Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Wheels Came Off

I've always had my fair share of issues with wheels. Lets face it, they are a core component of a bicycle and arguably get the most use and abuse. I'm a big guy and I tend to ride fairly aggressively, which stresses the key component, often beyond their limits.

This past season I've had numerous issues involving the wheels, ranging from those as simple as flat tires during races and as catastrophic as demolished wheels. Starting with the simplest, the flat tire, I had one in a fast crit for which I was able to get a neutral change without issue, a double flat in a cross race, which at the time I was leading and the very next day I had two flats in one MTB race that resulted in my first ever MTB DNF. The funny thing is that I'm a stickler for tire pressure and will always opt for higher pressure and live with the handling consequences. My thought is always that it's really hard to win a race with a flat tire and on training rides, I don't want to be that guy that everyone else has to wait for while they fix a flat. Learn to work with what you have; it will make you better in the long run.

The Ksyrium couldn't handle the pressure.

Beyond the simple flat, and one case of shredded sidewall on my trusty old Nokian MTB studs, I rolled a tubular cross tire off the rim in one race and I also dropped the chain and wedged it between the cassette as spokes such that it could not be extracted during another race. I also tore the free-hub body off from the hub-shell of my wheel in a late season single-speed cross race. Beyond those, I also had the displeasure of getting caught in a crash that happened in a cross race as I overtook a nervous lapped racer who crossed from one side of the trail to the other and then crashed in front of/into me. The other person off the front of the race with me plowed into me a punched a neat hole in my spiffy new Reynolds carbon-fiber tubular rear wheel.

Result of the patched carbon fiber rim puncture.

The puncture was hopefully primarily non-structural and I was able to patch my Reynolds rim though, with the help of some epoxy and some carbon-fiber cloth, which by the way is nearly impossible to cut into small pieces without it falling apart. I finally gave up and just inlaid some of the carbon fiber strips across the hole, embedded in the epoxy resin. I've had good luck then using a piece of slick, texture-less vinyl over the top of the wet epoxy which I then lay a piece of half inch closed cell foam over and wrap with an old inner-tube section to mold the surface of the patch to match the rim surface. The result is a smooth repair that matches the rim's profile nicely.

This is why I think rim brakes are stupid.

Most recently, last Sunday in fact, my lightly used Power Tap wheel laced to a Mavic Open Pro rim decided that it had had enough and split on the brake track. I'm no stranger to the catastrophic failure of Mavic rim brake rims. In fact, I've got a couple other Open Pro's in the basement that could be long lost twins to the one on my Power Tap wheel. The up side to this story is that it happened literally as I was turning onto my street to finish my ride and not when I was 20 plus miles from home. Also, I noticed it and was able to air down the tire before the pressure blew the rim apart, sending shards of sharp aluminum spiraling everywhere. That is always a really fun sight and sound. Who would have guessed that using a primary structural component of machine as a wear item could lead to problems?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Big Loop

For a number of years, we have been referring to one of our general MTB routes as 'the big loop'. This actually finds it's roots in the old BAD-ASS (Bedford Area Daring All-terrain Sixty Something) ride, which was started back in the last century and ran for a few years in a row. The ride was an all-terrain metric century and was modeled after the ATMC, an excellent, well planned and well led ride that traveled from Boston to the North Shore, linking together numerous known riding destinations with chunks of conservation land and minimal sections of roadway. Some where along the way it was also determined that rides of this magnitude should only be completed on single-speed bikes and so the trend started and so it has been since.

A few years back the BAD-ASS was resurrected and ended up being the tightest of the rides we'd ever run, also laying down the most distance ever with 76 off-road miles. All was going well and we were almost complete, literally just a couple miles of rail-road bed from home when a final sprint started up and the chase ensued when disaster struck and Davy crashed broke himself. This necessitated emergency personnel and evacuation.

