Friday, May 29, 2009


Pedal and Wrench flies out to BCBR in three weeks, five days. You can tell it's getting down to the wire when Eric starts paying attention to the fact that his bike is in worse shape than Amy Winehouse after a "quiet weekend at home":

Though the Yellow Yeti is arguably still more pleasing to the eye than our emphysematic friend, Amy is neither missing as many pieces nor leaking as many fluids, at least not in public anyway.

There's nothing like feeling under-prepared to spur one into action. Not only is Eric spending 8hrs a day shopping for bike parts online, but we hammered Harold Parker harder than I'd ever hit it on Monday with Mr. Edlund looking confident, if not efficient on his first real trip back to the woods since his unfortunate shoulder-planting accident.

If image does not show, right click here and select 'view image' or 'show image'.After a rest-day I crushed some hill sprints on Tuesday (or more appropriately they crushed me into Thurdsay), and then hit the woods both Thursday and Friday in the rain to try out a new bike configuration-- #5 --enter Kenda Karma 2.2 and 1.5" riser bar, up from .5". Kenda Karmas are really solid and roll faster than the Panaracers. 1.5" rise I think is a good thing in the long run but I really feel more comfortable on the flats when my MTB is set up like a track bike. Cockpit feels short with high bars :).

Now it's out for another ride this evening with Kate, who is confirmed riding BCBR with us!! (you know, on her own cooler, faster team). I can't help but feel partially responsible...

At long last life is getting it's priorities on order:
  1. Ride
  2. Eat
  3. Sleep
  4. Document
  5. Survive, if you get the chance.
It's so close I can taste it. YEAAAAHHHH!!!!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Coyote Hill Race Report

Remember how when you're training you're supposed to have B priority races? For most people this means that you train right through the race and don't worry about how you finish. For me this means gaining 4lbs drinking beer the week before and posthumously designating it a B race after you get your ass handed to you on a platter.

Is there a such thing as a B-minus priority race?

As Colin correctly mentions (and I had totally forgotten about), Coyote Hill is the singletrack crown jewel of the Root66 series which, in typical New England style, means when the course isn't jackhammering you with wet roots, it's probably beating you over the head with them to keep you honest while you power over 25% grade roller after 25% grade roller. Did I mention the 120 degree corner every 20 feet?

In sharp contrast to the rest of the course, the opening climb is smooth, sustained and only moderately steep. "Yaaay, something I'm actually good at!" ...and off I went, settled in right at my threshold and cruised by most of the field without any trouble to hit the hole at about 3rd spot for the singletrack. Sweet.

The chase group I found myself in (someone was already way off the front) was pretty seriously interested in putting the English Channel between themselves and the rest of the field, and laid it down hard through the first two sections of singletrack. Hanging on the back, I felt good aerobically, but could feel my boost depeleting by the second. The enducrance racing mantra of "No wrecks, no mechs., no pulling big gears" was certainly not applying in the third category, and as a result it probably wouldn't be long before the other two started to slip as well. Good thing I'm doing this just to get stronger, right?

The kicker that turned the race from, "huh, I might actually pull this off half decently" to "oi, it's gonna be a long one" was the greasy mud run-up 3/4 of the way through the first lap. If you've ever seen my cyclocross results, you'll understand that getting off the bike is a fate worse than death for my race performance--my legs get all wobbly, heart rate spikes, breath shortens--bad scene all around. Running is a whole lot cheaper than bike racing. If I liked doing it, I wouldn't own bikes and I'd have a downpayment on a house. Anyway, throw in some slippery mud and a couple miles of technical singletrack on either end of 30 seconds running up a hill and I'm in sloppily-executed trail riding hell.

By halfway through lap two, my lowered gearing was generating some nice suspension resonance in the woop-de-doos and Colin passed me on a short power climb, then dropped me when I bobbled a descent and had to untangle myself from my bike.

At least I was still ahead of that guy (Jeff) in the "Gamache" jersey who ALWAYS beats me by ONE PLACE (dammit), but by the start of lap three he was riding my wheel hard. I put a good chunk of time into him on the climb, and tried to really open it up on the descent, which was working nicely until I caught my bars on a tree and went for a nice ride on my face (seriously I need to stop doing that EVERY race), much to Gamache's delight. ...and that was the end of that.

