Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lights for long night rides

I ride a lot in the dark.  Sometimes all night.  A good light system makes a lot of difference.  Here are a few notes on equipping a bicycle with a good light system for extended riding at night.

If you ride only occasionally at night, and typically less than an hour, there are a lot of excellent battery light systems available.  If your night riding is mostly dusk and twilight, a small "be seen" light may be enough.  My topic here is "see the road" lights for darker conditions.  That said, good "see the road" lights are getting affordable enough that they make a lot of sense for commuting in low light conditions as well.  Unless your budget is very limited and you very seldom need to ride at dusk, a fully functional headlight is a good investment.


Some of what follows is applicable to short rides, but mostly I want to address the problem of extended rides (from a couple of hours to all night) at normal speeds and in full darkness.   For this, important attributes of a light system include:

  • Adequate run-time.   This eliminates a lot of the lights designed for commuters, many of which can run only an hour or two at high, a few hours on low, and require a blinking mode for run times in the range of 10 hours or so.  Blinking mode is not suitable for riding at normal speed, and it can be dangerous because an oncoming driver, blinded by the blink, may actually steer toward you.  Say no to blinking. 
  • Adequate output.  This is trickier to judge than it should be, because of inconsistent and sometimes inappropriate ways of measuring light output.  Fortunately, LED lights have improved so markedly over the last several years that it is not that hard to find lights with adequate output. 
  • Beam shape.  Cheap headlights throw light in a cone.  The best lights shape the beam so that light is used in the most effective way on the road, while also keeping it below eye level of oncoming vehicles and pedestrians.  A well-shaped beam is more important than raw light output. 

Front and Back

Of course you need a tail light as well as a head light, and I'll have more to say about that below.  But the head light is most critical, for a few reasons.   First, perfectly adequate battery tail lights, with run times of at least ten or twelve hours on a set of batteries, are easy to find at your local bike shop, while quality head lights are more difficult to find.  It's quite common to use a decent, moderately priced battery tail light in combination with a much more expensive lighting system for the front.  Second, while automobile-bicycle crashes from behind do happen, they are not as dominant as many imagine.  A lot of crashes are from oncoming cars turning or from cars turning at an intersection without noticing a cyclist (because the driver is watching for cars, not cyclists), and a good headlight makes a very dramatic difference in making a bicycle visible from ahead.   So, let's consider head lights first, and then consider tail light alternatives. 

Batteries or dynamo?

The first decision you need to make is whether to power your headlight with a hub dynamo or with batteries.  If you ride at night only occasionally, a battery powered light is economical, and adds weight to your bicycle only when it is attached; you can leave it at home when you know you won't be riding in the dark.  But if you plan an all-night ride, or a ride that goes several hours into darkness, then finding battery powered lights with adequate run time can be a challenge.  One simple solution is just to use more than one.  I have seen randonneurs mount two or even four battery powered headlights to their handlebar, and simply turn on the second (or third, or fourth) when the first fades. You could also use a single headlight mount and have multiple headlights to attach to it.  Again, this seems like a pretty reasonable approach if you ride only occasionally in the dark.  

Dynamo wheels 

I have a strong preference for lights powered by a hub dynamo, even for commuting.  For one thing, I never have to worry about whether I remembered to charge the batteries before a ride.  I never have to worry about run time, because the lights run as long as I ride, whether that's an hour or twelve hours.  A multi-day and multi-night ride is not a problem.  (Well, at least it's not a lighting problem.)  And I can use the headlight also during the day to make myself more visible to drivers.  

Several years ago, there were really only two choices for hub dynamos.  The German company Schmidt made the Mercedes of dynamos, and the SON (Schmidt's Own Nabendynamo) was the overwhelming choice for riders who wanted low drag on timed events.   Shimano made inexpensive, durable dynamo hubs with considerably more drag and weight, suitable for commuting.  Sanyo also made a really terrible dynamo hub, suitable for approximately nothing. 

But times have changed!  Schmidt still makes really excellent dynamo hubs, and they are still the best you can get if your budget allows it, but you can do very well with less expensive hubs.  Modern Shimano dynamo hubs are very good, and would be a reasonable budget choice even for an event bike (but be careful to get the 3 watt versions and not the 1.5 watt version).  And there is a new player on the block:  Shutter Precision is making high quality dynamo hubs at about half the cost of Schmidt dynohubs.   The Shutter Precision hubs are too new for a judgment of long-term durability, but they appear to be the equal of Schmidt in efficiency, and increasingly I see them on event bikes.   I use Schmidt on my event bike and Shimano on my commuter, and I'm very happy with both.  I haven't used a Shutter Precision hub yet, but it might well be my choice if I were putting together a randonneuse on a budget. 

You might be able to find a pre-built wheel with a suitable hub dynamo.  If you build your own wheels, you could order a hub and build with a dynamo hub just like any other hub.  But for most of us, provisioning a dynamo hub means having a wheel built at your local bicycle shop.   That's a good way of ensuring a quality wheel with an appropriate combination of hub, spokes, and rim in any case.  I've had dynamo wheels built at three different shops in Eugene (as well as one by a custom bicycle builder) and in every case I've been happy with them.   Quality wheels appropriate to your bicycle and  style of riding is one more reason to cultivate a good relationship with your local bicycle shop. 

Dynamo headlights 

Shaping the beam 

The best dynamo headlights use mirrors to shape the beam.  A well-shaped beam spreads the light in a rectangle or keystone shape on the road ahead, applying more light toward the far end so that it appears uniformly bright.   It throws a minimum of light upward, so that it is possible to pass an oncoming pedestrian on a bike path with a very strong beam and yet not blind the pedestrian.  (Really, I see their chests lit up and their faces in darkness.) Because they focus the light on where it is most needed, they are effectively much brighter than a light with a higher wattage and/or lumens rating.  

