2011 Death Valley Double Century

This past weekend I rode the Death Valley Double Century and completed my first California Triple Crown. It was a pretty exhausting weekend (Fri-Sun) with over 1,000 miles driven and 195 miles on the bike. We were really fortunate to have highs in the mid-80s and, aside from one 25 miles stretch, favorable wind conditions.

The course was really exposed to the sun and wind since there is very little vegetation. And a majority of the roads are straight. It was really interesting to ride in a straight line seeing your next destination miles and miles ahead. Additionally, the climbs were very gradual with most of it coming in under 5%. There was a stretch of around 20 miles where it seemed the gradient was less than 2%.

On the drive down, we joked that we would be sick of the landscape come the following day. It turns out though that the views are always good from a bicycle.

Oh, and we burned through the course in under 13 hours. Super stoked about that!

Strava Upload
Flickr Set

2011 SCR Mixed Terrain Dart

This ride was actually a week ago, but I’m finally getting around to posting some notes today. Super busy week.

I signed up for my first dart with the Santa Cruz Randonneurs. The format was to ride in teams of three to five and converge on a single destination at once. There were 11 or 12 teams riding from all around the Bay Area to the final destination, a brewery in Palo Alto. There were time restrictions placed on the teams so that teams would ride at a leisurely pace and arrive all at the same time. Oh, and the distance was a 200k or longer.

Our route started in San Francisco, meandered down the coastline, over Skyline, out to Pescadero, and through the hills again to Palo Alto. The weather was ideal and the climbing was brutal. There was one climb, Purisima Creek, that was about 1,500 feet in elevation gain on gravel and dirt pack with slopes of 11+ degrees. I had to get off of my bike twice just to catch my breath. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to do that. The total climbing for the day was close to 12,000 feet with a respectable portion of it off road.

The nature of the ride allows teams plenty of time to regroup at controls or so we thought. The dirt sections had slowed us down more than we anticipated. At our second to last control in Big Basin, we did a time calculation and figured we would have to hustle to our final control just so we didn’t miss our time cutoff.

Memorable quote: “We can make it. We’re randonneurs!” – Carlos

Strava Deets

2011 Mt. Tam Double Century

To date this has been my hardest ride in terms of elevation gain. 15,000 feet of elevation was covered over 196 miles on the Mt. Tam Double Century course. I was a little anxious going into this ride, but I had picked up a new 13-29 cassette the week before and had realized that I should have done this a long time ago. I had been riding a 12-25 with a standard crank on my Serotta for about six months and it was brutal. Although, I think this forced me to become a stronger rider.

All in all, I think this ride was very successful. Despite being the most I’ve climbed in one day, I only briefly felt tired and feel I rode strong almost all day. And on a lot of distance rides I usually get in a bad mood at some point from the fatigue, but this is how I felt almost all day.

Here are the Strava deets: Mt. Tam Double

Bicycle Vacation: UBI Framebuilding Course

I finally took the plunge and attended the United Bicycle Institute bicycle framebuilding course in Portland, Oregon. It’s something I have wanted to do for several years and I was long overdue for a vacation. It’s been about a year and a half years since I took a framebuilding course with Tim Sanner when he was located in Palo Alto, California. (I wrote about it here.)

The time since, I had purchased an oxy-acetylene setup, taken a welding course and a couple of machine shop courses at Marin College. I wasn’t sure whether or not I would attend UBI during this time, but I figured that if I wanted to pursue bicycle framebuilding as a lifetime hobby that these courses would really help me along the way.

The last course that I had taken with Tim Sanner was lugged bicycle construction. With the rising price of silver and the expense and geometry restrictions of lugs, I thought learning how to fillet braze and potentially building a fork to match would be a good reason to take another framebuilding course. Both of these methods were something I would want to learn eventually.

Compared to Tim Sanner’s course, UBI was way more stocked when it comes to tools. Many people build really high quality frames without as many machine shop tools, fixtures, jigs, etc. than what UBI carries, but having access to the tools does speed up the process when they are used properly. And it was nice to get some hands on time with a wide variety of the industry standard tools to get a sense of what I would eventually be interested in purchasing and which tools are not absolutely necessary. Given bicycle framebuilding tools are for a very specific purpose, they are typically built in small quantities and are very expensive.

