Category Archives: bicycles

Announcement: Registration for the Rensselaerville Cycling Festival is Open!

Yes, I’m still here and still riding. I have a large backlog of rides to post, in the meantime, want to hear about my new coffee table?

Just kidding.

My friend Tyler Wren has put together a cycling festival/Gran Fondo in Rensselaerville, a small town in upstate New York in the middle of some of the most spectacular cycling country on the east coast.

static.squarespace.com

The ride will be held September 28, 2014. You can register for 84, 55, 25, or 8 mile rides. There’s a barbeque, farmers market, a beer shed, live music, kids’ events and activities, and of course you’re only 10 minutes away from hiking trails in the surrounding Huyck Preserve.

Now, Gran Fondos aren’t my thing–too short and too many people for me–but this one looks amazing. The field is limited to 400 riders, so it should be possible to get some space over 84 miles. It is fully supported, with marshalls, signage, and sag wagons. Plus the route is spectacular, and who can say no to beer and barbeque?

You’ll also get a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the founder of ridingthecatskills.com. Yes, I’m going to break my rule regarding no organized rides for this one. Please note that I will not be signing autographs.

You can read more and register here. Hope to see you there!

John

medicalwriter.net

Miscellany

You’re allowed to do this on a blog, right? A grab bag of unrelated bits of information that might potentially be of interest to somebody? Anyone?

I’d better put a photo near the top so this doesn’t just look like a wall of words:

ridge

John F is moving house and shedding stuff he doesn’t want to move, so he bequeathed me a nice pair of studded winter tires. As well as an unashamedly cheap wheelset. (There’s something almost embarrassing about disc wheels with a rim brake track. And labeling a 2100+g wheelset “zerolite”, well, I actually have to admire that.) But everything has its use, and I was delighted to have the wheelset and tires. Thanks, John F!

It snowed about 4 inches on Monday. On Tuesday I mounted the tires on the wheels, and mounted the wheels on the cross bike.

(By the way, if you ever mount studded tires, be mindful of your muscle-memory habits, like sliding your hands around the tire as you seat the bead. Ouch! Also, after changing out the wheelset I was reminded of how much more I like the bomber Hayes mechanical discs on the single speed, compared to the fussy BB7s on the cross bike.)

The tires are Schwalbe Marathon Winter 35s, and they are impressive. Heavy of course, but well made and tough as hell. I started out with about 20 miles on plowed, paved roads, as per the manufacturer recommendation, to bed in the studs. The tires are noisy, but roll much better than I expected on pavement. Noticeably worse than a similar sized file tread tire, but not hugely worse than a mud tire, and way better than a 2″ MTB tire.

“Plowed” is a relative term, especially here in my town where we have a new highway superintendent who’s still figuring out how things work, and there was a lot of packed snow on the roads. The studs certainly helped. I was washing out regularly, but the studs near the sidewall helped arrest the washouts before the bike went totally sideways.

Riding up toward Mohonk I noticed another set of cross bike tire tracks through the snowpack and wondered who else was dumb enough to be out riding around. When I got to the ridge I figured I might as well get a little work in before hitting the trails, so I did a couple of hill repeats up to the Mountain House gatehouse. Halfway up the climb, the tire track mystery was solved: my teammate Christian was also doing laps on the hill. We were exactly 180 degrees out of phase, meaning one of us was always in the middle of the effort as the other was descending, so we never actually spoke, just nodded like Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf punching the clock. (What? You thought it was Wile E. Coyote in that series? Philistine. I suppose all obsessive-compulsive canid customers of the Acme Corporation look alike to you.)

After a couple of hill repeats, it was off to the trails.

snowy trail

The tires did OK, but it turns out that fresh snow is not really the ideal application for studded 35c tires. The 40c version might have fared a bit better, but there just wasn’t much to grip on. It did feel like excellent cross bike handling practice, not that anyone needs to be doing that in February. Putting studded tires on a cross bike doesn’t make it a fat bike, that’s for sure.

The tires are definitely best on ice, rather than snow. They would be perfect for a winter paved-road commuter. Still, it was fun to ride around the snowy trails to see what would work and what wouldn’t.

