Winter Rides and Summer Plans

For me, November and most of December are rest months. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ride my bike – I use my bike for daily transportation – but there isn’t any “training” on the bike. I worked on my core fitness and went for a few short runs. Taking time off the bike allows my body to recharge, so it can build its fitness again to a peak during the season. Trying to carry that fitness through the winter may result in fatigue. There is a risk of getting slower and slower, and to have one’s riding go “stale.”

Now that the new year has started, it is time to ride again. Our little band of friends has been eager to get back on the road, even though the famous rain re-descended on Seattle just in time for the start of our rides. With the right equipment and the right attitude, every ride can be fun.

Ten days ago, we rode the first half of the Seattle International Randonneurs “Mountain 100 km” course, minus most of the mountains. It is hard to believe that just 5 months ago, we flew along these roads at speed, as we fine-tuned our shape for PBP. Not anymore. Our pace was slow, and on the hills, we took it easy. Riding on backroads allowed us to chat and enjoy each others’ company while working on our base fitness.

We had intended to bypass Tiger Mountain, but while I took a photo, my friends were so engrossed in conversation that they continued on the “usual” route. So we went up Tiger. It’s January, so there was none of the impromptu competition that usually happens on this long and gradual hill.

Even in January, we could not resist the temptation to let the bikes roll on the downhill. We found that the first corner was a bit slipperier than we thought – we were closer to the limit than we wanted to be.

After the ride, we had lunch. While our friend Steve was visiting from Portland, we took the opportunity to evaluate our PBP rides. We compared our times at various controls and average speeds in between. Where could we have been more efficient at controls? When did we slow down at night? The conclusions we drew will help us with future long rides.

The conversation became more animated when we recounted our individual experiences. PBP always is an epic ride, and we enjoyed reminiscing about last year’s particularly epic edition.

The conversation quickly moved to our plans for the coming season. January is the time to make grand plans for all the rides we would like to do. The SIR brevet series. A Flèche team ride. Perhaps another Cyclos Montagnards Challenge. A tour of the scenic gravel roads in the Cascades. The Cascade 1200. The cross-state S2S race from Seattle to Spokane. It’s a long list, and of course, we will have to pare it down as the season progresses. For now, it is fun to dream. Two rides are firmly on the calendar for most of us:

  • Cascade 1200: This year, the Cascade 1200 will accommodate and encourage riders who plan to ride non-stop, like PBP, in addition to those who prefer to ride in stages from one “overnight” control to the next. The Cascade 1200 uses a wonderful route that circumnavigates the State of Washington with its amazing scenery. Crossing the mountains between the volcanoes of Mount St. Helens and Mt. Adams, you reach the mighty Columbia River at the southern border of the state. Then you cycle through the hills and deserts of central Washington all the way to the Canadian border and the lush Methow Valley, before crossing the Cascades again, and returning to the start via the dense forests of the Puget Lowland. It’s one of the most scenic and most challenging courses I have ridden.
  • Fall 600 km brevet: The Seattle International Randonneurs Fall 600 km brevet climbs up Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens and then crosses the Cascade Range twice. Most of the course is on empty backroads with stunning scenery. This year, it will even include a gravel option for the last leg into Enumclaw for those who prefer to avoid the highway. We are organizing this event, and we look forward to it. If you like riding in the mountains, it may be worth a trip to Seattle.

What are your plans for 2012?

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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25 Responses to Winter Rides and Summer Plans

  1. Andy says:

    I’m considering trying brevets for the first time in 2012, though I cringe at the thought of training. I bike because I like the scenery and finding new roads, but I’m finding that rides under 50 miles just don’t interest me any more since I’ve been on all those roads so many times now. I also don’t need more exercise since I have a hard enough time getting enough calories as it is, so going for a <3 hour training ride isn't my goal. I do commute year round, and in 2011 I did some last minute centuries without trying to build up to them and still felt great afterwards.

    The difficulty for me is in planning. I know more important non-cycling events will come up that I don't yet know about, so I'm trying not to set firm dates for the brevets. Fortunately there are 6 groups running brevets within a 5 hour drive so there are several options. I'm aiming to go to the 2/3/400 from the closest one, but may go farther if plans change or if the forecast isn't worth making the trip.

    • Fortunately, few brevets require you to register long in advance. For most, you just show up, sign the forms, pay the (small) fee, and ride off. So you don’t have to commit now. My goal usually is to make at least 2 out of 4 brevets in the spring. So if I miss one due to commitments, then the next becomes a higher priority, and so on. (Otherwise, I never would do any!)

  2. Ryan says:

    Do you have a date for the Fall 600? It doesn’t seem to be on the RUSA calendar yet.
    I’m very interested since I love the mountains and have never ridden in the Northwest!

  3. Ryan says:

    “With the right equipment and the right attitude, every ride can be fun.”

    The attitude part is up to the rider, but will you elaborate on the equipment?

    • In the pages of Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve spent quite some time studying fenders, lights and other equipment needed for real-world riding. It makes a big difference. I’ll see about doing a small blog series on this.

