Monday, June 30, 2008

Boston Brevet Series 400K

The day started the day before. I planned poorly for the 300K several weeks ago; the result was that I overslept the 4AM start by several hours. I missed the 300K completely and was pretty disappointed. For the 400K, I made sure to plan ahead. The day before I checked things off my list, packed my bike and supplies, filled my bottles, and set TWO alarms. I got a few hours of restless sleep and arrived in time. I even ate some breakfast (coffee, left-over pasta with chicken and a banana).

Twenty-three riders, I'm told, showed up in Bedford for the start of the 400k. Tracy Ingle (RBA) quickly checked that we were well-equipped, wished us luck and sent us on our way. The start of the 400k is a terrific riding experience. Nothing hurts yet. It's dark, but the herd of bikes is together and lit up with every variety of bike light. Twinkling red to the front and blinding white lights behind you. People are introducing themselves or buzzing to each other about some ride or other. Everyone moves quickly with eager anticipation... something like 1 mile down, 249 to go. The first 40 or so miles is a common BBS route, but it's fun to ride it in the dark. We have the road to ourselves for a little while until the sun comes up. It's a rolling party.

The first check point was in New Boston, NH at the local historical society. PB&J and banana at 7AM, yum. It's worth noting that I had a porta-john incident. While adjusting my shirt in the john, something fell out of my back pocket, hit the seat and plopped into the abyss. Momentary panic. I checked off a mental list of important or expensive things I would hate to loose: sunglasses, cell phone, wallet, tool kit, car keys - all there. What was it? People asked my about my panicked puzzled look. As long as it isn't your brevet card in there, then you are fine they say. Good point. It's time to get rolling again. If it was wasn't important enough for me to remember then it isn't worth taking time to worry about it. Onwards. About 10 miles down the road I figured out that I dropped the safety goggles that I had put over my regular glasses for wind protection at night. They didn't work well anyway, so good riddance.

The initial herd had split up by this point in the ride, so I set out on my own. I soon paired up with the cycling Scotsman, Tom. Tom's cynical wit busied the next 150 miles or so. We talked about ride nutrition for a bit and ironically stopped at Dunkin Donuts in Laconia for coffee and breakfast sandwiches. This is nutrition cycling style. Later Tom would have beer at mile 170ish and explained the merits of that beverage for randonneuring (see Tom's blog), but I stuck to my usual and had a coffee instead.

We continued along at a quick pace and moved ahead of my intended schedule for this brevet. The middle two sections of the 400K are the hilliest. I don't remember too much of this section (you can in fact ride 100 miles and not really remember it). I do, however, remember looking forward to a mysterious direction on the cue sheet: mile 36.3 of leg 3 (mile 153) Cow One Mile. I was thinking maybe it was a giant dairy cattle statue. It was not, but I was not disappointed. The landmark is a simple cow crossing sign similar to the one below (I didn't get a photo), but with One Mile in stead of XING. Yes, it is quite remarkable. Seeing that sign was very exciting for me, though I unsure if was from figuring out the meaning of the cue or reaching another distant milestone.

Peter White's bike shop was the third checkpoint. I didn't linger all that long, but I did stay long enough to get a tour of Peter's shop, or barn I guess. It's like santa's workshop, only filled with wheel parts, headlights and shelves of miscellaneous bike parts. Peter showed me the snazzy new Edelux headlight which is supposedly bright enough to fry an egg right on the cue sheet. Maybe not, but I really enjoyed hearing about why this light is so special from Peter himself. He is a walking bike encyclopedia. Thank you Peter.

