Sunday, October 19, 2014

what not to do with your Garmin 610 at a race start line

For running races of up to 4 hours, my Garmin Forerunner 610 has been my GPS of choice. It's compact, relatively light, fits well on my wrist, and has decent recording accuracy. I have a wrist strap for the Edge 500, but that unit is cumbersome for a wrist-mount. And my iPhone is too heavy.

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DCRainmaker image of Forerunner 610. See his review here.

The issue with the Forerunner is it's very finicky. Here's what I did today during the Dolphin South End Runner's Club San Bruno Mountain "12 km" trail run (actually closer to 13 km, according to my GPS data).

  1. Turn on, acquiring GPS signal during warm-up run.
  2. Run with the GPS on, to record warm-up run.
  3. Finish warm-up run, then hit "stop" and "reset", to lock in the warm-up as a separate activity. Don't turn off the 610: intent is to keep GPS signal active so I'm ready to go at race start.
  4. Approximately 10 minutes later, with 10 seconds to go before race start, hit "start" to record a new activity.
  5. Run race

Seems reasonable, right? WRONG. Mega-fail. You'll start your run, the timer will be ticking away, but the distance will be stuck at 0. The reason is that the Forerunner, when it's not recording data concludes it has no use for GPS, and goes into "power save" mode by discarding its GPS connection. There's a way, I think, to tell it to re-acquire, but I can never figure that out, and the touch screen doesn't work so well anyway, so the simplest approach is to power it off then back on again, hoping it acquires GPS while I'm running, and then hit start when it finally does.

This is the second time in a race this year that I've done this. The real cost is in Strava, where I don't match Strava segments on climbs at the opening of the race. For example, today was a 12 km race and a 5 km race. Both courses did the 5 km loop, the 12 km group moving on to an additional loop. I'd have liked to compare my time on the opening loop (which is a Strava segment) to not only those doing the 12 km course, whom I ran with (I was 7th at this point, passing two of them later to finish 5th), but also those in the 5 km race.

But no luck. The data from the opening 500 meters or so are lost.

Instead what you need to do is turn it on for warm-up, but if you want to isolate that as a separate activity, turn it off, reset, then turn it immediately back on, to avoid it going into power-save mode, which it does only after a fixed delay. It actually issues a warning for a few seconds before shutting off GPS, but it's easily missed in the noisy environment of a race start.

I understand why they do this. As frustrating as it is to lose data at the beginning of the run in addition to the unit taking a lot of attention which is far better devoted to the actual race, it's equally frustrating to realize your battery is half-drained away when you need more to get through the race duration. But the present "solution" is too error-prone.

Other than the limited battery life (not enough for hilly ultras) I like it: it records data, it tells me my pace and distance, I can upload at the end of the ride. That's all I want, really. This business with dropping GPS is the biggest flaw.

Friday, October 17, 2014

heuristic error check for rider mass (kg) vs age

For Low-Key Hillclimbs I have a mass-adjusted climbing score, which is based on the product of the rider mass and the rate of vertical ascent. This isn't a power calculation, but is related to power, and the units differ from power only by a factor of the gravitiational acceleration, which is roughly constant.

The natural units of mass for international sports is kilograms, but this is the United States, and people here are more accustomed to dealing in pound-equivalents (pounds formally being a unit of force or weight, not mass). So rather than require riders to calculate their mass in kg, which they may be less likely to recall than their weight in pounds, I default to having them enter pounds, with an optional unit specification which can allow for other units (I presently support pounds, kilograms, stone for my Britophiles, and slugs to be pedantic).

But people mess up. One friend specified his mass as "10 stone 8 pounds", a mixed unit I can't handle (my parser considered that as "10 pounds"). But more often people will enter kg without a unit. That seems to happen once or twice per week.

So what to do? The pragmatic approach is to check the weight, and it's low (pounds and kg differ by a factor 0.454), then assume it is kg. But what about young riders? Sometimes people bring kids on the Low-Key in trailers. So I need a threshold for what I consider "too light for pounds" which is a function of age, yet which isn't so low that relatively heavier riders if they make the mistake won't get caught.

