Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rambler Ride Report and Review

Road Gravel Trail
Up down all around on a 
Right Proper Ramble

Yesterday I finally got out on my Ocean Air Cycles Rambler for a "real" ride. I built this bike up in October, and since then have put nearly 1K miles on it. It's broken in and kitted out, with the fit dialed in. But nearly all those miles have been on my 24-mile round-trip pretty flat commute, and I've been itching to see how the Rambler handles what it's made for and what I most love riding; mixed terrain with a fair amount of "profile." The verdict? It's everything I hoped it would be, and a wonderful machine, with the perfect balance of lively feel and stable handling. 

I got a late morning start in cool calm weather; we've been locked into a pattern of fog, low clouds, and temps in the upper 30's for days. I threw some food in the handlebar bag (dates, an apple, and a sizeable bag of Christmas cookies and a dark chocolate bar) and was off. My loose plan included some quiet climbs in the West Hills of Portland, ending in Forest Park before crossing back over the Willamette River on the St. John's Bridge and heading through the east side to home. 

My route headed over the south shoulder of Mount Tabor, and I decided to head up to the top to check out the view and test out my legs. 
Tabor is in my neighborhood, and between running, walking the dog, and riding, this was my 4th trip up in 5 days. Nearing the summit I took a short steep gravel pitch rarely used by bikes, and with the White Industries 44/28 crankset and an 11-34 9-speed cassette, the climb was smooth and the Soma B-Line tires hooked up just fine. I dropped off the hill on fast gravel and didn't even think about the Rambler's handling; it went where I wanted with little input and no twitchiness.

I meandered through southeast to the Eastmoreland neighborhood, joining the Springwater trail at 42nd. I crossed the Willamette on the Sellwood bridge and headed up the 2nd climb of the day through Riverview Cemetary. This is one of my favorite climbs, and the Rambler felt comfortable and light as I meandered up the hillside to the top. 
I still felt fresh at the top, which was good because Next up was Council Crest - at about 1100 feet the highest point in Portland. A traverse along Terwilliger brought me to Westwood, and the narrow winding route to Fairmount Drive, which circles the hill. In places the old concrete roadbed resembles cobbles, and I passed one rider patching a pinch flat on his skinny tire - a fairly common sight on this popular climb and descent. After checking to make sure he had what he needed, I continued up, entering the fog near the summit.
 With no view and the temperature near freezing (though fortunately windless) I grabbed a quick snack and started down the first real "bomber" descent of the ride. With its sweeping turns and long drops, it's easy to reach speeds in the mid-40s on Vista, and I let the Rambler go as much as I dared. My braking had nothing to do wth the bike's handling, but my own hesitation on the damp pavement. It was here I really appreciated the performance of the Paul centerpulls with Kool-Stop salmon pads. The brakes have plenty of stopping power, but with no grabbing or squealing, and modulation was excellent; it took minimal effort to keep my speed in check, and I was soon downtown and rolling through the bustling shopping district of Northwest 23rd, trying to regain some heat after the chilly descent.

 I warmed up soon enough as I climbed Thurman to Leif Erickson Drive, the wide gravel route that traverses the west hills for nearly thirty miles through the heart of Forest Park. On a Sunday, Thurman is lined with cars for blocks before the gate at Leif Erickson, the most popular entry point to the park, which gets heavy use by runners, dog walkers, and mountain bikers heading in to ride the Firelane 5 loop. The crowds thinned the deeper I got into the park, until by the mile 3 marker I felt I nearly had the park to myself, and the only sound was the occassional train whistle from the tracks along the Willamette at the base of the hill. 
Leif Erickson is pretty rocky in places, and I was gettting a litle jostled and was tempted to bleed some air off my tires - I was definitely riding more pressure than I needed. But knowing the path smoothed further in, I decided to keep riding, and I soon left the roughest sections behind and  continued on gravel, wet leaves, and light mud, with no traction issues at all. After six miles in I reached the junction with Saltzman road, and turned left to climb this gravel route to the top at Skyline Boulevard. 

After nine miles of mostly uphill gravel, I was glad to reach pavement and the end of the climbing I had planned for the day. After climbing to nearly at the same elevation as my high point on Council Crest, I was back in the fog, and since Skyline is narrow and has relatively heavy traffic, I switched on the Luxos U headlight/Pixeo taillight for my short traverse to Germantown Road and the second big descent of the day. A fast, chilly, swooping descent soon brought me to Highway 30 and the St. John's Bridge, where I took the lane for the crossing back over the Willamette. 

