Thursday, August 30, 2012

Generic shop visit

...ah hah.  That elusive raffle prize at the state championship event in Telluride.  All the other MSC events were busts for me.  I sat there after the races, raffle ticket in one hand, 1st Place keychain in the other, hoping to walk away with something of value after almost killing myself riding through the woods at dangerous speeds.  But luck always evaded me.  I always had to fill my hands with a beer, not because I like beer, but because my empty hands were lonely.  Besides, most of the time I was only in it for the XTR goodies and not the pickles.  So instead I didn’t win anything.  It has something to do with Karma, I think.  And after the MSC State Championship, in which Generic Cycles gave away three custom builds (one each to the men’s and women’s singlespeed series champions, and one up for raffle), I walked away with a sweet new camelback, only to find out later that it was a women’s model.  So it goes.  A few days later I get a call from the race director telling me that I had “won” the raffle, and will be receiving a custom built singlespeed frame from Generic.  She explained the conditions of my “winning”.  It has something to do with winning all the MSC races I competed in, but I won’t go into detail.

At any rate, I finally got to stop by Generic Cycles in Denver, meet the Owner/Operator/Craftsman/Artist, take a look around the shop and current projects, and discuss my new build.  I’ve never been so excited to get measured.  Somehow getting measured for a suit, or getting poked and prodded on an operating table doesn’t stack up (unless you are on an operating table but you actually feel like you are floating on a cloud in some intergalactic fantasy watching a cartoon unfold before your drowsy eyes, because that can be pretty cool, yet the results tend to be less exciting).  It’s the real deal.  We discussed what I want the bike to be, what I want it to do, what I like in a bike and don’t, and on and on.  We discussed cool things like drill bits and tube-bending dies and CNC machines.  We nerded out a little.  They specialize in titanium, and he’s building me their Ultimate hardtail frame, custom fitted to me, with my specific fork choice (probably Lefty) in mind.  It was an amazing experience.  And what a cool guy at that.  I dropped off a little beer from the brewery, and walked out smiling.  Bada bing bada boom!

Build pics and more info to come, as I get it.

Winter Park, Peaceful Valley, Telluride, Beer

Well, there is no place called Beer, but the others on this list happen to be fun places to go mountain biking.

Three more in the books.  

Late July and early August saw another trifecta of racing action.  3 weekends, 3 races, all fun.  It started with a day trip to Winter Park to experience one of their local Epic Singletrack Series races.  This series gets a lot of rep and respect.  It’s no wonder why.  Winter Park has some great singletrack, along with one of the best downhill bike parks in the country.  The week after was the last race of the Rocky Mountain Endurance series, the PV Cycle Derby, out in Elbert (everybody knows Elbert, right?) Colorado.  My 3-week spree ended with an adventure to Telluride for the last race on the Mountain States Cup calendar, the Full Tilt in Telluride.  This was also the State Championship event.

Winter Park

Excitement was buzzing on this Saturday in late July at the Winter Park ski area.  The Colorado Freeride festival was going on in addition to the Colorado Epic XC event.  This meant waves and waves of full-face-helmet-clad gravity fiends were on hand to get their fix.  The XC race was a point-to-point race from outside of Fraser, a town a few miles north of Winter Park, back into Winter Park.  It was a 25-mile race with a lot of climbing, all over 8k feet.  I went into the race with a positive attitude to just have a good time on some sweet mountain singletrack.  After the Breckinridge race I was coasting down my first season of racing in Colorado.

The race was a fun back-and-forth battle between me, Bradley Berger, and Mitch Westall.  At the start I was pushing hard, knowing that the biggest climb of the day was at the beginning.  It turned out that Bradley had the gas to stay with me.  Not that he had as much flatulence as I am capable of spewing, but he seemed to have the energy.  In fact, he passed me at some point during the first climb, but I just latched onto his wheel and stayed there for a mile or two.  At the point where the climb got really brutal, steep and loose and rocky,  I passed and put a pretty good gap on him.  It wasn’t until the end of about 5 miles of downhill that he caught up with me.  He then had a mechanical problem; I passed and went on my way.  At some point, maybe ¾ the way through, Mitch passed me, seemingly out of nowhere.  He must’ve been saving some energy early on, and I know I wasn’t pushing as hard as I could.  With about 2 or 3 miles to go, I approached a struggling Mitch, who was having mechanical issues of his own.  So here I am, back in the lead, with the end of the race in sight.  And wouldn’t you know it, here comes a steaming Bradley Berger on my tail, subsequently passing me with less than a mile to go.  So it goes.  It was a fun day of back-and-forth racing action.

