Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ten99

It is the end of another year, on the calendar and on the bike. I have no idea what the bike stats were and frankly, don't really care. What I can say for sure though is that I managed to make it through another year, on the bike, each and every day. Day 1099 in a row. Three calendar years and four days. This year was also the first that I rode outdoors every day. The previous two years in a row I counted rides on the rollers, which I didn't do many of but I certainly did some. Realistically, those rides are valuable recovery training, recovery that is often hard to duplicate outside, especially in weather or cold.

We had so many wonderful days it is impossible to recollect them all. We also had a pretty fair number that the weather was not so great. Most recently, Christmas Eve. I got back from an early Christmas celebration at my folks at 7PM. It was 36 degrees, foggy and pouring rain.That was a tough one. There was the one this summer at camp, which is on a dirt road near the top of a mountain. It was also pouring with the added effect of thunder and lightening.

Probably the worst though was one of the first rides of the year, last January. It was 35 degrees and freezing rain, the roads were covered in slush and the sled trails glazed to glare ice. That was a tough ride, I'm going to say the toughest for me of the year. All in all though, the hardest part is just getting out the door. Once on the bike and riding it all melts away.

Anyhow, I had plans of wrapping the year up with a big memorable ride, another fat bike expedition in Northern NH. Instead, we stuck local and explored a little bit right here from the house in Bethel. What we found was a bunch of good snow cover and some crust that was almost perfect to ride on, almost. We also found a whole mess of really bumpy, rough and hard stuff. My hands, wrists and rear are killing me, We also found a bunch of ice and flooding. It's going to be a while still here, before the sled trails are up to snuff. Need some snow and then some packing and some grooming.

The cold temps are helping to freeze things up quickly though. Speaking of cold, today was for sure. High was in the high teens and when we got back from the ride, just after sunset, it was about 15 degrees. This is some of the first cold we have seen this year and it was biting for sure. Last night we got our first real taste with a night ride from Berlin, NH that ended with temperatures in the single digits. We had a couple very cool descents there but still a good ride with some good friends we've made through fat biking.

So, that's it for 2014. It was a great year in so many ways, none greater of course that the fact that we are here to see her go. May we all be in this exact same spot next year at this time, looking back favorably on 2015, bidding her adieu and looking optimistically at 2016 to be the best year ever, so far.

Happy New Year!




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ressurection

Happy faces starting a day's adventure
If last weekend's fat bike ride out of Gorham with the Coos Cycling crew was the start of a cycling rejuvenation for me, then yesterday's ride with Cathy was a rebirth or ressurection. It was back to the roots and reminiscent of some of the most memorable winter adventures we have ever had. Historically speaking of course, those adventures of days past were on sleds rather than fat bikes, but the terrain, views, solitude and epic expanses remained consistent.

Sunday evening Cathy and I decided to take a chance and head to Grafton Notch late in the day. The temperature had been well above freezing for days but was supposed to be headed for a drop. The notch typically has some of the best snow around and retains it better than places at lower elevation, naturally. Luckily as we got riding, just before dusk, the hard packed sled trails were pretty good. As the sun dropped they firmed up nicely and we had a great little ride on a gorgeous winter evening. On the drive back home I thought at length of how much I missed the adventures we had sledding out of Errol NH into the North Woods. Huge, barren expanses of nothing but wilderness.Vast, remote and unforgiving yet easily accessible. "We should drive over to Errol and ride from there." I said to Cathy. "We used to do it all the time on sleds.". And so the plan was laid for a destination ride.

Excellent trail conditions abounded
That evening I poured over the sled trail maps for the Umbagog Snowmobile Association and the Swift Diamond Riders snowmobile clubs. We have been members of each of those clubs in the past as well as our home club, Greenstock Snowsports in ME. Time to re-up I think. Anyhow, I chose a loop that had some pretty aggressive climbing based on recollection as well as some great trail and scenic vistas. I figured that the loop was about 30 miles and should be a nice quick run on what should be, based on the trail reports, good trail.

We packed up our new Borealis Fat Bikes Yampa carbon fatty wonder bikes and hit the USA club parking lot just off RT26 before Dixville Notch in the late AM to a wonderful warm sun under clear skies and well below freezing temperatures. I mounted up Cathy's new Becker Sewing and Design frame bag that Tucker made me custom for Cathy's bike. This allows her to carry extra clothing and gear without the necessity of wearing a backpack, which causes your back to sweat and ultimately, get cold. Trails were rock solid and despite the fairly low snowpack at base level, trails were smooth. The club had been actively grooming and things looked great for the most part. Given that it was a Monday in low snow conditions I was confident sled traffic would be low. We started out on trail 110 bound for Dixville Peak.

Dixville Peak looking south-west at bare ground below
Funny how general terrain feel has radically different perspectives based on how you access that terrain. On sleds I remember that there were some good climbs to get to Dixville Peak, roughly eight miles from the parking lot. Now let me tell you that when working for each and every one of those vertical feet by pedaling a bicycle up the ascents, you really get the true lay of land. That trail is crazy steep and all up. To put a definitive number on it, we climbed 577' in the first 1.6 miles, the first half mile of which was approach. Then we kept climbing, steep steeps with double digit averages and sections over 20%. The first section of climb was 2.7 miles at a modest 5% average netting about 800' of gain. Traction on the frozen granular was incredible though and much like riding sandstone, we just keep churning up without issue.

Boreal Yampa doing what they were made to do
Finally we made the main truck road section of trail 110W which was groomed flat and wide. The pitch eased and we rolled along nicely, finally breaking into the double digits for speed. The first few miles had proven challenging for sure and had taken the better part of an hour. We rolled along pleasantly on 110W for a couple miles and then came to trail 134N and the start of the real climb to Dixville Peak. I fondly recall the other worldly experiences near the summit of that peak on extreme winter weather days. Rime ice covering the short, scraggly alpine scrub. Winds howling, near zero visibility and a sense that you could fall off the top of the world at any moment. The reality of a northern mountain summit that is one of the first things the weather hits coming straight out of the relatively flat farmlands of Quebec. Luckily today was bright and sunny and the temperature was much more hospitable.

The climb took me about 35 minutes and was 2.8 miles at 9% average grade, picking up over 1100'. There were numerous sections in the high teen low twenty percent range, just to keep you honest. We climbed the south facing flank, in the warm sun, working hard and sweating. We were afforded a spectacular 180 degree view of the west facing region along the Connecticut river. Oddly, Colebrook south was devoid of snow having instead the pale brown of dead grass exposed across the fields of the panoramic landscape. The summit as well as the peaks of the entire range are now covered with wind turbines so you can no longer actually get to the true top of Dixville Peak. As a benefit though, the trail is now a full on roadway, required to get the turbines up the mountain and to maintain access to them. It used to be a relatively sketchy squirrel trail up and over.

On top we regrouped out of the wind as best we could, changed glove liners and put on a wind layer for the upcoming descent off the peak. Immediately we were thrust into the shade of the north facing flank. The wind picked up, the trail dropped precariously and became washed out rutted and icy. Sections of the descent were crazy steep, reviewed after the fact on the GPS nearing 40% grade. We froze solid almost instantly. Half way down the hands were gone and working the brakes was a chore with the frozen digits not cooperating. Near the bottom yet still in shade, I was starting to get worried. As we broke out to RT26 just below the Balsams the snow disappeared and what was once snow, was packed to ice. Our hands were blocks of that very same ice. We stopped in a sunny, sheltered spot to try and thaw a bit before pressing onward into the barren tundra.

