Tuesday, February 14, 2017
I'd been interested in doing a randonneur (long distance) brevet ride for a while. But for one reason or another, hadn't gotten around to it. Besides commuting by bike, I'd been doing 30-40 mile rides on weekends and occasional 70-90 mile rides to the coast and back from where I live in Palo Alto, CA.
In California, we’ve been having a lot more rain this winter, (thankfully, helping to curtail a four-year drought). But after recent storms, Saturday, February 11, looked to be clear and the timing seemed right for me, so I signed up for the Two Rock/Valley Ford 200K, one of a series of brevet rides organized by the San Francisco Randonneurs club. Founded in 1990, San Francisco Randonneurs was formed to help create qualifying rides for one of the largest brevet events of all, the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K, that takes place every 4 years in France.
A brevet is a long distance endurance ride with a time limit. The word brevet means certificate and refers to the card used to verify completion of control points along the course. Brevets are non-competitive endurance rides, each rider competes against the terrain, conditions, the clock and their own personal best time.
The Friday before this 200K, that would be my first, it was raining. But I got out at 6:30 am and did a 30 mile ride on a local rolling hills loop (Portola Valley/Woodside) to check my bike, an Ebisu all-arounder that I’d set-up for touring including aluminum fenders, a short front rack, handlebar bag, front dynohub, LED headlight and 700×32 tires.
I had the bars too low and the saddle, a used Fizik Arione was not the best choice for a 200K ride. I swapped the saddle with a vintage Avocet and adjusted the bar height higher. I had made two handlebar bag supports out of stainless steel struts, that looped over the bar in a “p” clamp shape and a “u” shape on the bag end so the flap would clear where the support connects to the bag, that I bolted to the supports, a "bolt-aleur" hack as opposed to the more refined decaleur brackets with two vertical tube mounts that you can easily remove and remount the bag. I replaced the bolts with quick-release pins made out of aluminum binding posts I drilled to secure with R-clips. The handlebars needed to be raised about 1/2 inch, but the bag base still was on the front rack so I didn’t have to make new supports for the higher bar position.
It was a busy day at work Friday, but late in the day I got my gear together and rechecked my bike. Rather than drive to San Francisco very early on the morning of the ride, Friday night I took CalTrain to San Francisco and stayed with friends in the Excelsior district.
On Saturday morning, fueled with two rice crackers topped with almond butter, I left at 5:30 am and rode 8 miles to the brevet starting point at East Beach, Crissy field. It was strange to ride through mostly empty San Francisco streets in the dark early hours. I thought I might get a coffee along the way, but nothing was open, not even Four Barrel coffee on Valencia.
While on Van Ness, another rider came up alongside on a vintage Specialized Sequoia with fenders and a front bag. I asked him, “SFR?” He said yes. I had a nice chat with Eric Walstad for a bit while he led me to a short cut to East Beach. In the parking lot, riders were pulling bikes out of their vehicles and getting set-up, the glow of a full moon shined just above the Golden Gate bridge that was lit-up against a clear, dark sky. After checking in and signing the release form, I got my brevet card.
Riders gathered for a special announcement. San Francisco Regional Brevet Administrator, Rob Hawks, presented the American Randonneur Award of the year to long-time SF Randonneurs member Bruce Berg, for his service, support and welcoming of all riders, no matter what level of experience.
Since it had been raining the last few days, an update of the course road conditions was given: a small landslide on the road into Sausalito from the Golden Gate bridge, possible flooding on the road near Valley Ford and alternate routes, water running over Highway 1 in a few places towards Tomales Bay and in general more, debris on the road. Then we were all asked to raise an arm and repeat an oath: (Raise your right hand or your other right hand and repeat after me) "I, Insert my name here, promise not to do stupid stuff".
Shortly after, we set-out at 7:00 am from East Beach towards the Golden Gate bridge in the cool morning light. The riders quickly set a brisk pace, we ascended the small climb and looped around under the massive Golden Gate bridge and rode across on the west side span. As we rode I could see the distinct shadows of riders right behind me on the left railing in the morning sun. We continued through Sausalito, then to a bike path and onto the first modest climb at Camino Alto, continued down a snake like decent and though a series of bike lanes on the way through Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo on the way to Fairfax. I saw Eric on the Sequoia, again, stopped to fix a flat. He seemed to be back quickly though as he passed and rejoined the group ahead not long after. A few miles into the ride I could see the lights of a police car. Hopefully not an accident! Fortunately not. An officer was giving a cyclist a ticket, presumably for running a stop sign.