Tom and I rolled out for the final 70 miles home toward Boston filled with ravioli and recharged for the task ahead. I soon started feeling pretty worn and the rain began. I settled into a somewhat pathetic pace, and Tom went on ahead. The next several miles were downright miserable. It rained, turned dark and a got chilly. My right knee was singing with pain. What the $!@ was I doing out here? I eventually pulled over to collect myself. I had forty miles left and felt terrible. However, I was still far ahead of where I thought I would be at this time. So I put on my O2 rain jacket and hopped on. A little while down the road, my wicked bike light started shifting to reserve mode, so I got out my spare. Another rider came down the road and he welcomed me to ride in with him. Bob, the rider, is a chemistry professor from the Hudson Valley and usually rides with the randonneurs in that area. We had much to talk about and the conversation was a nice distraction, so much so that I started feeling pretty good. After a while the roads started looking familiar again. Bob and I road in together just past 11PM, a little over 19 hours. Tom was still there, and we chatted about the rest of the ride. I said goodbye to Bob, wishing him luck in the upcoming Rocky Mt 1200 in British Columbia. I thanked to Tracy. Then I went home and slept.

In sum, the 400k was really really hard. I'm still feelling sore, but I'm glad I finished. I learned quite a bit about riding ultra distance, mostly about the value of pacing and good gear. These are lessons that will be valuable for the upcoming 600K...if I can motivate to do it. The 600K is a 400k followed by another 200K. It would be be great to complete it, but I'm unsure if my body is up to the task or if it will be 200 miles of fun followed by 175 miles of misery. There are some issues that needed resolving too: lighting, soreness, nutrition. Alternately, I could do something relatively sane like joining the Adirondack 540 Preview for a single spectacular 136 mile lap. ....but finishing a 600K would be quite an achievement. We shall see.

Thanks to Mrs. Wheelie, Bob, Tom, Tracy and the gang, Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwiches and my O2 rain jacket.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quinobequin Road

The best way home is not always the shortest. In fact, it rarely is. Many of my commute routes take me to Quinobequin Road in Newton. The road runs from just past the bridge on Ellis St for not quite 2 miles on the east shore of the Charles River. It's usually pretty quiet. The rolling turns make for some fast cruising.

The late day sun provides dramatic lighting.

I usually end up somewhere way out of the way, considering it's a ride that technically should be transportation from work to home. This spot overlooks the Pine Brook Country Club in Weston.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Tandems are all around us! Everywhere I go there are over-subscribed bicycles traveling down the road. I cannot remember the last time I've seen a tandem bicycle prior to my recent tandem epiphany, but they are popping up all over the place now. During a ride this weekend with Mrs. Wheelie we spotted the mother of all tandems - a triple tandem. It first looked like a cluster of bicycles in a tight pace-line coming down the road toward us. On closer inspection the reality of the thing was clear. It was like a rolling centipede with several sets of arms and legs working in unified forward motion. What I wouldn't give for a photo of it to post. Not a moment after I processed the reality of this bicycle did it pass and disappear down the road with all of the momentum and efficiency of an eight-man rowing shell. My envy was whetted. On a side note, there are even more ambitious inhabitants in the land of the bicycle built for two (or more) - if three's company, four's a crowd, and more is just stupid.

The insanity. My interest in this cycling phenomenon was soon purged by the sighting of another tandem a little later in the same ride. This more typical tandem carried a man and a woman. We stopped diagonally across from it at a traffic intersection. This allowed several minutes for inspection. I realized that this pair had taken the tandem concept to the next level with completely identical uniforms. Same yellow shirt, same black shorts, same blue helmet with black visor, same gloves, same shoes, same socks. The Double-Mint twins of cycling, but more awkward. It was ghastly. I'm only happy that it wasn't the other extreme. Could this be a sign? If it is, then I'm confused. Maybe the tandem gods are as tortuous as tandems are eccentric. I'm not sure what to make of it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Elm Bank Reservation

The Biscuit and I explored in Elm Bank Reservation the other day. The park has a large horticultural garden, but the greater portion of the park is a woodland area having trails throughout with access to the Charles River. A local paper recently reported it as one of the better places around for dogs, and it is. We explored a good portion of the trails and found some ideal dog swimming spots. The Biscuit swam himself silly.

It turns out that the Elm Bank was hosting a vintage car show that day too. Even without having any established appreciation for old cars, I was very impressed. Cars of almost every type were on display. Everyone was having a good time, though some of the car owners looked a little stressed when people were getting too close to the lovingly restored treasures. The highlight of the show was 1937 Pierce Arrow; a very rare luxury car. I heard someone remark that it was the first of only six ever made. It was stunning with its the long arching lines and fancy chrome details. I put more pictures online. The Pierce owners were great, dog people of course.

