Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Just across the border

Big fake sheep
[content note: Lots of stuff about eating, and not eating]

It's been over a year since I last did a 200 km ride. With the pandemic, there have been no organized brevets, water fountains and restrooms at parks were closed, and I didn't feel comfortable doing my usual gas station stops. With three water bottles this limited me to 120 to 140 km, depending on the heat. With a statewide mask mandate and the research on mask effectiveness, I felt okay embarking on a longer ride and refuel at gas stations when necessary. This Saturday conditions looked perfect. A high of 28°C (80 F), mostly calm winds from the NE, sunny.

The destination for the ride was a certain retail establishment located just across the Illinois border in South Beloit. The Strava route builder did a good job of suggesting a route, and I didn't have to spend too much time fine-tuning it to collect a couple more Explorer tiles along the way. The total distance was 196 km. Far enough, but I figured I could always add a little detour or two to make it to 200.

Because I would have the wind in my back for the first half of the ride, I didn't want to leave too early. No point in riding with a calm tailwind, only then to ride back when the headwind is strongest. This was fine by me and accommodated my usual slowness in getting ready in the morning. Two coffees and one bowl of oatmeal in me, I was won the road by 7:18am.

My recently repainted Gunnar was in tip top shape (minor rear derailleur indexing issues aside) and I felt great. As predicted, the wind wasn't strong but definitely in my back. At the current speed I calculated that I could be at the turnaround point well before noon.

The Peace Trail follows the Rock River and will eventually connect Janesville and Beloit

One thing I have been struggling with on long rides lately is eating. My glycogen stores were still full of yesterday's pasta and the bowl of oatmeal. I know I should keep eating all throughout the ride, but in the first couple hours into the ride I just didn't feel like it at all. I had had some vague plan to stop in Janesville, about 75 km in, but then of course my route didn't really go through Janesville but around it on the lovely Peace Trail. So by the time I got to the Road Ranger gas station in South Beloit, my turnaround point, I had only had one Clif Bar and one bottle of water. There I bought a bag of dill pickle chips, a bag of actual pickles, and a bottle of V8, but only half the bag of chips and drank the V8. I kindasorta knew that this wasn't going to be sustainable, but bike brain also stopped me from doing something about it.

Well, it did go alright for another hour on the return leg, but then my body started sending some "cough, cough, didn't you forget something??" messages. The first sign was that the lukewarm, slightly plasticky water in my bottle suddenly tasted absolutely amazing! I quickly downed my remaining two water bottles and set my eyes on finding a gas station quickly. It didn't take long until I got to Footville. The gas station looked vaguely familiar from previous rides and I bought a whole gallon of water. So far, so good. But apparently taking care of one bodily need made me lose track of that whole eating thing. I really enjoy sitting down on a nice bench to eat, and neither the gas station nor the Footville Memorial Park offered such amenities. "Ah well, instead of following the signs to Footville Community Park, which would take me slightly off route, I'll just keep going and stop in Evansville! Can't be more than 20k!" Yeah, I know.

Next bodily message, at the bottom of a hill, probably halfway to Evansville: "I'm not going to ride up there unless you feed me. Right. Now." Who's to argue with that. I just stopped on the side of the road and ate both a Clif Bar and a Clif Shot. This was enough to get me to Evansville, where I stopped at Lake Leota Park. I finished the remaining half of the chips and the pickles (note to self: pay attention and don't buy the spicy pickles) and kept drinking more water. This was plenty to console my body and get it ready for the remaining 50 km.

Have I mentioned that I like pickles?

I realized I couldn't make it back home by 4:20. (I'll leave it to my readers to figure out why this is relevant to this report). This provided a welcome excuse to add a couple kilometers and make a pit stop at the Hop Garden in Paoli. This is truly one of my most favorite spots, and a beer and a Pepsi were extremely delicious, 185 km into the ride. Once I got going again I noticed that my average pace had fallen just under 25 km/h. Not that it really mattered, but it provided a boost of motivation to get it back up to 25 and complete the 200 km in under 8 hours riding time. There are a couple minor hills Paoli and Verona -- not exactly conducive to raising the average speed -- and I did what my legs allowed me to do. Once I reached the Military Ridge Trail I was able to push the pace. And indeed, the display of my Wahoo jumped from 24.9 to 25.0 km/h maybe 5 minutes before I reached the 200 km mark, just at the city limits of Madison. Pretty good for a solo ride.

