Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good For Nothing?

Well, maybe not exactly good for nothing as much as good at nothing as the case may be. That is the term that came to mind as I got intimately acquainted with my most recent bike build during a 3.5 hours cross-town MTB ride that Cathy and I did on Christmas Day.

The new bike is really just a reconfiguration of a bunch of old parts that I had hanging around the basement. For some time I'd been reading and hearing about the "monster-cross" bike configuration being the best thing since sliced bread. Having had sliced bread and recognizing what an improvement it actually is over an uncut loaf, I decided that I too must jump on the bandwagon and experience this phenomenon for myself. For those unaware, the "monster-cross" distinction is basically a mountain bike made to look like a cross bike, sort of. The idea is that drop bars and fat tires coupled with disc brakes and a more upright posture make a great, comfortable platform for dirt road touring and the like. Sounded reasonable so I figures what the heck.

The core of the bike was my old Soul Cycles Dillinger 29er MTB frame with the cracked EBB set screw mount. The folks at Soul had warrantied the frame with a brand new one and didn't want the old one back. I'd honed BB shell out to accept an over-sized Niner Biocentric EBB, so the frame was still usable. I had a matching rigid fork for it that I'd purchased along with the bike. The wheelset was the nondescript Specialized/DT set that came on my Epic. I'd rebuilt the rear with a SRAM 135mm QR hub to replace the crappy 142 x 12mm T/A hub. The only parts that I had to purchase were a pair of cheap dirt-drop handlebars and a headset. The rest of the parts were literally, hanging in the bin, including the road version of the Avid BB-7 cable actuated disc brakes.

The beast.

Here are the full specs for the complete build:
  • Soul Cycles Dillinger 29er MTB Frame
  • Soul Cycles Dillinger 29er MTB Fork (suspension corrected 80mm)
  • Cane-Creek 1.125" S-2 Headset
  • Specialized/DT/SRAM X-7 29er Disc Wheelset (QR 100/135mm spacing)
  • Shimano XT 11-32 9spd Cassette
  • WTB Exiwolf 29x2.3 Front Tire
  • Kenda Small Block Eight 29x2.0 Rear Tire
  • Avid BB-7 Road Cable Actuated Disc Brakes - 160mm Alligator Wave Rotors
  • Tektro Road Brake Levers
  • Shimano Ultegra 9spd Barend Shifters
  • Shimano XT Rear Derailleur
  • Shimano XT Front Derailleur
  • Truvativ Stylo External BB Crankset (44/32/22 Chainrings)
  • Easton Havoc 31.6mm Setback Seatpost
  • Sella Italia Flite Original Saddle
  • On-One Gary Dirt Drop OS Handlebars
  • Thomson X-4 31.8 x 90 x +10 Stem
  • Shimano M520 SPD Pedals
  • SRAM 9spd Chain
  • Full Housing Cables (brake and shift)
Yes, as you may gather I have a whole lot of bike parts kicking around the basement. It seems that I don't throw anything away and also consume a lot, which means lots of turnover and thus. lots of spare junk, that really isn't.


So you may ask, why the title of this post and why am I being so critical of this build? Lets start with ride impressions. At first my thought was that I'd use this as a spring training bike for foul conditions on the road. The idea was disc brakes and lots of fender room. As such I first had 700x25c slicks on the bike. It felt odd but fun on the pavement. The first ride, however, showed it to be a slow moving pig that didn't really handle that well at speed. Who would have guessed, what with a rakes out front end (compared to a road or cross bike anyhow) coupled with a short and upright stem and a serious freshman weight problem. The bike was portly and I felt as though I was a jockey riding a moose.

Ice on the pond.

That one ride was enough to realize that application wasn't going to work. Instead I though I would re-purpose the bike for that which it was intended in concept, a bike for "rambling". Although I don't tend to do a lot of that type of riding, I figured that this time of year is a great time to start and what better way to start that with a bike made specifically for that. I had a pair of 29er MTB tires kicking around on the tire-tree (yes, I have a tree rack in the basement with gobs of spare tires on it) so I mounted them up. Ooff, want to make a chunky bike even chunkier, try adding a fat 2.3 29er tire and tube. I haven't weighed her but she is definitely not svelte.

Last weekend, after the Christmas morning frenzy, Cathy and I suited up and headed out for a local MTB ride, a ride that is coming to be a Christmas tradition for us. The ride loops around town and hits most of the local conservation lands that are accessible this time of year and in these conditions, that being not yet frozen. I chose to ride the newly re-configured spruce-moose and Cathy rode her Kona Hei-Hei 29er fully, which she is growing more and more fond of as time passes. We looped about, connecting small chunks of land that we rarely ride with others that we almost never ride. The ride then culminated in a tour of our primary local trail stash, the PR. We used up most of the daylight and had a great time being outside together.

As we rode on through the day, meandering about town, one thought kept coming to mind as we would hit different types of terrain. The common theme seemed to be the simple and swift realization that with each new type of terrain, the bike was never really able to find it's mate, that which it was purposeful and adept at. On the pavement it was comfortable but handling was awkward and gangly and of course, horribly slow. On the dirt and cinder paths it still felt sluggish though comfortable to ride. In the single track the drop bars proved a challenge and the brake access was not terribly comfortable. The short stem and long reach to the hoods made the handling foreign. The bike was certainly not nimble though it was definitely capable. The sketchiest mix was high speed semi-technical descents. The drop-bar position was just, wrong.

So here we are. Initial impression isn't great but in all fairness I don't have a ton of time on the bike. Maybe it will grow on me or maybe I will be able to find the right mix of terrain for the bike. It's not costing me anything other than space so I will certainly keep it but truth be told, I'm not sure exactly what I will use it for. Who knows, maybe I'll find just the right match and the specific purpose for which this bike excels.

Or maybe not.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

To all of my friends and family, wishing you a warm, wonderful and Merry Christmas. Peace and good will to all, especially kittens.

Feliz Navidad.

Monday, December 19, 2011

And Then it Was Over

As quickly as it started it finished. The 2011 bicycle racing season is, for us, done. For me, it went out with a less of a bang and more of a groan. I finally realized that I don't have the fitness or endurance any longer to do two cyclocross races in one day. This was a hard learned lesson that resulted in less than stellar performances in events on two weekends in a row.

In the past it seemed that I could handle this. Yes, the second event always hurt but so did the first event. In fact, I've had some of my best days ever on days when I did two races in one day. That was not the case this year though. Throughout the course of any given cyclocross season I will usually only double up a few times. This year there were a far greater number of single-speed cyclocross (SSCX) races than at any point in the past. I just can't pass those things up so this led to me racing twice at those events. I think I did like five doubles this fall. Through the course of the season the second race of the day got more and more painful and I found myself doing worse and worse. I guess that I'm getting old or something or maybe my fitness and endurance just aren't up to snuff. Regardless, lets tag this one as lesson learned. Next year, one race is enough, really, I mean it this time.

So, in terms of races, we cruised right into and through Ice Weasels. Great race, fun course and a good time in general. I did the Elite race and then the SSCX race right after (back to back). This was, in a word, brutal. I got the worst start ever in the Elite race and killed myself trying to catch. It never happened but I did get really tired trying. Then right into the SSCX race I got another terrible start and had to chase. It was tough going and by the last few laps I was cramping up hard. I managed to hold on for 4th place and 3rd overall in the Zanc series, I think. The race was a bunch of fun though and the course changes were a hoot. The beer was once again gone by the time we finished racing though. The only damper on the race was the number of people who felt that this was less a race and more an excuse to be an obnoxious drunk. People were stopping in the middle of the course in front of you to take beer hand-ups and then getting upset if you took note of it. I literally almost cleaned some lapped goob out who came to a complete stop in front of me in the barriers. This is a race, I paid money to enter this race. I want to race my bike. There is plenty of time to drink after the race. If you would rather drink beer than race your bike, perhaps a bar rather than a bike race would be a better place to spend your time and money.


