Sunday, June 19, 2016

Neighborhood Cyclery's Pain Is Temporary Tour: Palomar Mtn by South Grade Rd

A couple of months ago my buddy Hugo and me participated in the 2nd leg of Neighborhood Cyclery's Pain Is Temporary cycling tour; this was a series of SAG-supported rides that invites cyclists of all abilities to attempt one or more of Southern California's toughest cycling climbs. The 2nd leg of the series was San Diego County's only Hors Categorie climb, Palomar Mtn by Hwy 79 and South Grade Rd. There was quite a big turn out!

We started and finished at El Ray Mexican Restaurant on the north side of Hwy 79 just west of Cole Grade Rd. A few of my other San Diego cycling pals also showed up for the ride. Dean, Neighborhood Cyclery's proprietor, gave a good pre-ride safety briefing before snapping a group photo and sent us on our way. I was quite curious to see how this climb would feel, as I hadn't done it in almost a year (and the weather was forecast to be slightly on the warm side... so there'll likely be bugs!).

Hwy 79 east of Valley Center Rd had was re-surfaced not long ago, though, and we enjoyed the smooth tarmac as much as we could get... which wasn't much considering that the shoulder comes and goes and there isn't much room for bikes in between the rumble strip and the raised curb/brush/multiple fields of broken glass and other things.

This being on a Saturday, there were also quite a few motorcyclists enjoying the road.

Hugo, Teresita, and I made slow but steady progress up the long constant climb. Hugo had gained a lot of weight after 7 years in the wheelchair after falling off the 5th story of a building he was constructing, but had lost over 250 lbs of it since taking up cycling a few years ago. He was still carrying more on him than you'd expect of anyone attempting to pedal up Palomar Mtn the steep way, though.

Dean and his mom were manning the SAG wagons and it was always a treat to spot them as we would come around a blind curve (there are many blind curves on Hwy 79 and S6!).

I'm afraid Hugo popped his hip out of its socket as he got out of the saddle on the lower slope of Palomar South Grade Rd, which made pedaling on quite a pain in the behind for him (no pun intended). You've got to be a tough b*st%rd to keep turning the pedals around on the constant 6-9% grade road for 4 miles with a popped hip, though. I can't even imagine how he did it, but he made it to within a mile of the top before having to call it a day. Would have taken my helmet off for him, but I sort of needed it for a while longer yet.

Teresita and I caught up with a few other riders after we split from Hugo and even got to snap a good shot of Danielle, Dean's wife and co-owner of Neighborhood Cyclery, about 2 turns from the top.

A couple of my Wheel Women of San Diego cycling pals had stormed up the slope ahead of us, so by the time we topped out, they had already came back to Mother's Kitchen from Palomar Observatory. These gals are good!

The Palomar South Grade Rd downhill, of course, is always a treat on its own. I'm afraid there were too many cars on Hwy 79 than I would have liked, but that didn't stop Teresita and I from swinging off the road at Valley Center Rd to patronize a local farmers' fruit stand. The young farmer there sold us huge bags of strawberries, oranges and avocado. He even rigged up the mesh bags with piece of rope to turn them into temporary backpacks for us!

Better yet, everyone sat down for a hearty and very tasty fine Mexican meal at El Ray after the ride. It was a nice morning ride with good friends old and new, and we got to patronize local business in the process, too. A morning doesn't get more perfect than that to me!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Out of and then back in shape on Texas St

It's been a crazy few months since just before Thanksgiving. Yours smorginess spent the entire holiday season mostly out of town on a couple of work trips and got seriously out of hill-climbing shape. I also caught three bouts of the flu that kept me bed-bounded for weeks. By the time I got to take the bike out for a proper ride again I was in a woeful cycling shape!
Didn't get any climbing done this winter, tho I got to see a lot of holiday lights up in Riverside.
When you're past a certain age, it takes so much longer to rebuild fitness... and the rebuilding process is so much more painful. Luckily, there is a monster-ish hill almost next door to whip me right back into some sort of shape. Now, as a rule, I detest repetition (and so hill repeat really isn't quite my preferred training method). But when you need to get fit fast, you just have to go with the most effective (if not the most painless) method. For me, it's ten-peat-ing Texas St hill from Mission Valley to University Heights in the cooler hours of the morning... and hope to get all the laps in before rush hours traffic commences.

