Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Year's Camp Projects

Completed basement bedroom
It's hard to believe just how quickly the summer flew by this year. I know that I say that every year, but this one really got away from me. Just looking back at the last time I sat down and took the time to write something is a good indicator of that. Hard to believe that it was a half a year ago.

This morning Cathy left early on a business trip to NY for a couple of days. The airport limo service picked her up at 4:45AM. I'd planned to get up and see her off then head back to bed. Of course, as is often the case, my mind started wandering and I started fixating on all the things that I needed to get done. Wrapping Christmas gifts, preparing others, grocery shopping. And writing a post that I'd started months ago, this post. Alas, I thought that I'd made more progress than just the first sentence.

This was meant to be a recap of all of the things that Cathy and I got accomplished at our vacation home, our cottage, cabin or camp as it is more commonly referred to in Vermont. Lots of things happened and for the most part, we had a pretty dramatic transformation with this iteration of work activity.

Stairs are actually a ladder
As of the close of last year, we had the new foundation all buttoned up with full drainage and landscaping completed and numerous improvements to the deck and deck stairs. I'd also begun doing some of the framing of the basement partitions but had not gotten very far at all. Nor had I started any of the wiring for lights or outlets, so as you can imagine, the first bit of framing included lots of working off from extension cords to steal power from the sole outlet we'd wired to date in the basement. There were also nearly no lights down there, so portable light sources were made use of.

This year's focus was to be on the interior of the basement, finishing it off into usable living space.
The plan was to make a master bedroom so we could move away from the open, one room camp layout we previously had. Getting the bed out of the open, main floor space would free us up to make a small living room area. Also in the new basement we planned to have a combination entry room/office with some racks and hangers for outer wear but also a full desk space setup for Cathy to work at. In addition to those rooms we would also do another 3/4 bath in the area that housed the plumbing, hot water heater and expansion tank.

New loft ladder 
The final addition to the basement space would be cutting a passage between the floors to make a stairway. Really, the stairway was just a glorified ladder as we were still severely challenged for space. The intent was to re-use the ladder that I'd built for the upstairs, to get up to the loft. Never throw anything away, especially anything that works well and took a fair amount of time and thought, if not money, to produce. It turned out that although this ladder made it relatively easy to get to the loft, it took up more space than we really wanted to part with. So, I made a new, slightly narrower and slightly steeper ladder to replace the old ladder.

Late last winter I got much of the framing for the partitions completed. You can read about that here in a previous post. I went with simple 2x4 construction with pressure treated everywhere it was touching concrete. This was anchored to the concrete with lots of Tapcon concrete screws. For the wall covering I used lots of V-groove pine in the office, bedroom and bathroom. Then I used versatile and resilient, paintable exterior grade molded press-board siding panels on the outer side of the main divider wall. These were then painted a nice warm, neutral color. Wiring was done through the walls on new lines to the new breaker sub-panel that we had put in the basement. The trim was all done with simple and rustic 3/4" pine which I stained with a whitewash combination stain and sealer. The hope was to keep it as light as possible as it aged.

One side project I did along the way was to put together a small, sliding barn door. I'd had some antique barn door hardware with cast trolleys and a steel track stashed away for years, waiting for a project. I figured that this would be a good way to use it, to make a door that closed off the entryway and Cathy's office from the rest of the basement. Plus, it would be a fun excuse to build a door and use the hardware. The construction of the door was done with simple fir 2x6", a piece of vinyl lattice and some 1x6" pine bead board.

Barn door
I made simple 3/4" wide x 1" deep dado grove cuts lengthwise into the stiles of the door frame. I then cut matching 3/4" wide x 1" deep tenons into the ends of the rails of the four door rails. I also cut the same lengthwise dado grooves into the inner edges of the two outer stiles and on both edges of the inner stiles. Deeper mortise and tenon work would have been stronger but is a massive pain in the butt. It also starts to become counter productive when done my hand given the tolerance and the overlap of remaining material on each side of the mortise, namely 1/4", which isn't that much material to be structurally effective when running a 2" deep mortise cut to receive the tenon.

The bead board then was cut to fit into the main panels of door and the 1/4" thick lattice, with simple 1/4" thick shims on either side of it to take up the gap space, made up the top portion of the door. I wanted this open to promote light and air flow while still being able to keep the animals confined to the other portion of the house. It was assembled with wood glue, clamped together to dry and also screwed through the stiles into the tenon of the rails. I then stained and sealed it with the whitewash stain/sealer combo and installed the trolley hardware, which I'd painted the same burgundy color that I'd used on other hardware in the camp. It came out OK and reminds me of a horse stable for some reason. A perfect rustic feel.

LED lights and ceiling soffit
For the ceiling I wanted to use some that was lightweight, light colored, impervious to moisture and easily removable. This was the basement ceiling after all and wires would be run in there. Access to that wiring or future expansion of wiring, or possibly heating duct would be necessary. That got me thinking about exterior grade options for the ceiling. The easy choice, because it was relatively inexpensive, easy to obtain and easy to work with, was vinyl soffit. This material simply locks together with a simply joint, and can be easily cut to size with tin shears. It is lightweight and flexible as well and can be easily removed, at least the way that I installed it which was suspended by the edges with overhanging pine.

Office LED lights and doorway
This method worked really really well for short runs up to a couple of feet. My hope was that it would be rigid enough for a four foot span, which it is though it sags a bit in the middle. This is annoying but benign, at least at the moment. By that I mean, it hasn't fallen down. The sag gives the feeling of a fabric canopy in the bedroom, which has the longest span at almost four feet, somewhat resembling a canopy bed or a large circus tent. If the free floating soffit fails I will simply affix it with screws through the nail fin in the recessed lip, the way it was meant to be installed. For now, it works pretty much as I'd hoped it would.

For lighting I used a host of different things. In the bedroom I put a pair of switched wall mount lights above the corners of the headboard. The bathroom got a wall mount triple bulb light fixture. In the hall and office, where we wanted good work light, I used near self contained LED lights that screw into a standard E26 light socket, covering the socket with it's own simple shell. They provide excellent light, are relatively cheap and very easy to replace if necessary. The porcelain E26 socket is also very very inexpensive and easy to wire. 

Completed basement bedroom
The bedroom was the first thing to be completed, though just about the final thing to be implemented. That was for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to have a bathroom easily accessible from the bedroom so as not to have to go up and down a ladder in the middle of the night. The bedroom was also standalone and was fairly simple to complete. Frame it, wire it, put the pine up, install the ceiling, paint the concrete wall, which I did with a nice warm burnt orange, install the floor and then trim it out. I know, that sounds easy and a pro could hammer it out in no time. For me though, that little sentence represented a couple of weeks of effort, anyhow. Still, the project moved forward pretty quickly. 

