Baba

Prose and Crons

A sysadmin+writer's journal about things geeky and not.

Riding in Denmark, and a ride from Copenhagen to Linköping
Baba
prashanthchengi

Last week, I needed to be in Copenhagen, for a meeting, and I decided to take my bike along with me, and ride back home. Since I couldn't ride on the Øresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden, I decided to take a bus to Helsingborg instead, and then make the ferry crossing over to Helsingør, from where I'd ride to the meeting venue, 45 km away.  I spent a few hours agonizing over route choices with ridewithgps, (but in hindsight, ought to have been even more cautious) and created all the routes that I needed; the ride from the ferry to the meeting venue, routes to get to my hotel from the meeting venue and vice-versa, and finally, the route to get from the meeting venue to all the way back to Linköping.

Swebus is my prefered bus operator, as they allow me to carry a bicycle onboard, without having to disassemble it or pack it in a bag; they only mandate that you take off the pedals, and cover up the chain and gears, to prevent grease staining other items in the luggage compartment, and both of those requirements are easily met.

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Bike in the luggage compartment, with the chain cover on.

The ride from the bus station to the ferry station was short; I was there within five minutes, and after paying for a return fare, I was waiting for my turn to board. This was only the second time I was on a ferry, and the first time I was on a ferry of this size.

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After about 20 minutes, I was deposited onto Danish soil (or tarmac!) and I started biking towards Copenhagen. My route was right along the coast, and it was beautiful, though the weather was a bit cold and foggy. You can see the visualization of my ride here: https://www.relive.cc/view/927645037

The meeting was a two day affair, and upon finishing the meeting on day two, I was all set to return. I made short work of the ride to the ferry, aided by some helpful winds, and bought some coffee and sandwiches on the ferry, eating one sandwich and packing the other for later.

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An uneventful crossing and another 40 odd kilometers later, at 1940 hrs, made a stop to eat another sandwich and to put on my overshoes, jacket, and warmer gloves, as the temperature had started to drop and the winds were picking up. Thanks to a tool I wrote after this ride, I was able to get the exact coordinates of the place where I'd stopped, which allowed me to get the google streetmaps image, for the stop; the tunnel offered some protection against the howling wind, while I stopped, ate, and changed.
http://bit.ly/2nO4cmi

Now, one mistake that I'd made (one that would cost me several hours on this ride) was that I'd set out with a fully empty battery pack, as I'd forgotten to charge it during my stay in Copenhagen. Now, I have the means to charge this battery pack on the go, but it charges slowly, and when I turn on the lights on the bike, after dark, the the charging stops. The battery on my garmin was fully charged when I set off, but I was already several hours into the ride. I calculated that I'd run out of juice on the garmin towards day break, at which point, I'd have an empty garmin and very few spare electrons in the battery pack. The special cable that allowed me to charge my Garmin on the move wasn't working, so I would have to charge the Garmin from the battery pack itself, and that too, using a regular cable, which would have certain unpleasant consequences on the ride recording (it would terminate the ride and commence a new recording, instead of a continuous ride). I made a further stop to see if I could somehow get the special charging cable to work, but gave up after spending some fruitless moments. Two more hours of riding brought me to my first planned meal stop, at McDonalds, Örkelljunga, at 2139 hrs. If leaving with a fully discharged battery pack was a blunder, here, I committed my second blunder. I failed to put my battery pack on charge, while I was stopped. This could have easy charged it up a bit, considering that I was stopped for close to an hour. I ate a burger, downing it with some milk and packed another burger and more milk, for the night, before resuming the ride.

After resuming the ride, it didn't take long before I realized I was off-course; I left the good road that I was on, and turned instead into a slightly less nice bike road, but after some time, the bike road steadily deteriorated, till it seemed like an MTB trail. The powerful lights on the bike meant that I had an excellent field of view, and was able to choose the best possible line, through the rubble. Riding over poor surfaces, in the cold, and in the dark, is quite a taxing experience, but before long, things got even worse, when I encountered a fence across the trail, barring me from traveling any further.  Thankfully, I had a GPS with basemaps, so I was able to use it, to search for alternate paths, and I came across a little trail, and after a painfully slow two kilometers, which seemed to last forever, I broke out into motorable and bikeable roads again. I had another episode like this, but much worse, as I ended up in the middle of a forest, where I had to put my faith on trails that were not even visible on the map, simply because they were running in the right direction. After a couple of rounds which dead-ended, I finally found what was marked as a 'pilgrim trail', and made my way through it. If you have selected the route poorly, it'll cost a lot of time, as you'll have to ride slowly through the bad sections, or worse, stop and look up alternate routes which will hopefully put you back onto your original route. On a cold day/night, this would also mean having to remove your gloves, cursing all the while, while hoping your fingers don't freeze, and then putting the gloves back on. I finally cleared the atrocious roads and got back to paved surfaces, but my GPS was down to 27%. It was 0330 hrs then. If I rode till sunup, (approx 0630), my GPS would be dead, and there would also be no way to charge it up, since the battery pack also seemed quite empty. At that point, I decided that the best course would be to try and find a place to sleep for the next couple of hours or so, thereby conserving the GPS, till the sun came out, and then to find a place to recharge my electronics. I found a bus shelter, and slept fitfully, willing my body to reduce my heart rate, in order to conserve heat. While this may not have really worked, it gave me something to meditate on, and that seemed to help. After about an hour and a half, when I tried to restart the Garmin, it simply refused to do so; I surmised that it was because of the cold temperature. I had a fully functional navigation computer that ran on AA batteries, for which I had plenty of juice, but this dead Garmin unit was the only one which was tracking the ride, and I really needed ride metrics. My thought then, was to find a place like an all night McDonald's, where the warm indoors might inspire the device to turn on. It would also give me an opportunity to charge my devices. From there, I set off to find some place that was open; the Max nearby had a board that said it opened at 10. The McDonald's though opened at 0600, and was open by the time I made it there. I first put my battery pack on charge, and a bit later, reset the Garmin and put that too on charge. I decided to charge the Garmin all the way to 100% before leaving, as I had a long way to go. I ate a breakfast of pancakes and fresh cream and jam, and downed a coffee and waited patiently, resting on the chair. I waited more than two and a half hours, during which the Garmin charged completely.  I was really unhappy at having lost so much time, and in hindsight, I realize I could have avoided it almost entirely, if only I'd charged the battery pack at Örkelljunga, but that's how it went.

I rode on to Värnamo, where I pulled into a Preem gas station and convenience store, for brunch, at 1040 hrs, and ate quite heartily, and packed some yoghurt drink for later. Resuming the ride, I had more of bad road to navigate, and I found myself getting tired. At about 1240 hrs, I pulled by the roadside, and took a 35 minute nap. Refreshed, I continued and had to do more rerouting on the fly, as ridewithgps had put me on a road that required me to go through a section closed off to general public, by the Swedish armed forces. I most certainly dodged a bullet (or bullets!) as it's supposed to be artillery testing grounds or something! I reached Jonköping by 1600 hrs, and I decided I'd grab early dinner, and give my garmin it's final electron topup. I ate and waited for the Garmin to charge up. While there, I was thinking about all the lost time, and the fact that I'd need a full six more hours to get back home. Six hours can be both a short amount of time, and a very long one, depending on your morale, and at that moment, it seemed quite long. I briefly considered boarding a train back to Linköping, from there, but remembered how I'd felt after I'd aborted my 600 brevet, ironically not far from that place. I then decided that I wouldn't pull out of this ride for merely being out of my comfort zone. I biked steadily, and labored up the multiple climbs around Jonköping, and enjoying the fast descents. Going over the cobble-stoned section in Gränna proved surprising smooth, thanks to the all carbon-fiber bike frame which absorbed a lot of those judders. It was a nice feeling to see the sign boards, indicating my entry to Östergötland, and Ödeshög. I also stopped to take a picture, as it seemed so very pretty.

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I took another 20 minute nap, and shortly after, a last stop, to eat the yoghurt, at 2145 hrs. After that, it was a non stop ride, all the way to Linköping, where I grabbed a coffee at an all night gas station.  The hot coffee served quite well, as a celebratory drink!


Analyzing stops on a bike ride
Baba
prashanthchengi

When I return home from a long ride, one of the first things I do is to upload my ride data, for analysis. A large part of it I suppose is for the satisfaction of being able to see the ride visualized, but it also provides really valuable information about the ride conditions.  One of the biggest challenges in doing a long bike ride is designing the course itself; when done successfully, it will result in a smooth and enjoyable ride, but mistakes in course design could mean that you end up in places where you should not be, like expressways or restricted roads, or places where you don't want to be, like an unpaved dirt road, when you are on a road bike.  While the GPS records all of the points which we traverse on, sites like strava might be a bit hard to use, to find a particular point in your ride, from memory alone.
If there were places on the course where the GPS had incorrect information, or indicated that I needed to use roads which were forbidden, I certainly would have stopped and used my GPS to reroute me. If the precise location of that stop were to be available to me, it would be easier for me to modify the route, to avoid that stretch in the future.

