Friday, June 20, 2014

Almost like a Brooks? Part 3: Long-term Review of the Velo Orange Model 1 Saddle

A leather saddle—at least in theory—should last a long time, and therefore I wanted to provide an follow-up to the two previous review posts about the Velo Orange Model 1 saddle. I've now ridden the saddle for about 2.5 years and 11 000 km. It has seen all kinds of use, from all-year everyday riding around town, multi-day loaded tours, and single-day rides of up to 200km. So has my previous, positive assessment changed since the July 2012 review?

By and large: no. The main points still hold true.

In summer of 2012 the saddle was already well broken in, but it has continued to slightly change its shape. The picture on the left shows the saddle in 2012, the one on the right in its current state.

2012: Broken-in
2014: Moar broken-in

The asymmetry and “hammockiness” definitely have gotten more pronounced (even though the camera angle does distort things a bit). I haven't touched the tension screw yet and so far have no plans of doing so. The leather is still far away from the rails, the saddle is comfortable, and I'm an adherent of the school of thought that believes once you start turning the tension screw, you'll have to keep going until the saddle is dead.

The saddle rails are still going strong and I have no reason to expect them to fail any time soon. But obviously one never knows ...
The leather has aged very nicely. I try to be conscientious about covering the saddle in the rain but must admit that it has gotten wet more than once. And, ahem, I also sweat a lot in the parts that touch the saddle. After the initial treatment with Proofide I haven't done much to care for the leather, and this doesn't seem to have had any bad effects.

There are a few spots, especially near the rivets and in the place where the saddle sometimes scrapes against the wall or other objects, where the leather looks worn and I'll apply some Proofide soon. Other than that the saddle actually looks better than when it was new. The surface texture and crinkliness I pointed out in earlier reviews has turned into a mostly smooth surface, as you can see in the pictures.

2014: Pretty shiny
2012: Still a little dull

It is still not quite as shiny as my Brooks Swift and B17 Imperial, but the looks are definitely closer now than they were initially. The hammered rivets, made from stainless steel, haven't changed their appearance at all and are still flush with the leather. A minor advantage over my B17 Imperial is that the saddle is completely quiet, whereas the Brooks had phases of squeaking and clicking.

What about the arguably most important characteristic of a saddle, comfort? Once again, there are no essential changes to report. The saddle continues to be comfortable, as evidenced by my ability to do 200km day rides or multi-day tours in relative comfort. As I've remarked previously, when riding without padded bike shorts it does make a difference which underwear I'm wearing. As long as the seams are in the right spot I can do up to 60km without issues; anything above that is better done in bike shorts. The center ridge may have gotten slightly more pronounced but still doesn't bother me at all.

So to conclude, I do not regret buying the VO instead of a Brooks at all. I don't have anything negative to say about the saddle. If aesthetics are very high on your priority list, then maybe you should go for a Brooks instead. And if the center ridge negatively affects your comfort, you might want to consider going for a non-hammock saddle. Other than that you can't go wrong with the VO Model 1. Oh, there is the little problem that Velo Orange currently doesn't sell the saddle;but they have said that they “may bring it back eventually” and maybe this review will help with that.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The ride that has it all: Covey Hill 200k

Yesterday I rode what is one of my favorite routes in the Monteregie region south of Montreal.
 After riding on the St. Lawrence Seaway dike and a short section through the suburbs on the South Shore, I headed south on this great road. Having been repaved only last year, it's super smooth and has almost no car traffic.
 On one side of the road is a little river, on the other side agricultural lands and pretty little houses with old trees in front of them.

 The wind turbines were spinning rather slowly today, with the wind seemingly changing direction all the time.
 After a short stretch on highway 221 into Saint-Michel I was back on another long, straight, and quiet back road. Rue Principal ends at a T intersection, and once you turn left the asphalt soon turns into gravel.

 With the 35mm tires on my Cross-Check this was pleasant to ride, and for kilometers the only other person I encountered was a farm worker on his MTB.
 The soil here is rich and dark, forming a pretty contrast with the green tones of the freshly planted vegetables. The landscape is still all flat here, but in the distance one can see the foothills of the Adirondacks.

 After the gravel section ends, the landscape turns from fields into a forest with lots of wild flowers lining the sides of the road. Last time I rode here the pavement was rather rough, but most of the road must have been repaved recently.

 In Hemmingford, a charming little town, I stopped for lunch. There are several nice-looking restaurants and cafes there, but I just had my PB&K(imchi) sandwich and two 1.5l bottles of water on a bench in front of the town hall.
 Just before the US border, the route now turns west towards Covey Hill. On Sundays there is quite a bit of tourist traffic on this road, but it's still not too bad. The road is a mix of little rollers and several long false flats. In the blistering noon sun this was quite draining.
 But hey, the orchards, old churches, and stone walls along the way provide plenty of distraction.

 The actual Covey Hill doesn't look like much from a distance, but the last bit up is quite steep, especially after having done all the previous false flat climbing.
The compensation for the climbing comes with the gentle downhill on the other side of the hill, passing through green maple forest and crossing gurgling little streams. You can also catch a distant view of the Montreal skyline and Mont Royal (too distant for me to get a decent picture), but you have to pay attention, as most of the time trees are blocking the view in that direction.
In Saint-Antoine-Abbé I had planned on having an espresso break at the local bakery, but unfortunately they are closed Sundays and Mondays.

??? No idea what this refers to
 Heading northwest now, I passed through a distinctive landscape featuring flat rocks, little swamps, and stubby hard pine trees.

 And an explosives factory.

 Once I reached the Chateauguay River I saw an old railway bridge just a little bit down the road and decided to check if this was part of the bike trail I had read about earlier. And indeed it was. The trail wasn't finished yet, but the bridge was easily passable.

 Now the route turn north and follows the Chateauguay River. Pretty much all car traffic happens on the other side of the river and I only had to share the road with the occasional motorcyclist and a few other cyclists.
The visitor center of the Battle of the Chateauguay historic site appears to be permanently closed, but there are numerous informational markers along the road.

Took me a while to realize that they were reusing the rear sides of other road signs...

In Sainte-Martine I said goodbye to the river and headed towards Saint-Urbain-Premier. From here on the route can feel a little less awesome. However, that's not so much because it's actually bad, but more so because the other parts are so great. And maybe also because my behind started to get pretty sore...

Back in Sainte-Catherine I made a quick stop at the kitschy shrine of the eponymous saint and decided that instead of taking the direct way home on the Seaway dike I'd stay on the South Shore and cross the St. Lawrence via the Jacques Cartier Bridge. This would add a few kilometers but avoid the risk of riding through the thick cloud of insects that is almost guaranteed to be around at this time of year and day on the dike.

This turned out to be a good idea, as once I got to the little park on the de la Concorde bridge near the Old Port I encountered huge swarms of moths circling around the tree tops. Riding through this would not have been fun.

In the end the ride clocked in at just under 200km. I highly recommend this route, and if 180km (this would be the length had I returned via the Seaway dike) are too long, one could also turn this into a two-day trip, as there are a few campgrounds near Hemmingford and Covey Hill. I've written about this ride before, and you can find a cue sheet for a mostly identical route in that post.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ride report: Hilly and windy Mount Horeb

Rolling-rolling-rolling hills
Just a quick ride report from my second long ride in my new home state Wisconsin. On recommendation from a local I headed out for a 100km ride to Mount Horeb and back. After following the Southwest Commuter and Military Ridge State trails out of Madison to Verona, the remainder of the ride was on mostly empty country roads. As I had requested, the route featured a lot of rolling hills. None of them was terribly long or steep, but due to the fact that I had gotten talked into doing weight training for the first time ever on the previous day, the climbing got to me after a while. One the way out the strong winds helped quite a bit, but after the mid-ride stop in Mount Horeb, I had to fight both hills and headwind. So far I'm really excited about the riding in the Madison area and am looking forward to further exploration once I will have finally moved there.
And not a car to be seen!

Mid-ride stop in Mount Horeb. Bought myself some jeans from the Duluth Trading Company store.

Short reprieve from the hills but not the wind

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Time management: Corridor Aerobique

The spring 2014 issue of Bicycle Quarterly features an article on creating schedules for long, timed rides. I must admit, this is not something I have done much—my approach to riding brevets has been to just do it, and if it takes me more than the time limit: whatevs. Schedules and goals sound too much like work and not fun. Yesterday, however, I found a new trail that I'd like to add to my collection and that because of its location will require me to do some more careful scheduling ahead of the ride.