For the flooring, I banked on the space being relatively dry and went with locking composite floating flooring over tongue and groove interlocking, floating basement subfloor panels. This allowed for air space between the concrete and the subfloor via plastic egg crate material. A layer of foam went between the subfloor and the floating floor creating a moisture barrier which I hoped would keep the composite flooring from absorbing too much moisture. 

Worst case, I figured that at $.79/square foot my investment was low. So far, so good and man, did we get some humidity this past summer. The work that I did last year on the basement, to seal it and properly drain it did wonders. We ran a dehumidifier through the summer which was constantly pulling moisture out and we kept the large windows in the front and side of the walkout basement closed when it was hot or humid, but by and large it wasn't too bad.

In hindsight, I found a flooring option that I much prefer. I used that flooring solution in other parts of the basement including the hallway and the bathroom. It is simple interlocking, puzzle style closed cell foam flooring. We found some online that is printed to look like wood grain or cork. We went with the cork and it is awesome. It provides cushion as well as insulation and is waterproof and easy to work with. It's also fairly inexpensive.

Next completion was the entryway and office. I wanted to get that area done as quickly as possible so that Cathy had a legitimate place to work, instead of having to work at the kitchen table or on the futon. This area required painting, which I did in a pale Earth tone yellow and some simple wiring to bring power across the wall from the panel. I did it with PVC conduit and hardware flat mounted to the concrete wall. It also got the LED lighting I spoke of, wired on a switch and the vinyl soffit for the ceiling. 

Rack near the furnace
The entryway area, which in reality is the same space, got a custom built coat rack and shelf as well as a six foot long Closet Maid vinyl coated wire shoe rack, which is missing from the image. This freed up some much needed storage space. One thing that is sorely missing from the camp is storage space. There was literally none when we bought it. I've been working to add more and more where possible and we now have an actual albeit small closet in the upstairs bathroom where the original hot water heater, water pump and expansion tank were located. I'll talk more about that later though when I discuss the partial re-do of the upstairs bathroom that I also completed over the course of the summer.

The bathroom came out awesome. I can't express enough just how wonderful it is to have a full, working bathroom right next to the bedroom. Don't get me wrong, there were challenges. The shower needed to be raised up onto a platform in order to get the drain set. We had a p-trap installed in the floor when the concrete went in but still needed to raise it. Space was tight, which is 100% consistent with every part of this small home build. We are trying too make the most with the least, which is really challenging and actually really fun as well. 

The plumbing all runs through a small chase area behind the shower then feeds and drains the sink along the wall. We used PEX everywhere possible. I didn't do it, we had a professional do it, the same person who did the water heater and expansion tank. Our friend Tom who does incredibly good work at very, very reasonable prices and is unbelievably nice. Both he and his wife Sylvie and just genuinely great folks. While they were here I also had them plumb in the drops for a combo washer/dryer unit which we will be getting shortly.

We certainly had budget it mind when we were doing the build, same as always. We also looked at size given the constraints that we had. This place isn't big and we are trying to pack a literal ton of stuff into it. The footprint of the camp is 18x22 or 396 square feet. The initial camp would qualify as a tiny house, commonly referred to as <400 square feet. We doubled that and are now firmly in the small house framework. In all honesty, I think that we could scale that back. There is no way we needed two bathrooms but that is just the way the plan played out. In order to have lower level living we had to have a bath on each level. When we build the next one, possibly our permanent residence, we will do sleeping on the main level with one common bathroom. Who knows though, I keep flip flopping on ideas. I really like building small stuff though. Speaking of which, I took a few weeks off at the end of the summer and built a tiny post and beam bunkhouse. It was a ton of fun. I'll put a post together about that one soon.

Also redid the driveway with a few loads of gravel
The project has been incredible. Countless little projects that all, eventually, combine to form a bigger project, which itself is part of a yet bigger project. I struggle with the macro and really, need to focus on the micro. One day at a time, so to speak. I have an idea of what's on tap tomorrow or next week but am firmly planted in today; the here and now. The reality is simple though, we love this place and we love the spaces that we carve out. This is us, for good or bad. We designed it, we made it. And it is pretty awesome. Having an actual bedroom and a bathroom right next to it is a treat in and of itself. The colors, the textures, the materials. We chose them and their implementation. When we look up, or down, or around, we did that. I know, little things and one can certainly do with much less but the transformation from when we initially bought the camp, a one room place with no foundation. We basically bought it for the land, power, water and septic. 

In retrospect, we probably should have just built new from scratch but where is the fun in that? It's been a ton of work and a long, long process that still isn't complete, but I've learned so much. The next one is going to be ton's easier.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

One Thousand 13

As of today, I'm now at 1013 days in a row, riding a bicycle, outside.

Rain, snow, ice, wind, cold, warm, hot. These are just words and not the enemy. The only enemy to the task is apathy. It is so easy to postpone, delay, or avoid all together. It is hard to make the commitment, get ready, and get outside.

Once you are outside though, and on the bike, the rest is easy. I'm finding more and more often that some of my most rewarding rides are in some of the worst conditions. Just this past week in fact, a late day, heavy rain ride on muddy roads up over a mountain was just what I needed, literally putting a smile on my face.

Live your life every day, ride bikes, enjoy what you are given and take none of it for granted.

2016 Rasputitsa Recap

I know that this is a little late, and I'd said I was done with race reports, but I wanted to at least have some recount of this year's iteration of the Rasputitsa spring gravel road race, which took place in the Northeast Kingdom of VT a month or so back. Really, this isn't going to be as much a race report as it is going to be a synopsis of the event itself. At least that is the plan.

As everyone in the Northeast knows, the recent weather conditions have been abnormal to say the least. When the Rasputitsa was first conceived, the though was that the conditions would be as much a part of the race as the course and race itself. The race would become an individual battle as much or more between man, machine and the elements as man vs. man. The past first and second iteration of the race were more on par with that notion, making it a true tough but smart guys race. Tough in battling the elements but smart in equipment choice and preservation.

This year things were looking to be completely epic, with legendary mud and conditions to make note of. Exactly one week before we rode the course and the conditions were deplorable. It was below freezing and there was snow and mud, both of which froze to the bikes and rendered them useless in a short period of time. Equipment choice and close management and preservation of that equipment would have been crucial had the race been that day not to mention clothing choices for a long, sloppy, well below freezing race. I projected that had the race been one week earlier, the winning finish time would have been nearly an hour longer and the a solid half of the field would have run into mechanical issues caused by the frozen slop accumulation. Of those, many would not be equipped to deal with them and would have been walking. Of those, many would not be prepared for the weather once they were no longer generating heat from riding. They would have suffered and some would have been in trouble. In short, this was the race that I was hoping for, for selfish reasons of course the primary of which being that I excel in conditions like that. The pre ride that we did a week earlier was pretty taxing on my Bikeway Source provided Cannondale Synapse disc, which isn't designed to be a mud bike and as such has low mud clearance. When the mud, slush and grit accumulate and freeze, you only have a certain amount of time before you have to clear it out, otherwise things stop turning.