Say, were these deer drunk?

deer tracks


Before I set out on the ride, I wrung hands for a bit over whether to run the Stages power meter, or take it off. Back story: Stages is a new entry into the bike power meter market, and their product fills the “simple and cheap” ecological niche. It’s just a single crankarm with an instrument pod epoxied onto it. There are some passionate Stages haters out there, who feel that the lower power measurement accuracy, and the fact that it’s only measuring your left leg, make the device worthless. On the other hand, it’s half the price of any other crank-based power meter, and more versatile than the more accurate but similarly-priced Powertap.

There are good points on both sides of the ledger, and if you’re thinking of getting a power meter, you should do some internet research to understand all of the issues. Personally, I think it’s a fine device as long as you acknowledge what it can and can’t do. If you need more accuracy, you need to pay more and get something different. For base/build training, I think it’s appropriate, and it is very convenient that I can swap the meter onto any of three different bikes, including the single speed, in about 60 seconds.

I bought the Stages at the start of cross season last year, and rode it hard on a lot of rough conditions and singletrack. After a couple of months, I cracked the instrument pod, probably on a rock.  You can see the small crack at the right-hand edge of the pod.

stages

The power meter continued to work, but battery life became terrible, maybe a week at best. The crack was letting water in. Stages overnighted me a free replacement.

The replacement worked great for another few months, then batteries started their tragic dying-young routine again, especially if conditions were wet. It turns out that water infiltration is a major problem for this first iteration of Stages power meters. Stages overnighted me another replacement, and also comped me a 3-year warranty. (They are certainly not cutting any corners on customer support.)

The third Stages had a slightly different battery compartment seal. I taped up the crank arm as well, to try to seal the whole device. So far, I’ve had no additional troubles, and this week alone I rode many hours in the rain. But I wasn’t sure if riding through deepish snow would be a good idea. I did end up using the Stages on this ride, and it was completely fine, despite being covered in snow for most of the ride.

So, bottom line, if you have a Stages, tape it up.


A couple of weeks ago I went out for a longish ride.  I expected to be back after dark, so I brought lights.  While I was out it started snowing heavily.  It was a great ride, in a sort of epic hard-man way, but on the way home I made a poor tactical decision to head home down Clove Valley Road, a beautiful but poorly maintained narrow winding road.

I had only brought a headlamp, not the bars-and-helmet setup I use for night MTB, and having a single source of light is really not ideal for seeing the topological detail of what’s in front of you.  I had to pick a slow, careful line down the snowy, sandy road, and when cars approached I just got off the bike and stood well off the road until they passed.

As I worked my way home, later than expected, my phone rang, no doubt my wife calling to see if I was still alive.  I stopped, but my hands were too numb to even get my phone out of my pocket, much less operate it.  It rang a couple more times, but there wasn’t anything I could do; I just pushed on, trying to get home so she could stop worrying.  I did eventually get home without incident (unless you consider an upset worried wife to be an “incident.”).

For yesterday’s ride, I thought I’d try out Road ID’s phone app, which would allow my wife to see my location in real-time via the phone GPS and a map server.  She absolutely loved this.  She only checked it once, but it gave her peace of mind to know that she would be able to see where I was if something bad happened.   During the 3-hour ride, the app drew down my phone battery from 100% to about 60%, which is better than I expected.  For a very long ride, I’d always want to be sure I had some battery left to make a call if I needed to, so I’d wait until I was heading home before turning the app on.

The app has a couple of other features that I didn’t use, such as alerting people if you stop for more than 5 minutes — who would use that?  But it worked exactly right for what I needed.  And it’s free.


Hey, yesterday a bald eagle parked itself in our backyard for about a half hour. I guess it was digesting, because eventually it took a majestic crap and then soared off.

eagle

Today, it’s just juncos and goldfinches.

birdfeeder

And with that, I shall conclude this experiment in free association.

sunset

(That is actually a different sunset from the one I posted at the end of my previous  post.)

