Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rapha Gentlemen's Race: Post-Mortem

"139,000 FT" is a bit of a stretch. It was not quite that epic.
I covered the course and preparation previously. So if that's your thing, skip ahead back to the older post.

Musical Captain's Chair
By the time I began the race, I'd ridden the course three times, more or less. I wasn't getting any faster; I was coming off a fractured elbow, with only about four weeks of slow riding in me after four weeks off. But I was at least going to finish. But enough about my excuses.

The Rapha Gentlemen's Race (RGR) was a race of attrition, and that attrition began with the team, which was captained by Jack Hartley.

Sorry, Jack, but you bit off a bit much for your group of friends, who dropped out en masse before they'd even seen the course. ("Family obligation" seems a bit of a crutch when you have six weeks notice.) Unfortunately, Jack was coming back from shoulder surgery, and dropped out much more spectacularly by bonking and falling off his bike, in the dark, in the middle of Angeles National Forest. This was all harsh, all real.

That left me—who'd dropped off the Bike Effect team due to the whole fractured elbow thing—as the team captain. What a weird chain of events. Awkward.

Ethan and Attila.
In the end, we managed to hold onto a six-man team, and four of the riders were hired guns: Paddy "Wack" Hannon, Karim "Reembo" Qazi, Ethan "Sweatsuit" Milius, and pro cyclist Bobby "Did I mention I was in the Olympics? I didn't" Lea. It goes without saying that Bobby was head and shoulders and torso above the rest in every regard. We also had Attila "Attila" Reisz from Bike Improve, who I didn't really know beforehand, but proved to be a cool dude more than up to the challenge. Overall, good group.

Our team was called La Chiesa della Ruota Parlata, spaghetti-mouth for Church of the Spoken Wheel, after a Sunday ride the guys that did not ride typically ride together. Jack had kits made and everything. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to see that this event was a significant event for Jack, and that he was downtrodden to be unable to even ride along with the race. We were all sympathetic, but thankfully Jack overcame the disappointment and decided to follow the race as our directeur sportif, providing us with beverages, smiles, and encouragement.

Race? Not an Issue
Nothing very exciting happened in the first half of the race, starting at Golden Road Brewery, except that Bobby drank about four tallboys of Miller High Life along the way to the climb, two of them before 7:30 am. (This guy could be the Bodie Miller of Olympic track cycling.)

As a team, we were making good, conversational time. No other team had passed us despite our missing the first turn and taking a long-cut to the first climb. Once off-road, we still were never passed. I did have a funny moment, however, seeing Max and "Bradford" from Team Mudfoot along the course with a flat. They weren't racing, but I'd ridden with them at 8 the morning before, and I'd spent a lot of time making fun of "Bradford" for being the slowest changer of a flat tire in the universe, because he gave me so much time with which to do so. So seeing him changing another tire at 8 am on consecutive days, I said something along the lines of, "Did you bring a headlamp to finish the job?" And rode away. Not my best story.

Ethan is a phenomenal climber. He won't admit as much; he'll just ride away from you ever-so-humbly on every incline. And that's what he proceeded to do. That doesn't make him very valuable as a teammate, but at least you know he's not behind you alongside the road. And it's not like he does it out of spite or anything; he's simply a great climber.

As we climbed the dirt road up Mount Gleason, Ethan was out of sight. He'd linked up with another guy who'd been a good teammate and left his whole team in the dust. Coincidentally (or not), he was Ethan's friend. They were the only ones ahead of me on the course when the guy flatted. Ethan stopped to help him, and I went past, and ended up tagging along with the very serious Bike Effect team when they came up, all the way to the top.

Bike Effect: all-over-print jerseys, 'cross bikes, and tan lines.
I did like their jerseys, and they did appear to ride much better than us as a team, but they seemed to take the race a bit too seriously, with their full arsenal of fully-kitted-out 'cross bikes. Bringing a 'cross bike to this gentleman's challenge of a road race seemed like a bit of a cheap cheat to me, since part of the RGR's challenge was to conquer the course on a road bike. That's just me though. I think they would've done as well on road bikes, anyway. They were beaten by guys on road bikes, after all.

Dirty job for a road bike. Not so much for a 'cross bike.
I was a bit glad I hadn't ridden with Bike Effect, as a couple of the guys seemed to be dying along the way, and there was no relenting and no smiles in the group, just panting and pain. Their ride did not look fun; they were on a mission. To their credit, they ended up getting second to the stacked Ritte van Vlaandeereen team, which featured supreme climber Aaron Wise, a man with biceps so vestigial to his higher purpose that he may be the only man Chris Froome could beat in an arm wrestling match.

