Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Access Denied

After a trip to Walmart in Mexico this morning where we score some hard to find racks of beef ribs and were checked out by a very nice young lady who had little or no teeth, we pondered what to do with the rest of our day. We decided to go and make a bid for the Table Rock Loop in Grafton Notch. This was a new venture for us as we had never done that loop before. It is situated literally across the road and across the valley from one of our favorite loops, the Eyebrow. Portions of these loops are parts of the famed Appalachian Trail.

By the time we had completed all of our chores and had lunch, it was well after noon. Not the best time to start planning an outing in the mountains in the winter but just about our style. We threw a bunch of gear together and jumped into the truck for the 15 mile drive to the trail-head lot. I packed extra junk just in case but of course nobody knew where we were or where we were going. A quick internet search on told us that the loop was fairly mild, should take a couple hours and was about 2.5 miles. Perfect as we had a few hours until dark by the time we departed. I like having a little buffer but not so much as to make it boring or anything. We but the snowshoes on and headed out.

At the split for the loop we noted that the counter clockwise route was not broken. Naturally we opted for that route, assuming that it was the harder leg and that we could and would turn back if the trail was too difficult and that we could always then opt for the broken route. Almost instantly we started climbing into drifted snow. The trail became steep and then we started clambering up a boulder field that had drifted snow and ample peril. We continued for some time but eventually common sense took over and I pulled the plug. Of course, descending was even harder in that terrain but we emerged unscathed.

We made it down without issue and decided to take the tracked route up as far as time would allow. As it turned out, we were able to make it to the crest and got to take in the view at the top of Table Rock. The trip back down was uneventful and quick and we got back to the lot by 4:10PM with a solid 20 minutes of light left to spare. From there we stopped at the Sunday River Brewery to re-hydrate with some Wednesday 3-7PM $1.50 drafts. Back home for some grilled beef ribs and garden salad and the day was complete. Vacation is good.

Up for tomorrow will likely be another outing on the skate skis, possibly at Bretton Woods or the Balsams. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

First Tracks

It's always fun being the first to the trails after a fresh snowstorm. Getting the first tracks is, at least for some, a big bonus. Maybe it's the feeling that you have the clean slate upon which to ink your personal interpretation. There are downsides of course. Breaking trail is more work than skiing, shoeing or biking on set track. That doesn't fly far with me though as I just view it as that I'm getting a better workout or more for the money so to speak. Setting track is also a great responsibility. It's like highlighting the important parts of a reference document; you don't want to be the nut that highlights all the wrong stuff so that when you sell the book at the end of the semester, the unlucky person who buys it flunks. Laying down track needs to be deliberate, consistent, well planned and precisely placed, or at least I think they do, dammit.

After shoveling and breakfast we geared up and ventured out in search of trails that had a plowed parking lot. We were happy to find that our first choice, the Carlisle Conservation land trails at Foss Farm not only had a partially plowed lot but also had four other vehicles there. So much for first tracks. We struck out onto the trails and saw a few other happy individuals enjoying the day and the fresh snow. At the junction of the Redtail Trail and the River Trail we opted for the un-tracked River Trail, which took us along the Concord River north.

We broke trail up to the Greenough Land and then headed back around toward Foss Farm. After some time on the open tundra with wind gusts whipping us around, we dipped back into the woods and onto the Redtail for the loop back. All in all an excellent loop which took us about an hour and fifteen minutes moving leisurely and was about 3.5 miles long (the GPS didn't get started until we were on the trail).

I had the chance to try out my new equipment on this adventure. I'd gotten a set of Salomon Snowscape 7 waxless XC touring skis with Salomon Pilot bindings and Salomon Pilot Pro Combi boots. Cathy has the same setup. The boots are extremely comfortable, have great support and should wear like iron based on the 15 year old Salomon Profil Combi predecessor they are replacing. This is a great system for this type of un-tracked terrain. The skis are a foam core glass cap design with a 51-59mm profile. Wide enough to float but not so big and heavy that they are cumbersome. Also cheap enough that you can use them on un-groomed terrain without having a heart attack when you hit a root or rock. The only downside to the system was that I kept getting ice built up on the Pilot binding's stabilizer arm. This then causes a bulge such that the center groove of the boot can't lay flat over the binding. This same thing happens to all systems I've ever tried as well as to snowshoe binding crampons, when you are in deep powder or wet snow. I'm thinking that I may try some tricks like putting electrical tape on the metal arm to try and keep the snow from sticking.

