How to kill a Schwalbe Marathon

There only very few things for which I have zero tolerance. Flat tires is one of them. There is nothing in the world that kills the joy of riding a bicycle faster than a flat tire. Especially when you are going down a big hill and your freshly-installed tire was not properly seated on the rim. And you used a slime tube...

 Tube failure due to improper tire seating

Tube failure due to improper tire seating

I spent my High School days in eastern Washington and was introduced to this little nuisance...

They can get REALLY bad, as Pat from 26InchSlicks found out...

 Pat pulling dozens of thorns out of a fat tire using pliers.

Pat pulling dozens of thorns out of a fat tire using pliers.

Needless to say that when you are riding in eastern Washington State you ride with tire protection or you don't ride. Or at least you don't ride very far. That is Tribulus terrestris, commonly known as tackweed or goathead thistle. They REALLY hurt when you step on them barefoot.

So one day I was ranting about how much I hate flats and a friend at work introduced me to Schwalbe Marathon tires. They claim to be the only "flat-less" tire on the market, with the Marathon Plus model sporting an incredible 5mm of rubber between the tire surface and the tube. They even go to great lengths to prove how tough their tires can be...

So I picked up a set for my old mountain bike and started using them for daily commuting. For years I had ZERO flats.

In 2012 when I switched over from my 1993 Schwinn High Plains to a Specialized TriCross, I bought new Marathon Plus tires (700x35) to go with it and quickly ditched the really bad stock tires. And things went fine. These tires are AWESOME!

Until...

I was riding to work in the rain a few months ago and suddenly heard a quick "whoosh" sound, followed immediately by the unmistakable feeling of a flat rear tire. Luckily I was only going 15 MPH at the time and easily pulled over on the wide shoulder. A mile later I would have been doing 35-40 MPH down a very steep hill. Thankfully, I was unhurt.

It didn't take me long to find the reason for the leak: a MASSIVE hole cut in the tread. !?!?!

 1.5" slice in my rear tire!

1.5" slice in my rear tire!

What could make such a hole? How did I NOT see it?

It didn't take long to find the culprit.

 The Husky Sure-Grip Folding Lock Back Utility Knife

The Husky Sure-Grip Folding Lock Back Utility Knife

There is was on the road... a Husky Sure-Grip Folding Lock Back Utility Knife. You can buy them on Amazon for $11. They are a favorite tool among construction workers, landscapers, and anyone who routinely opens boxes (retail or warehouse workers). It was obvious by the damaged handle that the knife had been run-over several times by cars/trucks and had seen better days. So I picked it up and walked home.

Upon closer inspection I found the hole was impressively deep: even the tube had a 1" hole sliced into it.

I quickly swapped out with a new tire/tube and was back on the road in about 20 minutes.

Moral of the story: even the most armored tired cannot survive EVERYTHING. And I still have no idea how I didn't see that knife on the road before I hit it.

And who drops a box cutting razor knife in the road anyway? (probably fell off the back of a truck) A $14 knife carelessly dropped in the middle of the road cost me a $65 tire.

"Wait a minute, Lee... You just happened to have another Schwalbe Marathon Plus tire ready to swap out?"

Yes, I did. I have this nasty habit of pre-buying replacement parts for things that experience normal wear and tear. My garage contains a small stock of chains, cassettes, tires, and tubes for all my family's bikes. Remember my post about buying on the cheap? Buying ahead of need saves me a lot of money in the long run. 

Finally Getting Back on Track

At 12:30 pm today the countdown officially ended: sunny skies, high temp around 55, and a slow day at work. The stars aligned to allow me to bring out my new training tool...

That's right, I'm finally doing something I've always wanted to get into. And it came about on a whim.

My '07 Scattante has been having some frame issues so I've been shopping around for possible replacement options. This has taken me to Craigslist and eBay countless times in the past several months. As I was browsing frame after frame, I came across a listing for a track frame with a current bid of $30. After considering it for a few minutes, I put in a max bid of $70 and thought nothing of it. A couple days later I received an email from eBay notifying me that I won the auction at exactly $70. I was floored. 

You will notice that it is missing a few things, like wheels, a seat, and even a chain. With further searching on eBay I found a set of wheels that fit my needs: tough, somewhat aero (Deep-V rims), and around $200.

That left me with just a few other parts to purchase, which arrived from Amazon over the coming week: a chain, cogs of various sizes, a cog lockring, and a Park Tool Head-Gear lockring wrench.

I had other parts on-hand from previous replacements or stock-ups: Schwalbe Durano S tires, Specialized tubes, a Forte Pro SLX seat, and Shimano PD-R540 SPD-SL pedals.

And then I had to go to the bike store to buy some rim tape. Duh!

Now that I have a track bike assembled and ready to go... I became a hipster and started wearing weird clothes and drinking PBR, right?

Um... No.

Only 5 miles from my house is the track that hosted the cycling events for the 1990 Goodwill Games, many regional Olympic trials, and several National Championships, the Marymoor Velodrome. It is a fabulous outdoor, 400m concrete oval bicycle track with 25 degree banked turns. Most tracks are shorter, which means banking up to 45 degrees. 

