Monday, July 27, 2009

2009 Cranky Monkey #1 - Wakefield

Sunday was a day of realizations at the Cranky Monkey race at Wakefield Park. Warming up a little around the parking lots before the race, I couldn't tell how my legs were feeling, but thought I'd be okay. I had done an easy lap around Rosaryville the day before and was feeling pretty strong, and I was hoping Sunday would be no different. After feeling so tired during the previous Sunday's 90 mile road ride, however, I still wasn't too sure I was completely recovered after doing so well at the Iron Mountain 100K two weeks earlier. My mental state was somewhat of a wait-and-see at the starting line. My first realization of the day occurred about a 1/4 mile into the single track, as I was constantly braking so I didn't run into the guy in front of me. Realization: be more aggressive at the start and avoid being slowed down by riders less able to carry momentum through the turns and technical sections. After another 7 or 8 minutes behind this guy, I finally called out, "I've _got_ to get around you guy. Can I get a pass?" He was very kind and immediately pulled to the left to let me go around on the right. After that I was pretty quickly able to make it back up to some faster guys ahead of me.
The temperature in the woods wasn't too bad, but every time we came out into the open and the sunshine my core temperature quickly climbed to uncomfortable levels. The water stations then became not so much opportunities to hydrate as to douse my neck, back, and front with cold water. I was able to pass one or two competitors at the water stations on the second and third laps, as they slowed way down to collect themselves. The trail itself was in really good shape, with just a few slippery roots in some turns that had stayed damp. Except for those turns, I was able to rail everything pretty hard.

Starting the second lap I was surprised to see in the distance Evan going back into the singletrack at the end of the road section. I was doing better than I thought if I was able to catch even a glimpse of Evan. I also had my second realization about that time: yogurt, even if eaten 2 1/2 hours before the start of a race, doesn't make a good race day breakfast. Oh well. In the tight singletrack on the second lap I could tell I wasn't as fast as on the first lap, but my legs were holding up fairly well and I was able to keep close to the three faster guys in front of me, who I was later to learn were 4th, 5th, and 6th on that lap. I saw Tom Mackay had pulled out at one of the water stations, so that brought me closer to the front, and I also passed one of the guys I'd been chasing as he nearly stopped to take some fluids. It was then that I believe I moved into 5th place. John Claman bobbled the big (but shrinking) log-over in the woods, and I was able to slip by him for a while. But he had just been pacing the guy in 3rd, and at the first opportunity he went by to reclaim 4th, and shortly after that, 3rd.

Passing the timing tent to begin the 3rd lap I had another realization. I was getting beat up by the roots, and the core muscles around my middle were fatigued. I had chosen to use the rigid fork for this race, but I'm so much faster with the suspension fork, I really should just keep it on the bike during the racing season. I also soon realized that my gear choice was a little tall, as I wasn't really spinning out anywhere, and my legs were becoming fatigued from using more strength than a smaller gear ratio would have required. If I do this race again, it'll be with a suspension fork, and 34x20 or 32x18 gears. At this point in the race I decided that my goal now was to keep my current position. I was able to keep 4th place in sight, and we'd been passing the tail end of the expert classes fairly continuously since about halfway through the 2nd lap, so I new I hadn't slowed too significantly, and I couldn't detect anyone coming up behind me except for the 3 or 4 "sport" class racers that would pass me during the 3rd lap. So the 3rd lap was all about keeping it together and just keeping a good pace without blowing up. I succeeded in that, and finished the race in the same 5th position I'd held for most of the 2nd and 3rd laps.

All in all a fun race, and I had a good time. Next up, the Wilderness 101!

Friday, October 03, 2008

New Parts

I love it when new parts are delivered!

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New Parts

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Something New

I thought I would try one of the free mobile blogging applications for my iphone. It's not very sophisticated, but then neither is my blog. Sophistication requires a time investment I just don't want to make.

So then... What's news? I'm waiting anxiously for my phil wood Ti bottom bracket to come in from Speedgoat. Apparently the whole company took the week off for interbike. Even before that, i'd already been waiting for two weeks. Meanwhile, the Middleburn cranks that I ordered just last Thursday arrived yesterday. I'm really itching to get all that new stuff on my bike.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cranky Monkey #3, 8/24/2008

My training plan for the 3rd race in the Cranky Monkey series ran thusly: work 12 hour days and don't train for 5 weeks, and do a ride at Gambrill the day before. It worked out better than I would have thought. Why, I don't know.

Prior to the start, race director Jim Harmon told us, "It's a really smooth course, you're gonna love it!" Maybe he hadn't ridden it, or rode it on a 5 inch trail bike, because while a good bit of it was pretty smooth, the descents beat the crap out of me with the rigid fork. The spokes were crying in pain, ping! pang! in time to my own grunts and bursts of profanity as I used what little skills I had in an attempt to keep a light grip, arms relaxed, and let the bike move beneath me as well as I could. Thank goodness for big, fat, high-volume tires and tubeless conversions that let me ride with less than 20 PSI of pressure. Slowly I'm learning to ride quickly with a rigid fork and not feel like tenderized meat afterward, and I definitely noticed an improvement this race over where I started several months ago, but my shoulders and neck were still tight and sore for two days.

Atypically, I got to the race venue an hour early, despite it being an hour and 20 minute drive; time enough that I didn't have to rush, and was even able to do a little 5 minute warm up. Not that it helped any, but I was conforming to tradition and conventional wisdom. Lined up at the start, the siren went off, and after some gravel and pavement I got on the trail about half-way back (possibly further) in the pack. As usual I didn't feel like going into oxygen debt right at the start. My legs had no snap in them anyway, and I was somewhat regretting the ride the day before, when I'd felt so fantastic, but I kept a fairly decent pace and tried not to use up too much of my reserves muscling up the steep climbs, of which there were far too many more than I remembered.

