Thursday, August 06, 2015

Cleaning a bike.

Cleaning a bike is one of those tasks I really don't put much thought into. Generally I give the frame a touch up with a rag once a week or so and lube the chain when needed. A few rainy rides have left the Niner looking more than a little bit muddy and since it was sititng in the back of the car when I visited the car wash today I decided to get my money's worth.

There's a couple of schools of thought on bike cleaning. There's the damp-cloth-wipedown brigade and the 'hose it off' school. I suspect the former is typical of most roadies and the latter of mountain bikers. In this case - a medium dirty bike - 60 seconds with a pressure washer saved me a lot of work.

Whether you're using a garden hose or a pressure washer like the one I used at a commercial car wash it's ok - and often far better - to spray your bike clean when it's caked with mud. There's just a couple of things you'll want to keep in mind.

Firstly, make sure you remove anything that doesn't like getting wet. Erring on the side of caution, this would include most cheap lights and certainly any electronic gear like Garmins or other GPS devices and the like, which will do just fine in a rain shower but might not fare too well if they cop a high pressure blast. If you have a Brooks or other leather saddle, or leather handlebar tape, you will want to make sure that they're covered or otherwise spared. (I have no experience with electronic shifting ensembles, so ask your local bike shop.)

The other tip is that high-pressure water doesn't do the grease in bearings any favours, so don't go directing the spray at hubs or bottom brackets. (If there's a choice, skip the soapier settings.) One easy way of avoiding the most vulnerable areas is to give the most of frame a going over from the sides, keeping away from the hubs and BB shell and finishing the job by doing the hubs and BB areas from the front and rear. The Niner has full-length internal cable housings so I wasn't too worried about getting water in them, which is another potential problem. In most cases it's also best to steer clear of your handlebar tape too if you're planning to ride too soon after the wash because most modern types are nice and spongy and take a while to dry out.

I didn't have anything with me to wipe the bike down today, but fortunately they're pretty robust beasts. I bounced the Niner a couple of times to shake off the excess water. Before I ride tomorrow I'll wipe down the chain and relube it and the pivot points on my dérailleurs and we're good to go again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Randonneuring in China

Having been to China a few times and done a spot of cycling there, I'm a keen follower of how the sport of randonneuring is developing there. Randonneurs of China have a great Facebook group which Hans Ngo keeps bubbling away. Having organised a small outpost of audax in Australia, it's hard to imaging the challenges of being the front man for a rapidly expanding sport in a nation of more than one billion people. Hans had caught the eye of the mainstream media, theres's a lovely writeup on the club in the California Magazine. Highly recommended. I hope to do a ride there one day.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


I'm having a play with different ways of presenting stories. Here's a little collection of images I've put together of some of my favourite gravel riding photos from the last few years. Most of them have had an outing on this blog, but it's never a bad time for a 'best of' album.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bracken Ridge.

Home through the rain.
Thanks to a lingering cough, which I suspected wasn't going to be helped by a day riding in the rain in near-zero temperatures, I decided to sit this one out. Given I didn't have much else to do I decided to follow the guys along in the car and get some photos.

The first climb out of Glen Huon.
The circuit is a classic loop from Huonville, out towards Judbury then up the steep climb of Bermuda Road. It's a particularly steep pinch to begin with, although it levels out for some temporary relief before heading up again on even rougher roads. Once up the top there's a fire trail down towards the bridge across the Huon River near the Ta Ann veneer mill.

Nearing the top.
I shadowed the group of five who had set out for the ride despite the dire weather forecast, leapfrogging them with my iphone camera for a bit and then with a fancy SLR one of the riders had brought with him - which made my task more fun and his a little lighter.

I had to drive a longer loop around possibly the best bit of the ride, which is the descent of Bracken Ridge. By all accounts it was a bit of a stretch for road bikes in the wet today.

Once over the Huon River Bridge, the return journey is a pretty nice ride most days, with the possible exception of the climb up the back side of Denison Hill. The forecast snow held off and while the temperature was low and it rained intermittently nobody seemed to be complaining too much. Out loud anyhow.

It's not hard to be reminded why we like riding these roads so much and why gravel bikes are enjoying such popularity at the moment. I saw about three cars in 60+ kilometres. We basically had the road to ourselves.

Once Denison Hill is crossed, the finish is in sight. True it's 20km back to Hounville but the worst of the climbs are over, which is a welcome development for tired legs.