Panorama of the Marymoor Velodrome, Redmond, WAThe key thing here is "outdoor". That 25 degree banking can be downright dangerous in the wet. With that in mind, the only thing I needed was a dry track. This requires a dry/sunny day. In late winter in the Seattle area. Suuuuuure. It only took about a week of waiting.

My new track bike at the Marymoor VelodromeI came down for a long lunch at the track and took in a few turns. There were only a couple people there, including Rob McD, a track racer I know from work. He had some very encouraging words but in the end I was just there to show everyone how slow and out of shape I have become in the last 18 months. 

The circus had indeed come to town. No, really. That big white tent behind me is for Cavalia. Think Cirque du Soleil but with horses. One of these days I'll actually go to one of their shows. Anyway...

I did an even 40 laps of interval training: sprint for 1-2 laps, rest for 2-3 laps, repeat. OK, I did have to stop a few times to adjust various things on my bike like stem position, handlebar height, etc., since this was my first time on this bike.

In the end I didn't kill myself. I didn't even embarrass myself, although I tried a few times. Note to self: FIXED GEAR BIKES do not have a freewheel. Trying to stop the pedals at 25 MPH is a BAD idea.

It was a great day. I can't say enough good things about this track. And I'll be back. My next opportunity appears to be Monday, only 3 days away!

On race night the atmosphere around the track is electric. The competition is fierce and the speeds are high.

Marymoor Velodrome during the 2012 FSA Grand Prix

One of our favorite track events is the "Marymoor Crawl" where they have everyone "race" from turn 4 to the start/finish line for up to 2-3 minutes, at which point they ring the bell and everyone does a 1-lap sprint for a $100 prize. The catch? If you put your foot down or cross the start/finish line before the bell, you are eliminated. It is crazy and looks a little something like this-

Red-Tac Island Hopper Ride Report

Most married men complain about their in-laws, specifically their Mother-in-law (i.e. the mother of their wife). Rather than go into the vagaries of standard social convention, I will end it all by saying that when I married my wife I hit the "in-law lottery." My wife's parents are two of the coolest, most laid-back, accommodating people I have ever met. They are VERY hard working, every waking minute is spent working, even though they "retired" almost 15 years ago when they sold their business. They even come to my races to cheer me on!

My In-laws (i.e. the Grandparents) wait with my boys at the finish of the 2009 Issaquah Tri

With that in mind...

I live in Sammamish, Washington. My wife's parents live in Tacoma, about 50 miles away (the direct route by car). Living in such close proximity allows for frequent visits to the Grandparents. And each year I tell my wife that I want to ride to their house. This has been going on for 5 years now. Well, I finally found time to do it and with a route that was relatively safe. 

My first idea was the direct route, as calculated by MapMyRide. I tweaked it a bit and came up with this route via Lake Washington Blvd, the Interurban Trail, and lots of city streets through Puyallup and Tacoma to the lovely town of University Place.

Yes, there is a town called Puyallup (pronounced pew-ALL-up). It is home to THE BEST FAIR in the world, the Washington State Fair. Oh, and Fischer Scones. Gotta get me some of those... <drool>

Fisher Scones at the Puyallup Fair...but I digress.

Some facts about this route-

  • Distance: 63.25 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1280'
  • Scenic Factor: 4 out of 10

OK, I totally made up the "scenic factor" but I plan to use it again in the near future. Maybe even in this post. This route does ride along Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington, and has a nice view of Mt. Rainier off in the distance, but it is also VERY suburban in nature. The other thing about this route that bugs me is the last few miles into University Place: the bike lanes are virtually non-existent.

So I considered another option, this one involving a trip to Seattle, a couple of ferries, and an island. Oh, and a little Defiance thrown in for good measure. It came out in 3 sections: Sammamish to Seattle, Vashon Island north-to-south, and Point Defiance to University Place.

Facts about this route-

  • Distance: 48.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3021'
  • Scenic Factor: 7 out of 10

This route cuts off nearly 20 miles and includes 2 ferry rides, plus it is on trails, side streets, and rural roads the entire way. Piece of cake, right? What I didn't notice about this route was that the elevation gain is DOUBLE the longer route above.

On ride day (Aug. 2, 2013) I rode into work, then took off from my office in Redmond on my way to Seattle. It figures that the day I plan to do my first big ride since my surgery was also the first day in nearly 2 months that we had any rain. Yes, I'm that good at weather planning. The interesting thing about rain in the Seattle area is that people freak out when it rains. You would think that since it rains a lot in Seattle that people would be used to it. You would be wrong...

Riding the 520 trail, westbound through Bellevue, passing cars stopped on the freeway.So once again I was glad I planned to do this route on trails and side streets. The other route would have been a lot more dangerous. I still had a few city streets to navigate as I connected to various trails along the way.

There must be a trail around here somewhere...

Oh! There it is!

Narrow trail in Bellevue, glad there is no traffic!Through Bellevue, the Mercer Slough, and under I-90.

Bridge over the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, WA

Under Interstate 90 in the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, WAUnder Interstate 90 in the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, WAThe I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington has a bike path on the north side of the bridge, one of the most traveled bike paths in the country. It is a lot of fun to bomb down the hill, get into a tuck, and hammer across the bridge. Unless the wind is blowing in your face and you can barely keep 15 MPH.