The rest of the Davis sq. crew had solid days, with George riding to 5th in Cat2 40-49, despite being terrified that I was going to put that stick in his spokes:

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and Gerald took 3rd in is cat2 age group

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Kate, despite flatting in the last lap, ran to a 3rd place finish:

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Arik was out as well, but as the results are all screwed up online right now, I can say no more...

The photos here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

TDD Part 5: Duplex Cookies

Humping out to races every weekend takes a toll on the body, mind, and if you're on the MassPike, also the highway. It always seems that keeping up with maintaining one's bike, getting adequate rest and shuffling around all the rest of the stuff you could have been doing while you were trying to make your heart explode all day Sunday always forces something to fall through the cracks. In my house, most of those things end up under the burners on my stove:

Some also find their way to the floor of my room:

...and as my house slowly falls into disrepair, my training plan tumbles along behind. The fact is, race season consistently defies me to stick to any sort of workout schedule that effectively addresses my weaknesses. I don't want to be in the gym, I want epic rides. I don't want to slog along the road solo, I want to hang with my buddies in the woods. Thus, as the season progresses, my fitness stagnates, and everyone with "discipline" gets faster than me. Lame.

Since I'm not one of those guys who will ditch out on the group ride to be "pro", and I'm certainly not going to devote any MORE time to cycling. I devised an ingenious plan to make every minute on the bike count:
  1. Identify all the things that make my race bike fast
  2. Build a bike that omits all of those things (suspension, multiple chainrings, light weight)
  3. Ride the new bike all the time
With the "resistance bike" you effectively double the number of people you can ride with for a reasonable workout, and if you're a weakling like me, you can build a little muscle heaving the silly beast around.

The RB, as it will henceforth be known, is great for improving the workout value of rides, but I already like riding bikes. What about that other stuff I know I should be doing but aren't? The core workouts, weights, etc?

Two words: Duplex Cookie.

The plan is simple. Take one or more things that you indulge yourself with--cookies, TV, compulsive email checking--then pair one good thing with one annoying one. Example: A Duplex Cookie costs me 2 pull-ups. A TV show 10 pushups, etc. Best case, I do a lot of calisthenics. Worst, I watch a lot less TV. Win win.

Anyway, gotta go race...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Winsted Woods slop, er, race report.

Awaking Sunday to a strong feeling of deja vu, I again embarked on a multi-hour trek to the insurance capital of the US (Connecticut) for some mountain bike racing with George, Arik and Natalia. For those of you keeping count, this is 4 races and 4 different bike configurations in 6 weeks. My shop has been all too occupied of late, but at long last I've got a bike that I don't plan on changing any more until cyclocross becomes an olympic sport.

After blowing away all the other younguns at Orchard Assault, I was feeling pretty good about this one. I mean, I only hammered out 80 miles on Saturday with Eric, proceeded to get 6hrs sleep and had my own little NASCAR pit crew of racing buddies to feed me and cheer me on. A good shout of encouragement will overcome a set of balding tires (that raced the entire transrockies last year) in the mud any day of the week, right?


Rolling 5th into the woods, I hit the first slippery, steep climb and it was immediately clear that it would be a long day. With my legs only giving 80% and the traction hovering around 50%, I wasn't getting much of anywhere, though neither was anyone else. I manged to be ahead of the inevitable pile-up on the first climb, allowing me to hang in my my 5th (or thereabouts) spot without much difficulty and stay there for a lap or so.

It probably wasn't too awful that my legs weren't putting out, because even pushing HR numbers in the 150s, I was slipping around like a Brabus SL on the track (skip to 4:30 for the fun part).

When you're big enough to ride an XL size bike with a nearly maxed 410mm post, limited traction is not synonymous with competitive advantage. It is, however often synonymous with "rubber side up"--a move which I elegantly executed on the last downhill of lap 1 when faced with the choice between crossing up on a tree doing double digit mphs or pulling the eject lever after losing my line on a wet root.

Anyway, after making a solid spectacle for a gaggle of onlookers, I hopped back on and was all psyched for the feed zone. Nothin' like a little isotonic sugar solution to rinse out those wounds, right? Ok, maybe that's gross, but nonetheless my feed was conspicuously absent.

As my muscles were far from allowing me to be anerobic, I was able to puzzle out that seeing my pit crew dorking around with my camera on the other side of the course was probably incompatible with my finding them at the feed zone to hand me bottles. Maybe next lap?


