Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last Dirt of 2014

As luck would have it, my last dirt for 2014 was not the Gravel Grinder I had in mind, rather a two hour tour of George C Waldo State Park in 25 degree weather.  I started out riding in full snivel gear regalia including my Lake303 boots, lobster gloves and a balaclava.  Halfway into the ride, I ditched the lobsters at the car because my hands were sweating.  I got a double shot on the new trail where I rode it both directions.  Going down the trail is great, but riding up has some tough sections, especially the one pictured below that I am calling Satan's Stairway!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gussy in a Light Snow

Wasn't expecting this light snow Sunday morning and figuring that roads would be salted down I headed into the woods at Upper Paugussett.  With a light snow falling, it was really quite in the woods, when I stopped.  Riding with my new bear bell and creaky seat post made it less serene to the ears.  Still, it was a lot better than my last attempt during Thanksgiving when the snow just thick enough to make riding less enjoyable.  

The Mulikin
The snow made things a bit slick but overall, it was great riding weather.  I rode the Gussy, the Reach Around, the Unmarked and Unsanctioned Trail, and the Mulikin Trail. The latter being absolute crap and no one should be riding that right now until the ground is frozen solid or we get at least 6 inches of snow. Until then, please stay off the trail.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Le Gravle Randonneurs: Putnam Valley Hard Pack (and Snow)

The last gravel grinder ride of 2014 for Le Gravle Randonneurs took place in Putnam Valley, NY. It was much colder than the weather forecast said it should have been.  Then, on departure, Mr Murphy stuck his head in and the route on my Garmin was just straight lines connecting the intersections. Fortunately, Will had the route on his Garmin and just in I had the route on GoogleMaps Engine.

One of the risks you take in planning for these rides is if you haven't been here before, no amount of comparing different maps is going to tell you whether a road goes through or not.  We found that on the Ashokan Populaire and D2G2 rides.  Also, so that I don't run into this problem again with my Garmin, I think I have a way of vetting the course to ensure that it's going to not fail me.  To do that, after uploading to the device, have to see if downloads into Training Center or Basecamp.

Despite my navigation issues, we headed west from Mahopac Falls Elementary School (pronounce like Mayo-pack) down a short connector to Route 6N called Potter Rd, which happened to be closed. It was still passable for bikes, though.  Our first taste of dirt, which on the map was called Clear Lake Rd, turns out to be more of a driveway/road into a Boy Scout Camp than an actual thoroughfare. As we were riding by different groups of Boy Scouts no one paid us any heed.  I asked one of the Scout Masters if it was a cold night and he said the cabins were nice and toasty with wood burning stoves. I thought back on my experiences in the Boy Scouts and we never had it this easy back in the day.  In order to earn your winter camping merit badge you had to sleep outside in a tent. That's the way we did it back in the '70s.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Le Gravle Randonneurs: Putnam Valley Hard Pack

Le Gravle Randonneurs were looking for one last Gravle Ride for the 2014 season when Will suggested that we check out a route that started in Cold Spring and went around Clarence Fahnstock State Park in Putnam Valley, NY.  Will sent me some cue sheets for rides in the area called Putnam Pain and Hard Pack.  I searched for the routes on Ride With GPS and found the dirtiest of the two called Putnam Hard Pack.

I had to make a few changes to the route to start from Mahopac so that the starting point was easy for both Will and to find.  I wanted to start closer to Taconic Parkway which would put us in the dirt faster but without really knowing the area I didn't want to take a chance on whether some parking lot that I found in an aerial photo was actually a commuter lot and accessible to the public.  I figured it would be better to find a school or some other public facility and that is why I chose Mahopac Falls Elementary School as the starting point.

In the map above, green is the dirt and blue is the pave.  As you can see it would have been nicer to park closer to the dirt.  Of course, with every new route in which you are riding for the first time it's always a crap shoot on whether or not roads go through or not, so we'll see what we find.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Another Milestone!

