Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bicycling Around Vashon Island

Each year the Seattle International Randonneurs host a series of early season rides designed to get folks ready for the brevet series. For the past few years the series has included a ride around Vashon Island, a hilly chunk of land tucked in the middle of Puget Sound and a fifteen minute ferry ride away from west Seattle. Somehow, every year I've managed to be doing something else on the day of the ride and until today, I'd never been on Vashon Island. But I decided that 2007 would be my year to ride Vashon.

So I'm out the door at 5:32 AM and it's a beautiful, albeit dark, morning. The sun is just coming up as I wait for the West Seattle bridge to pivot back into place. This bridge rotates to allow ships to pass and it's the first time I've seen the bridge in action. Today is a day for firsts, it's also the first I've ridden with my SIR pals this year. There have been four previous Le Paysage à Vélo rides so far this year but I've been doing other things on the previous Saturdays.

I see some of the other SIR folks unloading their bikes from their cars at a parking lot not far from the Fauntleroy ferry terminal but I'm pretty much a charter member of the "ride to the ride" club. It's forty kilometers from my place to the ferry terminal and, of course, it's forty kilometers back. I suppose some folks would figure it's silly to ride 80 kilometers just to get to and from a 75 kilometer ride, but when you think about it the whole randonneuring thing is kind of silly. But nobody sticks with this sport if they don't like riding their bikes and if you like riding your bike, why wouldn't you ride it as much as you can?

I'm early enough to watch one ferry go off toward the island but that gives me time to get a cup of robo-coffee and some Gummi Worms from the vending machines in the terminal. A bunch of my fellow riders roll up and we chat about bikes and life until next ferry shows up. Peter Beeson and Max Maxon have the sign-in sheets and the cue-cards. We all get our papers in order and roll onto the ferry.

Even though I've never been on Vashon, I've heard a lot about it. The word I've heard the most is "hills" and Vashon doesn't disappoint in the hill department. As soon as we leave the ferry, we climb a hill that goes up about five-hundred feet in the first mile. By the way, being a randonneur in America pretty much makes you bilingual in terms of distances and I've resigned myself to mixing miles, kilometers, feet and meters. It's all just stuff you have to go up, down and over and as near as I can tell the world doesn't care how I happen to be measuring it. Anyway, right now I'm measuring it in gears. I brought a lot of them with me today and I've currently got my chain on the little ring up front and one of the bigger cogs in the back. Peter McKay comments about how it's strange to see me on a bike with a derailleur but I tell him that I'm finding that clever little device rather handy at this moment. Of course, Bob Brudvik manages to motor away from both of us, manfully turning the cranks on his single-speed Bianchi San Jose. But Bob is a tough guy. I'm thinking that maybe I should have brought along a rope and some pitons instead of just a derailleur and a big collection of gears.

Things level out a bit and then we turn right and dive down Burma Road. I never knew asphalt could stick to a cliff, but apparently it can. I'm still running my SnowStud tires and I'm grateful for every grippy little carbide stud and sticky bit of rubber. Climbing the Vashon hills is a test of leg strength, but descending some of those hills is a test of faith and bike handling. Brakes squeal, riders squeal and some of us pray to the gods of Koolstop.

The terrain blasts the group into sub-groups and solo efforts. I watch the fast, brave guys disappear off the front but I'm pretty sure there are a fair number of folks behind me. Since I'm new to the island, I'm kind of following the cue sheet and mostly following the riders who are just a bit ahead of me.

Cue sheets and cycle-computers rarely correspond perfectly and roadsigns don't always mesh with the names on the sheet. Somehow my point group misses a turn or goes left instead of right at some key spot. I'd been following a confident looking group that is now stopped and looking considerably less confident. I add nothing to the discussion except to confirm my lack of familiarity with the terrain and express my vague sense that we are somehow off course.

We dead reckon our way toward where we think we should be and when we pass the coffee stand that Peter had mentioned, I'm pretty sure I know what we've done. But the rest of the crew is charging on and I figure I'll follow along. My suspicion is we are now on course but going the wrong way.

