Tuesday, September 30, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Monday, June 23rd

St. Jean de Maurienne-St. Michel de Maurienne-Col de la Telegraphe-Valloire-Col de la Galibier-Col de la Lauteret-Briancon-Col de la Izoard-Guillestre

77.3 miles 11,431' climbing

We awoke to deep blue skies, totally calm winds, and the day would prove to be just a little cooler than the past few.

Technically, it was a four col day, but we joined the Lauteret at the top. First off, we went up the Col de la Telegraphe, which many think of as just a prelude to the Galibier, but it is a separate climb. Coming off of the Telegraphe, one descends some three miles to the village of Valloire, which is where the Galibier starts. Total climbing for the two cols is 6900', with just the three mile break.

The Telegraphe spiraled up through the trees, and after approximately 3000’ of climbing, we reached the top and the nice views to be found from there.

The Galibier is a huge climb, and one that you wish would never end. It’s easy to understand why the Galibier, along with the Tourmalet, and the Alpe du Huez, are the three most famous cols of the Tour de France. In a nutshell, the Galibier was absolutely, incredibly awesome.

Out of Valloire, the Galibier starts climbing up through a long and deep valley, initially at about a 9% grade. Then the road just goes up, and up, and up, and it was almost totally devoid of cars. It was a perfect climb on which to listen to my iPod Shuffle, although at times I turned it off to hear the wind whistle through the trees, and the water rush down the stream that paralleled the road.

As you approach the end of the valley, you can look up and see where the real climb to the col begins. It kind of reminded me of riding on the North Cascade Highway from East to West. After you pass by Mazama, at one point you can look up to the right, and see a series of long hairpins that climb to the top. It was as such with the Galibier, and once I was in those hairpins looking down, I recognized the view. In the Tour, they always use the camera angle looking down from the hairpins, usually from a breakaway back to the peloton. I remember the shot of Vinokourov (cheater), with the camera looking over his shoulder, as he took note of his lead during the 2005 tour. From TV, I also recognized the café at the junction of the Galibier descent and the top of the Col de la Lauteret. We had a stop sign, but the tour riders go through a fast left hand sweeper that starts them on the road down to the town of Briancon.

About halfway up through the many hairpins, we encountered a magazine shoot featuring a number of professional motorcyclists. They were photographing the riders on sportbikes at extreme lean angles through the turns, and we saw the motorcyclists practicing the line through each turn before they barreled through it at high speed. Imagine the hoops you would have to jump through to (legally) pull this off in the US! As I was crawling up at less than 10mph, it made for a nice contrast, and there was never enough traffic to cause any problem at all.

At our lunch stop in Briancon, we were approached by a couple from South Carolina. Tim and I wanted to get back on the bikes before the heat built, but we chatted on with the friendly couple. They sounded very envious of what Tim and I were up to.

The Izoard started off relatively mildly with a tailwind and moderate grades, but it had a very hard, steep and long finish. The climb totaled around 3700’, and was yet another HC rated ascent.

On the Izoard, I didn’t use the Shuffle, as it was a metaphysical experience just riding the bike. Once again, with no cars, the only sounds were those of the wind and rushing water.

As long as the climb to the top of the Galibier had been, it was still astounding just how long the descent was. Basically, we rode downhill all the way to Briancon, a distance of 35km (22 miles). Dropping off of the Col de la Izoard, the first thing we noticed was just how much more arid it was on the south side. We were still a ways from the Alps Maritime, but already signs were evident.

The Izoard featured the smoothest road we had yet encountered, which made for a super fast descent, and the entire climb had a bike lane, not that it was needed, at least on this day. Maybe it was the afternoon heat, but I would see a sign showing a 6% grade for the next kilometer, and it would feel like 9%. Then I’d see a 9% sign, and it would feel like 6%!

It was truly an incredible day. The views from both the Galibier and Izoard were just stupendous. From the top of the Galibier, you could see approx. 100 miles to Mt. Blanc, the summit of which is the highest in Continental Europe at 15,774’ (4808m).

We had decided in the advance planning stage to go over the Col de Vars in the car, rather than add another col to a very hard day. It’s a good thing, because we wound up with a 1.5 hour construction delay.

Barcelonnette is a French town with a little bit of Mexican history, and as such, they play up the theme with Mexican restaurants and architecture. It seemed a little strange to be eating Mexican after so many days of Italian and French, but it was a nice change of pace.

Quality 10+
Route 10+
Scenery 10+

Sunday, September 28, 2008

9/28/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Whew, that was hard!

On Friday, I did 60 pretty hard miles on the singlespeed (you don’t get many “easy” ones), and I felt it in my legs on my short Saturday ride. I was operating under the premise that Jeff was going to be leading today’s HOWC, and I figured I could start with the group, and hang around until I felt like going home if I was tired.

Well, Jeff got sick, so I led the ride. I had already decided I was going to take the Bullet Bike (new nickname), and find out how I would do riding singlespeed on a hard group ride. I knew that it would not be the best weapon of choice, but I had to see for myself. Besides, yesterday I thoroughly cleaned the other bike, took photos for ebay, and readied it to have the components stripped off and installed on a new frame.

There were eight of us, and all were strong riders eager to have a go at it on a picture perfect morning.

With a 70 gear inch ratio, my pedaling “top speed” is realistically around 22mph, and had we chose to stick to a strenuous pace I would have been ok on flat sections. I still would not have been able to keep up on gradual downhill roads, but you never know unless you give it a shot.

As it turns out, pedaling at 140rpm on flat and downhill sections is more tiring than climbing steep hills at 60rpm, even while standing up on the whole climb. I would lose the draft, become unhitched, and then have to work extra hard on the next uphill section to get back on. Chasing hard riding cyclists over and over is tough work!

