Monday, December 15, 2014

On the road side….

Well, I am on my second road bike of the decade now.  After building up the steel Ritchey Logic bike, a project that really came out well, I decided that I was liking it well enough to dive in a bit deeper.  The Ritchey was built with SRAM Rival 10spd (love Doubletap), an FSA Mid Compact crank with 52/36 rings running into a 12-28 rear cassette, FSA brakes, stem, and seat post, Ritchey bars and tape, Ritchey pedals, and a Specialized saddle.  The wheels were American Classic tube-type Hurricane wheels with Conti 700x25 GP4000s.

It came in at 18.5 lbs with pedals and was really a fine bike.  It rode like a steel bike…smooth and silent... and that carbon fork kept the weight down.  I did a few centuries on it and some all around group rides, training rides, etc.  It was obvious that road riding was not a fad for me and I rode it more than anything else all summer.  But there were a couple of things I wanted to change a bit, so I began thinking about the next road bike.

The 59cm frame was just slightly long in the reach for me.  I was barely ok with a 10cm stem and that was a short as I feel is good for a road bike for someone my size.  It was a great handling bike all in all, but I was thinking I would like to back off the HT angle a bit from the 73.5° setup the Ritchey had.  I was also ready to try a good carbon frame and 11spd shifting.  What I was not ready for was disc brakes, thinking that the refinement is still happening on the road side.  Next bike, for sure, but not this one.

So I began looking around to see what was turning heads and setting the bar for endurance/sport bikes without costing me a fortune.  As much as I would have appreciated the higher end lay-ups in carbon frames like the S Works or Hi Mod type of stuff, I did not want to spend that much.  This was not going to be a 'super bike' build then, but just really, really good.  Working on a budget then, I looked at three bikes that were at the LBS:  The Specialized Roubaix SL4, the Cannondale Synapse Carbon, and the Giant Defy Advanced.  All were similar in spec and weight, and I only was able to ride them in the basic bike shop parking lot situation, hardly ideal.

Reading about the bikes as much as I can, I knew that the Giant Defy and Defy Advanced had set the bar for the endurance road bike market.  I had recently bought my wife the women's version of that bike, an Avail Advanced, and she absolutely loved it.  The Roubaix was where the modern endurance bike met the masses and it was loved by MAMILs everywhere.  But the Synapse had been re-done for 2014 and the new carbon layup, combined with a more sporting geometry than some others in its class, really had me intrigued.  Riding them, the Roubaix seemed a bit stodgy.  The Giant was likely the best of all and had a great, stable, yet fun feel to it.  The Synapse was the sportiest of the three and snapped up pretty well when asked to, but was as comfy as any of them.

In the end, the Synapse worked out the best for me as I was able to get it with a lower spec'd grouppo and work out my plan of replacing the parts and putting my own stuff on there.  So, since the frames/fork are all the same across the bottom few models, I bought a Shimano 105 bike and stripped it.  On went a complete SRAM Force 11 speed group and a compact crank in a 172.5mm length.  I was finding that the 175s that I run everywhere else…MTB, SS, etc, seemed to be a bit tiring to spin all day on a road ride.  I used the same model of Ritchey bars, added a Ritchey stem and tape, and the same model in a Specialized Ronin saddle.

The wheels were a pretty big step up.  A set of American Classic tubeless Argents with special graphics  shod with the same 700x25 Contis looked amazing and are darn light and stiff.  Tubeless ready, but not yet for me.

The end result was a bike that weighs 2 lbs less overall and accelerates and climbs better than the Ritchey, although the steel bike still out-smooves it.  I also got a better fit in the 58cm Synapse and even with a 110cm stem have a cockpit that is 1/2" closer at the brake hoods.  Perfect.  I also got a bit more stability in the overall vibe of the bike, something I notice on rough, fast corners and even on long straight sections of road, in the wind, etc.  Except for the slightly reduced comfort and the loss of some uniqueness, the Synapse has been total win.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Idaho Revisited…The Victory Lap

Life has been quite intense since Mid August, so there has been little energy to blog…still, this demands a conclusion.

All the way to Idaho I was gauging my health and staying decently drugged up.  I had come down with a cold of some kind the week before the event and I was really struggling on whether or not to go. In the end, I figured if nothing else I could cheer on Navy Mike and drink hot teas in a coffee shop while he raced. I was really hoping not to infect Navy Mike along the way, but I figured that it would take longer than 1.5 days to have anything really affect him for the event day.  If he gets sick post-victory, so be it.  We can eat cheeseburgers and take Sudafed together.

Along the way, at gas stop somewhere, I was listening to a group of touristy looking folks with interesting accents while I waited in the world's longest Subway Sandwich line.  It turns out they were a bunch of New Zealanders out on holiday along the old Route 66, all of them in matching Ford Mustangs.  Sweet.

Friday night we rolled into the area and found our hotel…a very nice one, by the way…just downstream a bit from Ketchum.  We unloaded our bikes in a light rain.  Hmmmm.  93 miles of rain riding and a head cold too?  The Sun Valley area had been getting an unseasonable amount of summer rain and while that could make for nearly dust free and fast road conditions, it might be over the top on the day of.  We shall see as the weather was supposed to clear by then.

Saturday we arose and headed over to the town square for the pancake breakfast served to us by bright faced young girls and all of this for charity.  Awesome.  We set up our chairs on main street for the parade later on and did what any high level athlete does the day before the race.  We went shopping.  This is the weekend when the town shuts down summer and flips the winter switch so the deals at the local outdoors shops are really pretty good.  The parade was very cool…that is a really, really big steer.

I went for a walk with Navy Mike to see if we could get to the river we could hear below town.  A wall of fancy condos and driveways with No Trespassing signs kept us from our goal.  Sooo close and yet…  I was just about done-in by my 2 mile walk.  At this point I could not imagine riding tomorrow.  I was a bit concerned.  I waited in a line in the nicest Starbucks I had ever seen, hit the green tea and honey and waited to see what the next day would bring.  We ate at The Powerhouse, a combo bike shop/food place/micro brewery that served a great ahi burger.  I actually was feeling better as well but I was still nervous about the next day.

And then it was here.  Thanks to God and a good night's sleep, I woke up feeling nearly normal. The early morning ritual of up in the dark, figuring out breakfast, final mixing of bottles, then out in the dark to drive to the start in Ketchum had me feeling better and better about this endeavor. The crowds, the bikes, nervous laughter, colorful jerseys and lots of selfies; the starting line poured into the street and out of town to Trail Creek Road with a police escort.

Nissan is a new event sponsor.
Last year I had a lighter bike and a small Camelbak.  I pushed too hard too fast and did not have spinning gears for the first climb.  I never really recovered from that and that was a big factor in my cutting short the ride the first time.  This year I had a much heavier bike and no hydration pack, but I had gears!  Real MTB gears, light wheels, fast tires…mix that with the good pedaling platform that a Specialized Epic is and I was passing groups of people that last year were passing me.  This is a good plan.

The rain was beginning to fall and up ahead, the summit was draped in clouds.  All I could hope for was a clearing or something less than full on rain.  I had dressed a bit conservatively and did not have any real rain gear.  Monsoons would end this day for me.  I was wearing some Specialized bib shorts with knee warmers, a base tank, a race s/s jersey from Endura with a wind proof front, and arm warmers with a Buff head wrap.  Wool socks and a extra set of warmer gloves and a windbreaker was all I had to upgrade to if the weather came in.  Up we went into the mist.

I barely stopped at the SAG stop at the summit and pressed on with the goal of not missing the cut off.  This year would see record setting course times as the dirt was packed down and there was little washboard.  The weather had opened up so it looked like it would not rain anytime soon.  I flew on the Epic and ran right by the second SAG.  Hitting SAG 3, I was almost an hour up on last year's time and I felt pretty darn good too.  The head cold was not affecting me and my legs were still moving well.  I was going to make it.

I took my time at SAG 3, fueled up and headed out into Copper Basin, the best part of the ride.  I was doing the mental calculations on a finishing time.  I had set out to do 8 hrs start to finish.  Navy Mike had set a 6.5 hour goal.  I was thinking I might be under 7 hours myself.  Wow.  I pedaled with renewed focus and the miles and hours clicked by.  Back at SAG 3 and 4, I stocked up on food and water and hit the fast return to Trail Creek road.  I was thinking I would be close to 6.5 hours!  But I knew that last year, as soon as I turned onto Trail Creek Rd, the headwinds hit me full on.  That could be a kill joy for a record time.

Meanwhile, cranks were turned and gravel sped by under my tires.

