Fun With Tubeless Road Tires [updated 9/10]

Schwalbe Pro One tire
Schwalbe Pro One, 700×28, on Hed Belgium Plus rim

Last September I got a new tubeless wheelset for my road bike. This is a report on my experience for those of you who have been mesmerized by all the current hype on tubeless road wheels yet are not ready to make the leap. The bottom line is: it’s been a mixed bag—some good, some not so good.

For those of you who either don’t mountain bike or have been emulating Rip Van Winkle, tubeless tires are clincher tires that do not require an inner tube. Tubeless tires are somewhat common on mountain bikes mainly because they allow you to use lower tire pressures without risking ‘snake bite’ or pinch flats. With tire pressures regularly below 35 psi and terrain rough and rocky terrain, the odds of flatting when mountain biking are higher. Tubeless tires mitigate if not eliminate pinch flats entirely. Now they’re migrating to road wheels.

Tubeless tires are usually set up with sealant in lieu of inner tubes. There are many brands of sealant, the most well-known of which is Stan’s NoTubes. Sealants are usually liquid latex with particles. When you get a puncture, sealant flows to the cut and coagulates to seal it up. Depending on how large the cut is, the sealant may or may not be able to close the cut: the larger the cut, the less likely success. You can set up tubeless tires without sealant but then you forego the convenience of punctures self-sealing.

True tubeless rims and tires are designed differently from regular clinchers. The main difference is that tubeless rims have a different inner rim shape in order to lock the tire bead in place. Tubeless tires have tighter beads (or at least less variation in bead diameter), a coating to help keep air in, and often a particular bead shape to better ‘lock’ to the rim. It is possible to use regular rims and tires without tubes but the chance of success are hit and miss. I won’t go into that; I’ll merely say that mine were dedicated tubeless tires and rims.

Why would you want to use tubeless wheels on a road bike? That’s a good question. The hype is that road tubeless tires: (1) reduce flats, (2) allow you to ride when you do get a puncture, (3) roll faster and “feel just like riding a sew-up!” However you almost never hear about what hassles tubeless tires cause yet we know that there is almost nothing in life that is a perfect net gain—everything has a down side.

Before I get into my experience, here is the set-up I had. The rims were HED Belgium C2 rims and Schwalbe Pro One tires. (These rims are wonderful—I have those same rims on another bike that is set up traditionally with inner tubes.) They are light, seem to be strong (I haven’t dented them yet), and are wide thus increasing the tire’s volume. I had never used Schwalbe tires before let alone Schwalbe Pro One tires but they have an excellent reputation. I have no other experience on dedicated tubeless road tires with which to compare them. The rims were taped with Stan’s tape and set up with Stan’s sealant. The Schwalbe tires were nominal 28 mm in width. But on the wide HED rims they balloon out and measure out about 30 mm thus providing a cushier ride. I inflate them to 50 psi front/60psi rear, which is close to Frank Berto’s guidelines, although I have also experimented with lower and higher pressures. I’ve put about 1,900 miles on them since last year, riding them mostly on pavement but also on fire roads.

I’ve inspected each tire after practically every ride in order to detect any foreign objects embedded in the tire because with sealant it is possible to have a puncture and not know it at all if the sealant is able to seal it quickly, most likely with pinhole type punctures rather than cuts. I finally incurred my first puncture a few weeks ago, on the rear tire. Oddly it was a cut less than 1 mm and there was no sealant leaking out and no foreign object embedded. The tire pressure was about 25 psi. I pumped it up to 60 psi and it seemed to hold, but during the subsequent ride it deflated again to about 25 psi. Because I didn’t see any sealant exiting the cut, I presumed the problem was insufficient sealant. Sealants are water based and eventually dry up; I had checked my tires over the previous nine months and they always seemed to be fine. So the next step was to add more sealant. I added roughly one more ounce of Stan’s to the tire, rotated it to spread the sealant around and then pumped it up. Immediately sealant started to ooze out of the small cut. Eventually it stopped around 45 psi. I left it overnight and it seemed to be okay, so I pumped it up again to 60 psi. No leakage. So I went for a ride and halfway through the ride noticed that the tire was soft. Looking at the tire I could see I had sealant sprayed all over the back of the seat tube, the chainstays, and the saddle bag. Also there was a noticeable patch of flattened, semi-sticky sealant around the cut area. Pumping up the tire seemed to work but later down the road the tire softened and I had more spray and gunk on my bike and tire. When I got home the pressure was about 35 psi. That incident highlights some of the problems with tubeless road tires. First, since the tire pressure in road bikes is quite high compared to mountain bike tires, it’s a much harder job for sealant to seal a puncture even one as small as one millimeter (which is supposed to be possible with Stan’s). And Stan’s is the most popular and supposedly a very reliable brand. Second, the degree of sealing isn’t all or nothing but variable. The first time I was riding on about 25 psi; the second time about 35 psi. During the day as the temperature of the tire increases with the ambient environment and with friction, the pressure goes up. Also, as you ride the tire flexes. Both seem to affect how good a seal you achieve. Since I’m pretty light and I was aware of the low pressure, I was able to ride very carefully over bumps to avoid bottoming out the tire and getting a pinch flat. But I was paranoid the entire time.

