Ride #2: NER Ware’s the Quabbin 300k

Ride notes from the second ride, written the evening after, posted much closer to the fact than the first iteration. Here is the route. Again, I learned after the fact that this was "a pretty hard one." I’m starting to think that all of the routes up this way are "pretty hard," which I guess is a good thing? I don’t know. It was a good time, though a harder time, and I regret absolutely nothing.

I’m sure there’s a world in which I went back through the cue sheet and figured out where and exactly when things happened, but it’s already the end of the day again the following day and I’m a little sleepy so we’re not going to be that detailed.

In short it was a very fun ride though also a very hard one. The climbing count is always a little wonky but from my GPS anyway the numbers were 187.75 miles with 13,261ft of climbing. I completed the ride in just over 15 hours which felt pretty good (and I was told it was a good time for a first timer). There were ups and downs in addition to the climbing but already today I’m thinking about the next brevet, which feels like a good sign so far as my enjoyment is concerned. Some other fun preliminary notes are that I went through two towns that have some connection to my in-laws that I’d never been in before, I saw a fox (!) for the first time in New England (and TBH only the second fox I’ve ever seen in the wild in any case), and this was both my longest and most-climbing ride I’d ever done.

As usual the ride was very well run and the support was generous and generally perfectly-timed, particularly the lunch stop. The tricky thing (aside from the climbing and the distance) about the ride was the heat-variable: it was in the 80s and we haven’t had 80-degree days yet this spring, so nobody was really acclimated to that kind of temperature, myself very much included. For the most part I was able to keep hydrated but it was always on my mind, and coming from ultimate, where water was always plentiful on the sidelines, I think I drink more water than maybe most riders do; I’m not actually sure of that but it seems like I was stopping more often. In any case —

One theme of the ride might be that I was always nearly running out of gas but making it anyway.

We’ll start here: I do not drive our car very much anymore. I either take the T or ride my bike into work (or ride the bike into the nearest station to take the T). And the thing is that I’d noticed the car was low on gas when I drove us home from my father in-law’s birthday dinner on Thursday, but had completely forgotten about it on Friday and Alia didn’t drive Friday so the amount of gas in the car hadn’t changed. But the problem, see, was that the ride started at 05:00, and this is sleepy-ass New England, and even the fucking advertised as 24-hour gas station was closed. And this isn’t just the usual "Danny is upset if it’s below a quarter tank" thing, this was a "the car says you’ve got 19 miles left and the ride is 13 miles away" kind of situation. I went to three different gas stations, all closed. But I made it to the ride with a few miles to spare. I stayed reasonably calm in given the circumstances. And I did, in fact make it. But I hadn’t drunk nearly enough of my coffee nor water nor had I eaten either of the two breakfast bagels I’d made myself before leaving.

Suffice to say that I made it, but was on the back foot.

With all my attempts at filling the tank I arrived right around 04:46, which meant I had just enough time to sign in, put on my cycling shoes, and put the bags on the bike (I leave them off when it’s on the rack because I made the bags myself and have only so much faith in my stitch-work; also one of them is really just a coffee bag with a bit of webbing wrapped around it).

But I registered, got my brevet card, put on my reflective gear as it was still somewhat dark, and rolled out with the bunch right around 05:00.

First mistake: I felt pretty good once I was actually riding the bike and so thought I’d try and hang on with the fast kids (I say kids: I was one of the youngest in that group by far, and I’m 31). Still, I was feeling great, hanging on, even taking a few pulls myself (that, actually, was probably the real mistake), and I was just thinking, "Hey, let’s see how far this goes" and then I was thinking, "Hey, I’m still here after how many splits," then "Hey, maybe I’ll try to make it to the first control," and then we hit our first proper gradient and I said, "Well, that was fun while it lasted!" I think I hung with them for just under 40 miles, and it was really fun and nice and I got to chat with a couple of folks that I’d met at the 200k and see some neat bikes. I think my bike computer said we were averaging something like 18mph, which ain’t bad, but then I kind of found myself paying for it later.

So lesson learned, a little bit (i.e., I’ll probably make that same mistake again, but maybe this time fall back into the second group once that splinters off…​).

The first control was kind of a riot because it was staffed by this one poor woman who was trying to do the register so we could buy stuff but also was making pizza dough for later in the day. I’d seen a college friend in the middle of the week who at one point mentioned that on the east coast we’re "not friendly but nice" (as opposed to the left coast where they’re "friendly but not nice") and I was thinking about that when she snapped at me for trying to find the bathroom (i.e., trying locked doors that I thought I’d seen one of my fellow riders exit). But we got to chatting and it was all hunky-dory in the end and anyway the three waters she sold me were very helpful.

