Wednesday, February 27, 2013

ShaNAHBSanigans



NAHBS 2013 was a success.  Success is like, your opinion, man.   

How does the saying go? “Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one, but mine smells better than yours”?  Yeah, I think that’s it.  Anyways, from my perspective, which was admittedly much skewed as the result of ultimate bike fanaticism mixed with sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption, it was a good day. I think the other Dicky had a similar experience at the Richmond show.

It started off with a 9am bus ride from Boulder to Denver on Saturday morning.  I’d been up since 7am waiting for my buddy from Fort Collins to arrive.  I’d also been up until 3am the night (morning?) before working like a monkey on crack.  I felt good at 3am going to bed.  I did not feel good at 9am boarding the bus.  My mind was in a daze of epic proportions.  Coffee had no effect.  Good conversation had little effect.  It was just going to be one of those days, so I rolled with it.  Walking into the show, with the excitement of hours of bike-gazing and industry talk ahead of me, part of the daze disappeared.  At least that was my perspective.  For all I know I looked and sounded like a drunken sailor as I babbled on with the first set of builders.

Let me regress for a second.  This would be my 3rd NAHBS.  The experiences have all been largely different.  The first one was in Indy.  I was probably most-impressed, most-wowed, and least-informed during this event.  I knew (or thought) I liked track bikes.  The word hipster comes to mind.  Every lugged steel frame I saw had me oooing and awwwing.  It is not to say that I didn’t appreciate the craftsmanship, because I did, but just that I was there for different reasons.  The hipster after-party in an old warehouse-turned-apartment-turned-art studio was the highlight for me; Macaframa showing, gold sprints, PBR and flannel.  My next NAHBS experience was in Richmond, VA.   I don’t have much recollection of this event, only that I didn’t get to stay for as long as I would’ve wanted, indulge, and immerse myself in the scene.  Word to the wise: don’t go to bike events with girlfriends who don’t care about bikes.  Even though the overall experience wasn’t something to write home about, something happened at that show that would change my life forever.  I was just starting to enjoy mountain biking at this time, but still knew very little about it.  This one rigid singlespeed 29er from Engin Cycles forever changed my worldview on mountain bikes.  


For some reason it caught my eye and stuck out as the show-stopper for me.  Upon getting home from Richmond and going through my NAHBS swag, there was an ad from Niner bikes on some page of some magazine. 


That was it.  I was sold with one picture.  Anyone who tells you advertising doesn’t work is full of shit.  It wasn’t but a few months later that I had a gold Niner frame and rigid carbon fork.  The rest is history.

Back to this year’s NAHBS.  Now that I’ve had a little time to let the bike-world-maturation process take place my experience this year was way different from the rest.  Hopefully the maturation process of someone in the bike industry is like a fine wine, although I’m afraid it’s more of a pickling.  This year I was less wowed by the innovation and design of various bikes, and much more interested in meeting the builders themselves, where they come from, why they build what they build, and hopefully building some relationships in the industry.  I was completely in my element here just nerding out on bikes.  The conversations I had with builders and industry people were something unexpected and wonderful.  These people whom I may have looked at as gods before are just bike junkies like me.  I had a good time hanging out with Chris at Generic Cycles. The bike he brought was basically the exact frame he is building for me, so it was whetting my chops to look at.   


There was a ton of titanium there, literally.  There were also some fantastic bamboo-carbon bikes from a few different companies.  Overall, there was plenty of eye candy, but I enjoyed most the opportunity to meet and talk with some of these people.  I even got the opportunity to “test” a prototype bar-end integrated shot glass made by King Cage at the Black Sheep booth.  The Bulleit bourbon went down smooth, so I'd say it passed.  And then I passed out against a wall in a slumber of sleep deprived intoxication.