I-90 floating bridge from the Seattle side.Once on the Seattle side you have the choice between a leg-burning climb up and over the hill, with a grade approaching 20% in places, or a quick ride through a 1/4 mile long tunnel. It's not a tough choice given the distance I planned to ride.

East entrance of the I-90 trail tunnel in Seattle, WAFrom the tunnel I wound my way through bike paths, making only 1 wrong turn, used a couple of side streets, avoided the ever-present road construction, and found my way to the Seattle Ferry Docks at Pier 50. 

Pier 50 in Seattle, home to the Seattle-Vashon Water TaxiI missed the boat by about 10 minutes so I had the opportunity to relax my legs and take a few pictures.

The Seattle-Bremerton ferry at Pier 50 in SeattleThe Seattle skyline in the background with cars waiting at the Seattle ferry terminal.Flynn waits patiently to board the Seattle-Vashon water taxiThe Seattle-Vashon Water Taxi, operated by King County, arrives at Pier 50 in Seattle.Bike parking inside the water taxi was very easy...

Bike rack in the Seattle-Vashon water taxiThis is where things got interesting. If I had been paying attention to my elevation profile I would have noticed that, once you reach Vashon Island, there is a HUGE climb from the ferry dock up to the main part of the island. I would have a better elevation profile to show off, and may even a Strava segment under my belt, if my Garmin Edge 705 hadn't decided to stop and restart the route in the middle of climbing. Ok, maybe it wasn't "massive" as hills go in this area but it was about a 12% grade for just over a mile, gaining 450' of elevation. 

The island itself simply oozes beauty. I saw a LOT of deer...

Doe and fawn along Vashon Highway on Vashon Island. My phone decided not to focus on anything of note.Anyone wanting to do some rolling-hills training should definitely consider Vashon. I don't think there was more than 50' of flat pavement anywhere on the entire route: lots of rolling hills, sweeping curves, and great vistas of Puget Sound. And halfway through I realized that Vashon "Island" should really be called "Vashon Islands" since it is really two islands smashed together. Remember that climb coming off the ferry? I got to do it again halfway down the island (450' in 1.3 miles) as I passed by this harbor/marina on the west side.

As I climbed the grade in the middle of the island I came across a "roadside attraction", as the street sign put it, which purveyed information about the history of Vashon Island and its exploration by European mariners.

History of Vashon Island in 50 words or less.

Quite possibly the coolest thing about this island is the Vashon Island Bike Tree. I had heard rumors and stories about this bike but nothing does it justice until you see it in person. I was amazed at how small and well-preserved it is. It is actually a kids bike (tires are no more then 12" in diameter). It is definitely worth the trip and very easy to find. Unfortunately someone has removed the handlebars.

The ever elusive Vashon Island Bike Tree, in all its glory.After more rollers than I care to count I finally hit the down-hill grade that signaled the south end of the island. The Vashon-Point Defiance ferry dock was remarkably small and, to my great surprise, uninhabited.

Vashon-Point Defiance Ferry dock with Point Defiance Park in the background.The ferry ride itself isn't that long but it only sails at the top of the hour. This meant I had the chance to rest some more and take a few pictures...

Vashon Ferry dock looking across the water to the Point Defiance ferry dock, with the ferry en route.

With only a handful of cars on the ferry I started out with my bike simply laying on the floor, until I noticed the bike parking area up above.


Ramp leading up to the bike parking area.Bike Parking and seating area on the Vashon-Point Defiance Ferry.By the time I left the ferry, dusk was making it impossible to use my cell phone for pictures. 

Riding out of the ferry dock I found yet another big climb of 450' over about a mile (sound familiar?). And, for future reference, when exiting the ferry at Point Defiance, use the sidwalk to make the steep climb out of the ferry area: the road is a very narrow one-lane affair. As I slogged up the hill (in the dark) the cars on the ferry (all 6 of them) backed up behind me. It was a little un-nerving to hear the pickup behind me spin his tires on the wet pavement as he stopped and started again. I exited the ferry at 9:10 pm so there was virtually no pedestrian traffic. The sidewalk would have been a much safer option.

The next 6 miles were some of the slowest I have ever ridden. The hill at the end, although only about 70', felt like 700'. My legs were cooked. Like "chicken falling off the bone" cooked. When I finally arrived at my destination I could barely stand, let alone walk.

Total distance: 46 miles

Total elevation gain: 3003'

Total time: about 5.5 hours

Total riding time: about 3:20:00

GPS routes: Part One, Part Two

Lessons learned: 

  1. Check the elevation profile and know where the climbs are located so you can pace yourself accordingly.
  2. Bring more food or stop for snacks along the way: the small snacks I brought along were not nearly enough foor for a ride of this length and duration. In hind-sight I should have stopped in the small downtown area of Vashon for a break and some food.
  3. Yep, I'm out of shape.

In the end I'm glad to cross another ride off my bucket list. The views were amazing and it was indeed an adventure worth the effort.

Rubber-side down! 

}B^)

2012 Year in Review

And you thought 2011 was bad? Straight to the stats... 