Of course, if I had height, that would help. But I don't. So I need to go with age.

To accomplish this, I developed an ad hoc age-to-mass conversion. First I needed to come up with a threshold for infinite age. 40 kg seems reasonable: 88 pounds. There's women lighter than this, but it's the infinite-age limit, and for finite age, my threshold would be reduced lower. Note I could use sex as well, except for tandem riders sex can be "mixed" due to the way I process results, so I decided to not use that.

On the other hand, if a rider were to enter 90 kg, a reasonable mass, then my code would still consider that to be a reading in pounds So there's a chance of bigger riders making the mistake and slipping through. Fortunately this is a hillclimb series, which tends to attract relatively thin people, so the substantial majority are under 90 kg.

Then I need to adjust the mass versus age. Once people reach adulthood, mass maxes out, so my function needs to asymptote beyond age 21 or so. The very young tend to grow at a certain rate, but since mass increases superlinearly with height (BMI suggests to the second-power, but it's more realistically a higher power, closer to 2.5). So in the early years the mass increases proportional to age to some power greater than 1. That power won't necessarily be constant with age, but I'll assume that's a good approximation.

So here's the equation I came up with:

kgmin = (40 kg) (age / 15 years)2 / sqrt [ 1 + (age / 15 years)4 ]

I picked 15 years because this seemed like an age at which growth stops increasing as rapidly as it does at younger ages.

The behavior of this equation is clear. For small ages, the denominator is essentially 1, and the mass increases proportional to the square of age. But at high ages, the 1 in the denominator becomes irrelevant, and the numerator and denominator cancel, leaving an asymptote of 40 kg.

I decided to check this against published data for mass versus age. Here's data for boys age 0 to 17:

And here's data from girls:

I used the 5%-tile data because I'm interested in a lower-bound limit, and in any case 50% and above are confounded by the obesity epidemic which tends to not afflict children of Low-Key hillclimbers.

Here's a comparison of my equation with these data:

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My curve is conservative, tracking women better than men, the girls' mass tracking the boys' until an age where they saturate while the boys keep going.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gallium Pro geometry

On Caltrain yesterday, I was surprised to see among the usual set of commuting bikes a SRAM Red-equipped Argon Gallium Pro. The bike immediately stole your attention. The design was one which has been trending: clear-coated carbon with plenty of text detail so the viewer is sure to realize he's gazing upon the result of advanced, proprietary engineering and not at yet another paint job on the same old OEM frames being pumped out of the same old Taiwanese factories. But it worked: the bottom bracket area was huge, the downtube a large-diameter "inverted Kamm tail" design seemingly designed to maximize wind resistance, the top tube a broad, eccentric shape which screamed "vertically compliant yet torsionally stiff". All it lacked were the pencil-think seat stays Cervelo popularized, but this was a machine designed for stiffness over anything else.

It seemed dramatic overkill, since the bike was small (the Argon "XS" I suspect). There wasn't much seatpost showing and the handlebars were spaced up to within a few cm of the saddle height. The spacers, however, weren't of the ordinary variety, but rather of similar diameter to the large-diameter head-tube, designed to appear at first glance as an extension of that tube rather than of the fork. Did this help front-end stiffness? Perhaps. I'd love to see test data.

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Web photo of Argon Gallium

The compromise from full race-readiness was the wheels: Al-rimmed clinchers. Bringing carbon rims onto the Caltrain bike car would be absurd, so I wasn't surprised to see this. There was a good chance the rider had race wheels safely at home.

All other things equal (same tube diameters, scaled geometry) a smaller frame will be stiffer than a larger one. The stiffness of a beam is inversely proportional to the cube of its length, so if you increase length by 10%, stiffness increases by a bit more than 30%. Additionally, smaller riders are lighter and less powerful as a population, so forces involved are reduced: since mass tends to go like height to between the 2nd and 3rd power, a rider 10% taller will likely generate forces around 25% greater. A combination of 30% more stiffness and 25% less force for a rider 10% lighter means a bike optimized for a rider of a given height will likely be over-built for one shorter. This definitely looked over-built.

