Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Big Freeze

Another week in paradise! Unfortunately, we’re buried under a ton of snow and ice, and the roads are frozen solid. I did get in some good days before the bad weather, though.

On day 1, I went for a 35-mile ride: 15 miles to the diner for my weekend cheeseburger, and then 20 miles back home. The night before, we had a severe rainstorm, and the roads were covered with gravel washouts.


My favorite gravel road—Rogue Harbor—turned into a stream. There are a lot of potholes in this road, so I had to take it slow because the last thing I needed was to crash, get wet, and suffer hypothermia.


Despite a forecast for truly terrible weather, the day turned out to be beautiful, albeit cold and windy.




After lunch, the weather began to deteriorate, with some light, misty rain. Just the way I like it. I took this photo in native black and white to make it look suitably grim and wintery.


On day 2, I went for a 15-mile ride with my girlfriend, Margot. Here she is on her tiny little blood-red Boulder.


The ride was only 15 miles because it was prematurely terminated by a roadside breakdown…and I don’t mean the mechanical kind. I don’t blame her, because it was 30 degrees out and, with wind chill, 14 degrees. It involved her yelling “cycling is the sport for people who hate themselves!” and me sitting on her toes to warm them up. A car stopped to make sure we were okay. The funny thing is that she was in an amazing mood for the rest of the day. I tried to convince her that it was because she was tested by the elements and survived, but she wasn’t having it. It got me to thinking, though, why I do this to myself.

When I was 14, I bought and restored a second-hand sailboat called a Flying Fish. It was an ugly little thing, but fast as hell for a monohull; much faster than the C- and E-scows that everyone else was sailing. Although I sailed it almost daily from spring until late fall, the best times I had on that boat—and the times that I really remember—were those days that involved 30 mph winds, freezing spray, and rain.

I feel the same way about cycling; in fact, when it starts to rain I’ll get on my bike for a quick 20 miles, preferably on dirt roads so I get a little muddy. I also deliberately plan longer rides to be difficult enough that the last 10 miles is a test of survival more than anything else, much to the chagrin of my riding companions.

I’m not sure why I do this. In part, it might be because my life—and modern life in general—offers few real tests of our physical ability. Like many white-collar workers, I spend anywhere from 50 to 70 hours a week sitting behind a desk staring at monitors. There’s a certain clarity and satisfaction that can be achieved at the apex of a 200-mile ride that I just don’t get in any other way. I enjoy that “oh shit” feeling I get when I’m halfway through a long-distance ride and so tired that I don’t know how I’m going to get home.

In any case, note to self: Girlfriend only comes along when the weather is above 40 degrees.

On day 3 I rode halfway around the Ashokan Reservoir (that’s A-Show-kan, not Ash O’Can). About 30 miles. I’ve gone this way before, but in the opposite direction and at night, so I didn’t realize how beautiful it is. I think I’ll make this a regular training route when the weather clears. It involves a quick section on a busy part of Route 28, but the shoulders are wide so it is relatively safe. I also took my favorite picture of the year. These images, particularly the first, are remarkable because I didn’t stop to take them. I just held the camera out and kept on clicking away:



The rest of the ride was equally beautiful. This is the bridge that spans the Ashokan Reservoir . If you get a chance, ride it as it offers unparalleled views of the Catskills.


Here’s a local tavern. I think the word insalubrious was coined especially to describe this place.


And finally, a few more images from the ride.






As usual I took a few exploratory detours; I ended up riding just over 31 miles. It was an easy ride for out here in the foothills, only about 2000 feet of climbing, and nothing too steep, although now that I have the special SRAM cassette with a 32 cog that the Lynskey came with as standard equipment, very little feels steep.

I took Day 4 off, because it was the day before Christmas and we were receiving guests. In retrospect, it was a bad decision because it was the last day of decent weather. I had planned on a 40-mile ride that involved climbing Mt Pitcairn north of the Ashokan reservoir the next day, but it rained, and then the roads froze solid. Then we got two feet of snow, so I was off the bike for a few more days. I get anxious without exercise, so I shoveled like a madman to get a decent workout. In fact, I even shoveled things that technically did not need shoveling just to burn some energy off.

Next week I’m going to review my best cycling purchase of the year, post a remapped version of the Platte Clove ride for people who want to ride out of Poughkeepsie, and—finally—post the finest ride you can do out of New York (with the help of Metro North). I am also going to start posting on design considerations for my new sub-15-lb 650b superbike that Rob English will be building me early next year. Stay tuned!