So off to the next leg. I’d lost any semblance of a group to ride with, which was fine, so went out solo and slower, trying to find my legs again. I believe this is called "active recovery" and I will say that I believe in it though I never did find my hill-climbing legs the rest of the day. I never had to get off and walk, but I very rarely had the legs I had at the end of the 200k when it came to the hills. Such is life.

Some number of other miles in I got caught by a couple of dudes, Matt (I think — it might have been Mike, forgive me) and Josh(ua?), which was convenient since I was at that point ready to have someone to talk to and also we were on a very busy road so riding together was safer anyway (the talking, of course, happened after we’d turned off the busy road). We had plenty to chat about in different ways — one of them did something managing a software team, one of them was an art teacher and sculptor who was into John Ashbury — and they were great riding companions while we stayed together, up through to the next control and then to the "secret control" which was a super friendly guy with a bunch of water and snacks and 8oz cans of Coke. I never understood drinking Coke during endurance things but now I get it — it’s really quite a perfect thing. Our little group would eventually splinter off for bathroom breaks and shade-rests (this was nearing the hottest and most-sun part of the day), and so I rounded into the lunch control (I say "lunch" but I think I got there something like 14:00?) by myself and had a nice sandwich and pickle-snacks and water and rest. I was still feeling not-so-great leg-wise and figured this would be the time to rest and stuff myself with food and hydration, given that there were both chairs to sit on and shade in which to sit.

The control got crowded though and so I shoved off. I rode with an upper-MA bike shop guy for a while named — I think — Ed, though this might have been before the lunch control, but anyway he was nice to ride with and we talked bikes and also the little Garmin radar thingies — he almost has me convinced it’s what I want for my next birthday. Almost.[1]

This middle part is kind of a blank today. Probably because it wasn’t so fun. I saw a lot of animals and beautiful scenery but the hills were tough and my legs didn’t feel lead-like but felt…​ gluey, maybe. Just not so fresh. I got over the last big guys though into the final control, had a little sit and some more water and food, and then finally, finally my legs seemed to come back to life for the last however-many-Ks it was to go. I still was garbage on the climbs but I at least felt like I could keep up something at least close to my usual cruising speed and there was a lot of descending, which is always good for the spirits. I had some chafing and knee pain and hand-pain by the end but it wasn’t anything unmanageable (and honestly, if I’d packed my handlebar bag snacks in a less-dumb way (i.e., easier to reach) I wouldn’t have had so much left-hand pain). Probably I should someday get a bike fit. Maybe.[2] I also think I just need to ride that bike more often; lately I’ve been logging nearly all of my commuting miles (which make up a lot of my miles in general) on the Riddler bike. Anyway.

What is there to say about the last part of the ride? It happened. I was riding by myself but not mad about it. I was pushing the pace as much as I could to beat 15 hours and came pretty damn close. I saw a fox, which was cool. As it became darker I put back on my new reflectivity thingy and decided I liked it better than that one I’d had before. I switched on my lights and was again glad I finally got around to getting a dynamo for that bike. I scouted for open gas stations as I got closer to West Concord (where the ride started and finished). Jake, the ride leader, and some folks I recognized but didn’t really know were there at the finish and I talked to them a bit and drank another little Coke and had some of the provided snacks, and then went home, where Alia was waiting with a mountain of Chinese takeout.

I think I learned a lot on this ride but I also think it’ll take me a while to let it all sink in. I think, too, that I might actually want to put a bigger cassette on my bike; I never thought that a 30-28 wouldn’t be a low-enough gear, but really, I might have wanted just one or two more down. I really should adjust my front derailleur. My saddle might be a touch too wide in the end (a risk I knew I was taking on when I requested it for my birthday a couple of years ago, though a little chafing might just be expected after you’ve passed the 150-mile mark; I’m going to ask my friend Jim about it). I think it’s probably not worth the convenience to bring spray sunscreen given how much room it takes up in my bag (this was, to be fair, what we had, but I also could have very well bought different sunscreen before the ride). I should not try to pull a group of riders who are clearly much stronger than I am. Or at least not take so long of a pull. I wasn’t always having "fun" but I overall had "fun" and this didn’t scare me off the next ride (though the climbing profile of the upcoming 600 is…​ a lot). I felt pretty good body-wise last night (save that I did think it prudent to ice my knees a little) and my body feels pretty good today even if stairs are a little hard due to sore legs. My cycling cap was amazingly salt-encrusted. It was a good day out on the bike.

1. I am pretty cheap and turning your head is free (though TBH with the wind and car-noise and everything else it’d be nice to have on some occasions).
2. See earlier note about being cheap.

