Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another forest mission


The quiet tracks and trails near home beckoned again and Saturday saw three of us setting out on another Southern Forests adventure. With the lessons learned from the last mission fresh in our minds, and some new tricks no doubt to be learned, Tim, Ben and I set off on what was for some reason dubbed the Big hilly dirt river loop. The ride goes from near my home in Judbury, over some hills to follow the Huon River before crossing and heading back roughly along the other bank. Sounds simple enough.

The first ten kilometres of the ride is mostly uphill, a grind up Bermuda Road with a couple of really steep sections before the top. Once it levels out there were only a couple of minor navigational challenges before we found the top of the Bracken Ridge Fire Trail - which turned out to be the highlight of the ride. It was narrow double track, lined with trees and ferns, rutted in parts with some mud and some nice technical sections. I excelled myself by wrenching my left brake lever part-way off by hitting the bottom of a descent a bit too hard. Exhilarated at the bottom of the descent, we set off in search of lunch at the Airwalk, briefly encountering one of only two cars we'd see on the 60-odd kilometre middle section of the ride.

I'd been told by someone who knew the area pretty well that we were mad to venture into such parts without mountain bikes. A mountain bike would have been useful in a couple of spots, but the trip turned out to be a testament to the versatility of the cyclocross bike.

Both Ben and I rode Surly Crosschecks (Tim rode a lovely Rohloff-equipped 26-inch expedition tourer, which admittedly took to the conditions like a duck to water too) and they handled the conditions pretty well. I've probably said before if I only had one bike it would be a Crosscheck - the real beauty of this bike on a ride like this is that it makes a good fist of just about any conditions - and with the right tyres - are pleasant and predictable on sealed or unsealed roads and tracks.

Planning our route on via Bikely and using MotionX GPS to upload the track to my iPhone meant we weren't dogged by any of the navigational problems of our last trip through the area. Another excellent lunch at the Airwalk followed by an unsuccessful attempt to fix my rapidly loosening brake lever. Off once more and through some locked gates and then another for a short climb and a long descent down towards the Weld River bridge, but not before Ben has his traditional mid-ride puncture.

Riding along these well-made roads, it's a marvel that we didn't see anyone else on them all day. The forestry road network is well graded and generally smooth and appears to be almost completely deserted on the weekends. It's such a fine resource, it's a shame it's not better known or mapped or promoted or even signposted. The odd forestry coupe might detract a little from the beauty of the forests for some people, but the overall impression for me is of an opportunity lost.

Onwards we sped, past the Veneer Mill and over the last couple of climbs towards home - the Denison Range being the last challenge before the long coast along the river back to Judbury where we'd left the cars. About five kilometres out my brake lever finally gave up the ghost but as I expected was held in place by the cable, so no big drama there. We ended the day with around 70 kilometres almost entirely on dirt roads and tracks, a most enjoyable and memorable ride.


5,851km so far this year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Ash Dash

Also known as the Seven Hills Dash, the Ash Dash is a local Audax ride of some reknown. It's a 200km ride over some of the larger hills south of Hobart. It's a ride I've often contemplated but never tried, mainly out of fear that I wasn't up to it. With 3000m of climbing in 210km, it's a pretty big day out.

I've been training for the Alpine Classic 200km ride and with all the mad dashes up the steep and unrelenting grades of Strickland Road on the slopes of Mt Wellington immediately behind Hobart town have taught me something interesting: training really does help. Who would have thunk it? As I've done more and more of the climbs after work I've watched my best time fall and my average speed rise. That has to be a good thing.

Perhaps then it probably shouldn't have been much of a surprise to find out that all of that hard work meant my legs were stronger on the Ash Dash than on just about any ride I've done. I'm slow in the hills and the bunch of about 20 disappeared from view on the first rise up Davey Street. I was in no rush though, the 500m climb up Strickland Road is just an appetiser and there's another pretty serious climb out of Longley not long afterwards.

What follows is a bit of a phony war. There's a long flat section as the kilometres slide by and despite a hard climb over Silver Hill around the 90km mark, the first 100km disappears fairly easily. Then the serious stuff begins. Woodbridge saddle is a horror of a climb, hitting a gradient of 18 per cent before the top. Gladly there were a couple of other people waiting in the shade at the summit so being last wasn't all that lonely. The remainder to the trip around the Channel was pretty uneventful and I rolled into Cygnet not far behind my friend Tim about 3.30pm for a cafe break.

After an interlude enjoying cake and cold drinks we were back on the road, over the bumps out of Cygnet and onward to the imposing Pelverata Saddle. Here too the steep grades forced me of the bike for a short stint afoot. After a break at the top it was eagerly off for the last 20km.

The best thing about the Seven Hills Dash is that the last 10km are downhill. The 7km immediately before them are uphill though and it was slowly that I ground my way past the Longley pub and up through Neika to Ferntree. There's a point near the Ferntree Tavern where the road turns down. I allowed myself a smile there, I knew I'd conquered the Ash Dash.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Out along the Huon

There's a big river that runs not far from my place and a heap of logging roads through the tall forests on either side all the way south to Geeveston and beyond. Since moving here I've only ventured out there once, but I've been keenly aware I've been missing out on something. Ben and I had a crack at the southern forests today with fat knobby tyres on our Surly Cross Check cyclocross bikes.

We set off with the dim plan of following the river down to a tourist attraction known as the Tahune Airwalk, have some lunch and ride back. It's about a 40km round trip and reasonably flat. I had a bit of an clue how to get there, but there are no up-to-date maps and Google Earth is only so much use. We made good time and picked up some unexpected road signs counting down the distance to the Airwalk, counting it down from about 20km out. We crossed the Huon on the bridge near the Ta Ann veneer mill and pedalled on. After a while we didn't see any more signs, but we hadn't passed any obvious turnings and it never occurred to us we might be on the wrong track. Never mind, of such stuff are adventures made.


After about 25km of a planned 20km ride we came to a T-interesection. Airwalk 15km right,
Geeveston 8km left it said. Bugger, we're miles out of our way. Which way to go? We decided to press on regardless, climbing a long and arduous hill I've noticed form the car and vowed never to tackle on a bike. Never mind, some lovely descending followed and we counted down the kilometres to the Airwalk in pretty quick time with 45km on the clock by lunch.

