2002 > Terrible Two > KenS's Report
KenS Does the Terrible Two on Foo-Foo Wheels...
Well, you can’t say I wasn’t warned... the start of the ride was like one of those old light truck commercials, where the gringo-guy in the shiny new Ford (or whatever) pickup truck pulls up to the start of the highway that runs down the Baja Peninsula, and some laughing locals start making fun of him and say things like “Hey gringo! -- You think you can drive the Baja in THAT?!!!!”. The guy smiles, nods, and drives on through the border crossing...
Only in this case it was grizzled TT veterans, looking over my hitech 24-spoke Velomax wheels (that’s in the rear-- fewer in front), then my Ti-Flex frame, then at me, and laughing and saying “Hey you on the boom bike! You think you can ride the Terrible Two on THOSE wheels?!!!” I smiled and rode on up to the start...
This year’s TT featured what proved to be the best weather in recent memory -- nice cool (but not cold) fog at the start, and all the way past the Calistoga rest stop, then nice cool temperatures heading up to the Geysers, and, of all things, TAIL WINDS that seemed to always be there when you needed them. Following the usual perfunctory benediction, we were allowed to proceed out Hall Rd a little before 5:30. The pack quickly broke up into real fast, sort-of-fast, kinda-fast, and leisurely as we headed through the 20 or so traffic lights on 3rd Street. The only properly attired Bikeaholic I recognized was DonB, although out-of-uniform-bikeaholics CraigR, KenH, and the ever-elusive MikeS were spotted, along with Musketeer_TomZ.
I went with a “pretty fast” group, and, after the usual why-am-I-doing-this-questions, I started to settle in and enjoy myself, sort of. I was looking forward to trying out my new harder-gears (switched from a 12-25 to a 11-21, but that’s on a triple, of course), which I had duly practiced on for a week or so of Page Mill/ Montebello/ OLH trials. As I started up the first real climb, my twitching knees started reporting in with serious questions about my choice of gearing. I started using the little chainring more than usual, and that seemed to placate them. After the nice descent on Oakville Grade (just over 52 mph), I joined in a pace line up the Silverado Trail, and pulled into Calistoga just before 8:30. I was feeling pretty enthused, and began having visions of an early finish, like maybe 7PM?
A real fast stop, then on up to the Geysers. When I hit the first really steep portion, my knees once again started complaining, so I went back to the small chainring and started up at a faster-than-usual pace. I felt great, and started steadily passing other riders. I crested the first summit, then sped down the sharp middle descent. As I cruised through the trough and started going up again, I did a quick upshift and stood up on the pedals, and then I heard a very loud, very close PING which sounded like someone has just taken a shot at me. At just that instance the wheels stopped turning, the bike stopped moving, and I had to do a rodeo-dismount to keep from toppling over. I looked over the front wheel -- no problem. I looked over the rear wheel-- looked slightly askew, but wouldn’t move. I released the brake quick-release, and the rim twisted way over, like almost 2 cm out-of-true, but not quite a pretzel. “This doesn’t look good” was all I could say.
Closer inspection revealed a drive-side spoke snapped right at the nipple, normally an annoyance, but not on a 24-spoke Velomax. I vaguely remembered the brochure that had accompanied the wheel set -- “spokes are threaded on both ends, under extremely high tension, if you have to adjust anything, do NOT touch the drive-side spokes, make sure you are wearing safety glasses, for service return to factory”. I rummaged around, found a spoke wrench, and started turning nipples. Fifteen minutes later I had managed to make things considerably worse. Other riders that I had charged past began to appear, looked at me with vague curiosity, and muttered things like “Got everything?” as they lumbered past. Things began to really look not-so-good.
Then TT_MeisterBillO himself cruised by, looked at my predicament, and said, “You’re real close to the rest stop, there might be someone there that can help”. This cheered me up a little, so I went at it again with the spoke wrench, got rid of the incipient pretzel, undid the rear brake calipers completely, and started a wobbly ride up to the top of the hill.
