Monday, April 28, 2014

Diverged 2014

I rode the Ride Studio Cafe Diverged ride again this year.  It was a blast.  The two main differences from my experience last year was riding on a new set of Clement X'PLOR USH, a 700x35c tire optimized for moving between paved and rough surfaces, and riding in the slow group.  Last year I had no clue about group rides on dirt roads and trails and it was a lesson in learning my limits, which were low compared to the people I rode with.  Perhaps I went too slow this year but it was still a lot of fun and the group was great.  Let's start with a map:

16 miles off road and on in Lexington.  Lexington is outlined in green with a green tint over the Google Terrain background.  The route is in dark gray.  Yes, we didn't leave Lexington before I left the ride.

As you can see, the route is hardly linear and never very far from Ride Studio Cafe, which is cosponsoring the ride with Honey Bikes.  I believe you can cross Lexington from SE to NW in 5 miles.  Rob Vandermark, who planned the ride, managed to get in 16 miles and not leave town by that point in the ride.  Rob and I chatted about where we were and if we were still in Lexington, which we thought we might have left.  So, being a cartographer, I had to check it out.  I pulled the GPX file from my Garmin, downloaded town boundaries from MASSGIS, used QGIS to pull the Lexington boundary, converted the QGIS file to a KML using OGR2GUI and uploaded the KML and GPX files into Mapbox.  If you are interested in specifically how I did this, please ask.  The planned route eventually leaves Lexington but I didn't stay with for the whole ride.  But I did sneak ahead of Roger's group to see them enter Menotomy Park.  There is a video of them climbing with their bikes at the end of this post.  I heard that Roger bent his derailleur hanger on his new Seven Evergreen.  That has to be disappointing but he is in good hands with the studio.

The ride nearly ended early for me, or at least I might have gone on by myself.  I had just installed a new rear fender after mounting the Clement USH tires, since my old fenders were rubbing against the rear tire.  Like all fenders, the new fenders, the SKS Longboards 45mm, were a bear to mount.  And apparently I didn't complete the job.  Rob stopped the group about a half mile into the ride while I adjusted one set of stays.  A half mile into the first real stretch of woods saw the other set of stays loosen.  I knew this would take me more than 5 minutes so I suggested to Pamela Blalock, who was sweeping the ride, that she should abandon me there.  After a frustrating 5 or 10 minutes I managed to get the fenders on enough to get me through the ride.  Just as I was adjusting the rear brake (Avid Shorty 4, which manages to go out of adjustment whenever I remove the tires), John Bayley, Pamela's husband rolls by.  He was expected, or so Pamela said when we were in the cafe, but it didn't occur to me that he may pass me while I was fixing my bike.  I met John in the studio and chatted with him a couple of times and also enjoyed his, and Pamela's, company on the High Point ride last year.  John, being quite kind, pulled me along as we raced (in my mind, I suspect he was going slow by his standards) towards Rob's group.  We caught up with them surprisingly fast.  I suspect we rode over many of the boardwalks over wetlands that the larger group walked over.  We made it over the boardwalks safely although there was a fall later in the day and the the boardwalks tended to be slippery.

Not long after I caught up with the group, which was about 20 people, Rob decided to split the group into two, with John Bayley leading a group that didn't intend to stop as much as Rob, who led the rest of the slow group.  I say slow but while moving we were moving quickly, at least by the standards of riding on trails.  I believe I finished the 16 mile section at 9+ MPH.  We did stop to regroup frequently but I felt it wasn't too much for my tastes.

The rest of the ride was less eventful.  The trails and dirt roads were fun, the mud was sometimes overwhelming but never lasted that long, and the trails were dry enough for a lot fun riding.  The trails seemed easier this year.  Last week I rode through Rock Meadow and Beaver Brook in Belmont, on the route of the 2013 Diverged ride.  I made it through in one piece and had fun but I think everything I did with the Sunday group was substantially less technical than last year's trails. I do know that I missed some rougher trails, including the descent in Menotomy Rock Park and later Rock Meadow and Beaver Brook.  I had planned on going around the Menotomy descent, if I made it that far on the ride.

Despite staying in Lexington, I was unsure where I was most of the time.  We had a couple of road crossings that left me completely disoriented.  At one point we crossed Mass Ave from south to north just east of where Route 2A comes in from the west.  I looked around wondering where this was, not recognizing a road that I ran, drove, rode, and walked many, many times.  I later turned on to the Minuteman Bike Path, wondering how I never heard of this new path then suddenly realizing where I was.  In all, it was a fun, enlightening day.  I am coming to enjoy riding on dirt a lot.  Having much better tires helps but, like anything, more experience helps a lot, too.  Part of that experience is learning to trust your equipment.  And, in the case of the tires, it was rewarding to get the extra stability that came with a wider tire with great traction.  In short, the Clement USH tires rock.  I can't count how many times I was surprised at how I managed the terrain, both yesterday on the Diverged ride and last week in Belmont.

Ride Studio Cafe did a great job.  They had a great snack before the ride, great leaders on the ride, and made everyone feel welcome.  I appreciated them offering the slower groups.  I enjoy riding miles when on the road but it's much more important for me to be safe on the trails.  And, for me, slower is safer, for now.

