Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mixing it up on the Mountain Bike

I bought a 29er in January and I have been on the bike a total of seven times since its purchase.  Of the seven rides, one was a disastrous tour of Tamarancho – where I spent 50 minutes of a two hour ride on my face.  Another was a Bike Skills class where I fell probably 40 of the 60 passes over a single switchback (I have been meaning to post something about this class).  Needless to say, I am not much of a mountain biker.  Still, I love the fire trails and getting outside for a spin.  And I need to get the dollar cost per ride of this bike down into a more reasonable range.

Yup, that's 5.40 in the morning
I’ve been begging my buddy, Busta, to take me out and show me the ropes.  I am wildly envious of the random mountain bike rides that I see him take– China Camp, Tamorancho night rides, Pine Mountain, etc.  But somehow Busta never calls or lets me know about his rides.  I usually give him grief afterwards.  And he makes some lame excuse like, “I was with clients” or “This was a group ride where I wasn’t in charge”.  Out of the blue, however, I got a text from Busta on Saturday afternoon suggesting a 6.45am ride, route undetermined.  There was no way that I was turning him down.  Only three problems … 1) Busta was hosting a birthday party for his daughter at 11am on Sunday and he had to be home in plenty of time, 2) prior to the ride invitation, I promised Amy that she could go for a run before the party and 3) I was sleeping with the kids in the tent in the backyard on Saturday night.  Through a dozen texts between Busta, Amy and myself, we solved the problem and the ride was confirmed – 1) 6am departure would give Busta plenty of time to get a ride in and get back, 2) Amy could run at 9am, as soon as we got back and 3) I would wake up in the tent at 5.15am and get the kids into their own beds before I left the house.  Phew …
Morning fog rolling over Phoenix Lake
The ride itself started at Natalie Coffin Greene Park at the end of Lagunitas Road in Ross.  This is the entrance to Phoenix Lake and Mount Tamalpais.  I got there early to work on a few things that I picked up in the Skills course (yes, I got there early to a 6am start time). Where my normal MO is to hammer out the hills in the middle ring, I was specifically working on spinning at a high cadence in a low, low gear (more on this later).  Around 6.05am, Busta shows up with a friendly but unfamiliar face, his buddy Jay.  These guys each had on the sweetest gear ever.  Busta in a red, full Specialized kit with a jacket and jay with a white and green Cathay Pacific pro-style speed suit.  Words do not properly convey the sweetness/ridiculousness of these outfits … especially for a casual Sunday morning spin.
Busta ... Specialized enduro racer meets the Keebler elf
I was quickly informed that we will not be riding up Tam, but rather to the top of Bald Hill.  I knew from San Anselmo lore that Bald Hill is one of the steepest climbs that we have to offer, so I was instantly intimidated.  Jay and Busta did their typical climbing special as I was quickly left behind.  I was having troubles shifting as the chain kept skipping on the cassette.  About ten minutes in, as the pitch tripled, I shifted to middle ring to hammer out a steep section (remember, contrary to the low gear spin that I was practicing).  On pedal number two of my hammer session, my chain let out a creak and a pop   Without knowing exactly what had happened, my right foot flew out of the clip and I luckily caught myself from falling.  But then my left foot kept pedaling during the near-fall and rotated the right crank back into my calf.  I looked down to see a sweet, six inch gash in my calf.  The pedal hit hard enough to bruise the muscle but not with enough force to break the skin.  So all the bleeding was contained within my calf.  So that was cool.  Better yet, though, I realized that my chain had snapped and my ride was probably done for the day.  I whistled up to my pals who were resting comfortably at a break in the hill, probably wondering what the hell was wrong with the fat guy.  They both came down and, to my surprise, Busta had a chain breaker tool and Jay actually knew how to use it.  After only a few minutes, they had removed the dead chain link and put the chain back on the bike, albeit a little too short to properly function in the lowest of gears.  But, thankfully, the ride could go on.
Cleat meet calf ... That's gonna leave a mark
I think this is a sign of a mechanical issue

