It was remarkably frigid this morning for the Orinda-Palomares ride. We woke up to 32 degrees F at our house, and we’re up on a hill so it’s usually about five to seven degrees colder at the bottom during the winter. Riding to Orinda BART the leftover moisture on the road was gleaming and rimmed with frost—ah, the joys of black ice! It was just Roger, Jeff, and me. Others who had RSVPed all backed out, probably out of wisdom—hypothermia is a harsh mistress. Both Roger and I had decided to put on a fourth layer before heading out the door. For the record I had on a new Showers Pass wool/poly long sleeve base layer, a thin windproof jacket, then a thick Assos jacket, and on top of that was a thick Descente vest. Oh, and I also had on a Gore-Tex helmet cover with a skull cap to cover my ears, a neck gaiter, and thick shoe covers over my wool winter socks. I was cold almost the entire time regardless; my finger tips never did fully warm up despite having thermal gloves.

I looked over the temperature readings on the Garmin and most of the day it was 34-38 degrees and only warmed up (!) to the mid-forties along Danville Blvd. In the end I decided to shorten the ride because the weather forecasts were mixed as to when the rain would start. Since the clouds were dark and ominous from the get-go, I wasn’t up for playing in frigid conditions and rain. I’ve been caught in the rain in the mid-thirties before (I was on top of Independence Pass outside of Aspen) and it was a heinous memory burned forever into the fear center of my brain. By Castro Valley it was looking about the same, so we cut out Palomares and headed directly to Dublin instead. The ride was still a respectable 56 miles. In the end it didn’t rain this afternoon but I ain’t a gambling man! The moving average I got for our ride was 14.3 mph, which is right on target for a C-paced ride (= 12 to 15 miles per hour moving average).

Speaking of gambling, it looks like New Years Day is going to be sunny and clear, which bodes well for everybody’s favorite NYD ride: going up Mt. Diablo. When it has rained, only the truly hardcore (and you know who you are) went out and rode it anyway to start the year right. This year we are apparently being spared that difficult choice. But it’s going to be righteously cold: predictions are for below freezing temps in Walnut Creek on New Years. For you City folk heading over who aren’t used to freezing weather, here are some tips for the ride: wear more layers than you think you need and be able to shed them or put them back on easily; don’t even think of doing the ride without good gloves and shoe covers; and no one’s going to serve you hot coffee at the top unless you bring it yourself. If you suffer from fingers that chill easily—as I do—bring some disposable hand warmers to put in your gloves. On a positive note the forecast for Walnut Creek is for a high of mid-fifties on New Years. So by the time we’re back at the bottom it should be more than tolerable. See you on Diablo!

The End of the Triple Crank

Shimano DA 7803 crankset
Near Extinction

Perhaps you haven’t noticed but bicycle manufacturers now have model years in emulation of cars, computers, and clothing. So the upgrade and ‘new features’ propaganda is in full swing for the 2016 model year. If you’ve been cycling for a while, you may have noticed a subtle change in road bikes on the showroom floor. I’m not talking about electronic shifting—I’m referring to the disappearance of triple cranksets. Shimano, the largest of the three international component manufacturers, has been gradually yet inexorably phasing out triple road cranks and has just started the same process on its mountain bike chainsets. Shimano used to offer a Dura Ace triple crankset but it vanished in 2008; its second road tier, Ultegra, kept the triple until its revision to eleven-speed two years ago; this year the third tier, 105, dropped the triple. If you want a triple road crankset from Shimano, you now have to drop down to Tiagra, which is also ten- rather than eleven-speed (not that that’s a bad thing, mind you).

Campagnolo has never offered a triple in its top-of-the-line Super Record group but it did have a Record triple for a number of years. Campy ended that at about the same time as Shimano killed the DA triple. Campy continues to sell a triple in its Athena line, which is fourth tier. SRAM has never offered a triple road crank and is going in the opposite direction by instead marketing a single chainring systems (“One ring to rule them all”) for road bikes.

On the mountain bike side Shimano continues to offer an XTR triple but the writing is on the wall: it’s pushing the XTR double and a single-ring chainset to compete with SRAM’s XX single-ring set up. If the demand for triple cranksets is diminishing, it is mostly due to the relentless marketing emphasis on racing. That’s too bad because triple cranks have advantages for the recreational cyclist, whose needs are not the same as the racers’.

Two developments have made it possible to ride a double chainset and get a reasonable range of gears. Compact double chainsets—50-34 or 52-36 combinations instead of the race standard 53-39—allow gear development (i.e. gear-inches) into the mid-30s with older cassettes (historically a 11- or 12-27 cassette). Now with eleven speed cassettes we are seeing wider ranges such as 11-32 that allow even lower gearing but without sacrificing reasonable jumps between gears. A smaller front chainring along with a bigger rear cog means we’re finally seeing road gearing getting down into mountain bike territory and low enough to replicate the gearing you’d get from a triple crank with the previous smaller cassettes: a 34 front/32 rear yields an approximate ratio of 29 gear-inches. That’s just a hair lower than the old triple combination of 30 front/27 rear (= 30 gear-inches) of a Shimano triple system.

