Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: DuraAce 7700 Freehub

I recently toured the alps with my DuraAce 7700 freehub. It finished the tour as quiet as it started, but it was an unusually dry tour, with relatively little riding in the rain.  For many years I avoided touring on these hubs on the theory that I wanted to save them from wear. This year, I finally decided to go all out for lightweight and brought these wheels into touring service since they'd operated for quite some time as a "daily driver" in California.

I compared the hub with several other hubs in a previous post, but let me summarize the details. With a wR of 21mm, the hub had the potential to build up the stronger wheels than any other hub on the market. On this, the hub did not disappoint. I've had the wheels since 2006, and they've been ridden hard on and off road. I broke one spoke when my derailleur shifted into the spokes, but other than that, the wheel has not even needed truing despite my recent tour and otherwise daily riding.

Mechanically, however, the hub's not very well sealed. Despite my Campy Chorus front hub being subject to significantly more rain, over the same maintenance interval, the freehub has had more water penetration whenever we took both hubs apart for service. This does not bode well for the long term life of the hub, though unless you damage the race, merely replacing the bearings and overhauling the hub frequently might be more sufficient.

The freehub portion, however, was disappointing. When Cupertino Bike Shop recently overhauled it, the freehub started making a ton of noise. It looked like it was near the end of its life, and none of the usual suppliers for that shop had a replacement part for it. I eventually found an eBay vendor that sold me some new old stock for an outrageous price, but it turns out that Ultegra parts from the same era are also compatible, so that's what I can do in the future.

The biggest impediment to frequent overhauling of the hub, however, is the need for cone wrenches. I do own them, but they're finicky, and make bearing adjustment much tougher than they should be. When I compare them to the Campagnolo front hub's adjustment mechanism, the cone wrenches I have to wield feel primitive and unnecessary.

Why not build new wheels? First of all, the double-butted 15gauge wheelsmith spokes used to build this wheel are no longer available. Secondly, the latest generation 11-speed hubs build weaker wheels, since Shimano was forced to dish the wheel further to accommodate that 11th-speed.

In retrospect, the best Shimano hubset to have built a wheel out of would have been the (also now out of production) Dura ace 7900 rear hub. These hubs were the last of the 10-speed hubs (but were also compatible with 8 and 9 speeds), so were as strong as the 7700, but eliminated the need for cone wrenches, making overhaul easy with just a pair of allen wrenches. Phil has these on his bike, and they were excellent.

In any case, I recognize that a review of the 7700s at this stage is obviously late and obsolete, but it's useful to keep track of what properties of hubs are important for long term maintenance. In any case, these aren't really recommended, though in the light of all the miles I've put on them, I cannot really complain.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: The Wolf Among Us, Episodes 3-5

The Wolf Among Us is Telltale Game's point-and-click puzzle adventure set in the world of Fables.  I previously reviewed the first two episodes and enjoyed them. Now that all 5 episodes are out and I've finished them, I thought I'd review them in retrospective.

First of all, many have said (and I agree) that these games don't really work well in episodic format. They're structured very much like a TV show, but TV shows only have a lag between episodes of a week, which isn't enough to get you to forget about the previous episode when you watch the new one. The time lag between these episodes were about 2 months, which was enough for me to need to watch the "what happened previously" entries in order to remember what happened. Luckily for you, if you're reading this, The Wolf Among Us is all out so there's not going to be a lag for you.

I'll confess to being a huge Fables fan. I consider it one of the best written graphic novel series out there today, and if you haven't read them, go do so now, starting with the entire trade paperback collection. The Wolf Among Us is a prequel to the series, so playing the game before reading the comics won't cause any spoilers, but also won't give you the delicious sense of context that the game provides.

Episode 3 was fun, as we discover wheels within wheels and that Crane is a bad guy, but not the mastermind we expected. Episode 4 felt like a filler: short, and full of nothing but build up. The finale made up for all that by providing an exciting fight sequence that finally resolves all my problems with Telltale Game's engine while still providing a satisfying story. The ending drags on for a bit too long, but it does resolve all the loose ends in the plot.

The MSRP of The Wolf Among Us is $29.99. At that price, you'll feel cheated of content. But if you're patient, it will inevitably go on sale for about $5. Anywhere below $10, this is good value and a good story worth picking up and playing.

Recommended.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Anker X201 Replacement Battery

Ever since I got Xiaoqin her Surface Pro, she's relinquished my (by now ancient) X201 back to me. Laptop batteries usually get killed by heat and being fully charged, and the X201's was no exception. A few months of using Android Studio on the laptop while being plugged in killed the original OEM battery, which would have been down by 40% in regular unplugged use, but was down to 10 minutes of run time. The thing about the X201 is that the keyboard's still the best you can get for a laptop of this size and weight, and writing doesn't consume lots of CPU power, so I use this as my primary writing machine, relegating the desktop to heavy-duty work like Lightroom, Premiere Elements, and InDesign. Even with 2 Moore's cycles in place, newer laptops still have not caught up to my 2009 desktop's performance.

For a fairly new laptop, it would have been worthwhile to hunt down an OEM battery and pay full price for it. For a laptop that's been well-used (albeit upgraded), I settled for the Anker X201 replacement. Anker warranties the battery for 18 months, but the biggest problem with non-OEM battery is that they have a melt-down which could set your laptop on fire. I've had a 3rd party Macbook battery warp so badly that it wouldn't fit in the battery slot any more after I wrestled it out of the slot. Of course, nowadays, Macs don't come with user-replaceable batteries so the optimal solution would be to throw away the Mac and buy yourself a real computer with replaceable parts.

The battery plugged in snugly into the battery well, and surprisingly, the Power Manager on the Thinkpad recognized the battery! I didn't expect that and was impressed. The manager says that the battery's good for 47.34Wh while the specifications claimed 49Wh, indicating some minor deterioration while the battery was sitting at Amazon's warehouse. On initial charge, the battery indicator said the battery's only good for 2 hours, but after 4 charge cycles it now says 3 hours. This is more than good enough for my general use of the laptop, and comparable to the OEM battery.

Newer machines such as the Surface Pro and Macbooks no longer have user-replaceable batteries, making it worth while to hang onto older machines such as the Lenovo Thinkpad for as long as you can. The Anker goes a long way towards helping that out. Recommended.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is Thomas Piketty's magnum opus about the future of capitalism and the implications thereof. It is by far and away the best book I've read this year, and I doubt if I'll read a better book in this decade. It's a combination of economics, political economy, history, literature analysis (of Jane Austen and Honore Balzac no less) and big-data analysis that had me getting up early to read it. In my younger days, I would have devoured this book non-stop in a matter of days, ignoring food, sleep, and work. It is more exciting than any combination of science fiction novels, and in many ways fulfills the idea of economics as psychohistory.

