The wind blew over my Tarmac and it fell on a bike pump which put a huge chip in the carbon forks. I had the bike inspected and the prognosis was that it needed new forks. I contacted Specialized but they were unable to find me a new fork so suggested I should get a new frame. New Tarmac frames are about $3000 so I trolled the internet looking for something else.
I found a nice carbon frame on sale for $1500 off the list price from a pretty respectable German company so took the plunge.
The frame is a bit more aero than the tarmac and has a lovely finish. I built it up using mainly old parts from the Tarmac but was pretty pleased with the finished result. It rides really nice and the bottom bracket is very stiff. It doesn’t feel as special as the Tarmac did but it is very smooth. I cant find my scales to weigh the bike but it does feel a bit heavier.
I only did a quick 7 mile shakedown ride. Time to get a proper test ride in.
This was my first race back since my stroke in 2015 and I was in an incredibly nervous state before hand. It felt more like I was riding the national championships rather than a “fun” local time trial. I originally signed up for the Merckx event too but I felt so unwell after the first race that I abandoned this plan. This was also my first race back for Christian Cycling which felt good.
I had planed on riding my fixed gear Wabi for this race but at the last minute decided to ride my road bike instead. I put some Hed 3 wheels on the bike and opted to use my Kask aero helmet to try to save a few seconds. The bike actually felt really quick with this setup even though it wasn’t. I went for Jersey and shorts as I didn’t buy an IC3 skinsuit but the fit of the Castelli team kit is pretty good.
The race started in quite cool conditions with just a sprinkling of rain. This caused my Kask visor to steam up and on the way back I had a very foggy view. I don’t think there was very much wind as the course felt like there was a headwind both ways. I used every ounce of my TT experience to pace the event but I felt pretty poor on the up hills and this really hurt my average speed. My personal record (Trek TTX time trial bike) on the outbound leg is 15m47s on a TT bike and 16m32s on my fixed Merckx bike. Today I did 18m51s which is about 3.5MPH slower.
I was hoping for a super fast tailwind return leg and I tried to push the biggest gear I could turn over but it really didn’t feel that fast. I felt ok on the return leg and was able to push what felt to be a normal time trial speed but the figures show I was way off my pre stroke pace. My best time for the return leg is 11m01s (29.5MPH) on my TT bike and 12m02s (27 MPH) on the fixed bike. Considering my fixed bike (Merckx) is 48×15, 27MPH is a pretty impressive average speed and represents well over 100RPM. Today my time was 12m40s (25.6MPH) which is way off the mark.
My finishing time was 31m46s which made me last place (winners time was 26m04) and I was very disappointed with the time. In the past when racing on my TT bike I used to be in the 26 minutes and my personal best is 26m49s. I am not surprised that I was much slower than the TT bike but what really hit home was how much slower I was than my fixed gear Merckx best. 28m41s was my best time on the 48×15 fixed. I dread to think what my time would have been without the aero wheel and Kask helmet.
No matter how you tell yourself that you know you are not going to do a good time it still hurts to come last in anything. I know my ftp is over 100W down on what it used to be but I hate losing that badly. To make matters worse I felt terrible afterwards and still don’t feel great typing this up many hours later.
My wife Sandra has a better day and she got two podiums.
Every day above ground is a bonus!
Sandra, myself and Gary At the end
I found myself really missing having a three wheeled chariot, especially with my balance issues now. I decided to buy a new Eon Green Catrike 700 from my go to recumbent dealer Zach Kaplan.
I don’t expect to be as fast a I used to be but I do look forward to having a lot of fun. I plan to do the odd time trial, Metric century and low key hill climb series on it. Since my stroke my Strava times are now actually slower than I used to be able to do on the 700 so trikes certainly are not super slow. I have my fingers crossed that the Canada Road TT series will happen this year.
I have ridden twice with power pod and the readings didn’t feel to me as if they were stacking up with my other power meters. On one interval it looked spot on to me but over the complete ride the data just didn’t look good. I also experienced the thing draining the battery away in storage so twice I ended up doing rides with no power.
When the manufacturers announced a firmware upgrade with better accuracy I felt compelled to try it out (6.2.1). The first ride out after selecting the better accuracy is supposed to be a cal ride but no matter what I tried the pod just wouldn’t work. It just flashed green and red and sat at 50W no matter what I did. In the end I left it until the battery died and tried to upload the software again.
The next ride the calibration process actually worked. You ride out until the power meter reads 50 then stop. You then turn round and ride until the meter reads 100 and the cal is supposedly complete. Unfortunately the data I got after this calibration was total junk and the power was over reading considerably. I saw over 600W when I was probably around 250W. I rode around for over an hour like this in the hope that it would sort itself out but it never did.
I plan to try to load in the software again and have one more attempt but I so regret buying this lump of junk.
I have to say that I absolutely love the way these tires ride on both dirt and and tarmac but I do not know if I would ever buy them again. We have had a very wet January/February and I have done a lot of miles in the wet on these tires. I have done 1200 miles on them since installation and suffered five flats. I have had more flats on these tires than I have had in the past 5 years. On the other hand I have ridden in the rain more than I have since moving to California.
