Friday, March 22, 2013

Cockpits of Audax

Over the last couple of months I've noticed a couple of really spectacular Audax handlebar rigs that I just can't resist sharing. I'm a big fan of keeping things simple, but on a longer ride you're going to need lights and a GPS and so on. Everything for a purpose and all close at hand, the setup refined by trial and error and experience.

Check this one out, lights, computer GPS, handlbar bag. Not bad.

Then there's this: video camera, computer, GPS, light and snack bag, all nicely mounted and close at hand. I like this setup not only because it lets you film as you ride, but because the handlebars remain relatively uncluttered.

Of course my own setup is a work in progress, but a handlebar bag and a light mount on the bag support keeps things elegant. I have my eye on one of those fancy cameras and maybe a GPS, so no doubt things will change over time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Oppy 2013

Team Modus Oppyrandos pose at the Oppy statue in Rochester

It can be a long hard ride, The Oppy, as if I needed a reminder. The Audax Australia Fleche Opperman All Day Trial is named after Australia's greatest endurance cyclist Sir Hubert Opperman and requires riders to cover a minimum of 360km in 24 hours. The Victorian event is always well attended for a couple of reasons: it is very well organised and the surrounding countryside is generally pretty flat which makes for pleasant riding. I've said before that the Oppy is one of my favourite rides, mainly because of the camaraderie in the bunch and the pleasure of night riding in a small group. It's also a good chance to catch up with so many of the wonderful Audax community. This was my fifth Oppy after rides in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011.

This year's edition, for me at least, was tough. We had a smaller bunch than usual, five instead of the normal dozen or so. I felt fit, but in reality I think was a bit underdone because of the lingering effects of a chest cold I caught after the Alpine Classic week, which also meant I hadn't done as many miles in training as I probably should have. For some reason I just couldn't get comfortable on the bike either, which is odd. It was my first 200km+ outing on the Thorn and while I've done over 2000km on it in shorter rides I don't think I have my set up quite perfect yet. And then there was the wind, more of which later.

The course we took is a familiar one which we've ridden successfully before. We had a strong team and excellent support from Bill and Pete - ever-smiling and ready with delicious and welcome food at every  checkpoint. Steve's superb organisational work before the ride meant everything ran super smoothly. We even had favourable winds from the south and south-west for much of the course.

The first couple of hundred kilometres of the Oppy are generally pretty easy in my opinion. You settle in on the bike, burn off some nervous energy and get a feel for who well you're going to go when day turns to night. It's only after dark that the ride becomes a test of the mind and the legs.

The St James control is around the 200km mark on this course. Ken, who has ridden this course several times during his own glittering Oppy career, reckons once you make St James, you're know you'll finish the ride. For me, that was where the doubts began. Until that point, I'd been going well, enjoying the  scenery and the lovely little country towns we were passing through. Once out of St James we turned west and the battle began.

Now it's fair to say that the other riders in the grandly named Modus Oppyrando team were made of somewhat stouter stuff. For most of the remainder ride I found myself sheltering from the wind on someone's wheel, hanging on for grim death. Now and again I'd drop off the pace until someone noticed and the group would ease up until I was back on. I can't say I seriously entertained thoughts of abandoning but several times it did enter my mind how nice it would be to hope in the support truck at the next stop. Everyone has flat spots during a long ride, but mine seemed to drag on forever.

We reached our long rest stop at Echuca around 2.30am for a couple of hours of blessed sleep before we were back on the road for the final 30km to Rochester, where a heroes welcome and slap-up breakfast awaited. Our numbers swollen by the ranks of the Petit Oppy riders, I again sat in the bunch and made up the numbers. Always a welcome sight, the main street of Rochester couldn't come too soon.

It's a testament to the strength of the other members of the team that our average speed was comparable to other years when we rode without an adverse wind in the final stages and when there were a lot more people to share the work at the front. To enjoy Audax riding is to enjoy a challenge, and there was plenty for me at the Oppy this time. Even so, I'll be back next year for another crack.