Upon arrival I was greeted by BikeaholicLorna, who immediately offered me the use of Craig’s spare wheels (didn’t know that, did you Craig?). Unfortunately Craig has remained a Campy-10sp purist, while I have gone over to the dark side of Shimano-9sp. After a crazed shout of “Any experts on wheel truing?!”, a friendly rest-stop worker appeared, ready to help. That is, until he looked at the wheel, the weird threaded spokes, and the rather sparse number of spokes. I could tell from his expression what he was thinking: “Hey you on the boom bike! You think you can ride the Terrible Two on THOSE wheels?!!!” I noticed various sag drivers looking my way, as if to say “Hey boom bike! You wanna ride down the hill?”
The two of us started turning nipples, and low and behold, after 5 minutes or so, the wheel started to straighten out. Finally it got to the point where you could almost engage the rear brake caliper. I decided “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and headed on down the hill. After a mile or so the wheel was still sort-of straight, but the ride seemed awfully bumpy, even for the Terrible Two. I stopped and looked things over again. From the back, it really looked pretty good-- maybe 2 or 3 mm out-of true. As I spun the wheel and looked at the brakes, though, I suddenly realized that I no longer had round wheels. Instead, I had a hitech looking “biopace”’ wheel -- not quite egg-shaped, but definitely not round. I sighed and got back on the bike.
A long, bumpy descent down Sulphur Creek ensued, using mostly the front brake for control, and lots of prayers & imprecations over the 5 stretches of gravel. The plan now was to make it to the lunch stop and try to beg or borrow a wheel from someone. A couple of other riders caught up to me, and I explained my predicament-- at least two riders offered me the use of spare wheels they had stashed at the lunch stop, except that they were either 9 or 10-sp Campy. Interestingly, I found that the rougher the road, the less I noticed the ovalized wheel-- it was only on GOOD pavement that it caused undue alarm.
I pulled into the lunch stop pretty late (12:50 or so), and immediately headed over to the bike repair guy-- in this case a REAL bike mechanic. He looked at me, said “Nice bike!”, and asked what the problem was. I said “Broken spoke” and he looked serious, then replied, “That’s impossible! You have Velomax wheels, and they say in their advertisements that their design has virtually eliminated spoke breakage!” Then he started chuckling, and I could tell he was thinking “Hey you on the boom bike! You think you can ride the Terrible Two on THOSE wheels?!!!”. But, he then stopped laughing and said, “ok, let’s see what we can do”. After a few minutes he had it a little straighter, but still oval -- he assured me that it would mostly likely hold together, as long as I “didn’t go too fast or hard, especially uphill; after you get in, send them back to the factory”. I thanked him, swallowed a turkey sandwich, and headed over to indoor plumbing at the Visitor’s Center. There I ran into Joyce the Orthodontist, Lambert, and child, apparently enjoying themselves on a local ride? We chatted a little, and then I headed out.
The ride settled into a weird routine -- the better the road surface, the bumpier the ride; carefully avoiding potholes (not easy to do in Sonoma County), trying not to put too much force on the wheel while climbing. The road surface deteriorated markedly after Skaggs II, and I began to notice more side-to-side wobble. At Camp Gualala a quick stop and re-truing session ensued. At this point, though, I was so tired that my body started complaining more loudly than the bike. The climb out to the coast caused me to once again question the wisdom of switching over to an 11-21 cluster the week before.
A very nice tailwind greeted me at Stewart’s Point, and I joined up with a series of small pace lines with other riders. Some riders noticed I was bouncing a lot, but they attributed that to the beam-bike design rather than to the biopace wheels. I had yet-another truing session at the bottom of Cazadero Rd., but after that the wheel seemed content with its shape. Musketeer_TomZ caught up to me on Guerneville Rd, and we coasted in together around 8:40 or so. When I finally got off the bike and tried walking around, I had a pronounced bounce to my gait.
During the after-ride barbecue, TT_MeisterBillO asked me how my day went. I told him how frustrating it was to have various people offer me the use of their spare wheels, only to find that everyone had incompatible equipment. I suggested that, for next year, he enforce a new rule that all TT entrants must ride bikes with interchangeable wheel sets, and that each rest stop have a supply of spare 24-spoke Velomax wheels for these sorts of emergencies. He thanked me for my suggestion, and said he would think about it, but I could tell what he was REALLY thinking -- “Hey you on the boom bike! You think you can ride the Terrible Two on THOSE wheels?!!!