Sunday, December 30, 2012

Strangely Familiar

We never took the opportunity last year to really enjoy what winter we had. The problem was that down here in Massachusetts, we never really got a winter. One storm was really all that we got, in January, and then it was clear, dry and above average temperature wise. This is what got me started on the riding stream that I will hopefully finish up tomorrow, pedaling a bicycle every day of the entire year.

Anyhow, this year the weather has turned of recent to be much more traditional. In Maine we received a good amount of snow on top of what was already a respectable base. Cathy and I used to absolutely love snowmobiling. We got into it partially because of the Seib's and spent a bunch of time riding with them early on. Later, Cathy and I latched onto doing fairly epic days of riding. We would regularly leave our house in Maine at 6AM with sleds loaded in the trailer and hear to Errol, NH, the start point of our ride. By shortly after 7AM would would be in Errol unloading and suiting up for a long day of riding. Often the temperature at that point would be well below zero and where we were going, the Canadian border and back, it wouldn't really warm up despite the sun coming up.

We became very accustomed to doing more than 200 miles in a day, which may not sound like a lot but consider that average speed with stops to regroup and make sure we were together at intersections in NH were about 30mph and the parts of ME we rode, they were significantly slower than that. A 250 mile day could be 8 or 9 hours on the sled, in sub-zero air temperatures plus the windchill. Lets just say it gave you a new appreciation for being chilled to the bone. I remember a night ride with Don from ME to Evan's Notch that we started after dark with a -15 degree air temperature. No idea how cold it was at elevation at 9PM or so but I remember my hands being frozen solid and thinking that if anything happens, we may be done. Sleds are enablers, allowing unprepared people to get in well over their heads. I came to learn that and had a different respect for them. I always assume that we may have to hike 10 (or many more) miles through the snow, so we dress accordingly with gear that can handle that.

The years of big miles lost some of their luster, partially due to gas prices going really high, partially due to me having my fill of having my core frozen but also because wasting resources like that just seemed wrong. Add in the fact that we got really serious about bike racing and we broke up with snowmobiling. We never sold the sleds though, the brand new ones that we had purchased at great expense in 2006. They were top of the line 2007 Ski-Doo 600 SDI (Semi-Direct Injection) Renegades, which are high performance long/wide deep-lugged track models designed to go off trail. They also got very good mileage for the day due to the 600 SDI engine. They are awesome rigs for sure and the second set of Rev platform machines we had owned. Unfortunately, these never saw the use their predecessors did. In fact, all last year they only left the trailer once for a brief loop around the lawn and even the year before they were only use a few short times.

This past Friday we (I) decided we were going to get some use from them. I began preparing the trailer first, which included cutting off a rusted lock from the tongue, dislodging the trailer jack and lubing the axle bearings, which I hoped were still OK. Then prep the sleds, shove the snow so I could get the trailer out and then register the sleds. The latter ended up being a nightmare but we finally found a place that could handle the request. Lastly, we hooked up and prepared to go. Unfortunately the connector for the trailer lights wasn't lighting just right, or at all. Off to the auto-parts store for a new adapter and harness, then home to wire it in in hopes that it fixed the issue. After much cursing and frozen hands the lights came on. We headed to to gas station to fuel up and trailered off to Grafton Notch for what we hoped to be better conditions. We suited, unhitched the sleds from the trailer and I went to back them out only to realize we'd left the digital keys for the sleds at home. Pack back up and head home, grab the keys and drive back to the lot, luckily only 12 miles away. It was now 5PM.

Ill prepared is what we were. I'll blame it on being out of practice. We made the best though and headed out through the trails of Newry and up toward Grafton Notch. The trails were still very early season and most water was still open. Though they had a decent amount of snow, the rocky, rough and not fully frozen trails had not filled in yet, let alone been groomed. It's December and I know the drill. We were delighted that when we reached the state trail about 8 miles in, the groomer had been out packing the ample snow they had had. The state trail is a major route, funded directly by the state of Maine as a major corridor trail and is thus, a much better trail surface. In fact most of it could be considered road-bed. Doesn't take much to make that smooth, especially is yahoos have not been out ripping it up. Did I mention that I don't really care for most sledders, especially as someone who used to groom trails?

Some of my fondest winter memories are on the sleds. I grew up adoring them as a kid from northern Vermont and in my early youth was able to ride my father's old Ski-Doo in the back field. Beyond that and despite the fascination, I never really had one until much later in life, when Cathy and I got the place in Maine, at which point I plunged in like so many things. Compensating I guess. We went so many places and covered so much ground. We found three different antler sheds from moose, which we still have. We used to carry birdseed to feed the nearly tame Gray Jays who would land on your hand to eat, in the absolute back-woods of Pittsburg, NH. Of recent the mode for the memories has changed, transforming from sleds to bikes or skis or snowshoes.

We had a great time and went until we didn't feel like going any longer, rather than going until we were done. There is a distinction you know. It was fun and we could have done more. This left us in the hope that when conditions get better a bit later in the season, we can do some more riding. A pleasant change from the norm I must add. Maybe there is still some room left for the sleds though. Will see.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Winter Arrives

It seems that winter has finally arrived, at least up north. We were greeted at our place in Maine but 4" of crusty snow and a mound of frozen hard-pack at the end of our driveway. The first task after unloading the truck full of gear and cats was to attack the mess in the driveway. It had been a long time since we had to clear snow. Fortunately after about 15 minutes of tugging on the starter rope and one elbow smashed into the door frame, the old snowblower sprang to life. Much wrestling ensued to clear the crusty stuff only after much chipping with a spade to loosen and break the snow up into chunks that the blower could deal with.

After that chore was finished we headed for the brewery for cheap beer night, then back home for dinner on the grill. The following day we awoke to a raging snowstorm, one that would continue through most of the day. Many more trips with the snowblower to clear the drive as the storm racked up about 10-12" of fresh powder. This was going to make biking really difficult. It wasn't the roads and dealing with the snow and ice on the bike that concerned me. It was simply the traffic, snowplows and fact that I had no business being on the roads during a storm like this. Why ride in that stuff in the first place? Just trying to finish out the year and keep the streak going. Only a few days left and I can't stop now.

