Tuesday, December 02, 2014

SWAT!

As I mentioned a couple days ago, my renewed interest in mountain biking led me to crack open a few magazines. In the new issue of Bike, two different writers mentioned the Specialized bib liners with SWAT as part of their essential equipment choices.

When I saw them I had to buy some. I ordered a pair immediately.

What is SWAT? It's a really dumb marketing acronym. What does it stand for? Storage, Water, Air, Tools.

Idiotic name aside, the idea is awesome. I have been wearing bib shorts and bib knickers under baggie shorts for a while now. I really hate wearing a tight road jersey with baggy shorts, though. It looks dumb, but I need the pockets to carry my stuff. Baggy jerseys look better, and feel better, but carrying anything in the pocket is awful. Your stuff bounces and swings all over the place. Any guy knows you don't want your junk bouncing around; you want it held up high and tight.

The SWAT system introduces pockets to the liner. So now I can wear baggy shorts AND a baggy jersey AND carry my crap. Nice.



Sunday, November 30, 2014

Love's Labour's Lost

How easy it is for love to fade away if left untended. To let something slip slowly from your consciousness is to withhold its sustenance. This is what happened to me and my long-time affection for mountain biking. I ignored the love until it simply died.

I have been thinking about mountain biking a lot the past couple days. I had a good ride on Friday, one that helped me remember what it felt like to truly love something. Since then I have read two mountain bike magazines, cover-to-cover, still barely denting an unread stack that has piled up for years. I am plotting the next ride. I am thinking about the next bike.

I can make many excuses for not mountain biking—work, the yard, errands, the kid's school and sports, family rides, home projects, traveling. And these things are definite contributors. However, the main reason, the underlying truth, is a little more personal: it scares me now. A little.

For the first 24 years of mountain biking I was fearless. I lived a charmed existence. Attacking everything at full speed, I rarely made a mistake. I would go years between crashes. In the event that I did hit the ground, I always escaped with nothing more than a cut, bruise or road rash. After a while you can't help but believe in invincibility.

Then there was the crash, the one that shattered my wrist. It was a long time ago, but the memories are still so very fresh. The reminders come daily. The 12 screws, well, they refuse to let me forget. I awaken to a sore, stiff, immobile wrist. Every day. It never leaves. It never will.

When I was rehabbing, I couldn't wait to ride again. That is the carrot, of course. Work hard, do your exercises, let the nice lady at rehab put you though a tremendous amount of pain, and you can one day ride again. And I did.

But it wasn't the same. I couldn't do the things I did before, physically or mentally. I was broken.

I remember one ride in particular. My friend Doug and I were riding around the Sly Park area. I came around an exposed downhill corner—a steep, rocky chute with a cliff to the left. I balanced at the top for a moment, looking down at the obstacles before me. I was stricken with what I can only imagine was vertigo. I put my feet down. Once Doug was out of sight, I walked down the hill, hating myself for chickening out on a relatively easy trail.

Things improved over time, but not enough. Without the ability and guts to ride on the edge, to be fearless, I was left with an empty feeling. It wasn't fun anymore, wasn't the same. I rode more and more on the road, gravel roads, easy trails. I told myself I really liked "mixed terrain" rides.

After a while I entered a vicious circle: the less I rode my mountain bike, the worse I rode when I did mountain bike. My skills were eroding along with my confidence. A few summers ago I crashed THREE times during a ride in Tahoe, the last one a high speed washout in a left-hand sweeper that gave me a concussion. I was done.

Sure, I still put rubber to dirt. I rode the fat bike. I hit trails around my house. I rode places like Granite Bay, places that could hardly be considered difficult, technical or scary. Nothing I would consider real mountain biking. I put that out of my mind. I forgot about it.

Fast forward to Friday. Something clicked. Be it the new bike, a wrist that is finally "good enough," or simply forgetting to be scared, something clicked. I had fun. I rode hard. I rode without fear. I rode well.

It's only been a couple of days, but it feels a lot like love.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Old Friend

Yesterday I rode out at Salmon Falls. As far as I can remember, I haven't been out there in over three years. Where has the time gone?

I had a really, really good time. It left me wondering why I have not been mountain biking more in general, and specifically here in my old stomping grounds.

A big part of what made the ride great was the new bike. The Canfield is simply fun. The more technical the trail became, the more it shined. Steep, rocky climb? No problem. The short chainstays allow for plenty of traction in or out of the saddle. Fast downhills were cake. The slack geometry allowed me to really go for it. I hit speeds I had never achieved on that ride, ever, and felt very comfortable doing it. Steep, technical descents were easy, too. The long top tube combined with the low bottom bracket makes the bike feel really stable. On the long, rocky climb up Flagstaff, the 32x36 low gear made it tough going, but I was able to grind it out.

No bike is perfect, though. When I was on flat, wide open singletrack, I was wishing for another bike. That's when I like to put it in the big ring, get low and go fast.




Something new for me was leaving the "real" camera at home and going with the cell phone. I recently inherited a lightly used Nokia Lumia 1020, which features a 41 megapixel camera.

 It seems to take pretty good pictures. I always carried a phone anyway, so it was nice to leave the extra piece of hardware at home.

In the old days I used to always do at least two loops, which gave me 29 miles or so. I will have to work back up to that.

The average speed doesn't look great because I don't stop the GPS during photo ops. I'm faster than that. Really.

Later.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Five for Five

I haven't posted much lately due to a lack of exciting content. And I am not saying this post will be any different, so read at your own risk.

Fall Little League baseball, work, a torn calf muscle and a bad cold all conspired to keep me off the bike for much of the fall, which is a great time to ride here in Northern California. With all that behind me, I seized an opportunity to have five days off work to ride and relax.

My first ride was a two-hour spin around Granite Bay on Friday.


The temperature was perfect, the sky blue and the trails slightly damp.


I am still enjoying the Canfield. However, because the bike is so different than anything I've ever owned, the position is still off just a bit. Although the geometry numbers say a straight post should be fine, I feel like I need more setback. My theory is this is due to the higher hand position.


Folsom Lake is very low, and there is no end in sight. Everything I have heard concerning long-range forecasting points to another dry year.


On Saturday and Sunday I did local road rides around my house. The only excitement was on Sunday when I came across a crying seven-year-old boy at the end of a long driveway. After a minute of expert interrogation (so . . . are you . . . OK?), I realized this kid was very alone. He was able to rattle off both his parents' cell phone numbers, which impressed me. After placing a couple calls, it turned out that his parents were in Tahoe for the weekend. A friend had unknowingly dropped him off at an empty house half a day early. Luckily his two older siblings were with a babysitter down the street. Within 25 minutes the frantic child was back with his brother and sister, and I was back riding with a small deposit in the karma bank.

On Monday I took the Fargo out for a spin. I parked in Folsom and wound around on various bike trails, gravel roads and singletrack.


I rode over the new Johnny Cash Bridge for the first time. Designed to look like the old prison east gate guard towers, it's a neat addition to our local trail network. I wonder, though, why the metal structures were left bare. After a couple rains the steel is corroding, and the rust has stained the new concrete. I understand the look they were going for, but it was poorly executed. Maybe a clear coat for that bare-metal look?


The trails were empty for once, which was nice. I'm all for sharing, but some of the most unpleasant people I come across are usually running on this trail.


The salmon are running, so the seagulls are making the most of it.


I stopped for a couple minutes to watch the fishing action. It didn't take long for someone to hook into one.


After a nice five-minute battle, he finally landed his catch.


On Veterans day I did another local ride near my house, concluding my short vacation. Riding five days in a row is a real luxury these days, and I really enjoyed it.

Later.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Resurrecting the Dragon

My Jamis Dragon 29 by far sees more miles than any of my other bikes. Lately it hasn't been running so well. There was a lot of noise coming from the bottom bracket area, shifting was sub par, and no matter what I did the front derailleur rubbed in certain gears.