Room to spread out.
Sure enough, as soon as I swung left onto Trail Creek Rd, I not only started a slight uphill grade, it was into a constant wind.  Later on, Navy Mike would call this section out as "riding in a very dark place".  I watched my speed drop from 20+ to 15 to 10 to 8 mph.  Meanwhile I was conserving some legs as I knew in about 10 miles that the grade would increase for a good mile or two.  The math was not working in my favor and 6.5 hours would be impossible.  Maybe 7 though, so I kept at it, stopping to stretch a bit and pee, but mostly making circles with my pedals over and over.  As I neared the summit, the wind abated and I knew that at 80 miles I had it made because then it was 12 miles or so downhill into town.  7 hrs had slipped away from my grasp in that purgatory of windy road, but not to be daunted, I set 7.5 hours as the new goal.  Down I flew on a section that just drops and drops and drops on a washboard dirt road with no guardrail.  Last year, on the Crux cross bike, I had to manage my speed and nearly ran out of hand strength to hang on, brake, and steer.  It was not that much fun.  This year, with 2.1 tires and 100mms of travel…shoot…it was a brake free 25mph plunge feeling totally relaxed.  But that darn wind.  I was still having to pedal hard to keep my speed up and that was going to make 7.5 hours very close.

The organizers had wisely set the timing line just outside of town so no one would be racing in urban traffic areas.  But it still meant that I had a few miles of paved road rollers to make the finish and I just pinned it, watching my Garmin click off the elapsed time.  I could see the finish line but it was going to be very close.

Over the line at 7 hrs and 32 minutes.  Close enough.

I sat up, breathed a deep, deep breath of satisfaction and put it in cruise mode.   Done and done.

Back in town the party was in full force.  I did not realize how spent I was till I got off the bike and walked around.  I think the cold had caught up to me and it took a Coke and a hand made pizza to get me right.  Navy Mike had finished in 6 and 20, so he was under his goal as well.  I was actually very happy to be only an hour and change off his pace over 90 miles as he is a strong rider.  The Scott Spark that he rode was very similar in set-up to my Epic and he had 'roadie' types drafting him over the rougher sections of the course where he could stay seated and pedal hard.  For shame…wheel suckers. :)

That night was a well deserved bacon burger back at The Powerhouse and then the long drive home the next day.  It was a good trip back to Idaho.  Next year?  We shall see.

The 'after glow' courtesy of Patron.

Recovery food for the soul.

For my official write up of RPI 2014, clicky here for the site

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Idaho Revisited: Rebecca's Private Idaho 2014

I was not going to do it, you know.  Too far to drive.  Costs money.  Takes time.  Takes training.  Meh!

But then Navy Mike said he was looking to do something semi-epic this year and did I have any plans?  Not really.  Past the Crusher in the Tushar, I had nothing but a bunch of road centuries and they do not really require training, just lots of riding to be ready for them.  But after a few minutes of texting and emailing, it was settled.  I was going to Idaho.  Again.

My time there was bittersweet in 2013.

Part One.

Part Two.

Part Three.

I was slower than I wanted to be, but not by much, yet I barely made the cutoff.  Feeling the strain, I flipped early and only rode 72 of the 93 miles for the full course.  So if I was going to go back, I was going to keep my fitness a bit higher and ride it more like a race and less like a tour.  Less pic taking, Posie sniffing, and casual pedaling might get me an hour faster than last year overall.  Maybe.

I also had to decide what bike to ride.  Last year I reserved a Specialized Crux and that was really fun to ride, never having been on a cross bike before.  I had just built up a hard tail 29er for The Crusher race but I did not really like the way that 29er HT worked for me so it caws stripped.  That left me with two choices…reserve a bike again or race whatever I had left that was kinda fast.  The Crux was light and all, but the gearing was higher than I have on my new road bike.  And that 36T/28T low combo was not enough to let me spin up the first long climb out of town.  Being able to spin really helps me stay fresh for the next few hours of riding and so deeper gears would offset the lighter bike IMO.

So I have one other bike that seemed reasonable to ride.  The Specialized Epic is a fast feeling FS 29er and this one has quite a nice build on it…carbon wheels, etc.  Probably 5 pounds heavier than the Crux, it is comfy for all those washboard roads and is a great pedaling bike all around.  Decision made.  Use what you know.

So I set out to work on my fitness by laying out a plan that would see me building all the way till late August.  It was going well and it involved a lot of road riding in the Summer heat.  Then I got sick, some kind of a weird intestinal thing.  That cost me a week.  Then I worked 30 hours of overtime the next week.  Then my house flooded and we had to move out while that was dealt with.  And then I had another bout of illness that took me out for another week.  Although I never stopped riding, it took one month of quality training out of my life.  That sucked.  But it is what it is and at least I am typically fit, but not where I wanted to be.

So I had the bike - The Epic with the XX drivetrain and Carbon Roval wheels shod with fast rolling but plumpish Race King and X King tires.

I had the fitness to survive, I think, but not excel.

I had a plan to tweak a few things too.  First, I knew the route and what to expect.  Barring things like weather and wind, that would allow me to better gauge the effort I could afford to put out.  Of course, the extra 25 miles of the course I never rode is a wild card.  I wanted to get the weight off my back, so no hydration pack.  That meant a frame bag to carry essentials like extra tube, pump, windbreaker, and drink mix packets/supplements.  A bar mounted bag (Revelate Mountain Feedbag) will keep a bottle at hand and I will alternate between Fluid Performance drink mixed up double strong (@200 cals per bottle) and Camelbak fizzy lifting drink tablets.  If the weather is hotter, I will mix in Elete tablytes.

I will treat it more like a very fast ride, maybe even a race.  That goes against my grain as I love a challenge, but the pressure of a race pace does not appeal to me.  But I need to step up and change that a bit.  I made a real error at the Crusher in the Tushar and it was bitter lesson.  If I miss the cut off this time, it will not be due to a tourist mindset.

Ed the Tall is not my travel buddy, but Navy Mike is actually race ready I think and is a very strong rider.  He even has been working with a coach and had a drink mix custom blended just for him.  Sheesh!  I just recently got on Strava and bought a Garmin.  Old mountain bikers never die, they just begrudgingly take on new technology every ten years.  I predict to see Navy Mike at the beginning of the race and at the end and never more than that.  I will be alone again to face my own demons of doubt and suffering but I am used to that.

So off the Idaho I go.  Ready or not.  But don't expect a bunch of pics.  I'm racing this time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lowering the bar

Is this next?

An interesting thing happened the other day and it has changed things up a bit regarding the way I set up bikes.  I was unboxing a test bike and it had a very aggressive bar position, that being low and somewhat far out there.  It was a XC/Endurance focused FS 29er, so that was not out of the norm for a cockpit set-up, but it was a bit much for me.

I went to swap the stem position, but hesitated, thinking I would 'try it their way' first.  In time, and really a very short time, I found I liked it.  Never moved that handlebar.

In fact I took my Specialized Epic, a similar bike, to a 10mm longer stem and flipped it negative.  I liked it.

Then I rode my single speed, a bike I had been happy with the set-up on, and felt like I was on a beach cruiser, that h-bar being high and in my lap.  Huh!  So I flipped that stem too.  Now I was weighting the front wheel better and was happy.  How odd.

And it goes to show that you can get used to anything, even the wrong thing.  It took a couple of bikes lately to point that out.  One was the long, low XC FS bike with the flipped stem and the others were a couple of 130mm/140mm travel Fs bikes.  But that taught me another lesson and one a bit different then the XC bike.

"Longer stems on smaller frames can be a good thing."

  I typically ride an XL, but I am a bit of a tweener in sizing.  I can go either way, often as not.  But I have found that the two bikes, both pretty big 29er trail bikes, were better to ride in a smaller frame (LG) with a longer stem (100mm).  I found that the smaller frame and the resulting shorter wheelbase gave me a good dose of maneuverability often missing in XL bikes and the longer stem was weighting the front wheel, which was already closer under me due to the frame size reduction.

And that was an epiphany.  In a short time, I reversed the long march I had been on to shorter stems and longer bikes and I am stunned by how much better it was, at least on the long travel bikes.

It goes to show that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks and it pays to experiment with stuff like cockpit setup now and again.

Friday, January 17, 2014

I'm Not Trixie

Meet Trixie.
Or trick-sey.  Tricksy?  I don't do tricks well.  Now, stop that image in your mind right now.  I am talking about bike tricks.  You know…wheelies, bunny-hops, manuals, etc.  I suck at them.  I bet any 12 year old with a bike and a paper route (do they still have those?) can crush me in a wheelie contest.

I have been aware of this for some time…years, really.  And it has not gotten better with age.  I thought of it again the other day during a group ride where I was following a rider down a bit of a techy single track.  He was hopping and bopping over a few of the trail obstacles while I was flowing and going just as fast as he was.  I was a bit jealous, actually.  I wish I could do that, the hippy hoppy bunny trail approach to trail riding.