I started feeling better on the second lap.  Well enough that was able to continue passing people, some in my own class, and keep my pace up.  Well enough that my second lap was only a few seconds off the time of the first one.  As happens in many mountain bike races, after a while I was pretty much keeping myself company, occasionally passing someone.  One guy on a geared bike who should have been in the expert instead of the sport class did pass me on the second lap, but other than that the only people I saw were the ones I passed.  Uneventful, really, that second lap; but fun, and painful, and wonderful.  I somehow ended up in 4th place out of 15 for the second race in a row.  It was a good feeling, and satisfying.

Eight racers in DCMTB jerseys showed up Sunday. Tom, Mike Scardaville, Matt, and Eric battled in the expert class that's become so fast, and Tris battled back problems in sport women. Lynne crushed the rest of the expert women, as usual. If she gets any faster someone is going to sign her up for a pro team. She also finished 1st in the points series total. Other series total top finishers: Tris finished 4th in sport women, Tom Vaughn 4th in expert men 35+, and myself 4th in singlespeed. Six podium appearances Sunday. Way to go DCMTB!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cranky Monkey #2 - 2008

I decided after the first lap of Cranky Monkey #2 at Fountainhead Park in Virginia that the trail there isn't such a great singlespeed race course. Especially riding fully rigid and having your teeth rattle about in your head. The whole thing is just roots, direction changes and short, steep hills, with very little chance to stay in the saddle and pedal, and taken all together it worked to minimize the advantages of riding a singlespeed. Having said that, it was still a lot of fun to race today.

8 AM this morning found me wolfing down a bowl of hot cereal, then racing down to the car to put a pair of cleats on a brand spanking new pair of biking shoes, to go with a new style of pedals (Crank Brothers) that I had ridden for the first time the day before. I was hoping everything held together, as I'd also installed a new bottom bracket to go with the pedals. At 8:08 AM I was on the road, and after an hour and a half drive I arrived with not much more than 20 minutes to put shoes on, hit the porta-john, get my race packet (thanks for getting that for me Mike!), get everything together, and make it to the line for the 10 am start. No warm up and cold legs is not how I would normally want to start a race, but what the hell, I could warm up during the 2 mile road start. I was on the front line for the start, and a few guys went off quick, spinning like mad. I have a pretty fast spin, but without warming up I just wasn't feeling too spinny. After the first mile (is it really 2 miles?) I was near the rear of the class of 15 or 16 riders, but was able to make it to mid-pack in the second mile, and was positioned about where I wanted to be going into the woods. Although, after going fast on the road, a few of the guys in front of me were slowing me up on the trail. Whatever, I had determined not to blow myself up in the first few miles, choosing instead to keep a good steady pace and let the engine warm up for a bit.

My legs were feeling good for most of the race, and as the first lap wore on I passed 4 or 5 singlespeeders, until by the end of it I was somehow in 4th place. I didn't know it at the time though -- I thought I was somewhere in the top third but didn't realize how far up I'd gone. I managed to pass Jonathan Seibold somewhere near the end of the first lap as well, before passing one more guy. During the second lap Seibold recovered from going out too hard and about a third of the way into it I looked back to see where people were and there he was, chasing me down. "Damn. Okay, I can't let up. I have to keep on pushing hard, see if I can hold onto this position until the end." For most of the rest of the lap I was looking back periodically. Sometimes I wouldn't see anyone, and then there he'd be, and I'd think, "Damn, he's closing on me." That lap seemed like a long one, with me and my sore back trying to hold onto our gains. As I came to each hill I'd think, "This race is going to be decided on the hills. I have to gas it and give it all I've got." Surprisingly, my legs always felt strong, and even on the steepest hills that were near impossible on a singlespeed I was able to jump off and run up the rest of the way. I can't remember ever having that kind of fitness. Up the last of the hills I pushed hard and kept pressure on the pedals, and was finally able to make some distance on Seibold, but he pushed me to give it my all that whole lap. I didn't know it, but I must have been closing in on third place, as I finished only 24 seconds behind.

So, I got to stand on the podium and collected a 4th place finish pint glass. Sweet! There was a bit of a mix up with the scoring, as originally I didn't even show up in the singlespeed class at all. Several of the guys let me know this, and I was able to straighten it out with the scorer. Apparently they had recorded my number as 386, but the number they gave me was 286. There weren't a whole lot of DCMTB/City Bikes jerseys there today, I think a total of 7 altogether, but we had 5 people on the podium. Tris Newbury took 4th in women's sport, Joel Gwadz dominated the clydesdales to take 1st, Tom Vaughn battled the expert vets to get 5th (and that's a hard class to race in to be sure!), Lynne Oliver stepped on the gas for her third lap in the women's expert class to soundly beat the woman she trailed for two laps, and I held a steady pace to wind up 4th in the singlespeed class. Great job everyone!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bakers Update

Reading back over my previous post, I can tell I wrote it while exhausted. So no one thinks I was less than enthusiastic about it, the Leesburg Bakers Dozen was a great race, and I had a lot of fun hanging out with the rest of the DCMTB/City Bikes team and racing around the course. It was fast, had enough log overs to make anyone happy, and had a few surprisingly technical spots. The parts through the pine trees were sweet. I think someone mentioned DCMTB/City Bikes had 18 riders in attendence.

Loren had a good race, turning in consistently fast lap times, and Mike had some fast laps too, even without considering the broken collar bone. Without our mishaps (my botched first lap with the bent rim, Mike's crash and having to pull out of the race, my flat tire on one of my night laps), we would easily have been in the top ten. As it was, we pulled out 13th place out of 48 teams.

Having raced for five hours and enduring two days of feeling like warmed over death does have it's advantages. After a full three days of recovery, and I needed every one of them, I went out this afternoon for a training ride through my normal route along the long rolling hills to Westminster and back. 32 miles, 1 hour and 34 minutes, 20.3 mph avg. Faster than the last time I rode it by 0.8 mph, and not far off my fastest average of 20.5 mph. I had to work hard for it though. I put out a very big effort today, which will hopefully pay off on Sunday. My left leg felt weak again -- I'm not sure what that's about, but I'm hoping it gets better, as I was having to put a lot of concentration into working through it, leaving less for other tasks.

