Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Long Weekend

Cathy and I tacked some vacation time onto the front and back of the holiday to weekend to make for a nice mini vacation. We spent part of the time up at our place in Maine doing some long overdue painting and general work. We'd never painted the bulk of the rooms since we purchased the house back in 2002, save of course the mudroom which we built, the bath which was a nasty mint green before and the spare bedroom. The rest of the place, which fortunately is small, was in need. This meant the walls and ceilings needed a fresh coat of paint in the hallway, the kitchen, the livingroom and the loft. Fortunately, there is also lots of pine t&g in the livingroom that we didn't have to deal with.

Anyhow, we spent the better part of a couple days painting and doing chores and part of a third moving the lawn and doing some yard work. The weather was mixed with an oppressively hot and sunny day Friday as well as lots of overcast the other days. My parents braved closed roads from a Thursday storm to came over for dinner and a visit on Friday during the heat. The house has lots of glass and a western exposure so gets really, really hot in the end of the day. In terms of riding we only did a couple of short road rides. Good weekend to take it easy and try and recover from the past few months of hard training. I've got to say though, painting and doing chores on the second floor doesn't really translate to much rest on the knees, legs and back. I was sore as sin after.

Back home on Sunday mid day, in order to beat the traffic. Sunday evening we went for a nice, easy SS MTB ride out to Estabrook. This felt great and made for a nice way to end the day. At home we planned to have pork ribs and salad but alas, 2 minutes in the grill ran out of gas and thus we have salad alone. Good stuff though followed by a relaxing evening on the couch in front of the TV.

Yesterday we did go try a new Donut place, Donuts with a Difference in Medford, MA. It's a real hole in the wall, mom and pop type of independent place but they have a very good product. Mid day, during the heat which was a pretty brutal shock, we went out on the TT bikes for a couple of hours. That may have been a bad idea as those bikes are not super comfortable for that length of time. We survived though. Luckily, I got a chance to mow the lawn here as well. It's nice having two places that way. At this point, vacation is almost over and so are the bulk of the chores. We got a lot accomplished and I'm hoping that the easy time on the bike as well as off the bike will help in the long run.

At this point, vacation is almost over. Today started with a few chores and some remaining yardwork, then a trip to the moto shop to get the bike inspected. I've got to say though that I could really get used to this laid back lifestyle. If only work didn't get in the way of things.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bad Ideas

I started with a plan for last week. The plan was simple. The weather was going to be rainy so use the week to give the legs a rest in prep for the mountain bike race this past weekend. Seems simple right? It sure did to me. Simple in all but one detail, the meaning of rest. Somehow, one thing led to another and before I knew it it was Thursday and I'd forgotten to rest, opting instead to do 8 hours of SS mountain bike rides on the local trails since Monday. By the end of the ride Thursday my legs felt worse than they had at the start of the week. Sure, I'd had almost zero intensity by I'd basically spent the week doing leg presses. Somehow, I didn't think, in hindsight, that this was going to scale well.

Frantically I spent Friday cramming for my rest week, staying away from the bike all together and instead blowing through uncountable amounts of ammunition at the range with Chris. As an aside, I learned that I'm probably better off throwing rocks at a target than I am at trying to hit said target using a pistol. This would also be much more cost effective as .9mm ammunition, while inexpensive when compared to larger caliber ammunition, is still pretty pricey when you run through 4 or 5 boxes of it. Back home, Cathy's folks had arrived and were visiting for the weekend so we grilled some steak tips and had a big salad and bread for dinner. Had a great time and managed to spend the day completely off the bike.

Saturday morning came and I had some chores to do and also wanted to get a ride in to spin the legs out. The chores consisted primarily of mowing the lawn, a laborious task that takes about an hour and a half with my push mower. I use a push mower intentionally, because this is one of the few excuses I have to actually walk. I'm typically either chained to a desk or riding a bicycle. This is problematic, I realize, but is something that just seems to happen. The lawn mower is the bridge to some limited variety. The simple things. Cathy weeded the flower beds as I mowed and then she and her parents went to the mall to get some, stuff. I finished up the lawn and then went for a ride on my good road bike, a 2010 Cannondale SuperSix HiMod with full DuraAce mechanical. This is a bike that sees far too little usage. That needs to change. It really is a very, very nice, stiff and insanely light bike. My buddy Chris hooked me up big time with it last summer when both of my Kestrel Evokes broke within weeks of each other. The only reason I don't ride it more is that it is so nice I want to take care of it and also my beater bike (the bolted back together Kestrel) has a Powertap wheel that I've been trying to train with more.

