Athens 400

From Luc Fournier:

This brevet has been on my calendar for a few months, I rode it last year and I though it was a good course, in particular for a velomobile with only 2000m of climbing.

Start is at the other end of the city so I had to get up early to get to the start on time.  The air is cold, 9C but comfortable and the sky is clear.  When I arrived at destination, the wind has picked-up, I need to put on my jacket, I wish I had my sleeves but at least I have my warm-up legs.

My friend Alain from Montreal Randonneurs, the one from the Sunshine 1200, came with his Quest to ride the brevet.   Alain came with his camper the night before and parked at our point of departure, he probably had the best sleep and looked refreshed.  Maybe this is Glamdonneuring!  Participants are getting ready, I think we are 7 and noticed that many of them spoke French, we all say hello to one another.  I introduce Alain to the ride Vytas the organizer of the brevet; he said it was nice to meet you because I will not see you again, commenting on the speed of our velomobiles.  I told him well you never know, we may have issues and you will pass us.

I loaded the course on my but my GPS was not showing me the route. At 5AM Vytas gave the start signal but my route did not appear, ah, I forgot to change the colour of the trace so I did change it quickly and I can now see the route.  After the first few turns, I realize that the GPS appears to be giving the wrong directions and realized that while I downloaded the route to my computer last week, I loaded last years route on the GPS; I guess I was not thinking too much, they have two different names!  I figure that I’m still OK, the route is mostly the same but the beginning of the first section and the last segment are different and I let Alain lead as he had the right course on his GPS.  At least I had the right cue sheet so I reverted to the cues to start.  After a few minutes we joined the old route and everything was fine.

Alain and I were riding in front of the group and now that I had the right course, Alain let me lead and he would follow, as I knew the route.  It was the first time that I would ride in a brevet with another velomobile.   After a few minutes, I found myself way ahead, and while he is a stronger and more seasoned rider, he could not keep up with the speed of the DF and I waited for him.  The difference in speed is so noticeable, it is in the order of 5 to 7km/h on the flat.  Since he came from Montreal to ride with me, I wanted to remain with him so I would stop and let him catch-up.  Before we got to Lanark, we encountered a 5km long section of gravel as the road is undergoing repairs.  Riding on gravel is not much of an issue with a velomobile but it tends to dance on the road and going up hill may create traction issues.

At the Lanark control, I was half way through my cup of coffee when Alain showed-up.  I was at the Lanark control a couple of minutes after the opening but I was tracking to arrive before the opening of the first two controls.  At the Desert Lake control, I have time to refill my Camelback, and have my lunch before Alain shows up some 30 minutes behind me.  He had problems with the drivetrain and spent quite a few minutes looking for the source without much success.  I asked me to try his Quest to see if I could figure the issues but in the little parking lot, I could not push his velomobile to see the symptoms.  One thing I did notice was that even though I used to have the same Quest, compared to the DF, the Quest is huge!   By then, Gordon (I think) shows up 45 minutes after my arrival. Alain gives me the keys to his vehicle and said I don’t think I will make it back (we are the furthest part of the ride.  Now we are about to hit the hilly part and his Quest makes a terrible noise.

Alain leaves the control and I climbed on board.  As we started my GPS complained it was low on power so I plugged it into the DF USB port but it did not like it and after a couple of minutes, I connected it on my trusted USB battery and the GPS was happy.  I soon catch-up with him and I follow him on the short but twisty and steep hills up and down.  I can hear the thonk-thonk coming from the Quest drivetrain.

A couple of minutes later, all of a sudden I come around a very tight turn and my chain started making a terrible noise.  I quickly came to the conclusion that the chain had skipped the idler by the jumpy side motion.  Recumbents have idlers to guide the long chain from the crank to the cassette and back.  While it was making a lot of noise from the chain rubbing on the carbon fibre, I caught up to him and told him to stop, maybe I was in major trouble too and would not be able to rescue him.  I looked at the idler but everything is hidden behind carbon fibre, I have seen no instruction on how to remove the rear idler except for a comment that it can be done and it comes out the back.  Now I’m swearing because I can’t believe that such info is not published.  So I try my luck and remove the two blots holding the idler and I play with the chain, maybe I can back pedal and it will move itself out.  It does not work but the noise appears to be less.  I try to pedal back up the hill and the noise is less.  The idler is floating freely inside the shell or so I think.  It appears that there is less noise so I decide to reinstall the bolts and try my luck.  I’m able to re-align the bolt holes using a small hex key and reinstall the bolts.

