Sunday, September 13, 2020

What is in your bike's saddlebag?

 All seasoned cyclists have an equipment pouch with them when they ride. Most often it's hanging below the saddle (saddlebag), sometimes it's attached to the stem and the top tube (bento bag), or in a triangular pouch between the top tube and the down tube, or in the second water bottle (usually the one on the seat tube), or in the Camelbak backpack. However we are carrying the equipment/tools, we are carrying them. They are the safety net that allows us to ride far away from home knowing that we will probably be able to cope with any roadside mechanical and ride back home (or at least to the working bus stop or within Uber/Lyft/Taxi range). 

The most common mechanical problem you will get on the road/trail, of course, is the flat tire. Being able to change flats properly on your own is a necessary skills for any cyclist. Check with your local bike shops or cycling clubs to see if there is any flat clinic available (they are usually free). If not, there are several good 'how to' videos on Youtube. I recommend the Park Tool videos. They are really excellent and thorough. 

So, what is in the bag?

At the minimum, your saddlebag should contain:

A spare inner tube that fits your tires and wheels, a patch kit, CO2 nozzle and a couple of canisters unless you are carrying a frame pump, tire levers/irons, a multi-tool with a chain-tool and spoke key(s) that fits your spoke nipples. 

If you ride your bike enough, you WILL have a mechanical issue on the road sometimes. Even if you don't know how to repair whatever it is, it's best to have the tools with you. Chances are a good Samaritan will stop to check on you (cyclists are pretty good that way), but he/she won't be able to fix it for you if there is no tool available. 

My saddlebag's contents.

I ride solo in lonely places far away from help a lot, so my saddlebag isn't quite 'minimalistic'. There are:

  • Powdered spare inner tube. My tubes come unpowdered in a paperbox. I take them out of the box, powder them, and wrap them each in a plastic bag with a 16 or 20 g canister of CO2, and write the tube's spec on the bag (since I switch between 28mm and 30mm tires quite a bit, depending on what sort of terrain I was heading into).
  • CO2 nozzle and at least 2 CO2 canisters of 16 or 20g. I use the super easy to use basic green Genuine Innovations G20315 nozzle. They're very hardy and small. 
  • Two tire levers (plus one more attached to the multi-tool). 
  • A preglued patch kit (with 5 patches in it). 
  • A Park Tool IB-3 multi-tool with chain tool, spoke keys, and the extra tire lever. It's a heavier multi-tool, but it is super sturdy and has nearly all the tools you'd need. 
  • A missing link. Well, usually 2 of those, one standard one, and one Wipperman Connex. The Wipperman is missing in the photo, since I used it the day before to connect a riding buddy's broken chain on the road. Unlike the standard missing link, the Wipperman Connex link can be used multiple times, and does not require any tool to install or remove. It is quite a bit more expensive than the standard missing link, but it's worth every penny.
  • A mini lube pouch.
  • Alcohol pads (for cleaning disc brake rotors or the braking surface on wheel rim).
  • A Schrader/Presta valve adapter, so I can make use of gas station air pump. Gas station air pumps generally max out at 80 psi, which is not ideal for many. But I'm light enough and running bigger tires, so 80 psi will easily enable me to ride home.
  • A nitrile glove and wet wipe. I look scary enough on my own without the involuntary post-repair black face paint.
  • A tablet of Diphenhydramine antihistamine (aka Benadryl)... you never know when you're gonna run into an angry bee or rattler. 
  • A sock (you know how they get unpaired in the laudry and all of the sudden you have a closet full of unmatched socks?) and a spare rubber band. I also wrap a length of electrical tape around my handlebar stem, just in case. Just about everything but the tire levers go into the sock, and then into the saddlebag. It helps to not loose the little bitty stuff on the ground. Besides, it's a handy chain-wipe when needed. 
  • An extra strap. Or a zip tie
  • A piece of candy... Of course, I also carry gels and stuff in my jersey pocket. It's a just-in-case candy. Sometimes you get sort of frustrated wrestling with Murphy's Law's Revenge Days, and just need a pleasant sweet things to cheer you up a bit. I'm not called Smorg for nothing!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Go for a ride!