Seven days before
But that was not to be. The rain and snow ended, the sun came out, the wind blew and the temperatures rose quickly to well above normal. The unbelievable muddy roads dried. The mud ruts were smoothed by the graders and the one bastion of hope left, the Cyberia section of Kirby Mountain even dried out in literally a few days flat. That was good in that it meant I had a bike, my Synapse, which was perfectly designed for the conditions. That said, the race went from a race that plays to my strengths to a race that played to my weakness, big long hard fast climbs. As much as I like to climb, I'm not a true climber. One look at me is all that is needed to see that fact. Sure, I can fake it on the short punchy stuff but when it is a long steady grind and I am forced above threshold, time is ticking.

And so it was. I played it safe early and made it over the first series of climbs then went to the front and drove hard on the first descent to try and stay safe. That worked well but I used too much gas. Through the next sets of rollers I tried to conserve within the large, maybe 25 person front group. That in and of itself is telling as the race was only a few miles in and the nearly 700 starters had been whittled away to a small lead group of a couple dozen racers. By the next long, gradual climb I was starting to feel the strain but seemed comfortable enough, with the discomfort. At the top of Carter Road, the pace bumped and I spaced out, losing contact. I figured I could bridge the small gap on the descent but I couldn't, in fact, I was getting dropped. The pace down the somewhat sketchy rutted and steep race was insane and I was working way too hard, not recovering but digging deeper into the red such that when we started back up again the writing was on the wall.

I was done, fading, losing the lead group. Worse, there was no secret stash of really nasty stuff up ahead that would re-shuffle the deck like Cyberia did last year. I watched the group pull away ahead as we climbed Victory Rd. I was now with a small group including James from the Tekne team. The climbs were putting the hurt on for sure but despite the earlier mishap on Carter Rd, I was descending well. Knowing the course is always a help. Just before the KoM I was caught by the group behind, which had a half dozen folks including all around great guy, John Funk. I really like racing with Funky as he is such a cycling icon. I have the utmost respect for him and I consider any day that I can ride with him, a good day.

Love this area
I sagged the rest of that section and kept at the front of the group on the descents. River Rd was sloppier than it had been a few days before as Victory had apparently graded the road. I tried my best to conserve energy on that stretch as did most everyone in the group, knowing all too well what was looming just ahead. We caught a few people who'd been spit out of the group ahead of us, which was now the chase group on the road chasing after the four leaders.

And then we made the corner off River Rd onto Victory Hill Rd and the final real climb started. this was the big one, a solid 3.5 miles with some good double digit percentage grades. The climb was hard but pretty steady. Things spread a bit on the steep sections but came back on the lesser grades until we hit the run in to the last section of the climb, a solid half mile with looser terrain and some steeps. Over the top I was back a bit but within sight. I was again shocked how fast people were descending what I knew was a nasty, rutted road. Folks were taking huge risks I just wasn't prepared to take. Not on that stuff and certainly not when I saw Jake Wells walking back up the hill toward me holding his likely broken collarbone. I chose to be safe and take my risks on the road descent, one that I know well and knew would be fast. It was fast in fact. Luckily I was, with a huge amount of luck, able to catch back up on. The group came back together after the Kirby town hall and stayed pretty much together along Ridge Rd.

Coming down out of Cyberia
Near the top of the last rise on Ridge Rd I pulled to the front, wanting to get into position for the descent on Ridge Rd that dropped you down to the hard left turn onto Brook Rd. Brook Rd is one of the last roads to get sunlight and tends to remain in pretty rough shape. There are a few blind corners and some rough road on the fast, fairly steep technical descent. I wanted to be at the front as I knew the road well and feared there may be casualties on the road. Turns out that we all made it through OK but there were indeed casualties on that road later in the day when a friend nailed a pothole, went over the bars near 30 mph and broke her nose, toe and neck. Luckily she was mostly OK and is recovering well with a full recovery expected shortly.

We all came back together for the final run in toward the finish. The last descent dropping back down into East Burke caused me the masters race last year when I let myself get pushed off line and crashed at the top. This year I wanted to be clearly first in so I attacked the group about 100 yards out, coming in hot. Unfortunately, I'm just not confident enough to risk dying down that rough chute at warp speed on a road bike. Though I was first in I got passed by three people in the group literally in the chute. I was awe struck that the bikes didn't explode given how much abuse they took. Still, I made it through toward the front of our small group, fourteenth place overall, the third logical group to finish and well out of any contention for a podium spot even in the master's race.

Cathy got the job done in the women's fat bike again
This wasn't the finish that I'd hoped for but I took it with a grain of optimism, that being the fact that the race was essentially a very hilly and dry road race. I'm not a particularly strong road racer and I'm not a particularly proficient climber when it comes to real climbing. I've also had some incidents recently including a couple of bad crashed last fall that have changed my perspective as to just what kinds of risks I am willing to take. Maybe that means I'm not cut out for racing bikes anymore, a possibility for sure. And I'm OK with that.

Did I mention that Cathy killed it, again this year in the women's fat bike category? She did and took about an hour off of her finish time from the previous year. She certainly seems to be carrying this team of recent. She also spent the day before with my mom making homemade donuts for the event. They were incredible and in fact, we just finished the last of them, which we'd had in the freezer. Many thanks for the efforts of both her and my mother, which were above and beyond. Both of my parents spent race day volunteering, perched at the base of the Cyberia section.

Darn, I said this wasn't going to be yet another, boring race report and guess what happened? Oh well. It was a great event and the good conditions, phenomenal and unheard of conditions, were indeed a treat for all. No hypothermia, frostbite. Still, wasn't that or the threat of that why we all signed up for the race in the first place? Nothing the promoters could have done on that front. This was all Mother Nature if not the bizarre, fickle weather patterns caused by the climate change we seem to be experiencing beyond the historic norm. Had the race literally been seven days earlier, everything would have been different, everything.

I'd also like to say how happy I am that the the event is being used to benefit the Little Bellas program, which is run by top professional athletes Lea and Sabra Davison, both VT natives. The program gets young girls into mountain biking through support, outreach and mentoring. Both Lea and Sabra beyond being incredible athletes, are true, genuine people who want to make a difference. In meeting them both I was abundantly impressed. They epitomize what it means to be a professional cyclist. I'd love to see more money go to programs like this, with local impact on every day young people, truly making a difference in their lives.