With Mike's broken collar bone, he reminded me that he won't be able to race Lodi with me and Steve Viers. That's the second teammate we've lost. If we can find another before the race in two weeks, I hope we can keep him healthy enough to at least start with us. Maybe we can cryogenically freeze him and thaw him out just before the race, like Han Solo.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Leesburg Bakers Dozen

(A Trip Though Hell)

The Race

I've had better races. For this one Mike and I teamed up with Loren. As the first man out Loren turned in two good laps as planned. Mike went out next and was apparently doing well, right up until he went to pass someone at the end of the lap and took a header into a suddenly discovered tree. I guess he didn't hit it directly head on, because it was his shoulder that was most damaged. He was lying on the side of the trail for several minutes after that. I knew something was up after looking at my watch, and then Larry Camp came by our campsite that was along the course and yelled out, "Scardaville hit a tree hard!" Mike came in a few minutes after that and I went out, a little sooner than anticipated, but we were making sure we were ready to ride after everyone's first lap, so I was ready.

I went out with a lot of energy, though I could tell right away I hadn't had enough recovery time after my hard training ride on Thursday. The trail was a lot of fun though, and I was passing a lot of people, as difficult as that was to do on this course. About 10 minutes into my first lap I hooked the end of a fallen tree that was sticking out into the trail and banged up my knee and scattered my wits a bit. It looked like someone else had already hit it, so I spent a few minutes doing trail work moving the tree out of the way so no one else would get hurt. The crash deflated me a bit. Then, on the big drop-off about halfway around the course, I took a line to the left and my rear wheel landed hard on the edge of a rock. That dented my rim pretty well, so that it was leaking air (I was running tubeless) for the rest of the lap, and I had to pull over every few minutes to put more air in it. Luckily I always carry two CO2 cartridges with me. I was supposed to do two laps, but stopped after that one to make some repairs.

Loren was ready when I pulled in to the campsite, and went out for his lap. While Loren was out Mike decided, after having a few Advil, that he wanted to try a lap and see just how much it was going to hurt. While Loren and Mike were out having fun I pulled the tire off the rim, bent it somewhat back into shape and tried to air it back up tubeless. I couldn't get the bead to seat well enough, and ended up putting a tube in it. The wheel wobbled a bit after the operation, but was good enough to ride on. I was ready to head back out when Mike finished up his first lap, but the ride must have made him feel better because he cruised on through with a big smile and two fingers held up indicating he wanted to do two laps. That was a good sign, since I'd been a little worried about him.

Mike came in and I took off with renewed energy. It was by far the hottest day of the year, and I couldn't drink enough water to keep myself hydrated, feeling dry-mouthed the whole time I was out. I felt pretty fast on my first lap of this double, but had to dial it back a bit on the second one. Luckily I had no accidents or mechanicals to slow me down. My second lap was about 33 minutes, so my first must have been 31 or 32 minutes. I'll have to wait for the official results to know for sure. By the time I had finished both laps, probably an hour and five minutes, I had just about finished off the 40 oz. of water in my Camelbak, the heat and low humidity were sucking that much water out of me. Loren did another single after me, then Mike did another double. It's too bad about his shoulder, because otherwise he seemed to really be on form. That last lap, his fifth, put a hurtin' on his shoulder and he had to call it quits after that. I'm glad he stuck it out that far, otherwise I'd be a lot more tired today, but it was good that he didn't try to ride any of the night laps, when the potential for crashing and further injury were too much to risk I thought.

So it was up to Loren and I to bring it on home. I had the first lap where lights were required, and turned in about a 34 minute lap. Since we were a duo team now and doing single laps, there wasn't a lot of time between laps to recover for the next one, no more than 35 to 40 minutes to drink or eat some calories, take electrolyte pills, and just relax. It stayed in the 60's right through midnight, so at least we didn't have to fight getting chilled between laps. After Loren's second night lap he said his legs were cooked and was calling it a day. This was at about 10:15 pm or so. So, what to do? I went out and did a slow lap (it's funny how your mind will run in circles when you're that tired and just trying to keep going), making it back to camp about 10:55 pm. I was totally beat by this point, and weary beyond anything I've experienced in the last 7 or 8 months.

Riding a rigid bike was really beating me up and taking more out of me than I had reckoned on. I've only had the rigid fork on for a couple weeks, and have a lot to learn it turns out. I was getting into all kinds of funky in situations I wouldn't have thought twice about with a suspension fork, doing a number of nose wheelies before I figured out how the bike was going to react coming off the back side of obstacles. The worst wasn't the big obstacles like you might think, which I could prepare for and unweight at the right time to avoid any shocks. No, worst were the really fast sections of hardpacked earth, the cowpaths. Sharp transitions there of only a few inches were very jarring at high speed, and sent shocks traveling up the frame right into my arms and shoulders, neck, back -- pretty much everywhere. It was a little better after making an adjustment to tilt the front of my saddle up so I wasn't supporting so much weight on my arms. Also, as I was getting the crap beat out of me, it was a strong incentive to learn to relax and let the bike move beneath me, and keep a looser grip on the handlebars and let my arms flex. Anything to take the sting out of riding fast on a rigid fork. My body and my reflexes have still have a lot of adjustments to make for this kind of riding. Time will tell whether my body will let me keep racing with a rigid fork. I may have to pull out the suspension fork for Big Bear -- that trail can be scary enough with a suspension fork, I hate to think what it's like rigid.