Another thing I should mention is that most every tool that’s out there still requires a good “framebuilder’s eye” to use properly. Because of the complexity of circular and ovalized tubing and and some of the complex joints, precision can be gained from taking concrete measurements, but some things still have to be eyed to see if it looks right.

This course has been taught many times over the past decades by UBI’s owner Ron and more recently by guest instructors that are very established in the handmade bicycle world, so the curriculum was very dialed in. We were given a course handout on the very first day and it pretty much established what we would be doing every single day for the two week duration of the course. Just so I don’t have to get into it into too much detail, I took a couple photos of the curriculum.

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The instructor for my course was Joseph Ahearne. I think the biggest benefit of taking this course was gaining the insight of someone that has been building bicycles as a profession for quite some time as well as watching him work. During the two week course, Joseph was always a step or two ahead of us building a demonstration bike so we could see his exact methodology. Watching someone of Joseph’s skill level work is something that you can honestly only experience in person to benefit from. His subtle torch movements and precise yet aggressive file strokes really helped me understand what I have and have not been doing properly in the past. But there are still some things that only come from years of experience.

One of the biggest benefits of taking this two week course as opposed to the one week course that I took in the past was obviously the extra week. This allowed extra time for general discussions and demonstrations. It also gave us a day or two of practice for hand mitering, brazing joints, and cutting them apart to see which techniques worked and which did not.

At the end of the course, I had built a fillet brazed frame with a randonneuring geometry I had based off of Curt Goodrich’s bicycle featured in Bicycle Quarterly. I chose to build a fork (time usually doesn’t allow for this when building a fillet brazed frame) with 64mm of rake making the trail exceptionally low. I figured this would be a little bit on the experimental side and that if the handling is absolutely horrible I can build another fork with more moderate rake.

I have been back in the routine of work and riding or socializing during my free time, so the frame has gone a little neglected in the past few weeks. The frame is essentially structurally finished, but I would like to add a couple more braze-ons as well as finish the filing of the fillets so I can send the frame out to powder coat or paint. I plan to ride the bike for a while unfinished to make sure that everything is dialed in.

I will post more as the frame progresses.

Flickr set from Portland

2011 Davis Double Century

This past weekend, I rode the Davis Double for the second time. So far, it is still the longest ride I have completed. I attempted the San Francisco Randonneurs 400k last month, but fell short at the 135 mile mark. I had hoped to do my first Super Randonneur series this year, but there is always next year.

I met up with a couple of people along the ride, but my main goal this time around was to ride at my own pace the entire time. This entailed not waiting for anyone else at rest stops and not having people wait for me either. I kept my rest stops brief (some of them under a few minutes) just long enough to fill my water bottles, eat a couple of banana halves, and grab a PB&J sandwich for the roll out.

This turned out to be a great approach for me. I met a lot of people along the way and ended up leap frogging a lot of riders throughout the course of the day.

I ended up completing the course about an hour and a half faster than last year. I brought the bicycle that I typically ride on brevets with 30c tires, fenders, and a front bag. I expected the set up to slow me down slightly, but I think the combination of stopping for as little as possible along with riding a lot this year so far helped. It was also a bit funny to hear people’s reactions as I passed them. One young UC Davis alum kept racing me up a climb not wanting to be overcome by my heavy setup and he openly told me so. Another older gentleman commented that I brought out my commuter for this ride.

Not a ton more to report other than this ride went really well. The new 2011 goal is a California Triple Crown, so I’ll be planning to do at least two more double centuries this year.

Strava Upload

04/2011 SFR Hopland 400k

Today was the first time I turned in a DNF (did not finish). I feared that some day it would happen, but it wasn’t quite as disappointing as I would have imagined. Almost all of the brevets I have ridden up to this point have been with my good buddy Tom the Dane. I’ve been slowly building up my tolerance for longer and longer rides over the past few years and for me it’s very comforting having a friend that will slow down and wait for me if I bonk or keep me company when it’s dark, cold, and wet or talk about nothing while he’s waiting for me to change a flat.

