Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spinners new SCTAC Home

Last Tuesday, the Greenville Spinners started their Tuesday night country ride series from their new home at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC), now just off of Perimeter Road.  This new location is just down the street from where the rides used to start  prior to the start location moving to Augusta Arbor Way in 2013.  A lot of effort was put into working with the management of SCTAC to find a home that could house all of the riders that show up and enjoy riding in one of the biggest organized rides in the area.  The club provided facilities have been moved from the previous location to the parking are as well.

There are plenty of parking areas available in the new location.

The new parking area is much larger than the previous gravel lot off of Augusta Arbor Way, and should be able to accommodate the number of riders coming out to enjoy the activities.  Previously riders were parking in neighboring businesses, who were kind enough to allow it.  While this was extremely generous of the local private businesses, the sheer amount of traffic from the cyclists being in the area was a challenge.  

As a part of the festivities, Several tents were put up at the new location to help celebrate.  The Greenville Spinners had up a membership table, as well as information about the Greenville Spinners racing team.  Hincapie Sportswear and Lexus also had a table up offering up various refueling options for the riders before the ride started, including sports drinks and various energy bars.  Along with the refreshments, Rich Hincapie came out to help raffle off 10 entries into the Hincapie Gran Fondo to help celebrate.  

Overall, the new location is a huge boon to the Spinners, and to cycling in the area.  Being a member of the Spinners was recommended to me when I first moved to the area, and it's a group that I love to support each year.  Having parking areas like this available is just one of the great benefits of being a member, as well as access to the Summer Time Trial Series and a fantastic Fall Cycling Leaf Tour (and Milkshakes).  If you are in the Greenville area and like to ride in our infrastructure, I would urge you to spend the small amount of money to join the Greenville Spinners.  Local bicycle organizations help to further a safe cycling experience, and give back so much than they require to join.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 Preservation Ride

For the 3rd year now, Upstate Forever hosted the annual Preservation Ride.  This is a major fundraiser for the organization, which uses the funds to "promote sensible growth and protect special places in the Upstate region of South Carolina." 

I've been blessed enough to be able to attend all of the events to date.  After riding both the (then) 75-mile route in 2012 and the 40-mile route last year, I already had an idea of the course and the challenges that I would face.  I have not attempted the major climb on the long route since the inaugural event in 2012, so I was anxious to see how I would fare versus my 2 year younger self.  What I couldn't anticipate were several factors that made this a year that testing myself against Skyuka was not going to be in the cards.

There were several factors that I could have controlled, and a few that I couldn't.  Weather was predicted to be wet by late morning, so I knew that it was going to be dicey trying to navigate the descent from the climb.  I also had started coming down with either allergies or a cold, which was limiting my ability to breathe.  As the ride started, I figured that I would just have to see how I felt when I got to the bypass, and see if it was worth attempting.  I told myself it would depend on the group, and I'd probably be swayed by the decision that was made when we got there.  

The group for the long route was smaller this year than it had been in 2012 (the long route starts an hour before the 20- and 40-mile route), and it quickly split into two different groups.  As it would have it, I found myself in the front group, and doing pretty well.  Unfortunately my heart rate monitor was not working properly (I'd get it fixed by about the halfway point - helps to have all the parts to the strap attached), so I didn't realize just how much effort I was putting into staying with this fast group.  The new Soma Smoothie was performing great, and I was happy to be hanging on (and even taking a turn or two pulling) as we moved along.  We skipped the first rest area, as most of us had plenty of fluids being so early in the ride (we got to the first rest area less than an hour after the start). 

The issue was that the effort was really more than I should have been putting out early, and I paid for it before getting to Tryon.  About 25mi into the route I knew I needed to back off, as I wasn't feeling very well.  I had figured that another group would be only a few minutes behind us, which had a few other folks that I'm used to riding with.  If I just backed off some I'd be picked up by them was my logic.  What it ended up is that we had put in at least 15 minutes (maybe close to 30) on the second group very quickly.  At this point I was pretty much riding on my own.  To compound issues, one of the hardest climbs in the ride was coming up - New Market Road.  This road is notoriously hard, to the point of having a message spray painted onto the tarmac stating to get into a low gear.  I downshifted, but not enough, and once you hit 20%+ grades I know better than to attempt to shift any further, so I was down to standing.  About 3/4 of the way up the grunt, I just couldn't turn the pedals, and that cold I was fighting started to win;  I had to get off the bike.  Walking the bike up a hill is not something that I'm accustomed to, but it was apparent that trying to start back up on that steep of a hill wasn't going to be practical.  It was only a short distance before the main grunt subsided, and I was able to get back on the bike and keep moving.  It did give me a good indication that trying to climb Skyuka would be challenging today.

