Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Being 'Over-biked'

I was leading this group ride, surrounded by all kinds of bikes, and a lot of them were 6"+ travel 26ers with big, heavy tires.  Now, where I live and ride it is the land of long, smooth climbs and fast long downhills.  Sure, the doubletracks can get pretty rough and all, but you have to go out of your way to look for something that deserves more than a lightweight 4" 29er or 5" 26er.

So I was riding alongside these guys in this steepish fireroad climb as they talked.  One guy, small but very fit, was riding a pretty burly Bionicon.  The other guy asked how much his bike weighed...38 lbs.  38 lbs!!!  That was over 10 pounds heavier than the SS 29er I was riding.  He said he drops it to 35 lbs when he has his XC wheels on there for, well, ya know, races and stuff.


Later we were regrouping at the top of the hill (one of many that day) and I was talking to a guy on a pretty stout looking bike, at least 6" of travel.  It weighed about the same as the other bike, so I asked him where he rides that calls for that kind of armament.  He just kinda looked around and gestured to say, pretty much everywhere.  Well, why would you do that on such a heavy bike?  This thing must have had 10 extra lbs in wheel weight on it.

He said that he found that he did not climb any slower on the bigger hit bike...he was a sorta stocky sit and spin guy, no greyhound here...and so he figured this bike was more fun the rest of the time.  In his words, "Point and shoot"  I get that...I really do understand that line of thinking.  I would not do it that way, but I can see why he would.

However, I do wonder how many guys have bought into the bigger is better mantra, are killin' them selves in the hill climbs and are making up for a lack of skills on the downhills by masking it with the pedaling version of an RM-125 (or whatever moto you prefer) and they would be better off with less.

No doubt that many of them are able to do things in a hucking frame of reference that I can only dream of, but the way many of them talk, they seem to be convinced that they NEED that big a bike, almost like they would be under equipped on less for the typical So Cal conditions.  In fact, for many it was their first FS bike, so they have little understanding of the bigger picture.

I suggest the MTB version of an herbal enema...put 'em on a rigid SS 29er for a while.  At first it would suck.  Later it would still suck, but it would clear out the constipation that is keeping them tied to that fully suspended crutch they are riding.  Then, when they have realized that you can do a lot with less, they can go back to the other bike with perspective.  Yep, I think that is what this doctor prescribes.

I will even let them wear those cute little knee and elbow pads during the treatment.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Singletrackapalooza V1.0

We are fortunate to have some pretty cool canyon areas to ride in our back yard.  With some hard fought efforts by some trail building gnomes, some new trails have been cut in to augment the mostly moto created singletracks we already had.  Connecting all this is a pretty good amount of fireroad and doubletrack, enough that one could make some pretty heinous loops...and loops...and loops...and ride all kinds of trail/fireroad combos.

So this winter it came to me...ride all the singletracks worth riding in one, big, loop using the connector roads to string them together.  I figured 3 hours or so and maybe 30 miles.  There would be a decent climb, then drop, then climb, then drop...over and over, so it would be hard, not just fun.  I figured I would ask the group and see if anyone wanted to play along.

So, I figured anything like that needed a name.  The name was obvious, of course:  Singletrackapalooza - A celebration of spring and all things singletrack.

I asked JeffJ and he wanted in on the organizing.  Apparently when Jeff says let's ride, it carries a lot of weight.  A posting on a couple of internet groups seemed to be bringing in the mongrel hordes.

This morning it was first just a few...

then more...

and more...


yet more...

till there was a passel, nay a flock, or perhaps a gaggle of riders, at least 30, maybe more.  We split into two groups, 'go big or go home' and 'go anyway ya' can as long as I get back before the beer is gone'.

At the top of the first climb, this was just part of the 'A' group.

It seemed like at each stop we had less riders...rules of attrition, I suppose.  Still we had great weather despite the wind and the trails were flowy and delicious.  Tons o' climbing too, and I decided to lead the 'A' group on the singlespeed Rockhopper.  It turned out to be a great decision as the SS just got it done with no problems.

