Bikes, Beer and Beards.

Sure, it sounds like something you would expect from Portland, but this story begins in Sydney, Australia. And, while it passes through Portland and The Vanilla Workshop, it's really about two friends getting out for a ride. Enjoy! 

Mark Jensen and Andrew Gordon picked up their Speedvagen and promptly left for San Francisco via the Oregon Coast on a Rapha Randonee. This is how they remember it. 

Words by Mark Jensen

Photography by Andrew Gordon & Brad Sauber 

Andrew and I arrive in Portland. To say that we are excited about picking up our Speedvagen is a massive understatement.  It is crazy to consider that a bicycle can be hand built on the other side of the world, guided only by the specifications and measurements we provide.  We had no doubt Sacha and the crew at Vanilla would get our machines bang on and they did.  Their reputation is well deserved.

After picking up our bikes, (picture big smiles), Andrew and I spend the first couple of days in Portland exploring the sights.  We check out breweries, food trucks, restaurants and cafes.  We both feel jet-lagged and try and catch up on as much sleep possible.  For now we are content for our spanking new Speedvagen to rest at the end of our beds. This of course is torture but we are fully aware our bikes will see plenty of action soon enough.

From the outset the Randonnee feels right.  There is an eclectic mix of cycling enthusiasts.  Some big, some small, some with beards, some without, some I think I have their ability pegged, and others I just don't have a clue about.  It’s a little like taking your position on the starting line at a race. Adrenaline is high and you just don’t know how the race is going to play out.  A Randonnee is not a race of course but one thing is guaranteed, everyone regardless of fitness is in for a week of pleasure and pain, as well as elation and suffering in equal measure…and quite frankly, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Rapha. 

I woke early on the first day and I wasn’t the only one.  I don’t think anyone slept well.  Everyone was excited and possibly a little anxious for what lay ahead.  Pack bags, eat breakfast, kit up and assemble by the vehicles for an 8am roll out.  This became our morning ritual and by the end of the week we welcomed the routine.

Our legs feel fresh even if our eyes are a little blurry and we can’t wait to get in the saddle.  I need to stop staring at my bike and get it into motion.  My army green Speedvagen certainly attracts attention and I am not the only one seduced by its charm.

Today we follow the route of the Rapha Gentlemen’s race making our way to the Pacific coast.  We roll out and I use the first mile or so to run through my gears.  The Super Record RS feels direct, smooth and responsive.  I’ve studied the itinerary and know I’ll be using every gear in the rear cluster over the course of the trip.  We rolled 20-miles or so on relatively flat terrain before reaching the first climb. The bunch doesn’t take long to sort itself out and I feel comfortable with the split.  10-miles of climbing at 9% for an elevation gain of 1900 ft.  My Speedvagen feels light and nimble.  I don’t have to fight with the bike to propel it forward.  I can already tell the more I ride this machine the better the experience will be. 

Our bunch climbs steadily.  The road meanders through the dense forest following the course of the river.  Dappled light filters through the canopy of the moss-laden trees spilling onto the road ahead of us.  To be honest, this ride reminds me of riding the Adelaide Hills in Australia.  Further along we ride through a grove of eucalyptus trees and it even smells the same.  While I’m off in my daydream, the pace increases and I find myself off the back by 4 bike lengths.  I shift into a bigger gear, lift myself out of the saddle and in no time at all I’ve accelerated back into the bunch. 

The descent was brisk but not crazy.  Some of the younger guys show no fear.  This was my first proper descent on my Speedvagen so I’m happy to feel my way through the corners for now.  The bike feels safe, important for an old bloke like myself, stiff and well balanced.  The steering is direct and I confidently negotiate a series of tight, and as I descend further down the mountain, sweeping corners.  I feel sure-footed riding on the ENVE 6.7's, stiff and fast.  As the road opens up the whirl and hum of the hubs dare me to tuck into a tight aero position and extract every last bit of speed off the mountain. 

After a quick lunch by the roadside we make our way to the Pacific coast.  For most of the day we travel along highway 101 making excursions off the highway to take in the sights. The Oregon coastline is rugged and windswept.  It’s a picturesque and extreme environment.  We ride with the ocean on our right and our eyes open for whales.  We were told the whales were migrating and we were fortunate to spot a pod of them playing close to the shore.  It’s a beautiful ride but it’s not an easy one.  We manage to maintain a decent pace as we battle into the headwind.  I’m sure I read somewhere the trade winds were meant to be at our back the entire trip? 

