Weekend BQ Team Ride (socially distant)

Last weekend, the BQ Team went on one of our typical rides: A 100-mile (160 km) romp through the Cascade foothills on familiar roads. Of course, we didn’t ride as a group – we’ve given that up for more than a month now, even before the official social distancing guidelines went into effect here in Washington State. We realized that even though riding side-by-side might be safe, we couldn’t be sure. And most of all, it would send the wrong message to others – that somehow, riding in groups was still OK. So we’re doing our team rides solo. Here’s how we rode last weekend:

Steve planned the route. The high passes of the Cascade Mountains are still covered in snow, but the foothills provide ample challenge… It’s a route that doesn’t see too many cyclists – social distancing is difficult when you pass or are passed by other cyclists. And yet it’s not so far off the beaten path that it could be considered dangerous.

Mark went and did the ride on Saturday, while Steve and I rode on Sunday. (Ryan was out of town.) To maintain social distancing, Steve and I rode the loop in opposite directions.

First I prepared my bike. I decided that I’d forego stops at bakeries and convenience stores. Social distancing is especially important when we go to places where we usually don’t go. I decided that I’d carry everything I’d need for the ride, with no resupplies. The forecast was for a warm day, so I put a third bottle cage on my bike. I packed a lot of food in my handlebar bag. I also brought a face mask, in case I had to head to a store for something unforeseen.

It felt familiar, because it was no different from our summertime adventures, when we head out into the mountains. We often ride far off the beaten path, where there are no stores and no cell phone coverage. We’re used to being self-reliant, and that includes our bikes. I didn’t need to check that my bike was in perfect condition and unlikely to break down – it always is. My handlebar bag already contained two spare tubes, a glueless patch kit, a tire boot and all the tools I might – but probably wouldn’t – need.

I also made some rudimentary route sheets for the sections that I wasn’t sure I’d remember. When I ride with friends who know a course, I don’t always pay attention to each turn, and I hadn’t ridden all parts of the road alone. If I was heading into the mountains, I’d also bring maps, but the risk of getting lost in the foothills is small. Even if I did get lost, I’d end up on familiar roads in short order.

Once I set out, I realized that riding alone is different. Heading out of town on the Burke-Gilman Trail, the flat stretch along the shore of Lake Washington was much longer – and more boring – than I recalled. Usually, we chat as we spin along, and we’re out of town and into the hills before we know it. On this morning, it seemed a lot longer before the gravel of the Pipeline Trail – it carries water from the Cascade Mountains to Seattle – crunched under my wheels.

On the plus side, I could stop and take photos without having to sprint afterward to catch up to my friends. Riding alone lets us discover things we may overlook when we’re focused on our group ride – like these old trucks that are becoming part of the landscape. I had seen them years ago, but hadn’t noticed them recently. I was almost surprised that they were still there.

Lake Joy marks the beginning of the real gravel roads that head into the Cascade foothills. I’d always wanted to check out the cute sign of this little community. It’s nice to see a sign saying “Welcome” rather than “We report all suspicious activity!”

Before the ride, I had told myself not to take any risks, because we’ve all heard that cyclists must be careful, so we don’t end up in already overcrowded emergency rooms. In practice, I realized that this doesn’t require much change. I reflected on the (few) accidents I’ve had, and almost all were caused by inattention, and not by going too fast on loose surfaces. I slowed down a tad more for the corners, but I also realized that immersing myself fully in the ride is the best guarantee for safety.

Steve and I first had planned to do a picnic near the half-way point – appropriately socially distanced, of course. But even that seemed inappropriate for this time. So we’d just wave as we met on the course.

I suddenly could feel his presence, and then I saw him coming the other way. We stopped chatted for a few minutes, each on opposite sides of the road (and not downwind from each other). The sight of him smiling, straddling his ‘Frek’ on the sun-drenched road, is etched into my memory. I realized that I was smiling for miles afterward.

The trail in the Snoqualmie Valley runs on an old railroad line. There’s a spectacular trestle that you don’t really notice unless you stop and look over the side. (I suspect that is on purpose, as trail users might suffer from acrophobia if they knew that they are walking or riding more than 100 feet above the roaring creek.)

The trail officially ends just after a little tunnel, but there is a semi-secret path through the forest that connects to a road.

From there, it was just a mile or two to Snoqualmie Falls. After I rode up to the deserted overlook, I realized that the falls are officially closed. Oops! I won’t make that mistake again.

To add some interest to the ride, Steve routed us on trails above Snoqualmie Falls. Somehow, I missed a turn and continued on a powerline trail. Not that I minded – it was fun to ride there, dodging deep puddles as I powered across the rough gravel.

After a while, I realized that this trail was heading too far south, when I needed to go west. So I stopped and consulted the map on my cell phone. Instead of backtracking, I decided to take another trail that would connect to the route eventually.