Keeping in theme, the Balsams Grand Resort was devoid of activity. It appeared that portions of the grand old dame were being demolished, left in a state of decay and death. Sad. I'm not sure what thew plans are for her but though a rebirth was in the works under new ownership. I certainly hope so as the resort has been a pillar of the community for such a long time. I remember my cousin used to work there way, way back. From the Balsams we quickly climbed back into good snow cover along trail 134 heading north. The climb was another brute, ascending another 2.6 miles at 6% average, netting almost 900' of gain. Part way up as I waited to regroup, my frozen hands starting to defrost with searing, sharp pain bringing tears to my eyes, fear set in. I was afraid that we were not going to make it. Daylight was wearing dangerously thing and although we had lights and some spare clothing, we did not have the right clothing to deal with a dramatic temperature drop. Worse, we were swamped up, both hands and feet. I knew all too well that as soon as the warm sun was gone and we did one long descent after a sweaty ascent, we'd be all done.

At the top, however, we were in a gorgeous softwood forest with ample snowpack and perfect trail conditions. Optimism returned, as did hope and sometimes, hope is all that it takes. Give a man hope and the change can be miraculous. As we descended down to the intersection of main corridor trail 18 the conditions only improved. The groomers had been out before the refreeze and despite having some sled traffic that day, the trail was wide, flat and hard as cement. We were treated to great scenery and nice easy, fast rolling trail for miles.

Miles until we hit the familiar intersection of trail 18E and 112N. Most of our local sled rides used to start on 18W and then take 112N on our way to Pittsburg when we would spend the entire day, dawn until after dusk, on the sled racking up a couple hundred miles in these very same woods. That intersection reminded me of the long, winding and steep descent we'd make on our way in in the morning. The ascent that we'd hit on our way out in the evening signifying that we were nearing the ride's end. On a sled that is, doing at least the speed limit of 45mph. On a fat bike, this climb was going to be brutal. Cathy knew it as well ans was starting to come unglued.

The climb dragged on for what felt like an eternity. The sun was nearly gone but sweat still beaded on my brow from the work at hand. Not brutal nose of the saddle just steady, big ring grind. By the day's standards a relatively easy 2.2 miles at 5% average grade gaining 726'. Cathy was a bit back so I opted to turn around at the top and descend back to her in order to keep moving. My fear of freezing was now at hand, what with the sun now being the ridge. The longer I could stave it off, the better. When we both hit the top of the climb we quickly pulled our wind jackets on and descended as quickly as possible down the long gentle slope. In my comfortable conditions this would have been incredibly fun but with the specter of the cold nipping at swamped up hands and feet, it was mostly about getting down and out clean.

As the trail intersected a side road, we accessed our options. The trail out would drop us a couple miles from the parking lot on RT26. This road, albeit a complete and utter sheet of ice, would get us half the distance again closer to the truck. Never take the apparent easy way out. Never. Although we made it clean it was slow and miserable and we generated no body heat tripoding down the road. Additionally, had we stuck to the trail proper, we'd have branched a side trail, which brought us another half the distance again closer to the truck. I knew that as we used to always take that trail, however, I forgot. Lesson learned.

We made it back to the truck and struggled to get the boots, zippers and various buckles undone with frozen hands. Finally we were changed into dry clothing and down jackets, heater blaring, and off toward home. Not before stopping at LL Cote for the sum of the day's remnants of their pots of Green Mountain coffee, a couple of Koffee Kup jelly doughnuts and a couple of Hostess apple pies. Forgot to mention, between the two of us we went through 2/3 of a large water bottle and a granola bar each in five hours on the trails in well below freezing temperatures. Seemed to be just about right.

The best adventures are often those that may have well been your epitaph is what I wrote as my social media status after the ride. Sure, I'm embellishing a bit but really, we were ill prepared for this one. Had anything gone awry, events could have taken a much different path. Still, we will remember this one for some time. Not the biggest or the baddest, but a good season opener I think, or a good close to the year.

Here's to an upcoming year that is more about the real adventure and the memories and living each day like it's the last. Thank you Cathy for sharing that passion and these adventures and not letting us, collectively, lose track of what really matters.

Adventures and kittens.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rejuvenation

Getting started out from Moose Brook
It's funny how something as simple as a really, really good ride can have the effect of completely rejuvenating one. This especially after one has had a long string of fairly mediocre rides. Truth be told, in my case, I've just been pedaling along for some time now not really getting much out while not really putting much in. Part of the cause is that I've still got the consecutive days streak going, currently at 1095 consecutive days or exactly 3 years in a row. This I find, has in many ways turned riding into a daily check box item.

It has been a long run and a long season. Doesn't help that what I'd consider the best month of the year, was last January. that is because we were new to fat biking and spent a stellar winter with excellent conditions and endless explorations literally right out our door in Maine. I had one of the most epic rides in years, in the dead of winter on the fat bike. It was something new and something fresh. We'd just come off from a long and incredibly successful year of racing as well as riding. Really, last year was the poster child for great rides and adventures.

If last year was a boon, this year was a bust. Once we got past the new found love of the fat bikes in the snow and settled in to dry land riding, the luster wore thin. Sure, there were still some excellent super-bright spots. The Rasputitsa, the VOMAR, the two Maine gravel and notch weekends, the KT weekends, the NEK gravel recon rides, the Thanksgiving gravel ride in the Kingdom, CX fun in the snow at Sterling. We had some really good times. Unfortunately, wedged in between them were countless days of just towing the line, getting out on the bike and getting it done, whatever it is.

One thing that I notice this year especially is how few of the really great cycling adventures of the year were races. Truth is, almost none. That is certainly telling, though nothing which I didn't already know beforehand. Racing is good but the best memories come from the long destination rides or ride weekends spent with friends. Those are the ones you recall. It's hard to remember much about so many of the races. They all simply blend together and average out into either an overall good feeling, or an overall bad feeling. Some years are good, others not. Seems this was the latter. I'm not complaining or whining, just stating how trivial all that hard works ends up becoming.

Anyhow, the point of all this is that some times, the smallest thing can flip it around and give you hope once again. Hope that the overall mood is about to change and the passion is about to rekindle.That happened just last week in the form of a fat bike ride in excellent snow conditions on some great trails with some really good people.

Venturing out on sled trail
Cathy and I headed over to Gorham, NH for a ride with some of the folks from the Coos Cycling Club. These are the same people that put on the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race last year in January and are doing the same this year. They are also the folks that are responsible for getting MTB trails approved and built in the area.

We met up with Jason, Ben and Jamie last Sunday morning at Moose Brook State Park. We'd been out the day before and discovered that the trails in the park were only partially rideable  but that the sled trails were in good shape. With that, we opted to take sled trail to some of the MTB trails that the club maintains outside the park. Those trails were semi-packed and rideable in spots but some had been post-holed badly by someone walking without snowshoes when the conditions were warm. This meant we bailed and stuck to the sled trails.

