Wednesday, September 21, 2011

FINALLY, THE FARGO IN ITS ELEMENT!

Sunday was my first opportunity to take the Salsa Fargo out and enjoy it in its real element – off-road, loose gravel, steep climbs. The Wood-Man and I headed out to the Sunburst Picnic Area above Lake Logan on NC 215. A Forest Service Road just off the picnic/campground area was our destination. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t what I got…

My mindset must have been expecting a nice warm up period of sweet packed pea gravel. What I got was an immediate climb on gravel! Next up was a slight increase in grade leading to an easy fording of the West Fork of the Pigeon River on a submerged concrete slab.

No warm up, no easing into it. We were destined to climb this day. The Fargo was a dream at this point. On my 29” Race King tires with knobby tread, I was cruising up the gravel road for my first off-road experience. With tall trees on both sides and a fine comfortable breeze assisting us, the Wood-Man and I made our way up the mountain.

Sunburst Forest Service Road

(Shade accompanied us along with the sound of rushing water on the lower leg.)

After approximately a mile of climbing, we came to our first hair pin turn and noted a single track trail off into the woods. We decided to see what it was like but found it to be outside our comfort zone within 50 yards. I had visions of being clipped in when a bad wobble of the Fargo sent me head first down a 45 degree grade to the creek below. Prudently, we turned around and returned to the Forest Service road with its wider track and loose stone.

I was finding the right gearing for this type of riding and enjoying myself as my heart rate increased with the increase in grade. A short relatively level traverse across the mountain side led to the next hairpin turn and another step up in grade. We could see the section of the road recently climbed as we switched back and forth along the mountain.

After about the third (or was it the fourth) hairpin curve, the road took a significant increase in both grade and length. We were both breathing hard and trying to keep forward motion going. I could not stand up to pedal as that only served to unweight the rear wheel and I would spin in the loose gravel resulting in loss of momentum. Road traffic and horseback travelers had kept the road surface quite stirred up leaving sand, grit, and loose gravel in which we tried to get purchase for forward and upward motion.

Occasionally, the center of the road offered some grass and well packed surface and we could stick to the mountain significantly better. There were no shoulders that looked safe to ride upon as a misstep here or a slip there would either send you into a ditch (the better alternative) or off the steep mountainside.

With each section gained, we would hope to find level ground for a brief respite only to discover yet another length of climb. We reached the top of the gap after surviving what my bike computer indicated was a 24 degree grade.

Once at the top, we were rewarded with some great views through the cuts in the trees.

Looking east above Sunburst

(On top and looking east!)

Both the Wood-Man and I determined that we weren’t overly interested in dropping down into the next valley only to have to repeat the climb so we took a short 75 yard descent just to be sure we we had “gapped out.” Satisfied that we had reached the top, we turned and rode back over the top.

The Descent…

Of course, what goes up, must go down and this turned out to be the more nerve racking part of the climb for me. To this point, my experience with disc brakes was limited to about 15 miles on paved roads. I had limited understanding of what to expect as we dropped back down the road so I kept a “turtle like” speed in order not to overcook my brakes just in case such a thing was possible. The ride down was a jarring experience and my arms and wrists were worn out by the time we returned to the parking area. Along the way, we passed a young couple hiking with their 3 dogs. The Wood-Man met them on the blind side of the curve and was able to let them know I was not far behind. Fortunately, I saw them with plenty of room to assess if the dogs were on lead or not.

After we returned to the paved road, we rode down to the Lake Logan dam just to add a few miles to the ride and to work off some of the adrenaline from the descent. There was quite a bit of traffic out on this pretty Sunday and almost all of it was friendly and courteous. We had one jerk that felt the need to buzz us but otherwise it was a very nice road sharing experience.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the Fargo and more so each time as I get it dialed in and understand better the differences in the riding styles. I did discover on the descent that my rear brake isn’t adjusted to have the same stopping power as my front brake so that will require some adjustment before the next ride. The big tires with knobby tread, in Wood-Man’s words, “sound like a pickup truck on the pavement.” But, boy did they climb well. I was very pleased with how the Fargo took me further and longer than I expected I could go. It was hard work and a great workout. I’m finding that riding the Fargo less miles is a harder workout than a longer ride on my Fuji CCR3. Between the two, I’m expecting to be a stronger rider in the future.

Still Waiting On the Big Apples…

My LBS ordered some semi-click Schwalbe Big Apples for me near 10 days ago and we’re still waiting on them to arrive. The supplier reports that they are coming from Utah. I’ll be interested to see how they change the on-road dynamics of the Fargo.  Bro Dave just put a set on his Fargo and found them to be a great tire for his riding conditions of mixed surfaces on his daily commute to work in sunny Southern California.

Unfortunately, the combination of new tires, somewhat wet roads from the morning fog, floating road oils,  and a curve resulted in his going down yesterday morning on his way to work. You know it isn’t a good thing when an email starts out, “First of all, I’m O.K….” Bro Dave reported that he was going slow (25 mph) through a slight curve when the bike just disappeared under him and his head slammed the pavement. His glasses cut him just above his left eye and he says he quit counting at 10 stitches. Along with a sore neck, bummed wrist, and some road rash, he has ground down brake levers and a damaged left gear shifter.  A new helmet is absolutely in his future. We will not post images to protect the innocent but he did say that he shocked a few trail users on his way back to his car.

A Most Excellent Shopping Experience…

I’ve been studying and researching on what type of bag or pannier I wanted for the Fargo. My friend the VeloHobo is a big fan of Carradice bags and I followed his suggestion of going with that brand after reviewing a number of other bags and styles. The Carradice line is apparently quite popular as I kept running into the phrase “out of stock” on various website. Finally, I came upon across Wallingford Bicycle Parts in New Orleans. The website indicated the bags were in stock but I still had some questions in my mind as to how this particular bag (Nelson Long Flap) would work with my Salsa Wanderlust rack. Well, I’ve received prompt and complete replies to my questions and excellent guidance for Bill Laine. My order was placed yesterday and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my bag. Chapeau to Bill!

Yesterday’s South Main Study Group…

As the representative to the study group trying to decide how the south side of our town should look in the future, I attended the stakeholders meeting of the South Main Study group yesterday morning. I joined, along with business owners and local residents, as we attempted to assist in developing a vision of what the southwestern entrance to Waynesville, NC should look like in years to come. It was an interesting process and I was pleased with the positive reception that cycling issues received. I was mindful of how different it was than the situations that Mia Birk describes in her book Joy Ride as she documents her struggles to bring cycling into the mainstream in Portland. I know that somewhere along the line there will be pushback against cyclists but right now I sure appreciate the overall responses we received.

South Main Study Group

(Study coordinator Rodney Porter address the South Main stakeholders)

During the meeting, I had the chance to drop a note to the local NC DOT representative attending the meeting. I was asking about the possibility of adjusting a particular sensor at the nearby Super Wal-Mart as it does not pick up bicycle traffic traffic at all – even when we’ve had 9 riders standing together! I had to leave the meeting and didn’t get to speak directly to him.

I received an email from him within 2 hours indicating his desire to help adjust the sensor and asking how soon we could do it. He was ready to do it today, which would have been 24 hours from the request. Unfortunately, the rainy weather resulted in my request to postpone until Monday. Still, what a great customer service response I received!

Until later,

- Zeke

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