I was leap frogging with two riders, Ethan and Manny who I struck up a conversation with. We stopped for espresso in Ross, which was welcome, because I hadn’t been able to get coffee before the ride start. I ordered a machiatto, bought a small breakfast burrito that hit the spot, and we we’re on the road again, Ethan mentioned they’d ridden the Pierce Point 200K recently, that has about 1000ft more elevation gain (~7400') than Two Rock/Valley Ford (~6300') and was very cold and wet. I mentioned it was my first brevet and they offered some tips and encouragement. Manny mentioned a lot of it is fighting your level of discomfort towards the end.
I’d tried to prepare by bringing the right gear. I brought rain pants, a gore-Tex shell, extra gloves and shoe covers, even a small first aid kit. I’d put foam shoe pads in my cycling shoes anticipating foot pain over extended mileage. It was a clear day and I could have taken less gear.
We got to Fairfax and continued on Sir Francis Drake boulevard. The last I saw of Ethan and Manny was on the climb after Fairfax, I rode most the rest of the course, solo. I had done the Fairfax climb before out to Roy’s Redwoods and remembered how steep it was. This descended into the pastoral San Geronimo Valley and then a right on Nicasio Road and more climbing, it leveled off past Nicasio reservoir. There were many road cyclists also out for a Saturday ride, that was turning into a spectacularly clear sunny day with very little wind. Next up was White’s Hill a very steep climb probably steepest of the ride and on to Petaluma. Approaching Petaluma I noticed along the side of the road, instead of beer cans, kombucha bottles!
In Petaluma, I stopped at the 7-11 where I bought sports drink, a bag of plain potato chips, two protein bars, and kept the receipt to verify reaching the control point. I’d made the time limit for Petaluma with 30 minutes to spare and clearly now riding last. On White’s Hill with the steep climb and a large group of road riders quickly dropping me I was having second thoughts, that maybe I’d turn-around at Petaluma. But I felt pretty good, and it was such an amazing day. I looked at the brevet card time limit for the second control at Valley Ford, the cue sheet indicated was only 20 miles away. Doable! So for the rest of the ride, I tried to focus only on the next control/time limit and keep up a steady pace.
The ride to Valley Ford was an ocean of undulating green hills and fields of yellow mustard flowers. I could hear birds and the occasional moos of cows. There wasn’t too much traffic and a very wide shoulder which was great. I didn’t have a cyclometer, and hadn’t charged my phone the night before, so with only half a charge, I left my phone in my jersey pocket. It was interesting to pass connector roads I’d ridden on before in the Petaluma area.
Closer to Valley Ford I started to get pain in my feet, I’d kept my shoes on the loose side because I know feet tend to swell on long rides. I still had shoe covers on so this wasn’t really helping and it was getting warmer, so I removed these. Once I got my foot out my old school quill pedal, toe clip set-up, my feet were good.
I had some saddle discomfort earlier but it went away. One thing I knew, my 10 cm handlebar stem was a little too long in length. I periodically brought my fist to my shoulder while rotating my arm to make up for holding my arms extended on the brake hoods much of the ride, that helped.
I had only had a couple of minor mechanical problems. The front derailleur had somehow gotten bent previously and would not align in some of the highest gears, it was either ticking as inside of the crank arm touched the derailleur plate or the inside plate rubbing on the chain. Somehow I missed this on my test ride the day before. Also, while on a rough section of a climb on Highway 1 from Valley Ford I noticed some rattling, it wasn’t anything up front. It turned out the bolt for the rear fender bridge bracket was loose. I’d brought a Campy T wrench, so was able to tighten the bolt on the inside of the fender with a quick removal of the rear wheel.
The ride to Point Reyes Station was one of the longer segments at 21 miles, but was also one of the most memorable riding in the rolling hills along the water's edge. After a few climbs the road passed through the small town of Tomales. The road had new asphalt and was relatively flat as it wound along Keys Creek that turns into a wide river as it meets with the northern end of Tomales Bay. The road had three or four short sections that had flooded, but not deep so easy to cross on a bike. I just had to avoid crossing while cars were also crossing on the other side to avoid getting splashed. Most of the major flooding had seemed to have subsided. Highway 1 to Point Reyes Station had very little traffic, with only the sound of waves lapping the shore of Tomales Bay riding the rolling hills along the bay in the afternoon sun was an absolute joy.
