Spring cleaning

A few things have happened since the last installment.  We bought a house, moved our stuff, cleaned the old place, and tried really hard to not pull all our hair out.

Bicycle miles for March are pretty close to zero.  As such, I kinda didn’t finish the Utilitaire 12.  I suppose I could have, and probably did, get in enough riding to do 12 utilitaires.  But they were mostly out of necessity and time didn’t allow for much variety.  I did, however, get a big ol’ Honorable Mention from the ever-so-lovely MG.  And that was super cool.  Thanks, MG!

I’ve had to do some plumbing.  The new (old) kitchen required a new faucet and dishwasher.  The new (new) bathroom needed a new shower head.  I have yet to figure out why in hell anyone would voluntarily choose to become a plumber.  Furthermore, I don’t understand how anyone with less than 7 joints in each limb can make a living out of it and not have to hand over their entire pay check to a chiropractor.  Eugene Tooms could have been a good plumber.

The rSogn is getting closer to done.  I’ve attached a Nitto M12 rack and an Ostrich handlebar bag.  Speeding down hill with a front load and no hands is wicked cool.

I just received a snazzy new set of stainless fenders from Velo-Orange. Anyone want to see a pictorial installation how-to? I’ll try to get that done within the next few days.

A slow, easy S24O is coming up.  Tentative plans have us heading down to the Lower Allen Township park and forcibly ejecting anyone else camping along the Yellow Breeches.  If you’re near Harrisburg, PA for the second or third weekends in April and would like to come along, lemme know.

I think that should just about wrap things up.  Tune in next time for co-ed naked alligator wrestling in a mud pit.

Utilitaire 12, Week 3, Controle 6

I’m cheating. Well, actually, I’m taking advantage of a technicality. The Utilitaire 12 rules state that only once can I hit two controls in one day. Since I hit the first control of the week yesterday and was unsure of today’s schedule, I waited until after midnight and went to the grocery store for control 6.

The scenic route afforded me 2.5 miles of wind and cold; a stark contrast to yesterday’s high of 50-something. Once again, I forgot to take the photo on my way out, but remembered before I left the parking lot. So I doubled back and snapped one, charged lights and all. Unfortunately, my phone’s camera crapped out again, and there’s no photo. This is getting old. On the plus side, my contract is up with T-Stationary (because there’s no service if I go anwywhere), so I should have a new one soonish.

Ride bike!

Utlilitaire 12, Week 3, Controle 5

We’re down to the last 2 days for week 3 of Utilitaire 12 and I hadn’t done any riding at all. Deciding to have Neato Burrito for dinner was easy. I’m always up for burritos. Riding there is kind of a prerequisite. Otherwise, I can’t justify the calories. We didn’t eat our lunch until after 4pm, so I’m calling this dinner for the purposes of filling out the control card. Also, a friend turned me onto Strava yesterday, so this is my first use of that service. Here’s the ride map.

So far, Strava is pretty cool. The Android app uses the GPS to track the ride and then automagically uploads everything to their site. In the past I’ve used either a dedicated GPS device or the My Tracks app, and then fiddled around with uploading a GPX file to a service like Ride with GPS or Daily Mile. This Strava thing is much easier.

As usual, the Sloth’s brain is running on the slow side, and I forgot to take a photo at Neato Burrito. So I took one at home just before unloading the basket. There are two burritos and two sodas in that bag.

The bag is one of those semi-reusable 99¢ shopping bags from the local supermarket.  I bought a few of these a couple years ago and they’re still holding together.  They each have a stiff plastic insert on the bottom, which helps it stand up when it’s full.  These things fit damn near perfectly in the bottom of my Wald basket.  I generally fold it down, lay the cable and lock on top, and then cover the top of the basket with a bungee net.  This setup is very handy, and ensures I can carry just about anything that fits in the basket.

Ooh!  I have to rant about bags.

Grant Petersen thinks my bag makes me look like a hobo.  My bag costs a buck and lasts at least 2 years.  His is $60.  I can get 120 years of cycling out mine for $60.  Who knows how long his will last?  I don’t care if someone steals mine, so I leave it on the bike all the time.  The $60 bag might grow legs if I left it outside.  Mine may make me look like a hobo, but his makes me look like I’m carrying a purse.

So there.

Ride bike!

Utilitaire 12, Week 2

Now that week 3 is drawing to a close, I figure it’s time to jabber about week 2. If you don’t know what a Utilitaire is, read my previous post or just go to the source at Chasing Mailboxes.