Ride #1: NER Concord 200k Up Wachusett Through Purgatory and Suburbia

I don’t remember exactly when or how I heard about it but I do know that at some point during my tenure at the bike shop I heard about this randonneuring thing and thought it sounded like something I might like: noncompetitive but hard. Obviously when you work at a shop (or at least at the kind of shop I worked at), you don’t actually have much time to ride your bike outside of commuting to and from work, so it took moving on to a different kind of job before I could really consider it. Then there was the pandemic, pushing my entry into the sport out further. So then I did my first brevet — a fancy French word for "bike ride"[1] — last summer, a 200k (~124 mile) traipse from Providence, RI to Duxbury, MA, and back and had a pretty good time (both in the sense of time it took to do the ride (not super fast, really, but respectably quick) and time in terms of enjoyment). So this summer, I thought why not try to do the whole series?

A "whole series," or a series consisting of 200, 300, 400, and 600k rides, is normally done in preparation for an event like PBP, which though is next year I probably won’t actually try to go to (and not only because it’s a 1200k ride). Mostly I just thought it would be a fun cycling goal for the summer, and a good way to see if I might ever maybe someday want to do something like PBP, and if that ends up being the case, would then allow me to start stuffing the piggy bank now.

So anyway, the first ride[2] was this Concord 200k. Here was the route, although RideWithGPS says it’s only 7,585ft of climbing whereas my GPS unit on the bike said it was more like 9,354ft. In any case —

What follows is a rewrite of some notes I took the day after the ride. Not exactly timely, as the 300k was on Saturday, but sometimes it takes the time it takes and I’d like to have the set of all of them if I’m going to write up any of them. So here we go.

The ride yesterday was really, really fun. Challenging but not horrific. I took no pictures except one really bad one at the final control[3] in which nobody was looking at the camera so I’m not going to include it in a write up. It took about an hour longer than I’d planned for but that’s OK, as it was worth it to have my friend Adam along. This route had a lot of climbing. Even more than anticipated. And some of it was pretty pleasingly steep. And I had totally missed the whole "this is a challenging route" clause in the route description on the New England Randonneur page.

In my defense, that was the first clause of the first sentence.

Adam generously met at our house and then Alia generously drove us out to the start in West Concord, which at ~15mi from my front door was just a little farther than I wanted to ride-to-the-ride to. I’d gotten up early enough to make and drink a couple cups of coffee and I brought some of the blueberry muffins Alia had made earlier in the week to eat on the drive. An excellent breakfast, even if Alia didn’t think the recipe was the best she’d ever found. But the joys of recipe testing are another discussion entirely —

We were all in good spirits though I admit that when we got to the Dunkin Donuts parking lot and started unloading I was feeling a little anxious and underprepared. I think it’s because it has been so long since I’d driven to a ride rather than ridden to it, and so my usual routine was a little off-balance. For example, I was pretty sure my helmet was on my head, that my extra clothes and food were in the bar bag and that the saddle bag I’d put on was secure, but — it was fine. I wasn’t nervous about the ride itself, but rather if I had everything I might need or want (and I did, and it really was fine).

The temp outside was in the low 40s and would be getting up to around 60, which is very much April shoulder-weather but also my least favorite weather to dress for, at least based on the options I have handy. For example, I was wearing these tapered sort of “athletic” sweatpants over bib shorts, a base layer, a long sleeve, a wind-layer vest,[4] and a earflap hat along with my “second warmest” gloves when I started. But the anticipated temperature change meant that I also brought my “you don’t necessarily need them but they’re nice”-weight gloves, a cycling cap without earflaps, an extra wind layer in case the vest wasn’t enough, and I had to make sure that there would be room in the bag in case I wanted to take off either my long sleeve layer or my pants. (And I ended up cinching the pants up to 3/4 length and taking the long sleeve off in the end.) I tend to run “cold,” but I also have little patience for being too warm although I’ll take that over freezing on the long descents…​ which is where all things zippered come in.

A thing I like about randonneuring — and I do like a lot of things about it, but one in particular I like — is how many different ways there are to do it. You can go all roadie and use a brevet as a fast training ride on your carbon blip-boop shifting bike, or you can get all retro-grouchy with bar end shifters and canti breaks, or you can be somewhere in the middle, you can be on a recumbent, a “gravel bike,” a fixed-gear…​ it’s always a good start line to geek out just a little on if you like bikes. I will note that what kind of bike one rode on didn’t seem to have any effect at all upon finishing, or upon time, and I think it’s further evidence that it’s the engine that matters. Anyway, my bike lives somewhere in the middle of retro-grouchy (downtube friction shifters, a dynamo, traditional-looking handlebar bag and so on) and “gravel bike” (disc brakes, deliciously overbuilt steel frame, wide tires, semi-flared drop bars, etc.,) and it is really the best bike for this and any other kind of ride, so I guess we can just stop talking about other bikes now.[5]

So the start time rolls around and we set off in a healthy group of about forty riders and proceeded to sort ourselves accordingly. It had been a while since Adam and I went on a longer ride together so I wasn’t sure of the pace, but he seemed OK with how we started and I frankly felt excellent, and I would feel, leg-wise, very good all day. We were in a middle-fast group and chomped up the first miles pleasantly.

