Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008, a year in review

Another year is coming to a close, and it's time to reflect on the past years accomplishments or lack there of.

Year started out as planned. Getting in as much riding as Mother Nature would allow looking forward to the race season. I don't really train with any structure, but by the middle of February I started increasing intensity, wearing a HR monitor, and generally trying to make every ride "count".

Business-wise the first quarter blew chunks, so cash flow was extremely limited which led to two cycling decisions.

The first was I had to start commuting by bike. I had done it in the past for the love of cycling, but with gas priced at $3.50 a gallon, the choice was primarily financial. My truck uses about 2 gallons of gas round trip, so that was a savings of between $7-$9 a day.

The second was I had to choose between racing or riding "The Angel Ride" . This was tough. I had raced really well in 2007, and had been anticipating the new season, and racing Expert, as apposed to the Singlespeed Open class. Maybe anticipating it too much. But with money as tight as it was I had to choose between the $100 registration fee for the Angel Ride, or race registration; The Root 66 series really front loaded the season with it's Connecticut races!
I chose the Angel Ride.

Friends' daughter is a cancer survivor, and the Hole in the Wall Gang charities meant so much to their daughter during her treatment, so it seemed like the right thing to do, and I'm glad I made that choice. It gave my commuting a second purpose, and training for the ride w/ Tom and TJ, was fun.

The ride itself was incredible. I've usually been on the support side of charity events, but being a rider was a truly rewarding experience. The support was amazing, and the food was great. On the first day, climbing the last hill to the camp, I began to get all choked up. I finished first on that day which lead to numerous jokes about "winning the charity bike ride". I hit them when they least expected it...

More commuting as the price of gas seemed to endlessly rise, but more business too, which lead to having finances to race, yet working 6 days a week sapped me of my motivation to.

I did get to race The Mt Ascutney Hillclimb, which has become something of a tradition for me. I came in 24th. In 2007 I was about 20 seconds faster and finished 20th, so I was a little disappointed, but content all the same.

More commuting, and finally a week off. We took our annual Summer hiatus on Martha's Vineyard. Almost a week of riding on my new commuter, before I had to rush back to Connectcut to take care of end of the month business responsibilities.
$125 ebay find,+ parts from the bin= classic steel road bike

Cutting back to home did give me the opportunity to ride the Tour of Litchfield Hills , which proved to me a little extra weight really doesn't make that much difference (the Univega weighs more than 4 lbs more than my Cannondale).

At the end of the Summer there was only one race left to the series. I had paid $60 for a license, and hadn't raced my mtb once so I really didn't have a choice; I was going to have to take a Saturday off and test my mettle in the SS Expert class. Well, I had my ass handed to me, but I had so much fun! I can't let another season pass without racing more!

Business slowed considerably and early this year, which was good in that I really needed a break from working 6 days a week. It gave me the chance to finally make a serious attempt at fixed gear riding. I had built "The Fun Machine" up fixed/free over the Winter as a fowl weather bike, but had pretty much left it hanging on a hook. Flipping the wheel around to the fixed side gave new life to a great riding frame. I can't get enough of that bike. I've ridden it on roads, bike paths, fireroads, even singletrack. Riding it fixed opened up a new horizon for me and cycling. Maybe a more adventureous one.

Which leads me to how I ended the year. My Soma Juice is now a fixed gear, and has seen singletrack as such. That and the swept back Nitto Northstar handlebars bars have again brought a new excitement to riding (not that I ever lost any). I was originally going to put a disc brake on the rear, but with mountain gearing (about 51"s) I don't really see a need. Leg pressure can control the rear just fine (so far!).

Since 2005 I have relished every ride I've gone on, and for 2009 that is my goal. Yes, I want to race more, and yes, I want to do more charity rides (on a fixed gear!), but ultimately I just want to enjoy the ride.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Fixed-mas

Santa brought me a Surly Fixxer for Christmas!
My original plan was to "fix" my Soma so I would have the best of both worlds; Fixed wheel a disc brake. My plan was going great until I realized I should have put the center-lock disc back on before I put the axle back in and adjusted the bearings. Doh!
The Fixxer is well made, and the instructions are very good. I do have a couple of gripes: I recommend using your original Shimano locknuts as the Surly replacements are soft white metal that strip easily. Either that or I've developed monster truck tightening force and didn't know it. Also there is no seal on the cartridge bearing; it'll probably last fine, but being used offroad and in foul weather, a seal would give some pease of mind.