So there I was at camp, with my helmet off, feeling like I'd spent all day being pummeled by invisible fists and trying to decide what to do. If I was going to ride until the end of the race I would have to do another two laps, based on the current time (no one could leave for another lap after midnight). As Mike pointed out, at the least I had to ride up to the scoring tent and cross the sensors with the team's chip. So I put my helmet back on, turned on my light, and started the pedals turning again. I rode across the sensors... and then kept on going, mostly from momentum. This lap actually felt better than the previous one. I was just keeping the pedals turning on the flat sections, not putting any force into them at all and conserving my energy for the few passes I had to make and the tiny little hills. Back at the campsite once again it was 11:40 pm. I sat there for just a couple minutes, and it started sprinkling. Well, that settled it. I had about readied myself for a last lap, but I didn't think it would be prudent to be out there in the dark, as tired as I was, on wet rocks (the few there were) and logs. So, I crossed the sensors and turned in the team's chip at 11:45 pm. It was all over. We were in 13th place out of 43 teams as of about 11:15 pm. By stopping 15 minutes early we may have lost a place or two; I didn't have enough wits left to see how far behind us the next place team was.


I awake in my own bed, my right shoulder so weak and sore I can only just move it, and not with much range of motion. I'm exhausted. Not post SM100 exhausted, but I definitely feel like I spent myself the day before. I'll spend the rest of the day napping to the sound of rain, eating occasionally. My whole body aches, and I don't have as much of an appetite as I think I should. My weight is good though, so I don't worry much about not being hungry -- I probably had enough calories between laps to replenish a lot of what I was burning. The exhaustion is a good thing, because I'll be stronger after I've had a few days to recover. I'll have to hope my body adapts to the new way of riding. I'm looking forward to the 12 hours of Lodi in two weeks!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Spring Camping Trip to Luray, VA

Last weekend Vin pitched the idea of a short camping trip to the GWNF outside of Luray, VA for the weekend, and I thought it a great idea. As it turned out we were the only ones that had any interest and didn't have other commitments. The plan firmed up during the week, and even though the weather forecast wasn't very propitious, we decided to carry through. I think we both were looking to get out of the city for a while and leave the stresses of daily life behind, and so even if we ended up sitting in a tent for most of the weekend reading to the sound of rain, it would have been worth going. Things turned out okay though, and I enjoyed the trip a great deal.

We left Vin's place in DC about 6:30 PM on Friday and stopped in Front Royal for a short dinner at a gas station/Blimpie sub. As we were leaving there it started sprinkling. By the time we left Front Royal behind for the last leg of the journey to Luray, it was pouring so hard our maximum safe speed was 35 mph or less. That continued for a good half hour or so, and I was wondering what the rest of the weekend had in store. If nothing else it would be a small adventure, something I'm always up for. The deluge petered out shortly before we got to Luray, but since it had just finished I was hoping to setup camp at Camp Roosevelt. That was unfortunately closed until May 1st, which was quite surprising. The alternative was a primitive campsite off of Crisman Hollow road I was expecting to be a mud pit. We arrived at a campsite we had used before, but while there was some mud, it wasn't as bad as I had feared it might be. We set about making camp and settled in to peruse some biking mags with a couple of beers for company.

The next morning Vin drove us into Luray, as I had forgotten an item of vital importance to mountain biking. I was both surprised and not, as I often forget things if I'm not working from a checklist. So we found ourselves at Walmart looking for a helmet that would fit me. I tried the adult and junior sizes but both were much too large for my very small head. It was looking bleak, but Vin finally spotted the "commuter" helmet with an adjustable head band, and while quite heavy, it fit okay. Back at camp we had a quick brunch and geared up for a ride. The day had turned gorgeous, one of the best of the year so far, and I was quite comfortable in just a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. The ride from the campsite to the ridge top of Massanutten mountain on the road was a nice warmup, and we passed some Harley riders taking a break up there who were impressed that we had ridden up the hill. In truth I was feeling fantastic; the legs were fresh, the day was warm and working it's way to sunny, and I was on the mountain bike taking a ride with a good friend.

The ride to Kennedy Peak was a great deal of fun. It's a very technical ascent, and though I didn't clean as much of it with the rigid fork as I might have with a suspension fork, I was having a blast. I think it's going to take a good year of riding the rigid fork before I'm as proficient with it as I was with the suspension fork, which is fine. Vin, on his Raleigh and also fully rigid (not a Redline like I was thinking in my last post -- two syllables, starts with an 'R'... I was close) was having a great ride as well, and cleaning sections I didn't. I attempted the last steep rocky climb to the peak, but finally gave up after a 50 yards, and turned the Gunnar downhill to start the steep part of the descent back to the road at the bottom of the mountain. Going down that technical descent was more fun than any riding I'd done in a long time. The less technical but bumpier and fast section that followed was the first extended downhill I'd done with the rigid fork, and I realized that I would probably never be as fast on rocky downhills with it -- it just gets to be too punishing on the hands, even with just 20 psi in a fairly fat front tire. While I'm thinking about that, the Mountain King on the front performed superbly on this ride, proving itself an excellent match to such rocky terrain. The Crossmark on the back I was less happy with, not feeling I was getting the traction on the rocks that I could have, the price I pay for a light, fast rolling tire with low knobs. Some of that I think was due to having put the handle bars down a little lower than I'd had them, which was taking some of the weight off the rear tire when I was out of the saddle. Anyway, I found that when I could let off the brakes, the hands were much happier with the bumpy ride. After the steeper downhill sections, it was just some really nice mountain biking, real mountain biking, back to the road, and I enjoyed that a lot too. Both Vin and I agreed it was a mighty fine mountain bike ride and a fantastic day for it. We spun our legs out a bit on route 675 into the valley, and arrived back at camp a good 2 1/2 hours after starting the ride.