At present, all the LED lights I know with really excellent mirror-shaped beams are built in Germany  by Busch and Müller.  Schmidt also makes an excellent light, the Edelux 2, but that's thanks to using Busch and Müller bulb and mirrors.  In time we may see equally good lights from other makers, but for now, if you invest in dynamo lighting, you really should get a B&M headlight or the Edelux. 

At the high end, the B&M Luxos U offers USB charging, a cache battery to ensure a long steady stand-light, a gorgeous and very wide beam for an exceptional view of the road even at speed, and the size and style of a black grapefruit.  Really, it's big and ugly.  But I love mine.  Caveat if you are thinking of charging your Garmin directly from the Luxos' USB outlet:  It may cut out occasionally when you are slow, as when climbing a steep hill with the headlight on, and the Garmin's firmware will shut off if you can't push the "no goddammit don't do that" button on the screen within 15 seconds.  They call that a feature. 

The Edelux 2 has a very similar beam to the Luxos U (remember, they're using B&M mirrors), is gorgeous in its machined metal case, and is much smaller.  It's an excellent choice if you either don't need the USB charging or choose to provide it with a different current converter  (of which several are now available).   (Aside: All dynohubs provide alternating current (AC), and USB requires direct current (DC), hence the need for conversion.) 

Bot the Luxos and Edelux are pricey, and although lighter than the Luxos, even the Edelux might be more weight than some people would want on their bikes.  B&M makes several other headlights with different prices and features.  Among them, the Eyc is very small and light, relatively inexpensive at about $75, and throws a very good beam (although not as good as the Luxos).  Peter White Cycles in New Hampshire maintains a good comparison of B&M lights; if you buy from your local bike shop (which you should), it is likely that they will order from Peter or from Compass Cycles in Seattle. 

One reason to obtain your light from a local bike shop is that mounting is often a bit tricky.  Ideally a headlight should be mounted at the fork crown or on a front rack.  Mounting on the handlebars, or lower on the fork, will compromise the beam shape and direction.   If you're handy, and lucky, mounting  may go very smoothly, but my experience so far has been that the mounting hardware provided with the light is often not quite what you need.  Three of my personal bikes have dynamo lights, and each of them has a substitute or custom-fabricated mount, because the stock mount didn't work.  You might be good at trouble-shooting problems like that and finding the right replacement piece from your vast collection of bicycle parts, but I'm not, and I'm glad to have had competent mechanics take care of it for me. 

The Tail Light

Battery-powered tail lights are very good, and might be all you need.  But if you run a dynamo-powered headlight, at least consider running a dynamo-powered tail light along with it.   One advantage of running a dynamo-powered tail light is that, as with the headlight, you never have to think about whether your battery is low, because it's just not.  Also, although battery powered tail lights are very good and can be as bright as you need, some dynamo tail lights are even better, and they are not nearly as costly as a good head light.  I am currently using a Pixeo on my randonneuse, but if I were outfitting a bike with dynamo lighting today, I would choose the Secula Plus from B&M.  It is small but very bright, and the combination of light and reflectors makes it very visible from a distance.   It can be mounted on a fender or seat-stay. 

The main disadvantage of a wired tail light is the wire.  It runs from the head-light to the tail light. It's not terrible, but it's one more wire/cable/thingy running along your frame.  If some of your cables are internally routed,  the electrical wire might be the one thing you can't route inside the frame.   For a tail light mounted on the seat-stay (on the left, to be most visible to drivers), consider running the cable along the down tube and chain stay.  For a tail light mounted on a rear rack, along the top tube and then the rack is pretty much the only reasonable approach.  If you are having a custom bike built, you may want to run electrical cables internally even if your brake and derailleur cables are external. 

Comments, questions, clarifications?  Please leave a comment. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Coffeeneuring in Eugene, 2015 edition

Mary has suggested a 'theme within a theme' for coffeeneuring this year.  Mine will be 'social coffeeneuring.'

Most of my riding is solitary.  Even on organized brevets, I ride mostly alone.  I rode mostly alone among 5000 other riders from Paris to Brest and back, with a few hours of socializing now and again.  I'm fine with that.  I enjoy solitude.  But this year I'm going to try a little harder at sharing coffeeneuring with others.  We'll see how it goes.

Coffeeneuring 1, October 4, Sunday

Blue Heron beside the path
I had not made advance arrangements to meet anyone, but thought I'd kick off the season anyway, alone.  (Yeah, so much for trying harder to be social.)  I decided to try a coffee place I had not visited before, partly because Jolene (whom I hope to coffeeneur with later this month) had stated that as one of her conditions for coffeeneuring.  Google told me there was a new micro-roastery in town, Coffee Plant and 11th, and moreover it was close to home and not far from the Fern Ridge path.  Great!

When I arrived at Coffee Plant, I saw that there was a big anti-EMX sign in their lot.  (For non-Eugeneans, EMX is a bus rapid transit system, and it's broadly popular among Eugeneans but intensely unpopular among some business owners along a planned route.)  Before ordering, I asked whether the Coffee Plant was behind the sign. "Oh yeah."  OK then, thanks, I'll find coffee somewhere else.  I was polite, no arguing with their position, but I just wasn't willing to let any part of my coffee money go toward that cause.

Another Blue Heron
So much for my plan.   I took the path to another patch of 11th where I thought I remembered a coffee shop I had not visited, but I didn't find it, so I headed downtown and then toward campus where I knew there were plenty of coffee shops.  As I neared campus on 13th and saw Blue Heron bicycle shop, I remembered that Sue works weekends.

Sue taught me how to disassemble and reassemble my bike for travel.   She's an excellent mechanic and a wonderful, warm person who established a bicycle shop next to campus because she enjoys working with students.   Inspiration:  I can make this a social coffeeneuring outing after all, easy peasy, by bringing Sue a coffee, which I obtained from Espresso Roma just down the street.  Each time a customer entered, I perused the bicycle parts and tools and accessories while she took care of the customer.  In between, we drank and talked about randonneuring and about the advent of electric bicycles.   The coffee was so-so.  The company was great.