A lovely feed was had and some directions gleaned and we were back on the bikes along the fast and mainly flat dirt roads back towards the car. We spotted the veneer mill through the trees and decided to take a shortcut when the road turned in the wrong direction. Often this is a bad idea which leads to backtracking, but a section of pretty cool singletrack took us to a broad but shallow river crossing which we forded with the bikes before pressing on again.


Back at the mill, it was simple navigation and an easy ride towards the car. Undeterred by a flat tyre about 5km out we rolled back down the dirt to the end of a very enjoyable adventure. I'm a little disappointed I haven't spent more time checking out these largely traffic-free roads in the past, but now I've had a taste there's some pretty cool trip plans forming in my head.

5755km so far this year.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Riverbank Ramble 200km permanant.

Blog back from the dead. Wowsers be gone.

I'm dead keen on getting the Year-Round Randonneur Award for completing 200km rides in 12 consecutive months. It's good to have a goal - even if it's a mad one. To that end, yesterday I set off on the Riverbank Ramble 200km permanent. A permanant is like a normal audax ride, but you can do it any time. Permanants are recognised for local awards, but are not Brevets de Randonneurs Mondiaux homologated. It's good you should know these things.

The ride is a delightful trip up the Derwent River, to the vicinity of Ouse, then back down. It's pretty low-traffic despite taking in some of the Lyell Highway and features some fun hills - 2000m of climbing in all.

I set off slightly after 7am and cruised over Bonnet Hill before passing through town and heading up the bike path. The 500m climb up to Glenlusk was the first major challenge of the day, but I took it easy, stopping at the top to put on a raincoat to ward off the odd drop of rain. Off once more I passed New Norfolk, opting to stop at the roadhouse at Bushy Park where there is always a warm welcome.

After a 20 minute break it was back on the bike for the delightful section through to Westbury, and then the hills beyond. No major dramas through this section although I was running a little slower than I would have liked - possibly the effect of some harder training rides during the week. Lunch at Hamilton boosted my strength and the hill just outside town provded to be no major challenge.

Downhill at last, although the joy was tempered by a niggling headwind which slowed my efforts to make up some time. By the time I got to New Norfolk again I was starting to flag so I took a break and topped up my energy stores. My lower back was hurting a bit, I suspect because I hadn't been moving around on the bike enough.

The last 50km, though flat, was a bit of a grind. I cruised back to Granton and cheerfully picked up the bike path through Claremont to the city. I took an unscheduled stop to chat to some new Audax riders who'd just finished the Port Arthur 200km and pushed on the the final 15km. Despite feeling a bit ragged by this point, the final ascent of Bonnett Hill didn't prove too problematic, and I arrived back at the car a shade under 12 hours, with a riding time of just over 10 hours for the 207km.

I'm pretty happy with the effort for my first ever solo 200km. Double centuries are generally a bit of a test for me, particularly the hilly ones, but this ride is a delight. I recommend it to anyone.

(Photo taken up near Longford during my failed 300km attempt a couple of weeks back.)

5,265km so far this year.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Tell me the old, old story.

There has been a lot of anti-cyclist rants in the nation's newspapers over the last few days. No sooner had I posted about the Brisbane bus assault there was a second such attack in Sydney. This time the cyclist was arguably in the wrong. Despite the fact the bus did nearly kill him, the rider was illegally on a bus-only stretch of road. Still, the incident provoked the sort of predictable outrage I normally ignore. Like rubbernecking at a car crash sometimes I just can't help myself but read this garbage.

Someone called Michelle Cazzulino at Sydney's Daily Telegraph headed the charge, with an extraordinary rant under the headline Idiots on Bikes Powered by Smugness. It was not only poorly written but poorly argued. A professional journalist should be able to be better than this, because even the most committed cyclist will enjoy an original take on the age old debate. Poor Michelle proved herself unequal to the task - it's pretty sad for her when an inflammatory piece on a hot-button issue attracts just 26 comments online. Not much in that one for those of us who ride because we enjoy it, or because it's a practical way to get around or to stay fit, or to save a few bob on petrol or parking each day. It's a bit sad too when the News Ltd One Degree global warming campaign is trying to encourage people to ride their bikes instead of driving.

Token right-wing Sydney Morning Herald columnist Miranda Devine was next, again with nothing new to say. Roads are for cars, she says, forgetting buses, trucks, motorcycles and, gasp, pedestrians. I hope you get run over crossing the street Miranda, I really do.

There's nothing new, not in the columns themselves, nor in the tides of impotent rage from either side. But even as a few dumb columnists plow through the motions of causing division and beating up whipping tribal hatreds one more time, people are dying because somehow as a society we can't find a way to co-exist on the roads.

It's a shame nobody can muster the same sort of outrage we've seen this week when someone is killed - but no, that sort of response gets saved up for when a newspaper columnist's drive to work is slowed by a few seconds or because their body image is threatened by someone wearing lycra. It's a funny sort of society we've made for ourselves.

But at the heart of it, maybe no one really cares. Just this week, a driver in Adelaide who has killed two people in identical accidents at the same intersection in seven years was described as a river of "limited aptitude, competence and temperament" by a coroner. A driver so bad, so dangerous to us all, that her licence was suspended taken away from her for a staggering 18 months.

I wish it wasn't so, and I also wish that every time this debate flares anew, those of us who cycle and who drive and who pay the taxes which build our roads could come up with a better response just ranting on the internet.

4664km so far this year.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Blown away at the Mallee Routes

To be a randonneur is to invite a certain amount of discomfort into your life along with the rewards from one enjoys among the long hours in the saddle, the hills, the weather and the other assorted perils of the road. This year's Mallee Routes opened the door to discomfort rather wide, with the strongest winds I've ever ridden into, magpie attacks, and rain and hail thrown in for good measure. Hard times seem to be a feature of this ride: 2006 and 2007 were tough outings for me too and last year, which I missed, was apparently pretty windy too.

