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.