This past weekend was the final cyclocross event in New England, the regional championships. I once again decided to race two races with the SSCX race early in the AM and the Elite Masters 35+ race last up in the afternoon. I really wanted to do well in the SSCX race and felt that my chances were pretty good given the people that were registered, or rather, who were not. That said, my long time nemesis Matt has been killing me all season and was my choice for the favorite. Also there was SS MTB hero James, who I have raced cyclocross with a few times on gears but never SSCX I think. He was the wildcard. Shawn was another wildcard. I knew he could motor if the conditions were right. This was going to be a good race, regardless.

Off the start, a couple rotations in I clipped out of my pedal during a hard pedal stroke. This sent me back a long, long ways and forced me to chase. This is really getting to be a disconcerting common theme here. I managed to get up into the top five by the time we hit the sand, entering right behind Shawn. Unfortunately, he wiped out in front of me. I dismounted and ran literally over him, only losing a couple places. More chasing and I was back on track.

In the next lap, Matt was running hard off the front and I caught up to James, not too far from Matt and chasing hard. Entering the sand I figured that James would have it pegged. I was wrong and he endo'd dramatically sending the bike into my face. I managed to get my hand out, which ran through the spokes of the ream wheel. My left ankle slammed into some part of the bike as well and I hit the sand. We both got up and sorted out and I exited first with James right behind me. The crash had left my already cold left hand with two completely numb fingers, the ones that got raked by the rear wheel. My left ankle was also getting stiff and I could feel it swelling. This took a bunch of wind out of my sails and James changed past me chasing Matt.

Within a lap or so James was up to Matt and rode right through him. I trailed back now chasing Matt and trying to get the motivation back. Seeing Matt ahead was enough and I got moving again. Back the weekend before at Ice Weasels, by the half way point in the SSCX race I was too tired to get off my bike so started hopping the mini-barriers. I managed to gain confidence and went faster and faster each time, by the end actually going through them faster than most could run them. This carried through to the Regionals race, where there was a similar set of double mini-barriers. They had a good flat and fast run in so I was hitting them really fast. This opened big gaps. That came into play when I caught Matt and was able to distance him. Unfortunately, I was unable to catch James, so finished up 2nd, the first loser, and missing the sweet SSCX Regional Champion jersey presented by the good folks at Verge.

A little later in the day Cathy was up for her SSCX race. She was wise and chose to do only one race. Actually, she has been doing this most of the year and in truth, could only do one race on Saturday based on the scheduling of the events. The night before as we were getting the bikes ready I decided that it was a shame that her really nice carbon cross bike with really nice carbon tubular wheels would sit idle for another year. I started searching for some slightly longer bolts to replace the limit screws on the rear derailleur, so I could lock it out. After much searching I found that Shimano MTB derailleur limit screws we longer than the road versions and that worked to lock the derailleur in place. I popped the cassette off the rear wheel and slammed a 17t Surly cog on with a spare Gussett spacer set and we were all set to roll with the 39t single ring up from which had inner and outer guides. Spiffy!

Anyhow, Cathy had a great race. She was a bit psyched out by on woman from NY but I tried to convince her she had advantages over that woman. Cathy raced hard and finished behind that woman but ahead of a number of women on geared bikes. This was good enough for a 2nd place finish, the team's second of the day. Fortunately though the winner was not a New England resident and thus, Cathy got the jersey and title as the regional champion, a distinction that is well deserved.

Last up on the day was my second race, the Elite Masters 35+ race. I was not terribly motivated after having already raced and run around the course spectating for hours. It was also getting cooler as the sun dipped lower in the sky. I'd paid the registration fee though so I was going to race and race I did. Off the line I decided to kill it and get a good start. It worked and by half way through the preview lap I was sitting in the pack, just behind some very heavy hitters. I was full of energy (possibly from the power gel I'd just consumed) and attacked hard before the barriers moving up into 4th. Coming out onto the track though the engine started to sputter. People started to pass me, a bunch of people.

After that attack I expected some separation but it wasn't to be. Immediately I lost half a dozen spots and we were just starting the first full lap. This was bad and bad it was. I contemplated giving up and quitting but kept riding around the course trying to minimize the damage. My legs were cramping and worthless. There was just no go left and I didn't really care. The season was over, at least as far as I was concerned, and after another forty minutes or so of suffering, it was over for real. Lesson learned.


It was a great season and I am sad that it is over. I'm now left with that feeling of purposelessness that always seems to rear its head once the racing is done for the year. Don't get me wrong, I am ready for a break and to do something different. I just always miss seeing everyone and having that convenient sense of purpose that steady racing gives us.

Until next year, Merry Christmas and have a great holiday season!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Still Thinking

I just read JB's most recent post. It brought back so many thoughts and feeling for me, reflecting on my own personal circumstances with a "step-pet". It will be two years in March. I can't believe that it has been that long. Two years ago we were doing battle with the kidney problems as a family, to try and keep the issues in check. We were succeeding in that with daily fluids and we were able to spend a wonderful Christmas home together.

I hate the fact that some of the most tactile memories have faded. I confuse some with more recent memories of the kittens but I guess that is how we move on. It doesn't take too awful much though to return right back there, at least for me. I've never stopped thinking of her, partially because I don't want to stop. I don't want to lose something that was such an important part of my life, for so long.

The truly cruel and unfortunate thing is that the good times seem to fade much more rapidly than the bad. Natural response or our minds reminding us of lessons learned possibly, though it is hard to say what those lessons could possibly be. Never love and your heart won't get broken? That's a pretty tough lesson that would result in a pretty miserable and lonely life, I would think.

Anyhow, it just got me thinking about Oreo and how I still miss her dearly. I know that Cathy does as well, she is still pictured in the desktop background on her laptop. The kittens (cats) are awesome and own the bulk of our hearts but there is still a very special part that will always belong to the Monkey.

The Bad Monkey enjoying the sun on a warm Thursday in late March.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Almost Over

I can't believe that we are already there. The season and the year simply flew by. It seems as though we were just starting the cyclocross season and now here we are at the tail end of it. For us, there is just this weekend with one race on Saturday and then next weekend with events on Saturday and possibly one on Sunday. We are not planning to head to the national championships or the world championships, both of which are held in early January right here is the USA. I get crushed badly enough right here in New England so see no reason to travel great distances to get spanked.

Hiking the AT in Shelburne, NH the day before Thanksgiving.

Speaking of flying by, the holiday season is cruising as well. In all honesty I can't believe that it's almost over. We got totally hosed out of Halloween due to the freak snowstorm and power outage that lasted for days. Then for Thanksgiving we got hit with another snowstorm for which we were again ill prepared and as such, the holiday snuck by in the blink of eye.

Now it's a couple weeks before Christmas and we don't even have a tree yet. Cathy did a good job of putting some decorations out which the cats are having fun playing with. Part of the issue is that after Thanksgiving we had the local, Sterling cyclocross races both days which although non-spectacular for either of us, had us flat out the entire weekend running back and forth each day. We'd also been scrambling to do chores around the house before winter decides to set in for real, if indeed it does.

Also early in the week last week, I somehow got some funky infection. It started with a bit of an odd pain in my right ear. I thought nothing of it but on Tuesday AM as I was sitting at work, I started to get the chills. At first I though it might just be a cold as I'd under-dressed for the race Sunday and had gotten pretty cold. Also, I attributed this initially to the fact that I rode my motorcycle in to work and even though it was warm, at 6AM it's still pretty raw and I got fairly cold. It was when the right side of my face started to swell up and I started to feel worse that I suspected something was awry.