Nobody can complain about a good photo of themselves looking fast, it's often better for one's rep then actually being fast, but my pit crew not only neglected to be available in the feed zone for the entire race but also neglected to put a memory card in the camera, leaving no verifiable evidence of the angry looks I gave them on each of the subsequent laps as I dipped deeper and deeper into my fat metabolism.

Not one to hold a grudge, I did get some photos of them looking fast, mainly so you can shove a stick in their spokes the next time you see them:

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(I love you guys)

By lap 4 I was practically softpedaling, but everything would have been fine had I not choco-dipped myself and my bike in a giant sloppy mud-puddle at the top of climb 1, rendering my drivetrain all but completely inoperable and my person more than a little chilly. From that point on it was survival mode to the finish. Thankfully I only got passed by Cary before it was all over for 6th place overall and about 13min off the leaders.

Natalia had a solid ride by contrast, taking the hole shot off the line:

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and placing 2nd to the girl on her wheel:

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to take the leader place for the series.

Coyote hill next!

All the photos here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Buy good (American) stuff, it pays.

Hard on components? Buy the nice stuff from the old U.S. of A.

Today I received a brand new, FREE Thomson post in the mail, to replace this one:

where the anodization started to flake off. The post is just one item in the long list of parts I've trashed and had replaced free or at substantial discounts with minimal hassle by respectable U.S. bike manufacturers (Stan's, Thomson, WTB, SRAM/Avid/Truvativ, Specialized, Santa Cruz, Fox) who seem to enjoy my business and would like to keep it. This is a sharp contrast to my foreign friends, Shimano, Tune, Time, and RaceFace who have all either given me a hard time (no pun intented), ignored my emails or told me to stick it altogether. Of this group RaceFace finally came through after a week of harassment by the buyer from the largest shop in New England, and Time did send me something back, though it wasn't what I broke and it came with a rather disparaging letter:

"...if you have worn out these pedals to this point in about a years time, then in all honesty, you should consider sticking with our pedals that uses an aluminum body or a different brand of pedals that use a metal body..."

...or you could make pedals that don't suck.

Tune sent me a great one after I broke their crappy headset:

"Hi, You can still use that plastic ring, it dont looks so bad! If not, tell me again, and i will look what i can do!

best regards

[Tune Guy]"

To which I responded something along the lines of "Are you SERIOUS??" And got the reply:

Hello, pleace contakt fairwheelbikes, they can help you. when we send you a new ring it is very expensive. pleace try this first. when we send it direkt , it costs 20 € . you have to pay first.


[Tune Guy]"

...and so it continues. At least the people at Fairwheel Bikes are nice, though they're expecting a 4-6 week lead time to get the thing if they can't dig one out of the back, which they're working on, or so they say. No hurry though, Mr. King will be taking your starting spot henceforth.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hey, that's my idea!

The part of being a competitive MTB rider that many people have a hard time with is sorting out which tech trends to take seriously, and which ones to let come and go. Even if you're tech savvy enough to understand what's going on in a particular product, it takes either world class detective work or a pocket full of money for testing gear to cut through the marketing BS and find what's necessary to make an informed decision. It's easier for manufacturers to hide the real info and fabricate something catchy in its place than to explain the reality in terms that regular people will get. In our throwaway, instant gratification addicted culture, marketing the magic "Black Box" element of a product seems more successful than showing off its objective merits. Rock Shox even has an aptly named "Black Box" program for its racing development--it's so cool, we can't even tell you how it works.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a little skeptical of "trends" in MTB components. I stubbornly run an obsolete shock from 2004 because I think it works far better than anything current, it took me years to warm up to disc brakes, my dualie is a single-pivot and I jumped on the oversize bar bandwagon just last week, but for once I might just be ahead of the trendy curve instead of sarcastically clawing at its backside.

There's been a lot of hubbub lately about SRAM's new XX group, which includes a ten speed cassette with huge cogs (biggest is 11/36), and double ring up front with an enlarged small and middle ring but no big one. If you're gonna insist on 10-sp for road bikes this is an excellent way to let the disease infect the MTB world. The extra cog allows for a nice tractor gear that allows pushing off a ring in the front for added clearance with minimal range penalty and the added benefit that all your bikes can swap parts again. It's really smart, and I'm proud to say I was there first:

It's been two seasons since I started racing a 22/36 front + bashring and 11/32 or 11/34 rear, and for the twisty, technical mess that New England throws at us most of the time it's pure gold. No more trashed big rings, way less shifting up front, a full inch more clearance, and still enough gear to crank hard on the flats 99% of the time. To make it work the back of the 36t XT ring needed grinding down to clear the chain when cross-chaining the little ring, but otherwise it works great and only grinds the derailleur on 22/11, mostly as a reminder that I should be shifting up a ring.