As per the route notes, “much of the climbing [occurs] in the first 51 miles to Wachusette then Oakham.” I’d missed the part about the “significant hills in the latter part of the ride as well,” but anyway, the hills started and things were pretty OK for a while.

The first sort of notable thing was stopping in the middle of a climb to help get another rider’s chain on. This rider seemed to have a few mechanical issues over the course of the day (apparently because the RD hadn’t been reindexed after being on a direct-drive trainer for a while), but I can’t help myself, so we stopped, I threaded the chain back through the jockey wheels, back onto the crankset, and did the ‘ol “shift through all the gears and discover the limit screws are screwed up” trick. All of the cable routing on this bike was internal, the derailleur cable was “wicked frayed,” and I wasn’t about to try and reindex it with the suspicious-looking barrel adjuster (because we were on time and I also was pretty sure it was a limit-screw issue), but it was shifting through most of the cassette anyway and so we got them on the road and then ourselves after a little snack (Adam’s good snacks were in his saddle bag, not his bar bag, meaning we had the opportunity for a few extra breaks here and there to eat more leisurely).

So we went on, climbing and climbing. I’m not sure if this was true or not, but it felt like all of the controls were at the tops of hills. As the various groups formed and reformed I talked to a couple of folks about this and that, their bikes and my bike (I got a nice, “I didn’t realize what kind of shifting you had until we were climbing that hill — that’s like the opposite of Di2!” at one point thanks to my dear downtube shifters,[6]), and every time this or that bike shop came up I tried to tell people to go check out my friend Jim’s shop, in part because they’re really good mechanics there and in part because if I’m going to be over there hanging out all the time and bothering them I may as well also try to send them some business.

We climbed the hill to the first real stop and took a little sneaky dirt path from the road to the vending machine upon which was written the answer to the information control.

The first control was lovely and nice and Tsun (the ride leader) was there with snacks, which was unexpected (to me, anyway). Bathroom, refill water bottles, eat snacks, stash a snack or two into the bag for consumption later, etc., then off we went again. More climbing. I have very little recollection of what we talked about during the various legs but I think between the first and second controls was when Adam told me about the “diarrhea” song, e.g.:

Something something rhyme,
something else then rhyme

It was a nice way to start the second leg. I had the usual-lately songs stuck in my head ride, e.g., “God Only Knows,” “The Weight,” and pick-your-Beatles song, but also, curiously, “Streetlights” by Bonnie Raitt. I’ve been playing just a little mandolin, and apparently Adam’s played for years, so we also had a good sing on Sam Bush’s version of “Eight More Miles to Louisville” every time we were eight miles to some checkpoint or other (as you would expect).

Onto the second control, where we had a pretty good long rest (maybe longer than usually take, but part of the joy of riding with a group is that you can’t just pound yourself into the ground like I am most usually wont to), ate more snacks, I had a can of seltzer, packed more snacks for the next leg (as I had eaten through maybe 70% of the snacks I’d brought by that point, though not the end of baguette which I was waiting to eat once I no longer wanted to wear gloves), then set off again after using the bathroom at the deeply cute Oakham library.

This third leg, though advertised as “a break in general for the next 33 miles,” still felt like it took for-goddamn-ever. I think this was the point in the ride when I started thinking about the end of the ride, and it was too soon to start thinking about the end of the ride. The thing was that I was worried a) about coordinating with my mother in-law, who generously offered to pick us up after the ride and we were on pace to finish about an hour later than I’d originally told her; b) my general time, as I was trying to use this ride to help gauge my expected timings for the rest of the rides I plan to do this summer; and C) it seemed like Adam was starting to hurt a little and that’s never good when your buddy’s hurting a little. We were well over 50 miles in, and that’s a tough point, especially as it was cold enough for the knees to begin to be bothered. He took some “Vitamin I” (i.e., ibuprofen), we focused on eating, and carried on riding and bullshitting. There was a bit of yo-yoing at this point, since I, feeling still great in the legs and being maybe just a little bit of an asshole, would fly up the climbs (“fly” being relative, of course) and wait at the top for Adam, who in his infinite good humor would say “See you at the top!” when we approached the beginning of an incline. I think/hope he wasn’t too annoyed with me about it. Nevertheless, we stayed together making jokes on the flats and made it through to the final control at “Purgatory,” which we agreed was very cool and wanted to go back to sometime when we weren’t how-ever-many-miles into a ride.

A good — though shorter — break at this final control for more snacks, water refills, etc. I talked to a volunteer named Rosie for a while about bikes and PBP and brevets and things and that was nice, and Tsun was running around making sure everyone had everything (and making lots of jokes as he seems wont to — the whole long-distance cycling thing appears to involve lots of comedy).

