Monday, October 28, 2013

Downtown from the South: Infrastructure Update

The City of Spokane has been hard at work completing part of the Master Bike Plan, on 4th and 2nd Avenues this summer and fall.  New striping for lanes on both have been completed and redesigned intersections and bike paths are almost complete.

The new infrastructure effectively links the South Perry District to Downtown with a combination of bike lanes, sharrows and shared-use paths.  Getting downtown from this area has been problematic because either 4th or 2nd Avenues though ridable, unceremoniously dumped westbound cyclists into congestion and heavy traffic with no accommodation at Division Street.

These improvements solve some of that but the issue still remains on 2nd since the bike lanes disappear at Division just as a lot of car traffic is fighting for a lane.  Readers may recall that there was a lot of controversy when bike lanes were not installed (even though they were part of the approved plan) when west 2nd Avenue was reconstructed a couple of years ago.

Here is the continuation of the new bike path westbound at 4th and Browne

Eastbound traffic on 4th uses the center lane sharrow.  Westbound bike traffic uses the new pathway on the left
.4th Avenue seems most workable for east and westbound riders since the lanes are freshly painted all the way from Arthur on the east to Howard Streets on the west.  The 4th and Division Intersection has been redesigned so that westbound riders now can continue riding west rather than having to merge into northbound traffic on Division.

Westbound approaching Division from 4th Ave.

Westbound 4th and Division Intersection with new center bike lane that transitions (crosses) from the right side of the road.

4th and Division westbound - the new westbound pathway is just visible at the top of the photo
The westbound bike traffic is then directed onto a new pathway separated from auto traffic to just west of Browne.  There are not any traffic lights at Browne and 4th so cyclist still need to clear crossing traffic from the north and merging traffic from the south (eastbound only) when negotiating the intersection.

Though not perfect, 4th Avenue improvements appear to provide the best transit of a highly congested area for both directions of cycling traffic and I applaud the City on completion of this segment of the Master Bike Plan.

Eastbound improvements appear to be completed and worked fine on the bike this weekend.  I look forward to riding the entire westbound route in a week or two when completed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Fatty in All of Us

TREK Produced 500 Farley Fat Bikes this year. They were sold-out for the year by mid-August, but we were allocated 3 of them. We still have two so come check-out this amazing 32 pound, go-anywhere bike before they disappear. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Time for a Change - New Tires: Short Block Cross

Those following the blog know I have had the Moots CX in more or less a  road configuration by running 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000 S tires front and rear.  The configuration was pretty amazing in that it worked great on road rides, pretty well on gravel grinding and acceptable but not optimal on loose, rocky trails.

The road conditions are getting a little less reliable with leaves, debris and pine needles as fall progresses and I would like to start exploring more off pavement when able to ride.  These all lead to choosing a tire that lets me do all of the above without too much penalty on the pavement in terms of weight, handling and noise. Another requirement is that it be tubeless both for the lower pressures and puncture resistance offered by this setup.

Eli was looking for something similar for another Moots customer and came across these cool Kenda Small Block-8 Cross 700c Tire they seemed to be the perfect setup for only 350g each.  I got my first chance to ride them on a round-trip commute to downtown with all pavement in the morning and pavement with the HD trails on the way home in the evening.  It was a great way to end a long weekend of testing for a client's system conversion.  I had them set-up to about 50 psi and without tubes thanks to Eli.

The configuration felt a little slow on the pavement only portion of the ride, but may also have been due to my having a stomach bug for a couple of days before - I will need to assess more over the next few rides.  I think the tread pattern and rolling resistance are good and seemed to work well on the loose sand of the HD trails.  I was able to clean all of the rocky climbs and descents and felt a tad more comfortable that I did last week on the trails with the road tires.  I still think I could try a few less pounds of air in each, but the ride quality of the bike was nothing short of amazing.

The frame geometry makes the bike go where I want it without being twitchy or unstable feeling.  The frame, fork and larger 32C tires make for a supple ride over the harshest terrain without any mushiness or lack of feed back.   I think I can get even better traction and ride with lower pressures and will experiment with it in the next few days.

I once again found myself not wanting the single track to end and kept reminding myself how fortunate I am to have a commute so varied and enjoyable.

See you out there.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Time for a Change - Exploring Flexibilty: Road Configuration

The road configuration on the Moots CX has proven to be a lot of fun and very versatile to boot.  I have about 275 miles on the bike and love it more with each mile.  Of those miles, 30 have been off road and allowed me to get to know the bike on a whole different level.

The normally chubby looking 25C road tire is lost in the cavernous clearance of the Moots CX
Last week I found myself with a day off on what turned-out to be a beautiful day - a ride was definitely in order.  I headed toward town and Hatch Road with no real route or plan in mind.  As I approached Hatch Road I was faced with the choice of turning left and riding Hwy 195 or turning right and climbing the long hill with no shoulder - neither sounded appealing that day.

