Saturday, May 6, 2017

Giro Rumble VR: A review one year out

It's been a little over a year since I posted my first impressions of the Giro Rumble VR shoes. Since then I have been wearing the shoes almost daily, except during the winter. They also were the only shoes I had during a seven-day bike camping trip in California earlier this year. And since someone in the comments to the original post asked for an update, here is a full review. Giro appears to continue production of the shoe, and they have since introduced an additional color option (olive/black). The Rumble VR is widely available online and offline for about $80.


In my initial review I remarked that I was concerned about durability in two areas: The thickness of the sole around the cleat and the little elastic lash that holds in place the shoelaces. The good news: The elastic is holding up very well, and it is a feature that's I've come to appreciate, especially on a fixed-gear bike where you really don't want to get your shoelaces caught in the drivetrain.

The sole is a different matter. Even though I haven't walked around the shoes a lot and the sole isn't worn down by much, it is worn enough that the cleats touch the ground occasionally. It hasn't gotten to the point where that becomes dangerous, but I'm afraid that may happen in the not too distant future. The problem is that there is just not enough material around the cleat to begin with. Another indication of that: A commenter on the initial review asked whether the shoes made crunchy noises when walking, and indeed they do, unless you're walking on very smooth and clean pavement

The outer of the shoe, on the other hand, has held up very well. Compare the two pictures:

The top one is of the shoes today; the bottom is from the original review over a year ago. And if you think I've gone easy on the shoes, think again:
After a wet 100k ride
The heel cup is also still in excellent shape. That may be because I've continued to diligently use a shoe horn whenever I put the shoes on. As mentioned before, the shoes have a snug fit and and no tab to hold on to when putting on the shoe. So you either have open up the lacing a lot or use the shoe horn.


Comfort on the bike eventually worked itself out. My initial complaint about numbness in my foot went away after a while. Whether that was due to slight adjustments to the cleat positioning or just the shoes breaking in, I cannot tell. The longest rides I have done were about 10 hours on the bike during my California trip, and the shoes worked well for that. With thick socks I can wear the shoes comfortably down to about 8°C (45F). Below that my feet will get cold after an hour or so. In the summer they are sufficiently ventilated.

Off the bike I've never come to love the shoes. While they are not outright uncomfortable, I would not recommend them for longer walks or even just standing for extended periods of time. It may be the lack of cushioning in the sole (despite the Vibram label) or its stiffness, but my feet feel strained whenever I wear the Giros off the bike for too long.

Odor control

Nobody likes smelly shoes, and the Giros perform well in that department. The worst was during my California bike camping trip: Eight days of daily wear, combined with damp and cold nights, meaning the shoes would never fully dry out. By the end of it, they unsurprisingly had developed a distinct funk, but fortunately that has disappeared since.


I'm torn about the Giro Rumble VR. They look great, they're vegan, affordable, come in a large enough size for my feet, and they work well on the bike. But then they're also uncomfortable off the bike and don't have enough rubber on the sole to make them durable. So while I certainly don't regret buying them, I'm not sure if I would buy them again. I may, just because there aren't a whole lot of vegan SPD-compatible shoes that don't look like bike shoes. But some do exist, for instance the Chrome Truk or the Mission Workshop Hardcourt, and I would give those a hard look before re-buying the Giros.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bike California, Day 1: San Mateo to Samuel Taylor State Park

The official Orr Springs route has its starting point at the Golden Gate Bridge. I pondered taking the BART train for most of the way there to avoid mediocre riding through endless suburbs. But after some consultation with my hosts, I concluded that the ride to get to the bridge may actually be nice for the most part, especially when taking a slightly longer route. With a hastily handwritten cue sheet in my handlebar bag, I headed out at 8:17 am.
I have reached the ocean!

The route indeed turned out to be pretty nice, probably helped by it being Saturday morning with light traffic. After following the Caltrain/BART route into San Bruno, I reached the South San Francisco Centennial Way. This is a nicely paved bike trail that, as I later learned, runs on top of the BART tube. Where the trail ended, I encountered the first of what would be many more climbs. Chestnut Avenue is a straight shot up toward the San Bruno mountains, until it intersects with Hillside Avenue. When planning the route, I had suspicions that Hillside, showing up as a major connector road, may be unpleasant, but it actually turned out to be beautiful. There was a good bike lane/shoulder, and the road takes you through a long stretch of scenic cemeteries.

Plenty of surfers in the water
I got slightly lost on my way to the ocean and had to squeeze my bike through a narrow fence opening at a pedestrian connector, but eventually I got back on track and reached the beach near the appropriately named “Great Highway.” I spent some minutes watching the surfers and then continued along the coastline. The multi-use path along Great Highway is very bumpy, but fortunately the highway itself was closed off to cars that morning. Getting from the beach to the Golden Gate Bridge involved some pretty brutal climbs, but it also provided a nice mix of riding through an urban environment and then through the Presidio park.

Looking toward downtown on Clement Street
View of the Marin Headlands from the Presidio
The start of the Orr Springs route
Tourists afoot and on their “Blazing Saddles” rental bikes of course were swarming everywhere on and around the bridge. Fortunately on the weekend the western path of the bridge is open and limited to only cyclists, making riding across actually enjoyable.

On the Marin side of the bridge
Once in Marin County, the Orr Springs route follows Highway 1 out of Sausalito. I had been warned about there usually being a lot of car traffic on that route, especially on the weekend. To avoid that I tried to retrace my steps from a day ride during a San Francisco visit one-and-a-half years ago. I really enjoyed that route back then, but alas, I couldn't figure it out again. The route I took instead had some great section as well (see photo below), but there were also segments with hard climbing and lots of car traffic. By the time I got to the top, at the intersection with Panoramic Highway and Muir Woods Road, I was soaked in sweat.
Beautiful residential street in Mill Valley
I knew that Highway 1 was closed off in the segment going down to Muir Beach due to construction, requiring a detour either via Muir Woods (less climbing) or Panoramic Highway (more climbing). So I wasn't surprised to see a detour sign at the intersection. Apparently I also didn't read it too closely before starting the descent down Muir Woods Road. However, something on that sign must have triggered doubt deep in my reptile brain and I decided to pull over after the first few downhill turns. I pulled out my cell phone to double-check that I was not mistaken about which parts of Highway 1 were open and which ones were closed. But of course, being on the other side of the mountain, I no longer had cell reception. And so I just continued down the hill, together with a steady stream of weekend tourists going to and from Muir Woods. The descent was fun and twisty, with me actually managing to scrape my panniers on the ground in one of the switchbacks. I guess there are certain disadvantages to use rear panniers in the front...
Looking back and catching my breath on steep Edgewood Avenue

Past the entrance to Muir Woods, traffic volumes dropped quickly. I rationalized that away, thinking that with one section of Highway 1 being closed off, most people in cars would just take Panoramic Highway instead. I encountered a bunch of sad looking runners who, as I later learned were the back-end of an ultra running event. Well, soon enough I would look just as sad: At the intersection with Highway 1, there it was: ROAD CLOSED. LOCAL ACCESS ONLY. In both directions.
Back at the entrance to Muir Woods

I considered just continuing anyway, in hopes that on a bike I may be able to pass the closure. But having seen enough pictures of really big landslides on other parts of the coastal highway, however, that didn't seem like a great idea. Around I turned. At Muir Woods—which is where the serious climbing begins—I made a quick stop to ask one of the rangers about the closure. After all, my legs were somewhat tired at this point, and not only would I have to get back up to where I'd come from, but the route on Panoramic Highway would continue climbing for a good bit before going back down to the ocean. The ranger couldn't tell me much more than that the closure was because of a slide and that she didn't think I'd be able to pass on a bike. Oh well.

The climbing was tough and had lots of annoying car traffic. And yet, the sunshine and beautiful scenery more than made up for it. About an hour later I reached the highest point of the day at Pan Toll campground. I was in desperate need of a break, calories, and electrolytes. I had plenty of Clif Bars left for the calories, and the campground vending machine had some sort of sports drink to take care of the electrolytes. Just to make sure that I wouldn't encounter any further surprises along the road, I inquired with the volunteer at the campground registration about the status of the route from here on and whether Samuel Taylor State Park was open and had hike-bike sites. She gave the thumbs-up on the route and offered to call the park. Nobody picked up there, but she confirmed that they did have hike-bike sites and that she had no reason to believe the camping wasn't open. She also offered me a campsite right here. But with a few hours of daylight left and the worst of the climbing was behind me, I declined.