I should say here that the ride was super well-run and I was frankly surprised at how much support and food there was at the controls. Really, really nice and (to me) unexpected after so many pandemic miles where, if you forgot to bring something, you were pretty much SOL.

As a (hopefully relevant) aside, I should say that I didn’t really start doing much intentional distance riding until the pandemic. Sure, I’d done a couple 100k D2R2s, and when we lived in Wisconsin I’d do ~15-20mi fat bike “adventure” rides and 40mi “coffee” road rides, but these were always with a group, and the road rides in a pretty solid paceline that I could hide in. We then moved to Boston so I could go to grad school, and I was too busy to do much riding outside commuting, and then just when I finished grad school and had time to ride again, it was a pandemic, and so you couldn’t just stop anywhere to fill up a water bottle (at least for those first few uncertain months). All of which is to say that I have something of a “scarcity-mindset” when I’m on longer rides, and so the snacks were very appreciated. This is maybe the worst-written aside I’ve ever written but you get the point.

Anyway, I got in contact with my mother in-law and made a new plan with plenty of wiggle-room for the pickup and felt better about that, that we would ride the ride at a pace that felt good both spiritually and physically (we still had plenty of time to go before we were in any danger of missing the actual cut-off), and so we carried on towards the final 40mi leg.

We weren’t going too bad until we got to this motherfucking huge switchback climb (maybe it wasn’t so big, but it felt big by that point) in this cookie-cutter neighborhood thing with lots of new-looking fancy McMansions, but we made it up the climb no worse for wear and were treated to a nice little downhill around this golf course thing. We then ran into a group of seasoned Randos fixing a flat, so we stopped, hung out, and joined their group. At this point, Adam found a second wind or a second pair of legs (or the pain-killers and food started kicking in), and with the new group we were making great time, chatting about this and that, and generally having a lot of fun again (which isn’t to say we weren’t having fun before, but admittedly the middle-miles felt a bit like a slog, as middle-miles so often do).

The group we were with included a bunch of people I’d met or else ridden with before but whose names I’d mostly forgotten (save Emily O. of Dill Pickle fame, who had shepherded me for much of my first-ever brevet last summer), but I sort of figured out who was who (Steve’s “Steve” licence plate dangling from his saddle helped), and so we rode on. At some point Adam and I got a little ahead but we’d come back together often at stoplights and things. I still felt really, really good. A little tired, but I was still able to fly up the road to make room when there was a “car back” on steep hills (again, "fly" being relative) and that felt affirming so far as my fitness was concerned. We made what felt like short work of the last 30mi and were soon on the bike path back into West Concord, where we were greeted with pizza, more snacks, and 0 more miles to go. Adam and I even each both drank one of those “mini” 8oz Coke cans which turned out to be a perfect things (and neither of us really drinks soda in our usual day-to-days). The sugar, that little bit of caffeine — wonderful. We piled the bikes into my mother in-law’s van, said our goodbyes, and were off. It was kind of funny at the end, because it sort of felt like I was a kid again getting picked up by a parent after some event or other (which, I mean, was sort of the case).

I then showered, dressed, and went to meet Alia and our friends Lisa and Matt in Harvard Square for dinner. I was a little loopy and probably a little incoherent,[7] but it was a very nice dinner and the Indian food was delicious and perfect, and really it was just a lovely day both on and off the bike. Just really wonderful.

1. It actually means something like "certificate," becuase on these rides you literally carry a piece of paper around with you that gets signed and timestamped to prove you did the distance and didn’t take shortcuts.
2. Technically my first "rando" event this year was a 100k earlier in March, but those don’t "count" for the "Super Randonneur" or "whole series" award and I forgot to write notes about it.
3. A "control" is where you get your little card signed.
4. Probably the best piece of cycling clothing I’ve ever bought.
5. Just kidding! All bikes are good bikes!
6. I do have proper intergrated shift levers I could put on that bike; I just choose not to because…​ I don’t know, I just like downtube shifters, OK?
7. It was confirmed later that I was, indeed, pretty out of it.

"But Why?": The Riddler Bike

So, here’s where we started:

state started

And here’s about where we are now:

state as of now

They’re both pretty shitty pictures and I’m sorry for that. The story of this bike, which I have sort of mentioned elsewhere, is that after I ovaled-out the headtube of dear 'ol Schwinny, I was on the hunt for a cheap — ideally free — bike to replace it with as my commuter/lock outside bike. I’d lock up the Straggler sometimes, sure, and I have all the security whosie-whatsits to make the wheels, seatpost, saddle, etc., harder to steal, but I don’t like having all that extra shit on there if I don’t need it, especially since I’m trying to do "Randoneurring" now. (Shit, I haven’t written about that either.) And now that I’ve moved my dynamo shit over to that bike it’ll make more sense come next winter to ride it to work (assuming they fix the bike room, whose roof caved in a little bit), but for this coming spring/summer/autumn, I figure I don’t need to worry as much about lights (and I can’t afford a second dynamo setup right now anyway) — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So I needed a bike, and for free I had a few options: lucky me.