Beverage:  regular coffee from Espresso Roma, to go, with a chocolate biscotto.
Round trip:  ~10 rambling miles.

Coffeeneuring 2, October 10, Saturday

Another blue heron ... might be a motif
When I began riding recreationally a dozen years ago, I rode often with Greater Eugene Area Riders (Gears).  I learned a lot from the group, and rode with them frequently for years.  Eventually my interest turned to distance riding, and more and more I do my training rides solo,  but it's nice to occasionally join the Gears group.

Bike bridge from the park to downtown

Hideaway Bakery booth at the market

My plan was to get coffee with Virginia after the Gears club Saturday ride.  Problem:  Virginia is fast.   I have no idea how far behind her I reached the finish, but far enough that she was gone.  Nonetheless I will declare my "more social" goal accomplished in riding with old and new Gears friends.

There is a nice farmers' market in Eugene on Saturday, and Hideaway Bakery brings their wonderful breads and pastries and also makes pour-over coffee.   I had a potato donut, which was delicious, and a nice strong cup of coffee.   On the way home, I happened upon Lesli walking Chaz, so again more social component to my coffeeneuring, even if the coffee itself was drunk alone.
Hideaway making coffee
Distance: ~40 miles
Beverage: coffee

Coffeeneuring 3: October 17, Saturday:  Disaster Relief Trials

Once again I failed to arrange a meet-up in advance, but I thought I might still have a chance to be a bit social in my coffeeneuring, or at least be around people, by being a spectator at the Disaster Relief Trials.

The start/end point, with periodic check-ins for contestants, was at Alton Baker Park.  Among the features of the park is the center of Eugene's scale model solar system.  Sol, Mercury, Venus, and Earth are in the park.  Some of the outer planets are several miles away.

Earth and its remarkably large moon
I met and saw a few familiar people at the trials, and saw a lot of interesting cargo-oriented bikes. 

'Responder class' contestant checking in

Not an approved coffeeneuring beverage
Approved and portable beverage

I had a tip that the canal near Autzen Stadium would be a good place to see some of the action.  It was.  Contestants were crossing the canal by rope, with their bicycles in tow.   ROTC students were helping them fasten rope harnesses and attach and detach their bicycles on either side.  They offered to help me get harnessed up.  I explained that I was not a contestant today, just a spectator.  Sure, the officer said, but did I want to go across or not?  I did.  

My commuter bike weighed a lot less than a cargo bike,  but it was still strenuous dragging it up on the far side of the canal, and satisfying.   It was not what I had planned for my Saturday.  It was way cooler than anything I planned or anticipated.  

Fléche teammate Alex Hongo participated in the hardest category, 'responder.'  I saw him at the conclusion.  Fléche teammate Chris Archibald participated as well, and for a little bit the whole 2014 fléche team was gathered recounting our ride and making tentative plans for another. 

In all, my most rewarding outing in three years of coffeeneuring, and also a reminder of what a great town and community I live in.   I'm feeling very lucky.

Distance: ~10 miles
Drink:  Java Sunda (home roast) pour-over
Location:  Alton Baker Park, Eugene  ("coffee shop without walls")

Coffeeneuring 4:  North Plains with Lynne, Corey, and Stefanie, October 24, Saturday

Many of us converged on North Plains, Oregon to witness our friend Susan Otcenas cross the 10,000km mark in her 2015 randonneuring.   (That's a lot of riding, and the 'K-hound' award for riding 10,000k in a year is one of the harder RUSA awards to earn.)  Lynne and I decided to add a coffeeneuring outing by taking a scenic tour around North Plains before the whole group met at McDonalds for the start of a 100k permanent.    The scenic tour was necessary because the only available cafe in North Plains, Hits the Spot, is only a few blocks from the McDonalds.   (Riding to North Plains from Lynne's home in Beaverton would be possible, but impractical since we would also need to ride back in time to get to the celebratory pot-luck after the permanent.)    We met Corey Thompson and  Stefanie Randolph at Hits the Spot, and briefly also Keith Kohan.

Lynne, Stefanie, Corey
Technically the heron made its appearance after the conclusion of the coffeeneuring, on Susan's K-hound ride. 

Assessment:  friendly, bike-friendly service, acceptable coffee
Distance: 2.4 miles
Drink:  Coffee (American style)
Location:  Hits the Spot, North Plains, Oregon, USA

Coffeeneuring 5:  Deschutes Hall, University of Oregon, October 25, Sunday

It's a weekend, and this isn't exactly work, even if it is work-related, so I'm going to count it.  Some of my students asked me to drop in on the Hacktown Hackathon going on Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday I dropped in for a couple hours 9-11pm, but that doesn't count because I had already coffeeneured that morning.  Sunday morning I came again a couple hours before the wrap-up.  On both visits there was a lot of good conversation with students, some jollity, and some advice on debugging and problem-solving.

A hackathon is something like a 400k brevet for software development.  Like a 400k, it generally involves slogging through the night, although as far as I know hackathons are nearly all indoors.  For ditch naps, substitute naps under tables and desks.  For coffee, substitute red bull (but also coffee).    For ACP and RUSA trinkets, substitute small stuffed animals to prize winners.

Eugene is Tracktown, hence Hacktown, and 26.2 hours.

Assessment: bike-friendly campus, friendly students having fun and suffering, just like randonneurs
Distance: 10 miles round trip from my home
Drink:  A mix of English Breakfast tea and chai
Location: Deschutes Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Coffeeneuring 6: November 1, 2015, Hendricks Park

Achievement unlocked:  Meet internet friend face-to-face for coffeeneuring.

I became aware that Sally was a coffeeneur in the greater Eugene area last season, and followed her posts on Facebook, but we had never met face-to-face.   We made arrangements to meet in the main shelter at Hendricks Park, with contingency plans to move somewhere else if the forecast rain was horizontal.

