Thursday, September 23, 2004

Singlespeeding into evening

[*note: see Kent's webpage in the links section, and this will all make more sense]

I have a modest proposal stemming from my near inability to walk today.
Maybe we could program an automatic disclaimer to attach itself
firmly to Kent's posts. How often I forget that I'm merely human in
the midst of KP's post, how often I feel the urge to head out for a few
thousand vertical feet of beautiful scenery, on a singelspeed!

Having just read KP's recent Monocogging tale, and, having just
installed new fat tires on my Surly, and, having a lovely 5,000 foot
mountain out the front door, I decided to ride. Remembering KP rode a
32/16 on the 26" Monocog, some rough mental math said the 34/18 that's
the lowest on the 700c Surly should be similar.

As I ascend the 4 miles to the forest service road (up 1000'), the
cool, still air kept me from being too occupied with the burning in my
thighs. The Mythos "Slick" CX tires weren't quite as slick as I'd
hoped, and I quickly found the rear wasn't inflated enough to keep the
side knobs off the pavement. Eventually, though, I settled in, and
with a quiet hum steadily chugged up the mountain. A few mountain
bikers were buzzing down the other direction, and as always, they gave
friendly waves and hullos. The pavement's too rough for most roadies,
and when I see them they seldom break their icy stares. I've decided
it just requires steely concentration to pilot 700x20s around the
potholes and cracks.

I arrive at the forest road and find a surprise waiting for me.
They're logging up the road, and it's closed! I haven't been up here
in a while, but it's no great matter since a nice trail winds up to
rejoin the higher road anyway. I start pounding up the trail after a
water break, wondering when and where I'll have to walk. I go through
some moments of "if only I could downshift," but mostly I find the slow
rhythm sort of pleasant. I pass one MTBer after reaching the main
road, and he just looks out of place spinning rapidly in his granny
gear. I had never noticed before, but it just seems unnatural now. We
exchange pleasantries and talk about the logging, the trail, and my
albatross bars. He's on a gorgeous old lugged Paramount MTB and says
he just had his "front-end reworked." A quick glance reveals that the
rework involved about a 5cm stem and riser bars. I head on off ahead,
not because of leg strength but because his gear's way too low.

Maybe having him behind me made me push a little harder, but by the
time I reached the top of the road, I was seriously worried about the
dismount. The albatross bars make it so natural to stand that I
sometimes think I do too much of it, especially with the singlespeed.
Anyway, I managed to wobble over to a tree and get my
PB&J-wrapped-in-a-wool-jacket out of the rear basket. It's much colder
up here, but calm, and the sky is cause for hanging around a bit. I
decide that riding the singlespeed takes my legs by surprise because
climbing in high gear is like leg presses instead of low gear aerobics.
I'm not panting like usual, but man does it burn!

As I finish the sandwich and start to batten down for the trails, the
Paramounteer comes around the corner. I wait as he rides up and asks
for an allen wrench. He's in luck, and I unwrap my burrito o' tools
and hand him the 6. Apparently the shop put on a new saddle--something
called "Body Geometric" or something--and didn't get the clamp bolt
snugged down. He'd been riding up on a rocking chair,
basically--wonder if it was comfy? We talked some more, and I
explained how to follow the trails to drop back down to the city. He
was glad to know about them (a recent public lands expansion) and said
now he could justify riding up instead of driving to the forest road.

As he headed up the last bit to the peak, I dropped down what used to
be a narrow trail and was now a rutted logging road. The road
eventually ended and...wait a minute, where's the trail. The new road
had really thrown me off, but I thought I had my bearings. I
shouldered the bike and huffed it upridge to where I thought the old
trail should be. Spooked some grouse but couldn't scare up the trail.
Clambered back down to the road and puzzled a minute. Finally, I
decided to ride back slowly and see if the trail branched off from the
new road at some point. Sure enough, at the edge of turnaround I
spotted the trail heading downridge. Coming from this direction, the
first bit of trail is the most technical, and I quickly grew to like
the new tires.

The IRC's are sold as a semi-slick cyclocross tire, though at 700x42, I
don't think they're legal. They measure an actual 43mm on my Velocity
Dyads (so maybe 44-45 on a Rhynolite) and are about the practical limit
with fenders on the Cross-Check. My experiences before on this trail
were with a rigid MTB and the Surly with Pasela 37's. The IRC's were
very impressive. I was concerned about traction on climbs due to the
lack of center knobs, but the center "ramps" did a great job.
Climbing, cornering, and braking were all much improved over the
Paselas. I couldn't tell much difference in ride smoothness, but
that's OK as the Pasela's are pretty smooth themselves. I'm a little
disappointed on road, but so far I love the IRC's for trails and dirt

As I crisscrossed through the woods, evening was taking over. I stood
for the steep climb that would lead me out to the fire road home, but
my legs just refused to do it. I walked up the hill and actually sort
of enjoyed it. It's neat how many new challenges are presented when
one can't shift. Next time, I thought. I finally emerged in a big
grassy field on a shoulder of the mountain. The sky was huge and only
a little rolling two-track reminded me how close to civilization I
really was. Glad I was, too, as it was getting much colder now and
would be dark in less than an hour. I swept down one of the tracks,
powering up the little rises and getting more and more comfortable in
the turns. My legs were doing a good job of pretending, knowing that
no more real climbing lay between here and home. They had, as it
turned out, underestimated the last descent.

It's an unreal transition around the last corner. In an instant, one
goes from a little nestled valley with maybe four houses in sight, to
an expansive vista encompassing all of Missoula. The two-track becomes
a little shelf, angling straight down the mountain with no switchbacks.
It's a "hard braking the whole way" sort of grade. The view fights a
losing battle with the need to concentrate on which wheel's about to
lock up in the loose dirt. About halfway down, I couldn't support
myself on the pedals anymore and had to stop. I admired the view a
bit, and then rode shakingly down the last stretch. It had never felt
so good to hit pavement and plop down on the B17. I toodled on home,
sat down, and haven't been up much since!

Oh, on to the proposed disclaimer: "This is a Kent Peterson post. Be
vigilant for signs of growing overconfidence while reading, especially
the type accompanied by sudden exploratory urges. Kent cannot be held
responsible if your tiny legs are unable to function in the days after
your trip. Oh, and if you find yourself packing only candy bars,
chocolate milk and coffee, please consult your physician before

Thanks KP, and others, for the inspiration. I'm off to pedal to work
now, if I can make it to the bike :-)