Thursday, April 29, 2010

New look.

Playing around with a new Blog face....the old one was limiting a few things...bear with me and try not to get nauseous while I mess with it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Old Dogs, Old Tricks part II

Last night I flowed.  I was moving down the trail like water spilling around the rocks in a streambed...not resisting, not rushing, not stumbling.  Only a smooth and peaceful motion over the path of least resistance.

Then I woke up in bed.  Drat!

However, I did put part two of my 're-edu-ma-catin' of singletrack technique into play - Turn before you see the turn.  Yeah, I know, kinda Zen and I have no real fascination with Buddhism outside of the lines in subtitled Chinese movies or Po's dilemma in Kung Fu Panda.

The idea is this...once you see the demands that the next turn/corner in the trail requires of you, it may be too late to get smoothly onto the line you need.  So you usually use too much brakes and lose speed as you overcorrect your way through the turn.  Preventing this requires that you initiate the turn-in before you can clearly see where you are going.  Hard to do.

And, 29ers are a bit slower steering so they require even more initial turn-in then a typical 26er.  They reward with increased traction and better cornering grip, but you need to adjust a bit.  Miss this part of a 29er's personality and you end up going slower, not faster.

Now this is not hard to do if the course of the trail is open and visible.  You still need to 'pre-turn' depending on speed, etc, but at least you can see what you are committing to.  It gets hinky when you need to do it in tall spring grass on a tight trail or around an increasing radius, off camber trail that falls away to the downhill side with a cliff to the inside shoulder.  Man, that is an act of faith worthy of Joan of Arc.

But, I was getting it done and the result was a smoother, faster, easier ride down the trail.  Flow.  Flow is the holy grail of singletrack.

And I was better at that on last night's ride then the night before and that is a good thing, even if it was only truly beautiful in my dreams.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hydration Pack Junkie

I have to admit it...I could be a hydration pack junkie.  Lately I have been testing a fair amount of the fancy little (and bigger) water sacks and if I add those to that the ones I have bought, well....I am overflowing with silnylon encased H2O.

Do I need any more packs?  No, not at all, yet I still find myself looking at the catalogues and picking out the next model.  Silly.  I can't help it, but look at it this's waaayyy cheaper than meth and I get to keep my front teeth.

The search for the perfect pack drives some of that.  I wish I could design my own as none of the ones I have tried get it 100%, not that they are not good packs, they are.  It is just that I always think, "Well, if I only had this feature there or a pouch here, a nip-tuck-stitch, etc.

I am wearing a new model from Osprey, the Raptor 6.

Mine is a spiffier color, but this smallish pack has a lot of nicely thought out features and looks to be very well made.  I am enjoying wearing it and I will do a full review in time.  But then I think, "If only this was tweaked here and there..."  Sigh.  The junkie in me is not satisfied.

Maybe I should shop for investors and open up Granny's Packs.  Do it my way.  Or not.  Meanwhile, I will try and restrain myself and limit my pack habit to a dozen or two.  That outta do it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

So that is why they make custom frames?

It occurred to me as I drove home from Sea Otter - there is not one production SS frameset that meets my wants/needs/desires.  Not one.  Nuts!  I have been thinking of replacing the SS Jabberwocky with another steed.  I really like the Jabber and it is still a very good bike, but I have tasted some geometry in the recent SS' Rockhopper that I really liked.

I want steel.  I want a max of 17.5" chainstays.  I want a 25" - 25.25" top tube, I want it in a 20"-ish seat tube so the seat post is long and has room to flex under me, I want something other than the normal Paragon type sliders (uuuuuggllleeeee!!!), and I want it now.  Nothing off-the-rack gets there.

The Salsa El Mariachi, the new one, gets in the ball park but I need a 22" frame to get the TT in the 25" range and the CS length begins at 17.5" and gets longer from there.

The SIR 9 from Niner Bikes needs to be an XL as well, but they build with a lot of seat tube showing so that might be OK...more stand over.  Still, the EBB system they make is finicky and does not really play well with an internal BB set-up and the SIR is not the stiffest pedaling steel bike for a bigger guy.

Hmm.  Hello custom builder?  Like Burger King, they have it your way.  I see the appeal, but not the price tag reality.

But, just as I was giving up hope, an offer popped into the horizon that may get at least 90% there on my check-off list of gotta'-haves.  It is too soon to talk details yet, but if it happens, it will be interesting.  Meanwhile, I will ride the Jabber, deal with the compromises, and enjoy spring.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Old Dogs, Old Tricks.