The old NEBC junior team
We have the ability, through the love and promotion of cycling, to give back by spreading that love to those who may otherwise overlook or abandon cycling. This is especially true in rural areas, like the NEK of VT, where that cycling related support, encouragement and mentoring is all but non-existent. Cycling is a tough sell in rural areas, especially among the poor. It's expensive, exclusionary and lets face it, not exactly mainstream. When rural kids hit high-school the bikes tend to be dropped in favor of motorized alternatives. I believe that this doesn't have to happen, by instilling a love of bikes through enablement, encouragement and mentoring, kids can embrace cycling as a life long sport. And from my perspective, that is the real goal here. Racing is nice and all but we have plenty of groups that promote bike racing among the over privileged. Cathy and I were fortunate to have started and run a junior team that enabled young kids to try a host of different cycling disciplines through crowd sourced parts and gear donations, which I built into a literal fleet of bikes. We got more than a half dozen kids to try MTB and cyclocross and more, helped instill cycling as a life long passion for all of them. These kids are now starting to graduate college and go out into the real world. I follow them and their cycling exploits with both honor and pride. I view this as one of the most important a relevant contributions I've made to cycling, far outweighing any race related accolade or achievement. I hope in the very near future to get something like this started in the NEK, and get rural kids like my younger self, or my nephew engaged in cycling, forever, and off the couch.

Stellar Sunday recovery ride
In terms of the event, I'd say things went pretty well. The organization, timing and results were flawless. The outdoor setup at the finish was spot on, especially given the gorgeous weather. The only thing that seemed to be lacking from events past was the food and drink situation. A single line to food handled one person at a time did not scale to over 700 people. Likewise with the only drinks available inside, at the bar, having to fight through the same narrow, choked entryway that those waiting up to 45 minutes for light food fare were standing in. Last year the drink sponsors wares, Woodchuck and Switchback, were dispensed outside making it easy to get to. This year with warm weather, I'd think the same would have been perfect. I'm guessing that some of the issues came simply from scale, the magnitude of the event. Dealing with nearly 700 people is a challenge.

Anyhow, another great event. what will next year bring? Who knows given the weather that we've seen. Hopefully we are back to more of a seasonal norm but we will have no choice but to take that which we are given.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Rasputitsa 2016 Course Recon - One Week Out

What a crazy spring it has been so far. The lack of winter was odd enough, in and of itself, but now we are getting a prolonged, nearly normal if not a bit on the cold side, spring. Strange new world in which we live and it's getting stranger by the day.

Starting out in fresh snow up top
This past Saturday, as in two days ago, Cathy and I were joined by our Coos Cycling Club friend Jeremiah for a recon ride of the complete Rasputitsa race loop. We decided to ride our Bikeway Source provided Cannondale Synapse carbon disc road bikes fitted with Clement X'Plor MSO 32c gravel tires, the bikes we'd been planning to race. As usual, we started the loop from our place, just a little more than a mile off the course at the bottom of the #Cyberia section, which is the ClassIV Victory Road over Kirby Mountain. We'd ridden that section just the previous day, so knew what to expect; mud and snow and really tough going.

We started out at a casual 10:15AM and at that point, the sun was up but the air temperature was still in the low 20's. Winter doesn't seem to be through with us just yet, though at this point in the year, the sun is certainly warm. Too warm in fact and quickly turns gravel road surfaces frozen tight from the cool night time temperatures into, well, slop.

Ridge Rd Kirby was in good shape thanks to the cold

The descent from the bottom of the #Cyberia section down to the Kirby Town Hall, a mile long double digit percent grade drop, was a bit sketchy as it was frozen and snow covered but not terrible. Luckily up at elevation things were still firm and it was still early enough that even Ridge Rd in Kirby was good and firm and we made out way toward East Burke on what is the end of the route, but for us was just the beginning. The descent down Brook Rd off from Ridge Rd was punctuated by frozen mud ruts and some snow cover in spots. That road is in a small river valley with dense tree growth on either side. It also faces west and this time of year, doesn't get much sunlight so is always in poor shape. It is also twisty with numerous blind corners so isn't the place to be a hero.

At this point we were still playing with good conditions and road surfaces that had yet to soften up much. The conditions down low, like on Mt Hunger Rd which is the final stretch before the drop down to the finish line was pretty dry in general and in good shape overall. This was mostly because it was still in the low twenties despite the forecast saying that we should get well above freezing on the day. there was virtually no snow on Belden Hill Rd, the drop down to the finish, but the road is washed in a number of spots and there was a little ice. Lose it here by riding over your ability and you will get a fun trip to the hospital I bet.
Starting to soften up a bit but nice views
And then we were through town and on the paved climb up Burke Hollow Rd, the start. That climb is way harder that it looks and people, myself included, have the tendency to go a little too hard on it. That decimates you for the upcoming rolling section of Darling Hill Rd which has three different punchy climbs on it, the third being the worst. Overdo on the paved start and miss the move and you could easily find yourself chasing for the next, oh lets say 30 miles. This section was still pretty good conditions wise though is bumpy and washboard.

The descent down West Darling Hill was fast but there were frozen ruts and chatter near the bottom. The road is one that can very easily get away from you. I have great respect for that descent. Bugbee Crossing Rd was much the same, firm still and in good shape at that point and with those conditions. In fact, even Brook Rd was pretty darn good though as we neared Carter Rd there started to be snow covering the road from the snow that fell the night before. This wasn't a problem at all as it meant that the road surface was still frozen. From Carter to Marshall Newland Rd conditions were firm and the descent, another tricky one, had frozen mud ruts, snow and generally aspects that required your attentiveness to navigate. The same with the descent down White School Rd. Firm and fast but rutted.

Back into the snow on Carter Rd
We then crossed RT114 and started what I assumed would be the section of the course with some very different conditions, the back side. Cathy wasn't feeling it at this point so decided to turn back rather than continue on past the point of no return. Jer and I continued and ventured up Victory Rd for the long multi mile climb that crested the course KoM and beyond to the height of the land. Conditions were still firm overall but the sun was starting to soften the bare gravel. Fortunately, much of the road was covered in snow, reflecting the sun and delaying the thaw. I absolutely adore riding snow covered gravel and both Jer and I were having a good time despite the steady upward trend. Truth be told, neither of us were out there killing it, that was not the goal. We knew there would be plenty of suffering to come, soon enough, so we chose to simply enjoy the weather and conditions that we were give.

Speaking of conditions, I mentioned that we were starting to see some slop and also that we were still below freezing. Well yea, what that translated to was frozen crud, on the bikes, and the drive trains. Stuff was starting to pile up and tolerances were starting to get tight. We topped out on Victory Rd finally and savored the long, snow covered, rutted but incredibly fun descent down toward Granby. By the time we hit the town center and crossed the Moose River, turning onto River Rd, we'd lost the snow and started to pick up some melting and sloppy, soft surface. We also picked up two sets of other bike tracks, tracks that were very evident in the soft gravel. Immediately I started wondering who it could be and quickly wondered out loud if it could have been a mutual friend we'd invited on this ride but whom couldn't commit to the timing. Jeremiah wasn't convinced but I still suspected it was our friend Jamie who'd started his ride over in Lancaster.

