The 5 Days Of Christmas: Riding In East Coast Winters 01/07/2011

This post started out as a stab at documenting the Rapha 500, but quickly turned into a lament on riding in the east coast US during the winter, and an ode to cabin fever spurred on by the turbo trainer. In the end despite everything I still managed to get about 350 KMs in, although mostly done indoors, but also managed to do some nerve damage to the tip of my little finger because of riding in the cold.

Day 1 / 12.24.10

This is all pretty new to me up here in Litchfield County, CT, and in retrospect considering this may have been the only day I’ll get that stays above 3oºF (-1ºC), I probably should have picked a flatter route to eke out as many miles as my fingers and toes could cope with. Instead I ended up going over what seemed like endless hills, and whilst beautiful, were not helping me much in my R500 challenge.

Distance: 54.32km
Avg Speed:
20.96 kph (hills will account for the general slowness)
Feet climbed:
3oºF (-1ºC), with wind chill 21ºF (-6ºC)
Calories Burned: 1516 cal
Wine Consumed:
Half Bottle of a Cab and 1 glass of Argentinian Malbec
General Mood:
Despite the cold, happy to be out
R500 Prediction: Optimistic

Note: Wine consumed was not done during rides, please remember to ride responsibly.


Day 2 / 12.25.10

It just got colder, a lot colder. The air temperature was 27ºF (-3ºC) and the wind chill brought it down to a finger-numbing 17ºF (-8ºC). It is amazing how much difference the sun makes when it is shinning on your back. On the suggestion of a neighbor who thought I was insane for going out (I explained that there may be Rapha kit at the end of all of this as a logical explanation, didn’t seem to cut it, obviously not a believer) I went along the valley floor to hopefully clock more miles and less hills. Unfortunately leaving my embrocation back in Brooklyn meant my legs never seemed to get moving in any sort of fluid way. I dropped down gears to ride at a high cadence to try and elevate my circulation, which just proceeded to frustrate me at how slow I was covering ground. Alas, one hour out and my fingers had completely gone, to the point I was finding it hard to change gears, so I headed back. It is beautiful around here, but it is f#*king cold this time of year.

Distance: 43.4km
Avg Speed:
22.5 kph (legs frozen will account for that general slowness)
Feet climbed:
27ºF (-3ºC), with wind chill 17ºF (-8ºC)
Calories Burned: 866 cal
Wine Consumed:
Half Bottle of a very nice Chateau Leoville Barton
General Mood:
It’s Xmas! How could you not be happy?
R500 Prediction: Semi-Optimistic


Day 3 / 12.26.10 / Snowopolis

It just got really white and unridable around here. In the evening things weren’t looking too bad, and then we saw the “Severe Weather Warning“. The first picture above was just before it started, and the second picture is the 18 inches of coverage we got in one night. The day fast became a day of drinking coffee and sanding and painting walls.

Distance: 0 km
26ºF (-4ºC), with wind chill 17ºF (-8ºC)
Calories Gained: Lots
Wine Consumed:
Other half bottle of the very nice Chateau Leoville Barton
General Mood:
R500 Prediction: Doubtful


Day 4 / 12.27.10 / Snowopolis Day 2

It is amazing how quickly they clear the roads around here in Litchfield County, but still not enough to ride, so some indoor trainer time ensued. Looking out the window into this winter wonderland got old really quickly.

Distance: 51.4 km
72ºF (22ºC)
Calories Burned: 926
Wine Consumed: Started in on a nice Malbec

General Mood:
Still Hibernating
R500 Prediction: Fail


Day 5 / 12.28.10 / Snowopolis Day 3

We decided to take on riding of another type and take advantage of essentially being snowed in. We broke out the snowboards and hit the local hill for an afternoon of “Cross Training”. I crouched as low as my very tuned snowboarding style would allow to get as close to a squat simulation as I could. It didn’t work, but I did enjoy the snow.