Bike Tires direct have this to say about the tires:
“While many of Challenge’s previous tires are right at home on gravel, they wanted this one to be specially tailored for longer, more demanding rides where tire width and flat protection are at a premium. To this end, they gave the Gravel Grinder Race their Double Puncture Protection System (PPS2) and spec’ed it with a generous 38mm width, resulting in great durability and dependability with comfort and stability on uneven and loose terrain. With file tread in the center, the Gravel Grinder roles smoothly, but still grips turns thanks to its more aggressive shoulder knobs.”
I am afraid I see no evidence of an effective double puncture protection system. I think the tread wear on the back tire after 1200 miles is pretty significant.
Tread wear after 1200 mostly road miles.
The Bethany to O’ Neil Forebay aqueduct trail is a path near Patterson that is extremely lightly used. The surface is generally rough chip seal but there are some sections of pristine tarmac. Although the route is road bike friendly there are regular sections where you have to get off to walk to transverse gates. For this reason, I recommend MTB shoes. There are also a few rough and gravely sections where CX tires make things a lot more pleasurable. The worst sections of the course are some beat up old cattle guards where you really have to be careful.
There is virtually no climbing on the route but wind can be a significant factor. The route is also very exposed so in the summer the heat can be brutal. You see very few humans on the route with only the occasional fisherman for company. I have ridden one mid week in the morning and seen perhaps 3 people all day. The only down sides to the route is that there can be a lot of broken glass near the gated areas (even with chunky CX tires I have flatted) and one section goes by a massive bee community (seasonal).
At the time of writing I have not yet managed to do the whole course. WORK IN PRORESS
Bethany To Patterson Section – 35.6 miles
Bethany To Patterson Section – 35.6 miles
Patterson to Bethany
Patterson to O’ Neil Forebay (approx. 28 miles)
O’ Neil Forebay to Patterson
I was so impressed with the Challenge Gravel Grinders on my Volagi that I fitted a pair on my wifes bike too. I hope she like them as much.
I have planned to do the majority of racing in 2017 on my fixed gear Wabi but was a little down on not having any sort of power monitoring. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a power solution (many of which don’t work on fixed gear) and I had read a good review on the “Powerpod” on DCRainmaker so I decided to give it a go. It comes with it’s own software but I plan to use it with the Garmin and Strava.
I have to be honest in that I am very skeptical that the system can work but It should be ideal for comparative work on the fixed gear Merckx style TT bike. My first riding impressions was that the numbers were all wrong but after about 15 minutes the device seemed to settle down. I did a few efforts and the numbers seemed to be correct by the seat of my pants. It still seemed to under read compared to my other power meters on tailwind sections as I saw some very low numbers.
I put in a proper TT effort on the Dagnino Dead End Strava segment and did 311W. This number felt just about right but only got me my 86th best effort for this segment. My pulse average was 164bpm which shows I was at race pace (based on my new 10bpm lower maximum pulse). I am shocked just how slow I got.
I didn’t think I would ever race again after my stroke but I have found the urge to do something competitive in 2017. I don’t feel up to competing in road races but I have a plan to have a go at a few TT’s. My other issue is my balance and as such I don’t think I will be able to ride on tri-bars so I will TT on my Merckx style fixed gear bike
A goal would be to try to beat the hour for a 25 Mile TT in this 1970’s style setup. This is very much a stretch goal as I am probably only 2/3 fitness nowadays and my previous best on the Wabi for 25 miles was 1:02:36. I think beating 1h10 would be a major achievement. I am planning to have some sort of power meter setup on the fixed for next season. I had an FTP of around 340W when I did that time but no power meter so no way of knowing exactly what the power was. I estimate my current FTP is approx 240W so I have a lot of work to do.
My max pulse has also dropped by 10bpm so I will need to adjust my TT pacing. I plan on attempting the hour on the Loyalton TT course which is pretty flat but I dont think it is as fast as Putah Creek. I have only ridden the course once on my TT bike and found it was horrible but I think it suits fixed (providing the wind isn’t too strong).
Next year I will be back riding for IC3.
There are hardly any suitable events in California anymore but here is my provisional list:
March 26th: Tempus Fugit Individual TT (Spring)
May 29th : RKO#7 – Memorial Day Classic Stage Race and Omnium – Calaveras Time Trial
June 11th : Loyalton Time Trial (State Champs ???????)
July 22 : RKO#11 – Crossfire Hurricane Hill Climb Challenge
Aug 20 : RKO#15 – Tempus Fugit Individual TT
Sep 9th : Mt Diablo Hill Climb TT
Sep 16th : Esparto Time Trial – VP#20 CC#9
And a Marky in a pear Tree (Prickly)…..
I have about 100 miles on the Challenge Gravel Grinders now (80% road/ 20% dirt) and I have to say I am impressed. The tires roll very fast on roads and hard packed dirt and they give a silky smooth ride. I am running them at 45psi and that doesn’t give a hint of sluggishness but it smooths out road imperfections extremely well. Their performance on hard packed dirt is also really good. The Vijae feels like it was built for these tires and it does wonders at taming the overly stiff front end.
From the seat of the pants I would say these tires roll as fast as a 23-25 road tire but I have noticed that my wife pulls away from me on every down hill on her road bike. There must be some drag but when riding you really don’t notice it.
It has not all been good news as I got a flat after only 60 miles from a darn goats head. One of the dangers at riding off piste at this time of the year.
Review of the Tires on “Riding The Gravel”