Brevets are coming

With the registration to the first three Brevets now completed, it’s time to rejoice and get inspired.
It’s going to be legendary.
The local chapter might still have some open places so if you want to register go ahead. See you on the road.

Introducing: Van Dessel WTF Commuter

After riding a single speed cyclocross bike as a commuter since 2012 I decided that it’s time to move on to something more appropriate for the daily travels.  I have been schlepping a Chrome Citizen on my back as my primary mode of transporting things for way longer and felt that this back should be enjoying the wind more than the bag.  With these two main ideas, I started sketching a requirement list for a new commuter.  The list looked like this:

  • Full fenders
  • Proper generator lights
  • Loads of tire clearance
  • Single Speed (this is Berlin – flat city with not a single hill for 100s of kilometers around)
  • Disk brakes
  • Rack

You would think that finding a bike that answers these specifications is easy.  Sadly it’s not.  I looked and looked and came up empty handed.  There are loads of “almost” bikes that would match the requirements, but finding something in Europe, was even more difficult.  As mom says “rich people’s problems.”  Of course it’s always an option to build a customer frame, but the idea of locking a custom frame outside on the street did not appeal to me much.  I wanted a frame that is replaceable should something happen without a lead time of a builder.  I also wanted to sleep at night.

The solution came in the form of Van Dessel W.T.F.  There were other options from the usual suspects, but I’ve been dreaming about a curved top-tube bike for a long long while and finding something that meets all the requirements as well as looking awesome was a great eureka moment.  Not only did the W.T.F meet all the specifications above, it also has a distributer in Europe (well…in the U.K which is close enough).  I contact Bearded Man and spoke to David who was more than happy to let me check out two frame sizes and was also quick to respond and sounded very nice.

On my previous commuter, a 61×61 steel frame, I always felt stretched.  All my other bikes are much smaller with geometries that are more appropriate for someone with a back that does not like to bend too much and a long torso.  So I decided to go for the 59CM model and add spacers to get more height.  The frame is a perfect fit as it now configured.

The frame arrived and the search for the components started.  I wanted to use my White Industries ENO crank set which meant that a I needed a solution to build a standard into BSA in a frame and PF30 bottom bracket.  I could not find an eccentric bottom bracket that will also also convert PF30 to BSA.  Instead I found a PF30 to BSA shell from FSA.  This meant that the cranks could be used, but chain tension remains a question.  In came the second White Industries component – the ENO Eccentric hub which magically appeared on one of the forums I read just as I was about to give up the search.  Now only did the second wheel appear in perfect timing, it was also being sold by a person I know – the stars were aligned.

The rest of the components were easy:

And after all this bike geekery, how does she ride?  She rides great.  Riding Vinni (yes, we named her) is like riding a snake that’s sliding on butter on a hot pan.  She is nimble even with a whole week’s shopping worth in the front.  She is fun and is likely to also spend time outside of the city when summer arrive.  For the first time since I started riding in Berlin, some 10 years now or so, I actually had a taxi driver pull me over and ask where I got the bike and if I can build one for him.  In the eternal war between cab drivers and cyclists, i can say that Vinni may also bring peace.

Sun in December: Riding the Festive 500

IMG_9578

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!

Comic Relief: Richard Sachs on Frame Building

I absolutely had to laugh out loud when I read Richard Sachs’ hysterical “Framebuilder’s Mind” post today. As someone who obsessed over bar tape wrapping, cable routing and where exactly should the “Chris King” labels be positioned on the headset, I can totally appreciate the good nature of Mr Sachs’ post.  I also have two hand-made frames, both of which are amazing and I am sure that both have some imperfections that make absolutely zero effect on my ride.  If the wheels turn, take it for a spin.

More Bags: Shugga made in Germany

Shugga-seatbag

My riding mate Sven identified a German-made bike-bag vendor called Shugga.  The picture above is from Shugga.

Fun facts from their website are (yes, I translated from German):

  • It seems like a one-man show
  • He is based in Lübeck which is in North Germany and is also the best place on the planet to find marzipan (sorry Toledo and Aix-en-Provence, you loose)
  • He has three models: top-tube bag, a bar-bag and a seat post bag.
  • The construction and materials look super solid.
  • Did I mention that this is made in Germany?
  • Prices are very competitive.  30 Euro for the top-tube bag!
  • Björn, the owner, seems to have a good sense of humor recommending not carrying small pets in the bar-bag.

Now, I already own all three bags from other vendors, but if you’re in Germany or anywhere in Europe and is looking for a Made in the EU, look no further.  Also, let me know how these work out for you.

Radventures in Saxony or Sächsischeradenteuer.

German is an awesome language: you can make as many new nouns as you will by compounding nouns and names together.  The above noun is made out of the name of the area (Saxony), Rad which means wheel and also, in Californian, radical, and Abenteuer which is adventure, in German.  So there you have it.  Three days in the wild side of the deep east came and went, but the level of excitement and stokeness remains.

