Monday, December 16, 2013

New Blog

For a variety of reasons I'm now calling Patrick's Velolog quits and instead starting a new at WornTreads.com.

So head on over there to check it out and remember to change your bookmark!


(This site will be active for a few more weeks til it redirects!)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Becoming a Racing Jerk (Endless Summer of Slaughter edition)


It's happening. I never thought it would, but it's happening. When I first started riding people asked me about racing and I thought it silly. Racing was always something I thought that took itself too seriously, besides paying to ride a bike is kind of silly. Then I got turned onto underground racing and I'm hooked.

It started with a mondo alleycat, the Endless Summer of Slaughter last weekend in Oakland. 5 checkpoints, one of them way up in the hills, and the rest spread apart a large swath of the East Bay. This was my first alleycat so I had no idea what to expect. From the start point we were sent to some park I've never heard of so I followed the crowd, who followed by getting lost. My Garmin saved the day getting me back on course to the first "checkpoint" (really it was where the manifests were, so this could arguably be checkpoint 6). I looked at the manifest. I knew where all of them were except one. That one was on Harbor Way, so I figured it must be by the water, I'm sure I'd figure it out, so off I went to nab the other checkpoints.

The first checkpoint was up Castle Drive, a steep steep road that was a workhorse to get up (I felt bad for anyone on track bikes at that point). Once I hit the first checkpoint I split up from the people I was following, figuring I knew where I was going. I mashed to the first checkpoint after surviving the terrifying Thornhill descent. I danced to some Mariah Carey then was off the next point in Marin. Again I blazed through and was feeling great on my legs. Despite knocking down the checkpoint hosts bike I drank some plastic vodka and got back on it toward Albany Hill.

The downhill grade had me flying out to Albany Hill. I got some cat make up then started bombing back down when I blew a flat. I changed it very quickly (I guess all those flats last summer on tour taught me something) and got back going. Now it was a flat sprint to the Bay Bridge. This would be where my energy started to wane, especially getting up onto the bridge in the face of a gnarly headwind. I checked in and then it was off to Harbor Way. I tried my GPS. No luck. I tried everything I could on that thing. I tracked up and down the Bay, nothing. I was lost. I had to stop in West Oakland to get my bearings. That stopping was what killed me. My stomach started cramping, my legs didn't feel like moving. I had plenty of time, but really had no clue where the final checkpoint was and called it quits.

A DNF after such a hardy ride absolutely sucked. I should have been smarter and figured out all the checkpoints first, but I got antsy at the first checkpoint trying to figure it out. Oh well, maybe next time. I'm just impatient and don't want to wait a year for the next Summer of Slaughter.

One Final Look Over the Valley
(Also, I've stopped taking pictures of late, maybe I'll get back into that soon)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wait, Where Was I?

Sky Camp Trailhead

I've been laxing on this place, thanks to what my roommate mistakenly calls Indian Summer. The time of year when shorts and a t-shirt at night isn't unheard of in Oakland. As the East Coast buckles down for the winter, we're hitting our stretch and taking it in stride. Instead of sitting inside editing photos and writing words, I've been out in the saddle nabbing miles.

'Merica
U! S! A!

The last adventure I went on was a bike camping trip up to Point Reyes for a friend's birthday. It was a good repeat of people from the Memorial Day ride, a fantastic crew to ride with, where the booze and people are just as important as the tent and bike. Since my last outings I have made moves to another tent, but the bad news is that I never finished building a tent pole for it, so I had no tent when I finally made a commitment to the ride. So be it. In the pursuit of getting lighter and more B.A. I decided to go tentless and sleep out under the stars.

Tracy Leading the Pack
Tracy has probably navigated half the rides I've ever been on in Marin.

With such a small rack of goods I met with some buds in the Inner Richmond. Being a bike camping trip beers were cracked at 11 AM, as they should be. I was trying to be a civil human being and cut back (that quickly changed in the week after or so). Once we rallied our group of about a dozen off we went.

The ride avoided the same old climbs we've done through Marin a hundred times (I love not having to navigate and just following and complaining about routes, err, not complaining, nevermind). There were fewer aggro Marin dorks, instead there was an ocean of pink, it was the Avon walk, the biggest feel good, do nothing event of the year.