I offered to split the ride, but that wouldn’t have worked because everybody wanted to ride hard. It wasn’t fair to hold the group up, and I also couldn’t expect them to hold back going downhill. I wanted everybody to have a good ride, so I did the best I could.

I had to be home early today, and could only do 35-45 miles. If time permitted, I had built in an optional loop around Mercer Island on the way back downtown. By the time we got there, my legs were a little cooked. I don’t think it would have mattered anyway. Once we would have finished the initial gradual uphill section, I knew pandemonium would break loose (it always does on the loop), and I wouldn’t have had a chance of staying with the group through the fast rollers.

So, of the eight of us, seven went around Mercer Island, and I rode home by myself. Not great protocol for the “Ride Leader”, but I had a great ride, and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves. That’s always the goal on the HOWC ride, so mission accomplished.

The moral of the story is that the singlespeed is ideal for certain things, and not so hot for other types of rides.

Tracy has been really busy with both work and finishing her Doctorate by June of 2009. She gets in a short run whenever she can, but Tracy has pretty much abandoned her bicycle, and she misses long rides on her bike.

As an "incentive", I told her that in 2009, I would ride Ramrod or do the STP-one day with her, but she didn't see that as much of a treat to look forward to. We could also ride the High Pass Challenge together, but I actually had so much fun volunteering with her as a team that I think I'd rather do that again.

So I have added a new item to the list. I will ride the STP with her on my singlespeed (as long as she promises to wait for me on the downhills!). If she wants a real challenge for the two of us, I'll even do it in one day.

Guys, if you are reading this, I hope I didn't compromise the spirit of the ride, and I won’t show up with the Bullet Bike on a group ride again. Give me a shot in a group of two or three, where the singlespeed is more in its element.

I hope to see you on the road.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Sunday, June 22nd

Alpe du Huez-descend to Croix de fer start-car to St. Jean Maurienne

18.5 mi 4172' climbing

After a solid breakfast, we escaped from the hell of the Milan Hotel, and rode the few short miles to the foot of the Alpe Du Huez. I knew that the start was hard from watching the Tour, but 1.5 miles at 10.5% always seems so much easier on paper.

Think of the Zoo Hill, or the climb up the north side of Squak Mountain, only a lot steeper. Now consider that you are starting your day with this following many days of grueling mountain riding.

Imagine Lance Armstrong hitting this section on the wheel of George Hincapie, as he powered up it in the big ring, or Carlos Sastre attacking and winning the 2008 Tour on this very strip of blacktop, and how easy they made it look. Well forget about that last image, because the Alpe is a hard climb, and the start is seriously hard.

Ok, it was hard, but not as hard as I had expected. Perhaps because we had been doing so many climbs that were much longer and almost as steep, Alpe du Huez felt like just another piece of the puzzle.

I rode up this bottom section with Tim just up ahead of me. Almost immediately, we started passing other cyclists, and I guess subconsciously, one has to make a decision as to how important it will be to not be passed. I actually managed to pass everyone I saw except for Tim, who as usual was taking no prisoners.

While there were a lot of obviously very serious cyclists on very serious bikes, not everyone fit into that category. Even more so than on other famous climbs we did in Italy and France, the Alpe appeals to everyone. I must admit that the people I saw inching their way slowly up the climb didn’t appear to be suffering; they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. And why not? How often does one get to climb one of the three most famous climbs used in the Tour, along with the Galibier and the Tourmalet?

I guess I used up a little more energy than I needed to, and it was due to the “Man in Black”. There are 21 numbered hairpin turns on the Alp, with the first turn named #1. Somewhere around number 10, I noticed a cyclist dressed all in black standing near his bike as I entered the left hand turn. As I rolled by him, I took a cursory look back in my little mirror, and I saw this rider do a running mount onto his bicycle. He kind of looked like a cowboy in a western movie, as he ran to his bike and dove onto it. He was going to use me as his “rabbit”!

Unless he was by the side of the road for a lot longer than it takes to enjoy a nice view, I had to figure that I had caught him, and it just seemed almost criminal for him to use me as his incentive to get himself up the climb. I was probably 50’ ahead of him, and he was gaining on me as I maintained the same effort that I had been at before I went by.

About four years ago I started using a helmet mounted mirror in order to keep track of the riders on the weekly group ride I lead. It was easy to glance in the mirror to check if everyone had cleared the red light, or made the last turn. Being well aware that the geek factor was huge, I originally intended on using it only on that ride. After discovering how effective it was riding solo, I just stuck with it, figuring that the increased safety factor overruled the geekiness. I took some consolation from a story about a very successful local Cat 1 racer who used a mirror to monitor the riders that he dropped.

In this particular situation, my mirror was worth its weight in gold. Not only did this cyclist give me motivation to ride a little harder than I really wanted to, he unwittingly became a participant in a very cruel game I played.

I had noticed that when we would hit a section of easier grade, he would slowly gain on me, and when we hit a steeper section, I would pull away from him. Without the mirror, I wouldn’t have known how far back he was, or where his “weakness” lay.

I thought I would lose him, but he was hanging in there, and this went on for a good 10 minutes. At about the same time I was tiring of the game, I saw my opportunity. I was entering a blind steep hairpin to the right, and I could tell the steep pitch continued above the turn. After cruising around the turn, I applied extra pressure to the pedals when I was hidden from his view. When the “Man in Black” exited the turn, I had significantly increased the gap, and I saw his head drop immediately. I persisted with the pressure on the pedals, and he cracked like an egg. Not to sound mean, but it served him right!