We had considerable melting yesterday, so my Winter wonderland at the res. was now just a paved loop. They had plowed a section of fireroad, which got me all psyched for some dirtroad flying, but alas, it was just a short section cut-through they had plow.

There was a short section of dirt on the way up to the water tower (I scared the shiite out of a MDC worker working up there, I guess he wasn't expecting anyone to be riding up there), that was pure bliss riding with the Northstar bars, Nevegal 2.2's, and the fixed wheel.
There was another section of fireroad that wasn't plowed, but a 4x4 had drove down. Earlier in the week it was packed snow. Now it was ice. Every lap the fixed gear gave me more confidence. By the fourth lap I had built up from my initial tentativness to hammering down the rutted, icy tracks.

The fixed gear give you so much control; I can't wait to try it on real trails. I'm thinking a rear brake might be overkill. Hell, I hardly used the front brake, but I'm not going there...

I sure could get used to this; slept until 6:30 AM, rode for over 2 hours, and came home to some of Mom's pumpkin bread. Life is good!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sure Beats the trainer

After the weekend's snow, I was going riding even if it meant up and down the sidewalk in front of my house (which I might add is beautifully manicured in wide sharp paths unlike some neighbors who I will not mention, Jim Burke). The 15" we got of white and fluffy meant singletrack was out of the question, but hopefully the paved loop would be rideable at the good old res. Worse comes to worse, I figured I could always take my chances with X-mass addled zombies on the roads.

Well, the entrance gate was closed, but the old in through the out door seemed like a good idea, and well, no cop no stop, so on to the fun.

Plowed, but hard-packed snow all to myself.
After a few exploratory trips down some dead ends, I stuck to the 5k (that's Euro for 3 miles) loop, plus a trip up to the water tower as my lap. Traction was decent, with very little ice. Doing laps isn't so bad when it's so picturesque; huge contrast to the brown slush of the roads!

I don't see the need for 4 wheel drive, but I sure am glad someone does!

This is actually a somewhat steep and treacherous downhill

Monday I had to keep things shorter, due to family commitments. Tuesday I got in 4 laps, which added up to about 24 miles. My legs where telling me go, go, go, but my feet finally won the argument and we headed home after being outside for a couple hours; Lake boot are only so good.

I'm loving my new Nitto Northstar handle bars. I got the idea for a swept back drop bar a month or so ago riding along the ridge at a good clip, slightly out of the saddle. I had just put Nevegal 2.2's on my Soma, and something about how they "floated" gave me the feeling a swept bar would center my weight well for offroad hammering. As a bonus they have a little flex to them to; I'm looking forward to how they'll handle the rough stuff. Very curious how they are going to be once I can get out on the singletrack.

With the swept back bars and fenders the Soma has become a function, yet ugly duckling.

Tomorrow my Surly Fixxer is showing up, so I'll have the best of all worlds; disc brakes and a fixed gear! What could be better for Winter.
The ugly duckling

Neato! Err, I mean Nitto.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I salute you my Brother!

The weathermen, all the weathermen, were very specific: we're going to get snow, and a lot of it, and quick! In trying to get work wrapped up for the Holiday shutdown I've been working long days, knowing that if I sucked it up through Saturday, Christmas week would be easy-peasy.

Well look were sucking it up has got me, I haven't ridden all week, and now we have a storm coming!
Only one thing to do; go in super early, and try and beat the snow to the trails.

Finished up about 11:00 AM and made a mad dash for the door, so mad it turns out I left my coat and sneakers at the shop. Who cares, they'll be there in the morning, this might be my last chance to ride trails for quite a while.