At this point I had planned to meander along the bluff on Willamette Boulevard past the University of Portland and get home through inner east Portland. But I was feeing surprisingly good after the big climbs. The Rambler really had disappeared under me and it was nice to not be thinking about comfort or mechanics. I just wanted to put down more miles on this ride. So I grabbed a cup of coffee and refilled my water bottle at Burgerville, and turned left instead of right to head out to Kelly Point Park, where the Willamette joins the Columbia River, and the big container ships pass on their way to dock or sea.
After a quick couple of photos, I finally pointed east toward home and the long flat ride out Marine Drive along the Columbia. 
I was getting a little tired and had some difficulty finding a good flat cruising gear. (Warning: it's about to get even more bike-geeky) With my current gearing, I stay in the big ring except for long and/or steep climbs. and on the flats I'm almost always in the 17 or 20 tooth cog. So I float between about 57 or 67 gear inches, and I need something in the low 60's like an 18 or 19 would provide. This ride had some fairly stiff climbing, and I don't think I ever used the 34, so a closer spaced 11-30 or 12-34 cassette should work fine for most of my riding.

I ended the ride with the sun finally peeking beneath the low clouds as I climbed beside the future home of the Gateway Green bike park. 
I gave brief thought to a detour west on Prescott for the pumpy climb up Rocky Butte. But my legs were getting noodley, my throat parched, and the sun about to set. I put off Rocky Butte for another day and pointed for home.
Here's a map of the ride:

And the link to map data is here.

Final thoughts: Before building this bike up, I had a nagging fear that a 650b bike would be slow and clunky, despite all I'd read to the contrary. But the Rambler has been a dream to ride, putting all my fears to rest and fulfilling all I hoped this bike could be. This is my first foray into the world of 650b. Before building it up and taking it for that first test ride I had never swung a leg over a 650b bike. I saved for several years for a bike like the Rambler, considered going with a custom bike, and was almost dead set on a 700c road bike. But the more I read and talked to others, the more I realized that for my size (I'm 5'8") and style of riding, a 650b Rando-style bike could truly be as close as I could ever get to the One Bike To Rule Them All. Talking with Rob Perks at Ocean Air, first by email and later in person, only confirmed my desire to go with the Rambler. The bike is thoughtfully designed, light and comfortable, and noticebly more springy and "alive" than my Soma Double Cross or Lemond Poprad, both built with oversize tubing. It makes me smile every time I ride it.

Some notes about the build. I've been wanting to build my own set of wheels for awhile, and my wife gave me a wheelbuilding class at Sugar Wheel Works for my birthday. Jude was a great teacher, and I had the wheels made before I had the frame in hand. I used Pacenti PL-23 32-hole rims with a SON generator front hub and a White Industries T11 rear hub. Inspired by Rob's commitment to keep the Rambler U.S. made (by Zen Fabrications here in Portland), I went that route where it made sense as well, most notably with the White crankset. Other build details include Nitto 44cm Noodle bars that I wrapped in a Harlequin pattern with shellaced brown/yellow cloth tape, My old Brooks Pro saddle mounted on a Ritchey-branded Nitto seatpost, Chris King red headset, SKF square taper bottom bracket, and Dura-Ace downtube shifters. The front rack is a Nitto Mark's Rack, the handlebar bag is an Acorn Boxy Rando bag transferred with the saddle from my old Nishiki Riviera GT touring bike, and I mounted Berthoud stainless fenders. Another great touch with the Rambler is the clean internal routing for the wiring, and I followed Rob's directions for running the wiring inside the front and rear fenders as well, protecting the wires from snagging and making for a very clean look. This is also my first entry into generator lighting, and the Bausch and Muller Luxos light is amazing. Most of my daily commute is on an unlit bike path, and this time of year I'm in the dark both directions. Having my route clearly lit up without blinding oncoming riders is nice.

For anyone else considering a Rambler, or entry into the world of 650b road bikes, I say don't wait. This bike really is a companion, the kind of machine that makes me want to explore backroads and roll for miles and miles.

Lots more pictures here:

Monday, November 25, 2013


Here's a few Baiku I wrote recently, just lying around on scraps of paper. All composed and recited while riding. Yeah, I get funny looks. I don't care.

Indian summer
Ends with whiskers rimed in frost
And forecast for rain.

Pumpkins carved last night
Front walk blanketed in leaves
Our invitation.

Pavement, gravel, yes
On my Sunflower yellow
Ocean Air Rambler.

Count the syllables
Ram-bler, Ram-bl-er, who knows
Either way I ride.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Riding Going-To-The-Sun Road

Some roads call to me
across years and distance, like

My love affair with the western National Parks started when I left high school 2 weeks before the end of my senior year to take a job as a cook at Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone. That summer changed me forever. A couple years later I found a National Geographic book about the national parks and first read about Going-To-The-Sun road, the engineering world wonder that bisects Glacier National Park, crossing Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. If ever there was a road that just begged to be ridden, it was this road. Even the name - Going-To-The-Sun road - calls for riders. 

