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Part one of three of the Tour de Foothills and GMR Challenge

Saturday was the first of two 72 mile “pre-rides” ahead of the Tour de Foothills century in November.

I went into this ride somewhat apprehensive as I was unable to finish this ride last November. The GMR climb did me in and I finished dead-last on the timing part of the ride. I abandoned at the top. Fortunately this time I not only made it to the top and beyond I did the timed portion of the climb in a tiny bit over an hour. Which put me in the bottom half of the male riders. As I am basically still 20+ pounds over an ideal weight I am not at all disappointed.

However this ride wasn’t without drama. I have been having an intermittent issue with a racing heart rate. I got hit with this on the descent down East Fork and after about 3 hours ride time. Fortunately my heart rate settled into normal range after about a 15 minute rest and off I went fine until about 6-7 miles left in the ride, where my heart rate spiked again.

I rested for what felt to be a long time, with little relief and continued with a high heart rate and finished. Off the doctor to see what’s up . . .

More to come.

Ventura Marathon Century

This ride was a study in contrasts. It started cold, the middle was HOT and finished wonderfully cool.
This was a companion ride to the Ventura Marathon was the day before and started at the Ventura pier wound it’s way inland to Ojai, Santa Paula, looped around Moorpark and back to Ventura and beach.

At the start it was 55° working it’s way up as I headed inland towards Ojai. By the time I hit Ojai it was about 70°. On the way from Ojai to Santa Paula I repeated the route from the Ojai ride, but in the opposite direction. I can say it’s WAY easier going to Santa Paula on CA150 than it is going to Ojai. I think this would be true even if I was only 25 miles in versus the 85 miles in on the Ojai ride.

By the time I was in Santa Paula the temp had climbed to 86° and continued to rise. After leaving Santa Paula I headed east out into the valley and toward Moorpark and on the way found a rather unpleasant climb. Grimes Canyon. Granted it probably would have been a lot more pleasant if the temperature was a tad less than the 104° recorded on my Garmin at the time. By the time a cleared the top of the canyon and headed down I could celebrate the fact that the two biggest climbs of the ride were now both behind me. There was a welcome rest stop at the bottom of the descent of Grimes followed by a loop around Moorpark and back to the same rest stop location.

The bonus on the second stop here was the ICE COLD water! What an amazing change in the taste of water when it’s over 100° and you are spending way too much time in the direct sun. From here it was time to head back to the coast and cooler temperatures. Somehow I had it in my head that it should be mostly downhill on the way back, but the sun must have been scrambling my brains because the best I can call it is ‘rolling’ back to the coast. The temp did slowly get cooler until about 10 miles from the end when the breeze turned seriously cool.

What amazing relief that was. Then it was fighting a little traffic, then the wind back to the start and my car.

Tour de Big Bear

When you do rides like the Tour de Big Bear don’t forget to stop and look around, enjoy where you are. I, for the most part, didn’t do that on this ride.

I got to Big Bear on Friday afternoon around 2PM. I wanted to get there early to acclimate to the altitude and to avoid Friday evening traffic. There was a Friday evening ‘poker ride’ that I wanted to do to get used to the elevation.
I also lucked out that my hotel was in the same location as registration and a block away from the start-finish line. So I pulled in, registered and signed in to get my room, then moved the car to in front of my room and my car sat until it was time to head back down the hill.

The Friday evening ride turned out to be a good idea, as it gave a small preview of Saturday’s ride. It was a loop around the lake. On Friday and Saturday that first little hill was tough as I was affected by the altitude, but adjusted pretty quickly. The loop around the lake was only moderate and rolling rather than any real climbs. Easy and a nice warm up.

On Saturday the start felt like it took forever, but eventually we were off. Again that first rise got the heart beating, but when we crossed the damn and started the first real climb I was fine. Heart rate was probably a little higher than it would be in the valleys, it was in control. I didn’t have any trouble keeping it between 150-160bpm.

Quite frankly I expected the first few miles to be a lot harder than they were. The climbs were all there, but they were not as steep as I anticipated and there were a lot more flat sections than I imagined.

On the downhill down to the first aid station there was a big truck with heavy equipment on a trailer. It was a two-lane highway with cyclists on both sides so the truck driver was doing the best he could, but around this particular corner he took his half out of the middle putting the trailer with the back-hoe or whatever it was pretty close to the riders going downhill. Unfortunately this unsettled a rider who promptly hit the deck. It looked to me as though she turned her wheel too sharply and went over and down on her left shoulder. It was a pretty hard hit. No idea how serious it was as I was past in a second.

