Randonneur Light Rant…

3 04 2011

Awesome a brighter bike light - just what we need!

The Curious Randonneur posted a fender rant recently which is a sentiment I fully share. I also would add flashing rear lights to the list of rando rants. I’ll give civilians a break because they may not have ever had to follow someone on their bike for a few hours who has a flashing ultra bright rear LED light. But, I would expect everyone on a brevet to know that a flashing rear light is hard on the eyes of everyone behind them and that in many cases the folks to the rear have no choice, but to follow them for a good while. Unless you are well and truly on your own please run your rear lights on steady.

One time you know you won’t be alone is at the start of a brevet where the group may spin along for 10-20kms before they split up and there will be many people behind you to enjoy your flashing light show.

I position my rear light below the seat so that I can toggle from steady to flash to off without missing a pedal stroke. That way if it gets dark and cloudy during the day I can turn on my light and then turn it off when I don’t need it.

BTW – flashing ultra bright LED front lights are equally irritating when looking into your rearview mirror at someone who is following you for mile upon mile.





BC Randonneurs Spring Islander 200K

3 04 2011

My bike at the start...

I got up at 5am yesterday to get to the BC Randonneurs Spring Islander 200K start for 630hrs. My stuff was already packed and my clothes laid out so all I needed to do was ingest some food and as much tea as I could manage before riding off into what was left of the night. Things began poorly when I managed to reset my bike computer halfway to the start. I lost everything, but the only bit of info I really cared about was how far one revolution of my front tire was in mm. Luckily I had that in my head and I then only had to relearn how to program the damn computer in dark with time ticking away before the ride started. After much trial and error I figured out what the 3 unmarked tiny buttons under the computer did and got myself back in motion. I verified I had the right roll out value by comparing my GPS speed to my bike computer – all was good. Thanks the Rando Gods I started early.

It was nice to see a whole pile of rando rigs parked outside the Mohka House coffee shop and even better to get myself another cup of hot tea after registering for the ride.

Signing in...

I got to meet the famous Ken Bonner uber-rando in person after reading about his exploits online and exchanging a few emails with him. Naturally that was the last time I saw him on the ride…=-) I also got to meet a few folks from the previous weekend’s Victoria Populaire.

Just before the 7am start...

We set off in a big group at 7am. I hung back to stay away from any funky riding and to warm up the legs. My GPS was programmed in 3 legs both to accomodate its pathetic number of route points and because it didn’t like the MUPs that formed a big part of today’s ride. The first leg got us to the Galloping Goose MUP for the long ~50km run to Sooke BC. I had folks to follow through the many turns in southern Victoria, but it was good to see the GPS working as it should. I love early morning riding on quiet streets. Everything is peaceful and the drivers that are up seem to be the kinder gentler variety.

The previous day had seen heavy all day rain so I was happy to have dry cool conditions to start the ride and clear skies. We passed the turn off to my house and I thought briefly about my warm bed! Although I am lazy by nature riding a bike on a nice morning with some fine folks is a worthy adventure to get me out of bed and rolling along.

Unlike the populaire the group’s bike handling skills was much better and nobody did anything funky as we rode up the Goose and out of Victoria. There were lots of cool bikes to look at some I did some geeking out and compared various setups to my own bike. The  Galloping Goose MUP is great, but it has three problems:

  1. a ton of bollards [posts] at each road crossing to stop vehicles from driving down the MUP. Problem is they are 3′ high so if you aren’t the first cyclist in a group they are blocked from your view until the last second.
  2. a ton of road crossings early on. In fact I really divide the Goose into 3 sections 1) downtown to just north of my place [no road crossings], 2) from the junction of the Lockside Trail to about 25km from Sooke [many crossings] and 3) the last 25kms into Sooke [no crossings]. The first and last sections are super fun to ride while the middle section varies between tedious and dangerous.
  3. just north of my place the Goose turns to dirt/gravel for the 40kms or so run to Sooke and offers 3-4 very steep gullies that have to be bombed down [usually onto a wooden deck bridge] and then climbed back out. I don’t mind the dirt on 42mm tires, but the gullies need some care and an honest assessment of your bike handling skills.