Making my way to the second rest stop, I was still riding solo.  The main group wasn't too far ahead of me, from what I was told by the woman working the stop, but the weather was not looking all that inviting.  Looking down the road towards Skyuka, the mountain itself was covered by clouds.  I started to worry that the descent was going to be wet, and trying to navigate it by myself was going to be difficult at best.  I opted at that point to do the bypass, which cut about 6 miles off the route, but was still a very pretty travel route.  I don't fully regret not attempting Skyuka, as I wouldn't typically experience this road otherwise.

The third rest area was being staffed by my family, which I have to say is always an awesome experience.  It happened to be my youngest's birthday, and the fact that she was willing (and happy) to be helping the riders with water and snacks really made me proud.  I actually surprised them by being the first person to ride up to their stop, which surprised me as well.  I took the opportunity to take another long break, figuring that maybe I could meet back up with the front group and not have to ride solo the rest of the way.  After hanging around for about 15 minutes I had to move on or risk not having any real energy for the back half of the route.  I didn't hurry through the next section, as I kept hoping that the lead group would move through and I'd be able to latch on.  It also gave me the opportunity to take a few shots as I rode through the Greenspace of Fairview, a privately held property protected by Upstate Forever.  To me, this loop is the gem of the ride.  

The last of the rest stops is housed in one of the barns on the property, and I took another few minutes there to take a break, relax, and hope that one of the other groups would come through.  After spending time chatting with the folks working the aid station and taking a few more pictures, I started back on the road when I saw some folks ride through.  I was hopeful that maybe I could hang on with them for a while.

As it turns out, the group that came by was a couple of the really fast folks.  I hung with them for a little while, about 12 miles, but then ended up having to let them ride off as I knew that I couldn't hold with them all the way to the finish.  

The final leg of the trip was through more farmland, and outside of the need for a rest stop around mile 60-65 was fantastic.  The weather started to get warm, so I was glad I took the time at the final rest stop to make sure that I had plenty of fluids.  One of the folks from the front came past me close to the end and had missed the final rest stop, and thus was out of water.  I had extra that that point, knowing we only had a few more miles to go, so I gladly shared.  It wasn't long before the telltale climb to the red barn was in sight.  At the finish a meal was provided that included chicken, pasta, salad, and several desserts.  In keeping with the spirit of Upstate Forever, the meal was served on stoneware that can be washed and reused.  

While the 2014 running of the Preservation Ride didn't include Skyuka Mountain Road for me, it was still an extremely enjoyable experience.  The scenery showcases how beautiful upstate South Carolina is, and the ride is challenging and fun.  Each year they improve the route to accommodate the requests of the riders, and it's awesome to see how it has evolved from the inaugural edition.  If you are looking for a great ride, you will not go wrong with the Preservation Ride each year.  While it isn't a "Gran Fondo" and may not have past and current professional cyclists show up and party, it is a challenging course and supports a fantastic cause.  

Friday, September 12, 2014


For the past 3 years, all of my experiences on the bike have been while using my Scott S40.  From how I fit on the bike to how the road feels, it's all been through the lens of that machine.  I have done several upgrades, including saddle, wheels, and groupset during that time.  As a part of turning 40, I wanted to try something different;  Something more classic;  Steel.

One of the things that I end up doing way too much when I get an idea in my head is reading.  For several years now I've poured over various online sources talking about the theory behind each metal choice.  Ibis Bicycles even published a several part article about the Metallurgy for Cyclists from VeloNews online.  What I found was a fascination with Steel.  In doing more digging, the people still making modern steel bikes were reporting builds that were less than 20 lbs.   It may not be the mystical 15 lb UCI minimum weight, the durability and ride quality seemed to outweigh the concern.
My original plan was to get a used bike from a local bike shop here in town.  The choices were to have one with older technology (drop shifters, 7-speed, etc), or to try to find that special one that would be able to take a modern group set.  Since I already had all of the spare parts from the Scott, I figured that finding just a frame would be less expensive, and I'd have more room to grow with it.  It's not enough to know that you want steel, you really need to know what tier of steel you want to work with.  Each tier of steel alloy has a cost associated with it, along with a weight.  I quickly realized that I was looking for a vary narrow subset of potential frames.  The secondary issues of frame condition and a general lack of availability of those frames came to light quickly thereafter.  Even looking on eBay to get an idea of what was available, the reality of finding a quality frame that could take a modern group was getting narrow.  Enter Soma Fabrications.

Soma is a cottage brand out of San Francisco, specializing in steel bicycle frames.  They are manufactured in Taiwan using Tange Prestige steel.  While Tange is not quite the same caliber as Reynolds 853, it is a heat treated steel alloy that is known to be top tier. did a review of the Soma Smoothie, and put it in the "Road Plush" category.  Doing more searching, every post I could find on the frame was people raving about how nice it was.  The best part was that the frame was in the price range that I wanted to spend: about $400.