I also enjoyed checking out an old Jeep convertible. The jeep was the perfect shade of yellow. It's interesting to see that not a whole lot has changed in concept over the years for Jeeps. I guess some things are right from the start.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jitensha Ebisu

First and foremost I'll say that I'm very happy with my collection of bicycles. However, that does not preclude me from experiencing a little bike lust once in a while. The most recent object of my admiration is the line of Ebisu bikes made by Jitensha Studios. They are handmade, steal-framed, road-ish bikes made with a common sense approach to cycling. To be honest they don't seem all that different in concept than the AHH Rivendell I ride now. Both maintain a classic approach to bicycle construction rather than the current race-inspired trends. Jitensha produces bikes that are widely useful and still perform for the dedicated rider. But in contrast with the Rivendell, Ebisu bikes are modest in appearance - paint jobs are monotone and the decals are simple. Rivendells are more ornate for sure, which works well for a Rivendell. The Ebisu bikes, however, have an understated elegance which allows the craftsmanship to speak for itself. I sense that the Ebisu road is a sportier bike also. The Ebisu pricing at $1400 is reasonable. That orange road model is terrific.

It occurred to me that I've actually been to the Jitensha Studio. I didn't realize it until recently but am sure it was the same place. My wife and I were visiting Berkeley a few summers ago. Like any bike geek, I stopped in the local bike shop to nose around. Jitensha isn't the typical bike shop. For starters, there is almost nothing inside the immaculate shop but a handful of beautiful bicycles, not the usual distracting clutter. Not knowing any better at the time, I didn't think anything of the bicycles on display. I quickly looked around, thanked the shop keeper and left. In hindsight, I wish I'd looked a little more closely and chatted with the owner Hiroshi Iimura. Maybe I could have picked up some of the special Nitto Jitensha flat handlebars or reserved my place in line for a snazzy frame.

Well, my bike collection is at capacity (3) now, so the Ebisu will remain just a passing thought. Maybe sometime when I'm switching it up again, I'll see if Mr. Iimura can create something remarkable for me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Every few days I take a look at the Craiglist bicycle listings just to see what kind of stuff people are selling. I rarely purchase anything listed, but I find the listings somehow interesting. As a whole, Craigslist is like snooping around in the dark corners of someone's basement and looking at all of the cool weird junk - stuff you never knew existed or sometimes something old and clever. My earliest memory of this type of fascination is probably at my grandparents' house. Grandma and grandpa's house was pretty dull for a little kid. I usually passed the time by stealing cookies from the cabinet and by nosing around in the garage. They never got rid of anything, and it all went into that garage. Old tools, kites, ancient sporting equipment, and stuff I didn't even recognize. Fortunately, the garage was separate from the main house, so this allowed me plenty of unsupervised time for exploring. I'd often find some dusty item of treasure. The experience was formative.
Admittedly, most of the stuff on Craigslist is worthless, but there is sometimes a diamond in the rough that gets the wheels turning. Is there a spot in my basement for that junk from someone else's basement? It just might be cool enough to justify additional clutter. During these instances, very odd things can seem momentarily sensible and right. This sort of thing happened to me recently. I was checking the listings while eating my sandwich at work. Scroll. Scroll. Old Miyata touring bike, nice. Set of wheels, not bad. Burley "Samba" Tandem - $475....hmmm. Tandems are odd... time for another flashback. I was getting breakfast many years ago at a local bakery near my then apartment in Cambridge. While sitting outside eating, I watched a tandem roll in. It was a sight to see. This was not just any bike, it was completely black, carbon-fiber-ish, and very racy looking like the stealth-bomber of bikes, but longer. The riders, in contrast, were two older men with bushy gray beards. They were plump and happy looking - they could just have easily gotten off a pair of rocking chairs except that they were dorked out in the geekiest flavor of bike garb. I surmised that they road over from an MIT lab, doing a test run in their latest materials study for NASA or something. In short, the experience left me thinking that tandems are strange and backward. But at the moment I saw the Burley "Samba" Tandem - $475 listing, it all made sense.

