I’ve been digging what seems to be a very open minded road bike scene in Colorado of late. Other than the obvious Moots, my current object of affection, perhaps as my road bike project is getting on the way, is Mosaic Cycles. There are others in Colorado, like Kent Eriksen, but I find the Mosaic road bikes hella cheeky and sexy. They scream more adventure and mischief than most road bikes one sees.
Every year since 2010, Rapha, together with Strava, challenge the world of connected cyclists: ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year Eve. As both companies are firmly based in the Northern Hemisphere it is clear what the challenge is all about: get out and ride exactly when family obligations and bad weather are crowding your usual cycling style. I’m sure that generations of psychologists could study the effect of the challenge on the health of family life and the increase in family pressure on the non-cycling partner.
My non-cycling partner understands very well the need to first and foremost escape Christmas, get some riding and avoid bad weather in as much as possible. So when I propose to spend Christmas to New Year (and then some) in a land not far from Europe, but with general hospital weather during this time of the year, said non-cycling partner (it’s a transient state that will change come spring) approved the plan and decided to join after the Christmas hoopla is completed.
As the 24th was approaching, and final checks on the general health and readiness of my well traveled Hunter (now with overwholed fork thanks for the Rick himself) were completed, I got excited. Friends back in Europe were preparing to ride in god-awful weather (snow! rain! sub-zero temperatures!) and I was facing blue sky, 22 degrees (Celsius) and was planning on wearing a summer kit. I felt that this may be cheating, but since quiet a few folks in Australia signed up for the challenge I decided that it was somewhat acceptable – Christmas and New Year happen on the same day even when the weather is nice.
Given plans and family obligations, ironically all happening post-Christmas (well…not so ironic for a family that does not celebrate Christmas), I also decided or rather was compelled to finish the challenge in 4 days. The biggest challenge for any riding in Israel is actually the fact that the country is tiny and is entirely constructed to satisfy mountain bikers (and cars) and ignore road riders. I actually knew that before arrival and was planning on abusing some of the many off-road tracks that cross the country, but these turned into lakes of mud due to a few days of heavy rains. I attempted to ride one of these paths prior to December 24, but after 15 km that took about an hour and created a layer of mud so thick around my tires, I decided to abandon the plan and stick to the roads.
Here again Strava and the tiny road-riders community of Israel (at least from Strava it seemed that way) came to the rescue. I checked out a few routes and was shocked to discover that they all took major highways. It became clear that there are no other options. One have to ride on the side of the highway, on the shoulder if you will. The good news was that the shoulders were very wide. The bad news was that you still had to ride on the highways. I decided to throw all caution to the wind and brave it. I was also following two friends from Salzburg who were riding and documenting their much less sunny attempts to complete the challenge. Their blog was a source of inspiration and a certain glee.
Day one took me from Tel Aviv to the north Arab village of Fureidis. There, after 80 km of riding, and quiet a few bad navigation mistakes, I sat down at a local restaurant and ordered hummus, falafel, french fries and a whole jug of lemonade. The hummus was amazing as were the falafels and fries. If every ride in Germany had that for an incentive, I may even be riding more. I then continues north for another 10 km before turning around to ride along highway 2 which took me along the sea back to Tel Aviv.
Day two was Christmas day which was a good enough reason to head towards Jerusalem and do some climbing. As I was riding up the mountains that precede Jerusalem, I was thinking that climbing is a pretty silly way to collect any distance, but the scenery around me was so breathtaking that I quickly stopped this line of thinking, continued sweating and going up. I was riding in a hilly area, full of pine trees and small valleys. It seemed that every piece of land was used by farmers and the rest were low-forests with signs indicating that here and there various biblical-events took place. I got up to a park called “U.S.A. National Park” and there, with climbing reaching silliness level, I decided to turn around and head back towards the beach. This was also the only route during the 4 days adventures where I actually saw other cyclists.
Day three was split into pre-family meal and post family meal. I finally realized what it must have been like for my cycling friends who stayed home with their family trying to negotiate rides between lunch with this uncle and dinner with that Aunt. In my morning ride I circled Tel Aviv, rode by the airport and then came back into the city from the south. It was amazing to see that a loop of a few hours, practically covered the whole center of the country. After a huge meal celebrating an uncle’s 70th birthday, I took off, full of guilt at the amount of food that was consumed, towards the north east and then, strategically I might add, rode back along the sea and caught a most excellent sunset in a cloud free sea that merged seamlessly with the sky.
Day four had to be the last day. Said non-cycling partner was due to arrive the next day, and finishing the challenge in half the time was also appealing. A small problem arose though as I was told that I was due to another family celebration, in a valley to the North, at about midday. Initially, this seemed like a disaster, but then a solution arrived. I plotted a ride to the Kibutz where the celebration took place and agreed with the parental units, that the ride back will be taken in the car with the bike in the trunk. And so it was that I took off on a crisp Saturday morning (early I should say) on the last 86 km I still needed to finish the challenge. The ride took me through the city of Hadera and then shot me straight across some hills through several Arab cities (Umm Al-Fahm said the sign). At the top of that climb with the winds in my face and cars cutting me off left, right and center, I was cursing and shouting, but lets face it, I was wearing shorts and was going through a beautiful area of historical significant (it was also the way to Nazareth for example). As I dropped into the valley and took a left I realized that I am 8 km away from finishing the challenge and the valley to my right was a perfect way to end. I arrived to my cousin’s house 45 minutes before I was due, had loads of water and continued with the celebration that in my head, in addition to the multitude of birthdays, also included “you just finished the Festive 500!!!”