First control in Sooke - the Rock Beach Grill...

We had a little drama on the Goose when a rider who was scanning for cars as he approached a road crossing didn’t see a bollard until he was on top of it. He managed to throw his bike sideways out of harms way, but I was right behind him and it looked to me like he hit the post square in the “man bits”….8-(. The impact stopped him dead and I skidded to a stop figuring we needed to arrange for evacuation, but he climbed right back aboard his bike and carried on. I was impressed!

I really enjoyed the ride out to Sooke on the dirt. My tires gripped the damp soil well and my fenders protected me from splashes when we rode through puddles. I also learned that my fat rubber threw up a lot of water when riding through really deep water so it was best to level off pedals or the lower foot would get wet. We cruised along quite fast on what I would later realize was a slight downhill most of the way. The sun was out. There was no traffic on the MUP. Not much more you could ask for really…=-)

I had turned my GPS off for this part of ride as it wouldn’t route me along the MUP, but I turned it on as we got to Sooke and I recalled a bit of confusing road crossings from the pre-ride report. Together this stopped our band of 4 riders from taking the wrong turn and I became the defacto navigator through the many turns on the way to the first control. I had another bike computer “glitch” at this point. The whole computer is a button and I must have touched it as I rode because it switched from Trip 1 Distance to ODO. since I had just reset the computer on the way to the start the difference was only 2kms which didn’t look wrong, but totally screwed up my cue sheet directions. Since the GPS was on target I followed it and realized what my problem was after about 10mins of confusion.

We rolled up to the first control, the Rock Beach Grill, where they kindly signed our control cards. I hadn’t eaten anything to this point in the ride [~65km] so I drank a chocolate milk, ate part of a sandwich and gobbled carbo blocks. Two of our group left early while I waited for Geoff [the guy sitting in photo above]. I felt a bit bad for Geoff as he was the stronger rider, but I had a GPS and cue sheet on my bar bag so we both had something to offer and we ended up riding all the way to the finish together.

Geoff gets a flat...

Although the ride back down the Goose was slightly uphill most of the way and there was more civilian traffic on the MUP it was still very enjoyable. The skies were clear and I preferred riding with just one other person so we could stop and adjust pace as needed without feeling like you were screwing up the group’s pace too much. Geoff got a flat and I was able to contribute my frame pump to get his tire back up to pressure. I also used the opportunity to eat, drink and take a bathroom break. I was fairly good on this ride in terms of eating at every stop even when I didn’t feel like it as well as using each stop for as many things as possible.

We rode this leg without GPS for the same reason as above. When we got back to Victoria we turned north on the Lochside Trail [another populaire MUP that heads to Sidney BC]. The rain started at this point and lasted for ~30mins. I pulled out just my rain jacket and stayed warm and comfortable. When the showers ended I threw it back in my bag and the rest of me [wool & fleece] dried out quickly in the sun and moving air. Sadly our most excellent adventure took a wrong turn on the way to Sidney – literally! I hit a low spot in my energy cycle and was trying to catch up to Geoff. In my haste I assumed we rode the Lochside Trail all the way to Sidney when in fact we rode the Lockside Trail almost all the way to Sidney. We realized our error when we saw the dreaded “turn right onto Lochside Trail” at the distance on my bike computer – seeing as we were already on the Lochside Trail something had gone wrong. We retraced our steps and 8kms of bonus riding later we were back on track. Now 8kms isn’t fatal for bonus distance, but that’s about 30mins of ride time including the figuring out what went wrong bit and 30mins at the end of a long ride is hard on the morale.

Happily we had our next control just ahead in Sidney [~140kms] and we stopped at Serious Coffee for a snack and some fluids. We ran into a few fellow riders there so our detour hadn’t put us too far back in the pack. Most longer rides in the Victoria area end up at Sidney simply because we live on a peninsula so there are a limited number of roads to use and Sidney is a nice place to stop and resupply. I like Sidney for two reasons 1) the resupplying and 2) the fact it generally means we are turning back towards home. Psychologically it’s great for morale to know you are done riding away from home and now every pedal stroke is taking you closer to a shower, a hot meal and your loved ones! As a bonus the ride from Sidney was along the scenic westside of the Saanich Peninsula.

