Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Eurotrip Day 5

Day 5 Has me waking in Lecco on Lake Como.   Worried about the swelling in my knee and pain up my i.t. band.   I rubbed about 2oz. of arnica into it last night, did every stretch I know and woke to thinking 'hey, it doesn't feel too bad'   Then I did a slight squat and thought "fuck.  I might be ending my tour on Lake Como." which was really not part of the program, so I resigned myself to another easy day to hopefully let it settle down.

The upside to that is that Lake Como is beautiful beyond words or pictures.  Nevertheless I'll post some mediocre pics anyway.

Not having planned or thought of anything specific for my unscheduled rest day on Lake Como, I doddled a little at breakfast, considered renting a kayak or racing canoe and getting out on the water for a bit, but in the end I decided to go with what I know and jumped on the bike.  I was just too curious to see if my leg was going to be a problem.   About 15km down the road toward Bellagio I was at the base of one of the climbs to Ghisallo and figured what the hell.  I'll use the climb as a little test, so up I went, and things felt ok.  The climb was beautiful. not too hard but hard enough to slow down the cadence and make me work.  I found that with the slower cadence of climbing I could focus on engaging some lesser developed muscles (glute-meds) and consciously track my knee better and the pain stayed in the background.  Before long I was at Ghisallo and elated that I was there and that my leg didn't feel much worse than when I started.

Ghisallo is incredible.

why wouldn't I be in the same frame as Coppi??

It could be said that every cyclist should  try to make it to Ghisallo.   I'd go so far as to call it a Mecca-esque pilgrimage but that allegory may be a little inappropriate what with the mixing of religions and such..  On that topic I'm not catholic or even religious in any conventional sense but this was awesome.  not awesome like "totally awesome dude!" but awesome like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.  Like, loss for words, stop the clocks, overwhelming type awe.   I was more than a little shocked at the effect it had on me and more than a little surprising and very encouraged that cycling is embraced enough at least somewhere to have such a large institution as the catholic church bless and dedicate a chapel to cyclists.
..a far far cry from the marginalization of cyclists that is endured in North America.
In all the visit was uplifting, restorative and even emotional.

Fabio Casartellis bike from the fateful crash in 95'

a Who's who of Italian Champions  

Who are you going to be today?

The museum of cycling is located only a couple hundred meters away too and that was totally worth the 2hrs I spent there.  I photographed practically everything in the place from artwork to old tools and every type of ancient shifting mechanism.  I'll probably just dump them into a picassa folder and link it sometime.

From the museum I buzzed down the super tight switches leading to Bellagio where I soaked up the grandeur, sucked back some cappuccinos, and felt very good about things.   The scenery was magnificent, my knee felt fine, the weather could not be improved on and all was well.   I came to the conclusion that having experienced Ghisallo and celebrated in Bellagio that the trip had paid for itself.  Everything from here in was icing.   A couple hours spent strolling around Bellagio between coffees and then back to Lecco to peruse the cafe offerings along the piazza.   A fella could get used to this.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Eurotrip Day 4

Today is a planned easy day.  The whole reason for the marathon rush to get to Monza yesterday was to make an appointment with the good folks, and new friends at Cicli Casati.

By way of backstory, I picked up the Casati Laser I'm riding a few years back from a guy in Kingston.  I knew nothing about the bike other than it was in my price range and size for a used road bike was brazed steel and had a nice mix of Campy Record and Chorus.   Long story short, fell in love with the bike, (the handling  comfort on level that surprised me) did a bit of research on the Casati brand and became intriqued by how little info was available.  So when planning this little tour I figured I'd be near enough to drop by so touched base and made arrangments specific for this day. The previous day was Feste della Republica, a national holiday and many people including those at Casati take vacation that week so the day was firm.

Anyway, I rolled out from the hotel on route to Via di Prampolino when the Casati workshop is.  On route I enjoyed a completely one way conversation with an older gentleman who stopped me to share tales of his cycling exploits, the champions he saw and some pretty grisly details of an accident where he (or someone else I'm not sure) got their index finger and middle finger mangled in the spokes while (I think) changing gears using a cambio corsa shifter.
The conversation is notable for a couple reasons.  One, it pertained to bikes, Two, it illustrates how randomly engaging the Italians can be despite big language barriers, and three,  I don't speak a word of italian and he didn't speak a word of english but nevertheless he got across all those details and more.