Vin prepared a tasty and satisfying supper of red beans and rice with crab meat and shrimp that evening, and after some light after supper reading we were both ready to turn out the lights before 10 pm, helped along somewhat by a sharp drop in temperature and accompanying wind. We arose late the next morning to a dark day and overcast sky already spitting rain drops. We had planned another ride for today, but with the threatening sky and a day in such contrast to yesterday's magnificence, decided to just pack up and head back home. I didn't feel any disappointment at leaving a few hours early. With Saturday's great ride and hours and hours in a quiet and restful environment, the trip was a success. I arrived home at 4:05 pm and unpacked the car, and later had a good 45 minute zone 2/3 workout. Now it's time to turn out the lights on a good weekend, and bend my thoughts to preparing for next weekend's race, the season's first, the 13 hour Leesburg Bakers Dozen.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Now More Rigid

I got the new Salsa fork on the bike today and took it for an hour-long test at Gambrill, the rocky place. It rocked! It wasn't nearly as bad as I feared it might be. It's going to take me some time to get completely used to it and to re-learn how to do some things, but it was more fun than riding with a suspension fork. I wasn't able to go as fast on the rocky downhills, but that's okay. It felt like a rocket everywhere else, with nearly 2 lbs. taken off the front. I was able to keep the front wheel off the ground longer to clear obstacles too. Hopping logs was easier. About halfway through my ride I let some more air out of the new front tire I bought (Continental Mountain King 2.4", recommended by Jason Stoner) so that it had just 20 lbs in it. That helped, and traction at that pressure was fantastic. I didn't have any problems hitting the rim, surprisingly, but that may be in part because I wasn't bombing the descents. My hands, and the rest of me, didn't feel any worse than they normally would after a ride at Gambrill... though I was pedaling out of the saddle a bit more, and that worked the muscles in my back more. All in all I was very pleased, and left wondering if I'll ever go back to a suspension fork.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Rigid on Trial

I noticed a few weeks ago that the anodizing is being rubbed off the left stanchion of my White Brothers suspension fork, whether from a defect or a lack of proper maintenance I'm not sure. That was a bit disappointing from a $600 bike part. When you spend that kind of money on something you expect it to last. I was going to need something to use while the fork was getting repaired, and I thought maybe this was a chance to try a rigid fork. Actually, I was thinking about getting a Reba that was on sale and binning the White Brothers, since the repair will probably cost just as much. But then I thought about trying a rigid fork, after the subject had come up recently when talking to Jason Stoner during a trail work day at Gambrill.

During a ride at Gambrill on Sunday with John, Vin, and Dave, I switched bikes with Vin for a while. He was riding a fully rigid steel 29er, the brand name of which escapes me at the moment (I want to say it was a Redline), with fairly large WTB Exiwolf 2.3" tires. From the moment I started on it I felt right at home. It was so precise and efficient feeling, and I loved it. Plain and simple it was just more fun.

After asking around and doing some research, I settled on the Salsa Cromoto Grande to try my experiment on. It was relatively cheap at around 100 bucks, and everyone loved it. I had a bit of trouble finding someone with one in stock, but it finally arrived at my door on Monday. It's sitting on my living room floor right now, clamped in a mitre box so I can cut the steering tube down to size. I can't wait to go for a ride on it!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A New Wheel and a Good Crash

A plan long in coming finally bore fruit last night, as I stayed up until 1am rebuilding my rear wheel using the existing DT Swiss 240S singlespeed rear hub (a very light hub), new DT Swiss Supercomp 2.0/1.7/1.8 triple butted spokes with alloy nipples, and a Stan's NoTubes ZTR 355 29er rim. After a little refreshing of the wheel building process from Sheldon Brown's website, the whole thing came together remarkably smoothly. Well, I did end up fishing 5 nipples out of the rim. Grrr... I used the NoTubes yellow nylon tape without the rubber rim strip and the Olympic valve stem to seal it all up. A brand new Maxxis Crossmark tire seated and sealed quite nicely after dropping a couple ounces of Stan's tire sealant in it. Pop! Pop! The tire seated in the bead quite audibly. I put 40 PSI of air in it and let it sit overnight and it was still nice and hard in the morning. Whoop! It was a really fun project and I was very happy with the final results.

This morning, after getting maybe 5 hours of sleep (lights out at 3am, up at 8am, with poor quality sleep thanks to a cold I came down with Friday night) I got up and readied everything for an outing at the Frederick Watershed with Mike and Tris. We got rolling on the trail at maybe 10:45am and did a short approximately 14 mile ride. I was surprised by how out of shape I was, but not unhappy with the speed I was able to keep up while on the move, and quite happy with my confidence and handling skills. The new Crossmark showed itself to have a good amount of traction, but the trails were mostly tacky, and just about any tire would have fared well. It seemed to be a fast roller, despite having mounted it backwards (oops). I was running the tire with 28 PSI, something I would never have contemplated while using tubes. 35 would have been the minimum I would use in the Shed with tubes. The tubeless setup showed it's merit, as I felt the tire hit the rim twice with no ill effect, after mis-timing some hops.

In the last mile or two of the ride, I decided to get a little jump off a rock on the right side of the trail. A pretty small drop really. I'm not entirely certain what happened. Tris was behind me and said my rear tire landed first, as it should. What I think happened is that the trail bent to the left there and I needed to be going that direction immediately after coming down from the drop, and had my tire turned a bit in that direction. Unfortunately I didn't adequately gauge the firmness of the trail where I was to land, and my front tire went into some soft clay type mud, which for some reason crossed up my front wheel and effectively stopped forward motion immediately. Except for me hitting the ground of course. It happened so fast I'm not certain of anything, except that my face and chest hit the ground pretty hard. It happened so fast I apparently didn't even have time to take my hands off the bars, and somehow the impact with the ground sprained the last two fingers of both hands. I got off light really -- a little bloody scrape on my nose from my shades, the lightly sprained fingers, and small scrapes on my right forearm and left shin. Oh, right, and lightly bruised ribs high up in my chest. At least I hope they're lightly bruised; I probably won't know until I try to get out of bed in the morning.

