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Sunday, April 11, 2010

225km (140mile) Warm-up Ride: Taichung->Nantou-Chiayi and back!

Last week I turned in a good 90 mile ride and I knew I had to increase the length to get into shape for my upcoming 260km ride to Kaohsiung. Last week I had a pretty bad flat and it did quite a bit of damage to the sidewall of my rear tire. I have been riding a set of Continental GP4000 tires for two and a half years and I love them. Still, with 7000 miles on them they are getting a bit worn. With tires, as they start to wear down they flatten out and feel hard and fast. The speed isn't so bad, but the level of comfort plummets and the level of confidence in the tire plummets as well. I went out Saturday to find a replacement set and couldn't find any in all of Taichung. Many places carry the tires, but were sold out. The Contis are a well made tire with good road feel, speed and enough tack to grip the road on hard turns. They have been very reliable as well. It took me over two years to get my first flat. My Saturday odyssey took me to ten or more shops and what surprised me most were the 'alternatives" some of the shops tried to offer. It told me a lot about the differences between shops in Taichung. I am sorry, but a "Road King" or a Bridgestone is not a suitable replacement for a Conti GP. In my opinion, tires are not one of the components you can compromise on. The right tire plays such an important role in handling, comfort, performance and safety. Tires can last for a couple years, so I am not about to waste money on something I will regret for two years. I also learned how uninformed many shops are on tire width. Most shops carry 23c tires because that's what the pros have. There is no difference in speed between the 23c and 25c tires. If anyone tries to tell you as much then they don't know tires. A 25c offers more comfort without a drop in performance. A lot of pros use 23c because they are slightly lighter. In Sunday's Paris-Roubaix they were using 25-28c tires. Grrrr! I have some nice 25c on order, but I had to endure several hours in the saddle on old, hard tires with structural weakness.

Ride Map

April is quickly becoming a heavy riding month for me as I prepare for my trip to Kaohsiung 高雄 at the end of the month. As I dial in my fitness, nutrition and cadence, I have put together a few rides that could be considered "long" by any measure. Seeing as this was Paris-Roubaix weekend, I thought I should push things a little closer to my goal of 260km, the official distance of the Queen of the Classics.

Lots of Riders Out

My ultimate goal was to reach the central city of Chiayi 嘉義 and return, so I naturally headed toward the inland town of Nantou 南頭. This would be my longest single-day ride to date and so I started slow with a nice warm up along the Highway 3, which is the major corridor to the interior of central Taiwan. The goddess Mazu was having her birthday celebration this weekend and the pilgrims were out in force. The roads were full of tour busses and gangsters galore, which made for some dicy riding. The weather was warm and not as windy as Saturday.

Pilgrims on Parade

The route through Zhushan 竹山 and Linnei 林內 on the Highway 3 is a fantastic ride on a bike if you like cruising at a good clip. There are more scenic routes, but when you are trying to log distance the idea of getting lost on an unknown backroad is not part of the plan. My speed through Linnei to Douliu 斗六 was in the mid-twenties and I kept along with a caravan of gangster-pilgrims from Changhua. At first a guy was going to have some "fun" and throw a firecracker at me... until I sternly shook my head and glared. I pulled up along side and, in my best Taiwanese, made small talk. From that moment on they were rooting for me. A black Nissan Cefiro (usually the biggest danger on the road) pulled up and the red-mouthed dudes in the car shouted with approval as I kept pulling away from their caravan. Today was full of friendly and encouraging people.

The Cobbles of Douliu

I ran into several groups of cyclists on the road and we all commiserated together over our good bikes with underpowered engines. I really enjoy the instant rapport you feel with every other cyclist on the road. There is a sense of respect and understanding. Rarely do you run into a guy with something to prove.

Stone Ox River

Outside Douliu, I connected to the Highway 1 South. I hate the Highway 1, but at least it goes somewhere. My speed was inconsistent at this point and I was facing a bit of wind. I was only 55 miles into my ride and I was starting to worry.

