Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 2: July 18 - More acclimatization

I was planning on just taking it easy today and finishing up some work that I was unable to complete before leaving, while the other two had planned a short ride.

We headed out for a leisurely breakfast of waffles with maple syrup (and I went double-dose, getting waffles with nutella as well!) and then ended up taking a walk through the excruciatingly steep roads of old Manali for an hour or so.

Then we decided to have lunch at the Original Original (yes, that's twice) Shere-E-Punjab dhaba, whose owner claims that this is the original (hmm) that spawned all the copies across the nation.   I know from a cross-country trip in 2004 that there are 13 Shere-E-Punjab dhabas along the length of NH-1 (GT Road).

After stuffing ourselves with shockingly greasy and temptingly tasty food, I went back to my laptop to finish the work, and then took a nap.   The other two must have gotten infected by my laziness, because they too bailed on the ride and napped instead.

The evening was spent trying to fix the headset of my Ritchey, which just wouldnt pre-load properly.  Finally, after a lot of grunting and struggling, we got it done.   Then it was off to get all the supplies for the trip and a tasty lasagna dinner at our usual haunt, the Johnson Cafe.

Just finished packing and realized that the camera mount for the Drift HD170 will not fit on the bike handlebars or my helmet.    Grrrr.

Anyway, off to bed.   Tomorrow, we ride for Rohan (or for real, anyway).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 1: July 17 - acclimatization ride around Manali

Woof - it has been a hectic few days:  flying from the Andamans to the mainland, running around like a headless chicken getting things done (although I was more productive than a typical headless chicken, who task list reads (a) Bleed, (b) Die).    Next morning, more of the same.    And I was up till 3am packing, even.

The flight to Delhi was late (not surprising.  Indigo, the budget airline, manages to be on time always and Jet, the premium airlines, is always late.  Go figure).    Thanks to frequent flier status with Jet, got away with 16kg excess baggage, though.

Then it was a long slog till midnight and then all of the next day to get to Manali.    And then more shenanigans with the bike.  It normally takes me 15 min to put together the Breakaway - this time, it took almost 3 hours.  Problems with re-attaching the RD, problems with the headset, problems with the cantis, swapping bars, etc.   All user error, incidentally.

Finally the bike was ready and I crashed at 1am.  

I woke up at 10am and by the time I got showered and dressed, it was close to 11.    After some tea, we got the bikes ready (last minute tweaks, pump the tires, wrap the tape).

But by then, it was near lunchtime, so we decided to walk down to a nice Italian restaurant up in the hills (run by an Italian lady, so there would no such abominations such as chopped coriander on the ravioli).    After stuffing ourselves with pasta, some more pizza and excellent cake (tiramisu for me, a chocolate mousse for Mohan), it was time to leave.

I was feeling a little achy from a bunch of things (sniffles, back spasms, etc), so I wasn't sure I was going to ride but the meal did wonders for my frame of mind and we decided to head out at 3pm for a short, easy spin to the town of Naggar and back.

Yeah right.   Get 3 Roadie Scum together (even if one of them is on an MTB, and the other two on cross bikes with knobbies) and there is no such thing as a short, easy spin.

The initial 0.5km ride out from the hotel was a bit dodgy - a very narrow, wet and muddy single lane road with honking cars winding down to the crowded town square, and descending further to a low bridge crossing the river Beas.     Once we crossed the bridge, we turned left, and headed south, with the river on the right.

The initial bit was a downhill and while we were still passing through the outskirts of the town, there wasn't as much traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular) so I let it rip a little to warm up.     Then the road turned upwards a little and while Mohan the Demon, who normally climbs like a Red-Bull-overdosed monkey, was taking it easy, Manish decided to start dishing out the pain, resulting in my HR touching 180bpm at times as I tried to stay with them, a fact complicated by the blind turns and my lack of confidence in my cantis.

Manish, after dropping the hammer on the way down

The terrain was mostly rolling for the first 6-7km, passing through settlements that were pretty much contiguous to each other.