What an enjoyable meeting!  We talked bikes, we talked PBP, we talked recycling ... Sally works at one of a very small handful of companies that makes the sophisticated machines for separating the materials in recycling.  There is a lot of very cool and clever technology involved.  I, being lazy, brought my coffee from home in a thermos mug that fits in the bottle holder of my bike.  Sally, being resourceful and an experienced touring cyclist, brought equipment for making her coffee on the spot.

A mushroom walking tour group was having its pre-walk lessons in the covered structure, and the rain wasn't coming down, so we moved to a picnic table outside.  After a nice long chat, a few sprinkles reminded us that it might be time to move on.  

Location:  Hendricks Park, 2198 Summit Ave, Eugene, OR. Hendricks Park is known mostly for its rhododendron gardens, but it's beautiful year round.
Date: November 1, 2015
Drink:  Cafe au lait (me),  pour over (Sally)
Bike friendliness:   Hard to beat leaning your bike against a picnic table and sitting under giant conifers.  
Distance:  ~10 miles round trip for me, farther for Sally

Coffeeneuring 7, Friendly Street Market

It was supposed to rain hard on Saturday.  And then it was supposed to rain on Saturday.  And then it wasn't.  Since I try to keep up a streak of riding at least one 200km brevet each month (going into my fifth year of so-called R-12s), a break in the weather on a November weekend is hard to pass up.  I had a tentative plan to join a work party at a local park (Madison Meadow), which would have been perfect for my 'social coffeeneuring' theme.  I changed plans and rode a brevet 'permanent' instead.  

So, solitude.  Off theme.  The only real social interaction of the whole day was a nice chat with the young woman in a coffee and ice cream booth in Brownsville, on the return leg.  We talked about Paris, about randonneuring, and about her recent adventures in kayaking.  Very nice, but not coffeeneuring.  In fact I drank plenty of coffee in the first half of my ride, but it doesn't count as coffeeneuring.  Rule 8:  "You may not combine your coffeeneuring ride with any other ride such as an organized century, populaire, or brevet."

But Rule 8 goes on to say: "If you do an organized ride, you may do another, separate coffeeneuring ride on the same day, e.g., a pre- or post-event ride to get a latte either before or after your organized ride." So that's what I did.  My ride ended at the 7-11 at 18th and Chambers, purveyors of some of the worst coffee on earth.  But just a mile and a third away is Friendly Street Market, with a deli.  It was not exactly humming at a quarter to eight, and in fact the deli part was shut down, but the operator said he could make me tea.  I chose rooibos tea, avoiding evening caffeine.  There was only one other occupied table, where some friends were having a boisterous conversation over beer.  More solitude, but I was ok with that, being pretty tired after my ride.   Drank it slowly, then rode home very very slowly  (about 3.5 mph up the hill to our home), another 1.3 miles.  

So here's my rationalization:  Solitude is complementary to being social.  Twice a week, for 90 minutes, I lecture to a room full of students, and I spend a good deal of time holding 'office hours' by hanging out in the shared lab space, and in various faculty meetings and in advising or other meetings with students.  I enjoy those interactions.  They take energy, and they move at their own pace.  My short ride to school and back home gives me a little break.  A long solitary ride gives me a much longer time for reflection and for ideas to develop in ways that they never will in my day-to-day routine.  So, while my theme this year is being more social in my coffeeneuring, a little solitude is not a bad thing.  Figure and ground, theme and counterpoint.  

Location:  Friendly Street Market,  2757 Friendly, Eugene, OR.  It's our neighborhood natural foods store, with lots of organic veggies, good local meats, bread from local bakeries, a nice selection of beers, and other stuff somewhere in the spectrum of natural to foody. 
Date: November 14, 2015
Drink:  Rooibos tea
Bike friendliness:   Pretty good --- adequate bike racks (staple design) in front, under cover. 
Distance:  ~2.6 miles

Monday, September 28, 2015

Paris-Brest-Paris: Plans vs. Reality

I did succeed at Paris-Brest-Paris, finishing in 88 hours 28 minutes.  However, my actual progress was quite far from my plan.  Briefly:

  • I had hoped to reach Loudeac (449km in, or a little over 1/3 of the way) in substantially less than 24 hours. I actually reached Loudeac in a little over 24 hours. 
  • I planned to sleep 90 minutes at Loudeac on the outbound.  Had I done so, I would not have had breakfast at the hotel.   Also I was very tired after 24+ hours of riding.  I instead slept 3 hours on the outbound, so I left Loudeac quite a bit after my "Plan A", with less time in the bank. 
  • I crashed on the way back from Brest ... lost inflation in my front tire, which slid out from under me.  It wasn't a bad crash.  I had some road rash on knee and elbow, shifters knocked out of position and uglified, and (as I later learned) a clean bolt pulled partly out, but it didn't really have a big effect on my riding once I (slowly and carefully) put the bike back in order.  But it cost me quite a bit of time adjusting the shifters, changing the flat, and later dealing with a shoe that I couldn't unclip.  (It's pretty alarming when the foot you customarily clip out with just won't come unclipped, to the point that I resorted to leaving the shoe attached to the pedal and removing my foot from it.)
  • I had planned to sleep 3 hours in Loudeac on the return.  Due partly to time lost from the crash, and partly just to riding more slowly than I had hoped, I slept 90 minutes on the return. 
  • I had a drop bag with a change of clothes in Villaine.  However, I didn't have a hotel there, and didn't want to wait in line for a bathroom, so I didn't really have an opportunity to change.  Also the jersey in my drop bag was synthetic, and with the dropping temperature I decided keeping my wool jersey on was a better idea.  (I'm glad I made this choice, as it rained the next morning.)  I did retrieve something from my drop bag ... food?  I don't recall what.  But neither the planned nap nor the planned change of clothes happened. 
  • I did lay my head down on a table for 30 minutes in Mortagne.  Every available space on the floor, in the cafeteria and halls and doorways, was taken by others sleeping, so the table was what was available.  Thereafter I did not have a repeat of the vivid visual hallucinations I experienced on the way into Mortagne, but I was still quite tired and had to take a couple of ten-minute ditch naps later, fortunately before the rain started. 
  • Narayan Krishnamurthy, a friend from Seattle International Randonneurs, asked me to ride in with him from Mortagne.  I tried.  After perhaps half an hour or an hour, I had to send him on and take my first ditch nap.  (Narayan had a later start time and was therefore closer to the time cut, so he could not afford a ditch nap then, although he really wanted one.)   (On further reflection, that may have been my second ditch nap ... I think Narayan and I both slept for a few minutes somewhere between Mortagne and Dreux.) 
  • I had another flat, this time on the rear, on the final stretch from Dreux to the finish.  My coordination was poor, but another rider stopped and helped me get the wheel back on. 
It's interesting (to me at least) to see how my actual progress stacks up against my plans.  My optimistic plan A was reasonably close on the first day, then far off later.  