I found that a local bike shop here in town that I had done some business with in the past also is a local Soma Dealer.  I happened to stop by after watching the UCI Paracycling World Championship races here locally, and found that they were having a sale, so my timetable for purchasing the bike sped up a little bit.  After working out the labor and additional parts (Cockpit, new front derailluer, front fork), I decided that this build should have the upgraded parts from my Scott on it, moving that bike back to factory specs.  I stayed with a classic black&white overall look, going with classic Cinelli tape.  The end result was quite striking.

The final build components:

  • 46cm Soma Smoothie frame
  • Soma Tange Infinity steel fork
  • Ritchey Comp Cockpit (Seatpost, 110mm Stem, Bars, headset)
  • SRAM Force Shifters
  • SRAM Force Rear Derailleur
  • SRAM Apex Braze on Front Derailleur (soon to be upgraded to SRAM Rival)
  • SRAM Rival Semi-Compact Crank (36/52 chain rings)
  • Boyd Vittesse 24/28 Alloy Clinchers
  • Selle Italia Max SLR GelFlow saddle
  • MaxForce brakes

The final weight of the build came in at 20.74 lbs, which was a little heavier than I was expecting, but not entirely out of line from what I was reading of various builds online.  The steel fork really packs on the lbs, and may be upgraded to a Ritchey Carbon fork at a later date if I really want to drop the weight down.

After getting the bike together the big questions have to be answered:  "Is it as smooth as reported", and "Is it as responsive (Fast/Agile) as my old bike?"

"Is it Smooth?"  - the best way I could answer this one was to find rough roads.  The ultimate test locally for me to put it through would have been Perimeter Road around the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC), which has notoriously beat up sections on it.  The problem with this is that it just so happens that this road is being resurfaced, and the section that would have been the best test is actually closed.  No fear, though, I managed to find a tarmac that made that section of Perimeter Road look great.  While taking a detour, I found Hercules Way, which is an access road to some of the contractors around SCTAC.  This looks to be old airplane taxi tarmac that was paved over and then forgotten.  I would have been hard pressed to take that section of road with the scott and not have issues.  The Smoothie, while not a gentle ride, had no major issues going through the terrain.

After going through that detour, I started watching for more normal levels of rough road, and many of the road conditions that previously I would have been looking to avoid seemed inconsequential on the Smoothie.  

"Is it Fast?" - this is actually a harder question to answer, even with data.  Starting with a baseline of over 14,000 miles on the Scott on roads I know well, the worst thing I could do is compare my best ever times versus my initial rides on the Smoothie.  It would make the assumption that I am, at that very minute, at my peak fitness with all other conditions equal.  As a compromise what I did was picked the most popular speed zones from the past few tuesday night rides, and looked at the differences.

Ritchey Sprint
  • Aug 26, 2014 20.0mi/h   3:20
  • Sep 9, 2014 19.4mi/h   3:26
  • Sep 2, 2014 13.0mi/h   3:32

Old One Hundred
  • Aug 26, 2014 25.0mi/h   2:30
  • Sep 9, 2014 23.0mi/h   2:43
  • Sep 2, 2014 22.6mi/h   2:46

"Reverse Drill It"
  • Aug 26, 2014 22.1mi/h   5:04
  • Sep 9, 2014 20.6mi/h   5:26
  • Sep 2, 2014 19.2mi/h   5:50

The initial results are very compelling.  Taking into account differences in group dynamic, weather, etc, the Smoothie was right there on every segment.  The real test, though, would be climbing.  For this, the best test I could do would be Paris Mountain.  It's a climb I've done over 40 times;  I know it very well.

Just like with the Tuesday night group rides, comparing my initial time with the Smoothie against my best time on the Scott would be unfair.  What I did was did a climb late last week on the Scott to set a quasi-baseline number that would be my baseline.  I then looked at 2 popular segments to see where I stacked up.

"City Lights"

  • 1 Mar 10, 2014 5:07
  • 3 Sep 4, 2014 5:27
  • 5 Sep 10, 2014 5:34

"Paris Mountain Steep Side"

  • 1 Mar 10, 2014 15:54
  • 2 Jun 27, 2013 16:42
  • 6 Sep 4, 2014 17:04
  • 7 Oct 25, 2013 17:09
  • 10 Sep 10, 2014 17:13

After looking at the numbers, I am within 10s on each segment.   While I was over a minute behind my fastest time (+1:19), you can see that my fastest time from March is not in-line with other attempts.  Out of the 44 attempts on this climb, my first attempt with the Smoothie came in at #10.  It would seem that the initial outcome is that it climbs just fine.

Final Initial Thoughts - While it is difficult to make any definitive conclusions with only 57miles and 2 rides on the bike, I am definitely impressed with the bike.  It seems to respond extremely well, and keeps up to it's name in providing a smooth ride.  I intend to give a 1,000 mile update on what I think of the bike once I have a larger sampling of data.  At this point, though, I am becoming a firm believer in the power of Steel.