Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nothing New

I hate to say it, but there really isn't much of anything new to talk about. We are deep into the end game of the regular cyclocross race season at this point. In fact, it is really starting to come down to the wire; where we are starting to look at just how many more races we can squeeze in before the season comes to a draw. Binge racing.

I can not believe that we only have four more weekends left. It is crazy how fast it flew by, yet it feels as though we have been racing cyclocross every weekend for an eternity. I've come to find over the years that cyclocross really punctuates the season and as much as it is only a small portion of the full year, defines that year. This is probably because cross is the last thing we see, freshest on our minds when we close our eyes and go to bed for the final time that year.

On other fronts, we are deep into the plans for the Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing team for 2014. For the upcoming year we are mildly expanding our existing masters men's squad with one key addition for the elite cross discipline (road, mountain biking and cyclocross) pool. Beyond that we are trying to beef up the U23 representation, male and female, to help balance out the team's median age. We are hoping to compliment the younger members we currently have and give them more of a team with whom to race when the rest of us are doing masters level events. We also hope to find people onto whom many of us old crusty cyclists can disseminate some of the lessons that we have learned over the years.

To further round the squad, we are hoping to find a couple additional masters level women, with whom Cathy can train and race such that she doesn't have to always ride with, well, me. She never complains and she always works so hard but I can tell, it isn't always all that much fun for her. That said, I suspect that Cathy has ridden with me, and the men on the team, more this year than any other. Arguably, Cathy is having the best race season that she has ever had. Coincidence? Anyhow, trying to get women who are the right fit and dynamic is a huge challenge. We have a great team put together with a really good dynamic and we are not willing to jeopardize that. Frankly, we are and can afford to be very selective. Maybe we are too selective but frankly, I'm treating this just as if I were hiring someone for a job.

In terms of racing, yea, we are still racing. A few weeks back was the Cycle Smart Verge Series Northampton race weekend. For some reason, everybody and his brother decided to show up for the race. We had almost all of the fastest guys in the East plus some of the fastest guys from out west and Canada show up. Tack that onto fairly non-technical courses that are not very good at breaking up the field and you get big groups forming during the race. On both Saturday and Sunday the lead group never really thinned to much less than six men. Most of those took tuns launching attacks at the front, mostly to no avail.

The Saturday course did have one awesome woods section (thanks JD) that did force gaps. It was about 2/3 of the way through the lap. I knew that was where I needed to make a move. A few laps into the race I gave it a shot and could see that it was possibly to get some space, but not much. With one to go I hit hard there on the front and pried a small gap open. Onto the lower field I had maybe twenty yards. Unfortunately I got into lapped traffic in the sweeping corner over the train tracks before the barriers. This racer decided to take the good inside line leaving me the wide line, which I took, but then came across right to left and put me into the tape. Thanks buddy! That was it, I was caught. I hit the pavement for the sprint in third and that was where I stayed.

Sunday saw a dumbed down course with no real technical aspects, just lots of straight flat power into hairpins and then back out. No my forte at all. I struggled with the huge ten or so person front group for the first few laps, getting accordianed off and having to sprint back. I finally recovered enough to move to second wheel. Instantly I could feel the difference and recovered some more. I planned to do the only thing that I could think of, attack hard with one to go and make the last lap brutal for everyone. Apparently Roger and I both had the same idea and attacked literally in the same spot at the same time. I slotted in behind Roger and as we came through for the last lap, more attacks occurred.

We all rode together into the top section with Paul controlling the group at the front. On a wide hairpin around a tree I took the wide line and came onto the paved path first. I wanted to get onto the fast rooty section first and try and pry a gap in the few remaining corners on the top section. This worked very slightly yielding a few precious bike lengths. Unfortunately by the time we hit the turn at the pits I was caught and left on the front. The only option was to go hard the whole final section and see what happened and that was what I did. I hit the pavement for the sprint first and instantly Paul came around. Shortly after Kenny came by absolutely flying and just at the line Steve got a wheel by me as well, leaving me fourth of the six in the lead group. I was a bit disappointed in myself for the weekend's results but honestly, with that group on those courses, I need to be realistic.

The next weekend was the Plymouth weekend. These are not by any stretch our favorite courses either, but the races are close and are run by some great folks whom we love to support. Cathy and I both decided to do the elite races each day as the time worked out well. The course Saturday ended up getting shortened at the last minute because of a field conflict with the venue. They did, however, add in the mud section from the previous year. Luckily it wasn't quite as bad, but it was still fairly miserable. In short, I was unmotivated, fat and lazy and it showed. I wanted to quit and had no will to push hard. That summed it up in a nutshell.