I discretely looked around to see whose bike it might be. I expected a small guy, perhaps Asian, dressed in full racing kit. Of course he'd be sitting close to the bike to keep an eye on it, but there was only one passenger in the ground-floor seats, and he didn't look like he fit.

We were approaching a stop, when a small, thin Asian woman walked down the aisle. I didn't pay much attention to her until she took the bike off the rack and started walking with it. I smiled. The bike clearly did not fit with my perception of a female bike.

I asked her about it: did she race? She was thinking of it, she said, but had used it for AIDS Lifecycle, a charty tour from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It rode well, she said.

I decided to check out the geometry. Argon is entering the ProTour for 2015, so their bikes are coming into increased prominence.

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geometry for Nitrogen; Gallium Pro is equivalent

Their geometry chart is restrained, for example with head tube angle and head tube length notably absent. Stack and reach are included, these being the focus of the fit scaling. The chart is particularly useful because it provides fit guidance as a function of saddle height: the range of available handlebar drops for a given saddle height for each frame size. For my dimensions (72 cm saddle height, 8 cm drop) this puts me in the size small, which is the 3rd smallest size of the 6.

Here's how those compare with some other bikes of note: the Trek Madone and the Cervelo series:

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The Argon scales down to an exceptionally low stack, lower even than Cervelo which is itself very low. Reach is relatively long, however, particularly in the small sizes where it rivals the Madone H1, which is among the most aggressively designed frames popularly available. In larger sizes it retreats a bit from the Madone's small stack-reach ratio. It nevertheless stays more aggressive than the 2015 Cervelo S5, which some among the Cervelo cult consider crazy-aggressive.

One differentiating aspect of the geometry is the low bottom bracket: 75 mm drop from the hub height. For small bikes, which are likely fitted with small cranks (165 - 170 mm), a low bottom bracket works, especially when fitted with compact pedals like Speedplay or (my current favorite) BeBop. With short cranks, the risk of clipping a pedal on the ground is reduced. But with large frames 75 mm seems risky. Cannondale, for example, raises the bottom bracket on larger frame sizes for this reason; larger frame implies longer cranks implies less lean angle to the point of pedal-ground or shoe-ground contact. Dan Martin lost Liege-Bastogne-Liege clipping a pedal in the final corner when he tried to pedal through to take the victory. He later won Lombardia coasting through the final corner. But for this woman's bike it wasn't likely an issue.

Another is the short head-tubes. Here's another version of he geometry chart showing head-tube length:

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9.1 cm and 9.6 cm for the smallest two frames is extraordinary. The low bottom bracket requires an even shorter than typical head tube to reach low stack values: with the bottom bracket lower, the wheel is relatively higher, and that means the head tube needs to be shorter.

I will readily admit I have an irrational obsession with bikes. Yet the number of bikes I've ridden is relatively small: I'm certainly not in the habit of going into shops and test-riding bikes I have no intention of purchasing (my recent test of the Parlee ESX, it being a "demo day", a rare exception). I felt little desire to ride the Argon since I value low mass, aerodynamics, and comfort over stiffness. The one bike I would like to test is the Cervelo R5, which if they adapted to the new S5 geometry would be particularly difficult to resist. But since I do and would continue to do the vast majority of my riding on my tried-and-true steel Ritchey Breakaway buying a new carbon fiber über-frame makes zero sense. The Fuji SL/1 (the same model recently ridden to a Low-Key Hillclimbs record and Strava KOM on Montebello Road) is more than good enough as an "event bike" for me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

culture shock: Back the the USA

After 6 weeks in Europe, a combination of some work and more vacation, there's a bit of culture shock coming back the the United States.