So, after a slight delay I rolled into the Cicli Casati courtyard and began an almost 3 hr tour during which time nobody got and real work done but lots of other fun stuff happened.
The first person I met upon rolling in was the patron himself. Gianni Casati.  Gianni doesn't speak much english or wasn't comfortable trying, but that didn't stop him from chattering a bit and making me feel quite welcome before handing me over to Stefania.  Almost all my communication throughout was done through Stefania who was my translator while on site so she got absolutely nothing else done while I was there.  Most of the detailed manufacturing questions were fielded by Luca Casati who, with Stefania translating, walked me through the processes of creating both custom and standard-size hand built bikes.
The frames are either silver brazed steel with or without custom cast Casati lugs, TIG welded aluminum, Titanium, or carbon .

All the frames are hand built in this shop, including the carbon and they do a fair bit of mixing and matching different materials to utilize the inherent properties of the different materials.  A fairly familiar concept.  e.g. carbon fork and rear triangle with aluminum, steel or titanium main triangle but the details of how they do it and the tolerances that they do them to are what set them apart.  Some classic frames are built with catalogue (albeit top shelf) tube sets from Dedaccai or Columbus but many are custom sized and shaped and exclusive to Casati.  A prime example is the Marte. An all carbon rocketship with a custom carbon tubeset from (I think) Dedaccai.  The top tube has a longitudinal 'window' through it.  I honestly don't remember the exact explanation behind the window. I missed some details due to information overload and the verbal tennis match of having manufacturing details bounced via Stefania as intermediary.   ..I really need to learn Italian for my next visit.. 

I also have fewer photos than I'd like for the same reason but it's probably just as well.  I don't guess too many people are as interested in the finer details of manufacturing as I am.  
This is something unique to some of Casati frames.  There is no visible seatpost clamp as it's hidden within the top tube and seat tube joint.  I tried to get a pic of the internal arrangement but Luca asked that that element not be photographed.  Nevertheless, I did see well enough how it works and while I had previously been leery of tightening the same clamp on my own bike, I now have no concerns whatsoever as the design is as robust as any external post clamp arrangement.

This is a layout table where the raw tubes get arranged, measured, marked for cutting and fitted.  Many things said were somewhat indestinct with the language challenges but they saw to it that one thing got across to me for certain.  That the fitting of the tubes was done to ensure complete accuracy and absolutely no gaps before any joining process started.  The number of times I heard this and the intensity that it was relayed made it quite clear to me that this is a extremely important consideration and that they take very very seriously. The initial fit has to be perfect or the bike will not be.
Marte headtube with internal cable routing sleeves.  The sleeves will get buried into the carbon wrap that joins the head and down tubes.

One of several tube mitering stations where the tubes are shaped to fit bottom bracket, head tube, each other, etc.

This is their fitup jig where the joining magic happens.  another one is behind it set back to back.

And this.  This is the icing. This is the first time I really went "wow".
This is the digital inspection table where the frames are checked to ensure that all the steps up to this point have been successful in making sure the alignment perfect.

Interesting story behind this instrument too.  It was apparently the first one of it's kind.  The company that made it for Casati has since made a couple dozen others for other builders but Casati has the first one made.  Serial no. 001 as it where.  A bit ahead of the curve on the QC front and an impressive dedication to quality.  That focus on accuracy was something that was emphasized at every step of the process.
The layout has to be perfect so that alignment can be perfect and the bike will be stable.
The tube mitering and fitting has to be perfect so the alignment can be perfect and the bike will be stable
The joining (braze, weld, epoxy) has to be perfect so the alignment can be perfect and the bike will be stable
and so on.
By the time we got to the alignment table it almost didn't surprise me that they had the first pneumatic workholding digital readout table of it's kind.

So that was the manufacturing process tour in  nutshell.