I've got to say that I'm really stoked with them though. As always, Chris hooked me up. Many thanks and it's nice to have the best XC shop in the region in my back yard. I'm also thinking that with all the new and existing Salomon gear I've got, Patrick should be able to retire shortly. I honestly love the stuff and have since I was in 8th grade. I've used their running shoes exclusively for the past 8 years, nordic and alpine skis, boots and bindings and XC pants as well. Good quality gear that won't let you down or inhibit your performance or enjoyment of the sport, and that is the bottom line for any gear that you really intend to use.


The snow has finally arrived in earnest. We picked up about 4" yesterday and another 10" or so overnight. The earlier snow was light and fluffy but the temps rose a bit overnight and the moisture content went up a bunch. Not the heavy wet but the latter should pack in nicely.

Nighttime snow shot with the new camera.

Hello winter, time to break out the skis and snowshoes. Now that the driveway is cleared we can bust out for some fun I hope. The kittens got a brief chance to romp a bit as well. They were not sure at first but got very into it after a while. Too into it in fact; I opened the door to take a picture of the snow and the boy darted out onto the back deck. Not sure how brazen and bold he would be in the un-shoveled snow but I'm not going to find out either.

The kittens are not quite sure what to make of it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kitten's First Christmas

Christmas has come and gone for another year. This was the first, of many, with the kittens. They were very excited and couldn't wait to dig into the presents under the tree on Christmas morning. They were very good this year so were rewarded with stockings filled with toys as well as a bunch of Christmas dinner ham later in the day. The kittens were extremely fond of their new toys that were stuffed with catnip. They slobbered all over them and everything else in their stupor.

Friday was spent trucking up to my folks in VT for Christmas with my family. This was a good day and we had great weather to travel. My mother prepared a big meal and we exchanged gifts with both brothers families and my parents. It was a good day and it was good to see everyone.

On Christmas day proper we were back at home. Cathy and I had an excellent day. We slept late and enjoyed a great breakfast of bacon and waffles in the shapes of ducks and cows thanks to the new waffle iron that my brother gave us. We then had at the gifts under the tree. We were both treated to many, many great gifts from Santa. As always, more than either of us need. My big gift from Cathy was an excellent new camera, which I will be learning to use in the near future.

Later in the day we saddled up on our 29er single-speed mountain bikes and did some local trail exploring. This included some stuff that we hadn't done in many years and were happy to find that it has been getting some more traffic and may become part of our local loops in the future.

When we got back home we were both starving so we dug into cheese, sausage and crackers that my other brother and his family gave us. That night for dinner, ham, mashed potato, squash and beans were all put together and laid out by Cathy for our Christmas dinner which was absolutely wonderful. The rest of the day was down time, relaxing, watching some Scrooged and A Christmas Story and winding down the day. All in all, another great Christmas, thanks to my wife and the kids.

I'm sad to see another Christmas season go by, once again so quickly. The hustle and bustle of modern life simply doesn't afford one enough time to really get into the spirit and enjoy the season the way that it deserves to be enjoyed. The distinct lack of snow this year didn't help either. That said, it has been a great week so far and we still have the rest of this week left as vacation. We've been able to do some great, low key, local, social MTB rides with good friends.

Right now we are in the midst of an honest to goodness blizzard. We are expected to get almost 20" of new snow out of this one storm. At the current rate and the projected length of the storm, I have no doubt that this will come true. Unfortunately, they have not received much snow up north, which is why we chose to stay south this past week. We had planned to go up top Maine today but with the storm, decided to stay local and deal with the snow here before going anywhere. This allowed us to get in one last MTB ride on the trails today, before there will be too much snow. The gears will shift into full wintertime activity after today and will include XC skiing and snowshoeing. I can't wait.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Road Trip

It's vacation and in fact Cathy's first day of vacation and thus the first day that she can sleep late. What better way to start a vacation than with an early morning road trip. Besides, you don't want to sleep late and waste your vacation, right?

We were out the door a little before 6AM with coffee mugs full and all of the Wednesday morning chores done, which included taking the garbage out to the curb for pickup. Kittens were fed and the poops were scooped as well. The destination was a quick run up RT128 to RT1 south and into lovely Saugus. What, you might ask, is worth making an early morning pilgrimage all the way to Saugus for? The city of Saugus is actually a treasure trove of cultural and epicurean treats but in the particular case, the target was none other than Kane's Donut shop.

