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.

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.