Not having a cyclometer, I tried to measure the distance in my mind based on familiar rides I’d done. Many years earlier I had ridden a motorcycle with a friend from Oakland to Marshall at dusk, so remembered this town, not much had changed. Today deck patios in a few places were filled with people feasting on oysters and enjoying the pristine afternoon. Once reaching the base of Tomales Bay the road shifted East and I remembered of few land marks. A cheese farm and a former dairy, now a winery. I dropped into the idyllic town of Point Reyes Station and got a coffee and Bovine Bakery, making the time limit by 5 minutes. Only about 39 miles left.
I got a sandwich at the market across the street and watched the tourists while I ate, then back on the bike south on Highway 1. I realized later I did not top off my water bottles. I knew there would be a few climbs, but was hoping they wouldn’t be as hard as some of the others. I turned left on Sir Francis Drake and ascended the first climb. I was feeling OK, I was worried on rolling hills along Highway 1 next to Tomales Bay because I was feeling a twinge behind my left knee that felt like I my cramp. But I kept drinking fluids and it never materialized. The road entered a beautiful section of Redwood forest on Sir Francis Drake Road that winds along Lagunitas Creek, that was flowing abundantly from the recent rains. The road surface was smooth, but with a little more traffic now, with people returning from the coast late in the day. I could see the water flowing west, so yes, there was going to be another climb, it was just a matter of when. I passed through Lagunitas, then the beautiful San Geronimo Valley. It was starting to get dark now and my water was dwindling. I passed Nicasio road where the course had turned right on the way out. Then, as if by magic, I noticed a fountain about 20 feet from the road next to a golf course. So I filled up, had the rest of my sandwich, and headed for the climb into Fairfax.
The climbs coming back were more gradual than heading out which was good. I was glad I had a front dynohub and a bright LED headlight especially on fast descents in the dark on roads with narrow shoulders. I got to Fairfax and had only ridden the series of bike paths once before. Now that it was dark, how was I going to read the cue sheet directions? Fortunately I brought a bar mounted battery powered light as backup and used that to read the cue sheet I had in the top sleeve of my handlebar bag. I made my way through the towns and bike paths leading back to the Golden Gate bridge and realized I may not make the event time limit. I tried to pick up my pace. I was feeling it in my knees, but no cramping, so, all good.
On the final climb to the bridge and with time running out I wasn’t familiar with the exact route and the directions were not that simple. Then, out of nowhere, an older rider on a mountain bike zipped by me and went left, clearly headed towards the bridge. I followed him to the locked gate, he pressed the button and after a few seconds the gate opened with a loud buzzing and we proceeded across the two mile bridge span as the moon hung in the sky against the San Francisco skyline. Mid-span I had 10 minutes to go, I passed the mountain biker and went as quickly as I could, got through second gate. I asked the rider who caught-up with me at the gate, how to get to Crissy field and he directed me to the path. I followed the cue sheet directions and got down to Old Mason and back on the path along Crissy Field. In the dark it was hard to see East Beach, I got to Alviso, I had gone too far and checked my phone. A voice mail had been left checking my status. I had missed the cutoff time by ten minutes. I called the number gave an update, apologized for not calling sooner, he said some members were still at East Beach and about to leave, and I met up with them. They were extremely friendly, glad I was OK and very encouraging.
When I got receipts at Valley Ford and Point Reyes Station I realized the registers didn't print the correct time so, in an act of randonewbieness, I photographed my watch, which was basically, silly.
Point Reyes Station
Then after I finished, in an endorphin induced euphoria, I wrote 18:40 instead the correct finish time of 20:40 on the brevet card, having finished at 8:40 in the evening
Even though I had very slow times, I made all the control cut-off times except the last one, so I knew the ride would not officially count. But I finished the 126.5 mile course and on a spectacular, unforgettable clear day. Afterwards, I rode back to CalTrain with the days journey lingering in my mind. No one could have experienced this day I had on a bike, while driving a car. Between the 200K brevet and riding to and from CalTrain, I rode just over 142 miles, the most I’d ever ridden in a single day.
Being my first brevet, I learned a lot. I knew from longer rides I’d done, it’s partly a mind game. Looking at the cue sheet and focusing on the next control point and time limit was helpful, breaking the ride down into manageable sections without being overwhelmed by the entire distance.