River Rd was typical
And speaking of the Moose River, I'm reading a book about the timber harvest from the 1800's in Victory and Granby. It was large scale and there were numerous mills along the banks of the Moose. The Moose was used for log drives, to get timber from the Granby and Victory down to Concord and StJ and to market. There was even a railroad that made it's way up into the basin and beyond. There are many remnants of this era still present along the river in the form of footings and other concrete structures, though the true extent of the once thriving population are long gone, only a fading memory to very few in an area which is now, nearly devoid of human presence.

River Rd never ceases to deliver early season. It trends downhill all the way and should be a fast, easy ride but inevitably it is always muddy, washboard and soft and or there is a headwind. That day we had the former. Six miles of seemingly endless slogging through the squishy energy sucking mud, mud that also froze to the stays, the seat tube and the drivetrain, a drivetrain that quickly stopped working.

That was a problem
Tires and rims were rubbing on the gravel encrusted ice that literally polished moving parts clean and devoid of lubrication. Luckily I have internal cable routing and disc brakes on my Cannondale Synapse road bike, which meant no cables to freeze up rendering the shifting useless. However, the rear derailleur cage was literally, packed in and frozen solid. We spent some time chipping the frozen crud from the bikes before moving on toward Victory Hill Rd and the start of the real climbing. At the bottom of the climb we stopped again and extricated another batch of frozen crud from the bikes. We also lost the sets of tracks we'd been following as they continued South on River Rd. At that point I knew that it had to have been Jamie doing a route he and I had discussed a couple of weeks back.

And then we climbed, what seemed an endless climb up the soft grade of Victory Hill Rd, about a mile and a half steady climb up to Masten Rd, where the grade pitches up significantly leading up to the ClassIV seasonal Kirby Mountain Rd and #Cyberia. The approach is daunting. River Rd is always way harder than it should be, on paper. Then the first grade on Victory Hill Rd softens you up, the second pitch on Masten Rd puts a real sting in the legs and then when the real fun starts you are pretty well worked over having gone more than a few rounds already.

Slow and meticulous going in #Cyberia
Having ridden this section the night before, I knew what were in for. It wasn't going to be pretty. Snow covered with deep mud ruts with flowing slurry runoff. Because of the easy winter, the road over Kirby Mountain has been getting lots of traffic from both local residents and four wheel enthusiasts. The bottom half mile of the road was also used all winter for active logging. The net is that it is in pretty bad shape at present. In many places the frozen mud ruts are over a foot deep and a truck tire width wide (roughly a foot). You get in them and you can not get out. The center of the road is highly crowned and off camber and when covered in snow, is nearly impossibly to hold traction on. You just slide out. The section that was logged has some sticks and other debris embedded in the surface as well, just for added fun. To put it bluntly, this section is going to be challenging. Last weekend it was mostly frozen. We rode almost all of the way up but it was slow and methodical going in order to maintain traction and not slip out. If this stretch gets soft, it could be a mess.

Snow and mud ruts #Cyberia
As I mentioned, we made it up over though we had to pull over for a vehicle coming up behind us. Local traffic is going to be a problem as they need to keep moving so as not to get stuck. The road isn't wide enough to pass. More, there are literally two wheel tracks that they WILL_BE_IN. We will have to yield to traffic, there is no way around it. What that means is we will have to get off the bike and get in the ditch while they pass. They will not and can not get off the road for you so do not expect they will and if you push them into conflict, there will be conflict. The people going over that road are either going to be the really nice couple whose front yard you rode through on the way up, folks whom live there, off grid year round and use that road all year. It is their road really and we are guests so treat it as such. the other people you may run into driving over are the other locals and trust me, you do not want to push them as they would be happy to push back none of us need that. This challenge will be part of the race this year. If you see a vehicle coming, get off the bike and run up the ditch to get around it then continue on your way. It won't be any slower.

Couldn't get going again #Cyberia
If you let the bike get away from you on the descent, with the mud ruts we currently have, it will hurt you. Remember though that is there are people coming up behind you on that descent, don't block them. If you are in the rut, that's fine, you own it, but if you are walking three abreast, single up so others can get by. There is nothing worse than the self absorbed who are oblivious to others.

The descent down for us last Saturday was slow but incident free. As we got further down the snow tapered but the mud increased. We reached the bottom, pretty happy to be finished.

The Rasputitsa course is a stout route in any season but especially in the spring and winter. I knew that when I first suggested that particular route to Heidi and Anthony. One of the most appealing aspects of the back side of the course is literally, just how remote you are. For those who didn't look at the map, that is the only road. There are no short cuts, no cut through sections. Once you commit you are either going forward to the end or turning around and going back the way you came. There are no stores and phone service is spotty. It's as close to a wilderness area as we have in that general area, in fact, River Rd takes us right through Victory Basin WMA.

And for that reason, I love it.

My best word of advice is to be ready for everything as I believe, that is what we are going to get. There will certainly be some terrific gravel roads but I suspect there will also be some of the most horrendous conditions you can imagine. It may well be a race of equipment preservation, one where you must meter just how hard you push your bike as much as how hard you push yourself. We'll see, maybe it will all dry up. Maybe.

But I wouldn't count on it.


Friday, April 08, 2016

Race Reports

It's kind of funny that what started out as having primarily race report content, has moved completely away from that topic. I've though about and even starting drafting some race reports but then, for some reason or another, I loose interest.

I think that fact in and of itself, is telling. The overall fact that honestly, I'm losing interest in racing bikes. I still love riding bikes, as much if not more than ever, but it's changing. Cathy and I have now raced steadily at a fairly high and competitive level for over a decade straight. This will actually be the 11th season. We've had some great times, met and become friends with some incredible folks and ridden and raced in many areas of New England and the country that we otherwise would not have.

However, the desire is quickly fleeting. Maybe I've lost the killer instinct that I once had, the desire to compete as much for self validation as anything. I got a small taste of success and victory and wanted more and more. It fueled the fire for years leaving me looking for bigger challenges that brought the hope of bigger successes.

But some where along the line it became hollow. When put into perspective, the relevance of said victories in the obscure sport of cycling is little more than the medal you receive. Are you better for those victories?

And then one day it all changes, and you stop winning. That's when the thrashing starts, to regain something which you have grown accustom to having, something which you are, at that point anyhow, unable to regain. This continues for some time but without looking at the real why, the root cause, no amount of struggle will help fix it.

At some point once you have figured out the root cause, you come to the cross road. Are you willing or able to make the changes to get yourself back to where you once were? Are those changes realistic and can they be made? Will it even work regardless of the changes?

For me, as much as anything, it comes down to will. Sure, I need to work harder but I also need the mindset, the edge that makes me want to suffer, that makes me want to make others suffer. The gritty truth about success in physical competition is that you not only need to be a masochist and derive joy from pain, you also need to be a sadist and enjoy inflicting pain on others.

Anyhow, I'm not sure where I am right now. We've been doing hard weekly road rides and there have been some glimpses of hope. The VOMAR ride last week, which isn't a race though it is, didn't go as well as I'd hoped. Still, given some of the challenges such as a cold that has settled hard in my lungs and won't seem to dissipate and completely frozen hands early on and course conditions that didn't suit my strengths, it wasn't all bad.