Significantly more bike than I need, or can handle effectively

Speaking of bad ideas, another bad idea was to register for the Weeping Willow MTB race in the Elite class. I did the race in 2010 and it was really, really hard, but I got a great result. For some reason that led me to believe that I should give it a try again. Of course this year more people, fast people, showed up. In order to avoid a litany of excuses and a boring non-race report, I'll cut to the chase. I sucked. My legs just wouldn't shut-up and I couldn't ride to save my life. Bike setup was key in this race due to the terrain and conditions and I chose to setup poorly, with lots of tire pressure, and an overly stiff suspension based on what I remembered from 2010. The course was very different in flavor. I also had a couple of mechanicals that compounded the situation, the first being a front derailleur cable slip that dropped me to the granny and stayed there until I tensioned it back out and more importantly, shattered/cracked ball bearings in the SRAM PF-30 BB that literally disintegrated during the race. In reality, the drag caused by grinding ball bearings to dust probably wasn't really that much. maybe 20 watts, but when the legs were already toast, it meant I could barely move. The bike went in for service and the great folks at CycleLoft are fixing her right up. The rear shifting was perfect during the race and the big wheels rolled really, really well. I think with some more time on the bike and some better setup, it's going to be great. Wow, in looking back at that paragraph, it was a litany of excuses and a stellar example of a non-race report.

I opted for some active recovery on Monday so pulled the rollers into the garage and rode for an hour. It's hard to ride really easy on the rollers as I find myself looking at the power or the speed and inevitably end up doing to much. I also got it stuck in my head that I have some weird pedaling discrepancy from right to left leg, so spent some time trying to test that by pedaling one legged and watching the power. Basically all this accomplished was to make my right leg, the one that hadn't been super sore, really sore.

Tuesday night has become the night where we do a good solid group road ride. Reluctantly, I sent a message out Monday night saying that a milder version of the ride was on. Yesterday the weather was a mixed bag. There was some rain during the day but it was mostly dry, sunny and warm. On the way home from work at 4PM, the sky grew dark and it started to rain. This was great as I rode the motorcycle in to work. Within a few miles the rain had stopped and it was fine. At ride time the weather was great, the sun was bright and it was hot, at least by this year's standards thus far. The group was smaller than in the past but good and tight. I'd planned a big loop taking us way out, but considered looping locally if the weather looked threatening. Given that the sun was out we hammered on. As expected my legs were junk but we had a good ride on some great roads and all stayed together. Well, that is except for on Oak Hill where some of us weren't feeling the love as others were and then again when one of the group attacked off the front on a slight downhill into a stop sign as a car was trying to get by, for no logical reason. After the intersection he looked to pull off the front, tired from the taking the sprint to the stop sign, but I suggested we were all on and that he could take him time on the front on the ~2% rise we were on. Shortly it bumped to like 3% and he rotated off at which point I drilled it and maintained a good clip up the rise, around the corner and through a roller. From there we rotated through and poor Tim was nowhere to be seen. We waited for him later and all rolled in together, legs totally fried. The longest Tuesday night ride of the year, so far.

So, today I'm sitting here with sore legs trying to decide what it going to get me out of this fatigue funk. Tonight is the CBTT and I'd really like to go hit it. The reality is that it's only going to put me further in the hole and I'm going to do terribly anyhow, but darn it, it's already paid for and I've got all the gear that has been dormant since last year. We have a big break coming as well, starting tomorrow in fact. Typically this coming Friday is an annual Notchfest ride. I really want to do it but it may not be the best idea. Cathy and I plan to take it as it comes and see what we get on Friday. I'm looking forward to the vacation though. Hopefully it will be an opportunity to break the cycle of bad ideas.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rainy Days Indeed

This week has been a mess, basically one rainy day after another since Sunday and it's looking like it will continue for a couple more days as well. Usually I'd be really bummed but I've got to admit, it couldn't have come at a better time. Over the past ten weeks or so I've been meaning to take some time off and really get in a good rest week, away from the bike. As so often seems to be the case, that had not yet actually happened. Between a steady stream of races on the weekend, the Tuesday left for dead road ride which has become a killer to recover from in and of itself and the other extraneous rides during the week, I just haven't had time to take time off.

Over the past few weeks I've noticed that the legs are pretty much constantly sore. I think the Notchfest was the icing on the cake and I never recovered from that, when adding in some more racing as well as the unexpectedly taxing Tuesday night efforts. Riding last week and racing last weekend I could tell that I just wasn't at 100%, not the way I had been on a couple of the Tuesday night rides where the power just seemed to flow. That said, the power numbers have been really good on the Tuesday rides of recent, it was simply the perception that was off. This was a clear signal that it was time to recover so as to start rebuilding for the next peak. At least that has been the plan this year, to actually have a plan. I don't honestly know if it has been working or not. I haven't really had but only glimpses of past perceived strength, but again, based on power numbers, I seem to be performing better than in the past, at least from the limited data sets I have had. I'm anxious to start TTing in order to see how that goes. Hopefully the road work that has blocked the CBTT will finish, the weather will settle and we can have at it soon. That said, I'm having fun just doing what I'm doing.

So this week of rest, recovery and relaxation started with a very pleasant albeit rainy 3 hours out in the woods on the SS MTB riding and brushing trails with PK and Adam Monday night. This was perfect. A little riding but nothing too terribly taxing at all and we were able to brush back a ton of trail as well as close down a few blowouts. We also scouted out some potential reroutes for the future that would make for some more sustainable trail sections. This was also another opportunity to ride the new sections of trail and boardwalks that NEMBA and the Friends of the Landlocked Forest added at their trail days the past couple of weekends.

