Archive | June, 2009

Credit-card Commuter

30 Jun

Sheesh, just like the commute home tonight, SurlyLady got the jump on me with her blog post.

During this ‘avoid the tendonitis plus it’s time to taper’ phase of things in the month leading up to Seattle-to-Portland, I find that, rather than fretting, I’m somewhat enjoying only commuting to work twixt a week, on the Tue and the Thur. First off it accounts for any summery Monday/Friday holiday or vacay anomalies. Plus it leaves me plenty of juice for the really fun rides on the weekend, like last Saturday’s Killah in North Kitsap. Laundrily it helps having three non-cycling days to pack in/out clothes; today this allowed me to take the Poprad on the commute, for instance, in that all I needed to hustle were wallet, keys, yogurt and granola (I was wearing the Birkenstocks, along with my “I’m not just a hippie; I’m an Oregon hippie” T-shirt).

In the sense that credit-card tourers are able to tool around the Tuscan countryside with nothing but possibly an Evian bottle and a CO2 cartridge, along with their mighty Platinum card, so too for me these recent weeks as a credit-card commuter, unencumbered with daily kit. In fact this morning I was tempted to coast up to a cafe, laughing at a shared joke, stripping off the wool cap in front of the robust fire in the corner, laying the arm warmers flat out on my legs, ordering breakfast, politely but imperio-superciliously asking the waiter to take back the lox bagel as the organic capers seemed a bit ‘off’… then off to work with a brisk ‘I must be off to work’ and back on with the wool cap. Sort of a Lifestyles of the Rich and Rapha’d moment.

This morning, instead, I was in fine and un-fecklessly physical fettle. In spite of working 12 hours the day before and insisting on fitting in a hike at St. Ed’s even with the shortened evening and only managing six hours of sleep as a consequence I was feeling it. Near the Fred Hutch hill, fer example, there was a construction back up and a small cadre of bikers had formed. SurlyLady zoomed off through the bunch and we were off! Pretty soon there were just a few in front of us, including a fixie fellow and a shaved-leg type. Shaved-leg made a move around fixie and, for some reason, I spun up and did the same, and quickly caught shaved-leg who was still out-of-saddling. Lots of fun, feeling like the legs and lungs are limitless. In fact I feel like I’m close to submitting my riding resume for consideration by the hallowed Cycling Council; I picture one of the shadowy figures, all of them wearing flipped up caps, speaking with a voice like Kris Kristofferson, saying “Kid, you’re close. Damn close.” Another voice, more like a squeeky Italian, says “Meh” with a substantial shrug.

The Kristofferson character even goes so far as to open a nearby yellow ice chest, covered in Mavic stickers, to pull out a bottle of Fat Tire beer. Swiping at the sloshy ice, he twists off the cap and extends it my way. “Thanks, mister,” I say, eagerly grabbing at it. “Not yet, rookie,” he replies, “for now we’re only going to let you smell the bouquet. Boo-kay.”

Such thoughts of glory faded in the sun-splattered ride this afternoon, however. Those six hours the night before together with some wearying work stress combined for a nasty little bonk punch. It didn’t help that I was trying to keep up with miss energy. Sideways look at Surly “Hey look I’m sprinting… again!” Lady.

Such is the pedaling pendulum.


Kitsap Red, White and Black Classic

27 Jun

First, mention must of the fantastic weather today: mid 70s, nary a cloud in the sky, nice breeze coming off the Puget Sound to cool you down when the old radiator threatened. In short, just about perfect.

Today the SurlyLady and I met KonaLad at our house (hey that’s weird, we live here!) and biked over to the Edmonds ferry, intending to do a little sight-speeding around the Kitsap Peninsula. Our route today was, in part, a reprise of the Kitsap Color Classic that SurlyLady and I did last Fall, each on a Surly as it turns out. That was our first organized ride; at the time I remember being super-self conscious about everything, including the fact that I was carrying two panniers on the Trucker (what in the world was I packing? no jokes) and the fact I was still on flat pedals and was generally such a pudgey newbie. Also remembered is how monumental that 44-mile ride seemed at the time (we combined the Indianola and Poulsbo loops). Add on the seemingly never-ending line of people on bikes, that sort of “been here, done this” Cascade Bicycle Club vibe people have when they’ve been there and done it many times before.

Norwegian Beach; we faked an accent and they let us in... suckers!

Norwegian Beach; we faked an accent and they let us in... suckers!