Once the drive was cleared, at least temporarily, during the heart of the storm, we decided to go snowshoe. Though the idea of the Eyebrow trail in Grafton Notch was appealing, driving there in the storm and then dealing with that trail in those conditions could be perilous. We therefore decided to do the much closer and easier Mount Will trail. This is a hike that we have done many times both in the summer and winter. We decided though to do it in reverse, counterclockwise, which we had never done before.

The hike was mostly uneventful and we broke trail as expected in the storm's new fallen snow. At elevation the snow was deep and drifted making the trail tough to follow in places. Some of the steep ascents were difficult with the snow and limited traction as were some of the descents. The trail is close to Bethel and Sunday River and directly off from Routes 2 and 26 yet when you get out into the woods, you seem very remote. The whole loop is barely three miles but took us a couple of hours moving along at a good steady pace. The snowfall was heavy through most of the hike but began to taper a bit as we neared the bottom. Another good hike. Too bad it wasn't the Eyebrow trail as that has a bit more bite to it, but still enough to remind me of the inevitable blisters I get on my heel from snowshoeing.

  Back home I was faced with the biking dilemma still. Noting that traffic was light, save the plow trucks, I cautiously dressed and heading out to try and do a very small loop on our road and a couple of other small offshoots. The roads were a mix of packed snow, ice and not quite packed over ice. This made for great going that was really fast, until you got into some snow that couldn't support the tires and broke apart, revealing the ice below. You were then presented with a neat front wheel skid. As long as you didn't fight it and try and turn, your momentum would continue in a forward course and you would stay upright. Still a very neat challenge to deal with.

The roads up here, as in many places, are not all that great either. Thus they tend to hump up in the middle and slope wildly to the edge, or worse, have a trough worn in the surface from the continual heavy loads running the same path. They had also had the wings out on the plow trucks, pushing the snow back out into the shoulder and beyond. This made it nearly impossible to discern where the road ended. Some times that was good as you got a nice flat dirt shoulder. Some times there was no shoulder, just snow plowed flat to give the appearance of solid purchase. Regardless, it was good stuff. I never strayed more than a mile from the house but did a bunch of out and backs and loops.

This was enough to constitute a ride and keep the streak alive while not getting killed or having someone else run off the road trying to avoid me.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Passed

I can not believe that another Christmas has come and gone. The approach is always the same, cluttered, frenzied and inconceivably dragged out yet when the runway comes into sight, the final descent is over in the blink of an eye. It happens the same every year. For us, the final surge to the end of the cyclocross racing season compounds this, as the weeks tick by up to the final local event, only a week or so before Christmas. Of course I realize that it wouldn't matter if it were cyclocross, school or church holiday events, the frenzied retail season at work or just trying to the get the Christmas shopping and holiday festivities in order, the time escapes everyone.I guess that is the common theme here, time running away from us.

This year we did basically the same that we have done the past couple of years, that being to visit my folks on Christmas Eve and then be home for Christmas day itself. Cathy's folks head to Florida for part of the winter so had left not long after our Thanksgiving. They came to visit us the weekend after Thanksgiving and we had a nice, early Christmas with them. We even went and picked out a Christmas tree together, which was very nice. Christmas Eve with my family was nice as well. The weather was good for travel and we just went up and back that day, which makes for a fair amount of driving but also makes it all easier to manage. It was good to see everyone and visit if for only a brief time. We even made it back home with time to go out for a brisk night ride to take in some of the lights around town.

Christmas Day arrived with us groggy from the previous day and sluggish to get out of bed. It is infrequent that we have no plans and no place to be, so lounged in comfort of sleeping late. Finally we arose, as much because the cats were ready for breakfast and thus on a tear as anything. Cathy made banana pancakes and sausage and we listened to Christmas music, a staple at our house since Thanksgiving.

Eventually we made our way to the couch and started in on the gifts to each other. It was a good year for both of us and we each received some wonderful presents. I gave Cathy some sporting gear, as always, some new slippers and redundant pants, as well as a new anniversary ring. No, it isn't our anniversary but I wanted to give her something special that would help to let her know how much I appreciate everything that she does for me and how she is what keeps me going every day. Well, mostly her, but the kittens help as well.

She gave me an incredible new Cannondale Scalpel mountain bike (with the help of Chris) which I can't wait to try out. She also gave me a picture book that she had made from the year's adventures. This was possibly the most touching gift that I have ever received and it meant a lot to me. Cathy had actually done an online version of the same thing for our 10th anniversary a couple years back. It is also very special to me, as is she.

The tradition as it has come to be is for Cathy and I to do a mountain bike ride on Christmas Day. Luckily the weather would have us be able to continue that tradition for another year. We went in and rode the PR for a couple of hours. Conditions were pretty good and there were the remains of the dusting of snow that we got overnight. The temperature had crept above freezing though so the precious white blanket of snow was quickly melting away. The important thing though was that we were out doing that which we like to do, together, celebrating the day. Cathy had the reindeer antlers on her helmet which prompted smiles and friendly greetings from many we passed along the way. Everyone seemed nicer and friendlier, if only for the day.

As the day wrapped up we watched the final run of A Christmas Story, which strangely enough, has come to mark the end of another Christmas. I'm always sad to see it go because I love the season so much. It was a great season and has been a great year in so many ways. Thankfully I have my gift from my wife by which to remember it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone and safe and happy holiday season. 

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

End of the World (as we know it)

Well, I was expecting more, what with all of the hype. Once again, nothing. Another supposed doomsday comes and goes and we are still here. I guess the day isn't over yet, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

That isn't really the point here, 2012/12/21, no, the end I am referring to is the end of the race season. I know that it is an inevitable close to every year but this year it seemed more abrupt. I think that it is because the cyclocross race season was so long and rapid-fire. We were racing straight, every weekend and running training sessions every week since Labor Day. That is a pretty solid stretch of time to be on. In hindsight, I can't believe that I pulled it off. That has certainly never happened before. Maybe 2012 was a year of becoming wiser in my old age.

Last weekend was the cap to the New England cyclocross season with the New England Regional Cyclocross Championships which were held in Fitchburg, MA. Cathy and I have done this event since its inception. For me it has tended to be the final nail in my coffin. I would hit the event and in truth, the latter part of the season, tired and weak. My past performance at the Regionals was always well below my capacity and it always seemed to put a bit of a sour note on the season.

