Hiking the Summit for the Milky Way

I hiked up the River to River trail from the Herod Hitching Post last night to the overlook.  I don’t think this overlook has an official name so I’ll call it the Summit Overlook.  My goal was to take photos of the Milky Way and perhaps some dramatic sunrise images.  It was a great trip and I got many good images.  I underestimated the cold though, it was mid 50s last night and my sleeping bag is weak.

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It was cloudy when I arrived, the was reported to clear overnight so I set the alarm on my phone for 3AM.  At 2:30 I peaked out from under my tarp and saw no stars.  Apparently my phone died overnight but I woke up myself at 4 AM.  the sky was totally clear and for the first time ever I had a clear view of the Milky Way overhead.  I took 30 second exposures like crazy for the next 30 minutes and by then there was  enough light to obscure the milky way.

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Got a few nice sunrise shots around 5:30 then hiked back.  The lack of sleep is catching up with me, but it was worth it.

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ON a side note.  I called Shauna at 9:30PM and after 4 hours of total silence I had a bit of hesitation before I could talk, like I was worried about disturbing the animals or something.

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Tour of the Ozarks Part 4

Day 4 Gasconade to Meremac Springs Park

This was only a 60 mile day but it felt like the hardest day of the tour to me.  The temperature and humidity were high and I felt very fatigued.  This day the route was actually very interesting, taking us away from the interstate on some very old stretches of route 66 by a place known as The Devil’s Elbow.  Later we did an extended stretch on route P which which was very forested and a really great road for riding.

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We arrived in the tiny town of Newburg in the hottest part of the day and our water was running low.  The only establishment open in this town was a bar, it was the classic laid back country bar with George Jones playing on the Jukebox and a group of older guys hanging out.  They gave us some water and we bought sodas.

I had done some research and found Meremac Springs Park, a privately owned trout spring and campground.  This was a far more pleasant place to camp as the trout fishers were far more relaxed than the river floaters.

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Day 5 Meremac Springs Park to Farmington

The 5th and final day made me think someone was watching out for us.  We had 77 miles to go, but the heat broke and the high today was 80, a strong easterly wind pushed us to Farmington and my car.  This would have been a very fun day if it hadn’t been for the nagging saddle sore that I had developed.  I found find a comfortable place on the saddle but it required a little work.

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This was the first day we went off the official route and took State Highway 8 nearly all the way back to Farmington.  I got a headstart on Ryan by at least half an hour.  I was on my bike and riding at 7:45, not really that early but it was the earliest that I set out on this trip.  Ryan still managed to catch me about 25 miles into ride proving how much faster he was moving than me.

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This road was perfect for cycling, traffic was light and the hills were far easier than they had been to the South.  Nothing really happened on this day until we passed through Park Hills and met another rider.  He passed us going the other way and then shortly turned and caught back up with me.  The guy had a fascinating jersey on about Area 51 and aliens.  He was eager to talk and asked questions about our tour.  Then he offered to show us the best way back to the Airport so we could avoid more hills and bad traffic.  I was happy for his help.  He explained he was training up for a century ride that would be the first since a heart attack.

I thanked him for his help and asked his name.

“They call me The Vamp,  short for Vampire,” he replied.  I may have looked at him a bit funny, “It a long story, I used to be a truck driver,” he said with a laugh.

Vamp dropped us off at the regional airport and I wondered if the tiny terminal building was open, the chances I figured were quite slim as the place seemed deserted, but to my surprise the entire building was open.  I had the place to myself and was able to clean up in the bathroom and relax on the couch while Ryan dismantled his bags.

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I can’t say that I wasn’t very happy to be finished.  I needed a day off of riding and I needed a good night’s sleep.  My condition at the end of this ride made me really examine whether I would be able to ride across the country, that is if I even wanted to.  I told Ryan several times that what I was doing was unsustainable, every day I felt a little worse.  Luke assures me that by 7 days or days of it you just get used to it.

I can say one thing for certain, being on the Trans America trail in mid summer is like being a part of something.  Whether it be guys like little Ryan on their own adventures, racers like Evan out to push the boundaries of human accomplishment, or folks like Jim just enjoyning 50 miles a day and seeing the country, riding the TransAm, even the small part of it we did, is something I will never forget.

