Sunday, November 21, 2010

Renfrew Cyclocross

The course was long, flat, windy, and cold. The frozen ground made the surface very bumpy. The combination of bumpiness and flat plays to my strengths, as I am a bigger than average rider: I can ride out the bumps and mash those pedals without having to heft my carcass up the hills of Almonte. I also did well at the barriers, making several key moves on the remount. The bumpiness wore me down though: my arms were sore from being rattled, and on the last lap I had to fight to keep loose on the bike without loosing contact with the handlebars.

I left with my best result of the season. All my usual rivals, and some riders I only see off in the distance in front of me, were all behind me this time. Of course, as a middle-to-back-of-the-pack rider, there was a whole slew of less familiar, but equally nice folks to pass and to be passed by.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dawn Patrols

No, not that Dawn Patrol...

This one. I've actually gone on several. Rob and I are making the DP an institution. The pictures below are in no particular order. 

Helmetless---how street.

I got this on the list of things to do.

Also helmetless...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Meeting Pukey and Other Joys of Almonte

Post-race carnage at the start/finish.
The Nov. 7th race at Almonte was the best! The course was set up with the perfect amount of ridability and lack thereof. Congrats to the Eurosports/Foodery folks for setting a great track. One guy I talked to on the warm-up was telling me it was a "tactical" course. I take that to mean the course presents many options for how to take it, both in terms of lines, and for timing your efforts. I agree. There were non-obvious lines that really did help make up time. I also found that the course seemed to trick me into near-redlining on each lap---so much for options. Others seemed to over-do it as well, as the picture above indicates: Never have I seen the top four finishers of the B-race sprawled out like Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World

So there I was maxed out, trying to keep from getting too delirious, and up in front of me is a Tall Tree Rider named Pascal. I know this because this guy has a lot of friends. Along the whole course it was "go Pascal.... go Pascal." We were pretty well matched. Through a series of well-ridden mud sections and a good tempo on the oval, I was able to bridge to him, but I really could care less about passing him. I could tell we were both redlining it on each hill. No flashy attacking was going to work for me. I did not have it in me. It was a game of attrition. Just like Texas-hold-em, the cards were already drawn. All I had was to flip the cards one by one and see who had the better hand. 

On the climb to the start/finish of the last lap, the mud changed character and sucked up a bunch of leaves into my chainstays and drained me to nothing. My gap dwindled as I tried to pull some of the gunk out of the stays while riding. On the last of the mega run-ups he attacked big time. I let him go. I could only go one speed. But then he sagged on his bike, slowed down, and started puking. Im not sure if it was a little or a lot, but it did not sound good. Over my shoulder I gave him some words of encouragement saying something like "Its ok man, lets race this!" But he got off. I hope he is feeling better. It was fun to race with him.

Below are some more photos. The full set can be found here.

Dear city of Ottawa, cross is very much a family sport.
Its these kids you are denying

The course was designed to make you think you are getting a break somewhere, but you don't.

HUP HUP HUP. This run-up was the best.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Fall of our tearing our legs off

Cross number four was a bust. My rear hub is at Phat Moose getting a new O-Pro rim laced up. Next up is a trip to Germany for a week of conferencing, and wandering around.

So this week Kanata Lakes happened. In fact it happened three days in a row in an effort to tear my legs off. On the last day I went out with Rob for a yawn patrol (= afternoon).

The afternoon was so cold and so quiet. Sometimes KL seems like the primordial earth on days like that, even though you're only a couple kms from the suburbs in any direction. After difficult sections I'd stop and hear the breeze, then head on to keep warm as light snow fell.

This bike just gets more awesome the more I ride it. The rock obstacles of KL recall an old kinetic memory or riding a mini-ramp on a skateboard: arcing curves, trying to keep the momentum high through the smooth transition, to short bursts and quick flicks of the front or rear wheels, keeping light on your feet, as you tap the coping and come back down.

