from where I was, and where I would ride for close to 40 miles toward the north, might be different. Plus, it's mostly flat anyway. I wasn't going fast as I approached the intersection of Wooden Valley and HWY 121, but I wasn't hurting, and climbed up to Mt George with plenty of gas in my tank. The climb was gentle and well-paved, and features sweeping views of the valley below. At the top, I ate some food and hung on for the fast descent, which had several fast and sharp corners. Soon I was in Napa Valley.

Going up Mt George
When I turned onto Silverado Trail, I had a full bottle of water. Even though I knew going beyond the first 5 miles on the trail I won't be able to find any service option, I thought I could get to Calistoga with a bottle, especially since the terrain is supposed to be "flat". So I bypass the deli/market that came up shortly, and continued on the trail. It was near mid-day, and the warmth and the strong headwind somehow made me more thirsty than usual. I was also battling sleepiness for some reason. Even on this "flat" section (which I later found out to be an up-trending roller) I wasn't able to maintain a good speed. Finally, in St Helena I decided to take a short detour to town to get some fluid at a gas station. St Helena on a sunny friday afternoon was super busy and hard to navigate as a cyclist among all the impatient cars stuck in traffic. I got back on route and was glad to be out of the chaos. I felt better after water and an energy drink. I ate some and got to Calistoga at a modest pace.

in Calistoga
At this point, I decided that I would quit in Santa Rosa and take the bus home, so I felt more relaxed. I filled up my bottles again, and bought a bottle of coconut water to drink with an energy bar. I took a moment to gather myself and began the last stretch of 35 or so miles to Santa Rosa. Besides a small incline just outside of town, the rest of the terrain was flat or down-trending roller. Trees lined the first portion of the road toward Alexander Valley and besides being scenic, it was also very fragrant. Later I rode through a section of roads with large blossom trees on both sides. On flat sections I can see beyond the vineyard HWY 101 to the west. Soon, the road curves to the left and turned into Alexander Valley Road. The food, water, and rest in Calistoga finally began to kick in and I felt a second wind and picked up my pace again.

Early Spring Blossoms
From Healdsburg Ave going south, I literally picked up a wind, as the headwind I was battling for nearly 40 miles in Napa Valley now was a tailwind behind my back. I stopped in Healdsburg to buy a sandwich and get my control receipt, then headed to Santa Rosa on Old Redwood HWY. The tailwind and the slightly downward gradient made for a fast trip to Santa Rosa and the last control. I had to get in and out quickly as I had to catch the bus to San Rafael for another bus back to the East Bay.

I actually felt pretty good at this point, and could have probably ridden to San Rafael, but I did need to get back at a decent hour. I haven't had to battle sleepiness on a brevet before so I need to watch out for it. Was it because of the shortage of fluid? Maybe I need to eat more? My legs were fine, but the sleepiness  in Napa Valley took the motivation from me to assert my power, in fact, my heart rate was low (115 -125) even when I was experiencing a lack of power--I was certainly not over-working!

The specialized sequoia, with 650b wheels, low-trail fork, and cantilever brakes worked fantastically on the ride. I use panaracers CdlV and though they are not as plush and free-rolling as the Grand Bois Hetres or even Soma b-line, they rolled well enough and are plush enough that I felt comfortable and unencumbered on the ride. The Tektro CR720 brakes are powerful, modulate well, and are pretty quiet. The Sequoia, built with relatively lightweight tubes, respond very well to my pedaling strokes. I can sync with it well on and off the saddle. Even though giving up my Stag pre-order spot was difficult, as on paper it's quite a nice bike, I think the Sequoia performs just fine for my purposes. I enjoyed a great early-spring solo ride through much of the Northern California wine country, and may now be ready for the fleche

Monday, February 18, 2013

SFR Valley Ford 200k: Workers' Ride

sequoia and golden gate bridge

I planned on riding the San Francisco Randonneurs' Valley Ford 200k brevet this month. However, the event was actually on the same weekend as M's birthday, and I didn't want to be away for the whole day. So I signed up to work as a volunteer and rode on the workers' ride instead. The workers' ride follows the same route and requirements as the actual event, and needs to fall within a week of the actual event.

Sunrise Skyline
I woke up early to get on a transbay bus to San Francisco. It is still dark at this time, but the sky was more a spectrum of grey than black, and getting brighter. I got to East Beach of Crissy Field on time and waited for the handful of others who are also doing the workers' ride today. After getting the brevet card we got on the way, and it is bright at this point. The first part of the course is the same as the Point Reyes Lighthouse 200k I did 2 weeks before--through the southern Marin towns of Sausalito, Mill Valley, Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo, and Fairfax to get on Sir Francis Drake (SFD) Blvd. Two weeks ago when we were riding on the Mill Valley bike path, the light was barely grazing the top of Mt Tam. Today daylight was in full effect as we passed through the same stretch. Camino Alto's gentle gradient always helped to get my warmed up and stretch my legs some. However, the descent on the other side, though not steep, brought the temperature back down. As I was riding through these towns I remarked to the others--Tom, Steve, and Lisa--that it was colder than two weeks ago. Even with two pairs of gloves on I constantly blew into my hands to keep them warm, and the wooden bridges on the Mill Valley bike path had frost on them in the morning.