After a few more photos shelters by the tailgate of the car, I left the guys in peace to complete the ride. Despite the weather and the mud it looks like everyone had a fun time.

2827km so far this year.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Oppy 2015

It's no secret that the Oppy - properly known as the Fleche Opperman All-Day Trial - is my favourite ride. There's a lot to like about the Oppy, the challenging distance, the night riding, the company of like-minded folk on a most enjoyable jaunt. This year was my sixth Oppy in Victoria, having completed in 2013, 2011, 2009, 2008 and 2007. This year, the Tasmanian contingent in the famed Lancefield Lairs was doubled, with Hugh coming along for the ride as well.

There's always a lot of preparation for this ride for me. These days it involves packing a lot of gear into a bike box, a flight from Hobart to Melbourne and the unpacking and travel at the end. I caught up with Hugh at Melbourne Airport and we bundled our gear into a hire car and set off for Lancefield where Andy kindly fed us and put us up for the night.

The course for this ride is a matter for the each team captain, subject to the rules of covering 360km in 24 hours from 8am Saturday, at least 25 of them in the last two hours. Steve chose a familiar route, up through central Victoria, turning west and ducking briefly into NSW before a night stop and the ride back down to Rochester, with stops every 60 or so kilometres for food and a wee rest. Our team was a strong one, overflowing with Oppy and Audax experience.

The scenery in Victoria is unlike that of Tasmania. For a start, the place is astonishingly flat. We cruised along on the road to Seymour and I marvelled at how little climbing there was. I always argue it's one of the reasons cycling is so popular in the state. 

On we rolled, making reasonable time, despite more than our fair share of punctures and a broken spoke. A brief bout with an upset stomach slowed me down for a bit either side of the lovely town of Dookie, so I lived on gels for a few dozen kilometres and waited for things to sort themselves out, which fortunately they did. Aside from that, I seemed to be travelling pretty well, none of the normal neck pain I get on longer rides, and the contact points of hands, feet and bum were also going ok. 

Nightfall provided a welcome drop in temperature from the 30 degrees of late afternoon. Not long after out pizza stop we donned our reflective vests and sailed off into the setting sun. It's a nice time to be out on the bike.

The wind, which was predicted to be a challenge for us, rose a little in the night - but not so much as to make the riding unpleasant. The stronger riders took the front and the rest of us were content to travel along in their wake. The chatter of earlier in the day died down to almost nothing as the evening wore on, a sure sign we were getting weary. The final 30km into Moama is a favourite of mine, a mixture of very ridable roads and the proximity of a decent rest.

We reached our night stop at the caravan park in the very early hours of Sunday. A 3am arrival and a quick shower meant only a couple of hours sleep before the 6am departure. No sooner had my head hit the pillow than I was out like a light.

The alarm sounded what seemed like a few seconds later. A quick breakfast and we were back on our way, this time into a stiff headwind. Although we had left a few minutes late we seemed to have plenty of time to finish the last 30km even at the slightly-sub 20km/h speeds we were managing.

After the first hour or so, it was apparent we weren't making terrific time. I did some mental calculations but I wasn't overly worried because we'd had tight finishes before. Not far from town we spotted the riders from the Lair's Petite Oppy (180km) team waiting for accompany us to the finish. A few riders stopped and a few of us continued on at a stately pace.

A few minutes down the road the second group was not longer in sight - which seemed a little odd. We continued on and discussed what it might all mean. It didn't make sense they'd all dropped off the pace, it must have been a mechanical problem or a puncture. The clock continued to tick down. With a dozen minutes and less than two kilometres to go, we pulled over to the side of the road. What would this mean for our finishing hopes?

The time ticked by with no sign of our teammates of the last 24 hours and our Petit Oppy comrades. There were murmurs of consternation and debate about what course to take but we waited somewhat confident that they would be along in good time. Then the lights appeared, far down the road and drew towards us, slowly at first and then more quickly. Happily reunited we were on our way once more, the final distance being a bit shorter than we had reckoned. We arrived at the Oppy statue in Rochester with three minutes to spare. 

Another year, another most memorable ride.

1703km so far this year.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Short term review: Vittoria Open Pave CG tyres.