One of the things about a sport like mtn biking is that now matter how good you are, you can always do it better...ride smoother, ride faster, pedal more efficiently, clean that log trick this time, etc.  It is both a blessing and a curse since it allows for constant growth, both in the micro..."I need to hit that line just a bit to the left next time and stay off the brakes"...or the macro as in training harder to shed pounds/seconds/finish times, etc.  The curse?  Feeling like you could have always done that better and knowing it is true.

The other day I was struggling with the stupid habit of not looking far enough ahead down the trail.  It is an easy trap to fall into, and I had fallen big time.  I am not sure why I became aware of it, but there it was and it was messin' with my flow.

The deal goes like this:  You fix your eyes on a fast approaching corner or obstacle and close the gap, keeping your eyes on the target.  When you get there, still moving fast, you lift your gaze and look at the next section, something you are already into by this time, and then repeat the same thing, but by now you are not prepared for what is next and too much brakes or too little brakes and the ride is just a series of corrections and adjustments.  Your progress down the trail, instead of looking like a nicely curving line made of smooth radii and fast transitions, is more like a stitched hem from a crazed sewing machine...a straight line to a point in time, then a change in direction to another point, then another section, another point, etc. and so on and so forth.

So I began the hard work of retraining myself to look down the trail an appropriate distance for the speed and terrain, then KEEP MY EYES THERE, using memory and peripheral vision to get the bike over what is immediately in front of the wheels.  This is not easy to do and takes a certain amount of nerve since it asks you to trust your bike, your tires, and your chosen line to get you through as you ride mentally 'ahead of yourself'.

I am gettin' there and I am halfway between smooth-and-sweet flowy-ness and crazed Singer Sewing machine right now.  I am learning to trust and ride ahead of myself again and I can feel the difference when I get it right.  The bad news is I cannot always do it correctly, the good news is I can always get better and that is just another biscuit to dangle in front of this dog.


Clean lines

There is one thing that the rise of the 29er bike has ushered into, or should I say BACK into vogue - hardtails and rigid bikes.  Before big wheels, I would have no more wanted a non-suspended bike than a root canal, but now, I love my hardtail SS and I would even consider a rigid 29er just for kicks.

But maybe best of all, it allows us to desire and ride bikes that look like bikes again.  Like this one -

Now tell me that is not a bike.

Now I am no luddite and I love my squishy bikes with all the hydroformed tubes and disc-y-brake goodness, but this ti tubed, canti stopping sweet vision of simple pedaling calls to me.  The cool thing is that now, after getting the 29er deal,  I actually would answer the phone.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Sea Otter Thoughts

On the long drive back with just me, myself, and I to talk to...and you know how boring I can be...I had lots of time to ponder, wonder, and plan.

Some observations that came to the surface and hit the top shelf:

There are more 29ers on the trail than on the race course...still.  This is just a snapshot impression of the soon to be unwashed masses as they pedaled by on the race course (what little I saw of it).  However, most of the new trail bikes in the group I hang with are or are going to be 29ers.  The average Trail Joe is still ahead of the curve in diggin' the big wheels.

Women's 29ers are here.  Both Specialized and Giant announced plans for that very thing - women specific 29ers and it is about time.  If anything, I think the ladies appreciate the bennies of 29ers even more than the guys IF they can get them to fit them.  The Specy Myka, shown here in this vid, should be hitting my garage for testing by some very lucky lady types in the future.

The era of the low cost 29er is dawning.  I poked around a new Giant 29er that retails under a grand.  It was very good looking, had a tapered HT and house branded hydro brakes and sus fork, and once and for all dispelled the myth that cheap/heavy/flexy go together with budget 29ers.  Yes, it was kinda heavy as you might expect with lesser cost parts, but the front end, with the 15mm QR and tapered fork, was amazingly stout, comparable to bikes I have ridden that were 3 times the price.  It may not be fast and light, but at least it will go where the new rider points it.

Some brands get it...some brands don't.  Salsa gets it.  they may be owned by a big company/corp entity (QBP), but they are a bunch of gravel road riding enduro nuts that love big wheels, long rides, and gettin' out there.  Adventure by Bike, indeed.

