Saturday, December 26, 2009

Riding my age on Christmas Day

I checked the weather, and it seemed that the best conditions coming up for riding might just be Christmas day, with no precipitation in the forecast and temps in the mid-20s. I really wanted to wrap up the extended saga of our order of two sets of Ay-Up lights, so I decided to ride the 54-mile loop up to David Tremblay's house in Moretown and pick up the light I loaned him when Ay-Up shorted us one unit. David and I had gone in together on the order to get free freight. When his light was missing, I gave him one of the two I had ordered, while we waited for his to come from Down-Under. The folks at Ay-Up were great, and their lights are not only superb, they are an excellent value. However, this would be the third trip out to David's to straighten things out!

The ride was very enjoyable. Having suffered cold feet earlier in the week riding into work, I tried pulling out the insoles of my winter riding shoes and replacing them with a pair of chemical foot warmers. This did not prove to be all that effective. I could feel the warmth for perhaps the first ten miles, but after that they cooled off and eventually didn't seem to be doing much of anything. There was a light northeast breeze, which slowed me a little on the way out, but made up for it on the way back.

The dirt roads were smooth, but I was reminded when I strayed onto the smooth, icy patches to get back to the snowier sections! Vehicle tires tend to clear the snow and glaze the ice, and the studded tires slipped around when I strayed off the crunchier center sections. I rode out the Duxbury Road, knowing that the road would be nice down by the river. I expected very little traffic, but there were a fair number of cars around.

I decided against climbing Rte 100 up out of Waterbury and stuck to the river until Middlesex. I thought about climbing up the Lovers Lane shortcut, but I was wearying of the icy dirt roads and didn't want to slog through the snow on the abandoned bridge, so I continued on the clear pavement to Middlesex and enjoyed the ride up Rte 100B. I stopped for a few minutes to chat with Bob Lindemann, who was out jogging, then up to Moretown and the climb up the Moretown Mtn Rd. The Moretown snowplow must have a serrated blade, because there were ridges in the icy surface, making things a tad exciting at times, but there were only a couple of cars and the going was fine. South Hill Rd. was easier than it had been before the snow, when it was covered with freshly graded loose sand.

Picasa Photos
David wasn't there, but I picked up the light and headed back. My feet were starting to get chilled, so I took Rte 100 through Duxbury and came back on Rte 2. I stuck to the generator light as it got dark, as the half-moon above the clouds was keeping things light. An uneventful climb back up to the dirt road got me home right about the time my feet were making the transition from cold to numb. The insoles were cold to the touch, but five minutes later, they were steaming--the fickle things. Final mileage was 54.5, my exact age!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


In the spring of 1978, I had just met a really nice girl, who had come into the shop right at closing to buy toe clips for her new Schwinn LeTour. I installed them in the parking lot and summoned up the nerve to ask her for a ride, ostensibly to make sure she was able to use them properly. During the short jaunt, I found the courage to ask her for a date. That worked out well, but it was Friday and she said that she had already made plans to leave town to see her mom that weekend. I spent that Saturday riding one of my favorites--out to the top of Greylock and back--thinking about her the whole way. As it turned out, the story about visiting Mom wasn't a brush-off and we picked up again on Monday. A year later we were married and I think that was the last time I rode Greylock.

Fast forward to today. Jeanne is at her Mom's again, taking care of her, and I happened to be in town Friday for a conference at RPI. I checked the Mohawk Hudson Cycling Club's website (my club, back in the '70s), and saw that they had moved their annual Greylock ride up a week. I've wanted to ride Greylock again for a few years now, but it was closed as the access roads were completely rebuilt. The forecast was for cool, but sunny weather, so hooking up with them for a ride was a no-brainer. I needed to ride into work on Friday, with Jeanne picking me up at the end of the day to travel, so I decided to take the Gunnar cyclocross bike, as it has a rack, but fairly light wheels. I also thought the triple might come in handy, but as it turned out, it wasn't needed.

