Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Never Again

Never again. That has come to be a recurring theme in our home, particularly after a bike race in foul conditions. It isn't enough that the race itself is spent in the cold wet and muddy misery but the post race effects linger on well after the race.

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 remembered back to last year when Brian C. snagged the hole-shot and rode away while I battled up from a really poor start. This year we had a bunch of strong guys like Keith G. from Expo Wheelmen who constantly crushes me on the cyclocross courses, Alby/Don tag teaming for Bikeman and a bunch of new guys who looked really fit. Past performances get thrown out the door at that point. The start was clean and I managed 4th position into the hole, right behind Keith with a Team Edge racer I didn't know killing it at the helm. I clawed up to his wheel and there was a gap behind me. When we hit access road I passed and told him to let me take a turn, grab my wheel, ride calm and we'll work a gap. I then zoned out and settled to the task of getting some space. At this point conditions were still very good so making railing the course was pretty easy. Before long I was solo but could still see a pair of chasers not far back. The entire first lap was one of attempted flight but a gap was slowly, ever so slowly, growing. By the second lap I was out of sight and could settle into a groove. Right about then the conditions started to get bad. Unfortunately, they never improved but got steadily worse.

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.
That was stupid. Fortunately, I wasn't the only dumb person there that day as everyone was slipping and sliding around. By lap three it was just about staying upright and making forward progress. I'm lucky to have pretty good bike handling skills and so was able to keep ahead and make steady progress. Keep ahead that is to all but one person. James from the single-speed race, you may recall James from another SS race a few months back, I certainly do, which started behind us, caught and passed me. For a time I tried to hang with him but given that he was not in my race, he clearly was making better progress than I forward and trying to stay with him was pushing way past the limits of my tires and self, I backed off and let him go. About then I caught Cathy who was doing great and cheered encouragement to her, secretly feeling sorry for her having to spend another lap in that misery. The finish finally came, without much event and I was very, very glad to be done. The race was hard the whole time and the competition in the 40-49 field is as always, among the stiffest. On any day there are a dozen guys who could easily win the field. That is what keeps it interesting and challenging. And then of course, you have the conditions that add a layer of challenge in and of themselves.

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.


Colin R said...


You're running THIRTY EIGHT psi tubeless?!

I raced Fat Tire on 18 front/20 rear.

Do you have a high quality rim (i.e. stans) or is it a make-your-own setup?

That seems insanely high to me.

mkr said...

Agreed, it was crazy high. The rims are tubeless and work fine, I was just paranoid about messing with them before the race. I've got 2 sets on Beavers on order that I'm hoping arrive before Sunday. Then I can add a mud tread to my semi-slick 29er tire arsenal.

G-ride said...

hey colin -

SSSSSHHHHHH!!! shut up already!!

CB2 said...

Colin is wrong. You want to use even more pressure to really cut through the muck...

Found this picture on the online:

Alby King said...

Nice job with shite tires!