Distance: 10 km
Temperature: 3oºF (-1ºC), with wind chill 21ºF (-6ºC)
Calories Burned: I think I may have added some by getting a Hot Chocolate
Wine Consumed: Finished the Malbec

General Mood:
Optimistic Again
R500 Prediction: Maybe I should just try and do it all on a trainer….never going to happen

Categories: Rides / Routes

Lets Go To The Beach (Vamos a la Playa) 11/28/2010

You would think there would be a closer, more convenient beach to Stuttgart, than Barcelona. This sounds like a pretty amazing story, 11 days and 1500km on fixed gears. The route squeezed them around the end of the Pyrenees at Perpignan, so no major Cols, but it was hardly flat with gradients reaching 16%. There is also a lot of mentions of “damaged knees“, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who has tried to grind their way up 16% gradients on a fixed wheel. I am not sure what is worse, grinding up the slopes, or skidding your way down them without brakes, so much so that your tires are blowing whilst avoiding oncoming traffic (check out time code 1:58 on the teaser above, a nice way to avoid a head-on). I am really looking forward to finding out more about their journey when the full DVD is launched. Watch out for the launch details here.

Note: Kit was supplied by the guys at Pistard. Looking pretty sharp.

Categories: Rides / Routes

1800 KM 08/31/2010

See the 1800KM photo essay here

So almost one year ago today we did our first post on the Elcyclista site. Almost as exciting was sending our first Elcyclista kit out not long after. That was to Stefan Rohner, who turned out to be an amazing and published photographer, and so our photo features began. Since then Stefan regularly drops me a note to poke fun at my riding – like I rode up the Stelvio on the wrong side (Ed: is there a right side? They both hurt you know). So it is only fitting that on this day of celebration in the Elcyclista household we are able to publish this stunning photo essay from Stefan.

He just spent three weeks with his brother riding the great and slightly lesser known climbs of the Pyrenees. The numbers speak for themselves. The longest daily ride: 168km, the shortest daily ride: 83km, the average ride: 135km. Vertical climb approximately: 36,500m, average: 2810m…. but you know what, none of that really mattered to them. No Garmin or SRM, they just figured it out after wards, choosing to ride the climbs with their thoughts, conversation, and a view. What I love about these images, is that you can literally feel the silence on the climbs, and the only sound left is your breathing and the changing of gears. The absence of people and traffic. The aftermath of the Tour (they rode them in the weeks right after the Tour had passed through). If anything ever makes you question why you ride, or commit so much of you life to sitting in a saddle, look at these pictures. You will instantly remember why.

There is also something very fitting, that on the day that we get to publish these incredibly peaceful photos, we are also able to pay tribute to Laurent Fignon who did so much to animate racing on the roads of the Pyreness, The Marie Blanque, Aubisque, Solour, Tourmalet, Larrau, Pierre St. Martin, Burdincurucheta, Baragui, Houratate, Bouezou, Sustary, Labays, Marmare, Pradel, Pailheres, Agnes, Ares, Peyresourde, Aspin,

Categories: Rides / Routes

A TransAm Honeymoon: Kissing With Helmets 08/15/2010

There is no better way to discover a country than from the seat of a bike, and America has undoubtedly one of the richest mixes of landscape to see. I have an Ernest Hemingway quote pinned above my desk (yes I know, an unlikely fan of the bike) that says, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. You have no such accurate remembrance as you gain by riding a bicycle“. It is with that quote that I wish Brett Clever and his wife Edie the best of luck and safe riding on their epic ride across America, on their HONEYMOON. Yes I said honeymoon. They are taking on an amazing 4,787 mile ride from Astoria, OR, to Brooklyn, NY, along the TransAm route, undoubtedly something they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Brett and Edie have planned this trip down to the last detail, and knowing Brett as one of the the local New York scene’s most competitive Cat 2s, it wasn’t hard to get some support from some of the best bike brands out there. The bikes are killer. Two matching IFs with a custom paint job influenced by a 87 Haro Team Master, that will let us see them coming into Brooklyn all the way from Illinois. Topped out with matching white Ritchey, FSA, Chris King, and Ultegra parts, makes for one pretty nice “touring” bike. Some custom Lightweight jerseys from their friends at Rapha will be keeping them nicely ventilated, but out of all of the detail, my favorite item has to be the custom”Kissing With Helmets” head badges by Jen Green, the name of this whole adventure. Check out the Kissing With Helmets site, Brett and Edie will be posting as they travel (if they can find Wifi in Kansas). I can’t wait to see and hear the stories from this one, we will post when we get news of their travels.

