Tour de Blast – Sat. June 18 2011

“Wars may be fought with with machines, but they are won by men.”George S. Patton

Left foot, right foot.  Left foot, right foot.  A rider passes on my left.  “How you doing,” he asks.  “I’m hanging,” was all I could reply.  “That’s all anyone can do right now,” he says, pulling slowly away.  A few minutes later, he’s beside the road getting ready to repair a flat.  “Need a hand,” I ask?  “No, just suckie luck,” he says.  I continue on; left foot, right foot.

Mt. St. Helens on Silver Lake

We are nearly four hours into the Tour de Blast and approaching the midpoint at Johnston Ridge.  Beginning in the town of Toutle, Washington, the ride is relatively flat for the first 10 mi (16 km), then begins a steady climb for the next 18 mi (30km)  to Elk Ridge at 3800 ft (1158 m), then descends to Coldwater Creek before climbing again to Johnston ridge at 4200 ft (1280 m).  After  42 miles of riding, you are not really done, because you still face the climb back from Coldwater Creek back up to Elk Ridge before starting the long descent back to Toutle.  Fortunately, it is the least of the three climbs.  (Check out the ride as recorded on my Garmin bike computer.)

The ride celebrates the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  Johnston Ridge is named in memory of a Dr. David Johnston, a geologist who was among those killed on that fateful day 31 years ago.  Sponsored by the Longview Rotary club, the ride is the biggest annual fund raiser for the local community and helps pay for services and facilities throughout the year.

Near the top, snow lines the roadway and the road rises steadily at a 7 or 8% grade.  Seeing a U-turn approaching, my spirits lift in the hope that the grueling climb is nearly over, and are just as quickly dashed when I see the road double back and continue climbing into the clouds.  Left foot, right foot.

With a distance of 84 miles (135 km) and elevation gain in excess of 6000 ft (1830 m),  most cyclists would consider Tour de Blast to be a tough ride on a good day.   This day was not a good day.  Though Friday was warm and sunny, clouds and rain had moved in overnight and we began the ride in rain with temperatures in the upper 40s F (9 C).  By the time we reached Elk Ridge, the temperature had dropped to 42 F (5 C).  What could have been a tough ride had now become an epic ride.

Rain Ride

I had trained specifically for the ride for several months, though it’s almost impossible to find steady climbs more than an hour in length around here.  Nonetheless,  I expected some long, hard climbs and felt prepared for them.  What I was not expecting were the descents; not because they were especially steep or treacherous, but because they were cold.  Really, really cold. Brain-freeze headache that makes you sick COLD.  Had to drag the brakes to keep my speed down for the first three or four minutes.  After that, the headaches let up and I was merely cold.  At that point, I could let the bike run and get on to the next climb as quickly as possible.  This ride was the exact opposite of a typical ride, where you kind of dread the climbs and enjoy the descents.  No, on this day, the climbs were my friend, for they kept me warm.  The descents were not fun, just something to get through as quickly as possible, with a minimum of drama.  Many riders were under-dressed for the weather.  By the time they made it to Johnston Ridge, they were shivering uncontrollably, victims of hypothermia.  Lucky for them the ride organizers had plenty of shuttle buses to take them and their bikes back to town for some hot spaghetti.

Thought it’s not not something you can really train for, you can prepare for the cold.  Fortunately, I had.  Shoe covers, check.  Helmet cover, check.  Rain jacket and pants, check.  Long finger gloves, check.  Long-sleeve jersey and bib knickers, check and check.  Though I was pretty warm on the climbs, the descents were manageable, and overall, was about a comfortable as one could be.  When the humidity is near 100%, you will end up wet no matter how “breathable” the outer fabric.  The key to surviving this ride was to have wind-proof outerwear that would minimize wind chill.