  1. Sprawl: flying into SFO, the sprawl across the East Bay was extensive. Residential development in Europe tends to be more clumped: areas of density immediately adjacent to rural. Suburbia is much, much less extensive.
  2. Being immersed in English: this feels wrong, sort of like cheating. I'm not complaining, though!
  3. tasteless food: I cooked some California brown rice and cooked it. The taste, or rather lack, was a bit of a shock. In Switzerland, all of the food I had was rich and flavorful, fresh and good. A lot of food in the US tastes empty and stale, produced for quantity rather than quality.
  4. California stops: after assembling the Ritchey Breakaway and riding to the train on Monday morning, after my return Sunday night, at the first intersection I hit where I had right of way and cross-traffic a stop sign, a driver did a California stop: drifting through the sign without actually stopping. He knew he was letting me go, but it wasn't obvious to me. A big part of being on shared roads is to communicate your actions.
  5. bumpy trains: the Swiss trains were smooth as silk. On Caltrain, on some trains I can't even type on my keyboard due to the bouncing suspension. I actually experienced this first on my way home from the airport, on BART, which is smoother than Caltrain but the trains still look old, worn, and weathered.
  6. wide suburban roads: after Caltrain, I have a 3+-km ride to work. My usual way essentially ends with a left from Middlefield in Mountain View onto a highway frontage road. Middlefield is a suburban road, yet is 8 lanes at this point, so I need to merge across 3 then make a left across the remaining 4. 8 lanes? Even the intercity roads I was on in Switzerland, France, and Germany never exceeded 4 (2 each way).
  7. parking lots: generally, the amount of land squandered on asphalt here is appalling, both roads and giant parking lots surrounding every building. Even in Meiringen Switzerland, which is in an agricultural valley and thus land is abundant, the public parking lot is buried.
  8. lack of cycling infrastructure: In Switzerland especially, but additionally in France and Germany, grade-separated bikeways were common. I rarely see these here. There's plenty of bike lanes, but generally to get around on a bike you need to know the best routes In Basel there was the challenge of navigating the streets, but on roads with too much traffic there was almost always bike infrastructure: I didn't need to have any insider knowledge on which subset of the roads were bike-friendly. It's ironic that Proposition L in San Francisco's November election is advocating a "restoration of balance" for car-infrastructure. A comparison with Europe shows the present situation is out of balance, but well in favor of private motor vehicles.
  9. Lack of mobility without a car: I want to go to Low-Key Hillclimb week 3, Welch Creek Road, this weekend, but just getting across the Bay without a car anywhere resembling early morning is a challenge. In Switzerland you could pretty much get where you wanted, when you wanted.
  10. Street people: in San Francisco, they're everywhere. In Basel, I didn't see anyone camping in the streets.

I really do like it in San Francisco. I don't know if I'd be happy living and working in Switzerland: it's a much more dynamic environment here. But I certainly miss a lot about my wonderful time spent there.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Axalp climb

Adding to my collection of profiles for climbs I've done, here's one for the Axalp climb, approximately 10 km west of Meiringen, Switzerland, on the south shore of Lake Brienzersee.

First the profile. I used my Garmin Edge 500 for position and altitude. On the climb up, I lost GPS signal for a bit, which resulted in a data gap. Since I take the data straight from the FIT file, I rely on Garmin's distance determination, which would normally be good if my Powertap had been functioning, but the super-cheap alkaline LR44 batteries I got off Amazon don't last as long as silver oxide 357's with which the Powertap ships. As a result, I needed to rely on the Garmin's GPS distance determination, which doesn't interpolate across gaps, unlike Strava's distance determination. It was easy enough to convert latitude and longitudes into distance, but the Garmin's smarter than that: local variation in position turn straight paths into zig-zags, and the result is a persistent overestimation of total distance. Honestly I don't know how Garmin does its position->distance conversion, but all I know is it doesn't handle gaps well.

