Archives for category: boring

Stokemeter™ warranty department,

Please find enclosed my Stokemeter. It has not registered any stokened-ness this whole blessed randonneuring season. Is something broken? Please advise.

Cheers, RUSA #5067

I did the SF Fort Bragg 600k workers ride last weekend. Thank goodness it is over.

I always forgive and forget how difficult this ride is for me. Last year I learned from my sufferings and was going to ride a cushy 650b bike but that bike broke on the way to the ride and I rode a 700c bike instead. This year I forgot about why I wanted to ride a cushy bike and boy, did I get a reminder! Every bump and expansion joint reminded me from mile 280 to the finish, hidden potholes saying ‘remember this jolt to your wrists?’ expansion joints on bridges poking needles into my feet, and the sun burning my enthusiasm to the ground in a heap of dead ashes.

My stokemeter must have burnt out too, it has not registered much stoking this current brevet season, and I kept putting off packing and checking my bike for the ride and other than clothing choice, I did not think too much about anything. My insouciance paid me back for thinking ‘meh, just another 600k, get on bike, ride’.

Fellow worker’s rider Carlos was feeling much the same and our pre-ride coordination was something like ride together most of the way until daybreak, then see what happens. RBA Rob was also distracted and we needed to remind him to give us our brevet cards and the waiver. This ride was far from everyone’s mind, it seemed.

Day of the ride Carlos and I met at the Golden Gate Bridge at the usual 6am start time and Carlos informs me he did not sleep at all the night before. I am not too concerned because this has become pretty normal for him to not sleep well before a ride, but a 600k is a looong ride. We sort of ride together until the traffic light on the border of San Anselmo and Ross, where I stop at the red light and Carlos with a ‘ha-ha’ rides through the parking lot on the corner and is gone.

I ride alone until I get to Point Reyes Station where I first drink an ensure and then pump up my tires which have felt soft and slow until then. As I pump up the first tire Carlos arrives and asks how long I have been there, implying that I have been there quite some time. I reply just a few minutes and he said he saw a rider ahead of him back in Fairfax (after the red light and parking lot) and thought it was me, and so he chased a phantom me all the way to Point Reyes. I just sort of look at him and wonder why he would work so hard when he did not sleep all night even if it was me instead of a phantom.

Soon we are being pushed by a nice tail wind to Petaluma. The forecast was calling for a breezy day and maybe headwinds, but I cannot get too excited, been there, done that, blah blah blah. Petaluma has been steadily developing regional shopping with regional traffic and so getting to the Safeway and leaving has us in lots of busy shopper traffic.

Shopper traffic stays thick and heavy all the way to Healdsburg, masking much of the beauty of the fields and hills with diesel fumes and roaring tailpipes.

The Healdsburg Safeway is very busy, but there is a good choice of soups so I get a soup, a jarritos, and some bubbly water. The table out front where we parked our bikes and were going to sit at was taken by a young mother, her three year old daughter and her infant son. No problem, there are plenty of tables. During the break I go back and forth between my bike and our table a few times to do some rando things.

The first time I went back to my bike the mom was admonishing her daughter to eat her chicken nuggets and I offered to eat them if she didn’t want them. I have never seen such a feral look on a child! Her mom said ‘Ooh, looks like someone has made an enemy!’ On subsequent trips back to the bike I complement the girl on her progress with eating the chicken nuggets and she turned out to have a very nice smile.

On the way out of town Carlos wants to take Grove Street instead of Healdsburg Avenue, and I get my way and Healdsburg Avenue although next time (if there is a next time) I will take Grove. The pavement is smoother and there are bike lanes, two worthy rewards for a slightly longer route.

The wind is picking up a bit but still it is only a 10-12 mph breeze, so nothing awful, just a little more work. Then I get a flat.

I was just finishing a long pull in the wind and my tire went soft. I yell at El Rey Sordo (King of the Deaf) that I need to stop. I start with the tire fixing duties and Carlos languishes in the shade telling me how slow I am, not offering to check my tire for sharp things or any other flat fixing chores. I slap in a patched tube and pump it up, but it has a removable core and my pump removes the core. Sigh.