It all started with Neil of Cedar Cycling announcing his intention to visit Berlin and to go on a bike tour.  Neil also reminded me that he has been choosing motorcycle over his beautiful Kelly Bedford which meant that my need for distance had to be curtailed.  I planned a 550 km tour along the border with the Czech Republic from Dresden to a city in Bavaria called Passau which I figured we could easily accomplish in 4.5 days of riding.  We had no hotel bookings, no real daily targets and a very small amount of gear with us.  We called this hobo-touring as we limited our gear to whatever could be inserted into a Revelate half-frame bag, a seat bag, and jersey pockets.

The train from Berlin to Dresden takes a total of 2 hours. If you get the right train you can take your bike with you without needing to box it up (the difference between using the ICE and the IC trains – the E stands for express).  We got out of the train station in Dresden and headed to the first part of the tour – an old German post road which I discovered while trolling around Wikipedia for routes of historical significance.  This was roughly the only part of the tour which followed any sort of plans.  We were out of the city and quickly into the hills surrounding Dresden in a matter of 30 minutes and from there the environment changed quickly to rural farmland with narrow roads and many hills.

We tried to stick to the post road as much as we could, but probably did not adhere to the route too religiously.  There were simply too many interesting things to see and as soon as the environment changed to lush green we stopped caring about the destination and enjoyed the scene, stopped to take pictures and when possible get some coffee or ice cream.  It was hot and somewhat humid so finding water sources was also high on the agenda as well as sparing Neil’s legs for the rest of the tour.

We did notice, when riding through some of the little towns, that the houses that looked the oldest had windows that looked creepishly like eyes.  One of these houses even stood outside of an impressive looking castle and looked more menacing then the actual castle that was towering over it.  This little village was also when we decided to head into a village that appeared, at least on the map, to sit on the edge of a large lake.  We constantly were in a state of not knowing how far the next target was, but Garmin actually was pretty good at telling the distance once we figured out where we were heading.

By the time we made it to Bad Gottleube it was already 17:00.  We sat down for a coffee and decided to check out the Bed and Breakfast in the tiny town.  They had a two-room, joined shower, combo which was going to cost each of us 30 Euro for the night with breakfast and Internet – we decided that this was the correct place to park ourselves.  We took the keys to the rooms and decided to ride up to the top of Augustusberg which towered at 507 meters (1663 feet) above the village.  We figured that there would be a hotel there with a terrace and a dinner menu and indeed we were not disappointed.

It became clear that the tour is not destination driven, but rather sights oriented.  So the next day, having found a local map that showed the sights, we circled some targets and decided to head out towards the very east corner of Saxony and catch as many of the attractions as we could.  The area is called “Saxony-Switerland” and not for nothing. With the Elbe river running deep between strange geological structures, plenty of rainfall and sparse population, we felt as if we were touring a far away land.

As the second day progressed and the realization that we are not headed to our original target cemented itself, I felt more relaxed and was able to enjoy the sights.  Both Neil and myself stopped on our tracks when we finished a climb, turned a curve in the road, and saw the majestic and incredibly weird Königstein fortress.  This was really the moment where we sat down on a bench, took the incredible view in and were excited.  We also discovered 4 leftover homemade pickles we picked up at a tiny village supermarket (they came in plastic bags and were homemade) and snacked in full view of the fortress.  Pictures were taken and the ride continued in a northern direction towards the river Elbe.

We followed the river for a short while, took a ferry across and disappeared into the forest again.  I had an idea of where we were heading, but no idea on the actual route to get there.  At some point the bike path split into gravel and road and we made the natural decision to follow the gravel path, which quickly turned into a forest path. Garmin protested and insisted on making a U-Turn, but we ignored.  To my amusement, if we ignored Garmin long enough, it eventually decided to take us on the best and least explored roads through the forests.  This occasion, where we accidentally ended up in the National Forest of Saxony-Switzerland, was so packed with surprises, that we tried the trick as often as possible.

As we were rolling at a good speed in the forest, we took another corner and we both pulled on our brakes at the same time.  In the distance we saw a collection of huge rocks that appeared to have sprouted from the forest.  We rode closer and I went exploring while Neil explored the forest.  The stones were at least 2-300 meters tall and appeared to just be stuck in place in the middle of the forest.  They all bore exotic names like Goldstein (Gold stone), Affesteine (Monkeys stones) etc.  I was amazed that we even got to where we are since it was certainly unplanned and not clearly shown on the map we now had.  Not only did the landscape looked wild we also had amazing descends in the forest and eventually arrived to the end of the forest.

Right before leaving the forest, Neil, who was riding my Adventure-touring Hunter broke the rear-deraileur cable.  We tried to bring it back into functioning mode for a while, but miserably failed. Instead we swapped shoes and I rode Hunter, as a single speed bike locked on 22 teeth in the front and 12 on the back, while Neil took my Seven Mudxium S.  We made it into a tiny village called Hinterhermsdorf which looked like it was the east most point on the map and found a small hotel to stay.