But I was saved. I descended the same hill I'd climbed, so I was able to use the data from the descent, reverse the order of the points, and presto-magicko, I have climb data. Of course this isn't strictly accurate because I climb the opposite side of the road as I descent, so switchback insides become outsides and vice-versa, but on the narrow roadway the difference is small.

Using the descending data offers an additional advantage, which is that if barometric pressure changes due to weather, or temperature changes, corrupt the altitude data, these changes will likely be a lot less at descending speed than at much slower climbing speeds.

Anyway, here's the profile:

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My profiles all end up looking fairly similar because I use the entire plot from lower left to upper right. I then take characteristic subsets of the curve and do nonlinear regressions to fit a gradient and an offset to the segments, providing a feel for how the gradient of vairious subsets of the climb behave. But it's also useful to consider the grade extracted on a local basis. For this I first do a smoothing operation using a convolution function with characteristic length of 50 meters:

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Yes, this one is steep, peaking out in the middle at over 15%, but fairly consistenly hanging out at 10% or steeper. There was some relief through and beyond Axalp itself. I continued to a T-intersection with a street sign:

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It rated out at 160% of Old La Honda using my formula, as I rode it. However, the climb can be ridden a bit further, taking the right-hand option, until it turns to gravel/dirt.

But the light was fading and I wanted to reach the bottom of the descent before I needed my headlight. So I didn't dally too long, or explore the way further. I did, however, stop long enough to take this photo, not far from the top:

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But then I returned the relatively short distance to Axalp, filled my bottle at the fountain, then returned to the valley for the approximately 10 km back to Meiringen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

visiting Meiringen, Switzerland

There's a great rush of satisfaction in knowing you've gotten things right.

Of course, we have infinite options, so the probability of picking the "optimal" is mathematically zero. If true optimization is the goal, we're doomed to failure. Some steadfastly hold themselves to this standard anyway, and indeed they meet with the failure which is mathematically certain. I'm not talking about this sort of pathological optimization, I'm talking more about when faced with a cloud of uncertainty, options taken did a pretty good job.

I write this on a train from Bern to Basil, having started in Meiringen. In this case, the choice was fairly simple. I popped open my SBB.ch app, typed in "Meiringen" to "Basel SBB", and it gave me a bunch of options, all starting with a trip to Interlaken Ost, then transferring to one or two trains to Basel. All took around 2:36.

Instead of buying my ticket with the app, as I would normally do, I got it at the desk in the Meiringen station, for which there was no line. I was given a ticket with said "Meiringen - Basel SBB via Brünig - Luzern - Olten". But I never read the small print.

On the train the conductor asked for my ticket. I confidently showed this, along with my 18 CHF day-pass for my bike. She was stared at it for more than the 3 seconds I'd assigned for a reasonable assessment of its sufficiency.

"This is the wrong ticket", she said. I tensed, adopting the fight-or-flight instinct which wasn't going to succeed either way. How could it be the wrong ticket?

"This is for a different route, with a different train company".

Wow. So I'd been using the SBB.ch app, which gave me the optimal route, but in this case subject to the constraint I take their trains. Sure enough, looking at the train map, and finally reading that fine print, it became clear the route though Lucerne was superior to the one via Bern. I was clealy non-optimal.

"You need to pay the difference in fare.... (click, click, click).... 18 Francs"

Well, at least there was no penalty. At least I didn't need to pay a full fare from scratch. At least I wasn't thrown off the train.experience with fare errors on Caltrain back home is that they are dealt with with a far more draconian response: a fine of around $300.

Of course I should have read the ticket. Of course I should have looked at the schedule for trains to Lucerne via Brünig. But I didn't. My smug satisfaction of over optimizing my trip was crushed into a sense ot utter and total failure.