Biking info (2011 results in parenthesis to compare)

Number of rides: 74 (down from 125)

Miles biked: 734.32 (down from 1690.30)

Elevation gained: 45,902' (down from 108,485')

Total Saddle Time:  57:54:19 (hh:mm:ss) (down from 138:08:35)

Run info

Number of runs: 17 (down from 24)

Miles: 58.34 (down from 91.91)

Elevation gained: 3,574 (down from 8,274')

Total Run Time: 10:11:19 (hh:mm:ss) (down from 17:31:48)

 

Starting weight: 288.4

Ending weight: 299.6 (net change: +11.2 pounds)

 

Races/Events finished:

Issaquah Triathlon (Sprint)

Ocean Shores Sprint Triathlon (Sprint)

Federal Escape Triathlon (Olympic)

 

Overview: (see the race reports for details)

My own advice to myself from last year still rings true: "Be a man! Take some Pepto Bismol and ________!" (Fill in the blank with every event I missed last year)

Wow broken record time? Another quote from last year: "No more excuses. This year was lame. Next year will be better." I say that every year. How will this year be different, considering I am already way behind last year, which I said was a bad year?

Last year started out strong but ended poorly. My poor performance in the Federal Escape Olympic forced me to rethink everything. I spent most of August with family trips and other non-training activities to regroup. Then in early September I had a minor setback: I broke my toe just before going on a long ride into Seattle (more to come on that later). Breaking my toe (only a minor break) was just the wind up. When the pitch was actually delivered I struck out big time. That strike out was our back-to-school schedule, which I am still trying to figure out. 

In the last 3 months of 2012 I rode my bike a grand total of 10 times. No so impressive when you consider that in the same period in 2011 I did 33 and in 2010 I did 25. 

This year I'm starting out slow and just now beginning to see how to coordinate my ride/training schedule with all the personal appointments (i.e. pickups/drop-offs for the kids' classes, swim, sports, etc). The next few months will really tell the tail. It really scares me that I am less than 90 days from the Issaquah Tri (my traditional first race of the year) and my training is horrible. 

But I have an ace up my sleeve...

Patrick at the start of the Federal Escape Kids' Tri...Or rather a young man. My son decided that he wanted to do the FULL Issaquah Sprint Tri this year! I promised him that if he trained hard enough he could do it and, not only that, I would stay with him to make sure he finished the race. A sprint tri is a big jump up from the little kids races he has been doing. In 2012 he finished 3 such races and barely broke a sweat. So far this year he has significantly improved his swimming and can do 250 yards in the pool without stopping (a personal best for him). He has a long way to go but is well on his way. 

So what happened to the Grand Columbian? I decided top drop this race in July after the Federal Escape and good thing I did! The broken toe incident (ride report coming later) happened less than a week from when I would have been racing in my first half-iron distance race.

Did I do Cycle Oregon 2012? Short version: no, I didn't get off the wait list. My strategy of waiting until it sold out backfired. I was so far down the wait list that there was no chance of getting into the real ride. Too bad, since 2013 appears to be not nearly as exciting (i.e. I most likely will not do it).

Lessons learned:

  1. Broken toes suck. Must join the "protect our toes" society.
  2. I need to find a new way to deal with illnesses and still train. More to come...
  3. Focus earlier in the year on distance running and cardio volume.
  4. My best and more consistent results are still from bike commuting, which I try to do 3-5x per week during the spring/summer and early fall months.
  5. Commuting home on foot on Fridays are a great way to get in an 8+ mile run once a week. That will start in April.

 

Rubber side down...

The Impact of Lance on the Average Amateur (i.e. me)

So today Lance gave up his fight against the USADA. I can imagine him throwing his hands up in the air shouting, "Fine! Whatever! I'm done!"

He's not gaining a lot of sympathy, being called a liar and a cheat, but the impact of this controversy may actually hit your's truly. Why, you may ask? Because, empowered by the publicity of this campaign, the USADA is greatly expanding their testing of amateur athletes.

I am torn on this issue. My position on professional athletics is that they should all be tested. How they do the testing and the process for appealing and monitoring for corruption is another debate that I will not attempt to address herein. What about amateurs?

Is it OK for someone who competes on an amateur level to abuse testosterone, EPO, HGH, etc.? (Hint: quite a fewactually do) No, they should not but should they be subject to the same rules, guidelines, and procedures as the pros?

Like I said, I'm torn.

Sorry, rant time… 

Outside Magazine today published an article that got me thinking more about this...

This quote from the article represents my main problem with amateur testing:

“Millions of amateurs who compete under USADA guidelines as members of organizations like USA Triathlon and USA Track and Field have no idea which medications—even over-the-counter ones—could bring a suspension. Forcing people to follow the same rules as the pros could turn them away simply because of the hassle.”

There are a lot of hobbyists (like me) and weekend-warriors who have no clue about the USADA/WADA guidelines for banned substances (and have no interest in learning). I have frequent sinus and allergy issues and my favorite remedy (pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in Mucinex-D, Sudaphed, Claritin-D, Zyrtec-D, and a host of other drugs) is a banned substance. What other supplements, drinks, or medications do I take that are also banned? I really don’t care. 

I have made it clear that the reason I'm racing has nothing to do with the other competitors on the course. I don’t race in an attempt to beat someone else: I race against myself. If you think that statement is ludicrous I point you to my last race result where it is clear that I had no chance at a podium finish in my age group, let alone the entire race, and probably never will. My personal schedule and commitments do not allow for the level of training necessary for me to be even an AG competitor and certainly not on the overall category. Maybe after my kids are out of the house (8-10 years in the future)?