The Stan’s sealant just wasn’t working. So I took the tire off and cleaned out all the sealant and put in other brand, Orange Seal, which is supposed to close up bigger punctures.

Before I get to the rest of my story, let me digress slightly about removing a tubeless tire: it can be a lot harder than a regular clincher because the tire beads are more inflexible. I tried putting both beads in the wheel well to create ‘slack’ and that didn’t work. I had to use tire irons to get the damn thing off. Try doing that by the side of the road without getting covered in sealant! The other hassle is that airing up a tubeless tire can be impossible with a regular floor pump let alone a hand pump; you just can’t pump enough air in fast enough to blow the beads against the rim wall to seal. Fortunately I was doing this in the shop and not out on the road, and I happen to have an air compressor that was able to do the job. If you flat a tubeless tire when you are out riding and the sealant doesn’t work, then you’re going to have to put in an inner tube to get home, which means you have to remove the tire. But you’re not going to have an air compressor when you’re out riding. You can try a CO2 cartridge to blast the beads in place. However CO2 is not recommended for tires with sealant because the rapid cooling induced by the CO2 sets off a chain reaction that turns solidified the latex in the sealant. If you’re putting a tube in, then this is irrelevant.

Back to my story: once the tire was pressurized to 60 psi, sealant began bubbling out of the cut. Eventually it stopped. I let it sit overnight, pumped it back to 60 psi the next morning and no sealant leak. Apparently Orange Seal worked. I’ve been riding that tire since on asphalt and dirt and it’s holding air fine.

Moral of the story:

  • Tubeless tires may save you the hassle of an occasional flat. But when you do get a flat it can be more hassle than using inner tubes. First, if you’re using sealant, you and your bike are probably going to be sprayed with sealant. Fortunately sealant dries and you can remove it easily; including rubber gloves and some paper towels in your repair kit is advised. Second, getting a tubeless tire off of a rim is harder and sometimes near impossible. Not good if you need to insert an inner tube by the side of the road. Third, sealant may seal a cut but you may not be able to run your regular pressure. With a soft tire you need to ride carefully especially when you corner or go over bumps. Note that by road standards I run pretty low pressure already—45 to 60 psi. Higher pressures make it even harder for sealant to work. If you regularly run 90+ psi, sealant may not work except for the smallest of punctures. (There is another danger of completely blowing a tubeless tire off the rim at those pressures.)
  • Regarding ride quality I was disappointed to find that it was just so-so. As I mentioned, I have another Hed Belgium+ wheelset on another bike but it has Michelin Pro4 Service Course tires, 700×25, with latex inner tubes. The 25 mm Michelins balloon out to 30 mm (!) on the Hed rims, so they are the same width as the Schwalbe tires. (I’ve found Michelin tires to run wider than they are specced even on regular rims.) The Michelins have a deliriously smooth ride that are so close to that of high quality sew-ups. So the difference must be in the Schwalbe tire casings. I am guessing that in order to beef up the casing for tubeless use Schwalbe compromised their tires’ suppleness. Or, it could just be that Michelin makes better casings than Schwalbe. I’m not saying the ride quality of the tubeless Schwalbe is bad, just that it wasn’t as good as the hype would make it be!
  • I’m going to continue to run tubeless tires for a while as an experiment. It’s too early to say that they really reduce the number of flats I get, as I just don’t see any other cuts or punctures in the tires that were sealed by the Stan’s. We shall see. With only so-so ride quality I’m inclined to swap these out for Michelins with latex tubes at some point. Inner tubes may be an inconvenience but they will get you home albeit later than you had planned; with tubeless tires and sealant you may fewer flats, but you could be in world of trouble if you do get one out on the road.

UPDATE 9/10: Well, I had a second flat a few days ago, merely weeks after the first one. This was also in the rear tire, a 2mm cut off-center. I was immediately aware of it, hearing the swish-swish-swish of leaking air. It also stopped! The Orange sealant was able to stop the leak at about 25-30 psi. I tried pumping more air in and sealant just oozed out. So I rode it about five miles more and checked again: no leak and instead of having an oozing sore on the tire I now had an odd looking ‘scab’–more of a dried plug. I pumped up the tire to 60 psi and it held! No problems since then. I conclude that for a 2 mm cut Orange Seal does indeed work but not immediately. It needs time to flow to the site, set up, and dry. In the meantime you’re stuck riding on a road tire at very low pressure. Or you could take a nice break. Although moderately convenient (after all, I was able to keep riding albeit carefully), it wouldn’t have been a hassle just to change an inner tube and pump it up to the correct pressure. Of course I don’t have to deal with patching an inner tube, so that counts for something.

You Don’t Need A Weatherman [sic] To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

bicycle-in-the-rain-umbrella

Some lessons are best learned the hard way. So it was this past week. Despite years of commuting by bike in inclement weather and the near incessant wetness we’re experiencing this winter, I made a couple of mistakes that caused me to abort rides. Both involved trusting the weather report.

Riding in the rain is at least tolerable and can even be enjoyable as long you’re dressed and equipped properly. But you have to remember to take it with you.