A = Plan A  (optimistic schedule)
B = Plan B   (15% slower, less sleep, racing the cut)
Actual:  Actual arrival time at a control, from the PBP electronic records

Note A and B are planned departures, and Actual is arrival times.  Perhaps at some point I can dig through GPS records to get the actual departure times.

SQ Yvellines (start)  19:30 Sunday
Mortagne au Perche (food) 139km/86 miles A: 2:28 B: 3:52 (not a control)
Villaines La Juhel 220km/136 miles A: 7:20 B: 9:43 Cut: 10:10 Monday  Actual: 06:10 Monday
Fougere 309km/192 miles A: 12:21 B: 15:43 Cut: 16:04  Actual: 11:10 Monday
Tinteniac 363km/225 miles A: 15:41 B: 19:43 Cut: 19:56  Actual: 14:40 Monday
Quedillac (food) 389km/241 miles A: 17:10 B: 21:30 (not a control)
Loudeac arrive 448km/278 miles A: 19:59 B: 0:53 Cut: 2:00 Tuesday  Actual: 19:50
Loudeac depart 448km/278 miles A: 22:00 B: 0:00  
St Nic du Pelem 493km/306 miles A: 0:19 B: 2:47 (not a control)
Carhaix 526km/326 miles A: 2:47 B: 5:44 Cut: 8:03  Actual: 05:31
Brest 614km/381 miles A: 8:05 B: 12:06 Cut: 14:53  Actual: 10:59
Carhaix 698km/433 miles A: 13:11 B: 18:14 Cut: 21:19  Actual: 17:10
Loudeac arrive 780km/484 miles A: 18:11 B: 0:13 Cut: 3:39  Actual: 23:04
Loudeac depart           A: 23:39 B: 1:39 Cut: 3:39
Tinteniac 865km/537 miles A: 4:48 B: 7:49 Cut: 10:12  Actual: 08:24
Fougere 919km/571 miles A: 8:20 B: 12:05 Cut: 14:23  Actual: 12:05
Villaines La Juhel 1008km/626 miles A: 14:27 B: 19:25 Cut: 21:14  Actual: 18:30
Mortagne au Perche 1088km/676 miles A: 19:20 B: 1:17 Cut: 3:08  Actual:  00:42
Dreux 1166km/724 miles A: 0:08 B: 7:02 Cut: 8:44  Actual: 07:38
SQ Yvellines 1230km/764 miles A: 4:12 B: 11:54 Cut: 13:30  Actual: 11:58

It is remarkable how close this is to my "Plan A" in the first 24 hours and "Plan B" thereafter.   It's a little depressing to realize this averages to 8.6 mph over the whole journey, but that's total time and not moving time.  I have no idea what my moving average was ... probably around 11 or 12mph.  I was definitely not moving quickly toward the end.

Although I found it difficult to keep to my plan, I think the planning exercise was useful in helping me gauge my progress at each point, and to make tactical decisions like sleeping more at Loudeac on the outbound.  Although I was behind where I wanted to be, I was never in serious danger of missing a cut, and knowing that was helpful. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

My Paris-Brest-Paris time plan

I learned the art of brevet time planning from Susan Otcenas (who makes very elaborate time sheets with, among other things, speed variations based on climbing) and Lynne Fitzsimmons (who uses a similar but less complex system).  Mine are closer to Lynne's style, but have borrowed as well from Susan's style.   I like to have at least two versions:  A "plan A" for the schedule I'd like to keep if everything goes well, and "plan B" for the schedule I'll try to keep if things are going less well and I'm rushing to keep ahead of the cuts.

Here is my plan for Paris-Brest-Paris, extracted from a spreadsheet that has some additional columns, such as my speed and the time I plan to spend at stops (typically 45 minutes at each, except for sleep stops in Loudeac and food stops at a couple places that are not controls).

I depart at 7:30pm Sunday  (10:30am Eugene time) and have 90 hours to reach Brest and return, with intermediate time cuts that I must reach to avoid disqualification.  The intermediate time cuts are not even:  Basically I have 40 hours to reach Brest and 50 hours to return.

I have a hotel in Loudeac for Monday and Tuesday nights.  On the way out it's likely I'll get 90 minutes sleep,  3 hours on the way back, but more (or less!) is possible.  Sleep will be in 90 minute increments --- for example, if I have time for 4 hours on the way back, I'll take 3 (90 minutes x 2 cycles) and bank the extra hour for a nap sometime later.  However, if I reach Loudeac with less than two hours "banked", I'll likely to take at least a short nap before continuing.

