Thursday, July 13, 2017

Amazing Calipers

In 1986, I was working at a shop in Burlington, Vermont as I was finishing work on a college degree. I was hired as a contractor by the US distributor of Look's new all-carbon framesets, which were being shipped out of the Geze ski binding warehouse on Pine Street. I believe that, by this time, Geze had sold its binding business to Look.  The issue was that they had been getting a lot of returns from dealers with the complaint that the frames were out of alignment. The initial KG86 model was made by the French company TVT and used carbon fiber tubes, bonded to aluminum lugs and fittings, using the proven adhesive technology perfected by ALAN on their aluminum frames. The KG86 was the first commercially successful carbon fiber frame, discounting the earlier Exon Graftek and the Raleigh SBDU experimental carbon frames, which all used similar technologies.

French on the left side, English on the right.
One design constraint of carbon fiber frames is that they cannot be cold-set after manufacture, to correct small variations in alignment. My task was to remove each frameset from its packaging, place the frame and fork in alignment jigs, and record its actual measurements. I used the New England Cycling Academy's portable frame alignment system jigs to make the measurements. This jig attached to the bottom bracket shell, as with a full surface plate, but then used precision bearings to allow a beam to provide a rotating reference from which to make measurements. I expect that it may not be quite as precise as a properly setup granite surface plate, but it was a well established system, so I believe the measurements were of acceptable accuracy.

As I recall, the results I got showed that the majority of the frames were, indeed, off by a few millimeters. However, the amount they were off ranged from 0 to a maximum of 4 mm, with most being in the range of 2 - 3 mm. The misalignment could be dropout spacing or centerline alignment, but dropout parallelism was generally quite good.  Main triangle alignment was generally fine. My sense was that almost all the frames were fine, with the amount they were off being too small to notice while riding. I would expect that the misalignment was understandable, considering the state of the technology used to make the frames. It was my sense that the real problem was shops that were pandering to an overly-discerning clientele, attempting to establish their elite status as "pro shops" by misapplying steel frame expectations to an emerging technology. After all, Gereg LeMond and Bernard Hiault were successfully duking it out in the Tour de France on these frames! I also think that the shops had found that the frames, which were about twice the cost of a quality steel frameset at the time, were not selling as fast as they would have liked, leaving Look USA to search for a way to either send a bunch of frames back to France, or to seek a discount.

When the project was finished, I had measured up over 400 framesets. The project took longer than anticipated and the folks who had hired me tried to wiggle out of their initial agreement, but I had kept excellent records of my hours and stuck to the rate under which I had been hired. As I recall, it totaled a bit over $400, which I estimated being about the wholesale value of one of the frames, so I made an offer that they simply give me one of them in my size. For some reason, they wouldn't go for this, so I took the cash.

Fast forward to this past winter when I found a KG86 in my size on eBay for a good price--much less than what I was paid for the project, even without factoring in inflation, which makes that $400 worth about $1,000, today. The decals have a few gouges and the fork was incorrect, but the frame apparently was ridden very little, and I'm happy with it. I expect I will eventually find the correct fork for it, but this one is quite close, in spite of the Litespeed yellow highlights.