Don't get too hung up over your equipment, new riders. All you really need to explore and ride to places are a reliable bicycle - hopefully one with hills-friendly gear - as there isn't much flat riding to be had in San Diego County, a pair of comfortable cycling short or bib (because chafing down there really sucks), a little repair supplies/kit (and the know how to use it), water bottle and some food, the law doesn't require it for adults, but it's generally a good idea to wear a helmet, definitely some good research of the area you'll be exploring/riding in (escape/alternate plan B included), and a 'can do and will do' attitude.
The original Smorgmobile was an all aluminum Giant Defy 5 with triple crank and 11-26 cassette.
Style is nice, but substance is what counts. Go out and ride!

You don't need the lightest of bikes or fancy stuff, unless you are planning on racing with the elites. People go out and tour on their bike in all sorts of gear. Some of my local cycling heroes go out everyday riding their 30+ yrs old steel bike with downtube shifters, some ride in sandals, etc. Don't sit around thinking you can't ride this or that way because you don't have the $$ to shell out for proper road cycling shoes (that really won't allow you to do anything in them except for cycling on good pavement) or lightest clipless pedals or aero helmet or aero wheels or whatever. Plot out the places you want to go, check out the conditions (weather okay? any road construction along the way? any wild fire in the area? where would you be able to stop to resupply? if this road or that road turns out impassable, how would you detour?), grab the necessary supplies... and go!


 I'm serious... I rode an all aluminum (fork included) bike with platform pedals carrying a backpack and wearing loafer shoes for years before I 'upgraded'. And in those lo-tech years, I rode up and down all the vertical streets of Dictionary Hills, out to Borrego Springs and back, and to the top and back down the likes of Cuyamaca Peak, Mt Woodson, Mt Laguna, Monument Peak, Los Pinos, the three main roads to Palomar Mountain, San Miguel Mountain, Starvation Mountain, Double Peak, Mt Israel, (little) Mt Whitney, and all the possible ways up and down Mt Soledad, Mt Helix, and Grossmont. Would it have been a tad easier on a lighter bike, a pair of stiffer shoes, being attached to the pedals, etc? Perhaps... but not having those things is really no obstacle at all.

 When I was still golfing professionally back in 1995 I was doing my putting practice routine on the practice green during a tournament in Tucson, AZ when this old local bloke came up to me to challenge me to a putt out. You could tell he didn't have any money. He was putting with his one short iron (probably a pitching wedge) and a very very used golf ball that wasn't even round anymore. The thing had so many bulges on it it wobbles every which way on the thin grass. And he gave me a very good game for it. Of course I won... with my proper putter and a perfectly round ball (I do miss the 90's awesome balata wounded golf balls). But I ended up buying his dinner simply because he was the one teaching me a very good lesson. 

 If you love it. There is no excuse for not doing it. Just go and do... and live!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Riding the rural roads during wild fire season

California's wild fires season has extended a lot over the last decade or so. It used to be just a few months long from mid-summer to late fall (generally from September to early November). Now, it's almost all year long. 

As much as I love riding my bike on lonely rural roads out in the mountains east of town, I generally avoid it during the worst of the fire season (the old August - November time frame) even when there is no fire burning in the area. The summer heat and the mountain horse flies have both proven themselves more persistent than me. 

Even on rare days when I'm both off work and feeling strangely heat-resistant, though, there are things to consider and check on before I head east away from town this time of year:

Smoke plume from the Lilac Fire as seen from central Vista in 2018. 

1. Santa Ana Wind Event: If there is one going on, I stay in town and away from the mountain roads. Period. I made the mistake of heading out to Warner Springs during an early Santa Ana event once, early in my cycling career and will never forget how murderous having that hideous gale as the crosswind on the narrow shoulder-less Hwy 79 could be. I was blown completely off the pavement 5 times between the intersections of San Felipe Rd and Hwy 76. Rare are the days when I love riding the 76 with all its casino and boat trailers and hay and horse trailers traffic... but it runs east-west rather than north-south, so the crosswind became a tailwind then, and I wasn't about to get killed every time I was passed by a big truck.  

2. Check wild fire status before heading out (and if it is possible to re-check during the ride, do). Generally the fires around here burn west... though sometimes they regress a bit back east with the morning onshore wind. Make sure you have secondary escape route if your main route gets (or is in danger of getting) cut off by a fire or its smoke... And, you definitely don't want to be riding on the roads the locals will be using to evacuate for a live fire. 