A call to the doctor's office was only able to net me an appointment with the nurse the following afternoon. A Google of the interwebs had me convinced that this could just be a ear blockage and so I went home and went to bed. I climbed freezing into bed dressed in expedition weight thermals, under all of the covers, blankets and down comforter, with a toque on, while the outside temp climbed to nearly 70 degrees. An afternoon of restless sleep punctuated by the chills.

When I finally dragged out that evening Tuesday, my face was a mess; worse than normal. It was swollen, red and warm to the touch. I felt pretty darn miserable as well. I knew that this was bad and contemplated going to the ER but didn't want to be that guy who overreacts all the time. Instead I decided to wait for the appointment that I'd made earlier, the next day, Wednesday. This wasn't looking very good for racing on the weekend, which was a bit disappointing as it was the final weekend events of the Verge cyclocross series.

To make a long story shorter, this was a bad idea. The nurse freaked out when she saw me and my Cellulitis, snagged the doctor, who however was unimpressed. He prescribed oral antibiotics (Augmentin) and sent me on my way until the following afternoon when I was supposed to check back in. In short, things did not get better by the middle of the next day, which was now Thursday. I verified with the doctor's office that the next step would be the ER then headed there. As expected, they pumped me full of IV antibiotics and sent me home with a nifty IV hookup still in my arm and instructions to come back for more on Friday.

The Thursday AM photo doesn't really express how huge the swelling seemed.

Luckily, when I woke up on Friday AM things were looking much better. By the afternoon when I headed back the ER they were even better yet. Unfortunately, the ER is no place to be on a Friday afternoon. We waited around for 3 hours before getting in and hooked up for the IV. Then they had the drip set on extra slow and what should have taken 1/2 hour took nearly an hour. At that point though they were trying to chuck folks out of there as quickly as possible to make room for the incoming slew of weekend warriors. They yanked the IV out, stuck a bandage on it and sent me home.

I was glad to have come out of it OK. Secretly I was pretty concerned, for a few reasons. For one, I've had Cellulitis before, 15 years ago in my hand. They had a really hard time controlling it, even with IV antibiotics, multiple times a day over the course of an whole week. The face is really close to important things, like the lymphatic system. If the infection spreads there, you are basically porked. Lastly, I'm also on this nifty medication for arthritis that suppresses my immune system, making me particularly susceptible to infections. All good stuff.

The scary after shot on Friday PM. Scary as it's as good as it gets.

So here we are. I missed the last weekend of Verge racing. This weekend is Ice Weasels already. I'm not sure if I'm psyched for it or not. One weekend, the regional championships, after that and then we are done. Hopefully the weather will change for real and it will feel more like the holiday season. This 60 degree stuff in December has gotten old. I'm ready for some winter, and some change.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

This Just Arrived

This showed up in the mail today. It's funny because there was never any formal acknowledgment of it at the race or on USA Cycling or anything. I was pretty sure I knew what the results were but that was some time ago and I'd sort of given up on it.

2011 fat, bald, 44 year old men from Bedford Cyclocross Champion of the World!

It was a bit of a shallow "by default" type of victory as I came in 4th in the actual cyclocross race. However, because it was a 35+ year old combined event and two of the guys ahead of me were older, one was younger and the guy in my actual age group (40-44) who should have won crashed trying to hop the barriers, I was officially the 1st in my age bracket to finish the race. I know, small things for small people.

Defacto MTB as well.

It can take it's place, in the drawer of honor or possibly hanging from the shelf in the pantry next to the Cheetos, with it's 2011 MTB brother. This is going on the resume for sure. Yep, right after my extensive expertise at scooping kitten poops.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy T-day

Today was a good day. We got up early and headed over to my folks for Thanksgiving. The roads in Maine were still pretty miserable from the storm yesterday, that kindly gave us a white Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, despite having more snow sports gear than you can shake a stick at, Cathy and I came up short in terms of actually having any at all physically with us. As such, we didn't really get a chance to play in the snow. Instead we did a short snow hike, or maybe you should call it a snow wallow, as we broke trail through a foot of snow in our boots a short ways up the AT in Shelburne, NH. Still fun to be outside.

Morning frost of the windshield.

Anyhow, today was about food and family and both were good. We got a chance to chuck some lead in the AM with my brother and nephew and I welded up some new runner shoes for my old snowblower (yes, I know you can buy new ones but I'm being thrifty). My dad spent lots of time showing his progress on the hot-rod truck he has been building. It's looking pretty good, especially with the new custom headers and straight pipes my brother built for it. Sounds pretty mean as well. My brother also had a file cabinet that he'd made (he works for a high end furniture company and also makes really, really nice hardwood furniture on his own so if anyone needs stuff, let me know) that he didn't need, so we went and got it at his place and snagged it. While there he showed me the monster JCB backhoe he bought. The thing is huge and weighs 17,000 lbs. It's an industrial sized pig with an 8' bucket on the front and full size hoe on the back. Works pretty well for pulling boulders out of his lot.

Santa's Village at night at 40 mph out the window of the truck.

We headed back home to Maine late in the day, where we had another Thanksgiving feast of leftover baked beans that Cathy had made yesterday. An excellent day indeed. I really have much to be thankful for and for all of it, I truly am.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and we will see many of you this weekend in Sterling.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2011 Northeast Velocross

This years edition of the Northeast Velocross cyclocross race, the race promoted by NEBC and taking place at the Northeast Velodrome property saw a few changes year over year. No, the changes were not in the course layout but in the attendance. A massive show of support by the good folks of NECX made for much, much deeper fields. It was awesome to see all the folks there. From what I could see, most everyone had a smile on their face after sampling the course laid out by Kurt and his crew at the Velodrome.

Cathy and I arrived at the venue early Saturday morning to volunteer as well as to get a good parking sport. We weaseled our way into the venue and scored the absolute premier parking, forcing the Shimano guys to move their tents which they were in the process of setting up so we could sneak by. We simply pretended that we were official and those saps all bought it. Score! From there we sought out the volunteer coordinator to see what needed to be done. Parking was the first on the list and then we settled into course marshaling and generally getting crap done that needed to be done. Not exactly rocket science but good stuff.

The hours flew by and before I knew it, Tipsy was asking me if I was planning to race or just volunteer. That seemed odd as I had the perception that I still had hours before my first race. The truth was that we were only an hour away from the start and I hadn't began to think about getting ready. Panic sat in, I pinned up, ate some stuff and got suited. Quickly I pulled a bike out and onto the trainer and started spinning, all the while pounding the water that I hadn't been drinking. Soon the start time neared and I got the good bike down and ready to go. Cathy volunteered to take my SSCX bike, which I needed for the SSCX race and would also serve as my M35+ pit bike, to the pit for me.

On the line NEBC got a front row start so we all lined up right on the first row. Quickly got the count and shortly after that was the start. A mad dash around the track portion of the course saw teammate Scotty drill it. I settled behind him and when he swung off wide in the first corner as we came off the track and onto the infield, I hit it hard. Soon I had a gap and kept changing hard. I could sense that people were holding back and letting my run but like any fat tuna on the hook, I led with all I had. This held for the first couple of laps but coming through the start/finish I had been bridged up to by an unknown to me racer. He attacked hard and gapped me on the track but I kept close.


Soon I could see another racer coming up, none other than Mark M., who had done thew same the previous weekend. Shortly thereafter Mark was with me and then came to the front. I was intent to stay with him but soon noticed a problem. My rear tire was feeling a little squish as I came around the BMX course. I couldn't tell the extent of the issue until I hit the track, at which point I was quickly flat. I rode it out around the track and on the infield without much issue, jsut a bit slower than I would have liked. After the 2nd set of barriers the chain jumped off and wedged in between the spokes and cassette. Ugh! I carried the bike up the track and down into the pit, which was only 30 yards away. Unfortunately I had trouble locating my spare bike and by the time I found it and got back out on course, arch rival (not really rival as much as guy who always finishes ahead of me) Billy had caught up to me.

