Category Archives: Obstructed View

Planet Bike MTB Fenders vs. Cascadia Fenders. Winner: Portlandia

After tearing down and rebuilding/greasing/plumber’s-taping/etc-ing my cranks/BB this winter and failing to exorcize the constant creaking I did what any sensible cyclist would do: I tossed the parts in the bin and bought new ones.

Problem eliminated!–but on the very first rain day I was reminded of the limited coverage of my Planet Bike MTB fenders which blasted a rooster-tail of dirt, trash and road salt into my brand new bearings for a half hour.

To protect my investment (and to some degree my shoes) a replacement for the fenders was in order. I fired up my one-click Amazon Prime machine and had some Planet Bike Cascadia fenders two days later.

Useful information (photos, not measurements) comparing the two was scarce online but I thought I’d take the chance. Worst case scenario I have more serious looking fenders. Best case: they work.

They arrived in the middle of a week of rain so immediate installation was needed. I only had time to do the front one but thankfully Planet Bike uses the same exact hardware on both so they appeared to be a matched set. Turns out that Frankensteining is ok so long as it’s kept in the family.

Front fender lightning review

If you enjoy getting your feet, legs and entire drivetrain of your bike filthy get the Planet Bike MTB fenders. If you enjoy riding through puddles laughing meniacally and only getting lightly spritzed the Cascadia is the only thing that makes any sense at all. With the Cascadia lets you ride in a straight line again, only avoiding puddles that you fear may be hiding potholes and chasms.

Planet Bike MTB front fender next to Planet Bike Cascadia Fender

A couple of inches make all the difference in the world; now only a light spritz ends up on my shoes and drivetrain.

Front Fender Winner: Cascadia.

Rear Fender lightning review

The Cascadia rear fender is a bit odd. The extra length in the back is very “polite”. It seems to be made to keep water out of the face of those riding behind you. I mean, OF COURSE my commute sees me regularly flirting with 25mph speeds with throngs of roadies trying to hold my wheel. My 26×2.25″ wheel. While I’m wearing two layers on my legs and 5 on top. All of which are baggy. Plus 35lbs of panniers on my bike rack.

Anyway, it’s a nice visual match with the front fender but entirely unpractical for New York commuting as:

1: In my small apartment the “garage” is my foyer. You can see my old MTB fender just barely fits in my bike stand:

planet bike MTB rear fender fit with feedback bike stand

Close call: Very little clearance between Planet Bike MTB rear fender and Feedback bike stand

Planet bike cascadia rear fender is too long for the feedback bike stand

Cascadia Rear Fender vs. Feedback bike stand. Cascadia loses.

2. In order to fit inside NYC elevators you need to wheelie your bike at a 90˚ angle to the ground. Here, too, the MTB mud flap just scrapes the ground.

planet bike mtb fender elevator wheelie

Though it’s a close call, the Planet Bike MTB rear fender is elevator-wheelie capable (and probably wheelie-wheelie capable). It goes without saying that the Cascadia Rear does not do 90˚

Rear Fender Winner: MTB

Fender “Set” Winner: Portlandia

So if you’re an urban commuter I find the combo of the Cascadia front and MTB rear fender is the most functional answer. Since the hardware is identical it does not look terribly mismatched.

Planet Bike Portlandia configuration

The Planet Bike “Portlandia” configuration for urban commuting

If your bike’s entire existence is horizontal go all Cascadia.

There is no reason I can think of to get only the MTB set due to the uselessness of the front fender. IMHO if you are riding on dirt trails that require the extra clearance you probably have no business using fenders at all.

Garmin Gone AWOL

Last night I had a dream that I took plastic shopping bags and taped them to the front of my shoe covers. Sometimes I don’t trust my psychic self as much as I should.

Got everything packed into the car an hour early and decided not to wait to start heading back. The weather called for a nice tailwind that would be bringing clouds, followed by snow, followed by rain. Seemed like a good thing to beat back to the city. Being 5 degrees colder than the trip out I added another base layer, taller and thicker smartwool socks and my goretex windproof outer gloves to the mix.

Encountered my first problem before leaving the driveway: My trusty Garmin kept freezing at 80% calculated for my route home. Odd, I thought. Will have to give it a kick on the road if it can’t finish before I get lost. I roll out and down the 20% grade that is miller road. This is one of those roads that is broken up by three little flat sections of about 20 meters in length to give you, your car or your brakes a break so you don’t have to do the whole thing in a go. The pavement is dry so I let go of the brakes and let gravity give me a good, long tug and use the flat sections for that carnival-ride-like change in gravity.