I realized I hadn't done much in the way of maintenance since I built the bike over five years ago. In general, I just don't keep bikes long enough for them to NEED maintenance. However, the Dragon has been the exception, so I ordered a few parts for a tune-up.

Yesterday I tore the bike down, cleaned it up, installed a new middle chainring, bottom bracket bearings, front derailleur and chain.

Today I took it out for a ride and everything worked like new.



It was weird to look down and see all the clean parts where the dust, mud and grease had been. I later learned that the shiny stuff I was seeing is called "metal."



It wasn't a fun way to spend a Saturday, but a necessary evil. And there is a certain satisfaction that comes with making a bike run like new again. Hopefully I get another five years out of it.

Later.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Following May, when I rode lots of miles, was the month of June. I did not ride lots of miles in June.

Following June was July. I did not ride lots of miles in July.

In August things were going pretty much the same until I looked in the mirror the other day and my body looked like this:



The scale didn't report much of a difference from a few months ago when I was quite fit, but the distribution of the weight had certainly changed—less up top, less in the legs, more in the middle. Time to get back to work.

Yesterday I rode to work for the first time since May. I parked in Folsom and rode in, which is a 44 mile round trip. I rode hard in the morning, even taking the cross bike in the dirt a few times, and arrived at work feeling OK. After work my legs didn't feel great out of the parking lot, but they loosened up after a while.

Along the way a guy on a road bike passed me. I didn't react to him at all as he slowly pulled away. About a mile later was one of my favorite stretches of trail, along the west shore of Lake Natoma. There is a dirt path to the right of the bike trail, and I really enjoy blasting down it on the cross bike. So I did.

I hit the trail hard and was quickly up to 25 miles per hour. I held it there and powered along, lost in my own little world, pretending I was crushing the pavé in the Paris-Roubaix. When I went past the guy on the road bike, I very politely said, "On your right," just to alert him of my presence.

For whatever reason he didn't seem to like this, glaring at me as I blew by. When I finished the dirt section and popped back onto the bike trail, he was right on my wheel. Game on.

Right after that is a small hill. Even though I was hurting a bit from the effort, I left it in the big ring and hammered up the hill, gapping my new friend. I sat up to take a drink after the hill leveled out, and he attacked me.

I put my water bottle back and chased him down, but it hurt. When the first long climb up to Beal's Point came I was still trying to recover, and he dropped me. I never made it back.

It's been a long time since someone so convincingly and easily crushed me like that. I was bummed.

This morning I am sore and tired. I guess I have missed that. I am definitely looking forward to riding again. I want to ride harder and farther and hurt a bit, which is something that has eluded me for much of the summer. All it took was getting my ass handed to me.

Later.

Monday, June 02, 2014

May Wrap

Spare time was difficult to come by in May, so it was difficult to get any posts up. I had a number of unfinished drafts throughout the month, so I just decided to combine them all into one post.

As in years past, I participated in the May Is Bike Month competition at work. I pledged a conservative 700 miles, a little more than my personal best of 612 miles. However, my personal goal was really 900 miles, a number I figured I could reach by utilizing my road and cyclocross bikes when possible.

May 1 - I rolled out the door at 4 a.m. for my first commute to work. When riding all the way from home, I use a mountain bike. This allows me to utilize dirt trails and stay away from the busy roads all the way to the bike trail.

It's always exciting to gear up for the first commute of the year. I bought a NiteRider Lumina 700 to supplement my eight-year-old NiteRider Rage. I really like the Lumina cordless format, and being able to charge via USB is great. Having a good light on the helmet and the handlebars was awesome. It really improved the night riding experience.



I made it to work in one piece with 38 miles, a nice start.

May 2 - I rode 64 miles on the bike trail using my road bike, and it was a miserable experience. My fitness wasn't great, it was hot, and I struggled mightily at the end.

May 6 - I left home to a misty drizzle, but didn't think that much of it. We often have similar conditions on our hill only to find clear skies a few miles down the road. Not on this day.