The two of us worked together and although I was faster in the technical stuff he would school me and my one gear on the track and on the steep uphill, which I was forced to run. Bill made multiple offers to let me switch bikes back, as the neutral support had fixed my bike, but I was stubborn and refused. In reality, that was a really stupid move but I never claimed to be smart. On the final lap I go by Bill before the hill and killed myself to stay ahead of him running through lapped traffic but he made it through and got by me. We hit the track together but he easily crushed me and my wimpy gear. It was a fun race still.

A couple hours later was the SSCX race. I was disappointed at my performance in the first race but had high hopes for the second race. When race time arrived however, the sun and the temperature had dipped and I was freezing. I literally couldn't stop shivering. I even raced with leg warmers on. The start was almost surreal. I hadn't touched the bike since finishing the first race and was as cold and stiff as possible. My only hope was that we would all go really slow the first lap so the race would be as short as possible. This is because they use the first lap time to figure out how many laps you will be doing. It worked for the most part. I never saw the front of the race and just followed wheels. Scotty at first with the hole-shot, then Doug and then Curtis. After a couple laps I was solo chasing Curtis, who wasn't working nearly hard enough but which was OK by me as it meant I didn't have to work harder top maintain the gap he had. We all got spread out and it was basically a bunch of solo races taking place at the same time on the same course but that's racing some times. In the end Curtis easily stayed ahead of me, but I was OK with that. I felt pretty good for both races and had respectable results on both counts. I can live with that.

All in a great day of racing. This was a very feel good event, with ample smiles of joy and excitement. Why not after all, this was such a unique course, how could you not have fun? Only the most technically inept would see this as something less that it was, a cyclocross funpark. Many thanks to the good folks that made this event a reality. I'm proud to be part of the club that promoted it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fun Stuff

Today was the first complete and full day of vacation. We were off yesterday as well but were traveling, so it didn't count, really. After breakfast this AM it was still effing cold (17 degrees) so we opted for a drive to Berlin to snowblower shop and then hit Wallyworld for some sight seeing. We snagged a sweet new Ariens Professional 28" blower that cost a fortune but will hopefully be the last we ever need by buy. We then got some Blue Bunny, gun accessories and targets as well as some beef-ribs at Walmart and headed for home. Unloaded and did some chores and by 1:30PM we were at the day's high temperature, about 41 degrees. With that we suited up and went out for a ride.

Starting the climb up RT113 in Evans Notch.

The plan called for nothing too imposing, the rolling run out North Road to Gilead and then up RT113 into Evans Notch. This is is mild, 8 mile climb that kicks a little in a few spots but is a nice easy climb to the top of the notch. As we headed up, we noticed that thew suspension bridge that used to cross the Wild River is gone. A victim of Hurricane Irene I believe. As we progressed up the climb the sun sunk low and it became overcast. The temperature went from comfortable to pretty raw and chilly. As we crested it was starting to look like it could snow, which it is supposed to do in earnest later on, so we did not dawdle.

Looking out into NH from the top of Evan's Notch.

The descent down quickly cooled things off some more and the ride home was all but cold. We managed to get home before dark, though barely, and missed any adverse weather conditions besides the cool temperature. All in all a great ride upon which we met very little traffic and had no incidents. It wasn't super fast as we were on cross bikes with full knobbies but it was still good to be out riding and especially good to be riding some place different. It had been a couple of years since we did this out and back. It really is a very nice ride.

It's all downhill from here, except for the ups of course.

After some quality time warming back up in the hot shower, we snagged a rental flick and sat down for a couple brews and a plate of nachos at Suds Pub. Good stuff. Soon the crock-pot will yield the batch of corn chowder that we put together earlier in the day for supper tonight. Tomorrow promises at present to be a good old fashioned snow day, which will be fun in and of itself.



Life is good and vacation is great.

Friday, November 18, 2011

That's Right

How's this for bucking the accepted living from paycheck to paycheck in financial servitude trend. Corporate and personal greed as well as "the man" can pucker up and kiss our collective bottoms. Team Two Adventures is FREE AT LAST!

Just in time for Black Friday in fact. Off to Walmart for a big-screen TV or maybe a slick new euro-car so I can look and feel more important than I really am. Heck, you know, we deserve it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Plymouth Cross Fest 2011

No, not Cross Dress, Cross Fest. This past weekend Cathy and I once again packed up the van and made the pilgrimage to historic Plymouth Massachusetts for the Plymouth Festival of Cyclocross. The two day event has come to be held exclusively at the Plymouth South High School campus in the past couple of years. In the past, the event was split between Plymouth North and Plymouth South High Schools, the former being a past home of the US National Championships. As always, the event is promoted and organized by Bill Sykes and family and sponsored by George and Corner Cycles. Good people and long time staples in New England bicycle racing. Cathy and I have attended this race since we started racing cyclocross, way back in 2006 and our attendance has become a yearly tradition.

The 32nd Annual Plymouth Festival of Cyclocross in historic Plymouth Massachusetts.

On a side note, despite the fact that this was billed as a "festival", I was disappointed to find no fried-dough, folk-music or clowns making balloon animals. I'm not sure how you can consider yourself a "festival" without any of those staples. In all fairness though, there was a bouncy-house, which I suppose could possibly meet the formal qualification for a festival.

In looking at the two different course layouts for the two days in the online race guide, I noticed that there were some strategic changes to both day's courses versus those of years past. I've got the bigger description and report from last year here so if you want more on that, go there. With great expectations we suited up upon arrival Saturday and went out on course for a pre-ride. The changes were indeed subtle but took a big portion of the boring drudgery out of the course, in the form of removing the big perimeter loop around the back playing fields. In it's place were a couple of switchbacks and a double-back around a playing field that was also in play for another section of the course. That afforded you views of other racers coming the other way on the course and broke up any potential boredom. It also meant you went in both directions allowing for opposite wind patterns one direction to the other. A headwind one way promised a tailwind to look forward to the other way. There was only the one short section of mud behind the barriers, which is always there, at least from my experience.

Cathy was up first in the women's open race. She was feeling pretty good and the course was a good match for her strong suit, steady power and lots of it. I made sure to try and get a good training week in the week leading up to the races. As I mentioned before, the ride interval Tuesday made a big difference for Cathy in terms of boosting her confidence. I wanted to continue with that through the rest of the week and so we did skills and a few mid length intervals on Wednesday and had a good spin-sprint opener on Friday. That seemed to work well as it has in the past. She got a great start and rode really strong the whole race. I could tell from the way that she was racing that there was a change in the style I had seen of recent and in fact, for much of the season. She was driving, not just sitting back and following. The result was a really exciting race and one of her best results this season.

There is not a whole lot to say about my race, really. I had a good race but was outgunned by one of my across the boards (except maybe on the MTB anyhow) rivals, "Wild" Bill from Corner Cycles. The start was one of my best ever though we had a couple of really fast starters in our field like "Mr. diesel" Kyle from the Embrocation Team, who managed to curtail my short lived holeshot before the first corner. Old time friend and 45+ strongman Don from Bikeman was a major factor, as expected, especially early on in the race. What I didn't realize but should have based on past performances, was how much of a battle I would have over the course of the weekend with the other Corner Cycles racer in the field Saturday, Dave.

What played out after the first lap was Bill, myself, Dave and Don each separated by 10 yards, plowing around the fields battling the wind. Eventually the elastic snapped and I managed a small gap and caught Bill. Unfortunately, Bill's teammate Dave was also coming up, so I knew I had to stay on the gas. I went to the front and hit as hard as I could for half a lap. This managed to put some distance on Dave but when Bill decided to come around and punch it, I was gone. The remainder of the day was spent trying to stay away from Dave and Don and reel back Bill. The former worked, the latter did not. Still kept me in the money though, which is a nice change.