Would I race a double in an ultra-endurance event like Transrockies? No, probably not, but for all those local races that are two hours in duration with few long wide-open descents, there's nothing better.

[insert catchy tag line here]

The Wrench

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Daddy Wants the Hole Shot!

While the rest of the world was at Sterling this weekend (silly road races), Arik and I roadtripped it to the Orchard Assault with the hope of sending a few unsuspecting college kids crying home to their mothers a day early. (Note that "Arik" is not a typo. Eric's absence has been filled for the day with someone whose name is spelled differently but pronounced about the same, you know, because I fear change.) For all our ambition, we neglected a very important element of execution--knowing exactly where the aforementioned Orchard was located. UMass can't be that big, right?


If image does not show, right click here and select 'view image' or 'show image'.After making a couple of futile and hurried circles around the UMass Amherst campus, we glommed onto an unsecured wireless connection with Arik's iTouch and let the oracle sort us out. As Arik isn't much of the preriding type, he was more than happy with less than 30min to his Cat2 start. (Special thanks to Lia, who not only neglected to secure her WiFi but also named it after herself so we could credit her appropriately)

With an average of more than 1/2" of rain every day for nearly a week before the race, conditions were "mixed", with trail surface ranging from sticky banked turns to giant mud holes criscrossed at oblique angles with wet roots. Oh, and then there was some pasty mud:

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While Arik's fitness suffered somewhat from a training year that began last week, coming from a place where it rains 300 days a year helped him look as good riding the slippery tech as he did making his game face.


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After a good couple hours of the Cat2s tearing up the course there wasn't much left for us in the Cat1 ranks, but if you're in for $25 you're in for a whole drivetrain, and if you're gonna trash a small fortune worth of parts in the course of an afternoon, you'd better go HARD. [Edit: and I'm not kidding--put a big fat dent in my new frame.] Not to mention that after consistently wrenching on my bike for about a month and not racing for two weeks I have (had?) just a little bit of pent up frustration. Man I was gonna mash that stuff into the pedals real nice, especially with about 50yds of fire road at the start before the entrance to some greasy, twisty singletrack.

"Daddy wants the hole shot!"

If image does not show, right click here and select 'view image' or 'show image'....and with it the responsibility to push it way too hard through most of the first lap, for about half of which I managed to hang with the Cyclocross Masters National Champ (Kevin something...) until the trees started throwing punches. You see, while most people get slower as they get tired, I just become unable to steer which, as you might imagine, can have some undesirable consequences when the trees aren't rubberized like the bumpers in a pinball machine. I must have been bouncing in the right direction though, because along with Jeff--another guy nearly twice my age--I had opened a monster gap on the rest of the field, minus Mr. Stars and Stripes. We might have been in another time zone for all I know, while this dude Kevin was most certainly in the next one ahead of us.

At this point (somewhere in the middle of lap 2 out of 5), Jeff wisely admonished that we "ride smart". I say wisely, because as I began to get comfortable with the idea that my heart might not explode before dinner, he was quietly planning my execution. (despite being in a totally different category) His plans were in vain however because I handily executed myself, catching my as-yet uncut bars on a tree (did I mention this is race number 3 with an unfinished bike?) and tossing myself into a ditch. That was the last I got to chat with Jeff...

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(note how he's getting away in a blur of blazing speed)

After accepting the fact that trying to chase down the 40-49 leaders was a colossally bad idea, the rest of the race was spent enjoying how dialed my bike felt, minus the bars that could be a wirewalker's balance pole, and trying not to do anything stupid enough to crash hard and melt my remarkably solid lead on the rest of the 19-29s. I placed 3rd overall, a minute behind this Jeff character, and first in 19-29. Sure, I got crushed by a couple of guys old enough to be my biological father, even outside the state of Utah, but they've had WAY more time to train than I have, and mud really ain't my thing. The End.

