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.