Lately I've been playing a game on the Outback trail I call Dab Golf: I count how many times I have to dab my foot while negotiating the obstacles on the Outback trail. I ride from the Inukshuk to the terminis at the western border, which I've got down to 13 dabs, but I really should extend the game to the whole loop from Inukshuk to Inukshuk. There are some sections (5-6) that I'll never do clean, and a bunch of sections that are percentage moves for me, and some dabs are really just unforced errors. I would like to see the rider who could do it all clean. That would be impressive.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cyclocross Number 3

Had to drive an hour for this one. Got there just in time to not have a real warm-up. I redlined it on the second lap and had to slow down a bit too much, but I don't think I lost any positions. The course was awesome, with a nasty off-camber run-up then muddy climb to the finish line. After the climb you went through a smooth chicane, then hold on to your handlebars and descend fast to a mudpit. If you could keep on track, you could miss the big molasses mud section and keep it in high gear for a following section of smooth flat straight course where you can recover and find a tempo, and maybe even draft someone. You could also find out if the people around you hit the prior run-ups a bit too aggressively.

The record rainfalls of the last three months have abated for at least a few days, but that just made the mud angry. The mud sought it's revenge by gumming up everything. Any racer who had the foresight and money to field two bikes and a pit bike-washer friend would have had a huge advantage. The evil mud also made me scrub my bike for a good long hour when I got home, when all I really wanted was a cup of coffee and some rest.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Belgian Frites

Sometimes I indulge my culinary side on this web log. In honor of cross season I made belgian frites and homemade aioli (recipe here). Of course, the Hoegaarden just puts it over the top. The lemon flavor of the aioli compliments the coriander and orange peel used in the Hoegaarden. Now if only I could be standing in the cold muck watching a UCI Superprestige race whilst munching them...

photo credit

While not Belgium, later this month I'll be in Saxony, but there will be no high profile races when I'm there. Dang.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cyclocross Madison

Madison events: two-rider teams. The series schedules a madison event every year. I just wanted to race a straight race today, but I grudgingly went out the door this morning to ride anyway. I actually had a lot of fun. The race is non-competitive, with riders encouraged to pair up with disparate abilities. Some people did this, but some teams were far from disparate. Whatev. Each to his own. The nice thing about the madison is that you get to ride along side some really good riders that I normally only see in the first 10 seconds of the race. I get to see the lines everyone takes, how people attack the run-ups, and how much stronger the fast guys really are. This race is also pretty good training. Alternating laps allows you to red-line each lap like interval training.

The partner I randomly paired up with was a cool guy with a Rollof mtb, doing work on electric windmills (jcox: does your new windmill job have an office in Ottawa?).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cyclocross Season Opener

Lots of rain made a muddy course.

All 90-something photos I took of the B-race can be found here
Did I say it was muddy? Normally ridable sections of flat grass were making my rear wheel spin out like a stuck tractor. 

All told I rode the course pretty good, but a few of the leaders lapped me near the end and I got to see even better lines through the muck. Always learning. 

Amid my nearby competitors, my weakness was the muddy run-up and subsequent climb. I could not do this as fast as I wanted---namely, as fast as others around me. However, I seemed to make this up on other parts of the course, most notably on the second run-up and fast descent, and the final set of barriers where I routinely reeled guys in. For example, on next to last lap, one of the guys that I yo-yoed with early on re-appeared within range. I played it smart in the middle of the race and recovered enough to floor it on the last lap. Judiciously, I reeled him in foot by foot. After the second run-up to remount and fast descent, I hit the gas hard on the back stretch. After the final technical corner I put the heart rate to the red-zone, and bore down. I put a safe gap on the guy chasing me, and came in hot on the barriers. All the mud was clogging my pedals. I was hoping for a clean remount... and nailed it! I passed three guys including my yo-yo partner while each were hopping on their bikes. I wound up the pedals more, heart screaming, banked the corner going into the straightaway and accelerated to the line, a full 100 foot gap on my rivals. Ahhh the triumph! Well, not really. It's just fun to play around. I'm hoping my effort will get me squarely in the middle of the pack (update: I was 21st out of 52 Masters-A finishers---60th percentile---so I did better than my intuition, but still in the middle).

