Friday, January 23, 2015

Fat & Furious at Gunstock 2015

Weeknight bike racing in the Lakes Region! At night! In the winter!

Polartec is sponsoring a series this year and Gunstock offered up their nordic trails for the first two races of the series as Thursday night events.  I was super pumped when I heard about this.  Usually you only really see weeknight stuff down south in the more populated areas so it was really nice to have the option to get a good race pace effort in close to home.

Gunstock Nordic Association opened their lodge up for the event. It was pretty ideal.

The turnout was great. Looked like 45-50 racers by the time things got going.  Course was a bit modified from what they had hoped to do due to snow conditions and the open trails that were available.  Loop ended up being a short 8/10ths of a mile but it had a decent little climb on the front half followed by some flowy descending on the back half.  There were two high speed left handers that were fun to try and take as fast as possible without washing out.  There was even a fan gun going through the start area that created sand pit like conditions.  Squirrelly snow that required power and quick reflexes to stay upright.

We did a mass start Expert and Sport all at once.  They ran it like a CX race.  45mins for Expert, 30 for Sport.  First go through the 'snow pit' was carnage as expected.  Everyone hit it at full speed trying to establish that front group.  Several guys washed out completely and most others had outriggers going just trying to stay upright.  I escaped unscathed and found myself at the back of the lead group of maybe 10 guys or so.  The gap from that group to the rest opened up pretty fast and pretty significantly.  By the top of that first climb it was probably already 15-20 secs.

I was on my limit on the tail end of the group.  Probably should have warmed up a bit more but that is pretty much always the case and I'm also just not really good in the first 10-15mins.  Lapped through with the group and heading into the snow pit the second time I clipped some deeper powder and before I knew it I was completely perpendicular to where I wanted to be heading.  Didn't go down but it took me a bit to get all figured out in that snow and moving again.  By that time the group had steam rolled away and I was firmly in no mans land.

I spent the next few laps isolated just churning along.  Didn't seem to be making any progress on the front group and no one seemed to be gaining on me.  Lapped riders started showing up pretty early with such a short lap and before too long it was basically impossible to keep track of who was who and where anyone was.  I started feeling a lot better around the 20-25 minute mark.  Power felt pretty consistent.  I'm not 100% sure but I believe I clawed maybe 2-3 guys back from the front group as they started to fade.  I'm only really basing that on how long it took me to catch them once I saw them.  I didn't pass them like a lapped rider it took a bit to come up to them and pass so I'm assuming they were stronger riders from the front group.

If that was the case I believe that put me somewhere in the maybe 7th-10th range?  About mid way through the tops guys lapped even me.  Don, Lee and Anthony all came by but I think that was it.  I was still feeling pretty good towards the end of the race but I was caught by someone on the last lap.  He rolled up to me about halfway up the last climb.  We rode together for a few moments and then he slowly started to pull away right towards the switchback at the top.  Luckily I was able to plow through my brain governor that was telling me I was giving what I had.  It took me several years to have the confidence to push past that, its a pretty strong biological process.

Grabbed two gears and got out of the saddle and closed the gap over the next few hundred yards in the rolly stuff heading into the descent.  I was fairly certain that I could take the descent just as fast as this guy so it was going to come down to getting there first and then keeping the pace up.  We came up to a lapped rider at the same time, I went left, he went right and I tried to use the opportunity to punch it with a clean line in front of me.  Not sure if he got held up but I got a slight gap and I was able to descend a bit faster and get to the line with maybe 3-4 secs to spare.  RACING BIKES!

Promoters decided to focus on the podium for both classes when it came to results.  With all the lapped riders and lack of timing gear it just got too tricky to keep everything straight.  Its all good.  I was about where I thought I should have been and I felt good on course so I'm happy with the day.  Upon crossing the line the race promoter was walking around giving out swag and I scored a free Bontrager beanie and then had some Moat Mountain beers with the Clarks Bro Racing crew.  Solid Thurs of racing bikes.

Can't wait to do it again in two weeks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

MLK Super Weekend

On the surface this past weekend sucked.  Weather in my area was horrible. Brutal cold Saturday followed by a big warmup and tons of rain Sunday afternoon / evening into Monday.  Thanks New England!  BUT there were windows of opportunity and with a bit of travel I was able to turn this weekend into a SUPER weekend.

I had to bail on a KT ride Saturday due to -19 degree temps with some silly wind chill values.  I really wanted to get a bit more time on the fat bike before my next race Thurs so when I woke up Sunday and temps were reasonable and the rain was still en route I decided to make a stab at FFD.