Last Saturday the weather forecast said possibility of afternoon showers. No problem. Roger and I put on what we thought was appropriate rain gear: waterproof jackets and helmet covers. I also brought along toe covers and Rainlegs. The weather was partly cloudy but not a hint of rain. Twelve miles into our ride the sky suddenly became very dark. If you’ve grown up in the Midwest or East Coast and it’s summer you know what that means. Roger blurted ominously, “Is that rain ahead??” Within minutes it started to dump—your classic quick spritz? No, this one didn’t stop; it just got stronger and stronger. And the rain turned to hail and sleet. Ouch! According to Roger’s Garmin the temperature went from 56 to 38 degrees in less than ten minutes. Piles of hail were accumulating on the side of the road like in an abandoned Christmas crèche. Rainwear works pretty well in rain but when it’s near freezing and you’re damp with sweat, you’re going to suffer. In Roger’s case he was extra-suffering because his legs and gloves got soaked. Not having fenders he got drenched with road spray. Despite making an immediate U-turn and skedaddling back home we had about nine miles of hail and rain under our belt. My hands, feet and lower legs were soaked but I wasn’t too cold. Although his jacket did its job, poor Roger was otherwise soaked and was shivering despite the ugly climb back to the house.

Last Tuesday the weather forecast was for partly cloudy and—gasp!—no rain. But the evidence was right in front of my eyes and I ignored it: it rained almost an inch early that morning and the roads were still wet hours after it had stopped. But hey, it’s the weather forecast so it must be right. Since I was going to go up Diablo, not wearing rain gear was going to be a treat because even in the best stuff (Showers Pass) a big effort will defeat any efforts to stay dry as you sweat inside your waterproof wonder. Everything went as planned until I got near North Gate Road. First, I noticed there was snow on top of Diablo—looks picturesque, but doesn’t that mean it’s cold up there? Then you know what happened next: the sky got dark and I ignored it because the weather forecast said no rain. About halfway up as I rounded a corner it started to rain. I beat a hasty retreat but not before getting soaked and chilled on the descent. By the time I got home the bike was completely filthed up and I had a skunk line down my back. No rain? Hardly.

As winter ends and spring begins we inevitably will be getting less rain and the temperature will be rising. Instead of consistently wet weather we’ll probably be getting more variable conditions, which means losing the habit of riding like it’s going to be wet and cold. Perhaps we should adopt the umbrella policy, i.e. “bring an umbrella to make sure it doesn’t rain.” Remember: the forecast is just an educated guess.

Let’s Make Christmas Great Again!

trump-xmas

Yeah right, you’re going to spend serious coin on cycling stuff for someone else. Admit it, you want to give yourself the holiday gift that no one else would think to give you: something drool worthy for the new “It’s All About Me” Trump age. And it’s our responsibility to keep those factories in Asia and Eastern Europe churning 24/7. It’s sad to say but I’ve actually used almost all of the items below, and my recommendations are therefore based on personal experience and in keeping with the post-truth, post-Obama theme, very biased.

edge-520

Garmin Edge 520. $265. If you do not need turn-by-turn navigation, this is the very good GPS-enabled cyclometer. And that’s a good thing because with the exception of the Edge 800, Garmin’s other navigation cyclometers all have fatal flaws. Despite being nearly three years old the Edge 1000 still has glitches that make it an unreliable device, not to mention that the battery life is absolutely abysmal. The Edge 810 is hardly better and suffers some of the same software flaws. But if you kick navigation to the curb, Garmin’s other devices such as the 520 become very usable devices. The Edge 520 is small, light, and fairly easy to use. The screen is very legible even in bright sunlight. I haven’t had any software glitches in the eight months I’ve been using it. However I don’t use any of the social media functions such as auto uploading to Strava/Garmin Connect nor do I connect it to my phone to get alerts and text messages. So I have no comment on how they work or don’t work. Battery life is much longer than the 1000, which dies around eight hours even with energy sparing (if I’m lucky). My typical rides run 3-4 hours and the 520 usually has about 70% battery left, so my guess is that it will last through a double metric. My one complaint/laudation is that it doesn’t have a touch screen. Garmin touch screens are unreliable, not seeming to work when you most need them to, so buttons are a good thing. (Aside: you should see the online complaints about the touch screen on the new Edge 820; it’s apparently worse than ever.) Unfortunately the buttons on my unit are stiff and have to be pushed quite deliberately to work. As a result I’ve splurged and gotten a Garmin Remote This little ANT+ device has three easily clickable buttons to control your 520 and obviates the need to thrash repeatedly on the buttons on the Edge 520 while zipping through traffic or hammering up the road. Another minus of no touch screen is that all the settings have to be done by multiple, laborious button pushes. It reminds me of when we used to text on flip phones: so much work for so little gain. But the unit is reliable! Also there is enough resident memory that I’ve even installed an open source map of the Bay Area. This is useful not only for ascertaining where I am on unfamiliar roads/fire roads but also for doing simple bread crumb navigation. Having enough resident memory is important because unlike the Edge 1000/810/800 there is no SD slot for adding maps or additional storage.

spurcycle

Spurcycle Bell, or Incredibell Omnibell. $50/$13. The Spurcycle Bell is the Hot New Thing. Remember when bells on bikes meant condemnation and scorn by your local self-appointed bike snob? Well thanks to hipsters at Spurcycle having a bell on your bike now makes you look cool. And it is a nice looking bell with a very nice ring. And it’s handmade in California, not Asia. But it costs $50. For a bell. I repeat: for a bell. It’s a goddamn bike bell, not a friggin’ curated art piece.  omnibell

