This afternoon I stopped in at my nearest local bike shop to buy a set of ball bearings to repack the bottom bracket with (my last few bike rides came with the constant music of the old ball bearings rattling against each other, and even if that wasn’t killing the spindle I’d still prefer it if the bicycle would STFU), and, while I was there, I decided that I’d ask about 650B bike tires (650B wheels are smaller than 700C, so there’s fractionally less toe overlap, and 650B tires are much larger than the sort of 700C tires I’m using now, which may be better on the horrible chipseal roads that infest Clackamas County) under the hope that they might have some available or would be willing to special order them.
So I asked if they had 650B tires. “Oh, sure, we’ve got lots of them!” and the salesperson scooted me over to the stack of tires and started pointing out lots of 18-23mm “650B” tires. I asked “are you sure you’re talking about 650B and not 650A or C?” and was assured that, no, these were definitely 650B because nobody used 650A or 650C tires.
So I looked at the offending tires, and, not surprisingly, they were all 650C triathlon tires; 571mm rim size instead of 584mm, which would have made for quite a bit of excitement if I had purchased them and attempted to put them onto 650B rims. So I pointed out that none of these tires were actually 650B and that I was looking for 584mm rim diameter tires.
The agent scurried over to a computer terminal, typed away, and said “Oh, we’ve got these tires in 25mm width at our downtown store! Should I have them shipped here?” and I said that, no, I could just ride down and take a look if I wanted them.
Which I had no intention of doing, because I’ve been thinking about 650B wheels since shortly after my birthday and I’ve done enough research into them to realize that the narrowest durable tire I can get would either be a Rivendell Nifty-Swifty, at ~33mm, or a possibly-vapourware ~30mm Michelin tire that, if it exists, doesn’t seem to exist outside of France. If there was a 25mm 650B tire, I believe I would have heard of it somewhere other than the sales floor of a Trek dealership.
It’s useful to have a local bike shop, because if something goes to hell on my bicycle I don’t want to have to either (a) wait for mailorder or (b) go over to the airport or downtown to get components from one of the local mailorder houses masquerading as local bike shops. But it’s slightly annoying when the local shop is staffed by people who don’t know what tire sizes are and think that everything in the world is 559mm, 571mm, or 622mm (even in a shop where you just turn around and there’s a Danish bakfiets sitting there flaunting its teeny-tiny front wheel at you.)
I have this nice gift card, so I’ve got an incentive to face the wall of ignorance again, but next time I want to get things from that LBS I’ll get printouts from the QBP catalog and say “this is what I want. Can you get them and how much do they cost?” instead of hoping that I get assigned the salesperson who has not spent their entire life in a barrel lined with copies of Trek marketing literature.
This last sunday I decided, for the second time in 8 days, that I would blackmail myself into waking up early in the morning so I could try to get a not-completely-embarrassingly short loop in before the sun crashed into the sea (too early) in the evening. This time was the Portland Century (which, as best as I could tell, consisted of about 1950 people on gofast safety bikes, 49 people on gofast recumbents, and one person on a xtracycle) which I added 25 miles to to roll myself up over 200km for the first time this year.
Act One – getting there is a tiny fraction of the fun
I’d gotten all of my stuff ready the night before (warm weather & cool weather shirt, sweater (not jersey! – there are no back pockets in any of my shirts), vest, and two sizes of stripy socks, so all I had to do when I woke up at 5am was to make some tea, eat some breakfast, get dressed, and roll the Trek out the door. It was not pitch black, but it was pretty dark as I went up to downtown, barely encountering any traffic until I was on Broadway and trying to find the starting point of this whole shebang.
I was not quite awake, so it ended up taking me 23 minutes to go the 8km up to the starting line, which had opened (“for slow riders”) barely before I arrived.
Act Two – the Xtracycle isn’t all that slow on level ground
The course was open and I didn’t see anyone there who I knew, so I turned around and went blowing down Broadway, Madison, and out onto the Springwater Trail. The Springwater Trail is nice and level, with not more than a 2% grade at any point from downtown out to Gresham, so without even trying, I managed to make it out to Gresham in a little over a hour (30.5km in 1h12, and that’s including quite a few traffic controls on the Sellwood to Lents part of the trail,) where I pulled off at the first rest stop and realized that I would probably not be getting any tea or coffee for quite some time (I didn’t see anything, and I heard some other riders asking in vain about both of them.)
There was food there, so I ate a banana, and turned and rolled out for the next act
Act Three – On the other hand, it climbs like an anvil
Outside of Gresham, the Springwater Trail climbs a little more aggressively towards Boring, and then stops being paved, so the loop then diverted onto the chipseal hell that is Telford Road. Fortunately, the chipseal hell wasn’t very trafficked at 7:22am, so I was able to proceed past Boring and onto the gently hilly part of Aemisegger Road (which goes up, down, up, down, up, and then doooooown into the Clackamas River valley.) I wasn’t exerting myself very much on the little hills here, so I was passed by a couple of people, one of which commented (as I was pulling the anvil up a light grade) that Xtracycles don’t climb very well.