Tuesday night was a super easy and quick hike with Cathy and PK out in the woods to do some additional surveying and scouting of the trails as well as a little bit more pruning. The ticks were out in full force and I flicked at least three of them off my pants as we were traipsing through the blueberry bushes and underbrush. None seemed to have gotten through though as both Cathy and I were dirty but tick free when we got home.

Wednesday night was another sane SS MTB ride out in the PR with PK and Cathy, once again in the misty rain. Thought it was a mix of mist with some intermittent showers the entire night, the leaf cover kept us sheltered and dry for the most part. We had an absolutely awesome ride and covered just about the entire PR, both ways, including the new trails. I had us looping and looping and looping some more to try and maximize our coverage as well as our time out in the woods, soaking up the moment. This worked and we managed to get in almost 2.5 hours before Cathy cracked, saying that she had had enough and bailed out at the Turning Mill entrance at the power-lines and made a bee line for home.

I think the straw was a combination of the new trail off the power-lines, which I'm convinced includes the majority of the baby-head rocks in Middlesex county, coupled with the slightly over-geared SS MTB she was on. This was one of the first real MTB rides on the SS MTB 29er I built up for her at the end of last year. Recently, I decided that we should be running some taller gearing than we had been running in the past. Historically we ran 32x18 on a 26er which was great for the short steep climbs and tight twisties. Not so good for flat and fast though. When I built my 29er last year, I went up a hair to a 32x19 and a 32x17 soon followed on Cathy's 26er. A few weeks ago I decided that a 32x18 would be the ticket on the 29ers. A quick run to Estabrook on them convinced me that I was right. However, for the PR, with it's lower speed twisty and rolling trails the gear can sometimes be a handful.

Anyhow, we ended up having an excellent, excellent ride. Good to be outside just having fun. I did manage to convince PK to head back via trails which involved heading back over the new trail and through the swamp into the PR proper. From there PK took over and upped the pace. He pulled off and I seized the opportunity to snooker him into another loop of the TT course as it was "the most direct way out". Alas, he too had finally had his fill of looping around and try as I might, he just wouldn't take the bait and we made our way out.

PK after 22miles and 3hrs of loopy goodness

Not to spoil a good thing, we had more of the same on tap for last night with a low key, non-threatening group SS MTB ride in the rain. Before the ride, I swapped Cathy's SS MTB gearing back down to the 32x19 I'd had on it in the past, in order to give her a bit of a break. Hopefully it helped. Despite the weather being pretty darn miserable most of the day, it actually partly cleared later on in the afternoon and for our ride start there was barely a sprinkle. We got a bit of a late start as someone was running late and, because it was a less hostile ride, I waited for them to show up. During the ride the rains primarily held off and the temperature was mild, making for very good, comfortable conditions. The trails were also in very good shape despite the wet weather and there was very little mud to be found. Again we looped around in the PR for a couple of hours, which was plenty. Being out on the SS MTB for nearly 8 hours so far this week and over 10 on the MTB since Sunday has made for some sore legs, I must admit. Post ride we got some pizzas from Steve's, drank some beers and watched the day's Amgen Tour of California stage and then the classic flick Hot Tub Time Machine.

Cathy's folks will be arriving this afternoon for a weekend visit. I believe that the weather is supposed to clear out some and hopefully we can do some local sight seeing. I'm also slated to go to the range this afternoon with Chris. Looking very forward to that as well. So far, a very good week indeed, rain or not.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Little Help Please

Would it be possible to trouble you for some assistance, please? I'm not sure exactly what happened. It all seemed so straightforward as I was working the details over in my mind, but I seem to have somehow gotten myself wedged in here and try as I might, it appears that I am unable to extricate myself from the clutches of these confounded trousers.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More on the New Bike

As you may or may not know, I purchased a spiffy new Specialized Epic Expert Carbon 29er MTB from the folks at the Cycle Loft a couple weeks back. Over that time, though I haven't yet had the opportunity to race it, I've been able to ride it a number of times and have gotten in a couple of good, long, fast group rides on it. So far, so good and I really do like the bike. From the additional time in the saddle, I have some additional feedback and notes on the bike and it's evolutionary setup.

The handling on the bike is excellent. The wheelbase was actually shorter than my previous Specialized Epic and despite the bigger wheels, the bike handles crisply and cleanly in the tight technical stuff. The bottom bracket height is on par with that of my old Epic, which is to say on the low side for technical New England terrain but great for high speed, smooth trails. The big wheels carry momentum really, really well and float over bumps, roots and baby-heads that trig smaller wheels. The difference really is very perceivable.