You need to get there early for the best selection we have learned. Alas, I wasn't able to get up and out the door as early as I'd planned. They open at 3:30AM and I thought that it would be novel to see just who is buying doughnuts and 3:30AM in Saugus. Didn't happen.

The doughnuts were still warm. The doughnuts were excellent. Now I need to go for a six hour ride in order to work that lard off.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fresh Tracks

The final race of the season (I know, I've said that life twice before already this season but this time it really was) was this past Saturday. I prepared for and warmed up for this race with honest intent and rode and raced as hard as I could. Other than an issue getting clipped in at the start, I rode a clean race. Throughout the race I attacked with conviction at the points where I hoped to do the most damage and I launched the biggest attack on the final lap. Unfortunately it was not enough as I was not the strongest of the group I was in, Ryan was, and proved it with a final attack that I had no answer for. Don had an awesome race and also came by me in the sprint.

I was beaten fair and square in my race within the race and I can live with that, because at least I know that I tried. I think that I know what happened this year and I have an idea of how to fix it for next year. That's the best I can do at this point, is have a plan and start working on it. The slate is once again clean and tomorrow affords a fresh start.

Sunday was forecast to be sunny, calm and cold, a perfect day to be in the woods. Ben, Keith and I decided that single-speed mountain bikes would be the hot setup while Cathy and her group decided to hit the road instead. We did a nice moderate pace and hit a bunch of the Bedford, Billerica and Carlisle conservation land trails that we don't generally ride. This included some nice single-track sections that have recently been greatly improved. Our journey also took us through Great Brook State Park where we looped around many of the excellent MTB trails designed and constructed by NEMBA. From there we hit more conservation land trails, eventually making our way into Estabrook Woods. By that point we were almost 3 hours into the ride and Ben was an hour into being totally bonked and I was sweaty and cold and suffering hard as well from my bonk training tactic (no food and nothing but water). We finished off the ride talking about food and immediately ordered from the Bedford House of Roast Beef after wards. BTW, I'm still trashed from the effort on Sunday.

Last night we received the first snow of the season here. I'm on vacation and spent all day yesterday working in the basement. The actual manual labor, which included lifting, loading, unloading and carrying sheets of 3/4" Advantec underlayment as well as boring holes for lag shields in concrete with my hammer drill. This left my back a mess. Despite that fact and the fact that I have zero motivation to do so, I went out last night to attempt a ride. It was cold and windy and snowing hard so I made it exactly 20 minutes before coming home, frozen solid.

This morning I shoveled the drive and then wrapped Cathy's presents, the ones that have arrived. I then mustered all of the motivation that I have, which wasn't much, and suited up for a MTB ride in the fresh snow. Today was sunny and above freezing so I was instantly way overdressed. After stripping down some and finding places to stow my now extra clothing, I discovered that the zipper on my pants had blown out and I was flying wide open. Oh well, I had shorts on underneath. The trails in the PR were covered with about an inch and half of fluff. Much of the single-track is narrow and twisty and lightly bowled out given that the ground surface was primarily loose, leafy loam that has been packed, compressed and eroded to the hard-packed dirt trail floor. When they are covered in snow this makes the uneven surface somewhat slick and slippery, adding to the fun. My legs had little or nothing to give but I still had fun plowing around on the Yeti fun-hog that Brian hooked me up with this spring. After an hour and a half my back started complaining so I turned tail and headed home. Still a good ride. I'd forgotten how much resistance a little bit of snow can make, at least that is what I'm telling myself, that the snow was what made all of those little climbs feel so difficult.

Friday, December 17, 2010

For the Love of the Sport

Well, cycling isn't really a sport but I think that the phrase really captures the essence of today's ride. I was able to get out during the daylight as I started vacation at noon. This is my big vacation of the year, two full weeks, which also means that I am done until 2011. Needless to say, I have been looking forward to this for some time now.