Rails of Chiayi

The ride to Chiayi is faster than I had anticipated and I was there well before noon. The sun was really beginning to bake and I was aware that I needed to take more liquids.

Performing Arts Center

As I got closer to Chiayi I was pleased to see the Chiayi Performing Arts Center. The architecture resembles the classical temples and houses of Qing era Taiwan. This is in stark contrast to the ornate, faux-traditional, Northern Han style the Kuomintang erected during the 1960's and 1970's to reflect a glorious China that existed in the imaginations of the Mainlander elite, but was foreign to Taiwan. Compare this building to the Palace Museum, Democracy/Dictator Memorial Hall, and other Nationalist monuments in Taipei.

Ah! The 168

I got lost in Chiayi city because I felt I had to get within the city limits to truly claim to have gone to Chiayi. On a long ride there is nothing worse than getting lost. Each kilometer going nowhere could be better put into going home. Each kilometer and minute wasted is one more that will have to be made up with that much less gas in the tank. Needless to say I was a bit aggravated. I finally backtracked to the Highway 1 again (I didn't want to backtrack anything) and then I turned off onto the Chiayi Local 168 to Hsin Gang 新港. The 168 is a marvelously straight road with plenty of biking space... and a very heavy headwind from the ocean. My speed plummeted and I didn't want to waste energy fighting with it. At one point I was passed by another cyclist and started to doubt myself. I had to conclude he was on his 5th kilometer of a 10km route. I eventually met up with him and we chatted about our routes. Sure enough... he was on a 10km route. Whew!

Monk Bisiness

At about Bei Gang 北港 I found the gearing I have been looking for all my life and was spinning at around 20-21 mph for most of the final 70 miles. I actually felt better on the latter half of the ride than at the beginning. I was really pleased with this stage of my ride. I think I will try to keep this speed and cadence all the way to Kaohsiung. The road was filled with Mazu well-wishers, but not too bad. The heat was really beating down after 1:00pm. I stopped at a 7-11 to get more water and noticed my forehead was caked in salt. I looked like a margarita glass. I had clouds of white salt all over my jersey as well. I decided to take in some sport drink as well to get the salts back and better retain water.

Plowing Through

I reached the Yunlin Local 154 and made the choice to go back through Hsi Liu 西螺. It is a prettier ride and I was sure of making my 200km goal for the day. I just kept the speed up but I have to admit, I was not entirely comfortable. My tires are just worn down and hard, so I really can't wait to change them out. I feel pretty good. My legs aren't as tired as they should be and I have no more big rides planned until April 24th. Now I will just keep rested and stretched with some small conditioning rides throughout the week.

I know there are a few people out there who I have promised to ride with, but I really need to get this big ride taken care of and then I will be free as I don't have any big project on deck. I look forward to riding with you all again when this is over. Until then I will be focused on making April 24th a success.

Final Score 140 miles (and no that is not the real time of arrival. I arrived about 5:00pm)


  1. Thanks! Not as many pics this trip. I has bulldozing through and wasn't in the mood to frame a bunch of shots. Other pictures I took are being held for a future post. I feel pretty good today. I guess I had a minor cramp in my calf that I wan't sure about until this morning when I noticed the soreness. I think I am ready for more.

  2. Drew, Great work on this ride. Your cruising at 33 to 35 kph is amazing. I'm trying to get back up to 28 kph and eventually 33 kph as my average pace these days.

    You're not kidding about the Conti 4000S GP as the top tires to be riding. I've gone through so many other tires that I now make sure my bike have them before rolling out the bike shop door.

    Luck on the future rides.

  3. Cannon, we need to ride again soon. Maybe when all this April nonsense is finished?

  4. so where did you find the Contis? You're making me think I should get a pair!

  5. I had Rocky order them. They should arrive this week.