Despite all the times watching the tour riders on the Alpe, I didn’t know where the official "top" was (it looks different with the fencing, and the throng of people), and I motored right on by Tim and just kept on riding. The road actually continues on up quite a way up past the standard finish line at a little village, and Laura had driven on ahead as she was looking for Tim and me.

Having descended the monster that is the Col de la Croix de Fer the day before, I had to admit that I was having elements of doubt creep into my mind after we finally hooked up. I’m not sure if it was the day in, day out heat wave we were experiencing, or if it seemed redundant to climb what we had descended the day before. Maybe it was just time for a break. I made the decision to do the descent of the Alp du Huez to the northwest, the bottom of which winds up at the start of the Croix de Fer climb to the north. At that point, I was going to get in the car, and skip the climb. For whatever his reasons might have been (possibly misery loves company, and he wouldn’t have any), Tim came to the identical conclusion.

Back at the same hotel we had stayed at on Friday night, I was luxuriating in the cool air of my room, while it was about 90 outside. European showers are certainly much better than they were ten years ago, but air conditioning is still very rare. My clean room and comfortable bathroom were in stark contrast to the almost prison cell block décor that was the Hotel Milan in Le Bourg.

Tomorrow we would ride and descend the Galibier, and today we replaced our brake pads. The few miles we had done in the rain in Italy had pretty much destroyed the new brake pads I had installed right before the trip. Since the only thing that is more important than good brakes when descending these mountain roads is a lot of common sense, we weren’t taking chances.

After it cooled off a little bit, we all went for a little walk around St. Jean de Maurienne. This being Sunday, it was a total ghost town, and about the only thing open was the little café we stopped at. Later on, we had a wonderful meal sitting outdoors at a traditional French restaurant. I had cold smoked salmon on a bed of bread, vegetables, and lettuce, and accompanied by cold soup. Just what the Doctor ordered on a smoking hot day, although the hot frites tasted pretty good too.

After dinner, I relaxed in my cold cave of a hotel room, and pondered tomorrow’s double HC climbs of the Galibier and the Izoard.

Quality 10
Difficulty 8 (would have been a 10+ with the Croix de Fer)
Route 10
Scenery 8

Saturday, September 20, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Saturday, June 21st

St. Jean de Maurienne—Chambre—Col de la Madeleine--Col du Glandon—Col de la Croix de fer-Le Bourg d’ Oisans

71.3 miles 11,310’ climbing

“Probability is like gravity. You cannot negotiate with gravity”. Sony Crockett as played by Colin Farrell--Miami Vice--the movie

Anybody that says the riding in the Pyrenees is harder than the Alps has not ridden where we were riding in the Alps. Last year’s crossing of the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean was nothing like what Tim and I were undertaking. Today, we climbed over 10,600’ in our first 50 miles of riding. Doing back to back HC climbs almost right out of the door will do that for you.

After a few miles of valley riding, Tim and I were at the foot of the spectacular Col de la Madeleine, a 5200 vertical foot climb that averages 7.8% in grade.

I guess it was appropriate that about two thirds of the way up the climb, I picked up a friend as I rolled through a small village. I tried to communicate with this fine specimen of man’s best friend as he trotted alongside of me, but he obviously spoke only French, and besides, I didn’t know his name. Just a little over a year ago, our cat named Madeline died at the age of 13, and for me, she was the greatest cat of all time. Here I was, riding the Madeleine for her…with a dog. My not-so-little buddy lost interest in me as I exited his little town.

Once on top, Tim and I had a chat with a couple of motorcyclists. One of them was riding a pristine example of a 1990 Honda CBR 1000 Hurricane in the same colors as the one I had ridden for three years or so back in the day.

La Madeleine was an up and back climb for us, the only one of the entire trip. Even on le Alp du Huez, we found a way to ride down the northwest side of the mountain, thereby saving a few miles, and avoiding a round trip via the south side.

As Tim and I started downhill on the long descent, the dog from the village below popped up over a little rise. He was summiting the col! He must have followed other cyclists after he left me, and he probably did this every day he could. He was a handsome beast, and a strong one. I wonder if he times himself!

On the way down the descent of la Madeleine, I had the only really scary moment of the entire trip. As I dropped into a tight, blind right-hander, a small car hugging the “racing line” came barreling up towards me. I hit the brakes while leaned over, and my rear tire stepped out just a little bit. The driver clipped his apex, fully in my lane, and I hugged the inside edge of the road and hoped for a good outcome. What a moron! Maybe he thought he had his radar on that morning, but if I was in the same spot just a few seconds earlier…Tommy Timing!

From the start, the Col du Glandon was not a very pretty climb, and it would get a lot uglier as we went up. The last 3+ kilometers of the Glandon averaged 10.3% into a headwind, not that the wind mattered much. I was going so slowly I couldn’t outrun the flies that were hovering around my face, and I didn’t have the energy to bat them away. It was brutal, and as usual, I didn’t look at my power or cadence for the whole climb. It’s a good thing, because it would have been demoralizing. I guess we were lucky the Glandon topped out at only 6300’, because it sure would have been harder at 9000’. On the flip side, you don’t see too many cows grazing at 9000’, and it would have been cooler.

Pictures don’t do it justice, but Tim was riding a beautiful all carbon bicycle, handmade by Simplon in Austria. I thought my rig was pretty light at 14.5# with pedals, but Tim not only out climbed me, he out “weight weenied” me. His bike weighed less than 14#!

The Glandon links up with the Col de la Croix de Fer near its top, so we rode just a short ways uphill on de Fer, but we rode a very long ways down the other side, the side we would be climbing after the Alp the next day.