This year was different. I'd changed my training plan in the latter part of the season and instead of giving in to the chronic fatigue and easing up, I pushed through and stepped the intensity back up for one final block. This worked pretty well and I managed to connect on most of the weekends that mattered. The one failure was in timing. I started the block too late and didn't get as much of a benefit from it at Sterling as I'd hoped for. Part of that was mental also in that I hate that course and venue and went into it partially defeated. By the next weekend the tides had turned and I was ready to go. The weekend after that saw a cold and rainy day for Ice Weasels. Nothing worked for me that day and I floundered, though I worked really hard. The next day I doubled at DAS Beaver, which by the way was an excellent race, and was really feeling the effects of the prior day.

That had me a little concerned. I was also worried about the Regionals course, a course that is dead flat and has very little in the way of technical features. This type of course doesn't usually suit me well as I tend to have best luck on a more technical course. Add to that the fact that the current regional champion, Sam M., had been a constant nemesis all season and this course was tailor made for him and I was concerned. Mark G. had also mentioned earlier that he was targeting the event as well and I knew that there were a bunch of other tough guys who would be looking for blood. The only saving grace was that Paul R. decided not to do the 45+ race. I actually have mixed feelings about that since nobody wants to be the winner by default. Paul and I had some good battles, though this course would have been more suited to him. Still, I would welcome another chance to go.

I got in a good week of race prep and the conditions for the race last Saturday were excellent. As it turned out, Sam was unable to race due to an injury, though we still had a solid field line up at the start. I got a good warmup and was feeling pretty confident. My plan was to hang for a while and then try and get away and stay away, which I realized would be tough on that particular course, but I didn't want to deal with a sprint. The way the start worked, we went into the sand fairly early in the lap, which I knew would be a choke point. First in, first out, hopefully with some room.

The whistle blew a Geoff M. drilled it hard. I settled onto his wheel and then everything went red. That old familiar feeling where I stopped thinking and just reacted with pure adrenaline. Not always a wise move but one that seems to take hold of me frequently. I went to the front and road as hard as I could. Quickly a gap opened, small, but some room. It held around to the sand and I got through it quickly and cleanly. Unfortunately for the everyone else, that sand became a bottle-neck and I got a big chunk of time on the field. From there I spent the next couple of laps continuing to race as hard as I could to stay away and build some time in the bank. I never managed to run it out very far but I was able to hold it and ride smooth and steady to the finish. Literally, beyond maintaining and riding cleanly, the entire race outcome transpired for me in the first three minutes. Not exciting to match possibly but I can tell you from experience, nerve racking for me because as we all know, there is a big difference between being in the lead and finishing in the lead. That day I was lucky and managed to hold it.

I've never won a jersey before and must admit, I was really happy. It had been a big goal of mine this season and it was a huge weight off my shoulders to actually get it. It has been an incredible season for me, one the dreams literally are made of. I'm very pleased that it all came together, despite some issues mid season. There are still things that I'm disappointed about but by and large, I have nothing about which to complain. I truly recognize and am thankful for my good fortune.

Unfortunately, my buddy Mark G. got tangled up in the finish melee and went down hard, requiring medical assistance. Mark is a tough guy and didn't let on to exactly how bad the injury was. He re-broke his wrist, dislodging (really ripping apart) the titanium plate that was holding his wrist together from a previous injury.

The group of 45+ masters men pulled together to get Mark's son Greg and daughter Lizzy away and ready for their races later in the day, while Mark took a trip to the hospital in the ambulance. Looking after the kids was way more stressful than racing I found. Not having kids myself and not wanting to mess up probably has something to do with that. We all managed fine and just before their race their mom arrived to save the day.

 Cathy had an absolutely incredible race. The course was perfect for her and she raced flawlessly all day, beating people that she has never beaten before. The finish came down to a sprint between her and one of best friends and nemesis' Michele S. Much yelling on my part helped spur her to dig really deep at the end and hold off the charge. Her efforts were rewarded with a podium spot finishing only seconds behind Katina, a SSCX nemesis of hers and NY resident, and Lori who races in the Elite class. It was a very good day for our team indeed. Much better in fact than what would eventually transpire on Sunday in the SSCX race, but that is a story for another day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Man, I wish I could make up my mind. One minute I'm ready to sign up for the adventure and make the trip to the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships in Madison, WI the 2nd week of January but then the next minute I balk. Really it's the whole logical aspect that has me in fits, what with getting us, four bikes and all of the gear out there, in the winter. It isn't exactly just down the road either. Add to that the USAC ranking would have me way way out of contention for anything and there is more indecision.

Still, anything could happen. If by chance there was snow, good things could happen as I've done pretty well in the snow in the past. Of course, there could be feet of snow, which would change things a bit. My fitness is still pretty good and if ever I'm going to go, this may be the time.

I don't know. I have until 11:59PM tonight to decide before the entry fee increases a bunch. Guess I'll see how cross practice goes tonight and decide later. Yea, that's it, why do now what you can put off until later :)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Twenty-Two More

There are twenty-one days left in 2012 and I need twenty-two more bike rides in order to fulfill the streak of pedaling a bicycle every day this year. Can't believe that it's almost over, both the year and the streak.

I must say though that riding every days helps give context to the scope of a calendar year. It's a bit of a beast all told, though at the same time it flies by so quickly. The days just seem to melt together into a wash that encompasses the weeks and then the months as they tick by. You never get them back regardless of how hard you may try to recapture those bits of nostalgia.

I find it particularly evident at this time of year, the holidays. We watch the old holiday specials hoping to recapture the sense of wonder, anticipation and pure joy that we (hopefully) had as children at the holidays. Though we at times may come close it's never really the same. Those times are past and we are on to the present.

Rather than try and live in the past, I try and live for the day, choosing to believe that we are defined less by what we were and more about what are currently. You are only as good as the last thing you did is a notion that haunts me regularly. It helps keep me grounded and motivated to keep reaching, and works for me.

With the end of each year, my goal is to have every single one be the best one ever. The truth is that this is less a cumulative tally of the year and more a declaration of resolve and defiance, that each day, month and year is precious to me and I understand that. Simply told, for each that we see the end of, we should be grateful. Every day we can smile or pedal our bicycles or be with someone that we love is another win in our race against time. Another day where we can exclaim at least to ourselves if not to the world, that this one was the best one ever.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Back in the Saddle

 Well, I guess I've never really been out of the bike saddle, at least not so far this year. Yep, that's right, the streak is still going. Every day this year (and the final few days of last) I have pedaled a bicycle in some manner shape or form. No, that doesn't mean that all of the rides were outdoors and no they were not all hammer/training rides. Some were on rollers in the basement, and many were easy recovery spins that only lasted a half hour, but according to my definition that is still riding a bicycle. Anyhow, this is more about getting back in the saddle in terms of race reports. I've fallen down on that front for sure.

