Friday, January 11, 2013

Winter Bicycle Pub Crawl, January 27

It's time for the premier bicycle event of the season, which we insiders know by its colloquial name: "Winter Bicycle Pub Crawl". You can join the group on Facebook for updates, or you can show up at Bulldog NE at noon, January 27, or 11 AM at HC if you'd like to group ride from this part of town.

A quick note about this event: Yes, we will be visiting several fine pubs, and beer will be a popular beverage, but it is not exactly a drinking-centric event. In fact, sloppy or obnoxious drunkenness is strongly discouraged. There will be miles to pedal, and food to consume, so you'll still have a good time even if you aren't interested in drinking beer on your Sunday afternoon. I, for one, have not had a beer in 10 years, and I still enjoy this pub crawl. You should come to the first stop, at least.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

SF Adventure part 3: into the East Bay

After leaving the Marin Headlands, I headed across the Golden Gate into the sensory overload of crowded, frenetic San Francisco.

I was somewhat hurried to take pictures, because I was excited to meet a friend for lunch, so no pics. It was invigorating to aggressively ride in crowded urban streets, something I've always enjoyed, from Minneapolis rush hour to the Vegas Strip, and now to downtown San Francisco. After a nice lunch, I headed down into the subterranean to learn the ins and outs of taking my bicycle aboard the BART, which is easy as long as you don't try to lift a heavy loaded bike over the narrow gates (they have wider gates for wheelchairs and other wide loads).

I got off the BART in Walnut Creek to visit Rivendell Bicycle Works.

This is the Riv employee bike rack.

I'd hoped to chat with Rivendell-founder/owner Grant Petersen, but he was in a meeting. So I visited with some of the other RBW employees, with whom I have a fair bit in common, as far as my day-to-day work life. I spotted this item during my visit:

I am compelled to speculate about a future Rivendell sport-road bike that has clearance for light, supple 700x60C tires. You'll regret all the days you spent riding harsh 700x40C rubber.

One disadvantage of mid-winter bike travel is that darkness comes early. Every night I felt somewhat rushed to find a place to camp by around 4:30 PM to avoid setting up in the dark. After chatting a bit with some of the Riv people about where to go, I started riding toward the nearby Shell Ridge Open Space. The concept of an "open space" is foreign to us in the middle of the country, but basically it's a large tract of open land that is available for various forms of non-motorized recreation, livestock grazing, etc. There were many, many trail riding options, but I tried (and probably failed) to be faithful to some instructions given to me by Riv employee Brian. This led me to ride and (mostly) push my bike up and up and up onto the highest ridge in the immediate area. The ridge was very narrow at the top, where there was a well-trodden footpath, with steep sides falling away from the ridge-crest. As the sun was setting, it seemed that all the runners and hikers I saw were heading down, leaving the area. I hung out before setting up camp, and admired the view of Mt Diablo from this vantage point.


Once it finally got good and dark, I figured I'd have the place to myself (it was New Year's Eve), and I pitched my tent. Looking down at the lights of the city below me, I envisioned all the holiday revelers starting their new year whilst I hung out in my tent.

As I finished up my dinner and nestled into my bag, I heard footsteps jogging past on the trail inches from my tent. So much for my theory that the place would be deserted after dark.

I stayed up until an anti-climactic midnight while listening to This American Life podcasts and being witty on Facebook. I woke up to a foggy, amazing sunrise over Diablo. Right out my front door:

I had plans to meet an old friend (of 30 years!) for breakfast, and getting there was half the fun.