Luckily Franklin seems to have reached a critical mass of winter trail users that has been consistently getting at least a subset of the trails packed out and perfect for fat biking within a week or so of fresh snow.  I'm getting better at layering at different winter temps and some of my new winter riding gear is making a world of difference.

Gina got me some Bar Mitts for Christmas and I think I can safely say that they (or something similar) are a MUST for winter riding.  Its like night and day.  Keeping my fingers warm seemed to be that impossible task that no matter what you tried it never seemed to pan out.  Now with the bar mitts I can wear a light glove in just about any temp and be completely fine.  And it only took me about 1/4 of one ride to get used to getting my hands in and out on the fly.  Couldn't be happier with them.

this was from several weeks ago. lots more snow now.

I also have several rides in on my new winter shoes the Louis Garneau LS-100 0 degree's.  Also a great purchase that makes a HUGE difference.  Its nice being able to clip in and ride like I'm used to.  My first few rides on the flats were not as bad as I thought they'd be but clipping in is always better.  My only warning on the LS-100's is they run small.  Half size up.  Mine are going to work and I don't feel like dealing with returning etc. but if I did I would get a half size larger.

I got a great 9+ mile ride in before the freezing mist started and then I hunkered down for what I thought would be a lazy Sunday / Monday avoiding the crappy local weather.  Then late Sunday I got a text from Jake.  Day care was staying open for MLK and he had a hall pass and an extra voucher to Jay and was looking for a wing man.  SIGN ME UP.

Most forecasts had called for Jay to get mostly snow and be just about the best place to be for down mountain shredding.  I figured it'd be a great last second get but I had no idea how ideally the entire day would set up...

I will preface this recap by saying this was, to date, the best post-college ski day I've had.  I specify post-college because our college years were far too jam packed with big days, travel to Europe etc. responsibilities were low so we got just about every big day there was.  And I've gotten plenty of big days post college but as life responsibilities increase there is more that goes into a 'big day' and most big days come with a price.  Horrific travel, home owner duties...all that good stuff.

So nowadays when I'm talking about the BEST ski day I'm talking a balance between gnar conditions at the mountain and 0 gnar life conditions and Monday was all of that.  A perfect storm of perfect old man considerations.  A zero stress drive.  Roads were completely fine on the way up, not death defying in the slightest.  Jay had gotten 8-10in of lighter than expected snow.  Temps were right around freezing with reasonable wind and it snowed just about all day.  Crowds were non existent, didn't wait in one significant lift line all day with most lifts being ski-on all day.  Despite the snow during the day the only road that needed attention was the access road.  After that it was stress free smooth sailing all the way home.  And when I got home I didn't have to shovel or rake my roof or do anything home owner related.  AND I GOT FIRST TRACKS IN ARGUABLY THE BEST GLADED RUN IN NEW ENGLAND.

one of the best single runs of my snow riding career

Still don't know how it happened. We didn't rush over there in the slightest but we found ourselves breaking trail on the hike up and over.  Coverage was good and the snow was deep.  It was a bit surreal.  This was a forgiving, go as fast as you want, waist deep in the troughs, face shot snorkel fest.  We couldn't help but laugh the whole way down.

later in the day and still SUPER DUPER

 I tried real hard to get Jake to ride this tree but he has kids to think about now

So yeah, I'll stop rubbing it in. It was good. Real good. After this weekend I'm realizing my current winter recreation status means I can almost completely ignore the weather.  No matter what it does I'll be able to either fat bike in decent conditions or ski in decent conditions.  I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Framed Minnesota 1.0 (YAY FAT BIKES!)

Ok so I guess its time to finally post my take on these wonderfully wide tire'd marvels of modern ingenuity.

I've got about 35mi on my new Framed Minnesota 1.0 and I'm a believer. Fat bikes have been the talk of the industry in a major way for probably the last two years or so.  Now that they have plowed through the gimmick phase more and more manufacturers are getting in on the game and offering tons and tons of options.

I had been waiting for the solid budget option seeing as much of my winter money goes towards skiing.  It very much seems like Framed has become the budget model of choice at least by what I can tell by chatter in New England.  Seems like I was hearing them talked about constantly this Fall and they certainly have figured out a pretty good formula with their Minnesota line.