And so is ending a 3-day trip to the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland. The forecast was for a 3-day trend of warming weather, proceeding from a cool Tuesday when I arrived to a warmer Wednesday to a seasonally warm Thursday. I had 3 rides lined up to do. Going along with the warming trend I put them in a sequence of increasing peak altitude. For Tuesday, a ride to Axalp, a ski resort where the top of the climb is at little more than 1700 meters. Then for Wednesday, a ride over the famous Grosse Scheidegg, last used in the Tour de Suisse in 2011 stage 3, remarkably won by a very young Peter Sagan. Then I saved for Thursday the inspiration for the trip, Grimselpass and Furkapass, two absolutely iconic Swiss climbs, each topping out at over 2000 meters. That was to be the highlight of this little trip, if not the highlight of my entire stay in Switzerland.

Tuesday: after a hike-run to Reichenbach Fall, admiring the plaque marking the spot where Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty fought to the death in 1891 as described in Canon Doyle's "the Final Problem", I left my hotel, the Rebstock, at 16:30 for a quick assault on Axalp, a ride just over 40 km round trip. Although I was cold on the descent (but not quite shivering) and I definitely needed my lights toward the end of the ride, it was a very positive experience. The combination of a 13 km run-hike and the sustained steepness of the surprisingly difficult Axalp climb, then adding in a visit to the wonderful Sherlock Holmes museum in Meiringen, left me feeling it was a day very well spent, even if I'd taken a longer-than-necessary train from Basel that morning. But I didn't realize that at the time.

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Sight of fictional battle to death between Holmes and Moriarty


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Holmes and Watson study reproduction, at Sherlock Holmes museum in Meiringen


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T-intersection where I ended my climb to and beyond Axalp


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view from above Axalp

Wednesday was the spectacular ride from Meiringen to Grosse Scheidegg, then from the summit to Grindewald. It was a supernatural ride, the road closed to all vehicles except for the buses which demand respect (it's not the best route for Strava quests, up as well as down, since when a bus as wide as the roadway approaches from behind it really is best to pull over), and the view of the mountains something which can't be described. I felt cold and depleted when I landed in Grindewald, stopping at a wonderful bakery at the upper portion of the town for 2 rolls and 2 chocolate yogurts, which were delicious. But then, feeling somewhat fortified, I descended further into the tourist-centric part of the city. From there down to Interlaken at the western tip of the lake was less enjoyable. Narrow roads with relatively heavy car traffic and no shoulders is a combination my experience riding in the United States doesn't allow me to trust.

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looking back at switchback approaching final km of Gross Scheidegg


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top of Gross Scheidegg


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watch for buses on Gross Scheidegg descent


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cog rail in Grindewald, plus my finger

From Interlaken, though, I made a wonderful detour up a dirt-and-gravel climb which generally tracked the obviously far straighter trajectory of a funucular railway. The road didn't make it all the way to the end of the railway, but then my legs didn't make it all the way to the end of the road. They succumbed to that all-to-familar transformation of muscle to jello, causing a "death before dismount" violation where I walked a particularly steep stretch of particularly large gravel before remounting and continuing onward.

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The road home to Meiringen along the north shore of the lake wasn't bad, but wasn't super special either. The truly spectacular views of the water had come from altitude.

That left Thursday. Grimselpass! Furkapass I left as an option, depending on the conditions in the pass, but I suspected since I'd done okay at 1700+ meters in the evening of the coldest day, then at 1900+ meters on the middle day, I'd be fine (bringing with me the addition of newspaper to stuff under my jersey) on the warmest of the 3 days at an altitude not much more than 2000 meters. I was on the cusp of well-optimized 3-day schedule.

I'd noticed both Tuesday and Wednesday the winds in Mieringen can be truly impressive. The shutters on my windows blew open Wednesday night, and I had to close them and latch them more securely than before. The excellent map of cycling routes I'd gotten from the tourist information booth at the bahnhof on my arrival on Tuesday warned of the "Föhn wind" for the route to Grimselpass. You will need to "pedal hard" it said. I was good with that.

Thursday morning, bright and early, I mentioned my concern for the wind to the woman doing the morning shift at the Rebstock, during the excellent breakfast service they provide. "It's good weather. When it's good weather, there's wind," she said.