Some of these things are really practical such as the nose wheelie around tight switchbacks, the manual transitioning to a quick bunny hop for trail obstacles, etc.  I am a pretty good trail rider, actually.  I am even considered 'fast' in the group I ride in, but that is a 'big fish in a smaller pond' reality.  Still, it takes a pretty good rider to gap me on trail.  But if I have to do any trick moves, a skilled 3 year old on a straddle bike could school me.  Little brats.

I am not too sure how to improve this.  I guess I could set up some kind of skills course and work at it, but first I better armor-up and check my medical plan cuz' I think it might require a skin offering to the trail gods.  I do wonder though, since it has been this way from the beginning, if I just lack the gene.  Heck, even when I was a wanker on a BMX bike I was too attached to gravity to jump worth a fig…a flying fig in this case.  It might be too late for this old dog to learn any new tricks.

School is in session.

Still, I think I need to try to get better in this regard.  I think it will make me a better rider and that is something that anyone, no matter how new or experienced, can benefit from.

Turning serious tricks may not be for me, but perhaps I can learn to flirt in the dirt a bit more.  No street corners required.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Favorite Bike

When it was new and unsullied.

"This is my favorite bike I have ever owned".

I said that the other night during a group ride.  And it got me to thinking.

The way things are  in my life right now, I typically have a couple of bikes or wheels or tires or forks or whatever in a revolving ellipse centered around my garage so I am forced to grab whatever is on the top of the dog pile for a ride in order to get the business done that needs to be done.

But the other day I put together a bike that had not been ridden in, what, a year?  Hard to say.  Even beyond that, it had been little ridden the year previous to last year!  Parts had been borrowed for other bikes and then uninstalled from the temporary builds they had been used for.  This bike, nearly a chassis only at this point, hung on a back hook in the garage and languished.  A shame, really, so I put it all back together with most of the original spec except for the wheels, shifters, and bars, and tuned it up again.

The first real ride was the other night with 'the gang' and I was chasing Navy Mike who was riding a Scott Spark 910, or he was chasing me, depending on the trail, for a good 90 minutes.  And it came to my mind that, and this was not the first time I had thought this, that this bike was my favorite bike I have ever owned, heck, maybe even ever ridden!

The bike I had resurrected from the nearly-dead (Princess Bride reference there) and had just defended my honor with against the Mongol hordes of the Tuesday Night Ride was a 2010 Specialized Epic Marathon.  This bike was pretty high end when it came out that year.  Brain rear shock, M5 aluminum frame, SRAM XX 2x10 shifting, carbon crown/steerer Reba fork, Roval wheels, Thomson seat post, etc.

I have added carbon Roval wheels and swapped to SRAM Grip Shift but besides that (and tires), it is stock.  And it is one sweet ride.  It is like Specialized, when they were stirring the pot of witches brew that all bikes are designed in, stole a peek into my soul and added that into the incantations, frog's legs, and dragon's gizzards that went into the cauldron.

I *heart* this Epic.  I always have.  What is remarkable to me is how well it has held up over time even when it is compared to the newer Epics and the competition.  XX may not be the wisest gearing for a older guy that lives where you climb a lot, but I get by and even when XO is really just as good and XX1 is getting all the hoopla now, XX 2x10 is still the best shifting front double crank I have ever used.  Yes, it takes a student loan to replace the cassette, etc, but it is crazy light stuff and has been dead reliable.  The bike, even with only 90mm of rear travel, feels balanced front to rear with that carbon Reba.  I went back to the OE 105mm stem and actually flipped it to get lower, reversing the trend I was on of shorter stems and higher bars.  It feels good that way.

Nothing perks up a 29er like wheels.  Cheap 29ers suck, mostly because the wheels get like hoops of lead and that is death to fun.  The Roval Control Carbons are solid enough for a much bigger travel bike yet are light and dead easy to convert across axle types.  No 142x12 rear axle for this bike.  Not even a 15QR front.  But the OS28 front axle caps and the well built frame deal with all that well enough and while carbon would be lighter and snappier for sure, it is no slouch when you stand and "git 'er done".

