Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Three Dumb Guys Camping in the Rain

A couple of years ago I posted a little story about "Three Dumb Guys Riding in the Rain." You may choose to consider this post a sequel to that story. You may choose to consider this post evidence that while I am getting older, I'm definitely not getting wiser.

Christine and Eric are back east visiting relatives and Peter is off at grad school in Alaska so this week it's just me and the cat in Issaquah. I have Sunday and Monday off from work, so I leave a couple of bowls of food and water for Purrl Grey and load up my bike for a quick trip to the wilderness. Somehow I've managed to convince my buddies Matt Newlin and Jon Muellner that this trip was a good idea.

I leave home in the early, dark hours and ride the 19 miles from home to the Seattle Ferry Terminal where I meet up with Matt and we catch the 6:10 AM ferry to Bainbridge Island. The morning is mostly clear and a wind from the south urges us north, over the island, through Poulsbo and up to the Hood Canal bridge via Big Valley Road. On the western edge of the bridge we feast on roadside blackberries until Jon rolls up.

Jon is our native guide. He lives in Port Townsend on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula and we figured his local knowledge will guide us to some suitable camping spot. "We'll head down toward Quilcene and then take little roads up into the mountains," he says. "Sounds good," we say.

We head west on 103 and then south on Center Road toward Quilcene. The south wind is bringing weather up from the south and it's relatively slow going to Quilcene. Jon warns us that the local lakes have had toxic algae blooms this summer, so we stop at the local market for some water and provisions. We also stop at the Loggers Landing Cafe. It's before 11:00 AM, so we each have a hearty breakfast. While we're eating, it starts to rain.

Now you have to understand that there is nothing epic about this story. The wind is not fierce, the rain is not harsh, the terrain is not brutal. It's all not even really annoying. It's just enough to make you ask yourself "why are we doing this again?"

Maybe it's to see a part of the world that we haven't seen. Well, Matt and I haven't seen it. Jon leads us south out of Quilcene on 101. We turn on Penny Creek Road and then turn off onto Forest Road 27 where we climb towards Mount Townsend.

The views are probably pretty when not shrouded in drizzle and fog. We climb at a rate of about 1000 feet per hour for several hours. A bit of the road is gravel, but much of it is paved. There is almost no traffic here but at one point a car coming down the road stops and the driver asks us if this road does in fact lead to 101. Jon assures the fellow that it does and we continue climbing.

Somewhere about 4000 feet above Quilcene and 16 or so miles into the rain forest we come to a fork in the road. We also come to the realization that maybe deciding to camp in the rain forest on a rainy day wasn't one of our better ideas. Both forks claim to lead toward the Mount Townsend and Sink Lake trailheads. Jon confidently points us toward the fork that seems to go less up and promises us that we are within a mile or so of where we will camp.

This little gravel road winds for much more than a mile, a little gash clinging to the steep side of a mountain. We keep moving onward, avoiding the deepest puddles, optimism driving us around every bend. "We'll stop when we find anyplace decent to camp" we say.

Or when we run out of road, which is what we did. The road just ends. What continues on from the road end is an overgrown trail that, when explored on foot, yields no good camping prospects. We retreat back to the wide end of the road, where Jon wisely declares victory. "This is the place."

We all have bivy sacks and while I have packed a tiny tarp, Matt has a huge tarp which we quickly put into service. Despite being surrounded by forest, there are only a couple of trees that we can put to any kind of use. Jon scales one to secure one end of the tarp and declares the other to be the tree which will hold our bear bag of food in the night. The mountain and the trees pretty effectively block the wind, so a spindly stick, some cord and a single tent stake secure the other end of the tarp, while some more cord and branches spread the tarp out as a broad shelter. We even manage to channel the water running off the tarp into our water jug.

While these trips may seem like renunciations of the comforts of civilization, they are in fact excercises in the purest form of materialism. We relentlessly critique our equipment. My Kelly Kettle, Jon's stove and Matt's tarp are all declared to be brilliant. Matt decides his bivy sack is way too hydrophillic while Jon figures his old bivy is not breathable enough. I feel like the pig with the house of bricks with my REI minimalist bivy.

We have no great wildlife encounters, no spectacular stories to bring home. "You don't have to blog about this." "No," I counter, "I do. People need to know that these trips aren't all wonderful, gee that's nifty experiences. Sometimes you just have to go out to remember why folks have things like houses and heat and bakeries."

In the morning we pack up and roll down. Breakfast is great and it even stops raining for a bit. Jon rolls back to Port Townsend while Matt and I roll back over the Hood Canal bridge and back home via the Kingston Ferry.

This wasn't an S240 for me. It was more like a day and half with 162 miles of riding and some camping in the rain.