By Sunday though I was now pretty angry at myself for being such a sloth. The course that day was much longer and more interesting with some actual technical sections. The start was chaos fighting with guys in the first corner for position near the front. It always amazes me how hard they will fight and the risks they will take when statistics and past performances show they have no chance of maintaining that position for more than the first 500 meters of a race. It isn't just young guys either. the masters do it too. Part of racing I guess but I've found this year that within reason, the start really isn't that important. That was something that I observed long ago from Kevin Hines, one of the strongest races ever yet a man plagued with some of the worst starts I have personally observed.

After much chasing I made it to the Boloco train of Mike and Kevin and after a bit of a rest, started driving the bus up the road. We caught Max who had an ill timed dropped chain and then caught Ian and Manny as well. From there we took turns pushing hard. Unfortunately for me, coming around the backstop after the pits I either caught a pedal or slid out and was on my back looking up at Max, Kevin and Mike trying not to run over me before I even knew what happened. I did feel the searing pain in my left knee though. When I finally stood up, the knee screamed. That didn't seem just right.

After a bit I got moving, slowly and tried to ride it off. All I could think was a tear and it certainly felt like it. I yelled to Cathy as I passed that I'd wrecked my knee and considered abandoning but kept moving. I've never had a DNF in a CX race and didn't want to start. While I was contemplating my future and feeling sorry for myself, Dan and Adam passed me. That got me a little fired up again and I went back to racing as best I could with the bum knee. In the end, Dan got away but a managed to get by Adam thanks to my awesome braking performance allowing me to move faster in the technical downhill section. And that was that.

The knee was pretty sore but didn't really swell or black and blue. After a couple days I decided to see and doctor. Just a sprain they said and should be fine in no time. Excellent I said, because I plan to race on it in a couple of days. I'll tell you just how that turned out at another date.

This brings me to my last point in this post. All through this section of racing and in fact, all throughout the course of this season and this year, Cathy has been doing very, very well. She has had countless podiums and I believe we counted half a dozen wins this year between MTB and CX. Pretty impressive given the categories she competes in and the competition she has in those categories. She has worked so hard to be where she is now, not just this season but cumulatively over the past seven or eight years that we have been racing bikes. I can't tell you how proud of here I am every time she lines up and not just when she makes the podium or wins a race. It is when she shows up week after week for the Turkey Vulture rides when so many men, do not. She is often still there on the ride after so many men, are not. It certainly has made her stronger though.

Friday, November 08, 2013


Why does it seem that everything is better in pairs? Maybe that is just the way that the world was meant to work. I don't know but in this house, where Cathy and I pretty much do everything together, as a team, what that all boils down to is that we end up lots of pairs of everything. That holds for skis, sleds, snowshoes, recliners and of course, bicycles.

As mentioned previously, the latest addition to our vastly diversified fleet of sporting goods is a fat tired snow bike. To be more specific, that was the addition of my spiffy new Charge bikes Cooker Maxi. Mine showed up last week and I put it together and did a couple of small rides on it with good success. That said, it has yet to see the snow or even the sand for that matter.

Maybe I'll take it for CX practice next week though and see how it does in the sand. I'd bet that the hot laps in the field would be a little brutal though. On second thought, after just how brutally hard this week's Wednesday night practice on the SSCX bike, maybe that would be a bad idea.

So anyhow, yesterday Cathy's Charge Cooker Maxi showed up at the shop. I built it up and last night we went out for a short and super easy in the wet on the bike path. Fun stuff and the fit seems to be just about perfect. I'll make a few minor upgrades with parts that I have lying around but for the most part, the bike will remain stock.

Now we just need some actual snow to try them out on. From what the weather forecast is currently saying, that may actually happen next week. Will see.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Come to the Dark Side

 The latest in what I hope will be a steady stream has come to the dark side, of single-speed cyclocross (SSCX) that is. I just finished putting the final touches on Ben's spiffy new Felt dedicated SSCX bike.

This was an Ebay slightly used Felt alloy frameset with a BB30 BB shell that we converted over to a completely legit SSCX using the Beer Components EBB30. I have been using those things for about four years now and Cathy has been on them for a couple. They are on the expensive side but work very well. The results yield a real deal SSCX bike that does a great job of tensioning the chain accurately and effectively.

The parts are a mix of things that I've come to find over the years, hold the best bang for the buck. Tektro brake levers, Tektro mini V-brakes, 3/32" Sinz BMX 40 tooth chainring, carbon-fiber outer guide ring, loose freewheel spacers and a pair of guides on sandwiching the rear 17 tooth Surley steel cog made from old cassette cogs. For a chain I've had the best luck with cheap 8 speed chains. Less stretch than with the SRAM PC-1 dedicated SS chain and significantly less weight. The cranks are Shimano CX-70 compact which are great for the job. I actually prefer the Shimano over the FSA but the FSA Gossamer MegaExo are a close second.