In spite of that, I had a really fun time today. I was riding aggressively and well, I was with two really good friends, the temperature wasn't bad at all (not much wind helped), I had a great new extremely light wheel, and my low back (SI joint/sacrum problems apparently) was much better than it had been in a week and a half -- life was good to me today. Now, to get over this cold and really start training for the season ahead.

Monday, October 29, 2007

DC Cyclocross Race

I guess it's a bad habit of mine to start things late. I forgot until Saturday evening that my bike was still set up for mountain biking and would need some wrenching to be ready for the 'cross race Sunday. Unfortunately I didn't get home from Bill and Kim's until close to 12:30 am, and I thought it best to get some rest rather than try working on the bike while already half asleep. I got up when the alarm went off at 7:30 am, which as it turns out wasn't quite early enough. Took a hot shower, threw my stuff together, and was rolling by 8:10. It's a long drive to the middle of DC, and I pulled into a parking spot in the race venue at 9:25. Quickly taking the bike off the rack and throwing my shoes on, I raced up to the registration tent to pick up my number. Mike Klasmeier was there, trying to tell me I didn't need to change anything on the bike. Riiiight. I basically told him he was nuts and raced back to the car to get to work. 9:40 am, and my class (men's C) started at 10. My heart was working now -- if I executed the gear swap perfectly I figured I could just make it.

Okay, first things first, swap out the rear wheel for the one with the 'cross tire and 21 tooth cog on it. Second, replace the 32 tooth chainring with the 42 tooth. Excellent, I didn't lose any of the chainring bolts! Next, the longer chain. Things are looking good. Loosen the bolts for adjusting the eccentric bottom bracket and get the chain tensioned just right. Only one thing left to do. Swap out the tire and tube on the front to the Michelin Mud2. Oh, and air up both tires. With those two things accomplished I took a look at my watch. 9:55! F@$!, I still had to get my number on! That took about two minutes, including shedding my wool top because I could tell by the way I was already heating up that it would be too warm for racing. So, in jersey and tights I rode as quickly as I could toward the start... wherever that was. Even though I helped lay out the course the day before, no one had mentioned where we would be starting. This was cutting it too close, and I had to make a stop at a porta john on the way there, because there was no way I would make it through a 40 minute race with an overfull bladder. Ahhh... that's better.... What's all that yelling and hoopla? Finished with the porta john I picked up my trusty yellow Gunnar singlespeed, and watched with some chagrin as the tail end of 70 riders turned off the road onto the first dirt climb.

Laughing, already enjoying this, I started that same climb 10 or 15 seconds behind the last rider and with zero momentum. But this was the beginner/casual/learning class, and though I have only been on the bike a handful of times since the hundred mile race in early August and this was only my second ever cyclocross race, I still had a lot of dirt experience on the majority of these guys. It wasn't long before I was passing the true beginners, those who probably have never even been in a race, or never trained specifically for racing. The course was a great deal of fun, with it's up and down nature and all the turns in some sections. I was more comfortable carrying speed through them than most, and it was a blast to catch and then pass people going into a turn. But my legs were feeling pretty leaden after just the first lap, and I was fervently wishing for some of that stamina back that has been slowly draining away over the last few months. With my one gear I was losing some time to the riders using geared cyclocross bikes (almost all of them) on the long back section. Not so much on the slight rise, but on the gravel decline before getting back onto dirt. But I have to say I had as much fun on the last lap as I did on the first. I caught up to young Jake -- doing amazingly well in his first C race -- on the next to last lap. Hopefully I provided some encouragement to him to dig down and keep up the pace. He stayed with me for a while, and even passed me back up when we got to the straighter back section, but near the beginning of the last lap I gritted my teeth and pulled out a burst just before a turn that hurt like hell but sent me past him and 2 other guys. He must have stayed close behind though, because he finished the race in the next place after me. Kudos to him! I just have to encourage him to ride his singlespeed more. :) I ended up in 37th place, having passed 32 riders, not quite half of that huge field.

So, I found a way to make Sunday a rather exciting, and extremely fun, day. Next Sunday I suppose I should have my act together and start closer to the front and see how I do. If I'm able to train better next year than I was able to this one, I'll either race with the masters 35+, or with the killer B's. I wonder which would be more fun? Because that's what these cyclocross races are all about to me, having fun. It's the end of the year, the mountain biking season is all done, and the desire to train for 8 or more hours a week is long passed. The only thing left to do is enjoy myself and gain some weight. I'm not even sure I'll bother buying a 'cross bike (singlespeed to be sure) for next year. Maybe I'll just use my mountain bike again like I'm doing this year. It'll handicap me compared to everyone else, but what the hell, I love riding my Gunnar!

Monday, October 01, 2007

My First Cyclocross Race

I wouldn't say I got up early for my very first cyclocross race (Ed Sander Cyclocross, Lily Pons Water Gardens, Adamstown, MD, Sep 30 2007) , but I did manage to get there in time to check in, get my number, get into my shoes, and make it to the start line. In the rear of the men's cat 4 (c) (the newbie category), looking at the backs of about 70 other guys it turned out. The whistle went off and the mass finally moved forward after several seconds. Suddenly we were racing! Damn, this was fun stuff! I was able to move past a lot of people in the first half mile by being a little aggressive and knowing when to hit the gas to make the pass. I noticed right away that most of these guys bled off a lot of speed going through the turns. Definitely not mountain bikers. I was able to make a lot of passes by going much faster through the turns, either waiting behind a wheel and diving to the inside as someone took it wide, or taking an outside line and then making sure not to give the guy going inside too much room to straighten out the turn, forcing them to let up to make it around. The competitiveness of the race was exhilarating!

