Monday, October 20, 2008

Things That Matter

Some things are more important than bikes and all of the ridiculousness I spend way too much time thinking about. The election is one of them. Thank you Colin Powell for boiling the current political situation down into some sensible and direct reasoning.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Middlesex Fells

The snazzy new cyclocross rubber inspired me to seek out some dirt today. The Middlesex Fells is an excellent spot to find trails, lot of trails, a short ride away. Fortunately, has tons of information to help me decide where to get started. The little map below is from their website. I selected the most obviously appropriate path, "Mountain Bike Loop." It makes a nice 6 mile curcuit around the reservoir. The trail is manageable in most places on my touring-cross-ish bike. Though there were frequent rock gardens which gave me a little wrist-rattling and occasional walks. I'm unsure if these trickier parts were part of the actual loop or if I had gone off course. This is mainly because I was navigating by a vague recollection of the map I had forgotten to bring with me. That complication aside, the riding was great, especially once I got comfortable enough with the feel of the trails to let the wheels take their course.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tire Time with A Homer Hilsen

When it comes to tires, the A Homer Hilsen is a swiss army knife. It can run a huge variety, from skinny road tires to burly cross tires. A fender usually fits too. Most people already know this about the bike because the Rivendell website talks about it plenty. I've run a variety of tires on the AHH in the last several months, and here is my assessment.

The Grand Bois Cypres 700x30. Reading anything related to Bicycle Quarterly gives you the impression that these are amazing tires. It isn't a surprise they sell them for $55 a tire, probably the most expensive tire I'd buy by a good margin. I had to see what the fuss was about, so I ordered a set. I mounted them for the recent Great River Ride and a few rides during the week, so maybe 150 miles total. I admit that they are excellent. As advertised, they roll fast and soak up bumps. Cornering is great. In these categories they are at least as good as the Rivendell Jack Browns I used for a long time. Though if they are in fact better, the difference is slim. The one thing that bugs me about the Grand Bois is that they are fairly insubstantial and reputedly not flat-resistant. I haven't had any flats yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if I did, and their lightness does not inspire me to seek out trashy surfaces. That said, they still perform well. I wouldn't say that they are life changing, but if you want some nice mid-width comfy tires for brevets or long fast rides, these are a great option especially considering that there aren't many high-quality 700x30+ slicks out there.

Ritchey Speedmax Cross Comp 700x40. Big fat cyclocross tires. Actually, they are too fat to be UCI legal ( limit 700x35), but I'm not racing anytime soon, so who cares. I enjoyed the fast and grippy 700x32 version of this tire, but I needed a little more volume for cushioning. The 700x40 is the fattest 700c tire I could find. Like the other Ritchey Speedmax tires, they balance speed and traction well. The AHH fits the 700x40 with room to spare. Clearance with a fender looks adequate but not ample, and I didn't bother with them. The Ritcheys are ideal all-around tires for roads and trails, great at everything while not superior at anything. The only improvement I could make on this tire is having it in a foldable version, but the wire bead is not difficult to mount and it's just fine.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Great River Ride 2008

Sunday was a perfect fall day. It started in the wee dark hours of the morning when I woke up in my tent at Tolland State Forest. Excited for the day ahead, I jumped out of my sleeping bag into the chilly morning and made a quick oatmeal breakfast. After taking the tent down and cleaning things up, I drove over to Westfield for the start of the Great River Ride. The plan was basically to camp out in the area to avoid a long drive from home. It didn't really work out that way because Google Maps put me somewhere other than where I should have been in Westfield. I managed to get to the ride just on time or maybe a couple minutes late.