Geoff and I at the secret control...

I’ll break the ride down the peninsula into two parts:

  1. the fun warm ramble part [~30kms]
  2. the cold deluge death march part [~40kms]

The observant reader will have noticed that if the Sidney control was at around 140kms and the ride was 200kms long than the rest of the ride should have been 60kms. Very true – well this is where the 8 bonus kms come into play and the fact that the route was actually 202kms. Again in general an extra 10kms is not a big deal, but when you are in death march mode 10kms is like F-O-R-E-V-E-R!

So we had a fun warm ramble through some nice quiet rural neighbourhoods. We ran into the secret control [photo above] and had a snack. Then just as civilization started to build again we took a short break so I could buy fresh batteries for my GPS and Geoff could scavenge some oil for his squeaky chain from some empty oil cans at a gas station. My GPS had started the day at 75% charge. With a 24hrs operating time and having shut it off for at least 4 of the previous 8hrs there should have been lots of power left, but once again my GPS lets the team down – sadly not for the last time on this ride.

I was getting a bit tired at this point, but my constant eating seemed to be working to make me feel much better than the end of the 100K populaire. I guess the Rando Gods figured I needed a challenge – so they made it rain – a lot.

I hate both battery powered devices...

I will admit I made a bad choice that could have made this last leg less heinous, but for the love of God can I not get this GPS to actually follow the route I want to ride?…=-(

I should have put my rain gear on at the start of the deluge, but I was trying to be optimistic and wanted to believe it would be short lived like the rain earlier in the day. I also hoped that my wool clothing would do the trick for the short run to the finish – of course I had conveniently forgotten our bonus mileage. So I got soaked and then cold and then soaked some more. At that point I figure what was the point in putting on rain gear as I couldn’t get any wetter? Well it would have kept me warm for one thing.

Adding to the horror was the fact that our bonus mileage meant that I had to do some math every time I read the cue sheet. Not a big deal except for the fact I was cold, tired and the plastic covering the cue sheet was nearly impossible to read in the heavy rain. At least I had my GPS to fall back on right? Wrong – this is about the point when my GPS decided to go it’s own way on a route that wasn’t even close to the one I needed to stay on. *sigh*

Luckily I didn’t pass one of those e-waste depots or I would have dropped off both my bike computer and GPS!

Defeat wasn’t in our vocabulary so we marched on. Pathetically looking for street names that seemed correct. Geoff knew the area we were in and was able to figure out our route based on street names I yelled out between sobs. Luckily with the heavy rain he couldn’t see my tears…=-)

Finally the GPS decided it wanted to help out again and got us through a section of really heavy rain that I could barely keep pedaling through I was so cold and morale was pitifully low.

It was at this point a couple catches up to us. Sees I have a GPS and the wife says to the husband “…ah he has a GPS hopefully he’s on the correct route..” So she rides up to me and asks in a critical tone “…do you know where you are going?…” If I had had a bit more energy I would have replied sarcastically “…no we are just taking random turns until we get to 200kms and then we’ll ride to the finish and get our cards signed!..” If you want to follow someone on a brevet and use their navigational skills/equipment have the good manners to either get behind them and shut up or go your own way. It is pretty much a given that people are following what they think is the correct route and if they aren’t they don’t know it – so there is little point is asking. Besides if you are so confused you can’t tell if you are on the route or not what difference does it make – your not going to get more lost…=-)~

I needed to stop and eat something so we let the couple head on down the road and navigate the route for themselves.

The rain stopped for the last 10kms which was nice so I guess things were getting too easy again. No problem – my GPS went off on an erroneous detour so we were back to the wet cue sheet. The run to the finish was both happy knowing we’d be warm soon and crazy hard because of our long day in the saddle. We passed very close to Geoff’s home which was severely tempting, but we managed to resist. Finally we spotted the Mohka House a few blocks away and zoomed to the finish! I go to the Mohka House a fair bit, but I’ve never been so darn happy to see it…=-)

Route Map - click image for cue sheet...