Controle 3 was the local True Value hardware store on February 9th.  It’s in the same strip mall nightmare as Isaac’s (from last week’s entry), and still not close enough to the lone bike rack, so I locked it to a downspout just in front of the hardware store.  This was, without a doubt, the most miserable ride of the year.  I was sick, it was cold, and I didn’t want to go.  There’s nothing like swollen sinuses and a bad attitude to make a bike ride last forever.  2.66 miles.  At night.

I’ve been working on a modified front rack for the rSogn, so I can start using my Ostrich handlebar bag, and needed some 1/4″ p-clamps.  They had some plastic clamps that will work for fitting and mock-up purposes, but I’ll soon have to find some in steel.

As you can probably tell, this ride was after sunset.  The rSogn’s lighting system consists of a Novatec hub dynamo wired to an IQ Fly N Plus headlight and a 4D Lite Plus taillight.  The headlight has its ups and down.  It’s certainly bright, and it has 3 detents for aiming the light.  This is an awesome feature that makes it easy to adjust the beam angle depending on conditions.  I’ll point it down it a bit on multi-user paths so as to not blind pedestrians, but aim it high on unlit rural roads to really light things up.  On the down side, it’s hideous and there are brighter options out there.  I’m please with it overall, and  have no plans to replace it.  The taillight is nothing special.  It’s not bad, and if you don’t have a rear rack it’s a good solution.  The B&M Toplight Line Plus is a far better taillight.  If I had a rear rack permanently mounted, that’s what I’d use.

My 4th controle was the supermarket 2 blocks away on the 12th.  I took the scenic route and made it an even 3 miles round trip.  This one was also at night.  Unfortunately, my phone’s camera dumped core just after I took the photo.  When I got home and tried to upload, there was no picture at all.  So you’ll have to imagine the next two days’ worth of groceries piled high in the front rack.

The rSogn has low trail front geometry.  What this means is that there’s a fairly steep head tube angle of 73°, coupled with a fork offset of 63mm.  This is a good combination for carrying loads above the front wheel.  My grocery run was probably the 2nd heaviest load so far and the handling was just fine.  Having a basket and a net, front or rear, is much easier than dealing with panniers.

Ride bike!

Utilitaire 12, Week 1

For those of you who live under a rock, the lovely MG over at Chasing Mailboxes has challenged the whole, wide world to participate in the Utilitaire 12.  I missed the Coffeeneuring Challenge (because I was living under a rock).  Anyway, the short, short, paraphrased version is “go ride your bike to get stuff done.”  You should really click the 2nd link in the first sentence.

Last week, on the 2nd, I did my two-fer.  First, I rode the rSogn to the library and donated some books for their annual-ish book sale.  This is the Cleve J. Fredrickson Library in Camp Hill, PA, but my phone died before I could get a second photo with the sign.  You’ll have to take my word for it.  3.54 miles round trip.

The rSogn, with its cushy 650b tires and low-trail geometry, handled the 20 pounds of paperbacks with ease.  I’d like a better front rack, but for now it’ll do.

Later, I scooted over to a nearby suburban-hell shopping center to have lunch with the wife.  2.66 miles round trip.

That yellow grate thing attached to the green post is part of Isaac’s branding.  I have never, ever seen a bike locked to it before, but since the only bike rack in this hole of a strip mall is clear down at the other end, I locked up here.  After we ate there was another bike locked to it.  WIN!  If you look close and squint, you can see it behind mine.  “If you park on it, they will come,” or some such.

So that’s my first week and first 2 Utilitaires.  I need to get my butt in gear for this week.

Double-boinger blubber bikes

The rumors started yesterday.  Salsa’s working on a double-suspension fat bike.  “Oh, goody,” thought I.  “Sheldon Brown’s not dead and it’s April 1st.  This is awesome on so many levels!”  As it turns out, I was only dreaming about waking from a bad dream.  Affix your dull stare here.  Seriously, how much squishy can one cyclist need?  A lot, apparently.  The cycloblogosphere is full of “OMG! Shiny!” today.

On a more serious note, I’ve always been a proponent of strong property rights.  In other words, it’s your money and you can spend it however you want.  However, HOWEVER, I do reserve full rights to point and laugh.

Maybe this will hit the market one day and someone will mount a Brooks B135 on it with a Thudbuster.  It’s only fitting.