After a while, the road starting going through a gorgeous alpine fir forest - tall stately trees lining both sides of the road as it descended steeply via a couple of switchbacks (uh oh, gonna have to climb that on the way back), and then it was rolling terrain again to Naggar, with the river bubbling loudly a little further down the valley on one side.  

At Naggar, we took a quick stop to refill water and started to head back.

This time, thankfully, Manish decided to stop hitting us with his hammer, and the pace was a lot more civilized.   The switchbacks on the way up were indeed painful (9-12% gradient), but not as long as they had seemed on the way down.    It was drizzling a little now, and I was finally glad I had brought my rain jacket along.   As I was starting to get a cold, I had chosen to err on the side of caution and get the wind and water resistant jacket, and until now, it had only made me sweat.  But now, it was doing it's thang.

Mohan - climbing fiend.  My goal is to get him to gain atleast 5kg on the trip.

All too soon, the bridge that led to Manali was back and now it was a short, very steep slog of 1-2km back to the hotel.

A quick shower later, cake, sandwiches and hot chocolate served as the perfect recovery meal.   Now, off to dinner!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Manali-Leh : A decision made

Ulysses was a hack compared to what I need to do to get anywhere.

Tomorrow, I take a ferry to the main island.   Then the next day, a flight to the mainland, where I will retrieve my bike, eat pizza, pack, run some errands, eat some more pizza, drink 5 bottles of Diet Coke (we've been out on the island for 2 weeks now, the horror!) and pack for real.  Then a flight to Delhi the day after.   And then a 14 hour jeep ride to Manali.

Thankfully, Mohan and Manish, who are flying in from Bangalore, are getting the most essential of supplies - tinned meat.   Everything else, including the bike, is optional compared to that.  I am NOT eating instant noodles and omelettes for 10 fucking days, thank you very much.

And I've made a decision on the bike.  I'm taking the Ritchey Breakway cross.    It has served me well in Bhutan and it should suffice here.   I expect Day 1 will have painful segments in the mud, and there will be occasional moments during the rest of the ride (stream crossings, rough road segments) when I will miss the MTB, but I think I should be ok.

Besides, Manish is bringing his Lynskey cross bike.  I take great pride in being atleast partially the Enabler for that one (even though he ended up getting his Lynskey before mine despite ordering it afterwards), so I figured that if he is going to suffer, I'll suffer with him.

Mohan the Demon is on an MTB, which means he is still going to drop us, but maybe by a few minutes less.  I still have horrible memories of him chasing me for 100+ km on the hills of the Nilgiris during last year's TfN, but my only relief is that this time he will be way out in front.  

And earlier today, as I was reading up on where else to ride once we reach Leh (Khardung La for sure, perhaps a trip to Lamaruyu and back as another), I came across a reference to Marsimik La, which is supposed to be higher than Khardung La.   It is beyond Pangong Tso - we were planning to ride there, so perhaps we'll drive to Pangong and then ride this instead, provided we can sort out the permits in Leh.   Let's see - need to discuss it with the other 2.  Also depends on our capacity for soaking in more pain at that point.

After slacking off for the past 4 days (was planning on putting in around 200km between Sat and today, only did 15 on the trainer), it is time for some real riding!

Day after tomorrow, once I have decent internet connection, I'll post some of my favorite photos from Leh from past trips as an appetizer.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Manali-Leh - planned route

So after a hectic week of trying to square away logistics, we seem to have a rough plan sorted.

Our itinerary is as follows - we get into Manali on the 16th by road (we were supposed to fly but Kingfucker Airlines cancelled the flight, the wankers).      So we are all meeting at Delhi airport on the 15th evening and driving over, stopping somewhere en route for the night.

Then, after a couple of days of acclimatization, we ride.   The ride plan is approximately as follows, showing distance, meters climbed on that day and the altitude of our stopover.

Day 1 - 40km (1300m) ride to Marhi (3238m)  
While not appearing to be that rough, this is going to be the big challenge because of the rapid elevation gain, and that too on the very first day of climbing.     I remember the climb to Chele La in Bhutan - it had 1550m of climbing (up to around 3600m) in around 36km and took about 3.5 hours of painful climbing, mainly b/c at that altitude, even getting my HR up to 150 felt as though my lungs were going to explode.    This should be hopefully a little easier and I reckon 3 hours of riding ought to do it.