What I Wake up to Every Morning

Winston, scheming my demise.


Two feet of snow…no Festive 500 for me. I’ll report on this week’s rides in a few days, but suffice it to say that I only managed 75 miles before the roads froze solid, followed by copious snow.

Since it looks like I’ll be off the bike for a week or more because of the weather, or at least until my Marathon spiked tires arrive (900 grams each!), I won’t be posting new routes for a few weeks. However, I have a bunch of old ones to post; if I get desperate maybe I’ll do a product review or two…and of course pet pictures can always serve to fill in the gaps.

See you in a few days!


A Review: Grand Bois Extra Leger Tires

Not even six months ago—and being of the decidedly entrepreneurial bent (in my entire life, I’ve only been “employed” by someone other than myself for 6 months)—I was considering getting into the tire business myself. Not as a huge money maker, but instead because I thought there was no reason why someone couldn’t make a clincher as nice as my favorite tubular, the FMB Paris-Roubaix 25 mm. I even went so far as to start researching the equipment needed and scoping out sites for a mini-factory. I figured I’d make a little money, employ 5 or 6 people in upstate New York, and most importantly get the tire I wanted. The tires would be expensive, sure, but no more than a high-quality tubular and they’d be made in the US.

I had heard rumors of a new ultralight tire from Compass that was supposed to ride like a tubular, so I snapped up a pair of 32 mm Grand Bois Extra Léger tires, literally within minutes of them becoming available at the Compass Bicycles site. Compass has finally started using Priority Mail, so the tires arrived within a few days of ordering (they used to use regular post, and things would arrive in 7 to 10 days, if at all) My initial feelings about the tires before they arrived were mixed…although I was excited to get what might be a truly superb clincher tire, there would be no need for me to manufacture my own.

When I opened the package, it was apparent right from the beginning that there was something different about these tires. The sidewalls are so flexible that they actually wrinkle when unmounted—something I’ve never seen before except in the highest-quality tubulars.


They mounted up relatively easily, although I had to use a tire jack to get the rear tire on. Later, when my latex tubes arrived, the tires had stretched enough to get on and off by hand. This is in sharp contrast to the Challenge Eroica tires that I purchased and subsequently returned—those tires were so tight that I couldn’t even jam a tube under them.


I pumped the tires up to 60 psi front and 65 psi rear (I weigh 145 lbs) and went for my usual 18-mile lunchtime loop with 2000 feet of climbing. It was a revelation. All traces of road buzz were eliminated relative to the regular Grand Bois 32s that I have on another bike. I suspect the smoother ride and reduction in road buzz made me feel a little slower than usual. However, my speed on multiple days on this loop averaged +0.3 mph of my usual speed. I’m not ready to say that they are any faster, but they are unambiguously more comfortable than the standard version. Even better with Challenge latex tubes.

The Grand Bois Extra Léger tires are available in 23 mm, 32 mm, and 42 mm. I think that’s an unfortunate range of sizes. 23 mm will fit on most race bikes, but many people (and everyone I know) are going with 25 mm or 27 mm tires these days. If Compass cares about selling tires, they would make a true 25 mm Extra Léger tire. Not 26 mm for the simple reason that many who own race bikes would reject it out of hand because they will think it won’t fit on their bikes.

I’ve had a chance to ride some really good clinchers and tubulars. Because these are 32s, it is impossible to do a direct comparison with tires other than the regular Grand Bois 32. However, based on what I’ve seen I’m confident that the 23s will ride better than any other clincher in the 23 to 25 range, and will probably provide as close to a tubular experience as it is possible to get on a clincher. I’m going to buy some Extra Léger 23s and compare with other tires in the 23 to 25 mm size range.


Mapped that for you: Peekamoose loop from Poughkeepsie

This blog is only 3 weeks old and I’m already getting complaints!

I’ve gotten a few comments that it is difficult to string together routes from the directions I’ve given…in other words, putting together the “getting there” stages with the desired routes. For this reason, I’m starting to remap all the best routes in single files/cuesheets. Here’s the first.

A few weeks ago, I posted a great route through the mountains on Peekamoose Road. Here’s a complete route in a single file, starting at the Poughkeepsie train station. This takes you from Poughkeepsie to Olivebridge, where the route starts, and then back from near Kerhonkson, while keeping you off Route 209 as much as possible.