The next few miles were pretty uneventful as it was to Snow Valley, turn around and back to the damn, only this time we turned left on toward Fawnskin and the next rest stop at the Discovery Center. This was familiar ground that I covered in the ride the evening before. But instead of turning across the bridge back to town we continued on N. Shore Drive. The rolling went on for several miles around the north end of the valley. I had never seen this part of the valley. It was different than the west end of the valley, but beautiful just the same.

I made sure I ate extra at the last station before the climb up Onyx where they were recording times for KOM and QOM. I headed up the hill. This is a relatively easy climb. It would have been real easy if it weren’t 6-plus miles long and started at around 6800 feet and topped out at over 8300 feet. As it was, it felt like it took forever and it was enough to convince me I didn’t want to go for the 100 mile route instead of the 70 I signed up for.

Annoyingly the aid station was about a mile downhill from the top which meant we had to climb back up to top to actually descend back down to the valley. But what a descent. Not really fast, but over 6 miles over hardly any pedaling. According to the data I hit 40mph which had to be on this section.

Next was some looping around on the same roads we were on earlier until we swung back around the east end of the lake and headed up to the zoo where the final aid station was located. Then it was back down to town and around some really nice neighborhoods with some rather spectacular houses/cabins. Then back up some small, but steep hills, and these really hurt, around to the village and the finish.

Even though this was to be a 70 mile ride, the Garmin said it was 68.6 miles. Next year I’ll suck it up and tough out the 100 miles and about 3K more feet of climbing.

Stoked for a ride

It’s funny how excited I can still get for an organized ride. I am riding the Tour de Big Bear tomorrow and I have been getting increasingly excited about it for over a week. I when I try to think of it objectively it seems a bit silly. I am going to be suffering, pushing myself hard over 70-100 miles.

I originally signed up for the 70 mile ride, but I really want to try to ride the century. They had such a strong warning against choosing the 100 mile option I wimped out and chose the 70. Since the route overlaps, I think, I am planning on making the decision at the 70 mile turn-around point. If I get there early enough and feel good enough I plan on going for the full distance. This will be the second of three rides I planned on an overnight stay ahead of the ride with the others being the Tour of Palm Springs and the upcoming Levi’s Gran Fondo in October.

The plan is to drive up at lunchtime and get settled and acclimated to the altitude as best I can ahead of the ride in the morning. There is also a semi-planned ride in the evening around the lake to acclimate. There is also the vendor show to wander around for. It should be a nice, relaxing evening, especially since the hotel where I am staying is right near the ‘action.’

Will post how it goes when I get back.

Gravity only rides

bigBear A group from my office recently went on a day trip to Big Bear’s Snow Summit to ride the lift and let gravity do the work for a day of riding. It had been a few years since I had ridden in Big Bear, but it will be more often now. I think I had hesitated to drive up there thinking it was at least a 3 hour drive, but with the ‘new’ CA210 freeway complete we made it to Big Bear in under 2 hours. So by my way of thinking that’s worth the drive for a 4 hour or so ride(s).

There were 4 us piled into my Outback with 3 bikes on the roof. Our 4th decided to rent a bike on the mountain. This turned out to be a great choice. He got a beautiful Intense 951 downhill rig with a monstrous 8 inches of travel front and rear. It really sucked if you had to pedal uphill any real distance, but that wasn’t really an issue on this trip.

We started on an ‘easy’ route that ended up taking us quite a bit west of the resort so we had a stretch of highway and the climb back up the hill to the Snow Summit parking lot. This turned out to be the Pine Knot trail. Then we headed back up the lift and took the correct right turn onto Coyote Trail, which after grabbing the east-west connector Town Trail, dropped us off just above the parking lot. Then we decided to brave the ‘moderate’ downhill course, Westridge. 2013-07-13 12.57.39

Westridge is supposed to be the ‘easiest’ of the in park downhills at Snow Summit and it wasn’t all the technical. However if you wanted to take it easy and stay within your skills it could be difficult mainly because there were folks that wanted to really fly. It some cases literally. I wasn’t really uncomfortable in most places, except when I felt pressure from people coming up behind me. On the whole descent I only came off the bike once, which for me, is pretty good on a trail of this level and my technical skill level at this time. My confidence was actually better than I expected.

Here is the Strava data from the ‘moderate’ Westridge ride:

Out of the four of us only one was really psyched to hit the ‘black’ trails, the ‘pro’ downhill trails on the mountain. So Rich went off to ride those while the rest of us hit the Coyote – Town trail set a couple of times. After that a couple of times, one of us was done and Steve and I hit the lift for one more before grabbing a beer.

