Sunday, 26 September 2010

Knocklofty


Pounding headache this morning, so it was only late in the day that I decided I needed to haul my butt out the door and get some exercise.  After a quick sorting of the options, I decided knocklofty called.

Funny isn't it, knocklofty's only a km or two out of the CBD and yet I've never got up there on a bike.  Turns out its a beautiful area.  Headed from the top of Forest Rd, around the front of the hill, then found another track that doubled back around just above the first one, which i followed until just before I got back to the car park where I decided to head up the summit circuit.  Explored one or two dead ends, and there's a bit of a push up through a few sections, but all in all enjoyable little climb to the summit.  Arrived up there about the same time as another guy.


View is pretty unimpressive from the top, but the track down the other side is definitely worth the climb up. 

It's a fairly new bit of single track and from what I can see mountain bikers are allowed.  The track switchbacks down the hill, before linking back in with the Mt Stuart Circuit.  Followed this for a while, but in the end doubled back and returned down to the car park following the summit track, but with another short detour to frog ponds.  There were a few stairs to get down, and whilst I cycled down the first set, there were a couple walking there dog on the second so I carried the bike down these.

It seemed to early to head home, so I followed Forest Road until where it turns into a track behind a boom gate and found another lovely section of well ridden track that winds around the side of the hill and eventually drops out at McRobies Gully Tip just between the top of the hill and the weight in station.  Brilliant track both ways (slightly downhill heading towards the tip).

All in all only out on the bike for 1.5 - 2 hrs, but feeling lot better for it, lovely Sunday afternoon, and there's still that Mt Stuart circuit I saw signed which needs exploring another day ...




Sunday, 19 September 2010

Tasmanian Trail - Geeveston to Dover

The weather forecast was cold with rain.  A perfect Saturday not to be on the bike, but I'd promised myself, so it was out of bed early and fortified by a bacon and egg breakfast sub and a large latte in Kingston, I found myself in the car park in Geeveston unloading my bike around 8am.  It was time to ride the last big section of the Tasmanian Trail south of Ouse.

The day started pretty well, I headed south out of Geeveston, and found some new Tasmanian Trail signs leading out of town which hadn't been there a month or so ago, you barely leave the outskirts of the town before a well signed right into Kermandie Road had me headed into the hills.  It's been really wet down here lately, and the rivulet was in full angry flow which made the ride out along the road just brilliant.  Really country picturesque area.


The bitumen ended after a km or two, then it was left Kermandie River road (unsigned) following the walking sign up to Hartz Peak.  This is where the slight upward grade, became a hill and I found myself flicking down the gears pretty quickly as the body wasn;t quite ready for the first days effort.

It's a lovely ride along this section, the wattles were out in full bloom, the surface was rocky but fun.  Just as the legs and heart were getting warmed up, I emerged out into a three way junction in a young eucalypt plantation, where the road to Hartz Walking track continues straight ahead, but the trail actual goes on the left fork up Haulage Road (unsigned) and up the hill.  100 metres past this corner, I came to a small cattle grid and surprise, surprise a TT registration booth.

Somewhat excited, I opened it up and had a read through.  Here's a depressing summary: It had all the registrations going back to Janaury 2009 ...  all 8 of them ... all on one single page.  In over 20 months only 8 groups totalling 18 riders had ridden through here on the trail.  2 groups had been on horse, 5 on mountain bike and 1 on foot, and only four had actually started up in Devonport.  Three had started in Geeveston like me, and one was coming up from Dover.  What's even more depressing were the comments:

"about bloody time"
"stop logging near it"
"If you don't stop logging, build a new trail"
"wet, wet, wet ... half party of seven rode via highway"
"Need a track copy for this century, not out of date 1900's"

But fortunately, there was on one "Great mate" from a group who had been on horses.