Let's start with last weekend. It was final stop on the Shimano New England Cyclocross race series with the two day NBX event at Goddard Park in Warwick, RI. Unfortunately there isn't an actual series for anyone but the pro's but the events all tend to attract big fields and solid competition, though not all of the fastest guys unfortunately. Hopefully next year these events will once again be part of a bigger series for us old folks as well. Some skip some of these events or race in a younger or more aggressive field as training. You can only race those who show up though.

Historically I have had really good results at these events, partially due to the former but also in part due to the coursed that the series is comprised of. They tend to be the more interesting and more technical, in short suiting my skill set a little better. I struggle with grass crits where you lay down huge power for an extended period, corner, lay down more power, eventually corner, etc. Courses like Sterling or Catamount are my nemesis. I just can't seem to get on top of them.

It has been a few years since we made it down to this event. One thing or another has come up and we just didn't make it. The last time I was there, back in 2009, I had one of my best weekends ever finishing 9th one day in the stacked 35+ masters field and capping what until now was my best season ever with multiple top tens in the category. At that point in time the field included no less than three National champions and was crazy deep with talent so I was stoked.

Going into the race weekend this year I was cautiously optimistic. Frankly I know that anything can happen and I must admit that I'd been feeling a little bit beat the past few weeks. The recovery between weekends just hadn't been as effective as I'd hoped and my plan to increase the load recently to try and curtail the late season slide I seem to have hadn't paid well at Sterling the week prior. That said, I was rocking the freshly minted (literally arrived Thursday) team kits for me new team (of one). Yes, that's right, after riding with NEBC for my entire (current) cycling life I finally made a switch. Chris at the Bikeway Source broke down and designed a kit and ordered it up a couple months back. I finally had them in my hand and thus, on my back so didn't want to disappoint.

Saturday was cold, really cold, with light snow and given that we were right on the water, it felt even colder. The snow did made it bearable however. I'd watched Cathy have a great ride, doing super well while trying to get a warmup in. I hurriedly got her bike out of the pit and mine in and scrambled to the start line. Luckily I got the pole position in cal-ups thanks to an optimistic ranking. Immediately sized up the competition to see the obvious threats, some obvious and some less so. This venue was traditionally about finesse and I had some folks with tons of experience with finesse lined up right next to me and on my wheel. I made the decision then and there that this was going to be an MTB race and I was going to try and get away early.

At the whistle I had one of my better starts in what have become a string of good starts, getting the hole shot. Mark G. surged past and I clamped onto his wheel. As we positioned for the transition off the pavement I jumped to the front and hit the gas. I knew that the sharp off-camber hairpin corner in the field at the far end of the course would be crucial. The idea was to be first in first out and open a gap. I figured that if I could go really hard for a lap I may be able to pry open a gap. It worked and by the log barriers I had some room to work with.

Riding clean and hard I hit the beach run in full stride. Though I don't run, I can run and the short hard efforts seem to suit me well, typically allowing me to outpace many. I do especially well with steep climbs. This helped for sure and by the time I reached the top of the climb after the beach and rounded the corner around the tree, I knew that I was in good shape. I could see a small group behind with Mark driving hard with Bob B. in tow. Another lap of that same hard effort and I had enough room to take a breath. From there it was about conservation and riding cleanly. In the back of my mind I told myself to stay strong but remember day two and try and have something left. I got lucky and rode cleanly having no issues and managing to retain the gap on a hard charging field led by Mark.

Sunday saw another cool day, though not nearly as bad as the day before. Where Saturday was marked by snow Sunday was marked by fog. The air was damp and cool and the damp sea fog made wearing glasses impossible. Later in the week I noted that the fog was also quite salty as bare metal  corroded or had dried salt on it. Cathy's race didn't go quite as well as she missed he call-up and had to start back a bit. She battled her way forward though making good progress and having a solid finish despite.

For me day two brought a few more players out to play. I could tell immediately that it wasn't going to be an easy day on the bike, despite feeling pretty good It would be a tale of strategy. For me strategy is a take best left untold, though I'm getting better. Off the line I had another good start but Corner Cycles Geoff M. and Sam M. were playing for keeps. Geoff came by me and pushed really hard, switching off with Sam to lift the frenzied pace. Immediately I decided on a simple plan that even I should be able to stick to; follow the guy in the lead but don't be the guy in the lead unless you have to. This lasted for the better part of the first two laps with digs coming from Geoff, Sam, Mark G. and Don S., the group that had managed to distance themselves from the field. There was some mayhem and some sketchy moves abounding as the group jockeyed for position and some crazy fast sand runs and hard attacks. I took a couple of digs but mostly just followed and dogged the leader. That was primarily Sam who as usual, is most comfortable driving.

My attack plan was to taunt him from behind and make him alternate his tempo and go harder than he wanted. This entailed riding up beside him just before or after each corner making him push a little harder to stay in front.  On the third lap this tactic finally paid off when Sam gassed himself a bit on a climb. I sensed it was a good time and attacked hard managing to pry some room. From there I was never able to let up and spent the next few laps digging as deep as I could to maintain the small bit of space I'd clawed out. Luck was again with me and everything held together through the finish with Sam and Mark only seconds behind me.

This was a great weekend and a wonderful venue. In retrospect I think that this is probably one of the best in New England. The folks at NBX did an awesome job with the course and with all details. Unfortunately, the season is almost over, for which I am pretty sad but what a season it has been. I'm not certain why I've been so fortunate but I really do appreciate it. I just hope that I can give some of that good fortune back. Hopefully the enthusiasm is imparted on others and hopefully the weekly practices we do are as helpful for others as they are for me.  

Monday, December 03, 2012

Ladies in the Mist

It has been some time since I've posted much of anything. Pretty busy as usual. Lots of racing as always plus the holidays added in coupled with the living hell that has become my job and there you have it. Not much time to be creative. Hopefully I can get things straightened out so I can get back on top of things. After all, I have like half a dozen race reports outstanding which I'm sure that everyone is just dying to see.