The after party was what it was.  Nothing special, besides the tap wall at Star Bar in Denver.  They had about 6 Lips of Faith series beers from New Belgium along with about 15 other exotic choices.  I remember drinking 2 Tart Lychees, because it was more delicious than anything else to my palate, sitting in an outside patio lounge and talking to builders from various companies (or more so listening when the conversation turned to specific brazing techniques) as the snow fell on our heads.  I had a quick meet and greet with Todd at Black Sheep whom I share mutual friends, and that was it.  NAHBS 2013 all rolled into a ball and thrown out of the window.  Splat.

I have pictures.  They aren’t very good, as my photography skills, motivation, and attention span were all on the low end.  At some point early on in the show I stopped taking pictures all together.  There are a lot better examples of NAHBS photo galleries from people here, here, here, and here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

PreNAHBS Preview PreTalk PreThoughts



The North American Handbuilt Bike Show, or NAHBS, is happening this weekend in Denver.  Bike nerds rejoice!  This means 3 days of the most beautiful, innovative, creative, wild, wacky, and irresponsible use of bike building skills and materials in North America.  Everything from the most functional Di2 equipped mountain bikes to completely functionless but still lovely in every way works of a custom builders’ imagination.  This is the beauty of NAHBS.  Everything wins.  It’s a mega-art gallery of epic proportions.  Every weird idea that these weirdo bike builders (trust me, they’d appreciate being called weirdos) could drum up in their caffeine and booze-addled minds was then formed, cut, welded, and painted and will be on full display this weekend.  There will be a cornucopia of innovative bikes and ideas, using the newest-to-market standards and components, prototype parts, etc.  There will also be the full onslaught of classic lugged steel road bikes, commuters, track bikes, fat bikes, and hopefully a tricycle or two to feast on.  Frame-building materials will span the entire spectrum of various types of steel, aluminum, carbon, titanium, magnesium, wood, bamboo, etc. etc.

I’ve been to NAHBS twice, and been completely blown away and overwhelmed twice.  I don’t expect this year to be any different.  In fact, given the high concentration of custom bike builders on the Front Range, and in other parts of the west, I expect this year to be the biggest yet.  I think mountain bikes and fat bikes will dominate the spectrum.  And not to brag, but just to boast, it will be pretty cool to have a frame-builder there who is in the process of building me a bike!

I wish I could spend a couple of days immersed in this ocean of bikes, only coming up for a breath of fresh beer before diving back in.  But, as life dictates, NAHBS will be sandwiched in between work, so Saturday is my day to get wet.  It’s Friday.  That means beer.  Cheers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Beast: 2013 SS Race Bike



On Saturday morning I got an email from Pro Peloton saying that my frame had arrived; my new frame that I have been waiting months for.  It was an incredibly nice day, so instead of being the kid on Christmas morning and rushing over to unwrap my new toy, I decided to persevere and go on a long ride.  I took the cross bike into the mountains, up to Jamestown, back down the canyon, then up James canyon almost to Ward, before I noticed a slow leak in my rear tire.  So I turned around and headed back.  About 8 miles all downhill, stopping every 2 miles or so to put more air in my tire.  Normally this would’ve ruined my day, but I knew what lay ahead.

I picked it up around 5pm Saturday, traded ProP a growler of Mountain Sun stout and cash, and went home.  By 10pm Saturday night my new bike was put together in entirety.  These 5 hours could have been expedited had it not been for beers and social activity at my house that had me taking breaks.  Everything went together pretty smoothly.  Unfortunately it would not be ready to ride until I could get it to the shop for the brake lines to be trimmed.  So here it sat, staring me down in all its beauty.

After months of waiting, contemplating setups, compiling parts, and most importantly, not riding a singlespeed(!!), my dreams are finally a reality.  The bike that I will do most of my racing on in 2013, barring any catastrophic events, has finally been finished.  I could jump into the juicy details of this amazing, way-too-good-to-be-true, I-am-not-worthy, not-fit-for-someone-of-my-income-status build that I have put together, but first I would like to take a step back.  Why and how did this all happen?  How is it that I have this amazing machine sitting in front of me (literally, right now, I’m looking at it.  Drooling slightly.)?  Four months of agonizing SS-withdraw and here I am.  It turns out that anything good is worth waiting for.  

