Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Betwixt Holidays Ramble

Since I had the week off, I rolled the chicken bones and looked at the weather forecast for the week between Christmas and New Years.  Tuesday looked like the magic day and it was...temps in the 60s and up with bluebird skies and wispy clouds.

We have had so much rain that things are pretty soggy right now, but that was not an issue where we rode.  The route was not a new one, so I did not take too many pics.  We were pretty focused on moving it as this is a 5.5 hour ride at a decent pace.  (More pics here from the last time on this ride where we did take more pics).

This was a new route for some.  We had Ed the Tall, Navy Mike, Weekend Warrior, and FFW on this ride and they were placing themselves in my hands for the day.  The fools.  But they are all fit dudes and good riders so I expected a good pace.  FFW is over 50 and is a climbing genie, seemingly levitating up the slopes.  He led the big climbs while Ed was just a bit back from that having been off the bike with knee issues lately.  Mike, WW and I made up the rear section of the pack.

Navy Mike all smiles at the start.  Ignorance is bliss after all.

Ed The Tall on the JET9, XL version.

I have a test bike in the house right now, a very white and very XL new JET9 from Niner.  This is the type of epic ride that the JET9 was made for, so I wanted to get another rider on it to contrast my thoughts on the bike so far.  I have found it to be a super ride for long day rides over varied terrain.  It climbs well without Propedal, although it is there if you want it, tracks the ground quite nicely thanks to the CVA rear suspension, and feels solid overall (where the first generation JET9 was a bit flexy).

I asked Ed if he would buy a JET9...he said, "Yep".  Man of few words, that Ed.

The recent rains have really soaked the ground and there were little waterfalls and cricks running everywhere.  Yes, I said 'crick'.  Look it up, city boy.  This area is unique in the rock formations here.  There are signs of Native American presence here if you know where to look.

Hard to see, but there is a waterfall here.

At the top of the second climb, Navy Mike is no longer smiling.  This is a pretty good grunt of at least an hour, maybe 90 minutes and it comes after a 45 minute climb that we warmed up with.  As well, beyond this point along the ridge, there are many false summits to make you go "uuughhh".

Navy Mike and Weekend Warrior at the top of the second pitch.  Less smiling here.

It was not only FFWs birthday, but also WWs (well, within a week or so) so both of them enjoyed a metric 50 miler+ to celebrate their milestones.  Good going!  Old guys rule.

We hit up the country store to lick our wounds.  I had run out of water at the middle of the last singletrack downhill, so this was good timing.  That was 100oz of Elete tinted water in the Camelback and one bottle of 50/50 Cytomax. For the first time in a long time, I got one leg cramp in the same place as before...inside/right/thigh at adductors.  I think there is something out of balance that I need to work through here.

Navy Mike, WW, Ed the Tall, FFW, left to right.  All hail the conquering heroes.

On the way back, FFW was spinning down the road in his 1000 mile Double Century road weenie jersey off the front and WW was tucked in behind.  We were all just beyond earshot when they rode right past a crucial turn off the highway and disappeared around the corner.  See you boys.  Moral of this story?  If you don't know the route, don't be in the lead.

They figured it out soon enough, had backtracked a couple of miles, and came rolling into home base with tails tucked between their legs like two lost lambs.  Funny, but someone had to do it.  Glad it was the birthday boys.  They needed the extra miles to work off all that B-Day cake, I guess.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day before Christmas ride

Dirt around here has been scarce, what with 4 days of rain behind us, but there are a couple of places that remain rideable even when they are very wet.  Warm Springs Mountain is one of those places.  Beginning nicely enough along a little creek, it soon climbs in earnest, gathering 2000' or so of distance between the top of the mountain and the canyon below.

The final reward for all this heart pounding, leg killing up-ness is a great view from the Los Padres/Frazier Mtn to the end of the Angeles NF at Wrightwood.  We were bracketed by snow covered peaks, like bookends to our day.  Big bookends, 40 miles away.

Nine of us made the event special.  Old friends, new friends.  All the good natured jabbering and the jousting for position on the uphill, the fast chase to the bottom with about a dozen scary moments all makes for the shared experience of riding a bike on a cold morning up a big hill just because you can.  Because you need to in order to feel right again after all that rain induced hibernation.  Because...well, just because it is what you do, and it sure beats watching a bowl game or a parade or...whatever.  Save that for Christmas Day.

I wish all who visit here a very Merry Christmas in this special day of Christ's birth.  Peace on earth, goodwill to all men.

Not pictured...Kendra and Buddy Steve, victims of a flat tire on the way up.

Frazier Mtn in the distance
The scoot of the day...Niner JET9

Liebre Mtn covered in clouds

Cliff the Frugal,  Kevin 'yet to be named', and Tony the Tiger. Yeah, it was COLD up there and windy.

Eric the Red, Navy Mike, and Ed the Tall, 1st man to the top on his SS.  He rules.

Kevin and James, backed up by the San Gabriels looking to Wrightwood.

Celebrate the top of the mountain while you can.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dance baby, dance!

Twist it up!
I recently have been riding a new FS bike that is a bit sketchy for steering precision, something I am pretty sure is related to the lightweight rims and silly 9mm QR.  It gives me three lines to choose from at any one time.  How nice...NOT! It has been a while since I have felt anything like this, what with 15QR forks, tapered HTs, and better wheels for 29ers.  I will fix the little FS with some better wheels for my...ahhhh...poundage....and that will help that.