I did already make a deal with myself for 2015 – stay at home and ride in the cold. Bring it on!
Contrary to popular believe, Germany is a rather large European country. Getting from the North-East to the very opposite corner is a time consuming adventure even when officially the roads do not actually have a speed limits. Yes, our famous Autobahns are constantly under constructions and, as a small group of us learned on a recent Friday drive, rather full of other cars. We packed our bikes into a white “Ugly Duck” rental, adjusted the bags, which had to be placed between us all, and took off to Freiburg – the other side of Germany.
For three years running, a small crew of road riders organizes a ride in Schwarzwald (Schwarz = black, wald = forest) called the Schwarzwald Giro. This year I decided to join the ride at the encouragement of Jon Woodroof of twotoneatl.com. I was elated to hear that 5 other riders from Berlin were joining the adventure which is how I ended up in a rental with three of them heading south.
We arrived on Friday night after some 9 hours of driving. The hostel was in top form and we decided, after buying some provisions, to find a local eatery and rejoice in the local cuisine – Spätzle and beer. The air was fresh and much clearer than Berlin, and the restaurant in which we sat was practically at the edge of a towering mountain covered in massive trees. Welcome to the black forest.
Saturday started with a warm up-ride, planned by Florian of Troica Cycles, which took us up one of the smaller mountains – 1300 meters high and back down. For me this was the substantiation of my fear – the ascents are nasty. I climbed at my own pace which was substantially slower than the rest of the crew and found my own way back to the hostel for a quick bite before the prolog began. This was a reoccurring theme.
At 13:00 we all met at Biosk with the rest of the riders and took off. The 57 kilometers took us through breath taking views slowly up an 800 meters mountain and then through fast drops back up to another mountain of 1000 meters. All together we rode for 57 kilometer and on my Garmin I clocked 3 hours. The rest of the crew was already comfortably sipping beer by the time I arrived to the GPS track’s end.
During the first descent I realized that the TRP Spyre brakes were getting very hot and were loosing breaking power. This, when gunning down a serious mountain, is a rather scary concept especially since these brakes are the ones that should be ideal for such downhill rides. I tried to modulate less and decisively brake when getting to a speed that exceeded my comfort zone – 60 km/h seemed fast enough.
The view of the first day were a little tease to what appeared on the actual Giro. We kicked off with the Freiburg team at 10AM with a 30 km ride to the actual start of the Schwarzwald Giro. There we met with the second team that started at Basel, Switzerland. As soon as we left the meeting point we started climbing and just as fast I found myself alone climbing at a pace that I could actually maintain. Reaching the top I encountered a few of the fellow riders one of which waiting on his mate which had wheel issues and the other that was ready to quit. I suggested that instead of quitting, we will join forces and ride together and he accepted. After a quick water refill we hit the road again, this time heading down.
The lush green meadows spread anywhere we could see and were only interrupted by cows or goats or, as one would expect, by the actual forest. The descent was beautiful and then the yellow sign on the road directed us to smaller road that disappeared into the forest. As soon as we took that turn the road started climbing again, this time at a much steeper grade of what I suspected was 20%, but what do I know? Everywhere I looked were ferns and trees and deep creeks. Birds were singing and all kind of flying insects, some of which flies but some unidentified, were buzzing around. I was pouring sweat like a waterfall, but was determined to continue climbing until, after what seemed like a long time, I made it to the top.
The way down was spectacular and fast. This was supposed to be the second and last climb but truth in advertising is rare and even though technically the Giro had no more climbs, the way home did. I found the rest of the team well rested at a coffee break that Philipp organized drinking espressos and munching on vegan cakes. An apple and soft drink later we were back on the road which took us to a tiny gravel section. Gravel and road bikes is a funny concept and for the first time since both rides started I was pleased at having my Jack Browns 33.33 mm tires on the Seven Mudxium. They ate the gravel like starving wolves while the rest of the riders were getting flat tires all over the place. As we returned to the road, I thought that it might be a good idea to continue riding instead of waiting for the rest to fix their tires and snap pictures at what seemed to be the end of the GPS track.
With bad conscious I continued riding towards another climb. I pulled as hard as I could and made it to the top and then dropped to the other end and into a less then spectacular finish – no one was there. I took the opportunity to photograph the rest of the team, whose frames I mostly saw from the back since we arrived to Freiburg, as they arrived at the end point, and Kevin Sparrow, identifying me crouching on the side of the road, gave a proper victory salute.
From the end of the Giro we still had to ride back to Freiburg which added 40 km of riding or so, especially since, yet again, we ended up riding in a small group of three without actually knowing the way back. We were lucky enough to hear Philipp say something like “at the end of the next climb you should drop to a deep valley, which we did, and enjoyed probably one of the sickest downhill I’ve ever experienced. The road was way steeper than the previous descends and, as I accidentally found out, had actual cars coming up the mountain. Sorry BMW driver for giving you such a scare.
The whole organization, location, GPS tracks and company were fantastic. Philipp did a tremendous job taking care of us all and even dispatched Rune, of strongest riders, to ride down the last mountain and check on my state. This was an incredible adventure with a definite take home message: ride even more. At the next Schwarzwald Giro it’d be nice to take pictures of the riders.