There is, however, a noticeable difference in effort required to get these wheels moving vs. my old ones. I'm virtually positive that this is because the bikes stock 29er wheels, tires and tubes equate to a couple of additional pounds as compared to my previous, ultralight 26er wheelset. I have some ways to shed some rotational weight in mind such as the drastic step of moving to tubeless (yes, I still do and always have run tubes in my tires), lighter weight rotors and I may just upgrade to a different, lighter set of wheels all together if I can figure out just what those wheels would be. Specialized runs a standard 9mm x 100mm front QR hub but on the rear it runs a proprietary (as in only Specialized makes it) 12mm x 142mm Plus through axle. The Plus is that Specialized pushed the hub flanges out from center a few mm vs. a standard 142mm flange spacing, which is the same as a standard 135mm hub, in order to get a stiffer and stronger wheel. What this translates to is the freehub being a couple mm farther outboard on the 142mm Plus than the 142mm standard. The current wheelset has had a minor issue with the rear hub where by the axle locking nut loosened and allowed the axle nuts to self tighten against the bearings to the point where the rear wheel wouldn't spin. Firmly securing and adding Loctite on the locking nut seems to be holding it in place.

As I mentioned previously, I've made a number of modifications to the bike, beyond simple suspension setup and tuning, in order to make the flavor and feel more familiar to me. The first of these changes were to swap the Thomson 2 bolt layback seatpost (I only run two bolt posts because they almost never fail, unlike single bolt posts, and Thomson just plain work) and Thomson 120mm x zero rise stem over from my old bike. The stock cassette was a lower end Shimano 11-36 10spd which I switched to a Shimano XT 11-34 10spd I had in the parts bin which I'd planned to use for my tandem. I later swapped the alloy flat and super wide 685mm wide handlebars for my carbon Easton EC90 low rise bars, which are 235mm wide and the same as what I was using before on the old bike. I then swapped spacers from under the stem to above in order to compensate for the slight rise in the bars. The last change I've made thus far is to get a Specialized SWorks Captain 2.0 tire for the rear, which is a match to the front, in order to afford some additional traction. This came at a slight weight penalty over the stock, semi-slick Renegade 1.95 tire. The bike is now setup almost identically to my old bike and I like it, a lot.

The only real problem I've seen has been with the SRAM X-9 10spd rear trigger shifter, which is mated to an X-0 rear derailleur. It just isn't as smooth and the shifters are not as reliable as the old SRAM X-0 9spd that were on the old bike. Initially I had issues with a defective rear shifter, which the Cycle Loft took care of post haste by replacing with another new shifter. Unfortunately, an hour into the first ride on it, that one failed as well. Again the shop replaced it with a new one, which I now have a couple of rides on.

I've got to admit thought that despite some cleaning up of the casing and ferrules and making sure the cable is good, clean and kinkless, the rear shifting still has a much heavier throw on the downshift than the old X-0 or even the X-7 I have on another bike. I have a set of Gore Ride-On cables that I have considered switching to but I'm still not 100% confident in the reliability of the shifter. This is in part because I'd noticed that the downshift paddle wasn't springing back all that well when I had it on the stand this weekend. I'm thinking that I will switch over to 9spd with the new chain, cassette and X-0 twist shifters that I have in the parts bin. This would also shed some weight as the shifters are super light and the cassette is also lighter as well.

The real test will come this weekend, when the bike gets to see it's first round of competition. This will be at the Weeping Willow MTB race at Willowdale in Ipswich, MA. I did the race last year with pretty good results and although it was a very physically demanding race where you were constantly on the gas the whole time with little or no reprieve, it was an excellent course. Hopefully things will all go well this year. It has been raining all week as well so I'm hopeful that that comes to an end and that the conditions are reasonable. We will certainly see though and if nothing else, it will be the same thing for everyone.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Race That Never Happen

If a group of men pay their $32.50 registration fees, drive to the venue and race their bikes in circles for an hour and 45 minutes but the entire field gets disqualified, did the race actually happen? For the fellow who crashed hard in the first lap of the race and broke his hip, there certainly is the lingering physical evidence that corroborates the fact that something transpired. For the rest of us however, there are simply memories and residual feelings of angst and terror at sections of this race that never actually happened, officially.

This past Saturday was the Wayne Elliot road race. I believe that this race used to be a criterium years ago, in an industrial park in Haverhill and I think that I even raced it once. A couple of years back it surfaced as a circuit race in Plaistow, NH or some similar town, which ran through the downtown as part of a town festival, during said downtown based festival. The course was primarily good but the festival traffic and congested downtown made for some very problematic racing. Many crashed, a number were seriously hurt, in multiple fields. It just didn't work and the organizers learned from this.

Last year the race had a new venue, in Merrimac, MA, away from traffic and the town center and on some fairly nice roads. Sure, there was some questionable pavement and a fast downhill into a flat sprint finish but with small fields it would be fine, which was the case last year. As a new race, attendance was not huge and for the Cat 2/3 combined race, consisted of many known quantities; Master's racers and solid 2/3 racers. The race was uneventful last year and a break managed to escape off the front as I recall. I did my usual pace pushing, chasing stupidly and basically working too hard in general, for not. I recall being concerned with the finish so broke loose with about a kilometer to go and led into the finish, only to get safely swarmed on the line for the field sprint. Bottom line was that I survived.

