Sunday, June 26, 2011

The new whip

After around 30,000km of loyal service my Surly Cross Check has completed what was probably its last ride. Yesterday morning I swapped the parts over to a Thorn Audax frame - ordered over the internet and delivered in about two weeks. I'd had my eye on a Velo Orange Rando but their requirement you pay in full before they quote their shipping costs plus those astonishing costs (around $US300 to post a frame to Tasmania versus around $75 from the UK) meant the Thorn was much  value for money.

I'll admit to being just a little bit sentimental about my last ride on the Cross Check, though it was just a short trip up the cycleway from work. We've done some miles together: two Oppys, several Mallee Routes, my first 300km ride, a most enjoyable tour last year, the Dovernighter and many other backcountry trips. It's a bike that's served me well but it's showing the wear and tear you'd expect from a frame that's been ridden hard and long across all sorts of terrain. To give the Crosscheck its rightful due, I'm actually replacing it with two bikes - the Thorn as a fast tourer and Audax bike, and a yet-to-be-decided back country bike-packing cyclocross bike - probably based on a Geneis Croix de Fer frame.

The problem with the Cross Check is that it's not designed for longer rides, a 'fault' - if it is one that - it shared with my Bianchi. I needed something fast, which easily took lights and mudguards and with the ability to carry a little gear, say something that I could ride for a week to to Mallee Routes for example and then use for the 600km. The Cross Check and the Bianchi seem to reach their limits around 300km.

The bike went together reasonably easily. There was some fiddling with the mudguards - as there usually is - but apart from that it was pretty straightforward. It seems to be everything I wanted is there: there's no toe-clip overlap at all and there are plenty of braze-ons for racks and mudguards and the like. (Though the second waterbottle mount is a bit low, meaning it clashes with the front derailleur band. Some filing will be required.) Being able to use caliper brakes is a blessing after years of cantis although much of the benefit is probably aesthetic. (The long-reach Miche brakes were a real bargain for just $27 the set at Speaking of aesthetics, the fender line is also much neater than on the Cross Check. The tighter clearance however means I'm limited to 28mm tyres at the widest. Thanks to some cracks in my Son generator hub rim I'm using the Shimano road wheels from the Bianchi for a few days until I can replace the rim, so I'm without lights - a problem I hope to remedy pretty quickly. A bike without lights (or fenders) just isn't really that useful a bike in my opinion.

So how does it ride? Very nicely. The steering is noticeably quicker than the Crosscheck, more like a racing bike than a tourer, but it still rides just fine no hands. The shorter chainstays mean the bike handles short bursts of acceleration well. There are a few minor quirks that will take some getting used to - like a tendancy to pop wheelies with a rear load aboard up steep hills. I think I need slightly wider and more supple tyres than the 25mm Gatorskins I'm running, particularly on dirt roads. I need to sort out a front rack for my handlebar bag. On the whole I'm very  happy with the frame. It seems slightly lighter and just as comfortable as the Cross Check. I have some big plans for this bike - if I share have half the adventures on this as I had on the Surly, I'll be well pleased. With some luck we'll go far this new bike and I. My only worry is that I might have to find a new nickname.

2744km so far this year.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The good oil from Surly HQ

Nice piece just posted on the Surly blog. Sums up some of my feelings quite well. A taste:

If you think your bike looks good, it does.
If you like the way your bike rides, it’s an awesome bike.
You don’t need to spend a million dollars to have a great bike, but if you do spend a million dollars and know what you want you’ll probably also have a great bike.
Yes, you can tour on your bike – whatever it is.
Yes, you can race on your bike – whatever it is.
Yes, you can commute on your bike – whatever it is.
26” wheels or 29” or 650b or 700c or 24” or 20” or whatever – yes, that wheel size is rad and you’ll probably get where you’re going. 

More here.


Outbound route: 84.0km, 1694m climbing. Return route: 67.4km, 1024m climbing. 

Me and Kiwi tackling a climb on the Woodhooker Highway Photo: Ben.

In the forests of Southern Tasmania lurk miles and miles of gravel logging roads. During the week they're the playground of massive speeding log trucks but on the weekend they're generally free of traffic bar the occasional lost tourist and the odd woodhooker seeking to scrounge a trailer-load of free firewood from under the noses of the forestry folk and the prefect destination for the adventurous cyclist.

Ben and I had been talking of a trip to Maydena, no mean undertaking at 80km, strung together by my mate Keith from long experience of these wild roads and careful gazing at satellite maps online. Sadly I'd had to cancel at the last minute because of illness and Benny and some of the lads from Bottles and Chains decided to tackle the mythical Dovernighter - a long lope through the forests and ranges that stretch from Judbury to Dover, a journey that takes in just a few hundred metres of sealed road. I mapped the route on RideWithGPS and hoped I might come good in time.