The view from Rohtang La

Day 2 - 45km (701m) - Marhi to Sissu (3078m)
The first 12km is a climb and then a long downhill and flat with some climbing to get up to Sissu.  Marhi, as Sith Lord Sumit told us (and matching what I remember from past trips), is an absolute dump and I am quite tempted to suck it up, climb the remaining 12km to the top of Rohtang La (4050-odd m) and then descend and stay someplace en route.   We'll see how it goes.

Day 3 - 52km (762m) - Sissu to Jispa (3,291)
There is a 300-350m climb initially to Gondla then flat/rolling.  This should be an easy day.    Depending on how Day 2 goes, we may go all the way to Jispa after all.

Day 4 - 37km (650m) - Jispa - ZingZingBar (4328m)
Today is an easy day for additional acclimatization, but we may combine Day 3 and Day 4.  As it stands right now, Days 2, 3, 4 really make up 2 good days of riding, and my preference would be to do it in 2 days and take a day of rest (and wash my bibs).    This is something we will wing en route.

Day 5 - 52km (1100m) - Zingzing Bar to Sarchu (4419m)
Now, the pain begins.   Today, we climb Baralacha La, the first Big Daddy pass on our way, at 4800m.  I remember camping here, back in 2005 to get the photo below, and I really suffered with the altitude all night and in the morning, I could barely walk a few hundred meters to the lakeside to take this shot.    The road up is also very bumpy, which is going to make things a little rougher.

Suraj Tal

Day 6 - 55km (762m) - Sarchu to Whiskey Nallah (4754m) - via Gata Loops and Nakee La
Sarchu itself is a very pretty location, a narrow, flat valley with a deep canyon on one edge and several camps in the area.  It makes for a great place to spend a rest day.  This place is good for marmots as well as birds, and I plan to carry my binos and scope with me to get some quality birding in.      Another benefit of a rest day here is another day of acclimatization, as we will finally break the 5000m mark after leaving Sarchu.   First, we have the Gata Loops - 21 switchbacks that gain 350m over 10km.  I have done this on a jeep and those switchbacks are STEEP.   And at that altitude, we are going to be begging for mercy.   After the Gata Loops, we climb some more to Nakee La (5030m) and then descend to Whiskey Nallah.

Day 7 - 53km (650m) - Whiskey Nallah to Tso Kar (4700m) -- via Lachung La & Pang.
From Whiskey Nallah, we do climb a little more to Lachung La (5100m), then descent to the camp town of Pang.   Pang is basically bunch of tents which serve lunch and provide a place to sleep.   From Pang, a short climb brings us to the Moray Plans - an immense, flat mountain plateau at 4700m, surrounded by high Himalayan peaks all around.   This is a great wildlife area - you get the Tibetan wild ass, blue sheep and various other Himalayan herbivores... and this is where I've photographed an extremely rare Tibetan wolf.   We plan to get in the car and take a short detour to Tso Kar and stay there for a night or two.

Tibetan Wolf

Day 8 - 69km - Debring/Tso Kar to Rumtse/Lato-- crossing Tanglang La
This is the Queen stage of our ride.   Depending on who you believe, Tanglang La is either the world's highest motorable pass or the second highest (officially, it is the latter - Khardung La, which we shall climb once in Leh, is the highest.  But GPS and satellite data indicates that Tanglang La may be higher by 1m).   Either way, at over 5600m, this is going to be one bad mofo to climb.   The gradient is a steady 5-6%, which doesnt sound too bad, except for the altitude.  This is the day where any altitude-related issues are going to come around and bite us in the ass.       Once we cross Tanglang La, it is all downhill to Leh.   A long downhill gives us a choice of several villages where we can stay for the night.

Down from Tanglang La

Day 9 - 70km - Rumtse/Lato to Leh - flat and easy
A flat road winding alongside a narrow river takes us to our first view of the mighty Indus - from there, it is a gently-rolling road all the way to Leh.   Tonight, we Spartans shall dine at a nice pizzeria in Leh (Hell is behind us).

