Monday 5 March 2007

Testing the Tarmac: Harp Hill, Here We Come!

The Sprocketboy and the Superbike

The big day yesterday with a clear blue sky and the sun shining with all his might on Washington. After a big bowl of my special muesli, I packed my gear and headed off to the bike shop at Tysons Corner in Virginia, arriving shortly after it opened at 10 am.

Although it was actually his day off, My Most Excellent Mechanic, Kirk, was at the workstand, making the final adjustments on the Tarmac. It was the first time I had seen it fully assembled and although I might be accused of bias I thought it was one of the most beautiful bikes I had ever seen. He was very concerned about the steering. The Specialized has an odd headset arrangement using a gasket, or rubber seal, and he was feeling “stiction” when you turned the bars. I tried it and had to agree. It felt very tight, unlike the usual flopping front wheel. He felt that with some riding the seal would seat itself and this stiffness would go. He also had had to dismantle a Fuji to get a plug for the carbon fork, but everything else looked great. Kirk had had a bit of a struggle to get the zebra-stripe handlebar tape done to his satisfaction since looking at it for too long "makes you cross-eyed." But he did a great job and managed to leave a lot of the beautiful Specialized handlebar bar so that you can see the carbon weave.

Kirk and his handiwork

I brought my CicloMaster computer and he installed that for me too, oiled the chain and then helped me to get the bike to the car where it was most gently put in the trunk. Of course, in addition to the usual charge for the bike assembly, I donated two of my precious Creemore Springs lagers to the Keep Your Mechanic Mellow Fund.

Heading northwards to Frederick, I noticed that the sky was getting overcast and the wind was picking up. I stopped in at a little coffee shop for a vegetable panini and a hazelnut Caffé Americano before going to the Monocacy Middle School to await Tim and Jeff. There were some other cyclists there getting a late start. It was actually pretty cold at 1:00 pm, but luckily I had brought a wide range of clothing, including leggings and a long-sleeved jersey as well as my windvest.

Jeff, his Cervelo and my not-yet-ridden Tarmac--note the snow piles behind us

Jeff came drove in and started to put his Cervelo Soloist together and then Tim drove in with his brand-spanking-new full Campagnolo Record Cervelo R3. It is really a gorgeous bike but of course we could not refrain from making comments about the pencil-thin seatstays. It turned out that they only look that way from the side because they are flat: if you look at the from behind they are of quite normal dimensions.

The other two cyclists, both on red Cannondales, left and we rolled out of the parking lot soon after. Oddly enough, everyone had a red or a black or a black-and-red bike! Anyway, we turned onto Opossumtown Pike (that really is what it is called) and then right onto Poole Jones Road and there was the massive headwind I was worried about. The last time Jeff and I had ridden this route we had climbed the hills superbly but suffered agonies on the last three miles back to the Middle School due to the headwind. Well, nothing but to dig down with the optimistic view that we would have a tailwind on the way back.

Tim and his Cervelo R3, already having ridden 10 miles that morning!

Tim and Jeff were riding more strongly than I was but I was concerned about the hills (especially the third one, the dreaded Harp Hill) and wanted to go at my own pace. I also wanted to get used to the bike and try some different positions on it. My first impressions were that the fit of my bike was very good and I was quite comfortable. Secondly, the Fizik Arione is one good saddle, with good support at the back of the seat and enough length that you can move around a lot. But the most impressive thing was how smooth the Tarmac rides, soaking up the irregularities in the pavement and spinning up effortlessly. I was also used to a lot of creaking and vibrating on the aluminum-framed Lemond, which I understand is pretty normal for that material, but the Tarmac was silent. Given how much I liked the previous 9-speed generation, I have to say that the 10-speed Dura-Ace shifted beautifully. Of course, it would have helped if I would have felt a bit stronger but I realized by the time we had ridden the 6 miles to the start of the first climb, up Shookstown Road, that the headwind, combined with Friday’s high-intensity training session in the gym, had left me a bit drained. The other two climbed away from me, so I just decided to set my own pace and eventually join up with them.