Texas St hill is the rather intimidating looking roadway that curves up the south side of Mission Valley in between I-805 and Hwy 163. The closest Strava segment looks like this:
I'm more keen on getting the whole climb in and not just the steepest bit, of course, and also on having it easy with traffic on the way up, so my Texas hill repeat lap starts from Camino del Rio S about half a block west of Texas St instead of east (I start where the road starts to pitch uphill in front of the First United Lutheran Church), so I can make a right turn to continue up the main climb on Texas. Also, the Strava segment somehow ends at Adams Ave, which actually makes no sense as Texas St goes under the Adams Ave overpass and most cyclists would exit at Mission Ave just shy of Madison Ave. So, the Texas lap for me is about 0.6 mile and averages 10.6 % grade (with max grade at 15% just before Adams Ave bridge); pretty much a San Diego version of the famous Cauberg climb.
A look down on Texas St from Adams Ave in University Heights.
Starting from the west side of Texas St means that I have to make a left turn at the bottom of the descent (a rather intimidating descent if you aren't used to riding in traffic. It's steep, the 'bike lane' that pops up after Adams Ave bridge is mostly useless due to encroaching brushes and the exploding population of broken glass and other debris, and... there's a traffic light intersection near the bottom, so speed control is vital for survival). But, but, getting to the left turn lane by the bottom of the hill is quite easier than you would expected since traffic comes in waves, regulated by the traffic light intersection at the top of the climb. If you are, like me, equipped with a good helmet rear-view mirror, it's easy to feather the brakes in the bike lane at the top of the drop and wait for the end of the current wave of cars to end before scooting over to the left lane before the yellow 'traffic light ahead' sign half way down the slope (you do want to make it to the left lane by the time you get to that sign, tho, as morning traffic will generally back up to there soon after the light turns red at the bottom... and sudden or hard braking should be avoided at all cost when descending Texas St!).

Descending Texas St on the bike looks intimidating even for me, too! Look how narrow and shaded it is (and do you see that hideous sunken manhole cover in the middle of the bike lane?).
I'm afraid I've been having problem getting sensed by the traffic light loop sensors on the left turn lane onto Camino Del Rio South over the year. I'd send in a re-calibration request to the city's Traffic Division, and they would come out to fix it, though it apparently likes to desensitize against bicycles (even the mostly metal ones like the Smorgmobile is) over time. The one good thing about riding during rush hour traffic is that usually there'd be a car or two (or more) pulling into a stop behind me and tripping the light so I wouldn't be left hanging.

The bike lane heading west on Camino Del Rio S from Texas St can be quite sketchy, also. There is a patch of brush that likes to grow into the already too narrow lane, and the palm trees following those brush like their patch of the bike lane well decorated with palm fronds and other slippery stuff. Again, navigating this bit is much easier if you have a helmet mirror and can see what the drivers are doing behind you without losing sight of the road in front (honestly, it's much better if you just take the lane until the road opens up a bit as it flattens out, though some drivers are very impatient at 7:30 in the morning even when you are doing the posted speed limit down that steep ramp). 

The icky sunken manhole cover in the middle of the eastbound Camino Del Rio South bike lane marks the start spot for the hill repeat.
Turning around just past the First United Lutheran Church (and avoiding that icky sunken manhole cover in the middle of the bike lane), there is a bit of road to work my way down to the low climbing gear. Honestly, the initial climbing on eastbound Camino Del Rio South can be quite a demoralizer. I don't know exactly how steep the gradient is (there is no Strava segment on it), but would hazard a guess at 8-10% before the short mellowing out for the intersection where taking the left turn on the downhill run pays off with the free right turn on the way up (no stopping and starting at the run, trying to get across before the light turns red again antic!).

The Texas St uphill buffered bike lane.
Once on Texas St proper, it's legs v hill all the way to the top! There is some minor variation in gradient on the way up, but, frankly, 8% grade doesn't feel like that much of a relief when it is bookend by 15% ramps that blend into each other so well you can't see where the break is. Basically, I vary my hand position a few time up the climb, usually in the drop from the base to a bit past the first curve, on the hood in the middle section where I may or may not do a short out-of-the-saddle punch sprint, on the top of the bar during the second nasty ramp just before passing under Adams Ave bridge, and then back onto the hood for the 'hit-back-at-the-hill' sprint past the top (this isn't as hard as it sounds, since the climbing gradient starts to shallow out two lampposts past the top side of Adams Ave bridge).