I added my name to the list, and continued on up the hill.  It's a fairly long stint up from here, but although steepish, sections of the plantations you're riding through are all dark and overgrwn with moss everywhere and it has this really nice ambience to it before you emerge back out into the open, industrial forest landscape, of the State's Southern Forest.  Whilst I don't mind looking over a logged forest landscape, I do think they really need to rethink the "Prelude to Wilderness" badge they put on this section of the trail, as it is a bit misleading.

Anyway, unfortunatley, from the high point the forest is just at a height that you can't really see out over the Huon Valley unless you scramble up onto a stump, so I continued on.  It's a short downhill run down from here, you hit a T junction where you go left, up a deceptive little climb, and then drop down again into a big four way junction.  It's really important to go left here down Hermons Road.  I was up this way a month and it was all well signed, but today the Hermons Road sign and Tasmanian Trail signs had all been trashed.  Whislt I fixed them up, there's no guaratee they'll stay that way.

It's a decent downhill run from here down through some patches of remant wet forest to the junction of Boney Road (approx 2kms) on the right.  This is where the riding really gets fun, OK , maybe not straight away, I personally found myself either grinding away in bottom gear or pushing my bike for the first section of Boney Road, but once up on top, you come around a corner in a big open area recently converted to plantation, and find yourself plunging into a narrow, wet, slippery fun track with thick vegetation on both sides.  This is the section you come to ride.

All good things come to an end and after enjoying the forested section, I emerged out onto a track through  button grass plain, which was equally fun riding, but not as scenic, and just as I was really getting into dodging big puddles and pushing along deep ruts, it all came to a crashing end as Boney Spur 2 came in from the right and I suddenly found myself grinding along a surface of large loose stones.

Mercifully the rocky surface turned into a proper gravel road after a half kilometre or so and the grade turned downward for a fast free wheeling descent onto Hopetun Road (there were a few turn offs to the left and right, but the were all well signed when I rode the trail.).  I hung a right here (admittedly after a wishful look off in the other direction which would be a good exit point for anyone seeking a shorter return to Geeveston) and headed back towards the hill. I was therefore rather surprised to find this section nice flat easy riding, and that the area was through some pretty regeneration forest. 

Notice three arrows, three directions.
Then I came to John's Road.  Having gotten so lost in the past, I had GPS'd the whole route this time so I wouldn't get lost, and my GPS said I should go right at John's Road.  Unfortunately this juntion was a bit too well signed.  How so?  There were signs pointing in three different directions, which is kind of hard when you can only go in two (where you came from and where you're going).  I decided to trust my old guide and headed down John's Road, across a small bridge, then settled into a steep climb which emerged out onto a fairly major, but unsigned road.  After more umming and ahhing I decided to ride up to the next junction and see if I could find signs there.  As I climbed up and up this hill, my GPS position diverged more and more from where my route told me where I was supposed to be going and after finally reaching the top of the climb I had to admit that I was no longer on the trail,  I therefore accepted the inevitable and turned tail and retreated back down all the hard won altitude I'd just previously climbed.  Keeping a much closer eye out for junctions to my right on the way back down, I finally found what looked to be a small snigging road, but which on closer investigation turned out to be the road I should have been on if I were following the tasmanian trail in my guide (edition 1).  However there were still no Tasmanian Trail signs so I continued my retreat to Hopetun road and followed this in the opposite direction.  Sure enough, half a kilometre further down the road, Hopetun Road merges with another road (which I later found to be the one I was following before - it's a labyrinth out there) and joy of joy it had a Tas Trail marker on it.

From here it was an enjoyable road for a kilometer or two, I even stopped for a couple of pics by a lovely creek, before I came to a signed junction with Stubbs Link Road on the left.  Of course by now, I had no idea where the trail went, and the Tasmanian Trail guide on the stubbs link road was less than clear in whether it was indicating you continue along Hopetun Road or up Stubbs Link.  After several minutes of procrastination I decided it pointed slightly more up the Link Road, so turned left and headed up, and I mean up.  This is one of those climbs where you can't stop because it's just too steep to get going again, but at the same time your legs and lungs are screaming for a rest.  There were of course no comfort signs providing assurance you're going the right way, but fortunately Stubbs Link is only a few hundred metres before it emerges onto Stubbs Road, where I found another Tasmanian Trail sign pointing me off to the right.


