Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dirt Wednesdays

With the start of first grade, for the first time since my son's birth I will have enough time to do legitimate mountain bike rides on my Wednesdays off. Unfortunately, starting this year, the school chose to let the kids out an hour early on Wednesdays. At "back to school night," the principal blathered on about better test scores being the reason, but I fail to see how this hour per week matters one bit. So they can get home an hour earlier to watch TV? Because you know that's what most of these kids are going to do.

Anyway, that missing hour makes a long ride an exercise in planning and execution. Today I rode conservatively and made it back to the school with time to spare. I'll keep stretching it out and seeing just how far I can ride in my time window.

I chose to ride from Lake Natoma out past Folsom Lake because it's the shortest drive from the school. Once I reached Granite Bay, I did a couple laps on the race course which means . . . I rode over the Rock of Destruction. Twice.

When I first rode the area again in July of '08, I actually walked over the rock. The flashbacks freaked me out. I hadn't been back until today.

When I rode over it today, the rock came and went so quickly that I almost missed it. After rolling over it, I thought to myself, That's it? You crashed on THAT?

In the 17 months since I broke my wrist on that little obstacle, the legend of its difficulty grew in my mind. In my memory it was a sheer 20-foot drop with a nasty rock garden at the bottom, something better traversed with a freeride bike than the rigid single speed I was on:

. . . a deep chasm that would eat many riders alive.

In reality it's just another feature on a pretty easy trail. A granite boulder, maybe six feet high, with a gradual decline and easy exit chute. On my second time around I had to stop on top and take a picture. Much ado about nothing:

In the end I put in a solid 39 miles and had a good time. It was great to get out and rail some singletrack on the single speed, and feel the deep fatigue in the legs that only a single speed can give you. Until it starts raining, Wednesdays are going to be fun days.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

The End

Well, my son goes back to school on Monday. Summer is almost over. This is the end, my little friend, the end.

So yesterday was our last Wednesday ride of the summer. We went out in grand style.

Once again we started from our normal spot at the aquatic center and headed east on the bike trail, around the south side of Lake Natoma, and headed up towards Beal's point. Normally we turn around a little past Beal's when we hit the magic 10-mile mark, which occurs about a quarter mile down the dirt levee road. Yesterday, though, he wanted to keep going. "You want to ride farther on the dirt?" I asked. "Yeah, more dirt, Daddy." Music to my ears.

Up to this point he had never wanted to ride in the dirt, preferring smooth pavement. I figured he didn't feel secure sitting behind me, not being able to see, and being bounced around without much warning.

We rode on the flat, dirt levee road. When we reached the end, my stoker commanded me to push on.

At that point the road narrows a bit, becoming hilly, curvy and a bit bumpy. I could hear laughter behind me. The rougher the terrain, the more he laughed. When we reached the end, at Granite Bay, I was told again to keep going.

We hit the single track. At first my passenger was fighting the bike a bit, making it hard for me to steer. We hit a couple steep little downhills, and he thought it was the greatest thing ever. He laughed and laughed, and said "this is fun" every time we hit a sharp corner or downhill section.

After a couple miles I could feel him relax, and we found our flow, snaking through the single track as a team. He was leaning into the corners with me, and we were carving perfect arcs. It was one of the coolest experiences I have had on a bike: I was there the day my boy fell in love with mountain biking.

Even though mountain biking is fun, sometimes you have to grit your teeth and make it hurt:

As we neared the 15-mile mark, I told him it was time to turn around. Although he didn't want to, I knew by the time we reached the truck he would want off the bike.

The return trip was even more fun. Much of it is downhill, and I was thankful for that. Hauling 60 pounds behind you can get tiring. When we arrived back at the truck, I was the one who wanted off the bike.

We rode 29 miles, which was our longest ride of the summer.

While it was the end of our summer rides, hopefully it was the beginning of his love afair with the bicycle. With any luck he will discover the joy and freedom I did when I bought my first mountain bike in 1984.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On the Road

“My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have,
but in my lack of control of them.”