A = Plan A  (optimistic schedule)
B = Plan B   (15% slower, less sleep, racing the cut)

SQ Yvellines (start) 19:30 Sunday
Mortagne au Perche (food) 139km/86 miles A: 2:28 B: 3:52
Villaines La Juhel 220km/136 miles A: 7:20 B: 9:43 Cut: 10:10 Monday
Fougere 309km/192 miles A: 12:21 B: 15:43 Cut: 16:04
Tinteniac 363km/225 miles A: 15:41 B: 19:43 Cut: 19:56
Quedillac (food) 389km/241 miles A: 17:10 B: 21:30
Loudeac arrive 448km/278 miles A: 19:59 B: 0:53 Cut: 2:00 Tuesday
Loudeac depart 448km/278 miles A: 22:00 B: 0:00
St Nic du Pelem 493km/306 miles A: 0:19 B: 2:47
Carhaix 526km/326 miles A: 2:47 B: 5:44 Cut: 8:03
Brest 614km/381 miles A: 8:05 B: 12:06 Cut: 14:53
Carhaix 698km/433 miles A: 13:11 B: 18:14 Cut: 21:19
Loudeac arrive 780km/484 miles A: 18:11 B: 0:13 Cut: 3:39
Loudeac depart         A: 23:39 B: 1:39 Cut: 3:39
Tinteniac 865km/537 miles A: 4:48 B: 7:49 Cut: 10:12
Fougere 919km/571 miles A: 8:20 B: 12:05 Cut: 14:23
Villaines La Juhel 1008km/626 miles A: 14:27 B: 19:25 Cut: 21:14
Mortagne au Perche 1088km/676 miles A: 19:20 B: 1:17 Cut: 3:08
Dreux 1166km/724 miles A: 0:08 B: 7:02 Cut: 8:44
SQ Yvellines 1230km/764 miles A: 4:12 B: 11:54 Cut: 13:30

Except for Loudeac, all times are departure times, after some time for getting my control card stamped, getting some food, etc.  There are a couple of anomalies in the schedule as shown here ... for example, I can't actually leave Loudeac before I arrive on the way out.  What that means in practice is that Plan B is not tenable on the outbound ... I must either ride faster than that or spend less time at the controles.

I think I can stay close to plan A for the first day, if nothing goes wrong.  I may slip closer to plan B in subsequent days.  I will try to keep 4 hours "banked" after the turnaround in Brest, but the early morning finish shown in Plan A strikes me as unrealistic ... it's more likely I'll trade in some of that time bank for a nap somewhere on the third or fourth day.  I'll have a drop bag in Villaine (but no hotel), so I might take a nap on a cot there.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How to Ride All Night

Preparing for Solstice 2014 ride
Probably all of us ride at least sometimes at night, even if it's just our commute home during the mid-winter months.  From late fall to early spring, we may carry lights and anticipate many training and recreational rides ending in darkness.  Most think of darkness as something to be avoided or tolerated.  But what about riding all night, intentionally?  Have you considered that?  Does it sound like fun, or a worthwhile challenge?  I think it is.

I've ridden through the night several times now:  On 400km brevets, on 24-hour flèche events, solstice night brevets, and on the outset of the fabulous SIR 1000km brevet from Seattle to Klamath Falls.  I don't consider myself an expert, but I don't think I can consider myself a beginner any more either.  Here are a few things I've learned about riding through the night, from dusk to dawn.

Aside to my experienced randonneuring friends: You probably already know what I'm going to write here.  Feel free to critique my advice and add some of your own in the comments.  This is aimed primarily at recreational and sport riders who are new to distance riding at night.

Why might you do this?  First, because riding at night is something a little different, an experience worth having.  Everything looks different.  If you ride alone, the solitude is magnified.  If you ride with a friend or a group, riding together for a long time at night is a bonding experience. Or, you might just want to ride a really long way.   If you are riding for 24 hours or more, a period of darkness is a given.   (Almost:   There is a 600km brevet in Alaska that takes place around the summer solstice and entirely in daylight. )

Of course your bicycle must be equipped with a good headlight.  I'm a big fan of hub dynamo light systems, but both dynamo and battery lights have improved greatly over the last few years.  You need enough light to see the road, and you need it to last all night.  There are lots of good battery lights available now that meet the first requirement; the second is a little harder, but you can do it.  There is more to say about lighting than fits here.  I'll reserve the rest for a separate post.

Even if you have excellent lighting, don't underestimate the value of good reflective clothing.  Besides making you much more visible to drivers while you're riding, a reflective vest or jacket will make you visible when you're beside the road, fixing a flat at 3am.

Solstice 2013 ride (photo by Norm Carr)
Besides food and lights, you will need some capacity to carry layers of clothing on your bicycle. If it's cool at 8pm, it may be downright cold at 4am.  The coldest hour seems to be right around dawn.  If you don't have the layers you need, the energy your body needs to keep warm will be stolen from your pedaling, and also hurt your alertness.

A night ride requires more planning than a day ride.  In particular, you'll want to have located 24-hour convenience stores and gas stations with mini-marts, because your opportunities for buying food at night are much more limited than during the day.  It can be difficult to read a cue sheet at night, so a GPS or a GPS route on your phone (like the new RideWithGPS app) is very helpful, particularly if the route is not very familiar.  Even if you use a Garmin or other dedicated GPS device, it is a good idea to have your route also on your phone (the app is good for this) in case of a device failure or if you get lost.

If you can, take a nap before an evening start event.  Even an hour, even if you can't really get to sleep, helps make sure you don't start in the hole.  Sometimes this won't be an option, but if you have the chance it is very helpful.

Make sure someone knows your route.  If you ride at night often, or outside cell phone coverage, you might consider a satellite tracker like the FindMeSpot, which communicates directly through a satellite and does not depend on your cell phone.  If you need one very occasionally, you might rent or borrow one, or perhaps you can ride with a friend who uses one.  If you need one often, they are about $150 to purchase plus $150 each year for service.  I've never used the 'call for help' feature on my tracker, but I'm glad it's there.

You'll also want to pack more food than you would for an equivalent ride in the day.  Eating while riding can be more difficult in the dark.   If you have a front rack or a handlebar bag, it helps to munch from the bag while riding.  Otherwise a 'bento-box' style top-tube case can hold a couple bars and a couple gels.  I'm not a fan of powdered drinks in general, but they are convenient at night since you can reach your drink without seeing it.