Well loved Shimano R500 wheels and Vittoria Open Pave CG's. Pretty much indestructible.
Anyone who has done much riding will tell you that wheels - and in particular tyres - are the most important single component if you're seeking to get the best performance out of your bike. But like with most things in life, there's a trade off with tyres: light fast tyres tend not to be tough or long-lasting and are more prone to punctures, heavier tyres are more durable but tend not to roll as nicely. I've tried quite a few different tyres and have found some which had great potential they never quite lived up to. For example I was a big fan of the Grand Bois tyres initially for their lovely supple ride, but found their high price, lack of puncture protection and short lifespan too much of a hurdle to overcome.

Enter the Vittoria Open Pave CG. The kind folk at Abbotsford Cycles sent me of the 25mm wide model of these these tyres to test. They are the clincher version of a distinctive green-banded tubular tyre popular with the pros on rides like the Paris-Roubaix. They're a nice, light folding tyre - sub 300g - and they look the part right out of the box. They were easy to fit and the light file tread reminded me of the Vittoria racing tubulars I used to use in days of old. The sidewall and tread appear to be smartly a single piece of rubber, eliminating a weak spot I found a fatal flaw on the Challenge Griffos. 
By Tasmanian standards, this is a very very nice gravel road.

I have been running the Open Pave's for a couple of weeks now in all conditions and I have to say I'm most impressed. On the tarmac, they are smooth and fast and responsive like a good light high pressure road tyre. They roll along with a pleasant hum, their grip is impressive - inspiring confidence in the wet. But they also handle dirt road astoundingly well. I've given these tyres an absolute pounding on the sub-standard roads around home. Even my venerable Gatorskins develop cuts and small holes over time and repeated gravel runs, but there's not yet a mark on the Open Pave's. 


In general, only a madman rolls down bumpy dirt roads with 100psi in their tyres as it's generally a recipe for shaking the fillings out of your teeth. The Open Paves have a suppleness to them that - while it certainly doesn't made the ride plush - certainly smooths out the bumps and reduces the road buzz far better than anything else of the same width. 

I note the Open Paves' are available in a 27mm tyre as well, which would probably be more to my liking for the sorts of conditions I ride in regularly where the road changes from tarmac to gravel and back every ten kilometres or so on some of the quieter routes I prefer. I'm going to use them in the 360km Oppy ride coming up in a couple of weeks in preference to the red Rubino Pros I usually ride on long road events. 

A few of the online reviews I've read have suggested the Open Paves are a good commuter or winter tyre, but I think this is selling them well short. This is a tyre perfect for spirited road riding in all conditions. They're an ideal tyre for Audax cycling, combining the elusive mix of fast-rolling, toughness, suppleness and strength. I'll keep riding these to see how well they last but at this early stage I like them so much that when they wear out, I'm definitely buying another set.

Yes, I have tested lots of different tyres!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Audax Wuthering Heights 150km

Stunning riding through tall forests on the way back from Bronte Lake.
Each year a talented and handsome ride organiser, who I shall call Chris, runs a ride that centres on a fishing lodge at Bronte Lake in the central highlands of Tasmania. There's the option to ride 150km up and back or 200km each way with a night of convivial company and tall stories in between. Sadly last year I missed this ride and was determined not to do so again.

Unfortunately the weather bureau intervened. The forecast Saturday was for heavy rain, including thunderstorms. Not I'm not saying I was looking for an excuse but the idea of getting up at 5am to ride 150km uphill in the rain didn't appeal as much as perhaps it should have - not matter how keen I am to get some miles in. 

Leaving Bronte Lake on the short stretch of gravel.

As it turned out, the forecast was disappointingly wrong. Hugh and I caught a lift up to the lakes with Chris, passing the trio of diehards as they ground up the final steep climb. Purely out of courtesy, we didn't crack a beer before their arrival but instead rode out to meet them and escort them in after their hard day's toil. There followed a night of superb food, a few drinks and apparently some snoring in the bunkroom.

By agreement, the 200km lads set off an hour ahead of us for their out and back loop with the intention of catching up up later in the day. Nathan and I turned our wheels eastward and enjoyed warm and warm conditions as we swooped through the gorges and valleys on the way to Ouse, where we ate our fill of roadhouse tucker.

Long downhills and open country in the Derwent Valley.
Underway again, Chris passed us on his way home and informed us that Hugh was breathing down our necks. He caught us at the end of the long and very pleasurable descent into New Norfolk and the three of us made a happy paceline to the finish at the Cenotaph. As I'd left my car at Chris' house, we had 10km to go, which made for the perfect imperial century for the day, as Hugh demonstrated his superior fitness and all-round athleticism by outpacing easily me on the final hills. All the same, I was happy with what was for me a solid day in the saddle. 