I put the wheel set which I should have been running last weekend back on my single speed cyclocross bike after destroying my ancient Ksyrium at the Ice Weasels race last weekend. This wheelset is pretty bombproof and was actually built specifically for the Ice Weasels race last year. It runs urban camo Velocity Deep V's laced 32 radial to an XTR front and 32 snowflake twist to a Paul's SS in the rear. They also have red annodized nipples on the DT Champion silver spokes. My plan was simply to head out for a local mixed bag ride and get in a few bursts of intensity to open up and also to spin the legs back out. The route consisted of light trail and old railroad bed, some colonial era roadways in Estabrook Woods, some back country roads, some trail in Great Brook State Park and some more road and trail to get back home. I am very fortunate in that this is my normal, local riding territory and it is without question some of the nicest around. We are truly lucky to have so much open land and so many quiet country roads in an area that is as populous as this is. I suspect that you would be hard pressed to find that elsewhere. Thank the folks who preserve this for you the next time you get the opportunity.

After Wednesday night's MTB ride which saw the ambient temperature in the teens, the 34 degrees and sunny felt entirely pleasant. It felt really good to be out on the bike today, a day where it felt good to be alive. This may well have something to do with the start of a long vacation or with the holiday season or with the fact that it was a beautiful day outside. I choose to think though, that the biggest reason was simply that I was out riding my bike for fun.

Throughout the ride I was reminded of the simple joy and sense of freedom that can come from riding a bicycle. Problems seem to dissolve away with the spinning of your legs. Day's like this remind me why I spend so much of my life perched upon a bicycle saddle. It is simply because I love it and I always have. As long as I can remember, there have always been bicycles in my life. Sure, there was that awkward teenage period where no self respecting adolescent in Northern Vermont would be caught dead on anything without an engine but eventually I came back to it. As an adult, cycling took root in me and has been a defining aspect for the past 18 years. Cycling has changed my perspective and my values and has transported me from the person I was, into the person that I am now.

When I first started cycling as an adult it was of course for fun and we would ride mountain bikes after work once or twice a week in the Middlesex Fells. We would be out for a couple of hours and cover maybe 5 miles. Not much of a workout by today's standard but it set the hook. This was in the fairly early days of mountain biking in this area, before the MTB explosion happened. I met many good people like Scott and Anita who had over the top nice Klein bikes during this time. I was also introduced to NEMBA by my friend Wick. This got me involved in advocacy and exposed me to many others in the community as well. Right about this time I also started to dabble in racing. This was the old me though, lets say me and a half. I "fondly" remember my first MTB race ever, the Surf and Dirt in Orleans. I raced beginner which was one 5 mile lap. I did terrible and thought that I was going to die. I honestly couldn't fathom how people could push themselves so hard for such a long period of time. I weighed 234# at that point.

Fast forward a bunch of years to the tail end of the century. I've gotten way more into riding and am racing as a very, very mediocre expert though fairly successful Clydesdale. The weight is down to about 210# at that point. Life has taken a bunch of turns and Cathy and I are living in our current home. I've become disenchanted with racing and my poor results so Cathy and I decide to just ride for fun. Just about this time I meet PK, who at that point and still today for that matter, was well know as a dispenser of torture on the bicycle. My focus changed and we just rode hard all of the time for fun. We also started doing more and more longer and longer rides, fondly referred to as death-marches during this time-frame.

During Y2K a new discipline of mountain biking was popping up in videos, free-riding. This was very similar to much of the hardcore riding many of has been doing all along in places like Lynn Woods and Vietnam. However, now it had a name, and a bunch of faces, and bikes started to develop specifically for it. I was hooked and started the quest for bigger and bigger travel bikes. I also started playing the Russian Roulette game of up the ante every time you went out on the trail. This meant that you needed to not only huck, drop and clean everything you had ever done before but you also had to do something new. My free-ride bike at that point was a Santa Cruz Bullit with a Risse coilover giving 8" of rear travel and a Marzocchi Jr-T with 6" up front. That was a mere gateway though to the real bike, my full on DH race bike, an Intense M1 with an Avalanche 8" butter smooth rear mated with a 7" RockShox Boxxer Pro up front. This bike was incredible. Cathy and I had bought a house in Maine and were riding DH at Sunday River every weekend. My technical skills went through the roof, my fitness through the floor. I struggled on the PK hammer-fests during the week. I also struggled with the constant self pressure of the ante upping to the point where I didn't want to go ride the technical stuff. Clearly this wasn't working and clearly I'm crazy, but we knew that part going in.