Double espresso in Stinson Beach. The barista seemed a little stoned...
The descent to Stinson Beach was sublime. It's over six kilometers (3.8 mi) of twisty downhill with stunning vistas of tall trees, endless beaches, and the Pacific Ocean. At the bottom is a small beach community where I stopped for an espresso and a bottle of V8. North of Stinson Beach the Coastal Highway is truly coastal: For a few miles I rode right at the edge of the water, on a road that had hardly any traffic. Some seals lazing on sand banks further enhanced the scenery.

After a few short ups and downs when the route turned inland, I reached the tiny community of Olema. This was where I would have to turn off the coastal highway to get to my camping spot for the night. Olema consists only of a few houses, but there is a little deli as well as a campground right in town. Riding to Samuel Taylor State Park would be all uphill, and so I considered just staying here, or at least getting my dinner supplies at the deli. But the deli's selection was rather upscale and the campground looked expensive and geared toward RV campers. So I decided to keep going on Highway 1 into the next town, Point Reyes Station. The Orr Springs cue sheet promised a supermarket and a renowned bakery there, and it was only another few miles.

This was well worth it. At Bovine Bakery I had a tasty vegan minestrone and at the supermarket across the street I bought pasta, an avocado and two large beers for dinner. Daylight had started to run out at this point, and so I started on the final few miles to my camp site. The climb from Olema turned out to be not too bad, or maybe it was just the beautiful scenery in the soft evening light that made me forget about my tired legs.

The ranger station was already closed when I arrived, and there was a sign that the campground was full. As full as the regular campground was, the hike/bike site was completely unoccupied. I set up my tent under the massive redwood trees and right next to Lagunitas Creek. The avocado and a pound of pasta with tomato sauce and two cans of Sierra Nevada Torpedo made for a very satisfying ending to a long day of riding.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bike California, day 0: Assembling Grando and a first shakedown ride

What you don't want your route map to look like a week before your departure (Photo: Big Sur Information)

Wisconsin winters are long and cold. I tolerate but certainly don't like them. So this year I decided to find reprieve on a week-long bike trip in sunny California. Inspired by Hunter's wonderful ride report, the plan was to ride down the coast from San Francisco to LA. Well, sunny California turned out to be rainy California this winter, upending my plans. Landslides had interrupted much of my planned route. I kept being hopeful that everything would be cleaned up by the time of my trip. But that hope proved elusive, and by the time of my departure I didn't really know where I would end up touring. Generally I'm a person who likes to have a firm plan. But somehow in this case the idea of making things up on the go appealed to me.

Boxing up my SOMA Grand Rando
Dropping off the bike at FedEx

Packed and ready to leave for the airport
California, where oranges just grow in your garden...
My flight got me into San Francisco at 9 pm. My hosts, Julie and David, fortunately live very close to SFO, and they greeted me with a wonderful vegan pizza for dinner. My bike, shipped a couple days previously via BikeFlights had not arrived yet (note: If you insure your bike over $500, a signature is required at delivery, and apparently the signed note that my hosts left on the door does not fulfill that requirement). Not a problem, as I had planned to hang out with Julie and David for another night anyway.

The bike has arrived!
And indeed, the next morning my SOMA Grand Randonneur arrived, mostly unscathed: The rear fender was bent a little, and the nut of the front quick release skewer got lost. No big deal. Reassembly was also unproblematic and quick, courtesy of David's well-stocked garage, including a brand new repair stand. Once assembled, it was time for a test ride. Yes, I had not previously tried the exact set-up of bags. In Madison it had been too cold and snowy for a shakedown ride. I wasn't too worried, given that I had done overnight camping trips with a similar setup. Nonetheless, an actual test before starting on the tour seemed like a good idea. After all, I had much bigger panniers, was carrying more weight than ever before on Grando, and had just switched to a new cassette. My hosts had recommended Crystal Springs Reservoir as a scenic destination not too far away. The route there would also include a good amount of climbing/descending, making for an excellent test course. Conclusion: The ride was pretty, and the bike felt great! The handling was intuitive, despite having all the weight in the front, and on the descents there was not a hint of shimmy or speed wobble. The only adjustment I made after the shakedown ride was to nudge up the tire pressure in the front.