As I continued to struggle with traction up the hill in my middle ring, Jay stayed back with me to “see what you (sic) are doing wrong”.  After only a few minutes, after I spun-out my rear wheel and teetered over for the fifth time, Jay had the answer.  With Yoda-like counsel he says, “You have the fitness to get up these hills.  In road biking, power is critical on the climbs.  On a mountain bike, traction is the most important thing going uphill.  It is amazing how little effort is required to keep the bikes momentum.  Just get in your lowest gear, stay seated, point your chin at the handle bars and keep pedaling.”  Jay picked me up, pushed me to get the bike started and, as he suggested, I pedaled up the steepest part of Bald Hill with little trouble.  I was going 2.2 miles per hour, but I was riding rather than walking.  The pleasure was doubled as we looked up the hill and saw Busta teeter over fifty yards ahead, still attached to his bike, with his wheels pointing up towards the sky.  Good times.

East Peak Tam from the top of Bald Hill

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday MoMiles - East Peak Tam

Another epic MoMiles Friday in the books.  We opted for the Fairfax BoFax, Alpine, Ridgecrest, Seven Sisters, Pan Toll, Mill Valley route today.  It was only StravaMo and me on the journey … which is awesome for me as Mo doesn’t have any other jack rabbits to fly ahead with and me having to give chase.  With almost 5,000 feet of climbing ahead of us, Mo had to choose either slugging it slow with me, or riding at his normal pace and riding alone.  Thankfully, Mo had lots on his mind and we rode together.  Amazing thing about that is that Mo literally talked the entire ride.  While I was struggling to get my breath, Mo happily chatted about his recent trip to Chile and work and bikes and all sorts of other things.  I mustered up a “Yeah” and an “Uh huh” every once in a while.  But generally, this was Mo’s therapy session.  Just a time to clear his mind and have me agree with everything that he says.  And some set of lungs he has.  He can talk and ride up hills without ever getting out of breath.  Great fitness, Mo.

StravaMo on Alpine Dam
Despite the climbing, I really do love this route.  The views are incredible and the hills never get so steep that I can’t sit down and just grind.  The climbing this morning was made even easier by a dense layer of fog almost the entire way.  For me, if I cannot see the top of the hill, I am generally content to just sit in low gear and spin.  And so spin I did the entire way up, just pedaling and nodding as Mo chatted away.

West Peak (the golf ball) taken from the famous 'Two Rocks'
Upon reaching our destination of Tam East Peak, Mo decided to ride his bike around this two-foot wide walking path neighboring a 1,000 foot drop down the mountain.  I was loathe to follow him, but I could not let Mo do this lap alone.  Turns out that this path makes a complete lap, about a half mile, all the way around East Peak.  We couldn’t see much because of the fog, but I can imagine that the views are epic from here on a nice day.
You can make out the trail along the left side of this picture.  This would be a great place to bring someone that you were trying to 'get rid of' in a hiking accident.  Just saying ...
As nice as the ride up the hill was, the descent was less than pleasant.  We dropped at 25+ miles per hour through 47 degree temperatures.  On the road, underneath every tree was a wet spot where the condensation had accumulated in the branches and then dropped to the ground.  Then, after about 500 feet of the 2,300 foot drop, the fog turned to mist and then to rain.  By the time that we got to Pan Toll, the fog was thick enough to grab and the ground was completely soaked.  This made for a tricky descent as to not lose traction in the corners.  By Pan Toll, we were aslso completely soaked.  Mo brought his plastics, but I was stuck in only a long sleeve shirt and vest.  I almost went vest-less but thought that I would rather be hot than cold.  Lucky.  We did have a great conversation with the ranger who was working at Pan Toll.  She was considering buying a bike and Mo and I gave her some buying tips.  What an amazing job to be a Park Ranger, enjoying the nature on a 12 hour shift.

