Monthly Archives: February 2013

Off to Prague!

Only 7 days at home, and I’m off to Prague on Wednesday. This week mostly consisted of catching up on accumulated work, although I did manage to get three quick 20-30 mile rides in. It never ceases to astonish me how quickly peak fitness is lost. It is particularly apparent out here in the mountains, where you pay for even a small loss of fitness with some serious suffering. But suffer I did. At least I have nice scenery to look at while I’m doing it.

A few pictures.

Close to my house. This is Brown Road. During the summer it’s magical…like something out of Lord of the Rings. During the winter, well…




This is the approach to the Peekamoose Loop. The road runs right behind the mountain you see here.


I did a little exploring on my last ride, trying to cover the last few roads in the area that I haven’t hit. This is the creatively named Cross Road. It’s dirt, and today it was a mushy mix of mud and partially melted snow. I actually had to walk about 20 feet up the hill you see in the distance because I was sinking into a slush/mud collaboration



In other news, I got these hot gloves. I have an obsession with camouflage. They were overpriced, and only 50 were made, and they are so worth it.


March 16 marks the return of Century Saturdays, wherein I ride a century a weekend until mid-December (except when I am traveling, of course). In truth, my weekend rides are not always on Saturday, nor are they ever exactly 100 miles, but they’ll average out to about 100 miles each over the year.

I will return on March 4, and thereafter I will be back to my regular schedule (that’s 2 to 3 posts weekly).


My English: A Review

Since I’m not riding because of travel and now a rather unfortunately timed snowstorm, it’s time for some filler. I wrote this review about a year ago and posted it on Flickr. I thought I’d move it over here to start my series on my bikes past and present.

If you look through my Flickr, you’ll see that I’ve rarely written more than a few sentences about any of my bikes past or present, but the change in mindset that this bike has caused deserves more than a paragraph.

I’m going to preface this review with a quick synopsis of my evolution as a rider.

Setting aside all the time I rode before I got my driver’s license, I’ve been riding since moving to New York City in 1998. For the first 10 years, I was a commuter riding about 50-60 miles per week. Inspired by Rivendell, I got serious in 2008. My first bike was a 650B Saluki in full Rivendell style–high bars, racks, bags…Grant Petersen’s dream bike. I quickly found that it was sluggish and not a lot of fun to ride, plus I was not a fan of high handlebars, platform pedals, or heavy steel. After only about 6 months I purchased a Toei on E-Bay. Big improvement, and I finally discovered the joys of riding clipless. I very quickly went from riding at a rate of about 2400 miles/year to almost 8000.

The Toei wasn’t the right size, so I ordered an Herse, which was a revelation in terms of fit and performance. Not to mention that it’s a gorgeous bike. During this time I experimented with other bikes that were quickly sold.

Except for the first few months, I’ve kept close track of my miles since 2008, and I’m up to just under 34,000. Most of my miles and time on the bike is spent on rides of 50 miles or more, and when I’m not traveling I prefer rides that are much longer than that.

So…I’m not the most experienced cyclist, nor am I the fastest cyclist, but I put in a lot of reasonably fast miles, usually in hilly terrain and with as much gravel and back roads as I can find.

Why am I telling you all this? This bike, which was built by Rob English, is the product of that experience. Previously I had thought the ideal distance bike was a low-trail steel randonneur with racks, a handlebar bag, and fenders.

1 After only 500 miles, the English turned my world upside down.

This bike was built to be the ultimate long-distance bike: It’s not a racer, nor is it a tourer or a randonneur. it’s a hybrid of all of the above. I should explain the geometry: I crushed a disc in my neck about 4 years ago as a result of a cycling accident (big pothole, high speed, long story).  So I have a significant range of motion limitation that necessitates a bike with less drop than usual. My preferred kind of riding is long distance at a reasonably fast pace in all kinds of weather on backroads. It involves a lot of gravel, big hills, and really broken up pavement. For this reason, I asked Rob for a bike that would be comfortable for ultra-long distances, and relatively stable when I’m dead tired or when I’m shaking with hypothermia. It’s not regular race bike geometry. The bike as currently set up fits only up to 25 mm tires (26 mm actual), but with a change to an Enve fork I could fit up to 29 mm tires (the biggest that will fit under the eeBrakes).


