Thursday, April 15, 2010

A rant about road bikes

What are road bikes anyways?  I can define this in several ways.  A purposeful bike that keeps speed and distance at the forefront of its personality perhaps.  But perhaps also the bike with the most constraints strapped to it.  Tunnel vision.   The truest road bikes can only travel where that web of connected asphalt hold their strongest bonds....or for the daring, only slightly farther into the tierra.  I used to ride road bikes a lot back in the Athens days and if I still lived there I'd probably ride them a lot still.  But in the days since leaving, the nice network of farm roads has become an ever extensive network of rock strewn forest roads and a road bike just wouldn't hack it.  

There are about 3 road rides in Flagstaff according to the city urban trails map.  Snowbowl road: the 2500 ft climb to the ski area, out and back.  I've never done this because trails also lead to the snowbowl parking lot in the summer and riding that road during ski season is just a bad idea.   Mormon Lake:  a 4-5 hour lollipop out to and around Mormon Lake, the largest natural mud hole in Arizona and a nice flat paved road with a huge shoulder/bike lane.  This is the most popular ride here by far.  I've only ridden this on the way out of town to Tucson, a very long and very awesome road ride.  And the Sunset Crater - Wupatki road: 30 or so miles gradual downhill from Sunset Crater to Wupatki National monument starting in craggy volcanic lava fields, traveling past 1200 year-old ruins and ending in the painted desert.  This could be done as a loop with highway 89, a route heavily trafficked with drunk drivers or as an out and back.  The preferred method of travel though is the full-moon downhill shuttle run.  The ride from town to sunset crater isn't all that great anyway so the shuttle run just seems to work out.  This is one of the top two road rides of all time for me.  The other being the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier, also in a full moon.  All the other road rides pretty much feature jumping between descent patches of pavement via interstate highways or dirt roads.  

I began realizing the limitations of road bikes in the days of my beloved Klein.  R.I.P.  I discovered the back ways of Oconee county by assuring myself that roads with powerlines on them, be they paved or otherwise, were through roads.  This logic never failed to get me home, but there were many nights of racing daylight to get to the familiar ground of Milledge avenue.  Oddly enough the Klein never flatted on a dirt road ride, no matter how rough or how many creeks it crossed.  But that beautiful beast obviously had its limitations.  I've never had a true road bike since.  That was 6 years ago I think.  I had a crosscheck for a while, but I quickly realized its limitations too.  The 45c tires rubbed the frame, clogged with mud, and stopped the back wheel from moving when I broke a spoke at the end of a tour.  Plus the geometry was too slack and it fit me poorly.  The bike I built for myself as my new "road" bike attempts to hit on all these shortcomings while hopefully keeping alive the essential elements of a road bike, the ability to go far and fast. 

My commute to work at The Man starts up my driveway and most commonly heads for Elks Lodge trail, a commuter trail that frequently features sad attempts at closure by seasonal residents.  Most folks in town use this as access to the trails of the Coconino National Forest, but for me it is my wake up commute from the sticks across town.  Really, riding this trail every morning to work is my favorite thing about work anymore.  Its a pretty high standard.  I cut right onto a short pavement descent on Quintana and then left on fort valley road or the path that rides beside it to Quinn's restaurant, featuring the best breakfast burrito known to man.  Then its a bit more downhill to town, then across the tracks to cut through the NAU campus.  I tend to hop curbs and cut through parking lots as I see fit.  A few more lefts and rights through the hilly section and up the steep driveway to the Mormon Lake ranger station.  There are infinite variations and other cut throughs, most of them involving trails.  The longest of which would take me 4 hours one way and be entirely singletrack.   My route takes about 40 minutes.  Going home hosts about 500 feet of climbing that can be done all at once or broken up into chunks.  My favorite is doing the elks lodge trail in the dark, nothing but starlight.  There are often large bull elk hanging out in the meadows.  One night I passed two cyclists with headlamps that looked lost.  They said they were just looking around and I rode on past.  They asked how I could see without lights down the trail...I told them it doesn't help when they shine those bright beams in my face, and rode off into the darkness.  Some people will never even begin to understand the ways of a ninja.  

So here's my new rig as it turned out.  Its the only full XTR road bike that I know of.  The wheels are M-950 hubs that came off of Puc's breezer laced to Sun Equilizer 29 rims.  Check out the bolt on conversion.  The cranks I picked up NOS at The Hub a couple of years ago with only the big ring and I ended up running it that way.  The cantis I picked up at the Tucson bike swap last fall for $15 and the levers I bought off a kid when I was in high school and when the shifters failed I sawed that part off.  The headset is a WTB grease guard also off the Breezer and the handlebars are GT brahma bars off the wall of 21 ridgecrest, my old house. They were hanging as art.  And the seat is from the Klein.  I probably have no more than $400 into the build plus the cost of the frame and fork which I may never bother to know.  As it sits here it weighs in at about 20 lbs and it is definitely the fastest bike I've ridden in a long time, and it is definitely a road bike.  It'll take 45c tires with gobs of clearance, gears if I ever want them as well as racks and fenders front and rear.  Keep your eyes peeled for a large hauling front basket.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Tour Log: Baja - Day 11-12...for anyone still reading this...