There was talk on the internet of a bunch of local riders going up Mt Diablo, and I tried to meet up with them by following one suggested route that was posted online, which turned out to be the exact wrong direction. Some text message miscommunication got me even further off the beaten track...into an area of extremely sticky mud. My wheels got so jammed with mud, they wouldn't turn. I jabbed at the mud under the fenders with an allen wrench until the wheels turned more freely. As I was departing the area onto paved streets, my rear fender finally succumbed to the force of the wheel transmitting through the mud, and folded into an accordion shape near where it mounts on the chainstay bridge. I managed to straighten it out, but there was still a lot of noise from the rear wheel. I stopped on a local paved bike path and began surgery. I removed the rear wheel and scraped a thick mud deposit out of my fender. I reinstalled the rear wheel and heard a harsh metal-on-metal sound from the rear disc brake. I performed a couple hard stops trying to free the debris from the brake, to no avail. Upon inspection I observed a thin piece of metal stuck between the brake pad and brake rotor. I again removed the rear wheel, and finally disassembled the brake. The small leaf spring that retracts the pads had gotten bent. I snapped off the offending part of the spring and did my best to reinstall the broken part. Being a holiday, I couldn't find a local source for a new set of pads, so I figured I'd limp through the rest of my trip with an imperfect rear brake. Turns out my field-repair was more than satisfactory, and before long I was back to fearlessly bombing down steep hills with full use of my brakes.

I decided to be a worthless lay-about in Walnut Creek for a bit. I found some coffee and just generally killed time looking for warmth and sun out of the wind. I met Daniel for lunch. Turns out Daniel and I have very similar bike interests and preferences, and our bikes were spec'ed similarly. Daniel is an interesting dude, and travels to a lot of remote, exciting corners of the globe with his bike. He's a good photographer and writer, too. You'll enjoy his blog, and appreciate the obvious effort he puts into his writing and photography. I was exceedingly grateful to have met him.

Daniel and I rode back to Shell Ridge. After over-eating all day, I noted that my blood was flowing to my full stomach and my legs were sluggish. Luckily, we took a less hilly route through the open space and took plenty of breaks for photos and bullshitting. Eventually Daniel had to attend a family thing, and left me to myself on the trails. It was getting close to camp time, so I started looking for a good spot. I was attracted to the gnarly old oak tress.
This one was nice, but too publicly visible. I kept exploring:

This place is amazing. I will spend more time here next time.

Finally I found the perfect spot.

Stay tuned for my return to SF and home.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rohloff, and Rohloff group buy

I've been asked a couple times whether I did my recent California trip on a single-speed. My Surly Disc Trucker does have a single chainring and single cog, but the cog is attached to a 14-speed Rohloff Speedhub.

We've been selling the occasional Rohloff for years, but I never fully understood why anybody would pay the hefty $1300+ price tag for a gear-hub that seemed kinda heavy and potentially difficult to repair. But now that I've had one for most of a year, and have a couple longer trips with it under my belt, I understand. Rather than re-invent the wheel, so to speak, by writing a list of Rohloff benefits, I'll refer you to click here for a list of Rohloff's primary selling points. I'd also add that the Rohloff wheels are very strong because of the symmetric, non-dished spoke lacing.

We have lots of experience with internal gear hubs from Shimano, SRAM, Sturmey Archer, Nuvinci, and Rohloff. The Rohloff is, by far, the most expensive. It's also the only one that consistently lives up to expectations of the low-maintenance and long durability of internal gear hubs (IGHs). This is accomplished by being a sealed oil-based hub, not unlike a car's transmission. Many lesser IGHs let water and crud sneak in around bearing dust covers, and nobody notices until it's too late and the thing seizes internally with rust (we see this a few times per year). Because the Rohloff is sealed to contain oil, it's not possible for foreign substances to get in and cause damage. A second point to consider is that the shift indexing happens INSIDE the hub. It doesn't matter how dirty or kinked your shift cables get, or how much mud gets packed into the wheel, the hub will still shift perfectly.

The repair-ability issue is worth a mention. There are a few places that service Rohloff hubs, but most likely you'd have to send your wheel to the service location and wait while it gets repaired and shipped back to you. This may or may not present an inconvenience. The good news is that this is rarely needed. There are numerous stories on the web of cycle-adventurers and commuters putting 100,000 miles on a Rohloff without a glitch. You should change the oil though, every year or every 5000 km, whichever comes first. It's easy and inexpensive ($32 or so).