Next time I would do more long distance riding in preparation. Make sure the bike is completely dialed-in. Try to stay with the group and/or work with other riders to ride more efficiently trading off leads/drafts. Only bring what’s absolutely needed. Use a smaller handlebar bag. Go with lighter weight tires, I had used Panaracer Pasela TG tires, good and durable, but can be a bit sluggish. Bring an extra digital camera battery, a manual camera and lip balm.
With more training and better prep, I’ll definitely be back for more.
Posted by Marco Velo at 12:41 PM
Friday, February 3, 2017
Last Spring’s Eroica California 2016 was the second edition of this vintage bicycle rally and festival held in the Paso Robles region of California’s Central Coast. The featured marque was Masi and coinciding with this, the weekend events kicked-off with a special VIP dinner attended by actor Dennis Christopher and with a screening of the 1979 film he starred in “Breaking Away,” a coming-of-age story in which he plays the lead character, rides a Masi racing bicycle, and loves all things Italian.
Going to Eroica generates a great feeling of anticipation. The vintage bikes, the roads, setting and interesting people make for a memorable vintage bike event. Saturday’s activities included a bike festival with a small swap meet section, sponsor and vendor booths and the vintage bicycle Concours d'Elégance (contest of elegance) and judging. There were rain showers during the day and the Concours took place in the main tent that would be used for the dinner later in the evening. The Concours this year was a showcase for Italian and other notable vintage bicycles. These included some amazing examples of major Italian makers and other more obscure brands. An early Brambilla with an adjustable stem stood out, in all it’s weathered glory.
The best of show was a Masi Grand Criterium that had originally been purchased by the owner when he was a teenager. It had been reconditioned at one point. Usually the judges prefer bikes in original condition (there is a separate category for reconditioned bikes), but they also like a good story behind the bike and the owner.
The dinner took place that evening with appearances by the Eroica bike rally series founder Giancarlo Brocci, who spoke in Italian with an English translator, former racer Andy Hampsten, who was at the 2015 event returned again, the only American to have won the Giro d'Italia, and actor Dennis Christopher. Veteran racer Luciano Berruti was also present again this year, with his 1899 Eagle Quad single speed that he rides with #1 on his jersey and bike. When he's not riding Eroica events, he's purveyor of Museo della Bicicletta in Cosseria, Italy.
At the dinner, I happened to sit at a table with Yoshiro Kato, an elder statesman of cycling and owner of Kato Cycles of Nagoya Japan. He was with his son, Shin and they were both there for Eroica and to attend the Sea Otter bicycle event taking place the following week near Monterey. Mr. Kato had a vintage bike of his own name and Shin was riding a very early orange Fuji Racer with beautiful chrome details. I don’t speak Japanese and they could speak limited English, but we could both speak the language of bicycles.
After riding the innaugural Eroica California event in 2015 (see Bicycle Quarterly #55, Spring 2016) and seeing such a dominance of Italian bikes, I thought it would be fun to rebuild a vintage French bike to ride in the 2016 event. In March 2015 I acquired a late 1950s Urago frameset in original condition. The frame seems lightweight for it's time, possibly Vitus tubing.
Over the following months I rebuilt it with vintage French components. Founded in 1901 in Nice, France, Urago had a long history of bicycles. It's factory closed in 1972 and their shop in Nice at 17 Avenue de la République, switched to motorcycles in 1997. It finally closed in 2008.
Urago made a variety of bicycle frames, many with highly finished Nervex lugs and chrome details. As a company founded by Italian emigrés, a Urago was the perfect crossover for Eroica. The frame I acquired has Nervex ornate lugs, a long fork offset, Simplex drop-outs and room for fenders so probably a sportif bike. It still had it’s original weathered black paint, with a red primer coat underneath showing in a few places and the original decals. Still on the seat tube was a dealer decal reading “E. Gamard, Cycles - CycloMoteurs, Agence, Peripagnan, France.” Emile Gamard was a successful racer in the 1930s.
I built-up a set of 700c wheels myself with vintage Atom alloy hubs and Super Champion Model 58 rims. 700x32 Compass Stampede Pass tires fit with enough room for Weinmann alloy short fenders. For gearing I added a Stronglight 49D crankset with 47 and 28 chainrings and a 14-26, 5-speed freewheel. This year, with a lowest gear of 28x26 I was able to stay on the bike on the tougher gravel climbs, The big difference in chainrings created some amusingly abrupt changes in pace, shifting to the inner ring while powering up on some of the climbs, but the set-up allowed plenty of gearing and slightly lighter weight.