The central premise of the book is the inequality r > g. Through human history, while growth rates have usually been around 1%, the return on capital has usually been around 5% (in real terms, not nominal terms). You might question this 5% number as contradicting Bernstein's 2% number. Note that Bernstein's numbers includes major catastrophes, such as the world wars wiping out most assets in Europe. From a personal finance point of view, such events usually mean that you care a lot more about staying alive than your portfolio! The implications on wealth accumulation is fairly straightforward: if you can accumulate capital such that you can live on less than 5% over a long period of time, you can reinvest the remainder of your capital income and grow well above the growth rate of the economy, leaving you not only with increasing assets, but also freeing you and your heirs from ever having to work for an income ever again. In the extreme case (let's say you're Bill Gates), you can live on 0.01% of your income from capital and essentially reinvest all the proceeds, creating dynastic level wealth. The Hiltons, Kennedys, Rockefellers, and Kochs are of course in this category.

Wait a minute, you say, isn't the world GDP growth more than 3%? Isn't China growing at 7-8%? This is where historical data comes in. Piketty provides convincing evidence that these numbers can only occur because of (1) population growth, and (2) catchup with the modern economies. In other words, Europe could only grow at 6-8% a year until it caught up with the USA at the frontier of technology and infrastructure, at which point it devolved down to 1-1.5% growth. The same happened to Japan, and will happen to China. It's reasonable to expect the world to degenerate to that case eventually, but the developed world is already there.

Even more impressively, Piketty has current data. This data in particular, shows that the top 1% in Europe and USA already own more than 70% of the capital assets in their respective economic arenas. Even worse, there's reasonable evidence that because of the existence of tax havens, these estimates are low. Piketty analyzes total capital known to be in existence, and reveals that the world owes more money than exists in developed country accounts. The remainder of the dark capital exists in tax havens and is likely to be around 10% of global wealth.

How bad can things get? Here, Piketty turns to history for data and to literature to make it real. This section of the book is impressive and amazing to read. During the Gilded Age (called Belle Epoque in the book), the wealthy commanded 90% of the capital in their respective countries. Fully half of the population (then and now) owned essentially nothing or had a negative net-worth, and there was no middle class. There was effectively no inflation, which explained why Austen and Balzac would provide numbers in terms of income for the characters in their novels and expect readers to understand what situations each character was in. Worse, there was no way for anyone to get ahead by hard work or education: even judges could at most make 5 to 7 times the average income, compared to the wealthy heirs and heiresses who would have 30 to 60 times the average income from the capital they inherited. Hence, the plots of those novels always involved marrying someone so wealthy that they could provide a dignified existence (meaning that they could hire enough servants to take care of the needs of daily living, given the non-existence of refrigeration, cars, etc).

Lest you think that this state of affairs could only occur because of a stagnant technology, Piketty reminds the reader that automobiles, steam engines, etc. were all invented during this period. It was hardly a period of stagnation. Yet because all new technology required capital, the inventors didn't make off with the lion's share of the profits.

So how did the situation change? Was it the progressive income tax? Was it the introduction of inflation? The answer was that it took 2 world wars to essentially destroy most of the existing capital stock in Europe in order for a more egalitarian post-war generation to exist. This essentially created a middle class that owned about 40% of the wealth and consisted of 40% of the population. 50% of the population continued to own no property, while the top 10% owns 60% of the wealth. In the U.S., punitive taxation levels of 90% kept inequality low, essentially keeping the American middle class from suffering the same fate. Piketty points out that the 90% tax rate was hardly ever paid. Instead, what it did was to keep executives (who essentially set their own pay) from asking for compensation at that level. When those tax rates were dismantled in the 1980s, CEO and other executive compensation sky-rocketed in response.

So how does the world look going forward? It looks grim. We are currently in a situation where in the US and Europe, capital from inheritances and capital from savings through work average about 50%. By 2050, if things don't change, we could easily see a return to inequality levels seen during the Gilded Age: most high net-worth households will be those who are inherited, and once again, your path to success would lie mostly in marrying rich rather than hard work and entrepreneurship. The dystopia of Blade Runner or Elysium never looked more likely than through Piketty's statistics. To balance that out a bit, Piketty points out that the European and US welfare states do cushion the blow somewhat: elderly poverty is down substantially since social security was introduced, and the European safety nets are even more generous. Of course, there's no shortage of the usual suspects wanting to tear that down...

Is there any possibility of change? Piketty proposes a global tax on capital, essentially a wealth tax. This is by far the most disappointing section of the book, not because such an idea wouldn't work, but because the political climate just wouldn't allow it. Furthermore, he works in lots of other issues that have very little with inequality and other topics covered by the book. For instance, he covers ways to pay down the national debts of various countries with a one-time exceptional tax. Since Piketty is French, he spends a lot of time discussing the Euro and the need for Eurozone cooperation and sanctions against tax havens, which is an international problem.

But seriously, that's a small nit on the book. I haven't even covered many of the side-topics that Piketty covers in the book. For instance, there's a huge discussion of slavery in the US in the antebellum South. This was a tour de force, as Piketty shows how much wealth slaveholders had: essentially, the northern US states were poor compared with old Europe, but the southern US states were wealthier, and of course, with a correspondingly higher wealth inequality. There cannot be more impoverishment than the inability to own even your own labor, and Piketty's statistics and graphs show the benefit of being on the other side of that equation in stark relief.

Piketty also discusses the American education system in contrast with the European systems, and how elite American colleges perpetuate the inequality that already exist in society: the majority of their incoming students come from the top quartile of society. He does point out the advantages of charging insanely high tuition, so you do get something for your money. Nevertheless, this goes a long way towards understanding why elite American colleges' acceptance tests seem very similar to the old-school European finishing school, complete with piano-playing and other tests of altruism and "leadership." They essentially have not drifted too far from those original prototypical elite institutions.

Finally, is there anything practical you can learn about personal finance in this economics book? The answer is yes. The first of which is that real-estate is a mug's game. Today's real-estate yields about 3-4%. Why so low when all other capital earns 4-5% real returns? The answer: real-estate is the only capital today subject to Piketty's wealth-tax. That wealth tax seems small: 1-1.5% of property value per year. But since it's levied every year, it imposes a drag on performance that's much higher than the capital gains tax, which are the subject of inter-state competition and hence tends towards zero over the long term. Piketty points out that the higher up the wealth ladder you go, the lower the proportion of real estate owned in the portfolio because of these characteristics. In other words, it's better to be equity-heavy and house poor than equity-light and house rich. The other lessons are fairly obvious: you want to have the lowest costs possible (both in investment costs and living expenses) so that your capital has the highest chance to compound. The bigger your portfolio, the faster the money will grow: Piketty points out that there's no difference in performance between Bill Gate's portfolio and Liliane Bettencourt's portfolio, even though one was a brilliant entrepreneur and the other is the heiress of the L'Oreal fortune. Capital is indifferent as to how you came by it. Furthermore, the largest portfolios grow the fastest. The elite university endowments for instance, grow at 8-10% a year, since once you get past a certain size you can take advantage not only of relatively expensive wealth managers through economies of scale, but you also have the ability to buy illiquid assets that cannot be easily sold and hence command a risk premium.

In the writing of this review, my biggest fear is that I haven't convinced you that you must read this book. Not only does it give you tools with which to analyze the world (and Jane Austen's novels --- you might even be able to avoid having to read them at all, since Piketty does such a great job of picking out the essentials), it also gives you the context of why we are still feeling the effects of world war 2, 70 years after the event.

