Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rise of the S.S. Monkey

Since the faithful and versatile Surly Karate Monkey is a carcass after the buildup of the Lenz, I needed to replace the bars, stem and wheels that I pirated. I picked up a couple of stems on sale in a 110mm 6* and a 120mm 6*. I wanted a slightly longer stem to get the bars just a bit further out when I am standing and climbing.

Now I need the bars and wheels. The bars are not too hard unless I want to get tricky like a Mary bar or something. I have really come to like wide bars. 26" at least and 27" is even better.

But the wheels had me stumped. I want to stay rim brake and I want to buy used if possible. Used is cheap. But, I want some kind of reasonable quality. I also want a freehub, not a freewheel so no Surly hubs, Phil Wood, etc. Cassette hubs are mostly disc. I don't really want that. So, unless I want to pop for non-disc Kings (I don't) it kinda gets down to a Shimano hub. XTR would be sweet. XT ok too.

Then the rims. I need a brake track for the v-brakes. V-brakes are simple, light, and work just fine for the way the S.S.Monkey will be used. Most used rims are disc only. There are the WTB Dual Dutys (kinda heavy) and a few Mavics of lesser quality. I really like the DT Swiss TK 7.1 rim. Kinda narrow, but really tough and light-ish.

So, I was agonozing over the lack of the right combo on ebay, etc. I was even considering going to disc brakes or buying a really nice set of wheels for the Lenz and re-using the DT Swiss Onyx/DT 7.1 rims on the Monkey, but I really don't have the cash for that right now. It is easy to get out of control and get to thinking you need really fancy stuff. I would love Hopes or Kings or I9s. Then I could get some disc brakes too and then.....soon I am doubling the cost of the bike. Meh! But really, for the SS, I just need it to be good and not too heavy. This is not my #1 ride, just a fun thing to cross train on. So where is the balance point?

There are plenty of cheap ebay prebuilt wheels, but some of the hubs I have never heard of and are some Chinese wunder-hub of the week. And the build quality of a machine built wheel? Dodgy, at best.

Then, I figured it out on tonite's ride. The Monkey is all about frugality. Not cheapness, but just not fancy. A buddy has a set of free Deore LX non-disc hubs. Free. I will freshen them up and pop for a quality hand build from the local shop. DT Swiss TK 7.1 rims, and good spokes. I will compromise with the non-blingy hubs, keep the rim weight down, enjoy a reliable hand build and stay under $300.00 most likely.

I may not feel too swanky with the Plain Jane hubs and VBrakes, but my checking account will feel better and the more time I agonize about it, the longer I am away from the SS way of riding. I really enjoyed the last time I was on a steel 29er SS and I hope to benefit from the strength gains of having one gear. I really admire the folks who can run SS as an only bike or do silly things like 100 mile rides on them in Moab. Wow.

Maybe one day I can do that too, but if I do, chances are it will be on the S.S. Monkey with the budget wheels. Kinda the way I am rollin' ya know.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rollin' Solo

A recent post on MTBR got me to thinking about riding alone. I usually ride alone, I have for years. Some of that is by necessity. It is either ride alone or don't ride at all. Some of it is by choice. Alone means my pace, my route, my ride.

Also, being alone on the bike is 'quiet time'. IPOD or not, it is time well spent reflecting on life's weightier issues. Or not. Just ride. No thoughts other than the next hill, rock, gear, speed, pain, etc.

Three rides in point. The 40 Something could have come down to a solo effort. If I had ridden alone, I would have been at least an hour faster and it would have been simpler and likely a new personal record. With the slower but capable rider that came along for the ride, I was, well, slower, but I was able to share a ride with someone who, up until that day, had never ridden that far. For him, it was a new personal record.

Last weekend I planned out a route and sent the invites. The loop was changed a bit to reflect the needs of the group dynamic. By myself, I would have ridden the loop I had planned without the re-route. On the other hand, the four of us had a blast and shared the memeory of the day.

Last night I was going to ride a great route up in the forest a bit out of town. To accommodate a buddies schedule, I delayed the ride launch time. That fell through at the last minute. Too late to do the ride I planned, I called another guy that I had been wanting to ride with. A great guy, I wanted to show him a ride in town he had never done. Turns out he is slower than I thought so the ride was, well, slowish.