Last week while vacationing with my family I got the chance to ride up and down the west (longer) side of the road, and it was without a doubt one of the most spectacular rides I've ever done. If you have done it, you know. And if not, put it on your list of must-do rides.

Like our trip to Yellowstone last year, and J-Tree earlier this year, I tossed the 1990 Diamondback Apex MTB on the roof rack because it's a reliable, go anywhere, comfortable bike that I'm not worried about hauling over hundreds of highway miles and leaving locked to the rack while doing tourist stuff. I picked it up a couple years ago for $5 as a CL divorce sale, and it's one of the best 5 bucks I ever spent. Only the WTB Rocket saddle and new rubber was added, and after an overhaul it's a pretty fun ride, if a bit ugly. I debated bringing a nicer bike, but in email exchanges with friend Chris B from Bozeman, who hoped to join me for the ride, we discussed the gravel sections (construction) and the benefits of a front triple for climbing. In the end, I ended up going solo (more later), the "gravel" was fine, and I rode almost the whole 12 mile climb on my middle chainring. I was comfortable on this bike for the 46 mile RT, and it was one of the longer rides I've ever done on a MTB.
Going-To-The-Sun road gets a crazy amount of traffic during the height of the season; it's the Old Faithful of Glacier NP, the center of tourist activity. The road is narrow and windy and hugs a cliff face thousands of feet in the sky for a good part of it's length. As a result, bikes are excluded between Apgar Village (west side) and Rising Sun (east side)  from 11 A.M. - 4 P.M. daily. So riders have to plan accordingly and get an early start or be willing to ride at night. I had been told that if you were heading down by 11, you were probably OK since you would be going (at least) as fast as any other vehicles. But I also noticed a couple riders get pulled from the road down in the flat McDonald Creek valley by shuttle Bus drivers. Apparently one of the duties of the shuttle drivers during peak hours is to pull over and load up late cyclists. The shuttles are equipped with fold down front bike racks, and I noticed the drivers keeping a seat or 2 open on "full" shuttles for this possibility. I was determined to avoid this indignity.

We were camped at Sprague Creek campground. I read to plan on 3 hours up from Avalanche, and to add about 45 minutes from Sprague. I hoped this was conservative and I'd be at least a bit quicker. I knew the descent would be much shorter. I hoped a 6 A.M.wake up would have me back near 11, and I ended up real close.

As I said, Chris was hoping to do the ride as well. But he and his family were pulling in Saturday and we were all leaving Monday, which really only left Sunday, and the girls had hike plans.... Plus the weather forecast was deteriorating later in the week (it ended up raining steady from early Friday morning through early Saturday morning - the most rain they had all summer so far.) On Tuesday I ran into Trey, one of my teammates from BRM! I was super-surprised since I had no idea he was there. He was staying at the lodge for the week with his wife and daughter before heading to Canada. He said he was planing on riding Going-To-The-Sun the next morning. I thought about inviting myself along, but we had family hike plans up at Logan Pass. It ended up being a beautiful day, and he had a great ride. That fueled my desire to get up there before the weather turned; it looked like needed to be Thursday or bust.

After breakfast and ride prepping I was on the road at 7, shortly passed by one cyclist on a road bike, and just past Avalanche watched him catch the tail end of a short line of cars following the pilot car through the construction zone while I was flagged for a 10 minute wait. This construction ended up being a good thing. I was worried about traffic on the ascent, but it was surprisingly light in the morning so I had the road nearly to myself for the whole way up. But also, because of the flagger, the cars would come in small waves about every 15-20 minutes, between five and a dozen vehicles, and then silence until the next wave with virtually no one coming down at that time of day. The forecast was sketchy with possible morning showers and high chance of thunderstorms later. In camp I stepped out to look over the lake and it looked pretty good to the west. But when I mounted up and got on the road heading east, clouds were already building over the mountains and I was afraid I wouldn't finish or get back to camp dry. But as it turned out, it was cool, a little breezy at the top, with a headwind the last couple miles as I approached Logan Pass, but the weather stayed dry.

Past Avalanche Campground the road follows McDonald Creek for about 6 miles of gradual uphill before it leaves the creek and begins the steady 12 mile climb. About 3 miles and maybe 1K up is "The Loop," the only switchback on the west side. There's a bathroom and a main trailhead for the Highline Trail and Granite Park Chalet. From here, it's 9 miles of steady climbing. The valley drops off to your immediate right, and the views just keep opening and you enter alpine meadows and slowly pull level with glaciers that earlier loomed above. 
The climb is relentless, but never steep. The road is a marvel, really. About half way up this stretch is a curve called Big Bend where you can see all the way up to Logan Pass, and the rest of the road ahead. it's breathtaking and a bit daunting. The last 1-1/2 mile, from around Triple Arches up, I started relly feeling it, and the headwind picked up. But it's also when I knew the weather and clock would not turn me back. On the last curve approaching Logan Pass there were a couple mountain goats right there to greet me as I topped out. I snapped a quick picture at sign, then headed to the visitor center for a little sit down and a summit muffin.
 I greeted three other cyclist on top; two who had just come up the east side, and the guy who passed me way down by Avalanche. He didn't seem to have been there for very long, which felt good. I arrived on top about 9:45, and was heading down and opening it on the descent by 10.