Climbing up to the reservoir
Grando, fully loaded, on the Sawyer Camp Recreation Trail
Fancy houses and fancy cars on the way back
At this point I had also made a decision on my route: The weather forecast north of San Francisco looked relatively promising, with only a small chance of rain and high temperatures of around 12-15°C (55-60F). So I would start out on the Orr Springs 600k route, a brevet route that promised a “course [that] challenges even strong riders, but it rewards with fantastic scenery and uncommon isolation.” In best case, I thought I may be able to do the whole route in six days. This would then give me a few days to take the train further south and do a bit of riding near LA. And if that would prove too challenging, I could always spend more time on the route or cut it short. As I said: Improvisation!

I concluded the day with Julie and David, having strong beers at Grape and Grain and a truly amazing "Hella Vegan" samosa at Curry Up Now.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Pulling sleds by fat bike: Fun on the frozen lake

Just a quick one: I'm one of the organizers of Madison Winter Bike Week, a week full of activities to encourage riding year round. One of the events I'm organizing is a fat bike sled pull for kids on frozen Lake Mendota. There was relatively little information about how this may work on the interwebs, and so we had a testing session a couple weekends ago. Conclusion: It does work! And it's great fun!

Here's some video footage:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tried and Liked, 2016 Edition

It's December again, as per usual I'm late to the annual game of "tried-and-liked," started on the iBOB list. It's always instructive to look back at the previous recap, where I liked 650B low trail bikes with wide tires, group riding, riding a fixed gear bike in the winter, and the Philips SafeRide dyno front light. My only dislike was crashing (I broke and dislocated my shoulder in 2015...). And then there were a few undecided things: Shimano "trail" style pedals, bib shorts, and the BUMM Cyo Premium front light.


Fixed gear, year round

I started riding fixed gear as a way to cut down on winter wear and maintenance. Tired of replacing derailers, brakes, or cassettes every one or two winters, I converted my Surly Cross-Check to fixed gear. The plan was to ride fixed in the winter and then convert back to a multispeed drivetrain in the spring. Well, spring came but the derailers did not. I came to realize that with the addition of the SOMA Grand Randonneur to my stable I no longer needed to use the Surly for things like fastish rides in bad weather or bike camping trips. And for everything else the fixed gear setup worked out great.
Glamor shot of my Cross-Check in winter mode

Strava Weekly Goals

I started tracking all my rides with Strava a couple years back. I love looking at numbers and data. After eight weeks of not riding at all (see below), I had a hard time getting back on the bike in September. Strava offered a month-long trial of their premium membership, and one of its features were weekly and yearly goals. I figured 100 kilometers (62 miles) per week would make for a balanced goal: Easy to achieve during most weeks, but still challenging enough. This has worked out great for getting me back on the bike and keeping me going through a cold and snowy December.


Not exactly new, but I still love going for S24O camping trips. This year I was able to squeeze in more of them, and all of them were awesome. Some ride reports here.
S24O to New Glarus

Fat Bike

For several winters I've considered buying a fat bike. In the end I always talked myself out of it, thinking that there were too few days a year were having a fatty would make a big difference. Then this year I received an unexpected raise and at the same time saw a great deal on a used Surly Pugsley. I jumped on the opportunity and have no regrets. This winter brought much more and earlier snow, and Pugsie is a great tool for those conditions!

Coffeeneuring Challenge

For the first time I participated in the Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge. The challenge requires you to ride to seven different coffee locations over the course of seven weeks in fall. Perfect for someone who likes coffee and cycling, and this year the weather during the challenge period was terrific. Will do again. All my ride reports (another requirement for completing the challenge) can be found here.