On my second of four laps I went through a very gravelly sharp turn a little too aggressively and slid out, in the same place I watched 20 or 30 other guys slide out in the later races. I really didn't feel like sliding in gravel, so I came down (gently!) on my hands and only briefly touched down on my right hip. It was only a second before I was picking the bike back up and getting ready to mount... and then I noticed the chain had dropped off. As I was riding singlespeed, This Was Not Supposed To Happen, in addition to being a real pain in the arse. I lost probably 10 or 15 positions while I worked on getting the chain back on (my punishment for putting a ramped and pinned chainring on a singlespeed), then I was back in the game. For the final two and half laps I worked on gaining back positions I'd already taken and trying to conserve energy for the steeps on the back half of the course -- not really a great cyclocross strategy, but I'm definitely at the bottom of the cyclocross learning curve, minus bike handling skills.

Finally the race was over. My legs didn't have much left for the steeps, but my energy systems were really just getting to the point of max output and I was feeling pretty darned good at the finish, which is not how it's supposed to be. Hmmm... I need to work on that. I placed 32nd out of 83 starters -- not too bad considering I started in the back, it was my first race, and I had the mechanical. I managed to bruise the inside of my left calf pretty good somehow, but got through my first 'cross race pretty much unscathed. What I need to do now is work on my mounts, and make the bike more reliable. For the bike I ordered a 42 tooth rampless, pinless Salsa chainring and a new chain. I'll also be putting v-brakes on the front and using a lighter tire next time. Hopefully I'll still be able to stop without disc brakes when things get wet. Mentally, I need to discard notions of conserving energy and just go as hard as I can all the time -- it's only 40 minutes after all.

It's fair to say I'm hooked. :) Now I know what all of the excitement is about when 'cross season approaches. Perhaps next year I'll build up a decent singlespeed 'cross bike, but for now I'm very comfortable with the converted mountain bike, heavy as it is. See you at the races!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A little ride this afternoon

Saturday. I didn't really want to get up at 7am, but my suddenly overactive mind wouldn't let me go back to sleep. After fighting it for an hour I finally gave up and crawled out of bed. The first thing I did (after feeding the cats) was a short 30-minute high intensity workout to try and raise my anaerobic threshold. I'm in pretty poor shape for racing, but I'm just going to go out and have fun. I'm always competitive once I'm racing, but I've never been upset if I don't place well once it's all over. It's just not something I want to stress over. After the workout it was time to eat some breakfast and work on getting my mountain bike ready for the cyclocross race. That included putting a 'cross tire on the spare rear wheel, and initially on the spare front wheel. I'd wanted to use the front wheel I bought from Mike Scardaville since it's so much lighter, but after removing the disc brake from the front of the bike and getting all set up to install the old v-brake from the old Trek Fuel, I realized I didn't have any brake posts for the fork. Sigh. After searching for brake posts for 30 minutes, back on goes the disc brake, and the new 'cross tire on the normal front wheel for this bike. I should just spring for the IRO Cycles Rob Roy singlespeed cyclocross frame this month. It's only like 279 bucks.

I finally finished working on the bike at about 1:30 in the afternoon. I took a huge load of recyclables to the county dump, went to the Common Market in Frederick to pick up some groceries (organic, naturally), then headed over to Bill and Kim's. Kim and I talked for a while, then decided to go for a short motorcycle ride (Bill was on his own tortuous ride somewhere near Charleston, WV at the time, on his way to Kansas City, MO. Crazy place to ride to on a motorcycle if you ask me). We didn't get rolling out of the driveway until about 5pm, so it was definitely going to be short. I asked Kim to take the lead, since she was the native and knew the roads around there well, and she did so readily, setting a very nice pace. Not slow (never that), but safe and definitely within reason -- a very happy pace for me. Within the first minutes of the ride I knew that's where I needed to be right then, sitting on that bike I've so quickly become comfortable with, the power at my command, sense of being in control of my life in that little space of time, my mind by need present and focused. It was amazing the sense of being unburdened of worries and stresses I immediately felt. Over the next hour and 40 minutes and 60 miles of following Kim around the back roads northeast of Frederick that wonderful feeling persisted. The weather was a perfect 68 degrees with clear skies and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire ride. Why had I almost completely stopped riding motorcycles the last two years? It's clearly beneficial to my mental state. Maybe I had just been stuck with a motorcycle that wasn't right for me, as this VFR so clearly is. Hindsight.

After a mediocre dinner at Famous Dave's that took much too long, with help from Kim I got the new Givi luggage rack installed in under an hour. It was a whole lot easier than installing a Givi Wingrack (that's a pain in the ass). The new rack isn't too bad looking minus the bags, unlike the Wingrack. With the bags the bike is, well, wide. I can live with it for now (forever?). Maybe some day I'll get the factory bags, which I think fit tighter to the bike and don't stick out so far. I'll have to take a picture later. For now, there's this one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New Bike

I got a new bike a couple of weeks ago. No, it's not a bicycle. It's a replacement for the motorcycle (Suzuki Bandit 1200S) I sold to my friends Bill and Kim. The Bandit, though fun to ride in many circumstances owing to it's awesome low and mid-range torque, just never really inspired me. And it showed in how much I'd ridden it in the last two years. Since buying the Bandit in early 2004 I'd put just a little over 11,000 miles on it. Something was missing. The desire to ride I'd had in the early years when I had my first VFR800, that yellow beauty, had faded since it's demise and the subsequent purchase of the Bandit. I'd been considering letting the Bandit go and giving up riding motorcycles altogether, since I'd been spending most of my free time riding bicycles anyway, and Bill said they were considering buying the Bandit from me to have as a spare and commuting bike. He had been sending me ads for VFR's for at least a year, since he knew I really wanted another one if I wanted anything -- and his perseverance finally paid off, for I got a sudden and powerful hankering to buy one.

Hunting around, I found a silver 2003 in Alabama with 16K miles with all the after market additions I might want. Sargent seat, Helibars, factory bags. I was in negotiations with the owner for it, but Friday morning Bill sent me an ad he found on Craigslist for a silver 2003, with only 836 miles! And it was a 100 bucks less than the one in Alabama. And it was in Gaithersburg, which is a hell of a lot closer. I emailed the owner as quickly as I could and we made plans to meet up Saturday afternoon so I could look it over. The bike was so perfect it could have just come off of the showroom floor. I fell in love with it right away and took it home (well, to Bill and Kim's).