Look KG86 - The first commercially successful carbon fiber frame
When I initially built the bike up, I decided to try to use as many French components as I could, and to use parts from the same time period as the frame. If I didn't have a suitable French component, the next choice would be European. I had some cool stuff I had accumulated over the years, so almost everything came right out of the basement.
  • Mavic: headset, crankset, hubs, rims (wheels are SSC, which is pretty much just some decals), stem
  • Sachs freewheel, 13-23, 7-spd
  • Sedisport chain
  • Huret titanium Success front and rear derailleurs
  • Simplex retrofrictions shifters, of course
  • Look pedals--certainly!
Non-French components
  • Campagnolo seatpost (25 mm diameter)
  • Sampson Stratics sealed bottom bracket. I'll probably swap this out for a Swiss Edco, once I replace its bearings.
  • 3TTT handlebars (they probably made the Mavic handlebars, anyway) 
  • Universal LS-1 (Italy) brake levers--just because they're composite, cool, and there has to be some reason I've held onto a brand new pair for 30 years
  • Concor saddle (Italy)--it doesn't fit my butt at all, so perhaps I'll swap it for my ultra-cool Ideal 90 with titanium undercarriage
  • Tape is Orbea, which is the current iteration of the Spanish Zeus company, no telling where it's actually made
  • The sewup tires are high quality, but I'll likely swap them out at some point for a pair of Michelin tubulars that I have, which are exceptionally nice
  •  Tacx (Dutch) bottle cages -- just because they're cool
It's the brakes that are the real point of this post, though. In the photo, the bike has Zeus Supercronos calipers, which were the only non-Campagnolo, European brakes I had that were both short-reach and recess-mount.  While they fit beautifully, and are like-new, I found that the springs are a bit too strong for the mechanical advantage of the levers, and the first ride showed that it was not a great combination.  While the brakes stopped quite well, they were difficult to modulate, as I needed to squeeze the heck out of the levers to get any braking at all, and I have a very strong grip.

I found a set of MAFAC's very last model brakes for sale in France. I had not heard of the LSX model before, but learned that it was a Hail Mary play by the French company in the 1980s. MAFAC was the first company to market cantilever (1946) and centerpull (1952) brakes, but once they had established these designs, they ceased to innovate and simply manufactured them for decades, with small modifications. This really wasn't much different from most bicycle component manufacturers at the time, but by the mid-1970s, MAFAC's products were very stale and the Japanese had become the innovators. The LSX was MAFAC's pull-out-all-the-stops attempt to produce the finest single-pivot sidepull, along the lines of the Modolo Professional, and I think they succeeded. The calipers extensively use high-strength aluminum pieces, superbly machined and finished.  The precision is impressive, the fit on all parts is perfect, and the features are both impressive and, in some cases, unique.
Mavic LSX brakeset
The mounting bolt arrangement is quite interesting, allowing the caliper to be fitted to either recessed or nutted frames and forks.  Different length bolts were available. This could present a bit of a challenge today, as it uses a fine thread. I've labeled the few steel parts with the letter S in the photo. The black piece next to the left arm is a special rubber piece designed to fit over the quick release nut to keep it from scratching the paint on the frame, similar to that used by other manufacturers at the time. The left arm has a nylon insert to keep the arms from rubbing together (some Japanese brakes also have this feature). The arms have brass inserts for the pivots and are separated by plastic washers, backed up by a steel bearing washer. The brake shoes are asymmetrically designed to direct water away and out from under the pads. Even though they are 30 years old, they stop impressively well--with similar grip required for dual-pivot calipers. They are, however, a weak part of the design, as their mounting bolts are designed to mate with the wheel guides and the arms have a recess for these guides. Since the holders are closed at both ends, replacing the rubber pads will be difficult at best, and good luck finding replacement shoes for these rare birds.

The levers are scratched, so perhaps at some point I'll file and polish them and fit them to the bike, but I'm in no rush as the Universals work fine. I'm just surprised that these fine brakes were not accepted better in their time, though I suspect that the cost of manufacture made these too expensive and low-margin to turn around MAFAC's faltering finances. Eventually, MAFAC was snapped up by Sachs, as it consolidated many other failing French companies, like Sedis, Huret and Simplex.  I may eventually swap the derailleurs over to Mavic, but for now the Huret units shift at least as well as any other non-indexed shifters I've ever used, while being even more rare than the Mavics of the era.

I've ridden the bike twice, on 25 and 45-mile rides, each featuring about 10 miles of gravel and with steep (17%) climbs. The ride is quite nice, very similar to that of a quality steel frame of the era, but smoother over rough surfaces and without any chainring rub under heavy load, indicating less flex in the bottom end. Otherwise, it's very similar to my mid-1970s Masi Gran Criteriums in terms of handling, as could be expected, considering the geometry. It rides nice enough that I expect it won't be a wall hanger.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Wilderness Ride

I had hoped that I would be able to ride to the VermontFest educational conference in Killington, as I did once in the past, but the early November weather did not cooperate, yielding instead a cold rain, Thursday morning.  I took the Gunnar with me, planning to get in an evening ride or two, after the rain stopped.  Thursday evening, I headed down steep East Mountain Rd and then to West Bridgewater, to check out some dirt roads that have long intrigued me.  The climb on Bridgewater Hill Rd was quite steep, but I turned around after two miles, as it was getting pretty dark by then and I had the tough climb back to the hotel ahead of me. I'll have to leave those roads for a future expedition.