The other thing that came to mind was that those were my choices when riding a road-only bike - not a CX bike. Just before reaching Hatch Road there is a dirt trail that leads to the right and into some wooded single track that winds up about 2/3 of the way up the hill.  Off I went with 25C road tires on the dirt and pine needle covered trails.  The bike handled climbs, descents, turns and bunny-hops in a nimble yet comfortable manner.  Soon I was back on the pavement and up on 57th Ave.

I ran into some good friends who were out on a road ride so I hung with them and chatted all the way to 29th Ave,. where we parted ways.  So far I had ridden 8 miles of road and 1 mile of trails without any issues on the same bike.  I wasn't quite ready to head back south for home so I rode to 14th Ave., where I could hop on the High Drive Bluff Trails for some single track.  I was concerned about some of the steep rocky climbs and loose off-camber dirt on road tires but threw caution to the wind.

My concerns were misplaced as the bike handled everything I threw at it.  I did get bounced some on the rocky climbs since I had about 85 psi in the tires to avoid pinch flats.  The ride was a little stiff with those tire pressures but fun regardless.  I also did not feel as comfortable in the high speed berms which had as much to do with poor positioning on the bike as it did the slick tires. I have not quite figured-out where my weight distribution should be for different conditions and find myself just riding it like a road bike. I also found that it was almost impossible to stand while climbing since the back tire wanted to spin.  As a result, the 11x28 cassette felt a little tall on a couple of the steeper climbs.

I finished the HD trails by climbing back up to 57th followed by a high-speed descent down Hatch and a leisurely spin out  Hangman Valley Road.  So far the Moots is living-up to the goal of a do-it-all with no compromises bike.  Road riding, gravel grinding and single-track on the same frame, wheels, tires and components is turning-out to be a very fun and flexible bike.  The freedom of taking-off and making choices on the fly as they are presented is becoming a lot of fun and removes the temptation to do the same thing every day.

The next big decision is when and what should the next tires be -  higher volume road/touring tires or full-on tubeless cx tires with a low profile?

See you on the road/gravel/trail

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Time for a Change - First Gravel Grind: Road Configuration

According to the Spokane County Department of Engineering the County maintains 167.58 miles of dirt and summer roads, and 1037.79 miles of gravel roads.  These roads are lightly traveled, scenic and a great way to explore some of the varied terrain and different part of Spokane County.

I am fortunate to live just a mile or two from seemingly endless gravel and dirt roads in the south part of the County.  This weekend, I decided it was time to get the Moots CX dirty and see how it handles on some of our gravel roads.  The only "problem" was that I still had the bike in the road configuration with 700x25 Continental Grand Prix 4000 S road tires.  These tires are fantastic in terms of handling, rolling resistance and wear, but by no means designed for punishing rocks and dirt.

I have some CX low profile block design tires on the way, but really wanted to go ride some dirt roads this weekend and frankly could not wait.  So I hit the gravel roads south of town with the road tires and hoped for the best.

I thought it would be a good practice to run a slightly lower tire pressure for both ride quality and traction with the road tires. This was a mistake that became apparent 1/4 mile in on the first gravel road - 23 mph, big rock and pinch flat but it was a heck of a lot of fun up to that point.  Flat repaired, tires inflated to higher pressure and back on the road.  One of the things I am looking forward to with the CX tires is running lower pressure in a tubeless configuration but it will be a few more days until I can pull that off.

10 minutes out on a long gravel road, I was charmed by an unattended pumpkin stand in front of a house.  The handwritten sign with pricing and the payment jar left on the table by the road impart a level of trust and innocence from less complicated times.  Maybe this is what gravel grinding is all about - getting out at a slower pace and rediscovering the folks that still trust each other and look out for their neighbors.

The bike was simply amazing on these roads.  It was smooth and stable with absolutely no surprises - even with the now rock-proof tire pressure.  Climbs were performed in the saddle since there was no way to keep the back end hooked-up with traction otherwise.  Paradise (above) is a summer road which means it will be less improved and just begs to be explored.  I am going to wait for beefier tires before heading off on that adventure.

Just after Paradise, I was treated to this long, straight stretch of fairly compact gravel and could open it up a bit.  The tires and bike felt very comfortable at 20 mph.  It is very difficult to describe just how smooth this bike rides with the combination of titanium tubing and seat post and the carbon fork.  The first few times I came to a washboard section of road I braced for getting rattled pretty hard.  Each was a non-event as the bike just soaked the bumps up and kept rolling. The characteristics of this frame/fork are truly extraordinary to be this comfortable with low volume tires filled to rock-hard pressures.