Brett: I am not sure that Drum and Bass is going sound right on those long flats of Kansas. I suggest “The Wild Hunt” album by The Tallest Man On Earth. The cover alone will give you a hint of what you are in for…

Categories: Design / Riders / Routes

From The Saddle: The Ghisallo 07/18/2010

As one local pointed out to us when asking for directions on the way up, pronounced “Geezallo“. I have wanted to ride this climb for years. The Tour of Lombardy has always been one of my favorite races, with the best name ever: “The Race of the Falling Leaves“. In all of our trips to Europe we have managed to miss this region, so this time a whole 9 days was dedicated to Lake Como and then up into Bormio. You don’t have to spend long on the roads around the lake to realize that you are close to the pulse of Italian cycling. Riders of every size and age were out clocking miles on some of the best roads you will ever ride. The Ghisallo climb itself has been the decider in many races, from the Giro to the Tour of Lombardia, and the lesser known Coppa Agostini and Giornata della Bicicletta. They live and breathe riding here. Lombardia has over 700 registered cycling clubs with over 12,000 members. If you are wondering what they all do for the year, they have a choice of over 1200 races to to choose from.

The climb itself isn’t particularly spectacular. You spend most of it wrapped in trees. But the draw of the Shrine to Cycling, and the views from the top are what makes this ride worth the effort (we did it twice, once at the start of the trip and once at the end). We started on the east side of the lake where we were staying and rode the 10 miles up to Varenna to catch the ferry over to Bellagio where the climb started. Right out of the village the road pitches up to over 10%, and at that point you aren’t even really on the climb, but you know you are when you hit a little roundabout. From there you just sit on 8% – 9% for about 3km, easing for 4km before you hit the village of Civenna. This is where it gets a bit cruel, as you start to go downhill. Wait, did I miss the church? That can’t have been it? Brilliant views appear through the trees and there was no sign of any shrine, but the riders all seemed to be going in one direction. Then there it is, not the shrine, but the sign. The 8 turns sign. The last 2km take you around 8 hairpins at 9% – 10%. Rounding the last turn you can see the church’s spire and you know you are on that last famous stretch to the brow where the church emerges out of the hedges. I hammered it, deep into the red, and arrived at the little statue of Coppi hyperventilating. What must he have thought?

The photo essay can be seen here

Note: Incredibly proud of my wife. Someone who gets herself mostly out in the Park, put herself on her own training plan and dragged herself up the Ghisallo twice!

Categories: Routes

Specialized Lunchtime Ride Report 1 12/15/2010

Coming out of winter hibernation and more or less 6 weeks off training is probably not the best way to introduce yourself to a Specialized lunchtime ride. I knew the previous week they had all been riding with HTC or competing at the Cross Nationals in Bend so it was definitely going to blow the cobwebs away, if not a lung. I was spending the day with what could be best described as my dream client, and as Sean said, “everything from noon to 1.30pm can go on the blog, everything else stays in the building”. So that is what I will limit my account to, and based on that, the “dream client” tag was a little tarnished post ride.

Now you know that a bunch of guys that work for a bike company and live and breathe the sport of cycling, coupled with a ride like this 5 days a week, is going to be a “spirited” outing, so you are kind of hoping for a little help. Mine came in the way of my ride for the day, a beautiful SL3 built up with SRAM Red. That has to be the best “loaner” I have ever thrown my leg over. They are blessed with some pretty beautiful riding right out of the headquarters’ doors, and after a few car park pleasantries and traffic lights, a pace line soon developed. I was feeling surprisingly good until Ben rolled up next to me and pointed out that the approaching kickers is where it would “heat up” – I was already pretty hot. And just as I was coming off the front in a very short period in the wind, it got hotter.

