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Commuting Ups and Downs, Banner Day at Banner Forest, Plus a Few Gear Reviews

27 Jul

Stinky Seat! Banner Forest!

Commuting lameness this year? Oh yeah, I’ve got all kinds of excuses. There’s yoga class night. Kickboxing class night. The I-just-want-to-stay-home-and-make-cheese-melt-sammiches night. Don’t forget the whole Burke Gilman closure. On top of that, I work in a new building, just near the Pike Place Market, and while getting there in the morning is fine as most of the road directions are water-ward, getting out, in the late afternoon, with flocks of tourists, the Duck amphibious cruiser, hundreds of nearly inert buses and most streets that are the wrong way, adds up to poopie.

Insulting the injury, my building recently shut down the men’s shower room — mind you, two showers for 42 floors of people is crazy small to begin with — and provided an alternate single shower facility in the sub basement. Nothing’s more awkward than standing around waiting for your boss, your boss’s boss, or your future and potential boss, to finish his shower. Yes that pronoun is deliberate, check the context. I will say, at least they’re working on creating a new shower that’s got 6 stalls… so just need to be patient for a few months.

Howsomever, last week when I commuted (have been averaging only once per week, yikes) I did so solo and as such, thought I would ride the whole way. The thing is, with the Burke closure, the SurlyLady and I have been driving about midway, parking a couple of miles from the Burke. So rather than drive, last Thursday I took off from the house, pushing up the street toward the alternate-to-the-alternate BG route: rather than tracing down to Lake Forest Park, I would aim for the Shoreline spine and then angle on down to meet the Burke not too far from Matthews Beach. Lots of urban commuting car roads, and lots of hills. Horrible seeming hills. However, here’s the gift-horse moment: I kind of like this new route. It’s like a long series of rollers, some more steep than others. Whereas our usual route resembles a clawfoot bathtub, steep at the start and finish and fairly level in the middle, this new route has some awesome hills and zigzags. I got to racing with some racer chaps (how irate they seem when a guy in a cotton shirt and a big pannier cruises past!) and had a fun time huffing along. Then I left the ‘official’ BG rerouting and found myself alone, again on the Shoreline spine, threading through those neighborhoods and wending over toward Mountlake Terrace. I like that route. It’s not a ton longer than the standard way, and is way better for interval-like training.

Last Saturday I went riding with my Poppa, my brother, his wife and my nephew aka his son. It was quite a procession through the woods. I love that place. Very mellow single track, with a variegated landscape. My brother broke a chain link at one point and, ta da, I had a tool! We fixed it but then the fix started messing up. I fixed it a couple of times, but then eventually it broke beyond all repair. At this point I suggested, rather than taking out yet another link, that he just take off the chain and coast/Fred Flinstone back to the car (we were already on our way back). And I have to admit, I was jealous watching him cruise along. He was going faster than us. What does that say about the typical mountain bike rider, or at least me and the rest of the crew, when a guy without a chain can skooch along faster than you? When we arrived at the parking lot he started to talk about how that was one of the most fun things he’d ever done on a bike, how he’d really had to use his upper body etc. Sort of like being on a BMX bike on a pump track, I imagine. Yes, this is giving me some ideas: custom chainless softtail 650b mountain bike, here I come!

Here are some reviews I have been meaning to catch up on:

Carradice Junior bag — Speaking of Goldilocks engineering, this bag is just right. Just as much capacity in the main compartment as my other Pendle, but without the side pockets, which must add at least a hundred grams of weight. 100 grams! Can you imagine the injustice of that? The Junior gets a thumbs up for sure. Everything you need for a cyclotourist out on the country town, and nothing you don’t need.

Tektro Oryx brakes and stock black pads — That ride we took up in Skagit county, when it rained most of the day? Well the oddest thing happened. The SurlyLady’s pretty new bike got all kinds of weird black dye stains on the Pasela tourguard gumwalls and Salsa polished rims, all from the stock black pads. At one point I saw the black streaks, like the kitchen table at Easter when your nephew is decorating eggs, and couldn’t figure out what the heck was causing it. We stopped and I traced the streaks/stains to the brake pads. Lame, and definitely disconcerting. So the other day I took off the brakeset, put on the IRD Cafam’s from her Cross Check along with the Kool Stop pads (no need to replace them, which surprised me, just sandpapered them a bit). I took her Casseroll up the street and back and those brakes are sweet! I’ve gotten sooo much better at dialing in cantilever brakes. My first attempts at such on the Long Haul Trucker were… well they never amounted to much more than attempts.


