One last hurrah for summer

I don't exactly remember when my first trip to Portland was after I moved to the PNW, but I do remember hearing my friends and co-workers hype it up after I had settled into life here and began looking for adventures. My cycling buddies loved it for its bike-friendliness. My non-cycling friends loved it because of the food, drink, and tax-free shopping.

Since that first trip, I've tried to return at least once every year. In the past, I've tried to time the visit to coincide with various shop garage sales, but there didn't seem to be one happening this year. I've also wanted to visit the famous beach(es) of the Oregon Coast and see some big-ass rocks.

After roping Tobin in, finding a sweet AirBnB, loading up two bikes into the back of my tiny Civic (without a rack), off we went after work on Thursday evening. I'd given him plenty of grief for traveling on a long weekend across the border without a Nexus pass, but I was actually the one who came this close to screwing up the trip before it had even begun: we were sitting in line at the border crossing talking about something or other related to travel documents and as I'm opening my passport to the photo page in preparation to present to the agent, I notice that my passport expired back in April. Merde. I'd actually considered not bringing my Nexus card considering that I wasn't going to be able to use the dedicated lane, but am glad I brought it along anyway.

Once through the border, we made our obligatory stop at Aslan Brewing in Bellingham for dinner and then continued the long drive down the I-5. There aren't too many exciting details here as we arrived in Seaside, OR around midnight, checked into our motel, and promptly hit the sack. We were greeted by a nice salty mist in the morning, a far cry from the sunny weather that had been forecasted. After rolling down the boardwalk to get some mediocre coffee, we decided to hit the road and make our way to our planned destination: Canon Beach.

Sure, there are beaches in Vancouver. There's even a cool rock, but it's not really that big. And there's only one. Maybe it was vacation placebo effect, but the sand felt "beachier" there. The views of the coast coming in and out of view as the lighting shifted with the clouds and the mist was spectacular. The ground was firm enough closer to the water that we were able to ride along. We resisted challenging tourists to "beach crits." Sure, the combination of salt water and sand probably wasn't ideal for two guys riding steel bikes, but whatever. Prudence be damned. Sometimes you just want to act like a kid again and go splash in the water. Totally worth it.

Our original plan was to stay in Canon Beach until dark, light a bonfire, make smores, sip bourbon, stargaze, and sing Kumbaya, but decided we'd rather get a head start on the drive to Portland so we wouldn't have to do it in the dark. We didn't have a firm itinerary for the weekend aside from two planned rides, the first of which was the Forest Park / Skyline Loop. If the Seymour Demo Forest road had a ménage-à-trois with the climb from Mulgrave School to First Lookout and any of the trails in Stanley Park, this is what you'd end up with: 5.5km of relatively packed down dirt and gravel climbing upward at an average gradient of about 5% with absolutely no vehicular traffic allowed. A little slice of heaven just outside the city limits. From there, the route takes us through rolling rolling rural roads before dropping us back down some nice twisty descents (including tunnels!) back into the heart of town.

Our only other planned outing was to go climb Mount Hood. This part of our trip could have gone...better. My over-zealous planning for an early morning start in order to: a) avoid any vehicular traffic on the drive to the mountain as well as up the climb itself and b) to ensure we still had an afternoon to spend in town meant setting the alarm for 6AM and getting to the base at 8AM. Avoiding traffic on the climb was actually a moot point since we'd planned on ascending a Old Leg Road (a service road used for the OBRA uphill TT Championships) instead of the Timberline Highway route. What we didn't account for were the temperatures associated with a starting elevation of 1,379m. The plus side is that I was greeted by a perfect combination of misty roads punctuated by golden hour light, resulting in one of my favourite things: #angelboners. Instead of risking hypothermia, we ended up driving up the highway route and parking at Timberline Lodge, descending a good chunk of Old Leg Road and then climbing back up. It wasn't quite what we had in mind, but probably better for, you know, not dying.

Finally, I leave you with this collection of random images from the trip that didn't quite fit into their own galleries, but can roughly be divided into some distinct categories:

  • Tobin using Google Maps.
  • Tobin drinking things.
  • Coffee.
  • A rather inadequate collection of #baaw
  • Our AirBnb hosts' cat: Apollo.