Last night, riding by myself, I would have been on the out of town ride and gotten a better workout instead of a bit of frustration. But, a nice guy got to see another ride option in town and picked up some tips on getting more fit.

Kinda, sorta confusing, ain't it? There is some satisfaction from both camps.

I think I will continue to ride alone most of the time just cause it fits my busy life's schedule. But, I have to admit, it fits my other needs as well, mental, physical, and spiritual.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Me and the Lenz, we are buddies.

I needed to get out and spend some time on the new bike in unfamiliar and more challenging terrain to get a bit more intimate with the little dear. Time in the saddle and obstacles in the trail will sort things out pretty well and determine if the relationship will last.

What better way to do that then to put together a nice loop that blended two trails I have done in the past, one I have not ridden in quite a few years, but never as a bigger loop. And, of course, ya gotta invite some friends to share in the day. So the emails went out and the route was planned. Ya gotta love Google Earth. Combine that with a regular map and some knowledge of the area and you can really get a feel for what you are up against.

I had last ridden Blue Ridge Trail, located near Mtn High ski area in the San Gabriel Mtns, about 15 years ago. I was doing book research and I was by myself, but I was amazed at how good it was. Really good. Nearly perfect, actually, if you like flowy, smooth singletrack through the pines. Manzanita Trail is a horse of a different color. Always challenging, it requires much more from the rider in skills and endurance. Not killer techy, but difficult, it is still a great ride for the more adventure minded.

As a loop? Who knows. I figured 30 miles and 4 hours. We shall see. This is what we ended up with.

So, the ride:

We began by getting lost driving to the ride start. Well, not lost, but just misplaced a bit. Since we had Roger, a recent addition to the list of crazy guys who go on rides with me, meeting Tony, Pat and I at the trail head, we had to get started some time this morning! Finally we got our act together(my act, actually, being the seeing eye dog leading this trip) and headed up the road.

The ride begins with a few miles of uphill pavement up Big Rock Creek Road, not steep, but certainly not flat either. We had Tony on his Titus, Pat on the carbon wunderbike Stumpy, and Roger on his new and shiny El Rey 29er. Me, the Lev. Pat had forgotten his Camelback bladder, so he was riding light with two bottles and not much else but snacks. I had forgotten my bottle of Accelerade at home, so I was running on pure water. That could be bad. Say hi to the camera, Pat.

The end of the pavement brought us a really ugly dirt climb. Covered in loose, broken rock and very steep in places, the only blessing was shade. 5.27 miles and 2400' of gain later, we were at Vincent Gap at Highway 2 right near the trailhead of Mt Baden Powell.

From here, we decided to climb to Inspiration Point on the highway and not more dirt, so up Highway 2, which is gated as a thruway due to a road closure. This cut the traffic to almost nil and made for a nice climb.

Mt Baden Powell in the background.

A break to look for water for luck, so we finished the push to Inspiration Point, at 8.52 miles and 3235' of climbing.

Turning toward Blue Ridge campground, we climbed some more on a broken paved road which ran right past the chair lifts of Mtn High.

The beginning of Blue Ridge trail is just at the east end of the campground and we broke here for a minute to snack and get our wind back. At 7900', we could feel the elevation and we had 11 miles and nearly 4000' feet of climbing on the odometer to this point. Pat looked fresh. A ways back we were talking about fitness, etc, as we spun up Hwy 2. Pat casually mentioned that he had been tested to have the same hemocrit level as Lance Armstrong. Nice. I, in contrast, have the same hemocrit level of Jack Wickosky, a plumber in New Jersey.

The trail is sublime. Fast, smooth, twisty. Not too many pics, too much fun to stop. I dialed it back a bit to allow for the unknown trail dangers and hikers, etc, but it was still uber-groovy.

We dropped out on Big Pines Highway at 13 miles or so and made a decision to cut the loop a bit shorter in the interest of time and energy. We were going to drop to Jackson Lake and climb over the dirt to Vincent Gap and the trailhead for Manzanita Trail. Instead, we turned off of Big Pines Hwy onto Hwy 2 and climbed back up to Inspiration Point and dropped like 4 well dressed rocks to Vincent Gap. Tony flashed by me in a blaze of Titus mounted glory.

The trailhead for Manzanita Trail.

This is a cool trail if you have the patience to hike-a-bike a bit and the skill set to ride a narrow and loose trail. Not really exposed except in a few really dicey parts where you need to creep across some scree slopes with your bike, it drops pretty consistently and is not very brushy, just loose and covered in acorns, small rocks, and leaves.