To be able to do this, I only needed to parse the GPS data for places where the speed went to 0, and stayed there. I would also need to be able to specify length of stoppage, as a means to help reduce too much information.
I wrote just such a tool, and it's now available on github, for free download: https://github.com/pchengi/rideutils

The program outputs the latitude-longitude pair, stoppage duration and time, and the lat-long pair can easily be entered into google maps, for instance, and if streetview is available for the region, one can actually see the location, which really helps to remember better. I may not remember what I did for 7 minutes between 1732 hrs and 1739 hrs, but if I see the location, it'll probably jog my memory! This can also help in sharing pictures of places where you've stopped, with family and friends, even if you haven't been able to capture anything on a phone or camera!

The program output looks like this (I'm asking for details of stops longer than a minute)
(57.912605339, 14.390282544) 1.28 Apr 06 2017 18:41:13
(57.953358152, 14.415196913) 4.37 Apr 06 2017 18:54:06
(57.953964834, 14.415673509) 1.23 Apr 06 2017 18:58:53
(57.996646659, 14.441156003) 1.48 Apr 06 2017 19:18:02
(57.9959922, 14.442642114) 14.27 Apr 06 2017 19:21:04
(58.060207804, 14.499054167) 5.58 Apr 06 2017 19:56:45
(58.125722352, 14.553510973) 5.07 Apr 06 2017 20:23:23
(58.226573243, 14.649779729) 19.22 Apr 06 2017 21:06:24
(58.240560963, 14.710248455) 18.82 Apr 06 2017 21:45:36
(58.405833234, 15.55983573) 8.58 Apr 07 2017 00:44:47
Cumulative stoppage time in minutes: 84.48


Here are some places I stopped, on my recent ride from Copenhagen to Linköping.

Here's my first 'stop'. It was the ferry, at Helsingor!

http://bit.ly/2oN1CSt

A place where I stopped to eat my sandwiches, and get into warmer gear.
http://bit.ly/2nO4cmi

Slept for a bit here:
http://bit.ly/2pdekpL



Evening bike ride in Paris
Baba
prashanthchengi
Having experimented with the Velib rental bikes (http://prashanthchengi.livejournal.com/77523.html), I knew it was a nice enough system. There are quirks in the system, for instance, when a defective bike shows up as 'available' on the app/website, and the fact that they don't provide a simple way for the user to mark a bike as defective. That said, the company makes regular inspections, or sends out repair crew, when a particular bike doesn't get picked up for several hours. The bike with the punctured tire that I spotted in the morning? It wasn't there in the evening, so it was evidently fixed and returned to service.

After I was finished with the day's work, I found a nearby supermarket where I purchased some spare AA batteries for my Garmin GPSMAP64st GPS. With this device, I'm totally confident of finding my way around, even in a foreign country, even when I don't have data service availability on my mobile phone. That said, one must do some testing prior to setting out into the city. For instance, in Paris, there is a concept of administrative districts called 'arrondissements', and you need to know the name/number of the arrondissement, if you need to lookup an address with the GPS. In other countries, this information is simply the name of the city, but 'Paris' brings up nothing of interest, in the GPS. It can be a bit frustrating, if you need to remove your glove to fiddle with the buttons on the GPS device, in near freezing conditions (it was 2°C last night!) to find a place. If you lookup a place however, it stays in the history, and you can even mark the location, making future lookups easy.

Pro tip: If you want to visit a bunch of monuments/landmarks, it's a good idea to check their locations before hand, to order them correctly, so you don't do unnecessary riding back and forth.  Also, look up their proper addresses online, so you can pre-search them on the GPS, thereby having the locations in your 'search history'; this will save you time and effort later.

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The buttons and scroll bar are more than adequate searching and finding locations on the device, but it could be hard to do that with a gloved hand. My fingers were going numb when I took off the glove and fiddling with the GPS, to try and find something. Pre-searching would mean that you can access that location within three clicks.

I rented a Velib bike and took off. On my way, I decided that I wouldn't bother with the 'clock watching'; I had a bike that was working well and the conditions were near freezing. Even if I found a bike station right on my way, I'd have to stop, park the bike, wait two minutes, remove my gloves, pull out the ticket and enter the ticket number and my code on the machine and then request for the bike again. Far too much bother, and it would quite take the fun out of sightseeing, so I thought I'd simply hold on to the bike till I found a bike station near my hotel.

I rode along the Seine, passing by the Musee d'Orsay and other pretty sights, which I stopped to take pictures of.

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And then I got within sight of the Eiffel Tower.
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The sheer size of the tower grabs you every single time you get to its foot.
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There was a Velib station close to the Tower, and there were plenty of bikes (obviously a lot of people get there on bikes and proceed on foot to photograph the tower). I found a single empty slot, and I put the bike there, and proceeded to shoot some more. I really should have shot more with shorter exposure times, but it was dark, and being the amateur I am, I shot 1/3 second exposures, clearly too long for a non-stabilized shot, as you can see, in the pic above, but I enjoyed the experience and the majestic view which I took in, with my Eye Balls, Mark I.  When I returned however, there was some kind of network issue with the bike station, which meant that all of the bikes were suddenly no longer accessible. I'm sure Velib rectified the issue fairly quickly, but I asked a passerby for directions to the next nearest station, and dropped into a souvenir shop for some purchases, and also an Indian/Pakistani restaurant for a takeaway dinner, before getting another bike. After I got the bike, I rode straight back to the hotel, and dropped off the bike at the station nearest to the station. I found that I'd only been charged an extra Euro, as the longest time I used a single bike was for less than an hour.

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It was a very enjoyable evening, despite the cold.
nightride

Renting and using a 'Velib' bike in Paris!
Baba
prashanthchengi
I'd heard sometime ago that there was an interesting bicycle rental system in Paris, and had hoped to give it a try sometime. I got to do just that today! The interesting rental system that I'm refering to is 'Velib' (http://en.velib.paris.fr/How-it-works/Bikes). The company behind it must have done extensive research on commuting habits of people, before coming up with their business model, which works like this:
Subscription types are long-term (annual), weekly or single day tickets. (I'll describe how a single day ticket works)
A single day ticket can be purchased after paying a 150 EUR deposit, and a 1.7 EUR charge. This ticket is valid for 24 hours. You get a special number on the top of the ticket, and get to create a 'PIN'. All this can be done at any Velib bike station, of which there are many, all across Paris (across France?) If there is a bike available at the station, you can then borrow it, or use the system there to query other stations to find the station nearest to you, with available bikes.

A bike, once borrowed, may be used for upto 30 minutes, without any additional charge.  If you have travel from Point A to Point B, and say it takes longer than 30 minutes, you can find a bike station between points A and B and return the bike, and either borrow the same bike again, or another one, if available, after a two minute 'cool off' period, and get another free 30 minute borrowing window. You can do as many of these return and borrow transactions per day as you can accomplish, without any extra charges. If you should hold on to the bike for longer than 30 minutes at any given point, there will be additional charges.  This 30 minute borrowing window ensures the following.
1. People will not want to hold on to a bike longer than strictly necessary.
2. Bikes get distributed across the city constantly.
3. Instead of users locking up a bike outside a shop or supermarket, for instance, they'll return the bike to the bike station, where it'll be available for somebody else to use, while the user is otherwise occupied. This ensures better availability of bikes, thanks to faster and more turnarounds.

If a user wants to use it for tourism instead, and doesn't want to be bothered with the hassle of doing the return-borrow rotations every half hour, he/she can do so by paying 1 EUR for the first extra half hour, 2 EUR for second extra half hour and 4 EUR per all subsequent half hour periods. I tried it a bunch of times, and once ended up paying an extra euro as I took a minute longer (and didn't realize it). I guess the system is more tuned towards commuter usage than tourist usage, but a very nice system, nevertheless. I'd love to see a system like this being implemented in India.

A Velib bike station, one of many.
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A closer look at a Velib bike. Very rugged and sturdy.
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Once authorized, you simply push the button to unlock the bike. When returning, you need to wait for the light to flash green twice, to know that it's been securely locked again.
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When a simple BB replacement became messy...
Baba
prashanthchengi
I'd last replaced the bottom bracket on my beloved winter bike, Rusty, back in July 2014. Though this bike logs the least mileage of all my bikes, it's used in the harshest of conditions; snow, ice, and worst of all, lots of salt, so the wear is rather accelerated. Since then, I'd removed the cranks once, to clean and reseat the BB, but had mishandled the crank removal, resulting in some partial thread stripping. The BB had now failed completely and needed to be removed, and I made the same mistake while attempting to remove the crank (I tried operating the crank puller, before removing the locking nut). This time, the threads which were already damaged, completely gave up the ghost. I winced, realizing that I had to use a lot of violence to get it off now.

I checked a couple of videos on youtube, and realized that I either had to try with a special tool called TC-8, by Parktool (or one of its many knock-offs), to clean up the threads, to allow the crank puller to grip the crank, or simply saw the top off the crank.  Since I had no patience to order for specialist tools which have little reuse potential, I decided to deploy my trusty hacksaw.  I knew that I'd committed to destructive removal of the crank, but I wasn't too sure of how I wanted to cut the crank, so my first attempt was poor. I tried an angular cut, with the intention of following up with a second angular cut, to remove a wedge out of the crank, much like a slice of cake, but the angle made it hard to use the saw. I gave up on the wedge removal idea, and instead decided to simply take the top off the crank, and so I started my second attempt, with a saw blade that was already getting blunt (I'd used to to cut a steel fork-tube earlier, so it'd already seen some hard action). After some amount of laboring, I got the top off the crank. I then used an old screwdriver to give the broken bottom bracket a couple of whacks, and just like that, it was out. With the crank arm out of the way, removing the BB lock ring, and the actual replacement of the BB itself were fairly trivial tasks. After finishing the task, I made mental notes to myself, to ensure that in the future, I'd always remember to remove the crank arm's lock nut, before using the crank puller. And also that the crank screws are lefty-loosy (clockwise turns to tighten), but the BB lock ring on the drive side (right side) is reverse threaded, just as the pedal on the left side is reverse threaded. Those are things worth remembering, before attempting to remove cranks or pedals!

