Friday, 18 November 2011

The Fling is getting quicker...

…at least that is what the winners time tells us.  Last year the English-man was home in 4:17.  A blanket finish this year had the first three over the line in 4:11!  That is seriously fast for a 112 km course with lots of climbing.  But times are getting quicker all over the board due, in part, to courses gradually becoming more groomed over time.  Also a factor is the steady influx of olde roadies discovering the joys of the sport, including the brothers McGee, and one Bart Hickson, who placed about 20th overall (of 600) to take 2nd in the masters category.  Damn!  That’s another one who is going to make pipe-dreams of a podium at Dirtworks even less likely.  Last year I was not unfit, but the combination of heat and a 4-beer tapering session the previous eve had me grovel my way round the circuit in 5:48.   This year I was certainly less fit (only 3 days of riding in the preceding 4 weeks), but 25% more cunning – 3 beers worth of tapering the night before (I must publicly acknowledge Hams insistence to opt for desert rather than beer #4).

A perfect day dawned.  Not too hot.  Not even a hint of hangover.  Ham and I started at the tail.  I resolved not to go too hard, but to just ride the course.  But 600 rabbits up the road are hard to resist.  I found myself jumping from group to group.  Not going too hard, but enjoying the thrill of each chase.  I finished the first sector (of 3) about 2 min slower than last year.  So far so good.  But the first sector (27 km) is but the entre.  The second and longest sector is where the hard riding (= loads of sharp climbing) really starts.  At only 40 km the first twinges of cramp were noted.  Man this was going to be a tough day.  The next 2 hours required to complete sector 2 (53 km) were mere purgatory.  Couldn’t believe the speed of the Elite field (all 4 of them at this stage) as they caned past at about the 60 km mark.  Having spent the first 2 hours doing nothing but pass people, I spent the next 2 hours filtering back through the field, to finally find my place amongst similarly rooted flotsam and jetsam.  Got to the final transition at about 4 hours, my only pit-stop for the race.  Took on buckets of fluids and hoped to knock the last 32 off in 2 hrs.  Somehow this worked out, despite having to walk each incline along the “boundary rider” and “roller coaster” sections.  Discovered I could ride through cramp as long as I stayed out of the saddle in a big gear.  Having initially anticipated going round in about 6:30, I was very relieved for it to all to be over in 5:53. 

Although posting a similar time to last year, rather than coming in 95th, such a time was only good enough for about 220th this year, such is the improving state of the local mtb armada.  A swag of people I know improved their times of 2010  by 20-40 min.  I’ve just got to work out how to do the same.  Ham has also vowed to put an end to the groveling (7:20 is a big day out in any language).  A shorter beer taper is probably part of the equation, coupled with a few more days training.  I feel that finally I’ve lost the fear of the Fling, so will be keen to see what I can do in 2012, providing I wangle an entry, of course!

Friday, 7 October 2011

soggying up

Ourimbah in prep for the scott24.  Mental note - this place takes a while to drain.

 Pump track more like a big bowl of laksa, albeit far less appealing

Thursday, 6 October 2011

the bike with 9 lives

Update...with a new rear hanger and derailleur it is still grooving, in fact better than ever!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A few things melbourne has that we don't

Had a quick trip to Melbourne recently.  They seem to be way ahead of us northerners in several respects.  In no partciular order;

Public space art (my current reference being "poo on sticks" at Kings Cross)
Kick-arse synchrotron (although one does have to go to Monash to use it)
Way more progressive cycling culture/infrastructure
Brunetti's fine coffee emporium - what the Paragon is to Goulburn, but on a Melbourne scale!

 For some reason this beast really appealed

Bikes for hire, and helmets only $5 a pop. They were actually not bad.  At that price I should have bought half a dozen to subsidize all the ob-stacle related incidents that no doubt await - this coming weekend even - Scott24, where the Soggy-Bottom brigade have a proud history to uphold. 
 Some synchrotron action at the microfocus beamline where I collected data on the smallest crystals i've ever shot - see them littering the mesh below
 ...which yielded another structure - this one with 10 molecules in the asymmetric unit (a record for me).  Crystal packing shown below.
 But Melbourne doesn't have the blueies on the doorstep.  The mudge and I recently tackled the classic corner climb "Firebug" (17), which has an olde-fashioned first pitch (= desperate thrutching grovel), followed by two awesome pitches with good gear, albeit not including the classic "knot" protection displayed below.

 View between my legs midway up the fantastic hanging 3rd pitch
 And completely unrelated, the dismantling of an Australian icon at E's new digs

 Another engineer in the works

Saturday, 20 August 2011

A km too far

How much can we or should we expect out of a carbon frame? Well, the answer to that question, at least in the case of my el cheapo ~ 3 1/2 year-old Cellnago, is approx 40 000 km, although this finality was realised by Iain (aka E), the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back. The bike i loved to hate, is finally kaput, but perhaps not for reasons one might have expected.

Due to a concoction of Chinese beaurocracy, painting issues, and life just being plain busy, the rolling out of the Wombat took 6 months more than expected, the result being that the Cellnago had done over 41 000 km before i had finished with it. Technically, this was only true for the front fork (original), whilst the current frame had done 25 000. Frame #1 developed fractures in the lacquer in the bottom bracket area after 15 000, although in light of my recent experience with the idiosyncrasies of clearcoating, i wonder whether the fracture pattern was really a hint of imminent failure, or merely a skin-deep cosmetic issue.

In any case, E had expressed an interest in using bike #2 once i’d moved on. My main concern was the fork and what condition it might now be in. The carbon blades were basically unscratched and good as new to the eye, despite its first and only bingle experienced just months earlier. My research on the subject revealed that the properties of carbon are such that barring extreme or catastrophic impact (ie. often resulting in breakage), carbon actually has an extremely good fatigue life – like steel but unlike aluminium, which has no fatigue limit. What this means is that an aluminium structure will accumulate fatigue regardless of the magnitude of the stresses involved (eventually accruing to failure), whilst steel and carbon will only accrue fatigue if a particular threshold stress is achieved.

I had pre-emptively acquired a replacement fork with aluminium steerer from ebay (approx $100), should another park-bench style incident befall one of us, and offered to install it for E before handing it over. However, E was either unfazed or sufficiently accepting of my qualification that the fork was probably OK, at least for the time being whilst he got his new bike sorted (another cleanskin in the works), that this new fork was never installed.

And so a few weeks rolled by until the unimaginable happened one morning this week on his commute to work. Actually, this was the second unimaginable occurrence to have occurred last week.

Incident and get-out-of-jail award #1 goes to Lawrence, who upon clearing the dip (60 km/hr) of the Kirribili Exit off the freeway (heading to the SHB), and having just lost most of his momentum, hit a normally innocuous ripple in the surface only to have a catastrophic front hub failure. Three consecutive spokes parted from the hub taking the hub flange with them, with the warped-rim locking the front wheel. Not mentioning any names (campag, radially laced, aluminium hub body, probably at least 5 years old). Bloody lucky that boy had no speed when it happened.

Now to the second get-out-of-jail card. E was out of the saddle and heaving up a steep bike-path incline (ironically en route to meet Lawrence, who was now waiting on his MBT) when the handlebars sheered clean off the fork! It wasn’t the carbon fork blades, but the aluminium steerer tube of the fork that had sheared at the stem collar. Again, lucky he had no speed to speak of. Inspection of the fissure revealed that 1/3 had probably started to open some time ago – a straight line corresponding to wear instigated most likely by the edge of the stem, with the newly peeled surface constituting the other 2/3. In hindsight, the headset had mysteriously loosened up about a month before the handover, so perhaps the initial crack had started to open then. The fact that these things happened just days apart is slightly creepy. Hopefully these things don’t happen in threes.

In answer to the question posed at the top – I reckon 3-4 years or 30 000 km is probably a reasonable life to expect out of a frame – at least that is the rule of thumb i think i’ll ride by (@ ~ 70 kg). A lighter rider will get away with more. Frequent inspection of the steerer tube is probably a good idea also, especially if carbon (look for cracks). Similar lifespan probably a good idea for wheels as well (maybe 5 years max), especially if you are running less than 32 spokes and have radial lacing patters (= higher spoke tension). If you must true the wheel yourself, try to do so by releasing tension, rather than increasing it, although a gentle uniform increase can be done if the overall tension is getting sloppy, which also tends to occur with age.

Good news story of the week; Jonesy – who is the most prolific of any rider i have had the pleasure of knowing, and who is himself a chronic flog-it-till-it-dies advocate (or at least used to be) – just became a world record holder . 491 km in 12 hrs at nearly a 41 km/hr average. Amazing ride Jeff!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Escaping the Bogan's Nest

Despite having recovered from the rigors of Tour dependency, and gone easy at Ham and Lisa’s do on Sat night (thanks guys), I joined the collective and skipped the Sunday Morning spin and instead indulged in some Twittering and Tweeting, in a non social-media kind of way – although perhaps the fact you are reading this betrays my smug hypocrisy. 

Sunday morning; the mudge and I approach the coffee shop via the off-road alternative, walking the ~2 km of bush track below Buzerko Rd, and collected ~35 species en route.  Not a bad offering from a slither of weed-riddled bush. 

After coffee we jumped in the car and made what would constitute our second effort to bag a couple of species which have thus far eluted our birdlists – Regent Honeyeaters and Swift Parrots.  In fact we made a concerted effort to nab these guys a month or so back, but made the journey to the central coast only to come back tickless. 

Regent Honeyeaters are probably the rarest bird in this part of Oz – officially endangered, with generally only sporadic sightings recorded each year.  Their range supposedly covers the Sydney and Hunter River basins to the western side of the blueies.  This year, however, there have been numerous winter sightings in Morriset, just south of Newcastle, in a particular stand of Swamp Mahonganys, which are flowering profusely at the moment.  Swift Parrots, on the other hand, are more numerous, but seasonal visitors, which winter in coastal NSW, before returning to breed in NZ.  Fortuitously, healthy recordings have also been made in the Wyong region, just south of Morriset – hence the chance to nab 2 species with one drive.

First of all the Regents.  Last time we made the trip we failed to find the particular hotspot reported on the web, but found loads of Swamp Mahoganys full of other honeyeaters and lorikeets one might expect to see.  The site is in bushland surrounding an old Psychiatric Hospital.  Unfortunately, not everyone who should perhaps be confined within the said institute were inside the gates.  Especially on this particular Sunday, the 4WD bogans with their booze, fags and pig-dogs, and the accompanying stink bike vermin, where everywhere – ripping up the place, knocking down trees, bulldozing scrub, and no doubt leaving litter wherever it suited – evidenced by the trash that was found, well pretty much everywhere.  How’s the serenity?  

We somehow managed to navigate the myriad of 4WD tracks, dodge the bikes and locate what we thought to be the electricity substation that is mentioned on the web.  About 30 min of searching later, and actually only 150 m from the substation across a little creek, we were rewarded with great sightings of not one, but 4 Regent HEs, skirting the flowering gums which were raucously patrolled by loads of Noisy Friarbirds and Rainbow Lorikeets.  We couldn’t quite believe we had Regents in our sights – which remained glued through our binoculars even as trails bikes screamed past in a haze of dust only meters away (can’t imagine what they must have thought).  A few hugs and high fives later (yes, it was emotional), we made a be-line for the car and got the hell out of there before a lynch mob could be assembled to get the weirdo greenie interlopers out of their playpen (please mazda, don’t fail us now – a few scrapes, wheelspins and bottoming outs and we were gone).

With Regents in the bag we gained the highway and headed south to the oddly named “Spotted Gum Park” in the heart of suburban Wyong (technically Wotanobbi).  Not a spotted gum could be found, just a thin stand of mature ironbarks on a ridge.  The place seemed deathly silent as the sun was starting to wane.  I had joked that we’d either see dozens of Swifties or nothing.  Nothing it appeared to be, until my ears picked up the faintest squeak.  Peering through the bins, high in the canopy my eyes gazed upon a parrot of type I’d never seen before.  Having both breathed it in, minutes later we found another dozen in another tree, then were treated to no less that three more flocks of approx. 10 each, coming in to roost for the night.  Smaller than I imagined – not that much bigger than a budgie, and far less raucous, I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that in one leap they make the journey across the Tasman, twice a year!  No pissed hoons in 4WDs to worry about this time.  We were able to enjoy the moment before setting course for Sydney on a doubly successful birding foray, which brings my Australian tally to approx. 310 species.  Only another 300 to go!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Bravo Cadel!

So proud of the guy - up hill, down dale and round the bend - win or lose.  So much heart - his watery gaze in the start house suggested he would give his all.  Been waiting half my life for this.  Brilliant.  The following Sunday morn trundle was set back an hour, and the weather gods finally smiled after a diabolical week with perfect Sydney skies (wettest Sydney July since 1950 - and still a week to go).  Great times de-briefing at the Cafe.  BT, Mikey, John and Greg we missed you.  Now to sleep for a week!

And yes, the creek was up again:)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

More on how not to clearcoat decals on carbon

"I am embarking on the same endeavor. Where did you get your decals made? Also, what kind of clearcoat did you use? Did it come in a can or did you need a compressor / sprayer setup?"

Made locally by “Signarama” in Surry Hills, Sydney. I don’t know the technical term but they are a 3 layer format; waxy backing paper (removed first), white vinyl lettering/images (the meat in the sandwich), and clear third layer for the purpose of positioning the graphics before being peeled back to leave the graphics in place.

A small air-filled gap of a few mm surrounds the edge of each graphics item (a result of the step at the layer junctions). It’s important when putting the 2-layer sticker on not to force contact to the frame at this junction as the gap allows the clear plastic outer to peel off without also lifting the image layer with it . Peel the clear layer off at the sharpest angle possible. The smaller the art detail the more likely it will lift with the clear outer – I found a sharp metal point was required to hold down the smaller art features. Expect intricate artwork to be more difficult.

The lettering and images (white on transparent backing) were designed in a .ppt doc on a big sheet (1m*1m), so that the images could be displayed in real size (largest images being ~30 cm long). I saved the page containing all the art as a .png file (any image format without serious compression would probably suffice), then cropped to the sticker size before saving each image individually (MS picture manager). Starting big means you won’t compromise resolution or show pixilation. Supplied to the printer on a USB stick, the files are then converted to some sort of vector format required for printing. Once the shop has done the conversion, I believe repeat orders are cheaper. I had stickers for three frames made at once, which came out at approx. $30 per set.

The bad news is that repeated sanding is a real pain. The good news is that if it all goes to hell it’s amazing what can be achieved with sandpaper. I predominantly used 2 grades – 800 grip to remove the original surface and do the heavy lifting on imperfections, and 1200 grit to attain a smoother surface before applying top coat. I’m told that 1500 or 2000 grit paper exists, although I couldn’t get my hands on any. Sanding is best done wet – just keep dipping the paper in water. This also prevents inhalation of particulates. Use finger pressure behind the paper so as not to produce flat-spots, as might happen with a block of cork or wood. Remove the resultant slurry with a cloth and inspect under good light. Imperfections will jump out as the surface dries, which happens very quickly.

Once the decals are in place, apply 3-4 very light layers of clearcoat. I used “Motospray Acrylic Top Coat Clear”. Practice on a sheet of newspaper first to convince yourself you are still just wetting the surface. Nozzle should be at 20-30 cm. Adjust your angles of attack for each pass to make sure you wet different sides of the tubing. Each "layer" for me is simply 2 gentle consecutive passes of the nozzle (left to right, right to left). Do two passes on the down tube, then the seat-tube etc, slightly adjusting angle of attack for each sweep till all surfaces are covered. For me this = 1 coat. Wait approx. 5 min between layers.  Although touch-dry after 5 min, there is still enough solvent to bond the next layer. The whole process only takes 15-20 min. Leave the frame to dry over a few days (required for traces of solvent to completely vanish – might be quicker in summer). Remember that less can be more! You simply want to seal the edges and provide a thin coat to protect from the elements. One session might indeed suffice.

In the case of my second frame I made the mistake of spraying late in the day as the sun was setting with the temperature dropping fast. I suspect that the last coat caught the dew to produce a matte finish (solvent evaporation is a cooling process). Hence, I sanded this one back lightly, then re-coating the following weekend in the middle of the day. No runs or cracks for either attempt.

Be warned that the finish achieved by this method is a little grainy (think orange-skin – only visible up close) compared to the original lacquer. I believe the process can be taken further if you are after that absolutely perfect finish. The next step involves something called “cutting compound” – an automotive cream containing some sort of abrasive – to polish and buff the surface to a mirror finish, although for the moment I’ve decided it’s not worth the effort and I just wanted to ride the thing.

I did my frames in winter. I’m guessing that the particles which come from the can might “lie flatter” on the surface in warmer conditions, and produce a finer finish. The vibe I get from petrol-head forums (USA) is that most people wait for the heat of summer to do their final sprays. Additionally, most use some sort of spray gun/air compressor set up, which probably yields finer droplets to give a smoother finish. Many also use a more industrial “2-pac” style paint, which requires the mixing of two components, one of which is extremely toxic, and requires special breathing equipment etc.

Given that bike frames tend to spend good chunks of time wearing grime sweat and tears rather than strutting show-room floors, I reckon that the finish achieved from a hand held aerosol will be more than adequate for most of us to have some fun with.

Hope this helps.

 Cracks in the lacquer that were subsequently sanded out
 That's better - note the slightly rough finish
And finally the build - 8 kg of wombat (7.5 with even vaquely schmicko wheels).  An amazing improvement over the cellnago.  Cost approx 2K.  3K once some nice wheels are factored into the equation.  You can't really beat the budget packages most shops now sell, especially once labour is factored in, but you will end up with something unique.