Point Reyes-Petaluma Road
Whites Hill on SFD always presents a challenge to me. The climb is of medium gradient, but not short enough that I can get off the saddle and power myself through. Also, the shoulder is pretty narrow at times so I have to constantly keep myself out of cars' way. After Whites Hills, we tackled hills on Nicasio Valley Road and Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. The hillside pastures are glowing green, with dots of early spring yellow wild flowers mixed in. By the time we rolled into Petaluma at a quarter to 11, the temperature has risen to be quite comfortable. Peet's Coffee served as a nice spot to sit for a bit and get some warm fluid in my body. I also got a burrito at the nearby hi-tech burrito for an early lunch.

Peet's Coffee Control
Lisa decided to call it a day and turned back. Steve, Tom, and I headed for Valley Ford. At this point, the day has mellowed out to become a nice winter day in the Bay Area--sunny, breezy, just warm enough so that a thin jacket is sufficient, but not too hot to make you sweat. The road to the coast tends to come with consistent headwind, though today it was pretty calm. Though I was doing OK, I couldn't keep up the pace of my companions. They graciously waited for me and pulled me for a couple of stretches. We covered the 20 miles to Valley Ford in a little more than 75 minutes of riding.

World touristBesides getting a receipt for the control, eating some food and using the facilities, we also chatted with a bike tourist who is on a world tour on bikes and sailboats only. She told us some of her adventures as well as how she handles the logistics of transporting herself across oceans and surviving on less than a shoestring budget. As we spoke she was on her way down the coast to Los Angeles to catch a sailboat to Mexico, then onto Australia. We wished her the best of luck. What an adventure!

HWY 1 outside of Tomales
Besides two smallish climbs on HWY 1 before Tomales, this next stretch to Point Reyes Station consisted mostly of rollers and flat roads. Just outside of Tomales, on the stretch with a creek running along side the road, I saw an owl sitting on the side of the road. I tried to get as close as I can to take a picture. It was slow to respond, but was definitely alive. I hope it was OK, and not sitting there because it was injured. The mid-afternoon sun is not slanted toward the horizon, and water in the bay is glittering with golden reflection from its rays. Now the weather was perfect! I passed Tom as he caught up with the tourist, who left Valley Ford ahead of us. They were chatting about the best route into the City. Steve has motored ahead at this point. Though I speculated that the tailwind between Marshall and Point Reyes Station wouldn't be as strong as usual as it was calm on Bodega Highway heading west, we still got a decent push from behind all the way into Pt Reyes Station at not quite 3PM.

Sequoia in Nicasio

We sat in the sun for a good 20 minutes and ate some food. I was definitely doing better than 2 weeks ago. Even though I was on similar timeline as two weeks ago, I had taken more and longer rest today, which means my average speed was higher. I kept a moderate pace through Nicasio, then Woodacre. Tom and Steve were kind enough to wait for me again in Fairfax after descending Whites Hill. We rode all the way back to the City today. After getting a receipt at Sports Basement for the final control, I headed for BART as it was getting cold again. The time on our receipt was 6:45pm. It was certainly an improvement, and we did take quite a bit of breaks today. I think I should be ready for the 300k in a month.

Sequoia in Nicasio
I took the newly repainted Specialized Sequoia for the ride today. I added a small wedge saddle bag to hold the tools and create more space in the VO front bag. The combined capacity was adequate for the ride. I lowered the stem when I built it back up, and though I was mostly doing OK, toward the end I had to consciously shook my hands to prevent them from going numb. Otherwise I was pretty comfortable. I have bar-end shifter on the right hand side, and downtube on the left, and it worked out well as I spent 90% of the ride on my 46T big chainring, but used all 8 gears on the cassette. The drivetrain was quite even on the big-big cross gear. The bike felt lighter than the Kogswell from two weeks ago--both of them respond to my pedal strokes in a "planing" effect, thanks to their standard-size tubing. The other major new components were the handlebar and the fenders. The rear blinker's attachment was not super solid, and made a rattling sound. The handlebar provided ample space behind the brake levers to rest my hands; the bar tapes were too short for the bar so as not to cover enough metal. On this cold day I couldn't put my hands closer to the center, but that's a minor complaint. The drop was deep, which makes a better aero position, but reaching for the levers from the drop was not as easy as was on the midge bar. Overall, this was a great set up for me, and the ride was very enjoyable.