After the second and final day of the conference, I parked at the bottom of East Mountain Rd in the parking lot of the lower gondola station for the ski area and struck out on a loop I had planned.  I headed down VT-100 toward Plymouth, until I got to the old CCC road that heads up into the Coolidge State Forest. The single-lane road was closed for the winter, but quite smooth, and I had it all to myself, winding around the switchbacks as it climbed out of the valley.

At the very top, I came upon what I thought was a monument, but which turned out to be a chimney, likely left from a cabin that had burned.  It was in pretty rough shape.

 After the top of the climb, I came on another gate and the road at this point was open to vehicles, but since it was effectively a dead-end, I saw no one.  With the leaves gone, I had some nice views of the wilderness through the trees and I could imagine what this area might have been like when it was settled, as evidenced by the many stone walls and empty fieldstone foundations.  It was very peaceful.

Soon, the road dropped down the other side of the ridge and houses started appearing.  The dirt turned to pavement as I reached North Shrewsbury, where I stopped to get a few photos of the old church.  This is one of those really short, classic churches, although it doesn't show in the photo.  It's quite similar to the one in East Braintree, except it still has the two entrances common to many of the churches built in the early 1800s, when there were separate doors for men and women.  This is locally known as the Northam Church and the plaque on the front indicates a date of 1823.  The Men's door on the right had been retrofitted with a wheelchair ramp and, with typical Yankee ingenuity, they simply shortened the door by cutting off the bottom.  After all, a wheelchair user doesn't need the extra headroom!

The road soon turned back to dirt, and I made the turn onto Upper Cold River Road, where I soon stopped to take a photo looking up the valley in the setting sun.  I should have brought a real camera with me, as the quality of the one in my Motorola cell phone isn't that great, especially in low light.

Soon, I passed this beautifully restored building that bore a plaque indicating that it had been built as a cheese factory in the 1800s.

The road wound past more stone walls and eventually started a long, steep downward pitch until reaching the recently restored Brown Covered Bridge, built using the Town Lattice truss design in 1880 by Vermont bridge builder Nicholas Powers.

There are two unusual features of this bridge.  First, it is believed to be the only covered bridge in the US that retains its original slate roof.  Second, at one end the bridge abutment is built into a large boulder.  The location of the bridge obviously was chosen to utilize this boulder and this proved quite fortuitous, as it likely saved the bridge from destruction during Hurricane Irene in 2011, when the roadway on the other side of this boulder was completely washed away.  Powers was also the builder of the famous Blenheim Covered Bridge in Schoharie, NY, which was carried off to its destruction by Irene.

The bridge is also considered unusually well-preserved, having received no major reconstruction beyond the replacement of its siding since it was built over 130 years ago. Even so, it remains in extremely sound condition. There wasn't much light left when I shot the last photo, looking down the side of the rebuilt roadway as I climbed back out of the brook's ravine.

I was soon back on pavement and enjoyed a nice descent into Rutland.  I had toyed with the idea of taking another unfamiliar road that headed back into the wilderness, instead of riding busy US-4 over the mountain, but had pretty much decided it was getting too dark when I came on the turn and talked myself into taking the gamble. I soon found myself climbing the exceptionally steep Notch Road, eventually turning onto Wheelerville Rd and was deep in the woods, again. There is nothing left of Wheelerville--and there are only a few houses at the beginning and end of the eight-mile, single lane dirt road.  I found the road deserted, as it wound through the Rutland City Forest.  The road surface was light colored and I took advantage of the partial moon to leave my headlight off and follow the white ribbon through the trees.  It was magical, and the road was almost completely free of potholes, so I enjoyed the dark solitude.  The sounds of animals fighting in the forest kept me moving, though!