From the freeze and thaw cycle, the res. was covered in a sort of giant frosted flakes frozen together kind of ice. For the most part, you'd crunch right through, for the most part... The crackle of ice only made the wheels turn a little slower, and beneath the leaves everything was frozen solid. A couple of climbs, were a little slick, but overall the ride-ability of the trails was good.

As I made my loop, the clockwise double mint fun loop (regular res loop, where I loop back around to hit a couple nice climbs), I noticed two of other sets of tracks. One set went around every log, and generally took the easy way out. The other was riding, ice be damned, over every log, rock and obstacle that the MDC could throw at them.

As I was admiring my new found kindred spirit's lines, I found a good reason to take the easy way out; icy rocks. Ice on rocks isn't crunchy, its slick (no duh).
So for a total of 50', studs might have been nice, but I doubt I'll bite the bullet and buy a set; just won't get enough use (I said that about disc brakes too). crackle of ice only made the wheels turn a little slower.

My long lost cycling brother/sister didn't take the Antler Trail on his/her loop, which is where I saw the first flurries.

Now it's really coming down.

I'll have a little extra work tomorrow, but it was so worth it!

Sorry, no pictures. I forgot my camera in my rush for one last snow free ride too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Fun Machine is even More Funnerer!

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get out until Friday this week, but I guess it's good I'm busy at work, and it is the holidays...
Friday I decided to make the Fun Machine more offroad capable. Ditched the 30's (which I thought were 32's) for some nice fat 35's, and slapped a 19t cog on the back to give me a better offroad gear. I had to swap the chain for a 1/8" due to the cog, and ditch my fenders to fit the fatties.

I wasn't crazy about not having fenders, especially after all the rain we had this week, so I thought sticking to fireroads would be the best plan.
Did I mention how much rain we got this week?
Well best laid plans and such the fireroads were a flooded mess, but I was loving the tires and the gear. So much fun! I got a little wet (read soaked), but the fun factor was off the scale.

Saturday was more of the same. After a half day of work I met James for a blast around White Memorial in Litchfield. I can't believe I used to think WM was lame when I lived up here. It might be mostly double track, but what beautiful trails! Lots of ice, but most was crunchy or granular; not to much glare. James wasn't about to let me have all the fixed fun so he spot welded a freehub to make his 1x1 fixed. Temps were in the 20's, and our water was frozen solid within an hour. Mental note: hydrate early!

Look Mom, No Brakes!

Buena Vista

Sunday was a busy busy day. Church and parties, and CCD, and of course we had to get a tree. But what if I accidentally put my bike in the back of the truck? Well you can't have a tree and a bike back there so I guess I'll just have to ride it home. I've never been a fan of of "bike paths", but I figured this time of year traffic would be light so why not give them a shot. Being mostly a paved route home, I swapped the cog for a 17t. A little smaller gear than I'd like, but I wouldn't have to change the chain. I rode down from New Hartford into Collinsville and picked up the Farmington River Greenway. Beautiful views along the river in Collinsville, got to go over a converted railroad bridge and through a tunnel. Need to bring kids along for such excitement! It always surprises me how tree roots f' up bike paths. Everyone I've been on seems to be cracked and swelled by the surrounding trees.
Part of the Greenway was unfinished but the Fun Machine, even with tires inflated hard, still made short work of it. Go to play "Hardmen of the North" as I hammered over gravel, ice, and puddles.
I was so fun blasting down the dirt, I couldn't just ride home, I had to take a quick spin through the res. for a little fireroad action. Still damp, but not nearly the deluge aftermath of Friday. Now the gear I was worried about being to small, was feeling awfully tall, but the nice thing about a tall gear is the climb is over that much quicker!
Fixed and fireroads are quickly becoming quite dear to me.
Fat comfy tires and bike paths; I must be getting old!
I hope the weather keeps up for Christmas break!


Monday, December 8, 2008

"Almost Like Cheating"

That was the hyperbole expressed about Kenda Nevegals 29x2.2 in a MTBR review. I thought they'd make a good Winter tire, and they do, but they ain't magic. They are big and squishy, yet still roll pretty good. They hook up well, but no better than my standard go to the Maxxis Ignitor. But then again damp leaves over half frozen mud is quite the test for any tire. They do have phenomenal sidewall stiffness which lets you run stupid low pressure without rim strikes; I was @ 15 PSI on Saturday up front. They were particularly fun at cruising speed over rocky rooty ridge.

