Despite being purpose built for all conditions using the best engineering and materials available, one simple fact holds as true today as it did half a century ago; mud and water destroys bikes. Fancy modern sealed bearings and other moving parts are almost never completely sealed but do work well enough to seal the contaminants into the bearings and parts rendering them in need of service. Gritty water is also the perfect cutting fluid for disc brake pads. In a muddy race you can easily chew through a set of pads for the rear and if it's really bad, front and rear. Pads are not all that cheap and add up. The shift cables and housings eventually get contaminated and need to at a minimum be torn off, flushed and lubed if not replaced all together. Enough said, you are left at the end with a bike that is in serious need of repair.
Did I forget to mention the clothing? Yes, dealing with completely muddy clothing is an excellent ritual. It starts by unpacking the heap of wet and mud crusted clothing from their ceremonial post race garbage bag and hanging them one by one in the back yard near the hose. You then commence the pre-wash cycle with the high pressure spray of the hose. Amazingly this gets most of the crud off the 100% unnatural fibers of most cycling kit. Wool is of course, another story, as is the chamois of the shorts. It seems that sand loves to pack into the fibers of the cloth on the outside seat between the chamois. Getting that out is, trying. Leaving it in means you essentially sit on a layer of sandpaper. Fortunately it isn't next to the skin but on the outside, however it will make a mess of your spiffy saddle.
So the reason I came here in the first place is that this past weekend was the annual Root66 Race Series Winding Trails XC MTB race. This race was the site of or re-entry into MTB racing what is now four years ago. We have done the race each year since and it is always a favorite. Cathy and I have both had excellent results there. Neither of us had ever finished off the podium at the event so what is not to like I guess.
This year the weather was a crap shoot. Steady rain was expected but the start point was forecast to be mid day. I'd bailed on a MTB race earlier this year due to weather concerns which turned out to be unfounded. I didn't want to make the same mistake again so we committed on Sunday AM. Of course as we were getting ready to leave it started to lightly rain at home. Fortunately as we drove south the weather got better and better. At the venue and on course for the pre-ride it was dry and near dusty. Conditions were perfect with no mud at all and a heaping helping of fresh new singletrack on course. The first races of the day were completely dry and the second wave of races was in progress to dry conditions as well. Good call.
And then the rain started.
By the time we were set to start for the Cat1 races it was a steady cold rain. We remained under cover as long as possible then crept to the lineup already amassing. My group, the Cat1 40-49 men had a strong showing with 25 guys taking part. I weaseled my way to a front row position knowing how crucial the new start would be. That start led up the same sandy access road as in past races but then shot off the road to the left on a sandy, side slope, rolling singletrack and then into a tight singletrack in the woods before dumping onto a short but steep access road climb and then onto the flat access road. This would be a bottleneck for sure.
|Cathy finishes up an excellent race in the pouring rain, cold, wet and definitely muddy.|
I've recently (early this year) switched to tubeless tires on the MTBs. I was one of the last holdouts but for the most part have liked the change. The one big downside I see is in tire choice. I'd been using really light and expensive Specialized tires which have paper thin sidewalls. With tubeless tires if you scuff a sidewall, especially a thin one, it leaks air. This sucks. Tire sealant may or may not fix the problem. In my case it did not on a cold, dark MTB ride in January, so I switched to tires with thinker sidewalls. Those tires are Kenda Slant Six, a semi-slick tire made for hardpack conditions, which I run at about 38psi. They have ramped treads which are fast but do not hook up worth a darn in mud, or leaves, or loose stuff. Pretty good on pavement though. I decided to leave those tires on rather than swap the Maxxis Ignitor tires from my SS MTB and get sealant everywhere or risk using the Specialized tires either with tubes or with the patch on the inner sidewall scuff.
|Warning, use of these tires in muddy conditions may result in injury or death.|
So with that I say, never again. I will never race a bicycle in foul conditions again. At least, not until the next time, that is.