Today wound up being quite the contrast. Other than a handful of bikers who got off the boat with us, and a few we saw going the other way now and then, there were hardly any bikies around at all. The other major difference was our decision to do the Hansville and Indianola loops, forgoing the Poulsbo loop (meh… congestion, hiway riding… meh). KonaLad tore up the pavement to start with, keeping us with the pack of other riders out Kingston; then we took off north toward Hansvilel again with KonaLad pulling us along. I have to say I really liked the little ‘Old Hansville’ loop thing that breaks off that main road; what a refreshing, shady, downhill-curvy section. Then we cruised up to Hansville-ish and stopped at the Norwegian Beach spot; I’d spotted a port-a-potty and had stopped pell mell for a pee-stop. We got some PayDay bars at the cute little store after meditating on the beach. Sometimes us NW’ners can forget how lucky we are to live where we are; looking across the water at Whidbey Island etc. was very calming. But, uh, if you don’t already live here, it’s AWFUL and RAINS ALL THE TIME. You’d hate it, trust me.

It's like the Sasquatch picture; 'cept I'm more like a sassy squash.

It's like the Sasquatch picture; 'cept I'm more like a sassy squash.

Next up was the loop around the top of the peninsula. We stopped to take some meanderings along roads that potentialed, on the crudish map from last year’s KCC, to be some kind of out-and-back lane that might lead to some kind of neato vista etc but instead ended at a farm for sale. Want! To own acreage out there would be so nice. Maybe someday. Note to self: lottery tickets. The picture above was one of the best ones I could find that captured the character of this part of the ride; unfortunately I’m playing with the edges of anonymity by including myself (SurlyLady was the author) but hopefully my butt won’t be recognizable to anyone at over 100 paces. If it is, hi there. I’d like to meet sometime. Maybe go out for drinks?

The Hansville loop is no creampuff ride, BTW. As in there are plenty of killer hills. I had a ball on them today on the Poprad, incidentally newly shod with Schwalbe Marathon 32s. We wound down around the coast, then back out inlets and more hills (several were knee-knockers; one even caused SL to have to get off and walk; we both were driving compact doubles and I can sympathize as I was barely able to stay upright; KonaLad was spinning away from us both real good). One troubling thing about the Poprad: today I dropped the chain at least three times, each time going from the big to the smaller ring, under duress/speed/shifting to meet an oncoming hill. Not fun. This happened last Saturday, just as I was about to pass a couple of roadies… hmph… and I thought at the time it was a fluke, but today KonaLad suggested I check the limiter screw and I think he’s right. Will check that later. Next we came to that road that goes up to Port (can’t remember but the place with all the really old quaint houses that you have to slow to 10mph for?) or to turn left and head home. I think the hillwork to that point had sapped everyone a little bit so we all agreed it was best to head back toward Kingston in order to pick up the Indianola loop. We did, and what a lovely little loop it was! However, down in Indianola itself, going in a counter-clockwise direction as we were, there was an absolutely leg-jello hill that I barely managed to get up. Interestingly, with a compact double (sorry to keep going on like it’s a new invention, but it’s new to me) I have to really attack hills just to stay on the bike and so I was elevation-gaining much more speedily today than usual. And it was kind of fun, I’m digging the hills. Just wish I was a 135-lb skinny type. Speaking of which, ice cream, Vitamin water, potty break at the charming Indianola grocery store and then about 10 minutes of restorative bench-laying-out time at the little park pavilion thing there and we were back on the road, soon pulling into Kingston, passing all those gas-guzzling cars, thank you very much!, to the front of the line, looking as insouciant as possible when wearing lycra tightie pants.

Random driveway. But the most perfect driveway imaginable.

Random driveway. But the most perfect driveway imaginable.

Back through Edmonds and to the MTL and the Surly abode; then to the Red Onion for some chow. Good day!

Now for a bit of a report on the Poprad. Non-bike geeks can tune out now… still here? Fine, you’ve got a slow browser, I’ll wait… done yet? Yes? Okay.

So far I’ve been on one commute, one century that mixed gravel and pavement, and now a 50 mile-ish group ride. In each case I used different tires, and in each case the Poprad provided clear proof that it’s a highly versatile bike. If there was ever a do-everything bike, this is it. Unfortunately, due to certain complicated technical reasons that I won’t bore you with, it’s not possible for me to do without my Long Haul Trucker or Sarthe in favor of solely the Poprad; for you, I’m sure, such a thing would be possible. In one line: throw on knobbies and you’ve got a fun off-road or ‘cross machine; throw on semi-knobbies (knobs on the shoulders, flatter on the crown for easier pavement riding) and you’ve got the ultimate off/on road jack of all trades; put on some city slickers and you’ve got a more-than-competent group rider. If you’re the type of group rider that wouldn’t even consider looking at a bike under $3000, then no, this isn’t going to work for you. If you’re the type of rider that wants one bike that’ll do everything you throw at it, then for $999 this is a killer deal.