Via someone's Twitter update I discovered the Corridor Aerobique, a new-to-me bike trail in the Lower Laurentians. It is 57 kilometers, connecting Morin Heights to Amherst mostly on a gravel surface away from car traffic, and soon the Corridor will be connected to the P'tit Train du Nord. Since I loved all of my previous rides through the Laurentians I really want to try this one, too. But Amherst's location at the end of the trail could be aptly described as "in the middle of nowhere," so how would I get back home?

To get a sense of the distances, I used GPSies to map a route starting at the de la Concorde metro  in Laval, then taking the P'tit train du Nord to Saint-Sauveur, the Corridor to Amhert, and then heading south towards the Ottawa River and following the Route Verte through Oka back to the Deux-Montagnes commuter rail station.

 Unfortunately, that is be a total distance of 285 kilometers—doable on my road bike, but probably not so much on my Cross-Check, which is all I have access to at the moment. My average speed on the CC tends to be about three kilometers per hour less than on the Gunnar, meaning that I'd have to spend about two additional hours in the saddle. In addition, I would have to time the start of the ride in a way that would get me back to Deux-Montagnes at a time when the trains are actually running and accept bikes on board.

Some 35 kilometers at the beginning of the ride could be shaved off by taking the train to Saint-Jérôme. But that further exacerbates the timing problems. The first weekday train to Saint-Jérôme would get me there at 8:20, leaving me with 14 hours and 40 minutes until the last Deux-Montagnes departure at 23:00, or an overall average of close to 18 km/h. With time off the bike limited to 3 hours I'd need a moving average of about 22.3 km/h; or 20.5 km/h with two hours off the bike. To assess how realistic those speeds are one would have to compare to data from other rides of similar distance, something which is mostly missing in this case, as usually I ride Gunnar on longer rides. From the data I have I would conclude that the plan is ambitious but probably doable.

So let's make a schedule roughly following the BQ method. Since this is not a brevet I had to come up with my own intermediate points, basing them on the elevation profile, the location of villages and towns, or major changes in direction. When entering the data into the spreadsheet it became clear the that plan with 3 hours off the bike probably was not going to work out, as it required moving averages too high on several sections. With the two-hour plan, however, things look more promising:

Unless I encounter major problems like detours, mechanical issues, or adverse weather, I think I can do this. Assuming the weather forecast doesn't change and I get through enough work over the weekend I might try it on Monday. To be continued.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Memories of winter

Mercier Bridge with floating ice at sunset

Ride report: Circling the windmills

Spring has finally arrived in Montreal—at least kind of. The forecast predicted mostly sunny skies with temperatures a little under 10°C. Not too shabby. I clearly have lots of pent up demand in me for riding, and so after doing 50 km on Friday, I planned a 100 km route for Sunday. The route was a variation of two longer rides I had done before, with a new connector segment to keep the distance down. The other change was the direction in which I was doing the ride. Usually when riding in the Monteregie I do the southeast/south part first in order to have a better change of catching the usual southwest to west winds on the way back. As the wind forecast for Saturday promised rather strong winds from anywhere between southeast and northwest, I figured I might as well mix things up and start out by going southwest.
Little traffic

Well, once I crossed the St. Lawrence Seaway onto the mainland I was greeted by a strong headwind. The area just south of Montreal is very flat and characterized by vast fields on black soil—and more recently wind turbines. Few trees provide shelter, and I was struggling to maintain even 20 km/h. The wind also meant that despite the relatively mild temperatures and the spring sun I felt little incentive to stop and take a break. Once I reached Saint-Urbain-Premier, after about 45 km, I circled through the little village to find a bench or other wind-protected spot, but to no avail. Since Saint-Urbain was also the point where I would change direction from southwest to southeast I figure I might as well keep going. This was the new connector segment, which turned out to be a nice addition to my road collection, especially with the wind now at least coming mostly from the side and back.

Were the engineers slightly drunk when plotting this road...?
After another 10 km I reached the turnaround point and now had the wind fully in my back for a few kilometers. Glorious riding while it lasted—which wasn't for too long. I finally took a lunch break, fully exposed to the wind, before continuing back towards Delson. The view of the numerous windmills with their rapidly spinning blades accompanied me for most of the way. I reached home in a pretty exhausted state after 108 km.
Lunch break!

I really miss having Gunnar, my road bike, for rides like this. It's just not the same on Wolfgang.