This year was a different story. Many of the local Cat2 teams showed up as well as some of the stronger masters racers like JB, Wild Bill, John M., Marky G. and Pete. There were also some folks that nobody knew as well. The pack was big. The total count was listed in the non-results as 99. This made for an interesting mix on a narrow course that had mixed pavement conditions and not much of any features that were capable of breaking the field up. The race was anxious from the start and sure enough, in the first lap, there was a crash. It happened right in front of me when there was a swerve to miss some broken pavement that tangled to riders sending them both splaying to the ground toward the front third of the pack. I didn't even have a chance to hit the brakes but was able to turn just enough that only my front wheel had grazing contact with the rightmost downed rider, letting me escape between the two men on the deck. The front third drilled it so I chased hard but got back into the fray. Unfortunately, the pace decreased sufficiently for just about everyone to get back on in the next couple of miles.

It wasn't long before I started to notice flagrant yellow line violations and motorcycle officials attempting in vain to herd the sheep back over the fence. In a road race where the public roadways are not closed to traffic, racers are only allowed to use the one, right hand lane of traffic. Clearly this is for safety's sake for everyone as a rider in the left land getting hit head on by oncoming traffic is a danger to the entire field. In fact, some of you may recall this is a specific point in my ride disclaimer. Anyhow, the pack of racers also has a lead vehicle as well as a follow vehicle that creates a rolling enclosure such that traffic can not get in amongst the pack of racers. At the Wayne Elliot, there were also ample motorcycle officials doing an absolutely excellent job of policing the intersections and driveways, making sure that no cars unknowingly pulled out in front of or into the charging field. They would also pull up beside the pack and warn racers who were over the yellow line.

This became the defining factor of the race; motorcycle officials doing battle with yellow line violators, at times violently, d-bags still using the land to the left in order to advance in the field, the field yelling "yellow line" at said d-bags and so on. All of this fun culminated in the officials stopping the entire field a few laps from the end as we rolled hard through the start finish. This in and of itself was cause for concern as we were moving at a pretty good clip and not expecting to have a car stop in front of us. Nobody died though and we all got an earful from the officials, rightly so.

Personally, I rode the gutter all day, which is where I usually ride but especially when there is a big field and the road has lots of crappy pavement on the side of the road. Most people won't ride through the junk, so the pack tends to swing left, which means the right is frequently opening up and allowing advancement if you can handle doing so through the broken pavement. Mind you, this pavement wasn't full of landmines, just chopped up. Still fine. I also like having the ditch as an escape route, much more so than dealing with the threat of oncoming traffic. I'm fine with riding off the road into the dirt though, as long as I can avoid the mailboxes, of course.

We were allowed to proceed with a stern warning and things were better, until of course we caught the women's field on a bumpy, narrow road with parked cars on the side that really wasn't narrow enough to pass on. To compound this, the women didn't fully get the idea of being neutralized and instead of singling up their 12 person field, remained multi-abreast across the lane, forcing us to skinny up madly and squeeze by as the head of the pack attacked like crazy toward the one real hill of the entire course. On a separate note, just before the field catch, we first caught Cathy, right in the corner before the start. She had been shelled off the back of the women's group and I sadly feared the worst for her. The truth is another story that I'll let her tell.

The rest of the race was pretty tame, with a couple of attacks that got re-absorbed a couple of which I went for but it was clear that this was going to be a negative race, where nothing got away. With two to go I found myself at the front after the downhill and did some time in the wind, mildly, through the start/finish area, around the big corner and up the main hill. The pack was content to rest at that point and I just wanted to be clear of the mayhem for a bit. There was one good solo attack by the Embrocation team on the final lap. This remained out front for a couple of miles while an Embrocation rider that I didn't know proceeded to literally block for his teammate by riding at the front and swerving left to right toward riders that he saw coming up. He came into me multiple times, to the point where I, a generally timid person, was ready to ride next to him and warn that the next time he did it, I was going after his family. Shortly there after JB decided to chase the break down going up the hill and the pack charged ahead with the front full of Embro guys looking to slow the advance on their teammate. Toward the top of the hill the advance slowed so I used my momentum to come up beside and finish the surge and catch off, for absolutely no good reason at all, which is my standard M.O.

The pace was brisk but not brutal toward what was sure to be the bunch, long downhill, sprint finish of death. There was one other break of a few people that was re-absorbed just before the downhill. The course finish was about a hundred meters of flat preceded by 100 meters of gentle up that was preceded by 500 meters of 5% grade downhill. This translated to a big group of guys who had been mostly sitting in all race fighting to get to the front on a 40 plus MPH downhill.