Characteristics. I should first point out that while I’m not bike critic, I know what I like, but not enough to know what I don’t like, as in lack of snobbiness and worldliness. As in, my only points of reference are a Long Haul Trucker and a Sarthe, and a handful of test rides on aluminum and carbon road bikes. So, points of reference established… While I can’t speak to its cyclocross capability, yet, with a light saddle (no Brooks) and no consequent saddle bag, this is an incredibly light bike, even with the disc brakes. It doesn’t weigh much more than the Sarthe. I’m still amazed everytime I pick it up. It’s not going to be as light as a scandium or carbon ‘cross bike with Ultegra and carbon this-and-that, but in the price range of ‘cross bikes that I tried out (Kona, Redline, Giant) it’s lighter than the low-end aluminum rivals for shure. Off road it’s very light and responsive. If you’ve ever tried bunny-hopping a near-30 pound mountain bike with suspension, when you get on a bike this light and go off-roading you’re going to be amazed at how you can fly. Seriously fun to just launch off the ground at will. The stock Bontrager bar tape is cushy and, paired with the flexy front carbon/aluminum fork and squishy tires, you’ve got a very forgiving road bike for off-roading.

On-roading it’s equally fun. One of the things I enjoy the most about it, and had plenty of chances to apply today, is out-of-the-saddle climbing. It’s a very stable platform. Sometimes the Sarthe is a bit squirrely, maybe because it’s so light? The Poprad in constrast is a little more reminiscent of the Trucker, except that it’s much, much faster and lighter. Going up hills I could tell the heavy Marathon tires were more taxing than otherwise; by comparison the Sarthe is like a mountain goat, in that I can accelerate at will even when out-of-the-saddle hill climbing. But that’s not the fault of the Poprad. I wonder what it would be like with some lighter racier tires like the Schwalbe Duranos I’ve been using on the Sarthe? Cornering is a pure joy on the Poprad. Very close to the Sarthe or other racing bikes. The geometry is a little longer feeling in the chainstay (is that right or just a subjective impression?) and so it makes for some very, very stable descending. Again, a lot like the Trucker, and less squirrely than the Sarthe by a pinch. The brakes, again, are very good, however there is a catch: I sort of think road disc brakes might be overkill for most applications. First, I should note that I’m very used to the hydraulic disc brakes on my Kona. Those things are incredible. Their sure stopping power has saved me many times, including in Whistler; you can literally do a disc-brake track stand before going over a big spill, at a split-second notice. So, going to mechanical disc brakes, even tuned well, is a disappointment. In dry weather, I actually think the traditional side-pull brakes on the Sarthe offer more ’emergency’ stopping cajones than the discs; what the discs do offer, especially when contrasted to the cantilevers on the Trucker, is a much better modulation curve: pick out where you want to stop, squeeze, and there’s no doubt that you’ll stop where you plan, and do so very smoothly. Sometimes on canti’s or even sidepulls it’s not quite that way. And, of course, on those nasty NW days when it’s super rainy and mucky and the canti brakes on aluminum rims give you that scraping, skidding and scary, really, sensation, these discs are going to kick butt. And don’t forget, IT RAINS EVERY OTHER DAY here.

To recap, it climbs well, out of the saddle sprinting is a pure joy, descents are very comfortable, it tracks in very authoritative, consistent ways, the disc brakes give confidence, the Shimano 105 shifting is crisp and competent (really all that I need on this bike), and even the default white bar tape is comfy. It’s a very fun bike to ride. And I mean that, it’s a bike that makes you realize you’re riding on a fun, responsive bike while at the same time offering a no-limitations design and feature set that let’s you focus on just having fun and forgetting the bike. On a subjective level, the geometry works perfectly for me, whether on the flats and sort of pulled up and recovering, on the ramps when at cruising speed, or down on the hoods where, even better, it’s like a luxurious stretched-out feeling. If for some reason I wanted to take it on the STP I wouldn’t miss a step; possibly I might miss a few minutes on the overall time.

One last thought – both of my LeMond bikes have 172.5mm cranks. The Trucker has 175mm. I’ve been commuting on the Trucker this last week, and the knee was hurting again… I think this is part of a general overuse, tendonitis twinge. But I started wondering, what’s different between the LeMonds, where I tend to knot have any knee pain, and the Trucker? Different geometries, but otherwise very similar crank-to-saddle heights. The only difference is the crank arm size. I might try putting on some 172.5’s – I’ve been fighting the idea thinking it couldn’t matter that much, but research on the web (i.e. cruising through illiterate opinions on the message bored sites) seems to indicate a mismatch in crank arm size can lead to knee pain. If anyone has advice please let me know! Otherwise I might proceed and see if I can find some used ones. Or, maybe using medical necessity as an excuse I could finally take the Trucker to a full-on Campy setup. Heh. Ouch! (SurlyLady just slapped the back of my head).

crow tastes delicious

23 Jun

The lad was right, and I was wrong. Speedplay Frogs are awesome, and I love them.

