Monday, August 20, 2018

Tour de Gravel - Marlborough - 2018

I only heard about the Tour de Gravel when chatting to local Paul Nicholls a few weeks before the event. It was in Blenheim so a good chance to catch up with my parents and Pew, the baby magpie  we found in the carpark at work, who was now living down south with my folks in the Voodoo Lounge.

Got a bro-deal from Bluebridge using their be-kind-to-cyclists promo. Very little room to actually store your bike tho.
Mossieur Veganburger came along too and we met Bretto from Chainslapmag and his buddy Richard on the Ferry. There was some cycling related talk I believe for the next 3 hours.

The Tour de Gravel was a 4 stage gravel race where you rode on to the next stage after finishing the first. A bit like a Grinduro. It was organised by Duncan McKenzie who organises the Graperide, Marlborough's largest cycling event.

My first problem was deciding on which bike to use. There were potentially 4, and they all had their pros and cons. The Giant only had a 38 tooth big chain-ring, and discs felt a bit like over kill on a gravel event like this. The Litespeed would have been the most fun, and probably the lightest rig, but the 2 inch wide tires just don't roll as fast as the 38mm ones, on the seal. On the gravel they would have been great, but on this ride there was a good mix of surfaces.

When you have too much choice.

International Pirates day. Ooo Arrr! Piccie from Matt.
It would have been a blast to ride the retro Peugeot, and I know it handles the gravel well, having done two Eroica's on it, but I went with my Barlow Pass shod Singular Kite cross-bike  in the end. I had no complaints. They were probably the fastest tires there, and I don't think I gave anything away with that choice, maybe I rode a little more tentatively on the roughest descent, but that's pretty much how I ride anyway. I'm  not a risk taker, unlike one poor  guy who went down one corner in front of me on stage 2, coming away with a broken collar bone.

I didn't come into the event with any real fitness but it was still a surprise to be thrashed by 2 guys on singlespeeds. Vaughan Watson who I had come across in the 2014 Kiwi Brevet on an SSer, and Aaron Bleakely. It was a buzz to be riding with these guys, watching them  doing their spasmodic spins as they hung with the bunch at 45kmh in the "wrong gear", then to see them stomp off into the distance on the next climb! It makes you wonder, how much do you really gain from having gears. Obviously they got by without them back in the day.

The object of Scotty's bromance, "Kevin" who he piloted at non-break-neck speed in the early stages, until he got the Ok....

Every time I go to Marlborough I seem to end up dicing with Brent Ackroyd from Bikefit Marlborough and I recognised Lucas Cowley from Auntsfield Estate, the hosts of last year's Cyclocross nationals, and had not realised he was a gun roadie, actually coming 3rd in the Tour de Gravel. I'm pretty sure that the Jason Allen who was racing was the ex national road/track champ. Its great see guys like that mixing it up with allcomers regardless of their form, he was unlucky to puncture in the last stage.

Brett from Chainslap Mag trying to use his phone with gloves on. Pushed it too hard in the big ring into the wind I think.
It was a very achievable course, not too steep at all, with the longest stage being around 27 kms and the others from 18 to 22 kms. There were around 120 riders, with a "Touring" option, for riders less inclined to race, they could leave at their own time and pace around 15 mins before the staged start. There was also a "bag-truck" which went from stage to stage, with everyone's bags and food in it. this was ideal, as it was a cold day and a puffer jacket was a must have.

Shot of generic old guy grimacing, from Digby Shaw Photography
As usual, in Marlborough, local industry gets in behind events in a big way by donating all the spot and merit prizes. Age groups were a bit peculiar at under 50 and over 50 years of age, which probably says something about the demographics of the event. Entry was 85 $ and included a hot pie and coffee at the half-way stage.

There was an after match function meal at the Vines Village Cafe but we hooked up with Bretto and Richard for supper at Raizada Indian Restaurant which was a way better option for the mostly Veggo-freak crew.

There is talk of next years event being in a clover-leaf styled design, with each leg starting at the same place, probably based in Seddon. This is a great idea, although having to get transport to the start would be a downside for Wellingtonians like myself, trying to do it on the cheap, Ferry tickets being what they are. I am sure if there had not been a Cyclocross race on in Wellington that weekend there would have been a hell of a lot more Wellingtonians there.