2013-07-13 11.18.01 Then it was time to head back down the mountain.

I enjoy these types of rides, but at the end I am not really tired and it really feels like I am cheating. I know I am in the minority but I like earning my downhills.
The others really loved it and talked me into setting up another trip in August. It already looks like this is going to be a bigger bunch than the last time.

The fit . . .

I am a firm believer in bike fit. If you ride often and or long, an hour or more, then you should REALLY get fitted to your bike. If you are buying a bike make sure you get the right frame size, but that is only a small part of bike fit. After you have ridden your new bike several miles you should get a fit.

Most Local Bike Shops (LBS) either have someone that does fittings or has contact with someone that does. I also recommend asking around about the quality of the person doing the fitting.

Cost can run from about $100 to $300 depending on the type of fitting and the person doing it. Another one of the perks of joining a club is there is usually a coach or a sponsor of the team that will give you a discount. When you go for the fit, be prepared that you may have to spend money on the recommendations of the fitter. This can include a different stem, handlebars, crankset, etc. Maybe not, but it is possible that parts may need to change for your correct fit. For me on this fitting the coach / fitter recommended a compact crankset and a narrower handlebar. Neither of these was critical, but I really liked the changes that the compact cranks would give me, so I updated right away. I will wait awhile on the handlebars, but will change at some point.

Bike fits are critical on road bikes and at the very least, useful, on mountain bikes. This time I did both. I have had a couple of saddle changes as new shoes since the last fitting.

If you have pain when you ride, particularly in the knees, feet or back then the fit becomes even more critical. Riding a bike with poor fit can cause long issues up to an including actual injury. Again this more evident on road bikes where you spend a lot of time in a single position versus a mountain bike where your position tends to shift a lot more within a ride.

I had been fitted on my Cervelo once before so I knew it should be pretty close, but with the changes I had made recently particularly with the saddle I knew from the back pains I had been suffering there would be at least minor changes. Also the fact it was a different fitter I figured there would also be small differences. You will hear from people that understand the process that doing a fitting is at least as much art as it is science, particularly if you do a ‘static’ fitting rather than the dynamic type where they hook you up to a machine to take very accurate measurements.

The changes my fitter made were very small, but I could tell on my first ride afterward they had great impact. He moved my seat up and tilted it down a tiny bit in the front as well as rotated my handlebar downward a little to make moving into the drops not only more comfortable, but it made access to braking a LOT more accessible.

It’s going to take a couple of rides to fully adjust to the seat position, but I can already tell it’s going to be an improvement.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another . . .

I’ve now gone on three rides in a row without a flat! (knock, knock on wood) It must have beent the defective tire causing the punctures. And now moving on to the latest issue.

A few months ago I noticed some extra ‘pain in the ass’ on rides. After some investigation and some ‘Googling’ I realized I needed a new saddle. So off to the LBS, Incycle. I had heard a lot about Fi’zi:k saddles and interestingly the only saddle you test before you buy was the fi’zi:k. So I tried both the channeled version and the ‘regular’ without the channel. I finally settled on the Kurve. I LOVE it!

Or I did until yesterday.

As I was climbing I noticed a pain in the ass that was unusual. Not the normal pain in the lower back and not a pain from getting used to a saddle or not riding enough. I didn’t really think of it at the time, but when I made the top I noticed a discoloration of the edge of one side of the saddle. When I put stress on it, it was extra spongy. The other side wasn’t as flexible. It was more normal looking and feeling.

So when I had a little time to do some ‘Googling’ again I found that several others have had the same issues. So tonight I’ll dig up the receipt and head over to the LBS for a replacement. I really do like the saddle and would like to keep it, but if it fails again I’ll change to something else.

More on this continuing saga later . . .

It turns out it was the tire

So, I finally took my wheel into the shop to see if they could figure out why I had 4 flats in 2 rides. Turns out there was a blemish in the rear tire sidewall. No idea how I missed it, but I did.

I was up for just replacing the tire, but they don’t carry the Mavic tires, so I replaced it with my old standby, Vittoria. Went on a club ride last night and NO FLATS!! WOOHOO!!

Why I’ll always ask

If you have been reading you’ll know I recently bought new wheels to replace the HED’s I’ve had since I bought my Cervelo. I took my first ride with the Ksyrium‘s on the club (PAA) ride on Saturday. The first thing I noticed was the way these handled bumps. They were much smoother and sounded much different than the HED’s. They were also less ‘jarring.’