As we were descending the Croix de Fer, Tim and I looked down the road and saw a cyclist coming up the other way. Even from a distance, something looked different about him. As we drew closer, we could see him weaving across the road, initially covering its full width, and then just the uphill lane as we approached. Hopelessly over geared and apparently incredibly fatigued, he was barely ticking the pedals over at about 20 rpm.

Tim and I nodded a greeting to him, and then we looked at each other at about 40mph. No words were necessary, as I could tell both Tim and I had no doubt that this rider was going to the top, one way or the other…and he was only about 25% of the way there. He was stuck in his own "personal purgatory". One of the great things about cycling is that one gets to choose one's own poison.

As opposed to most of the huge descents we had already done, which allow a rider to plummet non-stop like a stone, the Fer descent has several climbs in the middle of its 17 miles. They are not long, but they are steep in places, especially when it feels like your legs are now filled with concrete.

Like a true champion, Tim pulled into headwinds the whole way up the valley to Le Bourg. Tim, if you are out there in German cyber land, Thank You!

By this time into the trip, I was convinced that there couldn’t possibly be cycling as great as this anywhere else in the whole world. I also was starting to feel that the other aspects of this type of travelling had its downside.

We spent the night in Le Bourge, at the foot of the Alp Du Huez. Our hotel was called the Milan, and unfortunately for us, it was a dump, the first (and only) bad hotel of the trip. The Milan overlooked the main village square, and just below my window were three or four cafes, an ice cream shop, and of course, a bike shop. As it was Saturday, the village was humming with activity, and since it was too hot to stay in the hotel room, we took the opportunity to do a little strolling.

Somewhat surprisingly, given its location at the foot of the Alp du Huez ski resort; this was to be the least attractive town during my stay in Europe.

Shortly after we returned from a pizza dinner hoping to get a solid night of rest, the “amateur hour” of music commenced. Seemingly, every local from miles around would wait his turn to climb up to the little stage, play his instrument of choice, and wail (sing) away. About every 20 minutes or so, there would be a lull, and then the same local village idiot would get up and strum away at “Hey Joe”, singing the more famous lines in English, and the rest in French.

I’m a big Hendrix fan, but I think I’ll delete this one from iTunes.

It was just horrible! I couldn’t close my window due to the heat wave, and after I called Tracy back home (not to complain!); I just lay there and tried to read myself to sleep. I dozed off after they shut everything down at 1 or 2am, but I slept fitfully the rest of the night.

I have a feeling that Lance never spent a night in the Milan.

Not exactly a good night’s rest, given what we had been up to, and our plan to get on Alp Du Huez as early as possible the following morning, and follow that up with the Croix de fer to the north from whence we had come.

Quality 10
Difficulty 10+
Route 10
Scenery 10

Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out


Well now I have gone and done it. I went and test rode a Tarmac SL2 in “Raw Carbon/White”. I also rode the Cervelo R3. Ravenna was my test track, all the way down to and back up from U Village, so I got to try the bikes in a variety of conditions.

I’ll lay it on the line--I’m not an impulse buyer, but I am a buyer who makes decisions fast once I have what I think I need, info-wise. My 2007 Tarmac SL is an incredible bike, and I’ve loved every mile I have ridden it. I have absolutely no reason to be looking at new bikes. But I am. The thought had not crossed my mind (well, maybe a little) until I was at Center Cycle buying my Langster. Did that put me in the “mood” to buy another bike? I hope I’m not that easy!

For those who have been reading, you’ll know that I am totally enamored with my new Langster singlespeed. While I would just be moving components from my SL and building a new bike up from the frame up, the total cost of either my SL or my potential new SL2 is many, many multiples of what the Langster cost me. I already know that I will not enjoy riding the new expensive bike multiple times more in magnitude vs. my Langster. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I will enjoy it as much as the Langster, at least at this time of the cycling year.

So why am I looking? I’m not sure, but I do know that the SL2 does every single thing a little better than my SL. No improvement gains are huge, but they are noticeable on a 3.5 mile ride, and taken all together they make for a better bicycle. Over the course of many miles of long rides it would make the cycling experience more enjoyable for me.

Racing bicycle development has come a long way over the last five years or so, and I think it’s fair to say that the use of carbon fiber has revolutionized the overall bike business. Five years ago you could buy a very light carbon frame, but it was likely lacking in torsional stiffness. You can still buy a bad carbon bike, as you can with steel, aluminum, or titanium, but bad ones are getting a lot harder to find.

Today, you can buy a nice carbon bike for a fraction of what the top end bikes cost five years ago, and you can find one that is light and stiff, and that has a quality ride. As a matter of fact, IMHO, for $1000-2,000 (complete bike), I think these days you can get a bike objectively 95% as nice as the most expensive bike around. Subjectively, it may not look as nice, and the components won’t be as light, but everything will work well, and the bike will ride great.

That last 5% costs a lot of money.

I’m sure a lot of this is due to most manufacturers having moved production off shore to Asia. Some of it comes from accelerated development driven by increased competitive market forces. This could be partly generated by the boom in road cycling as Lance Armstrong put cycling on the map in the US.

One has to wonder about the state of the bicycling industry. Just as steel gave way to aluminum, which in turn yielded to titanium, carbon is now the preferred material to work with. Sure, there are still many fine bicycles being crafted out of other materials, but carbon fiber is the material that has experienced the greatest evolution over the last several years.

This evolution has made it possible to buy a complete bike off of a dealer’s floor that handles superbly, is comfortable to ride, transmits the rider’s power extremely efficiently, and weighs less than 14#.