– John S, aka globecanvas

Basha Kill Single Speed Century

The relentless very cold weather has been strangling any chance of a long ride for the past couple of weeks. (According to the always entertaining Hudson Valley Weather blog, we are currently experiencing the longest sustained below-freezing period in many years, perhaps ever.) But yesterday the forecast was for a balmy 30F! Sure, the wind chill was about 5F, but it’s all relative.

My specific goal was to do 100 miles on the single speed. I originally planned to do the Frost Valley loop through the Catskills, but the forecast there was for a couple inches of snow. Instead I plotted a route following the Shawangunk Ridge south into Sullivan and Orange counties, an area I haven’t ridden in much.

A note on dressing for weather: always dress for the wind chill and the expected level of effort. The harder you plan to work, the more you need to underdress, to the point where a hard-working ride requires you to be downright cold when you’re starting out. Yesterday, with a wind chill of 5F and a leisurely pace, was one notch above “wear everything.” Insulated bib tights, a thin wool baselayer, soft shell jacket, balaclava, glove liners and lobster gloves, wool socks, winter cycling boots, and chemical toe warmers (which are magically wonderful). As it turned out, I was slightly overdressed, but not to the point of sweating through the clothes, which is an experience really worth avoiding in the cold.

The first 30 miles were an easy, familiar cruise along the base of the Gunks. As I rode south, the road conditions improved; my road is still covered in packed snow, but it looked like less snow had fallen in Sullivan County. Unfortunately, I was riding into a full headwind, so it was slow going.

Around mile 30, the road turned upwards to cross the ridge. I picked the least challenging route up and over, but there were still a few sections of 8%-type grades, which are challenging on a single speed, especially because steep grades tend to be both iciest and most heavily sanded. Nothing too crazy, though, and soon enough I was at the top of the ridge at High View.

60 years ago, this area was home to dozens of Borscht Belt resorts, ranging from small family operations to relatively grand hotels like the Shawanga Lodge. Now, they are all decrepit ruins, sad reminders of a heyday that has long since faded away. There has been some recent investment in the area, partly fueled by (and fueling) the 2013 New York proposition permitting some casino gambling, and partly hoping to cater to the wealthy eco-spa set. We’ll see what will come of these plans.

In any case, a fast descent off the other side of the ridge led into Wurtsboro, a biker town as in Harley (not as in Surly). It’s marginally scenic in seasons other than the dead of winter, but honestly somewhat grim in January. This was the outer boundary of my previous cycling experience, and I was delighted to find that as soon as I turned off of Main Street, the route became spectacular. I followed a small road along the shoulders of the ridge, slowly picking up altitude as a wide tract of wilderness opened up beneath me. It started to snow, just enough to be scenic, not enough to be a bummer.

farm field

The road (marked on Google Maps as Haven or South Road, but road signs in situ said Indian Orchard) became increasingly scenic as it became clear this was some sort of preserve. I stopped at a lovely frozen stream, which rose almost vertically yet somehow was not a frozen waterfall.

falls

Finally, I passed a sign identifying this area as the Basha Kill wetlands, much to my surprise. I’ve canoed at the Basha Kill several times in the summer, but it was completely unrecognizable in winter (also, I was on the other side of the wetland from the main approach). It would have made a fine ride destination if I’d thought of it. As it happened, it was just a happy coincidence. I’ll be returning to ride this area again, for sure.

At the end of the road, I climbed back up to the top of the ridge, now in Orange County, to the town of Otisville. I was struck by how much more upscale this area seemed than the other side of the ridge — not that it was fancy, more that it wasn’t visibly depressed. Then I noticed a sign for a Metro-North station. It’s only one stop from the end of the line, but a conduit for commuters and NYC salaries makes a big difference to a town’s median income.

The next 30 miles or so were a spectacular, gradual descent through rolling farmland, with a steady tailwind. Really, there’s nothing like a gradual descent and a strong tailwind for a fantastic bike ride. The farms were pretty and well-kept, this is quite a nice area to ride. The only downside yesterday was that in many places, a sort of crosswind tunnel effect would blow a significant amount of snow across the road, which had to be forded while bracing against the sudden crosswind.