This is the plan, anyway.     The distances don't look too bad and I have certainly done longer/harder days in the mountains, but what none of us know is how we are going to handle the altitude.   While I have never suffered AMS per se, I have definitely had times when I've felt sick as a dog and completely lacking in energy at high altitudes (and other times, I've been ok).    That is going to be the big external variable.   I'd like to do this without the help of any medication, so I am going to avoid taking Diamox unless I really need it.

Some Spanish steak would certainly be nice, though!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Manali-Leh: What bike?

So I have been going back-and-forth about what bike to take for the Manali-Leh ride.

On one hand, looking at some of the road conditions, an MTB would be nice to have on the really gravelly sections, especially on the descents where the disc brakes will come very handy.

On the other hand, MTBs are great on trails but simply are no fun to ride on the tarmac.   A cross bike would be a lot more fun to ride on the vast majority of the trails, as well as on the climbs.

There are going to be a few crappy segments:

1/ Parts of the Manali-Rohtang route, where landslides etc make the road very muddy.   Here, I think I can manage on a cross bike with knobbies

2/ The descent from Rohtang - here, a MTB's superior braking will be much better for sure.  

3/ Segments of the climb to Baralacha - not an issue, as it is going to be dry and bumpy roads on climbs isnt really a big deal

4/ Descent from Tanglang La - again, an MTB would be preferable but this shouldn't be as big a deal as it is a pretty gradual descent and the roads are quite wide, from what I remember.

So does it make sense to take an MTB or should I just take my cross bike and 700x35 knobbies???  Or even the LHT, which can fit 700x45?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thoughts on the Ti cycles Montra

When I first heard that Ti cycles was developing a carbon bike in-house, my first reaction was:  excellent!   I wasn't expecting anything to compete with the Cervelos and Specialized(s?) of the world, but I figured we could atleast have an alternative to the made-in-China/Taiwan generic framesets which represent excellent bang for the buck.

The initial tech blurb also seems promising.

The bike comes in 2 version, aluminum and carbon.    The monocoque carbon frame uses Toray T700 carbon, a decent mid-level grade of carbon which is ideal for this frame.   After all, there is no point using really expensive T2000 carbon to make a $3000 frameset - who in their right mind would pay that for a first-time effort by a brand which has no experience with building performance bicycles?   

The frame also features BB30, which theoretically allows for better stiffness and power transfer.   Another positive sign - Ti Cycles seems to be taking this seriously.

Indeed, the advertising certainly doesn't hold back:

The Montra
Now, a bike that makes the world an unending open road and is the power of those who were born to achieve greater things sounds like a pretty damn special thing.

However, one look at the specs and it is very likely that those who were born to achieve greater things will also end up buying better bicycles than this.

Because what Ti cycles has done is take this frameset, spec it out with Rival derailleurs and Apeks brakes, put reasonably decent Shimano RS10 wheels on it and then proceeded to fuck up the entire bike by putting flat bars and trigger shifters on it!

And in their wisdom, they have decided to sell this Frankenbike for Rs 71,000 ($1600).

Now, just for the sake of comparison,  $1500 gets you a carbon Litespeed M1 with full Rival drivetrain. Yes, that includes Rival shifters.   I have a friend who has this bike - it's an awesome bike and for the price, it is a steal. And it is a Litespeed.   Not a Montra/Mothra/Mantra/Tantra.

Let's play "Understand the Cycling Market 101":

Question - who makes up the target market for carbon bikes?
Answer:   Racers or sports cyclists - people who like riding fast, either alone or in group rides.

Question - who rides performance hybrids?
Answer:   Recreational cyclists - tourers, butterfly-counters and utility cyclists

Question - which of the above 2 segment spends a lot of money for marginal gains in performance, such as BB30 bottom brackets, stiffer carbon fiber, 100gm lighter frameset, 10W aero savings?
Answer:   _______

Clue:   It isn't who Ti Cycles thinks it is.