This was a great ride, and despite the eating/drinking issue I felt pretty good the whole time. Nonetheless, I'd like to figure something out about the eating issue. Maybe strictly pre-planned stops? Bring real food like I used to do on brevets? Set up an obnoxious alert on my phone or the Wahoo? Maybe embarking on a 300 km route, or a 200 km with more climbing will force me to come up with a solution.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

To the Alps! - Day 2

Day 2: Füramoos to Kleinwalsertal

It took me forever to write and publish this post. The reason: Sometime during day 1, I accidentally had changed the ISO settings on my camera – you may have noticed the graininess in some of the photos in the previous post. Having mediocre photos in a travelogue was really demoralizing, and so I couldn’t get myself to finish the post for a long time. But here we are! Day 2 of my trip to the Alps.

No Allgäu without brown cows and cowbells...
...and crucifixes along the way

Breakfast was served at 6:30. I had gotten a lot of sun the previous day, and today was forecast to be a little warmer still. So despite only having to go about 110 km today, I got an early start. Within the first hour of my departure, I got the first glimpse of the Alps in the hazy distance. Too far to capture by camera, but elating nonetheless.

The Alps are in this shot. I swear!

I'm a sucker for taking pics of these signs (even if the grades on there often seem exaggerated)

One of the nice things about using Komoot for route planning is that it shows “highlights” on the map. These are recommendations from other users. Recommendations include traditional attractions like castles or historic markers, but also scenic stretches of bike trail, a swimming spot, or a bench with a good view. The Wurzacher Ried, apparently Central Europe’s largest contiguous intact high moor, was one of the highlights that I had planned my route around. Maybe the number of qualifiers should have made me suspicious. The moor was meh. The route was on a bike path right next to a busy state highway and all you could see of the moor were the signs and some trailheads. Ah well.

The meh moor

At some point I passed the ill-defined boundary of the Allgäu region, a region renowned for its cow, cheese, alpine foothills—and best known to tourists from around the world: Neuschwanstein castle. After a minor construction detour, I reached Leutkirch im Allgäu. Two hours into the ride I was ready for a second breakfast. On the picturesque church square Bäckerei Schwarz provided me with coffee and pretzels. I quickly sent a Whatsapp message to my parents whom I was supposed to meet at the end of the day. They were somewhere on the Autobahn, and I still had a bit of a lead on them.

Pretzel time!
The view for my second breakfast

Past Leutkirch I encountered another detour. One of the small roads on my route was closed somewhere ahead. It wasn’t entirely clear where and the signed detour would have taken me on a road too busy for my liking. The map showed an alternative route that looked about right, and so I ignored Komoot’s constant audio reminders that I was of course. The detour turned out to be excellent choice. A beautiful tree-lined road, ending at a little palace, Schloss Rimpach.
On the way to Schloss Rimpach
.... - manor house - kitchen

The hills around me kept growing, and my route was definitely climbing, but at very gentle grades. It was another hot day and I started to feel a little dehydrated and bonky. The tiny villages along the way (among them: Kleinholzleute and Großholzleute – Little Wood People and Big Wood People) didn’t have much to offer and so I was glad to eventually get to a gas station. It didn’t just provide me with water and a Pepsi. Next door was a wood carving business; except that it wasn’t exactly “carving” but two people with chain saws creating oversized wood sculptures! Noisy but fun to watch. Another gas station attraction: A fully airbrushed tanker truck, theme: “The History of the Diesel Engine, from Rudolf Diesel to Euro 6 Emission Standards.” Or something like that.
The process...
...and the results

The hills around me became taller and I climbed the first “pass.” Not tall enough to warrant a name, but the first sustained, steeper climb today. And on the other side, a wonderful descent with a view of the Alpsee Lake. I restocked my pretzel stash in downtown Immenstadt but kept pushing on. Just outside of Immenstadt my route reached the bike path along the river Iller. Whereas I hadn’t seen a ton of people on bikes until now, the Iller-Radweg, connecting Ulm and Oberstdorf, was heavily trafficked. I sat down on a bench along the trail and enjoyed the view of people of all ages and on all types of bikes passing me by.

On the Iller bike trail

River bike paths have a reputation for being boring, but this stretch was very nice. The Iller is an alpine river, with a wide, rock filled bed, framed by beautiful mountains. The trail led me to the outskirts of Oberstdorf, with its iconic ski jumps. I have some distinctive childhood memories of visiting the top of the jump and being terrified by the view down the slope...