The first time I rode the bike was after an 11-day business trip, during which I didn’t ride or exercise at all. I had rode hard all winter, and it was a short 20-mile ride. I felt like I was flying. My first thought wasn’t “this bike is amazing,” instead, I thought, “wow, fresh legs really make a difference! I should try to take more recovery time.”

After 500 miles, I finally realized that it was the bike, not fresh legs. I understood why some riders on 9W appeared to be passing me so effortlessly when I was riding a randonneur. Over both short and long distances, I am significantly and measurably faster on this bike and it is no less comfortable than either of my randonneurs. I descend faster and with more confidence, and I climb faster than I ever have before. I spend 90% of my time in the big ring, as opposed to a 50/50 ratio of big to small on the randonneurs.

Is it the light weight or something else? I don’t know, I’m just measuring results.


Coming to this conclusion wasn’t easy for me. I spent many years wrapped up in the randonneur mindset, and of course I spent a lot of money and time on randonneurs. The first hint that fat-tired road bikes weren’t for me was when I switched the Toei from 32 mm tires to 23 mm tires and noticed a measurable improvement in speed and handling.


I don’t regret buying the randonneurs, and I will continue to ride them–they have a place on rides that are primarily gravel or rough back roads, or when it’s pouring out and I need fenders. That’s probably 40% to 50% of my rides, anyway. But this is my go to bike when I want to ride long, fast, and hard. It is indeed possible to have a bike that is ultralight, reasonably durable, and comfortable for long distances.


What if I could only have one bike? I think it’s fair to say that it would still be the Herse. It does everything well, and there are certainly plenty of situations where a bike like the English wouldn’t be appropriate, such as really rough roads/trails, heavy rain, or any ride where I have to carry my own gear and food for hundreds of miles. Thankfully I don’t have to make that choice!

It’s 13.9 lbs as shown, 12.9 lbs with my tubular wheelset. Super Record shifters and derailleurs, Calfee integrated bar/stem, Extralite headset, Scapula SP fork, THM M3 crankset, and eeBrakes. Clincher wheels are Stan’s NoTubes with Alchemy hubs and C4 skewers; tubular wheelset is Dash hubs, AX Lightness SRT42, and (right now) Dugast 25 mm tubular tires. I now have a Enve 3.4 clincher wheelset. Keo Carbon Blade pedals.


Thanks Rob!


Blog Neglect

I haven’t been ignoring the blog, I just haven’t been home! I went to Rome for 6 days (a few pictures below), then to Arizona for 7 days, and now I have a week at home before leaving for Prague.

I’ll post some pictures of my rides in Arizona tonight, if I can get out from under this pile of work that has accumulated. Overall, road riding in Arizona gets two thumbs down from me, although I hear the mountain biking is spectacular.

I’ll get back to a regular posting schedule in early March, when I hopefully will have time to start accumulating serious miles again.


Great Climbs of the Catskills, Continued: Ski Run Road

A few weeks ago, I posted on the 8 biggest climbs in the Catskills, some of which I have completed, and others that I plan to ride over the summer. I’ve only been getting out for brief rides because of the weather, so I’ve had plenty of time to waste on Ride With GPS to identify other big climbs.

I think I’ve found the best (read: most terrifying) one yet. This route takes you over Ski Run Road, which I believe is the highest through road in the Catskills. Maximum elevation, 3261 feet. Maximum grade, 33.6%. There may be dead end roads that go higher, but I haven’t found them yet.

I did some research online to find out if this was an actual road, or just a figment of Google’s imagination. I’ve had plenty of experiences around here where Google has shown a road, and it has turned out to be nothing more than the most faintly delineated path. For example, this is Rock Hill Road, just north of Minnewaska State Park:


And that was the part that looked most like a road. I ended up orienteering through the woods using my cell phone when the road disappeared completely.

Back to the point…Ski Run Road is real, and it’s gravel, and it is occasionally used by mountain bikers. This is the best photo I was able to find of it:

Image 8

And I found a report from Catskills Cycling (where the picture came from, hope you don’t mind!) about a ride on this road. Of course, they did it on mountain bikes. I’m not that smart.

Here’s the GPS route (with thanks to Catskills Cycling, I adapted it from their Strava trace) and a map.

Ski Run

I’d categorize this one as a must do as soon as possible ride. However, I do have some common sense, so I’m not going to take a shot at this until April or later unless it warms up considerably. Gravel + snow + ice + 33% grade is not a good combination.

