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.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

More gravel. 60km in the Snowy Range.

Another fine outing thanks to some careful planning using Google Earth and Route here for anyone interested:

On Denison Ridge, heading west.

Back down in the valley.

Heading up the range.

Big Tree, Link Road,

Nearing the finish.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tassie Gravel.

I've been messing around with some story telling tools (aren't we blessed to live in such an age?). Over at Creativist I've put together a short multimedia-rich page on gravel riding in Tasmania. I hope you like it. 

2238km so far this year.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Just another Sunday ride.

It wasn't that remarkable a ride really, just another Sunday run, part of the excuse being my new bike.  I wasn't even going to blog until photos turned out nice. 

The weather was ok though a bit blowy. It was cool and looking a bit like rain. It was a bit hard to figure out what to wear and nobody really knew how far we were going though the answer is always 'as far as we get'. That sounds way more dramatic than it generally turns out to be. 

We hadn't really agreed on where we were going almost until we set out, but since when was the destination important? A wise woman once said a bad day on the bike is better than a good day in the office. She was right, although this was nothing like a bad day on the bike. Denison Hill and Link Road notwithstanding.

What really made it was the roads. We know these tracks pretty well but unlike your newfangled tar, gravel or dirt or unsealed or whatever you like to call them roads vary wildly with the seasons and with the sporadic maintenance they get in these parts. In summer they can be dry and dusty and potholed and after winter rains the surface can be wheelsucking-sticky like riding across the top of a mud cake. But now and again these roads ride smoother and faster than the finest board track you could care to name. And no board track is lined with the tall trees of southern Tasmania nor do you get to suck into your lungs during your exertions the cleanest air in the world.

I was going to have a good day no matter what happened for I was on a new bike. Link Road is my nemesis - actually everyone's nemesis for it's steepness on both sides. Here's how steep: I walked most of the way up but still managed to be second fastest rider (out of three) who ever passed by this road according to Strava. In all fairness two of our bunch made it all the way up in the saddle fast enough to wonder where we'd got to but aren't slaves to the our GPS overlords. Strong leg bragging rights - and my admiration - to them. 

Nasty, or perhaps necessary hills behind us loomed the fun part. At this point on the map you're closer to the towns of savage toothless wastrels on the other side of the Snowy Range by a large margin than anywhere in the Huon Valley that could make even a tenuous claim to civilisation. But lo, the gently downsloping road has been moistened by autumn rain and rolled smooth by the wheels of what little traffic passes through these parts and was wanton and slick and fast. And as an added bonus we picked up a gentle tailwind for the 30km run in to lunch.

It was a fine run into Huonville. On my count we saw about three cars all day. Big gears were turned over at high cadences and tall tales of rides past were told. After a very pleasant downwind run those who remained turned back into the wind for the upwind grind back to where we started. Another fine Sunday spent, messing about on bikes. Wherever Sunday found you I hope your ride was as good at ours.

2180km so far this year.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

New bike day: Niner RLT gravel grinder

With so many lovely gravel roads around here I've been keen to get a disk braked gravel bike for a while. The Niner RLT looked to be just the ticket and after a bit of a wait for it to ship I can now say I have a bike that's perfect for about 80 per cent of the riding I do. After a couple of days and a steep learning curve on installing disk brakes I'd have to say I'm very happy with the bike so far. It's light and fast and comfortable and makes me want to ride all day. I'm still in the shakedown phase so my longest ride is 25km today on the flat. Something a bit more demanding looms tomorrow.

And how does it ride? Like a dream. Once I got the tyres right from the stock of offcasts in my shed right (Challenge Almazano, review to come). It soaks up the bumps nicely, and while the effect of the slightly long wheelbase is noticable in out-of-the-saddle efforts it's a bike that invites the rider to the stay seated and spin rather than jump up and grind. The steering is nicely predicable. I have a feeling we'll have many happy miles together, on road and off.

2036km so far this year.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cockroaches of the road.

Positive coverage of cycling in the newspaper sometimes hard to come by, particularly in The Australian. There's exceptions to every rule however and it was nice to see a senior journalist like Greg Bearup coming up with a sophisticated analysis of the state of play on our roads. He managed to avoid all of the stock cliches that seem to plague articles on cycling common in the mainstream media and raise some interesting questions about how cyclists and motorist interact. But in my opinion the cover image and the headline really let the article down. (To read the story google the headline: Are Cyclists Fair Game and click the first link. Or if you're an online subsrbiber to the Australian, click here.)

The photo selected was this stock image, which has been cropped to fit the vertical format of the magazine cover.

I'm a cyclist, so I'll always complain about something, but I really have to wonder if an image of someone riding a time trial bike at night with no lights on the right hand side of the road in Warsaw, Poland is really the best image to chose to illustrate an article on cycling in Australia? What would have been wrong, as my mate Tim pointed out, with a less menacing image from Copenhagen? Like this perhaps?