Jason and the early rise to meet the day.
photo from the salsa bloggage site

Some guys should not have their jobs.  I would have more to report on if some marketing or sales persons would actually take the time to talk to reporters about their product instead of posing with the Marzocchi rent-a-bimbos, peering into their iPhones, or sitting/standing there looking bored.  Just why do you think I am taking all those pics of the product?  Corporate spy?  RaceFace, Ellsworth...not to name any names...and others, you know who you are.  To the ones that actually engaged me in conversation, to you guys goes the coverage.  Thanks for taking the time even though you were tired and all.

One company in general that has been on the top of the 29er world looked like they are in a slide towards...well...less than the top of the world.  No names, but I would not be surprised if it all ends someday.

Sea Otter was hummin' with crowds.  Compared to last year, I thought there were more folks in the vendor areas.  Just my thoughts, no numbers, and the weather was spot on compared to last year's roast-fest.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sea Otter post mortem

Sea Otter was a longish drive, a lot of work, and a lot of fun too.  I always enjoy being among the Tribe of mtn bikers.  Even though the race aspect does not do much for me, the event is more than that.  It is families and young fast guys and old slow guys and old fast guys and women and kids and XC bikes and DH bikes and big wheeled bikes and small wheeled bikes.  Bikes and bike folks.  Sweetness.

It was going to be a blitz trip for me...up early to drive solo to the event, one night with some friends, the next day to finish up biz and drive back that day.  Whew.

I ended up with a last minute passenger for the drive up to Monterey which began at about 04:00 AM.  Sonny was a pleasure to ride with and get to know and made the trip a breeze.  We were bunking with some other home boys who were up there to race or just hang out and we got bumped into a nicer hotel due to some overbooking or something or other.  This was the view from the patio.

Could be worse, eh?

It was really mostly work for me, being the designated West Coast hitter for and  Man, I never even saw a race!  Oh well, someday I will get more time there and be able to see more of the event than the vendor booths.  

There was some real neat stuff there, too.  A bit of flash...

...a dash of double goodness...

...and more.

After a while it just is a blur, but I spent a bunch of time shooting video with a new HD flash drive camera and editing the results for the new 29"s and thecyclistsite You Tube channels.

I have edited video before and I forgot how much fun it is, even with a simple program like iMovie.   Neat stuff.  Anyway, I am still sorting all the stuff from Sea Otter, it is cold and raining in So Cal, and work is gonna' smack my weekend plans a bit.  Oh well.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this image while I try to catch up a bit and get my head back into the blog.

Little horse, big hitchin' post.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sea Otter

Not this one...

This one...

The Sea Otter Classic is part race event, part festival, part industry showcase of new things, part meeting of the tribe.  I am pretty focused on getting up there for the weekend, so most of my thoughts and energy will be in that direction for a while.

I am leaving Sat at O' dark-thirty and will hit Monterey at the festival opening.  Going as a media guy has perks...preferred parking, free lunches, internet access, etc, but I am going to be ON IT to get all the people met, bikes ridden, and pics and videos taken, processed, written about, and posted for all the world to see on either 29".com or thecyclist.

This blog will see off the record stuff most likely and overall thoughts.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Spring is happening all over.

Wow, what a great Spring it has been.  Finally, the snows abated, likely for good this time, and the local backcountry trails and roads which get to the high 5K' range are clear, warm, and green like you would not believe.

I wanted to get out on the SS Rockhopper for an extended ride to wrap up my testing before it goes back to Specialized and I needed to try out the Camelbak H.A.W.G. pack on a longer day.

The ride is 12 miles of climbing in one direction...not sure how much there is all told...and a lot of that is on singletrack that is a gymnastic workout, techy, twisty, pedal-brake-turn, pedal-brake turn, etc.  On the SS it is quite the ride.  Then the swoop begins and it is bliss - a ribbon of moist dirt that beckons you to leave the brakes alone and trust in your abilities and the rolling of 29" sized dice.

I spent the hours on trail with KT the Man, maybe one of the few rides left before he moves away to take on a cool job driving the demo van for a bike company.  KT is someone I respect very much.  Not just because he makes me want to be a better rider, but for the way he has faced some hardships that would have stopped many folks from keeping on with life.  After all this, he still rides a bike better than I do and likely ever will, and that is fine with me.  He deserves it.  Good friends never really leave you, but I will miss the rides.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You meet the nicest people on a bike.

Last night was one of the typical 'meet at the local spot and see who shows up to ride' rides.  It turned out to be a mix of three groups plus some individuals, all either getting ready to go out or just finishing up.