Roger is a very fit dude for the 'old guy' of our not-exactly-young group, but I think we slightly exceeded his abilities this day on this trail. New to Mtn Biking, I think he crashed about 4 times, one OTB. Marred but undeterred, he pressed on, only pausing to adjust his stem each time he sampled the soil. After a while, we would wait in the shade and along would come Roger. I would ask if he stopped to adjust his stem again (code phrase for crashing) Roger would just smile, shake his head, and press on. Good man, Roger.

The trail dropped out at Southfork CG and a short dirt road brought us back to our cars and waiting coolers full of chocolate milk, the recovery drink of champions.

24.48 miles, 5,111' feet of climbing, 5 hours and change.

Oh, the Lenz? What a good, good bike. Simply rock solid, predictable, agile, light feeling, and just no-nonsense progress down the trail. I can see why endurance racers like this 29er FS. It just works. I think I will keep it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fitness is Fleeting

Man, it is so hard to obtain, but so easy to lose. I had trained pretty effectively for the 40 Something ride and after that, cruised a bit recovering for a few days and then went on a camping trip which provided less cycling than I expected. I came home, got busy and then got a little bug of some sort. So, a week goes by and then I did a few rides, feeling kinda wimpy, but slowly coming back.

Yesterday I rode a 2.5 hour loop to get home after dropping off the family truckster at the mechanics. I figured that I would slam it pretty good. Well, there was slamming involved, but it was give and take between me and the ride. Huh. So where did all the fitness go?

Well, obviously away from me. I still rode well, but I have come to the conclusion that I need to be very consistent, especially as I age. While I can still ride well, I need more time to get fit and it seems to ebb faster than before. Ah, Ponce De Leon let me Fountain of Youth do I have in my back yard, nay, only a bird bath.

It does not help. I tried. The birds complained.

Adding to the difficulty is the lack of any tangible goals in the form of races or challenge rides to prepare for. I will do you good, long rides, but that does not instill fear and hard work like getting ready to survive a 50+ mile endurance race.

Oh well. Thankfully riding is a reward in itself and pretty easy to do. Riding well and riding far is another thing altogether, and that has another reward, one that is more difficult to obtain and therefore all the more sweet.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Just a ride niblet.

Not much good riding lately. I came off of vacation and got a little bit of a bug, so I have not been all fired up to work real hard. Still, there is a new bike and all, so I need to spend some time out there. I am getting tuned to the Lenz. I climbed up to an overlook above the lake on a trail that used to be an old road, and for all intents and purposes, is almost completely overgrown. So, I battled up through the weeds and the dried grass, all the while thinking how much summer riding stinks in So, dry, dusty, hot and dry. And this year's good rains really created a plant growth explosion that is making a lot of local stuff sucky in late spring. The county bulldozers have been out doing their yearly fire prevention work or whatever it is, so many roads and doubletracks are nearly unrideable if not completely un-fun. Sigh. Come on, Fall!

Well, at the top I did get a nice view.

The descent is kinda fun, a doubletrack downhill with lots of smoothed out rain ruts and abrupt lane changes.

The Lenz really shined here, and was definitely more relaxed (and so was I) than the KM was through here. I was not that much faster, but I was not anywhere near the limit of my pucker meter like I was on the hardtail Monkey. Some of that is FS, but a lot of it is the longer wheelbase and slacker HT angle.

The bike is very efficient over the dirt and pedals well as long as the ProPedal is on. Otherwise, it still goes Ok, but bobs like a drunken sailor. Fortunately, I actually prefer to run in ProPedal with the Reba just off full open. I like a firmer ride most of the time and I can open it up as needed. We typically have long climbs followed by a long DH so reaching down to flip it all over is not too bad. I do think that I would love the new Pivot 429 as it stays firm under pedaling until you get bumpy-ness happening. However, I like the cost of the used Lenz muuuuch better than the Pivot price tag.

I need to get out and cover some country on the bike and really get dialed to it, not that I am feeling distant, but we have not really danced yet. This weekend I hope to spend 3-4 hours exploring some higher elevation singletrack, so that ought to help. Beyond that, I was thinking I need to get out on a long ride again, but June and July are filled with vacations and such. Well, we shall see.