Mrs. Wheelie and I have been riding together (on separate bikes) a lot lately, and it's great. However, my appetite for miles exceeds hers because I cycle almost daily and have worked up to very long distances. That said, she's curious about some of the longer rides I do on my own, and it would be fun to share that in a way that is mutually enjoyable. Along comes this tandem, and wouldn't you know the sizing is about perfect, and that's rare with tandems. Better yet, it's only $475 for the whole darn bike.

It got me thinking about what riding a tandem actually involves. Sheldon Brown wrote a terrific how-to article for tandems that explains everything. Starting, stopping, coasting, captains, stokers - it's all there, and it's not uncomplicated. First and foremost, it requires a cooperative team of two. I think Mrs. Wheelie and I could do it. I emailed her to pitch the idea. She replied:

You are either
1) having a bout of amnesia (do the words "double kayak" ring a bell?),
2) kidding, or
3) in bike withdrawal because it's been a couple of months since you've
bought a new one.

Three for three. Point 1: The wife and I are both independent and stubborn. This works just fine except in situations where we are literally bound together, like when we paddled a double kayak on a trip once. We managed well enough, but we both strongly preferred the days when we had single boats. The double is also known as the divorce boat, and a tandem seems like the logical wheeled cousin to that. Point 2: I'm sort of kidding but sort of not. Riding a tandem will never cease to be a ridiculous even if we're the ones riding, but as I explained earlier tandems do have benefits. Point 3: Yes, I change bikes frequently. This particular bike isn't technically new, so it doesn't technically count.

In the end, I'm not going to buy this tandem. We're sort of in the process of moving. We don't need any more stuff. Single bikes are just fine, and point number 1 is completely applicable. Most importantly, Mrs Wheelie and I are satisfied with our current level of weirdness. We want to look forward to the days when we are older and weirder, but getting a tandem now would just accelerate that oddifying process a little too much right now. However, I fully expect the day to come when we'll be cruising in style.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Apple Pi

Saturday was Apple Pi day. Mrs. Wheelie picked out the route from the library of Charles River Wheelmen cue sheets, and it was a good one. The Apple Pi ride begins in Bedford, meanders west and loops around clock-wise through hills, farms and apple orchards. I like the CRW routes - they make it easy. The collection of routes is searchable, all have nice cue sheets, many have maps, and most are well-marked on the roads. This one had white pi (π) symbols throughout which was good, because the cue sheet missed a mile (which is rare) not quite half way in and the π road blazes helped us stay on track. That said, the ride was still challenging with 2755ft of elevation over 52 miles. The middle part is the hilliest with moderate rollers that transition in a sequence of steady uphills starting with Wescott Rd in Harvard culminating 3 miles later at the turn onto Old Littleton Rd. There the road turns into a winding downhill run for the next 2.5 or 3 miles.

We also took two night breaks during the morning. The first was at the Idlewild Farm market in Acton for some ice-tea and a whoopi pie at a shady picnic table. The second was at Bumblebee Park (pictured above) in Littleton - we only sat on the stone wall eating, but there are tons of benevolent bees buzzing about the bushes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wicked Good Bike Rack

The world is full of awful bike racks. They must be designed in the land of no-bikes, because 99% of racks are comically difficult to use for the intended purpose, like a chairs that make you want to stand up. One of my favorite blogs has meticulously cataloged the wondrous variety of inadequecy seen here and there. I, however, recently observed what might be the finest bike rack ever.

This beautiful creation sets the standard by which all racks should be measured. Five simple leaners - well spaced and tall. No oddly placed cross-bars or nasty protruding bolts at all. ANY kind of bike can roll up and lock with ease. The rack isn't crammed in a corner, behind a bush or even close to a dumpster. The picture doesn't show it, but this rack is just outside the front door of the store, next to the flowers. Sweet sweet location. And if that doesn't make you feel all warm an fuzzy, there is a nice little sign celebrating the exclusive bike parking spot. Where, you ask, is this fine rack? It's at the Whole Foods on Beacon St in Newton. Please go there and experience the joy. I did the other day and I'm still grinning like a fool.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Poprad A La Mustache

The Lemond Poprad needed a do-over. I built it up from a hodge podge of parts several months ago and intended to use it as a light touring bike. It was a decent road bike, but it wasn't quite right for long rides. Then I got the AHH which is much better suited for basically everything.