What will the bicycle industry do for an encore? What new material is waiting in the wings to threaten the dominance of carbon fiber? How will the manufacturers motivate the owners of these super-bicycles to “trade up”? Given how expensive top shelf bikes are, it will take more than a change of color or a new graphics package to bring customers into the shop.

If I just rode a thousand miles a year it would be silly to even be considering another new bike (I just got the Hipster!). As a matter of fact, I think I’d just have one bike, and I would ride it fixed gear.

As you can see from this blog, I take my cycling rather seriously.

Sometimes there just isn’t a totally logical reason for the things we do. Maybe I really do just want a new color.

Miscellaneous ramblings



With a forecast for sun and 80 degrees, I took a ride out to Bellevue with Tracy early this morning. My plan was to ride out to Monroe and Sultan, and then head north on quiet roads, eventually returning to Snohomish on the trail. I’d complete the big day by riding over Seattle Hill to Bothell, and then home.

Dressed in a jersey, light base layer, shorts, arm warmers, and thin liner gloves (thank God), I certainly wasn’t prepared for the thick as soup fog and 49 degrees of Snoqualmie Valley. It was already close to 60 when I had left Bellevue at 8am! Luckily, traffic was very light and I had my Dinotte tail light, which resembles a fireball in low light conditions. I must have subconsciously remembered all of those other foggy days in the valley…

I bailed and rode up High Bridge. Once I was on the ridge to the south of Snohomish I was under brilliant blue skies. I rode down the hill a little for a different perspective, and Snohomish itself, as well as the whole river valley, were still engulfed in the mist. My big ride turned into a ride of 76 miles, but I threw in a few extra hills on the way home just for kicks, and to make sure I joined the 500 Club. Speaking of Snoqualmie Valley

Flying low on the ground

I’m sure I’ll get this wrong, but don’t they say that flying is hours and hours of boredom interrupted by brief moments of sheer terror?

This is just my opinion, but on many days of riding, the further I get from Downtown Seattle, the less safe and secure I feel on the bike. I ride everywhere in the Greater Seattle area, and I believe I know the “safe” way through just about every area. Whenever I venture out to Snohomish, Auburn, or other outlying places, always in the back of my mind is just a little feeling of uneasiness. It’s possible to go for miles without a single car passing you, and all of a sudden you are on a road with no shoulder, getting buzzed by pickups, RV’s, or even semi trucks, all going at a high rate of speed.

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes I find solace in the crowd, and not as a solo speck in the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The 500 Club

On Monday, September 15th, I crossed the 500,000’ of climbing line in 2008. My 76 mile ride generated 5076’ of climbing for a YTD total of 502,863’.

Up until 2007, I usually racked up around 10,000 miles and somewhere between 375,000 and 425,000 feet of climbing. If I ever saw anything as a goal, it was the mileage benchmark. Without really thinking about it, last year I climbed 515,401 vertical feet with 8820 total miles. My Pyrenees trip in June of 2007 is what pushed me over the top.

Well, here it is September 15th, and I have cracked the 500k mark for 2008. Something like 97,000’ of this came from my June trip to Europe, and many more feet from the preparation for the trip. Since it wasn’t a goal, there will be no celebration, and no concentrated rush to see how many more feet I can register with my altimeter.

The focus for me is now quality, not quantity. It just so happens that quality riding for me involves going up and down a lot, but it’s the quality of the experience that matters, not the quantitative result.

Unless I do something about it, and I don’t intend to, 2008 will be the first year for many years where I did not do one single ride of over 100 miles in length. I’m not much of an event guy, so riding organized “Centuries” has never been my thing, but normally I go over 100 miles quite a few times in a given year.

I don’t know where I am with YTD mileage, but I do know the final number will be more determined by the weather and my enthusiasm for riding than anything else.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Friday, June 20th

Courmayeur-Passo St. Bernard (2188m)-Seez-Val d' Isere-Col de Iseran (2770m)-St. Jean Maurienne

84.33 miles Climbing 10942 ft

After a good breakfast and loading the car, I swung a leg over my bike and prepared to descend the very steep driveway from the hotel down to the village road. Luckily for me, there was about five feet of flat cobblestone before the drop. Lucky because I had no brakes! Obviously plummeting brakeless down the steep pitch would have been an embarrassing way for my big European riding adventure to come to a close.

Tim and I had adjusted cable tension on my Zero Gravity Brakes, and we both had failed to notice that our adjustment was preventing the cam arm from retracting far enough to squeeze the brake pads onto the rim. It was an inauspicious start to what would prove to be a phenomenal first day in the Haute French Alps.

First we had to get to the French Alps, and that involved riding from Courmayeur over the St. Bernard Pass. At the top of this col, the Italian Alps miraculously become the French Alps, and the view is panoramically stupendous. The ride up wasn’t too bad either, as the early morning air was cool, and most of the light traffic we encountered was a collection of Ferraris, both vintage and new, as a club must have been on a rally. The climb was about 12 miles in length with 3600’ of climbing, but it was never really steep.

The descent into the French valley below was to be the first of many remarkable pieces of smooth and exhilarating roads we would be riding in the Alps. We paused for a quick bite at the bottom in the village of Seez, and then almost immediately we started up the longest climb in France.

At over 31 miles, the climb up to the famous ski town of Val d’Isere, and then on up to the HC rated Col du Iseran, well, it really does seem to go on forever. Despite the heat making it difficult even when the grade would ease, climbing to the second highest col in France was a delight. Considering that we did roughly the same amount of total climbing (6000’) over the 16 miles of the Stelvio in the Italian Alps, in comparison this climb really wasn’t that hard until the final steep slopes high on the Col du Iseran.