I was not taking too many pics, being the leader and all, but I know there were lots of cameras around so hopefully I can grab some of the pics and post them up.  Back at the parking area, we all hung around and munched on chips and drinks till the 'B"group rolled in, then the BBQs came out.

Sweet day.  Only a few crashes with a sore back and maybe a broken thumb, and a flat tire or two and one taco'd front wheel.  Not bad at all.

More pics here on the STR website Ride Report.

Youtube Vid here courtesy of KT the Man.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mature SS rider seeking a good relationship with a girl named Al.

From the Table of Periodic Elements -

Al:  Brief description: pure aluminium is a silvery-white metal with many desirable characteristics. It is light, nontoxic (as the metal), nonmagnetic and nonsparking. It is somewhat decorative. It is easily formed, machined, and cast. Pure aluminium is soft and lacks strength, but alloys with small amounts of copper, magnesium, silicon, manganese, and other elements have very useful properties. Aluminium is an abundant element in the earth's crust, but it is not found free in nature. The Bayer process is used to refine aluminium from bauxite, an aluminium ore.
Fe:   Brief description: iron is a relatively abundant element in the universe. It is found in the sun and many types of stars in considerable quantity. Iron nuclei are very stable. Iron is a vital constituent of plant and animal life, and is the key component of haemoglobin.

The pure metal is not often encountered in commerce, but is usually alloyed with carbon or other metals. The pure metal is very reactive chemically, and rapidly corrodes, especially in moist air or at elevated temperatures. Any car owner knows this. Iron metal is a silvery, lustrous metal which has important magnetic properties.

I enjoy reading the various online discussions of what material is best for a bike frame.  It is one fraught with peril.  Broad statements are offered up as fact, rumors fly about this and that, and one's own bias adds to the blurry lines that get drawn in the sand.

I have written about the desire to have a Ti SS frame someday, but right now is not a good time for that. And, despite what I might hope it would be like to ride one, I have never even tossed a leg over a Ti 29er of any kind, so it may all be an illusion.

Then, GT gets on his blog and writes this: http://g-tedproductions.blogspot.com/2010/03/thoughts-on-materials.html

So lately I have been bouncing between riding some steel and aluminum SS bikes.  First it was the SS Karate Monkey.  Revered as a cheap, nearly indestructible and versatile 29er frame, it is also heavy as all get out and stiff riding for a steel bike.  But, it was a place to begin.

Then I was intrigued by the allure of inexpensive aluminum and tried the diSSent frame.  Immediately I was struck by the way it moved out when pedaled.  Big difference over the KM.  Steep grades felt flatter all of a sudden and I saved some weight in the frame.  All good to have.  But the ride was too darn stiff for me, not so much in the rear of the bike, but up through the crankset.  Man, it would 'whack' ya good and send shockwaves up through the bottom of your feet when crossing a deep rut.

SO it went onto the chopping block and I went back to the KM for a bit.  Compared to the diSSent, the handling sucked and it was not all that much better riding, but it was still more merciful to me on the trail.  Then I moved to the Jabberwocky, a slightly lighter, slightly more expensive, and slightly smoother riding steel frame.  The KM hangs in the rafters.  The Jabber pedals well and is a very nice all day SS bike, laid back, low and long.

Then the other day the Rockhopper SS shows up, all hydroformed and bent aluminum.  Very sexy.  I am intrigued once again. The first ride is impressive as it flat out gets it when you stomp on the pedals.  I am reminded of the diSSent and the way it responded to prodding.  It handles much better than the Jabber and goes down the singletrack like a missile, but at a cost.  I found myself cringing at ruts and such again, even though at first it seemed like a pretty smooth ride.  Still, could it be my imagination?  I find myself looking at catalog pics of the Stumpjumper SS frame set and thinking...hmmmmm...maybe for me?

Three rides on the Rockhopper and back to the Jabber.  Not nearly as sharp a response at the BB, and it handles like a long bed pickup truck compared to the Rockhopper, but oh, the ride!  Sooo much smoother.  This was the first time I could move from bike to bike like this as before I had to swap all the parts back and forth to go from one to the other.