All told, this is a pretty sweet rig for pretty short dough. Hopefully Ben will dig it as much as Cathy and I like ours. Honestly, I wish we had more SSCX events around. I know, I can race it in the normal races. Truth be told, it doesn't actually make that much of a difference, at least in my opinion.

Glorified Ladder

Recently, I had the opportunity to take on a fairly straight forward but fun design and woodworking project. A couple of friends had some open space overhead in one of their bedrooms with a vaulted ceiling. The space is small but works well for storage. The problem was that there was no means of access, other than pulling yourself up there on the supporting beams. Not ideal in any way.

The room was also too small, as was the overhead space, to warrant a full staircase. The idea was naturally to put a ladder in. There was already an angled wall in the bedroom that logically lead up to the space. This wall was the back side of the cellar stairway, which was in the front hallway.

I took a look at the space and thought that a fixed ladder would do the trick and could also be removed if necessary. There were space limitations both in width, where my friends though that they may want to add some shelving along the bordering wall, and also in depth as we needed to clear the nearby doorway. I took some measurements and then started to think about designs.

What I came up with was a glorified 10' long by 2' wide ladder made from 2x8" fir. The stair treads would be 2x8" and would be inset 1/4" into the rails, also made of the same 2x8" fir. The pitch of the angled wall that the ladder would mount against, the back wall of the basement staircase, was steep. It was 55 degrees in fact. That put it right in the danger zone of too steep for stairs but not quite steep enough for a ladder. The difference between the two that we care about is in how you climb or more, descend. Stairs you walk up and then walk down, both facing in the direction that you are moving. A ladder however, you climb up with all fours and descend the same way, simply in reverse. The plan was to be able to very carefully descend these like traditional stairs, which was why I opted for the 2x8" vs. 2x6". Either would have supported the load of a single person just fine, especially given that the unit mounted against a wall so didn't really support much of any load.

In terms of construction, this was a job that made lots of sawdust and wood-chips. All of the wood had to be milled to give it finish quality and get it to common dimensions. That meant thickness planing all of it. Two garbage barrels of wood shavings later they were set. Then I rounded all of the edges off with the router, making loads more chips. Next I laid the spacing out on the rails for each of the steps and then went to work on designing and building a jig that would allow me to mill the recesses in the rails for the ends of the steps. By insetting them slightly the overlap would carry the load, reducing the strain on the hardware used to physically secure the steps to the rails. I planned to use a pair of countersunk 3.5" deck screws on each side of each step mounted through the outside of the rail along with wood glue on the joint. I chose 1/4" depth as I didn't want to remove too much material from the rails, weakening them. The jig worked fine and I cut the recesses with my router and a 1/2" straight bit set at 1/4" depth. Lots more wood chips though.

The hardest part was actually lining it all up and putting it together, which eventually required some help from Cathy. Finally though I got it together and ready to go. My idea for mounting the unit was to have the ladder a bit longer than the wall that it leaned against such that it stuck up above the floor of the storage space. This would allow me to put some hardware in place to affix the ladder in a free floating fashion at the top. It could also have a quick and easy means of disconnecting it in case you wanted to pull it out.

The hardware design I came up with centered around 3' length of 3/4" black steel pipe/nipple (which means it was threaded on both ends). My plan was to lag bolt pieces of 1.5" angle iron to the floor and have them cantilever out to the outside center of the ladder. I drilled holes in the angle iron beforehand through which I could run the pipe. With the ladder in place, I lined it all up and bored the holes in the ladder rail through which the pipe would run. I put it all together and then lag bolted the angle iron to the floor with a pair of 5/16" lag bolts. I finished it off by screwing end caps onto each end of the nipple, which would keep the pipe in place but could be easily removed. The ladder was able to free float against the wall and also had about 9" of left/right movement if you so desired to reposition it.

The last thing I added was a railing. This was a simple unit made from more 3/4" black steel pipe and fittings. In this case it consisted of two 16" nipples, one 5' nipple, four 90 degree elbows, two close nipples and two closet flanges. I then screwed the railing to the outside rail and that completed the project.

In the end, the pitch wasn't as bad as I was afraid it might be. In fact, the basement staircase we have at our place in Maine is way worse. You certainly want to pay attention but you can comfortably descend them like normal stairs. Success. More importantly, Ben and Rebecca liked them, which is the best part of doing projects like this.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Evening Sunset

It was a pretty amazing sunset this evening, even view from between the trees in the back yard. Pink sky at night. Should mean good things for tomorrow's racing action out in Northampton, MA. Let's hope so as the weather for Sunday seems to be a bit more questionable, at least I hope.