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The sawn-off crank revealing severely stripped threads, and the broken BB.

Bliss in the Hills 1200 brevet
Baba
prashanthchengi

Bliss in the Hills is a little-known 1200 brevet, which is possibly the toughest ride in all of India, and possibly ranks very high in the list of some of the hardest rides in the world. Now, when I call this little-known, I might offend many fans of the ride, many of whom have attempted this ride more than once, but I call it so, because it's only known to a bunch of people who regularly follow traffic on a mailing list, and probably a few others, who may have heard about it, from these regulars. I got to know about this ride when I saw ride reports and periodic updates, last year, and it had captured my imagination. I'd thought right then that this was a ride I'd attempt, if I got the opportunity. When I heard about this year's edition, I decided to time my India visit (which I'd originally planned for late December) so that I'd be able to do this ride, and quickly decided to sign up. Though I didn't finish the ride (I retired after logging in 509 km), the little that I saw made me realize that this was a brilliant ride, which deserves way more attention and reach than what it gets currently.

My Bliss story starts even before I started the ride. Having signed up, I was extremely nervous about riding conditions and weather conditions in India. Having been used to riding in sub 15°C conditions where I often drank a bottle of water in two or more hours of riding, I was indeed apprehensive. I knew a few of the riders signed up to do Bliss, from either Facebook or the Bangalore Bikers Club mailing list. These riders were Putta Narasimhaiah, Ashok Thiruvengadam, Mohammad Rafi, Archana Sheshagiri, Mohan Subramanyam,and Sayi Rama Krishna. I created a messaging group on Facebook, with some of them and pinged them about my concerns. I was also added to the official Bliss riders whatsapp group, which saw some activity. After initially toying around with the idea of doing the ride on a borrowed bike, and later, of buying a used bike in India, I decided not to take any chances, considering that this was such a long ride. I decided instead, to take my tried, tested and trusted roadbike from Sweden, though it would involve a steep fee with my airline. I booked my flight tickets, ordered the bike bag booking and counted out the days to the start. During this time, I was also supposed to complete a wheelbuild around a dynamo hub, which would ensure that I could have energy for my lights and USB powered devices, during the ride, but various factors meant that I was unable to finish the build in time. I merely managed to lace the wheel, but never completed truing it. I also didn't install the special headset with the USB power adapter etc. This would come back to bite me later. I went over to BOTS to get some last minute TLC for my bike, and got it too, thanks to Archana Sheshagiri, who ensured that my bike wouldn't choke dead on me, during the ride. Thanks, Archana, and BOTS!

As the days closed in, I was getting more and more apprehensive, but things got better when I told myself that I'd give it my best, and not cross a line where my safety and well-being were involved. There would be no shame in not finishing this ride, but I'd do all that I could, to end up as a finisher.

October 5th, 2016. 1400 hrs: Satish Addanki arrived, and picked me up from close to my parents' house, and we drove to the start point near Central Silk Board, in his car. After a couple of minutes of searching, we found the riders, organizers, volunteers and other well-wishers clustered around. The energy and enthusiasm was in the air. I met many people I'd only interacted with online, such as Sohan Sintre, Thoudam Opendro Singh, and Manjula Sridhar, for the first time.

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My heavily loaded beast of burden, with frame bag, handle bag, Garmin Edge 500 for in-ride metrics, and Garmin GPSMap64T for navigation. The rear wheel was built by me, and I'm proud to say that my wheel build survived over 500 km of the brutal Bliss test!

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With Putta Narasimhaiah, L, and Chidambaran Subramanyan aka Chiddu, R.

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The riders listen while Chiddu briefs us. Manjula Sridhar and Satish Addanki listen in too.

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With Thoudam Opendro Singh aka Open

It took a while for the briefing to finish. Chiddu mentioned that one of the control points had more time than what was on the card, and that there was going to be an additional ten minutes on top of all the deadlines, to accommodate for the late start. Wishes were exchanged, cheers were raised and off we rolled, through crowded Bangalore roads.  The opening stretch going through ultra high density traffic, in the middle of polluting vehicles was a sea change from the tranquil riding conditions in Sweden, and came as quite a reality check, but I hung on. When I pulled alongside Ashok, he laughed and enquired how I was coping, and reassured me that we'd leave the traffic within about 30 km. I did the mental math and figured that it'd take well over an hour, and possibly close to two, before I could be out of the city, and quickly settled in for the ride. Since there were many riders in close formation, I didn't have to bother about checking the GPS within the city, and that truly was a good thing. Riding with cleated shoes was bad enough in the stop and go traffic, and having to check the GPS would have only made matters harder. After some time, as I started to ride towards Nelamangala, I'd managed to get into my long-ride rhythm. I've never listened to music on any of my brevet rides, and this was no different. While the traffic noise was jarring, I was able to tune it out, and enter my own personal zen-mode, in which I hear nothing but the sounds of my tires on tarmac/gravel and the whizz of the chain. It was at this time that Somaskanda rode alongside, with a cheery 'Hello'. We exchanged pleasantries and introductions and started to ride together, a partnership that would last all the way to the point where I'd retire. Soma was probably the youngest rider doing the bliss ride, at all of 22. He was cheerful, enthusiastic and strong, and together, we started riding at a brisk clip. After a while, we passed Shun and Jins, who'd stopped to fix a puncture. After some more time, we caught up, first with Putta, and some time later, with Arvind.  We made a brief stop to top up water bottles, switch on our lights and wear our high visibility jackets, and continued our ride towards Belur. At around 95 km, Putta elected that we stop for dinner, and we stopped and fueled up on some excellent vegetable fried rice.  We saw Ashok pass us while we were stopped.

After we resumed riding, going was a bit sluggish, as we'd all had heavy meals. Putta in particular seemed to be slowing down a bit, and seemed to be in need of some sleep.  After a while of slowing down and speeding up again, during which we discovered we'd dropped Putta and Arvind again, Soma and I decided to ride on.  We stopped for a pee break, and that's where the first of the disasters struck; Soma leaned our bikes against each other, while he peed and I got out of my T-shirt, as I was feeling too warm. The bikes however, didn't stay up, and clattered down in a heap. In my attempt to pick it up, I must have pulled on the rear bottle cage, which snapped off. Since throwing away a bottle was pretty much out of the question, I had to repack my saddle bag, to make room for the bottle. Using a cable tie, I secured a bottle containing a dry T-shirt and pair of socks, in the place of the broken bottle cage, and used the space freed up in the saddle bag, to accommodate my water bottle. While we were doing all of this fixing, Arvind and Putta crossed us, but we motioned them to keep going. We fixed up and resumed riding. After a while though, I got briefly distracted, and while flying along at close to 40 kmph, I hit a rock which resulted in an instant pinch flat, and so, we lost even more time, fixing the flat. When we moved again, we saw that Putta and Arvind had stopped to grab a power nap. We chose to ride on to Belur. As we closed in on Belur, we passed through some stretches of road which were in very poor shape, and to make matters worse, there were high speed descending and some short but steep climbs there. Here, a good, strong, well directed and focused light was the need of the hour, and unfortunately, I was ill equipped in this department. As I've mentioned earlier, my original plan was to have a dynamo hub and fork mounted lights, but when the wheelbuild didn't complete on time,  I realized that I'd have to make do with regular lights. Apart from the most excellent Bontrager Ion 700 that only lasts between 5-7 hours, I'd invested in a Cateye Volt300. Now, the Cateye is an excellent light, but unlike the Bontrager, the mount is not adjustible, as it it is designed only for use on the handlebar. Since I had a big handlebar bag blocking the path of the light, I had to mount mine on the drops, and since I couldn't adjust the angle of the mount, I had to physically clamp the light high up the drop, quite close to the brakes, in order to get a decently angled beam of light. In order to be able to still brake without obstruction, I had to settle for a compromise, which meant that the bright beam of light was a bit too high; I couldn't quite see potholes closer to me. This meant that I had to totally rely on Soma to lead me, and he had to constantly yell out warnings in the dark, to ensure that I didn't plow right into a pothole or a rock.  This meant that we had to drop our pace a bit more than we'd have liked to. With better lights, I could have easily gone faster, and Soma clearly had the legs to go faster in that stretch; we could have saved a big chunk of time.

We reached the control point around 3 am, took ATM slips and decided to take a powernap at the petrol bunk across the street. We slept for 30 minutes and were happy to discover the that petrol bunk not only had an unlocked toilet, but also a clean one! As I was waiting for Soma to finish up, I saw a couple of other riders going past. We resumed riding, and after a while, stopped to eat a sandwich each before continuing. After a while, we pulled into a chai tapri (all night tea stall) where we each had three cups of really tasty hot tea, and a few locally made dough biscuits. We also saw Jins and Shun there. We continued riding at a brisk pace and didn't stop anywhere. My mid morning, we caught up and passed Shun and Jins, and later Kavi. We realized that Soma and I were now leading the rider pack. We made good time, and were egged on by the spectacularly beautiful countryside, including the coffee plantations we rode alongside.