On paper this can be a wonderful ride through some wonderful countryside. There's a dinner on Friday night for the riders who gather from Adelaide and Melbourne and from even further afield. The accommodation at the Hopetoun bush retreats is top notch. The Mallee country is flat, the weather is usually warm and the Victorian country roads are quiet on AFL Grand Final day so it's a good time for a ride. The route passes through seemingly endless wheat and canola fields and lovely historic country towns. There are ride choices from 50km to 600km. I was intending to ride the 200km event, but despite the gloomy weather forecast, was talked into signing up for the 300km by ride organiser Peter Annear. My plan was to decide along the way - reverting to the 200km distance if the weather was as bad as the strong winds, rain, hail and possible thunderstorms the forecasts seemed to suggest.

Things didn't look too terrible at the 6am start and despite a bit of wind I made a pretty reasonable getaway riding in the small groups finding their legs on the long straight run towards Warracknabeal. A very quick stop at the roadhouse and I was again on my way - passing the 100km mark a few minutes under four hours. The tailwind along the leg to Birchip was phenomenal, pushing me along at a steady 30km/h. After a short stop to take off some clothing I found myself motoring down a slight incline at 44km/h chasing down a rider I'd been chatting away the miles with. I reached Burchip for a burger by 11am. My average speed at this point was over 25km/h and I was feeling strong.

Getting a tailwind like that on the outbound leg means you're going to have to pay the piper big time on the way home. It's a Mallee Routes tradition. Back on the road, the wind increased and big black clouds rolled in. The rain started, then some hail. I was drenched by a passing car which hit an inopportune puddle. Somehow despite all this, I was feeling pretty good and was still toying with completing the 300km course. And then the wind got really serious.

The weather station at Hopetoun Airport records a steady increase over the day. What started as a 20km/h westerly lifted into the 40s and 50s by 11.30am and the gusts were rolling in at 70km/h - a pretty forceful 20 metres a second. On the flat and largely treeless plains there isn't much to stop the breeze. As I turned west alone into the wind and made for Woomelang pub, my progress slowed to a crawl - 15km/h, then 12km/h, twice even forcing me to stop and wait as the most violent squalls hit. Grinding away in a gear I usually save for climbing hills, the 60-odd kilometres to the finish seemed to take forever. My mate Steve, who finished earlier, rode out to offer some company on the final slog. In the event, while my first 100km took under four hours, my second took six, and was much, much harder. My average speed for the day was just 21.6km/h. Still, I felt good and finished strong. It's a funny world in which 200km is a ok day on the bike.

Full respect then to the riders who managed to finish the longer distances: particularly the unstoppable Peter Heal who ride 600km in 26 hours. Because I didn't finish the course I nominated for, my result is a DNF, but finishing a 200km ride in under 11 hours in those conditions was a pretty good test. I love this ride, but next year I'll give some very serious throught to manning a checkpoint rather than again suffering like a dog out on the road!

4319km so far this year.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Even if it's Ousing Down.

A record field of nine signed on for the (inaugural) Even if it's Ousing Down two-day tour on Monday and Tuesday this week with local bike gang Bottles and Chains. We met at the Machine Laundry Cafe, a rough route was agreed and off we set for the delightfully named town of Ouse, 100km up, 100km back.

As is so often the case in Tasmania, up was the operative word. The first major challenge was the long hill over Glenlusk towards New Norfolk. A distinct lack of fitness told on me as the blokes on fixies and single speeds charged off to preserve some forward motion like men possessed and I gently spun up the long hill with a sympathy escort. A bit to much weight on the bike and the body will slow a man slightly. Once we reached the top there was a fine descent into New Norfolk and lunch.

It seemed pretty apparent that we were going to spend most of our day grinding into a headwind so I decided to head on alone and ride at my own pace. Everything became easier after this and I quickly rolled through Bushy Park, Westerway and Ellendale before the first of the quicks again caught up. Two fairly major climbs out of the way it was a gentle downhill roll into Ouse where were repaired to the pub for a post-ride refreshment.






An interesting and most convivial evening followed where the discussion was, pretty much non-stop, about bikes. No sub-topic too esoteric, no part too obscure, no fad too faint to have attracted notice and informed opinion. An outsider might have found our chatter a touch obsessive, but it was a delightful immersion among like-minded friends into the work of bike culture and the cares of the world be damned.

Tuesday morning we were back on our steeds for what promised to be a most interesting day in the saddle. From Ouse, we climbed the big hill on the outside of Hamilton and took the dirt road for Pelham, where I found my second wind. From there we had a screaming dirt and tarmac descent followed by a long downhill and wind-assisted scream through Elderslie and into Brighton for lunch. At this point I turned my wheels for home as the rest went for an exploration of the hills of the eastern shore.

My return along the bike path was delayed by Tasmania's toughest man for just long enough that I was right on time to meet the others at the pub for a pint to cap off a superb weekend. There's much talk of a similar trip or two come December. I'm rather looking forward to that.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

They make them tough in Tassie.

I might have met the toughest - or the luckiest - bloke in the world. I was riding down the Hobart cycleway yesterday when a cyclist was hit by a ute at an intersection about 20 metres ahead. Clearly a big hit, the bloke was lying on the road, his helmet shattered into small pieces around him. As people stopped traffic, I called an ambulance and approached him - not knowing what to expect given the sickening sound of the impact, which I didn't see. I told him help was on the way and to stay as still as possible in case he had a head or neck injury. His eyes flickered open and he uttered a line you don't hear often:

"Did you see that? That bloke just ran over my head."

We helped load him into the ambulance. The cops were talking to the ute driver when I left. I heard the cyclist has a broken collarbone, thankfully nothing worse. Take care out there folks.

4,079km so far this year.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Seymour revisited

When the winter weather fades and the days slowly start to lengthen it means the Spring into Seymour can't be far away and that is always a good thing. For those of us who view the winter months as a bit of a mid-year break, this ride is such a lovely season opener to get the blood flowing again. This is my favourite ride because it's a fast, flat course passing through some lovely central Victorian towns. Early in the Spring you need something quick and easy like that to make you feel like a champion again. And any ride is enhanced by the company of like-minded folk intent on wringing not the fastest time, but the greatest joy from a day in the saddle.

