Sunday, January 11, 2009

Wind, climbing, and experiments in bike geometry.

I had big plans for Saturday's ride. There is an extention of a very popular local ride, that, if one just keeps pedaling East, goes on for miles and miles. The Santa Clara Divide fireroad runs the north-east section of the San Gabriels, the north end beginning right in town, and its terminus about 50 miles into the mountains.

I was going to ride East until I was sick of it and then loop back to town via canyon roads, hoping to get at least 5 hours of riding. The wind had other plans. With forecasts of 50mph gusts in the mountains and canyons, the good part was that the visibility was fabulous.

The bad part was, not only was it a cold wind, it was blowing huge amounts of ash into the air from the recent May Canyon fire. It is hard to see from this pic, but the burned area up ahead was a dust bowl of nasty airborne particulates. Once I made it though this, I would have been climbing even higher into the huge winds, completely exposed over miles of climbing. Yuck.

So, I changed my plans, hooked up with some buddies that I met at the trailhead, and planned for a more sheltered loop that included some choice singletrack.

Now, as we did the first hour long climb, I had the oddest feeling that I was pedaling a Barcalounger up the steep dirt road. There were other things too. Odd things. I had been raising my seat a bit here and there. I thought it was slipping. I also was finding myself sliding forward in the saddle to get up moderately steep pitches and fighting the bars a bit for control. Hmmm.

Anyway, off we went down a fabulous singletrack. I found myself being a bit off my line, correcting a bit more than I was used to as I dropped my way into the oak covered canyon. Not that it was ridiculous or anything as I was in complete control. I just figured that I had been spending so much time on the SS Monkey that I was getting used to the quicker handling hardtail. After all, I had barely been on the Lev the last 3 months, choosing the SS over the FS for most of my rides.

I also noticed the wheel flop when I was working my way up the creekbed trail, especially when pedaling out of the saddle. That was odd. I know that the Lev really should have a fork with more offset, but I was beginning to feel like the blush was off the rose. Was I just not happy with the Lev any more? I found myself thinking about a possible FS frame replacement as I finished the loop back into town.

I said goodbye to my pals, ate a Snickers bar, and headed up the climb for another loop. The way up was a repeat assault into the wind, and one hour later I was there again. I ate a bit more trail mix and walked over to where the May Canyon fire hit the ridgeline. This is just above the mobile home park where around 500 homes were lost. This was a hot fire and it left little behind.

I brought my Deuter pack for this ride as it has become my default choice for longer days where I need to be self sufficient. This has been a great purchase and I am still very pleased with the way it rides on my back, even loaded to capacity.

I dropped down the singletrack again and immediately noticed the way the back end of the bike was smacking me around pretty good. Very harsh. Odd again. I also was having issues getting the front der to shift up to the middle ring, like it was catching on something or a housing was fouled. I stopped, pulled on the cable at the TT with my fingers and the der seemed to move freely. I figured the last mud ride had gotten some grit into the housing section just out of the shifter. Another legacy of the $100 Dollar Ride.

At the bottom, I stopped to check to see what was up with the harsh feeling back end and the shifting issue. I looked at the rear shock air pressure and it seemed normal. Then, I noticed something. The seatstay bridge was rubbing on the front der cable at the back of the seat tube. Whaaaa??? There is no way that Devin designed this frame to run that way. What gives here? Then I backed up and took another look at the shock. I only had about 1" of freeshaft showing. That did not seem right to me.

So, I finished the ride carefully, loaded up and went home to investigate. I removed the shock from the bike and the linkage dropped back to the fully open position. Now THAT looked more normal. The seatstay bridge was nowhere near the der cable. I deflated the shock and it would not move. Hmmm...seems like it should move now. I inserted a screwdriver into one shock eye, stood on the screwdriver with both feet, and pulled up on the top shock eye with another screwdriver. No way. Oh oh.

I took the can off of the shock following the Fox factory instructions and found one of the seals on the inside of the shock had come out of its groove and was lodged tight in between the can and the shock shaft. Aha! I popped off the can, reset the seemingly undamaged o-ring/wiper into its happy home, cleaned the dirty oil out of the shock, poured a bit of clean fork oil into the can and screwed it back together.

Now it moved like it should. It held air, so back on it went. The difference in the placement of the linkage and the amount of freeshaft on the shock was amazing. Looking at the pics, you can see the groove in the seatstay bridge where it was hitting the cable just riding along. That was how far the linkage had collapsed. The o-ring is sitting about where the shock had compressed to and stayed there. In fact, if you look at the pic of the Deuter pack and the Lev against the tree (see above) you can see the shock in the stuck down position.

It got me thinking about the times I read on the net where folks are debating 29er geometry. You know the guy, he is wondering if the extra 2.5mm of the taller headset will mess up his handling and ruin his finely tuned machine. Hogwash. What do you think my head angle was? Under 70 degrees I bet. Maybe 69? 67? Who knows. Now it was not great, as I did notice it, and there were some some bad handling characteristics, but the fact that I was having a good time riding anyway does lead to some conclusions:

1) A rider, over time, will adapt to what the bike needs to get down the trail well. While there may be a 'perfect' setting for everything, the window of 'still pretty darn good' is huge.

2) I am pretty sure this happened gradually over time. If the bike had just changed all of a sudden, I would have noticed it.

3) Either that, or I am completely numb about anything bike-handling wise and my opinion is worthless. Pick one.

So, the day was actually quite excellent in that I was able to fix the boo-boo, I ended up with 4 hrs of riding and about 5K of up-ness, and I survived the wind. Not too bad at all.

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