The mist became a sprinkle, which became light rain, which became hard rain the farther I rode. The first section of dirt is a couple miles of gravel road, which handled the rain well.



The next section was rocky singletrack, and it was here that things started to get sketchy. I like a challenge as much as the next guy, but my low-tread tires, mud covered rocks and darkness weren't mixing well. I had a number of close calls, but no crashes. I made it to work wet and muddy, but alive.

May 8 - Rode the MTB to work again. It was less fun than the first few times, and I had picked up some poison oak. This would be the last commute using the dirt trails because of the proliferation of poison oak this year.

May 12 - I rode 57 miles on the road bike after work, and it was terribly boring. There was a time when I really loved road riding, but that time has passed. This would be the last ride on the road bike.

May 14 - I switched to the cross bike as my commute vehicle and started in Folsom, where I could rice a mostly car-free 22 miles each way. This gave me more miles, less gear, less hassle and no chance of any more poison oak.

May 15 - After another commute day, I am at 517 miles with 16 days to go.

May 17-19 - After three mixed terrain rides on the mountain bike totaling 120 miles and over 7000 feet of climbing, I am officially tired.

May 22 - Only a mile from my house on a planned 40 to 50 mile ride on my cross bike, I had a close encounter with a carload of idiot teenagers in a BMW. They barely missed hitting me and forced me into the ditch. I escaped unscathed, but their screeching-tired-near-miss put me in a foul mood, and I cut my ride short at 21 miles.

May 23 - Still angry about the incident with the car, and wondering why I am doing this, I take the day off.

May 24 - At this point I had pretty much quit pursuing miles. I decided to take the family out for a ride.



We started in Diamond Springs and took the El Dorado Trail up to Camino.



We rode on singletrack, dirt roads, bike trail and city streets.



It was the most climbing the boy had ever done, and he did great. He enjoyed the downhill ride back to the car.

I didn't ride the last two days of the month due to work, two kids graduating, little league, shopping, errands, etc. I was also coming down with a cold, which I am suffering from today.

I ended with 855 miles, far more than I have ever ridden before. In some ways I am very happy with that number, but also disappointed because I was on pace for well over a thousand.

It's tough to keep riding consistently for 31 days and still maintain some order with the rest of your life. The month of May is packed with the kids' school and sports activities. There were certainly evenings when the last thing I wanted to do was strap on the shin guards and catch my son's pitching in the backyard, my legs tired and aching, but I did it. In order to pull it all off I often had to get up as early as 3:30 a.m. A lot of sleep was sacrificed, which is essential for recovery and health. I spent an entire month tired and eventually it caught up with me.

Right now I have absolutely no interest in doing this again, but I'm sure in 11 months I will have forgotten what a grind it was. Surely I'll be right back at it, and likely complaining about it again, too.

Later.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rock Crawl

With May looming, I knew I would be spending much of coming month on the road and cyclocross bikes trying to crank out the miles. I decided to take a low mileage bike out for a little fun, and nothing gets lower mileage than the fat bike.

I wanted to see what the south side of Folsom Lake had to offer, so I parked on Sophia Parkway and rolled into the park entrance across the street. I made a beeline for the water and then turned northeast, heading towards Brown's Ravine. The first section was rocky, flat and not exactly picturesque. It wasn't until I hit a trail covered in flowers that I was prompted to pull out the camera.


I have lived here for a long time, and I can't recall ever seeing this much springtime color. It looked more like something you might see in Tahoe.



As I progressed north, the terrain became rockier and steeper.



I enjoyed the challenge of climbing up and over the rocky hills, picking my way through the minefields. The loose shale clinked under my fat tires like broken glass.



At this point the steepness of the shoreline made the going tough, and it was time to turn around.



It was a fun little ride, and the terrain was quite a contrast from the sand and granite featured on the north side of the lake, which is much more fun on the fat bike.

Later.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Green Machine, Part II

I guess I failed to mention in the last post what bike I was riding: A Canfield Yelli Screamy. The frame features 16.7" chainstays, a 24.5" top tube and a 68 degree head angle with my 120mm fork. As you can see, in order to get the chainstays that short, the seat tube is attached well ahead of the bottom bracket.