Another week of missed opportunities to ride to work left me with only being able to get out on Sunday and boy was it cold especially with the wind on the homeward leg.  I did pretty preparing for today's ride in the low 30 deg F.  No doubt, the Lake303s were on the feet, thermal tights, and most importantly, my top layers including a whicking long sleeve, running shirt and my Cannondale Performance Softshell.  Also my Cannondale convertible riding gloves that have a lobster like shell covers are perfect in these temperatures and glad I didn't go for the Lobster Gloves.

Today's route was sort of an experiment and flying blind at the same time.  It first started out by climbing Butterfield Road because it's steep and I got heated up fast, almost too fast and thought that I was going to get cold from the sweating but then I found by unzipping the outer shell and opening my running shirt a bit I settled into a perfect venting situation where I never got too cold and never too warm, either.

I planned today's ride on Ride With GPS but RWG is still showing that Poverty Hollow still doesn't go through so while I planned the route go down Hopewell Road I figured when I got to the intersection with Hopewell and I didn't see a sign I would be home free.  Sure enough, no sign, and from the bridge that was redone to Reading's Church Hill, it was sweet and creamy Black Butter!

Monday, November 24, 2014

D2G2: Dover Dirt Gravel Grinder

The premier and most centrally located Gravel Grinder in the North East is D2R2 and the next up and coming Gravel Grinder is F2G2 but now there is a new event on the horizon, the Dover Dirt Gravel Grinder, D2G2. 

I got the idea for a ride in this part of NY when I found there were a few dirt road climbs heading west from Dover Plains so I dug a little deeper using Bing Maps (great source for finding the dirt) and discovered there were quite a few dirt roads between RT 22 and the Taconic Parkway!

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Week in Bike Commuting: 2000 miles!

I rode to work both Thursday and Friday, which were equally as cold but Friday had one little wrinkle, it snowed the night before.  Nothing major like the polar vortex gripping the rest of the nation and the roads riding to work in the morning were sandy and salty but not at all slippery.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Serfas HTK Vida Hybrid Tire: Good for the Gravel?

I have two commutes on these tires in which I rode at full PSI and also a diminished PSI and both rides were great.  I even rode them in wet conditions and I have no complaints. However, the other use for my Surly Cross Check is dirt road riding, aka Gravel Grinders, so I took the opportunity last Sunday (see my post:  Sunday Gravle) to try the tires on the dirt roads and trails in Roxbury and Washington, Connecticut.

I rode at 80 PSI in the rear and 75 PSI in the front.  Riding to the trails, the tires were great, it was like riding my road bike, but on singletrack it was an entirely different story.  The high pressure made the ride very bouncy but it worked. No trouble getting over roots and rocks, in fact keeping the pressure up seemed to help a bit because it felt like I was bouncing over the obstacles more. The only trouble that I had was climbing on the leaf covered trails because there was absolutely no traction. Then again, I don't think it would have mattered if I was on a mountain bike because fall line trails are bad no matter what you are riding.  

I kept looking for the tell tale sign of having a less aggressive tread pattern was going to have an impact on climbing steep, dirt roads, because we are not in Iowa and ride Gravle around here, that's what you do. On the first major climb, Judds Bridge, I had no trouble and in fact it seemed like the tires helped me get up the hill faster than usual, I hit a PR on Strava for this climb. From Walker Brook Rd to Mine Hill Rd it's an average 6% grade with some steep sections around 16%. The next climb was on Shinar Mountain Road with an average 7% grade and a few sections that are 19% and 21% and tires worked great, however, I did notice a little slippage in the real steep stuff but surface was loose as if it had been recently graded.

No trouble in Steep Rock Reservation but that's just flat railroad bed.  Another thing that stood out is that the tighter tread pattern doesn't really pick up any debris that I had read about on other people's reviews. I did loose traction, however, on the opening section of Battle Swamp but I don't think it was the tires. This section is an average 30% grade for 20 yards and it was just regraded and the dirt was really loose. You might have been able to up it with some really fat tires, running low PSI, and granny gears.

The last steep hill was Moosehorn with an average 11% grade and a section that tops out at 17% and the tires did great!  On the way home, I even road through some broken glass on the side of the road that I couldn't avoid and bunch of thorn bushes on the old railroad bed near my house and upon checking the tires the next day they are still hard as a rock.