Given all this why would you bother with a triple crank? It has more weight than a compact double and in theory more complicated front shifting yet the gear range is no different. For those who live in flatter parts of the world, the gear range provided by triple chainsets (or wide range compact doubles) is completely unnecessary anyway—no one is screaming for super low gears in Indiana for example. But in Northern California wide range gearing makes sense unless you deliberately want to restrict your road riding to less mountainous routes. In just about any part of the Bay Area there are steep and/or long climbs—Mt. Diablo, Hicks Road, Tunitas Creek, Mtn. Charlie to name just a few (and those are just the paved ones). Lots of cyclists use triples on less frightening climbs such as Palomares or Mt. Tam. A few years ago I was chatting with one of the principals of a local bike shop about the disappearance of triple cranks and he made the same comment: riding the local hills and Mt. Diablo just made more sense on a triple.

Even with wide-range compact double set-ups the gearing isn’t always low enough. That might strike some of you as absurd: “You need a gear ratio lower than 30 gear-inches? You must be ready for a wheelchair!” But there are local ascents where an even lower gear is helpful, if not necessary, for survival: Hicks Road in Campbell has a solid mile at 14% as does Gates Road in Napa, and Mix Canyon is over 16%. Even on lesser grades a gear lower than 30 gear-inches will reduce the load on your thighs and allow you to spin a more comfortable gear. Of course if you’re also carrying stuff (or have additional “cargo” around your waist), then the imperative for low gearing is even more urgent.

But it’s not just about range: with a triple you can use a smaller cassette, say a 12-28 rather than an 11-32, and have smaller (and thus smoother) jumps between gears for the same range as a compact double. My ‘sweet spot’ for riding seems to be 76 to 47 gear-inches—I do the majority of my cruising in that range. On a triple these gear ratios are conveniently all in the middle chainring. But on a compact double my preferred range is split down the middle between the big and small chainrings. So I find myself doing a lot of double shifting to stay in that range, say from a 50×23 to 34×17 to get the next ratio. It’s just easier to click up and down the cassette on a 42 or 39 middle chainring. On my triple crank bike the big ring is used primarily for descents and fast flat riding and the granny is used infrequently but it comes in very handy for long, tough ascents (e.g. Hicks). The middle ring is where I do most of my cycling. This division of labor works really well for me and probably does for many other recreational cyclists.

If you have a tandem, then the absence of a triple option is an even more depressing development. Climbing on a tandem is just harder and low gears are not a luxury but a necessity. You need really big gears for the descents and the really low gears for the climbs. There’s nothing more debilitating and demoralizing than having to do a long ascent on a tandem and being over-geared. Roger and I have a 28 granny and a 34 rear cog (= 22 gear-inches) and it’s tolerable for moderate ascents, up to about 8% grade, and plain suffering at anything more challenging (Note: for the record we have ridden the tandem up ascents like the Covadonga in Spain and the Rossfelder Panoramastrasse in Germany that are much longer and steeper.) If you’re doing loaded touring, well, forget about finding a road triple unless you drop down to Tiagra or Athena. (You’re probably better off with a mountain bike triple if you’re really carrying a lot of gear.) So for those markets the loss of the road triple is exasperating.

What I’ve found irritating about the compact double besides having to double-shift frequently is the extreme chain angles it requires. I end up a lot in the big-big and small-small (or near big-big, near small-small) gearing to be in my preferred gears. At those angles even with a well-lubricated chain there is often a lot of noise. In addition depending on how well set up the drivetrain is, the small-small combinations can lead to the chain rubbing on the inside of the big chainring producing even more noise. Annoying!

There are three oft cited negatives of triple cranks: weight, finicky front shifting, and greater Q factor. There is no doubt that a triple crankset is heavier. But the total difference in weight is on the order of 150 to 200 grams at most, i.e. just a half pound—this is essentially a meaningless weight difference. As for finicky front shifting, I’ve found Shimano triple front derailleurs to be quite good and I’ve never had problems with them. It’s possible to drop a chain on any chainset but the compact double with its 50 to 34 jump—seems to be especially prone and I’ve certainly observed that often on group rides. Plus, with the compact double you’re doing a lot more front shifting. A greater Q factor means a wider stance. The virtues of a narrow or wider Q are individual; some fitters claim the narrower Q leads to less loading of the medial side of the knee and hence less likelihood of injury. But the optimal Q depends on the individual’s particular morphology and most of us switch effortlessly between road bikes and mountain bikes, where triples until recently had been the norm, so the argument is academic rather than real.