I was pretty buggered at this time after my long detour, and thought I was at the top.  I was wrong.  From here the track continues to wind its way slowly up around the side of the hill (again past several small junctions with no signage)  through a recently logged area, before reentering some beautiful bushland, but continuing to climb.  After what seemed like ages to me (my head was already in Dover having lunch) I emerged out onto Storm Hill Road (more trail signs, Yay) which started heading down, and I started celebrating ... again too soon.  Storm Hill Rd, soon hit a T junction, but the Tas Trail sign crossed this road and headed off onto some wet, muddy single trail in the bush.  Now if my head was in the right place, I'd be raving about this next section, but I was cold and hungry, the ground was so wet and slippery I found myself walking the bike down the first section of the track and I was feeling pretty grumpy all around.  Fortunately, the track emerged out of the mud just as I was about to start saying nasty things out loud, and I found myself riding through some sandy, scenic, descending single track.  This section emerges out onto yet another road, which you follow around to the left for a few hundred meters before a signed, but not obvious trail heads off to the right again.  From here it's a bit of a downhill before emerging out into a 2-3 year old eucalypt plantation.  The trail continues through this plantation (just keep going on the track you're on), through a small saddle and up over a hill, then down, down, down.  For me this section was wet, slippery and overgrown and I've got plenty of nicks and cuts to prove it on the legs.  At the bottom of the plantation you have to through your bike over a locked gate, head down a short track which emerges into a paddock with a small dam right in front of you.  There are more signs in the next 200metres than I'd seen all day (seriously there's about 10 of them) making sure you go to the right of the dam and follow a short track into the bush.  about 50 metres along this track you'll see another fence in front of you, and a small track to your left (but no sign), go down for 40 metres or so and you'll come out at another locked gate you'll have to throw the bike over.

Now I found myself standing in a farmers paddock, with cattle, and I couldn't see a sign for the life of me.  In the end I decided to head diagonally across the paddock towards another gate I could see heading towards the top of the hill where there was a phone transmission tower.  Fortunately there was one last TT sign on this tower, because I was really starting to think I was trespassing.

From here there's no more signs, but you can see Dover just below you and a bit of an indistinct track.  I just followed this down, through two unlocked gates ... or it could have been three to eventually emerge back out into a deserted subdivision and just below this a final welcoming sign marking the end of the Tasmanian Trail

As I sat in the Dover Bakery, warmed by the sun streaming through the window, and eating a scallop pie I decided that this was actually one of the best sections of the Trail I'd ridden which really surprised me.  However I soon forgot this as I realised that my scallop pie was literally A scallop pie ... it only had one scallop in it which was a bit disappointing, but still enought to fuel me up for the 22km return ride back along the highway to Geeveston.

I found the traffic along this road to be very polite and considerate, and fairly light and it's actually a pretty nice section of the State.  All up the circuit was just under 60kms, but that included my 5km detour, and took my about 5-6 hours including quite a few stops and lunch.

EPILOGUE:  Somewhat intrigued by why my guide was so innacurate I decided to purchase the online guide from http://www.tasmaniantrail.com.au/.  This is the third edition.  I won't say too much, but I will say buy they online guide, it might not be 100% up to date, but it's a heck of a lot better than what I had, and or example it would have told me that the detour I took to along John's was still marked as it is an alternative route for people who want to camp out before heading into Geeveston.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hartz Peak

Not much of a story about this one.  Bec. suggested I might like to come along on a day walk up to Hartz Peak, and I thought why not : chance to play in the snow and (ulterior motive) maybe a chance to cycle that section of the Tasmanian Trail I missed.