I actually love riding the sled trails. To me it has all the allure of gravel road riding and in fact, a very similar feel. We've explored a fair number of the trails near us in Maine but hadn't ventured into NH, yet. That said, we are fairly familiar with most of the trails in the area as we use to ride them extensively on sleds. In fact, we know all the way from Bethel to Lancaster to Colebrook to Pittsburg to Rangely to Rumford pretty well. That's a pretty big block of real-estate with literally thousands of miles of trail and virtually no possibly way of riding it all on a fat bike in much less than a lifetime of winters. This year, we plan to add the NEK into the mix as well so we certainly have plenty to choose from.

Happy, smiling faces
Back to the ride. Jason and Ben did an excellent job of showing us around. We decided to hit a trail which I knew existed but had never ridden before on sled. It was a small club trail, the sled version of single-track, called the Bear Springs trail. It looked to be in good shape and it pointed decidedly up. This would be a great test for the new Borealis. Jamie needed to get home so headed back. The rest of us started off with Jason in the lead and me behind him. A couple hundred yards into the climb he bogged down and stopped but adeptly sprung out of the way. I made my way by and kept plugging at the climb. It was a good poke with some steep sections in the high teens and an average of 9% for the mile or so of climb. Not brutal given the good conditions but certainly a challenge.

We regrouped at the top of that initial climb and made our way quickly down a fast, flowing descent, only to hit another climb. The trail rolled on with ups and downs but nothing of the nature of that first climb. Soon we stopped and it was determined that we'd (I'd) overshot the bail out point which would be the quick way back. My reaction was one of joy, that we'd get to do the bigger loop over to Dolly Copp and back around to the railroad bed trail off RT2. The reactions of Jason and Ben seemed less enthusiastic as they recognized the full scope of the loop.

Scenic winter splendor
For me, I was having one of those rides that I just simply didn't want to end. Cathy was as well. Don't get me wrong, I was working hard and could feel it but I was comfortable, thanks in part to the new 45NRTH Wolvhammer boots that the shop scored me. I have historically been unable to keep my feet warm. These boots, knock on wood, have been awesome so far. Will see what happens when the temps really drop of course. I also managed to keep my hands warm, another challenging proposition and my core was fine with the zip/unzip and no wind layer. So yes, I was comfortable and very, very happy to be out and be alive.

Pressing forward the trail continued for a few more, generally upward miles and broke in a scenic outlook where we could see part of the Presidentials straight ahead. Soon we were down and at Dolly Copp road, a seasonal road that goes from RT16 to RT2. In winter it is a state snowmobile trail and is well groomed. Another climb was then on tap for us, this one also a mile long though a slight 6% average grade. Regrouped at the top, we made our way down the long descent back toward RT2 and the railroad bed trail which would take us back to Gorham. The descent was steep but the conditions and wind were such that you had to push pretty hard to go even 15mph let alone 20mph. All in all, a fairly slow day, conditions wise, with semi-loose granular on top of a fairly well packed base.

Tired but happy
When we hit the railroad bed, Ben peeled off and rode home. He was only a quarter mile away and was pretty well used up at that point. Jason, Cathy and I pressed on, back down into Gorham on the railroad bed. This is a nearly flat, almost dead straight, wide and smooth trail that gets lots of sled traffic. Luckily there wasn't that much on the Sunday afternoon early in the season. Regardless, we are very respectful and make sure to ride all the way to the right on the edge. One thing I learned years ago about sled trail is that the best trail is always, all the way to the right edge. For some reason people love to ride in the middle of the trail so that is the part that gets chewed up the worst. The edge tends to stay much smoother and is often, pristine. I also like being as far right, away from oncoming traffic as possible.

The trip back to town was very enjoyable with some near bridges, old mill remains and some scenic water flows. All this through a snow covered evergreen forest on a crisp, clear December day made for the perfect winter experience. We finished up tired but very, very happy. I'm smiling right now thinking back on it.

I need more rides like that. We all need more rides like that. Rides we reflect back on and smile or laugh. Ones that made us feel good then but continue to make us feel good a week later. That is why we ride bikes in the first place, isn't it? Just need to keep sight of that fact.


To be continued ...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reflection

I had a post all planned out for today. One that extolled the virtues of the incredibly rejuvenating,  refreshing and recharging fat bike ride that Cathy and I did yesterday. Good folks and an incredibly great day, one of the best day's on the bike in a very long while in fact. A post that will still happen, just not today. Some times, a day takes a dramatically different turn.

This morning I got a message from a friend that I used to race and ride with. The two of us seem to have some common bond, though I'm not completely certain what it is, and we keep in touch despite the fact that he retired for cycling some years back. I guess the bottom line is that I respect him, and honestly care. It doesn't hurt of course, that he loves and cares for numerous animals. Animals can tell the good people.

I feel like I'm a fairly good judge of true character as well though, and always have been. I've always  associated with only a certain type of people. This has done very well by me throughout life. For one, I never got into any trouble, particularly because of those with whom I associated. I'm also not the type that is easily impressed, especially by wealth or status. Maybe because I don't necessarily value those things. I'm more about the tangible things that you accomplish, on your own, through hard work, creativity and kindness. Building a really nice table out of scrap wood or doing some crazy epic adventure or helping a friend don something that they are unable to do on their own. That is what I am about and that is what inspires and impresses me. I am very particular about giving out my trust and more, my respect and friendship. Those words mean something to me and I use them very exclusively.

It was with utter shock and disbelief that I took the news from my friend of the passing of a mutual friend. Honestly, like so many friends, the friendship has a certain scope. Being cyclists, we have many cycling friends or, friends that we know through and associate with, primarily in the context of cycling and bicycle racing. That is the case here as well, though my respect did not end there. Still, the news touched me, deeply.

We really are a family, the cycling community. Spending so many hours racing and riding with and against people, you develop a bond that is like few others. You see each other in very emotional times and in very vulnerable states. In some cases this breeds resentment but in precious others, it fosters respect and admiration. The kind of respect that is earned, not granted. I will argue, the only true type of respect.

And that was what I was thinking of as I heard the news of the passing of one of the most admired and respected gentlemen I have ever have the pleasure of knowing. He will be sorely missed. He is sorely missed.

Cathy and I ventured up into Grafton Notch this late afternoon to do a solitary ride and reflect. We didn't go with the intent of reflection but I can say without question, that is what we both did. Grafton Notch is one of the most peaceful, scenic and vast spaces around. This time of year, with snow on the peaks it is breathtaking. We rode the stark white snow in the dull twilight and stunning backdrop, silently thinking of our lost friend.

Lost, but not forgotten. You have touched so many and inspired even more to strive harder and farther, both in your encouragement and your actions. You have, as I have written about on numerous occasions, pushed me personally to more and to greater.

Thank you.

Peace.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

And so it has begun, the most wonderful time of the year. The off season, the time of year when we are not actively competing in anything but who has the most fun. We got this. really, we are all over it. Pretty sure we have a reasonably good idea how to have fun.



