Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Today started well for our trio - Steve, Stu and myself - as the rain was little more than a mist at 10am. We even rolled through periods of dryness as we progressed through the Cantley surrounds. Damp yes, but also warm and happy to be out.  

Today was our first time through Chamonix, the neighborhood between Downhill Cascades Massif and the ski hill itself. Upon cresting the climb after DCF, you turn right up another two steep but short pitches. This section is home to one of the best dirt downhills we've encountered thus-far, and this sector's conditions were great today (other dirt sectors were sloggy). This one will necessarily be included in a 200k route we'll put together mid-summer for all to enjoy. 

The Woodsmoke climb figured today, contributing to other kinds of smoke, namely that of the armular and legular varieties. About 20k further on the rain picked up and we started to get considerably wetter. While stopping at Pipolinka was nice, we were bitten by the other edge of the sword as we were pelted with rain on our return leg along River Rd. No longer producing heat as we had earlier, we had to grin and bare the cold water collecting in our gloves as it ran off our sleeves. I think we were all suffering a fair bit in that department. I ran over what seemed to be a smashed pumpkin and flatted. I felt the its glassy nature as I rolled over it. Ooops. Great timing. CO2. It was difficult to think of much aside from a warm shower from that point on. Hands were more club-like than anything else for a while at home. Too wet for photos today.

So, while I would not consider the whole ride today a character-building event, I would say the latter third qualifies. This sort of riding makes the beautiful days in the saddle feel so good. When we are down on how things are unfolding, we can draw from days like today and remind ourselves that it can always be worse, that we've been through worse and we can prevail; we have before. That is character. When race day comes, or the big ride you've been looking forward to all year, bad weather need not take the wind from your sails. Prepare for it. Embrace it. Revel in your ability to resist the temptation to fight it. Work with it instead. Weather isn't good or bad. It is. Today it was ugly; our task is to find the latent beauty in that ugliness.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Southern Comfort

So we finally headed South this winter. I have wanted to put in some fair weather winter miles for many years but time and money -- or lack of both -- always seemed to be an impediment. This year was no different really, but in early March Tricia and I decided to hit the road anyway. Seventeen hours later we were deep in the Appalachians in sunny South Carolina.

The long drive actually went by pretty quickly as the states -- New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virgina, Tennessee, North Carolina -- come up pretty quickly and the scenery is impressive. It's hard not to let your mind wander while driving through Gettysburg or crossing the Mason Dixon Line. That said, it seems like we could have stopped after about 9hrs and spent the week riding in Virgina. The Blue Ridge Mountains begin there and the weather and riding looked spectacular. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs for nearly 500 miles straight to South Carolina -- our eventual destination. Whatever the case, we soldiered on down the Blue and the Gray Highway for another day.

And I'm glad we did as South Carolina did not disappoint. The area we were based in (North West corner of the state near Greenville)is fascinating. We were in the real deal rural South and it was like stepping back in time. This was not Wakefield. Folks living in shacks that looked like they were abandoned 100 years ago. Goats in the yard. Burned out 1950s cars by the roadside. Pick up trucks piloted by stereotypical shirtless good ol' boys and of course the ubiquitous confederate flag. It was all kind of charming and terrifying at the same time. Either way, we were treated with nothing but the finest Southern hospitality wherever we went. It seemed like everyone we met was genuinely happy to have us visiting.

And we did a lot of bike riding. In fact we logged something like 700 mountainous kilometres in 6 days. Trish and I arrived with the objective of hitting all the highlights right away in case the sunny 27 degree weather took a turn later in our trip. We basically rode our ourselves into the ground immediately with a 160km jaunt that took in many of the major mountain features in the area. The road riding in the Blue Ridge area is the finest I've ever experienced. Granted, I'm not exactly a world traveller (see the time/money thing above) but I can't think of anything I'd change about the rides in the area. Everything is paved perfectly, traffic is minimal and even the bikers on Harley Davidson's wave at cyclists. And the terrain... twisty mountain roads with climbs in the 30-60 minute range, the steepest grades I've ever seen, rolling country roads through gorgeous valleys... It's all there.

The climb up Sassafras mountain in particular remains burned in my memory (and legs!) Apparently it's the steepest thing in the area -- and I don't doubt it. For reference, imagine the 20% plus gradient near Mont Cascade for 40 minutes or so. Devastating. I believe the steepest grades in Gatineau Park are around 8% for a couple of minutes. Parts of this climb felt more like a leg press workout than bike riding. Pushing against the pedals and pulling on the handlebars in a 39x27 at 10kph. Moving all over the saddle looking for a couple more watts. Giving up and standing on the pedals like working a stairmaster. Unreal.

But that's what we came for. And that's what we'll come back for next year.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Ride #3

Another Sunday, another good sized group. Colder than we would have liked, and a pretty strong Northerly wind aside, it was a good day to ride.