Back in Ulster County, I passed the Shawangunk Grasslands wildlife refuge, a former army airfield that is now a 600 acre preserve. This seemingly unremarkable giant meadow is actually an important wintering and migration habitat for the entire roster of endangered and threatened grassland birds. If you’re into birds, it’s a great destination, especially in spring when birds are nesting.

The skies finally started to clear as I re-entered the super-familiar radius of about 30 miles from home. As the skies cleared, the wind and temperature both dropped, but that was fine. Cold and sunny is better than slightly less cold, cloudy and gusty.

sandhill

Some leisurely calculation revealed that if I headed more or less directly home, I’d end up with about 95 miles. Sure, it’s arbitrary and contrived, but I jinked a few miles east to ride home past the Black Creek swamp and ensure three digits of mileage.

swamp

Once home, I proceeded to eat everything in the house, and was treated to a spectacular sunset out the back window. This is an undoctored photograph, honest.

sunset

This was a great ride. 100 miles in January is hard on the equipment, though. I doubt this chain has many more January centuries in it.  The freewheel is starting to go as well, probably full of sand.

bike

The route:

Capture

— John S, aka globecanvas

The Legendary Black Beast of Aaargh

Globecanvas here.  New bike day!

Sure, it’s not artisanal, bespoke, fashioned by crafty dwarves, or worth the GDP of a small island nation. On the contrary, it’s a mass produced gas pipe chariot that weighs almost twice as much as my race bike.

But it’s a superfun ride, and most importantly, it’s something I can beat the crap out of without having to do much more than hose it off and lube the chain. I expect to put a lot of miles on it this winter.

reservoir

reservoir 2

It’s a Surly Straggler frameset, Hayes CX-5 brakes, 32-spoke 30mm DT Swiss wheels. Every component is heavy and practically indestructible. I especially like the brakes, which significantly outperform the Avid BB7s on my cross bike, admittedly with a significant weight penalty. The only non-bulletproof concession is Grand Prix 4 Seasons 28c tires. I personally can’t bear the ride of hard commuter tires, and I can’t afford handmade rubber. I find the 4 Seasons to be a great in-betweener tire. I do wish they made them in a 32 or bigger size though.

I got the frameset from Billy at Overlook Mountain Bikes in Woodstock, who really went the extra mile to get my size, which wasn’t technically in stock anywhere in the world. (I’m a 54 in every bike ever, but the Straggler geometry is extra long, so I needed a 52.) The Bicycle Depot in New Paltz came through, as always, with excellent component advice and everything else.

I set the bike up single speed, but with two chainrings and two cogs, to give me a couple of gear options, 42×16 (70 gear inches) and 40×18 (60 gear inches). 42×16 will get the most use, but I’ve been doing big hill repeats a couple of times a week for training, so I also wanted a small enough gear to haul this hunk of iron up Mohonk 5 or 6 times in a row.

I had to take the bike out for an inaugural ride on day one, even though it was 40 degrees, foggy and raining.

bridge

Visibility was not great in the low-lying areas, so I headed up toward the Catskills. I was also curious how 42×16 would work on some of the more significant hills up toward Woodstock. It turned out to be mostly fine, up to maybe 10% grade; I could manage a cadence of somewhere around 20 and still keep the bike moving forward without either weaving like a drunken mailman or hauling hard enough on the pedals/bars to rupture my spleen.

Riding single speed is a great experience. The drive train is quiet and smooth, and the only way to adjust effort for grade is to make your legs go faster or slower. It’s a more connected, dare I say holistic experience than riding a geared bike. On the down side, you just can’t get where you’re going as fast.

Here’s the Ashokan Spillway, always an impressive sight.  I know it’s a recurring theme for me, but I wonder how many New York City residents realize what a scenic journey their tap water has taken before arriving in their bathroom.

spillway

I did unintentionally end up on Yerry Hill in Woodstock, which has 1/2 mile of 12% and a final kicker of over 20%. (I was aiming for Ohayo Mountain, which is a real climb but not a gutbuster, but I missed the turn.) Yerry Hill is especially mean in that there’s a really steep section that looks for all the world like it tops out, and then you come around a little bend and see the stupidly steep section in front of you. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t quite make it up the kicker in 42×16, but it wasn’t completely out of the question, and I think I could have managed in 40×18.