Of course it is also Christmas. What a great time indeed. Tonight we introduced the new Borealis Yampa Fat Bikes to snow. We didn't have the chance to go all that far, what with the time and all. Seems the town of Bethel delights in plowing our drive in, in really good shape. It has also been a while since we have been here and Bethel has been getting a bunch of snow. The bank at the edge of the road, which was nearly 3' high, was frozen solid. Luckily the old snowblower started right up and though it struggled, as did my back from manhandling the ancient unit, we got it cleared just as Cathy showed up.



In other excitement, some old lady clipped a pole in front of the house this afternoon in bright, sunny and dry conditions. This resulted in the Oxford County Sheriffs Department's finest closing down RT26 for 4hrs on the Friday afternoon, before Christmas, in Bethel. They used our one way side road, which is a nice clean and short bypass of the incident, to divert traffic in one direction. The other direction they were sending on a 15 mile detour. Infinite wisdom and incredible resource squandering. Doesn't take much to understand why they are so loved currently though.




Anyhow, awesome time tonight just getting out. With the rain there was puddling on some of the trails, which hadn't frozen up yet. Not much and nothing too deep. Mostly the snow was styrofoam and anything that had been packed by sled or snowshow prior to the last storm was rideable. Planning to go hit Gorham tomorrow with the Coos Cycling Club crew. Should be a hoot. Will report back on what we find. Feel like we need to get it in before the Christmas Eve warmup they are predicting for next week.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Looking Back

Given that it is throwback Thursday, some reflection seems appropriate. It amazes me how far we have come and how fortunate we are. We live in one of the best areas in the whole world for cycling and bicycle racing. We have one of the best cycling related communities anywhere on the planet. We have countless public parks and conservation lands in which to ride our bikes as well as endless rural roadways just a stones throw from the major metropolitan area. We also have literally, the choice of more races than any one person could possibly do.

Not a trail ride, that's Cathy at Canton 2006
Blessed are we, those who love the bicycle and the lifestyle that goes with it. We, I, often lose sight of this, submerged in our own goals and aspirations. We introvert and focus on training plans and doing the workouts the we believe, or hope, will help us to achieve whatever lofty or elusive goal we currently have dangling in front of us.

It is a shame really, that we so often forget to take the time to just play bikes, to use a term coined by some friends. For most of us, that is what we are doing, right, as it isn't a job. We are just out there having fun and playing, on our bicycles.

I miss the group rides that used to happen almost every day. I miss not having to worry about what kind of ride I did Thursday or Friday so as not to jeopardize the race on Saturday. Don't get me wrong, I love racing bikes as well; wouldn't do it if I didn't. Partially though, I love the people, the crowds of friends that we only seem to connect with at the races. At the close of every race season there is always a sadness that it is over.

This is the 9th season in a row that we have raced bicycles. We raced previously back in the 90's but that was MTB almost exclusively and no where near the extent to which we race now. We've met so many great people and have done so many things. There have been literally hundreds and hundreds of times that we have donned a number and lined up to race. Looks like I've currently got 220 CX races in since 2006.

2006 M35-39 Nationals (look who is in background)
I'd put together a Redline Conquest cyclocross bike earlier to explore trails on and on one wet NEBC Saturday morning Bedford Library ride that summer, John Mosher asked me if I raced CX, then proceeded to convince me that I should. I still remember that first race in 2006, SuckerBrook CX. Since I was new and had no idea what to expect, I did the 35+ B race. It was hard but I had pretty good ride, spending the day in the lead group of three and finishing third right behind Todd Savage. I still have the trophy proudly displayed at home. That was the last B race for me and I jumped right straight into the A master's race, a massive shock for certain, one that sent me right to the tail end of the race.

Funny to think back to then, and look at the somewhat larger me in Smurf blue NEBC kit riding the 25# Redline with semi-slick clinchers. It seems that overdressing was a massive theme for us back then rocking knee-warmers and long sleeve thermals in anything below 60 degrees. It got me hooked though and hooked hard. Both of us in fact, as every step of the way Cathy was right there with me. Team Rowell, as it has been ever since and always, nearly every weekend in the fall for the past nine years.

Anyhow, my point is simply this, as much as I self analyze and get down on my own personal performances, one thing is true. Cycling and bicycle racing has changed us in so many positive ways. Our lives center around it, and the cats of course. It has become so much more than what we do, it is what we are. Thank you all for being a part of that and in turn for letting us be part of that community, family.

Peace and love.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Highs and Lows

I'm convinced that it is true that 70% of competition, particularly bicycle racing, is mental. Realistically, that is probably a bit overstated and makes some general assumptions about base fitness level and all, but when all else is close to equal, the mental quotient is huge. Having a good day on the bike versus having a bad day on the bike often relies heavily on the state of mind and attitude in which you approach the event. There is no surer way to guarantee that you are going to lose a race than to think that you can't win in the first place.

I've enjoyed some great results and a number of really good years in a row. This is let me to enter almost any race I've done under the assumption that I was going to come out on top, or at least if not on top in certain races, in the hunt. That seems to have changed a bit this year and what had become an incredibly consistent streak of good fortune turned inconsistent. Wins became elusive. My confidence slipped. And slipped. And slipped. Soon the attitude changed and soon I was questioning my ability, not believing in what I could do in the first place.

Part of this was pure and simple burnout. This year marked the longest consistent "in competition" phase ever, directly following last year which was nearly the same.  Our first race this year was a fat bike race in January. CX ended mid December so there was very little break at all. We continued right into early spring gravel racing and then to MTB, road, more gravel and full on CX. Last year we did CX right through until the Master's World Championships on February 1st. Then a quick change of training to get ready for the early spring road racing, and MTB and the full on CX. Basically, it has been two full years now of pretty much constant competition with big targeted events like Master's CX Worlds and two separate MTB National Championship events, one each year. This doesn't even touch on the full Root66 MTB and Verge and SSCX series last year, as well as full Verge, SSCX and failed bid at the New England Elite BAR series this season. Needless to say, it has been a busy couple of years.

This year I viewed the CX season as a way to salvage what had been a pretty mediocre MTB showing. Yes, there were some highs but there were also some lows, none more so than Nationals. Don't get me wrong, the season started with some incredible, beyond expectation results first at the fat bike race and then at VOMAR and the Rasputitsa. In between though saw a complete breakdown at Battenkill. The early season MTB was also troubled as was the early road racing. Eventually MTB improved but not before more setbacks. However, fitness was on schedule for the state and then Regional Championships as well as Nationals but a moment of inattentiveness and a simple crash threw a wrench into that. Later this summer, the gravel races I'd targeted also became disappointments, first with the VOGP just crushing me and then double flatting at the Dirty 40. The latter was very disappointing as I was in good shape when the first flat occurred and I am optimistic that I could have gone the distance. Through all of this, there was also the team turmoil that was transpiring. Internally, there was dissension and power struggle as well as complete lack of cohesion. Everyone liked the idea of being on a team but nobody actually wanted to be part of a team. We had a team of dissimilar individuals, most of whom wanted to do their own thing.

Now on to CX and the season started off with a great day at Quad CX, doing the elite race and getting 2nd and then the SSCX race for the win. This set the stage for me doing the elite 1/2/3 races at the BAR Series events, which often were also SSCX series events, meaning I did a lot of back to back racing. I was also racing the Verge series for master's and my performance there was not outstanding. A couple of months in, all of this doubling up was taking a huge toll on me, both physically and mentally. I couldn't recover from the three races I was often doing in a weekend, throughout the course of the week. Performance started to fade as did my luck, and my morale. At Canton for instance, I was having a pretty good race in a tough field when I broke my chain half way through the final lap.