For those of you who usually ride Shimano (me) and have not used SRAM before (me), beware of what I call the “brake and change“. In those moments when you are a little cooked and changing down a gear, that same brake lever shift on a Shimano actually more or less pulls the brake on SRAM. Not what you need when your elastic is stretching. I would like to have said I saw the town line sprint at the end, but they were small colorful dots in the distance by that point. So now I know what to expect and I can only get better from here. I also picked up some very special kit. A Prevail helmet, which if the weather gets above freezing your feet off I might actually get out to try, and a pair of the very cool Miura team issue optics. We will get a review up as soon we actually get out to test them.

Categories: Riders / Rides / Routes

The Tour Of Lombardy 10/14/2010

A photo essay of some of the highlights from the course is here.

This summer I got to ride on the course of the Tour Of Lombardy after nearly a 2o year wait, falling in love with it all while watching it on TV from afar. Not that the riders this weekend will be doing much sightseeing, the course has to be one of the most stunning in the world. The climbs and roads of the route have a historic and poetic ring to them, in an area that is passionate about its riding. That coupled with the cool breeze that comes off the lake as you ride, makes this race and the area one of the pros’ favorite places to turn their pedals. From the busy town of Como up towards the village of Argegno along the west shore of the lake. Past millionaires row and George Clooney’s villa. Along by the cafes and hotels of Argegno, then left up a punchy little hair-pinned climb and over the hills to Intelvi. After the village at the top, a bumpy descent down to the shore of Lake Lugano. More hills, and then down again to the beautiful village of Menaggio (where we witnessed the worst thunderstorm we have ever seen from our camper) and around the top of Lake Como. Then down the valley to Lecco, to get onto the peninsula and towards the finale. Up the east side of the peninsula on the stunning SP583, with the view of Varenna in the distance. Then the legendary Ghisallo. Not the longest or steepest of climbs, but deceptively hard. Past the shrine to cycling at the top and right over the Sormano climb, the highest point on the circuit. Down to the lake again and the finish. This is a hard course, and one for riders that have saved a little for end-of-season glory. Always animated. Always beautiful to watch.

A second essay climbing the Ghisallo is here.

Categories: Classic / Routes

A Day In The Hills Of Marin 08/29/2010

Catch the Marin Photo Essay here

It seems San Francisco has been having a “Bad Weather” summer, at least until last Friday. I had the weekend to myself with my bike and planned a few days riding on some of my favorite roads on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I woke on Saturday morning at 6.3o am, one of the benefits of west coast jet lag, and peered out the window to see a typical grey but breaking morning. I layered up expecting a cold but completely rideable day (minus sun block). By the time I had reached the top of Bay Street I had already removed one layer. This was my first day out in the Elcyclista arm warmers, and the first impression is that they are definitely built for the autumn/winter and colder spring morning conditions. My arms were hot. By the time I dropped down into Sausalito the clouds had broken and blue sky had set in for the rest of the day. I stopped in Fairfax for a coffee and got layered properly before I headed up towards Mt Tam and Alpine Lake. The climb up to the lake is a steady and beautiful climb, and you crest the top to see the lake and reservoir down to your left. A swift and well-paved descent takes you down to the water and over the top of the dam. The climb out the other side to Mt Tam is at first steep but evens out towards the top. I am glad I went this way round, as the surface on this side would be a little sketchy for a descent, having seen one rider bail on one of the corners and completely over cook it onto a grass verge. Enter third weather system of the day. Mt Tam was shrouded in cloud rolling up from the Pacific, which made for a spectacular but chilly ride along the “Seven Sisters“. It was at this point one of two things started to happen. Either my knees had decided it was all over, or someone had dropped gravel in my bottom bracket at the coffee shop. Luckily it was mostly a downhill ride all the way to Mill Valley where the guys at Above Category managed to get me back on the road with a new Chris King BB installed. I headed back over the bridge and stopped at Blue Bottle thinking of one of the best days you could have on a bike. The shots of the ride are here.