Yesterday I took it out for a shakedown ride. I chose the Lake Natoma-Granite Bay loop because it isn't a super technical ride. I didn't want to do anything too crazy on an unfamiliar bike that is such a radical departure from any bike I have owned before.

After getting my saddle height perfected in the parking lot, I jumped onto the trail. Right off the bat I felt comfortable on this bike. As a longtime cross-country guy, the bar position is higher than I am used to, but it felt very natural and balanced. On the mostly smooth, wide and straight Natoma trail, the bike handled very neutrally, if not a bit slowly.

On the gravel access road between Beal's and Granite Bay, the front tire lost traction in a couple fast downhill corners. I was having trouble adjusting to the slack head angle, and it was a bit unnerving.

Eventually I made my way up to the singletrack and everything changed. The bike that felt a little slow earlier suddenly came to life in tighter terrain. The short chainstays, long top tube (with a short stem) and slack head angle all combined to make a really sweet handling bike. Instead of rounding through turns, this bike begs to be taken into corners hard and fast, squaring off the turn by pivoting on the rear wheel with your hips.



The short stays really make the bike fun to ride. I found myself lofting the front wheel anytime I had the chance because it took so little effort. The chainstays are a full inch shorter than my Jamis Dragon 29er. You wouldn't think an inch would make that much difference, but wow does it.

I expected climbing on this bike to be its weakness, but it climbs quite well. When seated I can apply plenty of power even with the higher hand position. At first I thought a handlebar mounted lockout for the fork would be out of place on this bike, but I'm glad I went with it in the end. I used it a number of times for extended climbing out of the saddle, which the bike also did well. Again, the short stays allowed for great traction, yet the front end stayed down and did not wander.

When I hit the rocky area with the steeper drops, I couldn't have been more comfortable, confident and aggressive. I can say unequivocally that I have not performed as well as I did yesterday since I broke my wrist some six-plus years ago.

Component-wise, everything worked well. I went with a 1x10 drivetrain for the first time, and it was great—smooth, quiet and no chain drops. I never used the smallest or largest cogs, so I had a plenty of gear range, at least for that ride.



When SRAM came out with the XX1 group, I thought the concept was ridiculous. I had used a triple crank for almost 30 years, and I never had issues with it. You would think from reading the magazine articles that installing, maintaining and using a front derailleur was rocket science. In forums people complain of missed shifts, chain rub, chain suck and bent chainrings.

Suddenly I found myself owning a frame with really tight tolerances in the bottom bracket area. Although you CAN run a triple, it was no easy feat according to other Yelli owners. So I went ahead and took the single ring route.

The chainring is a Race Face wide-narrow, which "borrows" the SRAM technology. The narrow teeth fit between the chain rollers and the alternating wide teeth fit between the plates. This supposedly helps keep the chain put.



The other component important to the equation is a rear derailleur equipped with a clutch. This keeps the chain from bouncing around. I went with a short cage, which also helps by keeping the chain shorter (and it looks really cool).



The frame is built with a tapered head tube, which is a first for me. I guess this is a technological advancement, although I never noticed any of my straight steerers holding me back much. It forced me to buy new tools, so that added to the cost of this bike.

Anyway, after one ride I am pretty much smitten. Time will tell if it's just new bike infatuation or the beginning of a long term relationship.

Later.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Green Machine

When I was a wee lad I dreamed of owning a Green Machine. It was the baddest personal transportation vehicle a kid could ever want.



Swivel action wheels! Stick shift controls! Mean!

Unfortunately it never happened for me. Fast forward a few years (OK, 40) and I finally have my green machine.



First ride will be tomorrow. I think this bike will be a ton of fun. More to come.

Later.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Makes Me Wonder

I have a few standard bike routes around my area, most of which I have been riding over and over for 10 years now. One ride I frequent is about 14.3 miles with 950 feet of climbing, and it usually takes about 64 to 66 minutes on my 29er.