Face it: we are going to be stuck with whatever is on the showroom floor and that means compact double chainsets and no triples. A look at any brand’s 2016 catalog is going to show a near complete absence of triple crank road bikes. Perhaps that’s good for component manufacturers since it reduces their tooling and development costs. But it’s not necessarily good for recreational cyclists—tolerable maybe but not good.

If you’re interested in triple cranks or want to keep using them in the future, you should pray that Campy and Shimano continue to produce at least some road triple systems even if they are second-rate. There are also several small companies that continue to produce triple cranks, e.g. Sugino, TA, Velo Orange, Compass. But you won’t be able to find a triple front shifter or front derailleur unless you give up indexed shifting (and obviously electronic shifting too since no one makes an electronic shifting system for road triples). It’s always possible to get a third-party triple crank, buy a third-party triple front derailleur (e.g. Interloc), and use bar-end shifters. Personally that’s a big jump because I’ve been using indexed shifting since forever and love it. Where does that leave cyclists like me? Well, praying for one thing—praying that Shimano reverses course at some point and produces the road triple again in their higher end groups. But road cyclists seem to be drinking the compact double Kool Aid without protest and so I suspect we are indeed witnessing the eventual demise of the road triple. My back up plan is to stock up on road triples for when my current parts wear out. I guess that makes me a retrogrouch “survivalist”!

2016 Centuries and Gran Fondos–Start Planning!


2015 is winding down and now’s the time to start planning your 2016 big ride schedule. Century and gran fondo rides in California have a nasty tendency to fill up and before you know it registration is full. If you want a complete but slightly overwhelming list of rides, you can view what has been announced plus some speculation on as-yet unannounced rides at I’ve summarized below the ones near the Bay Area and the most popularly attended by Spokers with registration information as well as a few other “important” rides that are shorter. I’ve also added my comments. Pricing is generally for the century (100-mile) option for early registration. Prices go up as you get closer to the date assuming the event hasn’t sold out (and many do). Keep in mind that El Nino is supposed to hit us in January so expect a lot of rain January through March.


1 Friday. Resolution Ride: this is the Different Spokes ride up Mt. Diablo. It’ll be crowded because Valley Spokesmen, Grizzly Peak, and Diablo Cyclists and god knows who else will all be heading up the same day. Unless it rains this day; then we’ll see who is really committed!

23 Saturday. Tour of Palm Springs. $70. Registration is open. Although in SoCal, a few Spokers have gone down to jumpstart their seasons. Tends to be dry but this is a big El Nino year, so if you’re a gambler, by all means.


14 Sunday. Chico Velo’s Velo-Love Ride. This used to be called the Rice Valley Tandem Ride and it’s usually on or close to Valentine’s Day, hence the name. $40. Registration is open. A low key event with a flattish ride around the Sutter Buttes outside of Chico. Starts in Gridley, just north of Yuba City—a bit of a schlep but a great ride. The meal at the end is worth it. Has a real “locals” feel rather than the usual mass-event mosh pit vibe.

27-28. Saturday/Sunday. The North American Handmade Bicycle Show. This is not a ride but we are exceptionally fortunate that this event has returned to our area. $22. In Sacramento; you can even take the Amtrak to it. Go ogle the incredibly beautiful bikes and meet the artisans, and maybe even order a new frameset! This is like Eros for bike nerds. Do not miss this event!


12 Saturday. Solvang Century. $125. Registration is currently open. It’s a long after-work Friday drive down to Solvang but you get to amble back home on Sunday. (But DST does begin that morning.) Solvang is a big event but BikeSCOR seems to have scaled it back from megahuge craziness with a cap of “just” 3,000 now. That’s still a lot of bikes on the same roads! Personally I’ll probably never do this event again because the cost is high and the rest stop food is Costco-perfunctory. And the after-ride meal isn’t even included. Seriously? But if you haven’t done it before, it’s a nice ride without a lot of elevation gain. (FYI major parts of the route have plenty of places you could stop on your own and get food way better than the mediocrity you find at the rest stops.)


9 Saturday. The Cinderella Classic and Challenge. Women and girls only. Boys get stuck with Different Spokes’s very own Evil Step Sisters ride instead. $58. Registration is currently open and is capped at 2,500. A very well organized ride with a party vibe. Lots of tutus and tiaras.

9 Saturday. L’Eroica. $150-200. Registration is open. If you can’t afford the time and money to go to Tuscany, this is the next best thing. Ride gravel/dirt roads on your pre-90s road bike, i.e. no clipless pedals, no STI, no disc brakes—no technology past about 1987. Last year was the first time Eroica took place, near Paso Robles. Food is supposed to be awesome.