So, here I am, faced with a dilemma:  I love the pedaling response of the Al bikes and the ride of the Fe ones.  One would say that the Al bikes are simply flexing less than the Fe one, but that is not quite true.  The Jabber is quite a bit stiffer in the rear section compared to the Rockhopper, something I can demonstrate by watching the frame twist under hard pedaling loads.  Maybe it is the bigger main tubes on the Al bikes that are hammering me into submission.

Maybe.  But besides the smoother ride, I was aware for the first time how alive the Fe Jabber felt in sections of the trail.  I have to say that a hardtail mtn bike frame benefits from being a better spring and Fe is a better spring than AL.

I am not smart enough to figure it all out and back it up with fancy words and terms, but there is an old saying that gets a lot of razzies in these days of super fancy bikes...'Steel Is Real'.

Steel is real.  I am not a luddite, just an old guy looking to get a sweet SS ride.  So, in perspective, the saying is not something to live and die by for all things cycling, but in this area of bike/owner romance, it may still be tried and true.

Maybe I should take out an ad:  "Mature, 29er riding SS guy seeking a harmonious  relationship with a bike frame.  Must dance well, not abuse me, cannot be overweight or have a fragile personality, and needs to be able to keep up with me.  Does not need to be a cheap date, but has to be able to appreciate a simple life."

I keep hoping her name will be Al (sounds odd) but so far, it seems to be Fe.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ramble Ride: Sierra Pelona

After a few reschedules, it was finally a go.  Ed the Tall and I were on tap for the first Ramble Ride and the weather was looking to be spectacular.  The day was warm (almost too warm sometimes), the grass was green , and the breeze was mild.  The Santa Ana winds that often blow into So Cal in the spring were not present.  That was a good thing as we would have been doing a long climb right into the teeth of it if they were.

The whole idea of a Ramble is to tie together sections of the countryside that, on their own, may not be worth a ride or they may end up in an awkward place for a nice loop, etc.  If possible, the ride connects through sections of highway or streets, hopefully hits a convenience store so you can travel lighter, and ends up back at the start with no shuttle.  This ride was the first one.

It was odd, but I was not particularly prepared for the day.  Odd because I am usually over prepared.  It has been a trying week for my work schedule with quite a few very early morning hours and time spent sleeping at the office in between things, so that was not in my favor.  I was also dehydrated, something that seems to hit me when the weather turns from winter to spring and the dry winds hit the coast.  It has been in the 80s as far as temps and after riding with layers of clothing and such for months, it felt like riding under a heat lamp.

The night before I had putted out on the SS Rockhopper to see how it felt and I was riding up a nearby canyon doubletrack when I realized I had no legs at all.  Man, that was not good for the next day.  But, whatya' gonna' do?

That night I was feeling pretty bad with a serious headache and fatigue from being at work at 02:00 that morning.  It was a full evening of social things with the family and by 09:30 I was toast and was not able to get my kit bag together for the next day's ride.  Off to bed for me.

The next morning I was a wandering generality, not a meaningful specific and I was running late.  I meant to peel and bring an orange for snacking on...no time...I considered grabbing the 100oz hydration pack instead of the 70oz one I had packed, but...no time.  Out the door with what was in the food drawer...some trail mix and a Payday or two.  Yum...Paydays.  I'm late.

Ed the Tall had decided to ride to the meeting place to get some more miles.  He is training for an endurance event in a couple of weeks,  As I pulled up, I saw this through the windshield:

This is what happens when your Stan's Sealant dries out.

Ed found out he had an airless tire.  That left him with no spare tubes and I realized I had only one with me.  Typically I would carry two on a remote ride like this.  Another casualty of my lack of planning.  We considered driving out to get tubes, but decided to cast fate to the wind and go on as we were.

Pedaling up the first section of trail, a nice warm-up leading to a 30 minute climb, the flowers were beginning to wake up as poppies were rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.  My legs felt pretty dead still, but Ed was letting me wake up too.

"Hey Granny, sometime today, huh?"

Topping out, we could see over the valley to the final summit.  We would drop all the way down into the basin before we began a long climb up to Sierra Pelona Ridge.

