Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 3: Echo Summit via Old Meyer Grade

Tour

Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 3. Click map to see full map and ride stats on Strava.

I’d gotten in close to 100 miles in the first two days of riding, and I had a hard ride planned for tomorrow—the classic ride around Lake Tahoe. As a result, for the third day I wanted to do a shorter, not-too-hard of a ride to recover and be fresh for tomorrow’s epic ride. It was cloudy and quite a bit cooler (48F) when I started out, but it sunned up as I was out and turned into a nice day. The plan was to do an out-and-back ride up to Echo Summit on the western side of the Tahoe Basin—under 30 miles and only one climb before turning around and enjoying a fast descent back into town.

Old Meyer Grade

Old Meyer Grade

Rather than climbing to Echo Summit via the heavily traveled Hwy 50, I detoured off at the base and climbed the lower two-thirds on the Old Meyer Grade. This old route up the pass is now closed to traffic, but it still has a good asphalt surface. Climbing just over 1,000 ft in 2.7 miles (the last mile on Hwy 50) with an average gradient of 8% doesn’t sound too bad (especially compared to yesterday’s Kingsbury Grade), but the grades are much steeper on the Old Meyer Grade, whose 1.7-mile stretch averages a rather terrifying 10.5%. I was only the climb only a short distance before resorting to my granny gear (36×25), which I used almost all of the way up until I getting onto Hwy 50. On the way up I passed a few walkers—seniors that appeared to be locals who used the road as their daily workout (good for them!), and near the top at the steepest part before reaching Hwy 50 I even passed an old man walking up with a cane! Good for him! Once the grade ended and dumped me out only Hwy 50, the grade become much milder and I was able to use higher gears and climb the last mile to the summit with relative ease. My total time of 25:24 on the climb translates to only 5.8 mph, but I can assure you that if I lived in the area this is one climb that I would be trying regularly and shooting for ever faster PRs.

Echo Summit

Echo Summit (7382 ft elevation)

Hwy 50 descent from Echo Summit

Hwy 50 descent from Echo Summit

Hwy 50 descent from Echo Summit

Thanks to the group of Russian tourists for taking my photo at Echo Summit.

I stayed on Hwy 50 for the descent coming back down—at the speed I was going I really didn’t have to worry about traffic passing or even being held up by me. Even though I’d never done this descent before, I quickly found my groove and enjoyed it to the fullest. It was a twisting, turning, long descent with a nice, smooth surface and incredible views of a mountain on one side and the lake basin down below on the other. After completing the descent I turned back to the east on Pioneer Trail—my first time going in that direction—and I can tell you that it is much easier in that direction than going to the west. Overall, it was a nice ride—a good workout without being too hard—and I found myself primed and ready to tackle the next day’s ride around Lake Tahoe.

Stage 3 covered 27.5 miles with 2,143 ft of climbing in 1:35:33 (avg speed 17.3 mph), bringing the combined Stages 1–3 totals to 121.6 miles, 7:07:29 (avg 17.1 mph), and 10,640 ft of ascent.

Stay tuned for the next installment covering the iconic ride around Lake Tahoe. Although it wasn’t the “Queen” stage of this year’s tour (that would come later in the week), the iconic route is epic enough to qualify as such—more than a metric century with nearly a mile of vertical ascent (all between 6,000 and 7,000 ft elevation).

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

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Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 2: Luther Pass & Kingsbury Grade

TLT-Stage-2

Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 2. Click map to see full map and ride stats on Strava.

Wow, what a day! Temps again were in the mid 60s in South Lake Tahoe, a bit colder at higher elevations, and warmer down in the valley. Today was definitely not a “big chainring” climbing—the two climbs featured today were big! I headed out of town into stiff headwinds along the Pioneer Trail and its persistent, low-grade climb, then started up Luther Pass along Hwy 89 in earnest. Luther Pass is a Category 2 climb—4.2-mi long with 1,247 ft of ascent with an average gradient of 6%. However, the headwinds directly against me the entire time really sucked the life out of me and made the climb feel much harder, and I ended up using a fairly small gear (36×21) most of the way up.

