It’s relatively early Monday morning as I write this, but it’s clear there has been a material change in the weather pattern. For the past week, the dawn skies have begun the day blue and cloudless, with a creeping dry heat that meant it was best to get the shades drawn and the fans fired up. But today the skies are spread with featureless grey. High fog and an actual hint of moisture today gives the impression that the cook-off of last week has been suspended.
As JimG and I descended from the top of Mt. Tamalpais yesterday afternoon, we could feel the start of it - an abrupt chill in the winds which came off the leading edge of the coastal fog. Still, up until that point, we had been getting cooked up pretty good. But, as we wound our way down the switchbacks of the mountain, I was glad I’d done this ride.
It didn’t really start out that way. Honestly, I’ve been a bit tentative in wanting to ride with others. Feeling heavy on the climbs, pokey on the flats and having a more than significant amount of people buzz past me while out on the roads. When I read JimG’s “Let’s Ride” email on Saturday evening, it was with a slight amount of dread.
Not that I didn’t want to ride. When that happens, I’m either honestly sick or you should check under my bed for the remains of a human-sized pod from which my android analog has emerged. But, I did know that this was going to hurt. It wasn’t helped by the knowledge that I’d be climbing the mountain on the Quickbeam.
This was, of course, quite by choice and action. The Hilsen has not yet been fully morphed into proto-Cyclocross mode and I really had been trying to ride the Quickbeam more recently. In trying to regain some semblance of fitness after months of bad sleep and minimal riding distances, I’ve tried to ride fixed or single-geared most of the time. As I’ve mentioned, this tends to strip away any artiface and confusion regarding how you are riding. It tends to make you stronger, remind you of the need to honor momentum and let’s you focus on pushing the damn pedals.
It also tends to hurt.
And so, I was contemplating the longest loop I’ve done in a while, and knowing that there would be suffering involved. My evil subconcious did its level best to protect me. When little dog woke up an hour or so in front of the alarm clock, it caused me to unconciously trip the lever, so that I slept solidly until the moment that I needed to be out the door to be on time. I made a pre-coffee call to JimG, who luckily had not left. We pushed back the meeting time to 10:30.
I finally oozed out the door and commenced pedaling. Suprisingly, the hills didn’t really hurt, and I actually seemed to have some snap in my legs when traffic demanded it. We rolled up to the meeting spot within view of the other and after greetings, headed toward Mill Valley. While on the slight rise up the valley, things felt good, and JimG related his tale of tracking down a Large Bontrager mtb frame recently.
Upon reaching the Railroad Grade trail head, we continued climbing. When in better shape, I’ve rolled up this trail on the fixed side of things. But, it was pretty clear that was generating more noise than music today. We eased to the trailside at a good spot and I flipped over to the lower gearing of the freewheel side. With the clear weather and siren song of fall warning of winter, a number of riders and hikers were enjoying the trail. We latched onto the pace of a full-suspended rider who had dropped his buddies, and crossed paths with various gaggles of singlespeeders. At some point, a guy on a cross bike steamed past us at a much brisker clip.
I took a few photos to distract myself from the creeping awareness that I was still pushing too large of a gear.
We kept talking a bit. Easy chatting with ourselves and other riders, catching each other up and commenting upon other bikes we came across on the trail. One thing we briefly discussed as we climbed was carbon fiber failure mode. There have been a steady number of reports this summer of nasty breakage of CF forks, frames and (over the weekend) wheels. (Some graphic post-ER photos in the set).
My personal belief is that the problem (simplifying greatly to make the point) has to do with two things -
1: When carbon fiber was new, the companies messing around with it understood that if it broke, CF would get a bad rep. My guess is that the initial frames and forks were overbuilt - heck, the first CF bike I had used a steel steerer tube! This was exotic material. They had to have zero failures, if for nothing other than marketing purposes. After a few years of success, some quiet failures (it seems no one really remembers the early OCLV road bikes that had BB shells that came unstuck, and roatated within the frame…), the race was on to use lighter material in the layup (It went from “proprietary information” to 120 to 110 g/sq. m in the course of a few years). I’m not sure if they also reduced the amount of resins used in the manufacturing, but it wouldn’t suprise me. You go lighter - in any material that I know of - and your margin for error lessens considerably.
2: When these projects began, I have to believe that a select group of “A” Teamers did the work. Now, just given the sheer quantitly of CF production, this cannot be the case in every manufacturing company. At the beginning, I’d bet the design and fabrication teams doing the CF layup and building were closer to the hand-done, custom end of things. Now, it’s the assembly line method, which means workers with good days or bad days, and with the vast quantity of items made, more variance in materials and construction. I think it’s one thing to underbraze a bottom bracket shell, but quite another to not have optimum dispersion of resins through your layers. Again, you get back to failure modes, and CF ain’t forgiving.
JimG brought up a third point, which was the answer to “well, Carbon Fiber is used in aerospace and aircraft applications.” “Yes,” he said. “But there are teams of highly trained personel whose job it is to evaluate the equipment according to very strict guidelines. That’s a lot different than showing the part to the folks down at the local bike shop and asking them what they think…”
Update - Beth H. had a great post on this today as well - raising the point that all this racey-race gear has no place on a practical bicycle anyway.
Update again - And, yes, I realize steel can fail.
And we continued climbing. I finally said, “Aw piffle” (or something close to that) and dropped down to the small front chainring. This final change of gearing helped, and after a water and chat break at West Point Inn, we motored up the last bits of trail to the summit at East Peak. We broke for lunch, watched folks come and go and observed a work crew (on a Sunday?) shoveling rocks and dusty dirt into a Bobcat front loader. Then we left the mountain top and climbed our way to the descent.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, the East Peak of Mt Tamalpais is one of three bumps on the mountain top. Thus, you quickly end up climbing, when you really feel like you deserve an immediate downhill. Delayed gratification at its finest.
From here we could see Mt. Diablo poking up through the heat of the East Bay, while to the south and west, an impenetrable layer of fog covered parts south and the Pacific Ocean.
As foreshadowed earlier, we descended for what felt like hours - I remembered again just how well the Quickbeam handles paved, twisting descents. I’d swapped the tires for Jack Browns a while ago, and the confidence factor was silly-high. I don’t think I exited a turn without thinking that I needn’t have used quite that much brake.
When we finally regained sea level again and I flipped back to fixed and turned for home, JimG tagged along to get a few more miles in the bank. (The most recent ride he’d done was the RUSA 10th Anniversary Brevet back in August. The man has some base miles…) When we stopped for a brief tech-check, a lanky rider on a Salsa Casseroll came over and saw through our secret identity power-cloaking field of deflection. He correctly ID’d me and JimG, and we chatted for a while. It was the first time I’d had a chance to see a used-and-enjoyed Casseroll in the wild. He had it smartly set up in singlespeed mode, and had just returned from his own loop up Railroad Grade. Nice looking rig. And, good to meet you, Jeremy!
The heat increased as I headed home, and both my shorts and jersey had been noticeably enhanced by white contrasting stripes. But, it had been a good loop. If nothing else, it helped get my brain around the obstacle of increased miles and riding with a good friend is a great way to keep your mind off your own troubles. Even through the heat and continued efforts, things continued to feel better as the ride progressed. Not sure if I would’ve been up for another loop up Railroad Grade, but the Camino Alto climb went by without serious engine knock, and after JimG peeled off for the City, I was able to set a good steady pace home.
All in all, a darned fine way to spend a chunk of Sunday.
Last update - JimG has posted his photos over at Flickr.