I lucked out yesterday though at day 2 of the NBX cyclocross race weekend in Warwick, RI, to a degree. The early races were held in a thick fog that made for some very interesting photographic shots. Unfortunately I didn't have the good camera but made do with what I had. The results were not as dramatic as I'd hoped but still helped aid the composition.

Here are a block of shots that I snagged from the women's category 3/4 race.  Most of them are of friendly faces and good folks that we know.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Same Old

This is not going to end well for Paul
Not much new going on here. Kind of in that lull part of the season. Still a ton of races and racing and riding including the weekly CX practice we do on Tuesday nights, but now we are plunged into the deep darkness that is late fall just south of the 45th parallel. Well, actually we are a ways south, more like 42.49 degrees north to be precise. Anyhow, my point is that it gets dark frickin' early these days and as such, most riding is done in said darkness. In fact, it's basically dark when I get out of work and it won't be long before it's still dark as I'm going to work. Tough time of year round these parts, not to mention parts further north.

Race wise, there have been a whole host that we have attended. Orchardcross was the last SSCX race and that was a great time, despite the fairly miserable weather all day. After that was the weekend of bigger races at Northampton. Without going into to much detail, day one went pretty well. Despite not feeling all that great I managed to get away early with Paul R. and we rode the race together, getting a little breathing room on the field. I tried a few digs but couldn't get away from Paul and he cleaned my clock in the sprint at the finish.

Cathy had an incredible day though and spent a bunch of time leading until a wheel overlap put her on the ground and back a bunch. She chased he way steadily back though for a solid finish.

The mud run-up by which all others will now be judged
Sunday was a different story. Going into the race I thought that I was feeling pretty good. Legs felt OK and I was motivated. As soon as we started though, I could tell I'd been mistaken. I just didn't have the same punch that I'd had the day before and despite numerous attempts I just couldn't open a gap. The course changed a bit and apparently those little changes changed the flow entirely. I found that the only place to really gain ground was on the run-up, so that is what I did. I'd attack on it to try and whittle the group down. It worked transforming a train of about ten to five and then four and eventually two, Marky G. and I. We rode it hard that lap, which was the next to last lap and made some ground. Unfortunately I rode a little too aggressively and rolled the rear tire. Fortunately I got it back on and limped to the pit, which wasn't that far away, but I lost about 30 seconds and the lead group and also went from 1st to about 12th. On the final lap I went as hard as I could. That got me as far as 7th, which I had to sprint like mad for.

One interesting note, going from a SRAM equipped disc brake bike with a Fizik saddle to a Shimano equipped rim brake bike with carbon wheels and a Selle Flite saddle felt very, very odd. So much so that I'll never do it again. There is something to be said for having identical bikes. Wish that I could justify a matched pair.

Last weekend we decided that we would only race one day, Saturday. This would leave a weekend day entirely devoid of bike racing for the first time since Labor Day. On Saturday we headed down for day one of the Plymouth cyclocross weekend. The course was changed from years past and instead of starting at Plymouth South HS it started at the grade school behind. Though similar to past courses, some dramatic changes were added. A ton of side-hill ride-ups were added with lots of sweeping turns. There was also a calf deep mud section with a steep mud climb from Hell. I chose to race the elite race, assuming nobody was going to show up. Should have known though that a whole bunch of folks would show up. The start was a bit chaotic as the young kids really like to race aggressively. Guess they haven't learned that crashing is expensive both to the gear and oneself. Regardless, I had a respectable race finishing strongly in the top ten, the top 45+ racer and the second masters racer overall. Not expected but very pleased. I must admit though, the extra 20 minutes of racing hurt like heck. Cathy had another good race as well finishing strong and riding hard, as always.

Sunday started with a good breakfast and then Cathy built a monster lasagna and I cut of and piled the remainder of the trees that we lost during the Sandy storm. That consisted of a big spruce tree and a monster maple trunk. My legs and back were already a tad sore from the previous day's activity and that manual labor compounded it somewhat. From there we had organized a nice social group road ride with a bunch of friends including Cathy, Kyle, Ben, Matt, Mike, John and Michael. The ride was great and it was good to be on the bike for more than an hour at a time for a change. This time of year, what with cyclocross racing and training, long rides don't really happen all that often. The first 3 hours felt great. The last hour however, was torture. It turned into a full blown death march. We finished though and got in about 80 miles at a respectable pace. A lasagna feast awaited us. It was a great day for sure.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Get off the Table

Ellie loves it when new bike parts arrive in the mail, I suspect just as much as I do. 

Get off the table!

All About the SS

I'm not certain what exactly it is that causes the attraction for me. The simplicity, the simple elegance, the efficiency? Who would have dreamed that having just one gear could be so exhilarating?

As I've indicated before, I have been on-board with single-speed (SS) bicycles for some time now. It was way back in the spring of 2000 that a group of us started playing around with SS MTBs. A few years later, when I'd gotten into some road riding as well, the natural progression was toward the addition of a SS road bike. A few more years later and cyclocross came onto my horizon which was followed soon by a SS cyclocross bike.

By this time, pretty much all of my MTB ride group, in addition to their geared MTBs of choice, had dedicated, purpose build SSMTB bikes which we rode on a weekly basis. Despite having a SSMTB and getting back into MTB racing, I didn't really race much SSMTB at all even though there is a category for it. The first race I did on a SSMTB was the Landmine at Wompatuck State Forest, the day after a hurricane swept through. I also convinced Cathy to race her SSMTB, the thought being that it would be such a swampy mess which would do so much damage to the bikes that the simple SS drive train would be more reliable. Yea right, good though, but it was torture, sheer torture. After that it took a couple of years for me to give the SSMTB another try at the races but when I did my luck was much better. Despite that, I still reverted back to racing geared with a full-suspension MTB by default.

For cyclocross I recall the first race I did on a SS. This was before I had a true, dedicated SS frame, so I used a KHS cross frameset that I'd won at the Witches Cup converted with a Surly Singulator of all things. The year was 2007, my second season racing cross, and the race was the old Travis City Cycles Brockton cross race. There was no SS class so I just raced the 35+ masters event. It was good fun and I finished in the middle of the field, ironically losing handily I see, to my SSCX nemesis Curtis. The next season I didn't do much SSCX until the very last race, a new race called Ice Weasels. I'd registered for a couple of events, one of which was the SSCX race. I put the KHS back together as a SSCX rig and threw some spiffy Spinergy carbon tubular wheels of doom on the bike. The event was an absolute blast, had a good turnout and I had a ton of fun. I was hooked. In the process I also put a SSCX bike together for Cathy and she too really got into it.