W. Marin Map
If you haven't heard, West Marin rules.

Along the way we picked up a many stragglers to join our merry crew. After Fairfax it was smooth sailing over some climbs before the final Limatour to dirt climb. I beasted this one. I wanted it. So I had it. The final stretch on dirt was the best part. Then we finished up at Sky Camp; a secluded camp up on the ridge overlooking the trees that dropped to the ocean. The clouds rolled in right around sunset dashing our hopes of a good sunset. Then it was a waiting game, because we stupidly decided to rely on someone else to bring our food (and some people's tents and such, good thing I didn't have one). People were getting upset as stomachs growled and heads got sober. We munched on whatever we had, chocolate, Clif Bars, nuts, whatever. It was dark when four of us decided to bomb down to the parking lot to fill up on people's stuff, hoping our rendezvous was there. This descent was fucking awesome. I nearly got impaled by a deer on the way down, but managed to keep rubber down the whole way. We ran into the car crew on the way down at least knowing that we'd have something to bring back up. I was the first one at the bottom by a long shot. I shut off my lights and looked at the dim spots in the sky. It still never ceases to amaze me that a 50 mile bike ride away from the city and I'm in the middle of nowhere.

Pre-sagwagon Plenty 'o Whiskey
So much booze, so little food.

The rest of the crew met up and we began ravaging the car realizing that the camp equipment made it, but the food did not. Somehow there was a fumble in communication, all we had was a bunch of beans and seitan, mixed in with the little bit people carried in by bike we agreed we'd make it work. Cody led the way up the hill, I was chasing his red light the whole time, but he took off and I couldn't even try to compete; one tough rider.

The Bikes at Camp
Woody carried half the things he owns, maybe just to say he could?

From there it was a big communal meal, some frisbee, oh and booze, did I mention booze? I hardly drank, but everyone else did there fair share. People stayed up long past my grandpa clock. I laid out my bag and watched the stars in the warm night. As it is sleeping outside, you never are completely asleep, there is some animal instinct that pulls you in and out of sleep, I pulled in and out a couple of times, waking up to the sound of the tide coming in, the sound of foghorns in the morning, the sight of a crescent moon hiding behind the pines, and then of course, Woody scaring the shit out of me as he passed me at 3AM. Sleeping outside is probably going to become the new norm now.

Home for the Night
It wasn't nearly as wet as this photo makes it look like.
Sky Camp at Dawn
Sky Camp.

The Photographer
Cody shooting the others.

On the ride out we hit Pt. Reyes for some food and coffee treats. Of course getting there by noon, because people who said they were in a hurry were probably lying. Yet, my legs were in a hurry as I killed section after section, what is it that makes some days better than others? What makes my legs spin and spin and spin? I blame the fixie for fixing my cadence. After a quick stop in Fairfax some of us split off toward the ferry, but a few of us cheapskates rode back (oh and we like riding bikes and have little to do in life, we did something right that day I guess).

Loaded Up
Surly babe.
Pt. Reyes Hangs
There were lots of cyclists in Pt. Reyes, but few bikers.

It was somewhere in Marin that I got the phone call from my roommate Estathea, "Oh, hey, house, broken into, shit stolen, shit sucks," I'm heavily paraphrasing, she doesn't talk like a dirtbag like me. I was pretty sure my laptop was gone, I was anxious to get home and see what else, but mostly I was just pissed. Thankfully there was an open bottle of whiskey and beer in front of me right after it happened. Oh and a gnarly climb to the bridge too, that probably helped even more (although disappointingly some bastard friends still beat my Strava on that segment, how!? it felt so good!).

So here I am on a fossil of a laptop with a hipster OS trying to figure out how to use these fandangled computers again. I think I did it right?

Silhouette

Monday, September 30, 2013

Monster Crossin': A Guide to Building Your Own

Hope

This summer I've stuck to what I have come to believe is the near perfect build for my Surly. Sure there are always improvements (always always always), but I think this is as close as I've gotten to a bike that handles just about everything I throw at it well. The dirt drops have given me much better control while not compromising grip positions. The wide slickish tires give me good traction off road without slowing me down on the pavement. The wide gear range allows me to go up and down a whole bunch. So what are the key components to building a Monster-Cross bike?