The singletrack during this race wasn’t as “Epic” as the race promotion may claim, or as my 2ndPlace beer mug says.   

It was good fun, and made you work, but not as good as the stuff in Breck.  In any case, next year I look forward to doing more of this series, as time and money permits.  It attracts some really good competition, and Winter Park’s singletrack trails are still better than anything on the Front Range.

PV Cycle Derby

The last race on the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series calendar.  Again, after Breck I wasn’t planning on doing much racing.  I wasn’t planning on doing this event, and had barely even touched my bike after the Breckinridge 68, besides the foray into Winter Park the week before.  My schedule had changed drastically from preparing myself in a healthy manner with training, nutrition, focus, and abstinence from alcohol (take abstinence lightly, I work in a brewery for Buddha’s sake), to beer, leisure, and bird-watching.  Bird-watching was mostly done from the window of my bedroom, or a lawn chair with a beer in my hand, so can hardly be described as an activity.  Although, multitasking is not easy.  Have you tried to watch birds, while resting, while slugging down Dale’s Ales?  At any rate, I headed down to Elbert, Colorado, to show my support for the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series in their finale.  They have run an exceptional racing series, and I was glad to be a part of it.

Elbert is nowhere near the mountains.  The Peaceful Valley ranch that we were racing at was an interesting mix of rolling cow pasture, forest singletrack, rocky outcroppings and techy sections, a few dark river valleys, and wide open doubletrack.  Before the race I got the chance to warm up a little with 24-hour National Champion, and this year’s Single Speed National Champion, Cameron Chambers.  This dude is a beast.  2nd overall in the Breck100, on a single speed?  That doesn’t happen.  Anyways, I was glad that I upped my gear ratio right before the race after seeing that he was pushing a 38X20.  That is a huge gear for single speed riding.  

The race was fun.  It consisted of 3 22-mile loops, and about 6,600 feet of climbing. I felt better physically than I had all year, even with my lack of training going into it.  I was in 3rd place most of the day, behind Cameron and Charlie Hayes.  Coming into the start/finish after lap 1 the race announcer said I was only a minute or two behind Charlie.  Feeling good and fresh still, I decided that I was going to attack with everything and see if I could catch him.  I made a good push for the first 15 or so miles, and knew I was making time on him.  After the race he commented that he kept seeing me coming around bends chasing him.  Unfortunately, in my focus and rage, I neglected the aid stations, subsequently neglecting all my bodily needs for hydration and nutrition.  Coming into the start/finish after the 2nd lap I hadn’t had any liquid for 45 or so minutes, any gels for about 2 hours, and was parched and maxed out on energy.  After taking about 3 or 4 minutes to suck down water and eat, I finally got back on it for the last lap.  At this point I just wanted to finish strong, realizing that I had probably lost any gain I made on Charlie.  I finished 3rd on the day, about 3 minutes back of Charlie Hayes, and some multiple of 10 back from Cameron.  Actually, I think I finished in 2nd Place in the SS Open Mortal class, with Cameron taking the top spot in the Super Human class.  

After the race it was another impressive display of malnutrition and exhaustion-induced beer drinking, spurred on by the infamous Oskar Blues tent.  My body was telling me NO, but my mind was saying NO.  Being the non-conventionalist that I am, I had to look for a way out of this negative mental and physical bubble, and turn to deviance.  That being the deviance of one Deviant Dales Ale, followed by one regular Dales Ale, followed by another, followed by an acceptance that my mind and body were no longer friends.  This ended with my mind back on the good side, and my body left out like the fat girl on the cheer-leading squad.  At least I felt sorry.  It was an awesome way to end the RME season, with good folks, good race promoters, and good beer.