- Jack Kerouac

Since I started cycling some 26 years ago, the road bike has always been an integral part of my fleet. Although I will always pledge my first allegiance to mountain biking, the truth is I have always tallied far more miles on the road than on dirt.

When I moved up to the hills six years ago, I had a nice Lemond. I had been road racing on a local team, so the bike was set up more for speed than comfort. When I look at it now my back hurts.

As I have mentioned before, the area around my house is characterized by narrow roads that are often pot-holed, chip-and-seal ribbons of punishment. Some are gravel and even dirt. One local road is absolutely horrendous because the locals want it that way. They discourage through traffic by keeping it rough, and it hasn't been paved in many years. Patch after patch after patch has been applied. It's so bad my spouse refuses to drive on it.

After spending many years riding a rather flat and boring bike trail in Sacramento, I was excited to move to the hills and enjoy epic road riding. It took about a month of flat tires and spine hammering before I tried to cram bigger tires on the road bike. I managed to get a 28mm in front and a 25mm in back. It helped a little, but not enough. Since I had quit road racing, the frame went on eBay.

After that my cyclocross bike became the primary ride.

It was closer to what I wanted, but being a racing bike the position was still pretty aggressive and the braking left something to be desired. Cantilevers can either be set up to work well (short straddle cable, pads close to the rim) or to give you the tire and rim clearance (long straddle cable) necessary for riding and racing in the dirt and mud. On more than one occasion lousy braking caused some close calls in traffic. Plus, quick adjustments in the middle of a ride are a hassle. I like caliper brakes much better for day-to-day riding.

In early 2005 I bought a Karate Monkey 29er.

It's original purpose was for mountain biking, but I quickly discovered it was a pretty good bike for my area. The tires were fat, it was comfortable, the brakes worked and it opened up more options around my house as far as terrain was concerned. It's been my primary ride ever since.

A couple years ago, I caught the road bike bug again (probably during the Tour) and bought a Surly Pacer. Touting that "Fatties Fit Fine," I thought it would be perfect. However, I was only able to successfully run 28mm tires. When I tried 32s, the front tire hit the brake return spring and the rear tire was just barely missing the front derailleur clamp. The frame went on eBay.

I went back to the Karate Monkey and things were swell. Still, sometimes I wanted something a bit faster than a porky 29er.

Perfection in my eyes has always been the Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen. There is nothing I dislike about the bike. Caliper brakes, big tire clearance, laid back geo and a quill stem. I have no doubt it would immediately end my quest. I mean, look at it (not mine).

But at two grand for the frameset, it's not going to happen anytime soon.

This spring I again decided I wanted a road bike. I researched and read, looked at pictures, pored over geometry tables, and came up with the Salsa Casseroll.

My intent was to buy the frame for $550 since I have all the necessary parts sitting in a box. But when Webcyclery put the complete single speed on sale for $735 and threw in a bunch of goodies, I pulled the trigger.

Here's what she looked like out of the box:

Relaxed geo, long head tube, and the ability to run huge tires (currently 37mm) with caliper brakes. Lots of clearance still:

I'm in the process of building it back up with gears, and the parts I don't need are going on eBay. I will easily make up the difference between the frameset price and complete bike, and get a lot of free stuff in the process. Pics to come when finished.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Time Travel, Part Two

The next stop on our Google Earth tour is the great state of Ohio.

I moved to Fairborn, Ohio in 1977. My family spent over two years in the Buckeye State while my dad was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and I have fond memories of our time there. After living my first 10 years in California, I had never experienced things like fireflies, blizzards, humidity, spectacular lightning storms or tornadoes.

We lived in a condominium complex that was built in the middle of nowhere. Except for the convalescent hospital across the street, there wasn't much of anything but farmland in all four directions. Even today, 30 years later, the area surrounding the complex is relatively undeveloped.

When we moved in, the complex was unfinished and half the size of what you see now. The ongoing construction made for great exploring and play opportunities, and it's a wonder nobody was killed. As soon as the construction workers left for the day, the kids would swarm into the site and everything was fair game. We climbed up in unlocked dump trucks and earth movers, took wood to build forts, and used unfinished condos for hide-and-seek. It was great fun.