Carlos in disgust gives me his pump ‘it is a good pump’ – a friend gave it to him instead of throwing it away – and I squeak in 250 strokes of soft air to get the tire up. My pump only needs 25 strokes and the tire was hard, but good luck keeping the core in. Then the spare tube goes flat in another mile and much snarling and snapping at each other ensues as we limp into Cloverdale and wander around looking for the bike shop.

The bike shop is found and 3 tubes are purchased as well as rim strips (I could find no sharp objects in the tire) and I am ready to leave. The shop owner came out as we finished up and sort of bragged about how good the cycling is in Cloverdale and generously invited us back to town anytime we wanted. I said we would be back around 5am tomorrow because we were riding to Fort Bragg, back to Cloverdale and continuing back to San Francisco. Watching his eyes bug out was very satisfying.

Finally patched up we can get out and get going. The climb out on 128 was warm but not hot, but Carlos thinks it is hot, so he and I argue about which year was hottest, this year or that year, etc. The ups and downs are endless before we get to Boonville, but so pretty.

I refrain from speculating where I am as everything blends together, one two mile climb looking pretty much like any of the 6 or 7 others, with the exception of the moonscape climb that is the only one that is devoid of trees that I know is pretty close to Boonville. To add spice to the ups and downs my front derailer has gotten sticky and I have to push it with my hand so I can get in the little ring to climb. Carlos gave me some oil for it back in Cloverdale, but it is not working.

On the final descent into Boonville the Highway department has a corporation yard along the road where they store boulders and rocks and various aggregates. I note a very large pile of dark stuff that at first I think is soil, but on closer inspection I decide it is asphalt grindings. A lot of asphalt grindings.

Boonville is usually a sleepy place that is nice to stop at for water and what not, but this day the Boonville Beer fest is going on so there is a traffic jam of cars, bikes, and drunk people. I tell Carlos we better go to the next town for food and water but he insists on stopping in the middle of the melee. I tell him the lines will be long but he is stubborn. I linger outside the market and do rando things and he comes out quickly saying the line is too long. I remind him to drink an ensure and we head to Philo, the next town.

The winds pick up a tad and I discover where all the asphalt grindings came from, the stretch of highway between Boonville and Philo. The surface is rough, but not much different than it was pre-grinding (it was pretty awful before), with the addition of a liberal sprinkling of random gravel.

We get to Philo and receive our poor treatment from surly staff. Carlos sits down to eat his food with a look to me that says – ‘do not ask me to move because I won’t’. I patiently wait for food to be eaten and things to be drunk so we can leave. Carlos is steadily getting weaker the closer we get to Fort Bragg.

Despite my flat tire fiddling and Carlos’ being tired we still make it to Mendocino before full dark which is not bad and I am pretty surprised at our progress. Carlos wants to go to McDonalds in Fort Bragg for hot food, but I convince him to go to Safeway so we can get in and get out. At Safeway we putz around for nearly an hour, eating bad Safeway food and gearing up for the cold ride back home.

We leave and Carlos is getting weaker and keeps dropping off the back until somewhere between Novarro and Philo he tells me to just ride my own pace and leave him be.

I lose the sight of his lights pretty quickly and get a little boost at being able to ride my own pace. Deer in the brush crashing about in the darkness helps me keep my pace up with shots of adrenalin.

The sun rises in Healdsburg and I am sick of all my food, too sweet, nothing savory and I want breakfast food badly. There is nothing open in Healdsburg  so I continue on to Guerneville via West Side Road. West Side Road is very bumpy and every bump sends a shot of pain through my feet and hands and keeps me from enjoying the rural beauty of the road. In Guerneville I find a diner (River Inn Grill) that recently started opening at 7am and so I pop in for a big breakfast, and watch for Carlos to pass.

Carlos does not pass and I leave to go to the Safeway to answer the info question on the brevet card and then out and over to Point Reyes Station. The sun has been up for over 2 hours but it has not warmed up the temperatures. The day turns out beautiful and care free and I try to ignore my quickly increasing list of body parts that are chafing and sore and sensitive.