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Yes, there were spectacular sights along the ride.

We were the first to make it to Madikeri control, and within five minutes, Kavi pulled in. We had an icecream and some milk to cool off, and rode on to Siddhapura, where we took selfies. Kavi, Soma and I decided to eat at a local hotel and as we were eating, we were joined by Shun, Jins and Elango. At this point, I was beginning to feel quite feverish due to the heat; I should have stopped at a drugstore to buy some crocin, but I made the imprudent decision to continue on, as I felt it was a waste of time and that I could buy medicine later. Big mistake.  Continuing for a while, I began to feel sapped by the heat. Now, Soma had had an issue with his saddle height, which had given him a lot of back pain, and I had had to give him lots of motivation to keep going. I'd been pushing him and in the process pushing myself, but this heat exhaustion was draining me. I gave in to the temptation and mentioned to Soma that I was planning to take a power nap; this was clearly a blunder, in hindsight. Both Soma and I stopped, and minutes ticked by. I'd only wanted to stop for 10-15 minutes, but as time rolled on, I was feeling more and more disconsolate. After about 45 minutes had rolled by, I saw Ashok, Putta, Arvind and somebody else pass by. Both Soma and I were suddenly enthused to get back on the road and catch them. We quickly got back into our discarded jerseys, mounted our bikes and started a hot pursuit. My heart rate was into the red, but I was in no mood to ease off. We kept pushing on, and before long, we caught up our friends, but they seemed to be strangely sapped. I know we'd been well rested after our 45 minute nap, but our friends seemed to have suffered a lot. Putta was probably tired on his 650 B iron horse, but I was surprised that Ashok wasn't faster. Soma and I had planned to team up with them and offer our services in pulling at the front, and in turn getting our opportunity to get pulled, but they were clearly off pace. We had no option but to again head off on our own.

We shot past Virajpet and then got into the long downhill section before Iritty. Now, my descending skills were practically non-existent, but I'd got a couple of good tips from my friend Sharath MS, when I'd done some riding with him in California. I used those tips, and followed Soma's line. Soma was clearly much more experienced, and he was riding well within his own limits, in order to accommodate me.  I made a couple of rookie mistakes, including badly understeering on a sharp bend, which put me smack in the path of an oncoming truck. I hit my brakes and my rear wheel skidded heavily. I've never been in a situation like that on my bicycle, but I had had plenty of experience riding a very skittish motorcycle when I lived and worked in Pune. I had a lot of experience handling skids and even using it to my benefit, and that experience came in very handy, and probably saved my life here. I locked the brake long enough to get the bike to skid into an angle I wanted and then let go and pumped hard, allowing me to quickly jag back to the left side, and out of the path of the oncoming truck. There was a car driving just a few meters behind me, and he/she must have almost had a heart attack, seeing my narrow escape. The car driver was thankfully not an asshole; he/she continued to stay behind me, and not rush into passing me. Soma was blissfully unaware of my narrow shave, and kept rolling ahead and I quickly regained my composure, and speed and caught up with him. When comfortable, I waved the car ahead and pulled over to the side, letting a rather relieved car driver pass by.  After the car passed, the descent ended and I rode alongside Soma and briefly updated him about my adventures and skidding.

As we were continuing, I felt my bike beginning to fishtail on turns. I asked Soma if I'd had a flat, but it didn't seem like it. We continued a bit more, and it got worse. We stopped, and sure enough, it was a slow puncture. When we checked the tires, we found glass shards, which Soma helped to remove. Soma found that his tire too had shards in it, so he wisely changed both the tire and the tube, but as I didn't have a spare tire, I had to change the tube and hope for the best. While we were fixing our bikes,  Putta and Arvind passed us, and after a further twenty minutes or so, Ashok went past too.  This was a bitter blow, because we'd recovered so well, only to lose all the time we'd gained. Having fixed the flats, we rode hard and made it to Iritty control, where Ashok and a couple of others were still around. We decided to grab a quick bite at a local bakery and move on, but as I tried to move, I realized my rear tire was flat again. An inspection showed that this was not glass shards that we'd missed earlier, but some metal pieces. I must have got it when I hit a few potholes due to being unable to spot them in time. I was clearly lacking experience in checking for foreign objects in the tire, and couldn't have managed at all, without Soma's help. This however meant that I'd used up the last of my three spare inner tubes. Another flat would now mean end of the ride, as Soma didn't have any spares either. We again started moving.  Soma knew that the infamous Boy's Town stretch was ahead of us, and we were riding as hard as we could, to make up for all the lost time. I was finding it extremely hard to spot the potholes in the road, and was praying to all gods I knew, to spare me from a ride ending puncture. To make matters worse, Soma's tail light had a loose contact and from time to time, would completely go dark. To compound matters, oncoming motorists were absolute assholes, failing to dip their lights as they passed us. Each time it happened, I'd go completely blind and would go into a panic attack as I didn't know if my ride would be over in the next ten meters or thirty. A local bus driver overtook me aggressively, passing within inches of me, only to pull in front of me and stop at the bus stop, causing me to take evasive action and skid off the road. I thought I'd lost Soma there, but after some hard riding, I saw a distant twinkling taillight and was able to meet him again. If our dwindling time was not problem enough, I was now in desperate need of a restroom. As we shot past a gas station, I told Soma that we'd have to go back for me to use it. After my break, we resumed and before long, we hit the infamous Boy's town climb. I've seen some people call it a 6km climb, and others calling it 9km. In any case, the first three must have been rolling, and we made short work of it.  The next three kilometers was another matter, however; Soma dismounted and walked it up, while I labored on and rode up the hill, at a very, very, low speed.  At the end of 3 km or so, there was a short flat stretch, before the climb steepened again. I stopped there and waited and after a while, Soma arrived there. He told me that we'd take the same time whether we biked or walked, and that it probably saved energy to walk. Saying this, he continued walking the bike. I however, had to stop and get my cleat covers over my LOOK style cleats. As I was doing this, I lost sight of Soma, just around the bend. This was psychologically a big morale crusher. I shouted out to Soma, but he was out of earshot. I was also overheated, having ridden up the previous 6 km. I tried to push the bike up, but walking up with those cleats seemed too insanely hard.

After more than 500 km of riding, the prospect of pushing the bike up an extremely steep gradient was mentally crushing. I tried walking a few meters, but my feet were killing me. With no partner, I was now totally alone, exhausted by the humidity and thoroughly demoralized. As I was pushing uphill, I saw my speed. It said 5kmph. I realized that I had about two hours to make it to Kalpetta, but I'd need at least 45 minutes to push the damn bike uphill, with my cleats, and after that, my extremely accurate GPS showed me that I had to ride 40 km in maybe an hour and fifteen minutes, in order to make it to the Kalpetta control. At that point, I knew I was out of the race.  With my poorly aimed light and the quality of roads, there was no way I could average over 30 kmph, even if it was all descents.  The fact that I had no more spare tubes, or for that matter, time to fix a flat, should I get another one, was not encouraging at all. I got to a point where the grade suddenly increased to 20%, and stopped. I was done. I called Chiddu, and mentioned my predicament. I told him I was exhausted by the heat and humidity, and was unable to walk uphill with my bike. Could he come and rescue me? He mentioned that he'd be busy till the control closed, and after that, he'd need some time to rest, as he was extremely exhausted himself. He told me that I'd be several hours before he could drive, to pick me up. I told him that it was fine, and I'd try to ride back to the foot of the climb, where there was a church where I could hole up for a few hours. Since I'd communicated my intentions on the whatsapp group, many were trying to talk me out of my decision. Rafi, in particular, did everything he could, to get me to continue, and he almost succeeded too. I decided to make another effort. Since walking up would be too slow, I tried again to mount the bike and ride up slowly, but I simply failed to engage the left cleat, and almost fell off the bike, into the path of a truck descending the hill at a high speed. I then realized that I was now putting my life and well-being at danger, and this was not what I wanted. Clearly, I had not thought that I'd need to walk uphill for over 3km, pushing my bike along.  There was no way I could do that, with my cleated shoes. Since then, others have mentioned that I could have removed my shoes and tried, but there was no place to put the shoes, nor did it occur to me.. and my mind was simply not working, due to heat exhaustion.  Many riders now have very strong opinions about this climb, and so do I.  A bike ride where one is expected to get down and walk for several kilometers doesn't seem like a good idea at all. People like Opendro mention that it's technically possible to climb it, and I agree, but it must be possible to quickly hop on and off the bike. Having assymetric cleats like the LOOK system, meant that this was never going to be possible. Had I known more about the nature of the Boy's Town climb before the ride, I'd definitely have ridden without the cleats, but that's hindsight.