Ritte's Aaron Wise looks down on me, with his loose sleeves on extra small jerseys.
While I waited at the top of Gleason, teams began going past. And I waited. More. Laid on the ground, had a bit of a nap. Finally, Paddy rolled up with our ringer Olympian, looking dead. Paddy'd had four flats, and was last up each climb even before all that. I sympathized with his condition, but also felt that setting up your tires the day before broke every rule of common sense, including to ride at least twice on the setup you'd be using. That wasn't the time to tell him so. I did feel bad that he was having both a bad day and bad luck, if that's what you want to call it. It was a shit sandwich either way, and he was eating it. Bummer. I sincerely hope Karim experienced a touch of schadenfreude after the beating Paddy put on us during Reembo's birthday ride up Baldy.

Paddy gutted his way through the day.
For the rest of the ride, I pretty much just rode alongside Paddy, taking it easy and encouraging him to keep going, not give up and get in a car, giving him a gel when he needed, etc.

The winners had passed us. It was just a ride now. Jack and his better half drove alongside us up Upper Big Tujunga, kindly. As we summitted on Angeles Crest Highway, Paddy found a second wind, and ripped down the descent into the sunset, into LA. Maybe it was that the Rapha film crew with the crazy RED camera that inspired him, but he was on one.

As we neared the end, Bobby drank a few more beers, bringing his total to a very impressive dozen or so. ("There's method to my madness" was the quote I got out of him as he descended, hands off the bars, chugging what may have been his tenth beer.) It was fun riding behind him; I spied some neat little moves and handling tricks from his track background. And he smelled like a brewery, which was motivational.

Ethan was the last rider to hit the bottom—he goes up so well, but descends like his huevos are actual eggs. From there, we rolled easy back to the brewery and finish. Paddy's bad luck wasn't quite over, as he rear-ended Karim, taking Reembo and his back wheel out of the race only a mile to the finish.

Nice aero helmet, dork.
Finally, we arrived at the finish and had beers. We were all in good spirits (beer has that effect), and Jack seemed happy. I was glad he had fun, even if he couldn't ride.

La Chiesa didn't win, but we had a higher purpose this day—to serve—and I'd say we more than fulfilled our duty.

... God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.
—John Milton

Post-Mortem Postscript
In the end, we ranked 15 out of 24 teams, with teams like Golden Saddle Cyclery ahead of us in seventh.

Which is total bullshit, because GSC didn't go up Upper Big Tujunga (cutting off like 20 miles) nor finish with six men. (Not that we did, but according to the 3 km rule, Reembo gets the same time.)

Like I do with everything else, I'm going to note it, remark about it, but I'm certainly not going to worry about it.
We're still homies, but I count five dudes (three over 6'4!) who finished a shorter course.
We should've won jerseys for Lanterne Rouge, but instead we just got consolation caps.
Biggest surprise of the day? Ex-pro skateboarder and cinematographer Greg Hunt shooting a bike race for Rapha.
*All pics stolen from Instagram. Since they own the pics once you upload them, I'm stealing from them and not you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rapha Race Recon: Gentlemen, Bestill Your Engines

Typical view along the route. Click to enlarge any photo.
Since everyone seems to have their lycra pantaloons in a bunch about the Rapha Gentlemen's Race, I went ahead and rode what the Rapha Continental dudes told me is the course on Saturday night at the Spooky Cross races. Yes, it is a climber's parcours and it is hard.

But nothing like impossible. If you've done a century from the Westside up to Wilson, or the ride from my house to Baldy and back, or 39 to Dawson's Saddle and down Angeles Crest, or up the 2 to Cloudburst and back, you can handle it. It's probably around 50 miles of climbing of varying degrees. The first 50 miles are harder, but once you hit the top, there's nowhere to go but downhill. I don't know everyone on this team, but Karim and Padraic (what kind of Neanderthal spelling of Patrick is this?) have done similar rides with me. They'd do fine.

I first tried the route on Saturday, but I started late and got nervous around three o'clock, when the shadows started making their way onto the dirt road. I also found my 34-25 gearing not ideal for the steeper gravel sections. I didn't know how far I still had to go, and didn't want to get lost 20 miles from nowhere in the dark. I turned back at the bottom of Mount Gleason Road.