In Point Reyes I get an ice cream sandwich and watch ebb and flow of the line of cyclists outside the bovine bakery. Leaving Point Reyes I collect a group of Aids Lifecycle yahoos who are trained to yell ‘ON YOUR LEFT’ into my ear each time they pass. They stop a lot to fiddle with things so they yelled ‘ON YOUR LEFT’ into my ear a lot. What I yelled back after the fourth time of them passing me is unprintable, even in my blog.

The Golden Gate Bridge was totally packed with wobbly newbies and tourists being blown around by the wind. I had mentally steeled myself for just such an experience but the first dudes to get in my way first rolled right into me without looking causing me to emergency maneuvers, and then they proceeded to panic stop when other newbies were wobbly too much in their vicinity. When they were not panic stopping they were obsessed with their bike computers looking down and moving things and pressing buttons. I zipped around the first chance I got which took a while to show up. I did not say ‘ON YOUR LEFT’.

I survived the ordeal by bridge and wobbly cyclists and finished at 325pm, which makes for a 33:25. Good enough for flat tires and big breakfasts and loss of enthusiasm 100 miles out, and good enough for me.

Positives for this ride is not a single bad moment with a motorist, not one close pass, not one stupid impatient maneuver – good job motorists, keep it up – and uh, um… good job motorists!

Carlos gets a gold star for sticking with it and not expecting me to be overly burdened with his suffering, although it high time he gets a hearing aid. I get tired of repeating myself and am pretty sure he can get a good cheap one online from deal extreme. I might even contribute to the cost.

Good luck to the rest of the club riding next week, should be a nice day (and night) to get out on the bike.


Riding long distance on various cycles I have learned a few things about how a bike handles, how to be comfortable, and a notion of what planing might be. Rather than spend some time on a dear diary ride report or a lampoon of the alleged leaders of my past time, casual distance cycling, I will attempt to share something that might be useful to others and help them understand some of the more subtle aspects of cycling.


Geometry, low trail vs high trail

The difference between a low trail and a high trail cycle can be as little as a thumb width, but even a thumb width in fork rake or chainstay length can make a significant difference in the way a cycle reacts under a rider.


 Bicycles turn, when moving at a speed higher than a running pace (10mph) by leaning, not by turning the handlebars. Riders instinctively do this when they employ the technique of riding with their chin pointing where they want to go or simply looking where they want to go. Deliberately using body weight to turn a cycle is known as steering with your hips. High trail cycles resist the lean of the cycle and through caster in the geometry (like the front wheels on a shopping cart) the high trail cycle is designed to self-right and not lean very easily. To counter the self-righting action of the caster the rider will place a fair amount of weight on the inside handlebar when turning (I call this ‘pushing the front’).


 Low trail cycles do not have as much caster in the geometry, are not self-righting, fall easier, and thus turn easier. To damp the easy turning of a low trail cycle, the weight of handlebar bag works nicely, and is handy to carry things too.


 A low trail cycle also counteracts the gyroscopic effect of a large 40MM+ heavy tire when turning. A heavy tire will cause the cycle to track straight, rather than lean or turn. High trail cycles with heavy tires (or heavy front loads) can counteract the gyroscopic effect (or the weight of a load) with wider handlebars.


 Low trail cycles do not react to steering inputs at low speeds compared to a high trail cycle. One way to notice this is watching cyclists start riding from a stop light. A low trail cycle will tend to track straight, while a high trail cycle will tend to track from side to side as the cyclist gains speed and stability. This phenomena is also quite apparent when cycling in a group at night and climbing a steep hill. Riders on high trail cycles will oscillate from side to side and the light from their head light will move from side to side. A low trail cycle will not oscillate, and will have a more steady beam on the road.


 Here is a link to calculating the geometric trail of a cycle.


Geometry, chainstay length

Shorter chainstays (15 to 20mm shorter) make for better climbing off road, and allow a rider to stand and still maintain traction. Shorter chainstays also result in a more abrupt chain line and will limit some gearing combinations, particularly the small x small combinations if the big ring is fitted with ramps and pins. To gain a few more gears in the small x small combination, turn the big ring around so the ramps and pins are on the outside.