So here’s the punch line: no one need fear me beating them at a race. If they ask me to be tested I will politely decline and then avoid sanctioned races while I wait out my inevitable suspension in protest. I’m not going to change my diet/nutrition to appease the USADA and their doping policies just so I can compete in a sanctioned race. I don’t need the hassle.

An interesting side note: Why is doping so prevalant? Because it works.

Another update: BEST POSITIVE DOPING TEST EXCUSE EVER!! 

STP: The Ride I Love to Hate

If you live in the Seattle area and ride a bike you've probably heard of STP. If you haven't heard about it you have no doubt seen people riding around with an STP Jersey. For 2012 they look something like this...

STP 2012 Jersey

What is STP? It is the annual "Group Health Seattle to Portland Classic" put on every year by the Cascade Bicycle Club, an advocacy and education group based out of Seattle. 

Some quick facts about the ride, straight from the Cascade website:

  1. Total distance (miles) 202.25
  2. Elevation gain (feet) 4,828
  3. Maximum altitude (feet) 463
  4. Start: University of Washington in Seattle, Washington
  5. Midpoint: Centralia, Washington (Overnight camp location for 2-day riders)
  6. Finish: Holladay Park in Portland, Oregon
  7. Ride options: 1 day (double-century) or 2 days (back-to-back century rides)
  8. Course type: one-way (as opposed to out-and-back or loop courses)

Since registration begins in February (January for Cascade members, which includes me) it is about this time of year that the questions start...

"Oh, you ride a bicycle? Have you ever done STP?"

"I want to ride STP this year. What bike should I buy?"

"I signed up for STP, do you think I can use my _________ bike on that ride?" (fill in the blank with TT, steel, recumbent, trike, mountain, you name it)

...and the questions don't stop after the ride, they keep coming. 

Every year it sells out (at 95% capacity as of the time of this writing according to the Cascade website) with a capacity of 10,000 riders. If each rider was given a 10 second start before the next rider it would take them nearly 28 hours to get everyone on the road. If every rider was evenly spaced every 10 feet they would stretch out 19 miles (from UW to the 405 overpass in Renton).

This ride is famous for being one of the longest running, best supported, and best attended rides in all of the U.S. with people coming from all over the world. It is also infamous for HUGE pace lines, large groups of riders of varying abilities, and mile-after-mile of narrow rural roads through some of the least scenic areas of a very beautiful state.

So, let me get this straight...

A 10,000 person cattle-drive down a non-scenic 200+ mile route? 

WHERE DO I SIGN UP????

Cycle Oregon 2009. Cruising down highway 96 along the Klamath River on my way to Happy Camp, CA, in the gorgeous state of Jefferson.I appreciate the draw of a popular group ride that is well supported (which this one reportedly is). I have done numerous group rides including Bike MS, the Flying Wheels Century, Cycle Oregon, and Tour de Blast. I have nothing against big group rides but there comes a point where they are just too big. As a comparison Cascade also sponsors RSVP or "Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party", a ride of similar distance but greater elevation gain, which has a MUCH better scenic factor and far fewer people (1400 split between 2 groups).

I would much rather ride RSVP than STP, plain and simple.

I will never do STP no matter how many people ask me if I have ever done it. I would rather ride from Seattle to Portland on I-5 in front of a sleep-deprived trucker while being forced to listen to the Bee Gees greatest hits album. 

I’m sure I could exploit this further for comedic purposes but I have better things to do with my time. 

Like dream about the Cycle Oregon ride I might not go on…

When I finish a ride I want to be able to say, "That was an amazing ride, can we do it again tomorrow?" The last thing I want to say is, "Wow, what a nightmare. I'm never doing this ride again." I ride for the pure enjoyment of riding, for the views, and for the opportunities to see new countryside. Doing it on a bicycle provides a connection to the road and the earth that you simply can't get with a car. 

When was the last time you finished an all-day drive somewhere and said, "That was an amazing drive, can we do it again tomorrow?"

}B^)

 

Cycle Oregon - Past and Future?

Just a quick update...

You may have wondered what I have been doing over the last month? I know I have! 

Well, it all started with a snow storm...

Our house after the big dump, just before we got out the snow shovels. That's about 9" of snow in the grass.When it was all said and done we ended up with about 10" of snow, a little more than average. That was followed-up by an ice storm. The one-two punch of snow and ice literally shut down the area for a week starting on January 16th. Luckily our power outage only lasted for a single day but the end result was that my kids didn't go to school for a week. 

I took some time and started writing up my ride reports from Cycle Oregon 2011. Eventually I'll add reports from Cycle Oregon 2009 when I have the time.

In the mean time Cycle Oregon announced their route for 2012: Bly, Silver Lake, Ft. Klamath, Crater Lake, Prospect, Ashland, Mt. Ashland, and back to Bly. 

Cycle Oregon 2012 RouteThe route covers nearly 500 miles and 40,000 feet of climbing. They did indeed climb add the highest paved road in Oregon (Crater Lake) but they also added the second highest paved road, the Mt. Ashland Ski area access road. So on the 5th day of the ride they essentially do the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb.