I've done this ride three times: the 200km once and the 160km (100 miles) once. This year, my vast experience didn't stop me taking a wrong turn and setting off with the 200km riders, who do a 5km loop to round up their distance before heading out of town. I could tell I was in the wrong bunch, or even within several kilometres, because I couldn't hear my mate Steve talking and cracking wise non-stop as he tends to do. It was quite eerie, though I pushed through it manfully. It meant I spent the first 40km thundering along in pursuit, reacquainting myself with some old friends as the half-dozen Lancefield Lairs I was supposed to be riding with laughed amongst themselves on the way to Nagambie (39km), where I caught up.

Onward pedalled the brave, with their chatter and their bad jokes and the sometimes by accident true tales of epic rides from distant past. We crossed the dreaded Kirwan's Bridge, which is a long single lane wooden structure in shocking disrepair which has to be walked because the gaps between the planks are so wide. We stopped at Murchison (63km) for lunch at the bakery and set out on the road once more refreshed whereupon a few drops of rain meant the jackets came out for a very few minutes. Back through Nagambie, a lovely tailwind towards the sleepy pub in Locksley (129km), where we took turns tossing a ball for a kelpie which had for some reason taken up residence unremarked in the front bar. Some of our number decided now was a good time to try beer as a sports drink, though they now report its performance wanting. Rode with some more old friends for a while out of Locksley before doubling back to the raggedy-arse bunch where I belonged.

A couple of years ago four of us rode this ride like dervishes, this time we took a slightly more leisurely pace, broken by intermittent breakaways as someone or other had a rush of blood or decided to test their legs over a gentle rise before sitting up to be reeled into the shelter of the bunch again as we picked up the odd straggler on the run home.

There are Audax rides to challenge the legs and there are others to confirm the simple joy of being healthy and alive. Six hours into the ride, as we cruised out of the famous secret checkpoint at Avenel (140.5km) and it was obvious we've only got an hour left on the bike, I'm sure we all felt the same way: Damn, this thing will be over soon.

Thanks to the Lairs for their company and thanks Carolyn Bolton for organising another memorable ride.

3783km so far this year.

Friday, July 31, 2009

22 Days in July.

July wasn't a great month on the bike for me. Midwinter seldom is. The weather was crappy, I bought a new car and the Tour was on the TV. Tour buffs might appreciate this, from crikey.com.au:

While Julius Caesar feared the Ides of March, for those of us lucky enough to live with a cyclist, it is the whole month of July that we dread. For that can only mean one thing; the agony of the Tour de France.

Although Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans have been getting all the attention, personally, I think the maillot jaune should be awarded to the person who has to share a house with one bloke, two children and ONE television, permanently tuned to SBS.

Here is the average July day in our household:

5.55pm. I pour large glass of wine.

6.00pm. Husband sprints home from work and displaces children from The Simpsons in order to watch Tour highlights on SBS. Fifteen minute screaming match ensues.

6.10pm. I pour second glass of wine.

6.30pm. All warring parties, none of whom is now speaking to the other, sit down for "family dinner."

9.30pm to God knows when. Spouse watches live coverage of le Tour.

5.30am. Gets up to go cycling. (In training for something, is it World Masters’ Games? Round the Bay? Have actually forgotten...)

It is now Week Three, and the usual hideous transformation has taken place. Extreme sleep deprivation combined with adrenalin overload has turned him into a shuffling, red-eyed zombie, topped off with a consumptive cough.

I have tried to take an interest, I really have, but it’s hard to tell them all apart; let’s face it, all bicycles look the same, and, when the camera is shoved up their bony backsides, so do all the riders. And, sadly, the only element of sport I’m vaguely interested in -- the beefcake factor -- is quite low. I’ve seen Lance Armstrong in the flesh, and he is smaller than my 12-year-old. And as for pint-sized Cadel, I’m not sure why his voice is so squeaky, but 25 years of very tight lycra may have something to do with it.

If you want to check out the lean waxed calves of a few Euros, then head to the Italian café in Gouger St, Adelaide in January, where the Spanish team hangs out during the Tour Down Under. But after six hours sitting on a very narrow cycling saddle, do we really think they are capable of getting a leg over the podium girls? Why isn’t Mr Cycling Know-All Michael Tomalaris talking about that?

However, it appears I am not alone in my misery. Cycling is so popular in this country it’s been dubbed "The New Golf’"; it’s not hard to see why, as it is the perfect sport for middle-aged men. They can’t compete on performance (they’re too old) but they can compete on the thing that really counts, which is spending money. It is entirely possible to squander a fortune on kit and, get this, ONLY OTHER CYCLISTS WILL NOTICE. This means that you can spend up big without being caught out by the wife.

One of our friends owns several bikes, but his wife thinks there is only one, because she can’ t tell them apart. Another mate had a furious row with her husband when she discovered the invoice from the local bike boutique, not realising that it was only the deposit. And then there’s the clothes; the latest "it" brand is Rapha, which comes from the stable of high-profile British designer Paul Smith. I know the cost of a Paul Smith handbag, and it is chicken feed compared to his designer lycra (unbelievably, that is not an oxymoron). For instance, on the Rapha website there are Grand Tour Gloves, made from "African hair sheep leather."

According to the copy, "African hair sheep live on the arid savannah of Eastern Africa. To cope with the heat and dry conditions, the hair sheep have extremely thin but strong skin."

"A road rider using gloves made of hair sheep gets the confidence and feel of riding bare handed, but with the protection and comfort of the highest quality glove on the market." All for just $US160.

You can see the attraction, can’t you? I think they just ride to Coluzzi, fondle each other’s gloves, drink three short blacks and ride home. Why bother doing any actual cycling?

I could go on and on -- there’s the weight obsession, weird eating habits (Lance weighs his food before he eats it), hair removal techniques, supplements and pharmaceuticals (joke), not to mention a brand of Swiss clothing called Assos -- who says the Swiss don’t have a sense of humour?

But come July 26, when some tiny, hairless teenager hurtles through the base of the Arc de Triomphe and dons a retina-burning yellow jersey, I will be raising a glass to the end of Dry July (as if) and the Tour de France and the resumption of normal family life.

In the final verse of Pablo Neruda’s
Ode to Bicycles, he says:

I thought about evening when the boys wash up, sing, eat, raise a cup of wine in honor of love and life, and waiting at the door, the bicycle, stilled,
because
 only moving 
does it have a soul, and fallen there
it isn't a translucent insect humming
through summer but a cold skeleton that will return to life only when it's needed,
 when it's light,
that is, with 
the resurrection 
of each day.