A superb ride, thanks to Chris for putting it on. I'm been to travel both ways under my own power next year. Some video highlights below.

879km so far this year.

Monday, February 02, 2015

It shouldn't be this hard.

Update: A very nice sergeant from Tasmania Police has been in touch and has spoken to the driver concerned. A good result.

On March 6 last year I was out riding with a friend when a driver drew level with me, suddenly floored his accelerator and fishtailed left and right, his tires squealing. He repeated the performance when he passed my riding companion who was perhaps 30m up the street. On both occasions he missed us by no more than with width of a set of handlebars. Not far up the road the driver pulled into his property. He yelled abuse as we passed. He was unsteady on his feet and appeared to be drunk.

What was particularly strange about this incident was it with that we both immediately recognised the driver as a man who was on bail while awaiting a hearing for serious driving offences. We continue on our ride and and called police about 20 minutes later. As the only officer in the area were busy we agreed to make report at the police station in Huonville the following day. An officer made a cursory show of taking the details of our complaint on a scrap of paper. We told him we believed we knew who the driver and gave him a brief outline of the incident and the vehicle's numberplate details. The officer asked us what action we would like taken and said he would be back in touch to take our statements. 

That was 10 months ago. Neither of us have anything since despite a couple of calls and going to the police station a couple of times each. In the meantime the driver we believe was responsible has been found guilty and sentenced on charges relating to an incident in which a cyclist was killed. I can't say I've ever had much faith that the police would take our report very seriously - in fact I wrote out my own statement later the following die so I could recall the details if required. 

Three weeks ago, a motorist on Sandy Bay Road in Hobart - in a hurry to get to the beach - passed within about 10cm of my right elbow as he impatiently sped through a gap between a parked car and median strip in which I happen to be cycling. I had a GoPro mounted under my saddle which was turned on at the time and caught the incident. (The clip is at the top of this post.) The following day I reported that incident to police and the familiar pattern repeated itself. Again the report was taken on a scrap of paper, not an official form or notepad or on a computer. My offer of the video evidence on a memory stick was declined. Again I have heard nothing from the police since I made the report.

Two incidents don't necessarily paint a complete picture of how Tasmania Police respond incidents involving cyclists, but I can't help but think the complete lack of interest shown in each case reflects a pattern of unfortunate indifference. In a week in which the state's peak motorcycle body called for cyclists to be forced to carry number plates one wonders what earthly difference that would make as a safety measure when nobody seems to be particularly interested in enforcing the safety measures we have now. 

There are a lot of things that need to change about the law and how it protects vulnerable road users. Since we're discouraged from taking the law into our own hands, getting the police to do their job would be fine start.

469km so far this year.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Keep on Trucking

In all its laden glory.
For reasons I will never understand, the local motorcycling association this week called for a registration scheme and number plates for cyclists. The debate that follow reinforced for me the golden rule, not just for cyclists, but also anyone who doesn't want to be forever terrified by the uninformed opinions of the general public: "never read the comments section". Maybe it's also time to start ignoring the articles above as well. One thing that amuses me about the occasional call of this nature from the uninformed is that my household owns seven bikes, which would make registering them all I real pain and one which would serve no practical effect for anyone.

Some of my early lighting experiments were not pretty.
One of the bikes I have been neglecting a bit lately is my trusty old Surly Long Haul Trucker, which featured a fair bit more back in the early days of this blog – which I notice is now approaching 10 years old! I bought this bike, in an awful shade of snot green, way back when I decided to get back into cycling. I had half a mind to try Audax riding and I was under the impression that was far more made up of blokes on touring bikes plodding through the countryside than it eventually turned out to be. I also had grand visions of overseas touring which haven't yet eventuated in quite the way I had pictured. Nonetheless my Long Haul Trucker put in excellent service as I commuted year-round in Melbourne bearing all sorts of horrible pre-LED era lighting rigs and was a reliable if unglamorous steed on my first few long rides and an excellent touring bike for laden adventures. It is not particularly fast but it is comfortable and solid and reliable. It's also the only bike I have ever owned which rides better with a load than without. 

Touring in South Australia.
In the last few years, unfortunately I haven't done as many miles on the Trucker which is a bit of a shame because it is an excellent bike. At the beginning of a global financial crisis the Australian government gave every taxpayer a cheque for $900, most of which I spent on this bike - building a new set of wheels and putting a new crankset on it. A few months ago I put a set of flat handlebars on it took to work in the hope that I be able to use it to get around town during the day but it just didn't work out so it ended up back in the shed.