Go home to lattes and a homemade apple galette. Contrary to popular belief, you can make a better latte without a special machine. While your stovetop Italian espresso maker is heating, put some milk in a pan and whisk to near boiling. The foam you get from this easy technique is as robust as from the steamer arm of a mega million-dollar espresso maker. And don't be an ass and use whole milk for crying out loud ;-). The pan technique also adds a bit of caramel to the flavoring that you won't get with steam.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Salsa El Mariachi Review

The updated Salsa El Mariachi became available in August 2010. I purchased mine as soon as I could. This review applies to the 2011 and 2012 models, being that they are exactly the same except the paint job. Since I bought it, I've ridden it on rocky and rooty tech fests of Eastern Ontario; huge never-ending high mountain climbing of Utah's Wasach range and the Utah southern red rock plateaus; and the perfect roller coaster singletrack of Paul's Dirty Enduro 100k. Overall I am quite pleased with the bike. However, the bike has taken some getting used to, which I'll detail in what follows.

The loose stuff of the high Wasatch---lots of climbing, lots of descending. The steel platform is good for all-day abuse. 

In this picture: pedal grinding 3000' on ATV track in the southern Wasatch plateau (ride detailed here), mostly a seated climb over bumpy double track, with short steep pitches requiring quick of out-of-saddle bursts. The steel makes for an efficient spin, allowing comfortable saddled climbing. As a reward, I'll eventually circle round and descend on the ridge in the background of the picture---a nice thirty miler in the middle of nowhere save a friendly vaquero I met along the way. 

With that for inspiration, lets hash out the technical aspects of the bike:

When considering steel 29er single speed frame choices, I was debating between the El Mar and the Niner SIR. The main factor in choosing the Salsa was the simple chain tensioning mechanism. 

The eccentric rotating bottom bracket (EBB) shell of the SIR seems to have changed every one or two years. To me, this says that Niner has not found an optimal, hassle-free design. Their latest proprietariy EBB looked interesting, but it requires teflon tape for the friction fit, and changing gear ratios looked like a hassle. Beyond that, EBBs always seem to creak after a while, and all that flex in the BB housing will likely cause premature BB wear. Of course, this is speculation, but my previous Gary Fisher Rig's EBB shell, which was a solid one-piece aluminium unit, went through BBs all the time. The Niner EBB was a two piece cup system that looks like a long-term disaster waiting to happen. Conversely, the Salsa El Mar 2010 re-design switched away from an EBB design to the "rocker" design seen above. The largest forces on the frame occur at the BB intersection. Putting additional strain, friction, and creaking by introducing an EBB shell in that location seems like a terrible idea. 

The rocker design solves a few problems with dropout tensioners, namely how to have the disk brake still line up with the rotor after adjusting the chain tension. By having the disk brake mount attached to the rocker, the brake is always where it should be. Other tensioning designs are out there that accomplish the same feat, but they are way more expensive. For further musings, check out Guitar Ted's discussion of chain tensioning mechs here and here.

How is the rocker chain tensioning system? Hassle free. On the first few rides, the drive-side bolt shifted a bit, making the rear wheel askew. I think this occurred because the set screws had not fully seated into the seatstay bases. After the first few rides I loosened the bolts, and adjusted the set screws a bit more to re-align the wheel but also to compensate the new chain stretch. After three tries the screws seated and it has not budged with 200 hard miles on it. Hassle free.

How about tire clearance? Great. I have Maxxis Ardent 2.4s currently (big tires), and I've also had Continental Mountain King 2.4s, both on a Stan's ZTR-Arch rim. With either tire, in the full forward position there is still about 1/4 inch clearance on either side. So mud clearance is great. On past ride in Utah, a section of clay mud riding clogged up my buddies geared Yeti 26er bike pretty good with 2.1 Race Kings, while I kept on trucking...

How about price? The secondary factor for me in choosing the El Mar was the price differential; while the SIR has a lighter frame build with Reynolds 853 compared to the Salsa's Sanko, the SIR was more expensive by 300 dollars. I paid 650 CAD for the Salsa, and yes, I'm sure its a slightly heavier frame than the SIR. However, while Reynolds 853 is lighter, it has a reputation of being absurdly flexy and and ride quality suffers, particularly if you are a bigger rider.