Leading up to this ride, I never quite felt prepared. I had ordered a generator hub and light specifically for this ride. (During the Santa Rosa Randonneurs 300k my battery powered light had unexpectedly died five miles from the finish leaving me with only a headlamp. This was hours before I had anticipated I would run out of battery.) Tony over at A Bicycle Odyssey built me an amazing all black Schmidt generator wheel, but because I ordered on such short notice it was ready just days before the 400k. Life’s been a little hectic feeling lately, so long story short, I ended up not packing anything for the ride until the night before. I usually pack for a ride at least two days in advance giving me the night before to double check that I’m not missing anything.

Rolling out of the apartment this morning, I ended up riding down the block just to turn around to grab something I forgot…twice: once for another layer since it was colder out than I thought it would be and a second time to grab my helmet. I finally arrived at the start just at 6AM as everyone was rolling out to start the ride. I checked in quickly and as I was doing the light and reflector check…yeah, I forgot the reflectors too. Tom’s girlfriend, Lauren, rushed me back to the apartment to get the reflectors and I was ready again to roll out.

I picked up where I left off on the 300k. “Tom. Two miles down. 248 to go.”

We kept a good pace for most of the day. Despite the early setbacks, we were not far off of the usual 10 hours per 200k pace we usually set. I had thought to myself earlier in the week that if all goes well, we would finish the ride by 3 or 4AM. The course was hillier in parts than I had anticipated, but we still kept it steady and on pace. By the way, who’s the twisted person behind the name Joy Road? Obviously not a cyclist.

As we closed in on the halfway point we approached a hill that felt like it would never end. We just kept climbing and climbing only to find more climbing around the bend. Then finally we would reach what felt like the top and begin a descent…only to climb back up the elevation we had just dropped. Then finally again we began to descend and this time it felt real.

Tom began to separate on the descent. I kept my speed in check and around each turn I would see Tom further ahead until I no longer saw him as I rounded each turn. It was a long, fast descent.

As I came around the last bend at the bottom, I saw something really bizarre. Tom was sitting next to his bike on the shoulder of the road with another randonneur standing next to him. I rolled up and casually asked if he had flatted and he responded that his front tube blew out and that he crashed. And to add insult to injury, he crashed in a patch of blackberry bushes.

I swapped out his tube and straightened his fork and asked him to sit for a while just to make sure that nothing was injured severely. Fellow randonneurs passed by each kindly offering assistance. One even stopped to pick the blackberry thorns out of Tom’s face. The front wheel, although still rideable, looked far from ideal. It had collided with a street marker and bent part of the braking surface and went out of true about a millimeter or two. A blowout in the sidewall required two tubes and a spent Clif Bar Shot wrapper to fix.

After a little while we got back on the road…and began to climb a final time. No use waiting there since Hopland, our turn around point, was only five miles away.

We had discussed that there would be no shame in turning in a DNF, and honestly, I was thinking that sitting down to a hamburger and pint of beer would make me really happy since I had been running a little low on energy at that point. We decided in Hopland, the absolute furthest point that we could call for a ride and also the furthest Tom and I have ridden from San Francisco, that we would call for a ride. (By the way, thanks Lauren for dropping everything to come and rescue us!)

Strava Upload

03/2011 Santa Rosa Randonneurs 300k

Enjoying Cup O Noodles at the lunch control

These were easily the toughest conditions I’ve ever ridden. Morning hail, rain in some form pretty much all day, mudslides with temporary road closures, flash flooding, stiff headwinds at times, temps in the 40s (not sure it made it into the low 50s, but possibly). Here’s the weather report for this particularly non-conducive day for cycling.

Like pretty much every other big ride I’ve participated in, I was an anxious mess the night before. Even after tuning the bike earlier in the week and setting aside all of my clothes, tools, nutrition, etc. a couple nights prior, I was still up until past 10PM organizing all the final details. Closely monitoring the weather forecast for the week leading up to the ride, I was hoping desperately that the 70% chances of rain was a mistake, but lightning strikes at dinner said that these conditions were going to be real. Hardly asleep the entire night, I woke up about once an hour: a couple times to pee, once awaking from a dream that I had overslept (and was more relieved than upset about missing the ride), and a time or two to check my clock.

The alarm rang at 3:30AM and it was time to get ready.

