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Friday, September 09, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Grosee Scheidegg Loop

It was 11:45am. Google's search results indicated that the Riem Bike shop was only 3km away, but also that it closed at noon! "We need to make this!" I said to Pengtoh, and pedaled hard. It was our 3rd bike shop of the day and we were getting desperate to find someone, anyone, who sold low gears compatible with his bike.

The day started off beautifully. I woke up hungry but well rested, and breakfast at Rosenlaui is always nothing but excellent.
Climbing up Grosse Scheidegg, Pengtoh once again bemoaned his shortage of low gears, but Arturo was elated --- his last climb up the pass was completely fogged in, hence all the scenery was new. I went on ahead at first, but it was so pretty that I had to stop to take pictures. After a little bit, Pengtoh and Arturo caught up. "I've found a way to flatten the hill!" "Oh yeah?" "Zig zag across the road!" Of course, that wouldn't work on less isolated roads, but on Grosse Scheidegg where non-local traffic was disallowed, we only encountered the post-bus once on the way up.
On the descent, we stopped in Grindelwald just in case the bike shops there had a crank that was suitable for Pengtoh's bike. One thing I've learned over the years is that at least in the Interlaken area, Mountain Biking is way more popular than road bikes, and you can't find a single road bike shop to save your life. That meant that our chances of finding a 74mm BCD 24t chainring was slim to none. My guess was that we would have to replace the entire crank in order to drop his gearing down into something reasonable.
The first bike shop couldn't help, and the next one made us wait until the mechanic showed up to work only to tell us that we'd better head over to Interlaken where a real bike shop might be able to help us. I had him give us a few bike shops to call: Velo-Center Amacher, who was very gruff with me over the phone and didn't even think they could help, and Riem, who asked us to bring the bike in.
We rolled down the hill at speed, but at one point I got stuck behind a truck and pulled over to give him room so the rest of the descent wouldn't be as frustrating. Arturo was significantly behind us, and he probably would have stopped if he saw us, but we saw him racing a motor-car down the hill at speed, grim determination on his face. We gave chase but gave up after a while when we realized that he probably thought we were ahead of him and was going ahead at full steam.
Past Wilderswil, Pengtoh and I stopped for a map check and realized that we had a deadline of 12:00pm to get to the bike shop. We texted Arturo and told him to meet us there, and I rolled into the bike shop at 11:50am. I asked to see their selection of cranks and immediately spotted the Deore 22/30/40 crankset. In an ideal world, I would setup Pengtoh's bike with a 2x10 drivetrain like Arturo's, but he had a Shimano 105 road triple STI brifters, and matching it with a triple crankset increased the likelihood of good compatibility without having to work around the indexing system.
Pengtoh arrived just 1 minute before the shop was due to closed, and the bike shop mechanic looked at the bike, thought about it, and said that it might be possible. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was all prepared to have Pengtoh buy the crank, and ask the bike shop to borrow their tools and install everything myself if they had balked at doing something as un-Swiss as putting a mountain bike crank on a road bike. But not only did they not balk at it, they were happy to skip lunch to work on the bike, which is unheard of in European service circles!
Pengtoh asked me a question while Riem's mechanic worked on his bike: "I'm wearing cycling shoes without cleats. Would you recommend switching to cleats at this point?" "It's like 5 pounds of muscle, so yes!" I blurted out. The reality was, while I normally wouldn't recommend equipment changes in the middle of any tour, the Tour of the Alps had ideal conditions for making the transition to cleated shoes and pedals: once you started on a climb, there were usually no traffic lights or sudden changes requiring you to stop in a hurry and uncleat. Your speeds were low, and any fall would probably have very little consequences. More importantly, Pengtoh was one of the smartest people I know. There was no doubt in my mind that if anyone could make this kind of transition look easy, it was him.
While the mechanic was upgrading Pengtoh's bike (and doing a very thorough job --- he triple checked everything, put in spacers in the right places, and adjusted the front derailleur --- I would have done a far sloppier job myself), he shopped for shoes with the help of the saleswoman in the store. The total for everything turned out to be 350CHF, which Pengtoh said was cheaper than he would have had to pay in Singapore, for much less competent mechanical work. So Reims bike shop comes highly recommended! We left his old shoes (which still looked new) and cranks at the store. We didn't need to buy pedals as his pedals already had SPD compatibility on one side, and we headed off towards Interlaken Ost for a supermarket lunch at the COOP near the train station, stopping in down town for the infamous picture of the Jungfrau across the meadow at the city center:
After lunch and a quick stop at the ATM for me to acquire Swiss francs, we headed along the bike path towards Iseltwald, and the beginning of the serious climbing on our way back to Meiringen valley. The late Mr. Brandt never opts for the dirt riding on this route, preferring to ride the northern car road along the Brienzersee, but I had discovered on previous tours that while the northern route is faster and very pretty in the mornings (especially on calm mornings), by mid-afternoon it's a busy road and annoying to ride, while the dirt path is shaded, car free, and full of things to see.

At the Giessbach Falls, we stopped to hike behind the waterfall and admire views of the historic Grand Hotel. The day was gorgeous, and Arturo was very pleasantly surprised at how easy the unpaved sections was. "Did they improve the trail since 2 years ago?" "No, I think the rider and the bike both improved a lot though!" Clearly, Arturo's custom titanium bike was a significant improvement (in fit, comfort and weight) over the steel touring bike he had borrowed from Roberto.
It was still so early at Meiringen that we took a walk through the Aareschlucht, since Pengtoh hadn't been there before, as well as a stop (once again) at the Lammi restaurant for sausages to brace ourselves for the climb up to Rosenlaui. We split up for the climb since we were going to be bottlenecked at the showers anyway, so I went at full speed while Arturo and Pengtoh took a leisurely departure.
While I had given Pengtoh and Arturo the advice to not forgo any water stops, I knew that one water bottle was plenty. Indeed, I arrived at Rosenlaui with half a bottle left. After parking my bike, I had enough time to stretch and take a shower before Arturo and Pengtoh showed up. We had purchased a bottle of soap at the Coop, because the dorm rooms at Rosenlaui don't provide soap (or towels and sleep sheets). So it was a good thing for us to arrive about 15 minutes apart from one another, since sharing that small bottle of soap was bottlenecking our showers anyway.
Dinner was fabulous as usual, and we were very pleased that we had achieved all of our goals that day along with great riding.

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