First I had to break my old S.I.R.9. 2 ½ years of abuse and racing and voila! Next, decide on new frame, and coinciding parts. Luckily, the frame decision process and monetary acquisitions took longer than expected because it gave me time to acquire a baller set of components for this build.  A few, unforeseen circumstances happened that would accelerate the process while keeping it affordable.  First, enter VeloSwap in Denver.  Among the millions of bike parts available at discounted prices, I found these Magura Marta SL brakes on the cheap!  One of the most expensive parts of my build: check.  Next up, thanks to some awesome product support from sponsors such as Crank Brothers and Maxxis, fancy carbon bits and new rubber was acquired.  The last component of real importance and expense would be the crankset.   Being that there are a plethora of nice cranksets on the market, how does one decide?  As I was scouring online retailers for the best crankset, price per weight, and one that is still external BB, it dawned on me that SRAM had just released an industry-breakthrough crankset this year.  The new XX1 group from SRAM is probably the most influential new product on the market.  Oh, it comes in external BB?  Oh, it’s still way more affordable than XTR, while also being lighter? It was also designed as a single-chainring specific crank, so I don’t have to buy a triple crankset again and use it for SS?  Okay, SOLD.  Thanks to good friends at Virtuous Cycles, the XX1 crankset was had only days after checking it out online.  Once I knew that my frame was on order, I sent my Lefty fork over to Mendon Cyclesmith for a complete service and overhaul.

It seemed like it took forever to finally get this build wrapped up, but it turns out that the extra time was a blessing.  Instead of rushing to buy parts, and either over-spending or getting less-than ideal stuff, I waited and think I have put together the most optimal race bike.

The Goods:
Frame:  2013 Niner One 9 (L)
Fork:  Lefty Carbon DLR 80mm (soon replacing with 100mm carbon Lefty)
Wheels:  Stans Race Gold
Tires:  (f)Maxxis Ardent 2.4 Exo (r)Maxxis Crossmark 2.1
Cranks:  SRAM XX1
Chainring:  XX1 32t (soon to be MRP Bling Ring)
Cog:  Chris King cogs all day
Brakes:  Magura Marta SL (soon to be Formula R1 Racing)
Seatpost:  Easton EC90
Saddle:  Fi’zi:k Tundra II
Stem:  Ritchey WCS
Handlebars:  Crank Brother Cobalt 11 carbon

Weight: 19.5 lbs (could drop a lb with lighter tires, but I love beefy rubber!)

 
This is an absolute dream build.  Never would I have thought, even 6 months ago, that I’d be riding such a well-equipped machine.  I’ve talked a lot about how I was not on a competitive, by comparison, race bike last year.  Now I am.  Now I have no excuses but to go out and crush.  I must give much love to my support and product sponsors for helping make this happen.


First Ride Impressions:

Light, stiff, fast.  Period.  I can’t wait to ride this thing again!!  It is the lightest and most stiff MTB I’ve owned.  I took it out for an inaugural ride up Sunshine Canyon, then over to Betasso Preserve for some singletrack action.  My first impressions while climbing up the road were of the quietness and efficiency of SRAM’s new XX1 crankset paired with the Chris King cog.  There has been some speculation in the MTB world whether this crankset would work well with 10-speed chains.  SRAM has designed their all-new XX1 drivetrain to work with their proprietary 11-speed chain, but for SS use it works great with a 10-speed chain.  It was super quiet and efficient all day.  Next up, the brand new Magura Marta SL brakes.  Since they were brand new, they needed some bedding in before good power could be had.  After that, I really liked the modulation and feel.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced good modulation before.  The only other hydraulics I’ve used have been Avid Elixirs, which are pretty much “on” or “off”.  The Avids are powerful, but can also be quite grabby.  The modulation and touch of the Maguras was very nice.  I wouldn’t say they are as powerful as the Elixir CR’s I run on other bikes, but are much nicer to use.  Once hitting the trails, the real magic of this bike started to shine.  First off, I love big beefy tires.  In my opinion, tires are the most important part of your ride.  They are the only thing that makes contact with the ground!  I’ve seen my fair share of racers running super-lightweight flimsy side-wall tires that don’t perform very well and are also extremely prone to flatting.  Not for me.  Having that big cush and awesome grip of the Ardent 2.4 up front was confidence inspiring.  Paired with the Crossmark on the rear, which proved to be an excellent rear tire choice for singlespeeding, this combo was making me happy throughout the ride.  Last but definitely not least was the new One 9 frame.  Once on the trail, I was happily reminded of why I loved the geometry of the SIR9 so much!  The handling and fit of the One9 felt eerily similar to that of my old steed.  For this reason, I instantly felt comfortable on it.  Its light weight and stiffness were apparent as it would accelerate quickly and almost dance or skip over small obstacles.  Much more time is needed on this frame before I can give a full review but my initial reactions are that it is everything I was missing on the SIR9 in the stiffness and weight realms, and is going to be a great race bike for this year.  