Traffic was still pretty light coming up, and NO ONE passed me going down until I hit the valley floor. I hardly touched the brakes, and had one of the funnest smooth and winding descents I can remember. In minutes I was back at the construction zone for another wait, and then rode the final miles back to 

  McDonald Lodge was one mile before camp, and I happened to glance into the parking lot as I rode by and saw my car! I pulled in and there was my wife and daughters walking across the parking lot from the general store. We walked to the lodge together and I enjoyed a coffee on the porch looking over the lake. It was 11:20.

Note: On leaving Lake McDonald, I got on my bike and stood on the crank and "ping" - broke a drive side spoke. The wheel went wobbly, of course, and I had to open the rear brake to get back the last mile. I almost never brake spokes, but not too surprising on a $5 bike, I guess. Good timing, that.

This bike doesn't have a rack, and only one water bottle cage. I felt like I needed more than I could carry in a seat bag (jacket, food, water bladder, etc) so I wore a Vaude pack, which I hardly noticed. I wore a light Patagonia LS wool shirt and Gi shorts, with Keen sandals on platform pedals - no "bike" clothes at all. 

The ride put a grin on my face that lasted for days, I think. And even before it was done I started thinking about doing it again. After all, I only rode half of Going-To-The-Sun road. Next time I'd like to go up and over. Maybe have lunch on the east side, hang out, and return after 4 P.M. I've also read that it's a fantastic ride by full moon. That would be spectacular!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Arctic Stella

Back in the Bike Boom
Arctic Cat sold bicycles
Imagine that now!

A couple weeks ago I picked up a scrappy fixer-upper bike from my LBS, Oregon Bike Shop.
James had the bike out on the curb for our neighborhood's "First Friday" celebration in April and I was kind of intrigued, but didn't think any more about it until I returned for the May "First Friday" and noticed it was still there. Beer in hand and with a live reggae soundtrack I gave it a closer look. Just parts-wise it piqued my curiosity with Sylvan pedals, Weinmann concave 700c rims and centerpull brakes, and Suntour deraillers I suspected were upgrades.  I left it there, but returned Saturday morning and brought it home.
Pretty rough, for sure. The paint is rattle-can, and poorly done at that. But notice the chromed fork and stays?
Those are Campy dropouts, btw.
fairly distinctive lugs.

And wrap-around seat stays.
I suspected it was French based on the Nervar Star crankset
and the Pivo stem.
I posted to bikeforums and got some additional pointers about possibilities; I thought maybe Peugeot or Gitane, but Stella came up more than once. After going at the seat tube with some Goof-off, I discovered this:
The bottom rectangle, unfortunately, lost all lettering in my removal or the rattle-can painting. But the top triangle is a Columbus tubing decal used to ID the main tubes (triangle = main "triangle." Full Columbus tube sets used other decals). Looks like this bottom one, but silver:
The large white rectangle would have said "Stella" based on a photo one of the bikeforum members posted.
Or perhaps something else...
Based on this blog post I found from Paul's Bike Shop in Shakopee Minnesota, it looks like I've got an Arctic Cat bicycle, sold by the snowmobile dealer possibly in the late 60's (?) and definitely in the early 70's. Made by Stella bicycles of France. Louison Bobet won the Tour de France in 1953 and '54 riding Stella bicycles. It looks like Arctic Cat carried several models, including green ones like this:
 And cruisers like this:

Arctic Cat also sold some pretty cool mini motor-bikes. It's hard to imagine how pervasive bicycles were during the "bike boom" of the 70's. Maybe more bikes are out there today - I don't know. But for sure the market has become more specialized. Some of the bikes sold back in the day were pure crap, for sure. But you could buy a decent bike at your local hardware store or, apparently, snowmobile shop. Now you need to go to special bike shop to get a decent bike, where trained bicycle "associates" will sell you a bike identical to that ridden in Le Tour, even if all you want is to get out with your kids on Saturdays. My guess is Arctic Cat did not sell the lycra the associate will try to convince you is necessary for efficient and comfortable riding, though I wouldn't be surprised if they did carry wool shirts, which are more practical and comfortable for most riding anyway. We've come a long way, but not necessarily all for good.