I am going to a similar ride in the coming weeks only with lower PSI and see how the tires handle dirt roads and see if there is any difference in the ride quality.  However, at this point, I would think that if you are looking for good all rounder for commuting, gravel grinders, touring and randoneering; and don't mind the extra weight these tires have, this is a great tire!

To see additional posts on this tire:  Serfas HTK Vida Hybrid Tire Review

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Sunday Gravle

I headed out to ride the dirt roads in Roxbury and Washington Sunday morning.  I wanted to see how the new tires handle singletrack and the gravle.  I went out at full PSI and that was a mistake.  The other mistake was to actually ride singletrack in the fall because there was absolutely no traction in the leaves.  Another mistake I made was a bit of an overreach on the distance, especially after a week of no riding.  Yet it was still a great ride as I tried different and new roads in Roxbury.

I have ridden the preserve off of Minors Bridge once before on my mountain bike and it was easy but on the Cross Check, it was a lot tougher and I ended up walking a few times.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Serfas HTK Vida Hybrid Tire: First Blush

My experience with bike commuting tires has focused primarily on touring tires because I want the smoothness down the middle for riding the pave but some grip on the edges for the dirt.  The Serfas HTK Vida Hybrid Tire will be my first dedicated commuter tire.  A couple of things attracted me to theses tire right off the bat:  low rolling resistance; inflation to 80 psi; and really stiff sidewalls.  The combination of these three features means these tires are going to fly!

The tread pattern is definitely more conducive to  road riding than I would imagine for dirt and the gravle but then again for all the dirt roads I have ridden with tires having a more aggressive tread pattern it never seemed like there was an actual benefit.  A post Gravel Grinder review will definitely be necessary. It will also be interesting to see how these tires handle some of the dual and singletrack I usually find myself riding from time to time.

I was a little nervous at getting wire bead tires because my past experiences have included a lot pain and frustration getting them on the rims, often resulting in broken levers and snake bite. Throwing these tires on to my Salsa Delgado rims was unbelievably fast and easy.  In fact, I went back to the label in disbelief to make sure I read it correctly because they were so easy to slip on!  I pumped up the tires to 75 psi in the front and 80 psi in the rear because when I ride to work I ride dirt roads, older paved roads with crappy surfaces and with lower front psi softens the initial bump along the way.

My first commute on the new tires was awesome.  I flew down my road a lot faster which was pretty much as I expected would happen with the higher PSI tires.  Once on the dirt road is when I noticed that a higher psi is great for pave but not so much on the gravle.  The bike seemed to bounce around a little more than usual, so much in fact, that my pannier came off the rack but I had noticed that it was loose and was in the middle of stopping so there was no harm to the contents.

Still, my two commutes this week were a great mix of conditions, cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon on Tuesday.  Warmer on Wednesday in the morning but cold and rainy Wednesday evening.  Despite the bounciness on the gravle road, the tires felt very durable and strong.  On the bumpy roads, again really strong and durable.  The one thing I noticed while riding on smoother pavement was road noise coming from the tires.  I don't know if that's good or bad, but what I do know is these tires felt great and definitely worth the money so far.

To see additional posts on this tire:  Serfas HTK Vida Hybrid Tire Review

Sunday, November 02, 2014

New Meats: Serfas HTK Vida Hybrid Tire

I stopped in at The Bicycle Center the other day because I wanted to get Shawn's opinion on some Schwalbe tires that I was thinking of ordering.  After almost 3000 miles on my Continental Tour Ride tires and two catastrophic failures with their Flat Protection System, I figured it was time for a change.  Shawn suggested that I check out these tires from Serfas, the HTK Vida Hybrid Tire.  In fact, he offered them to me at a price that I couldn't refuse provided that I write up a review on them. The one caveat is my review could be either negative or positive.   

But how do you write a tire review and make it worth while?  A tire such as this is, I would expect to last quite a long time and I don't think anyone can write a review after a couple of rides and truly opine on whether these are good tires or not.  I think what is needed is a couple of reviews after some milestones are achieved while riding them.

To see all posts I make on this tire:  Serfas HTK Vida Hybrid Tire Review

Saturday, November 01, 2014

This week in Bike Commuting: Riding with a small Laptop!