54 degrees at the start didn't feel cold under the bright September sun. There was a good turnout of riders of a variety of abilities, but all appeared to be in decent shape. I chatted with the owners of a Tommasini and a Colnago Master, both classics in excellent shape, but with upgraded parts. Most riders were on very nice, modern bikes. I left with the first group and the pace quickly picked up to the point that I wondered if I would be able to keep it up over the entire 70-mile ride. I dropped off the lead pack on the long climb before Stephentown, but caught up on the rolling terrain. They finally dropped me for good on Brodie Mountain Road when I lost contact on the climb and then missed a turn. When I rejoined the route, the main bunch was just going by. I passed most of them, grabbing a few photos, and eventually caught up with a few riders from the lead group.

The ride up the south side of Greylock had a few good pulls in the beginning, but was much less steep than I remembered. I actually started picking up the pace after awhile. Things really started to feel familiar when I hit the tight double-switchbacks near the top and I put the hammer down to the summit, realizing how much easier it was turning out to be than expected.

After resting awhile at the top, and sharing my trail mix with some of the other riders, I started back down. The views were fantastic in the clear, late-September air and the foliage was just starting to turn. Riders had been coming and going, so I was pretty sure I'd either catch up with some or be caught by others. The fastest riders were long gone, including one amazing woman who had bucked the stiff headwind for the fast bunch for most of the ride out.

As it turned out, I rode solo all the way back to the start. Other than a number of riders still climbing up, I didn't see anyone until I had my bike loaded and was getting ready to leave. I had a nice tailwind most of the hilly return ride, so I kept a brisk pace and took advantage of it. When I finished, I felt like I had gotten in a great workout--much more than one would expect in 70 miles. Total climbing was over 7,000'.

The ride was a real blast. The other riders were pleasant and there was usually someone to draft or to pull. 30+ years ago, I spent the ride thinking about a special girl I had just meant. Today, I had over three decades of fond memories to reminisce about as I revisited this great tour. All-in-all, it was big, big fun.

More photos on Picasa.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

D2R2: A Dirt Road Delight

When I first heard of the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee, a little over a year ago, I thought it sounded like a truly dumb idea. Over 100 miles, mostly on dirt roads, with 16,000' of vertical gain; that's over three miles, straight up. It sure didn't sound like fun, even to someone like me, who rides 1,000 miles of dirt a year, just commuting.

Oh, what a difference a year makes. Somehow, the idea worked its way into my head. Perhaps it was all the times I stumbled across its mention, always intensely favorable by those who have ridden it, or perhaps it was just that I was in pretty good riding shape this year. For whatever reason, when the ride date approached, I decided to go for it. Now that it's done, count me among the D2R2's fans.

I wasn't really sure I was ready for this ride. I had a couple of double-centuries under my belt this year, as well as a number of other long rides, and a week before the D2R2 I did an 85-mile ride that included a number of steep dirt roads and Lincoln and App Gaps, for a total of about 7,500' of climbing. Then I looked at the ride's website, where it is advised that one include century rides with at least 10,000' of climbing as a training regimen. Gulp.

The D2R2 is considered by many to be one of the toughest centuries anywhere, though many say that Vermont's own six-gap ride may be tougher. As far as I know, it's the only ride of its kind. The D2R2's organizer is cycling legend Sandy Wittlesey, who says, “We designed it by placing pins in the map where the covered bridges and coolest sights were, then connected the dots with dirt roads. Our intent was to make the most beautiful ride we could …all we really want is for people to finish D2R2 saying, ‘Wow, that was really challenging, but totally worth it because it’s such a great bike ride.’”

All kinds of people show up for this ride, on all kinds of bikes. The course is probably best suited for cyclocross and randonneur bikes, but many ride mountain bikes. I saw everything from an old Raleigh Gran Sport to a recumbent, which was doing surprisingly well on the climbs. I was riding smooth-tread 30C tires, which worked very well in the dry conditions. Of course, there were a number of racer-types who sailed past, riding impossibly narrow tires and pushing impossibly big gears, but one gets used to that sort of thing happening. I went with the recommended 1:1 low end, and I'm very glad I did.