17 Sunday. Primavera Century. $60. Registration is open. Sponsored by Fremont Freewheelers, this is one of the easiest to get to as it starts in Fremont and loops through the East Bay. Technically it’s BART accessible but on Sundays you couldn’t get from SF to Fremont before 8:58 a.m. so you’re stuck doing the 25-mile fun ride. Food is decent and the ride by Calaveras is a must-do. The metric allows you to finish in the early afternoon and get stuff that you have to get done before Monday done!

23 Saturday. SLO Wildflower. $75. Registration opens 1/3/16. I’ve never done this one but it’s supposed to be beautiful. Starts in Creston, east of Atascadero. The wildflowers this year should be outrageous after we get the rains.

24 Sunday. Mt Hamilton Challenge. No details yet. Sponsored by Pedalera Bicycle Club this is a classic Bay Area event. Ride up Mt. Hamilton and down San Antonio Valley for the full 100-mile loop or just ride to the top and back down the front. You have to bring your own food though!

24 Sunday. Chico Velo Wildflower Century. $75. Registration is open. Capped at 4,000 this year. A Different Spokes fav even though it’s a four-hour drive away in Chico. A group always heads up the day before and spends the night in a motel with a group dinner that evening. The only minus is that after the ride you have to schlep back to the Bay Area in order to get to work the next day. Beautifully run despite growing to 4,000 riders, although Honey Run is a rolling mosh pit with excellent crash potential. Rest stop food is okay but more than once they’ve run out, which is very bad. Hopefully they’ve straightened that out by now. The after-ride meal is excellent. Can be hot weather. El Nino rains should mean stupendous wildflowers too. Motels fill up so reserve early.

30 Saturday. Motherlode Century. $75. Registration opens 1/1/16. Starts in Coloma and roams through the Gold Country, a hilly ride.

30 Saturday. Tierra Bella. $60. Registration is open. Capped at 2,000. Sponsored by Almaden Cycle Touring Club in San Jose. This is another very popular Bay Area century that always fills up. The history of this ride is that it will either be a fantastic day or else you’ll get rained out badly; I’m guessing this year it will be the latter (but I could be wrong!) Starts in Gilroy, not too far of a drive, and takes you through still scenic roads. But they might not be in ten more years. Food is great—I especially like ACTC’s thinking out of the box, like offering hot ramen soup! Oh, and coffee too.


1 Sunday. Grizzly Peak Century. $55. Registration information should be up before the end of the year. Capped at 1,000. Sponsored by Grizzly Peak Cyclists in Berkeley. This is a low profile event with a mellow vibe. As with the Primavera, BART’s Sunday schedule means you’re stuck having to drive to the start despite Orinda BART being just up the road from the start at Campolindo High School. Ride through a long series of East Bay hills from Port Costa down to Castro Valley. The food is homemade and very Berkeley (but yummy). The “metric” is about 75 miles and is enough. Some of the rest stops have cold Coke!  The meal at the end is mo’ bettah too.

7 Sunday. Wine Country Century. Registration opens 2/1/16 and will sell out in about 24 hours, so don’t delay. Both the century and the metric go through beautiful countryside and are tandem-friendly. Rest stop food is usually well thought out. One year we had hot coffee at rest stops; another year it was burritos quesadillas! There is a lunch stop AND an after-ride meal! The lunch is sandwiches and the after-ride meal even has a vegetarian entrée choice. One of my favs.

21 Saturday. Davis Double. Registration opens 3/1/16. One of the flatter double centuries but it can be hot some years.

27-30 Weekend. Great Western Bicycle Rally. $72.50. Registration is open. This event seems to be declining in popularity but it’s been sold to a vendor who is trying to reinvigorate it. Back in the day this used to be the annual gathering of DSSF and DSSC with a smattering of Rainbow Cyclists from San Diego. A huge assortment of beautiful rides in the Paso Robles area. Well worth doing but sleeping in a tent next to 101 is only for the young (or hard of hearing). Getting a motel room is hard unless you reserve well in advance. Family friendly. Former Prez Phil Bokovoy still goes to it!


5 Saturday. Sequoia Century. $65. Registration opens 1/4/16. Another venerable Bay Area century, sponsored by Western Wheelers. Starts in Palo Alto and goes over the Coast Range. A fair amount of elevation gain but not crazy high. Food is fairly good. Very popular but also capped.

11 Saturday? Canyon Classic. Date is uncertain but this is probably right if they follow previous years. Starts in the Valley in Patterson and goes up Del Puerto Canyon, which is not well traveled so really pleasant. A long but steady ascent up to the Junction at Mines Road with a return through Livermore and over Altamont with flat farm roads to conclude. Can be hot. Don’t do it for the food but the route is well thought out and different from our usual routes.

18 Saturday. The Terrible Two. No information yet but registration opens 3/1/16. Just a double century out of Santa Rosa with about 16k vertical gain. This is the Death Ride at sea level. Think you’re butch? Then this is the ride for you.