Oberstdorf panorama, with the ski jumps on the left

My final destination was near but up. My parents had texted me that they were awaiting me at their hotel, and all that stood in between was the final climb into the Kleinwalsertal. The trail and subsequent road were steep and the sun burned down on me. I passed the border into Austria and eventually arrived at my parents’ hotel. I probably looked pretty beat and sweat-encrusted, but I was almost there! Our own hotel was further up the valley, but with some rest, water, and coffee, this wasn’t a big deal any more.

Entering Austria

This had been a great trip, with pretty much everything going according to plan, no mechanical problems, and my not-quite-fit-for-purpose bike working well enough. Navigation by voice with Komoot worked really well overall, even though it would have been nice to have a GPS device on the handlebars to see a map.

I had had great plans of bike touring again in Germany or the Alps this year. Given the COVID situation, that's just not going to happen. I have no complaints about the biking here in Wisconsin, but I long for mountains, the pretzels, the bike trails. Hopefully next year...

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Tried and liked 2019


Tandem, again

I included it last year, but I have to mention it again: I love riding the tandem with my SO! This year we upped our game and did the longest ever ride on the tandem:  A hilly 85 miles.
Photo credit: Mark Renner

Some changes to the tandem: I have been swapping saddles quite a bit and still haven't found one that I'm perfectly happy with -- which may be related to me fiddling around with stems and handlebars. I replaced the Cowbell with Compass Randonneur 31.8 mm bars (excellent decision), but I still have to dial in the stem length for the coming season.

For the stoker I just installed a new Suntour NCX suspension seatpost. The original Cannondale suspension post didn't provide enough setback. We've only done one short test ride, but so far the stoker is happy with the seat farther back.

I also installed a BUMM Cycle Star handlebar mirror. For my regular bikes I never saw a need for a mirror, but on the tandem it has proven quite handy. I can check on traffic without turning my body, which my stoker appreciates. The mirror is installed at the end of the handlebars, which works alright but does mean it goes out of adjustment regularly from leaning the bike against things or bumping into the mirror when off the bike.

A "liked"  innovation for my stoker was the switch to clipless pedals on the tandem. One of the issues we kept having was that my natural cadence felt too high for Nicole -- despite her being a spinner on her solo bikes. Switching to clipless pedals pretty much resolved this issue, and because she never has to unclip at stops, the usual safety concerns with clipless are not an issue on the tandem.

Canti/mini V brakes

Our tandem came with the stock Cannondale-branded linear pull brakes. Because the bike also uses brifters, the brakes used a Travel Agent. I never liked the feel of that combination -- stopping power in the front didn't seem great and the rear felt very spongy. I bought a pair of used vintage Shimano XTR cantilever brakes (admittedly partly for the bling factor). I was unable to install the brakes in the rear because there wasn't enough space to run the cable and cable hanger. Instead I bought cheap Shimano V-brakes with 90mm arms, which according to the internet would work reasonably well with regular pull road brake levers. They were only $21, and this seems to be working quite well. Good lever feel; sufficient braking power.

BUMM Ixon IQ Premium battery light

Another new purchase primarily for the tandem was a Busch & Müller Ixon IQ Premium battery front light. Similar to the B& M dynamo head lights, it has a nice beam pattern that puts the light where you need it and not into the eyes of oncoming cyclists. Compared to current generation dynamo lights like the IQ X or even the older lights from the Cyo series, it just isn't as bright, though, even in high mode. It provides sufficient light in relatively dark environments, but in an urban setting with lots of light around you I sometimes wish for more light output. I'm also not a fan of the handlebar mount. Once firmly installed it works fine, but it's a pain to transfer the mount from one bike to the other. The fork crown mount would probably work better, but that place is already taken by a brake cable mount on the tandem. So this is mostly a "liked," but it also confirms my strong preference for dyno lights whenever practical.

Gravelking tires

I held my judgment about these tires last year, but as I've kept riding them all season and they still seem to have some life left in them, they are now in the liked category. Review here.

Gunnar Rockhound 26" MTB

 I spontaneously bought a used Gunnar MTB last winter. I got it for a good price and have since converted it from the weird narrow 29er build back to its original 26" configuration. The bike rides really nice on the local trails and I'm much faster compared to my Surly fat bike -- but I probably just don't MTB enough to justify keeping the bike. So despite it being a "liked," I'll probably sell it next spring.

