CommuteTest, Part 01:
WR: Lung and I rode this morning, he on Loosey and me on Villain. This was the first official test ride for Villain, not that Critical Mass and the next day’s meanderings don’t count… but the commute is the real test. If I can ride this on my commute, I’ll be, as the kids say, stoker nuggeted! Now, the problem is the inch gear. It’s big. I just don’t KNOW what I can and can’t do on it. Thus, the test.
So far, awesome! The short climbs on the way in included Bay Street (where I had to hop off during Mass due to the densities and the inexperienced riders around me and going 3mph) and then again climbing up into the Presidio from Crissy Field. I won’t lie, that’s tough going. The last few meters of it are this weird little hop and it always tasks you, but on Villain, it was extra-tasking! Anyway, Lung peeled off at the bridge, and I continued on.
The Villain is a totally different fixed-gear riding experience. The thing I was hoping for has proven true: the big gear allows for not only a faster ride, but a comfortable optimal cadence… it feels a lot closer to my road riding normal speeds… it’s not as fast, mind you, but it’s far closer than my other fixie projects. This was especially evident on the descent into Sasualito. This was the first time I actually rode the descent not on my brake the whole way down. I tapped it here and there to make sure I still had it, etc. but I pretty much bombed down the hill… still spinning very fast, but much more doable. On my 60-something inchgear fixies, you spin SO fast far before you reach your bike’s terminal velocity on a descent that it’s sort of wooly and out of control. On Villain, though the cadence on the descent was fast, it was manageable. I didn’t bring my bike computer so i don’t know WHAT I was doing, but far, far more than on any other fixed-gear I’ve ridden.
I was a little tired when i got to work, largely from my reduced calorie intake from my diet, but it felt GREAT even noodling up to the office.
The real test would come tonight. When I would have to go BACK.
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CommuteTest, Part 02:
IL: this brings us to my trip over to MV. for me, the work-MV-work trip is almost exactly 30 miles, and when it’s myApt-MV-myApt, closer to 35, so it’s actually a great little haul with climbs — in other words, a "real" ride.
anyway, the interesting thing here is that not only was it my first ride to MV on loos3y(tm), but it was my first ride of any real mileage since last year. i’ve been riding city only through the whole winter. as such, i didn’t have my climbing legs on me, and i had a twinge of the fears lurking in the back of my brain. that was alleviated to a small degree by the fact that loos3y(tm) is about 33 fucking pounds lighter than the last bike i hauled out of there, but she also has a slightly higher gearInch and an entirely different geometry. so, like with all things, i just had to wait and see.
the ride in was great. i cheated a bit on the city side and avoided the aquatic park hill, which is a short, steep climb between fisherman’s wharf and the marina/crissy field. since i was gonna be climbing like mad later, i thought i’d give myself a break. the hop up to the bridge from crissy, as well as the hop up just AFTER the bridge were both shitty, but the bridge itself was calm and bright, which was nice.
from there, it’s a mile-long bomb down into sausalito, and here’s where things got interesting. see, i’ve been riding "brakeless" for a few weeks now. i put that in quotes because i still HAVE a brake, and i still use it in emergencies, but i’ve been challenging myself to use the bike’s natural proclivity for increased control, and slowing/stopping by using only backTorque, skidStops, skipStops, and sheer force of will. thus, i bombed into sausalito without touching my brake. i left a LOT of rubber on that grade, skidding myself under control, but it felt AMAZING.
sausalito to MV is just a flat haul through wealth, so i tucked and mashed to WR’s office, rolling right in through his open front door and immediately admiring his new black dining room chairs, which were there waiting to be taken back to his home.
after our usual session of bullshitting and joking around, and before i cooled down too much, we got back on the road and headed home.
WR: this would be an interesting experiment for both of us. Lung hadn’t ridden Loosey up those hills back to the bridge, and I obviously hadn’t on Villain, so we were both curious as to what would happen. i was personally cautiously optimistic, but I mentally prepared myself for a few points on the route that I’d have to stop. During Mass, attempting to turn up Bay St. I got three car lengths before having to stop (at slow speed, no ramp-up, lots of squirrelly riders around) so until this morning, I hadn’t even been sure I could get up THAT hill, let alone Sausalito. And since I had done so, I was feeling a little more confident. But I don’t have pride about it. I’m extremely stubborn on a bike: I don’t quit when I’m tired, and i don’t wimp out out of fears or laziness. But I also don’t beat myself up if I can’t complete a ride without stopping. Certainly, in the last several years, I’ve become a stronger rider with more discipline, and early on, I had to make stops, from Headlands to Alpine. There’s no shame in taking a break to get your heart rate down. Here, it was more about the gearing. Light bike, heavy gearing. If I couldn’t turn the cranks, I’d fall over. I prefer not to, so if I got to that point, I’d stop and walk it.
We set out around 630pm, which, thanks to Daylight Savings this past weekend, meant we still had light, the sun rapidly descending over the Pacific. The ride into Sausalito from Mill Valley was nice, as usual. Not too much bike path interference, and fortunately, not a lot of wind, like what was, and would continue to be, buffeting the City itself. As we approached the last stretch of Sausalito, though we had planned that Lung would ride ahead so as not to get stalled by me if I had to jump off, I noted that a relatively rare occurrence lay before me: that stretch along the water is usually filthy with slow moving tourist cars, and parking spot weavers, and meandering rental bikes, and spontaneous jaywalkers. But this time, pretty much a clear shit to the start of the climb. So I took advantage of the ramp-up, and accelerated. I knew it was a risk, because I was burning energy doing so (Lung likes to say my bike has no choice but to go fast, but in fact, while it CAN go fast, it does take work to push it forward on that gearing) so I hoped I wasn’t hamstringing myself (so to speak) later in the climb.
I got up the first few hops at a nice pitch, passing a few tourist bikes and avoiding vehicular deaths. This is the double-edged sword of big gears on hills… you can ramp up with greater speed, and maintain it with significant muscle effort… until the cadence winds down, and it becomes extremely laborious. The entire principle of multi-gear riding is maintaining cadence, through gear shifts, and therefore speed reduction. So, on climbs with my roadLook, I’d bomb the bottom of the climb for the first several rotations, but then downshift as my cadence would strain, so that I would end up in the gear necessary to maintain roughly the same cadence as on the flats (usually coming fown from 80rpm to 70-75rpm)… but here? Whatever’s the opposite of that. Certainly, the same problem occurred on the other fixed-gears, but there, the inchgears were more moderate, in the mid-60s. With Villain at an 81 inch gear, I was able to bomb my way up the first section, and then BAM! It was like I hit molasses. Now, I don’t know if it was adrenaline from setting my mind to this challenge, or the fixie-inertia combined with being in better form than I’m usually at this time of year, but I got to the first level off and my recovery was short. I mean, I didn’t RECOVER, but I wasn’t overwhelmed, and I didn’t need my inhaler, so I keep forging on to the first of the grades I feared: this short, tight winder that sets you up for the main grade to follow. It’s narrow, the cars graze you, and if one were to, say, be unable to turn the cranks, and have to bail out of road clips, one could fall the wrong direction.
Lung was right behind me and I could hear him hooting, and since I hadn’t seen us pass any EHPs, I assumed it was encouragement. And man, I hit that wall hard, and managed to get up over it, but it was some of the hardest mashing I’ve done. Once I got to the top, I started the long grade (broken into two hops with a short descent between them) with greater ease than I usually do. This is because fixed gear climbing is an anabolic muscle-burn effort, whereas proper climbing is a cardio effort. Spinning a consistent cadence pushes the heart, while physically mashing gears burns the legs, until you run out of steam. I mean, of course your heart is working there too, but being anabolic, you only have so much energy to burn and once you’ve tapped out the muscles, you’re done. When in good form, sustained cardio effort can be maintained at just below the anabolic level. Thats what pros do. I’m not there. But climbing with Villain was entirely the opposite experience for my body than the cardio workout of the roadLook, and it was really interesting to process what was going on. Basically, I pushed/pulled on those cranks, kept a rigid form where possible, and focused on not stopping. And somehow, I succeeded! By the last rise up to the freeway underpass and then up to the lookout by Headlands, I was really at my limit, but man, I never put a foot down. I was stoked. Not even there! Onward, over the bridge, and soaking in endorphins!
IL : i was completely blown away by the climb i saw unfolding in front of me. managing to ignore WRs prolific amount of ass-sweat was a chore in itself, but the thing i was encouraged to see was that he was not stymied in the least by any of what he’d thought would crush him. in fact … it was ME who had the troubles on the first hops to the main grade.
the last time i climbed up out of sausalito, i was on riser bars and a smaller gearInch. in addition to the aforementioned larger gearInch, i’m also on road drops now. but road drops with neither road brake levers nor stoker nuggets. that means i have nothing really to hold on to when i get out of the saddle, which i have to do in order to crest these hops. so i found myself struggling to keep up with a guy in a gearInch 15 or so BIGGER than mine. i was totally confused. hahaha!!!
but like WR … i do NOT give up on no fucking bicycle, believe. so i muscled up through those hops to the main grade.
from there, i think it was much easier for me than for WR. that last part of the grade, the main part, is not as steep as the first hops, but it’s a billion times as long. and SUSTAINED climbing, any cyclist will tell you, is much harder than hopClimbing. so as i regulated my breathing and just turned em over, hovering a couple feet back from WR’s wheel, i chanted supporting things such as "you’re killing it!" and prepared to protect the both of us from cars if he went down.
by the time we got to the bridge, it was the same ole same ole … with one exception. my legs were completely blown. i hadn’t anticipated that i would be so mauled below the waist by this excursion, which i’ve done a bunch of times before. but as i said, this was my first big ride of the year and my legs were NOT ready for it. my lungs and heart were fine, barring the expected sucking of wind. but man, when i peeled off and WR carried on, it was all i could do to push loos3y(tm) up to the rack in front of taylor’s, where i saddled up to a bacon cheeseburger, onion rings, a cold PBR, and the skateboarding game i have on my mobile phone.
i stayed at taylor’s for a while, as (SG)f had tole me earlier in the day that she wanted to spend some time alone that evening, so i took the opportunity to play mobilePhone videoGames and enjoy greasy food, re-acquiring all the calories i’d just burned.
the ride home sucked ass in every conceivable way, because in addition to tired legs (thankfully not blown anymore after a rest), i now had a belly full of burger, beer, and onion rings. jesus. i got home just as the charge on my headlight died, took a hot shower, and sat the fuck DOWN.
all in all, a killer lopeRide!