Archive | May, 2011

7+ Hills of Kirkland

30 May

When mowing the lawn, especially our back one with its expansive rectangleness, my mind settles into a spirit of inquiry and review (or if we’re being a little less generous, unaccustomed thoughtfulness). Such a mood is encouraged by the orderly rows, the back and forth coverage as I vector from one one edge to the other barbering Mother Nature’s hair. In answer to your question, no, there isn’t any laspsing into a lisp and aksking how Mother Nature’s day went. Really, it’s like meditation-via-mowing (Meditation-upon-Mowing is a charming town in the Lakes District, or is that Cornwall?), with a set playbook of ritual the first step of which is to ask, “Couldn’t I pay someone to do this for me? Time equals money etc” until the final step which is accompanied by byproduct answers, such as “Time equals time” and “My, look at what you’ve accomplished. This is actually something tangible, visceral even, the mannered rows, the fresh smell of grass and various environmental flora.” When parking the mower under the back porch, one last thought: “Damn my legs is tired, but I’m glad I did this because the forecast is for BLEEPING BLEEP rain all week.”

Today’s bit of revealed-through-mowing pseudo wisdom came during the poop patrol that preceded the actual grass mowing. I came across several little piles that were of a very odd color and consistency. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about, I play a poop doctor on TV. Basically what I’d found were little turds made out of cat litter. This by itself would ordinarily be an enigma wrapped in a stinky jacket of mystery and irony except that I happened to know both the source and the culprit. Cooper pup! Last week he’d gotten into a bag of cat litter, the ‘natural’ piney kind, ‘Ride the Pine’ brand, not the grey and gravelly stuff, and had joyfully shaken the contents all over the den. It turns out, as he turned out, that he must have eaten quite a lot of the stuff while in the middle of the spreading the litter.

All of which went toward reminding me that you get out of life, or stomachs, what you put into it (or them).

We went on a ride today, the 7 Hills of Kirkland. Things were progressing very well. KonaLad and JamisLad showed up fresh and early so that we could ride to the Kirkland marina from our burgh in the burbs up here near Lynnwood (whose idea was that exactly? would be a common question today, mostly from me… the asker). It promised to be about 28 miles of bonus miles, tacked on to the nominal 38 miles of the main 7 Hills route. What made it especially special was cranking slowly up Juanita hill, going southbound, and seeing all the northbound 7 Hillers already well into their riding come flashing past the other way. Gotta hurry! I thought. It was a chill morning, with portentous clouds above, but Juanita hill warmed up the old circulatory system fine.

At the starting joint in downtown Kirkland we pays our money and we gets our wristbands and then we pees in the urinals and then we goes… back up to Juanita hill. In reverse, we took a left for Holmes Point Dr NE (always wondered what that would be like – very Mercer Island reminiscent). A lovely downward swooping was followed by the loop along the water and then an amazing set of climbing along an unpopulated gorge type setting, with a fairly steep pitch. I passed one lady, with an apologetic pant, and she said in answer to the unspoken question, “This is the worst hill of the day I think… it just keeps going on.” There’s something so human and inhuman about a charity ride, being surrounded by many laboring others on hills; you can’t exactly blow past each other, so it’s a slowmotion affair, each person having an interior monologue with their heart and lungs, too tired for any exterior dialoging of the usual biking jokes and comradery. We crested back onto the main Juanita line and gathered up our crew again before heading downhill past St. Ed’s park and onto the Burke Gilman. At the foot of Juanita Dr was the first red light running bicyclist of the day – but not unfortunately the last. What is it about charity rides that makes people feel suddenly the rules are all off? Man it pisses me off, and in a passive/aggressive way I took off after her but with no clear idea of if I was going to say anything. Eh. I’ll just trust in Darwinian judgment, I decided.

In general, the 7 Hills of Kirkland ride is lots of fun as it twists and turns through the same basic suburban domain; what it lacks in true scenery it makes up for in charming climbs, a homespun organizational feel and low rider density. This might be a keeper ride; coming at the end of May, it might be perfectly positioned as a good training marker.

