Monday, December 24, 2007

Appalachian Gap: It's 12 for 12!

The last climb. I shot this on the way back down--no dabs!

In spite of a nagging cold, I got out Saturday afternoon for the December climb up App Gap, meeting my goal of climbing the Gap at least once a month for a year. Last year, I hit every month except December. This year, I did the climb as many as three times in a month, but not a month went by when I didn't make the climb at least once.

Conditions were ok, with temperatures in the mid-30s. The climb could have been done on a road bike without studded tires, but one would have to have ridden back down the last hundred yards or so from the summit in the climbing lane, carefully picking a clear line. It would have been a challenge if you had to compete with cars coming up. It was very nice having studded tires, as I could pull over to let cars pass without worrying about the snow and ice I needed to ride over.

The view from the top

One of the neatest things was the number of people who gave me the thumbs-up on the climb. I suspect most people coming over the mountain were coming back from a great day skiing at Sugarbush or Mad River Glen, and skiers understand this kind of challenge better than the average person, but one guy actually rolled down his window and leaned out to shout encouragement as we passed on one of the upper switchbacks.

I rode my 1983 Fat Chance mountain bike, outfitted with Nokian studded tires. These are the style designed primarily for plowed dirt and paved roads, with a little over 100 studs in two rows. I have found this to be a good compromise between traction and rolling resistance and, while there are times when I've wished I had more studs, I've never lost traction with these. I'm not at all keen on doing long rides with mountain bars in an off-road riding position, so I'd like to experiment with studded road tires on a road bike for winter riding. There are some interesting designs available.

Approaching App Gap

My advice for anyone getting stated with studded tires is to be sure you get good tires with carbide studs. The cheaper tires with steel studs just are not worth it, especially with as many strikes against you as you already have with winter cycling. You can always turn around and sell your tires if you decide winter riding is not for you. If you are in northern Vermont, you can get these tires at a good price at the Old Spokes Home in Burlington. Otherwise, you can get them by mail from Peter White, who probably sells more of these tires than anyone else in the country.

Will I try to repeat this goal of a Gap a month? At this point, I'm not sure. I know a guy who lives a little closer to the Gap who does it at least once a week during riding season to prepare for the Green Mountain Stage Race, and Chris Bohjalian rides Lincoln Gap two or three times a week when it isn't covered with snow. I'm far from earning any unique bragging rights for continuing to ride the Gap every month. I was thinking when I started the December ride that I would rather be getting in more miles on a road bike, since this would have been possible if I had stuck to the lowlands, though it was fun to be at the top of the Gap, and the ride back, downhill and with a tailwind, made the slogging climb worthwhile. Perhaps I'll broaden my scope a little, or tackle a real challenge, like doing a century ride every month. That would be a tough thing to accomplish in northern Vermont! I will say, though, that it's fun to have a goal, no matter how arbitrary, and it's rewarding to meet it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

L.A.M.B. Ride--I made it!

The L.A.M.B. ride traverses four of Vermont's "gaps," which are mountain passes that cross the spine of the Green Mountains, from east to west. The Green Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain and were scoured by glaciers thousands of years ago, leaving river valleys running north and south, paralleling the mountain ridges. The gaps are located at locations where the spine of the mountains drops low enough to get a road over it, if barely. The L.A.M.B. ride tackles four of these gaps; Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury and Brandon.

As organized annually by the Killington-Pico Cycling Club, the L.A.M.B. ride starts in Rochester, which is convenient to people traveling up from the south, and rides north up Rte 100 through Granville Gulf to tackle the worse climb, Lincoln Gap, first. Lincoln Gap starts out paved, turns to smooth dirt for a few miles, then is paved again for the last three miles or so of steep stuff. This stretch is said to include the steepest mile of paved road in the continental US, and I believe it. While there several places where the climb eases up a little, climbing Lincoln is a real grunt-fest. Like a mountain biker, you need to pay close attention to body location, so you can keep the front wheel on the ground while maintaining traction. I had converted my classic steel Marinoni to a triple chainring, using a TA tripleizer chainring and added a 30-tooth inner ring. Combined with a 13-30 freewheel in the back, I had a 1:1 ratio, which is as close to walking as I ever get. That's virtually the same gearing I use on my mountain bike for steep off-road work and I was very glad that I had these granny gears on this ride.

I made it all the way up Lincoln Gap without stopping, which is a feat all by itself. Most other riders were using significantly taller gearing, but many of them had to stop and recover at least once on the climb. Once we regrouped, we picked our way down the other side. Lincoln Gap does not reward you with a nice, long descent at the top. It's quite treacherous getting down the dirt section and I had problems with a strap-on second waterbottle cage that kept moving around on the tube. Later in the ride, I got a piece of tape from helpful clerk and placed this around the tube under the strap and this solved the annoying problem.