After 120-miles in the saddle we arrive at our hotel.  I’ve spent mile after mile comfortably down in the drops of my handlebars. This is not something I’m known to do back home on my Time RXR.  My legs still feel fresh and just as importantly my back, neck and shoulders feel relaxed. Speedvagen have a reputation for being a comfortable ride and now I know why.  Slowly, one by one, I’m unlocking its secrets. 

The mechanics take care of my bike and I sit down and smash a beer with Andrew.  Smashing a beer straight after the ride becomes another ritual, one of the many we develop over the course of the trip.  Andrew is smiling from ear to ear.  He’s just as impressed with his bike as I am with mine. Ok, time to take a shower.  When I do get to my room it’s enormous.  My bags are already there.  The Rapha crew goes out of their way to make the experience as comfortable as possible. This must be a popular honeymoon hotel or a lonely cyclist retreat.  There is an enormous hot tub right next to my bed.  Over dinner we exchange our impressions of the day.  Off to bed early tonight, there’s another 125-miles to cover tomorrow.

For the most part we ride along highway 101 detouring to ride an essential climb or to see a beautiful slice of wilderness.  It’s an experience in itself riding along the highway.  Man those pickup trucks are huge!  I’ve never seen anything like the size of the RV’s that constantly stream past my left shoulder.  The road surface goes from good to bad, from smooth tarmac to… watch out for that loose gravel! Too late someone hits the deck and those following scramble to avoid colliding with the fallen rider.  Fortunately he’s ok and it doesn’t take long for us to get rolling again.  The riders in our bunch are solid.  I’m glad Andrew and I trained all through the Australian winter to get into condition for this ride.  We make great time over the 125-miles even with the occasional stop to take photos and enjoy the sights. 

Andrew and I trained with a squad for many years. This is how we first met.  Our coach drilled it into us to spin our legs in an easy gear.  It proves to have been sage advice given the demands currently placed upon us.  Over the duration of the ride, we average 100 miles a day, and in 9 days, we do more climbing than we would normally do in 6 months back home.  Andrew and I are riding into the trip and feeling stronger everyday.  I’m glad we are feeling fit because although we are suffering on the 15 to 25% climbs we are recovering quickly and are happily back in the saddle the next day.

Our experiences are many and memorable.  Everyday is the same but at the same time incredibly different.  Most days start and end with a climb.  I’m convinced it’s a perverse Rapha thing.  One day we climbed 1900ft within 5-miles of leaving our breakfast table.  Throw leg over bike, roll 100 yards, turn left and ascend.  The ascents are etched into my memory especially the ones over 20%.  They were grueling but at the same time beautiful and offered plenty of time for reflection. 

Going down hill fast requires skill and bravery.  I enjoy descending but I’m cautious especially on unfamiliar roads.  I enjoy letting go, tucking in and squeezing as much speed out of my bike as I can.  It’s just fun.  

On one particular descent I almost came undone.  I was descending a long straight road heading towards the ocean at 52-miles an hour.  I was flying and the Speedvagen was performing beautifully when all of a sudden I rode out from the protection of the mountainside and copped the full force of a raging crosswind.  My deep ENVE wheels caught the wind like sails and I was thrown into a violent speed wobble. The thought of losing my bike to the tarmac at speed within the first week of owning it just wasn’t an option.  It took at least 3 long terrifying minutes and the best part of a mile to wrestle it back under control.  I’m done with the hills for now.

We did venture off the bitumen on occasion when the road literally disintegrated from bitumen to dirt, to gravel, to mud.  It tested our bikes and our bike skills.  These days provided the quintessential Rapha catalogue moments. Overcast sky, a remote wilderness location with the track narrowing the further we ride. 18 riders, bikes dirty with forest debris pushing on until the thick mud forces us to dismount and lift our bikes onto our shoulders.  Two of the guys swear they saw a black bear run off into the distance.

It’s a luxury to be able to ride everyday for 9 days and it is with this knowledge that we consume every drop of the experience. The grandeur and isolation of the Redwood forest is magical.  It is so quiet.  There are no cars.  The only noise is the whirl of our bicycle wheels as we pedal passed the enormous Redwood trees.  We feel privileged to be here. We stop, take photos and appreciate the enormity of the silence. 

My beard is without doubt the longest I have ever grown.  I feel fit, my legs are strong and I’m proud of the tan on my legs and tattooed arms.  I’ve worn matching Rapha kit most days and I’m totally enamored with my Speedvagen.  It has performed impeccably no matter how challenging the terrain.  I’ve got the odd chip on the paintwork but somehow, on this bike it feels a part of the plan.  Andrew and I high-five as we roll in on the last day.  Everyone is feeling quite emotional upon seeing the Golden Gate Bridge.  It has been an amazing adventure.

















Posted on January 6, 2015 .