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Tour of the Ozarks Part 3

Day 3 Bendavis to Gasconade Resort

We left Homer’s friendly farm in good spirits on Friday morning and made haste toward Hartsville.  I realized that the mild soreness I had felt after the first day had developed into very sore legs.  Riding was fine as long as I didn’t push very hard, but I definitely felt fatigued.  Ryan seemed unphased.

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I should take a moment to mention Ryan’s bread.  He was carrying around 3 jars of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, which is funny because so far he had not opened any of these items, yet he had continually had to unpack and repack them to get to other items.

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We made a breakfast stop in Hartsville and were joined by Jim, one of the Adventure Cycling Group riders.  Jim was wearing a Harrisburg Cycling Club jersey so I struck up a conversation about how I was from Harrisburg IL. and he sat down to eat with us.  The thing that struck me about Jim is that he didn’t look like he was on a bike tour.  He looked as if he just left his house after a relaxing morning and a shower.  The guy was extremely well groomed and clean, where as I was not.  Jim was a great guy and he loaned me a Brooks tension wrench so I could tighten up my B17.

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Before we left Hartsville I floated around a shortcut, mentioning we could knock off alot of miles by going straight North instead of continuing West for another 30 miles but Ryan was not interested and really I agreed with him, I mean we were here to ride our bikes not take short cuts.  So we continued on to Marshfield where we transferred from the Trans America Trail to the Bicycle Route 66.

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OK anything that I have to say about the Bicycle Route 66 has to be taken with a grain of salt.  The route is 2500 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles and  we rode 100 miles of it, so I really can’t say much about the route, but I can comment about the route as it runs through much of Missouri.  It’s mostly bad.

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The route was mostly interstate frontage roads that were about 50 feet from the interstate, which really isn’t much different from riding on the interstate.  The constant noise and fumes of automobiles is not really how I want to enjoy my cross country cycling.  When the route entered towns it was like a tour of urban sprawl and tourist traps, again, not how I want to enjoy my cycling.

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Now it wasn’t all bad, some sections we rode were of the old historical route 66, highways that were totally deserted, in some cases large 4 lane highways that were so dead and empty that it was eerie.   Some of these sections featured the deteriorating landscape that would have been thriving back in 40s and early 50s.  These sections were very interesting.  BUT, through these historical sections the roadway surface was often very cracked and rough making for a less than comfortable ride.

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Friday would be our longest Day at 97 miles.  We passed through the large town of Lebannon around 6 PM and were more than ready to stop, but the only lodging opportunities were hotels and Ryan wasn’t interested in hotels so we continued on about couple hours to Gasconade Resort.  Eventually we came to a barricade in a road because of bridge that was closed, it had been damaged by the floods.  Luckily for us we were able to cross it on our bikes.

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In short order we arrived  the Gasconade Resort which is a campground for those wishing to float on the Gasconade river.  As you might expect the campers here were a bit rowdy.  The group near us stayed up until 11PM discussing all manner of things at high volume.  Eventually some announced they were going to bed and fired up their SUV to run the air conditioner so they could sleep comfortably.

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I was just about asleep when it began to pour.

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Tour of the Ozarks Part Two

DAY TWO

Powder Mill to Bendavis

We quickly pulled up the tent and struggled to keep it from blowing away in the wind.  Rain was coming down lightly and a downpour seemed evident.  We quickly evacuated the dirt patch and found some shelter around the locked restroom.  Fortunately the storm blow its self out in just a few more minutes and settled into a light steady rain.

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We rode to Emmence about ten miles up the road and had a really great breakfast; some of the best french toast I’ve ever had.  This looked like a really interesting town and I wished we’d had more time to hang out.  We met little Ryan as we were leaving town, he had just broke camp and was heading to eat too.  He didn’t think he’d catch up to us because he was riding a little ways and being picked up by a friend to spend a few days in Springfield.  We said our goodbyes and I hope to hear from him again one day, but I think I gave him the wrong phone number.