3. Really... if the Santa Ana Wind is in town, and there's a fire burning within 15 miles of your route, go a different way or just stay in town or on the coast. 

4. If you are one of those stubborn mules on wheels that will go no matter what (shame on you, and doubly so if you end up having to call for help and thereby endangering your rescuers), make sure your cellphone is all charged up (tho... out in the county you may not have cell reception), carry more than plenty of water with you, and have a print out map of the area you will be in. No cell service usually also means no internet... and the Garmin will only be able tell you the uploaded route, but maybe not the possible escape routes. Definitely also be sure someone knows your exact route and when to expect you back. 

5. But, really... don't be an idiot. When the Santa Ana Wind is in town... whether there is a fire burning nearby or not, stay in town or on the coast. Don't head east of town!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Valentine's Visit with the Ranchiti

 It has obviously been a few months since Valentine's Day... What can I say? I'm a champion procrastinator! February 2020 was a month before COVID19 really caught ground here in the States, of course, so we were still free to roam well out of our immediate neighborhood. As I somehow got lucky and was not scheduled to work on Valentine's Day, I decided to go hop on the bike and go pay a long lost roadside friend a visit (and to be well out of town should the boss decided he needed me to come in after all). 

The ride: (Alas, I forgot to turn the Garmin back on to record the final 11 miles)

'Go east while the weather is cooperative,' is one of my cycling mantra. I chanted it in my head as I caught the well chilled pre-dawn train and bus out to Harrah's Casino in Rincon, and took off up Valley Center Rd in the frigid air. It was such a cold morning that I was 2 miles up the Hwy 76 climb before I was warm enough to stop to pack away my winter mitten and jacket. (Mind, catching a front flat from a piece of broken glass as I entered the Valley Center Rd and Hwy 76 roundabout didn't help. The easy job of flat repair becomes rather much less than easy in the 38F cold dark air. I could hardly tell my thumbs from my elbows). 

But, all aggravations were forgotten 12 miles up the road when I turned off at a favorite spot just past Lake Henshaw to visit with my favorite view of the lake, fronted by the lonely branchy tree and with Hot Springs Mtn hovering in the background. It is one of my many private happy places around the county.

Traffic was light heading north on Hwy 79 through Mataguay, though there were many RVs and boat trailers caravaning east on San Felipe Rd. They were obviously traveling together as a few would end up turning out to wait for the others to catch up as they traveled east... with me inevitably playing leapfrog with the giants-with-many-blind-spots as we headed east toward the desert. It seems a bit amusing looking back on it now, but as that was going on I really did not enjoy it at all. Luckily all the leap-frogging giants continued on east on San Felipe Rd toward Salton Sea rather than turning onto Montezuma Valley Rd (S22) with me toward Ranchita. I looked back at them, took a deep breath of relief and immediately felt 10 lbs lighter. 

Oh, there was an unwelcome sight along San Felipe Rd just before the S22 turn off, though. As much as I dislike seeing all the road side trash that evidently came out of cars, I absolutely hate running into the few of them that came out of bicycles. 

Pick up after yourself, folks! (Naturally I put the trash into my backpack and didn't leave it around to further spread ill will toward people on bike. It's one of the perks of riding with a backpack, aside from being able to buy some locally made things along the road that I can't find at stores in the city. More on that later).

Stopping to check out Gravevine Canyon Rd's exit at Hwy S22. Might do a gravel ride thru there next winter.

The Montezuma Valley Market, the only general store with cold drinks, snacks, and a big port-a-toilet for miles, had a lot of beautiful handmade wooden chairs out for sale in front of the store. The friendly shopkeeper told me they get a lot of business from passing cyclists, and so they stock surprising things like the Stroopwafel and varieties of LUNA bars among the jars of local honey and avocado. There is even a well stocked mini-neighborhood library on the front porch with anything from children's books to the classics. The shopkeeper was exceedingly nice and welcoming. Make no mistake, though, this place is well guarded by a very large and hairy bouncer...

The Ranchiti (Ranchita Yeti) is the epitome of a strong and silent Valentine's Day date!