Now that the race to the Kalpetta control was no longer on my mind, I now had to think about getting myself to safety. The place where I was standing was extremely dangerous; it was a very steep section, and at a bend. Trucks and cars were descending at high speeds and many were oversteering almost into me, before turning away. Since I could not go up, I decided to ride down, to the church at the foot of the climb. Unknown to me, after I'd fixed the last puncture, I'd failed lock my brakes back into position, and I later discovered that not one, but both of my brakes had remained in the unlocked position. When I tried grabbing the brakes, I realized I had no stopping power at all, but in the heat exhausted state that I was in, I failed to even check on the brake locks, or the position of the pads. I simply assumed that the grade was simply too steep for the brakes to work.  This meant that I was now in an extremely dangerous place, without the ability to either climb or descend.  It was check-mate.  As I was mulling my position, a police jeep went by, with flashing lights. I tried to call out to them, but they went away without stopping, but the sight of the police vehicle gave me an idea. I called 100, the police hotline, and spoke to the dispatcher. I mentioned that I was a bicyclist on an adventure ride, and that I'd suffered heat exhaustion and was currently in a very perilous position. If I could be taken to the top of the hill, I'd be able to manage myself. The dispatcher took my details and promised to have the local police call me back. After a 10 minute wait which seemed to me like an eternity, I got a call from the police from the local station. I had to repeat my story to them, and answer more questions, but at the end of another five minutes, they announced that they were going to drive up, to rescue me. A further fifteen minutes later, the police rolled up to me.  Since there was no room in their vehicle for my bike, a cop volunteered to ride/walk up with my bike, while I hitched a ride uphill, in the police vehicle. At this point, I also saw Sayi and Mohan climbing up. The police dropped me off at the top of the climb, waving off my profuse thanks with a smile and a simple 'We are Kerala Police. We are here to help' message. To say that those gentlemen in uniform impressed me with their dedication to serve, would be a huge understatement.

Having reached the top, I was reunited with my bike, and also joined by Sayi and Mohan, who decided they'd rest a while before continuing. I rested with them. At this point, though my ride was over, I wanted to finish the ride to Kalpetta as soon as possible, but Sayi seemed to be quite exhausted.  Both Sayi and Mohan were not only tired, but also on MTBs, which meant that I had to slow down a lot.  As we closed in on Kalpetta, when we were around 22 km away or so, there was a fork in the road; Mohan wanted to go straight on, but I insisted that the official GPS track went the other way; in the end, we chose to stick with the official course, but we were probably the only ones to go on that stretch, and Mohan mentioned that the other road was perhaps in a much better state, and I'm inclined to believe him. The stretch that we rode on was absolutely horrendous.  I was getting more and more depressed, the longer we continued riding. Sayi wanted another nap, and we stopped for a long time again. When we resumed, we were only doing about 12-15 kmph and had over 18 km to go. The prospect of riding at such a dreadfully low speed (or risk punctures, if you go any faster), and spending another hour on the saddle seemed too much to me. I told Mohan and Sayi, that they could continue. I called Chiddu, who by now was rested. He agreed to pick me up. I shared my coordinates over whatsapp, bade goodbye to Sayi and Mohan and settled in to wait for Chiddu. I left my flashers on, to stay safe and also help Chiddu to spot me. He arrived forty minutes later, and we drove back to Kalpetta, discussing the ride. I'd decided that I wasn't going to resume my ride (a poor decision, in hindsight), and asked if I could get a ride with Chiddu, back to Bangalore, the next day, and he mentioned that it was possible, so that was that. Upon reaching Kalpetta, I was too tired to even shower. I simply ate the fantastic food which was on offer, and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

I woke up around nine and saw people finishing packing up. I quickly packed up my stuff, hitched my bike to the bike rack, along with that of Sayi's, as he'd decided to go to Bangalore in Chiddu's car too. After securing the bikes, Chiddu, Ravindra, Sayi and I headed off to Bangalore, hoping to make it by late evening, but we were certainly not done with our adventures. Kavi called Chiddu with news that he'd been sideswiped by a car; he was okay, but his rear mech was done for.  He was enquiring about the possibility of getting a different bike to ride. At this point, Kandappa had also communicated to Ravindra that a replacement bike could be arranged for Kavi, but only if he could make it to the next control point.  Kavi didn't have a chain tool, but that's something I always carry.  Chiddu asked if I could single-speed Kavi's bike; I could, I said, so off we went towards Ooty, to fix Kavi's bike. We passed at least three groups of wild elephants on the road.

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Wild Elephant mom and child, browsing by the roadside.

We fixed his bike and saw him off. It was extremely satisfying to know that we could do something that ensured a fellow biker stayed on the road, and our happiness was multiplied several-fold, when Kavi went on to end up being one of the four finishers of this gruelling ride.
Pic courtesy: Sayi Rama Krishna
Kavi rides off towards Ooty, after a pitstop to convert his bike to a single-speed.

We reached Bangalore late into the night, without further incident, talking about how Bliss is a fantastic ride, and how it ought to get more publicity and attention, and how that attention could be used, to perhaps lobby for better roads etc. The idea is to get publicity for Bliss such that bodies such as Ministry of Tourism in Kerala etc take note. They could then be lobbied for better quality of roads etc. It could be a win-win situation, as bikers get safer riding conditions and Kerala government gets to take the credit for hosting the Kerala section of the most prestigious brevet ride in the country. With some luck and targetted marketing, similar efforts could be done with Karnataka and TN governments. All this is simply conjecture, but something definitely worth working upon, I feel.

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The all-conquering quartet: L-R: Kaviarasu Rajappan, Jins Paul, Shun Athi, and Chandru Elango.

Lessons I learned from this ride.
1. Great lights are a must. Dynamo hubs are probably the best idea, as they'd guarantee that we won't run out of batteries/charge etc.
2. Tire liners and wider tires. They'd significantly increase ride comfort and reduce risks of punctures, thereby leading to potential time saving.
3. No cleats. Whether Boy's Town climb is retained for future editions or not, I think I'm not going to use cleats for any brevets in India. It's a pain in the ass in stop and go traffic, and when you are expected to get up and walk, it's an absolute no-no.
4. Crocin/Aspirin must on the rides. Also towels that one can soak in water and wrap around neck/head, to combat heat. It would have kept me going longer, for sure.


The 400 brevet that changed everything
Baba
prashanthchengi
At the time of writing this, I have wrapped up my first ever Super Randonneur series, and have also added a successfully completed 1000 BRM to the list of my rides this year, but if I were to think about the hardest ride I've ever done, the ride that really gave me the confidence to go on and attempt bigger rides, it was the 400 BRM I rode in Västerås, in May, 2016.

I arrived on Friday, 6th May 2016, at Västerås, ahead of the 400 brevet on Saturday. Arriving at my hotel, I found Jonas, the organizer already waiting for me, with a translated cue sheet and an extremely helpful list of additional notes about possible lunch stops and easy to miss changes of direction.
My Pika Packworks bike bag is extremely helpful to transport my bike on trains where dismantled and bagged bikes are allowed, not unpacked bikes. I quickly reassembled my bike and took it for a check-ride, riding to the start point for the brevet, to ensure there was no last minute surprises with finding the location. The weather was rather warm when I arrived, but had cooled considerably by the evening, so the small spin was pleasant.

Saturday: 0445 hrs
I reached the start point and picked up my brevet card. I also realized that the rider who was supposed to be slower was only relatively slower! He averaged 28s, he told me, which is well beyond my individual average speed. The four of us,Jonas, a second Jonas, Anders, and I, started. There was some tail-wind at the start and we were soon pushing hard.  It wasn't long before I realized that I was proably pushing too hard to stay with the rest, so I told Jonas that I'd be doing the ride on my own. We'd notched up some 15 km by then, in rather quick time.
A few miles later, I started picking up faint traces of pain in my right ankle. I quickly zeroed in on the cause; my saddle was slightly off to the left. I corrected it and resumed and did not feel any discomfort for the rest of the ride.
As I was closing in on Ludvika, the first control point, I spotted a rider in the distance. It couldn't be Anders, I thought, and slightly upped my pace to close in. Within a few minutes, I caught up with the rider who wasn't Anders after all, but a woman rider.  Brevet rules prohibit drafting riders who are not fellow participants, so I couldn't slot in behind her. When I passed her, I realized that I wasn't strong enough to cleanly leave her behind; she was drafting me quite closely, and when I tired, she passed and offered me the draft. I told her that I couldn't (not sure if she understood) and tried falling back, but realized it was harder that I imagined, as we were pretty much biking at similar speeds. My electrolyte bottle was spent, and I stopped really to get some distance between us, while replenishing my drink. I never saw anymore of her, after I restarted. She probably turned off somewhere, or had turned on her afterburners and had zoomed off.