      • Matthew J says:

        Jan – Have you done, or have you any plans to do a study on wet weather eye wear? Between sources such as BQ and trial and error, I have figured out my wet weather riding save for what to do about my prescription glasses. Cold, warm or hot, water drops limit vision. Cold and steamy, the lenses fog up. Tried a number of different options. So far the best solution is a non-solution – taking them off and slowing down.

  4. Bubba says:

    My goals include my first ever SR series with San Francisco Randonneurs. I also intend to extend my R12 to R24 by doing one long ride every month. On the kind of odd-ball side of things, I also have the goofy idea of completing a brevet on each of 7 different bikes. I’ve been working hard to make all my bikes comfortable and suitable for long rides, and this would be the test. SFR is also offering some mixed terrain brevets, which has me committed to riding more off-pavement this year.

  5. Rolly says:

    I also plan to start doing brevets with the local club. Hopefully I’ll be able to commit but I’m not sure given that I’m a new father. There are a few PBP riders in the local scene (Nova Scotia) so they should be able to provide good advice.

    Last season I did a 200km (took me about 8 hrs – no big hills and no wind but two dirt roads; ended with knee pain that hopefully has been ratified), a bunch of curcuits of a local, hilly 60km loop and many 1.5 – 3 hr rides of varying unkown distances and speeds; some mountain biking and a few ‘cross races were thown in as well. I spent an unhealthy lot of time reading blogs and researching randonneuring and equipment/bikes. Based on what I’ve taken in I built my own racks and ‘randonneurified’ a once racing bike for use in long bevets and for light touring/camping (Love to be able to have it compared to a bike built for randonneuring to see how I’ve done; no locals ride short trail, front load bikes that I know of). I’m now building up a vintage racer with Superbe Pro stuff for a fast road bike and shorter brevets.

    From ’93 til now I was only ever a commuter and messenger and it is only now that I’ve felt a desire to ride recreationally again. I’m looking forward to seeing how the two bikes work for me and discovering self sufficient distance riding. I figure small tours and randonneuring offer the best motivation to cycle as well as the right blend of leisure and speedy riding. Dunno what sort of training I’ll do but running, riding, hockey and martial arts are things I do year round when time allows. Racing seems interesting but it just seems so snobby and unfriendly at times and too serious and furious for my beat up bones…. young me once did well in allycat races but old me gets destroyed in them now.

    Thanks for providing one of the online sources of discussion and opinion that inspired me and provided me with info.

    – Rolly

  6. Mark says:

    I hope to ride my first Brevets, get back into riding all the time after a few off years where bikes being a livelihood took away from some of the motivation to get out and ride, get a good crew of people with similar mindsets to ride with, start working to my longer-term goal of riding PBP in 2015, do some S24Os, do some weekend Forest Service Road explorations. Just get out and do stuff, make things, have fun.

  7. Leaf Slayer says:

    Definitely an SR with ORR and multiple overnight bike camping trips in the summer in the Gifford P. and Mt Hood NF. Since I’ve done a 200k permanent already this year I’m thinking of doing an R12. Most of all I’m looking forward to the Cascade 1200k. I’ve got some scheduling issues to work out but it’s looking like it’s gonna be a go. I might also do the Fleche this spring. That’s a pretty full plate. It’s hard coordinating all this with family and work.

  8. Willem says:

    Now that we are talking riding in the winter, may I sing the praises of the Conti Topcontact Winter II tyre? I have been extremely impressed. It uses car winter tyre technology (winter specific tread and softer rubber), and the grip is stunning. The nominally 37 mm 700 c version is 31 mm in real life, but pretty tall. If you really need the best grip, the 42 mm wide 26 inch version is best, of course. Of course it is slower than a Grandbois tyre, but it allows you to ride where and when you would not otherwise. No 650B, I am afraid.

    • We’ve been pretty happy with the Grand Bois tires. Their wet-weather grip is among the best we’ve tried. Of course, Grand Bois tires also use relatively soft tread rubber to achieve low rolling resistance and superior grip. The Contis sound interesting, too.

  9. Evan says:

    Jan: When you write “we were closer to the limit than we wanted to be,” does that mean you were on the verge of sliding as you took those slippery turns at speed, or does it mean that you were tilted so far down, on the turns, that your tires were at the very edge of their tread and hence very close to sliding? Or both? No matter what, it sounds exhilarating and, um, crazy?

    • Your front tire always slides when you corner, no matter the speed. That builds the side forces that actually make you change direction. (Otherwise, you’d just go straight.) That is explained quite well in Tony Foale’s book Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design. I was skeptical of this until Tony Foale pointed out that without slip, you would corner on a cone defined by your wheel diameter and the lean angle. For a motorbike leaning over at 45°, this would mean cornering on a 1-foot radius! Clearly, no motorbike or bicycle corners on anything approaching that radius, which shows you how much the tires slip.