At lunch yesterday with some cycling mates, a few of us started talking about touring adventures and touring bikes. It occurred to me was time to take the Trucker out for a run once more. I spent a couple of hours this morning replacing the handlebars and tuning the brakes and transferring an old Brooks saddle from my damaged Crosscheck. After a few tweaks she was as good as new and I went for a ride into town in the wind. I really enjoy riding this bike, and the super-low touring gears made a short work of the final hill up to my place. I have a week off coming up soon. Something tells me it might be time to dig out the panniers and take the Trucker for a blast.

312km so far this year.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Audax Bruny Lighthouse Dash 120km

Bruny Island is quickly shaping up as one of my favourite cycling destinations in Southern Tasmania. There really is a lot to like about the place. It's an island of great scenic beauty, there is relatively little traffic and even the hills aren't too steep or long by Tasmanian standards. It is almost a perfect destination for an Audax ride. I am probably going to rave about this weekend's ride at some length so I beg forgiveness in advance. I hope the photographs make up for the wordiness.

All audacious riders aboard the Bruny Island ferry. Photo by John Bown.
I put the Bruny Lighthouse Dash on the Audax calendar some time ago and while other things have occupied the front of my mind for the last few months I was always conscious that this event was coming up and going to be a lot of fun and had been looking forward to it very much. It turned out to be even better than my expectations, which is saying something.

Sunday turned out pretty much as forecast – warm and still and clear, the type of of summer’s day that really highlights how great it is to live in this part of the world. Unfortunately this time of year is also pretty busy in Tasmania because it is an extended run of generally pretty good weather and because there's a lot on, so there was a few people who with regrets couldn't make it. In the end there were seven starters – which is not bad for a new event – and we gathered at Kettering to catch the 7:45am ferry. A little less organised that I usually like to be, I managed to distribute brevet cards and give some final instructions as we crossed the picture-perfect waters of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. A few minutes after 8am, the ferry had docked and we were off.

And that was the last I saw of everyone for hours. At any rate the solitude was most pleasant.
Now Bruny is a lovely destination and all the rest but it does come with one significant drawback –there's a solid climb about the start and finish of every ride you care to try. Knowing that the other riders were all pretty strong, I had a plan of how I wanted to get through the day so I let them draw away on that first long drag up from the ferry and was content just to spin away in low gear. No sense in exerting myself too much too early I reasoned. Quickly the others disappeared from view and I was left in my own thoughts and quiet contemplation of the perfect conditions.

For various reasons it's been a while since I've done all that much riding of any great distance and I wanted to make sure and I kept a steady pace so that I wasn't as wrung out at the end of the ride as I have been on previous expeditions to the island. So I stuck to my plan and took it easy, taking in the sites as the road wound south towards the neck, switching from tarmac to gravel and back, and rose again on the gentle hills which signalled the approach to Alonnah. On a Sunday morning there is not a lot of traffic on Bruny Island and what traffic there is tends to come in short bursts as the ferry brings daytrippers across from Kettering every hour or so and they fan out to their destinations. 

The obligatory handlebar level photograph. Nice shot of my duelling scar too
I had not planned to stop and eat but the shop at Alonnah was open and I wasn't in a rush so I took a short break and refilled my water bottles and and wolfed down and egg and bacon roll. I was conscious of the fact that there were no facilities for the next 50km.

Underway again I rolled over the hills south of the tiny town, riding for the first time on roads I have not ridden before. The gravel road briefly became rough then improved as it passed from council control into the National Park. I noted a couple of short steep descents that were going to give me some fun on the return voyage and waved to the first small bunch of returning riders as they headed north. To my surprise they were only a few kilometres ahead of me but of course had already enjoyed a break.

A couple of riders were still at the lighthouse when I got there, having a break from taking photos of the stunning scenery amid the car-borne tourists. The beautiful golden sand and the inviting blue waters of the beach nearby beckoned and on any other day I would've been tempted to wander down and spend a few hours enjoying some time on the deserted shoreline not far away. But today I was on a mission. An unhurried mission but a mission nonetheless.

Hugh enjoys the scenic vistas from one of the lookouts. Photo courtesy of Hugh Harvey.
Before I left home I had set myself a rough timetable of when I would pass through the each of the checkpoints and although I was running about half an hour behind I wasn't particularly worried as there was ample wiggle room and I wasn't feeling very tired. After a rest and a snack and a few photographs I set off again, soon passed by my fellow riders and promising to meet them at the hotel Bruny 25km onward for lunch.