1640km so far this year.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Styx and Stones

There aren't many Mondays when I sit at my desk with a big smile on my face, but today is the exception after a sensational weekend of dirt road touring. For a few years a group of us has been talking about tackling a ride from Judbury across the Wellington Ranges to Maydena. We've spied out routes on Google Earth, swapped GPX files between us and talked about it a fair bit, but never got around to actually tackling the journey. This weekend just gone we finally had a crack.

There were four takers for what looked like about a 65km ride. After a flat start, the next ten or so kilometres is a steep grind out of the Huon Valley. I set off half an hour early because I'm a slow climber and I didn't want to slow the others down. After a long, slow ascent (which included a couple of stints on foot) I finally reached the top and rolled over a couple of smaller hills to take a break close to the top of the range at about the 16km mark. Tim,. Chris and Keith arrived about ten minutes after I sat down.

From here on, our progress fell into a predictable rhythm: a rough, rocky descent followed by a steep rocky climb. Chris and Keith were on mountain bikes, well suited to this sort of riding. Tim and I were on road bikes with fatter tyres, which made for some interesting challenges. At one point on the first descent Tim zoomed past me with his back wheel bouncing comically off rocks along as we both hung on for grim death in the rough conditions.

Once we'd reached the first major turn it was a more of the undulations before the lovely long descent to the Styx River where we had lunch in the gorge near the bridge. A finer lunch spot would be hard to imagine. After lunch and topping up our waterbottles from the river, there was short sharp uphill and then about 10km of fast flat riding with glimpses of the Derwent Valley farmland through the trees. But all good things must come to an end  and soon enough we were heading upwards again, on Cassions Road heading over the ridge to National Park. After the heat of the climb, the descent from the top was one of the highlights of the trip, a little-used road with lovely views which had the added benefit of taking us out within a couple of kilometres of our destination around 3.30pm- the National Park pub. Beers and steaks were consumed with gusto before an unsurprisingly early night. We'd covered  71km in five and a half hours of riding time and climbed around 1900 metres (6200 feet in 44 miles for the not-so metrically inclined.)

After a punishing Saturday, I wasn't overly confident about having the legs for the trip back and was contemplating riding into Hobart and catching a bus home. But Keith came up with a "shortcut " via Bushy Park which gave the appearance of cutting out out one of the big climbs. (Keith's shortcuts are somewhat legendary for generally being longer and harder than the original route. Despite this, people continue to be sucked in.) We were soon off on the fast tarmac descent to the roadhouse there for morning tea. The climb that followed was another of the trip's highlights - a pleasant six or so percent almost all the way to the top, a 500m rise over 10km. There followed a thrilling descent and the inevitable steep climb. By now though I was in a rhythm and though it was a slow one, I was confident nothing much was going to stop me. The others were kindly waiting at the top of every climb.

The final 25km retraced part of our route from the day before. We knew there was a substantial climb in there, so after refilling our waterbottles from the Plenty River were set off to spin up to the top. Around this time there was a bit of mist in evidence around the top of Rimons Hill - the landmark that signalled the final descent. Soon enough we were there and I coasted down with my brakes on most of the way to check my speed as the others disappeared into the distance. Once on the flat we cranked out the final four or so kilometres into Judbury. Sunday turned out to be longer in terms of distance at 76km but with "only" 1833m of climbing and slightly faster in terms of average speed.

All in all it was a challenging although most enjoyable weekend. After learning more about the limitations of my current setup, I think I'll whack some fatter tyres on the Crosscheck and consider maybe upgrading my brakes. I'm slowly getting fitter and I ramp up my riding this year, upgrading the engine is always cheaper and smarter than upgrading the bike. I'm looking forward to many more expeditions like this one.

For anyone interested in retracing our route, the GPS tracks of our outbound journey is here: and the return trip here:

Thursday, March 07, 2013