Amen to that.

3,444km so far this year.



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer's a long way away

I love an unhurried Sunday ride. Start mid-morning, finish mid-afternoon. Give the bike a clean, lube the chain. Gather up the gear and roll out easy. I did about 50km today which included two cafe stops. Took four hours, only two of which were actually riding. Rode to town, cake stop with Tim and Kev, rode to Cygnet Hill with a social call along the way and then back to Huonville for a yarn with Keith and Clive, rode home. More a series of conversations than a training ride! Still, it's the time of year for it, the days are short and the rides of spring and summer still distant enough not to be worried about cranking out the miles or climbing hills or trying to set speed records. June and July are always like this then the days get longer and the big rides draw nearer.

It seems a long way until January and the Audax Alpine Classic. This year the ride comes at the end of a week-long cycling festival: The Semaine Federale. To be held for the first time outside of France, this series of rides promises to be a most enjoyable prelude to the Alpine. I was planning to head to Bright a week early to ride some of the climbs and generally bum around before tackling the 200km ride on the Sunday. A quick glance of the SF program on their website shows I'll be able put in a fine week on all the major climbs in the company of like-minded others. Bright usually books out solid a year before the Alpine Classic, so it took some doing to secure a room for the week. That's done now and my holidays are locked in. Roll on January. See you in Bright.

3364km so far this year. 200th post for this blog!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A few things from the bike shop.

I love a bitchy rant as much as the next person, this lament is from a rather disgruntled American bike shop employee, posted on Craig's List:

Woo-hoo Seattle, the sun is out! Let's discuss a few things before you fumble with swapping the unused ski rack for the unused bike rack on the Subaru.

So yes, you've noticed the sun is out, and hey!- maybe it would be cool to to some bike riding. Let's keep in mind that the sun came out of all 600,000 of us, so for the most part, you're not the only one who noticed. Please remember that when you walk into my shop on a bright, sunny Saturday morning. It will save you from looking like a complete twat that huffs "Why are there so many people here?"

Are we all on the same page now about it being sunny outside? Have we all figured out that we're not the only clever people that feel sunny days are good for bike riding? Great. I want to kiss all of you on your forehead for sharing this moment with me. Put your vitamin D starved fingers in mine, and we'll move on together to some pointers that will make life easier.

SOME POINTERS FOR THE PHONE:

- I don't know what size of bike you need. The only thing that I can tell over the phone is that you sound fat. I don't care how tall you are. I don't care how long your inseam is. Don't complain to me that you don't want to come ALL THE WAY down to the bike shop to get fitted for a bike. I have two hundred bikes in my inventory. I will find one that fits you. Whether you come from the north or the south, my shop is downhill. Pretend you're going to smell a fart, ball up, and roll your fat ass down here.

- Don't get high and call me. Write it down, call me later. When I have four phone lines ringing, and a herdlet of people waiting for help, I can't deal with you sitting there "uuuuhhh"-ing and "uuummm"-ing while your brain tries to put together some cheeto-xbox-fixie conundrum. We didn't get disconnected, I left you on hold to figure your shit out.

-I really do need to see your bike to know what is wrong with it. You've already figured out that when you car makes a noise, the mechanic needs to see it. When your TV goes blank, a technician needs to see it. I can tell you, if there is one thing I've learned from you fucking squirrels, it's that "doesn't shift right" means your bike could need a slight cable adjustment, or you might just need to stop backing into it with the Subaru. Bring it in, I'll let you know for sure.

- No, I don't know how much a good bike costs. For some, spending $500 dollars is a kingly sum. For others, $500 won't buy you one good wheel. You really need to have an idea of what you want, because every one of you raccoons "doesn't want to spend too much".

FOR YOU INVENTIVE TYPES AND DO-IT-YOURSELFERS:

- Just because you think is should exist, doesn't mean that it does. I know that to you, a 14 inch quill stem makes perfect sense, but what makes more sense is buying a bike that fits you, not trying to make your mountain bike that was too small for you to begin with into a comfort bike.

- If some twat on some message board somewhere says that you can use the lockring from your bottom bracket as a lockring for a fixie conversion doesn't mean that A: you can, or B: you should. Please listen to me on this stuff, I really do have your best interests at heart.

- I love that you have the enthusiasm to build yourself a recumbent in the off season. That does not mean however, that I share your enthusiasm; ergo I won't do the "final tweaks" for you. You figure out why that Sram shifter and that Shimano rear derailleur don't work together. While we're at it, you recumbent people scare me a little. Don't bring that lumbering fucking thing anywhere near me.

A DEDICATION TO ALL THE HIPSTER DUCHEBAGS:

-If you shitheads had any money, you wouldn't NEED a vintage Poo-zhow to get laid. Go have an ironic mustache growing contest in front of American Apparel, so that I can continue selling $300 bikes to fatties, which is what keeps the lights on.

- Being made in the 80's may make something cool, but that doesn't automatically make something good. The reason that no one has ridden that "vintage" Murray is because it's shit. It was shit in the 80's, a trend it carried proudly through the 90's, and rallied with into the '00's. What I mean to say is, no, I can't make it work better. It's still shit, even with more air in the tires.

SO YOU'RE GONNA BUY A BIKE:

Good for you! Biking is awesome. It's easy, it's fun, it's good for you. I want you to bike, I really do. To that end, I am here to help you.

-Your co-worker that's "really into biking" knows fuck all. Stop asking for his advice. He could care less about you having the right bike. He wants to validate his bike purchase(s) through you. He also wants to sleep with you, and wear matching bike shorts with you.

- You're not a triathlete. You're not. If you were, you wouldn't be here, and we both know it.

- You're not a racer. If you were, I'd know you already, and you wouldn't be here, and we both know it.

- So you want a bike that you can ride to work, goes really fast, is good for that triathlon you're doing this summer (snicker), is good on trails and mud, and costs less than $300. Yeah. Listen, I want a car that can go 200 miles an hour, tow a boat, has room for five adults, is easy to parallel park but can carry plywood, gets 60mpg, and only costs $3,000. I also want a unicorn to blow me. What are we even talking about here? Oh yeah. Listen, bikes can be fast, light, cheap and comfortable. Pick two, and we're all good.