About two miles in the Garmin isn’t working it out so I have it try again. Same result. I restart the device. Same result. Judging from the % it must be getting hung up trying to get me over the Hudson river, for which there really is only one option: The George Washington Bridge. Not sure why this thing has forgotten the bridge is there, or maybe it knows something that I don’t. Fine. Plan B: Take me to Fort Lee, NJ. I should be able to find my way to the bridge from there. Calculation is up in a flash and it immediately attempts to send me on a death march down Rte 17, which is a highway. Which I’ve got the Garmin set to *never* send me down.

Since I had route re-calculation on I began the dance of my picking a reasonable parallel-ish road to Rte 17 and have the Garmin re-route until we’re past the point where it wants me there. I do pretty well for a few towns until I get stuck in culdesac hell. I’d been following the compass and figured I was far enough south so I backtrack far enough to make a break across the highway via an overpass and  continue southeast.

With my 6 top layers on temperature regulation is about perfect for the weather. The snow begins to fall. Hmm, this is a familiar sight…

Suburbs give way to the poorer working class towns and wet roads. A glance at my clean bottom bracket and front derailleur suggest that my RoadRacer 2 fenders are “working” even though they are missing a part due to my having to cut them to fit under my low-clearance brake calipers. I placed “working” in quotes as the space between my fenders and my tires is probably too tight to consider them fully functional. I don’t have an exact measurement but I would estimate that I’m working with slightly less than a grain of sand. Since there is a lot of sand on the roads the fenders make a lot of noise!

When riding on wet roads flats are always in the back of your mind. I am carrying two spare tubes and the hope is that I will need 0 of them.

After all of these years using a Garmin I’ve finally figured out how to check the map without having it pause my view, causing me to lose my little blue arrow. A quick flick of the finger and I see that Fort Lee is a town away! I begin the climb out of the valley which is slow and wet. The snowflakes are now the size of nickels. I eat a few.

I stop at a red light at the top of the hill and do a quick visual inventory. Something is missing: my front fender! I wonder where that went. I pull over in a sheltered bus stop, remove the support bars so they don’t get caught in my spokes and toss them in the trash. I curse my luck after having worked to prepare for exactly this weather and give the pedals a couple of good turns.

Fort Lee is a cute little town with an old-timey main street lined with little shops and lamp posts. It is possible that the snow gave it a little more quaintness than was deserved. Guess we’ll find out later. I can still see the pavement at this point and everything is still feeling good. I haven’t even had to eat my clif bar yet.

The George Washington bridge finally exposes me to the wind that had been my ally up to this point. It is ripping through the bridge from the north and there is a coating of snow on the bike path. I get into the drops to reduce the sail-effect and to get my center of gravity closer to the ground should a gust set me down and try to blow me off the edge. My tires manage to hold tight but it definitely felt like they were on the edge the entire time.

A snow tail shows the direction and strength of the wind over the George Washington bridge

The temperature is noticeably a few degrees warmer in the city and the roads are a thick, soft slush or thick, wet water. I start spinning trying to balance these three things:

  1. Keep core temperature right
  2. Make good time
  3. Don’t cause too much splashing

Without my fender the water is ricocheting off of my bike’s big down tube and turning to slush as it spritzes onto my shoe covers. A visible layer is forming. Since these are not waterproof I know my time is limited before my feet turn into literal ice cubes. Luckily I am in the home stretch and only 20 minutes from home.

It is easy to “know” your fortune: of having hot water for a bath, of living in a place where food is plentiful and prepared with passion and creativity. You can meditate on this and gain a greater perspective but your body has to be taken far out of its comfort zone to really FEEL it. After I got myself back inside and peeled the three layers off my feet I realized that they must have been chilled so gradually that I didn’t notice how far gone they were. My toes are dark pink and while moving, they are doing so only very slowly. I bring them into the bath tub for a nice warm soak, gradually raising the temperature until there is no pain at my normally preferred temperature.

Water spritz froze upon contact with my shoes. On the bottom side the water turned into solid ice blocks where the opening in my pedal was.