As a note, I liked the course switching back on itself the way it did, affording the opportunity to see racers going the other way. When the race settles in I enjoy cheering on teammates like Scotty and other friends like Brant, G-Willy and Gary in those face to face sections. Don't get me wrong, this is more of an encouragement grunt, but it's something I always like to do in all competition. "Be nice, until it's time not to be nice.". The switching back also gives the impression that you are still racing people rather than just doing a solo time-trail, despite the fact that those people may be on completely different sections of the course. Often you find yourself alone on remote sections of a course, leaving you to wonder if there is still a race going on.

Day two was a slightly different course with some additional technical features and a little more variety to it. There were also two sections of deep, loose sand. I liked this course layout a lot and think that the changes made over years past were excellent. In hindsight, this could be one of my favorite courses. There was also a downhill, low speed, fresh cut loamy, tight switchback section in the woods that proved a great challenge. This was a very neat feature and the more I reflect back, the more fondly I think of it. The also used a couple aspects of day one that had been never used before, including a miserable little steep and slick grunt. Each time up I would spin out for the final couple pedal strokes over the top.

Once again Cathy was first up. She was having a great ride in a much stronger field until she pulled out of her pedal in a convoluted sprint attempt going through for the lap. This nearly resulted in a tangled up in the bike face plant but she managed to pull it out and get going again. Unfortunately the bobble took a toll and she lost contact with the woman with whom she had been racing. She still managed to retain her position and get a solid result. Most importantly she didn't get hurt. Upon examination of her bike after the race I noticed that she had bent the front wheel in the incident such that it was rubbing quite a bit on the brakes. Too bad she didn't notice and switch to the bike she had in the pit. That said, it didn't seem to make too much of a difference. Later that night when we got home, I pulled the tubular tire off the wheel so I could access the internal spoke nipples and got it all squared away for her for next time.

My race saw some additional players in the form of Curtis B., Mark M. and Alec P., all of whom often beat me. Bill and Dave were there as well so it was going to be a challenge. I didn't get a great start and had to chase through a couple of people to get up to Bill, who was driving hard. It was near this point that I was feeling really good and thinking to myself that I could maybe win this thing. Kyle had a great start and was riding super well for much of the first lap, with four of us managed a gap on the field and moving nicely. Eventually Curtis took over from Bill and drilled it hard. I was on the back behind Kyle who was starting to struggle, so came around to grab Bill's wheel. The three of us moved forward quickly through for the lap but when we hit the fields in the back the gaps started to open. Back to reality.

Curtis rode off the front, Bill dangled in the middle and I dangled behind him. This was the scene for another lap or so until I could see Mark and Dave coming up. I tried to recover for the surge that I knew would happen after Mark caught me and recovered. That trick never works though and when he jumped and headed up to Bill I was only able to hang for half of the effort. Dave had wisely come up to me with Mark and firmly affixed himself to me. I tried time and time again to ride him off my wheel but couldn't. I knew with his teammate Bill just ahead of us, he wouldn't be interested in dragging me up but we agreed to work together to preserve. I'm terrible at following for some reason and never seem to recover or be able to hold tight. Fortunately I'd catch on the technical sections and corners despite gapping off on the power sections. We worked together for the rest of the race, now running from an advancing Alec, who is yet another Corner Cycles rider. On the final lap I made a hard charge to try and catch Bill and drop Dave but accomplished neither. I stayed in front of Dave up the final climb and kept on the gas the rest of the way, getting within seconds of Bill and managing to fend off Dave and Alec. I'll take that.

All in all, a great weekend of racing in good weather that wasn't all that far from home. Bonus was that on Saturday, one of the local radio stations started their seasonal 24x7 Christmas music run. After some back and forth as to the appropriateness of this at this particular date, we decided it was indeed officially Christmas season. I finish write this listening to Johnny Mathis.

Ho-Ho-Ho!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why I Ride

People have a multitude of reasons why they ride bikes. For that matter, reasons change with time. The reason that you start riding may well not be the reason that you continue riding. For me, I was always fascinated by bicycles. As a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere with few others directly nearby with which to play, I used the bicycle as my escape. I think that this is a common thread for so many of my generation, for the bicycle was their sole means of transit. We would amass in roving bands and plot trips throughout the local area. Competition quickly crept into the mix in the form of wheelie, long-jump and no hands riding. Feats of daring or more often, stupidity. Lack of skills coupled with inferior quality product and questionable engineering practices often lead to catastrophic failures.

Bicycles were also one of the very first objects of my desire, so to speak, that I can recall truly wanting for. I grew up very modestly and as such, bicycles and so many other non necessity items made their way to me as used or salvaged goods. To that end, there were very few in my neck of the woods who had the where with all to have much in the line of brand new and if they did, it was department or hardware store as there literally were no bike shops in Northeastern Vermont in those days.

I can't begin to convey the countless hours spent sourcing used parts from the few local hot bed stashes of bike parts and then cobbling together something to ride. The pure satisfaction of building up a viable form of transit from a collection of odd and dissimilar parts and pieces is something that stays with me to this very day. It is something that I still take great pleasure and satisfaction from and fully expect that I always will. There is a sense of accomplishment that one gets initially from the build but then from actually riding the bike that they built. The experience affords an escape like few others.

As much as bicycling historically helped define not only me but my generation, it has further become a major part of my life and with that, it has become a part of Cathy's as well. We are largely who we are today because of it. In many ways, it defines us. I like to think that we are better because of it and as such, we try to be good hosts and ambassadors to the sport that has given us so much.

This is why I ride bikes but there is also another reason why I ride, train and race with purpose that I do. I am one of the many people who has been totally changed by biking. As a kid I was always husky (that means fat). Growing up rural in a family that was not into recreational physical activity and didn't necessarily have the means, motivation or understanding to make really healthy nutritional choices set the stage. As such, I constantly battled with my weight, often being the biggest kid in my class as I was always tall as well as fat. This was the case right through my freshman year of high-school where I topped out at about 210# just about the same time my height maxed at 6'1". My sophomore year I started playing football. With that a change occurred, which got me started on the road of legitimate physical activity. I played football (poorly) through the rest of high-school as well as track and field in the spring. This got me to the point where I "looked normal" and got my weight in check at just over 190#, where it would hover through the remainder of high-school.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of the tale of the scale. It never is. College helped pack a solid 20# back on thanks to beer and unhealthy eating choices and quantities, despite remaining active with recreational running, hockey and racquetball. My freshman year I hit 216#, a new record, but one that would not be the ultimate plateau. No, that would be post college, when I started working and regular physical activity took a huge dip. I'd picked up tennis and loved to play though I wasn't very good, but the couple times a week that I could play just wasn't enough to do it. I climbed steadily to the point where I topped out at 236#. That was just about the time when I started getting into mountain biking in earnest. Though I'd owned a really nice TREK 950 MTB for a while, I hadn't really ridden it much. I was new to the area and didn't know all that many people.

This changed when I meet a couple of other folks at work who also rode bikes. Through that networking I learned of local places to ride. Yes, this was back in the days of finding information first hand, back before Google or the internet or even Cathy for that matter. Things are so much easier today as information is so easily accessible. Anyhow, we started riding the Middlesex Fells once a week and our work based ride group swelled. We learned of Lynn Woods and started riding there as well. Keep in mind, however, that the rides were not exactly high impact. We would ride really technical trails for a couple of hours and cover 5 or 6 miles. The hook was set though for what would be a lifestyle change.