The next notable moment was the next turn off my previous experience, this one Norway Hill. I loved that hill! I especially like winding, wending climbs with hairpins, where you can see bikeys ahead and back, strewn out so. At one point a very buff tandem pair blew past and I quickly hopped on their wheel, although usually I stay away from tandems on uphills. However, they had the special sauce going and so that was fun following them. It seemed very soon were were all three gathered up again at the one rest stop, I guess about in the middle of the course. Standing around munching cookies and getting ready for the next leg KonaLad pointed out that I had a broken spoke in my rear wheel? WTF? When did that happen.

For drummers it's duct tape, for bike mechanics it's rubber bands...

And now we’re getting to the full circle of my thinking here, but before we do, I’d like to make a quick departure about the nature of thinking, mine especially. When KonaLad pointed out the broken spoke I immediately thought of contingencies, possibilities, mitigations… basically I turned to the instincts I have to use all the time at work as a project manager. Rather than, I’m trying to say, actually looking at the problem and thinking about it sort of intrinsically, focusing on the immediate material problem all I could think about was the (honestly) immaterial inconvenience. There were a few seconds of mild panic and furious downstream decision making; I hardly seemed able to focus. Then I thought, I’ll check with the experts and wheeled the Poprad over to the nearby bike support tent manned by the nice guys from Kirkland Bicycles (where I got the Sarthe!). As I had feared, there wasn’t much they could do – once a spoke is broke that’s all she wrote. It can’t be trued or fixed, if there’s no appropriate spoke replacement (and they didn’t have one). I stood there and spun the wheel, noticing the huge wobble from the untrue-ness. I asked the mechanic what the worst case scenario would be if I continued to ride. “You’ll either make it fine or ruin the rim.” Hm. Time for cost-benefit analysis. Dammit, I don’t care. I wanted to keep riding! And so we did, but I only got about 20 yards into it before finding the tire was rubbing the fender far too much; even a few miles with that and those gumwall Jack Brown tires would probably be in bad shape. So, back to the rest stop and the mechanic, who helped me cut the zip tie holding on the fender. As I held the fender up, trying to imagine how I was going to carry it in the Carradice bag, the nice chap offered to hold it at his store for me! Sweet! I’m back on the road.

This time I got maybe 100 yards before suddenly the tire started seriously rubbing against the frame. The untrue-ness had just gotten a whole lot worse. Damn. KonaLad and JamisLad had continued on to the Winery Hill loop, and would look for me on the way back, so I had some time to think. I called the SurlyLady, half fearful she wouldn’t be home. But she was! And she offered to come get me ASAP. And, even better, offered to bring the Vaya so I could finish the ride. What a girlfriend! (and Happy Anniversary gift, yo!)

To close this circle, what did I put into these wheels? They were deeply discounted used wheels from eBay. I put in some research, sure, but I also put in some crazy, outsized expectations. Tires too big for the fenders, tires maybe too big for the bike, wheels with tapering spokes… at this point I’m not sure if I wouldn’t take the weight penalty of the handbuilt Velocity Fusion wheels rather than the chance of a breakdown, as I do know I don’t want something similar to happen to me out in the middle of like Mason County on RAPsody, where I may or may not have cell coverage. I’m going to take these wheels to an expert, get her/his advice on their basic soundness, and have them rebuilt with some stout spokes. Whether I keep them on the Poprad we’ll see. Other measures: I’m going to get some drive and non-drive side spokes for both front and back and put them in the seatpost tube for emergencies like this. Additionally, I’m going to take a wheel building class. Because if KonaLad hadn’t been there, or the bike mechanic stand (imagine if I’d been many miles away from the rest stop or, worse, barreling down a steep hill) I’m not sure what I would have been able to do on my own.

Fender mullet! Business in front, party in the back!

SurlyLady arrived super fast, with Fred Vaya in the rack, and in short order I was back on the road. I missed the Winery hill stuff (sounds like there was a bagpiper?) but there was still plenty of fun ahead of us… and this finish was so much better than the alternative, i.e. going home and DNF. I really, really hate the idea of DNF. We finished up at the Kirkland Marina, had our strawberry shortcake, then headed home… up Juanita Hill… again. JamisLad was amazing, blowing up that hill like he had just gotten started for the day — I think he and KonaLad officially did like 12 or 13 hills on the day.

(Adding concentric circles): As for these buddies of mine, I hope I’m putting into my friendship with them something equal to how cool they are to me – sticking around to make sure I got taken care of, providing company on a new adventurous ride.

