First Impressions: Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons

The winter cold hit Northern Virginia this weekend.  With temperatures hovering around freezing, I gutted out a 17 mile ride on Saturday.  Today’s highs were to be a few degrees colder than Saturday.  I pondered whether  or not to head out.  I probably would have passed but for two things:

1.  I was keenly aware that you all were desperate to learn my opinion of my new tires.  It would not be fair to keep you waiting any longer than absolutely necessary.

2.  I went out to dinner last night and things got out of control.  I needed to ride to counteract the effects of copious amounts of fried foods and key lime pie.

So I pedaled another 26 miles today, giving me 43 on my new Conti 4S tires.  By the way, “Conti” is an abbreviation for “Continental” (which all the cool cyclists know) and “4S” is short for “Grand Prix 4 Seasons.”  I realize “Grand” is omitted in the acronym.  I have no idea why – some things defy explanation.  The uber-cool cyclists further abbreviate this to “C4S.”  I shall therefore use this term.

So what do I think of the C4S?

- I think it’s damn near impossible to evaluate a tire when you’re trying to avoid frostbite.

- The ride seems to be a little more comfortable, but that could be all in my head.

- On a couple of turns, it seemed like I cornered very fast, almost “ziplike,” but that could be in my head.

- The tires felt fast, but there was no evidence of that in my times, but that could be because it’s difficult to ride at fast speeds when you are trying to avoid frostbite.

- The tread pattern looks neat, but I’m pretty sure it’s useless.  Unless, of course, the nice cornering is due to the tread.  I suspect cornering performance has far more to do with the composition of the rubber than a millimeter-deep pattern on the tire.

The tires performed splendidly in their most important functions, namely staying inflated and staying on my wheel rim.  In the end, that’s what I really hope for and anything else is just gravy.  Here’s hoping the perceived improvements are not just psychosomatic.  Time (and warmer weather) will tell.

McGrath Road

click for ride stats

“You must be freaking cold,” my wife said to me when I returned after a two hour pedal on a day which featured strong winds and 40-degree temps

“I am,” I replied, “but not as much as you might think.”  Fortunately, I chose my clothing wisely and managed to stay relatively comfortable out in the elements, although my nose dripped like a leaky faucet and I can honestly state there are few things I enjoy less when cycling then cycling into a strong headwind.  If I were to undertake a tour, one of the first things I would do is check the prevailing winds.  There is NO WAY I would head into those winds (I’m looking at you, Spokie!).  15 miles is long enough – days of that punishment would drive me mad.

But it was all good training as I took advantage of another day off work.  My mileage is now got me on pace for 8,212 miles this year!  And this is the last time you will see me make this computation as I return to work tomorrow and my mileage totals will drop to more predictable levels.

I try to do some exploring on every ride and today’s goal was to check out McGrath Road, a side road just north of Lake Jackson which I have pedaled past about 100 times without venturing down it.  I’ve never traveled that road since it leads to nowhere – or does it?  Sometimes interesting things lay at the end of such roads and I decided to check this one out.  “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” was my motto.

There was nothing interesting.

Still, there were some excellent hills which helped me to over 1,200 feet of climbing for the ride.  Not bad.  I’m always on the lookout for steep climbs as mountains are in short supply along the Potomac River.  The route is forested with many secluded homes along the way – some rather new and some rather old.

I spotted an interesting home overlooking the north bank of Lake Jackson and surreptitiously rode partway up the drive to take this picture.  I didn’t dare go any further as trespassing is taken more seriously by some than others and I did not know where the owner of this house fell on that spectrum.  The view from this hilltop must be excellent and the architecture is quite fetching, in my humble opinion.  It is built in the colonial style but I suspect it is nowhere near that old.

On my way home, I was almost hit by another car in almost the exact same place as in yesterday’s ride.  This time a minivan was pulling out of a cul-de-sac and simply never saw me in the road.  I was able to lay my hand on the back of the vehicle as we nearly occupied the same space.  Again, there was no real danger as the van was moving slowly and I easily avoided it, but jeesh, enough of this already!

A Cold And Windy Day

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  – Woody Allen

I hope the people in the Southern Hemisphere are enjoying the sun.  We’re still a few weeks from the solstice and I already miss it.  The cold days certainly make “showing up” more difficult!

With a strong possibility that I won’t be able to cycle tomorrow (Harry Potter is calling me), I resolved to keep my weekend cycling streak alive and set off into the teeth of a steady 20 mph wind.  The temperature was in the upper 40s and this was the coldest ride of the year for me.  The wind only made it more “exciting.” 

The best that can be said for today was I have now cycled 13 weekends in a row.  My only break since mid-April was August 28-29, due to one of my many mechanical issues with Old Ironsides.  I’m also within spitting distance of 2,000 miles for the year.  Barring a major calamity, that mark is well within my grasp.

I didn’t do anything exciting with my route.  I just traveled up my old friend, Rte 234.  The first 12.2 miles were into the wind and it took me 55 minutes to cover them.  It was a tough go.  As one might expect, turning around made all the difference.  The return trip took me only 38 minutes and my heart rate dropped from near max to Zone 3.

I think I’ve just about reached the max of my current cold weather kit.  My full-finger gloves are thin and meant for Fall weather, not the depths of Winter.  I used two pairs of socks and my thin shoe covers kept me warm, but I don’t think they can handle much more.  My skull cap worked just fine.  For my torso, I used a new fleece jacket with a jersey and long sleeve shirt.  That, too, was up to the task but I could feel the limits of the arrangement.  Without a significant overhaul, I believe 40 degrees is my limit.  That’s about 25 degrees colder than I would have ever imagined cycling in just nine months ago!

Cycling in the Dark, Cold, Rain

Here’s a tip: you can’t see rain clouds when it’s dark out, so check your local weather channel or website before you begin your night ride.  Otherwise, you might find yourself cycling in a 55-degree rainstorm as I did last night.  It was a great character-building experience, but I hope not to repeat it anytime soon.

There’s no need to thank me – I’m happy to help.

I elected to keep Old Ironsides as my evening bike.  I generally keep those rides to around 15 miles and I think it can handle that load.  I also haven’t switched my light setup to the Trek.  I could easily make the switch but I would be mortified if I wrecked my new bike on a darkened wet trail. 

It was good to “work the kinks out” from this weekend’s ride.  Hopefully I’ll get another ride in tonight, then I can go for some longer trips on the weekend when the weather is forecasted to be great.