East Peak Tam, the tippy top.  I didn't bring the cyclocross so we left the last 100 feet for another day.
I neglected to mention that, on about sister 5 of 7, we passed a former work colleague of mine, Harris, going the opposite direction down the hill.  He starts in San Francisco, so that made some sense.  Funnily, however, we passed him a second time as we descended into Mill Valley (and he was climbing up).  I sent Harris an email letting him know that there are lots of ways to get off Tam and back to the City without climbing back up to Four Corners.  That guy is a stud and a glutton for punishment.
Kinda cool shot ... A rainbow inside a fog bank.  The colors were muted by the fog to make it look like a grey rainbow.
The data for this morning is another great collection of miles and elevation.  44.1 miles and 4,846 feet of climbing.  Per the website, I burned about 2,412 calories which was immediately offset with a half meat pie and a full order of Hot and Sour Beef at Henry’s Hunan today at lunch.  Not a bad way to start the day.  My work is done, and I am headed home.  Have a good weekend, all.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mixing it up

Ride four of four this week called for a mix-up of the normal grind.  Rather than do the Shady Lane thing, I decided to set some PRs on a new route.  I rode down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from the Hub to Bon Aire.  It was early enough that the car traffic was minimal.  I cooled it from SFD to Eliseo, timed the light (no, I didn’t run it) and hammered on the Eliseo flats.  I wanted to do my reverse Ferry commute up Col de Bon Aire versus down. Unlike the commute home from the Ferry, the CdBA is a bit more gradual heading west where it is straight up for 25 seconds heading east.  I made it up pretty strong and continued in high gears all the way to the docks.  I am happy to report that on my first try of this route, I am in 9th place on the overall.  If I shave 11 seconds off my 4.05 time, I will be in 4th place (this is doable), but the top three times are 3.23, 3.24 and 3.31.  That will require a bit more preparation and a tail wind.

I bonked again on the Meadowsweets climb.  That bastard is deceptively long and gradual.  The grade averages only 2.5% over 1.1 miles, but the entire elevation of 150 feet comes over 0.3 miles, right in the middle of the route.  After my effort up Meadowsweets, I didn’t have it in me to keep up the work on Horse Hill.  Damn you, StravaMo, I will get you one of these days.  

The rest of the route was back to normal along the bike trail and beyond.  Of course, there was a strong headwind the entire route today.  I don’t really understand the correlation, but it was 90+ degrees on the ride home yesterday which always equates to fog and wind the morning after.  Any meteorologists care to chime in?

I had fun this morning taking a slightly different path to work – even though it added almost two miles extra.  Two miles is nothing compared to the MoMiles Friday routes, but it keeps me fired up.  More to come.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I am a complete and utter failure

With my wife and kids gone for the whole week, I decided that it would be a reasonable objective to try to ride to and from work every day - ten commute legs.  I set this goal in my head about a month ago, immediately upon my wife informing me of her pending trip to Bako to visit her parents.  My previous record for weekly riding was seven total legs (five in and two home).   I could have gone for eight legs but it felt like a cop out.  If I ever was going to have the opportunity to do all ten legs, this would be the week.

And, sadly, I did not keep this goal in mind with the thought of having two glorious weekend days to myself, to do anything that I so chose.  In advertising my bachelorhood to every person that I knew (in search of debauchery and other benefits of being temporarily wifeless and childless), I was blessed to spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights with friends, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings on my bike.  A panoply beers, sangria, hamburgers, hot dogs and nachos combined with 150 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing on the bike made for a rough day of work today, Monday.  I felt a little slow this morning on the ride in, but nothing to complain about.  But by 3pm today, I was having a hard time lifting my legs to rest them on my desk.