If your wallet howls at the prospect of springing for a Spurcycle, then opt for the Incredibell Omnibell. It’s a lot cheaper, as in $13. This gets you a nice silver bell with a good ring and sustain, an adjustable dinger, and an adjustable strap to fit any size handlebar. And why should you have a bell on your bike? Because it’s friendly and polite to alert peds and cyclists when you’re near or passing. And it’s a lot friendlier than screaming, “On your left!”

sks-race-blades-in-situ

SKS Raceblade Pro Fenders. $60. I’ve been using SKS Raceblade fenders for years on my travel bike. Using rubber straps they are easy to put on or take off and they fit my old-school bike with no problem. They’re not perfect: they’re short, so wheel spray is still a problem particularly with the front wheel. Now SKS has Raceblade fenders with built-in mudflaps that reduce spray. They’re still not perfect but they are better than their predecessor. (If you want more effective mudflaps, get the original Raceblade and buy some Buddyflaps to add to them.) If you don’t have a dedicated rain bike with fenders, this is a good, cheap alternative. And you’ll be able to remove those fenders quickly when the sun comes out.

showers-pass-classic

Showers Pass Spring Classic Jacket. $289. I’ve written about this jacket before. It’s now my go-to jacket for Bay Area rainy days. It’s light, has a snug-but-not-uncomfortably-so fit so that it doesn’t flap or make a lot of noise. It’s cut correctly for riding on the bike. And it is completely waterproof and surprisingly breathable, even having armpit zips for cooling. It’s meant for temperate climates so it works very well in the Bay Area. It’s a tad warm but that’s the nature of waterproof, breathable fabrics. For cold, rainy weather it’s near perfect especially paired with a merino wool base layer. It comes in fashionable black but the red is much more visible while still being easy on the eyes.

gore-power-trail

GoreTex Power Trail Short or Pearl Izumi MTB WxB Short. $149/$100.For rainy days I have a pair of GoreTex overshorts for the road that I got in London many years ago. It’s excellent for touring because it’s small and light and rolls up nicely into a back pocket. Because it’s Gore-Tex fabric and seam sealed it is completely waterproof, and it’s easy to slip on over cycling shoes when it starts to rain and easy to take off when it stops. They keep your lower back, butt and thighs dry—the most critical areas—and your legs aren’t covered so you can easily vent heat from the effort of cycling. For certain days shorts work better than full rain pants especially if your bike has fenders. Rain pants keep your legs dry as well but I’ve never had a waterproof pair that didn’t get steamy at anything above an easy effort. Unfortunately those Gore shorts were never brought over to the US. Well, now Gore sells a waterproof mountain bike overshorts in the US. They’re not as nice as the ones I have but they do have longer legs, coming down to the knees. For rain that’s probably a good thing. pi-wxb-shorts

If you don’t want to spend $150, Pearl Izumi also makes a waterproof mountain bike, the MTB WxB Short, which is also waterproof and seam sealed. Instead of an elastic waistband as on the GoreTex Power Trail it has an adjustable waistband. And it’s “only” $100.

rp-exception

Rudy Project Exception. $375. Cycling eyewear for some reason—probably fashion—can be ridiculously expensive. And these Rudy Project Exception sunglasses are near the top at $375 (the Assos Zegho does jump the shark: it’s $479!) But if you wear prescription eyeglasses, these are definitely worth considering despite the cost. They take prescription inserts and the sunglass lenses flip up. If you go indoors and say, need to read a restaurant menu, or you need to inspect your tires for a flint, or go into a tunnel, or just get caught out after sunset, the dark lenses flip up and out of the way. They’re decent looking and you can get different lens colors.

flare-r-lightcygolite

Bontrager Flare R/Cygolite Hotshot Pro 150. $60/$50. Taillights aren’t just for night riding. In an era when distracted driving is a commonplace, having a bright taillight for daytime use is cheap insurance against getting rear-ended. Light companies are starting to sell daytime taillights, and some are definitely better than others. These two taillights are two of the better compact ones. At 200 yards they’re both quite visible in broad daylight. That isn’t to say they’re blinding enough to someone in a car staring at their iPhone (for that you need a DiNotte Daytime taillight, at $259!). But they are much brighter than your run-of-the-mill taillight. They both have rechargeable batteries and the run times will get you through at least four hours of riding at their brightest.

assos-ij-habu5

Assos IJ Habu5 Jacket. $379. How could a holiday gift list not include at least one Assos item? The Assos IJ Habu5 Jacket is expensive and you could certainly get a decent winter jacket for Bay Area conditions for half the cost. But this jacket is very comfortable—it feels like pulling on piece of tailored clothing. This ‘jacket’ is really more like a beefed up long sleeve jersey. The front and arms have a windproof layer but the sides and back are fabric only. If you’re riding hard in cold weather, it’s fine. But if you wear this in the coldest weather we get around here, 32-29 F, you’ll likely want something with a more insulated back. This fall I’ve been riding in 50-60 F weather and it’s comfortable. Unfortunately Assos styling often means you have to like black though you’ll look really PRO when you are being mowed down by a car. But that’s why you have a bright daytime taillight on your bike, right? Then you can wear all the black your heart desires. The black is definitely cool looking but you can get it with red or white accents. It’s warm enough to wear with just a base layer. You wouldn’t want to wear a long sleeve jersey underneath because this jacket is very form-fitting. But a thin vest such as the Assos Falkenzahn fits nicely underneath and would be a perfect colder weather accessory—just another $280!