But, it got me thinking about how it stacked up in regards to the other bikes I have in the garage, so I got out my slew of scooters and calibrated my knees and arms before beginning.  Taking each one, I stood facing the front of the bike, straddling the front wheel and holding it tight between my knees.  Then I took the h-bars and twisted them back and forth, watching the level of dance moves going on below.  Chubby Checker would have been so proud.  Here are the highly subjective ratings from worst to best, worse meaning they did more Watusi then the others:

  • The JET9 with a 9mm QR, tapered Reba XX 100mm fork and Stans Crest rims on ZTR hubs, light butted spokes.  Maximum dance factor here. 
  • The new SS bike (secret sauce...shhhhh!) with a standard steerer, 80mm Manitou Tower Pro with 9mm QR on the home built wheels...Flows, dbl butted spokes, WI hubs.  A decent improvement over the JET set-up.
  • The Giant XTC-1 with 15QR tapered Fox 100mm fork and Easton EA-90 XCs.  Another big step ahead here.
  • The Specialized Epic Marathon with 9mmQR tapered XX carbon Reba, Roval OS28 front hub and radial laced non-brake side wheel.  Slight but noticeable improvement over the Giant.
The results are not that surprising except for the OS28 hub/fork interface.  That, combined with the Roval wheel, is a darn stiff set-up, but unfortunately, it will not work with all forks and is pretty much a proprietary 'system' kind of set-up.  15QR is waaaayy better than the normal 9mm setup and should be de-facto on any 29er FS that you intend on riding fast offroad.  I would have it on the SS in a heartbeat if the fork was ready in 15QR, but that is a ways off for now.

I am not sure if I can tell the difference in steering precision between the Epic and the Giant when I ride them, and even the SS steers very well, but I sure can tell that the JET9 and the light weight wheels are winding up on me.  It seems to point out that there is a low side to the stiffness equation that you want to remain above and perhaps that there is an upper range to where you cannot perceive much improvement for the average XC bike in normal terrain.   I know that if I were buying a 29er that was not a simple steel SS, I would not even consider one that was not a tapered steerer HT and fitted with a 15QR fork (and even that can be improved IMO).  And, moreover, I bet that even steel bikes will get in the groove with 44mm HTs at some point, allowing the tapered forks to apply there as well.

So there you go.  Dance lesson over, back to riding.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I never was good at math.

Geometry.  Angles, dimensions, millimeters, degrees.   Toss all that stuff into a bucket with bike tubing, add glue, and shake well.  Out pops a bike frame.  More or less.

And the result can be quite varied.  A bike is a pretty simple thing yet at the same time it is quite complicated if you are looking for a specific result in a handling trait or 'feel' to the bike.  'Feel' is sooo subjective.  This bike feels fast,  It feels slow steering.  It feels nimble. 

As a guy that spends time riding bikes and talking about them as a reviewer, I am constantly reading the tea leaves to divine what the bike provides as far as handling, etc.  So, you rely on your years of experience and decent skills to put into words what you hope is the truth mixed with opinion and spat out onto the keyboard in words for the eager readers.

I has been eagerly expecting the arrival of a new SS frame to possibly replace the SS Jabber.  I have really liked the little, orange, steel beast over the last couple of years.  It is a fine perch to pedal the countryside from, but there were some things I wanted to 'tweak' in the next steed.  This new SS hits all the marks on paper that I hoped would give me the results I wanted.

And, I am pleased to report, after two rides, it looks to be all that I had hoped it would be.  There is a lot more trail time to come in that regards, since two rides is just a quick hit off the sippy cup, not a long drink, but I am always surprised how a very few changes in a tube length and degrees of angles can produce such a subtle but noticeable difference.

Never let anyone convince you that one bike is just like any other.  While you can get used to anything and you certainly can obsess over the 'perfect' bike, it is worth a bit of effort to grab a ride on different bikes to find the one that meets your expectations.  Bikes can be very different, as different as each rider on them.

Vive' Le Difference.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

6 Hours of Your Own Backyard.

I was scheduled to do a 12 hour solo about a month ago....never done THAT before...but it kinda went sideways so I ended up not attending,  About that same time, I was riding out of our local network of trails and roads that have been groomed into a surprisingly good area to ride.  It occurred to me that we could have our own little endurance challenge right in our own back yard.

So the 6 Hours of Tapia was born, just like that.

The plan was to ride a pre-determined loop as many times as you could in six hours.  Six hours seemed about right.  It was enough time to stretch many riders abilities and yet allow for a later morning start and a before dark finish in Fall daylight hours.  Food at the local Mexican eatery to follow.  The loop was a mix of fireroad, doubletrack and sweet singletrack.  I am not sure of the elevation gain...maybe 1000' a lap...maybe...but it was 11 miles per and took about an hour at a moderate but determined pace.  We would ride by our vehicles every lap so support was easy. 

The invites went out and the responses were varied.  Some folks got it and others did not, but there were a few that verbally stuck their toe in the water by saying things like "I will come out for a few laps with ya...then I have to wash the hamster and take out the trash...blah, blah."  A few were stoked and were in for the long run.  You can show a horse water, etc.

The morning dawned and there were a lot of no-shows but I expected that.  We had great weather.  Cool and overcast, it was juuuust right.  I knew that my time per loop was about 1 hr 8 minutes, so thinking I could sustain a 1 hour lap for 6 laps was out of the question and I had decided that I really wanted to be done by 02:00 so we could all go eat together.  So my goal was 5 laps.

In the end, 4 of us completed 5 laps, one did 4, and others dabbled with 3 laps and then had to head home for honey-dos.  There were some that circled the course putting in some miles and it was great to see a face you knew as you were riding, even if we could not stop to chat.

55 miles and six hours...maybe 15 minutes of down time to refill bottles and stretch...THAT was a lot of fun.  Much thanks to FFW for hanging with me to the end.  Many others I never saw as we were like satellites, each on their own orbit, but never seeing each other, but Eric the Red, Joseph, and then FFW were the buds for the day and it was our version of the Rat Pack without the cool suits and Vegas Lounge acts.

I bet that many of you have a local area that would work for this.  Think up a fun but challenging loop, keep the time to an hour or 90 minutes or so, allow for a broad level of abilities and make it a challenge for those who may have never ridden more than a hour or two at a time, or for the fast guys to see what they can do.  Try to stay away from heavily used hiking trails so there are not too many conflicts with the riders.  Keep it social, make a few guidelines to keep it fair and even, then plan a gnosh afterwards.

Then, tell me how your 6 Hours of Your Own Backyard went.  I would like to know.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Going native

Two nights ago I swapped my bar-mounted lights to another bike for that evening's ride and waited till it was time to leave.  Heading out into the dark streets to the ride area, I hit the switch and.....nothing happened other than a *click*.

Hmmm...fiddle,, clicky click.  Nada.