The return journey was made even more pleasant by the occasional presence of a gentle tailwind, which cooled things down a little and provided the slightest of assistance from time to time. I stopped for lunch at the hotel, choosing a very basic pizza as a more palatable alternative to a whopping bowl of chips. My companions set off in a bid to catch an earlier ferry and I bade them farewell. Just as I was about to leave not long afterwards I noticed I had a flat front tire. Fortunately I've taken the carrying I couple of CO2 cartridges in my toolkit so the tube was changed and reinflated and I was on my way pretty quickly. No idea what caused that though.

By this time – partly thanks to lunch taking longer to arrive than I had hoped – I was starting to nudge against the time limit of eight hours for the 120 km ride. This is a pretty common problem for people who take breaks which are too long and too frequent but this was a day when I was more focused on enjoying every moment on the bike rather than spending too much time worrying about deadlines. I get enough of that on weekdays. But even when tired the average Audax rider can calculate average speed and distance and time with the uncanny accuracy and have a pretty good idea of when they are going to finish give or take five minutes, so I was reasonably confident that barring unforeseen mechanical difficulties I should make the final 35km before the 4pm cutoff.

I could sit on the beach and soak in that view for hours.

My plan of taking the things slow and steady was paying dividends as I found myself travelling smoothly up the final hills as I counted down the last few kilometres to the ferry. The last kilometre or two is a fast downhill run with a fantastic view of the channel. The satisfaction of having finished the ride was given a little boost as I zoomed past the dozens of cars lined up and bought a cool drink at the shop as I waited a few minutes for my turn to board. Despite being only a quarter of an hour within the time limit and being emphatically the Lantern Rouge I will rate this as one of the best days riding I've had in years and can't wait to spend more time exploring Bruny Island on my bike. 

Heading home on the ferry. Photo courtesy of John Bown.

For those riders who wanted to come along but were unable to because of other commitments I'm not going to take a lot of persuasion to run this ride again in some form in a month or two or three. And having had a second look at my maps and plans I reckon there is a cracking 150km ride that would allow complete traverse of the island’s many attractions in a single day which I think could end up becoming a real classic. Here’s looking forward to many more visits to beautiful Bruny.

270km so far this year.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

2014 annual report

2014 wasn't my best year on the bike, but it was one of my most enjoyable. I tend to look back at the end of each year and the raw stats look like this: 4,359km in 215 hours for an average speed of 20.28km/h. I rode 188 times, with an average ride distance of 30km. My longest ride was 193km.

With the advent of Strava, there's a second set of numbers though. Since I don't count my usually short commute in the total 'actual' figure it doesn't quite tell the full story. According to Strava, I rode 5405km in 273 hours and throws in the intriguing statistic that I climbed 57,134m along the way. So there you go, not such a bad year after all, but not quite as good as the year before last, which was a record I wasn't going to equal thanks in part to a working trip to China.

2014 also marked the final year of a decade back on the bike. Quite unnoticed the milestone of 50,000km slipped by, most likely on a ride out on Bruny Island. The effort took slightly under 2500 hours in 1283 rides - the longest being 387km in the 2008 Oppy

And so the year begins anew. I noticed that the odometer on my Garmin had kindly reset itself to zero on New Year's Day.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Florentine mission.

The Florentine Valley is remote, but a particularly scenic destination for cycling
There's a loop that's been tempting me for a while up in the heart of the Florentine Valley, a bit over an hour north-west of Hobart. It's a shade over 100km on forestry roads and describes a more or less complete circle around the Mt Field National Park. As is usual in Tasmania, there's a fair bit of climbing, but the ride as a whole is certainly an achievable challenge. I scouted sections of this ride a few months back in the car, but to be sure the roads were passable and was impressed.

So we set off last Sunday for a lash.  Given the remoteness of some of the road and the expected lack of traffic we chucked a satellite phone and an EPIRB in my hydration park, just to be on the safe side.

Tyenna River Bridge.


Having carefully planned the route using the excellent RideWithGPS website and given the weather forecast due regard, I'd decided that the best way to tackle the loop was to get most of the climbing done early. To this end we started from the little town of Westerway and climbed steadily on the tarmac through National Park and Maydena, where we had a quick stop.