Spokane County seems to like using a crushed basalt rock of about 1-1 1/2 inches in size.  This probably works well for cars and pickup trucks, but less than ideal for narrow bike tires.  Also, the rock tends to get pushed into deeper sections at corners and dips in the road so the front tire either wants to wash-out at speed and dig-in when going slower.  The fast part was the most unnerving until I became better at choosing lines and being more relaxed on the bars so the wheel could drift a bit when needed to maintain traction and direction.

Overall, the tires did an admirable, though less than ideal job of riding on gravel but they worked.  I was also impressed how tough these tires are - not even a nick or cut in the sidewall or tread after 13 miles of very sharp rocks.

Finally, I was treated to an old, overgrown cemetery on Elder Road.  It still had flags from Memorial Day and a fantastic view in every direction.   If you look carefully at the above photo you can see some of the headstones and flags.

A few more miles east on Elder I intersected Hwy 27 and rode back home on pavement.  I enjoyed the bike immensely on this adventure and believe it is the right setup for this project.  I will update some more when I swap-out the tires.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Sitting astride an incredible Moots CX bike set-up with 25c road tires - What to do, what to do?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Time for a Change - Day 2: Road Configuration

Today was a day for spending some time on the Moots and stretching the legs a bit.  I chose to ride out to 9 mile dam to take in the views and fall scenery.  There are not enough adjectives in my vocabulary to describe what an enjoyable ride I had on this ride.  I like all seasons, but fall is one of my favorite in terms of how I feel.

One thing that is becoming clear is that even though this is a racing bike there are not any compromises in terms of comfort.  While today's distance was only 46 miles I could see this being an all day or century bike without any problem - it is that comfortable.

Another thought that is bubbling up to the top is the opportunity for adventure and exploration - the Moots just begs to turn-off and see where that interesting gravel road might take go.  Speaking of which, I am ashamed to admit that I have never ridden up to the Deep Creek overlook despite having ridden past it probably 50 times.  Not today - problem solved and it was worth the climb.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Time For a Change - Day One: Road Configuration

In the first installment of Time for a Change I stated that one of the things I was going to change on the bike was to stop paying attention to my speed and enjoy riding more - well I lied.  This morning was the first day out on a new Moots Psychlo X set up as a road, off-road and gravel grinder bike.  All I could sneak in today was a 20 mile out and back course and I wanted to see how it compared speed-wise to my Madone:

First, more about the bike:

Frame/Fork: 2014 Moots Psychlo X with an Enve Composites CX  Disc Carbon Fork.  Make no mistake, this bike is all CX, but comes as close to an all-around bike as any out there.

Drive train: Dura Ace 7900 Di2 with a compact crank and 11-28 Ultegra 10-speed cassette.

Battery mount is secured on the down-tube just above bottom bracket and protected by the crank and chain ring.  Dura Ace 9000 Di2 has the battery in the seat tube option.

Yes, that is a 44 mm head tube with a 1-1/8" to 1-1/2" full carbon steer tube.  This was an option last year and is standard for 2014.  The frame does have the Di2 internal wiring option to keep the wires hidden and protected in the frame tubes.

Braking is controlled by Avid BB7 Road S Mechanical Brakes mated with 160mm rotors.

Finally, the cross/gravel/sometimes road wheels are stock Stan's No Tubes Iron Cross Team Edition in a 24/28 spoke configuration with alloy hubs and DT spokes.  Here is my Do Not Try This at Home Disclaimer on Wheels:  The manufacturer has a 185 pound rider weight limitation - I am a good 12 pounds over that weight.  There is also a tire pressure limit of 45 psi which does not work too well with the road tires installed so I had to fudge on that as well.  Please heed all manufacturer recommendations and limitations.

The build weight was estimated to be in the 17 pound range and came in at 18 pounds, 1 ounce without pedals.  This is almost a pound less than the new carbon Specialized CruX Pro Race Red Disc with aluminum clinchers. I expect with some fiddling I will be able to get the weight down closer to 17 pounds if not just below.

First ride impressions: Fast, stiff and refined.  The Titanium tubing and construction provide a ride quality that is hard to describe other than magical.  The average speed was close to the Madone at 18.2 mph and was respectable given that it was 38 degrees and I was bundled-up against the elements.

The geometry is slightly more slack than the Madone but still very quick and playful on the road - I look forward to seeing how it handles on the dirt though expect no surprises.  

Braking performance is smooth and linear with plenty of quiet stopping power.  The drive train was flawless, but I am already re-thinking the 11-28 cassette for road riding - the jumps are just too large for my preferences in some ratios and I found myself hunting a lot so I will probably go back to 11-23 for the road. 

Yes, I lied about not watching the speed on the very first ride. In doing so I realized the habits from the last 7 -1/2 years are going to be hard to change. I think I am up for the task, but may need a support group for the first few months.  Speed watching does not mean I enjoyed the ride any less - the crisp air, soft light and fall colors made every second on the bike a joy.

See you on road.