The very next year, now 2009, I bought a dedicated SSCX rig, a Felt Breed that my friend Chris from the Bikeway Source hooked me up with. I rode it a ton, using it almost exclusively for the weekly CX practice sessions that we had going. That same season, I chose to jump back into the race waters with the SSCX bike at the MRC race, which was still held at the old venue in Wrentham. It was another miserable weather day and I again figured the SS would be more reliable and easier to clean afterwards. Again I raced the masters 35+ race in a near freezing driving rain, through epic mud and grime. I did OK and held my own in a tough field after leading for a good portion of the first lap.

To finish off that season we once again had the second annual Ice Weasels race, this time including snow and ice. The Felt Breed had some rear wheel issues so I built a spiffy new set up for here explicitly for the event. They were complete with winter camo Deep-V rims, red alloy nipples, radial lacing in the front and snowflake pattern lacing in the rear. I raced the bike in both the SSCX and elite races and made the podium in both, likely a 'career highlight'. At this point Cathy had a nice new Kona Major One at this point that Brian from JRA helped her into. It was a great bike and saw a lot of use, including the women's 3/4 race at NBX that year in addition to Ice Weasels.

I continued to ride the SSCX bike a lot and used it as my primary bike for CX specific training . In terms of racing, pretty much the only game in town was the Ice Weasels, which we did religiously. In 2010 I had a terrible year all around and it ended with an awful race at the Weasel, getting nailed in a starting straight crash by a racer who lost their chain while sprinting. I managed to keep it upright but got a big gash in my wrist and it bent my Mavic Ksyrium SSL rear wheel enough that it was rubbing hard on the brakes. A couple of laps in the freehub sheered from the hub body and it was race over. I recall Chip handing me a beer and I hung it up for the day, DNSing the elite race later on in favor of drowning my sorrows.

Last year it all changed for SSCX when Chip, Matt and Zanc put together a race series that spanned the entire season. Soon as promoters learned about it they jumped on board and we ended up have a good number of events. Cathy and I raced most of the events though we left the SS race as a just for fun, second race of the day. Other folks took it a little more seriously and only did the SSCX race. Others yet, even had SSCX pit bikes. There were a large number of legitimate competitors in just about every race who soon outweighed those busy drinking beer when a bike race broke out.

Curtis and Doug and Jeff from NY and Matt and Matt to mention a few were all in and taking no prisoners. It became serious business in spite of me. Cathy eventually caught on and migrated to one race per day but I was slow to learn. To top it all off, the final event of the year, the New England Regional Championships, even had a single-speed event. There was a jersey for the winner and a title. Cathy had an awesome race only losing out to Katina, who luckily was not from the region. My race was flawed with a couple of incidents and then I just plain got spanked by SSMTB standout James. It was not to be for me last year an I believe that I saw no victory at all.

This season all of that changed. The SSCX Zanconato series was bigger and better and I was going to treat it with the respect it commanded. No, or at least very little, doubling up has taken place this year. We put together neat new bikes built up with Cannondale frames using BB30 bottom-brackets which I converted using Beer Components EBBs. We took the really nice parts off from our old race bikes and put them onto these bikes. If I was going to race the race I was going to race it to win. After all, that is exactly what the competition was doing and let me tell you, the competition was all back and all treating it like a race. That said, I want to make it perfectly clear that despite the fact that we are all racing as hard as we can, there is an added sense of camaraderie withing the SSCX races. We actually cheer for each other while we are racing, we try to encourage each other. It is good, clean, honest racing. None of the BS but still all of the same intensity. It's pure, it's simple and by goodness if it isn't a whole lot of fun.

It has been a great season so far and I'm sad to realize that we really don't have that many events left. Great fun though and I'm hopeful that we see even more people coming into the events for next year and possibly, even more events. Everyone should give it a try, really. It will make you a better rider. If you need some suggestions, information or help converting a bike over to a SSCX, let me know. I'm happy to lend a hand if it means getting someone else hooked on it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

I barely made it the front door before hitting the bowl of peanut butter cups stashed for the kids. I'm terrible with those things, which is why we usually don't have them in the house. I just have no will power.

We braved the storm with minimal damage and actually have power for the holiday this year. Cathy was busy gutting pumpkins this morning and making some really excellent baked pumpkin seeds. 

I just successfully carved the pumpkins without goring myself and then we lit them with the traditional candles inside. I'd forgotten entirely what a wonderful smell that is, pumpkin cooking itself from the inside out. It really took me back.

Now it is off for a short cyclocross practice session  amongst the blow-downs. We did the loop last night and were amazed at how many trees were over the railroad bed trails. Good fun.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 300

Today is day 300 of the 2012 calendar year. That means I have 299 consecutive ride days so far this year as I have not gotten out for a ride yet today. Stuck at work as usual. Add in the final three days of 2011 and I'm up over 300 in a row.

This exercise is showing me a couple of things. For one, there are a whole lots of days in a calendar year. When taken with this level of granularity, literally on a day to day basis, a year is a pretty daunting thing. Now with that I can also say that it is amazing how quickly 300 days can slip by. The blink of an eye really. We really need to make sure that we take some time to recognize that fact and savor whatever treasure any given day brings you. There is good in each and every one, you just have to recognize it. Besides, as my friend Steve likes to say, having someone shooting at you really puts things into perspective and makes you appreciate things once the shooting stops. Again, it is all about perspective. Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about.

Photo by Teri
Last night we did a big single-speed MTB night ride with food and drink following afterwards. I'd been trying to balance the training this year with some fun and socializing so got these events running again. We had a big turnout and a good group, mostly all on single-speed bikes. Thought there was some disparity in the group I tried to keep a nice steady pace so we didn't spread out too much. This was working well and we were moving along just fine for the first half hour or so. And then we got the first flat tire by Ben. Not exactly a record breaking change followed but eventually we were back on the trail and moving along.

About 15 minutes later we suffered our next flat. This time it was Michael and he struggled even more with the change. As we were waiting we bumped into Cathy and Teri who were doing their own, ladies only SS MTB ride and having a good time of it. Eventually the flat was fixed and we were back out on the trail riding. We made it all the way to the far end of the trail system and then heard the all too familiar sound of a rider calling out that they had a flat tire. This time it was John, who had sliced his sidewall and needed to boot it. That was possibly the slowest change ever. Our time allotment was drawing thing and once rolling, I made a bee-line back toward home.