All in all, a great first ride on a fun bike. By the time I got home, my right hand was completely numb and my shoes were full of freezing water. What more could you ask for?

Capture

 

— John S, aka globecanvas

Recon

Hi, Globecanvas here.

There are some spectacular dirt roads in Dutchess County, and somewhere out there in the ether is an excellent cycling loop that makes use of both the Walkway over the Hudson, in Poughkeepsie, and the Rhinecliff Bridge, north of Kingston. Yesterday I did not do that excellent loop. It was a nice ride, but not the sublime day that it should have been.

Although I have ridden plenty in Dutchess County, somewhere between Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck there is a blank spot in my worldview, sort of like the “here be dragons” vagueness in old maps. On yesterday’s ride I managed to choose all of the least fun roads through this blank spot, making for an unsublime 12 miles in the middle of an otherwise great ride.

Sometime in the next week or two I’ll do this loop right. For now, though, I’ll just post a few photos.

The Rifton highlands, between New Paltz and the Hudson River, are one of my favorite areas to ride. This area is quite unlike the Gunks to the west. The signal feature of this terrain is long, swampy folds between low ridges. There’s very little traffic and the roads are generally excellent. It’s a great way to connect from Kingston to New Paltz or Poughkeepsie.

swamp

The Swarte Kill, or Black Creek, runs through here.

black creek

The Walkway over the Hudson is a tremendous local resource. Thanks to the determined efforts of a small group of local volunteers, we now have a state park spanning the Hudson River. On a summer day, literally thousands of people enjoy the incredible views, and throughout the year, the Walkway enables bicycle commutes and generally improves everyone’s quality of life.

Here’s the view from the Walkway, looking south toward Bear Mountain, on a clear day in May.

walkway_may

Yesterday the bridge was foggy and frozen.

walkway

Finally, the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, seen from Rhinecliff Landing, as the fog was lifting at last.

lighthouse

Here’s the route, but miles 20-32 are suboptimal.  I’ll post a real ride report on this route once I get it all worked out.

Capture

— John S, aka globecanvas

A Real-World Review: Rapha Grand Tour Shoes

Some filler while I’m in Amsterdam, land of 10 million bicycles, 99% of which are squeaky, creaky pieces of shit. Understandable, because the local residents use them strictly as transportation and lock them outdoors 24/7. They don’t have the kind of attachment we do to our finely tuned road machines, at least not to the bikes they use for riding around town.  This is my first time here in 6 or 7 years; in fact, the last time I was here it was before I really paid attention to bicycles, so it is shocking to see bicycle traffic jams.

I am happy in my corner of the Catskills, and I was also happy in New York City, but Amsterdam is one of the few other places in the world in which I could happily live, and not just because of the bicycles. It is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. The Dutch are awesome, and—I don’t know quite how to put this—they seem happier and better adjusted than the people in other major cities I’ve visited worldwide.

If I moved here, though, I’d have to start a campaign to encourage them to oil their goddamned chains.

Before I begin, some perspective on my reviews:  I’m an average athlete, and I am not an expert in anything bicycle related. However, since I started the blog I have received many e-mails asking for “expert” advice on bicycle-related topics. My favorite was a guy asking for advice on nutrition: as the people I ride with will tell you, I sometimes forget to eat until I’m shaking and almost falling off the bike.

My reviews might be useful for the average cyclist who rides longer distances, or one who wants to. Those of you have been reading along know that I like to ride long. I’m not necessarily fast, but 12-, 14-, and even 18-hour days (or more) in the saddle are an at least weekly event for me. Even during the week my rides average 2 to 3 hours. I don’t have to sell ads, so I won’t give you any Bicycling-style bullshit. Please remember, however, that there is an inherent bias in my reviews, in that I will take the time to write a review only if I really like something.