Salsa Casseroll, with Cheesy Bits and Pieces Thrown In

11 Jul

Flaunting it...

What a whirlwind week of bike madness! Last weekend, after the Mountain Loop Century Loop–and the long blog post about how the SurlyLady basically needs a different/new bike, that night I got into a feverish, inspired state of problem solving. I couldn’t sleep. I got out the protractor, slide rule, abacus, worry beads, a 3/4 cup measuring scoop, put on a pot of faux coffee, kicked the cat out of the computer chair and got to surfing and number crunching. I arrived at the following result, seen in the picture above, namely: the 2011 Salsa Casseroll.

What about a bike to replace the CrossCheck, something versatile enough to fill the needs of a day commuter, credit card tourer and weekend go-fast ride? Something that took 32c tires, fit full-time fenders, and offered a nice blend of comfort and that sort of zesty, spirited ride that makes you look forward to riding, not semi dreading it. Where to find such a wonder bike? Well, how about at my favorite production bike maker, Salsa?

Turns out, the Casseroll is now their principal ‘road’ bike, so that part of the research was easy. I briefly toyed with the idea of a Vaya, but I know from personal experience that, for as much fun as the Vaya is, it’s really not a whole lot lighter than the CrossCheck. When the 2011 Casserolls came out last Fall I almost started crying. I’ll admit it. A production-class rando bike, complete with a matching front rack, wide tires, and a gorgeous blue. Hmph. Well it was time to put my possible jealousy behind me. Okay, at least off to the side. What about this as an option for the ‘Lady?

I started ticking off the virtues: it came with Pasela 700×32 tires (I can’t think of many non-cyclocross production bikes that come with wider tires like these…), lots of room for fenders, a relaxed geometry with a roadish, lower BB design. Handlebars up high enough for comfort. Nice Sugino triple crankset, Tiagra derailleurs throughout, Tiagra 9-spd brifters, and some really nice looking shiny hubs, old school looking, perfectly matching the Delgado rims; in the bright sun these things are going to blind! Oh, and before I forget, I love the feel of the QR skewers, sort of a chromed soft look, with a very smooth mechanism. High class.

Best of all, the wonderful fit chart on the Salsa site showed that their size 54 (or, 54.5, and in their sizing they measure the effective top tube) might be a good fit for her. I cross referenced the Surly site for the old CrossCheck, found the 49 cm geometry (actually had to extrapolate it a bit) and realized that, like Mr. Curtlo had recommended, it’s always better to work down than to work up, regarding sizing: this bike might be exactly right, or it might be a pinch too big, which could easily be accommodated with a shorter stem or other.

Next up, the convincing. I talked up the likely feel of the Casseroll, in part based on my test ride of one of the old champagne colored ones. All of the virtues outlined above. Including the fact it’s blue. That Monday she went for a test ride at the only shop we could find that had one (turns out they sold it by the time we got there, but they let her ride it shortly anyway). Then we called around and learned Montlake Bikes had a 54cm in stock. Sweet!

In quick order, we sold the Jamis Thursday. Then, I had ordered a set of Salsa Short and Shallow bars in 38cm width for the ‘Lady, and so we took those in Friday night. They called Saturday morning to say it was ready, I did the needfuls (took off the reflectors, put on an odometer and bottle cages) and that night we took her for a shake down ride on the Centennial Trail. And oh man what a nice looking bike! I just have to keep saying that. Such a nice, thoughtful mix of components, all perfectly matched and chosen. Even better? At $1200 it cost less than the Cross Check did, in 2008, but that’s partly due to the ‘Lady wanting to update the Cross Check to STI shifters. Even with that, strictly on a parity basis, the Casseroll seems on a different level, in a different class. As for the ride, it took the SurlyLady a bit to get used to the fit. It’s one of those counter-intuitive things that I think will get better with time; she’s so used to the slightly off fit of the Cross Check that the new one throws her off. At one point, as she was powering along in the drops–and I mean powering along–and I was finally able to catch up, she looked over and said, “Do you know how long it’s been since I cruised at 20mph, when it wasn’t on a downhill?” Music to my ears!

Today, on her first commute with the Casseroll, she kept repeating over and over how much she liked the ride. I think we have a winner. I ran into KonaLad this weekend, and, referring to the new bike in the household, he said it was like Bikesnob’s ‘gap’ bike (dentists buying Madone’s to hold them over until their Serrotas arrived) and it’s totally like that! Although, a lot cheaper I guess. Which is my way of saying, she’s still set for the Curtlo. We’ll sell the Cross Check ASAP, as soon as I get it readied. For the Curtlo project, I’m not sure what’s going to happen for the SurlyLady’s plans. Maybe she’ll stick with a fast road bike that’ll take fenders, or maybe she’ll get a true road bike (maybe with 28’s?). The Casseroll may shade over with the new Curtlo somewhat; they can both do double duty as needed, but each will be primarily aimed at a different purpose. I think! I guess we’ll see.