And here is a clue about people who like to ride fast - they want road bikes, with drop bars and integrated shifters.    Why?   Because drop bars are more aero.    More aero == faster.     Flat bars = more upright == less aero == slower.

Now sure, there are companies that make flat-barred road bikes.   I believe Trek, Cannondale and Specialized all have them.    But these are niche products in their line.    You don't see Spesh trumpeting their Secteur or whatever on the pages of the sports magazines - you see the Tarmac with El Pistolero.  There is a reason for that.

Making a carbon flat-barred bike as your top-of-the-line bike is roughly equivalent to putting a Porsche engine into a Mahindra jeep and pitching it as your signature performance vehicle.    It.  Does.  Not.   Compute.

In this context, the BB30 is the icing on the cake - that is like putting spoilers on the back of that Mahindra jeep with the Porsche engine.    Make a bike that is about as un-aero as possible for a carbon road bike to be (at moderate speeds, over 80% of your effort is spent fighting air resistance), and then try to gain 0.1% of that back with a slightly stiffer crank.  Baby Jesus wept when it saw this.

Ironically, I think the Aluminum version on the Montra - a flat-barred road bike which takes 700x28 tires and sells for Rs 25,800 - looks to be a real winner and seems to address a real niche that hitherto has been missing.

There is a guy who wants to take up cycling (or maybe he already has a Hero Octane or similar bike and wants something nicer).    He has no plans to race, follow training plans or whatever.    Being a casual rider, he doesn't want to spend Rs 40,000 for a road bike.   Plus, he isn't sure if the drop bars/aggressive position are  for his style of riding.     But he'd still like a nice, relatively light bike that is capable of handling the less-than-smooth tarmac of our cities and that is relatively easy to ride.     Sound familiar?   BZ is full of people like this.  

What are their options?   The Schwinns, which are pretty basic spec-wise and not too light.    Or the Bianchi/Trek hybrids in the Rs 20k range, which are excellent bikes but again, relatively modestly-specced.   Or even - horror of horrors - an emm tee bee.

The Al Montra is an excellent alternative for these riders.  

However, Ti cycles seems to be following the idea that just b/c there is a market for Rs 25k hybrids, there is also a market for Rs 70k hybrids.     Sadly, no.

Ti Cycles, if you are reading this - you have specced/priced the carbon Montra at a level where it is neither fish nor fowl.   It is far too expensive for a performance hybrid (which is what it is),  and not specced to be a speed machine (which is what most people who spend Rs 70k for a carbon bike want).

So please put drop bars on that bike and integrated shifters (Apeks, perhaps).  Or sell it just as a frameset for Rs 25,000-30,000 so that people can dress it up however they want!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Base completed - some thoughts

So tomorrow is my last ride of base - well, technically, I still have Week 4 of Base3 to go, but it is a recovery week so not a whole lot going on there.

This year has been very different from last.

Last year, I knocked off 1000km+ in each of the 3 base months, including back-to-back 100km rides every weekend.   Weekdays, I'd just get some riding in for 45 minutes-1 hour per ride.

This year, I am following a Joe Friel based training plan.   It started me off very slow - no ride longer than 1.5 hours in the first month, 2.5 hours in the second month and only now, in month 3, am I riding 3+ hours on weekends.      Month 1 had some running thrown in.  Month 2 was on the bike only, and starting including some tempo work.   Month 3 was also bike-only and actually built up to a weekly FTP session.   All 3 months include some weight training as well.

Under this new plan, my overall mileage is quite low - some of it is due to doing a lot of rides on the trainer and the broken roads of the island (where I lose about 5-6kph for the same wattage due to bouncing up and down).  

However, I feel a good improvement over last year in terms of my ability to hold higher wattage and feel that my FTP is a good 20W more than what it was over the same period last year... ie, about the same as what I ended last year with.     So once I start the build phase next month, I am hoping to end the year a good 40-45W higher than where I started... which should be a level I feel happy with, and which will provide a good starting point for Ironman training.

But in the immediate future, Ladakh beckons - 2 weeks to go and I need to start planning for it.