Since the rest of my family got stranded in NJ by the storm I have the night off. I put on the only sweater in the house that wasn’t packed for the trip and stroll down to my favorite Italian restaurant for some pasta and a glass of chianti. The food is delectable and the combination of the workout, the warm-up bath and the single-minded attention that I can give everything without having to keep tabs on a frenetic 3 year old has put me in a really zen place.

What to Wear When You’re Going Fast and It’s 37 Degrees

Here in the NorthEast we can certainly get some winter weather, but the typical temperature is just above freezing which is definitely bike-able with the right gear. Here is what I wear:

1, 2, 3: Base Layers

Once you get used to form-fitting lycra it’s hard to put on a tent to go out in the cold. As such I opt for the baclava approach: multiple thin layers. The inner layers wick the moisture away and trap the heat. The upper layers take the edge off the wind coming in.

4: Winter Vest

The windproof fleece-lined vest is one of your best tools for riding in the just-above-freezing zone and probably the only specialized piece of clothing you need down to the mid-30′s. It keeps the most important part of you warm (your core) but allows you to vent off steam via your arms (and chest when you unzip for climbs)

5, 6: Windproof tights, Bibs

You don’t need much on your legs as these big muscles don’t get cold that easily and will obviously be working hard enough to take care of themselves. I do a windproof base layer and then my club bibs because, you know, you have to represent!

7, 8, 9: Shoes that are not too tight, wool socks, shoe covers

Feet are tricky. You need enough insulation to keep them warm but not so much that you become waterlogged. I’ve found a livable combo to be smartwool socks which make a reasonable effort keep you warm while damp. On the outside I like the Castelli Narcisista shoe cover. It’s got a little fleece for insulation and as importantly, don’t look like you’re wearing two giant plastic bags on your feet.

10, 11: Liner gloves and medium weight gloves

Continuing on with the I-don’t-like-baggy-stuff theme I don’t like oversized gloves. I’ve found that you can layer on your hands to the same good effect as your chest. Combine ultra-thin liner gloves beneath a middle weight set of gloves and you’ll not only stay warm, but the liners are thin enough to dry quickly if you stop for coffee and a donut which helps with the motivation to get going again.

12, 13: Helmet, head/ear cover

Being from Minnesota I’m pretty conditioned to the cold and like to use my head to regulate my temperature. In the 40′s you’ll see me wearing swix cross country skiing earmuffs which are paper thin and fit well under a helmet. Once you get closer to freezing I’ll throw on a bandana to retain a little heat.

Shameless plug: You can buy the Jersey, Vest and Bibs pictured here in our shop!

Other Tips:

  • If you’re going hard you may not want to stop as multiple layers aren’t going to dry out with you wearing them, at least not quickly! Avoid the temptation to grab that coffee and plan your trips so you can go out and back without stopping.
  • Your feet and hands are the first to go when it gets cold. If you have room in your pockets you might pack an extra pair of socks and liner gloves. If you do stop some dozens of miles from home changing into these two dry items can provide quite the mental boost!

Over The River and Through The Woods and…

The forecast called for 20mph winds and an average temperature of 32 degrees.

The plan was simple, though in retrospect maybe a little outlandish: bike up to the top of bear mountain, take a picture, then head for Grandma and Grandpas.

Packing Cara, Sierra and our holiday stuff into the car took a little longer than expected and I wasn’t out the door until 11:30am. Making it by sunset would be a challenge, even if I made no stops. Ultimately it didn’t matter; the bike was outfitted with my 600 lumen headlamp, tail light and various reflective strips and fenders–it was the concern of the family that added the urgency.

The ride out was all headwind. Caught glimpses of guys that I ride with as well as the usual year-round training clubs. They were all on the return as I finally reached cruising temperature.

You always have to change your time calculations in the winter. First you have the layers and layers of restrictive clothing. Even with that you’re cold so you keep it locked in the small chainring. If you generally cruise at 18-20mph in the summer you’ll only be doing 14-17mph on a good winter day. With the wind in the mix there were sections where I was pushing hard to maintain 12mph.

I made a futile attempt to duck the wind by heading down the valley onto main street through Piermont. No luck. The wind had the same idea so I kept the cadence high and spun on past the cafes whos patrons were locals now that the morning rush of cyclists had headed home.

As the towns rolled by I began to have my doubts. Maybe I should have grabbed one of those great rueben sandwiches that the Runcible Spoon makes. Maybe I should just cut over when I get to 202 — it’s still enough miles, right? No. Today I am out for bear meat and I shall have it.