Mary Provost's Grave, from
Later, when I was looking for information about the area, I found that I had ridden right by a cemetery that dated back to the mid-1800s, when the area hosted a small settlement.  The cemetery is tiny, with only seven unmaintained graves, and I wondered about the story that must be behind those of three children who died over a fifteen year interval, at ages ranging from 5 months to six years.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like for their mother; how many others in the family may have survived, and did the family give up trying to scratch out a life in the wilderness?  Is that why the parents are not buried there?  Did they move to Rutland, or go to find a better life out west?  The cemetery also contains the headstone of "Indian Joe," who reportedly saved a settlement of whites from impending massacre, and then escaped to Vermont where he hid out from members of his tribe until he died in 1810.  I will definitely head back to the area sometime in the daylight to check out this small patch of Vermont history.

I turned on my headlight when I approached Rte. 4 and took advantage of its wide shoulder as I climbed the mountain alongside a steady flow of traffic.  Four miles later, I reached Pico Ski area, where the road pitched down and the traffic thinned out to a trickle as I enjoyed the long descent past Killington town.  One final, short detour onto Mission Farm Rd, which was almost certainly once part of US-4, and I was back to my car.  It was only 42 miles, but over 4,000' of sometimes extremely steep climbing.  Definitely a great capstone on a good year of cycling.  It will be a fond memory as I slog through the winter months on studded tires, under multiple layers of clothes.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Kelly Stand Loop: An "Epic" Tandem Ride

The term "epic" is vastly overused when describing athletic activities.  You can look up the definitions of the word yourself, but if you will permit me to redefine the term to mean a ride that you will remember in detail the rest of your life, then the loop Jeanne and I did on August 20th certainly qualifies.

I had spotted Kelly Stand Road on a map years ago and quickly decided that it was one that I wanted to ride, sometime.  I was taken by its remoteness and a couple years ago, I was traveling through the area with a suitable bike in the car and decided to try it.  I parked in Arlington and when I reached the start of the road, I noticed with dismay that it was a construction zone.  The road had been largely washed out in Hurricane Irene and its rebuild was one of the last of the storm reconstruction projects in Vermont.  In fact, the state had planned to simply abandon the road, due the extent of the damage, but locals lobbied their legislators until they found the money to reconstruct it.  I forged ahead, past the signs warning me not to, and threaded my way past a number of very large excavators, making it most of the way through before a foreman stopped me.  Since it was far shorter to continue on the road, he let me go on, with an admonition to not come back and to not try it again.  No problem there, but I think my focus on the construction itself distracted me from the grade and left me with a sense that it was easier that it actually was.

Chiselville Covered Bridge
I've long wanted to go back and ride this scenic road on a tandem, so I eventually talked Jeanne into it and we headed down to Manchester to start the ride from there.  The stretch from Manchester to Arlington is quite nice, with pleasant roads that parallel the busier US-7.  There was only one significant climb and we were rewarded with a ride through the Chiselville covered bridge, near the end of the descent.  The name comes from an early mill at this location that was renown for its associated iron works that made outstanding--you guessed it--chisels.

We noticed as soon as we turned onto Kelly Stand Rd that it had been recently graded.  We were riding a tandem with 38mm tires, so we had the right rubber for it, but there were a few places where the grade was steep and the surface loose enough that we had barely enough traction to maintain forward momentum.  There's a big difference between riding smooth, hard packed dirt and freshly graded gravel, especially of the type that has only recently been laid down.  The material contained a lot of sand and none of the clay that tends to work its way up through over decades of use and which can provide a surface that sometimes rivals asphalt.  There was a huge difference once we had completed the several miles of newly rebuilt road and were on the section above the washout, which was relatively smooth, in spite of the grading.