I added more reflectors since this pic

Classic XC geometry, modest parts spec and super affordable.  Perfect stable bike if you ask me.  Get in cheap, make sure you like it and will use it regularly and then upgrade parts accordingly.  I prefer the trickle down approach so as I upgrade my race bike my fat bike also gets more awesome.  I feel like the Minnesota 1.0 is to fat bikes what the Redline Monocog was to SS when it was the stable bike everyone wanted to experiment with a few years ago.

So far the bike is holding up well.  I beat on it pretty well this past weekend.  Headset needed to be snugged up at about mile 20 of our ride but that's no big deal and very possibly could have come a bit loose from the factory.  I got my first pinch flat as well which was fun.  Dealing with fat bike tires/tubes trail side is hilarious.

I was running Central NH snow riding pressure not Southern NH dirt/rocks pressure and found a big rock and got the biggest snake bite I've ever seen.  I don't even own spare fat tubes yet so I had to patch a tube for the first time in years.  Luckily I was actually riding with my camelbak and had a patch kit.  I think I'm going to need to purchase a new trail pump for fat biking though.  My little crank brothers pump doesn't cut it.  I would probably still be out there pumping if I didn't get a pump from someone else.

The bike rides really well.  I feel at home on it like I did with my old Monocog.  That standard XC geometry just seems to work well for me.  Climbs a lot better than expected as well which is nice.  The only thing I need to get used to is the inertia of the wheels and the whole 'self steering' phenomenon.  Its a weird feeling that is hard to explain but suffice it to say there is a lot of rolling weight and sometimes it just kinda does what it wants.

I was commenting on it on this past ride and several of the more experienced fat bikers said tires can make a big difference with that so I might be looking into a new set based on their recommendations.  I also always seem to get better at offsetting it the longer I ride it.  Start out a bit shaky but within a few miles I'm good to go.

I can certainly see the appeal of these things.  They definitely bring back the adventure aspect of riding.  A little less emphasis on fitness and efficiency and more on FUN.  I think its the same reason gravel bikes are as big as they are right now.  Its the same concept but for roadies.  Cyclists are currently buying adventure and fun.  You can call the bike whatever you want but that's what we're buying right now.  The nice thing is while I'm having all this adventure and fun my legs are also hauling around a 35-40lb bike with a good portion of that weight being rotational. #secretworkout

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Salomon Q-98's and BCA Magic Carpet's AKA my new AT Setup

New Toys!

After a few seasons of only a few AT excursions PSU students had to go and vote for Waterville Valley to receive the Student Senate Ski Package this year and dramatically heighten my need for a slightly more legit AT setup.  My old G3's served me well and were a great setup at a great price for my introduction to touring.

Now they are again the first setup for a freshman at Bowdoin and I met the guy to sell them at the exact same location I met the guy I bought them from.  Nice and poetic.

I was very fortunate to get a Salomon hookup through a coworkers wife who works at a nordic center.  Proform is a very niiiiiiiiiice.  I ended up going with the Q Series Q-98 in a 180.  I needed some convincing from Dustin that 180 was the length to go.  Felt long, but I've been a bit out of the ski tech game for a bit and these early rise tip/tail skis ride quite a bit shorter and Salomon even has a honeycomb tip structure that is super light and makes for low swing weight.

Also ended up finding a deal on some Tyrolia Adrenaline AT bindings through as well as the BCA skins making the whole setup downright affordable.

This past Thursday I got a great opportunity to get my first test run on the new boards in 4-6in of fresh powder that eventually turned into some heavier junk bumps mid day.  First few runs were magnificent.  Such a good ski for me.  Super well rounded.  Confidence inspiring at speed, great edge hold.  Floats well and is surprisingly quick.  Once the terrain turned a bit more variable is when they really shined, particularly compared to the K2s I've been on to date.  Super stable, weren't bothered by crud at all.  Held lines like a champ.

And can I just say hook free taper is GOING TO CHANGE MY LIFE.

Such a simple concept but I doubt I'll ever want to ride a ski without it ever again.  Basically the widest part of the sidecut is quite a bit farther from the tip than is traditionally the case.  Keeps the tips from hooking in rough snow as well as the tips of the skis from getting hung up on each other when getting knocked together.

I've always had a huge problem with that with my K2s because of those damn decorative rivets they insist on putting on skis.  NEVER AGAIN.

The only thing I didn't get to test is how they do in the really tight trees.  My guess is there will be a slight learning curve.  Because I have been on softer park-esque boards for so long I think my style in the trees has adopted a bit of a 'smear' vibe that will probably be harder to do on these skis.  But with them primarily being my AT setup that scenario probably won't be too common anyhow.