It's really counter-intuitive, but you do recover much faster if you sprint the top of a climb like this. By the time you are spent, the steep bit is over and there is no prolonged agony... and the psychological boon from going on the offense after having taken the beating for so long (3-5 minutes, depending) is quite an effective painkiller!

Where the jogger is on the sidewalk is right about where I usually start my hilltop sprint.
How many time to repeat the climb? As many as you can, of course! I aim for at least 10 laps, which generally takes me 2 hrs (do have to deal with traffic lights and cars on the way down, among other things). Sometimes when I haven't got two hours to spend, though, 6 laps will do if they are full of 'I hate my life' interval sprints. I still hate doing hill repeat, tho this one I do regularly simply because surviving it makes climbing other things like Torrey Pines Inside or Cabrillo or even Palomar Mtn seem so much easier.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fallbrook - Mt Rubidoux - Escondido 256km

It had been too long since I embarked on a proper solo brevet-length exploration ride, so I had a rather ambitious trek planned for what was looking to be a nice and cool Wednesday morning; I would set off at 1 a.m. and ride up the Coast Hwy all the way to Newport Beach and turn inland on the Santa Ana River Trail (SART) all the way to Riverside, where I would rendezvous with a long lost cousin before making a beeline home along the I-215/15 corridor.

Thor didn't think much of my plan; however, and lit up Tuesday night with some pretty terrifying electrical storm that was still streaking up San Diego sky at midnight. Having seen many charred results of lightning strikes in my days in SE Asia and the US Midwest, I was properly dissuaded from hitting the road before I was sure that Thor had worn his hammer out... And so, the route was chopped to about 3/4 the previously planned distance and I got to sleep a few more hours before hopping on the 4:48 a.m. bus to Escondido and then to the Hwy 76/Old Hwy 395 junction in Fallbrook to start the ride there instead. It was still a long ride, though one that's 256 km instead of 250 miles long.

The day's route.
The first mistake on my ride was made before I even left home. I had spent over an hour scouting out the planned route and checking hourly weather forecast for the towns I would be riding through, but of course, the last hour change of plan put paid to all that work. I needed at least a couple of hours of sleep before setting off, and so got a lot less checking done on the improvised new route... and ending up underestimating how cold it was going to be.

As soon as I hit the still drizzly wet road in Fallbrook my ears experienced quite a weather shock and tried their best to separate themselves from the rest of the body. It helped a bit that the first two miles on Old Hwy 395 was a climb, but I still took most of the ascent to Rainbow Gap to properly warm up... That, of course, was followed by the fast and frigid descent into Temecula, by the bottom of which my ears were quite a pair of pain in the noggin. My only consolation was that 80% of all the people hurrying to work in their cars were heading south toward San Diego in the opposite lane of the narrow, curvy Rainbow Valley Rd rather than behind me... so my on-bike shivering was only uncomfortable rather than perilous.

Passing the Rainbow Gap on Old Hwy 395 while salivating over the sight of Lone Oak Rd on the east side of the freeway.
Old Town Temecula... looking less old and dusty as ever!
Heading up Whitewood Rd toward Menifee.
Temecula and Murrieta have really exploded since I last lived in the area in the early 90s! Most of the previously narrow dirt lanes are now wide paved roads lined with new houses and business complexes rather than empty space. There are a lot more people living there, and it seemed they were all out in their cars at rush hour. It now takes quite some ninja riding-in-traffic skills to make it from Pechanga Pkwy thru Hwy 79 to Old Town Front St without ending up a hi-viz roadkill, thanks to the nasty I-15 freeway on-/off-ramp merges. I did think about taking La Paz to Ynez Rd to bypass the freeway business and riding thru Old Town, but it's a hillier route and I had a lot of miles to cover, so I was determined to stick to the flattest route possible at least until I get to Riverside.

Next time, tho... I'll take the hillier detour. Live and learn.