My friend Tom and I did the morning ritual: oatmeal drenched in maple syrup, banana, a big glass of water, teeth brushing, and dressing. I was really on the fence about bringing my extra long sleeve wool jersey, but when I add it to everything else I was wearing, it was pretty insignificant. I put on (in this order) arm warmers, leg warmers, wool knicker bibs, a Hot Chillys thermal top, wool short sleeve jersey, SF Randos long sleeve wool jersey (to be seen by no one that day, unfortunately), another long sleeve wool jersey, and two pairs of wool socks.

We got in the car to make the drive from San Francisco to Healdsburg. On the ride up, the outside temperature read 43 degrees and the wipers were set to a steady speed. The inside temp was set to 72 and I tried to occupy my thoughts by picking some good music for the hour long drive. After shuffling through a few albums, I finally settled on Chromeo. A little neo-80s pop/dance beats were what I needed to get me pumped for this ride.

Driving up to the start, Tom and I were still not fully committed to the idea of riding 188 miles in miserable conditions. We though of all of the options to bail. “We can turn around now and go back to sleep.” “We can ride 30 miles and if we decide it really sucks, we can just turn around…and tell people we did it.” “When we get to Pt. Reyes Station we can just ride back to the city and ask someone to drive us back to Healdsburg to get the car. That’ll still be over 100 miles.”

The closer we got to Healdsburg, the more committed I felt to riding.

We arrived in Healdsburg, pulled the bikes out of the car and put on the final articles of clothing. For me, they were rain booties (they should call these sprinkle booties by the way), kayaking gloves, rain jacket, rain chaps, neck warmer, hat, and helmet. We checked in and did a quick pre-ride meeting. Moments later, around 30 tail lights rode off into the morning night.

I rode alongside Tom until just past dawn about an hour later. He separated with a group of riders that were slightly faster than my pace. I felt a sprinkle turn to rain and then for a few moments to sharp hail stinging my face. I didn’t see Tom again until just past mile 50 at our first checkpoint. There went the idea of riding 30 miles and turning around.

For much of the ride, I felt myself asking, “why do randonneurs even ride on a day like today?” Or even, “why do randonneurs ride the distances they do when conditions are good?” I kept asking myself the same questions for miles and miles and miles. There were moments when I came to the conclusion that these guys are all a little mentally ill or that they get serious bouts of depression when they don’t exercise or a number of other possibilities. (At some point in any long ride, I have moments of frustration towards myself and towards the people that think riding in adverse conditions, distance or weather, is a good idea.)

I began to ask myself, “why am I riding today?”

As sad as it sounds, I’ve been feeling like lately my life doesn’t have tons of purpose. I’m fortunate enough to have a job that I think pays well and isn’t overly demanding, but my day usually starts and ends with “okay, just another 8 hours.” I think my boss has become aware of this as well. I donate some money here and there (probably not enough) to causes and countries in need, but in reality that’s only a moment or two of my life. I semi-recently ended a four year relationship and find myself pretty depressed about that still and now with more time to myself and those thoughts.

So back to the question: “why am I riding today?” I’ve been finding that I am searching out what I am passionate about. Lately, this has entailed asking others what their passions are. Whether it be their job, their hobbies, or anything else, when I see someone genuinely passionate about something, I see that they sense their purpose.

Riding in the cold, wet, and challenging conditions the only thing I could gather that made it enjoyable to me was the fact that I was having a life experience. At times being more miserable than I had ever been on the bike, for what it’s worth, I thought that I would never forget this ride. Those hours on the bicycle with only one goal, one simple goal of arriving at your destination with little time to afford spent on distractions; I find are rare moments when I can actually really focus. I do sense passion and purpose in my life when it comes to cycling, but sometimes I wonder how passionate I can be about something that can make me feel so miserable on a fairly consistent basis. Maybe that’s just life.

Back from my digression.

The rest of the ride was fairly consistent: wet and challenging. I felt pretty strong most of the day and contribute it to the 12 scoops of Perpetuem alongside the three bananas, thousand or two calories in prepackaged bars/gels/candy, electrolytes, and actual real food including Cup O Noodle. The further along I got in the ride, my thoughts changed from “where can I bail” to “let’s get home.” Some people along the way gave us crazy looks and asked us if we were crazy, but I just attribute that to the fact that we all were just a little crazy.