Alas, Sunday River pulled the plug on DH and so we stopped riding it entirely. Right about that time, a key aspect of my cycling development came into scope; the road bike. This was PK's idea and with reluctance I bit. I'd had a road bike for years and had dabbled but the bread and butter of my riding was always centered on dirt. The road was new and fresh and exciting. We rode everywhere and with the same zeal that we had offroad. The miles racked up as did the fitness. It wasn't long before the road racing started only this time, the results were better. Years of torture at the hands of PK had made a huge difference. We added in time-trialing to the mix and this got us involved in NEBC. Shortly thereafter we add cyclocross and the rest is mostly history.

Oh yea, flip back to Y2K for a minute. This was the introduction of the single-speed MTB for us. We jumped in with both feet and started riding them at every opportunity. We also started drinking PBR. One other note of interest happened when you fast forward a few years and we make a foray back into MTB racing. This time the results are incredible. I'd literally had this crazy recurring dream over the years in which I actually won a mountain bike race. Guess that means I had cycling on my mind but this was just a dream for the longest time. I could not comprehend being at the front of an expert level race when for all those years I had only ever been at the back. Apparently all of the years of road and cyclocross riding and racing as well as continued MTB riding were the key. The circle was complete.

Sometimes it takes rides like today to make you realize that it's all about the continual journey and evolution. Nothing is constant and nothing lasts forever. That said, with some variety within a given aspect, that aspect can live a long fruitful and rewarding life.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Back of the Drawer

Given the weather I opted to spend some quality time in front of the TV this evening riding the rollers. Given that yesterday was a total blowout weather wise, I did the same. Yesterday's ride was much more aggressive, much more deliberate and much more intense, which coincided with the dramatic wind and rain we saw. Today was a simple, dreary Monday. I compounded the mood with a trip to the back, back, way back of the bike clothing drawer. The ensemble certainly made a statement, if nothing else.

It's hard to look tough in a Cookie Monster jersey that is two sizes too big for you (Cathy clearly thought I was more man than I actually am), while wearing Smurf blue shorts and bright red knee warmers with flaming purple arm warmers. I think I pulled it off though. You can't argue with those guns baby. I wonder what the UPS guy thought when I answered the door in this getup all soaking in sweat? No, I probably don't really want to know. I can only hope he made the connection to me being a cycling dork. The shot is from after my ride so any "moisture" visible really is sweat, which is proof that I was working hard and wasn't just screwing off watching TV.

I'm trying to remain impartial.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Fitting End

This pretty much sums up the season for me. About 3 laps into the single-speed race at the 3rd annual Ice Weasels I blew out my rear wheel. This was after a nasty crash at the start where Peter "the Cat" Bradshaw dropped his chain and pitched over the bars into me in full sprint mode my wheel blew up. Luckily Peter was OK though he must be well past his 9 lives. I managed to stay upright and although a bit shaken and slightly bruised, was only slightly worse for wear. I gave chase frantically and made some sketchy passes and tanked the flyover when I was unable to get my feet on the pedals for the descent but rode it out and marched forth. A couple laps in I settled and started forward progress in earnest. Shortly thereafter I noticed that all too familiar feeling for a single-speed, I was pedaling but drive-train was slipping. With a Shimano freehub system this usually means you have blown the pawls on the freehub or in some cases, the teeth on the splines are crudded up and the pawls can't engage. In the the extreme case, like on a tandem, it could mean you have sheared off the freehub body mounting splines on the hub shell. This has only happened once, to me anyhow. Alas, I was running a Mavic Ksyrium SL rear wheel and the extent of the failure wouldn't be fully evident to me until I opened her up at home and upon doing so, the verdict was grim; total failure. The rim had been tweaked enough to rub badly on the brakes and frame during the start line crash anyhow and was on it's last leg to begin with, so the only really unfortunate thing was that I was left unable to finish the race. My fault for using these wheels in the first place especially given the fact that I have a trick set of SS specific wheels that are totally bomb proof and were ready to go.

After the SS race disappointment I didn't even line up for the second race. Chip handed me a beer as I was exiting the course and the flow never stopped after that. As that final race of the day started I soon regretted my decision to hang it up. I'm a terrible spectator. In terms of the SS race though, Cathy ripped it up and took the win as well as a beer and Jello feed. This netted her a snazzy custom Igelheart cross fork and a check that nearly covered the expenses. Thanks Colin and sorry but Robert snagged your fridge yesterday. I've still got an electric stove that you can have :)

I didn't really get enough time racing to really make much of a comment on the course. It was much twistier than years past and a bit longer as well. I will say that I preferred last year's event in the snow as it certainly played better to my skill set. That said, this was probably the best course yet with the best conditions, weather and amenities. There was also more beer available than ever, possibly two much as I was slurring pretty badly by the end of the day. Many thanks to all involved in putting on a stellar event.

