Monday, April 30, 2007

A once in a lifetime ride.

Well, we did it. The mighty Lancefield Lairs managed complete the Fleche Opperman All Day Trial to cover 360km in 24 hours. Legends one and all. Shrugging off sunshine and rain, hunger and thirst, six flat tyres, headwinds, darkness and fatigue and despite only 30 minutes sleep, we rolled into Rochester tired but triumphant. Sadly one of our five had to drop out around the 280km mark.

As expected, the night time riding was the hardest. It wasn't too bad at first, but as it cooled down and tiredness set in, the intermittent rain reminded me that I have been meaning to buy a decent rain jacket. My most vivid memory is spending a couple of hours staring into the
into the glow of my headlight, dodging the spray from Steve's back wheel as he dragged me half asleep towards Echuca just before sunrise. We knew we weren't going to get much of a rest - but the short lie down was eagerly anticipated and proved to be remarkably refreshing.

After our short sleep we were back on our bikes for the 'easy' roll down the highway with the wind at our backs. We had two hours to cover 25km. But traffic was heavy and we suffered a couple of punctures as we rode on the rough shoulder of the highway. Then we stopped to help another team which had suffered a puncture. And another. And another. Twenty minutes before the 9am cutoff we were still short of Rochester, but unsure of how exactly far from the finishing line. Top chainrings were engaged and with tired legs we cranked our a few hard and fast kilometres to finish with 10 minutes to spare.

Despite the difficulty, it was a most enjoyable outing. I didn't have a puncture or a single mechanical niggle. After many hours in the saddle a ride like this becomes a form of meditation, the bike, the weather, the aches- even the goal - all just fade into the background and the only thing left is a the moment.

All thanks to Andy for coming up with a great route, for doing all the organising and for handling all the paperwork. And big thanks to the mighty Ken for supporting us tirelessly every 60km along the way with a hot meal and a nothing's too much trouble smile. Andy, Steve, Ted and Barry - it was great riding with you, a truly memorable experience which I will remember forever.

Above is the traditional finishers photo in front of the Oppy statue in Rochester.

2,651km so far this year.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sanity in gearing

I'm back in the saddle again, happily. I've managed to churn out 160km since whining about being slack on Saturday. The extra miles have me feeling good on the bike and have really boosted my confidence for this weekend's trial. I've finally fallen in with a bunch of local riders of about my speed, ability and shockingly casual attitude, which is ironic because I'm leaving town in four weeks. Hopefully there will be a similar mob in Hobart.

Spending more time in the saddle watching the scenery go by has me pondering a few things. Why is the cable routing on Shimano SPD drop bar shifters so inelegant? Couldn't they have run the cables along the handlebars like Campagnolo do instead of leaving them hanging out in the wind? Would I be happier with down tube friction shifters just to make thing prettier? The big issues clearly occupy my mind.

Anyway, I'm working on a cunning plan to upgrade my crankset so I can use the old gear to build up a road bike for Mrs Surly Dave. (She gets a road bike, I get a new crankset, we're all winners). Being someone to completely over-analyse everything, I've hit the spreadsheets. I ride at an average speed between 19km/h and 23km/h. Now and again with a tailwind I'll nudge towards 30km/h. Up hills I'm slower - 10 to 15km/h depending on the hill. So I need gears which help me ride in that range.

OK, so here's where things get technical. I generally pedal with a cadence between 70 and 90 revolutions per minute. Let's call it 80 for the sake of the argument. My gearing ranges from 109 inches down to 29, or to put it another way, I travel between of 9.2m to 2.3m per pedal revolution. With a 52/39/30 triple crankset and a 12-27 cluster, my bike is set up to propel me at speeds of between 13km/h and 50km/h. The trouble is, I seldom go this fast. I very, very rarely use my top chainring. (The yellow highlights on the gear chart below show the gears would use at normal speeds, some are duplicates. Click to make big).

It works out that about eight of the gears on my 30-speed are never used except for when I'm in a hurry on long downhill. This is, of course, not counting the duplicates and the gears which can't be used because of chainline issues. Being charitable, that takes out another 12 combinations. So on a 30 speed bike, I've got about ten useful gears.

So it turns out that getting whole bunch more gears doesn't deliver anything more for the average cyclist except added weight and complexity. Wow, big surprise!