On the way out, we somehow got separated. The first time we waited for the group to catch back up before proceeding out. In the final stretch we somehow fractured again and by that point I just wanted to get home. Assuming folks knew where they were (we were in Bedford, how hard could it be to get back) we proceeded. What I assumed to be the rest of the group pulled in right behind us so I assumed all was well, proceeded inside, changed up and started re-hydrating.

About 15 minutes later John and Steve showed up. Odd, I assumed they were already back. They had an interesting story to tell about being lost and more over, being accosted by some motorist who'd had an altercation with some other rider and decided to take it out on them. Apparently he wasn't violent and remained calm but insisted that they were part of some group containing a person who spit on his spiffy Ford Exploder when he passed them. It was really dark out last night and there are not many street lights so I'm amazed that he could recognize someone spitting on his vehicle as he passed. I'm also more amazed at his guilt by association verdict as well as his audacity. Made for a great story though and both Steve and John retained their composure, something I unfortunately am unable to do in those situations.

Back at home the conversations quickly changed as we settled in with copious amounts of food and beer that we had all amassed together. The toils of the ride quickly faded into obscurity and a haze of gluttony and socializing. Really, that is what it's all about anyhow, the Thursday night ride being an overall excuse to get together with friends in order to feast and fest.

The fact that we had issues was trivial as the post ride events went off flawlessly. Besides, despite the number of flats we had on the ride, nobody was shooting at us as we stopped to repair them. Thanks for the perspective Steve.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mid Season

I can't believe that we are at the middle of the cyclocross regular season already. Where the heck did the time go? For that matter, the year is pretty much shot as well. Dang, time is flying by. Must be (getting) old.

This is the point in the season that it become really important to retain focus. It is also the point in the season where it becomes really difficult to retain focus. The days have gotten much shorter so weeknight after-work light is reduced to next to nothing. This is soon to be compounded very soon by the time change, which will guarantee that we have no daylight left in the evenings. Accept the fact that it is going to be dark. Riding at night is actually really fun. Invest in the best light system that you can afford. There are some really good and pretty reasonably priced models out these days. For cyclocross I've found a 350 lumen LED system is mostly adequate. A 500 or 600 lumen system is plenty and you can get one of the all in one LED systems like that for a little over a hundred dollars. I like the Niterider and have used their systems since I started night riding, about 20 years ago.

At this point the weather also starts to come more into play as well with temperatures that swing wildly from the start of an evening ride to the end, after the sun is long gone. We are forced to overdress for the start of the ride, which results in getting sweaty only to be cool later in the ride when the temperature drops along with the intensity. Fight the urge to overdress and instead dress for what you have at start time and then throw a vest in your back pocket for later. Use accessories like arm, knee or leg warmers to compliment your shorts and jersey rather than bundling up in tights and jackets. Being comfortable during the main portion of the ride is the goal. Being a little cool at the bookends of a ride is less important.

The other important thing to realize is that you not only need to be training hard, but you must listen to your body. If your motivation is low and you feel sluggish or if your legs feel like lead, you may need to take it easy for a couple of days. Personally, on recovery days I like to actively recover, which means a short really low intensity spin on the bike. These are the bike-path evenings where I literally go out for an hour and just spin. No power meter needed, just listen to the legs. You should never, ever feel them loading up. The goal is to be recovered for the weekend. As we all know, during cyclocross season in New England, every weekend has a cross race both days. Because there is a cross race each day of every weekend and due to the fact that we just can't get enough cyclocross, we are compelled to race every weekend. That takes toll. Effective planning and training during the week is crucial if the competition goals are to be met.

By the way, I'm historically really bad at all of this. That said, I'm getting much better at it. It has only taken seven seasons to make the realization that I can't race every weekend of the year from April through December and expect any kind of results. You need to pick and choose and tailor your race schedule to match your realistic limitations. For me that means less racing in general, at least during the summer months. That helps with the physical aspect but also helped with the mental aspect.

For years I beat my head against the wall trying to race a full road, MTB and then cross season. I've never been much of  a road racer so scaled way back on that front this year. I also scaled back on the number of MTB races as well and cherry-picked the ones that had the better courses or were convenient. The result was that I ended up with pretty good results and more importantly, I wasn't burnt out when the cyclocross season started. I'm also not burnt out half way through despite having 7 straight double weekends in a row (plus one triple) and 16 races in already this season. I'm honestly still looking forward to the rest of the season and am even starting to give some thought to extending the season into January. Will hold judgment there though.

This is what seems to be working for me and I'm not trying to be preachy or anything. Everyone is different and what works for someone in their mid 40's isn't always the hot setup for some in their 20's. My point I guess is that if you are going to take the time and make the effort to compete, you should consider doing the best you can with your ride schedule for the rest of the week. The hope is that they compliment each other and help you attain whatever your goal may be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Downeast Cross Weekend

The morning started out on the warm side and definitely humid. The drive to the venue was in a thick fog with intermittent mist. The night before saw heavy rains. The event was almost certain to be muddy, as in years past. The question would simply be how muddy. For those not familiar with the Downeast Cyclocross race, it is held at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine. The ground are breathtakingly beautiful. It is an active farm and education center.

As such, the race course consists of loops through agricultural fields and roads around about the barns. This often adds a taste of nature to the course in the form of fertilizer, natural fertilizer. We got out for a single pre-ride lap just to sample the course layout. Given the weather and the fact that the grounds had standing water literally everywhere. John, the master-mind behind the race, did an excellent job minimizing the amount of time we spend in the open pasture, which was always a mud big. Instead he utilized the dirt roads to the back of the course, which were as dry as you could hope for. Despite the design, there was deep mud, two sections of in the pasture. There were also sections of the dirt road there were deceivingly slick and power sucking. The grassy side-sloped were like ice, giving little or no purchase and there were a number of transitions that had deep muddy ruts that could swallow the front wheel and the rider if handled poorly. The race was going to be interesting and it would be a test of the equipment, skills and fortitude.

Cathy was off first and raced off into a sea of dim light, mist and dense fog. It was actually quite beautiful to see and make for some spectacular photos. She had a very good race and was running well within the top ten the entire time. She finished just off the podium for the women's masters race, one of her best finishes ever in a highly competitive and deep field.