We'll see. Maybe I'll get super psyched for racing soon. Or maybe there will just be lots of epic ride reports in my future. One way or the other, I'll still be riding bikes.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Nine Hundred 71 Days

I keep saying that I'm going to stop, that I can stop any time that I want, maybe tomorrow, but not today. Compulsion, addiction.

Late last year I said at the end of the year. Early this year I said after 1500 days of pedaling a bicycle straight (which included riding on the indoor trainer at times for the first year and a half). lately I've been saying the goal is 1000 days in a row of riding a bicycle outdoors in New England, which it would seem is 29 days from today. During the winters, most of that time has been in Northern New England be it Western Maine or the Northeast kingdom of VT.

Riding outside every day, in every type of weather condition imaginable has taught me one simple lesson, the hardest part is always just getting out the door. Once you are on the bike and riding, it's all the same, all so very simple; just you and the bike. And of course whatever conditions you are dealing with be that snow, ice, rain or all of the above.

Some times you have to work at it a bit, in order to be safe, and choose your ride time and location wisely. For me though, I usually ride at the same time every day, logical after work around 5:30PM. In the winter that means it's cold and dark but that consistency gives me some semblance of familiarity, and peace.

The ride has become a daily ritual, almost a spiritual event at times, sure to happen as sure as waking on the day or going to sleep at the end. I won't lie, there are many days when the ride feels like drudgery, like a chore that simply has to be taken care of for the day, like cleaning out the kitten's litter box. I'm an excellent litter scooper and attack it like a science. It is, after all, my job. Everyone has to have a job and as I find myself lacking in gainful employ, I've adopted that as one of my few regular vocations, along with grocery shopping. It's just what I do.

And so I ride. In the back of my mind, as much because I can as I want to. My health is good so why waste perfectly good days without a physical celebration of that fact, a fact that we can not, must not, take for granted. One day that will change, whether we are present to recognize it or not.

So, as the brief sunshine is blotted by the clouds and impending rain, I look out knowing that I should get out and ride now all the while knowing that I'll probably just wait until the evening, and the pouring rain. Maybe I've become oblivious to the conditions, numbed to them, a slave to the inevitable ride that will happen, regardless. Maybe the conditions reinforce the memory of the ride which could all too easily slip away in the annals of the log, not even a memory.

Some times the most memorable rides, the ones you look most fondly and vividly back upon are the most  grim and grizzly. The late December 2015 NEK 50 mile 34 degree pouring rain ride is one of those that I will recall forever. The February 2015 nine hour 60 mile fat bike loop through remote wilderness which degraded into a slog through loose powder is another. The same fat bike loop the year before in reverse which two of us pushed each other hard to complete in only seven  hours is another. The 80 mile ride from Twin Mountain over Crawford up Bear Notch (in the snow and ice), over the Kanc and up through the bike path in Franconia Notch (also in snow and ice) and all on road bikes, with road shoes, is another. Too many to list but so many fond memories to cherish. Memories of actions through which we are self defined, or at least, I am.

In fact, a quick mental list of my all time most memorable rides includes epic rides that all had epic tales of suffering and misery. What does that tell us? I suspect we as humans are wired that way, to remember the bad as life lessons. Now what does that tell you, when those like me look fondly back at those events and worse, seek to emulate them moving forward. Gluttons? Masochists?

I choose to think of people like this as life adventurers. The road less chosen is where it's at. Life is about loops and not out and backs. Never take the same old path you've chosen before if you are presented with a new one to explore. You never know what may be down that path and you may be missing something, incredible, revealed by simply making the choice.

Ride on. Live life. #RideOutside365

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cabin Progress

Over the course of the winter I've been trying to plug along on the build out of the basement at our cabin. Work has been somewhat slow and I haven't really gotten a good block of time pieced together to continuously work on the rooms, but I'm starting to see some progress.

The first stage was to frame it in. Not a big project but it took a bit of time. My brother helped out with the main center divider wall and we got that in pretty quickly. I then decided I wanted to change the sizes of the doors I was going to use so I ended up reframing the rough openings. Again, not a big deal. Then it was on to the framing of the divider wall between the bath and the bedroom. This was had some turns to it so was a bit more complicated and also needed some heading in the floor joist to tie the stud wall in. All of the walls were anchored to the concrete basement floor with concrete screws through the pressure treated bottom sole plate. The rest of the studs were all pine but anything touching concrete was PT. I ended up using torx deck screws rather than nails as well simply because, it was easier and made it simply to make adjustments after the fact, just in case.

From there it was on to the fairly limited electrical outlets and lighting and I ran a new breaker to the sub-panel we had installed in the basement last summer. I went cheap and easy single switched wall mounted sconce lamps, two of them, centered on the wall above what would be the bed's headboard location. The one outlet I had which was on a concrete wall, I face mounted and ran through PVC conduit with a PVC outlet box.

For the small section of exposed concrete block wall, I simply painted the wall with color tinted masonry paint and left it bare rather than framing, insulating and sheathing. If it is too cold, I can always do something in the future but I spent 3 years living in an uninsulated cinderblock dorm at UVM and it was just fine. Sure, I'm losing heat but insulating a basement in a climate with deep penetrating ground frost is a recipe for busted walls.

On the walls of the bedroom I used my old friend, 10" rougher back V groove tongue and groove pine planking. I sealed it with Thompson's water seal on both sides and then nailed it up horizontally. I source this wood from Maine, where the lumber yard has it custom milled for them. At $.73 a board foot it is hard to beat price wise and gives the feel and character I'm looking for, that of a rustic cabin.

On the outside of the main divider wall I used an inexpensive, exterior grade siding made of press board. It comes in 7/16" thick 4x8' sheets that have shiplap overlapping edges. It is molded to resemble textured V grove planks and comes pre-primed. It is stable, moisture resistant, tough and cheap. When you paint it, it even looks pretty good.

I also got the floor down in the bedroom. We went back and forth as to what to use on this, nothing, concrete dye, porcelain tile. We decided to go with 2x2' raised basement underlayment panels, which use corrugated plastic base under a 3/4" weatherguard OSB interlocking panel to add some moisture protection. On that I used inexpensive interlocking laminate flooring with a styrofoam pad underneath. I've had good luck with the overall stability of the laminate flooring in a mudroom area that saw a fair amount of moisture from tracked snow in the past. This basement is dry as was proven last summer and over this past winter, a season of many freeze thaw cycles and good amounts of rain. I'm also planning to run a dehumidifier as well and the basement is a walkout, so is only partially below grade.

The last bit of project that I got done this week was to put in the initial section of ceiling between the main carrier timber and the bedroom wall. This section only had a 9" gap so rather than raise the ceiling to the bottom of the floor joist, I went from the bottom of the carrier beam over to the bedroom wall.