Today is how I test my mind.  The RV stretch of Arizona.  Come to think about it, snowbirds have been the story for the last stretch since Puretecitos.  This part just gets ugly though.  Up and pedaling before dawn again.  Through Quartzite before 8:00 AM.  Now 30 miles on I-10 to get off at US-60.  The longest, flattest, straightest, most Texas-like stretch of Canadian and Californian RVs in the state of Arizona.  I cracked, knowing that 140 miles to Prescott on the Mochilero fully loaded, sore, and tired is just not possible in a day and stuck my thumb out while pedaling down the road.  No luck.  I stopped along side the road on the way out of some trailer community in the cactus and tried to thumb a ride.  I guess pedaling was the way for now.  I flatted just after another highway intersected the 60 and stuck my thumb out.  The second truck...hey, thanks for the ride..."gotta help your fellow man" in a slow Arizona desert drawl that had spent many years building character in the desert sun.  He said he was kind of in a hurry.  It just didn't make any sense.  He was only able to get me up to the next crossroads four miles up where I changed my tire and bought some donuts.  Sugar diet.  I tried again to thumb it out of town but no luck.  Pedal on.  If I don't get a ride at some point this just isn't going to work out.  A car with bikes passes as I ride.  I'd have to take my whole bike apart.  Bikes are not the most convenient baggage when hitchhiking.  I reach the turn off for Prescott and I'm within 60 miles...that would mean I've done about 80 today.  The thumb.  A guy in a monster truck stops and introduces himself as Nick and I shake his slightly mangled hand.  He's about my age and it turns out once again that the Forest Service is a small world.  We rolled up to elevation @ 5700 ft and I watched all the fun and pretty riding roads go by at warp speed.  Oh well.  I gave Allie a call when I got into town and I met up with her and Laura to go hike to a waterfall.  Its spring in northern Arizona and all the washes are pumping clear cold snowmelt.  The waterfall was awesome as was the dunk in one of its lower pools.  We went for beer.  And for me....meat.  Two meals and a pitcher at the Prescott Brewing Co.  I was falling asleep at the table.  We dropped of the friend and in returning home passed a strange sight and Allie demands her sister to stop so we could help that woman.  She was probably 70 and wearing a white hoody zipped up on her chest and a red one wrapped around her waist.  Bare legs, no shoes, its cold out.  Allie jumps out of the car and before I know it I'm scooted over in the back sitting beside this woman who is terrified and can barely speak from the shortness of breath.  Allie has an amazing way with people in general and has worked with people like this.  The woman talks slowly but isn't saying anything...and now the police have pulled in behind up.  We drive to the nearest parking lot and the police pull in behind us.  The man starts immediately with direct questioning but the woman only gets more scared.  It was interesting to see the cop mentality at work here in a situation where they were there to help both the woman and now us.  Allie requested the cop out of the way when he asked if the woman had been drinking and explained to him that it was us who'd been drinking but not Laura, then she asked to speak with the woman to try her efforts.  We got to where she's a good christian woman and there are people who come from a different sect in their christianity but they are TRULY Evil.  It sounded like the man who runs her assisted living home was one of this other sect.  Hence the fear, panic, and attire.  She still couldn't remember her own last name.  She wanted to go to Albertson's, or Camp Verde where people could vouch she wasn't crazy.  Eventually someone from the home came looking for her and told us where to take her.  Not even a block from there.  She panicked at the sight of the man she described earlier.  The police escorted her inside and made sure we were well today.  Allie, you have an enormous heart and endless patience and I'm glad this isn't lost on everybody. 

We all got up early this morning after trying to distract ourselves to sleep.  I got 5 hours.  Laura was flying back to Kentucky and had to turn in the most ghetto rental car ever...plastic mexican hub caps and a red dome light, and plastic dome lights and plastic bits that would fall out when you closed the door.  Allie and I went to breakfast and i was rolling towards home by 8:00.  After and enormous breakfast and two dinners I was hungry ten miles down the road.  I should have done a little more about this.  The ride is one I've wanted to do for a few years now...Prescott to Flagstaff with about 30 miles of graded dirt road.  The Perkinsville road its called is awesome.  Flat to rolling to long downhill followed by rolly follwoed by long 20 mile uphill.  I thought I'd make it to Williams by 3:30 and decide to do the 30 mile interstate stretch thta the snow on the ground would mandate.  At 4:00 I was still climbing back up the Mogollon Rim...always the task.  I was tired, hungry, and impending bonk status.  I called for a ride and arranged to meet Cole at the Pie shop in Williams.  A fine ending point for the tour I thought.  And it was.

I got home and paced at the thought of that idea.  Home.  My house.  It seemed so weird.  It had stayed right here all the while I was moving.  It was a little discomforting even.   So much stuff that I call mine waiting for me here as I'd left it in our little domicile.  On the bike things that are extra come at the cost of precious calories and weight.  I tend to carry some of these things.  This was probably the heaviest tour bike I've ever rolled.  The real bummers are those items that started and returned to here without being used (rain pants, some bad snacks, winter gloves, tights, a book that would be better read at home).  Some of the unused I will always bring (tools, first aid).  Well I'm glad that's over.  Baja is beautiful and has lots to do but bike touring is not atop that list.  It occupies a lot of your daylight hours.  Tomorrow is the second day of spring.  River trip!