19 Sunday? Mile High 100. This is in the 2015 burn area near Lake Almanor, so whether it will go in 2016 is currently a question mark.

25 Saturday. DSSF Gay Pride Ride. Our very own Gay Pride ride before the big day!

25 Saturday. Alta Alpina Challenge. Also known as “the other Death Ride.” They had a big fire last year too, so information on the 2016 ride is uncertain. Registration is now up; cost is about $100. At least you can hoof it back for Gay Pride the next day although you might be dead meat.


9 Saturday. The Markleeville Death Ride. $125. Registration is open, usually sells out. Not cheap but everybody who likes to climb should do this ride at least once. Capped at 3,000. That’s a lot of people on these alpine roads so you’d better like crowds and descending at speed with…everybody. Unless you go way early to acclimate you will feel the altitude. But hey, you get to do Ebbetts, Monitor, and Carson passes!

23 Saturday. Devil’s Slide Ride. $78. Registration is open. There used to be a nice, small ride called the Giro di Peninsula that started at Bay Meadows, which is no longer. Well, that seemed to have killed the GdiP too. Now we have this ride that goes over Devil’s Slide. I’ve never done it so you’re on your own.

30 Saturday. Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge. $55. Registration is open. I haven’t done this one is years but it used to be loads of fun. Lots of climbing in the Santa Cruz Mountains.


7 Sunday? Marin Century. No information yet. In 2015 it was $80. I haven’t done this one since the year it grew to monstrous size. It used to be capped at 1,000 and then it grew into the thousands. The year it exploded we arrived at the first rest stop and it was four-deep with people scrambling to get snacks. I haven’t been back since but maybe it’s calmed down. The rest stop food was so-so but the lunch stop in Petaluma and the after-ride meal were excellent, including hot pizza!

7 Sunday. Shasta Century. No information yet. A few Spokers have gone up and done this one and they loved it. A long drive up but way off the beaten path.

13 Saturday? Crater Lake Century. No information is up yet. I haven’t done this one but I have ridden around Crater Lake. A bucket list item for sure: the ride around the lake is incredibly beautiful and scenic if you have good weather.  But it’s a long schlep so you’re better off making it a long weekend trip rather than hustling up and back.

14 Sunday? Tour D’Organics. No information yet. If you don’t want to do the Marin Century, this is an alternate that covers similar terrain. All the food is supposed to be locally grown organic stuff.

14 Sunday? Tour of Napa. No information yet but it should be on this date. Can be very hot but an excellent route with great food.


10-17 Week. Cycle Oregon. No information yet but sign up to get an alert on when registration opens because it fills up immediately. It’s not easy to get on this ride but it’s a must-do. Ride a different route through rural Oregon every year but you do have to like camping (don’t we all?)

17-18 Weekend. Unknown Coast Weekend. $75 (camping) or $100 (cabin). Registration will open 4/15/16. Another great Chico Velo ride. This one starts in Humboldt and tours the redwoods over two days, 65 on Saturday and 35 miles on Sunday.

24 Saturday. Lighthouse Century. $75. Starting in Morro Bay the ride goes up the coast past San Simeon and then returns to Hwy 46 and heads inland towards Templeton and then back to Morro Bay.


1 Saturday. Levi’s Gran Fondo. $170. Registration opens 1/11/16. I’ve never done this one partly because the cost is high. It’s a gran fondo, which means you get a timing chip. But it’s not a race—yeah, right! I hear the food is good. The roads are challenging and they’re Sonoma County roads, which means they are full of potholes and cracks. But it’s supposed to be awesome!

8-9 Weekend? Tour of the Sacramento River Delta. No information yet. Sponsored by Valley Spokesmen, who also put on the Cinderella. This is an easy two-day ride from Brannan Island in the Delta up to Sacramento and then back the next day. Explore scenic Delta byways, 60 miles each day. Can be hot and there is usually a headwind returning to Brannan Island. The lunch stop on Saturday is decent and the after-ride burgers on Sunday are delish. You stay at the La Quinta in Sacto and dinner is on your own. We love this ride!

15 Saturday? Foxy Fall Century. No information yet but this is probably the date. A good way to end the season with a fairly easy century starting in Davis and roaming through the Valley with a few hills along the way. Lots of Spokers usually attend this one.

Ride Recap: Brunch at Hideout Kitchen

HK country fried steak
Country fried cow with waffles

I was a bit concerned about scheduling a social ride for December and added this ride at the last minute and hoped the weather would hold. Well, it did! The ride to Hideout Kitchen this past Saturday may have been chilly but at least we were more fortunate than Stephanie, who scheduled her Geysers ride for the following day when it poured up in Santa Rosa. In contrast we had overcast skies but no precipitation whatsoever, making for a pleasant ride through the Lamorinda suburbs. One minor hazard of fall riding in the hinterlands is the at-times massive leaf dump especially from the sycamores that provide well-needed relief from the sweltering sunshine during the summer. There were leaves everywhere but not enough to cause a problem, even on the Lamorinda Regional Trail. The clouds occasionally gave way to brief hits of sun allowing an eventual warming to the mid-50s.

