L’Alsacienne – wild Marathon Experience

A short Story about L’Alsacienne – a relatively young cycling marathon in the French Vosques

Many of you may know the Grand Ballon and the petit Ballon here.
The classic granfondo “Trois Ballons” was too early in the year for a good weather rider like me.
So I thought, I might sign up for L’Alsacienne. It is now in it’s third year, and the long route with 167km seemed quite reasonable to me. Somehow I must have overlooked the 4500m of altitude. In the end it should be even over 4650 due to a vigorous ascent at the very end.

Alsacienne Map

we took off directly into the climb to Vieil Armand heading towads Grand Ballon. Not at all a bad idea with temperatures around 10°C. So at that point we are still pretty happy with 1998 other people to get warmed up. More or less easily we did the first two “summits”. At the top of the Vieil Armand, it’s off to the left in a rather moderate descent and then up again a few meters to Markstein. The descent from Markstein is like many in the area very nice to drive, but in comparison still unspectacular. Except for a few cobblestone passages that pop up surprisingly (they start just before a turn)

As soon as we arrive the valley, it’s back up to the right to Markstein via Bramont and Route des Cretes. So far, the angulations are in the range of 8%, and the world is still good. But tso far we only did 65 of 167kilometers. Between Routes des cretes and Markstein, a small group of people from Freiburg and Karlsruhe catch up and join us. From now on we have very entertaining conversations and a slightly faster average speed. Before we were already quite lonely among the almost 500 riders on the big lap. And up here, the views over the Vosges are sensational.

The descent to Schweighouse is quite an experience: right-left combinations alternate with tight bends and long high-speed corners. I rarely had so much fun in a downhill. And that’s called a low mountain range?
The fairly short climb up Bannstein can run smoothly, and also the Firstplan is pleasant to ride. Unfortunately we let ourselves be driven by the nice company and the flowing mountains to overpower a bit. The descent from Firstplan is a reward for the speedy uphill and an absolute pleasure. Hammer!

Before the ascent to the Petit balloon, we let go the group and have a break at a parking lot. Drinking in peace, eating energy-bars, and I put my feet in the water. Here we meet Jan, who joins us at the break and for the remaining very very hard kilometers. What comes next is incredible.

The Petit Ballon on it’s west side clime is stated 8.4% on average and just under 12% maximum. But even the first hills out of Wasserbourg feel much steeper. We also just now recognise that the asphalt here rolls incredibly slow all the time. For sure, the Petit Ballon will bring the decision to us. We stop and get out of th saddle several times to be able to at least drink something. Over these 120km it was hard to hydrate and eat properly, as it’s always either uphill or fast downhill. Cycling in the plains doesn’t take place at the Alsacienne.

We can no enjoy the descent. The asphalt is wavy, rough and pitted, and we are weak and exhausted. After the hard climb, the Petit Ballon also beats us on the descent.

Right at the end of the descent, a catering is waiting for us – and a sharp turn to the left into the next ascent to Platzerwasel and then back to Markstein. We were already there twice that day. But now we need to refuel with some Coke and some more energy-food. Unfortunately, there is hardly anything left because we were properly passed. The sweeper bus collects the riders of the 125km tour and volunteers from the 167s. We make our way to the Platzerwasel. Now it’s just about not giving up. This ascent also has some ramps over 10%, but is less disgusting to drive than the previous one. The weather is changeable and cool all day long, now a few drops are falling. Fortunately, it will not rain. The Breitfirst (we were there already before, too) and Markstein are only small horns. Then another catering comes in sight at the bottom before the rise to the Grand Ballon. We ignore the honking of the sweeper bus and bite us in the last? next-to-last? next-to-next-to-last? ascent. It’s tough, we’re slow, but it’s only 200hm over the Grand Ballon.

Then finally again a real decent. The view from above is spectacular. We all know these from the helicopter pictures of the Tour de France. Thanks to the nice trio that we are, we can even enjoy such moments. Now we’re going back the way we came. So up again over the cobblestones to the Vieil Armand. Short but tough 100hm, then back downhill. It’s fun now.

As a reward, the organizers have come up with a final climb over a paved forest road. On 1.4km, it’s up again with an average of 11.2%. But now it doesn’t matter anymore. 1400m – 1200m – 99.999cm – 800m – 600m – 400m – 200m and finish.
I was barely aver as much exhausted after cycling like after this crazy bike marathon.

It sounds like a total torture, but it was also a lot of fun. The area is beautiful, the roads are awesome. And they are virtually empty. With only 2000 participants, it is a very familiar event, organized in a very symathic way. At each corner we were cheered by volunteers, even though it’s somewhere in the nowhere.

At the finish, someone said: “They want to break us down here. They don’t want to show us the scenery, because then we could just easily pass every hill and mountain once.” If that’s the case: It worked.

Right next to the race office there is a campsite with warm showers and almost tame storks. The cost was 30€ – for 2 guys and two nights. Somehow I still cannot believe it.
(For comparison: The Ötzi has (slightly less than) 5500hm on 238km, L’Ansacienne is 70km less)

Supplement: Driving time was 9:23.
Much longer than my Ötzi times, but I’m also fat and less fit.