When dusk turned to night, Tom and I were on highway 116 and it began to pour rain again. On fairly regular intervals I would call out our remaining mileage: “less than 30 miles left,” “less than 25,” “less than 20,” “18,” “still 18,” (to myself) “fuck it’s really still been less than a mile?”

A woman alongside 116 pulled over her BMW SUV with bike racks and offered us a ride home. She was a little puzzled that we refused the ride in the downpour probably thinking that we were a little insane. Oh, did I mention that along with the ability to focus on just one task, Chromeo’s Bonafied Lovin was stuck in my head for about 100 miles?

We arrived back in Healdsburg to a warm room in the Best Western full of tired randos, warm food, and stories from the day. Just another epic!

Santa Rosa Randonneurs
Strava Upload

Mission Cycling: Impromptu Century

Today marked the first time I rode a century without planning it in advance. It went a little something like this.

The usual meet up at the bridge followed by a regroup on the bicycle path in Mill Valley. Michael began asking about people’s thoughts on routes and eventually came up with:

Marshal wall to one.
Point Reyes Station to Bofax.
Then Seven Sisters.

A bunch of us were like “holy shit, that’s a haiku.” And the rest is history.

Strava Upload

2011 2 Rock / Valley Ford 200k

Honestly, I need to get a camera or something. This is the only photo I have that has anything remotely to do with this ride…and as you can see it does little justice to how beautiful the ride actually was.

Compared to last year, the weather for the opening brevets has been incredible. I’ve already managed to get a forehead tan line and it’s only February. I’m ramping up this year to hopefully complete a Super Randonneur series. Despite only being back on the bike for the past couple of months, I’m feeling pretty good. I learned a bit from last year’s rides about nutrition and bonking, and luckily I haven’t had to experience the hurt of not eating properly before and during a ride. I am pretty sure though as the distance increases, I’ll have a few more run ins.

Two short weeks to go until the SF Randonneurs Russian River 300k. Last year I was really intimidated about this ride and now I am feeling a bit more comfortable with the distance.

Here’s my Strava upload, which is an awesome service by the way! I can’t wait to see my year end stats.

2011 SFR Lighthouse 200k

Yesterday was the first brevet of the San Francisco Randonneurs 2011 brevet calendar. It also marked one year since my very first brevet with the SF Randos. It’s been a little over a month since the surgeon gave me the okay to get back on the bicycle and I was really pleased to feel like I was in shape enough to give this brevet a go. It’s a beautiful course that starts at the Golden Gate Bridge, heads north then a little west through the Pt. Reyes National Seashore then meanders back to San Francisco.

On a sad note, this ride was dedicated to Don Mitchell who passed away in November after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle. The SFR 200k was Don’s favorite brevet. I had the chance to meet Don while he was volunteering at the finish control of last year’s Russian River 200k. He had just completed the Devil Mountain Double Century the day before which is over 200 miles and over 20,000 feet of climbing. Despite such a great accomplishment, Don was very humble about his achievement. He also politely declined when some friends and I offered to make him a peanut butter, jelly, and potato chip sandwich. Don left us too soon and will be missed.

All in all, this was a great 200k to start off the season. There wasn’t a single drop of rain (last year it rained a little) and the weather was absolutely ideal. It was also the largest brevet the SF Randonneurs hosted in history with 150 riders attending and another 20 on the wait list. (This is the only ride with a rider cap because of restrictions imposed by the Pt. Reyes National Seashore.) My left leg is still a little atrophied and my pedal stroke is a bit lopsided based on the fact that my right (stronger) leg started to cramp up while my left leg never did. I think I was also a little under gunned because I noticed on most of the climbs, my pedals wouldn’t spin nearly as fast as anyone else’s. But despite all these factors, my friends and I still managed to finish in just under 10 hours, besting last year’s attempt by about an hour.

This year I would really like to attempt a Super Randonneur series (200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k in a calendar year). There’s a lot of talk of this year’s Paris Brest Paris which is a 1200k ride in France that is kind of like the Olympics of randonneuring and happens only once every four years. I’m going to focus on the Super Randonneur series first, which is an intimidating task, then we can talk.

Here’s the Strava upload by the way.