My race went off directly after and I was cautiously optimistic. After-all, I tend to do pretty well in the mud and miserable conditions. I was concerned about the grass causing clogs and chain-suck or worse, derailleur suck. That very thing actually happened to me the last time I was at this race and I didn't want to have it happen at this outing. Off the line I got good position and settled into about third wheel. I spent the first could of laps settling in and observing. We had formed in to a group of five by mid way into the first lap, that being Paul, Sam, Don, Jeff and I. Sam was strong as always and was having little trouble with handling if any. Paul was struggling with the traction. Jeff was struggling a bit with the pace and Don was having a good race once he calmed down a bit and started riding smoother. One thing I quickly noted was how much faster I could descend the dirt road on the far south end of the course. This was because I could wait to brake until the very end while others were struggling with wet carbon rims and cantilever brakes. I of course, had disc brakes.

A few laps in I decided to test the hill and see if I could make something happen, so I moved to the front and accelerated down the hill, braking at the last moment and shooting across trail through the mud, which sucked the excess momentum off and allowed me to come back into control. Up onto the dirt road for the climb and it had worked, I'd gotten a gap. Don was close still and Sam not far back so I kept a steady pace keeping the pressure on. I was never able to claw out much of a gap but I did have a gap to work with, which I was lucking able to maintain through to the finish narrowly edging out Don and then Sam. That marked my first Verge Series win ever, another wonderful highlight in a season full of highlights.

The course was tough and nobody had much of any legs left over for sprinting, at least from what I could tell. Those are the days where it would be interesting to have a power meter on the bike, to see just what kind of work you are really doing. The low speed slogging through the mud really takes a toll though. A good day on the bike topped up by a strawberry-rhubarb pie from Debbie's Pies in New Gloucester as the prize.

The Pie!
Day two would surely be another challenge though the weather was supposed to clear and cool a bit. That would help dry the course, though with that amount of water, it may not be enough. We arrived bright and early to a cooler, clear and sunny sky. Out on course for the pre-ride we found that there were some changes from the published map. Again to minimize the mud and misery, we would be doing the same dirt road back stretch as the previous day. The bulk of the course change was subtle routing differences in the loops we made about the grounds. Though minor, many of them proved to be very challenging as the ground was less about wet grass and more about thick, peanut-butter mud that clung to the tires and made for horrible and unpredictable traction.

Cathy was off first again and from the start I could see she was struggling. As the race wore on she settled in but never seemed to find a rhythm. She still managed to tough it out and finish strongly as always.

I was up next and was ready to go. Strangely enough I felt OK, unlike the day before where the legs felt a bit heavy. I was also fairly motivated to try and make something happen so at the whistle I settled into second behind Jeff who was the first off the pavement. In the next corner I came around and charged as hard as I could. With some really sketchy cornering and nearly out of control handling I stayed at the front by the pit and charged hard down that same dirt hill that was the decisive point the day before. Through the slop and back onto the road it didn't appear to have done much of any damage. In hindsight it was a combo of the drier conditions yielding better braking and the first lap fitness that everyone still had. Bad idea on my part compounded when Sam flew by me up the hill putting in a big dig. I was now taking on water as riders streamed past me, my legs loaded was lactic acid and screaming at me to stop.

The miscalculation cost me a couple of spots immediately and then a few more spots as I tried to recover. The damage was done as the laps afforded little or no opportunity to recover. With a couple of laps to go I was able to claw back some spots and chewed my way up to Mark when he too a bike change in the pit. Mark and I are very complimentary riders who if combined, would absolutely kill it as we balance eachothers shortcomings. What that translated to was us taking turns attacking each-other where the other was most vulnerable. That just plain hurt a ton but was good fun and helped us make up time on the leaders. Unfortunately Sam was well off the front and had shed Jeff, who had dropped back to Paul and the two were fighting it out in their own battle.

Coming out of the woods at the far end of the course, I took an easier line that Mark and attacked him, getting through the mud-bog and onto the dirt road first. Mark then attacked me on the slightly down sloped dirt road toward the barriers. I took a more direct line cross slope on the 90 degree corner that turned off the road and slightly up into the pasture approaching the barriers. This had me first over the barriers and around the tight slick uphill turn and by the pits. From there passing was really tough so I caught a break.

Yea, not really feeling the love.
As we came by the barn and made the turn by the bunker (where the manure is scraped out of the cow barn and housed) Paul had gone down and was just getting up. He managed to get back on ahead of me and keep moving. I contemplated a sketchy attack but knew I'd struggled with the greasy, side-slope corner directly after the straight all day. With that I settled back and waited for an opportunity that I already knew would never come. The final pavement stretch was too short to really get a good sprint and the approach was tough with tires full of sticky mud. I would have to settle for missing the podium. In hindsight, I'm disappointed with myself for not being better prepared for the race and not racing smarter. The adrenaline induced start certainly was a bad move, one that I'd been managing to avoid of recent but whose grips I temporarily slipped back into. I also need to pay more attention to a cool-down skin after day one and be careful what I eat and (don't) drink. Standing around after the event spectating and drinking beer is a bad plan if you care about your day two performance and then having a hamburger and beers late in the day is a poor choice for dinner.

Still, hats off to John for putting together an excellent event that minimized the misery as much as possible. This is why we continually like this event. Congratulation to Sam for a stellar weekend as well as to all of the other men who challenge me to ride harder and be better. Much appreciated.

The bike setup was pretty much spot on. The new Cannondale SuperX disc bike just fits me really well. I'd thought that my Ridley X-Fire was the perfect fit but can honestly say that this bike is working out much better. Throughout the weekend of races I never took a bike change even though I had a bike in the pit. Really I never needed to as the stay and fork clearance doesn't really promote much clogging. Having no cantilever brakes to collect the mud and grass also helps a ton. The tire choice was also really, really good. I went with Clement PDX tubulars this season as the tire of choice. I only run one tire all year so wanted a good all around tire that could handle anything yet leaned toward the wet conditions and handling side, giving up a little on the speed side. Hard to win a race lying on your back I like to say. The tires are great and the Bikeman/Carver carbon disc wheelset has been bulletproof. There isn't a thing that I would change on the bike at this point. If you are looking for one, my local shop, the Bikeway Source in Bedford still has a couple in stock. Chris will treat you right.