On Sunday James and I had a little fun in the snow. We did a zig-zaggy reverse loop at the W. Htfd Res. I tried to fit as much of the good stuff in as possible, only occasionally opting for the easy way out. I'd rate it at about a 6.5 on the slippiness scale. Enough snow to make it interesting, but not enough to really force a lot of hiking. James kept on berating his ability in the conditions, however he was always on my wheel, so he was making up for it somehow. He did complain once about almost dying sliding off a cliff or some such triviality, but other than that it was a blast. We saw 6 other riders , including Kerry and Charlie B (CB1), enjoy the late Autumn snow as well (that's 6 more people than I saw out Saturday).

James didn't fully understand just how pathetically slow my camera was:

When the fun is over I'm glad my basement has a floor drain:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

How was my Birthday; pretty freakin' sweet!
Skipped out of work (yes, I literally skipped) after 3.5 hours and treated myself to some store bought coffee.

Coffee in hand it was off to one of the happiest places in the world.

Photos do not do justice toe the awesome nature of Penwood's awesomeness.

After the obligatory chimney photo-op I descended into Tariffville for the sole purpose of climbing back up to the Metacomet ridge. I questioned the wisdom of this once I began the ascent.

Below is an example of how photos distort grades. I stopped to pick up my mini pump that must have been the victim of a wardrobe malfunction on the way to T-ville, and snapped this shot of what is actually a nice little grunt of a climb.

After riding it was on to lunch with my parents and nephew Braeden.

Put the butter knife down, she's your cousin! Kim brought Quinn and Lillian to join us after school.

I hope I get my wish!

Ahh, sleepy children watching Rudolph (wish comes true).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving; It's good to be home.

For the past 9 years my Sister in Law has treated us to Thanksgiving Weekend in Vermont. Last year I stayed home because I was too busy at work (and to ride my bike), but in years past, I've looked to the trip with a feel of almost dread; being stuck in a hotel without a bike.

This year was a little different. We went up on Wednesday instead of Friday, and Kim pretty much insisted I bring a bike.
I wanted to bring a MTB, but not being familiar with the area, and not wanting to drive all over the place, I chose the fixie.

Might not have been the wisest choice for ski country, especially with a 75" gear, but I feel the high speed downhill spinning, and low speed grunts back up may have payed some dividends.

We got a good start on the day Sunday and got home early enough for me to get out locally. An icy drizzle to light rain was falling, and there was a crunchy mix of sleet and snow frosting the ground just enough to make it interesting. The temperature was hovering around the freezing mark.

Between my legs aching from the fixed beating I had flogged them with, and the crummy weather I was taking it easy. But as much as my legs were aching I was still feeling strong. When ever I called upon them to power up something technical, a surprising power was there. I'd ride up whatever rock face or short steep hill, and then go back to cruising and feeling the "fixed" in my thighs.

The slight crust made for some challenges on the rocks and roots. At first I was loving my ride until I bottomed out my front tire 3 times in about a mile a decided to top it off a bit. After about 5 minutes with the mini-pump I was back on my way, only to stop 5 minutes later to let some of that pressure out, hoping to find that middle ground between rim smacking, and root sliding.

The ground was frozen, so any liquid precipitation was pooling on the trails. After about an hour and a half of surfing the icy ponds of the Metecomet trail, I was soaked to the bone. That's when the fun started to leave the ride, but I was only a half hour from home so, the suffering was minimal. On the little stretch of Main Street I hit before turning left down my street, again I was surprised by my legs when I sprinted for the corner, and power and speed came from my aching limbs (felt like someone beat the back of my thighs and calfs with a cricket bat).

Got home to a frozen hose with a muddy, ice crusted bike, with the truck still to be unloaded from the weekend, but it was great to be back on my trails again! My Soma felt light and flickible, and my trails felt like home.