My new laptop came in at work and I was quick to transition over to it. Riding with it was fantastic. It fit nicely in my pannier and I can now close it up.  This will keep it nice and dry in wet weather!  I did, however, have one little mishap on the ride in to work Tuesday morning.

On the dirt section of Pond Brook Rd, the road seemed a bit more bumpier than usual, and my have been caused by my new commuting tires running at 80 psi, the pannier sounded like it was rattling more than usual so I quickly looked back to check on it an found that it wasn't secure on the rack but before I hit the brakes it fell off!  Fortunately the laptop was inside another bag with padding.  So this doesn't happen again, I am securing the pannier with a pedal strap so that it can't come off the rack.

On Wednesday morning I rode to work with the laptop in a new messenger bag from Patagonia.  I have retired my Timbuk2 messenger bag for one that my father gave me that he'll never use since he is retired.  It's got everything I wished my Timbukt2 bag had; like a reflector on the outside cover, blinky strap, and a waist strap.  It never shifted riding with it! Can't wait to try it on the Singlespeed! 

Wednesday night was another great test because it just started raining when I left the office. I thought of riding without my rain jacket but realized it was raining a lot harder than I first thought. By the time I was at the back of the office park, I also needed to switch from my fingerless gloves to my neoprene wet weather riding gloves.  I wasn't a total sniveling idiot, though, because I didn't put my pants on and rode the whole way in shorts. Rule #5 & 9

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I Can't Believe it's Autumn

It's getting harder and harder to find time on the weekends to ride.  All the kids are tied up with their fall sports and activities now and while my wife and I play chauffeur and rooting section.  Saturday, I was still able to get out on the Cannondale for quick Fall Foliage ride around town.  I found a better plastic bottle for my vintage Cannondale seatbag that gives it much more volume. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

This week in Bike Commuting: Hot and Cold

I came up with a new solution for the front rack on the Randomuter to hold the battery for my headlight.  Using some additional hook and loop straps I was able to mount my Timbukt2 top tube back to the rack and the forward facing straps hook nicely on to the upward section of the rack.  It's a perfect fit for the battery and extra wire with room to spare for anything else I might need.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

F2R2: Fall Folliage Roadie Ride

Originally, I was going to do my Three Lake Populaire (Lilly, Waramug, Zoar) sans Gravle route which is about 66 miles but blew that off and hung around with my sons and played commuter games, also it was a cold and that made a better excuse to chicken out.  The afternoon warmed up and I had 3 hours to kill and what better way to do that but on the bike!

Instead of three lakes, I rode, two.  Over Lillilonah into Bridgewater and then up my favorite hill, Town Line, in which there is a barn with an American flag painted on it.  Every time I see it I get goose bumps and it makes me proud to be an American.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

This Week in Bike Commuting: Continental Tour Ride Failure

This was a great week for bike commuting.  Weather stayed warm in the mornings and afternoon temps were perfect, now if my equipment lived up to what it was supposed to do it would have been a great week!

Tuesday's forecast was for some really warm weather in October, no less.  I headed out quite early with lights for my first morning darkness commute on the Randomuter.  I left early enough to try a new 20 mile route that didn't include Castle Hill but rather Boggs Hill, which isn't as climby as the prior hill so I figured I would make better time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

20014 Fall Fiesta at Gay City State Park

8 years of visiting Gay City State Park
Gay City State Park is one those riding areas in Connecticut is great for every level of riding.  There is a great mix of single and dual track in which, from a mountain biking perspective, can cover a lot of ground.  The other big attraction to Gay City is that it abuts Case Mountain and you can also get to Meshomasic State Forest, aka Mesh. That's why the Central Connecticut Chapter of New England Mountain Bike Association has it's annual Fall Fiesta there each year.  

It was a crisp fall morning in the eastern part of Connecticut and not a cloud in the sky.  The amount of riders showing up this year was incredible!  With a wide range of bikes of all tire sizes.  There were still some bikes with 26 inch tires but those seem to pale in comparison with all the 29ers and recent addition, 27.5 inch tires.  And don't forget the fat bikes.  A couple of rigid bikes and even a few with front suspension forks!