Full Tilt in Telluride

I was seriously trying to get out of this event.  Glad I didn’t.  I had been planning on going to Telluride for months, but as the race approached I was having second thoughts.  First, I was tired of spending so much time and money on the Mountain States Cup events, and getting nothing in return.  I mean how many 1st Place bottle opener key-chains does one need?  My alcohol consumption does not need any reinforcement. In defense of MSC, they go to some really cool places, and have a huge following with the gravity crowd.  But I figured that if I was going to go mountain biking in Telluride, I was going to do it with 70 more dollars in my pocket.  You know how many beers and boxes of Cracker Jacks I could buy with that!  It turned out that this was actually the State Championship event, and there was a custom singlespeed frame being raffled off to one lucky single speeder.  Both of these things were enough impetus to make me sit in a car for 7 hours.  

The morning of the race was perfect.  Telluride is an incredible place.  It is surrounded on 3 sides by huge mountains.  I don’t know why this gives me comfort, considering the possibility of a zombie invasion, but it does. I was able to camp out about 2 blocks from the main strip.  This could prove to be dangerous in the nights to come, but I was on good behavior for now.  I have found that being comfortable going into a race makes a huge difference.  I have felt my very best during races in which I was able to leave from my house the morning of, or at least a comfortable hotel.  The feeling isn’t the same when you wake up 20 miles down a gravel road in national forest land, surrounded by human-eating skunks; and I’m not afraid of bears, but if they eat all my race sustenance then I’m screwed.  

We all lined up at the bottom of the ski lift, with a mountain before us.  There was only one way to go, and it wasn’t down.  So I shook off my drool encrusted face, aired out my unwashed chamois, and got ready to race.  The race consisted of 2 12.5 mile loops.  Each loop basically climbed for 1650 ft, from 9500 to 11, 138 ft elevation, and then descended the rest.  The singlespeed field started directly after the pros, but about 20 feet back of the Cat1 guys.  Shortly after the start I was able to work my way up and past all but two of the Cat1 guys, being flanked closely by another singlespeeder.  At some point midway through the first climb I passed the 2nd Place Cat1 guy, and was still being held on to by my dear singlespeed friend behind me.  The climbing was tough, but incredible at the same time.  It traversed and worked its way up the mountain on amazing flowing alpine singletrack.  So although my heart was about to explode, I was having fun.  It wasn’t until we hit the downhill that I was able to put a little gap on my riding buddy.  I’m not the best at going down, but the combination of his pressure, the amazingly fun flowing trails we were on, and me simply feeling in tune that day made me go fast.  As we got through the start/finish and started another lap he was able to close down the gap, and was now about 20-40 yards back.  I knew he had to be giving it everything to do this.  I also knew that I was going to give it everything I had to not lose my spot.  Something happened during this race that I had been looking for all season.  It felt like everything came together; fun, high spirits, tenacity, physical prowess and mental awareness.  I was able to push my heart to red-line, and stay there for the entire climb and much of the descent when it mattered.  There are some races where I am simply not able to push myself this hard.  But today felt like my day.  I came through in 1st Place SS Open, and also first of all Cat1 times on the day.  The singlespeeder who had been chasing me was a mere 30-some seconds back.  Good thing I didn’t let up.

Now I’m able to call myself a state champion.  I was hoping they would adorn me with a WWF style gold belt, but instead I get a sweet state champion jersey along with some other schwag.  It was an incredible way to wrap up my season.  I spent the next two days in Telluride, soaking up the wonderful oxygen-less high mountain air, hanging in coffee shops, stumbling back to my camp from the local bars, taking advantage of the free lifts, and doing a little more mountain biking.  What an unexpected vacation.  Oh, and that raffle….

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Evolution of a Race Bike

My “Race” Steed.

Steed can be defined as a warhorse, especially a spirited one, or a working animal used as a mount.  This might describe the bike that I have been racing on this year, which is the same bike that I have been using for 98% of my rides for the last 3 years, which is also the first mountain bike I ever built.  It is a spirited and lively vehicle upon which I wage trail wars on a continual basis.  I have an extreme emotional attachment to this bike.  I call it my “race” bike, because it happens to be the bike I race on, out of necessity, and not because it was truly made for racing.  It is more of a pack-animal than a race horse.  A sturdy, sure-footed mule.  A mountain goat.  Not a thoroughbred.  Maybe this is a blessing.  Thoroughbreds are quirky, temperamental, and tend to be replaced frequently.