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We crossed Jack’s Fork river and stopped to check out a pedestrian bridge that was closed.  You could see how high the water had rose from the debries on the bridge, it had to be at least 50 feet.  The next few hours were just rough, it was one hard climb after another and it began to get hot and humid.  Eventually the terrain became more rolling plateau type that suited me much better.

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We caught up to a 13 person Adventure Cycling Association group riding West.  These were the backmarkers of the group and they were moving at a steady pace that was just a bit slower then mine.  So these guys apparently these guys paid around 5400 dollars to ride across country with a guide from the Adventure Cycling Association.  They carry their own gear, sleep in the same city parks and campgrounds as anyone else, and I’m honestly a bit confused about why you would pay 5400 dollars to ride across country.  Most of these folks looked far more capable cyclists than me.

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I’m Not Digging the Vibe Around Here

Our second night was to end in the tiny little town of Bendavis, population 34.  The map said camping was allowed behind the Bendavis General Store.  I was fired up for this and expected a pleasant night camping behind a rustic general store.  When we arrived at the General Store I was let down.  The rustic general store was a small metal building filled with animal husbandry implements, used chainsaws and the cast of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  As I looked at the cooler for something to drink a teenage girl with the chainsaw massacre crowd approached me.  “You should get some of that Gatorade stuff, it’s got electrolytes,” she explained.

“Ahhh, yeah, so, umm, is there camping behind the store,” Ryan asked the girl behind the register.

“Yeah, sure, but our trash guy hasn’t been here in awhile,” the girl said.  We wandered around back and saw a very small patch of grass covered with piles of trash and cardboard boxes.  About that time we heard the sound of a chainsaw firing up from somewhere very close.

“I’m not digging the vibe around here,” I said.

“Yeah, the vibe is terrible,” Ryan replied.  We went on down the road and found a church.

“We’re camping here,” I said.  An older guy was mowing his yard behind the church and his mower died.

“Hey, can we camp here,” Ryan yelled.

“Of course,” the man replied. He gave us a brief tour of his property showing us where his water faucets were and told use whatever we needed.  The man’s name was Homer we began to talk and he turned out to be an interesting character.  “I think it’s great what you’re out doing, I wish I could be as active as you,” he said. “Did you know I’m 85 years old?” he asked.

“No sir, I did not, but you sure don’t look to be 85 years old” I replied

“Well I am, let me ask you, I bet you don’t smoke right?” he asked.

“No sir, I have never smoked,” I replied.

“Allright here’s another question, do you drink?”

I began to tell him I was straight edge for life, but I didn’t think he’d get the reference so I said, “No sir, I’m a teetotaler, I don’t drink,”  I replied.

“Allright that’s good, now one more question, do you eat meat?” he asked.

“Umm yeah, you got me there,” I answered.

“Let me tell you, in Genesis 2:9 it lays out the diet of Adam and Eve,  God didn’t intend for us to eat animals or drink their milk.  We are intended to eat the plants of the field.  You won’t believe this, but I haven’t been sick for 15 years since I completely cut animals from my diet.”  he said.

“Well you certainly look healthy,” I said.

“Adam and Eve lived for 1000 years, if we could eat the food from the Garden of Eden we’d live that long as well, I’m telling you, want to live long and be healthy, grow your own food and don’t eat meat.” he answered.

“Where do you get your protein from?” I asked.

“They won’t tell you this but there is protein in everything, we don’t need it, you get plenty of protein from plants and what you don’t get your body makes,” Homer answered.

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We parted and as I walked back to our camp where Ryan was setting up his tent I closely studied Google Maps for some kind of campground further down the road.  There was nothing.  I kept thinking about a movie where this seemingly very nice elderly couple ate travelers.  Ryan and I decided this was the best it was going to get and Homer was a righteous guy, so we stayed the night.  It turned out to be a very pleasant night with no rain.

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Tour of the Ozarks Part One

It’s 8:53 PM, nearly dark and I’m careening down an incredibly steep highway following two blinking red lights in the distance.  I chance a short glance at my Garmin and see the speed is registering 42 mph.  I’m going 42 mph and I can barely see where I’m going.  The thought crossed my mind, this is living, but it’s awful damn close to dying.

In the distance a strange pair of lights are approaching, like a car turned on it’s side, one headlight high one low.  The flashing red light in front of me yells, “HEY ARE YOU EVAN!” and I hear the squealing of brakes and immediately hit my brakes as well.