Starting out, it was about 40F and I was grateful for my layers of warm weather gear. The hills began almost immediately and climbed on for a few miles. By the first check point at mile 22, I caught up with dispersed groups of riders. I road with Jake, who I met during the Boston Brevets, for a long while. We discussed some of recent bike tinkering projects; if only I had a decent machine shop. At or around the second checkpoint, I bumped into Paul who I met and rode with in the recent D2R2. This time around he was on his super stiff Ti racer instead of the day-glo orange Kona mountain bike. We kept up our pace and conversion through the next 50 or so miles of hills. The most notable climb of the middle portion of the Great River Ride was the East River Hill at mile 64. It started inconspicuously like any other hill and then transitioned into an endless and perfectly linear slog. It was so straight and featureless that it was difficult to judge progress on the hill by any means other than counting the telephone poles we passed. We thought there were 50. Baked potatoes were a welcomed snack at the following checkpoint. By this point, the air was warm and the sun was shining - perfect fall weather. Leaving the relaxing potato stop was hard, but the rest of the ride was worth getting to. Most notable is Jacob's Ladder starting at mile 82. From what I can tell it get's its name from the sequence of hills connected by short flat stretches that more or less make steps going up and up and up. Thankfully we were going down, not up. The Ladder continues for 5 miles. It's an exciting ride all the way down with excellent views of the valleys. We pedalled through the flats to keep our speed and very quickly found ourselves with just a few miles to go..

We finished the 108 miles happily and without any mechanical issues aside from my squeaky chain. Not the fastest time (7hours 40minutes) of the day - there some impressively fast riders ahead of us. But we pedalled quickly enough to have fun while enjoying the stops and the fall day. The Great River Ride lives up to its name. The sun and unusually vibrant foliage were front and center. It was also great to see some familiar faces and get in some spectacular late season riding. The grand buffet at the end was nice too. I'll definitely be back for it next year.

On a slightly related note... I was talking to the ride organizer (Don?) about some of the Westfield events and how much I enjoyed the D2R2. He mentioned that he is putting together an event similar to D2R2 in 2009 that will take place in Vermont's Mad River Valley. I'm sure it will be as brutally hilly and as amazing as the original.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rail Trails

I have one of those Rubel cycling maps of eastern Massachusetts. This map is so good that when I packed it away in a box that is stored during the current home move, I quickly decided I needed another in it's place immediately. From it I learned a network of bike-friendly roadways stretching across my part of the world. The maps shows the nicest roads in green as well as other helpful features. It's essential gear.

The features I've been studying lately are the "Proposed multi-use" trails. These are basically old overgrown rail road beds that haven't been built up into established bike-ways yet. I hadn't heard anything about the trails from other riders and only knew of their existence through the dashed green lines on my map. Though one of my regular road routes passes on a high bridge over one of the rail lines in Weston - from there, you can clearly see a skinny single track stretching to both horizons. I resolved to some day explore the rail trails.

Saturday turned out to be the day of rail trail exploration. I set out to Concord as usual and looked for the crossing in East Acton. It wasn't easy to find, but trail looked great from where I picked it up, so I followed it. The path ran just to the side of the rotting rail road ties, sometimes crossing over the tracks to the other side for one reason or another. The surface was surprisingly smooth in parts, and difficult in others where the trail basically disappeared into the overgrown forest. I road down the middle of the rail line through a few short difficult spots. The ties are degrading into soft peat and made riding over the ties bearable where it was the only option. I abandoned the trail during a few stretches where it was completely impassable. The frequent road crossings made it pretty easy to get on and off the trail.

This section is known as the Bruce Freeman Memorial Bike Path. It runs north-south down to Sudbury. I found out after the fact that the project is underway. Sections north of where I picked up the trail are under construction - the rail bed is being dismantled, and they are beginning to build a proper pathway.

Somewhere in Wayland, I picked up the east-west Wayside Rail Trail. It turns out that this line was scheduled to be converted to a multi-use path in the 1990's. From what I gather, the town of Weston quashed the project because they generally disliked the idea of having a busy recreation path like the Minuteman Trail in their back yard. Whatever the town politics, it looks like the project is dead and the trail will remain single track which is fine for my purposes.

The Wayside trail is markedly different from the Bruce Freeman path because the Wayside line is also a corridor for electric utility lines. As a result, it's pretty open and there is a uninterrupted track presumably for utility maintenance. I didn't take pictures for comparison. In all, the trails were fun and provided an alternative method of cycling in the area. My maps tells me that the are many more miles of trail, so I suppose I'll explore those sometime soon.