Pro Bike Tool Mini Pump

This is a great little bike pump that replaced one of my Topeak Road Morphs. It's more compact than the Road Morph, it's a better design with the hose hidden in the barrel, similar to Lezyne mini pumps, and it's only $30. The only possible improvement would be a high-volume rather than a high pressure version of the pump. Apparently Pro Bike Tool used to make such a pump but ultimately discontinued it because of low demand.

Mesh undershirts

I bought two different mesh baselayers this year. One ultralight one from Craft for the summer and one slightly heavier one from Aliexpress. My skin is somewhat sensitive to wool, and I also have sensitive nipples. Both of these issues are addressed by wearing the mesh baselayer under my bib shorts and wool jerseys. The ultralight one doesn't add any discernible warmth; the cheapo one probably does, but that's why I have relegated it to non-summer use.


I have continued VeloViewer tile hunting, the Strava-based game where you divide the map into small squares and try to touch as many contiguous squares as possible. But with my total square having grown to 29x29, any ride to get new squares now is at least 50 miles long. Well, what about trying to ride every road in your neighborhood, city, county? This is what Wandrer is offering. It also integrates with Strava and tracks the percentage of roads you have ridden on. I've enjoyed collecting new roads quite a bit, and trying to ride every road here in Madison also sharpens the view about development patterns: So many residential streets are cul-de-sacs or otherwise designed to prevent through traffic, often requiring long detours to get from point A to point B.
My Wandrer map: Blue are the streets I have ridden on; red the ones I still need to ride

Wera Multicolor Hex Plus keys

A very recent but already liked purchase is this set of fancy hex keys. The color coding is great, they feel nice in your hand, and supposedly the hex plus shape of the heads reduces the risk of stripping screw heads. Well worth the 30 bucks.


Garmin Vivoactive 3

For the past couple years I've been tracking my mileage only with Strava on my smartphone. For navigation purposes I relied on handwritten cue sheets. This system worked quite well, but I also enjoy having electronic gadgets, and producing the handwritten cue sheets was labor intensive. So when a good sale came up, I bought a Garmin Vivoactive 3 smartwatch. It quickly turned out that this was the wrong tool for the job. Navigation via watch was cumbersome, the wrist-based heart rate monitoring didn't work well for me, it doesn't support playing music via Bluetooth (You need the special "music" edition for that, which is $70 more expensive...), and in the end I didn't really care about all the metrics the watch tracked. I passed it on to the SO, who actually likes it a lot, especially for running.

After the failure with the Vivoactive, I started looking for bike-specific devices. I narrowed down my choices to the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt and the Garmin 530. Because of the price, I ended up with the Wahoo and so far I'm liking it a lot. But I'll reserve my full judgment for next year's tried-and-liked.

SKS Bluemels Primo 53mm fenders 

The aluminum front fender on my daily commuter finally broke -- road salt corroded away enough of the fender to make it break at the stay mount. Because I already had them sitting in my parts bin, I replaced the fender with a plastic SKS fender. While was it cheap and easy to install, a couple wet rides reminded me how important properly long fenders are. Sure, short fenders are better than nothing, but you may as well get properly sized ones. Disliked.

Shoes, shoes, shoes

My 2019 shoe experiences were a mixed bag. Let's start with the good:

Lake MXZ-303 winter boots

I finally retired my Lake MXZ-302 winter boots and replaced them with the 303 successor model. New models don't always improve a product, but in this case the 303 do indeed fix a couple flaws of the 302: The 303 has a rubber cap instead of leather over the toe section of the boot, which was the most worn piece on my 302. The flap across the top of the boots is now closed with a snap buckle and not velcro -- slightly less convenient but it should be much longer lasting. My only complaint about the new model is the more prominent graphics and branding on the boots. I could have done without that, but even without them they're still very obviously a cycling boot and not some piece of casual footwear.

Bontrager Rhythm MTB shoes

As mentioned above, when I bought my Gunnar MTB I had some aspirations of doing more trail riding this year. That was part of the motivation to spontaneously buy a pair of Bontrager shoes to eventually replace my worn Mavic MTB shoes. The Bontragers have extra padding and height on the pedal side of the shoe to protect your ankle, and in general are more beefy. More shoe than I need for my mostly road riding.

Giro Republic LX

The next try to replace the Mavis was with Giro Republic LX shoes. These are the ones in the all-reflective grey colorway. I initially liked them: They look good; you can replace the walking pads
, they have a nice stiff sole. But very recently I learned that the walking pad placement prevents me from clipping into my Shimano XT SPD trail pedals! Maybe I can move the cleats by a millimeter or so to fix this, but if not that's probably a deal breaker.

Much reflection!