Frame geometry? In terms of basic fit, I'm 6'-even with a long torso and shorter legs and arms. I got the 20" large frame. I figure my long torso and short arms cancel each other and make me "normal." My only point of reference for a 29er was my previous Gary Fisher Rig. I loved the way my old bike rode mostly, but the steering felt a bit sluggish, and banked cornering was never its strong suit. I always figured it was a 29er thing, that the long wheelbase was never going to turn on a dime. However, the El Mar is about 1cm shorter in the effective top tube, and this makes the steering more agile. I am happy now. It should be noted that I am using my old rebuilt Reba fork on it with the old-style 38mm offset. A bigger offset on a newer fork (44mm is what I think the rigid companion fork Salsa makes for the El Mar) should make the steering even more snappy, but what I have is fine for me now.

However, the biggest difference between the GF Rig and the El Mar is the BB drop: 50mm on the Rig, and 60 on the El Mar, but it seems even further down to me. Note that the 50mm number is a fiction, because the Rig's EBB dictates there are usually two BB position options to pick, one above 50 and one below. For the technical rocky trails of the South March Highlands, I used to rotate the EBB of my GF Rig to the "up" position to add more pedal clearance to ride obstacles. Hence, with the El Mar, I deal with pedal strike issues. There are many short bursty climbs that are a crap shoot on the El Mar. A pedal strike will stop you cold. Now don't get me wrong, the 60mm drop is very conventional for 29ers, with many brands going even lower to 70mm---Niner and Vassago! If the El Mar were any lower it would make technical East Coast riding very hard. Although out West in Utah, where the smoother flowing trails abound, I never had a problem with pedal strikes. But if you have to hammer through a rock garden, the low BB adds new factors to the equation: you have to time each pedal stroke to get through.

The lower BB has distinct advantages however. First, you can have a more upright riding stance where you are more between the wheels rather than on top of them. Most importantly, it allows for better banked cornering: The lower your feet are, the better control you have over the the angle at which you bank the bike. Contrary to popular belief, reducing your center of gravity by 1 cm is a miniscule change, since your CG is way up in your abdomen (the percent change is less than 1%), hence, CG does not play a huge role in why BB height is important for cornering (see Dave Moulton's blog post on this). At Paul's Dirty Enduro, I really felt the increased cornering stability when transitioning from leaning one way to another on the arcing singletrack course. Many people describe a low-BB bike as if it is "riding on rails." I agree.

This bike is steel. Steel is soft, flexy, and oh so comfy to ride. On mildly bumpy trails, you can stay in your saddle and pedal more efficiently without killing your arse. On dirt roads in the west I found this particularly nice. For traction issues, steel is nice for reducing some tire slipping torquing and maintaining traction. I really feel the difference between the aluminium Rig versus the steel El Mar. Although, steel can feel like a wet noodle when you really have to hammer. There is a detectable wind-up in the steel frame as one accelerates really hard. For east coast tech riding I've found I have to time my accelerations slightly sooner in order to get the right torque to the wheels in time to ride over all those rock obstacles.

I hope this post helps anybody thinking about the El Mariachi, or basic 29er geometry questions. If you liked this discussion, feel free to leave a comment. Put in your 2 cents.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Paul's Dirty Enduro 2010

Singlespeed is fun to ride but it's not that hard.

This race is the best experience on a bike that a human can have. This is why IMBA has designated Paul's as an "Epic Ride." Now I'm from the mountain west. I've ridden in Fruita, Moab, and the mountains of Utah and Idaho. Sorry to say, the stuff I've ridden there is truly transcendent and usually beats the tar out of riding in Ontario. However, the riding at Paul's is something beyond all of that. While there are no breathtaking canyon or mountain vistas, the arcing trail of Paul's resembles a roller coaster for 100k. Kinetically, the bike, body, and trail meld. Perfect-length climbs lead to flowing descents. Over 100k, the course builds drama. For me, its a four-act play:

The first 40k act is a brawl. No time to rest, just fight in the west forest. The second act, the north and north-east forests, are a time to collect, enjoy the natural beauty, and conserve. By the north east aid station (4th I think) one starts to think about upping the speed a bit. By then you are digging into the bottom 1/3 of your energy reserves. You know bonk town is off in the distance. The challenge is to tune your efforts so bonk town comes just as you cross the finish. As you travel south on the east part of the course, the fatigue sets in, but the arcing turns and ups and downs require full attention. It is here that time can be made if you can keep your momentum, ride the logs, and bank all the S-curves like you are riding on rails!