The gravel started at the 23km mark as we turned off the Gordon River Road. The climbing was steady, not overly so, but certainly long and taxing. The white road surface had me thinking of the famous 'strada bianca' of classic rides of Italy's L'Eroica.

I have a theory that gravel roads are much easier to ride after rain than after prolonged dry spells because the loose material on the surface tends to be compact a little into the road. Instead, we found ourselves cursing out tyres choices and pressures on the loose dry gravel, which saw us frequently sliding sideways unexpectedly on the gentle camber of some of the uphill corners.

Gravel roads can be a challenge after long dry spells.
The views along the way are well worth the effort. The range made up of Florentine Peak, Tyenna Peak and the Knobs dominate the skyline from the road, and the odd clearing where forestry work had felled a coupe allows for some spectacular photo opportunities.

We made reasonable progress in the warm, still conditions, topping the range after about two hours of solid effort. It was here I heard the first rumblings of exhaustion though, a combination of not enough miles in the legs and a lingering debilitation from having had the flu. I told Ben I wasn't sure whether I was going to get all the way around and we agreed to give it a few more kilometres and see if the feeling passed. 

The Niner RLT continues to impress as a comfortable, capable all-day all-surface bike. 
Sadly it didn't. At the 45km mark, with the worst of the day's climbing behind us, I was spent. We decided to turn back as the ride back to the car was a simpler proposition than the 60-odd kilometres ahead. In hindsight it turned out to be the right decision, despite my disappointment at not completing the loop. A bit more training would help, although I already knew 100km+ in a day might be pushing it my luck after a couple of weeks off the bike. It's better to have tried and failed etc.

The ride back was a confirmation that this ride might be best tackled in spring or late autumn. The loose gravel had us sliding all over the place and in parts we were travelling more slowly downhill that we had on the upward journey, picking our lines with great care lest we come unstuck. A short break at Maydena and we were back on our way, 90km for the day still being a decent enough effort. And the Florentine still beckons for an outing on another day.

4164km so far this year.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Audax Airwalk Extraordinaire 2014

It's a funny thing how new roads become familiar over time, how journeys once thought too difficult become mere preludes to explorations afresh. There was a time when the 30km ride to the Tahune Airwalk from Southwood was an exciting proposition for a Sunday, now it's a routine weekend circuit. It's human nature to want to explore and extend our horizons.
The Airwalk Extraordinare is an Audax ride I've run for three years now. Usually it's a combination of gravel and tarmac, making a handy loop which starts and finishes at Ranelagh and includes a section of highway. This year I changed the course to be more or less and an out and back affair, from Huonville deep into the Picton River Valley and back via the Airwalk, pretty much all on gravel roads. It's an ambitions 110km+ journey with some challenging hills and road conditions that can be unpredictable. There are no road signs along the way, we trace the route from memory, from explorations of days gone by. It's a route largely free of cars, although fallen trees and potholes pose intermittent and unpredictable hazards.

Climbing out of the Weld Valley.
This isn't a ride for everyone. This year there was only three takers, Ben and Hugh and I, so we set off at 9am, making good time over the Denison Range, the first challenge for the day. The weather was warm and still and I had my jersey pockets bulging with energy gels, just in case. One of my favourite climbs rolled quickly by, the gentle rise out past the Russell River, then the long downhill then flat section to the Weld. Another climb and another long descent and we were past the Airwalk and into the loop out to the Picton.
Picton River Bridge.
There's a shelter near the old condemned bridge on the Picton River and it's a good spot for a break, but only a short one for us as lunch beckoned. Surprisingly we zoomed back along the road on the south of the river with no trouble at all - these road have been known to eat tyres. We zoomed along, absorbed in the concentration of picking our lines carefully at speed to avoid the worst of the rocks. We were back at the Airwalk at 1pm on the dot for a bite to eat.
No cars behind these locked gates.
After a half-hour break we were off again. The rolling section down to the Huon River Bridge at Southwood pretty reliably takes 45 minutes. With a little of the air out of the tyres the bike rolled like a dream, smoothing out the bumps. The day was warming, although there was also the threat of rain, which we somehow seemed to skirt. I was beginning to tire a little by now, and Ben and Hugh kindly waited at the top of the climbs for me to catch up. Southwood and the top of the climb there soon passed by before it was once more onto the dreaded back of Denison Hill, which saw me on foot for a short section.  I call that 21st gear.
Rolling back over Denison Hill.
The final 20km back to Huonville was into the teeth of a very unnecessary headwind, so Ben and Hugh eased away as I resigned myself to spin onwards. Finishing within the audax road 100km deadline of 6h40 proved a touch ambitious, although we were only around 40m outside that, which was still well inside the 10 hours allowed for a dirt expedition. Amazingly and happily, we had not a single mechanical problem or puncture all day. Every adventure is the prelude to another, and so too was this, another most memorable day on the bike.
4998km so far this year.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Freeze thaw cycle