ABOUT YOUR KIDS:

Your kids are amazing. Sure are. No one else has kids as smart, able, funny or as good looking as you. Nope. Never see THAT around here.

- I have no idea how long you kid will be able to use this bike. As it seems to me, your precious is a little retarded, and can't even use the damn thing now. More likely, your budding genius is going to leave the bike in the driveway where you will Subaru the bike to death LONG before the nose picker outgrows the bike.

- Stop being so jumpy. I am not a molester. You people REALLY watch too much TV. When I hold the back of the bike while your kid is on it, it's not because I get a thrill from *almost* having my hand on kid butt, it's because kids are unpredictable, and generally take off whenever possible, usually not in the direction you think they might go. Listen, if I were going to do anything bad to your kids, I'd feed them to sharks, because sharks are FUCKING AWESOME.

I hope this helps, and have fun this summer riding your kick-ass bike!

3227km so far this year.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Painting the Town

Looking at my 20-year-old track bike hanging in the shed on the weekend I decided it was time we got reacquainted. I've only ridden it once - on New Town velodrome - since I've been in Hobart. Clearly time for another go.

When I rediscovered cycling four years ago, I did a series of rides on this bike on tracks in Victoria - Kyneton, Castlemaine, Coburg, Brunswick. Various distances and mainly for fun, but I also did a series of solo full-pelt 60 minute time trials.

I'm a bit tired of riding the same stretch of road every morning so today was time to see whether I'm still up to my old hour mark: of 30.14km set in March 2005 . Hey, I'm slow - no apologies. I know never going to touch Chris Boardman's 56.3km/h, but I would like to knock off Herni Desgrange's 35.3km/h set in 1893.

What I grandly call New Town velodrome really just a tarmac track around the football oval. I'm guessing it's about 400m long with a slight bank. Like many basic tracks of its type it has a definite hill in it. They're so common in old country tracks I wonder if they're not a perhaps a design feature: there always seems to be a drop through the corner before the finish line. Perhaps it's to speed up the sprints.

There was nobody else about when I rolled out around 8am. A three-lap warm up and a few minor seat adjustments and I was off. Five minutes in, my average was a respectable 32km, although my heart was telling me it wasn't going to be a pace I could hold for an hour. After about 15 minutes the first urges to quit set in and I was bargaining with myself to go on for until at least half way.

An hour alone going flat out on a track bike is a bloody long time. I was slightly undergeared so I was spinning like a bastard down the home straight but still had to jump out of the saddle on the line every lap to crank over the uphill part of the track. Thirty minutes in I was about 40 metres ahead of my old time, but I was still working far too hard to last. My heart rate was sitting around 170, which is way faster than it goes on road rides.

My rough plan was to keep it steady until about the 50 minute mark and lash out from there, so I concentrated on getting my heart rate down so I didn't blow up. I watched my computer as my average pace dropped a a tenth of a kilometre of an hour every few laps until it hit 29.9km/h. I was definitely flagging. I picked it up a bit. My plan became a five-minute final sprint. A couple of triathletes turned up and started doing some laps so I had a couple of marks to chase, although the five minute sprint wasn't going to happen. About three minutes before the end I was buggered, trying to reel in one of the riders, reaching for every last scrap I had.

As the hour rolled by I checked the computer: 30.07km. Damn, 70 metres short of my record. Heart and lungs screaming, legs not so bad. The record is intact for now, but today was still my second fastest ride ever. Not bad training this track riding, it might even speed me up a little. I think I'll slip a smaller cog on the back hub and have another go in a week or so.

(Top photo is an iPhone GPS track of the epic ride. Speaks volumes for the unit's accuracy!)

3,123km so far this year.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunny Sunday cycle

One of the consolations of this time of year is the Perfect Winter's Day. Tasmania has a reputation for lousy weather which is largely undeserved and the depths of winter can turn on some real pearlers.

Today was one such day. Apart from some early fog which quickly burned off it was clear this was one of those days to make the most of, with plenty of sunshine and not a breath of wind. Nicole and I loaded the touring bikes in the back to the ute for a quick drive down to Cradoc for a lazy 35km Cygnet loop. The plan was a meander along the river and over the hill into Cygnet, stop for coffee and cake then complete the loop with the short ride back to the car.

For the unhurried, the lightly-trafficked Cygnet Coast Road along the Huon River provides lovely scenic riding, first through vineyards and then along the waterfront with views across to Franklin and down towards Dover. Along the way we found a little beach that will be perfect for a picnic stop on a future kayaking trip and spotted plenty of lovely houses and weekended with great water views. We turned upwards along Wattle Grove Road. On a cool day a steep climb is a good chance to warm up and the low gears on the touring bike mean you're not working that hard while the scenery slides past. There are lovely views of the little farmlets up the valley and back down from where we'd come. A moment's pause at the top and then down the unsealed Forsters Rivulet Road for a long roll down into Lymington. By now were were both getting hungry and looking forward to a feed at the Red Velvet Lounge.

But such delights were not to be. Cygnet's two better coffee shops had closed for winter at the same time so we repaired to the Schoolhouse cafe for a very decent toasted sandwich and a flick through the papers in the delightful yard. Back on the bikes, the beauty of this loop is that there's only a short ride over the hill back to Cradoc and downhill run back to the car. A lovely day, we certainly made the most of.

3,093km so far this year.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Busch & Muller Seculite Plus Rear Light

Cool dark winters breed bike light geeks: Tasmania turns me into one every time around this time of year. I've posted before about the joys of dynamo lights, only now have I got around to getting one for the back.

I bought a Busch & Muller Seculite Plus (the lower light in the pic to the right) which was about $35 from Abbotsford Cycles. It was to go on the back mudguard of the Cross Check but fiddling around with it I decided that with a bit of effort and an old light bracket I could get it on the commuter/road/audax bike to make a nice backup to the battery light. I do most of my miles on this bike and you can't be too visible at night in my opinion. After considerable messing around with the wiring I managed to get it working. ok (An earth wire is needed to complete the circuit, which can be a bit hard to do with a frame with carbon bits. I ran a length of twin core wire from the front to the back, and tied the 'spare' end off on the metal part of the light bracket.)