I set off and went straight to the foundain outside the Sherlock Holmes museum to fill my bottles. It was a bad sign when a gust of wind blew the water stream from vertical to diagonal, missing the mouth of my bottle just below. As Tom Humphries, my sailing partner back when I was an undergraduate liked to say -- "yeah -- it's blowing."

No problem, I decided. That was just the valley here. Once the road heads upward the slope will shield me from the wind.

Well, maybe that happens in the San Francisco Bay area, where the wind is blowing off the ocean to replace the air rising from the hot East Bay, the wind getting launched over the tree-covered Santa Cruz mountain range. But here it was different. This was no ocean breeze, the nearest ocean (or reasonable facsimile) many hundreds of kilometers away. The dynamic wasn't the same. The air was blowing straight down the slope of the mountain.

At first I felt I was okay -- I could handle it. My principal concern was when getting passed by trucks on the narrow road. I have this exceptional fear of getting blown into the path of big trucks. It's not as if cars are particular less deadly, and at least the truck drivers are professionals whose (in Europe) professional futures depend on them not running people down (in the US, it's all good as long as you don't leave the scene of death). I've always had a particular problem with gusting cross-winds. They blow me across the road when heavier riders stay firm. As long as I could keep the bike in reasonable control during the gusts. I didn't care how long it took the climb to the pass: as long as I made it back by dark.

But then I came to the first tunnel. Here, perhaps due to the shape of the rock, the winds were howling. Traffic was stopped because of construction on one of the two lanes through the tunnel, requiring alternating direction traffic control, a common occurrance in Switzerland where road maintenance is given high priority. But there was a path around the tunnel, as there are around all tunnels to Grimselpass from Meiringen. The construction crew was using this path for their generators, but I thought I could get by.

I'd taken only a few steps when the wind gust turned into a meta-gust. I could barely stand, so crouched down to reduce my cross-section. I was going to ride in this? With trucks passing? No -- that was it. I was turning back.

So I walked down to the final corner before the short straight to the tunnel, a stretch where the wind had been the strongest, then got back on my bike and carefully rode back the way I'd come to Meiringen. A ride of shame.

I now had several options. I could do a different ride, where the wind was less of a problem. I could go for a run. Or I could take a bus to the pass.

I decided on the last option, quickly buying a ticket for the 161 to the pass, which left in 9 minutes. I also got that train ticket I mentioned and the day pass for my bike. I was going to take my bike to the summit (I didn't have anything else I could do with it in the time remaining until the bus left, and the next was in 2 hours). Then when there I'd decide what to do.

The bus ride was nice, although of course no comparison to riding the road myself. I felt a bit shamed as we passed first one, then another cyclist struggling up the hill.

Finally the bus arrived and I stepped off... into a blast of cold which cut straight to my bones. Long gone was the warmth of the valley. And any hope I'd sustained that the wind would be reduced up here was quickly destroyed. At least it wasn't gusting.

I put on all the clothes I had available, rode back and forth a few times, then settled on one of the two restaurants which were open where I scored big with a delicious cheese sandwich. You simply can't go wrong with simple food in Switzerland: the ingredients are fresh and delicious and so the result is fantastic.

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Grimselpass, looking towards Furkapass


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lunch at Grimselpass


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Looking back towards Meiringen from Grimselpass

After that, I braved the cold a bit more before the bus I'd exited returned from its ultimate destination, the town at the depression between the Grimselpass and Furkapass. I bought a return ticket and back I went to Meiringen, thinking of the rider I'd seen crest the summit for the same descent done the correct way while I had been waiting.

While I did manage to salvage something from the day with a cool mixed dirt-paved climb out of Meiringen I'd picked from the cycling map, I'd failed to identify that the warmest day would be the windiest. I'd have been better off climbing Grimselpass the day before. Ah, well. At least I got to see it.