Freshly repaved, but as narrow as it was 20 yrs ago Antelope Rd in Menifee.
Murrieta Rd thru Perris.
Front St becomes Jefferson St in Murrieta, where I turn off at Ivy/Los Alamos and went up a little hill to pick up Whitewood Rd to head north along the 215 corridor. I'd love to stay on Whitewood all the way to Romoland, but part of it is still dirt, so I swung onto Antelope Rd right next to the 215 instead. It was super freshly repaved though without much of a shoulder to speak of until just south of Newport Rd where I turned west across the freeway. That turned out to be another traffically icky stretch due to a very bike-not-friendly construction work. I was very happy to turn north onto Murrieta Rd and endured a couple more hours of very boring flatland riding through Sun City and Perris, the latter of which seems to house either extremely cautious drivers who drives very carefully around you or four-wheeled bullies who will close pass you for no good reason at all.

Staying on the flattest route possible also meant missing most of the by-way towns' goodies. I didn't get any glimpse of Lake Perris, the famous Rock Castle, March Air Field Museum, or La Sierra's Lake Matthews. The only 'excitement' along the way was catching some skydiving action while riding past Skydive Perris, and almost getting to tickle the tummy of the skydiving plane as it barely skimmed the roadside treetops while landing at Perris Valley Airport.
Skydiving in Perris, CA.
Dude really didn't clear the trees by much...
Obviously, this means that future more 'explorative' rides into this region is now mandatory if only to prevent me from going the way of the locked up curious cats. Flatland riding does have an advantage when it comes to speed, tho. I made pretty good time reaching Riverside boundary even with many stops to enjoy the whole lot of nothingness along the way.

A bit of nothingness at Ben Clark Training Center in Mead Valley.
Box Springs Mtn, looking pretty inviting from afar.
The rural flatland riding pretty much ended when I turned onto Trautwein Rd and zooming down it into Riverside Proper on Alessandro Blvd and its weird concrete slab bike lane, which I didn't get any picture of simply because I was holding on for dear life - dodging storm tossed piles of palm fronds and other debris next to 50+ mph traffic. Luckily, traffic became much calmer once I made the turn north onto Magnolia Ave and entered the charming Downtown Riverside. It was noon and I had arrived an hour early for my appointment!

Tio's Taco's fabulous Folk Art Garden made of recycled refuse.
The charmingly shaded Mission Inn Ave.
This called for a looky 'round bit of riding and the checking out of Mt Rubidoux, the strikingly barren little granite hill dominating the NW side of town. It is quite a cool hang out.

Mt Rubidoux from the foot of the Buena Vista Bridge off Mission Inn Ave.

The place reminds of Mt Helix, my favorite haunt in La Mesa. Though, unlike Mt Helix, Mt Rubidoux is mostly rocky part with no houses except at its base, and people come from all over the surrounding towns to hike it everyday. You run into a lot of happy people doing laps on this hill even in the middle of the work week.

Don't get carried away photographing. There isn't much between tarmac edge and a lot of vertical tumbling.

It was a cool and cloudy day, so I'm afraid I didn't get the best pictures of the place. But you can still get good ideas out of these, I think. It was a nice first visit, and I look forward to many more in December!

I'm afraid my camera ran out of batteries soon after, which was just as well since the return trip was a mad dash along the I-215 and I-15 corridor. I passed thru Temecula again just after dark, and had a harrowing time cycling up Rainbow Valley Rd with the endless stream of cars speeding down the hill in opposite direction (all I could see was their headlights... and apparently the few cars that were heading the same way I did couldn't see well enough to realize when I was on the edge of the very wide turn out bulbs and the lane to the left of me was clear for them to pass). I got into Fallbrook too late to catch bus 389, and so ended up riding all the way down to Downtown Escondido to catch the 235 home (it was way too cold to hang around for another 1 1/2 hr for the next bus)!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Which spare tubes to get for the road bike?

I've been riding with new riders a lot lately. It's a good thing in many ways, one of which is to remind me to not take certain things - like knowing how to choose the right spare inner tubes to take with me on a ride - for granted. There are lots of good 'how to change tube or repair flats' videos on Youtube, but apparently none of them tells people how to choose the tubes that fit their tires to begin with. So here goes...

There are 3 numbers you are concerned with when you look for a spare road bike tube, and they tend to come in this sort of combination: 700 x 23, 46 mm.

The first number, for a road bike, would tend to be 700 as in 700 mm (or 70 cm). This is the standard road bike wheel size. If you are less than 5'2" tall or so and riding a bike that fits you, though, you might be running a smaller set of wheels, probably a 650 mm, because your bike frame would be too small to run the standard 700 mm wheels without you ending up hitting the front one with your foot when turning the bike. Simply park your wheels next to a full size bike and you should be able to see if your wheels are the same size or smaller.