I get back in the velomobile, and start pedalling but it still makes noise, maybe not as much so I try shifting gears, back pedalling and finally things start running smoothly again.  Alain had given me the keys to his vehicle so I could come and rescue him, he tell me to ride ahead and finish then come back to pick him up, he would limp to safety.  Another rider catches-up to us and continues on his ride.   I said to Alain that I would get back to him when I reach the next control.  A velomobile can be hard to pedal up the hills, but I find myself right behind the Jean Pierre and I pass him on a descent and soon I put a bit of distance between us.  Soon I find my way to Syndenam and on a main road on my way to Athens (Ontario, not Greece).

There are still numerous hills on the road of Athens and the roads also became very busy in the early afternoon.  This year, the 400km brevet coincides with the Rideau Lakes Tour, probably the largest annual cycling event in Ottawa. The Ottawa Bike Club organizes this supported ride where thousands of cyclists are riding from Ottawa to Kingston and back the next day cyclists use are several different routes based on their category.  At the same time 500 – 800 motorcycles participating in the Motorcycle Ride for Dad out of Kingston were using several of the same roads.

I first encountered the Rideau Lake Tour riders on highway 15 where I passed a few dozen of them before a short climb.  This being average cyclists, I was able to pass a few up the hill, only one strong rider passed me in order to find a spot to take my picture.  I soon turned off that road and for several minutes met cyclists going in the opposite direction towards highway 15.

I soon met motorcycle riders on the road, many of them waving at me.  There were several section of open road with good pavement where I could motor along at 50+km/h.  At one point, I was riding above 55km/h and the lead motorcyclist was following me about 10ft behind and a bit to the side then moved right next to me.  The long bearded guy with a companion on the back of the motorcycle ask me “Hey, how are you doing man?”  I did not want to keep my eye off the road for too long, the road was twisty and there could be potholes, I quickly turned my head, I said fine and I waved then he passed me along with about half of the group but by then the road had a small slope so I was picking up speed riding now at 70km/h right in the middle of the group.  All of a sudden I notice they have patches on their jackets they are members of the Outlaws motorcycle… ahem Club.  This went on for a few km until a small hill slowed me down and the rest passed me.  I don’t know too many Randonneurs or cyclist for that matter who can say they have ridden with the Outlaws!

I was in Athens at 4PM and Alain told me he made it to the next town and his idler was broken, he could not repair it so he would try to find a ride back or I would have to pick him up after the ride.  At the control I ask them to sign my  card and asked if any other rider had stopped, they told me none had so maybe I passed him with the Rideau Lakes crowd or when he stopped somewhere and did not notice.  I had a quick Pizza dinner while entertaining the local people who peppered me with dozens of questions.  It also gave me time to nurse my feet that were getting numb.  When it was time to leave there were probably some 25 people who came out to see me leave.

The ride to Merrickville was uneventful but I was not going as fast as I would have liked, legs tired some wind maybe or the rough roads in places may have contributed to this.  I arrived in Merrickville at the control and immediately, people came to see me.  This being a touristy town, there are many people walking the streets.  I went in to get my card signed, purchase a beverage, the clerk jokingly offered sell me cigarettes. Then I returned to the velomobile.  I answered questions, while I changed socks and the tourists took pictures of the velomobile and then I left.

From that point, I now had to disregard the GPS because of the change in the route.  I was lucky because it was before sunset and I could still read the street signs.  My odometer was a bit off from the cue sheet so I had to be careful.  In a few places, I had to stop to ensure I was going the right way.  I only overshot once because GPS gave me a different name than on the cue sheet but I quickly turned around.

The new route takes you on some pretty damaged roads.  Depending on the pavement, on the same road my speed varied significantly from less than 25 to more than 40 km/h. For close to 8km on Shea Rd, I felt I was riding on a rumble strip and had to slow right down to ensure I would not lose the fillings in my teeth or any part of my velomobile.  Soon I reached the maze of suburbia, it was a real navigation exercise but I make it back. I finished at 8:20PM.

I improved my time over last year but not as much as I could have.   Of course, the time spent waiting for the problems of my friend slowed me down so taking this into account I would certainly have shaved another hour to my time.  The weather conditions were ideal, it was cool sunny but a bit windy.

After I arrived, I called Alain, he could not get a lift on his own so I drove to Syndenam to pick him up.  I arrived after 10:30PM he was in his velomobile shivering in the cold night, I gave him my polar vest and we loaded the Quest for the trip back.  We returned to Stittsville after 12AM.  We packed everything and Xavier from Toronto arrived atfter12:30AM.  I arrived home at 1:45AM, did not unpack and went straight to bed.

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