After the advanced ride took off and the other big rides left the area I hung out till 10 to take the late comers out with me which entails riding through the park and then picking up the Ribbon Trail and taking that over to Blackledge Falls and then riding back to Gay City on the Blackledge Falls trail.

We didn't ride the Ribbon Trail last year because of wet conditions and there was an ongoing property owner dispute with a trail that came off it that made riding in that section of the park sensitive but it appears that has been squared away now with a tremendous stone wall.

I ended up taking two guys out with me on my ride.  We headed out on the same initial loop that we have been riding for years but split off from the marked course and started the long climb towards Case Mountain.  We weren't heading into Case but that was the way you need to go in order to get to the start of the Ribbon Trail.

The Ribbon Trail starts off the trail that splits off from the Case Mountain connector trail.  It's a great trail that is fast and flowy with plenty of rock rollers and plenty of technical sections to test your meddle.


Along the edge of the disputed property with the Stonehenge like barrier my barend caught sapling and I went down hard.  The funny thing was that I was riding kind of slow.  Got a nice cut and scrape near my ankle but it wasn't bleeding profusely so I left it alone.  Further down the trail though my shifting got a little wonky and then my chain went behind the cassette and we had to stop and get it out.  That's when I discovered that the derailleur hanger was bent.  

Instead of a 9 speed bike I was now down to 3 or 4 speeds so basically just kept the bike in one gear and rode it like a singlespeed the rest of the way which was 3 more miles.  

Getting back to the main trail at Gay City we ran into some of the bigger rides that were returning from their adventures into Case Mountain.  

My route
Once back at the parking area there was the best pizza from Glastonbury and it was bring your own beverage.  I visited with my buddies from ECHO (Eastern Connecticut Hammer Organization), who just happened to be holding their annual ECHOFest at the same time. They didn't do much riding and were a little subdued than previous years, I guess they are getting old.

While not riding, they were raffling off a Corona, Full Suspension Mountain Bike.  It was a small. They were seeing who could throw a used rubber (tire) the furthest.  I wanted to stay for the additional events but had to get home to the family.  Maybe they'll start riding and brewing again to make bring back ECHOFest to it's former prominence. 

Gay City Trails in 3d

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Banjo Brothers Barrel Bag Test Ride

Midday Saturday I hoped on the Randomuter and headed north towards Roxbury for a little test ride with the Barrel Bag.  As I feared, my thighs were hitting the bag on each downward pedal stroke.  I got used to it after awhile but it was mildly annoying.  I am going to try lowering it and see if that makes a difference.  Had a great ride and climbed Town Line Hill.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Banjo Brothers Barrel Bag for the Randomuter

I have been looking for a replacement for my over sized seat bag with the addition of the back rack because it interferes with my trunk bag (see above), which I also want to replace at some point.  I have been looking online for quite some time but nothing really stood out except for the Banjo Brothers Waterproof Saddle trunk but that thing is huge and would also interfere with a trunk bag, too.  Then I found some pictures of their barrel bag that looked kind of enticing since it also can work on the front of the bike which is something I have also been looking for my Bianchi San Jose.

Just about everything I saw online were with Brooks Saddles and since I owned one I thought it might be time move the Cambium back to the Randomuter since it's finally starting to feel broken in. The straps for the Barrel Bag are a perfect fit for the Brooks because the saddle has strap holes on the back.  The Barrel Bag also has good blinky holder, another one of my prerequisites, along with enough volume to hold riding jacket, extra gloves, and my first aid kit. 

Unlike other bags that would attach to the seat post the Barrel Bag has an elastic strap that can attach to the seat post or frame to prevent swaying.  Sitting on the bike it seemed like the back of my thighs might just hit the sides the edges of the bag.  That is something that I will have to test out when I go for a test ride.

I also attached my old Army Butt Pack to the rear rack as another pannier.  I found it in my old Army trunk in the attic and thought that this would hold my lunch bag perfectly.  It mounted to the rack nicely but I will have to find some small snap links for the top of the rack if I want to make it more removable.  Since the butt pack seems to work fine, I probably don't need a another trunk bag.  A test ride is what is needed now.