      Usually, the slip is small enough that you do not detect it. If it gets big enough to notice, you usually fall, but there is a fine line in between where you can notice the slip, but don’t fall. When you ride on mud or snow, you can slide without falling, and experience the feeling of the beginning of a slide without risking injury.

      In this case, the slip was barely noticeable, indicating that I was very close to losing traction entirely. We already had slowed down compared to the speeds we normally use on that descent. Compare the lean angle in the photo with the photo at the top of the blog! We had figured that there was less traction for a number of reasons:
      - Wet roads have less traction.
      - Leaves on the road, even after they have been cleared by cars, can leave invisible ground-up dust that becomes very slippery when it first rains. (I believe this was a more important factor than we thought.)
      - Cold tires have less traction than warm ones. (That is why race cars warm up their tires before or at the beginning of a race.)

      On this day, we clearly didn’t reduce my speed enough to allow for a wide margin of safety. Lesson learned!

  10. Gert Pagter says:

    Winter rides. I am just sitting browsing, while I hope for the weather to improve. It is windy and sleet is on the window. It is good for morale to get out, even though the hometrainer in the basement is also good training.
    I had just been going over my brevet plans for the year, as I came to this page. For me this year it is the fleche, the brevet series and a 1000K for Randonneur 5000 and a little extra 200Ks to pass my goal of 30.000 brevet kilometres in total.
    I think it is this planning that gives the motivation for training after New Years, which is difficult to achieve in the autumn, when You have achieved last years goals.

    As for glasses I have the same problem with the fog and rain. I have Rudy Project Perception glasses with prescription inserts.I ride with a cap relatively low under the helmet. that keeps most rain from the glasses, and then I wipe them regularly with a piece of microfiber cloth. Even though it gets all wet it still helps at least for a couple of minutes.

  11. I’m planning out my year, but a few of the highlights include the NW Flèche, the Golden Gate 1000k, the OR Rando summer 600k that I’m designing, the 3 volcanoes 300k, and the SIR summer 600k. I’d like to see how fast I can do a 1000k. I’m training and planning to try for about 48 hours. The NW Flèche I’m mapping out is about 480kms and should be good training for a fast 1000k. I also dnf’d the route for the SIR Summer 600k a few years ago as I was recovering from an illness. I’m hoping to attempt that at less than the 28 hours proposed for the CM challenge. Will it be offered as a challenge this year? Either way, I’m looking forward to completing the route. Plans are big, and reality usually sets in at some point, but one never achieves greatness by sheer luck and happenstance, right?

  12. GuitarSlinger says:

    My cycling plans for 2012 ;

    Hopefully …. for the wife and I to get out of this god forsaken cycling Hell that is KC,MO ( the only ‘ safe ‘ 2 wheel transport here is a Harley … and even thats debatable ) and back to some place where cycling daily as well as for exercise is a bit less risky and a whole lot more viable . Like back to the CO front range where we belong !

    Hopefully !

    In the mean time , just carving out what little riding we can ;-)

  13. I’m also aiming for the Cascade 1200k this year, which would be my first 1200k. I’m curious, how much would you estimate you will sleep on this ride going straight through vs. staying at the overnight rest stops?

    • I don’t plan to sleep much. In PBP 2007, I did not sleep. In 2011, I slept for 30 minutes. When I did the pre-ride in 2005 (?), I slept for about 35 minutes by the roadside.

      • Have you always pursued the sleepless approach to these events, or did you sleep on your first 1200k’s and have eliminated sleep as you’ve become more experienced?

        For me, it is daunting to imagine completing an event of this distance sleeping only 30 minutes, especially given that I will probably finish about a full day after you. However, I do have a long term goal of completing an event like PBP with as little support as possible.

      • My first PBP, I slept every time I was tired. I wasn’t tired for the first 24 hours – too excited – and then slept 3-4 hours each night. My first solo ride through the night without sleeping (outside PBP) was very tough. The second one, during the same year, was better. Now I don’t feel any need to sleep during a 24-hour ride.

        This year’s PBP didn’t go so well – thunderstorms at night got me very cold and wet. I tried a new strategy of sleeping 30 minutes, and I was surprised how refreshed I was afterward. So for your first long brevets, I’d just go until you are tired, then sleep for an hour or two and continue. Of course, this is easier in PBP, where mats are available at every control.

        Good luck with your brevet season.

  14. S.Piergiorgio says:

    During these days I was thinking the same about summer plans, wishing that summer be tomorrow :-)
    Here in Europe, and especially for us members of Audax Club Parisien, this year will be a “rest” year after the big work to organize the PBP. So, the ACP will plan only a 200k brevet.
    At the moment I’m registered for the Paris-Roubaix Challenge and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April. Not two randonnées, but nonetheless two big “classics” to do once in a lifetime.
    My main target is the Raid Pyrénéen in July. I dream about it since Jan Heine’s report on BQ :-)
    Another big plan is the Salzkammergut Trophy in Austria, a 211km, 7500D+ mountain bike competition in the Alps, but is a very hard ride to prepare…anyway, winter is made to make such dreams!

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