Geometry, wide handle bars vs. narrow bars

Wide bars allow for counteracting the self centering of a high trail cycle, but there are some side effects to a wide bar. More wind resistance; wide bars place your arms out in the wind, slowing the cycle. More perceived frame flex; wide bars have more leverage and can reduce the perceived lateral stiffness of a frame, particularly when carrying heavy loads. Increased reach to the bars; wider bars often require a switch to a shorter stem, to compensate for the increased reach out to the ends of the bars.


Narrow bars are best used on low trail cycles as low trail cycles rely less on handlebar inputs for steering and more on body weight movements. Benefit of narrow bars are better aerodynamics and less perceived frame flex – that is, a cyclist can employ a frame with lighter tubes and not overwhelm the frame as easily because of the reduced leverage of narrow bars. Narrow bars will also cause a heavily loaded cycle to feel less flexible for the same reason, reduced leverage against all the weight.


A touring cycle with low trail, narrow bars, with a front biased load will allow lighter tubes to perform more effectively, and feel more stable than a cycle with high trail, stout tubes, wide bars and a rear biased load.


 Geometry, fitting handlebar bags and front platform racks

Handlebar bags, or the weight on a platform rack, should fit within the space roughly between the head tube and the front axle of the cycle. Placing the load in this area damps oscillations of the front wheel also known as speed wobbles and results in a more stable cycle when loaded than when not loaded. Placing the bag more forward or centering the handlebar bag over the front axle will not allow the load to damp oscillations and will reduce stability of a cycle and exaggerate steering inputs and make it harder to compensate for exaggerated steering inputs.


low trail cycle with optimal load carrying space indicated with red box. A ten pound load can be carried in this space without negative effects on handling or stability.

low trail cycle with optimal load carrying space indicated with red box. A ten pound load can be carried in this space without negative effects on handling or stability.


Low trail cycles with slack frame angles and the resulting increase in fork rake necessary for low trail, will have a larger space for a handlebar bag without negatively effecting steering inputs than a low trail cycle with steep frame angles. Low trail cycles with steep angles, with a smaller ideal load carrying space, require thoughtful rack selection and load placement to not upset handling balance. Berthoud bags which are narrow front to rear are suited to cycles with steep angles; most other bags that are deeper front to rear (ostrich, jitensha) are suited to low trail cycles with slack frame angles.


high trail cycle with platform rack. load is well in front of axle.  A heavy load on this rack will exaggerate steering inputs and resulting corrections, causing instability. Looks cool, though.

high trail cycle with platform rack. load is well in front of axle. A heavy load on this rack will exaggerate steering inputs and resulting corrections, causing instability. Looks cool, though.


Low trail cycles have a relatively large space for a bag. High trail cycles have little or no space and place much of the bag and its weight forward of the front axle. Weight forward of the axle exaggerates turning inputs and will result in an unstable cycle. Wider bars on a high trail cycle with a front load will reduce the influence of a front load, but at the expense of poor aerodynamics, increased reach, and more perceived flex in the frame.


1950's French purpose-built cycle for front loads still places load too far in front of axle, but compensates with wide handlebars for leverage.

1950’s French purpose-built cycle for front loads still places load too far in front of axle, but compensates with wide handlebars for leverage.


Top tube length also influences space for a handlebar bag indirectly. A shorter top tube, with the resulting longer stem length required for fit, results in a smaller space for a bag.

Review the first image and imagine the stem longer. The resulting space left for load carrying is smaller.

Review the first image and compare with this one with the stem made longer. The resulting optimal space left for load carrying is smaller.

For maximum space for a handle bar bag, a longer top tube and shorter stem is desirable. Generally the easiest way to get a long top tube on a cycle is to move one size up from what you might normally be fitted to, ie riding a 58×58 cycle when you would normally ride a 56×56 or a 54×54. Stand over height is sacrificed, but it is easier and more comfortable to sit on the top tube of a taller frame while waiting for a red light to change to green or for a friend who has stopped for a moment during a ride.


Next up: Fitting yourself to a cycle and comfort on a cycle for rides of long duration.