Elk Ridge Rest Stop

Some riders may describe the 2011 edition of the Tour de Blast with words like “disaster”, “miserable”, or “awful”, and for them, they might be right.  For me, the words that come to mind are “epic”, “challenge”, and “victory.”  Sure, it would have been nice to have sunny, warm weather to enjoy what I can only imagine are wonderful views of Mt. St. Helens.  It would have been nice to have been able to better enjoy the company of fellow riders.  But on this day, all the niceties were mostly internal; the riders were left with their bikes, the mountain, and the will to continue until one or the other was used up.

Let me hasten to add that the organizers did their best to make the ride enjoyable.  They provided plenty of fruits, baked potatoes, cookies, and other tasty snacks to keep the riders fueled, and lots of on-course crews to watch over the riders and ensure that aid was always nearby.  Had the ride been one day earlier, we would have had that beautiful, sunny day for the ride.  Maybe it will be so next year!

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The Year In Review

“It is not enough to merely to have added new years to life; our objective must also be to add new life to those years.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy (paraphrased)

However much you may have enjoyed following our adventures in Europe, it can’t compare with the joy we have have experienced living here and writing to you.  Through this blog, you’ve been given glimpses of bikes, cycling, and life here in the Tri-Border region.  Truth be told, one blog cannot begin to capture the richness of a single day living here.  Indulge me as I give a big shout out to The Boeing Company and NATO, without whose support Karen and I would have never been able to add this chapter to our lives.

It is with more than a little reluctance that I tell you our time here is coming to an end.  What was to have been a longer-term assignment fell victim to the global economy.  Karen and I are returning stateside in early January.  Though we are looking forward to new work and seeing friends and family, we are reluctant to leave the new friends we’ve made and what is a very beautiful region; we were really just beginning to explore the culture here and see the many sights.

While this is the end of our time in Europe, it is not the end of this blog.  Though we will no longer be exploring biking in Europe through American eyes, our gaze will turn to viewing the Seattle bike scene through more worldly eyes.  As ever, our focus will remain on the nexus of bikes, cycling, and life; a kind of metaphor for  being and living.

As we slide into 2011, let me leave you with some photos that did not make it into any of the other posts.  Enjoy!

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Bike Of The Week: Cargo Bikes

“Live. And Live Well. BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now… If you bike, pedal HARD!” – Kyle Lake

Looking for a rugged, well made cargo bike? Be sure to check out the Bikfiets Cargo bike.  These rugged and stylish bikes sport several desirable features.  First, the built-in center stand securely supports the bike and cargo.  The feet allow the rider to easily lever the rig up into place.  Next is the heim-joint steering mechanism.  Rather than directly connecting the handlebars to the front wheel, this bike uses a long rod to link wheel to handlebar, allowing the cargo basket to sit between the wheels.

Speaking of wheels, the small front wheel keeps the frame compact and stiffens the front end, at the expense of some extra rolling resistance.

Finally, this example appears to have a battery mounted on the rear luggage rack.  Even with the moderate terrain in the Tri-Border region, pedaling 50kg (120lb) or more of bike and cargo is going to make a mess of that nice suit.  Another excellent application for the electrically-assisted bike!

For urban cyclists looking to bike more and drive less, cargo bikes can address a lot of needs that conventional bikes cannot.  With the benefit of electric assist, the cyclist is no longer a slave to gravity and friction; or to be more accurate, the cyclist can choose the level of effort desired, from easy cruise to full boogie workout.  Sure, the “real” cyclist will always have the purity of pedal-only power.  For the “real” commuter, shopper, and general cargo hauler, the hybrid designs open up two-wheeled life to more people in more circumstances than pedals ever can.

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Action Medical Research – London To Paris, 2010

“In charity, there is no excess.” – Francis Bacon

Ever travel thousands of mile, only to meet someone from your town back home? So it was for Karen and I as we  walked through Park Monceau in Paris, returning from a stroll on the Champs Elyseé.  It was the 24th of July, a thoroughly pleasant day as I recall.  Turning the corner, we were surprised to see a horde of cyclists, hundreds of them!