Highly recommended. Pay whatever price you have to, ignore whatever pressing assignments you have to, read this book. It is that good, and whether or not you disagree with the politics, there's plenty in here for you to exercise your intellectual muscle on. Go to it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Anker 40W 5-Port Desktop USB charger

We have 3 tablets, 2 phones, 2 kindles, an external battery pack, a camera and several more electronic items in the house, all chargeable via USB. We had chargers scattered all over the house but still somehow never had enough chargers for everything. Worse, some chargers could only charge low power device, so we would plug some devices into certain chargers and they wouldn't charge and we wouldn't realize it until much later.

If my name was Dan Wallach, I would buy a wireless charging pad and spend millions of dollars (after including institutional overhead) retrofitting all my devices to take wireless charging. Fortunately for you, my name isn't Dan Wallach and I'm a lot cheaper than he is, so I opted for the Anker 40W 5 Port charger instead, which at $26 ($20 on sale if you can find a coupon).

The device looked huge on Amazon's website, but in practice it's fairly small:  about the size of a deck of cards. What's nice about having so much power is that you can effectively get 2 amps or more a port, which means that you don't have to fuss around with which port would charge which device: they'd all work for any of the devices. In addition, unlike cheap chargers that come with your phone, these don't draw parasitic power when nothing's plugged in.

This device is so handy, I can see myself bringing it along on sailing trips or car trips. (Not cycling trips though!)

Recommended, if your name isn't Dan Wallach.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: NewTrent 90C

On the tour of the alps this year, I had 4 devices that regularly needed charging via USB: the Garmin Edge 800, the Nokia 521, the Sony RX100, and the Dell Venue 8 Pro. Add to that my CPAP machine, and I was going to either carry way too many adapters or certain things would simply go uncharged.

The solution: the NewTrent 90C. A high powered dual-USB charger that uses only one power socket but can charge 2 devices at once. Only one of the USB sockets is high powered, so I had to use that one for the tablet, but could easily swap between the others. Since the Edge charged the fastest and was something that was needed nearly every day, we'd first charge that.

The Dell Venue 8 Pro was power hungry, especially since I imported photos every day, so that usually went on the charger whenever I wasn't using it. The phone usually went on the charger only just before retiring to bed, and the camera got a charge whenever I remembered to charge it, which was about every 3 days.

All through the tour, the charger never so much as heated up, no matter what I threw at it. In terms of weight savings for $10, it's probably one of the best bang for the buck you can find on a bike tour.

Recommended.

Review: i-Bert Safe-T Seat

It's almost getting to the point where Bowen has to go to pre-school, which is about 4 miles away. I'd been riding him around locally with the Weeride Kangaroo seat, but I found that I was just tall enough that my knees kept hitting the seat. For short rides, no problem, but if I was going to deliver Bowen on a regular basis to pre-school by bike, I'd better fix it.

The first thing to do was to switch to an off-set seat post and shove the saddle all the way back. That made it so that my knee wouldn't hit as hard, but if I raised my seat to the proper riding height, I would still hit the seat with my knee.

I finally gave up and ended up with the iBert Safe-T seat. The first thing you notice when you install this seat is that it's wobbly. So much so that I was worried about the safety of the thing and had Pardo drop by to take a look at it. After examination, he pronounced the Safe-T seat safe to use as long as you didn't exceed the weight limits (about 40 pounds). The wobble looked alarming but actually goes away when you load the seat with a real toddler.

With this seat, my knees barely graze the seat when set at proper riding height. It also has the advantage of being easier to secure and put a toddler in and out of it. And I can now ride at almost normal riding speed: obviously you can't go full tilt with a toddler in it: that adds a good 25 pounds or so to the bike!

Recommended. We've been using it almost daily and been quite satisfied.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: T-mobile postpaid international roaming plan

As previously mentioned, the plan this year was to use my Nokia 521 phone in Europe in conjunction with the T-mobile post-paid all you can eat plan along with international roaming (unlimited data, unlimited SMS, $0.20 per minute). Because there were 3 of us, we all signed up under the family plan, paying about $120/month after taxes. That's about $40/month, which would be like buying a SIM card for 10 euros for 3 different countries. Given that we visited Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Lichtenstein, we broke even.

We tested the plan on 3 different phones. Hina carried and iPhone, Arturo carried a Nexus 5, and I carried the afore-mentioned Nokia. We had data on all 3. We relied mostly on SMS to communicate with each other, though I used Skype alot when texting or calling my wife at home. Skype voice over a 2G network is sucky, but text messages worked fine, and I wasn't going to make huge long phone calls until I got wifi anyway.

Surprisingly enough, the glitches came whenever I tried to sign up for free wifi networks that required SMS for registration. No matter what I tried (routing through Google voice or giving the "real phone number" for the phone), I could never register for the wifi at the Zurich airport or at certain hotels. Fortunately, I had workarounds in both cases, but it was nothing short of annoying.

Other than that, however, the plan worked well, had no hidden fees, and whenever we needed to make a phone call at $0.20 per minute, we were more than happy to pay the charge. This was the first tour where we didn't spend substantial time getting SIM cards in every country, and it was definitely worth it.

Lots of people have complained about T-mobile's coverage in the US. But to my mind, that's the wrong trade-off. The times when you most want good phone coverage is when you travel, especially internationally where you're not familiar with the area. If you really wanted a post-paid plan, the T-mobile trade-off is probably the best you can find today.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ultra Long Term Review: Garmin Edge 800

It is the nature of electronics that they tend to be short-lived. Most people don't hang on to their phones more than 2 years, and in some cases like Android phones, software support lags even before then. It is therefore a testament to the build quality and utility of the Garmin Edge 800 that I'm writing this long term review 3 years from when I bought the unit.

Of course, I'm very much aware that the smartphone is currently the most used bike computer in the world. But if that describes you, you're probably not much of a cyclist, and have no reason to read this blog entry. I buy bike computers to do 1000 mile tours, not to post on social networks and brag about my rides.

The device has survived 2 tours of the Alps, countless numbers of day rides, include some mountain bike rides. Since buying the NT navigator for Europe, I haven't spent any additional money on the device. You don't tend to buy or update maps for cycling because by and large, cycling roads just don't change. I've never felt the need for more up to date maps on the device.

The device did corrupt its own boot sector once, during the Downieville ride. I resolved the problem using Garmin's website, essentially reformatting the device and starting over. There's been quite a few firmware updates since, and I haven't seen the need to do so since.

Since I bought the device, Garmin has introduced several new units: Garmin Edge 810, Garmin Edge 1000, and the Garmin Edge Touring are just 3 of the new units most likely to interest those who've bought the Edge 800, which is still available at a significant discount.

During the Tour of the Alps this year, both Arturo and Hina brought along the later model Edge 810. The big feature of this newer unit is blue-tooth integration. The unit can sync with your Android or iPhone and then upload to Garmin's website without you having to find a wifi hotspot or bring along a Windows tablet. Since I wasn't bringing either of those types of phone, I wouldn't have been able to use this feature anyway. Furthermore, Hina ended up using my tablet to upload, for a number of reasons, and her device lost some data. So buying a newer unit doesn't mean you will never have to plug it into the PC: you still have to do that in order to get the latest and greatest firmware!

Furthermore, despite all the tweaking we managed to do on Tour, Arturo's Garmin unit used battery far more aggressively than my old unit. I would regularly end the day with 55-65% of the battery left, while his unit despite being newer would end the day with at most 30-45% of the battery. At first we thought it was brightness, then the autostop. We ended up suspecting the bluetooth connection to the phone. Regardless, the 810 does not have as good a battery life as the 800.

Of the remaining units, the Edge Touring is missing several features of the Edge, including power meter integration and speed sensor cadence compatibility. Neither of those features are essential to me, though I do have a GSC10, which would have been incompatible with the Edge Touring.

The Edge 1000 is recently introduced, but was apparently rushed to market as reviews indicate that it is a very buggy unit. If you're actually going to tour with a unit, given Garmin's record of lackluster reliability amongst newly introduce units, I wouldn't recommend going with the 1000.

As you can see, I think the Garmin Edge 800 is an unusually robust unit that holds up better than many later introduced units. It's a lot like the 1993 Bridgestone RB-1: it was better than any of the predecessors as well as its successors as well. If you know me, that is the highest praise I can give any device.

Recommended with the highest honors.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Convergence

Microsoft's Surface Pro is a bet that convergence will lead to a device that blends a laptop and a tablet. I'm both a fan of the Surface Pro and the Dell Venue 8 Pro, both of which do things that neither tablet nor phone can do. However, I believe that Microsoft's approach is at best flawed.

The convergence I'm betting on is between tablet and phone. I noticed this when my wife, who owns a Galaxy Note 2, the above mentioned Venue 8 Pro, and the Surface Pro would either use the Galaxy Note 2 (for general surfing, quick purchases, or Facebook) or the Surface Pro (for general content creation). But her mode of use of the Surface Pro is that of a desktop: usually tethered to a large monitor, rather than as a tablet. While many have complained about the battery life on the Surface Pro, she's never even noticed, indicating that the disconnected operation time is minimal.

This makes sense: the Galaxy Note 2 is already fast enough compared to the Venue 8 Pro, and the screen size at 5 inches is also comparable that to the Venue's 8 inch form factor. For watching movies, etc., they're both already pretty good (though the Note 2 is a 1080p while the Venue 8 Pro's a bit less at 1280x800), and the Note 2's handy stylus is much easier to access than the Venue 8's. The reason why 8" tablets took off is the price: while the Galaxy Note 2 was close to $600, you can get a Venue 8 Pro at around $200, or a third of the price. But you sacrifice considerable functionality to get there: you no longer have always on internet, the resolution of the screen doesn't go up commensurately, and things like bluetooth are much clunkier.

More importantly, you only have so many hours in the day, and you've got a lot more experience with the phone than the tablet. So even though the tablet might be better for some things (e.g., the Venue 8 Pro's tablet's browser is superior and is a real web browser, unlike the Galaxy Note 2's), you might not waste time picking it up unless there was a specific use case, such as a web site that just refuse to be viewed via the Galaxy Note 2's.

So what I think Microsoft needs to work on is a 5.5" (or 6"!) phone running a full on version of Windows with appropriate software. Such a device might even have a port for an external monitor. At $600-$800, such a device would clearly be superior to existing tablets and phones, and I might even consider getting one. This device could easily eliminate the need to carry a phone, tablet, and laptop. Of course, getting sufficient battery life and power out of such a device might be a technical challenge, but it's one that's suited very much to Microsoft's engineering team.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tour Review: Michelin Pro Race 3 Tire

I brought the Michelin Pro Race 3 tire on tour with misgivings. The last few times I'd brought 25mm tires on tour, they'd resulted in shredded tires and I'd have to use a spare to finish the tour. I brought a spare this time as well, but did not need it. The tire handled on and off-road riding, including much road construction debris with aplomb. I descended several wet roads and did not feel any loss of wet traction, but I wasn't pushing the limits in those circumstances either.

I've since come home and ridden the tires on the bike off pavement, and the tires are still going strong, despite 2000km of riding on them at this point, of which 1600km were loaded in alpine conditions. The tire's likely to wear out within the next week, and I'll be replacing it with a Michelin Pro 4. It's clear that if you exceed 2000km of touring in the alps, you will need to bring a spare or rotate the tires to avoid going into the threads.

Come to think of it, when I previously shredded tires in the Alps, it wasn't on Michelins. It was with Avocets. I can highly recommend the Michelin tires, and would happily do another tour on them.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Long Term Review: Garmin GSC10

I bought the Garmin GSC 10 several years ago in the hopes that it would improve accuracy of tracking for the Garmin GPS. On this year's tour, I discovered that it's not designed for wheels with 15 gauge swaged spokes. I use thin, swaged spokes because they build stronger wheels, so it was disappointing to discover that the magnet on the GSC10 swings about on the thing spokes.

I would still have kept using the GSC10 on tour if whenever the GSC10 failed to register the magnet, the Garmin head unit would switch to using the GPS and record distance that way. Unfortunately, when that happens, the Garmin head unit would register 0 distance and 0 speed, and I lost about 10km of route data that way. This result made me turn off the GSC10 and deregister it from my bike for half of the 2014 Tour of the Alps.

I happily use this unit when I'm at home, since it's no big deal to lose some information here and there until I stop and adjust the magnet. But when touring, it's a big nono. I expect not to use this unit on tour in the future.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Epilogue and Conclusion: Tour of the Alps 2014

It was a chore getting the bike box and my suit case back to David's apartment, so I was glad that Arturo came along to help. Packing the bike went easily, however. David brought us to his favorite restaurant in the area. It was strange having to cut back on the amount of food we consumed, since we were no longer going to be eating enough for 6000 calories per day.

That night, rain poured in Zurich, but the next morning it held off on the rain long enough for Arturo and I to get the bike box down to the street and for me to walk the 15 minutes to the Wetzikon train station towing the two suitcases. I took advantage of half-tax card one last time to buy a reduced fare card to the airport, then bought chocolate for Bowen and Xiaoqin back home. This time, my bike did not get lost in transit.

Arturo stayed in Switzerland for another week, hoping to climb the Matterhorn, but fresh snow prevented him from making the climb again. The day after I left, it poured again in Zurich, turning the Sihl into a torrent of water.

This trip was 1687.12km (1048 miles) and 32969.6m (108168 feet) of climb in 22 riding days, of which we had 3 days interrupted by weather and 1 day interrupted by a crash. We had 1 flat tire and1 mechanical due to a derailleur cable coming loose. My bike got lost in transit on the way to Zurich costing us a full day and a half of riding. In terms of mileage it far exceeded the benchmark 2007 tour despite us being weaker than the 2007 team because we had more riding days, but the toll of the years clearly left their mark: we did not do nearly as much climbing. We had much better weather as well,, having no days where we couldn't do any riding because of rain, snow, sleet, or hail. We explored new roads and found some new hotels that I thought were very exciting.

For Arturo, it was notably his first tour, and all through the trip, he was setting new records for longest day on the bike, furthest distance, most climbing, etc. He said that the first few days were terrifying as the descents were scary and the first climb up to Rosenlaui was surprisingly difficult. The biggest lesson for him, he said, was that cycling kills contact lenses. He brought what he thought were an excessive number of contacts,but wore through them so quickly that he was dangerously close to running out at the end. Hiking trips understandably do not expose your eyes to hours of 30mph winds, and despite his protective eyewear it simply wasn't enough. In the past, folks on my trips brought daily wear contacts, so didn't experience this as a problem. He also bonked multiple times on the trip, mostly because he simply wasn't used to having to eat the volumes of food necessary to fuel a cycling tour. Cycling is a deliberately inefficient activity: cyclists trade off fuel efficiency in favor of being able to ride faster all day, and if you're used to hiking having to eat the huge amounts of food just to keep going is not common. The jolting action of walking or climbing prevents you from being able to eat and digest the volumes of food that cyclists regularly down while touring.

I lost 5 pounds on the trip, but for the first time didn't lose strength, indicating that this time, either I ate enough or my metabolism had finally slowed to the point where I was no longer losing muscle by working this hard, or that the tour was indeed easier than in past years where I lost this much weight. Arturo lost 9 pounds. This was by far the best tour in recent years. I'd failed to replicate the 2007 tour in recent years because of weather conditions, and it was good to see that in good weather, this tour is just as pretty as I remembered it.

Few cyclists choose to ride the Alps the way we do, but the ones that do are rewarded by views of some of the most beautiful places on earth as well as the complete freedom to explore as the weather requires. The photos do not do it justice. You have to see it in person to understand.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

July 20th: Reuti to Zurich


From Tour of the Alps 2014
We woke up to cloudy skies to the East and sunshine to the West, so it was a good thing that we were going West. After the breakfast, we got on our bikes and pedaled towards Brunig pass, an easy 200m of climb from where we were. It was strange to see rain across the valley where Rosenlaui was, while we were right in the sun.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

At Brunig, we made a quick descent into Lugern, and then the road split off from the highway tunnel and we got a great look at the lake up close and personal. The descent into Giswil was easy as well, and then the ride to Sarnen was straightforward. In 2007, I gave up on riding past Sarnen because the traffic was annoying, even with a bike lane along the road. On a lazy Sunday with rain on the horizon, however, the road was quiet and quite pleasant.
The night before, we'd calculated that we would break 1000 miles sometime today, so when we were sure we exceeded 1000 miles, we took a short break and got a picture of me holding up 2 zeroes and Arturo holding up a 1 and a zero. The ride into Lucerne was very nice, with separate dedicated bike path alongside the water while the train and the freeway went through a tunnel to save time. In Horw, we stopped at a Kebab place for lunch. While we were feeling rain drops, it still wasn't raining, so we knew we would make it to Lucerne for sure.
From Tour of the Alps 2014
At Lucerne, we took a brief sight-seeing tour of both the oldest bridge in the world, and the dying lion. The lion was supposed to signify the death of Napolean's ambitions. It also commemorated the Swiss confederation's declaration that as mercenaries, they would never take both sides of a war again to avoid the Swiss people killing each other.
From Tour of the Alps 2014
From Tour of the Alps 2014

In Lucerne, we took the road to Ebikon along the number 4 highway. It felt a lot like riding through El Camino Real: suburban hell with strip-malls and uninteresting riding, but then at Root the road became a lot more rural all of a sudden. My goal was to find my way to Zurich on the Reuss river, but then Arturo's friend David called, and we agreed to meet him at Cham instead.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Once at Cham, which was a very pleasant ride from Root/Ebikon, David suggested that while Reuss might be appropriately rural, it would also dump us out on the wrong side of Zurich, while the Sihl bike path would take us to Zurich on the correct side. Never one to contradict a local, we opted to go with his route. David liked mountain bikes, and preferred more technically challenging terrain, at one point dumping us on a dirt climb that was reminiscent of the Meiringen to Hasliberg bike path, but Arturo was still clearly uncomfortable on technically challenging terrain, so he gracefully dialed it back and kept us on the official bike path the rest of the way into Zurich.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

By 4:30pm, Arturo's foot had started hurting again, but by then we were within 5km of David's house. Places started looking familiar and I realized that David didn't live very far from where Shauna was! Soon we were at his house, and I was carrying my bike into David's kitchen. It'd been quite a trip but my tour was over, and so were my cycling gloves which had served me well for so many miles.
From Tour of the Alps 2014
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Monday, August 18, 2014

July 19th: Hotel Posthaus Urigen to Reuti


From Tour of the Alps 2014
Our bottle of hydration drink was down to so little that everything fit into a spare ziplock bag, so I discarded the plastic bottle. Today was the last day of hot sunshine expected anyway, and tomorrow would have no passes of note.

The morning presented us with a dilemna. The plan was to ride down to the Fluelen train station 12 miles away. The train left every hour on the 15th minute, and took 45 mintues to deliver us to Goschenen. Ideally, we'd want to start the Sustens climb not much later than 10:00am, but Hotel Posthaus Urigen doesn't serve breakfast till 8:00am. So we got ourselves all packed and ready to go at 7:55am, tapped our toes while breakfast was brought out, then scarf'd everything down and paid in 15 minutes.

Zipping down the remainder of Klausen pass was easy. The remaining descent had one retro grade you could take at full speed when you're fresh, and the descent kept you at terminal velocity until you got to Altdorf, famous for being the birthplace of William Tell. Being familiar with the road, we descended at speed and I led Arturo right to the train station, with an underground entrance across the street from the rail line. I'd previously ridden past that entrance several times without being able to locate it, but this time it was a cinch. We easily caught the 9:15am train despite having to run over to the ticket office because the automated machine rejected all our credit cards.

On the train ride to Goschenen (because the fast train does not service Wassen directly), we noticed that traffic was backed up all the way to Wassen on the main road and the freeway. We would only later discover this was the result of building the Gotthard Base Tunnel. This didn't matter very much to us because we'd be headed the other way, but at the exit to the train station at Goschenen I noted that the signs to Andermatt were crossed out, meaning that cyclists can no longer ride the main road up to Andermatt but must use either the train or the Grimsel and Furka route.

We descended to Wassen quickly. One of my big fears was that as a result of the back up, Sustens pass would see lots of traffic. That fear was realized, but fortunately, Sustens is actually built to handle that kind of traffic and it was a far less scary climb than I feared.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

By far the bigger problem was a lack of water on the climb and the increasing heat, which started at 85F at 10:00am, and went all the way up to 100F as we climbed the shadeless road. We started by begging from water at a house by the highway, and then about 2/3rds of the way through the climb, stopped at the Swiss automobile association shed which had a tap on the back to finish off the rest of the electrolyte in the ziplock bag and start dipping into the rest of Arturo's electrolyte pills.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