Eventually there were eight of us as the beginning was somewhat chaotic with three folks missing the start. David met another group of cyclists in the parking lot and thought we were gathering there; Omar missed his train; and Laura arrived by car and saw us already heading out. Eventually we all caught up and Adrienne and Sheila met us up the road in Moraga after coming over Pinehurst from Oakland.

Cut to the chase: the brunch at Hideout Kitchen in Lafayette. Hideout Kitchen is a new restaurant—I think it’s not even a year old—off the main drag in a strip mall albeit pleasant. With an outside courtyard it’s a convenient place to park a pile of bikes out of sight from the road and easily seen from the inside. We had a reservation and a table for nine—Adrienne’s girlfriend also joined us—was waiting. The service was excellent and gracious. Hideout ain’t no greasy spoon yet it serves a traditional southern dish, country fried steak, with a twist: the steak is sandwiched between two waffles. Grace said it was like her Oklahoma home cooking and Omar, as thin as he is, inhaled the whole thing. Is that praise enough? Keeping to the comfort food theme, I had a—get this: chili cheese omelet. Not only was the omelet itself perfectly cooked but having it generously stuffed with homemade chili and cheese was, well, it reminded me of how it used to feel back in the day when I arrived at the top of Mt. Tam and got a chili cheese dog from the shack that used to be there: the perfect way to top off a ride.

Inside thar be chili
Inside thar be chili!

Want more food with your social riding? Stay tuned for the 2016 schedule: at least one A-paced ride a month with a really yummy place to eat! Here’s a preview: in January we’re going to lunch and baked goodies at Bear Claw Bakery in Pinole…

The hungry horde
The hungry horde

Ride Recap: Turkey Burn, Option 2

The Davids (Gaus & Goldsmith) led a fast and long ride last Saturday from Lucas Valley up over the Marshall Wall and back via Point Reyes Station. The weather was fantastically sunny the entire time although the start in the morning was a shiver-me-timbers cold. I didn’t do a formal count but it looked like twenty-plus folks showed up, most of whom I had never seen before. The only people we recognized were Lorrie Lee Lown and the Davids and a few faces from the Mt. Hamilton ride a couple of weeks ago. David Gaus seems to be pulling in a lot of ALC and New Bear Republic riders.

Although it was cold, people shot off up the road on what was listed as a “C” pace ride. Perhaps it was the urge to warm up as quickly as possible in the brisk conditions! The climb up Lucas Valley was literally heart warming but the descent, especially with the deep shade in the redwoods, was numbingly cold. At Nicasio some others who wanted a shorter ride joined the group. We chatted briefly with Bill Knudsen and Wanderson and ran into Joe Dintino. That was the last regrouping point that had some semblance of a cohesive crowd. After that we were spread out all over west Marin. Roger was riding his e-bike so I got a hard workout. He went up the hill to the Cheese Factory and we passed group after group—I was barely able to hold his wheel. Some stopped at the Cheese Factory and some kept going. From that point on we barely saw any other riders until Bovine Bakery. The way out Hicks Valley to the Marshall Wall is always a nice retreat from urbanity. It’s completely devoid of signs of city life and provides a cycling experience akin to what you get in the French countryside. It was up and over the Wall and then a mad dash down to Highway One. Unfortunately we got a nasty headwind along Tomales Bay, probably the only disappointment of the day. Before long we were in Pt. Reyes Station at one of our favorite cycling lunch stops, Bovine Bakery. The midday sun was brilliant and it was actually pleasant to sit outside munching our pizza and lemon bars and sipping strong coffee!

We eventually left on our own, not wanting to wait for everyone to arrive. The ride back was another motorpaced adventure behind Roger but it was derailed when I got leg cramps. Fortunately I had brought along a secret weapon: pickle juice. That did the trick but only temporarily. So we slowed down going up Lucas Valley, where it was then Roger’s turn to get cramps. More pickle juice ensued. By the summit my legs had recovered and Roger got on my wheel and we motored back in. Thanks guys, great ride!

El Nino Cycling

19 ride in the rain

We’re finally getting some storms out of Alaska. If the weather forecasts come to fruition, we should have a very wet winter here in Northern California. El Nino continues to strengthen, and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and the “Blob” are fading away. Alaskan fronts coupled with tropical moisture mean rain and very likely lots of it. The drought over the past three years has gifted us with exceptional winter riding weather to which we’ve probably gotten too used. When it started to rain, it was easy to retreat indoors and just wait for another clear day. But now we may face lots of indoor days and a lot less cycling this winter! Well, you can break out the indoor trainer or take a spin class at the gym. If you’re the kind of rider that loves or tolerates lots of hours on a stationary bike, more power to you. But that’s something I—and I think most other cyclists—cannot abide without going crazy.