What I learnt on this walk is that snow isn't soft.  In fact this snow was more like a cheese grater, and given I was just wearing a pairt of shorts, and regularly sinking into the snow up to my waist as I broke the path for Bec and Tracy this means that my legs felt like I'd kneeled down on a bed of sandpaper and rubbed back and forth vigourously.

 Yummy thought.

Anyway, it was still a nice walk.  Clouds came in big time as we got to the summit which blocked out all the forestry harversting below which I wasn't too disappointed about.

On the way back down, I got Bec and Tracy to drop me off at the junction where I'd taken a wrong turn a few weeks previously and from there I got to follow the "new" section of the Tasmanian Trail down into Geeveston via four foot road.

There were a few little climbs to start with, but soon the downhills came thick, steep and fast.  I'd feel sorry for a horse rider going this way.  The run down four foot road was just brilliant:  Barely turned a pedal.

Bec and Tracy were even waiting for me in the little coffee shop at the bottom where a latte and much drooling over chocolates took place.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Feeling mortal ...

before
I had fallen in love with my Electric Bike (http://www.solarbike.com/) for the commute to work.  It had cut my ride home from a 45-50 minutes ride to a 26-27 minute ride, which is about the same as the bus, plus I still got a good work out, but it wasn't a battle.

Then Thursday came. 

I was heading down the Southern Outlet at about 30kms an hour and a roadie went past.  Curious to see how much faster he could go, I let the brakes off ,and off I went, happily matching his pace at about 40-50km an hour. From there, it all went wrong very quickly.

The bike suddenly felt like the front anchors had gone on, and a horrible grating noise sounded from the front wheel. I pulled the bike to a stop as quickly as I could with the back brakes, and took a deep breath when a quick inspection didn't seem to show anything wrong.

I set off again, noticing the electrics were dead and thinking maybe the wheel had seized, I tried to cycle on to work, but 20 metres further along it was quite clear the bike wasn't going anywhere fast.   It was like trying to cycle up Proctors road in top gear.
and after

I stopped again, and deciding to have a better look, I started to lift the front wheel over the curb onto the grass verge when it just fell off.  Well the forks lifted up, and the wheel jsut stayed where it was on the ground. 

It was at this pont I realised just how lucky I'd been ... you can see what had happened in the photo to the right, the front of the drop outs on both sides had just snapped off.  The wheel was being held in place only by good luck.

Had to abandon the bike in the bushes beside the road (too heavy to move) and walk to work carrying all my gear over my shoulders, wearing my lycra (lovely look), but I'm still alive I guess, and still determined to get this baby working.

So the motor seems to be stuffed and I need a new set of forks.  All fixable.  Stay tuned.





Friday, 3 September 2010

Going Electric

I've been a bit infatuated with the idea of having an electric bike for years and have looked at various designs over the year without seeing any that really got me excited. That was until surfing the net for electric bikes on a whim one cold, wet sunday afternoon a couple of months ago to stumble across solar bike's conversion kit (http://www.solarbike.com.au/).
What got me excited about their conversion kit was that it was a throttle based, front wheel driven electric bike, where the drive wheel slotted into most front forks and you were away.

This just seemed like such a brilliant idea to me as it overcame all the problems I had with rear drive kits where you seemed to have to replace the whole drive chain system, with much fiddling about, and where you usually ended up with some three to five gear system. I watched the online assembly video (it was only 15 minutes) and thought instantly that even I could install this kit.

After a few email exchanges with the very helpful owner (Matthew) over in Perth, I took the plunge and laid down my $845 (Now $890 due to increases in shipping costs) and waited for it to arrive.