I expected the route to sell out quickly but many people were not prepared for it to sell out in *gasp* 40 minutes! I predicted 20 hours but that wasn't even close. My plan from the beginning was to wait for the sellout and be the first to sign up for the wait list. This gives me more time to butter-up the wife and convince her that I need to go. If that doesn't work I have other plans.

So I have some work to do to prepare for whatever this summer ends up being. More to come...

}B^)

 

Reflections on 2011

"So long 2011, don't let the door hit ya in the rear on the way out..." - My Sister, as posted to FB.

I'll get this out of the way quickly: as far as triathlon is concerned, 2011 sucked. Even though I crashed in 2010 it was still better than 2011. This year I only finished 1 race. Ugg. What made up for that? CYCLE OREGON 2011. Read on if you dare...

Biking info

Number of rides: 125

Miles biked: 1690.30 (nearly 500 was on Cycle Oregon)

Elevation gained: 108,485'

Total Saddle Time: 138:08:35 (hh:mm:ss)

Run info

Number of runs: 24

Miles: 91.91

Elevation gained: 8,274'

Total Run Time: 17:31:48  (hh:mm:ss)

 

Starting weight: 284.4

Ending weight: 288.4 (net change: +4.0 pounds)

 

Races/Events finished:

Beaver Lake Triathlon (Sprint)

Tour de Blast

Cycle Oregon 2011 - "Going Coastal"

 

Overview: (see the race reports for details)

"Be a man! Take some Pepto Bismol and ________!" (Fill in the blank with every event I missed last year)

No more excuses. This year was lame. Next year will be better.

At the Beaver Lake Tri I learned that my bike training was terrible. I did PR on the swim but came no where close on my bike/run goals. 

On the Tour de Blast I learned that the best weather preparation in the world only works if you actually bring your bad weather clothing on the ride. I won't be making that mistake again. Otherwise it would have been an EPIC bad-weather ride.

Cycle Oregon 2011 once again proved that my bike training this year was poor but that is the only thing bad I have to say about that ride. It was amazing in almost every way. I am waiting with baited-breath for the 2012 kick-off Party where I will finally decide whether or not I'm going to kill myself to get there in 2012.

Lessons learned:

  1. I need to find a new way to deal with illnesses and still train. More to come...
  2. Focus earlier in the year on distance running and cardio volume.
  3. My best and more consistent results are still from bike commuting, which I try to do 3-5x per week during the spring/summer and early fall months.

 

Bike Light Review


For 4 months out of the year I commute home in the dark. Not sunset, dusk, or twilight, I'm talking the dark of NIGHT, the witching hour, when good little boys/girls turn into pumpkins... OK, I'm out of lame darkness-related sayings. It's dark. On December 21st Seattle gets 8 hours and 25 minutes of daylight (sunrise to sunset). On the flip side we get nearly 16 hours of daylight on June 21. It is SOOO fun going for a bike ride at 8pm and coming back an hour later and the sun still hasn't gone down, but I digress. Back to the dark.

During the dark months of the year riding home in traffic is scary. Are you visible enough? Are the drivers paying attention? And if it is raining all bets are off. I wrote a lot about bike safety a while back and have strong opinions about what I think it takes to stay safe on the roads. Being visible is one of the most important things you do to improve your night time safety.

Can you spot the ninja cyclist in this video?

 

What if you could be brigher without breaking the bank?

I started off my winter riding career with the basic Cateye front and rear lights (similar to the HL-EL135 and TL-TD150 respectively). It only took me a couple of night-time rides to figure out that these lights simply would not do.

There are 2 types of lights-

  1. "Be Seen" Lights - cheaper lights that flash or strobe and are used primarily to increase your visibility. They are not very good if you actually want to see the road on a dark street. Cost: usually less than $20 each.
  2. Headlights - These lights are bright enough to allow you to see the road/trail on a dark night with no other light sources around (i.e. street lights, the moon, or other vehicles). Cost: the cheaper ones start at $50 and go up from there.

By watching various clearance sales and websites (i.e. chainlove.com) I was able to pick up a very nice front headlight that goes up to 600 lumens-

Front light: Light & Motion ARC NiMH Bike Light (Discontinued)
Rear light: Planet Bike Superflash Stealth Rear

But I was unsatisfied with my overall visibility at night. One day I was shopping at REI and found a couple of products that would fit the bill: increase visibility at a low price point.

Wheel lights: CatEye SL-LD120 Orbit Spoke Light Kit

Frame light: BikeGlow Safety Light

Unboxing

The lights came with basic instructions for installation and battery insertion. No need for complicated tutorials here, these lights are pretty simple. 

Installation

Putting these lights on my bike was relatively simple. On the Bike Glow I attached the battery pack and wound the light cord around the bike frame, securing the end with the included zip tie and electrical tape.

The Orbit light was even easier: attach the center groove to a spoke and slide it toward the rim until the ajoining spokes secure the sides in place.

The final result, as seen in the dark-

Comparisons Videos

Now for the field test! To show just how these lights operate in the dark I, here are some videos...

The "before" shot - riding with just my front and rear lights.

 

 The "middle" shot - riding with just the new lights.

"After" - All lit up and nowhere to go (yet).