Even single-speed races, which I'd had incredible luck with in past years, became struggles. Part of this is attributable to an increase in competition but part was also just me. Part was luck as well though as I had more mechanical issues this year than I have had in a long time. To throw fuel on the fire, I'd missed taking over the Verge series lead on day one at Northampton because I gave up in the sprint finish. I barely claimed the vacant leader's spot the second day by default, leaving me less than proud of the achievement. I'm the type of person that doesn't feel right or take pride in any achievement that I didn't rightly earn. I think this is part of why cheating at anything competitive in which the prize is simply honor is such a mystery to me. You're not fooling yourself and who the heck else matters?

Going into last weekend after a very disappointing performance at Regionals, I had convinced myself that I was done and that it was time to pull the plug on a very frustrating season. Then it snowed and the incredibly good weather that had plagued me all season changed. This past weekend at Sterling I was somehow blessed with the conditions in which I have historically had the very best luck possible. The snow suits me. For some reason, I can go really fast in it. The slipperier and nastier it is, the better I seem to do. Maybe it was all the time I spent in the white stuff as a kid growing up in Northern VT. Heck, we rode our bikes in it even then. Maybe it is all the sand we practice religiously in each and every week during CX season. Frankly, I don't exactly know but I can't think of a snow race in which I haven't come out on top or very close to it.

The race Saturday worked out like a dream, pretty much perfect. I think part of the reason was that I got angry, at myself. I literally rode around gritting my teeth and swearing at myself to go harder, go cleaner and go faster. I got a gap and had the luxury of marking my pursuers and keeping pace with them. It's been a long time since I've had the fire burning down low, the competitive rage. I can't tell you how many times this season I've finished and apologized to Cathy for my performances, beaten not only physically but mentally. I'd simply given up, not believing that I could win. How far I'd come from believing that I was going to win every race I entered. Anyhow, finally felt good about the performance and about earning the race leaders jersey. It was also my first "W" in a very, very long time and the first all CX season in a geared race.

Sunday was more snowy weather though the temperature rose and conditions changed from frozen and slick to soft and mealy. Still, conditions that were much better for me than the incredible number of grass crits we'd been treated to thus far in the season. The start of the race was not as decisive for me as Saturday but within a lap I worked myself to where I needed to be. I never managed much of any gap but it proved to be enough. My luck and my attitude were changing.

So here we are. One more pair of series races to go. It's going to be a tough run but I certainly have more confidence now than a week ago. I'll see how CX practice goes this evening but I don't think that I will push it super hard. A really good performance Saturday is my target goal, which would take some pressure off for Sunday's race.

As for lessons learned, I think I'm back to swearing off the double header races. I do like the longer and consistently harder elite races though, at least at the smaller venues. I also adore the single-speed. That said, this year and all of the single-speed turmoil has left me jaded and reluctant to jump back into the races next year. At this point I'm thinking that I will try doing a full season of smaller venue elite racing on the SSCX bikes. Cathy did some this year as have I at a couple of events. In certain cases we are actually faster on the SSCX bikes. Plus, we get a shot at earning our entry fee back if we do well enough and there is a certain bit of notoriety to choosing to race the SSCX bike. I'm also going to avoid all together the events that do not fit my skillset and which just frustrate me. I learned that long ago in road and MTB and it is high time that I apply that same rule to CX.

Besides, less racing may make for better overall performances.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fat Bike 101

It seems that over the course of the past year especially, fat biking has become one of the hottest sectors in the bicycle business. Though the bikes themselves have been around for more than a decade in mass production, it seems that only recently have they really caught on. People who once exclaimed "not for me", myself included, have gotten bikes and been smitten by the two wheeled winter adventure that they open up.
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Charge Cooker Maxi
Last year, my wife and I purchased a pair of Charge Cooker Maxi fat bikes from Chris at the Bikeway Source in Bedford. Charge is owned by the parent company of Cannondale, Dorel, so as a Cannondale dealer, Chris was able to get the bikes for us. The Charge are and good quality steel framed bike with solid and reliable mid level components. They were a great introduction into the market space without completely breaking the bank. After all, we were not sure how we would like the discipline and didn't want to spend too much trying it out.

As luck would have it, last year was a banner snow year. We had the luxury of spending much of the winter in Western Maine where the snowmobile trails were abundant with access literally just down the street. We quickly grew to love the adventure of being out in the frigid winter nights with nary another sole in sight. We loved it so much that we rode literally every day last winter and spent over 100 hours on the bikes exploring over a thousand miles. One thing that became quickly clear was that when riding in the dead of winter, at night, in a northern climate, normal cycling clothing is inadequate. As a long time year round cyclist I'm used to riding in the cold weather. That said, cold weather riding in MA was usually in the upper teens at a minimum. Now imagine starting your ride in falling temperatures that start out at ten degrees colder than that. We very frequently rode in the single digits and did ride that never made it above zero.
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45NRTH Wolvhammer SPD
We found that the biggest challenge was keeping the hands and feet warm. To those ends, when it was really cold we resorted to heavy, expedition weight mittens and thin wool liner gloves. Sure, the hands got moist and using the controls with mittens on was a challenge but so was trying to do anything with frozen hands. On warmer days we would wear insulated ski gloves, which afford a bit more dexterity and control at the expense of some warmth. We also always carried spare mittens when doing colder or longer rides, just in case.

On the feet, we used winter SPD cycling shoes with neoprene over boots. These worked pretty well, for a certain length of time and to a certain temperature level. Below about 15 degrees you only had a couple of hours before your feet would get cold from the moisture buildup. Chemical warmers helped stave off the cold as well so we often used them. This year, we have gone to the 45NRTH Wolvhammer SPD winter boots (which run small IMHO so I ordered two sizes bigger than normal). Luckily Chris was able to get some into the shop for us before they sold out for the season. They are the top end for warmth when it comes to SPD compatible cycling boots. We are looking very forward to using them. In terms of other clothing, we were fans of Nordic wind-front ski pants from Salomon with suspenders and bib shorts with leg warmer underneath rather than cycling tights. The nice thing about the pants was that the cuff went over the top of boot, which helped keep the warmth in and from escaping. In turn, I felt that my feet stayed warmer as well as my legs. Up top I used a myriad of different layers and materials. In the super cold we wore down sweaters outside with a long sleeve wicking base and a breathable thermal layering mid. When it was warmer we went a wind-vest over a long sleeve wicking base and a heavy breathable thermal layering mid. Also, whenever we went on longer rides we went prepared for the worst. This meant carrying a hooded packable down jacket, a thick winter hat and/or balaclava and extra mittens. If something went wrong when you were even a few miles out it takes no time at all to go from hot and sweaty to hypothermic. Where we often rode, there was no cell reception so we were on our own.
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Borealis Yampa X-0/X-9
This season we have bumped up the game on many front. I've already mentioned the boots. Additionally, we are trying some new designs and materials for outerwear. On top, we are going to use a hybrid jacket for cooler rides. These have thermal insulated fronts with lighter, breathable stretch arms, back and hood. For ultra cold we are switching from down to man made lightweight insulation. Hopefully these will be less susceptible to degradation and pack-out from moisture. We  are getting some heavier gauntlet style gloves as well with the hopes of retaining some of the dexterity. As a note, we tried pogies/bar-mitts but felt confined and never felt they provided the warmth we'd hoped for. On the bottom we are stocking up on more wind front active-wear with suspenders, so they stay up and down expose in the tail.