The only public restroom for miles in any direction. It's 11 miles from here to Borrego Springs Park HQ down in the desert, 10 or so to the nearest gas station in Warner Springs, and about 12 miles from Lake Henshaw Resort. So... weather your bladder is threatening to explode or not when you get here, go use the loo while you can or you'll regret it later up or down the road. 

Montezuma Valley Rd (S-22) from the crest a mile east of the Rancheti down to Borrego Springs is one of the most gorgeous paved descents in San Diego County. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Salton Sea, and all the nothingness in between. If you aren't in a hurry, though, there are many bucolic spots on the side of the road (and many trailheads) to stop and enjoy the view. If you are lucky you might even spot a bighorn sheep or two. I wish I had packed a binocular! 

Alas, I caught my second and third flats from, of all things, goat head thorns on the descent. Goat head punctures in February! Those things aren't usually around until late summer!  

Needless to say that changed my day's plan a bit. With only one spare tube and 2 1/2 CO2 cartridges left in my backpack, I cut off the descent at the Desert View lookout and headed back up earlier than I wanted. It's been years since I last had more than 1 flat tire on a single ride. The flat tire gods were obviously displeased with me, and I had better try to get back to town quick. 

Tho, not so quick as to not grab a few of these yummy local honey at the Montezuma Market on my 2nd pass of Ranchita. Hey, I'm not called Smorg for nothing!

A mile or so before the Hwy 79 turn off from San Felipe Rd I veered off the pavement again to pay the Warner Springs Ranch a visit. The keeper isn't around this time, so I didn't hang around for long. 

A couple of miles back on Hwy 79 I espied a pair of coyotes trotting along side the road not far from the curiously uncurious herd of cows, though, so I made the mistake of pulling off for a photo shoot. 

As soon as the tires hit the dirt shoulder they let off a low moan... A rear puncture, and a slow leak on the front! I put the last fresh spare tube on the rear tire. Alas, the patch kit had gone bad after years of remaining unused in the saddlebag. All the glue had dried out and it was completely useless. I had a canister and a half of 16g CO2 cartridge left. The half immediately went into the front tire, after which I time-trialed back to Lake Henshaw Resort where I attempted to call for a cab rescue. 

(Lake Henshaw Resort Restaurant was manned by a very friendly waitress who made some really good filly sandwich). 

A big booboo to the Yellow Cab operator who told me she'd have a cab out my way in 40 minutes and never called back again after an hour had past. I had to call again to find out that no cab was actually headed my way as I was out of service area! That was fairly aggravating in and of itself even without adding on the fact that the front tire was now completely flat, I had no spare tube or functioning patch kit left, and only a 16g cannister of CO2 left in my saddlebag. 

I had about 12 miles of wiggly country highways left between me and the nearest functioning bus station (for bus 388 to Escondido from Harrah's Casino). The final 7 miles on Hwy 76 and Valley Center Rd are all downhill. Before I get to the downhill, tho, I had a false flat thru La Jolla Reservation and a 2 miles climb to the Palomar shoulder where South Grade Rd branches off. I made sure both tires were clear of any debris, squeeze half a canister of CO2 into the front, and raced west like a bat out of hell. 

(A forlorn last look at Lake Henshaw before my escape run to Rincon)

Naturally, there was no time to take any more photo after that. I made it to the South Grade Rd turn off with the front tire still inflated enough for the downhill run into Rincon Valley and caught the next bus back to Escondido and then the train home. 

A highlight video: 

It was a much closer shave than I'd have liked... Five flat tires on a single ride! Much of that, I'm afraid, had to do with the tires being on the thin and old side of healthy. But it still proves the old saying that one can never be overly prepared. I thought it was overkill to have 4 spare tubes, 6 canisters of CO2, and a patch kit with me as I started the day of. In the end, I used them all and could have done with more! I put on a new set of 28mm Gatorskins after the ride, of course, and haven't had any more puncture since. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

San Marcos' Little Mt Whitney

The skyline of San Marcos, CA is dominated by the Cerro de las Posas mountain range of which Mt Whitney (1729 ft) is its tallest prominence. Unlike many other prominent hills around town, there are several paved ways to the top of Mt Whitney, though some are less accessible than others. Choosing your way up, however, is an exercise in poison picking. Mt Whitney charges high metabolic price for the view she gives from the top.