L’Alsacienne – wild Marathon Experience

Why “Major Cycles”

When I started to build my first bike frame, I wanted o have a “brand name” written on the down tube. At that time, that was something of what I thought of as “professional”.

The model name was found quickly: I planned to have the frame painted in Alfa Romeo’s “Rosso Competizione”, so Competizione seemed to be a good name for a road bike frame. But the virtual brand name did not come easy.

My family name is “Gebhardt”. While German names on bike parts may be kind of fancy, noboda outside Germany knows how to pronounce it. “Tom”? Well, I think very short names look kind of lost on downtubes. So I looked for something more neutral – but these relults lacked personality and a deeper connection to me as a person.

And then I thought of nicknames. One of them has been “Major Tom” or just “Major” for many years. I believe, it came up in the harrdbooter’s community somewhen in 2004/2005 based on Peter Schillings song from ’82: “Major Tom” (völlig losgelöst)

Major Tom Youtube (I will try later to make that video directly visible here)

At that time the idea of “Major Cycles” came up, which in some fields like finance or statistics hhas quite a meaning (not related to bicycles at all.) I then interviewed some English native speakers about their thoughts. Nobody tried to stop me.

So the “brand name” mainly started as something to fill the down tube. I was not even suure about any future frame building activity at that time. But when I started to build my second frame, also that one needed a downtube name.

So that’s why my bikes are callled “Major Cycles”



Why “Major Cycles”

Paint Jobs

Today I want to describe how I got to the paint job design of my latest build completed.

The paint job of my first frame was easy to define and to decide. I’m not saying that I did not put any time or thoughts into it. But the main color (Lamborghini Rosso Competizione) was part of he project and even matched the model name: Competizione”. And at that time, a banderole was a perfectly fine design for me. So the first design was quite close to one of the most calssic paint schemes ever, the Colnago Saronni.

Major Cyles No. 1: “Competizione”

Ever since I’ve been collecting “cool bike colors”. One of those that I really loved from the first moment was the Toyota GT86′ Inferno Orange.

When I started to think about the design of my wife’s frame, I found that much more difficult than designing a paint scheme for yourself. I wanted the mein color to match her idea of bikes and cycling. I also wanted it to be kind of feminine (by the way: I totally overestimated her desire of having a feminine bicycle). So I pretty much started thinking about an inverse color scheme to my first frame, like some of the early Merckx frames. I thought, that was very classic, she found it boring.

Still with lots of white in mind, I developed the idea of longitudinal stripes on the tubes. And I asked her tons of questions about colors. I learned, she loves orange for bikes. Great. So after only some weeks I already had a solution. White with orange and blue stripes.

I prepared the frame with colored paper. I really liked the look. My wife appreciated the effort, but found it too pale, too “nice”. Not powerful.

But based on that, we could develop more ideas. With the help of “Paint” and some friends, I came up with what went to be the final paint design. I even drew “top tube views” in paint showing the lugs to give an impression to her and to me.


So what did I learn about making bikes for someone else?

  • It’s incredibly hard to imagine what someone else might like or not.
  • We tend to become victims of our expectations and clichés
  • I need to talk and discuss with the future bike owner about colors and designs
  • The result can still be 100% mine and 100% hers

As a result we are both incredibly happy with the paint.

Next week I’ll show the painted frame and final bike.

Paint Jobs

Insight: Frame Geometry ladies road bike

The last complete bike I built, was a ladies’ road bike for my wife.

There were a lot of peculiarities in this project:

  1. a very demanding “customer”
  2. a “customer” with very little experience in road bikes
  3. a lot of time for the fit
  4. very well known riding biases

The funniest fact might be, that it took me more than 3 years to finalise the geometry. This was mainly due to the fact that the framebuilding only started to late. But all that time gave me the opportunity to optimise my wife’s riding position on two other bikes until I felt very confident with the result. An that leads to the first finding:

Fit is the main priority.

The picture on top of this post was my first manual drawing. It was already a good fit regarding saddle-to-bar-position. That means: I had to find a solution to build a frame for only 6cm saddle elevation. That’s the main reason why I opted for a 6° sloping top tube and 1cm steerer tube ecxess. So I could achieve a nominal frame height of 55cm from where the top tube is lowered by 1cm and then descending at 6° towards the seat tube. That measures were found based on the inseam length, torso and arm lengths, known preferred saddle superelevation and my knowledge of her riding position.

Then the frame had to be really short due to my wife’s short torso length. It came out with a 52cm top tube at 73° seat tube angle. This was based on a strictly “Outside-in”-appproach starting at the saddle position. Based on saddle-bar-length I then considered the planned stem parameters (6° rise, 90mm length) and the conventional headset.