One other thing to consider is hydration. When it is below freezing, keeping your drink from freezing is a challenge. Clearly bottles don't work. The best luck that we have had is to use a minimalist Camelback worn under your outerwear, such that your body heat keeps it from freezing. Obviously, the hose needs to stay inside as well less it freeze and render the liquid somewhat useless for all intents and purposes.

Oh, I almost forgot. We also upgraded the bikes as well. We had so much fun last season that we jumped in with both feet, convincing Chris and the Bikeway Source to become the areas only Borealis Fat Bikes dealer. We bought a pair of the X-0/X-9 Yampa, a full carbon-fiber frameset with a very respectable parts spec. We opted for a 2x10 with double front chainrings for the range they offered. We ride some very diverse trails that have some incredibly steep sections that require low end, steady torque to maintain traction. On the same ride there are often long, fast downhill sections where I feared an adequately low one-by would spin out. My guess is that the weight saving alone, nearly ten pounds, is going to make the bikes feel like they can fly.

As you can imagine, we are very much looking forward to the winter months. If you are thinking about getting into fat biking, stop by the shop and see Chris. He usually has some bikes sitting on the floor, though this time of year, they are going out the door quickly.   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Camp Status


It has been some time since I've done an update on the status of our camp/cottage/cabin in Kirby, VT. Though it is the fall and we have been entrenched in CX season, progress has not halted. In the late summer Cathy and I though it might be neat to price out a little upgrade to the place and give it a full concrete foundation underneath. As you may have noticed, the camp was previously on concrete piers that may or may not have been all that sound. The reality is that the place is about 40 years old and was still standing, so the footings were probably OK.

That said, the support beams were sagging and the span between piers was way too wide. I'd done some initial work and then scrubbed the project, realizing instead the right fix would be to dig and pour all new footings, by hand, in the 2-4' of crawl space under the camp. If you have ever done that kind of work you will quickly understand that the thought of it would absolutely stink.

As mentioned, I turned my attention inside for the summer instead and gutted and re-did it all, or at least all most all. The results were pretty dramatic IMHO and we were blown away by what we were left with. So much so, that we started wondering what it would cost to jack the place up, excavate and then put a walkout basement under it. We came up with a number that we were comfortable spending and then started talking to friends and family, who thought that the number may not be that crazy. May not be that crazy because I happen to have a good friend from high-school, Bruce Cushman (who is also my sister in law's brother) who is a mason and does foundations as well as this exact type of work. I gave Bruce a call and he stopped by to take a look.

To our delight, the number he came in with was pretty darn close to what we'd come up with and so after not much discussion, we agreed and work began. The camp and deck were braced up on three very large (12") and very long beams. The beams were actually just logs that had been faced off with a chainsaw on site. Level footing was dug in multiple points under each beam and large scale hydraulic jacks were placed under the beams on cribbing. Then the jacks were raced in synchronization while cribbing was placed under the beams as you went through the jack's stoke. When the jack reached it's limit your simply crib right up to the beam then back the jack off, place more cribbing under it and start over again. It's actually quite simple and is the process my dad and I used when we replaced one of the support beams this past spring.

Once the camp was raised high enough, which was about 3' higher than it had been sitting, Bruce went in and excavated underneath with his Kubota tractor. We decided to do a complete walkout basement with a concrete slab and frost-walls and then a concrete block wall. This was easier and cheaper and should still be completely fine and water tight if drained correctly. We also decided to pour a full floating reinforced concrete pad under the deck so we could have that as usable space. The plan is to put roofing sloped toward the front to pitch rain that comes through the deck and keep the space under the deck dry. We also thought about framing the space in as a screen porch. Will see as that is a project for next summer, after a couple of other projects.

Through the course of the early fall the excavation was completed, the forms went in, the frost-walls were poured, the walls were laid and the slabs were poured. In NEVT, it was a fairly wet fall. Our place is off a gravel road, up a steep hill with a narrow, long and twisty driveway. Getting cement up in there meant getting a mixer up in there. Cement mixers are big and really, really heavy when especially when loaded with 20,000 pounds of cement. Needless to say, on the trip up to deliver cement for the pad under the deck, the six wheel drive, eight wheel truck had some issues and got stuck near the top. It also slid sideways and pretty much wedged itself. Cement has a shelf life and needed to be unloaded. Fortunately the tractor and bucket were there to transport to the actual site. I've never seen a tractor move back and forth so quickly but it did, and Bruce got the cement to the pad while his crew leveled it out.

Once all of the cement work was complete and the camp was set back down on the PT sills of it's new foundation, it was time for me to do my part. That was to frame in the walkout and install a door and a couple of big windows for lots of light. I decided to frame it with 2x6" wall and just went with PT for the whole thing rather than only using PT where it contacted the cement. This all worked really well with the help of my brother Chad and we knocked most of the framing off in a few hours on his day off from the barber shop, then the door and windows went in the next evening. I'd finished the framing and sheathing by myself earlier that day. The place was really starting to look good.

A couple of weeks back I spend some time up there and got the septic plumbing squared away as well. Nothing too complex but the main stack, which was now all new in the basement, had never had a vent. Actually, the old system did have a vent on the sink drain tee, right into the camp. I'd capped that thinking I'd take a chance with a hard flush siphoning my p-traps and venting gas (methane from the septic system which like all natural gas is highly flammable, and smelly) into the camp over knowing I was venting gas into the camp.

With a little research I found these neat one way plumbing valves which although not to code, should do the trick. They allow air into a system while not letting back gasses escape out into the area. I replaced the 1.5" cap on the existing vent with one of the one way caps and then plumbed a 2" vent into the main stack itself. The right fix of course is to run the 3" main stack right up through the roof and vent it outside. I'm too lazy to cut a big home in the roof right now though. Anyhow, it is fixed and has clean-outs and p-traps galore. The wonders of PVC and PVC cement.

So that's it. I've done a number of other small projects including putting a new wood stove to replace the old, oversized Jotul system. This stove is a nice, air-tight glass front with catalytic converter and re-circulation that is relatively efficient. It was also on sale at Lowes for $389 from $599 so was a HUGE score. I still have a bunch of work to do in order to finish and trim the casement windows and button the foundation up but given that had nothing underneath it for the previous years of it's life, it is way better off than it was. It is also way more stable. Turns out the footing it was on before were only down a couple of feet. That means the frost had it's way with the place. Amazing that the doors and windows ever opened and that it didn't fall over. This was certainly the right call.

I've still got my work cut out for me and the list is huge for next year. I plan to re-side it as it really needs to be done. Much of the trim on the outside needs help as well. I also have to move all of the plumbing fixtures, the pump, water heater and storage tank into the basement. While I'm at it I plan to get rid of the water heater in favor of an on demand propane system. I also plan to install a direct vent heating system in the basement so we can keep the place active for winter use. Right now we have to drain the pipes for the winter and throw antifreeze in the p-traps, which we did last week. The other thing that I need to do is throw in an electrical sub-panel in the basement, that way I can wire the basement as well.

It never ends but progress is being made. Hopefully next year will yield huge changes. The best thing is that to date, we are as far as we are concerned still ahead of the game in terms of this property versus some other properties we have seen, even with what we spent on the interior renovations and the foundation. Will see where we end up when it is all said and done but the bottom line is that we love the place and it is ours.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Making Up

When you care so deeply about a certain thing, your perception as well as your perspective can get clouded. Love is like that, as it involves deep emotion. It may seem odd for someone to be writing about this, not in terms of a relationship or family or a vocation but instead, in terms of a cycling sub-discipline but the honest truth is, I love single-speed cyclocross (SSCX) racing. I can't say exactly why I am so passionate about it, but I just am. For me, I love the surface level simplicity that actually lightly obscures a deeper level of intense complexity in making such a straight-forward and simplistic system work as reliably as one would just assume that it should.

You really need to keep things in perspective.
Over the years I've managed to put together a system of small tweaks and integrations that although not perfect by any stretch, seem to work very reliably for Cathy and I as well as the few other folks for whom I've set this same system up for. Other folks have developed setups that are equally as effective, but this setup is mine. I developed it, and that is something in which I take pride. I've also put together numerous other setups for people using a host of different platforms and tensioning systems. These range for simple setups that use leftover parts that most everyone has in their spare parts bin to more elaborate systems with custom components. I like them all equally and relish the challenge of making something that works and works reliably and safely.

I recently learned, the hard way, that not everyone is interested in, cares to or has the resources to do this kind of work. There are a large number of folks, dare I say the majority, for whom the the enjoyment is not in the process but in the execution, the race/ride itself. I can understand that. These are the folks that eat their meat first and only go back to the vegetables after the fact. I've always saved the meat for last and took great enjoyment from the vegetables themselves, for what they had to offer. Maybe it was because when/where I grew up, we didn't have much and, not to get all Tiny Tim on this, there wasn't much meat on the plate so what little we got, we tried to make the most of.

These life lessons from an extremely modest rural upbringing obviously shaped me on many facets. My love of building bikes comes from the fact that as I child, there was no such thing as a new, store bought bicycle for us. Bikes, for which I was obsessed for many years, were salvage, scrap or trade items that would then be laboriously cobbled and pieced together. Don't get me wrong, I loved working on bikes and I loved the process of sourcing pieces and parts. Again, we had no little or no money so it was generally a matter of bartering for the parts required with the local wholesalers, aka a couple of kids that had huge supplies of old rusted and broken bikes and parts. There was no bike shop where I grew up and there was no mail order that we knew of, or could have afforded. Still, we got by and we always had something to ride.

This passion has carried through to adulthood, where I've built hundreds of bikes up for myself as well as for friends. I ran and outfitted an entire junior development team on mostly cobbled together bikes that I built from donated and salvaged parts. Again, I took great pride in this and enjoyed every moment of it. I love being an enabler in getting folks involved and interested in cycling. It means so much to me that I just can't help myself but want to share it with others. Just ask my wife Cathy, who was not a cyclist when I met her.

Is it wrong to have two identical dedicated SSCX bikes?
Getting back to SSCX, if there has come to be a particular discipline of cycling that has come to be an embodiment of my passion for the sport, it is likely SSCX racing. I adore it and I adore the people. With that, it isn't hard to see how the events of the past couple of weeks (the Zip-Tie-Gate Conspiracy) unfolded from seemingly trivial origins into an all out feud. The bottom line, as with most spats, is that the details are not that important and that it doesn't really matter. What truly matters is what is underneath it all, the love and passion that brought you together in the first place. With that, we made up last week. I recognized a number of things that had deep meaning to me, did not have that same meaning for others. I also recognized, admitted and apologized for being a douche. The last thing that I want to do is discourage folks from cycling. I never meant to do that.

So last Saturday it was back to the races once again. Cathy and I headed to Cheshire Cross in CT, a stellar CX venue with one of my favorite courses. Very woodsy and very mountain bike with a crazy hill climb of despair that is gut wrenching and leg busting on the single-speed. We had a good size field stacked with stout competition. I'd gone back to some pretty solid training this week and was feeling pretty strong and confident that I was going to give it my all. I knew the hole shot was critical so at the whistle I pushed hard securing third spot around the first tight corner at the backstop and then pinned it coming back the long stretch to go under the lap/finish line. I kept on the gas and was first into the woods, slamming the sidewall of the tire against a rock right in the tight corner at the entry. I feared the worst but it seemed to hold.

Going up the run-up a gap opened and I went really hard down the first windy descent making really good time. I could see that I had some distance but as I got into the really bumpy up/down twisty section I felt the rear rim contacting the ground. I had a flat. Within a few seconds I was caught by the chase group as progress was hampered significantly, not wanting to destroy the rear wheel. Still I was able to move reasonably well and made it back to the pit still probably in the top 10 or so.

The sidewall on the PDX couldn't handle the pressure
Unfortunately, I'd decided to leave the spiffy new dedicated SSCX pit bike I'd built up that week at home. Worse, the spare wheelset that Cathy and I always drag with us to the races, dump in the pits and never use, was still in the van and not actually in the pit that day. Ah, Karma has a really cutting sense of humor. So I made it to the pit where Matt asked me if I needed anything. I exclaimed something like "a brain". I dropped my bike and ran out of the pit, across the parking lot and over to the upper part of the field where we had parked. I pulled the wheelset from the back of the van, which was a different set that had never been mounted on the bike before, and ran back to the pit. This got some colorful commentary from Cory who was on the microphone announcing for the event. I mounted the wheel and thank goodness, the rotor lined up relatively well. Back on the bike now well, well off the back of the race and try to move forward. According to my Garmin I later learned, I was stopped for 2:28 in the pit. Actually, not that bad all things considered.

I was disappointed as I'd felt good and was looking at this race as a test of my fitness, the fitness and motivation that had escaped me of recent but honestly, it wasn't that big a disappointment. It took the pressure off and so now it was just a matter of seeing how far back I could get. Getting through traffic on that course harkened to countless MTB races I've done where you just can't always pass when you want to. You have to wait until it is safe and reasonable for all involved. Though it can be frustrating it is part of racing, so don't be a d!ck about it. I had a great time cheering for folks and racing with them as I made progress steadily forward. I was never able to get any where near the front and missed catching Mo by a ton. She absolute ripped it as did everyone. In a desperate final push I tried to get cycling legend Funky on the line from behind but missed them in a congested finish zone. Just a little too late. The men's race came down to a wild sprint where Matt narrowly missed pipping race winner Don in a come from behind sprint finish. I was coming around the pit at that point so watched it happen. Cathy held on for third in the women's races, salvaging the team's results for the day.

