Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tweed Indeed

Today Nancy and I took part in our first ever Tweed Ride. I first heard about the tweed run back in 2008 or so and the concept grabbed me right away: A festive ride on vintage bikes in all manner of wool, linen, and leather. What could be better? Tweed rides are now a world-wide phenomenon and this include the second annual Herringbone Tweed Ride in lovely Burlington, Vermont.

The clouds were ominous as we drove up 89. This was going to be a fun event and we were not contemplating getting soaked simply for the pleasure of riding around in our chosen garb. Luck was with us and we arrived at Maglianero's under grey skies but no rain. We were on time and slowly others arrived, tellingly with wool sports coats, knickers, rolled up jeans with argyle socks, bow ties, etc.. There was also a distinct English air to the bikes that accumulated: Raleigh 3-speeds, Brooks saddles, black saddlebags, as well as the Raleigh Twenty we brought along.

Over coffee and scones we chatted with new acquaintances and in a while everyone gathered outside and we set off on what promised to be a leisurely ride with stops at points of historical interest, beautiful views and other intriguing possibilities.

The ride was rollicking and somewhat free form, almost like a critical mass ride, but with a couple of folks who knew where we were going. People on the street smiled and waved and wondered what was happening.  Our first stop was in City Hall park, where we were treated to a brief lecture from Luis Vinanco, professor of Cultural Anthropology at UVM. He described Burlington as a hub of cycling activity at the turn of the century and described early efforts to improve roads and encourage cycling.

We then pedaled on to Battery Park where we were again offered a enjoyable bit of Queen City cycling history. From there we moved on to a ride along the Lake Champlain waterfront on the bike path and enjoyed the easy camaraderie amongst riders as we traveled along. Various opportunities for photos  were taken advantage of along the way.

Our most dramatic stop was at the Ethan Allen stone tower in the hilly woods overlooking Lake Champlain from it's high perch. The organizers had a key and we were lucky enough to enjoy climbing the stairs and taking in a view of the lake from end-to-end, the high peaks of the central Green Mountains, and the surrounding city. Poetry, snacks and other friendly offerings were shared.

The ride continued on leaf covered paths through the woods that soon led to some longer stretches through the lowlands of the Winooski river floodplains. We rode on towards our penultimate destination at the Old Spokes Home where we were treated to cookies and cider, as well as an opportunity to view the amazing antique bike collection upstairs in the museum.

The ride ended when we arrived as a group at the Intervale where Local Motion was having their annual meeting and party with beer and pizza. The riders from our group provided a bit of entertainment with a humorous "Most Elegant Mount & Dismount" contest. Guess who won first prize? Yup, I won a cycling cap. As chance would have it an old friend from UMass days happened to be there and suggested basically a swing-the-leg-over-the-bars-frontwards mount and I managed to just do it, rather shakily, to much applause.

It crossed my mind in the midst of our ride that really this was just an excuse to get out and enjoy riding our bikes with a fun group of people. We had a great time.

More photos here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

It was a Lovely, Wet, Great Day

Riders arriving for the 7:00am start

This fellow was riding a very nice Velo Orange machine as we leave Burlington 

Jake and John

Me, maybe near Jeffersonville

That's John up ahead as we track down the last few miles headed into Jericho

This was the pack I rode with for most of the second half of the ride at a stop in Charlotte; welcome company through the rain, mud, and long miles. All of us were well fendered except for the guy with the muddy butt

My pal John

Emily, a rider from Boston and inspiring bag maker. We had a great time talking along the way. She rode the whole thing on a fixed gear

Others from our little group as we close in on the finish

Mike checking in riders at the finish with coffee and pizza at hand

Yesterday I had the pleasure of riding the last event of this season's Vermont brevet series, namely the Fall Classic 114k/200k.

Doing these rides makes me just so happy.  I love the challenge and the spirit which brings together a distinct slice of people who choose to spend many, many hours churning away on their bikes to experience a rare mix of beauty, exhaustion, exhilaration, and finally, relief.

A brevet is not a race and I believe this is the most compelling aspect of the whole event. Any sense of success or failure is fundamentally self-created. There is no external pressure to ride any faster or further then you feel comfortable doing. You can take it easy if you like, stopping frequently and enjoying the scenery, you may even sit down for a meal along the way. Conversely, you might find yourself compelled by the structure of the event as a test of organization, efficiency, and determination.  No one wins and no one looses in a brevet, but we all get to experience how well we worked through the day.

The day started out overcast and the prediction was for rain in the afternoon. For most of the day I was in the company of other riders, enjoying various casual conversations along the way. Unlike earlier rides, the lead pace was more relaxed and I enjoyed moving swiftly without feeling the desire to keep up with any particular pack. The controls seemed to have the effect of regrouping riders throughout the first few stops.

After one particularly jarring dirt downhill in Jeffersonville,  I discovered that Nancy's iphone (which she had graciously lent me for the day) had bounced out of one of the pockets of my handlebar bag. After a good look in all the places I might have misplaced it, I decided I had to go back up the road and find it. It wasn't hard to make the decision to turn around, but it did mean dropping away from the folks I'd been riding with. Somewhat surprisingly, I found it after a bit of searching and it was none the worse for the wear for it's time on the edge of the road.

I headed off again and enjoyed the company of a new variety of riders. I didn't really care about my overall time and was glad to mix it up with new folks. To my surprise my frequent fellow traveller John appeared from behind. It turns out the folks I had be riding with previous to the cell phone mishap had taken a wrong turn and added 7 miles or so before getting back on route--hence putting me back with some familiar faces.

Lunch was a brief stop at the Village Cup in Jericho. I had a welcome hot cup of coffee and a sandwich I'd packed as the drizzle started to become a little more persistent. This was the point of divergence for those riding either the 114k or the 200k. I headed off on the 200k route with a rider named David.

Over the miles out of Jericho a loose collection of riders coalesced into an informal yet steady group of seven riders. Everyone seemed game to settle into a little group. Perhaps there was an undercurrent of awareness about the distance still to travel as the weather was deteriorating--company is always welcome in such circumstances. By the time we descended into Richmond the rain had come on full force.

Later I described the experience of riding with this group to Nancy as sort of like riding on a train. If you had a mechanical issue or had to make a random stop you might find yourself left off behind somewhere. If you were quick with your stop and huffed it you'd likely catch up, but you could also find yourself riding alone. At the end of the day after all the rain and and mud and chill, I was very grateful that I was in this small troupe; their presence kept me moving, kept me company, and reinforced my will to keep going. It would have been harder to muster that standing alone in the middle of nowhere soaked to the bone and feeling oppressed by the miles still to go. I enjoyed the seeming cohesiveness in terms of effort and speed; it felt to me that everyone was pretty much moving along together at a pretty natural pace.

The rain eased up later in the afternoon and with it my optimism was restored as we narrowed down the miles into Burlington.

Unlike earlier rides, this one featured many stretches of dirt road and a bunch of climbing. Again I was exposed to parts of Vermont I'd never seen before. According to the the numbers from the event description the 200k / 127mi ride had roughly 65 miles of dirt and about 9600' of climbing. I guess its not surprising that my usual trot up the stairs last night was a little more sluggish then usual.

This summer has provided me with a great introduction to randonneuring and I am excited for next year. John and I have talked about perhaps forming a fleché team for the spring. I have long dreamed of riding a fleché and I would be really excited to have the opportunity.

Update: A few other riders have posted about their experience of the ride:

-Mike, of littlecircles plus some photos:

-Greg, of Yakbicycle

-Velouria, of Lovely Bicycle
plus some photos: