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.


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.


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.


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.