I was climbing strongly because I was extremely motivated by the desire to get to the Lammi restaurant before the kitchen closes. Arturo wasn't similarly motivated, and he doesn't do as well in the heat as I do, but we still made it to the summit tunnel before noon. I told Arturo that he could stop and take pictures on the descent, but not to take too long or I'd eat his sausage if I got too hungry.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The descent of Sustens pass is a classic alpine descent with all the cliches tied together in one pretty package. You have glacier views, fast sweeping descents high above a valley, waterfalls coming out just above a tunnel, a series of short tunnels, hairpin turns, and even single lane areas, all packaged together into a descent that takes an hour to complete. It was fun to do in maximum flow without having to stop. I smiled to myself because the spectacular descent was guaranteed to have Arturo stopping at least 4-5 times. Once back into Innertkirchen, I climbed the 4 hairpin turns to the Lammi restuarant and arrived there at 1:45pm.
I asked if the kitchen was opened, and the proprietress looked at me and said, "For you, the kitchen is open all day!" She asked if I had a friend coming and I said yes, so I cooled my heels while waiting for Arturo to show up. When he showed up, she asked, "Isn't there a 3rd person?" "Yes, but she's in Paris." So the two of us had our sausages and then made a leisurely descent to Meiringen for the Sherlock Holmes museum.
The museum was very well done, and by the time we finished it was 5:00pm. We could ride the dirt road up to Reuti, or we could take the cable car. I remembered the dirt path being quite painful, which persuaded Arturo to suggest the cable car, which accepted half-tax cards and bicycles.
From Tour of the Alps 2014
The Hotel Reuti was indeed less than 50m from the cable car. It was ramshackle and run down, along with a scary sign saying they'd fumigated the place so it was bed-bug free earlier this year. We inspected for bed bugs and didn't find any, so settled in for the night. Arturo's friend, David was happy to put me up as well for one night in Zurich, so I was spared having to book a hotel. We were all done with tough passes, and could have a leisurely ride back to Zurich the next day, so the 8:00am breakfast time didn't bother us this time.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

July 18th: Bludenz to Hotel Posthaus, Urigen

Early this morning, I gave Arturo a choice: we could take the train to Sargans, and do the Wallensee ride to Linthal and then Klausen pass, or we could ride through Lichtenstein to Sargans and take the train to skip the Wallensee ride. The former was prettier, but the latter was more attractive to Arturo, since he'd never visited Lichtenstein, and the idea of a country so small that you could bike across it in about 2 hours (assuming you went the long way) was intriguing.
From Tour of the Alps 2014
We first reversed the route we took yesterday to get back to the bike path, and then we headed for Feldkirch, always taking the shorter route whenever we were given a choice. Once in Feldkirch, we stopped to look at the map for directions. Unfortunately, a helpful Austrian came by and told us that the scenic route was the long way. I say unfortunate, because in the intervening years, I'd forgotten that the Rhine river bike path is easily the most boring bike route in the world. It is only scenic if you think long flat expanses of river and the surrounding mountains are interesting. As a result, we ended up on a long and extremely boring stretch of the Rhine river bike path that literally went on for kilometers, seemingly without end.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

It was so boring, in fact, that we missed the border signs signally entry into Lichtenstein, not noticing that we were into a different country until we stopped at one point to check a bike path map and noticed that we were right in the middle of the country! All through yesterday, I'd joked that "You better not blink, or you might miss Lichtenstein", and the joke had indeed come to pass. Since we went all the way this way, we rode into the biggest town in the country and took pictures with various monuments.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

After those festivities, we got back onto the bike path, rode a few more kilometers, and ended up onto a bike bridge directing us out of Lichtenstein into Switzerland. This time, we did not miss the border crossing, though I was so bored I'd started searching for closer train stations on my GPS before realizing that Sargans was coming right up.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

On the Swiss side, things were a lot more military, with pill boxes every 100m, evidence that memories of World War 2 aren't likely to be forgotten soon. We followed signs towards the Sargans train station, and when those signs faded away, switched to the GPS. Once we got to the Sargans train station, we bought train tickets and lunch. The train to Ziegelbrucke was a fast train, but the train to Linthal was a local S-bahn type train, which meant a stop at every tiny town in the area. That gave us time for lunch. One interesting thing was that there were 2 train stations at Linthal, which I had not noticed before! We got off at the wrong one, which led to the Braunwald cablecar/funicular station, which meant that there was significant hiking high up in the mountains which might be worth exploring.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Arturo had lost his cycling cap during the train transit, and at 2:00pm the weather was so warm that we had no choice but to immediately try to replace it. Fortunately, a kiosk down the street from the main road had a selection of hats, one of which would do as a substitute for a cycling cap, albeit at Swiss prices. As part of the service, however, the store happily filled our water bottles with water as part of the price of the cap.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Klausen pass is split into two portions of climbing, both approximately the same length and difficulty, interrupted by the hanging valley of Urnerboden. At Linthal, at 600m, the heat and the sun was strongest, and we climbed with sweat dripping off our bodies, taking advantage of every shaded area for relief and quickly draining our recently filled bottles. The two tunnels on this part of the climb provided relief. All through the climb we looked for fountains but discovered that the road was sadly lacking in them, something I'd never previously noticed because I'd never climbed the road in 100F heat before.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Thus it was that at Urnerboden valley we simply had to make a stop for ice cream at the hotel restaurant we found as we approached town, and there we filled up our water bottles as well. The ice cream was expensive, even for Switzerland, but the waitress explained that the expensive options all had alcohol in them, and we could just order scoops of various ice cream at a much lower price. After a half hour rest, we made the rest of the climb in relative comfort, as it was 4pm, and it was cooler. There was also spectacular view after spectacular view as we rose up into the valley.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

At the summit, there was a hotel where I had begged for plastic bags to help keep my hands warm on the freezing descent in 2007. There was no such need this year as the weather was so warm that we would don wind jackets only to take them off again just a few hundred meters down.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The descent of Klausen pass is fast at the top, with a one lane road, a guard rail, and sheer steep granite walls on the other. Arturo would later say that it was one of the scariest descents he'd been on during the trip, but I enjoyed it thoroughly, because despite the apparent dangers, you had long sight lines that told you when traffic was coming, and hence the rest of the time you could take the road at full speed.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Because of our stay at Posthaus Urigen, we would only go 8km down the road today. We got to the hotel around 6:00pm, and had dinner around 7:30pm under the fading light. We could see cyclists still coming up the road for a last gasp attempt at an evening right at 8:30pm.

That night, I got e-mail from Shauna telling me that I couldn't expect to stay at their home on the return, as they'd be away and their roommates (understandably) objected to a stranger staying with them without the hosts. They'd made arrangements for me to pick up the bike box and also offered to put me up at a nearby hotel. Arturo said he'd call his friend David to see if an additional person would be possible where he was staying in Zurich. This added unnecessary stress to the trip, but knowing the price of Zurich hotels, it was worth asking.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

July 17th: Ramosch to Bludenz

We got on the road early in the morning in the shade, and while it was a little cool, I soon took off my jacket despite being in the shade. At the bottom off the road from Ramosch, we went 200m and saw a hotel right on the roadside, meaning that we didn't have to climb the steep climb to the hotel we stayed at last night in Ramosch. Arturo said, "The hotel on the road side looks pretty shitty anyway." It might have been sour grapes. After a few kilometers, the descent finally came, and the kilometers rolled by, soon putting us right into Austria somewhere along the road. I didn't stop for a photo of the border crossing but Arturo did. The early morning light set the canyon we were riding through perfectly.
From Tour of the Alps 2014
At the next intersection, we spotted the sign for the first kilometer off the Inn river bike path. I'd ridden many parts of it but never the first kilometer, so I couldn't pass it up! It is a little known secret that Austria makes the best bike path facilities in the world. I knew this, but hadn't told Arturo, so he was amazed as we rode farm road after farm road, each with spectacular views. These were nothing like the bike paths he'd ridden along the Rhine in Germany.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

From Tour of the Alps 2014

We rode along the bike path until we got near Landeck, where I turned off the bike path to avoid a few bike path climbs and discovered to my surprise that the road was close. On a bike, 9 times out of 10 the road closure's something you can just walk your bike around, but this road closure was guarded by a couple of laborers. We were told to turn around and re-enter the bike path, and thus we did. When we reached Landeck proper, Arturo noticed that they were building a new bridge behind the closure.