Some other fun bits.
The rack of tears.
Owners bikes that have been sent back because of crashes.  Ranging from one with a dented top tube that Luca didn't seem to think would be a big issue for the bike to one with a crack right through the carbon top tube where Luca just shook his head and indicated in simple mime language that this one wasn't going to see anymore miles..

I got to spend some time on this baby too.  Getting fitted up for a a little 'upgrade'.  This was a fun experience.  Everybody sat quietly in a line of chairs watching me pedal. Occasionally Gianni would get up to adjust my posture this way or that.  Pushing my elbows in and down, relax my shoulders, flatten my lower back  etc. it would seem there's not much I actually do correctly. He drew imaginary plumb lines through various parts of me, issued instructions to Luca who would make corrections to the adjustable bike and after 15min or so he just gave a nod of approval and walked off.  The old boy was pleased and the fit was complete.  So for my frame upgrade I will need a new stem and all will be good.

I then spent a short while with Stefania sorting shipping and payment details during which time Luca kept disappearing and reappearing with more swag.  Gloves, hat, bottles.  nice touches.  I dig swag.

By then I'd been there well over 2hrs and was feeling concerned about knocking such a huge hole in their day.  Stefania invited me to join them for lunch but it was past noon now and I wanted to make it to Menaggio for evening.   As it turns out I should have stayed.  When finally I departed equipped with directions and a map to Madonna dei Ghisallo,  personal mobile numbers should I have want of assistance during my travels I got going to realize that the nagging dull pain in my knee that I'd felt towards the end of the previous day was feeling really a bit more sharpish and worrysome.   Consequently I ended up only making it to Lecco which is only 55km as a cautionary measure for the knee.   55k.  I totally could have stayed with the folks at Casati for awhile longer.   All the more reason to go back.

For lugged frames Casati has custom lugs cast for them.
The rack of hotness.

Luca holding the  90th anniversary edition Linea Oro.
While I was talking to Luca a couple of the NGC Perrel-Casati  squad (Lampre U23 development team) rolled in for some mechanical tweaking. I got this shot of Gianni passing along some of his wisdom.   Casati has long sponsored amateaur road racing and  past sponsored riders include Gianni Bugno who rode on Casati frames for several years.  One of Bugnos Casati bikes is in the cycling museum at Ghisallo.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Eurotrip Day 3

Day 3 I woke up inside a cloud. Literally and figuratively.  The combination of Jet lag and Jimmy legs has played hell with sleep patterns so rather than a sleep pattern, I have a sleep chaos.  The upside is I wasn't planning to do any arithmetic today so being sleep deprived shouldn't be a huge issue.

The forecast (looking out window)  looked a bit grim with light rain and 5 degrees so it was kit up time.

Not much "warm up" riding out from Hospental. The first climbing portion of the day started literally at the front step of Gasthaus Schafli and continued to the top of St Gotthard pass.  I was told that the old road would be still closed with several meters of snow pack to remove but when I reached the 'y' intersection to veer off it looked ok to me and the choice between a reasonably busy asphalt road and an abandoned cobble road was an easy one.  Especially considering the foggy conditions that I was riding in.  While I was somewhat fearfull that I would climb for several km only to hit a wall of snow and have to return I'd also noticed on the map that the old road and new road crisscross a few times so figured it wouldn't be a big deal to jump over should need be. Luckily it wasn't necessary and I rode the old cobble climb through dense fog and  cold drizzle/snow all the way to the top!  The old road was however still closed on the south side but I was thankfull to have had a peaceful isolated climb.

At the top I froze my ass off in the few minutes it took to take a few photos and had once again to duck into the restaurant souvenir shop to warm up for a few.
Pulling on wind cover gloves I started the descent down the new road. Again the strong buffeting wind kept things interesting for the first part of the descent, but once down to the bottom of the steep section the wind levelled off, the temps warmed up and I got to enjoy a couple hours of continuous descent!
Airolo from halfway down Gotthard.

From 3 degrees and drizzle/snow with frozen bit, it was 2.5hrs later and I had lunch in Biasca under a palm tree to get shelter from the 28 degreees and hot sun!