I believe that the straw which broke the official's back was this very same, long, downhill, death finish sprint. I made sure I was in the top 20 or so near the front to try and, well, survive. Unfortunately as we really started rolling down the hill, about a half mile from the finish, I noticed many more racers amassing toward the front. Odd given that there were riders blocking the entire lane that we had at that point. It seems people decided that there was a whole other lane with nobody in it and that it would be a reasonable idea to come up by using that open lane to the left rather than fighting it out with all of those racers plugging up the right lane. This meant that lots of people were charging to the front way too soon and then blowing up and slipping back through the field. I'm in the gutter feathering the brakes so as not to ride up onto the guy that is inches in front of me. We're all doing over 40 mph, which normally isn't a problem but when shoulder to shoulder and riding the thin real-estate to the right of the white line it becomes disconcerting. John M. was right in front of me until he started making moves like a man less than half his age. The final 100 yards to the finish was a mass of blown riders who started their sprint a little early but were now setting up and drifting backwards. I survived and for that, I was grateful.

I'm sort of bummed that they didn't just yank the people who were breaking the rules then and there as I do still think that it was by in large 10% or less of the total that were generally the problem. The officials said they had a hard time seeing the right pinned numbers from the left, which I can certainly understand. I say just tell the guy, "you're out" and send him packing then and there, rather than punish everyone. If they don't leave, they get suspended for some amount of time. Clearly 99 guys were not at fault, though with the finish the way it was, all bets are off with respect to who and how many broke the rules. It is what it is though and I don't fault the promoters or the race officials. In general I thought the support and organization was excellent. This will, however, certainly make me think twice before I pay my own money to "race" when I have no control as to whether or not I will be scored in the end, regardless of my performance. I'm not a gambler and want no part of Bike Race Roulette, at least not as long as I'm paying the fees, buying the equipment and taking the risks.

It's all about having fun, right?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Happy Birthday

There really hasn't been all that much new going on here, save the fact that it's Cathy's birthday. Given that and the fact that I didn't get her flowers, partially because the cats would just eat them anyhow, I thought that I would post some pictures of flowers that I took last weekend from our various gardens.

Happy Birthday Cathy. I hope that you have a wonderful day. Thank you for sharing yet another year with me!

Friday, May 06, 2011

I'm Beat

It has been a hard block of time spent on the bike the past couple of months but especially the last week or two. Between the 4 weeks in a row of racing and last weekend's Notchfest coupled with the Tuesday night hammerfests we have been doing for the past 6 or so weeks, I'm beat. Beat, and maybe a little tired from too much Cinco de Mayo fun last night and too little sleep this AM. Looking very forward to a nice relaxing evening of not doing too much at all.

Not sure what the plan is going to be for tomorrow. I've decided that I'm not going to race Sterling again in rain. Last year was enough. I was one of the few that managed to stay upright during the torrential downpours last year. I don't want to press my luck and frankly, the thought of another race in the rain isn't that appealing. I may go hit the NEMBA trail day in the PR (Landlocked Forest) at least for part of it.

I also need to go pick my new MTB up from the shop. They replaced the broken rear shifter on it again and verified that she is working good as new, which, she is. As for riding tonight, I really need to get out and do something. The weather is super nice, which isn't supposed to last. Regardless, I'm glad to be done the work week and on to the weekend. TGIF!

That's what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The New Bike

I finally went ahead and made a decision on a new mountain bike. I'd been waffling all spring, trying to decide what to do, essentially doing nothing. Not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to spending large sums of cash but the angst, bike lust and firm belief that I was missing out on the 29er bandwagon which has been boarded by almost all of my competition finally got to me. I did a ton of research into the 29er market space and weighed the pros and cons of basically everything out there on the market, within earshot of my price range. What I determined was that of this model year's bikes currently available today, that fit my requirements of a lightweight full suspension XC race 29er, the Specialized Epic Carbon Expert 29er had the best platform, with the best fit for me personally, with the best mix of parts at or near my price range. The Epic was not a far stretch for me given that I am currently on a 2008 Specialized Sworks Epic 26er and have had solid success riding and racing the bike. Thus, however, began the quest to actually find one, which turned out to be no small feat.

As I may have mentioned before, getting a bike these days seems to be somewhat of an obstacle in and of itself. It seems that the manufacturers are limiting production to closely meet demand. Seems reasonable, right? What that translates to, however, is that if you didn't earmark a bike early on, you may likely have a hard time locating one. That was the case here but the good folks at CycleLoft helped me out. They were not only able to locate the only existing bike left on the east coast but were able to get it for me and also help me out with a great deal. This isn't the first time that they have helped me out. My previous Specialized Epic was another excellent score from CycleLoft from which I benefited greatly in my racing endeavors for the next few seasons. I've been fortunate to have had and continue to have many folks offer to help me out in the past. The people at CycleLoft have offered to do so without asking, repeatedly, a gesture for which I am sincerely grateful.

We picked the bike up on Sunday afternoon and I took it out for a quick shakedown first run Monday. My overall impression is, as expected, very nice bike. The rear suspension seems to have improved a bunch over that of my old bike. The Brain compression/hit adjustment seems to work much better and the bike gives good suspension feel without taking a pedaling hit. Overall rigidity seems very good and the bike feels stiffer laterally than my old Epic, which was a little flexy in the BB area when standing and pushing hard. I suspect the combination of the BB30 and oversized BB junction, the 12mm through-axle rear hub and oversized front axle help this. I was super impressed with the handling. It actually seems more precise and quicker than my old Epic, which absolutely surprised me. The wagon wheels maintain momentum really, really well over bumpy and rough terrain. That is, I think, going to be the biggest plus. Couldn't tell how it climbed as my legs were junk from the weekend but it seemed fine. At fist I thought the BB was higher that my current Epic, which had me stoked. Then I smacked my pedals a couple times and realized it was the same, California style BB height.