At Landeck, we visited the local supermarket and ate a sat down lunch. I didn't notice any water between the town and the start of the Silvretta climb on previous trips, so I bought a couple of liters of water, which we dumped into our water bottles. On a light traffic day, we rode to Pians where the Silvretta highway turns off from the Arlberg highway and tunnel. On a beautiful day, there's no reason to ride the Arlberg instead of Silvretta unless you're severely pressed for time. Of course, this time, I spotted a functioning water fountain just a kilometer away from the turnoff.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The Silvretta has a long approach, about 33km between Pians and Galtur follows a river, which means that the grade varies between 1% and 3%, making the long approach an easy climb at 13-18kph even on a loaded bicycle. The route is liberally sprinkled with tunnels, about half of which are for winter use only. Most days when we see tunnels we look for a bypass route, but the day was so warm that we welcomed the tunnels as respites from the heat. All through the next few days we would see farm vehicles and farmers working over time, literally making hay while the sun shines.

Past Galtur, the road becomes a toll road, which immediately eliminated most of the traffic on the road. The road becomes serious, going to 8% to 12% grades while the views become more dramatic.
From Tour of the Alps 2014
At the summit, there's a dam for power generation, as well as a hotel and a restaurant. The views were gorgeous, though the weather started to look like it would turn sour despite the forecasts.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

It had been 7 years since I rode the Silvretta, and on the descent, it looked as though the Austrian highway department was bent on dramatically re-engineering the road. There were several places where it looked like the old road had been re-routed, and much of the pavement had been re-done, making the smooth sections glorious to descend. I got a break in traffic right after over-taking a construction truck early in the descent, and thereafter just did not stop as any stoppage would mean traffic behind me would catch up, eliminating my nice smooth flow-inducing descent as I made my way down the 34 numbered hairpins on Silvretta.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Once I got past the Partenen toll station, I stopped at the next intersection to wait for Arturo, anticipating a long wait as the descent of Silvretta isn't easy even for experienced folks in dry conditions. In wet conditions, this was one of the few descents where I could beat Roberto and Mike Samuel down the mountain. I was not wrong, as it took Arturo a good 20 minutes before he joined me.

We headed down the main road in order to find the bike path that I had discovered years ago. I'd remembered it as being behind a supermarket in Partenen, but I misremembered. We rolled past a tunnel and several towns before I spotted the Spar at Montafon rolled into it and past the parking lot into the bike path which you wouldn't find unless someone told you was there.

A strong headwind had risen in the late afternoon, and I despair at getting to Bludenz prior to it being time to stop. Demoralized, our speed dropped despite the downhill bike path. But near Tschagguns I noticed that the headwind had stopped. Arturo looked at his bike computer and the distance marker on the bike path and said, "Wait a minute. We can make Bludenz in half an hour!" With that a fire was lit beneath our wheels and we rolled quickly towards our desintation: Gasthof Lowen in Bludenz.

The bike path takes you past the train station in Bludenz. The trick to not ride extra is to pull your bike into the train station as though you were going to take the train, and then hop into the elevator at the end of the subterranean walkway to get out into the city proper. From there, you go up a few blocks along the main road and the hotel would be right there. I'd showed up a few times with reservations before, but this time, at 7:00pm with no reservations, we got by far the lowest price I've ever managed for the hotel.

Eschewing the traditional dinner options, we ate at the Chinese all-you-can-eat restaurant in the old town. The food is not the highest quality, but after another near century day, we needed quantity, and the restaurant provided a decent amount of variety with the quantity. We went to bed satisfied and ready for more descending the next day.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: Super-Powereds: Year 2

After I got home, I checked out Super-Powereds: Year 2 from the Kindle lending library, since I enjoyed Year 1.

Like its predecessor, Year 2 started as a web novel, and shows. The chapters are short, and there are a lot of cliff-hangers, presumably to keep the web-reader coming back. However, it's a very good read, and it's great to see Drew Hayes improving as a novelist. What's even cooler is that Hayes is keeping the series up on his website, meaning you can start reading Year 3 today with no wait.

The characters are fleshed out, and of course, sophomore year in college as a super hero doesn't make things easy. Hayes does a good job keeping you engaged with each of the primary characters carried over from the first novel, which is no mean feat with an ensemble cast. Furthermore, he adds a few more characters that you come to care about, but without giving the novel Rumiko Takahashi syndrome (Takahasi's idea of character development is to add more characters).

At this point, we start to see more background for each of the characters, and reveals of the overall plot-arc which Hayes has in mind. While that plot arc moves slowly, there are lots of little subplots going on, TV-show style, so you're never stuck tapping your toes while nothing happens. (I'm looking at you, George R. R. Martin)

We do get to see more ramifications of a world full of super heroes, and where nearly every type of hero has existed and been classified. There's even a super-hero puzzler which is fair (one of the character hits the wall with his growth, and the answer to why that wall exists and how to overcome it was particularly satisfying).

All in all, a good read and worth your time.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

July 16th: Pontresina to Ramonsch

The sport hotel turned out to be the only hotel we found on the trip offering lactose free milk for breakfast! In a continent full of lactose-processing people, this was unusual and worthy of praise. I guess I know where to say from now on when I'm in the area with family!
From Tour of the Alps 2014
After breakfast, we picked up our bikes from a bike storage area that had gone from empty to full overnight. It was quite clear that the hotel filled up with cyclists, mostly mountain bikes for the area. From Pontresina, we descended down to the main road intersection, followed the signs to St. Moritz, and then climbed up the main road, eschewing the bike path because we knew the ride would be short. St. Moritz in the morning light looked pretty, but we had business elsewhere, so after a short ride around the lake we headed off to Silvaplana.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Silvaplana was unexpectedly pretty, and I seemed to recall hiking in the area with Phil in 2011 from Corvatsch. From Silvaplana, the road climbs steeply and sharply and we soon found ourselves up high with nary a tree in sight.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Despite it being mid-week, however, there was a surprising amount of traffic. The climb was over very quickly, Silvaplana being at around 1800m and Julierpass being around 2300m. However, the descent was painful: it was long, so had lots of flat sections, and was not very steep, so you weren't moving at the speed of traffic. Along with the traffic, that made for a dreadful combination. There was a scenic lake down the middle, but the rest of the ride was very forgettable. I wouldn't want to ride Julier pass again.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

At the bottom, we headed for the Tiefencastel train station to buy train tickets for Davos. The timetable we looked at indicated that the next train was at 11:47, but it wouldn't take bikes, so I went in expecting to be told to take the bus. The woman behind the counter, however, said that the information was wrong, and the train did have a bike wagon. We bought train tickets to Davos Platz, and while waiting for the train picked up lunch to eat on the train as well. We later surmised that the train only became the glacier express after going through the tunnels above Bergun, where we had been so many days before. Before that, it was a regular train and hence took bikes.