I am long out of the range of today’s cyclists and the roads are mine except for a few locals out for some errands before the holiday.

With the trees thinned from winter and the recent storm, and because of my slower than usual pace I am noticing a lot more of the details. The 10 story high mountains of excavated rock in Haverstraw. The Indian Head Nuclear Power Plant. The cars that look like little toys scaling the ridge opposite the bear’. The European quaintness of downtown Glen Cove with it’s street-side storefronts and cobblestone sidewalks and brick walls.

As I pull up to the bear the weather turns the menace up a notch; dark clouds begin to speed by overhead and it begins to snow. “I guess I’m going to get my moneys worth today” I found myself saying aloud.

After being pummeled by the wind for 40 miles it’s nice to be in the shelter of the mountain. My climb was not much slower than summer climbs. There was a young couple pulled over with smoke coming from the hood of their car. They asked where the nearest filling station is. I told them they definitely did not want to try to walk to it. Being only a “tinkerer” level macguyver in lycra there was little I could do to help–I couldn’t dip my chain tool in my bottle of water and make antifreeze. I made sure they had a mobile phone and knew how to describe where they were and continued on before I started to cool down.

On a clear day you can see the New York skyline from the lookout tower. Todays conditions were unusual as the cloud cover ended abruptly somewhere before the city. The buildings’ silhouettes contrasted sharply against an orange sky backdrop. As expected the wind at the top was furious. I almost got knocked over when attempting to get that panoramic photo that I rode out here to capture. Got it on the 2nd try, sent an SMS to the wife and got the hell moving again.

Dark clouds blow over Bear Mountain and drop a light dusting of snow.

Descending a mountain is pure, unadulterated, unfiltered joy 99.9% of the time. Today I found that 0.1%: when you are inside 4 layers of sweaty, wicking cycling gear. You know that feeling when you stick your face in an air conditioner? Take that, half the temperature, then make it full body. Even the windproof parts suffered from heat loss because I was not working that hard. For about 10 minutes I alternated which hand I held behind my back to keep it shielded from the wind, only putting both on the handlebars to handle a few of the hairpin corners.

Luckily for me it was all climbing from the bottom to my destination which allowed me to get the blood circulating back out to my extremities.

When you ride solo it’s all on you: making sure you are wearing the right clothes, double-checking your tool kit, and measuring properly your output to match the calories you carry in your pockets.

For me this meant staying warm and moving in the cold and the wind for 75 miles with two clif bars. I ate each of them an hour and a half apart and tried not to do anything crazy like go for any Strava KOMs–this stuff had to last!

Around mile 60 I was starting to tire but continued to push on, beginning to lean more on the directions that my Garmin was giving me.

At mile 70 fatigue gave way to confusion and paranoia which I knew was a bad sign. I no longer trusted the garmin. I stopped the navigation and had it re-calculate to make sure it knew what it was doing. I was not recognizing my surroundings. The sun was beginning to set.

With three miles to go my mind was telling me that this 3 miles could turn into 20 if I missed a turn because the Garmin got too cold. I pulled into a pizzeria and inhaled three sugar cookies to get my blood sugar back on track. Had I been thinking more clearly I would have also grabbed a coke and a slice of pizza but we were too close now. Had to finish what we started.

Even though the sun was not gone yet, the mountains of northern NJ cast very long, dark shadows. Might as well have been night. The headlamp went on. I love that thing, it lights up the entire road like a motorcycle headlight. Good thing, too, as there are definitely some rough patches out here and there are definitely no street lamps.

After the longest two miles of my life I start to recognize some landmarks and the Garmin has re-earned my trust. I pick up the cadence and crest the final hill and triumphantly press “stop” after an epic adventure.

Tonight I am not going to discriminate when it comes to what kind of calories I consume or how many–it’s all fair game. Rumor has it grandma and grandpa made a roast in the slow cooker.

Commuter Packing List

I don’t like to wear my supplies in a backpack as it leads to sore shoulders and a sweaty back. Instead I use a rack and waterproof panniers by Ortlieb to carry my gear. Since I bring my entire office with me I use two panniers for balance and for organization: one for soft goods and the other for the office-y things.

If you’re not a morning person like me, try to get into a routine and put the same things in the same pockets every day. This will help you to not forget anything in the am mind fog.

