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.