Fox River Mittens

The Fox River Extra Heavy Double Ragg mittens have turned out to be great. They're thick, warm, and not scratchy. In combination with pogies, they have kept my fingers fairly warm even on days when the temperatures dipped below -20C/0F. As they don't have palm reinforcements, I'm a little concerned about durability. To be revisited next year.

Drop Bar Pogies

In the 2014 Tried-and-liked I first sang the praises of pogies for keeping my hands warm in the winter. After my experiments with Road North/Albatross bars on my winter bike (see below), this year I bought a pair of Bar Mitts designed for drop bars. So far I like them a lot. One minor issue: Their fit is relatively tight, meaning that with bigger gloves it can be a bit difficult to get into them. But so far that hasn't been a problem in practice. It remains to be seen how their insulating powers compare with pogies made from different materials (Bar Mitts are made from neoprene). It should also be noted that they limit you to pretty much one position: On the hoods. Fortunately, that's my favorite drop-bar position anyway, but on longer rides it still would be nice to be able to change things up.



As I mentioned above, in 2015 I had a big, bad crash; the first serious one after almost 30 years of riding. Well, it happened again this year. On day one of what was supposed to be a three-day bike trip with two friends, we encountered an oil slick in a turn, somewhere in the Wisconsin countryside. Two of us went down, and I broke my wrist. On the positive side, the fracture was not complicated and didn't require surgery; but it still took me off the bike for two months during prime riding season. And my cornering confidence has taken a plunge. Disliked.

Albatross/North Road Bars

Last winter I replaced the drop bars on my Cross-Check for Albatross/North Road-style bars. I had an extra pair of pogies made for straight bars, and pogies are the only way to keep my hands warm in the winter. I figured that my winter rides would be short enough for me to deal with the reduced comfort of the bars. But in the end I came to conclusion that I don't want to deal with them. Comfort was not great on rides longer than an hour. And I came to realize that on a fixed-gear bike they do not allow you to easily squeeze the front brake, push against the handlebars to lift the rear wheel, and then move the cranks to the right starting position when stopped at an intersection. Similarly, out-of-the-saddle efforts were less efficient than with drop bars.

Schwalbe Tires

Schwalbe has a great portfolio of tires. Many of their models do not have a good, cost-competitive alternative from other companies. But their quality control is bad. I've had to deal with a total of three tires where the bead stretched to a point where the tire could no longer be mounted. They replaced one of those (the other incidents happened only recently), but I don't have much trust in their tires any more.

Schwalbe Big Apple bead failure


Strava Beacon

Another feature of a Strava premium membership is the "Beacon." It basically allows others to track your rides in real-time. At the beginning of the ride you send a text message with a unique link to a designated person. That link then allows them to see where you are, if you're still moving, or if your cell phone has run out of battery. So far this seems to be working pretty well. It does drain the phone battery faster than just the regular Strava tracking, making it less useful for longer rides. A problem specific to our region is that cell phone reception with any carrier other than US Cellular gets real spotty real fast not far west of Madison. This reduce its usefulness in those places where it probably would be most needed in case you have a crash or breakdown.

Hammock camping

I never slept very well in tents. My pointy bones are a challenge for any sleeping pad, and so a hammock for bike camping trips seemed like a good solution. I first tried a cheap hammock on an early S24O this year. The night was cold and windy, and my sleeping pad kept sliding around. If you're not familiar with hammock camping: You really need a sleeping pad under your back for insulation; otherwise you'll get real cold real quick. Cold aside, the comfort of the hammock was good, and so I decided to give it another try. The ever-talented SO offered to sew me a custom hammock, long enough for my 198cm (6'5") and with a pocket for the sleeping pad. For various reasons I only got to test it for camping once, under less than ideal circumstances. Note to self: Don't try a new camping set-up when it's completely dark and your headlamp is out of power.
Test hang in the park

Monday, November 28, 2016

Coffeeneuring ride 7: #coffeeoutside on the Glacial Drumlin Trail

For what could have been the final ride to complete this year's coffeeneuring challenge, I decided to get in an instance of #coffeeoutside, that is make my own coffee somewhere in the outdoors. As my wrist continued to feel better, a longer ride seemed in order, and I headed toward Lake Mills, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Madison.
Patching my spare tube, after the flat on the previous ride
 A large proportion of the ride is on the Glacial Drumlin Trail, but first you have to ride some nice-ish country roads to the trailhead in Cottage Grove. Eventually the trail will be extended all the way into Madison, but that will still be a few years.