Mondo Kopua mentioned that he is planning some Grinduro styled events in Marlborough later in the year so keep an eye out for them.

Results here.

A cool video here:   Bretto's Chainslap Mag write up with Digbys amazing photos in here in detail.

Some of the local sponsors were: Golden Mile Brewing , Vines Village Cafe, Bikefit Marlborough, Taylor Pass Honey, Darling Wines.

Why not make a weekend of it and ride back to Picton via Port Underwood. Matt on his buddy Kevin's Singular Kite
As on Scott's Kevin, Bretto ran the 47mm 650B Horizon Byways on his JAEGHER. No complaints.
If you are going to have a puncture, have it on the way home after the ride. Upside down nail.....

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cousin Mosquito Lyrics

A short diversion from cycling related stuff to my favourite song.

Lyrics for the Song Cousin Mosquito
By Liberian congresswoman Belinda Jackson Parker

My friends.
Lend me your ears
I have a story to tell you
Mr mosquito
Now when you are in the tropics
Beware of that tiny insect
Everyone is cousin to him
Take no chances with brother mosquito
He has the sting of death
When he sings the solo
No one likes to hear
But before he sting
He sings
And that sting
Is the sting of death
It's the sting of death
Beware of cousin
whenever you hear
cousin mosquito
Cousin-cousin-cousin-cousin (repeat 71 times)

Beware of cousin mosquito and his solo
Take no chances
For cousin mosquito
saps all of your blood
and send you to your grave
before time
so take my advice
avoid cousin mosquito and his solo

Cousin-cousin-cousin-cousin (repeat 100 times)
is dangerous
avoid cousin cousin cousin mosquito and his solo.
Cousin-cousin-cousin-cousin (repeat 18 times)

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Tour Aotearoa 2018

Cape Reinga - Te Rerenga Wairua
Leaping place of the spirits
Image:  Paul Nicholls
On February the 28th 2018, the last group of riders set off in the Tour Aotearoa, leaving from Cape Reinga, at the tip of the North Island of New Zealand.

1 hour and 10 minutes later, Wellington massage therapist Pat Hogan reached Bluff, 3000 kilometres away at the bottom of New Zealand, finishing the journey that he started 14 days earlier on February the 14th at the Cape.

The Tour organiser, Jonathan Kennett had opened it up to 600 riders this year, in 6 x 100 person waves, starting on the 10th of February and staggering the start waves through until the 28th. This would spread the load over the country and make sure that the smaller towns were not over-whelmed with hungry riders looking for a bed. It also made it easier for the Ferries to cope with a more manageable stream of riders.

The Tour Aotearoa is not your typical bikepacking event. It’s not a race, it’s more like an adventure, a journey.

90-mile beach. Photo by Paul Nicholls
A bit of pre-camping before the start. Photo by Paul Nicholls.
 It’s like a cross between the Coast to Coast Multisport event and the Camino de Santiago. It encourages self sufficiency and resilience. It must be completed between 10 and 30 days, unsupported, with 6 hours a day minimum rest from riding, for recovery. Riders must follow, and not deviate from an established course that takes in some of New Zealand’s great rides. The Waikato River Trail, the Pureora Timber trail and the Big River Waiuta trails on the west coast of the South Island. Deviation from this path can only be for safety reasons outlined in the course notes, or in cases of civil emergency or local road closings, as happened during Cyclone Gita this year.

Not all plain sailing on the Kaipara Harbour with wild weather causing havoc at times. Image Paul Nicholls.
New Zealand has a very changeable weather system, the literal translation of Aotearoa is “The land of the long white cloud”. After coming off the hottest summer in recorded history this year's Tour Aotearoa was suddenly hammered with rough weather as a series of tropical cyclones swept through.

Some challenging terrain to be negotiated

Not originally a river. Photo: Helen Kettles
Rider resolve was being tested. Ferries were being cancelled, roads were being washed out and closed. Conditions were becoming difficult as cars and heavy traffic were re-routed onto the previously quiet Tour Aotearoa route, causing challenges for some of the riders who were not expecting to mix it up with other road users.

