Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Faster Than Your Mom

Now that my new bike and I have had a chance to get to know each other I felt it was time for a review. The past two weekends presented me with very different rides, each providing an excellent test of my bike's abilities. Before these rides could happen there were important details to iron out. The first of which involved how to carry my essentials. I was fortunate enough to recently take possession of the ultimate weight weenie spare tube retention device. For those of you keeping score at home, yes indeed, I got an Awesome Strap. They sell for a very reasonable price but I wanted one for free so I chose the slightly more complicated acquisition method of stalking a local blogger for three years and then pretending not to know who he was when we finally met. Being a grown up is cool.

If Backcountry Research sold belts and bow ties I would be one well accessorized little dude

As you can see in the photo above, the Awesome Strap securely held my spare tube, pump and a tire lever all while looking oh so pro. But what about mud, rain, fire or hail damage to my equipment? Yes, this thought crossed my mind. That and the fact that I could not fit my tool pack into the strap. I got two or three rides in and can say that this minimalist product did serve its intended purpose, which was to make me look awesome. I may even use it for shorter races. However, I have found that I much prefer a more traditional manner of attaching crap to my bike. I conferred with The Hoff and he agreed. Saddle bags are where it's at. In the non body type sense of course.

The Hoff says "zip it up"

Once this debate was settled I thought my bike and I were ready to take on the world. Then I got a very disturbing phone call.

The call is coming from inside the house!!

Apparently my little German friend felt that with a change in bikes it was time for me change pedals as well. When we first discussed the possibility of switching to a new pedal system I was not pleased. I have been riding Time ATAC pedals for the better part of a decade and have been extremely happy with their performance. So much so in fact that I currently have six pairs of them even though I only have two bikes. I was very hesitant to change until Hoffy said just the right thing. Weight Savings!

My new eggbeaters weigh less than Hasselhoff's chest hair and provide a much firmer pedaling platform

With my new bike nearing perfection it was time for a proper break in ride. The trails around Charlotte can be fun but to really put a bike to the test you need to head to the mountains. Last Sunday I joined a rag tag group of mountain bike junkies for a ride at Wilson's Creek. Climbing? Yup. Long downhills? Yup. Sasquatch? Maybe next time, eh? Take a good long look at the course profile below and tell me that doesn't get your heart rate up a bit.

Image "borrowed" from a blogger who stole it from another blogger. That thieving bastard.

The ride at Wilson's was a great test. The climbing was fantastic but for one brief moment 45 minutes into the first climb I wondered why I bought a singlespeed. When I looked down the mountain behind me to see most of the other riders strung out along trail with tears in their eyes I remembered why. I did have a couple rabbits to chase on this ride and they both humbled me quite a bit. Lesson of the day - don't chase a former world champion on a climb. Only pain can come from that. The not so painful part of the climbing came in the way my bike handled the technical ascents. I am in love with the 29" wheel format. I was able to clear rocky, rooty climbs far more easily than I ever did on my old 26" bikes. The big wheels simply roll over everything in the trail and do so with surprising speed. I can attribute a small portion of my bike's climbing prowess to the fact that I swapped the stock tires for a pair of Schwalbe Racing Ralphs. I never felt short of traction, even on the most difficult ascents.

And the downhills? Well, I sucked at downhills before and I still suck now. I will say that my choice of a 680mm Salsa Pro Moto carbon handlebar was very wise. The extra width of the bar gave me superb control and their is really no substitute for the comfort of a carbon cockpit.

After 25 miles of riding that included 5000 feet of climbing I felt I had finally put in a good test ride. There was only one thing left to do. Racing is of course the next natural step. I have been waiting for an endurance event to fit into my schedule but that just has not happened. I got desperate and decided to do a cross country race. 18 silly little miles. I remembered almost instantly why I do endurance races. I hate cross country events. The problem is simple. I have one speed. I can hold that speed for hours and hours and hours. However, that speed is slower than most people travel in an average cross country race. My racing experience this past Sunday left my name at the bottom of the list and my morale even lower. The little Italian managed to snap a couple good photos and I present them now for your viewing pleasure.