Rather than riding the direct 105/River Rd route to Wakefield, we opted for the more interesting East side of the river. In the summer we tend to trace a route that is about 60k to Wakefield, but we abridged that and made about 45-50. It worked out rather well; more hilly than the West side, and more scenic. The Cascades climb signaled 'game on' and a number of us suffered appropriately. It felt good to put in a 100% effort, but I paid with a bit of the ol' burnt lungs (I believe this is technically called 'athletic asthma'). This is followed by what is referred to as 'racer's hack.' No big deal. The descent past Cascades, specifically the chicane, generate a few smiles. Action.

From Wakefield, all but Rodd and I headed back to town. While we had loftier intentions, the wind was rather fierce and cold as we continued North, so we decided to check out the Woodsmoke climb.

Incredible. The climb ascends into a neighborhood atop the ridge, gaining about 150 meters over 2km. (average of 8%) Running an old school front ring, 42t (x27), required standing for as much as possible. The road is dirt, mostly packed, with a little loose stuff. This was lucky for me, as the loose cannot be ridden standing. Some of the pitches are at least 18%. It switchbacks twice.

This is certainly the most challenging climb we've encountered in the region. The descent was hairy, hitting 65 and sliding the rear wheel through the two tight turns. We'll be back there to do a little more looking around, as there are other branches to explore.

Covered bridge on Cross Loop

After Woodsmoke we simply backtracked to Wakefield and took River Rd to Cross Loop, then 105 to Scott.... With some really good climbs on the day I was happy with the 115k despite having planned for more. Hoping for a warmer day next weekend.

All the days photos can be seen here.

map and gpx here:


Next Sunday's potential excursion:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sunday March 22 Ride

All those riding tomorrow, meet at Gamelin and Lac des Fes at 10:00

We'll ride an easy pace to Wakefield (possibly through Cascades), then those who are interested can do a mixed terrain loop, others can return to town.

see what fun we had here

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The good times keep on rolling...mostly

Sunday served up great weather once again, and the pack swelled to more than 10 riders. Out to Wakefield again; should have been pretty straight forward. Not quite. Along River Rd. in the neighborhood before the last set of train tracks (low lying) the pack rolled through a section of cambered black ice. Pulling in a double paceline beside me, Jamie blurted "Oh, that's black ice...I just slid sideways." I eased toward the centre of the road so Jamie could get clear of the cambered section, which worked, but those behind us didn't all get through. Candace lost her front wheel, and Anna couldn't help but go down as she had nowhere to go. Both suffered road rash, Anna's was bad enough to cause an early return trip. Both were gracious about their misfortune. Good to get it over with early in the season I guess.

Whilst lingering at Pipolinka, Pascal pulled up, having been on a solo mission. He too fell on the ice, also sustaining a significant patch or RR on his upper leg. Bummer. He too took it in stride.

The bulk of our group opted to continue on for an extra 25 k loop - the same as the previous Sunday - which went down rather well. We did encounter a large patch of ice on a backroad that prompted various Flintstoning maneuvers, but all got through fine. The key there is to try to keep calm, don't brake, don't turn. That tends to work well. Winter riding is obviously good for honing those skills.

Once back to the covered bridge, four of us said adieu to the rest as they headed back toward River Rd. We four were up for some more action, so we headed back east and connected up to the route we take through Cascades. The conditions were quite good, despite the odd bits of ice. As usual, the Cascade hill was terribly painful. We all wished we had bigger lungs I think. We prefer to come down 18% grades. Beyond that everyone finished strong - for spring anyway - and were happy with the ride. About 120k total from town; a solid day.

Today more riding was required. Jamie and I rolled just before noon and pulled off a great mixed ride. On the way to Wakefield, we rode a section I've been eying for a couple weeks. From Pine road off the 105 we headed north on Cross Loop, which took us back to the 105, where we crossed into a neighborhood and dropped back down to River Rd. (dropped as in 16% descent). The section was beautiful, carrying us over a covered bridge on smooth dirt. This section actually seems to be a short-cut. From Wakefield we hit some of the dirt to the north for the first time this year: McLaren, Shouldice and Parent, then we dropped down to the 366 on Fournier and rode tempo back to Wakefield. From there we climbed the 16% grunt (which really burned), and back over Cross Loop. Very nice. My knee warmers came off here and my legs were exposed for the first time this season (an embrocation was involved, of course)! When the day was done we racked up about 125 k, with a lot of really good effort put in. A great way to spend a Tuesday I think.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring: Group Icebreaker Ride

Sunday bore weather too tempting for most of our
regular group to resist.

A high predicted around plus 5 was all it took for those who've not had the bikes out yet to dust them off, throw on some fender extensions if need be (or not), or perhaps tweak the ol' city beater. Whatever the flavour, everyone was happy to be out for what was promised to be a mellow ride to Wakefield.

No surprises to be had with the route this day, just the typical roll out Mine Road to
Scott, 105, River Road to town. Attrition set in early when one of us - who will remain unnamed - suffered a flat, followed by a rim blowout upon re-inflation. At only about 25k into the ride, his day was done. Bummer. We said our good-byes after he arranged a rescue, and continued on.