I also chose to use the “easy” way from New Paltz to Rosendale: instead of going over the Shawangunk Ridge, you’ll take a flat, fast bike path. That way you can save your energy for Peekamoose, and it also has the advantage of minimizing time on 209. Don’t worry, the return route takes you over the ridge in the most brutal manner possible.

I’ll take care of Platte Clove and other routes over the next few weeks. Enjoy!


Worth the Trip: Platte Clove

When I was living in New York City, I heard rumors of a climb…a climb so awful that people flip off the back of their bikes if they’re not careful. A climb that makes pros cry like babies and walk their bikes up the hill.

After a little research, I found it: Platte Clove Road, just west of West Saugerties. The climb is so steep—averaging 12% for 2 miles with maximum extended grades exceeding 22%—that professionals riding in the Tour de Trump had to get off their bicycles and walk. I set this as my goal ride for 2012. But, being who I am, I set out to conquer Platte Clove only 2 weeks after moving up here.

I set out late on a Sunday morning, with the intent of riding the 65 miles and being home in time for an early dinner. The route starts with a nice, easy, rolling warm up on Krumville Road. “Down the Lane” road was closed, so I took a brief 2-mile detour to get back on track (instructions below), spinning past the Ashokan Reservoir and some lovely scenery.

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I stopped at a gas station in Woodstock to top up my bottles and get a little food. Past this point, there are few opportunities to eat or refill your water bottles until Phoenicia, so be sure to do so now. Here, I had my only encounter this year with another road cyclist. Cyclists seem to be an exotic species out here in the Catskills. Alternatively, the relative scarcity of roadies in the area might be explained by the fact that we’re more spread out than people riding out of NYC—on any decent weekend, there’s a bicycle traffic jam on 9W north from the George Washington Bridge. Depending on where you live it can take an hour or more of misery to even get out of the city on a bicycle, and 9W is unpleasant at best, particularly north of Nyack. You would think that some of them might consider taking a train to ride somewhere decent. Maybe there’s safety in numbers?

I waved, he waved, and I continued north on West Saugerties Road to my date with destiny.

West Saugerties Road will lead to a T intersection. Take a left, and continue on West Saugerties Road, where you’ll have your first sighting of the challenge ahead.

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You’ll see this sign, which marks the beginning of Platte Clove Road, one of the most difficult—if not the most difficult—climbs in the northeast. Over 1200 vertical feet in only 1.4 miles.

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Platte Clove Road is officially closed and unmaintained from November to April, but I don’t think anyone is going to stop you from riding it even in the off season. Just use some common sense and don’t try to climb it in inclement weather. And don’t ride down Platte Clove Road. There’s no guardrail, and even though the southern edge of the road is nicely shaded with trees, it’s a long way down if you blow a turn.

I am proud to say that I did not walk at any point. I am less proud to admit that my achievement was primarily attributable to sensible gearing.  Vanity gearing has its place on easy Bear Mountain runs from New York City, but out here it’s just not advisable, even if  you are an exceptionally strong rider.

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The climb is well worth it. The Clove is beautiful and has been the deserved subject of many paintings by Thomas Cole and other members of the Hudson River School. This view is arguably one of the most painted in the Hudson Valley.

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Incidentally, you can also pick up Devil’s Path from Platte Clove Road. The aptly named Devil’s Path features 4 summits, little water, and is one of the toughest hikes in the Catskills. There’s a parking lot about halfway up the climb if you’re interested in hiking a section, just don’t bring children or pets, hikers are injured and some even die every year on Devil’s Path.

Platte Clove Road leads to one of the most inaccessible parts of the Catskills. At the top, you’ll find the Bruderhof (literally, “place of brothers”), a Christian community founded in 1920 by a Protestant theologian named Eberhard Arnold, his wife Emmy Arnold, and her sister Else von Hollander. Arnold was born in 1883, and at age 16 had an experience that he later described as God’s acceptance and forgiveness of his sins. He left the Protestant state church in 1908, and, as near as I can tell, joined the Hutterite branch of the Anabaptists. In 1920, he founded the Bruderhof in Germany, a Christian group that believes in living “in full community,” meaning that there is no private property. Seventeen years later, in 1937, the Nazi government ordered them to leave the country. They moved to England, but as German nationals during World War 2, they were offered the choice of internment or emigration. They chose to move to Paraguay, and finally–in 1954–to the United States.