So, I grabbed a FLEA for the bars and figured I would climb with that and use my helmet light for the fast stuff.  That, and poaching light from others would have to do.

The next day I repaired the broken wire and set out last night by myself with all lights in place.

Then, on the first fast DH, I could tell I was missing some light output.  Apparently I was low on batts for the bar light and it was defaulting to low beam only...till it just goes black.  Ohhh drat.  30 minutes into a 60 minute ride.  Hate to turn around.  SO I had the headlight but I used it a lot the other day and I am not sure how much poop it had left.  It will just shut off, no warning.  Conservation was the order of the evening till I could creep back home safely.  That was the prudent thing to do, of course, being all alone and 5 miles from home.

So, I did the only obvious thing.  I turned my lights all off and kept riding uphill, figuring I could run the lights for the fast stuff and hope for the best.  No full moon moon at all actually.

Darkness enveloped me and I tensed up a bit and peered down the trail, looking for the lighter colored areas that meant a hard packed surface and no mud.  Little by little as my eyes adjusted, I could see more clearly as the lights of town were reflecting off the cloud cover.  It was 40 degrees and the wind was up just enough to move leaves and blow branches around.  I could hear things skitter away into the grass, but I could not see them.  They could see me.  I played with the thought that recently a Mountain Lion was spotted in this area.  I hoped that Lions knew mule deer do not have red blinky lights on their tails.

After a while, I relaxed and looked around.  Nighthawks took off from the road in front of me only to land just out of my path.  An owl lifted from a tree branch and noiselessly glided away.  Without a light beam to track with your eyes, I was free to see the sky.  As I topped out on the final climb, I looked to the horizon and saw stars everywhere.  Wow.  Night blindness kills that when you have lights on.  It was awesome.  I hated to turn my lights on at all and when I did, they seemed so intrusive.  Glaring, even.

I made it home alternating with no lights/with lights.  I will say that I need to do more of that, spend time outside in the dark.  Back in time, before a flick of a switch changed all that, it was dark out there and we lived in it.  Aside from campfires or oil lamps, it was a world of unseen noises and skies full of stars.  We gained a lot with the modern light and the technology to make it work.  We also lost a lot too.

It took a dead battery and a decision to press on to remind me of that.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things.

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things”

                                      From The Sound of Music.

I am not so sure about the raindrops and whiskers, and I have little use for copper kettles, but woolen mittens have some possibilities and brown paper packages typically bring bike parts from UPS and that is very cool.

2010 was a year full of product tests and trail time on various bits of bike components.  Over those months, there are things that stood out as something I liked enough to make it a regular part of my ‘kit’.  As well, some of the trends and technologies that came about or hit the market big in 2010 have left some favorable impressions.

So, that said, Grannygear presents his list of “A Few of My Favorite Things”, in no particular order except what comes to mind.

2x10 drivetrains:  I am no stranger to running without a big ring, but 2x10 is more than just replacing your big ring with a bash guard and heading out to the trail.  10 speeds brought an 11-36 cassette so the low and the high end were still well represented.  The SRAM XX 10 speed (arguably the best of the lot) is what I have been on this past year and the front shifting of the XX chainrings is exceptional.  I seldom miss the big ring, but I do think that there needs to be a lower geared crankset.  Unfortunately, SRAM, the leader in 2x10 stuff, kinda’ boxed themselves in by the BCD (Bolt Circle Diameter) of the new cranks and a 39/26 is as small as it allows for.  I have ridden 38/24 cranksets with 10 speed back ends on some Specialized bikes....I bet you will see commercially available cranks from SRAM in that gear range for 2011.  In any case, Unless I was building a bike for touring the world or climbing the Rockies, I would choose 2x10 on every geared bike I own.
      Wool rocks.  No wonder sheep are so happy.  This year I was able to sample some of the best clothing products made from Merino wool.  Swiftwick socks, an EWR jersey, the wool Buff headwrap, and just recently a set of wool knickers from Ibex clothing, all have made their way onto my finely chiseled body.  The new wool blends are not itchy, fit tightly and are easy to care for.  Nothing is as nice over a wide variety of temps and conditions and they do not pick up body odor.  The only downside is these fabrics do not pack down small like synthetics, but that is about the only bad thing I can think of other than initial cost.  They ain’t cheap, but they are good.

      Tubeless tires are blessed.  Yeah, I know that they can be temper mental, especially if you have a tire-rim combo that does not play well.  But the Stans’ Flows I use on two bikes are just so easy to deal with and when I add a good running tire like the Specialized 2-Bliss versions along with Stan’s goo inside...well, it is magic.  Enjoy the potential of lower PSI, thorn flats are a thing of the past, you save weight, and the bikes roll better over a rough trail.  What is not to like?  Honorable mention to the Bontrager TLR system as another shining example of doing it right.

      Classic parts.  This year I bucked the trend toward more modern freehub designs when I built up mynew SS wheels.  The White Industries hubs and ENO freewheel have been tight, right, and light enough.  Plus, they look absolutely gorgeous (NOTHING is polished anymore...really) and remind me of the Campy road stuff from years back.  They roll like crazy and fill me with satisfaction every time I look at ‘em.  Kudos to companies like WI, Phil Wood, and Paul’s for keepin’ it real and the classic hub alive.

      Steel bikes.  Man, what is it about steel that is so darn good?  I like to ride all kinds of bikes and every material has its good and bad points.  As well, there is more than just the chemical composition of the tubing that makes a bike what it is.  However, the bikes that just make me want to ride over the horizon and smile for years to come are always steel.  This year the SS Jabberwocky has been providing me with that grin.  Pretty cheap, pretty good looking, and pretty darn fun to ride.  Steel is still real. 
      Buff Headwear.  Yeah, it looks like just a head wrap thingy, but man, I love ‘em.  I can keep sweat at bay, stay warm, keep my ears protected, cover my face, wrap my neck, shade my skin, and play pirate....arrrgh, Matey...the possibilities are endless.  I would not want to go back to simple headbands again.