From Biasca the road continues down to Bellinzona (Hotel California) where I had some navagational issues.  I could not leave Bellinzona because the only road out of town to Lugano becomes a SuperStrada with bikes forbidden and following the bike route signs takes a ~8k loop back to exactly where I started.  I did this loop 2 and a half times thinking I'd missed a turn, or sign, or something before giving up and imploring strangers for assistance with my challenge.   The problem is I only speak a little german, and Bellinzona is in the Italian part of Switzerland.
I was helpless.
..and coming apart with the frustration of my 'groundhog day' loops of the town.  At this point (2:30ish) I was about 110km into the day had arrived in Bellinzona at 85km a couple hours ago and had another 100km to go to Monza if things went well.
It was also stinking hot, I was still wearing my long sleeve wool base layer overheading a bit and I was losing my shit.
Nevertheless, one kind soul  took up the challenge and the problem was not merely expressing the requirement, but that the bloody town is almost impossible to leave towards Lugano without driving on either the Superstrada or the Autostrada to get to the Monte Cenari road which is what I needed to do..
Still, he stuck with me and my problem and with a crude map and some enthusiastic hand waving directions assistance from various passer by's he devised a route through neighboring villages, a Migros supermarket parking lot, up a one way road in an industrial park and finally several km later to a point where I could rejoin the Monte Cenari road I that needed.  it was a bit fucked up but it worked.
That guy has got karma coming in spades.

Me with my back to Bellinzona (bout halfway up Mount Cenari finally).

The most of the rest of the ride went pretty damn well considering.   I full out hammered it all the way to Monza, flying through towns, getting lucky with navigation and thanking the velo gods for round-abouts that permit you to hold you speed through intersections.  and hold speed I did.  I blazed through a few towns during rush hours and while I'm normally pretty tame / respectful /orderly in traffic, I ripped through traffic in Mendrisio, Chiasso, Como, and a half dozen towns I barely remember splitting lanes, running up the yellow line, hopping curbs to sidewalk when gaps closed, (yeah, bunny hopping a loaded road wack) it was madness.  I was astonished I didn't crash or shred a tire during the several impromptu curb grinds..  (front wheel curb grinds on a road bike. another first)
Thankfully the traffic jams subsided when I got away from the lakes area and despite using all my nine lives I'd made really great time.  It was however, getting dark at this point and while I was only about 5-10km from Monza in a suburb called Seregno, it was again nearly impossible (so it seemed) to get there without the AutoStrada.   but, it did happen after another lost hour or so doing loops to nowhere and I finally rolled into Monza at 9pm with 210km and 8.5hrs ride time for the day.  Oddly I was feeling pretty strong still (and elated). 210km is my personal one day record and I finished feeling pretty good.   weird.

And the evening was splendid.  I found a great room for a decent price at the Royal Falcon, the Concierge recommended a fantastic restaurant where I had the highlight meal of the trip which started with a bacon salad!!  I was thinking bacon bits or shavings or something and because my base layer looked like this:

I figured I could use the salt..

But the salad didn't have bacon bits or shavings. It had bacon steaks. great huge hunks of bacon on parmigiana shavings on a bed of arugula.  It looked like this;

Best salad I've ever had.  Incredible.  I thought of Big Ring naturally because of the bacon and was sorry he wasn't there to share this.
 ..not that I'd have shared it at all, but he could have ordered his own and that would've been cool.
Salad was followed by huge bowl of homemade pasta and then a Lavazza cappuccino brilliantly prepared.

yep, I was really happy to be in Italy.
Numbers for the day 210km, ~8.5hrs @ 26.something average.  A big day on all fronts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eurotrip Day 2

This day starts wtih the Grimsell pass, a category 1 climb with a 9km descent "to rest up on" for the Furka.  An HC climb.  Originally I'd intended to clear the Gotthard pass on following the Furka, but too much time was wasted at the top of Grimsell warming up with soup and cappuccinos, so Gotthard got pushed back a day.
..just as well.    Furka is the dramatic big climb that brings in the crowds but Grimsell punches over it's weight in my opinion.
 At ~25km of pretty much continuous climbing with pitchy stiff sections all stacked up at the end it beat me up a bit.

