Climbing into the Clouds

Climbing into the Clouds

A recent hiking trip to Mount Rainier also provided an opportunity to revisit a favorite climb – and work on my form for the upcoming 1200 km (750 miles) of Paris-Brest-Paris.

This time, we headed to Mount Rainier by car, loaded with four people, backpacks and associated gear. Fortunately, the J.P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines is a Rinko bike, which packs quite small. The extralight bag protected our other luggage from the chain and sharp parts. The package took up little space in the car. It also was easy to store for the night in our room at the historic Paradise Inn.

I awoke at dawn, carried my bag downstairs and put together the bike. In less than ten minutes, I was ready to roll. It still amazes me how quickly a Rinko bike assembles.

The forecast predicted a sunny day, and for a moment, I got a peek of Rainier’s summit, before I started the long descent toward the Nisqually River valley. Within seconds, I dove into the clouds. I was glad to have fenders. The road was wet in places, dry in others. Without spray from the wheels, even descending in the clouds at this high altitude wasn’t as cold as I had feared. I carefully explored the grip of my tires on the wet pavement as I scythed around the many twists and turns. Warm weather improves the rubber’s coefficient of friction, and there was traction to spare. This meant I could relax and enjoy the descent on this beautiful road.

It did not take long until I traversed the bridge that, when it was built a century ago, was right at the mouth of the Nisqually Glacier. Today, the glacier has retreated out of sight. I passed Longmire, the second lodge in the park, still fast asleep. I continued toward the park boundary. Deep in the valley, the trees became bigger, and the road weaved its way between them. There was little traffic, all going the other way: Workers commuting to the park’s two lodges. Soon, that ebbed, and I had the road to myself.

Then it was time to turn around. I had come here not for the descent, but for the climb back up to Paradise.

The road climbs almost 900 m (3,000 ft) during the 18 km (11 miles) from Longmire to Paradise. It has a beautiful rhythm. With a maximum gradient of about 8%, it’s never really steep. The slope provides just enough resistance, so I can work hard without having to fight the constant ebb and flow of wind resistance that you get at high speeds on flat roads. It makes for a meditative, beautiful workout.

On this day, I wanted to test my form for PBP, and my plan was to climb in the ‘big’ ring of the Weigle. Of course, my big ring isn’t exactly huge (46 teeth), and the Weigle has a 27-tooth cog on the rear…

Having a superlight bike doesn’t hurt on a climb like this: The Weigle weighs a scant 20 pounds (9.1 kg) with lights, fenders, rack and even its pump. Even more important is a frame that flexes in unison with my pedal strokes and allows me to put out more power. The Weigle, with its super-thinwall, standard-diameter tubing, ‘planes’ extremely well. Would my 46×27 be enough for this hour-long climb?

I wound the bike up to speed on the relatively flat part in the lower reaches of the park. Once I passed Longmire, all I had to do was keep my momentum. That’s often easier said than done when the uphill stretches for an hour, but this morning, the bike performed beautifully as I climbed into the clouds.

The sunny forecast proved elusive, but the effort of spinning my gears kept me warm. When I reached Ricksecker Point at roughly the half-way point, I stopped briefly to remove my leg warmers and long-sleeve jersey. Sweat was beading on my forehead.

My memories of this climb are so varied, it’s hard to believe that it’s always been the same road. I recalled how, as a young racer, I gunned up this climb in just under 50 minutes during my preparation for the Race Around Mount Rainier in One Day (RAMROD). At other times, it’s taken me 50% longer, yet it was hard work. Today’s time was somewhere in between, but most of all, the climb was smooth. I could feel my body working hard, but it didn’t feel labored. Just how it should be!

The top appeared sooner than I remembered it, and then I pulled up to the historic lodge. It had been a short ride, well inside two hours, yet it had been thoroughly enjoyable and gratifying. (And I did make it all the way in the 46-tooth ring!)

As I rolled my bike inside, I got a last peek at Mount Rainier’s summit. Clouds were moving back in, and it soon started to drizzle. By pure luck, I had timed my ride perfectly.

Breakfast tasted twice as good after the effort of my ride. Then I packed my bike in its bag again. It vanished into the trunk of our car as we headed out on our hike. I was glad to have brought my bike on this trip – Rinko bikes are useful even if you aren’t traveling on Japanese trains!

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Comments (21)

  • Shu-Sin

    Here in the NYC metro area, Rinko bikes are great for escaping the city on ‘peak’ trains. Peak is the term Metro North uses for rush hour trains, on which bicycles are not allowed. If you had to wait for an off-peak train, you are limited to midday, or late at night.

    I used to be make a lot of logistical adjustments on my travels out of the city before my Rinko bikes… Now it only takes 10 mins to pack it at Grand Central and shoulder the bag into the train and leave the worries behind. I love it!

    August 6, 2019 at 6:29 am
  • Rod A Bruckdorfer

    Was the Weigle built for you based on your weight, height and riding style?

