Last year I was pottering about on TradeMe, looking for nothing in particular, when I cam across a Salsa Casseroll frame. It was a 2008 model which, strangely no one else seemed interested in. It came with a Chris King headset and Salsa seatpost & stem. I managed to resist the first time it appeared, but when it was relisted at an even lower price, I caved in and bid. I was the only one who did, and it was all mine for only $280. Soon after, also from TradeMe I bought a set of wheels – Mavic OpenPro rims, Shimano Ultegra hubs, with 72 spokes between them. I hid the wheels & the frame behind the couch for a few weeks while I scoured various exotic corners of the Internet for more parts.
From XXCycle in France, I bought a Stronglight crankset. Why the Stronglight? Three reasons, they’re reasonably cheap, they’re quite good looking (I really don’t like those modern Shimano cranksets that look like a stingray is glued to your bottom bracket) and they come in a good range of sizes. The ‘standard’ 50t road ‘big ring’ is too big for me, and I wanted a low bottom gear for ascending some of the very steep hills you find in a city built on 57 volcanoes. So I chose a 48/34 and put a mountain cassette (11-34) on the back. This has worked out really well – I spend most of my time in the outer ring, and the middle third of the cassette. If necessary I can crawl up steep hill in the 1:1 bottom gear, and I have never spun out in the top gear.
Lying around in the garage, I had a set of Miche dual-pivot brakes. So installed them hooked up to nice Tektro levers. To change gears I bought 9-speed Ultegra bar-ends. Why bar-ends? I like their simplicity and versatility, also if the indexing gets screwed up, you can switch them to friction.
I was very fortunate with the all important contact points – the saddle is an old Brooks I salvaged from a 1970’s Peugeot, and the handlebars are Grand Bois Maes Parallel that I found on sale at Planet-X in the UK. Both of these items are very comfortable. At first I put on Shimano Deore deraileurs, but I have since replaced them with Shimano 105. The tyres are the classic Panaracer Paselsa TGs.
Built up like this, it was my Sunday rider. But I don’t really ride on Sundays, so it wasn’t getting much use. I thought I’d try riding it to work, this required the addition of some accessories – via TradeMe, a Tubus Fly rack, from Rose Bikes in Germany, a B&M Lumotec IQ Fly-T Senso Plus front light, SKS mudguards and dynamo hub front wheel.
So now I ride it all the time – to work, on “training” rides on the way home from work, for longer loops around Auckland and it’s even been on a little tour. I like it a lot – it’s very comfortable and reliable, without being slow or boring. It’s not perfect though – the bottom bracket is low enough that it suffers from a bit of pedal strike, and there is some toe overlap. Maybe one day I’ll buy a nice 650B randonneur to replace it. We’ll see…
I was just outside Waingaro Springs when the Powerade began to take hold. The sign reading “Raglan 29km” that yesterday had made me want to cry (because I was hungry, tired, pretty much sick of this whole thing and still had 29km to go) had the reverse affect today – it was 11:30 in the morning and I was already a third of the way home. I was full of sugar and electrolites (whatever they are) and feeling good. The previous day (Monday) I had caught the train from central Auckland to Pukekohe and then ridden 125km to Raglan. It wasn’t supposed to be 125km, it was supposed to be 105km, but I had taken the wrong road out of Tuakau. This took me on a 20km Detour of Futility which I regretted bitterly later.
The trip was my first attempt at bicycle touring. I had, somewhat cautiously, chosen a route described in a book by The Kennett Brothers as “Auckland’s Great Escape”. The plan was to ride down on Monday, stay the night in Raglan, ride back to Pukekohe the next day and then catch the train home. It didn’t sound that big of a deal – I ride an average of 100-150km a week around Auckland, and had done a couple of 100km loops & survived. How hard could it be? Quite hard as it turned out.
My attorney had strongly advised me against the journey – “Why are you doing that? It’s too far! What’s wrong with you?” she had shouted when I mentioned the idea. Yesterday as I had gasped past the turnoff, wondering if I was going to make it, her sage words had haunted me. But today I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps I should just get a more supportive lawyer. Because today the sun was shining, the road was empty, and I was on the way home.
The next section of the road was my favourite of the whole trip – a beautiful valley full of cows, sheep, horses and turkeys. A surprising number of turkeys really. Some of whom were very keen to impress their ladyfriends. The ladyfriends seemed fairly underwhelmed with their displays though and looked to be politely edging off to somewhere else.
After the valley, the road headed upward and then meandered along a ridge for a while. One of those ridges where it’s always windy and the wind is always a headwind. I stopped for some time to watch a couple of harriers riding the wind above a gully. Now & then they would swoop down near the trees, and pairs of magpies would fly up and chase them off. Although I lack the beauty & deadly elegance of a bird of prey, I could sympathise with them – a magpie had chased me yesterday too. I had also helped (sort of) round up some escaped cattle, seen men cleaning beehives, and watched a pair of Paradise ducks chasing their errant offspring across a field.
The road between Onewhero and Waingaro Springs is pretty good for watching wildlife thanks to the absence of traffic. At times I had the road to myself for 20min at a time. I talked to the guy at the garage & he told me that it’s busier at weekends, mostly with motorbikes. Which explains all the giant road safety signs along the way that have motorbikes on them.
Days later, the memory that keeps coming back to me, is how it felt on the way back, when I had passed through Pukekawa and stopped at the top of the long hill leading down to the bridge over the Waikato. It’s a lovely view, and it’s when I was finally sure I was going to make it home. There was still 20km to go, but they were flatish kilometers, and going home always seems shorter doesn’t it?