Summary

CatEye SL-LD120 Orbit Spoke Light Kit

Pros:

  1. Great attachment to the spokes, very solid. We'll see how it wears over time.
  2. Uses a very common battery.
  3. Doesn't distract the rider's eye during use.

Cons:

  1. Difficult to turn on/off without the right leverage.
  2. Only available in 1 color (amber).

 

BikeGlow Safety Light

Pros:

  1. Battery pack uses velcro strap and rubber to stay in place: very secure.
  2. Zip ties and electrical tape included for installation.
  3. Doesn't distract the rider's eye during use, even though it is visible (depends on how you install).
  4. On/off button is easily accessible (I mounted the batter pack right below my seat on the top tube).

Cons:

  1. Emits a very high frequency whine during operation which is only audible when not moving. When the light is in the flashing mode the whine goes on and off with the light.
  2. Limited retail availability (REI only?)

Conclusion

These lights are cool and draw a LOT of attention. They greatly increase your visibility from the side where my other lights are primarily focused on the front and back. 

What about battery life? Not enough experience to guage this one. The Bike Glow runs on a 4 x AA batteries while the Orbit light uses a pair of CR2032 batteries. So far they have survived a couple weeks worth of night commuting with no issues or run-downs. 

The only downside that I can see is that they may attract TOO MUCH attention. They may cause people to gawk and increase other risk factors. Right now it's fun to tell people about them.

My kids saw it and immediately started calling my bike a light cycle and have named it "Flynn" after the main character of the movie Tron.


Light Cycle from Tron: Legacy

Bike Shopping!

Cracked rear dropout on the chainstay, driveside.

Since this can be considered a gear review, please note my standard review disclaimer.

This post was STARTED back in October but, well, life happens. I actually made the purchase last July. Now you can enjoy it after 3 months of editing!

Back in July my trusty all-weather commuter bike bit the dust. It was sad to lose an old friend but there is an upside...

I get to go bike shopping!

My primary training method for triathlon season is bike commuting so replacing my main commuter bike was a top priority before the weather turned sour.

At the outset I must let it be known that I am a geek: technically minded, detail oriented, and obsessive about certain things that most people would consider trivial. As such this entire process may seem remarkably similar to a technical RFP (Request For Proposals)

Why not just troll Craigslist for a cheap beater bike? I tried that for a few weeks and couldn't find a bike that fit my requirements that was in my size. There are lots of bikes on Criagslist but once you get into the larger/sturdier bikes... you would have better luck finding a date for Saturday night that wouldn't land you in jail.

In 2007 I went bike shopping for the first time in nearly 15 years. I was floored by the shear number of choices to be made. I like having lots of alternatives but the number of decision points can be staggering-

  1. Bike type: standard diamond frame, recumbent, or trike?
  2. Riding surface: road, off-road, or hybrid?
  3. Frame material: steel, aluminum, carbon, titanium, wood, bamboo...? (the list goes on)
  4. Big name brand, low-cost leader, or custom built?

I'll just stop right there. That only covers the basics of getting started. From there you have to think about brakes, drive train, handlebars, and a hundred other factors that go into making "the perfect bike."

HINT: This is no such thing as the perfect bike. Trying to find the perfect bike will drive you nuts.

Shopping Methodology

These are the basic steps I used to decide on my latest purchase-

  1. Gather requirements
  2. Look around at what is currently on the market
  3. Make an exhaustive list of possible choices
  4. Narrow down the list through online research, visiting local bike shops, and in online forums
  5. Test-ride the top 3
  6. Final decision and purchase

Step #1: Gather requirements

Buying my first real bike in 2007 was what my wife called my "rookie mistake." Over the next several years I took notes about what I liked/disliked about my bike and looked for other models that would have better suited my needs. I ended up with a pretty good list of priorities to use in my bike evaluation process.

Main purpose: serve as an all-weather commuter (95%) and a touring bike for on and off-road (5%).

Requirements-

  1. NOT carbon fiber: steel or aluminum preferred
  2. Disc brakes
  3. Lower gears via a compact triple or large granny-gear on the rear cassette
  4. Drop bars
  5. Mounts for fenders and rear rack
  6. Purchase from a local bike shop (LBS)
  7. Heavy-duty (rims, frame, forks) 

 "Nice to have" items-

  1. Mounts for a front rack
  2. 150+ mm saddle (I'm a big guy)

My first requirements were fit, durability, and a LBS but eventually I added disc brakes to the list after seeing how many were available in the 2011-12 models. In the colder/wetter months the route I like to use has a very steep hill (NE 42nd way, 16-20% grade) and going down that hill with wet rim brakes is almost a religious experience. 

Step #2: Check out what's on the market

This has been going on since 2007. Yes, I have been looking around and taking notes on bikes since I bought my last one almost 5 years ago.

Step #3: The exhaustive list

My short list turned out not to be so short-

Kona Honky Inc.

Kona Sutra

Redline Conquest Classic

Salsa Casseroll

Salsa Vaya

Specialized Tricross Elite Disc

Surly LHT

Surly Cross Check

Trek Portland

Steps #4 and 5: Narrowing down the list and test riding

After some extensive online research the was whittled down to the Kona Honky (Eastside Ski & Sport), Salsa Vaya (Kirkland Bike), and the Specialized Tricross (Pacific Bicycle). Now the real fun begins: shopping the local stores and test riding!