As for girlfriends, not only did she instantly hop into the car to come save my day, but she made kick-ass walnut brownies and then got vanilla bean ice cream and fresh blueberries and made this for dessert!:

Brownie points!

I’m going to pay it back to all of them by coming up with an amazing ride through the Snohomish area next weekend, along quiet farm roads, swooping hairpin curves and amazing scenery. More details to follow…


Saturday Night Bench(mark)

28 May

Procrastinators like me can take awhile to get around to something, but once we do it’s like a terrier with a toy: we focus on it intensely for at least 5 minutes. Or, in other cases, 5 hours. Such was the case today as I was hell bent on cleaning up the bike room. I’d gotten a small start the other day, but today by golly was going to be the day!

Bench bench bench bench...

The bike room has been a mess ever since the water heater went crazy and flooded the back utility area and I threw all the bike stuff in boxes to quickly vacate the inundation. Add to that years of errant piling, idiosyncratic filing and plain old American laziness, and things was looking bad. Cleaning up and organizing the bike room was a big dream, and I knew the only way to tackle it was to start small, so I started breaking down the endless cardboard boxes. There’s a bit of my Grandmother’s Great Depression pack rat in me in that I will save cardboard boxes to save other cardboard boxes in. (There’s also a bit of my great Uncle’s rat packer in me in that I look like Dean Martin if he’d had acne problems and was from Illinois.)

So, first order, The Cardboarder (that would be my super hero name, if I was super and/or heroic).

Next up were those boxes which actually had contents. Wow. There were lots of bits and ends of things I’d forgotten I had. Old pedals, seatposts, parts for fenders, about three dozen plastic caps for presta valves, several empty bottles of chain lube (saving them for the next Great Depression!). Eventually I got everything out and somewhat organized while rocking out to Sonic Reducer on KEXP, enjoying such treats as Run, Run, Run, Run, Run by the Velvet Underground, something called ‘Toilet Love’ from a band I don’t remember and, best of all, Mongoloid by Devo! I think that was the first song I figured out on the old bass guitar! Nothing like cranking some hissy FM radio punk while piddling in the bike room. Piddling BTW, for you younger snappers, is what old people do when they appear industrious but in fact are just shuffling things around.

Aces over Dura

Speaking of getting rid of boxes, here’s a bit of seeming bling I was about to fling: Dura-Ace! The name sends shivers down the spine of most, and loathing among the Campy Italianate crowd. Before you wonder if I got a second mortgage no, these are the $80 bar-end Dura-Ace shifters, that I’ve put on the Vaya, or Fred (the old Trucker bar-ends’re going on the new La Cruz, or Tom).

And so I’ll soon retire for the night, at about the time I used to get ready to go see a punk show. Sigh. At least the bike room is cleaned up (relative term: it still looks like the spastic brain child of a pathologically reverse-savant) and ready for some La Cruz building. At least I can see a few square feet of the main bench, right? Before sleepytime, how about some dessert:

Old people dessert, with young people animal crackers as a sop to vanity.

Agency and Autonomy

26 May

Reading through old blog posts here can be amusing. As SurlyLady put it, it’s eye opening to see how far I’ve come (we’ve come)… but also eye closing to see how little certain things have changed. Example, complaining about the weather and a too-busy life.

However, one thing is crystal clear about my own thread through the 300+ posts here: these companions of change, these bicycles I’ve owned and ridden, have very clearly helped me find, and have provided, a path of moral agency. I overstate things somewhat, but I do equate morality in this sense with mortality, i.e. what a rotten shame to continue down a path of personal destruction and unhappiness. From an historical perspective, my change over the last three years is unprecedented. SurlyLady recently reminded me that, years ago, in the previous era, on those rare weekends when we would leave the house, the most she could persuade me to do was to drive places. That’s it. Drive for several hours, somewhere, look at things, eat at a restaurant, then come home. She said this while we were driving on our way to a hiking spot last Sunday, up in the Twisp River valley. All week her sentences have been rattling around in my head like a pebble in a rear fender. More powerfully, as she said this, as we chatted back and forth excitedly, wondering at the tall snow-capped peaks and piquant farm parcels, I kept thinking over and over “Man I’ve got to come back and do this on a bike!”