Mini horses near Cottage Grove

On the trail
It had been raining a lot over the past week. I had read reports of other bike trails around Madison being very soggy or even flooded. But the Glacial Drumlin turned out to be in fine condition.
Koshkonong Creek had high waters
 Shortly before reaching Lake Mills, I passed two cyclists with camping gear, maybe headed to the Sand Hill Station campground, where the SO and had done an S24O earlier in the season.
Rock Lake
The plan was to first ride to the Tyranena Brewing tasting room, have a beer, and then make my coffee on the way back to Madison.
Warm enough to sit outside at Tyranena...
On the way to Lake Mills I had kept my eyes open for good coffee spots and decided on a bench with a pretty view of wetlands. Thousands of birds provided a wonderful soundtrack to complement the gurgling of my Bialetti Moka Express. Even the coffee itself was bike themed: Just Coffee Co-op had given out sampler packs of their Revolution Roast at a cyclocross race. The coffee is named for Revolution Cycles, a great local coffee shop. And while the coffee itself is a little too dark for my liking, it made a good fit for this #coffeeoutside adventure. As a side note, The Bialetti works great as an outdoor coffee maker. It happens to fit perfectly into the pot stand I made ages ago out of a illy coffee can, and with a capillary hoop alcohol stove it will make coffee pretty quickly. The coffeemaker is certainly not the lightest, but for coffee-centered trips where weight is not the highest priority, I really like this combination.

The days have gotten shorter

Almost back home
This was a wonderful ride to complete the coffeeneuring challenge, and I'm really glad I participated in the challenge this year. We had an uncharacteristically warm fall this year, but still there were days where maybe I wouldn't have gone out hadn't it been for the challenge. And it also encouraged me to seek out some new coffee destinations in an around Madison. I did a few more coffeeneuring rides in the meantime and may blog about them. But the submission deadline for the challenge is just around the corner, and so I had to write up my official entries first! See you again next year, and always be coffeeneuring!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Coffeeneuring ride 6: Coffee & 'Cross, Sun Prairie edition

Minimalist cue sheet
After my incidental coffeeneuring ride to the 'cross race in Verona, this time around the combination of cyclocross and coffee was more deliberate. The Sun Prairie Cup was on the calendar, and my friend Jacob was going to race again. The weather was forecast to be amazing again, and so I headed out to Sun Prairie. I'd never been out there before and wasn't quite sure what kind of riding to expect. Well, first I caught a flat while still in Madison–note to self: buy rebuild kit for Topeak Road Morph pump...–followed by some mediocre riding through the 'burbs. 

Flat :-(
Once I was past the interstate, though, traffic volumes went down and enjoyment went up. Having a strong tailwind probably didn't hurt either. Once in Sun Prairie I rode past Sheehan Park (the venue for the race) and headed downtown. Whereas Sun Prairie had a very suburban feel, they do have a little downtown core with dense-ish multifamily housing and newer mixed-use buildings. One of those buildings is home to "Beans'n Cream Coffeehouse," my coffeeneuring destination. 

Downtown Sun Prairie fall colors
While the whole shop was decorated with various kinds of fancy coffee-making implements (Haros, Chemexes, ....), the brewed coffee that they served was nothing to write home about. The atmosphere is nice, though, and the food looked good.

Just in time for my friend Jacob's start in the singlespeed category, I made it over to the race. The course was quite cool and the barely rideable "party hill" made for a great spot for spectators. If you care about the actual race results, here's a write-up.

"Party Hill"

For the way home I took a different route (now riding straight into the wind...). Shortly before reaching the bike path along US-151, I spotted a promising sign:

Of course, I had to go explore! The road started out as double-track, which gradually disappeared and turned into an overgrown goat path. It was passable enough, though, and eventually led back to the bike path. Cool little adventure detour!

Adventure detour