Stiffness or deflection under load is important, and to me, these wheels didn’t feel as stiff as the older wheels at least when it came to bumps in the road. Since they are supposedly stiffer than the Bastogne’s this was mildly worrying.

The second thing I noticed was the sounds under braking. These wheels have a special finish on the aluminum to help with braking. Mavic calls their technology for this “Exalith 2.” When under light braking they make a sound kind of like a turbo charger starting up, only in reverse. high pitch, lowering pitch and volume slowing down. Unless you increase pressure then it gets louder. If you grab the brakes hard then they make a god-awful screeching that sets your teeth on edge. It’s so bad that your first instinct is to make it stop by letting up on the brakes, not a good idea if you need to, well, actually STOP. Now I was told to expect that they would make noise, but WOW. Supposedly this will get better as they age. I sure hope so. I make a conscious effort to pull only as hard as I need to minimize the screeching. Later on in the ride we were caught by a much faster group and as we approached a stop light about half the guys in this group had brakes that made the same racket. That made me feel a little better about mine.

Otherwise I couldn’t really tell a big difference between the Mavics and the HEDs. The roll seemed about the same, both very good. The freewheel hub is quite a  bit quieter on the Mavics but not a ton.

These wheels came with tires, or tyres if you like the european spelling. They are Mavic tires and I rather like them. I think I do anyway. About 3/4 through the club ride I get a flat. A pinch flat by the telltale ‘snakebite’ pattern on the tube. I didn’t think too much about this at first. I finished up the ride happy with my purchase.

The next day, Sunday, I wanted to see how they climbed so I decided to ride Glendora Mountain Road, Glendora Ridge Road to Baldy Village and back. At the last minute I realized I didn’t have a spare tube, but it was too early to find a bike shop open. I had a patch kit so I decided I would chance it.

This was a decision I had chance to regret.

The climb was fine and uneventful, though I did feel the effect from the day before’s ride in my legs. I wasn’t as strong as I was the last time I rode this route. I made it to the village, refilled my water bottle and decided to see how I felt riding up toward the ski lifts. Turns out not so great, so after a mile or so I swung around and headed back down. These wheels descended great. The more comfortable handling of bumps made the wheels feel much faster.

I went through the village and started back up GRR and all off sudden the rear wheel shifted under me. Damn, another flat and I had no tube. So I stopped, pulled off the wheel and started hunting for the hole. As is standard a few folks asked if I had everything and for awhile I said sure. Then as the frustration of not finding the hole increased, I broke. The next time I was asked I said no, ‘Do you have a spare tube?” He did, I replaced it and started again.

I managed about 12 miles when “POP, sissssssss!” This time, no graceful, slow deflation. No, a quick POP and all the air left in just a couple of seconds. So I pull over, frustrated right away this time. I think about walking awhile until it dawns on me I still have 9 miles to go. 90% downhill, but still 9 miles. Have you ever walked in bicycle shoes before? 9 miles is LONG way in cycling shoes.

So I stop, pull off the wheel and the tire and start hunting for the puncture. This time I didn’t say ok to the first rider that came along. I asked the first one if he had a spare tube. Turns out it was three gentlemen from the Downey area heading back. Turns out I had also used up all my CO2 so not only did I need a tube I needed a pump. Thank goodness they came along. After swapping out the tube and pumping up the tire I asked if I could descend with them in case I had another blowout.

I would have loved to push harder on the downhill, but my confidence that my tire would hold was gone. I took my time. I could tell with the descent that the wheels were stiffer than my HEDs no matter how they handled bumps, but I didn’t dare push too hard for fear of losing it with a puncture. I could just picture myself doing a “Beloki.” He broke his pelvis and basically ended his career with a rear tire puncture. So I took it easy. But I could tell there was a LOT more speed in these wheels if I dared.

I made it back to the car without incident. Thankfully. I thanked the guys with me, loaded up the car and headed home. I cleaned up and went straight over to the bike shop to get tubes and rim tape as I figured that would help. When I talked to the guy helping me, he said I shouldn’t need it and to bring the wheel(s) in to check it. I didn’t have the wheel with me and figured I would bring in later.

To better understand what was happening I sat in front of the TV and patched all three tubes to see if the punctures were consistent. 2 of the 3 did have ‘snake bites’ but the 3 had a puncture next to the valve stem. I had noticed that the hole in the rim was a little rough in that area.

I have had a similar issue before when I switched tire brands. I finally gave up and went back to Vittorias I have had success with. I like the Mavic tires on these wheels, but I may end up switching back if these punctures continue.