Mixed-Bag Century on the Poprad

20 Jun

Late last night I was bummin’ as I surfed four different weather websites to see if any would give me a glimmer of hope for the ‘morrow. It was raining pretty heavily last night, and so my heart was sinking. Piercing, lulling violin solo.

Then I woke up and saw that said websites had each gone a more dire direction… but that was good news! When the bastards go for hyperbole that means cloudy morning and sunny afternoons! But then I saw the ominous clouds when I let the pups out and kind of hemmed and hawed and then I said dang it, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, and then I walked back to the house and stopped, still in the frame, via the window of the car, and hopped up and down, red hockey jersey and all… anyone else remember that scene?

Tolt-Pipeline Trail Head, same name as a lesser-known work by Ayn Rand

Tolt-Pipeline Trail Head, same name as a lesser-known work by Ayn Rand

Anyway, I did in fact say phooey, gave the pups a guilt bone each, decided to throw on leg warmers and booties at the last minute, and took off. I had a vague idea of trying to find some gravel trails, beginning with the Tolt Pipeline and connecting to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. I had no idea I’d turn in nearly a century, around 98 miles according to Gmaps Pedometer. While it’s not quite technically a full century, according to IbisLad, offroad miles are counted at a two-to-one ratio. I figured I did around 45 or so gravel and single-track miles, so that puts me way over, right? Let me consult the New England Journal of Mountain Bike Science. (thumbing) Oooh, look at that schematic… Wait, can’t get distracted. Here it is: A Diffident Differential Analysis of Relative Output Over Varied Surfaces. Yup, I think I can conclude… yadda yadda… whoops, typo… yup. I think I can qualify today’s ride for a century. The intention, as I began to say, was to take out the Poprad for an initiation ride (going round in circles, wearing a dark hood, having the older brothers beat you with Nerf bats).

I zipped down the MTL hills to LFP, then on the Sammamish Valley Trail down to the Tolt Pipeline cutoff. For the last ten minutes of so of SVT a fellow pulled up and said, “Nice bike!” He was riding an orange Poprad with disc brakes. We struck up a conversation. I learned a bit about his experience on these bikes. I particularly wanted to ask about the flexy fork. He said the disc rotors would sort of wear in and the shudder/shimmy would get better. It’s kind of cool to ride side-by-side with an analog bike (same size, I’d warrant)… like those sneaky looks you take in the long business-windows as you ride past to check out your profile. You know you do it.

I was excited to start off on the Tolt Pipeline trail. Having ridden by it several times and wondering where it went, I was all gung-ho but promptly had to get off and shoulder-hike the bike due to the steep hills. Oh well, I wanted to practice some cyclocross! (See technical reviews, including considerations on knobby tires, coming soon). Then it was a series of up-and-down hills as I followed the general line of the powerline. Ran into lots of nice people. Like today’s ride, this stretch was a bit of a mixed bag; not sure if I’ll be in a hurry to do the Tolt Pipleline again. A little blah. There were lots of downed trees scattered about, which gave me more occasion to pretend I was cyclocrossing. Whew, hard work. However, I don’t think I’m supposed to stop and shake out a handkerchief and tenderly clean the Poprad of all the grime and mud. Maybe I’ll start a Gentleman’s Cross series, where we all wear cravats and titter a lot, saying things like “Did you perchance read Disreali’s latest book?” and “Nuoooo… but I caught his speech in Parliament, how droll!” Titter, titter. I wonder how that sort of thing would go over in Portland?

Anyway, soon I came to an area next to a park call Farrel McWhirter or something Park. And it was a dead-end. Eep. Should have brought a map. I kind of meandered around the little country roads for a bit and then finally found my way back to a main road which turned out to be: Novelty Hill Road. The McBain of my existence. And I was near the beginning, not nearer the top. Ugh. So there I was, new compact double bike in hand, huffing up Novelty Hill. Then I found some offshoots of what looked like more gravel trail, dutifully following some powerlines, so I dutifully tried them out, even asking a local how far they went, “Oh I think it goes on forever.” Sweet!