So I tried again on Sunday, driving as far as I could, to the gate onto the dirt section, to save some time. That made things easier.

Barring an unforeseen pass over the fire roads of the Verdugo Mountains (brutal... 15-20% grades for 3-4 miles), from Golden Road Brewery it's pretty much a flat/slightly uphill cruise to Little Tujunga Canyon, good warm-up, gaining maybe 500' over 10-15 miles. Even La Tuna Canyon (a shortcut climb over to Foothill Blvd) is only a five mile climb averaging maybe four percent. Easy.

Li'l T is not that diminutive.
At the bottom of Little Tujunga is a 7-11, just in case. This is the last available stop for supplies. As a climb, Little T is no joke. It's a 10 mile climb to the next turn, roughly the equivalent of Latigo Canyon. No, that's not that hard. But it will soften the legs for what's to come. It's about 2000' of climbing, bringing you up to about 2500' in elevation.

Li'l T, courtesy of the liberal elite behind the New Deal and Works Progress Administration. (That one's for Dan Funk.)
Before you head off under the gate and into the wild, stop for water at the fire station to the left, eat, and catch your breath. This is a must, as there's no water for the next 15 miles of tough, off-road climbing at slow speeds. And you won't be eating on the dirt climbs, you'll be huffing and steering and watching where your front tire needs to go.

After almost a dozen miles of climbing, you have 31 tougher miles ahead.
Once through the gate, no more cars. No nothing. You fail here, your only choice is turn around and roll or walk back down to the fire station and call for a ride. However you may get water from some deer hunters on Huffy mountain bikes with baby trailers to haul out the venison. I did.

Road surface: not so bad.
Here begins the viande et patates (meat and potatoes; though in French patates is also slang for balls, how apropos?). Duck under the gate, and begin climbing Forest Route 3N17, aka Santa Clarita Divide Truck Trail. This is where those who push it up the smooth pavement of Little T will start to pay the price. It's roughly surfaced, just like up Highway 39 after the gate. Lots of rocks from the cliffs above with smooth and/or cracked concrete. This goes on for about six miles, with some long grades up to 13% or so—some tough grades that made me glad when I came back the second time with a 28 cog in the back. That brings you up to about 4500'.

Again, not bad. Undulating though. 
I won't sugarcoat: it's tough climbing to that point, 4000' of more-or-less continuous work, with only short recovery zones.

The start of the rough stuff.
Then the surface gets tough: it veers suddenly from rock-littered concrete to plain dirt with rocks. Now you're on gravel, rocks, sand... (How many words do Eskimos have for snow? This road contains geology-based version of that linguistic hierarchy. If it starts at mountain and ends at sand, expect to find everything in between on the road.) You're still riding on 3N17, but it's now a schizophrenic surface: sometimes smooth concrete descents end in abrupt switchbacks of sand and rocks. Same for ascents. Pay attention: do not get confident enough to bomb any descent, or you'll find yourself trying to brake at 40 mph on sand, heading off a cliff. People will go down here, mark my words. Seriously, mark them so you're not one of the people going down. Stay on your toes, keep your eyes up the road at all times. Don't get cocky here.

Plenty of skinny tire tracks prove it's not that bad.
You're getting pretty high. Facing north.
It goes up and down for a bunch of undulating miles; you're up, you're down, you're hungry, you're tired of this, but you're still hovering around 4500 feet in elevation. Finally, there's a longer descent, down to North Fork, where Mount Gleason Road begins. There's a water stop here, thank the heavens: the rangers leave two five-gallon jugs of potable water. Eat.

Thank God.
Mount Gleason Road—though it sounds the most fearsome—is awesome! I can't believe I was so scared of it. Or maybe I'm just relieved it's not worse than FR 3N17. It's very gradual, easy climbing, smooth dirt, going from about 4100' up to 6100' in about eight miles, averaging maybe 5% or so. Sure, there are rocks in the dirt, but this is about as smooth as you can get when it comes to riding on dirt. It's way better than the road you came in on. At 6100', before the summit, you hit the tarmac again. From here on, it's paved riding.

Gleason's start looks slightly forboding.
But it gets much better.
A bit more climb on paved road to 6500', then mostly a long descent from here on out; a couple of grades, Upper Big T to the 2, but nothing major. You're home-free, methinks. Unless the unveiled route is harder than this one, going out and over Dawson Saddle at 7900'.  But, hey, after that, nowhere to go but down. Wheeee!

