Slough Country Ramblin’, 14 May 2017

Originally I was supposed to head out to the east side of the Columbia River Gorge for a ride on Sunday. But this was going to be a carpool type affair with folks I didn’t know. And I got the word on Friday that fitting my bike was a “maybe”. Plus, the meet point was ten miles from my house, at 7 am. I said, nevermind, I’ll try it again some other time.

The initial weather forecast for Sunday May 14 was crap,* but something remarkable happened: Around noon the rain stopped and the skies cleared up a bit. Nice weather for a bike ride.

I decided to pull out the ol’ three speed, my trusty Raleigh Superbe. This was also the same weekend of the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour. After going for three years in a row, this was the first year since I started going that I wouldn’t make it. I’m a bit bummed about this, but honestly, I’m not as bummed as I thought I’d be. Well, if I couldn’t be physically in the Midwest, at least I could be there in spirit!

It seemed as appropriate as ever for a nice little ramble down into the lands of the Columbia Slough, especially since I have an upcoming ride down here. What better time to test that route than now!

First stop was Columbia Childrens Arboretum to eat my lunch. This obscure park was peaceful (and a bit muddy) on this Sunday afternoon, just the hum of industry in the background. That’s the ultimate irony of the lowlands of the Slough: One moment you are in a forest of cottonwood and alder, or next to a peaceful pond. The next moment you’re near an auto wrecking operation or trucking company.

Further on, I took a pause by that secret slough by Heron Lakes Golf Course. Parking the Superbe against a pine, I had a postcard perfect scene. Nevermind that I-5’s roar is just less than a mile away, and quite audible.

I rambled further down the Slough trail. The bike/ped bridge across the Slough by the wastewater plant is open again, so good news. But I decided to press on. The water in Smith Lake was quite high. I made it all the way to the “edge of the peninsula”, Kelley Point Park, where the Willamette and Columbia meet. The rivers ran high here as well, swelling with spring rains, obscuring most of the sandy beaches.

I rode back towards town, using Marine Drive towards St Johns. The busy freight route was quiet this Sunday, but there were still trains a’moving and other things humming. St Johns was quiet. I got a couple slices of pizza for dinner, then a drink, and headed back home.

As I’ve said before, I’m not totally in love with living all the way out on the edge of NE Portland. But having the lands of the Columbia Slough so close by is a big perk. I can get to peaceful nature settings in a little over a mile by bike. I wouldn’t be able to do that in many other parts of town. And I can’t take that for granted.

*If I did go on the original Gorge ride, the weather would be nicer, since it was on the drier side of the mountains.

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A foggy slough and Couve ramble, Wed 28 Dec 2016

Wednesday was a day off, and the weather was supposed to be okay. So a perfect opportunity for a little bike ride! As I stated previously, the Columbia Slough is “my jam” so I decided to aim that way, since I didn’t want anything too ambitious.

The big problem though was a persistent fog that clung to the lowlands. While the fog was clearing around my house when I left after 1 pm, it wasn’t going anywhere by the river. As I got deeper into it, feeling that chill that only fog plus just above freezing temps can give. (Oddly enough, I felt a headwind when I traveled west.) Originally I had a vague notion of heading up towards Kelley Point, but that changed. How about Hayden Island instead?

Hayden Island is an island that sits in the middle of the Columbia River. Well, “middle” isn’t exactly correct, as it’s closer to the Oregon side. As such, most of Hayden Island is a Portland neighborhood, generally known as Jantzen Beach because of the former amusement park/current mall that takes up a good chunk of the island.* I wanted to check and see if Ricky Point, one of my favorite sunrise/set/moonrise spots is still locked off. ** (Unfortunately, it still is.) Even worse, now the wild side of Hayden Island, the part just west of the railroad tracks where we brought Grant Petersen out that one time is also completely fenced off and inaccessible. Sigh.

With an air of resignation I took a coffee outside break at tiny Lotus Isle Park. The fog made everything look eerie, which was cool. But I sort of questioned my own judgement of standing still for so long to make coffee in these conditions. It’s probably because I dragged the kit along, so I felt like I should use it. (And if I somehow didn’t bring the kit along, I would have regretted it. Damned if you do…)

At this point I could head back south and do some more rambling, but since I was practically to Vancouver, Washington I might as well take advantage of it. I rode over the Interstate Bridge and was quickly in downtown The Couve.

While Vancouver is still a bit sleepy and doesn’t feature the explosion of construction that Portland does, every time I visit I see changes. Seems like there’s a new brew pub or cafe, or a restaurant or store. And there’s a lot of murals! For the longest time it didn’t seem like anything was going down downtown, but now there’s even things for a Portland snob like me. I tried out a couple brew pubs, and also visited Niche, the wine bar that my friend Leah owns. (And of course Todd would be there too, so he can finally see what I did to the Superbe since I bought it from him so long ago!)