All in all, a good day with some great people and lessons know, clearly re-iterated.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Love Lost

As many can attest, I am a fanatic for the single-speed (SS) bicycle. Over the years I've spent countless hours and miles as well as races aboard my SS bicycles. I've done numerous blog posts about building, racing, riding and reminiscing about my beloved SS bikes. A couple of weeks ago I posted about single-speed cyclocross (SSCX) conversion techniques. These detailed various simple and economical ways to convert a normal geared bicycle into a single-speed bicycle that met the definition of a single-speed bicycle as defined by USA Cycling. That definition, which can be found on page 30 of the USA Cycling 2014 Rule Book in Chapter I - General Regulations Section 1I: Bicycles under clause (i);

  • A Single Speed is any type of bicycle possessing only one rear cog and only one front chainring and with no means of altering the gear ratio in any way during the race.

Cassette swapped for cog and spacers
Pretty simple, right? I think so and as such, wrote a post detailing numerous simple and inexpensive ways to help make any normal cyclocross bicycle conform to the regulations and race legally in the numerous regional USA Cycling sanctioned SSCX events.

In fact, I neglected to mention this alternative before but in terms of the easiest and most cost effective solution to meet the rules would be the following. If you pull the cassette from your rear wheel and exchange it for a single speed spacer kit and cog you will need to spend $25.99. You could also just scavenge a bunch of cassette spacers from worn out cassettes and use a singe cog from an old cassette, which is what we all did back in the day and cost us nothing. Then, you remove the big ring from the crankset and swap the double chainring bolts for a set of single chainring bolts which cost $13.99 or use flat washers on the backs of the nuts to space then out a bit. You could also throw a bash ring on instead, which also costs $14 from BBG Bash Rings online. Zip-tie your shifters in place so they mate with the cogs and you are done, and legal. $39.98 and a pair of zip-ties is the cost of converting a legal single-speed. $39.98 is what people were claiming was too high a cost for many to bear, that many could not afford in order to enter a single-speed race. Roughly the cost of a case of premium beer and requiring maybe 20 minutes of time.

Why do I care enough to keep posting guides on how to easily meet the requirements? Because those are the rules, that is the definition and these are billed as single-speed races. I honestly do care about the rules, all of the rules, and I do my very best to abide by those rules at all times. I also care because there are countless disadvantages to a dedicated SSCX bike. For instance, if you skip or chain drop on an SSCX, the chain falls into oblivion not onto another cog or ring. Gear selection onsite is problematic and risky as you have to physically mess with the mechanics of the bike such as the ring or cog used as well as chain tension if not chain length. Not something you want to be doing right before a race, which is why most people (us included) don't do it. Additionally, with dedicated SS bikes, very, very few people have a spare so there are no pit bikes to speak of. Also, for many folks, their SSCX bike is a secondary piece of equipment and is not as nice or as light as their fancy carbon-fiber geared race bike, despite not having gears. Bottom line, those racing an actual SSCX bike put in the time, effort and expense to build that bike to meet the requirements and moreover, the spirit of the event. I believe that counts for something and should be rewarded, not disincented.

Out of this post came a mostly positive discussion. However, when a follow-on Facebook rant in which I was tagged took over the day's social media discussions, a lengthy diatribe ensued which at first started well but ultimately culminated in vilification of myself and another vocal SSCX purist and proponent by a small group that felt that we were being elitist and trying to undermine the efforts that they had made toward the promotion of the discipline and to the local SSCX series. Not exactly the warm and friendly feeling I'd hoped for when giving my simple, honest opinion by posting a reference to the very clear and concise rules of the competition. Social media persecution for perceived heresy.

I was completely taken aback by this as I've spent as much time as anyone personally promoting the discipline of single-speed cyclocross racing. I've dragged countless individuals into the sport and built, helped to build or consulted in the build of many of the SSCX bikes currently being raced on the circuit. I've written numerous posts on conversion and setup and have been a willing and open resource for single-speed knowledge for all who inquire. I've even offered to help people do their conversions, thrown spare parts from my stash to people to help get them in the game or just built and given dedicated SSCX bikes away.

But a few people didn't see it that way. This left me with a pretty hollow feeling when it comes to the discipline and sport I've spent years trying so hard to promote and build. I take things like this very personally and I also tend to hold grudges. Just can't seem to let it go. I'm not saying that is a good thing, just that it's the way I am. This whole ordeal has weighed heavily on my mind for the past week now. In fact, after the affair transpired I'd decided to quit racing the local SSCX series all together. However, I recanted for the race last weekend given that I had a good friend staying with us whom I'd strong-armed into building up a dedicated SSCX bike and getting in on the fun Saturday in his first SSCX race. Still, I felt awkward and out of place at the event and didn't really want to be there.

Part of the issue is that I have worked hard to build and legitimize the discipline by getting people to take it seriously and by doing my best to recruit talent into the races. I think that right there is where at least some of the rub comes in. When it comes to racing bikes, I take the race itself very seriously. After all, I am paying my (Cathy's) hard earned money to enter a race and therefore, I am going to give my all every time. However, some people do not treat racing the same way. Moreover, for some reason, they tend to align themselves with the single-speed events. I think that much is this comes from the countless large scale single-speed events that are simply glorified frat parties. As much as I love the single-speed and have had pretty good success at both SSMTB and SSCX, I've shied away from these events for the very reason they are so popular.

Here at our local races I have been a vigilant advocate of the separation of the race and the party. I'm fine with partying and hanging out and having a beer after the race is done but when the race is going on, I want to race and I want people to respect that I and everyone else on the course are racing. Why the need for the sophomoric antics and thinly veiled alcoholic tendencies anyhow? Really, beer feeds and shots before the race? How about keg stands and shotguns or maybe a mid race beer-pong or quarters match or how about buying a breathalyzer and giving bonus points to the racer who blows the highest reading. Wouldn't that be fun, and mature.I'm embellishing of course simply to make a point. When does it stop being a race and start being a party with a $25 cover charge?

I know, I'm taking it too seriously and trying to ruin it. Anyhow, I'm not sure where I'm going from here with the season or with SSCX. I guess that we will just have to see. Trying to keep it positive and I think that I had I not been in the dumps about my form, fitness and results recently this probably would not have bummed me out as much as it did. At present, I feel a commitment to my wife, friends and teammates that I have drawn into the SSCX races. They all spent their time, effort and money to build up bikes with the intent of racing them. Cathy and I also have a big investment, what with our uber-expensive dedicated SSCX bikes that some goob heckled about Saturday. (Our dedicated SSCX bikes, of which we each have one, were built from all old, used parts that we had and are based on damaged framesets which cost us nothing. They also weigh more than our geared race bikes and sport parts that are inferior to those of our geared race bikes. Sure, they may be nicer than your's but whose fault is that?).

I've been thinking that if I could convince some of the key competition as well as my wife, who is already talking about racing her SSCX in the categorized races next year, it might be fun to enter the 1/2/3 A races on the single-speeds at the smaller venues and just race each other there, for fun. I can say for certain that having so many single-speed races this season meant that I doubled up far too many times, leaving me well over-trained recently. Maybe just racing the single-speed in the A races only would be the best of both worlds, netting all the great competition as well as the fun on the single-speed without cramping the style and flair of the series. After all, I was racing the SSCX now and again in the normal geared races before there was a SSCX series and there isn't a big reason not to do it again I suppose.