In the 1980s I was an engineer and keyboard guy working mainly in recording studios in London and New York. I was involved one way or another in making a lot of records; some were even vaguely successful and I’ve got a few discs of various metallic hues on my bathroom walls. It seems a long time ago, but back then I had a mantra which I could usually be heard muttering before, during and after sessions – “I HATE CABLES”. I was a nascent consumer of wireless technology even before it became mainstream with the advent of mobile phones in the early 90s and Wi-Fi in the early 00s. It’s not a coincidence I’ve made a career in wireless since.
Fast forward to 2012. I would hardly call myself an audiophile, although I find it hard to listen to music without thinking about how it was recorded and mixed. Like most people I have eschewed CDs for digital downloads, with the bulk of my listening pleasure delivered via iTunes. It’s only occasionally that I notice the audio quality of a particular album or track might be sub-optimal; I must be getting old.
As my purchasing has gone wireless so has my listening. Today I have a headless Mac Mini server running iTunes and iPhoto; iTunes is connected to various pairs of AudioEngine 5 speakers around the house using AirPlay. I control the Mac Mini using VNC from my iPhone, iPad or MacBook Air. iPhoto is always running because it receives photos from my family’s iDevices using the wonderful SyncPhotos, ensuring all our memories are collected in one place. But that’s something for another blog post.
Back to the wireless audio, the AudioEngine 5s are a highly compact pair of powered speakers offering a reasonable 75W peak output per channel. The left speaker actually provides the I/O and amplification, while the right is passive connected with a standard pair. I have the original 5s rather than the new 5+ version; the original had a 120v three-pin output into which I plugged the old design Apple Airport Express Wi-Fi access point. This way the AP was powered by the AudioEngine; in the photo at left you can see the AP attached to the rear of the left speaker, with a mini-jack stereo cable connecting the AP audio out to the speaker audio in. Alas the new 5+ does not have a three-pin power output, and the new Airport Express does not have a wall plug! So while you may not be able to take advantage of the old compact set-up, you can still use the Airport/5+ combo to provide wireless audio input to your speakers. Another advantage of this configuration is that while also delivering audio over Apple’s Airplay system, the Airport Express is a Wi-Fi access point, extending your Wi-Fi network coverage throughout your home. Once you’ve got however many pairs of speakers and Airport Express systems in various rooms, you can send music to them from your central iTunes server using Apple Remote on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Any family member can then choose what music to stream, which has led to frequent duels between my kids and I over Beyoncé or Bach.
There are some downsides of this Apple-centric solution compared to other systems like Sonos. For example, you can’t have different music playing in different rooms unless the iTunes server is dedicated to certain speaker sets, and you send music from a different device like your iPhone to others. But for the money this set-up works for me. Expect to pay around $399 for each set of AudioEngine 5+ and around $99 for each Airport Express – not at all bad for $500 per room in my opinion considering the excellent sound that the AudioEngine speakers produce.
Each year there are 21 double century cycle rides in California that qualify towards the California Triple Crown (CTC); long and often arduous journeys of 200 miles that generally must be completed in around 17 hours (the CTC official line is that the organizers of individual events can set the completion time themselves). These rides aren’t flat of course – they range in elevation gain from 5,000 to over 20,000 feet and can put you through all kinds of hell. In 2012 I rode the Davis Double Century, 8,500 feet of climb in mountains east of the Napa Valley in Northern California. While I also rode several centuries as well, I was bitten by the long-distance bug and have decided to try for the CTC in 2013. This involves riding three double centuries in one calendar year, choosing from any of the 21 official events available during the year. The less difficult rides tend to be at the beginning of the season, although these are mainly in Southern California where the weather is better in the late winter and early spring. Last year (2011) 475 riders completed three rides and earned their coveted Triple Crown Winner’s jerseys; of those 195 were first-time contenders. I’ve signed up for three four doubles in February and March, and then one in May:
- 2/16/13 Camino Real Double (8,800 ft)
- 3/2 Spring Death Valley Double (9,000 ft)
- 3/16 Joshua Tree Double (9,400 ft)
- 3/23 Solvang Spring Double (7,200 ft)
- 5/18 Davis Double (8,000 ft)
Assuming I finish three they will earn me the Triple Crown. It’s a shame they’re not a little further apart from each other; that’s going to be a rather stressful five weeks. If I’m feeling more adventurous I could keep going and ride two more doubles in the same year to enter the more rarified ranks of the Gold Thousand Mile club; cyclists who have ridden five doubles and volunteered to help on a sixth. In 2011 only 112 riders were inducted so it clearly takes something special to pull that off without a heart attack or some other medical emergency. My cycling buddy Jim A. (@JahMuse) has agreed to ride with me on three doubles during the year so he too can earn his jersey, but he’s only doing one of the three I chose in the early part of the year. This means (unfortunately for me) that I’l need to ride at least two others to keep him company. What we do for our sport!
If you feel inclined to join me and Jim, check out our options here.