Taught me a thing or two about managing calorie intake also.

That said, Grimsell is a gorgeous climb. The road offers majestic views, backwoods isolation, barren snow fields, cobbled old road detours around 'new road' tunnels.  Just fantastic, and I'd do it again in a second. But it was pretty hard too.   Below are just a few shots from the Grimsell climb.

The old road still exists off to one side or another of the newer road in many locations.  Notably where the new road goes through a longer tunnel, the old road typically snakes around to one side, so I took these old abandoned roads whenever possible.  Apart from being awesome, I hate tunnels..

More old road pics.

Cobbles!  My first climb on cobbles!  Surprisingly smooth actually.  Much preferable to the west Quebec rattletrap-collapsing-ashphalt roads most of us are familiar with anyway.

Another first in this pic.  A few actually.  First high elevation alpine lake with icy green water. And my first false summit.   Yeah, that saddle in the view isn't the top.   I was crushed when I crested it to look up at another series of switches.

Finally at the top!  This is the view back along the way I came up.  It was bugger cold here with mad winds. I had to retreat to the restaurant for a bowl of soup and a few cappuccinos to get warmed back up.

This is the view down the otherside of the Grimsell pass.  At the bottom is the tiny town of Gletcsh and rising up towards the center of the frame is the Furka pass.

The view of the Furka switches from a few km's out of Gletch.

Looking back down to Gletch from about 2/3 of the way up Furka.

 Nice curves down the north side of Furka.  Unfortunately, as was the case coming down from Grimsell, I couldn't let the bike run too much because often (at least higher up) there was melt water running across the corners and the wind was incredible. The gusts must have been hitting 45km/h.  It was crazy. you'd be clipping along and get hit with a gust and the bike would jump over about 16 inches and get redirected.  Consequently I ran it down pretty tame until well down where the wind was more manageable.

Coming down towards Hospental where I would stop for the day.

Numbers for the day;
70km & 2360 meteres vertical.   I wouldn't have guessed a 70km ride could shell as this one did. Cold and pooped.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Eurotrip Day 1

Riding out of European cities can be a challenge with finding the right roads and not getting turned around but my start went really well from a navigational perspective.  I did have an issue with establishing tire pressure to get started as I didn't bring with me a luftdruckeanseiten   (aka. "pressure gauge". Thanks to the woman at Radsport-center bike shop in Meiringen  for the help with the concatenating german nouns)  My attempt to get it sorted in Zurich was only partially successful.
At this point I'll take the opportunity to reinforce a stereotype.  Avoid triathlon shops for bike service.  The level of expertise of the shop personnel was well below what would be considered 'entry level self sufficiency' for any mountain biker I know.
Anyway, the ride went really well.  I found the secondary road I wanted to take (Albis strasse) to climb up out from Zurich towards Luzern where I was rewarded with this view to start my journey.

The ride from Ober-Albis to Luzerne was just a bit rainy and cold on and off but my new showers pass jacket had a chance to show it's chops.  It really does breathe a whole pile better than any gore tex or alternative I've had a chance to try.  Very happy with the purchase.  I'll perhaps do a dedicated review on it some other time. For now, I was thankful to have bought it.

Luzerne is strikingly beautiful, and that will be a theme throughout the whole trip. Just replace the placename with wherever I was at the time and it applied.

From Luzerne I made my way south along the Alpnacher see, Wicher see, Sarnen see, and finally the Lungerer see before heading up the second climb of the day and first legitimate pass! Brunig Pass.  It's a low pass but provides some stiff grades.  The reward is a beautiful view up the valley of lake through which I had just rode.

Along the way I noticed the proliferation of cycling route signs and map points. It turns out Switzerland had over 60,000km of designated bike routes including overland (mountain bike) routes.   Incredible!

Found accomodations, got settled and set about hunting down dinner.  Dinner invariably started and ended like this.

Numbers for the day:
~120km with 2180 meters vertical.