I picked it up from Bill and Kim's house Wednesday evening and rode it to work Thursday and Friday. That Saturday, a week after getting it, the three of us went on a leisurely 370 mile trip into West Virginia, taking a whole 10 hours. It was quite a bit more sedate than we would have gone in the past, I know. None of us were in a hurry, and I did most of the leading since I had a sorta plan about a route. And I'm just not so anxious to take the risks I would once have. I was immediately comfortable on the bike, just as I was on my first VFR. I was afraid the position would be too low and bother me too much, but that really didn't turn out to be the case. In fact, after switching to Bill's brother's 2000 VFR with Helibars for part of the day, I don't think I want to add them to mine. The stock position just feels right; comfortable enough, with a better feeling of control. I was hurting the last few hours to be sure, but still, being able to ride 10 hours on a bike after not riding for about a year... really says something positive about the stock setup.

The VFR definitely loses a lot to the Bandit in torque, but makes up for it in being easier to ride quickly, with quicker steering, much lighter feeling (though it's not really), and that awesome V4 sound that I love so much. One thing I hated though is that damn lean-surge at constant throttle. The VFR's have a fuel saving mode, that when the ECU detects constant throttle at certain RPM's (below 7k?) it leans out the fuel mixture, which for me causes quite a drop in horsepower, a problem unless you're riding on very level road. Inevitably the ECU would go into that lean mix mode, the HP would drop, I'd have to give it more throttle, the bike would surge when it came out of the lean mix mode, I'd have to get back off the throttle to maintain my speed, and then the cycle would repeat. Over and over, all day long. The only time I wasn't affected by it was when riding on the more exciting roads, where I was either on the throttle or brakes a lot more, or outside of that RPM range where the lean mix mode would kick in. A Power Commander is definitely on my list for immediate purchases, which will get rid of that problem.

I just really enjoy riding the VFR, and I'm looking forward to many future trips on it. With my best friends certainly, maybe alone sometimes. Riding it is somehow therapeutic. Riding my mountain bike is therapeutic too, but in a different way. Spending time on the motorcycle gives me a feeling of independence, of being in control of my own destiny, of responsibility for my life. I'm almost always calmer after getting off of it. Truly, if you want to ride and not crash, you really have to pay attention to the world around you. Staying alive is your highest priority, and it's your responsibility. You must be present when riding, or you won't be riding long. Perhaps it is being forced into the present for extended periods, giving my mind a break from all other stresses, that gives it it's therapeutic aspect. I'm glad the VFR is back in my life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pictures from Texas at Easter

I finally got around to downloading the pictures from my camera, including these from that ice event in Texas over Easter weekend.
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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Increasing My Endurance

I'm worried I'm not really in the kind of shape I need to be in to be competitive in my class (singlespeed or expert, depending on the race). Circumstances have somewhat kept me off the bike; I also just haven't been as dedicated to putting in the time, truthfully. The weather hasn't helped, but that would be true for everyone. Hopefully this year, instead of waning as the season wears on, I'll get stronger and finish at my peak.

In any case, I have three races in the next four weeks staring me in the face. Greenbrier, 12 hours of Lodi, and 24 hours of Conyers. Although, I don't think anyone has registered for Conyers yet, and I'm therefore not on a team, so it's not a sure thing I'll be going. Sunday I had the day free to do any kind of training I wanted. My first thought was to go around Greenbrier as many times as I could as race prep. But my biggest worry is my endurance. My skills have improved this year over last, no worries there. The most sensible training was therefore a long, hard road ride.

After spending a couple hours cleaning up the bottom bracket of my road bike and getting everything back together, I drove to Frederick to ride "Catoctin Climber" from "Scott and Jim's Favorite Bike Rides" (ride number 7). This is a 46 mile ride with about 5,000 feet of climbing, and the hardest in the book according to Scott and Jim. It was a late start; I clipped in at about 1:30 PM and started down the road, thinking, "This is going to hurt. This is going to be painful." But, that's what it will take if I'm to finish a 100 mile mountain bike race, or 4 to 5 laps in a 12 or 24 hour race. The first climb did hurt, coming as it did immediately at the start. But the hardest climb, Harp Hill (the steepest section of road I've ever ridden on my road bike) was just that. Hard. I wouldn't say it really hurt. The most tortuous part of the ride was the last 7 miles or so, when my lack of endurance was really showing. I just had nothing in the tank. It wasn't helping that I was dehydrated and my stomach was wigging out. Getting hydration, food, and stomach right has always been the hardest part of any long ride for me. The best part of the ride was after turning into Catoctin Mountain Park. No cars, little wind, it was a bit of uphill, and quiet like I haven't heard in too, too long. That section was too short to bring a lasting peace, but it was good to catch a glimpse. It makes me realize I haven't been on a backpacking trip in much too long. I did get chased by a menacing looking black dog on, I think Harmony road, the one before Harp Hill. He came from out of nowhere; never barked, though I caught snatches of a snarl as I managed to outrun him, having worked up some speed at that point.

So it was I finished the ride almost exactly 3 1/2 hours after starting, for an average of 13.4 mph (for all of you with calculators, I sneaked in an extra mile after I took a wrong turn -- I was tired). Pretty darn slow. Well, it's a start to increasing my endurance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Good Ride After Work

2 hours and 20 minutes of solid riding at Patapsco deserves a post-ride beer. I was flowing well, and my legs were with me for the entire ride. I may be in basic shape for Greenbrier after all. Not podium shape, but good enough to at least finish.

I suppose the weather will keep me in tomorrow. A good thing, since I haven't done my Taxes yet and I won't make any progress tonight. It will be painful I'm sure.

Another pic

The camera phone really doesn't take very good pictures, but you can get a sense of what Easter in Texas was like this year.