Here is how my kit looks:

1) Chain lock plus cable for seat

Chain locks give you the most flexibility when it comes to what objects you can lock your bike to. If you live in New York you’ll also want a cable that you can thread through your saddle rails and back into the lock. It took a stolen seat for me to learn that lesson.

2) Patch Kit and misc tools

While I’m sure you’re all running puncture-resistant tires like Specialized Armadillos, flats can still happen. Toss the tools you’ll need in a ziplock bag and store it in one of the pannier pockets. If you use tamper-restant axles make sure to include the key so you can get the wheels off!

3) Plastic bag for bike seat

If you park you bike outside it’s nice to cover the seat in a plastic bag if you know it’s going to rain. Little things like this will help to  extend the life of what is probably your most abused bike.

4) Cedar Chips!

While your commuter panniers are not a gym bag, there will be subtle sources of odor that can turn into a bad thing over time; your work clothes and shoes, dirty chain lock, outer layers shed in warmer weather, etc. Buy a box of these little cedar sashes and toss them in your shoes and all around your clothes and they will absorb moisture and odor before it sinks in.

5/6) Work Clothes

Obviously. Pro Tip: Pack a 2nd outfit! Not so long ago I was riding to work in a heavy downpour thinking I was invincible in my rain gear and hood. About half way in the rain was so hard that a stream of water formed on my face, dripped down my chin and neck and INTO my jacket and soaked my work shirt. A second outfit is also good for mornings where you sleepwalk out of the house. Remember those dreams about going to school naked? This will help to avoid that from becoming a reality.

7/8) Work stuff

Self explanatory.

9 Pedestrian Umbrella

While you may have all this high tech kit to get to and from work, sometimes you just need something normal to step out for a quick lunch.

10/11) Wallet and Phone

I keep these in my bags so they don’t get mashed/perspired on in my jersey/pants

Commuting through Nor’easter in the NorthEast

While most dread the forecast of rain, sleet and snow I look forward to it. There is something about a good ice bath that refreshes the soul!

You don’t need a lot of layers to navigate the cold, you just need the right ones. Here is how my kit looks:

Northeast Nor'easter Cycling Outfit

1) Base Layer

The exact type doesn’t matter. It can be a sport base layer or simply a summer jersey. You just want something tight-fitting in lycra that will wick moisture away from your skin.

2) Insulation Layer

This is the layer that does the work of keeping you warm. I go with an inexpensive fleece-lined long-sleeve jersey.

3) Waterproof outer shell

You’ll be surprised how much heat you start to generate after about 15 minutes of grinding. You’ll want a good high-tech outer shell that is cycling-specific such as the Gore Bikewear Oxygen. Your ideal jacket will have these qualities:

  • Waterproof and breathable. Gore Tex is the gold standard though competing brands have developed similar tech.
  • “Pit zips”. These are great because you can get some cooling happening on the bottom side of your arms where rain won’t get in.
  • Articulated arms that wont ride up and a longer back that won’t expose your belt on the backside
  • A hood! This one doesn’t seem obvious until you start to think about your riding position. When you reach out to your handlebars you bend over exposing your neck. A hood provides a seamless ramp for the water to run down off your back. Hoods on cycling jackets will allow you a good range of motion with a helmet strapped on over it.

4) Thin high-performance long underwear

You don’t need much on your legs since they’ll be working and generating heat, but wearing only a thin plastic-y outer shell won’t  feel like enough when the temperature gets close to freezing. As with all things athletic: avoid cotton at all costs. I’m currently running a pair of Patagonia Capilenes.

5) Waterproof Pants

Like your upper shell you want something that is waterproof, windproof and cycling specific. These pants will be more form-fitting and not flap in the wind or pool water. Gore Bike Wear Ultra Bike Rain Pants are excellent.

6) Wool Socks

I’m a big fan of Smartwool socks for their temperature regulation even when wet. Don’t go too thick otherwise you’ll end up waterlogged on the inside from sweat.

7) Waterproof Shoes

A proper pair of waterproof cycling shoes are both hard to find and are very expensive (You’ll safely be in $300 territory) but it won’t take many rides where freezing water gets shot up through the cleat holes to change your mind about their value. Shimano, Specialized and Sidi all offer a high-top all-weather shoe. My commuter is set up with SPD pedals so I can use the Sidi Diablo GTX shoes. The mountain bike tread makes it easier to walk, especially when the snow starts to accumulate.