Over the years we have tuned and refined a big off-road loop that incorporates many or most of the same trails and certainly the same principle areas. Beginning last year I started to add a new destination area into the mix, Russell Mill in Chelmsford. So in general, the 'the big loop' will include aspects of Estabrook Woods and Great Brook State Park, starting from and finishing in Bedford and using public ways and conservation lands as connector trails. This will result in a 30 - 50 mile ride depending on the level of possible trail usage that is completed in each respective area.

To that there are a couple of other wild-card options that can be added, the PR and Russell Mill. Both areas are comprised of tight and twisty trails where the miles add up much slower than in the other areas. Typically the PR would be hit first and would net about 15 miles but would take more than an hour and a half to get through, best case. The railroad bed connector to Estabrook Woods is about 5 miles and is really fast and then the woods themselves are mostly colonial era roadways which are rocky, rooted and pock-marked which beats you up, but still travels pretty quickly. In fact, most of the rest of the trails except for a few more technical trails in Great Brook are fast.

However, adding Russell Mill in puts the most technical trails well into the second half of the ride, at the furthest point from home. It also means that you increase the risk of mechanical and physical issues late in the game. On the upside, the trails are very good and a complete run through the area doesn't take but an hour or so. The addition of these trails also puts the trip mileage total in the 45 - 85 range, depending of course on how much of the previous areas you rode prior to your arrival in Russell Mill and of course, how much you end up doing on the way back home.

At present we have not attempted the full loop with all of Russell Mill. If this was done using the same terrain choice as during the last BAD-ASS we would be pushing nearly 90 miles. That's a serious amount of miles on a mountain bike and a whole lot of time in the saddle. For rides like this, the rule of thumb is 10 mph as the average and that is if you maintain pretty good momentum and don't suffer from technical issues. It also assumes minimal stops all together. Of course, the bigger and more diverse the group, the less likely that is to happen and the longer you would need to plan.

That brings us to this past weekend. Saturday was sunny, but cool and windy. Not a great day to be out on the road suffering. The normal ride group (aka Johnny Mo and I) geared up for some extended off-road, I on my aging Sworks Epic 26er and he on his spiffy new Epic Carbon 29er. We got a bit of a late start as we needed to monkey around with the chain keeper on his single front ring which had allowed the chain to drop but disallowed it from being put back in place. Those keepers are excellent at that; keeping the chain off when it drops and ensuring that you will never get it back on without removal of the guide.

The plan was to hit the PR and beyond (with my personal goal being a 50 mile ride) and see what happened. John also neglected to obtain any tubes for his new wheel platform but did have a nifty patch kit with him. We were off and started ripping the mostly frozen, dry leaf covered, tight and twisty trails. Traction was good when trails were bare but the corners with leaf cover were slick and required extra attention. Soon John requested a stop to extract air from his nearly semi slick race tires. I cautioned lightly but mostly bit my tongue.

Some time later more air was coming out and later again a bit more. It was shortly there after that all of the air was extracted from the rear tire with the first flat. This hole was found and patched and re-inflated to a more reasonable pressure. Unfortunately, it was assumed that the hole was a pinch-flat but as it turns out, it was likely a thorn which resulted in a slow leak, resulting in a snakebite in almost the same location on the tube of all things. I discovered and extracted the thorn while John applied patches two and three and re-aired the tire.

After that we looped a bit more and made our way out and towards Estabrook Woods with a pit stop at the local bikeshop for some tubes. Naturally because we now had spare tubes there were no further flats. In fact, the rest of the ride all of the way through Estabrook and by Kimball's and past the Llama's and into Great Brook was mainly nondescript save for some extended sections of deep snow as we entered Great Brook. We also encountered some deadfall and brush in the trails as well as quite a bit of packed snow on the XC ski trails, but for the most part it was all rideable.