      WTB saddles.  If I was looking to cross the world on one saddle brand, it would be WTB and specifically, the Pure V model.  I own three of them.  It is a wide-ish, medium padding deal with a kicked up back edge that works nice for scooting back and getting those glutes into play on long climbs.  Everyone’s backside is different, so ya’ gotta’ run what makes you happy.  The Pure V was made for my butt.  I wonder how they knew?

      Singlespeeds.  One gear.  One planet.  The rest is up to you.  How can you not love that challenge?  

      The perfect hydration pack...does not exist yet, but until it does, I have been impressed by the new Camelbak Charge 450 and have been using it for every ride this last month.  It is feathery light, smartly designed, expandable, and really comfy.  Plus, the new reservoirs are well thought out and an improvement over the past versions.
      LED Lighting...has changed everything for night riding.  I built my own lights just because it sounded fun and I could do it, plus I saved some money.  Now there are lights out there that are so cheap, that I cannot build a set for what I can buy the others for.  Night riding rocks.  One little gem I use all the time are the FLEA lights from Blackburn, both the front and rear versions.  The rear blinky is bright and flashy, but the front lights are so darn useful for those rides that just need a little light to get you back to the house or car, or as a back-up to your Phaser Beam Bunny Burner 2000 lumen whiz-bang lights.  One of these Flea lights will get you off the trail at a slow pace and they charge via USB or solar.  I used two of them (one may have been enough...two was more than enough) on the h-bars to begin an endurance ride that had 30 minutes of climbing in the dark.  I did not want to haul my big lights around all day, so these were perfect.

      Elete electrolyte additive and Fluid recovery drink.  One keeps me cramp free during hard, long rides, and one keeps me able to get out of bed the next day without feeling destroyed by that hard, long ride.  Honorable mention to Carborocket, a performance drink for during the event itself.  I have not used it as often but when I have, it has been a solid performer for me  
                    KT Tape. This stuff looks like odd little bands sticky gauze and works like magic.  I only use it for long rides where I tape up my lumbar area.  It keeps me noticeably pain free, preventing the tightening up of those low back muscles.  Not for every ride, but for the right rides.

                        My wife’s oatmeal bars.  Seriously.  They are little blocks of gooey joy, provide energy that lasts and lasts and they never taste bad, even after a dozen of ‘em.  No, she will not make them for you...but the point is this - get into the kitchen and experiment with your own concoctions to use as ride food.  Power Bars are fine and all, but I eat these oat bars with Green Tea for breakfast, stuff them into jersey pockets for ride snacks, and even grab one with cold milk after dinner.  You can’t beat the cost of making your own bars and no one likes a Power Bar with tea for they?

                          So, there ya go...a few of the things I have used, abused, enjoyed, and have come to count on to make rides better.

                          Sunday, November 21, 2010

                          Story Telling

                          The other day El Immigrante (pic on the left) invited me on a local training loop he likes to push himself over.  It climbs up one side of a mountain, drops over the other side, then climbs back up again and over where we came from, but never on the same main roads...kinda like a big figure eight laid on end for 30 miles.

                          It was windy and cold as we climbed the first pitch and only a few brave souls were hiking and riding up this steep, paved road that was a popular test of fitness for many.  I was moving along at a moderate speed and came up on a guy walking the hill.  I was waiting a bit for my ride host, so I slowed down to a walking pace and chatted a bit with the hiker, a guy in his late thirties or early forties.  I said that most folks are at home warm and sitting in front of the TV getting fat.  He said that that was him a few years ago until his accident.  I asked him about that and he told me that he had been in a coma for quite a while...nearly died.  He has gone out of the windshield in a car crash and was a broken man when it was over.  Now he had a new attitude on life and was trying to get fit and healthy to be around long enough to see his new born son grow up.  He had a second chance and was taking it.

                          I asked him what got him out the other side of his dark tunnel.  He said "prayer and meditation".  I bid him God's blessing and picked up the pace.  I turned to my riding partner and said "everyone has a story".

                          Last evening I was having tea with a guy I ride with, a very fit and skilled personal trainer and life coach, who told me that six years ago he was over 300lbs and had been overweight all his life.  Everyone else in his family was obese.  I asked him how he turned things around?  Why him and no one else in his family?  He said he just got sick and tired enough to make the difference and did the hard thing...he changed his life.  Now he is helping others change their lives, others who are willing to do the hard thing.

                          Everyone has a story.  Sometimes you just need to ask and listen for the response.

                          Saturday, November 20, 2010

                          New Hydration Pack love.

                          Been diggin' this one so far.  The new Charge 450 from Camelbak.  This may just become my fav pack.  I have not loaded it up too heavily yet, but it is darn light for its size, comfy, and versatile.

                          And it is RED!  Very nice.  

                          Hydration pack love set against the Autumn leaves.  Kinda romantic, eh?  Will the relationship last?  Ahhhh....we shall see.

                          I will know more once I get it really stuffed and packed-up, but I sure am digging the new Camelbak Antidote reservoir.  That is a nice improvement over the old one and the new Antidote will retrofit older packs.

                          More to come as time and trail miles add up.

                          Friday, November 19, 2010

                          So I got some light wheels and the craziest thing happened...

                          ...I rode slower than before.

                          So this was the deal.  I got a couple of sets of pre-built, high-end wheels for review and one set was installed on the long term Giant XTC-1 29er HT test bike.  I always loved the handling of that bike in the twisties but felt that the stock wheels were lazy on long climbs and quick bursts of speed.  They also were not easy to set up tubeless.

                          So the new wheels and tires without tubes dropped nearly 2 pounds off of the rotating weight of the bike.  Sweet!  I assumed I would go riding and find a quicker rolling bike that handled like the old one.  That did not happen.  What did happen was, I gained a snappier accelerating bike that would crest rises in the trail with much less power going into the pedals.  Nice.  What also happened was I turned a quarter horse into a nervous filly.  I was heading down the same old trails at speed, and warning buzzers were going off in my head..."Danger Will Robinson!"...I was pinging around on the trail like a rubber ball, blowing my corners and scaring myself a bit.  Wow.

                          So, I posted a question on a popular MTB forum linked here and it kinda bloomed into a heated debate of sorts.  But it did raise a question:  Is there a price to be paid for very light and very stiff wheels that goes beyond the purchase cost?  Perhaps.

