Solo, Surly, Cider

About eight years ago, I bought a Bike Friday New World Tourist after listening to my friend Charmaine talk about how much she loved her Bike Friday. It took me about four years before I could get comfortable on what I came to call Little Nellie.

My only complaint about Little Nellie these days is that her little wheels transmit enough road shock to my lower back to make it somewhat uncomfortable to ride day in and day out. Of course, that didn’t stop me from riding it for 150 miles worth of commuting this week. And, predictably, my back was not real happy Friday night.

Little Nellie was custom made to mimic the geometry on The Mule, my old touring bike. I like both these bikes a lot but they are rather tank like in their weight and their ride qualities. I really wanted a bike I could take for long rides that was nimbler without beating my back up.

I have been hearing about Surly bikes now from several people. After hanging out with Katie Lee earlier this year, I heard an earful about her beloved Arrow, a Surly Cross Check. Arrow and Katie are a match made in heaven. After weeks of procrastination and test riding, I bought one.

It took me about 450 miles to get it set up to my satisfaction. The final tweak was a new higher rise stem. I’d done 30 mile easy rides with the bike set up this way with no ill effects on my body. It was time to put it to a more rigorous test.

Bright and early Saturday morning, I mounted my Cross Check on my car and drove to Warrenton, a town in the Virginia Piedmont, for the annual Great Pumpkin Ride. As luck would have it, this year the weather turned out to be pretty good: overcast with temperatures rising from the high 40s into the low 60s, with mostly light winds.

It has been a long time since I rode fast for an extended period of time. With fingers in lobster gloves crossed I headed out about 45 minutes before the official start on the 67 mile route.

I was rolling along without too much effort when I noticed I was going an unheard of (for me at least) 18 miles per hour. Hmmm.

I settled in to a groove mindful of the possibility that at any moment my legs would wake up and turn into stone. Thankfully the foliage was at its peak giving me something to take my mind off the burning sensation in my knees.

After a while faster people on faster bikes started to pass me. No worries. I let them go. I had no hope of keeping up with the carbon fiber crowd. I just settled into my little meditative trance and cruised along among the oranges and yellows and reds.

At 18 miles I had some hot apple cider and a scone with sweet icing on top. Off came my long wind pants and the t-shirt over my base layer. I tucked them in my Carradice saddlebag and hit the road.

I normally hate drinking cider but hot apple cider tastes wonderful in the middle of a bike ride on a cool fall day.

More miles went by. Every so often a decent sized hill would present itself. I stayed in the saddle. I shocked myself by actually passing some folks on the uphill. If I pass you on a hill, you suck at hill climbing. At one point I rolled past an alpaca farm. Somebody forgot to cue the Peruvian flute music so I rode on.

The second rest stop came about three miles later than I recalled. I kept at the pace. I had slowed since the first ten miles but I was still mostly riding over 15 miles per hour, about four miles per hour above my commuting speed. And the Cross Check and my Brooks Champion saddle (with springs) were eating up the bumps.

At the second stop, I had the same food as at the first. It works. I said hello to Steve, whom I met at Friday Coffee Clubs and Third Thursday Happy Hours, as I rolled out.

For the next 15 or so miles, the bike traffic was much heavier. The 67 mile route had merged with the 48 mile route. I figured I’d soon start to see some other friends.

No dice.

Roll on,

I started thinking that i could go leaf blind from all the foliage. At times the road went through a tunnel of oranges and yellows and reds.

After another 15 or so miles I rolled into the final rest stop at Old Bust Head brewery. I had some more cider and some potato chips for the salt. I met up with Paul, Amy, and Jody. They were doing the 30 mile route. We went into the brewery for a glass of the Octoberfest Marzen. I’m not saying it tasted good but I am looking to buy a home in the neighborhood.

Knowing my pace would be faster, I took off for the finish. The next ten miles are the hilliest part of the ride. There were several long false flats. These are roads that look level but go gradually uphill. These can be very discouraging: you pedal hard but your speed keeps dropping.

I kept on keeping on and soon I rolled into the finish. My knees were a little sore (not unusual) but my back felt fine. The Cross Check passed the test with flying colors.

My thanks go out to the volunteers and police who helped make this such an enjoyable ride. I’m already looking forward to next year.

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