Kelly Stand Rd
We were about half way up the long climb when I realized I was soaked with sweat.  Near the top, Jeanne called me on the fact that I had said it was a long, but easy climb, with only a few steeper pulls.  Her GPS had revealed the truth--multiple 18% climbs, extended grades of 13% - 16% and an elevation of 2800' at the top, for an almost unbroken 2100' climb, much of it on some pretty loose and bumpy gravel.  This rivals many of Vermont's storied "gaps." Including a couple short breaks on the climb, it had taken us 2 1/2 hours to cover less than 21 miles.  On Kelly Stand Rd, we had climbed 1900' in just over eight miles of almost unbroken ascent.  Suffice to say, we were plenty glad to reach the top.

Daniel Webster Monument
Just before the end of Kelly Stand Rd, where it turns to pavement and becomes the Stratton-Arlington Rd,  is a monument that I have been trying to locate for years.  At this location, in the summer of 1840, Daniel Webster came to speak, over the course of two days, to an estimated 15,000 people on behalf of the candidacy of William Harrison for president.  This event has amazed me since I learned about it, as Kelly Stand was little more than a logging camp at that time (it's uninhabited, now), with the only business being a single, small hotel on the stage line.  There was no significant population in the area, yet Webster was such a respected figure that his presence drew a gigantic crowd for the time, with people traveling many miles via horse and buggy to hear him.  Political speeches, like sermons in those days, could run many hours but people didn't have the entertainment options that we now have, so they were willing to go through the hardship of a long trek into the wilderness for such an event.  To assemble 15,000 people, many of them would have had to travel quite a distance to get there!  I think it reflects the level of orator than Webster must have been.  Apparently, it was to good effect, as all the counties surrounding the area went for Harrison in the election, some of them by fairly small margins.  History buffs will recall that Harrison's term only lasted a month, as he caught a bad cold after giving a long inaugural address outdoors in bad conditions and died, leaving his running mate, Tyler, to complete his term.  Today, this monument in a small clearing marks where the event took place.

We were rewarded by an extended, and in some places high speed, winding nine-mile descent to Wardsboro and VT-100.  Very little traffic and mostly smooth roads made it quite fun.  Then it was another nine miles heading downhill to the intersection with VT-30.  After climbing that section so many times during the 100/200, it was nice to be heading the opposite direction.  We had coasted most of 18 miles!  From there, it was an easy climb up to Jamaica where we took a much needed break.  Jeanne's legs started really hurting a couple miles before, leaving us a bit concerned as there was no way to shortcut the ride, but the break, and a chocolate creemee, did wonders, and soon we were on our way again.

I had long wanted to ride some of the West River Rail Trail, and had worked this into the route.  There's a great video at that describes the trail and shows some of its route.  The railroad had run from 1879 until a number of sections were destroyed in the Great Flood of 1927, and it never recovered, becoming fully abandoned in 1936, leaving very little of the infrastructure intact, today.  The rail trail is a fairly recent construct, and we were traveling the "upper section," which is bisected by the Ball Mountain Reservoir, which now covers a long section of the old railroad bed.  It was this interruption which put the ride over the threshold that I believe qualifies it as "epic."

Former RR bridge in Jamaica, VT
The first evidence of the defunct railroad that we encountered was this bridge, which is now used to access the Jamaica State Park.  Its placard shows that it was built in 1926, leaving it in use as a RR bridge for only a year.  Not wanting to pay the park fee just to ride through on the rail trail, we followed the old rail bed around the gate, and threaded through the campsites until we picked up the trail on the other side.

West River Rail Trail

The rail trail in this area is quite nice, but it gradually deteriorates and eventually leaves the old RR bed and becomes more of a trail.  There were a couple places where we needed to dismount and push, until a clearing presented us with the wall of stone that is the Ball Mountain Dam.  I had only hinted of this to Jeanne, so it was quite a shock to her to learn that we needed to get to the top of it.  A steep trail led us to the series of switchbacks that climbed the face of the dam.  Although a young couple successfully rode their mountain bikes down it, there was no way we were going to be able to get around the switchbacks with the tandem, so we resorted to pushing the bike to the top.