1748km so far this year.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bicycle Tim - the movie.

Someone's made a film about local cycling identity and frame builder Bicycle Tim Stredwick. Highly recommended if you've got ten minutes to spare, or you're looking for a new touring bike, or both.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A beginner's guide to becoming a cartoon villain.

I'm a pretty unobjectionable bloke most of the time. I go to work, I pay my taxes, I donate to charity. I try to be polite and courteous, I obey the law and generally try to treat others as I would like to be treated myself. Most of the time, as I say, I'm a pretty unobjectionable chap.

There is one thing  I do however, which marks me as a member of a dangerous and lawless minority, whose welfare counts for naught and who is open to discrimination and vilification at any time.

I ride a bike.

Public enemy number one. Also number two.

This revolutionary act, though somehow legal, transforms me from an upright citizen into a target for bile. It doesn't have to be reasonable, it doesn't have to have any basis in fact. You can even try to kill me, and there's a good chance the cops won't even care. And people far and wide will have it in for you, seemingly out of all proportion to the offence you think you're causing.

For example, here's an editorial from today's Australian. Keep in mind this is a newspaper which pretends to be a serious national broadsheet:

The arrogant sense of entitlement in our inner cities is also evident in the ever-growing number of cyclists snaking their way through pedestrians on overcrowded pathways, darting between cars and clogging-up lanes on our congested roadways.

The problem of city cyclists reached their apogee in Melbourne this week when a cyclist was “doored” on busy Collins Street, after a passenger opened a taxi door and a rider crashed into it. Neither the taxi nor its passenger could be deemed at fault because a narrow “bike lane” inhibited the taxi from stopping next to the kerb. The passenger was lucky to avoid serious injury.

What makes this incident even more absurd is that, although the lane was marked by a bicycle symbol, it was not actually a dedicated bicycle lane. Melbourne bike lanes must have signage, fixed to a pole, that shows the start and finish of a lane, as well as clear markings on the road itself. The state’s bicycle operations officer — yes, there is such a position — admits there is confusion for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Cyclists, including the one “doored” this week, are using cameras to film such incidents so they can make insurance claims. The Victorian government imposed even tougher on-the-spot fines in 2012 for people who opened car doors in the direct path of cyclists.

For too long, authorities have bowed to the demands of selfish cyclists and their lobby groups. Truth is, our cities are dominated by cars because they are sprawling. We have no equivalent of Amsterdam and should stop pretending we do.

Charming isn't it? Now there's a lot of people riding bikes these days, for health and fitness and fun. They probably have an arrogant sense of entitlement to ride on road their tax dollars pay for. We need to get organised and we need to send a message that this sort of thing is just not on just because some fat white middle-aged editorial writer from The Australian nearly got skittled by bike one day ten years ago and got a gobful for not looking where he was going and hasn't gotten over the butthurt of it all. We need tougher penalties for the people who place our lives at risk and we need to stop taking this sort of shit from the media. It's time the bodies which purported to represent us started kicking some goals instead of fighting amongst themselves. And my message to The Australian? Fuck you. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Boeshield T9.

Despite the fact I pay a fair bit of attention to the rest of my bike, I'm a bit slack when it comes to maintaining my drivetrain. I do tend to pull may chain off every few months and degrease it but I've never been too fussy about what lube I put on the chain once it's time to go back on the bike. At least until recently.

I first came across Boeshield when a small bottle was included with a folding kayak we bought as a lubricant and anti-corrosive for the frame members. I heard good things about it an when I saw some online at Abbotsford Cycles I thought I'd give it a try. It comes in both an aerosol spray and a standard bottle, I prefer the latter.

In short: this is seriously good stuff. It's thinner than most chain lubes but really works its way into the chain links, seriously quietening the whole works. I've tried just about every way to lubricate a chain from paraffin wax to sewing machine oil and just about every specialist bicycle chain lube out there and this is the best I've come across by far, it makes a difference I can actually notice. There's a slight downside in that Boeshield T9 isn't as weather-resistant as claggier chain lubes and can sometimes need to be reapplied after 200km or so - although that's really only a matter of whacking some on your chain, waiting a couple of minutes and removing the excess. Highly recommended.

1,339km so far this year.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

I'll Take the High Road 200km Audax

 I can't remember my excuse for missing the Audax I'll Take the High Road ride last year. I suspect it was a combination of poor fitness and a glance at the ride profile. This time around I thought I'd better make a slightly better effort and I was glad I did.