A cold morning, still a good time for a ride. And when the warming rays of the rising sun hit, well it's all worthwhile. It was -2 degrees celcius this morning, not counting the windchill. Southern Tasmania sometimes finds out late that summer's on the way. It took a bit of thawing out, but was still well worth the early start.

Im struggling to shake off some post-holiday weight gain. A few more mornings like this are in the works. Maybe some hills.
3648km so far this year.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Weekend on Bruny

It's been a while since I posted, in part due to winter and illness and in part due to being overseas for a bit. Fortunately the perfect antidote to a few weeks in the smog and haze of China is a weekend on Bruny Island. The weather was great and the company terrific.

The four of us set off on Saturday morning on the 9.30am ferry ($5 return for bikes, a bargain). After grinding up the first hill we enjoyed the long descent to The Neck, where there's a gravel section and lovely water views, before regaining the tarmac for the run into Adventure Bay where lunch was procured.

Any thoughts of a lazy day were soon dispelled as we began climbing the hills out of Adventure Bay. There were two routes on offer. With my distinct lack of fitness - and some dumpling-related weight gain - I opted for a shorter run over the shoulder of Mt Mangana, while the fitter mob took a longer option

After enjoying a thrilling gravel descent and a few diverting undulations, I found myself at the Bruny Island pub at Alonnah with enough time to down a couple of beers before the others arrived with breathless tales of daring descent and death defying antics. 

After a large meal, and a few more beers, we rode the 7km back to our accommodation in the dark. Never was rest more keenly sought, though we managed to watch a football game on the TV before turning in for the night.

The following morning we were blessed by even more perfect weather than the day before - warm and clear and still. A quick 7km return ride to breakfast at the Alonnah shop for bacon and egg rolls and we were soon back on the road, grinding out the 40-odd kilometres back to the ferry. Even the last few hills were a pleasure to ride and we were back in time for a well-earned burger at Cygnet as a late-lunch.

A lovely weekend and one I hope to repeat before too long. The short video below captures some of the flavour of our trip.

3555km so far this year.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tell the NRMA they're dreaming.

Motoring group the NRMA want to offer roadside services to cyclists, much as it does for motorists. Apparently the increased reliability of modern cars is undercutting their business model. This story from the Sydney Morning Herald spells it out:

The NRMA is monitoring the progress of groups in other states with cycling services such as RACV Bike Assist, which is operating in Victoria.
"Then we can learn how to price it, how it works, what happens if we can't fix a cycle," NRMA deputy president Wendy Machin said.

Cyclists seem an odd mob for the NRMA to target. Unlike some motoring organisations, the NRMA has a bit of form as being anti-cyclist. Would this be the same NRMA that spoke out against cycling infrastructure? Was this the NRMA which shitcanned cyclists in the anti-cyclist Daily Telegraph?

Now they smell a few easy dollars. I don't think cyclists are that stupid.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Challenge Griffo XS 33 tyres - long term review.

The Challenge Griffo XS 33  is a lovely tyre - while it lasts. Your milage may vary, but mine was about 1500km, which is nowhere near enough for a $A70 pair of tyres no matter how sweetly they roll.

The Griffos are light and supple and smooth and fast but I'm hearing stories about their durability from other rides and now experiencing them myself. On our 60km ride last weekend, the tread started lifting on both of my tyres as shown below. Each had done about 1500km.

Front tyre showing section of tread lifting. 

Second area on front tyre with lifting tread.

Rear tyres, lifting tread has torn at leading edge. 
With durability issues like this I advise steering clear of these tyres. Admittedly they're puncture resistant and were only just starting to wear on the centre section, so I think would otherwise have been good for around 4000km, but tread problems like this are a safety hazzard. 

I suspect the problems I and others have experience is a weakness in the glue used to attach the tread to the casing that the folk at Challenge will get on top of in time. I hope so, because for a while the Griffos seems to have been a solution to the problems raised but not solved by some of the Grand Bois tyres.

(My far more favourable initial impressions of this tyre can be found here.)