Now, the review:

There is a lot that can go wrong at the interface between the body and the bicycle on a 200+ mile ride. A rough seam combined with a poor fit on a bib short can saw a bleeding gash in your thigh. A pair of sunglasses that clamp too tightly can cause intolerable headaches. A pair of shoes that is acceptable for 6 hours can cause long-lasting nerve damage after 18 hours in the saddle. All issues that need to be avoided, particularly if you don’t want to take a week to recover between rides.

That brings me to Rapha, which is often the subject of considerable derision among experienced cyclists. However, I’m a fan. I love almost everything I’ve ever purchased from them. Not only does it fit well, but it lasts under extreme conditions. I still have jerseys from when Rapha had, if I recall correctly, 4 or 5 products on their website (maybe that was 2008?). They’ve been washed hundreds of times, and still look good and fit well.

I’ve also heard complaints about Rapha’s clothing being sized for, um, bigger gents—you know, recreational cyclists who aren’t serious. I don’t know how the people doing the complaining are built, but I am 6 feet tall and 145 pounds on a (very) fat day, and a standard Rapha medium fits relatively closely. It is not an aero race jersey, and it isn’t meant to be.

I’ve used Sidi shoes almost exclusively since early 2008. I’ve also had brief, tragic experiences with Shimano and Specialized shoes. The Sidis are great shoes, but they caused numbness after 6 or 7 hours of riding. I could never get the ratcheted strap to a tension that retained my foot properly but didn’t cut off circulation. They provided excellent power transfer and I had no issues riding short distances, but it was always a relief to take them off at the end of a ride.

I was looking for something better. I flirted with getting some custom-made shoes, but the molding process put me off—it would be fine if there was someone local to do it for me, but doing it myself seemed like a recipe for an expensive disaster.

Ultimately, I decided to try the Rapha Grand Tour shoe. Here’s what the Rapha website has to say about them:

Rapha en Giro presenteren de beste wegschoen ter wereld, die ongeëvenaarde comfort, duurzaamheid, kracht en stijl biedt. De handgesneden bovenlaag is gemaakt van exclusief jakleer en is gecombineerd met de beste pasvorm en onderdelen – allemaal ontwikkeld en getest door Giro in Californië.

No, I don’t know what that means either. But if they are “de beste wegschoen ter wereld” they have to be good, right? Anyway, I frequently fail to understand even the English-language version of the Rapha website.

I wanted black, but they flew off the shelves so fast that they only had white pairs left in my size. When they showed up, I opened the extensive (and wasteful) packaging, unveiling something that resembled a rather dumb-looking golf shoe. Yeah, I knew what I was getting myself into, and anyway cycling is the new golf, you know.

Grand Tour

I purchased them in my size (according to Rapha’s sizing guide) and they were WAY TOO TIGHT. They felt like they were at least half a size too small, maybe a full size too small. So I returned them and sized up half a size—still quite tight, but acceptable. At that point, I was riding 300 miles a week and didn’t feel that it was the time to try something new, so I put them in the closet for a few months to age like a fine tubular tire, only breaking them out when I had worn out the cleats on my Sidis.

When I tried them on the second time, again my impression was that they were quite tight. I wouldn’t say that my first rides with them were a revelation. They provided adequate power transfer, but I still ended up with numb toes after about the 6- or 7-hour mark. No worse than the Sidis. No better, either.

Did I just purchase really expensive golf shoes?

As it turns out, after 20 or 30 rides, including many in the rain, they began to stretch. The stretch was easily quantifiable because of the ratcheting mechanism on the buckle—every week or so, I had to tighten them a few notches. Eventually, they stretched to the point where I bottomed out the strap. No more clicks. I was annoyed, but I came up with a solution: aftermarket footbeds have considerably more volume than the supplied footbeds. So, I put in SuperFeet, and the shoes fit well again.

In fact, they are now among the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned, including regular street shoes. Am I perfectly comfortable after 16 hours? No, but I have yet to experience any numbness, and there is a little room to ease off on the straps to accommodate my feet as they swell. I think that’s all you can ask from a shoe, right? The stretching has stopped; with the aftermarket footbeds I have 2-3 more clicks left on the ratcheting mechanism.