And there is the Mini Brain rear suspension.  If ever a technology was made for a guy like me, this is it.  Yes, you give up some suppleness.  Yes, it is proprietary and costly to repair.  But it works so well, especially when you stand and climb.  I have played with some of the latest DW link bikes and they are really, really good, likely better as an overall performing system, but the Mini Brain just has that 'something' going on that works soooo well for this type of bike.

The handling is very middle ground, not too fast, not too slow.  It is just right for covering ground as the hours and miles go by.  It is 'dialed', to use a word.  Sure, there are things here and there that are not the pinnacle of performance as time has upped the ante for what a 29er FS can be, but the sum of all this…and this is key…the sum of all the parts, angles, dimensions and specifications just rings like an old bell - smooth and clear, even if the surface is a bit tarnished.  Or is it perhaps Patina, and not tarnish?

What popped out of the cauldron that full moon night on trail, was a bike that, after going into 4 years of time passed, is still, if I had to have only one bike in the garage, and taking into consideration where I ride and how I ride, would be the one I would have still left on a hook when all the other hooks were empty.

It's a keeper, this one is.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Personally, I blame the dog.

No, not for that.  Well, OK, sometimes I get away with that too, but this is altogether different.  I blame my wife's new bike…2 new bikes, really…and the fact that we are signed up for three centuries next year, and the fact that I now have to consider my wife when I plan a mountain bike ride…that all falls on the dog.

It all started when my son and wife were at the animal shelter for some thing or another as my wife was volunteering there for a time.  Our dog, Moots, was getting pretty old and we like to bring dogs in the house so they overlap a bit.  It helps the new dog settle and figure things out.  Anyway, my son calls me and asks me to hurry over after work as he has found a dog and "it will not be here for long".  Little did I know.

As I loaded this Black Lab/Greyhound looking mix into the car, already named Sophie by my son, I did not know I was in for it.

Now my wife had ridden bikes years ago but had given it up for horses, then Jazzercise, Aerobics, the gym, etc.  She was never a passionate rider, just a social rider.  That was fine.   I was the passionate cyclist.  But when Sophie came along, she was a dog that required a regular, heavy workout or there would be hell to pay.  None of us are runners, and they don't like dogs in Jazzercise classes, so my wife asked if I could dust off her old 26" hard tail and get it running.  It was a handmade steel frame right out of the 90s, brakes, shifting, etc.  We worked out some way to tether the dog's leash to the head tube and off they went.  Sophie was stoked.  This dog was on a mission.  Do they have Strava for canines?  If not, they should.  She would QOM that thing.

In time, I came into a 29er hard tail that fit my wife and gave her an upgrade.  We live within a 1/2 mile of a trail area so it became a regular thing, this dog exercise deal and we improved the bike/dog interface.  Then my wife began tracking her times to certain parts of the trails.  Hmmm.  Then she started keeping heart rate stats and calories burned…gear selection in various parts of the course…oh my.  Jazzercise stopped.  More riding replaced it.

Last year I bought her a flat bar road bike, inspired by the fun I had on my new road bike last year.  Before that we would go do some simple bike path rides, maybe 30 miles at the most, but we would do it on our MTBs.  Not bad, but not great.  So when she got on her new road bike, she was inspired.  We could ride farther and faster now.  It was easier to be social too.  It was not long after that we did a metric century on a short weekend away.  I had helped her train for it.  Afterwards she said she would have liked to go for the full hundred and that her training needed to step up.  Oh oh.  I smelled trouble.

So when she said, during a ride, that all she wanted to do was ride bikes all day I knew I was in deep chain lube.  I had created a monster.

"Will a helmet ruin my hair?"
So we have been testing saddles and swapping to shorter cranks and tweaking this and trying that to fine tune the road bike.  But I really ratcheted up the noise when I began to build her a new MTB for the times we ride sans doggie.  It has been kinda' fun and kinda' painful as I/We pick parts together based on cost, color and fit -- feng shui meets the engineering dept.

Parts are tickling in as we speak.  The good thing is, when your wife is the accountant and you are buying it for her, it is darn near carte blanche.  "Did you order my new _____ (fill in the blanks) yet?".  Yes, sweetie.

Actually, all this is awesome.  I mean, there must be thousands of men out there that long for their 'significant other' to be an enthused cyclist.  I have seen that tried and failed many, many times.  So when I gained a mutt, I did not know that included in the deal was a new riding buddy who I just happen to be married to.

And for that, I can blame…and thank…the dog.  Good girl.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Five millimeters.