More as I know . . .

The mystery of the creaking . . .

So, During the Ojai Valley Century I began noticing a noise while riding my Cervelo. It sounded like it was in the bottom bracket, but I wasn’t sure. But it sounded kinda like a loose ball bearing rolling around in the area of the bottom bracket. So as soon as I was able I took it to my local bike shop and told them what I heard, fully expecting to need to replace the bottom bracket.

So the afternoon of the second day I get a call from the shop saying my BB was worn, did I want to replace it, I told them yes, please, expecting that would be it, but awhile later I get another call saying my headset was worn, did I want to replace that, sure, go ahead. Then before the evening was out – they said they still hadn’t nailed down the problem, but they did know it went away when they took off the rear wheel. He thought it was probably the hub, it would probably need to be rebuilt.

I wanted to ride the following day so I planned on having him order the parts and I would have the work done when the part came in. When I went in the next day to pick it they still weren’t sure what the issue was, but they did have the part to replace something in the hub ( the casing, I think). I would probably would have remembered what it was had that turned out to be the problem. The mech said it would take about 45 minutes so I went and had a beer in Old Town Pasadena while I waited and came back about an hour later.

But that wasn’t it. He said, “let me show you” This is pretty much the same thing he showed me:

Not my wheel, but it looks the same

Not my wheel, but it looks the same

See the nice crack? Mine was the same, but on nearly every spoke end. YIKES! Can I say now how thankful I am that wheel didn’t explode on me? VERY!

So now I had to replace my wheels. I have a nice bike so I wasn’t going to take a step down. I wanted wheels at least the level of the Bastognes so that meant in the area of $1,000 for a new set. I know next to nothing about wheels so I set about learning what I could.

The mech at my LBS (Local Bike Shop) recommended Mavic Ksyriums but I wasn’t sold. I didn’t want to just buy the first thing, I wanted to think, research and ask my friend who has an interest in the technical, nuts and bolts of bikes. I don’t, I just want a good bike to ride. I don’t really care about the details. I don’t care about the gear ratios or all the little details. Fortunately I don’t have to because I have a good friend that loves that shit.

So I asked him what I should do. My only real condition was I wanted to ride THIS weekend.

His first choice was to build a set. I think I would probably have gone this route if I wasn’t in a hurry. No matter what I chose that would probably take at least a week and probably longer depending. My next step was spending a bunch time on the interwebs combing through reviews and recommendations for wheelsets in my price range. Some of my choices were Shimano Dura-Ace, HED Ardennes, and a few others. My shop and any local shops I was familiar with didn’t carry HED so if I really wanted these I would have to order them.

So on Friday afternoon after work, I talked my friend into ‘shopping’ with me. He had me meet him at Bicycle John’s in Burbank. His LBS of choice. This is great shop and the gentleman that helped me out was not only knowledgable but able to have it all make sense to me. After much discussion about the kind of riding I do and the speeds I can maintain, he recommended the Fulcrum Zero and, again, the Mavic Ksyrium. That was becoming a pattern. I asked him about carbon wheelsets.

I couldn’t afford a “good” set, but could afford an entry level carbon wheelset if I decided that was the right way to go. But I like climbing and with climbing comes descending. And according to this fine gentleman these carbon wheels do not do well with heat. A heavy descent with a lot of braking could cause the wheel to overheat and warp totally ruining a $1K wheelset like THAT!

I asked if he had any of the recommended wheelsets in stock or how long before he could get them and he said no . . .He would have to order and it would only be a couple of days. While I did not buy the wheels from Bicycle John’s I totally recommend this shop. If you live in the Burbank area check it out!

Armed with all my new knowledge I headed back to my LBS (Incycle) to buy wheels. I had it narrowed down to Dura-Ace, Fulcrum and the Mavics. So after talking to the sales guy at Incycle he also was sold on the Ksyriums. He felt the Dura-Ace was not as good a value and they didn’t carry the Fulcrum. So now we were down to the Ksyriums, but which one. There are five different models of this wheel as well as the R-SYS a similar wheelset.

As a newly minted member of the PAA club I get a 15% discount at my LBS so my $1,000 was now around $1,200! So that put most of the line in reach. I didn’t really care for the look of the SLS, Equipe or Elite. It was a bit expensive but with my discount they weren’t TOO far out of my budget, so I asked if he had the SLR’s in stock. He went to check.

When he came back out with the wheels I was sold immediately. I loved how they looked and how they felt. SOLD!

Final choice: Mavic Ksyrium SLR