So today it is raining and thus begins the long season of reflection. I'll certainly use last season as fuel for the fire for next season. For now it is all just a mix of memories and images, most of which fall below hopes and expectations. These ghosts are sure to haunt the long training sessions that will soon start for next season.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Down with the Sickness

No, not that sickness, the good old fashioned New England holiday mixer sickness that has settled in the lungs, making basic things like breathing and sleeping a nightmare. Every year I get sick right around the holidays but this year it has been a little bit more virulent. It all started after Thanksgiving and I've been trying to fight it off by mostly ignoring it and spending lots and lots of time out riding my bike in the cold. For some strange reason, this course does not seem to be working and the back to back 2 hour stints in the dark cold the past couple of nights have thrown the knockout. I give up.

As such I am going to break down and go visit the doctor, or at least the nurse given that she was all I could get in to see on short notice. I'm sure that they are going to tell me that I probably have a touch of bronchitis and that even though I could live without it, have some penicillin just because we have an abundance and we love to prescribe it. Oh, and since you're here and you are old and we also have an abundance of flu shot meds that are going to go bad if we don't get rid of them, let me jab this garden hose sized needle in your arm. Sure, it might make you sick for 7 - 10 days but you will be all set to go after that. Apparently Flu shots and beer share a common trait, they have a short shelf life and go bad in the fridge if you don't use the right up. Speaking of beer, think I'll drink beer tonight, or maybe this afternoon. Did you know that modern cough meds (like the 'Tussin DM/CF) contain no alcohol what so ever but you need to show an ID for them? With no alcohol, why the hell would anyone want it and at $7 for like 8oz. that stuff would have to pack a pretty awesome buzz anyhow.

Merry Christmas! Next year I'm not leaving my home for the holidays and nobody is invited to come visit me either.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

One Fu@&!ng Speed

The rally cry, "One Fu@&!ng Speed" or "One is all you need". It's not just the stuff of cheezy decals, it's a whole mindset. These days there is a whole counter culture of fixed gear and single-speed fanatics that want to be part of the hip and trendy urban crowd. I've been involved with single-speed mountain bikes for a little over ten years now.

My buddy PK and I got into it along with the now defunct Wachussett Puke Boys. Many of us experimented with single-speed conversions of various frames typically using crappy old parts we had lying around. These parts would ultimately fail during inopportune points like a really steep grunt climb, at which point you would usually endo or drive your knee into the stem or fork crown or something like that. Ah the good old days!

I can't say that my reasoning for getting into single-speeds was necessarily more noble than the hipsters. We got into it because it was something new and different and afforded a different perspective all together on some of the same old trails. It also afforded us the luxury of drinking PBR pounders before they were the trendy thing to drink. In terms of providing variety though, the single-speed in it's strict minimalist form has been a recurring, go-to theme for me over the years. It has provided a way to do something that is very similar and familiar, something that I truly love to do, in a slightly different and often more exciting way. Think of it like being similar to your normal spouse or partner with big old implants, making something good just that much different and fresh :)

The way you ride a single-speed in the woods is very different than you ride a geared bike. A geared bike allows you the luxury of being reactionary to what the terrain throws at you, in many ways where as a single-speed requires you to be proactive in anticipating and preparing for what is coming up. Momentum is a key factor and you need to maintain it at all costs, so as not to get bogged down in a climb or technical feature due to your static, and in this case, inappropriate gear choice.

Mitigating that inappropriate gearing is the principle around which all single-speed riding revolves. By inappropriate gearing I refer to the fact that a static gear will never be perfect for varying terrain. Sure, you can choose a gear that is better than another but unless the terrain and conditions are static a single gear ration will never be ideal for all conditions. Around these parts most of us run a sub 2:1 ratio for 26ers mountain bikes and even lower for 29ers. The most common gear ratio for my 26er crowd is 32:18 though I had recently switched to a 32:17 before trading in my 26er for a 29er. For the 29er trail riding crowd a 32:20 is typical though I run a 32:19 and have done both a successful XC race and Kingdom Trails on this gearing. I also regularly ride our local trails on it with no issues. My current MTB is a Soul Cycles Dillenger with a 100mm RockShox Reba up front.