The final result is pretty neat and with the lovely efficient Schmidt hub, turning both lights on seems to have no effect on forward speed. The Seculite has a standlight which burns for about three or four minutes after I've stopped. The only drawback is that it doesn't have a flash mode. But you can't have everything.

I tend to run both front and rear on all the time. It's a good match for the Edelux front light. Being LED lights, I don't have to worry about bulb life either. Now I'll just have to buy another for the Cross Check!

2,952km so far this year.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rex the Runt

Self proclaimed "weak hypocritical sleaze" and lightweight Melbourne radio commentator Rex Hunt has been found guilty of reckelessly causing injury to a cyclist in a road rage attack. Good.

The former policeman was so enraged by a confrontation with a cyclist he emerged from the comfort and safety of his four-wheel-drive cage and broke the man's finger. Now he was to perform 100 hours of community service.

Hunt has a history of bizzare behaviour. Who can forget when the former policeman was sprung paying for women to help him live out his sad sexual fetishes in public?

2,331km so far this year.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Cheesecake Run




Most weekends I don't get much done at all. I might chop some wood. I might do some work about the house, take the dogs for a ride or tinker with a bike or two up in the shed. If I'm feeling extra motivated I'll cut out some of the bracken ferns that seems to occupy about half of the the 25 acre hilltop we live on. But if the weather isn't too foul and even if I do nothing else, I always find time for a Cheesecake Run.

The Cheesecake Run begins at my back door and ends at DS cafe in Huonville, where the cheesecake is. As much as I have a favourite ride, this is it. It's undemanding and if I'm riding the North Huon Road it generally means it's the weekend and I don't have any great demands on my time, so it's hard to be in a bad mood. I take the Crosscheck because its fat tyres nicely soak up the bumps of the dirt backroads and ride in shorts and a winter jersey.

The first two kilometres of the ride is a real heart starter, a screaming twisted 200m descent on a washed-out dirt road, before things settle down for the roll into Judbury. From there it's a lovely gradual downhill run which winds past the little houses and farms and orchards alongside the Huon River. At this time of year it's extra special because the leaves on many the trees have turned their various hues of orange and red and the whole place looks like an autumn postcard.

The road itself doesn't get a lot of traffic. I might be passed by half a dozen cars in a 35km round trip and I'll get a wave from maybe half the drivers. It's rare to have someone pass too close, in fact I can't remember it happening at all. I've seen a few other riders on the road, more lately, and the banana skins I see tossed at the side seem to indicate this ride is becoming more popular. I had a lovely ride into town with a West Australian couple the other week, who marvelled at the beauty of the area and said they were planning a move here.

The road seems mainly downhill so even though I'm seldom inclined to rush, I tend to move along pretty quickly. If I find myself going too hard I stop and take a photo or sit up in the saddle and see how long I can dodge the odd pothole no hands. The sealed road starts about 8km from town so the small stones stop pinging of the inside of my mudguards and there's only the gentle hum of my tyres from the Third Rock apple shed onwards.

After about half an hour I'm generally in Rangelah, which isn't much more than a little village and an easy downhill run on the sealed road into Huonville. If I'm feeling energetic I might turn north along the little creek past an old sawmill. At any rate I'm at DS Cafe in under an hour for a sugar hit. Most days I meet Kev, who rides in on the Huon highway from Mountain River, which isn't quite as nice a trip, but any day on the bike is a good one.

Oddly the way back seems downhill too for some reason. Unless the wind is howling down the valley off the Snowy Ranges, I can make good time home. The final hill is the kicker - that 60km/h downhill run becomes a granny gear grind on the way back up, although it's a good test of where my fitness is. A final roll down on the grass to the house and that's the Cheesecake Run, just about the best 35km I ride all week.

2881km so far this year.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Schmidt Edelux light


Winter is upon us. The days are short, the nights are dark and the year-round cyclist's thoughts turn to lighting. For the last couple of weeks, I've been using the Schmidt Edelux LED front light. I'm a bit of a lighting geek and I reckon tried just about everything but this light has me mightily impressed. The Edelux is a worthy successor my E6 halogen light which was for many riders for many years the gold standard in dynohub lighting.

I love dynohub lighting, no batteries to think about, it's simple and efficient, just switch it on. The drawbacks with the old E6 light were its tightly focussed beam pattern, the lack of a standlight and the need to change bulbs every hundred hours of use or so. I always seemed to burn out a bulb on a dark road on a rainy night in the middle of winter. So the Edelux, which addresses all of these problems, comes as a welcome development.

I first used the new light during the Oppy. Many of the others in the team were using Ayup lights, which have become something of a fad in Audax circles of late. Although everyone was raving about their Ayups, I reckon the Edelux was every bit their equal, minus the need to carry spare batteries.

The test of a good light is that you don't notice it, in the sense that it doesn't detract from your ride and that was how the long night of the Oppy went for me - there were plenty of other things to concern me! The beam on the Edelux is a lot wider than the E6, lighting up a good portion of the road. The standlight is a great addition, and runs for ages even after only a few wheel revolutions. The light is small and stylish. And I never have to worry about burned out bulbs again. Those few cyclists who use dynamo lights have waited a while for the lights to catch up with the LED battery lights, but the wait has been well worth it.

(If you found this post useful, you may also enjoy my more recent posts on the Son Delux hub and the Busch and Muller Seculite Plus Rear Light.)

The hill climbers of Google Maps

I found this idly looking for another route to ride to work. Immortalised on Google Maps, the faceless cyclist will forever be climbing the lower reaches of Mt Nelson - a timeless digital monument to his own endeavour and inspiration to us all. At least he looks like he's doing it easy. OK, so heading up Mt Nelson isn't like grinding up the Col du Tourmalet on a cold and rainy day with panniers on, but hey, we must all find our own mountains to climb.



1770km so far this year.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Oppy 2009

Third time's the charm. Though outbreaks of sanity cut our numbers from the 12 riders who rolled out last year to just nine, the Lancefield Lairs had a superb ride in the Fleche Opperman All Day Trial.