Nope. The gravel trail dead-ended at a fence for a horse pasture (man, it’s fun riding clipless along deep and dried mud ruts across a field, whewee.). I wound back to Novelty Hill Rd, got to the big precipitous downhill, waited to make sure no cars were coming (they soon did) and went shooting down hill at maybe 45 mph. That Poprad corners amazingly well, really responds to throwing weight around (the Trucker sort of looks back and says, what are you doing that for?) and the disc brakes are incredible… incredible, I say, on such downhills. Road-bike disc haters can suck my… uh… Avid BB7’s. Then on the W Snoqualmie Valley road, up to the Duvall bridge, and across to Duvall, and the start of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.

Snoqualmie Valley Trail

Snoqualmie Valley Trail

I started getting goosebumps! And not just from the cloud cover… this was why I had gotten the Poprad! 31 or so miles of gravel goodness, awaiting exploration!

Pickanick table Panda

Pickanick-table Panda

And like all good explorers, before I started off expeditionarily, I had to take care of bidness first. No, that doesn’t mean seeking approval and funding from the Royal Geographic Society; although, truly, that would have been nice, but I can hardly abide those insufferable, hide-bound reactionaries, with their out-dated views. No, I stopped at a cute little park called McCormick something and took a bike panda. Note the Carradice Barley bag: perfect for tools, pump, tubes, rain jacket, chow, sun screen, and more chow. Also note the Brooks B-17. I’ll mention it again… cue ominous space music. Maybe an old Roland Juno… that’s it… now hit the LFO, make it a little Doctor Who… aw yeah, there ya go.

The trail was virtually deserted from Duvall down to Carnation. I saw lots of crazy little yellow birds unfamiliar to me. They didn’t seem to recognize me either, as I caught a couple of them peering at me through tiny little binoculars. This is definitely THE way to avoid HWY 203 from Duvall to Carnation. I think any touring or cross bike would work; not sure about skinny tire fancy racing bikes. I was having a ball on the gravel, bunnyhopping the concrete lips at bridges, and trying to go faster and faster. How cool to combine the things I love about MTBing (being out in nature, under trees and sun, away from people and cars) and roadie-ing (going fast… and faster). The Poprad worked and rode like a dream. Next up was Carnation, then I continued on to somewhere near North Bend, where you have to get off on Tokul Road.

Take me to the River...

Take me to the River...

Territorial View 1

Somewhere near North Bend I think.

There were lots of girl’s cross-country runners (some kind of high school teams out there or something?) near Carnation which made for some wary riding. After a long, long time I finally got to the end of that section of trail; however, rather than continue on to North Bend and Rattlesnake Lake (I’ll save that for another day) I doubled back, found a trail-head area, had a hunch the road would lead out to the 203 highway again, maybe up past Fall City, and bingo my sense of direction/spatial guessing worked! In fact it wasn’t that much South-Eastier than the turnaround point where KonaLad, Surlygirl and I stopped on our very first century, several weeks ago. I did all this because, I’d had a sudden hankering to take a hunk out of that cheese hill we did last week on the Flying Wheels. On to Fall City then where… the whole town was shut down for some crazy kind of fair! I love small-town fairs! I don’t like small-town affairs, however; everyone seems to know about it within days. Who needs that.

Pavement City sounds just like Fall City

Pavement City sounds just like Fall City

I walked my bike through the throngs: slack-jawed locals, city folk, city folk gradually gentrifying, hippies, gangs of teenage girls having really important conversations, gangs of boys trying to overhear. I got some free water at a church booth, which was really sweet of them. I don’t think they liked it when I poured some on my steaming head and started writhing around vampirically, accusing them of putting holy water in holy plastic. Exit Fall City. Hm. has a ring to it.

Exit Fall City; enter from left side, ex-chief of detectives. Pauses to light his pipe.

I found myself roused from the contemplative life of retirement in the country due to a series of horrific murders here, in my old borough.

That’s how I would start a Conan-Doyle play if I ever wrote one. Or, if I were to write for Conan O’Brien, more like this:

So, did you see on the news, the serial murders across town at all the cross-dressing stripper bars? Yeah? Awful stuff. Really is. The police already have a name for the guy, did you hear that, they’re calling him ‘Jack the Stripper’. (ba-dum-pish).

Anyway, out of Fall City, left on that road that goes right to the golf courses, around the corner and then… breath-holding moment… the Issaquah-Fall City road and mini-mont ventoux, or mini-toux if Mike Meyers were writing this. I stopped to put on some sun screen and three roadies went past, friendly enough, but the third guy gave me that top-to-bottom look (roadies, you know what I mean). True, I was wearing a way-too-large cotton t-shirt with something equivalent to The Clash on it and was riding a cross bike with knobbies but that didn’t mean I ain’t got game! So of course I had to scramble to put things away and catch up. I passed that guy up on the hill bends and was bridging up to the other two when I dropped a chain (and that was the first time I realized, oh yeah, you’ve got a compact double!). Dang it. Oily fingers, no sticks around, and I dropped the Poprad so the left brifter has its first scrape.