Luther Pass (7740 ft)

Luther Pass (7740 ft)

Eventually I made it over and then enjoyed a short, wide open descent down to the junction of Hwys 88 & 89 and then a much longer, steeper, and narrower descent down Carson Pass through Cloudburst Canyon and into the valley—a total distance of more than eight miles that dropped me nearly 2,000 ft from the alpine forests above to the desert valley below.

Descent from Luther Pass to Jct Hwy 89/88

Descent from Luther Pass to Jct Hwy 89/88

Descent through Cloudburst Canyon

Descent through Cloudburst Canyon

Near the bottom of the descent I veered onto Emigrant Road, which took through Fredericksburg as part of more long, gentle descending. Although I am an experienced road cyclist that has logged perhaps close to 100,000 miles across the country (and Europe) over the past 15 years, the remoteness of the area and the fact that I’d never been on these roads before—by bike or by car—had me feeling a little like I was flirting with danger, although with a spare tube in my bag, a cell phone in my pocket, and hardly a car to worry about I’m not sure what bad could have actually happened to me.

Cemetery in Fredericksburg, California

Cemetery in Fredericksburg, California

After more gentle descending along Foothill Road I eventually I made it to the base of the Kingsbury Grade—I stood at the junction of Hwys 206 & 207 and looked up at the massive, Category 1 climb—7.9-mi long and gaining 2,520 ft with an average gradient of 6% before ending high up at Daggett Summit. It looked daunting, but I’ve done daunting before (Mt. Rose last year and a number of classic Pyrenean beasts in 2007 and 2010). I had a goal to beat one hour, so I checked the clock and started out. It was not too hard on the lower slopes, especially since I had a tailwind, but once I got into the upper slopes the grade steepened (or so it felt), and the winds at times turned against me. I was in a fairly easy gear (36×21) most of the time and then in the last half mile or so I had to bail and use my lowest gear (36×25)!

Kingsbury Grade, view from bottom

Kingsbury Grade, view from bottom

View from halfway up Kingsbury Grade

View from halfway up Kingsbury Grade

That last couple hundred yards was tough, but I made it, and checking the computer I was elated to see my time up the climb was 59:54—talk about just beating the goal! I took the requisite “summit selfie” and started the descent down into the Lake Tahoe Basin. I did this descent last year so had an idea of what it was like—twisting and turning but not terribly steep. It was also fairly sheltered from wind and had very little traffic, which allowed me to descend a little more aggressively than I did yesterday and get some of my descending mojo back that I haven’t felt like I’ve had lately. I looked forward to more descending during the week to come.

Daggett Summit (7334 ft)

Daggett Summit (7334 ft)

Stage 2 ended at 51.4 miles in 3:14:49 (avg speed a somewhat sluggish 15.9 mph) with 4,910 ft of climbing, bringing the combined Stages 1–2 totals to 94.1 miles, 5:31:56 (avg 17.0 mph), and 8,497 ft of ascent.

Monday’s Stage 3 is a relatively short stage (due to a planned “epic” Stage 4 the following day), but it does feature one of the steepest climbs in the area—the Old Meyer Grade leading up to Echo Summit.

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

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Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 1: South Lake Tahoe to Spooner Summit & Sand Harbor

TLT-Stage-1

Click map to see full map and ride stats on Strava.

We returned to Lake Tahoe for Spring Break this year—as we have done for the past eight years. Unlike past years, however, conditions were not good for skiing—California is now in its fourth year of an extended drought, and the snow pack in the mountains is down to 12% (12%!!!) of normal. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and what is not good for skiing is great for road cycling. I have done a fair bit of cycling around Lake Tahoe in past years, but snow and the desire to ski have always conspired to keep me from cycling to my heart’s content. Not this year! The lack of snow made it difficult to justify spending the money on lift tickets, and a weather forecast calling for sunny skies and high temperatures in the upper 50s to low 60s for the duration of our stay had me thinking this might be the year that I do my own personal “Tour of Lake Tahoe”—seven straight days of road riding through magnificent scenery and iconic climbs! Having my LOOK 585 Pro Team—newly rebuilt with Dura Ace 11-speed components and wheels and optimized for climbing—sealed the deal.

We arrived at the lodge in South Lake Tahoe on Saturday at mid-afternoon, and within an hour of checking in I was ready to ride. With temp in the low 60sF it was also a perfect opportunity to break out my new Strava Everest Climbing Challenge kit for its maiden voyage. The first day’s ride at Lake Tahoe is always about just getting reacquainted with the mountains, and starting as late in the day as I did I had to resist the temptation to do an ‘epic’ ride. I decided to take Hwy 50 up to Spooner Summit and back, which would be about a 25-mile ride. At 7150 ft, Spooner Summit is not the hardest climb around (although it definitely lets you know you are in the mountains!). I’d had a good week of training the week before, however, and with a full day of rest from the drive out here I had no trouble making it all the way up in one of the easier big chainring combos (52×23).

Spooner Summit

Spooner Summit (elev. 7150′)

At that point I had only ridden ~45 minutes, and I wasn’t quite ready to just turn around and go back. Instead, I decided to take Hwy 28 up north for the über-scenic descent to Sand Harbor State Park, then turned around and climbed back up to Spooner Lake. The climb to Spooner Lake on Hwy 28 is also not terribly difficult—a triple-step with two relatively easy steps bracketing a somewhat longer and harder middle step. I felt fine on that climb as well and was happy I’d decided to work another climb into the ride. The day, however, was growing short, and it was time to make a beeline back towards South Lake Tahoe before darkness made things too dangerous (I’d not thought to attach my headlight before the ride).

View across Lake Tahoe from Sand Harbor

View across the lake from just south of Sand Harbor State Park

I’ve never been very comfortable on the Hwy 50 descent from Spooner Summit—traffic is heavy and fast, and even though there are four lanes, allowing me to take a full lane without worrying about blocking traffic, the winds coming up from the lake always seem to blow me around more than I’m comfortable with. This time was no exception, so I was a little more cautious than I like to be in some spots, but I hoped that after a week in the mountains I would find my descending nerve and be back to descending all out. Darkness descended quickly during the last part of the ride, so I got a pretty good workout keeping my speed up all the way back to the lodge. Stage 1 ended at 42.7 miles in 2:17:07 (avg speed 18.7 mph) with 3591 ft of climbing.

Tomorrow’s Stage 2 features more miles and two much harder climbs, neither of which I have done before—Luther Pass on Hwy 89 and the very difficult Kingsbury Grade on Hwy 207 back up and into the Lake Tahoe Basin!

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

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LOOK 585 Pro Team Rebuild

2009 LOOK 585 Pro Team, completely rebuilt w/ Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 components & wheels

2009 LOOK 585 Pro Team, completely rebuilt w/ Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 components & wheels

I had waited for this day for almost three months—the completion of the rebuild of my 2009 LOOK 585 Pro Team! I got the call Thursday evening and picked it up the next day—I couldn’t believe what a beautiful bike it was. This is the last of three major bike jobs over these past three months—it had been almost 10 years since I had done anything major (the 585 frame was a warranty replacement for the original frame bought in 2005) and my stable needed upgrading badly. A busted fork on the 585 last October was the last straw, and I got my wife’s blessing to have my KG486 frame repaired (expertly by Calfee Design) and rebuilt with components from my 585, replace the fork on the 585, and build it back up with all new components, including full Dura-Ace 9000 11-speed drivetrain, wheels, and pedals. The only components already on the frame that I kept were the slick, new white/red Fi’zi:k Arione saddle and LOOK Ergopost 2Ti seatpost that I installed last August (moving the old to my 2004 Cannondale CAAD7) and the white Easton EC90 stem installed the year before. Thompson Road carbon handlebars, red shift/brake cable housings, white/red Elite bottle cages with matching Castelli bottles, and white Fi’zi:k handlebar tape completed the build. Total weight with pedals is a scant 15 lbs 13 oz!

LOOK HSC5 fork, custom paint and LOOK branding by Calfee Designs.

LOOK HSC5 fork, custom paint and LOOK branding by Calfee Designs.

The fork was actually the hardest part to replace. LOOK has moved on from the HSC5 fork that was used in the 2009 model frames, and the newer forks do not have backwards compatibility to older frames. We finally located a fork, but it was painted silver. That simply would not do, so we shipped it to Calfee for painting. I had wanted to paint it to match the original, but the lack of good photos of the detailing and a rather high estimated price for doing that caused me to reconsider. In the end, I decided that all black would match up nicely with the black headtube, and adding white LOOK branding would tie into the otherwise white frame in a simple and elegant manner.

Dura Ace sub-compact crankset, 172.5 mm, 52x36

Dura Ace sub-compact crankset, 172.5 mm, 52×36

For the 15 years that I have been a serious cyclist, I have ridden a standard crankset on all of my bikes—i.e., a 39t small chainring for climbing and soft pedaling and a 53t large chainring for high gear. Usually I paired this up with a 12-25 cassette (although I did run an 11-23 on my time trial bike). I had been talking to people recently, however, about the new “sub-compact” cranksets that were becoming popular. These feature a 52×36 chainring combo, with the 36t providing considerably lower gearing than a 39t for easier climbing, but without losing much on the top end because of the single tooth difference in the big chainring (52t vs. 53t) compared to a standard crankset. This latter feature negates one drawback of true compact cranksets, which max out at at 50t on the big chainring but nevertheless have become popular among amateurs looking for easier gearing in more mountainous regions. I decided to go subcompact, pairing it up with an 11-25t cassette. Obviously this provides easier gearing, but the 52×11 high-end combo still provides more top end than a 53×12! More low end, more top end, less weight… seems like the best of both worlds!

White Elite bottle cage w/ matching Castelli water bottle.

White Elite bottle cage w/ matching Castelli water bottle.

I’m a big fan of aesthetics, and I like my bikes to not only ride fast but look fast as well. I just about fell over when I found these white Elite bottle cages with red highlights—a perfect compliment to the bike’s white motif and red saddle stripe. I fell over again when, as I searched for the perfect bottles to place within them, I found these white bottles with red Castelli branding in classic ‘bidon’ size!

Red shift/brake cable housings and white Fizik handlebar tape.

Red shift/brake cable housings and white Fizik handlebar tape.

White handlebar tape was, of course, a requirement—I’ve talked about this before (I won’t consider anything else these days!). Fi’zi:k makes a really great bar tape that, unlike other brands I’ve tried, doesn’t seem to get dirty very easily and cleans up nicely when it does. I was also going to go with white shift/brake cable housings to keep with my “all things white” theme, but when I found out that Shimano was now offering their benchmark PTFE housings in red (no other housing can compare to Shimano, in my opinion), I jumped at it to complete the subtle red highlights at each point of the main triangle.

Sleek lines beg to go fast!

Sleek lines beg to go fast!

How does it ride? Well, I’ve ridden over 100 miles and climbed over 7,000 feet in the two days since picking it up, and I can’t remember the last time I felt this fast on a bike! We were careful to take measurements before removing the old parts and installing the new, so I didn’t have to worry about any fit adjustments—it was already dialed in perfectly. Obviously it’s light as a feather, but what has really surprised me is the effect of the subcompact gearing—not so much in just having lower gears available for steep climbs, but rather in the ability to stay in the big chainring more consistently on rolling/mildly hilly terrain. The slightly higher cadence allows me to power through small rises and use the cassette to fine tune rather than having to drop to the small chainring when the load became too heavy. Of course, the lower end also allows me to spin faster while climbing without bottoming out and even accelerate if I need to. After 15 years, I may have to completely rethink my approach to cadence and gear selection!

Fizik Arione saddle points the way forward.

Fizik Arione saddle points the way forward.

My thanks to Chris at Big Shark for the expert rebuild, not only on this bike but for stripping it down and using the parts for the KG486 rebuild as well and his very helpful discussions on component choice for the 585 (see below). With fully functional 9-speed, 10-speed and 11-speed bikes now in my stable, I should be set for whatever ride I want to do for the next 10 years!

Type Brand Model
Frame LOOK 2009 585 Pro Team, size M, white
Fork LOOK HSC5 carbon
Wheelset Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 C24 Carbon Clinchers
Shift/brake Levers Shimano Dura-Ace ST-9000 11-Speed STI
Crankset Shimano Dura-Ace FC-9000 11-Speed, 172.5 mm, 52×36
Bottom Bracket Shimano Dura-Ace SM-BB9000
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace CS-9000 11-Speed, 11-25
Chain Shimano Dura-Ace CN-9000 11-Speed
Front Derailleur Shimano Dura-Ace FD-9000 11-Speed
Rear Derailleur Shimano Dura-Ace RD-9000 11-Speed
Handlebar Thompson Carbon Road
Stem Easton EC-90, white
Saddle Fizik Arione, white w/ red stripe
Seatpost LOOK Ergopost 2Ti
Pedals Shimano Dura-Ace PD-9000 SPD
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace BR-9000
Brake Pads Shimano BR-9000 Cartridge
Shift/Brake Cables Shimano Road PTFE, red housing
Headset Look Integrated
Tires Vredestein Fortezza TriComp, 23 mm

Ted C. MacRae 2015

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The 40,000-mile chainring

I have been enjoying the heck out of my newly rebuilt LOOK KG486. There is nothing like a “new bike” to re-motivate (actually, the frame is 10 years old and most of the components only one year younger)—in the five weeks since I picked it up from the shop I’ve logged just over 1,000 miles on it despite it being the dead of winter! I don’t think I’ve never been as ga-ga over a 10-year old bike. From the beginning, however, I noticed trouble with the drivetrain. I already knew the chain was worn, and since I would need to replace it I also decided that a new cassette was in order—something with gears more suitable for flatland terrain rather than the old Shimano 105 12-27t cassette I had gotten for my latest trip to France and had slapped on when the previous cassette had worn out. I ordered up the chain, paired it with a 12-23t cassette (both Ultegra—no sense in paying top dollar for expensive Dura Ace components that will only wear away), and anxiously awaited their arrival. In a few days, I had them on the bike, hit the road to enjoy my new lease on a crisply functioning drivetrain, and CRUNCH!!! I hadn’t even thought about the chainring also being worn, but when I looked closely its teeth looked suspiciously small. The next several days confirmed the problem—no chain slip in the small chainring no matter how heavy the load, but whenever I was in the big chainring I had to really take it easy, or else CRUNCH!!! I ordered up the new chainring (and a small one as well, no sense in mixing old and new), and when they arrived I took of the old and this is what I found—teeth worn to nubs! I guess I can’t complain, since I probably logged around 40,000 miles on this chainring (for what it cost to buy a new one, that works out to about 1/5¢ per mile).

After 10 years and 40,000 miles, the teeth on this chainring are little more than nubs.

After 10 years and 40,000 miles, the teeth on this chainring are little more than nubs.

I had a bit of a scare when I was taking off the chainrings. The first four bolts came off fine, but the fifth just spun around as I turned the hex wrench—the nut spinning freely along with it. Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve changed a chainring, so I had forgotten what to do when this happens. I jumped on Google, looked it up, and found out that I needed a chainring wrench to hold the nut in place while I unscrewed the bolt. Great—now I have to wait until tomorrow, go to the bike shop, and buy a chainring wrench before I can ride again. I decided to go out to the toolbox and look for something… anything… that might serve as a chainring wrench in a pinch. As I was fumbling through the toolbox, what do you think I found? A chainring wrench! I don’t remember ever buying it, but I was sure glad I did. That problem solved, it was a quick matter to remove the last bolt, switch out the new chainrings, and voila… a “new” bike with brand new chain, chainrings, and cassette. Check out the teeth on the new chainring below!

The teeth on this brand new chainring will give fresh bite to my stroke.

The teeth on this brand new chainring will give fresh bite to my stroke.

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

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Too dark to ride… oh wait!

IMG_4664_enh_762x1080

Bullshit didn’t ride excuse #1: The sun sets too early.

I totally figured I wouldn’t be able to ride today due to an all-day seminar, but I got out at 4 pm, felt the mild temps (mid-40s), looked at the sun still hovering tantalizingly high in the sky, and decided if I raced back to the office and changed I could be on the bike with enough daylight left. Of course, things always take longer than you think they will, and by the time I was rolling it was a little before 5 pm with sunset looming at 5:18 pm. Okay, so this was my chance to seriously test out the sleek, stylish Lezyne headlight that I got for Christmas, which to this point I’d not had the courage to try beyond flashing mode during early dusk. Heading out at dusk felt a bit weird—like I was doing something naughty—but the crisp air was invigorating and my legs quickly showed themselves to be on good form. I got to the Spoede/Clayton turnaround right at sunset, and as I trialed back along Clayton I watched the western sky morph from light yellow to burnt orange to fire red! Things started getting seriously dark as I approached Hwy 141, and I switched the headlight from flash to continuous mode. At that point 400 lumens seemed quite bright enough, and with my crazily flashing tail light all cars coming from behind seemed to have no problem seeing me and moving over well before passing me. Just as the darkness started spooking me I turned down Baxter and away from all the traffic on Clayton. The dark solitude of the empty road was a completely different experience, and I almost automatically I got in the drops and started pushing hard on the smooth, brightly lit pavement in front of me. By now darkness had completely taken hold, and I switched the headlight to overdrive (800 lumens), which was more than enough to see the road in front of me and not feel like I was flying blind. One last effort up the Highcroft climb produced not only a nice PR but nabbed 3rd overall before the final stretch back to the office. I think now that I’ve experienced night riding, I’ll try doing some of the lightly traveled country roads out where I live and see what real night riding is like.

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

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LOOK KG486 Resurrection

LOOK KG486 w/ Dura Ace 10-speed components and Reynolds Assault carbon clincher wheelset.

LOOK KG486 w/ Dura Ace 10-speed components and Reynolds Assault carbon clincher wheelset.

After hanging in my garage for six years with a cracked top tube, I had my 2005 LOOK KG486 frame repaired by Calfee Design. (You may recall that I crashed this bike in the 2008 Missouri State Time Trial.) Calfee did a beautiful job, and the frame looks brand new. All three main tubes were clear coat carbon finish in the middle fading to black at the junction points, and the crack on the top tube was right at the transition from the clear coat to black finish with a LOOK logo on the top tube right at the break point. Replicating the original finish with logo would have been quite expensive, so I opted to just have the whole top tube finished in black without a logo, while the down tube and seat tubes remain in the original condition. I think it looks great and cannot tell where the repaired area is or that it’s not the original finish.

The repaired section of top tube is right in the middle of this photograph.

The repaired section of top tube is right in the middle of this photograph.

I had the bike rebuilt as part of a larger project to upgrade my 2009 LOOK 585 Pro Team by transferring the Dura Ace 10-speed drivetrain from the 585 to the 486. I also had the rear rim of my 2013 Reynolds Assault carbon clincher wheelset repaired and put these on the 486. These aero wheels and the aero shaping of the slightly heavier 486 frameset will make this a nice ride for milder, open terrain and the occasional time trial. My 585, on the other hand, is getting all new Dura Ace 11-speed drivetrain with DA-24 carbon clincher wheelset. Über light frame with light, low profile wheels will make this an awesome bike for the hills in my area. I’ll have pics as soon as that bike is done, but first I need to send the replacement fork to Calfee for repainting (original LOOK forks are hard to find, and when came across a silver one I grabbed it!).

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

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