This basin area and the mountain surrounding it has lots of moto traffic, but on a Thursday, it was quiet and peaceful.  The creek was running and the birds were doing what happy birds do.  The climb was never terribly hard, but it was prolonged and in the full sun.  I was very aware that I was not carrying enough water.  70oz of H2O and one bottle of Accelerade would have been enough in cooler weather as we had a resupply point built into the ride.  But in 80+ degree weather, it was a bit lacking.  And, I had left my box of Endurolytes in the truck.  Great!  At this point it became a bit of body rationing...not pushing too hard, not drinking too much.  Ed had some extra Endurolyte caps and he was feeling pretty chipper, so he shared.  Thanks.  I needed that.

We hit the top and looked down at the next leg of the ride, a multi mile singletrack descent back to civilization.

The Epic Marathon was the steed of choice.

I was on the Epic Marathon, a bike which has proved to be an excellent choice for long adventure rides. The only caveat is not having a deep, deep, low gear.  But, it was enough for the day and then some.  Truly a sweet mannered bike.

The trail was in great shape, the top being littered with hens egg size broken rock and ledges, and the new tires I have been running...the Specialized 2.2 Purgatory Controls...were up to the task.  They have been impressing me as an all-a-round tire and as things have dried out, they still are doing very well, especially in the rubbly stuff.  The bottom section of trail was smooth and swoopy.

Ed could barely contain himself and was inspired to do the 'Sound Of Music' thing, dancing across the fields of green, singing, etc.  But, we were moving too fast for that kind of stuff to happen.  Maybe next time.

Two things had happened at the top of the second climb...I had slurped my last sip of water out of my Camelbak, and I had gotten my first leg cramp.  It was all downhill to the country store...well, pretty much downhill...so I was not too worried.  Still, I always live in fear of leg cramps, my nemesis, and here they were with a couple hours of riding to go.  Along the way, we ran across this little fella' on the trailside.  Ain't he a nifty little dinosaur, though?

We hit the general store and tanked up on liquids.  Ed was doing well.  Eschewing any refreshment, he only took a damp napkin and brushed his lips with it.  That was all he needed (pretty sure that was what happened...I may have been delirious).  I drank a Gatorade and about a quart of water and hoped for the best.

Ed the Tall, fresh as a Daisy.  My hero.

We rolled past some countryside planted with vineyards and had a casual spin down the highway leading up to the next climb to close out the loop.  

I was sitting there pedaling along, feeling pretty good and another leg cramp hit that nearly took me off the bike.  I have ridden with cramping quads and calves for hours before, but I have to admit that the pain level of this was on another level altogether.  I am talking childbirth here.  From my inner, right knee to crotch, it was on fire.  So I pedaled with my left leg and hung the right leg straight in the breeze.  That worked.

The final hill climb was non eventful except for walking the grade asked of me.  Pride has no place on a Ramble Ride.  Walking got it done and stretched things out a bit till I could pedal circles again.  

The last view before we dropped into the final stretch home, that being a fireroad to singletrack section.

Hitting the end of the ride, Ed passed on getting a shuttle back home from me and pedaled on another 10 miles or so.  The Ramble loop was around 37 miles and Ed added about 20 miles to that of pavement back and forth to the start/finish.  Must be nice.  I think he is ready for his race.

The first Ramble Ride was a success despite the lack of ooomph on my part, and frankly, I have had worse (and paid money for it!).  The next Ramble is in the works.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mid Week Updates.

Well, the first Ramble Ride is scheduled for tomorrow.  This is the third attempt at making this happen, so unless plague (it happened before), pestilence, or the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse intervene, Ed the Tall and I should be riding in great spring conditions.  I know last night's ride around a local loop found me knee deep in new grass and flowers.  The Lupine were everywhere and the aroma was like the perfume counter at Macys.  Enjoy it while it lasts, as in a couple of months, the brown comes to town.  The Epic Marathon is on tap for that ride.

The SRAM XX suite on that bike continues to impress.  It has not skipped a beat yet, but last night I would not have minded a lower gear.  I need to stay on my game and be fit to get the most out of that 26/36 combo as there are some steep and prolonged climbs in that ride.  I was reading where a pro rider for Giant was talking about his new scooter for the season, a full suspension, carbon zzzuuuper-bike (no hardtail at all) and he was running a 1x9 (or 10spd...not sure) set up with a 38T front CR and a 34 T rear top cog.  OOooofff!!!  Must be nice to be superbad like that.