Harold Parker on Sunday.

See all the race pics here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

When Things Fall Apart


Changing the configurations of your bikes is a lot like juggling vials of nitroglycerin. If you manage to handle them gingerly enough, you might escape injury and look good in the process, but more likely something is going to explode in your face, causing a chain reaction that levels everythnig in the room--in this case, one filled with bicycles.

It's been over a month since I began the process of switching race bikes, (your bike is fine. KEEP IT. You'll thank yourself later.) a process that has cascaded through every single one of my other bikes in one way or another, leaving me greasy, tired and somewhat under-trained.

If image does not show, right click here and select 'view image' or 'show image'.There was something useful to be learned in this mess, however, other than sometimes good enough is good enough. That thing is how to braze frames.

Of the horrible atrocities that befell my stable over the last month, the most saddening by far was the catastrophic failure of my commuter bike's frame.

Losing a commuter bike is not unlike losing a spouse. You spend more time with it than any of your other bikes, yet when the crap hits the old windmaker it's the first one to be neglected. You let her get rusty, her tires run low and her drivetrain get all stretched out and you ignore every bit of it until one day she won't let you ride her any more. "Enough is enough!" she says, and she snaps--at the seatstays.

Being a sentimental sort of guy, I couldn't bear the thought of losing my 1984 Shogun 300, and though it might have been cheaper, faster, and more elegant to simply replace her with something younger and more nimble, I opted to get out a MAPP-Oxy torch and take her to counseling:

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And while I was at it I threw in some cable stops...

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...for a nice mix of the classic and the modern:

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With highlights provided by a Markall paint marker:

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...and I almost have the mess cleaned up.

Full gallery here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Uli Fahl, shame Shame SHAME!

It's been a while since we've said much here, but such is the way of a racing season where you make the mistake of initiating a new race bike build on the week of the first race...

Anyway, it's been a long journey from the start of my "Keith wants a new bike" saga where, for about a month, I haven't ridden the exact same bike twice, which doesn't seem to be hurting my race results too badly--10th at Hopbrook, 5th at Fat Tire and only behind Colin by a minute and a half--but it's been driving me a little nuts. For the sake of brevity, as some of you have expressed disinterest in my talking about bikes instead of my feelings, here's the summary of what I've learned from the bike build that time forgot:
  1. Contrary to what it says on the internet, you can't just slap a 650B wheel on the front of a really well designed bike and expect it to be better. If you look carefully at the geometries of big wheel bikes, you'll notice that the head tube angles are actually steeper than 26" bikes and big wheel forks have more rake than regular forks (I'd explain to you why, but you don't care). By adding the 650b to the front of a regular 26" bike, you push both these quantities in the opposite direction. Suffice to say this doesn't feel so good.
  2. Nobody wants to buy decent stuff on Craigslist. You can sell crap for way more than it's worth, but people won't even glance at anything nice that they might have to pay reasonable money for.
  3. New standards are the devil. I don't want oversized bars any more than I want an oversized gut, but sometimes you can't fight progress...
  4. Plastic has no place on mountain bikes. (see rant below)
You may remember some time ago that I bought a Tune Bobo headset. At the time I questioned the fact that major components were made of plastic. Well, gosh darn it, shoulda trusted my gut. The plastic compression ring clearly was unable to take the pressure, allowing the head cap to rub on the cup, and when I tried to pull it apart--SNAP!--broken compression ring. I love that it weighs in at 79g, but it's no good if it's broken. Chris king is in the mail, thankfully in sotto voce, with a +5mm baseplate as a slight geometry shim.

While the bike is still a disaster, my body seems to be faring a little better. As I mentioned earlier, the gym paid off in spades, and after a little home improvement, I have a pull-up bar to continue the upper body work without making the trek across town. Pull-ups, Push-ups, dips when I figure out how to do them at home, and the pipes should be in good shape come the last week of June. The question I'm really asking myself now is "what's the weakest link?" Keeping up the aerobic intensity doesn't seem to be a problem this year, as I averaged a HR of 179 for the entirety of last weekend's 1.5 hr race in the 90 degree heat, but even with the ability to make heartbeats like a hamster, my hardest efforts were hampered by an oncoming feeling of BONK in the second half of the race. Could this be strength, fueling, weak aerobics? I'm not really sure, but with the answer comes the key to a little more speed.