                          I have about 6 rides on the bike now post-wheel change and I am adapting and getting back in the groove.  What I discovered was illuminating, but not really profound.  A wheel that is lighter and very responsive to steering input will take less effort to accelerate and turn but also will be easier to deflect from the intended path.  I was both oversteering and feeling the ping-pong off of rocks and such.

                          I put on a 100mm stem instead of the 90mm stocker...that helped a bunch...and the rest has been time and re-training myself to color between the lines.  It did point out that a bike that is quick steering to begin with might just benefit from a moderate wheel build/tire weight if it is just an all-around trail bike.  But I am not going back to heavier wheels on this bike, I just need to become a better rider and be aware that I took a step closer to the edge of unforgiveness for faster, rougher trails.

                          And I need to listen to those little warning buzzers in my head.

                          Monday, November 8, 2010

                          What cost, progress?

                          Titus, the bike manufacturer is no more.  R.I.P Titus.  They made some cool bikes over the years;  the Moto Lite, the Racer X, the Ti hardtails, and especially the Exo Grid frames.  Beauty, eh?

                          But a soft economy, poor capitalization, and mis-management seems to have broken the camel's back.   I have to wonder if we are partly to blame?  In the rush to have what is new and exciting, year after year we seem to demand something different than last year; something 'better' or shinier or lighter or faster or...something.  To meet those demands, the bike makers spin up the factories and push out a new bike with new components and new fabrication techniques with new materials and we rush to buy it, being sated for a year or so, and then next year it all begins again. 

                          The price of this lemming-like consumer rush to the cliff's edge, peering into the abyss of tomorrow, is being paid by us as well, and maybe ultimately in failures like the one that befell Titus.  Bikes are costing too much.  Six thousand or nine thousand dollars is a fine price for a used car, but a bike?  Wow. They are not always that much better, and sometimes they are worse than before, all in the sake of new-ness.  Take the replacement for the Racer X 29er  (a bike that many consider to be dated due to its FSR rear suspension),  the Rockstar.  The Rockstar came in a Ti front or Alu front end and a carbon rear.  Sexy looking, but costly.  It took forever to get it to market and then it was not well received with poor performance from the carbon fiber rear end and some early breakage issues.  What happened there?  For a company on the ropes, a bust like that will kill ya in R&D costs and warranty repairs. 

                          So, let us take a look at the Racer X as an example.  It was an older design, for sure.  It had limited travel (90mm on a good day).  Early ones needed more rear tire clearance.  It also hardly ever broke.  It was stiff, solid and pedaled like the wind.  It handled well and was an endurance racers and light weight trail riders friend.  It had no surprises.  It just worked, even if it did need pro-pedal to be at its best.  You absolutely knew what you were getting.  What did the folks who bet $$ on the Rockstar get?

                          I was discussing this with a group of riders Sunday and a guy chimed in with, "Yeah, but it had that old FSR design which is waaaay out of date compared to the new DW stuff.  You are paying too much for old technology."  Now I took him to task a bit, though I did it kindly, but what I could have said was "You are riding a bike (a VPP wonder-bike) that cost more than the Racer X, is not lighter, is not as stiff,  has anti-squat is not even a DW bike."  It is more something, for sure...supple, longer travel, etc, but it is not all that and a box of crackers either.

                          I am no business guy, but it looks like Titus was wearing britches too big for themselves.  Here is my plan, retro to a few years ago, that I would have done steering the helm of Titus.  Looking at an unsustainable economy, keep it simple and slim it down.  Make a few bike models that people can rely on.  Refine, not replace.  Keep things as close to the US as possible for quality and production times.  Once you jump into carbon, you are at the mercy of too many other's timelines in distant lands.  Do what you do well and has perceived value to the customer.  The Exogrid stuff was very cool and distinct, but even the normal Ti hardtails were very nice.  Keep those and weld in-house if you can.  Make it personal...keep the customer service brilliant.  Do not re-invent the wheel every year or those costs will kill ya.  Yes you have to stay current, but last year's bike, if it was a very good one, will still be a very good bike this year too and maybe we can sell it cheaper than the newest thing from the competitors.  The FSR is still a great platform despite all the hoopla over the shortlink bikes, some of which are very good and some of which are not so very good.  I will take a proven bike with a platform shock 'crutch' over this year's (soon to be replaced by next year's improved) roll-of-the-dice any day. 

                          Now, I know that some improvements are just really good and I do not want to stop innovation, but beware of change for the sake of market share only.  They are, after all, just bicycles.

                          But then who I am to be so bold as to think I have all the answers?  No one in particular.  I, often enough, are just another lemming jonesing for a look over the cliff edge in search of 'the new'. 

                          I deserve what I get.

                          Saturday, November 6, 2010

                          Eating Crow?

                          Well, maybe not that exactly, but it was not that long ago that I opined that "I had no use for a geared hardtail."  Yep, I said it.  I figured that if I was going to run lots of shifty stuff, I might as well have a rear shock and some pivoting parts too.  It is a tiny weight penalty in the grand scheme of things and the SS is my hardtail.

                          But something odd happened recently, and I am not sure exactly why.  Hanging in the rack in the garage is a 2010 Giant XTC-1 29er hardtail.  It looks like new and is still dead stock.  Every so often I would ride it around or my son would ride it, but that was about it, in fact it had become my bike path bike more than anything.  I have done 30 mile road rides on it, knobbies and all.  Even coffee shop runs...hey, it comes with a cup holder, ya know.

                          But after the SJ Enduro I had a thought about slimming down and stepping up the game for rides like that...lots of climbing and little tech.  So, partly from personal frustration, partly for curiosity, I rode the XTC-1 the next ride after the enduro.  Ya know what?  It felt pretty fast.

                          The next weekend I rode it on a 7.5 hour ride and it felt pretty good there too.  SO now I have a plan.  There are some things on the XTC-1 that need changing...the bars, saddle and maybe seatpost (if it keeps slipping), and mostly the wheels as they are a bit heavy and will not go tubeless with grace.  Tubeless is a must for me.