We stopped at the general store in Lincoln to regroup and discovered that the store keeps a presta floor pump in the window for cyclists who need to top off. How cool is that? We stayed at the store long enough for everyone to get back together and then headed down to Rte 116, where we skipped north to tackle Appalachian Gap. App Gap starts with a smaller climb, dubbed the Baby Gap, then actually drops a few hundred feet before the steep final climb. Whereas Lincoln Gap approaches 25% grade, App Gap is a bit tamer with the final steepest section being around 19%. GMBC riders do App Gap regularly in training for the Green Mountain Stage Race, which has two stages that include it. I'm on track thus far in climbing App Gap at least once each month this year.

We zoomed down the east side of App Gap (and I do mean zoomed) and picked up just the lightest sprinkles, not enough to really get wet. The weather turned out great and we never got soaked, in spite of the projected 70% chance of rain. We stayed a long time at the stop outside Waitsfield. It turned out that one of the riders had flatted so badly that he had to hitch a ride down the gap with a motorist. Luckily, there was a bike shop right there where he could purchase a replacement tire. One year, a L.A.M.B. rider trashed a wheel and this shop loaned him a very nice road bike to finish the ride at no charge. Now that's service!

We then headed south, back through Granville Gulf, to pick up Middlebury Gap. A little over half the riders chose to end the ride here after the break and continue the few miles south to Rochester. This actually has a cute name; the LAMB-chop. Seven of us decided to tackle the last two climbs. Middlebury Gap is one of those climbs where you hear comments like "This isn't so bad" about half-way up from people who haven't ridden it before. It never gets terribly steep, it just grinds on and on. Those comments always stop well before the summit. There is a nice, long descent on the other side through Ripton before we turned off onto a smooth dirt road that turned back to pavement after a few miles, taking us around the east side of Lake Dunsmore. Another stop at very nice little general store with great prices for a change and then we headed up Brandon Gap. Brandon is, perhaps, the easiest of the four gaps, but anything is a grind after that much climbing. I just stayed in that granny gear and ended up crossing the summit alongside another rider, making us the last two riders in the group. Brandon Gap is much steeper on the west side than the east, and the gradual descent took us all the way into Rochester, which was about 10 miles.

I was very glad to have completed this ride, especially since I had tried it three years ago and had to bail with the rest of the LAMB-choppers. I do wonder, though, about the folks who do the six-gap ride much earlier in the season, adding in Roxbury and Rochester gaps. You can read about their exploits at And then there's the gap rides down in Georgia, but I dan't know how these compare. Both the L.A.M.B. and the Georgia six-gap rides boast around 10,000' of climbing in about 100 miles, so I presume the Vermont six-gap climb is even more challenging. Maybe next year...

I posted ride photos at Enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Another successful 100/200 Ride

June 23rd saw another successful 100/200, doing a solo again, with the able and necessary support of my wife, Jeanne. It was an excellent run, the best one ever! I rode a new bike this time, a Klein Q-Pro frame outfitted with Campagnolo Chorus 8-spd componentry. My trusty Marinoni, which has been my steed for every one of the previous seven 100/200s, was fitted with a triple and went along for the ride, perched loftily on the car's roof rack, but it was only symbolic. I never needed a gear lower than the 39x26 I had on the Klein.
Ride details may be found at

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Doin' the Gap, again!

Here's the view from the top of Appalachian Gap, Saturday, March 31. As you can see, the snow and ice are receding and this has brought out flocks of early-season cyclists here in northern Vermont. The weather was cool, in the low 40s, and there was a light north wind, but the bright sun made things feel warmer. The temperature at the top of the Gap was probably in the low 30s, but the roads were clear. Cycling season has officially started! (I know, because this was may first ride this year without fenders.) I got two Gap rides in during March, maybe three--I lost count.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Appalachian Gap, 2-0

Last year, I had an informal goal to climb the Appalachian Gap at least once a month throughout the year. I might have pulled it off, but I missed December. I really could have made it happen, but I let the two opportunities that month slip by for various reasons. I am now 2 and 0 this year, having slid in the February ride on the 28th. The strong sun and temperatures hovering just below freezing in the afternoon invited me out. The roads were generally clear, since we have not had any snow for a few days and the skies have been clear. The snowbanks are right up to the edge of the road, but the pavement itself is pretty clear. The tricky spots are in the shade and where enough melting snow has flowed across the road to wash away the road salt. Water freezes quicker and slicker here than where the salt keeps it slushy for a few degrees below freezing. Here's a link to a RouteSlip map of the ride.