Recently when I was riding with my Dad we stopped at one of those kiosks near Marymoor Park where a large map of King County bike trails was posted. I pointed out where we were, and how far north we had ridden. “Check it out, we rode to Woodinville!”

He stood with a dumbfounded look on his face, head-to-toe in the cutest Performance Bike store togs, and then answered doubtfully, “No way.”

“Yessir, Woodinville and back to Redmond.”

He shook his head a little. And I knew exactly what was going through his mind at that moment. It was the impressive collision of geography and cycling. How the one can blow up concepts of the other. Getting in the car and driving to Woodinville is a pain enough. Doing it on a bike… whoa. Next I traced a finger up along the Sammamish River Trail, saying “Here’s where I joined the trail, up in Lake Forest Park. And then rode along here to meet you. And somedays I continue on over here to the east of Woodinville, over to Duvall or Carnation or up to Monroe or Snohomish, and then loop back. One day I rode all the way out to Fall City, almost to North Bend, and back.”

“No way,” he repeated, then paused, calculating, the engineer in him taking over. “That must be a hundred miles or so.”


And then I think it hit him. All those stories I’ve told him about the thrill of Cycling Autonomy, the ennobling, enabling power of pedaling cross country in a self-supported out and back, those stories of riding a century, or of a double century, of certain thousands of feet elevation gain, here, in front of this map, he was SEEING it for the first time, he was equating these abstract stories I’d told to a visual longitude and latitude referential. And seeing this realization in his eyes, the way they lit up, kind of brought some of that magic back home to me. Wow.

And so tonight I visit again the humble beginnings. Three years ago I started off on a hybrid bike barely able to do 3 miles. I had been pushing toward 300 pounds. I had sleep apnea, plantar fasciitis, hypertension (high blood pressure… really high, emergency-room high) and general lard-ass-ness. I was miserable, at home and at work, and in danger of losing pretty much everything important to me. And I’ve turned it around, and have kept it turned around.

And the common thread through it all, beyond the ‘soft’ stuff like a sort of dim and stupid stubbornness, a will to keep pedaling no matter what and an awareness that the best way to combat systemic is with systematic, what’s the physical or conceptual common thread? These bicycles, these moral agents on two wheels. They stand apart, but they feel as familiar and comfortable as anything I can imagine. Sure, I had a baseball glove way back in elementary school that I proudly wore in, and got to fold in just the right way. Sure, I had a favorite soccer ball with red-and-blue stars. Yeah, I once had an old canvas rucksack that my Dad gave me that I used as a backpack. But none of these objects can compare to bikes. In this sense, they truly are more like steel (if not iron) horses, agents of geographic potential, and not simple saddle leather.

In the beginning, bicycles were objects foreign to me. They were feral and almost fearsome. I fretted about the smallest warbling noise, the smallest out-of-true spoke. I worried about having the right saddle, the right this and that. The whole concept of cables and derailleurs was as foreign as a subjunctive clausal dependency at midnight on an Italian bus with uncertain change to hand. It was like the most elaborate physics problem, and my gorilla hands couldn’t even hold a wrench properly. But now I feel like I can see beneath the surface mystery to the deeper mysteries. I’m building bikes. I’m choosing components, engaging in a physics and an aesthetics all of my own making (or of my own agency). A bike I built up took me to Washington Pass and then safely back down.

On top of everything else, that collusion (and lack of collision) between form and function only increases my sense of enjoyment and wonder regarding this whole adventure. Perhaps next I’ll take a framebuilding class, and take things to an even more elaborate level?

I’d like that. The resulting project frame would have to be a 70s-inspired sport tourer bike, clearance for 32’s and fenders and sidepulls and, of course, Brooks-friendly geometry.

Methow, and How!

24 May

we found lost river to be lovely in the sun...

Lucky ducks we, in that we went on vacation to the marvelous Methow Valley last weekend! We wound up in a nice cabin in the Lost River area, right on a little offshoot of the Methow River, with a kickass view:

To die for...