Ball Mountain Dam
Top of Ball Mountain Dam
Aerial View
Posing on the dam
Jeanne poses in front of the reservoir
It would take a lot of water to raise the level to the spillway
View of the dam from the west side

After a false start, we located the trail on the other side.  Since the RR bed is somewhere under the reservoir, a hiking trail travels 2 1/2 miles along the edge to link up to the point where the former railroad reappears.  Though parts are rideable, and would be more so on a mountain bike, there are a number of sections that were quite tough to get through with a tandem!  I was glad that our bike is well-nicked up and thus didn't feel bad about the many rocks it contacted on our way through.

Stonework on the trail around the reservoir
It was worth the trek just to cross this stone bridge in front of the waterfall.
Jeanne is laughing because she knows it's going to be
my job to carry the bike up this section of the trail.

We came out on the backside of a campground.  After bouncing over all kinds of rough surfaces and trails, I hit a portable speed bump that had been laid across the pavement.  I was taking advantage of the smooth asphalt to get to my water bottle and didn't see it until an instant before we hit.  The stupid thing was at least 4" tall and the resulting whack left us with a blip in the front rim.  I was some peeved that there were no pavement markings warning of this obstacle.

We took another break in Londonderry, and Jeanne was none too happy with the fact that she could see the steep climb on VT-11 that we were going to have to take.  We pass by this spot on the 100/200, and I am always glad that our route veers off to the left when we reach this spot, as VT-11 looms like a wall in front of you.  That was not going to be the case, today.  After downing a cold drink and a couple energy bars, we were back on the bike, passing the sign noting it is eight miles to the Bromley Mountain ski area.  This is not a continual climb, but one of those rolling ones.  Although we were glad that it was actually only a bit over seven miles to the top, we climbed 1150' to make just 900' of vertical gain.  Although I knew what to expect, Jeanne was pleasantly surprised that it was entirely downhill for the last 6.3 miles, with extended 9% grades, making for a fine and fun end to the ride.  We earned it!

I highly doubt that we'll be doing this section of the White River Rail Trail again on the tandem.  Jeanne commented that her sentiment was the same as that expressed by most riders when they reach the top of the Mt. Snow climb, "Well, I never have to THAT again!"  Of course, many do return, so you never know!  Still, I'm thinking that we'll just leave it as an "epic" memory, and seek out other challenges in the future.

I confess that I showed Jeanne a stretched out version of the elevation profile, before the ride.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Binge Climbing

Many young people engage in binge drinking because they want to impress their friends; after all, there's redemption in shared experience.  The drinking masks the decision of when it would be prudent to stop, and many feel that the limitations we attempt to enforce on access to alcohol simply aggravates the problem.  When they finally do obtain the forbidden mead, they tend to engage in excess, leading to unfortunate behavior that encourages the adults to apply more restrictions.  Once one is old enough that buying alcohol is legal, the attraction tends to diminish for most, especially as we begin to recognize the foolishness and negative aspects of it all and so we turn to other things on which to binge, like climbing gnarly roads where no one would drive a car.  Hence, the attraction of the IRR, the Irreverent Road Ride (or, as I prefer, the Irrelevant Road Ride, since some of these roads have outlived their usefulness).  It's a solid, and customizable set of nasty climbs that some use to prepare for the D2R2 and cyclocross season, and others just to slake their climbing addictions.

 The River Rd at 5:30 am

I decided to ride to the start, it being only 15 miles away, as Jonesville was on the return route and that would allow me to complete the ride without any driving.  I left home at 5:15 and arrived at the start in plenty of time to register, even without the half-hour delay in the actual start.  I was impressed seeing that Pamela Blaylock and John Bailey were prepping their tandem for this rugged ride.  They wisely chose to avoid the sections that went over Class 4 roads, but that still left then riding Moretown Mountain, and Roxbury and Middlebury Gaps.  Hats off to this amazing pair!