As the folks I was meeting with suited up and readied bikes, they chattered back and forth, casting jibes about one guys ability to grenade freehubs at will and someone else's recent crash.  It was all good natured and is typical of the patter that can be heard in and around pre and post ride occasions everywhere.

I rode in slow circles from group to group, catching bits and pieces of conversations, words and phrases, seeing some new faces and others I have known for 20 years or more.  It all blended together, mixing with the sounds of the wind and the click of my freewheel.

It was like that all through the ride.  And for some reason, rather than just put my head down and pedal as usual, I noticed it; the faces, the laughter, the people.  The people.  You know, it really is about the people who ride, not just the ride itself.  The bike is just the conveyance and a fine one it is, but without people who ride, a bicycle would just be an exercise in good engineering.

Back in the parking lot after it was all over, I straddled my bike and felt the lactic acid burn in my legs from the finish sprint into the wind.  I turned my head and glanced at a friend leaning against his car, the look on his face showing the same pain as mine. He smiled, I smiled and nodded my head, then clicked in and began to pedal home, the face of my friend still in my mind.

Tonite was just another night of many like it, full of bikes, sweat, fun and hard work.  And this time it was also full of people, old friends and new.  It always is, but this time I noticed and that made all the difference.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Feeling cranky and confused.

Cranky as in bicycle cranks and confused about recent and new revelations thereof.  Therein?  Thereout?

Anyway, I have been riding 180mm cranks since the dawn of time, at least 15 years now.  I am a diesel when it comes to sitting and pushing gears and I liked the extra uuummph at low RPMs.  It took some time to come to terms, muscle wise, with the bigger circle, but once adapted it was all happiness.  I have 180s sitting around all over the place going back to old 5 arm XTs, Top Lines, etc.  However, nowadays the selection of 180s is getting thin.  Most of the new crank sets from the manufacturers are not sold in that length.  XTR, XT, some dedicated SS stuff like Stylos and, of course, all the aftermarket stuff like Whites, Middleburn, etc. are made in 180mm lengths.

So naturally I transferred these over to the 29ers as they came along.  And, of course, the singlespeed got them too.  Many riders that run 175mm cranks on their geared bikes go to the 180s on the SS for the extra leverage.  It does make some sense that, if you have only one gear and the hills get steep, a bigger lever will allow some grace there and give you an edge in power.

“Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.” Archimedes, SS rider and all around smart guy.

Recently I have been riding a lot of test bikes for 29".com and none of them come set up with 180mm cranks.  At first I noticed the lack of torque and lamented the fact.  But the body has a way of adapting and after a while, it was normal.  Then, going back to my singlespeed with the 180s felt odd at first but that faded as well after some time on the bike.

Now, here comes along the Rockhopper SS with 175mm cranks, the first time had ridden a 29er SS with a shorter crank.  At first I missed the 180s but the Rockhopper was so darn snappy a climber, it was not really as significant as I expected it to be.  I just figured, "think how fast I would be if I had looong cranks on there?"

So then I get on my buddies Salsa Selma while he rides the Rockhopper.  The Selma is stiffer, lighter, and should be killer on the hills as it runs 180mm crank arms.  Oddly enough, the Selma felt like it was bogged down a bit and my legs felt tired, especially seated pedaling up a local singletrack.  I had just done 3.5 hours of riding in the same area on the 'Hopper 2 days ago with the 175s and that actually felt really good all day.  Was I just not used to pedaling the bigger circle now?  Or could the 175s actually have some advantages?

Oddly enough, Ed the Tall felt like the 'Hopper with the 175s felt very good on the hills and he actually thought it made the climbs easier.

So here we have two guys, both tall, that seem to be thinking that the shorter lever is felling pretty good on the SS.  How odd.  How can that be?  Is it possible that the shorter crank allows for 'getting over the top' of the pedal stroke in a more efficient manner?  If so, does the ability to get the crank around faster, offset the loss of torque in the last part of the downstroke?

I am not ready to ebay the 180s yet, but I am very intrigued.  Maybe I am wrong and it is just me having trouble adapting back and forth. Maybe.  More time is needed on this.  It would be interesting to see some numbers in a test lab on how this all works out, pedal stroke vs power vs effort, etc.

I may end up agreeing with Archimedes, except that I will be standing 5mm closer to the world than I used to.