Now, I should say at this point that electric bike design seems to be going through some pretty significant advancements at the moment (I even notice that velovision are putting out an electric bike magazine soon) and there are lots of things to think about including:

battery type (I think lithium is fast becoming the base standard, though cheaper batteries are still out there)
battery location (rack or frame mounted)
power (200watts is the legal maximum in most States of Australia as far as I understand it, but you can buy up to 1000 watt units),
throttle control (motorbike style, thumb throttle, peddal throttle),
rear vs front drive,
new bike vs conversion kit
and then evertything from colour to style.

I found a really good overview in a recent (2010) copy of Velovision magazine that gave a really good summary of many of these options, and would recommend it and lots of web surfing if you're thinking of going electric and the idea of dropping from $1,000 to $2,000 makes you think twice about the path.


Note how bolt won't align with fork gap,
and also how much I've had to file off inside
of fork to get it to fit.
But, back to my story. The wheel arrived the following friday (5 day delivery from Perth to Hobart) and I excitedly unpacked it that night, pulled the wheel out ... and found that it didn't seem to fit into my front forks no matter how hard I pushed. Now, not panicking, I recalled that the instructional video mentioned that a few bikes require a little bit of filing to get the tyre to fit, so after a trip to K&D on Friday morning to purchase a small metal file, I set too with some trepidation.

This is where the fairytale started to go wrong. After filing about half to one mm off the inside of the front forks, I then realised that (a) the wheel was never going to sit fully inside the forks as it was just the wrong concave shape at the top, but I also realised that (b) there didn't appear anyway that I'd be able to tighten the bolt (it is bolt lock only, not quick release due to the stress on the axle) as the bolt provided was too big, and would hit the forks before it tightened.

I won;t bore you with the long story that unfolded over the next few weeks, but I learnt a number of lessons for others to be aware of. Firstly to remove the bolt, I had to disconnet the electric connections. This was a fairly easy task, but anyone electrically challenged like myself will feel a bit daunted. I then also found that the bolt is slightly bigger than a half inch imperial bolt, but didn't come anywhere near a metric bolt size, and so I couldn't just replace the bolt with a smaller one.



Thinking I had dud forks, I tried it on my other two mountain bikes (don't ask) and found that it didn't fit either of them either. However when I measured the axle width, it came up perfectly to the 1cm specification that should fit. Strangely when I took it down to my local bike shop, they managed to fit it onto the first bike he tried, but I was looking at $150 for a new set of forks, plus installation ... this wasn't the quick and cheap switcheroo I was expecting at all.

Eventually, after a bit more filing, a bit of fancy use of washers and much more time than I'd like to have spent, I got the wheel in place, ready for my first test ride.

Again this was a bit of a saga with more lessons to be learned. The wiring that I had disconnected, didn't want to reconnect very well, and I think several of my neighbours now live in fear of the screaming idiot on his bike who seemed to think it should be going forward without him peddaling. I also discovered (again with the help of the ever patient and helpful Matt) that there is a safety connection which essentially mutes the power of the bike. After fixing up my wiring problems and disconnecting this safety wire, suddenly the bike had punch and it felt like it was getting somewhere near the 20-25kms an hour promised.


I had to adjust the brake pads as advised, and also move the brake levers. I also hit my final problem here ... there was no way with the new grips that I could get the downshift lever for the rear derailer to pull in properly (see pic) but I figured I'd sort this out later.

It was time for its first test ride.

Now my whole reason for wanting an electric bike is that I live about 8km's from work, and the ride is all uphill from work at the end of the day. Quite frankly commuting to work five days a week on the bike was a bit too much in a Tasmanina winter, but to drive the car to work and get a reasonable park meant having to leave home at about 7am (Hey, I'm a Hobartian and I still expect to be able to park right outside the shop I want to visit, and I expect that to get to work at 8.30am I shouldn't have to leave home any earlier than 8am). An electric bike seemed to be a cool solution to this problem. I was assured by Solar Bike that although I'd still have to pedal, it should feel more like I'm cycling on the flats than pushing up the hill the whole way.