Bikes of all manner could be seen, mostly late-model composite frame racers, but a few well loved classics as well.  Like their bikes, the riders came in a variety shapes and sizes as well.  Some wore club jerseys, some there from a club of one.

Scanning the crowd, Karen spotted a couple of riders in America-themed jerseys hanging out together.  We strolled over and introduced ourselves.  The fellow on the right is Paul Ferrell from Seattle, very near where Karen and I live when back in the states.  The rider on the left is from the Portland area, though his name escapes me.  We all marveled at the slim chance that we would be in the same place and time, half a world away from home.

Figuring they were here for the last stage of The Tour, I was surprised to learn they were participating in a charity ride.  That’s right, they traveled 6000 miles to ride in a four-day charity ride from London to Paris. Read more about the charity and view more pictures after the break.

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Bike of The Week: Ebikes

Faith is like electricity. You can’t see it, but you can see the light. – Anon.

As an American living in Europe, I carry this mental checklist of things to keep, and things to leave behind when I return home.  In the keep column would be the latest crop of electric bikes (Ebikes) that are sprouting here.

Ebikes are not scooters:  They are mopeds, and only assist the pedals.  The rider must provide some input.  Nor are they as heavy as scooters or mopeds.  Typical Ebikes weigh between 35 and 50 lb.  They are clean and quiet.  Though something of a novelty  in the USA, Ebikes are gaining market share exponentially here in Europe.  From what I’ve seen, it’s mostly elderly, affluent riders who constituted the majority of first-generation Ebike owners, and rightfully so.  These are people who may not be up for hills  or riding for more than five miles, and have $2000 + to spend on an Ebike.

The second wave of newer designs are a little more hip, targeting commuters and those looking for something a little faster than traditional bikes.  We’re not talking you’re mama’s 250W commuter.  No, these are max. legal 1.2kW pavement-rippling tire shredders.  Oh, and if you talk to the right guys, you can get get hi-po chips to SIGNIFICANTLY increase output beyond the legal limit.

How do I get one, you ask!  Well, go to the Great Cathedral in Cologne, then head towards the river.  Along the way, you will find Eco Mobility.  They have been in business for a few months and specialize in custom frames and Ebikes.

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Markward Kayser, the owner of Eco-Mobility.de is catching the next wave.  What we have here folks, are visions of the future.  Some of his bikes are his own custom frames, others represent the cutting edge of Ebike development.  Mark loves to take a customer’s vision and bring it to life in real steel.  He also has a penchant for eye-bulgingly fast machines in search of a new kind of tire, somewhere between bicycle and motorcycle.

More pics after the break. Continue reading

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Hallenradsport: Artistry On Two Wheels

Where American stunt cycling tends to focus on the individual performing short, episodic stunts, the European approach is more team oriented, with long, flowing movements.  Kind of like the difference between barrel jumping and figure skating.

This video is from the 2009 Hallenradsport (literally cycle sport in a hall) Artistic Cycling World Championship held in the town of Heerlen, NL which is close to where Karen and I live:

The bikes appear to be modified track bikes.  They are single speed, with small chainring and large rear sprocket for easy wheelies.  Direct drive allows riders to go backwards and forwards and precisely control speed.  Notice how the rider can push the bike off to an assistant without it falling.  That’s because the front fork is unusually steep, keeping the bike very stable, at least when both wheels are on the ground.  Don’t think it helps much when ridden like a unicycle….

Hallenradsport is a beautiful display of grace and courage, and illuminates some of the difference in mindset between Euros and Americans.  Not that one form of stunt riding is necessarily better than the other; both serve to expand our sense of the possible, prompting us to marvel at people’s wonderful capacity for self expression.

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First Light

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” - Anon.

Scottish cattle graze in the early light of a new day.

From wisps of fog, a fellow rider appears.

Behold today’s creation!

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