This led to another exciting discovery: I had heard about the mountain bike trails at Snoqualmie, but I hadn’t actually explored them. But how would my randonneur bike fare on these muddy trails?

It was just fine: The trails weren’t too technical, and it didn’t even feel like underbiking. But then, 42 mm-wide tires used to be what you found on mountain bikes.

My Babyshoe Pass Extralights with their smooth all-road tread handled the mud without problems. If it had rained the night before, I might have slipped a bit here and there… My fenders kept the bike and me clean.

A wonderful switchback descent dropped me onto the trail that I should have used all along. I was glad that I hadn’t brought my GPS, because then I would not have discovered these exciting trails.

I even found time to do a few video selfies. (Propping my phone on a box of cookies and stabilizing it with a stick worked remarkably well.) After getting back on course, I continued on familiar roads back to Seattle.

Enjoying this ride together with the team – but distant – made it special. What are your ideas about riding with friends during social distancing?

More info:

25 Responses to Weekend BQ Team Ride (socially distant)

  1. Chris Grigsby April 11, 2020 at 7:20 am #

    Hi Jan, will the prototype stem be available to purchase soon and, if so, will it be compatible with the decaleur for the existing Herse/Compass stems? Also, do you shift your front derailleur on your bike with that rod by the seat tube?

    • Jan Heine April 11, 2020 at 9:24 am #

      The prototype stem is working very well, but there are many parts to it that need to be manufactured. Right now, everything is slowing down, so it’s hard to give an ETA for this. Yes, the front derailleur is shifted with the direct lever.

  2. Eric Hancock April 11, 2020 at 7:43 am #

    These stories of riding the beautiful roads in the Northwest give me great solace in a time when I’m mostly stuck inside. Really enjoying living vicariously through your words and photos.

  3. Mark Thomas April 11, 2020 at 7:46 am #

    Why violate King County trail closures?

    Q: DOES THIS CLOSURE INCLUDE TRAILS LIKE THE SNOQUALMIE VALLEY TRAIL AND OTHER REGIONAL TRAILS?

    A: Yes. We ask that all residents respect parks closures and refrain from using King County parks and regional trails. We are unable to physically block off all entrances to parks and trails, but are asking for your help in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives by abiding by these closures.

    • Jan Heine April 11, 2020 at 9:48 am #

      I am sorry, we weren’t aware of the trail closure. There were no signs posted at the trail entrances. The parking lots were open. I even encountered a park ranger on the trail, who just nodded at me as I rode by.

      Also, there didn’t seem to be any risk. Even under ‘normal’ circumstances, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail is not crowded – that is why we like to use it as a connector. It seems that the closure is not well-known even among the local population: Traffic on the trail – pedestrians, cyclists and horseback riders – was about what I’d expect on a ‘normal’ spring weekend.

      In the future, we will abide by the closure, now that we are aware of it, and ride on roads that are open to traffic, whether it’s the highways or more remote gravel roads.

  4. Brian Hammer April 11, 2020 at 8:08 am #

    Thank you for the article and video. I’m intrigued by what appears to be a lever (2nd image) for actuating the front derailleur. I’ve long been a fan of “suicide shift levers” on motorcycles and am curious about a bicycle application. Can you point the readers to past articles, blogs etc that focus on this type of shifter/application. Thanks!

    • Jan Heine April 11, 2020 at 6:37 pm #

      I don’t like the ‘suicide’ moniker – the lever is as easy to use as it is to get a water bottle from the cage on the seat tube. I covered the derailleur on my other Herse in Bicycle Quarterly 40. You may also enjoy this video showing the derailleur in action.

  5. marmotte27 April 11, 2020 at 8:19 am #

    You are lucky to be able to so this. Here in France it’s physical activity only one hour per day and within a 1km radius around your house. There’s even a contoversy if this could be by bike (which isn’t forbidden according to the legal texts but the interior ministery saying it is and police handing out fines…)

  6. Doug Moore April 11, 2020 at 8:26 am #

    Nice Ride Guys. I copied to my Ride With GPS. Will do this summer !!!!

  7. Jim Sevaly April 11, 2020 at 9:16 am #

    Thank you for this interesting article, great pictures, GPS route, and stressing the importance of social distancing. I am a fan!

  8. Alex April 11, 2020 at 9:23 am #

    Beautiful ride. Thanks for posting the map!

  9. Jimbob April 11, 2020 at 10:32 am #

    I enjoyed your ideas on how to ride with(out) friends. I’m starting to see some folks slip as times drags on. Another activity is to challenge friends to ride a safe Strava segment and compare times.