“YEAH I”M EVAN,” he yells back.

“Dude can I get your picture,” the flashing red light yells.

“Yeah but make it quick I’ve got to make the Cave in Rock Ferry before it closes in 24 hours,” Evan says.  That’s about 250 miles in 24 hours.  I avert my eyes, for I am in the presence of a cycling god.

I’ve survived my 5 day Tour of the Ozarks and returned home with all the self supported touring that I needed and then some.  This winter as I considered another few days of self supported bike touring I wanted to do something a bit more ambitious than the 250 miles I did last year, but I also wanted to keep it to under a week.  I spent a great deal of time looking at the adventure cycling route network and then it hit me.  The Trans America Trail and the new Bicycle Route 66 make a great circle starting at Farmington MO. which is less than three hours drive.

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When I started fishing for another rider my friend Ryan took the bait and began preparing his gravel road bike for loaded touring.  It was perhaps predestined because I told him that particular gravel road bike would be great for loaded touring when he bought it.  I built up my Nashbar Touring Bike and got it working sort of and purchased a couple of Adventure Cycling maps.  That’s about all the planning I did for this trip which became evident later.

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One small bit of planning I did was to find a place to park my car for a few days which turned out to be the Farmington Regional Airport.  Chuck, the airport guy, was super friendly and I found myself face to face with him Wednesday afternoon around 1 PM.  At this point we were about 4 hours off schedule.  The plan was to ride about 60 miles to Powder Mill campground on the Current River.  I thought a laid back first day would be a good way to start the tour.

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So why were we 4 hours behind?  It took me a little longer to get loaded, then it took me a little longer to find Ryan’s house, then it took him a little longer to get loaded, then it took a little longer to find the airport, and finally it took a little longer to get the bikes  reloaded.  I was a little skeptical of Ryan’s bike, he had loaded it down with 3 bags, a cooler, and strapped a big tent and sleeping bag to the back.   Much of the weight was on his front rack and the steering was tricky.  I don’t know what the loaded bike weighed but I would guess from lifting it that it was around 75 pounds.  I couldn’t believe that he was going to ride with all that weight.

It became apparent on the first hill as I watched him pull away from me that he was more than capable of riding the bike up hills.  On this first day we settled into a familiar routine.  He would distance me on the climbs and I would catch up on the downhills and we repeated this over and over again.  The route was hilly, constant hills, about like the hilliest ride you could come up with in the Shawnee National Forest, except with longer climbs.

Eventually we stopped at a diner in some tiny town and met a rider there who was struggling to get back on the road.  I think he said his name was Ryan and since we already had a Ryan we referred to him as little Ryan.  Little Ryan was riding the TransAM from East to West and was aiming for 77 miles a day.  He had been on the road for about 4 weeks When we first met him he seemed almost in a daze, he was upset with the humidity and said over and over again, “It’s not efficient, its just not efficient.”

Little Ryan asked if he could join us and we agreed so he bought a Monster energy drink and perked up a bit.  He had far less gear than either one of us, just a small pannier and a little bag strapped to the top of his rack.  He explained that he began mailing stuff home as he began climbing the Appalachian mountains.  He wasn’t using using his stove and saw no reason to continue carrying it.  Little Ryan was a strong rider and had no problem riding our pace, he was excited to begin seeing the TransAmerica racers as they made their East bound journey and he was expecting to see the leader Evan Deutsch this evening.

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We arrived in the town of Ellington having rode 63 miles and discovered that the campground I had planned was actually 14 more miles down the trail.  Opps.   It was around 7PM and Little Ryan was going to have something to eat than ride in the dark.  I was the only one of us without any kind of light was wasn’t interested in riding in the dark.  Big Ryan wanted to push on through to the campground was certain we could make it by dark and I agreed, though part of me would have been more than happy to shut it down for the night.

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One hour later it was getting dark and we stopped so Ryan could mount his headlight and tail light.  Little Ryan caught up to us and we rode the next few miles as I tested the limits of my night vision.  Eventually we ran into the TransAM race leader Evan which is the story I opened with.