Then it was dark and late. I headed south, home. I’ll be in Vancouver again, hopefully soon…

*It’s a popular shopping spot for Washingtonians since it’s right across the river from Vancouver, and Oregon has no sales tax.

**Technically Ricky Point is on Tomahawk Island. It was once separated from Hayden Island, but is now connected, so there’s not much of a distinction anymore.

Yet again, time for more bike work.

31133503106_84798979e3_oI’ve had the Raleigh Crested Butte for just over four years. When I bought it in October of 2012, it was definitely a “garage queen”, and showed little signs of wear and use. But that was four years ago. The Crested Butte has become my “daily driver” utility bike, the one I go to most for commuting and such. And while I have never toured on it, I’ve definitely put miles on it.

And while the Crested Butte was a nicely made, top of the line mountain bike in 1984, even the best of Shimano Deore componentry wears out if it sees constant and consistent use. The Suntour Perfect freewheel and rear axle went in the summer of 2015, replaced by another used Perfect freewheel. The “first gen” Deore shifters wore out a few months ago, replaced with “second gen” Deore shifters.

But now the bike is at a crossroads. The bike has felt a bit more clunky than it should* the past few months. Earlier last week the chain was having some weird jamming issues. The prognosis is the Perfect freewheel is no longer so perfect, so I need a new freewheel. That’s no big deal in itself, but the rear derailleur is also wearing out. And when the chain is in the small front chainring, it’s a couple millimetres from the sidewall of the rear tire. In fact, if I go over 52 mm in width on that tire, I run the risk of rub regardless. It would be nice to reduce that risk by changing the triple into a double and keeping the  two bigger chainrings as far out as they already are.** That could also mean that I can finally put a double-legged kickstand on there, which would make my life a bit easier.

And I have also become annoyed with the brakes. Those high profile first gen Deore cantis are great brakes…when they work. But they quickly come out of adjustment, and are fiddly to readjust. So maybe it’s time for new brakes? I’ve had V-brakes before, and while they don’t look as nearly as nice as old cantis, they definitely do the job with little fuss.

So you can see that’s all adding up into a few hundred dollar job, at least. This is the point you’d maybe remind me that I tried to sell this same bike just a year ago. Yes, I see the irony. When the bill started to add up, I did have a “What the f- am I doing?” moment, and the thought about selling again briefly lit up. But after all I’ve done with and to this bike in the four years of owning it, I’d hardly get back anything for selling it. Also, I just like this bike a tad too much to do that, and want to keep it around for a year or two more, at the least.*** It’s nice to have a bike like this, a nice enough bike as it is, but the do-everything workhorse that means you can save the nice bikes for fun times. And let’s face it: I had a good run on this bike, with retaining most of the original parts it came with. Until this year, the only things I had replaced (not counting consumables like tires, chains, cables, brake pads) had been the saddle, seatpost, handlebar, and stem. It’s time for some new parts, parts that will last for a few more years through constant use and abuse.

But still, money is money, and it’s not like I don’t have other things to spend money on. (Or maybe try to save money?) And it’s not like I don’t have other bike issues to worry about. Take the Bantam.

29381324184_8e12a60149_oAstute readers (or followers of my Instagram) may have noticed I haven’t ridden the Bantam in a bit. That’s generally because I like to keep it for the fun times, but the front wheel is sort of toast. Right before the aborted Chehalem Ridge Ramble in early November, I brought the bike to the shop to get the front brake adjusted. In attempting to do that, the mechanic found out that the cones on the Shimano Alfine dynohub are pretty much shot. He hasn’t been able to find replacement cones, either. I haven’t attempted to search on my own. But I’m thinking about just ditching the wheel. Even if I do find the cones, the rim has a defect where the sleeve where they weld it together is a bit loose, so you hear a thunk-thunk-thunk when the wheel moves at low speed. It’s more annoying than dangerous, but you see what I’m getting at. Maybe it’s time to just get a new wheel built? A decent rim around a Shutter Precision dynohub, most likely. People like them, and they look nice.

And it’s not just front wheel issues. I’ve also realized that I’ve run into the limitations of the 1X8 gearing system. The low is just not low enough for me, and while I didn’t want to admit it at the time, not having a good low gear scared me away from some touring opportunities this year. I do have that Alfine 11 hub, which I can get built up into a wheel, but I’m still worried that there may be issues with the hub itself. And it’s not just the cost of a wheel: shifters for the Alfine 11 run about $125-175! That’s a lot of change. I think I’ll try out a 1X10 system because I can get one of those ridiculous 42 tooth big cogs. This will be cheaper than an Alfine build (even with getting a new derailleur) and I’d like to get a little more life out of the rear wheel if I can. But even saving a bit on the rear wheel, we’re talking a few hundred dollars of work there as well.

the-schwinn-heavy-duti_30705746636_oAnd it would be nice to get a new fork on the Heavy Duti so I can actually have a front brake. I felt like I was on the verge of getting one, but these other two projects come up, and those bikes take priority. And there’s a couple other bike projects in there as well.  (Thankfully the Raleigh Superbe doesn’t have any issues and I have no plans to change anything.) Remember how I said I’d like to have money for other things? With these projects, that ain’t going to happen soon!