Soon I met people who not only rode recreationally but raced as well. A couple of the crew learned of a mountain bike race on the Cape and we decided to give it a try. This was my first bicycle race ever, the Surf n' Dirt in Orleans, MA. I did the beginner race, which was only 5 miles. I remember being unable to fathom how the higher classes could do 10 or 20 miles; it simply did not seem possible to me at that point. I struggled mightily in that race just to finish and though that I was going to die. As you can see from the post race picture of all of me, there was some excess baggage. And yes, that is a full suspension TREK 9200 that I am stranding next to.

From there a few of us kept racing and I ended up getting hooked on it. The weight came off slowly and over time I managed to get back down closer to 210#. This would remain my core weight for some time. My fitness and stamina steadily improved as the amount of time I spent riding increased. I upgraded categories and continued racing for a number of years, always easily qualifying for the clydesdale class. My winter weight would shoot up to near 220# and the summer weight would be between 205-210#. Though it didn't seem like it at the time, I look back now at some of the pictures and am aghast. Over the course of the following few years we became disenchanted with racing bicycles and walked away from it, though we never stopped riding. Not for a minute.

Fast forward to the current epoch. This time-line started in and around 2006, when Cathy and I got back into racing bicycles. This time we had become well established in the cycling community and came at racing from a different avenue, from the road rather than offroad. That is a whole different ball game, is incredibly competitive and requires a much higher level of fitness just to hang. I remember meeting Johnny Mo' for the first time on a late winter/early spring, NEBC Saturday morning library ride. I was on a cyclocross bike that I'd built as an exploration and sight-seeing vehicle. We talked about cross and he set the idea of racing, an idea I'd toyed with since a brief and failed attempt back in the previous century. I also distinctly recall talking about weight and the fact that I was about 218# at the time. I can only imagine what he though.

That season Cathy and I would take up racing in earnest and race many road races, as well as weekly training time-trials. We also took up a full season of cyclocross in the fall. Add into the mix the constant riding and training and weight came off, paring me down below 200#. Despite the activity, my love of food and beer kept me right around that mark steadily. That is, until the competition bug sunk it's teeth a little deeper. I was finally starting to see some better results and like any addictive substance, I wanted more. This clear solution was to ride, race and train harder. I did and another weight hurdle was met, getting me to the 190# range. The final stage has only been in the past few years. Through some steady and consistent training, riding and racing as well as other activities like X-C skiing thrown in to keep it interesting, I've been able to hit the low 180# range in the summer and stay right around 190# in the winter. That is where I am now.

I'd really love to drop another level but find it difficult to balance. Again, my problem is my compulsiveness. The same thing that keeps me riding my bike is also working against me when I open the refrigerator or step into the pantry. I realize that and in truth, it scares the crap out of me. I know how easy it would be to get back to where I was and fear every day of inactivity risks a relapse. I honestly think of it that way, like it is an addiction.

I ride my bike because I love to ride my bike. I ride and race my bike with the level of conviction that I do because I'm always riding scared. Scared not necessarily as much of the competition though, as I am of myself.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Confidence

It really is amazing to see what a little dose of confidence can do. Some people just get into a rut and let their confidence and self image slip. In normal everyday life that self perception has certain connotations but in the world of athletics and competition it can have far more dramatic and damaging consequences. After all, the difference between a good and bad performance is often 100% mental and having a negative self perception or lack of confidence in your ability will inevitably become a self fulfilling prophecy. I know. Like most of us, I've certainly been there, though quietly I probably suffer from this complex less that most. I'm one of those people (fools) that chooses to ignore reality and regularly overestimate my athletic ability.

Last week we did our normal Tuesday night training ride. The ride, as I have mentioned before, is a road ride consisting of about a dozen sprint intervals, primarily on up-slopes. We regroup and recover in between the sprint intervals, each of which is between 20 seconds and a couple minutes long. This past week we had a feisty group and things got hot as soon as we hit the open road. The hammer-fest kicked in and soon we forgot about the recover portion of the show. It was pretty much just game on the whole night. Good stuff for sure.

Cathy racing Nashoba back in the previous century.

I mention this ride for one reason. Cathy decided to join, which she has in the past. She had been a little down on her results and her abilities, at least that was my take from the outside based on what I was seeing. In reality, I could see that she was not racing anywhere near her potential. When she wants to go, she can go. There are few women I know that can pull through at 25mph and bump the pace up, but she is one of them. If we get her climbing ability under control she would be deadly. I believe that is an easy fix as well, she just needs to want it and believe it; believing or more, knowing that she can climb. I honestly wish that I had half of the potential and natural ability that she does.

Anyhow, on the Tuesday training ride last week Cathy made a dramatic transformation. She got angry and she dug her heels in and she rode to her potential. What happened next was that she had no problems hanging on all but the longest and steepest sprints but she also started dropping some of the guys (no names mentioned). I could literally see her getting more and more confident as the ride went on. We had a great ride and the more important part was what happened this past weekend when it came time to race.

The old Surf n' Dirt race in Orleans.

That renewed confidence gained on Tuesday evening was still there come Saturday morning. Cathy raced better and stronger than she had all cyclocross season. She wasn't just sitting back and letting the competition dictate her race, she was driving her race. This resulted in a great result on Saturday. Sunday was looking even better, with a really strong performance going in a much tougher field. Unfortunately while sprinting hard to get on a wheel coming through for the lap she pulled out of her pedal and nearly crashed. The violent weight shift ended up tweaking the front wheel pretty badly, unbeknown to her at the time. Fortunately she managed to keep it upright and finished the race without loosing position but lost the other racer that she had been working together with all day.

This is one of the times where a carbon-fiber rimmed front wheel paid off as the incident simply stressed a bunch of the spokes causing the wheel to come out of true. However, the rim was rigid enough that it didn't collapse. An alloy rimmed wheel would have likely taco'd and collapsed, causing a catastrophic crash. Last night when we got home, I pulled the tubular tire off and trued the wheel up (internal spoke nipples) without issue. I glued the tire back on and all is set.

The point here is that racing is largely a mental game. Much of competition deals with your minds ability to get your body to suffer. If your head isn't in it, your body never will be either. Believe in yourself and the ability that you've shown to have. It's there, you just need to realize it and take advantage. How's that for motivation.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

That Time of Year

Well it is officially "that time of year". The time of the year where, for me at least, everything starts to come into question. Overall fitness is usually at the core of the debate, but of course there is motivation and overall attitude which are all intertwined with environmental factors that we who call New England home, face on a daily basis. In reality, I usually have at least a few of these periods a year, depending on how things go.

Lets break this thing down and detail what I feel are some of the contributing factors in the equation. I think that starting with the obvious environmental factors is a good place to start. It's the fall and in reality, we just turned about at the corner for late fall. We all know what is right around the next bend. So what is the real issue with fall? After all, it is arguably the most beautiful and enjoyable season in the northeast. The bugs are gone, it is cool and crisp and the leaves, underbrush and poison ivy start to thin making for some excellent mountain biking conditions. What's not to love about that?

Nothing, except for the fact that I rarely get to ride the MTB in the fall any longer as it is rapid-fire no holds barred and non-stop cyclocross season from September through December. I think that it is one of the unfortunate truths about racing cyclocross, it wrecks the best season of the year in terms of being free and clear to just ride for fun. Take it as it is, that is just the trade-off that we all make when we get serious about racing bikes.

Along the environmental issue front, the bottom line is that this time of year in the northeast is dark and cold. The sun is setting by 5PM and by 5:30PM you need lights. With the setting sun, the temperature quickly plummets. This makes for cool to cold weather riding. Worse is the fact that the ride may start with reasonable temperatures but end significantly colder. You deal though. Besides, riding in the dark is sort of different and fun. The same old roads or trails seem fresh and new, primarily because you can't really see them all that well and you get a bit of tunnel-vision defined by the reach of your headlight. Most employed people also don't really have the luxury of riding during the day when it is light and warmer. Theoretically, I could bring all of my junk to work and then ride at lunch. This however poses enough issues that I'd just rather ride in the dark after I get home. When I'm an work I want to work, so that I can go home at a reasonable hour. I'm not a fan of extending the work day whenever I can avoid it.