The Frame
Arguably, you can probably get away with building a Monster Cross bike out of a 29er, by adding dirt drops, but where is the fun in that? Half the fun of a Monster Cross bike is the cross geometries can allow you to get real aggressive on the paved stuff. The key thing to look for in finding your monster cross build is wide tire clearance and it seems most non-racey bike manufacturers are making that a standard on cross bikes. Some great cross options would be the obvious Surly Cross Check, where people have fit 50mm slicks in there, but there is also the All-City line (single speed Nature Boy, disc compatible or rim compatible Macho Man), or the Soma Double Cross (again disc and rim brake compatibility). If you've got cash burning a whole in your pocket there are some other non-production bikes to look at, my personal favorite built up in Sonoma County would be the Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross, where you can fit a whopping 29x1.75 (as the name implies these were meant for fat tires), the Rivendell Atlantis can be built up to Monster Cross as well. Notice something about the frame materials on all these? Steel. Carbon and aluminum break much easier, steel will help you tackle those drops not meant for a cross bike.

Monster Cross Build with Waltworks Fork
Black Mountain Cycles Monster Check Ti Primus Mootry Wolvenberg X from Ted Katai's Flickr

The Tires

Before I get too far into tires, one upgrade from a stock bike that will greatly help a monster cross build is wider rims. Wider rims allow for lower pressure and more contact, meaning more cushion and more grip (this is why Monster Cross bikes are better than regular 32 or 35 mm cross options). I have not made this upgrade quite yet but I am looking at the Pacenti PL23 and the Velocity A23 rims, both 23mm wide, which I think is a great size for a Monster Cross bike, but for those daring enough you can go as wide as 35mm as road racers have taught us about 23mm rims with 23mm tires (also tubeless is your friend for the same reason).

Big Trees Trail
40mm Mondials in their natural environment.

Now, tires. In my opinion, slick and wide is better than narrow and knobby. You can fit a wider slick tire for the fact that the knobs don't protrude out. I particularly like this too because it makes road riding much better. I have been running the Marathon Mondials in a size 40 (I want to upgrade to the 29 x 1.75 when I upgrade rim size). They have been a dream. Only sometimes in the mud, steep inclines, or sand do I feel my tires give out, but the side profile I think helps with that to some extent. As wide tires are gaining popularity there are many options out there, some 'tweener tires I like would be the Kenda Happy Medium, the Ritchey Speedmax tires, and Surly has unveiled their own 700x41 version of the Knard.

Bars

I wrote recently about the On-One Midge bars. Dirt drops I feel are really important to riding a cross bike off road, as cross bars aren't really meant for gnarly descending (although I have seen some much better riders than me knock out crazy descents on slightly flared cross-bars). A quick run down on dirt drop options would the On-One Midge, Soma Junebug, Salsa Woodchipper, Origin-8 Gary bar, or the vintage Specialized BB-2.

On One Midge Bar Cockpit
'Ey Midge!

Touring, day riding, off-roading, road-riding, a Monster cross bike I feel is the perfect do-it all bike. Of course I blabber on and on about Monster Crossing, but it truly has been great to conquer off road segments on a traditional diamond frame, of which no Mountain bike manufacturer makes anymore (except Rivendell, go Riv), accommodating for suspension. Sure your cross bike is not going to conquer park, or real rocky sections, but it's a cross bike and is therefore meant to be carried too. The best part is though, a 30 mile ride to a trail head won't wear you out as much as a full suspension mountain bike would.

Surly X-Check on the Rim Trail

Friday, September 20, 2013

First Rando Ride: Lucas Valley Ride Report

Untitled

I've been curious about randonneuring for a while, so when San Francisco Randonneurs were putting together a 111k populaire as an introduction to what they do I jumped at the chance to give this ancient style of endurance riding a try.

The ride left at 8 in the morning from San Francisco, meaning to get there at least a half hour before ride time I had to leave my house at about 6 30 in the morning. Sometimes I have to wonder about my priorities, sacrificing my Friday night for an endurance ride. The thing is though, when my alarm rings at 5 in the morning, my body is excited and is easy to move out the door. It seems that bike riding is the only thing I actually look forward to when lying in bed.