Only about 20 intrepid riders, few Vermonters
Surprising number of women riding today

First group heading out

The small sub-group that headed out first included the tandem and four other riders, plus myself.  The entire rest of the ride, I only saw two of the riders who started after us.  Only one rider of this group, named Tim, decided to tackle Cobb Hill Rd, the first Class 4 road of the day.  I really think that there should be another classification category for Vermont roads.  Class 4 roads are unmaintained, but those we rode today are also undriveable with anything other than a jacked-up four wheel drive, or an enduro motorcycle.  Class 5 already references ferry routes, so I propose we call these Class 6, which would be right in line with Cat 6 racing--and equally irrelevant.

Tim broke his rear cantilever cable yoke right at the beginning of the rough section of Cobb Hill, leaving him with only a front brake for the rest of the ride.  It didn't slow him down at all.  The camera angle belies the steepness of this climb.

The Mad River in the morning
Cobb Hill dropped us onto 100B, one of Vermont's prettiest roads, especially this morning.  We went downhill to pickup Moretown Common Rd, then Hathaway to Moretown Mountain Rd.

We caught up with the rest of the starting group near the top of Moretown Mountain.  John and Pamela were keeping up with the singles on this relentlessly long climb.

The "Blayleys" climbing Devil's Washbowl Rd, and looking really good!
I believe John holds the record for climbing Mt. Washington on a tandem, with a time that beats most singles. They are well known in the northeast randoneuring crowd for their amazing tandem prowess.  Sadly, this was the last I saw of them for the day, though I caught a glimpse of them leaving Roxbury to climb Roxbury Gap.

I couldn't pass up this picture of a comical road sign.  Yes, there is a farm up that dead end road!

After a short break at the Roxbury General Store, where the counter person graciously filled my empty water bottle, I headed up to ride West Hill Rd.  This was substituted on the ride map when the steeper Tracey Hill section became blocked by road construction.  After a good climb up Webster Rd and the Class 3 section of West Hill, the road shifted to its Class 4 status and didn't look too bad.

Soon, it deteriorated further, but still rideable.

Then it became a muddy mess.  Time to portage.  I didn't see any other bike tire tracks, so I was the first, and as it turned out the only rider to tackle this section.  Eventually the road, which doesn't show up on any maps, becomes a Class 3 again, but it was really steep and the descent highlighted the inadequacies of my cantilevers in the braking department, and the superior howling that I have not been able to eliminate from the rear brake.

Braintree Gap is not really all that steep, but it has few sections that are not at least 10-13%.  What makes it a really tough climb is the surface, which transitions gradually from crushed stone to loose, large rocks as you climb.  It's very technical and would be much easier on a mountain bike.   The sweat was pouring off me to the point where it was hard to hold onto the brake hoods and my leather Brooks became absolutely soaked.  This well-maintained cabin is the only building on the road, an amazing 2/3rd the way up the climb, and the road deteriorates further once past it.

Here's a shot of the road surface.  I tried to hold the camera as vertical as possible, so this should give an impression of its steepness.  It never really lets up, and frequent water bars make it even more challenging, but I was able to ride the whole east side, though I did stop a few times to pick some wild raspberries.  I saw tracks from two other bikes that looked fresh, so I was pretty sure that there were a couple other riders ahead of me.

They have been logging the west side (after pulling an unhealthy amount of timber off the eastern slopes over the past few years), which opened up this impressive view.  It also resulted in some significant improvements in the descent from the previous time I rode this, a few years ago.

There are still sections that would stop any standard four wheel drive vehicle that you cared anything about, but the three foot drops are gone.  The descent was so steep and long that my inadequate braking became too much for me and I opted to walk down a few sections when my hands got tired and to save at least some braking for the rest of the day's riding.

This classic old cemetery on North Hollow Rd doesn't look as if any new residents have arrived in over a hundred years.  The stones I read predated the Civil War.  It is surrounded by an old wrought-iron fence and gate.  The route next followed Rose Rd to the very steep Maston Hill descent to VT-100.  Ah, smooth pavement--it made up a bit for the headwind to Hancock.  How is it that one can always seem to get a headwind, traveling opposite directions on either side of this ridge?  A couple of older gentlemen sitting on the porch of the store offered up the sad confirmation of its closing.  Luckily, I had enough water left for Middlebury Gap.  I asked if they had seen any other cyclists head up the Gap and they said that a small group had gone through a half hour earlier, but they didn't know if one of them was a tandem.  I never did find out if most of the riders were in front of me, or still behind.