Skins arrived a few days ago and I trimmed them up today.  Kinda wanted to just get G3 skins again but was able to get a much better deal on the BCA's and the reviews were pretty good.  They do seem like a solid skin although I definitely like the tail clip from my old G3s better and I also really appreciated the trim tool with built in offset.

I actually ended up just running the skins right to the edge and skipped doing the offset all together because it was just that annoying.  I also found enough articles of people who actually don't do the offset either for various reasons so I figured what the hell.  I can always trim the offset in later if I have problems.

Very much looking forward to my first tour on these bad boys.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Single Speed Cyclocross Build

I built a bike!

I feel like its been awhile since that has happened, and it took place mostly in Manarea v2.5 AKA the refurbished basement shop.  I've done hodge-podge work in the basement the last few winters but it was always a hack of a setup and it was primarily just to avoid the really cold days in the shed.

It was always on the to-do list to rework things in the basement, it was pretty gross down there.  I just wasn't sure how far I wanted to take the project.  In an ideal world I would have dug a bit deeper and graded everything and poured cement. But 'aint nobody got time for that so it turned into ripping out the old moisture barrier doing a bit of digging and raking to grade the dirt floor out and then laying down a much better/thicker moisture barrier.

I inherited a work bench from the demo project of Tony's garage, hung some bike hooks and BOOM.  Cold weather hibernation shop is a go!

Ok to the build.  This time of year Nashbar move out their model year generic frames at next to nothing ($79 to be exact).  They have gotten me with this three times now.  The blue chromoly MTB frame that was a monster cross for a time and is now Jake's go to whip.  The green frame which was my light touring / commuter for several years and now the red frame, a steel CX bike.

My commuter wasn't getting ridden this year really at all, due mostly to my wrist / stiff joints in the morning issues I've been dealing with.  That may not always be the case but that bike was always way over built for what it was doing 90% of the time and I really only used it on a touring ride one time.  Which was awesome but I have just never gotten around to doing that kind of riding and I think its unlikely I ever really would.

Now that I'm racing cross (and will probably continue to) I felt like I would get a lot more use out of a SS cross bike now plus I can always still commute on it here and there and get a good workout.  And at $79 for the frame and being able to swap almost all parts over this build ended up costing me maybe $130.

look at how awesome it is!

I pretty pleased with how it all came together.  All the leftover available components all matched completely.  White/red/black saddle, white stem, black fork, black bar was meant to be.  I had some left over cx tires that I had bought on clearance a long time ago and then never used because I got a deal on Clemente's through Chainline.  They get reduced in volume really bad on these old road rims though.  Eventually these will need some new wheels but this is more of a beater bike and will probably get 'new' parts as they trickle down from my 'better' bikes.

Only extra parts I had to buy were the handlebars (wanted something wider than I had for better SS torque), A better cable hanger for the front brake (the one I had been using on my commuter was a joke) and a chain ring.

I agonized a bit over gearing.  I have a very intimate knowledge of SS gearing for MTB but how certain gears translate to CX courses was a bit of a mystery.  I actually shift quite a bit at times on my geared bike.  I  did some research but there are too many body types and preferences when it comes to SS to get a good across the board recommendation.  I usually take what I read online and subtract a few gear inches (I'm a spinner) and go from there.

I settled on getting about the biggest ring I could find for a 104BCD crank that would create good ratios with all of the MTB sized cogs I already had.  Settled on 42-19 for my go-to race gear for now.  Most recommendations fell in the 55-65 gear inches range and 42-19 comes in at 59.7 (for reference I rode 44.4 inches for MTB).  This might end up being a bit steep for me depending on the course but I think its the best place to start.  It also allows me to easily step up to a 20 if I need to or down to 16 for commuting on the road.

I'm using the DMR STS tensioner I had been using on the party bike.  That build has gone into hibernation for a bit until it can inherit some better parts and I find the time to improve the braking.  This should work for now but I might eventually get a better tensioner and some sort of chain watcher for up front.  I'll have to see how it works once I can start riding it.

Now I can double up at CX races I have to drive farther to.  Race my category and SS so I'm not driving 2hrs to race for just 45mins.  Will probably also make a great winter training bike that I can either mount on my actual trainer or put the fenders on get ridiculous out on the snowy roads in the spring.

Who wants to buy a nashbar touring frame, real cheap?