The sun was out, the air was springy crisp, I was positively shaking to get out on the hiking and biking trails. After we unpacked, we skeedaddled over to the West Fork trail (just off the road that takes you to Hart’s Pass) for a nice afternoon hike. Starting off from the trailhead it started to rain a pinch, but then it seemed the rain clouds were working their way westward, almost as if we were chasing them until eventually the sun prevailed and the whole landscape opened up in relief, as did our lungs. Scree slopes, snowy crags, wildflowers, pines, lightning-blasted pines, shingle, shale and through it all the roaring water. There were lots of blowdowns on that trail, requiring some circumspect circumnavigations, but gave some nice momentary pauses like these:

I laid down in the dirt for you on this one... I should at least get a thank you.

The pups and SurlyLady and I were happy to get out to stretch our legs after the long drive over Stevens Pass and up the Methow Valley from Chelan. Road trips are so much fun, full of iPod shuffle play, gas station Jolly Rancher candies, letting the dogs out to pee at rest stops, scary locals, slow non-locals, and that perfect feeling of propping your feet up on the dashboard and the crunch of driveway gravel when you get to your destination, the quick tour of the rental, marveling at this and that, the throwing of bags and gear on the bed. I’ll never get tired of them, especially the ones you can take in the Northwest. I love this place so much. You can take yer fancy Euro vacations and… wait, no I like those too.

Mountain climbing, in the Subaru small ring...

The second day we went on an amazing trail, Robinson Creek. There was a lot of climbing, and the views! Oh I couldn’t get enough of them. At one point we came across a washout spot with a roaring snow melt creek that was impassable… we didn’t want the pups to get swept up in the fast current and then off the mountain. So we grabbed a couple of logs and carefully wedged them in a few strategic spots in order to create a little bridge, careful not to worsen the situation by diverting water or further eroding the banks. This allowed us to go on for a few more miles until we ran into a series of snow fields that were progressively wider and deeper. Still a little early in the year for mountain hiking, but I was amazed at how far we were able to go into the Pasayten.

Later that day the SurlyLady drove me and the Vaya down to the Winthrop barn so that I could do some adventure riding. We ran into KonaLad and CannondaleLady (ha!) on the Lost River Road – they were riding up to see if they could find us. After chatting we continued on to Winthrop and I said goodbye to the SurlyGal. I was determined to find some gravel. And I did.

Pavement isn't forever, but solo careers can be...

Wolf Creek Road

Gravel Grinda Panda

I proceeded from the Winthrop Barn up to Sun Mountain and toodled around on the smooth singletrack of the Methow Community Trail. What a lovely ride that is! When the conditions are better (not as much flooding from snow melt everywhere) I want to go back and explore more. As it was I knew I was running out of time and hustled to find a way back up to Lost River. I exited the Methow Community Trail on a road that later became Wolf Creek Road, seen in the pictures above. This is a corker of a gravel grinder, with sharp short hills, rough road conditions and an isolated, beautiful setting. Wolf Creek ends on Hwy 20 and the Community Trail continues west. I hopped onto Hwy 20 to get some speed, and then took the Community Trail when I noticed it left the highway for an interior bent. Strangely the surface of much of that part of the Trail seemed to be made of multi-colored glass pieces; this was disconcerting at first, to say the least, and I spent a few minutes trying to avoid the shiniest spots while thinking, dang that’s a lot of broken bottles. But then I realized the whole trail was sprinkled with the stuff… my guess is it’s some kind of recycled material. This section of the Trail was fun, curvy, swoopy, and plenty dirt intensive, with views of mountains and the river. Soon I came to the Mazama Store and fortified myself, not with vitamins and minerals, but this kind of goodness

Mazama Store baked goods... like crack for a cyclist.

That place is dangerous. If I lived nearby full time I’d gain back all 115 pounds in no time! So ended my gravel adventure ride for the trip. The next day, Saturday, I hooked up with JamisLad, KonaLad and CannondaleLady (sheesh this anonymity stuff is tiring) for a ride up to Washington Pass. The road was still closed, and yet reportedly cleared up to the famous hairpin turn next to Washington Pass proper. Closed road! No cars! Not having to hug the shoulder while 18-wheelers whip past, threatening to blow you off the road entirely with their slipstream!