Superweek 2016

Another Superweek has come and gone and I don't have a lot to show for it, as far as photos go. This will be the first time in three years I haven't made a concerted effort to get media access to the Gastown Grand Prix and looking back at it, I'm OK with that. No pressure to get the shot and no pressure to get images up right away.

Instead of running around the course with a full-sized DSLR and a giant F2.8 telephoto zoom elbowing my way through the crowd to get to the front, I was able to hang out with a couple of buddies on a corner with my OM-D and a 90mm equivalent and my Ricoh GR with its 28mm equivalent, leisurely enjoying a burrito. Part me missed being in the thick of things, but I think a bigger part of me was also glad to be able to actually sit back and enjoy the race as a spectator. Next year, I may go back to lurking in team alley looking for the candid shots that were always my favourite part of seeing other photographers' race coverage, but I don't think I'll be going back to playing action sports photographer any time soon.

I did manage to grab a few keepers from the Gastown GP and Giro di Burnaby though, so it wasn't all a loss.


I try and make my way up Mount Baker to Artist Point at least once every season. Given this year's snowfall, I'd been eagerly awaiting the upper road to be opened to the public, but travel during the last two weekends has kept me away, so I missed opening weekend on June 23. 

There's a constantly updating shot list I keep in my head and after seeing this image from Kristoff Ramon earlier this season, I knew I wanted to head up to do my own take on it.

Giro '16 - Stage 6. Credit: Kristoff Ramon.

Giro '16 - Stage 6. Credit: Kristoff Ramon.

The forecast for today was supposed to be sunny, but that was definitely not the case. As we left Vancouver, we were greeted by an intermittent drizzle that turned into a steady drizzle as we neared the border. By the time we got to Sumas, it had turned into a steady light rain. My friend turned to me from the passenger seat and asked if I wanted to keep driving. Plan B was to start the ride at North Fork Brewery, but as the rain continued, we moved on to Plan C and starting from the base of the climb at the Glacier Ranger Station.

Our luck with weather on this trip never seems to work out completely, but we were thankful that the rain dialled itself back to drizzle and even stopped for a while as we ascended. The top of the mountain was completely socked in though, so all we saw up top was 50 shades of grey. The mist and the temperature at the top meant that nobody wanted to stand around for long, let alone set up for any of my photos, so we quickly turned around and started the descent. Visibility wasn't terrible and despite the damp air and roads, the way down wasn't as treacherous as I thought it'd be.

Oh well. There's always next year.

Blue Steel

Like many things in my life, all of this started with an image, although it's probably not the one that immediately comes to mind after reading this post's title.

For almost as long as I've been riding bicycles, I've known that I eventually wanted something made from lightweight modern steel. As you may remember from a (not so) recent post, I've been riding on aluminum Cannondales since I started. At one point along the way, I caught hipster-fever and sought out a vintage bike appropriate for fixed gear use. For what I still consider the "deal of a lifetime," I wound up with a blingy chromed thing with track ends made from an unknown blend of tubes. What I did know, however, was that for something that was older than I was, the ride quality was sublime, even on 32x 3-cross straight-gauge spokes on skinny rims and tires. If 30 year old steel (probably straight gauge chromoly) felt that good, I could only imagine how much of an improvement the metallurgy of modern tubes had gone through since then.

I ride with a club that has an established connection with a large brand-name manufacturer of some pretty nice bikes, and one of the questions I was often asked was "why not carbon?" Maybe I chugged hard from the chalice of #steelisreal Kool-Aid. Maybe I wanted to stand out in a sea of matte black wünder-bikes at the weekly crit or Saturday club ride. Maybe I enjoy the precision, craft, and artistry behind hand-made goods. Maybe I'm a little bit of a fan of the old school, for the same reason that I still wear a mechanical watch. Probably all of the above and other ephemeral reasons I can't quite put into words.