These are times where I wish I was one of those bike minimalists, only having one bike, the type of person who frets about the idea of having two bikes. Instead, I’m the person who frets about four bikes–or more. What can I do?

*Yes, it’s heavy, so it will never be a nimble ride.

**I have thought about putting an internally geared hub wheel on there, something with at least 8 speeds. But those aren’t cheap, and since this bike has vertical drop outs, it would mean I need to use a chain tensioner. Not a deal breaker in itself, but does make things more complicated.

***Right now at four years the Crested Butte is my longest owned bike. I’d like to see it in my hands for five years, since that’s how long I had the Raleigh Wayfarer and the Surly Long Haul Trucker, my two “long term” bikes. Oh yeah, my first Portland bike, the Giant Rincon, was around for five years as well, but I don’t think about it as much.

A Wednesday ramble, and the Gentlemen’s Country Bike (14 Sept 2016)

Astute followers of my photostreams (whether flickr, tumblr, or Instagram) may have noticed I’ve spent a decent amount of time on my lovely Raleigh Superbe the past month or two, a bike I still haven’t formally introduced here. (Soon!) The big reason is while I have owned the bike since last September and it’s been “road worthy” since March, I haven’t gotten it fully “dialed in” until just about now. And now that it’s dialed in, just about right, I want to ride the bike a bunch!

There are three significant rideable volcanic buttes on the eastside of Portland: Mt Tabor, Rocky Butte, and Powell Butte.* All of these hills top out around 600 feet in elevation, and are about 200-400 above the surrounding landscape. I’ve ridden most of my bikes to all three of the buttes, but up until now I never rode a three speed to the top of all three. I’ve ridden my three speeds up Tabor and Rocky, but never Powell. Part of it is that it’s the furthest one out. But I think I never did it is that most ways up are rough unpaved tracks that are more suited for fatter tired and more geared machines.**

But is that really so? When the three speed was the only game in town, many folk in the British Isles took them to all sorts of rough and steep places. In fact, “pass storming”, hitting up the highest points in an area, would have been done on a three speed. Now would these folks have done all this “rough stuff” on a three speed if there was a better tool for the job? Probably, though I’m sure there was a certain breed of purist who would have still stuck to something with an AW hub, even if it meant a fair deal of pushing. (And there usually was.) But the fact remains that they DID IT. And why couldn’t I? It’s not like Powell Butte is that high.

After riding to both the tops of Mount Tabor and Rocky Butte on the Raleigh Superbe, I finally made the time to summit Powell on Wednesday. The route I chose up consisted of Holgate Lane (connects to SE Holgate Blvd), which after testing out a few ways up over the years is the easiest way to get to the meadow plateau. While it’s a bit rocky, it maintains a consistent grade of about 6%, which is totally manageable with a low of 40 gear-inches. And while the Panaracer Col de la Vies are by no means “fat”, the 40 mm width and relative suppleness*** of the tires handled the rough stuff pretty good, better than the Delta Cruisers would have. From the edge of the plateau, it was still maybe a mile of winding up the meadowlands to the top, which wasn’t that hard at all. And then the reward: An expansive view, one of the best in the city! I ate a burrito and a beverage, hung out in the splendour, and rode back down a trail as the light faded.

And you know what? It was a fine ride. Sure, it may have been a little nicer with a bike with more gears, and wider tires. But at no point was I “suffering”, well, not suffering beyond climbing a big hill! And while someone who needs to put labels and #hashtags on every aspect of biking may call it #underbiking, but how can you “under” bike when the bike was adequate for what you are doing?

Let’s face it: an old British three speed is a lot more versatile than modern folk think, especially the “sports roadster” class  that covers my Raleigh Superbe. It was useful enough to be an upright daily commuter bike for the masses of England, but also got folks into the countryside. And those who couldn’t afford a lightweight “club” bike in addition to a Sports simply removed the fenders and turned the bars on racing day. And there was of course the “pass stormers” mentioned above.

A bike like the Raleigh Sports/Superbe or any British sports tourer, if made today, would probably be called a hybrid. But I’d like to use another term, an all-rounder. Or maybe even another fancier term. You’ve heard the term “country bike” coined by Rivendell’s head honcho Grant Petersen? Well, a three speed sports tourer is a “gentlemens” (or “ladies”) country bike!

*Kelly Butte is sort of rideable, but there is no great view from the top. The new service road on the west side has a view, though, but it’s not “the top”.

**The one paved access road from the entrance at SE 162nd Ave and Powell is pretty steep. It tops off at 12%, a grade I don’t care to do on any bike!

***I said “relative”.