Monday, April 28, 2014

For the lack of 25 cents worth of plastic

This weekend I rode the Simi Valley to Solana Beach 400k brevet for the third time. This is one of my favorite 400k rides but the last two times I rode it I bonked horribly at Rancho Palos Verdes. Last year I also got sick enough in Newport Beach that I barfed into a trash can. I was really hoping to have a better ride this year.

Amber couldn't ride with me because of scheduling conflicts so I decided to ride with Pete Eades instead. I had decided to try Perpetuum again to see if I could keep my energy levels topped up. I used it for a while several years ago but stopped because I didn't think I needed anymore. However as I've grown older I have an increased tendency to bonk so I thought I'd try it again. Pete was also trying a new energy drink for the same reason.

We started at Simi Valley Amtrak station and headed out on a bike path I hadn't known about. It was a great way to start a ride. We headed mainly downhill and made good time until we got Oxnard. The last 20 miles to the beach we started picking up a strong headwind. Unfortunately it was coming from the right too which meant we would still have it as we headed up the coast.

The north bound leg was brutal with 20mph sustained winds gusting to 25. At mile 55 we got to the turn around control and Roger was waiting for us. Pete and I were the last on the road for a couple of reasons. For one reason, Pete is 72. The second reason is that the new energy drink was forcing him to pee every 10-15 miles.

Once we turned around the tailwind was amazing and we held 20mph very easily - barely pedaling. However the wind was still getting stronger and as the route turned it became a cross wind from time to time which was getting pretty dangerous.

Venice beach was very sketchy with sand all over the bike path often to a depth of several inches. I walked the first few sandy stretches but there were so many I started riding over them. It's surprising what you can ride over even with skinny tires. At times the wind was so strong it blew sand into our faces. I had sand in my face, mouth, trail mix, and ears. It stuck to our sun block, our chains, and I even ended up with some iron-rich sand stuck to my computer magnet. We literally rode in a sand storm - might be a first for me.

I didn't bonk in Rancho Palos Verdes which suggests the Perpetuum did its job. I'll be using it on the Colorado 400k in July. Transitioning from Rancho Palos Verdes to Long Beach you have to climb a short, steep hill to get onto the Los Angeles River bike path. It caught me by surprise and I powered up in too-big a gear. Something bent or slipped or stretched under the load and all of a sudden my bike wouldn't stay in gear. I tried adjusting the barrel adjuster for the rear derailleur but nothing helped.

The only way I could get it to stay in one gear was to put it on the big chain-ring and the big sprocket which put a lot of tension on the derailleur and limited my top speed to 15mph. Even then it would slip to a bigger gear on the hills. I effectively had a single speed bike. With my 15mph top speed and Pete's constant pee breaks we weren't making great time but we were rolling along with a comfortable time buffer.

The Long Beach bike path was surprisingly clear of sand. We even wondered if someone had come through after the storm and cleaned it. Passing through Seal Beach I pointed out two of my favorite restaurants to Pete - the Crema and Beachwood BBQ. We took the beach trail through Huntington Beach and it was also clear of sand and pedestrians although there was evidence that a storm had passed through.

We made an impromptu stop at the Jack in the Box in Newport Beach and I was starting to get a bit spacey. We took a little longer at this stop and really filled up the calories which helped enormously. Oddly Pete seemed really chipper at this point which helped me recover. It's nice the way you can feed off each other's energy when you're feeling a little down.

There are quite a few hills in Laguna Beach and on one of them the gears slipped again so I shifted back into the big sprocket and somehow shifted the rear derailleur into the spokes. This destroyed the derailleur, broke two spokes, bent two more, and tacoed the wheel so it rubbed against the frame and I couldn't even push it. My ride was over.

When you bought your bike you may have noticed a plastic disk that sits between the cassette and the wheel. This is designed to stop you from shifting into the spokes. This 25 cent piece of plastic would have saved the ride and also saved me $500 in repairs. When they rebuild my wheel I've asked them to install one. I really don't know why I removed it in the first place.

I called Roger and was amazed when he showed up about 10 minutes later. Apparently he was at home only a few miles away. He drove me down to Solana Beach where I got showered and changed and grabbed some sleep. Pete showed up a little after 6am looking very strong. His energy drink seems to have worked marvels.

We all ate at a marvelous place called the Beachgrass Café. I had a Maple, Bacon, and Cheddar pancake that was seriously the best pancake I have ever eaten. I'm planning on doing this 400k again next year just so I can eat here the next morning. I already know what I want.

Thanks to everyone for the company - especially Pete. Thanks to Greg for organizing and to Roger for saving my bacon. I'm so glad I didn't get stranded in Laguna Beach with an unpushable bike at 12:30am. That's two brevets in a row that I've had to abandon because of mechanical problems. I really need to break this streak.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Great weekend

On Friday evening after work I rode my Lucky Greek 100k populaire. As usual I had a headwind all the way out (maybe a little stronger than usual) but I still got to the turn around in slightly over two hours at about 7pm.