After updating to the latest version of OSX, I went back and found an old iPhoto album that I created years ago. Much in the same way that some people cut out photos of exotic supercars or motorcycles or what have you, this album was a collection of the coolest looking bikes I could find on the Internet. When I moved from Ontario to Vancouver, a few years ago, I found that there was no shortage of builders in the PNW that I could visit on a weekend trip through Washington or Oregon. My interest in brands and builders evolved over the years, but I always knew that I'd give in to the "treat yo self" urge eventually. What I do remember clearly was being at the Whistler 'cross race in 2014 and seeing a bunch of folks in some pretty sweet team kit I had never seen before: "Naked Factory Racing." I was intrigued, mostly by how Parker (below) was dishing out whoop-ass in the elite field on a single-speed. Some Internet sleuthing led me to Sam Whittingham of Naked Bicycles and that's where this process began in earnest. As an experienced builder, NAHBS award-winner and a local, Sam made a lot of sense.

My first time seeing somebody get Naked.

I first reached out to Sam in April 2015 to ask about my options. I knew I wanted steel, and I knew I wanted a "traditional" road bike. The whole disc-brake/all-road trend was really taking off in earnest, but I've never felt the need for them with the descents on Cypress or Seymour. A few of the first switchbacks coming down Mount Baker in Washington are pretty fast/tight, but I'm not chasing those fractions of a second where discs make a huge difference in late braking. My plan was still to race on this thing and with the whole UCI/disc brake fiasco still up in the air, I decided to stick with external mechanical shifting and traditional short-reach rim calipers. I thought about going for mid-reach brakes for larger tires and/or fenders, but figured that I would resort to my 'cross bike if I was going to be doing anything gnarly, so I asked for max clearance for 28mm tires.

I spent a lot of time going back and forth about whether to go with an all-stainless frame or something built around True Temper S3 or Columbus Spirit and about a month of back and forth over email before I sent my first deposit in June 2015. In hindsight, I could have sent the deposit earlier since I was fairly settled on him as a builder and ensured an earlier spot in his queue. The next few months were spent collecting inspiration from various sources and creating a mood board for myself, although this quickly became overwhelming. At its very essence, my conundrum came down to whether I wanted a painted bike or whether I wanted to get a frame done in brushed/polished stainless.

Fast forward to November 2015 and it came time to go and visit the workshop for an in-person discussion with Sam. I had previously sent him the contact point numbers from my CAAD10, but I had never been truly happy with that fit and the whole point of custom steel was...custom. I made the five-hour drive/ferry trek to Quadra Island and spent an afternoon on his fit bike under his careful eye although I left with new contact point measurements and although I left with new fit numbers, I still wasn't any closer to deciding on my tubeset choice. What it came down to was this: if I were to go stainless, I felt like my only option was to leave it with a brushed finish with either matte or polished accents. Why paint over stainless? It seemed like such a shame and a waste to cover it up; the whole point was that it didn't need a protective layer of paint. Also, no paint = less weight. I'll admit that I'm still a bit of a weight-weenie, although not to the extent that I used to be. The flip side was that bare metal bikes all tended to look pretty similar and another point of going custom was...custom; I also wanted something unique and truly one-of-a-kind. Sam also noted that KVA had slightly increased the wall thickness of the most recent MS3 stainless tubes, so my thought process was that although a bare S3 or Spirit frame might be lighter, painting the frame and fork would result in the two options coming out a virtual wash anyway. 

The other thing that was going on during this back and forth was discussion about geometry. After receiving my initial frame drawing from Sam, I kept focusing on two figures: top tube length and my saddle-to center of bar measurement. I tunnel-visioned on the fact that my proposed TT was actually longer than my CAAD and that the saddle-bar reach was essentially the same. Considering that I was looking for a change from my existing bike and a shortening of my cockpit to alleviate neck/shoulder issues, I couldn't see past these two numbers. Much like the proliferation in use of WebMD, it's quite easy in the age of the Internet to believe you know what you're talking about after performing some Google-fu. One of my closest friends had gone through a similar process in the previous year with his custom build and reminded me that I needed to simply trust Sam. I mean, his years of building, riding, and racing was worth more than the collective wisdom of the random Internet population, right? In the end, I made a few minor tweaks to the front end (head tube length above the top tube to minimize spacers and opting for a different fork rake to achieve the necessary trail), but otherwise left things alone. Trust the process. Trust your builder. Get it? Got it. All of this wishy-washy back and forth on my part set me back another month before sending in my 50% fabrication deposit in late December.