Learning to Write from a TV Set

I sought him out because he had studied with John Gardner at SIU Carbondale.  He made us watch film adaptations of the shitty short stories they made me pretend to read in high school.  For three class meetings I stared at a television as he sat there and thumbed through his signed copy of “The Art of Fiction”.  There was no fourth, not for me.

Tried and liked…

Per the annual iBOB tradition, here’s my list of stuff I tried and liked during 2011.

  1. Warren Zevon.  OK, not really.  I’ve been a fan for years and years, but was only familiar with the regular radio stuff.  Over the last year I really dug in and digested everything I could get my hands on.  Good stuff.  Enjoy yer sammiches, folks.
  2. Road bikes.  I snagged a too big Peloton frame a few years ago and a Pacer last year, but only managed to build them up this year.  Lightweight tubes are nice.  Climbing in high gears is fun and something I never could do well on the MTBs and the Trucker.  Road bikes are super fun!  But the harsh ride of skinny tires combined with my fat butt led me to –
  3. 650b.  I’m all in on this one, so even if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t admit it.  Bought the wheels, tried converting two old bikes, bought a 650b-specific bike.  I’m currently running Col de la Vie tires, but hope to try some Hetres or Pari-Motos soon.
  4. Rawland rSogn.  This is my 650b all-rounder.  It’s a low-trail bike with clearance for  9.00/28/5-15 dragster tires.  Well, maybe not quite that wide, but definitely the fattest 650b tires currently available.  The rSogn was intended to replace both the Trucker and the road bike, and it looks like it will do just that quite nicely.  The only problem with the rSogn is that it has braze-ons all over the place and I’m not sure what to attach to them.  I’m paranoid about stuff like that.
  5. Bontrager Ion 2 headlight.  This is a AAA clip-on light which I purchased to replace a water-logged EL520.  It’s a surprisingly good light and I’ve recommended it to several people.  It has 3 modes – high, low and seizure.  The high beam is suitable for city streets and is a good “be seen” light for going slow on unlighted roads.  The low beam is good for when you don’t have any spare batteries and you’re two hours from home.  The flash mode is good for clicking past when you need to shut off the light.  Battery life is better than expected.  Overall, it’s a pretty good inexpensive battery light.

…and didn’t. No “tried and liked” list is complete without the equally opposite.

  1. Fat bikes.  Now, to be completely honest, I’m not one to blindly follow the crowd.  (But Sloth, fat bikes are a niche product!)  The evil LBS had one in stock.  I tried real hard to find the coolio in it, but all I could muster was a sigh and a head shake.  I know all the other bike bloggers are wetting their pants over the new Pugluklanders, and I’ll probably rub some of them the wrong way, but as best I can tell fat bikes are kinda like Kim Kardashian.

A few notes about my S24O kit

For those of you who still don’t know, S24O means “sub-24-hour overnight”.  It’s bike camping.  Dig out your old hiking gear, lash it to your bike, ride a couple hours, camp, come home.  Do it in less than 24 hours.  It’s a nice substitute for touring if you have kids.  Or bills.  Or a job.  Or kids and bills and a job.

Quite a bit has been written about S24O within the last few years.  Here are a few links if you’d like to read a bit more.

The Adventure Cycling interview with GP.
Rivendell’s articles about traveling by bike.
Bikepacking is the MTB crowd’s way of doing it.  There’s some good info about creative ways to attach things to your bike.

Plug it into Google.  You’ll find lots more.

Right now I’d like to lay out what I typically bring along and how well it has worked so far.  The most recent trip’s kit, over Running Gap, looked like this when packed on the bike.

I’ll move from left to right.

I use two Lone Peak P-099 Sundance panniers.  They’re about the same size as an Ortlieb Front Roller, but not waterproof.  Lone Peak bags are made in the US of, what appears to be, heavy duty Cordura nylon and tough-as-nails zippers.  The locking system is damn near fool-proof and super easy to use.  The hooks come in 2 sizes.  Blackburn racks and copies need the smaller hooks and modern racks, like Surly’s Nice Rack or anything from Tubus, take the larger hooks.  Be sure to tell your retailer which ones you need.  I like these bags a lot and won’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone.

Moving on to the stuff in the panniers.

My cook kit consists of a grease pot with lid, homemade windscreen, aluminum pot gripper and Esbit stove  The grease pot is light, holds the rest of the kit and is cheap.  It holds about a quart of water, which is more than I ever need to boil.  I made the windscreen out of a turkey basting pan from the grocery store.  The pot gripper is the standard cheap one that can be found in Wally-Mart’s camping aisle.