This ride is, in my mind, what it’s all about. JamisLad and I struck off from our friends who had said they weren’t going to go all the way up… we were yakking along and not really noticing the grade. Before the Lone Fir campground I mentioned, “Once we get past that campground, that’s when the real climbing begins!” which in retrospect was pretty darn funny to say. Up to that point I’d been feeling fine, a little tired as JamisLad and I had come up from Winthrop, but feeling pretty good. That steep grade just past Cutthroat Pass however was a brutal wake up call! But again, that’s what it’s all about for me… pain, suffering, sure a little bit, but adventure and achievement! We coasted to a stop to take a break, next to some gigantic snow crushing trucks, had a snack, and mulled things over. Should we continue up or not? To up the ante, we heard then saw a small avalanche of snow come tumbling down about 50 yards ahead of us. Yikes! But, having relaxed a little, we soldiered on, the scent of the destination in our noses, that feeling of “we’re almost there, let’s do it!”. I think if either one of us had said, “Eh, let’s turn around now” it would have been easy to do just that. JamisLad was kicking butt at this point on his compact double gearing, grinding away slowly, while I felt like Pepe le Peu in my granny gear, bouncing along merrily. Then I saw the hairpin area and got so excited and we started surging forward and ran into this:


Bummer, we couldn’t go the last 100 yards to the hairpin! Oh well, it was still so worth it because very shortly we turned around and had an absolute ball going back down the mountain. With no cars around I just made for close to the middle of the road, didn’t touch the brakes, and whooped and hollered all the way back to the Lone Fir campground. I wanted to turn around and do it again!

Sunday,  with eyes bigger than my quads and calves, we took off for the Twisp River Road for some hiking. We’d intended to do a shorter route along the Southern rim of that valley, but the snow precluded this within 50 yards of the car. Instead we tried the northern side, the Scatter Lake trail to be exact, even though the 1988 edition of the Mountaineers book we had called it ‘grueling’ (80s hypberbole!). It was fairly grueling, but so much fun hiking with the pups. As we were driving back to Twisp I saw a road leading off to the North, Elbow Coulee, and remembered it from the map as part of a loop I’d like to do someday. We turned and found it to be a lovely little backroad route from the Twisp River Road up to Sun Mountain, bypassing the town of Twisp. Imagine a loop that wanders along the secluded Twisp River Road

Twisp River Road

then over this dirt/gravel combo:

Elbow Coulee

On up to Wolf Creek and then on to Mazama. That would be a fun ‘cross bike day indeed. I can’t wait to go back!

Too Many Bike Projects, Not Enough Bike Project Managers

14 May

What weather we’re having! (Yes another obsessive weather post… someday in the postapocalypsenowdryasadesert future we’ll look back on this and laugh and laugh and laugh and choke a little and eat more dirt.) Although right now it’s monsoon like outside and the dogs look at us like ‘seriously, you want us to go out in that stuff?’, earlier today it was sunny and bunny perfect: while riding down to the Sammamish River Trail, not a block from my house, I saw two bunnies humping; as I passed the female of the species got startled — I often have that effect on females — and took off; the old boy sort of fell and twisted on to his back, with about as emotional a face as I’ve ever seen on a rabbit. I was on my way to meet my Poppa, he of the shiny new Schwinn bike, at Marymoor, and then we were going to do a training ride back up the Sammamish River Trail.

He’s been training for the Flying Wheels event, trying to get some seat time in for the 25 mile route. It’s so awesome to be a part of this. It’s like reverse of the usual father-son dynamic. I took him to a bike store, watched patiently as he kicked tires, loudly complained at the exorbitant prices, came very close to buying a bike four times out of his price range and then settled for a hybrid, and a hybrid economically as well as in features. Then, the training rides. He’d done a few miles here and there by himself, but last weekend we toodled along and did around 11 miles round trip. And at times he was flying! I mean seriously, I could barely keep up.

Today he was a little more sedate, his right hand was hurting. He’s a walking hospital track record, with knee and shoulder surgeries, heart procedures and heart problems, but he keeps going. He’s always been one of the strongest people I’ve known, able to do anything. It’s so sobering to see him, in this retirement phase, slowing way down. Looking a little startled at the world he used to be on top of. But, today he was in fine form again. We pedaled 7 miles north on the trail from Marymoor and then went our ways. I watched him pedal by himself back south toward Marymoor and my heart gave a tug… look at him go!