It wasn't until we made our way to Russell Mill that it dawned on John that this little adventure was taking up some serious time and that he actually head a deadline that we may need to work at in order to meet. We did a few trails but cut it a bit short and started heading directly back. Shortly after exiting the area John's drive side crank arm loosened and started to fall off. This also caused the chain to fall off. The ride home was going to be direct and at a gingerly pace. At that point in the day it was fine with me. We bombed back on the road until we jumped onto the old Billerica narrow gauge railroad bed and spun our way back to Bedford. Total mileage was short of the goal but not by much. We had 48 according to my computer and 46 according to my GPS with just under 4.5 hours moving time. A solid haul.

All in all, a great first shot of the season at 'the big loop' and a great day on the mountain bike. Now of course it has me lusting for a new rig. Will see how that goes though. My current rig though a few years old is just fine.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Winter's Clutches

It just won't give up. This really is the real deal, a true winter. Officially we are now into spring. We have an extra hour of light in the evenings. The early spring flower should be poking their heads up and the trees should be starting to bud. Instead, at the moment, it is 23 degrees outside with the high temperatures today expected to hover just above freezing.

On the up side, if one was so inclined, there is still excellent XC skiing to be had up north. I checked out the conditions at Bretton Woods Nordic center at the Mount Washington Hotel and they have most terrain open with huge base depths still and a solid 6" of new snow in the past day. I've got to admit, I considered piling into the car and going for it but just couldn't bring myself to do so.

So, what is on tap instead? Well, for today it looks like the plan will be to wait until the heat of the day and start a local four or so hour road, I mean MTB ride at 10AM. It's not all that bad really. The sun is out and the wind is calm so it won't be that terrible if you don't overheat and get clammy and have to stop and then freeze to death. Actually, all told, the weather has been cool but fairly dry so I'll take it any time. Riding in a cold rain really isn't so much fun and we have been lucky not to have to deal with it this year, so far anyhow.

Spring in New England. Fun times for sure.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Let the Season Begin

Like it or not, mother nature decided that a couple of weeks back should be the official start of the spring season. She did so with a batch of rain followed up by some warm weather and added in extended alternations of sun, warm, rain and fog. This basically ensured that the local snow pack, which had been stellar all winter, would be decimated in the course of a week. That which it appeared would never subside, namely the 6' high snowbanks that abounded, quickly shrunk and shriveled to dirty little shadows of their former selves. The roads have also widened up, dried out to an extent and motorists can actually see over and around the remainder of the snowbanks. This means we are safe to hit the roads.

Unfortunately, in the shelter of the wooded areas the snow is still a force in many places, though our local trails are mostly clear and off-road riding is once again possible. With that, last week during our glimpse of spring, I stole away for a quick MTB ride in the PR before the planned road hill ride was to take place. It was a really, really nice day and it felt good to be out on the trails, if only for a brief time. Of course, I was wildly overdressed and melted down but that helped me to dress more appropriately for the evening ride.

On one hand I'm a bit sad that winter is gone, for all intents and purposes. I was really having fun doing something fresh and different rather than just being about the bike all of the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about the bike all of the time, but I really had fun being about the skate skis and XC skis this winter as well. It felt really good to be doing something different.

Two weeks ago was the first week that I was able to ride in earnest, logging over 200 for the week. It was a bit of a shock to the system to go from a max of 8 hours a week in the saddle this year and only 3 hours the previous week up to 12 hours and then almost 16 last week. This week has been good so far as well so far and I hope to put in another good batch this weekend. I've got to say that the 4 plus hour rides are tough at the point but we have been able to get in a couple of good weekends with back to back near 4 hour rides on Saturday and Sunday.

I'm at the point though, where I am physically tired so will be due for some legit downtime next week I think. Last year there was no cutoff/break and I was able to put in big miles and hours even in January. That of course, took it's toll later in the season when I burned out and faded all fall. My resolution is to not fall into that trap again this year. Really, this time I mean it.