Anyway, a few years ago I might have told you that Rohloff was mostly a status symbol, since many cyclists know they cost a lot of money. I don't feel that way anymore. Compared to high-end derailleur drivetrains, the Rohloff is actually not terribly expensive. You could easily spend as much or more on a fancy cassette hub, cassette, derailleurs, and shifters, to have a less reliable, less durable, higher maintenance system.

I mentioned my Surly Disc Trucker earlier. Surly has been quietly putting Rohloff OEM2 mounts on several frame models, including the Big Dummy, Troll, Ogre, and Disc Trucker. The OEM2 mount makes Rohloff mounting easy and elegant by anchoring the torque of the Rohloff shift mechanism against the head of a barely visible M6 bolt threaded into a special fitting in the rear dropout area. My Disc Trucker is an amazing bike - tough, stable, comfortable, good at hauling weight on rough roads, etc. The Rohloff makes it even better. If I had your money, I'd get a Rohloff Ogre or Troll. Someday.

Speaking of someday, I'm trying to find a few people who are interested in a Rohloff group buy. If I order five Rohloff hubs, there's an attractive 10% discount off the wholesale price (which I'm happy to pass on to retail customer who participate in the group buy). Please contact me if you need a price quote, as there are MANY Rohloff variants, all at different prices. I can, of course, also build your Rohloff wheel and install it on your bike, if needed.

Monday, January 7, 2013

SF bike adventure, part 2

After leaving Bolinas, I didn't have a solid plan of where to go next. I'd heard that at least one internet friend was going camping at a place called Steep Ravine. Google maps told me that Steep Ravine was just a few miles down the road from Bolinas. I took a leisurely ride in that direction, and arrived pretty early. I'd been advised by a person who had local knowledge that Steep Ravine was a tourist trap. It's probably true that in the summer the rustic cabins at Steep Ravine are a popular destination, but the campsites are somewhat secluded, and on this winter day, only 3 out of 7 sites were occupied.

I picked a site with an unobstructed view of the ocean.

Since it was only midday and I had the place more or less to myself, I explored the area a bit, and enjoyed some of the local flora and views.






I made some food:

Eggs and cheddar and bacon and avocado. Not too shabby.

I was starting to think that the people I'd hoped to meet at the campground weren't going to show. But just before sunset, four new friends arrived.

Soon, sunset was the major event.


(photo by Manny Acosta)

After dark, I played around with some long-exposure photography.
This was a fun screw-up.

San Francisco lights in the distance:

And our campfire:

And a delightful moonrise over the ridge:

The next morning, my camping companions departed early, while I took full advantage of the nice weather for screwing around some more at the campsite. I just wasn't ready to leave such scenery.

I rode down the coast, which was breath-taking, but decided to turn inland to check out Muir Woods. Unfortunately that area was an absolute zoo, cars and people everywhere, so I just kept pedaling up and up and up, then down and down and down, into Mill Valley. No good pics, unfortunately.

After stopping for groceries in Mill Valley, I again saw my previous night's camping friends. They'd had some delays, and amazingly we saw each other at an intersection. Amazing coincidence.

We took the secret route to the Golden Gate. This is me.


They crossed the bridge, but I opted to remain in the Marin Headlands. By the time I got near the familiarly comfortable Marin Headlands hostel, I decided to spend another night in the hostel - fully stocked with groceries, I was especially excited to use the full kitchen to make myself a nice meal. And the promises of a hot shower and wireless internet access were alluring. I must be getting soft. Here's the hostel.
It's a lot bigger than it looks in this picture. For hikers and bikers, it's $24/night, which is an amazingly good deal.