The Gap climb was the trickiest, as far as frozen stuff was concerned. There were several places that I marked on the way up to be especially careful of coming back down. There was more traffic than usual, with skiers coming back from the resorts on the other side. The road crews dump a lot of sand and salt on the Gap, as it is kept open throughout the winter. This junk tends to accumulate in the center and on the shoulder, forcing you out into the traffic lane. Cars are not usually going fast enough for this to be a real problem, but when they drift over to pass you, they get into the center and throw up a nasty cloud of fine dust.

There are several important factors to consider in winter riding. Most important is the weather and road conditions, as both can change in a very short time. Online weather services like WeatherUnderground are a real help here. If there is any chance of running into sections of snow or ice, you MUST have studded tires. Don't cheap out here. Get the best carbide-studded tires you can. I have a set of Nokian studded tires on my snow bike (an '84 Fat Chance mountain bike). These tires have about 110 studs per tire in two rows and there are times when I would gladly give up a little energy for more studs. You are already farther out in the road with no place to go. Go down on unseen broken pavement under slimy snow in front of overtaking cars and your riding days might be over. You want every advantage. The problem is that studded tires are higher profile and most road and even hybrid bikes lack the clearance for them and the absolutely necessary fenders.

Eventually, I'm going to build a frame with clearance for 700C studded tires, but for now I'll stick with the Fat Chance for commuting in snow and the Bianchi Axis (Volpe) with knobby cyclocross tires and the Atala for salty, muddy, but clear roads. The Atala is what I rode up the Gap yesterday. It's a low-end model that rides surprisingly well and which I've turned into a lousy-conditions road bike. All three of these bikes have been offered as sacrifices to the salt gods, and that's the second consideration of winter riding; you don't want to use a bike that you want to keep looking good, because it's just not going to happen. Salt will destroy your bike no matter how careful you are to clean it after every ride. It is much better to have a bike that you dedicate to this purpose, so you don't spend the summer looking down at an ugly, corroded bike.

Finally, you need to pay attention to clothing. Anything cotton is out. You need several layers, and don't be afraid to stop and take a layer off when you get too warm. Bring something extra to put on if necessary; a rack-top pack or pannier works well to stash extra items. The temperature at the top of the Gap was around 20 degrees F, a critical ten degrees colder than at the start. With a long descent on which to cool down, it got pretty chilly. I picked up a headwind on the way back, making things even worse. I wished I had packed an extra shell and some ear warmers. It was all worth it, though. Don't let the cold weather keep you indoors!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I Discovered Online Route Maps

Well, I almost made my goal of riding Appalachian Gap every month of 2006, but then missed out on December. There was at least one day that I had available when I could have ridden it, but it didn't happen. So, there were two goals I missed in 2006, the monthly gap ride and the SLAM. I knocked off January's Gap ride early in the month, on a day that was so warm I wore short-fingered riding gloves. I rode at least seven 40-mile rides in the first two weeks of January, but haven't been on the bike since then as the temperature dropped precipitously. It's -10 degrees now.

The really exciting thing for me was that I discovered online route maps. I've been trying out, and is easy to use and quick. It also seems to be the most versatile, with the ability to add and change points after the route is saved. I couldn't get their elevation feature to work, but I think that's just a temporary glitch. is very interesting, especially since they have a training log and other interesting features. I had problems saving some of my routes, though, which was a bit frustrating since they took a while to input. Their elevation feature didn't work right either. looked interesting, but the interface was so terribly slow that I gave up on it for now. I just tried it again and things seem to be much quicker now. This service is very interesting in that it ties icons on the map to photos, comments about things such as steep climbs, and even webcams to the map. You can click on one of these icons and brink up a popup that displays the feature. A city like Seattle is peppered with webcams. Vermont has a few public webcams, but I didn't see any on VeloRoutes. I especially liked the radar feature that overlays radar weather conditions on the current map. I did have to chuckle about the things people call "monster climbs" in Seattle. If 130' is a monster climb, what is the 800' climb on my daily commute getting home up my dirt road?

These services are definitely worth checking out. They will provide us with some really neat tools to share rides with others. According to its creator, veloroutes runs on a computer in his apartment, so there may be some serious longevity and scalability questions to consider before sinking a lot of time into inputting rides. Still, he's to be commended for his efforts and perhaps he'll find a way to make it profitable enough to spin off into an enterprise.