By Saturday I was feeling a lot better and after completing the Dash of Honour without major mishap I decided I'd be ok for Sunday's ride. I loaded the Crosscheck with two small panniers and a handlbar bag and hoped the load wouldn't be too much for the climbing that lay ahead. The lads had breakfast in Huonville and I met them at the Judbury Hall where Kiwi fixed a problem with the back tyre on his stylish hardtail mountain bike. The first ten kilometres rolled under our wheels peacefully and we  spun up the Dennison Range, the first of the days hills and one which I particularly dislike for its length and steepness. 

The hill beyond the Denison Range took up to the Ta Ann verneer mill and the bridge over the mightly Huon River, swollen from recent rains. We took a break and had a bite to eat before setting off on the section Ben calls The Woodhooker Highway, a broad smooth, gently uphill road which the trucks from the mill use to get to the main road at Geveston. It was on the last climb up to the Arve Road we realised that we were in for a long day in the saddle.

A late lunch was had at the side of the road before we remounted to tackle what I had perhaps undersold as a 200m climb to the high point of the ride. It turned out to be a bit closer to 450m. The general truthfulness and accuracy of newspaper reporters was called into question as Mischa and Kiwi disappeared up the grade and Benny taught me how to put new emphasis on old swear words as we wheeled our bikes each corner to reveal even more climbing. It wasn't until 3.30pm that we were at the summit.

From that point on, my memory told me that the ride was basically downhill and I was happy that on this occasion I was correct. Winter days in Southern Tasmania are short and we were running out of daylight, so we donned shell jackets and got on with the riding. We zoomed down the seemingly endless descent, dodging the larger rocks on corners and dared glances at the stunning mountain scenery as we went. In an hour we covered more distance than the previous three. In time we reached a sign proclaiming 14km to Dover - further than we might have hoped   though that leg too was mostly downhill and as  darkness neared we were able to crank out the short distance into town without major difficulty, though we were all pretty pleased to see the pub. Several beers and a big feed followed and we settled in for the night in the near-waterfront house Ben had arranged for our accomodation.

The holiday Monday morning found us not quite as fresh as the day before, but an easier ride beckoned, for we'd decided to take the Esparance Coast Road home. Leaving our digs, we stopped for a hearty breakfast at the Dover takeway store and pedalled through the crisp morning along the water, marvelling at the views. And they only got better. After cresting a couple of large climbs we settled into a pattern of repeating undulations, delivering us breathtaking views over the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and the Huon River and taking us through pretty little settlements of holiday shacks. Only the odd behaviour of one driver who seemed unable to pass a line of cyclists riding single file marred a perfect morning of riding.

We allowed ourselves a coffee break in the weak winter sunshine at Geeveston and again 20km later at Huonville, where Ben said goodbye and the three of us turned to Judbury. The last 15 kilometres are familiar roads for me and after bidding Mischa and Kiwi goodbye it was only the final 200m of vertical to home that tested my legs before a welcome beer and soak in the bath.

It may not be a ride I do that often, but the Dovernighter turned out to be just as good as we'd hoped. Now Maydena beckons.
Mischa cranks out the last mile to Judbury as the sun sinks.
First day ride profile: the third hill is the big one. 

Cover boy Steve

I've made my living as a journalist for the last 20 years (not that you'd know that from the general standard of this blog)  so seeing a story of mine in print isn't the big deal for me it once was. But for some reason getting a story published in the Audax Australia magazine is still a big thrill for me. And getting the cover shot with a photo I took of my mate Steve on the Oppy is an even bigger blast again.

Dash of Honour II

I spent the second half of last week fighting off a stomach bug, so I was a little surprised to find myself even considering the Dash of Honour. The Dash is a 100-lap, nighttime race without rules around a 300m sort-of cobblestone course at Hobart's cenotaph. The ride looked like fun so I resolved to just roll around at a moderate pace for my own amusement. I was preparing the Crosscheck for a weekend of touring, so I switched out the Grand Bois tyres for some Schwalbe Marathons to better hold the track and whacked on a front light after finding some cracks in the rim on my generator hub. Bummer, another repair job for down the track. 
There was a bit over a dozen starters, riding everything from road bikes to a BMX to some sort of Frankenbike with a sidecar attached. The pace was furious from the get-go and after missing a gear change, I was quickly lapped by the field. No big problem as I wasn't intending to be particularly competitive but I found my pace increasing. I slowly reeled in some of the fading frontmarkers as other riders dropped out to drink beer on the sidelines. Despite my increase in pace, I was never in danger of catching the leaders, partly because I wasn't exactly sure how many laps I had completed.

I'm sure the designers of this piece of track never intended it for this sort of event, but it was actually quite amenable to bike racing. At around 30km/h, each lap rolled by in about 30 seconds, with an uphill and a downhill straight and an corresponding fast and slow hairpin corner at each end. Not sure a touring bike is the best thing for this sort of thing, but once the Surly got up to speed there was no stopping her.
Eventually, after 100, or perhaps 103 circuits, all but one of the remaining riders had finished and I decided to call it a day. Where did I finish? Not so sure. Fifth? Fourth perhaps? No big deal, the Dash of Honour was a delightful way to fill in a chilly Saturday evening. Thanks to Bicycle Tim for organising the event.

2656km so far this year.