This was my third ride in the Oppy. The rules are simple: ride for 24 hours, cover a minimum of 360km, finish in the home town of Australia's greatest-ever cyclist.

Our route this year took us north-east from Tooborac in central Victoria, through Seymour, Euroa and Violet Town before turning north to St James, west through Numurkah to Echuca and finally south to Rochester. Long story short: a top ride. Just eight kilometres before the first dick joke, happily about 230km before the bad singing started and 50km more for the shocking poetry recitals. It's hard to imagine better conditions for riding: a sunny day, a clear night and no wind.

We were met every 30 or 60km or so by our faithful crew of supporters and fed, watered and generally looked after. A bare 20 minutes later we were back on the road. We managed to gain about 20 minutes on our schedule during the first part of the ride and held that margin the whole time. We somehow even picked our pace up a little once darkness fell, which meant we earned a glorious two hours sleep on the dreamy soft floor of the Echuca football club.

Words don't explain the pleasure and challenges of this ride well. The highlight of the ride for me (apart from the company) was the long, flat ride under the stars on a crystal clear rural Victorian night. There's something magical about being part of a tiny peloton threading its way along quiet country roads at night. I was a lot stronger this year than in previous years, so my only low point was about 15 minutes in the wee small hours when I felt a bit weary and felt like consulting the Big Book of Excuses. A bit of food seemed to spark me up.

The finish is great fun: there's a band and the traditional photos with the Oppy statue. Then it's off for a well-earned breakfast at the Rochester Football Club and the speeches, the reunions and he traditional reading of Oppy's letter about the first running of event. For my money, this ride is one of the finest on the Audax calendar. Long may it remain so.

The top photo shows the Lair's Oppy team, the Lair's women's Petit Oppy (180km) team and our support crews at the Oppy statue in Rochester.

1615km so far this year.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Every week should be Bike Week

I loved Bike Week. I rode in four events, and covered 277km in nine days, which isn't bad. I managed to ride in four events and every one was a cracker.

The Cygnet Loops was a ride I'd always wanted to do and the Wellington Challenge I've already had a bleat about. I narrowly missed getting caught in a huge rainstorm after the Judbury family ride on Saturday, so that was a win. And last Sunday's Century Ride was a ripper too.

I've done this ride twice before, both times in a shade over five hours. While I'm not overly competitive, I always like to improve over time, so I was hoping to cut my time to under five hours.

After the usual police-escorted start, the brave and the bold took off like lycra clad rockets. I settled on drifting slowly back through the field, grabbing the odd wheel when I could. About 40km in, the bunch I was riding in sort of disintegrated and I spotted a some riders in the distance and set off after them. After a long pursuit I fell in with a trio of blokes who I spend a pleasurable hour or so into Richmond before they stopped for a drink and I pushed on. Another bunch I caught fell apart at the bottom of Grasstree Hill, but I was still going fine. Even the climb didn't give me the trouble it normally does. To my surprise I was back at the start in 4 hours and 15 minutes - 50 minutes faster than both my previous attempts at this ride. As an added bonus, the rain which had been threatening all day help off until the finish. A fitting finale to bike week. Now for the Oppy!

1132km so far this year.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The World's Slowest Hill Climber

There are five people in Hobart right now who are probably too stunned to speak today - five tortured souls whose every utterance is broken by racking sobs and rolling tears. Their long silences are punctuated by cries of `Why? Why?'. They can't eat, sleep or work, poor souls. Life holds no joy. For they have been beaten by the World's Slowest Hill Climber.

Yes, these five people have been measured against the mountain and found wanting. You read it here first: I beat five people in the Mt Wellington Time Trial on the weekend.

Now I'm a glass half-full kind of guy. Many people would look at the result sheet and suggest I came 144th out of 149 starters. But I would counter that I probably won the 100kg plus division. Regardless of the fact that I was passed by elderly and disabled riders (and worse, people on mountain bikes) on the gruelling 20km long 1,250 metre ascent, the people who finished ahead of me were all elite racers and were probably even trying to boot. (I won't even mention cycling's terrible doping problem). I just wanted to finish without stopping for a heart attack on the way up. The photo above makes me look far more gritty and determined than I actually was, which is nice. So I finished, had a nice ride, enjoyed the views and I've got a time to blitz next year. I'd call that mission accomplished.

(Ride photo from Clive Roper Photography.)

948km so far this year.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Found my tribe.





The most important thing during Bike Week is to demonstrate cyclists are ordinary folk, just like you and I.



The Banana
Originally uploaded by Velovotee
From the Sydney Body Art ride.

888km so far this year.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The bargain bikes of ebay

I'm a pretty constant lurker in ebay looking for bargain bike bits. I've often got a project in the shed which needs a part or two so I put in a lot of silly low bids, some of which bear fruit. One thing I have noticed is that the demand for old parts is growing strongly and so are prices. The sad truth is that no matter how much we value our rides, sometimes we delude ourselves about their true value.

Check out this gem. For only $130 you can be the proud owner of a 'vintage' bike which looks like it's spent the last 20 years at the bottom of the river it's named after. No tyres, no brakes, a saddle that looks like it was used to absorb an IED attack and rust galore. But hey, it's old and it's a single speed so some fool might buy it right? But you'll have to pick it up yourself from Hobart, there's no chance of the seller extending himself to ship this gem of antiquity, possibly because it weighs 80kg. Why, why, why on earth has nobody placed a bid on this bike? You heathens of Hobart.

Oh, you want something roadworthy? For a mere $92 (at current bidding) you can get your hands on a sought-after Repco Traveller Road bike? Equiped not just with gears, but a ''gearing system" and tyres that "will need eventual replacement" the seller does kindly point out that the the Traveller "is making an encore in Victoria now as a popular vintage bike". Among whom? The mentally deranged? And why not in other states? No shipping on this one either cycling archaologists, you'll have to take the station wagon to Glenroy.

But why spend $130 or even $92, when for just $5 you could pick up a "Vintage Malvern Star bike single speed fixed project"? Never mind the fact it looks like it might have been ridden into a car and has a saddle that would cause irreversible injury, this one also has tyres. They're flat, but what do you expect for $5? Bid early, bid often.

854km so far this year.