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.