5 AM Wake Up Call
5:23 and coffee getting fired up.

I met up at Crissy Field with a group of about eighty or so other riders. The morning was cool, damp, and grey, as San Francisco always is before 9 AM. The riders milled around for a bit until our fearless San Francisco Randonneurs leader Rob set us straight about how this shindig works for all the new folks and reminding the older yokes about the number one rule, don't do stupid things. After this quick pep talk people grabbed the random assortment of steel, aluminum, and carbon bikes and headed out toward that big orange bridge.

Riders Getting Set
The gaggle before the ride.

The ride quickly stretched out. I found some people to pace along with and pass the miles with some light conversation. The miles passed by quickly hopping over Camino Alto, Wolf Grade, and finally through San Rafeal to China Camp to the first control. This stop was a quick one. Being the noob, I had no idea that most of the controls were not stops but a simple signing of the name and then throwing a leg back over the saddle. I raced to gather myself up quickly as the experienced randonneurs started pushing down the road.

Lucas Valley Populaire
The mayhem of the sidewalk.

After control #1 I started to feel comfortable with how this ride was shaping up and caught with some aggressive road riders in the group. I gritted my teeth to their grueling 18 MPH pace. I stuck with them to the climb where we all split apart some, only to meet up again at the bottom in Nicasio, control #2. This stop was a little more of what I expected, as people bought snacks and chatted about the ride so far. The group I rode in with took off without me. I had had enough of punishing myself for the day.

Lucas Valley Populaire
Racing from Control 1
Lucas Valley Populaire
These were the monsters I pushed to keep up with.
Monster Check at Control #2
My wide tired Surly feels made for these things.
Riders at Nicasio
The entirety of the town of Nicasio.
I finished most of the ride with a 5 year SFR vet, named Jason. We rode into Sausalito together where he shared stories of his 1200k rides and his hopes of his 500 mile Death Valley race he was training for. It's always nice to find these people who are at a place you want to take your ride and get insight on how to get there and what it takes.

I ended up finishing the ride solo as Jason and I split up near the bridge. I clocked in at about 5 hours, the fastest I had ever done 70 miles. I mostly think it's thanks to those guys who carried me over the Lucas Valley climb. I had never pushed such a hard pace for that long. My legs didn't feel too bad as I sat and enjoyed the picnic, now under much sunnier skies than we left in the morning. I'd call Rando Ride #1 a success. Now I need to put my focus on pulling a 200k next.

Lucas Valley Populaire

Friday, September 13, 2013

Worst Ride Ever

MountainTallCross

Yesterday was a tough day. I pushed out toward Lake Chabot along the East Bay Ridge. Just as I started circling the lake I bonked hard. I was gassed. I had nothing left and was thirty miles or so from home, nothing to do but push through the pain and ride home from there. I eventually made it after crawling up some climbs. But that isn't the worst ride ever.

Over the past few weeks I've been on a few group rides and I've chatted with people about those rides where they almost died. That time they got caught out in 100 degree heat with no water, or the time they puked about 3/4 of the way into the ride. This had me reminiscing about my absolute worst ride.

It's summer 2010. I was living on the West side of Buffalo near the Niagara River (actually a strait, but whatever) and with the day off I decided to ride hard and fair. The Welland Canal had been a destination I wanted to check for a while. This connecting canal between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario is not far from Buffalo, but far enough. So off I pushed on my dad's old steel Iron Horse.

Tilden Tree, Bench, Bike

Things were going alright as I veered around the lake toward the mouth of the canal. Getting to Welland was actually not a big deal. I sat and watched the mid-sized cargo ships pass by on their way from the Mid-west through toward the St. Lawrence Seaway to their final port of call, wherever that may be. Feeling ambitious I rolled along north along the canal, figuring I could loop around to Niagara Falls or maybe even finish the whole canal to St. Catherines.