The bike is my Niner S.I.R. 9.  It’s made of steel.  It’s quite heavy compared to my competition.  It is flexy, flowy, compliant (in all directions), and comfortable.  Its ride characteristics are lovely.  The geometry is spot on.  Not too relaxed yet not too steep.  It has become an extension of my body; the one bike in my constantly rotating stable that just feels so right.

The SIR9 has gone through countless renditions and variations since its inception.  The one constant, never-changing aspect being the use of a single front chainring matched to a single rear cog.  This will never change, lest I retire all dignity, and forfeit mountain biking for crocheting.  Not that there’s anything wrong with crocheting. I love corny Christmas sweaters.

It started out life as a budget build, hacked together with parts I had lying around and a few new items.  The frame and matching gold Niner carbon fork were bought new, and would serve as the platform.  I used old-school XT cranks, flexy XT brake levers matched to BB7 mechanical brakes, non-tubeless handbuilt (by me, first timer) wheels, and huge riser azonic downhill bars.

Since then almost everything on the bike has been replaced.  On my second set of XTR M960 cranks, upgraded to a Stan’s Crest wheelset, and just recently a stupid lightweight Stan’s Race Gold wheelset, old XTR mechanical levers which are way stiffer, carbon bars, Chris King cogs, and numerous tire selections.  The only things that have remained the same are the frame (obviously), the BB7 mechanical brakes (because I’m too cheap to go hydraulic and they just work so well), and the Ergon GS2 grips (I can’t ride without them).  I rode it full-rigid for the first year and a half, before venturing into the world of suspension.  Since then it has been promiscuous with a White Brothers Magic 80 fork, the carbon fork, and most recently, a carbon Lefty from Cannondale.  All three of these options were great in their own right.  
First set of upgrades.  Modded XTR cranks, Stans Crest tubeless wheels.

The carbon fork by Niner is an incredible rigid fork.  First off, it is scary light!  When you hold it alone you instantly doubt its integrity.  But I have put this fork through almost 3 years of constant abuse and it hasn’t catastrophically exploded yet.  Besides that, its compliance and fore-aft flexing are amazing.  It is another scary aspect looking down at your front wheel and seeing the fork move back and forth with impacts.  But Niner did an amazing job at designing a fork that was meant to do that, and at the same time had little to no flex side-to-side.  Riding a full-rigid, with a fork that works this well, is so much fun, but I learned, against my will, that there is a time and place for suspension. 
So the first suspension fork I used was the Magic 80 by White Brothers.  I chose this to be a good single speed fork.  I didn’t want a whole lot of travel, and wanted a fork that wouldn’t bob much with out-of-the-saddle climbing.  The Magic 80 has White Brothers’ IMV (Intelligent Magnetic Valve), which is basically a threshold for when the fork will go into its full travel.  Set at the maximum, you can stand and climb and the fork feels almost rigid.  This is exactly what I was looking for.  I assume it’s a similar idea as Fox’s Terralogic, albeit different ways of going about it.  With a large enough force the valve opens and the fork goes into full travel.  The adjustability of this fork was great.  The IMV has about 30 points of adjustment; it has compression rebound and air pressure adjustments as well.  I believe they are also internally tune-able to 100mm of travel.  I loved this fork for the first 6 months or so, but began to see some drawbacks.  It wasn’t very plush, and small-bump compliance was terrible; I don’t think I was even getting the full 80mm of travel; it is fairly heavy, and flexy.  On the fast, rough, rooty downhills I was introduced to in a couple of races, it was clear that the fork wasn’t keeping up.  But all in all, I bought it for specific reasons, and it lived up to those.  It should be said, I am a huge fan of White Brothers and what they are doing.  They make some incredible suspension forks, and are able to compete (maybe not in sales, but in quality and performance) with the likes of Fox and RockShox, all out of a small workshop in Grand Junction, Colorado. 
White Brothers Magic 80. Barely hacking it in Moab.