In summary, I really like these shoes, and—apart from getting customs—I do not see much room for improvement. The looks do take some getting used to. If you decide to try them, I’d suggest you either 1) buy according to the Rapha size chart, and accept that they will be extremely tight for a dozen rides or 2) size up half a size so that they are more comfortable initially, and then after 20 rides put in some aftermarket footbeds. If you need orthotics or aftermarket footbeds, definitely size up. I’d also purchase them in the late fall or early spring, so you can break them in as your mileage increases. You don’t want to try breaking them in mid-season!

Update December 2013: Still great!

SDIM0367_pe

John

medicalwriter.net

Peekamoose Times Two

You may have noticed that I am not adhering to my twice weekly posting schedule. There are a couple of reasons for that. This blog is not meant to be my personal diary; instead, it’s meant to first be a resource for intermediate- to long-distance cycling routes in the Catskills, and second to provide real-world reviews of cycling products from the perspective of a rider who likes distance, dirt, and inclement weather (yes, I actually enjoy riding through rain, sleet, and snow!) There are very real differences between brands of bib shorts, shoes or even tires that don’t become evident until you ride a century with them. A great example of this was some Pearl Izumi bib shorts that seemed fine until a 150-mile ride, when poor fit and a rough seam conspired to saw a bleeding hole in my thigh.

I am especially careful about random posts because so many people are now getting update e-mails every time I post, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. That said, you will be getting a few pet picture posts over the winter. No complaints, please.

I’ve spent considerable time over the past few weeks reprising the old standbys. Yesterday marked my twentieth time over Peekamoose since we moved here last year–that’s about 1200 miles on this route alone. Next week I’m planning to ride Slide Mountain again. I will document that trip and write a full post since I haven’t yet been over Slide in the summer.

Over the next week, I’m going to review Rapha’s Grand Tour shoes, bib shorts for distance riders, and follow up on my long-term review of the Rivet saddle. And, if I can find my chain tool to shorten my chain on the English 700C, I’ll provide some initial impressions of the new Grand Bois Extra Leger 26 mm tires. And of course you’ll get the Slide Mountain post.

Until then, here’s the GPS for a new 72-mile Peekamoose route and a few pictures.

Untitled

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John

medicalwriter.net

Grand Bois Extra Leger 26 mm Tires

Since riding the Grand Bois Extra Leger 32s on my winter cross bike, I’ve been waiting for a 25 or 26 mm Extra Leger tire to fit the English 700C. True, the 23 mm tires were available, but 25 mm is the minimum I’ll ride on the crappy roads in my area.

A few weeks ago I got my wish, and I installed them today.

L1020837_pe

If you’re wondering why my rings are silver: I recently geared down–34/25 wasn’t a useful low gear for my usual rides, which generally include 10,000+ feet of climbing with extended 12% to 22% segments. Although the climbs were survivable, I was wrecking my knees. I couldn’t get the rings I wanted in black, so I’m making do with silver.

Back to tires: The fit is tight in the THM Scapula fork, which is only rated for up to a 25 mm tire. Nevertheless, there is some room to spare.

L1020838_pe

I’ll report back after a few hundred miles, starting with the 72-mile Peekamoose route, which I’ll be riding tomorrow morning with new companions who haven’t been out that way yet. Peekamoose is a great ride, because you suffer like hell for the first 16 miles; thereafter, it’s high-speed downhill for the next 30 miles.

John

medicalwriter.net

A Review of TRP Spyre Disc Brakes

Edit Dec 7 2013: TRP “has identified a potential safety issue in the lab with the Spyre and Spyre SLC mechanical disc brakes and, as a responsible company, has issued a “stop sell”  notice to our OEM customers and distributors until we have a solution in place. We are working hard on the issue and anticipate a solution very shortly. More information will be forthcoming as soon as possible.”

I’ve removed my Spyres from the English for now. Back to BB7 hell.

This summer has been tough. Lots of work and travel, and not enough time on the bike. I like to put in a minimum of 15 hours a week on the bike, but I’ve been in more of the 10 to 12 hour zone, and a lot of that hasn’t been quality time—just quick dashes around the neighborhood. Good for exercise, but not a lot of fun.