There is a shorter, 100K version of the ride that is offered and recommended for those who have not done the full 170K version, but I decided to go for the full deal. The weather was for a typical, hot August day, with lots of sun, so I made the earliest start of 6 am. There were a total of 480 riders registered for the three events, including a 32-mile ride routed straight up the Green River, and well over 100 people riding the 170K. The group started out at a pace that was a bit faster than I would have been able to maintain, but, luckily, I had a slight malfunction that took less than a minute to fix, but which permanently separated me from the fastest starters. I caught up with some other riders on the next descent and rode with them for a while, but there really isn't much benefit to be gained by riding in a pack on this ride, other than for moral support, as there are very few miles where drafting would be helpful. The D2R2 isn't a race, and most people are just looking to finish, and walk as few climbs as possible.

Since most of the ride is on dirt roads, the tree canopy gave a welcome escape from the August heat. I focused on maintaining a pace that I thought would take me through the entire ride and didn't worry about who I was passing or who was passing me. I do wish I had noticed that the guy who went by me on a Richard Sachs cyclocross bike in full team kit was the main man, Mr. Sachs, himself, or that the Independent Fabrications crew had brought almost everyone from the factory along. As it was, I met up with several Vermonters, and heard rumors of others, though I think I was the only one wearing a GMBC jersey.

After 50 miles or so of climbing and descending, including two of the toughest climbs of the course, I was really getting into the spirit of the ride. I was cleaning everything the course was throwing at me, my old mountain biking skills were kicking in and I was descending faster and faster on the cyclocross bike I was riding. On one long, nasty downhill just before the second break, I flew past a number of other riders; however, it was at the cost of a broken spoke, and twisting the handlebars in a 4-bolt stem. I even drove the brake levers down on the bars, which has never happened to me before. Luckily, I had the tools and parts with me necessary to fix things at the break.

The closest call I had, though, was when I was flying down a one-lane road by myself, after the final break. I came around a curve doing well over 35 mph, when I came upon a tractor coming up the hill, pulling some kind of tedder (a piece of equipment with long spikes, used to harvest hay). The equipment overhung the small ditch on both sides of the road, and there were trees on the left and a vertical embankment on the right. Luckily, the farmer stopped as soon as he saw me, leaving me just enough room to fishtail to a stop on the foot of road alongside the tractor's rear wheel, staring at the big spikes only a couple of feet ahead. The farmer cut the tractor's engine and deadpanned “That was close.” I had to hold onto those spikes as I climbed through the ditch to get around the rig, continuing on a bit more cautiously.

My total time for the ride put me in position 53 out of the 118 finishers, not too shabby. My actual ride time was 8:48, making it certainly my all-time slowest century. Still, I cleaned the entire course, rode some amazingly beautiful roads, chatted with a lot of fascinating people, saw some really cool bikes (including one made of wood!), and had a great time. The support was fantastic, there were showers, dinner and a band waiting at the end--all-in-all, just a great experience. I'll definitely be riding this one again.

Patrick's great photos of the event on Flicker.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Doin' the Flèche

I'm signed up to ride the New England Flèche in three weeks. A flèche, in cycling, is basically a 24-hour ride done by a team of three to five cyclists. It is not a relay, in that all riders ride all the time and there is no outside support, such as the follow vehicles that will support the 100/200, five weeks later. True to its French origins, the flèche is replete with a host of obscure rules, designed to insure that riders do not "cheat." Having organized the 100/200 for so many years, I find it difficult to get my mind around that one. Who would cheat on a 360 km, 24-hour bicycle ride? Who would care if someone did? There are no prizes, and the event is setup in such a way that it's virtually impossible to have competition. Plus, no rational person I have talked to understands the event at all, so what would anyone gain by cheating? I don't get it.