Stay tuned for my excursion in the East Bay area, and in the city of San Francisco itself...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

San Francisco area bike adventure

After finding a nicely discounted airfare to San Francisco several months ago, I arrived on schedule on Dec 24. I took the BART train to Oakland Amtrak to retrieve my bicycle and gear, and then, after visiting a friend for lunch in Oakland, I took my bike on a ferry ride across SF Bay. Now I had to ride through throngs of tourists to get across the Golden Gate to my destination in Marin County.
Marin County is that hilly place across the bridge.

All these old buildings attest to the area's history of military significance.

Across the bridge, I enjoyed a nice climb up Conzelman Rd, where the tortuous local tectonic situation was evident in the rocks on the side of the road.

After spending the first night in the Marin Headlands Hostel, my first stop on Christmas day was Rodeo Beach.

This day turned out to be the rainiest of the trip, but it didn't stop me from hitting some local fire roads and trails. This is the Bobcat Trail under a eucalyptus tree, which smelled wonderful.
One of my favorite memories of this trip is the smell in the eucalyptus groves.

There were isolated patches of pretty flowers here and there:

And slugs as long as my hand.

This was a glorious descent down the Miwok trail.

After spending a very wet day exploring several local fire trails, I decided that I wasn't enthusiastic about setting up camp in the rain. I returned for another night at the hostel to rest and dry out my clothes.

The next day, I knew I needed to restock on food, so I headed toward Sausalito, which turned out to be a tourist trap, but I did see this nice rainbow.

After the rainbow, I was drenched in an exceedingly cold and intense rain. Sausalito has several bike shops. I visited one of them to buy a waterproof saddle cover, which I'd apparently forgotten at home.

On to Mill Valley where I could stock up on groceries and begin my ascent of Mt Tam.



I was under the impression that going up Mt Tam would be a straightforward process, but I got confused a few times and ended up with quite a few bonus miles, many of which involved pushing my bike up very steep hills. Just when I thought I was going in the right direction to the summit, I'd start going back downhill, only to revisit the place where I'd started climbing an hour earlier. This was one such "wrong" turn.


Frustrated, but still enjoying myself, I stopped at an unofficial 1-site primitive campground to spend the night. Mt Tam was visible through the branches surrounding my tent, and I concluded that I was FINALLY on the right trail, which turned out to be true. The next day was sunny and perfect.

I found this awesome grove of redwoods.

As I continued up the "road", I was treated to a lovely view of the east bay, and Mt Diablo on the horizon.

And a nearby lake.

A few times, I wished for my Pugsley on the rough roads.

The views from the top of Tam are pretty spectacular.

Riding down Ridgecrest, the iconic views over Bolinas Bay were great, but I especially enjoyed the fog down in the valleys.

I started up the Bolinas Ridge Fire Rd, with hopes of staying at the Pt Reyes Hostel. But the fire road was soft and mushy and slow going, and according to the website, the hostel may have been full.

I was tired and cold and my morale was already a little low...then I discovered that one of my bags had fallen off my bike. I retraced my route several miles to find the bag, but I'd spent valuable daylight and lost plenty of elevation. I changed my plan and enjoyed an exhilarating descent down the Bolinas-Fairfax Rd. I'd heard for years about Bolinas and its hostile attitude toward outsiders, but I figured I could charm the locals. Apparently this was the case, because everything I bought at two restaurants and a store were LESS expensive than advertised. I enjoyed Bolinas immensely, probably because it reminds me of the somewhat insular, isolated community where I grew up. Bolinas residents go as far as to remove signs pointing toward Bolinas from the highway, and the only sign indicating the correct direction did not refer to Bolinas by name.

The beach in Bolinas was a nice place for strolling and picking up shells.

The local fisherman were hauling in crabs, as were some local shorebirds. A big gull tried to extract this guy from the surf as the tide rolled out.

I spent the night in Bolinas and loved it. I want to go back there sometime. It's a special place.

To be continued...