A bright spot, though, was the delivery of my English 650B bike in June. Since June 20th, I’ve put 1375 miles on the bike, and it has revolutionized my back-road riding experience. It handles precisely like a road bike, it is much more comfortable on the rough stuff and no slower on the flats. An unexpected bonus has been being able to descend more quickly. Instead of panic braking and hopping over obstacles—and slowing down because that shadow on the road might be hiding a pothole, I just sail over everything.

Have doubts? Just try a 650B bike, if you can. The only thing that might be difficult is that most are built as vintage reenactment machines, so if you’re used to a modern road bike, it’s a different experience. (I want to note that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with vintage reenactment bikes—I have a few myself and love them. But I realize they’re not for everyone, or even the majority of riders).

Anyway…this wasn’t supposed to be about my English. Instead, I’d like to tell you about my experience with TRP Spyre brakes. Keep in mind that this is an honest, unbiased review–I’m not paid for posts, nor do I reprocess press releases like so many other bike blogs do.

Spyres

I’ve always been of the opinion that disc brakes confer no benefits on a road bike. As many have argued before, the rim of a wheel represents the largest possible rotor, and thus offers great braking performance. I support that position: there is no rational need for disc brakes on a road bike. At least not mechanical disc brakes.

However: If you’re riding a nontraditional road bike—say something with fat tires, like my 650B, or even a cross bike with 32s or 35s, disc brakes are a handy solution. The long-reach brakes that are available now are heavy and not very high quality. Thus, disc brakes represent a reasonable option.

My previous experience with disc brakes was with mechanical Avid BB7s on my winter cross bike, a Lynskey Procross. Awful. Truly awful. They went out of adjustment every other ride, they shuddered and shook, and squealed like crazy when they got even a little bit wet. I guess if you’re a professional mechanic they would be okay, but I don’t have the time or skills to adjust my brakes every few days. Like many other mechanical tasks on a bicycle, I can adjust the brakes to perfection, it just takes me forever. I’d rather be riding my bike, y’know?

Enter the TRP Spyres. After some initial frustration getting them set up right—I like my brakes relatively “stiff”—they have performed admirably. They are simple to adjust, and they do not squeal even when wet. They offer at least equivalent braking performance to BB7s; in fact, on average they offer better braking performance because they don’t require continuous readjustment. Keep in mind that this is from the perspective of someone who flies down mountains almost daily, often in inclement weather (a blessing and a curse, because I also have to climb up those mountains!)

One word of advice: Toss the rotors they come with, or at least hold them in reserve for an emergency, and buy some Shimano Ice Tech rotors. The braking performance is improved considerably and there is little to no squeal. With the Ice Tech rotors, the braking performance is, dare I say it, even better than well-adjusted rim brakes. Again, I’m riding in extreme conditions, the stock rotors may very well be okay for regular use.

The best part? The only adjustments they require is an occasional tweak to make up for pad wear. A matter of a few seconds.

The “power curve” for these brakes is different from rim brakes. I’ve now had a chance to ride this bike, with the Spyres installed, in a paceline with people using conventional rim brakes. I’m happy to say that the modulation is good enough for the occasional feather touch when soft-pedaling or sitting up won’t do. Don’t run out and ride in a fast paceline the day you install the brakes, though.

So…have TRP Spyres made me change my mind about disc brakes on a road bike? No, not really. If you’re buying a new conventional road bike, you don’t need them and, even though the Spyres are low maintenance and perform well, they are still more trouble than a rim brake for not a lot of additional benefit.

If you’re buying a cross bike or any other type of bike that may not fit regular road brakes without going to long-reach calipers, they are an acceptable alternative. If you insist on ordering a bike with mechanical disc brakes, insist on Spyres. OEMs would be crazy to specify BB7s instead of Spyres–they are that much better!

I’ve purchased a set of the HY/RD hybrid hydraulic brakes for my winter bike to replace the god-awful BB7s. I’ll report on those later in the year.

BB&

John

medicalwriter.net