Friday, October 10, 2014

Chamrousse out of Grenoble

After my epic ride of L'Alpe d'Huez, Lac Bassen, and Col Sarenne the day before, I found myself back at the Campanile Süd in Grenoble. I'd thought to find someone closer to the centre ville, something with a bit more character, but I was tired and having difficulty navigating the twisting roads of the city, and so turned on my Garmin Edge 500 navigation and followed the route I'd programmed to reach the Campanile. The Campanile is relatively cheap, has decent wifi, and provides a simple but nutritious breakfast. I decided to go with the safe bet. Luckily there were still rooms available.

I checked out the next morning, left my backpack (my sole luggage for the trip) at the desk, then set off for Chamrousse, which had been recommended to me by a friend. If you go into Strava Segment Explorer, zoom into Grenoble, and move the climb selector over to "HC", the Champrousse climb becomes the obvious candidate.

It was used in the Tour de France as a time trial during the giddy Lance Armstring years, 2004 as a time trial. Of course, Lance crushed it. Ten years later, in the far more palatable year that is 2014, it served as a stage finish. This latter fact was attractive to me, as I provide the names painted on the road, a ubiquitous sign of recent Tour passage, a motivator.

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2014 Tour stage, from Velo in Oberland hotel

There's plenty of other climbs near Grenoble, gaining less alitude. These are older, more historic climbs, the Chamrousse climb being an access road to ski resorts on the summit. So to some degree I was trading quantity for quality. L'Alpe d'Huez is also a ski resort climb, and it's a wonderful climb, however. So I really didn't know what to expect.

Overall the ride was a bit of a disappointment, though. After the day before, my standards were exceptionally high, however.

It opened with a long, gradual uphill grind to the start of the climb. This was on a 2-lane road with remarkably heavy vehicle traffic. Strava Route Finder did a wonderful job of route definition, and I was able to follow it closely enough (a few wrong turns) with my Garmin Edge 500. But still, I find squeezing myself on the edge of a busy roadway an experience I wish would end sooner rather than later.

Eventually I reached the first of two turn-offs to Champrousse. The access road is essentially a big loop, intersecting the road I was on in two places. But the net distance from Grenoble was similar either way. I chose the second, more eastern climb, since that is the one the Tour had used.

Soon enough I was on the climb. There's not much to say about it: up, up, up I went. There were some altitude markers near the bottom, but generally I saw very little indication of how far was yet to go.

I knew I was supposed to take a right off the main loop road to reach the ski resort. Suddenly I saw signs for Champrousse: there's a lower resort, "Chamrousse 1650", and an upper one, "Chamrousse 1750", the number presumably the altitude in meters. My Garmin wasn't providing much guidance here; I forget why (the screen was in one of its blank moods, perhaps), but I reached a narrow road to the right which didn't seem like it should have been the turn, but I wasn't sure. I circled a few times, considering it, before continuing on the main road when I realized the Tour woudn't likely have gone on something that narrow, and in any case there was no road paint in the corner.

This was the correct decision, and I reached what was obviously the correct turn soon after. Knowing this was the end, not only of this climb but of the climbing during this little trip into the French Alps, I put in a burst of effort (as much as my tired legs could produce), and reached the top.

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View from Chamrousse

The constrast with L'Alpe d'Huez was striking. While L'Alpe d'Huez was mostly empty other than a hot-spot catering to the cyclists, this was virtually completely empty. Despite the proximity to Grenoble, a very outdoor-oriented population-center, and good weather, there were no other cyclists, or much of anyone, up here. There was one bar which might have been open, but I didn't think so. It was all rather anti-climactic.

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After recovering a bit, eating some of my food, drinking some water, and finding a place to pee, I set off on the descent. Once again I was relatively cold, but not shivering. Unlike the day before, however, it didn't warm as obviously as I descended. To the contrary, several times I passed through clouds which increased the chill. I was glad to finally reach the bottom.

I then headed back to Grenoble, fetched my backpack, and rode to catch my train back to Geneva, and from there, Basil.