A few years later our interests had turned more toward road riding so once again, PK and I put together converted single-speed road bikes and did a ton of miles on them. It was great in the same simplistic way that single-speed mountain biking was and still is great. Within the last five years, many of us have jumped on the cyclocross bandwagon in a big way. It only made sense that a single-speed cyclocross bike would be just as much fun as it's siblings. I've had a few different versions and I think my current setup is pretty darn good. It's a Cannondale CAAD9 with a Team Beer BB30 EBB. It's light, stiff and works really well so far. I train almost entirely on the single-speed cyclocross bike and I've done some racing on them as well. A couple years ago I did Brockton (bad idea as it was too much road) and Ice Weasels SS. Last year I did the MRC race, Ice Weasels SS and Ice Weasels Elite with one gear. This year I did Porky Gulch cross (bad idea as it was too much high speed road) and will likely do at least Ice Weasels SS again.

In terms of the actual specifics of a single-speed, even though they are far simplified versions of the bicycle, there are actually certain issues that a single-speed drivetrain presents you with. The primarily issue is simply how to tension the chain correctly. There are number of methods to address this issue and I have tried most of them. The simplest approach is to use a normal bicycle frame with vertical dropouts and employ some device to take up the slack in the chain similarly to a multi-geared bicycle. You could use an old derailleur or any one of the numerous tensioners specifically designed for this application. The purist however, will argue that it just isn't right. I'll argue that because bicycle drivetrains are not perfectly round, it would be ideal to have some variable tensioner that can account for the minor imperfections. That said, those imperfections are usually within tolerance of a static system and you just live with the fact that your chain will be tighter in one section and looser in another. Most people start their single-speed career with a tensioner and graduate to a single-speed specific setup due to the fact that tensioners are a royal pain in the butt and require fiddling or just plain fail, frequently.

The most popular approach for single-speed specific bicycle frame makers is to use horizontal, slotted dropouts. This allows you to hand tension the chain with the drivetrain in place and the wheel on the bike and then tighten down the rear axle in the proper position. The downside is that it typically requires nutted axles that require tools to tighten/loosen and they can slip. The fix for that is to use a BMX tensioner, which works well but requires special tools to adjust. Also, the fixed nature of brake position either with road, cantilever or disc brakes come into play when you change the final resting position of the rear axle in order to tension a chain. Bottom line is that I used this method for years. It's a fine approach if you don't mind living with the issues.

The tensioning method that I now employ on almost all of our, yes our because in my house we have two of everything, one for me and one for Cathy, is the Eccentric Bottom Bracket or EBB. The nice thing about this method is that the tensioning is done at the bottom bracket rather than the wheel which means that you can use normal, vertical dropouts, a normal wheel with a quick release skewer and the brakes don't become an issue. The down side is that you change the seat angle, seat height and bottom bracket height by rotating the eccentric to tension the chain. The EBB is also usually heavy and they tend to creak. Personally, I can live with that and actually like this adjustability in most cases. For instance, my Cannondale single-speed cross bike had a lower bottom bracket and longer top-tube than my geared Ridley race bikes. The EBB allowed me to run the bottom bracket higher and forward such that I could slide the seat forward and retain the seat tube angle while effectively shortening the top-tube length.

There are also some other designs that use sliding dropouts and newer super custom designs that use pivoting dropouts. The latter seem like a really cool idea and could easily be the best solution if done right. The former have issues of their own, primarily that they are just cumbersome.

Anyhow, just like in everything, variety can be a really good thing. The same can be said about simplicity. Not having multiple gears to choose from dramatically simplifies the ride and allows you to be more one with the bike. It teaches you lessons about adaptation and overcoming as well as just working with what you have at hand. You learn to anticipate and prepare for an obstacle as well as to value and preserve your momentum. These practical lessons then become invaluable once you get back onto the geared bike.

Bicycles are not only utilitarian tools, they are also toys to be used for fun. I think the single-speed helps accentuate that fact.