Jon's story of the trip can be found here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I Bike For Pie

My favorite cycling event of the year takes place each August on Bainbridge Island. On Sunday, August 17th, 2008 I joined with a bunch of wise and hungry folks to ride my bike on a picturesque island and eat a bunch of wonderful pie. On returning home, Christine quizzed me about the food.

"What did you have?"

"A slice of pumpkin pie. And a slice of pecan. And a slice of chocolate creme walnut. And a slice of peach pie. And a slice of dutch apple. And then another slice of pecan pie for dessert."

"You had six slices of pie?!?"

"Well, yes. I restrained myself. I didn't want to appear piggish."

The ride itself features a fairly short, flat family-friendly route from Winslow to Fort Ward park and while the ride has no fee, the local bike club, Squeaky Wheels, raise funds by selling T-shirts and taking donations. Club members and local businesses provide all the pies and do all the work of setting up the ride. It's a great deal for everyone. Riders get a great ride with wonderful pie, the club makes some money and everyone has a good time. I paid twenty bucks and got a very full stomach and a t-shirt that proclaims that "I Bike For Pie."

This past week one of the panelists on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! commented about Olympian Michael Phelps' prodigious calorie intake. He observed "I don't think Americans are overweight because we eat too much, we're overweight because we swim too little!" I'm not much of a swimmer, but I do try to bike enough to burn off all those pie calories. I took the long, hilly way home, but I still don't think the 52 miles of Bainbridge Hills and Issaquah Alps quite evened the score. It's probably a good thing that the Bike For Pie Ride only happens once a year.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jon Billman's Great Divide Story

In 2007 Jon Billman competed in the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race. His terrific story of the race appears in the August 2008 issue of Outside Magazine and can be read online here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bicycle Zombie Slayer

The brilliant cartoonist Ken Avidor has a great panel from "Bicycle Zombie Slayer" in issue #137 of Dirt Rag. Ken's book Roadkill Bill is a particular favorite of mine and I'm hoping Bicycle Zombie Slayer will also evolve into a full length book.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nashbar Front Rack

While there are plenty of rear racks available for bicycles, front racks are harder to find. The Nashbar Front Rack works well for small loads and it mounts to the brake canti bosses. I've used this rack on various bikes of mine and my friend Matt Newlin uses one on the back of his bike as a saddlebag support.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bike For Pie

The Bike For Pie ride is next Sunday. Details are here:

Goodbye StuM2y, Hello Special Ed

Astute readers of this blog might have noticed that I have a bit of a fondness for bicycles. Long time readers may have also noticed that on any given day "my bike" may be in fact a different bike than the one I owned yesterday. Managing a place like Bike Works certainly provides me with lots of opportunities to experiment. Edison once said "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." Bike Works is the ultimate junk pile. My friend Mark Vande Kamp put it a bit differently, "you're like a drug addict whose managing a pharmacy!"

The latest bike out of the lab is what you see here. Special Ed is an old Specialized Stumpjumper but, as I pointed out to my wife, my personal bike fleet still remains at three: I have one road bike, one mountain bike and one folding bike. Special Ed replaces StuM2y, my previous Specialized Stumpjumper.

So why replace one Stumpjumper with another? Aside from the obvious "because I can" answer, Special Ed differs from StuM2y in a couple of ways. StuM2y had a red, aluminum frame with vertical dropouts. Special Ed's black, Cr-Mo frame has semi-horizontal dropouts.

Special Ed comes from that brief period of time when people thought putting a U-brake underneath the chainstays was a good idea. In hindsight it seems obvious that putting a brake in a spot where it can get bashed by rocks and gather up all the crud kicked off of the crank is a bad idea but a lot of crazy things came out of the 80's. At least Special Ed doesn't sport one of those neon purple and green Miami Vice paint-jobs.

Even before he knew I was building it up for myself, my colleague Dan Boxer commented that Special Ed looks "like a Kent Peterson bike."
Black tape over the most garish logos. Custom coroplast fenders stealthed up with black duct tape and set up for massive mud clearance. Armadillo tires. Front and rear racks. And just one gear. 46 by 20 fixed.

Riding fixed means I can gladly toss that U-brake in the parts bin. The deraillers and the extra chainrings and cogs go there too. The rear wheel gets re-spaced, re-dished and the 20-tooth cog got stomped on good and tight. Note that if I was building this bike for anyone else I'd probably either go with a real fixed hub with a lockring or dual brakes but I'm willing to trust my own life to my gear-stomping, lock-tighting and judicious use of my big old Kool-Stopping front brake. If anybody wants to know how to do this kind of conversion, Sheldon has a great page on the subject here.

I donated StuM2y to Bike Works Friday morning and sold it to a commuter about an hour later. I rode Special Ed home Friday night

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Why Fixed Gear Bikes Are Better On Ice

We're in the midst of what passes for a heatwave here in the Pacific Northwest and somehow I find myself involved in an email discussion about setting up a bike for riding in icy conditions. I'm reminded that I heard once that Jack London wrote one at least some of his famous Yukon stories on a sweltering passage through the tropics and in that spirit I've extracted (with the permission of the other emailers) bits of our discussion of how Nate should build up his winter bike.