Speaking of seeing KonaLad Sunday, it was for a big to-do at St. Ed’s park. A coworker of ours had a 50th birthday party and was intending to ride 50 miles of singletrack. It was a ton of fun. I only did one lap, had some house chores to do, including getting the new Casseroll ready for commuter duties, plus at one point I kind of popped my right knee during a hard stop, or did something to tweak it, and so I wasn’t up to snuff. Seeing the group dynamic on a MTB ride was very interesting, and amusing, especially from my tail-end Charlie vantage point.

That sense, combined with the news that JamisLad forwarded to me regarding the RAPSody ride discontinuing their one-day ride option, had me all a fire last night with insomnia (again). I kept going over and over in my mind my biking plans for this year, how they seemed to be in tatters with RAPSody a no go and the bad weather and the general not making my marks as planned. And all of that against the sunny/shady blur of the mountain bike riding playing on a video loop in my head. I finally was able to crash on the couch at the point when I realized what the answer was.

Self sufficiency.

Just like those long days in the saddle when I bring basically everything including the boy scout manuals in the Carradice bag, so too my summer plans. Forge forth with the Primitive Road planning, in that spirit of trying to find fun, novel and spirited training rides that aren’t the same-old-same-old Snoqualmie training rides, but rather than just a training means to the RAPSody end, come up with the most awesomenest road ride of my own! Maybe something in the 150 – 180 mile range; a loop; somewhere north or perhaps south and west; talk my poppa into driving along the route as a sag wagon and to meet us at pre-arranged stops; and invite my pals along.

Okay. Now to crack open the Google maps.

Burke-Gilman Trail Closure

1 Jun

The day is nearly upon us, June 15, when our treasured bike commute path along the Burke-Gilman changes, due to the potentially 6-month long closure for repairs and expansion. Each time I ride on the section of the Burke between 145th and Lake Forest Park (and further north on weekend rides) I say my little goodbyes: I say goodbye to you, Mr. Bump, fare-thee-well Mrs. Root Explosion, hang tight Uncle Pothole! Such loud and tender utterances have tended to alienate the other bikers riding nearby. This does provide a little more elbow room than usual. Maybe I should also go back to ranting about Nixon and the gold standard, and also how orange-flavored Tang was part of a communiss plot.

I’m of two minds about the Burke closure. For the left brain, I mean, right brain… I mean, whichever is the bummer brain, it’s a definite inconvenience. Sure, the closure comes during summer — it doesn’t help that we’ve had such a wet winter, making the prospect of losing that section during what might hopefully be a warmer/drier period even tougher. Added to this is the suggested alternate route (not yet officialized) that will add 6 – 7 miles on to our usual specialized trek… yikes! In our case, coming from Mountlake Terrace, that’s a tough deal. We’re already pegging 37 miles round trip per workday, and the logistics involved are plenty tough enough (i.e. getting to work on time, rolling out of bed bleary-eyed and un-bushy tailed on time etc). Adding another 6 miles of crazy uphills is, well, gonna be crazy.

A few weeks ago the ‘Lady and I scouted out the alternate route and, when we got to the section of 156th I think it was, she absolutely refused to climb that steep hill. I barely made it up but that was without panniers etc. That hill might have to be a walker for some, especially if you’re loaded down with clothes and such.

For the other mind — the more glass-half-full ‘sphere — I like to picture the future, better state. A smooth, buttery Burke, free of bumps. Little rest stops built in with European honey buckets (made of ceramic and pewter and lots of plate glass), with lemonade/bike mechanic stands, bakeries, froot smoothie vendors, hot dog vendors, traveling lending library and co-op bike parts shop. It’s going to be a thing of beauty. What, you think I’m crazy? What else are they going to do for 6 months?

Ultimately I think we’re all of the same mind on this one point: the Burke-Gilman serves a very brave and beautiful mission. It’s literally the only conduit for bikers through that area (witness how hard a time they’re having coming up with an alternate route). It serves a great purpose, and the general public. We’ll miss it while it’s gone, grumble a little about the inconvenience, and then be so happy when we have it back. Sort of like prostate surgery!

Let’s just hope the county/city built in a nice ‘finish early get big bonus’ clause to the contract, for the contractor.