By the time I reached Ludvika, the first control point, at 113 km, I'd done reasonably well pace-wise, but was having trouble with saddle sores. I'd started the ride with a slighly tender butt, after recovering from a bout of loose motions, and I was a bit worried how the rest of the ride would play out. At ICA (a local supermarket chain), I got my card stamped, bought and ate a large pasta salad and also used the loo to give the butt the benefit of some cold water and gentle drying, and it was a good thing. The pasta meal would be the only store-bought meal on Saturday, with me sustaining on fruits and my self-packed sandwiches.  I also bought bananas to replace the ones I'd consumed, topped up my bottles and filled a bottle's worth of water into my till then empty hydration pack (I had not filled it as I didn't want to carry weight unnecessarily) Upon restarting however, the GPS went bonkers and wouldn't tell me where to go, at the roundabout. No matter which path I chose, it would pop up the 'off course' alarm. After 15-20 minutes of going around in circles, I pulled up the brevet map and used google maps to navigate me in the right direction. The GPS, after some time, found its bearings and all was well again.
I soon got to the first set of big climbs, and I found myself getting sapped by the strong sun, in the absence of the cool wind one gets when riding fast. My butt was also protesting, so I decided to take a power nap by the road-side. Though I was bitterly regretting the decision to stop a half-hour for the stop, in hindsight, it was probably a good idea. During the climbing, I stopped to peel off the foil from my Nutella-peanut butter sandwich which I proceeded to eat as I rode. The peanut butter was very dry and stuck to the roof of the mouth and even throat, inducing a gag reflex, but was able to hold it in. Ate it for the energy rather than the taste, which was really less that what I'd expected. These sandwiches were supposed to be my real meals, so this meant that it could be a problem. I now know that the problem occured as I took big bites; it's best to take tiny bites, and chew completely before swallowing. Bigger bites cause the peanut butter to stick to the sides and roof of the mouth.

The next stop was Fredriksberg at km 171. Drank a nice cup of strong coffee, refilled my spent water bottle, filled up the hydration pack to capacity, and gave my butt some more cold water therapy. The sun was still bright, but not quite as hot, and that was a welcome change, as I rode on to Lesjöfors, the next stop at km 203. It was a short stop; got the card stamped at the grocery store, ate one of my sandwiches and moved on.
The next control point was a gas station and convenience store at Grythyttan, at km 250, but I wasn't warned that it closed at seven. Apparently, it stayed open for longer, earlier, so Jonas had made no mention of it. I was hoping to buy a sandwich or salad for my next meal. When I pulled in at 1930, I was greeted by a signboard that it closed at 1900. Since I would reach the next control point at Frövi (km 316), well after the stores closed, this was very, very bad news. This meant that I had nothing to eat other than my sandwiches which I was now averse to, and the fruits. I really wanted a substantial meal, and this was now not an option. I was beginning to feel quite hungry and made an attempt to eat the PB sandwich, purely for the nutrition. I was feeling quite low on spirits and was questioning myself whether it was prudent to attempt the remaining 150 km on my substandard supplies.
I took my shoes off, flexed my toes for a bit and lay down on the grass, spending the next 20 odd minutes relaxing and turning things over in my mind.

This was the first time I seriously contemplated quitting the ride, though it seemed a terrible waste. The stoppage also meant that I was feeling cold, as the sun had gone down and the temperatures now started to drop quickly, making me feel much worse, even feverish. I called a cab company for a quote; their response? A sum of around 3000 SEK for the ride from Gryththan to Västerås! This made me want to at least ride on till I ran out of water and supplies. As I was about to start, I suddenly remembered something; My friend Marcus had mentioned that a fresh T-shirt and/or a fresh pair of socks can make a huge difference to one's morale on a long ride, and I'd heeded his advice and packed a fresh T-shirt! I quickly changed, and instantly felt much better. Mentally thanking Marcus, I left for Frövi. On the way there, I found a church on the route. Now, one thing that's very valuable to bikers in Sweden, are churches, as they have taps in the garden which provide drinking water! There are a few which use recycled waste water, but those taps have clear warning signs mentioning that it's not fit for consumption. The one I found though had good water, and that meant that another of my major concerns was taken care of. I filled up my bottles and the hydration pack to the fullest, meaning that I could now ride all the way to the finish, without having to worry about water.

I was riding on with enhanced spirits and vigor and making good time, when my Garmin Edge 500 emited a low battery alert. Since I had carried an external battery pack, I stopped by the roadside, near a bus stop, and plugged the battery pack into the Garmin, but to my horror, the device simply switched off and went into charging mode! I tried to switch it back, but to no avail. Removing the charging cable would allow me to start it up, but it was too low on battery to continue, and when I connected the battery pack, it could not function. I did not know about this limitation of the Edge 500 till then. I had used an Edge 200 in the past, and that would happily continue working while it was plugged into a battery, and I'd simply assumed that the 500 would work similarly too. Since I had no GPS, there was simply no way I could estimate distance either, so even using the cue sheets to navigate was not practical. The temperature had dropped to below 5 degrees at this point, and I was now beginning to shiver a lot, as I was now stationary. I called Jonas and told him my predicament, and announced my decision to quit the ride. He was sad, but understood the difficulty I faced, and wished me a safe return home. I called the cab company and told them the bus stop I was at, mentioning that I needed a ride back to Västerås; I was having a hard time making myself understood, as the operator spoke very little English, but I finally got them to understand. They said they were on the way. I now sat down, waiting for them, trying to rub some heat into my cold arms and legs, while I waited. Presently, after some 20 odd minutes, I got a call again, from the cab despatch, asking me my position again. When I told them, they realized that I was not at the city center, as they'd mistakenly believed. They told me that I'd have to get to the city center, if I wished to get a cab ride. I told them that it was pointless, as if I could ride to the city center, I didn't need them at all! I told them to cancel the cab, and I rechecked the status of my GPS. To my great relief, I found that my GPS battery had now charged to over 55%. A quick calculation told me that I could easily make it to the finish, with that much juice in the device. I called Jonas again and told him that my GPS was now functional, and that I'd ride on. Because of all of the unplanned stops, I'd lost a lot of time, but I still had enough to make it to the end, if I didn't lose more time. With renewed determination, I pushed off again, to close out the remaining distance to Frövi.

I reached Frövi, the penultimate stop, when everything had already closed down. I took a selfie opposite a gas station that also had a digital time display. Having done this, I started pedalling hard to complete the last 85 km. I knew that a local bistro stayed open till 0430 hrs, about 30 km to the finish, but it seemed just a bit too much for me to do, low on energy as I already was, by then. There were times when I felt very, very drowsy. I'd been saving up an energy gel with caffeine for just such a need; I drank in the gel and washed it down with some water and felt much better. The sleep was conquered for just a bit longer. In the meanwhile, I could see the faint glow of approaching sunrise, and knew that things would be okay after all. When I reached the city outskirts however, it was 0450 hrs, and the local bistro had also closed down. This was a bitter blow to swallow. I was really, really low on energy and had been hoping and wishing that I'd get something to eat, on which I could go on. The prospect of doing the last 30 km, against stiff headwinds, with a time limit that was fast catching up, now seemed like mission impossible.

I was biking around, going around the streets, looking for a place that might have something open for business, when I saw a teenager walking down the road; in his hands was a coffee cup from McDonald's!! I was so happy that I could have yelled out in happiness. I asked him where the McD was; he told me that it was some 4 km away, in the opposite direction, but what's 4 km to a hunger-crazed biker doing a 400 brevet, at 0500 hrs? Off course or on course was the least of my worries! I rode to McD. I have never been as happy in my life to see a McDonald's, as I was, on that cold Sunday morning. I ordered a large burger, with large fries and a large strawberry milkshake. All of the stuff which is terrible for health in general was exactly what my body wanted then! I devoured it all like a man who's not had a decent meal in weeks. With my strength recovered, and the sun having come out, everything seemed great again. What had seemed like a depressing situation just moments earlier, was now totally different.

Though there were very stiff headwinds that caused my speed to drop to just over 17 kmph, I knew that it was more than enough for me to make it. Every time I overcame the winds to hit 20s, I celebrated as if I was doing 40 kmph or something.  Before long, I'd ridden out the distance and I was able to see the gas station up the road, just a little further. I was having so many emotions running through my head; this was a ride that had taken so much out of me, and yet, here I was, on the verge of completing it. I had almost quit, not once, but twice, but had managed to overcome the odds and stay on. As I pulled into the gas station, I knew something inside me had changed forever. I was now a rider with a strong sense of pride and self confidence that I could tap into, whenever the going got really tough. I'd ridden the 400 BRM, solo, and completed it in 26 hrs and 10 minutes. I had prevailed.

Link to Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/570074906

The 600 experience
Baba
prashanthchengi

Completing the 600 brevet this year helped to complete a circle I'd started spinning last year, when I started out as a randonneur. In 2015, I successfully completed 200 and 300 BRMs, but faltered at the 600, when I was clearly lacking the fitness and mental strength needed for two days of riding 300 plus km. The group I rode with, led by Marcus Carlholt, were a strong bunch of riders,  who were nice enough to drop their pace quite a bit, to allow me to ride along with them, but I was still nowhere near ready. I had to do a long stretch by myself, and by the time I rode to the hostel we'd booked for a night halt, it was very late and I had too few hours of sleep when I resumed in the morning.  Since they were going to be too fast for me, I elected to ride by myself, and ultimated ended up aborting the ride after 545 km, when the temperature dropped to 2°C, and it even started to snow!

This year, I started out in a pretty poor physical condition, but thanks to a few rides with friends and a bunch of rides by myself, I quickly shed a few extra kilograms, and the difference was really noticeable! I rode and finished the Linköping 200, and also signed up for online coaching from Venkateshwara Navanasi aka Bikey Venky. Venky has been instrumental in keeping me committed and on track, and his inputs have been invaluable to me. I rode and finished the Vasterås 400, which was the first ever time I rode for longer than 24 hours at a stretch, with only a 30 minute power nap to keep me going. Those successes gave me the confidence to take on the Linköping 600, in a bid to complete my first ever Super Randonneur series.

