Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ug, Thor Strong!

Some quick feedback on my training over the last couple months... For the first time this year, I managed to drag myself to the gym and suffer through 6-8 weeks of weight training, and I'll be damned, BIG difference. Though gym work made me feel very slow, and required that I ride a lot of base to keep a smooth pedal stroke, technical riding, it seems, is much improved by a little bit of brute strength. After a couple months in the gym I'm riding over gnar that I never would have dreamed of this time last year.

The secret formula included single leg isolations for extension and curl, and leg press with both legs, moving to squats as my muscles developed. Upstairs I did bench press, seated rows, and shoulder raises, along with a basic core workout. From a results perspective, the leg work was very successful, but I continue to struggle with upper body strength, suggesting that I still need more tweaking to that aspect of the workout, most likely adding a little more focus on triceps and movement toward excercises using body weight as resistance such as pushups and dips--to include the core and imptrove stability. Now that we've begun to add intensity to our workouts on the bike, I've stopped the weights for the legs, but plan to continue with the upper body until I'm satisfied that my upper body strength is balanced with my legs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Partners in Slime

They say misery loves company, but during this weekend's season opener at Hopbrook Dam the company was loving the misery right back. Nearly 350 riders rolled to the line in a steady rain with temps just kissing the 45degree mark, and though there was a fair share of token whining about fitness, equipment and conditions, few riders could hide their electric excitement.

Hopbrook has been a long-standing right of passage in New England MTB racing. As the perennial season opener for Root66 it has rarely, if ever, been anything but a sloppy mess come the second week of April. According to Bryna Nestor, a long-time veteran of the series and local pro, this year's conditions were, ironically, the best they've been in years. "Three years ago there was still snow, two years ago it was practically under water, and last year I just couldn't bring myself to come," she recalls from beneath a slimy brown body suit.

Even with the guarantee of soggy shorts and trashed components, Hopbrook never fails to have stellar attendance--including cyclocross legends Tim Johnson and Lynne Bessette, and 2008 BC Bike Race champion Sara Bresnick-Zocchi--but the real race highlights were the mud-covered high-fives and blackened faces cut by grins that stretched from ear-to-ear. The excitement was nothing short of contagious, with racers gleefully jumping in the lake after racing for two hours in near-freezing rain, and up-and-coming riders like Linnea Koons turning in rides that gave the pros a run for their money.

As for myself, Santa Cruz was kind enough to forget to ship my frame, leaving me with a single-ringed (32t), mid-90's style hardtail that I hastily put together the night before. Despite being squirrlier on descents than a trashcan full of birdseed, it performed remarkably well in the slop with it's Panaracer FireXC rubber and I did plenty of passing on the climbs, which was necessary as I hit the first singletrack section about two wheels from the back. In sharp contrast to last season, I paced myself enough to keep it together in the tech on the last lap, and finished in the points without much trouble. Maybe next week I'll actually be fast...

Pics to follow as soon as they hit my inbox.

Ride early. Ride often,

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fresh From The Oven

Getting the water out after a total overhaul.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TDD Part 4: A Flurry of Nothing

The first part of overcoming any problem is admitting that you indeed have a problem. Thus, I begin today's post with a confession: I have deviated from my training plan. [insert women fainting] The irony is that I have done so while being good about riding regularly and going to the gym as just as planned. I am careful to insert rest days and easy weeks, and I even wear a HRM on nearly every ride.

So what's the problem?

Too much fussing about and not enough chilling the F-out. For the last couple months I've spent a lot of time and effort worrying about if I'm getting enough saddle time, if it's the right saddle time, what's the best bike to buy, what's the best way to set it up, etc. and I darn near gave myself a nervous breakdown. Constantly being distracted by the two wheeled demons, I've been profoundly inefficient at everything else in my life, running around in a semi-stressed state all day getting nothing done. You'd think that following the TDD training philosophy would have saved me from this fate, but sadly it has not, and it's taken four days of screwing off completely--from everything--to reset.

To quote myself: "When your cycling creates problems in your life it also creates problems in your cycling, and problems are the antithesis of simplicty." If there's something in your life that needs done and takes you off your riding schedule for a few days, get it done. The cognitive dissonance you carry around while you're putting it off to ride bikes is more draining than any hammer ride. You'll be far better off if you sort out the rest of your life and then get back on two wheels.

All this having been said, it's still important to keep up a regular training schedule--there's nothing more stressful than atrophy--and that means figuring out reliable low-impact ways to keep your fitness up in the face of limited time. Following the same logic that putting things off only stresses one out, I find getting rides out of the way in the morning leaves me calmer than if I plan to get them in at night after my other tasks. Weeks with limited ride time can also be a chance to work on intensity. Take advantage of mandatory recovery time by riding hard for shorter periods. You'll be doing workouts you need anyway, burning maximum calories and working off stress, as opposed to ruminating on the pile of other tasks you have awaiting your return from a 4-hour base ride.

