...this is the kind of stuff I'd post on it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Elephant Cometh

I got a shiny new toy the other day in the form of a new Elephant cyclocross bike.  Go ahead, take a second and admire.  I'll wait.

Glen (the man behind Elephant Bikes) is working on a new website that will show off some of his work, but until then you'll have to take my word for it: the guy builds a great bike.  Heck, if you don't believe me, ask a few other satisfied customers.

Glen is located in my hometown of Spokane, so on a recent trip out to visit my family I was able to pick up the new ride in person.  The plan was to get some bikey folks together, build up the bike Saturday night, and race it first thing Sunday.  It seemed only fitting to break it in on some local turf, before loading it up on the car for the drive back to Seattle.

So we stood around, beers in hand, Belgian cyclocross videos playing in the background, and watched Glen assemble the new steed.  I had been told by a certain John Speare that Glen was pretty handy when it comes to building up a bike, and he was more than right.  I generally just tried to stay the hell out of the way while Glen took care of all the important shit.  Before you could say "Mario Cippollini", the lawyer lips were ground off, the steerer was cut, and the thing was basically done.
(Shakes head) Oh Mario, when will your hijinks ever end?
Ultimately, I think everyone who was present loved the bike, save for a few people who derided my choice of blasé black bar tape.  Have you ever tried to wrap a set of bars while being heckled?  It actually makes the whole process take longer somehow.

This is how many beers it takes to watch someone build a 'cross bike
After taking a few 'hotlaps' around the block, I raced it the very next morning at one of the local CX races.  The course, in the tiny town of Colfax, WA was awesome: part smooth, flowy grass in a city park, part bumpy farmland, with a killer run-up and few short, steep descents to keep things interesting.  The organizers lump the men's 1/2/3 categories together, and as a result, my race was a gut-busting 55 minutes long.  Despite the extra length and the unfamiliarity of a brand-new bike, I felt strong, stayed rubber-side down, and ended up getting 2nd in the Cat 3s.  Critics might point out that there were only 6 of us in the Cat 3s, but I will hear no such criticisms of my performance.

How'd the bike do?  In short: amazing.  It fits great (duh, kinda the point of getting a custom frame), corners like it's on rails, and isn't too shabby looking either.  I'm not enough of a weight weenie to weigh my bikes, but it's obvious that this bike is a pretty svelte package.

Enough with the words you say?  Fine, here are some more pics:

The signature Elephant 'wishbone' seatstays.  Super awesome.

Check out the detailing on the ends of the headtube, and the minimalist pump peg: a single ball bearing.

I can't thank Glen enough for building such a great bike.  It's sure to see plenty more racing action this season, not to mention all the miles I'll undoubtedly put on it outside of races.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Picnic Machine

Life is rough in Seattle these days.

Ever since returning from PBP, this is the type of riding I've been wanting to do.  Picnic riding.  It's finally summer-type weather here, and we're spoiled with parks and water in this damn town.  All this is made much easier by the fact that for a while now, I've had a sweet basket on the front of the bike I've been commuting on and riding the most: the Frankenbike.

I don't know why it took me so long to get a front basket on any of my bikes, but it is awesome.

The general workflow goes like this:
  • Throw some krap in the basket.  Almost any size, any shape.
  • Cover with stretchy cargo net
  • Ride krap to destination
  • Picnic hard
I've also noticed an interesting thing: when you ride a bike with a front basket and you pass another, similarly-equipped cyclist, they almost always do the little "head-nod" acknowledgement.  It's like you're in a club.  An "awesome way to carry stuff on your bike" club.

In case anyone's wondering, the fenders are the new SKS "longboard" fenders, and they're pretty great.  I had to use plastic fenders because of the tricky fender-mounting on this bike (In the absence of a chainstay bridge, I fabricated a mount onto the seat tube, made from an old taillight clamp).  Unlike most plastic fenders however, these guys are long enough to actually work.  The front flap almost touches the ground, and the fender just about reaches the front of the rack.

Honestly, I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon than to ride an enjoyable bicycle to a beautiful place, eat some delicious food, enjoy a beverage or 3, and kick back.  If only it were Saturday right now...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

Well, as you may or may not have heard, I managed to find my way through the 1230 kilometers of Paris-Brest-Paris in less than 90 hours, thereby cementing my status as an ancien.  Thankfully I didn't ruin my body or my bike, and I felt stronger than I thought I would over the course of the ride.  It was, without a doubt, the most amazing thing I've ever done on two wheels, and the entire experience was so massive, so overwhelming, it's been hard for me to condense it into a bloggable format.  Doing something in chronological order wouldn't work either, especially since many of the days, towns and controls have blended together into one bug lump of memories.