A burgeoning community has grown up around the Tour Aotearoa with many remote accommodation options popping up and sharing their details on the official Facebook site. A Mangakino businessman speculated that the 2016 TA injected $15,000 into the local economy, and he was expecting double that in 2018.

In Ongarue the bowling club was opened for the first time in 20 years where showers and mattresses were set up for riders, as well as a food caravan. In Arapuni the Rhubarb Cafe extended its hours to cope with hungry riders. In Pahiatua a couple of "rest tents" were erected for riders and in Reefton there were welcome banners. All around the country, in the rural areas that the TA passed though, people were getting involved. The upcoming tour was enough to convince a man to open the cafe he had been thinking about at Donnellys Crossing.

Spectators and family members watched as their loved ones navigated the country by keeping an eye on their “Spot-trackers”. The Spot trackers are the thing that has probably done more to promote this kind of an event than anything.

Watching the progress of your friend or family member from the comfort of your computer or cell phone as they battle the elements and terrain can be very addictive.

You might liken it to Reality TV where the actors are your friends, and assuming there are fresh batteries in their trackers you can see where they have stopped to eat during the day or are sleeping at night.
This knowledge of where your people are is a double edged sword as now the concerned family members can get worried if their rider's spot tracker seems to stop in one place longer for what they deem an acceptable period!

Despite the emphasis on resilience in adventure biking, social media has now become a big part of the tool-set with which some people arm themselves. In earlier times, if you suffered a catastrophic failure then your only option was to keep on walking until the nearest farm house where you could usually rely on a friendly farmer to help you out. Nowadays the request also goes out to social media where completely random people will offer a loan of replacement parts or just advice on where is the closest bike shop.

Within hours of a rear hub failure, a rider has found an after hours mechanic on Facebook, and a rescue mission has been launched to extract another rider deep from the boon-docks by friendly DOC staff. Two other riders were reunited with their bikes after they were stolen from their accommodation one night, all with the power of Social Media.

Like it or loath it, Social Media is here to stay. In the grand-daddy of all "bikepacking" events, the Tour Divide, the trackers are used by other riders to see how close their fellow competitors are, to see if they can afford to stop for a sleep or a leisurely meal. But the Tour Divide is a race and the Tour Aotearoa is not, its a Dirt Brevet with cut-off times. Organiser Jonathan Kennett makes sure everyone knows. If you finish inside 10 days, you are disqualified.

Maybe the emphasis on the Tour Aotearoa not being a race is part of the popularity of this event. One guy came to New Zealand to go walking, and a week later had brought a $1000 mountainbike and entered. He finished in 28 days, but it was hard. Some people seem to have an idea that its a groomed cycle-way like those in Europe. It's not. It's a mixture of all terrains including beautiful rugged trails where you will have no choice but to push your bike up stream beds, you are riding in the wilderness.

400 of the 525 starters this year were from New Zealand, at an average age of around 50 years old. The overseas riders averaged 40 years old. By comparison, the American Tour Divide pulls in 163 riders in total from all countries.

A large number of the riders in this year’s Tour Aotearoa were women. Typically an event of this length would attract 9% to 11% women at most. It is estimated that around 22% of the riders this year were of the fairer sex.

Helen and Anne-Marie, two intrepid adventurers in their first ever Bikepacking experience.
Maybe it was the example set by trail blazer Anja Mcdonald’s ride in the 2016 event. Anja finished 3rd across the line in her wave in a bit over 10 days. This year her husband Tristan Rawlence was trying to beat her time, but for every elite level rider doing the TA there are 100 riders who just want to experience the outdoors and meet a new challenge.

Several riders over the age of 70 were out there this year mixing it up, and for a large number of people this was their first exposure to any kind of a Bikepacking. This brings big challenges for some of these riders lacking experience in the outdoors and missing bike maintenance skills. Fortunately New Zealand is a small country dotted with towns, many of which have good bike shops en route. 56 riders reported that they didn't actually camp out once, so there is always that option.