I may be off the back in this photo but if it makes you feel better you can just pretend that I am in the lead for the next class

I learned that climbs are much easier when people on geared bikes don't stop directly in front of you

You could serve cheese on that shit

My official opinion is that the Stumpjumper is indeed the fastest 29" hard tail I have ridden yet. Its handling is far more snappy than the other bikes in its class. The light weight certainly helps with the climbing but the short wheel base doesn't hurt either. It has lived up to one 29" trait that is most pleasing and that is stability at speed. It flows through the woods at incredible rates of speed without a tremendous amount of effort. The only way to make it better is to wrap it in bacon and serve it with a side of ranch.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Trail of Joy

Earlier this year I embarked on a new journey in my career that dramatically changed my work schedule. This has allowed for two very important things. First, I am now able to go to Crossfit in the wee morning hours before I make the low speed commute to my secluded, windowless office. The second little bit of wonderfulness is the introduction of a Friday afternoon bike ride. Monday through Thursday I fight crime(or something like that) into the early evening hours. On Friday, however, I am set free at lunch time to head out into the world with my wings fully extended. I find this to be pleasing.

With a long holiday weekend at my finger tips I chose to launch myself onto the trails of the US National Whitewater Center. They are not the most challenging trails in the world but they are fast and fun enough to hold my attention. This past Friday I chose to bring along a riding partner who I find endlessly amusing. He is relatively new the sport and is always good for at least one spectacular crash per ride. Our ride this weekend was no different. I sadly missed his acrobatic display because my new bike and I got a bit carried away. I just can't help myself sometimes. I knew something was wrong when I waited at the top of a hill and found myself alone for quite some time. When I rolled back to find my partner he was slumped over his shiny red Cannondale with a look of abject terror on his face. I'll spare you the details of his specific injury but lets just say that only men can understand why laughter was not allowed. Our ride was enjoyable overall but my camera stayed in my pocket for the majority of the time. I did take a moment to snap one quick picture.

My weekend led from one joyful trail to the next with a significant change in topography and in the chosen mode of transportation. To celebrate the 4th I took a trip to South Mountain State Park. It was hard to leave my beloved singlespeed behind but after a long embrace and a few tears I said goodbye as the little Italian dragged me to the car. This was to be a hiking trip which means no 29ers allowed. Just Chuck Taylors.

There are very few places I would rather be than the Western half of North Carolina. Ever since my first trip to NC in 2002 I have longed to live here. Our Sunday hike was a delightful reminder of why. Spending week upon crowded week in the Queen City it is easy to forget what the NC wilderness has to offer. I will most certainly be much more mindful of the gaps between my mountain day trips from this point forward. I had an absolute blast chasing trout, climbing on rocks and simply gulping in the fresh air. My camera did come out to play, just for bit.

If all goes well this tiny brook trout will some day be big, hungry and chasing my fly

Not a bad spot to stop for a break

My weekend came to a close right where it began. I joined a few thousand of my closest friends back at the USNWC to watch the fireworks. I feel quite fortunate to be able to celebrate two major national holidays in the month of July. I, like most Americans, love Independence Day. But two weeks from now while everyone else is lost in the blur that is summer, I will be celebrating Bastille Day. Am I French? Well, not exactly. But I'm working on it. If all goes according to plan I'll spend my final days wearing skinny black jeans and drinking over-priced coffee out of a tiny cup. Ahh boyish dreams.

So yes, I am well aware that the Tour de France started this weekend. I originally planned to go on and on about the finer points of the UCI's 3:1 aspect ratio rule and how Lance can't possibly win. That would have been great. For me anyway. The first three days of the race have been fairly exciting albeit predictable. Cancellara won the prologue. A bunch of people crashed. And I got a phone call exclaiming that Armstrong's fourth place finish on day one is a sure fire indication that he is going to be on the top step of the podium in Paris. Yeah, no. Check back in a week after a few mountains have sorted out the GC as I'm sure I'll have much more to say about the race at that point. I will say that I have spent far too much time this weekend reading race analysis and checking out photos of the latest and greatest tour tech. Good bike porn is hard to beat. Damn I love July.

I'll leave you with a parting shot taken as the sun dropped behind the trees on Sunday evening. I watched climbers scale the tower in front of me in the fading light as I sat quietly waiting for the sky to explode in the annual celebration of our independence. With memories of a weekend well lived dancing through my head and the little Italian at my side I could not help but to think that it is indeed wonderful to know that another little adventure could be right around the corner.