The Iseran used to be the highest col in France at 2770 meters (9088’), but more on that when I report on the Bonnette (June 26th) in the Maritime Alps. Hint—the Iseran has not shrunk in height, and no new cols have recently been discovered!

Val d’Isere looked to be a very cool town, and with lifts operating above 9000’ in elevation, taking in the views of the surrounding mountains would be relaxing, if we didn’t have to grind up through the heat. Right before town, I passed two riders, who then went by me when I stopped by the car for water. I caught one of the riders, but the other one must have felt a much stronger second wind than I did, as I never saw him again.

The skies were deep blue, and the temperature was close to 90 degrees at lower elevations, but miraculously we had a helping tailwind for much of the big climb. The subsequent headwind on the descent just gave us a little bit of an air brake, and made it a little easier to look over the edge of the road to the valley thousands of feet below our wheels. Down in the valley we could swivel our heads and trace the ribbon of tarmac that we had just descended, and I thought back to the Pyrenees trip I had taken the year before. Cycling in the Pyrenees is spectacular, but the views in the Alps were so much more dramatic.

Down in the valley, the hot headwinds continued, and after 84 miles of riding, we called it a day and jumped in the car for the final somewhat boring route into the town of St Jean de Maurienne, where we would spend Friday night. We would return to the same hotel on Sunday night after riding Alp du Huez.

Besides very friendly hotel staff and an excellent big serving of pasta for dinner, we had the additional pleasure of air conditioning in the hotel. This was to be something I would look forward to on Sunday…and reminisce about over the ensuing days.

Difficulty 9
Quality 10
Route 10
Scenery 9

Friday, September 12, 2008

Miscellaneous Ramblings

After witnessing all of the inspired riding at Sunday’s High Pass Challenge, on Monday I headed out solo to Cougar Mountain. I was hoping to find the enthusiasm and motivation for one last “blaze of glory” up a few of the hard climbs that I frequently time myself on.

Having set of number of new “PR’s” in July, I was aware that I had not attempted hard attempts on several of the area climbs including the Zoo Hill and Pinnacle off of Cougar Mountain Dr. On Montreaux and 164th, I had managed to go lower than my previous best times, even though I had not made a “full out” effort. I say full out, but in actuality, all of these climbs were done in the context of a longer ride, either solo, or as part of a Hills of the West Coast or Team HPC ride. None of the new PR’s I managed to achieve were TT efforts, or I would have had to take a taxi home after one climb! Nevertheless, they were very hard efforts, and done in conditions similar to past PR climbs.

Included among my July personal successes were Somerset Dr. (5:55), Olympus to the top of Squak Mountain (16:10), Mountain Parkway to the top of Squak (14:37), 153rd to Horizon View/Summit (9:15), and the climb up to Newcastle Golf Club (3:39). Noteworthy is the fact that on the longer climbs my new times were between 1:03 and 1:45 lower than my previous bests, so I know I was going about as good as I can go. No, I wasn’t screaming up climbs like Lance Armstrong, but it felt really good. Even if I was given back my youth and had the best coaching in the world, I would never ramp up these climbs like Lance, but compared to my previous self, I was doing well. This is the kind of competition that is fun for me.

I also threw in a new PR to Sunrise at Rainier, even though I was disappointed with my performance on that one.

After returning from Europe in late June, I cooled my jets for a week, and just did short, easy rides. The next week, purely by accident, I discovered that I had the form of my life. I was out with a few friends that I ride with frequently. They were setting a pace that normally would require a little bit of work for me to hang with. I won’t say it was effortless, but I appeared to be working a lot less hard than they were, and I just could tell that something was different. So this is what they mean by “peaking”! I guess I wish I had been able to time this peak for my cycling trip in Europe, but realistically, I think it was my cycling in Europe that gave me the peak. Maybe they pump EPO into the general water supply over there?

As I rolled across Mercer Island, my intentions of hammering my way up Zoo and then Pinnacle were fading fast. My heart just wasn’t into it, and I knew that if I tried to force it, I would be disappointed with my effort or my time, and likely with both.

I managed to get myself in tune long enough to at least climb up to Horizon View/Summit, and I did it in 10:15. Even though this was three seconds faster than my previous best before I went 9:15 in July, it just wasn’t fun, and not because I was going 10% slower than I had been.

Where has the thrill gone? It was so easy to go so hard in July, and now I have lost all impetus for the big effort, at least mentally. Put me back on my singlespeed!


When people ask me how my ride went, most of the time my first thought is not usually how the route was, or how I enjoyed the people I might have ridden with, or even if I had good energy for the ride. Almost always what comes to mind is what I call the IPD rating. IPD is short for idiot per day. How many people did stupid things…cars, pedestrians, other cyclists, me?

These incidents seem to come in batches. I’ll go for a long time and ride many miles in relative bliss. One can never let their guard down on a bicycle or motorcycle, and sure enough, if and when you do, your complacency can extract a high cost.

Today it started with a Metro Bus rapidly pulling out right in front of me. Come on, driver, aren’t you paid by the hour? Or was I wearing an invisible cloak over my fire engine red jersey? What about the next two women car drivers who did the same thing? One was talking on a cell phone (without the hands free device now required by law), but the other appeared to be totally ignorant of any of her surroundings. Scary!

Luckily for me, I was well rested and my concentration was sharp, which provided me with a large anticipatory “envelop”, and I was easily able to avoid a dangerous situation.