Eventually caught up to that trio again, big-ringing it up the hill, man it’s almost embarrassing what a big deal I made of this section last week; I realized today it’s not that bad. Then on and up and around and back down that splendidy long downhill toward Lake Sammamish, so much better when at full speed and without the hordes of bikers, and so much better with the disc brakes. At the E Lake Sammamish Road turn I soon hopped on the gravel trail that follows the lake, the very trail that had me thinking Poprad exactly seven days ago. And it was very pleasant, lovely views, people were charming, unaffected, grills were grilling, shills were shilling. Unfortunately, toward the end, I realized I’d had enough gravel trail fun for the day as the Brooks saddle was starting to hurt, and seriously. I’ll have to get both lighter and burlier perhaps. But that’s the goal anywhoo. I got back up on the paved road (ah… much better) and saw a roadie way the heck off. Talleyho! The next fifteen minutes I pretty much burned all my matches catching that guy. Holy crap. But I did, just at Marymoor.

Grass... sweet, sweet fescue.

Sweet fescue to the rescue.

Up the Sammamish River trail and then I pretty much pooped out in Redmond. Pulled over into this grassy area near the trail, took off helmet, cap, glasses, gloves, radio, machete, iPhone, bluetooth earpiece, bluetooth (prosthetic tooth colored blue), Clash t-shirt, corset, girdle, randonneuring sash and laid my hot ass down in the cool grass. Just like the randonnerds do. And let me tell you, it works. Just five minutes resting on my back, looking up at the sky through the wavy tree branches, feeling the bugs crawl around underneath me… much needed. Then I got up, called the Surlylady, went a few blocks to Herfy’s, blah, bad food, ate half of it, then back on the trail and flogged myself home.

Technical review of the Poprad is to follow. I can say now that it meets and exceeds my every hope and expectation. I have done three centuries on three different bikes, and all three offer such different characteristics, with strengths peculiar to each if mostly relative. For instance, the Sarthe is the go-to ride for group outings, for sure. The Trucker would be my choice for loaded touring or super-epic rides. The Poprad is going to be an awesome choice for on- and off-road adventure. I’m a lucky guy.

Cross that Bridgestone when we get to it…

18 Jun

Not much new to report today, other than I rode the Trucker in to work and the knee started hurting again… kwinky or possible fit issue on Wellington?

It was lovely, for different reasons, on the ways in and out, mostly because in both cases I wasn’t actually at work. Where things are bad enough to make me rue all the lottery tickets I haven’t yet purchased so that I can win 23 million dollars and retire to a life of randonneuring and buying a huge chunk of land to develop my own private single track trails on. Sigh. Or, Le Sigh to honor the upcoming Tour.

Instead I’ll just mention a heartwarming sight on the Burke: for the second time in as many weeks, this morning we passed the most darling older couple. On both occasions she was bringing up the rear on a burgundy Bridgestone XO-1 with drops and panniers, while he’s been in front, somewhat to the side and tending to drift a bit, on a matching burgundy Bridgestone XO-1 with moustache (the originals?) bars. Each time I’ve said, in my sing-song morning voice, to make it somewhat polite, more like the bluebird of happiness alighting on a point about three feet from their shoulder, ‘On your left’… and she calls out, “Bikers back!” and he dutifully gets over.

My hope is that my old right knee holds out until I’m that old, and that the SurlyLady and I will be playing bike tag along the Burke for many years to come. The only difference is she’ll probably just yell to me, “Move it Gramps!”

Having been with someone for thirteen years, aside from that awkward period where I lived in a hostel in Oslo and ate lots of crumbled cheese and refused to call home, you can almost picture the next thirty years of bike/Burke conversations:

“How’re you feeling?”

“Materially, things haven’t changed since you asked me five minutes ago. Wait… Nope, they’re still the same.”


“Materialism will destroy you in tiny, inconsequential ways that even your mother wouldn’t notice.”


“I like your sausage pants?”

“Sausage pizza, hell yeah!”

“Stupid boyfriend.”