Nate wrote:

Fixed or SS?
Any benefit to either in inclement weather?

Michael replies:

You don't get that dérailleur thingy all covered in the omnipresent road grime.

If you go SS you can't join the Sunday morning rides out of River City Bikes.

Real suggestion: get a flip wheel and find out for yourself.

Kent adds:

Fixed definitely has the edge in dicey conditions. You know exactly how much traction you have. I blogged about that phenomena here:

Note, this post predates my days of studded tire ownership. But the ultimate winter commuter would be a fixie with studded tires.

Michael then asks:

That would be because you're never not pedaling on a fixed. You don't think you'd get the same effect by never coasting? ie, is the fixed benefit because it's already there by default.

Nate adds:

I can see benefits to both ss and fixed in the ice. When approaching a known trouble spot, I like being able to approach it in a confident position and coast through it without changing position or momentum on the bike. Just passing silently like a ship through the fog.

But I can see the benefit of fixed for the overall trip. More instant feedback of what you are riding over.

The rear wheel I'll be using is a flip flop, so I'll try it both ways and see how it goes.

I'm taking my frame/fork in for a fresh powder coat this week and will begin building it back up, hopefully finishing before the weather gets cold. Because of clearance concerns, I'll probably go with the Nokian A10 700x32. Even though this is the smallest available 700c studded tire, fender clearance is still going to be tight, so I may be ashioning my first ever set of custom coroplast fenders.

Kent clarifies the fixed advantage thusly:

Michael, here's why the fixed on ice is NOT THE SAME as a single speed. First off let's assume that you actually never do coast your single speed. That makes you absolutely unique on the planet, BTW and leads to the question of why you bother lugging a freewheel mechanism along in the first place. But let's say you do that. Now let's take the case of deceleration, also known as slowing down. You can only slow by applying your rim or disk brakes. In both cases, the mechanism is the same, pads that interface with a rotating surface. Since brakes don't just stop you instantly (you wouldn't want them too!), the brake pads slide along the rotating surface. You increase and decrease pressure to control your velocity.

But (and this is the important thing) you have no way of knowing what slip you are getting comes from the pad/rim interface or the tire/road interface. So you think "hmm, I'm not slowing fast enough, maybe I'll squeeze the brakes more. If the slip is in the pad/rim interface, that will slow you more but if the slip is in the tire/road interface, you worsen your skid.

On the fixed, much of your velocity modulation is via your legs. Even when you use your other brakes, you get the feedback of your legs together with the action of the other brakes. This lets you do the same kind of calculation a modern automobile does when applying its anti-lock brakes, comparing the rotating speed of the wheel with the braking inputs to determine if a wheel is skidding. On a fixed gear bicycle, your brain can do this automatically, in real time. On a coasting bike, you don't have the data to do this calculation.

While slips and skids are most common in deceleration, they can also occur on acceleration. Wouldn't a freewheel and fixed be equal there? Nope. Even a very tightly engaging freewheel mechanism (say a Chris King) will have a bit of slop before it engages. Fixed gear bikes also are never perfect and have a bit of slop but it's almost always less than the slop in a freewheel. And when pulling out from a stop, it's hard to tell if the slip you are getting is from slop in the drivetrain or the tire slipping on the road. Minimizing drivetrain slip makes road slip more noticeable.

Finally, in sub-freezing conditions, freewheels sometimes become sluggish in having their pawls engage. Back in Minnesota every winter I'd see freewheel pawls freeze, making the freewheel spin freely in both directions. Running light lube in the mechanism and keeping water out usually prevents this, as does warming the freewheel/freehub above freezing but fixed gear drive-trains are immune to this particular problem. Various riders on rides like the Ididasport and the Arrowhead 135 have kept a fixed cog in reserve for extremely cold conditions.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sweet Bear-Loving

The Bike Works Program Staff are out guiding a bunch of kids on a two week bicycle tour of the Olympic Peninsula. The note above is still up in the classroom. For those of you unable to decipher my bad cell-phone picture, the text reads:





** ANY KIND **

The phrase "sweet bear-loving" has managed to crop up in many conversations over the past few days.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Biking With Brad

Normally, my virtual weekend is Sunday-Monday, but this past week a visiting friend and the scheduling needs of one of the other mechanics at Bike Works let me swap my days off. As it turns out, plans to go camping with my visiting pal didn't work out but we had a nice visit at the shop on Thursday morning. Another buddy of mine, Brad Hawkins, had independently cooked up a bike trip out along the Iron Horse Trail for Friday-Saturday so Brad and I had a great trip.

Brad recently got himself one of these blog-thingies of his own, so you can read all about our trip and see some pictures by going here:

and here: