Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 5: Tahoe Mountain & Fallen Leaf Lake

Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 5. Click map to see full map and ride stats on Strava.

Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 5. Click map to see full map and ride stats on Strava.

Stage 5 of my own, personal “Tour of Lake Tahoe” was another relatively short one. The forecast earlier in the week had called for rain today, and I figured today would be a welcome rest day after yesterday’s epic “Stage 4” (72 miles around Lake Tahoe in under 4 hours). I awoke today, however, to blue skies and temps already near 50 and knew I would have to ride. Nevertheless, tomorrow’s “Stage 6″—the Queen stage of the week—still loomed, so I didn’t want to do anything long or too hard. Despite the amount of riding I’ve done around Lake Tahoe over the years, there still remained a number of roads around the outskirts of South Lake Tahoe that I haven’t ridden yet (or even been on by car). After some quality time with my family touring our favorite spots around Lake Tahoe, I looked at the map and put together a 26-mile route that headed west of town and then veered north towards the lake on several still unexplored roads in the south Lake Tahoe  Basin, including North Upper Truckee Road, Lake Tahoe Blvd., Tahoe Mountain Road, and Fallen Leaf Road.

Forest fire remnants

A burned out area of forest along Tahoe Mountain Road.

The scenery was spectacular, to say the least. Upper Truckee Road took me through serene forest along gentle grades. That all changed after turning on to Lake Tahoe Blvd., which lead into a huge area that destroyed some years back by wildfire. New home construction in the area was booming—I wondered if these were rebuilds of previous residents who lost everything or new construction by newcomers who presumed there was no longer a wildfire risk to worry about (I suspect the former). The burned out area stretched all along the south side of Angora Ridge, and before I began the (relatively easy) climb up Tahoe Mountain Road I paused and was reminded that Mother Nature is boss here.

Fallen Leaf Road

Fallen Leaf Road

Crossing over the ridge to the north side, I stumbled onto an awesome descent down Tahoe Mountain Road that is normally closed during the winter months. However, with the lack of snow this winter and temperatures already spring-like the gate was open and I decided to go for it. I wasn’t completely confident that I wouldn’t eventually run into a dead end, but I figured the worst that could happen was that I would have to turn around and go back—okay. It was an incredible descent—narrow and winding on a surprisingly good asphalt surface, and just steep enough to build speed but not so much that I had to constantly scrub on the brakes. It was an almost perfect descent—all the smoothness and speed of the road combined with the wild solitude of mountain biking.

Only the shadow knows.

Only the shadow knows.

The descent down Tahoe Mountain Road lead to Fallen Leaf Road, and from there it was a 2-mile stretch along equally stunning forest alongside Fallen Leaf Lake, though unlike Tahoe Mountain Road the pavement was very choppy—so much so that I welcomed being dumped back out onto Hwy 89. By that time, the setting sun signaled an end to the day’s ride as I headed back towards the lodge.

Stage 5 covered 26.3 miles in 1:40:22 (avg speed a very leisurely 15.8 mph) with a modest 1,204 ft of climbing. This brings the combined totals for Stages 1–5 to 220.3 miles in 12:42:05 (avg 17.3 mph) with 16,437 ft of ascent. Tomorrow’s ride is Stage 6, the “Queen” stage, and was without doubt one of the hardest rides I have ever attempted—more than 100 miles and more than 10,000 ft of climbing! I survived, obviously, so stay tuned for that story.

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

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Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 4: Ride around Lake Tahoe

Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 4. Click map to see full map and ride stats on Strava.

Tour of Lake Tahoe – Stage 4. Click map to see full map and ride stats on Strava.

The marquis ride of every spring break in Lake Tahoe is the “Ride Around the Lake”, and I looked forward to it even more this year after just having my newly rebuilt LOOK 585 with Dura Ace 11-speed components and wheelset. It was a gorgeous day under gorgeous skies, with temps a little coolish (upper 40s) starting out but warming up nicely to the upper 50s during the day with high, thin clouds and winds not too bad.

This is my fourth circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe and third time solo (you can read about my first solo trip here), so I know the route well enough to be comfortable no matter where I am. The first time I rode around the lake (as part of a group) we went counterclockwise—I’m not sure what the rationale was, but on my subsequent solo trips I’ve gone clockwise. This accomplishes two things: 1) it keeps me lakeside so I can safely stop for the many photo opps that present themselves, and 2) it helps me stay a little further away from any potential rockslides that could be a problem if I was riding mountainside (in my previous trip I narrowly escaped a small avalanche at Emerald Bay—had I not been lakeside it might have turned out badly!).

I stopped perhaps a dozen times to take photos and refuel (carried all of my food with me this time). The photos below give a good flavor of what riding around Lake Tahoe is like.

Beginning the ride around Lake Tahoe. And so begins today's adventure. This will be my fourth circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe—third time solo.

Beginning the ride around Lake Tahoe after leaving South Lake Tahoe, California.

The first views of the lake after leaving S Lake Tahoe are near the base of Mt. Tallac—one of several peaks surrounding the incredible Emerald Bay.

First lake view on ride. The first views of the lake after leaving S Lake Tahoe are near the base of Mt. Tallac—one of several peaks surrounding the incredible Emerald Bay.

First lake view on ride near the base of Mt. Tallac.

The first climb of the day is actually up the side and then along the spine of a lateral glacial moraine situated between Emerald Bay to the right and Cascade Lake to the left—both left over from the glaciers that scoured the area in the last ice age.

Lateral glacial moraine between Emerald Bay (R) and Cascade Lake. The first climb of the day is actually up the side and then along the spine of a lateral glacial moraine situated between Emerald Bay to the right and Cascade Lake to the left—both left over from the glaciers that scoured the area in the last ice age.

Lateral glacial moraine between Emerald Bay (R) and Cascade Lake.

Nothing compares with the beauty of Emerald Bay and the iconic Fannette Island!

Emerald Bay scenic overlook. Nothing compares with the beauty of Emerald Bay and the iconic Fannette Island!

Emerald Bay scenic overlook.

Emerald Bay is the deepest of the southwestern glacial scours, allowing water at the current Lake Level to connect with the Bay (in past millennia lake levels have been as much as 1,000 ft higher than today’s level!). Fannette Island is a small core of granite within the scour that resisted the scouring action of the glacier, poking above the current water level as Lake Tahoe’s only island.

Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay and Fannette Island.

Heading north from Emerald Bay one encounters the most diverse area of coniferous forest around the lake due to its nice stands of sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana). These pines are the among the tallest of all pines in the world and also bear the longest cones of any pine species. They need moister conditions than other pines, and the western shore offers these conditions compared to the drier eastern shore in Nevada, thus the pines are most common in this part of Lake Tahoe. I never tire of seeing their ragged upper crowns soaring into the skies above and in defiant contrast to the symmetrical crowns of the conifers that dominate the area—Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), white fir (Abies concolor), and incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), their long, pendulous cones hanging from the tips of their upper branches.

Sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) I never tire of seeing sugar pines soaring into the skies above the other conifers, their pendulous, longest-in-the-world cones hanging from the tips of upper branches. These pines need moister conditions and, thus, are more common along the moist western shore of Lake Tahoe.

Sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) at D. L. Bliss State Park, California.

A long, fun descent along the gently sloping, winding, and wildly scenic Hwy 89 leads to a stretch of lakeside riding along the west shore that eventually leads to Tahoe City at the northwest corner of the lake. Riding this stretch I was approaching the halfway point of the ride and needed to refuel. What better place to do so than along the serene rocky west shore at Idlewild?

Lake shore lunch stop at Idlewild. Nearly halfway around and time to refuel. What better place to do so than the serene west shore?

Lake shore lunch stop at Idlewild, California.

Riding to the east along the north shore and just before crossing the border from California into Nevada, I encountered Kings Beach State Recreation Area. I have passed by this beach many times and never stopped, so this time I decided to take a look. I’m glad I did, as next to the sandy beach is a rock area filled with magical rockpiles that have been meticulously built by countless visitors to the beach. Standing like little gnomes amidst a the backdrop of peaks on the southern shore, they are vulnerable to the vagaries of wind and ill-behaved vandals, yet somehow persist.

Rockpile at Kings Beach. A lone rock pile stares across the lake from the north shore to Heavenly Valley in the south.

One of the rockpiles that can be found at Kings Beach, California.

In contrast to the gentle slopes on the south, west and north shores, the east shore is steep and rugged, dropping precipitously into the water’s depths at several points of interest. My favorite is Sand Harbor a few miles south of Incline Village. I’ve learned to skip the main park area with its sandy beach and stop instead at a point about a half-mile north of the beach where the jagged, boulder-strewn shoreline results in incredible shades of blue as the water depth changes dramatically. Here, stunning views can be found, along with the solitude that allow them to be sipped and savored.

View from point just N of Sand Harbor. In contrast to the gentle slopes on the south, west and north shores, the east shore is steep and rugged and drops precipitously into the water's depths.

View from point just N of Sand Harbor.

While I was on north shore I saw that I was carrying an 18.5 mph average—on pace to beat 4 hours if I continued at that pace (something I’ve not accomplished yet), and by the time I left Sand Harbor I was still in the a few tenths above 18 flat. The up-and-down riding along the east shore, however, isn’t conducive to speed and features the biggest climb of the day up to Spooner Lake. It’s not a hard climb, however, and having done it already a few days ago I knew the grade and distance well enough to optimize my gearing at the outset and get to the top with an average just under 18. If I could get it back over 18 I would be gold to beat 4 hours. I blasted down the descent along Hwy 50—filled with fresh descending mojo from the last several days of riding in the mountains and entered the last 10-mile rolling stretch that leads back into South Lake Tahoe. A few miles from town I encountered Cave Rock, where a tunnel blasted through the rock presents a risk of conflict between any bikes and cars that should happen to find themselves together inside the tunnel. A button emplores cyclists to press a button that turns on warning lights for motorists (assuming they are inclined to pay heed to such), but the stop to do such could put my sub-4 hour goal in jeopardy. Should I stop and press the button, or should I blast through? Ah well, sensible me won out (and good thing it did, as a car ended up overtaking me before I got through the tunnel).

Cyclist light at Cave Rock. Should I stop and press the button, or should I blast through? Ah, sensible me won.

Cyclist light at Cave Rock.

By that point, and with only a few small climbs ahead of me, my average speed had climbed well above 18 mph and was still on the rise as I reached the outskirts of town—I knew I had it! I had just ridden around Lake Tahoe solo in under 4 hours. If you think that is so-so accomplishment, well guess what? I’m closing in on 60 years old, bitches!

Ride around Lake Tahoe stats. Guess what? I just rode around Lake Tahoe solo in under 4 hours. Guess what else? I'm closing in on 60 years old, bitches!

Ride around Lake Tahoe stats.

Stage 4 covered 72.4 miles with 4,593 ft of climbing in 3:54:14 (avg speed 18.5 mph), bringing the combined Stages 1–4 totals to 194.0 miles, 11:01:43 (avg 17.6 mph), and 15,233 ft of ascent. Tomorrow’s ride (Stage 5) will be another short one to recover from today’s ride and freshen the legs up for Stage 6—the “Queen” stage! Despite its relatively short distance, I do a little bit of climbing and discover some gem roads that I didn’t know about despite the amount of riding I’ve done here in the past.

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

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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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