The Platte Clove community, home to 250 people, was founded in 1990. It’s located on land formerly owned by the New York City Police department, which had built a resort hotel—informally known as “Police Camp” —complete with a movie theater, casino, bar, lounge, swimming pool, and ballroom. The Police Camp opened in 1921 and closed in 1983.

I was then treated to a cold rain. The camera went in a zip lock, so I didn’t take a photo; the following image is from the Platte Clove Community website.


The Catskill Bruderhof and the new Police Recreation Center are open to the public every day. I’m not sure if they will feed you, but you may be able to refill your water bottles.

After Platte Clove Road, you’ll ride over some gently rolling terrain high in the mountains. A nice recovery from the climb, and some beautiful scenery to keep your mind off the pain.

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From there you’ll take a left onto route 214…

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…and after a few more miles of a gentle false flat you’ll hit a 16.5 mile descent past Notch Lake and Hunter Mountain. At mile 46 you’ll pass through Phoenicia, which—despite its population of 306—hosts a number of good restaurants. As usual, I skipped a formal meal in favor of some Power Bars and a Coke in the local gas station. On your way out of Phoenicia, you’ll briefly follow Esopus Creek, famed for its trout fishing.

From there, you’re home free!

I rode 75 miles—about 10 miles more than the planned route. Although it was a short ride by my standards, the steepness of the climbs make it as tough as any single day ride I’ve done before or since. This is what I’d call a destination ride—it’s worth the trip and even a stay in a hotel in Stone Ridge or Woodstock. Here’s the original route without detours:


The Garmin file for the route, starting from near my house, is here. If “Down the Lane” Road between miles 5 and 6 is closed, simply take a left on 213, a right on 28A, and then a right on Beaverkill Road to rejoin the route. If you want to start in Stone Ridge, take this route to the start on Krumville Road. You could also start in New Paltz or Poughkeepsie (you will need to follow route 209 from Kerhonksen to Schoonmaker Lane, just before Stone Ridge, to pick up the route).

Enjoy, and let me know if you can make it up Platte Clove Road without a break! In a few weeks I’ll post my favorite 80- to 90-mile route out of Brewster, the last direct stop on Metro North. A summer classic, and perhaps one of the best rides ever. So good, in fact, that it is one of the few rides I repeat multiple times each summer.


17.7 MPH

Or…how I lost 2.5 mph by moving to the Catskills.

I’ve been looking at my ride data. Since I moved to the Catskills, I’ve lost 2.5 mph off my average long-distance solo speed. Sure, it is much hillier out here than in the immediate vicinity of NYC, but you’d think that the high-speed descents would cancel out the grueling 8 mph climbs, right? I’m not in worse shape than I was in NYC; in fact, thanks to 100 feet/mile of climbing on an average ride and many more miles than I’d do in an equivalent period in NYC, I’m in better condition than ever before. At 145 lbs, I fly up those hills.

Although it was initially disconcerting to learn that I lost so much speed, after some thought I figured out the problem: I’ve become a much more cautious descender, particularly when it’s wet (which has been almost all the time we’ve been out here) or on descents with a lot of curves.

I haven’t lost my skills; I can still carve a high-speed turn on gravel just as well as before when I try. But here’s the issue, and it’s been in the back of my mind since we moved out here: if I crash, there’s nobody around to hear me scream. I went for a 30-mile ride a few days ago, and one car passed me. One. Add that to the fact that there are large areas without cell coverage and the potential for a Misery­-type situation is high. If I’m lucky. Contrast that to 9W, where on the interstate hill I’d pedal until I spun out and then get in a full aero tuck over my front wheel. 50 mph+ every time.

I might get over it, I might not. But it was a relief to understand why I’m slower than before. In any case, the only reason why I care about speed is so I can extend my range.

I’m off for an 80-mile ride tomorrow; I haven’t decided if I’m doing the double crossing of the Shawangunk Ridge or a ride out to Neversink Reservoir. Both have an equivalent amount of climbing (in fact, almost identical), but the latter ride is more up-and-down, whereas the climbing in the former is compressed into two Cat 2 climbs.

As promised, I’ll post the Platte Clove ride on Sunday. Definitely worth the trip.