Five millimeters.  About the thickness of a Nilla Wafer.  Likely less than an Oreo cookie.  That was how far I lowered my handlebar last night when I was setting up a new bike for the first ride.  Spinning around in the street in front of my house did not feel quite right at first and I was at a bit of a quandary as to how to get the bar lower than what it was without going to a lot of trouble.  I had the stem flipped already.  I could have turned the bar upside down and gained 5mm as the bar is designed just for that purpose but that is a lot of wrenching to do ten minutes before a ride.

But I had a 5mm spacer under the stem and then it was stem to headset direct.  Moving that spacer to the top was easier than flipping the bar so above the stem it went.  Frankly I was not expecting much of a difference.  But as soon as I pedaled out after moving the spacer I was right where I wanted to be.  Good to go.

And later on, as I was riding, it struck me that we, the human machine, are very perceptive creatures.  5mm higher was too high.  5mm lower was just right.  It also came to me that I like Nilla Wafers and it has been far too long since I had one…or two or three.

Further, it brought to mind something that is a broader subject, the macro to the 5mm micro, if you will:  stem length, rider position, 29ers, and wheelbase.  This has been a bit of a revolution for me.  At just over 6' tall, I have tended to run towards XL 29ers to get the cockpit right for my long arms and yet still stay with an under 100mm stem.  It was not always this way.  Back 'in the day', I ran a steel hard tail 26er with no suspension fork, a 23.5" effective top tube and a 150mm stem.  Pretty standard fare, really.

As time marched on, the top tubes got longer, over 25" on an typical XL 29er, and the stems got shorter.  I remember once, maybe in the mid 90s, hopping on a friends bike which was a 19" frame.  Mine was a 20.5" frame of the same exact brand and maybe was a half an inch longer all around, wheelbase, etc.  I was struck by how his carved around corners better than mine.  It was like a short ski.  Intriguing.  I never forgot that but the bike was too small for me.  Still, it occurred to me that as bikes get longer, they gain some things but begin to lose other things.

Fast forward a decade or two and I am having a conversation with an MTB project manger of a large bike company.  We are talking geometry and he mentions that he has gone back to longer stems set lower for his personal bikes as he feels it weights the front end better during turns.  Then here comes the much anticipated Ibis Ripley and they created it to turn more like a 26er by keeping the top tube shorter, the head tube angle semi-slack, and the stem longer.  It worked.  Then Turner does nearly the same thing on his new Czar.  As well, they mix in a 51mm offset fork.

Then I get in two bikes for review, a Niner RIP 9 and a Scott Spark.  The RIP is a LG size frame (a bit short for me according to the numbers on the geo chart) with a 100mm stem in a pretty long travel trail bike 29er FS and has the expected 69*-ish HT angle of it's ilk.  I was just shredding the local trails on that bike.  It turned like a dream…stayed hooked up and could drift through corners with control and poise.  The Spark is all XC with a much lower than normal (for me) 100mm stem on a slack for XC 69* HT angle.  The way it steers, even in an XL (but a relatively short overall bike for that size), is just right.  Truly balanced.

So last night, with the whole 5mm spacer deal in my mind,  I went out on yet another slightly small for me top tube bike with a 100mm stem as low as the bike would let me put it.  It felt great and carved up the hills like it was, to coin a tired old phrase, 'on rails'.

Then, I rode another bike, something I have had for some time now and enjoyed riding.  It has a longer front center/rear center and suspension travel that is somewhere in the middle of all the other bikes I mentioned.  But I am running that with a 90mm stem on an XL frame, the bar being higher in space relative to me.  I was struck by how much I was fighting the front end to stay hooked up and driving through corners.  Huh.  It used to feel great to me, now…

So all this to say that the dimensions and angles and widths and heights and settings and intentions of any bike is a black box that is filled with science and mystery.  I am beginning to think that it comes down to where the rider's weight is relative to the front wheel more than any other thing.  More than chain stay length, more than seat tube or head tube angles, more than frame size.

It also relates to how I want a bike to feel as I am not in the gravity mode where loooong front centers and shorty stems make sense to get the rider off towards the back of the bike.  But across several bikes that really could hardly be more different between them intent-wise, the longer stem in a lower position has been winning me over.

I have another test bike coming in that is 130mm travel F/R and, in an XL, and based on the charts, is just what I would always ride.  Instead I asked for a LG and will run a longer, lower stem.  Huh.  Old dogs and new tricks indeed.

Now for those Nilla Wafers.