The paths along the canal were great for biking. Speedy bike paths with little foot traffic I was feeling the pedals pretty well. But the heat was getting to me, as there was no cover whatsover on this path. I figured the less I stopped the sooner I could get back to Niagara Falls for a cool drink. It was on this path that another cyclist saw me rolling by. "Where you coming from?" "Buffalo" he was impressed. Me now would have been impressed too, but back then I took it in stride. Rides seem to just flow together you forget, oh shit I am actually sixty miles from home. I asked him for directions, he agreed to guide me part of the way. The path required some hucking of the bike over a rail bridge to head back toward Niagara Falls. He rode with me for a bit before he headed back north toward his car.

Now it was just me and searing heat of a Southern Ontario summer. The farmland and tarmac were pushing the heat back into my face and the summer tourist traffic was in full swing behind me. The trucks whizzed by as I got dizzy in the heat. I was really feeling it. I did make it to the city of Niagara Falls when my legs began to feel like jelly. This was especially a bad time to be falling apart as the single country road was now a two lane suburban highway on it's way into the city. It was about here that my bag fell off the rear of my rack. I was falling apart. I ate some of the snacks I had left and chugged my remaining water. It wasn't much further til I was back in the good ole' U S of A, but I knew it was going to be a long hard fought couple of miles.

I finally rallied up and got back on my bike. It was comforting to see the mist of the falls. I was nearly there. The plan was to cross the border and just catch a bus back to Buffalo. My body was telling me that it wouldn't push me home. The bridge traffic was long and the sun was now burning right through my thin layer of sun block. My calves were bright red. One of the young border patrol guards made a comment as he walked through traffic. My head had no time, I feigned a smile, but secretly let out a series of vulgar epithets at that man in my mind. I finally made it through the stressful border crossing (it was always easier to get into Canada then out, stupid).

Late Night Tilden Digs

The ride was over. I packed up some calories at the 7-11 and waited for the bus. It felt good to see the end was here. The bus would drop me off less than a mile from my house. I waited for about a half hour in the shade on a cool patch of green grass. I was stoked to finally see the big white NFTA bus pull up. Except, there was no bike rack. "Can I bring my bike on if there's no rack?" I asked in desperation.
"Nope."
"So what are my options?"
"Well, you can wait for the next one."
"Will that have a rack?"
"Don't know."
Well that was helpful. The buses ran on the hour, was it really worth sitting for another hour and waiting for that bus that might strand me again? No. I picked up the bike once more and had to face the facts. I had to ride the next 13 miles back to the West Side of Buffalo.

The little bit of rest helped somewhat. Crossing Grand Island was a breeze. The bridges were not much fun, but the flats between them were quick and I felt as if I was going to make it. I crossed back to the mainland when I really began to fall apart. My legs were all cut up, my stomach was in knots, and my head felt as if it were underwater, I had to stop every now and then to get it together. I was stranded though, I had to get home. I stopped along the bike path several times, a few times laying out, to let my stomach get straight again.

Then there it was Auburn St. My cross street. I was almost there. One of my neighbors made a comment as I was walking-by assuming I had a flat tire. I told him straight up, it wasn't a flat, I was exhausted. He made some non-sequitor comment about his birthday. It was strange, was I hallucinating at that point? I walked the final block and a half with my legs on fire. I finally pushed the key into my front door and I was home. I hauled the bike up to the top landing and finally being inside of my home, vomited all over the front hallway. Well, at least I was home I guessed.

People who don't ride on a regular basis are impressed by fifty mile rides or climbing Diablo, but I always make the point that it's possible to get there, but days like that day in Niagara are days that are somewhat required to make it there. I have never pushed myself so hard for any sport before, except for in cycling which I do on a regular basis. It's hard to describe how overcoming your body like that can make you ready for the next one day after day. But that rough ride, where I clocked over 60 miles for the first time is a ride I will never forget and will always remember as a watershed moment, where my riding improved immensely from then on out.

MountainTallCross
What is the worst/toughest ride you have ever been on?

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Best Walnut Creek Has to Offer

Garden Check

Over the Oakland  Hills there is a city. It's a city mostly composed of chain restaurants, boutique box stores, and lawyers. That city is Walnut Creek. Mild density roads create insane traffic down Ygnacio Valley Road,  mall like main streets leave little room between traffic and the door zone, and the food options are all over priced frozen dishes.