Different from most production frames, I could not cheat with super-steep seat tube angles, as the correct fit was my personal motivation. But usually short frames means toe overlap. So there is a big advantage for me building a “private” frame: I can accept some toe overlap. But in this case, I still wanted to avoid it. At the same time I knew very well how bad flat head tube angles can feel. So went for a moderate head tube angle of 72,5° and some more fork rake of 48mm to achieve my personal sweet spot trail of 55mm.

The result of all this is what I aimed for: A perfect fit frame for a person with shorter than normal torso AND a perfectly neutral-yet-lively road bike. The bike fits very well in all handlebar positions due to the moderate riding position and the compact handlebar.

A nice side-effect of the outside-in-engineering approach is surprisingly balanced visuals for a short and high road bike.






Insight: Frame Geometry ladies road bike

Specialized RockCombo

Not a road bike, no MTB, no travel bike, no tourer, no randonneuse.

But today it might go as a 26″ gravel bike


My first MTB back in 1988 was a Specialized RockCombo. I bought it from a guy who worked at a bikeshop. That shop was located in a small village some 30km away from my hometown and only opened in the afternoon and on Saturdays – but it was one of the best places for high end MTBs at that time. Mountainbikes were something quite new at that time in Germany, and they imported some of the fancy stuff like Klein and Rocky Mountain themseves.

I was close to buying a rather cheap Peugeot bike with some Shimano GSXXX at the local bikeshop in my hometown. My wallet did not allow anything more expensive, but my intuition told me, that bike was not going to make me happy. A friend at school told me about that guy selling his high end MTB. The price was fair, but higher than my budget. Anyways – after a test ride the decision was made and 2 weeks later I took it home:

A white steel mountainbike with pink graphics and a pink saddle. The components were the best you could buy – that’s what the vendor told me. I had no clue at that time, but luckily that guy did not fool me. It was Suntour XC9010 indexed shift levers with the XC9000 derailleurs, a Specialized wheelset w/ Suntour hubs and Specialized labelled suntour cranks. The brake levers were Deore XT2 (the short ones – that was important!)


That picture shows me racing maybe in 1990. Note the Specialized helmet and the Tioga Farmer John / Farmer John’s Cousin tire combo.

The bike was a bit too tall for me, but I had a lot of fun and some success in Junior Races. Later I got more modern, more lightweight, better (I thought) bikes – and the RockCombo had to go. It was much later that I learned the RockCombo had been designed for a different  purpose.

Due to our common history, I was looking for a RockCombo for several years. Then finally in 2016 I found a used frame in Poland. The decision to build it up with an off road drop bar – just like the original build – was quickly made. The very nice vendor found the original headset, bottom bracket and cranks.

The surprise when I opened the box: The frame had the same sticker of that bike shop attached as my frame had.

The concept and frame design of the RockCombo have always been subject to rumors. What I know for sure today is: The geometry was designed that way, it’s not a badly built series of RockHoppers. And there were really just about 500 of these bikes build, as they were a huge fail saleswise.

I decided to build the frame with colorful parts just as it might have been the idea of the surfin’ 90ies.

I found the purple saddle in my saddle box and went for a happy color scheme with yellow bartape. The handlebar is a Soma Portola – significantly different shape than the Specialized RockCombo bars. Much more flare, less drop, much wider – that’s more an off road bar than a slightly converted road bar. The stem is a casted tange quill stem – not as steep as the original Specialized, but still made in the very same way.

In the end the RockCombo is still a very versatile bike. Great for the city and for every day cycling. But also fine for long bike travelling. The only thing I miss, are lowrider-bosses.

Daily Cycling:



Many more pics on my Flickr-Album: skywalkers Photos on Flickr


Specialized RockCombo

New Project: Travel / Gravel / Commuter /DoItAll

The Idea has been in my mind for a while now: A gravel racer with high tire clearance. Plus: lowrider mounts, fender mounts and rack mounts.

The name of the model will be: Croix de Coeur – based on the name of a cabine in the alps close to my Swiss home.

To use the potential of steel as a frame material, I will try to combine lateral stiffness (quite a lot to make riding with luggage not feel sloppy) with some vertical flexibility. The result of thiese ideas are oval main tubes:

Top tube – Reynolds 853 ProTeam oval 28×34

Downtube – Reynolds 853 ProTeam oval 28×34

Seat Tube – Columbus Max. 28.6 on top, 28×34 at the bottom bracket






Early idea of the paint scheme:


Latest design update:

New Project: Travel / Gravel / Commuter /DoItAll

Neuausrichtung – Radical Change

Passend zum neuen Zeitalter auf “Bikesboardsandphotos” beginne ich diesen Beitrag auf Deutsch – und werde ihn in Englisch beenden. Folgende Änderungen werden diesen Blog ab sofort bloggiger und internationaler machen:

1.) Kurze Beiträge, bildlastig, bunt gemsicht in verschiedenen Bereichen des Themas

2.) Englisch


Welcome to my reinvented blog “bikesboardsandphotos”. To be more bloggy and more international, I will write much more short entries – and I will switch to English.


Neuausrichtung – Radical Change