Upon getting dressed to ride home, I already had significant doubts about making my goal of ten commute legs.  I walked out of my building and headed to the garage to get my bike.  I hopped onto my bike and pedaled up Sansome Street.   By the time I got to the Embarcadero, my temperature gauge read 92.4 degrees and the wind was blowing me backwards.  This only further fortified my sentiment of not spending another hour and a half in doubting my judgement.  Rather than fight the urge, I happily gave in and took the tailwind down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building where the beautiful 4.25pm boat was waiting for me to be the last one to board.  Not for one second of the 35 minute ferry home did I regret my choice to bail on ‘ten legs’.  I am hopeful that this lack of a commute will empower me to make nine or eight or even seven commutes. 

In recognition of my failure, I am heading out to Marinitas to fuel up for tomorrow’s ride in.  But I take this collapse very seriously.  I will drown myself in, maybe, a pitcher of margaritas, a bowl of chorizo and queso and a bucket of chips and tomatillo salsa.  Woe is me.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday MoMiles - Stinson

This morning did not disappoint for a ridiculous MoMiles “commute”.  As usual, the starting point was Corte Madera Peets at 5.15am (which means a 4.50am from my house).  Ominously, my cell phone was blowing up in my backpack as I was riding to the start.  Typically, any communication the-morning-of is a sign of bad things to come.  Only flakes or changes of plans happen within 15 minutes of the scheduled departure time.  Luckily, today we had only a minor augmentation and a bit of good news.  There was some construction on the freeway (StravaMo drives – not rides - to Peets … what a wuss) so StravaMo went one more off ramp in the right direction to meet us.  More interestingly, StravaMo, being his typical friendly self, met a guy on vacation from Arkansas looking for a bike ride.  StravaMo convinced this guy, Skyler, to join us for the MoMiles adventure.  By 5.19am, Skyler, Bryan and headed off to meet Mo.

Sunrise over Four Corners, Mill Valley

Without getting into too much detail, this Skyler fellow is a bit of an interesting story.  It seems that young Skyler is on a 4+ month vacation with his wife (sounds awesome so far), staying in their truck camper the entire way (um … less optimal).  He is/was “self-employed” and at a place with work that he could get a way for a while.  And his wife “did the corporate thing” and didn’t really like it so she quit.  There’s certainly more to this story, but I did not get it all.  I am guessing that he is either Bill Clinton’s Press Secretary or an heir to the WalMart fortune.  Either way, he is a good guy and a strong cyclist.  Skyler brought both his mountain bike and road bike on the trip.  And his wife brought her Cyclocross (that’s a good woman).  Despite his Arkansas twang, you could tell that he was from out of town because he rode a standard double set-up versus the compact.  This just made him stand the entire route and beat me up every hill by about 30%.  And, by the way, leave it to Strava Mo to a) meet and chat up some random dude at a park and b) convince him to join us on a ‘casual morning ride’.  Well done, Sir.

The Seven Sisters
Back to the ride which, itself, was rather uneventful except for two minor details – it was ridiculously long and painfully full of elevation.  We did the Four Corners thing, up to the Mountain Home Inn and Pantoll and then down to Stinson (where I had never been on a bike before).  Then, strangely, we headed north back towards Fairfax ... curious as I started five minutes from Fairfax just two hours prior.  With the coast line came a fierce headwind and a chill.  And the giver that I am, I opted to lead the peloton for much of the pull.  At about mile six of the coastal route, just south of Bolinas, we made an abrupt right turn and headed over an aggressive cattle grate in the road.  Little did I know that this grate marked the beginning of Bolinas/Fairfax Road, a road which I was only familiar from the Fairfax side.  It turns out that the BoFax route from Highway One has a nickname among cyclists, ‘Climber’s Delight’.  Well … not being a climber, this hill was far less than delightful.  Being already tired from the Highway 1 pull, the rest of my group quickly separated themselves from me.  I spent the majority of the 4.3 miles, 1,488 feet of elevation and 39 minutes pedaling in low gear, meditating that the crest would soon be within view.  I told myself that I thought the peak was about 1,000 feet.  When I got to 1,000 feet, I still couldn't see the top.  At 1,200 feet, still not top in sight, I let out a ‘whoop’ for all of Marin to hear, and I got a ‘whoop’ back from one of my pals at the top.  It seems that they beat me by about five minutes and were more than pleased to be resting while I continued my trek. 
Bolinas Lagoon Lagoon from the Seven Sisters
Bryan, Skyler and Mo were waiting for me at the Ridgecrest intersection.  I had no clue that I was heading in this direction, but I had been there before as part of the Alpine Dam loop to Seven Sisters.  As I rode up, I realized that my climbing was not done yet.  The sisters lay ahead before the Mill Valley descent.  Are you kidding me?  Another four miles and 600 feet?  Bryan and Skyler bailed back to Marin while StravaMo and I headed off and up.  I don’t remember much of the sisters except for the concept that I lost track, unable to count as to which of the seven I was on and when.