Next up, and most recent, was the fork to end all forks, at least for now.  Upon installing Cannondale’s Lefty carbon, reduced to 80mm travel to work with 29-inch wheels, the SIR9 never felt better.  The first actual ride I did on it was the Breck68 race, and I was happy as a clam all day with my setup.  My downhill speed was increased tremendously. All of the gripes about the Magic 80 were gone.  Small bump compliance is incredible.  Stiffness is incredible.  Travel seems more than 80mm, as it’s hard to tell when it bottoms out.  It is smooth, ohh so smooth.  Damn this thing is smooth.  It accomplishes this smoothness and complete lack of stiction with the use of roller bearings instead of seals and bushings like regular forks.  Plus, it is about ½ the weight of most forks on the market.  Plus, plus, and more plus.  My only (and this is just being nit-picky) gripe about the Lefty is that it dives and bobs a lot when climbing.  This is remedied with a great lockout that is easy to turn on, on the fly.  The lockout truly locks the fork rigid, and is great for long climbs.  I may try many other forks in my days to come, but it’s hard to imagine a fork performing better than the Lefty.

So it’s not what you ride, but how you ride.  Run what you brung. These messages have always been close to my financially-constrained heart.  Sure, I have done a lot of upgrades to the Niner, but it is still, at best a mid-level “race” bike.  I have to keep race in quotations because the SIR9 was never meant to be a race bike.  It was designed to be an incredible steel hardtail; an everyman’s bike.  When I go out to races, especially in Colorado, there isn’t another steel frame in sight.  My setup is overshadowed by thousands upon thousands of dollars, carbon fiber, hydraulics, and the newest and greatest inventions in cycling technology.  Does all this fancy new equipment seem to matter much?  Not really.  In a world, especially the mtb race world, where everyone buys next year’s models and components before they hit the bike shop floor, and last year’s model is deemed out-dated (even though it was probably 3 times as good as the equivalent 5 years ago), it is satisfying to realize what I’ve been able to accomplish on the SIR9. That being said, will I be looking for a new lightweight, REAL race frame; one that is stiffer and more efficient, and possibly pounds lighter, for next year?  Yes.  At higher levels of competition a couple of pounds and higher efficiency can make a huge difference.  But the SIR9 will always stay a part of my stable, trusty old steed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Breckinridge 68

I’ve never been that much into snow sports.  In Indiana “snow sports” meant drifting your car down country roads with your high-school buddies piled in the back, or drinking whiskey and going sledding on trash-can lids.  Neither of these were very competitive, or endorphin inducing.  Oddly enough, now that I am in the snow sport capital of the country, and having seen it all for the first time during the summer, I am in no way closer to realizing this new passion.  To be frank, mountain biking in Breckinridge is so beautiful and awe-inspiring that the thought of it all being covered in snow for 8 months of the year is quite depressing.  So it goes for the entire state as well.  In a year that has taken me to some of the best mountain biking destinations in the west, I am still constantly impressed with what this state has to offer.  Breckinridge is no exception.  Known for its ski hills and ritzy condos, it is an absolute gem of summer recreation. 

The Breckinridge 100/68, part of the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series, and a stop on the National Ultra Endurance Series, was a race that I had been looking forward to for months.  Well, that is to say that only months before I had become aware of endurance racing and the Breckinridge race.  I was actually unsure about doing the race, as it fell the day after my birthday and I would have family in town.  These two things, birthday and family, tend to lead to alcohol consumption and a general influx of unhealthy behavior.  But being that it was, for me, the most highly anticipated event of my first season of racing, I decided to grin and bear it.  Not bare it, but bear it.

I had done some good high-altitude training leading up to this race.  I had spent a few days in Breckinridge pre-riding the course, as well as 4 days in Crested Butte, and numerous trips up the mountain from Boulder to Nederland.  I felt that I could handle the altitude.  The wrench(es) in my plan was that I had never done even a ride of 68 miles, had never done over 9k feet of climbing in one day, at that elevation, and all of this was to be done at race pace.  I needed a bigger tool box.  Here are some maps of the two loops that would comprise the 68 mile course.

