Thursday, April 3

Put the Spurs to 'Er Chuck

One of my favorite movies about test pilots is the 1983 classic The Right Stuff.  I like to think the real Jack Ridley did utter the words emblazoned atop this post today, but for all we know it was simply a collection of words cooked up by some Hollywood screenwriter.  Regardless, it’s a great line to kick off any experimental flight.

Right, yesterday I made a bold proclamation.  And I fully intend to follow through with it.  I'm going to ride my Xtracycle in the three Kentucky Century Challenge rides I plan on doing this year.  Prudence would have had me at least doing a test climb up one of my local hill simulators before committing to Tussey Hill.

It's all good though.  I've been at this long enough that I have confidence in my ability and in the Cannonball's sure-footed hill climbing.  There's no reason to doubt.  Yesterday I took a test run and reaffirmed that my scheme to gain international notoriety astride my longtail cargo bike is valid.  She climbs like a mountain goat.

And so the “X” in “Cannonball X” takes on a new meaning.  Like the X-1 she is a testbed for new ideas.

The closest hill simulator to my house is the KY 213 Furnace “Mountain” climb.  Furnace is 0.8 miles long and gains 468’ with an average grade of 10% and sections of at least 20%.  Ages…eons…geologic semesters ago…I decided it might be possible to ride my cool red Cannondale mountain bike up Furnace Mountain.  Silly me, I didn’t fully understand the power of granny gears.  I tried, but I walked.  I tried again and walked.  The third time—way back in the ancient epoch of Chainring—I succeeded in riding my bike all the way to the top of Furnace Mountain without stopping.  That three part process taught me a lot. 

For comparison, Tussey Hill is 1.6 miles long, gains 331’ and has an average grade of 4% with crux sections in excess of 17%.  I don’t know…I might be able to do it. 

For those that aren’t familiar with cargo bikes (longtail bikes in particular) what makes my scheme significant is that most people don’t consider the cargo bike as a recreational or touring vehicle.  But from the outset, as I pined for an Xtracycle of my own back in 2011, I intended the bike as an all-arounder.  We had committed to being a single-car family, and I wanted a bike that would act as commuter, kid hauler, touring bike and more. 

I did my research.  I looked into a few bikes as a replacement for the Cannonball when it was simply an old mountain bike sitting in as primary mode after my Giant had been slain. While I was pretty hot for a Raleigh Sojourn or something similar, I finally came across Ben Sollee’s “Ditch the Van Tour” and saw a video about his Xtracycle.  I was hooked.

The X became my primary mode of transportation, and until I went down the path looking for a Leadville belt buckle, I didn’t think I needed another bike.  The bike started out configured with drop bars and slick commuter tires.  I toured 50 miles into the mountains and back that way.  I commuted 100 miles a week that way.  I hauled my daughter to and from the babysitters that way.  I climbed mountains.  I descended canyons.

After my MTBing obsession took over I shifted the bike back to its more natural form with knobby tires and the Jones H-bar.  I’ve had it off-road a few times, and while it is definitely no singletrack shredder, it does pretty well considering.

I was going to ride it in the OKHT last year, but mechanical difficulties kept it parked until this winter when I finally got to the root of some of my problems and when Dave and I began to delve into installing hydraulic brakes on the beast. 

Some common misconceptions that need to be dispelled:

1) An Xtracycle rides very much like a regular bike.  Yes, it’s a bit longer which affects turning and parking, but all-in-all it rides like the donor bike it was built around.

2) An Xtracycle isn’t prohibitively heavy.  While the fact is the FreeRadical does add weight to the bike, it doesn’t slow you down as much as not checking your air pressure will.  I beat down more than a few Cat 6 commuter racers on sporty-sport bikes who acted like they had something to prove on the Clear Creek Trail back in C-lorado.

3) My Xtracycle climbs like a mountain goat.  That’s because it was built on a 1994 Cannondale M300 mountain bike with gearing as would be found on a mountain bike.  It has a ridiculously low granny gear and on pavement there are few hills I can’t climb.  I proved yesterday that Furnace is no problem, and in fact, it felt significantly easier than on my 25t sporty-sport bike.

So to my detractors (you know who you are…Mark): I say no intervention is necessary.  My sanity is not to be questioned. 

Translating the Xtracycle to Kentucky topography has been a year-long process.  I've had to convince myself.  My jaunt up Furnace yesterday sealed the deal.  I'm going to make a few tweaks to the X, but then I think it will become my go-to bike for most everything except trying to keep up with the Mozhican and for the occasional mountain bike race.  The true test of road superiority will be to take the Cannonball X out to climb Cobhill. 

Did you feel that?  It was like a little shiver through my spine, but…bigger, like an earthquake.
 
I figure if Mark can climb Cobhill on his Surly Disc Bookmobile then I can get up it on my Cannonball.  I just don't know if I'd want to race him up it.
 
Top of Furnace Mountain circa 2003

Same bike 11 years later
 
 
 

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