Shortly after meeting Evan we arrived at the Powder Mill Campground.  Little Ryan continued on and we turned off, a quarter mile later we encountered a barricade across the road claiming the Campground closed.  Past the barricade we saw the aftermath of some recent flooding that completely decimated the area.  The road and trees were all washed away, the campground was gone.  There was nothing but a huge flat dirt patch where the campground had been and a locked bathroom.  The bugs began to swarm our light.

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I staggered around, unable to formulate a plan, I couldn’t find two standing trees to hang my hammock.  Ryan offered me a spot in his tent, and we set up camp on the dirt.  “This will be fine if it doesn’t rain,” I said.

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At 4:30 AM it began to pour… Yeah this is living.

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Superman Super Ride 2017

There is a small town in Southern Illinois called Metropolis which has two things going for it, Superman and a Riverboat Casino.  Every year on the second weekend of June they hold a festival in honor of Metropolis’ most famous hero and has part of that festival for as long as I can remember the Kiwanis club has organized a charity ride.  This ride is a bit special for me because 23 years ago it was the first organized bike event I ever went to my 14 year old self it might as well been the Tour de France.

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For the last few years I had to work Saturdays and was unable to do rides like these that almost always take place on Saturday.  The Ironic thing is that now I’m free on weekends to ride them I almost didn’t go.  The drive down to Metropolis takes about an hour, and no one around here could go and I really could just save the gas money, I kept telling myself.  Thankfully I had told my pal Shon Hargis I was going and I decided that I should keep my word.

The ride generally attracts around 150 or so riders and has a mass start, to my recollection it has neither grown or shrunk considerably in all the years I’ve gone.  Probably about half the riders look to be serious bicyclists, and the other half families out for a fun ride.   In years past my favorite thing to do was start in the very back and work my way to the front over the first few miles.  This is dumb and I don’t do it anymore.

I met up with my pal’s Shon and Justin.  Shon is probably the most fit he’s ever been and spent the Spring concentrating on running but has now switched almost completely to cycling.  Justin said he had been on two road bike rides this year and wasn’t really in any kind of shape though in the past he’s been a monster on the both road and mountain bikes.

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So Superman himself shows up and stands in the back of a truck which leads the ride out of town.  Eventually the truck pulls off and we’re left to our own devices.  Thanfully for the first few miles they have local deputies at major intersections to stop traffic and let the ride go through.  Like clockwork every year a group forms at the front and this year I was right there feeling good having not chased through the pack.

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A guy did a great turn on the front right about 21 mph, we probably had twenty or more riders grouped up behind us.  He pulled off after a couple miles and the next guy upped the pace to 23.  After a couple miles i looked back and saw maybe 15 or so riders.  When he pulled off the next guy upped the pace to 25.  After a few more miles we were down to maybe 10.  Eventually it was my turn to pull.  I started on a hill and pulled for maybe a half mile mostly downhill and in the flat then pulled out.  I was pretty much maxed out, leaving my buddy Shon to continue pulling.

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So in the past I would get in the fast front group and see if I could hang on until we got to the first stop at 15 miles where I would stop and catch my breath.   We shot right past the stop and I stayed with them.  Shon pulled off right as we rounded a turn into crosswind, this was really bad timing to hit a crosswind because he got no draft and slipped from the group.  Now it was just these three super fast guys and me.

For ten miles I hung in their group but didn’t take any pulls, I didn’t want to and actively avoided going to the front, but the truth was I would have been toast if I’d done a turn pulling.  The route has changed a bit, which is crazy because the route hadn’t changed in all the years I’ve been doing the ride.  It’s a pretty flat ride with one tough hill about 40 miles in, but the new route had a challenging hill about 24 miles in and that’s where I got dropped.  Had I been super motivated I think I could have caught back on the downhill but once I saw them going up the road a big part of me said, screw those guys.  I was cooked anyway.

For the next few miles I struggled to catch my breath, even after my heart rate returned to a normal pace, I still felt like I was in oxygen debt.  It didn’t take long for me to notice the black and white St. Nick’s jersey catching up to me all alone.  I sat up and waited for Shon to catch.  He drafted me for about 30 seconds to recover and then pretty much pulled me the next 30 miles back.  Most of that in a headwind, he’s a beast!