You don’t need to stop riding outdoors—you just need to be prepared. You need to prepare your bike and get the right clothes. Here’s how to get ready for riding in the wet.

Fenders. Fitting fenders to your bike will make the experience of rain riding a lot more comfortable. You will have less spray and gunk thrown onto you and soaking your clothes. You’ll get less wet and significantly less dirty. I made the mistake once of riding without fenders and a white rain jacket. I could never get the black stains out of the jacket! Your bike will also get less filthed up and reduce slightly the amount of cleaning or hosing off you’ll have to give it post-ride. Of course you’ve got to have a bike that can accept fenders. These days the critical barrier is frame clearance because most road bikes don’t accept tires greater than 25 mm. Trying to cram in a fender is either impossible or the clearance is so tight that any debris from the road will get stuck between your tire and fender. You’ll be forced to downsize your tires to 23 mm or less in order to squeeze in fenders but that’s exactly the opposite of what you should be doing—going to a slightly fatter tire. There are some thin but pricy carbon fenders out there or you opt for cheaper solutions like the Crud road fender.

Tires. Your next adaptation should be to mount a more durable tire and that usually means a fatter one. If you’re normally riding 23 mm tires, then size up to 25 (or larger if your frame and brakes will clear them). Tires with anti-flat protection may not be as comfortable to ride but they are worth it (well, except the Specialized Armadillo—it’s not only effing heavy but it rides like wood). Changing a flat in the rain—and unfortunately I’ve done it a lot—is not only inconvenient and sad to witness but it’s a dirty, grimy affair. At the same time lower your tire pressure, not just because you can with a wider tire—it will feel more comfortable, which is a big plus—but because you want the tire contact patch to be bigger and hence grippier on wet asphalt.

Lights. Having a good taillight and headlight isn’t just because the days are short. It’s because visibility in inclement weather is reduced. Bright flashing lights even in daytime increase the likelihood that drivers (or other cyclists) will notice you, the brighter the better. You can get some damn bright lights for daytime use that are not too expensive. For a taillight, consider the Bontrager Flare R. There are plenty of good flashing headlights from NiteRider, Light & Motion, Cat-Eye, etc.

Rain riding

Maintenance. Well, this has been the deal breaker for me. I used to enjoy working on my bike; now I do it only if absolutely necessary because I’ve become a lazy bastard and I’m too cheap to have a pro shop do it for me. If I avoid riding in the rain it’s because maintenance has to happen more often unless I don’t mind stuff “inexplicably” failing on a ride. Dirt, road slop, and random shit are going to get everywhere especially on and in your drivetrain. At the very least get into the habit of hosing off your bike, toweling it off quickly, and applying oil to the chain after your wet rides. Getting grime off your exposed cables and lubing will keep your shifting and braking more reliable. Watch those rear derailleur pulleys too: extra oil plus grime means they’re going to get caked fast, so clean them up. Even if you clean just the drivetrain and your bike still looks like shit from all the road crap at least it will function.

Clothes. Get good raingear, end of discussion. “Good” depends on how you ride and the conditions you ride in. If you plan to be out for hours in the rain, then you’re probably going to appreciate an expensive rain jacket. On the other hand, if you only are going out in light drizzle for that short hop into the Headlands and back, then you can get away with something less waterproof/water-resistant. If you tend to sweat copiously, then jackets with ample vents and pit zips will help. Or else get something less waterproof and more breathable and get used to being somewhat wet or doing shorter rides when it’s raining. Unfortunately it’s hard to know what you’ll like tolerate best without trying out a lot of jackets. A reliable vendor is Showers Pass in Oregon, but there are several others including Gore and Endura. Rain and cold weather mean long-fingered gloves and booties. In my experience there aren’t any waterproof gloves, so don’t pay any attention to advertising—they all leak. So-called waterproof gloves tend to be thicker and harder to brake and shift with. Get used to having wet hands but keep them warm with layers (e.g. glove liner with overglove) and use Grabber Hand Warmers. Overshoes are like gloves: there are only water resistant overshoes, so if you’re out riding long enough, your shoes and feet are going to get damp, sometimes even soaked. So wear wool socks and even use Grabber Toe Warmers! Neoprene shoe covers only slow down becoming wet but they are warm; I’d say they’re even too warm for most Bay Area riding. What about your lower body? Well, there are rain pants but I find coupled with a good rain jacket, it’s just too much heat unless it’s getting into the low 40s. If you’re commuting at a slower pace, then rain pants work fine (I used them for years commuting to work). But for recreational riding you’re better off just letting your ass and legs get wet. Having fenders helps because you don’t get water thrown up on your legs and back dripping down into your shorts. There are some water resistant cycling shorts and tights out there made by Castelli under their Nanoflex moniker. This fabric has a water shedding treatment that delays absorption of water. It works but if you’re out long enough, you’ll still get wet. The best solution I’ve found is unfortunately not available in this country. Years ago I was in London and stumbled across some Gore-Tex overshorts at Condor Cycles. They are like a rain jacket for your shorts and they work perfectly, being made of Gore-Tex. But they aren’t sold in this county, alas. What Gore shows on its website doesn’t seem to be available anymore. But Gore makes similar shorts for mountain biking that might work. Lastly, put a helmet cover on your helmet unless you enjoy the sensation of cold water sliding down your neck into your jersey!

Behavior. The final element of wet weather cycling is modifying your behavior. Visibility is compromised and traction is less predictable, so avoiding accidents means riding less at the limit. Braking distance is increased with wet roads and wet rims. You’ll have less tire adhesion and the point at which the tire breaks free from the road is not only earlier but less predictable, so carry less speed into your turns. Of course manhole covers, Muni tracks, and steel plates are all treacherous when wet. Rain leads to a lot more debris on the road, so keep an eye out, especially for stray branches and sticks that might get thrown up into your wheels or fender struts and bring you to an abrupt stop. Fenders with break-away struts can prevent you from doing an endo if you happen to catch a stick in your wheel.

If we’re prepared for the wet, maybe that next Different Spokes ride listing won’t say “rain cancels”!

Social Ride: Lunch at The Baltic, er Little Louie’s

At the Red Oak Victory
Different Spokes visits the Red Oak Victory!

The Social Ride Lunch at The Baltic got slightly derailed last Saturday when we rode up to the eerily quiet joint and were greeted by, “Oh, the cook had a family emergency this morning and we’re not going to open until 3 p.m.” Oh drat, I had been drooling with anticipation at the thought of gorging on schnitzel and spaetzle and now…well, it was going to be just sandwiches, sigh. That was the only real disappointment after a marvelous day of cycling along the Bay Trail from Oakland up to Point Richmond. It means we’ll have to return another day to get our German itch scratched.

Rain derailed the first attempt to go to the Baltic. The rescheduled date turned out exactly the opposite. If you were out riding (you weren’t?!?) elsewhere, then you know the weather was spectacular: unusually warm for fall and brilliantly sunny. Rolling along the Bay we had postcard views of Mt. Tamalpais and the Golden Gate not to mention the Berkeley hills. I managed to round up five others to go out on a social ride: Howard Neckel, Will Bir, Adrienne Ratner, Sheila O’Rourke, and Roger. Den Daddy Derek was going to ride but the sequelae of a medical procedure the day before had him cancel riding and instead he drove out to join us for lunch. Howard is one of the original Spokers and has been conspicuously absent from club rides over the past two years. Will, who usually is accelerating off into the sunset, decided to enjoy a leisurely roll with the “A” group instead of a pedal-to-the-metal ride that he typically does. Interestingly, everybody in the group except Howard had successfully done the Mt. Hamilton ride two weeks ago. And no surprise, despite my goal of keeping the “A” rides to a true A-pace we were all rolling at a brisk pace up the Bay Trail! Despite Howard’s protestations that he had been regularly dropped on Different Spokes rides, I saw no evidence of that as he accelerated up the path to catch Will and Adrienne. Maybe it was the nine-week tour across Europe this summer that boosted his condition. The end result is that we had an average speed of about 11.4 mph for the day, well above the 8-to-10 for an “A” ride. We managed to stay together the entire ride.

And lunch? We merely rode two doors over to Pt. Richmond’s lunch central, Little Louie’s. Little Louie’s has been the go-to lunch stop for every club that leads a ride on the northern end of the Bay Trail and for good reason too: they have excellent deli sandwiches, homemade soup and salads. During the week it is always mobbed at noon by locals and the minions from the nearby Chevron offices. On Saturdays it’s still busy but not nearly so hectic. We ate on their back patio enjoying the luscious sunshine and warm weather. But it wasn’t schnitzel, and no beer was to be had.

After lunch we rode out to the Red Oak Victory, one of the historic WWII Liberty ships docked on the Bay and then returned along the Bay Trail to Oakland.

Currently there isn’t a Social ride scheduled for December because I had thought we’d be drowning in rain by now. But the long-range forecasts are for El Nino rains to hit beginning in January, so keep your eyes on the Different Spokes ride calendar for the final Social Ride of 2015. Maybe it will be to the Baltic? Wherever we end up, you know that the food will be worth the ride! Stay tuned…