A local buddy of mine had just gotten back a bike he’d lent out some years back, and though it was in a little bit rough shape, the tubing itself was pretty nice. I kind of wanted to move away from threaded steerers though (so I could, in theory, swap parts between my other bikes — the Wednesday and the Straggler — more easily), and it would have been more work to make it into something I really wanted than I was willing to put in at the time given my limited budget.

Then there were the bikes my kid brother had "given" me, by which I mean bikes he ran out of space for and left at our parents' house. One was an old Cross Check he’d bought real cheap and then subsequently replaced with a newer Cross Check (long story, mostly involving Surly’s fairly bizarre sizing paradigms and shifts), and the other was a first-generation State Contender that he’d bought on Craigslist (I think) and had used as a delivery bike when he was running subs in CoMo (for non-midwesterners: "Columbia, Missouri"). I’d been wanting to try riding a fixed gear for a number of years (it was always a minor point of shame that I’d never done it when I worked at the bike shop), and as my local buddy pointed out: if I took the Cross Check, I’d basically have two of the same bike.

So when we went down to MO to stay with my folks for a month (because COVID and working remote), I took the State, as awful a color as it was. I built it up with some parts I knew I’d like (i.e., cheaper versions of what I had on the Straggler, i.e., Easton stuff because I had an Easton hockey stick when I was a kid and I like the continuity[1]), put on a proper 165mm, 144 BCD crankset, and said that someday I would replace the wheels and the fork. The carbon fork, honestly, was fine. And since it was rim brake, I was able to run the dynamo wheel I’d had on the Schwinn through the winter. The problem was that it was a rim brake though, and I managed to put more wear on the rim than I wanted to, and I went through two sets of pads in one Boston winter,[2] and so since I was going to replace the fork anyway…​ I figured I’d just go disc. Besides, after having my friend Jim build me a dynamo wheel for the Straggler, I had a spare disc front wheel to play with.

So come March, I have a spare wheel and my buddy Matt tells me that QBP is about to restock the QR Disc Trucker forks (which have the same approx. axle-to-crown as the original Contender fork, as well as the same rake), so I tell him to get me one of them.

In the meantime, I also decide that I want to learn how to build a wheel, so I build the rear wheel onto a hub I got on Velo-Orange sale (I should write about building that wheel sometime, too).

So then I frantically hobble all the parts together, rush-request the fork steerer get cut and so on (thanks again Jim; sorry it was such a pain), and ride it.

Sure, I get a flat tire or two. Hopefully that gets sorted. (EDIT: it got sorted. Seems like I always get a flat or two with new tires and then I stop getting flats until it’s time to replace the tires. I don’t know why this is.) Does not bode well for me buying the same kind of tires again though; I should have not been cheap and stuck to Panaracers. (EDIT: This is still true.)

Anyway, so it’s the bike now.

<s>To be honest I do notice the extra weight of the fork. It feels less lively, but once I’m up to speed it is a little more "comfy." I also think a part of the problem is the tires: they really are terrible and too heavy and thick.</s>

UPDATE: I thought the fork was making the bike ride shitty but it was the chainline all along! I fucked up and forgot the cog spacer thingy when I swapped the wheel at the Somerville Bike Kitchen and then put it on the following week and then hot damn does the bike feel great. Sure the tires still kind of suck, but the bike feels really good now. What I get for trying to run a ~2mm off chainline with a 1/8" chain…​ lesson learned (also there was a safety issue with that, but that’s unimportant, i.e., I still don’t skid the rear wheel).

(Anyway.) I’ll run the tires into the ground and get better/more supple tires and see if that doesn’t help (EDIT: it will). But the bike itself feels deeply bomb-proof and I like that I can now actually fit my lock through the wheel and frame and whatever I’m locking it to, which you couldn’t do with the stock "deep v" wheel that I put on after I sold the rim-brake dynamo wheel (to pay for the fork). Also, it’s been windy as fuck lately and having a less-deep rim helps with crosswinds.