In order to combat that fade this year, I'm trying to ride smarter. Part of my issue last year was that I allowed my self back into the comfortable arms of riding every day, for fairly long hours, moderately hard. This made me really good at going for a long time at a moderately hard pace. Unfortunately I had no top end and I was tired all of the time. Who'd have guessed? This year my plan is all about extremes. When riding, my intent is to either be suffering harder than I am used to suffering or be going really, really easy. The time in between needs to be minimized and I need to stop getting caught in the trap of going on an easy group ride for a recovery ride. That trick never works.

What I have found to be a good recovery ride is riding my SS MTB on the bike-path. It's flat and the SS MTB gearing acts as a governor to keep it real. An hour of that and the legs actually feel good at the end without being taxed. For the hard days I try and spend as much time at the front hammering as I can. I'm also trying to push it a little past the point where I would normally crack and back off as well, again trying to push my comfort level with discomfort. It's all about what you are used to. On a larger scale, I'm also listening to my body. If I feel really bad or my knees/legs are really sore, going out a hammering again may not be the best bet. Common sense, eh?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ride Disclaimers

I've been leading rides for almost 20 years now and have come to realize a few things in that time. People are basically stupid and inconsiderate beings. They will show up late and expect everyone to wait for them, they will do stupid things on the ride, they will treat a ride like a race, they will wildly overestimate their abilities and level. The list simply goes on and on.

To compensate for this over the years, I've basically pared my ride list down to exactly those that act as expected, in what to me is an acceptable fashion. Needless to say that is a small list. I also love to employ "ride list jail", which is simply that if you do something I disapprove of, I remove your name from my ride list for a certain period of time. This of course is at my discretion as the ride leader.

Here is a list of the types of things that could land you in list jail;

  • Showing up late (not a big issue as I won't wait)
  • Showing up on time with a broken bike that makes you late
  • Coming to a ride with a bike in known disrepair (slow leak for instance)
  • Not showing up at all
  • Inviting others to a closed ride
  • Riding in the middle of the road
  • Intentionally slowing the pace to chat it up
  • Riding off the front and past intersections when unaware of the route
  • Generally acting stupid or inconsiderate

I also have typical reactions for a number of these irritants, beyond removal from "the list". If I hear chatting behind me I assume the pace is too low, so if at all possible, I up the pace. If someone goes off the front without knowing the route and continues past an intersection without questioning directions of the ride leader, I take exception and will typically turn if at all possible forcing said individual to chase back on. This is also a good time to attack.

Below is a message that I sent out to the club about a potential road training ride that I'm thinking about organizing. If any of the 4 people that are reading this have any ride organization and leading experience, you will know what a chore something as simple as coordinating a bicycle ride can be. Too strong?

Anyone up for some training rides this spring? I'm thinking about getting a Tuesday night ride going from the end of the MinuteMan Bikeway in Bedford starting at 5:30PM. These would be solid 2 - 3 hour rides with no stops and solid race level pace. A couple of us did the first of these types of ride this past Tuesday and went out to Harvard and back through Stow.

I would see this as a difficult Cat3/4 level ride. I'm sure that there are strong Cat5's out there who can hang as well. Pace will be hard and breaks will be few. Attacks and sprints will prompt a regroup but falling off the back at tempo would not necessarily. This means left for dead would be the rule. I know that sounds scary and awful but the point is for everyone to get their workout in. Let's just call it tough love, but we have all been there.

As with all of my rides, start time would be prompt, as in we leave when we say we are leaving, period. I realize that things come up and there is traffic or whatever but frankly, that's your problem, not the group's, and they will not be made to suffer from it. Besides, a late start will give you excellent practice in bridging a gap and chasing back on. Also, I'm very mindful of traffic laws, especially riding two abreast in traffic. If you want to ride all over the road and be inconsiderate of others, or ride next to a buddy chatting, this would be a bad ride for you to attend, once. Chatting behind me when I'm at the front makes me think we're not going hard enough. I also don't want to get hit by your flying dead corpse and bike debris when you get clocked by a UPS truck while riding left of the yellow line on a blind corner.