With an 87% finishing rate, its obvious that organiser Jonathan Kennett and his helpers must be doing something right. The next official running of the Tour Aotearoa is scheduled for 2020, but the TA is not just an event, its a pathway, and riders are doing it whenever they can make it, at their own pace and with their own rules.

Luke Garten sums up the vibe pretty well in this podcast
For more details on the Tour Aotearoa, follow the link.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Eroica Montalcino 2018

I thought I was pretty lucky getting the chance to ride Eroica Japan in 2017, but my luck continued in 2018 with a 5 week trip to Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, with 5 days in Montalcino Tuscany, to ride the Eroica Montalcino.

It started out as an opportunity to reunite with some Eroica friends from the Japanese event, my buddy Ran from Wellington, and Darryn and his wife from Melbourne Australia, who we met while in Japan. In the end Ran couldn't make it but the others could. Darryn's wife Yvonne, and mine really enjoy each others company so we had all the ingredients for a successful holiday. “Happy wife, happy life” as our guide on our Amalfi coast bus ride told us many times, he should know, his wife ran off with the butcher so he changed camps, so the story goes.

Fiat 500 L. Heaps of room.
Getting there was half the fun. Despite driving in a country where road rules and speed limits are completely optional, somehow I managed to simultaneously annoy the locals by driving too slow (130kmh in the slow lane), and also pick up a speeding ticket within an hour of getting on the Autostrada. Go figure. We don't speak Italian so I have no idea what I was supposed to have done, I suspect, being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the officer was down on quota!

Meanwhile, Darryn had gone with the other option: NOT hiring a car, which meant dragging a bike case around from plane to train to bus etc. At least he didn't have to worry about parking, or speed camera fines arriving 6 months later with a 60 euro admin fee from the rental company! What ever you do, where a bike case is involved, there will be pain!

The view out the window from Darryn and Yvonnes accommodation.

The hill top town of Montalcino in Tuscany was the location for our base, and by pure chance we were a few metres around the corner from Darryn and Yvonne. These hill top towns are dotted all over Tuscany and are amazing with their cobbled streets and beautiful old buildings.  Darryn and Yvonne had been on holiday earlier than us and managed to follow a bit of the Giro and Darryn even got to ride his Eroica steed up a back route to the Zoncalon, so they could view the Giro's steepest climb.

I quickly assembled my bike which had survived the 30 hour flight and car journey from Milan to Montalcino, in readiness for a tootle the next day. We snuck in a ride, enjoying temperatures in the high 20's. The bikes were all running sweet.

Checking out the Strade Bianchi

We had decided to go out that afternoon for a drink but Yvonne texted back,  Darryn was stuck in front of the telly. Froome had "done a Floyd  Landis" and ridden away from the bunch, live on TV! I had to join him. Exciting times.

The picturesque village of Montalcino was now peppered with heaps of stalls which had just popped up out of nowhere, selling all sorts of things that none of us needed but that we all wanted.

The pre-ride meal had been spread out over several locations through-out the town. There was wine, great food, good company and some very exuberant accordian playing and a fair bit of serenading. On the way back to our accommodation we came across more festivities out on the street with revellers toasting the Eroica founder Giancarlo Brocci.

Giancarlo Brocci and some speeches

The startline, the night before.
The day of the ride turned out to be a beauty, not too hot, sunny with occasional overcast patches. There were several distances on offer, 27km, 46km,70km, 96km and the 171km route. Darryn was doing the 96km ride, but I had decided that if I was coming this far I was going to do the big one. I hadn't done the amount of training I needed to do it comfortably but was hoping to fake the last 71 kms! The two longer distanced events started at the same time and we rolled out on time.

It was a fairly relaxed pace which I guess makes sense for a 171 km ride on old steel bikes. Eventually I came to the first check-point, except it wasn’t. It was the second ! I had blown through the first one thinking that it was just one of the many food stops along the way, some of which were just for food only. The guys in checkpoint two thankfully believed my story, gave me the missing stamp and said I was the first to come through, I was to meet them again later when closing off that loop from the other direction. The checkpoints had all sorts of lovely food on offer and I forced myself to have my first wine, it would have seemed rude not too.
Strade Bianchi
At this point I was in heaven. Hill after rolling hill, most of them white limestone gravel, the famous Strade Bianchi. The scenery was incredible.