Afterwards, I assembled the Specialized Rockhopper SS that showed up today for testing on 29".com.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it had the split-shell EBB set up like the pricier Stumpy S frame.  It took some stem swapping to get the fit right and I need to put some different tires on it before I get out there, but if it works out, I am thinking of a pretty long SS ride on Sat to break it in.  We shall see.  Pics to come from the trail rides as they happen. It is pretty good looking, definitely the 'SS In The Grey Flannel Suit'.

If I like the bike, especially the overall feel of the frame, handling, etc, I am pretty hep on looking at building up one of these:

The Stumpjumper version, frame only.  Very Nice.

Since I have most of the parts I need and new wheels are waiting in the wings as soon as I order spokes, I could move parts over pretty much as is.  I do need to upgrade my fork at some point as the RST M29, although it is a steady companion, is heavy-ish and a bit out of step with the suppleness of the newer and more costly forks like the Rebas and Fox stuff.  But, the Stumpy frame, she is sexy, is she not?

I am getting ready to pick up a flash drive Vid camera, like the Flip series.  Crazy how cheap that technology is.  I have a very nice Mini DV Sony vid camera that cost 3 times as much.  Sure, lens quality and all that...optical zoom, yada, yada, but really, the new Flip type cameras are pretty amazing for what they do and what they cost.  And, they are soooo easy to carry.  Hopefully it will turn out to be a useful tool.

Well, till tomorrow and the rambling happens....

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Something Big

I have a need to get out for one long day.  I also seem to want to do that with one gear.  I am not sure exactly how it will happen yet.  Or where.  Or when.

Must be spring.

Pic credit unknown

Friday, March 12, 2010

One goes out...one comes in.

Time for the Tall Boy to go back in the box.  And then, time for this to come out and play.

Specialized Rockhopper SL Comp 29 SS

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Ah, the 'Soulmate'...the most cherished of expressions for the dating world, as in "I found my Soulmate", typically to be followed a few weeks-months-years later with the phrase "He (or she) was not who I thought they were".  This is often followed by disillusionment, moving trucks, and lawyers.

But that is love.  This is riding mountain bikes.  And here, finding a soulmate is another thing altogether and does not involve love, starry eyes and misty memories, getting caught in the rain, and pina coladas.

Most people ride solo (by themselves) most of the time.  Sometimes that is for the sake of the busy schedule, etc, but often they do it cuz it is easier and simpler.  Riding by yourself no one can complain but you and who will listen to them?  Not you.  By yourself, no one will object if the trail goes the wrong way or is too hard.  If the day runs long, hot, cold, wet, early, late...and so on, it is what it is.  Solo is easy.

But solo can be lonely too. Finding a riding partner that likes the same stuff you do, can be counted on to deal with what the day dishes out and never cast blame; someone who rides at your pace or maybe pushes you a bit to be better, go faster; someone who is like riding with another part of yourself...that is a hat trick.

Dare I say it?  Cycling Soulmate.

I have been lucky that way.  Over the years I can count three soulmates.  One was in the early days of my mtn biking path and together we opened up the topo maps and blazed it all, riding, pushing, carrying our bikes over 'hill and gone' to coin a paraphrase.  Our paths separated over time and have never met again.  Perhaps they will someday.  Thanks for the adventure, KW.

Buddy Steve was next and came along as I was getting back into the sport after a bit of a recess.  Always ready for a ride, continually lost with no sense of directional skills whatsoever, always happy, quite often injured from more enthusiasm then skills, Buddy Steve was and is the quintessential soulmate on a bike.  But 3 kids and a busy life tends to get ya sometimes and Buddy Steve had to fade a bit into the background.  No worries. Life tends to run in cycles and often comes back around to the things you love.  Buddy Steve will be back.