The third day started with a single speed ride to Sebnitz, a town slightly to the north west of our hotel, where we found Egert, a bike mechanic, that could fix the cable.  7.5 Euro and 30 minutes later we were ready to hit the road again.  This time we wanted to head west towards a mountain-top fortress called Hohnstein and then ride down to the Elbe before heading back to Dresden to jump the train back to Berlin.  We climbed and climbed and again decided to take the other roads than the ones Garmin originally planned for us.  This time each of the decisions were more and more rad.  Ways that somehow existed in the Garmin map but clearly were not used in years and years.  We did not care, in fact we were grateful to find all these routes and pretty much just looked for more all the time.  We had sections that were covered in clay-like stones and sections that were clearly formed by river run-offs and ones that probably last saw any wheels when Germany was still split into two countries.  The last section was probably the most exciting and challenging and included many boulders.  While I managed to hop around most, one boulder did manage to jump at me at the end and succeeded in taking a huge bite out of my front rim.

This was the end of the getting rad fun.  I could hear the rim deform and could see the spoke loosen.  While I could still ride, with a very wobbly front wheel, we knew that we could not put a lot of distance on the wheel.  The loose spoke started banging on the TRP Spyre caliper, but lasted nicely until we got back to the Elbe river, took the train back to Dresden and then got on the train to Berlin.

Distance-wise this was a day’s riding.  But as Neil correctly pointed out, we had all our stuff with us, we moved from one point to the next, we had no idea where we’re sleeping the next night and we got to discover an incredible landscape that’s only 2 hours train ride from home.  I consider the tour amazing as well as a preparatory tour for the next adventure in Saxon.  Great things are coming and they’re closer than you think.

Bike Lust: Geekhouse Mudille Orange Monster

 

Looks like the folks at Geekhouse did it again with a beautiful all-purpose built.  The build include internal routing, Shimano Di2 and disk brakes…oh and loads of orange.  What’s not to love here.  It seems that more and more folks are taking the plunge into one bike to rule them all with versatile builds that could easily, with a simple change of wheels or tires, could be turned from dirt eating monsters to elegant road machines.

The beast is photographed by Paul Chan.

Schwarzwald Giro 2014 – A weekend in the black forest

  • The way south
  • Pre-prolog
  • That carbon Ritte
  • Waiting for the start
  • Form and function
  • View
  • The standard view
  • Drama in the sky
  • Florian waiting
  • Into the mountains
  • Post prolog drinks
  • Yeh, beer
  • Back to Freiburg
  • Hello, Schwarzwald Giro here?
  • The Gruppetto boys from Berlin
  • Frame from Berlin, components from Black Forest
  • Rune's whip
  • Firs flat tire stop
  • See you later gents
  • Easier said than done
  • Into the wild
  • Lets go!
  • The beauty of the mountains
  • The last drop, aero.
  • Mr Sparrow
  • Sharp drops
  • The end.

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.

More reports are found on the Good Times Roll blog and on The Radavist here and here.

An afternoon with Monk Cycles and Beto Ruiz Alonso

I was helping my friend and excellent photographer Beto to create some content for his portfolio one afternoon when two familiar bikes came along – Michael Monk of Monk Cycles and his lovely lady Candy. While Michael, Candy and myself were chatting Beto took the opportunity to photograph us – bike nerds in their natural habitat-style.  Once the photos came out, we figured that this will be a great platform to publish the work and talk about Monk Cycles, my very own neighborhood bike company.

Michael Monk and myself met a few years ago at the Berliner Fahrradschau. We were quiet shocked to realize that we both liked riding drop bar bikes off road, we loved big tires, Bruce Gordon and steel. To add to the whole love fest, we discovered that we lived about 100 meters from each other, drink coffee at the same coffee shop (hello Cafe Am Ende Der Welt) and went to the same BIC-barber.
Monk cycles is all about steel bikes, handmade in Germany, assembled in Berlin with practical and sophisticated design and of course drop bars. Monk comes in 26 inch variance, 650B, and a 29er. Each rig will rip a single track to shreds while also allowing you to schlepp your groceries and mount panniers and fenders. With all braze-ons and options the bike still manages to keep it minimal and tidy and as long as Michael has anything to say about it, it will come equipped with Retroshift levers and proper mountain bike tires if you ask nicely.

The Monk bikes just scream “make me dirty”.

The Nutter Bicycle Multi-tool

This multi-tool, from a kiwi designer behind The Full Windsor, is looking to fulfill both smart, durable and “has great user interface” requirements which many tools are lacking.  I’m not one to spread hate, but I am less than impressed with my Park Tool MTB 3.2 which has everything, but fell apart after a few days (I was able to rebuild it) and generally seems to offer too much without much quality.

This might just have to get on my shopping list.