1,500 feet up looking over West Marin and the Pacific Ocean
Fast forward to Mill Valley and the Bike Trail and Alexander and Fort Mason.  I looked down at my Garmin and noticed that my total altitude for the ride was in the 4,800 range.  Of course, I could not get to work after four hours of climbing and not cross 5,000 feet.  So Mo and I made a conscious effort to hit a few extra San Francisco Hills on the way to the Embarcadero.  We rolled from Northpoint up Stockton Street passed my first apartment in San Francisco (what up Dorwin!!) and continued up Lombard to near the base of Coit Tower.  When my altimeter read 5,035 feet, I was satisfied and we rolled to the office.  After my shower and breakfast, I downloaded to Strava my morning’s effort.  And, as karma can do to you sometimes, the heavens spoke … 55.7 miles, 13.6 mph pace and FOUR THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED NINETY NINE feet of climbing.  Are you shitting me?!?  One foot?  I could have picked my bike up over my head in a triumphant celebration to cross the 5k barrier?!?  This was doubly insulting as my century a few weeks back came in at 99.1 freaking miles.  I don’t know what I have done to anger the Strava/Garmin gods.   But I am certainly not on their approved list.  Bastards!  

Thanks for dragging me around, Mo!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Black Mamba

Completing the loop on my broken bike, all I can say is that Performance Bikes went above and beyond to rectify the situation.  
As a refresher, my old bike experienced a fatal malfunction on 5/14/2012, a snapped chain stay.  I texted the shop with pictures that afternoon, and dropped the bike off at the shop the following day.  The Manager of the shop, John, assured me that he would take care of the situation (just like he assured me that my weight was no issue with the carbon bike that I originally bought).  He offered me an upgrade to a better frame with a better carbon (I didn’t know that were grades of carbon) and he would transfer all my components, wheels, etc off of the old bike.  Within a week, on 5/21/2012, my new frame had arrived from the manufacturer.  But we had a new problem … it seems that the new frame has a different bottom-bracket than the old bike.  So John had to order a new bottom-bracket and crank set.  Another week, 5/29/2012, and the new parts arrived.  I swung by the shop on 5/31/2012 to check on the build progress.  The new frame was hanging on the rack and my old bike was in pieces on the ground.  And the next day, 6/1/2012, I received the call that the bike was ready to be picked up.

Some bike porn specifications for you aficionados out there (of which I am not one):

The old frame:

The new frame:

As you can see, the new frame does not have all the fancy green lettering that shows on the website.  It is matte black on black, kinda stealthy.  It goes perfectly with my fluorescent yellow bike jersey that I wear in the dark mornings.

There she is, The Stealthy Steed.  This shot also gives you a glimpse into my ADD when it comes to the organization of my work bench at home in the garage. 

From what I have been told, said in my best Phil Liggett accent, “This frame was on the podium at the last Giro de BlahBlahBlah.”  I’m pretty certain that the frame did not have a FatGuy on top of it when it crossed the finish line.  That said, the frame alone retails for more than I paid for the entire Scattante.  I surely cannot complain.  New frame, new crankset to full 105 gruppo and a tune-up, all for $30 -the cost of some spacers and new cabling.   Pretty sweet.