But assuming for a moment I'm a typical, or even sane, cyclist who seldom exceeds 30km/what would be the ideal setup for me? (I don't want to get rid of the lower gears, they come in handy for getting up hills.) It turns out to be 44/32 front chainrings with a 12-27 ten speed rear cluster. That gives me 92 down to 29 gear inches and an effective speed range of between 40km/h and 12/km/h at 80 rpm. I'd guess that such a setup would cover just about every casual and recreational cyclist in the world except those lucky few who have a downhill commute with a tailwind home.

But do you reckon you can buy such a setup? No way. Not even in the compact double cranksets so popular of late. Why not? Presumably because when you ride the Tour De France, you need a 53 tooth front chainring to give you a huge 120-something inch top gear to charge down mountain passes and in the sprints. It's madness, madness I say.

2,296km so far this year.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The lazy days of winter

It's raining today. It hasn't rained for ages, so it came as a bit of a surprise. The unfamiliar sound of raindrops on the roof helped me make up my mind not to do that 60km I'd promised myself I'd do today. It's an indoor day instead.

It's not like I'm looking too hard for an excuse. April has been a very slack month for me. We're 20 days in and I've ridden three times for a total of 175km. It's a poor effort, my worst month to date in nearly two years. I've fallen out of the habit of commuting to work. I thought it had only been a few weeks but it's been six. The year started well with a 760km month, followed by 630km and then 550km. That's a graph heading in the wrong direction! I've fallen from 217th out of 5,020 riders on to 625th. and I'm about 900km behind my target mileage to reach 10,000km by December 31 and 1,200km behind the guy currently in 217th on bikejournal. Not sure what happened to being keen to see winter.

The rot started when I took a few days off after the MAD ride on April 1 to recover from a sore achilles tendon in my right leg. Then at Easter I had a writing assignment. Then a trip to Sydney. I'm not sure what excuse I had this week - laziness I suspect. Hopefully it's just a passing phase of poor motivation. I winterised the bike this morning, putting the lights back on and fitted mudguards. It's time to try a little harder.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

24 hours of fun

I've signed up for a team to take part on the "Oppy", also known as the Fleche Opperman All Day Trial. The idea is for teams of four to six cyclists to cover the greatest distance possible in 24 hours, finishing up in the birthplace of famed endurance cyclist Hubert Opperman in Rochester, Victoria.

It seems like a fun challenge, although I understand some people may have a different definition of fun to me. The team I'm in has submitted its route and we're aiming to cover 350km, starting in Lancefield. It will be the longest ride I've ever attempted but I'm confident we can do it.

I happened across information on previous events. Each year an award - the Opperman Shield - is given to the team which covers the greatest distance. The best-ever result for the event is 770km in 1993. 770km! That's a non-stop average of 32km/h. I couldn't do that downhill with a tailwind. What a great achievement, how very humbling. Rochester here we come.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The cyclist's birthday

It's my birthday this week and I've managed to pretty much clear out my wish list for bike-related gear.

A month or so I bought a few back issues of the wonderful Bicycle Quarterly magazine which I really enjoyed, so I dropped a few pointed hints that their book: The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles would be appreciated. Mrs Surly Dave has ordered a copy and I'm camped by the mailbox until it arrives.

I had a little unexpected cash windfall this week, so to make the waiting more tolerable I bought myself a few presents including a new floor pump, a long-coveted Nitto M12 mini front rack and some mudguards for winter, which is supposedly upon us soon despite the lovely warm weather we've been having.

Along the way, I've been mulling over some things I saw during the recent Melbourne Autumn Daytour. It was a lovely day and because I'm now a lot fitter and riding a better bike, I tend to ride much further up in the field rather than down the back with the strugglers and the stragglers. It was obvious that a lot of roadies were treating the ride as either a) a race, which it is not or b) a high speed group training ride. As they came past me I caught onto the back of the odd bunch to enjoy a high-speed tow along in their draft for a while before dropping off to continue at my own pace.

I tried striking up a conversation with several riders in the bunches, but managed to get only grunts in return. It might have been because I was riding a touring bike with cantilever brakes and a rear rack. I wasn't too surprised they weren't too friendly because I've long observed that the more expensive the bike the less likely you are to get a wave, a smile or a nod. I've been working up to this rant for a while:

  • The fact you've spend untold thousands on a bike and covered yourself in the logos of a professional team doesn't make you a better cyclist, although sometimes it does go a long way towards making you look like a wanker.
  • There's nothing clever or special or tough about riding up and down Beach Road in a big bunch. It's flat and you're getting pulled along by others. You're not impressing anyone. Get over yourself.
  • Save your racing for races. I suspect many of you are just wannabes. Ride for fun, not to satisfy some sort of competitive urge. You might even crack a smile occasionally.
  • You are very visible to the motoring public, so obey the road rules. You're giving the rest of us a bad name.
  • Be pleasant to other cyclists, even if they may not look as fast (or ridiculous) as you. It costs nothing and is good public relations. And you need friends like never before.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sydney does have some attractions

I'm up in Sydney for work for a few days. Rather than fly I decided to drive so I could take my mountain bike. My mate Danny and I hit Katoomba yesterday to ride Narrowneck, which is rated one of the best mountain bike rides in the Blue Mountains.