Ride Stats:

  • distance ridden 210kms
  • time on the bike 9:07hrs
  • total ride time 10:28hrs
  • time off bike 1:21hrs
  • avg speed on bike 23kph
  • number of times I nearly threw GPS into ditch = 2

Luckily I checked my bike computer right after the ride as somehow it got reset between Mohka House and home. Cateye seriously what was wrong with actual buttons on a bike computer? I never lost data or reset my older Cateye units and I was never too tired on a ride to operate a button!

The Good:

  • I am eating well
  • I felt better at end of 200K than at end of previous 100K
  • I’m learning to read a cue sheet well
  • Planet Bike Superflash handled extended heavy rain fine
  • bike is working well
  • slightly lower bars with slight rotation up is very comfy as are new brake lever hoods
  • new mirror position is better [glad I tried it]
  • brand new SA saddle was comfortable
  • nice to have company on ride
  • beautiful route
  • ham & turkey sandwich I packed was rocking
  • cinnamon bun I packed was even more rocking!

The Bad

  • SA saddle needed 2 tension adjustments during ride [I think frame is bending]
  • GPS routing poorly
  • need to pay closer attention to cue sheet to avoid bonus kms
  • I need to get a grip and put on my rain gear earlier
  • Cateye Bike computer one touch button sucks [I may install older version with actual buttons]

Photo - Jim Runkel...click on image for more...

Up Next

  • Tour de Cowichan Valley 200K April 9
  • clean and lube chain
  • look at GPS route to see if problems were my fault of GPS’ fault
  • research another GPS!
  • start with fresh GPS batteries and bring an extra set
  • dig out an older Cateye bike computer and consider swapping it in

Update 1: I checked the GPS track provided on the BC Rando ride page and it was not correct which means the GPS was doing the right thing when it was sending me off route. I’ll need to do a turn by turn verification of any GPS info provided for a ride as the cue sheet is understood to be the only “legal” document when it comes to determining what the actual route is. My bad!

Update 2: There are some photos from the ride here, the ride results here and organizer’s ride report here.

Update 3: my GPS isn’t the only one doing goofy things!

Photo: Jim Runkel...click on image for more...

Photo: Jim Runkel

Congrats to Nathan [above] and Jessie [below] for great first rides…=-) Read the ride report for more details.

Photo: Jim Runkel





Ortlieb Velocity Backpack 3yr+ Update…

3 04 2011

My trusty Ortlieb on an errand adventure...

Have a read of my 5 month review of this backpack for all the nitty gritty details.

This backpack has become my favourite for almost all backpackish needs I have. I do have a few other more traditional backpacks I use occasionally, but 9 times out of 10 this Ortlieb gets the call.

Why?:

  • fits me well
  • comfortable
  • waterproof
  • durable…it’s scuffed plenty, but shows minimal wear considering the use it’s seen
  • looks nice [to me]
  • holds enough, but not too much

Criticsms:

  • it could use a tab for a rear red light…most of my bikes have a hard mounted light, but it would be a useful addition for hopping onto a bike with no rear light
  • I’ve noticed some wear on the cloth at the top where I roll it up to close it…just a bit and no problems yet, but I suspect this is where it will fail, but perhaps not for many years still
  • one of the plastic clips that holds the extra part of the waist belt strap has broken off and they were not that great functionally to begin with
  • since I rarely want to use the waist belt [pack isn’t big enough for heavy loads] I simply tape it up

Would I buy another?

  • yes…if this was lost or stolen I’d be ordering a new one the next day
  • in fact my GF asked me what I wanted for a b-day gift this year and one of the 3 options I gave her was the Ortlieb Messenger Pro..this bag’s big brother
  • I should have the pro in a few weeks and I’m sure I’ll love it, but I bet the Velocity still get’s used most of all as the size is perfect for a lot of loads