With that said, there are definite highlights that stick out in my mind:

Being cheered by scores of local villagers and townspeople, at all hours of the day and night:
Our fans
My first ever "flower hand-up", from one of the many young children that cheered us on.

I'd heard stories that the French residents along the route would line the tiny streets of their towns and villages to cheer the cyclists along, but I had filed them away as exaggerations.  Well, it turns out they were all true.  Not only did we get cheered, encouraged, and applauded for a solid 3.5 days on the road, but we got offers of cookies, coffee, places to sleep, even flowers.  I kid you not.  There is absolutely no way this would ever happen in the US.  Cheers of "allez, allez" and "bon courage" stuck out among countless French phrases I didn't recognize.  All of them sounded equally beautiful to my ears, and the emotional impact of each one can't be overstated.  The French are a wonderful people, and they sure know how to treat a cyclist.  

Riding through a massive thunder and lightning storm in the middle of the night:

The second night of our journey, we decided to leave the crowded control at Loudeac, and press on further to Carhaix before catching a few hours of sleep.  Shortly after we left, lightning began flashing all around us, and the booms of thunder gradually grew closer and closer.  Before long, we were in a full-on deluge, the likes of which this Seattleite hasn't seen in ages.  Pounding rain had every inch of us soaked, and each descent became a white-knuckled test of both courage and brakepads.  The nervous chatter of cyclists of every tongue, the flashes of lightning, the crack of thunder, and the sheer insanity of it all was complete sensory overload.  I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

Luckily, we all had wool to keep us warm and reliable generator-powered lights to show us the way.  We gave up our plan to reach Carhaix that night, stopping in Saint Nicolas-du-Pélem to get some rest.  The gym was out of cots and blankets, so we used an air mattress and paper towels instead.

Pristine roads, without a sliver of glass or pothole to be seen:

In the entire 1230km, with close to 5000 people on the roads, I saw maybe 2 flats being changed.  Even the most remote roads we rode on seemed to have been paved, swept, and groomed shortly before our arrival.  Being from Seattle, I'm used to riding while surrounded by gorgeous scenery (and France had it in spades), but gorgeous roads too?  We joked throughout the ride that we were so spoiled we might have to retire from American randonneuring, and only ride in France.

Amazing baguette sandwiches and pastries at every turn:
jambon et buerre - should have translated to "filling and delicious"
Tasty, no matter what speed you're going
My ride was pretty much fueled by these two items.  Cheap, ubiquitous, and delicious.  I've always needed to eat more "real food" then many of my fellow randonneurs, and luckily that was much easier to do in France than in the US.  Even though France hasn't figured out how to make a decent cup of coffee, they've got the food thing down.  The crappy convenience store food I'm used to having to eat was replaced with fresh bread and pastries.  At one point, I looked down and found a blob of butter on my stem.  YES.

Great scenery:
This was the "typical" town scene
Not your usual American small town
This is normally a pre-requisite for any long brevet, since you have to have something to help you pass the time on the bike.  The scenery of PBP was not only gorgeous, but unlike anything we were used to seeing.  The formula for the many, many tiny towns we rode through in Brittany seemed to be something like this: take a hill, build a medieval stone church on top, surround that with a small square,  a few businesses, and a dense smattering of stone houses, surround with a wall.  The term "suburban sprawl" had no meaning during 99% of the ride, which meant that when we weren't riding through an adorable little town, were were in pristine countryside.

Having a great group of friends to ride with, who failed to piss me off, even after 100+ hours together:
Chris, enjoying some complimentary coffee outside a great boulangerie
Robert, showing his enthusiasm for the town we just rode through
If I think about the amount of time we spent before, during and after the ride, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, sometimes sleepy, sometimes elated, almost always smelly and uncomfortable, I'm amazed that we got along so well.  I'd be at most people's throats after far less, let me tell you.  Robert, Chris and I had ridden as a group for our entire 2011 brevet series leading up to PBP, so sticking together as a group was a natural choice.  While doing so inevitably meant more stops and a slower time, we were never in danger of falling behind the control schedule and our overall PBP "experience" was greater as a result of the awesome company.  Having someone to talk to also helps out immensely when the sleep deprivation catches up with you and the eyelids start to get heavy.

Representing Seattle with the help of a great club:
Riding out to PBP registration with Jan Heine and Hahn Rossman
The Seattle International Randonneurs really lived up to the "International" part of their name at PBP.  With something like 65 starters, we were by far the largest North American club present.  With our distinctive blue jerseys, we really stuck out and made an impression on the scene.  I got to hear "Seattle" pronounced with a huge variety of accents. Twice, I was approached by groups of Italian randos who said "SEATTLE RANDONNEURS!!!" and then insisted on having their pictures taken with me.  Who knew we were so popular?  It was pretty cool to see familiar faces in the middle of France, and I was even able to borrow a spare set of pedals from a fellow Seattle rando (thanks Mark!) after mine broke the night before PBP (after all the bike shops in Paris were closed, natch).