The last act is electric, and for me, roughly starts on the only long straight fire-road on the course, located in the south central region. This road has a series of straightforward hills. If you have the legs you can keep the pressure on and ride hard. If not, you will cramp up and have to walk. Several times on this death march I had to stop briefly and pull out my bag of E-load tablets and eat a whole gob of them to fight the cramps. Luckily it worked, but not everyone was so lucky. At the end of the road, there is a 90-degree left turn to a large and steep hill. As I crested the hill, there lay another rider splayed on the ground massaging his pained left leg. Race carnage! It was a triumph for me to ride this hill because last year I had to stumble-bonk-walk all the way up it.

The denouement of the course---where a close race can be won or lost---is the "never ending climb." The climb is not hard per-se, but builds in intensity over the course of 5 minutes. Going too hard at the bottom is tempting, but you need to save it. At the foot of the climb I was fully recovered and ticking by at 140 bpm. Every minute the angle increased and I'd up the heart 10 bpm. Legs aching, heart pounding, I crested the top at 190, but with no visible struggle. I tried to keep each peddle stroke smooth, my back and shoulders relaxed, no huge gyrations back and forth. I kept trying to visualize Shleck or Contador's climbing, trying to model their cool collectedness.

The accumulated efforts of 100k and over 7000 feet of climbing lead to the festive atmosphere of the finish. Feeling absolutely ecstatic I sprinted to the line at top speed, locked the rear brake and laid down a huge power slide. Like a track stand at 20 mph, I was able to tilt the bike to and fro, modulating my balance as I came to a stop. I had much to be happy with. I knocked off more than an hour from my race time from last year. I didn't win any medals or impress anybody---my 7.5 hour finish put me squarely mid-pack overall, and 4th in the singlespeed category (out of 5 riders) and 20 minutes from a singlespeed podium finish. Next year I'll try for another half-hour time reduction. Course times were fast this year, with 4 riders pulling sub-six-hour times on the course, including Ottawa's own Matt Surch of Tall Tree Cycles, who came in second overall. Congrats Matt! Impressive!

At the finish I drank coffee and watched other Ottawa riders I knew come in:

Matt of Rated M Biking. The smile says Matt had fun. I only met Matt for the first time on the trail. He was looking for his friends. I asked him what his friends look like and he described a green 29er rider. I said "do you mean Rob, I know Rob." What a coincidence. This further affirms that Ottawa riders are the friendliest, most social riders around.

I saw Heather ripping it up on the course early on. Still smiling...

Mary Ann, Rob's sister, was glad it was over. Rob is the disembodied coffee cup.

I also saw some cool bikes. This guy went 60k on a Pugsley!

I would take this bike off some sweet jumps.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol: In surfing, skiing, or mountain biking the act of arriving at your location at, or before, sunrise to surf, ski or bike before the crowds, school or work.

I always say "yes" anytime someone asks me if I want to get up early to go ride/ski. Its really easy, you just say "yes" and when the alarm goes off you feel obligated to get up because you don't want to let yer bros down.

No I did not get up at 4 AM, so it was not a true dawn patrol, but it was in that spirit. It reminded me of my Utah Dawn Patrols: driving with my coffee mug in the wee hours to cut a few skin tracks to powder stashes as the sun rises, then get to work. Instead of a fresh powder dump of lake effect snow, I watched the fog roll off the Ottawa river as I drove up to the South March Highlands. Beautiful.

Rob and Heather---instigators of the Dawn Patrol---getting one more MTB ride in before Paul's Dirty Enduro

Rob with his game face. Rob was the smartest in the group. He put coffee in his water bottle. You see, Rob works with computers, so he knows about coffee. It was cold enough that I never drank any water. Kicking back and sipping some java would have been nice while watching the obstacle riding.

Heather rode every obstacle she could find. Crushing it.