For the ceiling I wanted something that was light, bright, clean and easy to remove in case I needed access to anything above; wiring or such. After some though, I decided to go with vinyl soffit, which I've worked with a number of times before. I love the stuff. You just need ledges from which to span it and for than, I used simple pine planking that I routered a 45 bevel into to dress it up a bit. On the base of the beam, which is an old hemlock 4x6" that I sistered with pine 2x8" on either side and then a 2x4" on the underside channel. I put a pine 1x8" on the bottom side that overhung to the side of the wall, which gave me my ledge from which to hang the soffit up over. The end result is clean, looks good, was easy to install and is functionally great.

I'm trying to get creative when choosing building materials and build this area with an eye toward function. I'm using things that can maybe handle a little humidity or possibly moisture while keeping cost reined in. We'll see how it all works out but so far, so good. I really enjoy re-purposing things for uses other than that which they were intended. Bottom line is that it's fun and I finally am getting back into the swing of accomplishing something tangible.

Lots more to do. The bathroom is going to be interesting for sure. I've got some neat plans for materials for that one. Can't wait to get started.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Weekend Riding

Cathy and I had the opportunity to take advantage of the wonderful spring weather this past weekend and get in some good solid riding. A nice, quick, 40 mile road ride Friday and then a fantastic, longer group road ride on Saturday out to Sterling MA. We got some good rolling terrain and some nice views through the orchards of Harvard and the hills west.

It was nice to be out on these roads, ones that we frequented in the past but have not ridden much if at all in the past couple of years, Amazing how much I've forgotten about what a truly spectacular area we have to road ride in the northwestern suburbs and beyond. Winding, narrow, tree lined back country roads abound and on the weekends there is little motor vehicle traffic. Certainly one thing that I miss when in VT is the variety of paved road. Don't get me wrong, I love gravel, but when conditions are poor, it's nice to have options.

Anyhow, it was a nice ride for sure and felt great to be back into the swing of the road ride thing. We are getting some good miles in on the The Bikeway Source Cannondale Bicycles Synapse disc bikes. Currently they have 28c Vittoria Zaffiro Pro semi-slick tires on them, which are great for spring pavement if at the cost of a little weight and rolling resistance, but can also handle gravel without much complaint.

Yesterday, Cathy and I decided to do separate rides, so she headed off with a friend for some MTB in the Burlington's Landlocked Forest on her new Cannondale Bicycles Habit 27.5 120mm travel bike. I'd swapped the stock 60mm stem out for a 90mm to make the bike handle a bit more traditionally and also cut the bars down a couple of inches, bringing them within an inch (still longer) of what the bars on her fat bike are, which are wider still than the bars on her Scalpel. It made a huge difference and she really enjoyed the bike, getting a chance to get a real feel for it.

I opted to go for a big MTB XC loop, heading through multiple areas to try and find some new trail areas near Russell Mill in Billerica. I was fatigued from the start but moved along out to Estabrook Woods, through Carlisle Conservation and into Great Brook State Park. From there I made my way to Russell Mill Pond Forest, and area I've not spent much time riding. After looping around looking for signs of the new trails to no avail, I hopped out to Rangeway Rd and searched from that end. I found the ones in the town forest and traced the way back to Russell Mill, through a neighborhood. The other trail network is in the state forest, which I need to explore from the south end I think. Eventually I made my way back to Great Brook and Estabrook and home, a broken man.

Anyhow, a great weekend of riding and some good hours in the training bank. Another big week for the team, which is hopefully going a long way toward getting us into shape for the upcoming spring classic gravel season.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Back in Action

Last year for me was a down year, in terms of bicycle racing and training. I consciously knew that I was in for a bad year, statistically speaking, as I'd had a string of great season the previous few. I'd also been pretty much on since 2007 straight, without any breaks. This meant that I was physically and mentally tired of the constant preparation that goes into goal oriented cycling, or anything in life for that matter. 

As such, I decided to take it easy and only ride as much as I wanted to, within reason. Reason meaning that I did continue and complete my target of riding outdoors every day of the year. Spending so much time at our place in Kirby Vermont, which is situated near the top of a mountain on a gravel road, made for some creative rides when the weather went south, but still I managed to get through it. 

Racing last season saw very few goals. I targeted a fat bike race, the Rasputitsa gravel race, the Kenda Cup East MTB series and had the only overall cyclocross goal of trying to upgrade my race category to Category 1 through racing the Elite races at smaller New England based events. That may seem like a lot when it's written down in front of you, in fact I'm looking at it and saying the same thing to myself, but relatively speaking it was less than a normal year. All in all, things went pretty well and I attained most of my goals on the year. I had a good CX season going until a couple of crashes coupled with failing fitness convinced me to pull the plug.

So here we are a couple of months into 2016. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I feel like I'm way behind already. Sure, we've been riding but the quality has been challenged. As with the previous couple of years, Cathy and I have spent the bulk of the winter up north. This has meant lots of fat biking miles and some great adventures. This season is a completely different story. The fat biking, beyond a few limited outings, has been almost non existent. It's hard to ride snow when you don't have any. Worse, the temperatures and weather have been such that the gravel roads which we'd otherwise be ripping around on a snowless year, are often mud or ice. There was a point in January where we had to resort to night time road riding, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Still, there have been some good rides but not of the caliber or duration that I've grown accustom to getting throughout the winter months. 

The past couple of weeks have seen us spending more time south, back in MA. A couple weeks ago, when we had a record cold snap, the trail conditions for fat biking were spectacular in and around us in MA. That block of riding alone accounted for the bulk of the real quality miles we've managed to bank for the season thus far. It was great and helped turn things around for me in terms of motivation and determination. Nothing like 12 hours of fabulous riding snow in the course of four days to get you excited about riding again. Three good weeks in a row of increased time and distance and I was tired and ready for a rest week. Naturally, that week of rest didn't work out as I'd planned as we had conditions that were conducive to riding bikes. Additionally, active recovery when you are living on a mountain is a very relative thing, meaning I still got over 10,000' of gain in that week and rode every day.

That brings me to last week, when we got sick of seeing photos and post about our friends back in MA riding in sunny, 60 degree temps while we were up north battling ice, mud and runoff at 35 degrees. We packed up and headed south hoping for some better weather. It did not disappoint and although it was windy, the roads were dry and the temperatures were much nicer. 

Thursday and Friday were in the 40's which seemed almost tropical to us coming from the NEK. Sean from Cannondale had dropped his personal Cannondale Slate new road bike off at the Bikeway Source for us to try, The Slate is a road frame designed around smaller 650b (27.5") wheels running bigger 42c semi-slick tires. The resultant wheel/tire diameter is the same as that of a 700c wheel with a 23c tire; a normal road bike. The Slate is also equipped with a short 30mm travel Cannondale Lefty Oliver suspension fork. I'd been interested to see and give one a try for some time so when I got the bike on Thursday, I went out for a quick road spin to see what it could, or couldn't do. I was blown away by how quick and nimble it was. It looks more like a mountain bike with drop bars but on the road felt natural and comfortable. I hammered through a short, 25 mile loop on pavement and when I was done, was shocked to see how fast I'd gone. The Slate was no slouch when it came to the road, despite the fork being fully open the whole time.