continental-cyclocross speed

Continental Cyclocross Speed tires. $45. At 700x35mm these tires won’t fit most modern road bikes. The clearance underneath the fork crown and between the rear stays block most tires that are bigger than 700x25mm. Also most modern caliper brakes have a hard time clearing a 700x28mm tire let alone a 35mm. However if you have an older road bike with “long reach” caliper brakes or have disc brakes, these tires may fit. I’ve been riding these tires for about two years and they are a revelation. They’re fat for road bikes so I run them around 40-50 psi—that’s really low for road tires! But they’ve held up well and they are super cushy. They stick like glue in the corners but they are slower than standard road tires. They’re perfect for mixed surface rides as long as you avoid mud. In mud those tiny tread blocks just get clogged up. But for dry or damp conditions these tires allow you to ride on pavement, dirt, or grass without second thoughts. At 360 gm per tire they aren’t that heavy either. And they’re hardy too—I’ve had just one flat in several thousand miles and that was due to a goathead thorn, which would have done in almost any tire. The little knobs in the center have worn down but that’s actually made the tires roll slightly better on the road and I still have plenty of knobs off-center, which is where you really need them when you’re on fire roads anyway. The only bummer is that they are not (yet) tubeless. And if Continental made a 28mm version, they’d sell like hotcakes.

The Roads Less Traveled: Sibley to Fish Ranch

sibley-fish-ranch-map2
A fire road through Sibley to Fish Ranch Road, a challenging climb.

One of the most popular cycling routes in the East Bay hills is the loop encompassing Pinehurst, Skyline, Wildcat, and San Pablo Dam Road. From the Berkeley side, riders usually head up Tunnel Road or come over Wildcat; from the Contra Costa side, Orinda BART is a convenient starting point. The loop is roughly 30 miles and makes a nice, quick training ride with a mixture of everything—short and medium climbs, fast descents, and a good, long flattish section. Despite being a well-used route, car traffic is usually low except on San Pablo Dam Road (which becomes Camino Pablo and then Moraga Road). The ascent up Canyon and Pinehurst is, by Bay Area standards, pleasantly isolated even though it’s actually embedded in the heart of the suburbs. It makes for a pleasant escape being buried in the redwoods, conveying a false impression that you are far away from civilization and the stress of modern life. If you have attended the Orinda Pool Party ride, then you have already done this loop and know that it is scenic, entertaining, and at times challenging.

The East Bay is fortunate to have a substantial amount of open space and parkland, and we have to thank the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which controls huge acreage of watershed in the East Bay, and the East Bay Regional Park District. In the Berkeley hills EBPRD alone oversees Wildcat, Tilden, Redwood, Joaquin Miller, and Chabot parks. That is almost the entirety of the Berkeley hills ridgeline! This is where East Bay mountain bikers go to play. But what isn’t commonly known is that these parks also have fire roads that road bikes can traverse easily. In fact it is possible to put together an incredible Berkeley hills ride that connects easy fire roads and paved roads from Richmond all the way to Castro Valley, all of them doable on a road bike. One of EBPRD’s smaller and less well-known properties is Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, which sits between Redwood and Tilden Park. The entrance is just before where Skyline intersects Grizzly Peak Blvd. as you’re traveling north. This is the water and bathroom stop for the Orinda Pool Party ride and you may not have given it a second thought. However if you have continued to ride north along Grizzly Peak you may have glanced to your right and in the distance seen a dirt road dropping towards Highway 24. That road runs from the entrance of Sibley Preserve down to where Fish Ranch Road enters Highway 24 heading east. In combination with the subsequent climb up Fish Ranch it makes for a short, delightful romp and adds another challenging climb to the Pinehurst loop.

img_0320
Volcanic Trail, a wide fire road.

It’s possible to ride Sibley-Fish Ranch in either direction. But if you like to climb up Pinehurst then you’re most likely to be starting it at Sibley Volcanic Preserve staging area. There are two paths to enter Sibley, one to the left of the restrooms and one to the right. The left trails are for walkers and equestrians only; instead you will want to take the asphalt road that goes up to the right side of the restrooms. It’s moderately steep but it’s only a quarter-mile, where you’ll have a choice of continuing straight upward on the paved road, taking a fire road to the left, or one to the right. Take the fire road to the left. The two fire roads are actually the same path, the Round Top Loop Trail, however bikes are only allowed on the left branch. For almost a half-mile you’ll be on a flat, wide fire road that has a couple of short rocky sections. The rocks are small but some have sharp angular ridges. So just slow down and take your time rolling between the rocks and avoiding the sharp ones. The narrower your tire, the more carefully I recommend that you wend your way. After that you will intersect the Volcanic Trail, which bears to the left (i.e. north). Volcanic is again a broad, flat fire road with excellent surface. It rolls along a ridge for about 0.6 miles. Eventually you end up at a large flat area, what appears to have been in another age a parking lot. Here you will find the beginning of Quarry Road, which is paved. It drops precipitously through a few hairpins for about a quarter-mile. A half-mile later you’ll arrive at the Old Tunnel Road Staging Area. The total distance from entering Sibley is only about 2.2 miles.