Heading down the Southern Outlet in the morning was a bit unnerving as I half expected the forks to collapse and my life to come to a crashing end, but other than taking it a little slower than normal, all went well, and it was a pleasure at the bottom of the hill to just turn the throttle and basically glide all the way to work down by the docks barely having to pedal the whole way. So far, big smiles.

After a beautiful morning, the rain came in in the afternoon, and I was a little nervous for the ride home as I set off at 5:26pm. Exactly 30 minutes later I pulled up at my gate with a big smile on my face. I'd cut 15 minutes off my usual commute, and it had been a doddle.

As a cycling friend had pointed out to me earlier in the day, 200 watts is what your average recreational cyclist would put out, so it was like having two of us on the bike for a change. I barely needed to turn the pedals on the flats, and for most of the climb I was able to sustain an average speed 5-10kms above my usual speed on my bike with less effort. I particularly enjoyed overtaking another cyclist just after bend two, you could almost see that look on his face saying "how the heck is that guy catching up to me so fast?" I know that look as I usually practice it a lot with other cyclists who overtake me.

I also really liked that on the few stepper sections, I could still get up out of the saddle and put in an extra effort, so still get a bit of a workout, plus you had that added bonus that when you sat back down the bike still kept going forward with the momentum provided and the extra power from the engine.

So ... thoughts after day one.

I think I'm going to really like the bike for my commute.

However there are some issues to be aware of:

1. The installation can be a lot more difficult that you'd think if you'r mechanically challenged.

2. Storage could be a real problem. You can't just disconnect the expensive battery and take it with you.

3. The whole bike is very heavy with the front wheel and battery so any place where you had to carry your bike up stairs, hang it in lockers or on wall hooks will be a problem. I'm lucky that we have a bike cage t work I can lock it in. But this storage problem also limits its use for running around town.

3. Whilst the bike is whisper quiet, well no more than a slight hum, when operating at speed on flats or slight downhills, as the grades get steeper the engine can get up the volume of a quiet hairdryer, so don't go expecting a quiet cruise home if you live up hill.

4. You either have to carry your gear on your back in a backpack, or you can do what I did and move it all into a Topeak rear rack bag that has side panniers and a bit more room on top. This is working pretty well for me so far.

5. I think a puncture will be a real hassle, as you have to carry a large shifter with you to undo the bolts, plus you'd have to cut the cable ties holding the cable in place on the forks so you can get the tube out. I'm just hoping this doesn't happen.

6. After all my fuss of wanting a front wheel drive, I found on my first ride that you use your gears a whole let less than normal as you tend to use the power of the throttle to adjust speeds. I haven't yet solved the problem that i can't change up gears on the rear derailer to my satisfaction. I currently have the gear changing mechanism about 5 cms inside the brake leve, and I change with my other hand. Not optimal.

However, you also have to look at the pros: It's always been faster for me to cycle to work in the morning (15 minute ride door to door) compared to driving (best case scenario, 10 minute drive and 10-20 minute walk) as it's pretty much all down hill and I can ride right into my workplace, but it's been slower to ride home (45 minute ride compared to 20-30 minute drive). However now with a 30 minute ride home the bike comes out in front in terms of overall travel time, plus I save $2-$3 in petrol and running costs per day.

Just by way of comparison, a return bus trip for me on a metro bus card comes in a poor last at 35-45 minutes each way (30 minutes travel time + 5 to 15 minutes getting to the bus stop and waiting) and a return cost of $6.60 after taking into account the metro greencard discount.

Overall, I suspect I'll ride my normal bike to work Mondays and Tuesdays, and my electric bike Wednesdays and Thursdays wen I'm feeling less motivated, and take the car on Friday (I like to get to work early, and leave early so parking isn't a problem and it means I can head out after work).

The bus will be kept for those particulalry cold and rainy days where I've cycled to work and it just isn't worth the misery of riding home.

We'll see how I go in a month or so.