Friday, December 03, 2010

More for the Money

Back in April of this year Cathy and I decided to adopt a pair of kittens. Thus started our search for just the right pair. Our primary search vehicle was, which was great, except that like everything on the Internets it is constantly out of date. That means that once you pour through the countless pages of available pets, setting your hearts and hopes on specific animals, you pull the trigger and nervously contact the shelter typically only to find out that this particular kitten has already been adopted. Sort of the equivalent of driving to WalMart at 5AM through a snowstorm on Black Friday only to find that the $499 62" LCD flat screen TV's in the ad are all sold out because they only had one of them to start with and the store manager set it aside for himself.

Don't worry though, we were told, it is "kitten season" and there will be plenty more coming up in the near future. I guess spring really is kitten season as there were more and more showing up in the ads every day. Unfortunately, many of the shelters are not shelters in the normal sense. They are rescue leagues that are all volunteer based and have no physical property for a shelter. Instead they use foster parents for all of the animals that need a home. Another side effect of the entirely volunteer basis of these organizations is that there isn't someone sitting by manning the front desk, responding to emails. That means it could take a while to get a response, which can be a bit unsettling after you have already set your heart on a particular kitten.

After a string of bad luck and missed opportunities we finally had a promising lead from a rescue league in Waltham, the Cat Connection. They were very helpful and glad to hear from us. Although our first choices (from the web ads) were already adopted (don't tell Opie and Ellie they were second choices) we arranged to go visit a siblings from the same litter at the foster parent's home in Waltham. We both new that if we committed to going to see them we would end up with them. How could you not? And so we did. They were 7 weeks old at the time and so tiny. Because we were deemed such "good parents" or possibly because the foster parents wanted them gone, we were allowed to take the kittens a week later, which was earlier than they typically allow them to go. We were overjoyed and despite the occasional transgressions they make, have been since.

Both Opie (OP) and Ellie (LE), I thought that was clever, I was probably wrong, have also changed a great deal since we got them. It became visually evident to me today, as I was looking at them in their pet bed together. Here are some comparison shots over the course of the past 8 months or so.

I think that they may need a bigger bed as they are sort of overflowing that one. That isn't the only thing that they have outgrown either. We just bought them a bigger Pet Taxi for the long trips to Maine as the two of them didn't really fit in the old one. I wouldn't say that they are huge cats, I've certainly seen bigger. That said, we weighed them a couple weeks ago and the boy is over 12# and the girl, who although slightly more petite than the boy, has a slight weight issue, is over 13#. That's a whole lot more kitten for the money.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Thanksgiving in VT

Every year Cathy and I make the trip to my parents home in VT for Thanksgiving. This year we were in ME for the entire Thanksgiving week taking care of some chores so we drove over to VT for the day from there. My brothers both still live in the area so they attend as well with their families and my aunt and her husband also join and we all visit and have a traditional dinner of turkey, ham, stuffing and all of the other staples as well as an abundant variety of desert pies. As I've mentioned before, I don't actually see my family very often, recently just a couple of times a year at the holidays. Everyone is busy and the distance seems to make it tough.

My parent's camp
The view of the Presidential range from the camp

My dad and I took a ride up to my parents camp that they build a few years ago. They bought 10 acres of land up on a mountain and have been improving the land as well as building the camp and shed. The camp also has a perfect view of the Presidential range and Mount Washington. The road in to the camp is only seasonal and is actually a snowmobile trail in the winter, so there is no access by car. In fact, you would be really hard pressed to be able to get a car vs. a truck or something with enough ground clearance up in there even in the middle of the summer. The camp looks good though and the land is much nicer now than when they bought it.

Back at my parent's house my father was also anxious to show me the progress that he has made on his latest Rat Rod, based on an S10 truck frame with a GM 350, auto tranny, front and rear end with a '34 Ford pickup cab that he sliced 3" out of and home-made bed with fenders made for a boat trailer. This is the third rig he has built and each incarnation keeps getting better. The radiator is a high end aluminum model that he got slightly used. He is leaning toward an electric fan on it which will address a couple of issues for him. At present the steering column has just enough room to clean the static header. He will need to create some more clearance though to account for the rock of the motor firing up.

The latest Rat Rod as it sits
My parent's home and barn made from salvaged pallets

As usual, we ate a ton of food, and spend the day visiting. My brother's two boys and daughter and my other brother's boy all combined to add color and sound effects for the day. As usual Cathy and I both ended up catching a cold shortly after and are sick as dogs at the moment. Coincidence?

Cathy's parents also came to visit us from Ontario, first in ME and then came back to MA with us. It was a full weekend of family. For sure.