So, back to the image that started this whole process, the real one this time: This is what I wanted.

Once I had decided on my palette, it was just a matter of deciding on how the colours would be applied and the actual shades. No big deal, right? I knew there'd be a few months between sending in my fabrication deposit and construction and the paint stage, so I thought I'd have plenty of time to mull things over. I ended up going with the best of both worlds: a stainless rear triangle to minimize the need to worry about chain slap damage and drive train grease and a painted front end. I wanted something unique, so I asked Sam to do an oversized logo along the top of the down tube instead of his usual logo placement, which resulted in something quite abstract when viewed from the side. One constant through this entire process was that I wanted the inside of the fork painted with the frame's accent colour. I had originally asked about doing something patterned, but decided for the sake of cost and keeping things simple and timeless to go with a solid. My requests: midnight blue with purple flake when hit by direct light (affectionately known as "burple") and some shade of teal or turquoise.

The other thing about going the custom route is that even though I knew I had carte blanche with the design, I needed to achieve two goals: make sure the bike represented me without getting carried away. You'll notice the lens aperture/diaphragm on my top tube to represent my other major interest and my personal logo on the down tube, balancing the placement of Sam's "handmade in Canada" graphic. I was happy to keep the personalization minimal, also a reflection of my design and aesthetic preferences.

If you've worked with images or publication, you'll know the importance of colour calibration. Sure, I had all of these great paint inspirations saved online, but how would I get those to Sam and ensure that what I saw was what he'd see when mixing paint? I tried (not very hard) to get my hands on books of Pantone swatches and automotive paint to no success. I even asked some co-workers if they had nail polish I could borrow. My final solution was finding reference images of the House of Kolor codes I wanted, printing them on photo paper, and asking Sam to do his best to match them with the request for a gloss finish with some sparkly flake.

I spent a lot of time looking at nail polish blogs and got a lot of strange looks from my female coworkers.

I spent a lot of time looking at nail polish blogs and got a lot of strange looks from my female coworkers.

The "in" colours of 2015. Ooooooh, sparkly!

The "in" colours of 2015. Ooooooh, sparkly!

Things got really hard once February rolled around. I was hoping to have this thing in time for Spring Series racing, but the delay was nobody's fault but mine for taking so long to make some key decisions early on. Once Sam started posting teaser photos of fabrication, it was almost unbearable, plus the warning to give the paint and clearcoats about a week to fully cure before final assembly. I took delivery in late April and my other bikes have been languishing in the apartment since.

For the build kit, I decided that I'd venture back to Shimano after many years of SRAM shifting. It's hard to articulate, but I felt that a Shimano gruppo looked better on a more traditional-looking frame than SRAM. The fact that I was able to score a pretty good deal on a Stages power meter cemented the decision quite nicely. It took about a week to get used to the difference and I'm quite used to it now having ridden this thing pretty much exclusively over the last month, but I still get momentarily confused when I switch back to my 'cross bike with SRAM.

The big question you're probably asking is: "how does it ride?" Well, it rides like a bicycle: I pedal it and it goes forward. The long answer is that before taking delivery of this frame and having it built up, I hadn't ridden a "road bike" in almost 9 months. I'd been riding my SuperX since the start of last year's cyclocross season and knowing that I was eventually going to sell the CAAD, I hung it up on my wall and spent all winter and spring on my 'cross bike with slicks. At this point, it's been so long since I've been on road geometry that I wouldn't be able to provide any kind of meaningful comparison between the two without resorting to the marketing superlatives that you can read in any magazine review. What I will say is that after spending the last month doing everything from 25 minute criteriums to an eight-hour mountain slog, and everything in between, I feel at home on the bike: in the drops, on the hoods, or on the tops, my hands and my butt are where they need to be. I guess Sam knew what he was doing after all. My position and weight distribution feel dialed and I'm confident railing turns or settling in and just dieseling my way along. There's a bit more toe overlap than I had with my old road bike that's already resulted in an intimate encounter with the asphalt as I tried to track stand at a red light, but nothing that interferes with actual riding.