8) Gloves

If there is a good cycling glove for wet winter riding I have yet to find it. I have been using a two-layer Burton snowboarding glove (inner of fleece and outer of waterproof nylon). Barring that you can also bring two sets of normal winter gloves: one to get wet on the way to work and one to get wet on your return. :-/

9) Bandana

Under your hood you’ll want something to keep your head warm. I run hot so I rarely need more than a bandana but if you don’t you may go for something heavier like a fleece balaclava or similar.

10) Helmet

Obviously! If you get a helmet with quick adjustment such as a Giro Atmos you’ll be able to ratchet it looser to fit over your hood and tighter to fit your naked head dry conditions.

How to Adapt a NiteRider MiNewt/Lumina for use with K-Edge GoPro Handlebar Mount

Do you ever have that problem where you think you’ve invented something amazing and then you go onto the internet and found somebody has already done it and that you can buy it for just $N.nn?

That doesn’t always happen to me, even though I might want it to. Despite Amazon and the internet being stuffed to the gills with adapters, I could not find a simple handlebar mount for my NiteRider light that was narrow enough to fit in between the stem and the flattened top of my FSA K-Wing handlebars.

NiteRider MiNewt clamp is too wide to fit in the small space before the handlebar tapers and flattens

Like many action junkies these days, I have a GoPro camera and a K-Edge mount that has solved most of this problem:

The K-Edge GoPro mount has a narrow forged clamp that will work with any oversized bar…

…but the end of the mount uses the proprietary GoPro attachment.

Digging through my kit I decided to focus on the tripod adapter, a part that I purchased that I was unlikely to use for its original purpose, and one that I was likely to be able to find bolts for.

Before we get into the nuts-and-bolts of the process I must begin by saying that this is not THE definitive how-to guide; since I don’t have a workbench or power tools this is very much the dark-ages way to do it. Use these slides more as a rough guide of what you need to do and use the (more likely better) tools you have.

So Eric at my LBS and I noticed that the part of the NiteRider clamp that does the actual carrying of the light is both very thin and also removable via a bolt and flat-head screw.

Standard NiteRider handlebar mount

In order for the clip to fit flush to the flat tripod mount I used a hacksaw with a wood blade to remove the cone-shaped bottom:

I then used an exacto knife and some sandpaper to smooth it down:

I found some 1/4″ machine screws at Home Depot that were the correct threading for a tripod. Importantly they were aluminum which meant they’d be easy to cut down to the correct length by hand:

The heads of the screws are too wide to fit the NiteRider mount so I used a 7/16 spade bit to carve out the circular shape being VERY CAREFUL not to go too far–if you cut it perfectly you’re left with ~1mm of plastic to hold everything together. Smoothing was done with sandpaper and a rounded exacto knife.

the machine screw flush inside the NiteRider mounting clip

You’ll want a rubber washer to add a little friction between the clip and the tripod mount. You can use the rubber that came with the NiteRider light but I find it to be a little too soft so I used a spare strip from another light I purchased some years ago:

So then here is your mount kit stack:

Tight!

Just when I thought I was finished and was congratulating myself on a job well done I noticed a problem…

Nothing that a little hacksaw can’t fix!

VICTORY:

Hillier Than Thou is a ride specifically designed to break the human spirit

It was shaping up to be a “normal” hill climbing race until a few days prior when the grim reaper climbed out of one of the prize medals and with a wave of the sickle changed the forecast from sunny and 70s to rain and 40s. Since we set up a base camp in NJ the day before I could only ride with the clothes I had packed.

Lucky for me I brought a lot of cool (but not cold) weather choices which lent themselves to a little doubling-up improv:

The wool swobo arm and leg warmers acted an an insulating first layer which were chased by three layers of lycra with a wrap of saran wrap in-between.

Purely by chance I had unpacked my gore-tex windproof winter gloves which ended up being a lifesaver.

Like a grand tour stage the ride began with neutralized start. Our pace van led us through Washington Township in southern NJ and turned us loose via bullhorn right at the base of the first climb.

The contenders went straight to the front. Figuring that a little breathing room would be good to get a group into a rhythm I pushed hard to stay with the leaders until everyone was warmed up. This was a steep, twisting out-of-the-saddle affair and set the stage for the rest of the day.

