Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rando-curious: 200km brevets vs. century rides

If you are considering your first 200km brevet, your most related experience is probably a supported century ride like the bRamble, Alpine Century, Peach of a Century, etc. Here are some points of comparison:

200 kilometers is 125 miles ... a little more than a 100 mile century, but not an outrageous length. Note, however, that the extra 25 miles is usually at the end.

A brevet is a timed event, with time cuts for intermediate "control" points as well as the ride finish. You do not have to be very fast to finish within the time cut (13.5 hours for 200km), but you need to keep going at a modest pace. Elapsed time, rather than time in the saddle, is what counts ... so those food stops are on the clock.

The term "brevet" comes from the card that a randonneur carries on the ride to document passage and times at "control" points along the way. At a control, you can ask someone (typically a clerk at a convenience store) to initial your card and write the time of your arrival, or you can obtain a receipt with the time, date, and location. At "information controls", you answer a question on the card to demonstrate that you visited a location where you find information to answer the question.

On a supported century, volunteers provide you with food and drink at intermediate points along the ride. On a brevet, you stop at markets. Typically you buy food and get your brevet card signed at the same stop. Remember, you're on the clock, so don't dally too long unless you're a fast rider.

In addition to food stops, century ride support typically includes a sag wagon. Occasionally a brevet may feature support at a remote intermediate point where markets are not available, but usually you are on your own, and sag support is unknown. In fact, there is a rule against receiving help from a person other than rider on the same brevet, except at designated control points.

You get a cue sheet for your century ride, and you get a cue sheet for your brevet ... so far so similar. But the supported century ride probably features road markings or even volunteers pointing the way. The brevet route is not specially marked ... you'll have to read the cue sheet and navigate.

The fee for a century ride covers a variety of support expenses, such as the sag wagons and food stops, and often includes a portion for charity and advocacy work of the sponsoring club. The fee for a brevet is usually much less, covering insurance and the minimal support provided, typically including a snack at ride end. A typical fee for a 200km brevet might be $15 or even less. Longer brevets, especially with overnight stops, may cost more.

Supported centuries typically take place entirely in daylight hours. A 200km brevet may take place entirely in daylight in the summer, but most brevets either start before dawn or extend beyond sunset (and some even start in the evening). Whenever a brevet is not entirely within daylight hours, a randonneur is required to have adequate lighting and reflective gear, as spelled out in article 10 of the Rules for Riders. Note in particular that lights must be attached to the vehicle (the bicycle); lights attached to the rider are not sufficient.

Supported centuries are nominally "rain or shine", but in practice centuries are scheduled in periods where "shine" is a reasonable expectation. The brevet season starts earlier in the year, and often extends further into fall. Randonneurs in the northwest are accustomed to riding long distances in the rain.

The bicycle you use for a supported century will also work for a 200km brevet, provided you have lights if the ride will take place partly in low light or darkness. However, you'll notice that a lot of randonneurs are riding bicycles with fenders, generator lights, and front or back racks. You'll see a lot of handlebar bags, which serve both to hold the cue sheet and to feed the randonneur between controls. Many randonneur bicycles will sport fatter tires than racing bicycles, and randonneurs will be wearing shoes that make walking practical.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Down the Drain 2012 pre-ride report

August 25 was a good approximation of a typical day in early September:  Cool morning, warm afternoon just verging on hot.  If we are lucky September 8 should be similar.   A short-sleeve synthetic jersey with a light base-layer was adequate, and I deemed knee or leg-warmers unnecessary as I rolled out around 6:40 from home.  It was fully light.  On September 8 we can expect sunrise at 6:44, so those riding to the ride will need lights and reflective gear.  Sunset September 8 is 7:24pm, before the ending control closes, so again lights and reflective gear are in order, although few should actually be riding in the dark.

Many routes from Eugene start by popping over a small ridge that edges the southern end of the Willamette valley. Lorane Highway is one among the standard handfull of ways out.  It's a gentle climb, good for getting the blood pumping at the beginning of a ride, followed by an easy descent that can be surprisingly chilly even on warm days.   Lorane highway turns left at "four corners",  with the other two corners being Bailey Hill Road (to the right) and Spencer Creek (straight ahead).  Then Lorane has a couple gentle climbs and a descent past Fox Hollow road.  Some of Lorane Highway has recently been overlayed with unpleasant chip-seal.  Just past Fox Hollow, though, this turns to lovely new asphalt.

The cue sheet notes a fire station on the left, a little after passing Fox Hollow, with a port-a-potty.  Perfectly placed if you tend to take in a lot of liquids just before a ride, as I do.

After a bit Lorane Highway ends at Gillespie Corners, in a T junction with Territorial Highway.  We go left (south) toward the town of Lorane.  Alas, the pavement is bad, the shoulders vary from narrow to absent, and there are lots of blind curves.  Fortunately traffic is light early on a Saturday.

The town of Lorane is not a control, but it's a handy stop if you are in need of water, nutrition or a toilet.  Of the general store and the café, I prefer Linda's Café, confusingly labeled "Lorane General Store."  I bought a couple boiled eggs and a cup of coffee, and ate one of the eggs there.  They also have a flush toilet, and there are jugs of cold, filtered water in the white refrigerator, to refill your bottles.   It's also a good place to ask about local roads.  I asked about Carpenter Bypass, and the lady who may or may not be Linda said she wasn't sure but that the couple having breakfast probably knew.  The couple having breakfast said it got a little steep toward the top, and there were probably still some unpaved bits, but BLM had done a lot of paving a couple years ago.