Given that these incidents occurred in the first 15 miles of my ride, I settled into a zone of heightened concentration for the remainder of the journey. Hopefully I can carry that concentration with me whenever I get on a bike, cross a downtown street, or just roll out of bed.

Hipster update

On short, steep hills up to 10 or 12%, this singlespeed bike actually climbs better for a given effort than my racing bicycles. By better I mean faster, and since I am riding it, therefore, I am going faster on these types of hills.

Silence is golden. Track bicycles must have certain equipment to be legal when raced on a track. This must include big burly chains that would look more at home on a motorcycle, or maybe a lawnmower. Apparently a burly chain requires a burly lube, and since switching to Dumonde Tech’s wet lube, I now experience the “Sounds of Silence” as I roll along. The newfound stealth lets me creep up behind unsuspecting cyclists on fancy bikes (like my other bikes), and then blast by them on short hills.

Even when I am tired, I want to ride the Hipster hard. This is a good thing, since there really isn’t much choice if you encounter headwinds or significant hills. It’s just so damn fun to ride this bike, why not go at it a little? I have no device of any kind mounted, so I have no idea what my speed, heart rate, or power is, and that just suits the personality of the bike and its rider just fine.

Before I started riding the Hipster, I expected to deal with a lot of built in limitations, especially in the Seattle area, where it’s hard to find 50’ of level pavement. Much to my surprise, these “limitations” appear as challenges, and for that reason alone riding the Hipster is a blast.

Now that I have fixed the noise, about the only other thing I could work on would be the weight. In a way I kind of enjoy the “built like a Sherman Tank” feeling, especially in contrast to my 14.5# S-Works Tarmac SL. Just putting some good Conti tires on took 11oz of rotating weight off of the Hipster. The solid axle track wheels are heavy, albeit with the impression of indestructibility. The wheels, and the whole bike, have a really solid feel, especially now that I ride in a cone of silence whether pedaling or coasting downhill. Part of the fun is blasting by “targets” on fancy bikes, and knowing that I am aboard a solid piece of equipment makes it all the more rewarding. The weight doesn’t seem to be impeding my progress up the hills, but what would it be like if the bike weighed 5# less? One of the reasons it climbs so well, is that it has a stout aluminum frame without a hint of flex, and I certainly wouldn’t give that up to save a little weight.

If you told me that this was the only bike I could ride for the rest of my life, I’d be totally content with that. I might miss the racing bike and its functionality that enable me to lead my weekly Sunday ride, or go on long mountain tours…or I might not. God, I love this thing, and it’s clouding my decision about replacing my SL with a new 2009 Tarmac SL2. Am I thinking of dropping the cash and upgrading simply for a color change?


On Wednesday, I took the 7:35am passenger ferry (along with 3 other people) to Vashon, did a good ride, and then rode home from the Fauntleroy ferry terminal. The passenger ferry had unloaded a seemingly impossible number of people, and a similar number was waiting to board the last run to Seattle for the day when I arrived at the Vashon terminal.

I was scratching my head as to why there were so many houses for sale on Vashon, and I now think it’s because the writing is on the wall for the passenger ferry. I had to return to Fauntleroy because there were no passenger ferries back to downtown Seattle until the next morning.

When the passenger boat goes away completely, housing values will plummet, as there will be no direct ferry to Downtown Seattle. People (most, at least) still have to make a living, and that doesn’t happen without a commute to Seattle. Homeowners are trying to get out before it gets really ugly.


Today on Magnolia was one of those rare days when I felt a little tired and quite strong at the same time. Getting back on the Tarmac was fun after several days in a row of riding the Hipster. Switching between bikes and the different riding styles that they dictate is freshening up my whole attitude toward cycling. I think I am burned out on hard riding, but then I jump on the singlespeed and go hard. The next day I do a few hard paced climbs on my racing bike.

I think I’m only really sick of the repetition of certain forums for hard riding. While I love leading the HOWC, it’s the time of year where I am really ready to let it go for awhile. I may show when Jeff leads the ride in October, but then I can choose how I want to ride, and even if I want to do the whole ride.

I rode the Hipster on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for a total of 112 miles, and that makes 224 since I bought it just a few short weeks ago.

I have no doubt that I will climb faster in 2009 because of the strength, both mental and physical, that I will build over the winter riding singlespeed. Having the confidence and knowledge that I climb steep grades faster standing up will propel me up hills faster, assuming I can achieve the level of fitness I had in July. I’ll be another year older, but another year smarter, and I seem to be figuring out ways to go faster, not slower, as I age.

9/7/08 High Pass Challenge Event Recap

2008 High Pass Challenge Recap (will appear in the October Cascade Courier)
By Tom Meloy

Temperatures in the 80’s, light winds, clear skies, and over 500 highly skilled riders combined to make the 2008 High Pass Challenge an incredible event. The HPC was yet another Cascade event superbly produced and organized by the highly efficient Cascade staff and volunteer team.
Given the stunning scenery, and no cars to contend with on the final push to and from Windy Ridge, the highest part of the route was an almost wilderness experience, assuming you could overlook sharing the spectacle with other cyclists.

We made it tougher this year, but many riders chose to go for the gold, attempting to complete the arduous 114 mile route in 7 hours of total time or less. Somewhere between 70-80 riders beat the 2pm cut off time to earn gold, and a similar number finished before 3pm to take home silver.

A noteworthy silver medalist was Kasey Board, a thirteen year old riding with his father. Kasey put some hurt on a lot of more “experienced” riders. Way to go Kasey! Another incredible performance came from Luke Britton, who put in a strong effort on a singlespeed bike, and completed the entire route.