Oh, yes. You may be wondering what that thing is below my top tube. Yes, I decided to go with a full-size frame pump (painted to match, of course!). I've used Co2 in the past, but have been in/seen multi-flat incidents where the finite supply of gas runs out. I went through a period where I carried both a single 16oz Co2 cartridge as a primary and a Lezyne pocket pump for backup, and most recently have just been carrying the mini pump. Remember when I said I still had weight-weenie tendencies? Well, I nerded out and measured the difference between the already minimal Lezyne Trigger Drive + 16oz cartridge + Lezyne Road Drive and my full size Topeak Road Blaster and the delta was 73 grams. For reference, that's just a little bit more than the weight of two Honey Stinger waffles. Totally worth it for an unlimited air supply that's not going to devastate my arms or shoulders trying to get a road tire up to a decent pressure. Other potential uses: fending off aggressive dogs/swans/geese and jamming the spokes of rival commuter-racers.

Enough of my blabbering. You want photos, don't you? 

True Temper S3 main triangle, KVA MS3 stainless rear triangle
ENVE 2.0 1.125" fork with Chris King headset
Shimano 6800, 50/34 170mm with Stages
SRAM 1170 11-28 cassette and 1170 chain
Zipp Service Course SL seatpost & stem
Ritchey NeoClassic handlebars
PRO Turnix Hollow AF saddle
White Industries T11 20/24, laced 2x to Pacenti SL23 v.2
Veloflex Master 25 with Michelin latex
King ti cages
Topeak Road Master Blaster

Thanks to Jacob (aka Randognar) for bike and wheel build, literally burning the midnight oil when I first took delivery to get me rolling, and putting up with my really esoteric requests.

The Island

I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I've been living in Vancouver for almost four years and have never spent any meaningful amount of time on the Island. My only trip to date was to visit the Naked Bicycles workshop last November for my fitting, but that doesn't really count because my entire day was spent on the ferry, in my car, or in Sam's shop. I'd never gone over for the Robert Cameron Law race series or any of the fondos either. With a surplus of vacation days to use, I decided that last week was as good a time as any and booked a four-day weekend visit.

I didn't really have a set itinerary for this trip; there were no events or races going on and the only research I did beforehand was asking all of my coffee connoisseur friends for their recommendations. I knew I was going to do the Broadstreet Cycles Thursday chill ride and the Victoria Wheelers Saturday ride. Other than that, My plan was simply to roll around and explore. 

The benefit of leaving on Thursday morning's first ferry meant that I was able to enjoy empty Vancouver roads, avoiding all of the morning rush hour traffic and giving me the opportunity to make the most of my first day of vacay. The downside: waking up at 5am to guarantee enough time for breakfast, loading, and any of the last-minute hiccups that always happen when travelling.

I'll be honest: I didn't take many photos of actual riding. When I'm rolling around here in Vancouver, I'm usually with people or groups that I know well on roads that I'm intimately familiar with so I have no hesitations reaching for my camera. I was a stranger on strange roads with strange people during this trip, so I decided to play it safe, especially on some of the more *brisk* rides. Despite what these images may lead you to believe, I did, in fact, ride my bike and did not just drive around placing it in front of things for the photo op. There are also a bunch of photos on my Instagram feed of some of the coffee stops I made to Second Crack, Bows & Arrows, Hey Happy, Habit, and Caffe Fantastico.

So instead, I'll leave you with this random collection of photos from the trip. What was pleasantly surprising was a bit of a resurgence of my eye for capturing images beyond all things bicycle. A little bit of street photography here, a little bit of architecture and urban there. Some land/sea-scape thrown in as well.  One of my favourite things about traveling is finding cool graffiti so be warned, however, that there's still a surprisingly high percentage of my bike against a wall.

Long story short: I'm sad that it's taken so long for me to do this. I'll be back.