Eventually one guy caught us I could see him for miles back as he was in a high viz jersey and trucking in aerobars.  WHen he pulled up behind us he yelled, “Have you seen those guys in the front!”

“Yeah they dropped me about 20 miles ago, and I have’t seen them since,” I replied.

“Yeah that figures,” he grumbled back.  Right about then we began the climb up the big hill, a moment later I looked back and the guy was gone.  Poof!  Now we began passing riders from the 40 mile route and that made the ride far more interesting.  We eventually passed a teenage girl with no helmet on and I thought back to my first few times riding this when helmets weren’t required and I didn’t even own one.  I was yelled at several times by do gooders to get a helmet.  I wondered if she’d been yelled at.

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At the end of the ride, despite hanging on Shon’s wheel and despite him holding back for me several times I was shot.  Our average was 19, though mine had been 23 until I fell out of the lead group.  One last ironic thing, the lead group guys were all still there changing clothes, they had suffered in the headwind and had managed a 20 mph average finishing about 15 minutes before we did.  I talked to one of them for a bit and he talked about how tough the headwind on the way back had been.  Then talked about how they could have really used more guys to share the work through that wind.  I felt like saying well since you guys felt like riding everyone off your wheels in the first 15 miles you had to tough it out.  If you’d waited for about 5 minutes you’d had a Shon to pull!

 

 

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BDOP Wheels One Year In

A reader named Alex asked if I would give an update on the bdopcycling.com wheel kit that I put together last Spring and I’m happy to oblige.  I’m not entirely sure how many miles they have, but it has to be at least around four thousand.  About a thousand on them so far this year and about three on them last year.  A few important things to note, I’ve ridden them in the rain maybe twice, and not used them on any gravel or harsh condition riding.  I’ve weighed around 235 most of the time I’ve used them and went with the 32 rear spoke and 28 front.  For more details on the wheel kit and build check out my original post.

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I guess the first thing to say is that the wheels are holding true very well.  I’m not a master wheel builder, but these wheels were very easy to put together and easy to true.  Since building them I’ve never had to true them and they are still as straight as they were when I built them. When I built them I didn’t expect to be upgrading to 11 speed any time soon, but I just did and I’m super glad that these hubs come with an 11 seed hub carrier.

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I think the BDOP wheels look great on the Tarmac.

After a year of riding them I’m still sold on the performance gains of the wider wheel.  I don’t have any hard data to prove it but they seem to roll faster and definitely handle better in cross winds then any other wheel I’ve used.  I’ve had a few flats on the wheels but I’m far less likely to pinch flat with the wider rim.  Ride quality seems better then the Ksyriums on my other bike.  They feel super stiff under power when sprinting climbing or whatever.

There are three negatives to bring up, first the rear hub has developed a tiny amount of lateral play in the bearings.  It’s just barely noticeable and doesn’t seem to be a concern.  Secondly the rear hub carrier should really not be used with lower end steel cassettes.  The anti-bite guard does help but after four thousand miles there were some deep gouges cut into the splines of the hub carrier.  I had to use a couple chain whips to rotate the individual cogs back out of the gouges so they would slide off.  The Anti-bite guard was a bit loose and I don’t expect the hub carrier to last the life of the wheel if I continue to use steel cassettes, but I am.  New free hub bodies are available from bdop for 45 bucks.

The last negative is the rear rim’s brake track.  It’s not completely flush and I’m told that this is a common problem with Kinlin wheels.  I sanded on it a tiny bit and I figured it would just smooth out as I rode it.  The brake tracks has smoothed out some but it still has a slight thump as it goes around.  It’s never really bothered me and I think if I did a bit more sanding I could fix the problem.

I guess my final thoughts would be that I’m very pleased with this wheel kit and my choice of 32/28 spokes.  I’m sure I could have gone lower, but I’d much rather have the super stiff reliable wheel built with 32 spokes then be worrying about a lower spoke count.  There are great deals out there on budget performance wheels like these but you often get cheaper hubs and spokes.  With BDOP you know exactly what parts you’re getting.  If you’re looking for wheels like these then I’d say go for it.

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