After a couple of long climbs the leaders hulked themselves free and I was joined in chase group #1 with woman with a climber’s physique, a guy with a strong eastern european accent and a veteran of the sport who has ridden this ride many times. We kept each other company and bantered (and battled) for a few hills and valleys. While we were making good time and working rather well together we knew that the course had other plans for us. In quick succession we lost one on a flat stretch (pulls were being taken at 24-27mph), we lost another to cramps and the veteran warmed up and took off up the road.

In these extreme conditions the leaders only pull further ahead and the weak fall further behind. After my chase group fell apart around mile 30 I only saw two other souls in the next 70 miles (who also had to slow due to cramping). You just find your dark place and get to the work at hand.

As you can see from the profile this is not your average century:

Nary a pedal was turned that was not uphill

The course had no less than 20 categorized climbs. At least 6 sections between 18-23% grade. Basically you’re either busting your lungs and legs climbing a wall or blasting down into the rain and cold at 40+mph.

There are points where you are kicking yourself for clicking into a smaller gear because it means it will be more pedal strokes to the top. There are points where you recover better standing than you do seated. Some of the climbs are so steep that your wheel loses traction over tar patches on the road, causing violent slips that almost throw you off your bike. Due to the remoteness of many of the roads you are almost always alone struggling against the voices in your head.

While the markings on the road were very clear, I liked using my Garmin 800 to follow the course. With the roads being slick it’s good to get a visual heads-up for what kinds of turns are ahead so you don’t go flying by and have to backtrack. It’s not about saving the seconds–it’s about keeping the mental beating to a minimum. One less cane lash to the brain could be the difference between fighting on and cracking.

After a day of struggle I was not surprised in the least to see the sadistic bastards had planted the finishing tent at the very top of a long climb. Whether it was due to the mental relief that the beating was over or due to the physical release of being able to relax and coast for the last time, a few man tears were shed as I crossed under the checkered banner.

When I arrived back in town I was told that the next group on the rode just reached the last rest stop and were about 2 hours back. Seven riders completed the course about an hour faster than I did.

The time cutoffs for medals were extended due to the weather conditions

Some of the locals of Long Valley who were having brunch at a nearby restaurant started congregating at the finish. They were checking out the bikes of the riders and a family stopped by to interview me about the ride. It was funny: this was not a high-profile race and the only cameras there were owned by the riders and organizers, but the course, the difficulty and the local interest really made it feel like it was something bigger than it was.

Like all things truly epic, time will soften the hard edges of this experience and like a fine wine, it will become legend as it ages.

###

Strava for view of categorized climbs:
http://app.strava.com/rides/24319968

Garmin for temperature profile:
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/231168532

Highlander 2012 Ride Recap

Highlander is a 40/70/100 mile bike tour in the Finger Lakes in upstate NY. Due to the glacial activity that created the lakes there are some great views and climbs. My wife Cara and I signed up for the 70 mile “corkscrew” and made plans for a Friday-Monday long weekend which included the ride as well as some winery tours and hiking.  (On the topic of wines I have to give a shout-out to Herman J. Weimer who makes some excellent whites)

Before I get to the ride, here is one of the waterfalls Watkins Glen State Park. They’re worth a stop if you’re in the area. This trail from the parking lot follows the gorge and within the first mile you see a dozen waterfalls.

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen

This year’s poster has a good olde fashioned painted depiction of one of the roads:

highlander cycle tour poster

Plenty of wrinkles on the topo map:

2012 highlander corkscrew topo map

Things started out well enough. We were in high spirits and keeping a nice steady pace on the hills. Our game plan for the day was to make our rest stops quick to make good time. I had not planned for our Jerseys to be such a hit with the volunteers. Apparently everyone was VERY impressed that we came all the way from NYC for the ride. We shared stories about the city and the different cycling culture/conditions there. On balance making new friends is better than making time so no complaints there.

When the weather is nice some of the locals come out on the big climbs. Like the grand tours, the big climbs are covered with painted messages. Almost all of the roads were a pleasure to ride on (“pleasure” being relative to the angle of the road, of course)–there was little to no car traffic, everything was clean, pavement was ALL better than the roads around the city.