Like all rides I'd never completed before, I was tense before the 600, and ended up packing a backpack with a lot of stuff; though none of the items in the backpack were unnecessary, having a backpack, particularly one without a curved surface to allow the back to breathe, was always going to be a bad idea, and this one certainly a bad idea. There was also something that I ate on the ride which didn't agree with me (which I later identified as the energy bars with oatmeal in it) which left me with a severely distended stomach, and on the constant lookout for the next toilet. After riding 455 km on the course during which I'd logged an additional 35 km due to taking wrong turns due to issues navigating with my Garmin Egde 500, I decided to call it a day. I knew that my legs had been strong and my body had performed well and I was well within the time limit, having consumed only 26 hrs for my 455 (490 km, due to extra mileage logged because of GPS issues), despite the stomach issues, and so took heart in the performance, knowing that I'd be able to nail it the next time.

I continued my rides and rode my fastest ever Vätternrundan 300 km, in 12 hours and 15 minutes and lost even more weight. My next shot at the mythical 600 beast was on July 2, and this time, my determination was really steely.  I sought suggestions and help from all the bikers I know. Apart from Venky, I spoke to friends Manjula Sridhar and Mohammad Rafi Shaik, both multiple-SRs from India, about my anxieties, and received helpful hints and pointers from them. Manjula's blog posts about her repeated attempts at cracking the 600 were very helpful; they showed how little we really controlled, when on a randonneuring ride. Sleep deprivation, bad nutrition, navigation issues, bike issues etc are just a few of the things that can lead to a 'did-not-finish', or a finish outside of the cut-offs, and then there were other factors such as wind, rain etc, which could also throw serious curveballs; I would have to do my best to prepare for it, and hope for the best. In the meanwhile, my friend and compatriot, Opendro Thoudam Singh had become the first ever Indian to crack the Trans Am Bike Race in the United States, and I decided with grim determination, that I'll not pull out of this 600 for anything short of a medical emergency, and announced my decision to try and earn a successful finish, and dedicate the success to Opendro, or Open, as we call on the mailing list, for all of the inspiration he's provided to all of us, with his gutsy riding.

One of the things most local bikers do, is to obsess about the weather; they keep checking the weather and many don't even register till the last day, making the final decision on the day of the ride; not me, as I can't do it, even if I wanted to, as I often need to make travel plans beforehand, as I don't have a car to get around. A cursory check of the weather on the day prior to the ride revealed a horror-show; lots and lots of rain. I just shrugged and packed in all of my wet gear into my newly purchased Blackburn frame bag, which would eliminate the need for me to carry a backpack. When I arrived in Göteborg, the weather was glorious, but I knew it was scheduled to turn ugly the next day. Apart from the frame bag, the second component which I'd got my hands on, just before leaving for the ride, was my new Garmin GPSMAP64 ST GPS. I had not even had the time to do a 50 km ride with it, to acquaint myself with it. This would prove to be expensive.

July 2, 2016: Ride day. Woke up at 0530 and grabbed a quick breakfast. Looked out of the window, to see heavy rain belting down. I flicked on new Garmin, to navigate to the start point, when I had the first moment of horror; I could barely see the screen properly; it turns out that I could have bumped up the brightness, but I didn't realize that then. The zoom level was also too low; I didn't know what level of zoom would serve me best, and I simply rolled out. Before long, I was having trouble seeing through my glasses which had fogged up completely, and Göteborg has tram lines on the streets, making riding harder and more hazardous. Within some time, I lost my way and had to spend ten additional minutes looking around, till I managed to get back on track. At one point, where I had to stop for a light on a steep incline, I slipped and failed to unclip, and fell awkwardly, twisting my saddlepost and bending my bottlecages, but I stopped only to call my fellow rider to tell him that I'd be late getting to the start) and rode like the devil was after me. By the time I pulled into the start point (a gas station), the cashier mentioned that my fellow riders, Daniel, and Anna-Lena, had waited and then pushed off without me, about 10 minutes ahead of me. To make matters worse, he pointed out the wrong direction, mentioning to me that they went in that way (when they had actually not; he was confused as all other brevets starting from that place went in the other direction), so I actually started going in the wrong direction, but the GPS kept telling me that I was wrong. I was wet, cold, miserable and lost, with a GPS that I was not familiar with, and a rising panic.  Then I told myself to calm down; I took a few deep breaths and pulled myself back to the start point, to reorient myself. I also started up the Garmin 500 in NAV mode, to navigate the course (which I'd loaded onto it, just in case!) When the panic subsided, I told myself that I wasn't letting this one slip by; I needed the finish, to dedicate it to Open, didn't I? I used the more familiar but glitchy Edge 500 to get started. Now, Göteborg is a tricky city to navigate out of, particularly if you are using bread-crumb trail courses on devices like the Edge 500 or 200; too many turns within short distances, confusing forks, tram lines to avoid.. stop lights.. My exit was truly painfully slow, but I thought to myself that slow was beautiful; slow was a whole lot better than stopped.  After about an hour and a half, I had managed to leave the city, and it even stopped raining. Things were suddenly looking better, and I'd managed to figure out the use of the GPS by now, even finding the optimal zoom level, and just like that, what had seemed like a nightmare seemed to work like a dream! I stopped to make the much needed adjustments to my saddle and bottle cages (the bottlecages had been hanging precariously and dangerously, till then!). It took me more than 20 minutes to adjust them correctly, but I finally got it right and I started moving again, telling myself that I had a lot of catching up to do. I send out a message to Daniel, mentioning that I'd had to fix some bike issues, and that I was now pushing hard; I asked him to message me when he got to the first control, at km 80.  After some more time, I got the message from him, saying he'd reached the first control; I was more than 20 km behind, and had quite a few climbs to tackle too. I swore under my breath and pushed harder, taking care to stay just below my heart's redline. The next point, was at 130 km, and I missed them by under 15 minutes. The third control point was at km 166 and I totally needed to catch up, so I kept pushing at an ITT like pace, knowing fully well that I was burning many, many matches. I was beginning to ask myself whether I should slow down and simply do the ride on my own, but I kept pushing myself, for a bit, and then a bit more. I was downing water furiously and riding hard, replacing spent bottles at each of the stops. When I was about 5 km from the third control point, I got a message from Daniel that they'd just pulled into the McDonald's there; I called him back and told him that I was pushing like the blazes and was only 5 km out. He mentioned that they'd wait, and off I went. I joined them, ordered two large burgers, one to eat and one to go, and a large strawberry shake, as I could definitely use the sugar.

From that point on, we rode on together. Anna-Lena seemed not to want to ride out front, so Daniel and I took turns at the front, with Daniel doing the bulk of the riding out in the front, as we set out to Svenjunga, the next control point some 90 odd km away. Svenjunga would also serve as our dinner stop. We reached there close to 2000 hrs, and pulled into a pizzeria. Daniel and Anna-Lena ordered hot meals while I dug into my packed burger, which would not get any better, the longer we rode. I washed it down with some fresh milk. We restarted, and before long, it started raining again. We had to stop and change again, into wet gear, and continued. The temperature, which had been 15°C during the day, had dropped to 10 and now to 8°C. As we continued to bike, it kept dropping, till it dropped to a really cold 2.9 °C, at which point I was really glad to have taken my neoprene gloves with me. Though my hands were wet, they stayed warm, and I didn't take off my waterproof overshoes, even though it wasn't raining anymore, as it kept my feet warm. Around 0200 hrs, I was really beginning to nod off. We had not been able to stop anywhere for a powernap, as the rain had left everything wet and soggy. I mentioned that I really needed to get some shut-eye, and we rode on to the next checkpoint. Since nothing was open at that time, we found an ATM, to do a balance check, to get a statement with a timestamp. We stopped outside the ATM, parked the bikes and simply sat down on the pavement and shut our eyes for the next 30 minutes. While that was a long way from being ideal, it took the drowsiness away, and we continued riding, but we ran into a thick blanket of fog, which reduced our visibility to less than 10 feet. The fog made Daniel feel very sleepy, but we rode on till around 0600 hrs, when we spotted the church at Tönnersjö, with benches on the outside. We all took a second 40 minute nap there (http://bit.ly/2afIxiH), before resuming.

We rode through Laholm and onto Båstad, which was as far south as we'd go, on this ride. We stamped our cards there, ate a hearty breakfast and turned around and for the first time, had some nice supporting winds which encouraged us. We stopped to take a picture by the roadside, at a point where we got the closest, to the North Sea.

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By the North Sea!

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Clearly I have no clue how selfies work!