I think that one of the most obvious yet difficult aspects of this point in the year, stems from the fact that I am really, really bad at training. Couple this with the fact that I'm not getting any younger and bang, I'm always effing tired. You can understand it earlier in the season when you are really ramped up on training and putting in the big time and mileage. However, at this point things have tapered down in prep for cyclocross, right? Well, for the smart bike racer yes, they have. They are into very targeted training sessions that fit with cyclocross efforts and race schedules. I too have cut back but realistically, not as much as I should. For instance, I'm spending between 8 and 11 hours a week on the bike. During the summer I spend more like 11 to 15 hours a week on a normal week and in the spring I'd average a little more. Why can't I pare it down some more? Simple, I'm a junkie and am addicted to the miles. I've tried to kick the habit but just can't see to make it work. That yearly total just keeps looming over my head and I certainly can't ride less this year than last year.

2008 Plymouth South cyclocross race.

It has been a long season of racing. As a master of really ineffective training, I tend to be one of those that has one peak in the season. It starts about May and ends about November. Graphically speaking, it's a very mature looking peak, if you think of it in geological terms. Much like the local New England hills and mountains, it has been worn and eroded by time into a choppy series of shallow ridges and valleys. There is some variation but the peaks are fairly low and the valleys are fairly high. This makes for little variation between off and on, which results in consistent mediocrity. It is indeed an ignorant man who knows not his flaws but it is a foolish man who chooses to ignore them.

Yep, I am what I am.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Addition Complete

The long awaited addition is finally complete. It was actually finished up a couple of weeks ago on Friday but things have been crazy. Immediately after completion and the final inspection, we promptly left for the weekend away in Maine and were not able to take advantage of it at all despite the nice weather. Last week the weather deteriorated and we all know the story of last weekend. Suffice to say, we haven't really had the opportunity to use it so far. Too bad as it is really, really nice.

New deck and 12x12' sun-room with removable glass/screen panels.

Now in terms of the new deck, obviously we make use of that. No we have not spent much time sitting out on it but we use it to get to the grill on a regular basis. Anyhow, it will be all set to go once we do get a bit of good weather or a nice sunny weekend afternoon when we are not racing bikes or doing chores. I can't want to just sit out in the room with a beer and enjoy it. Many thanks to our friend John who hooked us up with some very nice and nearly unused furniture for the room.

The first snow of the season on the new deck.

Next up is the internal lighting. I'd planned to get after it last weekend but the snowstorm changed all of that. The ceiling is vaulted and finished in tongue and groove pine. Cathy and I built two beams to span the width out of three ganged 2x6's that we glued and screwed and then ran through the thickness planer. That is always a fun time trying to run a 12' long beam through the planer on all four sides. We did the same thing for the mud-room addition that we did ourselves in Maine. After they are planed I dowel plug the countersink holes for the screws to make them look like they are pinned and to cover the heads of the screws. Ends up looking pretty nice. Those beams are actually semi structural though where as these are not really. The main use of the beams will be as carriers of the reflective lighting source, simple rope lights. We will string them on top of the beam and the light will reflect off the pine ceiling and give a nice glow. When it was wireds we had a switched outlet put at celiing level next to one of the beams to control the rope. Again, same as in Maine. Works well there so why change a good thing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Weekend Fun

The weekend started out OK, with a the annual Canton cyclocross race Saturday. We arrived a little early to a nearly empty and desolate venue, which made us think that maybe we had slept through Saturday and it was Sunday, or possibly that it had been canceled. The truth was simply that the first race was at 9:30AM and not 8:30AM as Cathy had though. The race itself was pretty good with some course changes that dummied down some of the trickier sections. The changes gave the course a distinct power flavor, more so than before even. The dreaded run-up was also now a ride up based on a change to the entry.

Both Cathy and I had respectable rides on the day getting chances to really race with a group and both finishing in the same position on the day. Our friends and cyclocross rival couple, the Shattucks also oddly enough finished in the same position. Maybe we can make a couples tag-team match out of this except for the fact that Bill always beats me. We were also able to miss the incoming foul weather, which was a huge benefit, as it got down right miserable in a hurry Saturday afternoon.

We did have an issue with one of the members of our junior team (lets call him Crashy McFallsalot to abscond with a moniker concocted by the Mayor). The issue was that he crashed trying to hop the log that I had told him just before the race would be faster for him to run. Crashing is no strange occurrence for him as, I'm pretty sure, he has crashed just about every time he has been on a bike. To say that his bike handling is sub par is a bit of an understatement. Unfortunately what he lacks in skills he makes up for in short term strength and fearlessness. What this equates to is someone that ends up on the ground more than anyone I know. It also means he breaks a lot of equipment. Last Wednesday at cross practice he went just a little too hot around a corner and ended up plowing into a rock, denting the sin out of the Ksyrium SSL that I'd put on the bike I built for him. Ah, good times.

Speaking of weather, this past weekend was abnormally cold. Saturday made it into the low 40's early but then as the storm started to roll in, it clouded over and started to cool back down. By the time the rain started in the early afternoon it was slipping back into the upper 30's. The forecast was for a nor'easter storm that would start as rain but end in measurable snowfall. As it would end up, they were right for once. At about 5PM the rain started changing to snow and before long was just snow of the heavy and wet kind. This wasn't going to bode well given that most trees still had their leaves. At just about 8PM, we lost power. Saturday night seemed to have been punctuated by a lack of sleep. Sizzling electrical arcs and blinding flashes of light. No, it wasn't lightening, it was downed limbs striking live wires. Add to that the sound of cracking limbs and nervously rambunctious cats on an early AM tear and there was little rest for the weary.

When we finally dragged out in the AM to survey the damage and there was some for sure. It seems all of the surrounding trees dropped limbs into our yard. We had a number of big branches and entire limbs that were lost. A couple of hours work with the chainsaw and loppers cutting and blocking and then hauling slash to the back and we were done with that chore. The power company had trucks on the street first thing Sunday AM so we were all very hopeful. Hope waned when we realized that power was out on the main road as well as most of the town and much of Lexington as well. With that we looked at the powerless options for the day.

What we came up with for a way to kill some time was to pack up the arsenal and truck out to Harvard to sling some lead. getting there was a challenge with all of the downed trees and wires. The back road into the club was especially challenging as there were trees down over the narrow road which we had to squeeze under. The truck is a POS Toyota Tacoma 4WD though so I just ran it through the brush and slammed it over the limbs. reminded me of the old days of going hunting back in VT. The gate was up at the range but there were a bunch of trees down there as well.

We cleared a number of them off the roads so we could get through. Should have thrown the chainsaw in the back; not sure what I was thinking. I did have a small axe though so was able to gnaw my way through a nasty little oak tree in less than record time. We took the opportunity of having the range basically to ourselves to sight the AR in at 100 yards. I'd set it for 50 yards earlier as the 100 yard range always seems to be busy. Dial the elevation down a little a she was hitting right on target. Cathy and I ran a couple of pre-ban mags through it and then went to the 25 yard range to hit some plates with the 9mm. Well, we tried to hit some plates but mostly just missed. Typical. It's definitely a short range tool in my hands. On the way home we gassed up and snagged some coffee at Starbucks in Concord, which actually had power and was open, then headed back home.