I've done the 20-odd kilometre trip may times on foot over the years, usually with a pack on my back and I've never enjoyed it. It's a long road bash with some good views but not much else to redeem itself.

But on a bike? Wow and wow! Covering the ground more quickly means it's a fun ride and the highlights are much closer together. Around every corner is another stunning view. This ride's popularity is reputation is well deserved. A most excellent day out.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A brace of beautiful bikes.

I own five bikes. Actually, I thought I owned four bikes, but a visit to the shed surprised me. I had them all roadworthy for a while last year, but canibalised one to make up the single speed. I only corrected this last weekend when I got the road bike going once more. Easter has given me the chance to take it out for a spin.

The road bike is a mid-80s Centurion racer. From memory it's a Turbo with Tange number 1 steel tubing. They were all the rage for a while. It was my training bike until I rode my early-model Vitus aluminium frame up the back of a car. It's probably had half a dozen paint jobs, for the moment it's red. In an age where everything seems to be made of plastic, it's very old fashioned, but it's lovely to ride.

We've been out for a spin in the hot, still weather we've been enjoying the last couple of days. I'm struck inside churning out 6,000 words for a book I've been talked into because I want to spend the money on a new dual-suspension mountain bike (N+1+1+1+1 etc, how many bikes does one man need? Hey, I ride them all I tell ya!). So I've been going out for a blast each afternoon around 4.

Compared to the Surly, which I love dearly, the road bike is like a Ferrari. Despite the vintage downtube shifters and the 25-year old Campagnolo Nuovo Record gear, it's still good for two or three kilometres an hour extra on my average speed. And it just inpires me to go faster. Even with though it's as twitchy as hell its narrow handlebars and high-pressure skinny singles , I dared to ride no-hands for a short distance today. I've owned it since 1985, which seems a long time ago, but boy I love this bike.

We're heading up to Sydney for a few days this week to visit some of our old haunts and test the legs against some old climbs. I'm a bit larger these days - a man taking a stomach for a ride - but I'm looking forward to it immensely.

2,131km so far this year.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

You get what you pay for - now and again.

My old cycling knicks started to fall apart so I was forced to go out and buy some new ones or face the certainty of indecent exposure charges. So I paid a visit to my least-favourite big city cycling store, because it's close to work and because I enjoy indifferent customer service.

They had two different types of bib knicks in sizes suited to the larger man. The first type I didn't even try one because they had a mesh panel at the base of the spine. Or right at top of the arse crack if you prefer. The salesman described them as a vent. Full points for trying, but I'd describe them as a window. I am not wearing shorts with a crack window. The photo to the right shows the approximate location, if not the actual panel.

I can't for the life of me see why a see-through mesh panel is called for at that particular spot, unless a lot more fruity exhibitionists have taken up cycling than I was aware of. And what marketing genius came up with the idea? In maybe 20 years of cycling I've never thought: "Gee, I wish there was some way of letting some of the high-pressure steam out the back of my shorts." They're lyra for christ's sake, they're 0.0001mm thick, they breathe pretty well.

Anyway, the other pair were nice, and fitted well and despite having lots of writing on them (which I hate), they seemed quite comfortable. The only drawback was the price tag - $180. People who know me can attest that my entire wardrobe isn't worth $180. For that sort of money I'm going to expect a pair of shorts that washes and dries themselves. But given that I had a long ride on this weekend, no shorts and no time to shop around, so the $180 shorts it was.

With high expectations I threw my leg over the bike this morning and cranked out a hilly 130km. And how do the $180 shorts feel? Let me put it this way: it's like spending the day perched in the gentle embrace of Gwyneth Paltrow's cupped hands, after she's used mosturiser (I have no idea whether she's into that sort of thing, but one can only hope.). I rode all day without the slightest hint of chafing, rubbing or pain. Now I'm wondering what the $499 pair of knicks would feel like. Could anything be 2.77 times as good as this?

2,085km so far this year.