The Esbit stove is the heart of the system.  It’s about the same size as a deck of cards and can hold 4 fuel tablets when folded.  One tablet will bring 2 cups of water to a boil faster than any alcohol stove I’ve ever seen, and burns long enough to make a cup of coffee and a pack of Ramen if you’re quick with the pouring.  For an overnight or long weekends the Esbit is superb.  The fuel is easy to light and burns in any weather.  It can even be used as a fire starter if your fire building skills are as bad as mine.  But perhaps it’s not the best solution for extended travel, as the fuel is rarely available at Bubba’s Gas ‘n Git.  Fortunately, this is my S24O kit.

I also keep my sleeping bag up front.  It’s a Lafuma Warm ‘n Lite 600 down bag, rated to 40F, which packs down to the size of a small canteloupe.  So far, in the 4 or 5 times I’ve used it, the overnight temperature has invariably dropped below 40F.  It’s not warm enough to sleep in shorts and t-shirt at 40F.  The last trip’s low of 24F was a bit too cold.  I ended up sleeping in every piece of clothing I had with me.  Two layers top and bottom, two pair of socks, a fleece pull-over wrapped around my feet and a fleece stocking cap on my head.  I stayed warm enough, but the bag felt cramped.  It’s not particularly roomy to begin with, but my large frame covered in multiple layers left very little wiggle room.  This isn’t a bad bag, but it’s definitely for warm weather.  I’m currently considering a Big Agnes system for every season except summer.

The remainder of the front pannier space was taken by spare clothing, food, toiletries, wallet and keys, and a few random small bits.

Moving right.  There are 3 water bottles in the cages.  These are 16oz Kleen Kanteens.  They’re water bottles.  Not much to say, other than I do prefer the stainless steel to plastic.

On to the rear rack.  Perched atop the rear-mounted front rack is a Minnehaha Medium saddle bag.  It’s just big enough for a tool kit, patch kit, spare tube and my Thermarest Prolite 4.  I got the saddle bag on sale.  It’s not a bad bag, but it’s also not worth the current retail price, ATMO.  A big online retailer blew these out last year for $25.  I wouldn’t pay more than that for one today.  Pros – it’s durable, looks pretty good, and has some steel d-ring lash points on the flap.  Cons – the buckles are in an awkward spot unless you routinely stand on your head, there are no provisions for attaching a light, and it’s medium-ness is either too big or too small and never just right.  For the purposes of S24O, it’s too small.

The Prolite 4 was Thermarest’s top of the line self-inflating mattress for a long time.  It’s discontinued, but they replaced it with a similar product that is supposed to have even better insulation.  Pros – it’s durable, easy to inflate and provides excellent ground insulation.  24F on mud was no match for it.  The Prolite does exactly what it’s supposed to do.  Cons – it’s not thick enough for my fat butt.  This is more my fault than the pad’s.  I can’t sleep on my back.  Drunk, drugged and exhausted, I’d lay there wide awake if I couldn’t roll onto my side.  This does not complement a thin, firm pad.  My arm and shoulder will go to sleep, which wakes me up.  Then I have to roll over.  I’ll do that a dozen or so times over the course of the night.  I simply need more cushioning.  If I could sleep on my back the Prolite would be perfect.

Lashed to the back of the saddle bag are my tent, pillow and rain jacket.  The tent is a Eureka! Spitfire.  I purchased the tent mostly because it was on sale and met my needs (on paper).  This tent is frustrating.  It’s not difficult to set up, but I have to make about 4 circles around the damn thing in the process.  The included stakes are those crappy aluminum rods that bend if you look at them harshly.  The vestibules are tiny and the right side is not accessible from inside the tent.  I have just enough room for my shoes on the left.  On the plus side, it’s well made and waterproof.  The ventilation system works well.  My Prolite pad fits perfectly on the bathtub floor and is slightly wedged at the corners, which means the pad doesn’t move around.  It’s also light – about 3 pounds.  I’ll keep it for now, but when the time comes for a new one I’ll probably shop around.

I also can’t sleep without a pillow, so I brought a small throw wrapped in an ancient pillow case.  Cramming my clothing into a stuff sack is never very comfortable, and on the last trip would have been impossible since I was wearing all of it.