I could tell stories for days--about the lightning that split a tree right behind my dad and I, about the blizzard of '78, all the times in the crawl space hiding from tornadoes, the Midwest's love for Little League, the homicidal cat, the summer adventures--but I don't have the days to tell them.

Here is a picture of me riding my 11th birthday gift in July of 1978. The grass area you see behind me . . .

. . . is circled in the photo below.

It's incredible to think we can now make that kind of connection in time and space with a few clicks of a mouse, and bring back such a flood of great memories.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Time Travel, Part One

I downloaded and installed the newest version of Google Earth last night. After checking out the sky, the moon and Mars for a while, I started putting in the addresses of all the places I have lived. It was interesting to see what has changed over the years, and what has not.

The area around my first house in Citrus Heights has changed drastically. I knew that of course, since I still live in the Sacramento area, but to see it from the air made it very clear.

Our house was right on I-80 near Antelope Road. If you're traveling east, the last Antelope Road exit sign you see was right over our back fence.

A little to the west were the truck scales. As the big rigs left the scales, you would always hear them going through the gears as they accelerated up to highway speed. It was a pretty noisy place to live, but like anything, you just became used to it.

Back then, the area north of the highway was wide-open field as far as you could see. As you can see now, it's all developed:

The most indelible memory from that house is the morning my bedroom window exploded. I was only four years old, but it's pretty hard to forget a day when 6,000 bombs go off.

Most people call it the "Roseville Bombing," but the disaster actually occurred at Southern Pacific's Antelope Receiving Yard. On April 28, 1973, eighteen boxcars loaded with Vietnam-bound MK-81 bombs somehow caught fire and exploded all day and well into the night. Over 5,500 buildings were damaged and 350 people were injured. The small community of Antelope was flattened. Amazingly, no one was killed.

It started early that morning as I slept. My bed was situated under the bedroom window, which shattered inward. The glass landed on the bedding, and I escaped without a scratch. My parents and I went out to the backyard and watched as mushroom clouds filled the sky.

Each blast was powerful. I remember feeling the concussion of the blasts move my pajamas as I stood in the backyard.

At one point my dad went up on the roof to take pictures. While up there, a piece of shrapnel struck the roof. I still have the chunk of metal on my desk at work, and it still has the tar and sand on it from the roofing material. It weighs a couple ounces, and I shudder to think of what it would have done if it hadn't missed my dad.

We spent most of the day at my grandparents' house and returned home late that night to find a completely windowless house.

I remember driving around the area a day or two later and peering out the window of our car to see the flat spots where houses used to be.

I found a number of old snapshots taken by a rail yard man. They illustrate the extent of the damage far better than a four-year-old's memory can:

More to come . . .


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Baby Einstein

I took my son out for a ride on the bike trail the other day. This is always a big undertaking. By the time we leave the house, it looks like we're going camping for a week--bikes, clothing, towels, water bottles, food, shoes, helmets, sun glasses, gloves, sun screen, tools, spare tubes, backpack, etc. Lots of things to remember. It was only a matter of time before I forgot something.

Unfortunately, when I did forget, it was something important . . . the boy's helmet.

I cursed under my breath and tried to decide whether we would drive back home for it, or just bag the ride altogether. When I told him I had forgotten his helmet, he asked, "Can I use yours?"

I just smiled at him like adults do, with the "you're-so-cute-but-you-just-don't-get-it" smile. I playfully placed my helmet on his head and shook it around.

It didn't move much. At all.

His mother and I have always joked about his head, and how his huge brain will one day bring great things to the world. I just didn't realize it was THAT big.

With a couple clicks of the ratchet system in back and a few inches of chin strap taken in, we were in business. It didn't even look that big on him:

I threw on a ballcap and off we went. I don't like riding without a helmet, but I didn't want to drive back home, either. We did stay on the flatter portion of the bike trail since it was safer.

The boy pounded out a personal best of 25 miles. We followed it up with burritos and a swim when we returned home. Another great summer day.