The only things that I have changed so far are the seat-post from the single bolt clamp to a Thomson layback two bolt clamp model, the saddle to my old Specialized Phenom from the new and slightly different Phenom included on the bike, the stem to a 120mm x zero rise Thomson from the 110mm Specialized adjustable rise and the cassette from the stock 11-36 t a Shimano XT 11-34. The geometry is now just about exactly the same as my old bike. After riding the bike I determined that I like the wide, flat bars and will probably stick with that format. The one other thing that I still need to change though is the rear tire. The bike came stock with a really short tightly compacted tread 1.95" race tire. This would be fine for hard pack dirt but I found that I was spinning out climbing on dry leaves, let alone mud. The front tire is a Specialized The Captain 2.0", designed as an all around tread by Ned Overend. I'm thinking that I will get a mate to the front and throw it on the back and see how that works out. After the ride I also upped the rear shock pressure from 150 to 175 and will see how that runs. I tend to run the rear a little harder for most riding/courses, unless it's really bumpy.

Only other thing is that the SRAM X-9 rear shifter pod has a sticky return spring on the downshift paddle which doesn't return back after the shift. I noticed it on the stand but though maybe it would loosen up on the ride but it didn't seem to. Not sure what the fix is or how serviceable those pods are but the Loft told me to bring it in, which I did, and Brad got right after it and fixed it for me. Excellent service.

I'm anxious to see how the bike moves when I have better legs driving it. Of course, I'm also really interested to see how it and I for that matter, makes out at the races. That story will be forthcoming. For now, I just need to get some time on it and get the last few adjustments made.

Notchfest I

We are well into spring and it is in fact already May but it was only just last weekend on the last day of April that we were able to pull off our first Notch ride of the 2011 season. Last year we were able to sneak in the first NH Notchfest at the beginning of March. Yes, I realize, that the weather last winter was unheard of but still, "summer" is just around the corner and we are only now able to venture north. The reality is that this was one of the first weekends where it didn't snow up north. Just the previous weekend the area that we were in received up to 6" of snow on Saturday, making it nearly impossible to ride safely.

Seeing that the weather forecast was calling for partly sunny skies and temperatures nearing 60 degrees in Lincoln I decided to try and organize a go. Arguably by me anyhow, there were no "good" races to be had this past weekend and the anti-racing backlash in our household is gaining momentum anyhow, so this seemed the right move. Off the bat I had a few interested parties and Cathy wrangled a couple more. As usual I had those who waffled or who chose to bail at the last minute, who subsequently may find themselves on list probation. Anyhow, we got a solid group the committed, which is actually good. I sometimes feel compelled to try and get more participation on a given ride; like I feel as though the numbers somehow lend credibility. The reality is that with all rides but especially big rides like this, it is all about the quality of the participants and not quantity.

Friday was a nice day and it was after all Friday, so we were both anxious to get outside after a long week and ride. Since we would be on our road bikes much of the following day, we (I) determined that the day-before-the-big-ride ride should be a single-speed mountain bike ride. I also decided that we should do some less taxing stuff so how about heading out on the big loop to explore and see what conditions look like. Cathy didn't argue though I'm sure she thought better of my idea and we were off. Nearly three hours and over 27 off-road miles later we were back home and hoping that the ride wouldn't take much of a toll on the legs the following day.

Cathy and I had a good and uneventful drive up and had the pleasure of Teri's company on the way to add to the conversation. Weather held bright and sunny all the way up I93 until just before we got to our destination. As we neared Lincoln it started to spit rain, the temperature dropped and it looked as though it could be snowing at elevation. This was perfect. I stated to the group that I was wondering just how far I'd have to drive to get to the crappy weather, to which I replied "here". It was what it was, so to speak, and we geared up as the drizzle and raw wind picked up a bit. We left the visitor center and embarked on the day's adventure under the cool, overcast and misty rain.

The loop starts off with about a half mild of slight downhill on RT112 but starts to climb as we cross over RT3 in Woodstock. From there you have almost 6 miles of gradual but progressively steeped climb up to Lost River and over Kinsman Notch, maxing out with sustained 12% nearing the crest. This makes for a great out of the gate warm-up and resulted in fracturing of the group and a bit of an on the fly rethink of the overall plan. At the intersection of RT112 and RT116 we stopped to regroup and hash out a new plan. It was clear that there was some pretty dramatic disparity in the group, compounded by the lack of deep spring training due to the weather in New England. This was sure to make the day's planned activity difficult for everyone but ran the risk of making it impossible for some others. Cathy decided that she and the other two ladies, Teri and Michele would do a slightly shorter route that looped east and then south, making it's way to RT118 for the brutal climb over Gonzo Pass. The rest of us would stick to the plan to take RT116 to Fraconia and climb up to RT3 and make our way back around via RT302 eventually to RT112 and the Kanc. And so it was. We wished well and parted ways.