Rob telling us what to expect

In the background is Chip Baker, a.k.a, velocb, one of the ride planners and a HUP rider.  He led one of the faster groups.

The Firefly Adventure Team showed up with their rolling and very functional works of art.  I've seen pictures of these bikes on the web and they look nice but they are spectacular in person.  It was fun meeting some of the team.  They were nice people and it was fun to watch them on the trail - they are spectacular riders.

Rest stop in the woods.  Yes, they are riding a tandem - a demo from the studio!

Rob marking sure we are all still together.  We stopped a lot, which slowed us down but that led to a comfortable ride.  Darcy, one of the Firefly riders, rode with us.

Rob tried to ride this very sandy, steep section along the lake.  He made it halfway across.  I didn't try.

I skipped ahead to watch one group ascend the cliff at the entrance of Menotomy.  It wasn't all that hard but some of these guys made it look quite easy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Off road tires for the commuter

When I bought my Surly in 2009, I had the expectation of riding the D2R2 on it but it would be primarily a commuter, a child hauler, an occasional dirt road bike, and maybe a touring bike.  I've done everything on it except tour and it's turned out to be a great, affordable bicycle.  I didn't have a firm idea for tires.  Roy Cervantes of Grace Bicycles, who did the build, suggested the Panaracer Protec commuter tire.  I went with the 700x32c version:

It  turned out to be a great choice.  While it wasn't stellar on the 2009 D2R2, it served well as a commuter and for hauling my boys.  The tires have over 4000 miles without a flat, including a lot of miles crossing Cambridge streets and some dirt road miles as well.  And there is still life in the tires.  I can't say the tires are very supple and getting the inflation right, depending on whether or not I had boys on the child seat, was key and then it still was a somewhat harsh ride.  Last year I rode 3 dirt road rides (as well as a lot of dirt paths here and there along the way): the 2013 Ride Studio Cafe Diverged Ride, the 2013 D2R2 (the Green River Ride), and a solo ride in Estabrook Woods in Concord.  It was these last three rides that I realized that I needed something else on my wheels to get me safely and comfortably over dirt roads and trails.  I've been looking hard and I was settling on either the Clement X'PLOR USH (700x35) and the MSO (700x40).  Both are appealing in that there is a center ridge (on the ISH) and closely spaced nobs (on the MSO) yet have aggressive knobs on the shoulders.  Either of these should be perfect for commuting and those days that I do get off road and one is coming up in 9 or 10 days - the 2014 Ride Studio Cafe Diverged Ride.

It happened that I follow Matt Roy on Twitter, watched the start of his west coast to Colorado trip, and met him at Ride Studio Cafe last August.  I put my money in for a ticket for the MM Racing End of Season Party raffle and got the chance to go to the party.  I'd like to report that I was the winner of the complete Seven but no such luck.  I was, however, the winner of the Clement X'PLOR USH 60 TPI tires that Clement generously donated to help Matt and Mo support the Amy D Foundation.  Needless to say, I was pretty happy going home that night.  This year is pretty hard financially and getting the new tires was a stretch, as was donating to the foundation.  Luckily, I walked away a winner.  So, in anticipation of the Diverged Ride, I put the new tires on the Surly and they look fabulous.  New fenders will have to wait until finances make it feasible.

The old and the new:

I'm sure I look dorky with the lowriders on my bike, mostly unused.  But I appreciate them when I'm taking a boy on the child seat and have to carry spare clothes, food, and maybe a lock.  The USH tire fills in the space between the lowrider struts:

The bike with bags and lights, ready to go to work tomorrow.  My neighbor called my bike a Mack truck the other day.  Could have been the lights or the racks and bags.  The tires won't help my bike look more delicate but I'm excited to try these on the Diverged Ride.  And I can't wait to try them out, including on some dirt trails on my way to work tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Almost an errandonnee

Once again, I figured out how to neglect riding in the face of a very busy schedule.  This time it was the Errandonnee challenge from Chasing Mailboxes.  On the positive side, I didn't even try this in 2013 and wouldn't have come close, but I nearly managed to finish this time.  Here is how it turned out:

First try, I ran 3 or 4 or 5 errands, depending how you count.  You decide and let me know.

The next day, I went for a ride with my youngest boy, who asked to ride with me, and he fell asleep.  I guess I wasn't great company.

Next, I rode to work and stopped on the way for breakfast then stopped at a bike shop for a needed part on a project I am working on.  That makes 8, if you are counting the same way as me.

Then I just rode to store to pick up pictures and a quick trip to Trader Joe's.  That's 9.

Finally, I rode to work one more time.  I actually benefited from getting  to work by bike that day.  Unfortunately you can't edit Instagram posts - a road could be typed as toad and your iphone won't correct you ...

That makes 10, which is two short.  And I needed the snow day (for DC, not here) to get the 10th so I guess that I wasn't all that close.  But the concept is nice - use your bike when it makes sense.  I recall that the rules stated that you should drop out rather than get stressed about it.  I was leaving for a field trip the Friday following the end of the challenge and getting ready and successfully getting out of the house took some time and trying to get two more errands in just wasn't possible.

And now I am riding just because it makes sense.  Maybe the challenge made riding more appealing for me, which I think was the intent.  And that is a good result, #dnf or not.