Categories: Routes

Doubt Or Anticipation 08/08/2010

Over the years I have been lucky enough to do a lot of riding in the Alps and Pyrenees, but no matter how many times I go, there always remains a doubt or sense of anticipation that never goes away. For me it usually comes on the long drive up into the mountains. You have your special driving-into-the-mountains soundtrack on, or NPR’s Radiolab. At some point on that drive you will be presented with a jaw-dropping view of snow-capped peaks. Once you get past the initial “Wow! Mountains!” which usually comes as a scream out of the driver’s window, the size of the task ahead (literally) makes you question the logic of what you are about to take on. In the Pyrenees the feeling came on the drive along the E80, or “Le Pyrénéenne“. When we were riding the area around the Joux Plane and Morzine, it came on the drive along the Route des Grands Alpes. On the way to Alp D’Huez a few years back it came heading out of Briançon on the Route de Briançon just before sunrise, when peaks started to emerge out of the darkness. This year, after time on the roads around Lake Como, we started the drive to Bormio to ride the Italian high Alps. This time the feeling came around a town called Sondrio on the Via Nationale. We stopped at a super market to stock up the camper for the next few days, and while standing in the car park I looked up, and the picture above was presented to us. There it was again, the doubt. Did I train enough? Just how hard is this going to be? Or was it anticipation, because you know that no matter what, you are going to get up.

Categories: Routes

From The Saddle: The Gavia 07/10/2010

I rode the Gavia the day after riding up the valley and doing the Stelvio. I headed out earlier as the day before the heat was killing my Irish air-conditioning. I am just not built to ride in that sort of heat at that effort, I need about 10 bottles of water to feel “normal”. The Stelvio, despite being tough, was a really beautiful climb to ride, but the Gavia from the start felt completely inhospitable. It kind of meanders out of the back end of Bormio, without the grand entrance of the Stelvio with its beautiful sweeping hairpins. It just goes straight up through a series of villages layered with some cobbled streets. It then enters what seems to be an endless section that winds through cow-covered pastures that have an extra strong smell of cow dung and a cacophony of flies to accompany you on your journey upwards. This section hurt a lot, and getting buzzed by the Moto Guzzis wasn’t helping me any.

Just when I was getting sick of swatting flies off my sweaty arms I rounded a bend and was confronted with a daunting-looking cliff face with a very narrow 18% road clutching onto its side and views into the National Park. Out of the saddle for this bit, keeping the pedals turning was about all I could manage, the gradient popped between 12 and 14%. At this point I still hadn’t met one other rider. Passing along this cliff face there were little memorials carved into the rock for people who had died on the mountain, driving, hiking and riding. This drops you onto the last phase of the climb with a real sense of humility. This is the section in the Giro that had the snow banks piled along each side a couple of feet above the riders’ heads. Looking up the valley at that last 5km, it should have been easy, but a rising headwind, poor road surface and just general lack of energy made it a grind. You are surrounded by the most spectacular views. Glaciers covered in snow in June, reflected in frozen Alpine lakes. You ride past the famous crucifix that tells you you are nearly there. It is probably the most unspectacular summit road I have ever gone up. The gradient just kind of stops and you are there, next to a very muddy car park. It feels pretty inhospitable and cold up there and I didn’t really hang around.

The trip down was taken very cautiously. Lack of guard rails and a sketchy surface made it tough to let loose until I hit the villages again and was able to stop and de-layer. Sitting here now looking at the shots again, it is a must-do climb. You fight it all the way up and never feel comfortable. It is cold, windy and remote, but it gives you a serious sense of you “beat it” when you get back into Bormio and roll past the hotel where Andy Hampsten stayed. Chapeau Andy I can’t imagine doing that in a snow blizzard.

You can see the full photo essay here.

Categories: Routes