The morning of the race was perfect as far as weather was concerned.  Rain was predicted throughout the day, but it was warm and sunny and blue skies to start.  The action got going fast.  It was a neutral start, which didn’t mean much as the pace car sped off faster than many could follow.  The first 20 minutes or so were all climbing, up paved road.  I was somewhere in the middle of a couple hundred riders at the very beginning, and knew I had to get up front lest I watch my competition disappear.  So I pushed hard up that first big climb, and caught up with the leading pack, finding myself nestled in with Jeff Kerkove, Dan Durland, Charlie Hayes, and other strong riders.  I tried one time to push the pace, but these guys were happy to keep up.  I noticed early on that my power was not quite there, my heart was having trouble responding to mental encouragements, and I was already feeling the pain.  We got to the top of the first intermediate climb, the Sallie Barber, and I was still right behind Dan Durland, the leading single speeder.  Next came a good descent down dirt road, super fast, loose, and sketchy.  After that was the biggest climb of the day, as far as I was concerned.  It took you to the top of Little French Flume, just over 11,200 ft, with the last couple of miles being brutally steep, loose, and rocky.  At one point most people begin to walk it, as a measure of saving energy and legs.  This is when I really noticed I was having trouble getting my body to react and perform.  I felt like garbage going up the climb, was struggling mightily to stay close to Dan Durland, and got off sooner than I wanted.  When I finally reached the top I could still see him, not too far off, and thus began about a 20 minute downhill.  In that time he was gone, and I wouldn’t see him for the rest of the day.  One of my favorite portions of the race was ahead of me.  Even though it begins with another monstrous climb that takes 30-45 minutes to complete, it is all on the Colorado Trail, is beautiful buff singletrack, and then ends with a fast and furious singletrack descent that is pure fun.  I think I started regaining some time, and got into a better mental zone during this climb.  I settled into my own pace instead of chasing, and began gobbling up other riders during the climb.  Nearing the end of this first loop the skies started looking quite ominous.  I got sprinkled on just a bit, but not enough to throw on the rain gear. I made it to the start/finish area at about 3 hours flat, and was feeling well in spirit, albeit a little down on energy and power.  And so it began again; another huge climb all the way up to Boreas Pass at about 11,500 ft.  I blanked out much of it.  The reward was maybe the most fun sections of singletrack descent I had ever done in a race.  It’s hard to imagine how you can be in so much physical anguish, feeling sick and desperate, and at the same time having the time of your life cruising through the forests of the Rockies.  Adrenaline baby.  The premier ride was Gold Dust Trail.  Gold Dust is a section of trail maybe 10 miles long that resembles a bob-sled run, with high sides, berms, and twists and turns.  During the first part of this second loop the skies were dark in all directions.  I got sprinkled on for about 5 minutes, but that was it.  Since I can’t remember much of the second loop, besides the amazing singletrack descent down to Como, it went like this: climb up to Boreas Pass, descend Gold Dust Trail to Como, climb back up to Boreas Pass, and descend back into Breck.  I was not feeling good at all the last 3 hours.  I kept getting spells of nausea, was feeling sick, and had no strength. At one point I took an unintended mud-bath.  I remember getting passed by a girl.  That is all.
Last climb up to Boreas Pass.  Post mud-bath, pre getting-passed-by-chick.

I came into the finish line in 2nd place, SS Open, 6 hours 35 minutes.  I was immediately handed a cold Dale’s Pale Ale before I could dismount my bike.  I drank said beer accordingly.  I was thirsty. 

Thoughts on the race:

It was an amazing event put on by Rocky Mountain Endurance.  The course was phenomenally fun and challenging.  Perfect mix of everything mountain biking.
I think I was the luckiest rider of the day in terms of weather.  Everyone else I talked to got poured on at least once.  The skies were opening up all around me all day.  My folks back at the start/finish said it poured on them a few times.  I somehow evaded all of it.
My family was there, for the first time.  It was an amazing feeling having loved ones there, and really gave me inspiration to do well.
I was extremely happy with my 2nd Place finish.  I had been building up to this race for months, and although I didn't feel as strong as I would've liked, standing on the podium always feels good. 
My bike felt better, setup with a carbon Lefty fork, than it ever had before.  I was taking descents much faster than normal, and the stability and stiffness was incredible. 
I will do this event for many years to come, and won’t be nursing a hangover coming into it.
Loving Lefty and Colorado Trail descent!