Middlebury Gap always fools me.  In spite of all the times I've ridden it, the top section always seems to take me from feeling really good about my climbing ability, to realizing why it earns its status as a gap.  Once over, and after shaking out the stones from my shoes yet again, I stopped at Middlebury College's Breadloaf campus to refill water bottles.  I had never done this before, but there were a lot of students there for summer programs and retreats, so I first tried the laundry, but found only machines and no sinks or spigots.  One of the students suggested "The Barn" and I found it setup with large, blue water dispensers that I used to refill both bottles and an extra, quart bottle I was carrying.  No one objected and I needed all of it by the time I was done.

I had always wanted to ride Steam Hill Rd, so I decided to deviate from the route to do so, and get back on dirt a tad earlier.  I went past the Road Closed Ahead signs and eventually came up on a box culvert installation that required a portage.  The construction workers were all taking the day off, and I took advantage of that gushing stream of water coming from the temporary culvert to rinse off some of the accumulated sweat and mud.  Steam Hill Rd does a fair amount of climbing before dropping back down to the Natural Turnpike, and it's not all that steep, but the surface of packed crush stone and sand proved difficult for my tires.  It seemed to require a lot of energy to ride through and challenging to ride at speed on the descent.  Natural Turnpike was a little better, but a far cry from the smooth, hard clay of Vermont's best dirt roads.

A small pond off the Natural Turnpike

 Natural Turnpike was as beautiful and lightly traveled as ever.  Most of the light traffic that travels between Lincoln and Ripton takes the Lincoln Road. perhaps because of the really gnarly section of Natural Turnpike.  As I approached Lincoln, and the houses started appearing again, the views improved as well.

I saw a couple riders looking at a familiar map outside the Lincoln General Store and they turned out to be the guys who left the tracks on Braintree Gap.  I think we were the only three to ride it.  They were both strong climbers and I rode with them up Forge Hill Rd, taken to avoid a bridge replacement on Quaker Street, leaving them at the top of Downingsville Rd when I stopped to switch water bottles.  We had chatted about whether or not to ride the last serious off-road section, with the general sense that, even without the sections of the route that had already been removed for one reason or another, we had all done plenty of climbing for one day.  They also clued me in as to why they hadn't ridden West HIll Rd--it had been recommended that riders skip this section at the pre-ride briefing.  I missed that little detail, to my regret.  In spite of this, I did start up Beane Rd when I got there, but eventually recognized that the route climbed an amazingly steep section I had ridden once before with John Gaydos, only to find it petering out in an overgrown, log-strewn field in the woods.  I decided not to risk it and returned home via Dugway Rd, to avoid the nasty descent on Wes White Hill.

It was 116 miles of riding and over 10,000' of climbing, much of it on truly challenging terrain.  The time is almost irrelevant, but it took me over nine hours of riding.  I learned that I should not ride such challenging climbs on a humid day, and that I should have switched to the Brooks Cambium for so many hours on a soaked saddle.  It might be a good idea to try a different set of wheels without ceramic rims, in hopes of better braking, since I am not in the market for a new bike with disk brakes.

The ride was memorable enough to warrant such a long blog post, but I might as well have just gone and ridden it alone.  I've done most of these roads already, and rode by myself most of the day.  I could have stuck with the rest of the riders, and probably should have, but few people seemed interested in doing the ride as it was created and promoted, turning it into just another two-gap loop, with a bunch of dirt thrown in.  I'm not clear on why there was a $35 registration fee, since almost nothing beyond the map and a couple of bagels was provided, and the ride organization wasn't very tight.  I'm sure there were some expenses associated with pre-riding and marking the route, and I don't want to come across as cheap, but I really like the model we created with the 100/200 and I think we would all benefit from more free, semi-organized rides, so get out there and plan one! 

Like the teenager with a hangover, I'm swearing off binge climbing for awhile, or at least until my butt isn't so sore.

So, where do you want to ride tomorrow?