I heard stories of riders who did not stop at all during the entire ride, apparently foregoing the event food stops, and eating food they had brought with them on the bike. Hopefully they were successful with that “pro move” that they never show on television!

Other riders with different goals rode hard, but paused long enough to take some great photos and socialize for a brief time at the well stocked food stops.

The HPC event was created to give “high performance” cyclists a late season hard ride they could then fondly recall over the ensuing rainy months. To make the event unique, it’s a challenge, with finisher “precious” medals to people who complete the route within certain cutoff times.

Riders started in Packwood, and then climbed 4600’ up to Mt. St. Helens’ Windy Ridge Viewpoint. From Windy Ridge, the riders returned to Packwood via quiet roads lined by lush forest. Total mileage was 114 miles with 7650’ of total climbing. Judging by the feedback on event day, the event route was not only tough, it was also noteworthy for its scenic beauty, as well as the overall low volume of auto traffic.

Thanks to all of the volunteers who made this event possible, as well as to the entire Cascade staff for organizing and delivering such a polished event in just the second year.
Special thanks go to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Mt. St. Helens National Monument staff for sharing our enthusiasm for a new cycling event in the great Pacific Northwest.

Cascade Bicycle Club looks forward to many future years of the High Pass Challenge.

My Team HPC message board post:

Ok, it's time for some observations from someone who didn't ride the HPC this year.

Tracy and I did the Team Volunteer thing and we had a blast. I never knew "work" could be so much fun! We spent a lot of time at the start/finish line, both watching the launch at 7am, and then watching riders stream back in. I saw a lot of smiling faces despite how hard the ride must have been. Most seemed to prefer the heat to last year's cold.

I'm a little biased, but I thought (and heard from many others) that CBC did an absolutely incredible job with this event. We got the 7am start right, and it was easy to ask the riders to hold in the gate, and they pleasantly complied! David Douglass and the crew did a great job marking the course, organizing the food stops, etc., and there certainly was no lack of food.
I think the only thing that is a little odd is that some riders seem to miss the Cline Road turnoff, and wind up coming back up Rt. 12 all the way from Randle. At Iron Creek, at times we had three people flagging the riders who were descending, and telling them that the route was to the right, not back down the way they had come up. Even with that effort, we still had people ride right by us! We got everybody turned around, but the climbing must have caused a little brain fade. Next year we are going to sign that turn really well, and we'll do the same for the turn off Cispus onto Cline. For 2009, it will take a purely intentional decision to short cut the route.

It's a ride, not a race, but those who cut off some of the course to save time will likely do it again next year. Go figure...

One thing is for sure--Team HPC was well represented in the group of 70-80 gold finishers. As a matter of fact, I knew an awful lot of the early finishers, as many not only had red jerseys on, there were also many regulars from the Hills of the West Coast ride. It makes me think we must be doing something right when we go out and ride our ___ off every Sunday.

It was obvious that there were a lot of different goals and agendas amongst the riders. As long as a rider made it in by 5pm, I'd say he/she had a successful experience. Some took photos and socialized at every rest stop, while other riders never even got off the bike. I hope they practiced that "pro move" that they never show on TV before they tried it at the HPC!

I was just an observer at the 2008 HPC, but I certainly liked what I observed. Congratulations to all who had a great ride, and please keep the feedback coming.


Friday, September 5, 2008

The Pure Elegance of Simplicity...and Change

On Wednesday, I took the ferry over to Winslow and rode the Chilly Hilly route on Bainbridge Island. I can’t believe how fantastic it felt to jump on my pure racing bike. Two days ago I did a 52 mile ride on my new singlespeed, and loved it, and here I was, enjoying my multi-geared bike more than I have in a long time.

That 52 mile ride was a revelatory ride in many ways. First off, I had no idea I would love riding the Hipster to the point of craving to ride it! I had read all of the web chatter about riders not wanting to get back on their regular bikes after riding fixed/SS, but I thought they were blowing smoke.

Considering that I am burned out on riding the Tarmac really hard, it’s kind of shocking to me that I can’t wait to ride the Hipster pretty hard. I have had a simply incredible year, cycling-wise, and now I’m in the time of year where I decide how I’m going to ride when I throw my leg over the bike. I’m tired of a training plan with “structure”, and I’ve achieved my big goals for the year, so I just want to hang loose and enjoy the ride.

Change is a very good thing. If you have never tried Campagnolo, give it a shot; likewise if you have never used Shimano. If you have tons of miles with both, why not give Sram a shot on your next bike? Keep your old bikes, at least the one with Campy:)

I rode many, many miles without even the slightest curiosity as to why all of the professional riders wear only bibshorts. I was fine with my shorts, and didn’t see any reason to try anything else, until a friend of mine listed a couple of good reasons to try bibs. He’d been preaching bibshorts for a long time, and he has been calling for me to try singlespeed/fixed gear for just as long, as have my mechanic, and other riding friends.

It didn’t take riding ten feet for me to realize that I would never buy another pair of shorts that were not bibs. From my first ride with only one gear, I knew that I had really been missing out on something that I didn’t know I was missing. For roughly the price of a high end carbon crankset, I had entered a whole new world of cycling.

It’s hard to describe the elegance of simplicity as it relates to singlespeed. When the headwinds blow, you don’t downshift and slow down, you get low and pedal harder. You learn to refine your tuck like a downhill ski racer. As you approach a short, steep hill, you pedal to build your momentum that will carry you up the first part of the hill, and then you just stand up and power over it. No looking for a lower gear, no time to even think about it, as it’s over before you know it. Just jump on the bike, pedal, brake (yes, leave those on), pedal some more.

It just doesn’t get much better than this.

I hope to see you on the road.