IMG_0321
Hairpin descent down Quarry.

After going through the gate at the Old Tunnel Staging Area, drop down Old Tunnel Road to where it ends at Fish Ranch. (Sidenote: Old Tunnel Road is the road to the original tunnel from the Berkeley side over to Orinda and which was later replaced by the current Caldecott Tunnel. Alas, the old tunnel was closed, for it would have made a fantastic cycling route to Oakland.)

Now here is where the fun begins! You won’t have any more fire road but instead you’ll have a relentless and steep paved climb up Fish Ranch to Grizzly Peak Blvd., where you reconnect with the Pinehurst loop. It’s less than a mile to the intersection with Grizzly Peak Blvd. but the average grade is 9.5% with the middle section hitting 11%. There is a decent shoulder but there usually isn’t much traffic exiting Hwy. 24 and heading up Fish Ranch. Of course when you get to the intersection with Grizzly you will still have to climb up to Lomas Contadas, about another 360 vertical feet over a little more than a mile. So even though the hard stuff is over with Fish Ranch, you had better have some gas in your tank for the “easy” 6% grade!

The total distance from the Sibley entrance to the top of Fish Ranch is 3.3 miles; if you were to stay on Grizzly Peak Blvd. the distance would have been 2.6 miles. So, the minor increase in overall distance—about 0.7 miles—is more than made up for by the serenity of riding in Sibley and the feeling of conquering Fish Ranch.

All the East Bay parks are heavily used on weekends. While in Sibley be sure to watch for walkers and their dogs. Dogs need only be under voice control and are usually off leash. Although Sibley is open to equestrians, I have yet to encounter horses there. But if you do see equestrians, keep in mind that some horses are skittish of bicycles. So slow down and stop until the riders let you know it’s safe to proceed or until they pass.

You can see the route and cue sheet here.

Three Peaks In A Day

mt_tam_reduced.900x600
Mt. Tamalpais
View_of_Mount_Diablo_and_CA_Highway_24_from_Lafayette_Heights
Mt. Diablo
Mt. Hamilton
Mt. Hamilton

Looking for a challenge? How about riding Mt. Tam, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Hamilton? In one day, that is.

The Bay Area is blessed with three major mountains within riding distance of each other, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Hamilton. These are not the highest peaks nor the only ones—there are many in the Santa Cruz Mountains alone including some that are higher. However these three do stand out because of their relative separation from other nearby mountains and because they have paved, public roads that go to their summits. You’ve probably climbed to at least one of these peaks, if not all three. If you like to climb hills, you have probably contemplated the idea of doing all three in a day. That’s what this article is about: planning an assault on all three mountains for next spring or summer when the days are longer and the weather pleasant enough.

There are several ways to go about an assault. I’m going to go through each one in some detail below.

The Full Monty. The real deal is a full-on ride to all three peaks and return to the start in a continuous circuit. If you start in San Francisco, that means eventually returning to San Francisco by bike. This would be more challenging than Bay In A Day because it involves not only circumnavigating the Bay but also climbing three peaks. A rough estimate of this route is 276 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing! One could make this less painful by splitting it up into two days.

Realism. A lesser if not equally noble goal is to ride up all three and back down, say starting in SF and ending back at the bottom of Mt. Hamilton in Milpitas. This gets all three peaks completely by bike. Using San Francisco as a starting point, this would mean, for example, riding up Mt. Tam, riding over to the East Bay by Highway 37 to do Mt. Diablo, and then riding south to go up Mt. Hamilton. However, getting over to the East Bay the shortest way still entails riding on Highway 37, which has high speed motor traffic—not the safest route! This is roughly 210 miles and about 2,000 feet less climbing.

Realistic and Safe. More practical assaults would use public transportation—either BART, the BART bike shuttle, or a ferry—to avoid having to pedal over to the East Bay by Highway 37, with the most honest route minimizing use of BART by getting on at Embarcadero and exiting at West Oakland; another possibility is to get a car ride over to Treasure Island from the Embarcadero and then begin the eastern stretch there or perhaps catching a ferry at the Embarcadero and arriving at Alameda or Jack London Square. Starting in San Francisco and ending at the Warm Springs BART station in Fremont this route is about 208 miles and just 17,200 feet of climbing.

Realistic, Safe and a Bit Shorter. This option cuts out riding through Oakland and takes BART directly from SF to Walnut Creek. Starting in San Francisco we would ride to Marin and ascend Tam and return to SF and take BART to Walnut Creek, go up Mt. Diablo and then ride to Mt. Hamilton and ascend, probably up the front. This route is 185 miles and has 15,700 of ascent.

Keep It Simple Stupid. Instead of riding from Mt. Diablo to Mt. Hamilton, we could take BART from Walnut Creek to the Warm Springs BART station, which should be open by this spring. This cuts down on the ‘junk’ mileage. This route is 152 miles and 14,800 feet of ascent.

Keep It Simplest Stupid. However, ascending all three peaks by themselves requires climbing well over 10,000 vertical feet. You could reduce the effort by just riding up the mountains and skipping the mileage to get between each one. For Mt. Tam this might be beginning the ride either at Tam Junction or Mill Valley and ending there; for Mt. Diablo, beginning at the Athenian School at the base of South Gate Road (North Gate is a longer route with slightly more vertical); for Mt. Hamilton, beginning at the base of Mt. Hamilton Road. This route yields about 11,500 feet of vertical ascent over 83 miles. Note that these routes require having a car in order to start the ascents at their bases.