I still fucking hate the color, but some of my friends seemed to like it and I can’t say it’s not visible. The question mark stickers — a recommendation from Matt at Jim’s shop — are also reflective (my idea) so that’s pretty nice so far as safety goes. I do have paint to repaint it, but I’m going to sit on that a while, I guess. I hate it less now that the fork looks less silly. I mean, it’s a good looking bike. I just hate the color.

tl;dr, it’s a bike and I’ll ride it. It’s nearly "done," too, which is cool. Almost all my bikes are now nearly "done," which is very exciting. The Straggler is pretty much "done" now that it’s got a dynamo; the Wednesday just needs to have the brakes replaced (and I have the brakes…​ I just haven’t bothered to put it in the stand and get it done yet); and now the "Riddler" is nearly done, too…​ I just need to get some less obviously mismatched headset spacers and maybe someday also make it less ugly. Also fenders. I really fuckin' need some fenders. And maybe an 18T cog instead of the 16T…​

It feels good to have it nearly "done" though, because after this, I hope to only worry about buying consumables: tires, chains, brake pads (and only one kind now, since all my brakes are now mechanical TRPs!), etc.

Well, of course, all this is true only until the next shiny thing shows up. For now, though —

1. And it’s also good stuff.
2. I do not ride brakeless because I have a wife and cat to care for

Some Rambling About Tools

I’m not sure if it’s "a lot," the number of times in the last few years I’ve changed writing tools. Of course, you do MS Word in high school and early college because you don’t know any better and it works really well for a certain kind of thing, but then you read the thing about Hemingway writing only 500 words a day on a typewriter, so you find a $20 typewriter at a flea market and try to work on that, but the world is digital, so you try to find an app that is like a typewriter, so you settle on a "minimalist writing app," which in my case was iA Writer (and later Pretext on the iPad) and learn Markdown, which is good not great, but then you have to start doing something like web development again, whether for work or a personal site (or a resume site with which to try and get work), and all of a sudden you’re back in a code editor, but this time it’s not a c. 2004 pirated copy of Dreamweaver but a "lightweight IDE," in my case Brackets, but all the devs you work with either use Eclipse or Atom, so you try one and the other and settle on Atom, which you proceed to use alongside your minimalist writing apps, because you’re still storing your backups on iCloud or in Google Drive, but then you try to write a project-in-pieces, not even a novel, and so you take up Scrivener on the strong recommendation of a friend and maybe how many laptops you’d seen it running on that year at AWP, and this works very well for your "100 sections of 100 words" story and the first draft and a half of your MFA thesis, but then the sync breaks one day at a Café Nero in Arlington and you lose a couple of paragraphs that you were sure were really good, so you say "fuck it" and go all-in on the IDE thing because now you can use Git, because you’re about to take a job working on asciidoc and HTML files and asciidoc sure is a lot better — or at least more consistent — than markdown, so you’re now writing asciidoc in an IDE and keeping all your work on a private GitHub repository and writing wrappers around things like pandoc and asciidoctor to make the Word docs and PDFs you output look closer to something you might actually send to a literary journal, but these tools don’t work out well enough laying out your literary journal side project and you’ve been writing a lot of Python anyway at work so you write a wrapper for WeasyPrint and a bunch of CSS and boy, now you’re really cooking, but it’s a pandemic and your old laptop is now shared with your partner and its battery’s dying anyway so you buy a pre-rush Raspberry Pi 4, thinking it could be a desktop, but your current favorite lightweight IDE doesn’t have an ARM-processor build, so now you’re looking for something else, and you see that VS Code is fucking everywhere, so you get onto that, write an extension to make your life easier at work, but though it works very well there’s still something kind of unsatisfying about it, and you get free books anyway from your job at a publisher of books, and since you read an article recently touting that vim was still relevant, still faster, you request the new edition of the book on vim and you start reading it, and all of a sudden you’re now running tmux and writing in neovim and learning just enough Lua to do a few things you want to do, and you’re not yet really faster than you were but you do like that you don’t have to take your fingers off the keyboard to go and use the mouse, you like that it’s kind of arcane, and so you’re using that now, spending some of your free time reading about plugins and thinking up projects that might be good excuses to actually learn a bit more of Lua for.

I mean, you know how it goes, right?

But I was thinking about it a little more this morning, doing some reading trying to understand why people are using terminal emulators other than the built-in Terminal [application], and I realized, I think, that I kind of just like tools. They’re a welcome distraction from the work at hand, learning a new tool. And it’s like bike tools: it’s good to have familiarity with a lot of them so you can do a lot of things. Like how I can more or less disassemble a bicycle with a multitool, but it’s a lot nicer to use the full-sized things because they’re faster and you’re less likely to strip a bolt. And though I’m using neovim now and I really like it I still do jump back over to VS Code when I’m too lazy to figure out some advanced text manipulation thing in the moment, and I use MS Word and Google Docs when looking at my friends' work, and so on and so on. I come from a family in which tools are sometimes ends in themselves, and while I think maybe a better — or that’s not the right word, but a something — attitude is more along the lines of thinking about tools as merely objects with which to get a job done, the tools themselves are fun and shiny and nice to play with, and they do give you new ways of approaching problems and I think that’s a good thing, e.g., when I want to keep the model of a sentence around to come back to later:

1  I can write
2  the sentence
3  out like this.

I can use my fancy markup languages to keep that in the file but have it render as a normal-ass sentence when I jam it through the processing toolchain and that helps me, hopefully, write better sentences, and is that not the goal?