Another rider - who will also remain unnamed - turned back after about 30k due to a case of 'not feelin so hot at this pace.' Efforts to keep the pace mellow enough to keep us all together failed, and he was caught in the wind too long. Those of us in the front are to blame there. In the early season fitness levels tend to be all over the map, so more care must be taken to keep the group together.

The roll on to Wakefield went on smoothly, and we managed to keep a good formation the rest of the way. After some typically great snacking at Pipolinka, Rodd, Jamie and I said adieu to the rest of the group - who were happy to limit their ride to the 80k return trip - and head off for a bit of dirt.

The 'Woodsmoke Climb was our destination as we crossed the covered bridge - idyllic as always - and headed northeast (once Jamie sends the GPS trace I'll post the map), and onto a section of dirt road we've not hit before. We realized too late that we missed the Woodsmoke climb off the main road, but were nevertheless rewarded with a beautiful ride along the base of a length of cliffs. Smiles all around.

The dirt was surprisingly firm; no complaints whatsoever. Before long we linked up to a section we were familiar with, and eventually curved back toward the river, along it, and back over the bridge.

The loop ended up being 25k, which was just right for the day. We'll be back over there for certain, and it might end up being part of the mid-summer Big Ride we'll put together. We'll see if it makes the cut.

Rodd and Jamie managed to create this composite map. Click the dots for photos, temporo-spatially indexed!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Turning on the torch

Will and Thom are the owners of both Tall Tree Cycles and Steelwool Bicycles and will be contributing to the blog from time to time.

After years of design, and working with other high quality builders, Thom and I figured it was time to get our own hands dirty and build some frames. This is something we have wanted to do for a long time but with the store and Steelwool we rarely have any free time, let alone enough time to travel and spend a week away from the shop.

(Thom welding in his boomerangs)

I don’t really know what spurred us to do it, but in on a cold January day it was decided that we would take some time in February and get down to it.

(The Hot Tubes workshop)

We were lucky to be able to squeeze into spots at the Hot Tubes frame building class in Shirley MA. This particular course offers one-on-one instruction, and it is conveniently located on the east coast. This saved us the hassle and cost of flying out west.

Toby Stanton owner of Hot Tubes would be our instructor for the courses, and both Thom and I got on very well with him. Not only has he been building frames for years but he is a well respected painter, and he runs the Hot Tubes Development team. Both Thom and I would recommend the course, although it should be noted that we both have a pretty intimate knowledge of the bicycle and bicycle design - which gave us an advantage from the start.

(A frame has to start somewhere)

Thom was the first to head down to the class – to get started on his 29er project bike. Building a 29er is something we have been toying with for some time. Any of you who know us would know that we both have a lot of mountain biking in our background and that we have jumped on the big wheeled train. So our long-talked-about “Rook” project is now a prototype.

(Post tack welding)

(Brazing in the chainstays)

Since Thom spends a lot of his riding time off road on 29ers, he was able to tailor this bike to his specific tastes and to the type of technical riding we do around here. Of course, the bike was going to have to perform extremely well, and to look trick too if it was going to live up to the Steelwool design aesthetic. Well you can judge for yourself from the pictures, but I think he nailed it.

(Check out those stays.....)

Some details of the Rook build:
Tig welded except for a lugged bb shell.
Nova Cycles custom 29er tube-set
Naked cycles boomerang dropouts
Custom curved seat stays
5 piece rigid fork (suspension corrected)


Does this mean that we will have a Rook in our line-up sometime soon? That is still to be determined, but I’m guessing it will be hard not to if the bike lives up to Thom’s expectations this season.

(Mitering the tubes)

I headed down the week after Thom had finished to start on my project, a lugged city bike loosely modelled after a French porteur bike, pretty much the polar opposite of the 29er.

(Making sure it all fits)

For those of you not familiar with this type of bike, porteur bicycles were used by couriers who distributed newspapers in Paris up to the 60’s. You can read more about them here. These bicycles are designed to carry large loads on a front rack without negatively affecting the handling. This means that this type of bicycle has quite a short trail, a measure that significantly affects the handling of bicycles.

(Brazing the head-lugs)

For this design, I knew that I wouldn’t have a load on the front of the bicycle all the time and that I would be a bit more upright than a true porteur, so I added a little bit to the length to the trail of this design. This way the bike wouldn’t be overly skittish when unloaded.

(Nice Point)

I also chose to design the frame around 650b x 42mm tires, another classic French tire size. The larger width will provide a comfortable ride in the city, while the smaller diameter wheel will be stronger than a 700c. To get a brake to fit around these larger tires and a fender I was limited to the option of cantilever brakes or Paul’s racer brakes. I chose to try out the post mount center pull Racers which have been getting great reviews.

(Raking the fork blades)

Features of my Porteur bike (dubbed the “Port”)
-Columbus Zona Tubing
-Pacenti Artisan lugs
-custom fender mounts
-custom brake hanger
-mounts for chain cover
-mounts for a front rack
-semi-horizontal dropouts
-lugged fork
-Honjo fenders painted to match frame
-New Steelwool logos
-Mafac style brake post mounts

(Nice Lugs)

(The Final Product)

We will post some more pictures once the bicycles are built up.