The cool thing is he’s totally going to make the 25 mile Flying Wheels. No sweat at all. I think the thing that worries him the most is riding in traffic, but with something like the Flying Wheels the ‘bike traffic’ is probably going to be much worse than the car traffic, even while it somewhat insulates us from it.

I was in a hurry to get home as the SurlyLady had stopped at Whole Foods to get us salads and I was HONGRY, so I cruised as much as possible. One thing about the Jack Brown Green tires is there’s a definite trade-off between speed and comfort. It’s not a revelation, or rocket science. But at one point I tried to tag on to a group of roadies who were averaging 23mph along the winery road (I cut through there to save time and avoid the Sammamish Madness) and I could barely keep up with them. I could almost feel the cushiony, rubbery suspended style of the tires holding me back, it was like I was hitting some kind of demi-balloon ceiling. Which reminds me of a time in Singapore when I was in the British Navy, but I’ll save that story for another post.

But, the trade-off of comfort… is so comfy. The only bad news is I think the tires are just too big for the fenders. And, those fenders are just about all I can find to fit on the Poprad. Speaking of the Poprad, check out the new wheels!


I’ll admit. It looks weird. If you were to take things on a scale or spectrum, with traditional looks and form/function loveliness on the left or green part of the scale, where parts and designs come together in harmony, and then you put all the worst Fred tendencies on the right in the red section, things like antler-sprouting stems, intertwining black-and-yellow tape on aero bars that match the black-and-yellow Garmin summer sausage team kit, a cuckoo clock stem mount, a brass bell *and* a a-hoo-ga horn, and then place all of those bikes that range between the two extremes in the middle or yellow section, I would rate the Poprad now somewhere between yellow and red. Which, I believe, would make it a nice Eddy Merckx orange! Ha.

The Fred Whole is Greater than the Fredness of the Parts...

Black racing style rims, Stan’s No Tubes Alpha 340, that are intended for tubular road and cyclocross applications, married to 33.333 wide gumwall Rivendell tires, under black plastic Planet Bike fenders, with a black Carradice canvas back hand sewn by Christine in England, with a Brooks Imperial saddle, Shimano 105 group, Salsa seat post and then to top it off, filthy white bar tape… Yup, I’ve reached deeply into the bucket of Fredness. However! These new wheels are light. I mean, insanely light. I took them to the bike shop the other day to get some rim tape and of course they were picking them up — one guy said they were as light as wheelsets costing $1500 more than I paid for ’em. And that’s almost the best part of these wheels, I got them used on eBay and I used the pain-and-suffering check from the insurance company for the rear-ender on my poor wee Toyota truck back in March. So it all worked out.

How do they ride? Well, pretty darn well. When I first tried them out on the commute Friday, at first I was a little skeptical. Hmph. I don’t feel any huge difference. But I think that was because the first 4 miles are mostly downhill. It was that first uphill that my eyes popped open big time. I could tell a difference. Not huge, not world changing, but very noticeable. Later, on that long hill by the UW campus with the basketball gym off to the left, I told the ‘Lady “I want to see what these guys can do” and took off. And then accelerated. And then accelerated again. And again. It was amazing! I can do that on the Marathons, but the instantaneous feeling of accelerating going uphill was quite new. After a couple of rides, I’m definitely sold. They also feel plenty solid and stout enough, no noodly feeling. The freewheel is a little annoying. I think the ZTR hubs (Stan’s No Tubes brand) are rebadged American Classics, and they make that loud cicada pawl sound that I tend to hate, usually in the employ of an impatient roadie behind me. I’m used to the whisper quiet Shimano hubs I’ve mostly favored in the past. However, one nice thing about hubs that sound like Banshees out of Burbank is they definitely catch the attention of pedestrians when you coast a little. Could come in handy.

Bling for the stem cap!

As for the other bike projects. I’m taking the Tiagra 9-spd triple brifters off of the Vaya to give to the SurlyLady for her Cross Check. I’m going to run Dura-Ace bar ends and Cane Creek brake levers on the Vaya, and experiment with the Noodle bars to see if I can find a better cockpit fit. I got a new Sugino triple crankset for the Cross Check, which should give the ‘Lady a few more easier gears to use (up to now she’s been using Ultegra double brifters with a compact double and 9spd mountain cassette – and has a devil of a time shifting through to certain gears, and no matter how many tunings I’ve given or the shop, it never works right). Then, of course there’s the new bike, the Salsa La Cruz or, as I like to think of him, Tom Cruz. Fred Vaya and Tom Cruz are going to make a nice matched set! Three road bikes with disc brakes and essentially the same functionality. I’m crazy, I know.