At Lorane we turn right (west) onto Siuslaw River Road, but not for long.  And here's the first difficulty of the day:  The Carpenter Bypass, which is called Road 20-5-141on the 2007 cue sheet, is unmarked.  No sign at the turn, no sign along the road to tell you where you are.  I passed it thinking "odomenter says it should be here, but it can't be that one."  It was that one.  If you reach Fire Road, you have gone too far ... turn around and take the first paved road, unpromising as it may look.  You'll see a beat-up green electrical box on the right side of the road, bearing the number "27300" in stickers.  That's the closest thing I could find to a positive identification.  If you have a mapping device, you may see that you are at the intersection of Siuslaw River Road and Carpenter Bypass.

Must be Carpenter Bypass Road

You can guess what comes next:  Single lane forest service road with perfunctory paving.  Some climbing.  Some category two Mirkwood canopy, and some clearings.
This is working forest, so you'll see clearcut and ex-clearcut in various stages of regrowth. 

What you won't see is a sign reassuring you that you are on the right road, aside from a yellow warning sign that is an information control.  Eventually you will see a small sign at a fork in the road indicating Road 20-5-141, but it won't be apparent which fork it labels.  Bear left there ... you'll apparently be transitioning from Carpenter Bypass Road to Tip Davis Creek Road, according to Google maps, although you'll never see a sign confirming or denying this.   Also, you may notice that perfunctory pavement is giving way to dirt and gravel.  There might be some one-time pavement under there somewhere.  Some of the downhill was a bit technical on my 25mm tires.

You pop out onto Upper Smith River Road, which is lovely pavement except where it has fallen off the side of the mountain ... fortunately all from the other lane.   A large dog gave chase just after the intersection, but he wasn't very fast.  After just a little bit of climbing, there is a fast, fun descent to Umpqua Highway (38).

Just a few miles on Umpqua Highway take you into Drain.  Ray's Food Place on the left is a good place to refuel and get your brevet card signed and/or get a receipt.  If you need unidentifiable deep-fried foodstuffs, they are to the left from the entrance.  I had a green chili "burrito", and it was just right.

The 2007 cue sheet takes you to Hayhurst Road via Drain Section Road.  I haven't decided whether to stick with that, or keep you on the Umpqua Highway.  The latter is simpler and has a good shoulder; I've never felt unsafe on it, and in any case it's just a couple miles to Hayhurst.   There was a secret control on Hayhurst in 2007.  Since it is only ten miles between Drain and Yoncalla, both of which offer ample food-shopping opportunities, we may instead have an information control at the intersection of Hayhurst and Skelley Road.
The information control answer is not that yellow thing.  The picture was taken pre-modification. 
Hayhurst takes us to the south end of Yoncalla, and we drop down through town to Highway 99.  East past the high school, just a little way to Elkhead Road.  Elkhead takes us a bit north and under the freeway, where we bear left to Scotts Valley Road (following the freeway for just a bit) and then right (east again).

There is a short stretch of gravel just as a kind of warning, before we turn left onto London Road and the real fun starts.

Oh yes, it does.  More than once.

 There are two or three stretches of gravel.  They aren't deep, and they don't go on forever, but some of them are on climbs and, if you ride fairly narrow tires as I do, you will need to maintain a nice smooth pedal stroke to avoid slipping.  But then you reach the top of London Road (or maybe it's Shoestring Road by this point) and it's beautiful, smooth pavement in sweeping curves on a long descent.  Worth it.

And then that's it for climbing, until almost the end of the ride.  You glide down past Cottage Grove Reservoir, into Cottage grove, and then take the Row River bicycle trail on an out-and-back spur along Dorena Reservoir.  There is running water in the bathrooms of some of the parks along the Cottage Grove reservoir.   There is a small park with vault toilets and a water fountain on Row River Trail before it reaches the lake.  There are vault toilets, but no running water, on the trail as it runs along Dorena Reservoir.

New smooth asphalt was a pleasant surprise on Row River Road, which connects you from the Row River Trail to Sears Road.  Until very recently the shoulder was wavy.  Killian's Market is at the intersection of Row River Road and Sears Road, where you turn north.  The sign says "no public restrooms", and I've never asked if it's true, so take advantage of the vault toilets on the Row River Trail before you leave the lakeside.

Sears Road is mostly flat with a few rollers, paralleling I-5 north to Cloverdale Road.  You take a quick jog left on Cloverdale toward Creswell, then turn onto Dale Kuni, which takes you over I-5 to highway 99.  Yes, alas, you must ride north a bit on 99, and it's not nice ... then left onto Dillard Road, which will give you the last bit of climbing for the day.  Unfortunately the pavement on the descent is too poor to allow you to safely zoom ... take it slow and watch for ruts and potholes.  Dillard takes you to Amazon,  and a few more turns and a couple miles brings you back to the start.

Saturday will be a home football game at 3pm, so expect the bars and highways to both fill up whenever the game is done.  How long do football games last?  I have no idea, because I just ride my bike when other people go to the game.

Overall: Nice ride, some gravel;  you'll need to put a little time in the bank in the first part of the ride to compensate for time lost on the Carpenter Bypass section.  Food opportunities are more than adequate along the way.