Eat, drink, repeat.  This holds for riding in the day or at night, but it's particularly important at night. Besides keeping your energy up for pedaling,  sufficient food and water help keep you alert.  If you start feeling drowsy, consider how long it has been since you last ate or drank.  Caffeine helps too, and many gels, bars, and other ride foods available today include caffeine.  But caffeine without additional food energy won't do it.

Suppose you've eaten enough, and yet the drowsiness is becoming overwhelming.  You must stop. Really, do it.  Falling asleep while riding is a bad idea.  I've done it once, but woke almost immediately and recovered before crashing.  Last year on a ride in Washington, a rider was not so lucky; he fell asleep, crashed, and broke his collarbone, a long way from anywhere.   So if you find yourself shaking your head to stay awake, pull over and take a short nap.  Set your phone alarm for fifteen minutes, eat a gel or bar with caffeine (which you can be digesting while you rest), and lie down if you can, or else sit with your head on your knees, and take that little bit of sleep.  It doesn't take a lot.

You will go slower at night.  What feels like 18 is probably 14; what feels like 14 is probably 10.  Unless you are racing, you should just accept that you will not maintain daytime speeds at night.  Nonetheless, you need to guard against slowing down too far.   If you feel like you are doing 14-15, but you are really doing 9-10mph, you may quickly fall behind your plan, so check your computer occasionally (or use the backlight on your gps unit to keep your speed visible).

The bigger threat to your schedule at night is not riding slower, but taking too long when you do stop.  If you stop at a convenience store without a plan, the delay can easily balloon.   If you are riding in a group, it helps to discuss the stop in advance:  Are we taking bathroom breaks? Getting food?  How much time do we plan to be stopped?   An explicit plan for the length of the stop helps.  Take the time you need, but not more.

And then?  A ride is just a ride.  Things will look different, and you'll feel different, but the key skills of steady pedaling, monitoring your exertion, and enjoying your surroundings are the same as ever. If you can ride 100 miles or more in the daylight, with a little preparation you can probably ride 100 miles or more at night.
Refueling after the Solstice 2014 ride

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014

Coffeeneuring  is a tongue-in-cheek variation on randonneuring:  a short, leisurely ride to enjoy a hot drink, documented in photography rather than receipts and signatures.  This is my second year of participation.  Last year I kept individual rides in separate posts, then added a consolidated post at the conclusion of the series.  This year I think I'll just build one integrated post.

Ride 1, October 5 2014 (2 miles)

My first coffeeneuring ride was a "ride to the ride" for a permanent brevet from Market of Choice.  Since I had my usual quota of coffee before leaving the house, and since my stomach didn't like the idea of hot chocolate, I elected to have a cup of tea (which I find often soothes an unhappy stomach on rides).  

I wasn't expecting much.  To my surprise, the tea was really, really good.  They spooned a bit of loose leaf tea from a sealed jar into a cylinder of some sort of fiber, then twisted a knot in the cylinder to form a tea bag.  Lately I have not been a very discerning tea drinker, settling for Twinings in tea bags.  The tea at MoC was so much better than what I have been drinking that I decided I need to get some supplies to make better tea. 

Ride 2, October 12, 2014 (4 miles)

My second ride is most in the spirit of coffeeneuring.  Cyndi rode with me to Market of Choice to get bread and milk, and to inquire about supplies for the tea I had enjoyed on my prior visit.  We got the tea but they didn't have the DIY bags in stock.  Since I had already coffeeneured there, we stopped at Friendly Street Market on the way back home for hot chocolate.  Hot cocoa, actually, which is not quite the same ... but it was a nice environment, and I really like how the outdoor seating and improvements to the café have made Friendly even more of a neighborhood institution.  

Ride 3, October 18, 2014 (8 miles)

Hideaway Bakery make the best bread in town in their big wood-burning oven.  They also make nice cakes and pastries, and the coffee was good --- notably better than when I coffeeneured here last year.  Cyndi drove to meet me, and my daughter Adrian rode over. 

We each had caffé latte, and shared a piece of chocolate cake.

Hideaway has pretty good bicycle parking. It's on the other side of the building from the cafe and bakery, but visible enough to seem reasonably safe.

After coffee, I rode along with Adrian to her home to deliver a few jars of applesauce, and saw a couple fawns on the way back.


On the way home, I stopped at Arriving by Bike (a transportation-oriented bike shop in Eugene) to check on long sleeve wool jerseys and lights.  I didn't find what I wanted in a jersey, but they had the B&M Eyc in stock.  I called Cyndi, who brought her bike down to have an Eyc installed.   After riding home, I swapped her front wheel for one with a generator hub, from my old Salsa rando, so now Cyndi should have a good light system. 

Ride 4, October 18, 2014  (~4 miles)

John Pearch rode my permanent populaire from Florence today, and I rode down to meet him at the conclusion. Although he was at a Starbucks inside Albertsons grocery, I elected not to get my drink there but instead to look for something a little better after helping him find some fast food in the area.  (He ended up at Fisherman's Market for fish and chips; I hope it was good.)  I cruised toward center town looking for something reasonable.  I was headed vaguely in the direction of Barn Light when I caught sight of the library and remembered that Eugene Public Library has a cafe.  It was open, and gave me a good excuse to brag about out our excellent library.

I had a hot chocolate. I think it was pretty good, but unfortunately I didn't drink much before I accidentally set the paper cup down on the lid and spilled the rest.

The library is quite bicycle friendly.  I leaned my bike against the window because I didn't have a lock with me, but there is quite a bit of bicycle parking.   Eugene is the sort of place where you needn't feel weird about walking around with a helmet on.  (In truth I don't feel weird walking around with a helmet pretty much anywhere, but that's me.)