As I was riding I thought about all the ways this route has improved over the years. First of all the upper SART didn't even exist ten years ago - I would have had to ride out and back on Victoria. We're very lucky to have this 20 mile bike path skirting around all those busy roads - especially as they have become so much more busy since I started riding.

Then there's the fact that Parks and Recreation finally paved the last dirt section of the SART about two years ago. Norco - a notoriously bike unfriendly city -marked a bike lane, sharrows, and a bike route last year - a miracle in itself. Lastly, Rincon - a very rough road, was repaved this spring and a bike lane marked for 2/3 of its silky smooth length. These things add up and we should appreciate them.

Of course, the tailwind coming back after sunset was only half as strong as the headwind was goung out. Even so I had a great ride and a 4:30 total time.

Today Amber and I explored the upper reaches of the San Gabriel bike trail all the way to Azusa. The trail ends abruptly on San Gabriel Canyon road - not a road I want to cycle on. We turned around and headed back to Montecito, then jumped over to the Rio Hondo trail back to Long Beach, and then along the beach trail to PCH and to the cars in Sunset Beach.

We ate at Five Guys burgers - decent burgers but great fries. Total distance was 93 miles. Not bad - a 165 mile weekend. I think I'm going to ride the Simi Valley to Solana Beach 400k next weekend.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Orange Triple Loop 400/600k

Last weekend I hosted the third edition of the Orange County Triple loop. This is a 400 and 600k combination brevet held under the auspices of PCHRandos which is the local chapter of RUSA. This year I had almost an equal number of 400k and 600k riders. Is this a suggestion I need to rethink the last 200k?

It starts at the Motel6 in Orange, which is cheap and well located right next to the Santa Ana bike path. Unfortunately it is also a bad motel and I would never stay here except for this ride. Pete and Charlie lost power in their room and had no air conditioning, hot water, or anything for a day. Also, the shower's water control fell completely out of the wall when Pete went to use it. They got the room refunded but even so...

The prior week had seen a series of small storms come through the Southland but by Saturday the weather was cool and dry, with normal winds. The last of the lows was moving out and being replaced by a high pressure area. We are expected to have high temperatures in the mid-nineties next week so we were lucky to get the ride in between the storms and the heat wave.

Four riders were unable to start so I had about 20 riders start at 5am on Saturday with a tailwind and they flew down the river trail to the (not-so) secret control run by Charlie Lott. The first loop is very fast and fairly easy to navigate so the first riders were back to the Motel6 at mile 100 before my wife and I and Charlie got back from our 30 mile bike ride to Kokomo at 11:15.

Considering we're in the middle of Los Angeles, this is a surprisingly pretty loop especially when the dawn mist is sitting over the wetlands. The Seal Beach 5k run proved to be no hindrance at all as the riders passed through the area before and after the event. Grant had a few extra minutes to enjoy the scenery as he flatted near the start of the ride.

The second loop contains most of the climbing and tends to be warmer as we head inland. The climbing is mainly gentle from Orange to Redlands with about 1000' of elevation increase in 40 miles. Vickie hit a concrete lip on Waterman and blew out her tire. Being a smart cookie she carries a spare so was able to continue. Then the road tilts distinctly up and we climb to almost 3000' with Walnut being the most memorable of the climbs. But the view at the top is lovely.

This is also where it gets warmest and the temperatures reached about 80F. But if you get this far, it's almost all downhill and flat back to the start of the ride at 400k. If you time it right, you can get a tailwind all the way out to the 3000' mark and most of the way back. At mile 200 we have the best control. It's hosted by Ruth Cabre-Chacon and Kevin Foust. Home made food, made by people who understand cyclists' needs, and plenty of it. It's a bit of a maze getting to their house and I did have a rider who got a bit lost but he made it in the end.

After Ruth's house it's a pleasant, residential and rural ride along Victoria Ave and through late-night Corona back to the lower bike trail and thence back to the Motel.  Jonathon got a little lost in Corona and somehow rode a couple of bonus miles but made it back just fine.

Everyone got back from the 400k - some earlier than others. Three of the 600k riders decided to DNF at the 400k mark, mainly because they were not going to be able to get enough sleep to safely continue. One of the problems with the triple loop format is that it makes it too easy to abandon at the 400k mark. But sometimes you should DNF for safety reasons and the triple loop makes it easier to make the right decision too. I don't think any riders made the wrong decision.

The third loop heads down to Oceanside and back. I like to ride through Camp Pendleton Marine Camp but quite a few riders said they preferred the shoulder of I5. All the 600k riders experienced strong headwinds between Oceanside and Dana Point - as expected. Then the route heads inland which takes the edge off the headwind.

I bought some brightly colored garden ornaments and a cheap taillight at Home Depot and placed them at the entrance to a partially obscured bike path near the end of the ride. It's hard enough to see near the end of a 30 mile ride so I was worried my 600k riders would miss it completely. I'm glad to say that everyone found it easily. The last of the 600k riders finished before dark. Everyone is safe and no-one missed the cut-off time.