With that disclaimer, anyone interested?

Let me know.

First local MTB ride of the season yesterday in the PR.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just Helping

Looks like a pair of someones are in need of some attention this morning. Fortunately I've got them doing reviews of some changes that I'm working on.

"Wow, your job sucks."

Monday, March 14, 2011

First Tandem Ride of the Season

Despite a forecast that claimed partial sun, yesterday morning started out rainy, cold and overcast. Fortunately the wind was fairy calm and we were graciously granted an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day, albeit at the expense of an hour of sleep to start the day. What better way to celebrate than on the tandem.

In spite of the actual weather, Cathy and I rode over to PK's and met up with he and a motley crew of folks for a short but sweet tandem jaunt. They suffered for about an hour and half before heading back to PK's for some snacks.

We were in search of another hour of misery to bookend the hour block of pain we had on the way to the ride. This worked well and we finished out the day with just shy of 3.5 hours in the saddle and about 61 miles. Of course as we were almost home, the cloud cover broke and the sun poked it's head out. I can live with that though and did not feel the need to head back out into the new found sun for more. The early season Saturday-Sunday one-two put a mighty smack on my legs and I was left reeling. Good times for sure and an indicator that lots of pain is yet to be had in the upcoming weeks.

Is this thing working?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Friday Vacation at Jackson XC

This winter has been a truly great winter if you like to participate in winter activities that require snow. Although we were on early track to break records, it was not a record year, at least, not so far. The early winter was brutal with multiple storms weekly, multiple weeks in a row. This pushed the snow-pack to points that we had not seen in years. Even after the snow tapered last month, there was enough to keep the conditions relatively consistent. Up north they rebounded from a slow early season start to get a spectacular year. The conditions for XC skiing and snowmobiling have been superb.

Last weekend we took Friday off, made the break, and headed north to get in one more weekend of snow fun. We were not disappointed. Despite a cool start with -12F Friday morning, there was a promise of daily highs in the 20's so we packed up and headed to Jackson Touring Center for some skate skiing. By the time we arrived the temp was in the high teens and the sun was bright. The battle plan was to try something different and do the east side first. It had been years since we had skied that area and memory didn't hold it too highly.

Conditions were about as good as you could ask for.

What we didn't realize, but were told by the ticket agent, was that a great deal of development had been done on that side. The map showed numerous small loop trails and lots of up and down as well as a bunch of flat field runs. To get to the trails, which link together the Wentworth golf course and resort as well as a number of other Inn's, you cross the road, ski through a field and then start up.

The initial climb is a good one and a shock as well, given that you are not fully warmed up and in fact, barely started skiing. At the top you cross another road and then you are on the trail system. There are loops in the fields and a number of loop trails off the main trail, the Wave. These trails are side hill, up and down, roller-coaster rides and were a ton of fun. We hit those trails as well as making a number of loops on the trails in the various fields and golf greens, basically linking up almost everything on that side. Back down to the visitor center and we grabbed some lunch at the J-Town Deli, logging 15 miles and one and half hours moving.

That's enough given that I can barely move.

After lunch we were tired but opted for another crack at the Ellis River trail out and back. This meant nice gradual up on the way out and downhill on the way back. The plan was to go as far as we felt comfortable and turn back. I decided that I was going for the Rocky Branch parking lot off RT16, which is the end of the Ellis River Trail. Cathy opted for a little less. The final push to the lot was torture and the last few miles on the way back I was on fumes. Finished up for the day nearly crippled but with 30 miles in 3:03 moving time in the pain bank. My longest XC ski day ever.