And so it will go, we hope. Good night.

little champion

16 Jun

Today I rode my other bike, and the lad rode his other other bike (ah, the Poprad! So shiny and red. Like a crow, I keep wanting to pick it up and take it to my nest) and the lack of Surlys on the BGT threw everything a little bit off. Our fellow commuters seemed a bit grumpier, we seemed a bit slower, the weather was pretty meh, the lad had some mechanical issues, I had some saddle issues, etc. In short, an overall bad vibe, and nothing worthy of a blog post. Except for this one little boy who pedaled by near Lake Forest Park. He was tiny and round, and looked way too little to be out there by himself, but he was blazing down the trail and had that intense, vaguely pissed off look I see on all the sponsored-jersey-clad team racers who terrorize the Burke during the height of the commute. It was so hilariously incongruous, and the perfect way to end a weird commute.

Poprad ist Rad!

16 Jun

That’s a joke for the Pavement fans out there… crickets… Okay, put down the Surly Singulator for a second and listen up: Pavement was a band… right, as in band, as in they actually played instruments and wrote their own songs… yes, people used to do that… and they kicked 90s ass! 90s. You know, the decade just before this one. Sheesh.

My new Poprad!

My new Poprad!

For a couple of months now I’ve been drooling over the Salsa La Cruz. It’s orange. It’s True Temper OX Platinum steel goodness with a sloping downtube but not really compact geometry and disc brakes mandatorio. You can throw on a pair of 650b Pacenti moto wheels and do some serious offroading in a Monster Cross variation. All good. Except the complete bike was upwards past $1700, and the frame was as much as many other compelling options out there such as from Vassago and Rawland. The other wrinkle was that I couldn’t find any around town in my size.

Then my obsessive Craiglist searching turned up a pretty little pony: a 2004 LeMond Poprad, the white and blue. It wasn’t quite my size, but it had some nice build components. Looking at it my brain lurched into action. First, I stopped the motor responses that had opened the drool gates. Next I put some food in my mouth and instructed the mandibles to mandibulize. Then I did a bunch of housechores, walked the dogs, rode my existing bikes. And then it hit me: LeMond Poprad! True Temper OX Platinum steel. Handmade in the USA! Full 105 gruppo! And… more chewing… and scratching… belch… oh yeah, I already have a 55cm LeMond road bike that I totally love, that fits me like a glove, that almost seems to have a custom geometry. I also have a history with the Poprad. Many moons ago, in April of 2008, when the Surlylady and I were in Gregg’s Bellevue, and she was purchasing her Specialized Sirrus, I had sort of that frowny, disbelieving and slightly jealous look on my face as I walked around the store, kicking the tires and trying to fight the welling feeling that, hey, maybe I should look into getting a bike. Strangely enough, IbisLad was there with his son. He launched into his friendly bike dialogue, and we sort of wandered around. Then he pointed out a shiny red-and-white bike. “Check that out,” he said. I did. Of all the bikes in the store, at first glance this was the one that really caught my attention. I liked the old school look of it. The white panels on a sort of metallic (faintly so) red. It had a classic look, even before I knew enough to know what that meant. I just knew I liked it compared to all the swoopy, curvy, Zertzy, fancy stuff. This bike stood out. As did the price tag. Yowza. I’ll have to pass.


Don't hate me because I'm beautiful. Hate me because I'm perfect.

Fast forward a couple of months. SurlyLady and I both had a bike, each a hybrid. I had already started having a yen for a drop bar bike. At the end of June I was vacationing in San Juan island and would be planning on renting (as it turned out) a Soma Smoothie to ride around the island. I’d never tried STI shifters before. The last time I’d ridden a drop bar was the moment before I was hit by a car in Boulder City, Nevada, shattering my Nishiki. There was a brief and awkward affair with a Stumpjumper in the early 90s until I’d had to sell it to pay utility bills; we won’t talk of it. Anyway, we were in Gregg’s Alderwood and there was another red-and-white Poprad disc. This time they were on sale. Rather than $1600 something, they were $1450, due to the LeMond/Trek fallout and end of the LeMond line. No comment. I rode a 55cm (the kid said that was my size) and a 57cm (the manager said it looked better, that I was more stretched out, what a bleepity bleep). I put down a deposit. My eyes weren’t really focused on anything. I had a glow about me that in certain lights I’m sure must have been charming. A charming glow. Then reality sank in. Deposit rescinded.

(Just for the record we soon went ape-sh*t for road bikes, and Surlylady bought a new Jamis Quest within the month, and I the Sarthe soon thereafter).

Life went on. The Poprad and I drifted apart, thinking fondly of each other now and then, until all warm memories faded and we almost couldn’t remember each other’s names. Pop something?

Handmade in the USA using US steel! Hot dang I'm suddenly patriotic!

Handmade in the USA using US steel! Strangely enough, this means a lot to me.

Fade back to the present. Wait for the harp to finish. Look, harpist, we’re not paying you by the hour. Thank you.