UPDATE – 2/19/13. I completed the Camino Real Double in 14h 20m (official time) in 47th place. 12h 38m in the saddle + 1h 43m at rest stops. Not too shabby! Next up, the Death Valley Double…
UPDATE – 3/3/13. Managed to survive the Death Valley Double, finishing in 15h 08m (14h 6m in the saddle + 1h at rest stops). This was the hardest ride I’ve ever done, for sure. Hot and windy, with long straight roads that stretch ahead for miles and are thus quite demoralizing! BUT it was fantastic and I enjoyed it hugely.
UPDATE – 3/16/13. Completed the Joshua Tree Double in 15h 42m (official time). Very tough headwinds and searing heat made this a very hard ride, I promise you! This was waaay harder that Death Valley.
UPDATE – 3/23/13. Completed the Solvang Spring Double with colleague Jim A. in 14h 15m (unofficial time) and won my Triple Crown jersey, so I’m a happy bunny. Next up the Davis Double in May.
Saturday September 29th saw the fourth annual King Ridge GranFondo, held in the beautiful wilds of Western Sonoma, California. From Santa Rosa to the coast and back, the ride attracts cyclists from all over with over – 7,500 riders at the mass start at 8AM sharp. It’s a timed ’sportive’ ride which many treat as a race, so it’s packed at the start and crashes are common. I was originally going to ride the rather grueling 100-mile route (the Gran) but at the last minute I switched to ride with my 9-year-old son Jonny on the shorter 32-mile course (the Piccolo); it was a fantastic decision. This was his first organized ride and his Mom was unable to ride with him on the day so I stepped in. Not only was it a great opportunity to bond but for the first time I really appreciated how determined he is to be a good, possibly even great, cyclist. This was the longest ride he’s ever done, with over 1,500 feet of climb. Yet he managed it without complaint and at a pace (13 MPH) that many adults would have trouble with.
Now I’m not one of those pushy sports Dads; I’m happy to let Jonny discover for himself whether we wants to cycle or not. I bought him a decent kid’s sized road bike (Felt F24) and he’s taken well to riding with gentle encouragement. On Saturday more hardened grown-up riders on the course were quick to praise him as they passed, shouting words of encouragement that help spur Jonny onwards, and made me positively glow with pride. Thank you for that! Despite being one of the youngest riders on the course we finished with 2h 30m in the saddle which was a very good time for him. As we crossed the line they announced over the tannoy “Here’s Jonny Baker just nine years old, go Jonny!” I have to say that of all the organized rides I’ve done this was my favorite – time with my boy and our bikes. Perfect.
Well that year went by very quickly! Suddenly it’s September again with three centuries within 30 days. This weekend saw cycling buddy Jim A. (@JahMuse) and I tackle the Tahoe Sierra Century as a warm-up for the Levi’s Gran Fondo. The 103-mile ride winds its way from Squaw Valley through Tahoe City, King’s Beach and Truckee to the old road at Donner Pass and a quick sprint out to Cisco Grove and back. It was cooler than last year but the altitude is always something to deal with. We managed it in a little over six hours in the saddle with around 7,500 of climb. This however was nothing compared to the Levi’s next weekend so stay tuned…
>> 100-mile route map
Being welcomed at the finish line (Jim A. at left)
The Amtrak Century takes a gentle 100 mile route from Irvine to San Diego more or less following the tracks of the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train service. Compared to other centuries I’ve done this is pretty straight forward; around 3,500 ft of climb over 6 hours. The journey passes through some lovely Southern California coastal spots, as well as some interesting sites like the San Onofre nuclear power station and the US Marines base at Camp Pendleton.
There are no hills of note except Torrey Pines just north of San Diego with a short 6% grade from sea level to 500ft. I averaged 16.5 MPH taking it relatively easy, but this speed is indicative of the multitude of stop lights and traffic lights on this really urban course. Personally I prefer more rural rides with more challenging terrain but in hindsight it was a perfect warm up to the Tahoe Sierra Century two weeks later. The big bonus was the cool jersey!
Link to Strava plot
Link to Orange County Wheelmen web site for Amtrak ride info
It’s time of year again when the good weather brings on the long rides. The 2012 Marin Century is always a well-attended cycle event, with a selection between the 100 mile, 200 km, Mt Tam Century and the infamous Mt Tam Double Century. I have four centuries coming up over the next 60 days so I decided to bail on the Double and focus on the 100 mile instead. The weather could not have been more perfect; foggy and cool all the way from the start at San Rafael up to Petaluma, out to the West Marin coast at Valley Ford and Marshall, and back to San Rafael along Lucas Valley. I ignored the first couple of rest stops, making Valley Ford my initial break at around 60 miles; I don’t think I could have done that if it had been a hot day!
My time this year was 6 hours 30 minutes in the saddle, with an additional 25 minutes of rest and refueling at two stops. A great ride and good practice for the tough month of September with three centuries back to back over three weeks, including the Levi Gran Fondo.
The Marin Century route and elevation can be seen here on Strava.