It never ceases to amaze me what can be done with the right equipment in the hands of seasoned professionals. From trail design to grooming, to the facilities and staff, Jackson rocks. We changed up, visited with our friend Mark who was manning the ski shop at the Jackson Touring Center did some shopping as well. I'm a sucker for a sale, especially when it's on good quality ski gear that is really tough to find. From there it was back to J-Town for some coffee for the trip back through Pinkham Notch and home to Bethel. What a great day.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

In Search of Dirt

This has been a long winter. A real winter, as any hearty old Yankee would delight in telling you. We are now into our 3rd complete month of having snow cover for the entire month here in New England. This doesn't happen all that often. We typically get a break at some point or in the case of last year, we have very little snow at all.

I remember back to December when we were waiting for the snow to come, and it seemed as though it would never get here. The week before Christmas we finally got a taste, a small taste though which still left it possible to ride bikes off-road. We took full advantage of this and got in some great rides. After Christmas we got a good solid dumping of snow, which allowed us to break out into the woods on the skinny skis for some new found adventure and fun. Just before New Years the weather changed again and we got nailed with a whole lot of warm and rain, which decimated the snow. This once again allowed us back on the trails, albeit with studded tires this time, for some good old fashioned rutted misery.

It wasn't long though a winter took hold for good. January was marked by weekly double shot snowstorms, perpetual shoveling and battling ice dam(n)s. Looking back, it is literally a blur of moving snow from one place to another, and possibly to yet another as area 2 was only an intermediate staging area for the snow to finally lay. In a word, crazy. February was much much lighter on the snow and we got glimpses of spring weather but it did little to make headway into the snow-pack. Worse yet, the snow was frequent enough to the snow at a solid level and never let the trails really pack in enough with foot traffic to make them rideable, at least not locally. This made for some excellent skiing but not a whole lot of riding. In fact, I am currently 800 miles below where I was at this point last season. That said, I have gotten 289 miles in cross-country skiing so far this year and it doesn't look like we are quite done yet.

This past Saturday, after receiving some more snow here in the latter part of the week, we were torn as to what to do. We could do a day trip north for some XC ski in fresh powder, which isn't actually all that much fun, stay local on cold wet roads for a road ride, or make a break for the Cape and see what we got. I'd seen recent intel from Hill Junkie, JB and the NEMBA forum as to conditions so was confident that we should be OK. With that, we printed some maps, packed up the single-speeds and headed for Nickerson State Park in Brewster/Orleans. I had never ridden at that area before so didn't know the trails at all.

It occurred to us as we were driving, and driving, and driving, that Orleans is a really long ways away. I'd forgotten as it had been years since I'd spent time in that part, or any part for that matter, of Cape Cod. This was the general area of the first mountain bike race I ever did, way back in 1992, the Surf 'n Dirt race. The race was just the other side of town but was on very similar trails to those at Nickerson, and ToT and Otis; primarily old moto trails.

We arrived, parked at the main entrance lot and quickly scouted out a bush. Once that was set, we suited and hit the trails to begin our quest. Luckily there had been a dusting of snow overnight and there were some tire tracks on many of the trails. We followed them and pieced together what we could, taking opportunities to explore side trails and basically just meander. This isn't fast and you never end up covering as much ground as you would like but you do get to see new things and it is a great way to learn an area. It also has the effect of making a relatively small area seem very vast. Of course, this is the Cape where thorns are plentiful. Less than an hour in and I got a flat, a great big thorn through the tire puncturing the tube. This left us with only one spare between us. Hopefully it would suffice else we would have to cut the exploration short.

About 2 hours into the ride we ran into another biker, who offered to lead us around a bit. This was a welcome change and although many of the trails that we hit were repeats of stuff we had done in reverse, we did find some new to us trail as well. All in all, a great ride and we were both whupped at the end. Something about the Cape, which is never flat, and a single-speed making for a taxing ride. The total was 3.5 hours and a little under 23 miles. No records here and we never made it to the stretch of trail along RT6 that was visible from the highway but good for an initial explore and great to be out on the bike on actual dirt. The trip was finished off by a visit to the Land Ho, an old sponsor of the Surf 'n Dirt race, for some food and a drink before the long trip home. A good day for sure.