I keep getting asked if PBP was all that I hoped it would be, or whether I'll do it again in 4 years.  I struggle to answer each of those questions, mostly because the experience is still sinking in over 2 weeks later.  As with any brevet, there were thrilling highs (some of which I've described here) and deep lows (massive sleep deprivation, some sketchy bike-handlers).  The difference with PBP seems to be that each piece of the experience was magnified or larger-than-life in some way.  I think I'm going to be content to give the randonneuring a break for a bit, look through the rest of my photos and try to make sense of it all.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

All packed for Paris

Hopefully this mean looking tiger will be able to protect my bike from over-zealous baggage handlers all the way to Paris.

Apologies for the lack of blog updates in......like forever.  My current excuse is that I've been working like mad to prepare for PBP.  I leave in about 45 minutes, so it seemed like as good a time as any to throw this up on the internets.

If you're at all interested in following my progress during the brevet, you can visit this site and enter my frame number (4499).  I'm starting the ride sometime between 6:00PM and 9:00PM on Sunday, August 21st (Paris time).  If all things go according to plan, I should roll across the finish sometime under 90 hours from then.

It's been a long, long process of training, planning, ticket-buying, and packing to get to this point, but I'm ecstatic at having the opportunity to do this ride.  I remember years ago, reading about PBP and BMB for the first time, thinking "Holy shit, that's insane!", while simultaneously filing away the idea of attempting it in the back of my brain.

Fast forward a few years, a few bikes, and many thousands of kilometers later, and here I am.  A big bike box and a suitcase in front of me, nothing left to do now but ride.

I think I hear my ride outside.......to Paris!!

Friday, May 13, 2011


I've had this bike for a while now, and it's high time I blogged a little something about it:

The frame and fork came my way via the always-spectacular Mr. John Speare.  It's got quite a history, which you can read about here and here and here, and I'm happy to be carrying on the bike's "legacy".

This bike has undergone a metamorphosis of Frankenstein-ian (I made that word up) proportions, going from a 700C go-fast road bike with sidepull caliper brakes and gears, to a hacked, single-speed 650B bike with cantis, fat cushy tires, chain tensioner, and 2 left-hand brake levers (thanks, eBay!).

The obligatory bike nerd parts rundown:
- 1993 B-stone RB-1, hacked by Glen Copus
- Homebuilt Velocity Synergy 650B wheelset
- Nitto rando bars, Newbaum's cloth tape (natch)
- Pacenti Pari-moto 650x38B tires
- Old Campy Veloce 110BCD crankset
- Surly Singleator, pushing up to keep things tight

I have to put aside my urges to "fancy" this bike up, since that's not really what this bike is about.  It's a crusty, scabby bike that just keeps on ticking.

That said, I am kinda tempted to get a chainstay bridge welded in, so I can put "proper" fenders on it, but in the meantime, this is pretty much the funnest bike I have for bumming around town.  The 39x16 gearing and platform pedals keep me from getting too serious about being in a hurry, and the tires (the tires!) make sure that I hardly feel the broken, crumbling asphalt beneath me.

I love it.  Many thanks to John for the sweet frame.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sneak a peek at my flèche

Just when you thought you had all the rules of randonneuring figured out, along comes the flèche.

Those crazy Frenchmen of yore designed a team ride, typically held on or near Easter weekend, that consists of mind-boggling array of crazy rules and regulations, the important ones being:
  • Riders must be part of a team, consisting of 3-5 members (tandems count as one member)
  • Teams all head to a common destination from various start locations
  • Routes must be greater than 360km
  • The entire ride takes place over 24 hours
  • No rest stop can exceed 2 hours
  • No drafting or supporting anyone except members of your own flèche team.
  • At least 25km must be ridden in the final 2 hours 
In other words: 
  • Ride all day and all night with your friends. 
  • Don't stop to sleep. 
  • Ride really far.
  • Meet up with other teams to talk about how awesome it all was.
I've been looking forward to this ride for quite a while now. My team (the Flèche Eating Zombies) will be riding from noon on Friday to noon on Saturday over a fantastic route of about 430km designed by Joshua Bryant. We'll start in Portland, ride up the Oregon coast, over the Astoria Bridge into Washington, and on up to Olympia, riding as many backroads and hitting as many scenic points as possible:

I'm really looking forward to riding through the entire night and into the next day.  I'll try my best to overcome my shitty-photo taking habits in the hopes that I can capture some of the awesomeness that we're sure to encounter.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011