    • Jan Heine April 11, 2020 at 10:54 am #

      There’s definitely a danger here in Seattle that we feel we’ve avoided the worst, and everything will be fine. It’s only going too be (relatively) fine if we remain serious about the measures that keep transmissions down. Our goal has to be to continue those parts of our lives that can do so safely, modify those that can be modified, and abstain from those that cannot be done safely right now.

  10. Korina April 11, 2020 at 12:05 pm #

    Beautiful, thank you.

  11. Mark B April 11, 2020 at 12:25 pm #

    Hi Jan & others,
    I just discovered you, your shop, website & philosophy today -chuffed to find you- Here in bonnie Scotland the virus is as awful as elsewhere. That said, there are consequences of the lockdown that are refreshing. No peloton of lycra-louts, no weekend drivers getting grumpy at them, less litter on the country roads…We are lucky, we live on the edge of some great countryside and so are taking advantage of now quiet lanes. As parents we are loving taking it in turns to enjoy a safe cycle on slow lanes with our 8 year old, getting her used to her friend up’ bike and how to use gears, road position and learning again how to cycle, slowly, pleasurably-leisurely. The sun even shone🌞

  12. David T April 11, 2020 at 1:09 pm #

    How does moss grow on a truck like that?

    • Jan Heine April 11, 2020 at 1:47 pm #

      In Seattle’s rainy climate, moss grows on everything!😄

  13. Michael April 11, 2020 at 2:40 pm #

    Beautiful ride and nice report. I’m certainly jealous of the trees (compared to So Cal) but we’ve had plenty of the mud you encountered this winter down here. I’m sure if I put fenders on next winter we will go back into drought.

  14. Patrick C April 11, 2020 at 9:29 pm #

    Discovered BQ over Thanksgiving week in Seattle and one issue was enough to merit a subscription. Back issues have been keeping me inspired here in southern CA and just received my second four-pack. I love riding in the PNW, so appreciate the map as your articles continue to provide future route ideas, as well.

  15. Andy Cheatham April 12, 2020 at 3:55 am #

    Wonderful report of your adjusted ride. We are all slowing to smell the flowers, look at what we had taken for granted and to photograph what is wonderful along our quiet bike propelled trips.

    You said you had tubes in your bag, do you use tubes over tubeless, or have them for flat fixes? I just got my 650B (x 42) Coast rolling when the COVID shut down started and chose initially to go tubeless on the input of many that said it was the size and width where the choice becomes most favorable to tubeless.

    • Jan Heine April 12, 2020 at 11:24 am #

      I run inner tubes in my bikes for more speed and less hassle. The last thing I want to worry about the night before a big ride is whether the sealant in my tires has dried out…

      My Firefly is set up tubeless when I’m planning rides that have very, very rough terrain and very high speeds, where pinch flats can be an issue even with 54 mm-wide tires.

  16. singlespeedscott April 12, 2020 at 6:26 pm #

    I love reading about your great rides.

    100 mile rides are not something that many people undertake regularly. I was wondering how many days a week you manage to get in a ride and what sort of distances and climbing you undertake to maintain fitness for these longer efforts?

    On these longer rides what sort of speed do you tend to average and what sort of gearing do you use for the long steep gravel climbs? Around where I live, South East Queensland, Australia, I’m using a 36×32 and 36×36 to comfortable climb longer steep dirt roads in our little mountains.

    • Jan Heine April 12, 2020 at 9:46 pm #

      A good bike helps a lot when riding long distances. That is the reason we’ve spent so much time researching tire performance and frame stiffness – the pleasure of effortless speed is what makes these rides even more fun.

      We usually try to average about 25 km/h (15.5 mph) on these rides – a bit more if it’s flat-ish and a bit less if it’s really hilly or rough terrain. So a 100-mile ride takes a little over 6 hours now that we don’t stop much. As to fitness, most of us commute by bike, so that adds some miles, and we try to get in one longer ride every week. I find some interval training useful, but the others on the BQ Team don’t do much specific training. (They’re naturals!)

      Gearing on the bike I rode is 48×32 with a 13-26 freewheel. That is still my Paris-Brest-Paris gearing for fast pacelines and tailwinds, and not quite low enough for really steep gravel mountain passes. Usually, I run a 46×30 on that bike, a 44×28 on my Mule, and a 42×26 on my Firefly (which has a 12-tooth cog, so I don’t need a huge chainring).

  17. Dennis Ketterling April 12, 2020 at 6:48 pm #

    Since people are constantly discovering the blog, and RH, how about a recap post on challenges to, and restrictions on, cyclists in France during the global pandemic of war during 1939-1945? You covered it in BQ a few years back, but a new blog post would be very timely!

    • Jan Heine April 12, 2020 at 9:38 pm #

      We’ve been thinking about that. Certainly, the spirit of the riders back then has served as an inspiration to us!