Saturday I had a long ride planned with a small group and the temps slipped back into the 30's. Cool but dry and fine for a long road ride. We did just over four hours and about 74 miles and it darn near killed me. I felt tired going in but did that ever wipe me out. I made the mistake of rolling on the 32c Clement XPlor knobby tires mounted on the Cannondale Synapse carbon disc for riding gravel, which roll OK but compared to the road slicks the other two guys had, were a bit sluggish, pulling watts that I didn't have to spare. I quite literally limped back home the last five or so miles, in agony, barely able to pedal the bike.

Yesterday I'd decided to first of all, swap out tires on both of our Synapse to 28c semi slicks, something that should roll a whole lot easier. Next, we waited around until the sun came out and it warmed up. I was still chilled from the ride the day before and had little interest in starting before we were in the best weather of the day. This worked perfect and we were treated to some glorious sunny, spring like conditions. There was still a breeze but nothing quite as bad as the day before. We had a great ride along roads once frequently ridden by us, but ones we'd not really been on in a couple of years. It felt great to be outside riding without what seems every piece of clothing bundled on us. We moved along at a good steady clip and despite both being tired, got in a solid 50 miles. Another good day in the saddle marking a great weekend and a good block of quality rides.

So there we have it. I'm behind but hoping to come back up to speed quickly. I know what was missing last season in terms of the training rides that count the most. Those are back on the schedule in earnest this year, starting tomorrow in fact. I can tell right now that it is going to hurt. De-tuning and being out of shape, basically sucks because it hurts so much to come back from. The fat bike and legitimate winters ease that transition as you never really fall as far between seasons and also, ease back into things a bit more gradually. Not having that this year has made the gap much more pronounced. 

There is work still left to be done but at least I can finally say, that work has commenced.

Friday, January 22, 2016

New Tires

Normally, new bicycle tires really aren't that big a deal. They are simply another wear item, disposable, temporary. Much like a new chain and cassette. However, when you start talking about new tires for a fat bike, things change.

For one, the tires cost nearly a fortune at about $150/each for a good quality folding bead 120tpi model. Therefore, the idea of having lots of use specific tires hanging around which you switch between isn't really a practical option for most. More practically speaking, the benefit or conversely, the detriment of a specific tire style for specific riding purposes can be huge. Fat bikes are, after all, meant to be ridden in the snow. In order to most effectively ride in the snow or any soft conditions, tire choice is crucial.

Key concerns are float which is a component of the tire volume and pressure making for the biggest footprint possible and of course, traction as provided by the tread pattern. In the few years that I have been fat biking a lot, roughly a thousand miles a year on snow, I've used four different tire/wheel combinations on there different bikes.

I started out on a Charge Bikes Cooker Maxi 135mm front and rear hub spacing with 80mm rims and 4" Vee Rubber Mission 120tpi tires. The 135mm rear spacing meant an offset rear end which was limited to a 4" tire due to clearance. The offdet is used to push the wheel away from the center of the bike, gaining clearance for the chain as it passes the tire coming from the crankset. Being new to the fat bike, coming from riding normal MTB in the snow for a couple decades, the difference was amazing. By closely controlling the tire pressure to adjust the footprint the bike went really, really well. That was the setup that got us hooked on the fat bike discipline and we rode them a lot.

Last year we got new Borealis Yampa with 197/135mm hubs and 80mm wheels with 45NRTH Dillinger 4 120tpi tires. The rear end was symmetrical as with a traditional bike frame rather than being offset. This setup worked significantly better than the Charge setup. Of course, the bike weighed 10# less and the tires had significantly more tread. The wider rear end also meant that the bike could take up to a 5" tire. The Dillinger is a great all around tread pattern, fast and light but a little on the conservative side. The sidewalls are thin because the tire is so light, which means that if you ride them in dirt and rocks, they get threadbare. That said, I put about 1000 miles on mine, primarily on snow with some snowy gravel, and they still look near new with no issues at all.

I also put together a Salsa Mukluk last year which had 170/135mm hub spacing and a symmetrical rear. Unfortunately, it can't handle oversized fat tires. I built it with 100mm rims though and ran  aggressive, Surly Nate 3.8" 120tpi tires on it. The wider rims gave a significantly larger footprint and with the more aggressive tread of the Nates, did very well in looser snow conditions. I found myself leaning toward that bike over the Borealis when the conditions were loose, despite the bike weighing significantly more.

We started this season out with the Dillinger 4 on the Borealis but also pulled out all of the stops and added HED Big Deal 82mm carbon wheels to the bikes. This dropped a fair amount of weight from bikes that were already lightweight. It really made a noticeable difference as well, in terms of rolling weight and spin up for the wheels. The conditions this season have been fickle, to say the least. We have not gotten that much snow yet to start with. The initial snowpack we had going, which had transformed into some very good rising, was greeted with a bout of warm and rain that turned everything packed down to ice.

In the past week or so we have started to get some small snow storms, which drop an inch or so at a time as well as some gusty wind, that blows and drifts the snow. Conditions tend to be good in places but loose in others. With that, I was ready to try something new, a little more aggressive and a little bigger.

Given the luck we've had with 45NRTH coupled with reviews from friends at the Village Sport Shop at Kingdom Trails in Lyndonville, VT, we decided to order some of the new, front and rear specific 45NRTH Flowbeist front and Dunderbeist rear. from Chris at the Bikeway Source They are beefy and the lugs are deeper and wider spaced than the Dillinger. The casing is a claimed 4.6", which is the largest volume tire that 45NRTH offers.

Out of the box, the tires look aggressive. Very moto like. An unscientific weight comparison by hand with the Dillinger 4 yielded exactly what you'd expect, they are heavier. The sidewalls also appear to be slightly heavier and more robust, which should help increase longevity at lower pressures. Mounted up, they are indeed wider. Not huge like the Bud and Lou on 100mm rims but bigger. On the trail, they roll well and hood up very well. I'd dubbed them the Garden Weasel, a throwback to an old reference my buddy Wick made to the WTB Velociraptor when they first appeared, in the 90's. These things grab and with a more pronounced edge know, they corner better as well. I got into some loose, super technical snowshoe trail with about 6" of semi compacted snow the other day and was blown away by how well they hooked up at lower pressure.

Though I was concerned about the weight at first, I simply didn't notice it. Now of course, if you were doing a long, hard packed snowy gravel ride these tires would be less desirable than the Dillinger 4. But for riding snow, they are very good so far. At present I've only got limited time on them but so far, so good. Will see how the race goes this weekend.

I'll check back in once I have some more hours on them but at this point I like them, a lot, which is a good thing given how expensive they are.