My notion is confirmed when I see Brian rolling down the road towards me. Brian is one of SIR's fastest riders and he's also a pretty good navigator. I glance behind me to make things are clear, pull a u-turn and follow Brian back to the coffee stand. Brian has a fair number of riders in his wake and we all stop for coffee and snacks.

The fast guys don't stick around long but some of us take our coffee and pastries seriously. The coffee seems to activate the navigation circuits in my brain and remind me that I tend to do better when I'm watching the cue-sheet and the road and not trying to stay on the wheel of somebody faster. Wayne, Mitchell and I all head out about the same time, along with a few other folks I don't know.

There's still is a bunch of up and down but now and then the road is actually flat in places. I do manage to hit 62 kilometers per hour on one descent and I probably could have gone faster if I didn't have the SnowStuds on. My tires buzz on the pavement and on rare times when I do pass somebody, they always know I'm coming. It's a warm February day and I'm rethinking my pledge to keep the snow tires on through March. But I have this vague dread that if I take them off, we'll get hit with another week of icy weather.

We find one of the speedier riders pulled over with a flat. His spare tube has a bad valve and he's running skinnier tires than most of us, but Mitchell comes through with a tube that's small enough to fit this fellow's tire.

I'm mostly not taking pictures on the fly but Mitchell calls my attention to a bald eagle perched in a tree off to our right so we stop and I take a picture.

We're all back at the ferry terminal between 12:30 and 12:45 and we take the 12:50 ferry back to Fauntleroy.

Apparently Bob Brudvik didn't get enough of a workout riding Vashon on his single speed. Tomorrow, he's going to ride a 204 kilometer Whidbey-LaConner permanent!


Tammy said...

"some of us take our coffee and pastries seriously". Word.

I just realized, we have NEVER ridden together. That's a situation we should rectify sometime soon. :)

rob hawks said...

Ok. I give up. How does Bob B. change
his rear tire or fix flats with rearward
facing forks on the rear and fenders?

Anonymous said...

Rock On...

Them there hills sound very much like a "Rough, but fun, day at the office".

Gravity, I ain't afraid of no stinkin' gravity-


Kent Peterson said...

I'm always surprised how many people think rearward facing forks and fenders are a big problem. I've had this situation on various bikes (my Kogswell Model G, a Redline 925, and a Schwinn Madison) and it just isn't an issue. First off, there tends to be more fender clearance than you think there is. Second, fenders flex a bit. Third, rubber flexes especially if you're changing a flat. You just position the wheel before you reinflate the tire.

If things are really snug, you could undo the rear fender stays but I've never had to do that on any of my bikes and I don't think Bob has to bother with that on his San Jose.

But a bunch of folks seem to think it's a big issue and go for more complex solutions like eccentric bottom brackets (which do help with things like consistent disk brake placement) but really aren't needed for the fender thing.

I've actually seen more problems with tire clearance on some frames with forward facing horizontal dropouts. The chainstay bridge is the limiting factor there and unlike a fender, it doesn't move. You pretty much have to use the deflate the tire trick there and even then there is a limit on how big a tire you can squeeze in.

Anonymous said...

Nice travelogue - and great photos! I can't believe that guy did that terrain on a SINGLE speed!

Michael said...

Does the passenger ferry still run between downtown Seattle and Vashon?

rob hawks said...

Ok. Properly chastened re the fender/track forks issue. I can understand reason #1 and #3 but #2 is what made me think this operation required care. I am one that tries not to flex his metal fenders so what I immediately thought was he loosens the clamps to gain clearance. Ok. Wrong on that count. From the perspective of one that re-inflates his tires when they are off the bike, that too is where I thought there might be some concern. I guess the rear mud guard obscures the extra clearance in the photo.

I met Bob briefly at the end of the
Cascade 1200 last summer. Clearly he
chooses his set-ups after many miles
of input. I just didn't see the easy
way, but I knew there had to be one.

Allison Shirk said...

The PO Boat does still run between Vashon and Seattle...but only during commuting times on weekdays.

-An islander