Bagpipes. Image Credit: Valerie Sorrells (http://www.sorrellsphoto.com)

Grim Reaper on Bopple Hill

Grim Reaper. Image Credit: Valerie Sorrells (http://www.sorrellsphoto.com)

We knew the weather could turn on us but we traveled too far not to take the chance. Three days prior the forecast was rain all day. Two days before the chance dropped to 20%. Day before: 40%. Day of: we got rain…

SHEETS of heavy, cold rain:

Image Credit: Valerie Sorrells (http://www.sorrellsphoto.com)

To make it even more fun, we also got a nice 20 degree temperature drop that stuck with us the entire ride…

…and we just missed getting knocked over by a downed tree (this is one of the volunteers attempting to move it for the riders)

Image Credit: Ken Nawrocki

The route is a combination of valleys, farmland and vineyards. When you are in the farming sections you can see for miles. We literally saw the first wall of rain hitting the ground a couple miles out and rushing towards us. I think I screamed a little.

Knowing this might happen, and thinking I was rather clever I brought an extra pair of socks in a ziplock bag. The rain eventually subsided and we started to dry out. Not knowing the exact forecast for the rest of the ride I kept watching the skies for an opportunity to change them and get my feet happy again. As fate would mandate, as I began seriously eyeing the road for a place to sit/lean the skies opened up again.

Before getting to the 50 mile point you descend one of the biggest hills on the course. With wet brakes it’s a little harder to keep your speed in check. I shadowed Cara down at 40+ mph through the driving wind, rain and cold to the bottom. We were chilled to the bone.

We went heavy on the cookies and pb+j sandwiches in a failed attempt to raise our body temperature through sugar.  Even though the next 10 miles were all uphill we were too cold to start spinning again (it was 50 degrees now and we had only our single layer of soaked lycra) so we hoofed it across the town square to a gas station which, oddly, had diner seating in it. We got snickers bars and hot coffee along with another group of cyclists.

It looked like they had enough. A local with an extended cab pickup pulled up for fuel. When the driver came in to pay one of the ladies asked him:

“How would you like to make 70 bucks today?”

Apparently he did and loaded up his truck with their bikes and brought them back to the start.

Cara and I were still not warming up but were not willing to throw in the towel (though I would have killed for a towel at that point, a few napkins had to do). I surveyed the store. No rain ponchos, though they did have oversized garbage bags. I asked the store clerk and she pointed us to a hunting store across the street, in which we found an amazing assortment of weapons including some that would DESTROY a deer or pheasant. This town is prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

Boom! We found two bright yellow rain ponchos and were back in action.

Took about 5 of the 10 miles of climbing to finally warm up. It was still raining.

On the following descent the cheap plastic tore apart due to the flapping in the wind. To keep from getting tangled in our wheels Cara tied her poncho up like a toga, I stuffed mine in my jersey tour de france style.

…and that’s how we rolled all the way to the finish.

Odd moment from the ride: we were cresting a little roller and were riding towards a steep embankment where some cows were grazing. One of them looks me straight in the eye and moos (loudly) at me. Generally cows just moo. This is the first time I’ve been moo’d AT. It was strange. We burst out laughing.

The dinner at the ski lodge was great and included mostly local fare including pulled pork sandwiches and grape pie. We were given goodie bags with a bottle of wine from a local winery. They had the heat on.

After the ride we went back to our hotel and used some of our daughter’s bubble bath in the in-room whirlpool (the label said it was safe!) which created a comically large mountain of bubbles. No photos so you’ll have to take my word for it.

All in all: epic win.

Names of some of my rides on Strava

By default Strava names your ride by date. While it’s technically accurate for your feed to say “Johnnie Walker walked 3 miles on 8/27/12″ it’s just not that descriptive or interesting.

In the spirit of McSweeney’s, here are the titles of some of my recent morning rides in Central Park:

  • Missed the memo–It’s Everyone Wear Their Backpack Day!
  • Every day Shufflin’
  • Heavy Legs in Central Park. So Heavy.
  • 6am is Too Early
  • Lantern Rouge on the Hospital For Special Surgery Express Train
  • 88% Humidity Means Your Jersey Wicks Water From the Air, Not You
  • SQUIRRELS!
  • Zzzz… *snort*. Wha? HOLY SH** I’M ON A BIKE!
Titles that I have not used (or haven’t gotten to use yet):
  • OMG DID YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THAT RAT?
  • Wafts of weed, which way was I going again?
  • U guys do Tri? U in a frat? No? They y u jerks about wheel sucking? (troll face)