The second number is the tire width. For road bikes these days it's usually 23 mm, though 25 mm tires are becoming more popular now (this is the tires I'm using, btw). This number can vary a lot, the bigger the number, the bigger the tire, though the width of the tire on your bike is limited by how much clearing you have on your frame and brakes (I wish I can use 28 mm tires, but they are too big to clear my brakes, so I run a set of 25 mm).

Your tires' size is usually printed on the side of the tires... like in the photo above. On the inner tube boxes, this is usually given in a range instead of a single number. If your size is inside the range given (in the photos, the ranges are 20-28 for the Specialized, and 20-25 for the Giant), then you are good to go. If you are stuck in the middle of nowhere and only have a tube that is a bit smaller than the tire (like, a tube with range of 20-25 but your tire size is 28), you can get away with using the smaller tube. It'll just be stretched thinner than usual when inflated, though, and a bit more vulnerable to puncturing.

The third number is the length of the valve stem. As you can see, most road bikes come with the long and spindly Presta valve instead of the usual Schrader valve that is prevalent on car tires. My bike wheel in the photo has the standard size aluminum rim (about 25 mm). I need the valve to be at least 15 mm longer than the rim (or the pump or CO2 nozzle wouldn't fit over the cap when I reinflate), so I need 40 mm or longer stem.

If you use deep rimmed aero wheels like this guy does, you need tube with 60 mm  or longer valve stem.

Mind, I've been able to use tubes with 38 mm stem, but I have to use the stem nut to secure the tube, and it's always harder to keep the pump nozzle from slipping off when reinflating. It also takes longer to change flats since I always have to take out the nut, and is just an extra aggravation that I don't need. So, usually I go with the Giant tube in the 1st photo, with 48 mm stem. Some people use deeper (more aero) rim on their wheels, and they need tube with longer valve stem, like the Specialized tube with 60 mm one.

If you aren't so weight conscious and don't mind a few extra ounces on the bike, I'd recommend using the cheaper (thicker and heavier) inner tubes rather than the more expensive (thinner and lighter) ones simply because they are a bit more flat resistant. And, unless you are a super avid or pro cyclist you probably won't even notice any weight difference anyway.

So, you now know how to choose the right inner tubes for your bike... But do you know how to prep them before going out for a ride? It's pretty easy, and it could make flat-changing a lot more pleasant (if pleasant can be used to describe any such repair!).

Most tubes come unpowdered. Why do we powder our tubes? To make it less sticky, of course! Sticky tubes are uncooperative tubes and like to stick to things, and this can sometimes cause an extra flat when it pulls the rim tape, that rubberly tape that shields the tube from the spoke nipples, out of alignment and exposes the tube to the metal. You can buy pre-powdered tubes, of course, but they typically costs a couple of dollars more. It's way cheaper to prep your own!

Just take the fresh new tube out of the box. Take the valve stem nut out now, if you don't plan on using it. Then powder the whole thing. Re-fold it, with a CO2 cartridge if that's your method of re-inflation. Put the whole thing in a plastic bag and then wrap it up with a rubber band (usually comes with the new tube). Be sure to rubber band the plastic bag rather than the tube. Sometimes, if you rubber band the tube itself and then go a long time before using it, the rubber band works itself into the tube and can actually tear it.

My saddlebag contains: spare tube, 2 CO2 cartridge & nozzle, Swiss Army knife, patch kit, tire irons, multi-tool w chain-breaker, spoke wrench, $1 (for booting?), a dime (to toe-in brakes), valve adapter, extra wrench (in case I run into someone who doesn't use quick release). I also carry another spare tube & emergency kit in my backpack.
Always have at least a spare inner tube with you along with a way of inflating it (either a frame pump or a CO2 system), preferably, though, always have at least 2 spare tubes AND a patch kit... and a valve converter. The latter is a tiny little metal valve attachment that costs only about $2 and will enable you to use gas station air pump. The gas station pumps are made to inflate car tires, however, so you will only be able to put about 60 psi of air in, which is way more than you'll be able to blow in even if you're a huge-lunged opera singer, and should enable you to ride gingerly on until you can get to a bus stop or the nearest bike shop to use a floor pump to properly re-inflate the tire.