                          I still think it is the best handling singletrack 29er I have ever ridden and it is a pretty compliant frame for aluminum.  Another thing is the geometry gives you a 72.5* seat tube angle, and with the set back seatpost, puts me a inch behind the BB compared to the more upright Epic.  Interesting.  I am wondering if that is working well for my longer legs?  I am, at heart, a diesel, not a squirrel, and I am not a natural spinner.  That is why 180mm cranks have worked so well for me for some time, although lately that has not been the case....too many bikes that have 175s only these days.

                          So I have some shiny new wheels in a box at home right now and they may just find their way onto the little hardtail.  It would be very cool to try the newer 10 speed Shimano stuff on it...lighten things up a bit too over the mix of Deore and XT. 

                          So, I swapped the too-straight bars for some wide, flat bars with more sweep.  I replaced the saddle with a Bonty for now, but that will be temp as I just cannot get used to the lack of a groove in the thing.  Too bad, cuz it is a really nice saddle otherwise. 

                          There is another long ride coming up with miles of climbing and very little tech to it.  It looks like the Giant is on tap for that too.  Hopefully I can get it set up by next season's longer events and who knows...maybe crow is not so bad after all.

                          Got salsa?

                          Monday, November 1, 2010

                          Halloween ride: Makin' room for candy

                          Burn calories+eat candy=no guilt.  See how nicely that works?  To set that in motion, I tossed out a ride invite for a biggish loop in the local mountains and had only a couple of takers, that being JeffJ and Kendra.

                          All pics courtesy of JeffJ, AKA The Man in Black, and Kendra.

                          I was riding the Giant XTC-1 29er hardtail for the day, a test bike I have kind'a rediscovered lately.  Hardtails are very nice in some ways, especially when there is a lot of climbing and the ride is fairly smooth.  I also grabbed an older hydration pack for the day, the Deuter Race EXP.  Nice pack.

                          I had done this ride once before with Ed the Tall and it had been a hot day and the second climb on the route toasted me pretty well, driving me into leg cramps before the 36.5 mile ride was over with.  I wanted to revisit the route on a cooler day and with some better nutritional prep.  We had done this ride in 5 hours with only a couple of at the top of the singletrack downhill, and one at a country store to refuel.  Today would be a slower pace as it would be the longest in miles and hours that either of my companions had ever done.  I wonder if they know what is in store?  Not likely.

                          We left under overcast and mid forties temps, but that gave way to mostly sunny skies at the first climb, a 50 minute stretch to get the legs warmed up.

                          At the saddle, we could see the top of the Sierra Pelona Ridge in the distance.  That was our next climb, and it is long and not too easy.  The views were exceptional after the rains two days ago and the dirt was about as good as it gets.  From the top we could see to Wrightwood, the Tehachapis, Frazier Mtn, and the Topa Topas.  Nice.

                          Looking toward the next climb.

                          That far ridge was where we would top out.

                          Looking back from whence we came.  I always wanted to use 'whence' in a sentence.

                          Bouquet Reservoir and the distant Los Padres.

                          Looking towards the Tehachapis.

                          We took a moment to savor the day in a wind free alcove in some tall grass.  Bliss.  Nap time, if only we had the luxury of an extra hour or two.

                          I am pretty sure I am saying something very wise and important.

                          Kendra looking fresh as a daisy.  Liar!

                          From there, it was a long downhill on tasty singletrack to a little market, then a 5 or 6 mile return to our truck.

                          The arrow is me...I think.

                            The rest stop...chocolate milk, a banana, salted hot pocket although it sure smelled good...Kendra!

                          After this, some paved coasting which is real nice, but there is one mean little section of paved climbing that is a real mental killer, then fireroad to singletrack back to the beginning.  7.5 hrs of time had passed and we were tired little bike riders.  A great day with friends, and a personal best for them as well, even though I know they were suffering.  They never whined, never complained, just pressed on smiling.  That'll do.  That'll do nicely.

                          I felt really good all day and not one cramp.  Elete Hydration additive rocks for me.  This was nice as a bookend to last weekend's 50 miler and hopefully it will get me back towards pre-surgery fitness.  If I can do at least one ride a month like this over the Fall/Winter, I will stay strong for Spring.

                          Wednesday, October 27, 2010

                          Fast begins with a state of mind.

                          It is not often that I feel fast.  In fact, hardly ever, but if it does happen, it is typically downhill on some singletrack on the magic day.  But overall as a rule, nada.  Rare.  Perhaps extinct, is that feeling of fast.  There are many times I feel strong, but fast?  Hmmm.

                          Fast guy.  Not a donkey.
                          I have discussed this before here in Donkey-speak.  Then, last week's enduro brought that back to mind again.  Now, I certainly had some excuse for being off the mark due to my surgery and lack of saddle time, and, to be fair, there are likely very few over 50 year old guys among the general population that can even DO that type of thing and survive.

                          But I am not concerned with the general population.  I am, of course, comparing myself to my peers.  I do not expect to hang with the younger gazelles that won the race, but I was watching a guy at least my age just walk away (well, pedal away) from me like I was tied to the hitchin' post (donkey reference...again).  Now he is a racer-type and I am not really, but #@**&% and @*^##!! that is frustrating.

                          So last night the wind was howling like it often does here in the Fall and it was cold-ish too.  I am fighting a bit of an ear infection of some sort so I am off a bit there and the couch sure seemed cozy and inviting.  In answer to that, I dressed for a ride and went out.

                          I dressed fast.  No, not in a hurry, but I wore less layers.  Just a very well worn pair of knickers from Boure' (are they still around?), wool Swiftwick socks, a Speshy base layer and jersey, and light gloves with a Buff headband in the helmet.  No jacket, no winter gloves, no baggies. 

                          I grabbed the hardtail; the Giant XTC-1 29er from last year's test.  Hardtails have a way of making you feel like you are faster, even if you are not....zippy kinda'.

                          I pedaled fast and hard.

                          I felt faster.  And, in some ways, I was faster.  They say that 'attitude precedes the action'.  My attitude was to go out and move quickly up and down the trail, not just to go for a ride.  It made a difference.  I know that some riders always ride this way...if they are not riding hard and with purpose, they are not riding.  I do not relate, and frankly, I never will be that way.  Too type 'A' for me and life is too short to not ride for fun and relax sometimes.