Starting from the NE end of the range, the major route up Mt Whitney is on the back side of California State University - San Marcos (CSSM) via La Moree, Coronado Hills Dr, and Washingtonia Dr. The climbing begins a block or so south Coronado Hills Rd at the junction with Via del Campo. From bottom to top is 2 miles long at 8.3% average grade. The first 0.6 mile on Coronado Hills Dr is the most brutal, however, with an opening kick at 17% grade before dropping off to a near constant 15% for half a mile to the Washingtonia Dr turn off. Washingtonia is a bit of a roller until the private drive car gate (hikers and bicycles can go around), after which it only goes up and up all the way to the top. Don't begrudge the car gate at the last level off (Vallecitos Water District overlook) that you have to dismount and hike a bike thru. It's the only 'resting' spot before the sustained 14% grade for 1/4 mile to the tower. Also, remember this gate on your descent... and make sure you can stop the bike without crashing onto it!

Coronado Hills Dr
If you don't mind roughing it for a hard dirt stretch, another legit way up little Mt Whitney is to go up either San Elijo Rd or S Twin Oaks Valley Rd to the Ridgeline Trailhead staging area traffic light at Double Peak Elementary School. Go thru the school parking lot to pick up the dirt bit of Attebury Rd and continue on it to Washingtonia Dr. I prefer coming at it from San Elijo Rd rather than S Twin Oaks because you get more elevation gain from the south side, and you don't have to beg for green light to cross the road to get to Double Peak School. This is the first climb on this video:

(Video is of the Mt Whitney bit on my usual Friday morning assaults on Mt Whitney and her next door neighbor, Double Peak).

Aside from these two fairly open-access routes, there are a couple more private and steep ones whose accessibility can vary a bit from time to time (sometimes bikes and hikers are quite welcome on them, sometimes not so much). The Bela Vita Way route to connect to Attebury Rd to Washingtonia is listed on the City of San Marcos trails project map, though currently it is still strictly private. At 1.8 miles and 9.3% average grade, this is the hardest way to the top on paper (though in practice I don't think it is).

Bela Vita Way is guarded by two gates; the bottom one at S Village Dr was recently extended to cut off the dirt trail access, and the top one in the middle of a 15% grade ramp was fortified a bit, so this way may not stay bike/hike-able for long. With all the gates and the lack of other houses except for the manor overlooking the winery, there is literally no car traffic on this lonely paved lane... except for the winery owner and his couple of neighbors. Here is a video I took a while back (before the gates were extended and fortified), descending from Mt Whitney tower to S Village Dr via Attebury Dr and Bela Vita Way.

The goriest route up to Mt Whitney, however, is from the even less accessible Crestwind Dr on the SE side by Harmony Grove Village. It is about 2.8 miles long at a deceptively mellow 8.3% average gradient. Make no mistake, though, the single digit average grade is due to the little downhill bits in the lower part of the climb. The long uphill bits from Bresa de Lomas on up are all in the teens, with maximum grade in the 20s on the concrete and paved portion of Crestwind Dr (how deep into the 20s depends a bit on how you take the curves, and whether you go up it in a straight line or not).

Bresa de Lomas opening ramp.
The steepie switchback at the bottom of Crestwind Dr.
This route requires strong bike handling skills as well as strong legs and lungs (and at least a 30 cog in your cassette). After the two-houses saddle atop the gory switchback bottom of Crestwind Dr, the road turns into a rutty and pebbly dirt lane with a little dip followed by a sustained 15% grade ramp that gets even steeper once it turns the corner and becomes a concrete wall. Get across that wall to the tarmac, and you still have two long curves of steepness with spots that ventures north of the 20% grade mark to cope with before you get to the houses and false flat where you can breathe a bit before turning steeply up again onto Washingtonia Dr.

Mt Whitney radio tower
No matter which way you choose, though, San Marcos' little Mt Whitney is a gem with its rustic rural and car-less neighborhoods compared to the more well known Double Peak on the other side of S Twin Oaks Valley/San Elijo Rd. Do beware of cracks and potholes, aside from suicidal squirrels and rabbits on your descent... and, please, pack out what you pack in. Be nice to everyone, ride carefully around blind curves, and leave no trace of you behind!