We rode on till we decided to stop, to allow me to eat a packed sandwich, for some energy. Anna-Lena also decided that she needed another nap, so we ended up taking our third and final 30 minute nap there, but on restarting, we felt that it would be better if Daniel and I could push on, with Anna-Lena riding at her own pace, as we were only about a 110 km to the finish. Both Daniel and I were beginning to get saddle sores on account of slower riding and coasting, and felt that pushing hard and finishing as soon as we could seemed a sound idea. We rode on to Varberg, our penultimate checkpoint and had pasta salad and milkshakes for lunch, picking up our stamps from the ICA Maxi store. We had a couple of climbs thrown in, between our position and the finish, and we dispatched them strongly, when we encountered them, as we were egged on strongly by the impending finish. We reached the gas station at Mölndal, at 1942 hrs, 36 hrs and 42 minutes from the start time. Daniel congratulated me on my first ever SR.  I pumped my fist in celebration, and said to myself, 'This one's for you, Open!'
Note: Anna-Lena finished with a timing of 37 hrs and 10 minutes.
Strava Activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/629421443


Halvvättern 2016
Baba
prashanthchengi

June 12, 2016 was Halvvättern 150, a ride which was quite eagerly awaited! This was the first time I was going to be doing a Vätternrundan/Halvvättern ride in a formal group. Earlier in the season, Patrick, and his sons, Jonathan and Alexander, thought up practice sessions, which would help us get used to riding together. There were two memorable 'pizza rides' which saw us riding from Linköping to Borensberg, and wolfing down guilt-free pizzas :) The third and final practice session was a ride around the Lake Roxen, which I missed out on, as I was attempting a 600 km brevet.

Sunday dawned on us, and promised to be a lovely day. It'd been decided to meet at Patrick's, and hitch up the bikes onto the bike racks on two cars, and leave to Motala together.  Practically every third or fourth car we encountered on the road to Motala had a bike or two, or more, mounted, pointing to the enormous popularity of the ride.

Halvvättern 2016
There were cars coming into town with bikes, and many were biking into town too.

After parking the cars, we picked up our number chips and stickers, fixed them and rode to the start point. We were ten strong!

2016-06-13_08-21-48
L-R: Urban Svensson, Patrick Norman, Lennart Hulen, Anna-Sofie Bark, Mathieu Linares, Alexander Norman, Mats Aigner, Jonathan Norman, and Stefan Sjögren.

The sheer energy and enthusiasm in Motala is very tangible, and it charges you up too! There were a multitude of clicks and clacks of cleats locking into pedals, and off we went!  Since our group was a real mixed bag with people having very different levels of season mileage and form, Patrick elected to stay in the back to monitor the start, and asked Anna-Sofie and me to set a steady but manageable pace for the group.  The first leg was flat, and we made good time, and managed to have everybody sticking together. When we made it to the 1 hour mark, just before the first stop at Borghamn, we'd notched up 28.1 kilometers, which was pretty much what we'd hoped to do.  Mathieu suffered a rookie moment when he failed to clip out in time, at the stop, and ended up taking a small spill, but fortunately, it was nothing major. After the stop at Borghamn was Omberg aka Mountain of Flowers, which was a couple of nice climbs, thrown in quick succession.  We decided to do the climb at whatever pace suited us, and to regroup at the top, which is what we did, and we were rewarded for our climbing effort by a series of short downhill runs through the extremely beautiful undulating road.
Before long, we notched up the first 50 km of the ride, and shortly after that, pulled into Ödeshog. More buns and blueberry soup, and some of us topped up our bottles. Refreshed, we pulled away again and rode to Boet, the next stop area, which only had water resupply though. Many of us broke out our stashes of sandwiches and energy bars, to get some sugar.

Halvvättern 2016

We also crossed the second of the chip sensor nets, hearing the beep-beep-beep of our RFID chips being picked up by the scanners.  I was feeling fairly fresh and volunteered to take the wind, but it was hard to stick to a pace that would be okay, right through till the back of the pack, so I had to listen to calls or at times, even just for the sound of conversation behind me, to know that they were close enough. Most of the time, it was Jonathan and Alexander behind me, and many times, we would find that we'd left the rest, so we'd slow down till they caught up. During one of the climbs that came our way, we found that we'd dropped Urban, but the next rest area was very close, so we decided to ride up and wait. We pulled into Rök, and before long, Urban pulled in too, and we were a full group again!

Halvvättern 2016
Urban is all smiles! Despite having very few miles on his legs this year, he rode splendidly.

I also needed to take a bit of an extended bathroom break, so Patrick stayed back with Mats, and asked the rest of the pack to start ahead of us. When I was done, Patrick, Mats and I rode hard and fast, with Patrick doing most of the pulling against a strong wind. I was happy to simply be able to stick with him, as we powered our way back and caught up with the rest of the group. That was a real fun stretch where we really pushed! After we caught up, Mats and I rode at the head for a while, while Patrick continued to watch the pack. We'd upped the pace a fair bit, but the group managed to stick with us for most part. I guess it was the prospect of closing out the ride that was drawing us. One the way to Rök, we had the youngest member of our team, Alexander Norman, completing his first ever 100km ride, a number to which he'd add 51 more kilometers, before the end of the ride! Soon, we were only 30 km from the end. I love that number, as it's a distance I feel is a very safe one, one that is a lot more approachable than 50 km :) I consider the last 30 km as the home-stretch, on any 100+ km ride.  We reached the final stop area at Skänninge, and had to wait for a bit while Mathieu caught up with us. We enjoyed the blueberry soup and salted gherkins while we waited. I saw a pair of riders dressed in an interesting bike jersey, with a painted-on overcoat and tie! I thought it looked cute! They were happy to pose for my photographs!


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Halvvättern 2016

Once Mathieu joined us, we rode out again, with less than 25 km separating us from the finish line, but many of us were tired, so we maintained an easy pace. I was pretty happy with the high-speed chase we'd ridden some time back, so I was content to reel in the remaining kilometers without any heroics. As we closed in on the final five km, I nudged Alexander into a sprint, but the scheming youngster refused, as he didn't want to use up all of his limited stores! He waited till we were about three kilometers, before launching the sprint! Patrick, Mats and I picked up the challenge and rode hard. Before we knew it, the finish line was upon us, and the kid sneaked right past us, to take a fully deserved position ahead of us! Alexander and Urban really produced top-drawer rides and the perfect weather meant that it is going to stay in our memories for a while, as a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

Halvvättern 2016
A proud father, with his tired, but happy son :) Congratulations, on a fantastic ride which was also your first century ride, Alexander!

Halvvättern 2016
The triumphant pack. Only Lennart is missing :( He'd left just before we decided to stop for the picture.

Playing Sherlock to identify a bike creak!
Baba
prashanthchengi

Bicycles make all kinds of noises; the whizz of a smoothly oiled chain running its merry course, the clicks of the gear shifters, the reciprocating clacks of the chain engaging with a different cog, the the drone of the tires on tarmac, or the crunch on gravel.  They are all part of biking and are perfectly harmonious and in fact, pleasing to the ear.  What's dreadful is when you hear things that are not harmonious; things which are not right.  Even as a child, I'd be extremely distressed if the cheap pedals on my kids' bike used to make clicking noises, and that aspect of me has not changed in the least.  Of late, my rides have been accompanied by a god-awful creak, and it was wearing me down.  To hear an unwanted creak a couple of times on a short ride is one thing, but when I do my randonneuring rides, I don't plug into any music device; I prefer to listen to the sounds of nature, and the calming sounds of my bike. With this creak however, it meant having to listen to it hundreds and thousands of times, over and over and over, during the course of a long ride spanning several hours.

Identifying the source of a noise correctly can be quite challenging, given that there are several other things outdoors that are hard to cancel out, such as wind, vehicular noise etc. An indoor trainer is therefore one of the best bets, particularly if it's silent itself. My Turbo Muin II is ninja-quiet, so I mounted it and tried my first set of tests.

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I was able to easily produce the creak on the trainer, and now, I needed to get the source. I suspected that the noise was from the fork/steerer/handlebar section, so I removed my hands and clutched my top-tube, and the noise went away! This made me feel that the problem was in the front. I inspected the fork and bearings and found that the bearings had actually suffered a lot of corrosion due to water ingress. I changed the bearings, confident that the problem had been fixed, but the creak was to be my companion on my next few rides too, driving me close to insanity. I took it to the LBS today, where their chief mechanic, a guy with over 35 years of experience being a crank, gave it a quick once-over, listened to my notes, and stated that the problem was not in the fork, but resonance related. By putting my hand on the top-tube, I'd unwittingly dampened the vibration, leading to the quelling of the noise. He tightened everything that needed tightening, greased the inside of the seat-post, but all to no avail. The stubborn creak refused to go away.  He told me to come back for a service on June 8 (they are fully booked till then!) and that the issue was only irritating and not dangerous. I returned home, a bit happier with the knowledge that it wasn't unsafe, but decided to take another stab at fixing it myself.

I wanted to test the resonance theory more, so this time, I took my hands off the handlebars, but kept spinning, without holding on to anything else. Sure enough, I continued to be able to hear the creak. This all but cleared the fork.  The options now were seat post, and cranks. I took my legs off the pedals and tried to shift my weight from side to side, without producing the creak. I tried moving my legs in a pedalling motion, without actually pedalling, and bingo! I heard the creaks again, so it exonerated the BB/crank. Since the saddle post itself had been removed, cleaned, and greased during the inspection, I concentrated on the seat post clamp itself, which hadn't been removed. Sure enough, there was gunk between the clamp and the post! I cleaned it and tightened it again and got on the trainer again, and started spinning. Ah, the silence was so sweet! Just the whizz of the chain and the muted gurgle of my ultra-silent trainer! If feelings could write themselves into words, I'd have been able to pen beautiful poetry! All is well again!

Here's the audio recording of the creak, if you are curious!
https://soundcloud.com/prashanth-chengi/creak2


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