I also don't get the idea of control cards, which are supposed to be signed by anonymous people at strategic "controls," or points along the ride to establish that you were at a certain place at a certain time. There is a traditional element to controls. There is a video on YouTube that shows a few seconds of a tandem taxi race that took place in Paris during WWII in which the "fare" leaps out of a trailer being pulled by the tandem and sprints to a table where he gets his control card signed. This action was a critical part of the event and one assumes that the ride involved a number of different destinations in Paris. It was also a race, so the controls were an important part of the event. This does not transfer well to non-competitive ultra-marathon events, however. Not only does no one really care, but a flèche's controls are selected by the team. The person initialing the cards will be some sleepy clerk at a 24-hour convenience store who doesn't understand what she is scribbling her initials for. Are we to believe that some event official is going to try to track that person down later to verify that she really did initial the control? How would he find her? Drive a hundred miles to some town in Vermont, find the donut shop and ask around to see if anyone knows whose initial those are? What happens if he can't verify the initials? Does he have enough evidence to disqualify the team? I can see Hercule Perot, having failed as an independent detective and resigned in disgrace to serve as a French government official, whose sole task is to travel the countryside, verifying completed control cards submitted by ultra-marathon cyclists for non-competitive events. That's a vision bound to haunt me at 3 am, climbing some hill in Massachusetts.

If the concept of a control card on a ride like this makes no sense, it must be there for some other purpose. According to RUSA, the sanctioning organization, the flèche is one of a series of increasing distance rides that "qualifies" you for longer rides, culminating in the grand daddy of all randonneur events, Paris-Brest-Paris, the ultimate painfest. Perhaps there's something to be gained by filtering out the casual riders from the longer events, but I'm not convinced by even that, as so many riders who have qualified do not finish. Since these rides are run over non-closed public roads, and do not offer support, who is to stop you from showing up and just riding it anyway? You could be the masked rider who swoops in without registration, without number, who stealthily rides the event, eschewing the corny certificate of completion, requiring no validation of his effort.

Herein we get to the crux of the matter, and it is the age old saw--people want to belong to a group. Whether you call it a "tribe," a club, a gang, or a congregation, people have this evolutionary attraction to organize together. It could be a Yankees cap, a NASCAR t-shirt, or a leather Harley jacket, but in this case, it's flèches and brevets. All the arcane rules and the controls make up the sacrifice component, recognized by prehistoric humans as being integral to getting buy-in by the group members and to hold their attention. There's no more effective way to get people to defend a group than to have them pay dearly to belong. What better way to get investment than to have a person give up his most prized possession, the finest of his flock, which, not incidentally, can serve as the basis for a feast? The odd thing about ultra-marathon cycling is that the people attracted to it are largely odd ducks who pride themselves on being different. Actions speak louder than words, folks!

I'll get my control card initialed by the sleepy clerk after trying to explain in 10 seconds or less why we're out in the middle of the night riding our bikes, perhaps in the rain, but it will only be for the good of the team. I'm in this for the experience and the true tradition of Velocio, in whose memory the flèche was originally designed. Velocio, the father of bicycle touring and inventor of the derailleur, organized a series of Easter rides in the 1930s in which readers of his magazine, le Cyclist, would converge on Provence for a happy picnic. The word flèche means arrow in French and the modern flèches are best ridden as fairly straight routes, converging on a common destination--our route is true to this concept. I'm confident Velocio had no thought or use for controls, only camaraderie. Salute, Velocio!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Looking forward to 2009

I started keeping track of my mileage on since late August, 2007. In 2008, I exceeded my mileage every month over 2007. Total mileage for the year was 6,562. Of this, 4,711 were "utility miles," meaning they displaced miles I would otherwise have driven. This translates into 2.43 tons of CO2 saved by not driving my Ford pickup truck. I would have also saved money, if I didn't spend it on bike parts I didn't need, instead. Results for all the bicycle commuters in our group are summarized at

The big news, looking forward, is that the 100/200 is a definite GO for June 21, 2009. I typed up an information sheet and posted it to It's sure to be a great ride.