It is 3 miles up this, the first major climb. I could see Tim in the distance, and I knew Jeff was ahead of him. Then at the right turn that takes you up Gambrill Park Road I could see I was starting to gain a little but I was pretty warm in my cold-weather gear. The sun was coming and going but it was still a very wintry scene, with little snow piles beside the road and no leaves anywhere on the trees. The Gambrill climb is only about a mile, but it is fairly steep and has some nice curves in it.

We all met at the top and continued along Gambrill Road, with a series of rollers along this ridge overlooking Frederick and environs. A few months earlier I had missed the turn to the left for Highland School Road because the sign had gotten bent over. Jeff turned down the road and took off but I looked and saw the sign on the right said “Hamburg Road,” so I shouted at him to stop. But too late and he was gone. Neither Tim nor I wanted to go all the way down into the valley on the wrong road and we waited a while to figure out what to do. Eventually Jeff came back, quite annoyed with us and worried somebody had had a crash since we had not shown up. It turned out that in fact this was the right road. Hamburg Road is the road that goes off to the right; the sign for Highland School Road is now totally missing. Well, Jeff had said that he had gained 15 pounds over the winter, so he should not have minded having to do the Highland School climb one extra time!

Now on the right track we tore down Highland School Road, a wonderful descent (in this direction) of nearly four miles. And it was here that I discovered that the Tarmac descends like nothing I have ever ridden. Having ridden my new bike for a total of 20 kms (12 miles), I was astonished to find that I could ride downhill at nearly 80 km/h (48 mph) with total confidence. The bicycle truly rides as if on rails and I did not have to use the brakes at all. The uneven road surfaces that made me a careful descender on the Lemond were simply not an issue on this bicycle. Amazing!

We turned left on Hwy. 17 and followed the river. It was pretty chilly, and in fact we were worried that it might begin snowing but our luck held. There was some water on the road due to melting snow and soon came the turn to the right on Harp Hill Road. We had told Tim about this and I was quite determined not to push myself too hard so early in the season. When we came to the first rise, Tim asked if that was all there was to it and we said of course. Needless to say, the 2 mile climb includes some very hard parts, up to 17 per cent grade, and once you were over that first rise you can see the road climb brutally, with a curve to the left. No matter what kind of bike you ride you have to grind up this hill and I did a lot more standing than I usually do. Jeff was ahead of us, and in the steepest part Tim pulled into a driveway for a little break but we came back together at the summit and enjoyed the swift descent into Wolfsville. Although I had started the day feeling tired, I found that my recovery on each of the hills had been pretty rapid and now during the second half I felt very strong.

After a quick drink break in Wolfsville, we rode back along Wolfsville Road with the much-anticipated tailwind behind us. I went up to the front and found I could keep a steady 44 km/h along the very smooth road. The Tarmac was crying out for more speed and I tried my best. We continued on back up Highland School Drive and this time I felt very comfortable on the big climb, which gets quite steep near the summit. A right turn back onto Gambrill Park Road and I felt surges of energy come into my legs. I was finally warmed up and ready to ride, but now we were going home!

I did the descent down Gambrill Park Road faster than I have ever done, again not touching the brakes, and keeping right behind Jeff all the way down. A fast left hander and then came the very swift ride down Shookstown. This road has some bumpy parts, but again the Tarmac took them in stride. I was able to set the pace for the group now all the way back to the Middle School, although Jeff finished off the ride with a sprint flourish. Time to break out the Creemore Spings Lager and celebrate!

We had ridden 67 km (42 miles) and climbed 4000 feet in 3 hours, which was nothing to complain about for a very early season ride. I felt great at the end, and was happy that I did not need to adjust anything on the Tarmac. This is surely worth some more beer for Kirk!

Looks pretty fast--and how about those zebra-striped bars!

Home again, and already cleaned up after the first ride.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm looking for your muesli recipe. Cyclingphun mentioned it in his comment on the fat cyclist blog yesterday. I've seen a couple comments about your magical muesli. Will you post the recipe?