RT116 is a nice rolling road with not great pavement but some nice views of the countryside. Coming down a descent into a flat section of swampy land I spotted a moose on our right just off the road. Instinctively I called it out to the group and warned them to slow and proceed with extreme caution. Moose are unpredictable and really, really big. You don't want to hit one or have one hit you. As expected he spooked and darted out in front of us across the road. Cool sighting up close and personal and nobody died. Unfortunately I gave the camera to Cathy when we split so no evidence was obtained. From there we rode into Franconia's "downtown" and turned right up RT18 to RT141. We could have continued up RT18 to the actual Notch and Cannon Mountain and then take the bikeway down to RT3 which adds a couple miles and a few hundred vertical but I wasn't sure if it still had snow as it's a snowmobile trail in the winter. Turns out we'd have probably been fine. The climb we opted for was fine and the initial stretch of RT141 is a miserable little grunt that fades back into a 5ish percent gradual up, under RT93 and up to RT3 just the other side of Franconia Notch.

RT3 is a nice road that starts with a few miles of gradual descent on good pavement with wide shoulders that passes by the site of the infamous 1960's alien abduction case of Barney and Betty Hill. This is a great section of road where on a calm day you can average 30mph. The only down side is that the road is posted at 55mph and traffic is regularly doing 65mph, including lots and lots and semi's. The last few miles are rolling and wide open and often hurt, a lot. We made it through unscathed and rolled in to Twin Mountain to make the turn right onto RT302. As luck would have it, we were granted a light cross/tail wind along this section and the clouds and overcast started to give way to some sun and blue sky. This was a welcome change on cold feet.

Cresting Crawford Notch in the easy direction is always a bonus and the ride down to Bartlett is always a good one. Well, unless you fight a headwind all the way as we did last year when doing this loop. As luck had it we cruised seemingly effortlessly at 25mph+ for the entire 12 miles. The first pitstop was at the Deli in Bartlett for a quick snack and a topping off of the depleted fluids. I'd been forcing myself to drink a lot and my two full sized bottles we nearly empty. I'd also eaten half of my PB&J, which was a challenge while climbing back in Franconia as well as my energy bar. A pair of Powerade's and a bag of salty, fat laden goodness was just the trick. We made haste, opting not to even attempt the closed for the winter Bear Notch and proceeded south toward North Conway.

Turning onto West Side Road I knew the end was now within reach and while I was tired from the steady hard pace we'd been setting, I knew the hardest part was still to come. I decided to take a calculated risk and head up Passaconaway Road rather than go into Conway and turn onto the Kancamagus Highway (RT112) at the bottom. Passaconaway is a nice back road that culminated at Albany Bridge, and old wooden covered bridge. You then connect with the Kanc at just over mile 80 in the ride and the real fun begins.

This climb starts gradually and remains shallow for almost 10 miles with only small sections where speeds maintained during calm winds dips much below 20mph, albeit if you are working it hard. Once it ticks up though, it stays that way, for the next 5 miles. By this point in the race it had whittled down to Ben and I. Julian popped the chute literally when we turned onto the Kanc and Michael had had enough after the first few miles of pushing the pace well over 20mph. Ben and I had been trading slightly one sided pulls though I couldn't tell if Ben was suffering or conserving. I chose to believe the latter so pushed even harder on my turns to soften him some. When the real climbing started I could not get comfortable. I was doing between 10.1 and 10.3mph and pushing just under 300watts, which wasn't comfortable in and of itself at that point in the day. A couple miles of this and I was getting impatient. We'd traded the lead a couple times and as bad as setting pace was, I found following even worse. At one point I tried to up my cadence just a bit, hoping to gain some composure. This upped the speed one or two tenths and split us. I kept on the pace and never looked back; I just wanted to get to the top. What seemed like an eternity of intermittent stand, sit, stand, wiggle, sit later and I reached the sweeping left into the right that marked the approach to the turnout near the top. I pulled my arm warmers and gloves out of my pocket and put them on, crested, and attacked the descent back Lincoln as much as my withered legs would allow. The bulk of the 15 mile trip back saw a headwind but the last few miles was a tailwind which made a nice run into town. I finished up at the van to the ladies in wait. Totals on the day were 110 miles in 5:33 of moving time with less than a half hour total stopped all day.

The finale took us to the Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery for some food and drinks before the weary ride home. An excellent accomplishment and day long adventure that all told cost us less than what a modern day of series racing around in a field for 45 minutes would have.

Sunday turned out to be another great day and I was able to get a great local ride on my single-speed mountain bike with Dave L. on our local trails. We had an excellent time riding and enjoying the weather and best of all Dave didn't get hurt and end up at a hospital. This broke the tradition we have had going on the past couple of rides spanning many, many years. Finished off sitting on the grass in the front yard drinking a beer while sitting in the sun. A most excellent weekend indeed.