So, overall, it seems we're looking at about 45-50 miles of climbing, around 40 of it real climbing, with 20 miles or so of broken concrete, gravel, and dirt riding. Probably another 40 of descending. Not so bad, hmm? To me, the roads seem no worse than the roads of Paris-Roubaix, dirt Mulholland, or any Santa Monica Mountains fire road, like Westridge.

Hint: Those are practical places to practice riding in dirt and test your set-up.


Note: A lot of what's below is basic information. I don't know everyone on the team well, so better safe than otherwise. Don't mind the tone, I am missing some important chromosomes.


La Bici

  1. Do not ride carbon rims. Unless you want to. Everyone rides CX races on carbon. Your call.
  2. You can do this parcours on a road bike. In fact, all the Rapha Continental dudes who designed the route and rode it already have, and told me so. Pros ride Paris-Roubaix on road bikes, hmm? A cyclocross bike or mountain bike would be helpful on the short and steep dirt descents, but no real gain on the uphills. A typical 'cross bike is really just a road bike with wider, knobbed tires and less responsive cantilever brakes, anyway. Don't believe me? Ride one.
  3. I would put duct tape on the lower part of the downtube if you use a carbon bike. Rocks have a nasty habit of jumping at carbon, especially off the front wheel. Maybe two layers of tape. Duct tape is handy to have along, anyway. I've fixed sidewalls and flats with the stuff. Comes right off when you're done. Easy. It even comes in black, Jack.
  4. Get tires at least 25mm wide, or as wide as your bike will take, if you can go up to 28 or 30 wide. Big tires with more volume will spare you a lot of chattering and bumps, and give you better grip, more confidence, and make you more handsome and robust.
  5. I would not use Vittoria EVO Pave 24mm tires, despite the fact that everyone likes them on the road. I just don't think the thin sidewalls are tough enough for sharp rocks and gravel. You're welcome to prove me wrong. 
  6. I did it on the cheapest, least-treaded CX tires, the Michelin Cyclocross Jet 700x30, just to be safe because I didn't know what I'd encounter. No problem. The Challenge Almanzo Gravel Race Clincher is the real gravel racer's tire of choice. I'll probably use the 28 wide Gatorskins for the race.
  7. It's a climbing race. Compact, 50/34, and/or at least a 27 or 28 big cog on the back cassette. If you try to grind up the dirt, you'll spin out the tire more often. If you have a 34/29, use it. If you have a 34/32, you wouldn't regret it, either. It's a climbing race.
  8. Have your bike tuned up and ride it with all the gear you'll be using on race day for at least two rides. Nothing beats finding out your bike doesn't work on the day of the race, especially a team race. "Sorry, guys!"
  9. Two tubes. They're mine. Bring yours, too.
  10. Lights. Not a bad idea.
  11. I will have a real-deal pump and patch kit for all to use. 
  12. But I am not your mechanic. If you're not self-sufficient with changing tires and such, practice right now. Your mommy isn't on this ride, and when you use up others' energy with your unpreparedness... 

Clothing, etc.

  1. I wore a brand new Champion System Razor kit—same we'll get from Jack—on the ride both days. Very, very nice. 
  2. Don't wear your precious, spotless shoes. The uppers and carbon soles can get scratched if you need to dismount to cross some rocks, which can happen in a few places. Or put duct tape along the soles if that soothes you.
  3. Cleat covers. If you're into cleat covers.
  4. If you want to wear MTB shoes and use MTB pedals, I see no downside to that.