A full circuit of the Bay and the peaks is beyond the reach of all but the most stubborn randonneurs. Using a car to reduce the mileage just to climbing up the ascents by the shortest means possible (Keep It Simplest Stupid) seems like cheating because of the liberal use of a car. That leaves the middle three as distinct possibilities with the Realistic, Safe and a Bit Shorter alternative as the ultimate goal. Even this option is super strenuous: doing a double century such as the Davis Double, which is fairly flat, is an all-day affair with the likelihood of needing to use lights. Now add three peaks and no organized support: even on the longest day of the year you’re very likely going to be riding in the dark either at the start or the end.

The most realistic option is Keep It Simple Stupid. At 152 miles it is longer than a double metric and boasts total vertical that is only a bit below the Death Ride. Even with an early start it will be a long day and logistically one would plan it around the Summer Solstice in order to maximize daylight. However unless the weather cooperates and is unusually mild Hamilton and Diablo are likely to be very hot in June. In order to avoid draining heat it would be better to plan this assault for late April or early May, which shortens the day but reduces the temp.

As training for the assault, doing a few  doubles would be good practice, e.g. Tam plus Diablo, Diablo plus Hamilton, or Tam plus Hamilton. These are pretty doable and cut the mileage and elevation gain by about a third from Keep It Simple Stupid, making for a 100-mile day with about 10,000 feet of gain.

More on Rainwear

Men's-Spring-Classic-Jacket-CAYENNE-front

A dry February, besides increasing my despair at the prospect of even more Spartan water rationing come summer, fooled me into thinking that my ever-expanding collection of raingear was a waste of money. Well, no worries now! Since the beginning of March we’ve gotten over 11 inches of rain here in Contra Costa. Besides making garden plans more than pipe dreams, it’s been a great way to test some new raingear.

Showers Pass Spring Classic. My new BFF for jackets is the Showers Pass Spring Classic. This is Showers Pass’s new jacket for 2016 and it is significantly lighter and less “backpacky” than their previous high-end model, the Elite. Showers Pass happened to have a sale just before the rains restarted and mine arrived the day it began to rain in earnest. So it was immediately put into service. Like most of Showers Pass’s other jackets the Spring Classic is made of a three-layer breathable yet waterproof fabric similar to Gore-Tex or E-Vent; the seams are fully taped. There are two long, zippered side vents and a small zippered back neck vent. What distinguishes this jacket from SP’s others is the fit and weight: it’s definitely trim fitting and intended to be worn over just a base layer or at most a jersey and baselayer. It’s intended for “performance” riding and the fit is on-the-bike, i.e. the front seems slightly short until you sit on your bike and the arms are the correct length for being on the bars, i.e. they don’t pull up and expose your wrists. The cuffs are elastic and can be pulled over gloves so that water doesn’t pour into them. This jacket does not rustle in the wind and make a racket, which is nice.

It is noticeably light especially for a three-layer waterproof garment so much so that it’s doesn’t have that characteristic rustling sound when you move. The Spring Classic is over 100 grams lighter than SP’s previous top-of-the-line jacket, coming in around 300 grams. It’s also easy to roll up and stuff in a rear jersey pocket.

I use a SP Transit jacket when I’m on tour. In comparison the Transit is cut much, much bigger and allows for more clothing–and even a Camelbak–to be worn underneath. It’s equally waterproof but much heavier and impossible to stuff in a jersey pocket (hence the Camelbak!). The Spring Classic is a different beast altogether—it’s more portable with a race-cut fit for ease of donning and taking off yet it’s good enough to wear all day.

I’ve found this jacket to be completely waterproof regardless of the torrent. If water intrudes it will be either from it dripping down your neck or from the vents being open–actually I’ve not had either problem—and not from the fabric or seams.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve stayed dry. Like all three-layer waterproof garments the breathability of the Spring Classic can be overwhelmed when you’re working and sweating hard, and those vents suddenly become necessary. In the low 60s, this jacket is almost too warm for medium efforts and I find the vents must be fully open. Fortunately the design of the side vents is such that I’ve experienced little wetness intruding. When the temp is in the 50s the Spring Classic starts to feel more comfortable at effort; it’s too late in the year to try it in the 40s but I imagine that overwhelming its breathability would be very hard in that range.

It comes in black or red; obviously the black version hides filth more easily but the red is much more visible. The list cost is $289—ouch!—but I got it on sale.

BK

Shower Pass CrossPoint Softshell Gloves. I’ve also been trying out Showers Pass new Crosspoint Softshell Waterproof gloves. I’ve said in the past that there is no such thing as a waterproof cycling glove. Showers Pass has proven me wrong—these gloves are indeed completely free of water intrusion. But the waterproof membrane, Outdry, doesn’t seem to breathe at all and my hands always have ended up soaking wet from sweat. Perhaps if the temperature were lower I wouldn’t have encountered this conundrum. But 50s and 60s are pretty typical temps in the Bay Area and I suspect they are really going to be used regularly on colder days or on days when I’m noodling along. If the temperature isn’t too cold I find it is more comfortable just to wear glove liners underneath regular cycling gloves and let the hands get soaked. The Crosspoint gloves cost $80. Not worth it in my experience.