                          But, I do hope that I can sharpen my focus a bit and change my expectations of myself.  I can do better, given the blessings of time and health to do so, and I sure would like to not be last into the finishing line the next time I set out on some race event.

                          Monday, October 25, 2010

                          Post Enduro Post

                          I laid there in the dark on Friday night, listening to the wind blow the light rain against the tent walls and wondered if this was such a good idea.  Up until now I had been very enthusiastic, if not excited about the whole thing, but now, in the darkness and cold, doubt was creeping in on little cat feet (apologies to Carl Sandburg).

                          Tomorrow morning was the San Jacinto Enduro, hosted by some hard working folks from the Idyllwild area.  Ed the Tall and I had blasted down on Friday a bit early.  On the way down we were talking about our relative lack of fitness prep, what with his knee being somewhat broken and my limited time on the bike since August.  I don't think I had been on more than a 2 hour ride since June.  Still, we were excited to be out and ready to pedal a bit and see new places. Fools go where angels fear to tread.

                          I was committed to the 50 mile loop but Ed was leaving himself open for the full monty, which added a 30 mile loop like a cherry on top.  I figured I could drag myself around for 50, but more than that?  Doubtful.  I am a realist after all.  This was a 'race' in the sense that there would be 'winners' and time keeping, PBRs, etc.  I was just there to survive.  Racing was out of the question.

                          We found the camp area and set up the tents at the ride start.  There was no one else there and the group camp experience was looking grim.  So, under cloudy skies and cold temps, we headed into town and cruised around a bit, picking up some snacks and breakfast food.  Back to camp, we hooked up with Brendan, talked about the route a bit, and then headed back to town to find some dinner.  Apparently not too many folks were braving the weather for camping.  It was in the low 50s and would be into the mid forties overnight with misty air from all the clouds.  I think that is great camping weather (and Ed does too) so we were happy.

                          Idyllwild seems to be the restaurant capital of the mountains.  There must be 5 eateries that say they are the best burger on the hill.  Passing on the burger joints, we tried a nice looking Italian place.  It was just a bit fancy for our dress and budget...a 14 dollar salad and 20+ dollar entrees?.....not.  We found a decent cafe' and I had an excellent chicken pot pie. Yum.  THAT would taste good at the end of tomorrow's ride.  I wonder if they deliver to mountain tops?

                          The ride start was an early one.  We were up by 05:00 at least, and it was dark and cold.  The bikes were dripping wet with dew and visibility was slim.  I layered up pretty well with leg and arm warmers, wool socks, a wool head cover, etc.  A rain jacket was tucked into the Octane 18 hydration pack, which, true to my form, was overpacked.  Not racing, just touring, ya know.

                          I grabbed a couple of the Blackburn Flea lights and put them on the bars for the 45 minutes of light we would need at the ride start.  I sure did not want to carry my bigger lights all day long.  I had my GPS on the stem too, and it had the ride track in it.

                          For food, I had 8 or so homemade oat bars, a couple of cheese and cracker packs, two packets of Carbo Rocket, and a Gu flask.  I chose the Epic Marathon for the day, something I questioned a bit later on.

                          The rider's meeting showed a much smaller field then expected.  Some of the riders were carrying little more than what I bring along for a 2 hour local ride.  Hmmmm...they looked sleek and fast.  I looked like a bag lady wearing my entire wardrobe.  Off we went into the dark and the mist, and then up into the first, long, climb.  Right about then one of my lights turned off.  I whacked it and it came back on and then went to 'red' status.  Hmmm...need to check that when I get home.  One light was fine as the clouds were reflecting a lot of light and there were others around me.  The main pack was a fast moving ribbon of lights way off in the distance.  See ya.

                          I backed off the pace to let my heart rate come down a bit, and then shut off the lights, enjoying the sunrise trying to get over the clouds with little success.  At some point, the clouds parted enough to see Lake Hemet below us.

                          About now I looked down at the GPS, which had been fully charged, and the batt level was sitting at maybe 20%...maybe.  Oh, great.  I had a route sheet with mileages, but the cues were obviously written by a local as they said things like "turn left toward town".  Great.  'Left' is relative to which way you are pointing and 'town' is where you find it.  So, a prayer went up regarding fools and failing batteries and on I pedaled, hooking up with Rob for a bit who told me he was coming off of a broken back and his shoulder was still wired together.  Oh.  Tough guy, eh?  My pace was off of his, so he pedaled away after a while.

                          I had brought just a bit more clothing than I ending up needing, but not by much.  One thing I did do was wear a set of baggies that are really good in wet weather.  The down side is that they are a loose fit at the waist and they would slide down on my butt every few minutes.  I have a callous on my left thumb from pulling up those shorts all day.

                          Soon enough I was at the bottom of the first segment at 26 miles into the loop.  I had spent a lot of time looking at the route on Google Earth...thanks for that....cuz it saved me in the end.  I knew a big climb, 3500' in 4 miles or so, was next.  I mixed another bottle of fuel, stuffed some food in my mouth and stripped some clothes.  It was still overcast, but warming a bit.  The climb was a hurt-fest and about there I was thinking I should have brought the Lenz with its deeper gearing.  I managed the climb with the 2x10 on the Epic Marathon, but I would have liked to save some energy with something lower than 26X36. I cannot imagine riding this on a SS like some guys did.  Crazy hard.  It was just me and Sam now.  Sam was another tourer and we would ride basically together for the last stretch of the ride.

                          My frustration with the cue sheets was mounting as the sheet completely ignored signed road intersections and N/S/E/W directions.  Sigh.  The GPS was in such a low batt state that I dared not use it to try and load the route, so it was just a fancy odometer that I reset at known points.  At some point we began to get into the singletracks, none of them signed, and the cue sheets had them listed by the local names....meant nothing to me...but I actually was on route until one point in the ride, then I went afoul.  I was following the best sets of bike tracks I could, but I got on to a rabbit trail that dropped me onto the main dirt road in a wrong place.  Here is where 'left and right' kill ya if you are off route.  But, I knew where I was and what direction I needed to go and I was pretty much on that.  Plus, I was following lots of bike tracks and I figured all good trails lead somewhere eventually.