Tom La Cruz!

Next up for Tom: bottom bracket, drivetrain from the Trucker (Sugino triple, chain, cassette)… and I want to clean and rebuild the rear and front derailleurs (XT and Tiagra, respectively). Then everything will get cabled up – and I might use BMX linear cabling for the brakes, we’ll see – bar tape and then I can take him out for some fun in the mud.

Part of my intended use for Tom La Cruz is to be purpose built for long dirt-gravel-pavement road rides, to have knobbies on there full time (or semi knobby like the Ritcheys I’m starting off with, that came stock on the Cross Check). In fact, I am thinking of starting a new group here in the Seattle area for just such a thing. I was thinking of calling it “Backroads Bicycle Club NW”. Is anyone out there interested in joining? I have been collecting mixed-surface route ideas and will compile them shortly. If you have any suggestions, or want to chat about his idea, shoot me an email.

La Cruz Control

11 May

Done been commutin’ this week, Monday & Tuesday, but then I’ve taken off the next three days. So my numbers for the Group Health Commute Challenge will again be anemic this week. Instead, I stayed home to piddle around, take the pups to the park, and work on this guy (as it was raining like crazy most of the day, unlike Tue afternoon which was faboo):

Soma means sleepy...

I just really enjoy building up bikes. There’s something so stark and minimal when you consider a frameset and what to make of it. Nothing but possibility ahead of you. Geometries get tried out in your head, the little 5th-grade artist munchkin still in you, still watching Warner Bros. cartoons on Saturday morning, he’s madly sketching build ideas on the notepad in your brain. Then you start to notice little things and worry, like the alloy lockring marks on the used wheelset you just bought off eBay and start to wonder if you shouldn’t have gone with new instead of saving $250. Such fun! Then there are the operational details, so once you’ve decided on Wood Chipper bars, what angle to set them, how to put the shifters, how will you be using this?

Then you also get a chance to add a little bling. In this case, I *had* to get a new seatpost clamp. The one on the Trucker was… cough… metric, and this bike is uh… cough… American standard? So, anyway I had to get a little blue bling. Should match nicely with the blue bar tape:

Don't give me no lip lock!

Commute Sentence(s)

5 May

This week marked the start of the ‘Bike to Work Month’ put on by Group Health & the Cascade Bicycle Club. SurlyLady and I are on a team, with other coworkers (she and I are employed by the same company, in case I haven’t mentioned before… she works in the smarty pants area, I work with the guys who wear plaid and are suddenly huge Apple fans whereas even a year ago they were haters).

Abridged/shorthand version: winter out of shape muscles hurt blah blah why is everyone so much faster blah blah how did I let this happen?

A couple of years ago I somewhat smugly thought “No way am I ever going to stop commuting during winter” as I slid around the icy Burke Gilman. And yet here we are. I’ve commuted a total of 4 times this year, and the SurlyLady just once, this Tuesday. But, we’ll be back at it tomorrow. And like a lot of things that are good for you, once you’ve commuted a time or two, suddenly you start to remember why you like it so much, you remember that healthy, happy buzz that lasts you most of the day, that satisfying sense of raw and primal hunger as your tummy rumbles honestly at lunch time. It starts with that bracing feeling of the work shower, the water that’s harder and hotter than the stuff at home, the subtle smells of sweat and Old Spice and mildew and athlete’s foot creams, not to mention the smell of the liquid soap, the feeling of stepping out onto fairly cold tiles and hustling over to where you hung your towel and the running into the higher-up boss in the dressing area and chatting about company vision and then the fresh mint of freshly brushed teeth followed by going to that 9am meeting with wet hair and that feeling that nothing and nobody is going to get you down while you chug down a chocolate milk and smack your lips and look around and in a mild daze suddenly realize this meeting is meaningless and the real life is back out there on the road with two wheels taking you places.