Why, THANK YOU, I never would have realized that, what with actually riding on one of them.
But the fun was only beginning. After Aemisegger Road plunged down into the Clackamas River valley, the loop turned sharp left onto another mass of chipseal that turned and climbed right back up the bluff that I had just come down. “My,” I said as I climbed the 100 meter ramp, “this is fairly unpleasant” – which was, I knew, a bit of an understatement because there were a couple of even more exciting ramps just down the road.
Judd Road (for this was the name of the chipsealed hell of the hour) was, modulo the initial climb up the bluff, a fairly pleasant grind uphill for ~12 kilometers, and it ended up with a fairly enthusiastic plunge down off the bluff to the second rest stop at Eagle Fern Park. 28.75 km in 1h19, and I was perfectly happy to pull up to the rest stop, inhale some more food, and strip off my cold weather gear for a short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved sweater, and my summertime stripy socks. It still felt like it was in the vicinity of 55°F, but I knew that as soon as I rolled out of this rest stop (where, as I suspected, there was NO EFFING TEA) I would be in no need of warm clothing.
Act Four – It’s an Xtracycle, and, yes, it doesn’t climb well. Thanks for reminding me
When I left Eagle Fern Park, I retraced my path to a side-road called Kitsmiller Road, which follows a stream as it it plunges vertically down the bluffside from the heights above Sandy down to the Clackamas River. Sandy is considerably higher than Boring, and the heights above Sandy are considerably higher than Sandy, so as soon as the road turned upwards I bailed down into my lowest alpine gear (40:32, or ~34") and crept up the ~10% grade at a whopping 5mph, while being passed by everyone and their aged grandparents on their omafiets. Most people just said “hi” as they crept up past me, but some people couldn’t resist pointing out that Xtracycles don’t climb very well. Gosh, really, that’s really good to know; I wouldn’t ever have realized this, since I was only plodding my way uphill on one of them.
300 or so meters later, I finally crested the top of the hill, and then managed to recover some time as I plunged down into Sandy like an anvil on roller skates. The advantage of having 50 pounds of bicycle on slick tires is that occasionally gravity
is my friend, and the only thing holding me back was having to lean on the brakes to
keep from ploughing into the masses of lightweight riders on their gossamer gofast safety bikes.
I began to get the feeling that the mere presence of the xtracycle was freaking some of these riders out when I got into a brief conversation with someone who volunteered that they thought I was crazy when they saw me riding that bike. Well, sure, that might be true, but I think that the craziness comes from doing acceptably-long bike rides early in the morning instead of the particular bicycle I was riding.
But, after 23km (in 1h19), the route led me to Meinig Park and the third rest stop on this ride, where there was, once again, NO TEA OR COFFEE, but there was cold pasta (on a cold day where it was spitting rain for part of the loop) that I could gulp down before heading out again.
Act Five – I am not going to leave Sandy without stopping at Joe’s Donuts
For some inexplicable reason, this ride passed within three blocks of Joe’s Donut Shop without making it into a checkpoint (or even providing donuts at the existing checkpoint.) Well, the ride might bypass donuts, but I won’t; Immediately after leaving Meinig Park, I jumped off the line, rode the three blocks down, bought a dozen donuts and a hot chocolate that was almost a religious experience, loaded the donuts onto the bicycle, and continued on my merry way.
“My merry way” included a plunge down to the Sandy River, where I was first passed by a pack of people on their gofasts, and then I had to apply the brakes to keep from overrunning them at the bottom of the hill (I was not going to pass them because I knew that the road would turn up immediately after crossing the Sandy River, and they’d just pass me again after that point,) then another plunge down to the Little Sandy River, and then an amazingly unpleasant climb up the bluffs out of the Bull Run watershed. An unpleasant climb out up the bluffs in my dump gear at 5mph, being passed by everyone and their aged grandmothers, and with the now-expected collection of incredulous commentary about my bicycle.
And then I went screaming downhill off that point of land, and ended up with an average speed of just barely > 15km/h (18.55 km/h in 1h04 travel time, plus about 10 minutes for donuts) for the leg from Meinig Park to the rest stop at Fireside Retreat.
By this time, my legs were more than slightly tired, and any substantial upgrades were pretty much guaranteed to force me to stop and rest along them. So I parked myself at this rest stop and took full advantage of the food they had put on, and then hopped back on the bicycle and headed off towards Springdale and points west.
Act Six – The other side of Oxbow Park
When I left this rest stop, it was still cloudy and cold. The clouds to the west were a little bit frayed, and some blue sky was flirting with being visible, but everything was still socked in. And it was all downgrade from the rest stop to where Gordon Creek Road came down to the Sandy River opposite of the camping side of Oxbow Park.
I was so cold coming down that hill (~220 meter descent) that my shivers were shaking the bicycle. And then I hit the bottom, started going up the short ramp on the other side of the park (not really that short – it was ~100 meters uphill, but it felt a lot shorter than the two big climbs on the other side of the last rest stop) and *poof* the clouds rolled back, the sun came out, and it was all of a sudden really hot.