                          The trails were twisty and techy a bit, and the ride was only dampened by the nagging thoughts that I was on the wrong track.  I sat down at a road crossing and checked my help there, and the GPS was worthless for showing me the route.  The batt was hanging in there though, so the prayers were answered.  Time for a new GPS.  I found a doubletrack that may have been the one on the route sheet and it had a lot of tire prints on it.  Off I went.  I did not think I was on track, but I could see buildings in the distance and it was a fun trail.  Good enough.  I ended up parallel to a highway and I remember Ed the Tall saying the 24 hour course was next to the road.  I also remember that Brendan had mentioned that if you are off course, you could end up on that trail.  Well, at least I was not lost.

                          I ran into a rider that confirmed I was on the 24 hour course and that it came right into Hurkey Creek Park right next to our camp sight.  I relaxed and enjoyed the ride into camp, rolling in dead last for the 45 mile group and glad to be there. Ed had passed on the second loop.  His knee was a bit sore and he had really been hurt by the second climb and had called it a day after a bit of route finding, even with his functioning GPS.  He had beat me by 90 minutes or so.

                          I had a good time, even though I really had no business there among that fast crowd.  I sure did not have the miles in my legs and no training at all beforehand and I was still wearing my 'girdle' after the surgery just in case.

                          I learned a few things.  Always study the maps before you go.  I spent about an hour looking at Google Earth and that was huge in keeping me feeling like I had the big picture in mind.  Without that, I likely would have flipped around when my GPS became useless for route finding.  I stopped too much.  I always do that...always have.  I stopped to adjust clothing, eat something, check the route sheet, etc....sigh.  One of these days I will show for one of these things dressed sleek and fast like those greyhounds that won this thing and I will pack light and travel like the wind without stopping.  Maybe.  However, I was in an area that was new to me in weather that was wet and quite cold, and I was pretty sure I would be off the back.  If I had any real issues, I wanted to be able to NOT DIE out there.

                          I would have felt faster with tights and less clothing over the multi layer approach.  It is mostly an emotional feeling, but it helps when the day gets long.  

                          7.5 hours of pedaling and route finding. 895 times where I hitched up my saggy shorts.  8 oat bars, one Gu flask, two packets of CarboRocket, most of a 100 oz reservoir with Elete in it, and a couple of Cliff Shot Bloks.  I actually felt pretty good at camp.  I fueled well and paced well.  I was almost on course, but never got lost.  I survived.  I will take that for now.  Next year?  Who knows.  Maybe I will try to be fast.

                          Grannygear, gentleman tourer.

                          Some of the things that I loved on this ride:
                          • Swiftwick socks...Merino wool ones.  Yummy.
                          • The Merino wool Buff headwrap.  That rocked.
                          • The base layer shirts from Specialized.  I never felt cold even when soaked with sweat.
                          • Elete electrolyte additive.  I never cramped, even when the distance and lack of fitness told me I should have.
                          • Carbo Rocket.  Brad K. makes a mean tonic.
                          • Fluid recovery drink.  Love these guys.
                          • KT Tape.  Two strips across the lumbar and my back NEVER hurt.
                          • My wife's oat bars.  Tons of energy and easy to eat.  Thanks, hon.
                          Check the links on my other page for more info on some of this stuff.

                          Wednesday, October 20, 2010

                          Finally...a real ride.

                          I have not done a really good ride since the beginning of summer.  That is awful, but that is the way it is.  So, this weekend Ed the Tall and I are heading down to do a little ramble in the hills around Idyllwild, CA.  On tap is a 40+ mile unsupported loop with an additional 30 miles in a optional second loop.  I am hardly at my best but I think I can get the 40 miler done.  I am not shooting for the bigger 70 mile version, but Ed is.  Some folks are 'racing' it but we are just out for a good pedal with some fine folks.

                          So, basically, Ed's knee is still messed up so even that may get adjusted as the day goes by.  I am still healing and have not ridden anything longer than a three hour ride for the last three months...Ed is much stronger than I but he is broken...we have never ridden there before and we expect it to be cold.  We start in the dark with no GPS tracks we can absolutely rely on and no SAG wagon.

                          Sounds perfect.

                          I can't wait to saddle up.  I figure I can heal along the way, but I may have to shoot Ed if he comes up lame.

                          Monday, October 18, 2010

                          I miss my SS

                          The post surgery recovery is going well enough, I suppose, but I still am not back on my singlespeed except for some small forays into the local canyons.  I am still not ready for the full body effort that SS riding requires up hills.

                          So yesterday, after my morning ride on the Epic, I changed clothes, grabbed a bottle of the new chocolate Fluid recovery drink, and rode over to a bike festival that a local land access group was putting on.  I figured the Epic needed a rest so I picked out the SS Jabberwocky and headed out.

                          Right away I was smiling, even pedaling down the street.  I really like that bike.  In fact, as I have ridden more and more SS bikes, I keep coming back to the Jabber as the ride of choice.  I know that some day I will have my head turned and retire it, but for the money (or even more $$), it is a fine bike.  Stiff in the right places, rides well, weight is OK, handling is slow but steady....good trail partner, that Jabber.

                          Now that Vassago (they make the Jabberwocky) is coming out with the Black Label frames, a hand made in the US of A product with grade AA tubing and a grade AA price tag, it will be interesting to see how it turns out for them. The Jabber is about a $500.00 frame IIRC. The Black Label bikes are in the $1500.00 range.  Wow.  That is a BIG jump.  If they are, say, a half pound lighter with a sliding dropout and a tighter geo, well, those are good upgrades.  If it rides a bit nicer, then that is fine too.  But three times the cost?  I bet it is not three times better to ride compared to the Jabber.

                          That is into the custom range of builders like Waltworks.  Now, the upside is no wait for the custom shop to build the frame and you know exactly what you are getting since they are all the same.  What you see on the website is what ya get.  Walk into the bike shop and point..."I want that one!".  And that has value too.

                          We shall see how it turns out for them.  I hope very well, as a slightly better Jabber is enough to get me pretty excited, seeing as how much I like the old one.