After struggling with the course marking in Eroica Japan in 2017 I made sure I had the map loaded on my Etrex GPS this time. Not that I needed it. The course was marked very well. In fact, the only time I got in trouble was when I watched the GPS too closely and missed the signage which was often slightly different as we passed through the little villages.

I was still running the same tires I used in Eroica Japan, the Specialized Roubaix 30/32’s and there were great. Robust as hell on the rough descents. Probably not period correct but really comfy. My much maligned Mafac Competition brakes were also great. I only had the one moment when I met a car while bombing some Strade Bianchi and I panicked and swerved left, a bad move in a country where they drive on the other side of the road.

I thought I was keeping on top of my nutrition, there was plenty of food available, even if some of it wasn’t your normal endurance riding fare. After a long time riding by myself I started to catch up with some of the slower riders on the other courses which overlapped with mine and we headed for the really steep stuff, which the organisers had thoughtfully saved for the last 50 or so kilometres! None of these guys were riding, they were all pushing their bikes up to the checkpoint. It was damn steep, well, it felt steep after 130kms, I think it was the Castiglioni del Bosco Narciarello. I was determined to ride it, but it was hard work in the heat and I probably paid for it.

I must have been running low on glycogen and suffered some brain fade as when I came through the next town I missed the signs and ended up back-tracking a couple of kms.

The day was starting to drag, and there was another really nasty hill coming up. The things that I was in love with 8 hours ago, hills and gravel, were starting to feel very old hat. I was bonking. I had to get off and walk near the top. I’ve only ever done that once before and I didn’t like it. I was cooked. In situations like this you hate yourself for feeling so weak, but the reality is, you have just run out of energy.

I pushed my bike up the cobbles to the checkpoint, somehow knowing that I was 169kms, into a 171km ride, but also realising that in fact, I was a long way from finishing, because this was obviously not the last checkpoint! 10kms remained. Faking the last 71kms hadn’t quite paid off, as the ride was now 181kms! I watched as the guy who had been catching me everytime I back-tracked got his card stamped. He was doing the long ride too. There was nothing to do. I sat down and and had a cold drink and stuffed a bit more food into my face. I tried not to think about what the last extra 10 kms of the ride involved. I imagined another 13% gravel climb, but to my surprise, when I finally rolled off again, it was smooth fast tarmac, and  my legs had mostly returned. Bye bye Castelnuovo dell Abate, hello Montalcino !

When I rolled over the finish line and got my last stamp Darryn had been there for quite a while, having finished earlier near the front of the 96km bunch. We had a relaxing beer and we went to clean up. A couple of hours later we had hunted down the all day pasta party and Darryn’s wife Yvonne recognised the two guys who were responsible for the serenading and accordian playing the night before! To our surprise they were not just the entertainment, they had also ridden Eroica! Yvonne told them how much she enjoyed their performance at the dinner the night before. Next minute the accordian was out and Yvonne received a heart-felt serenade of her own! What an experience. They couldn’t believe 4 people had travelled all the way from the Antipodes to Montalcino Italy for a vintage bike ride, a private serenade made it just that little bit more worth while.

Eroica Montalcino 2018 - 181 km

Thursday, February 22, 2018

How fast is fat?

Comparing 38mm to 25mm tires in a Time Trial

There is a lot of loose talk of how fat tires are fast and lower pressure is better, so I thought I would do an experiment, over two weeks of Time Trials with the local Masters Club, on the course I have probably ridden on more than anyone else to date. I have a couple of sets of "fatter" tires, and my experience when riding in a bunch is that I have to work a lot harder to keep up than on my skinnier treads.

This is the same course I did the Karate Monkey World record on, cranking out over 41kmh on a steel MTB in 2015. It was running rear disc covers and tri-spoke on the front, so that tells me tires and wheels do make a bit of difference.

Having sold the Karate Monkey, the next most suitable bike I had left was my Singular Kite Cyclocross bike. It is probably a bit lighter than my Karate Monkey, but I suspect not as aero. What I was looking for was a difference in speed between my two sets of tires, the 38mm Compass Barlow Pass and the 25mm Vittoria Corsa G+ Graphene. Thats quite a jump in size I know, but it also means it should be big enough to measure given my "seat-of-the-pants" testing methodology.