I decided to set the Poprad up instead as a utility bike, a nice practical bike for this and that. Practical change numero uno is a set of regular old platform pedals - $7 special from Ebay, and good for any footwear. A cheap weatherproof saddle replaced the leather Brooks that I took for the AHH. Next I stripped down the gearing a bit by taking off the inner chain ring and front derailler - it never worked smoothly anyway, and the single big chainring with the 11-34 cassette provides plenty of gearing. I also put on a rear rack for some cargo room.

I splurged for some 700x32 Vittoria Randonneur tires. These tires are versatile but not cheap at $37 each. They are the perfect tire for riding fast on roads and burly enough for whatever else you might find - try them if you can find them. For whatever reason only the cyclocross version of the Vittoria Randonneur tire is easily found, the mellower road version is harder to come by. I found a pair in the tire pile at my LBS and snatched them up.

The final revision is a new set of generic mustache handlebars. The m'bars split the difference between cruiser bars and racier drop bars. The ends extend back nice and wide for a relaxed posture, but the curves are aggressive still. (I ran the front brake cable over the bars to avoid sharp turns in the brake cable.) The m'bars do take a bit of getting used to though - I might swap in a higher stem to make the bars really comfy. They are fine where they are now, so I wrapped them up with blue bar tape.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. The bars deliver as promised - great for zooming, great for cruising, and very different from everything else out there. (Handlebar variety is good.) I like that the bike is ready for riding with ordinary pedals and that there is room to carry whatever. All this while being a fast fun bike still. It definitely says hop on and just zoom around the neighborhood.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Need Ice?

Yes, we need ice. It's about a million degrees here in Brookline, the first heat wave of the summer. It's the kind of heat that makes wearing a bike helmet feel like sticking your head in the oven. I'm not into suffering on a bike, so the past couple of days were instead mostly about staying cool if at all possible. Stay cool and think chilly thoughts.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

South Shore Coastal Loop

I took a longish ride today because the sun was shining and I wanted to explore more of the south shore by bike. My trusty Rubel bike map showed that the Norris Reservation in Norwell was a good starting point. Riding south, I quickly crossed the North River where a few people were out fishing.

Heading out toward Marshfield, there are a several hills, but it soon flattens out near the coast where there are... yes, marshes.

The Plymouth waterfront was next. Everyone loves Plymouth. Bus loads of people come from everywhere to learn about the settlers. Unfortunately, the storied Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower can' t occupy tourists for long. Inevitably, people busy themselves consuming the wondrous variety of tourist...ah, junk. My favorite is the classic I've-been-to-some-place sweatshirt. Thanks to the brutal yet insightful commentary of my friend Chris, the site of one now makes me simultaneously start chuckling and cringing.

This shirt proves it, I have been to Plymouth. In Massachusetts. There weren't any pirates in the area, but we were near the ocean so that's good enough. To be fair, Plymouth is really interesting, just not obviously so. Brewster Gardens is very pretty, historic buildings are hidden all over, and there are about a zillion amazing beaches down the road. I spent a lot of time there as a kid, so the whole thing cracks me up a little. If you do go to Plymouth, do stop in at Ziggy's and get a shamelessly large soft-serve ice cream. Just don't go too early in the morning like me - they don't start swirling until later in the day.

Moving along....
I continued riding south past the aforementioned beaches, arrived at Cape Cod Canal, ate lunch and road along the canal. There was a ridiculous wind blowing the wrong way, so that was fun. The route back to Norwell was simple and straight along route 58 through Carver where there is a perfect gazebo near the town offices.

I quickly sped along to the ride's end in Norwell only stopping to take a snapshot of some people fishing at Curtis Crossing in Pembroke.