Sunday I ate breakfast and headed out into the yard at 9 a.m. I moved dirt and rock for about four hours, which left me tired, dirty, sweaty, hungry and thirsty. With the boy's baseball practice looming, I quickly changed and headed out for a short ride.

Without much time to work with, I chose the route I described above. The first few minutes were uncomfortable, my knees and back protesting loudly. After a couple miles I settled into a rhythm, loosened up and started to feel better.

At about the halfway mark I realized my pace wasn't too bad. I kicked up the effort a bit and was surprised that my body responded. I hit the final two-mile climb at 49 minutes and change, and I thought there was a chance I could crack one hour. I have tried to complete this ride in under an hour many times, and each attempt has ended in failure. Still, I keep trying.

I hit the climb hard and really turned myself inside out. I can honestly say I had never previously put that much effort into the last two miles. I stomped up the last hill and pushed hard over the top, hammering down the last descent in my big chainring. I took the last corner without braking, barely acknowledging my neighbors and Jenn who were visiting in the cul-de-sac. Up the driveway and into the garage, I stopped the timer at 59:54. A good ride.

I collapsed on the living room floor like Laurent Fignon after the final time trial in the 1989 Tour, wondering if I have been doing it wrong all these years. Eating, resting and hydrating before races? Not anymore.

If you see a guy pushing around a wheelbarrow full of rocks before your next race, stop by and say hello. It's just me. Be afraid. I'm only getting warmed up.

Later.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Time Out

This week Jenn and I took some time for ourselves and went to Monterey. Normally we stay at the Embassy Suites in Seaside, but this time we stayed at a place called Hotel 1110 closer to the wharf. In a word, it was "quaint." And by that I mean small, old and noisy.

After checking in with the indifferent owner, we went out for a quick 20-mile ride to the south.



It was a bit cool and breezy, but not bad.



A beach in Pacific Grove.



The sun on its way down.








After our ride we showered and had a beer (free!) in the hotel lobby/bar. There we met the wife of the owner, a delightful Lebanese woman. We later had dinner at Crab Louie's, and it was just OK.

The next day we had breakfast (free!) at the hotel. Over the course of our stay, we sampled a few different forms of runny, under-cooked eggs. After getting our daily dose of salmonella, we walked to the wharf for coffee and some window shopping.

Later in the morning we rode north to the end of the trail, a 25-mile round trip. The weather started out sunny and fairly warm.



Jenn rides away from me on a climb.



On the way back the fog rolled in and it became much colder.



Somewhere out there the ocean hides under the blanket of fog.




After our ride we walked to Cannery Row and had dinner at the Monterey Brewing Company. This was my favorite meal of the trip--good food, good beer and a fun waitress.

On day three we again walked to the wharf for our morning coffee. I took a few black and white pictures that just felt right considering the foggy morning.










In the afternoon we rode to the south towards Carmel.

 Some guy on a bike. You can tell he is struggling to suck in his gut.



A Heermann's Gull. He really wanted some of our trail mix.



This is Seal Rock. Not sure why.



The seals that are not lucky enough to score a spot on the rock sleep on their side in the water. Notice how one flipper sticks up in the air.



Later that night we walked to the aquarium. Since we arrived an hour before closing on a Wednesday, the place was empty. It was great. Here's a Giant Pacific Octopus, one of two on exhibit, both of which normally hide whenever we go.



Reef fish:



Cuttlefish:



Morays:




After the aquarium we had dinner at the Fish Hopper. The food is expensive and the portions are small, but it's a nice dining experience.

The next morning we drank our eggs and headed out for a ride.

 Ice plant is an invasive species originating from South Africa. The Army used it for erosion control. Although the State, County and private volunteers are actively removing the plant to restore native vegetation, it does make for picturesque scenery.

A dune free of ice plant.

The last rest stop.



After the ride, we took quick showers, checked out and hit the road.

It was only four days, but it was a much needed vacation and I am thankful we were able to spend some quality time together.

Later.