Photo by Orca Whale. Fat tires corner well.
The Liverton Road time trial course is what the English Time Trialists would likely call a "Sportsmans Course". It has undulations and patches of rough seal and the odd pothole on one side, and mostly smooth seal on the other. It has two very tight corners, one at each end of the 4 x 6km laps. By tight I mean that if you were on the edge you might be lucky to get through them at 30kmh at best.

My plan was to compare from week to week, and use the times of the riders around me to create a control to cover any variables in conditions.

Event 1. 38mm Compass Barlow Pass tires on Singular Kite.

A typically crappy day for Time Trialling in Wellington, a northerly with buffeting from the side gullies that joined onto the course. The bike felt slow everywhere except when powering over the rough surfaces outside the quarry entrances. (Link for LOTR fans).Usually you get jarred to pieces in these segments on a typical TT rig. With the Barlow Passes, I just floated over the top with no scary surprises. Actually, I was also fast on the corners, I was able to lean over pretty aggressively without feeling scared. As I suspected, with my current (lack of ) form, I averaged exactly 37 kmh. This lined up with my gut feeling from mixing it up with riders with normally shod wheels. I hadn't ridden for 5 weeks over xmas, then got sick when I came back to work so I was not really expecting too much in the way of fitness. I delivered !

Singular Kite with 38mm Compass Barlow Pass tires.

Event 2. 25mm Vittoria Corsa G+ Graphene on Singular Kite.

This one didn't start well at all. I turned up at the course to find out that the TT had been cancelled 30 minutes earlier via Facebook ! I was gutted. Bugger it. I decided to do it anyway, I would have to be extra careful as there was no warning signage or marshalls to alert drivers. Pretty much as soon as I started the wind changed, a southerly squall blew in, soaking me but it was nice at the top of the course, going a good 10kmh faster than I was the week before in the northerly conditions. On the whole the conditions weren't bad. Pretty even, but I wasn't really able to lift my top speed above 43 kmh for very long at all. I have to say that the Kite does not feel very aero at all.

Singular Kite with 25mm Vittoria Corsa Graphene tires

So, not officially a race really, I didn't have prologue lungs after the ride, so I am guessing that without other riders on the course I wasn't quite able to get exactly 100% from myself, I must have been pretty close though. The wetter conditions would have cost me time on the corners, especially without marshalls at hand and on the narrow less confidence inspiring tires. On the other hand, I rode an hour earlier than normal, so I would have benefited from more draft from passing traffic, and my gut feeling is that wet courses are faster than dry ones. I think by and large things would have evened out overall.

So, I managed exactly 39 kmh, 2 kmh faster than on the fatter tires the week before. I know these speeds are nothing to write home about, but that's not the point, the point is the difference.

If you are happy to be riding 2 kmh slower than your buddy for the same power on the smooth stuff, then there could be room on your bike for a tire like the Barlow Pass. It excels on gravel, giving a really comfy ride should you decide to take the long way home. Sometimes its good to have that option.

I really like the Vittorias as a road tire, but I wouldn't be taking them off road in a hurry. The 28mm versions might be acceptable for a few patches of gravel here and there.

I rode the Barlow Passes at 48psi and the Vittorias at 85psi.
The Barlow Passes were the regular versions, not the light-weight ones.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tail hook lengthener meets Campagnolo

I've finally had a crack at putting one of my Ali-express "Road-Links" on the Peugeot, which means I can get a decent gear range out of the Campy Nuovo Record rear derailer that I had lying about. It works really well. Its not an outrageous range, 13-30, but it may go bigger, I haven't tried it yet. I'm pretty sure I saw one shifting to a 42 tooth on Instagram one day, but don't quote me...

My Peugeot is from the 70's so its drop-out is not normally compatible with a Campy derailer, hence the "Road-link" which I would rather hack about with, than the actual frame. I just ground off a bit of the tab with my electric drill and did it up good and tight.

Hopefully it will be a useful addition for Eroica Montalcino.