  
Now all I need is this snow to go away in Colorado, so I can get out and ride more!!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Evasion Tactics



This time of year in Colorado is like playing hide-and-go-seek with the weather.  It’s incredibly nice one day, almost summer-like, then snowing the next.  Good rides are hard to come by when the combination of unpredictable weather, unpredictable trail conditions, and unpredictable work-hours and other “real-life” stuff is all thrown in a bag, mixed around, and dumped out.  If everything lines up correctly, you can have a phenomenal day.  But you better take your opportunities when they arise. 

I got one “decent” ride in this weekend.  Honestly, I can’t even really consider it a ride.  It was more of a test-session/joy-cruise/get-your-fix-before-the-shit-weather-hits-the-fan ride.  It was another chance for me to test the capabilities of Sensei Shinobi, my Ninja bike instructor.  On Saturday snow was projected to start falling around 1pm.  My view from downtown Boulder that morning was one of sunshine to the east and mild temps, with a thick blanket of milky clouds consuming the flatirons and hills to the west.  This generally means one thing: something is coming out of the sky in the hills above.  I wanted to “test” the Shinobi at Walker ranch, a local trail with some rocking-fast, steep, pick-your-own-line-and-hold-on descents, and equally abusive climbs.  It’s a good place to test a new rig; or maybe just a good place to have some fun.  Normally I would do what is called the Super-Walker.  You ride from town, up Flagstaff past the “fake summit” (where the roadies in this year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge concluded their day) on to the true summit, down another couple of miles to Walker Ranch, then ride the 8+ mile loop at Walker, however many times you deem necessary or of acceptable bodily destruction, turn around and make the climb back to the top of Flagstaff, and coast on home.  
Typical "Super-Walker" route.

Two things discouraged me from taking on that task on Saturday.  One being time, the other being the blizzard I got caught in on the same ride on a very similar day last April.  Instead I loaded up the bike, got in my fuel-burning box of steel, and drove to the trailhead.


The ride was great.  I started to feel more dialed-in on Sensei Shinobi than I had in my previous lesson.  A couple of things that I liked: handling and cornering at speed felt better than any other bike I’ve been on.  I felt comfortable leaning the bike into corners more so than I would on any XC rig, and didn’t even come close to pushing its limits.  The way it eats up trail obstructions/obstacles is confidence inspiring.  Again, I haven’t even come close to pushing its limits in this way.  The stiffness of the chassis, with beefy linkages and thru-axle rear, burly wheels, etc. combined with an efficient suspension platform, is amazing when standing up to climb.  A few things that were meh:  The bars and stem need to go.  Wider bars, shorter stem.  This combo should only add to the playfulness and handling ability of the bike.  The super-long wheelbase.  This is great when cornering at speed, as mentioned above, but can feel a bit cumbersome in slow speed corners.  I could actually feel the delay of the rear end lagging behind in slow speed turns.  This is just one nuance of this extremely well-designed and well-built bike that I will get used to.  It definitely doesn’t take anything away from a good day spent riding.  The dropper post.  The only time I used it was before one of the steepest and most technical descents at Walker.  But, I did so very consciously.  Not the on-the-fly instinctual feeling I would like, but maybe more time with it is needed.  My buddy from Sedona has different thoughts on the matter…


Hmmm… an excuse to further “test” the bike?  Maybe a trip to Sedona is in store.