ASSOZKNI150_1_ZOOM_3

Assos Sturmnuss Knickers. As for the lower body I have been wearing Assos’ expensive Sturmnuss knickers. These babies are $339 list, which is absurd regardless of how good they are. But they are good. For rainwear Assos subscribes to the belief that waterproof breathable membranes are not good enough for hard cycling—you will always end up sweating up a storm, so it’s better to be aim for increased breathability at the expense of sheer waterproofness. I have not had any water intrusion nor dampness caused by sweating. But they aren’t perfect. First, they are intended to go over your shorts or tights, which means that for changing conditions you have to stop to put them on or off. The leg holes are just big enough for me to get my clodhopper touring shoes with covers through them but your experience might differ. If you have to take off your booties to get these knickers on, then that would be a significant inconvenience. That’s why I usually prefer to use Rainlegs because they can be rolled up or down easily and quickly, and since I ride with fenders it doesn’t matter that they only cover the tops of my legs. Second, they are roomy around the thighs, which is good for unhindered movement, but they look like like MC Hammer’s harem pants only in black. Third, since they’re knickers they don’t cover your lower legs, which isn’t a problem per se since you don’t lose a lot of warmth in that area anyway. But the water pouring down your legs ends up going into your booties or shoe covers if you’re out in the rain for an extended time. That is the advantage of rain pants—they go over the tops of your shoes so water isn’t given the opportunity to compromise them. But knickers do keep you cooler and that reduces your sweating inside the knickers. You’ll have to decide whether you can live with wet shoes. That said, as with gloves I’ve never found a shoe cover or bootie that truly keeps my feet dry. It doesn’t matter what it’s made of—GoreTex, neoprene, PU—they all leak. They only differ in how long before they let water in. If you’re out in the rain for just an hour, no problem. But if you ride for two or more hours, your feet are going to get damp, period. With the Assos knickers you’ll probably find that your feet get wetter just a little faster. Still it’s better than if you didn’t have any rain pants at all; if you just had shorts then everything, feet included, would get wet very quickly.

Final verdict: The Showers Pass Spring Classic jacket is extraordinary and although not quite perfect (I wish it would breathe even more) it is an improvement on their previous jackets, which set the mark for rain jackets. But they are best for cool conditions. The Showers Pass Crosspoint gloves are mediocre. They are indeed waterproof but they don’t breathe so you end up having wet (but warm) hands. The Assos Sturmnuss rain knickers are almost the Holy Grail—waterproof, light, totally breathable—but are very expensive and are not easy to put on or take off if the weather changes.

For more information:

Showers Pass: www.showerspass.com

Assos: www.assos.com

Review: Earth’s Best Organic Orange Banana Baby Food Puree

02392332005

A few months ago while wandering the aisles of our local Safeway I spotted some pouches that looked like large GU gels. They weren’t sports food at all—they were baby food. In my mind baby food is inextricably linked to Gerber’s little glass jars. But now they’ve grown up and are available in easy-to-open screw top pouches—rather than tear-off—making them much easier to carry, open, and use. My curiosity was piqued: could these be a better on-the-road food than Clif bars or gels? I’ve come to hate Clif bars and gels and use them only because I’m too lazy to prepare anything else for on-the-road eating. As a consequence when I’m riding alone I rarely eat anything regardless of the length of the ride. (But if I’m riding with others, then it’s a great excuse to stop somewhere very nice for a good, long lunch!) I’ve got enough fat on my body to fuel me for a very long ride so it merely becomes a question of whether I mind slowing down or eating something repulsive like a Clif bar and then maybe going faster.

The pouches I saw happened to be Earth’s Best Organic Baby Food Puree although Gerber’s—and I’m sure all baby food companies now—sell their food in pouches as well. Earth’s Best are organic, GMO free, and vegan friendly. We bought a couple, an orange banana and a banana blueberry. They sat in the cupboard for a couple of months until I realized they actually had a short expiration date and I’d better use them fast. The bottom line: they definitely taste better than gels or bars because they’re real food, just pureed. For example, the Orange Banana consists of organic bananas and orange juice concentrate. And because they’re pureed food, specifically fruit, they aren’t thick or dry concoctions that need voluminous slugs of water to get down your craw. After all they are intended for babies! So they taste good and they’re very easy to swallow. They also come in a huge variety of fruit and vegetable combinations, 28 (!) in all. I liked them so well that I bought a box of 12 from Amazon.

So what’s the drawback? Cost-wise they’re about the same as a Clif bar. But these are real food, so the pouches are definitely heavier and not as calorie dense. The only way you’re going to get 100 calories in a tiny 1.2 oz. gel pack like a Clif Shot is to take as much water out of it and use industrial food products like maltodextrin and dried cane syrup. Earth’s Best pouches are 4 oz. and contain only about 90 calories. A Clif bar weights 2.4 oz. and has 260 calories or about three of these Earth’s Best pouches. But if you want the light weight of a bar made out of organic brown rice syrup, well, you’re stuck eating Clif bars or some such dreck. Baby food is easier to slug down and you don’t have to wash it down with water. Plus, it’s yummy.

For more information: Earth’s Best Infant Puree Pouches