  1. Don't be dumb about fuel. When you run out of calories, you're slowing. When you bonk, you're basically a liability. So overpack on the calories. Drink mix, bars, sandwiches, rice cakes, gels, whatever you like. Just bring a lot. I'm bringing food for me, not for you.
  2. I can't carry a century worth of food in my pockets, so I am carrying a musette bag. If you need one, stop into any local bike shop and ask for one of the dozens the owner received free at Interbike. If he/she doesn't give you one, find another shop to frequent.
  3. Or go to Zone 3 and get a musette free if you spend $5. In fact, go in and say, "I get 20% off everything here, Pat said so." It works. Get whatever you need: drink mix, Bonk Breaker bars, lights, tubes, tires, cassettes, whatever. Ah, the benefits of knowing a silent partner in a non-profit business... If a bike shop can earn as much as agency jobs, let me know how and I'll shift gears.
Skills: Practice Riding on Dirt, Rocks, Sand
  1. Ride your bike on dirt, over rocks and into sand. See how it feels to drift a bit in soft corners. Practice.
  2. Know that you never squeeze your front brake in a corner. You shouldn't even do this on the road, and you'll wipe your front wheel on soft stuff. You knew this, right? Your back can skid and recover. The front? No. Practice.
  3. You can even unclip your inside foot for insurance if you're gonna drift in a turn, just keep the weight on the outside foot. Practice.
  4. Know how to unweight your front end and rear end, so you don't pinch flat when you run into that rock/rut you were staring at to avoid. Practice riding over parking curbs without touching your tires on the curb. Lift front, lift back. Easy.
  5. If your rear tire slips riding uphill (it will at some point), all you have to do is unclip and hold the brakes. You never need to panic and fall over, although it is funny. Until you take out the person behind you.
  6. Do not go hard early. Save your strength and stay well within your limits throughout the ride. Don't sweat losing time, so long as you're rolling. You can hit the finish line spent, but if you're spent well before the finish, standing still, you'll really lose time. And what good is that? 
The strongest survive. I didn't make the rules up.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

SRAM S40 Wheels Are Garbage

I'd like to write a long-winded review. It'd be hard, though, because despite having had the luxury of two brand new sets, SRAM's S40 wheels fail after one ride, every time. They are the worst wheels ever.

The first set, the non-drive side spokes began popping one by one, until the mechanic at Helen's Cycles finally shook his head and said he'd make SRAM send me a replacement. That took a month.

The second set lasted one Saturday. When I got home and found my tire low, I parked my bike. Two hours later... PING. Another non-drive side spoke.

Bike mechanics all tell me that SRAM uses cheap, low-grade parts, and that they're inexpensive gruppos because of it. Three of the best bike mechanics in LA have also told me that these wheels use very cheap and hard-to-find spokes — I know this because they didn't have the spokes. So not only do the spokes break, but they're near impossible to replace.

In case you missed the title here, SRAM's wheels are crap. Get ye some Mavics.

Third warranty replacement set arrived! With a crack at the valve hole. Good stuff!

Drier Than A Dead Dingo's Donger

That's an Australian expression. (Polished, ain't they?)

Tuesdays with Wilson

Monday night: "Hey, want to ride to the top of Mount Wilson from your house tomorrow morning? It's about 100 miles round trip. Only the first 50 miles are uphill, the rest is easy."

"Okay, but I have to be at work by 2."

Mission accomplished. It was a scorcher, especially fully exposed up at elevation.

At least I wasn't wearing all black. I learned that lesson here.

Reda (new Colnago C59) and Hime hydrate at the bottom. Black?

Matt and Ethan hydrate at the top. Black?

Radiation, solar and otherwise.

How I saw/felt the sky needles after 50 miles uphill.

Not that smoggy, you can see downtown LA in the distance if you click the pic. Seriously, it's a good pic, click it twice.

Too many towers to count. My brain got hot.

One is a sock; the other is a tan line. Don't click unless you have a fetish.

Last time I climbed Wilson with a guy on a C59 was much hotter. Black, Jack?

Wheelbuilding for Dummy

Dura-Ace daddy long-legs.
Custom, hand-built wheels are way classier than anything else on the road. If anyone else had my exact taste, they'd recognize this.

So for no good reason, I decided to rebuild one of my custom wheels. The reason being: I was proud of my first build, and was showing off my wheels to my mechanic buddies, Jose and Scott.

Oh, the ego, how quickly it leaks helium. They quickly noted I'd laced it backward a couple of years ago (with the spokes oriented or pulling the wrong way). Being very nitpicky about my bikes (and ego), I immediately set about relacing the whole wheel with new spokes, reoriented the right way and everything.

Naturally, when built, it made no difference. The wheel works exactly as before, which is to say perfectly. These are the ways I waste my days obsessing over trivialities. On top of it all, when I showed off my newly built wheel, Jose noticed that I'd crossed spokes over the valve hole, which doesn't affect anything, but is considered a sign of an amateur builder. Basically, he again gave me the "nice try."

It's a learning process. It's all a learning process. If only I would learn that.

Freshly rolled kabobs, courtesy of Maestro at I Martin.

Torqued nipples litter my garage. (Is that Rapha calling?)

Mavic Open Pro rims. So PRO.

D-A hubs. Nothing but the best for the worst.

The first step of gettin' laced.

Falkor the Love Dragon from The Neverending Story

That's my dog.