More climbs to come based on recommendations from friends and readers. And now I must finish my work, I’m off to Italy tomorrow morning.


The Ride of the Damned: Hudson Double-Cross

On Wednesday, Doug and I set out on a planned 101-mile route, starting from his place in Woodstock, New York. I had also asked my friend John along, but the night before he informed me that he had picked up a bug from one of his kids, and was unlikely to make it.

Since the route was long enough as planned, my girlfriend was kind enough to get up early and drive me and my bike to Woodstock for the start. The plan was to complete the route and then ride home, making it an even 200k for the day…as you’ll see, that didn’t quite work out!

The day started out promising. Low 40s, lots of fog and maybe a tiny bit of mist. The forecast was for 59 degrees, maybe some rain in the afternoon. All in all, just the way I like it. The route from Woodstock to the Rhinebeck Bridge was mostly downhill, so we hauled ass to the bridge for our first crossing of the Hudson. As you can see…foggy.


As we were crossing the bridge, I heard something behind me, and turned around. There was John, who was actually waiting for us, as planned, at a gas station just south of the entrance to the bridge. He had texted me a little earlier, when we were already underway, and I didn’t check my phone. The remarkable thing is that he had just gotten over whatever he had, and he was riding fueled only by a single pancake. Even so, he was clearly faster than either Doug or myself. Thanks for being patient!

The route crosses shortly thereafter into Columbia county. Although I’ve done a lot of riding in Dutchess, this was my first time in Columbia county for any reason.


Columbia county, unlike its counterparts Ulster and Greene on the west side of the river, is gently rolling farmland. I think it will be beautiful during the summer, and a nice change of pace from grinding up and screaming down hills nearer to me.


We hit a lot of strange semi-gravel roads. I’m not really sure if they were gravel, or regular roads covered in gravel and general filth.


In any case, they were dirty enough to result in some nice skunk stripes. Doug was sensible, and rode a bike with fenders.


More gently rolling countryside.





Followed by a second crossing of the Hudson about 35 miles north (or about mile 50 on the route) on the Route 23 bridge. This picture looks like more like a still from Deadliest Catch than anything that should be in New York.


Watch out for the expansion joint on the bridge, it will eat even the fattest tire. Doug took it at an angle and survived. I actually stopped and duck walked over it because I wasn’t going fast enough to jump it.

We stopped at Pizza and Pasta on the Catskill side of the bridge. Yes, that’s the name of the restaurant. However, they also offer a simulacrum of Mexican food if that’s what you’re craving after 55 miles. We parted ways with John here.


So…that was the first 55 miles. The weather deteriorated rapidly, falling into the upper 30s, accompanied by a freezing rain. Compounding the issue, there was a 20-30 mph intermittent headwind driving the rain directly into our faces, and fog started to descend. I’m fine with all of that except the heavy fog, especially since the last few miles of the route are on a heavily trafficked road. So we abandoned our plans to complete the route, ending up with somewhere around 77 miles for the day. I also abandoned my plan to ride home, and I called my girlfriend to pick me up. I’m actually a little embarrassed…the only other time I’ve abandoned a ride was in 2010, when traffic from 9W was rerouted onto my route due to construction (worst ride ever!).

As it turns out, that was my best decision all week. As we were driving home, the fog became so heavy that we had to crawl along at about 25-30 mph. There was one panicky moment where we couldn’t see the road at all. I can’t even imagine how I would have survived that on a bike.

Every ride is a good ride. With that said, I’m going to have to give this one a dissatisfactory rating. But it’s not the route’s fault, nor is it the company’s fault. I blame the lyin’ sonofabitch at The Weather Channel.

Like all the other routes I’ve published here, this one is probably worth the trip. It’s a beautiful ride through rolling farmland, and I’m sure it will be gorgeous in better weather. It is different from my usual routes in that there is easy access to services and plenty of places to stop along the way. Here’s the route, but keep in mind we took an alternate route back that cut off some miles.


Now I’m off to Rome to talk about the role of the sympathetic nervous system in a whole bunch of diseases—hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, etc. Then I return for one day, and then I’m off to Arizona. I rented a Specialized Roubaix there and am planning a 200k in the mountains. I’m looking forward to the ride, less so to the bike. I’m spoiled.