The morning of the ride I rode from the motel to a cafe near the main square and had a nice chat with a rider from Arizona on an Alex Singer and his daughter who was riding a beautiful vintage Rossin. On the Singer, he said he’d unknowingly bought the bike, that had no decals, for $40 at a Goodwill store. When he’s mentioned it to other vintage bike fans, people have said, “Oh, YOU’RE that guy!” (word of the barn find had quickly spread through forums)
Coincidentally, this year’s Eroica rides took place on the same day as the oldest of the European one-day "classic" races, Paris-Roubaix. The weather for the Paso Robles area was forecast for rain and given that various sections of the ride would be on gravel, it was hard to tell how muddy it might be. The geology of the Paso Robles, however, consists of a fair amount of sedimentary soils. Even though there was rain on the days before the weekend event, most of the gravel roads absorbed the rain and there were very few places that were actually muddy and most all of the gravel sections I rode were in great shape.
The area of Paso Robles provides spectacular riding, especially in the spring. Rows of vineyards are highlighted by the varying topography and the many hills are green, sprinkled with yellow mustard flowers. The morning of the ride, there was very light coastal rain, but not enough to warrant even wearing a rain jacket. At the start, groups were staggered at intervals. By the first climbs riders spread out and you could go at your own pace not being crowded by groups as in larger cycling ride events.
I started the ride with tires at about 95 PSI. I had been riding Panaracer Pasela TGs previously, that are great tires, but they can feel a little sluggish in the wider sizes. Compass Stampede Pass tires, with their lightweight casing ride very responsively. These tires, combined with the newly built-up wheels and stiff Stronglight cranks with their narrow Q-factor width, the Urago was especially responsive on climbs. Urago was a small frame builder often having to compete with much larger bicycle brands, so they tended to put more into their handmade frames.
At 95 PSI the tires felt fast on the pavement, on the light gravel they felt pretty good as well, but the tires really seemed to come alive after I dropped the pressure slightly to between 85-90. At this pressure the bike absorbed the bumps but still seemed to handle excellent without feeling sluggish. Towards the end of the ride, not having full fenders some of the wet dirt accumulated on the chain that started to affect the shifting with the large difference in the chainring teeth, but mostly ok. The Compass tires were a perfect complement to this vintage lightweight Urago. Although the bike was over 50 years old it felt new with these tires.
Not knowing how well such an old Urago would do on a distance, I rode the short route this year. Having ridden last year’s medium event in the heat I thought the short route might be boring, but it wasn’t at all. The constant rolling hills were all the more interesting. With the gypsy guitar music of Django Rheinhart going through my head (“Twelfth Year”), each turn and hill revealed a new section of this splendorous area. Along the way it was fun to see so many different riders of all ages and the variety of vintage bikes from the US, Europe as well as Asia.
The routes had better markings this year, with more route signs, plus color coded arrow markers on the asphalt that more clearly indicated each of the three routes and where they split up that was very helpful.
At the rest stop at Olea Olive farm, we were served the traditional lunch of French fries and homemade garlic tomato sauce, plus a flat bed truck was filled with bananas and tangerines.
At Olea, I had a nice chat with Sasha from Citizen Chain in San Francisco, who was riding a sleek gray vintage Albert Eisentraut bike with his distinctive logo signature. Eisentraut, a long time frame builder in San Francisco Bay Area, who has taught many others his craft.
After this second checkpoint, the riders were spread out now, and one could enjoy the scenery along the route. In one section of white-ish gravel was highlighted against dark clouds in the distance, creating a dramatic landscape.
While many riders were older, there were a few younger riders participating. There was a father with his teenage son and daughter all riding Mondia bikes and custom matching racing themed T-shirts. John Fitzgerald, a frame builder based in Santa Rosa rode one of his beautiful randonneur bikes with a traditional fillet/lug combination on the head tube and seat stays that extend beyond the seat tube (similar to the frames of Jo Routens).
After finishing the short route, I was left wanting more… Overall this was another great cycling event, especially suited for vintage lightweight steel bikes.
As fans of classic Italian and other vintage bicycles grow older, while others discover and learn to appreciate traditional steel vintage bicycles anew, who will be the next generation of Eroica riders?
© 2016 Mark Eastman
Posted by Marco Velo at 10:08 PM