Just as I got back to my car the first snow-flakes were making an appearance, and not more than 5 minutes later they started falling with intensity.  Perfect timing.  Cheers.


How quickly weather can change in Boulder.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wintspiration



I need to update this more frequently.  But not always at 2 in the morning!  Some people will be getting up for work a mere hours from now, and I’m just winding down.  But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way!  I work nights so I can enjoy my days.  Speaking of enjoying my days, what have I been doing with them?  Shortly after my last post, in which I had suddenly been too tired to continue a ride, I spent a couple of days in pure rest mode.  Probably more rest then I’ve gotten in months.  It was something natural that came over my body that I just had to listen to.  I wasn’t sick, but was running on low energy for about 3 or 4 days.  Normally I would push through and get out and ride regardless; this the infection that many cyclists have, always feeling like we are regressing or “losing it”, but in this instance I decided to let it be.  Since then my riding has been mostly mundane.  I need to find the inspiration somewhere to get back out and start hammering again.  I know it will come, and I will find it, but for now it’s a slow process.  That’s okay though, because there is so much in the way of mountain biking right around the corner, and I will surely get my fill. 

The first thing on my definite schedule is the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey in April.  I’m so excited to be getting back out to California again!  Not so excited about taking my licks from all of the top MTB Pros that will be there, but so it goes.  Everybody has to experience it.  It will be a UCI-type XC race, which I am not at all used to.  In the last couple of years the UCI has reworked what it considers mountain bike races, switching from backcountry, singletrack epics, to viewer friendly, technically challenging, fast and furious courses with minimal climbing.  These courses are best-suited to the big-power guys.  I am not a big-power guy. Before that, there are a couple of Pro XCT stops in southern California in March.  If I can swing it, I’ll also try to be out there then.  If not, some trips to Moab and Sedona will probably be in store.  Then, in May the real racing begins.  There is the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series season opener in mid-May, followed by the Gunnison Growler a week later.  After that, everything becomes a blur!  I kick off my foray into the ultra endurance scene with 100-mile races in Ohio then Michigan only two weeks apart.  Then Marathon Nationals, Breck100, and more!  Whewww! I hope it all works out.

In my immediate line of sight, there is this thing called Stout Month.  In its 20th year of existence, the heavy hitting dark beer extravaganza at the Mountain Sun Pubs is something to behold.  Let me preface this by acknowledging my own skepticism toward both the epicness and the appeal of having over 10 stouts on tap at all times.  Big deal.  Who even wants to drink this much stout, right?  Well, apparently every beer drinker in Boulder!  The talk was not cheap!  It is truly something special.  The influx of amazing beers and variety of our constantly changing tap wall has made me change my mind.  Every day something new hits the wall that I have to try!  More than anything, it has been the guest taps that I have enjoyed the most.  We have gotten all of the best stouts, some of which are extremely small-batch, from local Colorado breweries.  New Belgium Lips of Faith, O’dell Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout, Renegade Peanut Butter Cup, Avery The Czar, Avery Tweak, Great Divide Oak-aged Coffee Imperial, and more from Ska, Strange Brewing, Telluride, Equinox, Cooper Smith, Left Hand, Elevation, Wynkoop, Boulder Beer, River North, Gravity, and more.  This in conjunction with our personal rotation of 40+ in-house stouts.  It’s a stout explosion.  But that’s not the only thing exploding.  Facial hair also explodes in odd forms and variety this month, as it is tradition for Stout Month to coincide with Chop Month.   


Mine was a small explosion.  More like a fire-cracker.

More bike goods to come, as they come funneling in, including my new 2013 singlespeed race bike build!  Cheers.