Maybe I’ll write more about my current setup later, you know, share dotfiles and that sort of thing, but probably I won’t. I guess I just think that the tooling thing is interesting, especially now that we’re well beyond the time-honored question asked at author readings, "Do you write with a pencil or a pen?"

Ramble On (In the Rain)

Well shit, it’s been a while.

I’ve been busy. New job, or rather: new role at current job. Trying to get the next issue of Response out in something of a not too horrifically delayed fashion (it’s already horrifically delayed; I’m shooting for not too horrific). Figuring out how to ride bikes regularly again, and also go into the office (i.e., WeWork) with some regularity again. The Wednesday ride is back on. Boston can’t seem to decide if it’s spring or winter. Basically, shit’s been going on.

So here’s some rambling.

The commute in this morning was exciting. To spoil the ending (and assuage any fears my friends or family might have): I made it in safe without any real incident.

The weather was "rain" and "dangerous wind warning" when I left, by which I mean that when I left the house this morning it was almost sixty degrees outside and it wasn’t raining and all I needed was a t-shirt and the fancy wind-blocking vest thing that is my current favorite bike garment. It was so warm I even rolled the bottoms of my pants up a little. I got up the road and then it started raining a little. By the time I was well into Cambridge it was raining quite a lot, and the wind had picked up. I was drenched through by the time I made it to Harvard Square but I had a big goofy smile on my face: I like challenging weather, especially if it’s well above freezing (or well below: what I hate is hard rain at just-above-freezing temperatures).

I’d taken my rack off the night before but kept the dynamo wheel on, because although I’ve moved the lights over to the Straggler[1] in anticipation of pickup of an extremely beautiful wheel my friends at Battle Road Bikes built for me, I was very glad to have the lower profile rim instead of the deep, heavy, and also ugly "fixie" front wheel that came with "The Riddler Bike"[2] when the wind picked up. Which it did. Quite dramatically. Like very diagonal rain dramatically. But luckily my steering only veered a little bit once or twice and/or I figured out pretty quickly how to correct for it. It was fine. Fun, even.

So I get to work. I’m soaked through. I have a full change of clothes ready. It was lovely. I hope my shoes and pants dry out before I need to leave. At the time of writing, it looks like my pants will be fine, my shoes will probably still be damp. Thank god for wool socks.

My new role involves a lot more meetings than my last role (which involved, at most, three a week). Meetings are tiring! Or maybe it’s just those horrific "phone booth" things at the WeWork. Maybe both. This is a much more "thinking" role, which I "think" I like (HA!), but it’s an adjustment. More mulling. I think there will be more "doing" eventually, but for the time being it’s a lot of figuring out what’s going on, what needs doing, what is possible to be doing, etc. I like my new boss though and I like that I get to spend more time with my boss’s boss (who remains the same boss’s boss as my last position).

I was going to create another blog about computers and writing and writing with computers but I don’t think I want to do that anymore. I might put that stuff here. Or let this die on the vine. I’m too busy really to keep things up these days. Thus the horrific delays with Response. The contributors don’t seem to mind too much, though.

Back to bikes, I’m going for a Super Randonneur medal this summer. I don’t think I’ll actually pony up for the "medal" part, but I am intending on doing a 200, 300, 400, and 600k this summer, in addition to the odd 100k populaire ride and, of course, D2R2. It’s maybe a dumb idea, but I’m excited about it. I like spending all day in the saddle. I like pushing myself, and pedaling on.

But maybe I’ll hate it and stop after the 300k (I’ve already done a 200k and know those are fine) — who knows?

But to wrap up and circle back.

Randonneuring is a lot about riding come-what-may, and that includes weather events (within reason; I think they do occasionally get canceled for things like hurricanes). As I had that big dumb grin on my face riding a fixed gear bicycle into Boston in the wind and rain this morning, all I could think about was what fun I was having, what fun I’ll have in future rides like this, come-what-may, etc.

All for now.

1. I need to write an update on that bike. In some ways not a lot has changed, in other ways a lot has changed. For those curious, the gearing is now 46/30 11-28, which I think is just about perfect for how and where I ride.
2. Which maybe I’ll also someday write about. For those curious, it’s an old first-gen State Contender fixed up at 46-16 and it used to be my kid brother’s delivery bike in CoMo. Sadly, the Schwinn is actually, really dead due to the headtube finally ovaling out (but hey: it made it 30 years, which feels pretty good. And as my friend Alex pointed out: it’s kind of cool that I rode a bike that hard).