Ugh. And me in my nice black Swrve knickers.
But more importantly the sun coming out meant that the wind started picking up, and a strong steady N/NW wind was my constant and loathed companion all the rest of the way up the Columbia River. I ground my way up through Springdale, then West on the Columbia River Highway to Troutdale (leapfrogging a few of the people who had passed me earlier on the upgrades, but being passed by many more) and on into the second to last “official” rest stop at Blue Lake Park, where I scavenged some food to eat (including some “science diet” mix which didn’t appear to do anything for me. I could have eaten some of the cookie bars I’d brought along, or the bananas I’d picked up at Eagle Fern Park, but I was pretty deep in a “I’m almost home now” mood and wasn’t thinking all that clearly.
This leg (24km in 1h) was as fast as I was going to ride for the rest of the day, because an unwelcome friend appeared as soon as I rolled out of Blue Lake Park and onto Marine Drive.
Act Seven – The Wind Blows. And Blows. And, oh G-d, Blows.
It’s not as if I wasn’t warned about the headwind. The weather forecast had been indecisive about how cloudy is was going to be on Sunday, but all of the forecasters were quite certain that strong winds were going to be blowing from the N/NW. So for the next 1h09, I crept the 25km upwind to the rest stop at Smith & Bybee Lakes, being passed by paceline after paceline, each one moving just fast enough so there was no chance I could jump on and be dragged upwind. It was not particularly helpful that the official route followed the Marine Drive trail, which dodges left and right of Marine Drive in such a way that it picks up more wind than Marine Drive does.
By the time I reached I5, I was parched enough so I had to stop at a fast food restaurant to get a soda just to get coolth and sugars into me. And after doing that (and waiting round in line long enough for my legs to start cramping up – oops!) I was able to stagger onwards to the stop at Smith & Bybee Lakes, where they had watermelon, water, and I managed to pick up my last sarcastic comment ofthe day (I flipped down the kickstand and got a “oooh, I’d forgotten those things even existed!” from some gentleman on a plastic gofast bike. Sigh, yes, I know. I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that nobody commented on my stripy socks or toe clips.)
Act Eight – the wind will blow me slowly southwards(?), and then I’m done with the group ride.
I was hoping that the wind would blow me southwards, because my usual route up here does have the wind at my back when I leave Kelley Point, but the Portland Century Route creeps along the railroad and sheltered streets, so by the time the wind hit it was an unpleasant crosswind.
Except for the descent down Greeley I didn’t make any faster than 16mph, so I just put my head down and ground through north Portland, across the Broadway Bridge, and up Broadway to the end of the group ride loop, finishing this leg (16.5km) in 44 minutes and the century ride in about 7h45 (saddle time) / 9h30 (start to stop time.) I then turned my bicycle around and headed towards home, where I could sit down and figure out how much more I had to ride before I got my R200 finished.
Act Nine – Home again Home again clickity clack.
I wanted to get home quickly so I could get some lemonade and tea (not necessarily in that order,) drop off the donuts, and finish my loop. But I didn’t want to deal with traffic or any steep grades. So I dropped down Broadway to Madison, Madison to the Hawthorne Bridge, and then back onto the Springwater Trail to Sellwood, and from there on city streets to home. I was very tired, and needed tea, so it took me 30 minutes to go the 10km from PSU to home, at which point I collapsed in a heap and refused to move until I had sufficiently re-tea’d and lemonaded myself.
But I needed to ride another 16km, and I needed to get it done before 19:14, so my family made up a shopping list, put me back on the bicycle, and gave me a shove out the door.
Act Ten – Math is hard, let’s go shopping!
If I ride south to Tacoma, west to the Springwater Trail, north to Division, and east to the big big big store it’s a little less than 18km round trip. I rolled out the door at 17:39, got down to the store at 18:00, finished with the shopping at ~18:30, and then crept very very slowly back up the line to home, arriving at my front door at 18:57 after travelling 17.5km, or a grand total of ~202km in 13h13.
It’s a sign that I was a bit tired that I spent a good part of the return trip trying to remember if the randonneur deadline for a R200 was 13h or 13h30, and then trying to compute the deadline based on a 15kph minimum speed. But I looked it up, and I made it
despite spending approximately 4 hours on my butt at various controls and side trips.
The GPS, which is not completely trustworthy, claims 3304 meters of climbing and 10400 kcals consumed to push me around the loop. My achilles tendons, which are a bit more trustworthy, think it’s at least 2200 meters of climbing.
Postscript – the aftermath
On Monday I didn’t get out of the house until fairly late, but did a short loop which stretched out my achilles tendon and made it happy again. But yesterday, just before I was going to do out on the bicycle, I managed to sneeze and pull a muscle in my chest (WTF? WTF-F?), which dropped me completely offline for the day. Sigh I can run a 200km loop and end up with no aches and pains, but a simple sneeze takes me completely offline.