Ride 5, October 25, 2014 (4.25 miles)

Picked up five pounds of cranberries fresh from Bandon from a friend-of-a-friend, then stopped at 16 Tons on the way home.  They are serving micro-roast coffees from Water Avenue Coffees in Portland.   According to the server, they get a delivery once a week.   I ordered hot chocolate.  (OK, I guess I am a little snobbish about coffee ... I will drink almost anything in a pinch, but if fresh roast is your thing, a week old doesn't cut it.)  The hot chocolate was ok, but not better than the cup I got at the public library last week.  I should probably have at least tried 16 Tons' coffee to give it a fair chance, but as usual I had a couple coffees in me before leaving home  (currently drinking an interesting blend of Kenya Nyeri Karogoto AB and monsooned Malabar, which is excellent in espresso).  I really do like 16 Tons as a place for beer and cider on tap.  I'll try their coffee another time.
Nice weather for napping

Ride 6, October 26, 2014 (21 miles)

Macbeth and Fox Hollow is a popular short training loop in the area, but at my pace today I can't call it training.  Moseying.  I went out over Bailey Hill, then Lorane to Macbeth, and down Fox Hollow.  And of course that means nothing at all unless you happen to know the roads around Eugene, but for a Eugene recreational rider that is a complete description of the route.

Earlier today the rain was quite impressive, and yesterday was windy.  This afternoon, though, it was lovely.  I decided to stop for a few more pictures than usual.

LeBleu, just off Macbeth near the top

I turned off on LeBleu (near the top of Macbeth) just for this view ... I always love the afternoon sun through the trees.
Sheep and alpaca on Fox Hollow.  The sheep are wearing blankets because they have been recently shorn.  The alpaca look short-haired as well, but seem to be doing fine without blankets. 

At Allan Brothers I had a choice of three hot chocolates:  semi-sweet, Mexican, or white chocolate.  I chose semi-sweet.  It was probably the best hot chocolate of the series so far, although the hot chocolate at the library was close.  Allan Brothers wins out for making better whipped cream.

Ride 7 Verboort Populaire aftermath (2.5 miles)

My normal rule is to avoid driving to a ride that is shorter than my drive, but I occasionally have reason to make exceptions.  I discovered that I had fulfilled all the requirements for a "RUSA Cup" award  (every distanced of calendered RUSA event from 100k to 1200k in a 2-year period, totaling at least 5000k) except for the shortest, a 100k populaire.  So, off to ride the Verboort Populaire, a 100km (63 mile) triangle from Forest Grove to Vernonia and back to Verboort, timed to coincide with the annual Verboort Sausage Festival.

(Banks-Vernonia trail, photo by Keith Moore)
It's a lovely ride, and I haven't done it in a few years, so it was a pleasure despite spending more time in the car than on the bike.  But the stop at Black Bear Coffee in Vernonia does not count as coffeeneuring ... you can't coffeeneur while participating in another event.    

Fortunately the ride starts in Forest Grove and ends in Verboort, about 2.5 miles away.  Just far enough to coffeeneur if you ride back to your parked car after the populaire.  So: Hot tea and a sausage with sauerkraut on a bun.  Also, good company and a festive atmosphere. 

(Verboort Sausage Festival, photo by Keith Moore)

Ride 8:  MacBeth and Fox Hollow to Vero, Sunday Nov 16

This is my extra credit ride ... just in case!   Or just because.

We're having a cold spell in Eugene, and in paranoia of ice I didn't even commute by bicycle Thursday and Friday.  By Sunday it had been a few days since rain, so I figured roads would be clear, and took a short training ride (but at a less-than-training pace) up MacBeth and down Fox Hollow.

I had been to Vero earlier in coffeeneuring season with Bill Alsup, but on a weekday ... coffeeneuring for him because he was on vacation, but not for me.  So, back to Vero to make it official (or rather "official"), and to check out their hot chocolate.   Worthwhile!

Hot chocolate at Vero Espresso
Total distance: 20 miles, give or take a mile.  Temperatures between 25.4 (at Bill's Bench, top of Fox Hollow) to 35 or so downtown.  Really glad I went in the counter-clockwise direction, so the ice was all in slow-speed climbs, rather than descents.

Summing up: Hot chocolate in Eugene

Although I started with (surprisingly good) tea at Market of Choice, my coffeeneuring series this year was basically a chocolateering series.  I learned that surprisingly good hot chocolate can be found in unlikely-seeming spots (Eugene Public Library, for example), while a really first-rate bar can offer sub-mediocre hot cocoa (16 Tons).   The best:

  1. Market of Choice.  I didn't log my hot chocolate at MoC above, since I had already logged a coffeeneuring visit for hot tea (also excellent), but I did have hot chocolate there as a starting control for a permanent brevet.   And, remarkably, it was the best hot chocolate I had this season:  ganache, not overly sweet, mixed into steamed whole milk.  This is a supermarket, and it's beating the socks off coffee bars in Eugene.  The only downside is that it comes in a paper cup.  
  2. Vero Espresso.  Also ganache in steamed milk, and with latte art (see last photo above).  Approaching the quality of MoC hot chocolate, but a little on the over-sweet side. 
  3. Allann Brothers.  I didn't see how it was made, but it is probably also ganache in steamed milk.  Choice of Mexican, white, or semi-sweet.  The semi-sweet is on a par with Vero, but in a paper cup (because I was in cycling gear?) and minus the latte art. 
These three are close, and well above other choices, although the Eugene Public Library comes closest.  (I believe the library is using chocolate syrup in the steamed milk, which is not as good as using ganache but much better than stirring in cocoa.) 

Not in my trial group:  Full City Coffee (I know they keep a vat of ganache for making chocolate-based drinks, but didn't get a chance to check them out this year);  Wandering Goat Coffee (generally the best coffee in town, but I have no idea about their hot chocolate).   I'll have to try them out sometime this winter. 

With this training, I think I'm well on my way to properly appreciating hot chocolate in the early morning in some little town between Paris and Brest.