Once in Davos, we rode across the street to the huge Coop and there I bought a huge bottle of electrolytes. The directions said to use 3 scoops per bottle, but in reality 1.5 scoops were sufficient. It was a lot more bulky than the Nuun tablets we'd been carrying, but I'd run out and Arturo was close to running out. Nevertheless, with the forecasted hot weather, I didn't anticipate that we'd have problems using up all the electrolytes that we could carry.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The climb up to Fluela pass was warm. We filled up all the water at the mountain bike just outside of Davos, and anticipated being able to get some en route, but did not actually spot any water until we reached the summit. I couldn't complain about the scenery, though. Fluela pass was pretty! At the summit there was a lake next to a hotel restaurant serving ice cream, so we did a quick ice cream stop and then a pass photo.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The Fluela pass descent is highly technical, with lots of hairpins interrupted by long steep stretches that allowed you to reach terminal velocity. It was so pretty, however, that I had to stop to take pictures, not having ridden this pass and not knowing when I'd ever get a chance to return.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

At the bottom of the pass in Susch, we stopped for water, and then proceeded to head towards the Austrian border. The OCD guide had written that from the top of Bernina pass, there's a descent all the way to Landeck over 90-odd miles. Well, in the afternoon that's not quite right. There are several places with climbs, but the biggest factor was the headwind. It blew the fun out of our journey, and by 5:30pm, we gave up any hope of reaching the Austrian border when we found ourselves at a downhill and having to pedal. The next town we encountered was Ramosch, which had its entrance had a ton of hotel and B&B signs all pointing up hill.

It was a sheer sign of our desperation that we'd rather climb than to face riding into the headwind for another town. After riding into town with no tourist information other than a notice board, we visited a hotel that Arturo spotted which offered us a half-pension for 80CHF, which was as good a deal as you were ever going to get in Switzerland. We shared the hotel with a bunch of hikers (the owner said she rarely saw cyclists in this area, probably because of the climb from the main road). The fare was simple and not nearly filling enough, but a rainstorm blew by over dinner and granted us a beautiful double rainbow as we ate.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Since we were close to the end of the tour and the weather was good, it made sense to plan the weekend and make reservations in advance so that we could ride longer. For Friday, we made reservations at the Hotel Posthaus in Urigen. A Jobst hotel I've unsuccessfully tried to stay at in the past, I figured I might as well rectify that on this trip. What to do after Sustens pass wasn't so easy. We eventually found a place at Reuti on booking.com, on the opposite side of the valley from Rosenlaui. I'd ridden through the area in 2007, but had never stayed there, so I was intrigued. The price was right so we booked it.

We went to bed knowing the next morning would bring some easy miles if this wind blew itself out.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

July 15th: Valdidentro to Pontresina


From Tour of the Alps 2014
Under clear skies and a warm sun we headed up the pass towards Passo Foscagno, which would lead us into the community of Livigno. Livigno was special because it had somehow gotten dispensation to do away with the need to pay VAT tax, essentially making the entire region a duty-free zone.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The place might be tax free, but the entrance pass was definitely unimpressive except for a customs office. There's at most a 200 meter dips, a bunch of galleries, and a tunnel and you end up at Passo Eira, which was a fairly trivial climb. The road between the two passes, however, had tons of duty free stores, so we stopped at a duty free supermarket to buy some lunch and duty free chocolate.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The drop into Livigno proper brought us a series of hairpin turns, and ended with a straight shot descent into the valley. There, we left to busy main road for a few kilometers and got onto a bike path with great views and plentiful picnic areas for a lunch stop.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

After being suitably refreshed, we got back onto the main road again and began the climb up to Forcola di Livigno, our last pass in Italy for this trip. That was a straightforward climb, though with 5 galleries we were thankful for the light traffic. Livigno in the summer was clearly a popular home base for day cyclists, and we saw teams of cyclists all dressed in the same outfits going up and down the pass. At the top, we took a pass photo for a couple of women who'd ridden from Silvaplana, the other side of the Bernina pass and on the way to Julier pass. They described a "run-swim" event, in which you'd do a trail run, jump into a river and swim, and rinse and repeat several times, so that you were always wearing running shoes and a wet suit.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

Pass Forcola di Livigno, we crossed into Switzerland and immediately headed up the last stretch of the climb to Bernina pass. "Now the roads will be better but the food will be worse!" said Arturo. To punish him, the gods declared that there would be road construction! It was a little bumpy, but that wasn't the issue. The issue was that you got this sticky adhesive on your tires, which would pick up little stones and rock debris, making this really annoying noise as you ride. I joked that as a result of this adhesive, my tires were getting thicker at the end of the tour rather than thinner.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

You can always know you're getting into Switzerland because of how pretty the scenery gets. The approach to Bernina is as good as it gets, but we found the pass itself disappointing. The OCD had played up how pretty the pass was, and Arturo had originally pushed for a stay at the pass proper, but one look at the place and he said, "Let's go some place else." We still had plenty of daylight left, so we decided to descend a bit before deciding on a place. I was willing to push ahead and ride over Julier pass today, so we could have a 5 pass day, but Arturo wanted an easier day.
From Tour of the Alps 2014

The descent was very fast, with straight lines and very gentle curves, so I was very pleased to find myself catching and passing the Bernina Express train on the descent. That was, until I got to the railroad crossing and found that despite the train being stopped at a train station, the Swiss had decreed that no mere cyclist would be allowed to have that much of an advantage over a train with the name "Express" in it. I contemplated jumping the crossing, but this being Switzerland, there would be no doubt consequences. So after waiting, we descended to a place where we could have chocolate and contemplate our lodging choices.
I knew from past experience that the St. Moritz youth hostel was no bargain ("There are no youth hostels worth the price in Switzerland," declared Arturo), and St. Moritz was too expensive otherwise. That left Silvaplana and Pontresina. After calling around, we discovered that Pontresina had a sport hotel that was somewhat reasonable. We were experiencing the sticker shock that any cyclist riding into Switzerland from Austria or Italy did upon first encountering Swiss prices.

The sport hotel in Pontresina was on the main drag. I'd always hiked past the Pontresina train station before, and had never visited downtown and was surprised by how pretty it was. I'd lost a multi-tool the day before, so took this as an opportunity to pay exorbitant Swiss prices for a multi-tool. The hotel turned out to be rather luxurious, with a spa, sauna, Jacuzzi, and outdoor deck on the top floor where we were placed because despite booking an economy room they'd run out of those and had to give us a luxury room. We availed ourselves of the facilities. Dinner was not included, but a quick TripAdvisor search yielded us the best restaurant in town at Hotel Muller.

The hotel offered a 7 course dinner, an Arturo was dubious, given that we hadn't done quite that much riding today. But a glance at the menu told me that this was still going to be insufficient food, so I talked him into going for it. The food was good, but it took all night, going from 7:00pm till 10:00pm. Arturo proclaimed it the best meal of the trip so far, but for me, it was lacking a certain amount of quantity. Nevertheless, I slept well and did not wake up starving, so it wasn't too bad.

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