Determined to enjoy the outing, I decided to ride my Thorn Audax. It's not the fastest bike around, but I bought it to do longer rides at a stately pace. Given it has lights and a handlebar bag already fitted, it seemed less hassle than messing around getting the Bianchi racer ready for an Audax event.  Although the Thorn is a lot heavier, it's also a lot more comfortable and reliable and despite the cushy wide Challenge tyres I figured it was the best bike for the job.

The big red mile eater.
Nine riders turned up for the event and after a quick briefing we were off. The faster riders disappeared over the horizon and I settled down into a steady pace at the back of the field. My plan was to ride the first hundred kilometres without exerting myself too greatly, or at least as much as possible given the 1500 metres plus of climbing on the way to Oatlands.

Andrew kindly kept me company and we chatted away as we made good time past Sorell talking about epic rides past and comparing notes on eating during rides. Knowing the course, Andrew was able to preview the hills too. Black Charlies Opening was a good workout and beyond Levendale there was a couple of sharp pinches but with the granny gear on the Thorn I was able to just spin up without raising my heart rate too greatly.

The handlebar bag fanciers club.
The weather was perfect for this type of adventure. The wind was low and the temperature rose gradually from the mid-teens to the low-20s. I dipped into my handlebar bag a couple of times for snacks as lunchtime drew nearer and we stopped briefly to refill our waterbottles around the 60km mark. We pedalled along the mostly-uphill outbound course, amazed to see the fast riders already on their way back when we were still about 20km out from Oatlands. Closer to Oatland we saw Frank and Nathan who were making good time and were on their way back and had a chat. We stopped for a quick lunch and set out again. I was pleasantly surprised how good I was feeling.

The return voyage was just as pleasant, despite a brief episode of upset stomach about 10km from Oatlands. The road seemed mostly downhill and the back sides of the climbs we'd done earlier seemed much less daunting and the country seemed extra scenic. The promised wind change came late in the day and wasn't too overpowering. We stopped again Woodsdale for water and at the firestation a few kilometres past  Levendale. Even the reverse side of Black Charlies Opening wasn't too big a big deal, although the gentle headwind down the highway was a bit of a grind beyond there. Nonetheless the miles were ticking over nicely and I was still feeling strong.

Another hill. I love hills, they make me stronger. Such scenic countryside.

I wolfed down a couple of Mars bars as the miles ticked by although by the time we reached Cambridge at the 185km mark I found myself flagging a little. I wolfed down some sweets as Andrew gradually drew away and stopped at the shop for a quick Coke, which seemed to help and we regrouped for the last push. After the final climb, the last six or eight kilometres were a fast enjoyable downhill to the finish. All in all a most enjoyable day on the bike and a reminder how much fun 200km rides can be.

1085km so far this year.

Andrew leading the way.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Audax Airwalk Extraordinaire 100km

Off into the great beyond.

Another gravel grinder, this this time a little longer than normal, but taking on some of the same great scenery. The Airwalk Extraordinaire is a 100km ride I put on last year, but haven't actually ridden in in one go myself. This year was the second running, so I was determined to take part.

The ride is a loop starting and ending at the famed Summer Kitchen bakery in Ranelagh and our compliment of five set off at 9am in prefect conditions. Chatting away, the miles quickly rolled by and we were at the foot of Denison Hill in what seemed like no time. My hill climbing isn't getting any better and I was determined to maintain a stately pace, so the others soon rolled away from me but we regrouped at the top. I made better work of the following climb and we were soon on our way to the Weld River. A stop at the bridge while one of our number fixed a puncture and we pushed on up the third major climb ahead of a lengthy lunch stop at the Tahune Airwalk.

The tarmac section back towards the southern forestry town of Geeveston is the section I haven't ridden before and despite the gentle nature of the climb I really struggled. The others had left me long behind as everyone settled into their own rhythm. I suspect it was the combination of the heat and the large early lunch I'd consumed, but I seemed to come good by the end of the second climb, which heralded the 7km downhill run into Geeveston.

By now, I was beginning to wonder whether I was going to be testing the 6h40m cutoff for the ride, something I haven't had a problem with on Audax rides for years. I had a good hour to make the 20km, but I was suffering a lot from hotfoot. I stopped at the Port Huon Store and refilled my waterbottles with lovely cool water and pushed on. I needn't have worried too much about the cutoff, I was in with 15 minutes to spare, which isn't such a bad effort considering the number and length of breaks we took.

658km so far this year.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

GoPro stills.

Here's a selection of stills from the GoPro last weekend. I fixed it onto my handlebars with a K-Edge mount and set it it take an image every five seconds whenever the video was also running. Obviously the vast bulk of the images aren't worth a second look but there are some that come out ok without the hassle and risk of using a hand-held camera to capture the moment. (There's a minor cheat, a couple of these images are stills from video. The quality difference should give them away.)

320km so far this year.