Also, don't forget to sleep and relax adequately. Even the most perfectly orchestrated balance of work and riding will burn you out if that's all you do. Movies are awesome. Try one when you're not on a trainer. Even if half of your life requires you to sit in an office chair, the total amount of time that you need to be "on" generates fatigue. Try to orchestrate each day so that you have a set of reasonable, attainable goals for cycling and work, and when you've accomplished those goals GO DO SOMETHING ELSE. The surest way to burnout is trying to cram in more work (or riding) into every free moment. It won't be long until you've worked yourself up to running around in a flurry of nothing--going through the motions of being busy but not accomplishing anything.

In the immortal words of a riding buddy: "Recovery is pro."

Friday, April 3, 2009

The goop behind the myth

Anyone familiar with the MTB world is aware of the mystical smooth-shifting properties of XTR cable housing (the housing by itself is shimao part #SIS-SP41). It feels like regular cable housing, costs close to regular cable housing (if bought by the roll), and with the exception of the nifty rubber boots on the ferrules looks like cable housing, looks like regular housing too. Despite outward appearances this stuff shifts smoother and lasts longer than anything else out there (maybe the sealed systems have it in terms of longevity, but not smoothness). I personally don't believe in magic, so I did a little poking around to reveal its secret -- Silicon grease injection (click for big, from here):Shimano injects these puppies full-length with silicon grease, and then the little rubber booties keep it clean inside. In a surprising move for Shimano, they even sell the grease separately so you can revitalize the housing periodically (though I can't imagine it wouldn't just make sense to replace for the amount of work it would be to reinject it).

I'm off to Canada for the weekend to rest my damaged back and damage my healthy liver. Ride on, ride hard, ride with Eric. He'll be lonely.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I'm Deeead Sexy. You Are Craaap.

Ok, so back to geeking out about bikes real quick... I got to ride a Blur XC Carbon last week (sadly only size L), and let me tell you it is dead sexy. DEAD SEXY. It also has the most balanced set of features on any of the bikes I've ridden so far; not the best in any category but really good at everything.

Actually I take that back, there is one thing it's really really good at: Climbing the bumpy stuff.

Every suspension linkage has a characteristic set of properties. A design can tweak the angles and lengths here and there to find a sweet spot, but a single pivot will squat under braking, a Horst-link will bob (minus the brain), etc. no matter what you do. In my test riding I was careful to ride the breadth of common designs: a single-pivot, a Horst 4-bar, and a seatstay-pivot 4-bar, with the Blur being the first and only VPP (virtual pivot point) style linkage (yes, I know there are many versions, but a guy only has so much time to test bikes). Of all the bikes I've ridden so far, the VPP bike far outperformed all the others when climbing my sample flight of stairs. The single-pivot and seatstay 4-bar jacked noticeably under pedaling, the Horst-link didn't noticeably jack, but felt lifelessly squishy. The VPP, by contrast, absorbed enough bump to take the edge off, but felt confidently rigid -- it was almost as if the stairs got half as big and I was riding a hardtail. Cool beans, I say.

So buy a Blur, right? If only it was so simple. Like the Epic, this thing has a lot going for it but is balanced by a few things that make me shy away (other than the price). There's still something that makes me uncomfortable about a shock that needs well over 200psi to get the right sag -- this could be totally irrational, but I trust my engineer gut on these things. (If someone can make a good argument for HP shocks, the comments section is calling your name...) It also only took 20 min for me to chip the clearcoat of the carbon on the bottom of the chainstay with a slappy chain. Imagine that after 3 racing seasons... Finally, the placement of the lower linkage makes it vulnerable to bashing if you don't run a big chainring (I often don't), which wouldn't be sooo bad if the grease port wasn't sticking out of the bottom of it in prime location to get whacked off by a log...

Conclusion: If I had infinite money or a sponsor and could buy two (one for when the other is broken), Blur all the way. In the real world, not so much.

Despite my skepticism regarding the durability of the Blur in the NE gnar, SC bikes ride darn well across the board. There's not much that beats my Superlight's suspension feel on descents, and I've owned it for eight seasons with minimal problems (half of the broken frame in '06 was my fault for having a seatpost that was 1/2" too short). That's a pretty good endorsement for continued support, especially when the new one is nearly 2" longer.

By the numbers, the SL and the blur look very similar, especially if you throw a 650B on the front (a mod under consideration - click image for big):
Additinally, I get to keep my Progressive 5th Element Air, which is IMO the best feeling MTB shock ever produced. They can still be serviced by Garageworks as well, despite the fact that Progressive ran from the MTB biz, licensing their great design to Manitou who butchered it with a rusty cleaver (I know, I have a S-Type SR SPV and it feels like a chunk of wood by comparison to the 5th).

New Superlight gets here in a week...

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