Shell Ridge
Shell Ridge

But there is something else there. And I'm not talking about Rivendell. It's the open space. Hidden behind an office park of medical professionals and a neighborhood of multi million dollar homes is an entrance to Shell Ridge Open Space. I have explored this network of fire roads before, but yesterday I dedicated more time to push further into the open space and see as much as I could see, hopefully making it all the way across the ridge to Mt. Diablo State Park.

The fire roads are perfect for a large tired cross bike (even a skinny one might do well). Rolling hills dip in and out of valleys with wide hardpack to carry speed into challenging climbs. There was only one section that was mildly technical (there is a lack of this in the East Bay, but I don't have an all-mountain bike, so these trails are fun enough). I was going so fast into it I was forced to commit (luckily I kept rubber side down).

Valleys-Shell Ridge
The fire roads went up and down through these gorgeous valleys.

It's not really the riding that makes the Open Space phenomenal, it's the scenery. A typical Californian hillside with rolling dry grass pocketed with beautiful oak trees, all backdropped by Mt. Diablo in one direction or the Oakland Hills in the other (the undulating hills cover the sprawling suburbs of the East Bay magnificently). These rolling grasslands do lead to some sun exposure, luckily I had enough water to push on to Wall Point Road. Which if you ever wondered why it's called Wall Point Road. It's most likely because it's a wall. I ended up walking a good chunk of this (no shame in that), but man, it looks killer in the other direction (maybe some day). On Wall Point, the views switched directions, now sitting on the north side of the Open Space I could look straight across Livermore valley to Mt. Hamilton, the only point higher in the Bay Area than Mt. Diablo.


Oak Tree Silhouette-Shell Ridge
Oak trees stood solitary from their brethren.
Looking Over Livermore
The views from Wall Point.
Wall Point Road
When Wall Point wasn't straight up and down it was a blast.

Diablo was where I headed next. After pushing up steep off-roads all day, the climb up Diablo was pretty tame. I settled in the right cadence. I passed a few riders on the way up. It was getting to be around 4 o'clock when I reached the summit. It was the clearest I had ever seen from the top. I could see straight out the Golden Gate from the top of Diablo, where supposedly you can see the most geographic area in the US. Which makes sense since looking East, everything is so incredibly flat (I was amazed on tour earlier this summer that I was a whole day out and I could still look out and still see Diablo commanding the skyline).

Diablo Views
Diablo is always watching.

On the way down I passed all the aggro roadies on their way up. Some really pushing a hard speed to the top. If you ever want to see some of the Bay Area's best riders, this is the place to see it. Sure, I'd rather see a guy going 3 MPH that says hello than someone cranking 11 without the even acknowledgement of another rider, it still is pretty amazing how fast they go. I went down the North Gate road, which I think is the prettier side, as you go through Rock City where the road is covered with beautiful oak trees. Then the road cuts out to some beautiful views of Livermore before finally the road hugs the mountainside so beautifully, as if this were a high mountain pass in the Alps.

Coming Down Pavement
The road down Diablo.

I flew down to the suburbs where I flew by traffic before reconnecting with the series of multi use trails. Being late in the afternoon I settled into a calm speed to respect other users (unlike some stretchy pantsed jerks, if you want to ride fast, get on the road). I usually took BART home from these rides in the past, but yesterday I was determined to link back home. My legs were burning but it was only one more climb over the Oakland hills before home. At that moment I was only chasing daylight. By the time I hit Moraga the sun was already shaded by the hills, but there was enough ambient light I felt confident I'd make it home. I took the final turn in Moraga before heading out of town over the hills and something happened. I'm still not sure what, but I hit the ground hard and my front was flatted from the fall (wasn't the cause as it was a slow leak). Dusting myself off, my knee really ached. By the time I changed the flat it felt far too dark to head over the hills. So I headed over to BART to call it quit. Close enough.

Walnut Creek is a strange place surrounded by great riding and I'm excited to have it that close. Between the empty Open Space and the challenging Diablo climb it's a great place to string along a good variety of rides.

Over Diablo

Links
- Manny Acosta takes great photos of the East Bay golden hills (I think his photos are mostly south but some are here as well). Check out his Flickr.
- A documentary on Rivendell with great shots of the Open Space.
- Cycleicious' Flickr set on the Tour of California this past summer, where they climbed Diablo on the second to last day.