As one faded, another rose up to take his place.  Ed the Tall is about as good a riding partner as you could imagine.  Stronger than I, he half wheels me into oblivion most of the time and that is just fine with me.  You know those quiet guys?  The ones that say little and pedal large?  That is Ed.  Right now we have a local ride planned that we are all excited about.  It is nothing grand, but we are like two kids planning Disneyland.  By myself it would just be a cool ride to log in the training files.  But between soulmates, it becomes something to plan for and look forward to.  It, in a small way, transcends.

Oddly enough, each of these persons could not be more different.  KW was a wildman in many ways, quirky by nature, not a typical cyclist at all,  riding in hiking boots and dreaming of portaging his bike across lakes by inflatable rafts and other odd things.  Fabulous, really.  He was born to live in Alaska, I think, where big, quirky things get planned all the time and no one thinks anything of it as Alaska is big enough to entertain such quests and not be impressed.

Buddy Steve was/is a jock.  Tough as nails, I saw him crash once so hard I thought he broke his face in two and he rode back to the car, broken shoulder and all.  Not one whimper.  He could get lost in his own back yard and you NEVER wanted him to give you ride details like "how far" or "how long", etc.  Never make it back, most likely.  Buddy Steve is always happy and loves to talk the whole time he is riding, even if most of the time I have no idea what he is saying...doesn't matter, it just needs to come out and be said apparently.

Ed the Tall is a rather stoic man, quiet and good.  He can ride for hours and not say a word.  Solo 12 hour races, long rides, new horizons...all fit in Ed's profile just fine.  He pushes me to be a stronger rider, climb better, ride harder, but never looks disappointed if I ride my own pace.  He asks for advice and then listens to the answer.  Ed is something that is rare really...a humble man, willing to learn from others and willing to overlook the shortcomings of old guys on big wheeled bikes.

I am a blessed man to have had and to have such riding buddies.  A man can live a long life and have very few real friends.  A man can ride a bike for that lifetime and have even fewer cycling soulmates.  I have had three, more than my share and I am thankful for it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fit to be Ti'd

I may have mentioned that I have never owned a Titanium frame.  And, until 29er singlespeeds singlehandedly resurrected the hardtail to something even old guys want to own, I figured I never would have a steed made from the uber-metal.  Why?  Well, road frames are carbon fiber, are they not?  Yeah, steel is nice for the Hand Made Bike Show and it keeps the guys who cast lugs in business, but I cannot see any good reason not to buy carbon for a road bike.

Of course, first I have to actually BUY a road bike since the one I have (hand made steel, by the way) was brazed up in the mid 90s and the parts on it match the era...unfortunately.  I used to look at Ti road frames and think, "someday".  Nah.  Not anymore.  Carbon is cheap, can be tuned to the nth degree, and IMO is the ultimate road bike material, the 'soul factor' not included.

I think Ti is a silly material to use for a full suspension MTB frame.

So, there I was.

But now, I am fully into the camp of the SS hardtail 29er folks and Ti is once again a possibility for me.  I know that aluminum may be the king of stiff and light and cheap.  Steel is still real and the value leader here.  Carbon is looming large as it struggles to overcome high $$ and the specter of fragility.

But Ti is lighter than steel, has a fatigue life that laughs at aluminum, and is way tougher than carbon.  It is not cheap either, but it is still often cheaper than carbon and even some high end custom steel stuff.  It is quite possibly the bike that you could ride for a lifetime and never need to replace, so there is value to it in that sense.  Ti is usually not a one-season throw away.

And, there is this...sexy-ness.  Carbon can be swoopy and all, but Ti manages to do it with a graceful, smaller diameter tube style that I find classically attractive.  For example, the new Ti El Mariachi from Salsa Cycles (even if it does have gears).

El Mariachi Ti

I came pretty close to pulling the trigger on a custom steel frame the other day.  But I find myself thinking of waiting for the right time, saving pennies, dimes and dollars, and finally pulling the big trigger for a Ti SS 29er.

Vassago Optimus Ti

I doubt I will ever want to swing for the fences and go Moots or Eriksen or Black Sheep, but ya never know.  The Vassago appeals to me as I like the Jabber I have now.  If Salsa ever pops a SS version out of the EZ Bake Oven of frames they have going, that would be cool too.  I dunno.

But, I think it will be worth waiting for.