My rain shell is an O2 Rainshield.  It’s a slight step up from Tyvek and costs about $25.  My first one lasted two and half years, including daily use as a wind shell for two winters.  It’s light, packs small and adds to the visibility factor.  On the other hand, the front zipper is the only means of ventilation.  I’ve not found this to be a problem, but I know some folks prefer pit and back vents.  For the money it can’t be beat.

I think that just about covers it, though I’ve probably forgotten something important.  Feel free to ask questions.

Next time, I’ll detail the new rSogn and discuss why I sold the Trucker.

Expedition to Running Gap

Whereupon we climbed high mountains, exhausted our daylight, froze nearly to death, lost our maps, and rescued a fair maiden

I hereby offer my testimony of our harrowing expedition.  The account is truthful to the best of my abilities.  My companion’s account is here, though I fear the cold has caused him permanent harm as his details are askew.

Having heard the tales of several previous failed expeditions to cross Running Gap the Pass of Caradhras, and the camp sites treasures that lie there waiting for those with a free weekend brave enough to attempt it, Bone and I set upon the task of conquering the foul summit.

From rSogn

Just after noon on the 5th day of November, in the year 2011, we departed upon Velocipedes into the rugged foothills of the Nittany Mountains, leaving behind all traces of civilization and any hope of rescue should we fail in our quest.  For hours we slogged through muddy tracks and over impossibly steep hills, encountering no other living thing except the trees.  Upon the crest of one hill we did discover the half-eaten corpses of two deer, no doubt caught and slain by the hideous Nittany lion.  We agreed to proceed as quietly as possible from this point.

We did eventually find our way to the foot of the Nittany Mountain and proceeded upwards.  It was so steep and rugged that we were forced to push our machines.  Our hopes of finding a suitable camp site before dusk were shattered by the sheer palisade on one side and a precipitous drop on the other.  As onward and upward we pushed the wind grew to ferocious gusts, colder and colder, and the sky darkened.  Just before the sun set we met two hunters grizzled rangers descending the mountain.  They had seen no deer and wondered if we had spotted any attempted to cross the pass, but were out of time defeated.  They joked that we should be riding our bikes instead of walking. Their speech was incomprehensible and the look of fear in their eyes was unmistakable.  We could barely understand their gibberish.  They implored us to turn back, but we refused and continued on our way.

We did reach the summit that night, but found no shelter from the freezing gale and decided to go down the other side.  The descent was exhilarating, fast and smooth fraught with rock slides covering the track and slick mud between them.  What a ride! We nearly toppled into the ravine more than once.  Some time after midnight we stumbled into a small clearing.  What dead wood we could find was waterlogged and would not burn.  After a filling dinner of beans and rice and Pad Thai we shot the shit a bit and decided that not bringing some whiskey was a stupid thing to do. We discovered, much to our horror, that most of our provisions had shaken loose and were undoubtedly lost on the pass.

The night passed slowly and the temperature continued to fall until just before sunrise.  The sun was a welcome sight as I had lost all feeling in my fingers and toes.  Bone fared no better.  Our map showed a stream nearby so we filled our bottles, but what we found was a dry creek bed.  The only water to be had was brackish and we reluctantly did without.  After breaking camp, we rolled out on a road that descended farther into the valley.  It was smooth and fast and should have taken us closer to home and recognizable landmarks.  We believed at the time that we had conquered the pass with little loss.  Some time later Bone looked down to check our speed on his GPS, but it had fallen off its mount we noticed that the landmarks were unfamiliar, so we stopped to check the map again.  Alas!  Though we thought the road smooth, the map had come loose and we were lost.  We were forced to proceed by guesswork alone.

We called Bone’s sister and her husband to come get us. Near mid-day we came across a young lass who’s husband had been slain by the Nittany Lion.  She had fled on foot through the forest to get away and was now more lost than we.  She needed our help and we could not refuse.  We attempted to locate her husband’s body, but the terrible beast kept us from it.  They dropped us off at the car and went to look for the GPS. Fearing for our own lives, we said a prayer for the departed and moved on.

They found the GPS in short order and met us before we went to Ard’s for lunch. Eventually, we came across an inn wherein we ate our first meal since crossing the pass.  The lady in our charge kissed us both and thanked us, and offered a small sum to a passing priest if he would bless our Velocipedes for the trip home.  The innkeeper showed us his map and told us which way to go and then we were home, the blessing having worked, before dusk.