Having seen the Poprad on CL, I started doing some research again. On paper the 2007/2008 disc Poprads had everything I wanted on a bike. They leaned more in the road direction than the monster cross direction, but that’s kind of the biker I am anyway. I’m a little bit roadie, I’m a little bit offf-roooad, as the Osmonds would have sung. You know, the Osmonds…. never mind.

I found a forum that had been posted back in ought 7 that had some recent posts where people reported that various LBS (loco bike stores) were ‘blowing out’ their 2008 Poprad’s for $999. $999, I asked? That’s right, the interweb said, $999.

Check out the almost ornate dropout areas.

Check out the almost ornate dropout areas.

I remembered that Montlake Bicycles, where I got my Sarthe, had at one point something like two dozen red Poprads hanging from the rafters; call them, I thought. I did. Their price: $1350. Eh. So I searched the interweb and found a place in Burlington called Skagit Cycles. They were getting rid of their remaining Poprads for $999. I called. They said they’d build up a 55cm (I now knew that would be my size, as I’d compared the geometry of the Poprad and Sarthe and they looked very similar, diff’t bottom bracket I think). I almost had enough money saved up. For some bizarre reason I also, privately, tied it to my goal of 200 pounds, as if that would sort of be the final rationalization straw for the objection camel’s back. And I was the biggest objection camel, it should be noted. Eh, I don’t really need another bike. “When would you ride it?” asked KonaLad at one point, and it was a good point. I decided I’d bide my time. Maybe something used would come up on CL.

Then about a week later Skagit called to say that they were down to their last 55cm, and that a fellow from Finland wanted to buy it. Did I still want to take a look? I thought about it for a second. Yes, sir, yes I would. I talked to Surlylady, and she said I should do it. If I wanted a cyclocross bike and had the dough, I should do it.

And so, with her blessing and my nominal weight goal attained, the day after the Flying Wheels Century Surlylady and I trekked (pun) up to Burlington. And, gasp, there it was! All shiny and red! Glowing even! With white freaking bar tape! But how was the ride, mr superficial? Well within 20 feet of pedaling I knew I wanted it, and would have paid $1600 for the privilege, to boot. It’s got a very, very sweet and sick ride. It might become my go-to commuter. The steel is… but, gentle readers, you’ll have to wait. I’ll post a sober and less spittle-driven ride report later. So far I’m thrilled to pieces, suffice. It kicks ass.

Here we have the Poprad sporting the latest in fine English saddlebaggery...

Here we have the Poprad sporting the latest in fine English saddlebaggery...

One last note: Skagit Cycles also kicks ass. Not only did they hold this bike for me even when someone from Finland was knocking on the door, they were a totally class LBS. The kind of place where the guy seemed to take one look and dialed in the seat height, perfectly. The kind of place that threw in some red anodized flat MTB downhiller pedals rather than the cheap plastic cages (the red pedals are destined for the SL’s MTB). The kind of place that, when asked about changing out the rings to a compact double, did so, complete with new bottom bracket and an upgrade really to a Bontrager GX Lite something something, in 30 minutes on a Sunday! When I asked about the wheels, and their longevity, they actually said we can put something else on for you if you like (the difficulty is that the Poprad has 130 mm spacing, and there aren’t many disc wheels out there) at no charge or slight charge depending on the model. Just the fact that they were already giving me a sweet deal and yet were willing to do the compact double (the 34/50 is still pretty steep; I’m a big triple woosie I think) swap is just super commendable. If you’re in the market for a new bike, they have Kona, Redline, Giant, Specialized, Trek etc. Redline Conquests, 9-2-5’s, even a Redline Monocog 29’s 1×9 that caught my eye. A different mix of things than I’m used to with Seattle stores, and much, much better service. Wow. You could get spoiled there.

Up next a ride report after several rides in. After that, more gearing up for the STP for Team Testostrogen.

Brake cable routing goes along the chainstay for a clean, fixie-looking seatstay! Yum.

Brake cable routing goes along the chainstay for a clean, fixie-looking seatstay! Yum.

P.S. One addition to the Flying Wheels post from the other day; I wanted to say that I fully realize we were swimming with the lesser fishes out on the course by the time we got started, as in tired stragglers from the 100 mile route, so if any of what I said sounded like arrogance trust me, there were plenty of people passing me… including one memorable fellow in a medic’s jersey who flew past me on that 4 mile long hill (the epic, breathless paragraph above) without apparently any effort. I think, to put it in context, this was the first organized ride I’d ever done without two panniers and a Trucker, literally, and so for me the whole thing seemed more fun and fast this time around.