    August 6, 2019 at 8:23 am
    • Jan Heine

      Yes – it was built for the Concours de Machines in France, so Peter pushed the weight to a minimum, while keeping in mind that I wanted a bike that could be ridden hard for many years, and not a one-event bike.

      August 6, 2019 at 8:34 am
  • Phillip Cowan

    I always meant to ask. Did you run the Loup Loup Pass tires tubeless for the Concours? ( Yes I know they’re not tubeless rated….yet).

    August 6, 2019 at 10:13 am
    • Jan Heine

      We ran them tubeless.

      August 6, 2019 at 11:22 am
      • marmotte27

        But didn’t tou have to install tubes eventually ? Or was that a eifferent occasion?

        August 6, 2019 at 12:50 pm
        • Jan Heine

          We did. We played it a bit close with the amount of sealant, and the tires were dry half-way through the first stage… Lesson learned!

          August 6, 2019 at 1:38 pm
  • Rick Thompson

    Last weekend I offered to deliver a VW New Beetle to a friend in Sacramento. It’s a 45 mile drive, but there’s a nice 60 mile route back through Davis that’s mostly bike path or back roads. I frequently pack the Fitz in my Honda by partially Rinko-ing, would this big bike (64 cm with 700c x 44 tires) fit in the VW so I could ride it home? With full take down including the split fender the answer is yes, no problem. Like this:
    I am so pleased to have learned of this method, it’s about the smallest way to pack a full size bike without resorting to expensive couplers.

    August 6, 2019 at 10:35 am
  • Graham

    Are you taking the Weigle to Paris?

    August 6, 2019 at 11:11 am
    • Jan Heine

      Maybe. Not yet decided which bike I’ll bring.

      August 6, 2019 at 11:22 am
  • Josh Youngberg

    Hi Jan-

    Would you mind sharing the GPX file for this route?


    August 6, 2019 at 1:19 pm
    • Jan Heine

      Click on the map image – it link to RideWithGPS. It’s super-easy to find when you are out there…

      August 6, 2019 at 1:38 pm
  • drahffir

    Is it accurate to say that you do not find cross-chaining objectionable?

    August 6, 2019 at 4:23 pm
    • Jan Heine

      I don’t mind cross-chaining as long as the shifting works fine and there are no untoward noises. The old concern about cross-chaining is pretty much a thing of the past: Modern One-By drivetrains, with a single chainring and 11 or 12 cogs on the rear, all are cross-chaining…

      On most of my bikes, the chainline is set up on the big ring, so the chainline is far better than on many modern bikes, where the front chainline is pushed outward for tire clearance, while the rear chainline is moved inward to fit more cogs onto the hub.

      August 6, 2019 at 5:03 pm
      • drahffir

        Thank you for the detailed reply!

        August 6, 2019 at 5:21 pm
  • aquilaaudax1

    How do you find the braking on the Weigle versus that of your Mule and Herse, ie are the canti’s significantly worse than the centre pulls?

    August 6, 2019 at 5:40 pm
    • Jan Heine

      The forged Herse cantis of the Weigle are probably the best cantis I’ve tried: stiff and made to close tolerances. (The 1990s Campy mtb cantis were as good, but much heavier.) On most courses, there isn’t much between them and the Herse centerpulls. On the descent from Paradise – or on Paris-Brest-Paris for that matter – you’d never notice a difference.

      It’s only when you brake really hard and deep into turns that you notice the fork blade twist (cantis attach further down the fork blade), just as you notice the flex of the left fork leg on bikes with disc brakes. Centerpulls work better there, since the brakes attach near the fork crown, so the fork blades don’t twist. This means that the toe-in of the brake pads doesn’t change with centerpulls, no matter how hard you brake. You get more linear brake action and hence better modulation.

      August 6, 2019 at 7:18 pm
  • GB

    Jan. Would a bicycle like this also work with 48mm tires without the fenders? The reason I ask is I have a lightweight 1950s Rene Herse inspire bike (one I heard you helped design) and considering switching from 38 to 48mm when called for.

    August 8, 2019 at 10:47 am
    • Jan Heine

      How much wider a tire you can fit without fenders depends on many factors. You are not only increasing the height, but also the width. And the widest point will be closer to the BB shell and fork crown, where clearance is smaller. Use the Tire Fit Gauge to see what tire will fit your frame and fork.

      August 9, 2019 at 10:16 am
      • GB

        Thanks so much for the reply. In my case I know the larger tire will fit
        (once the fenders are removed), but I was wondering how well lightweight tubing and flexible forks would work with fat tires on rougher terrain. Are these frames too flexible for such a thing?

        August 9, 2019 at 5:14 pm
        • Jan Heine

          My Firefly is very flexible, and it works wonderfully with 54 mm tires. So I would have no worries about tires being too wide for a flexible frame.

          August 9, 2019 at 6:35 pm

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