Feeling the need to get out and do something, I thought a nice SSCX ride on the Minuteman Bikeway would be a safe alternatives. The public roadways were a mess of sloppy snow and downed wires, trees and brush so I really didn't want to be there. Unfortunately, the path in Lexington was a nightmare of downed trees making it virtually impassible. We turned back and cut off onto roads to connect to some conservation trails. There we found, as fully expected, more trees down. On some other back roads we made our way toward the Turning Mill section of town and saw the mother of all blockages. A bundle of three huge oak trees had uprooted and blocked the entire street. Fortunately we could cut through conservation land by the Estabrook School and Paint Mine to get into the PR at the power-lines. We picked our way through encountering lots more downed trees but it was good to just be out in the woods playing in the snow. Not much of a workout, at least from an aerobic standpoint and not a whole lot of miles but a good time.

Back home still no power and thus we settled in for the evening of huddling under lots of down. One thing occurs to me during power outages, which seem to be having with much greater regularity of recent. There isn't much of anything to do when it gets dark and there are no lights, no TV and no computers or connectivity. This I is a hard taste of old, when people went to bed early. This was because there literally was nothing to do without light. Today we are so dependent on electricity that this is only compounded. Sitting on the couch under a blanket with your toque and down coat on in the cold dark quickly loses its appeal. And as such, we went to bed at 8:30PM. Another night of poor sleep fretting about how to deal with the thought of a further prolonged power outage kept my mind racing.

I need to finally call about getting a wood stove insert for the ancient fireplace, which we wouldn't dare use for fear of burning the house down. I also need to look into generator options. In being out and about on bicycles I was amazed at the number of generators I heard running. I think that the general sense that the power is unreliable has convinced more and more people to go the backup generator route. I know we had been thinking about it but then held off. The main reason is that gas generators are problematic unless you diligently maintain them. Modern gasoline sucks and goes back very quickly, gumming up the carburetor and causing failing of the system when you finally go to use it. A natural gas system wired into the house is the way to go but the expense, I'm told, is crazy. Guess I need to weigh the options.

Group of three big oak trees blocking a side road in Lexington.

The bottom line I know is that we are fortunate. The power is back on for us now and so we have heat. We never lost hot water at all because we have public natural gas service. the cold was also a mixed blessing in that it allowed us to preserve the contents of the refrigerator and freezer by putting the perishable items in the cooler on the deck overnight where the temperature was in the low 20's. Many, many people are not so lucky. We really are lucky, in this and so many other ways. Hopefully some of the luck will bestow upon our friends still without power.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Right Tool

I've been into single speed's for some time now. In various past posts on this very blog such as this one, this one or particularly this one I've chronicled some of the adventures, details and thought process behind the whole one geared mentality. The synopsis is that it's different, it's simple and it's fun. I realize, anyone who has spent much time on a SS bike knows that there is next to nothing simple about them but once you get the multitude of setup issues debugged and once you progress from cobbled, to dedicated SS bikes, it starts to be more fun than frustration.

Why not cobbled you ask? The bottom line is that virtually all of us started that way. Heck, back in the day (the day was like 12 years ago in my case) there were virtually no dedicated SS frames, at least not for the MTB which was all we were riding back then. Instead you used some sort of tensioning device like the new to the market Surly Singulator or you just cobbled an old derailleur with extra long limit screws so you could lock it out in a given position. The former actually worked really well but was shunned by the staunch SS purist crowds. The latter worked, poorly, and failed frequently.

Soon we were getting dedicated bikes with slotted/horizontal rear dropouts. This was great but required BMX tensioners in most cases in order to work really well which also meant a nutted, solid axle. That pretty much sucked but was the norm. Disc brakes further confused this issue because the caliper needed to mount consistently based on the axle position. Eventually people started using slotted/ovalized caliper tabs on the frames, which got the job done. Having gotten sick of that setup and really liking the ability to use regular wheels with spacers on the freehub body and a single, easily changeable and cheap cog, I've gone primarily to Eccentric Bottom Bracket (EBB) designs. This is the worst design in the world for tensioning chains, except for all of the rest. Well, actually, the pivoting and sliding, vertical (normal) rear dropout designs are really the best bet. Unfortunately, they are hard to find and tend to be on expensive frames.

With the advent of BB30 and now PF30 compatible frames, you can get an aftermarket EBB adapter that allows you to run a normal frame with normal wheels as a SS bike. I love this idea and have started adopting it. The plan is to convert Cathy's SSCX bike over as well. Another project for another day. For now we will have to stick with what we have though, her horizontal dropout, bolted axle Kona Major One SSCX.

So anyhow, the whole reason for this post was basically, mud. It has been raining like mad recently and the conditions have been horrible. Last weekend the Downeast Cyclocross in New Gloucester, ME was absolutely brutal. I'm usually pretty good in the mud but last Saturday was the kind of mud you just couldn't ride and you had to run, frequently. Literally half of the course you would ride 100' and then run 100' and repeat. I suck at running so was pretty darn mediocre at the race Saturday.

On Sunday the conditions were a little better and I was having a pretty good day. I could ride sections a little better than many and made up lots of ground. That was, until I was riding a mud section that I thought I really should probably be running as it was really deep and had lots of grass pack in. Just as that thought was going through my mind, the rear derailleur sucked into the rear wheel and ripped off the bike. Ugh! I started running with it and soon blew up. I stopped and fished the derailleur from the spokes of the rear wheel so I could push the bike and started running again. The pit was about 1/3 of a lap from where I broke down and in that time I lost about 10 positions. Fortunately my pit bike was set to go and I worked as hard as I could to make up spots. At first it was tough given how gassed and disoriented I was from running but soon I recovered and got into a groove. I managed to gain back all but 5 of the spots and salvaged the day, to a degree. The bike, my good one of course, was mostly OK. A new derailleur hanger, some straightening and cobbling of the rear derailleur and truing the rear wheel (which meant pulling the tubular tire to access the internal nipples) and replacement of some cable housing and the bike was back together. Ready for next time.

When you ride muddy fields with a cyclocross or any other bicycle, a few things become apparent. First, bikes really are not made to ride in that crap. Beyond the issues of bearing contamination and all out destruction, we have an open and fairly fragile drivetrain. The rear derailleur, hanging perilously close to the ground from the tiniest little mount seems destine for failure. When you add grass into the mud, the caged jockey pulleys of the mechanism seem to have an attraction that can not be broken. The grass packs into the pulleys and bunches up, Rim brakes are another problem spot, as they are poorly affected by the mud and water but also because they like to clog up with grass, mud and debris as well. Add to this the fairly narrow openings affording small clearance of the chain and seat stays as well as the fork bridge and you have a whole lot of places that can and do pack in with power sucking mud. This is just a really bad design and a good example of the wrong tool for the job.

As such, I decided that for the upcoming Orchardcross SSCX race this Sunday, I was going to do a test. I figured that I would try and put together a bike that was better suited for the mud as we are virtually guaranteed to have a really nasty course this coming Sunday, given the rain and snow predicted for the weekend coupled with the rain and snow that we have already had this week. What I did was to take my SS 29er MTB and monster-cross it. I like the idea of a SS for a really muddy race in general. If you can gear it low enough for the mud and still be OK for the dry sections, I think you would have a huge advantage. I say this because the drivetrain is simplified to the point where it should be much less impacted by the filth. A normal SSCX bike still has the clearance issues though. A SS MTB however, especially if you run normal 35c CX tires on it has a ton of clearance. The mud may still pack in but no where near as badly as with a CX frame. Lastly, the MTB takes advantage of disc brakes, which tend to not clog with mud and crap as they are fairly isolated from the ground, where the mud and grass is, being that they are in the middle of the wheel.

My one question is going to be in the handling. I think that riding mud with the wider MTB handlebars will be a bunch easier and climbing should be as well. I find that I get better leverage with the MTB bars. Cornering may be problematic as a 29er MTB isn't exactly fast handling when compared to a cross bike. I guess I'll see though. I plan to bring both bikes and will try each and see if I can get a comparison. Who knows. I'm hoping this might be the right tool for the job though.