Friday, November 16, 2012

Same Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2012

Get off the Table

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

Get off the table!

All About the SS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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