Kona Honky Inc.

2012KonaHonky.jpg

My first stop was Eastside Ski & Sport to check out the Kona Honky Inc. Don't let the name get to you: this bike is all business. Although it does sound like you are about to blow your nose.

Pros: 

  • Steel frame
  • Disc brakes (Avid BB-7)
  • Drop Bars
  • More "upright" geometry than your run-of-the-mill road bike
  • Mounts for front/rear racks and fenders

Cons:

  • Short cage derailleur, 12-28 cassette (not the best climbing gear)
  • No clearance for tires wider than 28mm.
  • Didn't like the fit on the larger sizes

Summary: It fell short in only a couple of places. Very nice bike with a quality build. Handling was great with fantastic response.

Salva Vaya

2012SalsaVaya.jpg

Next stop: Kirkland Bike to check out the Salsa Vaya. This bike caught my interest last year when I discovered they had a titanium version. If my budget was a little bigger I would have jumped on the Ti version: it is one sweet looking ride. 

Pros: 

  • Steel frame
  • Disc brakes (Avid BB-5)
  • Drop Bars
  • VERY "upright" geometry, more so than the Kona Honky Inc.
  • Mounts for front/rear racks and fenders

 Cons:

  • 48/36 Front chainring (compared to 50/34 on other models)
  • Didn't like the fit 

Summary: It was hard to say no to this bike. The fit just wasn't right. I had my eye on it for almost 18 months and was ready to buy it until I saw...

Specialized TriCross Elite Disc

2012SpecialisedTricross.jpg

I dropped into Gerks Ski and Cycle in Redmond, WA, on a whim one day after work. After only a few minutes I found the Specialied TriCross Elite Disc sitting in the very back of the store without a price tag. Turns out it belonged to the sales guy. They didn't have a floor model because it was a 2012 model and they weren't yet shipping in quantity. Gerks didn't even have literature on it. The bike was gorgeous! The look of the brushed aluminum was amazing. I was SOLD. The sales guy said he would call around to see where I could find one. I gave him my number and went home. He never called back.

The next day I went down to Pacific Bicycle, just over a mile from my house in Sammamish, WA. The sales guy was much younger than the other stores but he knew his stuff (turns out he was the son of the owner). They didn't have the new TriCross Disc model but they did have a TriCross Comp, which has the same geometry, and in the right size (61cm frame size, measured from the height of the seat tube). 

Pros: 

  • Aluminum frame
  • Disc brakes (Avid BB-5)
  • Drop Bars
  • Cyclocross geometry, not as upright as the Honky Inc. or Vaya but still quite comfortable
  • Mounts for front/rear racks and fenders
  • 155mm saddle
  • Secondary brake levers (along the top, flat-part of the drop bar)

 Cons:

  • Aluminum gets a little wobbly when I really load up the rack.  
  • Rear disc is outside the rear triangle, just above the rear dropout, which means I needed a rear rack that attaches via an extra-long skewer.

Summary: The aluminum frame isn't as stiff as steel but it still beats my carbon bike in terms of handling. Everything else about the bike is what I was looking for: durability, disc brakes, and the right gearing (climbing gears but high gears as well).

Step #6: Final decision

I was sold on the TriCross Disc before I even officially rode it. I took the Tricross Comp for a test ride and ordered the disc model on the spot. 

The first thing I did after getting it home was replace the incredibly cheap plastic platform pedals with my Shimano A530s(SPD/platform combo). 

The disc brakes stop very quickly. When I first got on the bike I was just about to ask them to tighten the brakes and then, mid-sentence, I almost flipped over the bars in the parking lot when I braked too hard. 

So far I am very satisfied with my choice. I should cross the 1000 miles barrier by the end of the month (2 weeks away!). No issues so far other than normal maintenance and cleaning. I did have to learn the care and feeding of disc brakes. That little red wheel has to be turned slightly every few weeks to keep the brakes adjusted properly.

Here it is fresh home from the shop with rack and fenders (still has the stock pedals)-

WP_000194.jpg

A couple of honorable mentions:

Salsa Fargo: Imagine a 29er mountain bike with drop bars and you have the Fargo. Not quite what I'm looking for in terms of riding style but this one certainly is bullet-proof. The website even uses the term "bikepacking". They even have a titanium version. 

Salsa Casseroll: This one bike of note that was eliminated early due to lack of disc brakes. It reminds me a LOT of the old ‘70s Schwinn that my Dad handed down to me in the late 80’s. If I wasn’t so set on disc brakes I may have purchased this instead. Very sweet looking ride.

Kona Sutra: One of the best loaded-touring bikes. Not really the ride I want. It's like driving a truck. I was looking for more of a SUV-hybrid.

Specialized Source 11: Very similar to the TriCross but with a Shimano SuperNova generator hub, integrated lights with routed cables, rack/fenders, a front light, and a belt drive with interally-geared hub. I knocked if of the list due to the price ($2700) and the flat bar otherwise this is my perfect commuter.

Trek Soho: Like the Specialized Source but with a belt drive and internally-geared rear hub.

Update: I was just pointed to the Civia Bryant. WOW. Another worthy choice but it missed my radar before I made my purchase. Internally geared rear hub, belt drive, drop bars, disc brakes, steel frame... WOW.