Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Princeton 200K: A Tale of Rainy Mechanicals

Once on a fleche, after riding 240 miles through hours and hours of rain in the chilly northeast, my rear tire developed a flat. Luckily, I was less than a mile from the finish and managed to hobble in without busting the final time barrier for the team. My flats yesterday on the Princeton 200K were not quite so dramatic, but the timing was almost as bizarre. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Princeton 200K is a great route and this year the event was well-timed to coincide with the beginning of fall as the NJ weather becomes far less humid and (on most days) one can expect crisp blue skies. The forecast for this running of the Princeton 200K was not quite so ideal, however, and as the day arrived it was clear that riders would be well-advised to pack rain gear and slap on some fenders. After a string of glorious weather, this news was a bit disappointing, but this is why we spend so much time fussing with rain gear and fenders, right?

Several weeks ago, I made plans to ride with Jon L. and Robin L. as we thought our paces on this day would align and provide us with the opportunity to catch up and enjoy a nice day of fall riding. Sadly Robin was unable to join us, but Jon and I clipped in as planned and set off to enjoy the day. Soon after the start, we were joined by Paul G. who was riding his first brevet ever (leaving us only one Ringo shy of the Fab Four). For most of the day, we were part of the lead group that included Chris S. and then Dougin W. who each had some fire in their legs for sure.

We were welcomed at the first control by volunteers Steve H. and the venerable Leroy V. It was great to catch up with these NJ Rando stalwarts and top off our water bottles, but it was after Janice C. arrived with two containers of homemade brownies that the fun really started! After each of us inhaled a brownie, we knew we were ready for the looming Adamic Hill climb ten miles down the road. So we clipped in and formed a pace line of sorts to build some confidence for the suffering ahead. The thing about Adamic Hill is that it's both not as terrible as people make it out to be and worse than you remember at the same time. Watching that windmill appear as we neared the top, we were grateful that the worst of the day's climbing was now in our rearview mirrors.

The next 22 miles of the route involved some glorious descents and a few choppers along the way to keep everyone's legs awake.  This section was generally enjoyable and we stayed relatively dry with only a few light passing showers to annoy us. The turnaround control at mile 70 was a welcome opportunity to enjoy a slice of pizza and a chocolate milk and we were soon on our bikes again heading home. Our one missed cue came as we exited the parking lot by turning left instead of right. While we quickly identified the error of our ways, I now see this as as omen for the events just a bit further down the road.

After adding some gas to our tanks, we settled into a nice pace that included some pace line riding along some fairly flat sections of road. It was in this section that the skies opened up a bit more so we stopped to put on rain gear and it was not too much further down the road that I felt that telltale softness in my rear tire that can only mean one thing. I had apparently picked up something sharp along the side of the road and luckily this happened as an ice cream shop, complete with protective overhangs, appeared where I could change the tire and sort things out.

Jon and Paul were a couple of mensches and held my frame as I did my best to manipulate the wet and messy rear wheel. Why is it always the rear wheel that needs to be changed when it's raining? Thankfully, my Gran Bois tires are pretty easy to remove from the rims so the whole job did not take very long, but since I was unable to locate the sharp cause of my misfortune, I was not convinced that this was going to be the last of my mechanical mishaps for the day. . .

One of the pleasant byproducts of the time we lost changing the tire was the arrival of three riders we had last seen arriving as we pulled out of the turnaround control. The infusion of some good additional rando energy was just what we needed to ward off the disappointment of messing with mechanicals in the rain and so the miles passed quickly as we chatted with our new companions Avri S., Chris K. and Mike S. It was not too long before we were smelling the barn and realized that dry clothes were getting closer and closer with each turn of the cranks.

As we turned the corner at mile 124.3, I felt a strange lopsided feeling in my rear tire and moments later heard a loud BANG. While I'm not sure how the second flat was related to the first, it was clear once I pulled over to the side of the road that I was going to need to do something quickly to fix the problem in order to finish the ride. Close examination confirmed a sidewall blowout rather than a puncture. Since I threw out my last flatted tube and this one had an inch-long rip in it, Jon was kind enough to share one of his spares with me. Does RUSA award a medal for riders who experience mechanicals within the last 1% of the ride? if so, I want one for my collection.

So after putting the wheel back on, I inflated the tire to what seemed like the minimum pressure to ride the final 1.5 miles to the finish. While the end of the ride was not quite as triumphant as I had imagined with the six of us riding in together arms raised, it sure was nice to make it in without further trouble after my makeshift repair. Jon and I even arrived within the 10 hour goal we set for ourselves at the start. Go figure.

Luckily I have a spare Gran Bois tire in the basement, so I'll be back on the road with mechanical confidence in no time. Thanks to ride organizer, Jud H. and all of the wonderful volunteers who made the Princeton 200K such an enjoyable event, despite the nasty weather.

Up next: a local 100K permanent populaire to complete my September P-12 quest.


  1. I've been hearing more and more stories ( including my own) about sidewall blowouts with the gran bois tires. Glad to hear yours did not end the ride!

  2. Yikes! It's a rather scary "mechanical" problem to run into. I'd rather not have another so a-shopping I will go. I was frustrated enough with the puncture frequency with the Gran Bois, but safety is another matter all together.

  3. I would carry the extra Grand Bois on the bike, if it were me. ;)

    I had a Compass LoupLoup Pass blow off the rim on my last ride, a 1000K from 10/4 to 10/6. I had a spare in my bag and rather than figure out why it blew off the rim. I just replaced it.

  4. Good point! This was the first time I ever experienced a tire malfunction on a brevet. I normally pack an extra tire on 1000K+ rides, but I may bring one for shorter rides in the future as well. I'm definitely trying out the Jack Brown's next season, though, and making sure I have a tire boot packed away on every ride.